- Explicit Sex
- Alternate Universe
- Crime Drama
- Episode Related
- Established Relationship
Toni wandered into the bathroom, yawning, and turned on the cold water, splashing herself awake. When she could open her eyes, she patted her face dry and studied herself in the mirror.
The bruising along her jaw, cheek and eye were all gone, thankfully, along with any tenderness. The stitches along her eyebrow had come out and the pink scar was fading with the help of Vitamin E rubbed on it daily. Toni wriggled her eyebrows; unfortunately, it hadn’t left a particularly dashing or interesting scar, like a Bond villain, just a normal scar that the edge of her eyebrow hid until you got in close.
At least she looked human again. The whole poster-child for a domestic violence campaign thing had gotten very old, very quickly. Toni studied her eyes, looking for any onset of crows’ feet, then stuck her tongue out at herself and retrieved her toothbrush from the closet.
Her wrist was doing better, only aching a little after a long day. The physical therapist had ordered her to use it at home until the pain stopped, which she did reluctantly. It would be hard enough to retrain with her left hand at the range without any lingering weakness. Her hip and ribs remained the real problem, though. Her hip was healed, technically, but her range of motion and the ability to bear her whole body weight was still an issue. That was fine for normal function, but not the fitness level she needed for her job. Fortunately, the physio had finally agreed to let her go back to the gym and work with a trainer.
Her ribs, unfortunately, needed another two weeks to fully heal. The bruising had been deep and tenderness lingered, ascerbated by the strain of lifting or physical activity. Tyler might have only gotten her once but he’d gotten her pretty good.
She spat toothpaste into the sink. “Asshole.”
“Not me, I hope.”
“You have your moments,” Toni told AJ. She eyed him, lounging in the bathroom door frame in sweatpants and a worn tee-shirt. “Like now.” She rinsed and put away her toothbrush, then pulled her tee shirt off, pleased with the ability to do so in a single move.
“There’s a sight.”
“You’ve seen it before.” She twisted, testing her range and stopping when she felt a pull. It was further than yesterday.
“Still doesn’t get old.” He passed her, stopping to wrap his arms around her from behind. He pressed a kiss to her shoulder and cheek, ran his hand along her side to where the bruises had faded and squeezed gently. Then he released her and went to start the shower.
“I was going to use that.”
“You took your sweet time. I guess we’ll have to share.”
“So, we’re both planning on being late then.” A quick shower wasn’t when AJ was in a playful mood. And Toni wasn’t flattering herself when she said that it took a man ten minutes to recover from her blowjobs. She’d timed it.
AJ smiled and stripped. “Darling, it will be worth it.”
She followed him. “Probably.”
He drew her under the spray and tight against him. “Is that a challenge?”
She found his dick and wrapped a hand around it, stroking his morning erection into something she could make use of. “If you like.”
It wasn’t just the water that was steamy when they kissed. It was one of the best things about AJ, actually, that he didn’t rush through it to get to the ‘good’ parts. They’d spent hours just making out and petting, something she hadn’t done since college. There was something deeply satisfying about pouring all your energy, desire and focus into kissing someone who was doing the same.
They were both breathing a little heavy when AJ broke away to press biting kisses along her neck and shoulder. Toni shuddered, her nape and collarbones being particularly sensitive. AJ had left more than one hickey there while he made her come. It always left a lingering shivery feeling when he did. When he bit down lightly on the jut of her clavicle, Toni clutched his back and dragged her nails along the muscles of his spine. His dick jerked against her leg.
“Jesus,” he hissed out, gripping where her thighs and ass met and lifting her to her toes, letting his dick rub between her thighs, the head catching along the folds of her pussy. “Jesus Christ.”
Toni laughed breathlessly. “So predictable. You and nails on your back.”
He set her back down and turned her to face the shower wall abruptly. Toni gasped and braced her elbows and lower arms on the tile, pressing her hips back into AJ’s grip. He slid a hand up her back and over her ribs. “Is this okay —”
“Oh my god, you overprotective asshole,” she snapped, “you had better not be teasing — oh, fuck!” She moaned when one hand slid around parted her folds so he could guide the head of his cock in her. “I’m fine, my ribs are fine, just fuck me.”
He did. Thoroughly. One had braced by her shoulder, the other supporting her torso, AJ settled into a steady rhythm, hot water beating over them both while the sounds of wet skin slapping together blended with Toni’s gasps and sighs. AJ shifted, bending closer so he could settle in for short, fast thrusts and find her clit with his fingers. Toni cried out as she came turning to rest her forehead against his wrist.
“Toni,” AJ breathed.
“Come on, AJ.” She reached back and gripped his hip in one hand, urging him on. “I’m all your, sailor.”
He wrapped his arm around her hips, lifting her into his thrusts, and worked his dick inside her until he came.
“You,” he managed eventually, lips pressed to the back of her neck, “are lethal.”
“You’re the one carrying the weapon around in your pants, ready to go off at any moment.” She stretched, pressing the length of her body along his. He groaned, making her laugh. “Hand me the shampoo or we really will be late.”
“Dangerous,” he repeated, doing so.
“Don’t SEALs run towards danger.”
“Yes.” He kissed her, hard. “Which explains a lot.”
Later, though not so much so they were running late, AJ spoke while fastening his uniform shirt. “Dinner tonight?”
Toni looked over from where she was brushing her out her hair. “You mean now that I look human again and you don’t get dirty looks for being in public with me?” She twisted her hair into a simple knot and fixed it with a silver clasp. It was something else she’d missed, an injured wrist and ribs forcing her to rely on help from AJ or even Kate.
He fastened his cuffs and settled his jacket over his shoulders. “There were some side-eyes, anyway.”
“What about that little old lady who told you that you should be ashamed of yourself?”
“You laughed.” He sounded a little put out by it, even weeks later.
“Can you blame me? I needed it, by that point. Someone tried to hand me a card from a woman’s shelter, and when I explained I got the bruises at work, doing my job, he told me denial wasn’t healthy and seeking help was my best option.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot him,” AJ muttered, offering the shirt she’d laid out on the bed. White cotton-poly blend did not handle makeup application well. “I just prefer it when your laughs are not at my expense.”
“You knew what you signed up for.”
“It seemed worth it at the time,” he drawled, then chuckled when she poked him.
“You knew what you signed up for.”
She rolled her eyes, then laid a smacking kiss on him. “Cute. Dinner?”
“Sounds good.” She straightened his collar and lapels, making a face at him when he laughed at her. “Barring a case.”
“That’s always implied.” He kissed her cheek, then her mouth. “And understood. I really did know what I signed up for, Toni.”
Plenty of men had said the same, only to eventually lose patience with her hours and the demands of her job. When AJ said it, she believed it.
“Go be an admiral, Admiral. I’ll see you tonight.”
Toni did get a case. As it involved an escaped prisoner, an old murder case and protection detail on the family of a former Navy SEAL, it was three days before they managed dinner.
Tired from an intense case and a little tipsy from the two glasses of very nice red wine, Toni leaned into AJ’s shoulder, humming in contentment when his arm settled around her shoulders. The hostess, Amelia, laughed and waved them out the door of the rustic restaurant they favoured for weeknight dates. “Better take her home to bed, Admiral. Have a nice night.”
“Good night, Amelia.”
“I’ll dream of your ribolitta until next time.”
AJ laughed as they left Grazia. “Really?”
“Hey, any decent chef can make pasta. It might not be authentic but it will probably be good. The only way to make a soup that humble taste that good is if you’re a Tuscan grandmother or a very good Italian chef.” She sighed and tucked her hand inside his coat pocket. “I needed that.”
“A night out, dinner, or wine?”
He squeezed her shoulder and dropped his arm down around her waist as they turned and walked down the block. Parking in DC was always a joy but with the nice weather and Toni mobile again, it wasn’t a hardship to use a nearby lot instead of fighting for street parking.
“I remember the trial,” he said, referring to Jack Curtin, former Navy SEAL, recent Leavenworth escapee, and murderer. “It’s always personal when a SEAL goes bad. He had plenty of character witnesses, including his SEAL team, but up against the brutality of his wife’s murder . . . and Margaret Curtin’s parents were compelling in their belief she was murdered by her husband.”
“They weren’t wrong, though they were horrified to learn she was having an affair with a woman, and even more so that it was being entered into official reports.” Toni shook her head. “Something about ruining her memory for her son. The kid’s dad murdered his mom, then broke out of Leavenworth so he could kill her lover, too, and he lives with people who think his father is the devil and his mother was a saint. A lesbian affair is only going to add a couple of sessions to a lifetime of therapy.”
“Maybe he’ll get some closure,” AJ offered.
“Closure is an illusion.”
Toni shrugged and rubbed her cheek against his coat. “She’s not wrong. Nothing is resolved in life and the people who tell you that you need closure are either seeking it themselves or looking for something to say. Wounds heal but scars remain. The kid lost both his parents by the time he was ten. Even without the additional trauma, that’ll mess you up.”
AJ slowed to a halt and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged again and looked up at him. “Don’t be. My mum is dead and my father is an asshole conman who decided chasing women and his next score was more important than his kid. News at eleven.” He stroked her cheek with his free hand. Toni sighed. “I’m fine. Seriously, I processed my issues with my dad a long time ago — there were shrinks involved and everything. My mother is still a sore spot but that’s nothing new. But the case might have brought some stuff up.”
He studied her another moment before nodding. They started walking again. “Shrinks, huh? You hate those.”
“I don’t hate them, I’m just reluctant to engage their services. Or occupy the same one-hundred-foot radius. Uncle Clive was very insistent. I spent age twelve to fifteen in regular therapy, it was terrible. There were even family sessions,” Toni confided, horror shading her tone. “I still don’t know what Clive bribed or threatened my grandfather with to make him show up for that.”
“Maybe he just asked.”
Toni laughed. “Gereon Paddington doesn’t do what people ask him to do. He does exactly what he chooses to and damned the consequences or what anyone else, including his children, think.”
“That explains a lot, actually. No wonder you’re thrilled with mandatory counselling.”
“Three down, three to do. Providing the shrink actually signs off on me,” she added. “I know its procedure. I know it’s necessary, especially under the circumstances. This particular shrink isn’t a dick and has even managed not to make me feel like he’s mentally dissecting my brain and finding it wanting, so, yay.” She turned into AJ’s path and clutched his coat dramatically. “But if he doesn’t sign off on my evaluation, or insists I see him regularly, I’m going to do something drastic, AJ. Even the damned orange walls at the office are better than generic landscape photos with inspiring messages, a zen garden and that damned office water feature.”
AJ made a face. “I hate those things.”
“I know, right? Meditative, my fabulous ass. No wonder sessions are fifty minutes — he’s got to take a leak once an hour with that thing trickling away in the corner.” Toni huffed. “I can handle a six-hour stakeout in a cold car, fueled by gas station coffee but inside thirty minutes with that thing running and I’m squirming like a toddler or a pregnant woman. At least Kate has to deal with it now, too. Maybe she’ll stop accusing me of being difficult after she’s gone through a session or two.”
“That’s right, she had a run-in with Curtin.”
“You could call it that.” Toni tucked her arm through his and they resumed their leisurely pace. “He tried to get into the in-laws’ house — maybe to get something, maybe to take the kid — and got the drop on Kate. He took her gun too, which pissed her right off. Said NCIS had made her sloppy, that she’d have never let someone breech her sector when she was on the Presidential detail,” Toni said, rolling her eyes. “Fortunately, Gibbs had the sense not to put a junior agent with less than a year experience in command of protecting a family. Langer, Pacci and Balboa’s team were there as well. And Pacci is the third-ranked in the agency with a nine-mil for a reason. Curtin was in bad shape by the time we caught up with him outside the lover’s house.”
“Presidential or other permanent security details depend on multiple personnel and overlapping sectors, plus close security, precisely because a single point of entry can be breached,” AJ pointed out.
“Not to mention technology, routine and plenty of bullet-resistant glass,” Toni muttered. “Try telling Kate Todd that.”
“I’d be happy to if the opportunity ever come up.”
Toni considered that image for a moment. “If you do, and I get to watch, you’re going to get very lucky as a result.”
“I thought I already was, but I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Truth. You weren’t there — at the house?”
She made a face. “I got to interview lawyers. Coleman hates me, by the way.”
“She doesn’t hate you. She just likes things orderly and you . . . aren’t.”
“Now that is the truth,” Toni admitted. “And I might have got under her skin by questioning her conviction. And by fiddling with her neatly arranged pencils.”
“Nevermind, she does hate you. You can interfere with the woman’s coffee, schedule, or case but if you mess up her briefcase or her desk, she’ll never forgive you.”
“Oops.” Toni shrugged at his mock glare. “What? Like you’re surprised I like to stir the pot. I did get to arrest her opponent from the Curtin trial, though. Coleman liked that so she probably won’t take out a hit on me. Have I mentioned how bored I am with deskwork, paperwork and cold cases? Seriously, cuffing a defence attorney was the most excitement I’ve had in a month.”
“I seem to remember an incident in the shower a few days ago,” AJ mused. “And a few other dates and locations.”
“The most excitement I’ve had in public in a month. I love Pacci, truly, but I’ve seen more of him and his probie recently than I have of my own team. Though we did solve a big one while the team was chasing Curtin,” she added. “Here’s a good one — what does a dead sailor, ten million in missing navy funds, and a transgender woman have in common?”
“Oh, you are kidding me.”
“Not even a little.”
“That’s one way to hide from navy justice.”
“I think the hiding was secondary. Even the money was more of a means to an end. I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t get back in the field, AJ.”
There was only one case he meant. “Other than some general chatter about Hamas picked up by Homeland and the FBI, nothing. If he’s smart — and he is — Tyler is either lying low or left the country.” She sighed, flexing her left wrist absently. “Even the profilers haven’t had new questions for Ducky, Gerald and I lately. As for Qassam, we traced his every movement from birth to death and it got us nowhere near Tyler or a cell. The consensus is he was just the trigger and had minimal contact with anyone involved in the actual planning. Just one more stupid kid desperate to die for a cause.”
AJ sighed as they approached the car. “The world is full of causes looking for people who don’t care if they live as long as they can die for a reason. No one seems to question if it’s actually a good reason.” He dug out his keys and unlocked the passenger door but didn’t open it or step out of the way. “You’re still being careful?”
“Hey, I’ve been with you most nights, haven’t I?” When he continued to stare at her seriously, she stepped into him and slid her hands over his shoulders, letting them rest on either side of his neck. “Yes, I’m being careful. Gibbs is hovering annoyingly, Langer always seems to need a break just as I’m going for coffee or lunch and Kate basically offered to have a slumber party with me. Security does a full sweep of the lot before I can go to my car — even the director has been checking on me. Not to mention the close body protection you’ve been providing. I’ve barely seen my apartment. Not that your dog isn’t adorable. You, too, I guess,” she added.
He shook his head and leaned forward to kiss her. “Most people would be pleased, even flattered, by so many people being concerned about them. Not surprised and irritated.”
“I can be flattered and annoyed at the same time. I’m used to being the protector, not the protectee and it’s not a role reversal I’m enjoying. Consider it the cop version of doctors making terrible patients.”
“You’re a terrible patient, too,” AJ told her, opening the car door for her. “Yours or mine?”
“I can text the dog walker and swing by the house on the way to work to check on him.”
“Mine, then. I haven’t seen it much lately.” She smiled warmly. “And it’s closer,” she added before sliding in the car and closing the door.
His mouth moved and she didn’t need to hear him to know he was calling her a vixen or something similar. While she waited for him to circle around to the driver side, Toni considered the path her thoughts had been leaning for weeks, since even before Tyler and Autopsy. The realization of just how damned much she’d missed AJ while he’d been out of town for the longest he had been since the earliest days of their relationship.
A relationship that, at nearly eighteen months, was the longest in her adult life. Including the one that had nearly resulted in a ring before she’d met Gibbs, gotten out of Baltimore, and had her blinders ripped off by both.
She’d only wanted some hot sex with a commanding man in uniform. Then the bastard had had to ask her to dinner, like a gentleman, and the next thing Toni knew she was having regular dates and sleepy morning sex in a familiar bed, with a familiar body that knew all her hot spots and let her pick the movies as long as he got to watch the baseball highlights. She’d even fallen in love with his dog. Toni didn’t even like dogs but how could you resist a goofy German Sheppard who only answered to ‘Damnit’?
AJ settled in the driver’s seat and started the car, then blinked when he noticed her frowning at him. “What did I do?”
“You have a cute dog, a big dick and you hold doors for me while admiring my shooting stance.”
“ . . . I will never understand the way your mind works.”
Toni waved that away. “Nevermind, it’s too hard to explain. The ‘yours or mine’ thing? That you always ask even when I’ve made it very clear we’re going home together?”
He sat up. “Yes? Is that a problem?”
“The fact that you’re considerate enough to ask, rather than assume or decide for yourself? No.” He relaxed. “But we should start having a conversation about ‘ours’.”
AJ stared at her long enough she started to fidget and contemplate shouting ‘psych!’ before he spoke. “Can you ever not surprise me?”
Toni blinked. “Wait, what? Are we playing ‘Who’s on First’ or was that an answer?”
He cupped her cheek and leaned in for a long, deep kiss. “An answer. I’m too old to get arrested for playing games in a parked car.” He shifted into gear and started out of the lot. “But hold that thought for a few minutes.”
“So, we’ll talk about it?” Toni pressed a hand to her stomach. It felt a little jittery. She was pretty sure it was happiness and nerves but it was possible she had food poisoning and was hallucinating the whole thing where she got up the courage to propose moving in together with the Judge Advocate General of the navy. On the other hand, Grazia never served subpar food. “The whole,” she waved a hand, “thing?”
AJ chuckled. “Yes. I have some thoughts on the topic.”
She narrowed her eyes, studying his expression. “You are up to something. I’m on to you, Admiral. That’s your lawyer face.”
“I plead the fifth. At least until I’m no longer at the wheel. You can cross-examine me later.”
It was a five-minute drive to her apartment, one they took often. Toni bided her time until they stopped at a red light a few blocks from her building, then reached over to trail her fingers up AJ’s thigh, following his inseam from the knee up to —
He caught her hand, turned it and locked their fingers together. “Let’s get there in one piece.”
Toni stroked her thumb along his. “How about we get there fast and in one piece?” The light changed. “Better drive, Admiral.”
He squeezed her hand and pressed down on the gas, crossing the intersection.
It happened in seconds. The windshield spiderwebbed violently, a hole appearing in the driver side with a sound like a hammer blow and crunching glass. AJ grunted and slumped, his hand squeezing hers before going limp. The car began to drift into the next lane.
Toni grabbed the emergency brake with both hands, wrenching it up. It worked by virtue of their low speed and pure desperation, the cables screaming as the rear of the car swung around. She ignored the pain in her recently healed wrist as well as the cacophony of horns and slapped the release on her seat belt. One hand dug for her cellphone as the other pressed down on the bullet hole in AJ’s chest.
As the familiar words of the emergency dispatcher came over the line, she shoved the phone between her shoulder and ear, scrambled for the seat release, and climbed in AJ’s lap for better leverage as soon as the seat slid back.
“911. What is your emergency?”
“Special Agent DiNozzo, NCIS. I have an active shooter at my location! Shots fired.” She rattled off the address, heard the clacking of the dispatcher’s keyboard. “Immediate assistance, police and ambulance. Repeat, active shooter. One down, 50-year-old white male, GSW to the torso. Damn it, AJ, don’t do this to me.”
The driver’s door opened. “Hey! What the hell — holy shit!”
“Get down!” she shouted, taking one had from the wound to grab the civilian man’s hoodie and yank him down within the dubious shelter of the car door. Her hand left a bloody print on the bright yellow fabric. “Give me your hands!. Press here — harder!” She lowered the seat back a few inches then put her hand back over the civilian’s pressing down hard enough for AJ’s eyelids to flutter open briefly. “Fuck, AJ, stay with me.”
Dispatch rattled in her ear, informing her of how far out her backup was and asking questions. “Semi-conscious, non-responsive. Albert Jethro Chegwidden. He’s a Navy Admiral — contact NCIS.” His eyes fluttered again and the hand she’d been holding a minute ago? An hour ago? His hand brushed her knee before falling away. She pressed down harder, ignoring the yelp from the civilian and the way her skin turned white where it wasn’t bloodied. “I need that ambulance, ASAP! Please, AJ.”
Sirens screamed nearby, overtaking the sound of horns and dispatch and her demands as blood leaked out under her hands and tears slid down her face.
Harm stalked into the Bethesda emergency room and looked around for the most likely person to provide answers. What he found was the usual hospital organized chaos, naval precision, and more police uniforms than he typically saw outside of a precinct.
“What the hell?” Bud asked. The other JAG officer had met him in the parking lot and followed him. “I mean, what the hell, sir.”
“We aren’t in uniform, Bud.” Harm was in jeans and a teeshirt, having been relaxing at home when he’d gotten the call. Bud was even more casual in sweatpants but he also had a small child at home. Further evidence of said child included the old baby food stains on the normally meticulous lieutenant’s sweater.
“Yes, sir — I mean Rabb? Harm,” he finally settled on before waving a hand across the ER. “Colonel!”
They both spotted Mac at the same time as she saw them and waved them over. Sarah was in civies, too, though Coates was still in her uniform. “Mac, what do you know?” Harm asked when they reached both women.
Mac shook her head. “Not much, just what we got from Tiner. The Admiral was brought in for emergency surgery. Sturgis headed into the office to help Tiner handle any inquires. Manetti just stepped out to make some calls and get some information. You?”
Harm shook his head. “Same.” He looked around, considering the main desk and the nurse manning it.
Mac shook her head. “Don’t bother, Harm. All they can say is that he’s in surgery. None of us represent next of kin or have the admiral’s proxy.”
“Who is the next of kin? Ma’am.” Coates asked.
Harm and Mac exchanged a look. “His daughter, Francesca but she’s in Italy.”
“Either the hospital has already contacted her, or we should get some more information before one of us does,” Mac said. “Bad enough to get a call like this from across the ocean but to get it without any details? No, thank you.”
Harm wasn’t looking forward to making that call. The last time he’d seen Francesca, she’d been recovering from falling foul to her stepfather and lover’s criminal vendettas, and had witnessed both men killed and seen her father injured. “You’re right, we need some answers. Starting with, what is with all the police?”
“It can’t be related to the admiral,” Bud said. “Can it?”
Harm eyed a uniform standing guard nearby. He looked young and green, like he might be susceptable to friendly interrogation. Before he could give it a try, he caught sight of someone more promising. “Let’s find out. Gunny!”
Agent Gibbs looked up from his conversation with a stern-faced nurse, said something to her and stood braced for them as she headed away. Harm headed for him, colleagues in tow. “Rabb. Here for Chegwidden?”
“Is there another person currently in this hospital that would demand all of our attention? What do you know? Moreover, why is NCIS here?”
“Are you investigating?” Mac added. “Was the admiral in an accident? Or some suspicious circumstances?”
“Gunshot wounds are usually suspicious,” Gibbs agreed.
“Oh my god,” Mac breathed. Coates pressed a hand to her mouth. Bud said nothing, going very still.
Harm wanted some damned answers. “Where and when? How serious is his condition?”
“Serious enough. GSW to the chest while he was driving; it hit just below the sternum. Windshield probably deflected the bullet downwards. He’s in surgery now; doctors are cautiously optimistic, for whatever that means.”
They were all in the navy and all but Coates was a lawyer, so not even shook could keep them from asking questions. All of them fired off.
“Was it a driveby?” Bud.
“Any witnesses?” Mac.
“Was anyone else involved, sir?” Coates.
“Any ID on the shooter? Is he in custody?” Harm.
“No, yes, yes, no and no.”
“How does someone open fire in public and get away?” Harm demanded.
“You’re smart enough not to ask that dumb a question, Commander Rabb,” Gibbs snapped. “I said there were witnesses, not that someone saw the shooter. The shot came from a distance. The FBI and Metro are looking for the location and shooter now.”
“The FBI? The admiral is in the navy, that’s NCIS jurisdiction,” Bud said.
Mac frowned. “Was it a random shooting? A copycat of the Beltway snipers or something similar?”
“Its one avenue the FBI is looking at.” Gibbs glared at all of them; Coates and Bud shrunk back a little. “You all know any investigation this early on is broad, or the investigator leads the evidence rather than the other way around. NCIS will investigate this as an attack on a naval officer. The FBI will run their own angles.”
Gibbs shrugged at Harm’s question. “Ask him.” He pointed to an older man in an FBI windbreaker who came over to join them. “Tobias Fornell — Rabb, Mackenzie, Roberts and Coates of JAG.”
“What avenues of investigation are you taking?” Mac asked him immediately.
“Any and all of them that are necessary. We answer to lawyers, now?” Fornell asked Gibbs. “What about your rules?”
“They involved themselves.” Gibbs shrugged again. “None of them are stupid and they work for Chegwidden.”
Fornell stared at them all balefully. “Fine. Might be someone going the Beltway sniper route — sentencing wasn’t so long ago and that kind of thing can bring out the crazies. Random attacks usually involve more than a single shot but it’s possible. Or maybe he missed the mark and the admiral’s partner was the real target. Since he wasn’t alone in the car.”
“Is Agent DiNozzo alright?”
“Wait, what?” Bud asked her as Harm blinked, forgetting what he was about to say.
Gibbs looked at the petty officer. “How did you know he meant DiNozzo?” Harm wanted to know the same thing.
Coates inhaled and straightened her shoulders. “A few months ago, I was in the office on a Sunday to get some work and studying done without my roommate around. The admiral stopped in and Agent DiNozzo was with him. They were only there long enough for the admiral to check a file and make a call.”
“Months?” Harm questioned. “How many?”
“It was in January, I think.”
So well before the incident last month. That put the call he’d gotten from Chegwidden in perspective. “Is DiNozzo a target?” Gibbs snorted. “Specifically, rather than for being an agent. Does it have anything to do with the hostage taker at NCIS?”
“That was DiNozzo?” Mac asked.
Fornell nodded. “Yes. The terrorist escaped custody and made an implicit threat against DiNozzo.”
“Then why target the admiral?” Bud asked. “Not that I want Agent DiNozzo to be injured,” he added quickly, glancing at Gibbs.
“Might have been the only shot he had,” Gibbs said. “After dark, shooting into a moving vehicle? He’s clearly got training but that’s an expert marksman’s shot and even then, it’s a risky one. Or it could have been deliberate, targeting a loved one.” Harm was still trying to square the circle that was his boss and Toni DiNozzo in a relationship. “And the man involved has already shown a tendency to overlook an efficient shot for one that maximizes suffering.”
“Or he could have expected shooting the driver of a moving car would kill the passenger, too,” Fornell added darkly. “They were stopped at a light beforehand; the shot came after the car had crossed the intersection.” He glanced at Gibbs then away.
Harm was curious about that look as well as Gibbs’ shuttered expression but was briefly distracted by Manetti appearing at the entrance and waving. Harm tilted his head and Mac nodded and headed over, leading Bud and Coates away. Three lawyers hammering away at a pair of seasoned agents were more likely to put their backs up than get answers and it seemed like Manetti had something to share.
“Where is DiNozzo?” he asked. He’d yet to see the familiar form of the woman who’d cleared him of murdering Loren Singer. And if she was the admiral’s partner, JAG had a duty of care to her.
“Getting checked out,” Gibbs said. “She’s still recovering and there were concerns about shock but she wouldn’t let anyone look at her until Chegwidden went into surgery.”
He turned towards Mac when she called his name then stopped and directed a sharp look at both agents. “Anything comes up, I want to hear about it.”
Gibbs watched Rabb retreat to the cluster of JAG officers. “He hasn’t changed.” He narrowed his eyes at Fornell when the man caught his arm. “What, Tobias?”
“Are you alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Maybe because this strikes far too close to home?”
Deliberately, he shook of Fornell’s hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Jethro.” The gentle tone was so at odds with their usual byplay, Gibbs knew exactly what Tobias was implying. And what he knew. “You, Diane, me; we make an odd group, don’t we?”
“You both know.”
Breathe. Gibbs inhaled and exhaled slowly like he was about to line up a target. “I’m fine.”
“You’re a liar, Jethro, but normally you’re better at it. And you don’t usually lie to yourself.”
“I will be.”
“Sure you will,” Fornell snarked. “It’s not like you worry about DiNozzo like a cat with one kitten or anything.”
“She can take care of herself.” Unlike Kelly. But Shannon had been able to make hard-assed marines quiver and that hadn’t saved her, either.
Fornell blew out a breath. “I never said otherwise. But that does.”
Toni left the nearby cubicle on the heels of a doctor. She looked anything but her usual tenacious self in a bloodied dress, carrying a stained and ruined coat and washed out of any colour. She’d looked less vulnerable the last time he’d seen her in a hospital, bruised and battered.
There wasn’t a trace of her usual irrepressible humour in her expressionless face and voice when she approached. “Anything?”
“Stable. No news is good news right now.” She nodded absently.
“I brought your go bag from the office,” he added gently. He’d grabbed it once he’d heard the details and given Langer and Kate orders to get the car towed to NCIS.
Toni stared at him blankly. “Okay?”
Fornell swore under his breath. “DiNutso.”
“Fornell. What are you doing here?”
“Investigating. DiNutso — Toni,” he corrected. “Your clothes are ruined.” Toni looked down at herself and managed to get paler. Gibbs reached out and cupped her elbow, ready incase she went down.
But Antonia Dinozzo wasn’t just one of the best investigators he’d ever known, she was one of the toughest. She swayed once then stiffened her back. “Fuck.”
They’d caught the attention of the lawyers. Colonel Mackenzie, who Gibbs liked more than the rest by virtue of her being a marine and never giving Rabb an inch, and the young Petty Officer Coates, with her blend of competence and vulnerability, headed over. The rest remained huddled together, watching.
Toni nodded. “Colonel.”
“Ma’am, why don’t I help you wash up,” Coates offered, stepping forward and taking Toni’s coat before she could disagree. “Let me take that, ma’am.”
“I’ll get some scrubs,” Mackenzie said decisively.
Bemused, Gibbs retrieved the bag he’d set out of the way. “Here.”
“Thank you, sir. Agent? This way. Colonel?”
“Dismissed, Petty Officer.” They watched the two leave, the incongruous sight of Toni letting someone manage her making Gibbs’ gut tight. “The local news has already picked up on the shooting. It will certainly hit the main cycle by the morning. After the Beltway snipers, a shooting in DC is going to draw attention even without the admiral as an angle. The copycat idea has already come up in connection to the recent sentencing.”
“Typical,” Fornell complained. “Reporters all over my crime scene are just what I need.”
“My crime scene,” Gibbs said. Rabb returned and stood at Mackenzie’s shoulder, looming. “Admiral Chegwidden makes this an NCIS case and Abby is better than anyone you’ve got at Hoover. Not to mention faster.”
“No wonder, she’s hyped up on caffeine all the time. My lead, my case, my crime scene.”
“Wait a minute —”
Mackenzie smacked Rabb’s arm, cutting him off. “Gentlemen. The admiral is the Judge Advocate General, which means there is a very good possibility that he was targetted in his own right and, if that’s the case, it would almost certainly be for his work with JAG over the last fifteen and more years. And that means,” she continued, speaking over Tobias’ attempt to argue, “that we have an oar in these waters too.
“Now, since everyone has a claim and a unique investigation angle, why don’t we all agree to work this. Thereby pooling our resources and solving the attempted murder of a US Navy admiral in the middle of DC by a sniper before the media or the public spin this into orbit or someone else gets hurt. Or,” Mackenzie added midly, eyeing all three of them, “do you need to whip it out and measure, first?”
Rabb rubbed the back of his neck. Fornell and Gibbs looked at each other.
“Fine,” Gibbs sad.
“Fine,” Fornell agreed. “We already know who’s . . . agency is bigger.”
“Yes, we do,” Mackenzie cut in, stopping Gibbs from responding. “Mine. Agent Dinozzo, how are you feeling?”
Toni returned, Coates at her heels, her ruined datewear replaced by jeans and a hoodie. With her hair pulled back in a simple tail, her pale face and black expression were all the more stark. She nodded to Mackenzie. “Better. Where are we?”
“We’re investigation. You aren’t,” Fornell said.
She gave him a firely glare. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve barely been cleared for a return to duty after nearly a month recovering.”
“I am fine,” she bit out.
“You’re favouring your wrist,” Gibbs observed.
Her left hand dissapeared into her sweatshirt pocket. “It’s sore from the emergency brake. I’m fine.”
“You’re a witness,” Fornell said firmly. “Moreover, you or your boyfriend —”
Rabb winced. “There’s an image.”
“ — were the target of an attack. Either way, you’re compromised. Why don’t you ask one of these lawyers about the can of worms you’d open for a slick defense lawyer to exploit if you investigate the shooting of your lover — while you were sitting in the passenger seat, no less, and had to hold his blood inside him while waiting for help.” Toni got even paler.
“He’s not wrong,” Mackenzie said gently.
“He’s right and we both know it,” Gibbs said bluntly. “It’s one thing to have a connection to a case, it’s another to be so personally affected.”
“Hypocrite,” Fornell muttered.
“I want to be kept in the loop. I won’t touch the case but I want to know what’s happening,” Toni insisted.
“Deal. She’s your agent,” Fornell said to Gibbs, “you ride herd on her. Don’t let her cross the line, Jethro, or I’ll make sure NCIS is cut out of the investigation completely.”
“You can try, anyway. Toni.” He waited until she looked at him. “I need to go back to work. You going to be okay?”
“Like I said, I’m fine.”
She was the furthest thing from it and everyone knew it. Gibbs blew out a breath; Fornell needed to get to work, as well, as did both their teams. Not to mention that Kate, a junior agent, was just about the last person Toni would want to see her like this. Blackadder might work but she was on the case.
Rabb waved over his colleagues. “Mac and I are both going into the office. We need to start the JAGMAN investigation and get everyone ready for the chaos that’s sure to descend. Someone should wait for word on the admiral.”
“I can —”
“You can go home and take care of your small child, Bud.”
“That’s an order, Lieutenant.”
“You can take a shift at the hospital tomorrow, Bud,” Mackenzie stepped in, softening Rabb’s position. “But we need both you and Harriet at the office tomorrow and you’ll both be exhausted if Harriet has the baby alone and you stay up all night.”
“I can stay,” Manetti said. “Though you might have someone deliver the files from my desk.”
“I’d like to stay too, sir, ma’am.” Coates glanced at Toni as she said it. “Please.”
Gibbs tilted his head, drawing DiNozzo aside. “Toni.”
“Boss, don’t.” She stepped back when he reached for her arm. “Please. I can’t — I can’t deal with —” she trembled, then straightened her back and lifted her chin. “I’m not ready to react, boss, and you need to get to work, not pat my back and hold my hand.”
“Call me if you need anything. I mean it, Toni.”
“Yes, boss.” He looked over at the lawyers. Manetti nodded; message recieved.
She waited over six hours for news on AJ, too numb and tired to pace or talk or do anything but curl up on a sofa in a surgical waiting room. Manetti and Coates spoke to her when needed and Coates, in particular, was effective at coaxing Toni to drink some water or have a bite of a bland cafeteria sandwich, but they gave her the space she wanted to wait.
For news, for answers, for what was inside her fragile mask to bubble over and shatter her composure.
The news came first.
It was nearly four am when the surgeon came in. “Family of Chegwidden?” They all rose and the surgeon raised a brow. “Who’s next of kin?”
“The admiral’s daughter is in Milan,” Manetti told him. “She’s been contacted but will not arrive until tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Antonia DiNozzo,” Toni rasped out, then cleared her throat. “I have his proxy.” They’d both added each other to their records before she’d been taken hostage.
He checked the patient file he was carrying. “Right. The others?”
“They’ll be investigating the shooting. Tell them now or they’ll just see the record later.”
“Fine. We removed the bullet and repaired the damage. The bullet perforated the left lobe of his liver and lodged in the interior of his ribs, fortunately nowhere near the spine. It missed both stomach and pancreas, luckily, though he lost part of his liver and the internal bleeding was extensive.”
“The bullet is evidence.”
“Not my first rodeo,” he told Manetti. “An FBI agent picked it up before we closed him up.” Toni thought, absently, that Gibbs would be pissed the bullet went to someone other than Abby. “He’s in recovery now, being monitored as he comes out of anestitiea. He’ll need another transfusion once they’ve settled him in ICU — I wasn’t kidding about the bleeding, we pumped four units into him.”
“He needs intensive monitoring for several days post-surgery. Chances of infection are higher due to the insult to the liver and he needs to be monitored for complications. We’re listing him as critical but stable for now.”
“When can I see him?”
“He needs to be settled — you aren’t going to wait until morning, are you?” Toni shook her head. The surgeon, she hadn’t caught his name and would worry about it later, sighed. “Once he’s in ICU you can see him. I’ll let the nurse know. But after that, you’ll have to abide by what the ICU staff dictate.”
Manetti thanked him and stepped forward to shake his hand. Once he’d left, she turned to Coates. “I will call the office and update them on the admiral’s condition.”
She could feel her control slipping. “I need the head,” she said abruptly and walked out.
The women’s washroom was empty thanks to the hour. Toni stared at herself in the mirror for a moment, the harsh fluorescents not doing her any favours. She desperately needed makeup remover and some moisturizer for the dark circles under her eyes. And a couple of layers of foundation since hers had melted off at some point.
Her face blurred and she blinked, trying to clear her vision, and realized it wasn’t exhaustion making her reflection distort. It was tears.
Toni groped for the tap, turning the water on just in time to cover up a ragged sob.
When she finished crying, a necessary but humiliating act, Toni turned the cold water on full and tried to wash away all the signs of tears and restore her composure.
“Ma’am?” Petty Officer Coates called from outside the door. “Can I come in?”
Toni blew out a breath, splashed her face again, and called back, hoping any rasp in her voice would be attributed to exhaustion. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
The door cracked open. “Ma’am.”
She sighed. AJ was fond of Coates, her enthusiasm and kind nature. Toni recognized something a lot more indomitable in her. “You’re good at managing stubborn superior officers, aren’t you, Coates?”
Coates ducked inside, looking apologetic and determined. “I get a lot of practice, ma’am.” She snagged a few paper towels from the dispenser and offered them.
“I bet you do.” Toni accepted the towels, drying her face. “Alright, Coates, let’s go back so you can babysit me somewhere other than the head.”
“It’s not babysitting, ma’am, just — a supportive presence. But the waiting room is more comfortable.”
“Sure.” Toni tossed the paper towels in the trash, glanced at the mirror one more time to check for signs of a breakdown, and followed Coates back to wait, again, for word on AJ.
This is the sequel to Nightcap