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Rule Number 12

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"All units, disturbance reported in Little Italy near the docks. Caller reports a woman screaming in one of the warehouses, building 402."

Detective Anthony DiNozzo glanced at the radio and then back at the warehouse he'd had staked out for the past three nights. He was currentlysitting next tobuilding 330, but he had a hunch he was the closest. Cursing quietly to himself, he grabbed the mic. "Unit 56 responding."

"Acknowledged. Backup is on its way," the dispatcher's crisp voice assured him.

"Yeah, sure it is," Tony muttered to himself, but he started the car and headed out.

As he neared the 400 section, he slowed the car and switched off the lights, smoothly parking in the shadows. Easing out of the car, he closed the door quietly, looking around warily. It was quiet, and he wondered if it had been a crank call. If so, he was going to be pissed if it caused him to miss catching Jimmy Courtland. The little weasel was known to be dealing Smack, but so far, no one had been able to snag him when he had the stuff on him. Tony had had a tip that Courtland would be picking up a shipment in Little Italy sometime during the week, but so far he'd been a no-show.

Picking his way carefully around the building, Tony was promising himself to track down the crank caller when a scream cut through the air. Unholstering his weapon, he quickened his pace, adrenaline sharpening his senses and giving him added speed. The scream had cut off abruptly, but as he came around a corner, he could see a light emanating from under one of the doors. Pressing his ear against it, he could hear faint noises inside, including soft whimpers. He glanced around again, but no sign of that promised backup. When he heard a roar of rage followed by the sound of something hitting flesh, he knew he couldn't wait any longer. Moving away from the door, he continued around the building, searching for another way in. He'd worked the dock area before and knew that most of the warehouses had broken windows or doors with broken locks or latches that the homeless used to gain access--especially in the winter. He hadn't gone too far when he found what he'd been looking for--a door that looked closed and locked, but had had a piece of wood jammed into the latch so that it swung open easily when he gave it a tug.

Once he was inside, Tony maneuvered his way through the dark, careful not to disturb anything, as the element of surprise was the best thing he had going for him. His surroundings became more distinct as he neared the area the light was coming from. The unmistakeable sounds of sex reached his ears, along with a strange clinking noise, and he felt his gut clench. From the earlier noises, it didn't seem likely it was consensual. Even so, when he finally came close enough to see what was happening, the sight before him still shocked him.

The girl... woman? was chained by the throat, the wrists, and the ankles with only enough give to allow her to writhe in a useless attempt to escape that surely did nothing more than further stimulate the man who was straddling her. As for the man, he was huge. Dressed in fatigues and sporting a crew cut, Tony guessed the man was probably military, or military wannabe. Either way, he was definitely trouble.

For the moment, the girl had stilled and the only sounds were soft hiccoughing sobs and the man's pants and groans as he thrust into her. Releasing the safety on his gun, Tony gave one last wistful glance around in the hopes that backup had miraculously appeared. It hadn't. Taking a deep breath, he called out, "Police! Freeze!"

Before his second word had even completely left his mouth, the man on the bed was whirling and pulling a gun from somewhere. Even as he boggled over the man's speed, Tony dove for more cover. Knowing he had to act quickly, before the man decided to kill the girl, Tony rolled up into a kneeling position and fired once, just as a searing pain speared through his left arm. Gasping, he fell backwards, trying to catch himself with his right. A keening noise caught his attention as he managed to get upright once more, his eyes zeroing in on the man, who was now sprawled limply across the girl. Keeping his gun arm straight and steady, Tony slowly moved forward, his left arm dangling. He was pretty sure he had been shot, but he didn't want to take the time to examine the wound, not until he was sure the other man was no longer a threat. As he got closer, however, he lowered the gun. Nope. No longer a threat. Pale blue eyes were staring sightlessly at nothing. The keening was coming from the girl, who had started to wriggle again in an attempt to get away from the dead weight that was bleeding on her.

Letting out a soft huff of air, Tony holstered his weapon in order to grab hold of the deceased's arm. With a grunt, he pulled him off the girl, streaking her bare legs with red stain. The keening had lowered to soft whimpers, and the chains rattled as she started trembling violently.

"Easy, now, easy. I'm just going to look for the keys to those manacles," Tony said in a low voice, trying to project calm. His arm was throbbing and he really didn't want to think about the headache that killing the perp was going to give him. Not that the man didn't deserve it, but every shooting, especially one that resulted in a fatality, required a thorough investigation. And he knew the department had just been itching for a reason to boot him. Forcing that thought away, he focused on what needed to be done immediately. First, free the girl. She'd been traumatized enough and being released from the chains could only help.

At his words, the whimpers quieted, but intermittent shivers still made the chains clink together as he searched the body. Finally, he came up with a ring of keys. "All right, I'd say it's probably one of these," he muttered to himself, trying to hold the threatening blackness at bay. It certainly wouldn't do for him to pass out now. Who knew what he'd wake up to.

Huge brown eyes watched him as hestepped aroundthe steel-framed bed. No more whimpering, but he was sure the girl was in serious danger of hyperventilating. "Hold on just a little longer now," he soothed, choosing a key that looked different from the others on the ring. She twitched as he inserted the key into the lock on the manacle encircling one of her wrists, but that was all. With a loud click, the lock turned and the manacle fell off, making a loud clatter as it hit the concretefloor. As Tony unlocked the rest of the manacles, the girl stayed absolutely still, watching his every move.

When the metal fell from her neck, the girl took in a deep breath and finally moved. Sitting up slowly, wincing a bit, she hesitantly touched Tony's sleeve. "You're hurt," she whispered.

"Yeah," Tony agreed. He really needed to sit down.

"No! Not here!" the girl protested.

Then Tony was being pulled away from the bed and he hissed as his arm was jolted.

"Sorry," she whispered, but she didn't stop tugging on him.

Tony didn't resist, and he sighed with relief as she eased him down on a crate. "Thanks." He finally allowed himself to take a look at his arm, and as soon as he saw the blood, the pain intensified. "Shit," he swore. In the distance, he heard the sounds of sirens approaching and the girl stiffened. He suddenly realized that she was still naked. "Give me a hand here, will you?" he asked as he started shrugging out of his jacket.

Small, pale hands helped him ease his injured arm out of the sleeve, even though they trembled constantly. Once the jacket was off, Tony dropped it lightly onto her shoulders. Immediately, the girl clutched the lapels, holding it close about her. Outside, the sirenssilenced as doors slammed.

"Detective DiNozzo?" the light tenor of one of the rookie cops called out and Tony heaved a sigh of relief.

"In here," he called out.

At the sounds of the door being broken down, the girl scooted around behind him, ducking down out of sight. "Hey, it's OK. Just the cavalry," Tony reassured her. The only response was her head burrowing into his back. When the uniformed officers stepped into view, Tony lifted his head. "Glad you could make it. Better call an ambulance and the coroner," he said, with a nod toward the bed.

The uniform's eyes widened as he took in the half-dressed man splayed upon the floor with a visible chest wound. Swallowing, he simply nodded and then turned to go.

"And bring a blanket. I think she's in shock," Tony called after him.

Finally catching a glimpse of movement behind the detective, the uniform nodded once. "Yes, sir."

"Jesus Christ, what the hell happened here, DiNozzo?" a gruff voice demanded, and Tony winced. Behind him, he felt the girl tense up, too.

"Sullivan," Tony said in greeting. "Ah, could you be a bit quieter? The victim is understandably upset."

"Victim?"

Reaching behind him, Tony held out his good hand. "Come on out now, it's safe." After a few moments, a cold hand took his and the girl peeked out from behind him. She didn't leave the shelter provided by his body, but her head, at least, was visible.

Before anything else could be said, the paramedics arrived, effectively forestalling any other questions the other officer might have. The only trouble was that the girl refused to release Tony's hand.

Tony winced as his arm was prodded and a pressure bandage applied to it, but managed to remain quiet. The girl merely stared at the paramedics with wide eyes, not saying a word.

"Miss? We need to examine you. Why don't you lie down on this stretcher, and then we can load you into the ambulance," the paramedic said in a persuasive tone.

Looking from Tony to the paramedic to the stretcher, the girl simply gripped Tony's hand harder as her breathing started to accelerate.

"Hey, hey, calm down. It's OK," Tony said. Turning to the paramedic, he said, "Do you have a blanket? She might feel better if she doesn't feel so exposed."

The paramedic nodded in agreement. "Good idea." Unfolding the blanket from the stretcher, he placed it gently over the girl, even covering her head, but leaving her face free. She shuddered once, but then, with one last questioning glance at Tony, she moved forward to gingerly sit on the stretcher.

"Detective? Maybe you could ride in the ambulance with her? By the time we reach the hospital, maybe you'll regain your hand," the paramedic said with significant look at said hand, which was getting the circulation cut off from the death grip the girl had on it. "We'll get you stitched up there, too. You're lucky. The bullet mainly passed through the fleshy part of your arm. If it had hit the bone, it might have been really nasty."

Tony just nodded as he allowed the paramedic to assist him up. "Yeah, thanks."

Slowly, they made their way outside to the waiting ambulance. Tony was just climbing in when he heard the shout from the warehouse.

"DiNozzo! What am I supposed to tell the captain?"

"I'm sure you'll come up with something," Tony muttered, ducking his head to avoid beaning it on the top of the ambulance.

The ride to the hospital was pretty quiet. The paramedic asked a lot of questions that the girl ignored and Tony had no answers to.

"Has she said anything at all?" the paramedic finally asked.

"Yeah. Right after... well, once I released her, she said a few words. Nothing much, though," Tony replied.

"OK. That's good. She's definitely in shock, but it's good that she can talk. I guess she just doesn't want to talk to me," the paramedic said with a wry grin.

Tony shrugged. "If I'd been through what she had, I might not feel like talking either."

"Point. Anyway, here we are. Good luck, Detective."

"Thanks."

As they entered the Emergency Room, Tony remained close to the stretcher, his long legs easily keeping up with the fast pace of the paramedics. Finally, they reached a curtained off area. Releasing Tony's hand, the girl slid off the stretcher and moved to the bed, still huddled in both his jacket and the blanket.

"A doctor should be in soon. Just try to relax," the paramedic said and then exited.

With a weary sigh, Tony sank down into the chair next to the bed. He hoped the doctor arrived soon, as he would really love some painkillers. A slight rustling sound pulled his attention back to the girl, who was staring at him. 'I really need to find out her name,' he thought. "I guess it's time we get formally introduced, don't you?" he said, still keeping his voice quiet. "I'm Detective Anthony DiNozzo, but you can call me Tony," he said, holding out his hand.

A faint smile appeared on the girl's face as she leaned forward slightly to take his hand. "Alison..." she cut off as a noise just beyond the curtain startled her and she jerked back reflexively.

Cocking his head to listen, Tony dug into his pocket with his good hand and came out with his badge wallet. He took out one of the business cards that he always kept tucked inside and held it out to her. "I think we're about to be interrupted and, most likely, split up. But this has my contact information. If you need me, for any reason, just give me a call. OK, Alison?" he asked.

Alison nodded as she accepted the proffered card and clutched it in her hand. "OK... Tony."

No sooner had she responded when the curtain was swept back and man who was presumably the doctor strode in, a nurse trailing behind. Immediately, Alison tensed up and moved as far back on the bed as she could manage.

"Uh, Doc?" Tony spoke up before the man could get any closer to Alison.

Glancing up, the doctor took in Tony's appearance and frowned. "You should be on a separate bed."

Tony held up one hand. "I have no problem with that..." Tony paused, reading the name tag on the man's lab coat, "Doctor Bailey... but I think you need to get a female doctor for her," he said with special emphasis. "And she needs the kit," he added more quietly.

At that, the doctor frowned again, but he did halt his progress and take a closer look at his patient. Taking in the terrified eyes and the bruising, he turned to the nurse. "Go get Dr. Sheffley. Explain the situation."

With a sympathetic look at Alison and a nod to the doctor, the nurse hurried out.

"All right, then I guess I'll take a look at that arm," the doctor said, motioning to Tony's arm. "If you would just step over to the bed on the other side of the curtain..."

"Ah... could you hold off just a few minutes? I don't really want to leave Alison alone. Once the other doctor arrives, I'm all yours," Tony promised.

"All right," the doctor agreed, although it was obvious he was just itching to do something.

When a concerned looking woman in a white lab coat approached, flanked by the nurse from before, Tony stood up. "Dr. Sheffley?" he asked. At her nod of confirmation, Tony introduced himself. "I'm Detective Anthony DiNozzo and this is Alison," he said, with a head tilt toward Alison. "Alison has had a really bad night, so please be careful, all right?" he requested softly.

"I understand, Detective. I'll try to make the exam as painless as possible, but you know the kit is never a pleasant experience," she warned.

Tony grimaced. "Yeah, I know."

"We'll take good care of her. Now, why don't you let Dr. Bailey see to that arm?" she said in such a way that it was more an order than a suggestion.

"Yes, ma'am," Tony said.

*****

Gibbs stared at the scene, scowling. On the surface, it looked cut and dried--cop responded to a call, walked in on a... rape, and defended himself against the perpetrator. But his gut was telling him that there was more to it. For one, the chains attached to the bed weren't new, and he would be willing to bet money that forensics would find that the victim wasn't the first woman to have been violated in such a manner on the bed. Also, in another part of the warehouse, there were metal loops bolted into the wall that matched perfectly with the neck manacle chain. And why had the cop come in alone?

"Gibbs?" Kate's voice interrupted his musings.

He glanced over. "Yeah, Kate?"

"I've finished with the sketches, and McGee's just about done taking pictures. Is there anything else you want us to do before we box up everything to send to Abby?"

"No, I think we're about done here. We need to talk to the victim and the cop... Detective DiNozzo, was it?"

Kate smirked. He knew damn well it was. "We still don't know anything about the victim except that her first name is Alison." She frowned as she looked over her notes. "It seems that the only person she's said a word to is Detective DiNozzo."

Gibbs arched a brow. That was interesting. And troubling. "Sounds like it's time we had a word with the detective." Turning, he easily located his other agent. "McGee, get everything crated up and sent to Abby. Kate, you're with me." Without looking back, he strode out of the warehouse, Kate right behind him.

*****

Local law enforcement was never happy to give up jurisdiction to NCIS, but Captain Parnell of the Baltimore PD was more hostile than most. Gibbs let the man bluster for a few minutes, to get it out of his system, and then he put down his empty coffee cup and stood up. "This is now an NCIS investigation. There's no negotiation on this fact. Now, where can I find Detective DiNozzo?"

Parnell's face flushed even more, but in answer he got up from behind his desk and opened the door to his office. "DiNozzo!" he bellowed and then returned to his seat.

At the far end of the bullpen, Gibbs could see a lean brunette stand up and start making his way toward the office. His left am was in a sling, but he still moved with an easy grace that Gibbs envied.

"Captain?" Tony asked warily as he hovered in doorway of the office. He glanced curiously at the man standing in front of the captain's desk and then back to his captain.

"DiNozzo, this is Special Agent Gibbs with NCIS. They'll be taking over the investigation into the events at the warehouse last night," Parnell said.

Tony nodded, unsurprised. He'd been pretty sure last night that the perp was military, and that meant it was someone else's jurisdiction. He didn't even really mind. He was going to have too much to deal with regarding the shooting to investigate properly anyway. And he was certain there was plenty to investigate. It sure didn't look like a one off from the set up he'd seen. And he sure felt a lot better about NCIS doing the investigation rather than his "fellow" officers. He grimaced internally, but managed to keep a bland smile on his face.

Gibbs studied the detective, catching a glimpse of something under the surface that he couldn't quite decipher, but then it was gone again.

Feeling the NCIS agent's gaze, Tony looked back at the man and was startled at the power of that gaze. Riveted, it took a moment for Tony to regain his equilibrium. "Umm, want to grab a cup of coffee and I can give you everything I have?" he finally asked.

Giving a nod, Gibbs motioned towards the door. "Lead the way, Detective."

As they walked through the bullpen, Gibbs caught sight of Kate talking to a uniformed female... a very pregnant uniformed female. "DiNozzo," he said, just loud enough to catch the other man's attention.

Tony turned at the sound of his name and noticed Gibbs motioning to an attractive brunette across the hall who was talking to the dispatcher.

"I need to have a word with my agent," Gibbs said.

"Sure, no problem. That'll give me a chance to clear off my desk," Tony said with a slight grin. "It's just over there, in the corner." He pointed.

Gibbs watched as the younger man continued over to the indicated desk. Once the detective had sat down, Gibbs moved to meet Kate half way as she came toward him. He raised his eyebrows in inquiry as he noted the expression on her face.

Kate glanced around and gave a slight shake of her head. After what she'd just discovered, this was the last place they should discuss the case. "What's up?" she asked, instead.

"Detective Dinozzo is taking me out for some coffee," he drawled. "Seems perfectly happy to tell me anything I want to know."

Kate only nodded, slanting a look the detective's way. She wasn't surprised. "I'd like to wait here. The two uniformed officers who came on the scene after the shooting are due back in about five minutes."

"Sounds good. When you're done interviewing them, get ahold of Ducky and see what he's discovered from the dead Marine," Gibbs said. "If McGee calls, have him head back in to the office so we can have a conference with Abby."

"OK." Kate was about to say something else when she noticed Officer Marshall, the dispatcher she'd been speaking with, pointing out two uniformed officers who had just entered and were heading to the break room. "Looks like my next appointment just walked in."

Gibbs left her to it.

*****

Curving his hands around his cup of hot cocoa, Tony simply held onto it for a moment, closing his eyes and enjoying the heat. He wasn't supposed to use his left arm as it healed, but his hands were freezing and he figured simply grasping a cup didn't count.

Gibbs watched the other man for a few moments, savoring the coffee he'd ordered. If nothing else, Detective DiNozzo had good taste in coffee shops. "So, last night, walk me through it," he finally said.

Tony snapped his eyes open, hands momentarily tightening on the cup. For just a moment, he had forgotten why he was here. It would have been nice if he'd just been sharing a hot drink with the attractive man across from him, he thought wryly. Feeling a bit like Archie Goodwin, Tony took a deep breath and recounted his night, starting with when he'd first received the call from the dispatcher.

Listening intently, Gibbs paid attention not only to the words, but also to the expressions, body language, and eyes of Detective DiNozzo. He'd learned a long time ago that it was often the things unsaid that meant more in an interview. And what wasn't being said worried him. Not about the investigation per se, but more about the current climate within the Baltimore PD--especially as how it pertained to one Detective Anthony DiNozzo. The younger man had a thin veneer of cockiness that Gibbs could easily see past to a deeper feeling of insecurity. Of course, some of that could be explained by the upcoming investigation the detective faced from IA for the shooting, but Gibbssensed there was more to it than that.

"...by the time the doc had finished stitching me up, Alison was 'sedated and sleeping comfortably,'" Tony finished, with air quotes. "I plan to stop by the hospital later today to see how she was doing, I just haven't had a chance yet."

"From the reports I've seen, she hasn't spoken a word to anyone," Gibbs said, watching for a reaction.

Tony blinked. "Really? She was verbal immediately after I released her... Though, come to think of it, she wouldn't answer the paramedic in the ambulance..." Tony trailed off, thoughtful, then shook his head. "I don't know, maybe she was talking to me because I... I dunno... rescued her?" he offered.

Gibbs shrugged. "Could be. I'm sending Agent Todd in to talk to her later, so we'll see if Alison is more willing to speak with a woman."

"I requested a female doctor for her, as she visibly recoiled when the ER doc came in, but I didn't have a chance to see how the two of them interacted. Ah... a Dr. Sheffley, I believe," Tony said. He glanced at his watch and winced. "Sorry, Agent Gibbs, but I have a meeting I can't be late for back at the station. If you have any more questions, you can call me anytime."

"I'll need a copy of your report," Gibbs said.

"No problem. Email or hard copy?" Tony asked.

"Email is fine." Reaching into his jacket pocket, Gibbs came out with his business card. "Email and cell phone are both on there. If you think of anything else that maybe slipped your mind, you can reach me using either one."

Tony took the card, flashing back momentarily to handing his own card to Alison. And for just an instant, he wondered if maybe Gibbs would be his rescuer as he had been for her. Brushing off the thought, he gave Gibbs a bright smile. "Thanks. It was nice to meet you, Agent Gibbs, even though I wish it could have been under better circumstances. Good luck with your investigation. I hope you find out what's been going on at that warehouse. I hate to think of more Alisons out there with no one to help them."

Gibbs shook the proffered hand, giving a slight smile of his own. "Don't worry, we will."

*****

"Cause of death was easy enough--gun shot to the heart. He would have died instantly. From the trajectory of the bullet, Ducky said the shooter would have been shooting from an angle, close to the ground," Kate said.

Gibbs nodded, that matched with Detective DiNozzo's description of events.

"Also, Sgt. Mullens had most definitelybeen engaged in sexual activity just before he died. We'll have to wait for the lab results to know if the DNA is a match for that found on the vic... Alison, but at this point, it looks like a pretty good bet."

McGee spoke up, "The hospital sent the material via courier, so it should be here any time now. The photos and medical records have already been faxed."

Gibbs shot a look at the Goth. "Did you get them, Abby?"

"Yep, sure did. Along with the photos McGee sent of the crime scene. The abrasions visible on Alison's wrists, ankles, and neck are consistent with those that would be created by the manacles attached to the bed. The poor thing must have struggled like crazy, as the skin was badly torn," Abby said.

Gibbs expression turned grim. He hated knowing that a marine, one who was supposed to protect, had done that, had terrorized and raped a helpless girl. "I'm sure she did, Abs." Not wanting his team to get sidetracked by the horror of the crime, he changed the subject. "Kate, what did you find out from Officer Marshall?"

"Ah, that's where things get interesting. It seems that Detective DiNozzo is persona non grata at the precinct. At least among his fellow detectives and the higher-ups. The uniforms, however, especially the younger ones, such as the ones I talked to today, like and respect him. According to Debi, Officer Marshall, DiNozzo turned his partner into IA last year. She didn't get into details, but soon after that, DiNozzo's partner, a Detective Arnett, committed suicide."

McGee's eyebrows went up. "That sounds pretty nasty."

"Yeah. So, ever since then, DiNozzo has had little to no backup and... no partner. Last night, Officer Marshall had to pull in the two uniforms from twelve blocks away, as the officers closer refused to respond," Kate continued.

"Do we know why DiNozzo turned his partner in?" Gibbs asked. Partners didn't turn each other in--it just wasn't done.

Kate shook her head. "No, but Officer Marshall hinted that it was something pretty ugly. She certainly thinks Tony is getting a raw deal from the department."

Gibbs eyes narrowed. "Isn't she concerned about talking so freely to us?"

At that, Kate chuckled. "Not at all. Her husband works in Internal Affairs and her father is a judge. On top of that, once the baby comes, she plans on becoming a full time mom." Then she frowned as she remembered something. "She did mention that she hopes Detective DiNozzo transfers out before she leaves. I think she's afraid he just might end up dead."

Now it was Gibbs' turn to frown. "Maybe we need to find out more about the deceased Detective Arnett. McGee," he barked.

"On it, boss," McGee instantly responded.

"Abby, do the DNA matching as soon as you receive the material from the hospital. Let's make sure our dead marine was the rapist."

"Will do, Gibbs," Abby agreed, bouncing on her chair.

"Kate, you're with me. We need to interview Alison." He paused, turning to McGee. "Still no last name?"

McGee shook his head. "Not yet."

Abby spoke up. "I have her prints, but nothing's popped yet."

"All right," Gibbs said. With any luck, they would find out more when they interviewed her. Without another word, he strode out the door, trusting Kate to follow. Giving a slight wave to Abby and McGee, she did so.

*****

Kate was frustrated. Thus far, Alison had refused to say a word. She would occasionally nod or shake her head to a question, but not always. Her preferred method of answering was to give Kate a blank stare. It was obvious that Alison was wary, and definitely traumatized--she picked at the hospital blanket constantly, except when she clutched it to her like a shield. The one time Gibbs had entered the room, Kate was sure the girl was about to hide under the bed. Kate's eyes narrowed. Maybe it wasn't just men that triggered her fear... maybe it was authority figures. That would explain why she might feel more comfortable with Detective DiNozzo... Kate was jerked out of her thoughts by a soft knock at the door. Sighing, she gave Alison a weak smile. "I'm going to go now, but I'd like to come back again and talk with you some more, OK?" she asked, and, as expected, received no response. Suppressing her desire to shake her head, Kate stood up and went to the door, careful to move slowly and deliberately.

"Well?" Gibbs demanded as soon as Kate shut the door behind herself.

"Sorry, it's no good. She's just not responding to me. Although... maybe we should have McGee give it a try," Kate suggested.

Gibbs gave her a skeptical look.

"No, just hear me out. I think she has a fear of people in authority--those she perceives as having control over her--the man who raped her, the paramedic, the doctor, me, and, of course, you. Someone who doesn't appear to have any kind of... I guess it's power, however, might seem safe to her."

Now Gibbs' expression was thoughtful. "Such as a plainclothes police officer who had just rescued her..." he murmured.

"Exactly. I mean, sure he's a police officer, but Detective DiNozzo doesn't exactly exude authority, if you know what I mean. Just from the little I saw of him, he seemed more the laid back type than the type to... I don't know, give orders and take charge. Do you see what I'm saying? And McGee... well, he comes off as fairly harmless." Kate shrugged.

"It's a thought." Gibbs considered it a bit more and glanced at his watch. "Well, I think we should leave her alone for tonight, and then you and McGee can come back tomorrow. Let McGee try it himself, but tell him to keep his distance. He might seem fairly harmless to us, but to her he's still an unknown male."

Kate nodded. It was good advice.

*****

Tony snorted, coming awake with a start. For a second, he just lay there blinking, trying to figure out what had awakened him. Then the chirping of his cell phone rang again and he let out a low groan as he reached to answer it. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that he'd only been asleep for a couple of hours, as it was currently about 2:30 in the morning. "Yeah," he grunted into the phone.

"Detective DiNozzo?" a quiet voice queried. It was female and a little quivery.

"Yeah," he confirmed, frowning.

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have called, but you gave me this card and said I could call you..." the voice trailed off.

Card? Tony's brain finally kicked into gear. "Alison? Are you all right?" he asked urgently, afraid she was going to hang up.

There was a moment of silence, and Tony thought he'd lost her when she finally spoke again. "Could you... could you come pick me up? I left the hospital, but I don't have any money or anything..." Alison started crying.

"Hey, hey, it's all right. Of course I'll pick you up. You say you left the hospital? Where are you now?"

There was a sniff and then Tony could hear Alison speaking to someone else. "The All American Diner at the corner of Fifth and Waterston," Alison said, as if repeating it.

Tony did some quick figuring in his head. "OK. I can find it. Give me 20 minutes, OK?"

"Uh huh," Alison agreed. "Bye." And then there was a click.

Flipping his phone off, Tony reached for the clothes he'd just dropped in a pile next to the bed. He didn't know why Alison would have left the hospital, but it would have to wait until he picked her up. And it sure wasn't safe for her to be out wandering the streets in the shape she was in. Once he was covered, if not entirely presentable, he ran a tired hand through his hair and grabbed his keys. Looked like it was going to be another long day.

*****

Tony breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the sign for "The All American Diner." His twenty minutes were almost up. One good thing about the time was that it meant there was plenty of parking, and he found a spot on the street right in front of the diner. Getting out of the car, he looked carefully around before proceeding. He didn't know this part of town very well, and he didn't want any nasty surprises. He didn't see anything suspicious, however, so he went on into the diner. It didn't take him long to find Alison. She was wearing his jacket again and her head was down on the table. As he approached her booth, he was intercepted by the waitress.

"You're not going to bother that one, now, are you?" she asked, eyes narrowing.

"Uh, no, Ma'am. She called me a little while ago to come pick her up," Tony said. Both a little surprised and pleased that the waitress seemed to be keeping an eye on Alison.

"Oh, that's all right then," the waitress said, and her face smoothing into a smile. "You'd best be taking her home. She's had a rough night, from the looks of it."

Tony nodded. "That's what I intend to do. Do I owe you anything?"

The waitress waved a hand at him. "The poor thing just had some water and asked to use the phone. I offered some hot tea or something to eat, but she refused."

Tony nodded again. "Thanks for helping her out."

Just then, the door jingled and the waitress moved to attend to some, hopefully, paying customers.

"Alison," Tony called softly, not wanting to startle the girl. He was surprised she could sleep like that--the table didn't look very comfortable, and the diner wasn't exactly quiet. Then again, compared to where he'd found her in the warehouse, maybe it seemed like luxury. When his voice didn't get a response, he reluctantly moved closer and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. That got a reaction.

Alison jerked upright, blinking furiously as she tried to focus. Her breath came in short, little pants.

Tony held his hands up in front of him. "Hey, it's just me. You didn't wake up when I called your name," he explained.

Nodding, Alison yawned, making a visible effort to calm down. "Thanks for coming."

"No problem." Tony shrugged. "So, you ready to go? You can crash at my place for the night... morning... whatever. We'll figure everything else out at a more decent hour, all right?"

Alison nodded, scooting out of the booth. Tony raised an eyebrow at the strange mismatch of clothes she was wearing, but didn't comment. Must be the hospital had let her dig through the lost and found or something. He dropped a ten-spot on the table for the helpful waitress and escorted Alison out the door.

As he drove back to his apartment, Tony threw a few glances at Alison, but she seemed to have fallen into a daze, staring sightlessly out the car window. He really wanted to know what she was doing out of the hospital, but he'd already told her it could wait. He sighed, but managed not to ask. One thing he was pretty sure of, though, Special Agent Gibbs was bound to be unhappy about the new turn of events. He made a mental note to call the man once he and Alison had their discussion in the morning. He ignored the small jolt his stomach made at the thought of talking to the NCIS agent again. 'You are so not going there, DiNozzo,' he chided himself.

Pulling into his parking space, he yawned, unable to help himself. When he turned off the car, Alison seemed to come back to herself and looked around curiously. "C'mon, the inside's a lot more interesting," he promised as he opened his door. She followed suit and he led the way into his apartment building.

He flipped on the living room light as soon as they were in the door. A quick glance verified that everything was as he left it, and he nodded to the couch. "You want to take the couch? I have an extra pillow and blankets."

Alison nodded and headed straight for the inviting leather sofa. With a soft sigh, she laid down, not even waiting for the pillow and blankets. When Tony returned, she was already down for the count. He shook his head and gently covered her with the blanket he'd brought. She didn't even move when he slid the pillow under her head. Moving silently, he double checked the locks on the door and turned off the lights.

*****

"What do you mean, 'she checked herself out of the hospital?'" Gibbs demanded.

"Just what I said. Good news is, in order to be released, even against doctor's advice, she needed a way to pay for her stay. So, we now have a last name--Thompson. She gave the nurse her regular doctor's name and said he'd have her billing information," Kate said, shifting the phone to her shoulder as she tried to get McGee's attention.

"Do we have an address for her? Or the doctor's number? He should have her address," Gibbs asked.

"McGee's trying to find that out now. I'll call back when we know more, but I thought you'd want to know that our witness was missing," Kate said.

Gibbs sighed. "All right. I'll give Abby the last name and see what she can dig up." He flipped the phone off and opened his laptop. It was just starting up when his phone rang again. "Gibbs."

"Ah, Special Agent Gibbs, this is Detective DiNozzo... I thought you might like to know the whereabouts of your witness..." Tony said.

"You know where she is?" Gibbs said, frowning.

"Um, yeah, she's sitting at my kitchen table eating toast. She called me around 2:30 this morning from a diner and asked me to come get her. Look, Agent Gibbs, I know it's a bit strange, but she said it wasn't safe for her at the hospital. That 'they'd find her,'" Tony said.

"'They?' Who are they? Dammit, DiNozzo, what the hell's going on?"

Tony shrugged, even though the other man couldn't see it. "I'm not exactly sure, but she said something about men from the military. Anyway, she's agreed to talk to you, but only if I'm with her. You make her nervous," Tony explained wryly.

Gibbs snorted, but didn't deny it. He'd seen that much for himself, and given what had happened to her, he couldn't really blame Alison for being wary of military men. "All right. Give me your address. We'll discuss the situation when I get there."

Tony shut his phone with a soft sigh once he'd given Gibbs directions to his apartment. He heard a small noise and turned to see Alison regarding him solemnly.

"He's coming, isn't he?" she asked.

"Yep. But don't worry, I'll be here. I don't think you'd need to worry, anyway. I think Gibbs is one of the good guys," Tony tried to reassure her.

Alison looked down. She looked much better than she had the previous night, having showered and put on a pair of Tony's old sweats, which were much too large.

Tony gave her an appraising look. "How old are you, Alison? 'Cause right now, you look about 15."

That got her to look at him with a small grin. "22. But I get carded all the time."

He nodded. "I can believe it. Is there anyone you want to call? Family, friends?"

Alison shook her head. "Not yet. I'm sure my roommate is going out of her mind, but if my line is tapped, then they'll know I'm here."

Tony's eyebrows shot up. "Why do I get the feeling that there is a lot more going on here than I know about?"

Twisting the bottom of the sweatshirt in her hands, Alison took a deep breath. "Because there is... but I don't want to explain it twice. Once Agent G-G-Gibbs arrives, I'll tell you everything," she said, stuttering over the older man's name.

"What about Gibbs makes you so nervous, anyway?" he asked, sinking down onto the sofa and indicating for her to sit, as well.

She looked away from, biting her lip. "He reminds me of my father," she finally said softly.

"And that's a bad thing?" he asked.

Alison winced, but nodded slightly.

Well, Tony could certainly empathize with that. His relationship with his own parents left a lot to be desired. Knowing that, in her place, he wouldn't want to explain, he didn't press. "Your mom?" he asked hesitantly.

Alison shook her head. "She killed herself when I was three."

Tony winced. Ouch. OK, family was definitely off the conversation plate. "You mentioned a roommate... you get along with her?"

Finally, he seemed to have hit an acceptable subject, as Alison brightened.

"Oh yeah, Rachel is great. We've been roommates since we started college. Maybe you could have someone call her and let her know I'm OK?" she asked.

"Sure. After you've spoken with Agent Gibbs, we'll ask him if he thinks it would be safe." He adjusted his arm, grimacing a bit in discomfort.

"Is it bad?" Alison asked.

Tony looked up, confused, until she motioned towards his arm. "Oh, nah, not really. Flesh wound. Just hurts when I move it," he assured her.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, once again twisting his sweatshirt.

"Hey, it's not your fault. And I'm fine. I was actually released by my doctor," he said pointedly.

Alison flushed a bit, but before she could respond, there was a firm knock at the door.

In an instant, Tony was on his feet, his good hand reaching for his gun. "Go into the bedroom and don't come out until I call for you," he said quietly.

Nodding silently, her eyes wide and frightened, Alison turned and fled to the bedroom, shutting and locking the door behind her.

Tony waited until he heard the soft click and then made his way to the door. Keeping his body to the side, he leaned over and peered through the peephole. When he saw Agent Gibbs, scowling in impatience and raising his hand to knock once again, he felt his muscles relaxing with relief. "Just a moment," he called out, working the locks. Opening the door, he held it wide for the other man to enter. "'Morning, Gibbs," he said.

He received a grunt in reply as Gibbs strode in, a cup of coffee clenched in one hand. "She still here?" he asked.

"Yeah, hang on." Padding back to the bedroom, he knocked lightly on the door. "Alison, it's me. It's OK, just Agent Gibbs." He waited and, after a few tense moments, the the lock clicked and the door opened.

"Is he angry?" she whispered.

Tony blinked. "Uh... I don't think so. A little surly, maybe, but that's normal for most people in the morning," he said. "Tell you what, I'll make some fresh coffee for him--the good stuff. Yesterday, I noticed that the man has a definite weakness for good coffee." He gave her a wink and headed down the hall.

Alison stared after him for a moment, then, taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and followed after him. It would be better to get this over with as soon as possible, and then she could start putting it behind her.

As he re-entered the living room, he motioned to Gibbs. "C'mon into the kitchen. I have better coffee than what you have there," he said, nodding towards Gibbs' cup.

Gibbs cocked an eyebrow, but followed the other man into the kitchen. He'd no more than sat down when Alison Thompson walked into the kitchen. Gibbs could tell right away that she was wary of him, so he tried to tamp down his impatience. "Morning," he offered.

"Good morning," Alison replied quietly. Her eyes flicked from him to Detective DiNozzo and then back again. She was still tense, but she forced herself to sit down in the chair across from Gibbs. Rationally, she knew she was safe, but her body and her emotions weren't so sure. When a mug was placed in front of her, she looked up in surprise to find Detective DiNozzo looking at her in concern.

"It's tea. Supposed to be calming," he murmured as he squeezed her hand reassuringly. Grateful for something to do with her hands, Alison placed both hands around the mug, enjoying the warmth. Blowing over it to cool it down, she returned her gaze to Agent Gibbs. Thankfully, he wasn't staring at her. Instead, he was watching Detective DiNozzo with what seemed to be appreciation. Blinking, she followed suit and her eyes widened as she saw that DiNozzo was bent over, digging for something in the cupboard. Her eyes darted back to Gibbs, and she could see a slight smile threatening at the corner of his mouth. Well... huh. Abruptly, she felt some of her tension ease. For the moment, at least, all of the focused attention was off of her. Taking a careful sip of the tea, she smiled slightly.

With a satisfied sound, Tony finally straightened back up. He'd known he'd had some expensive coffee stashed in the cupboard somewhere. It had just been awhile since he'd bothered to make any. Normally, he just grabbed some at the coffee shop next to the station. He thought a moment as he scooped it out and, after a brief pause, added one more scoop than normal. He had a feeling that Gibbs liked his coffee strong.

As soon as it looked as though DiNozzo was going to turn around, Gibbs averted his gaze, taking in the rest of the kitchen. It was surprisingly tidy, although, maybe it shouldn't have been surprising. DiNozzo had left a pretty organized desk, as well. It was just the image DiNozzo seemed to portray--that of a laid back jock--that made the tidiness seem incongruous. But Gibbs had already sensed there was more to the man...

"OK! Coffee should be ready momentarily. Want anything else? I have some fruit... maybe toast?" Tony offered. Both his guests shook their heads, but he was pleased that Alison seemed a bit calmer and Gibbs no longer looked quite so stormy. Hot beverages seemed to be the answer.

Grabbing a mug for Gibbs and then another for himself, he waited impatiently for the coffee to finish brewing. "Alison," he finally ventured, "why don't you tell us what happened last night."

Alison gripped her mug of tea tightly, but she nodded. "At the h-hospital, after A-Agent Todd left, I s-saw them..."

Gibbs eyebrows rose. 'Them?'

"M-military men. One of them was in the warehouse before..."

After she dropped that little bombshell, Tony poured a mug of coffee for Gibbs and sat it in front of him.

"You're saying that there was more than one man involved?"

Alison nodded. "And..." she sniffed, "there were other girls..."

Tony got his own coffee and finally sat down at the table between the two. He had been afraid of this.

"But," Alison continued, "they were shipped out. I was supposed to be, too, but he..." Alison shuddered. "He... he said he hated my father and... and that he was going to have some f-fun before he sent me off to my new m-master."

Gibbs sat his coffee down, staring at Alison. Then he turned to DiNozzo. "Is she saying that there's a white slavery ring operating within the military?"

Tony nodded, his expression grim.

"He said he hated your father? Who is your father?" Gibbs asked.

Alison looked down at the table. "General Jonathon Thompson. He's in Iraq right now."

Swearing, Gibbs reached for his phone. It fit. The strange loops in the warehouse, young white girls, and a direct route to the Middle East. "McGee? Do we have information on the dead marine yet?" He listened to McGee for a few moments then cut him off, "McGee, I don't need the details right now. Do you have his CO's name and number? Good. Get files on him and all the men in his unit. Now, put Kate on." He waited, tapping his fingers impatiently on the table. "Kate, I need you to set up a safe house for our witness--but no military personnel. I'll explain later." He closed his phone and looked back at Alison. "Do you think you could work with a sketch artist to give us a description of the man you recognized? I'm going to have some photos for you to look at, later, but in case he's not there, I'd like you to do the description first, so you're not influenced by the photos," he explained.

Alison nodded.

"Now, I need all the details you can give me. How many girls were there in the warehouse, how and where you were taken, how many men you saw, were they wearing uniforms--anything you can remember will help," Gibbs said.

Alison opened her mouth, but DiNozzo stopped her. "Hold up a moment," he said, getting up. "I have a recorder around here somewhere."

Gibbs nodded in agreement and Tony left the kitchen. He noticed that Alison immediately seemed more tense, but she didn't move from the table. "Would it be easier for you to talk with Agent Todd," he asked quietly.

Alison shook her head. "No... I can do this," she said.

Only a few moments had passed before Tony returned, a micro-recorder held up in his hand. He set it down on the table and slid it toward Alison, pushing the record button as he did so. With a nod, he indicated that she could begin.

*****

Once Alison had finished, and Gibbs was satisfied he'd gotten all the information she had, the kitchen was silent. At some point, Tony had offered his hand, and Alison had squeezed it tightly during particularly difficult parts of her story. Now, however, she let it go and stood up. "I... I'm going to..." she made a vague gesture toward the hallway and Tony nodded in understanding. Wiping her eyes a bit, she rushed from the room.

Tony took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. It had been hard to just sit there and listen and know that there was nothing he could do to help. It had already happened and there was no way to change the past. He felt an almost vicious pleasure, however, that he had killed the man who had violated her so cruelly. He'd have to be careful not to let that show as the investigation into the shooting progressed. He glanced at Gibbs and was unsurprised to see the grim look on the other man's face. He could tell by Gibbs' bearing that he had been military once, so it must be even harder for him, knowing that there were people out there using their uniforms to harm those they were meant to protect.

"This needs to stop," Gibbs finally said, his voice low and implacable.

Tony nodded. "Yes, it does." He pushed back from the table and stood, stretching, and then let out a soft hiss of pain when he jostled his arm.

Immediately, Gibbs' expression turned to one of concern. "Don't you have any pain medication?"

"Didn't take it. I can't afford to be fuzzy right now," Tony explained, half-shrugging with his good arm.

Gibbs frowned. "Do you think you're going to have problems? From all the evidence, it looks like a righteous shooting."

"It was. But that doesn't mean there won't be problems." Tony shook his head. "Let's just say that there wouldn't be many tears shed if I happened to lose my job," he finally said, with a self-mocking smirk.

Digesting that, Gibbs studied the younger man. He wasn't sure whether it would be better to pretend ignorance or to just straight out ask. He debated, and then went with his first instinct. "You mean because of what happened with your partner?"

Tony stilled, giving Gibbs a searching look. He really shouldn't have been surprised. There were probably people lined up to bad-mouth him at the station. "Yeah," he said slowly, "because of that."

Pleased that DiNozzo hadn't denied it, Gibbs let it drop for the moment. Later, once Alison was secured in a safe-house and he'd made more progress in his investigation, then he'd dig deeper into DiNozzo's history. Actually, he'd start Kate working on it. She was the one who had found out about the conflict within the department. And he needed to find out what McGee had discovered about Arnett. Satisfied with his decision, he also stood. "I'm going to check in with my team. Kate should have a safe-house set up by now, and I'll have her escort Alison there as soon as she can."

Tony nodded absently, but his mind was racing. So, Gibbs knew what had happened... or at least, thought he did. It shouldn't matter, but for some reason, he didn't want the NCIS Agent to think badly of him. He sighed. Oh well, it was out of his hands. Once the investigation was over, he'd probably never see Agent Gibbs again. And if that thought was slightly depressing, he decided to ignore it. Instead, he picked up the mugs from the table and started cleaning up the kitchen.

Alison returned just a few minutes before Gibbs. Retaking her seat, she watched Tony as he worked on the crossword from the newspaper. He looked up, giving her a smile. "Feeling better?"

She nodded. "I just wish it was all over."

"Yeah, we all do," Tony said.

Gibbs came in and sat down. "Kate's on her way. DiNozzo, I'd like you to come with me to look at the scene and walk me through it. You might notice something that we've missed."

"Sure," Tony agreed without hesitation. He was surprised that Gibbs wanted him along. Normally, when there was a jurisdictional dispute, the winner took over completely. Then again, he supposed he was a witness of a sort... and he had shot and killed a marine. He frowned. He hadn't ever actually killed anyone before, and he wondered if he should feel... guilty or something. Instead, he was just sorry he hadn't been able to do it before the man had hurt Alison. 'Huh. Wonder what the department shrink would make of that?' he asked himself. It didn't matter, though, because he had no intention of talking to the woman.

By the time a knock sounded at the door, the newspaper had been separated into various sections that were passed around. The crossword was almost done, as between the three of them, they'd made serious headway with the clues. It helped that they all seemed to have such varied knowledge bases from which to draw the answers.

Gibbs had immediately stood up and motioned to Tony to stay with Alison as he checked out the door. Just as Tony had done earlier, he was careful to remain to the side of the door, and his gun was drawn with the safety off. Before he'd even reached the peephole, however, he could hear Kate's voice.

"It's me, and the hallway's clear."

Relaxing somewhat, Gibbs still peered through the little hole just to be sure. Taking in the impatient expression on Kate's face, he smirked a bit as he opened the door. "Everything set up?"

"Yes, the sketch artist is en route to the safe-house as we speak, and McGee is getting copies of the photos of all of the men in Sgt. Mullens' unit," Kate said.

Tony's ears perked up at that. So, the man he'd killed was Sgt. Mullens... It was strange to have a name, and he wasn't sure he liked it.

"Were there any problems getting the files?" Gibbs asked.

Kate shook her head. "No. Evidently, Colonel Hathaway instructed his secretary to cooperate completely with NCIS."

Gibbs snorted. It had been his experience that no one cooperated completely with NCIS during an investigation. From Kate's wry look, she had the same thought.

Judging that Gibbs would get impatient if they didn't join him soon, Tony nodded toward the living room. Alison got the message and stood up, but she still waited for him to precede her out of the kitchen. Tony gave her a reassuring smile as he passed by, and he was gratified that he received a weak one in return. She was a survivor.

As Tony walked in, Gibbs turned and motioned towards him. "Kate, this is Detective DiNozzo. DiNozzo, Special Agent Todd."

Tony held out his good hand and was pleased when 'Kate' gave him a firm handshake. That made him feel better about leaving Alison in her care. Of course, if she was on Gibbs' team, Tony just knew she had to be good. From what he'd seen of the man, he would only accept the best, and if you weren't the best, you wouldn't be on his team. "Good to meet you, Special Agent Todd," he said sincerely.

"Detective." Studying him with profiler eyes, she couldn't quite get a handle on him. Her first impression would be over-confident ladies' man, but seeing him with Alison belied that. And Alison definitely felt safe with him. She allowed him within her personal space and, in fact, seemed to prefer to remain close to the man. And Officer Marshall had liked him, as well. She didn't have time for a deeper analysis, however, as Gibbs was glaring at her expectantly. "Ah, Ms. Thompson, if you'd come with me, please. We have a safe house waiting for you."

Alison looked at Tony. She didn't really want to leave, but she couldn't very well cling to him for the rest of her life. Without being able to stop herself, she suddenly embraced him tightly. "Thank you," she whispered, blinking tears from her eyes. She felt his one arm come around her and return the embrace. She realized that she was probably causing him some pain in his injured arm, but he hadn't complained. When she started to release him, he tightened his grip.

"You're welcome," he whispered into her hair. "You're going to get through this, Alison. I believe in you."

She nodded and then drew back. Not looking at him again, she turned to Agent Todd and straightened her shoulders. "OK, now I'm ready," she stated firmly.

*****

Tony gripped the armrest of the car door for dear life. Special Agent Gibbs drove like a madman. With his arm, he hadn't protested when Gibbs had declared he was driving, but now he was thinking he had made a serious error in judgment. He'd tried closing his eyes, but that only made it worse. Not only did it make him nauseous, but he was afraid he might miss his last living moments on the earth. "Ah, are we late for something I don't know about?" he ventured.

"Nope."

Just then, Gibbs swerved into the right lane to go around the silver Beamer in front of them. Tony held his breath as they then darted in behind a semi, only releasing it when Gibbs did not, as he had feared, plow into the back of it. He was really glad that he'd only eaten some toast for breakfast.

"Umm, wasn't that our exit?" Tony asked, as Gibbs sped right by the turnoff for the warehouse district.

"Nope."

Tony blinked in confusion. "Aren't we going to the warehouse?"

"Nope."

Evidently, plans had changed. He hated when that happened. Slanting a look over at the NCIS agent, Tony shook his head as he noted the small smirk at the corner of the man's mouth. "Are you going to tell me where we're going?"

"Nope."

Right. Of course not. Sighing heavily, Tony slid down in his seat and closed his eyes. Baltimore traffic wasn't exactly what he wanted as his last images of life. He hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, so he might as well catch a nap... and pray Gibbs didn't kill them with his driving in the meantime.

When no further questions were forthcoming, Gibbs glanced over and was surprised to find the younger man dozing. Not many people attempted to sleep in a vehicle while he was at the wheel, but he couldn't deny that DiNozzo needed the rest. Easing his foot off the accelerator, he drove a bit more sedately.

Tony jerked awake, blinking at the sunlight and momentarily disoriented.

"We're here."

Squinting at Gibbs, Tony sat up with a groan, rolling his neck to get the kinks out. He was surprised to discover they were in the parking lot of the Quantico Marine Corps base, but then his brain kicked into gear. "The CO?"

"Yep." This time, Gibbs had a blatant smirk, and Tony couldn't help but grin at him in return.

They both got out of the car and Tony fell in step behind Gibbs' left shoulder.

When they reached the reception area, Gibbs flashed his badge at the woman behind the desk. "I'm Special Agent Gibbs and this is Detective DiNozzo. We're investigating the death of Sgt. Mullens."

The secretary studied the badge, her lips pursed, but then she nodded. "I'll notify Colonel Hathaway that you're here." And then she disappeared into the back.

Tony took in his surroundings as they waited. There were a few curious looks sent their way, but no one stood out as unduly interested. He was kind of surprised to find that a military base could look so much like an ordinary office. He was jolted out of his thoughts when the secretary reappeared.

"The Colonel will see you now. If you'll follow me?"

Gibbs noted with approval that the base was neat and organized. People in uniform moved about, working with quiet efficiency. From all outward appearances, it was a well-run base. Of course, appearances could be deceiving...

Finally, the secretary stopped at a door and knocked briskly before opening it. "Colonel? Special Agent Gibbs and Detective DiNozzo."

The colonel stood up as the two men entered his office and indicated the chairs in front of his desk. "Agent, Detective," he greeted. "Please, have a seat."

"Thank you, Colonel," Gibbs said. "I'm sure you know why we're here. Special Agent Todd said that you've been very helpful in providing the files for your unit. We appreciate it. Right now, though, I'd like to get your personal take on Sgt. Mullens. What was he like? Who were his friends? That sort of thing."

Hathaway nodded, bringing his fingertips together as he thought about the questions. "Truthfully, I didn't know Sgt. Mullens very well. He just transferred into this unit a couple of months ago."

"Where was he stationed before?" Gibbs asked.

"He'd just returned from a tour in Iraq. In fact, our unit is scheduled to redeploy to Iraq within the next six months," Hathaway said.

Tony frowned. "Is that usual? I mean, if he'd just returned from Iraq, is it normal for him to be returning so soon?"

Both Gibbs and Hathaway nodded. "Absolutely," Hathaway said. "He was transferred to my unit because most of the men in his former unit were killed. In fact, most of my unit consists of the remains of other units. They were sent back stateside for some R&R and to start training together."

Gibbs nodded again, unsurprised.

"As for who Mullens spent his time with, I think you'd have better luck talking to the other men in the unit," Hathaway said. He glanced at his watch. "Right now, they should be running field exercises. I can have the Staff Sergeant take you out there," Hathaway offered.

"Sounds good," Gibbs agreed.

Hathaway picked up the phone and hit a button. "Send in Sergeant Mills," he instructed and then replaced the receiver.

In almost no time at all, there was a rap on the door and then a young man poked his head in. "Colonel?" he asked.

"Sergeant, please escort Agent Gibbs and Detective DiNozzo out to where the men are training."

"Yes, sir," Mills said, saluting.

Gibbs stood up, with Tony following his lead. "Thank you for your time and help, Colonel," Gibbs said.

"Of course. I only hope you can close your case quickly. As I said before, this unit will be shipping back out soon."

As they followed Mills out of the office, Tony took a quick look back at Hathaway and noticed that the man looked rather grim. He didn't know if it actually meant anything or not, but he took note of it. 'Though, if a man in your unit was killed while raping a woman, I suppose you would look a bit grim. It certainly doesn't reflect well on the unit.'

*****

Tony looked around with interest as they drove back into what looked a lot like a wildlife preserve. He'd never been on a military base before, and he was surprised by how much land the base actually occupied.

"How long is the training exercise scheduled to be?" Gibbs asked, breaking the silence.

"Until 0200, sir," Mills said.

"Don't call me sir," Gibbs said.

"Yes si..., uh Agent Gibbs."

Tony smirked in the backseat, but was careful to keep his face averted so Gibbs wouldn't catch him. He had definitely gotten the military vibe from Gibbs, and he wondered why the man had left. And he wouldn't be at all surprised if Gibbs had been a marine. It would certainly explain how personally he seemed to be taking the case. Leaning back in the seat, he closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. And his arm had started throbbing again.

In the rearview mirror, Gibbs could see that DiNozzo seemed to be napping again. His eyes narrowed as he took in the detective's pallor and the tightness around the man's eyes. He'd been shot enough times himself to know that the arm had to be hurting the younger man. That, combined with few hours of sleep and the stress of the situation had contributed to the detective's fatigue. They hit a pothole and Dinozzo's eyes snapped open and met Gibbs' in the mirror. For a moment, time froze and Gibbs could almost swear that DiNozzo could see right through him. Then, with a faint blush to his cheeks, DiNozzo averted his gaze and Gibbs could breathe again.

'Oh, good going, DiNozzo. Are you trying to get your ass kicked?' Tony thought to himself. He shifted a bit in the seat, attempting to get more comfortable, but refused to look in the mirror again. He didn't want to think about what he might have seen in Gibbs' eyes--it had to have been wishful thinking, anyway. Truthfully, he was surprised that Gibbs had brought him to the military base. He'd expected to walk Gibbs through the warehouse and then never see the man again... unless he was needed to testify for the case. Instead, it almost seemed as though Gibbs wanted him involved with the investigation. His musing was cut off as the vehicle stopped and he glanced out the window to see a bunch of marines in fatigues jogging out of the woods. He grimaced as he realized that these guys were going to be none too pleased once they discovered that he was the one that had killed their fellow marine... hopefully that news had yet to reach them. Gibbs must have had the same thought, because he caught the older man giving him a concerned look before returning that sharp gaze to the men approaching.

For once, Gibbs was starting to second guess himself. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to bring Detective DiNozzo to the marine base. From some of the glares he could see directed DiNozzo's way, there had been a leak in the investigation, and he knew it wasn't from his people. Narrowing his eyes, he looked over the men that were being ordered to line up in front of him, carefully noting which ones were taking a particular interest in DiNozzo. He would speak with those men personally, and leave the others to DiNozzo. With a sideways glance at the detective, he almost smiled at the casual stance the younger man had adopted, leaning back against the car with his sunglasses firmly in place. He'd ditched the sling and, from the looks of him, you'd think he was waiting for his date to arrive.

*****

They were both silent as the Staff Sgt. returned them to their car, but Gibbs couldn't help but sneak concerned looks back at DiNozzo. He was impressed with the man's ability to suck it up and do the job, but right now, he could tell the detective was paying for it. Mentally rearranging their schedule, Gibbs decided lunch, including DiNozzo's meds that he'd pocketed, would give DiNozzo a chance to rest a bit before they took their tour of the warehouse.

Tony slid into Gibbs' car with a sigh of relief. He certainly wasn't sorry to be leaving the base. Although not completely surprising, it was still worrying to know that someone in his department had leaked the information that he was responsible for the death of Sgt. Mullens. He had no doubt that it was his department and not one of Gibbs' team.

"They recognized you on sight, you realize," Gibbs stated quietly.

"Oh yeah," Tony agreed, his answer just as quiet. "Good thing you arranged for a safe house for Alison. If the bad guys know what I look like, then it's a good bet that they know where I live, too."

Gibbs nodded. "After lunch, we'll stop by your apartment so you can pick up a few things. I think it's best if you found somewhere else to stay, at least until the investigation is wrapped up," he said.

'And probably for good,' Tony silently added to himself. He was under no illusions that his time in Baltimore wasn't coming to an end. Best to get going before it was no longer an option. He'd stick it out until the case was closed, though--he owed that to Alison. Aloud, he said, "There's a deli near my building that has really good sandwiches and decent prices." He paused for a beat and added with a knowing grin, "That's where I buy my coffee, too."

Snorting, Gibbs couldn't quite suppress the small quirk of his lips. Not many people felt comfortable teasing him before they got to know him... hell, most people didn't feel comfortable teasing him even after they got to know him, but it seemed DiNozzo had no compunction about it at all.

*****

Tony felt much better after a pizza sub, cola, and the pain meds that Gibbs had insisted he take. He was still surprised that the other man had grabbed them off the counter before they left his apartment, but he wasn't complaining. Now, all he had to do was figure out where he should stay for the next little while as they worked the case. He still wasn't sure exactly why Gibbs was keeping him involved, but he couldn't deny that he appreciated it... and he didn't mind working with Gibbs at all. Banishing any thoughts that wishful thinking might lead him to, Tony dug into his pocket for the key to his door. "It'll only take me a minute," he said over his shoulder. "I keep a kit ready for those times when..." He paused in mid key turn, his eyes widening as he heard an extra click. "Gibbs! Get back!" Releasing the key, he spun and lunged, pushing the older man down beneath him just as a wave of sound and heat came from behind him. Something large and heavy hit his back and Tony grunted as the breath was pushed out of him.

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs managed to gasp out. He hadn't even had time to react to DiNozzo's panicked shout before he'd been on the floor with six foot plus of muscle on top of him. Now, there were times when he would have welcomed such an occurrence... but this wasn't one of them. When he didn't get a response, he shifted carefully, relieved that he didn't seem to be injured too seriously. A couple of bruises, maybe, but that was it. He was afraid, however, that Detective DiNozzo might not have been so lucky. Coughing in the smoky haze that had settled in the hallway, Gibbs looked around as much as he was able, trapped under DiNozzo as he was, and spotted a head poking out of a doorway a few doors down. "Call 911!" he ordered. The head popped back inside. A small groan from above him relieved a bit of his worry, but he needed to know how badly the other man was hurt. "DiNozzo?" he called again. This solicited another groan, some movement, and a few coughs before he was rewarded with DiNozzo's voice.

"Did you get the number of that truck?" DiNozzo rasped breathlessly. "I want to sue."

"You and me both," Gibbs stated grimly. "Can you move?"

"Think so..." Tony flexed his muscles experimentally, hissing as not only his sore arm complained, but other body parts let their displeasure be known, as well. He wriggled a bit, and the door that had landed on him slid to the side. Once released from its weight, he managed to roll off of Gibbs and onto his back, coughing more as he tried to suck in some air. Closing his eyes, he decided a nice little rest on the floor was just what he needed.

As soon as DiNozzo was off of him, Gibbs wasted no time in getting up from the floor. He scanned the hallway, but there was no one around, not even the head that he had seen earlier. Taking out his cellphone, he called Kate.

"Agent Todd."

"Kate, you're on protection detail for Alison Thompson. Someone just tried to blow up DiNozzo," he said. "Send McGee to DiNozzo's apartment and call Abby. Someone leaked DiNozzo's name and address to the bad guys--I want to know who."

"What?! I mean, yes, of course... Are you going to bring Detective DiNozzo to the safe-house?" Kate asked.

"No. He stays with me. Wouldn't want to have all of their targets in one location, now would we? Do you have those sketches yet?"

"Yes. I'll send them with McGee," Kate said.

"Good." Gibbs clicked the phone shut and knelt down by DiNozzo, still keeping an eye out for unfriendlies. "How're you doing?"

"Just peachy," DiNozzo responded, reluctantly opening his eyes to look up at Gibbs. "I'm never getting my security deposit back now."

Gibbs glanced back at the smoking hole into DiNozzo's apartment. "Nope," he agreed. Standing up, he ignored the slight twinge in his knee, and held out a hand. "Come on, you can't lie around all day."

Accepting the hand, Tony allowed Gibbs to help pull him upright, gripping it tighter as dizziness assailed him. "Whoa... head rush."

Gibbs looked over him critically, not liking what he was seeing. "I think we're going to the ER next," he stated.

"Aww, Gibbs, that's not necessary. I'm fine," Tony protested. To prove it, he moved himself out of Gibbs' grip... and had to catch himself on the wall before he went down again.

"Right," Gibbs stated flatly. "It wasn't a suggestion, DiNozzo."

Before Tony could respond, a couple of uniforms burst into the hallway, followed by paramedics. Gibbs had his ID out and immediately started speaking, "Special Agent Gibbs, NCIS. Someone just tried to blow up Detective DiNozzo here," he said, indicating Tony, who had decided that the wall was a good thing to lean against.

One of the uniforms quipped, "First you get shot and then blown up, DiNozzo... This just isn't your week, is it?"

"Oh, I don't know, Rogers... still breathing, aren't I?" Tony responded with a weak grin.

"So far." The uniformed cop, Officer Rogers, slid a quick look towards his partner, who was studying the still smoking hole with interest, and leaned in a bit closer, lowering his voice. "Watch your back."

Tony blinked, startled, but taking in the solemn expression on Rogers' face, nodded his understanding of the warning. "Thanks," he said, his voice barely more than a breath.

Rogers gave a nod of his own and then went to join his partner.

"Sir, why don't you come outside with us so we can take a look at you?" one of the paramedics, a rather cute blonde, suggested.

"Good idea. Go with her, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered. "Where's that kit you were talking about?"

"Uhh, just inside the bedroom, right hand side of the door," Tony answered as the paramedics moved to flank him. He wobbled a bit when he pushed off from the wall, but the cute blonde's partner, a large, muscular, black man, caught his elbow and easily started moving him towards the stairs. "I'm fine, really," Tony complained, but his wavering balance wasn't helping his argument.

Gibbs shook his head in amusement as he heard Tony proclaim his fitness all the way to the stairs. He'd say one thing for the detective, he certainly was persistent. As he stepped carefully through what was left of DiNozzo's doorway, one of the officers... DiNozzo had called him Rogers? came through from what looked like the kitchen.

"Apartment's clear, sir. No sign of any other surprises."

Scanning the living room, Gibbs nodded. He'd take a walk through himself, but it felt like a rush job to him. Someone'd got in, set the explosive, and got out. And it was sloppy, to boot. "Seal it off. My people will be coming in to process the scene."

Rogers' partner arrived just as Gibbs said the last. "This is a Baltimore PD case," he snapped, scowling.

"No, it isn't. This is part of the Alison Thompson case, which makes it mine," Gibbs stated flatly.

"Someone tried to blow up a Baltimore cop, not a marine, I'd say that puts it pretty firmly in our jurisdiction," the officer argued, his face turning redder by the minute.

"And the ordnance used looks military to me, saying it's mine," Gibbs fired back.

Before the officer could say anything else, Rogers touched his arm. "Let the Captain fight it out with him, Nick," he advised.

For a moment, it looked like Nick was going to blast his partner, but then he took a deep breath and gave a decisive nod. "Yeah, all right. No way Parnell's going to give this up to some fed," he muttered as he stomped out of the apartment. He turned just as he reached the hallway and called back. "Are you coming?"

"Yeah..." Rogers gave Gibbs a significant look and then started past him, casually dropping a crumpled ball of paper as he went, his body shielding the motion from his partner.

Waiting until both men were out of sight and hearing range, Gibbs stooped down and retrieved the wadded up paper. He smoothed it out as best he could and squinted at it, cursing the fact that he'd left his glasses in the car.

*****

When he got back downstairs with DiNozzo's duffle slung over one shoulder, Gibbs was surprised to see the detective sitting morosely on the trunk of his sedan, a gel pack held to the back of his head, watching a corvette being loaded up for transporting by the bomb squad. Raising his eyebrow, he asked, "More excitement?"

"Found an explosive device in my car, so it's being impounded," Tony stated.

Gibbs nodded. It was better to be safe than sorry. "You'll get it back."

"Sure, but in what condition? I'm sure it's not news to you that I'm not exactly the department's favorite person. And Brian had a lot of friends," Tony muttered the last part in a softer voice.

Not having anything comforting to say to that, and not really in the habit of being the comforting type anyway, Gibbs changed the subject to what he really wanted to know. "What did the paramedics say? I'm surprised they didn't cart you off to the hospital."

"Nah, just bruises and a lump on the back of my head. She did recommend bed rest, though, and gave me her number." Tony leered in Gibbs' direction and Gibbs snorted.

"Sorry, DiNozzo, for the foreseeable future, your ass is mine, and I'm not letting you out of my sight," Gibbs said.

"Why Gibbs, I had no idea you were interested in my ass," Tony quipped back, fluttering his eyelashes.

"Smart ass," Gibbs retorted. He reached out to slap DiNozzo upside the head, but was prevented by DiNozzo's hand holding the pack there and changed it to a light tap on top, instead.

"You wound me!" Tony gasped dramatically, even as as he hopped down off the trunk.

"Not yet," Gibbs muttered.

There was a loud clanking sound from the direction of the corvette and Tony winced visibly, but didn't turn around to look. He figured he was better off not knowing at this point, as there wasn't anything he could do about it. And somehow, he really doubted his insurance company covered damage induced by bomb removal and searches.

"What now? On to the warehouse?" Tony asked as he got in the car. Truth be told, he'd just as soon get far away from his smoking apartment and the tacit reminder it was that someone seriously wanted him dead. It was strange, but the warehouse, where he'd been shot, didn't feel the same way--because that was in the line of duty and hadn't been personal. Mullens hadn't cared who he was, but whoever had set the explosives in his home and his car was trying to kill Anthony DiNozzo, not some nameless cop.

Gibbs threw Tony's duffel in the back seat before replying. "Not until McGee arrives. He's bringing the sketches Alison helped make, and I don't want to leave the scene without an NCIS presence here. I'm sure I'll be receiving a call from Parnell any time now for him to whine about jurisdiction."

Tony raised his eyebrows at that. "You sure you want it? Last I checked, I wasn't a member of the Navy or the Marines."

"Maybe not, but the explosives used looked to be military grade, and considering the nasty looks those marines were sending you this morning, I'd say it's a good bet that one or more of them are involved in our after lunch excitement," Gibbs said. "And that makes it part of my case."

Not really seeing a need to point out that the marines weren't the only ones that might want him dead, Tony decided to remain silent. Besides, he didn't want Gibbs to think he was paranoid--and mentioning the fact that some members of the Baltimore PD might be using the current circumstances as a convenient way to eliminate an inconvenient detective was sure to bring up questions in the fed's mind about Tony's state of mind. With a sigh, he dropped the gel pack on the mat under his feet and wiped his hand on his pants. At this point, the cold was bothering him more than the pain in his head.

"While we're waiting, tell me what you make of this," Gibbs said as he tossed a crumpled ball of paper at DiNozzo.

Reflexively catching it before he actually even saw what it was, Tony frowned when he caught it, curious as to what it might be. He smoothed it out, and was surprised to see it was written on Baltimore PD stationary. And then his eyes widened as he realized what he was seeing. "Damn," he whispered.

"So, you know what it is?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah, I know what it is. Where'd you get it?" Tony asked in turn.

"One of the uniforms, Rogers I think it was, dropped it for me to find when his partner wasn't looking. Now, are you going to explain what it means?" Gibbs asked again, though his tone made it clear that the answer had better be "yes."

Crumpling the paper back up, Tony let his head fall back gently against the head rest as he closed his eyes. "It's a record of what I've been doing for the past week or so. Evidently, someone's been keeping tabs on me... someone within the department," he stated. 'Just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean someone's not out to get you,' he thought to himself. People were definitely out to get him.

Gibbs digested this information silently. So, it was possible that it wasn't related to his case after all... but there was no way in hell he was going to leave it to the Baltimore PD, as it seemed likely they could be complicit with the attempt on DiNozzo's life. He scowled. Dirty cops were just as bad as dirty marines, and he would take great pleasure in bringing them all down. Smiling grimly, he returned his attention to the detective and was surprised to find that DiNozzo had nodded off again. 'Adrenaline wore off,' he thought to himself. The resultant crash combined with the pain pills at lunch had served to put the man right out. He took the opportunity to study DiNozzo in an unguarded state. There was no denying that the young cop was an attractive man, and so far he'd managed to impress Gibbs with both his actions and his attitude. 'I'll have to get Abby started on a background check for DiNozzo. She's faster than Kate, and it's obvious that DiNozzo is running out of time. He can't stay here.'

Easing out of the car so as not to disturb the slumbering detective, Gibbs took out his phone. He'd let DiNozzo sleep until McGee arrived. Wasn't much they could do on the case until then, anyway. However, it did give him an opportunity to check in with Abby and have her coordinate with Kate on digging into DiNozzo's background. Hopefully, he'd have some time to grill McGee about Arnett when he arrived, too. First things first, though--he had to call Parnell and make sure the man understood that the DiNozzo case was his. He gave a feral grin. Chewing up and spitting out local LEOs was something he excelled at... and enjoyed.

By the time he'd finished all of his phone calls, McGee was pulling up behind the government issue sedan that Gibbs had driven to Maryland. Gibbs gave a quick jerk of his head, indicating McGee should join him on the apartment building steps where he'd been sitting. With a perplexed glance at the still sleeping DiNozzo, McGee obeyed.

"Boss?" he asked as he jogged up to the older man.

"He's had a busy day. Thought I'd let him sleep while he could. What did you find out about Arnett?" Gibbs asked.

McGee, who had been about to launch into a report about the security precautions Kate had established at the safe house, blinked as he switched gears. "Uh... Detective Brian Arnett was a third generation police officer. Both his father and grandfather before him were members of the Baltimore PD and both retired from there.

Gibbs broke in, "Background later. Right now, I want to know what he did that was cause for IA to get involved."

"Uh, well, according to the reports I found, he... uh..." McGee paused, swallowing hard as he felt himself turn bright red. Gibbs simply raised his eyebrows, flicking a quick glance at the car to ensure that DiNozzo was still sleeping. McGee followed his gaze and then his eyes snapped back to Gibbs. "He murdered a prostitute," McGee finally let out.

That made Gibbs blink. Well, murder would certainly be a good reason to turn your partner in, no matter what the Thin Blue Line might say about it. "And the evidence proved this?" he pushed.

McGee nodded. "Once IA took over, the case was pretty airtight. Arnett's DNA was inside as well as outside the victim, and the bruises on the body matched with his knuckles perfectly. She was beaten to death."

Sighing, Gibbs rubbed his face tiredly. "All right. When you get a chance, send me everything you found out about Arnett. Right now, though, I need you to start processing DiNozzo's apartment." He thought a minute--his team was getting spread mighty thin, and he didn't like how they were all split up, especially when it was unclear just how involved the local LEOs might be. "I'm going to see if Agent Yates can relieve Kate at the safe-house. If so, I'll have Kate join you here. In the mean time, keep your eyes open, and if anyone from the Baltimore PD comes by, keep them out of our crime scene."

"Yes, Boss, McGee said, nodding his head.

"DiNozzo and I are going to walk through the warehouse again, then we'll meet up with you and Kate back at the office. Did Alison ID any of the men from Mullens' unit in the photos?"

McGee blinked again at the rapid subject change, but found himself nodding. "Yes, a Corporal Todd Bailey was one of the men from the warehouse. Kate already called the MPs to pick him up."

Nodding, Gibbs said. "Good. No one else?"

"No, but I do have the sketches she made with the sketch artist. I'm going to scan them in when I get back to the office and run the face matching software with the military database," McGee said.

"Let me see them," Gibbs said, holding out his hand, and McGee wasted no time in placing the folder with the sketches into it. Examining the two images, Gibbs frowned. Neither of them looked familiar, and one of them had a non-regulation haircut. So, it looked like not all of those involved were necessarily in the military. "All right. Have copies made and circulate them throughout the agencies, including the Baltimore PD. Hopefully, if no matches pop up with the database, someone might have seen one of these men."

"Yes, Boss," McGee said as he took back the folder.

"And McGee, be careful. These guys are playing for keeps," Gibbs warned.

Tony jerked awake as Gibbs slid into the driver's seat. "Wha...? Oh, sorry, guess I drifted off there for a minute," he apologized.

"More like an hour, DiNozzo. You ready to walk me through the warehouse?" Gibbs asked.

An hour?! Tony blinked in surprise. True, he hadn't gotten much sleep recently, but still... "Oh, yeah, no problem," he answered Gibbs' question absently. His life expectancy was going to shrink to nothing if he didn't pull himself together and remain aware of his surroundings. He chanced a quick glance over at Gibbs, but the man didn't seem too put out, luckily. As they pulled out into traffic, Tony belatedly remembered how Gibbs drove and hurriedly fastened his seatbelt.

*****

Gibbs pulled up next to the warehouse and Tony steeled himself for getting out of the car. His head was throbbing in time with his wounded arm, and various bruises on his back were making themselves known, as well. He'd sat for too long in the car, and his muscles had stiffened as a result. Hissing a bit, he started to climb out and was startled by a firm hand gripping his arm. Gibbs stood next to the car as steady as a rock and simply offered support as Tony finally managed to stand up and then get his balance. "Thanks."

Nodding in response, Gibbs headed for the door, easily ducking under the yellow police tape that had been around the entrance. Tony followed at a somewhat slower pace, but he managed to keep up, just the same. When Gibbs flipped a switch, the lights that the forensics people had put into place instantly came on, and Tony got his first good look at the inside of the warehouse. He'd only had the haziest recollection of what the interior had looked like, apart from the bed where he'd discovered Alison and Sgt. Mullens.

"All right, take me through the night you rescued Miss Thompson, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered.

With one last glance around, Tony jerked his thumb behind him. "We need to go back outside. I came in through a different door."

Gibbs followed the detective back out the door and around the building. DiNozzo had reported earlier that he had entered through a side door, but it hadn't been clear which one, and he hadn't wanted to influence the man's memory. From the looks of things, DiNozzo knew exactly which door it was and was pointing out the latch.

"I came through here, as the door was jammed to keep from locking. It's not an uncommon occurrence around here," Tony explained. He eased the door open, scanning the immediate vicinity before going inside. "I could hear them from here, and pretty much followed my ears. There wasn't much light at all, so I had to feel my way around."

Reaching into his pocket, Gibbs extracted a mini flashlight and clicked it on. The forensics team hadn't bothered to bring lights into this part of the building. Sweeping the light around, there wasn't much to see except for some abandoned crates and what looked like a bundle of blankets.

"Probably left by the last person to hole up in here for a night or so," Tony commented.

Gibbs grunted and they continued on, DiNozzo leading the way. It wasn't long before they could see the lights Gibbs had turned on earlier and Tony stopped before they got much further. "About here is where I could finally see what was happening. Alison was chained on the bed, though I couldn't see much of her as Mullens was blocking most of her body. I announced that I was the police and he turned and shot at me in one move. I don't know where he had the gun before that. I returned fire as I dove for cover," Tony paused, frowning a bit, and then pointed at a crate, "behind that crate."

Moving over next to the indicated crate, Gibbs noted the small drops of blood that had dried on the concrete. A small trail proceeded from there, moving in the direction of the bed frame. The mattress had already been sent to Abby. Tony picked up where he'd left off, "I kept my gun trained on Mullens until I could get close to verify that he was no longer a threat, and then I moved his body off of Alison, who was definitely in distress."

There was more dried blood next to the bed frame, probably Mullens', and another small trail leading off to a different crate a few steps away. "I rummaged through his pockets and came up with a key ring that luckily had the key to the manacles, and set her free. She couldn't get off the bed fast enough, and I didn't blame her a bit. She helped me over to that small crate, and then the cavalry arrived. Late, as usual," Tony stated with a slight twist to his mouth.

"You were damn lucky, DiNozzo. If he'd been any kind of a marine, his first shot should have killed you," Gibbs remarked.

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure he was a bit distracted at the time," Tony replied, rubbing his injured arm a bit in remembrance.

"No excuse. Seems to me, there's a pattern developing here of marines trying, and failing, to kill you," Gibbs said.

DiNozzo shrugged, and immediately regretted it. Wincing, he said, "Are we sure marines are the ones that placed the explosives? I hate to remind you, but they're not the only ones that would like to see me dead," Tony stated.

"Not positive, no, but the ordnance, at least on the door, was military issue. McGee will take it to Abby, and she'll trace it."

Nodding, DiNozzo started to ask something else, but then paused, tilting his head and motioning to Gibbs for silence. He listened for a few moments and then started moving back through the warehouse, his footsteps barely making any sound. He paused before a stack of crates and jerked his thumb towards it.

Gibbs had been shadowing the detective and, with only a faint rising of his eyebrows, he moved around behind the crates, his gun already in hand. When he came out, Gibbs had the gun held to the neck of a guy holding his hands in the air.

"Jimmy Courtland. Now, what's a not so nice drug-dealing scum bag like you doing trespassing in a crime scene? That's not like you, Jimmy," DiNozzo said, shaking his head. "Thought you liked to keep a low profile?"

"Hey, I ain't done nothin'. I was just looking for a place to crash for the night," Jimmy protested.

"Yeah, right, with a Tutima watch and Gucci shoes, I really believe you need to bed down in an old warehouse for the night," Tony scoffed.

"You were found on a closed crime scene, that's reason enough to take you in," Gibbs said before Courtland could respond.

"Reason enough for a search, too," Tony added. "Have to be sure you haven't tried to remove any evidence."

Gibbs shot him a look, and was somehow unsurprised to see that DiNozzo now had a gun out and was pointing it right between Courtland's eyes. Putting his own gun away, he patted Courtland down carefully, finding not only a .38 Special, but also a switchblade, cellphone, and small packet of some white powder. "Looks like possession to me," Gibbs said.

"And that means we can hold you," DiNozzo concluded, his gun never wavering. "You have cuffs?" he asked Gibbs without taking his eyes off Courtland, only to quirk up his lip in a half smile as he heard the distinctive click of cuffs closing.

"Yep," Gibbs said as he grabbed hold of Courtland's arm and began pulling him toward the lights and the exit nearest the car. When he glanced back, DiNozzo's gun had disappeared as if it had never existed and the detective was casually strolling after them. If he started whistling, Gibbs was going to slap him upside the head, bump or no bump.

Once Gibbs got Courtland into the light, he felt a surge of satisfaction. This was one of the men from sketches. "C'mon, DiNozzo, we're done here for today. I want to get this gentleman back to NCIS headquarters for a nice, long chat," Gibbs stated.

"Sounds good to me," DiNozzo agreed amiably. He might not have caught Courtland making a deal, but from the way Gibbs was smirking, he was pretty sure the drug dealer was going down. And with that thought, DiNozzo felt some of the weight that had been upon his shoulders start to lift. He'd promised himself he'd leave once he closed the Courtland case. It was the last case that he'd worked on with Brian, and no matter what had gone down between them, the man had still been his partner.

*****

Tony shifted uncomfortably on the cold metal table. As soon as they'd reached the Washington Navy Yard, Gibbs had ordered him down to Autopsy to see Dr. Donald "call me Ducky" Mallard. Normally, Tony didn't have any problem ignoring orders he didn't like, but something in Gibbs' eyes told him he wanted to obey this one. It was the same something that sent a not unpleasant shiver down his spine, and Tony had found himself in the elevator before he even knew it. If Ducky was surprised to have a live person to examine, he didn't show it. He simply asked Tony to take off his shirt and hop on a table while he retrieved some equipment.

"Ah, here we are, Detective. I must admit, I don't get much chance to use these," Ducky was saying as he returned with a stethoscope and blood pressure gauge, among other things.

"Just Tony is fine," Tony said, twitching as the cold stethoscope touched his chest.

"Anthony is a fine name. I do believe one of my aunts married an Anthony... yes, she did. He was a missionary to the tribes in Africa, and I remember one time..." Ducky broke off as Gibbs strode into the room. "Really, Jethro, I've only just started the exam. You can't expect me to be able to tell you anything until I've had a chance to look over the boy," he said in exasperation.

Gibbs gave DiNozzo his own exam, his eyes lingering appreciatively on DiNozzo's well-defined abs. "Just had a few questions before I interview Courtland," he said, not admitting even to himself that he'd kind of been hoping to catch a glimpse of Tony with his shirt off... and not only so he could assess the damage for himself.

Noting the increased heart rate and the flush that rose to Tony's skin, Ducky frowned back at Gibbs, but as usual, it had no effect on the other man. Shaking his head and muttering softly to himself, Ducky returned to his examination. As he moved around to Tony's back, he winced a bit in sympathy at the mass of bruising. "Oh my, that must be very uncomfortable," he commented. "Did you ice these at all?"

"Just the bump on his head," Gibbs interjected. He wanted to move around so he could see Tony's back as well, but had a feeling Ducky would kick him out if he tried.

Ducky tsked. "You didn't mention that you'd hit your head as well," he chided.

"The paramedics already cleared me. Said it wasn't a concussion," Tony protested.

Feeling the bump gingerly with his fingers and then coming back around to look into Tony's eyes, Ducky grunted softly. "No, no concussion, but it's still a nasty bump. Headache? Any dizziness?"

"Bit of a headache and some dizziness earlier," Tony admitted, with a quick glance at Gibbs.

"And what's this on your arm," Ducky asked, tapping gently at the edge of the bandage on Tony's left arm."

"That's where he was shot," Gibbs stated. "DiNozzo, when I told you to come down here and get examined by Ducky, I meant you should cooperate."

Tony scowled. "I am cooperating. I just wasn't offering any extra information."

Ignoring the interaction between the two younger men, Ducky quickly unwrapped the bandage, noting that one or two of the stitches had torn and allowed some bleeding. "This won't do. I'm afraid this needs to be re-stitched. What on earth have you been doing, my boy?"

"Uh, well, I got hit by a door," Tony said weakly.

Gibbs snorted. "A door that had explosives behind it. Do I need to take him to the hospital, Duck, or can you fix it up?"

"I could put in a few stitches, but really, I think Anthony should decide whether he wants me to do it or go to the ER and have it done," Ducky said.

Cocking an eyebrow, Gibbs looked to DiNozzo. "Well?"

Swallowing hard, Tony stated. "Ducky's fine."

"All right, but I need to get some more supplies. Why don't you ask your questions while I'm doing that," Ducky suggested, already heading out the door.

Once they were alone, however, silence descended for a few moments before Tony finally cleared his throat. He felt strange sitting there half-naked with Gibbs simply staring at him. "You had questions," he prompted.

Gibbs shook his head to clear it. "Not so much questions as an idea. I want you to interview Courtland. You're the one that's been staking him out, and I'd guess that you know more about him than I do. If you don't get anything, then I'll have a go at him, but I'll have a better idea of how to handle him by having watched your interview."

"Makes sense," Tony stated, nodding. "But you might want to wait until I'm dressed."

"Actually, I want to wait until tomorrow. We'll let him stew in a cell overnight to soften him up. Right now, we've got a missing Corporal to track down," Gibbs stated.

"Bailey went AWOL?" Tony asked. Gibbs had filled him in on the drive back to Washington.

"Yep. Was nowhere to be found when the MPs showed up. And, of course, no one knew where he'd gone."

"Naturally." Tony closed his eyes and sighed. He was tired and sore and wanted nothing more than to collapse onto a soft bed for a week or two. He opened his eyes when he heard the door open and saw Ducky coming back in with a tall, black gentleman right behind him.

"Anthony, this is Gerald," Ducky said. "He's my assistant."

They exchanged nods and Gerald grinned. "It's the first time I get to watch Dr. Mallard work on someone who can talk back to him," he said.

Tony blinked, not quite sure how to take that, but offering up a small smile in return.

"Come upstairs when you're done, DiNozzo," Gibbs directed, and then he left. He was actually considering taking DiNozzo home to rest when he arrived upstairs, but quickly dismissed the idea. They had an AWOL marine to find, and he was pretty sure that the detective would object to being kept out of the loop now, no matter that he looked like he might keel over at any time. No, he'd keep Tony close to him so he could be sure the younger man was staying out of trouble. However, no all-nighters tonight.

*****

"Gibbs," Kate said as soon as he stepped out of the elevator. "The Director wants to see you in his office. General Thompson is in there with him," she warned.

"I thought he was in Iraq?" Gibbs said, frowning.

Kate shrugged. "I guess he's back."

"Any word on Bailey?"

"Not yet, but McGee is tracking his financial records right now," she said.

Gibbs grunted. "If DiNozzo shows up before I'm finished, set him up at Burley's old desk," he stated as he he started up the stairs to the Director's office.

Kate stared after him, stunned. Gibbs hadn't let anyone use Burley's desk since the man had transferred off Gibbs' team a year and a half ago.

As he approached the office, Cynthia, the receptionist, gave him a polite smile. "You can go right in, Agent Gibbs," she said.

He gave a brief nod and opened the door. The Director and a man in full uniform, the General, he supposed, both looked his way.

"Gibbs, good. Now that you're here, I'd like an update on your current case. The General is quite concerned about his daughter," Morrow stated, with a tone in his voice that suggested that Gibbs had best be reassuring them both that the case was progressing well.

"Miss Thompson is currently residing in a safe house and will remain there until I feel it is no longer necessary," Gibbs stated firmly.

"I want to see my daughter," the General growled, standing up.

Gibbs turned to face the General, looking him up an down. "With all due respect, Sir," Gibbs emphasized the 'sir,' "But I don't think that's a very good idea. All of the evidence points to a conspiracy within the military to kidnap young women and sell them as slaves in the Mid-East. No military personnel are getting anywhere near that safe-house."

General Thompson held his stare for a few moments, and then looked down and sighed heavily. "I haven't been the best of fathers, but I do love my daughter. I just want to know that she is safe and..." he broke off, unable to finish the sentence, as he knew what had been done to her and knew that it was impossible that she was 'all right' at the moment. He looked back up. "At least the bastard's dead."

Gibbs studied him and reluctantly had to admit to himself that the man was truly aggrieved by what had happened to his daughter. No matter what type of relationship the two had, he believed the General truly did care about Alison. "Alison is doing well, General," he finally said in a much softer voice.

"That's good to hear," Director Morrow said, taking control of the conversation, "but I would like to know what progress has been made in the case."

"We've managed to identify two of the men involved. One is a marine, Corporal Todd Bailey, who is currently AWOL. My team is searching for him right now. The other is a Jimmy Courtland, drug dealer, who is cooling his heals in our lock up. So far, we've haven't been able to make a positive ID on the other sketch, but we're still working on it," Gibbs said.

Morrow nodded slowly, bringing his fingertips together as he digested Gibbs' report. "And the detective that shot Sgt. Mullens, DiNotso, I think it was? Was he able to provide you with any more information about what happened the night he found Miss Thompson?"

"Detective DiNozzo has been very helpful. In fact, he's downstairs right now."

Morrow's eyebrows raised in surprise. It was rare that Gibbs deigned to work with local authorities on any of his cases. Perhaps he'd need to go downstairs to check out this Detective DiNozzo for himself.

"There was an attempt on DiNozzo's life earlier today. Someone set explosives on his apartment door and in his car. Military ordnance," Gibbs stated.

"I see," Morrow said. "General, do you have any more questions you would like answered," he asked, turning his attention back to his visitor.

"Detective DiNozzo is the one that found Alison?" General Thompson asked.

"Yes," Gibbs confirmed.

"I would like to meet him," the General stated.

"I don't see why not," Morrow agreed. "Gibbs?"

Gibbs hesitated. He didn't really want to allow it, but couldn't come up with a good reason to deny it. In any case, he would be there, as well. He nodded. "I'll introduce you."

*****

Tony stepped out of the elevator and paused, unsure where exactly he should go. He didn't see Gibbs anywhere, but he could just see the top of what looked to be Agent Todd's head. He was just about to walk her way when she glanced up and spotted him.

"Detective DiNozzo. McGee's set a computer up for you at the desk next to Gibbs'," she said, pointing to said desk.

He flashed her a bright smile. "Thanks."

Tony had no more than sat down when he saw Gibbs coming down the stairs with a high ranking officer right behind him. Narrowing his eyes, Tony could make out the stars on the man's uniform--general then. As they approached his desk, Tony got to his feet, ingrained reflexes bringing him immediately to attention as the general stopped in front of his desk.

"General Thompson, this is Detective DiNozzo. DiNozzo, Alison's father," Gibbs introduced the two men.

General Thompson immediately held out his hand. "Thank you for helping my daughter, Detective. I can never repay you for what you've done, but if you're ever in need of reference, I will be more than happy to provide one for you."

Blinking in surprise, Tony automatically shook the proffered hand. "I was just doing my job, Sir," he finally managed to get out, sending a confused glance Gibbs' way. From the way Alison had reacted to the mention of her father, Tony certainly hadn't expected a man who seemed genuinely concerned about his daughter.

"She asked you not to contact me, didn't she?" the general said, having noted Tony's bemused expression. Not waiting for a response, he continued, "I'm not really surprised. We have a... difficult relationship. After her mother died, I was determined that Alison would not share her fate, so I did all in my power to make sure that my daughter would be strong. Unfortunately, I seem to have gone a bit too far and lost her in the process."

"Alison is strong, sir. And, I think, if you were to tell her what you just told me, you might be able to build a better relationship with your daughter," Tony said. "I'm sure that she wishes she was closer to you."

Gibbs frowned as he studied the detective. From what Abby had discovered so far, it was clear that Tony's relationship with his own father was estranged--the man had disowned Tony when he was twelve, after all. It wasn't a great leap to figure out that Tony just might wish he was closer to his own father.

"Thank you, Detective. I'll keep it in mind." The general glanced at his watch and grimaced. "I'm afraid I must be going, but if you need anything to help you close this case, please call me. I want to see these bastards shut down."

"We all do," Gibbs assured him.

As soon as the general was out of sight, Tony allowed his posture to relax and collapsed back into his chair. His head was still pounding and his arm and back were throbbing in time with his pulse. Must be his meds from lunch had worn off.

"McGee, make a food run," Gibbs ordered.

"Yes, Boss," McGee said immediately. "Chinese or pizza?"

"DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

"Chinese. Some won ton soup and chicken fried rice would really hit the spot," Tony responded immediately.

"You heard the man," Gibbs said when McGee seemed to be frozen to his seat.

"Uh, yes, right away," McGee stammered. He and Kate exchanged bemused glances. Gibbs had never offered them a choice before. Although, as bad as the Baltimore detective looked, it was possible that Gibbs felt bad for the man. He looked like he should be home in bed, rather than in a strange office trying to hunt down a man that wasn't even in his jurisdiction.

"Check with Ducky and Abby, too," Gibbs said. "We'll discuss where we all are while we eat."

McGee nodded even as he reached for the phone.

*****

"We're keeping him, right?" Abby whispered into Gibbs' ear as she leaned over to steal a rangoon. "I mean, why else would you want all the background stuff and bring him back here with you?"

Gibbs tried his glare, but it never worked on Abby, and this was no exception. She just kept staring at him, waiting for an answer. Finally, he sighed and gave her a brief nod as he dug back into his Kung Pao Chicken.

Abby gave out a high pitched squeal and bounced in her chair a few times, but the only one who stopped eating to stare at her was Tony.

"She does that," McGee said, not even looking up from the egg roll he was devouring.

Mentally shrugging, Tony turned his own attention back to his food, as well. Gibbs had already come over and watched while he took his meds, so he knew he needed to eat, even though he didn't have much of an appetite. Normally, he would have been finished already and scoping for an extra egg roll or two, but his headache made him feel slightly queasy. After a few more bites, he decided he'd had enough to shield his stomach and pushed away the carton.

As if that was what he'd been waiting for, Gibbs spoke up. "McGee, what have you got?"

McGee grimaced. "Kate and I processed Detective DiNozzo's apartment, but didn't really find anything useful. Most of the prints were his. There was another set of prints, but nothing we could match. Plus, they were throughout the apartment, but only on the door handle, not the door itself."

"Probably the cleaning service," Tony offered. "The company keeps the prints of all employees on file. I can give you the number."

"That's helpful, thanks," McGee said. "As for Bailey, none of his credit cards or bank accounts have had any activity for days. I'm still waiting for his phone records."

"Kate?" Gibbs prodded.

"Baltimore PD called to identify one of the sketches as a Jimmy Courtland, known drug dealer," she said with a slight smirk and glance at DiNozzo. "The officer wondered why Detective DiNozzo didn't tell us, as he's the detective of record on the Courtland case. As he was not so subtly suggesting that DiNozzo was willfully withholding evidence, I neglected to mention that we currently have Courtland in our lock up."

"With the leaks they have, I don't want to give them any more than we absolutely have to," Gibbs approved.

"Me! Me!" Abby exclaimed, bouncing in her chair. Once Gibbs raised his eyebrow, she started right in. "Mullens was definitely the rapist. DNA was a perfect match. He totally deserved to be whacked."

"Abbs," Gibbs warned.

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, I managed to trace the ordnance used and it was military... but, the entire batch was logged as being destroyed--the quality wasn't up to military standards," Abby continued.

"Girls, drugs, and explosives? Sounds like someone's set up their own little black market," Tony commented.

"McGee, find out who was responsible for disposing of the ordnance and get them in here. I want to know how military grade explosives came to be used in the attempted murder of a police officer," Gibbs said.

Tony furrowed his brow at the term 'murder.' It was disconcerting to hear it in regards to himself.

"It's been quite an eventful day," Ducky stated, with a significant glance at DiNozzo. "It would probably be best if we called it a night and got a fresh start in the morning."

Following Ducky's gaze, Gibbs bit back the rather short retort he was about to make. DiNozzo was about as pale as the wall behind him, and Gibbs could see the tightness around his eyes that indicated that he still had a headache. Taking a deep breath, he glanced around at the rest of his team. Though none looked as bad off as DiNozzo, they were getting a bit worn around the edges. He had one suspect in custody and Alison was secure... "All right, everyone go home and get some rest. But I want everyone back here by 8 o'clock."

Immediately, Kate and McGee grabbed their stuff and headed for the door. It was rare that Gibbs let them go home at a decent time when they had an open case, and they weren't about to question it. Abby just punched Gibbs arm and grinned at him. "It's good to keep them off balance," she said in amusement. "Especially McGee."

Ignoring her, Gibbs turned to DiNozzo. "You done playing with your food?" he asked.

Tony immediately looked up from where he'd been listlessly picking out carrots from his fried rice. "Yeah. Guess I wasn't as hungry as I'd thought."

"C'mon, let's get out of here," Gibbs said, standing up. He waited patiently as DiNozzo climbed painfully to his feet. "I have a heating pad at home with your name on it."

"Oh yeah? I think I'd like to meet this heating pad," Tony said, his voice dropping suggestively.

Gibbs just shook his head. Given the detective's current physical state, he found it hard to believe the man could still be flirting with him. But he had to admit that he kind of liked it.

*****

Tony was surprised when Gibbs didn't even lock the door--just turned the knob and walked in. Then again, a thief would have to be insane to dare steal something from Gibbs. He glanced around the spartan living room with its relic of a TV set... not that there was much to steal. At least the sofa looked fairly comfortable, since that's where he assumed he'd be sleeping. He thought of his extra deep mattress with memory foam with some longing, but decided sleeping on a sofa was an acceptable alternative to being dead.

"Guest room is upstairs," Gibbs stated when Tony had started heading for the sofa. "First room on the left. Bathroom at the end of the hall."

"Thanks. Think I'll take a shower before I go to bed," Tony said.

"Good idea. Hang on and I'll get some plastic to wrap around your arm," Gibbs said, nodding towards Tony's bandage.

"Right. I forgot," Tony admitted sheepishly.

Gibbs disappeared into what Tony assumed was the kitchen and Tony dropped his duffel so he could get his arm out of his sleeve. He wondered vaguely where he'd left the sling the doctor had recommended he wear, but decided it was unimportant. Once he'd bared the arm, he leaned against the wall to wait. It wasn't long before Gibbs was back with some plastic wrap and tape.

"It might not be pretty, but it will do the job," Gibbs said as he motioned for Tony to hold out his arm. In a matter of minutes, the bandage was covered and taped down.

Tony had held absolutely still while Gibbs worked, mostly because he didn't want the man to discover how much his deft touch had affected Tony. He thought of other places he'd like Gibbs to touch and shivered.

"Shower, now," Gibbs instructed, not having missed the shiver.

'Yeah, but maybe now I need a cold one,' Tony thought to himself, as he obediently grabbed his bag and headed up the stairs.

Gibbs sighed as he watched the other man go. It would be so easy to give in to temptation, but he wanted Tony on his team and he already knew that getting involved with a co-worker was a bad idea. Paris had taught him that, if nothing else.

*****

Jimmy Courtland was looking a good deal more rumpled than he had the day before, and Tony tsked as he entered the interview room. "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, I guess you can dress the drug-dealing scum bag up in classy clothes, but it still doesn't make him classy. And someone should have told you that paisley tie just doesn't go with a pin-stripe suit," he said.

Before he could stop himself, Jimmy looked down at his tie, and then scowled at Tony. "I don't need fashion advice from a two-bit cop. Especially one that's on his way out," he spit out with a sneer.

"I'll have you know that I have impeccable taste. Case in point--see this ensemble I'm wearing? Understated, yet with a definite flair, and the teal tie sets off my eyes just so," Tony stated, posing so Courtland could get the full effect. "And I don't know who sold you those shoes, but they're at least two years out of date."

Jimmy glanced down again, before swearing and resolutely facing straight ahead, his face flushing brightly. "I want my lawyer," he stated.

"Sure. I could get you your lawyer. Of course, if I did that, I'm afraid all deals would be off the table and you'd be looking at charges of kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap... those are federal charges, you realize? In addition to possession of drugs and, since we have probable cause, I'm sure when your car and residence are searched, we'll find enough there to get you with drug trafficking, as well," Tony said affably, cocking his hip on the table as he spoke. "Not to mention carrying a concealed weapon that I doubt you have a permit for."

Brow furrowing, Jimmy interrupted, "Kidnapping? What kidnapping?"

"What? You didn't think those girls were chained in the warehouse of their own free will, now did you? Even you aren't that dumb," Tony said. "Though, looking at the cut of that suit, maybe you are..."

"Hey, I paid good money for this suit and I didn't grab those girls. I had nothing to do with them," Jimmy protested. "I was just making a drop..." he trailed off.

"Yes? Just making a drop?" Tony prompted.

"What kind of a deal are we talking about?" Jimmy countered.

"Not my place to say, but if you're ready to deal, I know just the man for you to talk to," Tony stated as he sauntered out the door, closing it behind him. He volleyed a half grin at Gibbs who was waiting just outside. "I got him all warmed up for you."

"I heard. I'll take it from here, if you want to listen in..." Gibbs indicated the room he'd just come out of that allowed people to observe the interviews without being seen or heard.

As Tony stepped inside, he saw that Kate and McGee were already there.

"Interesting technique," Kate said, though her tone suggested that she didn't necessarily approve.

"Patented DiNozzo method," Tony stated cockily.

"Was it true, about his shoes?" McGee asked, looking somewhat confused.

"Of course it was. One thing I don't kid about, is shoes," Tony said, and then turned his attention to the show in the interrogation room.

Kate and McGee looked at each other and shrugged.

******

Tony shook his head in bemusement. He'd never seen anyone spill their guts as fast as Jimmy Courtland had once Gibbs had told him just what sort of reception he'd receive in prison when it got out that he'd been involved in the rape of a marine general's daughter... and Gibbs would make sure that it got out. Of course, there was also the possibility that Courtland wouldn't make it to prison. After all, said general was just back from Iraq and had not taken the news well at all. Jimmy'd about wet himself when Gibbs started sharing tidbits from the general's military background. From then on, it was like a dam burst and they were hard put to keep up with the deluge of information coming from the man. Unfortunately, one thing he couldn't tell them, was who was behind the whole thing. Jimmy had only dealt with the muscle, not the brains. Though he had observed Mullens and Bailey call the boss whenever questions arose.

Now, Courtland was back in holding and Tony and Gibbs' team were busy following up on the leads he'd given them. Tony glanced back down at the report he'd been studying. It listed everything that had been on Sgt. Mullens' body, but something was bothering him about it. "Hey, McGee, there's no cell phone listed on this report. Did you see one at the warehouse when you were there?" he asked.

McGee stopped typing for a moment and glanced over at Tony, thinking. "No... I don't think so."

"Hmm..." Shuffling through the papers spread out on the desk in front of him, Tony found what he was looking for. "And yet, there is a monthly charge on his credit card from Verizon. I wonder just where it is the sergeant lost his phone," Tony mused. "But more importantly, who was he calling with it? Courtland mentioned that Mullens sometimes had to contact his boss..."

"So it would make sense that the number would be on Mullens' phone," McGee finished. "Let me see if I can get his phone records. If we compare them with Bailey's..."

"It'll be a good bet that the matching number will be for their mysterious boss," Tony said with satisfaction.

"They've found Bailey," Kate interjected as she hung up the phone. "Unfortunately, he's dead, so he won't be answering any questions. He was found in some woods on the base."

"Someone was afraid he'd talk," Tony commented.

"Kate, get the truck and wait for Ducky. McGee, stay on the phone records. As soon you have something, call me. DiNozzo, you're with me," Gibbs said, standing up and retrieving his gun from his desk drawer.

As if he'd been doing it for years, DiNozzo fell into step behind Gibbs. Once they were in the elevator, he slid his arm out of the sling that Ducky had insisted he wear and shoved it into his jacket.

Gibbs raised his eyebrow. "Ducky sees you without that and he'll have something to say about it. You won't get away with claiming you forgot it this time."

"I'll take my chances with Ducky," Tony stated. He knew enough about the military mind to know that any perceived weakness would be exploited. Gibbs knew it, too, which is why he didn't press the issue.

Gibbs took the time while in the elevator to look DiNozzo over. His color was much improved from the day before, and he no longer looked like he was going to drop from fatigue. In fact, the man looked damn fine, which was something Gibbs really didn't want to be noticing. Luckily, the doors opened, and Gibbs strode out without looking back.

To Tony's surprise, Gibbs veered away from the parking area and instead headed down a corridor Tony hadn't been down before. He was even more surprised when he saw what was inside. "My car!" he exclaimed.

"Man, Tony, this is an awesome piece of machinery," Abby said approvingly. "And it's in excellent condition."

"Thanks," Tony said distractedly as he inspected his beloved corvette. Amazingly, it appeared to be none the worse for wear. "How did you get her?"

"My case, my evidence," Gibbs stated. A slight smile hovered about his lips as he watched Tony croon over "his baby."

Tony looked over at Gibbs, his eyes shining. "Thanks."

"I'm almost done and I promise that I'm being extra careful," Abby stated.

"Thank you, Abby," Tony said. "I'm sure she's in safe hands."

"All right, we have a crime scene to get to," Gibbs said, heading back towards the door.

With one last pat on his corvette's hood, Tony followed Gibbs, barely keeping himself from hugging the man.

*****

For the first time, Gibbs was exposed to a happy, hyper DiNozzo... and the man never shut up. He was regaled with the entire plot of some movie called Transformers, which seemed to be about the love between a boy and his car... which could turn into a giant robot. Just when he had about as much as he could take and was ready to gag the detective, his cell phone went off.

"Gibbs," he answered.

"Uh, boss, I got the phone records and there is a number on both," McGee said.

"Do you have a name?"

"Not yet. The number's registered to a phone owned by a company called Templeton Enterprises, but they only have a PO Box for an address. I'm going to have Abby help me track down who is behind the company," McGee said.

"Give me the number," Gibbs ordered. He repeated it aloud with a significant look at DiNozzo, pleased when the other man gave him a nod indicating that he had it.

"Oh, and I finally got a call back about the ordnance. It was logged as destroyed by a Gunner Samuel Peterson, based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina," McGee said.

Gibbs frowned. "Have Pacci follow up on that for now. I want to know how that ordnance ended up in Baltimore," Gibbs said and then closed the phone.

"Maybe we can find Bailey's phone and try out that number," Tony suggested.

Nodding, Gibbs said, "That's what I was thinking. Before we try it, though, I want Abby standing by to try to trace the number."

*******

Tony wasn't surprised that they had beaten the NCIS truck to the crime scene. Gibbs didn't seem to think that the speed limit applied to him, and Tony wasn't going to contradict him. The MPs let them through when Gibbs showed his ID, and soon they were traveling back down the lane they'd been on the first time they'd visited the base.

Gibbs opened the trunk and brought out a camera which he tossed to DiNozzo. "Photos," he directed, and then he headed for the body.

Blinking a bit in surprise, Tony looked over the camera to familiarize himself with it and then did as he was told. He'd just finished taking shots of the body when the NCIS truck drove up. Rightly supposing that Ducky would make a bee line for the body, Tony moved back toward where Gibbs was still talking to the marine that had found the body. His arm was a bit sore from where using it had pulled at the stitches, but it wasn't too bad. And he really didn't want Ducky to give him a lecture in front of the Marines.

"DiNozzo, Sgt. Hale here is going to escort us to Corporal Bailey's quarters. The roommate, Corporal Lucas, is out on a five day leave," Gibbs said as Tony walked up to them.

Tony nodded in greeting, studying the sergeant with cop's eyes. The marine was pale, but met his gaze easily. Tony was relieved that he didn't see even a hint of hostility or malice in Lucas' expression. "Did you know Corporal Bailey well?" he asked as they headed towards the car.

"No, as I told Agent Gibbs, I'd only spoken to him a few times. Eric... I mean, Corporal Lucas, is a friend of mine, so I'd see Corporal Bailey when I'd stop by their quarters, but we were never what you'd call friendly. Corporal Bailey kept to himself, mostly. There were rumors that he might wash out, but you never know how much truth there is in such things," Sgt. Hale said.

Gibbs' attention sharpened at that--Hale hadn't mentioned the rumor to him.

"Oh yeah? Guess it doesn't matter now," Tony commented with a grimace. "Do you think Corporal Lucas will be upset?"

Hale shrugged. "Not really. I mean, Eric wouldn't have wished this on him, but I don't think he'll miss Bailey, either. He was complaining just last week about Bailey's cell phone going off at all hours of the night and early morning and waking him up."

"Really? That does seem inconsiderate," Tony commiserated. "Guess a guy like that might have some enemies."

"I wouldn't know about that, but I guess it's possible. I just don't like to think that there's a marine here who could commit murder," Hale said.

Tony let Hale take the passenger seat and slid into the backseat, carefully placing the camera on the floor. "I recommend you hang on, Sergeant. Agent Gibbs thinks he's in the Grand Prix."

*****

"Well, well, according to these bank statements, Corporal Bailey was making some nice, large deposits to his bank account for the last nine months or so," Tony said, waving the documents in the air. "Looks like the white slave trade is fairly lucrative."

Gibbs was about to snap out his opinion about that when his phone rang and he snapped into it, instead, "Gibbs."

"Hey, don't use that tone with me, mister. I have good news," Abby's voice came through loud enough that Tony could hear her.

"Sorry, Abbs, go ahead," Gibbs said in a softer tone.

"Finally got a match on that sketch. The only reason it took so long was that the first search was only for active military personnel, but then I got to thinking that just because he has the haircut, it doesn't mean he's still in the service, so I expanded the search to include those who used to be in the military but aren't anymore," Abby said all in one breath.

"And..." Gibbs prodded.

"And, it turns out that Lance Corporal Richard Carpenter was dishonorably discharged three months ago," Abby said.

"And where is he now?"

"I'm not sure, but his last known address was in Baltimore. I tried the phone number in his records, but it was disconnected."

"Abby..."

"Don't worry, I was going to pretend I was trying to reach the County Clerk's Office, but I didn't even get the chance to try my Lily Tomlin impression," Abby said, a definite pout in her tone.

"Give me the address and we'll check it out," Gibbs said. "We're just about done here. We have a laptop for you and McGee to check out that I'll send back with Kate."

"Cool! Oh, and McGee says to tell you that Templeton Enterprises seems to be a dummy corporation, but he's still working on finding out who is behind it," Abby said.

"All right. I'll check in again when we get to Carpenter's address." He clicked the phone shut to find DiNozzo looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face. "What?"

"Did she just say Templeton Enterprises was a dummy corporation?" Tony asked incredulously.

"Yes..."

Tony burst out laughing.

"DiNozzo..." Gibbs warned.

"Sorry, sorry, but you got to admit, it's pretty funny," Tony stated, only to receive a blank stare in return. "Templeton? As in 'Templeton Peck?' The A-Team?" When Gibbs' expression didn't clear, Tony shook his head. "I don't know how you missed it. It was one of the last good action series of the 80s... not as good as Magnum, mind you, but still good. Anyway, Templeton Peck, better known as "Face" was a consummate con man, but he used his powers for the good of his team--the A-Team. Basically, he was their supply officer. Anything they needed for a job, he would get."

"You watched entirely too much TV as a kid, didn't you?" Gibbs remarked as he exited the room.

"Aww, Gibbs, there's no such thing," Tony protested, and then he proceeded to explain the premise of the show in great detail until Gibbs warned him to shut up or be left on base with the marines.

*****

Handing off the laptop to Kate hadn't taken long, but Tony couldn't help but notice that the woman had looked less than pleased that Gibbs was taking Tony with him to Carpenter's apartment rather than her. He was a bit confused by it himself, but he certainly wasn't going to question it... and from the way he'd seen Gibbs' interactions with his team, it was unlikely that anyone else was going to, either. Now if it had been Abby, maybe.... Tony grinned at the thought of the Goth forensics expert. She was definitely the coolest lab tech he'd ever seen.

Gibbs glanced over and caught the grin. He wasn't sure what it was about, but decided it was safer not to ask. He really didn't want to learn more about 80s television at the moment. But he did like to see DiNozzo smiling--the man had a nice smile.

"Hey, you think we could stop somewhere for a bite to eat? And I'm sure that your coffee reserves must be running low," DiNozzo said. "Even a drive-through will be fine, but we've got another hour before we get to Baltimore and my toast is long gone."

Scowling, Gibbs nonetheless took the next exit. He'd never admit it to DiNozzo, but he did want a coffee, and a sandwich wouldn't be amiss, either.

This time, Tony didn't pick at his food... he inhaled it. "Thanks, that really hit the spot."

Gibbs, who was still chewing, just grunted in response. When his phone went off, he motioned for DiNozzo to answer it, as he was busy eating and driving. He forced himself not to react when Tony's hand slid inside his pocket to retrieve the phone, but it took most of his considerable will to keep himself absolutely still.

"Gibbs' phone, DiNozzo speaking," Tony answered, as if he did it everyday.

"Tony? Where's Gibbs?" Abby's tone indicating her confusion.

"He's here, but his mouth's full," Tony stated without thinking, and then he blushed as Abby immediately started giggling. "Of sandwich!" he hurried to clarify, not daring to look over at Gibbs. "Do you have something for us?" he asked, desperate to change the subject.

"Oh yeah, I've been doing some digging into Carpenter's record. Anyway, he was discharged after he almost killed a fellow marine during a training exercise. According to his last psych evaluation, he was borderline psycho, anyway. Oh, and he has a cell phone that, according to records, has also made calls and received them from that same number as Bailey's and Mullens'," Abby said.

"Bingo," Tony whispered. "Thanks for the heads up."

"Be careful," Abby said.

"Will do," Tony said and clicked the phone shut. Finally, he glanced over at Gibbs and was relieved to see that the man was staring straight ahead. "Abby says Carpenter is more than a bit insane and was discharged when he almost killed a guy during a training exercise. Oh, and it looks like he's been talking to Mr. Big, too."

"Sounds like our guy," Gibbs commented. Then he slid his eyes toward DiNozzo. "Oh, and DiNozzo, I swallowed."

Tony, who had just taken a gulp of his soda, choked, and spent the next several minutes trying to relearn how to breathe. "That's a lethal sense of humor you've got there, Gibbs," he finally gasped out. "I understand now why you're so loath to use it."

Chuckling, Gibbs tossed the empty sandwich wrapper at the detective and then increased his speed. He was ready to bring this case to a close, and Carpenter was going to help him--whether he wanted to or not.

*****

"How do you want to do this?" Tony asked as Gibbs slipped into a parking spot a few doors down from Carpenter's house.

"You take the front, I'll take the back. Announce yourself as Baltimore PD, and I'm pretty sure he'll make a beeline for the back door--and I'll be waiting," Gibbs stated with almost predatory anticipation.

"You got it," DiNozzo stated. "I'll give you a few minutes to get around the back, but you shouldn't have any trouble hearing me."

With a quick nod, Gibbs jogged around Carpenter's neighbor's house. Tony watched him for a few minutes and then began walking towards Carpenter's front door. As he approached, his demeanor changed from his normal, laid back persona to that of a dangerous, take-no-prisoners cop. By the time he reached the door, his back was ramrod straight and his scowl was firmly in place. Banging on the door with considerable force, he shouted, "Baltimore PD! Open up!" He heard someone moving around and banged on the door again. "If you don't open up, I'm coming in!" he threatened. There was no mistaking the sound of the back door flinging open and he raced around the side of the house, gun out, only to slow down as he saw that Gibbs already had the man on his knees and cuffed.

"What kept you?" Gibbs asked, as he jerked Carpenter to his feet.

"Oh, you know, I was admiring the architecture," Tony quipped back.

"Search him," Gibbs ordered, keeping one hand on Carpenter's arm.

"My, my, you are a greedy gus, aren't you, Dick?" Tony observed as he discovered not one but two cell phones, over a thousand dollars in cash, a Beretta, a 357 Magnum, and a knife. Tony whistled. "Now I wonder, what are the odds that these little beauties are actually registered? And, unless I miss my guess, one of these phones probably belongs to the late Corporal Bailey, doesn't it?"

"Let's go," Gibbs said, pulling Carpenter towards the car.

"I want a lawyer," Carpenter said, and then he was silent for the entire trip back to DC. A fact that Gibbs couldn't help but be a bit impressed by, since DiNozzo didn't cease flapping his gums for the entire drive. However, by the time they arrived, it was obvious that it was taking all Carpenter had not to simply explode.

Once Carpenter was led into an interrogation room, Tony sighed. "Whew, he's a tough nut to crack. Although, I'm pretty sure I saw some steam coming out of his ears there at the end."

Gibbs shook his head. "It's a wonder you're still alive."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Tony muttered under his breath.

"Gibbs! Gibbs!" Abby came running out of the elevator, practically skipping with excitement.

"You've got something?" Gibbs asked, distracted from the concern he felt at DiNozzo's change in mood.

"Oh boy, do I have something. We have hit the jackpot!" she exclaimed. "Looks like Corporal Bailey was getting a little concerned that he might be expendable..." she paused, tilting her head, "which I guess he was right to be, considering that someone killed him... But anyway, he was tracking everything in a spreadsheet! Dates, times, cargo--they aren't just dealing in young girls, Gibbs. There are gun shipments and drugs, even some clothing and electronics!"

"Good work, Abby. What about names?" Gibbs pressed.

"Not as such, but there are email addresses and with email addresses..."

"You and McGee can track down names," Gibbs finished for her.

"Exactly!" Abby beamed.

"Well?" Gibbs asked as she continued to stand there.

"Oh, right." Abby turned around and skipped back to the elevator.

"She sure is something," Tony said, staring after her.

"That she is," Gibbs agreed.

"Oh, Tony, you can have your car back!" Abby yelled across the room. "She's all clean."

*****

Now that he had some time to himself, Tony started to seriously consider his future. It was a given that it wasn't going to be in Baltimore, but that was about all he was sure of. He sighed, settling more comfortably into his seat. It was nice to be the one driving again, though he knew Gibbs hadn't been pleased with his decision to return to Baltimore that night. However, it wasn't as if he had much choice. IA wanted to speak with him first thing in the morning, and it made more sense for him to drive back tonight rather than get up at some ungodly time in the morning and try to make it in time. Besides, he felt as though he'd imposed upon the other man more than enough. It was time for him to start dealing with his own mess. He had every confidence that Gibbs would bring down the black market ring, and Jimmy Courtland was going to be behind bars for a long time. Just a few loose ends to clear up, and he'd be heading out of Baltimore for good. 'Maybe California,' Tony mused. 'Nice, sunny climate, girls in bikinis... or maybe Florida. After all, it is a premier spring break destination. And I always did enjoy spring break.'

His thoughts were interrupted when his cell phone went off. It startled him, as he'd almost forgotten he even had it. Frowning as he considered who might be calling him, he answered, "DiNozzo."

"You'd better not be going back to your apartment," Gibbs growled.

Tony blinked in surprise and then smiled. "Aww, Gibbs, you're worried."

"Damn right I am. Need I remind you that seem to be persona non grata in Baltimore? I said you could go back, but that doesn't mean I want to be attending your funeral. Kate got you a room at the Radisson under the name Tony Gibbs. It's already paid for, you just need to pick up the key," Gibbs said.

For a moment, Tony was speechless. He couldn't believe that Gibbs and his team had gone to that much trouble for him. "Thanks, Gibbs," he finally managed to get out.

"You can thank me by staying alive. Get your butt back here after your meeting," Gibbs ordered.

"Understood. See you tomorrow," Tony said, and then heard the click as Gibbs disconnected. He shook his head. The man had terrible phone etiquette, but he certainly proved himself on the important stuff. Still a bit dazed, Tony spent the remainder of his drive entertaining fantasies that he knew didn't have a chance in hell of ever being realized.

*****

Gibbs glared at Lance Corporal Richard Carpenter. The man still hadn't spoken a word, but Gibbs didn't really care about that. He was pretty sure they wouldn't need anything the man had to say. However, he did want Carpenter to realize just how much trouble he was in. Calmly, he placed the evidence bag with Corporal Bailey's cell phone in it on the table.

"This phone belongs to Corporal Todd Bailey, who just happens to be in our morgue downstairs. It was found on your person, with plenty of your prints upon it. We've also found your DNA on Corporal Bailey's body. Your shoes have fresh mud on them from the training ground at Quantico, even though you were discharged months ago. You do see where I'm going here, don't you? We have you cold for the murder of Corporal Todd Bailey, though I have to admit it wasn't much of a loss. Of course, that's not all. You've also been identified by a witness as being part of a white slavery ring operating in Baltimore. You're going to disappear into a deep, dark hole and never come back out," Gibbs promised.

"I want a lawyer," Carpenter said.

"Oh, you can have your lawyer. I'm done with you. I just wanted to look into your eyes when I told you your future," Gibbs said with a smirk, picking up the evidence bag and turning away.

"Wait," Carpenter said.

Gibbs turned slightly, his eyebrows raised. "For what?"

"If I'm going down, I'm not going down alone," Carpenter said grimly.

*****

Tony had just stepped out of the shower when his phone went off again. "DiNozzo."

"We got them," Gibbs said, his voice dripping with satisfaction. "Carpenter sang like a canary when he realized there was no way he was getting out of this."

"So, clue me in. What was going on?" Tony asked, getting comfortable on the bed.

"Turns out, the whole thing was masterminded by a Quarter Master at Quantico. Man by the name of Donovan Stalwarth..."

"Stalwarth? As in Stalwarth Industries? The company that went under about ten years back?" Tony interrupted.

"That would be the one," Gibbs confirmed. "Seemed he didn't like having to work for a living, so he set about making his own fortune--no matter who got hurt in the process. He found a couple of wealthy buyers in the Mideast and set about procuring for them anything they wanted... and I do mean anything."

"So, he used his powers for evil. Face would be very disappointed," Tony said.

Ignoring the comment, Gibbs continued, "General Thompson is making it his priority to round up the rest of the men involved, though there are only a few left. Stalwarth knew that the more people involved, the more likely it was he'd be caught."

"True. And if Mullens hadn't had a grudge against the General, then Alison wouldn't have been dragged into it, and then who knows how long it would have been before anyone discovered what was happening. Speaking of, how is Alison doing, have you heard anything?" Tony asked.

"Agent Cassidy brought her back here once Stalwarth was apprehended. The General is taking her on a vacation. Said he wanted a chance to really get to know his daughter, and she him," Gibbs said.

"That's good. I'm glad things are working out for her," Tony stated. "So, does that mean I can go back to my apartment? All the marines out to get me have been accounted for, right?"

Gibbs hesitated. He didn't know why, but his gut told him that it wasn't a good idea. "Not yet. There are still some unanswered questions," he said.

Tony frowned, but didn't argue. "All right, but I'm going to have to go back sometime. I'm running out of clothes."

"You can manage another day. We'll talk about it tomorrow." And then the phone went dead.

Clicking his own phone shut, Tony collapsed back onto the bed. 'Tomorrow...'

*****

Tony stepped out of the interview room and breathed a huge sigh of relief. His shooting of Mullens had been ruled self-defense. He hadn't had much time to worry about the outcome of the investigation, what with working with Gibbs nonstop since he'd called to let the man know he had his missing witness, but it was good to know that he wouldn't be facing a disciplinary hearing. Truthfully, if NCIS hadn't taken over the case, he had doubts that the investigation would have cleared him. Now, however, the case was closed, Tony was cleared, and he hadn't the faintest idea of what to do with himself. Sure, Gibbs wanted him back in DC today, but after that? In any case, he was turning in his resignation as soon as his medical leave was up.

Sliding into his car, Tony was just about to start the engine when he felt a blade next to his throat. "Follow my instructions or I'll slit your throat right here and mess up your pretty car," a low voice growled.

"Sure, no problem," Tony agreed, even as his mind was racing. He was sure he'd locked the car, and it was supposed to be a secure parking ramp. 'Right, secure unless your name happened to be Anthony DiNozzo,' he thought to himself. "This is all original interior," he said, "and there's no way all the blood would come out."

"Shut up and drive," the voice said, and the blade pressed into his skin to emphasize the point.

"Shutting up," Tony muttered. He pulled smoothly out of the spot and headed for the exit.

When they reached the street, he finally received some directions. "Head for your apartment," he was told.

For some reason, that idea sent a chill through him, but he was in no position to protest. And something about the voice seemed familiar, but he just couldn't place it. Was it one of the guys he'd put away? One of the marines he and Gibbs had questioned? It didn't sound like any of the cops he knew... Unobtrusively, he started to ease one of his hands towards his pocket.

"None of that," the voice warned. "Both hands on the wheel."

Mentally cursing, Tony did as he was told. He'd have to make his move when they got to his place. The guy would have to remove the knife in order to get out, after all.

He was two streets away when he happened to notice his tail, and he'd never been so relieved to be followed in his life. He didn't know how or why, but Gibbs was two car lengths behind him. "Any parking preference?" he asked, hoping to keep his unwanted passenger distracted.

"Your normal spot, DiNozzo."

"Hey, you know my name. That's hardly fair. Why don't you introduce yourself, since we're on such intimate terms at the moment," Tony suggested.

"Oh you know my name," the voice assured him. "You as good as murdered my boy, so I'm going to return the favor."

At that, Tony was stunned for a moment, before the penny dropped. "Mr. Arnett?" he asked, in disbelief.

"See, you are a detective. And soon, you're going to be a dead detective. We're going to go up to your apartment, where you will be so overcome with grief over the death of your partner than you're going to join him. Seems fitting, doesn't it?" William Arnett asked, the knife pressing in just enough for blood to begin dripping down the blade.

"Well, to tell you the truth, I don't really think so. After all, Brian beat a woman to death, and all I did was make sure he paid for it," Tony stated, as he pulled into his regular parking spot. A quick glance in the rear view mirror didn't show him Gibbs, so he hoped the NCIS agent was somewhere nearby.

"She was just a whore and he was my son. My son, DiNozzo, was worth quite a bit more than some piece of street trash and he was worth more than you," Arnett assured him.

"Yeah, my father would probably agree with you there," Tony stated quietly. He turned off the engine and waited, hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel.

"Now, you're going to get out nice and easy," Arnett instructed, slowly removing the knife. "I've got a gun pointed at your spinal column now, and I'm pretty sure I couldn't miss at this range, even with my left hand."

Moving as though he were made of glass, Tony maneuvered himself out of the car, being extra careful not to drip blood on the seat.

"Stop right there. Don't move a muscle," Arnett said, and Tony heard him getting out of the car and then closing both doors.

'I bet the bastard didn't even bother to lock it,' he thought bitterly. He pasted a smile on his face when he saw one of the daily dog walkers headed his way. He couldn't make his move yet, not with innocent bystanders apt to get caught in the crossfire. He'd have to wait until they reached his apartment. The thought had no more than flashed through his mind when he felt an arm come around his shoulders and Arnett scooted close to him as if they were old friends... that is, if you didn't take into account the gun he could feel jabbing into one of the bruises on his side.

"Upstairs," Arnett said, and Tony started moving.

'I wonder if they've fixed the door yet?' Tony thought idly as they rode up in the elevator. He never took the elevator himself, preferring the stairs, but he supposed Arnett might be worried about being pushed over the side. Still no sign of Gibbs, but Tony trusted he was around somewhere. When they reached his floor, it was a tense walk to his apartment where, he was sad to see, there was nothing but plastic covering the doorway. "Oh great, I wonder if my TV is still there," he groused.

"That's the least of your worries at the moment, DiNozzo. Get in there," Arnett said, even as he gave Tony a push through the plastic.

Tony went through easily enough, but he turned at the last second, whipping the plastic around Arnett's arm and pushing it upward. The gun went off and then they were both on the floor, each struggling to gain control of the gun.

"God damn it, DiNozzo. You couldn't wait one more minute?" Gibbs complained as he came running out of Tony's bedroom gun at the ready.

"I'm kind of impatient," Tony gasped out, just before Arnett slammed his head back into Tony's nose.

"All right, that's enough," Gibbs growled as he stalked over and stomped his foot down on Arnett's gun hand. There was sickening crunch and a howl of pain as the gun was released, and then Gibbs grabbed Arnett's hair and and pulled his head back with one hand while pressing a gun to Arnett's throat with the other. "It's over. Release Dinozzo or you're going to be decorating his apartment with what's left of your brains."

As soon as he was released, Tony rolled free, bringing his hand up to his bloody nose. "Ow," he stated. He heard movement from the hallway and immediately crouched, ready to take on any buddies that Arnett might have brought with him. It proved unnecessary, however, as an out of breath McGee and Kate stumbled to the door, guns drawn.

Cocking an eyebrow, Gibbs asked, "What kept you?"

*****

Kate and McGee had taken a subdued Arnett out of the apartment and were even now on their way first to the ER, and then back to DC. No way was Gibbs going to trust him to the Baltimore PD.

Tony leaned against his kitchen counter, a bag of frozen vegetables pressed to his nose. "How did you know?" he asked Gibbs, who was sipping at a cup of Tony's most excellent coffee.

"McGee finally managed to get ahold of Gunner Peterson. Turns out, the day he was destroying the bad batch of ordnance, he'd had lunch with an old marine buddy..."

"William Arnett," Tony finished for him, shaking his head.

"Yep. He remembered that batch in particular, as he had the worst case of food poisoning of his life that day. Arnett slipped something into Peterson's food so he could make off with some of the explosives," Gibbs said.

"I still can't believe it was Brian's father that was trying to kill me, but it does explain a few things. He still has friends at the precinct, and I'm sure one of them would have had no problems with keeping tabs on me... or making a copy of my car keys for him," Tony said.

"His friends aren't going to be able to help him now. Stealing explosives from a military base is a federal crime, which makes him mine," Gibbs stated with a feral grin.

"I almost feel sorry for him. I never wanted Brian dead, but I couldn't let him get away with murder. I think he would have done it again. He had anger management issues," Tony said.

"It wasn't your fault, Tony," Gibbs said. "You did the right thing."

Tony stared at Gibbs for a few moments, and then slowly smiled. "You know, there's been something I've been dying to do since the moment we met."

"What's that?" Gibbs asked.

"This..." Tony moved towards Gibbs, closing the gap between them slowly, giving the other man plenty of time to move away or stop him. When that didn't happen, he closed his eyes and pressed his lips against Gibbs'. Almost immediately, they opened in response, and Gibbs put down his coffee cup so he could pull Tony closer.

After a few minutes of hot, wet kisses, Gibbs pulled back, panting slightly. "We can't do this," he said.

"Why not?" Tony asked, moving in for another kiss. God, Gibbs was a good kisser...

"Rule number 12, never date a co-worker," Gibbs managed to get out once they came back up for air.

"Last I knew, we weren't co-workers," Tony countered.

"We will be as soon as you sign the papers." Gibbs backed up, putting some distance between them. "You're joining my team. I need a trained investigator with field experience, and we work well together."

Tony frowned. "Wait, don't I get a say in this?"

"Do you have a better offer?" Gibbs asked.

"Well, no..."

"Then it's settled. Be in the office at 8 AM in two weeks or don't bother showing up," Gibbs stated, and then he walked out, leaving a stunned DiNozzo behind him.

Tony slumped down into one of the kitchen chairs. 'Well, damn.' He wasn't quite sure what to think. But then he grinned. He was going to be on Gibbs' team! And as for rule number 12, well, rules were made to be broken.

Fin