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Sensing Evil

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"God," Tony said, turning away, covering his nose and mouth with his hands, and trying very hard not to gag. He stumbled back out the front door and right into Kate.

"You're going the wrong way, DiNozzo," Gibbs commented.

"You don't look so good," Kate added, with a worried look at Gibbs.

"It's a bad one," Tony bit out amid convulsive swallowing so he wouldn't throw up. He was absolutely not going to hurl in front of Gibbs. As the rest of them hesitated at the doorway, Tony was at least gratified to see that they weren't assuming his warning was nothing but hyperbole.

They all slowly entered the house. Kate and McGee looked stern and apprehensive. Gibbs just looked like Gibbs. Maybe he'd seen something like this before, Tony thought. Tony knew he sure as hell hadn't. That motel room with the pieces of sliced flesh all over the place had nothing on this.

Taking a deep breath, girding his loins so to speak, Tony got ready to go back in the room. He wished he had a latex body suit to put over his clothes. Honestly, he thought they'd need a priest to exorcise the room.

He barely got out of the way when McGee barreled out of the room to puke over the small railing into a bush. Tony didn't blame him at all. He was impressed Kate was still in there. "You okay, McGee?" Tony asked. He'd give him shit about puking later; now was not the time.

McGee looked like he wanted to cry. "How can people do stuff like that?" he asked in horror in between gagging.

"I have no idea, Probie," Tony said. People could be monsters, and there weren't always explanations. "Okay, I'm going back in." He snapped on some gloves, took off his suit jacket and laid it over the railing on the other side from where McGee was puking. The rest of his outfit would end up in the incinerator, but he'd at least save the jacket.

On his way in, he bumped into Kate who was on her way out, looking green and miserable. Rather than stay to hear her lose her lunch, Tony went back into the room to stand by Gibbs.

Even Gibbs looked a little unsettled. It was a lot to take in. Their victim had been a man. His penis and scrotum had been cut off and artfully displayed at the kitchen table on a china plate. In a salad bowl were all ten of the man's fingers, covered with salad dressing. His ten toes were arranged around his reproductive organs. His eyes floated in a glass of chardonnay. A good one, if memory served Tony correctly after spying the bottle.

That wasn't even the worst of it. The murderer had been eating his trophies. One of the fingers had already been chewed down to the bone like a pork rib. There were a couple of slices cut from the penis, one half eaten, and the knife and fork he'd used were balanced oh-so-politely on the edge of the plate.

"This was one sick fuck," Tony observed, swallowing. The whole thing was beyond creepy. And not just because of what had been done. It was as if the murderer--although Tony thought that was much too tame a word--had left his taint behind. He knew no one was here; the LEOs had already confirmed that fact, having arrived on the scene first. But even though Tony knew the murderer was gone, it felt as if the intent was still there; as if he were hovering nearby, enjoying their reaction.

Gibbs caught Tony's eyes, and Tony thought that maybe Gibbs could feel it, too. Gibbs looked behind him at the front door, pursed his lips at the sound of Kate throwing up, and held out his hand. "Give me the camera. You sketch."

Tony nodded. Maybe his time as a cop had toughened him up enough to be able to stay; certainly he'd seen some bad shit go down. He retrieved the bag from inside the door where he'd initially put it, pulled out the camera and handed it off to Gibbs. He then retrieved his sketch pad and measuring tape. "How much of this was he alive for, do you think?" Tony asked. Tony knew he was alive for some of it. The expression of horror and pain on the man’s face hadn’t been eased by his death.

"Most of it," Gibbs said tightly. "'Til he bled out."

There was no blood on the couch. Their victim was sitting up, made to look like he was waiting for company, pillows behind him to keep him upright. Hands--fingerless hands--resting on his thighs.

Tony listened to Gibbs snap photos as he walked into the bedroom. It was obvious this was where the actual bloodletting had taken place. It looked like someone had thrown buckets of blood on the walls and carpet, and the linens on the bed were soaked. Tony took in the pattern of the blood, trying to determine what actions had resulted in what stains. Some he could explain, some he couldn't.

Lifting his sketch pad, he quickly drew the whirls of blood on the blank page. When he was finished, he returned to the living room and sketched their victim. After this, he'd have to go sketch the macabre dinner, something he wasn't looking forward to. He wanted to grab his own cock and balls to make sure they were still right where they were supposed to be.

Eyeing the victim again, and seeing the gaping hole where the man's penis used to be was enough to finally make Tony check. He touched himself quickly, even though what he really wanted to do was hold himself, cradle his warm flesh, feel it respond, make sure it was all in working order.

"Everything still there, DiNozzo?" he heard from Gibbs. There was no censure in his tone.

"Just making sure, boss," Tony said, with one last squeeze. He turned to Gibbs, ready to defend himself from any gibes, but all he saw in Gibbs' eyes was understanding.

"I don't blame you," Gibbs said. "I just did the same thing."

There was a commotion at the door and then Ducky was there, Palmer in tow. "It's a bad one, Ducky," Gibbs warned. "Really bad."

"So I hear. And see. And smell. It sounds like everyone's been losing… Good Lord," Ducky exclaimed, seeing their victim for the first time.

"I need a time of death," Gibbs said.

"And cause?" Ducky asked.

"No, when you see the bedroom and the blood spin art in there," Tony said, "I think you'll agree that the guy bled out."

"Let's leave the cause of death to me, shall we, Anthony?" Ducky advised kindly.

Gladly, Tony thought. Ducky's profession, and his constant dabbling in horrific body parts, must lend itself to a sterner stomach. The ME seemed more intrigued by the scenario in front of him than troubled. Of course, he hadn't seen the two course meal on the kitchen table yet.

McGee made his way back in, and Gibbs gave him the camera. "Do the bedroom," he ordered. As Kate stumbled in behind him, Gibbs took the tape measurer from Tony and handed it to her.

She nodded, flashed Tony a I-don't-get-paid-enough-money-for-this look--that Tony could completely relate to--and headed for the bedroom.

After his sketching was complete, Tony went outside to talk to the neighbors. Considering how long the guy had been alive before bleeding out, someone must have heard something. Tony found himself wondering why the guy’s tongue hadn’t been on the menu, then cursed himself for his overactive imagination. His stomach roiled. "Sick, sick fuck," he murmured.

The two neighbors on either side weren't home. The neighbor across the street was an old woman who had to squint her eyes to see Tony two feet away and responded with, "What? What?" to everything he said. The next houses down in either direction also had people at home. At one door he was met by a young housewife with two small toddlers, one of whom didn't stop screaming the entire time Tony was there. He couldn't imagine she could hear herself think let alone hear a crime being committed.

At the other house he was met by another young woman. This one did her best to proposition Tony into bed. Tony wasn't tempted at all. She was a little too young-- high school young. She hadn't heard a thing either, not surprisingly, given the iPOD earplugs stuck in her ears.

Tony could hear Kate talking to the neighbor the next house down across the street from where Tony was. Kate was getting her ear talked off. One of those people who loved it when their doorbell rang because it meant they could talk to a live human being.

As he headed for the next house on his side of the street, he could feel Miss Jailbait watching his ass. He wanted to go back in there and tell her he was old enough to be her father. Which made Tony want to cry because a) how scary was it that he was old enough to beanyone's dad, and b) he really did want to go in there and tell her he was old enough to be her father.

He struck out at every house. On the bright side, he got propositioned again by someone old enough for him to date, though the wedding ring on her left hand was a turn off. Tony may have been a sex fiend, at least in Kate's estimation, but he did have some rules, and too young and too married were two of them. Granted, it was a short list of rules, but Tony stuck by them. There were too many beautiful, willing women in the world to take a chance with the ones that could end up with him in jail or beaten to a bloody pulp. And that didn't even include the beautiful, willing men. Or the beautiful, unwilling men, he thought with a frustrated frown as he headed back to Gibbs and the victim's house.

That was when he saw her. An old black woman sitting on a bench across the street from the victim's house. He would have sworn on a stack of bibles that there hadn't been a bench there before, and Tony knew he wouldn't have missed her. She wore a royal blue sari, or something long that wrapped around her body, with red and yellow ribbon trimming. It fell to mid-shin, and her feet were bare. There were dozens of gold, silver, and beaded bracelets on her wrists, and her hair was tied back in a severe bun. To top off the whole ensemble, she wore a pair of glasses with leopard print frames. She grinned at him revealing two gold-capped front teeth.

He blinked at her, then looked around to see if there was a bus stop nearby that had just disgorged her. Nothing. Apparently, he had walked right by her, her and her bench. He smiled back at her, pulling out his badge. "Hi, ma'am, my name is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

She stared up at him, still smiling.

Maybe she didn't speak English. Maybe she was deaf. "Ma'am," he tried again.

She stood up. The top of her head came to his shoulders. "You have a pure soul," she announced. "A pure soul."

Okay. "Thanks," he said. He was pretty sure it was a little spotted, but there was no reason to blow her little fantasy. "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about--" He'd been about to point at the house when she shivered.

"A great evil has been here," she said, sounding like a fortune teller.

No shit, Tony thought, even as her pronouncement sent an odd finger of dread down his spine. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he encouraged. "Did you see something?"

"A great evil," she said firmly, staring up at Tony. "Only someone with a pure soul can fight against it."

"Did you see something?" he asked again, ignoring her oracle-like sayings. "It's really important."

She grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip. "This is not the first time it's killed, and it won't be the last. You must stop it."

"Uh. Right. That's what I'm trying to do. So, did you see what happened? Did you see anyone enter or leave the house?"

She looked up at him again; her eyes had gone completely white.

Tony took an instinctive step back. "Whoa."

Then they were back to the original dark brown. "I can help," she whispered. "I can give you a gift."

"Ah, you know what?" Tony said, taking another step back. "I think I'm gonna pass on that, if that's all right." He fished out a card and handed it to her. "If you remember anything, give me a call."

She snatched the card and stared at it intently.

Tony already regretted giving her the card. He wondered how many crackpot calls he'd be fielding from her and thought about snatching it back.

But before he could put his thoughts into action, the card was gone. She somehow secreted it on her person without him seeing where it ended up. "When it strikes again," she said, "come see me. I know you are the one."

Tony just managed to not roll his eyes. "How very Matrix of you," he quipped.

"DiNozzo," came a yell from across the street.

For once, he was glad to hear Gibbs' bellow. "My master calls," he said with a grin.

Like a striking snake, her hand darted out and wrapped around his arm again. "Do not wait too long. Its power is growing."

"I won't," he humored her, backing away until her hand slipped off. Then he turned and trotted across the street.

"She know anything?" Gibbs asked him.

"Oh, good, you can see her?"

Gibbs shot him a look. "Am I not supposed to?"

Tony waved him off. "Never mind."

"So, did she know anything?" Gibbs asked again, any semblance of patience gone.

"I'm not a psychiatrist," Tony offered, "but that woman? Total fruitloop."

Gibbs shot her a look, shot Tony a look, and then yelled for Kate and McGee.

The stretcher bearing the victim went by Tony, closely attended by Ducky and Palmer. Tony sincerely hoped they'd remembered to take all the pieces. They loaded the body aboard the truck, and then Ducky and Palmer drove off.

When the truck turned the corner and was lost from sight, Tony found his eyes moving back to the old woman.

She was gone.

And so was the bench.

Tony rubbed his eyes. When he looked again, there still wasn't a bench. "Oh, boy," he muttered. He almost called Gibbs out of the house, but decided it wasn't worth it. All it would get him was another one of those looks, and Tony was already approaching his quota for the day. The head slapping wouldn't be far behind.

He walked back in the house and was very glad to see that dinner, including plates and silverware had all been bagged, tagged, and taken elsewhere. With that gruesome display and the victim gone, it was like any other murder scene. The four of them started searching the rest of the house, looking for information about their victim, and why his life had ended so viciously.

It had been a frustrating two days, and Gibbs was about ready to put his fist through a wall. While they now knew everything about their victim, a Naval Lieutenant home on leave, they had no idea who had killed him or why. No one in the neighborhood had heard a thing. Even more frustrating was that it looked like the anonymous tip the LEOs had received had come from the victim's house. None of them thought it was a cry for help, the murderer setting himself up to be caught. Rather, it sounded as if their perpetrator simply wanted to make sure someone appreciated his or her efforts.

Gibbs knew he was sharing his misery a little too much. Even Abby was mad at him, and each day Gibbs had come into work expecting to find Tony's resignation on his desk. He was nearing the two year mark, and that was about as long as he'd lasted in his last three jobs.

Gibbs found it easier to take his frustration out on Tony. Maybe it was because the guy was so resilient. All of Gibbs' bad temper just seemed to roll off him like water off a duck's back. Or maybe it was because Gibbs didn't want anyone to see him show the least bit of favoritism, even though technically, unfortunately, there wasn't any motive for favoritism. Nonetheless, Gibbs knew he gave Tony more shit than was warranted sometimes.

In the back of Gibbs' mind, if he'd been able to give Tony a blowjob at the end of a hard day, it would make up for his attitude, but that piece of the equation was definitely missing--something else Gibbs was cranky about. Especially because Tony was wearing that damn grey turtleneck, the one that brought out his eyes and highlighted his physique, and made Gibbs want to shove him in a storage closet and lick him all over. It didn't help that Gibbs was imagining hickeys all over Tony's neck making a turtleneck necessary.

Annoyed at the way his mind was wandering, Gibbs turned to Kate. "Anything?"

She shook her head. "No. This MO doesn't match anything in the serial killer database. There aren't any other cases reported in this area, naval or otherwise that match this one."

Another dead end. Gibbs thought about that dinner of so artfully arranged body parts, and it made him even angrier that this fucker was going to get away with it. His phone rang. "Gibbs," he snapped into it.

He listened to the caller, spun his chair to look at a map. "We'll be there in twenty." He normally would have hung up by now, but he found himself asking, "Is it as bad as last time?"

"Yes," was the curt response.

Gibbs hung up cursing. He glanced at his crew to see them all looking at him, various expressions of distress on their faces.

"Is it our guy?" Tony asked with a grimace.

Gibbs nodded. "Another anonymous tip. Get Ducky and the truck." He holstered his weapon and shrugged into his jacket. "Hope no one spent a lot of money on lunch."

It was a woman this time, which to Tony's mind made it all that much worse. Sure, there weren't any cut off penises on display--which was a relief--but seeing nipples on a plate almost had Tony running for the bushes.

He'd eaten two of her fingers. With dipping sauce. Her tongue had been cut into bite sized pieces.

That got McGee running. Kate kept it together but she was gagging, which wasn't helping. Tony caught her touching her breasts at least once, and totally didn't blame her for that.

The creep had set the second victim up as if she was doing yoga, on a mat and everything. Tony was sure some yoga expert could identify the position she was in. It no doubt had a name, too, something apropos like Night Falling, or Finding the Ultimate Stillness, or This is Your Bus Stop, Get Off the Fucking Bus.

Tony hated this guy.

They took photos, sketched, measured, bagged and tagged, and then Tony hit the streets. Again, impossibly, no one had heard anything. No one remembered seeing a car arriving or leaving. No one heard doors slamming, or walls being pounded, or anything out of the ordinary.

He was heading back toward the house when he saw her. The old black woman. For a crazy moment he wondered if she was the killer. While it was true that most serial killers were white males, every now and then there were exceptions. Walking toward her, he noticed she was on another bench. Actually it looked like the same bench. A bench that Tony swore hadn't been there before.

"You're here," he said. "Why are you here?"

She just smiled at him.

"I need to ask you some questions," Tony pressed on. He didn't actually think she'd done anything, but he felt like he should take her in. "I'll need you to come with me."

She shook her head. "You won't find the answers that way."

He held out his hand palm forward, telling her to stay as if she were a dog. "Wait a second." He hollered, "Gibbs." Then he turned back to her. "What do you mean?"

"You can't fight evil with your guns."

"Actually, you can," Tony said kindly.

"Not this kind of evil," she said.

"What?" Gibbs bellowed in return.

"Come here," Tony yelled back.

"This kind of evil," she said as if not interrupted, "can only be fought by the pure of soul."

Tony furrowed his brow. "Well, you already told me I had a pure soul, so maybe if you gave me some information, I'd be able to find this sicko."

"You must accept my gift. It is the only thing that can help you win against it."

"What gift?"

Gibbs crossed the street at a trot. Tony walked half-way across to meet him, wanting to talk for a second without her overhearing. "This is the same woman who was at the last killing. I think we should take her in. She doesn't make a lot of sense, but she might know something."

"What woman?" Gibbs asked.

Tony turned around. She was gone. And so was her freaking bench. "Fuck," Tony growled. "She was right here."

"That old black woman?" Gibbs inquired.


"So, where'd she go?"

Tony looked up and down the street. "I have no freaking idea." He let out a deep frustrated sigh.

"Isn't she the one you said was fruitloops?"

Tony nodded. "But she was here. That puts her at the scene of both murders. Don't you think that's weird?"

"Next time just cuff her and put her in the car, DiNozzo," Gibbs advised, heading back across the street.

"Just cuff her," Tony said under his breath. "Her and that bench."

Two unsolved cases and Gibbs was fit to be tied. No relationship between the victims, other than both being naval officers. No fingerprints, no clues, no DNA of any kind. And no witnesses. It was as if the crimes had been committed by a ghost.

All of his team looked wasted. Not surprising, given the type of cases. Gibbs had almost made a run outside to anoint the bushes, and he'd thought he'd seen it all. Whoever was doing these killings didn't have a soul.

His phone rang. "Gibbs."

"You might want to come down here, Jethro," Ducky said.

Gibbs was fairly certain he didn't want to do anything of the sort. "Be right there." He stood. "DiNozzo, you're with me." Tony was the only one who hadn't puked, so maybe he'd be okay hearing whatever Ducky had to say.

"You got it, boss," Tony said, clicking a few buttons on his computer, then standing. "Where we going?"

"To see Ducky."

Tony grimaced, no doubt realizing what the topic of conversation was going to be. "Great." McGee and Kate both gave him commiserating looks. Sighing, Tony stepped out of his cubicle.

Gibbs shot a look at Kate and McGee. "Find this guy," he ordered.

McGee nodded, determined, and went back to his computer screen. Kate sighed and picked up the phone. Tony followed Gibbs down to the morgue.

"Our perpetrator is very strong, Jethro," Ducky said seriously. "This second body confirms it. All the removed body parts were, well, I don't suppose there's a genteel way to say this…"

"Just say it," Gibbs snapped.

"Yes, well, they were ripped off by hand."

Tony and Gibbs exchanged a look of dismay. To Ducky, Gibbs said, "Why did it take two bodies to figure this out?"

"Good question," Ducky said approvingly, moving them over to the dead body lying on the slab. He lifted up a fingerless hand, and touched the area where an index finger used to be attached. "My first impression was that the fingers were sawed off, as there is some shearing. The edges weren't fine enough to indicate a sharp knife or other such implement."

"And?" Gibbs prompted when Ducky seemed to have stopped.

"Right. It just reminds me of a case I studied while in medical school. They found ten bodies, and all of them were missing their fingers and toes. However, in that case--"

"Ducky," Gibbs bit out, grinding his teeth. "This case." He gestured at the body lying in front of them. The fingerless, toeless, eyeless, nippleless body in front of them. Gibbs couldn't stop looking at the exposed underlying fat and muscle where the nipples should have been. What had been done to this body, and the other one, was a desecration.

Ducky cleared his throat. "Of course."

"Could we," Tony started, then swallowed, "could we, you know, cover her up a little?" He touched his chest. "You know, here. It just--" He swallowed again. "It's just…I mean, I know we've seen hundreds of murder victims down here, and they've all been bad to look at, but having her lie here like this, it just feels wrong."

Gibbs studied Tony, surprised at the request. "Why? Why this case?" Gibbs waited for the answer, feeling like it might be important.

Tony shook his head as if not sure he had the words. "That black lady, the one I told you about?" he asked Gibbs.


"She said," Tony said haltingly, "that the person who did this was evil, and I believe her. And somehow, even though I know you have nothing but respect for the bodies that come in here, Ducky, it just feels that having her lying here, naked, exposed, it's like we're putting his work on exhibit. And it's what he'd want. He'd get off on it." He shook his head again. "Stupid. Never mind."

Gibbs and Ducky both stared at Tony. Gibbs felt a flicker of dread for no reason he could gather, like someone was dancing on his grave. Like that evil Tony spoke of was maybe in this room, enjoying their frustration.

He studied Tony some more, even as he saw Ducky, in his peripheral vision, get a cloth to cover her up. Gibbs had seen this before in the best profilers. This ability to actually get into the head of the murderer, to blurt out these things, these scenarios as if they were truth. Gibbs believed what Tony was saying.

It had always creeped Gibbs out when he saw profilers speak this way, and this time was no exception. Even more than creeping him out, it made Gibbs feel afraid for Tony. Suddenly, in a prescient moment of his own, Gibbs knew that Tony would end up paying a price for this knowledge. A steep price.

"Thanks, Ducky," Tony said a little sheepishly.

Gibbs snapped out of his ghoulish reverie, and when he turned back to the body, she was covered from collar bone to knees. Gibbs felt immeasurably better. "Go on," he said to Ducky.

As if he hadn't been interrupted, Ducky said, "When the second body had the same shearing injuries, I looked at one of the fingers under the microscope, and realized that the finger hadn't just been shorn off using a saw or serrated knife, it had been torn off."

"It's too neat an injury for it to have been torn off," Gibbs argued. He'd seen limbs torn off by accident, and they were a mess of bone fragments and shredded muscles.

"By someone like you or me, you'd be correct," Ducky said, finger up.

Gibbs frowned. "What are you saying?"

"What I said at the beginning," Ducky said. "This murderer was extraordinarily strong. Other than the nipples, which were cut off, no doubt to make sure the edges were exact, all the other extractions, on both bodies, were done by hand."

"How is that possible? Who could be that strong?" Tony asked.

"I don't know," Ducky answered with a frown, "but there is no evidence that any tools were used at all."

"Were there fingerprints?" Gibbs demanded. "Any DNA?"

"None," Ducky said shortly, "and no latex residue either."

Gibbs went back to his original question. "How strong? What are we looking for?"

Ducky looked distinctly uncomfortable, an expression Gibbs rarely saw on his old friend's face. "If I had to guess, I'd say that someone with superhuman strength killed these people. Someone strong enough to rip off someone's fingers just as we might part a grape from its stem," Ducky said graphically.

"Someone superhuman, without fingerprints or, apparently, DNA," Gibbs said disparagingly.

"I didn't say you were going to like what I'd found," Ducky said, somewhat defensively. "But the evidence is there, and Abby has confirmed everything I've told you."

Gibbs had no doubt of that. Ducky wouldn't have come out with this crazy theory without Abby's input. In fact, it sounded like one of Abby's extreme stories.

"So even that guy's…" Tony asked, face contorted into a painful grimace.

"Yes," Ducky said sympathetically. "Even that."

"Man," Tony said, covering his groin with his hands. "That's just, ugh, wrong."

Gibbs couldn't agree more. "Do we know anything else?" Other than a supposition too outrageous to even think about which didn't help at all. Gibbs could imagine someone strong enough to eventually work off someone's finger, snapping the bone, making an initial tear, twisting and twisting until the tissue grew fragile enough to pull off, but that would take time, and leave much more obvious signs behind than what had happened to these bodies. "No traces of drugs?"

"None," Ducky said morosely.

"That doesn't make sense," Tony said, frustrated. "They weren't drugged, their bodies didn't show any sign of struggle, so what, they just sat there, quietly, and watched as this guy ripped parts off of them? They weren't dead long enough by the time we found them for someone to do it all afterward."

"Could they have been given something fast acting?" Gibbs asked. "Something you might not find?"

"Unlikely, considering the times of death. But anything's possible," Ducky admitted honestly. "I'll work with Abby further."

"Let me know what you find," Gibbs directed.

Tony's phone rang. "DiNozzo," he answered. After a moment, Tony said, "Who is this?"

The look on his face alerted Gibbs, and he quickly called Abby. "Trace the caller on Tony's phone," he snapped.

"Why are you calling me?" Tony hit a button on the side of his phone, activating the speaker phone function.

The speaker was a man, but his voice sounded disguised; no normal human had a voice like that. "Why not?" the man asked. "You've been present at my last two exhibits; I'd hate for you to miss one."

The use of the word exhibit, the word Tony had used when speaking of the killer, made Gibbs' stomach knot up. Maybe it was a coincidence, but maybe it wasn't. He'd have to have Abby check for bugs, both on Tony, and in the morgue.

"What are you trying to tell us?" Tony asked.

Gibbs turned away to keep the man on the phone from overhearing as he softly asked Abby, "Anything?"

"No, but I'm getting there. It's close by," Abby told him.

"That humans are weak," the man said, a sneer in his voice. "That no one is safe."

"You don't think you're human?" Tony inquired, watching Gibbs.

"Got it," Abby said exultantly in Gibbs' ear. "He's right down the street, pay phone on Arlington and 5th."

Gibbs waved at Tony, and they both took off at a run, Tony's phone in hand.

"I know I'm not human, Anthony," the killer said. "I'm something so much better."

They were in the bullpen now, grabbing guns, shushing McGee when he made as if to speak. At Gibbs' silent direction, McGee sprinted to go get the car. Meanwhile, Gibbs called the LEOs, knowing they could get to the phone booth faster than his team would.

"So is that why you're calling?" Tony asked. "To brag?"

There was a sharp laugh. "No, I wanted to let you know that there'll be another exhibit for you later tonight. And I wanted you to know that I was thinking of you."

"So you haven't killed them, yet?" Tony demanded. "Let's come up with a new plan. Let's meet, you and me, and we can talk." They were outside now, piling into the car, Gibbs driving, Tony in the front seat, Kate and McGee in the back.

"There's time for that later," the man said, almost purring.

His tone raised the hackles on Gibbs' neck. Their killer sounded a little too proprietary about Tony.

"But not yet," the voice added. "Yet," he said again, this time the promise of a future meeting clear in his voice. "I'll call when I've chosen my next victims. Perhaps one of these stalwart police officers you've sent after me." He hung up.

"Shit," Tony said, ending the call, looking at his watch.

"Why'd he call you?" McGee asked.

"I have no freaking idea," Tony said angrily. "Nothing makes my day more than being on a first name basis with a serial killer, especially one who's completely insane. Or more insane than usual," he corrected himself with a humorless smile.

Gibbs could hear the sirens and then saw flashing lights. He slammed on his brakes as he approached the intersection the call had come in from.

"There," Kate said, pointing over his shoulder.

They were all out of the car, running for the phone booth, badges flashing.

On a whim, Gibbs pulled one of the officers to the side. "Do me a favor. See if any of these cops have a naval background."


"Just do it," Gibbs said. He had no idea why this sicko was targeting naval victims, but there was no reason to think he'd stop now. As the policeman went off to canvas his fellow officers, Gibbs watched as Kate dusted the phone for fingerprints. He looked around for Tony, found him in a discussion with an officer. Gibbs headed in that direction.

Tony was frowning at a police officer. "So you didn't see anyone?"

"The phone booth was empty."

"That's impossible," Tony said heatedly. "He was on the phone with me until…" He looked at his watch, "until 10:29, and you just told me you got here at 10:25."

The officer shrugged. "I'm telling you, the booth was empty, and the door was open. There was no one inside."

"So I was having a conversation with a ghost?" Tony demanded.

"Maybe you guys traced the call wrong," the officer suggested.

"Abby doesn't make mistakes like that," Gibbs said, looking around. "Was there anyone in the area?"

The officer pointed at one of the cars where two young men, joggers by the look of them, and a middle aged woman with a shopping bag were standing. "Only them."

"Come on," Gibbs said to Tony. The two of them walked over to the possible witnesses.

When they got there, all three of them denied seeing anything. "I don't think that phone even works," one of the men said. "It's been out of order for weeks."

"McGee," Tony yelled. "Check to see if the phone works." McGee nodded and went back to the phone. Gibbs could see him fishing in his pocket for a quarter.

"So you didn't see anyone in the area?" Gibbs prodded.

All three shook their heads and then pointed at each other. "Just us," the woman said. "There was no one else around."

McGee trotted over. "The phone's out of order. I can't even get an operator. I called the service number and they said this phone's been out of order for almost five weeks."

"Why haven't they fixed it?" Gibbs asked, annoyed that something so simple hadn't been repaired.

McGee shrugged. "Not a high priority, they said."

Tony sighed. "Could Abby have made a mistake?" he asked Gibbs.

Gibbs shook his head, finding that highly unlikely. "Check the booth for any equipment that could have made it seem as if the call was coming from here."

"On it, boss," McGee said, trotting back to the phone booth.

"I don't get it," Tony said.

"Me, either," Gibbs said, aggravated.

The officer Gibbs had been talking to joined them. "I spoke to all the cops here, and Barry," he pointed toward an officer currently speaking to someone on his vehicle's hand-held radio, "was in the Marines during the Gulf War. That help?"

"Yes," Gibbs said shortly. Going to the cop in question who had finished reporting in, Gibbs asked him, "Were you an officer in the Marines?"

"Yes," came the cautious answer.

"Do you have family at home?"

Another cautious, "Yes," accompanied by a frown.

"Call them, tell them to pack a bag, including stuff for you, and get out of there."

"What?" The man looked at Gibbs, then at Tony who joined them. "What are you talking about?"

Tony answered his question. "There's a killer on the loose, targeting naval officers. When he called me earlier to taunt us, and obviously to lead us on a wild goose chase, he said he would be killing tonight, and that it might be one of you cops. The fact that you were in the Marines, and an officer, makes you and your family a prime target."

That was more than Gibbs would have told the man, but it certainly galvanized the policeman into action. He had his phone out and was calling home immediately.

"Where are you putting them?" Tony asked.

Good question. "NCIS for right now. For all I know he could be watching us." That reminded him. "And I want your clothes and the morgue checked for bugs."

"You caught that exhibit thing, too, huh?"

Gibbs nodded. "He's playing with us, and I don't like it."

"Yeah," Tony said with a scowl at the phone booth. "And now, not only is he not human, apparently he's invisible, too."

Tony's clothes were clean of bugs. Abby even checked his teeth. There didn't seem to be any surveillance equipment in the morgue, either. Once he was home, Tony felt in his mouth for all his teeth. Abby had gotten a little enthusiastic.

The cop and his family were staying at NCIS with a guard for the night and, hopefully, there wouldn't be any killing tonight. At least Tony hoped not.

He'd taken his shower, changed into couch lounging clothes, and had started fixing himself some dinner when his cell phone rang. The readout was blank. After the earlier call, he answered cautiously, "DiNozzo."

"I have an address for you," came the voice that Tony most didn't want to hear from. It was still distorted but Tony couldn’t place the kind of equipment being used. It was possible, Tony thought, a chill running down his spine, that it was the man's real voice: low and growly and sort of amplified.

"What is it?" Tony asked shortly.

"Nineteen fifty-four Williams Avenue. Nice house. White picket fence. Dog. Or there was a dog." The man laughed.

"Why are you calling me?" Tony asked, writing the address down, wishing Gibbs were around so he could get things rolling immediately.

"I need to call someone," the man said reasonably.

Suddenly Tony was furious that he was having what was, for all intents and purposes, a fairly amiable conversation with a murdering monster. "Why the fuck are you doing this? Who are you?" On a whim, Tony rephrased that question. "What are you?"

A low laugh came over the phone. "Ah, at least you are finally starting to ask the right questions."

"What the hell does that mean?" Tony thought of fingers and toes, and eyeballs in chardonnay.

"Now Anthony," the voice said chidingly, "you were doing so well. I must admit that you intrigue me. My nemesis is paying attention to you, and that makes me curious."

Tony had no idea what he was talking about. "What nemesis?" he urged. Maybe the guy would drop some kind of clue.

"I look forward to the day we meet face to face," he said pleasantly. "I've been wondering how you taste."

Swallowing bile, Tony found himself with nothing to say, feeling shaky.

"Give your lover a message for me," the man said.

"Who are you talking about?" Tony asked. He wasn't seeing anyone regularly enough to be classified as a lover.

"My apologies. I forget how linear you humans can be. Special Agent Gibbs. You may not be lovers now, but you will be. Or maybe not. Tell him if he wastes too much time, it will be too late."

Beyond tired of this conversation, Tony said, "Just give me the message, then this conversation is over."

"So impatient," came the chiding voice again.

"Give me the fucking message," Tony demanded.

"Tell him I don't appreciate being denied my intended victim. Tell him I allowed him to get away with it tonight, but if he does it again, not only will I go for my intended victim, but I'll also kill anyone who gives them sanctuary."

"You can't honestly believe that we'll allow you to kill who you want, do you?" Tony asked scathingly.

"The longer we talk," the man said, his voice even lower, "the more I want you. You're just sitting there ripening like a good wine." He made a smacking noise, as if tasting something delicious.

Tony hung up, barely managing not to throw up. It took a minute of deep breathing to get under control enough to believe he could carry on a coherent conversation. He dialed Gibbs' telephone number.

Gibbs let the phone ring long enough to get one last stroke in. He felt the surface of the wood with his fingers, appreciating the fine smoothness, and then went for the phone. "Gibbs."

"It's Tony,” the voice over the phone said tightly. “We got another one."


"Nineteen fifty-four Williams Avenue," Tony said. "He had a few other things to say, but I'll tell you about that later."

"He threaten you?"

A sharp laugh escaped Tony. "Yeah, you could say that."

"Pack a bag. You're staying with me tonight."

"Boss," Tony protested.

"I don't want to hear it. Pack a bag. In fact, I'll come pick you up. Be ready in twenty."

"Okay," Tony said, capitulating. "Want me to call Kate and McGee?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "And you might as well call Ducky, too."

"On it," Tony said. "I'll see you soon."

Gibbs hung up, stared at his phone for a moment, then shut it off. He’d expected more of a fight. Whatever the guy had said had spooked Tony, and Tony didn't spook easily. Not and show it, anyway.

Gibbs pulled into Tony's parking lot twenty-two minutes later. There'd been an unexpected traffic jam on the way, and he'd lost several minutes detouring around it. As if he'd been waiting, Tony left his apartment, locking the door behind him. He threw his bag in Gibbs' back seat and got in the passenger side. "Hey," Tony said.

"Hey," Gibbs said, starting the GPS program that he'd already input the address into. He got back out on the road and started heading north as instructed. "What did he say?"

Gibbs heard Tony swallow. "That, um, that I intrigue him. That he's looking forward to meeting me. That he's wondering how I taste. And something about how I'm slowly ripening like a fine wine." Tony blew out a breath and stared out the side window.

An unexpected surge of protectiveness rose in Gibbs. "We'll catch him," Gibbs said fiercely. "Nothing's going to happen to you."

Acknowledging Gibbs’ statement with a small smile, Tony added, "He said something weird.”

Gibbs wondered what could be weirder than being told that you were going to be the main course for dinner one night. But, playing along, he asked, “What did he say?”

“When I asked him what he was, instead of who he was, he congratulated me on starting to ask the right questions." Tony chewed on his bottom lip for a few moments. "He also mentioned a nemesis. That one of the reasons he was curious about me was because his nemesis was taking an interest in me."

"Who's been taking an interest in you?" His tone made the question sound suspiciously like that of a jealous lover. Gibbs sincerely hoped Tony didn't take it that way.

"No one," Tony said. "I'm assuming it has to be someone this guy perceives as powerful, and that means you, or maybe the Director, who rarely takes an interest in me. Fornell, ditto. I didn't really talk to any of the cops today at any length. I don't know who he's talking about."

The GPS voice told them to take a right, so Gibbs did. Then he was directed to take another right. In a few minutes they were there and, apparently, the first on the scene. They sat in the car, staring at the house. Gibbs really didn't want to go in. He knew there was a nightmare waiting for them. Tony didn't seem to be in any hurry, either.

Gibbs could see a lump by the front door. "What's that?" he asked, pointing. Tony's eyes were much better than his.

"The dog," Tony said in a miserable voice. "He said they now had an ex-dog."

"I hate this guy," Gibbs said.

They sat there for another few moments. "He had a message for you," Tony said, his voice guarded.

Gibbs tensed. "What?"

"He said that, well, essentially, and I'm paraphrasing, that he was pissed you tried to hide that cop, and that if you did it again, he'd kill his intended victim, and whoever protected them as well." He turned to look at Gibbs. "That could put you right in the line of fire if you take me in."

"Good," Gibbs said shortly, looking forward to the altercation. He got out his phone and called the forensics lab, hoping Abby had already arrived. When she answered, Gibbs ordered, "Abby, check this address: nineteen fifty-four Williams Avenue. Tell me who lives here."

"Your wish is my command," Abby said cheerfully, her music blaring in the background. Gibbs had no idea how she could think with that stuff grinding away at her eardrums.

It took a minute, but then she was back. "A Captain Bryan Summers, his wife, and their two kids, both boys, ages seven and nine. Are they our vics?" she added guardedly. "Kids?"

"I'll let you know," Gibbs said, hanging up. To Tony, he said, "You called Ducky?"

"I called everyone," Tony assured him. "What'd she say?"

"Two kids."

"Fuck," Tony said loudly. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Sometimes I fucking hate this fucking job."

Gibbs got that. Sometimes he hated it too. He was sure tonight was going to be one of those times.

Finally, Tony sighed and opened his door. "It's not gonna go away by sitting here."

Gibbs opened his door, too. "Let's go." On their way up to the front door, Gibbs saw a skateboard. Next to it was a kid's bicycle, bright red.

"This is gonna suck," Tony said. "I mean, big time. I'm glad I didn't get around to eating yet."

Gibbs wasn't so lucky. He pulled on some gloves and reached for the doorknob. It wasn't locked. Turning it, he pushed the door open.

This one was worse than anything Tony had ever seen or ever thought he would see. Both he and Gibbs lost it this time. All four of them were dead, and the only one who'd escaped the mutilation was the dog. In some grotesque parody of his earlier scenes, he had them all at the dinner table as if sitting down at a feast. The contents of the plates were too disturbing to even think about.

As they reconvened in the house after working the scene and canvassing the neighbors, Tony was full of a rage he had no idea how to channel. He wanted to shoot something. Punch something. Scream until his throat hurt. He glanced at Kate. She was as pale as a ghost. The whole team was. Even Ducky wasn't talking.

Tony's phone rang. "DiNozzo."

"What do you think of my exhibit?"

Tony lost it. "You fucker," he yelled. "You fucking asshole. Why don't you stick around next time so I can rip your fucking balls off? Why the fuck are you doing this?" Tony could hear the edge of hysteria in his voice. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Kate calling NCIS to start a trace.

Gibbs moved quickly to him and put his hand on his arm.

It was enough to keep Tony from going completely ballistic and throwing the phone through a window. It was also a good thing Gibbs had been the one to touch him. If it had been anyone else, they might have gone through the window.

Before Tony could prevent it, Gibbs took the phone away from him. "This is Gibbs. Talk to me."

Tony couldn't hear what the monster said but he could guess from Gibbs' ever-darkening face, and the fact that he moved a step closer to Tony as if to better guard him. Now it was Tony's turn to put his hand on Gibbs' arm.

"You leave him out of it," Gibbs warned dangerously.

Tony could only imagine what the fucker was saying. It made him want to count all his fingers and toes and cradle his crotch.

"I will find you," Gibbs threatened. "And I will take you down."

Even Tony could hear the laughter coming out of the phone.

"Got it," Kate said.

Tony took the phone out of Gibbs' clenched fingers and hung up. "Where?"

Kate looked confused. "Nineteen fifty-four Williams."

"That's here," Gibbs said. Without a word, guns out, the team scattered, Gibbs and Tony upstairs, Kate and McGee downstairs, leaving Ducky and Palmer the unhappy job of bagging the bodies. Five minutes later they were back in the living room, having found no one, and nothing to indicate anyone had been using a phone.

To McGee, Gibbs said, "Find out from Abby if there were any calls made from this address in the last ten minutes. And if the answer's no, I want to know how he did it."

"On it, boss," McGee said, getting out his phone.

Ducky and Palmer took the last body bag out to the truck and Tony could hear the doors slam. Ducky came back in. "We'll be heading back," he told Gibbs.

Gibbs nodded, his eyes dark and flinty, the muscles in his jaw jumping.

Tony glanced around what used to be a family's home. Now it was nothing but a source of nightmares. Feeling useless and unable to shake the fear that he might be next, Tony wandered over to the window, watching Ducky drive the truck away. That was when he saw her. Her and that damn bench. "Son of a bitch," he muttered under his breath as he stalked out the front door. He already had his cuffs out as he crossed the street.

"Hands behind your back and turn around," he demanded.

The old black woman smiled kindly at him, her gold capped teeth glinting in the lamplight. "You won't win this without my help, Anthony."

"This puts you at the scene of the crime three times," Tony said. "I'm taking you in."

He put his hand on her shoulder to turn her around, but he couldn't budge her.

The word nemesis popped into his mind. "Who are you?" he asked cautiously.

"Only someone with a pure soul can win against him," she said.

Tony snorted angrily. "Are you telling me those kids didn't have a pure soul?"

"Yes, of course they did," she said. "But they don't have your knowledge, your strength, or your determination. Let me help you."

"You know who this is? Who this monster is?"

"I do."

"Who is it?" he demanded. "Help us by giving us his name."

"He has many names," she said unhelpfully. "And he cannot be found by ordinary means."

Tony closed his eyes for a second, trying to find the strength to keep talking when he could feel the rage rising again. "Do you feel that?" he asked furiously. "Can you feel how angry I am? What I'd like to do to this monster? You still think I have a pure soul?"

"You have a righteous anger," she countered. "It is strong. As strong as his hate, his need to cause harm. Take my gift and use it against him."

"Are you who he was talking about?" Tony waited to see if she would understand the question.

"Yes," she said without pause.

"And are you his enemy?" Tony asked, wondering how he'd tripped into the Twilight Zone and who was writing his dialogue. It felt scripted, fated.

"I am."

"Am I to be your paladin?"

"You are."

The words were being supplied to him, somehow, but Tony didn't feel coerced. He felt…clear. "Then, willingly, I accept your gift." He found himself down on one knee, head bowed.

Tony was surrounded by a fine mist that soaked through his clothing, into his skin, into his cells. He was enraptured, joyous, cleansed inside and out. Every atom in his body was vibrating with purpose. He looked up and saw the monster's nemesis with wide open eyes. She had a luminous royal purple aura; her eyes reflected ages past, present and future; her smile was a benediction.

For one amazing moment, it was as if he knew it all, could see to the heart of the universe, understand the fabric of time, felt a sense of who he was and his place in the world right down to the marrow of his bones.

But then the sense of evil, the blackness corroding the edges of what was right and good in the world seeped in, and it almost crushed him. He found it hard to breathe, to stay upright, to find a will to carry on.

She helped him. She helped him find his way through the dark maze back to who he was. He felt the ground underneath his feet again, heard his heart beat, the blood rushing through his veins, his humor, and love for his fellow sojourners. He opened eyes he hadn't even realized he'd shut to find her an ordinary old black woman again, except for her eyes, which shone with love for him, and sorrow for the plight of the world. "Believe in yourself, young Anthony. You are stronger than you know."

He wanted more. Needed more. An address, a name, a place to start. "How--"

She put up her hand, stopping his words. "You will find each other. Darkness is drawn to light."

Great, he thought to himself. "How do I stop him once he finds me?"

She touched his chest, over his heart. "With this." She touched his forehead. "And with this."

Tony groaned. His path was a koan. How not helpful.

She cupped his face with her hands. "I give you one more gift," she said, and she blew on him.

He lost consciousness. The next thing he knew, Gibbs was shaking him, yelling at him. "Tony, damn it, what happened? McGee, call for an ambulance."

"No," Tony said, struggling to open his eyes. "I'm all right."

"Hold on," Gibbs told McGee. Then, to Tony, "You're all right?" Gibbs asked disbelievingly. "I looked across the street and saw you lying here on the grass."

Tony's eyes popped open and saw that Gibbs was right. He was curled on his side, lying in the grass. He sat up abruptly. "You didn't see her?"

"Who?" Gibbs asked, looking around.

"That old black woman?"

Gibbs frowned. "She was here again?"

"And the bench," Tony grumbled.

"What?" Gibbs asked skeptically and impatiently. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Tony nodded, totally not sure, wondering if he'd imagined the whole thing. The one thing he was sure about was that he wasn't telling Gibbs what happened. He'd find himself off the case before he'd gotten the first full sentence out.

"Am I calling an ambulance?" McGee called from across the street.

"No," Gibbs informed him. He put his hand around Tony's upper arm. "Come on."

Tony gathered his feet in and pushed up until he was standing. That was when he took his first look at Gibbs. "Holy shit," he said, taking a step back, even though Gibbs was a wonder to behold. He was golden. His aura was strong and gold, and Tony wanted to do nothing more than bask in it.

Gibbs took a step toward him, and grabbed him again. Where they touched, Tony could see the silver of his aura merge with the gold of Gibbs. Instead of becoming some muddy brown color, it sparkled like gold mica, like the sun and the moon in the same sky. "What is it?" Gibbs asked, half annoyed, half worried.

"Uh," Tony said. "I'm, uh, just a little dizzy," he lied. "Stood up too fast." He could just imagine telling Gibbs how amazing their auras looked commingled. That was when he got a closer look at Gibbs. An amazing look at Gibbs. Not just his aura, but who he was. It shone out of him like a beacon.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

Tony recognized that his name was being called, but he was too busy looking. Gibbs did a good job acting the bastard, but Tony could see now that it was all an act. He was protecting this core of--Tony tried to think of another word but he couldn't--this core of love. Not a casual love, but a dedicated love, a purposeful love. A commitment to protect, a dedication to serve, a devotion to keep those around him safe. It humbled Tony.

"Tony," the voice said louder.

Tony couldn't be bothered to answer. Not when he had this amazing person in front of him to soak in. Everything suddenly dimmed. Tony made a noise of protest and looked for the reason.

Gibbs had dropped his hand away from Tony's arm. He reached out for Gibbs' hand, laced his fingers through Gibbs' fingers. The brilliance came back. Humming happily, Tony continued to look his fill.

There was a tug on his fingers, but Tony wouldn't let go.

"What's going on?" another voice said. Tony saw a hint of green and he turned to look at it. It was Kate, and her aura was this amazing lime green. Not a hurt-your-eyes lime green, but a jewel tone, like peridot.

What lay beneath the aura wasn't as bright as Gibbs, but he could still see it. Her loyalty, her single-minded focus like a sharp blade, her doggedness to ferret out the truth, and her seldom seen, but no less real, deep ability to love.

Then McGee was there, with a rich brown aura, connected to the earth. Dedicated, steady, reliable, someone to count on no matter what. Deeply yearning to make the world a better place and find his space within it.

"You guys are beautiful," Tony said. What an astonishing group of people he worked with. Not that he hadn't known it on some level, but now--he was blown away. "I mean it."

"Why are you holding Gibbs' hand?" Kate asked.

"I can see it better," Tony answered absentmindedly.

"See what?" Gibbs demanded.

"You, your colors, who you are," Tony said, his head slowly turning so he could take in Gibbs, Kate and McGee. "I knew you guys were great, I just, I guess I never really thought it through, what type of people would work like this. On cases like this. Cases that can eat away your soul and make you start believing nothing but the worst in people, but look at you." Tony started smiling. "You're all so beautiful. You all still care so much. You all still think the world deserves saving."

"Is he on drugs?" Kate asked suspiciously.

"I don't know," Gibbs said with some concern. "That black woman who was out here. What did she want?"

"She wanted to give me a gift," Tony said. "She gave me a gift," he added in wonder.

"What kind of gift?" Gibbs demanded.

Tony shook his head. "I don't know what to call it." He looked around Gibbs to the neighborhood, but there was no one else to see. Then his gaze fell on the house where the family had been murdered and all he could see was black. A poisonous black. "She showed me how to find it," Tony said with a complete sense of surety. He wasn't looking for a man, not even a person. He was looking for something that was the physical embodiment of that blackness.

"Find what it?" McGee asked.

"Our killer."

A car drove by and Tony could see the auras of the driver and passenger. They were excited, going someplace fun. Tony grinned as they drove by, wishing them a safe evening.

"Did she touch you?" Gibbs asked.

Tony turned back to Gibbs. "What?" He didn't think he'd ever get tired of looking at Gibbs.

"Did she touch you?"

"The woman?" Tony clarified.

"Yes," Gibbs said impatiently. "The woman. Did she touch you?"

Tony nodded, thinking back. "My arm, my face."

"Do you think she drugged him?" Kate asked.

"I don't know," Gibbs answered, "but I'm taking him in to see Abby so she can test him."

Tony didn't think he was drugged, but it didn't really matter. If he was, Abby would find it, if he wasn't, Gibbs would have to deal.

Gibbs directed Tony toward his car, then managed to retrieve his hand.

"No, don't do that," Tony complained. "I need to be touching you." He saw Gibbs' eyes widen, but didn't retract his statement. He hadn't meant it sexually, not that he'd mind. But, touching Gibbs made him feel connected to him in a way that felt really, really good.

Kate intervened, putting her hand on Tony's arm. "Want me to take him with me?" she asked Gibbs.

"Wow," he said, looking at Kate. "Now you're brighter, too. Not as bright as Gibbs, but wow." He glanced at his arm. "It must be because we're touching." Reaching out, he touched McGee. "Yeah, see, now you're brighter." He let out a laugh. "Cool."

"I'll take him," Gibbs said very clearly. Tony smiled at what he now saw inside Gibbs. Ownership. Gibbs had no intention of letting anyone take him away. That worked for Tony. He followed Gibbs to his car, got in the passenger side. He felt Gibbs tug his weapon out of his holster and tuck it in by his left side, out of Tony's reach. Tony didn't blame him. His eyes took in everything around him. Everything living had some sort of aura. Nowhere near as clear as humans, but he could see it hovering over the grass and bushes and trees. It made everything seem so vibrant and alive. "This is sort of like an acid trip, isn't it?" he asked Gibbs.

"Yes," Gibbs said shortly.

"I don't think it is, though," Tony said slowly. He reached out a hand and rested it on Gibbs' leg, near his knee. "Is it all right if I touch you?"

Gibbs just grunted, so Tony took it as assent. "When our auras touch," Tony observed slowly, "it's pretty amazing. It didn't do it when I touched Tim or Kate." He could tell Gibbs was angry. Not at him, but at the woman, because he thought she'd drugged Tony. "I'm okay," he told Gibbs.

Gibbs just grunted again.

Tony thought about making light of it, that maybe she'd put a curse on him, but what she had done, or what he thought she'd done or dreamed she'd done, whatever, felt too important, too rich, to sully with a cheap joke. They drove in silence for a minute. "He thought we were lovers, you know? Now I can see why." Where their auras touched, sparks were flying.

"What are you talking about?"

"The thing that's killing people. When he gave me that message for you, he told me to give it to my lover."

"We're not lovers, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled, even as he placed his hand over Tony's on his knee.

"I know. I told him that. He said something about humans being linear, and that we would be lovers, assuming I lived long enough. He told me to tell you not to wait too long or it would be too late."

He felt Gibbs' anger, his rage at the thought of Tony's death. "Nothing's going to happen to you," Gibbs avowed.

Tony knew he meant it. That he'd do anything in his power to make sure it was true. "He'll come for me," Tony said. He looked down at his own aura, knew it was a beacon for the monster. The silver color rippled over his skin; it was mesmerizing. His eyes were caught where Gibbs' gold and his silver teased each other. "I think we're meant to be lovers," Tony said. "Our colors merge with each other differently than any one else."

"You sound crazy, DiNozzo."

"I know. But, I'm not. Don't you feel it? Even if you can't see it? Can't you tell we're connected somehow?"

"I'm not answering that now," Gibbs said.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not going to have a conversation about us being lovers when, for all I know, you're tripping out of your mind," Gibbs yelled. "That's why not."

"Okay. That's fair." Tony turned more fully to face Gibbs. "But after you find out I'm not tripping, and I'm not crazy, can we talk then?"

There was a long silence.

"Gibbs? Can we talk then about becoming lovers?"

There was another long silence. Then, "Yes. We can talk then," Gibbs said softly. "But, until then, the subject's closed."

"Can I still touch you?" Tony asked. He wasn't ready to lose the connection.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs growled.

A chill swept over Tony. "Stop the car. Stop it!"

Gibbs slammed on the brakes. "Why?"

"Something's happening." Tony looked around, through the side, front, and then rear window. He could feel the sense of cold coming from that direction. "Come on." He was out the door and running.

"Fuck," Gibbs said somewhere behind him, then his door was slamming, too, and he was running after Tony.

"Jesus, he's fast," Gibbs muttered under his breath, as he raced after Tony. He had no idea what was going on with the man, but the last thing he wanted to do was lose him. Either he was drugged, or he was having some kind of psychotic break. At least those were the two explanations Gibbs was most comfortable with.

He was doing his best to forget how lucid Tony had been when he'd talked about auras and colors, and how beautiful his teammates were, and how he and Gibbs were meant to be lovers.

Tony tore around a corner, and Gibbs put on an extra burst of speed. Who knew what trouble Tony would attract tonight being as whacked out as he was. There were opportunists around every corner just like this one, looking for marks.

Gibbs raced around the same corner and came to a stop. The place was packed. It took him a second to figure out why. Then he remembered it was Thursday night, and Thursday night meant open air farmer's market and craftspeople, and every weirdo on the street putting on a show for the hundreds of people milling around.

And Tony, of course, was nowhere to be found. "Fuck," Gibbs swore again.

"Gibbs," a pained voice called to him, from behind him.

Gibbs spun around and found Tony hunkered down against a wall, his hands over his eyes. Moving quickly, Gibbs squatted down in front of him. "Hey," he said softly, not wanting to spook Tony. "You all right?" He was tempted to handcuff himself to Tony.

Eyes still covered, Tony shook his head. "It's too much. Too much all at once."

"What's too much?"

"Everything. I can--" Tony let out a grunt of frustration. "What the fuck did she do to me, Gibbs?"

"I think she drugged you," Gibbs said in anger. "I think you need to let me take you to see Abby so we can figure out what she gave you."

Tony squinted open one eye, his forehead creased with lines of pain. He seemed to be watching the people going by. "It feels so real. What they're--" Tony waved a hand at the crowds going by. "Everybody wants so damn much."

Putting his hand on the back of Tony's neck, Gibbs leaned in close. "Tony, come on. Let's go."

Tony sighed in relief. "That feels good."

Gibbs let out his own sigh. "Tony--"

Tony grabbed for his hand. "No, no, it helps me see more clearly." His eyes were fully open now, and he was studying the crowd. "There's something bad going down. I don't know what, but it's definitely somewhere close."

Once again, Tony was sounding completely sane. The surety in his voice put Gibbs on hyper alert. "Tony, I know it feels real to you," he began.

Squeezing Gibbs' hand, Tony stood. "I'm not crazy. And I don't think I'm on drugs. But, she definitely did something to me. I can tell what people are thinking. No, that's not right. And it's not their emotions either." He looked at Gibbs.

It felt to Gibbs as if Tony was looking at something uncomfortably deep inside of him, something he seldom put on display.

As if Gibbs had supplied the answer he'd been seeking for, Tony said, "It's what drives them. What makes them the way they are." He turned to the crowd of people. "I can tell you about each one of them. What their intentions are. And not all of them are good. And some of them are bad."

"Are you still seeing colors?" Gibbs asked. "Are you seeing tracking?" He still believed in the drug theory. But Tony wasn't bolting, and Gibbs was willing to wait this out.

"Yeah," Tony said with a small smile. "Well, no to the tracking, but the colors are amazing." He looked at where his hand was touching Gibbs'. "Especially the color your color and my color make." Then his head snapped up, like a hunting dog, and his eyes darted back and forth. "It's coming. The badness."

"You mean our killer?" Gibbs asked, equally attentive.

"No, not that one. But, this one's bad, too." Tony took a step closer. "Wait."

Gibbs waited, half feeling the fool, half expecting Godzilla to stomp around the corner on a rampage. The absolute conviction in Tony's voice was hard to counter.

"There. The man holding the little girl," Tony said.

"What about him?" Gibbs asked. The girl was crying, but there was nothing to indicate that she was anything else but an unhappy daughter annoyed at being carried, or not being carried soon enough, or being deprived of something that had caught her eye.

"Gibbs. Trust me. You don't want to know what he plans to do to that girl." Tony's voice was bleak.

Gibbs hesitated for a second, long enough for Tony to pull away from Gibbs and step into the man's way. "Hey," Tony said, pulling out his badge. "Can I see some ID?"

That was when Gibbs saw it. Saw the painfully tight hold the man had on the girl. He also saw that Tony was about to lose it again. His face was scrunched up in discomfort, and he wasn't too steady on his feet.

Gibbs joined him, pulling out his own badge. "NCIS. Can we see some ID?" he echoed Tony. Surreptitiously, he stood as close to Tony as he could, hoping the close brushes of their arms and shoulders were enough to help Tony keep it together.

The man looked ready to bolt, his eyes shifting, looking for a way out.

"Give me the girl," Tony demanded.

"Fuck you," the man said. "Get out of my way."

"All we want is to see some ID," Gibbs said clearly. "We don't want any trouble." He kept a close eye on the man's hands, not wanting to give him a chance to go for a weapon. Not when he was holding that little girl. There was no doubt in his mind that something stank about the whole situation.

"You believe this?" the guy said loudly to the crowd around him. "I'm just walking here with my daughter, and some cops decide to harass me."

There was some muttering in the crowd. "Gibbs," Tony said softly. "This could get ugly fast."

Gibbs knew it. Even though they weren't cops, they were in the same box. And they shared the same unenviable love-hate relationship with the average citizen. There were a lot more of them than there were of him and Tony. Hoping to stop people from siding with this guy, Gibbs told a whopper of a lie. "We heard a little girl got taken, and we're doing what we can to help find her. I'm sure, being a father yourself, that you understand we can't afford to take any chances. So, please, may I see some ID?"

When he saw the look of relief on Tony's face, Gibbs guessed he'd made a difference in the emotional tenor around them. It was in that exact moment he realized that at least a part of him believed Tony.

That was also when he heard a commotion coming from half a block away. "He took her! I saw him. He picked her up and took her!" a woman was crying. "Melody! He took Melody."

Tony's face hardened. "Is this Melody?"

Gibbs was reaching for his gun when the man decided to run for it. He threw the girl at Tony like a sack of potatoes and took off. For a second, Gibbs hesitated, not sure Tony would be all right on his own, and he certainly didn't want Tony arrested for kidnapping the child. But he was saved from having to make a decision as two men took the initiative and jumped the guy, bringing him down to the ground.

Gibbs pulled out his handcuffs as he walked over to the two men. He heard Tony muttering soft nothings to the little girl who was sobbing in his arms. "Thank you, gentlemen," Gibbs said with a tight smile. With their ungentle assistance, he got the scumbag cuffed and on his feet.

There was a scream of terrified joy, and then the mother was on Tony, and he quickly handed over her daughter. Gibbs was there in a heartbeat, holding out his badge to the policeman who was with the woman, keeping anyone from jumping to the wrong conclusion. "NCIS." He pointed to the man in cuffs. "He was the one who took her."

The man shot him a furious look.

Gibbs had worse looks shot at him on a weekly basis. It didn't throw him. But it apparently threw Tony, as he found his agent plastered against him in a somewhat protective stance, glaring right back.

"Tony," Gibbs warned. That seemed to have no effect. In fact, Tony looked like he was scrabbling for his weapon in what was now his empty holster, because Gibbs, thank God, had taken his weapon away. "Tony," Gibbs said sharply. "You can't protect me from what people are thinking."

"He wants to kill you," Tony growled.

"He can get in line." Then the police officer was in front of them both, asking their names, and Gibbs had to focus on keeping as much of the limelight off of them as possible. He spent the next thirty minutes trying to get all praise aimed at the policemen and the two men who had taken the kidnapper down. The last thing Gibbs wanted was to explain how they'd known there was a problem.

Finally, they got away, and Gibbs directed Tony to the car. The man was exhausted, stumbling as much as walking. He collapsed into the front seat. "God, I'm tired," he complained.

Gibbs started up the car and pulled out, heading back to the office. Silence filled the car. Gibbs was half convinced Tony was asleep when he felt Tony's fingers on his thigh again. "Sorry," Tony whispered. "It's just easier."

"It's okay, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

"Where are we going?"

"To Abby."

"You still think I was drugged?" There was a hint of disappointment in Tony's voice.

"I don't know what I think," Gibbs said. "I can't deny that you stopped that kidnapping, but I'm also not sure that she didn't give you something that somehow made you more--" Gibbs stopped, not sure how to end that sentence.

"More what?" Tony asked skeptically. "Able to read people's minds? Or sense what they're up to? You know a lot of drugs that can help you sense evil?"

For some reason, fingers of dread raced down Gibbs' spine. "Evil? Is that what you sensed in that man?"

"Yeah," Tony answered, subdued. "Gibbs, he was bad. Really bad. There's this thing I've been seeing in everyone, this presence, I guess, that tells me who you are, who they are." He stopped and swallowed loud enough for Gibbs to hear it.

"What was his like?" Gibbs found himself asking, even if a part of him couldn't believe he was having a conversation like this. Gibbs liked to deal with facts, not this nonsense.

"Bad." Tony swallowed again. "I can't describe it. It was mostly gone, like it had been eaten away, torn in some spots. And what was left was like the color of pus. He didn't care about that little girl. All he cared about was how he was going to get off on hurting her. And when he was done, he would have killed her."

Tony was talking again like he'd talked in the morgue. Like he wasn't all there, like a part of him was still with the kidnapper. To prompt more information, Gibbs asked, "Has he done it before?"

"Yes," came the clear answer. "And every time he does it, he loses more of his soul. And now he's done it enough there isn't any soul left to care."

Gibbs, again, felt afraid for Tony. Afraid of what the future might hold for someone who could do what Tony had just done. "Don't tell anyone about this, DiNozzo. This thing you can do, these things you can sense. The world will eat you alive."

He felt Tony startle at his words.

Thinking he could read Tony's mind this time, Gibbs covered his hand. "I’m not telling you that you can’t help. I just want you to do it the way you already are. You already have a job where you catch the bad guys. All right?"

He saw Tony nod.

"The rest of it, we'll figure it out later," Gibbs told him.

"She did this so I could catch the person who tore that family apart," Tony said. "And I think she was the nemesis he was talking about."

"I don't believe in stuff like this," Gibbs said recalcitrantly.

There was another long silence. Tony's fingers began to pull away, as if Gibbs' unwillingness to believe was a rejection of Tony. Protesting, Gibbs laced his fingers through Tony's to keep him there.

"Thanks, boss," Tony said softly.

Gibbs squeezed Tony's fingers, and refocused on his driving.

"You're beautiful," Tony told Abby as she drew some blood.

She beamed at him. "Thanks, Tony."

"No, really. Orange totally suits you. You're passionate, creative, brave, intelligent. Wow."

Abby smiled at Tony but shot Gibbs a look. "What's up with him?"

Gibbs shrugged. "That's what you need to find out."

"You think he's on something?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm not on something. I can just see your aura."

"Gotcha," Abby said to Tony with a pat on his shoulder. "Who could have drugged him?" she asked Gibbs.

"I'm not drugged," Tony protested.

"I know you don't think you are," Gibbs said, "but you keep getting weird on me."

"Yeah," Abby said with a snort. "Like now. You're acting like you're completely stoned."

"It's just that you guys are so amazing," Tony said with a contented hum. His eyes sort of ran over them, and he smiled slightly, as if amused by a private joke.

"What's going on?" Abby asked Gibbs in softer tones.

"I wish to hell I knew," he answered. "He picked out a kidnapper in a crowd of people by his aura, or whatever the hell this thing is he's seeing."

"So, good drugs, then," Abby said with a quick grin.

Tony's phone rang. He scrambled for it and flipped it open. "DiNozzo," he said distractedly, his eyes still on Gibbs and Abby. Tony stiffened. "What do you want?" he asked woodenly.

Gibbs motioned to Abby to shut off the music currently filling the lab. She hurried to do as asked, and then Gibbs got Tony's attention. Tony nodded and pushed a button, turning the speaker option on. Abby got busy tracing the call.

"…you had fun tonight, Tony."

"I wouldn't exactly call it fun," Tony countered, "but I'm glad that scumbag is off the street. Soon it’s gonna be your turn."

"You know that's not true," the gravelly voice said with a laugh. "I can't be caught. I can't be contained."

"Maybe not," Tony said. "But you can be stopped."

"And you think you're the one to do that?" the voice taunted. "I rather think I'll be stopping you. After I've tasted you, of course."

Gibbs took a step toward Tony, determined to protect him even against voiced threats. He’d seen what this asshole did to those children, to his other victims, to the goddamn dog.

"I'll find you," Tony promised direly. "I know what to look for now."

"Do you think you can find me before I kill again?" he asked.

"Are you killing someone tonight?" Tony asked.

"No," the voice said. "No, I think I'll wait until tomorrow, unless I decide to come visit you. Although it's been my experience that anticipation makes the killing so much sweeter."

Tony lost his cool and yelled, "You need to go back to hell where you came from!"

"I'm not ready to go back, sweet Anthony. Not when I have you to look forward to for dessert."

Abby nodded, then frowned. Gibbs swore. The fucker was probably calling from inside headquarters. He didn't know how it was being done, but every traced phone call so far had been a red herring. He yelled into the phone, "You get to Tony over my dead body," he snarled.

"That can be arranged," the voice said smoothly. "I'd be happy to meet your terms. Have you tasted him yet, Gibbs? You're running out of time."

Abby's eyes opened wide.

Gibbs reached for the phone and disconnected the call. "Where's the call coming from?" he snapped to Abby.

"Your house," she said with a wince.

"Damn it," Gibbs said angrily. Turning to Abby, he asked, "How long for those drug tests?"

"Ooh," Abby said as if she'd totally forgotten. She moved to the counter and her tubes of blood. "Hard to say, Gibbs. I don't even know what I'm looking for." She studied Tony for a long moment. "But if I had to guess, I'd have to say that he's not on drugs. Other than the whole ooh-orange-pretty thing, he's acting kinda normal."

"Where're Kate and McGee?" Gibbs asked.

"Last I saw them, they were trying to track down family for our vics tonight," Abby answered with a grimace. "Was that our guy? The one who just called?"

Tony and Gibbs both nodded.

"Tony," Abby said warningly. "He's totally fixated on you."

"Tell me something I don't know," Tony said tiredly. Glancing up at Gibbs, he asked, "We heading for your house?"

"Yup," Gibbs said. "I'm going to see Kate and McGee. Stay here." The last thing he wanted was for Tony to start up on his 'you're so beautiful' routine with anyone else who might be around.

He got another tired nod, and with that reassurance, Gibbs headed to the bullpen.

Tony knew they wouldn't find anything, but he still checked out Gibbs' house with the rest of the team. No one was there and, no surprise, after checking phone records, there was no official record of a phone call being made to Tony's cell phone today from Gibbs' house. As a side note, per a call from Abby, there were also no traces of any of the usual drugs in Tony's system. Abby was still running some of the more esoteric drug assays.

Kate and McGee had tracked down relatives of the murdered family, and they were coming into town tomorrow. Ducky had volunteered to meet with them, for which Tony was grateful. He wasn't sure what auras--or whatever he was seeing--would look like on an angry grieving family, and he wasn't in any hurry to find out, certainly not until he was coping with it better. Having him catatonic, the way he'd been at that farmer's market, wasn't going to do the grieving family any good.

He sat on the couch, surreptitiously watching his team, impressed anew at the colorful proof of their dedication and desire for justice, proud to be a part of them. Without even knowing what he was doing, he found himself pushing his consciousness outside the house, looking for any possible danger. He could sense the closest neighbors, could feel their energy directed toward food and bedtime and sex. Nothing hostile.

Tony pushed further, wondering how much of this was real, and how much of it was his own active imagination. He tuned back into Gibbs' living room when he heard Gibbs sending Kate and McGee home.

"Be careful," Gibbs admonished them.

Tony didn't think the monster would turn his attention toward either of them. Not yet. He was too invested in harassing him and Gibbs. He waved good night, watched as the door shut behind them, leaving the two of them alone. Sitting here in Gibbs' living room felt surreal to Tony. He found it amusing that the most normal thing to happen to him all day felt the oddest.

Gibbs left the living room and Tony tracked him as he headed for the bathroom. When he came back he invited Tony to join him in the kitchen. Gibbs handed him a beer, and Tony found he was finally getting used to Gibbs' aura; he could still see it, but it didn't mesmerize him quite as much. Tony was thankful for that. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to function if he kept getting sidetracked by the light show. "Think I'll still be able to do this after we get him?"

"Do what?" Gibbs asked, tearing lettuce leaves apart with heated gusto.

"This aura sensing thing."

"I have no idea," Gibbs said shortly, yanking open a cabinet door, and pulling out two salad bowls, practically slamming them down on the counter.

“You mad about something?” Tony asked.

Gibbs sent him an incredulous look.

“Okay, I withdraw the question,” Tony said.

Pulling in a deep breath, Gibbs leaned against the counter farthest from Tony.

"Scared of me?" Tony asked, pointing out the table with three empty chairs, and the bulk of the kitchen nearest to Tony, none of which Gibbs was even close to occupying.

"Why would I be scared of you?" Gibbs answered curtly, annoyance clear on his face at Tony's question. He stayed where he was.

Tony shrugged. "I'm a little freaked. I thought you might be, too."

"Being freaked is a long way off from being scared," Gibbs stated. "That thing that's killing people, that scares me. You? You don't even come close."

Tony grinned, reassured.

"I still don't necessarily believe that you can sense--" Gibbs stopped, clearly looking for the perfect phrase. Then, looking pleased, Gibbs said, "Sense the dark side of the Force."

"Boss," Tony said with a big grin, "you made a pop culture reference. I'm so proud." Then, more serious, he added, "Although that's a good way to put it. That is sort of what I can do. Sense the good and the bad side of the force. You, Kate, McGee, Abby, way on the good side. That guy today at the farmer's market, and that thing that's ripping people apart, way on the dark side." A shiver crept down his spine.

"Just pretending for the moment that this is real," Gibbs said, "can you tell who he is, where he is?"

Tony shook his head. "No. It's not like a compass or anything. It's more like I can tell where something isn't." He scrunched his face, up, frustrated. "I know that doesn't make any sense." He thought for a few seconds. "You know when you're swimming, and all of a sudden you hit a really cold patch of water?"

Gibbs nodded. "I hate that."

"Yeah, me, too. It's sort of creepy," Tony said with a shiver. "This is sort of like that. I look at you, at most people, around the neighborhood, and it's like normal temperature water. Everyone's putting out stuff, the business of living, you know? But, then, there are these cold patches where something that should be there, isn't."

"Don't you think we all have cold patches?" Gibbs asked.

"Not like that. It's not pain, or loss, or guilt, or any of those more painful emotions. That is the business of living. The good stuff and the bad stuff. This is just a black hole where that stuff's supposed to be." What he'd sensed in that man at the Farmer's Market had alarmed him. It scared him to know that there were people walking around like that. He'd known there were bad people out there. Crap, he cleaned up after them every day in his job, but this was beyond that. Or maybe not. After all, they'd put a significant number of seriously wacked people in prison. Some of them were probably filled with patches of cold water.

Gibbs took a pan out of the refrigerator and lifted the aluminum foil covering it cautiously. "Hey, DiNozzo," he said with a half grin, "can you tell if this casserole's gone to the dark side?"

Snorting, Tony got up, and joined him by the refrigerator. "Sorry, boss, you're on your own for this one." He did, however, lean in, and take a whiff. "Smells okay."

That was, apparently, good enough for Gibbs. He dished some out on a plate and put it in the microwave. Then, he went back to the salad fixings. Tony helped himself to a cutting board and started slicing cucumbers.

Dinner was completed and served in silence, both men taking their plates to the table. Tony could tell Gibbs was staring at him, even though he was doing a good job acting as if he wasn't. Finally, Tony couldn't take it anymore. "What?"

Gibbs put his fork down. "I don't know." This time he openly stared at Tony. "I just don't know what to make of all of this."

"Get in line," Tony said, enjoying the heavy crunch as he bit into a carrot.

"Maybe you should be looking at mug shots for that old lady," Gibbs suggested.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Yeah, maybe if we lived in Sunnydale." At Gibbs' confused look, Tony waved his hand in a 'never mind' fashion. "She's not a criminal."

"She did something to you, Tony. Without your permission."

Scrunching his face up, Tony confessed, "Actually, it was with my permission. Sort of." He remembered the feeling of being fed his lines, but he also remembered his conviction that this was important.

"Sort of?"

Tony shrugged. "It's hard to explain. But whatever she did, I caught that guy tonight, and that's not a bad thing."

Gibbs looked like he wanted to argue, but there wasn't really anything to argue about. What had happened tonight had been a good thing. Protecting that girl had been a good thing. Gibbs frowned, picked up his fork, and went back to his meal.

It didn't take long for them to finish dinner, and the two of them rinsed their dishes and placed them in the dishwasher. Grabbing two fresh beers, they moved to the living room, sitting down on the couch, leaving the middle cushion between them.

"So, what happens now?" Gibbs asked.

"I don't suppose you're talking about how we end up in bed, are you?" Tony asked hopefully.

With a lopsided smile, Gibbs shook his head. "No, DiNozzo. I can figure that part out myself." He put out a hand to stop any movement on Tony's part. "And that's not what I was asking about."

Tony settled back down with a disappointed pout. "Damn."

Gibbs grinned again. They sat there for a couple of minutes, drinking their beer, occasionally catching each others' eyes. Gibbs put down his beer, and for a moment, Tony had hopes that he'd changed his mind, but Gibbs asked, "Will you know if he's coming here?"

"Unless he has a way to block what he is from me, then yes, I'll know."

"Do you think he can do that?"

Tony thought about it, about what that badness had felt like. "No. I don't think that can be hidden. I don't think he wants to hide what he is."

"So you'll know?"

Tony nodded.

"Can you tell where he is now?"

"I don't know," Tony said slowly, tensing, knowing what was coming next, and not wanting to do it.

"Can you try to figure it out?"

The last thing Tony wanted to do was open himself up to that presence. But he knew he had to do it, especially if there was a chance it was out looking for a victim, and maybe he and Gibbs could stop it before it happened. He sighed, put down his beer, stood, and walked to the window.

Gibbs got up as well. "Do you need me to, um--" Gibbs put out his hand and touched Tony's shoulder. "Will this help?"

Tony sent him a grateful look and nodded. In a second he felt hands on both his shoulders and the strong sensation of Gibbs surrounding him. He took a moment to admire their mingling auras, but then he pulled himself together and, hardly aware of how he was doing it, started sensing for evil.

People talking, laughing, telling jokes, making love, people angry, yelling, hitting, people sad, depressed, confused, suicidal, people at the movies, at dinner, walking, skipping, people on drugs, drunk on booze, puking, people playing basketball, jogging, watching football…


People hating. People fearful. People desperately yearning for something different. People praying, for world peace, for a new boyfriend, for a better job, for their dying wife…


People bathing their kids. Helping with their homework. Laughing with them, tickling them. Cooking their dinners. Making their brownies for class the next day. People hitting their kids. Yelling at them. Punishing them, touching them…

"Tony," the voice said again, louder, shaking him.

He tried to pull back, tried to rein it in.

People watching the news, watching cartoons. People sobbing in loneliness, people hopeful, wishful, bored. People making plans, breaking dates. People looking for a way out, a way in, a new way. People searching, hungry for meaning, looking for purpose…

Hands were rubbing up and down on his arms, and a voice was talking soothingly to him. "It's all right. Tony, it's all right."

Tony realized he was trembling, shivering almost, and his cheeks were wet. He tried to speak but every word felt so trite compared to the raw experience of living. The richness, the love, the cruelty.

Arms wrapped around him, bringing him flush against Gibbs' hard body. Tony found himself, suddenly, achingly hard, and he leaned on Gibbs, letting his head fall back.

That was when it came for them.

Like a tsunami it raced through the darkness, like an arrow from the strongest bow. Tony stiffened in alarm, his hands up toward the window as if it might keep the crushing presence from pummeling them.

"What is it, Tony?" Gibbs asked.

Tony couldn't have spoken if his life depended on it. Which it did. It was death and hatred, mutilation and crucifixion, cancer and rape, pedophilia and racism, and it was coming for them.

Expecting the window to shatter into a million painful biting shards to herald its arrival, Tony was unprepared when it was suddenly in the room. But it wasn't going for Tony. It was laughing at him as it went after Gibbs.

Gibbs cried out in fear as the thing surrounded him. Instantly lacerations appeared on his face, his arms. He didn't make another sound as the being held him immobile, speechless, his face frozen, his expression equal parts fury and horror with the knowledge that something terrible was happening and he was helpless to stop it.

Tony let out a yell of outrage and leaped for Gibbs, knocking him to the floor. Another laceration appeared on his chest, ripping through his shirt.

"No!" Tony yelled angrily. "You can't have him." He lay on Gibbs, trying to cover as much of him as he could. Remembering the mutilated corpses, Tony grabbed Gibbs' arms, tucking his hands and fingers under Tony's belly. He covered Gibbs' eyes and mouth with one hand, protecting his eyeballs and tongue, hoping Gibbs would be able to breathe around his fingers. Then, he reached down and cupped Gibbs' penis.

He could feel the creature's anger at being thwarted and it tried to pull Gibbs away from him. "You can't have him," Tony snarled again. "Leave him the fuck alone!" He tried to cover every inch of Gibbs, refusing to yield another drop of blood to the evil in the room.

Tony felt a huge shove which almost unseated him from his perch on Gibbs' body but he hung on. He knew the evil wanted Gibbs dead; that it wanted to show Tony he was powerless against it.

Having no idea how he was protecting Gibbs by simply covering him, Tony frantically searched his heart and mind for anything he could use to fight back. He was just one man against a scourge. One man with a flyswatter against a plague of locust.

Something attacked Gibbs' lower body, the part of him least protected by Tony. Tony spared a look and saw a tear through Gibbs' jeans, and the new stain of blood. An angry determination took Tony by storm and, instinctively, he threw his aura around Gibbs like a net, a sphere of protection, and rapidly checked it for any holes, any weaknesses.

The evil buffeted against it, like hurricane winds against a house made of straw, but it held. His cell phone started to ring, and Tony knew it was the monster, calling, trying to distract him.

He ignored it, putting all his concentration on shielding Gibbs. That was all that mattered.

"You think you can defeat me?" a voice spoke in his ear, dripping in condescension. "You think you can watch him all the time?"

"Get the fuck out of here," Tony growled. "He's not yours to take."

"Anyone is mine to take, sweet Anthony," the voice answered, confident. "Especially you."

Tony felt something try to touch him, but his aura was protecting him as well, and all he sensed was a slight pressure and a malevolent, perverted desire. It made Tony sick to his stomach.

Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. The silence was deafening, and the lack of the presence of the evil made it seem as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Tony struggled to breathe for a few moments.

"Jesus," he finally said, his head dropping down. As he tried to relax, he felt how tight his body had been, and knew that in the morning his muscles would ache as if he'd run a marathon. A second later he realized he was still covering Gibbs' face and had his hand on his crotch, and quickly rolled off of him. "You okay, boss?" he asked, taking in all the cuts, the tracks of blood as the viscous liquid had obeyed the law of gravity and trickled to the floor.

Gibbs looked like it was all he could do to breathe.

"Can you move?" Tony asked.

Gibbs' answer was to cup his balls, blowing out a shaky breath.

"It's all still there, boss," Tony said.

"Thanks to you," Gibbs managed to say, his voice tight and unhappy and angry. "He would have torn me apart." His lips tightened, and he turned his head away from Tony. He followed his head movement with his body and rolled away, curling into a ball on the floor. "Fuck," he said, almost in despair.

Tony wasn't sure what to do. It's not like they covered crap like this in NCIS training. Finally, he said, "I won't let it hurt you. I promise you."

Still curled up, Gibbs said, "How are you going to stop it? You can't be with me all the time."

"Yes, I can," Tony said with fierce determination. He'd take showers with Gibbs and watch him shit if that's what it took.

"No, you can't," Gibbs said, equally determined. He slowly uncurled and sat up. "You can't be with me all the time," he said tensely. "Every second of every day. You'll need to sleep. We have a job to do, and I can't keep us together just to keep me safe."

"You sure as hell can," Tony snapped. "You just try to get rid of me."

"I can't live like that," Gibbs said stubbornly.

"So you want to die like that?" Tony asked incredulously, forced to his feet by an overwhelming anxiety. "With your eyeballs yanked out of your sockets, and your tongue ripped out, and your balls on a plate?"

Gibbs jumped to his feet. "Shut the fuck up," he roared, shoving at Tony's chest, pushing him away. He swiped a few drops of blood away from his eyes. "Just shut the fuck up."

"If you think I'm going to just stand back and let that monster tear you into pieces, you are out of your fucking mind," Tony hollered, moving right back into Gibbs' space.

Gibbs shoved him again. "And while you're protecting me, who ends up being his victim?" he asked, voice softer, but no less furious.

"So I should let it have you, to keep someone else from buying it?" Tony asked in disbelief. "The hell with that. I choose you. I choose to keep you alive."

"You can't--" Gibbs started.

Infuriated, Tony shoved Gibbs this time. "You think I know what that monster is doing just because I can sense it? Like I can choose who it kills?" He shoved Gibbs again. "I don't know what the fuck it even is, let alone what it's up to." Another shove. "All I know," he said heatedly, right in Gibbs' face, "is that I'm not letting it have you. So just fucking deal with it."

For a brief moment of suspended time, Tony was sure Gibbs was going to haul back and punch him right in the face. He even braced for it. But, instead, he felt Gibbs' hand cupping his neck, and the next thing he knew, Gibbs was kissing him, his tongue thrusting inside Tony's mouth, his hand cupping Tony's neck, squeezing. Gibbs' other hand was in Tony's hair, clenching tight enough to hurt.

There was nothing tender about the kiss. It was angry, and Tony tasted blood as Gibbs' teeth bit at his lips.

Tony let it happen. He got this. He understood why Gibbs was so angry. There wasn't much that sucked more than feeling helpless, and for a man like Gibbs, there probably wasn't anything worse. Tony was a convenient target. And while he wouldn't have chosen for their first time to be like this, he wouldn't deny Gibbs whatever he needed.

He kissed back, but didn't do anything that might make Gibbs think he was challenging him. Gibbs shoved him until he smacked into the wall and then Gibbs pressed against him, his hard cock digging into Tony's thigh.

Tony tried to wrap his arms around Gibbs, but Gibbs grabbed his hands and slammed them into the wall by Tony's head.

"I got it, boss," Tony said as soothingly as he could. He couldn't afford to let Gibbs actually hurt him, or this would be the first and last time they ever touched.

"Shut up," Gibbs snarled, biting Tony under his jaw hard enough to leave a mark.

"Shutting up," Tony said. He tried to figure out how to get Gibbs into the bedroom where there was lube and condoms. He wasn't crazy about the idea of unprotected sex with spit for lube. Not that they both weren't clean, but anal sex without condoms was messy. He let out a groan as Gibbs bit him again, hard, right over his collar bone.

Counting on caveman Gibbs staying true to form, Tony broke free and sprinted for the bedroom, hoping Gibbs would follow to keep his prey from escaping. He'd barely gotten through the door when Gibbs tackled him. Only years of college football kept Tony on his feet, stumbling for the bed. Gibbs shifted his grip and dumped him on the mattress, falling on top of him, seizing ownership again, covering him much as Tony had covered Gibbs.

Then, Gibbs was off him and tearing at his clothes. "Get these the hell off," Gibbs demanded.

Tony could do that. His shirt was off in a moment, and his pants and briefs followed soon after, his shoes kicked off at the last minute. He reached for the bedside table, pulling out supplies, placing them prominently on the bed where Gibbs couldn't miss them.

Too soon, long before Tony could take a moment to enjoy the sight of a naked Gibbs, Gibbs was back on top, once again slamming Tony's hands into the, thankfully, much softer mattress, hissing, "Don't even think about moving." His voice was still angry, his eyes dark.

Hoping like hell he wasn't making a mistake by going along with this, Tony just nodded. "Not going anywhere," he reassured Gibbs.

"Shut up," Gibbs demanded again.

Tony bit his lips as a sign of obedience. He couldn't allow Gibbs to leave, to let him be away from Tony, unprotected. Gratefully, he heard the lube squirting out of the bottle and then a slick finger was at the entrance to his body and pushed inside with little ceremony.

Gritting his teeth against the burning sensation, Tony rode it out, knowing his body would accommodate soon.

A second finger joined the first, but this time Gibbs found the small nub inside and Tony let out a moan, his body adapting, opening more. Tony loved getting fucked, and his body was made for fucking. He wanted to talk to Gibbs, tell him to get on with it, to just fuck him already, but he kept his mouth shut, not wanting Gibbs to get any angrier than he already was.

A third finger was added and Tony's body easily adjusted, and he spread his legs wider, hoping Gibbs would take the hint. Gibbs did, pulling his fingers out to rip open a condom package and slide it on his very hard, and very sizeable, cock. Tony watched voraciously as Gibbs slathered himself with lube.

Tony's legs were lifted and Gibbs slid under his thighs, and then he was pushing aggressively against Tony and sliding inside, all the way, one long thrust that made Tony groan, throwing his head back, loving every inch of Gibbs.

Gibbs immediately pulled out only to thrust back in again, fucking Tony, still using Tony to act out his anger. "That's good, Jesus, that's good," Tony panted out, reaching down to stroke his own cock.

Gibbs slapped his hand away, growling.

Tony put his hand back on the mattress.

On his next thrust, Gibbs hit his prostate just right and Tony arched under him. "God, yeah, just like that."

And just like that, unfortunately, Gibbs stopped, staring down at Tony, the anger in his eyes fading to confusion with a little bit of fear.

"Don't," Tony warned, wrapping his legs around Gibbs tightly, having no intention of letting him go. "I'm loving this. Don't even think about stopping."

It took a long moment, long enough that Tony thought Gibbs might pull out, but, finally, Gibbs slowly pushed back in.

"Yeah," Tony said again, lifting up so he didn't miss a centimeter of Gibbs' length. "Do it again." He grinned up at Gibbs.

"You like this?" Gibbs asked, uncertainty shifting to smugness.

"I love it," Tony said, groaning again, his feet on Gibbs' butt, encouraging Gibbs' movements.

Gibbs took his time, leaning down to kiss Tony for real this time. Softly, dancing with Tony's tongue instead of taking, teeth nibbling instead of biting. "I'm sorry," Gibbs whispered into Tony's mouth.

"Don't be," Tony whispered right back. "I wanted this. I want you."

"I could have hurt you," Gibbs said, even as he stroked back in, nibbling on Tony's earlobe.

"I wasn't gonna let you, boss," Tony assured him.

Then Gibbs was kissing him again, and he started thrusting deeply into Tony's body, hitting the magic spot over and over again until Tony was seeing stars and thinking he was going to come without Gibbs ever touching his cock. But then Gibbs' strong fingers were wrapped around him, stroking in time to his thrusts, and Tony's every breath was little more than one continuous moan. He closed his eyes as his toes curled into the comforter and his cock exploded in a blinding orgasm.

Gibbs lasted a few more thrusts and then he was letting out a groan of his own as his own climax overtook him.

Feeling like a piece of overcooked spaghetti, his limbs splayed out on the bed, Tony wasn't sure he'd ever be able to move again. Sadly, Gibbs withdrew, and Tony wished they could do it all over again--as long as he didn't have to move. He heard Gibbs deal with the condom, then leave the bed to go wash his hands.

On his return, Gibbs crawled back up Tony's body and lay down next to him, close enough to partly cover him. He touched the mark on Tony's collar bone, and then the one on his neck. "Sorry about that."

Tony grinned at him. "I'm not." He had plenty of turtlenecks and he liked being marked by Gibbs.

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Didn't know you were such a slut, DiNozzo," he observed, one arm over Tony's chest, his body still plastered against Tony's as if making it clear that if Tony was going to be a slut it was for Gibbs and Gibbs alone.

"Just for you, boss," Tony quipped. He might be a slut, and he might like sleeping around, but that was before he thought he had a shot in hell of landing Gibbs. Tony knew important when he had it in his bed. Or Gibbs' bed.

They lay there for a long time, Tony drifting in and out of consciousness. It wasn't just the sex making him tired, it was the aftermath of fighting off the monster.

As if he'd read his mind, Gibbs asked quietly, "How do we fight this thing? What is it?"

"It's evil," Tony said, the words the only ones he could say.

"I know it's evil," Gibbs said. "But, what is it?"

"I don't know." Lacing his fingers through Gibbs', maybe to keep Gibbs from running when Tony finished talking, he added, "I just know it's bad, and it's not human, and it's nothing we're going to be able to kill with guns, or interrogate in a courtroom."

There was a long pause, not surprising, Tony thought, as Gibbs, the most pragmatic man he'd ever met, tried to wrap his mind around the thought of a supernatural enemy. "So how do we fight it?"

"I wish I knew," Tony muttered.

Gibbs inched back until he was on his side facing Tony. "You knew enough to keep it from tearing me apart," he challenged.

Tony snorted mirthlessly. "Not well enough." He'd just noticed that Gibbs had at least six nasty looking cuts on his body, and he, Tony, and the sheets were smeared with blood. He reached out and touched the one on Gibbs' cheek, then displayed his bloody fingers to Gibbs. "We need to clean you up."

Gibbs looked startled at the sight, as if he'd completely forgotten about that part. But, staying put, he grabbed Tony's hand, bloody fingers and all. "You knew how to protect me," he said again, stubbornly, refusing to buy the fact that Tony didn't have clue one.

"Luck, boss," Tony snapped. "I was just making it up as I went along."

"And it worked," Gibbs said, like a dog with a bone. "So, what next?"

"Hell if I know," Tony said grimly, lying back, putting an arm over his eyes. If Gibbs was expecting him to come up with a viable plan, they were totally fucked.

"You told me she did something to you," Gibbs said, marching on whether Tony wanted to go along or not. "Did she give you the means to destroy it?"

Tony glared at Gibbs from beneath his arm. "How many times do I have to say I don't know before you believe me?" He sat up. "I don't know what she did to me. I don't know what I'm capable of. I don't know how to destroy it. Yes, I protected you for the most part," he held out his still bloody fingers as exhibit A of how less than perfect his protection had been, "but I didn't hurt it. Just pissed it off." He sighed, looking away. "It's probably out there right now killing someone just to teach me a lesson." That was a very distressing thought and it brought a sting of tears to Tony's eyes wondering who'd be paying the price for Tony's actions tonight.

Gibbs put his fingers under Tony's chin and forced Tony to look at him. "It's not your fault. Whatever this thing does, you're not responsible for it."

"That's not what you said earlier when you told me to let it have you so it wouldn't get someone else," Tony ground out.

Gibbs had the grace to look momentarily ashamed. "That was stupid of me. Stupid to say, and stupid to ask."

Tony just shrugged.

"Did it try to go after you?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. "It tried."

"But failed?" Gibbs pushed.

Another nod. "I wrapped us both up in my--" Tony winced a little, imagining Gibbs' reaction, "my aura."

Gibbs sighed mightily. "I hate this," he said.

"Yeah, me, too," Tony agreed.

"Am I still wrapped up in it?" Gibbs inquired tightly.

"No," Tony said after a quick glance. "We need to be touching, and I need to be constantly reinforcing it." He wasn't sure how he knew that, but he did.

"So," Gibbs challenged, "how are you going to protect me?"

Tony guessed that was Gibbs way of telling him to stop brooding about the damn situation and start doing something useful. So much for capitalizing on saving Gibbs' life. "Let's take a shower, and change the sheets."


"Besides the obvious?" Tony asked.

"Yeah." Gibbs' head was cocked to the side as if he could tell there was more going on.

There was, but Tony wasn't sure what it was. "I'm not sure what I need to do, but I know I can't do it if you're covered in blood from the monster touching you. We need to be clean."

Gibbs studied him for a moment then nodded, getting out of bed, standing there, waiting on Tony.

Tony took a moment to look. With a grin, he said, "Nice, boss."

Gibbs rolled his eyes, but a faint blush on his cheeks told of his pleasure at the compliment. "Get out of bed, DiNozzo," was all he said.

"That's not something I hear from you every day," Tony teased, but he did as requested and got out of bed, heading for the bathroom. He could feel Gibbs' eyes on his ass and grinned.

Shower done, another set of orgasms achieved, Gibbs by a hand job, Tony by an amazing blow job that still had his knees feeling weak, they stripped the bed and remade it with fresh sheets. Then, Gibbs said, "What's next?"

"Get on the bed."

"I couldn't get it up again with a crane lift," Gibbs said ruefully.

"Not for sex," Tony said, smirking.

Smirking right back, Gibbs lay down on his back, staring up expectantly. Tony stared at Gibbs' injuries and felt his hands warm, and somehow knew it was so he could heal Gibbs. "First things first," he said, kneeling on the bed next to Gibbs. He put each of his hands on two of Gibbs' lacerations and closed his eyes. His hands grew warmer then almost painfully hot. As the sensation started to fade he lifted his hands away and saw smooth unblemished skin. "Wow," Tony said.

Gibbs lifted his hand to feel his cheek and temple where Tony's hands had been. Disbelieving, he shot out of bed for the bathroom and stared in the mirror. "How did you do that?"

"I don't know," Tony said from behind him. He put his hand over the cut on Gibbs' chest, and the one on his thigh. Warmth then heat, and again, the wounds were healed. He touched the last two, and healed those as well.

"Can you heal anything?" Gibbs asked, his eyes wide.

"I don't know," Tony said. He stared at Gibbs, trying to imagine his insides, anything that might not be working well but he came up with nothing. "I don't know what I can do until I do it."

Gibbs rubbed his chest over the area where the cut had been. "Thanks."

Tony nodded, feeling a little scared at what he was, or what he was becoming. "Sure."

"Back to bed?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah, I think so. I need to have you someplace where I can get at all of you."

"Crane lift?" Gibbs reminded him.

"Not sex?" Tony reminded him back.

Looking part mollified and part disappointed, to Tony's enjoyment, Gibbs strode back to the bed, lying back down.

Kneeling again by his side, Tony closed his eyes, hoping something would come to him. Without even thinking about it, his hands moved, running down Gibbs' body, not touching, about an inch away from his skin. He opened his eyes and saw what he was doing. It was like he was hiding Gibbs away from the monster's eyes, covering him in whitewash.

"What are you doing?" Gibbs asked in a whisper, as if afraid of disturbing Tony.

"Painting you," Tony said. It was easier with his eyes open. He could see the spots he was missing, going back over areas until the coating of whatever the hell he was doing to Gibbs completely covered him. "Arms out, legs spread," he told Gibbs.

He was shot a narrowed-eyed look, but Gibbs complied.

Tony worked up and down his arms and then the same to his legs. "Turn over."

Gibbs turned over.

He quickly completed his work on Gibbs' backside, then sat back and took a thorough look, making sure he hadn't missed a single spot. He patched up a few areas, then said, "Turn over again."

Flipping over, Gibbs watched him as Tony looked again for any mistakes. Then, to Gibbs, he said, "Can you feel that?"

Gibbs shook his head. "What did you do?"

"I'm not sure," Tony admitted. "I just…it's like I gave you a…" Tony stopped, frustrated. "I painted you," he finally said again. "With something that will protect you."

"You sure?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure."

Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek, but then he sat up and kissed Tony. "Thanks. Too bad you can't do this for the whole city."

Tony thought about it for a moment, hoping something would come to him, but it didn't. "Too easy," he finally said. "It would just go somewhere else. This is gonna end up personal between the monster and me."

"Between the monster and us," Gibbs corrected him. "Now, how about we get dressed and go cruising for the thing, see if we can stop whatever he's got planned for the night."

That was a great idea. Not that Tony was looking forward to dealing with it again, but if he could stop it from killing someone, from paralyzing them and then tearing their body apart, he'd do it. He'd do it every damn night. "Let's go."

Hours later, Gibbs was doing his best not to fall asleep at the wheel and Tony wasn't doing any better. They gave up, went back to Gibbs' house, stripped, crawled into bed, and fell asleep in each other's arms.

At NCIS the next day, sometime around mid-morning, Gibbs told Tony to stay at his desk against Tony's vociferous complaints. "It either worked or it didn't, DiNozzo," Gibbs said calmly, calmer than he felt, certainly.

"Boss," Tony said patiently, as if speaking to a three-year-old, "maybe I should be with you when you take it out for a test run, don't you think?"

"Take what out?" Kate asked from her cubicle.

Tony ignored her and hissed in a whisper, "I don't even know if it will work."

"Then I guess we'll find out," Gibbs said, absolutely refusing to have his life compromised because of some fucking thing that didn't really even exist. "I'll be down with Abby."

He walked away, feeling the lethal weight of Tony's glare, wondering how long Tony would manage to sit at his desk. Gibbs gave him ten minutes, max, before he came up with some excuse to come to Abby's lab after him.

"Take what out?" Kate asked again.

The elevator doors closed on anything Tony said in response.

Gibbs leaned against the wall, pushing back his anxiety. Last night, when that thing had attacked him, it had scared the crap out of Gibbs. He hadn't been able to move or fight back. He wouldn't have been able to do a fucking thing to stop it from doing whatever the hell it wanted.

When Tony had landed on him, Gibbs had thought that the thing was after him, too, but as Tony covered him, protecting his hands, his face, even his penis, Gibbs had realized that for some reason, Tony was going to be able to keep him safe, or at least keep his body parts intact, something Gibbs was inestimably grateful for. He liked all his parts just where they were.

Then, after it was done, Gibbs had attacked Tony. Some thanks. Luck didn't begin to cover all the shit that had gone down last night. Luck that Tony had some weird spell done to him by an old black lady, luck that he had been with Tony, luck that Tony had figured out what to do, and luck that Tony hadn't minded Gibbs fucking him without even asking. Gibbs would have taken him right there on the living room floor with nothing but spit for lube if Tony hadn't kept his wits about him.

The elevator door opened, and Gibbs strode out, heading for Abby.

Gibbs didn't like depending on luck. Tony? Yes. Luck? No. Gibbs was having a very hard time admitting that there was nothing he could do to catch this thing.

"Hey, Gibbs," Abby said brightly.

"Abby," he said in return. "You got something for me?"

"Nothing," Abby said, deflating. "There's not a speck of DNA on anything that didn't belong to the victims." She took a closer look at Gibbs. "You okay, boss man?"

Through gritted teeth, Gibbs said, "Tony says it's not human."

Her eyes widened. "Seriously?"

"Do you think this is something I'd joke about, Abby?" Gibbs said caustically. He hated this. Holding out his arm, he said, "Pinch me."

"What?" Abby said, her face scrunching up. "Why? You're definitely not dreaming."

"Tony did something to me last night and I want to see if it works. So pinch me and make sure it hurts."

Looking at him like he might go postal any second, Abby reached out, grabbed some skin and twisted.

"Ow!" Gibbs said sharply, stepping back with a glower.

"What did Tony do?" Abby asked, looking insufficiently penitent.

Gibbs had really wanted Abby not to be able to hurt him even though the fact that she had wasn't proof that Gibbs wasn't protected by whatever Tony had done. It just meant it wasn't going to protect him from Abby.

When Gibbs didn't answer, Abby pushed, "Gibbs, what's going on? Do you believe him?"

Unhappily, Gibbs nodded.

"For real?" Abby practically squeaked. "You think we're dealing with something from a spiritual dimension?"

Gibbs skin started tingling and not in a good way. He could tell the danger was heading his way, like a marked change in the weather. He pulled out his phone, intending to call Tony. He'd only managed to flip it open when the thing arrived, this time dramatically shattering the windows to Abby's lab. Gibbs pulled her close, hunching over her. He was able to push the speed dial to Tony before it was on him, pulling him away from Abby, slamming him against a wall. His phone went flying.

He heard Abby scream, but he didn't expect any help from her when he knew she couldn't see anything. Besides, he didn't want her to help; he didn't want her hurt.

It was then that Gibbs realized that while the thing was able to push him around, he wasn't immobilized this time. He yelled at Abby, "Call Tony. Get him down here."

He saw her nod, eyes wide in combined terror and disbelief, and she quickly began to dial Tony's extension.

And that was when Gibbs realized that not only was he not immobilized, but he also wasn't in pain--other than being held against his will against a wall, and he could live with that. The monster had obviously figured out the same thing and it threw him across the room into some of Abby's equipment. It stung, like a slap, but Gibbs was amazed to find himself intact.

He was flung to the floor, hard, and left alone while the monster went for Abby. She let out a scream and Gibbs was on his feet trying to do what Tony had done last night, getting in between it and her. But lacerations appeared on her cheek that looked like she'd been raked by the talons of a large bird of prey. "Where the fuck are you?" Gibbs demanded of an absent Tony.

Who suddenly wasn't absent anymore, pushing himself between Gibbs and Abby, pulling her to the floor, covering her just as he had Gibbs.

"What is it? What is it?" Abby was screaming, her hands flailing at Tony now.

"Abby," Tony yelled at her. "I've got you. Stop hitting me."

One of her fists connected with his jaw and only Gibbs hanging on to Tony kept him from rolling off Abby, leaving her unprotected. Gibbs had taught Abby how to box so he knew she had a mean left hook.

The monster struck at her repeatedly, and she shrieked as lacerations showed up on her legs, her shoulders, anyplace where Tony wasn't touching her.

"Do that aura thing," Gibbs commanded, not sure why Tony hadn't already done it.

"I would if she'd stay still," Tony said determinedly. Abby was still striking out, legs and arms flailing, doing her best to unseat Tony.

"Abby," Gibbs yelled. "Stop. Stay still." When that got no response, he lay down on the floor next to her and tried again. "Abby. It's Gibbs. Trust me. Stay still."

Finally, she stopped, sagging underneath Tony.

Gibbs couldn't see it happening, but he knew it was working when no more cuts appeared. He could hear running footsteps, and had no idea how he was going to explain all of this, including Tony lying on top of Abby with her slashed up and crying. Worse than that was the thought the monster would go after anyone who appeared. Gibbs had no idea if Tony had the power to protect them all.

"Stay back," Gibbs yelled, hoping they'd hear him. Not that it would protect them from this thing if it felt like hurting them. It could tear through NCIS, killing everyone in its path.

Before Gibbs could even try to stop it, Tony was yanked from Abby, picked up and thrown through one of the broken windows as if he were a rag doll. There was a cacophony of sounds as wood splintered and what glass remained there rained to the floor.

"Tony," Gibbs yelled, racing to the window. He could see his body outside, under the shrubbery. He wasn't moving. "Fuck," Gibbs said raggedly, scanning the room for something tall enough to get him up and through the window.

"Here," Abby said, still in tears, her tear-smudged eye makeup making her look more like a raccoon than a forensics expert. Sniffling, she pushed a sturdy table toward Gibbs. He lifted the other end of it and they got it to the wall. Gibbs was on it and crawling out the window when the cavalry arrived. Useless and late. He could hear McGee asking Abby what happened as Gibbs climbed through and out the other side.

"Tony," he called, heart in his throat.

Tony let out a groan and flopped over. "Ow. That hurt."

The relief was so strong, Gibbs almost fell to his knees, but he kept going until he was next to Tony. Then, he fell to his knees. "Are you all right?"

Tony's hands came up rubbing at his temples. "Yeah. I just have a killer headache."

"From getting thrown through the window?" Gibbs asked, wondering what sort of protection Tony had for himself.

"No, from where Abby punched me," Tony complained. "Ow."

Gibbs sat down and found himself snickering. His life had taken a very weird turn somewhere and Gibbs was having a hard time keeping up.

"Gibbs? Tony?" Abby called from the window. "Are you guys all right?"

"We're fine, Abs," Gibbs assured her. "We'll be in in a minute."

She looked like she was deliberating maybe crawling out after them, but then Gibbs heard McGee talking her down.

"Whatever you did to me worked," Gibbs told Tony. "It couldn't hurt me, except to throw me around a little."

"It's pretty pissed," Tony said.

"But it can't hurt you either, right?" Gibbs pressed.

"Not physically," Tony answered. He manipulated his jaw, wincing. "Remind me never to spar with Abby."

"What's that mean?" Gibbs snapped out.

Tony sent him a confused look. "Sparring?"

"No," Gibbs said impatiently, "the 'not physically' part."

Tony looked even more confused. "What?"

"You said that the monster couldn't hurt you physically."

"Right. He can't."

Gibbs counted to ten. "You said it as if it could hurt you in other ways."

"I did?"

Gibbs counted to ten again. "DiNozzo. Focus."

"Sorry, boss." Tony sat up.

"Can it hurt you in other ways?" Gibbs said slowly, wanting to smack Tony on the back of his head to make him listen.

Tony stared at him for a long moment, his brow furrowed. "I think it can fuck with my mind. I think if it could get in there, it could make me insane."

"Insane how?"

"Institutionalized insane," Tony said, a little too pedantically for Gibbs' taste, considering what he was saying.

"How do we keep that from happening?" Gibbs demanded.

"I don't know, boss. And I know you're sick of me saying that, but I don't know. It hasn't really tried yet. I can see what it wants, and I can feel it pressing in on me, in my mind, and I can feel the craziness there, like that movie Fallen, you know, where all someone had to do was touch someone and the demon got passed along. Like if it touched me just right, that it would poison me by leaving some of its evil inside of me."

Gibbs felt shivers run up and down his spine. "Then we make damn sure that doesn't happen."

"You got it, boss," Tony said wearily. "Shit. The last few days have been too damn weird."

"You guys coming back in?" Kate called from the window. "The Director wants to know what's going on."

"We'll be right in," Tony said, throwing her a smile.

The Director. Great. Gibbs wasn't looking forward to this. "Can you walk?" he asked Tony.

"Yeah. Really, I'm fine, except for my jaw."

"Well, come on Superman," Gibbs teased, pushing aside the memory of Tony getting thrown across the room and through the window like a bag of garbage. "I'll get you an ice pack."

Gibbs, Tony, and Abby stood in front of the director, in his office, while he stared at them. "Do you really expect me to believe what you're saying?" Morrow asked, brow furrowed, as if they'd all taken leave of their senses.

"You don't have to," a voice said from behind them. Gibbs turned to see that McGee had snuck in and was holding a CD. "It's all on this security feed."

When the director didn't bark at him, McGee came fully into the room and held out the CD.

The director looked at it as if it were poisonous. He stood and walked to the door of his office, shooting Gibbs and his team a look, making it clear they were to follow him. They made their way down to MTAC, where the director dismissed everyone else, and gestured toward McGee to put the CD in.

A minute later, the entire series of events from Abby's lab was playing out in full Technicolor large screen motion. They all watched in silence, although when the thing went after Gibbs, Tony stepped closer until their shoulders were brushing. Gibbs was glad of it when he had to watch the thing throw Tony through the window. The tape ended with Tony crawling back in the window and healing Abby. When it finished, there was another long moment of silence.

"So, the story you told me this morning was true?" the director asked Gibbs.

"Yes," Gibbs said. The first thing he'd done this morning was tell the director what had happened regarding the foiled kidnapping. He hadn't wanted Morrow to be blindsided if any of that came to light. The director had shot him one of his looks and left it at that. It wasn't surprising he hadn't believed it. Gibbs wouldn't believe any of this if he wasn't living it.

"So, instead of Special Agent DiNozzo being able to see dead people, he can see bad people?" the Director said half-kidding, half interrogative.

"Essentially," Gibbs said.

"I am right here," Tony offered.

"And I'm guessing he did something to you to protect you?" the director asked Gibbs.

Not an unreasonable assumption, seeing as Gibbs should at least have some broken bones, if not a snapped spinal cord, from being tossed around the way he had been.

"Yeah, he did," Gibbs said.

"What did he do?" Morrow asked. When Tony sighed, the director turned to Tony. "What did you do?"

Tony licked his lips nervously and shifted from one foot to the other. "I'm, uh, still not sure. I sort of painted Gibbs in my head with this imaginary paint." He winced at his explanation. "And I know that sounds stupid, but I think I need to do the same to all of you. I think anyone I talk to is at risk."

"And what happens when whatever this is figures out what you've done?" Morrow asked.

"I don't think he will," Tony said slowly. "I think my complete ignorance about what that woman did to me, and what I can do, is actually a good thing. He can get into my head, but it doesn't do him any good. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what I can do. I don't even know what I've done after I've done it. And because of it, this thing doesn't know. It can't get anything from me." He finished his babbling speech up with one of his hey-that's-cool smiles which made Gibbs both want to kiss him and smack him.

Morrow stared at them all for what felt like a long time. To Tony he said, "Do it, whatever it is. Do it to the rest of your team."

"How about you?" Tony asked.

The director sighed. "Me, too. And I want it done behind closed doors so no one sees you. And then, if you really think anyone you talk to is at risk, I want you out of here. You can't protect everyone, and I don't want anyone else knowing what's going on."

"No kidding," Abby said. "Everyone would freak."

"Thank you, Ms. Scuito," Morrow said dryly, "for your succinct synopsis."

Tony's phone rang.

"Fuck," Tony said. Then his eyes widened and he winced at the director. "Sorry."

"Is it him?" Gibbs asked.

"Probably," Tony answered. He made no move to answer his phone.

The director's phone started to ring, then Gibbs' cell phone.

"Oh, it's definitely him," Tony said with a grimace. "He doesn't like it when we ignore him. It. Whatever." Reluctantly, Tony reached for his phone and flipped it open. "DiNozzo," he said, after putting it on speaker phone.

"I don't like being thwarted, Anthony," the voice purred over the phone, as if, in truth, he loved being thwarted.

Gibbs could feel the threat in its tones, though, and all directed at Tony.

"Too bad," Tony said.

"There will, of course, be a price to pay for your insolence," the monster said chidingly.

"Color me surprised," Tony said insolently. "And not if I stop you first."

"It's too late for that," the voice said with malicious glee. "I'm not as burdened as you are by a physical form. I can be wherever I wish just at a thought."

Tony glanced at Gibbs, his brow furrowed, as if trying to think who the monster could have gone after that would mean something to him. Looking around the room, his eyes widened. "Kate?" Tony asked soundlessly.

Gibbs strode to the door and opened it, looked down at the bull pen and saw Kate sitting at her desk. She glanced up at him and he gestured for her to join him. He moved back in the room, not wanting to miss anything that was being said. "She's fine," Gibbs said soundlessly back.

Tony looked relieved. "So where are you now?" he asked into the phone.

Kate slipped into the room, and Gibbs put a finger over his lips to keep her from talking. He watched as Tony took them all in, as if doing inventory on all the people who mattered to him. The only one missing was Ducky. Gibbs sincerely hoped he was out of harm's way. He hadn't really had much interaction with Tony other than coming to get the bodies, so hopefully the monster hadn't tagged him as someone important to Tony.

Gibbs raised his eyebrows at Tony, but Tony shook his head as he shrugged his shoulders in an I-have-no-idea manner.

"You'll find out soon enough, Anthony," the voice said. "I'll be watching you." The call disconnected.

Tony held the phone out in front of him with two fingers as if it was counting down.

"Any idea what he was talking about?" Morrow asked.

Tony thought about it for a moment but shook his head. "No."

Gibbs looked over at Abby, saw she was on the phone, smiling. She only spoke a few more seconds then hung up. "Ducky's okay," she informed them.

"Is there someone else he could go after, someone else who's important to you?" Gibbs asked, realizing how little he knew about Tony.

"Not really," Tony mused. "I mean, I have friends and stuff, but none of them are as important to me as you guys are."

Gibbs saw the surprised, then pleased, looks on McGee's and Kate's face. Abby didn't look at all surprised by that announcement, and after last night, Gibbs wasn't surprised either. He probably would have been, though, if he hadn't spent the night curled around Tony in bed.

"You should probably do that protection thing on everyone," Abby pointed out. "Start with me, please."

Gibbs didn't blame her. She'd been a little too up close and personal to the evil they were fighting.

"What protection thing?" Kate asked.

That's right, Gibbs thought. She hadn't seen the tape.

"I have to run my hands all over you, Kate," Tony said with a leer.

"Over my dead body, Tony," Kate said sweetly back.

"Watch the CD, Agent Todd, and then I suspect you'll get in line," Morrow instructed. "Do whatever you have to do up in my office," he instructed Tony. "Then, I want you out of here. Figure out what he was talking about. I suspect we have some more victims waiting for us to find them."

Tony winced and nodded, and they all trooped back up to Morrow's office, except Kate and McGee who was getting the CD ready to play again.

"How do you want me, Tony?" Abby asked. "Standing or lying down."

"Standing's okay," he said, moving over to her, closing his eyes for a moment.

Gibbs settled down in one of the chairs, waiting for Tony to do his thing.

An hour later, Tony and Gibbs walked out to Gibbs' car. Tony stretched out his neck and yawned. "Shit, I'm exhausted."

"Doing that makes you tired?" Gibbs asked, eying him sharply.

"Yeah," Tony said. He was glad he'd done it. He'd sleep better knowing his team was taken care of, but he felt drained. There was probably a way to, well, paint people psychically and not use up all his energy, but Tony hadn't figured it out. Every person he'd done had taken a little more out of him. All the auras that had seemed so bright earlier today now seemed muted, grayed out, as if the whole world was tired, too. "I just need a nap," he said, hoping that would put things to right.

Gibbs shot him a dubious look, but Tony had no answers to give him. He was totally making this shit up as he went along. He closed his eyes, too exhausted to even talk. He was almost asleep when his phone rang. "Crap," he snapped. "I'm not answering it."

"It might not be him," Gibbs proposed carefully.

Tony shot him a look. "It's him." Tony knew it was him. He could sense it, like a part of it oozed into his phone whenever he turned his intentions toward Tony. The phone kept ringing, long after it should have rolled over into voice mail. Wishing with all his being that he'd suddenly wake up and be home in his bed, the entire last week nothing but a really, really weird dream, Tony unclipped his phone.

He stared at it for a moment, thinking that if none of this had ever happened, then he and Gibbs would never have slept together, and decided that wasn't okay. "What?" he snapped into the phone.

"Temper, temper, Anthony," the monster said. "My congratulations on your ability to protect your teammates."

"Cut the bullshit, what do you want?"

"Don't think your meager skills will protect you from me, boy," the voice said, all pretense of politeness gone.

Gibbs snapped his fingers, trying to reach for the phone.

Tony leaned away from him, refusing to let this thing even talk to Gibbs if he could help it. He felt Gibbs pull to the side of the road, slam the car into park and glare at him.

Sighing, Tony put the phone on speaker. "What," Tony said slowly, annunciating clearly, as if speaking to an idiot, "do you want?"

"Why, to own you, of course," the thing said, as if it was a foregone conclusion, as if surprised Tony didn't know. "I'm looking forward to it."

Tony shivered at the tone of its voice. The words were so simple, but they were all about domination, subjugation, humiliation, and pain. "You will never own me," Tony avowed.

"Oh, but I will," the voice said with surety. "And not even your Gibbs will be able to stop me."

A wave of weariness rushed over Tony like a sledgehammer. "Why me? Why do you even care?"

"You might have the power to protect your team," the voice said, ignoring Tony's question, "but, Anthony, who has the power to protect you? Who's going to keep you safe when I find a way to break through whatever barrier you've managed to put up between you and me? And I will break through it," he added relentlessly. "Whatever my nemesis did to you, it won't be enough. You won't be enough."

Tony was afraid he was right, but he also knew this was part of the evil's game plan. "Fuck off," he said and hung up.

Gibbs phone began to ring. Before Gibbs answered it, he grabbed Tony's hand. "Tony," he said seriously, "don't listen to what he's saying to you."

"I hear you, boss," Tony said. "I know he's just psyching me out."

Gibbs looked at him for another long moment then reached for his phone. "Gibbs," he said into it. After a moment he said it again. "Gibbs." He pulled the phone away from his ear to look at the screen. "There's no one there, but there's an address on my screen." He held it out to Tony.

"Nice to know that evil has fully embraced the latest technology," Tony said grimly. "He's texting you the address of his latest victim." He let his head sag back against the seat. There was no way he had the energy to deal with this. Images of his bed with Gibbs sleeping next to him taunted him. He closed his eyes, listened as Gibbs rallied the troops. With all his heart he hoped it wouldn't be as bad as the last time.

"The name Rawlins mean anything to you?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shook his head without opening his eyes. "No, should it?"

"It's who lives at this address. Melinda and Bill Rawlins, and their daughter--" Gibbs cut off. "Shit."

Tony forced his eyes open. "Their daughter?" He took a look at Gibbs and sat up straight, his heart pounding. "Who's their daughter, boss?"

Gibbs clenched his jaw as if he could keep the words in.

"Who?" Tony demanded.

"Melody," Gibbs bit out.

Tony let the name percolate through, knowing that it had to mean something to him or Gibbs wouldn't be flipping out. If he wasn't so damn tired he'd be able to figure it out. "Melody?" he repeated, and that's when it came to him. "The little girl from last night," he said, so angry he was paralyzed with it. "Right?"

"Right," Gibbs said, his jaw muscles jumping.

"Fuck," Tony said. "Fuck, fuck," he said again as he hit the dashboard, then kicked the underside of the glove compartment, wishing there was something here he could hurt, something he could rip into pieces, something he could scream at until his throat was raw.

Gibbs didn't try to stop him from hitting whatever he wanted, and he didn't say a word. Whether that was because he knew better, or because he was afraid that Tony's rage would turn on him in an instant, Tony didn't know. He couldn't remember ever being this angry in his life. He was panting for breath, his teeth hurt he was gritting them so hard, the emotions inside of him were swelling past the point of endurance.

"Tony," Gibbs finally said.

"Don't," Tony bit out, low and dangerous. "Don't say a word." There was nothing Gibbs could say that would make this better, that would make Tony feel less guilty, that would bring back that little girl.

They pulled up to the house, and Tony got out of the car and strode for the door.

"Anthony," a voice said.

Tony looked around, looked back at Gibbs. "You say something?"

Gibbs just shook his head.

"Do you see what your interference has done?" the voice said.

Tony put on a pair of gloves and tried the door. It was unlocked. He pushed it open, wondering if he could stand to see this, if he'd be able to do his job.

"You're useless, Anthony. Worse than useless. Dangerous. You are the one responsible for choosing this victim. And such a sweet victim she was, too."

"Shut the fuck up," Tony hissed.

"What'd you say, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said, standing right behind him.

"Nothing," Tony answered. "Let's get this over with."

They were all in the dining room. Extra leaves had been put in the table and there was plenty of room for a largish dinner party. Mom and dad were at their ends of the table, and Melody was on a booster seat. There were gaping holes in their chests where their hearts had been ripped out. Another hole lower where their livers used to be.

"I did her last, Anthony. She watched as I started with her parents, as I arranged them at the table. She sat there with tears running down her face as I ripped through their chests and pulled out their still beating hearts. They actually do continue to beat, you know."

Tony tried to shut out the voice, but his reserves were shot. He felt hands touching him and he shied away right into Gibbs.

"You all right?" Gibbs asked him.

Tony barked out a mirthless, incredulous, laugh. "You're kidding, right?"

"Right," Gibbs said. "Stupid question."

There was a noise at the door and Tony could hear McGee and Kate come in and go to Gibbs to get their orders. Tony walked around the table. There were placecards at the other five seats. He picked one up; it read: Special Agent Caitlin Todd.

"I have to thank you for choosing this particular family, Anthony", the voice continued.

He felt a hand touch his cheek, another one touch his ass. He tried to focus on his aura, but everything felt out of reach.

"They were planning a party tonight to announce that there'd be a new little brother coming along in a few months. The rest of the guests should be arriving shortly."

"Gibbs," Tony said. "Company's coming. Have someone watch outside."

"How do you know that?" Gibbs asked sharply.

Tony didn't answer. He picked up the next placecard. Special Agent Timothy McGee. The thought of this monster creating these cards with his co-workers names on them felt filthy to Tony. He felt soiled, could feel it contaminating his body every second he stood in this room.

"So, because of your help, Anthony," the voice crooned in his ear, "there are four innocents dead. She was foolish to choose you, Anthony, so very foolish."

He could read the next placecard: Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

"There's some sort of stew cooking in the kitchen," Kate observed, coming back into the dining room.

"Heart and liver stew," Tony said.

"Have some, Anthony, it's delicious. Organ meat is so healthy for you."

A hand touched his ass again, pressing in on the cleft. It made Tony feel even dirtier.

"You all right, Tony?" Gibbs asked again, standing close.

Tony picked up the fourth placecard: Dr. "Ducky" Mallard, and showed it to Gibbs.

"I've saved the best for last, Anthony," the voice said with delight. "See what I've left on your plate."

There was a bowl on the plate, with a spoon resting in it. Tony didn't want to know what was in it.

"Tony?" Gibbs asked again.

"I'm okay, boss," Tony managed to get out.

"I know it's flattering to be chosen, Anthony, and I'm sure she thought she was choosing the right champion, but surely you can see now that she was mistaken. More people are dead because of you than you managed to save."

Tony could hear the camera clicking in the background, heard the sound of local law enforcement showing up to keep onlookers and the expected company out of the house. There'd be no party tonight, no celebratory champagne that everyone but mom would drink, while her husband proudly served her sparkling cider instead. No sonograms, no baby showers, no contractions, no new baby brother. Nothing. Because of him. Funerals and grieving, and all because of him.

"That's right, Anthony. All because of you."

More noise at the door, Ducky and Palmer.

"Good Lord," Ducky said unhappily, taking in the scene. He picked up one of the placecards when he arrived at the table. "It would seem we were all invited," he said grimly.

Tony slowly walked to the seat reserved for him, staring down into the bowl. It was filled with blood and tissue, but Tony couldn't recognize what it was.

"It's baby brother, Anthony," the voice said, and Tony felt the pressure of someone standing right behind him, pressed against him, pushing him into the table. Hands skimmed over his hips, down his thighs. "Let me have you, Anthony. I can make you forget. Or, even better, I'll let you tell me who I can kill. You can truly save the innocent that way."

"Tony," Gibbs snapped. "What's going on?"

Tony looked up, saw that Gibbs was staring at him, Ducky, too. "Sorry, boss," Tony said. "I'm just a little freaked."

"What's in the bowl?" Gibbs asked.

"Her baby brother," Tony said, gagging, turning away, needing a bathroom before he puked all over the crime scene. He raced down the hall, pushing open doors until he found a bathroom. He fell to his knees and vomited, his gut seizing, cramping.

"She trusted you, Anthony, little Melody did. She thought you were saving her. But, you didn't, did you? She's dead because of you. Parents dead because of you. Little brother dead because of you. How many, Anthony? How many will die because you think you can make a difference?"

The words were relentless, eating away at Tony, there were hands all over him, a fetid breath breathing on his face. Too late he thought to call for Gibbs. Still gagging, he fell to the floor, curling up tight, just like a fetus.

Gibbs watched Tony race for the back of the house, hand over his mouth. Gibbs couldn't blame him, he was swallowing back bile himself, thinking of what was in that bowl. He moved to go after Tony when Ducky stopped him, "I'm afraid I'll have to wait until I have the bodies back at the morgue before I can give you a definitive time of death, Jethro," he said. "Having their livers removed has made assessing the time of death problematic."

Gibbs nodded, deciding to wait for Tony to come back. No one liked being watched when they were sick to their stomach. Although, it hadn't escaped Gibbs that Tony had been acting strange ever since they'd arrived at the scene. Not that there wasn't a reason for it, but Tony had been acting very out of character. When he got stressed, he got talkative. Inappropriately so. Or, he withdrew and lost himself in the work. Today he'd done neither. It was like none of them were even there. He'd just slowly made his way around the table, ignoring everyone.

He'd been jumpy. Gibbs had seen him shy away from nothing Gibbs could see. And he'd known about the family coming, he'd known what was in the stew, and he'd known what was in that bowl. As if someone was feeding him information.

Fingers of dread slithered down Gibbs' spine and he ran down the same hallway Tony had raced down. "Tony," he yelled. There was no response.

Gibbs found Tony behind the last door on the right, on the ground, curled in a ball, whimpering. The smell of vomit was ripe in the air, and Gibbs flushed the toilet, stepping over Tony to get to the sink to wet a washcloth. "Tony," he said, crouching down, wiping his face.

He saw blood on Tony's shirt, over his heart. Gibbs tried to put his hand on Tony's chest to see where it was coming from. Tried was the operative word; something stopped him. Something that felt like death and hatred. Something that was trying to dig its way into Tony's chest to get to his heart. Gibbs could hear the tissues tear as if claws were slowly ripping their way through skin.

Without conscious thought, Gibbs grabbed Tony's shoulder and forced him into a sitting position, leaning against the closed doors of the vanity. He crawled on top of Tony, straddling his lap, pulling him close. "You can't fucking have him," Gibbs snarled to the small room.

Gibbs heard a faint laugh, and put his hand as close as he could to Tony's heart. Something was still keeping him from touching Tony's skin, but he was closer. "Tony," Gibbs snapped. "Wake up."

Tony groaned.

"Tony," Gibbs said again. "I need you to wake up. I need you to fight back."

"He's right, boss," Tony said softly, as he lay there limply, allowing whatever this thing was to hurt him. "My fault."

"This is not your fault, DiNozzo," Gibbs said ferociously. "This is that monster's fault. He did this. He hurt these people."

"My fault," Tony said weakly. "I can't do this. I can't."

Hoping Tony would understand, Gibbs smacked him across the face. "DiNozzo," he yelled in Tony's face.

Tony's eyes shot open. "Yeah, boss."

"This is not your fault. That little girl would be dead or worse if you hadn't saved her. And because of what you did, we have a child molester and murderer behind bars tonight. This thing tore those people apart, and it set up this scene to play us all. You are not responsible for what it does."

"What if she made a mistake?" Tony asked, exhaustion and pain written all over his face. The wound on his chest was growing larger. He must still be partially protected or he'd already be dead, but Gibbs could see he was growing weaker.

Gibbs, again, tried to push through whatever was hurting Tony, but was unable to. "What if who made a mistake?" he asked Tony.

"That woman," Tony gasped out. "She chose the wrong person. If she'd chosen the right person this wouldn't have happened."

"She chose the right person, Tony. It's why he's fighting back so hard, don't you see? He knows you can win against him, and he's trying to weaken you." And he picked the perfect scene for it, Gibbs thought darkly. "Was he talking to you?"

Tony nodded, his eyes closing.

"Touching you?"

Another nod.

Fucking bastard.

There was a movement at the door and Gibbs looked up to find McGee there. "Is Tony all right?" he asked anxiously.

"No," Gibbs said shortly. He put his attention back on Tony whose eyes were closing. "DiNozzo," he yelled again, putting his best boss voice at work, "open your eyes."

It took Tony longer to get them open and when Gibbs could see blue, Tony's gaze looked lost and confused.

"Don't listen to anything he's saying," Gibbs ordered. "He's screwing with you."

"He won't stop talking, boss." A cut appeared on Tony's temple, as if a clawed finger was ripping down creating a gouge that welled with blood.

Gibbs thought frantically for some way to get Tony to focus. Only one thing came to mind. "Tony," he said softly, leaning in. "Please, pay attention to me. You need to listen to what I'm saying."

"I'll try, boss," Tony said, grimacing, as a second gouge appeared on the other side of his face.

"If you let this happen to you, if you let him win, he'll kill me. You know he will. Then, he'll go after Abby, and Kate, and Tim. Ducky, too. He'll kill us all, and it'll be bad."

That got Tony's attention. "Can't let him hurt you," he gasped out. There was more blood seeping from his chest. "Love you," he added.

"I love you, too," Gibbs answered even more softly, deciding if McGee heard, then McGee heard. Nothing was more important than getting Tony to listen to him. "He's killing you right now. He's digging into your chest, and he's going to rip out your heart. Can you feel that?" Gibbs tried to touch him again, wished he could actually feel something so he could slice it to ribbons.

"Yeah, it hurts," Tony wheezed out, panting.

"So stop it," Gibbs commanded. "You know you can do it. You know you can protect yourself. It can't hurt you unless you let it hurt you."

Tony was trying, Gibbs could see it all over his face, but it wasn't enough.

"Shit," Gibbs said. He glanced up at McGee, saw that Kate was standing there now, as well.

"What wrong with him?" Kate asked worriedly.

Gibbs didn't have time to go into it. "Tony, it's fucking with your mind. Remember how you said it could do that? Leave the evil behind and make you crazy?"

"Yeah," Tony said faintly.

"He's doing it right now."

"Love you," Tony said again, as if he might not have the opportunity to say it again.

"Fuck that," Gibbs hollered at him. "I don't want to hear it. If you love me, then fight, damn it. Damn you, fight it!"

"Boss?" Tony asked, trying to keep his eyes open.

"What?" Gibbs snapped out, too afraid and angry to even try to be civil.

Tony let out a guttural groan and he moved a hand over his chest. "What's happening?"

"You're fucking dying, that's what's happening," Gibbs yelled. He smacked Tony across the face. "Pay attention to me."

A look of hurt flashed across Tony's face, and just that quickly, Gibbs realized it was the wrong thing to do. All it was doing was reinforcing the fact that Tony was wrong, that he deserved to be hurt. To McGee he said, "Leave, and shut the door."

"I don't think so, boss," McGee said firmly. "Tony might need our help."

Fuck. Fine. Kissing his career goodbye, Gibbs leaned forward and kissed Tony. He heard Kate gasp from the doorway, and decided as long as the damage was done, he might as well go for it. He touched Tony's lips with his tongue, pleased when Tony opened his mouth. He stroked within for a moment and then pulled back. "You feel that?" he asked softly. "That's me touching you." He kissed Tony again. "Put your arms around me."

Tony started to comply but then he started back, hitting his head on the vanity doors. "Stop. Stop touching me," he said in a panic, hand out.

"It's me, Tony, Jethro." Gibbs ran his hands down Tony's face, ignoring the blood, cupping Tony's cheeks. "It's me."

"Boss?" Tony said, his eyes clearer. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me. I can't let you go, Tony. You have to fight this." He kissed Tony again, running his hands down his arms, lacing his fingers with Tony's. "Fight this, please." Gibbs saw a glint of determination in Tony's eyes and rejoiced. "That's right. You can do this. You can fight it. This thing can't hurt you unless you let it."

Tony's fingers tightened on Gibbs'. "This is really you, right?"

"This is really me," Gibbs assured him. "Get your aura glowing or whatever it is you do with it. Get it around you so it can't hurt you."

As if the evil was aware of the fact that Gibbs was getting through to Tony, he was suddenly flung off of Tony and bowled into McGee and Kate.

That drew Tony's focus, and with angry eyes he growled at his unseen enemy.

"Don't waste your energy fighting him," Gibbs said, crawling back into the bathroom, "just protect yourself. As long as you're alive, it can't hurt any of us."

Nodding, Tony closed his eyes, and just for an instant, when Gibbs touched Tony's foot, he could see a flash of silver and gold. Gibbs felt a flush of warmth heat his hand where he was touching Tony. That heat warmed the rest of him, and he knew that Tony's aura of protection was back in place.

Gibbs phone rang and he flipped it open. "Gibbs."

"Next time, Agent Gibbs," a voice snarled, "I'll make sure he's alone when I come for him, and I'll be feasting on his heart and balls." Like a small tornado, a wind blew through the house, knocking knick knacks off of shelves and shattering windows. When it was done, the house was silent other than the startled murmurings of Ducky and Palmer where they were bagging the bodies.

The phone went dead and Gibbs hurled it against the wall, watching as it shattered and fell to the floor in pieces.

"That him?" Tony asked, sagging back against the vanity.

Gibbs nodded.

"I'm guessing I don't want to know what he said?"

"No," Gibbs said sharply. "You don't."


Kate stepped over them both and wet another washcloth, crouching down to clean the gouges on Tony's face. Gibbs started unbuttoning Tony's shirt to see what damage had been done to his chest. Kate hissed when Gibbs pulled the shirt away. There were six distinct gouges in a circle over Tony's heart, all of them bleeding, two of them deep.

"Can you heal yourself?" Gibbs asked.

Tony cocked his head to the side as if listening to something.

"Is he talking to you again?" Gibbs demanded.

"No, it's not him." Tony struggled to his feet.

"Where are you going?" Kate asked sternly. "You need to let Ducky see you."

Tony ignored her, but he grabbed Gibbs' arm to drag him along.

Gibbs thought about snatching his arm back on general principle, but seeing as he wanted to go wherever Tony was going, he just followed the man as he walked outside the back door, into the yard.

There was an old black woman sitting on a bench. Without prelude, Gibbs snapped, "Did you know this could happen to him?" perfectly willing to blame her for what had almost happened to Tony.

"He fights a fearsome enemy," she said to Gibbs. She held out her hand to Tony. "Come, sit with me."

Tony complied, sitting on the bench next to her, one hand still holding on to Gibbs. Gibbs shifted behind him, both hands on Tony's shoulders, feeling oddly like a knight of the round table protecting his king.

She put her hands up to Tony's face, and when she pulled them back, the cuts were gone. Then she put her hand on his chest, and similarly, when she pulled back, the skin was unmarked. "Anthony," she said kindly, "do you see the danger you put yourself in by listening to its lies?"

Tony nodded.

"It knows what to say, it knows your heart, what you fear, what you long for. It will use it all against you. You must stay strong, you must listen to your heart, and the hearts of those who love you."

Tony nodded again. "I'll try." And then he grinned, a wonderful grin that did Gibbs' heart good to see. "Do or do not," he croaked out in a weird voice, "there is no try."

She smiled back at him, her gold teeth gleaming. "You could do worse than to follow the teachings of that one," she said.

"Gibbs saved me," Tony said. "I don't think I could have done it myself."

"Love saved you," she said in return. "Love will always save you."

"Can I really fight it? Can I really win?"

"You can," she assured him. "You have everything you need, as long as you stay strong." She glanced up at Gibbs. "You will help him?"

"I will," he said, feeling the strength of his words, as if they bound him to Tony.

"He will need you," she told him. "He will need you all," she said to someone behind Gibbs.

Gibbs turned his head to see Kate, McGee, and Ducky all standing there, faces serious, eyes determined.

"I’m sorry," Tony choked out. "I'm sorry about the little girl." His voice cracked and he cleared his throat.

Gibbs felt a corresponding sting of tears, and he tightened his grip on Tony's shoulders.

"There will always be evil, young Anthony," she said. "And all you can do is fight against it. What was done in this house is evil, and it had nothing to do with you. Would you not have done everything in your power to protect her?"

"Of course."

"Would you have stood between her and anything that tried to harm her?"


"Would you have allowed that man to take her last night if you knew this was what awaited her today?"

Tony's face scrunched up, but he finally said, "No."

"All you are asked to do is be the best man you can be in every moment you stand within. No one can do more than that."

"Why can't you stop him?" Gibbs asked the black woman.

"Good and evil both exist," she said. "It is the human condition to choose which to ally themselves with. It is a human's right to fight for good. It is a fight you have been fighting for many years," she said to Gibbs. "Is it a good fight? A worthy fight?"

Gibbs nodded. "It is."

"What would your life be like without it?" she asked.

"Peaceful," he said with a tight smile.

"Would you be the man you are today without it?"

"No, probably not," he said.

"Are you a good man?"

"I like to think so," Gibbs answered.

"You are," she said. "Have no doubt of that." She reached over and touched one of Gibbs' hands. "Take your Anthony home, feed him, and put him to bed. Let him know he is loved deeply by you." She glanced at the others, and then back at Gibbs. "Do not worry about what they have seen or heard."

Gibbs could do that. At least the take Tony home part. He'd have to wait and see if he needed to worry about what they'd all seen him do by kissing Tony, by touching him now, by being ordered to take him to bed. Then, as if he'd missed a few seconds, he found himself entering the house, Tony at his side. He glanced into the back yard and saw it was empty.

"She always does that," Tony said with a rueful grin. "The magical appearing-disappearing bench."

Gibbs was glad to see the bodies were gone, and he walked right on through the living room and out the front door. There were still neighbors gathered, but there were no weeping family members, for which Gibbs was grateful. There were also a few reporters who yelled out questions to the five of them, but Gibbs had no problem totally ignoring them as he got Ducky to his truck where Palmer was waiting, and the other three to his car.

He realized, as he watched Tony get in the front seat, that he was still touching him, and Gibbs was reluctant to let him go.

As if understanding, Tony looked up at him. "I'm okay."

McGee's hand came from the back seat and he placed it on Tony's shoulder. "I got him," he said, as if they were taking shifts.

Maybe they were, Gibbs thought, as he felt he could let go now. He shut the door and moved to the driver's side of the car, letting himself in and buckling his seat belt. Tony patted McGee's hand, flashed him a smile, then twisted in his seat until his back was to the door. He toed his shoes off and slipped his feet under Gibbs' thigh. Then, with a sigh, he closed his eyes, his breathing rapidly slipping into a steady, fast-asleep rhythm.

Kate leaned forward. "What is he?" she asked in hushed tones.

"He's Tony," Gibbs said, annoyed by her question.

She snorted. "With a few extra features."

Gibbs had no idea what to say to her. They were both right. Tony was still Tony, but he was also something completely different.

"He's still Tony," McGee said with a smile in his voice. "He's still quoting from movies. Yoda, to be exact."

"The little green guy?" Gibbs asked. He looked in his rear view mirror and saw McGee nod.

"Who was that black lady?" Kate asked, sounding even more bewildered. "I felt so weird when I was with her, like I should be genuflecting or something."

Gibbs had no answer to that, either. "I'm taking Tony home to my place," he said. "Are your cars at headquarters?" They must have come with Ducky and their head nods supported that. He should have let them go back with Ducky. It was so automatic to head back to NCIS headquarters after a case that Gibbs hadn't even thought about it. But, for the first time in his career, they knew who was responsible, and there was nothing they could do about it. There were no clues to track down, no calls to make, no computer searches to complete. It all rested on Tony.

"It's weird that there's nothing we can do," McGee said from the back seat, echoing Gibbs' thoughts.

"I know," Kate agreed. "Do we just wait for it to kill again? That seems so wrong. Like we're just letting it happen."

"You think you could stop it?" Gibbs asked sharply.

"No," she admitted, gravely. "I don't know what this thing is, but I don't think anything can stop it, except maybe Tony, and I have no idea how he's going to stop it, if it can get to him so easily."

Gibbs had some of the same doubts, but he had no intention of saying so out loud.

"We'll figure it out together," McGee said staunchly from the back seat. "You heard what she said, that he'd need us all."

Gibbs sent him an approving look in the rearview mirror, and then, patting Tony's ankles, he concentrated on getting everyone home.

After getting Tony through the front door, Gibbs decided to take the old lady's counsel seriously, just in case there was something more going on there than just good advice. He sat Tony down at the table, and pulled a couple of cans of soup out of the cabinet. In under a minute they were both in a pan heating on top of the stove.

He stuck some garlic bread in the oven, then perused the refrigerator for drinks. He'd like to have a beer, but decided that wasn't probably a good idea given how tired the two of them were. He settled on orange juice and poured them each a big glass.

Sitting down, he shoved a glass toward Tony. "It feels like it's been years since we had dinner last night," Gibbs observed.

Tony snorted. "Decades." He grabbed the glass and drank half of it down. He looked off into the distance at nothing and Gibbs watched as his face grew dark, and his lips tightened. "I don't like being played," Tony finally said. "And he played me like a master."

Gibbs could hardly argue with that, but he could add something. "Tony, in that situation, he could have played anyone. He set you up, and then he knocked you down."

Tony finished off his juice and put it back on the table with exaggerated care as if he really wanted to slam it down hard enough to shatter it. "He didn't just knock me down, Gibbs, he broke me."

"No, he didn't," Gibbs argued.

"He did, or it did, whatever." Tony insisted. "Here I was sort of riding high on all this shit, thinking I had a leg up because I was so damn ignorant, thinking I was outsmarting him and keeping all of you safe, and all that time he was coming in for the kill."

"So you don't let it happen again," Gibbs said reasonably. "And I hardly think you were riding high."

"It's got me running scared," Tony said, reaching out to grab Gibbs' hand. "It's got me scared to try to help. Scared that the next person I help is going to end up on tomorrow's menu. How can I be of any use that way, if I'm too scared to help anyone?"

"I'd feel the same way," Gibbs said. "Anyone would. That's human, Tony. That's not broken. All that means is that we need to catch this thing and put it down."

Tony snickered a little. "You make it sound so easy."

"I don't mean to," Gibbs countered. He pulled Tony's hand until Tony was straddling him on the chair. Gibbs wrapped his arms around Tony's back, clasping them behind him. "What happened to you today scared me shitless, and if there was a way to keep you out of whatever this is I would. But, I can't. And even if I could, you wouldn't let me."

"Damn straight," Tony growled.

"But don't think for a minute that I won't be keeping an eye on you, looking for your weaknesses, figuring out what he's going to be taking advantage of next. He got to me, too, and just like you, I'll be thinking everything I do two or three times through before I do anything." His grasp on Tony tightened, "And don't think for a second that I'm leaving you alone."

"Yesterday--was it yesterday--you're right, it really does feel like years ago, you said that we had a job to do and you couldn't keep us together just to keep you safe. Doesn't the same thing apply to me?"

Gibbs narrowed his eyes at Tony. "Not the same thing."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Sure seems like it to me." He bounced a little on Gibbs. "Am I getting too heavy yet?"

"No," Gibbs said. "It was different, because I knew you'd done something to protect me. If you hadn't, I'd probably be hiding under the bed right now. I know what it feels like when that thing comes after you." Something he never wanted to feel again. Ever.


"Don't interrupt," Gibbs snapped. "It's after you. And it told me that it would wait until you were alone to attack the next time. I can't do a damn thing to protect you unless I’m with you. That old lady said it was my job to help you and she meant it."

Tony let out a long breath and rested his forehead against Gibbs'. "That old lady. Weird to think I was planning on handcuffing her and taking her in for questioning."

"I'm still tempted," Gibbs said, running his hands up and down Tony's back. "She also gave me another set of instructions." He pushed at Tony, indicating for him to get up.

Tony pouted but got off Gibbs' lap, slipping back into his own seat. "I remember something about feeding me."

"That was the first thing," Gibbs agreed as he got up to stir the soup.

"And about putting me to bed," Tony added with a bit of a leer.

"That was the second thing," Gibbs agreed again, checking on the garlic bread, deciding it could stand a few more minutes. He put the soup on simmer and walked back to the table. "Do you remember the third thing?"

Tony looked away, reddening a little. He mumbled something too softly for Gibbs to hear.

Gibbs grinned and helped himself to Tony's lap this time, straddling him. "Can't remember?" he teased. "Don't worry, I remember it exactly. She said make sure he knows how deeply he is loved."

Tony reddened some more, staring over Gibbs' shoulder. "Yeah, I remember now."

"How do you think I should convince you of that?" Gibbs asked, considering his lover, his weirdly gifted lover. He expected another leer, a proposition for sex. What he got surprised him.

"Just don't ever leave me," Tony said, his eyes shadowed and full of painful expectation. "Can you promise me that?"

Gibbs considered Tony, remembering the times his three ex-wives had asked him something like that. Every time he'd told them that he couldn't make that promise, because of the dangers in his job, the vagaries of human existence, and mostly, though unspoken, his unwillingness, despite his marrying them, to make that kind of commitment. "I won't ever leave you," Gibbs said, finding it remarkably easy to say. "I promise you that if it's in my power, I'll be right here."

Tony gave Gibbs a look as he sat in his lap and he grinned, "Right here?"

Gibbs cuffed the back of Tony's head. "Are you mocking me when I'm promising you forever?" he asked gruffly, although he was glad that his statement had been believed enough to take the shadows from Tony's eyes.

"Sorry, boss," Tony said, leaning forward to capture Gibbs' lips in a kiss. "I'm just not used to getting what I want," he said when he pulled back. "What I need."

Gibbs watched as Tony's gaze ran over everywhere their bodies touched. "Are you seeing our auras do that thing?"

"I wish you could see it," Tony said by way of saying yes.

"I did see it, I think, just for a second, in the bathroom, right before the monster flipped out and tore through the house."

Tony grinned, delighted. "Really? The gold and silver?"

"It sparked," Gibbs said, wishing he'd seen it for more than a second.

"Yeah, it sparks," Tony said, picking up Gibbs' hand and slowly lacing their fingers together. "We spark." His stomach chose that moment to grumble.

"Okay, Sparky, that means it's dinner time," Gibbs said, standing up.

Tony made a face at Gibbs, but got up and retrieved two bowls from a cabinet, followed by two spoons. Gibbs dished the soup out and slid the garlic bread onto a plate.

Dinner was a quiet affair, and Tony yawned as often as he got a spoonful of soup in his mouth. Toward the end, Gibbs was watching carefully to make sure Tony didn't do a face plant into the bowl. Finally, it got too much to watch. "Come on, Sparky, bedtime."

Tony just nodded.

Gibbs sighed and got up, then helped Tony up. "Move your legs," Gibbs coaxed.

Tony moved, and Gibbs managed to get him to the bedroom and undressed before he fell into the bed, like a tree when a lumberjack gets done with it. There was a whoomf from the comforter when Tony hit it.

Laughing at the sight, Gibbs managed to work the top sheet and comforter from under Tony's body to cover him. He headed for the door.

"Stay," Tony mumbled, his hand flailing around as if he was trying to grab Gibbs.

"I just want to clean up the kitchen," Gibbs assured him. "I'll be back after that." He was tired, too. A good night's sleep sounded like a great idea.


With a smile, Gibbs headed back for the kitchen and put the leftover soup in the refrigerator; none of the garlic bread made it out alive. The dishes took only a few minutes to clean, and with one last swipe of the kitchen table, Gibbs was done.

When he went back into the bedroom, Tony was gone.

At first Gibbs didn't believe it. Tony had to be in the bathroom, or somehow those small lumps under the covers were really concealing a six foot tall man, or he'd gone to the living room to watch TV, or gone out to get something he left in Gibbs' car.

That was when he noticed the window was open. Wide open. Gibbs, feeling like he was dreaming, moved to it and looked out. The sprinklers had come on earlier so if Tony, for some inexplicable reason, had decided to jump out the window, there'd be footprints. But, there wasn't any sign of anyone moving through the area.

Gibbs could feel the first stirrings of panic, but pushed it down. "Tony," he yelled, waiting for Tony to yell back. Maybe he'd gone to the basement to look at Gibbs' boat. Maybe he'd started sleepwalking and was right now heading down the driveway.

"Tony," he yelled again, running for the basement door and flinging it open. "Tony?" He ran for the front door and threw it open, racing outside. "Tony?" His car was in the same place and Gibbs ran to it, peering inside, on the faint hope that Tony might have decided Gibbs' back seat was more comfortable than his bed.

He looked up and down the street but didn't see anybody. Gibbs raced back inside and grabbed his keys, ran back to the car, and started it up. He drove up and down all the streets near his house, farther than he knew Tony could have gotten in the five god damn minutes Gibbs was doing the dishes.

The whole time he was looking he couldn't stop thinking that he'd promised Tony he wouldn't leave him alone, that Tony had asked him to stay, and he'd said no because he needed to wash the fucking dishes.

The more rational voice inside of him kept telling him that it's not like he actually left Tony alone. He was right in the next room. He'd only been gone five minutes. It's not like he wouldn't have heard noises if someone went after Tony.

But he hadn't heard. And someone had gotten to Tony. Something. The welling panic was getting harder to keep at bay. That thing had Tony. Gibbs wasn't sure how he knew, but he did. Somehow it had gotten through the window and just spirited Tony away.

Gibbs parked in front of his house again and raced back inside. "Tony?" he called one more time, hoping against hope that Tony would come out of the bedroom, tousled hair, looking confused. But the silence that greeted his call was palpable. He ran back into the bedroom and saw that Tony's clothes were still in the chair, his shoes on the floor under the chair. Wherever he was, he was alone and naked.

Tempted to tear his bedroom apart, to tear his whole fucking house apart, Gibbs stiffly moved back to the kitchen where he picked up his phone and called his team.

Something touched his cheek, and Tony smiled and said, "Jethro?"

"No, Anthony," said the voice Tony hated above all others.

He reared back, gasping, opened his eyes and saw he was alone in a room he didn't recognize. There were no furnishings and no doors or windows, and he hoped for one fervent moment that he'd been dreaming, or that he was still dreaming.

But he wasn't dreaming. The presence of evil was way too strong for that. That wasn't something he could make up in a dream. He jumped to his feet, and that was when he realized he was butt naked. "Shit," he said. "Perfect." Fuck. He was in no way prepared for this. He needed to sleep, and he needed Gibbs. And not in that order. Gibbs first, Gibbs definitely, definitely first. Clothes would be good, too.

The presence of the monster was all around him, but it wasn't talking anymore. For some reason that totally pissed Tony off. "Show yourself," he demanded. The evil left him with an oily residue in his mouth, and he hated the fact that he had to breathe.

"What do you want?" Tony asked the empty room. "Why did you bring me here?" He frowned. "For that matter, how did you bring me here?" He'd been asleep at Gibb's place. A flash of fear for Gibbs' safety raced through him, but he kept his mouth shut. Gibbs was still protected by whatever Tony had done to him before; at least he hoped that was still true.

The why wasn't too hard to figure out. The creature wanted Tony out of the picture. But, Tony couldn't figure out how he'd do it. He hoped he'd learned his lesson earlier tonight when he'd almost had his heart ripped out of his chest in the bathroom because he'd listened to what the monster had to say. And Tony didn't think the monster could physically hurt him. "Show yourself," he demanded again. "Do you even have a body?"

It started out of the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, something that looked like the flapping of wings. He turned to look, but it was gone, only to appear in his peripheral vision again. Then there were two, then three, then a dozen blurry movements, like dozens of crow's wings behind dirty glass, and every motion, every downswing, sent the smell of rotting meat toward him, along with a sweltering heat that made Tony feel like a piece of carrion in the desert, buzzards circling overhead.

"Is this what you are?" Tony asked, circling in wary anticipation of an attack.

"Is this what you are?" the voice asked back, and Gibbs was lying there on the floor, not six feet in front of him, naked, his hands and feet ripped off, his eyes and tongue gone, his penis still there but barely, having been almost torn off. He was still alive, blood oozing from everywhere, his body trembling, every breath a torturous moan.

"No!" screamed Tony and he lunged for Gibbs only to smack against some clear divider that kept him on one side of the room. He threw himself at it again, trying to break through, but it just landed him on his ass. Tony fell to his knees, his hands pressed against the divider. "Gibbs," he whispered.

Gibbs was going insane. He'd gone into NCIS headquarters, the rest of his team only minutes behind him. Even the director had come in. Less emotionally involved agents had gone to Gibbs' house to check it out at Morrow's direction, and they came up with squat. Fortunately, none of them made a comment about Tony being in Gibbs' bed. Not that Gibbs gave a flying fuck right now.

"Where would he take him?" Gibbs demanded of his team. They'd already tried Tony's apartment, the houses of all the victims, and come up with nothing.

"You're assuming he took him anywhere," Abby pointed out.

Gibbs shot her an impatient look, not in any mood for riddles.

"Gibbs, this guy, this thing, he can do stuff. He can do, like, magic except the bad type," Abby said with a worried pinched look. "We don't even know if he has Tony someplace we can actually find him."

Gibbs wasn't prepared to accept that. He wasn't prepared to accept the fact that there was nothing he could do except sit around until the thing that had Tony decided to call and gloat, or just drop Tony's dead body right on top of them. He sprang out of his chair and began to pace. There had to be something they could do.

"It's not too late to save him," the voice said, fingers ruffling Tony's hair.

As if he had wasps attacking him, Tony flailed at the unseen hands as he crawled crablike away from the sensation. "What do you mean?" he demanded.

"What is torn asunder can be made whole again," it said.

Tony crawled back to the divider and watched as Gibbs said something that sounded like Tony's name. It became hard to see as tears obstructed his vision. Tony wiped them away impatiently and then threw his shoulder, hard, at the divider. "Fuck." He felt like Kirk during the Wrath of Khan, watching Spock die of radiation poisoning, the glass separating them more surely than a thousand miles.

"Do you wish for me to save him?" the voice asked, and this time fingers crawled up his spine.

"Stop it," Tony spit out, flipping quickly so his back was to the glass. He wanted to douse himself in disinfectant. "What's my side of this deal with the devil?" he asked. "And don't say something stupid like 'be mine', like you're quoting from some Hallmark for Hell line of greeting cards."

"A life for a life, Anthony."

"If I let you kill me, you'll make Gibbs whole and let him live?" Tony clarified.

"It's a fair trade, don't you think?" the voice said silkily.

"Why should I trust you?" Tony asked, sure that he couldn't.

"Why shouldn't you?" the voice asked. "I've done everything I said I would so far."

"That doesn't mean anything," Tony scoffed. "All you've promised to do is cause pain and suffering. Hardly goals to inspire trust." The evil had to be out of its mind. Trust anything he said? Not in a million years.

"I could make him suffer more," the voice promised, a hint of anger in its voice.

"He's dead already," Tony said blankly, pushing the emotion away, denying his need to fall to his knees and cry out his anguish.

Gibbs stalked off in search of coffee. The ramblings of his team weren't helping his anger, and if he didn't get some space, he'd go off on them. Again. They were all tired; it had been a bad few days, and their ability to problem solve was diminishing as the night wore on.

Unbeknownst to him, Abby followed him into the breakroom. "Gibbs, how about a séance or something?"

Gibbs poured himself a cup of coffee, then turned to face Abby. "What?" he said wearily.

"Well, maybe séance is the wrong word, but maybe we need to somehow--" Abby made several sweeping motions from her head outwards, "you know, send him some thoughts, or mental help."

"Send him some thoughts?" Gibbs repeated stupidly.

"Yeah, you know, love him long distance. Kate told me that's what that black lady said, that love would save him, and that he needed all of us, so seeing as there's nothing else we can do, maybe we should, you know, beam him our love or something."

Gibbs rubbed his temples with his thumb and middle finger then rubbed his eyes. They felt like they were made of sandpaper. "Abby…"

"I know you think it sounds stupid, Gibbs," she said, interrupting him before he could say something he'd probably regret. "But it can't hurt, and it could help." She sounded so damn earnest.

Tony heard Gibbs cry out in terror, and he forced himself to watch as Gibbs' leg bones start to snap, as easily as a child might break dead, dried sticks by a campfire.

"Stop it," Tony screamed, pounding on the glass divider.

"Just take his place, Anthony, and he won't suffer anymore," the voice said, too close for comfort. Tony shied away, wishing he had some clothes on for at least the illusion of protection.

He was also wishing he could say yes, that he could change spots with Gibbs. In any other circumstance he'd give up his life for the man in a heartbeat. But without Tony alive, they were all dead. He didn't think his spell--or whatever it was--of protection would work if he wasn't around to power it. So, if he died, it gave the monster free reign to do whatever he wanted. He forced himself to watch, knowing, right now, that he shared the blame for what was happening to Gibbs.

Gibbs' leg lay at disturbingly bizarre angles from ankle to thigh, and Tony couldn't even imagine the pain the man was in. He'd rather have Jethro dead than like this.

"You could kill him," was the next thing offered. "You could end his pain."

Tony furrowed his brow. "What?"

"You have no idea of the power you wield, young Anthony," the monster said. "You could end his suffering with just a thought."

Tony didn't like that idea at all. Not the ending Gibbs' suffering, but being able to kill with a thought. "I think that's more your domain," he muttered.

"You don't think killing is merciful?"

"Not the way you do it," Tony said scathingly.

"You don't think people yearn for death? You don't think your Special Agent Gibbs is yearning for his life to end? Death can be merciful."

Tony did not feel equal to a discourse on the philosophy of right and wrong, when the one he was arguing with had the equivalent of 100 Ph.D.s in wrong. There was no way Tony was winning this argument. "Fuck off." He turned again to Gibbs, wondered if he could move him past his suffering with just a thought. Tony knew that for the rest of his life, this image of Gibbs, torn apart, was what would be waiting for him at night when he closed his eyes.

That was when he noticed that Gibbs' aura wasn't gold.

"Abby," Gibbs tried again.

"It can't hurt," Abby said again, persuasively. "This whole thing has been freakishly weird from the get go. We might as well go with the flow, you know?"

Gibbs longed for something to shoot--someone, he corrected quickly. Someone he could shoot. Someone he could slap in cuffs, push around a little, intimidate. Even more, Gibbs longed to have Tony right here, by his side, where he belonged. This idea of Abby's was the stupidest thing he'd heard in a long time, but she was right. There was no harm in trying, and God knows, he certainly hadn't come up with a single fucking idea on how to help Tony.

"Fine," he said reluctantly. "What do you want to do?"

Her eyes opened wide in surprise. "Really? You'll do it? Gibbs, that is so cool of you." She touched his arm. "I'll go get everything set up. We can do it in my lab."

"Abby," he said warningly.

"No funny stuff, Gibbs. This is way serious. I just want to help Tony."

He heard the sincerity in her voice and knew, even without that, how much Tony meant to Abby. He gave her a brief nod, and watched as she raced off.

The man on the floor didn't have an aura at all. Tony supposed it might be because Gibbs was so injured, but he didn't think auras worked that way. A flicker, then a flare of hope bloomed in his chest. "That's not Gibbs," he said, and even as he said the words, he knew the truth of them. Thank God, he said to himself, his head sagging against the glass. Thank God. If he'd been alone, Tony would have wept.

"Of course it is," the voice said surely.

"No, it's not," Tony said without a doubt. "I don't know who that is, or if there's anyone there at all, but I do know that's not Gibbs. And I know that you can't hurt him." Tony should have trusted that from the start, but the evil knew how to push every one of his damn buttons, and seemed to get there before Tony was in any way prepared.

Suddenly, it all seemed sort of like a joke. "What the hell do you want from me?" Tony demanded. "I'm not going to let you sucker me into something stupid, we both know you can't hurt me, I know you can't hurt Gibbs, so all I can see is we're stuck in a stalemate."

"Do not be so foolish as to consider us equals, Anthony," the voice said haughtily.

Tony rolled his eyes. "What's that mean? Are you just planning on keeping me here, trying to touch me like some pubescent teenager? Trying to fool me into believing you're hurting people I care about? Is that all you've got?" Tony was thinking that any time now he should probably shut his mouth, but he was tired and pissed, and almost lightheaded with relief that Gibbs wasn't being tortured to death right in front of his eyes because that meant Gibbs was out there somewhere looking for him.

"You dare to mock me, human?" the evil hissed at him.

"Uh," Tony said, as he felt the evil begin to press in on him, push him against the glass, press on his chest, making it hard to breathe. What little breath he could pull in was thick with the taste of decay.

Abby had set up chairs in a tight circle for them all, including Morrow, much to his disconcertment. Actually, with the exception of Abby, they all looked disconcerted. Gibbs took the chair next to Abby reluctantly.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" McGee asked Abby nervously. "We could get the thing's attention and have him end up coming here."

That was a good point, Gibbs thought to himself. Then again, if it was here, it wouldn't be with Tony. "Just get on with it," Gibbs said, disgruntled.

"What do you want me to do?" Kate asked, looking, out of all of them, most like a fish out of water. For all of Kate's experience, she was still naïve in a lot of ways, something Tony teased her about relentlessly.

"Everyone, sit down," Abby intoned, her hands pushing down on the air in front of her, as if the motion might make them all take their seats. Gibbs was surprised Abby hadn't found some sort of soothsayer outfit in that supply closet of hers. The room was lit only by candles, the blinking lights of Abby's equipment, and the exit signs. All that was missing was Abby wearing a witch's outfit, stirring a cauldron with a bubbling brew.

Kate sat down, followed by McGee. Morrow and Ducky had sat down when Gibbs had.

"Okay," Abby said, confidently, doing a fairly good job of hiding her own uncertainty. "I think we should hold hands."

Gibbs rolled his eyes, but obediently held out his hands to his left to Abby, and to his right to Ducky. Abby's hand was a little sweaty, but her hold was firm, as was Ducky's. To Gibbs' surprise, it made him feel better.

"You may be protected from me," the voice said scornfully, "but I am only part of the evil of the world, and you aren't protected from any of that. Let me show you what I can do to you."

Tony tried to push the evil off, but it was too overwhelming. Everything the creature had threatened him with up to now suddenly seemed like nursery school. Tony did not want to see whatever the monster was about to show him.

It started visual, flipping through scenes: Tony dropped naked into a prison yard, Tony being hung by men in robes, their faces covered, Tony being robbed and gutted and left for dead by drug users, Tony having his head blown off by drive by shooters, Tony being blown up by a suicide bomber, Tony being left for dead in the desert heat, his skin blistering, Tony being speared by angry natives.

The pictures started over, but this time as they flipped by, Tony could feel the pain, could feel his body being violated by unwelcome cocks being thrust into his mouth, his ass, the humiliation of laughter as others waited for their turn. He felt himself shoved from one man to another as a rope was tossed around his neck and he was hoisted up on his toes, then off his feet, felt the rope dig in, cutting off his breath, felt the excruciating pain as his spinal cord was stretched past endurance.

Tony found himself facing two men with pupils blown from drugs, uncaring of anything beyond the money for their next fix. He felt the knife slice into his skin, his bowels ripped apart by the serrated blade. One of the men grabbed Tony's wallet, while the other yanked the knife out of Tony's guts, only to slash it across his face.

He felt the breeze of a summer evening as he stood on a street corner, heard the squeal of a car coming in his direction at a fast speed. Tony looked for a place to hide, but before he could move, he saw the muzzle and the flash of light as the bullets left the automatic rifle and pumped into him, the first shots maiming but not killing, his body jerking in response as the next rain of bullets ripped him apart.

Tony was one of hundreds of people at a bazaar when the car blew up. Scorching flame and shrapnel hit him, and he felt his leg sheared half off, his femoral artery geysering blood into the air, heard people screaming before another piece of shrapnel mercifully finished him off.

His body was tossed to the ground by his enemies, and he was about to be left for dead in the heat of the Sahara desert. Tony knew if he didn't find water, he'd die, assuming his injuries didn't kill him first. He tried to move, but he'd been beaten so badly, every move made his body scream with pain. One of his captors threw a bottle of fresh spring water to the ground about five feet in front of him, and laughed. Tony dug his fingers into the sand, yelled at himself to move, but his body wouldn't cooperate. He coughed, spitting out blood.

Tony was running as fast as he could, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He could hear the angry ululations of the natives as they raced after him, and a spear brushed his arm. Tony put on another burst of speed, but another spear pierced his side, knocking him to the ground. He forced himself up, but the natives were upon him. They pushed him back down and thrust spear after spear into him. None of them, singly, were fatal blows, but they nailed him to the ground as he quickly bled to death.

Tony was losing the ability to tell if he was in one piece or not. It all felt so real, even if it was occurring too fast to truly be happening. As he helplessly watched himself die over and over again, his body felt bruised and battered.

"And not just you, Anthony," the voice said with deadly promise.

Now the pictures came almost faster than Tony could keep up with. Closing his eyes didn't help; they were there under his eyelids to taunt him.

Gibbs being shot down in cold blood on a case, Kate being raped by angry Marines, McGee lying face down in the gutter, his emptied gun lying by his side, Abby cut to pieces during some homicidal ritual. Gibbs being surprised by a thief who chose to knife him in the heart before taking off with a television set, Kate dead on a rooftop, a bullet through her brain, McGee being driven off the road, his car arcing off the pavement to crash through the railings to the ocean below.

Then it was people Tony didn't know. A baby being shaken to death, a child being struck repeatedly, a young girl being sexually molested, an old man being knocked around by teens, a family being held at gunpoint as their house was robbed, then shot, a man being beaten to death by gang members at a bus stop, a homeless woman being robbed, knifed, and left for dead.

Tony knew, with a sick feeling in his gut, that all of that was happening somewhere in the world. He knew bad stuff happened all the time. All you needed to do was turn on the television or listen to the news on the radio. All he had to do was show up for work. Just about every case they worked dealt with evil, with greed, with lust, with every one of the seven deadly sins.

"You think you can stop this, boy?" the voice asked condescendingly.

More pictures of people dying, people laughing at others in pain, people stealing, stabbing, raping, slashing, mocking, shaming, hating, and more and more pictures of children being abused, abandoned, neglected, their eyes bewildered and pained and haunted.

"You think you can protect the world from this?"

Gibbs lying face down in a puddle of his own blood, Kate and Abby mowed down in a restaurant, caught in the crossfire of rival gangs, Morrow hit by a drunk driver.

"You think you can protect yourself from this?"

Tony could feel the breath of his rapist on his neck, felt his tissues tear as the man shoved inside, a knife to Tony's throat, the tip already through his skin, the blood dripping to the floor.

Then, Tony was at a funeral, a military funeral, and he knew it was Gibbs'. The pain was shattering. Then, another funeral, Catholic this time, Kate's.

"You think you can survive losing them all?"

Tony knew he couldn't. He wouldn't survive. And no, he couldn't stop this evil. He couldn't protect the world. It was too much for anyone to stop. There was too much fear and hatred, intolerance and greed, sorrow and depression, and there was no fucking way Tony could stop it.

"So what use are you, boy?" the voice asked, dripping with venom.

Tony tried to find the answer. He knew there was one, one that would save him, but all he could feel was all that evil pressing in, and him, only one man against it all. Impossible.

"Why bother?" the voice cajoled. "Say the word and you can be back home, watching TV, drinking a beer, just a normal man."

God, it was tempting. In fact, Tony was having a hard time thinking of anything else. He just wanted this over. He just wanted all that evil to go away, for it to not be his responsibility, because how could one man make a difference? How could one man even make a dent? So much misery, even behind the calm faces and the happy faces.

"Whatever she gave you?" the voice offered, "you can shrug it off. It's too much to ask. She had no right to ask this of you."

Gibbs shot by an angry sniper with revenge on his mind. Kate buried alive, slowly suffocating. McGee knifed in a bar as he tried to break up a fight. Ducky dead, stuffed in one of his metal morgue drawers. Starving children, villages plundered, genocide, a black man torn apart by white supremacists, crosses burning on lawns, synagogues being bombed.

It was too much.

Ethnic purging, bodies being thrown out of black sedans in the dead of night, huddled refugees dying in the bowels of boats, men and women lined up, forced to their knees, executed one after the other.

"Stop," Tony begged. "Please, make it stop."

"I'll make you live it all," the voice promised with deadly intent. "I'll keep you by my side and make you live it all. Over and over again."

Tony knew it was true. His body already felt as if he'd been beaten, and killed, and raped a thousand times. His eyes were filled with the visions of his friends and lover being killed time and again. And the world seemed nothing more than a seething ball of hatred. Unfixable. Unmendable. Unhealable.

"Everyone close your eyes," Abby directed.

Impatiently, Gibbs did so. He still couldn't believe he was here doing this. He felt like snarling at Abby to get on with it.

"I want everyone to picture Tony," she instructed. "Nothing in particular, just how you remember him best, even if it's him annoying you, or teasing you, or anything. Just picture him in your mind."

Gibbs blew out a breath and thought of Tony. A thousand pictures went through his mind: Tony's grin, his teasing, his fights with Kate, his one-upmanship with McGee, his body, his strength, his bright eyes, keen intelligence, his uncanny ability to connect the dots, his arms wrapped around Gibbs, the smoothness of his skin over muscle, the way he smiled when they lay together in bed, as if Gibbs was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He thought of that moment when he had seen his gold and Tony's silver sparking off each other.

His skin buzzed. He was about to open his eyes when Abby said, "Okay, now, keeping that picture in your mind, I want you all to think about the Tony you really love. Just one time, when you really loved him."

Gibbs wondered what everyone else was thinking. Tony had certainly saved all their lives a few times over and he'd been a good friend even amidst the taunting and teasing. He'd certainly made them all laugh, and he'd run interference for Kate and McGee more times than Gibbs could remember when he'd been in a particularly foul mood, Tony setting himself up to take the brunt of Gibbs' anger. He'd helped Abby pick out her last tattoo, accompanied her on a few of her crazier adventures when Tony thought having someone there with a gun might be a good idea.

He wondered what Morrow might be thinking. He didn't interact with Tony very much. Maybe he was thinking about him healing Abby on that tape. Maybe he'd felt something loving from Tony much as Gibbs had done, when Tony had painted his protection on.

Gibbs found it hard to think of just one thing. Two years worth of amazing memories, only to be capped the last couple of days with Tony in his bed. Tony on his lap, Tony kissing him, hugging him, laughing with him, smiling at him, his eyes bright with love and affection. Considering the grim circumstances, Gibbs felt almost drunk with the love he felt for Tony.

"Okay," Abby said shakily, sniffling a little, as if her own memories of loving Tony were brimming over, "now, I want each of you to package up that love somehow, in something that can move through the air, like wrapped around an arrow, or put in a slingshot, or attached to a Frisbee, whatever you want." She waited a minute. "When I count to three, I want everyone to shoot it off to Tony. That lady said that love would save him, and that he'd need us, so we're gonna send our love right to him. One--"

Gibbs tried to mold the love he was feeling into something tangible he could throw. It kept overflowing his hands, like trying to hold a waterfall in the palm of his hand.


He pictured himself standing outside the place where Tony was right now. The love was sizzling all over him now, sparking into gold and silver.


Gibbs pictured himself opening the door that would bring him right to Tony.

Tony wanted to give up so badly he ached with it. But, something inside him, something he couldn't put his finger on, was stubbornly holding out. He knew there was a reason, and despite the horror show being paraded in front of his eyes, he searched desperately for that reason to hang on.

The other side of the room where the fake Gibbs had been was now filled with corpses, bellies distended, eyes sunken, noses, and arms and legs rotting off. Oozing pustules, and rashes, and scabs covered their skin. There were people of every age and race, children, bruised and battered, tears still marking their cheeks. Hands outstretched as if begging for surcease from the pain, even after death.

Tony felt a shock and looked down at his hand to see a flicker of silver, and then a flicker of gold. "Gibbs," he said.

"Will die," said the voice. "He'll be first."

"No," Tony said, opening and closing his fist, the gold and silver now joining, sparking. He felt Gibbs' hands on his shoulders, heard a woman's voice say, "All you are asked to do is be the best man you can be in every moment you stand within. No one can do more than that." A clear voice, in the midst of all the madness.

"Just give up," the evil said, full of rich promises to come.

Tony smiled. He thought of Yoda. He smiled some more. He stood tall, pushed back against the evil, felt it give this time. "Never," he said sternly. "I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, your evilness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me." Tony let out a laugh. "And what are the odds I would ever get to say that line for real?" A wacky joy filled Tony. "Of course, my father was an asshole, and for this to be perfect, I'd have a lightsaber, and I'd be wearing black and not be naked, but still." He tossed his head back and laughed with delight.

He could sense the evil's confusion.

Tony could hardly blame him. He felt like humming the theme song to Star Wars. Gibbs and Luke Skywalker to the rescue. He looked down and saw that the gold and silver covered him, like a mystical piece of clothing. That was when he noticed that there were bands of orange, and peridot green, and earth brown mixed within the gold and silver. There was also the deep blue that he recalled seeing around Morrow, and Ducky's soothing gray.

They were all with him somehow. And so was she.

"You cannot destroy me, Anthony," the voice said, less surely than before.

"Maybe not," Tony said, feeling the power of his friends, of their love, of her love, surge through him, "but I can make you start over. It'll take you a while to get this powerful again."

"You will never win over the evil," the voice taunted.

"I don't need to," Tony said, taking a step toward the source of the evil in front of him. "I just have to win over you. Then, I just need to fight the evil that's put in front of me."

Tony could feel the evil turn to flee, but he reached out and grabbed it, had to use both hands, as it writhed in his grip like a snake. He felt the love surround him, like the sun's rays, like the ocean's tides, like the moon's orbit, like the earth's rotation, powerful beyond belief, ineffable, unstoppable, life-giving and sustaining.

The evil was like a weed, shriveling in the hot rays of the sun, drowning in the life-giving sustenance.

The dead bodies on the other side of the room disappeared. Tony saw a flicker of a window and a door.

The evil continued to struggle, but the images it threw up to Tony were pale imitations of what he'd already been subjected to, and he stayed firm, tightening his grasp, refusing to allow the evil any power over him.

Once again, like everything else Tony discovered he could do, he had no idea exactly what he was doing. It was like he kept turning into the lee of the stone. Whatever the evil threw at him, Tony simply wasn't there to be hit by it.

And in return, bolstered by the image of a mythological archetype created by George Lucas, and surrounded by the love of his team mates, and covered with gold that held within it everything that made Gibbs Gibbs, Tony fought the evil back, revealed its nothingness, and extinguished it like blowing out a candle or drenching a campfire.

It was something Tony wouldn't have understood even a week ago, but it was so clear to him now. Evil only existed where humans gave it permission to exist. Humans created it; humans shaped it, blew life into it, then feared it, went to war over it, and killed because of it. All Tony needed to do was take away permission for this particular evil to exist.

He could feel it weaken, even though its hatred and malevolence were still a force to be reckoned with. It gave all its energy to one final thrust, pushing inside Tony's mind in one last futile effort to bend it. Tony ignored the images of all the people he loved dead or dying; it had the feeling of a rerun. Tony almost rolled his eyes.

Tony struck back, sensing the evil's strength fade. At the last moment, Tony felt a fetid breath cross his cheek. "Do not think this is over," the voice that had made Tony's life a living hell for the past few days said angrily, and then it was snuffed out.

The windows and door in the room took clearer shape, and Tony could see furniture now, a bed, a dresser, two bedside tables, a chair. He was in Gibbs' bedroom. He'd never left.

Letting his hands drop to his side, Tony took a deep breath, enjoying the untainted air he was pulling into his lungs. He couldn't sense any evil, and that, too, felt like a breath of fresh air.

Tony wasn't a fool, he knew there was plenty of evil left in the world, in the state, in the city, more than Tony could ever hope to vanquish in his lifetime, but that didn't matter right now. He'd done what he'd been called to do. This evil was toast.

He saw his clothes on the chair where Gibbs had placed them after undressing him. Happily, Tony got dressed, thrilled to not be naked for a while. He'd be more than willing to get back in that condition once he got Gibbs home, but for right now, this was great.

Speaking of Gibbs, Tony flipped open his cell phone, and hit Gibbs' speed dial.

Gibbs' phone began to ring. It brought him back to the room, heart pounding as he wondered if it was the monster calling to tell him Tony was dead, or texting him with an address as to where they could find Tony's brutalized body.

Aware of the fact that everyone was staring at him he grabbed his phone and looked at the caller's ID which told him it was Tony. Maybe. Or maybe it was the monster using Tony's phone. He answered it. "Gibbs."

"Boss," Tony said.

"Tony?" Gibbs managed to not gasp out.

"Yeah," Tony said cheerfully. "You are talking to one serious evil ass kicking dude."

Gibbs found himself smiling, saw matching smiles on everyone else in the room. "Are you all right?"

"I am," Tony said with total conviction.

"Is it over?"

"You're asking me--the serious evil ass kicking dude--that question?"

Gibbs took that as a yes. "Where are you?"

"At your house. I've been here all along. Not that I knew I was here until it was over."

"I'm on my way," Gibbs said, standing.

"Hey, tell everyone whatever you guys did, it helped. I don't think I could have done it without you. All of you. And seeing as whatever you guys did was probably Abby's idea, give her a big hug for me."

Gibbs smiled even more, looking at Abby, planning on giving her a really big hug from both of them. "I'll be home in twenty minutes," Gibbs said.

"I'll be waiting," Tony said happily.

Hanging up, Gibbs headed right for Abby and he gave her a hug. "That's from Tony. He said it helped."

She hugged him back, grinning wildly, sniffling back tears. "Is he okay?"

"He's fine," Gibbs said. "At least he sounded fine."

"Is that thing gone?" Abby asked, her face scrunched up a little.

"Tony said it was."

"I want to see him," Abby said.

"Me, too," Kate agreed. McGee was nodding.

Gibbs managed not to show his annoyance, realizing that his reunion with Tony--his private reunion--was going to be delayed for a while. But after what everyone in this room had done to help Tony, Gibbs was hardly in a position to keep them from him.

"I'll be looking forward to the story tomorrow," Morrow told Gibbs, indicating that he wouldn’t be joining the party.

"As will I," Ducky added. "I've had enough excitement for one day. I'll sleep easier knowing that…that evil has been vanquished once again." He smiled contentedly then added, "Please give Tony my congratulations and my thanks."

Feeling an urgent need to see Tony, Gibbs started drifting toward the door, trusting that anyone who was going with him would follow him. He was in his car five minutes later, Kate in her car, McGee and Abby in McGee's car.

When they arrived at his house, Tony was standing in the doorway. Gibbs managed to restrain himself from tackling Tony to the floor, letting Abby get the first hug, her enthusiasm almost knocking Tony down. "Tony," she said happily, "you're all right!"

He hugged her back just as tightly. "Thanks, Abs, really." He looked up at Kate and McGee over Abby's shoulder and smiled at them. "I don't know what you did, and I know it sounds weird, but I could tell the minute you were there with me."

Abby responded to his words by just hugging him again. Then, she pulled back, "I was so sure Gibbs would say no, but he was totally game," she said proudly, looking at Gibbs.

That was exaggerating a little, but Gibbs decided not to contradict her; he was in way too good a mood. He could hardly take his eyes off of Tony but he forced himself to do so and, ushering everyone into the house, went to put on some coffee. They all followed him into the kitchen as Kate snuck in a hug, and even McGee engaged in some friendly mutual back slapping. Gibbs got down mugs and put them on the table.

"So what happened?" Kate asked, sitting down at Gibbs' kitchen table. "How did you end up back here?" McGee and Tony sat down as well.

"I never left," Tony said. "I didn't know that, but after it was gone, I was right back here."

"Convenient," Gibbs said with a smirk, taking in Tony's attire. He was just as glad he wasn't rescuing Tony from some place with him naked as a jaybird.

Tony smirked back.

"How did you win?" Abby said. "Did you do some voodoo magic or something?"

"Nothing that exciting, Abs," Tony said. "In fact, you guys were the ones who did the voodoo magic. It was winning, I think, it was hard to tell sometimes, but then I saw, well, all of you." He held out his hands, "Gibbs' gold, Abby's orange, Tim's earth brown, and Kate's peridot. Even Ducky and Morrow. And somehow it got me back in touch with me." He shrugged. "It all seems so unbelievable now. Trust me, when it was going on, it totally sucked, especially when it made me think it had you," he said to Gibbs, "but now, it's like it was a dream, something of no substance."

Gibbs took a long look at Tony and decided he was telling the truth. Tony's eyes were clear, and there were no shadows lurking there.

"Do you still have your mojo?" Abby asked.

"You mean can I still do stuff?"

Abby nodded.

"I don't know," Tony asked. "I was given this gift to fight that particular evil, so it might all be gone."

"Maybe you should try something," Abby insisted.

"The only way I could know for sure is if I went sensing for more evil, and I think I'd just as soon not do that tonight," Tony said ruefully. "If ever."

Abby hugged him again. "I'm just glad you're okay," she said sincerely, "and that that thing, whatever it was, is history." Then, anxiously, she added, "It is history, right?"

"It's gone, Abby," Tony said assuredly. "And while there's definitely always going to be evil in the world, at least, for right now, it doesn't have my telephone number."

Gibbs grinned at that and brought the pot to the table, filling coffee cups. Tony got up to get some milk from the refrigerator and put it on the table. "Sugar?" he asked Gibbs.

Gibbs retrieved a small canister that he put next to the milk and then went back for a couple of spoons. A minute passed as everyone fixed their coffee to their liking, taking first cautious sips of the hot beverage. Then, Tony yawned, wide enough to make his jaw crack. "Sorry," he said sheepishly.

Yawns circled the table, and they sat there quietly, drinking their coffee. "What a week," Kate commented.

"One of the worst," McGee agreed. Abby nodded emphatically.

Gibbs wasn't going to argue that.

"Definitely one of the weirdest," Tony pointed out. His eyes met Gibbs over his cup of coffee as he took a sip.

This had definitely been one of the worst weeks of Gibbs' life, no doubt about it. But, it had had its perks. One he'd be lying next to in a short while.

"Well," Kate said on another yawn, "I think I need to head for home. We have to be back at work--" she looked at her watch and grimaced, "in about two hours."

Gibbs shook his head. "No work, not today. I'll see you all on Monday." He'd need to go in, him and Tony, to speak with Morrow, but that could wait until after a good long sleep. Morrow was a smart guy. He wouldn't expect any of them to come in first thing. If Morrow had any sense, he'd be sleeping in himself.

"I could run you home," McGee offered to Tony.

Tony shook his head. "I'm gonna stay here tonight. I don't have the energy to pack."

That sounded reasonable even to Gibbs' ears, and by the nods around the table everyone was buying it. He thought again of what the old black woman had said, that he didn't need to worry about what people saw or heard about him and Tony. He wondered if that was still true.

The next few minutes were taken up with more hugs and good nights and walking everyone to the door. When they'd driven away, Gibbs shut the door and locked it.

Tony's eyebrows went up. "You locking your door?"

"Yes," Gibbs said with a frown. "I don't want anything interrupting us."

Tony waggled his eyebrows. "Yeah?"

"While we sleep," Gibbs said dryly. "Come here," he added, taking a step toward Tony.

Tony met him halfway, and they wrapped their arms around each other. "Jesus, Tony," Gibbs muttered in his ear. "When I went into the bedroom and you were gone…" He didn't finish, just tightened his hold on Tony.

"I get it," Tony said. "I get it, Jethro. I felt the same way when you showed up in that room I was in, ripped apart. It was too much." He returned the fierce hug, adding, "Don't ever want to see that for real."

They stood there, hugging, Gibbs soaking in the reality of Tony safe and warm pressing against him. Finally, they moved to the bedroom, stripped down, and got in bed. Tony moved immediately back into Gibbs' arms, which worked just fine for Gibbs.

"Did the bench lady show up?" Gibbs asked.

Tony startled, and Gibbs felt bad that he'd probably woken him up. "What?"

"The bench lady, the old black lady, did she show up?"

Tony snorted. "The bench lady. And no, she didn't." He pulled back a little so he could see Gibbs. "You'd think she would have, you know? Seems like I deserve a little pat on the back."

Gibbs patted him on the back.

Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying that considering the night I've had, I could use a thank you." He narrowed his eyes at Gibbs, "And not from you."

"Was it really bad?" Gibbs asked.

"It almost got me again," Tony admitted. "I almost gave up. Again. It all seemed so pointless, you know? The world's a harsh place and seeing it all at once made it seem like I might as well just put a bullet through my head and end it now."

"But you didn't," Gibbs prompted.

"No, I didn't," Tony agreed with a smile. "Because of you. I mean everyone helped, but I saw your gold first, and it snapped me out of it. Then I remembered what the bench lady had said in the yard, and then I thought of Yoda, and the next thing I know I'm channeling George Lucas and the rest of you were there with me, and I knew what to do, just like all those other times."

"George who?"

"Boss," Tony said despairingly. "George Lucas?"

Gibbs shrugged and shook his head.

"Forget it," Tony said with a sigh.

Gibbs grinned a little at Tony's sigh, even as he was realizing how hard it was to believe that any of it had happened. Having Tony here in his bed, in one piece, and looking remarkably unscathed, made the whole non-human evil enemy, and Tony's preternatural supernatural talents, seem like some B-rated movie plot. The only thing that made it deadly real was the trail of bodies the evil had left behind.

Tony leaned forward to steal a brief kiss, then his eyes widened. "Oh, my God, I kissed you."

Gibbs furrowed his brow at Tony's reaction. "We did a little more than kiss," he said.

"No, I mean earlier. I kissed you right in front of McGee and Kate." Tony's lips tightened in dismay. "Sorry, boss. Did I screw everything up?"

"No," Gibbs said, stealing his own kiss, "and I was the one who kissed you. It was all I could think of to get you out of whatever hell you were in. And it worked," he added smugly.

Tony grinned at that, but still looked worried.

"Don't you remember?" Gibbs assured him. "The bench lady told us not to worry about it."

"Really?" Tony asked. "Somehow I totally missed that. Huh." Then, he grinned brightly. "That would be cool, though, if it kept happening, sort of like a 'These aren't the droids you're looking for, move along'." He made a sideways motion with his hand.

Gibbs got that he was quoting from something, but he had no idea what. He raised his eyebrows, questioning.

"Star Wars," Tony said with another sigh. "Boss, you got my hopes up with that dark side of the Force line, but you're letting me down now."

"I think you'll survive," Gibbs said dryly. And that thought deserved another kiss.

When they both pulled back, Tony rolled out of bed and checked the back yard.

"What are you looking for?" Gibbs asked. Then, before Tony could respond, he answered his own question. "The bench lady?"

Tony nodded and shrugged as if it didn't matter. "Just thought I'd check." He crawled back into bed and snuggled close to Gibbs.

"If you could choose, would you keep this thing she gave you?" Gibbs asked.

"I don't know," Tony said. "I mean, it's sort of cool being able to sniff out evil. I'd just as soon never have to go through what I went through tonight, but the other stuff was useful. It would make me pretty good at my job."

"Tony," Gibbs said clearly, "you're already good at your job. You're great at your job. If you still had your mojo, as Abby called it, you'd be our secret weapon."

Tony laughed a little. "Secret weapon. I like the sound of that."

A secret weapon that Gibbs would take full advantage of, although he'd do it as sneakily as he could to protect Tony. Gibbs knew that Morrow would back him on that. If word got out about what Tony could do, they'd lose him to people with more clout than NCIS, and Gibbs wasn't about to let that happen. "Do you think you still have them?"

"I don't know."

"Tony, you have to know," Gibbs protested. "Can you see my aura? Can you see yours? Am I still painted with that thing you did?"

Tony's jaw dropped open. "I guess I'd gotten used to it, so I didn't even think about it. Yeah, I can still see your aura, and mine." He squinted and added, "Although it doesn't seem as bright. Maybe it's fading. And I can't see that thing I did on you, so either it's gone, or I really am losing my mojo." He looked disappointed.

Gibbs wasn't sure if he'd be sad or glad to see it go. On one hand, it was useful, on the other hand, it had almost gotten Tony killed. "I guess we'll find out," he finally said.

Tony looked at his hand, then reached out to touch Gibbs' chest. Staring at the places their skin touched, he said, "It might not be as bright, but it's still cool." He yawned another jaw-cracking yawn.

"Time for bed," Gibbs said sternly. He didn't even want to think about how little sleep they'd both gotten this week.

"You gonna boss me around in bed, Jethro?" Tony teased.

Gibbs gave him a look, saw the gleam in his eye. "You want me to?"

"Hell, yeah," Tony said. "You can be the boss of me anywhere," he promised. "I love to be bossed around," he added with a grin. "How do you think I've worked with you so long?"

"I didn't know it was because me yelling at you turned you on," Gibbs said dryly.

"I love a man in charge," Tony said with a wink and a leer.

Gibbs started laughing. "What if I want you to be the boss in bed?" he asked.

"Just say the word and I'll have handcuffs on you faster than you can blink," Tony promised in sexy low tones. Then, grinning again, he said, "I'm ready for anything you want." He yawned again.

Turned on more than expected at Tony's words, Gibbs still managed to say, "Then, I'm going to be the boss in bed right now, and tell you to turn out the light. We're going to sleep."

Tony pouted, but he did as told, reaching to the bedside table to turn off the light. He cuddled in close, one leg between Gibbs', and an arm thrown over his chest. "Is this all right?" Tony asked.

"It's perfect," Gibbs answered drowsily.

Tony woke up in the middle of the night, or day, he corrected himself when he saw the bright sunshine outside peaking through Gibbs' slatted blinds. Extricating himself from Gibbs' arms, Tony headed for the bathroom and took care of business.

On the way back to bed, he looked at his hands, and the silver of his aura was still there, but muted. The whole thing had been a trip, and a lot of it had been bad beyond compare, but it had been pretty cool, too. Tony sort of hoped that the bench lady would still need him. Maybe the auras were toned down because he'd been sleeping, Tony thought to himself, or maybe because he was so tired. Or maybe because he really didn’t need to see his or Gibbs' aura when they were home alone.

Deciding there was no use speculating, he crawled back into bed, and kept crawling until he was head first under the sheets, and face-to-face with Gibbs' cock. "Hello," Tony said softly to it, pleased to make its further acquaintance. Pleased that Gibbs slept in the buff, too, as it made access particularly easy, he leaned forward and took Gibbs' softened dick in his mouth.

He loved to feel a cock harden in his mouth, to start with something so soft and pliable that fit easily in his mouth, and feel it grow hard and big enough to fill his mouth up. Gibbs shuffled in bed, getting restless as he shifted from fast asleep to awake.

Tony swallowed as much of Gibbs' cock as he could, wanting Gibbs to wake up with every bit of it warm and wet from Tony's mouth. He used his tongue to play with the sensitive area underneath the head, and felt his own cock harden. It was conveniently placed right by Gibbs' mouth, so hopefully he'd want to play.

"God," Gibbs groaned, "that feels great."

Tony smiled around the cock in his mouth, slowly backed off, then went down again, applying some suction this time.

Gibbs arched into his mouth, letting out another groan.

Tony loved this. He loved sex. He loved sucking cock, and getting fucked, and he loved Gibbs. He let out a groan of his own when Gibbs decided he did want to play, wrapping his fingers around the base of Tony's cock, and then placing his warm mouth over the head.

The next few minutes were filled with grunts and happy moans, as Tony did his best to make Gibbs come first. He could feel Gibbs' balls tighten, but then, somehow, he'd back off from the edge. Tony envied him his control; he didn't think he'd last much longer, although he was doing his best to hold out. Then Gibbs, totally cheating, put a wet finger against the entrance to Tony's body and pressed in.

"Ah," Tony yelped, letting Gibbs' cock slip out of his mouth as he lost it, shooting off in Gibbs' mouth, the orgasm suffusing his body with heat. When he was done, he gave himself a minute or so to recover, but then sucked Gibbs back in. It only took Gibbs another minute to come and Tony swallowed every drop, relishing the taste.

Suddenly way too hot, he crawled out from under the sheets, and smiled at Gibbs. "Hey," he said.

"Hey yourself," Gibbs said with a matching grin. "That's a nice way to wake up."

"Get used to it," Tony threatened, still grinning. "And it wasn't really your wake up call, more like a middle of the night snack. We've only been sleeping around four hours."

As if in response to his words, Gibbs yawned, scratched his belly, and rolled out of bed. Tony listened as he headed for the bathroom, peed, and washed his hands. He held the sheet up when Gibbs got back, making room for him to slide back into bed. In seconds they were wrapped around each other again, and fast asleep.

Gibbs woke up before Tony. He was tempted to wake Tony up and return the favor, but decided he was hungry for real food. Along with the not sleeping, there had been a lot of not eating, and Gibbs' stomach was complaining.

He quietly got out of bed and pulled on some boxers and a t-shirt. Moving to the kitchen, he started the coffee maker, then pulled out some bacon and eggs, about the last edible thing in his refrigerator besides the leftover soup. Gibbs bought breakfast food in the hope he'd actually eat it, but ended up getting called into work so early that it often went untouched. Today, he'd make a real breakfast.

A few minutes later, he had bacon frying, and the eggs were ready to be scrambled. He thought about waking Tony up, but just as he thought that, Tony stumbled into the kitchen, dressed in a pair of jeans and nothing else. Gibbs could have looked at him all day. Instead, he handed him a cup of coffee.

With a grateful look, Tony took the cup.

Gibbs turned back to the stove, misjudged his distance and instead of grabbing the heat resistant handle of the fry pan, he hit the side, burning his hand. "Shit," he exclaimed, jerking his hand back. Fuck, that hurt. He looked at his fingers, could see they were already turning red, looking as if there might be a couple of blisters.

"You okay?" Tony asked, eyes blinking as if to work through sleepy eye crust.

"Burnt my hand," Gibbs said, turning to the refrigerator for some ice.

"Let me see," Tony ordered, holding out his hand.

Gibbs put his hand out for Tony to examine it. Pouting in sympathy, Tony asked, "Want me to kiss it to make it all better?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes, not dignifying the silly question with an answer. "I think ice might work a little better." He pulled his hand back, or tried to, but Tony still had a tight hold on it.

Tony kissed his fingers despite Gibbs' remark and then released him. "Want me to finish making breakfast?"

Opening the freezer door, Gibbs was reaching for some ice, when he realized his hand didn't hurt anymore. He looked at his fingers and saw that the burgeoning blisters were gone. His fingers weren’t even red. He rubbed them against each other and they weren't sore at all. He shut the freezer door and turned to Tony, about to tell him that his powers were obviously still around.

Tony, however, was staring out the window into the back yard.

"What is it?" Gibbs asked, still rubbing his fingers together, sure he was also seeing flickers of gold and silver.

"It's the bench lady," Tony said with an excited grin. He sort of looked like he was asking Gibbs' permission to go see her.

"Go," Gibbs said, waving his uninjured hand. "Go see if she wants breakfast." He was looking forward to her reaction to being called the bench lady. Gibbs suspected she'd find it highly amusing.

With another grin, Tony was out the door.

Gibbs snickered a little as he turned back to his cooking. Life was never going to be the same again, and Gibbs was glad he'd be around to see it.

The End!