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Title: Puzzle Pieces in a Game
By: nancy
Pairing: Tony/Gibbs
Fandom: NCIS
Rating: R
Warning: violence, angst, pre-slash
Summary: When the team investigates the slaying of a gay naval officer, they wind up protecting the disabled lover he left behind...Tony DiNozzo.




Jethro looked around the apartment with a practiced eye. He noted the sports magazines mixed in with astronomy ones, the trophies so proudly displayed under the diplomas and certificates. He saw the expensive, well-cared for furniture that was at least five years old, and he noticed the wheelchair scuff-marks on the hardwood and tiled floors throughout the apartment.

Glass from a large, bay window lay strewn over the floor, creating a too-chilly draft of air. Furniture was out of place and lamps had been overturned, indicating a serious struggle.

Turning to Ducky, he asked, "What do we have, Duck?"

"Massive head trauma, blood loss and three stab wounds," Ducky replied. "I can't be sure which killed him first until we get the poor fellow back to the lab, to be honest."

"That's a bit overkill, don't you think?"

Gibbs half-grinned over at Kate and agreed, "Just a little. Got the pictures?"

She raised the camera. "All done now."

"Where's the roommate?" he questioned.

Kate pointed down the short hall towards the bedrooms, answering, "McGee's with him and the landlady taking statements."

Jethro sighed. "Still?"

Grinning, she shrugged and moved over to the kits, pulling out bags to start pulling whatever she might think to be evidence.

Jethro walked towards the room where he could hear muffled voices from behind a door. Before going in, though, he went to the other bedroom. He noted the neatly made bed first, and then the completely lack of lived-in feeling the room had. No books on the bedside table. No clothes in the hamper. Only a few, barely-there scuff marks from the wheelchair. He snorted and muttered, "Roommates, my ass," and headed next door.

Walking inside, he noted the comfortable, masculine décor and understated, tasteful accents that he'd probably never have thought to add himself in a million years, but had to admit made the room all that much more pleasant. This was the larger room by half, with a king sized bed, two bedside tables holding different items, sports magazine on one, astronomy book on the other, glasses with the astronomy book and an asthma inhaler with the sports magazine.

After taking it all in at a glance, Jethro's gaze landed on either their prime suspect, or their prime witness. His first reaction was a gut-deep, Handsome. Which the guy was. Professional model or actor level of handsome, with brown hair and brilliant eyes that were currently filled with moisture, but not actually leaking tears. His second reaction was just as instinctual, Witness, not suspect.

And while it could've been the instant flare of attraction, Jethro had been doing this for over ten years and knew that it wasn't. Despite the obvious strength in the man's upper body, and the fact that no one better than a lover could achieve the element of surprise, the pain in the eyes that stared at McGee was too real to be faked.

Not to mention that while it was possible he'd gotten that goose-egg from struggling with his lover, Jethro couldn't see an officer of Ben Whitcomb's caliber striking a handicapped man from behind, no matter what the provocation. Even less so, if the man was his lover.

Stepping forward, he greeted, "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. You are?"

The man cleared his throat, shifting his attention to Jethro, and answered, "Tony DiNozzo, Ben's lover."

Well, the victim might not have been out in his work with the whole 'don't ask' policy in place, but DiNozzo clearly had no trouble being open about their relationship.

"Mr. DiNozzo, I'm sorry for your loss," Jethro began, sincerely. "Can you repeat for me what you remember about the murder?"

Because this, he had to hear for himself; he needed to know just how much danger Tony was in.

Tony offered him a wan smile and replied, "Thanks. I'm not sure I'll be any good as a witness. I have trouble sleeping sometimes and take sleeping pills. Last night was pretty bad, so Ben pretty much ordered me to take a couple and I did. It was something breaking that woke me up, probably the lamp. That thing's pretty old and heavy. Lead crystal. A house-warming gift from my aunt. Oh, sorry. Rambling a little."

Jethro nodded, indicating for him to go on.

"Um. I was pretty out of it, but saw that Ben wasn't in bed and managed to get into my wheelchair to see what was going on. There were three of them, pretty big, built like football players or body builders, you know? It was dark, though, and I was woozy from the pills, so I don't remember what any of them look like. I grabbed the baseball bat and managed to get in a few swings on one of them before the bastard took it from me and clobbered me. To be honest, I'm surprised I'm still alive," Tony finished with a careless shrug.

"Why is that?" Jethro questioned.

"I figured it was a gay bashing thing. Military commandos gone overkill..." Tony blanched at his own choice of words and finally, the tears spilled free. Quiet ones that seemed all the more poignant for their silence as Tony clutched his stomach and gasped, "Oh God, he's really dead, isn't he?"

"Can't you leave him alone?" the elderly landlady demanded, patting Tony's shoulder.

Shaking his head, Jethro apologized, "I'm truly sorry, but we need as many details as you can give us."

"Memory gets faulty, the longer you let it go, I know."

Jethro was surprised. "Watch a lot of cop shows?"

"No, I used to be one. I'm going for my masters in astronomy now as a fallback career," Tony explained with a hint of bitterness as he wiped away the tears. "Ben's the one who encouraged me to do it. He always said, he said that that if I wanted the stars, I should reach for them."

"He sounds like a good man," Jethro commented.

Tony offered a watery smile and agreed simply, "He was."

Getting the subject back on track, Jethro asked, "Do you remember anything distinctive about the assailants?"

"No. They didn't speak, they were covered completely, so far as I could tell, no skin to see what color they were, even. Nothing to ID them, visually. They were all even the same build. Oh wait, I said that already, I'm sorry," Tony apologized.

Jethro waved it off. "No problem. I think we're done here now. McGee, arrange for Mr. DiNozzo to get transportation to the hospital."

But Tony shook his head and countered, "I'm fine."

"You're not fine, you've been through a traumatic event and probably have a concussion. If you don't go voluntarily, I'll strap you into the ambulance personally," Jethro stated firmly.

Tony looked surprised, then slightly abashed. "Sorry. I guess I'm not thinking too clearly right now."

"Don't apologize, just go to the hospital," Jethro countered, relenting a bit.

The younger man nodded with a sigh, but seemed at a loss as to what to do next.

"McGee!" Jethro snapped.

McGee jumped and exclaimed, "Yes, Boss! Right away."

And then Jethro did something that he never, ever did. He walked over to Tony and gripped his shoulder, offering comfort as he said, "I'll stick with you 'til we get you examined, all right?"

The grateful look in those incredible eyes was enough to let Jethro know that he was sinking fast.

*  *  *  *

Kate was more than a little surprised to find out that Gibbs was driving DiNozzo to the hospital to get checked out. She gave him a frown and said, "He's the prime suspect."

"Not any more he isn't," Gibbs replied. "We're looking for 3 large guys who killed Lt. Whitcomb, but for some reason, didn't kill Mr. DiNozzo. No distinguishing features or anything. Make sure you go over this place with a fine-toothed comb. Forensics is all we're going to have to go on this time."

Snorting, she countered, "When isn't it?"

"True. I'll check in with you when we get to the hospital. I want a protective detail set up for Mr. DiNozzo until we solve this thing and put those bastards behind bars."

The coldness in Gibbs' voice was more than a little scary and she nodded hastily. "Absolutely."

"His doctor's attached to Georgetown, so that's where we'll be," Gibbs continued. "I'm taking him out through the fire door."

Surprised again, Kate asked, "Why?"

"Wheelchair," Gibbs answered simply.

Right. Wheelchair would roll right through and pick up evidence that they needed.

"By the book, Kate. I want to nail these bastards."

Kate nodded emphatically, keen to do the same even without the added motivation. Anyone who would murder a man in such a brutal fashion and then be about to do the same to his handicapped lover, well, they got no mercy from her whatsoever. And she was sure that they were going to kill the lover, too. Why would they leave a potential witness alive? According to the landlady when they'd first gotten on the scene, it had only been the sirens that had kept them from doing the deed.

She watched as Gibbs walked back down the short hall, meeting up with, and blocking the view of, Mr. DiNozzo. She kept an eye on them until the door at the other end of the hallway had closed. Turning to McGee, she ordered, "Let's get to it, Probie!"

*  *  *  *

Tony's head was killing him, his legs throbbed with agony, his back hurt and his heart ached so bad he thought he was going to die. It was the last thing that made everything else just kind of fade into the background. He noticed the nice NCIS agent who chauffeured him to the hospital and stuck around while Dr. Ryan looked him over, but he didn't really see him until the pain killers took effect a couple of hours after he'd been admitted.

It wasn't until the man came into his hospital room that Tony took in the handsome, stern features, the strength of his body, the determination etched into him like an extra feature. Exactly the kind of man he was attracted to, except at the moment, he was too broken to pay any attention.

"Just wanted to check in on you, see how you were feeling," Gibbs said quietly, standing beside the bed.

Tony shrugged. "Not feeling much of anything, any more."

"Probably a blessing, at least for now."

"I guess," Tony agreed, listless. "I's like some horrible fucking nightmare, you know? Of course you know. You do this for a living."

Gibbs winced a little and said, "That's different from being a witness."

"Yeah, but you've seen action, I can tell," Tony countered, figuring out where that aura finally came from; experience in the midst of insanity. Probably on the frontlines of some war. He recognized the kindred spirit from when he'd been on the frontlines of Philly and Baltimore.

Looking surprised, Gibbs asked, "How'd you know?"

Tony waved it off, noticing that it was getting more difficult to lift his arm, and answered, "Can tell. You got that...look in your eyes. You know the one."

Gibbs apparently did, because he nodded. "Well, I'll let you get some rest, but I'll be outside until the detail shows up. Who should I call about Lt. Whitcomb?"

"No one. I'll make the arrangements," Tony answered, sighing. "Ben wasn't on speaking terms with his family, hadn't been for years. They didn't approve of him going into the military. Two of our common denominators, actually, only my folks didn't approve of me being a cop."

For a long moment, Gibbs didn't say anything. Then he squeezed Tony's should and offered, "I'll be right outside if you need anything, even if you just want company, okay?"

Tony managed a weary smile before closing his eyes and succumbing to the siren call of the drugs.

*  *  *  *

Jethro snared Tony's doctor and asked, "So what's wrong with Mr. DiNozzo? Is he paralyzed?"

"I can't really discuss..."

"Look, I just need to know what I'm dealing with so I can be prepared for any eventuality in protecting him," Jethro broke in, firm, but not overstated. Doctor's were a tricky breed to deal with, each needing special handling. "I don't know how long we'll be keeping him in protective custody, but if he needs special treatment, aside from the obvious, I need to know."

The doctor looked at him a moment, then gave in and explained, "Tony has a disease called Frankin's Malady. It's rare and blood-borne, but not fatal. It's a degenerative disease that wastes the muscles, but doesn't affect the nervous system. Technically, Tony's not paralyzed. He can feel everything that happens to his legs from a pin-prick to a broken bone. He just no longer has the muscle capacity to hold himself upright."

"You said degenerative. Will it get worse?" Jethro asked, more than a little shocked by the diagnosis. He'd never even heard of this thing.

But the answer was negative. "No, Tony's as good, and as bad, as he's going to get, barring unforeseen circumstance. He helps himself by going to physical therapy every day and working what muscles he has left, to keep them from atrophying. The disease usually attacks one part of the body, in Tony's case, the legs, and eats away at the tissue. If it gets beyond a certain point, if circulation stops or gangrene sets in, amputation becomes necessary."

Jethro almost flinched at the revelation, but managed not to. Instead he questioned, "Is he in pain?"

"Unfortunately, yes," the doctor replied. "No one knows if it's psychosomatic or if there's actually something triggering the pain, because this is such a rare disease. There's simply been very little research done on it. Tony's the only one that I know of in the Tri-State area with Frankins. He has medication for when the pain gets too bad, but I know from Ben that he rarely uses it. Ben usually has to, had to, goad Tony into taking them. He's an amazing man."

Jethro was starting to figure that out. "Thanks, Doc."

The other man nodded and walked away, leaving Jethro to his thoughts. Taking a seat in a chair opposite Tony's door, Jethro settled in to wait for the protective detail to arrive. It was going to be another hour or so and he planned to use the time to figure out what their next move would be.

What his next move would be.



Tony had never been on this side of a protective custody detail before. He'd always been the protector, not the protectee, and it was really disconcerting. He hadn't been allowed back to the apartment after leaving the hospital, but rather brought to a safe house, which seemed like way too much to him, but what did he know? He was only an ex-cop.

Snorting at the thought, Tony wheeled himself into the living room of the small, one-story, two-bedroom place and settled in front of the television. He snagged the remote and started flipping through stations, too restless to really watch anything, but not allowed to go anywhere, either. Frick and Frack, as he'd named them, were in the kitchen talking quietly about an affair Frack's wife was having. Shaking his head, sympathetic to the blow that could be, Tony turned off the television just in time to hear a key turn in the lock. His heart sped up, but he didn't have time to call out a warning before it opened.

It was the NCIS Agent Gibbs who stepped through the door, thankfully, but Tony was still left with the adrenaline pumping through his system. Pale blue eyes met his and the other man grimaced. "I called them to let them know I was coming, but I guess they didn't pass on the information."

"No problem," Tony answered, forcing a smile and taking a breath. "Hadn't had my caffeine fix for the day, so that's taken care of. I'm awake now."

Frick and Frack walked into the living room and Gibbs snapped, "If you can't take your job seriously, I'll find you an assignment that suits more; like picking up trash off the interstate!"

"Agent Gibbs, hey, it's all right," Tony began.

Gibbs cut him off without even looking at him, ordering, "Find something to do, before I find something for you to do."

Both men hurried out of the room.

Chuckling, Tony observed, "I think you could scare anyone, Agent Gibbs."

A brief smile surfaced and Gibbs replied, "That's the goal, Mr. DiNozzo."

Tony smiled and motioned towards the sofa. "Have a seat. You want something to drink? There's some soda in the fridge."

"I'm good, thanks. How are you doing? Aside from just having a heart attack."

Rolling back and forth a little, Tony answered, "I'm fine. Well, dealing anyhow. Or, avoiding dealing. There's plenty of junk food, so that works for me."

Gibbs nodded, clearly understanding. "Do you need anything?"

"Other than for you to tell me why you're bothering with small talk? Not a thing."

There was a pause as Gibbs looked him over before saying, "We've hit a brick wall. There's no forensic evidence to trace these guys. No eye witness account. Nothing in the Lieutenant's history that indicates he had any enemies. He wasn't working on anything sensitive enough to garner this kind of reaction. You, on the other hand, put away a number of scumbags during your time on the job."

"You think it's someone out for revenge," Tony stated, guilt rising up. Had someone killed Ben because of something he'd done? It seemed entirely probable.

Gibbs grimaced. "There's nothing else I can think. I've prioritized all your case files, but I need you to tell us who's really a threat and who isn't."

"I don't see a box in your arms."

"They're back at NCIS. I want you to come back with me to go over them with Agent Todd. She's a profiler."

"Why bother with me at all then?"

"Because you know these bastards personally. I don't care how long you've been off the job, you still know their habits and how they think."

Tony looked away from Gibbs' intensity, trying to rein in the emotions that were roiling through him. He'd given up police work only when there was no other option. To go back into it, even just temporarily, would cut into him like a knife. Especially once it was over and he had to leave it behind again.

"I need your help on this one, Mr. DiNozzo."

Knowing how much that had to have cost Gibbs, Tony finally nodded and glanced back at the agent. "You've got it."

*  *  *  *

NCIS was a very busy place, which was to be expected. Tony couldn't remember the last time he'd seen so many uniforms in one place, even though the agents outnumbered the officers. Going through security with his chair was an interesting experience. A number of metal detecting wands went over him while he was sitting on a regular chair, while the wheelchair was inspected. From the tight jaw Gibbs exhibited, Tony knew the agent was ticked, but he was fine with it.

Once that was done, he followed the other man into an office area where he was introduced to Special Agents Kate Todd and Timothy McGee. Agent Todd was as sharp as they came, quick to size him up and then ignored the wheelchair. She'd clearly known someone who was disabled, taking it as part of him and treating him completely normally. Agent McGee, on the other hand, was clearly unsure of how to interact with him, stammering and then flinching a couple of times when Gibbs pinned him with a Look. Despite that, Tony could tell he was a good guy and cut him some slack.

About an hour into the files, a flash of pain sliced through his left thigh and he bit his lip to stop a cry from escaping. Taking a slow, deep breath to combat as much of the pain as he could, Tony took a few seconds to regain his composure before forcing a smile and asking, "Can someone point me towards the little agent's room?"

Kate grinned and answered, "Right over there. You know. Near the sign that says 'Restrooms.'"

The throb in his leg took away whatever humor he would have found in that comment, but Tony continued to smile and swiftly wheeled himself in the direction she'd pointed. Thankfully, the bathroom was empty and he locked the stall door behind him before stabbing fingers into the muscle knot and working it hard. It hurt and took longer than normal to go away, not that it went away completely, which Tony figured was due to all the stress. His body was sensitive to changes, physical and emotional, and he had to be careful with more than just not trying to walk.

"Mr. DiNozzo? Are you all right?"

Tony sighed faintly and unlocked the door, wheeling himself out into the main part of the room. To his surprise, Gibbs was standing there holding a bottle of water and a prescription bottle. Arching an eyebrow at him, Tony asked, "Aren't there rules against this sort of thing?"

Not in the least amused, Gibbs growled, "Take your damn medication before I force it down your throat."

Somehow, Tony had no problem believing that he would do exactly what he'd just said. It sure as hell lacked the finesse with which Ben got him to take it, but he gave in anyhow, holding out both hands. "I probably shouldn't ask how you got hold of this in the first place."

"Your doctor was worried, so I told him I'd keep an eye on you," Gibbs answered, handing over both bottles.

Tony washed down two of the pills with a healthy swallow of water, then complained, "And people don't believe me when I say there's a conspiracy."

Gibbs snorted, but at least the tension had lightened. "Come on, DiNozzo, let's get back to work."

Another hour later and they'd gone through the entire stack of files, narrowing the field down to five potential killers. Even with the meds, Tony's back and legs hurt, but he'd be damned if he was going to show any weakness that would get him sent away early. It was so good, being around other people who thought like him again, even if McGee continued to stammer with uncertainty. It was, apparently, his natural state of being. No one thought twice when Tony began calling him Probie, even though it was Tony who was the new kid on the block.

"Yo, Gibbs! I'm all alone downstairs with nothing to do! You know that's a bad combination!" a woman called out.

Tony turned to find a slender, black-haired goth girl striding towards them. Pale eyes set in a very pretty face met his and he smiled a greeting.

"Well hello gorgeous," she purred, stopping in front of him. "I'm Abby."

Taking the hand she held out, Tony introduced himself with his best James bond impression. "DiNozzo. Tony DiNozzo."

Giggling, Abby looked over at Gibbs and asked, "Where'd you find him? Can we keep him?"

"He's not a stray, Abs," Gibbs replied, joining them.

Kate chimed in with, "Tony's helping us find out who wants to kill him."

Abby blinked. "Okaaay. Do we usually ask the victims to do that? Because, I don't remember us doing that before."

"You don't usually have ex-cops as the victim, either, I'm betting," Tony pointed out.

"Ah. Thought I recognized the vibe."


"Yeah, you know." Abby straightened, holding up her hands like she was in court, on the stand, with the bible. "Whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me Gibbs."

Tony quirked an eyebrow at her. "So help me Gibbs?"

"Trust me. He's way scarier than God," Abby replied in a stage whisper.

Tony laughed.

*  *  *  *

Dinner was a quick, if late, affair of Chinese takeout and red wine, eaten in the living room in front of the evening news. Given that they'd completely struck out on the five suspects from Tony's past, Gibbs had told everyone to go home and start fresh in the morning.

"So what do you think of him?" Abby asked, nudging her lover with an elbow.

Kate thought about it for a second, then answered, "I like him. I think he's a good man. Solid investigator."

Nodding, Abby questioned, "So what do you think Gibbs thinks of him?"

Which was a far more interesting question, in Kate's opinion. "I think Gibbs is in for a hell of a long wait."

"Oooh. You got that vibe too, huh?" Abby demanded, sitting upright. "Bossman has it bad and it's only been, what, three days since you caught the case?"

Kate grinned at her and pointed out, "You've always believed in love at first sight."

"True," Abby allowed. "But this is Gibbs. He's like, immune to all that romance stuff."

"Not if he was married three times," Kate countered dryly. Abby laughed and then yawned, so Kate teased, "Not enough Caf-Pows today, Abs?"

With an eyeroll, Abby replied, "I'll have you know that I've been cutting back, as requested."

"So you had ten, instead of fifteen?"

"Very funny. I'd never leave the bathroom if that was the case. I only had four today."

Kate leaned in for a soft kiss, murmuring, "I'm proud of you, Abby. Good job."

Abby asked coyly, "Do I get a reward?"

Laughing, Kate pushed her down on the sofa and straddled her, enjoying the merry twinkle in the other woman's eyes. "I think I can come up with some way to reward you."

*  *  *  *

The funeral took place the following day and it was harder than Kate had thought it would be to watch Tony interact with the people there. He was dressed in an expensive, charcoal gray suit that was well fitted and a deep blue shirt that set off the blue in his changeable eyes. He was in the front row with the parents of the victim...of Ben, she corrected herself...but clearly not 'with' them. And there was no sign of Tony's parents, or any kind of family.

Bad blood there, she thought sadly, wondering if it was the gay thing, or the disabled thing, or both that had driven the wedge between Ben and his parents.

"Anything?" Gibbs' voice crackled in her ear.

Scanning the crowd, Kate murmured, "Nothing yet."

It was only a hunch, but when Gibbs' gut spoke up, they all listened. For whatever reason, Gibbs was sure that at least one of the killers would be there. And since there was a possibility from a profiling aspect that he was right, Kate hadn't raised a protest even though she would be the one standing in a graveyard with people she didn't know, in the rain.

"I can't believe we have to do this."

Kate's hearing picked up the sour tone before deciphering the words, which definitely caught her attention. Glancing over at the two agents who were standing a few feet away, the guards on Tony's protective detail.

The second guy snorted and muttered, "If they wanted to kill the cripple, they would've the first time, right? This is a waste of time."

Stiffening in outrage, Kate hung back another few minutes to see what else they were going to say.

The first agent shrugged. "I don't know about that, but I can't figure out which is worse."

"What do you mean?"

"The queer or the cripple part."

Positively seething, Kate stalked over to them, tapping the first agent on the shoulder and stating coolly, "You're both dismissed. Expect a very unfavorable review from me in your permanent file."

Caught, there was nothing either man could say or do; they could only leave without causing a scene that would get them into even more trouble.

"What the hell just happened?"

"I dismissed the two agents you assigned. They were trashing Tony."

"In what way?"

"Take your pick," Kate replied softly, but angrily. "Queer, or cripple. Their words."

There was a brief silence before Gibbs said, "Focus on the job, Kate. We'll deal with them later."

Nodding, Kate returned her attention to the people at the graveside. The priest was finishing up the service, then there was the three gun salute and the flag given to Ben's mother. It pissed her off that the Honor Guard bypassed Tony altogether, like he wasn't even there, but there wasn't any help for it. That was just how things were.

Thank God neither Abby nor I are military, she thought, the anger ratcheting up another notch. And that Gibbs isn't nearly as much of an SOB as he likes to pretend.

The rain finally petered out and Kate folded up her umbrella as the sun tried to shine in fits and starts. The wind picked up, sending a shiver down her back, and started to push the remaining clouds out of the way. Everyone filed out except for Tony, leaving him almost too-sad to look at, sitting in his wheelchair beside the open grave. Casting a last look around, but seeing no one, Kate walked over to him and greeted, "How're you doing?"

Looking strangely composed, not a tear in sight, Tony smiled at her and answered, "I've been better. Of course, I've been worse, too, all things considered. Hey, where're Frick and Frack?"

Unable not to grin at the nick-names, Kate answered, "History. We're taking over the detail."

"Really?" Tony asked curiously. "How come?"

Falling into step beside him, Kate replied smartly, "Because you're too much trouble for them to handle."

He chuckled and agreed, "Always have been. How did Gibbs take you shit-canning them for being assholes?"

Though Kate knew that she shouldn't have been surprised by Tony's insight, she was. "They've said things in your hearing, haven't they?"

"I can't walk, but my ears work perfectly fine," Tony confirmed, offering a wry twist of the lips. "Funny how people assume you've got more than one thing wrong with you when there's a wheelchair involved."

"You mean aside from being crazy?" Kate teased as they reached the parking lot.

Tony laughed at that, smiling up at her as he said, "That's what I like about you, Kate. You've got the tact of a bull in a China shop."

She chuckled and countered, "You should see me when I don't care what people think."

"Lord help us."

Kate opened her mouth to agree when something glinted off to the side. Without stopping to think, she lunged at Tony, tackling him to the ground as bullets went off and she shouted, "Sniper! Gibbs! Northwest side of the cemetery!"

"On it! Keep him safe!" Gibbs barked back.

Using the wheelchair as cover, since there was nothing else around, Kate peered over the top of it, aiming her gun in the direction from which the bullets had come. There was only the three, though, no others following. She could see Gibbs and McGee racing through the parking lot towards the northwest side of the cemetery, but instinctively knew that the shooter was gone and probably wouldn't leave any traces that he'd ever been there.

Tony groaned and asked, "Don't suppose you could get off me now?"

Startled out of her focus, Kate shifted off him with an exclaimed, "Sorry! Jeeze, Tony, are you all right?"

Rubbing his head, Tony's eyebrows arched in a strangely humorous way as he answered, "First time I've been sandbagged in about four years. I think I took it pretty well."

She snorted and said, "Don't move just yet. We need to wait for the all-clear."

"I kinda have to move, Kate, or I'll lose what little circulation to my legs that I've got left," he replied lightly.

Taking another look at him, Kate saw taut lines of pain over his face and shifted her weight off of him, but stayed in the same position.

Gibbs finally came over the radio with, "All clear. Get DiNozzo to the van and we'll meet you there."

"If my friends could see me now, they'd take away my gay membership," Tony observed a few minutes later, laughter battling with pain in his voice.

Kate looked down and found herself straddling his lap, skirt hiked up revealingly, and snorted. She lightly tapped him on the forehead. "Come on, DiNozzo, get your mind out of the gutter and your ass back in the chair."

He smirked, which she ignored to set the chair back to rights. It took a few minutes to get him back on, he was heavier with muscle than she'd thought, but was settled moments after that. Kate got him into the van in short order and waited outside for Gibbs to show up. When he did, she observed, "Not a coincidence that they waited until after everyone was gone and the guards dismissed."

"Nope," Gibbs agreed, still looking around the cemetery.

"We're his detail from now on?"


"McGee and I'll document the bullets and bring in the evidence."

"See you back at NCIS."

In accord, they split up into different directions.

*  *  *  *

Partway back to NCIS, Jethro wondered if maybe he was making the wrong choice. Contrary to popular opinion, all rumors started by himself, he did get second thoughts when there were big decisions to be made. At least where the safety of those in his protection were concerned. Those he cared about.

And damn it, after less than a week, Jethro did care about one Tony DiNozzo.

"You weren't surprised that someone showed up." Tony's voice broke into his thoughts.

Jethro shook his head. "Not really."


He risked a quick glance at the other man, but there was no reading through that mask. "But what?"

"You're holding something back," Tony stated simply.

Not sure how Tony could read him so well after such a short time, and not really liking it very much, Jethro debated a moment, then admitted, "I am surprised they missed. We had no way of knowing where they'd be shooting from. They had a sniper's rifle. They could've killed you twice now, but didn't."

"So you're wondering what the hell is really going on."


Tony pinched the bridge of his nose, then said, "Wish I could help you out, Agent Gibbs, but I haven't a clue."

Wanting nothing so much as to wipe away the lines of pain and stress, Jethro did neither as he pulled into a parking spot. He paused for a long moment, hand on the keys, then looked at Tony and said, "You can help me out, and you will. We just have to figure out how."

Tony gave him a lopsided grin. "I have no doubt that if anyone can find a way to figure this thing out, it's you, Agent Gibbs."

Jethro looked away on the pretext of leaving the van to go around and help Tony out of it. In reality, the certainty in Tony's gaze was more than a little unnerving for him. He'd let down too many people in his life up to then and made a silent vow that Tony wouldn't be added to the list.




It took a lot to let Kate whisk Tony away instead of doing it himself, but as soon as they got to NCIS, that was exactly what he'd done. At least he knew that Tony would be safe at his house. He watched the car go and thought about the ramp that he'd had installed the day before. It had been a rush job, something he'd done on a hunch that it might be needed, but it better have been done right or he'd take it out of the installer's hide.

Once the car was out of sight, Jethro turned right back around to the cemetery, leaving McGee to work the electronic angle. Or even to find an electronic angle, which had been missing so far. Even though they'd gleaned everything they could about the crime scene the first time, Jethro wanted a second look. Whoever had shot at Tony hadn't left any traces, even though finding his blind hadn't taken very long at all.

Once there he'd took several minutes to scout through both scenes on his own, without the young agent hovering around the edges of his perception. There was more going on here than he'd thought at first, that was for sure. The MO's were completely different. Lt. Whitcomb had been beaten to death while someone was now taking shots at Tony. It was like he'd told Tony.

Whoever it was missed deliberately, Jethro thought. He could've killed Tony at any time. This was a message.

But what kind of message and from who?

Jethro's attention was currently focused on the files that Tony had already gone through, taking a second look in case something triggered a gut reaction. It wasn't at all scientific and he'd get plenty of teasing from Abby when she found out, but it was part of his routine. There had to be something in Tony's past that explained the bad assassination attempt.


Looking up at the tense call from McGee, Jethro saw him glaring at his computer screen. Eyebrows lifting, Jethro answered, "What is it, McGee?"

"Just got an anonymous email with pictures in it," McGee reported, meeting his gaze. "Whitcomb and some guy."

Jethro stood to walk over to McGee's desk, peering over his shoulder. 'Some guy' was definitely not Tony and they were in a compromising position that could have been equally as responsible for McGee's blush as his obvious anger. The team had taken to Tony, there was no doubt about that. They weren't all compromising pictures. Some of them were at restaurants and bars and one at a horse track.

"Find out who that is," Jethro ordered.

McGee nodded and said, "I'll use facial recognition software and compare it to..."

Jethro interrupted sharply, "Don't tell me, just do it."

"Yes, Boss."

Leaving him there, Jethro returned to his desk and wondered just how he was going to break this to Tony.

*  *  *  *

It was a different safe house that Kate brought him to and Tony looked over the simple, suburban house with interest. There was a porch that held a very new looking wheelchair ramp and either a blue exterior. He'd never been big on the types of houses, but he thought it might be a craftsman or bungalow style. Whatever it was, it looked comfortable and he gave Kate a curious look.

She shrugged and said, "Gibbs wanted you to be safe, so here we are."

"And where is here?" Tony questioned.

"Gibbs' house."

Surprised, Tony waited as she got out of the van and then brought his wheelchair up to his side. He transferred to it automatically, swinging himself over without any trouble, and then rolled himself after her to the ramp. It looked a little steeper than he was used to, which he discovered to be true, needing to use real effort to get to the top.

"You know, I am here to help," Kate pointed out with a grin. "Schlepping is part of the job description around Gibbs, so I'm used to it."

Tony chuckled a little breathlessly and answered, "Sorry. I'm used to doing for myself."

He was surprised when she simply opened the door without unlocking it, but didn't comment.

Kate must've caught his expression, though, because she asked, "Would you try to rob Gibbs?"

Tony laughed outright. "Good point."

Inside was as comfortable as outside. He looked around at the worn furniture and neat placement of everything and thought, Definitely ex-military. Not that I hadn't already thought that just from how he stands, but still. Confirmation is nice.

"There's a guest room at the end of the hall, your bag's already there, the bathroom's midway, and you can see the kitchen and living room here," Kate told him. "Fridge is open season. And Gibbs wasn't sure if your chair would get through the bathroom so we should check that now."

"I think it's in the building code with all newer houses but yeah, this isn't exactly a new house," Tony agreed, rolling towards the bathroom.

He fit through, but it was a tight squeeze. He had to move his hands to the very front of the wheels and propel himself that way or his hands would get squashed. The room itself had plenty of space so he spun around and rolled back out, rejoining Kate in the living room. "So now what?"

"Now we settle in while Abby does her thing in the lab and Gibbs and McGee work the crime scene. You know the drill," Kate replied.

Tony did, but it was different being on this end of things. A thought that kept resurfacing as time went on. He hadn't dealt with Ben's death in the least, but then, he hadn't really had time to do it between looking at old cases and getting shot at, at the funeral.

"You okay?"

Meeting her gaze, Tony forced a smile and answered, "I'll be fine, thanks, Kate. How about something sports-related on tv?"

She smiled, not seeming in the least bit fooled by his cheerful tone, and said, "Whatever you want. I have work to do."

Tony shifted to the sofa where he almost paid attention to a football game, but his thoughts were mostly on Ben. The funeral had been long and painful on so many different fronts. The dirty looks he'd gotten from his erstwhile in-laws were nothing compared to the open hatred he'd gotten from the guys in Ben's unit. If Gibbs hadn't been there, Tony wasn't sure he'd've had the guts to go through with attending the funeral.

Which brought up another subject he didn't really want to think about. Gibbs. The man was a conundrum and no doubt about it. On the one hand, he was everything Tony had looked for in a man. On the other, his heart literally still ached in his chest like a physical hole had been stabbed into it. He wanted Ben back, badly, but that wasn't going to happen.

Sighing, Tony looked at the gray sky outside and then realized that it wasn't just the cloud cover. A quick look at his watch confirmed that it was getting late and he shifted onto his chair to go check out the fridge. His appetite had definitely returned, which was supposedly a good sign. It seemed like a kind of betrayal to keep on living so easily while his lover was in the ground. Of course, it seemed like even more of one the way Gibbs kept intruding into his thoughts the way he did.

The inside of the fridge had a mix of stuff; cold cuts, cheese, fruits, vegetables, and several bags of coffee beans. Eyebrows rising, Tony wondered what the man would be like decaffeinated.

"See anything you like? We can order in," Kate said.

Looking over at her, Tony shrugged and said, "Sandwiches are fine."

She shook her head, countering, "No, they're not. We'll order. You like Chinese? Thai? Greek?"

"Greek?" Tony echoed, grinning.

Kate winked. "You never know. Come on, you pick. I could eat pretty much anything."

"Really? You look pretty high-maintenance to me."

"Funny man."

Tony snickered a little and said, "Chinese is fine."

He did grab a soda while he was there and headed back to the living room. Dinner arrived a half hour later, which Kate insisted was due to their address. Gibbs put the fear of God into everyone, including delivery people and restaurants. Tony could well believe that. He enjoyed the benefit of a fast delivery and chowed down on the really good Mandarin food while chatting with Kate about nothing in particular.

Gibbs showed up about an hour later, just as Tony's legs were starting to vocally protest being in one position for too long. The pressure had been building, but he'd been ignoring it for as long as possible. It was annoying in the extreme that while he didn't have the musculature to actually walk anymore, his legs could still hurt like a sonuvabitch.

The agent took one look at him and ordered, "Pills."

Making a face, Tony retorted, "You know, I am over the legal age of being able to decide things for myself. Have been for a number of years now."

Gibbs just folded his arms across his chest and glowered.

"Oh fine. Whatever," Tony muttered, shifting over to his chair.

He wheeled down the hall to his new room and found his duffel on the bed. It took a few minutes to rifle through for the pill bottle and then get a glass of water in the bathroom. By the time he'd returned to the living room, Kate had left and Gibbs was in the kitchen, rooting around for something. The other man glanced over at him as he pulled down a glass and then a bottle of what looked like bourbon.

Tony's eyebrows lifted as he questioned, "Bad day at the office, dear?"

Snorting, Gibbs answered, "I've had better. Have a seat."

"Wow. Humor. It must've been a bad day," Tony teased.

Gibbs flashed a brief smile at him and sat at the kitchen table while Tony pushed aside a chair and rolled into place across from him. Gibbs downed the bourbon and then poured another, prompting Tony's eyebrows to near his hairline.

The other man just held the glass, though, he didn't drink it. Instead, he said, "It looked like Ben was involved in something he shouldn't have been."

Tony froze in shock. "Excuse me?"

"Ben was cheating on you, Tony. He was having an affair with a guy who wasn't nearly as good as he was charming," Gibbs said flatly. "This man, Greg Naples, was in over his head with all kinds of loan sharks. We think he hooked up with Ben in order to give himself some breathing room. That he gave Ben's address to the bookies and they killed him as a warning to Naples."

Tony felt sick, but shoved aside the emotions to demand angrily, "Then why come after me at the funeral? That makes no sense!"

"We think that they're two separate incidents," Gibbs replied. "I don't know why someone took a shot at you, but I don't think they're related."

Shaking his head, Tony stated vehemently, "No. No way would Ben do that to me! If he didn't love me anymore, which he did, then he would have broken it off. He would have sat me down and explained everything in great detail from Point A to Point Z because that's how he was. There's no chance he would've taken up with some shady guy. None."

"We have pictures of them, Tony."

"Pictures can be faked. Easily."

Gibbs stared at him for a long time, but Tony stared right back. He was pissed, but also dead sure that Ben wouldn't have done what the agent had claimed.

Finally, Gibbs nodded slowly and said, "Okay. All right, Tony. I needed to see your reaction to know for sure that what my gut was telling me was right. I don't think Ben did any of that either."

Letting out a shaky breath, Tony's hand went to his roiling stomach and he said, "You're a bastard, Gibbs."

Gibbs reached across the table to grip his shoulder briefly, agreeing, "I can be, yeah. So. Now that we're sure that it's a set-up and everything really is aimed at you, who comes to mind with the kind of resources to pull this off?"

Only two names surfaced at the question, but he didn't like either of them. Reluctant, he admitted, "My father and Commissioner Fredrickson from Peoria."

Gibbs' eyebrows rose, but he only pulled out the ever-present notebook and ordered, "Tell me about the Commissioner. You left Peoria suddenly, from what I saw, but there was nothing in your personnel records about what."

"Extenuating circumstances," Tony answered wryly. "The man beat the crap out of me when he found out I was gay. I agreed not to press charges in return for him not blackballing me."

The only outwards sign that the information had any impact on the other man was that Gibbs' jaw tightened.

He sighed and continued, "I don't know why he would suddenly come after me or why he would choose this method, but he's got the money and power to do it."

"And your father?"

Tony snorted bitterly. "My father hates that I'm independent. First, he hated me being a cop. Then he hated me being gay. Then he hated me not crawling home when the disease struck. It would be just like him to blame Ben and think that by taking him away, I would just suddenly be what he considers normal."

"No one else you can think of?"

"Not off the top of my head. I mean, we went over all the guys I put away and Ben wasn't the enemy-making type."

"Why didn't you bring up Fredrickson in the first place?"

Tony rubbed a hand through his hair and said honestly, "I didn't think of him. And you know, I really can't think of a reason that he would suddenly just snap and decide taking me out is the way to go. I haven't set foot in Peoria since the day I left. I don't even take flights that have stops there."

"Okay. We'll start with Fredrickson first thing in the morning, see what he's been up to," Gibbs announced.

Tony was glad he didn't ask why he'd named his father to start so easily.



Jethro downed his third and final glass of bourbon long after Tony had gone to bed, trading it for the sanding plane that he was no longer steady enough to use. Springing the news on the other man had made him feel like much worse than the bastard Tony had named him. The sawdust scent comforted him, as did the knowledge that he now had a solid place to start. Jethro would take down whoever was responsible for killing Ben and then trying to sully the memory of a good man. A good officer.

And the one responsible for hurting Tony like this, Jethro thought, stretching out on the bench under the ship's frame.

If possible, he'd like to deliver a personal justice to the man responsible for hurting Tony. He hated the fact that without all of this, he would never have met the younger man; something that was fast becoming unacceptable. He hated that Ben had had to die in order for Tony to come into his life. He hated even more that he could no longer deny wanting to keep Tony in it as more than just a victim in a case or even a friend.

Sighing deeply, Jethro stared up at the grain of the wood, trailing the whorls and natural stripes with his eyes while letting his body slowly relax. Between one blink and the next, his cell rang, startling him awake. Clearing his throat, Jethro pulled it out of his pocket and answered, "Gibbs."

"Gibbs, it's Kate," she announced, sounding far too cheerful and awake. "Did you fall asleep on your boat again?"

Under it, he thought, pushing upright and rubbing his face in an attempt to wake up more. "What's going on?"

"Strangest thing happened when Abby put the pictures of Ben and Naples under the microscope. So to speak."

"They're fakes," he told her.

She grumbled, "I hate it when you do that."

Grinning to himself, Jethro told her, "I'll go wake up Tony and we'll head in after. Oh, and check out what Commissioner Fredrickson of the Peoria PD's been up to the last year."

"Okay. And why would I..."

Jethro hung up on her and stood, stretching backwards with a groan before heading upstairs. He was surprised to find Tony already dressed and sitting at the table, eating toast and reading the paper. An odd feeling twisted in his stomach, seeing the other man so comfortable in his home. Sternly telling himself not to get used to it, Jethro greeted, "Abby confirmed the pictures of Ben and Naples were fakes," and pulled some juice out of the fridge.

A subtle tension he hadn't spotted left Tony, the younger man's expression a little more relaxed as he nodded and said, "I knew they would be."

But you didn't, not completely one hundred percent, Jethro mused. His visceral reaction had been positive, but once Tony had had time to think about it, apparently he'd managed to throw some doubt into the situation. Not voicing that, Jethro poured himself some OJ and offered a refill for Tony, who nodded. Jethro sat and said, "I'll take a shower and then we'll head out to NCIS."

"Sounds like a plan," Tony agreed easily.

Taking a closer look at him, Jethro noted the circles under the eyes and the tired air and wondered just how much sleep he'd gotten. "How're the legs?"

Tony grimaced. "I've had better days, but I've had worse, too. They won't get back to normal until the stress gets better. Psychosomatic, to a certain extent. Some people even think I'm faking it."

Jethro's jaw tightened. He wanted to find that someone and put his fist in their face, but only observed, "Stress causes the whole body to tense. It stands to reason that your legs would be affected."

"Well you know that, and I know that, but..." Tony winked at him.

It was amazing that the man could joke about such a serious accusation. Forcing a smile, Jethro stood and said, "Back in ten."

Tony called after him, "Should I time you?"

Jethro snorted, glad his back was to the younger man so he could grin. Just for fun, he kept himself to the deadline and walked back out, fully dressed and showered, nine minutes later. It took more effort than it used to, which he didn't like to admit, but he managed it and walked casually to the living room, where Tony had moved to watch television.

The large television that Jethro had ordered after the funeral when he'd realized that he wouldn't trust Tony's safety anywhere else.

"Wow. I'm impressed. Nine minutes and twenty-six seconds," Tony replied, grinning.

Jethro shrugged and said, "You get used to fast showers."

"I couldn't," Tony replied.

Smirking a little, Jethro accused, "Hedonist."

Tony nodded firmly. "You better believe it."

They were in the car and on their way a short five minutes later. After a stop at a drive-thru for coffee, Jethro turned towards NCIS and asked, "You up for a long day?"

Tony looked over at him, which he saw out of the corner of his eye, and answered, "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

Jethro shrugged as he pointed out, "It'll be rough if we have to question your father."

Tony snorting derisively was not the expected response. Jethro glanced at him to find a faint smirk on the younger man's face just before he countered, "When you question my father, it won't be me you need to worry about. He's got friends in high places, Gibbs."

"I follow the evidence," Jethro stated firmly. "If it leads to your father, I'll have him arrested and tried in a military court."

Tony sighed a little and said, "If it is my father, and the more I think about it, the less I think it is, I'll testify to whatever you want."

"What do you mean, you don't think it's him now? You seemed convinced last night," Jethro said.

"There's no profit in Ben's death. Or mine, for that matter. You said you thought the two were unrelated."

"He gets you back, or thinks he does."

Tony shook his head. "My father's brain doesn't work like that. Even if I did go crawling back to him and begged forgiveness, which everyone knows would never happen, there'd be no use for me. He couldn't put me into the business at this late date; I have no experience in that world. I would be a drain, not a resource. My only use to him now is as a baby maker so he can skip my generation and mould the next DiNozzo properly."

It was a harsh judgment, but delivered simply. Jethro could see that Tony believed every word he'd just said and it made him want to punch his father out. They arrived at NCIS then, so he concentrated on getting Tony through security and then to the team area.

"Tony!" Abby exclaimed, rushing over and hugging him. "How are you? Are you all right?"

Laughing, Tony popped a wheelie and boasted, "Better than ever."

That caused Abby to reach out without looking and punch McGee, who'd walked over to join them.

McGee exclaimed, "Ow! What was that for?"

Abby stuck her tongue out at him and replied, "For not making sure those pictures were fake before showing Gibbs!"

Jethro hid a grin and asked, "Abs?"

"Yeah, Gibbs?"

"Don't you have work to do?"

"Well, yeah. But I wanted to welcome Tony back."

"Consider him welcomed."

Abby made a face at him, but jogged over to the elevator.

Still grinning, Tony observed, "Wow is she enthusiastic."

"You have no idea," McGee replied, rubbing his shoulder.

Jethro cuffed McGee upside the back of the head and ordered, "Progress, McGee!"

"Sorry, Boss! I mean, right. So, it turns out that Commissioner Fredickson died last year after a two-year battle with cancer."

Stifling the urge to smack McGee again, Jethro prompted, "And the email source is...?"

McGee swallowed convulsively and stammered, "S-still back-tracing it, Boss. We're getting close."

"Well don't let me stop you," Jethro said pointedly.

McGee hurried to the elevator, presumably to go to the lab.

When Jethro looked at Tony, it was to find the grin still in place. "And what's your problem?"

Tony snickered and replied, "Just thinking about how much HR must love you. How many sensitivity training seminars do they make you go to in a year?"

Jethro snorted and turned to Kate, who was leaning against her desk, watching them. She straightened at his pointed look and said hurriedly, "I also was able to get time to see Commander Stinson this morning. That's Lt. Whitcomb's CO."

"I know that Kate," Jethro reminded, testy. "We interviewed him already. Why do we want to see him again?"

Her mouth opened and then closed again before she gave a helpless little shrug. "My gut?"

Eyeing her a long moment, Jethro finally nodded and ordered, "Get some information to back it up before we go."

"What should I do while you're off site?" Tony asked.

Jethro wanted to tell him to go take a nap and try to get rid of those dark circles under his eyes, but knew it would go over like a lead balloon. Instead, he just replied, "Run background checks on these files here. See if you can dig up current addresses and aliases, since they're the only ones we can't find. Here, you can use my computer."

If Tony recognized how much trust was placed in him by giving him that much access, especially unsupervised, the younger man didn't mention it. He just watched as Jethro brought up the right screens and typed in passwords.

"If they time out on you, get McGee to start them back up."

"Got it."

Jethro straightened and moved aside so Tony could wheel behind the desk. "And take your damn medicine when you're supposed to."

Tony grinned at the very light tap to the back of his head. "Aw, Gibbs! I didn't know you cared!"

Clearing his throat, Jethro glared at Kate, who grabbed her backpack and hurried towards the elevator. He followed, turning back once inside it and seeing Tony already finger-pecking at the computer.

Kate chuckled. "Figures he can't type."

Jethro just rolled his eyes as the doors closed.

*  *  *  *

Tony was actually able to track down three of the thugs that Gibbs wanted him to find even though he knew none of them had anything to do with the whole thing. He figured it would just be better to let Gibbs bang his head against that particular wall to see for himself. Of course, it did beg the question as to who had been behind it all.

Can't be Dad, he thought tiredly. Not just because of the reasons he'd given Gibbs in the car, but because he couldn't believe his father had fallen that far off the morals wagon. All the reasons he'd given were valid and true, but he also just didn't have it in him to believe his own father wanted him dead.

Might have killed Ben, though.

The tiny voice deep inside couldn't be squashed, no matter how much he wished it. Fact was, his father could easily have hired someone to kill Ben, even if it didn't make any sense to do so. There was no logical reason for it, but if his father was still drinking, logic wouldn't necessarily enter into the equation.

Gibbs thinks that they're unrelated.

Tony doodled idly on a slip of paper as he thought about both cases analytically. He'd been a damn good investigator, once upon a time, and those weren't skills that really went away.

Me                                                       Ben

Enemies:          Fredrickson, deceased                        Antony DiNozzo, Sr., motive?

                        Dad, motive?                                      Naples, motive?

                        Ex-cons: Vanson, Ferarra, Delfino,

Paulson, Michaelson, & Mijka

There were more ex-cons for the list, but the others had all been accounted for. He didn't know Greg Naples from a hole in the wall and decided that should change. There had to be a reason that whoever was behind it all had chosen him, after all.

It was an hour later that his legs began to protest and he remembered Jethro's words about taking his medicine. Even though he was pretty sure the other man wouldn't force feed him, he couldn't completely bet against it. He half-grinned and thought, I guess if Ben had threatened the way Gibbs did, I'd've taken them more often.

Wheeling into the men's room, Tony relieved himself and then washed up before going into the break room to find water and take his pills. He really needed to get to physical therapy to get his legs worked on before things went really downhill, but had no idea how to bring up the subject. He'd already missed two appointments because of all this insanity and didn't want to miss another, but then, someone was taking potshots at him. Would it be ungrateful or bad form to ask a detour be made to his therapist's office?

"Everything okay, Tony?"

Tony jumped at Gibbs' voice and then looked over to find a concerned expression on his face. Offering a brief smile, he explained, "Just working something out in my head."

"Anything I can help with?" Jethro offered.

Tony hesitated and then admitted, "I should go to physical therapy. I haven't been since before all this started."

Gibbs nodded and told him, "Not a problem. I'll have Kate make the arrangements. Just give her the office number."

And just like that, what had seemed huge was now very manageable. Smiling for real, Tony wheeled over to him and asked, "Find anything out?"

"Kate's got a very good gut," Gibbs answered.

There was a fairly proud smirk on Gibbs' face, though it dropped off when they returned to the team area where McGee and Kate waited.

"McGee! You better have something for me!"

McGee nodded rapidly and answered, "We back-traced the email through several servers in the DC Metro area and internationally, too. It kept looping back on itself and...right, you don't need all that background. We locked down the ISP and it belongs to Greg Naples."

Tony's lips pursed in surprise.

"Do we have background on Naples yet?" Gibbs demanded.

McGee winced and answered, "Despite the name in the email, there're no official records on Greg Naples. I'm still running facial recognition through the major databases and..."

Tony wheeled over to Gibbs' desk and picked up the remote. He aimed it at the plasma and interrupted, "Greg Naples, born Larry Henderson. Which actually reminded me of Harry and the Hendersons, but other than a lot of bad facial hair, there wasn't any real resemblance. Changed his name back in 2000 when he moved here from Miami, not that he told social security about it. I'm sure the IRS will love to get hold of him. The bad debts you were told about in the email do actually exist but, so far as I can tell, he's never crossed paths with either myself or Ben. And believe me, I looked.

"Henderson, aka Lenny Faraday aka Denny Denson, don't get me started about the unoriginality of his name choices, racked up quite the gambling bills wherever he roamed. His MO is to find a friend of a friend of a cousin to get into big money poker and dig very large holes. He's got outstanding markers in Vegas, LA, and Miami. As I understand it, several branches of the mob would love to fit him with cement shoes just to get the stain of him off their windshield," Tony finished.

McGee gaped at him before demanding, "How the hell did you find all that out?"

Gibbs cuffed him upside the head again and countered, "How didn't you?"

"Don't be too hard on McProbie, Gibbs," Tony said. "I have friends in a lot of low places, thanks to a couple years in Vice and Narcotics in different cities. Sent Naples' picture to them and got the intel the old fashioned way. Calling in markers."

It didn't seem to diminish Gibbs' anger any and McGee added rapidly, "What I did find, was an address on Naples' ISP. We know where he is now, Boss. Or, at least where his computer is."

"And you're still here why?" Gibbs questioned.

McGee practically jumped for the elevator and then had to come back to get his backpack. Kate followed at a slower pace, clearly fighting a grin.

Tony asked Gibbs, "So what did you find out about Ben's CO anyhow?"

"Why don't you watch and see?" Gibbs offered. "I'm heading down to interrogation now."

Startled, more than a little curious, Tony nodded and wheeled his chair swiftly after Gibbs to the elevator.



Jethro left Tony in the viewing room before heading into Interrogation Room 1. Commander Stinson sat stiffly in his chair, waiting patiently, almost stoically. He might have admired that if not for the distinct 'dirtball' vibe the man had proven to have. When Kate had said she'd booked time with the commander, Jethro had assumed she'd meant face-to-face time. Instead, she'd used that 'sisterhood solidarity' thing she and Abby had down so well and secured information about where Stinson would be at a time when he thought himself unobserved.

And observe they had. Jethro's stomach churned at the way the bastard had abused his authority to intimidate the young ensign under his command. It had had a definite sexual edge to it and Jethro wondered just how Stinson would react to someone he couldn't intimidate. Someone like Ben Whitcomb.

Sitting opposite the commander, Jethro leaned back in the chair and just stared at him. He did that for several minutes, drawing things out, determined that he wouldn't leave without the damning truth from Stinson. He knew in his gut that this man had, at the very least, organized Whitcomb's death and very likely had participated in it.

"I want a lawyer," Stinson finally said.

Jethro shrugged. "You haven't been formally charged with anything yet."

Wary, Stinson asked, "So I can leave?"

"Now, I didn't say that," Jethro countered. "Just a few things we'd like to clear up first."

"Like what?"

"Like why Special Agent Todd and I found you in a...compromising position with Ensign Charles."

Stinson flushed and didn't answer for a long moment. He finally said, "That wasn't what it looked like."

"Really? Because it looked to me like you were attempting to coerce sexual favors from a kid who's barely old enough to shave," Jethro stated flatly.

Stinson shook his head. "The kid came on to me, he's the one who should be in here. I'm not gay."

Shrugging again, Jethro responded, "Didn't ask if you were."

He returned to waiting and watching, content to let the commander unravel at his own pace. It could take a while, but it would happen.

"You can't keep me here without charging me," Stinson said at last.

Leaning on the table, Jethro asked, "How well did you know Greg Naples?"

Stinson flushed instantly and then asked gamely, "Who's that?"

Jethro's fingers tapped an even beat on the table. "Here's what's going to happen. Right now, my agents are in your apartment and taking your computer into custody. They're going to do their thing and will find the pictures you manipulated. Then I'm going to charge you with murder. Just you. The other two men who helped you will get off scott free because you're the only one I can tie to it. And let me tell you, since it's going to be a Hate Crime charge, I'm pretty sure that means you'll get the death penalty."

Stinson went from beet red to sickly pale with every word that Jethro uttered.

Still tapping evenly on the table, Jethro continued, "On the other hand, if you were to give me a real motive and the names of your accomplices, it would just be plain old murder and you could live out your life in Leavenworth. It's your choice."

Sinking back in his chair, Stinson said, "Whitcomb was going to press charges. He didn't seem to care any more that it would out him. He was, you're right, I, ah, I abused my position to get sexual favors from some of the men under my command but Whitcomb, he wouldn't do it, he never caved. We got into it one afternoon about three weeks ago and that was when he told me he'd had it, he was going to JAG.

"So, I ah, I got a couple of friends together and told them he was threatening me, was going to kill me, that he was crazy. Everyone knows, knew, that Whitcomb stuck to himself. He wasn't really part of the unit. He did his job and left as soon as possible. They bought it, thought he was like a serial killer in the making."

"And Naples?"

"Naples is just a loser I was trying to pin it on."

"And shooting at Tony DiNozzo?"

Stinson shook his head and said, "I didn't! Man, I haven't even looked at that queer."

"You were at the funeral," Jethro pointed out.

Stinson insisted, "And he hadn't told DiNozzo anything or you would've been all over me sooner. I wasn't going to risk rocking the boat!"

Jethro pushed the notepad at him and snapped, "Write it down. All of it. Names and addresses."

As Stinson began to write, Jethro left the room. Seeing that had to have been hard for Tony and he wanted to give the younger man any support he needed. When he walked into the viewing room, he gestured for the video tech to leave, which the young woman did instantly.

A strangely proud expression was on Tony's face and Jethro asked quietly, "What?"

"I didn't know he was going to come out, especially not like that," Tony replied, just as quiet. "It doesn't surprise me that he kicked Stinson's ass, but the Navy was his life. Getting discharged for being gay, for standing up to that asshole...I wish he'd told me."

Jethro nodded. "You didn't suspect anything?"

Tony sighed and admitted, "Nothing. He came home a few weeks ago with a black eye, but he said some jerk had been throwing elbows in a pickup game. Didn't have any reason to think he was lying."

"I'm sorry, Tony," Jethro said, knowing how inadequate that sounded. He gripped Tony's shoulder and finished, "He was a good man, an honorable one."

Tony sighed, "Thanks. I know."

Jethro squeezed Tony's shoulder and said, "It's going to be okay, Tony. You're going to be fine."

Canting his head up at Jethro, a vulnerable expression in wide, changeable eyes, Tony whispered, "Promise?"

"I promise," Jethro vowed.

And then he did the stupidest thing he'd done in a very, very long time. He bent down and pressed his mouth to Tony's in a soft kiss.