- Alternate Universe
- Crime Drama
- Episode Related
- Established Relationship
Toni looked up from her lunch. She’d deserved pizza after the last few days but had settled for soup. With a bruised jaw and face, she knew better than to attempt anything that needed lots of chewing.
“Rarely, Balboa, why?”
Simon Balboa, team lead, studied her desk and shook his head. “You are something else, Toni.”
“Trade places with me and then say you wouldn’t do the same.”
“Unlike you lunatics on Gibbs’ team, I manage to do my job without unnecessary heroics.”
“Hey, Langer, didn’t Balboa nearly throw himself off a roof trying to save some kid last month?”
Balboa sighed. Langer nodded and swallowed a bite of his sandwich. “Dumb kid was high and thought he could fly. I hear the mom tried to be extra grateful.”
Balboa blushed and grumbled. “Stop gossiping with my agents.”
“Sorry, it’s in the SFA handbook — must keep your senior agent out of trouble and discuss their most ridiculous stunts with other SFAs.”
Balboa wandered off, shaking his head. Toni straightened the sign she’d propped up on her monitor. Your comments on how painful it looks do not make my face hurt less. It had gotten some looks and some laughs, and an eye-roll from Kate, but the number of people saying ‘ouch’ or ‘that must hurt’ had decreased significantly. But that could have been from Gibbs glaring.
“Anything interesting?” Langer asked. They were working through lunch. Toni, injured, and Langer, who’d produced the driver and ambulance company records, got to eat at their desks. Kate was observing Gibbs in interrogation, having nothing to show for beating her head against bureaucracy all morning.
“Not much,” she said of the FBI evidence report she was reading. There were no test results yet, just logs of everything collected from Autopsy and the terrorist she’d named Tyler’s effects. “Other than how stupidly well he was prepared, which we knew. He did have a mask and tear gas canister in his body bag, though, which confirms he was going to exfil with HRT.”
“Why can’t they all be dumb?” Langer asked. “Like this driver who, apparently, is assigned to coroner and autopsy runs so he doesn’t kill anybody out of stupidity. His employee fill is full of notes on his unscheduled breaks during work hours — including when he was transporting bodies. Thirty-minute coffee breaks and hour and a half meals.”
“Great. I’m sure Gibbs is having fun talking to him.” Toni blew out a breath. “Think it’s a coincidence a driver who left his rig unattended was the delivery mechanism?”
“No, which is why McGee is going to check the company’s computers for a hack job.”
“Could have observed him in person, old school.”
“Qassam died within twelve hours of the breach.”
“True.” Toni dropped her empty takeout container in the trash. “I need to run —”
“I don’t recommend running in your condition.”
She made a face at him. “Haha. I need to use the head. I expect it will only take about three times longer than usual to get there and back.”
It took her two times longer than normal but Gibbs had glared at her until she’d taken her pain meds earlier which was probably a factor.
The whole team was in place when she returned, Kate scarfing one of her disgusting tofu wraps and Gibbs slugging coffee and a sandwich. “Driver have anything useful?”
“Idiot,” was Gibbs’ opinion.
“The ‘body’ was picked up from a hospital in Alexandria,” Kate said. “The guy signed for it but didn’t check the bag or even watch it loaded. He was too busy chatting to a nurse. Someone, an orderly presumably, loaded the bus.”
“Hospital has no record of a body or arranging for pickup, Boss,” Langer said, hanging up his phone. “Their morgue has been empty for two days. I don’t know if that’s due to the quality of care or just a low number of patients but either way, I’m considering switching.”
“Did he give a description of the hospital staff?” Toni asked. “Could they have been paid? Or in on it? We’ve got two terrorists, maybe this is a full cell.”
“He only knew the nurse was female so he could flirt with her,” Gibbs said. “He couldn’t even stay what ethnicity or hair colour anyone had. Too lazy to care and too unobservant to be of any use.”
“But,” Langer added, looking pleased with himself, “I did find out that the company had a pickup scheduled. Same driver, same day, requested at the same time as the pick up from the hospital. From this location, scheduled for yesterday afternoon. The driver was waiting outside our loading bay when he saw the chaos and scrammed. He called in a cancellation yesterday, after a long lunch break, of course.”
“It might have been a quick operation, but it was organized.” Toni took her seat again. “A lot of thought went into it, but little effort to minimize risks to himself. Why?”
“Some people need it,” Kate offered. “Risk. Adrenalin junkies, risk takers, gamblers. Its a game and the greater the risk, the greater the rewards. And the rush that comes with it.”
Toni considered that. “I went skydiving once.”
“Let me guess, you dated an instructor?”
“The pilot,” Toni snarked. “No, it was a thing with some sorority sisters. Our ten year graduation anniversary. Anyway, I’d never do it again — I clearly get enough calculated risk in my work life — but it was one hell of a rush.”
“Not bad,” Gibbs said. “Something to consider, anyway, when we interrogate him this afternoon. No,” he added when they all leaned forward. “It’s Fornell’s show and you all aren’t invited.”
Toni pouted. “You are no fun at all, Gibbs.”
“Not with an audience, anyway,” he said, making Toni laugh. Langer choked on his sandwich and Kate gasped, then giggled.
Gibbs dropped his phone on its cradle with his usual delicacy. Toni spared a thought for Cynthia, the director’s secretary, on the other end; at least when Gibbs hung up on her, it was on a cellphone.
“DiNozzo.” She tipped her head. “IG is on the way. Fifteen minutes.”
“Joy.” She’d known it was coming but that didn’t make the prospect of being grilled on her actions any more palatable. “And I’m so looking forward to going over yesterday, again.”
Kate frowned. “Why is the Inspector General involved?”
“Because there are procedures in place for firing a weapon, not for trying to slice a suspect’s throat after several hours as a hostage,” Toni sighed. “I get more than the standard psych evaluation, too. That’ll be a barrel of fun. Good thing I finished my statement,” she added on a sigh. “Boss, I’m going to head to interrogation now, since I’m not at my best speed today.”
“Conference room three.” Gibbs shrugged. “Director’s call, not mine. You aren’t being interrogated, Toni.”
“Sure.” Distracted, she used her left hand to push out of her chair and refrained from cursing out loud. Her wrist, which had settled into a faint ache, started throbbing. “I’m going to the head. I’ll see you after my interview.”
When Toni had limped out of sight, and hearing range, Gibbs snapped up his phone and dialled. “The Inspector General is on the way. The director will stall them for a few minutes.”
“Alright, I’m on my way.”
Kate and Langer exchanged a look as he hung up. “Boss? Who was that?”
Gibbs huffed. Calling a lawyer went against the grain but you had to choose your allies to match the battlefield. “Backup.”
“Agent DiNozzo, to the best of your knowledge and recollection, is the statement you’ve provided true and accurate?”
The knock on the door interrupted Toni’s confirmation. One of the two agents, Mallory — she’d already dubbed him and his partner, Falsworth, as Frick and Frack — rose to answer the door. When Mallory startled, Toni leaned back in her seat to get a better look.
Commander Harmon Rabb, big as life, stood on the other side with his cover under his arm and an intimidating eyebrow raised.
“Commander?” Mallory squeaked. “Ah —”
Rabb entered, forcing Mallory — who was definitely Frick — to get out of his way or get bowled over. “Commander Rabb, Office of the Judge Advocate General. I’ll be acting as Agent DiNozzo’s counsel.”
Falsworth, who showed a little more gumption and was, therefore, Frack, spoke up. “And did Agent DiNozzo request counsel?”
Toni gave her best ‘I’m just here to look good’ expression. It was marred by all the signs she was actually a badass but she still made the effort. Rabb did the rest.
He stepped up to the table and looked down at Falsworth. “She’s entitled to it, as you well know, agent.” When both agents nodded, conceding the point, Rabb pulled back on the stern lawyer role and sat beside her. “You might have heard there’s some unusual political interest in these events.” Everyone made a face; politics made all of their jobs sticky. “So, it’s best to ensure there’s nothing on the record, from the outset, that can be used by outside political forces.”
Rabb turned to his briefcase, retrieving a pad and pen and giving Frick and Frack a moment. The two exchanged a couple of looks, some head and hand gestures, and a nod. The clear partnership was the main reason she’d given them the nicknames.
“Reasonable,” Falsworth finally said. “But why JAG? You’re a civilian, Agent DiNozzo.”
“I owe her a favour,” Rabb explained. “And that’s a lot cheaper than billable hours.”
“That’s a big favour,” Mallory said, fishing.
“Well, he’s not in jail,” Toni said. Mallory blinked.
Rabb tapped his pen against his legal pad. “Gentlemen, should we begin?”
Frick and Frack exchanged another look. “Alright. Agent DiNozzo, at what point did you realize something was wrong?”
“I knew something was unusual when Abigail Scuito explained Doctor Mallard’s request to return evidence to Autopsy and his agitated demeanour. I knew something was wrong when Ducky called me ‘Abby’ and insisted I leave the evidence outside the doors of Autopsy.”
“Then we’ll start there.”
When they were done and Frick and Frack were gone, Toni slumped back in her seat, feeling wrung out. Rabb snapped his briefcase closed. “Need a moment.”
“I need a drink.” She blew out a breath. “Nice timing, Rabb. Gibbs?”
“I let him know I was available and to call me if the IG or someone from the FBI showed up.” Rabb shrugged. “He did.”
“You called him? When?”
“Last night. The Admiral called me, gave me a heads up. Impressive, since he’s in San Diego right now.” Rabb shook his head. “Scuttlebutt is faster than the speed of sound. Or Gibbs called him first. If that’s the case, I don’t want to know. The idea of my boss and the man who arrested me being chummy is disconcerting.”
“I don’t think Gibbs has been chummy with anyone, ever,” Toni reassured him.
“He doesn’t seem like a man who makes a lot of friends,” Rabb said drily.
Toni chuckled. “I think you might be a little biased, Rabb. He did arrest you, after all.”
“Don’t remind me. You, on the other hand, cleared me, so the next time you might need a lawyer, DiNozzo, pick up the phone and call me. Don’t,” he said before Toni could argue. “I know how cops feel about lawyers but refusing to use one when it’s your right is a dumb thing to do.”
“The kind of thing a hotshot lawyer might pull when he’s being interrogated about the murder of a colleague?”
“Sure, if he’s an idiot,” Rabb drawled. “And that’s the kind of thing that hotshot investigators rely on so they can catch people in dumb mistakes. So if anyone else shows up, wanting a statement or an interview, call me.”
Toni sighed. “Fine, Rabb, you made your point. Thanks.”
He rose. “You’re welcome. Nice bruises, by the way.”
“I should have let you go to Leavenworth.”
Rabb laughed. “Too late. Good luck, DiNozzo.”
When he was gone, Toni spun her chair back and forth, taking a moment to relax. While it was entirely possible Gibbs had called Admiral Chegwidden last night, or that the man had heard something through a contact, she was a little amused with Rabb’s explanation. She supposed it spoke to his expectations of his boss, always being on top of things or one step ahead of even his own people.
And then there was the manoeuvring behind her back by Gibbs, Rabb and Chegwidden. She knew they meant well but really, why didn’t Toni know a single man who was subtle?
She pulled out her cellphone and hit number one on her speed dial. When it went to voice mail, Toni left a message. “You think you’re clever, don’t you? Siccing Rabb and Gibbs on each other. That’s cute. Thank you.” She sighed. “Stop worrying about me. I didn’t call you so you could manipulate people for my benefit from the other side of the country, AJ. I’ll see you when you get home.” Toni paused briefly, then added, “I miss you,” and hung up.
Then she dropped her phone on the table and stayed where she was for a while, letting herself just breath.
Gibbs stared down at the terrorist Toni had dubbed Tyler. His bruises had darkened, giving him a raccoon-like look with both eyes blackened from the blow that had broken his nose. He made a note to congratulate Toni on her use of her hard head.
“He said anything yet?”
“Nope,” Fornell said. He was on the other side of the bed, mirroring Gibbs. It was an effective interrogation posture. “Not a word.”
“He lose his voice? Temporarily or permanently?”
“Docs say there’s nothing wrong with it. No medical reason for him to stay silent.”
“So,” Gibbs drawled, making a cool survey of the smirking bastard, “he’s stubborn.”
“We’ve got the smallpox, by the way,” Gibbs offered, watching for any flicker, any reaction. ‘Tyler’ blinked once, stilled, and then made an effort to relax back in his bed. “How many people on that base — and beyond it — needed to die so you and Qassan could kill a few dozen Israelis?”
“Maybe they ran out of children to strap bombs on,” Fornell mused. ‘Tyler’ didn’t react except for the tightening of his smirk and around his eyes. “Where’d you get it? Smallpox isn’t just lying around. Where’d you get the resources to buy it?”
“Or you stole it,” Gibbs suggested. “Doctors have access to things like that, after all. You’d still need resources to weaponize it, though. Right, doctor?”
His eyes widened briefly before his smirk became a full smile. Gibbs wasn’t sure if the man was using it as a deliberate interrogation countermeasure, which indicated training, or he was just that arrogant and proud of his actions. Either way, that reaction was all the proof Gibbs needed to confirm Ducky’s theory.
“How’s that throat? Hurts, I bet. More, or less than the stab wound in your thigh? It’s going to leave an interesting scar, too. Harder to blend in with a jagged scar across your neck.”
“Sort of thing that catches people’s attention,” Fornell agreed. “Me, I think it’s his ego that hurts the most. After all, he got taken out by a woman he discounted so much that he didn’t bother to handcuff her.” Fornell shook his head. “Rookie mistake.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered, she carries a hideaway key.”
“Really?” Fornell looked over a Gibbs. “You teach her that?”
“Nope, she came that way. I just honed the paranoia a little. The knife in the belt was her idea, too. Custom made.”
“Not bad. I’d get one for Diane but she’d just use it on me.”
“Diane doesn’t need a weapon to make you wish you were dead.”
“You ought to know.”
‘Tyler’s’ gaze flickered between them, mocking expression fading just a bit. The difference between his taunting and efforts to gather intel were subtle but stark. Everything Toni had said about ‘Tyler’ being intelligent, controlled and skilled in mind games rang true. Gibbs was willing to be money he had some kind of military or paramilitary training.
“Ducky wants you to know, one doctor to another, that he’s looking forward to weighing your liver.”
“Ouch.” Fornell studied ‘Tyler’s’ amused face. “I think he’s not talking to avoid giving away more of his identity. There are people who can identify regional dialects so precisely it’s more like voodoo than science.”
“Barn door, horse,” Gibbs said. Dark eyes flickered towards him. “You might have noticed Ducky’s accent — Scotland by way of Eton, as he calls it — but Toni is half-British. Between them, they’ve already pegged your accent.”
“Between that and the doctor thing, and only so many places to obtain smallpox in the world — well,” Fornell clicked his tongue, “we’ll ID you sooner than later.”
‘Tyler’ smiled, fully, at them both.
Fornell lead the way out of the room. Gibbs stopped at the door and turned back, staring. “See you tomorrow.”
When his cellphone rang at three in the morning, Gibbs was sleeping under his boat. He reached out from between two sanded ribs to grab the offending phone. “What?”
Three minutes later he was in his car. It took twelve minutes to drive to Toni’s apartment.
The delay between his ringing the buzzer and knocking on the door had just reached the point Gibbs was reaching for his spare key and his gun when she finally opened the door. Sleepy-eyed, tousled hair, barefoot and wearing a Navy teeshirt, it was a Toni she would never show at the office for fear of showing too much vulnerability. The sight of her like this, along with all the bruising, made Gibbs all the more furious.
“Boss?” She rubbed her eyes. “Did I miss a call out?”
She blinked at his tone. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
Toni watched the facial recognition search run on the plasma, ignoring Kate’s worried glances. Langer had his head down, pounding on his keyboard as he typed away. His frustration was clear.
Chris Pacci came around the partition and sat on the corner of Toni’s desk. “McGee is down in Forensics, setting up the hospital security tapes. The FBI will be doing the same but we may find something first.”
She nodded. “How did we swing getting copies? It’s not our case.”
“It ties into the Qassam investigation. Any help he might have gotten could also be linked to Qassam.”
“Fornell didn’t buy that.”
Pacci shrugged. “No, but he still sent us the copies. He knows how good Abby and Tim are, and his own lab has a higher caseload to deal with.”
“True.” Toni hadn’t seen Abby since before the incident; the scientist was avoiding her while also sending flower arrangements, fruit baskets and cards to Toni’s home and the office. The guilt wasn’t healthy and Toni was going to have to deal with it eventually but she had too much on her plate right now. “Has Abby eaten McGee alive yet?” The probie’s obvious crush was entertaining if nothing else.
Pacci sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know if she wants to hit his nose with a newspaper or take him home and muss him up a bit. Either way, he seems to like it.”
“God, he is green.”
“I swear, Cassie never made me feel old just by showing up.”
“Cassie was never that green,” Toni said, thinking of Cassie Yates, Pacci’s last junior agent. “You’ll toughen him up.”
Langer rose to join them. “Anything useful yet?” he asked Pacci, who shook his head.
“There’s a lot of footage to go through. We may find something, but it’s going to take a while. Anything in the interviews stand out?”
“No, but the FBI is the one taking lead on those. They’re flagging everyone who worked on or had access to that floor.” Langer rubbed a hand over his hair and gripped the back of his neck. “He had to get a weapon from somewhere.”
Kate followed his lead and came over to Toni’s desk. “Someone had to have helped him leave. How can a terrorist just walk out of a hospital without someone noticing?”
“He didn’t,” Toni said, cutting in. “Just walk out, that is. He killed three people first.” They all fell silent. “And, yeah, Katie, he probably walked right past everyone. People don’t notice you if you act as if you belong — and he’s got a medical background. Blending in at a hospital would be like me walking through a police precinct.”
They all were silent for a moment. No matter the rivalry between agencies, the death of fellow agents was a hard, ugly thing to deal with. And it was a second reminder for NCIS that their lives were dangerous.
“Why aren’t you worried?” Kate demanded.
Toni rocked back in her chair and asked, “why should I be?”
Kate gave Toni a look like she couldn’t believe she needed to explain. “I don’t know, DiNozzo, maybe because your terrorist escaped from FBI custody by using a scalpel to cut three people’s throats? That’s deliberate, Toni, and a direct threat.”
“If terrorists are threatening me, I’m doing my job right. Besides, everything this guy has done is one big mind game. Why would an escape be any different?”
Langer and Pacci were watching them both. They were concerned too, she knew — Langer had refused to let her make a run for coffee, going in her place — but for some reason Kate wanted her to express her feelings. The problem was, Toni wasn’t feeling what Kate thought she should be.
“I’m not worried, Kate. I’m furious.” Kate stepped back at her sharp tone. “But being angry, or worried, or scared, doesn’t help me do my job or catch a violent, intelligent terrorist. So stop trying to get me to open up. You aren’t a therapist or a priest and I don’t need to open a vein in order to do my job.”
Kate looked like she was considering speaking again but Langer waved her off. Before Kate could make good on the stubborn look she was wearing, the elevator opened and Gibbs stalked out, Fornell on his heels. They both looked angry and frustrated.
“Damn,” Langer sighed.
“Now what?” Pacci asked.
“You look full of good tidings,” Toni said as they reached the bullpen. “I take it you didn’t find Tyler lingering conveniently in the open.”
“Who the hell is Tyler?” Fornell demanded.
Gibbs slammed his desk drawer closed after stowing his gun. “State is playing politics, still, and the Israelis are refusing to cooperate in any of our investigations, citing our lack of security as a concern.”
“Of course they are.” Toni sighed. “I’m sure the director will be thrilled. Don’t we have agents working the Hamas angle in Bahrain?”
“They’ll get more intel out of Iran than Israel until this is sorted.” Gibbs huffed. “The embassy is also asking —”
“Demanding. Politely,” Fornell cut in sarcastically.
“ — for all of the identifying records we took from ‘Tyler’,” Gibbs drawled the name deliberately, “so that they can ID the ‘rogue Hamas operative’. Since we’ve failed to do so.”
“Fortunately,” Fornell added, “not even State is going that far and the FBI brass is far less willing to play ball at this point.”
“Good to know they draw the line somewhere,” Toni muttered.
‘Yeah, dead agents,” Langer drawled.
“Oh, it gets worse,” Fornell said bitterly. “The medical examiner did a prelim on both agents and the nurse — all three had marks from some kind of stun gun.”
Langer hissed out a breath. “Fuck.”
“Where the hell did a man under guard get a stun gun?” Toni questioned.
“He had to have outside help,” Pacci mused.
Kate looked outraged. “He cut their throats when they were already down.”
All of them, including Fornell and Gibbs, looked at Toni.
“Currently the unidentified man who infiltrated NCIS is a wanted fugitive, which makes this an FBI case. Unofficially, if NCIS were to find something pertinent in the course of their own investigation into Qassam’s attempted attack, no one is going to argue as long as you share it.” Fornell emphasized the last and glared at Gibbs, who nodded. “Our ME has already allowed Ducky to observe the autopsies. As for you,” he pointed to Toni. “I spoke to the BAU agents assigned to make a profile. They’ll get new evidence as it comes but I was asked to pass a message on to you.”
“Let me guess — be careful.”
“Pretty much. They also said some kind of protection isn’t unwarranted.” Fornell tucked his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “Now, I know how stubborn you are —”
“Such flattery, Fornell.”
“ — not to mention a pain in the ass, not that Gibbs doesn’t deserve it. Don’t do something stupid out of pride, DiNutso. That’s your boss’s job.”
“Aw, Fornell, I didn’t know you cared.” Toni leaned back and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “That’s so sweet.”
“Never mind, do what you want. You,” he pointed at Gibbs, “can deal with her.”
“I’m not going to get myself killed, Fornell,” Toni conceded. He’d had a stressful morning and no one liked to lose agents. Fornell had been the one to assign guard duty, so he must be feeling it doubly so. “I’ll take all reasonable precautions.”
Fornell nodded. “Blackadder offered to stay with you, or have you stay with her.”
“I appreciate —”
“She can stay with me, at least until her boyfriend gets back in town.”
Toni winced. “Gibbs, must you call him that? I’m not in middle school.”
Pacci held out a hand for Langer to drop a pair of bills in to. Kate made a disbelieving noise. “Wait, boyfriend?”
“And there’s that word again.”
Fornell frowned. “Better than staying alone but risking a civilian?”
Gibbs snorted. Toni just shook her head. “He’s not a civilian. More like a certified badass.”
“It’s your neck on the line,” Fornell said. “Watch it, and your back.”
“If she doesn’t, I will,” Gibbs said. “Don’t you have a job to do?”
“I’m going. Jethro,” Fornell added as he turned away. “When we catch him, I’ve got dibs.”
“I can live with that,” Toni said. “I got my licks in, already.”
“First we catch him, then we’ll see,” Gibbs said finally. “All of you, get to work.”
Toni was worn out from the day, the edge of grief and fury in the air, and the frustration of a case hitting nothing but dead ends. She was tired of being in pain, irritated from the necessity of taking pills, and just done with not being able to move when she needed to think. If she sat in her desk chair any longer, her ass was going to fuse to it, which would make her hip unhappy as sitting for long stretches made it ache. And she had two weeks, minimum, of desk duty to look forward to.
Overall, Toni was done with Tyler and everything to do with him by the time five o’clock rolled around. And she had an evening of being babysat by Gibbs to look forward to.
So the message that came through on her phone wasn’t just welcome, it was a blessing.
She tapped out a message of her own and rose to gather her coat. “Boss? I’m out.”
Gibbs eyed her, squinting a little from a day of reading reports without his glasses. “What about —”
“He’s back so I’m good for the night.”
“You aren’t taking a cab.”
“I’ve got a ride.”
Kate and Langer watched the back and forth, curious. Gibbs nodded. “Fine. Watch your six and let him do the same.”
“Deal.” She got her wrist brace through her jacket sleeve and shrugged it on. “Don’t stay here all night, or make the team do the same, boss. Everyone needs some rest, including you.”
Gibbs glared at her then huffed. “Finish what you’re doing and get gone.” The team was suddenly infused with a burst of energy. “Get some rest, DiNozzo.”
“You too, boss.”
Outside, the mild spring evening was a relief from a tense day. Toni stopped for a moment to enjoy it, making the security guard at her side jittery. She wasn’t surprised rumours she could be a target had made the rounds, just annoyed. If she were less tired and sore, she would have fought Security’s insistence on an escort.
She sighed. “Fine. This way.” She headed across the road to a familiar car.
When they got closer, the door opened and AJ Chegwidden stepped out, looking casual in civilian clothes. His frown was epic. “Jesus Christ, Toni.”
“Hello to you too, AJ. Thank you, Jack,” she said, dismissing the guard, who was eyeing AJ suspiciously. “This is my ride.”
With another frown, security left, leaving just Toni and AJ.
“You’re out of uniform, sailor,” Toni said, trying to lighten the mood.
“I spent all week on a naval base. I’ve been in nothing but uniform for days. Jesus, Toni.”
“You said that already.”
“It bears repeating.” He frowned and cupped her face in one hand. “You said you took a couple of hits and the rumour mill was descriptive but this is — hell.”
“Well, for once, rumour understated things.” She sighed and let him draw her into his body, relaxing from the familiar strength and warmth. “Didn’t Rabb give you a report?”
“Damned man gave me the client confidentiality line.” He ran a hand up and down her back. “You’ll have to tell me over dinner. Mine or yours?”
“Yours is more secure.”
AJ stilled and drew back to look her in the eye. “Is that a concern?”
She sighed. “Yeah.”
“How long since your last painkiller?”
She made a face, which hurt. “Long enough for it to have worn off.”
“Then let’s get you fed and take care of that.” He bundled her around the car and inside, then settled in the passenger seat.
“The chivalrous, let me take care of you thing, is only attractive in small amounts and because I’m tired,” Toni informed him. “It’s been a long week, AJ.”
He took her hand and started out of the parking lot. “Yes, it was. Get some rest.”
“Missed you,” she murmured. AJ lifted their joined hands and kissed hers as she dozed off.
Ziva slipped inside the safe house, locking the door securely behind her before she removed her hat, wig and oversized coat. She dropped them by the door of the inexpensive weekly rental before going to her brother.
Ari accepted the medical kit she offered. He’d discarded the scrubs he had worn to escape and was in jeans and a turtleneck. Efficiently, he began sorting supplies.
“You did not need to kill them, Ari. It has only brought more pressure to bear,” Ziva told him in Hebrew.
“Did I not?” He ignored her choice of language and spoke English. To the best of her knowledge, he had not spoken Hebrew aloud since his mother died. “I failed in my mission and the Hamas leadership will need a reason to continue to trust me. No matter how I prove myself, they regard my family ties with suspicion.”
“They recruited you for those ties.”
“That does not mean they are not wary of them.” Bandages, scissors and disinfectant laid out, Ari removed his shirt.
Ziva winced at the sight of his bandages, many dotted with dried blood. Ari seemed unbothered, neatly cutting away the wrappings on his arm to reveal angry wounds and black stitches. “You could have died.”
“So serious, little sister.” He cleaned the knife wounds carefully. Antibiotics would be slightly harder to get a hold of than bandages. “It is true. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
“I do not like this, Ari. It is wrong that you must risk your life and soul to regain our family’s trust.”
Air paused in his efforts to bandage his arm. “Ziva, I never had their trust, not either side of my so-called family. I am half-Palestinian, half-Israeli, and trusted by neither.”
“I trust you.” Ari gave her a fond, mocking smile. “I do, Ari. You made a mistake ot of grief.”
“If you think that all of this was not always Eli’s plan for me, little sister, you are hopelessly naive. His anger is that I acted on my own, and embarrassed him.”
“Our father —”
“Your father. My sperm donor.”
Ziva hissed. This was a point of contention between them and had been for more years than Ari had been tangled in the net of Hamas. “This is not what your mother wanted for you.”
“No more than your mother wanted you to follow Eli’s path and his orders to your death.” He picked up a hand mirror and used it while he cut the bandages around his throat. The wound beneath was discoloured from blood and disinfectant. “You are right, though. My mother wanted me away from a conflict that pulls at me from two sides, and the father who planned to make use of that. It was why she sent me to Britain for school against Eli’s wishes. He wanted me to study in the Arab world, make connections. But even Britain was not far enough away. Not when she died.”
His stillness as he spoke, staring through his own reflection, scared her. She would never say it but Ari scared her. He was still the brother she knew, who teased her and tugged on her hair, but his anger was a living thing inside of him, no matter how he covered it with smiles.
“Ari . . .”
He swiped the disinfectant pad over the length of the wound one more time and discarded it. “Do you have them?”
She retrieved her bag, a nondescript thing much like every American student carried. “Your injury?”
“It should breath for a few minutes. Ah.” He took the folders and printouts she had accumulated at his request. Malachi had been reluctant to help her but she was Ari’s handler. Ben-Gidon was merely attached to the embassy.
While he went through them, Ziva gathered the ruined bandages and packaging, scooping it into the wastebasket and tying off the bag. She would take it and discard of the blood evidence safely when she left.
When she returned to him, Ari had sorted the various documents. Several personnel files were opened, set aside for later, including the FBI agent in charge of the investigation and the medical examiner from NCIS. The evidence summary was scanned and tossed aside, as were the witness statements. Then he opened one, made a satisfied noise, and seized on another.
“Ari?” She looked over his shoulder. There were files on two NCIS agents, an older man and the woman Ziva knew had managed to detain Ari. Ziva made a face; Antonia DiNozzo seemed like any other spoilt American woman, more interested in looks and money than substance. She came from money but played at being an agent. “What did you find?”
“Nothing important, just interesting.” He tapped his finger on a line in the male agent’s file, then unclipped the photos from inside the cover. “It will be harder for me to get away from my watchers for the next while, Ziva.”
“You know that the members of the cell are tasked with watching me.” He smiled at her. “I am sorry, little sister, I must stay in their sight to avoid suspicion.”
“I understand. Do what you need to be safe, Ari.”
He flipped though the handful of surveillance photos she’d gathered from various sources, only to stop on one. DiNozzo and the man, Gibbs, stood shoulder to shoulder at a crime scene somewhere, hats tipped back and both holding a cup of coffee. They grinned at each other.
“I will,” Ari assured her.
This is the sequel to Nightcap