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The Burning Mask

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Leroy Jethro Gibbs asked himself to the thousandth time that hour what the hell he thought he was doing. This was not the way he operated. There were rules and there were other very valid reasons why this was a huge mistake. You simply did not follow your team members around to satisfy your prurient curiosity, even if you thought that they were hiding something from you. It had to do with trust and loyalty.

Yet here he was, acting like a stalker and following DiNozzo around on his day off. His Saturday morning had begun early, like always, but instead of his normal routine of a run, breakfast and then a few hours spent working on his boat, Gibbs found himself in his car after his run. He had been thinking about DiNozzo and his strange behavior for days and he just couldn't seem to stop himself. He stopped for coffee and bagel and then waited outside DiNozzo's apartment. He knew that DiNozzo would be out eventually. The man had too much excess energy to sit in his apartment all day.

For weeks now DiNozzo had been acting a bit off. He still made playfully teasing comments to Kate and McGee, he still made movie references at the drop of a hat, he still wore that silly grin and told stories of his exploits with women, but it lacked the usual sparkle that he had come to expect. There was always a playful quality to the younger agent that had been missing, and Gibbs was worried about him.

It wasn't that Gibbs believed all the bullshit that Tony spewed on a daily basis. In fact, Gibbs had been aware from the very beginning that the face that then Detective Anthony DiNozzo showed the world was a mask. He knew it the same way that he knew when a suspect was lying to him: in his gut. But until recently he'd never seen any actual evidence of that mask. He'd never seen the seams where the mask ended and the real Tony began. So even though it went against his own code of conduct, here he was, waiting for DiNozzo to come out of hiding and give him a hint of the man hiding beneath the playboy surface.

Sure enough, less than half an hour later, DiNozzo emerged dressed for his own run. Gibbs knew the younger man ran at the high school track when the weather was bad, like it was that morning, so he locked up his car and walked to the school and found a spot beside the bleachers where he could watch without being seen. DiNozzo, despite his playboy attitude and horrible eating habits at work, was very fit. Gibbs could imagine that he would have been spectacular to watch on the football field before he was injured. Even now, he was like watching a cheetah, all smooth grace and speed.

Gibbs reluctantly left the school before DiNozzo finished his run. He took the long way back to DiNozzo's apartment, stopping in the corner shop for another coffee and a restroom break before heading back to his car. He hadn't been there long before he saw DiNozzo, freshly groomed and dressed in jeans and a black windbreaker, head out again. This time he went to his car and Gibbs started his own. It wasn't easy to follow a car in the daylight without being made. Gibbs had been doing this for years, however, and he knew how to stay back far enough to keep from being spotted.

DiNozzo pulled into a music shop and pulled a guitar case out of his trunk before heading inside. Gibbs parked in the donut shop parking lot two doors down and waited. What was DiNozzo doing with a guitar? Did he play? That was something that the younger man had kept secret if he did. Gibbs knew DiNozzo played piano, because his mother had insisted on him taking lessons before she had died. He'd even played during an undercover job once or twice. But DiNozzo had always made out that he hated playing the piano, even though he had a small upright piano in his apartment.

Whatever he was doing took a bit of time, and it was over an hour later when DiNozzo emerged with the guitar case and a bag. The guitar and the bag went into the trunk and DiNozzo got back into the car. Gibbs followed once again. The next two hours were spent doing various errands: dry cleaning picked up, jackets dropped off to the tailor, groceries bought. Gibbs sighed and followed DiNozzo back to his place. The groceries had surprised Gibbs. Not that DiNozzo would buy food, but that he shopped at one of those gourmet health food stores. Gibbs had pegged DiNozzo as a Hungry Man frozen dinner sort of guy based on what he ate at work.

Gibbs noticed that it was after one and decided that DiNozzo would probably stop for lunch, so he took a chance and headed to the deli around the corner on foot for another restroom break and for something to eat. He made it back to his car just as DiNozzo was leaving again. Gibbs followed once again and was surprised to find that DiNozzo was headed south on 95 out of town. About forty minutes outside of D.C. DiNozzo pulled into a private driveway. Gibbs took down the address as he drove past and sighed. If DiNozzo was visiting friends, who knew how long he could be there. Should he give up for the day and go home?

Deciding to head into the office to look up the address, Gibbs made his way back to D.C.

Tom and Alice Morton lived at 98 Carter Way in Lake Ridge Virginia. They had two kids and a dog. Happy little family and nothing like who Gibbs would have pictured DiNozzo being friends with. Gibbs knew that his team thought he was completely useless when it came to digging up information on the computer, but he was rather pleased with how much he had been able to discover in just a few hours. Tom was an old school friend of DiNozzo's. Not one of his fraternity brothers that DiNozzo was always talking about, but from his days in boarding school. Apparently they had kept in touch all these years, so it must be a fairly close relationship. DiNozzo was even listed as an emergency contact with the kids' school. Godparent, maybe?

Gibbs shut down his computer and went home. He was restless. How long would DiNozzo be with Tom and his family? Would he spend the night? Gibbs ate his dinner of leftover pizza and thought about what he had learned so far. It just didn't add up with the man he had known for three years. Where was the playboy?

Gibbs tossed his paper plate into the trash and went to the bathroom to shower and change. He was going back to DiNozzo's.

An hour later, Gibbs was dressed in black jeans and a black blazer that he figured would fit in wherever DiNozzo ended up going tonight. He made the trip to DiNozzo's still trying to make the pieces fit but it was like trying to put together a jigsaw that had been put away in the wrong box. Not only didn't he have a picture to guide him, but he knew the picture he did have was wrong.

DiNozzo's car was parked outside his apartment, so Gibbs parked and waited. It wasn't long before DiNozzo came out, dressed nice but casual in blue jeans and a green v-neck sweater. Gibbs followed more closely this time. The darkness and the anonymity that headlights gave made it easier to blend in with traffic.

Gibbs wasn't surprised when DiNozzo pulled into a bar in Alexandria. He was surprised that it wasn't really like any bar Gibbs had ever been in before. The outside was nicely landscaped and there was a red awning leading up to the front door. There were no neon signs advertising beers but there was a doorman, who DiNozzo apparently knew, since they exchanged a few words before DiNozzo went inside. Gibbs could tell that the place was rather large from the exterior. He debated whether he should go in, but the lot was packed and he could more than likely get lost in the crowd.

There was etched glass on the door that proclaimed the name of the place, the only outward advertising that Gibbs could see. "Angelica's"

"Welcome to Angelica's," the doorman said with a smile as he opened the door for Gibbs.

Gibbs nodded and entered. The first thing Gibbs noticed when he went inside was that the place was broken up into several rooms, each with a bar. The room to his left was filled with sofas and comfortable chairs and people were lounging there like they were at home in their living room. To the right, there was a more traditional bar, dark and smoky with a pool table and dartboard and patrons watching a football game on the televisions behind the bar.

What really interested him was the room directly ahead of him. He spotted DiNozzo as he made his way through the tables to one near the front that had obviously been reserved, since all the other tables were completely filled. This room was set up like a cabaret. There were more than forty small intimate tables with between two and four chairs at each. There was a stage up front that had a piano where a woman was singing and playing some sultry ballad. When she spotted DiNozzo, she smiled and Gibbs saw DiNozzo nod in return. Gibbs found an empty stool in the rear by the bar. The view wasn't the greatest, which was probably why it was still empty.

Gibbs ordered a beer and watched as a waitress brought DiNozzo a drink. They exchanged words quietly and Gibbs saw DiNozzo laugh quietly before the woman left again. Gibbs liked the music, and was interested in the woman singing who seemed to know DiNozzo, but mostly Gibbs was watching every move DiNozzo made. He seemed to be lost in the music and hardly even noticed when the waitress brought back his drink. Three songs later, the woman singing announced a break and the lights in the bar went up a little.

The crowd was rather eclectic. There were the expected couples out on date night. There were several small groups. What Gibbs hadn't been expecting were the same sex couples which seemed just as comfortable being open in their affection here as the straight couples. There weren't many places, even in a city like Washington, where gay and straight intermingled. He wondered for a brief moment what it must be like to live that sort of life. He'd experimented once, long ago, but had quickly shut that memory away when he'd met Shannon.

Gibbs ordered another beer and munched on the bar pretzels as he continued to watch DiNozzo. The singer didn't leave the bar as he had expected. Instead she went down and kissed DiNozzo on the cheek before joining him at his table. The waitress was already headed over with a drink for the singer. The three of them chatted for a minute or two and the ladies laughed at something DiNozzo said.

"She's really talented."

Gibbs turned to see that the bartender had returned with his beer and caught him staring. "Yeah she is. Who's the guy with her?"

"Tony?" the bartender said with a smile. "If we're lucky Stacy will convince him to play a little tonight. He's pretty shy about playing, but when he does… Man that guy is talented. Writes all his own stuff."

"Well, let's hope he's in the mood to play," Gibbs said and took a drink of his beer.

There were other customers waiting to be served and Gibbs was grateful that the man had to move on, but he was also grateful to have gotten a little more information. Half an hour later, he wasn't surprised when Stacy called Tony up onto the stage. He was surprised, however, that Tony didn't take a seat at the piano. Instead Stacy handed him an acoustic guitar—not the one from Tony's car, Gibbs was sure—and he slipped the strap over his shoulder and took a minute to check the tuning before turning to the microphone.

"Yeah, this is a piece I wrote recently," Tony said quietly. The entire room was silent as they gave Tony their attention. "It's called 'Not a Little Girl' and was written for my goddaughter who just turned twelve. I hope you like it."

Tony began to pick out a slow but complicated melody on the guitar and then began to sing. His voice was a raspy baritone, but Gibbs could feel the emotion wash over him in waves. The lyrics were sweet and sentimental, the story of a little girl on the verge of becoming a woman. Some of the things the song described were funny, some sweet, and all of it rang true and spoke of an intimate knowledge of the song's subject. Gibbs could just picture Kelly, if she had ever reached that age, doing the things Tony was singing about, and he felt his heart break just a little even as he smiled at the image.

The song ended and the room burst into applause. Then Tony put the guitar down and went to the piano. Another song was introduced, another original DiNozzo that the crowd seemed to know, if the cheers were any indication. This one was more up-tempo, though the subject was darker. It was about a man in a mask, hiding his face from the world and Gibbs wondered for a moment if the song was about Tony himself. Three more songs and then Stacy joined him on the stage and they sang a duet before Tony took his final bow and returned to his table.

Gibbs finished his beer and paid his tab before leaving the bar and heading home.


Gibbs worked on the boat for a while after he got home, drinking bourbon and wondering who the hell Anthony DiNozzo really was. At work, he was s flirt and an outgoing party boy. The man he'd watched tonight was a talented and deeply emotional man, shy and yet courageous enough to share his gift. At work he ate junk food. At home he bought gourmet organic food. At work, he downplayed his music. Outside the office, he obviously spent a lot of time playing, practicing and writing his own songs. At the office, he joked about his exploits and told wild stories about his sexual adventures. Last night, Gibbs had seen a completely different sort of man. He couldn't say for sure, but Gibbs would bet money that Tony had never slept with either the singer or the waitress. The body language was all wrong. They were friends, the same way Tony was friends with Abby.

Gibbs wished he had thought to ask the bartender more about Tony. How often did the younger man play at the bar? Did he ever bring anyone with him? Then again, if he interrogated the guy, he would surely say something—if not to Tony, then to Stacy or the waitress. Probably better not to press his luck.

Once again, Gibbs thought about the fact that Tony had to be the man in the mask from his song.

After a late night, Gibbs slept late the next morning. He took his run and returned home. He had just stepped out of the shower when his cell phone rang. It was Ducky.

"Gibbs," Gibbs said as soon as he had the phone to his ear.

"Jethro," Ducky said. "I'm glad I caught you."

"What's up Ducky?" Gibbs hung his damp towel on the towel rack and walked back to his bedroom for find clothes.

"There was a fire at the office last night," Ducky said. "Suspicious circumstances was the finding by the fire investigators. The director couldn't reach you, so he called me and asked me to keep trying."

"Anyone hurt?" Gibbs asked even as he pulled on a shirt, not really caring what it was. He reached for his boxers and jeans next.

"The night watchman had a few minor burns and some smoke inhalation," Ducky said. "Other than that, it was mostly property damage."

"Where was the fire?" Gibbs asked.

"Well, that was why the Director was trying to reach you," Ducky said hesitantly.

"Where, Ducky?"

"It started in the trashcan by Tony's desk," Ducky sighed. "They found matches and wads of paper that had some sort of flammable liquid on them. The fire spread from there, but the worst damage was to Tony's desk."

"I'm on my way," Gibbs said as he pulled on his shoes. "I'll call Abby. You call Tim, Kate and Tony. Tell them to get to the office, but do not tell them what happened."

"Alright," Ducky agreed. "Do you need me?"

Gibbs paused for a moment to think. "Yeah, I think maybe you should come in too, if you can. There's something about this that tells me this is personal."

Gibbs hung up and used the speed dial to get Abby as he started up his car. "Abs, I need you at the office, ASAP. There was a fire. The fire investigators have probably done a number on the crime scene already. I need you to go see what you can salvage."

"I was on my way to church, so I'm already half way there," Abby said. "I'll be there in ten minutes."

"You'll beat me," Gibbs said. "If anyone gives you any flack, you tell them I said to keep everyone away from the scene."

"Will do," Abby said cheerfully. "Where is the scene?"

"DiNozzo's desk was where the fire was started," Gibbs said. "I'd imagine that there will be damage to the surrounding area, but Ducky said it was contained fairly quickly by the sprinkler system."

"Hmmm. Burnt and water-logged evidence," Abby said. "Quite the challenge, but nothing I can't handle."

"Good." Gibbs hung up and hit another number on his speed dial even as he pulled onto the highway. "Director. I want the video surveillance of the building for the last month for my team to review."

"We've already checked the recordings from last night," Director Tom Morrow sighed. "There was nothing on them. There was a blank spot in the recording for fifteen minutes. It only restarted when the fire was already spread and the sprinklers were coming on."

"If this person knew how to get in and out of the building, they must be familiar with our operations," Gibbs said. "So I'm not surprised that they knew to block the surveillance video. But they also had to have planned this. There may be suspicious activity we can trace."

"I'll have it for you when you get here," The director said. "We've set up temporary desks for your team in the conference room. Unfortunately, all of your desks were damaged before the fire was put out. And even if they weren't…"

"They're part of the crime scene," Gibbs sighed. "Well, since we'll be looking at our colleagues as suspects, I suppose the privacy will be a good thing. I'll be there in ten."

When Gibbs arrived on the naval base, Abby was fighting with the Navy guards stationed around the crime scene. They had taped off most of the area around their desks and other agents were milling about the rest of the office, trying to salvage what they could from the water damage.

"I told you! Agent Gibbs has asked me to begin collecting evidence!" Abby said.

"And I told you that the director has said that no one goes in there until Agent Gibbs arrives," the guard said sternly.

"Agent Gibbs is here," Gibbs said. "Abby, go get your evidence. The rest of the team should be here soon to help." He turned to the guard. "Only agents DiNozzo, Todd and McGee are allowed in this area aside from myself and Abby. That includes the Director. I don't want anyone contaminating this scene any further than it already has been."

"Yes, Agent Gibbs," the guard said.

Gibbs joined Abby beside what was left of DiNozzo's desk; it was mostly a charred mess. "Gibbs, why would someone do this to Tony?"

"I don't know, but we are going to find," Gibbs promised. No one messed with his people.


Tony was shocked when he saw the destruction. His desk was the worst hit. There was very little left that was recognizable. His mighty mouse stapler was a melted mass of plastic and metal. His computer monitor was lying in a heap of ash and debris. He wondered if the medals in his lock box in the bottom drawer had been spared or if they were as ruined as the rest. Abby and the rest of the team were carefully sifting through the debris to find evidence. He was about to join them when Gibbs came over to him.

"Conference room, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered, but there was a kindness in his voice that wasn't normally present.

For a minute, Tony just stood there frozen, but when Gibbs paused to look back at him with a glare, he hitched his bag on his shoulder and followed quickly. Once in the conference room Tony realized that the main table had been removed and a temporary office had been set up with phones and computers.

"Take the one across from mine, by the window," Gibbs instructed and Tony went over to put his backpack away and lock his gun and badge in the drawer of the desk. He sat down in his chair and looked up at Gibbs who was still standing in the center of the room

"What happened?" Tony finally asked.

"The fire was started beside your desk," Gibbs said as he pulled his chair over beside Tony's desk. "As of right now, we have to go with the theory that the fire was directed at you. You need to know that we're going to have to investigate."

Tony looked dazed for a minute. "Investigate. Me? Shit, Boss."

"Tony, I know you…" Gibbs hesitated. "I know there are things about your life that you don't share with us. I know that and I respect that. I also know that this isn't going to be easy for you, but we need to find out who did this and why."

"I don't have any idea who would do this," Tony said. "Or how they could get around security to get to me. Are you sure they're after me? It could be the team."

"It could be," Gibbs admitted. "But my gut is telling me something different. You need to be prepared to answer questions Tony. Honestly. We're your team, and if there's something you don't want spread, you should be able to trust us enough by now to know it won't go anywhere."

Tony nodded slowly. "Right. I… I do trust you. But…"

"But some things are personal," Gibbs finished. "I know."

Tony didn't have a chance to respond because Tim and Kate entered the room just then and Gibbs rolled his chair back behind his desk. "What have you got for me?"

"Abby is analyzing the remains of the paper to determine the accelerant," McGee said. "We've collected as much trace evidence as we could and brought it down to the lab. Ducky is helping Abby go through it now."

"The Director placed a guard on the lab," Kate said. "And he said that you had the video from the surveillance cameras for the last month."

"McGee, I want you and Kate to start going through the video," Gibbs said. "McGee, you take the bullpen footage. Make note of anyone and everyone who spent any time around Tony's desk whether he was present or not. I also want to know how they were able to block the cameras while they were setting the fire. Kate, I want you going through the exterior footage. Start with last night and work your way backwards. Any suspicious activity, any cars in the lot that don't belong. Note them and find who they were and why they were here. When you're finished with that, start going through the agency files looking for anyone who had the motive to do something like this. DiNozzo, you start going through the visitor's logs. See if there is anyone on the list that stands out in your mind. And try to think of anyone who might be looking to get at you."

"So you think this was directed at Tony?" Kate asked.

"Unless we find evidence otherwise," Gibbs said. "Don't rule anything out, but there's a reason why the fire was started at DiNozzo's desk. I'll be in the director's office if you find anything."

Once Gibbs left, the room was silent for a few minutes. Kate finally looked at Tony with a teasing grin. "What happened, Tony, one of your bimbos get fed up and literally tried to burn you?"

Tony frowned. How the hell was he supposed to answer that? "I… No, that can't be it."

Tim looked at Tony and frowned. Kate was watching him as well. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Tony shrugged as he logged onto the new computer and pulled up the visitors log file. The sign in pages were scanned to PDF files daily. Other than Gibbs, he was the only person on their team with high enough clearance to access those files. "I'm just not sure who would do a thing like this. Or how they got into NCIS."

Tony knew the fact that he wasn't making some joke about the whole thing was probably worrying his coworkers, but the truth was he didn't have it in him to come up with a joke right then. Besides, what would it matter if they saw a little of the real Tony? It wouldn't be long until they all knew the truth about him anyway.

Tim and Kate went to work and Tony let out a sigh of relief.

Two hours later, Gibbs returned to go over what they had found so far.

"The arsonist has to be familiar with our networking system," McGee said. "They used the terminal at the unused cubicle in the bullpen to access the security cameras and erase the footage of them entering and then prevent it from recording for a set period of time. I tried to trace the security code they used, but it was yours Boss."

"Mine?" Gibbs asked. "This asshole used MY access code?"

"More likely he used a password recognition program," McGee stated. "It could have been anyone's but the program found yours first."

"Sounds high tech," Gibbs said. "Who has access to that sort of technology?"

McGee sighed. "We do. Also other federal agencies, military, some computer software companies. But they would also have to be familiar with our specific security protocols, so more than likely someone in house."

"I've gone through the last month's visitors logs and found nothing that seemed to relate to me," Tony said. "The only visitors I've had in the last month were a friend and his son who came for lunch two weeks ago. And none of the other visitors rang any kind of bells."


"I cross referenced the license plates for any visitor vehicles with Tony's logs and found none that didn't have a purpose for being here. I found another black out on the exterior video for the night of the fire. Who ever this guy is, he's thorough."

Gibbs was about to say something when Tony's phone rang. It was from an outside line and an unrecognized number. Looking up at Gibbs, he received a nod and hit the speaker button, letting everyone hear what was said.

"NCIS. This is DiNozzo."

"Mr. DiNozzo," a male voice said. It wasn't anyone Tony knew. "I'm fire chief Gomes. There has been a fire at your residence."

"Chief," Gibbs said before Tony could answer. "This Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. Once the fire is out, I want that scene locked down. No one in or out. I'll have my people over there right away."

"With all due respect, Special Agent Gibbs," Gomes said. "We haven't found anything yet that would make us believe that this was arson."

"How about the fact the Special Agent DiNozzo's office was torched last night as well?" Gibbs said. "Treat it like a crime scene and my people will be there in twenty minutes. Were there any fatalities?"

"There was a family in the apartment below Agent DiNozzo's," the chief said. "Mother, father and a little boy. The mother and boy made it out with a few burns and serious smoke inhalation, but the father didn't make it. They're at Mercy Medical in critical care. The father is still here."

"I'm bringing my ME," Gibbs said.

Before Tony could hang up, the others were already gearing up and Gibbs was on the phone with Ducky. He felt like this was all some strange nightmare. He knew that family. The little boy, Gabe, liked to play peek-a-boo in the stairwell with him. The father, Jake, had always been polite and kind. Tina, the mother, was pretty and stayed home with their child. Now she would be a single mother, assuming she and the boy survived. They didn't deserve this.

"This isn't your fault," Gibbs said quietly. Tony looked up and realized the others had left already. "Whoever is doing this, for whatever reason, it isn't your fault. Now gear up and let's get going."

Tony nodded and got his gear.


Tony's apartment was worse than the office. There was no sprinkler system in the old apartment building. They had to wait for the fire chief to clear the structure before they were allowed to enter and collect evidence. When they finally did, Tony almost didn't recognize his home. His piano, his music collection, his movies, his pictures, his clothes…everything was gone. While everyone else was assigned to sift through the rubble for evidence, Tony went to his closet and found his small fire safe. It, at least, was in tact. He opened the safe and was pleased to see that the flash drives and papers inside were undamaged by either fire or water.

"Take that down to the van," Gibbs told him. "Then see what you can find out from your neighbors. There's no reason for you to be up here. If we find anything worth saving, we'll let you know."

Tony nodded. "Thanks." He didn't really want to be there any longer. He didn't want to see what someone's hate had done to the place he had called home for the last three years. He took his safe down the steps and walked past the door to the apartment below him. He wondered how Tina and Gabe were doing. He'd go to the hospital as soon as he could.

There were still plenty of people gathered around the building outside and Tony found it easy to get people to talk to him. They all knew him from the neighborhood. It was a nice place to live. Or it had been.

A couple hours later, Tony had more information than he had ever hoped to get. The team was finishing up and packing up the van. Ducky had left with Jake's body a while ago. Tony stared as Gibbs talked to the fire chief before coming over to Tony.

"Something up?" Gibbs asked.

Tony opened and closed his mouth several times trying to figure out how to ask what he needed to ask. "Maybe. My neighbors are pretty observant. Seems they might have seen a couple of suspicious things."

"Well?" Gibbs asked, getting impatient.

"Okay," Tony sighed. "First of all, they saw a man, matching your description in a car that sounds a lot like yours parked outside my apartment on several occasions for various lengths of time yesterday. Anything you want to tell me Boss?"

"Shit, DiNozzo," Gibbs swore. "I was just…"

"Following me?" Tony said. "Any particular reason?"

Gibbs turned away for a minute before turning back to look Tony in the eyes. "Your mask has been slipping. You stay undercover long enough and it eventually catches up to you. Two years is usually the maximum time anyone can keep their cover. You know that. That's why you've always moved on before that cold happen. But you've been here three years, and it was catching up to you. I could see that. So I was checking up on you."

"You think I've been undercover for the last three years?" Tony asked. He was shocked. "For who?"

Gibbs laughed humorlessly. "For yourself. I don't think you are trying to spy on me, or the agency, Tony. I trust you with my life. But I told you, I know you aren't exactly who you pretend to be. I don't know why you hide from the people who care about you, but I know that you do it. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. So I followed you."

"How long?" Tony asked. He wasn't sure if he was angry or not. He was still too numb from everything else that had happened that day.

"Just yesterday," Gibbs sighed.

Tony nodded once to indicate that he had heard. "Gil Rayners also saw an unfamiliar man come into the building about twenty minutes before the first smoke alarm sounded. I've asked him to come to the office to work with a sketch artist."

"Not the office," Gibbs said. "Bring Kate to his house and do the sketch. She's done it before. It's pretty obvious that the base is not safe right now, until we catch whoever is doing this."


It was after nine that night before Tony and Kate got back to the base and into their new office. Gibbs was still there going over personnel files and McGee was reviewing video from the surrounding businesses. To see if they could spot anything.

"Where's the sketch?" Gibbs asked as they entered and went to their desks.

"I gave it to Abby," Kate said. "Whoever this guy saw doesn't work for NCIS. It may be a partner. Abby's running a face recognition program now. She says it will take up to 24 hours to search all of the databases."

Gibbs nodded and closed the file he was working on. "Okay, let's go home. We can work on this tomorrow. DiNozzo, you're with me."

Tony looked up. He hadn't even thought about where he was going to stay that night. "Thanks Boss."

Tony pulled out his desk drawer and found the lock box that had been in his other desk. The paint was peeling from the heat and there were dark marks from where the fire had scorched it, but it was in tact. Tony carefully opened the box and found that Gibbs' medals were all still there and hadn't been burned. He let out a sigh of relief. Tim saw him looking at the box.

"Abby found that," McGee said. "Thought you'd want it once it was cleared for prints and everything."

"I'll have to thank her tomorrow," Tony smiled. He picked up his pack and the safe from his apartment and followed Gibbs out the door. Kate and McGee were right behind them and they all went down the elevator together.

"What I don't get is why they are targeting places when they know Tony isn't there," Kate said into the silence of the elevator. "I mean, if they wanted to kill him, why not set the fire at his apartment when they knew he would be home. Instead, they set the fire here first, when the office was empty. Then they set the fire at the apartment when they knew we would be here investigating this fire."

"So they don't want to kill me," Tony mused with bitterness. "They just want to make sure everything I own is destroyed. That's so comforting." Gibbs slapped Tony upside the head for the first time that day. For some reason it made Tony feel infinitely better. "Thanks, Boss."

They left the elevator and Tony started towards his car, but Gibbs stopped him. "Not your car. You're going with me, and tomorrow, we're having your car searched."

Tony blinked and then his shoulders dropped. "On your six."


Tony was sleeping in bed in Gibbs' guest room, wearing a pair of Gibbs' sweats and one of Gibbs' t-shirts. Meanwhile, Gibbs himself was in his basement, planing a plank of wood to fit into the curved bow of the boat. His mind was filled with thoughts of Tony. He thought that he had seen a glimpse of the real Anthony DiNozzo for the first time that day. Granted, he had been under a lot of stress from the events of the day, but even a year ago, Tony would have talked a mile a minute, complaining about losing his things, worrying about where he could take his latest bimbo. Replacing his expensive suits. He probably would have bantered with Kate and McGee. Now, Tony was quiet and introspective. He sounded more like the man Gibbs had seen on the stage last night.

Was this really the real DiNozzo, though? Or was this just another mask he wore? Gibbs wished he could see Tony with his friend Tom. He'd be willing to bet that Tony was himself with his childhood friend. Gibbs had met one or two of Tony's frat brothers and he knew Tony wore a mask with them as well. And he'd heard enough about Tony's family to know that there was no reason for Tony to show them his true self. So who was left, other than Tom and his family? No one. Gibbs just wished that Tony could have trusted him enough to be himself before he was forced into it by circumstances.

Tomorrow the real investigation would begin, and that meant that Tony would have to face up to some hard questions about his life and his past. Gibbs wasn't sure how he should handle this. Kate and Tim would both be uncomfortable prying into Tony's life, though they would be compassionate. He could imagine Tony trying out a new mask on them, or trying to pull on his old mask to cover up his real self. No, he had to be the one to question Tony. And he wouldn't be able to let the sensitive subjects drop. But maybe Tony would feel better about telling him. He hoped that Tony trusted him like that. He just wasn't sure why it was so damned important.

Trust was everything in the field. You had to be able to trust your partner to cover your six. Gibbs knew that Tony trusted him with his life, that he trusted Gibbs to protect him and watch his back. That wasn't the issue here though. This was another type of trust. This was the trust that could make or break friendships and relationships. This was trusting another person with something far more fragile than your life. This was trusting someone with your heart.

Gibbs tossed the sander to the workbench and headed upstairs. A quick shower and bed were probably in order. Tomorrow would be a long day.


They walked into their temporary office and found that McGee and Kate were already there. They weren't late—heck, how can you be late when you arrive with the boss?—but they weren't as early as Gibbs usually arrived. Gibbs' late night had caught up to him so he had over slept. Then Tony had wanted to run and Gibbs had insisted that he couldn't go alone, so they had run together, which put them behind a little more, since there was only one bathroom which they had to share once they got back. Then they had to stop at a store for Tony to pick up a few clothes. Finally, Gibbs had insisted that they stop to get what he considered a decent cup of coffee. So now, instead of getting to work two hours early, they were just about two hours late.

"Abby found a match on the sketch," Kate told Gibbs when he asked for any news. "Former Petty Officer John Franken. 32 years old. In and out of prison since he was 16. Did a stint in the navy a few years ago but was dishonorably discharged."

"Any connections to NCIS?" Gibbs asked.

"He was discharged for selling drugs to his crewmates," McGee said. "There was enough evidence to discharge him, but not enough for a conviction. The drugs that were seized disappeared. The Agent Afloat swore up and down that she had no idea how the evidence disappeared."

"Who was the agent?" Gibbs asked with a growl. It was like pulling teeth sometimes.

"Special Agent Gina Wells," Kate said. "After the fiasco with Franken, she was reassigned to Norfolk on desk duty."

"I knew her when I was there," Tim said. "She seemed rather mousy. But she's good with computers, and she's certainly familiar enough with our security protocol to get around it."

"I want connections between her and this Franken guy," Gibbs said. "Tony, you and I are going to start going through reasons why this woman might want to scare you."

"Where, Boss?" Tony asked, looking nervously at his coworkers. He really didn't want to do this in front of Tim or Kate.

Gibbs paused to think for a minute. This would take too long to use the elevator, and normally the conference room would have been his back up plan. "Interrogation observation room." At least they could have some privacy there. Gibbs led and Tony followed. It was always that way. Once they were alone in the observation room, Gibbs pulled up a chair and indicated for Tony to sit.

Tony stared at the seat for a long minute before sitting. "I feel like maybe we should be in the other room."

"I'm not here to interrogate you," Gibbs sighed. "But I need to know who would want to threaten you and why."

Tony sighed and leaned back in the chair. He ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I've been racking my brain since all this started and I can't come up with anything."

"Which is why we're going to talk," Gibbs said. "Tell me about what you actually do in your spare time."

Tony gave a dry cough. "Well, I don't really go out as much as I let the team believe."

"I know that," Gibbs said. "I also know about Angelica's. I was there Saturday evening."

Tony nodded. "So that's pretty much it. I play, I write songs, and I go to Angelica's when I can."

"You were friendly with the singer and the waitress," Gibbs said. "The bartender seemed to know you as did the doorman."

"I know pretty much everyone on the staff there, and a few of the regulars," Tony agreed. "I found the place not long after I moved to DC. Been going a couple times a week ever since."

"Any other bars?" Gibbs asked.

"Just that one, unless I'm going with the team," Tony said.


Tony flushed. "Um…"

Gibbs sighed. "I need the truth Tony."

Tony dropped his head in his hands. "No dates in a more than a year. When I do date… Well, they've never really seemed pissed enough to do something like this when it ended."

"I'll need names, addresses and dates," Gibbs said. "Any information you have."

Tony looked up and frowned. "Is it really necessary?"

"Yes," Gibbs said. "I'm going for coffee. Write them down. For the last ten years."

Tony sighed and picked up a notepad from the table. He started the list before Gibbs was even out the door. By the time Gibbs got back five minutes later with two cups of coffee, Tony was finished and the notepad was lying on the table. Gibbs handed Tony the coffee and picked up the notepad. There were only seven names on the list.

"There were a couple others but they were the no name, no number type of thing," Tony sighed. Gibbs was still staring at the paper. "Say something, Boss."

"Why go through all this?" Gibbs finally said. "Why lie about everything?"

"Because I learned early on in life that people don't want to know the real me," Tony said. "Not even my own parents wanted to know the real me. And being shipped from one boarding school to the next, I learned pretty quick how to be what others wanted me to be."

"What about friends?" Gibbs asked.

Tony smiled. "I have Tom. He's known me since the first boarding school, before I learned how to pretend. We've stayed close and I never have to pretend around him or his wife. They have two kids, my godchildren."

"The person at Angelica's, is that the real you?" Gibbs finally asked. It was a question that had been bothering him since Saturday night.

Tony shrugged. "It's close. Not quite as shy as that, or else I wouldn't go play at all. But the music…that's all me. That's what's kept me sane all these years."

"Okay," Gibbs sighed. "Let's go back a bit farther. Any college or school friends who might have a grudge?"

Tony gave a sad smile. "Only friends I had in college were in the frat, and we all still get along when we see each other. They never really knew me either. And I wasn't really in any of the boarding schools long enough to really make any enemies."

"What about family?" Gibbs asked. "You are estranged from your family. Any reason someone might want to scare you?"

Tony shrugged. "I was disowned, so even if my father was dying and some cousin wanted the money, they wouldn't come after me. My mother died when I was ten, and I haven't spoken to my father in…god, ten years."

"What was the reason for the estrangement?" Gibbs asked. He was prying and he knew it. This wasn't purely for his own curiosity, however, so he felt justified in asking.

Tony's face closed off for a minute before he finally spoke in a flat tone. "He wanted me to be just like him. I can pretend a lot of things, but I couldn't pretend that. Things had been bad for a long time anyway. So when… It all just blew up."


"I know," Tony shouted and got up from his chair to pace the room. "I know! You need more detail than that. But this so fucking hard! Do you get that?"

"I get it," Gibbs said. "There are things about me that I've never shared with another living soul. It would hurt like hell to have them ripped from me unwillingly. I get that. But it doesn't change the fact that this is necessary. We have suspects. But we have no motive. Which means that money may be the motive. Which means that your father and your family may be suspects. I need to know what happened."

"Number one on the list," Tony said woodenly. "Michael Hartley. He's what happened. My father saw us out on a date together. I was just out of college, still trying to figure out what to do with my life. Michael was my first real boyfriend. We had talked about moving in together. And then my father found out. He paid Michael to go away and handed me some debutant on a silver platter. Said I had to marry her or be disowned. I chose the latter."

"Was he violent?" Gibbs asked.

Tony looked through the window at the empty interrogation room. He snorted. "My father is the most sadistic bastard alive. He had never held back when he was disciplining me as a kid. He didn't hold back then."

"So you left?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded once. "Went to the academy in Illinois. I learned early on that gay men aren't any more welcome there than they are in my father's home or in a football locker room. So the lies continued."

"Okay, that's enough for now," Gibbs sighed.


The local LEOs picked up Franken in Alexandria that evening and turned him over to NCIS. An hour in the interrogation room with Gibbs and they had as much as they were going to get from the man. Wells had gotten him off the drug charges and kept him from the brig, so when she came to him with a favor and bit of cash for torching some apartment, he'd taken her up on the offer. He hadn't known who Tony was, or why she wanted the place burned. He didn't know where she was. The only other useful bit of information he gave was that they had been sexual partners in the past—hence the help with the drug charges—but when he offered this time, she turned him down flat. Said she had a real man, now. One who could take care of her.

They now had enough evidence to go after Wells directly. The team put in a call to the base in Norfolk and asked them to detain Special Agent Wells for questioning. But the base security told them that Agent Wells hadn't logged in that day. So they geared up and made the drive down to Norfolk.

When they arrived at Wells' apartment, they found the door ajar and pulled their weapons. Gibbs went in first with Tony and Kate following right behind. McGee brought up the rear. Once inside the small apartment, they split up and it only took a few minutes to find the body of Special Agent Wells. She was in the bathtub with her wrists slit. There was no suicide note and no evidence of forced entry. Gibbs called Ducky and they began the long task of processing the evidence in the apartment.

"I don't think this was a suicide. She was definitely seeing someone," Kate said. "There are three new dresses in the closet still with the tags on them and a new bottle of perfume."

"Add to that the condoms in the nightstand drawer," Tony said. "Half the pack is gone."

When Ducky arrived, he approximated the time of death to be about six that evening. Franken had already been in NCIS custody at the time, so he was ruled out as a suspect.

"I found something on her PC," McGee called out. "It looks like the schematics for our office. And she has the code breaking software uploaded."

"Bring the whole thing back to the lab and find everything you can," Gibbs told him. "We may have found the who, but we still don't have the why. And until we do, I don't believe this case is over."

It was after midnight before they got back to headquarters and after one before Gibbs and Tony made it to Gibbs' house. This time, they both fell into bed right away. There was no time or energy for brooding that night.


Tony was up before Gibbs the next morning. Something was bothering him about all of this. Something that he and Gibbs had talked about yesterday, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Instead, he made breakfast while he thought. When Gibbs emerged from his bedroom half an hour later, Tony had eggs, bacon, toast and coffee ready and waiting. Gibbs raised a questioning eyebrow and Tony shrugged in response. Gibbs nodded and dug into the food.

It was funny the way they could communicate without saying a word. Tony thought Gibbs probably knew him better than anyone other than Tom. Gibbs would probably argue that idea because of the way Tony had kept secrets from him, but Tony still thought Gibbs knew him deep down. He knew that Tony was wearing a mask, even when no one else did. And he recognized that it had been slipping lately. He knew how to get Tony to talk, to spill his guts even when he wasn't sure he wanted to. He knew all the important things.

They went to the office early this time. Gibbs limited them to a quick run and there was no need to stop for clothes—Tony had bought enough to last the week, and he could shop again over the weekend. The office was eerily quiet when they walked in. Tony looked at the progress that was being made in fixing the bullpen as they walked past. Most of the debris was gone, but there was structural damage to the stairs behind his desk that had to be repaired before they could get around to fixing the rest of the area.

Gibbs had gotten the bomb squad to check out his car, which was deemed safe before being locked up in the garage with the team van. Tony was happy that his car was alright, but it didn't matter as much to him as the guitar that was still in the trunk. He had lost so much in the fire: his piano, his clothes, his videos. But that was all stuff that could be replaced. He was glad that he had gotten all of his old photos scanned a couple years ago and put them on the files in his fire safe. Happy memories of his childhood were few and far between, but those he did have were precious. And his songs were all saved on another flash drive. For all that his guitar could have been replaced as well, Tony was glad that he hadn't needed to. He'd had this guitar for almost twenty years now and he never wanted to lose it.

Tony walked into the conference room and noticed that Kate and McGee were looking at him. "What?"

"I gave them the list," Gibbs said.

"Oh." He looked at Kate and McGee again. There was no disgust on their faces just surprise and maybe a bit of sympathy. "You can check them out, but I doubt any of them had anything to do with this."

"Kate, you work that list," Gibbs said. "McGee, I want you to get a list of employees for a place called Angelica's over in Alexandria. Present staff and past. Both of you look for any connections to Wells. Tony, your insurance company has been calling all morning. Get that taken care of, and then start digging on your family."

"Right Boss," Tony sighed and picked up the phone.

The call to his insurance company was actually pretty simple. He had a detailed inventory that he updated every year which he had kept in his safe, complete with pictures. They would review the inventory and send him a check within the week.

Digging into his father's life was a little harder. Not because it was difficult to find information but because it was painful spending his time reading about the man who had never loved him and had eventually disowned him. Anthony DiNozzo Senior was a very successful business man with companies around the globe, as well as a booming portfolio. Tony dug up as much dirt as he could find on his personal relationships as well as his business associates. Then he moved on to his father's sister and his cousins. He tried to treat the whole thing like it was someone else's father, someone else's family, as he dug up all the dirt he could find.

When Ducky came into the room a while later, Tony was glad for the break. "Agent Wells definitely did not kill herself. There was bruising on her arms indicative of a struggle and the cuts to her wrists were both made with the same left to right motion."

"All right," Gibbs said as he stood up from his desk. "DiNozzo, you're with me. You two, keep working on those backgrounds. And while you're at it, see what you can find out about Wells boyfriend."

Soon they were on their way back to Norfolk. Once on the naval base there, they went to check in with Wells' supervisor and interview her coworkers. None of them seemed to know anything about her boyfriend, only that she was normally a very shy person and the boyfriend was a new addition to her life. She had begun changing the way she dressed and did her hair only two months before. It also seemed as thought eh boyfriend had a bit of money, because he often sent gifts and flowers for her to the office and she had begun wearing clothes that were more expensive than before.

After the base, they started checking out places from her date book, but didn't find out much else. She was a mousy girl that no one really noticed until she started changing her appearance a few months ago.

"Find out where the money was coming from," Gibbs barked into his cell phone as they drove back to DC. He flipped the phone closed and glanced over at Tony. "Tell me more about what happened with your father."

"I told you everything yesterday," Tony objected.

"Then tell me again," Gibbs demanded. "And don't leave out the details."

Tony closed his eyes for a minute. "Okay. I met Michael right after I graduated from Ohio State. I'd known for a while that I wasn't going to go pro, and I had my degree in Sports Science, but I knew I didn't want to teach or coach kids. So I was floundering a bit. I went back to New York and met Michael at a sports bar one night. We hit it off right away. We started spending all of our time together. He's the one who convinced me that I would make a good cop. I was set to start the academy in New York that fall. Then my father found out about us."

"Tell about that night," Gibbs said more gently.

Tony took a deep breath and stared out the car window at the fading daylight. "It was our two month anniversary and Michael wanted to go out to celebrate. So I let him pick the restaurant. It happened to be the same restaurant that my father was entertaining business associates at that evening. He saw us laughing and holding hands. We might have kissed once or twice before I realized my father was there. He didn't say anything right then, but the next day I got a call from him demanding that I meet him at his office.

"I hadn't talked to Michael at all that day," Tony admitted. "I was upset after seeing my father and went home alone the night before. I had tried to call him a few times, but he didn't return my calls. I thought…I thought he was just giving me space or something. Anyway, when I got to my father's office, he told me that no son of his was going to be some girly faggot. I could marry the girl he had picked out for me or be disowned.

"I told him to shove that up his ass," Tony laughed bitterly. "That resulted in a few punches. Then he told me that he'd already sent my little fling away. That he'd given him money and Michael had been all too happy to be on his way. I walked out of his office, sure he was lying. But then I couldn't reach Michael, and when I went to his apartment, there was nothing left. His landlady had said that he'd paid out the rest of his lease and had moved out that morning."

"I called my father and told him I didn't care," Tony said. "I still wasn't going to be what he wanted. I left town the next day. I emptied my bank account and bought a car and started driving west. That's how I ended up in Peoria. You know the rest."

"Any other boyfriends disappear?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shook his head. "No. You really think my father would…"

"I don't know, Tony," Gibbs said. "But something about this is playing with my gut. Where did Wells get the money to pay Franken? Who was this mysterious rich boyfriend? Why would they target you but not try and kill you?"

"I don't know," Tony sighed. "But my father…"

"I know Tony."


"Boss?" Tim asked hesitantly. Another day had passed and Gibbs was at his desk looking through the information his team had gathered. Tony and Kate had gone to pick up lunch and he was alone with McGee.

"What is it McGee?" Gibbs asked without looking up from the file he was reading.

"Is Tony okay?" McGee asked and Gibbs finally looked up at his junior field agent. Tim seemed to swallow hard. "I mean, he hasn't been acting like himself since the fire."

Gibbs paused and looked at Tim carefully. "He's been acting exactly like himself since the fire. He wasn't acting like himself before the fire."

Tim seemed to think about that for a long minute. "But… Oh. That would explain the list and the club. But why would he lie to us?"

"Because Tony's life hasn't been easy," Gibbs sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Just because he grew up in a wealthy home doesn't mean it was a happy one."

"Oh," Tim said and looked at Gibbs for a long minute before going back to his work.


"Gibbs!" Abby shouted over the blaring music coming from her lab. "I think I found something!"

Gibbs frowned as he went to turn off the stereo. Once the lab was blessedly silent he turned back to Abby and handed her the CafPow! he was carrying. "What have you got for me?"

I was able to piece together bits of the paper that was used to start the fire here in the lab. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that had been mixed in with ten other puzzles, but I got most of the fragments. What most people don't realize is that paper and ink don't burn the same way, so there is a residue on the burnt paper that can be read. With a little magic, a lot of time and a computer to help fill in the lost bits, I've recreated the original letter that was burned."

Gibbs watched as the charred letter appeared on the monitor in front of him. Then he watched as Abby shifted something and the ink seemed to come off the page and the handwritten letter could be read.

My Dearest Gina,

I know this task seems strange and a lot to ask, but it is necessary for us to be together. Our future together depends on you. Try not to falter; I am with you in spirit every step of the way. Remember, you aren't to hurt him, just destroy his life so that he has no other alternatives. Then I'll make sure he does the right thing.

The money you need is already in your account. I will see you after it is done. I can't wait until we can be together again.

All my love,


"All we have is an initial," Gibbs said. "Send a copy of this letter to the team. Any luck on tracing the accelerant?"

"Sorry, Gibbs," Abby said with a sigh. "It was charcoal lighter fluid, the kind you can find in any grocery or hardware store. No way to trace anything from that."

"Alright," Gibbs said. "Anything from Wells' apartment turn up?"

This time Abby smiled. "I'm so glad you asked. At first glance, there were no other prints in the apartment besides Wells. Must have been a pretty lonely girl."


"But… I found a partial print on the inside of one of the DVD cases," Abby smirked. "How much do you love me?"

"If you can get me a match on that print, a lot," Gibbs admitted.

"It's already running. I expect to have some sort of answer in a couple of hours," Abby said. She paused then and looked hesitant. "Um, is Tony okay?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure," Gibbs admitted.

Abby nodded. "His masks are falling left and right."

Gibbs chuckled. Of course Abby would have been able to see through Tony's façade. "There's a lot of pressure on him right now, and add to that the fact that his masks have been literally stripped from him in the course of this investigation…"

"He's holding up as well as can be expected," Abby agreed. "Okay. But promise me you'll watch out for him?"

"You have my word."


Tony pulled the guitar out of its case for the first time since he had brought it back to Gibbs' house two days before. He needed to think and he thought best when he was playing. The music let him drift into a world where the pain couldn't reach him. He wasn't sure how long he'd been playing, the notes and chords just tripping from his fingers, when he noticed that Gibbs had emerged from the basement and was standing in the doorway.

"You're very good," Gibbs said. He had two bottles of beer in his hand and offered one to Tony.

Tony took the bottle and drank down a large gulp. "Thanks. It helps me…think. Helps sort out all the stuff in my head."

"You saw the letter," Gibbs said.


Gibbs didn't say anything, just waited for Tony to elaborate.

"It's not his handwriting," Tony said. "At least not that I remember. I don't know though. It's been more than ten years since we even talked."

Gibbs nodded. "He might have changed it deliberately. Or he might be using someone else."

"I know he was a bastard," Tony sighed. "He beat me often enough to know he's an abusive asshole as well, but I just can't imagine him slitting some woman's wrists."

"Can you think of any reason why he might need you back under his control?" Gibbs asked. "That letter seemed to imply that whoever was doing this needs you alive and under their thumb."

Tony shrugged. "I've got nothing. Since he disowned me, I'm not even in his will. My mother left me with a small trust fund, but it's not enough to cause this kind of fuss. I use the interest payments to supplement my income, but that's only maybe 9 or 10 grand a year."

"Enough to buy nice suits," Gibbs said. "And a good guitar."

Tony looked down at the acoustic guitar in his hands. "I bought this when I was in middle school. I saved up my spending money for a year and made cash on the side from writing other kids papers for them to get the one that I wanted. I saw it in a store in Manhattan when I was home for one of our holiday breaks. Mom had just died and dad was… off on some business trip or other. I talked to the shop owner. He said that most people didn't recognize the value of this guitar. It was used, and a bit banged up, but it was a really great instrument. He said he'd hold it for me until I could get the money together."

"Sounds like a nice man," Gibbs said.

"He was great," Tony mused. "That summer, I went down and helped around the shop and he'd teach me to play a little each day on one of the store's guitars. And sometimes we'd work on this guitar to get it cleaned up. We fixed the neck, restrung it, stripped it and refinished it. And when I came back the next summer, I had the money and I bought the guitar. I helped around the shop again that summer. For lessons and for sheet music. I spent a lot of my time with old Gil every summer until he died. That was when I was a junior in high school. The school wouldn't let me go to the funeral without my father's permission and he was out of the country for six months. Never bothered to return my phone calls."

"When did you start to write your own songs?" Gibbs asked.

"I started with Gil, but I was already in high school," Tony said. "I guess I was a freshman. I was at that school in Vermont at the time, so it had to be freshman year. Gil got me to love playing piano, too. I'd hated taking lessons as a kid, because my parents insisted that I do it. They were necessary for a properly trained young man of our social circles. But Gil showed me that there was a beauty and freedom in the music, no matter where it came from. He taught me to play a couple other instruments, but the piano and guitar are the only ones that stuck."

"Play me something," Gibbs said as he leaned back against the sofa and closed his eyes.

So Tony did. He picked a song he had written a couple years ago, not long after he had come to work at NCIS. It was quiet and slow and heartbreakingly honest. Tony would never explain where the song had come from, but it was something he had written about Gibbs and the strangely familiar relationship they had found from the very start. It was called "Coming Home."

When the last notes had died, Gibbs sat up and put a hand on Tony's shoulder. "That was beautiful. Thank you."


"Boss, I think I've got something," McGee said early the next morning. Gibbs and Tony had just walked into the conference room and were still putting their guns away. "I traced the money transfers back to a company called Kernigan Manufacturing."

"Oh shit," Tony muttered.

"What's up?" Gibbs asked Tony.

"I recognize that name," Tony said as he began frantically flipping through the file he'd been putting together on his father. "It's one of the subsidiaries of my father's company. Here it is. Kernigan Manufacturing is actually a subsidiary of KTC, Inc. KTC is a secondary holding of Arturo Corporation which the DiNozzo Conglomerate bought out eight months ago."

"So we have the link," Gibbs said quietly.

Tony swallowed hard. "Looks like it."

"I'm sorry." Gibbs said before turning to McGee. "I want you to find out everything you can about Anthony DiNozzo Senior. I want a direct trail to him. And I want to know why he's so desperate to get Tony back under his control."

Kate looked up from her desk. "I've got something, Gibbs. On Hartley."

Tony looked up. "What about him?"

"It took a while since it was ten years ago, but I've tracked down his family," Kate said. "It seems he didn't just leave town, Tony. He disappeared altogether. His bank account was untouched. It still had almost $3,000 in it when he disappeared. I don't think he left of his own free will. I called several moving companies based in New York and found the one who cleaned out his apartment. They took the stuff to the Goodwill. The bill was paid from your father's personal funds."

"No," Tony denied, his head shaking back and forth. "That can't be right. Gibbs, he couldn't do that."

Gibbs didn't know how to help Tony just then, so he did what he knew how to do. "Kate, anything else on any of those other names?"

Kate shook her head. "Nothing. I've actually talked to all of them but one and he died in a car wreck three years ago. Nothing suspicious about it."

"Who?" Tony asked.

"Carl Townsend," Kate told him.

Tony nodded. He'd liked Carl, but they hadn't dated long.

"Tony, did you find out where your father is right now when you were doing your research?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shook himself from his thoughts. "He's out of the country right now. Some deal with a Swiss company. Isn't expected back until Friday of next week."

"Tony, I'm going to ask you this once," Gibbs said quietly and ignored McGee and Kate who were trying to listen in. "Are you going to be okay to see this through? If it's too much, I can take you off the case."

Tony fought back his automatic denial and really thought about what Gibbs was asking him. "I can't be the one to bring him in, but I need to be a part of this. He's fucked with my life long enough."

"Okay," Gibbs said and nodded his head. "In that case, I want you to start looking for accomplices. Who would he trust enough to do his dirty work? If he didn't kill Wells himself, somebody did. And chances are he would have had someone else handle Hartley as well. Find out who."

"On it Boss," Tony said.

Two hours later, Director Morrow entered the office and looked at the team hard at work. "Gibbs, DiNozzo. There's been another movement against Agent DiNozzo."

"What sort of move?" Gibbs asked.

"This time they tried to sabotage Tony's career," Morrow said. "They planted false records in his files. If I hadn't flagged it after the fire, it might well have worked."

"What did they put in there?" Tony asked.

"Falsified psyche records," Morrow told him. "They were good. They didn't' just put in a false record, they made it look like he'd tried to cover it up. Ms Sciuto is currently tracking how the information was planted into our system."

"McGee, go help Abby," Gibbs said. "Kate, take over with DiNozzo Senior."

"You think that Agent DiNozzo's father is behind this?" Morrow asked with some surprise.

"We're sure he is," Gibbs said. "Now we just have to prove it before we bring him in."

Morrow nodded. "I'll expect you to update me on this before you bring him in. That man has some powerful friends and I want this airtight before we take him down."

"It will be," Gibbs promised.


They went home late that evening and picked up Chinese on the way. They ate from the cartons in silence for a while before Tony looked at Gibbs thoughtfully.


Tony gave a small smile and shook his head. "Just wondering why you're being so nice about all this. Where is Gibbs, second B for bastard?"

"He's on vacation," Gibbs said sarcastically.

Tony laughed but then frowned. "Seriously, Boss. Why are you being so nice?"

Gibbs took a drink of his beer and sighed. "Because this isn't a normal situation. Because this is a particularly hard case for you. But also because…"


"Because you aren't the same person I thought I knew," Gibbs admitted. "I'm still trying to figure out who exactly you are. You haven't given me reason to smack you up side the head in days. You are still great at the job, but the rest…"

"You're wrong, you know," Tony said quietly as he stared down at the food on his fork. "You do know me. Better than most. You saw behind the mask. Not many people can do that. Hell, I think you're the first."

"Abby saw too," Gibbs told him. "She asked me the other day. Told me to take care of you."

"I'm not as fragile as you both seem to think," Tony sighed. "Just because… Well, just because I've spent most of my life trying to hide in plain sight doesn't mean I'm some wounded creature."

"You are wounded," Gibbs said. "But then again, so am I. That doesn't mean we think you're weak. It just means that you are stronger than most because you survived. I'm not being nice because I feel sorry for you, if that's what you are thinking. I guess I'm being nice because I like the person I'm seeing."

"More than the one you thought I was before?" Tony asked.

"Yes," Gibbs said. "Though I cared a lot about him too. But the reason I cared about you then was because I would catch glimpses of the real you every once in a while. Now that you aren't hiding, it's just easier to like you for you."

"Thanks, Boss," Tony said quietly.

"The name's Jethro," Gibbs said equally quiet.

"Thanks, Jethro," Tony said with a small smile.

Gibbs watched Tony get up and walk up the stairs to get ready for bed. He wasn't sure why he had invited Tony to use his first name. What he had told his agent was true. He liked this Tony better. Not because the old Tony was bad, but because he wasn't real. But masked or unmasked, there was something special about Anthony DiNozzo that drew Gibbs to him. He hadn't met any one who drew him like that since Shannon. If Tony had been a woman… But that was a ridiculous thought and he pushed it away the same way he always pushed those kinds of thoughts away. Tony needed him right now and he swore to himself that he would be there.


Kate was enlisted to go shopping with Tony on Saturday morning. The brief trip to a department store on Monday with Gibbs hadn't really been enough, and the clothes available certainly weren't up to Tony's usual standards. So when Tony had asked on Friday, Gibbs had assigned Kate the task of being his body guard for the shopping expedition. It wasn't the first time that week that they had been alone, but it was the first time Kate had felt up to voicing the questions that had been swirling around in her mind since seeing the list of Tony's boyfriends. Honestly, she had been hurt by the knowledge that Tony had withheld something so important from her.

Kate picked Tony up from Gibbs' house and he gave her directions to a shop that specialized in designer fashions for men. She had expected Tony to head directly for the high priced suits he had favored before the fire, but when he started looking at more relaxed clothes, she wondered if the suits hadn't been another part of the façade he'd maintained. He was trying on a tan lambskin blazer with nice brown slacks and a brown v-neck sweater over a cream silk t-shirt. Somehow, the softer look seemed to fit the man she had observed the last five days. He was still quite fashionable, but not in a flashy over the top way he'd been before which just served to remind her just how much Tony had been hiding from them—from her.

"I thought you trusted us," Kate finally said out loud. Tony, who was checking the fit of the blazer in a mirror stopped and caught her eyes in the reflection.

"I do trust you," Tony said. "I trust this team more than I've trusted anyone in a very long time."

"Then why all the lies?" Kate said. It was impossible to miss the hurt in her voice. "Why keep pretending to be someone you aren't?"

Tony shrugged off the blazer and hung it up with the other items he had decided to purchase. "Because I don't really know how to trust anyone with who I am. And once people see you as one thing, it's hard to ever change that. What would have been acceptable? Once I knew I could trust you, should I just have come in one day, called a group meeting and told you every lie I had ever told or let you believe?"

"I don't know," Kate frowned. "I get why you might lie about dating men. The military and police departments don't exactly embrace alternate lifestyles. But to pretend to be a playboy instead? To change your entire personality?"

"I did what I've always done—I played the part I thought would invite the least speculation," Tony said with a rueful grimace. "It wouldn't have lasted much longer anyway. Did you know that when putting a person deep undercover, you always have to limit the length of time to about two years? That's the length of time a person can realistically maintain cover without slipping up."

"And you've been here for three years now," Kate said thoughtfully. "You've never stayed anywhere more than two years before. Which means your reasons to stay were stronger than your reasons for leaving. You do trust us."

Tony nodded. "You guys are like family. Only you actually give a damn."

"Okay," Kate said and decided to let the subject drop. "What about that black leather blazer with the green sweater. It really brings out your eyes."


While Tony was out with Kate, Gibbs was at the office, discussing the case with Director Morrow. He had a plan in mind, but needed the director's cooperation in order to make it work. Tony had found out that the head of his father's security had a rather checkered past. He'd spent time in the army's Special Forces before doing some work for various international agencies as a mercenary. That wasn't what they had called it, but that was essentially what he had been. Then he'd worked his way up in DiNozzo's security ranks for no obvious reason about ten years ago. DiNozzo senior had been out of the country most of the times they knew for sure that Agent Wells' secret lover was supposedly in town. This meant that Ted Michaels was their prime suspect for her murder, but Gibbs was positive that he was acting on orders.

Michaels wouldn't crack through legal interrogation methods, so they needed to go after the one Gibbs was sure would give up what they needed. This meant that they needed to break Tony's father. And in order to do that they needed to break down the trust between the two men.

"We have six days to get everything in place," Gibbs was saying. "That should give us enough time to get enough evidence to hold Michaels and keep the two men out of contact while we work our magic on Tony's father."

"And this will McGee found, have you discussed it with Agent DiNozzo yet?" Morrow asked.

"Not yet, but I will," Gibbs said. "Tony will do what needs to be done. He's asked to be left out of any direct confrontations with his father, but he'll go along with this plan. I'm positive of that."

"Alright, I'll do my part," Morrow agreed. "But I want a copy of everything you have on Michaels and DiNozzo senior before we move. If I need to justify your actions to the SecNav, I need to know what I'm dealing with."

"I'll keep you informed." Gibbs said as he left the office.

He found McGee in their temporary office, still doing a search on Michaels' activities over the past six months. "I found credit card transactions which place him in Norfolk at the correct times for the meetings with Wells. We've also found a sample of his handwriting which Abby is working to match with the letter she reconstructed from the fire."

"I'll be in the lab, then," Gibbs said and headed to the stairs to see Abby. The music today was not her usual earsplitting noise. In fact it was music that he recognized. "Tony gave you a copy of his songs?"

Abby smiled widely at Gibbs. "Yesterday. He burned a copy for me when I pestered him about it. Really great stuff isn't it?"

"Coming Home" was playing and Gibbs smiled as he remembered Tony playing that for him. "It is. Have you gotten a match on that finger print or the writing sample?"

"Just came back a couple minutes ago," Abby nodded. "Both are a match for Michaels. Should be enough to at least hold him for questioning."

"Good work," Gibbs said and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Go home. We aren't going to move on Michaels until next week. I'll call you if something comes up between now and Monday."

"Can I stop in to see Tony tomorrow?" Abby asked as she shed her lab coat want went to get her bag.

"If it's okay with him, I don't see why not," Gibbs shrugged. He went back up to find McGee still working diligently. "Go home, McGee. We've got enough to hold Michaels for questioning. Next week is going to be stressful, so use tomorrow to get some rest."

"Thanks Boss," McGee said. He was quiet as he shut down his computer and gathered his belongings. "How's Tony doing?"

Gibbs looked up from the file he was reviewing and stared at McGee. Timothy showed a bit of backbone and didn't look away. "He's… doing pretty well, actually. He's strong. Stronger than I realized. Have you talked to him?"

McGee shook his head. "I'm not really sure what to say to him. I can't imagine what it must have been like growing up in a house with a father who is capable of the stuff his father has done."

"So you aren't angry with him for lying?" Gibbs prodded.

Tim shrugged. "Maybe a little. But I can also see why he would do it. I mean, nothing in his life has inspired him to trust anyone. Why would that automatically change just because he started working here?"

"He does trust us, or else he would have moved on by now," Gibbs corrected. "But you're right; it takes Tony a lot longer to trust than most people. And I think Tony is still essentially the same person he was before, just with fewer of the more outrageous quirks."

McGee nodded thoughtfully. That fit with what he had observed that week. Tony was still dedicated and did his job well. He still seemed loyal to both Gibbs and the team. He was more introspective and played fewer pranks, but he was still the same person he had known all along. "Maybe I'll ask him to lunch on Monday," Tim mused.

"You do that," Gibbs said. "Now get out of here. There's nothing else to be done this weekend. Come in fresh on Monday, ready to take these guys down."


Sunday was a rather lazy day for both Gibbs and Tony. Tony spent much of it on Gibbs' computer ordering things he needed to replace the things he had lost in the fire. His new laptop and the music software that he preferred was being rush delivered to NCIS. He went to the Ohio State website and ordered new t-shirts and sweatshirts to replace those he'd lost, since finding that apparel in DC was impossible. He ordered a TV and DVD player to be sent to Gibbs' house. He knew that if he was going to stay with his boss much longer he was going to go crazy without those items, and he could move them to his new apartment once he had time to actually start looking for a place. He also ordered shoes from his favorite online shop. Finally he ordered a new Nintendo DS along with a few games.

Tony printed out the receipts for his records, knowing he would need to start a new inventory for his insurance soon. When he totaled up all he had spent that day he wasn't really surprised. His savings would be significantly depleted but he knew that the insurance money would come in soon, so he didn't worry too much about it.

Gibbs, as usual, spent most of his day in the basement working on the boat. Tony brought him a sandwich at lunch time and sat on the steps to talk while they ate. When they were both finished, Tony took their plates upstairs and left Gibbs to his work. It was rather nice to have someone accept his obsession with the boat. All three of Gibbs' ex-wives had resented any time he spent in the basement. Tony not only accepted it but enjoyed keeping him company at times. Gibbs shook his head. What was he thinking? Tony was not his wife. And he wouldn't be staying longer than it took to close this case and get himself a new apartment. So it really shouldn't matter whether he understood Gibbs' need to work his frustrations out on wood.

But it did matter. Tired of avoiding the ever increasing urges that drew him to Tony, Gibbs set down his planer and sat heavily on the stool by his workbench. What the fuck was going on? He couldn't even blame his fascination on the current situation, since it had begun long before the fire. There was a reason Gibbs noticed Tony's mask. There was a reason he knew almost instinctively how to read his younger agent. Now that he allowed himself to really think about it, he'd been aware of Tony since the first time they had met in Baltimore.

Tony was an attractive man; there was no doubt about that. He was also a very good agent. Both things were recommendations, but not enough to justify this lasting fascination with the man. There was more to it than that. Tony was filled with contradictions and layers that Gibbs wanted to explore, but even that couldn't explain his fixation. He thought that it might be all of those things, but also the small things that he rarely even noticed. Like the way Tony accepted the boat as a real part of Gibbs' life. The way he seemed to know what sort of mood Gibbs was in and knew just how to deal with that mood without any fuss or attention. The way he knew but never pressed about Shannon and Kelly.

That had surprised Gibbs more than anything. He'd thought none of his team knew about Shannon and Kelly. He had never even shared that information with Ducky. But Tony was good at what he did. Before he'd agreed to work with Gibbs, he'd run a background check on his prospective employer. His wife and child weren't top secret. It only took a quick search of newspaper archives to figure out that there was something to be found. The fact that Tony had done that search when no one else ever had was typical of the young detective he had been then. The fact that he had quietly let Gibbs know what he had done had also been appreciated.

Tony's first day on the job, he had left an envelope on Gibbs' desk at the end of the day. Inside was a printout of the newspaper article that described the explosion that had killed Shannon and Kelly. It also contained a brief note saying what he had found and promising to keep the knowledge to himself. Tony had never brought the subject up again, and Gibbs was grateful. It had been more than ten years since Shannon and Kelly died, but the pain and guilt still lingered. If he ever talked about it, though, he somehow thought it would be with Tony.

Gibbs didn't talk about his feelings, but that didn't mean he was unaware of them. His ability to do his job well depended upon his ability to think clearly, and letting his emotions cloud his judgment interfered with his work. As such, he made a point to understand what he felt and why, even if he never shared those feelings with another human being. This thing with Tony was different. He'd been hiding from it for so long that he almost didn't recognize what he was feeling.

Gibbs didn't like to think of himself as homophobic. In fact, he was quite willing to accept homosexuality in others. He didn't think it was a sin. He believed that there was a natural and biological reason for the behavior. He never treated others differently because of their sexuality. Then why had he been hiding from these feelings for so long. Longer than this thing with Tony. He'd been drawn to other men in the past; he'd even allowed himself to fantasize a time or two. But he had never allowed himself to act upon those feelings, and he simply couldn't understand why.

Now that he was examining Tony so closely, it was impossible not to examine his own feelings for Tony as well. And the truth of the matter was that Gibbs hadn't felt as strongly for anyone since Shannon. That in and of itself was a scary thought. What was even scarier was acting on those feelings.


"So this will states that the majority of the DiNozzo Corporation actually belonged to your mother," McGee told Tony on Monday. "It seems her family was the one who funded the start-up of the company and your grandfather ensured that she retained the majority share no matter what. When she died, she left it all to you. It was to be held in trust until you turned 30, at which time you were to receive the bulk of your inheritance. The trust you received when you graduated from high school was only a small portion of your inheritance."

"So you think that my father is trying to get me under his control so that he can control the company?" Tony asked, his eyes turned to Gibbs now.

"If you sold your shares, or even decided to confront him on how he runs the company, there would be nothing he could do to stop you," Gibbs said. "He's afraid of what you can do to him after the way he treated you."

"And if I died?" Tony asked quietly.

"If you died without making a will, your mother's shares would go to your godchildren," McGee said. "He's the closest relation according to your mother's will. If you had a child or a spouse, it would go to them."

"Either way, it would put the shares out of my father's reach," Tony said. "This is why he wants me alive. Why would the money go to my godchildren, though? I would think it would go to my father or one of my cousins."

"Your grandfather wanted to protect your mother," McGee said. "According to the lawyer who wrote up her will, he was with her for all of the meetings and set up the stipulation to prevent your father from being able to do anything to her or you to get his hands on the money. The lawyer didn't have any details, but apparently your father had given him reason to worry for your safety."

"How did your mother die?" Gibbs asked.

Tony blinked at him. "She was an alcoholic. She died of complications related to liver damage."

"Was an autopsy performed?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. "I checked a few years ago. There was nothing in her system that would indicate any foul play."

"I want Ducky to confirm that," Gibbs said. Tony nodded. It wouldn't hurt to have the ME's input. If there was anything suspicious about her death, Tony wanted to know. "We have a plan to bring him down, but we'll need you to cooperate, Tony."

"Anything," Tony said. "I want this bastard out of my life."

"We're going to stage an attempt on your life," Gibbs said. "Something that will get the attention of the press. Your father will believe that Michaels set it up and cause him to distrust his loyal minion. We'll have Michaels in custody by the time your father gets back in the country, so he won't have any way to verify. In the meantime, I want you to contact the board and request a special meeting as the majority shareholder for next week. That should bring your father running home."

"And right into our custody," Tony nodded. "You think you can make him talk?"

"I know I can," Gibbs said. "Nobody messes with one of my people and gets away with it. While you and I get the details of the attack together, McGee and Kate are going to continue gathering evidence against them both. Now that we know who we're dealing with, there is no way that they can hide."


They waited until Wednesday to make the call to the board. Tony told the man that he had just been made aware of the fact that he held a majority of the company's shares and wanted to call a meeting to go over some changes he wanted to see. That same day, they staged a very public attempt on Tony's life. A little help from one of Abby's friends who worked with special effects and they had Tony bleeding from a fake gunshot wound to the shoulder. It was in all the local papers and on all the major television stations, since, coincidentally, several news vans just happened to be shooting footage at the courthouse where they staged the scene.

Director Morrow made a statement. Tony took a ride the hospital in an ambulance and then went to NCIS. McGee, Kate and Gibbs went to apprehend Michaels, who was already in DC at a local hotel. The bust went down easily. Michaels didn't even struggle. He was sure that they couldn't have anything on them.

They processed the man's room and found a razor sharp knife which held traces of blood in one of the grooves by the handle.

By Thursday, they had matched the blood on the knife with Agent Wells. McGee had also found copies of emails and scanned documents on Michaels' computer from DiNozzo senior outlining several jobs that the other man had done on his orders. Obviously the man had been planning on blackmailing the man at some point. Either that or he was protecting his ass. None of the documents came right out and detailed anything, but they gave hints to the fires, the murder of Agent Wells, the faked psych evaluations. There were files on each of Tony's various boyfriends. Tony rather thought that if any of them had lasted any length of time that they might be dead now. Finally, there was information about Michael Hartley. It was probably enough to convict the man, but Gibbs wanted DiNozzo as well.

They monitored Michaels' incoming calls to his cell phone. Between Wednesday evening and Thursday there were fifteen calls. The messages left varied in length and severity, but it was obvious that the man was pissed off. They had another team watching all the flights from Switzerland and Friday morning that team brought Anthony DiNozzo Senior to NCIS headquarters.

"What is the meaning of this, young lady?" DiNozzo demanded when he was escorted into the interrogation room by Kate Todd. "I have rights! I'll have your badge for this!"

"You'll have to wait for Special Agent Gibbs," Kate told him coolly. She locked the door behind her and went to the observation room where Tony and McGee were waiting. "Your father is a pompous ass."

Tony chuckled darkly. "That is an understatement."

In fact, Anthony DiNozzo Senior was a very handsome man. If Tony took after him, it was obvious that his looks would last well into his sixties. His hair was gray, but he had the same green eyes and build as Tony. But his face, mangled with bitterness and greed, was nothing like the man Kate knew and respected. Despite everything that his father had done to him, Tony hadn't ended up bitter and angry. Sure he had trouble trusting, but he was a good man and was learning to love and trust.

They waited for more than an hour watching Tony's father pace the room like a caged animal. Every few minutes he would pause to bang on the door or the mirrored window shouting about his powerful friends and how they would all lose their badges. Tony stayed silent the entire time, just watching his father.

By the time Gibbs entered, DiNozzo was worked into a froth, practically foaming at the mouth in outrage. "What is the meaning of this? I demand that you let me go!"

"I'm sorry, but that won't be possible," Gibbs said calmly as he took a seat in front of the mirror.

"I'm a very busy man," DiNozzo said. "I don't have time for this nonsense. This has something to do with my son, doesn't it? I'll have your badge for letting my son harass me over a personal family matter."

"If you would have a seat, we could begin," Gibbs said calmly.

DiNozzo stared at him for three minutes—Tony kept count—and then sat down facing Gibbs and the mirror. "Fine. I'm sitting."

"Thank you," Gibbs said. He opened the file he had brought in with him and pulled out a photo of Gina Wells taken at the autopsy. "Do you know this woman?"

DiNozzo glanced at the picture and looked away. "I don't know her."

"Agent Gina Wells." Gibbs held up another picture. "What about this man?"

DiNozzo glared at Gibbs before looking at the photo. "He was my faggot son's boyfriend."

"Michael Hartley," Gibbs supplied. He held up a third photograph. "How about this one."

"My first wife," DiNozzo said. "Is there a point to this?"

"Just one more photo," Gibbs said. He held up a fourth photo.

"My son."

"Yes," Gibbs agreed. "I just wanted you to know why you are going to jail."

"What?" DiNozzo asked bewildered.

"One count of murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and one attempted murder charge," Gibbs said.

"I never tried to kill Tony!" DiNozzo denied. "That was that idiot Michaels! He was never supposed to hurt Tony!"

Gibbs smirked. "No, because that would ruin your plans to control Tony's shares in the family business, wouldn't it?"

"W-what are you…?" DiNozzo senior had paled dramatically.

"I notice that you didn't deny killing the other three," Gibbs said. "Our ME uncovered a discrepancy in your late wife's autopsy. The traces of the drug that was supposed to be helping her were at a dangerously high level. A lay person, say cop investigating the death, would never know what a normal level would be. Our people are busy contacting Dr. Edwards, the man who performed the autopsy, the man we believe you paid off to overlook that little fact. Think he'll be willing to go to jail to cover for you?"

"I don't…"

"Oh yes, let's talk about Hartley," Gibbs said. "We followed the trail that Michaels left. His body was found about six months after he disappeared in a Pennsylvania state park. Never identified. We've matched his dental records and his body is being exhumed so that our ME can see what he can learn. It is interesting that when he was supposedly leaving New York, his moving bill was paid from your personal account and that $50,000 was withdrawn from that same account and miraculously deposited in Michaels' account the next day. He was promoted to assistant director the next month, wasn't he?"

DiNozzo swallowed hard but didn't reply.

"Now let's talk about Wells," Gibbs said. "Michaels was very careful with her, but not careful enough. We found his print at the crime scene and found her blood on a knife in his hotel room two days ago. We also have a handwritten note from him instructing her to torch NCIS headquarters and your son's apartment. The funds from that little job were traced back to one of your holding companies.

"I didn't tell him to kill her!" DiNozzo said.

"No, you said," Gibbs picked up a piece of paper from the file, "And I quote, 'Do not leave that woman around to tell tales.' What exactly did you mean by that?"

"I was…"

"I see," Gibbs said, not giving the man enough time to come up with any lies. "And the hit on Tony on Wednesday?"

"I never told him to kill Tony," DiNozzo said, his voice broken. "I never told him to do that. It would have ruined everything."

"Ruined what?" Gibbs asked.

"The shares would have gone to his godchildren and I'd never have control of my own fucking company!" DiNozzo finally shouted. "For 35 years I've been building that company, but I still can't control it! That's not right!"

"So you set out to control your son," Gibbs supplied.

"Yes!" DiNozzo yelled. "Michaels had done some work for me in the past. I trusted that he could get this done, too. But he fucked up!"

"Is it just the money, or do you really care if your son lives or dies?" Gibbs asked quietly.

DiNozzo looked up then and glared at Gibbs. "Where is he? Where is my worthless faggot son? This is entirely his fault!"

"No, I think this is your fault," Gibbs said and rose from his chair. He grabbed the file and walked to the door. "Just for the record, your son is fine. He wasn't hurt by anything but your machinations. But this will be the last time you hurt him. You even attempt to call him from prison and I'll make sure it's the last thing you do."

With that, he closed the door behind him.

In the other room, Tony took several deep breaths, ignoring the looks of concern coming from his team mates and walked out of the room. Instead of heading to their office, he took the elevator down to the gym. Maybe pounding on a punching bag for a few hours would help him drive this feeling away.


Three hours later, Gibbs went looking for his wayward agent. In that time, he'd gotten a confession from Michaels, the reports had been processed, and he'd met with Tom Morrow and the SecNav. Kate and Tim were on their way home to start their weekends early and Gibbs wanted to do the same. He was also more than a little worried about Tony. Nothing that had come up in the interrogation had been new information to his senior agent, but to hear your father finally admit that he killed your mother and your first boyfriend and then admit that he was more concerned with losing his company than his son had to be devastating.

He looked for Tony in his usual spots but didn't find him in the lab or the morgue. He wasn't in the garage, though his car still was. Finally, he went down to the gym and one of the other agents said that they had seen Tony heading into the locker room a half hour earlier. Gibbs thanked him and went into the locker room. He found Tony in the shower area, his head leaning against the tile wall as the water just ran down his body. His shoulders were shaking and Gibbs could tell that he was crying.

Gibbs ignored his body's inappropriate response and grabbed a towel. He walked over and shut the water off before wrapping the towel around Tony's waist. The younger man barely recognized his presence, but he allowed himself to be pulled into Gibbs' arms and clutched at Gibbs' shirt as he buried his face in the older man's neck. Gibbs could feel hot tears burning his neck and dampening his collar but ignored that as he tried to comfort his friend and colleague. It was harder to ignore the way Tony's body felt so right pressed against his own, but he willed his erection away and tried to find words to sooth the pain Tony was feeling.

Eventually the tears began to subside and Tony became aware of where he was and who he was holding so closely. Gibbs felt the shift in him, the way his muscles tensed as it dawned on him that Gibbs was holding him. He tried to pull away and some part of Gibbs wanted to let him go. The other part of him held tight, knowing that if he did let go then Tony would brush the whole incident off and this moment would be relegated to the mental list of regrets that Tony carried around in his mind.

"Don't," Gibbs said softly as Tony tried to pull away again. "Don't."

Tony's body was still tense but as the moments passed, Gibbs felt him begin to relax back into the embrace. He lifted his head from Gibbs' neck and looked him in the eye. Their faces were only inches apart and Gibbs could see the questions flying through Tony's mind at lightning speed. There was an air of anticipation between them heavy in the steam filled room. Gibbs wasn't sure what they were waiting for, but he knew that they were waiting for something. And then they both moved to close the gap between them.

Their lips met and pressed together as though they had done this a thousand times before. That first kiss was soft and gentle, non-threatening but with a sense of adoration, almost as if they were worshiping each other. The second kiss had more urgency, more passion, and might have led to more of everything if they hadn't heard the door to the locker room open. Tony jumped away from Gibbs, as if just realizing where they were and what they had just done.

"I'm sorry Boss," Tony mumbled, clutching at his towel.

Not caring who might see them or what they might think, Gibbs reached out a hand and cupped Tony's cheek. "We're done for today. Why don't we head home?"

Tony nodded dumbly and headed for his locker to change. Gibbs told him he'd be up in the conference room when he was ready to go. A few minutes later Tony joined him and they went down to the parking area together. Tony realized that there was no reason for him not to take his car, so they split up and met up back at the house. Tony stopped to pick up a pizza and Gibbs had plates and beer waiting when he finally arrived. They ate in silence for a time.

"I'll need Tuesday and Wednesday off from work," Tony finally said. "The board agreed to the meeting and I know that the reason you had me call it was to get to my father, but I think I should actually go. Maybe take a lawyer."

"Would you mind if I went along?" Gibbs asked.

Tony frowned. "No…but why would you want to?"

Gibbs took a long drink of his beer as he pondered how to answer that question. In the end, he settled for the truth. "Because this is important to you, and you are important to me."

"Oh." Tony wasn't sure what to say to that.

"Do you have a lawyer?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. This he could answer. "One of the regulars at Angelica's specializes in corporate law. Emma's one of the best in DC. I sent her everything we have on the will and trust and she's looked over them with a colleague who does probate law. She's also gotten copies of the corporate charter from the board chair and has been looking over my options. We're meeting on Sunday to talk about it all and we'll discuss it again on Monday evening when we drive up."

Gibbs nodded and got up to get two more beers. "Do you want to talk about what happened today?"

Tony flushed. "I was just a kiss."

Gibbs chuckled and handed Tony an open bottle. "It was more than that. But that's not what I was asking about."

"Oh." Tony said with some surprise and then became more subdued. "Oh. I knew he was a murdering, lying, abusive bastard who never once gave a damn about me. I knew that. But hearing him admit it…. God that hurt more than I thought it would."

"I know," Gibbs said as he leaned against the kitchen counter. "I had to ask him."

"I know," Tony sighed. "And I'm glad you did. If not, I might have spent years wondering. Now, I can put the bastard out of my life for good. It's still hard to believe, you know? He drove my mother drink. He could have just waited and let the alcohol do her in. It was slowly killing her anyway. Her liver was failing. But he couldn't wait that long. The funny thing is I'm less angry about that then I am about Michael. He killed her spirit long before he killed her. She loved the oblivion that alcohol gave her more than she loved me. But Michael…he was my chance at happiness. He stole that from me just like he stole my inheritance."

Gibbs was quiet for a long time. "You don't just get one chance at happiness. I used to think you did, but I was wrong. After Shannon and Kelly were killed, I thought that the rest of my life would be nothing more than second best."

Tony blinked up at Jethro. He had never talked about his first wife and daughter before. Somehow, the fact that he was now meant more to Tony than that kiss. "And now?"

"Now I think life is filled with opportunities for second chances," Gibbs said quietly. "You've got a second chance with the team, to trust them with who you really are. And we both have a second chance to find love."

Tony swallowed hard and nodded. "I'd like to try."

"Me too," Gibbs said as he pulled Tony to his feet and kissed him again.


Saturday found the two men on the sofa watching the Ohio State football game, Tony wearing his new sweatshirt, and kissing during the commercial breaks. It was a good way to spend an autumn afternoon. They were about five minutes into the first quarter when the doorbell rang. The two men looked at each other and shrugged. Gibbs got up and went to the door.

"Hey boss," Abby smiled. "Timmy and I were in the neighborhood and thought we'd stop in and see how Tony's doing."

"We brought beer," Tim said, awkwardly holding up four six packs.

"Come on in," Gibbs said. "The game just started."

"Football?" Abby asked.

"Not just football," Tony piped in from his spot on the sofa. "Ohio State football. Go Bucks!"

While Tim was putting the beer away, Abby went in to find a seat and tease Tony about his team. Gibbs stood hung up their discarded jackets in the hall closet and was just about to return to the living room when the doorbell rang again. This time he found Kate carrying a grocery bag with chips and pretzels.

"Hey Gibbs," Kate smiled. "Thought I'd stop in to see Tony."

"Come join the party," Gibbs said with amusement.

She greeted Tony and headed for the kitchen to find bowls. Gibbs waited by the door and sure enough Ducky arrived not five minutes later with two pizza boxes.

"I heard there was a party," Ducky smiled.

"Some one forgot to mention it to me," Gibbs said wryly. "Come on in, Ducky. I think Kate's setting up the food on the dining room table."

Before he could shut the door, Gerald was there with a huge hoagie and a bag of paper plates.

"Anyone else I should expect?" Gibbs asked after letting him in.

"No, I think that's it," Abby said unapologetically.

"Come on Jethro, you're missing the game!" Tony called and held out a beer for him.

Gibbs smiled at his team and took the beer before rejoining Tony on the now crowded sofa.


The meeting with Emma went well and Gibbs unabashedly eavesdropped until Tony told him to stop hovering and join them. It was a long meeting as they went over all of Tony's options for dealing with the mess his father had left. Tony's first instinct was to just sell everything and be done with the whole fiasco, but Emma convinced his that wasn't in his best interests.

Monday, Tony and Gibbs both put in for personal days on Tuesday and Wednesday, and since they were still clearing up the last of the DiNozzo case, they weren't called out to any new scenes. The day passed slowly, but eventually it was time to go. Gibbs drove and they picked up Emma on the way out of town. By the time they made it to Manhattan, it was very late and the only thing any of them wanted to do was check into the hotel and get some sleep.

Tony was a bit nervous about sharing a room with Jethro. They had kissed and snuggled a lot since Friday, but they had yet to go any further. It seemed like rushing things to spend the night together in a hotel room after only a few days. He needn't have worried, however. When they got into their room, Tony saw that there were two beds, just the same as they had shared on a hundred cases before. He let out a sigh of relief.

Gibbs must have heard because he wrapped his arms around tony from behind. "I thought it might be a bit soon for one bed. I don't want to rush this. And things are still too unsettled, I think, for this to be the right time."

Tony agreed and said so. The tension that had been growing in him for the last couple hours of the drive evaporated and he relaxed into Gibbs' arms. Want to watch the news before we settle in?"

Gibbs agreed, and they spent the next half hour curled up together on the sofa before getting ready for bed.


"Mr. DiNozzo, on behalf of the board of directors I want to apologize for the way things have played out," Virgil Connors said as he greeted them the next morning. "If we had been aware of any impropriety concerning the governance of your shares we would have immediately sought to address them."

"My father had a lot of people fooled," Tony said. "Is everyone here?"

"Your party was the last to arrive," Virgil told him. "We can begin when you are ready."

The next twenty minutes were filled with the boring administrative tasks that every board meeting is filled with. When that was finally finished, Virgil invited tony to address the board.

Tony stood up in front of the crowded room and looked over those present. "I'm sure that you are aware that my father has been accused for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, arson, and a host of other crimes. That's not why we are here today. We are here to discuss the fact that he misappropriated corporate funds for personal gain in the commission of those crimes. Whether he is guilty of murder is to the courts to decide. What is up to us, as the major shareholders, to decide is whether he has broken the bylaws of our charter. I have brought with me evidence of his misuse of corporate funds. I have also brought evidence that he has embezzled the profits from shares. We'll go over each of these documents in turn and then open the floor to questions. When that is done, I intend to take a vote to force him to sell his holdings in this company, as per section four paragraph twelve of the company bylaws."

The meeting got interesting after that. The business men and women knew that it was in their best interests to distance themselves from the debacle their CEO had put himself in. The newspapers and media were already eating the story up. But formalities had to be adhered to and they went through the laborious process of examining the evidence against Tony's father item by item. They did not want to have a lawsuit on their hands after the fact.

Lunch was brought in and they continued with their discussion. Gibbs watched on in fascination. Tony was handling himself like he was born to the boardroom. In a way, Gibbs supposed he had been. But when it all came to a close, the board took a vote to buy out the former CEO's shares. After that, Tony stood to address the board again.

"There is one other item that I would like to address," Tony said. "I will be suing my father for the money that he stole from me directly, so there is no need to think that I will hold this company accountable for those losses. At the same time, I am reluctant to continue holding onto a family legacy that is so tainted. I currently hold fifty two percent of the shares of this company. According to company bylaws, I am offering this board first right to the thirty seven percent I am going to sell."

"That will leave you with only fifteen percent," Virgil stated.

"Yes, and it opens up the opportunity for a shift in power," Tony said. "I'm pretty sure that would be a good thing. I'll give the board the required week to respond, and then I'll offer those shares to the public."

"We will consider your proposal and get back to you in the allotted time," Virgil said.

Tony knew that if they didn't take the shares that there were a dozen corporate sharks that would jump on the opportunity to buy them. They may not get a majority, but 37 percent was more than any of the other board members currently held and enough to take over. At the same time, after buying out his father's twenty percent holdings it would drain the company financially to buy another 37 percent. Either way, Tony was glad to be out of it. His part was finished. He, Gibbs and Emma all left the room and soon the building.


The drive back to DC was quiet. There was nothing left to discuss, the bad guy had been caught, the meeting was over and now there was nothing left to do but reflect. Emma slept most of the way, but Tony stared out of the passenger window as Gibbs drove. It was already dark by the time they dropped Emma off and headed back towards Gibbs' house. Once inside, Tony went to the kitchen and began to cook, not even bothering to ask if Gibbs was hungry. Cooking would give him something to do besides brood.

He'd been to his favorite health food grocery on Sunday after the meeting with Emma and had gotten salmon steaks and some fresh vegetables. He worked on preparing a marinade for the salmon and then set about cutting up the vegetables to be grilled on the grill pan he had bought. It didn't take a lot of thought or time to put it all together, but Tony felt better after it was done. His mind was clearer and he thought he might actually be able to hold a decent conversation over dinner. He called Jethro, who was working on the boat and then set the table.

Gibbs came up the stairs and washed up in the sink before sitting down. "This looks really good. Didn't know you could cook."

Tony smiled, feeling a little more confident in his own skin. "One of those things I kept to myself. Hope you like salmon."

"Not as good at a steak, but I like it just fine," Gibbs said as he broke off a bite of the perfectly cooked fish.

"There are so many reasons why salmon is better for you," Tony said. "Not the least of which is the hormones the cattle ranchers use to bulk up their product. But I get that. I love steak too. And I always buy meat that hasn't been tainted with all kinds of hormones and chemicals."

"That health food stuff," Gibbs said. "You never eat like that at work. How can you go from organic to Twinkies?"

Tony laughed. "I probably won't so much now. I hate most of that crap. Well, okay, it tastes good, but I hate the way it makes me feel. And a lot of what people thought I ate was like the stuff with the girls. A few well timed snacks and most people just assumed that's all I ate. I doubt you've seen me eat a snack-cake more than once a week since I started at NCIS. And the other stuff… well, I did eat the hoagies and pizza and stuff. But if I was ordering, I usually ordered from a place that I know uses organic meats and produce."

"You mean that the mysterious Garry's Deli is actually a health food shop?" Gibbs almost choked on his tongue. "I've been eating from sandwiches from that place for years!"

"Yep," Tony grinned. "Healthy food is good for you."

"Thus the use of the word healthy," Gibbs drawled.

"Can I ask you a question?" Tony said.

"Nothing stopping you," Gibbs grunted, hoping this wasn't some sort of touchy-feely inquiry.

"Have you ever…?" Tony apparently couldn't finish the thought. It was okay, though since Gibbs knew what he was asking. Damn.

"No," Gibbs said. "But… You aren't the first man I've been attracted to, I just never acted on those feelings." Gibbs got up and went to the fridge for a beer. He grabbed two and opened them before handing one to Tony.


"Why didn't I act on them or why am I now?" Gibbs wanted to clarify.

"Both," Tony said and took a long gulp of his beer.

Gibbs stood by the counter and looked at Tony as he thought about his answer. "I never acted on those feelings because it never seemed worth the internal and external trouble it would cause."

"But you think I'm worth it?" Tony asked, his face an open book of emotion.

Gibbs nodded. "Truth is, no one has been worth the emotional upheaval since Shannon. Not even my ex-wives could get under my skin the way you do."

"Thanks," Tony said quietly, looking down at his now empty plate. "Um, how are we going to handle this? I mean, I've just stopped living a lie, I'm not sure I want to start again."

Gibbs walked over to Tony and pulled him to his feet and into his arms. "No lying. At the same time, I'm not sure that either of us is ready for this to be broadcast. Can we find a middle ground?"

Tony smiled wryly. "No lying, just avoiding. I suppose I can deal with that for now. Because I think you are worth the trouble too."

"Good to know," Gibbs said and kissed him.


The board came back with their decision. They would buy and distribute Tony's shares among themselves. The day the purchase went through, he also finally received his insurance check. He was now sitting on more money than he knew what to do with. Tony took an afternoon off to meet with his financial advisor and set up secure long-term investments that would pay out generous dividends and allow him to live a life of luxury without ever having to work another day in his life. It was funny but now that he had those kinds of funds, Tony really didn't want the money. That money was tainted with the misery of his childhood. But it was also a gift from his mother, so he accepted it.

His father's shares had been divested, and he was awaiting trial. He'd hired some high profile criminal attorney, but Tony was sure that there would be no acquitting the man. There was just too much evidence against him.

Tony spent his days working cases with the team, allowing them to really get to know the real him. He occasionally still called McGee 'Probie' and he still teased Kate, but the over the top antics he had become known for were conspicuously absent. Many of the agents who didn't work directly with their team chalked the change in behavior to the stress of the case against his father. Tony let them. It was stressful and it was, indirectly, the cause in his change.

The slow moving relationship between Gibbs and Tony, however, was of more concern to the younger agent than anything that might be said about him around NCIS. Gibbs wanted to take things slow and keep their relationship quiet, which was okay with Tony, except that he was starting to get rather antsy to move beyond the kiss and cuddle stage. It wouldn't be so hard if they weren't spending all day and all night together every day. As it was, Tony had to jerk off in the bathroom before joining Gibbs in his bed each night and jerking off again in the shower each morning just to keep things from getting out of hand, so to speak.

After a particularly simple case a few weeks after their trip to New York, one that required little thought and gave Tony too much time to brood, Tony decided that something had to change. If Gibbs wasn't ready to speed things up a little, Tony would have to find his own place. He probably should have done so already. He said as much over his homemade vegetarian lasagna that night.

"What are you talking about, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked. He only used Tony's last name at home when he was upset or annoyed. Tony wasn't sure which the case was this time.

"There's no need for me to keep staying here," Tony said. "My father is in jail, there's no one trying to kill me or destroy my life. There's no reason that you have to put up with me invading your home any longer."

Gibbs put down his fork and glared at Tony. "Your father and the fire were the only reasons you've been staying here?"

Tony's shoulders sagged. "No. But if we're taking things slow, it's probably best to take things slow in different residences."

"You're an idiot," Gibbs said and picked up his fork. He went back to his dinner as if the conversation was closed.

"Jethro," Tony said, forcing the man to look up at him. "It's too hard being this close all the time and not…"

"Oh." Gibbs looked uncomfortable all of a sudden.

"See, that's why I should go," Tony said.

"No, that's why you should stay," Gibbs argued. "Listen, it difficult for me too. But I don't want you to go. Maybe it's time we moved beyond making out. At least move it to the next step. And when things get to comfortable there, we'll move on again. Moving out isn't going to solve my issues, Tony. I know we're going about all this backwards, but I don't want to take a step back and I don't want you to move out. I like having you here. I like listening to you play your guitar while I work on the boat. I like the meals you cook, even if they are organic and healthy. I like watching football with you. I like being able to talk about work with you."

"You'll let me start paying some of the bills?" Tony asked.

Gibbs struggled with that. He knew Tony was independently wealthy now. He could probably afford to buy a mansion and a summer home and pay staff to keep them both. He knew that this wasn't really about money; it was about Tony making this house his home and being an equal partner in their relationship. It was about making this permanent as well. Gibbs was okay with all of that, but he struggled with giving up control over any part of his regimented life.

"Okay," Gibbs said. "We'll split the bills. And the chores."

Tony frowned. "I thought you had a cleaning lady. If not, we can get my old one to come out."

Gibbs smirked. Tony was showing his roots. "I do have a cleaning lady. And a landscaping service. It's to hard to take care of those things with the schedule we work. I was thinking more along the lines of cooking, dishes, laundry, groceries, the everyday things that Glenda doesn't take care of."

"Oh," Tony said. "I've never done laundry. I mean, in college, the team took care of that for the players. And after, I just always sent it out."

Gibbs chuckled. "I can teach you, or you can keep on KP. It's up to you."

"I probably should learn," Tony conceded. "Though I don't mind cooking or the dishes. Especially since you have a dishwasher."

"Why don't I teach you this weekend," Gibbs said. "Then we can rotate chores. You won't always want to be the one cooking, though I'll warn you I'm not as good as you."

They continued to hash out plans for the chores while they finished eating. The uneasiness of their earlier conversation completely forgotten.


Slowly, ever so slowly, their relationship continued to evolve. They had moved beyond making out to heavy petting and Gibbs seemed to be quite comfortable with that stage. It helped Tony's fragile ego to know that Gibbs wouldn't go running from the room if Tony had a hard on. It also helped that he didn't have to masturbate alone in the shower every morning, since Gibbs was happy to lend a hand with that these days.

Tony had convinced Gibbs to go with him to Tom and Alice's home for Thanksgiving. They had been happy to meet Gibbs after hearing about him for so long. Gibbs, for his part, was happy to see Tony relaxed with friends and acting like a doting godfather to Jill and Jeremy. They ate too much, watched football and generally had a great day.

They were back to work the next morning, working on the murder of a midshipman whose body was found outside a brothel. Two days of intensive investigation had led them to the sailor's best friend who had resented the way the working girls all cooed over his uniform and had beaten him to death in a drunken rage.

Gibbs had spent that Sunday convincing Tony to rearrange the furniture in the den, and then dragged the younger man out to his favorite music store.

"What are we doing here?" Tony asked.

"We're looking at pianos," Gibbs replied as he ran a hand over the polished finish of a baby grand. "This one is nice, isn't it?"

Tony stared at Gibbs for a long time before looking at the piano. He played a little bit and winced. "This looks impressive, but it's made more for the looks than the quality of sound it can produce. This one over here is much better." Played a few measures of some classical piece and smiled. Gibbs smiled back. He couldn't hear the difference, but if Tony could, that was what counted.

"Kawai makes some of the best pianos in the world," Tony said. "They're out of Japan. This is from their RX Blak series."

Gibbs walked over and glanced at the sales tag. "Good God, DiNozzo! This costs more than my car!"

Tony chuckled. "Did you think pianos were cheap? Even a decent upright costs more then ten grand."

They were interrupted then by a salesperson who Tony knew by name. She showed Tony a couple other baby grands, but Tony was sold on the Kawai. He also picked out a digital recorder that would attach to the piano and send the music to his pc, another recorder for his guitar and some sheet music. They arranged to have the piano delivered that week, and finally left.

"Why?" Tony asked once they were back in the car.

"I've wanted to hear you play again since that night at Angelica's," Gibbs admitted. "And since you're staying, it seemed like a good idea to get another piano."

Tony smiled in response. It was the happiest Tony had seemed since the whole thing with his father had started.


They spent their first Christmas together working a case. It wasn't unusual. All the teams took turns working the major holidays and this was their turn. They were actually lucky that there wasn't more than one case, since the holidays usually brought out the worst in people and it wasn't unusual to pull three cases on one holiday. This time, they only had a single murder case. A petty officer was killed in her bathroom apartment. A little digging and they were able to arrest her ex-boyfriend for the crime.

They finished up and had a nice long weekend for the New Year. Gibbs had planned a private celebration for the two of them New Year's eve and a team celebration, watching Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, for New Year's Day. Their private party was a memorable one. It was the first time they made love. An evening of champagne, a crackling fore in the hearth, curled up on the sofa watching Dick Clark had led to a night of slow intensely erotic sex that lasted well into the morning hours.

Despite their late night, Tony was up early. He turned on the Rose Parade and watched even as he started the preparations for their friends. This time, they were providing the food and the others would just bring beverages and dessert. Gibbs found him at ten that morning, stirring some sauce over a low flame as he watched the small TV Tony had insisted on installing in the kitchen. Now Gibbs understood why. The older man walked up behind his lover and wrapped his arms around him. Tony was careful to keep stirring even as Gibbs' lips and teeth claimed his neck.

"What are you making?" Gibbs asked. His breath tickled Tony's ear as he stood on his tip toes to look over Tony's shoulder.

"It's chili con queso for the nachos," Tony told him. "Better if you make it yourself. It's pretty simple, but the cheese has to be stirred constantly or it will burn. Once I add the chili, though, I'll put it in the warming dish."

"Anything I can do to help?" Gibbs asked as he pulled away and grabbed one of the carrot sticks Tony had sitting on a tray with dip.

"Not really," Tony shrugged. "The snacks are almost done, and the pork is already in the oven for the pulled pork sandwiches. And I won't want to start the wings until closer to kickoff. You could stop eating the veggies and put that tray into the fridge."

Gibbs finished his third celery stick and shrugged. He lifted the tray and put it into the already filled fridge. "What is all this stuff?"

"Well, I made potato salad and cole slaw to go with the sandwiches," Tony said even as he pulled the saucepan from the stove and began pouring the queso into the warming dish. "And I've made a veggie tray with yogurt dip. There's also a tray in there with a variety of cheeses and hard sausages. I'll add crackers to that tray when it's time to put the food out. I'll make the wings later. There's also the fruit salad and vegetarian lasagna which will go into the oven after the first quarter. Abby won't be able to eat the sandwiches, so I made an alternative. And then there's dessert."

Gibbs chuckled. "Go overboard much, DiNozzo?"

Tony, who was now washing the saucepan before the cheese sauce could harden, glared over his shoulder. "It's not overboard. These are our friends and I thought…"

"You want to impress them," Gibbs said. His tone was softer and more sympathetic.

"Not so much impress as show them that they are important to me," Tony said quietly. "To thank them for being there through everything that's happened lately."

"I think they know how important they are," Gibbs said. "But you're right; it's nice to show it sometimes. So what's for dessert?"

"I made a pineapple upside-down cake and chocolate éclairs," Tony said. "They're both in the fridge."

As Tony put the pan in the dish drainer Gibbs wrapped his arms around his lover again. "Is there anything else that needs to be done for say… the next hour?"

Tony turned in Gibbs' arms. "Not a damn thing."

"Good," Gibbs said and then kissed Tony breathless. "because I think going back to bed sounds pretty good right now."


"Where did you order these wings?" Tim asked a few hours later. The team had started to arrive around noon and were now watching the first quarter of the big game as they snacked.

"Didn't order them," Tony said without ever pulling his eyes from the large screen TV that now made it's home in Gibbs' living room. "Oh man! That hit was legal!"

Tim realized he wasn't going to get a clear answer from his colleague until a commercial break, so he turned to Gibbs. "Tony made everything. From scratch. Those wings probably came from hand fed free-range chickens who had a better life than most of us."

"What about the sauce?' Kate asked. "I've never had a sauce like it. Sweet, sour, spicy… it's really great."

"That's a recipe from one of my frat bothers," Tony said. The game was now in commercial break. "it's a mustard based sauce. The one I made for the pulled pork, though, is a honey barbeque sauce. You've got to try that one."

"Did you make me vegetarian lasagna?" Abby asked with a pouty pleading look on her face.

Tony laughed. "Of course."

"Goddy, goody!" Abby said as she bounced in her seat and clapped. "Tony makes the very BEST lasagna."

"I'm still trying to figure out when you learned to cook," Tim said dazed. "Every time we'd go over to your place for movie night, you'd order in pizza."

"Hush," Tony commanded. "The games back on."

After the first quarter was over, Gibbs went to the kitchen to put the lasagna into the oven and set the timer. It was the least he could do after all the work Tony had done. Ducky followed him into the room and watched for a minute without speaking.

"Spit it out, Duck."

"I was just wondering if you and Tony were going to tell the team about you today, of if we are all going to keep pretending that Tony's still living with you because he can't find his own place," Ducky said.

Gibbs hesitated, "Everyone knows?"

Ducky shrugged. "Timothy may not have put all the pieces together yet, but I've heard Kate and Abby speaking about it. And Gerald has actually asked me about it."

Gibbs leaned heavily against the counter. "We weren't planning on saying anything, but… I'll talk to Tony later."

"They are all happy for you," Ducky said. "And I'm sure they will keep it to themselves."

Gibbs and Ducky went back to the living room, but Gibbs was lost in thought for the rest of the half. Once half-time came, Tony headed for the kitchen with Gibbs on his heels. While Tony worked on the pork, Gibbs related everything that Ducky had said.

"Oh," Tony said. Gibbs was beginning to recognize this response. It was what Tony said when he wasn't sure what to say and needed time to formulate a response.

Tony tore up the pork and then poured sauce over it while Gibbs carried the salads and lasagna to the dining room table where they had set up a buffet, complete with Ohio State plastic dishes and serving bowls. There was even a small statuette of Brutus (Gibbs recalled the fun he'd had teasing Tony about that name) holding an Ohio State flag as a centerpiece. There were Ohio State napkins and scarlet and gray silverware. Tony had even found Ohio State coasters for the living room and a bottle opener that played the OSU fight song each time you used it. Gibbs had laughed when he'd first seen the flag that had replaced the US flag that normally decorated his front porch. The banner over the fireplace, however, was Gibbs' favorite touch.

When he went back to the kitchen, Tony handed him the pork and then carried the lasagna to the table. They went back to the kitchen and Tony pulled some condiments from the fridge and set them on the counter. He paused there, clasping the edge of the counter for a minute before turning around.

"So, are we going to tell them?" Tony finally asked.

"We probably should," Gibbs said and pulled Tony into his arms. "It can wait until after the game, though."

Tony nodded and absorbed comfort from his lover's embrace. "Over dessert."

"Okay," Gibbs said and gave Tony a small kiss before letting him go.

Tony took a minute to pull himself together before returning to the living room.

"Food's on," he told everyone. "Help yourselves. But remember to leave room for dessert after the game."


The coffee was on and the dessert out in the dining room, but Tony was still hiding in the kitchen. Watching the Buckeyes' win against USC had kept him from dwelling too much on the coming conversation, but now… Now there was nothing left but the truth. He still had a hard time with that. He'd told Gibbs that he didn't want to live a lie anymore, but at the same time, it was difficult for him to share his private feelings even with his closest friends.

"You ready?" Gibbs asked.

Tony gave a half-hearted smile to his lover. "As I'll ever be."

Tony grabbed the coffee pot while Gibbs grabbed the carafe of hot water and the tray of teabags. The cups and cream and sugar were already in the dining room. They set those out and then went to tell everyone to help themselves to dessert and coffee. Ten minutes later, they were all seated in the living room enjoying the fruits of Tony's labor.

"So, Tony and I have something we need to say to all of you," Gibbs finally spoke up after the others had finished praising Tony's baking skills. A silence fell over the group and Tony swallowed hard. "Tony's not going to find his own place. He's going to be living here permanently."

There were looks exchanged and knowing smiles. Tim looked a bit confused, but Abby leaned over to whisper in his ear and then he looked surprised, though not unhappy.

"We aren't going to lie about our relationship, but we aren't going to advertise it either," Gibbs went on even as he grabbed Tony's hand. "There's no policy against dating in the workplace, as long as it is consensual. And Tom Morrow would, I'm sure would be understanding of the situation, but he's retiring next year and who knows what the next director might think. They might force one or both of us to transfer teams."

"No!" Abby cried out.

"Don't worry, boss," Tim said. "No one will hear anything from us."

"We're a team," Kate agreed. "We protect our own."

"Congratulations," Gerald said with a smile. Then the others all put in their happy wishes.

A little later, while Ducky, Tim and Gibbs were cleaning up, Abby turned to Tony with a thoughtful look on her face. Tony was afraid that she was going to ask some personal question about him and Gibbs. Instead she said, "You should play something for us. I've been listening to that CD you gave me for months, but I've never seen you play."

Tony chuckled. "Okay." He looked to Kate and Gerald. "Come into the den. We've sort of turned it into a music room."

The piano now took up about a third of the room, but there were still a couple wing backed chairs and the bookshelves still lined the walls. Tony's acoustic guitar was in one corner beside the desk with his computer and the digital recorder. There was sheet music propped on a music stand and music that had obviously been printed of Tony's own songs.

Kate and Gerald took the seats while Abby joined Tony on the piano bench. Tony began playing a classical piece by Chopin to warm up. After that was finished, Abby asked him to play one of his songs. By this time the others had finished the work in the kitchen and had joined them. Gibbs stood just inside the door, leaning against the jamb.

"Okay," Tony agreed. He began playing a pieced he'd been working on for weeks. He'd written it with Gibbs in mind. After a brief musical introduction, he began to sing:

"There was never another who sees me the way you do

Who looks past the façade and understands the truth

So when you reach out your hand

And tell me I can stand

I trust."

The song went on for several verses, and each one showed a little more of the real Tony, the Tony who had been hiding his entire life. Gibbs knew that these people were, that he was, being trusted with a piece of Tony's heart and soul. And it seemed as though they knew it as well. After the last notes had been played, they all remained frozen and silent.

"That was beautiful," Abby said as she wiped tears from her eyes. She pulled Tony into a tight hug. "Thank you."

After that, Tony played some upbeat songs, mixing his own with songs the others could sing along with him.


The trial came faster than Tony had anticipated. He'd known it was coming, but he had somehow forced the thought out of his mind and ignored the worried glances the others gave him. Now, however, he was standing outside the courtroom waiting for the trial to begin. He was not going to testify. The others had done the majority of the investigation, and the prosecutor didn't think it was necessary. Gibbs, Abby, Kate and Tim would all give testimony, though.

"You okay?" Jethro asked. Tony nodded. "The prosecutor put me first on the witness list, so I'll be able to finish my part early and join you." As a witness, Gibbs wasn't allowed into the courtroom until he had testified so that his testimony wasn't tainted by anything said by others.

"I'll be okay," Tony said, though he was pacing the hall. "I just want this part over with."

Just then, the bailiff opened the courtroom doors and allowed the public to enter. Tony smiled at Gibbs and went inside. He saw that there were a number of reporters in the room, but the court didn't allow television cameras or photographers, Tony was pleased to note. He really didn't want his face plastered all over the evening news.

It wasn't long before hs father was brought in, dressed in an expensive suit and looking no worse for the months he had spent in jail. His bail had been denied because he posed a flight risk with his international contacts and vast wealth. Other than his hair being a bit less than perfect, no doubt because of the quality of barber the jail employed, he looked just the way Tony remembered him.

The opening arguments took about a half hour each, and Tony sat through them both listening intently. He knew the facts of the case, but it was interesting to see how the two lawyers would argue their respective sides. Then Gibbs was called to testify. Tony nearly held his breath the entire time Jethro was on the stand. There was always a chance that the defense lawyer might have dug up dirt about their relationship. But when the defense lawyer was done, and the prosecutor had no further questions, Tony let out a sigh of relief. There was a short recess and Gibbs joined Tony.

The day dragged on as each piece of evidence was examined and re-examined over an over again by both sides. The break for lunch was welcome, but after that, it was a long grueling afternoon of more witnesses and the videos of both Michaels' and Tony's father's interrogations. The prosecutor liked to play those videos a lot, asking Gibbs, Kate and Timothy about procedure that was followed during the questioning. Tony understood that he wanted the jurors to really remember those tapes.

They broke for the day around 6:30, and Tony and Gibbs went home. They were back at the courthouse early the next day. This went on for five days, until both the prosecution and defense had presented their cases. On Friday afternoon, they made their closing arguments and the jury went out to deliberate. The prosecutor promised to call them when the verdict was in, so Tony and Gibbs went home once again.

That night, Tony let Gibbs order pizza and spent much of the evening playing classical pieces on the piano, difficult pieces that would force him to concentrate on the music instead of his churning emotions. Gibbs worked on the boat for a while but eventually wandered up to the den and sat in one of the chairs to read and listen to Tony play. That was where they were when Tony's cell phone rang.

"They've reached a decision." It was the prosecutor. "The judge thinks it too late to reconvene tonight, so we'll be back in court at 8 am."

"We'll be there," Tony said. "Any idea how this will go?"

"I learned a long time ago never to make those sorts of guesses," the lawyer said ruefully. "Juries inevitably surprise me."

"Thanks," Tony said and hung up. He turned to Jethro. "8am tomorrow we'll get to hear the verdict."

"Okay," Gibbs said. "Let's go to bed. We could both use the sleep."

"I'm not sure I could sleep," Tony sighed.

"Then come to bed and let me tire you out until you can," Gibbs said holding out his hand to Tony. Tony took it and smiled.


"We the jury find the defendant guilty," The jury foreman said clearly in response to the judge's question regarding the charge of murder. As each charge was read out, the response was the same. Embezzlement, conspiracy to commit murder, fraud… every charge was the same. Guilty. The judge scheduled a date for sentencing and then it was all over. It wasn't even 9 o'clock yet.

"It's over," Tony sighed as the reporters and other spectators left the room. "It's finally over."

"It is," Gibbs agreed and put a comforting arm around Tony's shoulders. "And now you can move on with your life."

"With you," Tony said with a sudden smile. "Now we can move on together."

Mindful of the others still present in the courtroom, Gibbs did not give in and kiss his lover, but his eyes promised the world and Tony's smile reflected his acceptance. They would carve out their life together and find happiness despite the horrible things in both their pasts because they now had a second chance at love.

"I love you."

"I love you too."

The End