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The Dark Horse

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What a difference a month made, Tony reflected ruefully, looking around the former attic of Gibbs' house with bemusement.

Two days after they had bonded, Tony had tried to go back to his apartment. Within an hour Gibbs had been at his door, unsettled at his Guide being out of his home, alone and unprotected. Tony had given in, packed a bag and moved in with Gibbs.

There hadn't been any discussion about it being the other way around; Tony's one-bedroom could hardly compete with Gibbs' house and…and Tony was determined to keep his original if unspoken promise to make their bonding as easy as possible on Gibbs.

The attic had been a surprise that Gibbs had sprung on him the day after Tony had moved. He'd gotten up and found Registry contractors in the kitchen discussing blueprints and Gibbs handing him a coffee absent-mindedly (made the way Tony liked it) and asking him where he'd thought the electronics should go. Just over a week later, the work was done and Tony had been moved in.

The space ran the length of the house and had been completely renovated into a studio style apartment. A new wooden staircase led up from the back of the kitchen to a new full sized attic door. It opened out into the open living space. To the left was a small kitchen area which sported sleek wooden cabinets, a wooden counter and a top of the line stove and oven unit. A sleek maroon refrigerator and freezer completed the set-up. Tony's deep two-seater leather sofa was flush against the separating breakfast bar and signalled the shift to a den area.

There was a mounted TV screen on the partition wall with well-hidden electronics in a beautifully made wall unit below. Wooden shelves ran the length of available wall space, tucking in under the eaves, and they were filled with Tony's movie and book collection. A discreet arched doorway on the far side of the partition wall led into Tony's sleeping space; a large double bed under two large skylights that looked up onto the stars, bookended with more shelves that acted as bedside tables. To the right, there was a walk-in wardrobe which also led to a cleverly hidden en-suite shower room.

Gibbs had gone all out to make the space work for Tony and Tony tried again to squash the resentment he'd felt at having to move.

It was a great apartment, Tony reminded himself. And it had been a nice gesture on Gibbs' part. If Tony had maybe hoped to live in the main house…well, that was something he kept to himself. Gibbs' solution did mean that they both did get their own space and, on the bad days, Tony had to admit he was glad he could shut the door on his Sentinel.

It had been a bad day.

Tony had half-hoped that Gibbs would want to bond that night but since Gibbs had stormed off to the basement as soon as they'd entered the house, Tony figured he was out of luck. Bonding made him feel safe and loved and it was very addictive. Tony would bond every night if he could but he knew Gibbs didn't feel the same, content to renew their connection less frequently. So Tony had let Gibbs set the pace and had never initiated the bonding. He knew it was something he had to get over.

According to the Guide 101 classes Maggie Henshaw had hustled Tony into, it was usually the Guide who set the bonding schedule to the spiritual needs of the pairing. Gibbs, who'd been forced into his own set of classes, no doubt was going to learn the same thing soon if he hadn't already. Not to mention Maggie hadn't said anything specifically but he could tell she was concerned at Tony's reticence in asking his Sentinel to bond. It was likely she'd say something to Gibbs sooner rather than later if Tony didn't start to assert himself.

Tony dropped his backpack and wandered over to the small table by the sofa. He smiled down on the goldfish swimming about the bowl and sprinkled some food on the surface of the water. "Hey, there, Kate. Sorry. Long day."

Long month.

The week he'd had to recuperate from the onset of his empathy and Rivkin's attack seemed a lifetime ago. They'd reported back to NCIS where Vance, keen to get his MCRT back into action had pushed them through the evals in a single day. After that it had been nothing but case after case after case…and all with only three field agents.

Gibbs had point blank refused to consider taking on a fourth, even a TAD, because he didn't trust anyone near to Tony who he didn't know. It wasn't so bad for Tony – he'd partnered with Gibbs just the two of them before and knew the score. McGee had floundered the first week, adjusted in the second (and Tony was proud of their Probie for that) but the last three weeks had been full on and it was becoming obvious that McGee had about reached the end of his stamina. Tony had to admit his own wasn't holding up so well since it had been years since he'd had to keep up such a high pace. Thanks to his new snazzy bond with Gibbs he also knew for a fact that the Boss was beginning to find the pace intolerable. They needed a new member.

Tony sighed and headed for the kitchen to grab a bottle of water and a sandwich – not up to fixing anything else.

Abby had heard from Ziva a week after the Israeli's departure from NCIS. Ziva had resigned from Mossad, refusing to take a mission from her father to track down the camp in North Africa that had been the focus of the intelligence they'd shared. Instead she'd gone to stay with an old friend, Schmiel, in Paris. He was apparently a grandfatherly figure who Ziva had known her whole life, although she'd never mentioned him to anyone. She was using the time to consider what she wanted to do next.

Ducky had been kind enough to share a postcard he'd received from Ziva and Tony suspected that both McGee and Gibbs had received messages from her but there had been nothing for Tony. It hurt that their friendship was over but he honestly hoped Ziva found what she was looking for and he didn't regret the choices he'd made.

Except for the amount of work they were now shouldering to make up for Ziva's absence.

They just needed to find someone else. Someone who could fit with the team. Someone who wasn't Mossad and who wouldn't sell them out to a foreign agency. Or someone who had a secret sister who'd be used to blackmail her into betraying them.

He'd quietly sounded out Nicki Jardine – she had issues but she was competent and smart – but she was happy where she was and admitted frankly she didn't want to work with Gibbs day in day out.

Tony took his meagre dinner to the sofa and all but collapsed onto it. He really, really missed the real human-shaped Kate. She had been a solid investigator and she'd been solid gold as a human being. Yes, she'd been a little bitchy and a touch condescending at times, but Tony had kind of liked that; it made her real. More importantly, she'd always had their six. After Gibbs, Kate had been the best partner he'd had on the job.

And since Tony's Guide revelation and Ziva's exit, McGee had turned into a close third, finally losing the slight petulance at being the junior member of the MCRT that had simmered in him since he had led a team in Cyber Crimes. It was possibly somewhat ironic that in losing the attitude, Tim had earned the right in Tony's eyes to be considered a partner.

Tony knew Tim's attitude adjustment had happened because of the Guide thing. Before, McGee had come close to insubordination a couple of times but Tony had always accepted that Tim would try and push the boundaries because he had himself as a Probie. Nobody wanted to be the Probie forever after all. But since a few of their fellow agents had reacted to Tony's status with barely concealed disapproval of a Guide being allowed in the field, Tim, who abhorred that view, had in response dropped his own shtick of poking at Tony's competence, experience and education.

Tony's phone rang loudly.

He groaned out loud and picked it up. "DiNozzo."

"Hey, Tony," Gill in dispatch greeted him cheerfully, "Metro have reported a body downtown in an alleyway with Navy credentials. Detective Sparr asked for you by name."

Ah, the lovely Andrea.

Tony smiled. He and the lovely Andrea had flirted a lot when their cases had gotten intertwined over a year before. They'd dated for just under a month once they'd wrapped up their joint investigation. On their first date Tony had been interrupted by a case; on their second she had. On their third date, she'd been upset about the homicide of a young boy. He'd ended up providing an ear and alcohol, taking her home and putting her chastely to bed. On their fourth date, Tony had been upset about Jeanne trying to frame him for murder and it had been Andrea's turn to provide alcohol and an ear, letting Tony sleep on her couch. The next morning over truly disgusting frozen waffles they'd realised they'd somehow fallen into friendship and maybe they were better for it. They'd gotten together for drinks and to provide sympathetic ears semi-regularly ever since.

"Give me the details." Tony instructed, knowing Andrea wouldn't have asked for him if she didn't have a reason. He noted the location absently, his mind already racing ahead. "Can you call Ducky and…"

"…and Agent McGee. They're my next call. I'll leave Gibbs to you." Gill said smartly.

"You're a sweetheart." Tony agreed cheerfully. He signed off, grabbed his abandoned backpack and coat, and tried to pick up the remains of his sandwich even as he juggled his phone, and found Andrea's contact details.

"Sparr." Andrea said crisply.

"I hear you have a present for me." Tony teased.

"You were complaining I never give you anything." Andrea responded dryly.

"I was thinking more of you paying for dinner one time," Tony replied easily, "not a dead body."

Andrea gave a snort. "You prefer the dead body."

"Well, since your idea of high cuisine is a McDonalds, I'll agree with you." Tony remarked, skipping down the stairs. "Why did you ask for me?"

"Remembered we had a similar case on the system turned over to NCIS just over a month ago." Andrea said succinctly. "Wasn't sure if it was yours but…"

But if this was a second case they had a serial and Andrea had wanted the best on it.

"You at the scene?" Tony checked.

"You know it." Andrea said.

"Gibbs'll be driving so I'll see you soon." Tony joked. She gave a short laugh and said goodbye.

Tony stuffed as much of the sandwich as he could in his mouth as he made his way down from the attic. He found Gibbs coming up from the basement, already holstering his gun and shrugging into his jacket.

"You heard?" checked Tony.

Gibbs shot him a look that indicated Tony had asked a stupid question. Tony shrugged and followed him back out of the house. The lock clicked reassuringly behind them, signalling the other major change to the house – a highly sophisticated security system.

Tony briskly informed Gibbs of the address and managed to finish the rest of the sandwich in one bite. He hung on as Gibbs pulled out of the driveway and onto the road.

"Dispatch didn't have a lot." Tony said, opening up his phone to begin the preliminary searches. "Lieutenant Michael O'Connor. Twenty-eight. Latent Guide assigned to the Chaplain Corps in Washington. Next of kin is older brother Master Sergeant Gabriel O'Connor, currently deployed in Iraq. He has two other brothers Raphael and Uriel – good luck with that name – both are at college here in Washington. Parents died in a car crash five months ago. Evidence of sexual assault; suspected homicide. Alleyway backs onto a Sentinel and Guide friendly club just like in the case Yates picked up last month."

He sent everything he found to McGee, frowning as a particularly tight corner sent him lurching despite the seat belt. He also sent a text to the support techs to schedule a courtesy call with the brother's command and track down where the brother was in Iraq.

He was in the middle of noting down Michael O'Connor's CO details when Gibbs cleared his throat.

"Didn't know you were still in touch with Sparr."

There was a jealous edge to Gibbs' voice which Tony immediately catalogued as Gibbs' Sentinel getting territorial again. He refrained from reaching to touch the lettering on his hipbone that simply stated 'Rule 5'. It was discreet enough not to give away anything to someone outside of the team and deeply personal enough to his relationship with Gibbs that Gibbs had accepted it as a mark of their bond without argument.

"She's a good contact and a friend." Tony pointed out evenly.

"Thought you two had a thing." Gibbs said.

"We dated," Tony admitted going with honesty, "but nothing happened and we worked out we fit better as friends."

Gibbs gave a grunt but Tony sensed him relaxing.

The crime scene was evident; already surrounded by response vehicles, lights flashing and yellow tape holding back a small crowd of rubber-neckers trying to see what had happened.

Tony made a note of them but nobody looked overtly suspicious. He slapped his cap on and took a moment to lose the normal outerwear in favour of the standard NCIS jacket stowed in the truck of the car. Gibbs did the same and within seconds they were flashing their IDs and striding past the tape.

The body was tucked against a wall half-way down the alley. The scent of vomit, piss and rotting food from a large dumpster at the front of the alley was strong. Tony inched closer to Gibbs knowing the Sentinel was already dialling down his scent without needing any prompting.

Andrea was dressed in a long black trench-coat, her favourite grey turtleneck and skin-tight jeans. Her bob of hair with its streaks of honey-gold and darker blonde, skirted her shoulders. Sensible boots completed her outfit. She gave a nod as Tony and Gibbs approached.

"DiNozzo; Gibbs." Andrea motioned to her right and a young guy turned from his perusal of the alleyway floor. "My new partner, Detective Kevin Bale."

Probie, Tony categorised straight away, taking in the cheap suit and overcoat. Tall and lanky, there was a mop of spiky blond hair, pointed features, large brown eyes, and a shy smile. The guy was like a puppy who hadn't grown into his paws; ungraceful but adorable. A whisper of his empathy had him pegging Bale as a Sentinel.

Tony gave an easy smile and shook his head as Bale offered his hand. "Newly bonded, Bale." He explained, jerking his head towards Gibbs. "I don't think you want to challenge my Sentinel."

Gibbs glared at Bale who flushed and mumbled an apology. He turned to Andrea. "You handing this over to us, Sparr?"

"Free and clear." Andrea said bluntly. "We have enough without adding this onto our stack." She gestured at Kevin. "Give them the run-down, Bale."

Bale blanched at suddenly having their attention all focused on him but he drew back his shoulders and gestured toward the body.

"Um, body was found by a deputy manager at the next door club who came out for a smoke." Bale pointed to his right. "She's in the manager's office with a uniform, waiting to be interviewed. Signs are that this was a dumping area rather than the kill zone."

At the descriptive phrase Tony sent an amused look at Andrea who rolled her eyes at him.

She gestured down to the back of the alley. "We have drag marks out towards the back of the alley through some trash. Alley leads down to the employee car park of the club so plenty of space to pull up and dump. No camera on the car park but there is one down the end of the adjoining road that might have picked up something." She tucked her hands into her pockets, hunching against a cold wind. "We're finishing the canvass with the rest of the club employees and those in the restaurant next door but so far nobody's come forward to say they saw or heard anything."

"We think the body was dumped early this morning." Bale jumped in.

The sound of the ME's truck pulling up had Tony automatically turning back to the mouth of the alley. He exchanged a quick glance with Gibbs, silently agreeing the workload. Gibbs moved to greet Ducky and Tony started snapping photos as he encouraged Bale to continue talking.

Andrea's amusement touched his shields and bled through a little. She knew he was encouraging the Probie to talk because it gave him a lot more information than the professional report she would have issued.

The naked body was a mess. Tony adjusted the camera angle and the focus and snapped off another picture. The face was unrecognisable. They were going to have to wait for prints to confirm identity, regardless of the tags and ID dumped beside it. There were violent bruises on the thighs and knees; mottling and welts along the back.

Tony grimaced. There were a lot of similarities with Yates' case. That had gone nowhere and with additional cases turning up every day, she'd had to put it aside. A twinge of guilt fluttered inside of Tony as he recalled that Mark Carrington had been reassigned to Norfolk after the incident with Tony.

"Well, let me take a look at him." Ducky appeared beside Tony and gently nudged him out of the way. He clucked loudly as he lowered himself to the body.

"Duck?" Gibbs asked impatiently.

"Really, Jethro," Ducky complained, "you cannot expect me to know anything with such a cursory look at the poor boy."

Tony sidled out of the way and motioned for Bale to show him the drag marks. Andrea stayed with Ducky and the body. At the end of the alley, Tony dismissed Bale, sending him back to wait for McGee. He checked along the ground, placing markers and taking photos as he needed until he was in the employee car park. He snapped more photos to get a good sense of the position of everything and quietly checked over the ground.

There was nothing that stood out but Tony stopped and picked up the few items littering the concrete; a single earring of cheap glass shaped into the appearance of a crystal, a trampled business card for a Gordon Kelly, and a discarded cigarette butt with lipstick on it. He grimaced as he spotted a used condom tossed carelessly under a car and was grateful for the latex gloves as he gingerly packed it.

Condom. Cigarette. Business card. Earring.

He'd bet money the employee car park was the meeting place for a tryst. Possibly it would have nothing to do with their murder but it was something that needed follow-up.

He switched to his sketch book and quickly drew the car park; he also sketched the outline of the access road. He took some pictures and made a note to come back and do a full reconnaissance. For the time being, he was needed elsewhere.

Tony returned to the alley and found McGee in the midst of evidence gathering, Palmer assisting Ducky with the body, and Gibbs finishing up a sketch.

Gibbs waved towards the club. "Begin the follow-up interviews, DiNozzo. I'll join you when I'm done here." Leaving McGee with the evidence collection of a very dirty alleyway.

"Don't forget the dumpsters, Probie!" Tony teased as he drew level with McGee's position.

McGee shot him a disgruntled look. "Thanks, Tony."

Tony handed over his finds and McGee carefully logged them, placing them securely into the evidence carrier.

"I'm going to be here all night." McGee complained in a low voice. It wouldn't prevent Gibbs from hearing but talking quietly alerted the Sentinel to the fact that he wasn't meant to pay attention to the grumbling.

"Call dispatch and get them to send some agents TAD to assist you, McGee." Tony advised. "There's another dumpster out back that needs to be gone through too."

McGee's face brightened and he gave Tony a nod of thanks. Tony smiled at him and left the dank alleyway.

Andrea was perched on the hood of her car, Bale hovering beside her nervously. Tony wandered over to say goodbye.

"Do you have anything else for us?" Tony asked.

Andrea shook her head, her bob flying into disarray as the wind breezed past. "Not much." She pointed at the club. "Sensation just opened. Owner is an old Sentinel called Lou Bean."

Bale snickered.

Both Tony and Andrea exchanged identical looks of 'Probies – what can you do?'

"The deputy manager called him and the manager, a Paul Doherty." Andrea informed him briskly. "We haven't had a chance to run down any information on either."

"The deputy manager?" questioned Tony.

"Carol Benton." Bale answered promptly. "She's very upset."

"Chain smoker, a bit on the flashy side." Andrea commented. "But seems competent in her job."

"Red lipstick?" Tony checked.

Andrea nodded. "You find something?"

Tony shrugged. "Maybe." He flashed a smile. "Thanks for the call. Can you leave the uniforms for a while?"

"Send them back when you're done." She agreed. "Somehow I don't think you're going to be grateful for the call in the long run." She quipped with a sharp grin. "Call me when you get a chance. You can buy me a drink."

And give her the lowdown on the case. Tony nodded, gave her a small salute and headed into the club, nodding an approval at the uniform on the door who asked for his ID.

The club was tastefully done. The entrance way with its coat-room, toilets and stairway off to the offices was clean and tidy. He made a mental note of the layout as he headed up the stairs. The female officer who'd sat with Benton rose to her feet when Tony entered.

"Sir."

Tony indicated for her to wait outside but to keep the door open. He showed his ID, observing Benton's trembling and teary eyes. She was a tall brunette; her modest bust was showcased in a push-up bra and a low cut tight fitting black nylon blouse. It was tucked into a tight black skirt. He'd bet money that the pantyhose she was wearing were actually thigh high stockings. She wore a lot of make-up; matt foundation, pencilled in eyebrows, kohl on her eyes with silver on her lids, bright red lipstick, mostly bitten off. A perfect French manicure completed the ensemble. He pinned her age at somewhere just over forty but she was trying to pass as a thirty-something.

"Ms. Benton? I'm Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The man you found was a Navy officer so Metro called us in."

Benton nodded swiftly. "The detective explained."

Tony smiled sympathetically. "I know you've suffered a shock, ma'am, but I'm afraid I need to talk to you about what's happened."

Benton nodded again. Her shaking hands rubbing nervously over each other in a wringing motion.

"Can we get you a hot drink or some water before we begin?" asked Tony solicitously.

"I'm fine." Benton insisted. "I just want this over."

"Tell me about your day; start from the top." Tony encouraged. "You got up and…"

Within a moment Benton was talking. He waited patiently through the beginning since her description of getting up and dealing with her daughter's need for a ride helped relax Benton and the information about her home life was interesting; house in a nice area which probably cost more than her salary, a young daughter just starting college which also suggested a need for money…

And sure enough, Benton tensed up when she began to talk about work; about coming in early to do paperwork, about needing a smoke and heading out to the back alley and suddenly finding the body. He didn't even need to thin his shield to know she was lying.

Tony took her back through it a couple of times to get the best view of what she was lying about and why. Five minutes later, she was confessing to prostitution to make extra cash and meeting a client in the employee car park before she'd even entered the building. They'd had sex in the car. Gordon – he of the business card – had enjoyed a cigarette with her and then they'd gone their separate ways. She'd discovered the body walking up the alley to enter the club. It descended into sobbing after that as she admitted fearing her bosses would fire her if they found out about the prostitution.

Probably a valid fear.

Tony quizzed her a while longer about the night before but Benton hadn't seen anything although she admitted she'd been with another client in the car park around one (a pick up from the club that night – no name) and swore blind the body hadn't been in the alley at the time, although she'd hurried inside since there'd been a car circling which she'd assumed had been an unmarked cop car (no real description except it was dark coloured and she couldn't make out the driver).

His keen hearing picked up on someone entering the club and he switched the subject to the nightclub's operations just before Gibbs entered with a white-haired guy in an ill-fitting suit who turned out to be the owner.

A few general questions, permission to interview the staff and to take the security footage later, Tony fell into step behind Gibbs as they made their way down from the offices.

"Benton?" inquired Gibbs in a low undertone.

Tony shook his head regretfully. "But she has helped account for some of the evidence and narrowed the time of the body drop."

Gibbs nodded. "Come on then. It's going to be a long night."

Tony thought wistfully of his earlier hopes of bonding time and tucked them all away again. They had a job to do and that came first even when it seemed never-ending. He pursed his lips. Maybe he could convince Andrea to join NCIS…

-nCIs-

Gibbs walked into the bullpen, the early morning sunlight flooding the floor, and stopped in front of Tony's desk. Tony was perched precariously in his chair; balanced backwards, feet on his desk, chin on his chest, and apparently fast asleep. Gibbs shook his head fondly. How often had he found Tony in the same position when a case demanded it?

He sneaked a look over at McGee who had settled for sleeping face down on his keyboard, arms hanging limply down by his sides.

Gibbs only just stopped himself from looking back at Ziva's desk – not to find Ziva surprisingly but in search of the woman who'd occupied the desk before her. Maybe it was his brain's way of getting him to admit they needed someone like Kate on the team to help them. They were getting close to burnout.

He sent a waking nudge of affection along the bond and Tony's eyes snapped open.

"I'm awake." Tony said instantly. He pushed himself upright and sent his hands through his messy hair, making it even messier.

"Uh-huh." Gibbs replied dryly. "Clean up and meet me in the bonding suite."

Tony gaped at him. "Here?"

Gibbs could understand his surprise; they'd only ever bonded within Gibbs' basement. He simply raised an eyebrow in response to Tony though and his Guide got the message. There was no other choice and Gibbs needed to bond, renew their connection after a whole night of working on a case where a latent Guide had been killed in a violent manner.

"Going to shower, Boss." Tony said, grabbing a few items from the filing cabinet and hurrying away to the locker room.

"Go with him, McGee." Gibbs ordered without looking at the younger agent. He knew McGee had woken as soon as Tony had moved.

He also knew McGee had assigned himself as unacknowledged protector of Tony when Gibbs wasn't around. There was still a lot of lurking resentment in the bullpen over Tony's status as a Guide being revealed; a lot of lurking resentment towards him for being the trigger for Mark Carrington's departure since Carrington had been popular. Gibbs couldn't keep Tony with him twenty-four seven without undermining Tony's status; McGee acting as Gibbs' stand-in had proved a godsend.

"On it, Boss." McGee said tiredly. He staggered past Gibbs, indents along the left side of his face where the keypad had pressed into his skin.

Gibbs drank deeply from the coffee take-out cup he held and sat down to wait. He opened-up a folder and perused the latest test results Abby had given him, letting his mind roll over the available evidence.

Ducky had placed the time of death around midnight. Benton had been screwing a client in the car park at one. She'd seen nothing suspicious in the car park; nobody there that shouldn't have been. All the other staff had said the same with the last, Benton, locking up at two-thirty along with a bar tender as a reliable second witness, claimed there had been no body in the alley.

Gibbs frowned.

There had been the unmarked car circling the area at one. That was something that didn't fit. And the bartender had seen the Lieutenant in the club that night.

They'd pulled the security footage from the club entrance and main room but McGee had yet to pinpoint when O'Connor had arrived and when he had left – and with whom.

Gibbs checked his watch. He'd just come back from MTAC and informing the Master Sergeant of his brother's death. Gabe O'Connor had been devastated but he was a Marine and he was holding it together. According to him, Mikey had been popular, kind and had no enemies; a man of God. He'd been surprised to find Mikey had been frequenting the club but claimed his brother had always believed his Guide abilities would come online if he just met the right Sentinel.

They were going to have to interview the remaining brothers; arrangements had been made for the eldest O'Connor to be put in touch with his younger brothers and Gibbs had already dispatched agents to bring them to the Yard. He knew he had to rule both out as suspects but something about the rape and violence of Michael O'Connor's death suggested it wasn't a personal attack but one where the individual hadn't mattered so much. Ducky's preliminary forensic profile said the same thing and he had asserted that there were several similarities with the death of Petty Officer Kenneth Graham the month before.

It looked very much that Michael O'Connor had run into a serial killer.

Gibbs checked his watch again and gave a pleased nod as McGee, so freshly showered moisture still glistened on his skin and created damp patches through his changed clothes, slid back into his seat.

"Continue with the security footage, McGee." Gibbs ordered.

He headed for the bonding suite. Situated just past HR, the suite was a series of three rooms; a reception area just in case anyone forgot to lock the door, an outer locker room, and the inner bonding chamber.

He flipped the sign to 'closed', locked the door and put on the white noise generator that would prevent any other Sentinel from listening in. He moved to the outer room and peeled off his clothes, pleased to see Tony's already in a tidy pile. He locked the door to the outer room and entered the inner room.

Tony sat cross-legged on the mat on the floor. He hadn't taken the time to dry his hair and it stuck wetly to his head, a trickle of moisture running down his neck.

Gibbs sat down opposite him and reached over to clasp Tony's hands in his. The bond opened-up, their spirit animals appearing beside them, and Gibbs sank into it with a grateful sigh. Spiritually he let himself float in Tony-ness, knowing his Guide would provide a solid anchor back to the real world. Physically he immersed himself in Tony's scent; fresh skin over Tony's unique smell. He wallowed in looking at Tony; the shape of his features, the curve of his jaw, the well-muscled physique, the shadowed groin area.

Gibbs reached out and thumbed the tattoo. Tony shivered and winced.

"Still a little sensitive." Tony apologised obliquely.

Gibbs shrugged. He thumbed over it again. His. His Guide. His partner. His Tony. "Talk to me."

Tony hummed and began a recitation of another of his favourite movies; a film about a hooker with a heart of gold being rescued from the life by a client. Even Gibbs had heard about since it had been the film that had rocketed Julia Roberts to fame. Gibbs didn't bother to hide his knowing smile at why Tony's mind had gone to that particular movie.

He sent a rush of affection down their bond.

Tony's shy wordless answer was a rush of loyalty and answering affection; it soothed Gibbs and centred him.

"…and I've always kind of wanted to do that whole 'look at what you missed out on' thing in some of the shops here, let me tell you, but I…"

"Why didn't you tell me you needed to bond?" Gibbs winced. He hadn't meant to confront Tony so baldly.

Tony's green eyes blinked at him but the bond remained stable and the pulse of understanding that Gibbs' question had been expected reached Gibbs and reassured him.

"Look, some of it's our dynamic; you're my boss and I'm used to you setting the pace and well…"

"Since I freaked out, you doubly thought you'd let me set the pace so I wouldn't freak out again." Gibbs supplied.

"Yeah." Tony gave a small smile, his eyes warming with humour. "That had kinda crossed my mind."

"I'm good, Tony." Gibbs said sincerely. He paused and ploughed on. "How often do you think we need to bond?"

Tony gave an exaggerated wince. "More than we have?" His voice was unusually tentative.

Gibbs kept his dismay from showing on his face. Damn. He knew most of Tony's insecurity about their bond was down to Gibbs' own reaction at the discovery of it. He could have kicked himself for what he'd done; he'd hurt his Guide and it was going to take time to undo the hurt he'd caused.

"Maybe we should just set some time aside every day? The bond needs to settle and bonding that often isn't going to hurt us any."  Gibbs offered.

Tony's face lit up and Gibbs knew he'd made the right call when Tony eagerly agreed.

"Right." Gibbs said squeezing Tony's hand and letting go gently. "We need to get back to work."

He guessed their usual dynamic was screwing up other things too. He had been making decisions for them both without even allowing Tony much input. Moving Tony to his house had been one of them. He needed to watch himself outside of their professional relationship; make sure Tony had an opportunity to decide with him rather than him deciding everything for them both.

"If you'd woken me, I'd have come to MTAC with you." Tony remonstrated very gently.

"You needed the sleep." Gibbs said simply. "You can take the younger brothers."

And that was a good division of labour; Gibbs taking the Marine and Tony the college guys.

Tony shot him a fond knowing look and rose gracefully to his feet. Gibbs got to his and reached out to touch the tattoo again. He was pleased that Tony was getting used to being naked with him; with Gibbs touching him to connect skin to skin.

"You really do like the tattoo." Tony said, his amusement spilling over into his voice.

Gibbs shrugged. He liked the tattoo probably more than what was deemed appropriate. It satisfied the Sentinel in him to have Tony marked so completely as his.

They wandered back into the outer room and started to pull on their clothing. Gibbs noticed Tony had chosen casual clothes that day; jeans, a Henley long-sleeved shirt, and a soft cotton over-shirt in a striped pattern that looked as though it had been worn for years. Casual gear. Because Tony had known he'd get the college guys.

Gibbs' lips twitched. He pulled his polo shirt back on and shrugged into his jacket. "McGee's on the footage; we might get lucky."

"You're going to talk to Cassie." Tony stated.

"There's enough of a tie-in." Gibbs acknowledged. Nobody wanted a serial killer but if it was a serial killer then the sooner they put all the pieces together the better.

"I've got McGee doing a case profile search – see if anything pops up somewhere else." Tony said.

"The FBI was sniffing around Yates' case." Gibbs said. "We might get them turning up here."

Tony frowned. "Guess there wasn't enough to argue a serial or they would have stuck around."

Gibbs nodded.

They strode out of the room completely in synch, walking into the bullpen with an air of contentment that had McGee's eyes widening.

"The O'Connor brothers are in conference room one, Boss." McGee informed him briskly. "And Agent Yates is waiting in conference room two for you."

"Anything on that security footage yet?" Gibbs asked briskly.

"Not yet, Boss." McGee responded.

"Stay on it." Gibbs motioned at Tony who picked up a notebook and pen, strapped on his badge, and headed off to interview the brothers.

Gibbs picked up his abandoned coffee, diverted to the break room to refill it, and made his way into conference room two. He wasn't surprised to see Cassie's team. He nodded a greeting at the perky Probie Beverly Powers and the more seasoned agent, Charlie Lopez. Arnold Banks, the temporarily assigned Senior, gave him a brief nod.

He noted how Cassie was dressed sharply in a two piece-power suit; the bright blue colour was a good choice for her dark colouring and café latte complexion. She looked every inch a smart competent professional.

Cassie gestured at Powers who immediately dived to the laptop in front of her and a second later the monitor on the wall had the evidence up on it.

"Body was found in the early hours of the morning by a prostitute. She had been regularly using the alley for business until The Great City opened and she got spooked by the owner being a former cop. Said she left something and returned to find it." Cassie began smoothly.

"Since she has a rap sheet a mile long for drug use we're figuring she stashed some there." Lopez said, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair in a way that emphasised his stocky physicality. With his short slicked-back hair he reminded Gibbs of a young Ritchie Valens.

"We didn't find any." Powers pointed out, tossing her blonde ponytail back.

"Doesn't mean she couldn't have retrieved it before she called it in." Lopez countered, cautioning the probie against having a soft heart.

"She called it in." Powers insisted.

"Move on." Gibbs cut in, with a chastising look at their team leader for allowing the discussion at all.

Cassie smiled at him sweetly. "The hooker – Elaine Betts – called the find in at four-ten. Metro arrived on scene four-twenty-five. Called us in at five-twenty-five. Doctor Mallard arrived six-thirty and did a preliminary examination which suggested cause of death was strangulation."

"Barman, Frank Carson, locked up the club, noted he didn't pay attention to the alley." Lopez chipped in. "The car park for the employees is out back of the alley with a door straight into the club."

"However, Carrington reported that the bartender remembered putting empties out in the glass recycling around half past twelve and there was definitely no body then." Banks finally spoke up. "Camera on the alley is just for show."

Gibbs grunted but didn't acknowledge Banks in any other way. The dark-haired Senior Agent looked the part – suit, bright tie and crisp shirt – but he had a reputation for being lazy.

"Cameras inside the club saw the Petty Office arriving at ten the night before." Cassie picked up, clicking into the relevant footage on file. "He chatted, drank a couple of beers at the bar and got a text message here." She froze the screen.

Powers got the cue and pulled up the phone records. "Text came from an email address. Dummy account set up on a large internet provider. Information used belonged to a dead guy who was in the obits the day before the account was created."

"We managed to get a warrant for the provider to turn over all data for that account." Banks said. "There wasn't that much there though."

"I disagree." Powers said forcefully. "Whoever it was used the email account to enable them to set-up a number of other accounts on Sentinel and Guide chat rooms."

"That's how our unnamed suspect made contact with Petty Office Graham." Cassie sighed.

"Fishing pool." Gibbs stated with confidence, his mind racing ahead to form the connection his gut was already telling him was there. "What was the bait?"

Powers positively glowed with confidence at his taking her seriously, shooting Banks a look of triumph. "Graham believed he'd become an active Guide if he could find the right Sentinel."

"And our killer managed to snow him into believing that he was the right Sentinel." Cassie confirmed. "They arranged to meet at the club."

Gibbs tuned out to the obvious conclusion that the killer had lured the victim out of the club instead. He'd seen enough. "You got the witness list?"

Cassie nodded. "Nobody saw very much of anything though, Gibbs."

Tony had a way with witnesses.

"DiNozzo will re-interview." Gibbs murmured, and caught the sneering look Banks tried to hide. He ignored him. "Forensics?"

Cassie nodded at Powers and the screen was populated with reports.

"There was nothing found on the body." Lopez reported briskly. "Cleaned, redressed and dumped."

"The alley was gross." Powers added.

"Lots of evidence," said Cassie dryly, "but nothing that was useful."

Yeah, that sounded about right. Alleyways were dirty and provided the perfect place to mask and contaminate evidence. The alley had been chosen for exactly that purpose – Gibbs was sure of that.

"Why was the FBI sniffing around?" Gibbs asked.

Cassie wrinkled her nose. "There were two similar cases back in New York last year, and one in Baltimore this. The victims were women, civilian and active Guides not inactive."

"Their bodies were found in public parks, not alleys." Banks chimed in, crossing his arms. "They weren't raped but they were stabbed. The New York cases are cold; Baltimore charged the vic's boyfriend three weeks after the body was found. He was a lab tech assigned to the department; had seen the New York case evidence and used it to mimic his girlfriend's death in the hopes it would be assumed the same guy did all three."

So the case was a similar enough crime to the New York cases to catch the eye of the FBI but not enough for them to solidly connect them. Gibbs' gut was fairly screaming at him that there was a connection.

He stood up. "I'll talk to Vance, get your team seconded to the MCRT for the duration."

Cassie looked vaguely horrified. "You think it's a serial killer."

"Don't you?" He shot back at her. He was out of the door before she could answer.

-nCIs-

Tony knew some cops who always felt slightly icky going through the possessions of the dead, feeling like they were metaphorical jackals.

Not Tony.

Tony loved snooping other people's things, even dead people's things. The way he looked at it, most people if asked before they died would say they'd prefer him to look through their things and find their killer. And for those who would answer that they'd prefer to keep their privacy, well, Tony was performing a public duty – ensuring the killer was found before he-she-it could kill again. He was keeping everyone else safe and he was comfortable being a jackal if that was what it took.

Gibbs was also incredibly pragmatic about going through a victim's things. Pragmatic but respectful. Tony had never seen him pass judgement on the more disturbing minutiae that people kept secret and hidden from everyone in their every-day lives; everything from the banal Twinkie hiding places to the more seriously kinky fetishes; from the left-up toilet seats to the discarded sticky porn mags under a teenage boy's bed. Tony had to admit he wasn't quite as respectful as he probably should be at times but his mockery was a way of dealing with even the most gross crime scenes learned on his first police beat and he'd never been quite able to shake it as a coping mechanism.

Michael O'Connor's apartment was in a nice part of town, in a converted old house. It was ground floor level taking up one half of the building with garden space and off-street parking. It was expensive but McGee had already substantiated that all of the brothers had received an equal portion of their parents' insurance money.

The inside of the apartment was neat and tidy. O'Connor had been trained into square corners and beds that nickels could bounce on. The décor was bland and lacked comfort. There were no cushions on the leather sofa; no coasters on the coffee table; nothing but functional linen on the bed. The only hint of a personality showed in the shiny neon blue Dell that sat atop the desk in the second bedroom.

Gibbs ordered Powers to work on the computer even as he started for the filing cabinet, and Tony indicated he'd head for the master.

The main bedroom was like a monk's cell; plain, unadorned but for the cross on the wall. Tony started poking into the closet. The uniforms were pristine and ordered; civilian wear was neatly hung or folded onto the shelves. Shoes gleamed clean and shiny on the shoe case at the bottom of the closet.

Which begged the question of why there were four plain white shoe boxes on the top shelf just above Tony's head.

He winced pulling the first one down; his shoulder and arm still ached occasionally despite the weeks of healing. He opened it up and found old-fashioned photos, some black and white, some colour. He perused them quickly and determined they were family pictures. They showed the happy family which the O'Connor brothers had been quick to substantiate as a reality in his interview with them. Both the younger brothers had been visibly grief-stricken at Michael's death.

Tony fingered one family portrait; the stern looking matriarch whose Catholic beliefs had held sway over the family and the four boys gathered around her in tidy, neat clothing…

"You have to understand, Agent DiNozzo, that Mom ruled the house." Uri said, his hands talking expansively as he shifted restlessly in the conference room chair. "Dad, Gabe, everyone bowed down to her edict – especially Mikey."

"She wanted a son in the military and a son in the priesthood." Rafe added. "We were allowed to choose our own schooling but both Gabe and Mikey didn't get a choice really."

"And then we were encouraged to go to law and pre-med." Uri snorted. "God only knows what she'd done if one of us had chosen something eclectic."

"You said 'especially Mikey' in regards to toe-ing your Mom's line." Tony slid in quietly.

"He was…he just wasn't the type to get in your face and argue." Rafe sighed, looking weary and heartbroken. "He was sensitive to stuff and kind, really, really kind. Hated arguments. Mom kinda took advantage of that."

"He was the only latent Guide out of us brothers." Uri stepped in. "Dad was latent too and Mikey was like him." He exchanged a look with his brother and Tony could see when Rafe capitulated because he ended up nodding quickly.

"Mikey was also gay." Rafe confessed. "But you know the Catholic Church…the only exception they'll make for a same sex relationship is for an active Sentinel or Guide situation and that's only been in doctrine, what? Ten years if that?"

Uri sat forward. "You have to understand, Mikey loves the Church. Honestly. He really believes; has his Faith. Except for the whole view on homosexuality thing, Mikey really believes it's his calling."

Tony didn't call attention to the tense Uri had used for his brother. "So he thought becoming an active Guide was the only way he could be with someone?"

"Got it." Rafe cleared his throat. "He joined some chat room about three months ago? Obviously didn't give out his real name or anything but he got to be friends with an inactive Sentinel who felt the same. They were due to meet up last night. I should have told Mikey to be careful and meet in public but I didn't take it seriously, I mean, who thinks it's going to happen to them or someone they know? I thought he'd be fine."

"From what we can gather Mikey made arrangements to meet at a club but he was lured outside by his attacker somehow." Tony assured him. "And you're right; hundreds of people daily disregard the basic safety advice for blind dates and club hook-ups and don't get into serious trouble. Your brother at least made an attempt and because of that we have security tape which will give us timings and information. You have nothing to feel guilty about."

Rafe hadn't looked convinced though and Tony had felt the brother's lingering guilt. He hoped that the other siblings would be able to provide Rafe with comfort and reassurance.

He slipped the photo back into the box, delved further to make sure that the box wasn't hiding something else underneath the avalanche of pictures, and finally satisfied, he set it aside.

The second box was paperwork; birth certificates, death certificates, the parents' marriage certificate, deeds and wills and more historical documents that Tony frowned at. He put the second box down.

The third box revealed a bundle of letters and postcards between Michael O'Connor and someone who signed their letters 'L'. The dozen or so photos of a tall, smiling blond haired cheerful fellow was probably the mysterious 'L' and the dates on the missives indicated that they'd mostly been exchanged during the year after high school graduation.

Away from home the first time, Tony mused, out from under the gaze of his family…Michael must have decided to explore his sexuality. But Michael would have remained circumspect because his place in his Church and his career depended on him not being gay. Tony felt a tremor of affinity with the dead man; he'd worried about his career after being outed as a Guide and the prejudices were not dissimilar.

He stacked the box on the bed and picked up the fourth. It was filled with a selection of sex toys; plugs and dildos of varying sizes and materials. There was a single sheet of paper on top of them. Tony reached in with a gloved hand and opened it up.

"Gabe, if you're reading this and something's happened to me, toss these and the porn collection on my laptop. Sorry it falls to you but you're the oldest and have to put up with us all. Love you, Mikey."

Tony closed his eyes at the simple words. He'd make sure Gabe got the note after the case was done. He doubted that they'd need to keep it for evidence.

"Anything?"

Gibbs' harsh tone drew Tony's attention to the doorway.

"Note to the brother, some sex toys which I'm fairly sure were for his personal use, and some old love letters, legal stuff and photos that I'm ninety-nine per cent sure have nothing to do with the case." Tony sighed. "You?"

"Powers found some chat room stuff on the computer. I want McGee on it." Gibbs said. "She's headed back to the Yard with Yates. We'll leave the rest of this to Lopez and Banks."

Tony nodded but he bagged the note and slipped it into his pocket. He stripped the gloves as soon as they were clear of the apartment and discarded them. "Where are we going again?"

"To interview some hookers." Gibbs said succinctly.

Tony grinned. "Ah, my favourite pastime!"

Gibbs sent him a warning look to behave but Tony felt their bond vibrate with Gibbs' amusement.

An hour later, Tony bounced away from the last hooker (Arabelle, thirty, street for two, brothel in Louisiana before, incredible legs, 34DD if he was any judge, and a bottle dyed blonde), and back to the car where Gibbs was waiting for him.

He slid into the passenger seat and Gibbs handed him a pizza.

"What d'ya got?" Gibbs asked, snagging one slice for himself to munch on between sips of strong black coffee.

Tony quickly chewed and swallowed his mouthful of dough, tomato sauce, cheese and meat. It hadn't escaped his notice that Gibbs had ordered Tony's favourite. "Arabelle says there was an unmarked cop patrol came by The Great City that had them all scurrying away. None of them came out again for a few hours. Nobody saw nothing." He stuffed more pizza in his mouth. "But Arabelle, and the lovely ladies who came before her, all say the same thing; the same unmarked cop car was patrolling for around a week before the murder, different times of the night but patrolling."

"It was the killer casing his dumping ground." Gibbs said with finality.

"My guess too." Tony said. "They're all prepared to say that he's Caucasian but that's about as much of a description as we've got. I've texted McGee to pull security footage from the street cameras for the nights in question and to review the footage we got on our latest crime scene." He took a more sedate bite of his pizza and chewed thoughtfully. "You know our killer knows police techniques, routines, mannerisms."

"He's a LEO or works in law enforcement." Gibbs agreed.

"He might be a Sentinel – claims to be inactive to Graham but he could be active or maybe not a Sentinel at all." Tony noted. "And he's Caucasian." He sighed and licked his thumb. "That's not much to go on. You going to get Ducky to do his thing?"

Gibbs' confirmation was a raised eyebrow.

"You know we're going to have to bring the Registry in?" Tony commented, licking his finger absently. "If he is a Sentinel?"

"If." Gibbs stressed.

Meaning in Gibbs' world only when they had proof and even then it would be reluctantly done.

Tony stuffed more pizza in his mouth to stop himself from grinning but Gibbs felt his amusement through their bond and shot him a knowing look.

"You think the FBI will come back?" asked Tony, more rhetorically to make the point than to actually ask.

"They'll be around." Gibbs said with certainty, snagging another slice.

Tony nodded and finished the last of the pizza in silence. He wiped his fingers on a tissue he unearthed from a pocket. "It's going to be a jurisdictional nightmare."

"We've got point." Gibbs said firmly. He set his coffee cup back in the holder and turned the key in the ignition.

The pizza box was hurriedly tossed in the backseat as Tony scrambled for his seatbelt. Gibbs smirked and pulled away into the minimal traffic. He gave no explanation for the direction he chose and Tony didn't ask. He knew where they were headed; witness statements.

Once the chaff was separated from the wheat, apart from the hookers there were only three relevant witnesses in the Graham case; the prostitute who'd found the body, the club owner and Graham's best friend who'd reported him as missing. The latter was a serving officer and Tony had already got McGee working on a current address. As Gibbs took a road guaranteed to take them into the seedier side of DC, Tony figured they were interviewing the prostitute first.

He watched as the streets turned a little darker, a little dirtier; the sidewalks marked with graffiti and trash; the houses a little run-down and uncared for. It wasn't somewhere anyone aspired to live. They pulled up at a diner on the corner of the block Betts lived in. Tony knew from the file that Betts worked as a waitress there.

Gibbs strode into the place with an air of confidence and Tony fell easily into his usual position on Gibbs' six. They hovered at the counter and one of the customers, a skinny white guy with lank black hair, slid off his stool and out of the door at the sight of them.

The head waitress, a forty-something overweight blonde with caked on pink lipstick seemed resigned when they asked for Betts. She snapped her gum and gestured at the empty booths. "She's on a break. Take a seat and I'll get her for you." She made to turn away but turned back suddenly. "You want anything?"

"Coffee." Gibbs said succinctly.

Tony was tempted to ask for pie but the general stickiness of the floor and the scuffed furniture had him second guessing whether it was safe to eat. He followed Gibbs' example and kept his order to a single coffee.

They took the booth with the best view of the front door and the employee door. A minute after they sat, Betts hurried out to them carrying two mugs and a pot of coffee. She slid the crockery and pot onto the table and slid in opposite to Tony, clearly pinning him as the safer option.

"I'm Elaine." She smiled tentatively at them.

She wasn't unattractive; just worn. Her blonde hair was obviously a cheap bottle version, the roots already revealing her natural mousy brown colour, but it was neatly tied back into a single braid. Her waitress uniform was the same hideous blue as the booth leather and she had a long sleeved shirt underneath – either for extra warmth or more likely to hide the drug habit she had. Both were neat and clean. Her complexion wasn't the best but her smile was pretty and it was clear that she'd at least taken care of her teeth; they were even and white, well cared for.

Tony smiled back at her gently; enough to relax her but not to genuinely flirt as Gibbs introduced them and gave a subtle nod for Tony to take the lead as Elaine poured the coffee.

"We're sorry to ask you go back over things," Tony began as Elaine settled back into the booth, "but we're re-examining the evidence and re-interviewing the witnesses in the case trying to find a new lead."

"I'm not sure how much help I can be but I'll try." Elaine said softly, her teeth worrying at her lip and giving away her nervousness.

Tony picked up the mug of coffee and gestured at her. "Why don't you start with describing your day? What did you do when you woke up?" He made a 'and-so-on' gesture with his free hand.

Elaine darted Gibbs a skittish look and returned to meet Tony's gaze. "Well, I was working the early shift here. I got up around five, was here for six. Carl opened up and we…we do good trade at breakfast. I was pretty busy." She paused. "My shift ended at two so I headed up to the Gallon Street Gym for my NA meeting." She squirmed a little.

"How many days?" asked Tony, genuinely interested.

"One hundred and seventy-eight now." Elaine sighed. "It helped that Stevie got sent down." She absently touched her arm. "My ex."

Her pimp too if her file was right.

Tony nodded sympathetically. "So you attended NA and then…"

Elaine shifted in her seat. "I met up with a friend. We spent some time in his motel room."

A john, then.

"And after?" prompted Tony.

"I went back to my place." Elaine said. "Only there was someone I owed money to waiting for me outside my door."

Probably a drug dealer she'd used in the past shaking her down, Tony supplied.

"I gave them the cash I had…but I had nothing left and my rent was due the next day." She wet her lips. "That's when I remembered the cash I'd left in the alley when I'd been, uh…" she flushed red.

"This is the alley outside The Great City?" Tony checked, saving her from completing the sentence.

Elaine nodded, relief spreading over her features. "There's a loose brick by the end of the alley on the wall that adjoins the building of the club? It was a good hiding place for…stuff." She went red again. "I, uh, the last time I used the alley, I had some cash and I left it there."

"So you went to the alley?" Tony encouraged her.

Elaine nodded again. "Only on the way there one of my, uh, friends warned me that there was an unmarked cop car doing a patrol and to avoid the alley."

Tony kept his face impassive. "About what time was that?"

"Around one?" Elaine guessed. "I was back at my apartment for eleven and then the travel across town…"

"You headed home again?" Gibbs spoke up for the first time.

Elaine shook her head and looked nervous again. "I went with my friend."

To assist with another john.

Tony gestured with his still full mug. "You weren't aware about the patrols before you got there?"

"No," Elaine shook her head, "I mean, the alley kind of went off limits anyway when the club got bought by an ex-cop. Mister Larson's a nice guy but he made it pretty clear to the street girls that he didn't want the alley used for business anymore. A couple of them figure the patrols are friends of his doing him a favour. Usually the patrol cops don't pay attention."

Turn a blind eye, in other words, thought Tony bluntly.

"How close to the club did you get around one?" asked Tony.

"Ah, I was at the mouth of the alley," Elaine admitted, "near to the entrance. There was a line down the street still."

"So you could see people leaving and arriving?" Tony pressed.

"Some." Elaine shrugged, and her eyes took on the cast of looking backwards. "One guy almost knocked me over, he was so focused on his cell."

"Can you describe him?" asked Tony, wondering if it was possible Elaine had run into Graham.

"Not really, I mean it was dark and…he was built," Elaine gave a smile, "all muscle from what hit me." She grew contemplative. "Annie thought he was a cop."

"Really?" Tony pretended to sip the coffee. "Why was that?"

Elaine shrugged again. "He headed over to where the unmarked cop car was parked. Annie pointed it out to me."

"Did you see who was driving the cop car?" There was a hum of excitement in his veins as the investigator side of his brain celebrated finding a lead.

But Elaine shook her head. "He was parked in the shadows and…" she tried a small smile, "I was trying not to attract their attention."

"How about the car?" Tony probed. "Anything stand out?"

"Grey, I think?" She shook her head. "Sorry it was a while ago and…it was the same style to every unmarked car I've seen?"

Tony nodded and let go of the thread. Elaine had substantiated how Graham had been at the club, how he'd left and the timing. It was also very similar to the evidence they had on O'Connor's murder.

"You went with your friend and came back around…"

"Four." Elaine said promptly. "I got the cash from the wall and I…I spotted the body so I called the cops."

A lie. She'd spotted the body, gotten the cash, and then called.

Tony glanced at Gibbs and they both silently agreed to let it go.

"The cops came and interviewed me and they found out the dead guy was Navy." Elaine continued. "Mister Larson arrived then and he let me sit in the club while we waited for your guys to show up."

Tony jotted a few things down into his book and flipped it shut. He looked over at Gibbs to see if there was anything he'd missed.

Gibbs gave a minute shake of his head. "Thanks for the coffee."

"Sorry for disturbing you at work." Tony said and slid smoothly out of the booth, following Gibbs.

She reddened and hurriedly moved to join them.

He handed her a card. "If you think of anything else…"

Elaine took the card and Tony followed Gibbs back out into the frigid air. He shivered and Gibbs shot him a concerned frown as they got back into the car.

"I can't believe you drank that coffee, Boss." Tony said, deflecting attention away from his shivering.

Gibbs started the engine and turned on the heat silently. "It was coffee."

Tony grinned. That was his Sentinel.

-nCIs-

"…and then you just have to…" Tim hit the enter button with a smug smile as the screen changed and revealed the online history that had been secured from their scrutiny a moment before. He rubbed his hands with glee. "We're in!"

Beverly Powers grinned at him. They were working from Tim's desk in the bullpen where Powers had turned up with Michael O'Connor's laptop. Powers had pulled up a chair to the side of the desk and they were sharing space as Tim helped her mine the device for information.

Yates had taken over the empty desk across from Tony's and was diligently searching for any other cases that might follow the same pattern.

Tim hadn't protested about the desk. He half-wished Yates was taking it over for real. The team desperately needed a fourth and, as much as Tim missed Ziva, he didn't wish her back. She'd lied to the team; used them to cover criminal activity. Yes, she'd been in a difficult position – and Tim sympathised because hadn't he chosen his own sister over NCIS when it came down to it – but her choices had led to an American agent being killed, and Tony almost dying at the hands of a Mossad Sentinel Ziva had been protecting.

The memory made Tim frown. He was just thankful Tony had come out of it with his life intact and he hoped Ziva was finding peace in her new life. They'd exchanged a couple of brief emails and it sounded like she was taking time to reflect before deciding her next move. Tim thought that was a good thing and he wished her well…but he was too busy to really think about it.

Working as a three-man team sucked.

It worked – more due to the fact that Tony and Gibbs had clearly done it before and knew how to do it – but it sucked.

God knew they'd worked long hours before but the last month had been ridiculous. He was half-pleased the case had turned out to be complicated enough to warrant Yates' team being assigned to assist. It gave them extra hands.

He pursed his lips as he tackled a particularly complex instruction in the code he was writing.

But, Tim thought, his mind returning to his previous line of thought, if past month had been difficult, it had been incredibly satisfying in some ways. He and Tony had become closer; it felt like they had a real partnership – like the one Tim had seen Tony share with Kate, even if it wasn't as close as the one Tony had always shared with Gibbs.

Tim almost snorted out loud at the comparison.

Tony and Gibbs were a bonded Sentinel and Guide. His relationship with Tony would never achieve the synchronicity of the pair.

Finding out Tony was a Guide had been a shock.

Until Tony had been revealed as a Guide, Tim had assumed the Senior Agent was a latent Sentinel. He'd never discussed it with Tony but it had made him feel an inner kinship with the older man since Ziva and Gibbs were online Sentinels and they weren't.

Tim was Norm. His Sentinel father had been disappointed and Tim had always felt the lack of paternal approval as though it was a living breathing being sitting on his shoulder. If there was something he and Tony continued to share it was their estranged relationships with their fathers.

He shook his head slightly as though to dislodge the thought and focused again on Tony's Guide status.

Seeing the prejudices that erupted in the wake of Tony's status becoming known had been eye-opening. It had been horrifying witnessing how many agents had suddenly scoffed at Tony's abilities to investigate crime in the field just because he was a Guide; how many more had accepted Tony was a good investigator but disapproved of him going into the field. Even bonding with Gibbs hadn't lessened the condemnation.

As much as Tim hated to admit it, Tony was an exceptional investigator. He had a unique ability to deduce people and evidence into actual real leads and suspects. He had a way of putting the pieces of the puzzle together which was crazy but it worked. His time as a cop had given him experience and an understanding of crime that Tim couldn't ever duplicate. Tim couldn't imagine Tony doing anything else but investigation. Except if his Guide gifts had been known – if some doctor hadn't screwed up when Tony had been a kid and realised Tony had simply locked his gift down rather than broken it – Tony would never have been given the opportunity to be in law enforcement unless he'd been bonded to a Sentinel. Guides were thought to be too precious to be risked.

The unfairness of that was astounding to Tim, and he couldn't believe that there were agents in the building who felt that way. He wasn't surprised Gibbs had become fiercely protective of his Guide in the wake of their bonding. Tim didn't mind in many ways. He was happy to watch Tony's six when Gibbs was needed elsewhere and he made sure he was fully supportive of Tony in front of other agents, no longer teasing or poking at Tony's insecurities as he had done before. He knew Tony and Gibbs were both appreciative and that was enough for Tim.

But…he was regretting Gibbs' protectiveness had closed down any idea of bringing in a fourth. Tim hoped that would change and soon. His eyes flickered to Yates at their spare desk again; she was on her cell, a frown creasing her usually smooth brow.

He really missed Kate, Tim mused wistfully.

He dropped his gaze and focused on his task again. They'd gained permission from one of the sites being used as a fishing pool to backtrack the killer's IP. Fortunately the killer seemed to have stayed with the same sites for both murders.

Tim had limited access to the server but tracing the killer's computer activity wasn't easy given he'd used two different user names. So far there was a lot of commonality in the online messaging with almost identical phrases used to lure the victims in, but behind the scenes it was as though the killer was two different people. The first user had taken the time to mask his online presence, obscuring his footprint through bouncing through several servers – Tim still hadn't pinpointed the source location. The second user had seemingly just resorted to using a serious of internet cafes. Dangerous, Tim mused. It was possible that one or all would have some video of their patrons. He began to compile a list.

"Unbelievable." Yates muttered as she tossed her cell down.

Tim looked over at her questioning.

Powers waved at her team lead. "What's up, Cass?"

"That was Gibbs. DiNozzo managed to get a confirmation from Elaine Betts that she saw an unmarked cop car hanging around the club the night Graham was murdered." Yates said shaking her head.

"She saw the car?" Powers said excitedly.

Tim frowned and switched screens, checking his email to see if he'd been sent the video he'd requested earlier after Tony's text. He sent a quick note of thank you to the city administrator who had provided the video and sent it out to the team. He glanced over to Tony's desk where he'd left a program running to search through the street footage from their latest victim to see if they could find the car.

"Not just that," Yates got up and smoothly made her way around the desk to walk over to them, "DiNozzo got Betts to admit she saw someone matching Graham's description leave the club and head over to the car." She crossed her arms over her chest. "We should have caught that."

Tim wasn't going to disagree with her. "Who did your original interview?"

"Mark and me." Powers said before Yates could say anything. She sounded a touch despondent. "I thought we'd gotten everything we could. So did Mark."

Tim shrugged. "Tony has a way with witnesses." He said. "Besides, he also had the advantage of knowing about the car when he went to speak with her."

"Thanks to his being able to charm it out of a group of hookers." Yates sighed heavily. She motioned at Powers. "Don't beat yourself up about this, Bev. We should have dug more; it was my call."

Tim decided to stay silent. He figured they might have dug more except for the fact that their former Senior Agent had fixated on the situation with Tony when they'd returned to the Yard with the body and evidence.

As though he had conjured him up, the elevator doors opened and Mark Carrington stepped out.

Tim's mouth dropped open. Yates glanced behind her inquisitively to see what had caught Tim's attention and froze in surprise. Powers gave a squeal and bounced up out of her chair, pushing the laptop aside to give Mark a welcome hug.

She reminded Tim of Abby – maybe how Abby would have been if she'd embraced a blonde haired perky cheerleader persona instead of a black-haired perky Goth.

Carrington looked much better than the last time Tim had seen him. Of course, the last time Tim had seen him Carrington had been unconscious and lying on a stretcher being carried away to Bethesda to the S&G unit there. He'd been summarily transferred to Norfolk upon his release.

"Mark!" Yates moved into hug him as Powers released him. "How are you? You look well."

"I'm great, Cass, thanks." Carrington said brightly.

"What are you doing here?" Yates asked as she released him and stepped back.

Tim was pleased she had asked because it saved him the job.

"I'm here to see the Director." Carrington explained, his eyes and head tilting upwards.

Powers grinned widely. "Are you coming back?"

Yates tossed an annoyed look at her probie but her eyes demanded an answer when she turned her gaze back to Carrington.

Tim hoped the answer was no. He liked Carrington. Or rather he'd liked him before he'd gone feral and tried to kill Gibbs in a Sentinel challenge over Tony. But since he had gone feral and tried to kill Gibbs, Tim would rather Carrington was posted somewhere else. Anywhere else. Asia would be good.

"We'll see." Carrington replied vaguely. He smiled, a half uncertain smile which said he didn't know much more than them. He took a step away and pointed at the stairs. "I should…"

"Mark!" Lopez's excited greeting cut him off before he could get any further. The other member of Yates' team barrelled over from the elevator like a puppy welcoming its owner home. There was a brief manly hug of the 'clasp hands, crash together, slap on the back, step back' variety.

Banks stayed at the periphery and waved at Carrington as he got free of Lopez. "Mark."

"Arnie." Mark grinned at him. "Are they treating you OK?"

"No complaints so far." Banks said with a smile, pushing his hands into his pants' pockets and rocking back. "You back?"

Tim was beginning to feel like a spare part despite being stood behind his own desk in his team's area in the bullpen.

Carrington shrugged again. "Not sure yet. I've got to talk to the Director."

"Makes sense him calling you back in the circumstances." Banks said. "We could do with another good agent on the case."

"Tony's just found a great lead…" Powers began enthusiastically.

Tim cleared his throat even as he observed Carrington's sharpened gaze at the mention of Tony. "Maybe you should head up and your status confirmed?" He said firmly, sending Powers a chiding look. Details of ongoing investigations around serial killers were kept close for good reason.

"Don't be pissy, McGee." Banks sneered. "Mark has every right to…"

"No." Yates frowned at Banks. "Agent McGee's right. Until Mark is reassigned formally, details are case confidential." Her apologetic shrug in Carrington's direction softened her words but they held.

Carrington gave a pained smile. "All the more reason for me to head up there then." He gave them a chirpy wave, pivoted and headed up the stairs.

Banks puffed out his chest and frowned at McGee. "You didn't need to do that."

"My fault." Powers jumped in, trying to smooth the waters.

"It's not like we're totally secure here." Banks said waving a hand around the open bullpen.

"You're right." Yates said. "I'll talk to Agent Gibbs about moving somewhere else for the duration."

Tim figured she'd lose that argument. The bullpen wasn't secure but it was set-up on the most secure floor of the Yard with agents who were all trusted for the most part. He sat down rather than continue to argue about the matter with Banks.

"What did you find at O'Connor's after we left?" Yates asked.

"Nothing else." Lopez shook his head. "Guy lived like a monk. We dropped the evidence DiNozzo found in the bedroom with Abby."

Yates nodded. "We have a possible lead from the hookers and Betts. They spotted an unmarked cop car making patrols. Graham left the club and approached the car."

Lopez sighed. "Seriously?"

"I've sent the footage to everyone's mail." Tim said. "I'm going to talk to Abby and see if we can set up an algorithm to search but we should start on a manual search." He slipped out of his chair and moved swiftly out of the bullpen leaving Yates to deal with assigning the work to her team.

He stopped by the CafPow machine and picked up an extra-large sized offering for Abby. He felt a familiar anticipation as he approached Abby's lab. He still loved the feisty lab Goth even if their relationship had settled into a close friendship. He didn't think he'd ever get over the slight jump his heart made every time he knew he was going to see her.

In truth he wasn't just going to see her about the footage, although it gave him a good excuse. He was also going to see her to tell her about Carrington and hopefully convince her she needed to be the one to tell Gibbs.

He didn't bother to greet her as he entered her lab and placed the cup down beside the keyboard. He could feel the vibrations of her music through the rubber soles of his feet and his eardrums ached at the loud heavy bass. He cast one appreciative look in her direction; she wore her white coat over a t-shirt proclaiming her allegiance to a band called Chlorine and a short black skirt she'd teamed with Doc Martens. Her black hair was styled into two tight buns on either side of the top of her head.

She immediately picked the drink up and took a large slurp. In a smooth motion she set it down, picked up the remote for the music and turned down the volume to something acceptable.

"Hey." Abby gestured at the computer where she'd already started to review the footage.

Tim settled in beside her. "I was thinking we could…"

"Set up a search algorithm for grey sedans?" Abby shot him a mischievous grin, her green eyes sparkling. "Just need to…" she tapped away for another second and he recognised the code as the final line needed to complete the order. She hit enter and immediately the computer began hunting, images flickering across the monitor.

Abby whirled around and spread out her hands to encompass the contents on the lab table in front of them. "So Charlie and Banks just dropped this stuff from O'Connor's apartment off so I haven't made a dent in it yet, since Gibbs said to prioritise the footage. Not that there seems to be much here really, I mean, the box of toys is pretty vanilla for a…"

"Mark Carrington's in the building." Tim interjected firmly, knowing it was the only way to get her immediate attention.

Abby stopped and stared at him unblinkingly for a moment. "That's not funny, Tim."

"Not a joke." Tim pointed upwards. "He's in with the Director."

Abby paced away and back. She gestured at Tim with her hands. "This is bad, Tim! Very bad."

"I know." Tim agreed. "But recalling him makes sense; he was the Senior Agent on the Graham case before…well…"

"Before he tried to kill Gibbs and Tony injured himself stopping him!" Abby proclaimed as she whirled around again and started pacing back and forth. "This is so bad!"

Tim stepped in front of her and drew her to a halt. "We have to tell Gibbs."

Her eyes widened alarmingly fast. "We can't tell Gibbs!" She hissed. "Gibbs will go feral and kill everyone!"

Tim winced. Yeah. That had been his conclusion too.

"We need help, Tim." Abby stated and headed for her phone and computer. She dialled a familiar number.

"Abigail!" Ducky's voice greeted her cheerfully. "I'll have the samples from Petty Office O'Connor for you shortly. Fascinating really what a body can pick up after only a few hours left in an alley. Why I remember a case…"

"Mark Carrington is in the building." Abby cut in.

There was a tense silence and Tim couldn't bring himself to be amused at how Abby had used the same tactic with Ducky as he had with her.

"You see the problem." Tim said joining the conversation.

"I see." Ducky said dryly. And Tim knew the M.E. did see; his lack of verbosity was eloquence in itself.

"So you see we need to tell Gibbs." Abby began. "But we can't tell Gibbs because Gibbs is going to freak the hell out and then he's going to go feral and kill everyone!"

"Well, not everyone," Ducky corrected her, "just Agent Carrington who should know better than to intrude into another Sentinel's territory after making such a disastrous challenge for his Guide."

Tim approved of the note of condemnation in Ducky's voice.

"What are we going to do?!" Abby said almost wringing her hands.

"There is only one thing we can do." Ducky said.

"I know! We need to kill Carrington and hide the body before Gibbs can hear about this." Abby stated in a rush.

There was a stunned silence while Tim stared at Abby open-mouthed and Ducky had clearly been rendered speechless.

Tim snapped his mouth shut. He was almost certain she wasn't serious.

"Yes, well, perhaps we shall call that plan B, hmmm?" Ducky said calmly. "I was referring to the more obvious solution that we inform Tony and allow him to inform Jethro."

"Oh." Abby cried out. "That's brilliant!" She said excitedly, waving her hands at the phone. "Tony can do his thing and keep Gibbs from freaking out!"

It was a good plan, Tim conceded.

"Timothy," Ducky said catching his attention again, "you will need to call Tony."

"Me?" Tim blinked. "Why me?"

"Because clearly this has been an upsetting topic for Abigail and Tony will pick up on her emotions immediately. His concern for her with cause Gibbs to shift to a state of tension." Ducky pointed out with brisk logic. "Best you call Tony and calmly, rationally, inform him of what has occurred."

"Right." Tim said slowly.

Abby made a shooing motion with her hands. "Go! Talk with Tony!"

Tim sighed and said a brief goodbye to Ducky who still was on the phone. He figured it would be best to make the call from outside of the building and headed out to the coffee shop.

He ordered a large latte with extra foam and an espresso shot. He took the shot and downed it before dialling Tony.

"Hey, McSearch." Tony greeted him cheerfully. "Found our car yet?"

"Still cycling through footage." Tim answered tersely. "Tony, is Gibbs with you?"

"Nope. We're almost out of gas; we stopped at a service station." Tony replied. "He's inside grabbing a refill. Did he not pick up?"

"No, I mean, he didn't pick up because I didn't call him. OK," Tim took a deep breath, "I need to tell you something and for you not to freak out, OK? Because if you freak out, Gibbs will freak out and that will be bad."

Tony hummed. "Are you sure you're not freaking out?"

Tim sighed heavily and scratched his head. "Mark Carrington's at the Yard and in with the Director."

"Whose idea was that?" asked Tony cheerfully after a significant pause.

The falsely cheerful note made Tim wince. "We don't know if he's staying around. Maybe he was just called in to see if there was anything else he had to contribute." He came to a halt and sighed again. "We thought you should be the one to tell Gibbs."

"What?" Tony said tersely. "No Rock, Paper, Scissors?"

Tim didn't feel that warranted a response.

"Go back and get me more info; text me when you know anything more." Tony ordered. "And find that car." He hung up before Tim could reply.

Tim picked up his coffee take-away cup and headed back to the Yard. He really hoped Ducky had been right and telling Tony was their best plan.

-nCIs-

Tony finished his text to Cynthia and frowned as Gibbs swept back across the forecourt and slammed back into the car.

"I've asked Cynthia what's going on." Tony said taking the cup Gibbs held out for him and making an appreciative sniff as he scented chocolate.

Gibbs simply sipped his coffee.

Tony frowned. He really didn't want to read Gibbs. He had known the instant Gibbs had overheard McGee because the rage that had travelled down their bond had been ferocious. He'd also felt the immediate iron-clad control Gibbs had asserted to keep from going feral. He was sending what he hoped were reassuring waves of affection and comfort through their bond to assist his Sentinel.

"We going to talk about this?" asked Tony bluntly.

"Nothing to talk about." Gibbs bit out, taking another sip of his coffee. He made no move to start the car.

"No, you're right; there isn't." Tony agreed softly.

Gibbs' gaze jerked to him.

Tony lifted an eyebrow. "Rule five, Boss."

Gibbs' tension flowed out of him; his shoulders dropping and the inner fury he was holding was gone in a blink of an eye. He sighed and took a gulp of his coffee. "What the hell is Leon thinking recalling him?"

Tony shrugged. "He was the Senior Agent on record at the time they answered the call and worked the scene. Vance maybe thought there was something Mar – Carrington could add to the written reports."

They couldn't argue that it made sense. For all Mark hadn't spent a great deal of time on the case, he'd been present during the most important moments.

Gibbs took another sip. "Damn it," he grumbled, "if someone else had been the SA and had been transferred somewhere else, I'd have already recalled them myself or had you talk with them."

The admission was sheepishly grudging but sincere.

Tony shrugged and opened up his chocolate. He figured Vance had noticed the omission and stepped in. It wasn't the end of the world. Mark had tried to interfere with their bond and that got them a lot of leeway in how they acted in regards to him. Tony blew on the top of the chocolate and took a large gulp, warming himself up with the hot liquid.

Gibbs frowned, started the car and put the heater on all without letting go of his coffee. "I know it isn't rational but if he's assigned to the case, I don't want him anywhere near you."

"So he won't be." Tony said easily.

Gibbs grunted. He took one last sip and set his coffee in the cup holder. He went for his seatbelt and Tony hurriedly slapped the top back on his chocolate. He'd barely gotten it safely into his cup holder before Gibbs was peeling out of the station. He momentarily gave thanks that he hadn't bothered taking his seatbelt off.

"What do we know about Larson?" Gibbs asked as he made an illegal u-turn.

"John Larson," Tony reached for his small black notebook more out of habit than any real need to check his notes, "Homicide Captain and Sentinel in New York, served his whole life until his retirement one year ago. Impressive close rate – not as impressive as ours but whose is?"

Gibbs shot him a look which told Tony he was amused but needed Tony to focus.

"Told Yates that he moved to be closer to his sister and her family. Sarah Capshaw was widowed just before Larson retired. She has two children in their late teens, both online Sentinels." Tony frowned. "Larson is divorced – ten years. Three children; his daughters are back in New York with the wife. His adult son moved with him; Noah Larson. It was in Larson's interview that his son worked at the nightclub but he wasn't interviewed." His frown deepened. There hadn't been any kind of background run on the son either. It seemed strange to Tony that a young guy in his twenties would end up working for his Dad; there had to be some kind of story behind it.

"Oversight?" asked Gibbs almost lazily as though it didn't matter.

"Maybe." Tony shrugged. "Need to check with Yates why she decided not to do one." And to double check on what had gone down with the kid.

"Anything else?" Gibbs asked.

"No debts apart from a reasonable business start-up loan." Tony recited. "His financials look normal and solid. The club has been doing good business." He flipped over a page. "Larson was cooperative; friendly. Staff noted that he was stand-up kind of guy and Yates thought the same."

"Guess we'll find out." Gibbs said pulling up in front of the club.

Tony scrambled to keep up as Gibbs surged out of the car and across the sidewalk. He fell into his usual position beside Gibbs just as they got to the door. It was unlocked and they entered the dimly lit bar blinking rapidly against the change in light.

There were voices coming from the far side of the bar and they made their way over quietly.

"…and I've told you that I can't have him living over the garage anymore!" A woman's voice said stridently. "He needs to get a job and get out of our house!"

"He has a job…" There was a definite New York twang in the male voice which answered.

"Turning up here whenever he feels like it and drinking half the profits isn't a job!" The woman said tersely. "He needs to grow the hell up and you need to stop babying the boy, John."

"Lynne, you know he's had a tough time…" John Larson answered.

They'd rounded the corner of the bar and had both of the speakers in sight; a silver-haired tall man with a warm friendly face that still bore the hallmarks of being handsome even with the added wrinkles and deepened lines that added character.

The woman he was with was equally attractive; long dark hair framed a heart-shaped face which seemed somehow familiar to Tony. She wore an expensive dress, high heels and her jewellery was discreet but real gold glinting under the bright overhead bar light.

"He's a Norm! He just needs to accept his lover came online and bonded with someone else!" Lynne retorted. "He needs to get over it and move on."

"He's my son, damn it and…" Larson stopped abruptly finally cluing into their approach. He straightened from where he was leaning on the bar. "Hey."

"Hey." Tony already had his badge out, flipping it around to show Larson just as Gibbs did the same.

Gibbs nodded at the former cop as he tucked his ID away. "I'm Gibbs; this is DiNozzo. We need to ask you some follow-up questions about the body found in the alley."

Larson grimaced but nodded, his eyes speculative. "New evidence?"

"Something like that." Tony said cheerfully. His gaze strayed to the woman and stayed there. He sensed something… "Hi, you are?"

"Lynne Gambol." She didn't hold out her hand. "I'm John's Guide."

Tony nodded. "Were you here on the night Petty Officer Graham attended the bar?"

"Yes." Lynne waved towards the back. "But as I told Agent Carrington I was in the office."

Gibbs glanced at Tony. That was also missing from the file.

"Lynne manages the club." Larson explained, picking up a cloth and beginning to swipe at the bar.

Speaking of which I should get back there and finish doing the accounts." She shot Larson a look as though to say their discussion had been tabled but wasn't forgotten. "If you'll excuse me…"

"I'm afraid we'll need some of your time, Ms Gambol." Tony smiled turning on the charm. "Why don't I come with you while my Boss talks with Mister Larson?"

Her features softened a touch and she gave a nod. "Sure."

Tony and Gibbs exchanged a swift look, a simple check-in that the other would be OK. Tony followed Lynne around the bar and through a black door. It led into a small corridor and she gestured at the first door as though sensing Tony's curiosity.

"Staff room." She said succinctly.

The second door down was the office and she unlocked it and ushered him through. Tony took the seat she indicated as she slid around the other side of a functional looking desk. There was a good computer to one side of it, notebooks and stacked invoices to the other. Tony caught sight of the white noise machine and silently approved. It would help keep their conversation private.

"Would you like a drink?" Lynne asked, pointing at a coffee pot sat on a side-table.

Tony shook his head. "But don't let me stop you. My Boss is an addict." He smiled again.

She smiled back and plucking a mug off her desk went to refill it. She took an appreciative sip. "Thanks." She sighed and sank into the mock leather chair behind her desk. "I needed that."

Tony gave an exaggerated wince. "We couldn't help but overhear as we came in." He murmured, raising his notebook and adopting a sheepish apologetic look.

Lynne snorted and took another fortifying gulp of her coffee. "You're a Guide?"

"Yes." Tony said simply.

She nodded. "How long have you been with your Sentinel?"

Tony smiled softly. "A while."

"John and I have been together just over a year." Lynne sighed. "My son made detective and was assigned to his team; we met at a picnic and that was it. It was instant recognition for both of us." She leaned back and shook her head, her eyes staring at the ceiling with a distant expression. "I'd given up the idea of meeting my Sentinel. I was married, children…it was a mess."

"It sounds like it." Tony murmured.

"John was divorced at least." Lynne said. "He'd had a bond with a Guide in his twenties; his partner on the force. Alan died in a shooting and John hadn't wanted to get involved again."

Tony nodded in understanding. "Gibbs lost his first Guide. It took him a long time to feel like he could move on."

Lynne's shoulders dropped an inch as though his reply had eased her somehow. "Then you know how it is." She picked up the mug. "We couldn't settle in New York. There were too many reminders of the past for John and there was no way I could work with him in the department."

"So John retired, you both moved here and opened up the club." Tony said.

"John's sister was struggling after Jim's death." Lynne took a large gulp of coffee. "It seemed like a good idea." She grimaced. "I like John's kids. His daughters are pistols and Marie, his ex-wife, and her husband Pete are nice people."

"And Noah?" probed Tony gently.

"Noah is John's only child not to have inherited the Sentinel gene." Lynne met his gaze full-on. "He's struggled to accept that reality."

"And losing his ex-lover to a Sentinel couldn't have helped." Tony said sympathetically, his mind beginning to buzz with a possibility they'd found a suspect. It looked as though John Larson's son might be their wanna-be Sentinel.

"I didn't know her too well since it happened only a month or so after I met John, but Sandy seemed a nice girl." Lynne said. "Her Sentinel just walked into the coffee shop where she worked one day and…and that was it." She sighed. "Noah was in the shop when they met; he got knocked out by the irate Sentinel when he tried to intervene."

"Ouch." Tony said.

"I'm not unsympathetic, you know? Noah was planning to propose just before it happened." Lynne tapped her fingers against the mug. "I was even the one who suggested he come with us; get away from it all."

"And now?" Tony slid in gently.

"He was fine at the beginning, excited, you know?" Lynne said. "He turned up for work every day, helped get the house sorted out, went over to Sarah's and helped out. He joined some kind of online dating site."

Bingo, thought Tony. What was the probability that those dating sites were the same ones that Graham had frequented and which they'd identified as the fishing pool for the murderer?

"What changed?" he asked.

"I guess about a month after we opened the club, he heard Sandy had gotten married to her Sentinel?" Lynne mimed her head exploding.

And that sounded like a trigger.

"He's been a mess since." She suddenly shook her head and gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry. You don't need me dumping all our family problems on you."

Tony lowered his shield a touch and felt the thin thread of embarrassment she was feeling. He shrugged easily. "You'd be surprised what people tell us." He gave her a conspiratorial grin. "I think sometimes people mistake us for counsellors."

Lynne smiled back. "Well, thank you for listening to me moan." She waved a hand at him as she got back up to refill her mug again. "You had questions?"

"You were in the office the night Petty Officer Graham came to the club?" Tony checked.

"Yes," Lynne retook her seat.

"Tell me about that day, your day." Tony invited with a 'sorry but we have to go through this' shrug.

Lynne smiled back at him, relaxing back into the leather cushions. "I'd arrived about lunch time. I worked on the books from the previous night, reordered supplies, and got the staff tax stuff up to date." She rubbed her forehead, clearly thinking about the day. "I had to go sort out a dispute in the bar between two of the bar staff. Gally, our lead bouncer, wanted to go over the security tapes with John and I before we opened because he thought one of the waitresses was dealing."

She paused.

"John fired Yolanda when she came in for her shift. I went out to get some dinner for us – Chinese. We opened on time. John went out to tend bar since we were shorthanded. I came back in here and started on some paperwork for the insurance company while I watched my show." She nodded over to the television in the corner by a small settee. "Stretched out on the sofa about midnight. John woke me at two and we went home since Frank was on duty and John trusts him to lock up.  John got called shortly after four and came straight back."

"How did you leave the club?" Tony asked.

"There's a door at the back here which leads straight into the employee car park." Lynne waved a hand towards the back of the room.

"Did anything jump out at you as strange or odd when you left the building?" asked Tony, writing down a few notes in shorthand.

"Nothing." Lynne said before she frowned, taking the time to consider the question fully. "No," she shook her head, "everything seemed fine, normal." She gave a sigh and rubbed her head again. "Honestly? I didn't pay much attention. I just wanted to get home."

"Understandable." Tony said. He made a show of flipping back a few pages in his notebook. "We noted that Noah Larson wasn't interviewed last time. Was he off-duty that night?"

Lynne grimaced. "He was meant to be on-duty but didn't show." She motioned with her mug at Tony. "The news about Sandy? He'd got that the weekend before and was just flat out drunk every day that week. John said he was sleeping off his drunk when he went to check on him before we came in the office."

Tony gave a slow nod. "Can't have been easy knowing you were going home to mopping him up off the floor every night."

"John's handled it mostly, but Kevin, my son, has helped him out a couple of times." Lynne said dismissively.

"Your son?" Tony kept his tone light.

Lynne smiled proudly and reached for a something on the desk – a photo frame hidden from Tony's view by a stack of folders. She handed it to Tony.

Tony froze at the image of the police officer smiling back at him. Detective Kevin Bale. Sparr's new partner.

"Kevin's online. He's protective of me and his sister, Allison. He applied for a transfer to Metro. Luckily John knew a few contacts here and Kevin was accepted."

"We've met." Tony admitted with an easy smile, handing the photo back to her. "I thought you looked familiar when I saw you but with the different surnames I didn't put it together."

"It didn't feel right keeping Michael's surname – my ex." Lynne admitted. "And John and I…we're bonded but I didn't want to jump right in with another marriage, you know?"

Tony nodded again. "Your daughter came with you too?" He asked, changing the subject subtly so it didn't appear he was too interested in Bale. He wasn't thrilled with the fact the probie detective hadn't mentioned his connection to Graham's case. It was an unsettling coincidence and not one Tony liked.

"Yes." Lynne nodded. "Her Dad is Norm but Allison has the Guide gene. The courts awarded me full custody."

"It's good you have Kevin to help out." Tony commented. "I take it Noah was sleeping off his drunk still when you went home?"

She shook her head. "He was gone. Probably drinking again." Her lips pursed with disapproval.

Tony decided to switch topics completely and come at things from a different angle. "We spoke with some of the local prostitutes. They mentioned the alley was placed off limits by Mister Larson?"

Lynne sat forward, resting her forearms on the desk as she wrapped her hands around her mug. "When we bought the place the alley was a hot spot for drug dealing and prostitution. I wanted a different location but John said he'd be able to sort it out." She said almost angrily. "Until the murder, whatever John and Kevin did scared them off. Then, this?! It's impacted our real estate value."

Tony couldn't say anything; he'd bought his apartment for a steal following a triple murder in the unit. Of course his apartment was currently empty while he decided whether to sublet, sell or keep as an occasional bolthole for when the attic wasn't enough.

"You said John and Kevin scared them off?" Tony murmured. "We had reports of an unmarked police car seen in the area…"

"That would be Kevin." Lynne confirmed without a hint of guile or apology. "He wasn't sure John's chat with the prostitutes would be enough to keep them away. He's usually able to do one drive-by sometime around midnight."

Tony hummed. He figured Kevin's Sentinel instincts were part of his patrolling. "Kevin's online, right? Any Guide on the scene for him?"

"Not yet." Lynne shook her head. "We've tried to get him interested in going to the local meet-and-greets but he's…all he's ever wanted is to be in law enforcement and he knows exactly how hard it will be to find the right kind of Guide to partner him there." She waved at Tony. "It can't be easy for you."

"No," Tony agreed, "not easy." With his empathy back online, it had been incredibly difficult facing some of the horrors their cases brought to their door. But ever since he'd blown his knee he'd known law enforcement was what he wanted to do. He wondered if there wasn't something else driving Bates but decided to park it for the conversation that was definitely going to happen with the young detective.

He changed the topic, redirecting Lynne to go over the staff who had been on duty and confirming the list they had was correct. He noted down the names and cross-checked with the list in his head; they matched except for the fired Yolanda who hadn't been on the first list.

"Thanks." Tony said. "I appreciate you spending the time with me."

Lynne smiled widely. "You have a very soothing presence. I take it your empathy is strong?"

Tony nodded, confirming her suspicion he was high level without giving away any of the details. "I'll see myself back to the bar." He said easily.

He took his time wandering back. He mapped out the way to the exit – past a security room which was empty – and back along to the staff room. He poked his nose in and found lockers on the majority of the wall space, sofas and chairs in the centre around a small television, and a small kitchenette area complete with coffee pot, microwave and enough snacks and fruit out on the bench that Tony figured John and Lynne were doing all they could to make their employees' lives and working space reasonably comfortable. He eased out and headed back to Gibbs, sensing the older man's impatience through their bond.

Gibbs immediately turned to greet him. "Good timing, DiNozzo." He lifted his own notebook as though to say he was done. He turned back to Larson. "Appreciate your time, John."

"I'm just sorry I haven't been any more help." Larson said with genuine regret.

Gibbs made their goodbyes and Tony fell into step with him as they walked out silently. They got in the car and drove a couple of blocks before Gibbs spoke.

"What d'ya got?" Gibbs asked.

"Two suspects." Tony said immediately. "Candidate number one; Noah Larson. A Norm who lost his sweetheart to a Sentinel when she came online upon meeting him. They got news she married the week before Graham got killed. Sounds like a trigger event to me. He was meant to be on duty but didn't show."

Gibbs grunted.

"Candidate number two: Detective Kevin Bale and Lynne Gambol's son. A Sentinel who doesn't seem to want a Guide. He's the one in the unmarked cop car patrolling every night. It's a little suspicious that he failed to mention the connection he has with this case."

"Gambol?" Gibbs asked tersely.

"She was stuck out the back doing work the night Graham was murdered. She went to sleep on the couch around midnight; went home with Larson around two." Tony shrugged as much as he could in the speeding car since he was belted in tightly. "I think she's in the clear." Which possibly was the reason why Mark hadn't included her in his report – sloppy but understandable. "You?"

"Larson's clear. He recalled seeing Graham the night of his murder. He'd come in alone, sat at the bar," he took a left turn, "and drank a draught beer." He frowned. "Larson said he was on his phone; figured he was waiting for someone. He left half-way into his drink. He thought the kid had been stood up." He tapped his fingers restlessly on the steering wheel. "Forgot all about him until Yates turned up with the news and the photo. They handed over the security footage to Yates' team without issue back when it happened. He said he was grateful Bale was doing patrols to watch the club since but didn't talk about him doing it before."

"You get him talking about his son?" asked Tony.

"Kid's had a rough time according to Larson. Same story you got from Gambol by the sounds of it. Sweetheart dumped him when she came online as a Guide for a Sentinel. He's been a drunken mess." Gibbs paused. "Larson said he thought moving would have given him a new start."

"So we're up two suspects. Andrea is going to flip about Bale." Tony said cheerfully, despite the bleak topic. He was already reaching for his phone. "I'll bring McGeek up to date and get him to start on the backgrounds and get more info on those New York cases. Oh hey, address for the room-mate – Virginia."

Gibbs gave a nod and did another u-turn.

-nCIs-

Tim wasn't wholly surprised when he returned to the bullpen to find it empty of Yates' team. He slid behind his own desk and checked his work. The programs were still running. He looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps.

"Anything?" asked Yates.

"Nothing's pinged yet." Tim said. "You?"

"I've got Arnie and Charlie checking the footage. Bev is focusing on the dating sites and tracking down that source IP." Yates crossed her arms. "The Director's given us conference room two as a workspace. I've got Mark helping to set up."

"He's definitely assigned?" Tim questioned mildly.

"Yes." Yates paused and sighed. "How much of a problem do you think this is going to be?"

Tim sighed heavily not trying to hide his concern. "Gibbs isn't going to want Mark anywhere near to Tony. I doubt he'll accept us all working in a confined space."

"So your team stays out there; anything sensitive goes to the conference room and I'll send Mark out for doughnuts or something if we have to do a briefing in the conference room." Yates concluded.

"Gibbs will be territorial." Tim warned.

"Well, that's not new." Yates pointed out with a wry smile. She took a deep breath. "Mark's said he knows he's to stay away from Tony and accepts he won't be able to speak with him or spend time alone with him."

"I'd probably extend that to speak with him or spend time with him 'at all.'" Tim said firmly. "He should wait and see what Gibbs is going to allow before attempting any kind of interaction with Tony."

Yates nodded. "That's a good idea."

Tim waved at his screen. "I should get back to…" he stopped as he caught sight of the elevator disgorging three people, one of whom was very recognisable; Tobias Fornell. He stood up. "Agent Fornell."

"Agent McGee." Fornell made a show of looking around the bullpen. "Gibbs?"

"In the field." Tim said succinctly. "Can we help you?"

Fornell hesitated but Yates stepped forward to greet the other two agents behind Fornell. "Agents Grant and Shen. Nice to see you again. I assume our new case has renewed your interest?"

"Yes." Agent Grant glanced at Tim.

Yates hurriedly made the introductions. Tim felt a touch intimidated by the two beautiful agents. Grant was a Sentinel; lean, muscled and tall. Her dark hair was tied back into a messy ponytail, similar to the kind Kate had worn on occasion. Her tailored dark blue pantsuit was also something Tim could imagine Kate would have worn. He missed his former team-mate fiercely as he took in Grant's steady blue gaze. Shen was slim built but tall; Asian with dark straight hair and bangs. She wore a similar tailored suit to Grant. Both women wore their badges and guns on their belts.

"Apologies we didn't inform you," Yates said smoothly, "my team didn't pick up the call and we've been verifying evidence of a link since the MCRT requested our assistance given the similarity."

"How much of a similarity is there?" asked Fornell bluntly.

"Maybe we should take this to the conference room." Tim said, and led the way before anyone could protest.

The conference room was barely set-up. Yates' team had rearranged the large table formation into separate pieces which were placed against the walls of the room. The plasma screen which was typically used for presentations, had been set up to network with their computers and display information. Powers had taken the window workstation and her head was down as they entered.

Lopez sat at the desk beside her, his eyes glued to his laptop monitor and the footage from outside the club. He was determinedly getting on with his assignment and Tim silently approved at the way Lopez had just knuckled down.

Banks, on the other hand, was across the other side of the room chatting with Carrington. He straightened as they entered and a sheepish expression crossed his face as he realised he'd been caught in a conversation which had nothing to do with his work assignment. He folded his arms over his chest and went with a belligerent defiance.

Yates shot him a look which promised him she'd take it up with him later. She waved at the FBI agents who'd followed them in. "You'll remember Agents Grant and Shen from the last time. Agent Fornell is accompanying them to…?" her voice trailed off and she raised a questioning look at Fornell.

"Handle Gibbs." Fornell supplied, sliding onto the table nearest the door and making a show of swiping it down for dust. "Agent Grant was involved with the ruckus over DiNozzo. The Director thought it would be prudent for me to run interference as Gibbs is Lead on this."

"To be frank, I'm surprised to see you here." Agent Grant said to Carrington, with a careful even tone.

"I was the Senior Agent when we got the case." Carrington replied, his words clipped and angry. "Cass, I'm going to go and grab a coffee."

Tim kept silent as Carrington left the room with Yates giving a brief nod of acceptance.

"You want to bring us up to speed?" Fornell prompted as the room fell silent.

Yates nodded at Powers and a moment later the plasma flared to life. Tim settled against the far wall and watched as Yates briefed the FBI on both cases.

Grant frowned and looked over at Shen. "I can see why you think the D.C. cases are connected."

"You think differently?" asked Tim, curious at her phrasing.

Grant sighed. "There's something…the murderer using the same sites and userids to bait for his next kill doesn't fit with the profile we constructed from the previous murder."

Shen stepped forward. "We established that the murderer of Petty Officer Graham was highly intelligent with good computer skills, a knowledge of forensics and police work. Likely to be a while male under the age of thirty and either a Sentinel or a latent with a grudge against Guides. If he's mundane he knows a Sentinel enough to mimic their behaviour and language."

"You think your guy would have used different userids?" Tim checked.

"He did in New York." Grant replied.

Tim's eyes widened. "I thought you'd discounted a connection between the cases in New York and here?"

"There's not enough evidence." Fornell admitted brusquely.

"But there are a large number of similarities." Grant shot the senior agent a hard look.

"Maybe you should take us through them." Tim said.

"We've been through them already." Banks retorted. "It's a waste of time."

"Don't you have some footage you should be checking?" asked Tim pointedly.

Banks took a step forward.

Yates moved to block him. "Take a break, Arnie, and when you come back, you need to get on that footage. The FBI and I will bring Agent McGee up to date."

Banks glowered angrily, shot Tim a disgusted look and stormed past him. The door slammed shut behind him.

Yates gestured for them all to sit. Tim waved away the offer and remained standing.

Grant cleared her throat. "Five months ago. Victim number one was a latent Guide; a hospital nurse called Amelia Goode. She was found in Central Park in the early hours of the morning. She'd been badly beaten and she'd been stabbed several times. There was no evidence of sexual assault. Her body had been washed clean though."

"She'd been on an online dating site trying to find a latent Sentinel, and had arranged a date the night before at a new club." Shen stepped in. "When she didn't arrive back at the agreed time with her room-mate and didn't answer her cell, her room-mate raised the alarm with the local police. They refused to do anything as not even twenty-fours had passed. Six hours later her body was found."

"We were able to obtain permission from the dating site to track the IP address of the userid she had arranged to meet. The IP address had been masked but we eventually traced it to a school. The school's wifi had been hacked and the signal piggy-backed. Our unsub was likely using a wireless mobile device." Grant continued.

"But he changed with the second murder which took place a month later." Shen added. "Pina Moritz was a twenty-two years old personal assistant at an accountancy firm. She had recently joined an online dating site – different to the one used in the previous murder."

"She arranged to meet her date in a bar across town from the previous club." Grant said. "She didn't set up any kind of arrangement. She was found by joggers in a different part of Central Park to Goode."

"Same cause of death. Beaten badly, stabbed multiple times, body washed but no sign of sexual assault." Shen concluded.

"Suspects?" asked Tim.

"None – nothing that went anywhere. Moritz had an ex who looked good but he had a cast iron alibi." Grant said with a sigh. "Everything went quiet. When the Graham case pinged on our radar, we figured there were enough similarities to warrant investigation."

"But ultimately the rape and the gender indicated that this might be a different killer." Tim surmised. He'd read enough of the literature to know that killer rarely changed their victim pool and MO.

"Right, as with the case in Baltimore, we figured perhaps someone was doing a copy-cat." Grant nodded. "When we got another ping this morning, again, it warrants investigation and since you've linked this case to the former, we're concerned that potentially this is the same killer regardless of anomalous behaviour."

"Have there been additional killings in New York since Moritz?" asked Tim.

"No." Grant said with a sigh. "Either the killer went to ground or…they moved."

"Which was the other reason why we are so interested in these cases." Shen said.

"So, you want a joint investigation?" Yates asked. She managed to make it sound like a reasonable question whereas Tim was certain Gibbs would have just growled at them to get out.

"Yes." Grant said, shooting Fornell a look to stop him interfering.

"I don't think there'll be a problem with that." Yates said.

Tim cleared his throat noisily.

"But it's not my decision to make." She continued smoothly. "We should wait and discuss this with Agent Gibbs."

Fornell glanced at Tim. "You want to call him or shall I?"

Tim glared at him but excused himself from the room. He took out his mobile phone and realised Tony had sent him a couple of texts. He opened them and frowned. He immediately found an empty room and hit the call button.

"McGeek, that was fast, even for you." Tony answered brightly.

"The FBI arrived just after I got back to the office. Agents Grant and Shen want a joint investigation. They think there's enough similarities now to link the two cases. Your new suspects would substantiate that." Tim replied.

"Hold on, McGee." There was a rustle as Tony held the phone to his chest, the words he was speaking muffled beyond recognition. Suddenly the sound cleared up and Tony's voice was clear in his ear again. "Gibbs says go ahead with the FBI; full disclosure of all evidence in their previous cases, with the autopsy reports sent to Ducky like yesterday."

"Understood." Tim said, relieved he wasn't going to have to tell the FBI agents to leave.

"You keep and do the suspect backgrounds though, Tim. Get Abs to help if you need an extra pair of hands." Tony instructed. "We'll inform everyone when we get there and work out a plan of action then."

Tim grimaced but it made sense. Until they had hard facts, the suspects should be kept to need-to-know. There was less risk of tipping them off that way. "Got it." He blew out a breath. "Carrington's assigned to the team."

"We figured." Tony said without humour. "Watch your six, Tim." And he hung up.

Tim sighed and lowered his cell. He shook his head and took a deep breath. He had a job to do.

-nCIs-

Gibbs watched with faint amusement as Graham's former room-mate tried to flirt with Tony, pressing his phone number, hastily written on a scrap piece of paper, into Tony's palm with a plea to call him any time.

Tony accepted the scrap paper and disengaged with a friendly smile and a wink.

They got into the car and Gibbs pulled away at speed.

Tony checked the phone number was the same as the one in their case file and tossed the scrap into the well between the seats. Gibbs wanted to ignore the frisson of relief at the action but couldn't. His Sentinel was too happy that their Guide had rejected the blatant approach.

Gibbs grimaced. He'd deliberately ignored even thinking about Tony dating someone in the past couple of months since they had bonded. He knew he was going to have to face it sooner rather than later – Tony had always had an active social life. Maybe some of it was smoke and mirrors designed to keep up his image but more often than not his bragging wasn't made-up.

Only Tony hadn't had a date since they had bonded. He hadn't gone partying with a frat buddy or just for a friendly drink with a group of fellow agents.

But that morning with Sparr and the flirtation Tony had been subjected to by the room-mate was bringing into sharp focus the fact that Tony would at some point start to date again. He would leave the safety of the house and go out with strangers. There would be sex; naked intimacy with someone who wasn't Gibbs.

The thought almost made him furious, his Sentinel side surging up with possessive urgency immediately to the idea that Tony would be touched by someone else.

But he had no right to be furious.

He and Tony only had a platonic bond. It was all he had offered Tony. He hadn't considered a sexual bond or a full relationship. Like the one he'd had with Shannon.

Gibbs wrestled his snarling Sentinel back into submission.

"You alright?" asked Tony, his worry and concern evident and Gibbs realised some of his fury must have bled through the bond.

Gibbs sighed. "My Sentinel got a little…" he shrugged the rest of the sentence. He could feel Tony's gaze on him and didn't need to turn around to know it was speculative and considering. Tony saw more than most and it had nothing do with his empathy and everything to do with his being a brilliant investigator.

"It's kind of fucked up having Carrington and Grant back at the Yard." Tony said softly, rightly attributing the fury to jealousy and possessiveness but wrongly deducing the cause.

Of course Gibbs wasn't going to correct his assumption because his Sentinel wasn't happy with Carrington and Grant being back in his territory and being anywhere near his Guide.

"Case comes first." Gibbs muttered.

Tony hummed his agreement but his gaze stayed on Gibbs. "Do you need me to buffer you?"

Gibbs opened his mouth to turn down the offer but then took a moment to seriously consider it. Buffering involved Tony using the bond between them to extend his empathic shield around Gibbs. They'd practiced it a couple of times in case it was necessary but they'd never consciously determined to use it.

But it wasn't a bad suggestion. Gibbs would be able to contain the Sentinel better with Tony's help. It would be almost impossible for him to go feral because he'd take his Guide with him.

On the other hand, Tony would also be intimately connected to Gibbs' emotions. He would know instantly when Gibbs prevaricated and it would mean Gibbs wouldn't be able to hide his reactions from Tony.

"Just a thought." Tony murmured, clearly picking up on Gibbs' uncertainty. There was a hint of hurt in his voice and Gibbs realised Tony had assumed rightly that Gibbs didn't want Tony in his head.

"It's a good suggestion." Gibbs said bluntly. He sighed heavily. He probably did need to be buffered. But he also didn't want Tony so close to his emotions before he'd been able to get a handle on them. Tony wasn't wrong about that.

"But you have some doubts." Tony stated out loud as though reading Gibbs' mind anyway.

"It's not you." Gibbs said awkwardly. "It's…the thought of anyone being that close."

Tony nodded in understanding. "I get it." He paused. "It works both ways after all."

Gibbs glanced across the car quickly before returning his eyes to the road – he was driving too fast to really even take that split-second. Tony was resolutely looking forward and hadn't met his gaze.

He was doing it again, Gibbs thought mentally head-slapping himself; he was only thinking about how things affected him and not thinking about how they affected Tony too.

"What would be your preference?" asked Gibbs sharply.

"I'd prefer to buffer rather than you going feral." Tony said bluntly.

Gibbs inwardly sighed. It was a very good, very valid point. Tony had a habit of making them even if they were usually dressed up as movie references or pop culture snippets; it was why Gibbs had hired him.

He swerved abruptly across two lanes and took the exit.

Tony didn't ask where they were going and Gibbs figured he knew they were headed for home. He wasn't going to ask Tony to buffer him at the Yard with the reasons why they needed to buffer hanging around watching their every move.

They entered the house briskly. Gibbs didn't want them to take too much time out to do the buffering. His Sentinel was pressing him to head back to the Navy Yard and impress on everyone there that it was his territory. He urged Tony to take a shower in his apartment and headed to take one himself.

They met in the basement.

Gibbs had set it up to mirror the bonding circle they'd used. Candles formed an outer ring with a camping mattress covered in blankets centred within it on the floor. Something unknotted in Gibbs' stomach when Tony smiled warmly at the sight of it. They lit the candles, discarded their clothing, and settled cross-legged facing each other on the mattress.

Gibbs reached out his hands and Tony grasped them firmly. He wasn't surprised when their spirit animals appeared beside them; black and white, yin and yang.

"Ready?" asked Tony softly.

Gibbs gave a curt nod.

Tony started slowly. "OK, so I'm going to lower my shield and open up our bond first."

Gibbs felt some of his tension eke away with Tony's explanation. He felt the flare of the bond like a warm affectionate touch against his skin. He sank into it immediately, wanting more.

"Easy." Tony cautioned, squeezing Gibbs' hands. "It's tempting just to stay here, isn't it?" There was a wistfulness in Tony's voice that made Gibbs' heart ache. The bond was them; their love and care for each other; their respect and admiration. It was safety and home.

"So, I'm going to extend my shield around you now." Tony explained.

Something slid over Gibbs. His mind shivered at the feather-light touch, shrinking away from it. Tony soothed him immediately.

"It's OK; it's just me." Tony let some of the bond leak into the shield and Gibbs relaxed letting it settle more firmly against him.

It sank slowly into his being and he let out a breath as his sense of it dissipated.

He looked at Tony questioningly.

"It's there," Tony said with a small smile, "I just put it on automatic. If you start feeling feral or angry, it will respond." He shrugged. "I managed to filter to feelings, I think. I mean, you'd have to think something really strongly for it to come through to me and the same back."

"Useful." Gibbs said, relieved and grateful that not everything would seep through.

Tony smiled. There was a flicker of amusement and understanding; agreement even. Gibbs felt warmed by the flicker. It felt so like Tony.

"I'm going to ease back now." Tony warned him.

There was a mental sense of retreat but Gibbs could feel the shield, the lingering touch of Tony's protection and love. It felt like being wrapped up in their bond.

Tony squeezed his hands again and let go.

Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief when nothing changed.

"Back to work." Gibbs ordered, reaching for his clothes. He felt renewed; filled with a fresh sense of urgency and drive.

Tony rolled his eyes but Gibbs knew Tony was in complete agreement thanks to the shield. He grinned inwardly, happy at knowing, and happy that he knew Tony was startled at the surge of good humour.

With the candles doused and everything set to rights, he practically bounced out of the house and into the car.

-nCIs-

Tony glared at Gibbs as he smirked at him.

They'd just arrived at the Yard and parked the car.

"You like my driving." Gibbs stated with a smug air, getting out.

"I like it when you stop and I can check I'm still alive." Tony corrected, scrambling after him.

Gibbs shook his head as they set off for the building in their usual formation. Tony followed him into the elevator.

Their bond was practically humming with satisfaction. Gibbs really liked the buffering. Tony shook his head with a smile, feeling lighter than he had for a while.

He couldn't deny he was enjoying the constant sense of Gibbs; of the security and strength of their bond. He could feel Gibbs' deep respect for him; his genuine affection. It was comforting, easing away Tony's concerns and insecurities.

They swept into the bullpen, and Tony was vaguely aware that they were drawing a couple of startled double looks at how in synch they were.

"McGee." Gibbs dumped his coat on top of his desk, giving Tony just enough time to drop his rucksack into its usual place and jog back to his side as Gibbs assumed position in front of the central monitor.

McGee blinked before his brain caught up and he moved, grabbing the remote on his desk as he took position on the other side of Gibbs.

"Suspect number one." McGee said, clicking the remote. "Noah Larson. Twenty-five. He graduated from Georgetown with a Bachelor of Computer Science. He took a position with a games software firm in New York and was doing well in the position until last year."

"When he lost his almost-fiancée to her Sentinel." Tony supplied.

"Right," McGee nodded, "he was fired for continuous absenteeism two months prior to moving to D.C. He didn't obtain another paid employment until he was hired by his father in the club." He clicked on the remote. "Amelia Goode was killed a week after Larson lost his job."

"Potential stressor." Tony said out loud.

Gibbs gave a grunt of agreement.

"Pina Moritz was killed a month later." McGee said. "Same M.O. Stabbing, no sexual assault, but the bodies were washed clean before being dumped in Central Park. The killer used online Sentinel and Guide dating sites to snare them but different ones. He had enough computer skills to hide his trace effectively."

"You think Larson has the skills to pull it off?" asked Gibbs.

McGee nodded slowly. "His degree would certainly have given him the base skill set, and his primary position at GameMonsters was network set-up and administration. His direct manager said he was sorry to let him go but he'd already stretched the company policy on absenteeism as far as it would go."

"So he has means…" Tony began.

"Motive." Tim supplied, displaying the fiancée's picture up on the monitor.

"And opportunity." Tony concluded. "Lynne Gambol said John Larson told her Noah was sleeping off a drunk when they left for the club but was gone when they returned."

It was enough to bring Larson in for a chat but not enough to get a warrant to search his property.

Tony felt Gibbs' discomfort at the position they'd landed on. He wasn't surprised when Gibbs motioned for McGee to continue.

A picture of Kevin Bale appeared on the monitor.

Irritation skittered over the bond and it took Tony a moment to realise it wasn't directed at the screen but at Vance who was leaning over the upper railing looking down at them with a scowl.

Gibbs gestured for McGee to get on with it even as Vance started to make his way down.

"Bale has been online for only two years." McGee stated. "He was a member of the Boston PD when he witnessed a domestic stabbing; the victim, the wife, was a latent Guide. The event brought him online when he shot the husband and moved to protect her from further injury. She later died in hospital from complications during surgery. He transferred to New York and was made a detective eighteen months ago, reporting into John Larson's unit where he was partnered with Detective Barry Armstrong. I'm waiting on Armstrong calling me back. I left a message saying we'd picked up a case from Bale and just wanted to get the lowdown on him."

"Good thinking, McGee." Gibbs praised him and pointed at the monitor. "He moved to Metro when?"

"The week before Petty Officer Graham was killed." McGee asserted. "He was working out his notice in New York until then. NYPD accepted that he felt his tribe was with Larson and his mother, especially as his sister was moving with them." He clicked onto the next picture, darting a glance at Vance who'd joined them, hovering at Tony's elbow.

Tony grimaced at the Metro personnel file that appeared on screen. He hoped McGee had gotten it legitimately. He read through the basics. Bale hadn't been assigned to a single partner for his first month; he'd been inducted via a series of ride-alongs with serving detectives in various teams. He'd finally been assigned to Andrea two weeks before.

"He's clean." Vance noted, popping a toothpick into his mouth.

"The good son." Tony quipped. "His mother said he helped out with Noah, did patrols to keep the hookers away. Doesn't want a Guide."

"He's taken some of the advanced computer courses open to LEOs." McGee pointed out. "He would have the knowledge to hide the computer trail."

"He'd know enough about forensics to cover his trail there." Vance pointed out.

"Means." Tony stated firmly. "But the motive is shaky. Maybe some kind of PTSD associated with the trauma which brought him online? Our killer likes stabbing."

"Opportunity is questionable." Gibbs stated firmly. "We need to rule out his whereabouts on the nights in question."

Something was simmering with Gibbs.

Tony cast an inquisitive look at his Sentinel.

Gibbs shrugged. Something was tickling his gut but it wasn't anything concrete then, Tony surmised.

McGee's desk phone rang.

McGee picked it up and nodded.

Gibbs tilted his head at it and grimaced. Tony felt the echo of Gibbs' displeasure; his discomfort and unease at whatever he was hearing. He sent a gentle touch of reassurance back through his shield.

McGee looked at Gibbs. "Agent Lopez has something."

Gibbs nodded and immediately started for the elevator.

"We'll be right there." Tony heard McGee say.

A moment later they were all entering the elevator.

"You have nothing else to do today, Director?" asked Gibbs mildly.

"Maybe I think I should be on hand." Vance retorted, his lips clamping down on his toothpick.

Gibbs shrugged as though unconcerned at Vance's presence, but Tony could feel Gibbs' irritation at Vance's involving himself. Tony was only just able to manoeuvre so he was beside Gibbs as they entered the conference room.

There was a tense moment as they all came to a halt just inside the room. It felt like a stand-off.

The Feebies were corralled to the right along one wall. Agents Grant and Shen were carefully keeping their body language and demeanour unthreatening. Fornell sat in front of them and nodded to Gibbs.

Powers and Lopez were huddled at one desk around a monitor, with Yates beside them. Standing just behind them were Banks and Mark Carrington.

Gibbs' Sentinel surged forward as he scented Carrington but the shield did its job, wrapping Gibbs in a comforting sense of Tony; assurance of their bond.

Tony breathed a sigh of relief as Gibbs' Sentinel retreated.

Gibbs tore his glare away from Carrington and focused on Lopez, absentmindedly nodding at the FBI agents. "What d'ya got, Lopez?"

Lopez held up the remote. "Uh, how do I…"

McGee and Powers jumped in and within a minute the footage Lopez had discovered was up on the screen.

"This is previously unexamined footage from a street camera at the right end of the street where The Great City is located." Lopez said confidently.

"Why wasn't it requested before?" asked Vance, his arms folded over his chest.

Lopez looked to his team lead to answer.

"We examined all the club footage." Yates replied evenly. "It showed him walking in the direction of Limone, the next club down. That's where we focused on our efforts. In hindsight we should have requested the street footage."

Tony kept his facial expression still despite the strong disapproval he felt. Requesting any available footage was SOP. There was a rush of agreement through his closer connection with Gibbs.

"Roll it." Gibbs ordered impatiently.

Tony watched as the grainy camera footage began to play. He carefully began cataloguing the contents of the frame; rainy street, dark with wet, stretched out in front of them. To the right the street was empty; the usual shops long closed. But there were two clubs on the street to the left; The Great City closest with Limone further up. Both were buzzing with crowds just outside their front door; lines of people forming against the walls. He could make out where the alley was from the brief break in the line. Two parked cars were near to The Great City; one was a white Jeep, and the other the plain grey sedan which was parked almost opposite the alley. They could see the faint outline of someone in the sedan.

"According to the timestamp, he arrived about midnight." Lopez said.

"He parks and just stays there." Powers added.

Lopez lifted the remote. "This is one-oh-five."

The tape jumped into action and Tony's eyes immediately caught on the figure of Graham leaving the club. He was focused on his hand and cell phone…the footage had captured his heading up the street towards Limone; his bumping into Elaine Betts – and Tony was pleased to see the footage validated the information she'd provided to him. He caught his breath as Graham stopped and crossed the road heading to the sedan.

He narrowed his eyes as Graham went directly over to the driver's window and spoke with the driver before getting into the car. It pulled away a few moments later.

"Lucy's got some explaining to do." Tony quipped, rocking back on his heels a touch, his eyes still on the screen where Lopez had frozen the picture of the car departing.

Gibbs cleared his throat. "You think you could get Sparr to bring him here without too many questions?"

"Sure." Tony nodded and plucked his cell from his belt. He flipped it open and it began to vibrate. The caller ID showed it was Andrea. Well, that was spooky. He shook his head at Gibbs who had picked up on his surprise and answered the call. "Andrea, I was just about to…"

"Call and ask me to bring Bale round to explain why he didn't make it clear he had a conflict of interest in the case?" Andrea interrupted him.

Tony smiled. "That."

"We're on our way to you now." Andrea said crisply. He could sense she was pissed off with her probie.

"He's going to have to prepare for some hard questioning, Andrea. FBI have an interest." Tony said, trying to find the fine line between giving Andrea a heads-up about what would happen when they reached the yard, and not tip off Bale if he was the killer.

"Understood." Andrea sighed. "I'll see you in twenty."

Tony closed his phone. "Guess who's coming to dinner?"

Gibbs huffed. "Lopez, you'll take the interrogation."

Lopez looked shell-shocked. "Me?"

"You did the work." Gibbs said simply. He pointed at McGee. "You'll join him in the interrogation room." He turned to Tony. "Help them prep."

Tony nodded his agreement.

"And the rest of us?" Fornell slid in before anyone else could speak.

"You can watch the interrogation." Gibbs stated. "Carrington, Grant; with me." He made a sweeping gesture with one finger around the room. "The rest of you should get back to work."

Banks made a show of looking at his watch. Most of them had been at work since the early hours of the morning and the afternoon was giving way to early evening. Tony didn't need his empathy to know that Banks was pissed off.

Tony watched as Gibbs ignored Banks and led the other Sentinels from the room, the Director following in their wake. He smiled brightly to cover his nerves and gestured to McGee and Lopez.

"Come on, Probie; Lopez. Let's find an empty room and start prepping." Tony said, and tried to ignore the possessiveness which had suffused the bond.

"I'm with you, DiNutso." Fornell said, moving to join them.

Tony sighed. He had a feeling their very long day was just about to get longer.

-nCIs-

Gibbs entered the empty conference room and waited for Carrington and Grant to come in. He wasn't surprised when Vance followed and shut the door behind him.

Vance sent him a challenging look but Gibbs didn't bother about arguing about his presence. He focused instead on the two Sentinels.

"Professionally, I have no problem with either of you being here." Gibbs began gruffly. Inwardly he sought out the feeling of Tony; the feel of their bond and kept hold of it to anchor himself. "The case is important; catching a serial killer is important. You both can contribute."

"But?" prompted Vance.

Gibbs shot him a look. His talking with Carrington and Grant was Sentinel business and while he'd accepted Vance's presence, he had no place saying anything.

Vance held up a hand in apology.

"There are rules." Gibbs stated keeping his focus on Grant. "Neither of you is to be alone with Tony. You enter a room and see him alone, you back out and go somewhere else."

"That's fair." Grant said, nodding her acceptance straight away.

"What if we need to speak to Tony about the case?" challenged Carrington, raising his chin. His blue eyes were hard as flint.

"You can speak to him about the case but only about the case, and only if there are others present." Gibbs shot back, holding Carrington's eyes with his own.

"That has the potential to slow us down." Carrington pointed out brusquely. "If Tony's the only one…"

Gibbs's Sentinel snarled and surged forward. The buffering shield did its job; almost instantly Tony's affection and deep loyalty to Gibbs surrounded him and pacified the Sentinel.

Gibbs took a breath. "Carrington. If you can't stick to the rules, you can leave."

Carrington glared at him and cast a look towards Vance.

"Gibbs has the right to lay out the terms for you interacting with his Guide." Vance stated bluntly. "If he says this is the way it goes. This is the way it goes."

Grant cleared her throat, drawing their attention. "I have no problem with your rules regarding your Guide, Sentinel Gibbs."

"Agent Carrington?" Vance prompted – and Gibbs found himself pleased that Vance had decided to join them. The Director was using his authority to back him up and he could see it making more of an impact on Carrington than Gibbs's status as Tony's Sentinel.

"I'll follow the rules." Carrington said tersely.

Vance nodded. "See that you do. Dismissed."

Carrington spun on his heel and marched out. Grant sighed, rolled her eyes and went after him. Gibbs almost appreciated the attempt to diffuse the tension; it was very Tony-like.

"Gibbs, I'd like a word."

Vance's statement stopped Gibbs mid-step on his way out. He closed the door and turned back to Vance.

"Director."

"Be honest with me, Gibbs." Vance said. "Are you going to be able to keep it together?"

"If they keep to the rules, we shouldn't have a problem." Gibbs said careful to keep his tone calm and even.

Vance stared at him.

Gibbs raised his eyebrows. "You have anything else, Director, because I have a case to run."

"Just don't make me have to call the Registry." Vance said and left before Gibbs could say anything.

Gibbs took out his phone and dialled Tony's number as he got into the escalator. He barely waited for Tony to acknowledge the call before he spoke.

"Going for coffee."

He hung up before Tony could say anything but a flood of amusement rippled through the bond.

His phone beeped and he read the text which popped up on the front screen with a smile.

"Mine's a hot chocolate with the tiny marshmallows."

Gibbs shook his head but he was still smiling when he exited the building.

To be continued.