The Terrorist Trap
(Terrorist Trap)

by MJ

Chapters 4-5 added 8 March 2007
Chapters 6-7 added 11 March 2007
Chapters 8-9 added 16 March 2007
Chapter 10 added 18 March 2007
Chapters 11-12 added 27 March 2007
Chapter 13 added 19 July 2007
Chapter 14 added 29 March 2008
Chapter 15 added 1 April 2008
Chapter 16 added 8 April 2008
Chapter 17 added 13 May 2008
Chapter 18 added 18 January 2009

Chapter 1

Tony was in the office; it was early, he was alone as was often the case. Most of his coworkers would not be in for at least a half an hour yet. They were not currently assigned a case so the agenda for the day was going over cold cases and prepping for a court case that he was to testify in next week. Kate was the next agent into the office. Her desk phone started ringing as she was settling in for the day and putting away her bag.

"Special Agent Todd speaking, how may I help you?"

"This is the office of Siobhan Mays, the Chief of Police in New York City, I am looking for Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Is he available?" the voice said over the phone.

Kate looked at the receiver strangely. NYPD Police Chief looking for Tony?!? Must have something to do with one of the cold cases Tony was working on. She dismissed the call, at the same time saying sourly, "Tony could you please have your calls routed properly. I'm not your answering service. NYPD on line 3 for you."

Tony's mind started whirling. There were very few reasons for the NYPD to contact him and none of them were good.


"Agent DiNozzo, this is the office of Siobhan Mays. I am calling to inform you that Melissa Kendall and Dave Davis were involved in a job related shooting last night. Chief Mays asked me to call and inform you that Officer Kendall is in critical condition at NYU Medical Center. Officer Davis is in stable condition. I have been asked to have you come to New York as soon as possible."

Tony had paled at the news. It was as he had feared. "Is Siobhan available, can I speak to her?"

Kate had been listening in to the conversation, after initially dismissing it. She noted how pale Tony had become and then she realized he called the NY Chief of Police by her first name.

"No Agent DiNozzo, she is at the hospital."

Tony became frustrated at this. He did not have Siobhan's number with him and he didn't want to call the rest of the family, he knew they would be upset by this already. They wouldn't consider his call a burden but he did. "Can you connect me with her or give me a contact number so that I may reach her myself?" As an afterthought he added, "Has anyone contacted Agent Standish?" He knew that Siobhan and Ezra didn't get along all that well... heck Siobhan didn't like Tony much either. He knew this call had been made on behalf of Mel's parents. He was already checking online for shuttle flights from DC to NY.

"I am sorry sir but I cannot connect you to the Chief. Her cell number is 212-555-5000." He heard the shuffling of papers in the background. "So far we have not been able to contact Agent Standish."

Tony swore softly under his breath. The time difference to Denver made it possible that Ezra was only asleep and just not hearing his phone. The last time they had spoken he wasn't scheduled to go on an extended undercover assignment. That was only a week ago but things can change quickly. If he had a chance, Ezra would have tried to call someone and let them know he wouldn't be available but he still could be on an assignment. He would try to contact Ezra himself before trying any of his supervisors. Tony booked his flight for 2 hours in the future and powered down his computer as he finished his conversation with the receptionist for Chief Mays.

"Thank you for calling me. I will be there as soon as I can get a flight and I will contact Agent Standish myself. I will call Siobhan with the particulars."

Tony was mentally going over the contents of the bag that he kept packed and in his car and what he had in his locker at work. He decided to just take the bag in his car and if he needed more he could buy it in NY. He had taken his laptop with him this morning so he could do work if needed. He didn't need a place to stay, the apartment that the family had in the city would be enough. If not then he could grab a hotel room.

He was already calling Siobhan's cell phone from his own as soon as he hung up with the landline.

"Siobhan, what the hell happened?!!"

Tiredly the woman on the other end of the line answered: "She was out chasing two suspects with David and they separated. The suspects shot at them and they called for back up, it never came. I found out later that she has been the target of harassment because they found out about her religion and ancestry. They think she is an Arab so they left her out in the cold."

Tony started yelling into the phone: "You were supposed to protect her! When you got them involved in all of those special projects to help you because they could read and speak Arabic and Berber you PROMISED ME that this wouldn't happen!"

Kate had been watching Tony with increasing concern. He was acting very much out of character. Tony didn't do emotions, he was shallow and didn't care that much about anyone other than himself. Certainly not about people she had never heard him speak about before. As he got louder Kate spoke up before he did something rash with the phone.

"Tony are you OK?" Kate asked sharply, concerned about him since he never used profanity and rarely lost his temper.

Tony ignored Kate as far as she could tell but his next comment was much calmer. He took a deep breath before he continued. As he was speaking he was emailing both Gibbs and Morrow to tell them about his need for emergency leave. Morrow would accept it, he was fairly certain Gibbs wouldn't.

"OK. Alright I'm sorry, I am calmer now... I know you haven't been able to contact Ezra but you got everyone else? They are all coming? OK, OK. I will keep trying Ez and I know how to get through to his bosses if I still can't get through to him. I don't think he is on assignment now but you never know. I do know that it is way too early in the morning for him to be awake so that may be why we can't reach him. I will be arriving at JFK at 1015 on Jetblue."

Tony disconnected the call and grabbed his gear and gun, getting ready to leave. He was exiting the bullpen when Kate asked him, "Hey where are you going and what should I tell Gibbs when he asks where you are?"

"Tell Gibbs to call me if he needs me, he knows the number. Tell him to fire me if he needs to, he knows the number. If he really wants to push it, tell him I quit." Since his birth family never cared for him, it made it all the more precious that the family of his heart needed him. Gibbs and NCIS weren't anywhere near as important.

Tony got on the elevator as McGee got off. McGee looked at him as he said the words 'I quit' and asked Kate, "What was that all about?"

"I am not sure McGee but I hope Tony knows what he is doing."

Tony came out of the elevator and entered the garage. He took out his phone without checking for cell coverage. This was his latest toy, a gift of a satellite phone. Thinking of whom it came from caused him to pause and take a breath lest he let grief and fear overwhelm him.

He tried to call numerous numbers for his cousin in Denver and all came back with no answer. That wasn't surprising, it was still way too early for the man to be awake but he would have thought that one of the phones ringing would have woken him. Grinning to himself he thought again, he knew his cousin could sleep like the dead.

Tony stood there a minute and weighed his options. Sighing he decided to leave for the airport while he pondered his next move. He hadn't run into his boss yet but the longer he stayed on NCIS property the more likely he would. He didn't want to explain in person to Gibbs why he was leaving or where he was going. The email he had sent had only a request for time off with no reason given. His only regret was that it wasn't Joe who called him then they wouldn't have been overheard. The conversation could have taken place in any one of a number of foreign languages.

Tony started the car and pulled out of the garage. Tony noticed Gibbs turning into the garage as he was leaving. I hope I still have a job when I get back, Tony thought as he started driving to Dulles.

Chapter 2

During the drive to the airport Tony tried to contact Ezra several more times, still with no success. He was seriously considering his options, including changing his flight plans for one to Denver. He decided to try Mel's brother Joe first to see if someone else had been able to contact Standish.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Kate meanwhile had been thinking over the parts of the conversation that she had overheard. She knew that someone from NY had been injured, that Tony was well enough acquainted with the Chief of Police in NY to address her by her given name and not her title or last name and it seemed that the person injured was a police officer and knew Tony very well.

Kate sat thinking: Tony and NY, Tony and NY... Abby had gone to NY with Tony about a month or so ago. Abby always seemed to know more about Tony than anyone else here at work.

"McGee, I need to go to the lab and check on something with Abby, be back later." Kate got up and started to leave.

"K-K-Kate w-what m'I s-s-supposed to tell G-Gibbs?" McGee stuttered out, knowing that since Tony was gone the morning was going to be a rough one.

Kate looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. McGee didn't know anything anyway so it wasn't like Gibbs could get any information from him.

"KATE!" she heard as she stepped into the elevator, desperation coloring McGee's voice.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Tony hit the steering wheel with his fist in frustration as he drove to the airport. He had been about to call Joe when he came to a realization.

"Damn," he muttered to himself.

Kate heard the whole thing. She would tell Gibbs everything. As he sat in rush hour traffic he reviewed the conversation in his head. Probably enough to follow up on if they really wanted to. I bet Kate is already on her way down to Abby, to... Abby! Damn! They had only been to NY together a few weeks ago. Abby had been good about keeping the secrets he shared with her in NY quiet but if she thought that something happened or he was in danger she would tell the team everything. Never mind Ezra or Joe, his next call would have to be Abs.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Kate entered the lab to find Abby working on something on her computer. Loud music playing as always.

The phone rang and Abby answered it. "Abby's information line." Tony grinned in spite of everything he had learned this morning.

"Abs it's Tony, I know that Kate or Gibbs is there or will be there soon, don't answer and don't let on that it's me who is calling. I got a call this morning; Melissa and David were shot in the line of duty last night. Her aunt called. I am on my way to the airport for a shuttle to NY. Kate overheard my conversation with Siobhan so she can more or less piece most of what happened together. I don't want anyone to know about my family Abs, please don't tell them about the people you met on our trip." After the terrorist incident in the morgue he especially didn't want Kate or Gibbs to know about his Moroccan surrogate family. Let alone the fact that they made his father's money look like pocket change. Abby was cool with it. She thought it was awesome that he spoke so many languages and that he was much more aware of international politics, especially Arab/American relations than anyone (especially Kate) would ever think possible.

It had been a tradition lately to gather in NY over the Columbus weekend. Since it wasn't a traditional holiday it was easier for most everyone to get time off. Initially he wasn't going to bring Abby. They weren't dating and he knew that if he did bring someone his family would jump to all the wrong conclusions. Surprisingly it was Mary who insisted that he bring Abby with him once he mentioned that the Goth wanted to see the Big Apple. Mary knew they were close friends and wanted to see that Tony had someone who cared for him since everyone else lived so far away. Mohamed did get to see Tony sporadically when he was in DC for business, but it wasn't the same as having someone living close by.

"Please Abby, don't make me regret taking you to NY."

Abby looked at Kate and smiled. "OK sure, no problem, give me a call later or things may change." Abby knew Tony would understand the subtle threat to expose him if he didn't let her know what was going on. She had liked both David and Melissa and was worried about them. "Bye now."

"Who was that?" Kate asked.

"Just a friend I am supposed to see later today." And she would see him later; if he didn't call she was going to find him in NY and see for herself what was going on. "So what brings you down here, we have a new case I don't know about?"

Kate looked at Abby, not sure that she believed her, "No, no case... it's just DiNozzo got a call upstairs a while ago and then he just left the building, took his stuff and was gone, no explanation, nothing. I overheard part of the conversation and I think he is going to NY... You guys just came back from there and I thought that you may know what is going on."

"A call from NY, huh?"

"Yeah, from the chief of police no less."

Abby had met the Chief of police when they were in NY. She had gotten a private tour of the forensics lab. "Really? Wow, that's odd! All we did was see the sights, go to Central Park and hit a few clubs. It was a fun time." Abby left out the parts where she met people who were important to Tony, his "family". She was shocked to realize that they were as wealthy and influential a family as the Kendalls. The fact that the husband of Mary Kendall was the influential Washington insider Mohamed Ait Said also surprised her. She had read about them in the tabloids of course, but Tony was never connected to them. It appeared that they took pains to make sure that none of their children or grandchildren were mentioned in the press. Tony didn't want Gibbs to know of his connection with a noted Moroccan. With Gibbs' obsession after the terrorist break-in in the morgue, with the obvious Arabic ties, Tony was afraid Gibbs would accuse him of collusion.

Tony was actually using all of Moha's contacts to try and identify the unknown assailant. He was relatively sure that the man was not Moroccan since his accent was British and not French. Most Moroccans learn French before English. Moha's contacts outside of the Maghreb were not as reliable as those in northwest Africa. He knew that Moha was trustworthy, he was a Presidential advisor on Middle Eastern Relations, but he knew Gibbs would never trust Tony's judgment. He was certain that if Gibbs knew who he was using as a source that he would be looking for a new job faster than he would blink... that is if he wasn't on the next transport to Cuba for confinement at GITMO.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Tony was taking out his frustrations at the traffic on his steering wheel again. He was also frustrated since he was still not able to contact his cousin Ezra. They weren't close cousins, he used the term more to annoy the other man than anything else, in fact he didn't think they were related but Tony's parents had insisted that he call Ezra's mother Aunt Maude. Ezra had stayed with Tony and his family for nearly a year when the boys were 9 or 10 years old. He never saw him again until years later when he first went to the Kendall-Ait Said household on school break when he was a teen. Ezra was already living there.

As he was reminiscing, the traffic started moving and he was at the airport soon after, parking the car and arriving at the terminal. With no luggage to check he was going through the security check, always a pleasant experience when traveling with his gun, fairly quickly, all the while thinking of his family, immersed in the memoires.

Tony shook his head to clear the memories. He needed to talk to his cousin NOW! Think DiNozzo. Think! Ezra had mentioned someone on his team once Tener? Torrez? Tan... Tanner! That's it Vin Tanner. He had the number in his phone, Ezra had given it to him in case of emergency but he never called it. He would rather wait and use the big guns of calling Ezra's supervisors when all other avenues had been exhausted. This was his best next step.

"'lo," came a tired Texas drawl over the phone. Tanner had been sleeping in the chair in a room in a local hospital in Denver. ATF team 7 never let a team mate stay the night alone if they were admitted to the hospital, especially if it were one of the terrible twosome of Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish. They had an escape route for most of the area hospitals hardwired into their brains. Even if they were watched it didn't always work out. It was always better if one of the twosome was available to watch the other. Ezra had been injured in a buy and bust that went mostly according to plan. Except for the old staircase he had been on failing and causing him to fall about 10 feet dislocating his shoulder again and causing a concussion. The doctors were seriously talking about surgery for the arm that kept getting dislocated. He was just as serious about not having any surgical procedure.

"Agent Tanner? Vin Tanner of the ATF?"

"Yes?" not quite a growl but definitely more aggressive than the original greeting.

"This is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo of NCIS. I have been trying to locate an Agent Ezra Standish. It is very important that I locate him. Would you have any idea where he is? He isn't answering his home or cellular phone lines." Damn thought Vin, what the heck do they want with Ez, he isn't in the service.

The man on the bed had awakened at the sound of the phone ringing.

"Agent DiNozzo is it? I'm 'fraid I cain't tell you where Agent Standish is..." Vin didn't want to tell the NCIS agent anything, he was afraid that they would be after Ez like the FBI, who always were trying to prove the claim Ezra was on the take even if they had to frame him. Team 7 protects their own.

Ezra cut off his friend's reply. "It is alright Mr. Tanner I know the man on the phone. If he is calling at this time of the day it must be important. Please allow me to speak with him."

Tony was now seriously thinking he would have to change his flight plans and go to Denver and find Ezra before going to NY. He was about to give his contact information to the ATF agent on the line when he heard his cousin greet him.

"Tony! As wonderful as it is to hear from you I fear your calling at this hour of the day is a harbinger of bad news..."

"Cuz, sometimes I could swear you are psychic. Why couldn't I get you at home, I have been trying for almost an hour!"

"Because I am in a damnable hospital bed! Mr. Tanner refuses to aid me in my bid for emancipation. Tony why are you calling, what's wrong?"

Vin Tanner looked at his friend during the conversation. Ezra almost never used his first name, only occasionally when Vin asked or when the situation was tense like yesterday at the arrest. He always reverted back to surnames. This unknown NCIS agent had Ez calling him by his given name without prompting... He felt a tingle of jealousy for someone he'd never met.

Tony became instantly fixated on one word...

"Why.Are.You.In.The.Hospital?" Deadly quiet but forceful at the same time. The fear in his voice plainly evident to the man on the other end of the phone.

"Anthony calm down." Ezra used his full name to gain his attention. "I am fine. I had a misstep and re-injured my shoulder, nothing to worry about. Tell me why you have been so persistent in trying to contact me."

His arm. Again. It was my fault it was originally injured too. Well it could be worse. "It's not important Ez, forget I called..."

Ezra, Mel and Dave all injured at once... Damn, maybe I should change plans; he sighed rubbing his forehead. They would understand once I tell them he was injured too.

"Don't even try Anthony," Ezra was mad now, he rarely called him Anthony. "I will find out if I have to come there to you. You never call this time of the morning without reason. What happened and where do I need to be; don't make me guess and get it wrong. I am being released later today. I will be on a flight by noon, just tell me where I am going: NY, Florida or DC."

"NY," Tony said with a sigh of defeat, "Mel and Dave were in a line of duty shooting. Mel is critical. I don't have any more info. Ez, Siobhan is the one who called me so I am worried this is bad. Ez, they were left out in the cold, no backup. I think it is because she is Moslem." Tony hated to tell his cousin this after what happened to him.

Ezra closed his eyes at the revelation. "OK, I will call you later with my flight details. I will be there later today. She is strong, a fighter Tony, have faith."

"I hope you are right. I am about to board my flight now. Call me and I will make sure that you are picked up at the airport. See you later cuz, love ya."

"Me too Tony, bye."

Ezra was already out of bed and handing Vin his phone. He had his IV out already and was looking for his clothing. Vin looked at him and said quietly, "'s not here." All of team 7 was well aware of Standish's Houdini acts when he was in the hospital. His clothing was rarely left with him unless it was an oversight. "Ya wanna tell me what all that was 'bout?" Vin gestured to his phone, indicating the conversation that Ezra had just finished.

Ezra looked at his colleague; no, he was more than that, a friend at the very least though Ezra secretly wished for more. He knew that he would need Vin's help to get out of the hospital and he owed Vin an explanation after that call. The team had met Melissa and some of her family a few times. She held his health care proxy. He was injured often enough and severely enough that she and the team had become well acquainted, if not close.

"That was my... cousin, Agent Tony DiNozzo of NCIS. He called to tell me that Melissa and her partner were shot in the line of duty last night and that she is critically ill in a hospital in NY." Ezra realized he had been so stunned that he didn't even know what institution she was in, he had not asked and Tony forgot to tell him. "I have to get a flight out to NY today, the earlier the better. I need to be discharged post haste."

Vin looked at his friend, he knew they were close, although he shared a special bond with Chris, in some ways he was closer to Ezra, who for all his outward differences was the most like him. They had similar experiences growing up. Vin felt comfortable and safe even in Ezra's presence.

"Chris ain't gonna like it."

"I am sure Mr. Larabee will be less than happy at my absence but it cannot be helped. I am needed in NY."

"OK, when do we leave."

"We aren't going anywhere. I have to check the internet for a flight, and go home and pack a bag. JD didn't leave a computer here so I need to see if one of the staff will let me use a hospital machine. Barring that, I will have to wait until I go home to book my ticket. There is no need for you to come to the townhouse with me, Mr. Tanner. I will be taking a taxi to the airport. I am sorry that I ruined whatever plans you may have had for the evening last night, please accept my heartfelt apologies."

Vin gave him a hard look. "Chris ain't gonna like you goin' off on your own. 'Specially when you jist got hurt Ez."

"Mr. Tanner, I have to go. I will be met at the airport and Mel's mother will be there, she will take care of me. I am going even if I must tender my resignation in order to do so."

Vin looked at how serious his friend looked and decided to help him. They were out of the hospital and at the townhouse within half an hour. Ezra was at the airport by 6:30 AM.

"You realize Chris is gonna give me hell," Vin said with a slight grin.

"I am quite sure you are more than capable of dealing with whatever our esteemed leader does or says to you Mr. Tanner."

Chapter 3

McGee was sitting at his borrowed desk; he knew that in the next day or so Gibbs would be sending him back down to Norfolk. Currently he was working on some computer programs to try and at least find a name for the terrorist who had invaded the morgue. He looked over at the other 3 empty desks. He dreaded Gibbs' arrival at the office. He knew that he would somehow be to blame for the other 2 missing agents.

Suddenly Gibbs was there, strolling through the bullpen. McGee kept his eyes on the computer screen and hoped for the best.

Gibbs looked around the bullpen. Both of his permanent agents were not there. He put down his coffee and asked, "McGee, where are Kate and Tony?"

"Um - er well, Agent Gibbs. Um - Agent Todd went down to the lab about 10 minutes ago and I am not sure where Agent DiNozzo is. When I came in this morning, he was leaving the building."

"Leaving the building?" Gibbs said quietly.

"Uh, y-y-yes sir. I think Kate was here with him, she may know more."

"Fine McGee. Why are you still here anyway, aren't you due back at Norfolk?"

"Just finishing up on that software you asked for to track down the guy from the morgue. Should be finished in a few hours."

When he looked up he realized he was speaking to an empty bullpen.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Chris Larabee stood at the nurses' station at Denver General Hospital trying to get an answer out of one of the staff as to where not one but two of his agents were. He stood there muttering to himself about damn fool southerners and damn fool Texas cowboys. He never should have left those two alone. They needed a keeper!

Chris pulled out his cell phone and called Vin. When he answered, Chris didn't give a traditional greeting. "Cowboy, you better have a damn good explanation why I am at the hospital and you and Ezra aren't."

Vin gave him the short answer. Vin also told Chris he was planning on taking a flight later today to meet with Ezra, despite what he had said before they left the hospital.

Team 7 at least knew Melissa. They had met her and her mother Mary a few times. David had even come to Denver once when Ezra was injured, Larabee wasn't happy that his agent had gone to NY alone and injured but he understood why he went. He wasn't fully aware of the true nature of the relationship that Ezra shared with these people but he respected what he did know. Finding out Ezra had a cousin who was an NCIS agent was interesting. They had never worked a case with that agency yet, but it was good to have a contact there if needed.

"OK Vin take as long as you need and try and keep that stubborn southerner out of trouble," Chris ended the conversation with his sharpshooter.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

While Ezra's team knew of Melissa and her family, the only person at NCIS who knew of Tony's ties to her was Abby and he had asked her to keep it a secret. Gibbs was not happy to have a UA agent on his hands. He had not checked his email this morning so he did not get the message that Tony had sent to him.

He found Kate with Abby in the lab. Kate asked Gibbs if they had any open cases that would require the NYPD to call and there were none. Abby kept silent as Tony had asked. Gibbs didn't question her as Kate had, so she didn't have to lie to him. She knew that she would not be able to.

Gibbs escorted Kate back to the bullpen. He half expected Tony to be there when he got back, but there was no sign of the young agent. Gibbs powered up his computer and found the new email message from DiNozzo. A request for personal leave for an emergency, no reason given. Tony never spoke about his family, Gibbs was pretty sure they were estranged. He couldn't understand who the leave was really for.

"He'd better not be making a request like this just so he can show his latest girlfriend New York City," Gibbs growled out loud to the other members of the team.

"I don't think so Gibbs, he seemed almost angry with the Chief of Police. He actually yelled at her and even called her by her given name. I think something is wrong, I had gone to the lab to speak with Abby because she spent Columbus weekend in NY with him. I thought she may have some clue what was going on but she said she had no idea."

They continued to work on old leads for cold cases. Suddenly McGee spoke up. "Ah Agent Gibbs, Agent Todd, you might want to take a look at this." McGee was pointing to one of the many plasma screen monitors placed throughout the bullpen. This one was tuned to CNN and was reporting a story about two police officers shot in New York City. The woman giving the press conference was Siobhan Kendall-Mays, standing in the background among all of the police brass and family members was Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. There was an older woman who appeared to be clinging to him and a man about his age with his arm over Tony's shoulder.

"You know Gibbs, he did say that if you needed him to call. I bet he is waiting for you to call him."

Gibbs just stared at the screen and grunted, but made no move towards his phone.

Chapter 4

Tony found himself on the way to the airport for the second time today albeit in a different city but still fighting traffic. He was on his way to pick up Ezra. After a few mis-starts and delays the flight from Denver was finally due to arrive in NY although several hours late. It had been a long and tiring day. David was in much better condition than Mel. His wound had only been a graze and he had been sent home, well they tried to send him home but he wouldn't go until Tony threatened and then promised to keep him updated with any changes in Mel's condition. Dave then left, to the relief of his wife Gina.

Melissa was a different story. She had been wounded in the leg. It didn't sound like it should be such a serious injury but it was a thigh wound and it had nicked the femoral artery. It had bled twice as much into the muscle as it had outwardly. The blood loss went mostly unnoticed due to the fact that Mel had a severe asthma attack and went into respiratory arrest at the scene. The alley she had been in had old standing water and triggered a very bad reaction. By the time that her airway had been managed and brought under control by medications and mechanical ventilation the bleeding had nearly been forgotten about. After surgery to repair the damage to her leg and several blood transfusions Mel was stable but remained vent dependent and unresponsive except to deep stimuli. The unresponsiveness thankfully was due to medications, at least that what was Mary was saying.

If the emotional trauma of dealing with Mel's condition and helping the rest of the extended family cope wasn't enough, he then had to deal with the political bullshit that Siobhan insisted on. He hated having to do that press conference. He tried to get out of it but Mary was a wreck and Siobhan wouldn't let her out of it. Mohamed was overseas and had been unable to get a flight back as yet so Mary was clinging to him and Joe. She wanted all of her children around her. She had been very upset that Ezra had not yet made it to NY, that's why he was the one to be making the run to the airport.

He hoped that Ezra wasn't too badly injured because he didn't think that Mary would handle another one of her "children" being injured right now. Both he and Ezra had found family with the Kendall Ait-Saids. It was an experience he had never thought he would be lucky enough to have. Still all these years later he half expected one day for them to say, hey we were just kidding we really don't want you around any more.

That darn press conference. He had stayed in the background as much as he could but he knew that the cameras had captured his image. He hoped that they had been busy back at NCIS when the feed was carried. He really didn't want his coworkers to see him.

One thing that shocked him this trip was that Siobhan was actually tolerable. She had never liked him or Ezra, never accepting them when Mary and Mohamed had taken them in. He knew it wouldn't last. He still had not cornered her about what happened to Mel and David; he was waiting for Ezra to do that with him. So he knew the cordial way he was being treated would soon be a thing of the past.

Siobhan had even given him use of an unmarked police car to get Ezra from the airport. That enabled him to use the dashboard placard and park in a no parking area. He looked at his phone, expecting his cousin to call him and found he had turned the thing off during the press conference and forgotten to turn it back on. There were 3 new messages in his voicemail. Leaving them for now he called his cousin to see if he was off the plane yet and was taken aback at the snarled response in the phone.


"Whoa Ez, everything alright? I just got to the terminal, sorry if I'm late. I turned off my phone earlier and forgot to put it back on." Even with his family he sometimes got defensive and felt that if someone was angry he must be the cause.

"Tony, sorry I answered the phone without looking at the ID; I thought you were my boss Mr. Larabee. Apparently my team thinks I need a keeper and sent Mr. Tanner to NY to baby-sit me. Without my consent or knowledge I might add."

Personally Tony thought that was a nice thing to do and he knew as much as Ezra protested he secretly liked the fact that his team tried to protect him. Tony knew that his team would never do something like that, Gibbs would take it as a sign of weakness and Kate would take any information and use it against him. As often as he teased her, she at times could be vicious in her attacks on him and didn't seem to know any boundaries. It was why he didn't tell his team where he was going or why. His chosen family was important to him, too important to be used as fodder for whatever joke Kate would play on him next.

"So I guess I have two to take back to the hospital huh?"

"Yes Mr. DiNozzo, you do," Ezra replied sourly.

"Hey Ez, don't take your temper out on me," Tony replied good-naturedly.

They discussed where to meet and in short order they were back in the unmarked police car. "Nice to meet you Vin. Wish it was under better circumstances."

Vin liked Ezra's cousin, he was a cheerful man about his and Ezra's age. Easy going and obviously caring toward his cousin. When Tony had seen Ezra the first time at the airport his eyes hardened as they swept over Ezra, he had burst into a spate of Italian that could only be about the state of Ezra's health. Ezra answered him and they argued a little. Tony finally relented, after hugging his cousin with obvious affection, Tony said in English. "Mary's protective instincts are in overdrive. You will be lucky if she lets you out of her sight to go to the bathroom."

Tony wasn't injured. At least not in any way that she could see. He had some bruises from that incident in the sewers a few days ago but nothing noticeable. He hadn't had time to talk to any of the family after that incident and now he knew it was a good thing, Mary hadn't wanted him to leave to get Ezra from the airport. If she knew he had been injured recently, even a minor injury, she would keep him near her. He kept many of the details of his job from her. If she ever knew he had been pushed out of a plane for example... Tony shuddered at the thought.

The men walked towards the car while Ezra and Vin filled in how Ezra had been injured. Tony explained to Ezra the extent of Mel's injuries and that Dave had been released from the hospital.

The trip from Queens to Manhattan was long, not due to distance but traffic. Tony took the time to talk to Vin, getting to know his cousin's team mate. His phone rang in the middle of the conversation. He looked at it and paused, not immediately answering once he looked at the caller ID. Ezra opened his eyes; he had been resting but not really sleeping. When the phone rang and Tony did not answer it, he became concerned that the call was somehow related to Mel and Tony was not answering because he feared bad news.

Tony looked over at his cousin and noticed his questioning glance, said "Gibbs" with a grimace on his face. Ezra nodded in understanding, As much as he complained about his team mates and in particular his team leader. He knew that they cared about him. Tony had told him on numerous occasions he thought that Gibbs was looking to replace him, that he was just waiting for Tony to screw up badly enough.

"Not answering, or in this case calling him back, is not going to improve his demeanor." The phone had finished ringing by this time. "You better call him back," Ezra advised him.

Tony sighed. "You're right. I think that he called me earlier but I had the phone off." He looked at Ezra. "You missed Siobhan's press conference. I didn't get any calls except from Abby and I answered her call. Had to turn off the phone for the press debacle... uh, I mean conference. I forgot to turn it back on until I had to come and get you. I had a couple of voice mails I haven't listened to yet," Tony said a little sheepishly.

At the mention of a press conference set up by Siobhan, Ezra winced. He knew that she loved her niece but he also knew that she lived for playing political games. NY was in competition with DC as to which town had more of that type of game being played.

"I am sorry that I missed the performance," Ezra said sarcastically. He hated politics too, but Maude made sure he knew how to play however; almost as well as he played poker.

Tony grinned at him, looked at his phone and sighed. As if on cue it started ringing again. Looking at the traffic, which had started to move, he gave the phone to his cousin to answer.

"Agent DiNozzo's phone, Agent Standish speaking, how may I help you?"

In DC Gibbs looked at the receiver in his hand in puzzlement at the strange southern voice. Who the hell is Agent Standish and what is DiNozzo doing with him?

"This is Special Agent Gibbs; I need to speak with DiNozzo."

"I am sorry sir but he is unable to speak at the moment, may I take a message."

Gibbs had been holding on to his temper by his fingernails. When Tony wouldn't talk to him, he lost what little control he had left.

"You can tell Agent DiNozzo that he is UA and if he isn't back at his desk in 48 hours don't bother coming back at all." Gibbs disconnected the call without saying anything else.

Ezra looked over at Tony and said dryly, "Charming boss you have there. He said you were UA, whatever that means, and if you weren't back at work in 48 hours don't bother coming back."

Chapter 5

Gibbs sat looking at the phone. Who was agent Standish and what was he doing answering DiNozzo's phone? Was DiNozzo looking for a job with a different federal agency? He had been with NCIS for over 2 years, past time that he usually moved on. He looked up and saw that Kate was giving him a strange look. "Kate, don't you have some cold cases to review?" They had not gotten a new case today. McGee was trying to be unobtrusive as he worked on his computer program.

Gibbs felt restless; he needed a cup of coffee. After talking to the federal agent who answered Tony's phone he needed answers and he knew just where to get them. Gibbs left the office with a purpose: coffee for himself and a bribe for a certain lab tech. Caf-pow would do the job nicely. He knew Tony confided in Abby and Gibbs wanted to know if Tony had spoken to her about an interview for a new job.

Abby looked up from the article she was reading from an online forensics journal. She saw Gibbs enter the lab and was hoping he didn't come to ask her about Tony. She could lie by omission to Kate but it would be impossible to do to Gibbs. She saw the drink he had for her and really hoped he had a case or some lab test he needed her to do.

"Bossman, something you need?"

"Where is Tony, Abby?"

Abby froze; she looked at Gibbs and tried to formulate a response.

"Is he interviewing for a new job?"

OK, thought Abby, that I can answer.

"No! No way bossman, he won't leave you."

"We saw him in the background at a press conference in NYC. He isn't answering his phone. When I finally get through, someone else... an Agent Standish answers his phone. If you know anything, now would be a good time to start talking Abby."

"That cop who was nearly killed in NY... Tony is close to her, very close to her."

"Oh." Everyone knew that Tony was a ladies' man. "How long has this been going on?"

"They have known one another for a long time Gibbs, since they were teens at least."

"I gave him 48 hours to get back, I don't care how close they are, he better get back here."

He can't really love her the way Abby is implying. Not the way Tony plays the field, Gibbs thought as he started out of the lab and didn't hear Abby say: "I wouldn't worry about Standish, he's Tony's cousin. I hate when he does that."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The first thing on the agenda upon return to the hospital was the long overdue talk with Siobhan. Tony had waited because he knew that Ezra would want to be there for their little chat. Joe wasn't in law enforcement, he didn't really know how things were and neither Tony nor Ezra wanted to enlighten him. They would take care of Mel as well as Joe would, as well as spare him the need to strain his relationship with his Aunt.

Tony was impressed by Vin, how he watched the door instinctively without a word from Ezra asking him to and without a reason why. Obviously Vin was used to watching Ezra's back. Tony was very satisfied that in his current job Ezra would never be treated like he was in the FBI. He would be protected by his coworkers.

They waited until she was alone. Tony started: "I want you to explain what happened." He was lethally quiet and the air of danger about both men was palpable. None of Tony's coworkers would recognize him.

Siobhan looked at him as if he was dense. "She was shot, it happens fairly often."

"That's not what I mean. We both spoke to you about our concerns. You agreed if they did your special projects, no street duty for either of them. You know Ezra's history; you know we had a valid concern. She is your niece for goodness sake!" Tony let a little of his fear and anger seep through.

"Well I never... You have no right..."

Ezra spoke up: "We have every right. Let me tell you how it is going to be from now on. Both Dave and Mel will be assigned to your office, no more street duty. They will do special projects related to their special skills."

"If I refuse?"

"Tony and I never mentioned to Mary how poorly you treat both of us. We didn't want to cause a rift between you. If you are unwilling to agree to our terms, we are more than ready to tell her about this conversation and how you nearly got her daughter and nephew killed. Good day madam."

The two men walked out of the small conference room the hospital had given to the Chief for use. Vin flanked them as they left to join the rest of Mel's family in their vigil.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

After they left Siobhan, Tony had one other thing that he needed to take care of. While walking the corridors he started a difficult conversation with Ezra.

He started talking in Arabic to his cousin, wanting to give his cousin privacy if Vin was unaware of Ezra's child: "Does Vin know about the girls?"


"They are here at the apartment. Do you want him to know about them? I will discuss this in English then."

Ezra considered what his cousin was asking. He would be giving Vin his ultimate trust.

Ezra responded in English: "It's OK, I trust Vin implicitly."

Vin looked at Ezra in surprise. He was pleased at the faith this simple statement showed. Tony smiled to himself; this reinforced the feeling that his current team would never abandon his cousin. It eased his mind greatly that he didn't need to fear another debacle like Ezra's final days with the FBI.

"I want to send the girls to Mohamed's family in Morocco for the time being. If you don't want to send Emily that's OK, I am sending Marie. We had a terrorist who appears to be from Hamas or possibly Al-Quaeda break into NCIS a few months ago. I don't want him connecting me to Mary and Moha and then the kids. I know that they would be safe in Morocco and well taken care of."

Vin looked confused. Tony took pity on him and explained: "Ezra and I both have daughters who are being raised by their grandparents, Mary and Mohamed." Tony offered no further explanation.

"In Morocco, if a stranger was in the area looking for the girls it would be noticed, even if they spoke Arabic or Berber. The whole village knows they are Mohamed's granddaughters, he dotes on them," Ezra mused aloud. "You are that concerned?"

"If I thought they would allow it, I would pack up the whole family, you included, until this guy is caught." Tony had come to family late in life but he valued it highly.

The look Ezra gave Tony spoke plainly. "This is the gentleman in the picture you have asked me to have my... contacts inquire about." Ezra had extensive contacts in the Moroccan government. Maude had nearly married one of the advisors to the king when Ezra was a teenager. This was the way he had met Mel and eventually Mary and Mohamed.

"Yes, I am fairly sure he wasn't Moroccan but your contacts may have some information about him." Tony was hoping Moroccan intelligence would have something that he could take to Gibbs. His boss was becoming obsessed with the terrorist.

"NCIS seems fairly certain that he is Hamas but no one can ID him, which is odd. Regardless, I want Marie and Em safe and the best way to accomplish this is to have them in Morocco for a short time. I can't make this decision for you but I would prefer both girls go."

Ezra thought about it for a moment and agreed. "OK, we will talk to Mary and Moha. They will be safer there."

It was now early evening and Ezra had yet to see Mary or Mel. They found Joe and Mary in the waiting area. They said the sedation had been reduced and that Mel was becoming more responsive. Mary was not happy at the condition that Ezra was in, but was pleased that his team mates sent someone among to look out for him.

Tony spent the next 48 hours divided between sitting at Mel's bedside holding her hand and spending some time with his daughter. Marie and Emily had initially been at the family apartment but were sent to stay with David and his wife and daughter. They were delighted to see their NY cousins. Dave had a sister who had a young son and the children were occupying one another. By the time Tony had to leave, Mel was moved out of the ICU. She was expected to be discharged within the week unless complications arose.

Tony caught a shuttle back to DC and was at his desk barely within the time limit set by Gibbs. He was exhausted after the last few days of only catching cat naps. Thankfully he was able to go home at the regular time with no new cases being assigned to their team. Abby confessed to Tony what she had to tell Gibbs. He forgave her because she didn't really give Gibbs any information. He and Ezra had made plans for the girls to live in Morocco for a while. Moha was to take them in a week or so after Mel was settled in Florida for her recovery.

Chapter 6

It had been just over a month since Mel had been shot. Life at NCIS was back to what passed for normal.

Gibbs had kept him in the office for a few cases after he got back from NY. Tony knew that was a not so subtle punishment for going to NY, for leaving and not asking Gibbs' permission first. It didn't matter; he would leave again in a heartbeat if he had to for Mel or any of his "family".

He spoke to Mel often in those weeks she was considering not returning to the PD. She had put out feelers with headhunters for jobs in the fields that she held degrees in. Mel had collected a number of higher-level degrees, including one PhD, finding going to school as natural as breathing. Siobhan had taken Tony and Ezra at their word and had reassigned Dave to her personal detail.

Vin and Ezra had spent a few days in Florida while Mel was convalescing. Tony was almost certain his cousin had feelings for the handsome sharpshooter but was equally certain Ezra would never act on them, too scarred by what happened in Atlanta to ever risk his heart again.

Tony called the rest of the family on a more or less regular basis. The girls were safe in Morocco. Moha had taken them there about a week ago.

They had stopped in DC to spend some time with him before leaving the country. Tony loved being able to spend time with both of the girls. It made him wish that he could keep his daughter with him always. He knew with his job that was not a viable option. He never knew when he would be kept late or sent to a crime scene in another state, on a ship at sea or even another country. He would have to have a nanny and, honestly, he would rather his daughter be raised by family even if it meant they were separated, than have her raised mostly by a stranger.

Tony got to see Ezra much sooner than he ever thought he would. Team 7 had been assigned a case that brought them to the East coast. An ATF agent was suspected of dealing in the very arms they were supposed to be keeping off the streets. The ATF used a west coast team to minimize the possibility that the agent under investigation would recognize a fellow ATF agent.

At the same time Tony's team was called to the scene of the body of a Marine Sgt who was killed by an artillery shell shot from close range. The investigation led them to a pawn shop, purportedly run by the daughter of the owner. Tony had gone undercover as an arms dealer; as he and Gibbs were about to arrest her, she revealed that she was working for the ATF.

There was something about the scenario that didn't ring true; starting with the fact that she had no back-up, claiming staffing shortages post 9/11 caused her to be working solo. Gibbs was sure she was involved in the murder and in selling the arms. When the agent's supervisors were contacted it was revealed that she was under investigation and a joint investigation was formed.

Gibbs decided that he would be the agent who went in with the dirty ATF agent. Needless to say, this did not please Tony at all. He was the member of the team who did the undercover assignments, plus this one seemed dangerous. Letting Gibbs go in went against every instinct he had to protect his boss.

While Gibbs was getting his new ID set up with Abby and Malina in the lab, Tony was meeting with the team from the ATF. Tony was pleasantly surprised when he found Ezra and Vin among the agents in the group they would be working with. The team was diverse, to say the least. Much more relaxed than any group of FBI agents he had ever worked with.

Then again, after the way the "Fibbes" treated Ezra he barely tolerated working with them. If Gibbs didn't seem to have that odd relationship with Fornell, he would likely have no contact with them.

It seemed the ATF had a much more relaxed dress code than the FBI too. Ezra was the only one wearing a suit and it was much nicer than any one an FBI agent would wear. The rest of the group wore either jeans or khakis. Tony loved seeing Vin again, they had struck up a tentative friendship in the short time they were together in NY. Tony was introduced to all of the team. The only person on the team Tony had qualms about was Nathan Jackson. He was friendly enough to Tony but there seemed to be tension between him and Ezra. Tony took some good-natured ribbing from Ezra about his wardrobe, with his leather jacket and boots. Ezra knew that he was dressed for a role, but he couldn't resist teasing his cousin.

The room became deadly silent when an innocent comment was made by Buck Wilmington.. "Interesting to meet more of your family than just Maude, Ez."

Ezra muttered, "Ah Gawd," under his breath just loudly enough for Vin to hear since he was right next to Ezra.

Tony went still; he narrowed his eyes and looked at his cousin. "You didn't tell me the wicked witch of the south contacted you." His voice was too quiet. With the same edge of anger that he used when he and Ezra spoke to Siobhan a month ago.

Nathan bristled at Tony's tone of voice. How dare he call a lady names. Seems like these cousins are a lot alike after all.

"Anthony, she is not that bad." Ezra knew that was not the truth but most of Team 7 did not know exactly how bad his childhood was, the exception to that being Vin. Ezra had told him some of his background and Vin had learned more in Florida. Vin had no problems with Tony's depiction of Maude, he actually thought it quite accurate.

The rest of team 7 thought Ezra was a spoiled rich kid who never had to worry about a thing in his life. Maude more or less always had money, but the things she did in the procurement of that money did not always take the best interest of a child to heart. Tony knew the whole story and he had no love lost for Maude. He knew for a fact that if Moha or Mary knew she had been in contact with him, her life would be made most unpleasant.

When Tony became emotional he always reverted to Italian. He was lucky that for the most part the people in his life who he was most emotional with knew that language. It was the one positive legacy from his birth family. He was very emotional right now and started "discussing" things with Ezra in Italian. Ezra would rather they speak any language than English. He was sure the team would be curious, but if most of the discussion was in another language then he wouldn't have to explain to everyone.

"Li ha lasciati dietro in un paese straniero Ezra, quando swindled l'uomo che stava corteggiando da soldi molto. Eravate fortunati che hanno saputo che non eravate implicati. Allora quando vi hanno dato il santuario che ha ritornato e li hanno eliminati, lasciandoli con un molester del bambino. Non provi e dirmi non ha conosciuto avete provato a dirle che e non abbia ascoltato. Quasi siete morto, che sareste morto tranne i mel e la sua famiglia." (She left you behind in a foreign country Ezra, when she swindled the man she was wooing out of a lot of money. You were lucky that they knew you were not involved. Then, when they gave you sanctuary she came back and took you away, leaving you with a child molester. Don't try and tell me she didn't know; you tried to tell her and she wouldn't listen. You nearly died; you would have died except for Mel and her family.)

"State esagerando. Non eravate là allora esso siete accaduto prima che veniste a contatto di Joe" (You are exaggerating. You weren't there then, it happened before you met Joe.)

The team looked back and forth between the cousins. Vin almost wanted to stop them but it appeared that they weren't truly angry at one another. Tony seemed very concerned about what Maude may do to Ezra.

Tony looked at him incredulously, nearly shouting "You think they didn't warn me about her?!" They had switched back to English flawlessly.

Ezra decided to change tactics; trying to hurt Tony he mentioned the elder Mr. DiNozzo. "She is no worse than your own father, Mr. DiNozzo."

Unknown to Tony, Gibbs walked into the room at that time; he had left Malina in the lab with Abby, looking over the weapons they were going to use in the operation. Gibbs caught the reference to Tony's father. His lead agent rarely spoke of his family, only occasionally offering small blurbs about his childhood.

Tony winced as Ezra called him by his last name. "I don't talk to my father Ezra, you know that. I have a current restraining order against him. I will never let him near me or those I care about again. Can you say the same with that bitch? How often does she come and see you?"

Team 7 looked back and forth between the men. It was apparent this was a touchy subject with the two men.

Tony sighed, defeated. "I can't prove it, but I would bet anything she was behind what happened in Atlanta, cuz. I will not stand by and watch her destroy you again."

Gibbs was surprised at the venom he had heard in Tony's voice. His undercover man was usually easygoing and almost never lost his temper. The air of sadness that he sensed now was heartbreaking. He decided to end whatever was going on.


"Yeah Boss." Tony looked over at Gibbs, startled he didn't hear or see the other man enter the room, but Gibbs tended to do that to the team a lot.

"You planning on introducing me?"

"Sure boss."

Introductions were made. "This is SAC Chris Larabee. Next we have demolitions expert Buck Wilmington, This is JD Dunne, computer and surveillance expert. He is gonna wire everything for sound and video and I am going to be in his truck watching the monitors with him. Then we have profiler Josiah Sanchez, and Nathan Jackson resident EMT, next to him is Vin Tanner, sharpshooter, last but not least," he paused, not sure he wanted to reveal the family connection but then thought better of it. All of Ezra's team knew and if he kept it from Gibbs and he found out from someone else there would be hell to pay, "my cousin, undercover expert Ezra Standish." Gibbs' eyebrows rose at the name. He remembered the name as the man who answered Tony's phone when he was in NY.

Gibbs greeted them all in turn, quickly briefing them before he was missed by their subject. The OP was scheduled to go down soon.

Gibbs took a GPS device for show. Even though Tony knew it was a set-up, he called Gibbs and rechecked the details many times until Gibbs finally wouldn't talk to him any more and put Malina on the line.

Tony stayed with JD in the surveillance van as he watched Gibbs get shot, even though he knew it was only a blank his heart was in his throat. He hated not being there, watching his boss' six. At least that's what he told himself; that was why he felt the way he did.

Then it was over. The ATF team was using computers in the NCIS building to write their reports. The ATF agent was in custody. The Marines involved were in custody and, for a change, no one was hurt.

Tony had plans to meet Ezra at the suite that the family kept in the city. Moha usually used it, but any of them were welcome to it. Tony hoped Ezra still showed up after their argument. He should have never confronted the man about his mother in front of his team. He remembered what happened nearly 5 years ago at the end of Ezra's time with the Atlanta FBI. How his wife was killed, Ezra almost died and Emily was saved from her mother's dying body. The need to be with his family at that time was what cost him his job in Philly. They wouldn't give him leave to be with Ezra and the rest of the family so he quit. He had always suspected that somehow Maude had been behind it all. He had been investigating it on his own from the day it happened but so far had no proof.

All of this was whirling through his mind, including the painful memories of his own father that had been dredged up during the argument, when Kate made her nastiest comment yet about Voss. Worse yet, Ezra had heard her. His team was working in the adjacent bullpen, ironically in the area that Pacci's team used. Tony just needed to get out after the events of the day. He didn't wait for Ezra to see if he was ready. He nearly knocked Gibbs over on his way out of the building.

Ezra had heard the exchange between Tony and his female coworker, they had not been introduced but from the comments she made and the things Tony had told him when they talked, he knew who she was. He grabbed his suit coat and followed his cousin out of the building. Vin, who was keeping a close watch on both of the cousins, followed closely on Ezra's heels.

Chris Larabee, also seeing the exchange between the agents and the ensuing discussion between Gibbs and Todd, came over to talk to Gibbs when Todd left for the evening.

"Is he any good?" Larabee said, coming up to Gibbs' desk.

It took him a minute to realize that the man was talking about Tony. "Good at what?"

"At undercover work...? If he is anywhere close to his cousin, I may try and entice him to the ATF. We are really short on good undercover operatives."

Gibbs' changed the subject. "Are they really cousins?" Getting Tony to talk about his family was next to impossible. Tidbits occasionally, but no real information. He suspected Abby knew more but wasn't telling anyone.

"Near as we can figure. Vin knows more but he ain't telling. Him and Ez keep each others' secrets."

Chapter 7

Tony rushed down the steps instead of waiting for the elevator. He no longer wanted to see Ezra tonight. He was trying to find a way to not see his cousin at all. To speak with him only when he was safely back in Denver and then deal with what he was sure Ezra had heard. He knew he was a screw up. His own father had known he was a screw up, the senior DiNozzo had told him so often enough growing up. He tried so hard to not let his "family" see that in him. He was terrified that they would decide that he was worthless even after all these years. He knew that for the most part he wasn't successful in that either, he screwed up. Hell, he had a child out of wedlock that his "parents" were raising, but he still hated to disappoint them.

Now Ezra would see how much of a disappointment he was professionally, after all the tips and help Ezra had given him. Lately that's all he had done, getting himself drugged and left in the sewers, kissing a killer, who cared if Voss was a guy he killed one of their agents and I kissed him! Then let's not forget the argument you had in front of his colleagues. He knew how Ezra hated that type of conflict.

He knew Ezra would go looking for him, starting at his apartment most likely. If he stayed here in the labs or the morgue, then he wouldn't be found.

He forgot that most of the tricks he used undercover his slightly older cousin taught him. He also didn't know Vin that well, nor the fact that he was a tracker and former bounty hunter. He also forgot that Abby. his most likely ally. knew and liked his cousin and would most likely aid Ezra in his search. All those thoughts and knowledge were lost in the need to hide and escape. But he wouldn't be able to hide from them, not for long.

Ezra tried to follow Tony when he saw him leave the bullpen in a rush but he lost him. Tony had disappeared while Ezra was getting his coat and belongings together. Ezra stood at the elevator, weighing his options, looking at all the angles. Vin came to stand beside him. Vin looked over at Larabee. He was heading to talk to Gibbs. They shared a silent conversation and Vin promised to watch out for Ezra, they knew he could find trouble nearly anywhere.

Ezra glanced at his friend, over the past few months he and Vin had been spending more and more time together, becoming closer. After his first few years in Denver he had started letting his coworkers in a little more. He had them over to his home occasionally. He met them for drinks at the saloon after work. He even went out to Larabee's ranch at times for the weekend gatherings the team had. They thought they knew him, they were wrong. Vin knew him best. He knew that Mel was more than a friend, that she was his sister. That Mary was a mother to him in ways that Maude never was. He knew about his daughter and Tony's daughter. Vin never betrayed him. He didn't even tell Chris about their time in NY or the short trip to Florida that followed.

He knew he was falling in love with Vin and that scared him to death. He wasn't worried about being attracted to guys. He had known that for a long time. He wasn't worried about coming "out" to his family, all of the important ones already knew. Moha had been the most difficult with the revelation but even he had come around, especially when Tony made a similar announcement. It was easier for him since they weren't his sons, though he treated them no different than he did Joe. No, what scared Ezra was that most of the people he cared for left him. They died or abandoned him. His wife died, his mother left him with whomever she could find and at least once it was someone who almost killed him. The only people he could say he trusted with his heart were his "family" and it had taken them years to get to this point. He had known Mel for 20 years and lived as her brother for 17.

What if he leaves me, what if I am not good enough? I was never good enough for mother to keep me around for more than a few months at a time. What if he doesn't feel the same way I do? Oh lord what if he is straight? He ruthlessly ordered his thoughts and schooled his features. He needed to concentrate on Tony.

"Mr. Tanner, please convey my apologies to Mr. Larabee. I have some pressing business that I need to attend to."

Ezra needed to talk to his cousin. As many issues as Ezra had, his confidence was never one of them. Ezra knew that his abilities as an agent were good. The reasons for leaving the FBI were not of his making. The accusations of bribe-taking were unfounded but made working in Atlanta impossible. Ezra knew that with Tony, his time with his father had so shaken his self-confidence that what he showed the world was only a façade. He knew that his comments about Tony's father had wounded the younger man and then Tony's colleague had made it worse with her comments.

"Chris knows we's goin' Ez," the Texan drawled.

Ezra quirked an eyebrow at Vin. "We?"

"Yeah, we."

Ezra decided that to argue would serve no purpose; he feared that he wouldn't win, especially with the rest of the team around to give Chris and Vin added support. It would be better to look for Tony with just Vin than all 7 of his team.

The elevator arrived and he took it out to the parking lot, hoping that they would be able to get to Tony's car before he could leave. When they got to the lot, his car was still there but Tony was nowhere around. Think Ezra, think. Think, what was the name of the coworker he brought to NY... Abby Sciuto.

"I think I know where he is, or at least have an idea. If not, then I am going to let you track him down for me Mr. Tanner." With that, they headed in the direction of the labs.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Tony HAD been planning on spending time in the lab with Abby, but when he got there he found Abby had company. McGee was there and one of the members of Ezra's team. It looked like the youngest one, JD. He looked into the lab and it appeared they were comparing hacking techniques. When he heard the FBI secure servers being mentioned and then someone said something about the CIA database, he beat a hasty retreat, thinking the less he knew about that conversation the better. Though it seemed the Fibbes didn't share any better with the ATF than they did with NCIS.

Tony had turned around and was contemplating his next move. Deciding to go to autopsy, he went to the elevator and waited. Hopefully Ducky was still there or maybe the gremlin, Palmer. Even if they were gone, he could stay there until he was sure that the building was empty and the ATF team had gone to their hotel for the night.

Unfortunately for Tony, when the doors opened he came face to face with Ezra.

Upon seeing his cousin, Ezra said, "We need to talk, let's go." He grabbed Tony's arm and the 3 men got back on the elevator, heading towards the parking area. Not giving Tony any time to protest, they exited NCIS HQ in one of the cars team 7 had rented while they were working in Virginia, with Vin driving. Tony was too exhausted to argue and fell into a light sleep in the back seat.

Chapter 8

"Are they really cousins?" Getting Tony to talk about his family was next to impossible. Tidbits occasionally, but no real information. He suspected Abby knew more but wasn't telling anyone.

"Near as we can figure. Vin knows more but he ain't telling. Him and Ez keep each other's secrets."

Chris pressed his advantage. He had been impressed by how Tony handled himself in the pawn shop. They had the place under surveillance. Chris would be holding on to that tape just in case he ever needed a good undercover man again. He was also impressed by how he reacted to his coworker a few moments ago. Another may have blown up or escalated the situation. Tony decided to leave rather than take to obvious bait.

"We had the pawn shop under surveillance. I was mighty impressed by DiNozzo. He was good, maybe not as good as Ez but no one is. Still, he was among the best I ever seen. Might even be worth putting up with that spitfire to have him out west." Towards the end of his comments, Chris was more musing to himself than really talking to his NCIS counterpart.

"How often does he get injured? Has he ever been hospitalized?" Chris was asking, trying to determine if maybe the spitfire wouldn't show up for Tony after all. "Did DiNozzo go to NY a month ago?"

"He's been injured but nothing so serious he was ever admitted to the hospital. He hates going there, he usually has Ducky - our ME - fix him up here... that's if we realize he is injured... Hey what's with all the questions? Tony may seem like he whines and complains, but he only does that for the small injuries. Whenever he is seriously injured I can't get him to see even Ducky."

"Did he go to NY a month ago?" Chris asked again, with a little more force this time. The not liking hospitals sounded a little too familiar for his sanity. He already had 2 on his team with a similar problem. Hiding injuries sounded like Ezra too.


"Damn, I don't know if I can deal with her more often." The "her" being Mel Kendall. The last time Standish had been seriously hurt they almost came to blows. As small as she was, he feared she could take him. It wasn't the PD training; he knew that whatever special training Standish had gotten, he either trained with her or taught it to her later. Standish could be quite wicked in hand to hand combat. Lots of dirty tricks and street fighting stuff mixed in. Not the stuff that was typical fare at Quantico.

"What the hell are you blathering about, Larabee?"

"Well Gibbs, I would love to offer DiNozzo a job as an ATF undercover agent. You don't see undercovers of his caliber very often. I just don't know if I am willing to deal with Melissa more often than I already do." He started talking to himself again. "Tony would be on another team, it would be that leader's job to deal with her and her moods. I can get Ezra to keep her away from me."

"DiNozzo's going NOWHERE! He is on my team and he will stay there, is that understood AGENT LARABEE?" Gibbs had had enough of this man. Tony wasn't going anywhere.

Chris grinned to himself... So that's how it was, hmm.

"Agent Gibbs, since you told me that DiNozzo hasn't been seriously injured during his employment, let me give you a piece of advice. When he is admitted to the hospital, call this number immediately." Chris handed Gibbs a piece of paper with contact info on it. "I would then stand out of the way and let the little dynamo take over. She can be... interesting."

Gibbs looked at the paper he had been handed. "Who is she? How is she related to Tony?"

Chris looked at his NCIS counterpart. "Her name is Melissa Kendall. She is NYPD. She's the cop who was shot last month. I have no clue what her relationship is to DiNozzo, or to Standish for that matter, but my agent signed himself out of the hospital AMA to get to NY once your agent called him. The little I got from Vin once they got back to Denver made me think that Tony was just as close to her and her family as Ezra is. Every time Standish lands himself in the hospital, Mel or another of her family show up and take over. They run the show. They are frightening to watch."

Gibbs thought back to the day a month ago that Tony went UA: It appears that the girl he went to see wasn't a girlfriend but they are close. I will need to try and get more info from Abby.

"Let's go and get a drink, Gibbs."

"It's late even for DC, nothing is going to be open."

"Let's see if we can find an all-night diner, at least. I rarely find another SAC who I can work with, and I find that it is incredibly easy to work with you. I bet we can trade undercover agent stories all night. Did I tell you Ezra REFUSES to wear a vest? He gives me new gray hair and wrinkles every bust..."

They walked out of the empty bullpen. All of the members of Gibbs' team were gone and Team Seven were back in the hotel they had been living out of for the past few weeks.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Tony sat in the back seat of the rental car, dozing. Vin was driving. They had stopped at his apartment. Ezra had gone inside and packed him a bag using his own key. Tony roused when Ezra returned to the car, curious why the motion of the vehicle had stopped. He raised an eyebrow at the size of the bag his cousin had packed for him. He would have a few days off to spend with Ezra at the suite of rooms that Mary and Moha used when in DC. Unless a new case came up, that is.

Things had been quiet lately. He had been lucky when Moha had stopped in DC with the girls to say goodbye before they went to Morocco. No cases had come up and he was able to get out of work on time every night. He knew the way he was running out every night the general consensus was that he had a hot new girl. In a way it was true; in fact there were two even, one seven and the other five. Not exactly what the gang expected from him.

The only one from work who knew about the girls was Abby. She had met them on the October trip. She came and hung out with the girls, giving him time to talk with Moha about some follow-up he wanted Moha to do in Morocco. Both Ezra and Moha had extensive contacts in the Moroccan government, and he thought if Moha was physically in the country he might get better results and answers than just from a call long-distance.

Tony had been getting desperate. None of the extensive unofficial contacts he had pursued had been able to get him any closer to a name. He knew Gibbs thought he was goofing off and that wasn't helping his cause with his boss. He still half-suspected that he would be replaced one of these days. If he could at least come up with a name to go with the face of the man who had held Ducky, Kate and Gerald captive he knew Gibbs would respect him more.

As a last resort he had started contacting the people Ezra had been involved with on his last assignment with the FBI. He had been working on a terrorism case and had contact with many underground and illegal Arabs and Arab groups. Some of the people were just here on expired visas, others were skating on the side of truly illegal - although not terror-related activities - and some were in deep; as deep as the terrorists who planned and executed the 9/11 attack.

Post 9/11, the FBI tried to get Ezra back from the ATF, finally realizing the value they had in someone with close ties to the arab community and loyal to the USA. It was too late Ezra no longer trusted the FBI to have any concern for his welfare. Unfortunately the FBI could be very insistent when it wanted to be. Tony wasn't sure what happened, but he was pretty sure that Ezra would be working for the FBI if Mary, the Kendall name and the Moroccan attaché had not intervened in some way. He was very fuzzy on the details, they had never spoken about it but he knew something happened. At the time he was too busy taking care of Mel in NY with her 9/11 injuries and freaking out because he, they, had almost lost her.

The fact that Ezra spoke both Arabic and Berber fluently gained him access that was unheard of for another agent. Unfortunately it also made his fellow Fibbies suspicious. Thinking he was one of those "towel heads". The resulting fallout made Ezra a widower and a single father on the same day, seriously injuring him and signaling the beginning of the end of his career with the FBI. Someone planting rumors that he was on the take was just the finishing blow. If those fools realized how much Ezra's personal fortune was, they would know how silly an accusation like that was.

Shortly after his return to the FBI from medical leave, he was offered a position on Team 7 and after a rocky start, he was still there almost 5 years later. Tony was thrilled that his cousin had gotten a second chance with a new team. Ezra never had to work a day in his life he didn't want to. He could go and work for one of the Kendall companies under Joe in some capacity if he wanted, but what both Tony and Ezra craved was to work in law enforcement. To help people to solve crimes and to keep the criminals off the streets. Mel had shared that with them and now it seemed that she was losing that dream in the same way that Ezra had nearly lost it. To bigots.

If Ezra knew he was talking to those old contacts, he would literally kill Tony. Those people played for keeps and, if they found out he was a federal agent, he would be dead before he knew what hit him. Tony forcibly reminded himself to keep those thoughts out of his mind while with Ezra. He didn't want to slip up and mention something that would make Ezra suspicious.

He had been lost in thought, with his eyes closed, not truly dozing but near enough for Vin and Ezra to think he was.

"Tony... Tony, come on, wake up... we're here." Ezra spoke to him softly, while shaking his arm gently. He knew how to approach Tony so as not to have him wake up swinging.

Tony had called ahead to have the concierge have the rooms ready and waiting. He had made no special requests of the hotel staff and the key cards were waiting for them on arrival. The staff greeted both Tony and Ezra by name. Vin was a little awed by the whole experience. This level of service was something far outside the norm for him.

Tony noticed Vin's discomfiture but didn't comment on it. He had grown up with wealth, his father was very well to do. The Kendalls had more money than that, but they didn't act like it. From the time that Tony had joined the family, they lived like most middle class people. The only difference was that occasionally he had to attend really boring ritzy parties. He did have nice things, but he knew how to cook at least well enough that he didn't starve and he knew how to shop and do simple housework. Mary insisted on it. They had servants, but the kids were expected to clean up after themselves and do laundry and the like. Then there were the times they spent together in Morocco. Sometimes staying in palatial accommodations and other times in a tent in the desert with no running water or sanitation.

Vin cleared his throat and asked hesitantly, "How much is this place gonna cost?" He had no idea when he tagged along with Ezra that he was planning to go to a place like this. He initially thought that they would stay at Tony's place. He figured he would be able to pay for it if he had to. He invested most of his income, in fact Ezra had helped him set up his account and managed it for him. He had a nice nest egg with the money he had earned as a bounty hunter.

Tony looked at Vin and said, "Don't worry about it. It is always paid for and available for use. Next time you see Mary or Moha, thank them for it. It is paid by them, mostly for his use when he needs to be in DC." Moha was frequently called for his expert opinions by the President or for testimony before congress.

In the last 4 years or so it had gotten a lot more use as both Mary and Moha found extra reasons to go to DC to check up on him. Since he started working in Baltimore, and now in DC proper, many of his chosen family found reasons to be in DC.

Tony, Vin and Ezra got in the elevator. Tony leaned back against the wall and slid down slightly with a sigh. Tony knew he would have to apologize to Ezra once they were in the suite. He was not looking forward to that conversation.

Chapter 9

The door to the suite closed behind the men with a sound that almost made Tony jump. He knew that now was the moment of reckoning

"Ezra, I need to apologize. I should have never said those things about Maude while your coworkers were present. I know I should have continued the conversation in Italian or some other language."

Ezra looked at his cousin. "I notice you aren't apologizing for what you said, Tony."

"No, I can't. I hate that woman almost as much as I despise my father. How do you think I felt in NY when I saw your arm in the sling, knowing it most likely happened because of that injury you obtained when we were kids?" Tony switched tracks now, talking about the time that Ezra had been left in Tony's parents' care. "Long before she did any of the things that gave Moha and Mary custody of you, she left you with my father. Sure grounds for questioning her judgment.

Tony shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. "It doesn't matter, look Ez I am tired. I am going to bed, see you in the morning."

Ezra grabbed Tony's arm as he was leaving the living room. "Don't run from me, Tony. Never think that I will treat you as he did. I will never hurt you." He knew that Tony's instinct when he felt cornered was to run, even all these years later. No matter that he had never been treated with anything but love and respect since he was 15, the damage had already been done. He pulled his cousin into a hug and then let him go to "his" room. Tony always used the same room whenever he stayed in the suite. Ezra suspected it had to do with subconscious fears about sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Vin had remained silent during the cousins' short exchange. He had watched them interact quite a bit in the short time he had known Tony.

Tony's outburst today surprised him. Maude was a charmer and Tony seemed just the type to fall under her spell. Vin was not fooled by Maude, even at first meeting. That Tony suspected her of underhanded dealings came as no shock to him. Most of Team 7 however was under her spell. They would never believe that she was anything other than a doting mother. They never paid enough attention to Ezra to notice how he reacted around her.

Vin watched Ezra. It was one of his favorite things to do. He especially watched Ezra after he first noticed how Maude, while seeming to play the devoted mother, never could seem to get to Denver when Ezra needed her. Strangely enough, whenever he was in need both Mel and her family were ready and even eager to be on hand. He also noticed how quiet Ezra became when Maude was around the team. She seemed to take delight in embarrassing him. Telling stories about things that she claimed he did while a youngster. Vin, however, found out that most of her stories were just that - stories, fabrications that she spun to entertain the team. One night immediately after one of her infrequent visits, he had come over to Ezra's home to go over an undercover assignment they were to go on the following week. Vin was always nervous when he had to go undercover and rehearsing the part with Ezra helped to calm and center him for his roles. He found Ezra drunk, so completely wasted that the man didn't know what he was saying. He had found out about the places that Maude had left him as a child. How she had abandoned him time after time and then the final straw, how she left him with someone who had tried to molest Ezra on a previous visit, and Ezra had warned her about him then she left him with the same man again. How he had escaped and Mel's family took him in at 15.

He remembered Ezra asking him why she couldn't love him, even now. It had broken Vin's heart to hear Ezra so lost and sad.

Vin looked at Ezra as his cousin went into his room. "He's a good man, Ez, and a good friend."

Chapter 10

"Now are you planning on telling me what that whole outburst between you and Tony today was all about?" Vin looked at Ezra after his cousin had left the room.

Ezra gazed at Vin, sizing him up, deciding what and if he should talk to him. "I can't really talk about it. It isn't mine to tell…" trying to make it seem that it was Tony's to tell.

Vin looked at Ezra again. "Ez, I known you what, 4 or 5 years now. I'm your closest friend on the team, don't shut me out." Please don't shut me out, Vin thought to himself.

He led Ezra over to a loveseat in the living area of the suite. Before they could sit, Ezra went and got a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue and two glasses.

"It is a rather sordid tale, are you sure you want to know?"

At Vin's nod, Ezra sighed. He poured two generous glasses of scotch and settled on the sofa that was across of where Vin was sitting, offering one of the glasses to Vin. He didn't want to be too close to his friend, not the way his thoughts had been ruling him lately. Usually he was able to control his feelings for the sharpshooter, but since Mel had nearly died he had been having more problems with his control. He wasn't sure if it was the fact that they spent so much time together in Florida while both he and Mel healed, or the fact that the woman he considered a sister almost died.

Come on Ezra, you can do it, school your features man and just tell Vin the least amount. You know the drill, just enough to make sense and he will be satisfied. Even the family doesn't know everything, don't lie to the man just tell him enough to answer his questions and nothing more. The family, in this case Tony, because he is the one who is here, know the most but not all. No one knows all. Tamilla did, he could tell her anything but she was gone. Vin is someone who he could share with the way he did with Tamilla... No! I am not going there, not now!

"Tell me, Mr. Tanner, what would you like to know?"

"Well, we can start with what was Tony talking about your arm? Why would he have any guilt over it? Why is he so angry with Maude?"

"I told you before about how Maude would leave me with people. She didn't really care who it was as long as someone would take me off her hands." Ezra knew that he had told Vin that much of his childhood. "When I was ten I spent nearly a year with Tony and his parents. In some ways it was great. Tony is only a year younger than me so it was nice to have someone to talk to and do things with. In other ways it was awful. His father drank to excess. He had a really terrible temper and sometimes he would strike us. Usually it was just Tony he beat, but sometimes he would hurt me as well. One day Tony did something, I can't even remember what it was, but it angered his father and he pushed Tony while he was at the top of the staircase. I was next to Tony and I grabbed him and stopped him from falling down the stairs. The only problem is that I dislocated my shoulder in the process. His father was too drunk to realize I was injured and Tony's mother was too frightened of her husband to take me to the hospital until the next day once he had gone to work.

"Tony blames himself for the injury and the fact that I continue to have problems with that arm today. When I showed up in NY with the arm in a sling... Let's just say that Tony was more upset than he let on."

"Tony doesn't seem to have had a much better childhood than you," Vin muttered, thinking of his new friend being abused as a child.

Ezra's eyes darkened, as much as he hated the abuse that he suffered while he was in the DiNozzo household, he knew that Tony suffered much more at the hands of his father in the years prior to being sent to boarding school. He knew that Tony still occasionally had nightmares. "Nor you my friend," Ezra stated. He knew that parts of Vin's childhood were as bad or worse than anything he or Tony had endured.

"As you heard, he no longer has contact with his father. I think that has more to do with Marie and Emily than anything else. Tony even stayed in limited contact with him after the debacle when his mother died. He would die before he let anything happen to those girls. I knew that he doesn't like or talk to his father before I said that to him today, but I wanted to hurt him." Ezra sighed, thinking back to the last time he knew that Tony had seen his father, after his mother's funeral. "It was childish and I regret it, especially after the way that other agent went after him." Ezra made a mental note to find out about that agent, he assumed it was agent Todd since the only female coworker Tony had spoken about whom he had not yet met was Todd.

Ezra took another large swallow of his drink. Vin had barely touched his. He knew it was Dutch courage, but he needed all the support he could get. He refilled his glass and continued with the story before he lost the little courage he had.

"Maude kept leaving me in places that weren't the best for a child and eventually it caught up to her and me. I was taken from her care and placed with a foster family and eventually adopted. I was lucky; it wasn't a typical foster situation." Ezra knew Vin had grown up in the foster care system in Texas before running away as a teen. He wasn't aware of Vin's reasons for running but he had been around law enforcement long enough to have an idea. "The family I was placed in asked for me. I was adopted by them. It was Mel's family, that is why I am so close to them." Ezra had downed 2 generous glasses of expensive scotch during his narrative and was working on his third. He had given Vin an extremely edited version of his childhood.

Ezra looked over at Vin as his story came to a stop. He seemed upset. Ezra was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol on a nearly empty stomach now, but he knew that he had been in control of his faculties while he had been speaking. He didn't reveal any of his secrets, at least none of the ones that could cause Vin to want to turn from him. He didn't tell Vin he had been raped as a child and that was why Maude had lost custody of him. He didn't tell Vin that he had close ties to the Moroccan Royal family, worrying that his loyalty to country could be questioned and his job placed in jeopardy. He didn't tell Vin how he had been unable to protect his wife, the mother of his child, from assassination. He didn't tell Vin that the reason that he nearly abandoned them during his first assignment with Team 7 was due to his guilt over her death. He didn't tell Vin how much he loved him. What he had said to Vin was fairly innocuous, why did he look so upset?

"I knew that there had to be a reason I never liked her. Why do you let her come around Ez, she torments you and you let her." It became obvious whom Vin was angry with.

"It is a good reminder of the lessons that she taught me. Never show your emotions. Never get close to people. I forgot a lot of that since I have been a member of Mel's family. They love unconditionally. It doesn't hurt to have a reminder every once in a while. Plus I don't want her making trouble for Mary and Moha. The more she stays away from them, the better I like it. Another reason: she doesn't know about the girls and I don't want her to find out about them."

As they had been talking, Vin moved from the smaller loveseat to the sofa that Ezra was sitting on, without Ezra realizing it. When Vin noticed Ezra becoming upset at his anger, he took one of Ezra's hands in his and started rubbing his thumb in circles on the palm.

Ezra's conversation slowly petered out to a stop. All of his concentration focused on the sensations traveling from his palm. It was like small bursts of warmth. It made him crave more. This is not good Ezra; you have to move away before he realizes that you feel more than just friendship for him, just casually move your hand, yeah that's it.

Ezra tried to slowly pull his hand back from Vin's grasp, only to have it held tighter. He looked into Vin's eyes in confusion, never expecting to see desire there. Vin let go of Ezra's hand and cupped his face with both of his hands, thumbs brushing against Ezra's cheeks as Vin's head slowly descended towards Ezra and suddenly he felt lips softly brushing against his. He parted his lips slightly at the shock, this was something he had wanted for some time but he never expected to be able to have.

As Ezra's lips parted, it was all the invitation Vin needed to deepen the kiss. Vin's tongue delved deep as he explored the taste of Ezra's mouth; the expensive scotch was most prevalent, but the subtle undertones were sweet and light and, as far as Vin was concerned, fully addicting. They broke from the kiss gasping.

Chapter 11

Vin kissed him; Vin was KISSING him, now, again. Mind shattering kisses. Vin had taken possession of his mouth again, his hands sliding through Ezra's hair. Petting it. The sensations were incredible, better than any fantasy that Ezra had ever had.

This time Ezra tentatively pushed his tongue into Vin's mouth and was immediately sucked in. He ran his tongue over the ridges of the palate and teeth, memorizing the pattern, wanting to imprint the tastes and textures on his mind in the event he could never savor them again. The kiss broke again with both men panting and affected to the core by the power of the kisses they had shared.

"Mr. Tanner..." Ezra started to say before he was interrupted by his companion.

"Vin, Ez, call me Vin," Vin muttered as he started kissing along his lover's jaw line, licking and nipping as he went, coming to an ear and tracing the shell with the tip of his tongue causing Ezra to shiver in response.

Ezra licked his lips and tried again. "Vin... w-w-e should... talk...."

"Later," growled Vin. Ezra talked too damn much as far as Vin was concerned. They could talk later, right now he needed this, wanted this.

Ezra's hands were suddenly in Vin's hair, threading through the long strands and loving the feeling of living silk combing through his fingers. His head was buried in those same strands, breathing deeply of the scent of Vin's shampoo; earthy and fresh like the man himself.

Then Vin was taking possession of his mouth yet again, hungry, bruising and dominating, pulling Ezra along for the ride.

Ezra felt his cock growing harder as the desire he felt for Vin increased. He never thought this could happen. He was almost afraid he was dreaming, but if it was a dream he didn't want to wake up... WAKE UP, OH LAWD... Tony was in the next room; they had to move before they woke him up. It wasn't that he was ashamed of Vin, Tony knew that Ezra had feelings for the man; he just wanted to make sure they weren't interrupted. He knew Tony had a tendency towards nightmares and, after the day they'd had, he expected his cousin not to sleep well.

This time Ezra broke the kiss but not all contact, he kept his fingers combing through Vin's hair.

"Mr... Uh Vin, we have to move. Tony, he could come out and..."

Vin immediately understood what his lover was trying to say. "Which room, Ez?" Vin also didn't break contact with Ezra either. It was as if they couldn't stand the thought of not touching one another. He started to work on the tie around Ezra's neck, placing little kisses along Ezra's jaw as he went. Vin was never any good with those things, he wanted it out of the way as soon as he could.

Ezra stood and, taking Vin's hand, headed towards one of the bedrooms in the suite. As soon as the door was closed behind them they started kissing again, desperate for the feel of flesh against flesh. Ezra's tie was gone and soon his shirt followed. Vin's hands and mouth traced paths over Ezra's naked chest, feeling and tasting, nipping and memorizing as they went. Ezra was still fascinated with Vin's hair, playing with it as the sensations of arousal coursed through his body, pressing Vin's head lightly to his body to increase the contact.

They stumbled to the bed, not breaking the contact they had with one another. Upon reaching the bed, Ezra regained enough of his senses to realize Vin was wearing too much clothing, that there was not enough skin for him to touch. He unbuttoned the shirt first and stopped to admire the flesh that he had exposed. He started at the collarbone and worked his way to the nipples, sucking and licking them, earning a moan from Vin as the sensations rolled over him, causing his erection to throb in time with his heartbeat, growing painfully tight in his jeans. Ezra cupped the source of the discomfort with one hand, rubbing it lightly and getting another moan for his actions.

Suddenly they were simultaneously removing their pants. With no further barriers their cocks rubbed one another, causing both men to move their hips in time. Once, twice... Ezra resumed kissing Vin's chest, working his way down to his beautiful cock. One thought in mind. He skimmed over the wonderfully taut abs and lightly licked at Vin's belly button on his way to his ultimate destination.

"Absolutely gorgeous," Ezra muttered as he nuzzled the wiry yet soft curls that held his prize as he inhaled the scent that was pure sex and uniquely Vin. He cupped Vin's balls with one hand, measuring them and rolling them lightly while his other hand traced patterns over the head of the cock. Taking the small dribbles of fluid collecting there and using it as if an erotic finger painting, the fingers rubbing over the slit over and over, causing even more murmurs of pleasure from Vin. Ezra then took the tip of his index finger and swirled it through the drops one last time and his tongue darted out, delicately licking the finger tasting the essence of his lover.

To Ezra this was all about the sensations: touch, taste, smell; all playing an important role, helping to imprint the experience on his soul. Vin's cock felt like silk over steel in his hand, then he took him into his mouth and it was like taking the finest warmed velvet and sucking on it. Vin's skin was indescribably soft and warm and inviting, terribly addicting without even having tasted the cum yet. Ezra knew he was lost, that this ruined him for anyone else but he didn't care. Ezra knew he loved Vin before this; now at least he knew what his love tasted like, felt like, what it was like to give pleasure to the one he loved.

"Oh... God... Ez..." Vin moaned, restlessly moving his head on the bed, hands grabbing at the sheets. "I need ya in me, Ezra... please!"

Ezra licked at the head, taking deliberate care to give as much pleasure as he could. Then he took the whole in his mouth, continuing to stimulate the balls as he did so. Moving his mouth up and down the shaft, applying gentle suction at first and then more forcefully scraping his teeth along the sides of Vin's cock to add to the sensory overload. He went down once, twice more before pulling back and moving slightly to the side of the bed, looking in the bedside table to evaluate what supplies were there. He found some lotion and a few condoms, not caring at this point who might have left them there.

Ezra licked his lips and looked at Vin's beautiful deep blue eyes and asked, "Are you sure?" Still half afraid that he was having a dream or fantasy, his hands rubbing over the nipples of his partner.

"Please... Ez.... NOW," Vin growled.

Ezra placed lotion on his fingers and gently placed one finger in the opening, pushing in slowly and firmly, causing Vin to gasp and push back against the finger, moaning. Adding more fingers as quickly as he could without causing any discomfort to his lover. Then he brushed that sensitive spot and Vin nearly flew off the bed.

"Now Ez, in me now!" he said forcefully.

Ezra prepared himself quickly and started to slide slowly into the tight passage. It was warm and welcoming and so right, so very right. He stopped when he was partially in to give Vin a chance to become accustomed to the intrusion. Vin was moaning and pulling at him to come into him fully; his legs, which had been pulled up to open himself for Ezra's penetration, moved and wrapped themselves around Ezra's waist, pulling the smaller man more firmly into Vin's body.

Ezra started moving slowly at first and then faster, urged on by the moans and cries of his partner... or were they his cries? He was so lost he could no longer tell. The sensations became too much for both of them and then Vin came, his semen coating his stomach; moments later Ezra found his release and collapsed on Vin, then rolled off so he wouldn't be too heavy for his lover, his love.

His love; he liked the sound of it, but worried that this step might have ruined their friendship. He hoped that in the light of day Vin still at least wanted to be friends. Vin was dozing at this point and Ezra got up to clean them off. He climbed back into bed and Vin snuggled in next to him in his sleep. A good sign, he hoped.

Ezra fell asleep wrapped in his love but worried about what the new day would bring.

Chapter 12

Tony woke with a start and a strangled cry, breathing heavily and sitting up quickly. He looked around the room in fear, not sure at first where he was; forgetting about being in the hotel suite and expecting to be in his apartment. He slowly calmed as he began to recognize his surroundings, blowing out his breath slowly and shaking his head to clear it.

Once he was sure of his surroundings and the fact that he was indeed safe, Tony flopped on the sheets with a sigh, grimacing at their dampness and hoping he hadn't disturbed the other occupants of the suite. Tony glanced at the bedside clock: almost 5. He had pulled the heavy curtain to the windows before he fell asleep so that he wouldn't be woken by the sun. He knew it couldn't be the afternoon yet however because he still felt tired. He lay in the bed a few moments more before deciding to get up. Attempting to sleep more would be futile; he never could return to sleep after a nightmare.

Tony sat up with a sigh, scrubbing his hands over his face. He reviewed his options. He didn't want to turn on the TV, not wanting to disturb Ezra and Vin. It was too early to go out... the health club in the hotel should be opening soon. If not, he knew the manager and he usually would open it for Tony when he asked him. A good workout would help clear the cobwebs and exorcise some of the ghosts that always seemed to linger after one of these dreams. In addition he would be out of the suite and hence unlikely to wake the others.

Tony rose quickly and grabbed his work out gear from the closet. It was something he kept here on a continual basis. Upon entering the main salon of the suite, he noticed that only one other bedroom had been in use the night before and mentally smiled for his cousin. He knew that Ezra was in love with his team mate but was afraid to say anything, do anything. It looked as if things had progressed between them. Tony was happy for his cousin, he deserved something good happening in his life after the debacle in Atlanta, and the death of his wife.

Tony quietly slipped from the suite and made his way to the gym. He absent-mindedly started working out and let his thoughts wander, clearing his mind from the vestiges of his nightmare. Once he was fully clear of any lingering effects from his bad dreams, he started thinking about what he could do with the free time he and his cousin would have today. It had been a while since they were in the same city with time to themselves, and he was looking forward to having the time with Ezra and getting to know Vin better. Maybe seeing the sights or going to the Smithsonian. Tonight, maybe a bar or club... hmm, Abby would love to see Ez again. Maybe I should call her and we can hit some of the hotspots she likes. There is that Bi club in Baltimore we can go to, maybe stay over there and come back in the morning... He grinned to himself, thinking that Ezra would be in for some surprises, knowing all too well Abby's taste in nightlife.

Tony debated briefly with himself about going for a jog and then decided to settle for the treadmill. He planned to run several miles and then head back to the suite and check on Vin and Ezra.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Vin woke slowly, slightly later than his usual time due to the late hour of his bed time and the warmth of his bed partner, not to mention the very satisfying activity that took place just prior to falling asleep last night. He looked at the man whose head was resting on his chest and smiled. Last night he had experienced something he never thought would happen. He had loved Ezra as a friend for many years and recently those feelings had started changing. He always knew that he liked men more than women. But he never thought that Ezra would feel the same way. After meeting Ezra's family, not Maude but the family of his heart, and realizing that they were Moslem he thought that he would never have a chance with the man.

He watched Ezra sleep. Awake, Ezra was constantly in motion, always talking or moving; when he had nothing to do he would take out that ever present deck of cards and shuffle them, moves becoming ever more intricate. His hands nearly dancing. It was interesting to see Ezra in a state of rest. It was a sight he hoped to see frequently and get used to. Vin took his arm and moved it to Ezra's hair. He started to gently run his hand through the hair, enjoying the play of the strands through his fingers.

He let his thoughts wander. He was happy with what happened between them and he wanted it to continue, but he realized he basically "outted" his lover to his cousin. His cousin who worked for NCIS. The Navy; the heart of "Don't ask, don't tell" country. He was upset with himself for not having enough restraint last night to stop. To not let it happen at this time, but he also had feared a missed opportunity. That if he had not taken the chance when offered he would not be given a chance again. This was something he had wanted for a while and he didn't want to risk it. As a child, after his mother had died, he had not gotten many opportunities for love. As an adult he had found a few people to take a chance on. Nettie he loved nearly as much as his mother. Chris was a soul mate and brother to him. The rest of the seven also brothers. Ezra was like Chris; a soul mate but more, more than just a brother. A mate, a lover. He clenched his fists in self anger and the man sleeping on his chest shifted, sensing the change in mood.

"What's wrong?" said a very sleepy and VERY southern voice. The accent noticeably thickened.

Ezra stretched and looked at the man next to him as he sat up. A frisson of fear curled in his abdomen at the thought that maybe Vin considered last night a mistake. That he could have lost his best friend by giving into his base desires. The silence grew and Ezra moved to get up from the bed, misinterpreting Vin's silence for regret.

Vin had been watching Ezra's face, he saw the play of emotions on it, so pure and honest. He lost himself in that sight, not realizing he had not answered his lover and that his lover took his silence for regret. As Ezra rose to get out of the bed, Vin caught his hand and pulled him onto his chest, kissing Ezra deeply and thoroughly.

"Nothin's wrong, jist thinkin', that's all." Vin got Ezra resettled next to him and started playing with Ezra's hair again.

"Well my dear Mr. Tanner, what thoughts are you having that caused you to make fists of your hands?"

Suddenly Ezra was straddled by one angry sharpshooter. His arms pinned over his head.

"VIN, Ezra. VIN, damn it! SAY IT! I ain't sleepin' with someone who cain't call me by my first name."

Ezra licked his lips which had become dry. "Vin," he said quietly, realizing what Vin was implying. This was not a one time thing.

"Much better," he murmured as he leaned in to kiss Ezra again. He rolled off his lover and answered his earlier question.

"I was thinkin' that yer cousin will know ‘bout what we did last night ‘less I get up ‘bout now... I was upset that I outted ya, Ez..."

Ezra sat up and looked at his lover "If you are planning to get out of bed to avoid my cousin finding out we shared a room, I fear you are too late. I am sure that Tony is long up by now. Considering the argument we had yesterday, I would guess he didn't get more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep. Discussing my mother or his father always leads to nightmares for him. I never understood why Maude affected him so," Ezra said thoughtfully as he went off on a tangent. "Whatever the reason, I expect he was awake before 5 and has already made use of the excellent health club facilities the hotel has to offer. In fact, I am surprised he hasn't barged in here already."

"Ya ain't upset that he knows?"

Ezra looked at Vin with a puzzled expression on his face. "Knows what?"

"That we're together as lovers. That you're gay."

"No Vin, I am not worried about it. I am sorry however that I placed you in this position. If you want to keep it a secret, I am sure that I can get Tony to keep it quiet. No one will ever know. He may act like a little kid sometimes, but it is mostly an act." Ezra was dying a little inside, he had thought that Vin wanted a relationship with him. A relationship with Ezra would include his family at some point in time, but Vin did not seem to want Ezra's family to know about them.

"You can go back to the hotel where our colleagues are staying and go back to Denver with them later today. I am sorry that I..." Ezra felt the words choking him, and quickly got up and started getting dressed, "took advantage of your good nature. I would hope that you will allow our friendship to continue, however if you feel that it cannot I do understand--"

"I ain't leaving. We jist got together, I ain't leaving. ‘Specially when you got me so confused. I ain't the one who has a family who is gonna be mighty upset that I'm gay. You do." Vin got up and pulled on the jeans that he had worn the day before. He didn't want to have this conversation naked. "Ezra, your family is Moslem. One of the few things I do know about that culture is that gays ain't accepted. I remember some from the training courses I had to take in the army before I was assigned to Saudi during desert storm. That was a major point made in the training. I think they stone them in Saudi."

"I am sure they do Vin, Morocco isn't Saudi Arabia. That's not to say that Moha was happy when I told him that I was bisexual, and honestly they have never had to deal with a boyfriend before now, but they do know. Even Moha accepts it now. Mary and the rest were born here, so they are very much modern Americans and never had a problem with it. They even know that I was interested in you. When we were in Florida after Mel was hurt, didn't you notice the way you were treated? We were lucky Mary was too busy taking care of Mel and getting the girls ready to go to Morocco, otherwise she would have pushed us together more. As it was she was cooking for you. She rarely cooks any more. I think you are her new favorite."

Vin was flabbergasted. He never would have expected this. Ezra's family knew about him? They knew about Vin and actively encouraged the relationship? Then there was a knock on the door, but Vin had already started talking again.

"I cain't believe you told Tony though, Ezra," Vin started to say but was interrupted by a quick knock and a head that popped in the door just in time to hear that last sentiment.

"Hey Ezra, you guys awake yet?" Tony asked, and then realized what he had heard and interrupted. For whatever reason, they were fighting about him. Damn, Ezra had not been involved with anyone since Tamilla had been murdered; Vin was the first person he had shown interest in. Tony wasn't going to do anything to screw it up for him. It was always a good policy to make yourself scarce before being asked to leave. Ezra would be a fool to give up Vin for Tony. There was no doubt in Tony's mind he was going to be asked to leave. He always was. Granted this time it took a really long time, so long he had stopped looking for the clues to tell him he was on thin ice, borrowed time. He knew he would be the one to go in this case, because Mary and Moha had adopted Ezra; he was their son. Tony had no such claim to them. No matter how much he had always wished differently, he wasn't their son. He was sure they wouldn't just toss him out, but gradually he would be around less and less. The invitations would stop and he would be excluded from occasions that he would normally be invited to. Better to leave now.

Thinking quickly, Tony switched gears; he was going to ask the guys if they wanted to head for breakfast but now instead said, "Listen Ezra, I forgot I made plans with Abby today and it totally slipped my mind. I'll catch you later." Tony quickly grabbed his work pack, his keys and wallet, he could come back for the rest, and was out the door before either Vin or Ezra could say or do anything else.

Chapter 13

A litany of curses in several different languages ran through Ezra's head, with more than a few escaping his lips. He had seen Tony act like this before far too often. The last time he had done this however was many years ago. Ezra had almost missed the signs.

In many ways he and Tony were alike. They had both been hurt terribly in their childhood. Their behavior towards others reflected that. Ezra tended to hold himself aloof, to keep others at arms' reach and not let them get close. Once they did get close, if they were willing to take the time and effort, Ezra was loyal to a fault. You were family to him. Mel, Mary, Moha, Joe, and Tony held that title in his life, and the girls too by default. The people on the periphery of Mary and Moha's life were, to different degrees, also important to him. Lately, 6 men in Denver were starting to be categorized in that way in his head, with one firmly staying under the heading of mate, no matter what his head tried to tell his heart.

Tony on the other hand played the class clown. Ezra had even seen him act like a sexist pig, if Tony thought that would project the image or attitude he wanted to portray. He would let you in but you never knew the real him, only what he let you see: the shallow, womanizing jock. From the little interaction that Ezra had seen with Tony's team, he could tell they didn't know the real him.

If he ever let his barriers down and let you see him as he truly was, he was also like Ezra. You would have no friend more loyal. Tony, however, was always waiting for you to change your mind about him. Even after he let you in. Actually, if Ezra thought about it, Tony was more wary after he let you in. He expected people to hurt him, even unintentionally.

The first year Joe had brought him home from boarding school, he was exceedingly polite each visit. He went along with what all of the other teens wanted, never saying anything that would cause an argument and therefore no more invitations home with Joe.

Every time he even imagined that he was unwelcome, he was ready to go back to school within the hour. It quickly became apparent that Tony was under the impression that no one would ever truly want him; tolerate him, but never actually want him, Tony. It took Mary from the time Joe brought him home in sophomore year until graduation to convince Tony he was wanted and a part of the family.

He had a few episodes over the years. Most notably when Marie was born and summarily abandoned by her mother when he backslid with them, but they were few and far between.

Ezra knew that, with that short snippet Tony had heard, he was preparing to pull away again. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he knew the signs well enough. If he let Tony leave now it would be hard to get him back, and Ezra didn't mean back into the hotel room. He meant back as his cousin, his family.

Ezra stood there for all of 10 seconds and then quickly followed his cousin, stopping to give his lover a quick kiss and only saying, "We will have to discuss this later; just know I love you. Now I have to chase after an idiot."

Vin, on the other hand, was stunned. This was the type of reaction he had feared. Ezra just didn't understand how coming out would cost him his family. Tony leaving demonstrated that.

Ezra looked at Vin as he was hurrying away and said, "Don't worry about it. It is not what you think. You just inadvertently touched a huge nerve."

Ezra left Vin half-dressed in the room and hurried out in the hallway to catch Tony before he could make the elevator. Thankfully he hadn't taken the stairs.

"Antonio, where are you going?"

"Oh hey, Ez, shouldn't you be back with Vin? What are you doing out here?" Tony was now into his normal behavior to keep people at bay, the dumb jock persona. He winced inwardly but kept his face studiously blank. It was never good when Ezra called him Antonio. He would almost rather be called Mr. DiNozzo.

"Tony, this is your cousin Ezra, you can't fool me. I know you too well. This act didn't work when you were 15. It didn't work when you were 25. It's not going to work today. It won't work when we are old and grey. You are stuck with me, with this family, no matter what you do. You can't drive us away.

"Now come on back to the room and let's settle this. I have you out here trying to leave because you think that Vin is making me choose between him and you. Then I have Vin in there convinced that you left because you are upset that I am in a homosexual relationship with him. We need to work this out; you are both too important to me to let this misunderstanding continue."

Ezra grabbed Tony's arm and steered him back to the suite. "You know, after a stunt like this I should call Mary and have her come and spend some quality time with you. Tell her you were thinking of doing a runaway like you used to... You would be lucky to get rid of her in six months; she would mother you to death."

To anyone who didn't know Tony that well it would seem that this was a nightmare scenario. An older woman mothering him, seriously cutting into his social life. Causing him to be dateless. That would be anyone who didn't know him. Ezra knew him well and was seriously considering calling Mary and Moha, because their youngest son seriously needed some reassurance and apparently no one else in the family had noticed. How could he still think after all these years that he was disposable to them? The thought pained Ezra more than he cared to admit.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Vin stood a minute in the doorway of the room he shared with Ezra last night. If he had his way, last night would be the first of many such nights; the first of many things shared with Ezra, if he had his way. The way Ezra lit out of there after Tony made that possibility seem very unlikely. He couldn't fault his lover for chasing his cousin after he fled. Family is important, more so when you have so little. It was a lesson Vin knew full well. The less family you have, the tighter you hold on to what you do have. He just wished that Ezra holding on to his family didn't mean giving up what they could have had together, giving up Vin.

Vin slowly gathered up his clothing and started getting dressed. He knew he would be leaving soon and wanted to be ready to go before he was asked to leave. He hoped he would still be able to make the flight the others would be on back to Denver today. He really hated to fly and it was worse if he had to fly alone.

Vin was sitting on the couch in the main salon of the suite when Ezra returned a few minutes later. He heard voices outside the door and then it was opening, with Tony and Ezra entering the suite.

"Ezra, it's OK. I wasn't leaving - at least not permanently. I just think that you need to be alone with Vin now. I promise that I won't disappear. How can I? Marie is in Morocco with Moha's family, you know I would never abandon her."

"Why did you feel the need to flee now, Tony?"

Ezra saw Tony look at him. He knew that look. It was the one he had helped his cousin hone for undercover work. It was the basis for the smoke and mirrors. It wasn't the poker face, this went into the poker face. It was the crafting of the con; the blending of truth and fabrication, just enough of each to be believable.

If Tony had been trying to fool anyone else he probably would have succeeded. Anyone but the master, anyone but Ezra. Goodness knows he succeeded in fooling Gibbs for all these years.

"And Tony, let's try for the truth this time, hmm?" Ezra said in a deceptively mild voice. Vin had heard him use that same voice during interrogations with gunrunners and it actually scared the hell out of him.

Chapter 14

Tony stood under the warm spray of the shower, letting the pounding of its soothing heat relax him. A misunderstanding. He nearly ran away due to a misunderstanding. Tony blamed himself, his control was nonexistent at the moment. Yesterday Kate had him nearly plowing Gibbs over in his race to exit the building after taunting him. He argued in public with Ezra over Maude, a topic that both men were loath to discuss in private, never mind in front of so many witnesses. Especially the people Ezra worked with. Now, this morning, overhearing something Vin said and misconstruing it to the point he was ready to flee. Tony needed this time, this weekend, to reconnect and recharge much more than he realized. Thankfully, they were not on call and he was looking forward to showing both Vin and Ezra the sights without the worry of interruptions.

He was thrilled Ezra had found someone to care for after the painful murder of Tamilla. Ezra deserved to be happy and Tony would do everything in his power to make sure that nothing interfered with his cousin's happiness.

Tony finished showering and got dressed. Grabbing his keys, wallet, cell and pack, just in case, he headed for the living room of the suite to await Ezra and Vin so they could go and have breakfast and start their day.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

As soon as the door to their room closed Ezra found himself pinned to it, his mouth claimed, fingers carding through his hair. After the emotional upheaval of the morning Vin was desperate to stake his claim on his lover. He wanted to crawl inside the other man but he knew they really didn't have the time to go back to bed like he wanted.

Ezra could feel the suppressed need in his lover; while he would love to go back to bed and spend the whole weekend exploring each other's bodies and fucking each other senseless he knew they didn't have the time. Tony would be waiting for them soon. Something quick however to take the edge off would be quite nice though.

The two men stumbled towards the shower, kissing and nipping at each other. Both men aroused, amazed that they could finally share these intimacies with one another. In unspoken mutual agreement they headed towards the shower. Needing to feel and see each other, needing the closeness, craving it after only one night together.

They showered together, Vin washing Ezra with tenderness the southerner had not known in years. Every touch sensual and erotic. A pass over sensitive nipples with the sponge, a teasing touch to the abdomen, a feather-light kiss on the lips leaving Ezra aching for more.

Then Vin washed his lover's hair, caressing Ezra's scalp in a way that both relaxed and aroused him.

"Vin," Ezra groaned out, remaining silent until now, unable to say anything more, his mind in a haze of pleasure and sensation.

Vin placed his lips over his lover's and whispered, "Shhh Ezra, I gotcha. It's okay babe, I'm here."

Vin dropped to his knees, wanting to taste his love. He licked and sucked at his love, reveling in the words of need and desire pouring out of Ezra's mouth. They were both so close. Vin had grabbed a bottle of conditioner before he dropped to his knees. He slicked up his fingers and inserted one carefully, searching for the nub that would drive Ezra over the edge. Vin swallowed Ezra's cock and scraped his teeth along the member as it entered his mouth. Sucking and scraping during each thrust, the sensations reducing Ezra to moaning; no words, only sounds coming from his mouth. The addition of the feeling of a finger caused a shudder to run through the smaller man, then he stiffened and shouted as he came down his lover's throat.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

When Ezra and Vin emerged from their room Tony hid a grin. It was obvious what they had been doing. He had been waiting for them for nearly half an hour. He thought about teasing them but didn't want to do anything that could have them back in the same position they had been earlier today. The three men were all dressed casually but in vastly different styles. Vin in a pair of faded blue jeans and a soft, old but neat flannel shirt with a blue tee shirt peeking out from underneath, boots on his feet. Ezra was dressed in a pair of designer khakis with a coordinating designer button down shirt. In deference to it being a casual outing he had forgone a suit and tie. Tony had feared what he would find in the duffel that Ezra had packed for him. Surprisingly his cousin had not done too badly. Tony was also wearing Jeans like Vin, but his were newer and a designer label. The shirt that he had on was a long sleeved solid black one. Black athletic shoes rounded out his outfit.

"Good, let's go, I'm starving. You wanna eat in the hotel café and then we can go from there?" They started heading out of the door. "I need to go by NCIS and get my car, too."

The three men walked together, chatting companionably and headed towards the elevator.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The men had been served their breakfast when Tony mentioned going clubbing that night and inviting Abby to go along. Tony opened his cell phone to place the call and noticed he had several voice mails awaiting him. He listened to the messages and knew that he was in trouble; his boss, in fact the whole team, had been trying to get ahold of him. Depending on the reason for the summons, he could kiss his plans with Ezra and Vin goodbye.

Tony sighed. "Listen Ezra, I have to go into work for something. I'm not sure what the messages didn't say. I have several messages on my voicemail. You guys can just drop me off if you want. I'll try and catch up later."

Vin and Ezra looked at each other and then Ezra nodded. "No, we will go with you. If it is something that will take a while we can always leave. We didn't get to meet all of your coworkers yesterday. I would love to see the group dynamics."

The men hurried through the rest of their meal and left shortly thereafter, Ezra signing the meal to a room charge for efficiency.

Chapter 15

They arrived at NCIS headquarters 30 minutes after receiving Gibbs' voice mail. Tony had been called in due to a computer problem, which he found out on a subsequent message left by McGee. The reports that had been sent on the server last night had disappeared and needed to be reentered. Tony had assured Vin and Ezra that it wouldn't take long at all since he had saved a copy of his report prior to sending it to the online server, one copy to the hard drive at work and another to a password protected secure flash drive. Mel and Ezra had suggested this method of storing his reports since they had much more computer knowledge than he did. It was a little costly because the job did not cover the cost of the flash drive since it was considered a nonessential yet expensive piece of equipment, but it more than paid for itself in a situation such as the current one. His coworkers would have to either retype the hard copies they had submitted or totally recreate the reports from memory. All Tony had to do was boot up his computer, insert the drive and copy the file. Simple, easy, and quick. Even though he was the last to the office he would likely be the first out and that would irritate Kate no end, a definite plus. Tony was almost gleeful in anticipation. He was surprised that McGee didn't use something similar. Maybe he did and Tony didn't know about it. This would allow him to spend time with his cousin instead of in the office.

Upon their arrival in the bullpen, Gibbs was in rare form. When he noticed Tony he called the younger agent to his desk and gave him an unprovoked head slap.

That was followed by, "Where the hell were you this morning DiNozzo? Kate called you, McGee went to your apartment, no answer on the phone, and you weren't home."

Tony yelped and rubbed the back of his head. He sighed, a typical day at NCIS, well that's what Ezra wanted to see.

"Boss, I stayed the night with some of the ATF guys." Gibbs had not looked up from his work other than to head slap Tony. He had not seen the two ATF agents accompanying his lead agent.

He continued to look down as he answered, "No Tony, no you didn't. You want to know how I know that? 'Cause I spoke with the Agent in charge this morning and he said you hadn't. That they hadn't seen you since you left here yesterday. We have one of their agents here trying to fix their reports that were also lost on the report server and he also said you didn't stay at their hotel last night. So where were you DiNozzo and this time I want the truth."

"Boss, I --" Tony started but was cut off by a clipped, annoyed southern voice, the accent thickening in his anger.

"Mr. Gibbs, I don't know if you recall from our meeting yesterday, but I am Special Agent Ezra P. Standish, Agent DiNozzo is my cousin. We did not stay with my team last night; I wanted some privacy to discuss some business with my cousin. Lord knows I could never get any privacy with my teammates lurking about. As I didn't want to be a bother or a burden to Tony, we stayed in a hotel rather than have him shelter us in his home."

Gibbs had looked up at the new voice and saw a very annoyed southerner speaking to him and then glanced away, pinning Tony with his glare. "That still doesn't explain why I couldn't get hold of him on his cell phone."

"Boss," Tony said quietly, "I was in the gym this morning and took a long run afterward. I didn't take the phone with me; I had no place to put it."

The statement was true for the most part. The initial call had come while he was still working out. The subsequent calls had come in the middle of the discussion the three men had this morning after Tony had almost left them at the hotel. His phone had been left in the bedroom and none of them heard it. When they left to start their day Tony was going to call Abby to join them, that's when he noticed the missed calls and voice mail messages. When Tony heard the messages he knew that he was going to get hassled by Gibbs. The head slap was par for the course, the least of the punishment he should expect.

Gibbs looked at Tony, his intense blue eyes boring into the younger agent's green ones. "Don't let it happen again," Gibbs grunted at him as he looked back down at his paperwork.

Tony quickly sat at his desk and started up his computer, wanting to get out of the office and be able to spend some time with his cousin and Vin as soon as possible.

Gibbs left the bullpen area without telling anyone where he was headed. Taking advantage of the opportunity now that Gibbs had left, Kate looked over at her coworker and decided to tease him a little.

"Gee Tony, we thought you were out on a hot date and that's why we couldn't contact you," Kate said, smiling one of those smiles that said she was one up on Tony.

Kate stood up and walked over to stand next to Ezra. He and Vin had been standing next to Tony's desk while Tony was trying to reenter his report to the system. Vin had taken to slouching against the prefab walls of the bullpen cubicles. Looking around he took in the entire surroundings, noticing their teammate JD working on his laptop in the same area Team Seven had been assigned yesterday. Vin figured he was doing something to fix the computers.

Kate continued conversationally to the two men, trying to embarrass Tony, "He gets called constantly at work by his conquests."

Ezra looked at the woman in surprise. "Do tell," Ezra drawled in his southern accent. Vin stood beside his new lover, fascinated by Tony's female coworker. Watching the drama unfold as a witness to a car accident watches, in horror, but unable to look away. Vin knew Ezra well, there was more going on here than met the eye.

"Oh yes, hmm let's see there's Mary."

Ezra smirked and thought to himself: Tony's "Mom". Vin looked at his lover, the smirk letting Vin know that there was a subtext here, one that Kate was unaware of.


His "sister", the one he went to NY for.


Almost cousin and his "brother's" girlfriend.


Siobhan's daughter in law.


Siobhan's daughter.


David's wife.


David and Sara's sister.


That one brought out a huge smile as she was Tony's daughter.


Another smile since this was his own daughter. Vin had continued to watch Ezra, he knew several of the names Kate had mentioned. Vin had met them on their trip to New York. He could see that Ezra was subtly teasing his cousin, but at the same time humoring Kate, although the profiler was unaware of this.


Which was really Tima, short for Fatima; Sara, David and Mia's mom, an aunt of sorts.

Kate continued to name women who called Tony. Most names Ezra could place as members of their extended family, mostly relatives of Mary who called him on occasion too. The few he did not recognize were most likely the ones Tony actually dated. Then some of them he knew for a fact were men's names, but the way they were shortened it wouldn't be obvious. Those were his male lovers, not many but if he were caught it could be a problem. Two of the names mentioned gave him pause. He would have to revisit this topic with Tony in a more private setting. He did give Tony a hard look at the mention of those names. A look that promised there would be a discussion at a later time.

Ezra complimented himself on a job well done; teaching his cousin to hide in plain sight and use what he had on hand to create an illusion about his life, smoke and mirrors. The illusion of a womanizer. Ezra wondered how deeply any of these coworkers really looked at Tony. They seemed not to truly know him at all.

Completely conned, Ezra was amazed, the woman was supposed to be a profiler for goodness sake and she was completely conned. Tony had her completely conned. He didn't date even a quarter as much as he had led her to believe. Plus she had no clue he was bisexual. Ezra was impressed by Tony's acting ability.

Not only was Ezra impressed by Tony's acting abilities, his opinion of Tony's teammates took a definite decline. Kate was gleeful as she tried to embarrass his cousin. Her obvious feelings of superiority easy to read. He knew that Tony thought that his team felt he was the weakest link. The one without a fancy skill or useful degree. It was astonishing to Ezra that Tony was unaware how valuable a commodity his undercover skills actually were.

Good undercover operatives were very difficult to find. Ezra was good and he knew that his disastrous childhood was the main reason he was so good at his job. Surprisingly Maude was his initial teacher, telling him from as young as he could remember to put on the "show".

He remembered teaching Tony all of what Maude taught him in the year he lived with the DiNozzos, thinking that possibly that knowledge may spare Tony a beating at some point.

When they met again in their teens, Tony actively emulated his older cousin. He kept at it until pretending, the smoke and mirrors, became second nature.

Tony had trained to be an undercover agent nearly all of his life and these people thought he had no talent? The thought just boggled Ezra's mind.

It was ironic, the only member of the NCIS team who had caught the attention of Larabee was Tony. Not the FBI trained profiler, not the MIT degreed computer expert. No, the Ohio State Phys Ed major who had been honing his skills all his life.

During Team 7's surveillance of the pawn shop, JD, as the surveillance expert, had filmed his performance thinking Tony was another gun dealer they would be arresting. They reviewed the tape as a team an hour or so after it was recorded. As soon as Ezra saw Tony, he told his team who Tony was and what agency he worked for.

Chris, heck the whole team was impressed by Tony's abilities. Most of Team Seven had done some type of undercover work at some point in time. They respected the intricacies involved for someone who made it a specialty, who excelled at it. Tony clearly excelled at it. That was why Larabee had spoken to Gibbs about Tony possibly transferring to the ATF.

Ezra smiled broadly at Agent Todd and said, "Tony always was one for the ladies." He took her hand and in a very southern gesture kissed it before gently handing it back to her. Mocking her, yet she being blind to it all.

Tony had started banging his head against the top of his desk as soon as he realized what Kate was doing. She thought she would embarrass him this way. It wasn't that he was embarrassed, more like worried about some names being mentioned -- like the wives of some of the men that he had contacted but did not want Ezra to know about. Or his father's executive secretary, who still called occasionally. Or the one time Marie's mother called him here, at NCIS, looking for money. Best for Ezra, and through him the rest of the family, not know about those contacts. Thankfully she had not mentioned any of his contacts' names, however, she did mention both his ex's name and his father secretary. He knew by the look Ezra had given him that they would be discussing this in the very near future.


Gibbs returned to his desk demanding answers from McGee as to why the reports were not posting correctly.

"Uh-B-boss, um, I don't know why. I have spoken to the IT people and they can't give me an answer. I have tried to read the code for the software but it is proprietary and well encoded and could take quite a long time to break the encryption. The IT people are calling the company who wrote and installed the program to send a specialist but it is a weekend and they aren't sure how long it will take to get someone here to fix it. The company is not local." McGee had jumped when Gibbs initially started talking to him. Tim had been listening too intently to Kate teasing Tony and Gibbs caught him by surprise.

"Why are we using a company that isn't local for something like this?" Gibbs growled at McGee. He hated technology and this was a main reason why.

"Uh well boss, I checked them out online. They are a relatively new business but they have some major clients. Every Federal Agency uses their software and Canada and Great Britain do as well. Most of the PD's of the major cities do too."

As McGee was talking JD Dunne walked over to the desks of the NCIS agents. He had been back in the area that the ATF agents used after yesterday's bust. He was looking at computer printouts, scratching his head and muttering to himself. He had noticed Vin and Ezra standing in the bullpen and wanted Ezra's opinion about what the printouts were telling him.

In all honesty he didn't come to NCIS today to try and retrieve the lost reports for his team. As Team 7's computer specialist, he made sure that they all gave him a secure digital copy after each assignment. The whole team's report was on a flash drive in his carryon.

Chris had sent him to NCIS to see if he could figure out what was the problem they were having with the report server and the software. Chris knew that JD owned the company that installed and cared for the system that all of the Federal Agencies used.

The program grew out of a project Chris had given JD to aid Team 7 in filing their paperwork in a more concise and timely manner. JD took the assignment but would only do it if he was able to do it on his own time since then he would own the copyrights and any patents.

Once the programming was ready, Ezra approached JD about startup capital. The company was called D&S Secure Computer Solutions. They were fast becoming the premiere company for law enforcement computer issues. JD employed several full time employees and a few part timers. He used Melissa as a per diem when the company had a need and she had the time. JD had actually considered offering a similar position to both Abby and Tim after talking with them last night.

As JD walked over to Ezra, Tim continued with his report to Gibbs. "According to their website they have a less than 24 hour turn around with service calls no matter the distance, even for their foreign clients. They have someone onsite in 24 hours or less."

Gibbs glared at McGee. "Oh, so the website says that... I guess we should just take them at their word then, huh?"

Tim started stuttering again. "Uh... N-n-no b-boss, I called some of the other local agency offices that use their software and they said that 24 hours is long, they usually have someone on site much sooner."

Tony was grinning at his desk with his head buried in his work. He knew who owned the company. Hell, he had invested in it at Ezra's request. JD didn't realize it, but all of his investors were private. No bank was involved. Ezra had all of the family invested in the company, all of them. Wait till Gibbs finds out that kid, JD, owns the company that he is complaining about!

Meanwhile JD was showing the computer printouts to Ezra. JD, while the computer expert for the team, did rely on other opinions at times, and Ezra was the most computer savvy of the rest of his teammates. Ezra was also familiar with the program in question so he would know where the errors were, nearly as well as JD.

JD stood next to his teammates and watched them. Both Vin and Ezra seemed to be in a really great mood. A much better mood than he was. JD had been looking forward to going home. They had been on this assignment for nearly three weeks. Casey was home with their twin boys and she was 7 months pregnant with their next child, a daughter. He had hated leaving her and, after this assignment, he was not going to take any more out of town assignments until he came back from his paternity leave. He had already cleared it with Chris. Now something was interfering with those plans.

If he was reading the printouts correctly, the problem was that NCIS had only purchased and installed the basic package but were using it for medical/autopsy reports and for forensic results even though the basic application only supported case reports.

It appeared that someone went in and wrote some new code in his program! That was causing the degradation of the system until now it had shut down. He could fix it. Ezra could fix it, but he was pissed that someone had dared to change his proprietary software.

He couldn't believe it, even though the printouts were clear. He wanted Ezra to confirm it for him.

"Hey Ez, hey Vin. Ez, can you come over to where I am set up over in the other work area? I want your opinion on something."

He handed Ezra the printouts he had been reviewing and the three set out for the other work area, JD noticing yet again how content they looked and how close Vin was sticking to the southerner. Relaxed and... happy... that's it, they were happy. JD grinned, thinking that maybe the 2 of them finally got their act together. The whole team had watched them dancing around one another for the past year at least, if not longer. He hoped they had. Then pretty much the whole team would be paired off and in a relationship. Chris had Mary, they had been married almost 2 years now. Buck had finally asked Inez to marry him, with the wedding taking place only 6 months ago. Nate and Raine had been married for almost 5 years now. He and Casey had been married for over 3 years themselves. The only one not in a relationship being Josiah, but the team profiler seemed happy nonetheless.

Ezra seemed to rarely date since coming to Denver. JD assumed it had something to do with the wedding ring he wore. No one on the team had ever asked him about it. Ezra was very private by nature and tended to freeze people out if they asked questions he didn't want to answer. As skittish as Ezra was when he first arrived in Denver, the team was too afraid he would leave if they pushed him too hard.

After a time it was easier to just not broach the subject. JD had a sneaky suspicion that Ezra's true story was similar to Chris' story, a terrible loss of his wife if not a child. It was why he personally didn't press the issue. Some things were not meant to be brought out in the open.

Vin had not dated, as far as JD knew, since Charlotte Richmond had nearly destroyed him and his career. Using him for information and then discarding him when she realized the team was wise to her scam, and they were giving Vin false information which he unwittingly leaked to her. It was Ezra with his contacts in all areas both legal and illegal who identified Charlotte as a mole. The team still wasn't sure how he did it.

At the time it nearly cost him his friendship with Vin. The Texan, blind to his love's faults, angry with the southerner for interfering in his life. That was when Ezra truly became a member of the team. He still didn't always hang out with all of them or go to all the team functions, but the other 6 knew he would move heaven and hell for them. Even if doing so would cost him their friendship.

Once Vin realized what Charlotte had been doing to him, he forgave Ezra though their relationship was still strained. Eventually, over time, the two men became close once again.

JD and Ezra, with Vin trailing behind, moved to JD's laptop which was set up on one of the empty desks. He had logged on to his company's web site to review the exact licenses that had been purchased by the NCIS IT department.

"I think I have figured out the problem Ezra," JD said, showing him the printouts and the files on the original order online. "It will be easy to fix, just time consuming." He sighed, "I can't stay and fix it myself, Casey needs me at home."

Both Vin and Ezra nodded in agreement about that. So far this pregnancy Casey had had no issues but when she had the twins she was ill for most of her term and was on bed rest for 6 months. The whole team rallied around the Dunnes at the time and none of the team wanted to keep their youngest from his family any longer than necessary.

"What about Taylor, he could come out here and..." Ezra started to talk, thinking about the current employee roster and who might be available to take the job.

"No, he is on a job for Scotland Yard, remember? He was thrilled to be traveling overseas for the first time."

JD sighed, he was likely going to get stuck doing it. Ezra could in a pinch, but he knew the conman didn't feel comfortable working that end of the business. "We really need to hire more Part Timers or Per Diems, even more fulltime staff." JD sighed, "I wish Mel was back to work, I would ask her to do it in a heartbeat. She is the absolute best at this work. She even made some modifications to the script that I would never have thought of on my own. She is brilliant. I bet she could even figure out who messed with the code and trace it back to the source." He sighed again, knowing that he was going to be away from his family for at least the rest of the weekend and would possibly need to take some time off from work on Monday to get it all done.

"Mr. Dunne, don't be so hasty. Melissa is currently cleared for work but has decided to forgo returning to the NYPD. She is currently weighing her options in the private sector."

JD's eyes gleamed at that. He would love to bring her on as another tech and programmer. Her skills were at least as good as his and she had a fresh perspective which showed in her code.

Ezra grinned at the look in JD's face. "No Mr. Dunne, she is looking for something corporate and more math oriented, but she is at loose ends now and I am sure that she would love the challenge of fixing this system. Plus she could torment Tony. For that alone I am sure she would take the job. I'll call her and see, but first you need to talk to the director, the head of the IT department, and I think Gibbs, and possibly McGee or Abby to translate. Gibbs seems to be the one that everyone is running scared from here. I also think it would be a good idea for her to try to trace the changes in the code to see who tampered with it. It is possible that this was done deliberately, to either save the agency the extra money of the upgrade or for someone to pocket the difference. Mel is skilled at forensic computing."

JD smiled at that. He had heard the comments Gibbs made to Tim. Of course, at the time the man didn't know he was making them to the CEO and the CFO of the company he was discussing. Time to reintroduce himself to Gibbs. Hopefully it would just be a case of a misguided employee, instead of someone stealing from the government.

Chapter 16

JD collected his thoughts as he walked back towards Gibbs’ team’s work area. He had been listening with half an ear to Gibbs all morning as JD worked on the computer problem. The man was demanding of his staff, at times seeming to set impossible goals, yet at the same time seemed fair.

When JD heard him speaking to Tim, questioning the reasons that this particular company was being used, JD knew eventually he would have to introduce himself as a representative of that company. From his discussions with Tim and Abby last night he knew Gibbs was a technophobe. He also knew, from those same discussions, that Gibbs took a very dim view of people breaking the law. He wondered what the reaction would be when he told Gibbs that it was likely that someone in the NCIS IT department was taking kickbacks or manipulating the books.

Tampering with proprietary software, while a white collar crime, was still a crime. It also could be very profitable. The amount his company lost was nearly $100,000, just in the software not counting the maintenance fees and training fees for the different software. The amount the government had lost both in theft and in lost productivity was much more.

JD left Ezra to call his sister; well, that’s how JD thought of her. He hoped that she would be able to come up to DC and take this job.

JD took a calming breath and squared his shoulders. It was time to face the music. He paused, one more phone call, a call to one of his newest computer buddies, Abby. He had a feeling he would need her running interference for what he was about to tell her boss.


Gibbs sat at his desk fuming. This is why he hated computers. They broke down and then you were stuck, at the mercy of some technical support geek. Someone who had no idea of the type of job that he did. Someone who pushed pencils for a living and never had to face life and death situations. They would come to fix the problem with the computer and then, because they were unaware of the dangers that the Agents here faced daily, they wouldn’t fix it correctly and have to come back. An endless vicious cycle. A cycle that could endanger one of his people.

Unknown to Gibbs, this particular computer geek had been shot at many times. Had been in life and death situations similar to the ones that Gibbs’ own team frequently faced.

The height of irony was that as Gibbs railed internally about geeky know-nothing computer techs, the tech who would be working on the case was a recently wounded NYPD cop. The owner of the company was an ATF agent. Not your typical computer geeks.


After JD had left them to speak to Gibbs, Ezra grabbed his cell to make a call to Mel. He was fairly certain she would jump at the chance to have something to do. He knew she was used to being active both mentally and physically and this enforced rest period had been slowly driving her insane.

Then there was her mother’s hovering. He knew it well; all the times he had been shot and forced to recover in Florida he remembered Mary hovering. Worrying about the health of one of her "chicks".

Mel had not really ever had that experience. The one time she was seriously injured she had not spent much time in the hospital and, due to a shortage of police manpower in the first few days post 9/11, she was back at work -- albeit on desk duty -- much more quickly than usual.

She was nearly back to full health now, though she still needed a cane to walk and had PT a few times a week.

"Mel, I have a proposition for you..."

Chapter 17

JD was glad for the slight reprieve that Abby gave him. When he called her she asked him to meet her in her lab, so that he could fully explain and show her what he had found so far. Abby thought it would be better if she knew everything JD knew before taking the evidence to Gibbs. JD couldn't fault her logic. The young ATF agent knew he was up to the task of briefing the no-nonsense former Marine, working for Chris "Glarabee" more or less made you immune to the intimidation tactics which he had seen Gibbs employ thus far, but there was still that small part of him who was that kid from Boston still trying to prove himself and afraid he would be found wanting. Except this time, instead of only disappointing himself he would be letting his whole team down. The reputation of the Magnificent 7 was not something that he wanted to tarnish.

His assessment of Abby, from the time he had spent with her and Tim in the lab last evening, proved to be more than accurate. She quickly saw the hacked code and how it was disrupting the systems' ability to function. She also knew that there were very few people who had both the necessary access to the system to add this type of code and the knowledge to carry out the changes.

They had gone together back to the bullpen, JD stopping only to have Vin and Ezra accompany them as JD explained to Gibbs what was wrong with the computer system.

So here JD sat calmly, as Gibbs ranted at him. He calmly and professionally answered all of the questions the NCIS team leader had for him. This only seemed to infuriate the man further. JD explained that it was a "white collar" crime, and that a full investigation would have to be held to determine the parties who were responsible.

"Yes, we will," Gibbs said with a steely-eyed glare. A glare that had broken many marines, but had little effect on the young ATF agent in front of him.

JD was undaunted by Gibbs' attempts at intimidation. If it had been a few years ago he may have behaved differently but working for Chris "Glarabee" had cured him of any fear he may have had towards older domineering glaring federal agents.

JD then said, "I have made arrangements for one of my per diem contractors to come and repair the damage to your computer systems. She is well-versed in the system as well as having some expertise in forensic computing, so -"

Even though he did not have the authority, technically, Gibbs had never let that stop him before and he was not going to let it stop him now. He cut off JD in mid sentence.

"There is no need. Until the investigation is done no one from your company is to have access to these computers. I also need you to leave the premises Agent Dunne. It is a conflict of interest."

JD gathered up his belongings and printouts. Ezra and Vin did the same; they were shareholders in the company and as such were sure that Gibbs would want them to leave as well.

Gibbs did not want the ATF agent to leave with the papers he had. JD willingly surrendered the printouts outlining the changed code. He had already downloaded a copy on to his laptop. Gibbs couldn't understand how the younger man could remain so calm and collected.

"Leave whatever you would have your tech work on here, I'll have Abby and McGee fix whatever your company fucked up," Gibbs said, deliberately trying to get a rise out of the younger man.

Ezra, who had let JD, as the principle partner in the company, handle the discussion up to this point, decided now was the time to intervene.

"I'm afraid Agent Gibbs we cannot allow that." Ezra spoke softly but with assurance. His southern accent genteel but his words themselves showed his determination.

"I'm sorry Agent Standish but I wasn't speaking to you..."

Ezra cut Gibbs off this time, an occurrence he was sure the older man rarely had happen to him. "No Agent Gibbs, I am sorry. That software is proprietary. We will have a court injunction against your agency if anyone so much as looks at it in an odd manner, never mind trying to rewrite the code... I assume you want anyone with ties to the company to vacate the building? To excuse themselves from the investigation?" At Gibbs' slightly curt nod, Ezra grabbed his suit coat and called to his cousin, "Let us depart these premises Anthony, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Dunne."

Tony had watched the exchange silently. He knew that the lack of response from the young ATF agent caused Gibbs to become more frustrated than usual. When Gibbs was frustrated, anger was the only emotion he was capable of displaying.

Tony was impressed. He had seen few people stand up to Gibbs the way JD had, most especially someone so young. Tony did so on occasion, but always only to a point. Never crossing an invisible line that Gibbs had drawn in the sand, as it were.

Tony grabbed his gear and jacket at Ezra's prompting. If Gibbs really wanted everyone involved with the company off the investigation that meant that he was off too. He was one of the larger shareholders in the small but prosperous company.


McGee sat in horrified fascination. He had not worked with Agent Gibbs and his team that often but at the very least he had a healthy respect for Gibbs and his infamous glare. Okay, if Tim were completely honest with himself Gibbs had a tendency to scare him shitless. To be the subject of a Gibbs interrogation, even an informal one, was one of his worst nightmares. Gibbs affected most people that way. Even Marines back from war tended to break down in the face of Gibbs' interrogation techniques. Yet here was a young man, only a year or two older than himself, seeming unconcerned for the ire directed towards him. Not a marine or other military man either, a geek not all that different than Tim himself. Tim was impressed and frightened all at the same time, wondering what in the young man's life had happened that a full-on Gibbs glare had no effect on him. What concerned him more was what he had found buried in the code. Abby had called him before she and JD came up to the bullpen. She told him what JD had found and since then McGee had been going through the code line by line as carefully as possible and he thought he found something. He motioned Abby over to look at what he was seeing for a second opinion. As he did this he caught the end of the exchange between the southern agent and Gibbs.

He hoped that Gibbs reconsidered. If they lost complete access to the software never mind decreasing their productivity, it could seriously hamper the investigation. Someone with more knowledge of forensic computing would be ideal for this job.


Gibbs saw that the ATF agents were gathering their coats to leave the building. That's when he noticed his own agent looking as if he was planning to go with them.

"Sit back down DiNozzo, you aren't going anywhere!" Gibbs growled at his agent.

Chapter 18

McGee paled at Gibbs' words, he was glad that he wasn't Tony right now. The more experienced agent bore the brunt of Gibbs' anger frequently, but McGee had never heard Gibbs as angry as he was right now. Then again, McGee didn't work at the DC office all that often, so he wasn't absolutely sure this was the angriest Gibbs had ever been at DiNozzo, but the look Abby gave the two men said it was close.

Looking at the Southerner who Tony had introduced as his cousin, McGee truly feared that an old-fashioned saloon-style brawl would break out. The man really did not look pleased at all and that was the first time that his face had slipped from its congenial yet neutral mask in the entire time the three men had been in the bullpen. It gave him an air of danger that caused a shiver to move down McGee's spine.

McGee really hoped that they could somehow salvage this situation. The areas of altered code that he had found thus far led him to believe it was an outside entity that wrote the extra code into the program. From the dates embedded in the code and the install dates, it had to have been done after the program was installed at NCIS. That meant the person responsible was either the project manager from D&S or someone here in the IT department who had access to the code. Certain members of the IT department had at least limited access to the code of the program to make repairs if needed in house, if the problem was simple enough. In order to track this down, McGee and Abby needed as much access as possible and a few extra hackers wouldn't hurt either. He hoped that Abby could somehow do something to prevent Gibbs from making a huge mistake.

Tony continued to gather his belongings. There was total silence in the bullpen. At Gibbs' barked command, Tony stopped what he was doing and took his modified attention stance. Gibbs razzed him about it, as did the rest of the team, reminding him he was never in the military, but even though he was never in the military, he did go to a military school and was more than capable of coming to attention.

Tony looked Gibbs straight in the eye, cleared his throat and said, "Have to go boss." He continued to pick up his pack and hefted it on his shoulder. "You want everyone connected to D&S Secure Computer Solutions to leave the building. Well, you see I own," Tony looked over at Ezra for a figure, Ezra handled his investment accounts. "10%-" he started to say and Ezra shook his head, "At least 10% of the company stock so I guess I have to go too." Tony stood still, waiting for the explosion he was sure was about to happen.


Abby looked at the problems that McGee had identified in the code. This was nasty stuff - definitely something she and McGee could figure out, but it would take time a lot of time. If Gibbs chased these computer experts out of NCIS, then it would take longer, and if Ezra did as he threatened and got an injunction, they would be back to a completely paper-dependent system for the foreseeable future. Most of the embedded dates for the changes happened after the install date of the new system. Theoretically, they could be changed, but it would take a lot of time and effort for something so small in the code. She was betting the dates were correct.

Abby became aware of the tension between the bossman and Tony. She wondered if they realized that a lot of it was actually sexual tension - probably not - guys could be so dense like that. Gibbs loved to go all alpha male on Tony, and the younger man never realized it.

Damn, looks like Gibbs has backed himself and Tony into a corner. I better tell the boss we need these people here helping us.


Before Gibbs had a chance to say anything else to Tony, Abby exclaimed, "Gibbs! You HAVE got to see this." The goth lab rat was bouncing in her seat, McGee had really found an important piece of the puzzle.

Gibbs came over to look over Abby's shoulder. He really didn't understand much about computers, but he trusted the team he had surrounding him. If she was excited about something, then it must be important.

"See if you look here and here," she pointed to some really small numbers that Gibbs had no hopes of seeing without his glasses, which he did not have with him today.

She saw him squinting and finally just said, "Those are the dates that changes to the code are made. The changes that we have found so far have all been made after the software was installed on our system. It was definitely not something that was done at the software company Gibbs."

Her eyes pleaded with him to back down.

Gibbs knew he was being hasty about ordering all of the ATF agents out of HQ, but he couldn't help it. Even though Agent Standish was Tony's cousin, Gibbs didn't like how familiar the two men were with one another. It was like seeing Tony interact with Abby, an easy-going relationship based on love for one another. In the case of Abby, Gibbs didn't have any negative feelings towards their closeness. When he saw Tony with Ezra, his gut clenched. And if Gibbs were honest with himself, he was extremely twisted up inside by Larabee's interest in Tony; that compounded the problem with Standish. He had to back pedal, or Tony would leave with those men. Gibbs would be powerless to stop him. Abby always knew somehow when he needed her to give him a break in the case. He was standing behind her now peering at the small letters and numbers on the computer screen. This would allow him to keep Tony here and accept help from the ATF agents too.

He kissed the top of Abby's head and said, "Good work Abs." He started to leave when Abby interrupted him.

"Actually, bossman, McGee is the one who found it." Gibbs had been heading back to his desk and stopped to look at McGee. The agent on loan from the Norfolk office stood still as a statue, looking as frightened as a deer caught in the headlights of a car.

"Good work McGee."

"Th-thanks Agent Gibbs."

Gibbs looked at Tony, and the younger agent got the message. He sat down and with a few gestures and nods of his head got Ezra to relax enough to see what Gibbs would do next. Gibbs continued back to his desk. "OK. Since this happened once the software was installed here, who would be able to do it?"

McGee started thinking, "Well... the director of the IT department and the project manager definitely have full access to the system. Possibly the Network manager. Then there are usually a whole host of people who have limited access to this portion of the system. I would have to call the IT department for a full list."

Gibbs stared at him "...on it," McGee said as he picked up the landline of the desk he was using.

He turned to Abby, "Any more changes made to the program or have you found them all?"

Abby looked at Gibbs as if he had grown several more heads. "Bossman, do you have any idea how many pages of code are in this program-?" She started to tell him exactly how many and how long when Gibbs cut her off.

"How much help do you need?"

"Minimum McGee and at least one more person -- two or three more would be best."

"You're sure that this was done at NCIS?"

She nodded emphatically.

"He any good?" Gibbs pointed towards JD. He knew his computer geeks had spent a fair amount of time with their ATF counterpart last night after the bust.

"He's better than good, Gibbs. At least as good as me. Maybe even better," Abby said earnestly, pigtails bobbing in excitement.

Gibbs pointed to JD, "You go with Abby; see what else they did to the system." They started off. "Agent Dunne," Gibbs called out as they walked towards the elevator. "This per diem person you called in... are they as good as you?"

JD grinned. "Even better," he answered as he continued towards the elevators with Abby.

The two computer geeks were already talking in technobabble, discussing how they were going to tackle the issue of finding more bad code. It was an assignment that they excelled at, but beyond that, their teams were reliant upon them for the investigation.

Gibbs turned to his remaining agents. "Kate, I want you to go through the names McGee gets from the IT department. I want complete background checks on them as well as the Director of the department and all of the other people McGee already mentioned."

Ezra turned to the profiler and offered his assistance. "Our company keeps meticulous records of the people who have access to our code to make changes including the dates the access is effective, and what level of access the person maintains. I would be more than happy to assist you in this endeavor."

Gibbs had turned from his profiler and focused on DiNozzo. He trusted her to get it done with or without help.

"DiNozzo, while I was away, I found out the IT director didn't come in or respond to his pages this morning. I want you to go to his home and check it out."

Tony gathered his pack and jacket. He wasn't too thrilled to be going alone, but he didn't want to contradict Gibbs in his current mood. Tony tended to pick and choose his times to challenge the older agent, and he could tell this was not a time to press his luck.

Vin had watched all of the drama and tension unfold around him. His posture remained relaxed even when Gibbs was butting heads with Ezra, though it took a great effort not to interfere, the Texan knew his lover would not appreciate Vin involving himself in their dominance games. It was extremely difficult; Ezra aroused every protective instinct that the sharpshooter had.

The exchange had also aroused more than just protective instincts. As much as Vin wanted to protect Ezra, seeing the smaller man take control and hold his own against a strong personality like Gibbs turned Vin on. Although Vin's posture had remained relaxed, he had to move his legs more than a few times to relieve the pressure in his groin while Gibbs and Ezra were talking or having a small war without loss of life.

If anyone who didn't know the sharpshooter had been watching him, they would have thought he was bored and that he wasn't paying attention to the discussion going on around him. Vin was perfectly well aware of every comment made and order given. The last one disturbed him.

Tony was told to go into an unknown situation with no partner, no back up. Vin had been wearing his cowboy hat today in typical Vin fashion. In fact, he was dressed as he usually did for a day of work at the Denver ATF building. His hat had been halfway covering his eyes; once Vin heard Gibbs give Tony his assignment, Vin glanced at Ezra conversing without speech or sign language. Vin and Chris often communicated without speaking a word, usually at busts but occasionally about working the horses on the ranch Chris owned. Vin and Ezra often did the same thing, their communication often entailing elaborate pranks, generally aimed at Buck and JD but sometimes at the rest of the team. This time when their eyes met Vin knew exactly what his new lover wanted - someone to watch his cousin's back. He nodded to his lover slightly and tipped his hat indicating message received.

As Tony made his way to the elevator, Vin stretched lazily and pushed away from the wall that he had been leaning against. "Tony, wait up," he called to his lover's cousin. There was no way he would let the NCIS agent go to an unknown location alone under such questionable circumstances.

To Be Continued

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