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Code of Silence

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Thirty one year old Jethro Gibbs stood in his basement, looking over the frame of his boat in search of the place he’d stopped sanding that morning before heading to the NCIS office at Camp Pendleton. He wrapped his sanding block in sandpaper as he laid eyes on the spot then grazed his fingers across the line between the smooth surface and the rough one before getting started.

This was what he needed. This was who he was. At least it was who he’d become a couple years prior, after his beloved wife and daughter had been so violently taken from him. Sure, being an NIS—now an NCIS—investigator gave him purpose but at home, in the dark, quiet hours of the early morning, in the absence of little footsteps racing around above him, with no wife to seduce and make love to, his projects absorbed all the love and hurt, anger and pain, happiness and rejoicing for another family’s luck or good fortune or mourning for another family’s loss. The wood was his therapist and without it he wouldn’t survive.

His front door opened and closed on the level above him. The distinctive sound of cowboy boots making their way across the hardwood left no doubt in his mind about who had come to see him. There was only one person who wore cowboy boots in Southern California.

“Probie?!” the voice called.

“Down here,” Jethro replied.

Mike Franks made his way through the living room and kitchen to the door that led down to the basement, his boots announcing his arrival before his mouth did. “The hell is this, Probie?” he asked incredulously.

“I dunno, Boss. What does it look like?” Jethro snarked.

“A boat,” Mike answered.

Jethro didn’t respond but the look on his face clearly said ‘do ya think?!’

“In your basement,” Mike continued before shaking his head in disbelief. “You know what? I don’t wanna know.”

Jethro gave a satisfied nod and continued sanding, not even asking the reason for Mike’s visit despite his worried curiosity. His boss rarely made house calls. It was usually just an abrupt phone call telling him that there was a case and where he needed to be before the phone clicked in his ear and the line went dead.

“I’ve got a special assignment for you, Probie,” Mike said after a short moment of watching his second sand the frame of the monstrous boat in the too small basement.

Jethro stopped and narrowed his eyes, repeating the words in his head before looking up at his boss once again. “A special assignment?”

Mike nodded as he passed the casefile he’d brought with him to his partner.

Jethro opened it and was immediately greeted by an autopsy photo that would’ve disturbed him years earlier but had little effect on him after being desensitized. “A burned corpse?”

“That body’s been bothering Magnus for the past week,” Mike said. “He’s got three bodies from Afghanistan, all of them supposedly in a Humvee that rolled over an IED.”

“An IED didn’t cause this,” Jethro said confidently as he pointed at the photograph.

The corners of Mike’s mouth twitched up into a barely imperceptible smile but that was the only show of pride. “The other two bodies are in pieces,” he continued, “a few burns, lots of shrapnel injuries; they look like they were in a Humvee that rolled over an IED. That guy,” he continued, pointing at the autopsy photo in Jethro’s hand, “Alex Kiplinger, he’s so charred Magnus had trouble extracting DNA. There’s no explosive dismemberment and no shrapnel. He looks nothing like his comrades.”

“Sort of like a game of which one doesn’t belong,” Jethro said. “We thinkin’ he wasn’t in the hummer?” There was no way the soldier had been in the vehicle when it had exploded but was he ever was the question.

“We’re suspicious,” Mike replied. “I’m sending you to Afghanistan to investigate.”

“Afghanistan? Alone?” Jethro asked, suppressing his smile and standing taller.

“Alone,” Mike confirmed. “You’re ready, Probie. Don’t let me down.”

Jethro knew he was being tested. His boss was giving him an opportunity to prove himself, a big opportunity and despite the pressure of working a case alone in Afghanistan, Jethro couldn’t help but be excited at the prospect of showing he was worthy.

“Don’t get too big for your britches, Gunny,” Mike warned when he saw the gleam in Jethro’s eye. “You’re just my eyes in the field. I’m still responsible for all your actions.”

“On it, Boss,” Jethro said, trying to keep his excitement under control.

“You alright going back over there?” Mike asked gently.

Jethro narrowed his eyes in anger. How dare his boss question him and why was he all of a sudden being kind and gentle? Mike wasn’t kind and gentle and Jethro didn’t want him to be. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked defensively. He was perfectly capable.

“Do I need to remind you what happened during your last tour, Probie?”

The question sobered Jethro and left him fighting to keep the memories of his past at bay. The last thing he needed was to start getting sentimental. “I’ll be fine,” he assured his boss.

“Then what’re you waiting for?” Mike asked. “Get a move on! Your plane leaves in an hour.”

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Twenty eight year old Anthony DiNozzo Jr. was just buttoning up the fly of his desert camos when he heard the knock at his door. People were always knocking on his door. His fellow combat medics loved his sense of humor and trusted him to give them good advice. He was smart, funny and fearless and very popular among his team. The brass was predicting he’d go far—if he made it off the battlefield. Flying into the middle of combat zones to rescue downed servicemen and women wasn’t exactly the safest career but like his teammates, Tony was trained to stay alive.

The young medic opened the door bare-chested with his hair a mess, fully expecting to find one of his buddies eager to start the day with a laugh but instead he found an unfamiliar face. His look of surprise relaxed into a grin as he took in the man’s tall, well-built frame, his dark hair speckled with silver and the bluest eyes Tony had ever seen. The expression on the guy’s face didn’t give anything away, which was a challenge Tony was more than willing to accept.

“I was gonna put a shirt on but seeing you standing there makes me wanna take my pants off instead,” he said. His mouth had no filter and the man at the door was undeniably attractive.

“Are you seriously flirting with me, DiNozzo?” the man asked. As a federal agent, he’d had plenty of females attempt to flirt their way out of trouble but DiNozzo was the first guy.

“Tony,” Tony corrected as he stepped aside so the man could enter the small room he’d been sharing with another medic. “All my lovers call me Tony.”

“We’re not lovers,” the agent replied.

“Not yet.” Tony raised his eyebrows in interest and offered his most charming smile.

The agent narrowed his eyes at Tony’s cocky confidence. The guy was cute, he’d give him that but he was there to do a job, not find someone to entertain him that night.

“I’m a DiNozzo,” Tony explained when he saw the agent’s curious expression. “DiNozzos go after what they want, to hell with society’s rules.”

“That include criminal pursuits?”

“Ahh,” Tony hummed, “you’re an investigator, investigating a crime.” That explained how the guy knew his name. “Sounds like you’re looking for Senior.”

“Special Agent Gibbs and no,” the agent said with a shake of his head, “I’m looking for you, Tony.”

“See!” Tony exclaimed. “I knew the attraction was mutual. We are going to end up in bed together, Agent Gibbs.” Tony brushed his fingers down the agents arm and intertwined them with his.

Jethro gave Tony’s hand a squeeze before separating them. “Not in the way you’re thinking.”

“We’ll see,” Tony said with his most charming smile.

“What happened to your roomie?” Jethro asked, nodding towards the stripped bunk.

“Kip? He’s not coming back,” Tony said, briefly glancing at the bunk that had been vacant for the last week, “so we can do whatever we want in here. We won’t be interrupted.”

“What happened to him?” Jethro repeated, ignoring Tony’s advances.

“You’ve obviously done your research, Agent Gibbs, so I’m guessing you already know this but he’s dead.”

“I wanna know how he got that way,” Jethro said.

Tony shrugged halfheartedly. “I heard the Humvee he was traveling in blew up. Lots of IEDs over here. That’s why I’m happy to travel by air; not that that totally eliminates my risk of coming across one. Plus you have to worry about RPGs up in the sky.”

“What day did the hummer blow up?” Jethro asked.

Tony thought back before answering. “Last Tuesday which would be, what? June 11?”

“Where were you?”

“I work the same shift as Kip; I was off duty,” Tony answered, sobering even more before adding, “I didn’t get the call out.”

Jethro was struck by the regret in Tony’s voice. “Scuttlebutt’s you and Kip were tight,” he prodded. Both were Navy Medics, recruited to help with the overwhelming need for medics on land. Terrorists were most active during the summer months, making it the busiest season for the medics. The Air Force and Army were having trouble keeping up and with things amping up, the Department of Defense had stationed Navy Medics at Forward Operating Bases in hopes of getting to wounded troops faster and saving more lives.

“You’ve been checking me out,” Tony said with a grin. “I’m flattered.” He looked over at his buddy’s bunk then back to the investigator. “Kip is the best—the best medic, the best friend, the best husband, the best dad. He’s tough and respected and damn good at everything he sets his mind too. I lucked out being his roommate and having him as a battle buddy.”

Jethro let Tony’s words sink in before correcting the man. “Was,” he said, handing Tony a photograph of the fallen soldier. “He’s dead.”

The smile dropped off Tony’s face at the correction. He hadn’t realized he’d been referring to Kip in the present tense. “And you think I had something to do with his death?” he asked, unable to peel his eyes away from the photograph.

Jethro watched the tension in Tony’s shoulders grow. The medic was uncomfortable which was good for him from an investigative standpoint. Discomfort often got people talking. He knew Tony had nothing to do with his buddy’s death but he suspected the man knew more than he was telling him. He also suspected Kip made it back to his room at some point on the night he died and he wanted to know everything there was to know about that. He just needed to get a good enough read on Tony that he could figure out how to get the information out of him. “I think Kiplinger was murdered and his body was burned to destroy evidence. I don’t think he was ever in that Humvee with the other two who died.”

“I think you don’t have a clue what you’re dealing with here, Agent Gibbs, and as much as it pains me to say this without having the opportunity to get to know you properly, it’d be safer for everyone if you hopped on a plane and headed stateside, back to wherever you came from.”

“That’s not gonna happen, so why don’t you enlighten me,” Jethro replied, completely unfazed. He didn’t mind working for information and he enjoyed the challenge of getting people like Tony to open up to him.

Tony pursed his lips, staring beyond the Navy cop at an invisible spot on the wall as he tried to figure out how much to tell the agent and how, exactly, to phrase it.

“Out with it, DiNozzo,” Jethro ordered, not wanting to let someone who was obviously very quick on his feet have a chance to put a story together.

“Impatient! Bet you’re rough in bed,” Tony guessed.

“Anthony,” Jethro warned, trying to keep the conversation on track. Apparently after eight months of celibacy, Tony had a one track mind.

“I have something for you,” Tony said, unlocking the trunk at the end of his bed. He pulled out the contents, filling his bed with all the personal possessions he owned. Once he got down to the bottom of the trunk, Tony glanced at the door to make sure it was closed before pulling out a notebook and handing it to Jethro. “Don’t let anyone see you with that,” he said, “and you didn’t get it from me.”

Jethro opened the notebook and found dated entries written in what looked like male script. “Kip’s?”

Tony nodded. “His journal. I swiped it when rumors about his death started flying.”

“Did he come back to your room that night? The night he died?”

Tony shrugged and shook his head back and forth, unwilling to answer the question.

“Where’s his bedding? His mattress? His clothing? The rest of his things?”

“Gone,” Tony answered simply.

“Was he murdered?”

“I can’t,” Tony replied sadly as he shook his head.

“Tony—”

“You ever serve, Agent Gibbs?” Tony asked, cutting the man off.

“Marines,” Jethro replied, “Gunnery Sergeant; Scout Sniper.” Normally he wouldn’t have answered that kind of question or he would’ve just stopped at ‘Marines’ but part of him wanted to impress the young man in front of him.

“We’re stuck in a country with a bunch of people who want nothing more than to see Americans die a slow, painful death,” Tony said. “The only person you can rely on is the one heading into battle next to you and both of you have to put all your faith in your COs.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen combat,” Jethro replied.

“But not with these COs,” Tony said with a dangerous twinkle in his eye.

“What’s different about your COs?” Jethro asked, wondering if he was finally getting somewhere with the case.

Tony paused to think again, still cautious about giving too much away. “Well, let’s just say your time over here might be a little easier if you’re open to certain things.”

“What kind of things?” Jethro asked.

Tony shrugged, the carefree smile returning to his face. “I’m not a very open person, Agent Gibbs,” he paused briefly, nibbling on his lip endearingly, “except with you.”

“You have sex on the brain,” Jethro muttered, attempting to hide his amusement as he jotted down what Tony was telling him.

“Did you look in the mirror this morning?” Tony asked. “How can I not?”

“I spent all night on a cargo plane,” Jethro muttered, his cheeks coloring slightly at the blatant flirting. He was doing his best to ignore it but Tony wasn’t bad looking himself and he was standing there with no shirt on and the band of his American Eagle underwear showing above the waist of his slightly too big for him desert camo pants. Eight months on tour had a way of shrinking waistlines, no matter how much you ate. “Are you saying your COs are soliciting bribes?” he asked, hoping the questions would keep the conversation on topic.

“Um, it’s more like a ‘these are your options, you make your decision’ kind of situation,” Tony replied, “not that there aren’t bribes involved. But, yeah… I said what I said. You feel free to draw your own conclusions.”

Tony may have had a smart mouth on him but he was also very intelligent and Jethro couldn’t fault him for attempting to protect himself. He also couldn’t decide if he wanted to slap the man upside the head or kiss him senseless.

“Unless you wanna make out, I should probably get going,” Tony said, grabbing his shirt. “I’m on latrine duty before my shift. I’m being punished.”

“Why are you being punished?” Jethro asked.

“Why not?” Tony replied with a laugh. “I may have sewn up the LT’s fly while he was in the shower. Apparently he didn’t find it as funny as I did.”

Jethro’s hardnosed expression melted into an amused smirk. He dug his wallet out of his back pocket, pulled a business card out and handed it to Tony.

“Is this for a booty call?” Tony asked excitedly.

“If you remember anything else,” Jethro corrected. “I’ll be around until I get this case wrapped up.” He knew he’d see Tony again. The guy knew a lot more than he was letting on but he’d have to find a way to get Tony to trust him before he felt safe opening up. Until then at least Jethro had somewhere to start.

“It’s been a pleasure, Agent Gibbs,” Tony said, extending his arm.

Jethro reached for Tony’s hand and let the man pull it to his lips and press a kiss to his palm. The younger man closed Jethro’s fingers around the kiss, as if he were holding onto it and smiled at him.

“That’s for you to keep.”

Jethro gave a playful roll of his eyes and attempted to ignore the fluttering of his heart as he turned and left.

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Despite his exhaustion resulting from a not very peaceful night’s sleep on transatlantic flight aboard a cargo plane, Jethro spent the rest of his day digging into the records of Cole Hammond, Tony’s CO, and JD Biggs, the second in command. At only twenty nine years old, Hammond was young to be in command and it hadn’t taken much digging to learn he hadn’t climbed the ranks and earned his spot in leadership respectfully like others in his position; it had been all but handed to him by his well respected father before the man had retired. Regardless, he had no marks against him and nothing suspicious on his record.

Biggs was a couple years older than Hammond and still had a little frat boy inside of him but he’d climbed the ranks and fought for his position. He’d earned the respect of those under him which led to him being handpicked to oversee the combat medic unit at Camp Phoenix. Biggs’ only drawback was that he seemed to be easily influenced and took his cues from those above him in the chain of command. If Hammond had something going on, there was a good chance Biggs was in on it. Under other leadership the young man most likely would’ve done well and had a long career ahead of him but depending on what NCIS uncovered, both men would see their careers come to an abrupt end.

In spite of an undeserving CO and naïve second, Jethro didn’t have much to go on. He had the one week old, burned up corpse of Alex Kiplinger and the burned out shell of the Humvee the medic had allegedly died in. He had the journal the man had kept which, at face value, hadn’t offered much and he had Kip’s too smart for his own good bunkmate—Anthony DiNozzo Jr. All in all, despite a day spent investigating, he had a hell of a lot more questions than answers and he wasn’t the least bit happy about his lack of progress.

Jethro pulled out Magnus’s autopsy report and the photographs of what was left of Kip’s body and laid them out on the bed in front of him. There was no doubt in his mind that Kip hadn’t been in the hummer when the IED had blown it up. The fact that his body had been burned so severely and his COs had lied and attempted to hide his cause of death led the agent to believe foul play but why and how and where? What was going on under the surface and what did all the riddle-like answers Tony had given him that morning mean? Were both Hammond and Biggs involved? Was there anyone else? Had any more murders been passed off as combat injuries?

He decided he needed to talk to Tony again and this time he wanted answers instead of more riddles. A reluctant phone call to Hammond revealed Tony was on duty and would be until midnight so his questions would have to wait until the following morning.

Jethro packed up his casefiles for the time being then headed for the mess hall and grabbed some chow to eat in his room before finally settling in for some much needed sleep.

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Jethro was completely dead to the world until a strong hand clamped down over his mouth. He struggled and resisted, trying to break free in his sleep altered state until he realized it was Tony and let himself relax and his heart rate return to normal.

“I coulda kissed you instead,” Tony whispered with a smirk in response to the glare he was getting from Jethro. “Come on, get up. We got places to be.”

“What time is it?” Jethro asked, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and sitting up.

“Zero four,” Tony answered. “Come on. Get dressed.”

“Now who’s impatient?” Jethro asked as he quickly dressed.

“I like it rough in bed too,” Tony replied, recalling their earlier conversation.

“Where are we going?” Jethro asked, combing his fingers through his hair in an effort to smooth it out a little after slipping his feet into his boots.

You are going to the motor pool,” Tony answered. “Ask to borrow one of the Jeeps; tell ‘em you can’t sleep and you wanna go for a drive but that you’ll stay on base. Don’t say my name,” he added firmly.

“Alright, where will you be?” Jethro asked.

“You know the road that runs behind the mess hall?” Tony waited for Jethro to nod before continuing. “Drive slow enough I can hop in. Don’t stop.”

“Okay,” Jethro replied.

Twenty minutes and a suspicious motor pool attendant later, Jethro was putzing along the back road, waiting for Tony to appear from the shadows. He had no clue what was going on or why he trusted Tony but he did and there was no turning back, not that he wanted to. He did as Tony had requested and didn’t stop when he saw him emerge from the shadows but instead slowed his pace to a crawl and offered the man a hand as he pulled himself into the moving vehicle with ease.

“Did they give you any trouble?” Tony asked, glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was around.

“I think the guy was a little suspicious,” Jethro admitted.

“Crap,” Tony muttered. “Probably just because you’re a new face around here.”

“What’s going on, Tony?” Jethro asked, his curiosity finally getting the best of him. “Where are we going?”

“When you get to this intersection up here, turn your headlights off and make a left,” Tony instructed. “You have to promise me you’ll never mention this place to anyone.”

“Is this related to my case or your ongoing effort to get into my pants?” Jethro asked suspiciously.

“Your case,” Tony answered, “but if you’re finally gonna let me in your pants, I know where we can do that too.”

Jethro simply smiled.

Tony navigated while Jethro drove through the backroads of the base, the landscape flat and somewhat barren, with very little to hide their location whenever Jethro’s foot touched the brake pedal. Tony understood the risk fully and ignored it while Jethro still wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into. What felt like quite a bit of time later despite only a matter of minutes passing, Tony pointed out a spot for Jethro to pull over and the agent did so, turning the Jeep off to camouflage their location once they were parked.

Both men got out of the vehicle and Tony only had to look around briefly before he found what he was looking for.

“Here,” he said, pointing at the ground ahead of him.

Jethro stepped up next to Tony and saw the remains of what looked to have been a pretty significant bonfire. He pulled his flashlight out to investigate but Tony grabbed his hand and shook his head at the man.

“The end of a lit cigarette can be seen from miles away out here,” Tony explained. “You turn that flashlight on and you might as well shine a spotlight on our location. Use the moonlight.”

Jethro wasn’t happy, knowing he risked missing clues and possible evidence with no light to help him but understanding that the risk to both Tony and himself was even greater if they were discovered so he nodded his head and handed Tony a pair of gloves when the man held his hand out.

It wasn’t long before Tony found a tooth and Jethro uncovered a single, charred dog tag which he couldn’t read in the limited light. Tony took the evidence bag he’d put it in and read the name while Jethro bagged the tooth Tony had found.

“It’s Kip’s,” he informed the investigator, his stomach dropping at the discovery.

“How’d you know about this place?” Jethro asked as they continued the search.

“I pay attention,” Tony answered.

“How’d you know Kip’s body was burned here?” It had to be Kip’s body. The soldier had been horrifically burned and there were teeth in a massive fire pit on the base he’d been stationed at. There was no way that was a coincidence. Jethro didn’t believe in ‘em.

“I didn’t,” Tony replied with a shrug. “I suspected when you told me you didn’t think he was in the hummer. There was a bonfire going when I finished my shift on the night after Kip died. I was rounding up the guys to roast hotdogs and make s’mores but Hammond told us to hit the rack. He said they were burning classified and top secret documents that we weren’t authorized to see.”

“Did that seem strange?” Jethro asked.

“Not really,” Tony answered. “Not at the time. We’re going home next month and the same thing happened at the end of my last tour. Anything we’re not required to keep on file and we don’t want the enemy getting their hands on gets burned. It’s mostly medical reports from Americans we picked up, routes we take, alternate routes, danger zones to avoid, tactics, maneuvers, stuff like that.”

“They were burning a lot more than paper out here,” Jethro said, holding up evidence bags of teeth and the leftover collar of a shirt. “Any idea whose this is?” he asked, indicating the partially burned coffee cup in his other hand.

Tony’s heart sank even more as he stared at the cup. “It’s Kip’s,” he answered quietly. “His wife sent it to him for his birthday. It had pictures of his kids on it. He never let that thing out of his sight.”

Jethro bagged up the fragile cup and tagged it, watching Tony carefully.

Tony handed the bag with the dog tag in it back to Jethro and frowned, the reality of what happened to his friend slapping him in the face with enough force to draw the air out of his lungs. He was generally pretty good at hiding how he was feeling but there was no covering up the fact that he felt physically ill at their current discovery.

“Any idea who was at this bonfire?” Jethro asked gently, mindful of Tony’s feelings about losing his battle buddy and roommate.

“I wasn’t here,” Tony answered with a shrug.

“That’s not what I asked,” Jethro said.

“I want to but I can’t,” Tony said and Jethro wasn’t sure if it was fear or regret in his voice. “I’m sticking my neck way out for you but I gotta look out for me, too.”

“Give me something, Tony,” Jethro said, almost pleading.

Tony thought for a moment before responding. “Corruption always starts at the top. Troops are trained to follow orders.”

As badly as Jethro wanted to slam Tony’s body up against the Jeep and interrogate him until he got his answers before fucking him senseless, he understood Tony’s need to protect himself and he knew Tony was off limits to him. He had a case to solve and his hands were somewhat tied when it came to protecting his informant in Afghanistan. Until that changed, he just had to accept whatever Tony was willing to give him and continue working on getting more out of the man.

“As much as I love spending time with you, we really need to get back,” Tony said regretfully. “The sun’ll be up soon.”

Jethro nodded and followed Tony back to the Jeep.