Chapter 1: Part One
Tony stepped off the elevator and into the LCIS bull pen with a venti vanilla latte in one hand, back pack slung roguishly over the other shoulder.
McGee was already at his desk, tapping away. Typical. A light sniff told him Tim was the only fresh scent in the office. No sharp, steely tang of Ziva. No coffee-laced iron of Gibbs. Just the softer paper smell of the changeling wolf-shifter tapping away in the weak glow of his desk lamp.
"Morning, McBrown-noser. Get here early? Or have you been here all night, trying to forget your complete lack of a social life?"
"Tony." The younger agent just sighed and tilted his head in DiNozzo's general direction.
He didn't even rise to the bait. Didn't even look up from where his eyes were glued to the screen. Must be something pretty interesting.
Quietly dropping his backpack in the chair and setting his coffee down, Tony smirked to himself as he tip-toed the few steps from his desk to McGee's.
He knew he wasn't fooling anyone. The probie may have had the less developed senses of a changeling than those, like Tony who were born shifters, but at this close range even a pup with a cold would hear and smell him coming.
Not to mention that, despite his late start as a shifter, or maybe because of it, McGee had developed a preternatural sense of his personal space.
"Don't bother, Tony," McGee said, as DiNozzo leaned over his shoulder. "It's nothing that would interest you."
"How do you know I wouldn't be interested?"
The elevator doors opened, but Tony didn't bother to look as he recognized the smooth, cool scent of the third member of their team.
"What is not interesting?" Ziva asked, striding toward her desk as if it were an enemy in need of subduing.
"Timmy was here early." Tony paused and frowned. "Or late. The exact timeline has yet to be established. Anyway, he's staring and clicking and geeking so intensely, it has to be something interesting."
McGee sighed again and finally looked up. "I missed something on the Ferranti case."
The skin pulled across Tony's forehead as he frowned in concentration. "We closed that case last week."
"I know. Gibbs asked me to look at his financials for a link to Sally Haye but I didn't find anything."
"So there wasn't a link. You're right. Not interesting."
"How often have you known Gibbs's gut to be wrong?" Ziva asked and Tim nodded along with her.
"Right. So there is a link?" Tony asked and the probie dropped his head, looking like a kicked puppy.
"Yeah." A few more clicks on his keyboard, and the screen changed. Both Ziva and Tony crowded close to look over his shoulder. After a few seconds of staring at the hieroglyphics, they exchanged perplexed glances.
"Uh, I'm sure this complex series of numbers and letters is fascinating to you, but could we get the Cliff's notes?"
"Basically, she owned the company that owns the shell company that Ferranti was using to launder the money from his arms deals."
"Great, let's go pick her up…" Tony trailed off at the down-trodden shaking of McGee's head. "I'm not going to like the next thing you're going to tell me, am I?"
"She hopped a flight to Morocco twenty-four hours after we arrested Ferranti."
"Remind me again. Does Morocco do extradition?"
"No, they do not." Ziva chimed in as McGee stared at his hands. "At least they do not have an extradition treaty with the United States."
"Right. Thought so." Tony set a heavy hand on McGee's shoulder in mock sympathy. He didn't bother to keep the amusement out of his voice. "Gibbs is going to be pissed."
"I know," the changeling answered with a sad eyed pout.
Tony briefly considered all of the possible quips he could use for this occasion, but the poor kid already looked so miserable, he decided to let it go with just one more jibe.
He opened his mouth but familiar words spoken in a familiar growl came from behind him before he could speak.
Tony tried not to flinch at the sudden sound. How did Gibbs do that? Tony was a natural wolf shifter. A trained investigator. He should have heard him coming. Should have smelled him coming.
But Gibbs did it to him every time. Must be all that Marine Special Op Wolf Pack whatever training from his time in the military. Or maybe it just came from being a pack alpha.
Though, as beta, it only seemed fair that he should get some cool super power too.
"Make sure you don't forget anything," Gibbs continued as he flowed past to grab his own bag from behind his desk. "We've got a dead wolf in Colvin County."
McGee paused, squinting in thought. "Colvin County? Isn't that in the foothills of the Adirondacks?"
"Should I call Ducky?" Ziva asked.
"He already knows. He'll meet us at the cars."
Gibbs headed out of the bull pen without a backward glance, the team falling into step behind him. As they waited for the elevator, the brief exchange clicked in Tony's brain.
"Wait. Adirondacks? As in New York State?" All three members of the team gave him the ‘duh' look. "I mean, isn't that Taylor's pack's territory? They're the MCRT for New York."
"I believe they are tied up trying to find that serial killer stalking high profile wolves on Long Island. The Silver Spoon killer." Ziva chimed in as she filed into the tight space of the elevator.
"Bullet. The Silver Bullet killer," Tony corrected automatically.
The Israeli shifter gave him a serene smile. Not for the first time, he wondered if she screwed up idioms on purpose just to yank his chain. So to speak.
The elevator doors whispered shut told him they were on their way to bring down yet another bad guy. Or bad wolf, as the case may be.
Tony gripped the dash board so hard his fingers cramped as he dug in to keep himself from jerking around the front seat. Despite his best effort, Ziva had snatched the car keys and now she trailed Gibbs's Charger through morning rush hour traffic with maniacal glee.
A white blur of a van slid backward past his window, way too close and way, way too fast. His stomach twisted, protesting the breakneck speed and reckless endangerment of his partner's driving.
The sudden and sideways jerk of the car as they slid into the right lane centimeters from said white van's front bumper made him squeeze his eyes closed and try to find his happy place.
Of course, his happy place wasn't in this car. Not with Ziva's possibly homicidal driving or McGee's hang dog slump in the back seat as he tapped away on his phone. As bad as Tony's day was shaping up to be, Tim's was going much worse.
In the cold hush of the elevator McGee had filled Gibbs in on the revelations of the Ferranti case. The older wolf had simply stared at the probie with that thousand yard stare as the kid's shoulders hunched higher and higher.
Finally Gibbs had let out a short sharp breath and said, "We'll deal with that later."
Tony could have sworn he'd actually see the blood drain out of the probie, right along with any self-confidence he'd managed to scrape together. At that moment, DiNozzo was pretty sure McGee didn't have a happy place on earth he could call on. Maybe there was something in the Elf-lord realm that would make him smile.
In a rare a moment of self-aware honesty, Tony admitted his own happy place would be in the passenger seat of the car ahead of them. Right next to Gibbs.
Sure, the driving wouldn't be any better and his stomach would still be on the verge of open revolt, but the rest of him would be more at ease. Despite the frequent growls and the head smacks, Tony felt most comfortable, most right in his skin when he was next to his alpha.
Or maybe, because of them. There was always an undercurrent of affection in the reprimands. In odd sort of way, it made him feel wanted.
Not that there was anything weird about his affection for the older wolf. He was beta. His place was at his alpha's side. So what if he'd fallen into the role almost by accident in the revolving door that had been Gibbs team and pack when Tony had first joined? He'd held onto the spot for years now. That had to mean something.
So, yeah, Tony's desire to stay close to his alpha was all about his place in the pack and had nothing to do with his occasionally flexible sexuality. Not that Gibbs wasn't sexy as hell. But four previous marriages and uncounted affairs, all with women, made it clear the team leader was s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t.
A sudden sharp jerk and squeal of tires threw Tony hard into the unforgiving plastic and metal of the door as Ziva took an unnecessarily hard turn into the airstrip the LCIS used for their private transports.
Twisting around to glare, Tony rubbed his shoulder.
"Owwww." He drew the complaint out in a long whine.
"Sorry," Ziva said with a wrinkled nosed smile and absolutely no sincerity whatsoever. "I always forget where that turn is."
By the time they got to the crime scene, Tony had nearly sweated through his expensive suit and his stomach growled loud enough for the humans waiting inside the crime scene tape to hear.
After the hair curling drive to the airstrip and the turbulent flight they were met at the airport with only one of the rental cars they had requested. The rental agent's apologetic promise the second car would be delivered to them as soon as it became available did nothing to mollify Tony's disgust on the hour long ride to the back of nowhere, better known as the town of Verplanck, NY.
The five of them had been shoe-horned into a mid-size sedan the entire way. Tony wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up stuffed in the middle of the back seat between Ziva and McGee. The hour long ride was even more unpleasant than his first one that morning. Especially when they turned off the nice, civilized paved road onto the rutted gravel torture track that led to a local nature trail most often used by runners and hikers.
As they jounced and jarred way to fast along the uneven ground, he couldn't decide which of his fellow agents had sharper elbows. Either way, he was going to have bruises along both sides of his ribs for hours.
They piled out of the car like a bunch of clichéd clowns but they set to work like the well-oiled team they were. After slipping on crime scene coveralls and gear, they took up necessary task without discussion. Gibbs made a bee-line for the sheriff, who looked like he was the template for every small town lawman who graced a movie screen in the 80's. Tall, broad shouldered, thirty-ish with a boyish grin. When Tony heard him introduced himself as Sheriff Andy Laverty, he had to stomp down hard on the instinct to start whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith show.
Ducky headed for the parked Colvin County crime scene van, where the coroner and his assistant waited before the three of them tromped carefully single file along a previously made path to the body. McGee grab the camera to document the scene as Tony and Ziva grabbed their cases and silently divided up the area to begin processing for any tidbit that might somehow lead them to the murderer.
As Tony worked, he kept his eyes sharp on the area in front of him and his ears wide open listening to the sounds of the forest surrounding them for anything out of the ordinary. Of course, city born and bred, Tony doubted he'd recognized any out of place sounds. That was more McScout's area of expertise.
In the background of his attention, he made note of the victim's details as the sheriff rattled them off.
"Kyle Anderrsen. 23. Address listed as Adder Valley. Son of pack alpha, Gerald Anderrsen."
Placing a numbered yellow marker next to something that might be a partially obscured shoe print, he watched Gibbs lean against a tree next to the broad shoulder sheriff with his notebook open. The knot of tension he felt was definitely not attraction. Or jealousy at the way Andy Griffith leaned closer as he talked.
Without thinking, Tony turned his head to better eavesdrop.
"…jogger spotted him sometime around seven this morning and called it in when he got back to his car. Cell service is spotty here. My coroner started doing his thing, noticed the bite and claw marks looked more shifter than regular predator. Checked his i.d., realized who he was and figured it was best to call LCIS. Didn't realize they'd send us an MCRT from D.C."
Tony snorted and averted his gaze from the teasing smile the sheriff gave Jethro as he nudged him with a shoulder. No one was close enough to hear, thankfully. At least, no one who was paying any attention to him.
Though he'd probably get a Gibbs's smack later, anyway. The older shifter seemed to notice everything.
He tried not to grumble to himself as scanned the next few inches of ground. Of course they sent an MCRT. The kid of any alpha gets whacked, you better call LCIS. If that alpha is the leader of the fifth largest pack in the US, you better expect to get one of the elite teams.
The Lupine Criminal Investigative Service was created to investigate criminal, terrorist and espionage threats to and by lupine shifters in the United States. They were meant to support local law enforcement in exactly these kinds of cases.
"Kid's a long way from home." Gibbs was a master of making a statement into a question his audience felt compelled to answer.
The sheriff shrugged, and Tony had to glance back down at his hands to hide his snarl when the movement shifted the human even closer into his alpha's personal space. And Gibbs didn't shift away.
"There's not a dominant pack or a strong alpha in Colvin County. We get a lot of lone wolves who come here for the respite. Could be he left his pack for some reason. Haven't got much on the kid yet. When I contacted LCIS, they said they had a satellite office near the kid's pack in Adder Valley. They were going to send somebody to notify the kid's parents and get a statement. I assume you'll be hearing from your people soon."
Tony didn't need to look to know a tight frown would pulling at Jethro's mouth and furrowing his brow. His boss hated letting anyone into any part of his investigation. Not even other LCIS agents. But it couldn't be helped now.
The sound of a tinny rendition of the theme to St. Elsewhere had him glancing back to see the sheriff shrug and blush faintly as he flipped open his cell phone. Tony did not even want to know the story behind that one.
Against his better judgment, Tony's eyes remained glued to Gibbs. The older agent tucked away his notebook and took quick, ground eating strides, passing by Tony without a word. He stopped next to the body where Ducky was still bent over in his typical meticulous examination.
If Tony's eyes lingered over the strong back and drifted down to the firm ass in front of him, well, he wasn't really staring at the nice view. Low blood sugar had simply left his mind wandering in a brief zone out.
Gibbs crouched down across from Ducky, careful not to disturb the markers Ziva was setting out a few feet away.
"What've you got, Duck?"
"Looks like death by exsanguinations due to multiple lacerations. There is also some perimortem bruising to his left temple. It could indicate blunt force trauma shortly before death."
"Somebody hit him in the head before he died?"
"So it seems," Ducky nodded sadly as he stared down at the body like he was willing it to give him more answers. Then he gestured to something on the shifter's body Tony couldn't see.
"It would also explain this. He has pre-mortem bruises on his knuckles and arms."
"You think he was in a fight."
"Well, yes. But there is no evidence of defensive wounds resulting from the attack that killed him. The bites and claw marks are centered on his torso and throat. Nothing on his arms, head or face to indicate he fought back or even attempted to curl into a defensive posture. And there is no evidence I can see that he'd begun to shift to defend himself, either, though blood samples will tell us for sure."
"He was unconscious when the animal that did this attacked." It wasn't a question, but a matter of fact growl that had Ducky nodding with somber agreement.
They didn't yet know if it was a shifter or a mundane forest creature that had attacked the vic but Gibbs was right. Whoever, or whatever, had done it was indeed a mindless, conscienceless animal to viciously attack a helpless kid like that.
"Got a time of death?"
Ducky glared over the top of his glasses then huffed a breath of exasperation. "Impatient as ever, Jethro. You know I can't give you a definitive time of death until I've performed the autopsy and factored in all of the environmental and serological influences."
Tony could hear the fond exasperation and the underlying demand for answers. Even just staring at the back of his alpha, he had no doubt the doctor was receiving the patented penetrating stare coupled with a knowing smirk. The expression that said Gibbs always got what he wanted.
Eventually Ducky cracked. "To be honest, Jethro, I am finding conflicting evidence as to what time this poor shifter lost his life. The best I can tell you at the moment is sometime between ten p.m. and five a.m."
"That's a lot of time to cover."
"I know. Hopefully once I've finished with the full autopsy, I can give you the answers you need."
"Can you at least tell me whether we're looking for a shifter or if a normal predator was involved after someone incapacitated him?"
"Definitely a shifter. See the bite marks here."
Ducky pointed to a spot on the abdomen Tony couldn't see from his distant vantage point. The doctor carefully pushed back the shredded, bloody remains of what had once been a nice Zegna shirt.
"Too large for Canis lupus, more commonly known as the grey wolf, that was once native to this area. Unfortunately, they were hunted to extinction here in the 19th century." He put a thoughtful finger to the side of his mouth, a sure sign he was ready to go on a roll. "The last native wolf of the Adirondacks was believed to have been shot in 1893, if I recall correctly—"
"Duck." The low growl got the coroner's wandering thoughts.
But its deep timbre sent a shiver down Tony's spine and got his body's attention in a completely different way.
"Ah, yes, of course. Even if there are mundane wolves in the area, those marks were definitely made by a lupine shifter. Also, I can smell faint traces of several shifters he had incidental contact with in the past twenty-four hours, as well as an indistinct human scent. But there is a heavy scent of a shifter who he had prolonged contact with in the same time frame."
The doctor looked thoughtful for a minute and said, "I can't put my finger on it, but there is something vaguely familiar about the scent."
Gibbs leaned closer to the body to catch the scent profile Ducky was talking about. At this stage, the stench of decay was overpowering, even to a shifter's nose unless you get up close and personal. Ziva, who was closer, dropped what she was doing and leaned in as well.
Getting that profile could lead them to whoever had contact last with the victim. It wouldn't hold up in court without corroborating evidence, but knowing the scent of the suspected killer made finding him much easier.
As soon as Ziva leaned in her eyes went wide and cut sharply to Gibbs. He grimaced and nodded shortly, a gesture so abrupt and minute Tony would have missed it if he hadn't been staring at his boss.
For the sake of the case of course.
And the little flare of unease streaking through his chest was curiosity. Definitely not jealousy at the way Ziva and Gibbs seemed to communicate on a level above the rest of the team.
Gibbs with his Special Ops and Ziva with her Mossad training seemed to share a language that was inscrutable to the rest of the team. At night, when there was nothing to drown out his thoughts, Tony sometimes wondered why Gibbs hadn't yet encouraged Ziva to challenge him for the beta spot.
There was no doubt she could kick his ass in either form. And she could anticipate Gibbs's thoughts, orders and moods nearly as well as Tony. Better, sometimes, in situations like the one they were sharing now. She could be the kind of beta that Tony wanted to be. That he strived to prove he could be.
And he really wasn't going there now. Not in strange territory with an active case.
He would, however, attempt to get in on their little secret. Resolved, he started to move closer in order to get a whiff of the body for himself when the sheriff ended his call and ambled back over to the center of the crime scene.
Gibbs stood to meet him and the pinched look he'd shared with Ziva a moment before changed like quicksilver to that disarming grin he only shared with people he didn't find too useless. Tony had to bend over backwards, and not die, to get that particular look from his alpha.
The sheriff smiled back and said, "Seems there was a disturbance at the Stoddard last night. Your vic matches the description of a drunk causing some trouble."
Ducky opened his mouth to speak, but Gibbs waved him off. Tony was pretty sure Gibbs was the only person in the world who could shush Donald Mallard without paying heavy consequence later.
"The Stoddard?" Gibbs asked, pulling out his notebook once again.
"It's a local dive bar. Popular with a lot of loners. We usually get called once a weekend for a fight or drunk and disorderly, but nothing like…" Apparently unable to find the words, he gestured to the body at their feet. "This is the first murder in Colvin County in 30 years."
Like a bull dog, Gibbs ignored the insignificant details and zeroed in on the important questions, all smiles and ease gone from his expression. "What happened at the bar last night?"
"One of my deputies' got called to a drunk and disorderly out there, just before the end of his shift. By the time he got there, the troublemaker was gone and things had settled down. Seems a drunk out-of-towner was in the bar demanding to know where he could find a hit man"
The Andy Griffith clone shrugged and settled his hands on his belt. "Around here, the loners keep to themselves mostly and keep their noses clean. But outsiders tend to have the idea that all lone wolves are criminals."
Tony flinched and took a deep breath to loosen the hard knot that formed in his throat. He remembered the years he spent as a lone shape-shifter, and could understand the local's ire.
"Some of the shifters in the bar took exception to the kid. There was a scuffle with the bartender who threw him out and the kid was long gone by the time my deputy got there."
"Why is this the first I'm hearing about this?" The words were even, clipped and spat out through clenched teeth like bullets.
For the first time, the sheriff actually took a step away from the simmering alpha. A little flare of triumph shot through Tony and he had to swallow the smirk that threatened to bloom at the wariness in Andy Griffith's eyes.
The younger lawman dropped his hands to his sides, palms open as he lowered his eyes as well. Tony wondered if it were instinctive when dealing with a bigger badass, or something he learned from years of dealing with packless wolves.
"Like I said, he was going off shift. Nothing had happened and he figured he'd write it up when he got on shift tonight. He called as soon as he heard about what was going on up here."
Tony could see Gibbs itching to the man a smack for allowing procedure to be so lax.
Instead, the alpha asked, "Where can we find the bartender?"
Tony reached for his case, anticipating the order to go do the interview.
"He lives above the bar. I'll write out the directions."
"Ziva. McGee. Go interview the bartender."
Tony was already on his feet, the words ‘on it, boss' springing to his lips when the commands penetrated his brain.
Ziva didn't seem surprised at all, snatching the directions from the sheriff's hand and heading for the car without a backward glance. McGee stared at Tony and Tony stared back, trying to figure out what was going on. If Gibbs didn't interview a viable subject first, he always sent Tony along to do it.
"DiNozzo, take over the camera."
The sharp command broke McGee, at least, out of his frozen state. The younger agent handed over the camera with a gleeful curl of his lips.
"Here you go, Tony. I just have to finish up the southern perimeter," he said and pointed toward an area more muck and mud than solid ground.
"Great," Tony muttered to the already retreating back before he glanced down at his new Bruno Magli shoes. One would think by now he'd know better. But, for some reason, he always wanted to look his best.
And, as that thought skittered across his brain, he forced his eyes away from Gibbs and pointed the camera in the direction of today's personal hell.
Tim froze for a second when Gibbs said his name. It was the first time his alpha had addressed him directly since the uncomfortable conversation in the elevator that morning.
He'd been expecting to get the probie treatment for missing the financial link until it was too late. He been sure he'd have to wade through all the trash, mud and sludge in their foreseeable future. Which would still be worlds ahead of the treatment he'd have gotten for screwing up with his old pack.
And, at least with Gibbs's pack, he'd didn't have to worry about trying to hide the bruises after.
"DiNozzo, take over the camera."
He snapped out of the sideways train of thought and handed the camera off to a still slack jawed Tony. Sliding into the superior grin he'd perfected to cover a multitude of insecurities, he tossed one last jaunty comment before he hurried toward the doom that was Ziva's driving.
He'd barely shucked off the coveralls and buckled in before she had the car sailing over the bumps and gorges that passed for a road here.
Closing his eyes briefly against the nausea induced by a particularly violent landing, Tim reconsidered. Maybe this was punishment after all.
He glanced at Ziva ready to ask if she realized they weren't actually actively pursuing a suspect at the moment, but he swallowed the words.
She looked normal, with her hands loosely wrapping the wheel, eyes focused and scanning the road ahead. If you didn't know her well, she seemed the same as always. Relaxed concentration covering a readiness to spring into violent action at the slightest provocation.
But the faint lines around her mouth were a little more pronounced and there was a stiffness in her shoulders that belied her usual loose-limbed grace.
Also, the usual cold steel smell that was Ziva seemed to be tinged with a faint burnt, smoky tang.
Tim had never been all that good at identifying emotions by scent. Honestly, he was much better with computers than at reading people. Which was one of the many reasons Tony usually went on these kind of interviews, where impressions and understanding the unspoken were often more important than the facts collected.
But he was pretty sure the scent drifting from the driver's seat was anger. An old, banked anger that had been simmering for awhile.
Hesitantly, knowing he was taking his life in his hand, Tim asked, "Is everything ok, Ziva? You seem… tense."
Narrowed eyes turned on him with and unblinking stare and he had to swallow the urge to beg her to watch the road.
"I am fine, McGee."
The fine was punctuated with a sharp jerk of the wheel as she took a particularly surprising curve in the road somewhat faster than suggested speed. Showing his genius, finally, Tim forebear pointing that out.
"Right. Fine. Of course you are. What was I thinking?" He attempted to be placating but could not suppress the survival instinct to grab the handle above the door as the car shot forward with another unwarranted burst of speed.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, or at least change it, he grasped at the first subject that came to mind.
"The full moon is in a couple days. Abby is going to be upset if we don't hurry up and clear this case so the whole pack can be together." As always, it felt weird for most of the pack to be here when Abby and Palmer were several hundred miles away. "What do you think the chances are the bartender will turn out to be the killer and make it easy on us?"
Apparently it was the wrong thing to say, because the tension in her arms ratcheted up so much, he was afraid the plastic of the steering wheel would snap. And he had to exhale against the sudden, assaulting burnt smell filling the car.
Once again, she turned cold eyes on him and the silence was nearly as terrifying as her driving. Then she turned her eyes back to the road.
When she spoke, the words were soft and more sorrowful than the anger in the air implied.
"We will see what we see."
Silence reigned for the rest of the drive. They pulled into the parking lot of a two story building set back from the main road. The whole thing looked like it was about to be reclaimed by the woods growing wildly just yards behind the bar and the nearest sign of civilization had been a dilapidated gas station half a mile back.
The siding had once been white but was now tinged grey with age and neglect. Darkened signs that would blaze neon bright in the night hung in each window and obscured the view inside. A faded orange CLOSED sign hung haphazardly on the door.
All in all, the clichéd horror movie back country roadhouse. Tony would love it.
The wind shushing through the leaves of the trees and the hum of birds and wildlife was both soothing and ominous. Tim reached under his windbreaker to loosen his weapon in its holster as he got out of the car. On the other side of the vehicle, Ziva did the same.
The Israeli wolf led the way around back of the bar and up the stairs to the second story porch where the sheriff said the bartender lived.
She knocked with three quick, loud raps and then stepped back to wait. Tim strained his hearing until the faint sounds of movement telegraphed itself through the warm afternoon air. Next to him, Ziva cocked her head in response to the noise. When no one came to the door she let out an impatient huff and knocked again. Louder and with more intention communicated with every hard strike on the cheap wood door.
From inside, there was a low, rumbling growl of annoyance and the sound of trudging footsteps approaching the entry. The door jerked inward so abruptly that Tim actually felt the brush of displaced air move past him.
A huge, shadowed figure wearing only an unbuttoned pair of faded jeans filled the doorway and the rumbling growl swelled to a roar as the man demanded, "What the fuck do you people want?"
Tim tightened every muscle in an effort to check the instinctive urge to step back and lower his head. He'd trained himself out of that response when he started with LCIS, but occasionally he had to remind his body he was no longer an unwanted burden on the pack.
Then the large shifter's scent engulfed him.
Spice and copper.
Tim's head snapped up and he forced his eyes to focus in past the shadows and the fall of dark hair that fell smoothly to the man's chin. Sharp white teeth bared and familiar bright hazel eyes sparked something visceral deep inside Tim and he did take that step back.
His backbone straightensed and he caught himself before he takes the second step back.
Corporal Damon Werth.
Bad ass Marine who had nearly managed to take out their entire pack in one go. Werth had been innocently caught up in a bad case their team had investigated eighteen months ago. In the end, the real bad guys had been caught and Werth had been cleared of all charges. But he'd been forced to take a medical discharge from the Marines.
Now, the commando squinted against the glare of the afternoon sun and scrutinized his visitors.
His voice softened with surprise and odd pleasure.
"Yes, it's me. May we speak with you, Damon?"
Tim blinked and dragged his eyes away from Werth to stare at Ziva. He wasn't sure what surprised him the most. The echoing warmth of her voice when she spoke or that she used a suspect's given name
The moment, however, snapped him out of the frozen indecision he'd been trapped in and his heart rate started to settle back into something resembling normal.
"Sure, why the hell not?"
Werth flashed a cocky grin and turned sideways, waving her in past him. "Mi casa es su casa."
Ziva returned an answering smile and squeezed by him, no problem. When the Marine stood his ground and looked back impatiently, Tim realized he didn't plan on moving out of the way.
Taking a deep breath and holding it, he attempted to make himself as small as possible as he moved past the man in the door.
Still, Tim was forced to brush up against a disturbingly large amount of naked skin as he moved into the small apartment. The broad, chiseled chest on display, the strong, ropy arms relaxed at his side. Even the bare feet peeking out from the pale blue denim distracted Tim.
Suddenly, the irrational fear he'd felt at the sight of the shifter was fighting a very different yet equally embarrassing reaction to Werth's presence. As soon as he cleared the large body in the doorway, Tim scooted as far inside the apartment as he could get.
Werth sniffed the air and his lips curled up around the edge. His eyebrow climbed a bit and a dimple flashed in amusement as he turned back to Ziva.
"I seem to make your friend a little nervous."
"It is understandable. It took two weeks for his shoulder to heal last time."
The commando's eyes sharpened and cut back to where Tim stood.
"McGee, right? Sorry about that. Wasn't exactly myself."
Before he could think of anything to say, Werth was disappearing down a short hallway and saying over his shoulder, "Make yourselves at home."
A few minutes later, Tim and Ziva were seated on an ancient beige couch imprinted with scenes of deer, trees and hunting dogs. Across from them, Werth, who'd managed to acquire a tight, black t-shirt but still no socks, sat in an even older khaki armchair.
"How have you been?"
Again the concern Ziva showed for their prime suspect made Tim want to look for the pod. But not even an alien could drive with the kind of determined frenzy the Israeli shifter seemed to revel in.
The two of them spoke in soft tones about the Marine's new job and Tim took out his notebook and pen for the interview. As he sat, waiting, he couldn't help the thoughts that turned inward as he berated himself.
He'd been an LCIS agent for several years, now. He'd had training. Had faced hundreds of perps. Armed and deadly suspects and terrorist and trained killers.
But one look, one growl from Damon Werth and Tim had regressed back to the skinny, sixteen year old geek cowering from a bully.
And that was the problem, in a nutshell. Werth reminded Tim, at least superficially, of his former foster brother.
Pure alpha material. Strong. So much stronger than an average wolf shifter and completely outclassing a changeling. Smart. But the kind of smart that hid behind casual arrogance until it snuck up and bit you.
But Tim wasn't going there. He'd learned from Lathe that pretty packaging hid nasty surprises. His foster brother had been beautiful and had possessed a cruel streak a mile wide.
But that was in the past, damn it. He'd grown up since then. Learned to defend himself. Found a new pack. One that accepted him. If he felt a constant need to prove his worth as a wolf, and as an agent, that was his problem.
He worried about being a disappointment. Worried he'd let Gibbs down after he'd taken the chance on a green, probie changeling.
No, if he had any reason to be nervous around Werth, it was because the former Marine had dislocated his shoulder the last time they'd crossed paths. And Tim wouldn't be caught off guard again.
He forced his attention back to the moment in time to hear Ziva turn to a more brisk, businesslike tone.
"So, where were you last night between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.?"
One relaxed shoulder raised and lowered in a lazy shrug. "Worked the bar ‘til close. Then came up here about half past midnight."
"Is there anyone who can verify that, Corporal?" Tim asked.
"It's just Damon now, remember? Got a medical discharge." The careless smirk didn't quite reach his eyes.
A sliver of sympathy squeezed through Tim. He remembered what they'd learned about Werth's background. How much he'd wanted to be a Marine. What he'd given up to become one. Tim could relate to how much it sucked to be forced to change his entire life by something beyond his control.
Werth had lost not only his career, but the tight knit clan that was the Marine Special Ops wolf pack.
"I have it on good authority, there is no such thing as an ex-Marine." Ziva's voice again filled with compassion and understanding gave her accent a soothing lilt. It was the first time Tim had ever heard that tone from her. In an odd sort of way, maternal Ziva scared him a lot more than cold-blooded-killer Ziva did. In a psychedelic, Alice in Wonderland sort of way.
A flash of pain crossed Werth's face, then everything eased back into that loose-limbed slouch. For the first time, Tim realized maybe that know-it-all smirk Werth preferred was more about hiding than simple, straight up arrogance.
"The bar was pretty full ‘til last call. Tilly stayed about a half hour after that to clean. Then I came up here, alone, played Halo to unwind then crashed. Did you get all that?"
Werth's hard eyes cut abruptly toward Tim, who was carefully taking down interview notes.
Once again, the urge to squirm under that heavy gaze hit him like a punch to the gut.
Instead, Tim held himself perfectly still, returned the unblinking stare with a blanked expression and murmured, "Yes."
Werth's nostrils flared and that faint, almost secret, smile curled around his lips. Then he shook his head and shifted his attention back to Ziva.
"What's this all about, anyway?"
She pulled up a copy of Kyle Anderrsen's driver's license photo on her phone and showed it to the large shifter.
"Do you recognize this man?"
"Fuck. Yeah. He's that trouble-maker from last night." Werth's eyes scrunched and his lips pinched. "Wait, don't tell me LCIS gets called in because some spoiled, rich shifter gets a little roughed up?"
"Define ‘roughed up' please?"
Now the former Marine straightened and leaned forward in his chair.
"Do I need a lawyer, here?"
"Do you feel you did anything wrong?"
"No. Fuck." He a ran hand through the black strands of hair falling in his eyes. His voice lowered and the rumbling growl was back beneath his words. "He was pissing off the customers. I told him to leave. He took a couple of swings at me. I grabbed him, shook him a little and tossed his ass outside."
"And that was the last time you saw him?"
"Yeah. He was getting into his car, screaming something about his important daddy. That I'd regret it."
Surprise clicked in Tim. "His car? What kind of car?"
"Red BMW. What the fuck is going on?"
"Mr. Anderrsen was found dead this morning." Ziva glanced at Tim before continuing. "Murdered. Apparently by a shifter in wolf form."
"And you think the resident ‘Bane freak lost control and killed him."
The growl was more pronounced now, echoing deep in Tim's stomach. And his was so not the time to wonder why the sensation was not at all unpleasant.
"We do not think anything yet. We are still gathering facts. We were told there was an altercation. We are following up on that lead. Now, what was he doing that was bothering customers? And was there anyone who seemed particularly bothered?"
The Marine's face remained impassive as he scrutinized first Ziva, then Tim. Finally, he leaned back in the chair but the slouch he affected this time was a careless parody of his earlier relaxed sprawl.
"He was demanding to know where to find a killer for hire. Kept saying he knew there was one in Colvin County. Most of the bar's patrons are lone wolves. We tend to take offence when someone is implying we're all low-life criminals."
The smirk took on a little spark of real humor. "Even the ones that are. I could see a couple of the more… impulsive… shifters getting restless. So I stepped in and got rid of him before he really got hurt. He was alive and bitching when he left. I've got a bar full of witnesses that can vouch."
Ziva nodded, then asked, "Did anyone leave shortly after? Could anyone have followed him?"
Damon pursed his lips then shook his head, black hair once again falling into his eyes. Tim most certainly did not have the urge to push it back and run his fingers through it.
"Naw. Everyone hung tight ‘til close."
"And is it possible that he came back later?"
"Not that I saw."
Ziva glanced questioningly at Tim, but he couldn't think of anything else to ask that she hadn't already covered. He closed his notebook and stood with her. Werth followed them to the door.
Once outside on the second story porch, Ziva turned back. "We may have more questions for you later. We ask—"
"Don't leave town. Stay available. Yeah. I remember the drill. Even if last time was a little… hazy."
Ziva nodded in acknowledgment then headed for the car.
Tim hesitated. The big shifter seemed fond of Ziva, but he might not appreciate reassurance or compassion from someone like Tim. Still, he couldn't help wanting to ease the faint lines tightening around Werth's eyes.
"Look, Gibbs doesn't jump to conclusions. You know that. He'll dig ‘til he has the truth. No rush to judgment, like local law enforcement might."
Werth's eyes widened and he straightened to his full height in the doorway. For a second, as the silence stretched, Tim considered a precautionary retreat. Then the lips quirked and the dimple flashed.
His genuine appreciation shook the agent more than the angry recriminations he'd been expecting.
"Uh, yeah, um, I've got to…" Tim gestured over his shoulder. From the front of the building, they could hear the rental car roaring to life. Without another word, he turned and took the stairs two at a time.
When he reached the bottom, he couldn't help looking back. The door was already closed, though. And Damon was nowhere to be seen.
In the car, Ziva once again was too impatient to wait for him to see to basic safety procedures. He was still clicking the seatbelt into place when she roared out onto the road.
Into the quiet, he asked, "You knew it was going to be Werth, didn't you? You and Gibbs smelled him at the scene."
"It was a possibility. We could have been wrong."
Tim held back the disbelieving, hysterical laugh that threatened to bubble up at that. This case was going to mess with his head in so many ways.
Damon closed the door as the LCIS agent disappeared down the stairs. He scrubbed his hands over his face and let the wall hold him up for a minute.
He was a suspect. Again
Sure, last time he'd been cleared.
But not before the drug dealers attempting to frame him had shot him full of drugs and left him to take the blame. He'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it cost him.
Damon had lost everything. His career. His military pack. His control.
Eighteen months ago his whole world had crashed in a matter of days. The painful memories, usually kept buried deep, refused to be pushed aside this time.
Stationed stateside for a few months after a brutal mission that had earned him a Silver Star, he'd felt more like a loser than a hero. Yeah, he'd managed to rescue three of his men, but he'd failed a fourth. And PFC Stone came home without a leg.
So when he found out a couple of men in the platoon he'd been temporarily assigned to were dealing meth laced with Wolf's Bane to some of the enlisted shifters, his head hadn't exactly been in the right place.
He'd gone after them alone, without thinking things through. He'd managed to get taken by surprise and they'd shot him full of their lethal product.
Most normal drugs and alcohol have a less dramatic effect on a shifter's metabolism than they did on humans. But a little Wolf's Bane fried the system enough to feel the high. Continued use or a large dose had permanent, unpredictable physical and psychological effects. The amount they gave Damon should have been enough to kill him.
They'd intended it to. They'd intended to leave him dead in the lab of an overdose along with a trail of breadcrumbs that made it look like he'd been the mastermind behind the whole operation.
Instead, it left him unconscious for the MPs to find and send to the psych ward at Bethesda. When he woke up, the amount of 'Bane they'd pumped into him had sent him over the edge into a psychotic, paranoia fueled rage. The flashbacks of his last mission had been vicious and insanely real. As far as he was concerned, he'd been back in the war zone and everyone he met was an enemy combatant. One who stood between him and rescuing his men.
He'd broken out of the hospital, intent on saving men he'd already rescued.
Gibbs and his LCIS team had shown up, just as he'd been trying to 'rescue' PFC Stone. Gibbs had tried to talk him down, had almost made sense in the blaze of 'Bane shadowing his head. But McGee's sudden movement had triggered instincts that Damon no longer had had control over.
The fight itself was still a blank, empty few seconds of lost time for him. But he remembered the aftermath. Three men on the ground, him, in wolf form, with his paws on Ziva's shoulders and his teeth at her throat. Her voice had tugged at him, but it was the smells that finally brought him back to himself. Adrenaline had been heavy in the air, pumping out of everybody in the room.
Stone had been anxious, the rest of the patients and trainers were shocked and petrified.
Ziva had been surprisingly calm, Gibbs frustrated. The other agent, DiNozzo, had been pissed. McGee had been an odd mix of terrified and determined. And that was what had, finally, gotten through to him when nothing else had.
Despite the predator function ruling his brain, Damon knew this pack wasn't really the enemy.
That he'd hurt them, scared them, went against everything he believed in about protecting the pack. His own, shifters as a whole and his country.
So he'd shifted back and surrendered. Gone back to the hospital while Gibbs and the rest cleared his name.
But it was too late. The 'Bane had done its damage. He'd been stripped of control. His preternatural senses would trump his common sense and human sensibilities in times of stress.
He'd become a liability. Unpredictable in the field. A danger to be around.
He'd been cleared of charges, received his Silver Star but he'd stilled gotten a medical discharge.
He'd tried to go home, but it didn't work out. Not with his family and not with the pack.
After a couple of months, he'd done them all a favor, cut ties again. Eventually, he'd found his way to Colvin County, where the outcasts and loners could dwell in peace without stepping on any packs' toes.
But he'd never been packless before. Hadn't realized how much the mental and physical closeness of a pack kept him grounded kept him sane. Never realized how much pack touched and invited touching until he stepped into a world where everyone guarded their personal space with teeth and claws and vicious suspicion.
He was so fucking touch starved that having McGee brush up against his chest had nearly sent him over the edge. He'd wanted to grip the man's shoulders. Rip off the stupid windbreaker and find skin--
He pulled his hands away from his face and pushed away from the wall. He needed a drink.
But now, even a beer left him at the mercy of his fucking animal brain. He'd just have to settle for coffee and a cold shower.
Tony was finishing up the last of the photos as Ducky and the local coroner loaded the body into the van and headed out.
"You guys want a ride back into town?" The sheriff sauntered over to where Gibbs was putting the last of the bagged evidence away.
Tony shifted his attention toward the woods, trying not to eavesdrop on the low voiced conversation taking place a few yards away. Especially when his alpha loosed a low-voiced chuckle.
His teeth ached from the tension in his jaw. He focused so hard on photographing the tag in front of him, that the sound of the sheriff's car door opening took him by surprise.
His eyes darted from the sheriff, starting to load their collected evidence to his alpha, whose lips had quirked up in that sarcastic half smile that Tony secretly adored. That rare expression that made him look all young and carefree. The smile that lied prettily to Tony. That made him hope, for a half a second when sees it aimed his way, that his boss might feel the same way that he does.
Not that Tony admits to feeling anything but admiration and a healthy, respectful fear.
"Wanna' run?" Gibbs asked and Tony can feel the itching of his inner wolf wanting to come out and play. Of course, he knew Gibbs meant for work, not sport. Using the altered skills, strength and instinct to track done clues their human forms had missed.
He wondered if his answering grin gave too much away. In wolf form, he felt closest to Gibbs. Felt most like a true beta.
He ambled back toward his gear and reminded his alpha, "But I didn't get a chance to catch any of the scents off the body."
Tony wished he'd kept his mouth shut as he watched the way the playful smile vanish from the older shifter's face.
"I did. You just concentrate on finding anything out of place."
"Got it boss," he answered quickly, putting away his camera and emptying his pockets.
Tony knew it wasn't necessary. He dated a female shifter in college whose major was quantum meta-physics. She'd explained to him once where their clothes went when they shifted.
It involved words like 'wave function' and 'duality' and 'Schrodinger' and possibly something to do with pets. At one point, there were even equations written on a cocktail napkin.
He hadn't understood a word of it, but she'd had big green eyes and lush curves, so he'd tried to pretend to pay attention. And she had appreciated his effort.
He knew intellectually that anything he shifted with would come back with him. Still, he hated taking the chance.
When he was finished stowing his gear, Tony glanced up to see Gibbs helping the sheriff pack the last of the collected evidence into the trunk. The broad-shouldered lawman was leaning in too close to his boss. Again.
Deciding not to wait for Gibbs, Tony cleared his mind and allowed the shift sensation to cascade throughout his body. There wasn't any pain, just a little discomfort as his entire body rearranged itself in a matter of seconds.
As soon as he had four paws on the ground and his vision had shifted to black and white, Tony sat back on his haunches and let his tongue loll out. With laser focus, his attention zeroed in on his alpha and remained firmly attached as Gibbs shook hands one last time with the strange human.
When the car pulled away, Gibbs finally returned the attention. As soon as the blue eyes met his and the smile shifted back onto his alpha's face, Tony's whole body went on high alert, his nerves hot with expectation. A tremor of anticipation shivered through him as the older shifter paced with quick, easy grace across the crime scene.
"Eager to run, huh, DiNozzo?"
The question was punctuated with a quick ruffle of the dark brown fur on his neck and Tony shivered again, leaning into the touch, following the hand as it moved.
"Alright, Tony, alright," Gibbs laughed and brushed the hand up behind his ears for a good scratch. Tony sighed and closed his eyes, allowing the pure pleasure of the other shifter's touch to roll through him while he had the chance.
Gibbs laughed again and lifted his hand, taking a step back. Tony couldn't help the short whine at the loss of touch, then ducked his head at the undignified sound.
"Easy, DiNozzo, give me a minute and we'll go run."
He took a couple of more steps back and then his form shimmered and shifted until a large wolf stood in front of Tony, his thick grey coat almost silver in the afternoon sun. The blue eyes so familiar, Tony would know them no matter what form they looked out at him from.
He padded over to the larger, older wolf and lowered his body, arching his back to look up at his alpha with respect. The grey wolf stood tall, ears lifted as he looked unblinkingly back.
After a moment, Gibbs lowered his head slightly and brushed his muzzle against Tony's then turned and began to systematically search the scene. With the all-seeing eyes turned away from him, the brown wolf allowed the tremor of pleasure to roll through him. His alpha was always more affectionate in fur form. And Tony had to fight harder not to give too much away when the instinctive animal was in the fore.
Shaking off the unproductive thoughts, he took the other side of the scene and began to search as well.
There were scents of several unfamiliar humans, varying in degree and age. Most likely joggers and hikers in the area, but he couldn't detect any other shifters. A systematic search yielded nothing missed by their human forms and the two wolves met on the edge of the clearing, near where the trail wandered back into the more heavily wooded area.
Gibbs looked at him, huffed a single amused sounding bark then nudged hard against Tony's shoulder before taking off at a run into the trees.
Not needing to be invited twice, Tony yipped in response and gave chase. In D.C., they rarely found time to let their animals run loose in such natural, wild surroundings and the two wolves made the most of it. Darting and scampering around trees and undergrowth, playfully nudging and circling each other, tongues lolling and breath panting in relaxed pleasure.
But the pleasant interlude was cut short when Gibbs stopped abruptly, ears perked in attention. Tony followed his lead, listening intently until his ears caught the sound of their rental car approaching. McGeek and Ziva Knieval had returned. It was time to get back to work.
Tony stayed close, trotting shoulder to shoulder as they made their way back to the center of the crime scene. They reached the spot where they'd left their gear as they car pulled into sight through the trees.
By the time the car had shut off, he and his alpha had already transformed.
Chapter 2: Part Two
"Werth?" Tony repeated, not for the first time on the drive back into town as Ziva and McGee took turns relating their interview with the former Marine.
To say the least, Tony was not happy to hear about the strong shifter's appearance in this case. His stomach clenched and his skin cooled in frustration. There was still lingering resentment over the broken nose from the last case Werth had been involved with.
And then there was the personal way Gibbs had gotten involved in the soldier's case and life. Now, it was obvious that his alpha had known what Ziva and McGee were going to find when they got to the bar. That he had deliberately left Tony out of the loop.
"So, we think he was pissed at the kid, went after him, had a 'Bane flashback and killed him?"
"DiNozzo," the warning growl rumbled from deep in his alpha's chest.
"Tony," Ziva echoed Gibbs with a sharp reprimand, turning around in the passenger seat to glare at him. Tim stayed quiet, glancing between Tony and their boss with wide-eyed shock.
Tony held up one hand, ticking off points as he talked.
"Werth had an altercation with the vic. His scent is apparently all over the vic. He has medically documented control issues over his shifter instincts from the mega-dose of Wolf's Bane he was slipped. And he only has a partial alibi. Right now, he is not only our strongest suspect. He's our only suspect."
"Right now," Ziva repeated. "We have barely begun investigating. He has accounted for his scent on the vic, who left the bar whole and intact, according to Damon."
She held up her hand to forestall Tony when he opened his mouth. "A story that we will be able to verify quickly and easily once we contact the bar waitress and patrons."
"And, Tony," McGee surprised him by interrupting. "If he was going to have some kind of 'Bane induced loss of control, it would have been in the bar. Not going after him a few hours later."
"Yeah? Well…" Tony hated when he got backed into the corner with logic. "He's still our only suspect, McAdvocate."
Tony lifted his chin and tried not to wince at his pathetic comeback. He dared Tim with a look to say something, but the probie shook his head and started tapping at his phone again.
Tony didn't like Werth. And really didn't like feeling as if the entire team were ganging up on him to defend a man who had injured all four of them. Even if, technically, it hadn't been the Marine's fault. The 'Bane had permanently messed with his impulse control and he could snap like that again. It still wouldn't really be his fault. And someone could still end up in the hospital. Or the morgue.
For a split second, the image of Gibbs on the floor of the Bethesda hospital after their first altercation with Werth superimposed itself over the image of the kid, lifeless, shredded and bloody in the middle of nowhere.
No, Tony didn't like Werth. And he didn't trust him. Not near his team. And, especially, not near his alpha.
Thankfully, Gibbs pulled into the parking lot of the county Public Safety Building before Tony had to think of anything to say to break the suddenly tense atmosphere inside the confined space of the car.
The team split up once again, Tony and Gibbs heading toward the hospital conveniently located next door, in search of Ducky and any results he may have to share. Ziva and McGee headed in to put out a BOLO on Anderrsen's car and see if the sheriff or his deputies had tracked down anymore leads on Anderrsen's movements.
Knowing his alpha's hearing, Tony held in the sigh of relief that Gibbs wasn't going to be seeing the sheriff just yet. Not that Tony thought Gibbs might be attracted to the handsome lawman.
While it was now well known and accepted that most wolf shifters skewed toward bisexuality, long-established packs still eschewed same sex pairings. With four previous marriages, all to women, Gibbs had always seemed to stick to the traditional views of his birth pack. At least when it came to his sexuality.
Tony would have loved for his alpha to notice that things could be just as interesting on the other side of the street. That his alpha would simply notice him.
But he'd come to terms with the realization that Gibbs was never going to look at him that way. Tony could live with being his mentor's beta.
Part of him lived in fear that the older shifter would one day notice one of those gorgeous men who through themselves at him. Then Tony wouldn't be able to reassure himself that it wasn't personal. That it was simply a lack of tits that kept Gibbs's hands to himself.
No. If Gibbs noticed Sheriff Andy… If Gibbs responded to Sheriff Andy…
Tony would have to accept, once and for all, that it was him. That despite what he always told himself, it wasn't his father's lack. Or his own fear of commitment. He was simply unlovable.
And he wasn't quite ready for the repercussions that that deep introspection would bring.
He and Gibbs made their way through the quiet corridors in the bowels of the hospital in companionable silence. Eventually Ducky's accented rambling reached them and they follow the sound of his uninterrupted monologue into the autopsy room.
"I am so sorry about this, Mr. Anderrsen," the LCIS Medical Examiner said as he leaned over the body he was working on.
In an office cut off from the room by glass partitions, the local coroner seemed to be diligently ignoring Dr. Mallard. His assistant stared wide eyed and pale as he tried to assist the doctor though it was obvious he thought Ducky was a few pieces short of a full pie.
Ducky, as usual, was so caught up in his own anecdote, he didn't seem to notice his effect on those around him as he talked.
"Traditionally, of course, we shifters have a strong aversion to being examined in anyway after death. It goes back to the middle ages, when we were still hiding what we were from the humans and their barbaric Inquisition. Other shifters made sure the body was burned before anyone could see it. The taboo remains deeply ingrained in our culture."
He paused to pat the corpse's shoulder affectionately. "I assure you, however, Mr. Anderrsen, that you are in good hands. Occasions such as this are precisely why I chose this path rather than the more lucrative career as a surgeon. In modern times, we must often be subject to that which--"
"Duck," Gibbs interrupted, not even bothering to hide the laugh in his voice or the amusement in his eyes. "I think you're scaring the kid."
Ducky glanced up mid-sentenced and caught the blush burning up the assistant's cheeks.
"Ah, yes, well, I suppose I am use to Mr. Palmer. And he is used to my… peccadilloes. Why don't you take a break while I speak with these agents? I'll be ready to finish up in about ten minutes or so."
As soon as they were alone, Ducky sighed and spoke again. "I'm afraid I have nothing new for you. I've confirmed the cause of death and the pre-mortem blunt force trauma. Time of death remains, to use one of Abigail's favorite words, hinky."
"Hinky, Duck?" Gibbs dipped his head as he repeated Dr. Mallard's words with that tone of disbelief that anyone acquainted with him knew to be wary of.
"I'm sorry, Gibbs. Things just don't seem to be adding up. Rigor mortis suggests late last night. Body temperature suggests early this morning. I have prepared samples to send to Abby for the usual tox screens. As soon as I am done, I will send them directly to her on the transport that brought us here. Hopefully she'll be able to shed some light on this puzzling set of circumstances."
Gibbs stared silent for a moment as he turned that over then nodded at his old friend. "Alright, Duck. Keep me in the loop if you find anything else."
"Always, Jethro. Always."
Trees slid by as Tim watched them through the windshield of the second rental car. It had finally showed up a few minutes before Gibbs decided it was time to call it quits for the evening.
For once, Ziva drove at a sedate pace, following the car holding Gibbs, Tony and Ducky. It allowed Tim to enjoy the passing scenery of variegated greens, grays and browns. The rustic, wild beauty called to the wolf inside of him, and he couldn't wait to get to the cabin where they'd be staying. Hopefully he'd have time for run before his body completely crashed. It had been more than fourteen hours since he'd walked into the LCIS bullpen that morning and it was pretty much all he could do to keep his eyes open at this point.
It had been a fast paced afternoon. It hadn't taken long for the small town grapevine to point them in the direction of the missing car, found in the parking lot of the motel where Anderrsen had checked in.
Unfortunately, there hadn't been much at the scene. A single bag with a change of clothes and some toiletries. A bed that had obviously not been slept in. No sign of struggle at the car or in the room. No scents that could lead them to anyone, wolf or human.
The motel had been clean enough, but everything seemed to have a brown patina of age. The walls, the ceiling, the tub, even the pillow cases. And, to a wolf's sensitive nose, a faint musty smell that made Tim think of dank woods and rotting vegetation.
He'd been thankful at the sheriff's offer to let them stay in his uncle's unused hunting cabin. Tim had caught the brief snarl that crossed Tony's face when their alpha had clapped the sheriff on the back and thanked him for the hospitality, but he didn't understand why. Tim knew, despite being a natural wolf, DiNozzo preferred an urban environment, but he'd been the one actually bitching about the smell in the motel room they'd been processing.
Tim yawned before he could catch himself, then glanced over at Ziva.
Only the Israeli wolf could make a smirk seem sympathetic. "It has been a long day."
Tim nodded in agreement. "Yeah. And we don't have much more to show for it than when we arrived this morning."
After coming up empty at the hotel, Tim had returned to the borrowed desk and computer he'd been assigned in a quiet corner of the bull pen. He'd searched Anderrsen's phone records and his financial data. He'd followed every breadcrumb of the victim's electronic trail, but nothing out of the ordinary popped.
Still stinging from his failure on the Ferranti case, he was already determined to go over everything again and dig a little deeper.
The smirk faded from Ziva's face leaving only the sympathy behind. Somehow, that was even worse.
"It is alright Tim. Tomorrow Anderrsen's father will arrive and perhaps we will get something more to go on from him. We will continue to try to discover his whereabouts during the time he was in town that is unaccounted for."
Before anything else could be said, the car in front of them made a sharp left turn on a narrow track made up of dirt and potholes. Ziva followed Gibbs's car around the circular drive to where he stopped just past the porch steps of the 'hunting cabin.'
The log structure was the only thing that made it resemble a cabin in Tim's eyes. The building was huge. Two full stories tall, a huge wraparound porch and monstrous picture windows glazed so no one could see inside. As they'd come up the drive, he'd caught a glimpse of the hill and forest stretching behind the cabin, but it looked wild and thick and made him long for an uninhibited run.
"They must hunt a lot, to need this much space," Tim murmured as he got out the car.
In front of them, Ducky was already out of the passenger seat, but leaning back in to talk to Gibbs, who remained seated behind the wheel of the still running car. Tony slammed the back door, a scowl darkening his features as he stomped passed Tim. He wrenched bags out of the trunk where they'd stored their gear without a word to either Tim or Ziva.
The medical examiner straightened and closed the car door. Gibbs continued pulling around the driveway and back to the road they'd just come from.
Ducky held up the key as he started up the porch steps. "I'll just get the door open, then I'll be back out to help with the bags."
Tony straightened with a bag in each hand and moved with angry speed toward the cabin.
"Where is Gibbs going?" Ziva asked when he was already halfway across the porch.
He stopped abruptly but did not turn to look at them. His answer was a guttural snarl of words. "To get a drink."
Then he continued on inside.
"Ah." Ziva nodded, as if that explained everything.
Tim glanced at her for clarification, but she already had ducked her head into the back seat to grab more packs.
Inside, the floor plan was open and spacious. A great room dominated by a fireplace flowed into a modern looking kitchen. The only separation, a long wide breakfast bar surrounded by eight tall stools. A wide screen TV graced the wall opposite the fireplace. A grouping of comfortable looking leather furniture could be situated to face either direction.
A staircase led up to the second floor and four bedrooms. Ziva claimed one, Ducky another, leaving Tim and Tony to share a third. With unspoken understanding the master bedroom was left for their alpha.
When Tim eventually found himself alone again, he was on the back deck, big enough to hold his whole apartment. Finally it occurred to him what Tony meant and why he was so perturbed. If Gibbs had just wanted a drink, the cabin was fully stocked with every liquor they could possibly want.
No, Gibbs had gone to a bar. The bar.
To see Damon Werth.
And just the name conjured up an image of the shifter. Tall and buff and shirtless standing in his doorway. Tim had been trying to chase that image away all day, but it kept popping up at inopportune moments. And his body reacted every time. It went tight and hot and small shivers would race along his nerves.
He firmly reminded himself that Werth was not the type to notice, or be attracted to, a nerdy changeling. Remind himself that the Marine was all the things Tim had painstakingly avoided after he'd turned eighteen and left his adoptive pack, and his foster brother, behind. Besides, Werth was still a suspect in an ongoing investigation.
Even if there was little to tie him to the crime, at the moment.
When they'd processed the motel room and the car, there had been no trace of Werth that they could detect. The lack had made Ziva smug, Gibbs noncommittal and Tony annoyed.
Tim had just been confused by his own reaction. He'd felt only a cool flutter of relief in the pit of his stomach.
It hadn't been the mental picture of a shirtless Damon that had crossed his mind then, though.
No, it had been the last sight of him standing on his porch. The surprise and the moment of vulnerability when Tim had clumsily offered him reassurance. Then the bright, genuine smile that had made Tim want…
Well, want things that he had no business wanting.
Enough was enough. Tim shifted and headed for the trees. He let the wolf in him have its head. Allowed himself to get lost in the sensation of running through the wild undergrowth and thick trees, absorbing the wild, free air.
Allowed his mind to rest and stop worrying at things he had no hope of fixing.
Damon was wiping down an already clean spot on the bar when Gibbs walked in. The alpha stopped in the doorway, assessing the quiet Tuesday night crowd.
O'Brien and Sampson hulked in their biker leathers near the jukebox. On the opposite side of the room, Tilly was serving drinks to old man William and his nephew. Carla, who was old enough to be Damon's mother, sat at the other end of the bar, trying desperately to flirt with him whenever he looked her way.
Damon exhaled tightly when Gibbs finally moseyed across the room. The tension in the air rose exponentially as every eye in the place watched him move. Gibbs was a strong alpha and exuded cop with his every move. Neither label would make him popular, or welcome, by the crowd at the Stoddard.
"Bourbon, neat?" Damon asked when Gibbs finally slid onto the barstool in front of him, already reaching for the bottle as the older man nodded.
After several minutes of being stared at while Gibbs sipped his whiskey with deliberate slowness, Damon put his elbows onto the bar and dropped his head into his hands, letting his hair shield his eyes and his expression.
"I guess I should have expected you, huh?"
"Probably should'a, yeah."
Damon looked up and nodded with bone deep resignation. "Alright, get on with the interrogation."
Gibbs smiled, eyes crinkling at the edges. "If this was an interrogation, you'd be in a small room with a big mirror."
"Yeah, I remember." He didn't bother to suppress the shudder. "So, what is this, then?"
One shoulder slipped up and down. "Just a friendly conversation."
Damon copied the almost shrug. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I thought you went home to Michigan and your old pack?"
The question came out of left field and sliced directly through every emotional barrier he'd erected in the past eighteen months. The tight squeeze of rejection and isolation wrapped around his lungs, leaving him breathless.
Fighting to regain control, he resumed the pointless cleaning of the spotless bar. Eventually, he answered in a tone that wouldn't carry much beyond Gibbs's hearing.
"Mom wasn't exactly thrilled about me joining the Marines to begin with. And my alpha never forgave me for breaking pack ties to join the Ops' pack." He stopped moving to stare sightlessly at the wood grain under his hand. "Throw in a couple of 'Bane induced episodes and it just seemed… better… for everyone, if I went it alone, ya' know?"
"I know." The response was slightly hoarse and raw, hinting at an ancient pain. Damon looked up quickly, but Gibbs, as always, remained unreadable.
No more than a hint of sadness even drifted into his scent.
Then the alpha cleared his throat and glanced around at the rest of the patrons who had resumed their normal habits, if a little more tense than usual.
"Anyone here tonight that was here last night?"
"Tilly," he answered, gesturing toward the waitress. "And O'Brien. Big guy in the biker leather, the one with the beard, not the ponytail."
Deciding not to watch as Gibbs made the rounds, talking to witnesses, Damon turned his back and looked for something to keep himself busy. Giving up on the bar, he started washing glasses and restocking the coolers.
He wondered absently where the rest of Gibbs's pack was. Which led to thoughts of McGee and the brush of their bodies in the doorway of his apartment. Of the concern and compassion side by side with the fear and wariness in the agent.
And how he wanted to wipe away the nerves. Show the man how gentle and fun he could be.
God, he must be seriously touch starved if he was thinking these thoughts about McGee. He was a suspect. He had dislocated the guy's shoulder. He was a 'Bane freak who had no business sniffing around someone normal. Someone who had a good thing going with a good pack.
When Gibbs was finished making everyone in the room nervous, he stopped back at the bar, setting a bill on the counter to pay for his drink then gave a quick salute before turning to go.
"Gibbs?" The name slipped out before Damon even realized he had something to say.
He knew it was pointless and pathetic but the words tumbled out of their own accord, anyway, when the alpha turned back to look at him.
"I didn't do it, Gibbs."
The agent's head dipped in a quick nod. Not agreement or disbelief. Just an acknowledgement that he'd heard. And that he hadn't outright convicted Damon already.
For now, it was enough.
It had to be.
Tony stared at the ancient coffee maker in Public Safety Building's dreary break room. The smell of a decade's worth of burnt coffee made his stomach lurch and increased the throbbing behind his eyes. He picked up the pot and eyed it suspiciously, wondering which was more dangerous, bringing Gibbs a cup of this sludge, or returning empty handed to an under-caffeinated alpha.
He heard, and smelled, the probie's approach before McGee leaned over his shoulder and took a sniff. The changeling wrinkled his nose and choked a little.
"I wouldn't bring that to Gibbs, if I were you." Tony could hear the smirk in his voice without turning around.
Kill two birds with one stone.
"You're right, McGee. I'm not going to give him this because you're going to run to the diner down the street and bring him back something decent."
"But I'm in the middle of--"
Whatever techno-babble McGeek was about to spout, thankfully Tony never had to hear as the sound of a loud angry voice echoed from the vicinity of the sheriff's office.
"Who is in charge? I want to know who is responsible. Why are you all standing around here and not out looking for my son's killer?"
Tony and Tim made it to the bullpen in time to see the man growling demands come face to face with Gibbs. He was obviously a shifter, about the same age and height as Gibbs, though his hair was darker and only peppered with gray. He was bulkier through the shoulders and slightly pudgy through the middle, but there was no doubt he was an alpha, and a strong one. His aura was nearly palpable in the room around him.
The man standing to his left must be his beta. Slightly shorter, slightly slimmer, slightly younger, he seemed just a little, well, less.
Of course, standing next to the two powerful alphas may have eclipsed whatever aura of authority he might carry at other times.
Because one didn't get to be alpha of an MCRT pack unless one has an aura that could intimidate anyone, up to and including the alpha of a prominent pack.
Tony actually had to suppress the shiver that slid along his spine and curled in uncomfortable places as he watched Gibbs gain the upper hand with no more than his implacable stare.
The other alpha's eyes actually dropped for a split second and his chin jerked, not quite covering the momentary instinct to raise it and show his throat to Gibbs.
In a voice pitched so only McGee could hear, Tony murmured, "Oh, yeah! Who has the baddest alpha ever?"
Next to him, Tim choked back a laugh and held up a fist for Tony to covertly bump.
With Anderrsen properly cowed, Gibbs allowed his posture to relax slightly. "I'm Special Agent Gibbs. I assure you, Mr. Anderrsen, your son's death has my team's full attention. Why don't we sit down and talk?"
Gibbs stood to the side and ushered the two men into the conference room. He glanced at Tony and jerked his head for his beta to join him.
It shouldn't feel like an invitation. But after being left out on the whole Werth thing yesterday, the joy was cool and sweet at being included again.
"On your six, boss," Tony smirked to cover up the flutter of relief and thumped McGee on the shoulder. "Don't forget the coffee, probie."
Then he followed close on the heels of his alpha, happy to feel he'd resumed his proper place at Gibbs's back.
Gibbs took the seat at the head of his table, forcing Gerald Anderrsen to the take seat on his right. His beta, Thomas Tobin, settled on his left. Tony took a seat further down the table and remained as unobtrusive as possible while Gibbs talked to the two shifters.
"Mr. Anderrsen, I was hoping you could shed some light on what your son was doing so far from home?"
Anderrsen and Tobin exchanged a quick glance, the scent of unease mounted in the room.
"I don't know why Kyle was here."
Gibbs set his pen down carefully and kept his eyes steady and unblinking on Anderrsen as he deliberately got to his feet. Both hands came down hard on the table as he leaned into the other alpha's space.
His voice was a low rumbling growl that resonated with the more primitive part of Tony's brain.
"We're both wasting our time if you're just going to lie to me. I could be out there doing something actually constructive in this investigation."
Tobin nudged him and whispered, "You need to tell him. I know how it makes Kyle look but he can't do anything without knowing the truth."
"I know." Finally Anderrsen looked up and met Gibbs's eyes. "He didn't tell anyone he was coming here or why. But…"
"But?" Gibbs prompted.
Gerald Anderrsen sighed and seemed to deflate in his chair.
"Kyle's been more and more erratic for the past few months. Since the murder of his best friend. Lorne Adams's death hit him hard. He's been depressed. Withdrawn."
He paused to scrub a hand over his face and Tony almost felt sorry for the man.
Tobin, seeing his alpha having difficulty, reached out, resting his right hand on his alpha's arm in comfort before speaking up for Anderrsen.
"He's been acting more and more irrational. He felt guilty for Lorne's death."
"Why would he feel guilty? How did Adam's die?"
"It was a mugging gone bad." This time it was Anderrsen who answered, seeming to have pulled his impenetrable façade back into place. "Lorne and his girlfriend were at a semi-pro basketball game when they were attacked by a mugger. He tried to protect the girl and, in the struggle, he was stabbed through the heart."
Tony let out a low whistle. One of the few wounds that could kill a werewolf instantly, even without any silver involved. Realizing all three older shifters were staring at him, he ducked his head and tried to make himself invisible.
"The tickets were Kyle's," Anderrsen continued. "He gave them to Lorne at the last minute because a college friend came in from out of town for a couple of days."
Gibbs read him carefully but apparently didn't see any reason to doubt him. He sat back in his chair.
"I'm still not seeing how that gets him here, several hundred miles from home."
With a reluctant sigh, Anderrsen leaned forward.
"I don't know why he came here. I don't know where his head has been."
The older alpha sounded so lost, so completely bewildered Tony couldn't help but take him at his word. Across the table, Gibbs seemed to agree as he nodded sharply.
"Tell me about his obsession."
Only another shifter would have detected Anderrsen's embarrassment. He remained stoic, but his scent changed, just a hint of hot discomfort tinged the air.
"Lorne's girlfriend was in shock right after. She thought she'd scented a shifter in the area. Even though the investigation proved later that she was confused, Kyle latched onto it. I think he was trying to make sense out of a senseless tragedy."
Anderrsen took another bracing breath, Tobin interjected again.
"As I said, Kyle was… irrational the past few months." It was obvious to Tony that Tobin wanted to use another word, but didn't out of deference to his alpha. Crazy came to mind. "He convinced himself not only that there was a shifter involved, but that it had been an assassination attempt meant for Kyle."
Gibbs arched an eyebrow at that.
Anderrsen pulled out and opened his wallet. Tony arched his neck uncomfortably to see the picture of two young men with similar coloring and stature in baseball jerseys.
"If you only had a general description and knew Kyle was suppose to be at a certain place at a certain time, you might mistake them. At least that's what my son convinced himself."
"And was the murderer ever caught?"
"No. There were several muggings on game nights both before and after the murder, but none of the suspects could ever be tied to Lorne's death."
A quick glance from his boss was all Tony needed and he was already on his phone, texting McGee to get them the case file. With a shifter victim, the LCIS would have been involved in the investigation.
Tim glanced longingly at the computer in the corner, but he knew that Gibbs without coffee was not a world he wanted to be responsible for. Ziva was on the phone, no doubt calling in yet another favor from one of her mysterious contacts.
"Coffee?" He mouthed the word with exaggerated care.
And emphatic nod answered him. He grinned and headed for the diner.
It looked liked every diner in every small town he'd ever been in. The chrome and plastic, the smell of eggs, coffee and bacon, left him feeling homey and comfortable.
Both hands cradling a carrier holding four over-full cups, he turned to wind his way back through the tables and booths when he ran, literally, into their main, and only, suspect.
When Tim wobbled slightly, Werth brought his hands up to clasp Tim's shoulders with a steadying grip. Even through the fabric of the jacket and shirt, he could feel the heat of those hands.
For just a second, the urge to lean into the strength washed through him like a hot wave. He bit his lip, took a steadying breath without looking up, keeping his eyes focused on the sloshing coffee in his hands. He knew himself well enough to know his reaction would show in his eyes and he didn't want anyone to know about his body's ridiculous, inappropriate attraction.
The deep, rumbling voice did nothing to help. There was amusement in it, but not the mocking kind he'd grown use to. More as if they shared some kind of inside joke.
"Yeah," he said, finally taking a step back and breaking the contact between them. Belatedly realizing that he'd let himself enjoy the connection too long, though it lasted only seconds, Tim cleared his throat and repeated.
"Yeah. I'm good."
An awkward silence fell between them and Tim tried to figure out which impulse was stronger. The urge to stay, to continue the conversation and bask in the attention of the handsome shifter. Or to run as fast as he could for the door, knowing nothing decent ever came from his absurd, inappropriate crushes.
"Good," Werth echoed. "That's good."
He shoved his hands into his pockets, tightening the t-shirt across those incredible abs and drawing his Tim's eyes to places that they had no business perusing.
Finally, he gathered himself and took a step to the side, putting more space between them.
"I should--" he tipped his head to indicate the door. "Need to get back to work."
Werth's smile shifted from something warm to the more practice smirk. "So, how is the investigation going?"
And the liquid warmth that had been flowing through Tim since the first touch from the other shifter turned ice-cold in his veins. He balled the disappointment up into a tight knot and shoved it deep. Not the first time a hot guy had charmed him for his knowledge.
"You know I can't answer that, right?" He was kind of proud that he'd managed to keep his voice light and even.
Werth shrugged and dropped the smirk. "Had to try."
When the former Marine looked up, the warmth was back in his eyes and Tim hated himself a little for not being able to control the tingle of reaction.
Before he could answer, or escape, a trill sound from his coat pocket made him jump a little. The coffee sloshed dangerously and he identified the sound as his phone receiving a text. He stared at his hands, then glanced at the full table next to him but there was no easy place to set the carrier down.
"Here, let me."
Before he could answer, Werth was sliding his hand next to Tim's and taking hold of the coffee. Sparks seemed to drag along his skin where they touched. A light brush of skin to skin and he was grateful that he'd buttoned his suit coat earlier. The fact that he needed camouflage to hide his body's obvious response to such simple contact told him it had been way too long since he'd been with anyone.
Hopefully DiNozzo would never find out.
"Thanks," he said as he fumbled the phone out of his pocket and saw the text was from Tony.
"Better not be another dirty joke," he muttered to himself as he opened it. Werth's surprised laugh eased the last of the tension out of him.
get LCIS file on murder of Lorne Adams ASAP but don't forget the coffee!!!
Tim sighed and put the phone away. Turning back to Werth, he reached out for the carrier. "Thanks again. I've really got to go."
Their hands brushed again, and for a second, Werth's eyes heated on him, his fingers pausing and another feather-light touch ghosted over his skin. Before he could fully process though, Werth's hands are gone, slipping back into his pockets, and the cocky mask was back.
"See you around, then, Special Agent McGee."
Tim ignored the heavy letdown that settled in his chest as he headed back to the Public Safety Building and his job.
By the time Gibbs escorted Anderrsen and Tobin out, snagging a cup of the cooling coffee on his way by, Tim had gotten the pertinent details of the Adams case. He only hoped the caffeine would be enough to assuage his alpha. Being the messenger of this particular news wasn't going to be particularly fun.
Of course, whatever Ziva had been tracking down all morning didn't seem to be panning out either, if her snarl was anything to go by. So, at least he wouldn't be alone in feeling their alpha's displeasure.
Striding back into the bullpen, Gibbs gestured for the sheriff to join them. Once he finished his coffee, he dropped the empty cup into the garbage can and nodded at Tim to begin the briefing.
"Tell me about the Adams investigation."
Tim hit the highlights of the mugging and the eyewitness statements but his alpha's impatient expression had him hurrying through.
"Despite the girlfriend's certainty that she had faintly scented another wolf in the area, the LCIS agent didn't do much follow up. Since there was no residual scent at the crime scene, they attributed her confusion to the stress and trauma. He focused on the other muggings and let the local authorities to take the lead, since the perpetrator was presumably human."
Tim paused when the look of grim disgust crossed Gibbs face, then decided to hurry on and get it all out in one shot.
"Technically, the case is still open. Although there are routine muggings in the area, none of them match the m.o. of this one. Especially when you consider that after killing Adams, the perp fled without taking anything from the vic or his girlfriend. The agent's notes suggest he got spooked."
"Get the investigating agent on the phone." When Tim hesitated, he growled, "Now, McGee."
"Uh, yeah, boss. I would, but I can't."
The look was even scarier than the growl.
"He's retired and apparently he left behind a lot of open cases when he moved. Only those cases with active leads were reassigned. This is considered a cold case."
"Damn it." The succinct curse pretty much summed up Tim's feelings when he first skimmed through the case files on the computer. "Anything else, McGee?"
"I've got faxes of the original autopsy notes and photos. The coroner is going to overnight copies of the originals."
He handed the file to Ducky.
"Cause of death was single stab wound to the heart from what appears to be a stiletto. The killer took the weapon with him and it was never found."
He carefully kept his eyes on the notes in his hands as he read from them. "The LCIS agent concluded the same as the local police. Wrong place, wrong time. The mugger got a lucky shot in."
"Yeah," Gibbs drawled. "Real lucky."
"Well, considering that a direct shot to the heart and decapitation are the only ways to kill a shifter instantly, I'd say luck is highly unlikely." Ducky said, then gave Gibbs knowing look and a sad smile. "Rule 39."
The sheriff wrinkled his forehead and leaned his shoulder into Gibbs. "I thought silver bullets and other shifter attacks were your Kryptonite."
From the corner of his eye, Tim saw DiNozzo take a step closer to their alpha with a snarl directed at the sheriff. Then, as quick as it appeared, the tension and expression disappeared and Tony's easy-going façade slid back into place. His face still seemed a little tight around the edges, however.
"A common misconception." Ducky absently tapped the folder, drawing Tim's attention away from Tony's uncharacteristic agitation.
"We shifters have a unique and remarkable healing ability when it comes to wounds that would be considers life-threatening in a human. A cut heals in hours. A broken bone in a week or two. However, any wounds inflicted by a silver weapon or by the flesh or teeth of another shifter heals at the same approximate rate as human. Even still, given time and proper, prompt medical care, we could recover from nearly any wound."
"Even poor Mr. Anderrsen could possibly have survived those horrific injuries, had he received medical attention before he bled out. The only sure way to kill a shifter is to stop the heart or remove the head. If it had been a normal animal that had attack--"
"I think he gets the point, Duck. And you have some reports to review."
"Ah, yes, of course." The doctor held up the forgotten file, unperturbed as usual by Gibbs abrupt interruption.
The doctor headed toward the conference room to spread out the photos and notes, and Gibbs followed the sheriff back into Laverty's office.
Tim turned back to the remainder of his team and found DiNozzo with that naked, unfamiliar expression again, staring after their alpha.
"Tony? You okay?" He knew it was a mistake to call attention to his co-worker's vulnerability, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Again, the change was instantaneous. The cool, frat boy smirk slid back onto his face as Tony leaned forward and took a loud, theatrical sniff.
"You smell like someone else, Timmy. Another shifter."
"I, uh, ran into Werth while getting coffee." He kept his eyes down, knowing how well Tony could read him and not wanting to deal with the teasing his ridiculous crush would engender.
"Really? How convenient for him." Another step forward and DiNozzo was all the way into his personal space. "Why do you smell like he touched you? Did you tell him anything?"
"He held the coffee while I answered your text."
Exasperated with the absurd questioning, Tim took a step back and jerked his head up in defiance. "And, yes, Tony. I spilled the whole case to him. Even included pictures from my phone."
Ziva interceded, cutting off whatever Tony was going to say. "Do not be an idiot, Tony. McGee is an experienced investigator. I do not believe he would spill his intestines to a possible suspect."
Tony's laser focus broke as did the tension vibrating off of him. He turned to arch an eyebrow at her.
"Guts, Ziva. He spilled his guts."
Hands on hips, she shook her head vehemently. "No. I do not believe he did."
Tony opened his mouth but Gibbs came out of the sheriff's office and hollered, "DiNozzo. Come here."
His jaw snapped shut and he trotted over, reminding Tim of a well-trained puppy. He looked at Ziva, who winked before wandering back to the files and the phone she'd left behind for the briefing.
By late afternoon, tempers were short and frayed and Tim was trying hard keep himself from snapping. They could find no reason for Anderrsen to have traveled a couple hundred miles from his pack. They also couldn't trace his movements from the time he left the Stoddard until he was found the next morning.
Tony seemed to take this as further proof that Damon Werth was guilty. When Ziva heard him mutter something to that effect, she'd nearly taken his head off. The ensuing sniping match earned them both head slaps when Gibbs snuck up on them.
So it was a touchy, grumpy group that crammed themselves around the small teleconference monitor to hear Abby's run down on the test she'd completed so far.
The screen brightened suddenly, going from black to a close up of Abby's eye.
"Oh! There you guys are." The screen blurred for a second and then the forensics scientist's cheerfully smiling face and black pigtails came into focus. "So is it cool there? Have you seen any black bears? I hear they can come right into town when they're hungry."
"No bears, Abs. But a wolf we need to identify ASAP." As always, Gibbs no nonsense approach drew a frown from Abby, but he also got her to focus.
"Right. First, the DNA that Ducky swabbed from the wounds is definitely shifter. And definitely not former Marine Corporal Damon Werth."
Ziva shot Tony a significant look. In return, DiNozzo rolled his eyes. Gibbs ignored them both. Tim expected there would definitely be more head smacks later.
"So whose DNA was it?"
"Well, I can't tell you who. Or I can tell you who in a general sense. But specifically, the who is temporarily a mystery--"
"Right. There is a hit in CODIS. It's turned up in multiple murders that are suspected contract killings. So far though, no one has been able to link any names to the DNA profile."
"Well, that could explain what Anderrsen was doing in Colvin County."
Tim didn't even realize he'd spoken out loud until all eyes turned to him. "Uh, I mean, if he believed someone had tried to kill him, his search may have led him to a possible assassin who's apparently in the area. It jives with what Damon said about what Anderrsen was shouting at the bar."
Gibbs nodded and then everyone's attention returned to the screen. Except Tony, who glared a little longer before looking away. Only then did Tim realize he'd used Werth's first name. He'd been trying not to think of him in anything but a distant, professional way. Apparently he'd have to try harder.
"There wasn't another shifter scent in the area." Tony said.
Dimples flashed as Abby gave her 'I-know-something-you-don't-know' smile.
"I know. This case just gets weirder and weirder, right?" She reached for something off screen, then held up a sheet of paper. "DNA wasn't the only thing in the samples that Ducky sent. You'll never guess. Well, go on, guess."
Gibbs didn't even bother with the reprimand, just cleared his throat and gave her that knowing look.
"Synthetic. Human. Pheromones."
"Synthetic human pheromones?" Tony repeated, nose scrunched in confusion.
"So cool, right? I've never seen this on a case before. It will make a shifter smell like a human. Well, mostly. If you get real close, they'd smell like a human who'd brushed up against a shifter. But the scent they leave behind would be totally human."
"What does it mean? Why would Anderrsen have this on him?" Ziva asked.
"There was just a trace on him. I think it was transferred by the attacker, in order to hide his scent from investigators."
"And he could have used it to cover his scent during an assassination made to looking like a mugging," Gibbs murmured.
Abby, however, had already moved on to the next revelation.
"And the blood samples showed a large dose of Wolf's Bane in Anderrsen's system. He'd have been really unstable at the time of his death."
Ducky moved forward to stand next to Gibbs. "How large of a dose did he have in his system?"
Abby rattled off some medical jargon that Tim wasn't familiar with. Ducky nodded along as if puzzle pieces were starting to come together.
"That explains the discrepancy in ascertaining time of death." He turned to Gibbs. "I'll have to check some references and do some quick calculations, but I should be able to give you a more definitive time frame for his death with this information."
"Get on it, Duck. You got anything else for us Abby?"
"Not yet. But I still have some more samples to process."
"Keep on it. McGee."
"Track down that synthetic… whatever. Find out how hard it is to get hold off and how many people have access to it."
"On it," he answered, scribbling furiously in his notebook. Then he glanced toward the camera. "Abby?"
"I already sent the details to your phone, Timmy."
Satisfied, Gibbs turned his attention to the rest of the team. "DiNozzo. David."
Tony jumped in before Gibbs even had to give them their orders. "Cross-reference the files of those suspected hits. Look for links. Especially anything that leads to Colvin County. My pleasure, boss."
Ducky was still looking thoughtful as the room exploded into movement and sound around him.
"Abigail, have you tested the hair sample that I sent you?"
"Not yet, Duck. It's up next for its date with major mass spec." She gave him that narrow, assessing look. "You're wondering if that's the first dose of 'Bane, right?"
"Yes. Small, regular doses over a period of months could explain the paranoia and the irrational behavior he'd been displaying."
"Doesn't seem quite so paranoid now," Gibbs murmured then shifted toward the medical examiner and raised an eyebrow. "You think someone was poisoning him, Doc?"
"Not poisoning, no. If the dose is as small as I believe Miss Sciuto will find it to be, it wouldn't have been enough to kill. But that type of long term exposure almost always leads to erratic, high risk behavior. Or suicide."
"Someone was trying to kill him by making him kill himself?" Tony asked, with a disbelieving look.
"So it seems." Ducky nodded sagely.
Their alpha turned back to the monitor. "Abby?"
"I'll run the test right away. You owe me a week's worth of Caf-Pow when you get back." She stopped mid-finger wag and bit her lip. "Uh, speaking of coming home… the first night of the full moon is tomorrow…?"
Tim's stomach tightened and twisted into an unnatural knot. A full moon without the full pack was anathema. He remembered those miserable nights from the time he was without pack. How he'd longed for the companionship of even the pack that had barely tolerated him.
Gibbs flashed one of his rare, real smiles. "Vance already has a plane on standby to bring you and Jimmy up to stay with us tomorrow afternoon. And you're cleared to use the local lab. Now stop worrying and get to work."
The smile he received in response was blinding and her pig-tails were swinging to her unique beat as the screen went black.
After that, they poured out of the conference room en masse. Tony and Ziva headed for the phones and Gibbs trailed Ducky out of the bull pen and in the direction of the hospital.
Tim, already seated at the computer and beginning his search, hoped that Ducky could prove Anderrsen was murdered during the time that Damon had an alibi. Lack of DNA was enough to move him down the suspect list. But since he was currently the only name on that list, it wasn't enough. Having a solid alibi would clear him.
Tim focused on the information scrolling along the monitor in front of him, rather than why, exactly, it was so important to him that Damon wasn't guilty.
Loud, sharp knocking roused Damon from his afternoon nap. A glance at the clock told him he still had another couple of hours before he had to make it downstairs for his six o'clock shift.
He groaned a little as he sat up, joints popping and twisting, reminding him that he'd let his usual physical regimen slide the past few days. He needed a good long run to work out the kinks.
Another staccato knock beat against his door and he moved across the small apartment to open it.
Seeing Gibbs standing on his deck didn't surprise him nearly as much as it probably should have.
He glanced around the older man, making a show of it.
"No backup. I assume that means you're not here to read me my rights?"
"Not at the moment. Keep being a smart ass and I'm sure I can think of something to charge you with."
Damon laughed and stepped aside to the let the agent, feeling most of the tension slide out of his shoulders. He knew he wasn't guilty, but that didn't keep the stress away.
He'd known he was innocent the last time, too. But it hadn't stopped them from arresting him. Slapping the handcuffs on. Hauling him in for questioning.
But he knew now something very important that he hadn't known all those months ago. Gibbs was a bulldog when it came to the truth. He would not let go, would not give up until he was sure he had the right man.
Gibbs settled on the ugly couch and made himself at home. For a moment, Damon felt like standing at attention. But Gibbs wasn't his CO and he'd left that life behind. Instead, he sprawled across his chair.
"So if I'm not under arrest, did you catch the guy?"
Anxiety looped itself into a tangled mess in Damon's gut once again. Damn it. He just wanted to live his life in peace.
Gibbs must have seen the look on his face, because he leaned forward and half-smiled with reassurance.
"But Abby came back with DNA results and the information Ducky needed to recalculate T. O. D. Proves you're not our killer."
He exhaled, and it felt like the first time. Knowing you're innocent and having it proven were two completely different things. And he was extremely tired of living with an axe over his head.
"You alright?" The words were clipped and intense but Damon could see, and smell, the underlying concern.
"Yeah. Just gets old, you know? Having people think the worst of you."
"Not everyone assumes the worst, Damon."
He couldn't help thinking of Tim. The scent of fear, the wariness when he'd had to brush past Damon on that first interview here.
But even this morning, before they knew for sure, it had been different. The agent had practically leaned into his touch. And the smell had definitely been fueled by tension. But not the panicked kind.
Damon had wanted to lean in, to loosen the agent's tie and collar, to inhale the intoxicating scent directly from the source. He'd wanted a taste. He'd wanted to indulge the touch hunger.
But he'd relearned control in the last year and a half. And while the 'Bane might win again in the future, he was still more man than animal. And he doubted being mauled by a suspect in public would have done much to endear him to Tim. Now, though, freed of suspicion again, maybe he could track down the young agent and see if he was willing to indulge Damon's appetite.
"How often do you lose control?"
Damon's head snapped up wondering what he'd done to give away his thoughts so clearly. He'd spent his entire stint in the Marines perfecting his inscrutability.
"Huh?" Great, now he couldn't even come up with coherent conversation.
"Last night, you said part of the reason you left your pack was because of a couple of 'Bane incidents. I was wondering how often it happened."
"More often than it should have. I lost it more often than a wolf should have, Gibbs." He ran a frustrated hand through his hair.
"Twice in Michigan. Both times deliberately provoked by pack members who wanted an excuse to drum me out." Damon's lip curled in a parody of amusement. "They always made sure they had plenty of backup to pull me off. I've had better control this past year."
Gibbs nodded, steepling his hands in front of him. "Nobody pushes you here?"
"Even loners don't want to mess with a 'Bane freak, Gibbs."
"The first night of the full moon is tomorrow."
Damon felt hollow inside at the reminder. Until a year ago, he'd never spent a full moon without pack. And for the past twelve months, he'd spent every single one isolated, alone and pining for something he would never have again.
"Yeah. It is."
The alpha narrowed his eyes. "You got plans, Werth?"
Gibbs could be a cold, hard-assed son of a bitch, but he wasn't usually deliberately heartless so Damon swallowed back the angry retort and gave the short answer.
"The usual. A run through the woods."
Merle, the other bartender, was human and always took those shifts. No one wanted a 'Bane freak in a bar full of people on nights when all shifters inhibitions were lowered.
"You want to join us at the cabin, then?"
'Yes' was on the tip of his tongue before he could think, but he managed to swallow it back. God, he wanted to run with other wolves nearly as much as he wanted a chance to simply spend a little more time with Tim. McGee. He'd be better if he put up some mental distance.
Taking his time to answer, he squared his shoulders and met Gibbs's eyes.
"I make most of your pack uncomfortable."
And all that got him was another shrug.
"They'll get over it."
He knew it was a bad idea. A big, big mistake. But he couldn't deny himself this. It could be the last time he'd ever run with a pack. The last time he'd ever get to see T… McGee.
Chapter 3: Part Three
Tony emerged from the conference room after he and Ziva participated in their second tele-conference of the day. The stiff back and the crick in his neck, not to mention the uncontrollable urge to blink moisture back into his eyes made him really, really miss MTAC.
But it had been worth it. He and Ziva had a lead. An honest to god lead. One that wouldn't piss off Gibbs.
Speaking of Gibbs…
A quick glance around the bullpen showed it void of his alpha and a discreet sniff told Tony that the older agent hadn't return since leaving with the doctor.
Doctor Donald Mallard, who was even now sitting next to Tim as the two rattled off technical medical jargon that would probably give Tony a headache if he tried to follow it.
"Heya, Duck," he called, pushing cheerful and casual as hard as he could. "Where's the boss man? We've got news."
"I'm not sure. He waited only long enough for me to recalculate and confirm time of death was most likely somewhere between 11 and 11:30. He disappeared while I was still explaining the effects of Wolf's Bane on the metabolism and…"
"So, you don't know where Gibbs is, then?"
"No, Anthony, I believe I already said that." The doctor's eyes darkened and his mouth pinched in an expression Tony couldn't quite decipher. He was either annoyed or amused.
To be on the safe side, Tony found himself verbally back-pedaling.
"You, uh, finally got that T.O.D. conundrum figure out, huh?"
"So to speak, yes. It was quite simple once I had all of the pertinent facts."
"Anderrsen definitely died during the time when Werth has several alibi witnesses," McGee added matter-of-factly.
But there was something about the way he kept his eyes down and the hint of a smile edging his mouth that made Tony a little twitchy. Apparently McGullible had joined Gibbs and Ziva on the Damon Werth fan club bandwagon.
Werth might not be their killer, but the guy was still dangerous. The 'Bane overdose meant he'd never be completely stable. And it was Tony's job as beta to protect his pack. Whether they thought they needed it or not.
And if he had to protect them from their own poor judgment and misplaced compassion when it came to Werth, well, so be it.
"Since you're all sitting around on your asses, you better have some good news for me."
The sound of Gibbs sharp reprimand coming from right behind his ear had Tony jumping, a shiver of surprise rolling down his spine. It had nothing to do with the way his alpha's warm breath had ghosted across the sensitive skin of his neck. Or the way Gibbs body pressed against his for half a second as the older agent brushed past him.
Before he could regain control of his heartbeat and gather his thoughts enough to tell Gibbs about the lead they found, the alpha was already turning toward McGee.
"What have you got on the synthetic… scent… thing?"
"The particular class of synthetic human pheromone that Abby found on Anderrsen is used pretty much exclusively for scientific studies. Only two companies make that specific chemical compound."
A couple of clicks of the mouse brought up a company website.
"Triune Pharmaceuticals sells exclusively to universities, none of which have reported any missing."
Another couple of clicks and a new website sprang up. "Mercer and Sons sells to both universities and private companies. All of which is accounted for in a variety of research applications. Except for…"
This time the typing took a little longer and what came up looked to Tony like a telephone directory, but he assumed the numbers meant something to their resident geek.
"…a small sample sent to a company called Applegate Research. A little digging and it seems that it doesn't actually exist except on paper."
McGee's shoulders drooped and his gaze stayed glued to the screen. Tony knew exactly how he felt. It was hard to look their alpha in the eye when you knew you were letting him down.
"I've started back tracking, but the shell companies are hidden by more shell companies. It could take awhile to untangle all the false trails and find out where the sample actually ended up."
Having been in the probie's place more times than he cared to think about, Tony slid forward to get McGee off the hook. He felt a grin slide across his lips. Of course, he couldn't let it go without getting in his own little shot.
"Don't worry about it, McGoogle. You keep typing. I got us a lead to follow--"
He broke off at the sharp, twisting pain in his ear.
"We," Ziva corrected, letting go of his ear. "We found a lead."
"That's what I meant," he whined, rubbing his ear. "They knew what I meant. You knew what I meant, right Gibbs?"
The snort and eye roll was practically a caress from the older shifter and Tony couldn't help basking a little in his alpha's amusement.
"Get on with it, DiNozzo."
"Yeah, boss. So of those suspected hits Abby dug up for us, we found two where the co-conspirators were caught and confessed. They never actually met the hit man when they hired him. Surprisingly, he didn't give them his name."
"Right, sorry. Anyway, they did speak on the phone and both mentioned that he had a… unique… quality to his voice--"
"A lisp," Ziva interrupted, impatient as always.
She had no sense of pacing. There was a certain buildup…
"The hit-man had a lisp," she continued, and Tony leaned back, crossing his arms and trying not to pout at her taking over. "If we are correct in our assumption that our hit-man is in the area and is, in fact, a shifter, it shouldn't be that hard for us to find one with a lisp."
"So we just need to ask the good sheriff who in the county has a lisp," Tony couldn't help interjecting himself back into the conversation. "And, voila, instant suspect."
But Ziva was already shaking her head. "I spoke to Sheriff Laverty and he says none of the usual trouble-makers have a lisp. He has, however put out word on the road."
"Street." Tony and McGee said at the same time.
"Are they not the same thing? Something a car drives on to get from one place to another?"
"Yes, but…" As often happened, Tony was at a loss at how to explain why Ziva was wrong.
"Knock it off, you two," Gibbs said with a roll of his eyes. "McGee, you got the number for the Stoddard?"
Tim fumbled with his phone, scrolling through the contacts. "Uh, yeah, here."
He tried to hand the phone off to Gibbs, but the agent waved him off, saying, "Call Damon. See what he knows about a shifter with a lisp."
"Uh, yeah, boss. Okay."
The probie took a deep breath and turned away, but not before Tony caught the hint of a hot pink blush spreading across Tim's cheeks.
"Huh," he murmured. But before he could wonder what that was all about, he caught sight of Gibbs walking into Sheriff Andy's office.
And why the hell did he have to talk to him with the door closed?
It didn't take Werth long to come up with a name for them. And Tony couldn't decide if it was better or worse that it was the former Marine that came up with a name, rather than the sheriff's infamous grapevine.
Either way, even with a name, Trev Mullin was a hard man to find. Werth told McGee the shifter had come into the bar only a couple of times in the past year. And only spoke enough words to order a beer.
A loner even more stereotypically reclusive than most, they'd spent a long, mostly sleepless night trying to track down someone who knew where the shack he called home was.
But, finally, they had an address and were on their way to talk to Mullin as the sun climbed higher in the sky. The only bright spot of Tony's already exhausting morning was that he'd managed to snag the shotgun seat before Ziva could beat him to it.
The iron, coffee and musk scent of his alpha was close and thick and oddly comforting. Tony sprawled loosely in the seat next to Gibbs, maybe leaning a little more toward the center of the car as he sipped at his overly sweetened coffee.
And if his posture meant his team leader's hand occasionally brushed Tony's arm when he reached for his own caffeine-filled cup, well, he was tired and the slump was a perfectly natural position.
But the drive was too short, and before long, they were pulling up in front of a rundown cottage, set far from its neighbors and back a ways in the trees.
As soon as the first car door opened, the smell slid up his nose and clogged his throat, making him gag on the odor of death, blood and decay. Tony automatically reached for his weapon and noted as the rest of the team did the same.
"Ziva, McGee, take the back," Gibbs ordered, voice low and direct. "Tony…"
"On your six, boss."
And he was, staying close enough to cover his alpha's back as they made their way up front. He really wanted to take point, put himself in the most likely line of fire, but he knew Gibbs would never stand for it.
After a perfunctory knock, Gibbs announced, "LCIS."
Of course there was no answer. The smell of recent violence was nearly overpowering on the porch. Whoever was inside, they were no longer in any condition to respond.
A quick, solid kick from Gibbs gave them entry and served as a signal for the other two do the same from the back.
As they moved from room to room, the echoes of "clear" faded away when it became obvious that the only resident was the body on the living room floor.
"Damn it! Back to fucking square one." Gibbs holstered his weapon, shaking his head as he glared down at the corpse of Trev Mullin. "Call Ducky, get him out here ASAP."
Tony caught McGee's eye and tilted his head with exaggerated care. Tim squinted in confusion, then his eyes widen and he fumbled for his phone, moving a few steps away to keep his conversation from interfering with theirs.
Ziva was already squatting down to look over the scene, carefully keeping her now gloved hands away from the body until Ducky could get there to clear the body.
"Looks like a single knife thrust to the heart," she stated unnecessarily, since the knife was still sticking out of the shifter's chest. "It looks like pure silver."
Tony whistled. "Guess the killer didn't want to take any chances."
That got him an eye-roll and a half-hearted, "DiNozzo."
He flashed a full-on smile and gave his own rundown, just to show Ziva that he could state the obvious, too. "No evidence of forced entry, no apparent defensive wounds. I'd guess he knew his attacker, let him in, let him get close."
He watched Ziva sniff at the body and did not want to be left out again. Tony leaned over and inhaled as well.
The odd, strangely generic scent he'd learned to recognize as synthetic human pheromone slid through his sensitive nose.
"Damn it," he muttered, unconsciously echoing his alpha's sentiments.
Mid-morning found them all once again dividing up the investigation. Ziva was doing background checks on Trev Mullin and talking to the locals. Tony was logging and sorting through all of the evidence that they'd collected from the crime scene, looking for anything to give them another lead.
Not that there was much. The only oddity they'd found in the house was a ransacked medicine cabinet that reeked of the fake human scent. Gibbs had followed Ducky to autopsy but no one expected any surprises there. The cause of death was obvious, even to an untrained observer.
Tim found himself back hard at work doing what he did best: staring at a computer screen, sifting through data and trying to find a gem of information that could lead them to the killer. This time, he was looking for the origins of the unusual silver dagger and how it came to be lodged in the chest of a killer for hire.
As he stared at the screen, his eyes unfocused with lack of sleep, his brain wandered. He couldn't stop thinking about the phone conversation with Damon last night. The way the sharp, gruff tone he'd used to answer the phone had smoothed out into something softer, warmer, when McGee had identified himself.
Tim was sure it was his imagination. That Damon hadn't tried to stretch the conversation even after he given the information that they'd needed. And if Tim had spent what little time in bed he'd gotten last night remembering the sound of the hot, rough voice in his ear, well he wasn't going to admit it. Or admit to the way it made him feel, warm and slick and needy.
As he pulled back his wayward thoughts, the information on the screen slowly penetrated the fog in his brain. He picked up his phone to call Gibbs, only to hear Tony call out from behind him, "Hey, boss. Ducky. Anything unexpected happen in the morgue?"
Tim snorted at Tony's hopeful tone. DiNozzo had the attention span of a rambunctious puppy and sorting evidence was about as dull as it could get. Tim knew he was eager for an excuse to get out and find some action.
"Nothing unforeseen, I'm afraid, Anthony," Ducky shook his head. "Just as we suspected, single knife wound to the heart. The silver wasn't even necessary to do the job. We did find trace amounts of dried blood under Mullin's nails. The local lab is running the DNA now."
"Single knife wound to the heart," Ziva mused. "Same as Adams. Do you think this killer is responsible for that murder, as well?"
"Doubtful. Though it's hard to tell precisely just by viewing the autopsy photos, I'd say from the angles, Mullin's wound was caused by someone shorter than Adams's attacker. Also, most likely, Mullin's attacker was left handed where Adams's used his right."
"Sounds like someone hired Mullin. Then decided to come clean up after himself," Gibbs said.
"If he supplied Mullin with the pheromone, he could have kept some for himself, which is why there's no scent of another wolf anywhere near the house." Tony added. "And why he knew to take whatever Mullin had left with him."
"Unfortunately, this is only speculation until we find a damn suspect. Anyone got anything useful?"
"I… might." Tim took a deep breath and brought up a picture on the monitor of his computer.
"Great Tim, you've got a picture of our murder weapon." Tim ignored Tony's snide comment and turned back to Gibbs.
"It's called a Were-Dolch. It was a specially crafted dagger created for a medieval group within the Inquisition who specialized in hunting down werewolves. Around four-hundred were crafted as a special gift from the Pope to the group. About twenty are known to still be in existence. This is a photo of one from the Royal Ontario Museum's European collection."
"Someone stole our murder weapon from a Canadian Museum? Seems a little unlikely, probie."
Tim rolled his eyes, use to Tony's antics. He was pretty sure the older agent did things like that just to get their alpha's attention.
"No, Tony." With the push of the button, he changed the screen to show a listing of items the Anderrsen's had insured. "But Anderrsen has one in his family's private collection."
"DiNozzo, David." Gibbs snapped, but the two were already moving.
"On it, boss. Have 'im here in ten."
"Make it five, DiNozzo," Gibbs called after him.
Then he turned to Tim with a pleased smile and patted him on the shoulder.
"Good work, McGee." After a slight pause he asked, "You get anywhere on tracking down that phera-whatever yet?"
But he said it with a smile still in place, so Tim didn't let it dim his pleasure at the rare, hard-won praise.
"Not yet, but I'm still running a search in the background."
He stood there awkwardly as Gibbs continued to stare at him. "But, I'll, uh, work on… expanding the parameters."
Gibbs nodded and said. "You do that, McGee."
It took Tony more like twenty minutes to get back to the Public Safety Building with a loudly complaining Anderrsen. This time, the alpha had been escorted to interrogation rather than the conference room. Left alone there to cool his heels for several minutes, he paced the small area with sharp defiant steps.
Tony, Ziva and McGee watch the show from the other side of the glass, crammed together shoulder to shoulder in the tiny observation room.
When Gibbs finally walked in, Anderrsen began barking demands immediately. "What the hell am I doing here? You have no right to send your goon to drag me in and treat me like a common criminal. My son is the victim. Why aren't you harassing the actual criminals--?"
Gibbs growled so loudly the glass shivered in its casing and Tony's skin prickled as the hair all over his body rose up.
With teeth bared, the agent crowded into Anderrsen's space, backing him up right against the wall until the other alpha dropped his head. With a shudder, Anderrsen's posture went limp and hands fell to his sides palms open and fingers spread.
Satisfied, Gibbs backed up a step and said, "Sit."
Tony's body tightened, heat flushed his skin as the temperature seemed to rise exponentially. He curled his hands into tight fists at his sides trying to resist the urge to reach down and adjust himself. He really did not want to call attention to his predicament.
It was embarrassing enough that he found the overt display of power so hot. The last thing he wanted was for his teammates to notice.
Gibbs let silence settle over the room as he watched Anderrsen sink into the chair. Then, with a deliberate prowl, he moved to the other side of the room. From the evidence box already staged on the table between them, the alpha pulled out the bagged dagger and dropped it in front of Anderrsen.
"Where the hell did you get my Were-Dolch?"
"So, you're admitting this belongs to you?"
Suddenly wary, Anderrsen leaned away from the plastic bag, his eyes narrowed and flicking between the knife and Gibbs.
"I… there is a dagger very like that in my family's collection."
Gibbs pursed his lips, then reached into a box, pulled out a close-up photo of Trev Mullin's lifeless face and slid it across the table.
"How about him? Do you know him?"
Anderrsen frowned down at the picture, brow wrinkling as he studied it carefully.
From his position behind the glass, Tony could only see Gibbs's back. But the pencil in his hand began to tap lightly on the table and the tension shifted slightly from his shoulders.
Uh-oh. Gibbs's gut was telling him this wasn't their guy after all.
Finally, Anderrsen looked up, confusion etched in the tired lines of his face. "I don't think I've ever seen him before. Who is he? What happened to him?"
"We'll get to that." Gibbs's voice remained hard and dark. It would sound exactly the same unless you'd been observing the nuances of the alpha tones and gestures for years. Tony had been paying close attention. He knew there was less snap. Less edge. "What time did you get into town, Mr. Anderrsen?"
The other alpha blinked at yet another conversational detour, then glanced at the photo of the obviously dead man.
"You can't think I had anything to do with… that?" The bluster and righteous anger was back, blazing in his voice.
"Just answer the question."
"We got into town around midnight and immediately found the motel. We stayed there until we came straight here in the morning."
"And your beta can verify that?"
"Yes, of course. Well. We stayed in separated rooms. Why on earth would you think I killed that man?"
"He killed your son."
The alpha paled and the fight seemed to slide right out of him. Sweat sprang up on Anderrsen's face, and his hands were shaking as he began to pat at his pockets until he came up with a prescription bottle.
Gibbs pushed the bottle of water across the table and sat silently as the man fumbled his way through taking whatever pills the bottle contained.
After a few minutes, Anderrsen seemed to have himself pulled back together.
Gibbs dipped his head toward the brown bottle. "Lycaon's syndrome?"
Beside Tony, Ziva inhaled sharply. Lycaon's was a rare, and always fatal, disease that affected shifters.
"How long?" Gibbs asked, his voice soft now.
"I was diagnosed last year. According to the doctors, I've got another year, maybe two. I've been grooming Kyle to take over as alpha since I found out." He exhaled with a long exhausted breath. "I don't know what's going to happen to the pack now."
Tony sighed and turned away from the window. What was going on in there was no longer an interrogation.
"Well, back to square one. Again."
Ziva nodded in agreement. "Yes. The evidence suggests whoever killed Mullin, hired him to kill Kyle Anderrsen. That man," she waved toward the two-way mirror. "He did not want his son dead."
Tht three of them filed out of the observation room and left the two alphas to their privacy.
It took longer than Tim expected for Gibbs and Anderrsen to emerge from the observation room. Thomas Tobin had arrived at some point and after a few minutes of demanding to see his alpha, he'd settled down to seethe and wait at one of the empty bullpen desks.
Gibbs walked Gerald over to meet his beta, and they talk for a few more minutes before the two other shifters left. Then he returned to their little borrowed corner of the bullpen. There was an uncharacteristic heaviness in his steps, though and more emotion than usual his voice when he spoke.
"Anderrsen made a call back home and the dagger from his collection is missing. However the collection is kept in a small building on the land where the pack runs, sort of like a museum. And pretty much the whole pack has access to it."
"Of course," Tony sighed. "It can't ever be easy. Like, only the butler had access to this rare, one-of-a-kind knife."
The alpha's lips actually lifted a little at Tony's clowning.
"He's also fought off two challenges since his condition became public knowledge. And there's a third shifter making a lot of noise about a sick alpha and his crazy son not being the best leadership for the pack."
He paused and ran a hand over the back of his neck.
"I called the LCIS office up there, and they are going to look into all three alibis for the past couple of days. They're also supposed to ask around about other wolves making noise about a change in pack leadership.
"Hopefully they'll do a better job with this investigation than they did with Adams." Tony muttered.
"They better," Gibbs growled. He glanced around at each member of his team. "Anybody got anything new or useful?"
Tim dropped his eyes, his stomach churning because he couldn't seem to get past the roadblock of false financial trails and track down the buyer of the synthetic pheromone.
Of course, no one else was speaking up around him either.
"Alright. We're just spinning our wheels here. Abby and Palmer should be touching down soon. Let's knock off for the night and go welcome them to Colvin County. Have a good run tonight and get a fresh start in the morning."
For once, Tony had managed to beat Ziva to the driver's seat of the rental car. He even managed to hold onto the keys through Abby's enthusiastic greeting at the airport. That black parasol hurt when it bonked his head in the middle of the gripping hug.
They'd loaded her and Palmer into the car Gibbs and Ducky had driven in. Somewhere on the hour drive back, he had lost sight of the other car behind them. Most likely, the Caf-Pow Abby had obviously downed on the plane, had forced a potty break or two.
So Ziva, Tim and he arrived back at the rutted trail to the cabin first, though considering Gibbs driving, he doubted the others were more than a minute or two behind them.
The motorcycle parked in front of their cabin made him tense and automatically scan for anything else out of place. He felt, more than saw, Ziva tense in the seat next to him, calmly reaching for her weapon. Then, just as suddenly, she relaxed, her hand dropping, empty, back into her lap.
Tony focused back on the front of the cabin to see what had the made the notoriously high-strung Israeli drop her guard. That's when he spotted Werth, leaning against the porch post, head tilted back, hands in pockets and ankles crossed.
Tony ground his teeth so hard, his jaw began to twitch. He parked the car, a little closer than he probably should have to the bike and was out of the vehicle first.
"What are you doing here, Werth?" His voice was a low rumble, and every instinct he had was screaming at him to protect his territory. Protect his place in the pack.
Werth smirked, eyebrow arching in amusement at the overt posturing.
"I was invited."
"The tooth fairy. Who do you think?" The amusement turned to irritation and he pushed away from the porch, hands now loose and empty at his sides.
But Tony recognized the move, one predator to another. Werth was giving himself room to maneuver. Keeping his hands free for defense or attack.
Twin calls of exasperation came from the car behind him as Tim and Ziva got out.
He glared at each of them in turn, but, before he could tell them to let him handle it, the rumble of an engine reached his ears followed shortly by Gibbs's rental car coming into view.
Silence reigned as all eyes and attention watch the sedan move up the drive and park behind the first car. Gibbs got out and looked at each of the four shifters in turn.
"You made it, Damon. Good. You remember the three stooges," he cut his eyes toward his agents. As the other three members of the pack got out of the car behind him, he introduced them. "Abby. Palmer. Dr. Mallard. This is Damon Werth."
Damon sighed and shook his head. "Look, Gibbs. I appreciate the invite, but I don't think this is such a good idea."
Werth didn't even glance in Tony's direction and the beta was reluctantly relieved. Obviously, Gibbs wanted him here and, while it made Tony jealous, he didn't want to be the one responsible for disappointing his alpha.
Surprisingly, it was Abby who spokes first, considering how much she'd disliked Werth back when he'd been responsible for putting three of her pack in the ER. But, then, Tony remembered how Abby's tune had shifted to compassion and empathy when she found out exactly what had happened to him and what had been taken from him. "Do you have anywhere else to go?"
Even Tony winced a little at the flash of pain the crossed Damon's face.
"No." His answer was short, succinct and harsh.
"Good." She stepped up and linked her arm through his. "Because full moon runs are better with even numbers. It's not a superstition or anything. It's just an observable fact…"
As she chattered brightly, she maneuvered the big shifter up the steps and into the cabin.
Knowing the battle was over, Tony gave in as gracefully as he could and headed back to help unload the rental car's stuffed trunk.
A few minutes later, he couldn't help but be amused at Damon's bewildered and slightly panicked eyes as he found himself settled on one of the couches between McGee and Abby with a beer in his hand.
Tony could almost feel sorry for him. He'd been on the receiving end of Abby's maneuvering more than once. One minute you're adamantly refusing, the next, you're standing on the top of a cliff, half convinced it's perfectly okay to jump right off.
And she's right there behind you, egging you on.
He could almost feel sympathy, but the easy way Werth was accepted into the pack made Tony feel uptight and irrationally angry. There wasn't any room left over for welcome.
After dinner, they ended up on the back deck. There was no official signal, no announcement. Just, one by one, they shifted until a kaleidoscope of fur colors inhabited the space.
Tony's chestnut coat next to Gibbs, huge and silver, sitting regally in the setting sun. On the other side of his alpha was Ducky, a more mundane gray still shot through intermittently with streaks of brown.
Abby and Ziva sat side by side, a pair of ebony wolves so alike they could have been twins. Palmer, shaggy and sandy, still tripping over his own feet. Sometimes Tony wondered if he'd ever outgrow the puppy stage.
Then McGee with his startlingly blond coat and changeling's body. Smaller, closer in size to the girls. But compact and fast.
Finally, Werth sat a little distance away from their loose semi-circle. Nearly as big as their alpha, he was a muscular, sleek sable.
Restlessness moved through the pack, starting with Abby and Palmer, and quickly spread to the rest. Sniffing and nudging and playful yips as they twisted together.
The full moon was pack time. Time to re-connect. Time to touch and be touched. Time to remember you were part of something bigger. That you were welcome, always.
It was something Tony had never experienced as a kid. Something he thought he'd never have. Something he would never give up now. Not without a fight.
Werth held back, sitting still on the edge of the writhing mass of bodies. Straining forward a little, when someone came close but pulling back as if afraid he wasn't allowed. Then two black streaks darted out of the pile and tackled him to the ground. There were quick licks, a nip or two and a heavy handed nudge before they dived back into the thick of things.
Werth got to his feet with a shake and darted in after them, tongue hanging out in the canine equivalent of a grin.
Gibbs let them play for awhile, joining in around the edges with a nudge or good-natured rumbling. Eventually, though, he waded through them, emitting light growls to separate the mass of fur.
Finally, he stood in front of Werth, two feet of air all that separated them. Two huge wolves, one light, one dark, like two sides of the same, powerful coin.
The muscles under Tony's fur bunched and locked in place, ready for action he wasn't allowed to take. Werth was a powerful wolf, maybe even as powerful as Gibbs. He was younger and prone to 'Bane freaks. If he chose to challenge, the outcome was far from certain.
And Tony was forbidden by instinct and tradition to interfere.
Then Werth whined softly and dropped to his belly, tail dragging on the deck planks as he scooted forward. He turned his head to the side, exposing his throat. Gibbs gently wrapped his teeth around it, holding pressure just long enough for dominance to be established and acknowledged. Then he sat up, howled a sound full of joy and ran for the woods. The rest of the pack, including Werth, followed close on his heels.
Tony wasn't sure if he put on speed he hadn't known he had, or if Gibbs slowed down for him, but he ended up shoulder to shoulder with his alpha. His place. The place he was sure he was always meant to be.
Throughout the night, the pack split up and came back together over and over again. Sometimes running in pairs, sometimes in groups of three or four, sometimes the whole pack coursed together. But always, Tony was by Gibbs's side. And if Tony started to lose momentum, it seemed like his alpha pulled up a little and waited for him.
As the night wore on, they all, one by one or two by two made their way back to the deck of the cabin. The pack piled together to sleep in the warm summer night under the open sky and full moon.
Tony found himself settled with his head on his alpha's side, the larger wolf curled around him. He felt warm, safe and protected yet also ready to defend and stand guard over his alpha.
Snuggled in like this, with the hum of the moon, the connection of the pack and the closeness of those he cared most about in the world, it was hard not to think how different his childhood had been. How different his world would still be, if Gibbs hadn't offered him a job and a place in his pack.
His father had been a lone wolf. Had been one of the few who'd managed to create a successful, high profile life. Tony had been an accessory, something to be brought out when DiNozzo Sr. needed to prove he was a family man.
Packless, but with the normal instincts to surround himself with a pack growing up, he'd tried to create bonds at school. But every time he'd get settled, get close to others, his father would move him to a new more expensive, more prestigious boarding school. Over and over again until Tony had learned it was better to hold himself aloof.
The melancholy thoughts of his past couldn't hold him sway though as he burrowed a little deeper into the soft fur under his muzzle. As the peaceful darkness of sleep consumed him, he thought he felt the soothing rhythm of licking near his ear. But surely that was just another pleasant dream.
It was the most natural thing in the world to drop to his belly and offer his throat, and his obedience, to the silver alpha. And running with the pack was a welcome, familiar feeling. Even if Damon barely knew the other members of the pack.
The touch hunger, the need to belong, was assuaged, at least temporarily, by the rough-housing and game playing as they bounded through the night in playful abandon. In the back of his head, he knew that it wouldn't last. But, for now, he'd take the pleasure and the relief from unrelenting loneliness for as long as he could have it.
And the smaller, blond wolf running by his side was a huge part of that. They'd been running together almost the entire night. Even when they went separate ways, they didn't stay apart long, coming back together to run again and again.
They played hide and seek with Abby and Palmer, they wrestled with Ziva and just ran flat out with Tony and Gibbs. Eventually, Damon and Tim split off to chase rabbits for awhile. It didn't take long for him to get the feeling that Tim didn't want to actually catch anything and Damon was content to hang back a little as well. He was content to let the changeling set the pace, content to simply follow along.
He knew, in a few days, when the team wrapped up the case and headed back for D.C., he'd regret indulging himself tonight. The pain, the fucking hole in his heart where family use to dwell would double in size. He'd miss this snapshot of pack life, companionship and connection.
But he'd miss Tim even more. Which was ridiculous. He'd barely said two dozen words to the agent in the past few days.
But he'd been unable to keep his paws, or his muzzle, to himself all night. He sniffed shamelessly every chance he got. Whenever they were caught up in some playful game with the others, he'd find an excuse to rub, nudge or knock down the smaller wolf. An opportunity to cover the warm body, touch and feel him shove back, twist and writhe against Damon in an attempt to get even.
Speaking of, Tim had gotten a little ahead of Damon. And he seemed distracted, trying to find the trail of the most recent rabbit they seemed to have misplaced. Damon let his tongue hang out in amusement and gathered himself.
As soon as Tim turned away slightly, he sprang, knocking the blonde wolf down. They rolled a little in a fight for domination before Tim managed to twist himself back to his feet, nipping at Damon's ruff on his way free.
Damon whined a little, giving his best impression of a canine pout. Tim dropped his eyes and tail. Before Damon could nudge him to make it clear he'd only been teasing, the smaller wolf took a tentative step forward.
Tim raised his muzzle and began to gently lick the spot behind Damon's ruff, where his teeth had barely grazed the skin.
He couldn't help closing his eyes at the simple pleasure. Couldn't help leaning into the sensation. He inched closer, rubbing his own muzzle against the soft, warm, blond fur in a return caress.
Oh, yeah, this was a bad idea. But the smell of cinnamon and well-worn books filled his nose and he wanted to burrow in deeper.
He'd learned to live without pack once, and, despite this pleasant interlude, he'd manage on his own again when they were gone.
But he'd never felt this way about anyone, ever. Man, woman, shifter, human, lover or one-night stand. He'd never wanted to burrow in and lose himself in anyone the way he wanted to with Timothy McGee.
And he hadn't even kissed the man yet. Hadn't touched him with human hands. Oh, but he wanted to. He wanted to sink into Tim, wrap himself around the young agent and forget the rest of the world existed.
Wanted to talk to him, to kiss him, to fuck him and know him. To learn everything about him, from his favorite book, to way he sounded in the midst of passion, to the way he looked in sleep.
Of course the world did exist, and couldn't help but intrude. The sounds of two sets of paws were coming towards them at a fast clip. He inhaled deeply one last time, as Tim rapidly backed away, eyes looking everywhere but at Damon when Abby and Palmer burst through the underbrush.
Happy yips greeted them, and he knew the moment was gone. For now. So he nudged Tim on the shoulder in, what had become their version of 'tag' and took off running. Abby and Palmer picked up the game and followed on his heels. Tim howled in good-natured outrage and gave chase.
Soon, though, exhaustion over took them and they made their way up to the deck. Flopping down in a puppy pile, he shifted and burrowed until he was snuggled up to a smaller, warm blond body. He let himself drift off with the soft, spicy scent in his nose, the warmth of the mass of fur surrounding him and the sound of a half-dozen plus heartbeats singing in his ears.
Waking up in the pile of his pack, after a full moon run was always Tim's favorite way to start a day. It still shocked him how good it felt to belong. His first pack hadn't exactly been welcoming. Of course, he was a giant reminder of an episode in their history they'd prefer to forget.
But waking up with the large sable wolf wrapped around him, had been like nothing he'd ever experienced before. Damon's muzzle buried in his fur, one huge paw resting on his flank and a feeling of peace that Tim knew he couldn't allow himself to get use to. He wanted to snuggle in closer, close his eyes and go back to sleep.
Unfortunately, Abby was already awake and frisking around. He knew from experience it wouldn't be long before she'd be shifting back and herding everyone inside for a hearty breakfast.
Five minutes later, he was proved right and they all stumbled into the kitchen, bleary eyed and yawning. They gathered around the huge breakfast bar, inhaling the oatmeal and coffee Palmer and Abby dished up.
As the caffeine kicked in, the conversation became livelier in fits and starts. As they worked together to clean up the kitchen, Gibbs leaned back and began laying out the day.
"Ziva, Tony, I want you to interview Mullin's neighbors, try to find any connections he has in town. Ducky, can you and Palmer give Abby a hand processing what's left from the Anderrsen case and the new evidence from Mullin's house."
"Of course, Jethro. It will be a nice change of pace and it won't hurt Palmer to brush up on his forensic science knowledge. And, of course, it's always a pleasure to work with Abigail."
"Ah, thanks Ducky," Abby grabbed hold of the doctor and squeezed enthusiastically. "I missed you too!"
She stepped back her eyes narrowed, lips pursed. "I almost forgot. You were totally right. Kyle Anderrsen had been getting small doses of Wolf's Bane in his system for months."
"Ah, yes. I suspected as much. Did you know--"
Gibbs spoke his name over the beginning of Ducky's next lecture, startling the changeling a little and he straightened up automatically.
"I want you to take Damon with you to talk to some of the less… savory… citizens of the town. They'll probably be more comfortable talking to someone familiar." He turned to the surprised shifter reclining next to Tim. "If you don't mind helping out, Damon?"
Werth's eyes were a little wider than usual, but his smile was bland as he gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Sure. Got no plans for the day."
Tony started sputtering as soon as Gibbs mentioned Damon's name. Tim bit his lip to keep from smiling at the cartoon-like expression.
Finally, Tony managed to pull himself together, Tim watched as he schooled his features back to disinterested concern and said, "He's a civilian, Gibbs. Are you sure this is really such a good idea?"
Gibbs flashed his 'you're an idiot smile' and shook his head. "I think he can protect himself."
Tony puffed up like he was going to bluster some more, but their alpha's eyes turned sharp and the younger agent deflated on his stool.
A few hours later, Tim leaned back against the hood of the car and waited for Damon to get back from talking to the last contact on their list. The ancient shifter they'd been questioning had made it clear he wasn't going to say anything with an LCIS agent in the room.
So Tim had waited outside and tried to figure out what the hell was going on in his own head. It had been simultaneously the best and most confusing day of his life.
There was no more lying, at least to himself. He had a full blown crush on Damon Werth.
He knew it was ridiculous and futile, but Damon himself wasn't doing anything to help. Or, actually, he was doing way too much.
The touching had been practically non-stop, all day long. A hand on his back as they walked up rickety porch steps. A nudge with his shoulder at some shared joke. A pat to the head that became a caress as his hand lingered a few seconds longer than normal.
Tim found it… seductive. And he had to keep reminding himself not to lean into the touch. Not to let himself stare too long at the gorgeous shifter. Most definitely not to touch back.
The night before had been weird enough. He had no idea what the hell he'd been thinking, licking the sable wolf like that. No matter what form they were in, licking was an intimate act.
Thankfully, he apparently hadn't given his inappropriate crush away, since Damon hadn't shoved him away in disgust. He'd even invited him to play some more.
Tim knew that all the physical contact last night and today wasn't about him at all. It didn't mean that Damon felt the same kind of attraction, no matter how much the agent wanted it to be.
For the first time in a year, Damon was allowed to indulge his need to ground himself in other wolves. To indulge in the sense of connection.
Tim sighed and closed his eyes.
No, it wasn't about him at all. It was about filling up the deep well of deprivation that touch hunger had left hollow inside of him.
The agent remembered the feeling well. He'd only been grudgingly accepted by his first pack. Only been touched and embraced with reluctant obligation. Still, when he'd gone away to college and chosen to break ties with his adopted pack, to their relief and his, he hadn't been prepared for how much he missed even that fleeting contact.
Memories of his former pack reminded him that there could be a darker explanation of Damon's actions, but Tim pushed those thoughts away. Damon had no reason to pretend an attraction he didn't feel or to toy with Tim's affection.
And he didn't have Lathe's cruel streak or nasty sense of humor. Damon had no reason to play with Tim's emotions the way his foster brother used to.
He shook off the dark thoughts as Damon strolled toward him. Long legs in tight jeans, thin t-shirt stretched over sculpted abs and chest, displaying carved arms. Dark hair falling into vibrant eyes.
Tim's body went tight and hot, on instant alert as the gorgeous shifter sauntered with that half smile that had been driving the LCIS agent crazy all day.
He tried to think cold, unsexy thoughts but it was impossible as he watched the swing and strut of those long legs. He had no doubt the natural shifter could smell his physical reaction. He just had to pray that Damon would continue to ignore it.
Hoping to distract him before Damon got too close, Tim asked, "Anything useful?"
"Same old. Reclusive and quiet, even for a loner. Always paid his debts on time. Took a lot of unscheduled trips. I got some more dates for us to check against those other hits. But he's positive that Mullin was out of town the weekend of the Snow Fest. Same weekend as the Adams murder."
Tim nodded tiredly and moved around to the driver's side, still surprised that the powerful shifter had let him take the wheel. He'd ridden his motorcycle into town that morning, following the pack in their rental cars. After watching Ziva and Tony drive off in one car, Damon had opened the passenger door of the other without even asking to drive.
For a minute, Tim had stood, stunned with the keys in his hands. In Tim's experience, driving seemed somehow tied in some ways to a stronger wolf's sense of superiority.
"Who's next on the list?" Damon asked as he slid down into the passenger's seat. Tim had to look away from the slouched, legs splayed, inviting posture.
"That was the last name. Unless he gave you another lead?"
Part of Tim wanted him to say no, because he was exhausted, both from the late night run and the stress of holding back his reaction to every inadvertent touch. But another part of him wanted to keep going, to keep interviewing so he could spend more time alone with the sexy shifter.
"Nah." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Guess it's time to head back and tell Gibb's what we've got."
Tim knew it was wishful thinking that Damon sounded as disappointed as the agent felt.
"Yeah. I guess."
A few minutes later, Palmer literally ran into Tim as they walked into the Public Safety Building.
"Oh, I was looking for you in there." Palmer pushed his glasses up, sliding into flustered chatter, as usual. "Of course, you're not in there. I mean how, could you be, when you're out here…"
"Palmer." Tim did his best to keep both the impatience and the amusement out of his voice. "Did you need me for something?"
"Uh, oh. Yeah. Abby sent me to give this to you." He handed over a piece of paper with several numbers written on it. A bank account and routing number, he was fairly sure. "She found a bank book in Mullin's stuff. For his mom. But she's been dead years. So she thought you might want to do your, you know, computer thing. Or something."
"Thank you, Palmer."
He folded the paper with careful creases and waited for Palmer to realize he still stood in the way of the door.
"Oh, no problem. I, uh, have to get back. Abby said she'd show me how to lift prints, next."
Before Tim could say anything else, Jimmy was around them and halfway back to the hospital.
"Is he always like that?" Damon asked as they made their way into the bullpen.
"Yeah. You get used to it."
"Uh huh," he patted Tim on the shoulder. "If you say so."
For a moment, Damon's hand lingered on him and Tim couldn't help the little disappointed breath when the larger shifter finally moved away.
Again, he got the gentle half-curled smile. "Why don't you work on the bank book numbers and I'll fill Gibbs in on the little bit we've dug up."
"Okay. Sure. Thanks."
It didn't take long for Tim to track two large deposits in Mullin's 'mother's' account, both made by the same shell company that had received the sample pheromone.
One, a week before Adams had been murdered. The second, the same day that Kyle Anderrsen had driven into town and lost his life. Unfortunately, he still hadn't had any luck in breaking down the barriers to finding the true owner of Applegate.
Then he and Damon sat down and cross referenced the dates of Mullin's out-of-town trips against the suspected hits.
It took twice as long as it should have. Partially because Damon had pulled his chair up so close to Tim that their thighs rubbed together every time either moved. Or took a deep breath. The heat of the large shifter, the scent of him, just the feel of him so close made it nearly impossible to concentrate.
And every time he had to ask Damon to repeat something he'd said because Tim's mind was wandering someplace it really, really should not be, the former Marine gave him that knowing smile.
At some point in the haze, he remembered Ducky, Palmer and Abby returning from the hospital, where the local lab shared space with the morgue in the basement. The three had trooped in to the sheriff's office where Gibbs had spent most of the afternoon. Shortly after, Abby and Palmer had come out and Tim had handed over the rental keys without even thinking about it when the pig-tailed scientist asked for them.
Eventually though, they managed to piece together a chilling trail of six lethal vacations over the last two years. And three out of towns mentioned that they hadn't yet tracked down murders for.
When they'd put together as complete a picture as they could with the information they'd gathered so far, they headed into the sheriff's office, where Gibbs and Ducky continued to pour through the evidence reports.
The sheriff sat behind his desk and Gibbs had ceded the room's only other chair to Ducky. When they walked into the office, the alpha had a hip cocked on the edge of the desk and was leaning over a file open in front of the sheriff, laughing at something the younger lawman had said.
The medical examiner perused his own file, a small knowing smile flitting around his lips.
"What'cha got for me, McGee?"
He cleared his throat and gave Gibbs a quick rundown of their progress. Or lack thereof.
Surprise kept Tim still for several seconds when his alpha's smile remained in place and he leaned forward to clap Tim on the shoulder.
"Good work. Both of you. Go on and get some rest. We'll pick this up tomorrow." He leaned back again. "Abby and Palmer already headed back in the rental car. Why don't you take Damon's bike and we'll wait here for Tony and Ziva."
Tim swallowed hard. There were so many reasons this was a bad idea. Before he could open his mouth, though, Damon had stuck his thumbs in his pockets and spoke.
"Sure, no problem. But I've only got the one helmet…"
Tim nearly sighed out loud in relief, but it was short lived as the sheriff spoke up.
"Talk to Deputy Grant. He'll scrounge you up a spare."
Before Tim knew it, he was wearing a spare helmet, seated on the back of Damon's bike. His legs were wrapped around the firm hips in front of him, his arms wrapped around a rock hard waist, his body leaning into the strong man in front of him with every turn, curve and change of speed.
The heat of Damon soaked into him. The dark, rich scent of leather and chrome wrapped around his senses and the enforced contact across what felt like miles of flesh left Tim panting with need. Hot. Hungry. And hard.
There was no way that Damon could miss it. So, when Damon pulled up in front of the cabin, Tim was already scrambling to get off before the engine shut off, jerking at his helmet as he moved.
Free of the confining safety equipment, he took a deep breath and headed for the cabin door. He made it two steps before Damon spoke. "Tim. Wait."
He paused, tried and failed to settle himself. Turning back with resignation to face the music and an uncomfortable conversation with shaking hands and chin held high.
Damon moved toward him with deliberate steps, hand held out like he was approaching a skittish kitten. The heat of Tim's blush flared and deepened at the comparison. It was a little too close to true.
Damon stopped a couple of feet away, hands held loosely at his sides. "So," he said softly, "Are we going to talk about this?"
"Talk about what?"
Damon's gaze dropped to Tim's groin then slowly rose back up with a quirked eyebrow.
Oh, god. Why couldn't he just take a hint and let it go? He felt like an ass as he stumbled over his own tongue. "It's nothing. It's… just… circumstances… It's nothing."
Now the humor was gone and a frown etched itself deep around Damon's lips.
"Was last night 'nothing'?" He stepped forward, closing the space between them. "Was the way you leaned into my touch every time today 'nothing'?" Was the way you couldn't keep your eyes off me 'nothing'?"
Damon's voice went low and hoarse and Tim's body swayed uncertainly, unable to decide whether to step closer or step away.
Then the choice was taken away as Damon's hand slipped behind Tim's neck and dragged him forward until their lips met.
He expected hard and fast and ruthless, but Damon's lips were soft on his, coaxing and exploring. A hot, slick tongue slid across his lower lip and he opened his mouth to follow it, giving it entry.
He moaned at the feel as Damon deepened the kiss, sliding his free arm around Tim's waist to pull their bodies tight together. The kiss was hot, plundering and possessive.
Then Tim broke, resolve shattering as his hands fisted in the thin cotton of Damon's t-shirt, he tilted his mouth, giving Damon better access, offering him everything.
He heard the whimper and only distantly realized that that was his own throat making those needy little sounds. Damon pulled back little by little, ending the kiss as gently as it had begun with a soft brush of lips against lips.
Damon leaned his forehead against Tim's, keeping his arms wrapped tightly around the agent.
For several long moments they remained still, just catching their breath together.
Finally, Damon murmured. "That wasn't 'nothing'. The way you come apart in my arms isn't 'nothing'."
The words took a moment to worm their way into Tim's skull. But once there, they froze and the cold spread through his body in a tidal wave, icing over the blazing desire that had resided there seconds before.
The litany of 'nothing's Damon had listed replayed through his head. But they were all about Tim's feelings. Tim's needs. Tim's actions.
Not once had Damon said he felt. He cared. He needed.
Suddenly stiff, unable to breathe, Tim pushed against Damon until the larger shifter let him go, confusion evident on his face.
Tim knew, he knew, without a doubt, that Damon was nothing like Lathe.
But he couldn't take that chance. Not again.
He'd sworn when he left his old pack that he wouldn't allow his feelings to be used and twisted ever again. He'd never let himself feel that humiliated again.
He closed his eyes, wished he could close his ears. He didn't want to hear the compassion or concern. Didn't want to fool himself into believing it was more than it was.
It was the touch hunger. That was all. After being thrown together so much, and Tim making his attraction so obvious, why wouldn't Damon act on it? But Tim couldn't separate the physical attraction from the emotional. And someone as strong and beautiful as Damon, a natural wolf with so much potential would never see geeky, changeling McGee as anything other than a diversion.
"I can't. I'm sorry. I can't."
Without another word, he turned and fled into the cabin, leaving his dignity in tatters behind him.
Chapter 4: Part Four
Damon watched Tim disappear in a burst of dust as he high-tailed it up the steps and into the cabin.
What the fuck?
He knew Tim was attracted to him. Hell, he'd have to be blind, deaf and have his sense of smell surgically removed in order not to know that the LCIS agent responded as strongly as Damon did when they were in any kind of proximity.
He bent over to pick up the helmet that Tim had dropped sometime in the last, surreal, ten minutes. Dusting it off as he moved back to his bike. Maybe the wanting wasn't the problem, then. Maybe it was more not wanting to want that Tim was feeling.
By rote, he secured the helmet next to his own as the idea took hold. He couldn't blame Tim. Who would want to be attracted to a 'Bane freak?
On top of that, Damon had already hurt the agent once during one of his episodes.
What the hell had he been thinking? This couldn't go anywhere. Even if Tim was willing to risk it, he'd be gone in a few days. And where would Damon be? Alone, again. And even more aware of what he was missing.
But the day had been so comfortable. They had worked together so naturally. Had moved and thought almost in sync. It was easy to forget it hadn't always been like this. Or that it wouldn't always be in the future.
Of course, the heat of attraction flashing back and forth between them had made rational thought all but impossible anyway.
He had to let it go, though. He didn't have a choice. He didn't want Tim to be freaked out, so he'd have to make sure the agent understood he was cool with cooling things off.
Even if his inner wolf was howling in protest.
By the time he gathered his thoughts and made his way inside, Tim had already changed into jeans and a t-shirt. The casual clothes emphasized the long legs, the broad shoulders and the unconscious grace he moved with when he didn't think anyone was paying attention. Damon couldn't be swayed, no matter how hot the young agent looked.
Of course, Tim was already busily helping Abby and Palmer get dinner ready, so there was no chance to get him alone before the rest of the pack returned and they tore into the hardy meal.
After dinner, Damon and Ziva and Tony worked together to clear the table and pick up the kitchen. Damon put the last dish in the rack to dry and looked up but, besides the three of them in the kitchen, only Abby and Palmer remained in the great room.
"Hey, where'd everybody go?" DiNozzo asked, saving Damon the trouble.
"Ducky and Gibbs decided to go for a run down by the creek. Tim went out a few minutes after they left, said he wanted to run alone for awhile." She frowned back down at the map in front of her. "Sheriff Laverty told Gibbs there were some cool caves to explore. You guys want to join me and Palmer?"
Damon shrugged noncommittally as Ziva agreed and Tony seemed to have stopped paying attention all together. Ziva moved forward to study the map with the other two.
The scent of stress and adrenaline spiked from Tony, and Damon couldn't help smirking. The beta did not like being separated from Gibbs at all. He was especially high-strung when he didn't know exactly where his alpha was.
"I'm just gonna…" Tony's voice trailed off as he edged toward the door. "I need to run for awhile. In the open air."
And then he was out the door, already shifting by the time he hit the edge of the deck.
"Yeah," Damon said. "Me too."
On the deck, he shifted with deliberation then scented the air. Paper and cinnamon. A direct trail of the now-comforting scent drew him west, away from the older trail of Gibbs and Dr. Mallard and Tony's fresh spoor.
It didn't surprise him, the pack splitting up like this. The first night of the full moon was all about reconnecting. Making the pack, as a whole, stronger and more tightly knit. The second night was often more about self-reflection, getting in touch with the inner wolf or reconnecting one on one.
It didn't take Damon long to find the blond wolf, alone in a small clearing about a mile from the cabin. He hesitated, knowing the changeling hadn't sensed his presence downwind. But he needed to let the guy off the hook. He needed to clear the air so Tim didn't feel the need to avoid Damon for the rest of his time here.
Whether he was interested or not, Damon liked just hanging out with him. And he hoped that he'd be invited to work with Tim, them, again, while they were here.
Transforming back to human, he carefully made noise to alert Tim as he stepped into the clearing. The blond wolf stood rigid, as if ready for flight at the slightest movement.
Damon kept his voice low and sat down on a fallen log, several feet from the wolf.
"Hey, Tim. Easy. I just want to say, I understand." He dropped his head and rubbed at his temples, trying to find the right words. "I get that getting involved with a 'Bane freak is a bad idea. Especially one who's been a suspect twice."
Head still down, the air change slightly around Damon as the blond wolf shifted. When the clearing remained silent, he finally looked up, not sure what to expect.
Tim still looked ready to run, hands curled tight at his sides, weight settled on the balls of his feet. He continued to stare with an expression that Damon couldn't read.
Confusion? Disgust? Hope?
Finally, Tim licked his lips and moved his gaze to somewhere in the trees behind Damon.
"You… uh, you wanted to get involved? With me?"
Damon closed his eyes and let his head fall forward again. "I know. Stupid, right? You'll probably be gone in a week. On top of the other stuff."
"No. I mean. It's not stupid." Tim stopped for a moment. Damon raised his eyes to watch the rise and fall of the agent's chest as he took a deep breath. "It wasn't just touch hunger?"
"Oh, there was touch hunger." When Tim's face fell a little, he hurried to add, "But most of that was eased with the pack run yesterday. This thing, with you. Completely separate."
Tim looked a little shell-shocked, but his body relaxed a little. Damon had no idea what else to say. Had no idea what the agent wanted to hear.
Then Tim moved, crossing the clearing to sit beside him on the log.
"I'm a changeling."
"Yeah. I know." Damon smiled. Any wolf with half a sense of smell could tell.
"Not by choice."
"Fuck." All humor fled as Tim's words hit him.
It was relatively easy to change a human into a shifter. A bite from a wolf on a full moon, blood from the wolf poured into the wound.
Changes were strictly regulated by pack law and tradition. Not only were both the human and wolf required to consent, but the wolf's pack, the human's family and the North American Pack Council were all consulted.
Which was why most wolves, pack and loner alike, preferred to run in seclusion on the nights of the full moon, in order to avoid humans and accidental encounters.
If he wasn't turned by choice, it meant a rogue had attacked him. The thought of Tim hurt, of the terror and pain that must have been involved, made Damon's fists curl tight in an urge to avenge the changeling. It also made him want to gather the man up in his arms and protect him.
Instead, he cleared his throat in an attempt to clear the emotions and asked, "What happened?"
He wasn't sure he wanted to hear this. The anger he felt at someone attacking Tim made his blood burn and his hands itch to avenge the pain by dealing out more pain. And that kind of anger was too close to loss of control. Too close to letting the 'Bane win.
Next to him, Tim shivered and edged closer as he began to speak.
"I was fifteen. I'd been studying for mid-terms and was walking home from a friend's house. At first, I thought it was just a big dog. Somebody's pet that got loose. But it started following me, growling a little.
"It made me nervous, so I tried to walk faster and it picked up the pace. When I started to run, he howled and ran me down. He pinned me to the ground and just panted, hot foul breath in my face."
This time, when Tim shivered, Damon wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. Damon shifted so Tim's head rested against his shoulder and pressed his mouth against the soft hair. He resisted the urge to turn it into a kiss and just murmured nonsense words of reassurance.
"I don't remember much after that. I remember the pain of his claws in my sides. The feel of his teeth sinking into my neck and shoulder. The heat of my own blood and his running over me."
"You don't have to tell me anything. You don't have to--"
Tim shrugged, but pressed his head closer, almost nuzzling against Damon.
"He was a rogue member of the local pack. They didn't realize how insane he was. He attacked two others that night that didn't survive. When LCIS tracked him down, he died in the fight. Later they found a rambling manifesto."
"He believed the moon talked to him and that he was special. That he was meant to create a new race of shifters. The three of us he attacked that night were supposed to be the beginning of his new super-pack."
After a while, Damon had to ask, "Do I remind you of the rogue?"
"What? No." Tim lifted his head, shaking it vehemently. Then hesitated for a moment. "Well, you did, a little, when you dislocated my shoulder. But I know you now. You're nothing like him. I'm not afraid of you, if that's what you're asking."
Relief trickled through him and his muscles unknotted little by little. Followed closely by confusion and uncertainty. He didn't want to push, but he couldn't help the questions that popped out.
"So if it's not the 'Bane thing, what did I do to make you back off this afternoon?"
He regretted it immediately, as Tim straightened up and moved away a little. Damon felt unreasonably cold at the loss of contact.
"It's not you. God that sounded so clichéd." He stood up, moving completely away from Damon and began pacing.
"The rogue's pack took me in, taught me what I needed to know. My family had no idea how to deal with me and, I think, I freaked them out a little bit. But the pack was also humiliated that a rogue had been in their midst and nobody had noticed. They were the butt of jokes of other packs. I was an unwelcome, constant reminder of their embarrassment."
The pacing picked up a little speed, and Tim kept his eyes on the ground as he moved and spoke.
"The only one who was ever nice to me was my foster brother, Lathe. In retrospect, I realize he was only nice to me when we were alone and when he wanted help with his homework or a paper or something."
Tim snorted, a sound full of self-loathing and Damon curled his fingers into the wood to keep from going to the upset man.
"He was practically failing out of school until I moved in with them. But he was good-looking, and the only one that didn't ignore me completely. I was blinded by a full blown crush."
"I followed him to a party one night. When he asked me what I was doing there, I told him I thought we were friends. That was when he let me know exactly what he thought of me. He made it clear that an alpha-level natural shifter would have no interest in a geeky, weak changeling. He and his friends had a great time taking turns telling me all the nicknames that they used for me behind my back."
Tim stopped moving abruptly, hugging his arms around himself tight. "It was the most humiliating night of my life. I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it. Not that the bullying that followed at school was any picnic. I spent the next six months busting my butt to graduate early. The day I got my diploma, I formally broke ties with the pack and moved to MIT."
Damon stood, crossing the distance but stopping just out of reach when Tim looked nervous.
"Did you think that I would do that? Use you? Humiliate you?" He fought to keep his voice level. Anger burned in his gut at what Tim had endured. And hurt crawled through his chest that he might think Damon would act anything like his foster brother.
Tim's head shot up, shaking vigorously.
"No. Of course not. I mean, not like that. I just thought-- He paused, took a deep breath and started again. "I remember what the touch hunger was like. I figure you were attracted enough to me that, for the couple of days we're here… I mean I'm not exactly what a strong, gorgeous shifter is looking for."
Damon reached out, setting two fingers under Tim's jaw and gently lifted his drooping chin. "You believe me, right, that it's more than just touch hunger?"
Tim nodded and Damon allowed his fingers to slide up and ghost over the man's cheek.
The word was a mere whisper as he leaned in for a chaste kiss. As much as Damon wanted to take it deeper, to wrap himself around Tim and get lost in his scent, his taste, the feel of his skin, he kept it soft and gentle.
There was something else he needed to do.
Taking a small step back, he reluctantly pulled his hand back to his side. Catching and holding Tim's eyes, Damon slowly sank to his knees, angling his head to expose the length of his neck.
"I'm not a threat to you, Tim. Not in any way. Not now. Not ever."
He watched as Tim swallowed hard, then reached down to lay his fingers against the vulnerable skin of Damon's throat. He leaned in to the touch, loving the feel of Tim's skin against his.
Then Tim dropped to his knees in front of Damon, leaning forward to press his mouth against the skin opposite where his hand rested. He moved slowly, dragging up the sensitive flesh until lips met lips, tongue met tongue and they plunged into each other with abandon.
Tony shifted on the run, reveling in the speed and movement. A quick sniff led him east. After a couple miles, he ran into the swiftly flowing creek and the pair of wolves scent trail turned more northerly as it meandered along the bank. Soon, the sound of a small waterfall came from up ahead, just barely covering the sound of conversation.
He picked up the pace until the words, in Ducky's familiar accent became clearer. "… so Sheriff Laverty seems quite taken with you, Jethro."
Tony stopped abruptly, his ears twitching forward even as buried pain burned inside of him. He dropped to his belly, crawled closer, inching along the ground a little to make sure he was downwind of the highly tuned senses of his alpha.
He ignored the hot roll of guilt at his eavesdropping. Most of the time he could tell himself lies but the reality was, he needed to hear this truth, once and for all.
"Ducky, drop it." Exasperation and amusement evident in his tone.
"I'm just saying that it's been a long time since things ended between you and Colonel Mann. Andy is young, attractive, smart and very amusing. In the right light, that mahogany hair almost looks red. And he hasn't exactly been subtle."
If Tony had been in human form, he would have snorted. Subtle was one thing that Sheriff Andy was not. But he'd been clinging to the belief that Gibbs was straight for years.
Four wives. A parade of red-headed females. Hollis Mann. There was nothing in Tony's knowledge of his alpha's history to suggest anything other than strict heterosexuality. Yes, he'd been jealous of the handsome sheriff, but it had been more about Laverty's freedom to flirt with Gibbs. And Gibbs treating him like an equal.
Tony had never considered that Gibbs might be flirting back. Now, Ducky seemed to be suggesting something completely different. And the older doctor was the person who knew Gibbs best.
When Gibbs didn't respond to Ducky's jibe, the doctor started speaking again.
"I know you came from a tradition-bound pack, but the LCIS and the North American Council has long since acknowledged that bisexuality is the statistical norm for the shifter community. And no one in our pack would think twice about it."
"Duck, my love life, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks. Not my first pack. Not LCIS. And, despite what you think, not you either."
"I don't understand, then. I know you've dated men in the past, but you never got serious about any of them. If it's not about some antiquated tradition, why did you choose only women for mates?"
The air left Tony's lungs only to be replaced with burning pain.
Gibbs liked men. Gibbs was attracted to men. Gibbs dated men.
That meant it wasn't his sex that kept Gibbs from returning his feelings. It was Tony himself. Gibbs simply wasn't attracted to him.
Eventually, Gibbs voice began to rumble, surprising Tony by actually answering the question.
"You're right about my pack being traditional. But what kept it together, what kept it steadfast and tight-knit wasn't our strong alpha. It was his mate. She was the heart and soul of the pack. We all adored her. And Shannon-"
Gibbs paused and Tony heard a slight hitch in his voice, one that only appeared when he spoke his first wife's name.
"Shannon took on the same role when I became alpha of the Special Ops pack. She worked hard to keep all of the mates connected when the pack was stationed overseas. She organized care packages and surprises. Especially for the men who had no mate and no pack at home to support them. They adored her. After--"
He stopped speaking again, and Tony huddled down, wanting to go to his alpha. Wanting to console him and make it better. Instead, he remained perfectly still, knowing his urge to comfort was unwanted and unwelcome.
"I married so many times after I found myself alpha of a constantly rotating pack at LCIS. I thought a mate might help to stabilize the pack. If the pack had a heart, maybe some of them would stay awhile. My mistake was that I kept getting fooled by superficial physical resemblance. Eventually though, I realized we already had a heart."
"Exactly. It was kind of a relief. I could stop looking for something I didn't really want."
Tony ached for the ancient, bone-deep pain he could hear in his alpha's voice. It superseded his own shallow gripe of unrequited… attraction.
"Maybe," Ducky spoke slowly, so low and quiet that Tony had to inch forward to hear the next words.
The doctor shook his head, looking away from Gibbs and turning slightly in the direction of Tony's hiding space. His gaze was distant and thoughtful, though, with no hint that he sensed anyone else in the area.
"Maybe it's time to start looking at that something you do really want."
"Don't Ducky." Gibbs sighed, following the doctor's preoccupied gaze with his own. "It's not like I haven't thought about it."
Tony had had enough. He couldn't stand another minute listening to the doctor try and convince Gibbs to go after Sheriff Andy. To go after the man he was attracted to. To go after someone, anyone, who wasn't Tony.
Moving quiet, quick and low, Tony got as far away as fast as he could without calling attention to his presence. When he was sure that he was beyond the reach of Gibbs's senses, he broke into a run, needing to burn off the anger and the jealousy and the deep, throbbing pain driven through him by a conversation he wasn't ever suppose to hear.
His third step-mother was right. Those who eavesdrop rarely hear anything that makes them happy.
He pushed his body hard, running flat out. Convincing himself that his heart hammered and his lungs burned from the exertion. Not from rejection.
There wasn't even a rejection.
It's not like Tony hadn't already known that Gibbs wasn't interested in him. So there was no reason that should bother him, he reminded himself as he slowed to a walk.
What was really bothering him was how much Gibbs and the rest of his team were turning to outside help for this case. Walking into the Public Safety Building and seeing Gibbs and Sheriff Andy with their heads together while they pored over files had ignited a firestorm of resentment in his gut.
Gibbs should be turning to him for help with the case, damn it. Tony was his beta. His right hand. He'd always known he couldn't have the relationship he wanted with Gibbs, but he'd been content to at least be his go-to guy.
Twisting his mind away from that dangerous path, Tony tried to listen to the small corner of his brain not drowning in adrenaline. It whispered that he was being irrational. He knew that. But the hurt. The groundless, pathetic anger at the buried, pitiful hopes that had finally imploded, left very little room for him to be rational.
As he walked, he caught the faint, pale scent of McGee and Werth somewhere up ahead.
His lips curled back into a snarl. Damon Werth.
The other invader in his life. His pack. The real threat to his place. An alpha-in-waiting. Tony had no doubt he'd lose a challenge from the former Marine. And Gibbs had a soft spot for him. The two had a connection and understanding that Tony could never have with his alpha.
He followed the scent on autopilot as a different kind of jealousy swamped him.
Today was a prime example of how differently Gibbs treated his fellow Marine. When was the last time his alpha actually invited someone to help with an investigation? Grudgingly allowed, maybe, when given a direct order. But invited a practical stranger?
And the fucking untrained civilian had managed to bring back more information about Mullin's movements than Tony had. Finding that out when he'd returned to the Public Safety Building, hearing it while Gibbs stood way too close Sheriff Laverty, had been the icing on the cake of his crappy day.
Tony liked to think he was irreplaceable. The truth, though, was his pack might see Werth as an upgrade. Stronger, faster, military trained and practically able to read minds with Gibbs and Ziva when it came to that special ops ninja crap.
But he was a 'Bane freak. By choice or not, he'd never completely overcome what the 'Bane had done to him. His soft-hearted pack might overlook that fact. It was up to Tony to protect them from themselves.
He grew quieter as he moved closer to the clearing that held McGee and Werth, thinking he'd surprised them. Maybe start a rough and tumble game of tag to burn off the emotion he had no room for. No right to.
What he saw though, had him stopping abruptly. Shock sent his mind blank for several seconds.
McGee and Werth kneeling on the ground, wrapped around each other like a pair of octopusses. Octopi. Whatever. They were locked at the lips and seemed to be touching at every point from shoulder to knee.
What the hell was going on with his world tonight? Had he pissed off the Universe unintentionally? Was this some sort of karma thing for some transgression he didn't even remember?
His entire pack was embracing his rivals.
Tony hunkered down, unconsciously mimicking the pose he'd held while spying on Ducky and Gibbs, already forgetting the lesson he'd learned about eavesdropping only a few minutes before.
He must have made some sound though, because Werth broke the kiss and looked in his direction.
"What?" McGee looked wrecked and his voice was hazy. "What's wrong?"
"Thought I heard something."
Tony stayed absolutely still. He wasn't too worried about them scenting him, the smell of their own passion should cover up Tony's odor. But he didn't doubt that Werth had a sniper's vision.
"Maybe." Werth finally relaxed a little and turned back to the probie. "Could'a been an animal. Could be a member of your pack."
McGee glanced around again when Werth said that, missing how the Marine's eyes narrowed and his shoulders pulled back with rigid precision. His voice though, remained relaxed and calm when he asked, "You worried about the pack finding out? About us, this?"
McGee's head whipped back around. "What? NO. I mean, most of them like you. They won't really care if we--"
He stopped speaking for a minute. Tony could see the quick rise and fall of his chest as he spoke again. "What are we doing? I mean, what's going to happen when I go back?"
"I was thinking I might try to find a job near D.C. There're so many packs in the area, lone wolves don't get hassled too much about territory. Think Gibbs will protect me from the few who might give me a hard time?"
Werth was teasing Tim, but the agent looked serious when he answered. "I think Gibbs likes and respects you. He asked for your help today. He might invite you to join the pack. If that's something you want."
The growl started low and deep inside Tony, gathering a life of its own when it erupted from his throat. Both shifters froze and looked his way. No longer undetected, Tony stood, shifted to human form and walked into the clearing.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said, imbuing more humor than he felt into the insincere apology. "I need to talk to McRomeo here for a minute. Alone."
Tim stood up rolling his eyes. "Whatever, Tony. I'll be right back Damon."
Werth stood as well, moving his body slightly between the two agents and inhaling well within Tony's personal space.
"You sure, Tim?"
Tony knew he could smell the churn of emotions, could better separate and understand the volatile mix just under the skin.
"It's fine. We'll just be a minute."
Tim patted him on the shoulder, turning it into a caress as he let his fingers trail down the larger shifters arms before walking toward the edge of the clearing.
Werth bared his teeth in silent warning but Tony just smiled blandly and followed the other agent.
Surprise, surprise. One day alone together and the Marine was acting all protective and proprietary. No matter what Damon thought, though, Tim wasn't his.
Tim was part of Tony's pack. Tony's to protect. Tony's to chastise.
"What's your problem, Tony?" Tim demanded as soon as they'd moved outside of the clearing. No doubt Werth could still hear them, but Tony didn't really give a damn.
"My problem is you, McTraitor." He poked a finger into the probie's chest with enough force to make him take a step backwards.
It felt good.
All that wild fire rage tearing through him finally had a focus. That tiny, rational corner of his mind was screaming at him again. But now he couldn't even hear the words.
"What the fuck, Tony? What did I do to you?"
"It's not what you did to me. It's what you were going to do to the pack. You have no right to invite outsiders into our pack." He emphasized his contempt with a one-handed shove, sending Tim stumbling back several steps this time.
Tim shook his head and flushed a little, in embarrassment or surprise, Tony didn't know and didn't care.
"I didn't. I wasn't. It was just a suggestion. An idea." He dropped his head under Tony's unwavering gaze.
"It was a bad idea, probie."
"I just wanted… I felt--"
"I. I. I. Were you thinking of anyone but yourself?" Tony shoved directly into Tim's face as he demanded an answer. The younger agent flinched. Fear and shame mixed in his scent, but Tony was beyond feeling guilt at this point.
"Did the good of the pack even once cross your mind?"
He pushed again both with harsh words and a two handed shove. Tim flew back several feet, stopping only when a large tree got in the way. His head ricocheted off the thick bark with a reverberating crack and the air escaped his lungs in a loud, "Oh."
Tony leapt forward, intent on driving his point home, though what exactly his point was or how to emphasize it hadn't quite crossed his mind yet.
His words were cut off as a hundred and twenty pounds of sable wolf hit him from the side. He hit the ground and saw stars. Before he gathered his wits, the wolf pounced on him again.
He could feel bruises forming along his torso under the huge paws as they moved over him, pushing him into the hard, rocky ground and pinning him in place.
Burning eyes, devoid of sanity or humanity, and sharp teeth hovered inches from his face as Werth snapped and snarled above him, sending hot spittle everywhere.
Fear finally managed to spike through the curtain of anger, but not enough for self-preservation to kick in. Tony's mouth was talking before that rational part of his brain could tell him to shut the hell up.
"Do you see, Tim? Do you see what you wanted to bring into our pack? Call off your mad dog, McDumbass."
Tony felt the growl before he heard it, low and furious, vibrating through the wolf's body before exploding out its mouth in a roll like thunder.
Finally, too late, his fear outstripped his anger. The survival instincts kicked in and he started to struggle against the weight on top him. He stopped abruptly, though, when strong lethal jaws started too closed over his throat.
"Damon, don't. Wait, please."
The sable froze as Tim stepped forward and put a visibly shaking hand on the wolf's tense back. The teeth remained against Tony's throat, just barely grazing the fragile skin. For the moment, his throat was still intact.
"Damon, you can't do this. Please. He didn't mean anything." Tim's voice wavered as he spoke, but it seemed to work.
Tony saw the moment intelligence overtook pure instinct in the blazing eyes. But the jaws tightened, a fraction anyway. Just enough to scrape Tony's skin as the muzzle pulled back. Just enough to draw a few drops of blood. Just enough to be sure Tony knew how this could have ended.
Like there was any doubt.
Then the sable wolf shifted back to human form. He stayed on top of Tony, teeth still bared in a feral snarl, hands still pressing his shoulders into the ground. Hands way to close to Tony's throat for comfort.
Werth had the same training Gibbs received in the Marines. No doubt, he could snap Tony's neck with very little effort.
His adrenaline had seriously kicked over from fight to flight mode and his nerves wanted to fire impulses to struggle, to run, to escape. But he fought that back with sheer stubbornness, remaining still and rigid.
He let bravado lead the way.
"Fine. You've proved you can blind side me. Proved you're stronger than me. Doesn't mean you'd win in a fair challenge. Doesn't mean you could replace me as beta."
The snarl slipped from Werth's face, flickering through surprise before settling into a sneer.
"Anytime I want your job, I can take it. I sure as hell don't want it, though. And Gibbs doesn't want me as his beta. Why do you think Ziva has never challenged you? You're Gibbs's choice. She respects that. I do too."
Then bared teeth were back in his face, and some of the wolf supplanted sanity in Werth's eyes.
"But if you ever hurt Tim again, I won't give a fuck about anything but ripping out your throat."
The last few minutes were a blur of sounds, smells and instincts for Damon.
The insults Tony casually hurled at Tim. The scent of shame and embarrassment, mixed with a little fear, rising off his changeling. The sounds of impact and pain when Tim hit the tree.
It was enough to snap Damon's tenuous hold on control. The wolf, instincts mind and body, subsumed the man.
He didn't remember moving, didn't remember shifting, didn't remember his jaws reaching to end a man's life.
Just remembered the sound of Tim's voice, calling his name. Calling him back from the brink. The feel of the warm hand trembling in his fur. The scent of fear, thick and heavy in the air, emanating from both Tim and Tony.
Most clearly, beyond his constant awareness of Tim, was his surprise and disdain that all of this was brought about by Tony's insecurity. His paranoia about his place in the pack. Idiot.
Anyone with eyes could see that Gibbs wouldn't stand for anyone else as his beta.
In human form, Gibbs might be as stoic and impassive as a statue. But the silver wolf couldn't keep his eyes off the chestnut one. The two of them had been inseparable the night before, the alpha never letting his beta stray too far from his side.
No, human Gibbs might never admit what he felt. Or that he felt at all. But the silver wolf knew what he wanted and didn't bother to hide it.
If Tony couldn't see it, it wasn't Damon's place to point it out. Instead, he made it clear that he didn't want Tony's job and that Tim wasn't a place to vent his anger.
When he was sure Tony understood his point, Damon stood up. Tim step back to give him room and he felt it like a loss. One that he couldn't get back. Instead he stared at the changeling, taking a moment to memorize the sight of him, inhaling the sweet, spicy smell, listening one last time to the rhythm of his heart.
"I'm sorry, Tim."
How ridiculous that he found the scrunched look of confusion so appealing. But Damon had to say his piece, before he lost his resolve.
"He's right. I don't belong in civilized company." His hand curled into a tight, painful ball, holding back the urge to touch one last time what he had no right to touch.
"I'm sorry, Tim. I never meant to scare you. I swear. It was the last thing I ever wanted to do."
He shifted in a hurry then and took off into the woods before the craving to stay became too much to resist.
"No, Damon. Wait. Come back. Please. You didn't…"
The sound faded fast as Damon flew across the ground, putting distance between himself and what he hadn't even known he wanted, until it was too late for him to have it.
Tim watched as the sable wolf disappeared, his words falling unheard in the darkness.
Damon was gone and Tim felt hollow inside. Like a vital piece of him was gone, too.
The sound of movement behind him had him turning on Tony with venom.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing?"
"Me?" Tony asked in that patently false innocent tone that made Tim want to punch him. He brushed leaves and dirt from his hair before speaking again. "You're the one who wanted to invite a 'Bane freak into the pack. You saw him. Unprovoked attack."
He gestured wide, his 'isn't it obvious' expression in full force.
"Oh, yeah, Tony. Major freak out there. I've seen you bleed more from a shaving cut."
Tim shook his head, throwing one last, disgusted look at the beta before turning back in the direction Damon had disappeared. He didn't have time to deal with Tony's ego right now.
Shifting in a hurry, he followed Damon's scent at a dead run, intent on finding the large sable wolf before he vanished from Tim's life permanently.
It didn't take long to figure out that the former Marine was heading back toward the cabin. He was just taking a wide, arcing path that would bring him out in front, where his bike was park. It would also, most likely, allow him to avoid running into any of the others by passing too close to the cabin.
There was no way Tim would catch up before Damon got to his bike and took off if he continued to simply follow the scent trail. But if he was wrong and the sable took an unexpected turn, he'd lose him. Probably for good.
There was no real choice, though. He had to take the chance. He stopped following the other wolf's scent with reluctance and turned into a shallower arc. He'd still avoid the cabin, but would pass much closer, chancing an encounter with the others.
He picked up the pace, pushing himself in a way he only ever did when he was on the trail of a suspect. Finally, he emerged from the woods in time to see Damon, already in human form, picking up his helmet.
Tim shifted while moving towards the bike.
The dark haired shifter was already shaking his head and Tim could see the arguments forming in Damon's eyes before he could even speak.
Words weren't going to get it done. Instead he kept moving forward, pushing into Damon's personal space, sliding his hands into the silky black hair and pressing their lips together.
The kiss was fierce. Hot, full of need, demanding and generous all at once.
Damon melted under the onslaught, opening to Tim, giving back. Strong arms wrapped around Tim, pulling him close, lifting him off his feet a little, cradling him and caging him all at once.
His tongue plunged into the hollows and secret places of Damon's mouth. Tasting, learning, devouring. He accepted Damon's questing in return. Opening, inviting, welcoming.
Gradually, though, Damon shifted the tempo. Slowing things down, easing back until the kiss ended and they were no longer pressed together.
"Damon, don't." Tim tried to forestall the words that were coming next. He didn't want to hear them. Didn't want to even think about it.
Damon smiled that half smile, the one Tim was beginning to realize was just for him.
His eyes, though, were sad and glinting a little in the moonlight.
"I fucked up Tim. For a little while, with you, I could pretend I deserved a place in a pack. That maybe Gibbs would offer me one. Then, maybe, I could have courted you properly."
Tim's eyes burned. He wanted to say something, anything to stop what was happening but his throat was too tight for words to force their way through.
"It can't happen now." Damon continued. "Gibbs is extremely protective of his pack. Of Tony, even if the idiot doesn't see it. I attacked his beta. He's not going to forgive that."
He tossed off a smirk, but the humor didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll be lucky if he doesn't rip out my throat the next time he sees me. He's not going to want me near any member of his pack."
"I. We," Tim made himself stop and take a deep breath. "We could--"
"No. We can't. I know what it's like to be packless. So do you. Admit it, even as bad as your old pack was, on your own just felt wrong. Like there were huge chunks missing from inside you."
Tim could only nod, twinging a little at the echo of the empty abyss he still carried in his memory.
"I don't want that for you, Tim. I want you to be happy."
Damon leaned forward, gently brushed a kiss over Tim's forehead then pulled on his helmet.
"Good bye, Tim."
He swung a leg over his bike and the motor roared to life.
Tim watched until the taillights were long gone from sight and the rumble of the engine was only a memory.
Finally, he forced his muscles to turn around and trudge out to the back deck in order to face the pack members he could hear talking back there.
Tony watched Tim chase after the sable wolf and tried to figure exactly when the night had gone FUBAR. Exasperated and exhausted from the emotional whiplash, he slipped into wolf form and headed back to the cabin for some peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, fate wasn't finished laughing at him yet. When he got back to the cabin, he found the entire pack, minus Tim and Damon, already hanging out.
Shifting back to human form, he snagged a beer from the cooler and leaned against the railing next to Abby.
"What happened to the spelunking?"
"Oh, we never made it there. Someone--"
She glared at Palmer.
"Someone got distracted by a rabbit on the way. By the time we caught up to him, he was practically in the back yard. We decided to hang out for tonight and check out the caves tomorrow."
She then launched into minute by minute description of the chase, which then segued, for some reason, into an anatomical lesson on rabbits.
As he hoped, a single, simple question to Abby had acted as a catalyst for a spill of words. Which meant that he had an excuse to stay quiet. That he didn't have to fight so hard to keep up a false, carefree façade.
Then the sound of a motorcycle engine tore into the night, and Tony knew his reprieve was coming to an end.
"Isn't that Mr. Werth's motorcycle? Where on earth is he going at this time of night, under a full moon?"
Tony shrugged and aimed for flippant. "Maybe he had a craving for ice cream?"
Gibbs, too perceptive by far, shot Tony a suspicious glare. "Where's McGee?"
"Funny, now that you mention it, he was following Werth, last time I saw him."
"What's going on Tony?"
Before he could figure out how to answer without actually answering, Tim came plodding around the side of the building. Every slow, heavy movement dragged with dejection.
Tony knew the moment Tim realized how big his audience was. The probie looked up, took in the impromptu party and closed his eyes briefly. His shoulders tensed and straightened as he pulled himself together, burying whatever it was he'd been feeling deep.
The deck remained silent and every eye was on him as he took the steps slowly. Tony bent over and pulled a beer out of the cooler, straightening to hand it to Tim.
The younger agent's eyes flicked coolly from the bottle to Tony. The stare lasted an eternity and told Tony it was going to be a long time before Tim forgave him. And it sure as hell was going to take more than a bottle of beer.
But Tim finally took it, opening and upending it into his mouth for a long swallow in one smooth movement.
When he was done, Gibbs finally broke the silence. "Where's Werth?"
"Under the circumstances, he thought it would be best to go home."
He kept his voice level, but Tony could smell the hurt, the despair and low-level anger still simmering deep.
"Under what circumstances, exactly?"
"Didn't Tony tell you?" Bewildered, Tim shifted a confused gaze between Gibbs and Tony.
"Tell me what?"
Gibbs may have been echoing Tim's words, but his focus and attention had settled solidly on Tony now. From the corner of his eye, he could see Tim open his mouth. But Tim could still smell his packmate's pain, could practically see Tim's reluctance to condemn Damon.
This was Tony's fuck up, though. It was his pathetic issues that provoked the whole thing.
So he rolled his shoulders and drawled over the beginning of Tim's stammered explanation.
"It was a misunderstanding, that's all. A little rough and tumble that got out of hand for a minute."
Next to him, though, Abby squealed.
"Oh my god. I thought I smelled blood. There are teeth marks on your neck. And they were bleeding."
She tugged at his collar to get a better look and exposed a blue and green bruise. Before he could stop her, his shirt was unbuttoned and open, exposing half-healed, paw-shaped bruises.
"Tony you're covered in bruises." Leave it to Abby to state the obvious.
"What the hell happened out there?" Gibbs demanded.
Tony shook his head, snatching his shirt out of Abby's hands to begin rebuttoning it. "Nothing. Like I said, a misunderstanding."
"DiNozzo." His name was a warning growl. "I want to know what happened. Now."
Tired of hiding. Of fighting. Of pretending nothing mattered when it meant everything, Tony snapped.
"You want to know what happened? What happened is that I didn't want another fucking rival around. The whole fucking pack welcomed him with open arms. You and Ziva treat him like a long lost brother. Abby and Palmer and Ducky think he's some poor soul in need of solace. And then I came across Tim kissing him."
Next to him, Abby gasped, then looked at McGee with something akin to respect. Tony had to roll his eyes when she winked across the deck at the probie.
"I got irrationally pissed, tried to take it out on Tim and Damon defended him. That's what happened out there. Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Everyone inside." Gibbs's voice was pitch so deep and quiet, it took a minute for the pack to comprehend. They moved, one by one slipping into the back door of the cabin.
Tim hesitated, pausing to speak halfway to the door. "Tony didn't hurt me, he wasn't--"
"Inside, Tim. I got this." Tony said, before Gibbs could turn on the probie.
He knew it was a lie though. He'd lost control somewhere around sunset and didn't think he was ever going to get it back again.
Tim walked with slow steps toward the back door, casting uneasy glances between Tony and Gibbs.
Finally, the door closed behind him with a click that echoed ominously across the deck.
Deciding the best defense was a good offense, Tony cocked a hip and leaned easily against the deck railing, staring out into the trees beyond.
"The kids hate it when mom and dad fight." Tony flashed his best, 'everything's alright' grin. "How 'bout we skip the argument and get straight to the part where I apologize. I fucked up, Gibbs. I was in a bad mood and I took it out on McGee. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry. It won't happen again, boss."
Tony finally chanced a glance at his alpha, expecting the hard demanding look he usually got for being flippant.
Instead, Gibbs met his eyes with the open, assessing look he reserved for puzzles he couldn't quite figure out.
Then, for the first time in the ten years Tony had known him, Gibbs looked away first. He dropped his eyes, turning to look in the direction Tony had been staring at a moment before. With a small shock, he realized it was the direction of the waterfall.
Tony wasn't quite sure he'd heard the question, until Gibbs repeats himself. "Why were you in a bad mood?"
A half dozen smart-ass answers sprang to his lips. Dealing with Ziva's driving all day. Being stuck with no satellite TV. Or DVDs. Abby's lumpy oatmeal at breakfast. Tony was the king of deflection.
But he was tired of pretending to feel things he didn't. Or pretending not to feel things he did.
Hell, he was so turned around, he didn't know if he was coming or going.
Suddenly the days and years of frustration welled up and his mouth began spewing words before his brain could kick it into submission.
"I don't feel like talking about my personal life anymore. Let's talk about yours. Ducky's right. Sheriff Andy's got the hots for you. You should go for it."
Gibbs stared at him, eyebrows so high they nearly disappeared into his hairline.
Apparently, he could still surprise his boss.
"What did you say?"
Ah, there was that disbelieving, yet terrifying tone Tony knew and loved. The one that said, 'if I heard you right, you better start running now.'
Tony retreated a step out of habit, but, really, he was already so deep, there was no sense in backing down.
"I, uh, accidentally overheard part of your conversation with Ducky. He's right. Andy Griffith has been totally putting the moves on you."
He swallowed, unable to believe he was encouraging Gibbs to be with someone else. But his alpha deserved to be happy. Even if it wasn't with Tony.
"Ducky said it was time you started looking for something you really want. I think he's right."
Gibbs closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his mouth. Tony could see him carefully calculating his next words.
"We weren't talking about Sheriff Laverty at that point."
"Of course you were. I heard…"
The doctor shook his head, looking away from Gibbs and turning slightly in the direction of Tony's hiding space. His gaze was distant and thoughtful, though, with no hint that he sensed anyone else in the area.
"Maybe it's time to start looking at that something you do really want."
"Don't Ducky." Gibbs sighed, following the doctor's preoccupied gaze with his own. "It's not like I haven't thought about it."
"You knew I was there. You both did."
Gibbs face slid into a reluctant grin, his eyes sparkling a little again. "Have you ever snuck up on me, Tony?"
"No." Tony pouted a little, out of habit.
Then the full import of what Gibbs had said struck him.
"You knew I was there. Ducky was talking about me. You. You were talking about me."
He stepped forward this time, moving into Gibbs's space, reaching out--
His hand dropped so fast, it banged against his own hip. Frustration snaked through him. "Why not?"
"Because, this, is not going to happen."
"Why not?" He knew he was repeating himself and didn't care. "You're attracted to me. You have to know I'm attracted to you.
Tony frowned as things began to click together, faster and faster in his head. "I use to think I was good at hiding it. But I've never been able to hide anything from you. You've known all along. Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Because I didn't want to have this conversation. I told you, this is not going to happen."
Tony heard the words but refused to process them. Instead, he leaned into Gibbs, braced his hands on his alpha's shoulders and ignored the sound of protest.
He could feel the heat of skin under his fingers even with the layer of cotton between them. For the first time, he caught a whiff of arousal from Gibbs and it seemed to travel directly to his own groin.
As he got hard from the contact, the smell, the knowledge that Gibbs felt something for him, he realized how good his alpha was at hiding his body's reaction. Even this close, he would never have noticed the faint scent, the minute tightening of Gibb's body, or the slight rise in the temperature around them if he hadn't been hyper aware of it.
This was the first time, the only time, Tony had been allowed to get this close. He was going to get as many tactile memories as he could. He tried to move even closer, but Gibbs slid a hand between them, pressing into Tony's chest.
He shuddered at the touch of his alpha, let the heat spread through him. While the hand stopped him from moving forward, it wasn't pushing him away. His face was inches from Gibbs's. He could see the heat, the reflection of need and desire in his alpha's eyes. Could hear the way his breath had gone ragged and uneven. Whether he wanted 'this' or not, Gibbs was feeling it.
"Why not?" He whispered, yet again. "Give me one good reason why we can't have this."
"Rule. Number. Twelve."
The words worked like ice water on Tony. That was it. No matter what, he couldn't win.
Gibbs's rules defined him. Defined his pack. If you couldn't abide by them, then you didn't last.
Tony dropped his hands, let his head fall as he watched Gibbs move away.
"That's it, then?" Tony couldn't help asking, as Gibbs picked up his forgotten beer.
"That's it." The answer was definitive, no room for debate.
Gibbs drained his beer and moved toward the door. "Hey, Tony."
He made himself look up. "Yeah?"
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry." And he sounded sincerely sorry. Sounded like maybe he was aching a little as well.
"Don't worry about it."
Tony forced the cocky, devil-may-care grin, like nothing had changed. And really, what had? He found out Gibbs wanted him. But Gibbs would never do anything about it. Would never let Tony do anything about it. So, in the end, everything was exactly the same as it was an hour ago.
"Don't worry about it." This time, the words sounded a little surer as Tony let some of the tension slide out and humor slide in. "By morning, we'll both have forgotten this conversation. Boss."
To his surprise, the older agent looked more troubled than relieved when he headed inside.
Tony waited several minutes, breathing in the warm night air.
It hurt, like a cold, sharp knife, to let go of a dream that he barely let himself dream. But it was a relief as well, to finally know for sure.
Finding a numb sort of balance, he headed inside. Near the fireplace, cushions and blankets were piled into a giant nest where Abby, Ziva, Palmer and Ducky sprawled together in wolf form pretending to sleep. As he came into the kitchen, Abby's ears twitch to follow his movement. Then Palmer's eyes popped open, only to slam shut when he saw Tony looking at him.
A true smile of amusement tugged at Tony's lips and he was grateful for his pack, even if they weren't intentionally trying to make him laugh.
Not far from the pile, McGee lay on the floor, not even bothering to feign sleep. He stared forlornly out the window, toward the spot where the driveway curved, disappearing into the trees.
Underneath the numbness, guilt curled to life in Tony's stomach. Damon was gone because Tony couldn't control his emotions. The irony wasn't lost on him. But there had been enough exhausting revelations, scenes and discoveries for one night.
He would apologize to Tim in the morning.
Gibbs's scent, still fresh, trailed across the room and up the stairs. Tony followed it, breaking off when he reached the room he'd shared with Tim the first couple of nights. He wanted to keep following the scent but that door had already been shut firmly in his face once tonight. He was not a glutton for punishment.
Changing into blue silk pajamas, he got into bed, alone, and prayed for dreamless sleep.
Chapter 5: Part Five
The next morning dawned brightly, sun streaming through Tony's bedroom window way too early. Of course, it may have felt that way because he'd barely gotten any sleep the night before.
Instead, he'd tossed and turned and tried to figure out how his day had gone so horribly wrong. Wondered if he could have done anything to stop it from spiraling out of control.
Wondering if the damage was irreparable. If his place in the pack would change. If his role would change. If his position by Gibbs's side would suddenly have more distance.
Noises from the kitchen told him he didn't have time to mope. Someone was up already and getting breakfast together. Several someones, by the sound of it.
Moving reluctantly to his feet, he glanced down and decided pajamas were good enough for the breakfast table. He didn't want to hold up the morning meal just to grab a change of clothes.
Breakfast was tense and quiet. He avoided looking at Gibbs. Tim avoided looking at him. Ziva and Ducky kept casting speculative glances between the three of them.
Abby and Palmer kept trying to lighten the mood with chatter and small talk, but the taut, heavy atmosphere kept stifling even their effervescent attitudes.
But Abby, bless her, did not give up. She took a deep breath, glancing around the table at all the heads staring down at their plates and launched into another round of breakfast conversation. Or, at least, what passed for breakfast conversation in the mind of a forensic scientist wearing leather, chains, and black lipstick.
"So, what I don't get is why the big dose of 'Bane at the end? I mean, somebody was happily drugging him for months. Did they accidentally slip him too much? Did something change? Did he just get impatient?"
From the corner of his eye, Tony caught the movement as his alpha's head snapped up and his attention riveted completely on what Abby was saying. The beta couldn't help the smile he felt tugging at his lips as he watched. He loved seeing the sudden snap of connection between Gibbs's gut and the evidence. Loved to see the tell-tale brightening in his eyes, even as his face took on the harden resolve that said he was going to nail the son of a bitch.
Then Gibbs turned his attention to McGee, and Tony's breakfast turned to rock in his stomach. It was happening already. Gibbs was turning to the others first.
"McGee, did you run the Adder Valley pack financials?"
"Yes. I checked Kyle and Gerald Anderrsen, Tobin, Adams, the girlfriend Adams was with as well as those challengers Gerald Anderrsen told us about."
The alpha's eyes scrunched at the corners and the room was silent as they watched his thoughts click rapid-fire.
"What about the pack itself? It has to have accounts. Holdings. The land where that museum is, he said it belonged to the pack as a whole."
McGee's eyes lit up as he caught the fever of a fresh trail from Gibbs.
"On it, boss." He dropped his napkin and pushed back from the table, eager to get to the Public Safety Building and get started.
"Abby, Ducky, Palmer. Go with him. There is still a bunch of food and wrappers from Anderrsen's car. Find out how he was poisoned."
"Ziva, get on the phone with those yahoos in Anderrsen's territory and have them track down Kyle Anderrsen's movements for the two days before he ended up here. And tell them I want that information ASAP."
As Gibbs ran through orders for the rest of the pack, Tony found himself sinking lower in the chair, wondering if he'd get some menial busy work or be forgotten completely in the excitement.
His heart tripped. He was almost afraid to look up. Afraid to find it had been his own wishful thinking calling his name and not Gibbs.
But his alpha was looking expectantly at him when he finally dared a glance.
"Get dressed. No criminal is going to take an LCIS agent in silk pajamas seriously. You're with me."
His heart took off, moving into lightning speed. He wasn't going to be forgotten. He wasn't going to be left behind. He hadn't trashed his spot by his alpha's side.
"On it boss." The words flowed out of his mouth bright and chipper and he knew the smile that accompanied them had to be blinding.
It didn't take long for Tim to track the shell company back to several small, nearly insignificant transactions in the packs day to day operations, once he knew what he was looking for.
And only three people had had access to the account. One of them was dead. Tim had a pretty good idea which of the other two people was responsible for the embezzlement, the 'Bane poisoning and the murders.
When Ziva finally got off of the phone with the agents in Adder Valley, Tim barely waited for her to hanging the phone before asking, "Well, anything useful?"
"According to the people he interviewed, nothing out of the ordinary until lunch. He said he was going to meet someone. And that whoever it was believed they could lead him to Adams's killer. He did not, however, tell them who he intended to meet or where he was going. He never returned from that lunch meeting."
She sighed and collapsed into the chair next to him. "It is a dead stop."
He stared at her, perplexed. "A dead what?"
"A dead stop." When he continued to stare blankly, she waved her hand around, nearly whacking him as she spoke. "A dead stop. You know, a road that stops abruptly."
"Oh. A dead end."
She nodded and slumped further in the chair.
He tried to hide his amusement and turned away before she could see the smile tugging at his lips. One did not laugh at Ziva when she was in this mood.
With a start, he realized it was the first time he had felt like smiling fiasco with Damon and Tony last night. His heart tightened painfully as he thought of the dark-haired shifter and all the humor faded.
Searching for something to distract him, his eyes fell on a folder in front of him. The folder that held Kyle Anderrsen's financial records. A quick scan showed a credit card transaction time stamped 12:47 pm on the day of his death at a place called Café Selene.
He then turned to another file and found a credit card transaction for Café Selene. Stamped 12:49 pm.
"Well, I think I found Anderrsen's lunch companion." He showed Ziva the two files. Then he showed her what he'd found in the pack financial.
Before she could say anything his phone rang and a close up photo of Abby's stuffed hippo appeared on his screen. He had to stop leaving his phone where she could mess with it.
Putting it on speakerphone, he said, "What's up, Abs?"
"Well, were hip deep in trash. But that would be more down than up. I don't think that guy ever cleaned out his car. We've been going through fast food wrappers and potato chip bags and empty candy boxes. Don't think this guy ever ate a vegetable that wasn't deep fried. But he did have several Caf-Pow cups, so I gotta give him a little credit for good taste--"
"Abby, did you call to tell us you found something?"
"Oh, Ziva, hi. Right. Yeah, we found an empty coffee cup laced with a ridiculous amount of 'Bane. No wonder he was so jacked up when he was in Damon's bar…"
Just the name should not make his body run hot and cold with hunger and grief. Instead of giving in and wallowing, he cut into Abby's ramble.
"Was the cup from Café Selene?"
Silence met his question for a second and he started to wonder if they'd lost the connection.
"Yes. The cup is from Café Selene," she answered in a slow cadence, her voice tinged with suspicion. "Is Gibbs there with you? Because I expect Gibbs to know things that I know before I tell him that I know. But you're not supposed to know things that I know."
"Gotta go, Abs."
He hung up and immediately started texting Gibbs with the information they'd compiled. As he tapped out the words he muttered, "Don't know why I'm bothering, Abby's right. Gibbs probably already knows."
"Of course Gibbs knows." Ziva tossed the car keys in her hand, a contemplative look glittering in her eyes. "Gibbs always knows. He just waits for us to prove his gut right. That's probably where he and Tony are, right now."
She dangled the keys in front him. "Shall we?"
Ziva didn't have to ask him twice. There was nothing better than watching Gibbs take down a perp who thought he was smart enough to get away with murder.
The two raced to the car. For once, Tim didn't even mind Ziva's offensive driving.
Damon had no idea what the fuck he was doing in town so early. He hadn't slept the night before. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was Tim standing in front of him almost, but not quite, offering to give up the pack for him.
And he'd wanted to accept that offer. The only other thing he'd ever wanted as badly was the Marines. Another dream he'd barely been given a taste of before it was snatched away.
After an exhausting and unproductive night spent berating his lack of self-control, he'd walked into his kitchen and realized he was out of coffee. It was perfectly reasonable that he get on his bike and drive past two fast food places to get coffee at the diner down the street from the PSB.
He didn't even try to lie to himself that coffee was better here. Damon may have promised himself he'd stay out of Tim's life, but that didn't mean he couldn't sneak a peek or two while the changeling was still in town.
That's why his eyes were glued to the front of the building as he parked in front of the diner. And why he saw Ziva and Tim run hell bent for the sedan and tear out of the parking lot like they were being chased by the hounds of hell. Or, more likely, the agents were the ones chasing down the demons.
Without a thought, he kicked his engine back to life and followed them.
Some sixth sense told him they were riding into trouble and he'd be damned if he let Tim walk into danger without him.
Damon knows he can't be part of the pack. Can't be part of Tim's life. But the urge to protect what's his is too strong to ignore. Even if Tim had only been his for a few short hours.
Gibbs hadn't enlightened Tony with any more information by the time they got to the motel, just gave that enigmatic look when he'd asked.
As soon as they got out of the car, Gibbs's attention seemed to be caught by something in the park next door. It took Tony another second, but he finally saw Gerald Anderson and his beta, eating at one of the picnic tables.
Gibbs nudged his shoulder and headed over to join them. Tony was just a step behind, the grin fixed and prominent on his face. Nothing had changed, Gibbs still treated him exactly the same. He hadn't broken anything between them.
That little, rational voice that had been so unhelpful last night echoed his own thought back at him. Nothing had changed. Everything was still exactly the same. Tony still didn't have what he truly wanted.
He put a foot on the neck of that voice and squashed it. He hadn't listened to it when he'd been deep-sixing his life, he sure as hell wasn't going to now that the status quo had been restored.
Gibbs slid onto the bench across from Adder Valley wolves. Tony stood behind Gibbs and a little to the left. He kept every sense open and let his alpha do what he did best.
As he looked around the park, Tony felt too exposed out in the open. There were woods to the left and at the back, behind the playground, the motel to the right and the main road behind them. They sat practically in the middle of the park.
He was a city boy at heart. Give him a nice alley to hide in. Maybe some buildings and cars for cover.
He double checked the playground for any innocent bystanders, just in case. But apparently it was too early for swings and slides, even on a Saturday morning.
"Must be difficult to be away from your pack during a full moon. Especially in a time of mourning."
Gibbs sharp, probing tone caught Tony's attention and he knew it was time to pay attention. His alpha was getting out the sharp sticks to prod for sore spots. Metaphorically speaking.
Gerald Anderrsen's faced flushed with anger as he took the bait.
"It is difficult. But finding my son's killer is more important."
Before Gibbs could say anything else, his phone beeped and he scrolled through the text. Had to be from McGee. Abby would have called and talked his ear off.
The sudden question as he put his phone away took them all by surprised, including Tony.
"What changed in the day or two before your son took off to find an assassin?"
It was obvious that everything before had been simply small talk while Gibbs waited for whatever information Tim had sent. Now he was going for the jugular.
"I told you, he'd been erratic for months. He was exactly the same in the days leading up to his… death."
"Not for him." Gibbs's voice dropped, forcing everyone to lean in a little to hear him. "For you. What changed for you in the days before he was murdered?"
"Nothing. I. Nothing."
But his scent was off and his eyes skittered toward the road.
The sound of Gibb's fist slamming into the table brought all attention squarely back on him.
"Don't lie to me." It was a command, not a request.
The other alpha deflated under the weight of Gibbs's authority. His face sagged and all the fight seemed to drain out of him.
"I hadn't actually done anything yet. But I was concerned about his behavior. I had consulted a psychiatrist about having Kyle committed to a hospital for observation."
"You don't have to do this, Gerald."
Tobin put his hand on his alpha's shoulder. His body was stiff as he shifted slightly, putting himself closer to Anderrsen and attempting to nudge his alpha farther down the bench. Tony recognized a beta in protective mode and his own body tensed for a fight in response.
"It's alright, Thomas. If knowing this will help them find out who's responsible, my pride can take the hit."
Tony saw Ziva and Tim pull into the motel parking lot and some of his tension eased with the knowledge that he had back up. His alpha was protected.
"When were you planning to… take him for observation?"
Ziva and Tim made it across the park quickly, but stood a few feet off, not wanting to interrupt Gibbs at work. Rule Twenty-two.
"Soon. As soon as we could push through the paperwork."
Gibbs kept his eye on Anderrsen, but directed his next question to Tony.
"They do blood tests for drugs when they take a patient in for observation, don't they, DiNozzo?"
Life returned to Anderrsen with a vengeance. He shot to his feet, towering over the still seated Gibbs.
"My son did not do drugs!" The shout reverberated through the park. Tobin stood, too, trying to place a calming hand on Anderrsen's back. But the alpha shrugged him off. "He had problems, but I knew my son. He would not have done that."
Gibbs stood up, walked around the table and looked the other alpha in the eyes. "I know. I believe you."
Anderrsen blinked and his muscles relaxed in surprise. But Tony was tense all over again. Three feet of wooden table separated him from his alpha. But he didn't dare undermine Gibbs in a rhythm by moving closer and looking overprotective.
Anderrsen gave Gibbs a puzzled look. "Then why were you asking about drug tests?"
"Because someone has been dosing your son with 'Bane for months. Hospital's test for 'Bane in shifters because it's used in conjunction with some recreational drugs in order to bump up the effectiveness."
"I don't understand. Why?"
"Because low doses over a long period of time will make a shifter paranoid. Irrational. Eventually, suicidal. Someone messed up the first assassination attempt. Another accident befalling your son would be suspicious. But 'Bane found without other narcotics would raise red flags at the hospital and questions from you. That someone had to get rid of your son before he got committed."
"But the only people who knew were my wife, the doctor and…"
The tumblers fell into place and Anderrsen turned to stare at his beta with disbelief. "Thomas?"
Tobin had frozen as Gibbs had made it clear how much the team had already pieced together. Tony kept his eyes firmly on the beta, watching him look around take in the surroundings and cycle through scenarios, realizing he was trapped.
The smile Tobin gave his alpha was sickly and hopeless. "Come on, Gerald. You know me…" He reached out his right hand but Anderrsen shook his head in disgust and stepped back.
Gibbs stepped forward. "Thomas Tobin, you're under arrest."
The next few seconds seemed to move through a curtain of molasses. Tony realized that while Tobin was offering his right hand, his left had dipped out of sight.
"Gibbs, look out."
He dove across the table, knocking full force into Gibbs. As his body moved in front of his alpha, he felt the icy burn of a blade slipping into his side, the bitter pain of silver slicing unmercifully into him. The momentum of his lunge tore the blade from his skin as he took Gibbs to the ground.
The pain was excruciating and everything else around him blurred as the tear in his side demanded all of his attention. He distantly heard McGee shout, "Knife! Anderrsen, look out!"
A flurry of sound and movement followed. Gibbs rolled out from underneath him, jostling the wound a little and setting off another burst of fiery pain in the track of the knife. When Tony finally managed to roll to his back and force his eyes open, he wished he hadn't.
A few feet away, Anderrsen was on one knee, bleeding from a shallow cut along his arm. Gibbs had made it back to his feet. Both the alpha and Ziva had weapons drawn and aimed at Tobin.
Tobin, who had an arm around McGee, the bloody wicked-looking silver knife pressing into his neck. The beta was smart enough to keep the changeling's body between him and the guns. Tony tried to push himself up and get to his own weapon, but the ice-cold burn of pain slid through him again and he groaned, falling back and pressing his hand to the wound.
Gibbs's eyes and aim never wavered from Tobin and Tim, but his voice sounded very un-Gibbs-like and shaky when he spoke. "DiNozzo?"
The concern warmed him and as much as he'd like to milk it, he knew Gibbs needed to be able to focus on the task at hand.
"I'm fine, Gibbs. Just hurts like a bitch. Pretty sure he didn't hit anything important." Tony forced a grin he didn't feel. "Maybe I'll even get a few sessions with that cute physical therapist."
"Don't count on it, DiNozzo."
Gibbs's voice was back to normal and Tony felt a little easier. He glanced over to Andersen, whose face was had turned chalk white as he stared slack jawed at his beta.
"Hey, Andersen, you okay?" Tony couldn't do anything about it if he wasn't, but knowing all the bad news up front was usually a good idea.
The alpha shook his head and tore his eyes away from Tobin. He looked at Tony then back down to his arm.
"I'm fine. It's just a scratch. The other agent got me out of the way."
Color seeped back into Anderrsen's face and life back into his eyes. After a minute, he pushed back to his feet and squared his shoulders to face his beta.
"Why, Thomas?" he demanded with a sure and steady voice. "You've been my beta for ten years. Why would you do this?"
"Why?" Tobin snarled back, knife hand tightening against delicate skin. "Because I was supposed to be your alpha-in-waiting. You promised it to me. Kyle's too young, you said. Too immature. Then you got sick, and suddenly Kyle was ready in your mind. But the pack was supposed to be mine. I deserved it."
Tony felt a little sick. A beta's job was to support his alpha. Not covet his alpha's position. But madness flickered in Tobin's eyes and Tony began to see just what jealousy and ambition could do to a soul. He resolved to let go of his envy of the rest of the team. He'd accept and enjoy his place in the pack, whatever it may be.
"That idiot was supposed to kill Kyle but fucked up. You were right, Gibbs, I didn't dare arrange anything obvious again too soon. I thought the 'Bane would push him over the edge long before Lycaon's took Gerald."
"It was working, too. Until you screwed me again with the stupid hospital idea." He swung toward his alpha, taking Tim with him.
The changeling gasped and Tony saw more blood spill along the blade. Saw the cut that appeared on Tim's throat. Both Gibbs and Ziva tightened their grips on their weapons but there was still no clear shot.
"I knew they'd see the 'Bane. In there, they'd wean him off it. I had to get rid of him first."
In the trees near the playground, a black spot moved in and out of sight. As Tony watched, it moved out into the open for a minute then slipped around the swings and behind an oak tree.
In a blood loss induced moment of giddiness, Tony thought maybe it was the shadow of death. Wondered if it was coming for him. Or for Tim.
He pressed his hand more firmly against his side, ignored the feeling of blood oozing between his fingers and blinked again. When his vision cleared, he realized it wasn't death incarnate moving toward him. It was a sable wolf stalking toward his prey.
Tony tried to keep the smile off his face even though Tobin hadn't spared him a glance yet.
"Keep him talking," Tony murmured in Anderrsen's direction. "Ask him about the last dose of 'Bane."
The alpha's eyes flickered toward him but he didn't question Tony. Instead, he asked, "Why that last dose of 'Bane? How was that going to help?"
Tobin snarled. "I thought it would kill him. I figured I could convince everyone he took it himself. Instead, it just made him crazier. I'd lured him with a promise of information about Lorne's death and he kept demanding I tell him. Kept getting louder and louder, drawing attention to us until I told him I'd heard about a hitman for hire in Verplanck."
Tobin's eyes narrowed, swinging from Anderrsen to Ziva to Gibbs, a little sanity and understanding dawning in them, finally. It always amazed Tony how long it took the bad guys to realize they were being played.
"None of that matters, now though. Everyone out of my way or this agent gets a second smile. We're leaving."
"No, Tobin. You're not going anywhere."
Tobin's grip tightened and he drew the knife a couple of inches along McGee's skin, leaving a trail of blood behind. "I'm not bluffing."
The black shadow that was Damon Werth stalked within striking distance. When Tobin's knife moved against Tim again, the wolf tensed, ready to pounce.
"Gibbs." Tony barely made a sound as he tried to warn his alpha.
"I know, DiNozzo. Got this."
"We're moving. Now. If you want him back in one piece, you'll let me get to the car without any trouble."
Gibbs exchange glances with Ziva and jerked his head. She narrowed her eyes, letting him know she was unhappy with the silent order, but she stepped closer to Gibbs. The move gave Tobin an open path toward the motel parking lot and his car.
His smile was malicious as he tugged Tim a little further from the agents. In the process, the pressure of the knife slackened slightly.
As soon as a sliver of daylight appeared between the blade and Tim, a black blur streaked across Tony's vision.
In the space of a heartbeat, Werth's jaws were locked tight around Tobin's knife arm and Tim managed to jerk free. The blade fell from the now useless hand, and the wolf immediately let go of the arm to pounce on Tobin's chest. The scene was eerily similar to Tony's encounter with the sable wolf the night before. Damon's lips peeled back in a snarl, his jaws opened wide as they lowered toward the shifter's throat.
Tim's voice croaked a little and he rubbed at his throat. Just like the night before, the sable wolf immediately responded to the changeling. The madness and the thirst for vengeance slid out of his eyes and his mouth snap shut with a click centimeters from Tobin.
Gibbs kept his gun trained on the beta, but gave a slight nod toward Tim.
"Neat trick. Wish we could train Tony to voice commands. You okay, McGee?"
"Yeah, I'm good." His voice still cracked a little but he sounded better all ready. "And I think the head smacks are working just as well."
Ziva moved forward with her cuffs ready, nudging Damon aside as she secured the prisoner. As soon as the threat was neutralized, the black wolf was at Tim's side in a single jump. A second later he had shifted to human form, pressing his fingers against the wound and murmuring words that Tony couldn't hear.
"Ziva, call Laverty. Get an ambulance and a squad car to clean up the trash."
Gibbs holstered his weapon, then stripped off his jacket as he moved toward Tony. Dropping to his knees, he shoved Tony's hand away and pressed the fabric firmly against the still seeping wound.
"Tell me the truth, DiNozzo, how bad is it?"
"Really, boss, its fine. Well, not fine. It hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. And I've probably lost a little more blood than is good for me, 'cause I thought Werth was death incarnate at first. But other than that, all good."
Gibbs looked torn between amusement and concern at Tony's babbling. One hand continued to hold the makeshift fabric pad against his side, the other moved up to grip Tony's shoulder. It was almost, but not quite, a caress. Hearing the approaching sirens, Tony decided to close his eyes and enjoy the fleeting moment of Gibbs's warmth pressing into his side.
Too soon, the sirens were echoing off the nearby buildings and footsteps were running in their general direction. For a brief, fleeting second he thought he felt a warm hand move across his forehead and brush gently through his hair.
He struggled to get his eyes open. To see if he'd imagined it the caress or not. Gibbs, though, was already moving away so the paramedics could get to him.
Tony sighed and closed his eyes again.
The world was once again a confusing haze. Damon felt saturated with scent, sensations, colors, movement, instincts and sounds, blending together. Twisting into a patchwork of sensation that could not be separated.
But over it all, one thing dominated his awareness, tugged him forward, kept him moving.
Tim was in trouble.
He stalked his pray, tense and waiting for it to reveal any sign of weakness. And when he saw his chance, he struck.
Merciless. Vengeful. Vicious.
Then Tim's voice, like a life-line, called him back from the brink. Again.
Instead of snapping the bastard's neck, he'd just snapped his teeth. Made it clear what could have, should have, happened to the beta.
As soon as Ziva took over, he was by Tim's side. But paws and teeth were useless and he slid back into human form.
The sharp, hot smell of Tim's blood, mingled with the pungent, fading smell of his fear nearly pushed Damon back over the edge. But those eyes, warm and welcoming, reeled him back in.
He needed to touch. To feel the warmth and life of Tim's skin. To know that Tim was real and alive. With careful movements, he slipped one hand under Tim, cradling his head. The other ghosted lightly over the changelings throat, though Damon remained diligent in his care not to touch the raw looking wounds.
"I'm sorry. So sorry." He ducked his head, nuzzling against Tim's hair and inhaling the clean pure scent of him. He kept whispering hoarsely, barely aware of the words. "Should have been here. Should have gotten to you sooner. Should have been with you. Sorry. So sorry."
A firm hand gripped his shoulder, fingers flexing and relaxing against the muscles in a welcome caress. Tim's voice was still a little rough but sounded like music to Damon's ears.
"You got here in plenty of time. I'm fine. It's just a scratch. Thanks to you."
"If I'd been here. If I hadn't been an idiot last night, I would have been by your side today. Protecting you. Making sure you didn't even get a scratch."
Tim laughed, though it sounded more like a cough. "You do know I'm a Federal agent, right? I'm supposed to be able to protect myself."
Damon didn't say a word, just let his smirk do the talking.
Tim sighed. "Alright. Fine. So maybe not as well as a Marine with Special Ops training."
Ambulances and police cars began pulling up. In the motel lot, on the road, in driveways across the street. Lights, sirens, people yelling, people running, people asking questions and shouting orders. Controlled chaos reigned in a kaleidoscope of flashing lights and conflicting human voices.
When two men in dark colored uniforms approached at a run, training and instinct took over. Damon was on his feet, meeting them with a snarl.
They stopped abruptly, looking bewildered and reason kicked in for Damon once again. Paramedics. Not the enemy.
Taking a deep breath he moved back and around to the other side of McGee, giving them room to work but sticking close.
A few minutes later, the wound was cleaned and bandaged.
"This doesn't look too bad, most of its pretty shallow, but the end is a little deep. I think you might need a couple of stitches."
Damon trailed close behind as they moved Tim to the ambulance. When he tried to climb in behind, one of the paramedics stopped him, uneasily moving to cut him off.
"I'm sorry, but with the other two, there's no room." He motioned to Tony, laying on a cot and another, older man sitting on the bench as an EMT bandaged his arm.
Before he could argue, Gibbs was next to him. "I'm going to follow right behind in the car. Why don't you get your bike and meet us there?"
Damon nodded, realizing Tim would get treatment quicker if he didn't argue. "Yeah, okay."
He turned and gave the paramedic his best 'don't fuck with me' glare.
"You take good care of him, got it?" His gaze flickered toward Tony. "DiNozzo, too, I suppose."
The paramedic swallowed hard and nodded emphatically before scrambling into the ambulance.
Damon took a few steps away, shifted back into wolf form and took off across the park and into the trees beyond where he'd stashed his bike.
After a quick ride that probably should have taken him a lot longer than it had, Damon walked into the waiting room and sat down next to Gibbs.
"Any word?" he asked without preamble.
There was a three car accident that came in just before we did. They're looking at Tony and Tim's back there waiting to be seen, but it will probably be a bit before we hear anything." He paused and pursed his lips. "Paramedics seem to think they'll both be fine, though."
Damon nodded, the reassurance doing nothing to ease the tight knot of fear and regret in his gut. Glancing around for a distraction, he asked, "Where's Ziva?"
"She went back to the Public Safety Building to pick up the other three. Otherwise Abby would be calling every five minutes for an update."
Both men fell silent.
Eventually Gibbs spoke, breaking into the circle of recriminations revolving in Damon's head.
"You did good out there today."
"Yeah, not bad, except for the little detail that I lost control. Again."
"You had provocation." The alpha's lips twisted up into a smirk. "Besides, you seem to heel on command for Tim."
Damon shook his head, allowing his own smile to break through, as well. "That joke isn't going to get old for you, is it?"
"Not for the foreseeable future, no."
Gibbs phone rang and he groaned. "The Director. Great."
He got up and walked out of the hospital before bringing the phone to his ear. Damon watched him pace back and forth in front of the automatic doors, beyond the range of their sensors.
A minute later, Abby appeared out of nowhere wrapping her arms around the alpha and, from what Damon could see, talking a mile a minute. Gibbs tried to unsuccessfully to extricate himself and point out that he was still on the phone.
Palmer, Ducky and Ziva passed by them a minute later, filing into the waiting room and taking the empty seats around Damon.
"Any news yet?" Ducky asked, glancing around the half full room, eyes stopping abruptly on the pretty blonde behind the admin desk.
"No. Gibbs said it might be awhile."
"Perhaps I can appeal to someone, medical professional to medical professional."
The older shifter got up and wandered over to the desk. Damon's attention returned to staring out the glass doors.
Abby seemed to be having an animated conversation all by herself. Mouth moving a mile a minute, hands waving in harmony. Every time Gibbs opened his mouth or gestured to his phone, she seemed to step up her monologue.
Finally though, something Gibbs said seemed to get through to her. Her mouth and hands stopped abruptly and her eyes got so big, she reminded Damon of one of those Asian cartoon characters. Then a wide smile bloomed and she threw herself into hugging her alpha again.
When Gibbs gestured to the phone yet again, through the strangle-hold she had on him, she nodded and backed off.
The energy in the waiting room actually seemed to change when she walked in. The dejected stale air suddenly seemed charged with optimism.
Before he knew it, Damon was staring at black leather combat boots and trying to makes sense of the words being tossed at him rapid fire.
"Have you seen Tim yet? And what about Tony? Any word at all? Gibbs said there was another accident, but you'd think they'd at least tell us something."
In self-defense, he pointed her in Ducky's direction. "I haven't heard anything, but I think Dr. Mallard might be trying to get something out of the desk clerk."
And, like a shot, she was halfway across the room and nipping at the doctor's heels.
Gibbs dropped into the seat next to him, chuckling.
"Quick thinking, Werth." Gibbs grinned at him, then rubbed a hand over his face. "I could really use some coffee."
Ziva perked up. "I think we could all use some coffee. I will find a cafeteria. Palmer, would you help me find some refreshments?"
Palmer jumped at the chance to do something and followed her down the hall. Not that Damon could blame him. Sitting in the waiting room always made him feel so useless. Normally, he'd be looking for a distraction as well. But not today. Today, he didn't intend to leave the waiting room until he saw Tim again.
"So, as I was saying before, good job today."
Damon didn't bother arguing this time, just lifted his shoulder in a half-hearted shrug.
"You did alright yesterday, too. Managed to bring back more useful information than DiNozzo or Ziva could get their hands on."
Damon stared at his hands and kept silent, trying to figure out where this was going.
"You'd probably make a good agent. Ever consider law enforcement?"
Everything tightened in his chest. Gibbs couldn't mean it. He had to know it was impossible. And Damon felt honor-bound to point it out, just in case the alpha had overlooked it.
"Not really in the cards for me. The whole 'Bane freak, control issue disqualifies me before I get past the pre-screening questions."
"Yeah, about that. Vance said if I vouch for you, he'd give you a six-month trial period."
Damon's head shot up at that. Gibbs had already talked to the Director?
"You'd have to join my pack, as well."
Gibbs was offering him everything. A job. A pack. A family. A chance with Tim. A life.
"So, you interested?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to say yes. Hell yes. But he couldn't make that decision without knowing how Tim felt. Sure, last night he'd been willing. But a lot had happened since then. And the changeling had had time to think things through a little more thoroughly.
Damon couldn't accept a job, and a place in the pack, that allowed him to see Tim every day, if Tim had changed his mind. He needed to talk to his--
The word mate rolled through his mind and he lost all the breath in his lungs. Mate. He wanted Tim to be his mate. Something permanent and deep. Could he make this any more complicated?
"I have to think about it."
Gibbs had remained silent and watchful as Damon had worked through things in his head. Now he nodded in understanding.
"Fair enough. There's no deadline for an answer, but if you want to head back to D.C. with us, the plane is leaving tomorrow."
"But no pressure or anything."
Gibbs settled back into his chair, tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
Chapter 6: Part Six
Tony woke up as the sun was setting, sending spears of red and gold light through the window of his room in the cabin. Most of the day was kind of a blur after the ambulance ride.
He vaguely remembered the emergency room. That was where the painkillers came into play. After that his memories were a bunch of disjointed and jerky puzzle pieces he'd probably never get put back together in any kind of sensible order.
He remembered the doctor poking and prodding and probably stitching up his side.
He remembered Abby manfully restraining herself from hugging the stuffing out of him, for which he was eternally grateful.
He remembered Gibbs helping him to the car. Helping him into the cabin. Helping him into bed.
Tony needed a drink. Unfortunately, he was going to have to settle for the glass of water on the table next to his bed.
Tony pushed himself up to sit against the headboard and groaned as his side pulled and throbbed. The meds, at least, were acting as a slight impediment to the pain so the move wasn't excruciating.
He was however going to need several minutes to catch his breath before attempting to reach for the water.
Of course that's when the door opened and Gibbs walked in.
Without even being asked, he picked up the glass and handed it to Tony. He took several careful, wonderful sips of the cool comfort before answering.
Gibbs smiled a little at that. "You want another pill?"
Tony closed his eyes and considered it as the pain thumped along his side. "Nah. They make me foggy and I have some questions."
"Figured you would." Gibbs took the glass and put it back on the table before pulling up a chair to Tony's bedside. "Fire away."
"Is fine. A couple of stitches and a bandage. He and Damon are downstairs talking on the deck."
That brought several questions to mind but he had to prioritize his finite amount of consciousness.
"Ziva? The rest of the pack?" He didn't remember anyone else being in trouble, but his timeline and recall of the day were sketchy at best.
"All fine. They decided to go for run and check out the caves. I think they needed to burn off some of the nervous energy from a day of waiting in a hospital."
Tony nodded in understanding. "Anderrsen?"
"Physically fine. Emotionally devastated. Some of his pack came to take him home. I don't think his pack will ever be the same. They've taken a lot of hits in a short period of time."
An ache of sympathy pulsed in Tim's chest. Pack was supposed to be home. A safety net. A place where trust was implicit. Tobin had ripped that away from them. Which brought Tony to his next question.
"Pretty much insane. Getting caught seemed to have been the last straw. His mind is broken and I doubt he'll ever be able to stand trial, despite his confession."
"Well, mostly he's been rambling incoherently, but we've managed to piece together most of it. You up for hearing a bedtime story?"
His side was twinging a little more, but he was too impatient to wait. They'd put a lot of energy and effort into this case and he wanted to know what had happened.
"Yeah. But just hit the hightlights."
"The last dose failed to kill Kyle. It just made him loud and demanding, since Tobin had lured him with the promise of finding Adams's killer. The beta panicked and sent him to Verplanck, then called Mullin and told him to finish the job. Mullin followed Kyle, knocked him out when he got out of his car at the motel and brought him to the woods to kill him. Idiot didn't realize in the dark how close he was to the running trail. He was supposed to make sure the body wasn't found for awhile."
"Then Tobin tagged along with Gerald Anderrsen, for support, supposedly. He just needed an excuse to be in town so he could get rid of Mullin. He used the half of the pheromone sample he'd kept, just in case, then grabbed what Mullin's had left, thinking we'd never figure that part out. He used the antique knife hoping we'd start and end with Anderrsen and not look any deeper."
"He really didn't think any of this through, did he?" Tony said, disgusted it had taken them so long to figure it out, considering how sloppy Tobin had been.
"He wasn't thinking. Once Mullin killed the wrong guy, he just kept reacting."
"Trying to fix his mistakes by making even bigger mistakes." Tony murmured, shifting a little as the discomfort grew in his side.
Gibbs's sharp eyes caught the movement and the wince but he only raised an eyebrow. "That's pretty much the case in a nutshell. Anything I can answer for you?"
The question was soft and concerned as Gibbs glanced from Tony to the pain med bottle and back. Another remembered sensation flashed through his mind. A warm hand stroking his brow, brushing across his over-heated skin and moving through his hair.
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask Gibbs if that was real or another hallucination, but he managed to bite it back. When Tony focused on his alpha once again, it was obvious that his yearning had shown on his face more than he'd intended.
"Tony," Gibbs started, looking so regretful and tired that Tony did not want to hear what he had to say.
"I think you've given me all the answers I can handle tonight." He wriggled again and let the scorching pain, show a little more than he normally would. "I think I could use one of those painkillers now."
Gibbs hesitated, and Tony closed his eyes, praying that he'd just let it go.
He heard the sigh, closer than he expected and looked up to find Gibbs holding out the glass in one hand and a pill in the other.
He took the pill, washing it down with what was left of the water. As Gibbs turned out the light and quietly shut the door behind him, Tony wondered why he felt so disappointed that his alpha hadn't pushed harder.
Tim sat on the deck, sprawled comfortably in a thick, wide Adirondack chair.
His attention was riveted on Damon's back, watching the shifter lean against the railing and stare out across the backyard.
He picked up the beer and took a long swallow, glad he'd abstained from the painkillers the doctor had tried to give him. Tim had a feeling that, whenever Damon got around to telling him what was bothering him, he'd need a six pack.
When he'd walked out to the ER's waiting room, he'd been immediately engulfed in a crushing, wonderful hug by the big shifter. Then Abby had pushed her way in followed by Ducky, Ziva and Palmer. By the time Tim had caught sight of Damon again, he'd moved several feet away to lean against the wall. His hands were in his pockets and his head was down.
The rest of the day had been a strange mix of feeling like Damon was avoiding him and catching the shifter giving him odd, thoughtful looks.
At first he thought the solitary, private Damon might have been embarrassed by his overt display of emotion in front of the whole pack. But it had been over an hour since the others had left. Over an hour that they'd been out on this deck, all alone. And Damon had barely said two words to him in that entire time.
Now, Tim was just wondering if he was regretting the whole thing between them.
He rubbed a couple of fingers over the bandage at his throat, took another sip of beer and thought, fuck it. The day couldn't really get much worse.
"Damon." The back stiffened but remained facing him. "Damon, are you going to tell me what's on your mind? Because it's late, and I'm tired. If you're just going to give me the silent treatment, I'm going to go to bed."
Damon spun around. Finally, a reaction.
"I'm not. I'm sorry. I wasn't giving you the silent treatment. I'm just trying to work something out in my head."
Tim took another sip of beer and waited.
Damon ran his hand through his hair, holding it back with one hand tight against his scalp.
"Gibbs offered me a job with the team. And a place in the pack."
Tim blinked in surprise. Not what he expected to hear. Then excitement washed through him.
"That's terrific. I know you enjoyed this weekend. And you'll be an asset to LCIS. What is there to think about?"
"You. You and me, I mean."
And Tim could swear that his heart actually turned into an ice cube in his chest. He wanted Damon. But more than that, he wanted Damon to be happy. He did not want to be the reason the former Marine turned down what may be his only shot to get some semblance of the life he wanted.
"Look. If you don't… If that's not what you want…" He had to stop and take a deep breath. He hadn't hyperventilated since high school, but he was afraid he was on the verge of it now. "If you don't want us, I won't make a big deal out of it. I won't make it uncomfortable… you deserve to have a place in this pack…"
The words came out in one long string. Humiliatingly, he could feel the tears burning at his eyes and he had no doubt Damon could smell his distress. His hurt.
In the moment it took to blink back the tears, Damon crossed the distance between them and sank to his knees next to Tim's chair.
"No." He turned up his face to Tim look him in the eye. "No, no, no, no. That wasn't what I was saying at all. I want this. I want you."
The pose reminded Tim of the night before, when Damon had deliberately offered him his throat. He couldn't help stroking fingers over that soft skin again.
"I do. More than anything. But I don't want just a few nights. I can't work with you, be part of a pack with you, spend every day with you and not have you."
"Have me?" He knew what he wanted Damon to mean by that. But he needed to have it spelled out. He wouldn't humiliate himself over a gorgeous shifter again. "Have me how? Lover? Boyfriend? Friend with benefits?"
"I was thinking maybe--" Damon took a deep breath, his eyes didn't leave Tim's and, for the first time, Tim saw doubt and fear creep into them.
Damon cleared his throat and tried again. "I was thinking mate."
Tim kept thinking he knew what to expect and Damon kept surprising him. He felt a little numb as he repeated in a slight croak, "Mate?"
Apparently it wasn't quite the reaction the large shifter had hoped for. His eyes dimmed a little, his head dip down. "I know it's a lot and I'm not asking for anything other than a chance to show you I'm serious. Just, you know, consider it."
Tim could not think of one word to say. He opened his mouth but nothing seemed big enough, real enough, right enough.
Instead, Tim slid his fingers from Damon's neck up to cradle his jaw and moved forward to claim his mouth in a kiss. It didn't take long for Damon to surge forward, wrestling for control of the kiss.
Fierce and tender, Tim drowned under the onslaught, surrendering to Damon even as he took everything the shifter had to offer.
Damon's hands echoed Tim's gently, curving around his jaw, stroking the vulnerable skin and sending shivers through the agent. Slowly, Damon pulled back, searching Tim's face and smiling when he found whatever it was he was looking for.
"So, you're okay with the courting thing?"
"Yeah. Really, really, okay with it."
Damon claimed his mouth again, then, without breaking the kiss, climbed up Tim until he could straddle him in the sturdy chair.
His lips released Tim's only to trace across his chin and down his neck, carefully avoiding the bandage and leaving a hot, moist trail of desire in his wake.
Tim needed to touch, to feel. His hands dove under Damon's T-shirt, greedy for the feel of that silky, warm skin stretched over the hard muscle underneath. He slowly moved them up, mapping every inch of Damon's chiseled stomach and chest with his fingertips, loving the way it made the man moan against his skin.
When he reached pebbled nipples he took a moment to tease, running both thumbs over them at the same time.
Damon groaned and jolted at the sensation, arching back as his hips rolled forward. They both froze at the exquisite sensation when they rubbed together. Even through two layers of fabric, Tim felt the contact like a jolt of lightening down his spine.
Damon licked his lips, fire raging out of control in his eyes. "I want you, Tim. So fucking bad."
"Yes." Tim couldn't help hitch of his body as it responded to Damon's words and they both groaned again at the repeat of the friction between them. "God, yes."
Damon reached the waistband of Tim's sweats, and as he was lifting to help, a sliver of reality intruded. Reluctantly, he covered Damon's hand with his own.
"Gibbs. Gibbs is here. The others could come back."
Damon closed his eyes, head shifting slightly, then a small smile replaced the frown and he lowered until they were forehead to forehead.
"I've got you, Tim. Trust me?"
There was so much more to that question than just the present moment. Tim didn't hesitate to answer with a wide smile.
He knew Damon had stronger, better trained senses. The Marine would hear trouble coming. He'd protect Tim. Even if just from embarrassment.
Then Damon's hands were on Tim's pants once again and coherent thought evaporated. In seconds, he had both of them free and was reaching for Tim's hand. He wrapped it around both of them, then covered it with his own.
He stroked slowly, experimentally, watching Tim for every gasp, every moan, every change of expression. And when he seemed satisfied that he'd learned exactly what Tim liked, he leaned in to capture Tim's mouth once again.
It wasn't the hard, fast, demanding kiss he was expecting.
It was slow and sweet and sensual. As if he was being sampled. Memorized.
Tim's skin flushed, his heart pounded, his hips began to rock in counterpoint to the rhythm Damon set. A maddeningly slow, steady tempo that was driving Tim straight into an abyss of pleasure.
His body trembled with the sheer power of sensation and passion. The need and raw emotion of it all combining to feed liquid desire into his blood.
His hips started to stutter and Tim knew he wasn't going to last. Damon seemed to realize it too, because the strokes quickened, pushing Tim to the limit.
The orgasm built, rolling through him like thunder and pleasure singed every nerve ending in Tim's body until, finally, he couldn't hold back.
Heat spilled between them, adding slickness and warmth to the mass of sensations he could no longer sort out. He went boneless and pliant under Damon, worn out and electrified.
Damon growled above him, threw his head back and two, quick strokes later he was pouring over the edge with Tim. For one breathtaking moment, he was frozen above Tim, arched in a perfect posture of sensual abandon.
Then he collapsed back over Tim, burrowing his head against Tim's chest. Tim's arms wrapped around him and they silently snuggled as best they could in the confines of the chair while their hearts and breath returned to normal.
After a few minutes, Tim whispered into Damon's dark, silky hair. "We should probably clean up."
Damon grunted and shifted to smirk up at Tim. "I like my scent on you. Like that everyone will know you're mine now."
Tim couldn't help laughing. "Jeez. Two days and you're already marking your territory. "
Damon gave him a mock frown.
"It's only fair. Gibbs already thinks you have me on a leash."
Damon stood up, holding out a hand to Tim and tugging him to his feet. Damon wrapped him up in a hug, and Tim was beginning to realize the big, bad Marine was a cuddler.
He smiled and something rigid and hot eased inside him, flooding with warmth.
"Mate," he murmured.
Damon kissed him, quick and fierce, eyes glittering with warmth and desire, need and love.
The growl was a confirmation and a promise.
Mid-morning sun streamed through the cabins windows as Tony paused at the top of the stairs and took a deep, steadying breath. Gibbs moved around downstairs, in and out of the front door as he loaded the car for their return trip to D.C.
The rest of the pack had headed out with Damon and Tim over to the Stoddard to help pack up the newest pack member's belonging.
And hadn't that been a surprise this morning. Damon announcing at breakfast that he would take Gibbs up on his offer and join the team.
Tony had nearly spit out his coffee at the shock. Tim just sat, looking pleased and sated and Tony did not want to go there.
Abby had bounced in her seat with excitement. Ziva and Ducky shared those small, smug smiles. Gibbs had just nodded and continued eating, as if he'd expected it all along.
The only one who had seemed remotely as surprised as Tony, was Palmer. But Ducky's assistant always had that confused puppy look, so it was hard to tell.
Tim and Damon hadn't so much as touch, but a sense of affection and understanding filled the air around them.
And, considering his own conversation with Gibbs not too long ago, that worried Tony a little.
Because, for the hard time he gave Tim, the changeling was pack. A friend. Maybe even the brother Tony never had. And after watching Damon save his pack mate yesterday, he figured it was time to let that particular grudge go as well.
So he needed to ask Gibbs some hard questions. Which would most likely lead to a conversation he'd promised himself they would never have to have again.
"You gonna' stand at the top of the stairs all day, Tony? Or are you gonna' come down and ask whatever's obviously eating at you?"
He never could hide from Gibbs. Not that he was trying to.
Tony took the stairs slowly, both to go easy on his wounded side and to give himself more time to figure out how to pose his question.
By the time he got to the bottom, Gibbs was sprawled on the couch and Tony blurted out, "You have to know Tim and Damon are involved right?"
"Yeah, Tony. I'm not blind."
"But what about Rule Twelve?"
Gibbs sighed and scrubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes. When he finally spoke, he stared out the window, eyes focused completely away from Tony.
"I've broken Rule Twelve a few times in my career. It never ended well."
It didn't really answer his question, but Tony knew Gibbs well enough to roll with it. Instead, he asked, "Jenny?"
The smile was sad, small and fleeting. "Among others."
And as the silence stretched, Tony couldn't help resenting that Gibb's was forcing him to push this. "But Damon and Tim, you're willing to give them a chance?"
This time the smile was more genuine and amused. "Yeah, well, I figured an addendum to Rule Twelve might be in order."
"Abby's word." Gibbs actually looked a little sheepish as he admitted it. Not a look Tony had seen on his alpha often. It looked good, though. "Abby's addendum, actually."
"So what is this addendum?"
"Never date a coworker. Unless you both are really, really in love."
"A direct quote from Abby?"
Gibbs nodded, eyes crinkling with amusement.
It was Tony's turn to stare out the window. The ache took him by surprise. Not the one in his side, where the wound pulled and burned. No. The one in his heart. When he realized that, whatever Gibbs might feel for him, it wasn't enough. It wasn't anywhere near what Tony felt for his alpha.
He collapsed in the couch, leaving several feet between them, surprised by how exhausted he suddenly felt. Keeping his eyes on the view outside, he waited for the ache to pass. It didn't.
Then his mouth, as usual, ignored the good advice of his brain, and he heard himself asking, "So, then, where does that addendum leave us?"
"I don't know, Tony." Gibbs sounded as tired as Tony felt. "You tell me."
Shocked, he stared at his alpha. Then his righteous anger poured through him like a scalding liquid flame and his body stiffened with resolve.
It was Gibbs's turn to look surprised. "No?"
"No. I've had an incredibly rough couple of days. And I really don't want to get kicked in the teeth again. If you have something to say, say it. Or shut the hell up and we'll forget this conversation ever happened."
Gibbs was so silent for so long, Tony could only assume he'd gone for option B. He dropped his head back against the top of the couch and tried to figure out how the hell to get on with the rest of his life.
"I think we might fall under the addendum."
The sound of Gibbs voice startled him so much, he almost missed the words. By the time he'd grasped what Gibbs was saying, the older man was talking again, looking a little worried at Tony's uncommon bout of silence.
"At least, I do. I thought you might too."
Tony was pretty sure that this was the closest Gibbs was ever going to get to saying the L-word. That was okay with him though, he wasn't all that comfortable saying it either.
Instead, he leaned across the couch, ignoring the pain in his side, to haul Gibbs closer and devour his mouth. Gibbs kissed just the way Tony had always imagined he would.
Hot and pushy and demanding. Taking everything Tony offered and diving in for more. Giving back just as much as he took. Tony held on tight, dueling with Gibbs tongue, tasting every slick surface, chasing every last hint of coffee.
They kissed until they ran out of breath. Until the burning in Tony's side became an inferno.
He broke the kiss abruptly, grabbing his side briefly and leaning back for support, the arm closest to Gibbs thrown across the back of the couch, the other falling limply in his lap. "Fuck. That hurts."
"Jesus, Tony. You should have said something. Are you alright?"
And, really, Tony loved a hovering, attentive Gibbs. But it kind of freaked him out, too. "Yeah. I'm fine. Endorphins can only work as painkillers for so long, though."
"Do you want me to get your meds?"
"Nah. I just need to catch my breath for a minute."
Tony looked at Gibbs. He had what he wanted. It was enough. More than enough. Pushing could end it before it ever began. And his mouth didn't hear a word his brain was saying.
"What made you change your mind?" Gibbs looked away, and Tony scrambled to make him understand. "I need to know. I need to know it's not just an overreaction to me getting hurt yesterday."
That got him a raised eyebrow and snort. Which, ridiculously, made him feel better.
"I've seen you nearly die a dozen times, DiNozzo. And every time, I have the impulse to do… something. But you always got better and the impulse passed."
"So, why now, then?"
"Tim and Damon, at least partially. It's obviously going to work for them. They are already better as a team than either was alone. Damon gives Tim a confidence he's always lacked. And Tim gives Damon a control he'd convinced himself he lost."
Gibbs's hand covered Tony's, sliding their fingers together. The connection felt good. Intimate.
"Shannon and I were a team." Tony squeezed a little at the hint of pain that surfaced in Gibbs's voice whenever he mentioned his lost family. Gibbs squeezed back, and Tony wondered if it was his imagination that his alpha's smile was a little less sad.
"All the others since Shannon. The exes. Jenny. Even Hollis. We were two dogs tugging at a rope, fighting to go in opposite directions."
Gibbs didn't say it. Didn't have to, because Tony gets it. He's right there with him.
"But you and I are sled dogs, pulling that rope in the same direction." He gave the hand in his another squeeze. "We're a team, Jethro. Always have been."
Tony raised the hand resting on the back of the couch and head-slapped Gibbs. Lightly. He didn't have a death wish.
Gibbs laughed in surprise, then glowered. "Hope you enjoyed that, Tony. It's your one and only freebie."
"I can think of something I'd enjoy more."
Before he even finished speaking, Gibbs had sealed their lips together, again, and the endorphins were already hard at work.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Two months later, Tony leaned against the hood of the SUV, hip to hip with Gibbs. Ziva stood a little ways off and the three of them watched as a plane came in for a landing on the airstrip.
When it came to a stop a hundred or so yards from where they stood, the door opened and the steps came down.
McGee emerged first, glancing around then waving when he caught sight of them. He turned back, said something to someone back in the plane and started down the steps. A woman emerged next. In her mid-fifties, she wore a red velour track suit and her hands were cuffed in front of her. Damon trailed behind as the three made their way off of the plane.
Tim had been a bulldog after they got back from Verplanck, determined to fix the mistake he made on the Ferranti case. He'd combed Sally Haye's finances until he realized she had a weakness for a particular French spa. And a preference for using aliases from Marilyn Monroe movies.
The next time 'Lois Laurel' had made a reservation for the spa, Ziva had used her contacts to ease the way for extradition and Gibbs had sent Damon and Tim to fetch her back.
Since the Navy angle had officially closed when they'd put Ferranti away, they were wrapping her up in a nice bow and giving her to Fornell as an early Christmas present.
Tim and Damon shared identical, self-satisfied smirks as they escorted her toward the SUVs.
"You're right, Tony murmured to Gibbs. They do work well as a team."
Gibbs just gave him the 'am-I-ever-wrong' look and turned to Ziva. "Call Vance, let him know we got Sally Hayes and we're heading to meet Fornell to hand her over to the FBI."
Later, they would celebrate another successful closed case as a pack. And tonight, when they were finally alone again, Tony would remind Gibbs once again just how well the two of them worked as a team, as well.