Tony’s head shot up, his attention turning away from the attractive hotel manager. “On your six, Boss!” He gave her a big smile, then set out at a fast walk, catching up to the rest of the team as they rounded the corner of the building.
Gibbs motioned for McGee and Ziva to fan out and look for evidence on their approach to the fountain splashing merrily in the middle of the lush green lawn. He paused, surveying the scene, not looking at Tony as his second in command came to a halt at his side. Gibbs saw McGee turn to glance at them; he reached up and head-slapped Tony, perhaps a little harder than usual.
“Ow! Thank you, Boss.” Tony glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. “You know I’m just keeping up appearances, right?” he asked in a low voice.
Gibbs grunted, then gave him another tap on the head, lighter this time, letting his fingers drift gently through Tony’s hair before dropping his hand to his side. “Yeah, Tone, I know.”
Tony relaxed and smiled, savoring the happy zing of emotion chasing through him at the sound of his nickname. No one had ever called him that before… it was his and Gibbs’ alone. Tony shot Gibbs a smoldering glance, his smile widening as their eyes met. Gibbs rolled his, shook his head, muttered something about being obvious, then set off toward the fountain and the body lying half in the water.
Tony’s smile grew into a full-blown grin as he began taking pictures of the crime scene. His mind was only half on the job as he thought back over the reasons for the flirting and the head slaps. Back before The Hotel Incident That Shall Never Be Spoken Of Again, before The Elevator Incident, before The Water Wench… that wasn’t necessarily the best name for that particular fright, but he liked the alliteration… Tony and Gibbs were coworkers and friends. Now, with a little push from the supernatural, they were coworkers and friends and in a deeply committed relationship. It had been months since his encounter with The Water Wench, last fall in fact, and Tony was finally convinced that all the strange scenes were in the past. He spent most of his time off the job with Jethro, and had never been so happy.
Tony turned at the sound of voices, watching as Ducky and Jimmy approached. Jimmy carried the gurney, Ducky had his medical bag. Tony raised the camera and took their picture, returning Jimmy’s big smile and winking at Ducky, who lowered his head and peered meaningfully at him over the rim of his glasses. Ducky knew about him and Gibbs, having walked in on them in Gibbs’ basement a few weeks back. He fully supported their relationship, and it was nice to have someone who could help them cover when needed.
He turned to see Gibbs glaring at him again, so he jogged over to the fountain just as the water stopped flowing and began taking pictures of the dead Navy Lieutenant, doing his best to ignore the lake fifty yards beyond.
The man was out of uniform, his legs and lower body submerged, his upper body resting against the structure’s wall. His head hung back, eyes wide open and staring blankly, nicely framing the arrow piercing his forehead. McGee was talking with the police officer who’d been the first to arrive on scene; they were joined by the hotel manager, who caught Tony’s eye and smiled. Tony returned the smile, then, feeling Gibbs’ eyes on him, moved closer to the corpse to hear Ducky’s initial assessment.
“Cause of death does appear quite obvious, but let us avoid making any assumptions until I get him back to autopsy,” the ME mused.
“That’s a strange-looking arrow, Dr. Mallard,” Jimmy commented.
“Indeed.” Ducky touched the shaft lightly, just above where it penetrated the skull. “Abigail will need to verify, but I do believe it’s made of silver.”
“Silver?” Tony exclaimed. He leaned over to get a closer look. “What, did someone think this guy was a werewolf?”
Gibbs snorted, but he exchanged worried glances with Tony.
Ducky chuckled, getting to his feet. “We need not be concerned… this poor man won’t be able to respond to tonight’s full moon, regardless of his status when he was living.” He turned to Gibbs. “I can’t give you a reliable time of death yet, Jethro, given his partial submersion. We can take him now, if you’re through.”
Gibbs nodded. “Might as well, Duck. Long drive back.” He looked at his watch, then turned to the hotel manager as she drew near. “Do you have any rooms available? Gonna take us a while to investigate this.”
She nodded, sneaking another glance at Tony. “How many do you need?”
Gibbs thought for a moment. “Three. Ziva and McGee each get a room. DiNozzo, you’re with me.”
Tony glanced at the hotel manager, who looked disappointed. “But, Boss…”
“No buts, DiNozzo. Not having a repeat of last time.”
McGee snickered quietly while Tony pouted. Gibbs asked to see the Lieutenant’s room and set off back to the building with the manager.
McGee waited until Gibbs disappeared around the corner, then grinned at Tony. “He is never going to let you live that down.”
Tony sighed dramatically. “It wasn’t really my fault.”
McGee’s eyebrows rose. “You were creeping around the place trying to find that girl’s room. Hotel security almost had you arrested. How is that not your fault?”
Ducky spared Tony having to respond. “Would one of you help Mr. Palmer remove the body?”
Tony gestured toward the fountain with a flourish. McGee scowled. “What is it with you and water now? I’m always the one getting wet.”
“Senior field agent privilege, McSwimmer.”
McGee grumbled, but moved to give Jimmy a hand.
“I have found something!”
Tony turned at the sound of Ziva’s voice and moved toward the large trees at the edge of the lawn. He looked around but didn’t see her.
He approached one of the trees and looked up. She was halfway up the tree, taking pictures of the large branch directly above her. “This branch shows some damage… some of the bark is missing. It is clearly recent. And I found this on the ground directly below.” She tossed an object down to Tony, who caught it one-handed. It looked like some sort of plastic buckle.
“How’s the line of sight?” he called up to her, putting the buckle into an evidence bag.
She stood up straight, using one hand to steady herself against the trunk, then crouched a bit, extending her arm and pointing, squinting toward the lawn. “Clear shot to the fountain.”
“Nice job, Ziva.” He stepped back a pace as she landed on her feet directly in front of him.
She scrutinized him for a moment, then nodded her thanks. “Are you going to spend the night with the manager?” She smiled a little as she spoke.
Tony shook his head. “No,” he grumbled. “Gibbs has me sharing a room with him.”
“Ah.” She tilted her head slightly and gazed at him thoughtfully. “I was under the impression you were seeing someone.”
She shrugged. “You seem happy. You have not glued McGee to anything in months.”
“Maybe I just got bored with that one. I could glue you to something instead.”
“Only if you wish to die by paperclip.”
Tony managed to keep himself from rolling his eyes. “You done here? We should go help Gibbs.”
They headed back to the hotel, trailing behind Ducky and Jimmy bringing the body to the van. Tony heard the fountain splash back to life again, and he turned to look. The sun was starting to go down, casting an eerie light over the lawn. Tony thought he caught some movement at the corner of his eye, and he turned quickly to peer at the trees. A branch moved slightly; he thought it was the same tree Ziva had been in, but wasn’t sure. “Probably just a squirrel,” he muttered as he turned back to follow the others.
Several hours later, after canvassing the hotel and having dinner with the team, Tony gazed at the walls of the room he was sharing with Gibbs. “Somebody sure does like turtles.”
Tony moved closer to a model of a sea turtle, painted in several bright green colors, that was sitting on top of a desk. “McGee said he has tigers. And Ziva gets horses. We get turtles?”
Gibbs moved behind Tony, his arms encircling his lover’s waist, and rested his chin on Tony’s shoulder. “What do you have against turtles?”
“Nothing really… tigers and horses are cooler, that’s all.”
Gibbs shook his head and dropped a kiss on Tony’s neck. “The sea turtle is making you think of the ocean, which is making you think of the lake, which is making you think of that… thing. In the water.”
Tony turned to face him. “Got it in one. You should be an investigator.”
“Been months, Tone. I think we’re in the clear.”
Tony sighed and sat on one of the double beds. “But why did it all happen in the first place?”
Gibbs shook his head, sitting next to him. “Dunno. Probably won’t ever know.”
Tony nodded. “True.” He looked around the room, then smiled and headed over the balcony doors. “Enough of that. Look, Jethro… we’re all alone in a swank hotel room, we have a balcony – that’s really romantic, you know? Tons of classic romantic movies with balcony scenes. Tim and Ziva are all the way on the other side of the building on the first floor… and me pretending to try to hook up with some girl last time threw them off our trail. We can indulge ourselves.”
Gibbs smiled, watching as Tony looked out the French doors into the moonlit night. He was getting up to turn off the overhead light when the tremor in Tony’s voice stopped him.
“Uh, Jethro… I think you better get over here.”
Gibbs moved quickly to Tony’s side. Their room faced the lawn, the fountain, the woods, and the large lake beyond. Moonlight, reflected off the water as well as shining down from above, lit the entire area. Three stories down, near the fountain, numerous forms slunk toward the trees.
“Are those – wolves?” Tony whispered.
Gibbs stared out the window. “Yeah.”
There was a sharp click right in front of them; both agents’ hands were instantly on their weapons. The French doors slowly swung open into the room – by themselves.
“1950s B horror movie,” Tony muttered, his voice shaking slightly. Gibbs reached up with one hand, resting it lightly on Tony’s back; he kept the other on the butt of his gun, just in case. Both men moved forward slowly, stepping out onto the balcony.
The hotel was eerily silent. Quick glances to either side showed no lights in any rooms and no one else on any balconies. The wolves pacing across the lawn slowed and stopped. One of them looked up at the two men, eyes glittering in the moonlight. Its head suddenly swung forward, ears pricked, facing the woods.
Tree branches were shaking, moving as if something heavy were landing on them. Winged shapes erupted from the trees, some shooting out into the sky, others landing on the grass. Then, silently, the two groups converged, slamming into each other.
Tony and Gibbs watched as fangs and claws flashed in the moonlight. Blood flowed from wounds, visible as dark patches on the grass. The fight was entirely physical on the ground; arrows occasionally flew from the air, but the wolves seemed to know they were coming and most of them dodged successfully.
“It’s not a B horror flick,” Tony said in a shaky voice, “it’s Underworld.”
Neither man could have said how long the battle lasted. It ended as suddenly as it began; the wolves backed away, then turned and moved off, dragging their few fallen companions with them. The winged shapes picked up their own dead or wounded, melting back into the trees until only one remained, staring up at the balcony and the two agents, who stared back.
The wings lifted, beat strongly, and then the being landed on the balcony as Gibbs and Tony stepped back into the room.
It moved to follow them, stepping into the light. Too tall, too thin, too pale, eyes too large, hair too dark, dressed all in black. The wings folded behind it, forming a cape.
No one spoke. It stared at each of them in turn, blinking one or twice, too slowly. Fangs that extended past closed lips glinted as it moved. Gibbs’ grip tightened on his gun, but he didn’t draw it. Tony’s breathing was fast and shallow.
The thing turned suddenly toward the nearest bed, tossing something onto it; whatever it was landed with a dull thump. Both men kept their eyes on the monster. It stared back, then inclined its head slightly. Gliding backwards, it moved out onto the balcony; the wings lifted and unfurled, and it was gone.
Tony ran onto the balcony, practically spinning as he checked above and below, gun raised. “Clear,” he called out, before coming back into the room, then closing and locking the doors.
Gibbs took his hand off his gun and watched Tony shut out the moonlight with the curtains. Then the younger man turned to face him. “Jethro…”
Gibbs shook his head. “I don’t know, Tony.”
Their gazes met, then as one they turned to the bed to look down at the thick, leather-bound book lying next to the pillow. The cover was a dark brown, etched with an ivory symbol representing eight arrows radiating from a central point. Gibbs reached out and opened it, revealing thin, spidery writing in no language he’d ever seen. Letting it fall closed, he turned to look at Tony, finding him staring back.
“We’re supposed to read that, aren’t we?” Tony asked.
“How are we going to understand it?”
They looked at each other for a moment, then simultaneously said, “Abby.”