In spite of the location, a ridiculous amount of bystanders milled up and down the
rural highway near the turnoff. Already feeling late and frustrated by the delays
en route, Gibbs was forced to slow the rental car to a crawl for safety as he merged
with the crowd. He rolled down his window to show the state trooper in charge his
badge. “Obviously nothing exciting ever happens around here,” he quipped.
“Not like this, sir,” the trooper replied, opening the gate and letting them through.
A length of chain with a clipped lock swayed with the movement, crashing noisily
into the metal post. Representatives from various neighboring law enforcement agencies
helped out and kept the rubber-neckers and the local TV news crew at bay.
“No wonder this place wasn’t in my travel brochure,” Tony joked as they proceeded
too quickly down the two and a half miles of bumpy, overgrown dirt tracks.
“Gibbs,” Kate complained as she grabbed for the dashboard, bouncing around in spite
of her tightly fastened seatbelt.
In no mood for criticism, Gibbs subtly increased the speed. From the look Kate shot
over the back of the seat, he knew Tony must be grinning ear to ear but didn’t bother
checking the mirror to confirm his suspicions. The usually light banter between
Agents Todd and DiNozzo had recently taken a turn for the ugly and the wearisome
trip had brought out the worst in both of them, which only added to the foulness
of Gibbs’ current disposition.
As they rapidly approached their destination the road flattened out into a rough
gravel lot where a few unmarked cars, more mismatched police vehicles, an ambulance,
and a hearse were already haphazardly parked. Much to Gibbs’ surprise and relief
all but a few of the ‘authorized’ spectators were relegated to the outside of the
roped off portion and away from the crime scene. Every eye turned their way as they
piled out of the sedan and moved to the trunk to get their equipment. An older gentleman
in a ten-gallon hat broke away from the small group near the closest cabin and headed
“DiNozzo, laser and sketch. Kate, photos,” Gibbs instructed his team tersely as
they slipped under the yellow and black police tape and entered the main area of
the rundown fishing camp. “Hurry so we can get ‘em bagged and tagged before the
sun goes down.”
“You got it, boss,” Tony answered, pulling out the high-tech measuring device and
a medium sized artist’s pad from the case he sat on the hood of a handy police car
just inside the perimeter.
Still slightly unsettled from the ride, Kate merely nodded, already snapping pictures
of the macabre scene. The odor of scorched flesh hung heavy in the air but the dilapidated
cabins around them appeared untouched by anything but time. Just beyond the unkempt
compound the river flowed peacefully on, impassive as ever to the unfolding human
“We appreciate your call, Sheriff Tucker,” Gibbs greeted as he reached his equally
gray but far more wrinkled counterpart to shake his hand. Though they’d never met
face to face, they’d spent a great deal of time throughout the day teleconferencing.
“Sorry it took us so long to get here. Unfortunately, we ended up flying commercial,”
he added with a touch of disgust.
“I’m just glad you’re here, Agent Gibbs,” The older man gushed, pumping his hand
gratefully. “I can’t even fathom how this happened, but I do know it’s beyond the
resources of my little department. If it hadn’t been for the dog tags I would have
just called the FBI for an assist.”
“Yeah, about the dog tags…”
“Charred but readable with a little effort, metal fared better than anything else,”
the sheriff handed over a small evidence bag with the tags inside. “They were on
this body on the end.”
“Jeremy K. Murdock,” Gibbs read from the label as the tags themselves were black
and warped, supposedly by heat. “You know him?”
“Yeah, I knew him when he was younger. If it really is Jeremy he’s a local kid,
his uncle owns this place. Now he’s a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps but he’s
been AWOL from his post at the Pentagon for the last three days. The van over there
is registered in his name as well.”
Gibbs glanced at the van as he pocketed the evidence. “You haven’t made a positive
identification of the body?”
“Can’t. It’s burned way too bad to make a visual ID and there’s no skin left on
the fingers to pull off a print. I reckon dental records’ll be the way to go.”
“Or DNA,” Gibbs agreed doubtfully, hoping Ducky could actually get genetic material
from a charcoal briquette, otherwise they had no way to identify the other two corpses.
“To tell you the truth I would have been less surprised to find Jeremy in prison
than in the marines. Still, he’s one of our own so whatever you need, you got it.”
“Good enough,” Gibbs agreed amicably. “Where’s my witness?”
“This way. It’s the damnedest thing I ever saw,” the sheriff stated gravely as he
ushered Gibbs back to the cabin.
They walked in silence as Gibbs took the lead, carefully not to step on anything
as he circumvented the last of the three human-shaped silhouettes amongst the weeds.
“That him?” he asked, climbing the two short steps to peek into the open door at
the forlorn figure sitting on the threadbare couch. The light brown head stayed
bowed, the man evidently deep in his own thoughts.
“Yep, that’s the witness, victim, whatever you wanna call him,” the sheriff replied,
following close behind. “He was cuffed and passed out in this chair when my deputy
Gibbs inspected the sturdy, ladder-back seat on the deep porch, noting the handcuffs
still affixed to the bottom rung. A rickety table stood nearby with a kerosene lamp
and a variety of implements, syringes and small vials on it. Under the table a pale
gray suit coat lay ripped and crumpled with a notable blood stain on the back of
“Chemical-assisted interrogation on the veranda,” Gibbs observed wryly. “Is that
a West Virginia custom?”
“Nah,” the sheriff denied with an amused snort. “I reckon the porch was cooler.
The only air conditioning out here is the wind blowing through the broken windows.
They picked this place for a reason. It’s not like anybody was gonna just happen
“Which brings up the question how’d you happen to happen by?” Gibbs asked as he snapped
on a pair of latex gloves.
The sheriff pointed to a faraway ridge across the river. “Early this morning a volunteer
spotter in that fire tower saw a dark cloud come up out of a clear blue sky. As
he watched it build it was followed by a bright flash of light. Then the whole thing
just sort of dissipated right before his eyes. He called old man Ritchie who owns
the next ranch over to check it out.”
“Was the gate secured when he got here?”
“Nope, the lock had been cut. I never said Jeremy and his uncle were close. The
elder Murdock denies any knowledge of the younger one’s recent activities.”
“You believe him?”
“Without a doubt,” Sheriff Tucker declared unwaveringly. “Anyhow, Ritchie called
us as soon as he discovered the bodies. Since he assumed our boy on the porch was
dead too he just backed the heck out of here without touching anything.”
“Speaking of our boy,” Gibbs interrupted as he glanced through the window, “He’s
not burned? Not even a little?”
“Not so much as a singed eyebrow,” Tucker denied. “But aside from being trussed
up like a Christmas turkey he’d obviously been roughed up a little. Nothing serious
though. We took him into town to get him checked out while we were waiting on your
arrival. According to the doc he’s got an assortment of bruises, abrasions on his
wrists, a punctured ear drum, and… what’d she call it?” He flipped open a small
notebook and read from the scratches on the first page, “Posttraumatic retrograde
“Looking at this stuff we figured he’d been shot up with something, which might help
explain some of the memory loss. He does have several needle marks on his arms but
we don’t know for sure what was injected because our lab doesn’t run drug screens
“You did have them draw blood though, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll have someone pick it up from the clinic for you.”
“That’ll work,” Gibbs assured. “So do you know this guy?”
Tucker shook his head with certainty. “He’s not local.”
“And you’re positive he doesn’t remember what happened.”
“He didn’t know much of anything when he first woke up, but he’s been learning fast.
He’s a real smart fella, if a little twitchy. Had a couple episodes where his eyes
just sort of glazed over for a minute and left him all panicky.”
“You don’t think he might possibly be playing you?” Gibbs scoffed.
“He’s one hell of an actor if he is,” the sheriff retorted gruffly, on the verge
of taking offense. “But what do I know? I’ve only been doin’ this for thirty years.
Maybe you should talk to him yourself.”
“Oh, I plan to,” Gibbs replied as he entered the main room of the cabin to make his
own assessment while the sheriff went to cool down and find someone to run into town
for the blood.
The combination livingroom/kitchen was hot and dusty, further polluted by the pewter
colored smudges from the borrowed forensic team’s sweep for prints earlier in the
day. There was a large window centered on each of three walls and a doorframe minus
the actual door to the only bedroom on the forth. Trash littered the floor and there
was no other furniture except for the shabby ‘rescued from the dump’ sofa and a large
wooden industrial spool situated strategically in front of it.
A discarded silk tie lay on the makeshift coffee table amongst the fairly recent
detriments of a fast-food meal which indicated the witness’ physical needs were being
taken care of. Gibbs noted immediately that he was wearing pants that matched the
jacket on the porch. However the back of the light blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled
up to his elbows in deference to the stuffy room, was conspicuously unmarred by blood.
Except for a small, perfectly round bruise on his right temple and the wrinkled appearance
of his clothing, the man didn’t look too bad for someone who had ostensibly been
‘interrogated’. He remained seated and kept his eyes on a twisted piece of wire
in his hands. On closer inspection Gibbs realized the mangled bit of metal was once
a pair of spectacles, the lenses now gone.
“I found these over there,” came a softly spoken explanation as the rumpled man finally
squinting up at him. He indicated a spot near the couch where a scattering of glass
bits had been stomped into the faded and torn linoleum. “I think they must have
been mine, my sight’s a bit blurry.”
Gibbs pictured the attractive face with glasses and tentatively accepted the assumption.
Depriving someone of part of their senses was a classic intimidation tactic, as
was destroying personal property, and you couldn’t get much more personal than somebody’s
“You don’t remember.”
Digging in his pocket, Gibbs fished out his shield, flashing it briefly before showing
his ID as well. “I’m Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. I work for the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service and Sheriff Tucker is turning this case over to me.” He waited
for a response but got nothing other than a blank stare. “We have reason to believe
at least one of the men out there was a Marine.”
Haunted blue eyes blinked before dropping back to the destroyed frames. “I don’t
remember anything from… before.”
Gibbs retrieved a wobbly plastic chair from the porch and sat facing his only living
witness, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. “Tell me everything
you do remember,” he requested single-mindedly.
With a resigned sigh the man tossed the frames on top of the trash on the table and
began his tale. “The first thing I saw when I woke up was a guy in a tan uniform.
Since he released my hands from behind my back I was extremely glad to meet him.
He kept asking for my name but I didn’t know it. I still don’t.
“There were three burned bodies in the grass. No, I don’t know who they were. No,
I don’t know how they died or why whatever killed them didn’t kill me. No, I don’t
know why this whole place didn’t go up in smoke. Yes, it probably should have, given
the heat it would have taken to obliterate those people out there like that.”
Gibbs allowed an unhurried, unfriendly smile. “Been over this a time or two already?”
“You could say that.” The witness leaned back against the faded cushion, his eyebrows
drawing together as he studied Gibbs. “Am I a prisoner?” he asked warily.
“No,” Gibbs reassured, taken aback by the distrustful tone. “But I expect your full
cooperation and it just might help us figure out who you are. You got somewhere
else to be?”
“Good. I’ve got a lot more questions.”
Finished with the measurements, Tony climbed the first step on the big porch to sketch
the layout of the bodies. “It looks like they were running away from this cabin
when they were hit by a flame thrower,” he reflected, indicating the fanned out appearance
of the bodies in relation to one another.
“Yeah,” Kate agreed grudgingly. “But none of the grass around them is burnt.”
“I noticed that, too. It’s like they were zapped in place and the fire was already
snuffed by the time they hit the ground. It’s weird.”
“This whole thing is weird,” the burly deputy who had been following Kate around
commiserated with a shudder. He lowered his voice and leaned closer to her. “When
that guy in there woke up the first thing he asked was ‘where am I?’ just like in
“So?” Tony answered for Kate, who appeared similarly unimpressed. “That’s pretty
much the response you’d expect from someone with a memory loss.”
The deputy harrumphed. “When I told him he was in West Virginia he though real hard
for a minute then asked ‘Earth?’”
Kate looked from the deputy to Tony, who began to hum the theme to The Twilight Zone
under his breath as he got back to his sketch. She wordlessly reloaded the camera
for another round of pictures.
“Do you have a problem with one of my people?” Gibbs queried unexpectedly, breaking
the regular pattern of questions.
“What?” the shocked man asked as he abruptly tore his gaze from DiNozzo, who he had
been watching intently through the open door, back to Gibbs.
“You’ve been glaring at one of my agents for almost ten minutes.”
“I… no,” he stammered, obviously flustered by the accusation. “I wasn’t glaring;
I was just trying to decide what he’s doing. I mean, I appreciate the need for photographs…”
he waved a hand at the busy agents outside and trailed off.
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs called out, never taking his eyes off the witness.
“Yeah, boss?” Already on the porch, Tony answered immediately, turning to poke his
head through the doorway.
Gibbs gestured to the pad and then to the curious man on the couch. Tony looked
confused but moved forward to hand over the sketches without comment.
“I get it,” the witness understood right away when he saw the measurements written
along with the sketch. “You get a better idea of scale and distance this way than
with a picture.”
“It takes out the guess work. As soon as we get back to the office we can program
this information into a computer and get a three dimensional layout of the site,”
Tony expounded. “It’s really cool.”
“You do good work.”
“Thanks,” Tony beamed, always appreciative of a pat on the back regardless of the
“All NCIS agents are trained to do sketches,” Gibbs explained, deflating DiNozzo’s
ego ever so slightly. “Are you done?”
“Yeah, I was about to help them bag the bodies.”
“Let Kate do that,” Gibbs instructed. “I want you to keep an eye on our friend here
while I call Ducky. Get his prints, too. I’ll arrange for the sheriff to scan ‘em
and e-mail ‘em to Abby with the ones they got out of here this morning.”
“Sure,” Tony agreed quickly, more than happy to let Kate do the grunge work for a
change. “Let me get my kit,” he added, stepping out the door.
“I know this,” the witness exclaimed, looking a little dazed as he clutched the art
pad. “This is familiar.”
“You’ve done crime scene work?”
“No, no, I mean the drawings. I’ve done sketches of… something.”
Gibbs nodded a tight acknowledgement then flipped open his phone and walked out onto
the porch just as Tony came trotting back up the steps.
“Is this what I think it is?” Tony asked apprehensively as he took a moment to peruse
“Yeah, but it looks like whatever happened here happened before the real fun started,”
Gibbs guessed, frowning at his limited signal strength. “Or he told them what they
wanted to know right off the bat. Either way I don’t think the ordeal was bad enough
he should need to block it out. Let’s go for a little good-cop, bad-cop and see
“I don’t have to guess which role I’ll be playing,” Tony said with a huff. With
Gibbs around he hardly ever got to play bad-cop any more. “Don’t you think Kate
would seem more sympathetic?” he thumbed over his shoulder toward the third member
of the team.
Kate glanced up at them from where the crumbling remains were being painstakingly
transferred into body bags, though she was too far away to hear their conversation.
The county hearse stood ready and the scene took on a surreal air in the gathering
“That’s the problem, she really would be sympathetic,” Gibbs grumbled. “After our
Jane Doe incident I’m not letting her anywhere near this guy. With those eyes he’d
have her for lunch. Even I was starting to feel sorry for him.”
Grinning brazenly at the appraisal, Tony gradually let Gibbs’ glare tone down his
glee. “So you don’t believe him?” he expertly veered the subject in another direction.
Gibbs grimaced, obviously not wanting to commit one way or the other as he hit speed
dial. “It’s hard to say. He is convincing, but either way he’s not telling me anything.
If you can get him talking he might let something slip. Stay on your toes but be
“Ducky, I need your opinion on memory loss,” Gibbs turned his attention to the coroner
on the phone as he stepped off the side of the porch and wandered into the meadow
in search of a better signal.
Tony watched Gibbs walk away then glanced once more at the table of horrors before
plastering on his best smile and entering the room. “Hi. I’m Special Agent DiNozzo
in case you didn’t catch the bellow earlier.”
“I caught that,” the man assured with a nervous smile in return as he put aside the
Opening his case, Tony set up for fingerprints next to him on the couch. “If you’re
connected to any government agency this might be the quickest route to identifying
“Or if I’m a criminal.”
Frowning as he took the man’s right index finger and rolled it across the ink blotter,
Tony paused before repeating the action in a square on a sheet of paper attached
to a small clipboard. “Why do you say that?”
“I’m right, though, aren’t I? I mean I could very well be a criminal. Normal people
don’t usually get involved in things like this, do they?”
“No,” Tony granted as he did the next finger, which went a little smoother as the
man made an effort to relax his hand in Tony’s grip. “But you may just be some poor
sap who knew too much. My bet is on some type of government employee or maybe military
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, we’ve already got a military connection, but your hair’s not regulation so
I don’t think you’re in the service, not in the mainstream anyway. But you are clean
cut under all that sweat and dirt, wearing what’s left of an expensive suit and Italian
leather shoes,” Tony stated candidly, finishing the right hand and moving to the
left. “So you’re either Mafia or… God forbid, FBI,” he joked.
“Maybe,” the man agreed uncertainly, examining the scuffed up shoes. “So if I’m
a government agent, why would someone kidnap me?”
“Do you know for certain you were kidnapped?” Tony asked, keeping it light as the
man seemed to be warming to him, not so surprising after the grilling from Gibbs.
“No. I’m just assuming I didn’t come here of my own free will.”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed, handing over a tissue when the prints were complete for both
hands. “It’s not exactly a vacation paradise.”
The witness wiped his fingertips thoughtfully, glancing out the window behind the
couch. “The river’s kind of nice.”
“So you’re one of those ‘the glass is half-full’ types,” Tony teased gently as he
started to put away his gear, earning another small smile.
“Thanks for all the help, Tony,” Kate called contemptuously as her elongated shadow
fell through the door.
“I was doing what Gibbs told me to do,” Tony shot back in exasperation as the victim
visibly tensed at the harsh words. Kate’s indignation as she stood in the doorway
totally disrupted the laid-back mood he had been so carefully trying to establish,
but DiNozzo bit back the sharp retort on the tip of his tongue. “John, this is Agent
Todd,” he said instead, returning to a more pleasant tone.
“Hello,” Kate greeted with a guarded nod as she wiped her brow with an already damp
“Hi,” the man responded even as he turned his bemused expression on Tony. “Uh, John?”
“John Doe,” Tony clarified. “We have to call you something. John is the generic
name law enforcement usually gives to unidentified males… well, and men who patronize
hookers. Unless you prefer ‘hey you’.”
“John doesn’t fit him,” Kate argued, pursing her lips as she studied the strong,
albeit grimy features. “Can’t we come up of something more original?”
“Such as?” Tony inquired with feigned interest.
“I don’t know… Bailey, or Liam, or Alex…”
“Forget it,” Tony objected strenuously, cutting her off. “We might as well call
“John’s okay,” the victim quickly decided, taking Tony’s side. “I like John.”
“John it is.” Tony aimed his smug smile at Kate then quickly toned it down when
he spotted Gibbs coming up the steps behind her.
“Kate, start bagging the stuff on the porch while we’ve still got light,” Gibbs ordered
as he brushed past her and entered the room. “Make sure to get the suit coat under
With a feeble grunt of protest, Kate obediently disappeared out the door without
For once Tony managed not to smirk at her displeasure, though his eyes did twinkle
mischievously. “What’d Ducky say?”
“As usual, Ducky said a lot of things,” Gibbs grumbled, his ears still ringing from
the latest tangent. “Mostly he said true amnesia without a significant head injury
is rare. Which is not to say it never happens,” he hastened to add before the witness
could voice the protest already forming on his lips.
“I’ve got Abby doing a search on missing persons in the last twenty-four hours but
it’s a long shot. Most police departments don’t take a report on a healthy adult
until they’ve been gone for over forty-eight hours unless there’s evidence of foul
“And you don’t think I’ve been gone that long,” the newly dubbed John postulated.
“Not quite.” Gibbs glanced around at the trashed room. “They may have been here
that long but you don’t have much more than a day’s growth of beard and it’s not
peach fuzz. I seriously doubt they took time out from the interrogation to let you
John nodded his concurrence as he rubbed his stubbled chin thoughtfully.
“So what’s the plan?” Tony asked.
“We’ll finish collecting the evidence then ship it to Abby tonight along with the
van. The bodies are already on their way to Ducky,” Gibbs provided absently, still
looking around. “It’s been a long day so we’ll take a room in town and drive back
to DC in the morning.”
Tony gaped at him. “We’re gonna drive home?”
“Yeah, we’re gonna drive, DiNozzo. You got a problem with that?”
“Not really, but do you mind if I ask why?” Tony persisted. “The evidence will get
there before we do.”
“Because our witness has a busted ear drum,” Gibbs informed him impatiently.
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
“So?” John asked, his eyebrows rising as he once again turned to Tony for answers.
“The change in air pressure on takeoff and landing is very painful with that type
of injury,” Tony explained with a sympathetic grimace just thinking about it. “You
don’t want to go through that.”
“So you are definitely taking me with you?”
“Yes we are,” Gibbs responded. “Consider yourself in protective custody. You know
something that somebody is willing to kidnap and torture you for, whether you remember
it right now or not. Something that got three men killed.” As an afterthought he
reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag with a thin electrical device
in it. “I found this on the ground next to the porch. Do you recognize it?”
John flinched hard and cupped his right ear. “No.” He turned away, silently declining
to examine the piece of equipment.
“Maybe not consciously,” Tony pondered, sharing a look with Gibbs.
“There’s a speck of blood on the electrode on the tip,” Gibbs pointed out as he mimed
placing the piece in his ear.
“It is kind of ear-shaped,” Tony agreed, reaching over and taking the bag. “Have
you ever seen anything like it?”
“Nope,” Gibbs shook his head. “It’s just a hunch, but I’ll bet an electric current
through the ear hurts like hell.” He glanced up at the single, bare bulb already
casting shadows around them as the sun went down. “You two stay put. I’m gonna
help Kate finish up so we can get out of here,” he added, heading back out the door.
Tony pocketed the device but he didn’t miss the way John’s face paled as he unwittingly
caught sight of it again. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” John denied, getting up and moving shakily toward the front window, crossing
his arms over his chest as he stared out to where Gibbs had joined Kate.
“You just remembered something,” DiNozzo accused quietly as he followed, stopping
behind him. “Was it this?” he pulled out the device again.
“No,” John whispered, refusing to look. “Please. I don’t remember.”
“But you have remembered things,” Tony pushed in a gentle tone. “Things you didn’t
John licked his lip nervously, keeping his back to Tony. “Some things, little things
feel like real memories. Other times it’s more like I’m watching events unfold but
I’m not a part of it. It’s like I’m everywhere and nowhere at the same time… like
I don’t really exist at all. Honestly, I think I must be crazy.”
Tony stowed the gadget in his breast pocket. “Why do you say that?” he prodded softly,
grasping the other man by the elbow when he tried to move away again.
“Are we at war?” John asked with concern, evading the question as he glanced down
at the hand keeping him in place.
“Yeah, sort of,” Tony supplied, uneasy with the turn of conversation. “What kind
“A battle.” John swallowed hard before continuing with difficulty. “There’s smoke…
bullets flying… fire raining down from the sky, then an enormous explosion.”
“Maybe you were military,” Tony theorized, moving his hand from John’s elbow up to
squeeze his shoulder compassionately. “Special Forces possibly.”
John shook his head but didn’t pull away. “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about
it. I do remember this,” he stated decisively, gesturing towards himself as he looked
over his shoulder to make eye contact.
Tony self-consciously dropped his hand when he realized they had an audience of more
than Kate and Gibbs as several other people gathered in the grass beyond the porch.
“This… this feeling of trying to remember, I think I’ve forgotten myself before.”
“That’s an odd thing to remember.”
“Yeah,” John agreed, moving away from the prying eyes outside as he wandered aimlessly
around the room, ending up back near the couch. “I just can’t seem to remember anything
useful,” he growled in frustration.
“Hey, you remembered which planet you’re on,” Tony ribbed cheekily, trying to draw
the discussion back to the more comfortable level they’d been at before John had
seen the device.
John turned, narrowing his eyes as they finally stood face to face. “It’s a start,
“Well you’ve only got the one to choose from.”
“Do I?” John asked seriously, carefully regarding the agent’s amused expression before
sitting down, his own expression rapidly growing cold.
“Yeah, that’s a given,” Tony assured, realizing too late he had made a huge tactical
Shaking his head slowly, John studied his slightly ink stained fingertips. He didn’t
speak again for several minutes and Tony let him stew, unwilling to push any more
at the moment.
“Then the things I’m seeing can’t be true,” John finally swore under his breath.
“We’re the good-guys, you know,” Tony advised as he sat in Gibbs’ plastic chair,
leaning forward earnestly and dropping his flippant attitude in an effort to earn
back John’s trust. “You can tell me anything, no matter how crazy it seems.”
Leaning back on an elbow as he brought one foot up to rest on the flat cushion, John
draped a hand across his knee, effectively taking up the whole couch. He considered
Tony for a minute then chuckled softly, but it sounded brittle and forced. “I see
how this works. Your partner browbeats me for an hour and then you come in all kind
and polite and smooth everything over to get me to spill my guts.”
“Good-cop, bad-cop,” Tony confessed, realizing the truth was the only way to go.
“It’s a common strategy, but I really am nicer than Gibbs most of the time.”
“You know, the only question I could think to ask when I woke up from whatever the
hell happened to me produced fear, amusement, and questions about my sanity from
everyone else,” John charged bitterly. “So until I know for sure what’s going on,
Agent DiNozzo, I think I’ll just keep any more flashes of ‘memory’ to myself.”
Tony hung his head momentarily before raising his eyes to the angry ones across from
him. “Tony,” he said at last.
“Whether you like me or not we’re gonna be spending a lot of time together until
we get this thing sorted out. You might as well call me Tony,” DiNozzo insisted,
pulling off one of his prize winning smiles even though he didn’t quite feel it.
John snorted cynically. “Sure, Tony,” he muttered, resting his head back and closing
his eyes, the conversation obviously over.
“Feeling left out?” Gibbs asked with a ghost of a grin as he watched Kate secretly
observing Tony with the witness through the dusty window pane.
“Not at all,” Kate lied, her words incongruous with her jerky movements as she filled
out the label on the bag of syringes. “I just think I could be doing a lot more
with this guy than Tony.” Her cheeks colored at Gibbs’ smirk. “You know what I
“It’s not that I don’t trust your judgment,” Gibbs started, stopped by the disbelieving
glare Kate leveled at him. “Okay, it’s not entirely that I don’t trust your judgment…”
“Gibbs, I’ve paid my dues,” Kate interrupted just short of a whine. “I promise I
will never let a witness get to me like Suzanne did again.”
“I hope you have learned your lesson, Kate, I just think it’s too soon,” Gibbs told
her with his usual brutal honesty. “Look, this guy is either extremely vulnerable
or one manipulative son of a bitch and at this point even I’m not sure which.”
“I can be tough,” Kate insisted.
“If I’d wanted a ball-buster on this one I’d have done it myself. This is gonna
take some finesse.”
“DiNozzo knows how to walk a fine line; God knows he does it with me every day. Even
if he can be a pain in the ass, Tony is very good at what he does, that’s why I keep
“I know that,” Kate agreed reluctantly. “But don’t you think I should at least take
a few minutes to profile the witness?”
“I’m not sure you’d get anything out of him right now. Besides, you’ll have plenty
of time for that on the way home tomorrow,” Gibbs remarked with a weary sigh just
thinking about six and a half hours trapped in a car with Tony and Kate.
Gibbs signed the carefully packaged evidence over to a deputy who was to transport
it to the nearest airport for overnight shipping. The van had been secured and towed
away and the bodies were long gone, as were most of the extraneous personnel since
there really wasn’t anything else worth gawking at. At long last Gibbs shook hands
with the sheriff and ordered his team, along with one exhausted witness, to the car.
By the time they made their way toward the parking lot, darkness had overtaken the
landscape completely. With her Mag-Lite firmly in hand, Kate lead the way followed
at a short distance by John who appeared more concerned with the spectacular view
of the stars overhead than any snakes on the ground they had been warned might be
out and about. Gibbs purposely fell behind and motioned for Tony to walk with him.
“I blew it, boss,” Tony confessed immediately. “He was opening up to me when I pushed
the wrong button and poof. It was like somebody hit the off switch.”
“What did you get from him?” Gibbs asked, seemingly shrugging off the setback.
“He remembers being in a particularly nasty firefight, but sort of in a disassociated
way,” Tony reported. “I’m even thinking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or something
because he’s certain he’s lost his memory before.”
“A soldier? He didn’t strike me as the military type.”
“Yeah, me either. Anyway, I was thinking; what if he was already suppressing a trauma
and they forced him to remember it? Could that account for the amnesia?”
“Good question,” Gibbs approved. “We’ll see what Ducky thinks. So how’d you piss
Tony winced guiltily. “Ah, see, when they found him this morning the first thing
he asked was if he was on Earth. Apparently that got a rise out of the local LEOs
and caused a little stir. I might have rubbed him the wrong way by bringing it up
Gibbs threw out a hand to stop Tony and gestured in the dark to the figure in front
of them. John stood motionless in the middle of the clearing, gaping longingly at
the sky. “Phone home,” Gibbs deadpanned as he started walking again.
Kate slowly became aware no one was following her and reluctantly tromped back through
the knee-high weeds. Clicking off her light, she positioned herself next to the
witness. “Stardust,” she said to him, following his upward stare.
“What?” John asked hoarsely, lowering his eyes to her for an instant before an invisible
thread seemed to pull his gaze back to the stars.
“Stardust,” Kate repeated with an embarrassed shrug, using her hand to indicate the
broad trail of white that weaved its way through the night sky. “That’s what my
grandmother always told us.”
“That’s the Milky Way, Kate,” Gibbs jeered lightly, passing them by.
“I realized that,” Kate retorted defensively as Gibbs disappeared into the shadows.
“It was a family thing,” she called after him.
“Bill-yuns and bill-yuns of stars,” Tony mocked, taking a position on the other side
of John as he too stopped to take in the beautiful display. “Technically Granny
wasn’t wrong,” he contemplated. “Ultimately everything is made out of stardust,
right? Even stars.”
“Where did you learn that?” Kate laughed. “Let me guess, the Discovery Channel.”
“So? I watch educational TV… when there’s nothing else on.”
“Let’s go!” Gibbs yelled at them from the darkened parking lot.
“Come on before he ruptures something,” Kate sighed, turning her flashlight back
on. She accidentally crossed the flattened path made by the hearse on its way out
and happily followed it.
John began to breathe heavier as he searched the heavens with an undisguised urgency
as if the answers to all his questions were written there if only he could see it
“We need to go,” Tony urged, clasping his charge by the elbow to steer him away.
He noted a slight tremor reverberating through the arm and was surprised at the
hand that clutched back as John began to turn in a slow circle, still looking up.
As a sliver of moonlight illuminated John’s upturned face his quiet, desperate need
provoked an unexpected tenderness in Tony that let him ignore Gibbs’ roar to allow
the man another moment for his futile quest.
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs’ shouted again and John reluctantly took a stumbling step forward,
his attention remaining unwaveringly on the stars. Tony kept a steadying hand on
him as he guided him across the weedy terrain.
“What the hell took you so long?” Gibbs grumbled when the stragglers finally reached
“I had to pee,” Tony fibbed rather than blame John or worse, admit to a moment of
“I thought maybe you saw a snake,” Kate said innocently over her shoulder as she
claimed the front passenger seat.
“Oh, I did,” Tony leered, enjoying Kate’s offended glower. He opened the back door
and helped John inside, automatically putting a hand on his head, a case of old habits
dying hard. After dropping his gear into the open trunk he slammed it shut and rounded
the car to get in behind Gibbs. “A seatbelt is always a good idea whenever Gibbs
is driving,” he advised as he fastened himself in.
John nodded without protest and fumbled with the clasp for a minute as Gibbs started
the car, muttering something about respecting elders. Tony finally leaned over and
clicked the uncooperative apparatus into place.
“Anybody hungry besides me?” Tony asked as they left the loud crunch of the gravel
lot for the quieter but rougher dirt tracks.
“I’m starving,” Kate answered, vigilantly holding on to the dash even though Gibbs
wasn’t trying to set any land speed records at the moment.
“We’ll get something quick before we find a room,” Gibbs allowed as his own stomach
rumbled at the thought of food.
“We should probably go by that twenty-four hour Wal-Mart, too,” Kate suggested pragmatically.
“Why?” Gibbs and Tony responded in unison.
“Oh come on,” Kate scolded. “John doesn’t have anything but the clothes on his back
and those are getting a little ripe. He’s going to need a toothbrush and a change
of underwear at the very least. Unless you guys are willing to share.”
“Anything but the toothbrush,” Tony volunteered. “No offense,” he added to John
who blinked back at him listlessly.
“Fine,” Gibbs sighed, glancing in the mirror at the reticent witness who leaned his
head back against the seat and stared dazedly into the darkness out the window. “He
looks wiped out though. Tony, we’ll drop you two off at a motel and Kate and I will
go shopping and get dinner.”
Tony looked like he might protest before nodding his assent. “Whatever you say,
John continued to watch the shadows rush by but soon allowed his eyes to slide shut
and was snoring softly in no time, despite the bumpy ride. Tony reached into the
floorboard beside his personal bag and located his NCIS windbreaker to cover him
with. They drove on in silence each lost in their own thoughts until a multitude
of lights up ahead indicated they were nearing the paved road. Gibbs stopped the
car and cut the headlights.
“I see the news crew is still here. In fact it looks like they multiplied,” Tony
observed in mild annoyance. “You think they’ll notice we’ve added a passenger?”
“They taped us going in,” Gibbs commented dryly. “I’m sure they’ve gone over that
footage a dozen times by now. They’ll be frothing at the mouth for any hint of something
“There’s no telling what little tidbits they’ve picked up as many people have been
in and out of here all day. I’m sure they know about John. If they get him on tape
you know they’ll run it,” Kate advised.
“The question is; do we want his face all over TV? Eventually somebody would recognize
him,” Gibbs reasoned. “But do we really want to advertise his whereabouts? Those
people weren’t playing.”
“Yeah, but they’re all dead,” Kate pointed out.
“With those resources I’d say the chances are good they weren’t working alone.”
“Well John’s already been in and out once,” Tony reminded them. “Or out and back
in, that is.”
“They weren’t here yet when they took me to see the doctor,” John said quietly. “When
I came back they hid me in the back of the ambulance.”
“I thought you were asleep,” Tony said, mildly surprised.
“I woke up a ways back,” John replied, rubbing his eyes as he sat up straighter in
the seat. “Bad dream.”
“Cover him,” Gibbs decided, turning the lights back on and proceeding up the road.
Each at least six-foot tall, the two men looked around the relatively small backseat.
It was glaringly obvious John would not fit in the floorboard, especially with Tony’s
feet, laptop, and pack in the way. He undid his seatbelt then let Tony guide his
head down into his lap before drawing the jacket up over his head.
Tony gave Kate a warning look as she handed her windbreaker over the seat to cover
John’s legs. She didn’t bother to hide the fact she was highly entertained by Tony’s
unease with the situation, but to her credit didn’t comment in front of the witness.
With nowhere else to put his arm, Tony draped it across the back of the seat, finding
himself a little unnerved by the man’s head resting heavily on his thigh. “You okay?”
he asked as John shifted around trying to get comfortable but making Tony anything
“I’m fine,” came the muffled response as the movement settled.
Within minutes they could hear excited voices as they approached the two lane highway.
Gibbs waved to the trooper manning the gate as he slowly pulled onto the pavement,
attempting to turn right. Lights hit him in the face as not one but two or maybe
more television crews, along with a plethora of other reporters, descended on the
car with cameras rolling.
“Joylyn Thompson, News 9, can we get an interview?” A pushy blonde in a business
suit requested, tapping on Gibbs’ rolled up window, microphone in hand.ll
“No. Get out of the way,” Gibbs barked at her as he continued to inch the car forward.
“Are you FBI?” a male journalist asked Kate on the other side of the car. “What
can you tell us about the triple murders?”
“Get away,” Kate warned, holding up a hand to protect her eyes from the strobe light
effect of the flashes going off all around them.
“Were the deaths due to lightning?” someone else questioned loudly.
“Who is the mystery witness?”
“Give it a rest,” Gibbs grumbled, honking the horn irritably as the swamped patrolmen
valiantly tried to get the media mob under control.
Still shouting questions, the crowd slowly fell back to wait for the next vehicle,
knowing the sheriff was their best bet for an interview anyway. Tony smiled and
waved for the cameras, earning a pout from the blonde as they picked up speed and
“Looks like we’ve got two tails,” Tony noted less than a quarter mile down the road.
Gibbs glanced in the side mirror. “I got that. We’ll lose ‘em on the way to town.
Keep the witness down in the meantime.”
“I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem,” Tony sighed as he gently pulled the windbreaker
away from John’s face. “He’s asleep again.”
Good as his word, Gibbs easily evaded the persistent reporters long before they hit
the outskirts of town. In fact the roads were deserted as he parked under the canopy
of a small but new motel next to the highway and let the motor idle. “Two rooms,
we’ll double up,” he instructed, tuning out Kate’s sigh that indicated she had hoped
to bunk alone. “Keep a low profile.”
“John,” Tony called, patting the forgetful witness on the back.
“I’m awake,” the man muttered instantly, sitting up and blinking rapidly to clear
his vision. He pulled Kate’s jacket off his lap and deposited it in the middle of
the seat. “Where are we?”
“In the grand scheme of things, do you really care?” Tony asked with a short laugh,
gathering his bag and computer case as he opened his door.
John looked up and down the small-town street owlishly. Only street lights and the
occasional blinking neon sign disturbed the darkness. “No,” he admitted, stretching
as he opened the door and stepped out of the car, still clutching the windbreaker
that had been covering his shoulders. After glancing down at his own grubby clothing,
he pulled it on for camouflage as he made his way around the back of the car to wait
for Tony. He glanced up at the sky, disappointed to find he could no longer see
the Milky Way.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Kate taunted before Tony had both feet flat on
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tony challenged, fully aware what she was alluding
Kate smiled ingenuously, lowering her voice. “I was just thinking of your new penchant
for kissing men. Maybe we shouldn’t leave you two alone.”
Gibbs growled his disapproval, clenching the steering wheel and staring straight
ahead as he gunned the engine. Tony grabbed his things and climbed out of the car,
slamming the door before stalking off towards the lobby. With one last confused
glance at Kate, John followed him. When they were both safely inside the building,
the car whipped out of the drive and down the street.
“I need two adjoining rooms with double beds,” Tony told the clerk brusquely as he
approached the desk, obviously still ticked off.
The matronly woman eyed Tony first then turned her critical gaze to John. “Yes sir,”
she said priggishly as she started to type into her computer.
Tony looked back to find John wearing his windbreaker and self-consciously smoothing
down his unwashed hair. “Don’t worry about her,” DiNozzo advised loud enough for
the woman to hear him. “A little soap and water and you’ll be good as new.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the desk clerk announced, not sounding especially contrite. “The
only connecting rooms available have king-sized beds.”
“You’re kidding me,” Tony blurted out in disbelief, halting the fumble in his back
pocket for his billfold.
“No sir, a big news story broke today and we got a flood of media and law enforcement
people. I’ve got one double open, but the room next to it is taken.”
“Doesn’t matter to me,” John stated, helping out Tony by taking possession of the
laptop. “I can sleep anywhere.”
“I noticed,” Tony harrumphed as he secured his wallet and selected his company credit
card. “I guess we should get the double for Kate and… You know what? Just give
us two of the king-sized rooms that are together,” he amended mid-thought, suddenly
more cheerful, even treating the clerk to an impish grin.
“Yes sir,” she couldn’t help but smile back at him, taking the card and getting them
“Agent Todd’s not going to be very happy,” John offered observantly.
“Hmm, you’re perceptive. Don’t worry, she’ll get over it. Eventually.” Tony signed
the receipt and accepted one of the keycards but pressed the other back toward the
clerk. “A Jethro Gibbs will be picking this one up shortly. You can’t miss him,
he’s got short silver hair and an attractive brunette with a bad attitude.”
“You were investigating the murders,” the clerk suddenly gasped, putting two and
two together. She turned to the news report on the small TV set behind the desk
as if for confirmation before casting a reassessing stare at John. “This must be
the mystery witness everyone keeps talking about!”
“So much for a low profile,” John retorted, not bothering to deny it.
“Louise,” Tony said in a deadly calm voice, reading her nametag as he brushed aside
the edge of his outer shirt to flash his gun and badge, “I’m going to ask you to
keep that information to yourself. You’ve already insulted my friend here and if
you start making phone calls you could possibly put his life in danger.”
“I would never do that,” Louise protested a little too vehemently.
“Good, because I would hate to bring you up on charges,” Tony threatened solemnly.
“So can I trust you?”
“Of course,” Louise nodded with suddenly wide, frightened eyes.
“All right then, but if we get mobbed by reporters in the morning, we’ll know who
to come looking for,” Tony warned, catching John by the arm and pulling him to the
elevator without waiting for the usual checkin spiel. “Room two thirty-seven, looks
like we’re on the top floor,” he commented casually as he pushed the up button.
“Could you really arrest her?” John whispered, shooting concerned glances back to
the woman who was ineptly pretending not to stare at them.
He waited for the doors to open then ushered John inside and hit number two. “Probably
not,” Tony came clean once they were on their way up.
“You scared her.”
DiNozzo grinned rakishly. “I think she’ll keep her mouth shut.”
John seemed to think for a minute then let it drop. “What did Kate mean about your
penchant for kissing men?” he asked evenly, moving on to a new and more interesting
The unanticipated shift in conversation took Tony by surprise and his grin melted
into open-mouthed shock. “You heard that?”
“I lost my memory, not my hearing,” John replied as the bell dinged and the elevator
car bounced slightly on arrival. “What did she mean?”
“She didn’t mean anything,” Tony denied, suddenly in a hurry as the door opened.
“Come on.” He took four steps the wrong way before noticing a directory on the
wall then executed a rapid about face and fairly bolted in the other direction.
John bided his time and followed along, waiting patiently while Tony inserted the
keycard three times before getting the lock to open. “Do you?” he asked as he entered
the room with Tony hitting the lights right behind him.
“Do I what?” Tony challenged edgily. He shut the door, locked it, and slid the chain
into place all without even a glance in John’s direction.
“Like to kiss men,” John clarified as he stripped out of Tony’s jacket and placed
it on the bed along with the soft-sided computer case. When he spotted the remote
mounted on the nightstand he went to examine it before hitting the power button.
He smiled at his little accomplishment when the screen came to life.
Tony tossed his pack onto the bed. “If you can’t remember anything, how did you
know how to do that?” he asked suspiciously.
“It says ‘on’,” John pointed out reasonably. “Besides, they had one of those at
the clinic,” he added nodding to the TV where the blonde was reporting from a very
familiar crime scene.
“Oh.” Tony accepted the explanation for the moment.
“Looks like they finally let the press in,” John stated as he crossed his arms over
his chest and listened to what was being said. “Lightning? Please, those men were
toast. If the bolt was that hot then why wasn’t anything else incinerated?”
“You’re pretty smart,” Tony noted, slipping back into investigator mode. “You say
you don’t have any memories and yet you can still talk and read and… you just seem
to know a lot of stuff.”
“According to the doctor I’m not technically brain damaged so even without memories
I can still think. And I suppose I do have a certain amount of latent knowledge,”
John defended himself, turning an intense gaze on the agent. “Recall of stored information
and memory of past events aren’t necessarily the same thing.”
“I guess,” Tony gave in guardedly. “But you don’t even remember your name. That’s
“I don’t know what to tell you,” John shrugged as he began to unbutton his shirt.
“And you never answered my question. Why should I keep answering yours?”
“Fine,” Tony sighed dramatically. “What was the question again?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
“No, John,” Tony stated touchily to put an end to the matter. “I do not like to kiss
“Why didn’t you just say so in the first place?” John asked as he moved toward the
large mirror that took up the entire wall over the en suite sink. He flipped on
the light and winced as he pulled his shirt off his shoulders.
“Do you?” Tony queried, surprisingly interested in the conversation as long as it
wasn’t focused on him. “Tit for tat.”
“I have no idea,” John replied offhandedly, letting the shirt drop down his arms
to the floor as he studied the myriad of bruises across his ribs.
“Wow,” Tony exclaimed, moving to stand behind him to survey the damage. “They really
worked you over.” He ghosted a hand over the purpling flesh along John’s lower back.
“Kidney punches. Ow.”
“They didn’t look so bad this morning.”
“I’m sure they didn’t. Unfortunately, they’ll only get worse before they get better.
I’ll call Kate and have her pick you up something for pain.”
“I’ve got medicine,” John informed him, reaching into his pants pocket to pull out
a plastic prescription bottle.
Tony took it and read the label. “Motrin?”
“Eight hundred milligrams. The doctor said it was strong.” John kicked off his
shoes and made a pained face as he bent to remove his socks.
“Well yeah, for Motrin,” Tony smirked, realizing he had been sidetracked. “Hey, now
who’s avoiding the question?”
John met his eyes in the mirror as he straightened back up. “I already told you,
I have no idea. I don’t remember ever kissing anyone, male or female.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize that was actually your answer… never mind. Let’s just drop
“Sure,” John agreed easily, unzipping his fly as he peeked into the bathroom. “I
can wash up in here?”
“Yeah, here’s some stuff you’ll need,” Tony supplied, digging through the courtesy
basket next to the sink and unwrapping the larger of the two small bars of soap.
“How could you not know?”
“That it’s a washroom?”
“No, it is.” Tony handed over the soap and a miniature shampoo. “I meant how can
you not know if you prefer men or women? Isn’t that more knowledge than memory?”
“As you pointed out before, I don’t even know my own name so I don’t think forgetting
my sexual orientation is much of a stretch. And to tell the truth, it never even
crossed my mind before you brought it up. I thought we weren’t going to talk about
it any more.”
“Uh-uh, Kate brought it up and you wouldn’t leave it alone,” Tony disputed, getting
a little flustered. “And you’re right, we should probably not. Talk about it. Can
you figure out the shower?”
“I think so,” John said as he dropped his pants and stepped out of his briefs, kicking
both under the counter along with his shoes.
“Don’t burn yourself. You’re beat up enough,” Tony cautioned, tilting his head slightly
as he noticed the fairly recent scar on the back of John’s right thigh. As if of
their own accord his eyes were drawn upward.
“I won’t.” John disappeared behind the door.
Soon the sound of running water could be heard and Tony found himself staring at
the closed door still thinking about John’s upper, upper leg. If he’d happened to
notice anything other than the scar, it was purely by accident, or so he told himself.
“Shit,” he muttered, letting out the breath he’d been holding and getting the hell
away from the bathroom.
After kicking off his shoes he sat for a minute on the edge of the big bed then collapsed
back onto mattress. He rubbed his face with both hands, hoping fervently the case
wouldn’t last long. It wasn’t that he didn’t like John; it was quite the opposite.
The odd combination of vulnerability and perseverance in the mild-mannered man touched
him inside and he really, really didn’t want to examine the feeling too closely.
Not to mention he had just blatantly checked out the man’s assets, no matter what
lie he’d spun to assuage the blow to his very male ego.
He reluctantly began to understand the kinship Kate had so hastily developed with
her own walking, talking blank slate. And oh how not good that one had turned out;
with little pieces of Jane Doe and her victim literally raining down on all of them
with the rest of the debris from the inevitable explosion. In spite of the fact
they could have been killed, Tony had only wanted to make Kate feel better.
Too bad she hadn’t returned the sentiment when he screwed up with Voss. But then
again, he had crossed the line with what he’d thought was a witness, going so far
as to kiss her… him. Even now he pondered Kate’s question. What was it like to
tongue a guy? If he had only realized… maybe he would have paid a little more attention.
At any rate, he obviously needed to impose some emotional if not physical distance
between himself and John before things got out of hand. His troubled thoughts were
disrupted by the ringing of his cell which he retrieved from his pocket and flipped
open without bothering to get up. “DiNozzo.”
Sighing unenthusiastically at the request, Tony scooted off the bed. “Yeah, yeah,
hang on.” Padding back over to the sink, he bent down and pulled a shoe from under
the counter and checked the size.
“Ten and a half,” he reported dutifully. “Yeah… No, no way. I don’t do underwear…
Because it’s nasty, Kate… Well I can’t ask him, he’s in the shower and besides, he
doesn’t remember… I do know that for a fact… Because I don’t know what size I wear
without looking and I didn’t lose my memory… I am a normal male… I said normal, Gibbs
doesn’t count. He probably keeps his folded and numbered…”
Tony closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, vowing unholy revenge on Kate. “Oh hi,
boss… Size? Sure, let me look.” Finding only a single latex glove remaining in
his pocket, Tony snapped it on then sorted one-handed through the dirty clothes on
the floor and came up with a pair of white BVD briefs. “Thirty-two,” he reported
into the phone as he shoved everything back under the sink, including the smelly
shirt and socks. “Okay… bye.”
Sitting back on his haunches, Tony banged his head lightly on the side of the counter.
“Someday, Caitlin Todd, someday,” he swore.
He tossed the glove, got to his feet, and headed back to the bed, pushing his pack
and laptop to the center of the mattress. Stealing two of the three large pillows,
he propped them against the headboard and made himself comfortable next to the bolted
down remote to flip channels. Awkward as it was, it was superfluous and distracting,
just the ticket.
“Hello,” he muttered when a flash of bare breasts caught his eye. He hit the ‘buy’
button, crossed his feet and settled in to watch, turning the volume all the way
down to circumvent the moans, groans, and low-budget music. There didn’t seem to
be much dialogue anyway.
Since the knobs were handily labeled as hot and cold, John quickly adjusted the temperature
to his liking and even figured out how to make the water rush out of the spout at
the top. After a quick consideration of the logistics he pushed the vinyl curtain
to the inside of the enclosure, not sure if was the correct thing to do but certain
it would help to keep the floor dry. He pulled the mat off the side of the tub and
dropped it into the floor then grabbed the soap, shampoo, and a small cloth from
the rack over the toilet.
When he stepped in and pulled the curtain shut behind him he found the pounding water
on his abused abdomen and back to be painful. With a little experimentation he discovered
that turning the nozzle adjusted the force of the water from a harsh staccato beat
to a finer, less insistent stream. Finally he let the spray sluice over his face
and chest as he relaxed into the soothing warmth, seduced by its comfort to let his
mind go blank…
Sand exploded in every direction as the ground itself heaved in great, cataclysmic
waves rushing toward the horizon…
John jerked at the vivid and dreadful vision, nearly falling as he jumped back. When
his knees buckled he braced himself but ending up sliding down the back wall, collapsing
into a wet heap in the tub. He dropped his head to rest on his knees as the water
continued to fall, soaking his dirty hair and draining away in light brown rivulets
for a minute before running clear. Shivering in spite of the warm water, his heart
raced with the sensation of utter and complete failure that accompanied the strange
For the first time he had the luxury of recovering without an audience for which
he was extremely grateful. The episodes tended to freak people out and since he
was already being viewed with suspicion and fear he had quickly learned to hide his
reactions. The panic slowly eased and John sighed as the tightness in his chest
began to loosen. Soon he was able to find his footing and unsteadily get on with
the process of getting clean.
As he fumbled with the top to the shampoo he read the instructions: lather, rinse,
repeat. Why couldn’t everything be that simple he mused as he squeezed a handful
of the amber liquid into his hair and worked it in. Everything else was complicated
by layers and layers of meaning, nothing was what it seemed. He felt like a newborn,
innocent and fresh suddenly thrust into an adult world he didn’t understand.
The whole of his existence as far as he could remember consisted of approximately
sixteen hours of confusion, pain, and question after question that he couldn’t answer.
The local people he had met had been professional but distant. The sheriff, the
deputy, the doctor, all of them had treated him like an outsider, someone to be wary
of so he had carefully kept himself apart as he was certain they wanted him to do.
Against his initial reaction, he was thankful for Special Agent Gibbs and his team
for they were strangers here, too.
He felt safe with them all but the only real peace he’d known all day had come when
he’d been with Tony. He knew the agent had only been doing his job, Tony had admitted
as much, but he’d treated John like a real person and not an unidentified witness
to a hideous massacre. He’d even given John a name when no one else had considered
it important. Tony had smiled freely and often and had touched him in concern several
times and John naively perhaps chose not to see it as an act. He liked Tony best
he decided as he rinsed his hair.
Just about the time Tony started to worry the water finally stopped and John came
out of the bathroom drying his hair. He dropped the towel in the sink and bent to
retrieve his clothes.
“Don’t put those back on,” Tony instructed, his eyes glued to the TV screen.
“They stink. Kate’s bringing you something else to wear.”
“So what do I do in the meantime?”
“Tie a towel around your waist,” Tony suggested offhandedly.
John picked up the damp towel and did as he was told. “Is this okay?” he asked dubiously.
“Sure,” Tony approved, still preoccupied with the TV. “It’s just us guys.”
“So, uh, what are you watching?” John asked almost shyly as he made his way to sit
on the foot of the bed on the other side.
“Oh.” John squinted at the screen without a clue. “Is this the Discovery Channel?”
he asked after a moment of stunned silence.
Tony stared at him blankly for a second before busting out with a laugh. “I guess
that all depends on who’s watching it,” he finally managed, still snickering as he
turned his attention back to the show. “For you, it probably is.”
“I know what sex is,” John objected distractedly, obviously fascinated by the onscreen
action. “I just don’t remember ever doing it.” He got an unintelligible grunt for
a response and they continued to watch with only sporadic commentary, for the most
part studiously ignoring one another.
Some time later muffled voices in the hall and a tap on the door startled Tony into
movement. He randomly punched the remote to change the channel and rolled to his
feet in one smooth motion, then covertly adjusted himself through the front pocket
of his jeans before scrambling for the locks.
“Don’t say anything to Gibbs about the porn,” Tony warned in a hushed voice, but
John was still gaping at the TV.
“Hey,” Kate greeted when he finally opened the door.
Tony took the flat box with their dinner in it from her overburdened arms, catching
a glimpse of Gibbs with their baggage as he disappeared into the room next door.
“Oh my God,” Kate gasped as she slipped by Tony, at least six blue plastic Wal-Mart
bags dangling from her arms as she headed straight for John.
After depositing the food on top of the dresser Tony manually clicked off the TV,
catching only a glimpse of the great pyramid of Giza as it faded to black. “What?”
he asked turning back to Kate as she slid her arms free from the bags, dropping them
onto the bed, pausing only for a moment to note that there was only the one.
John rose to his feet, looking unsteady and pale as he stared at the blank TV screen.
He swallowed nervously then seemed to snap out of it, color rising back to his cheeks
as Kate got up close and personal to examine his bare midriff.
“You poor thing,” Kate sympathized running her fingers up his ribcage.
“I’m fine,” John assured her, a catch in his voice as he tried to back away.
Kate captured him firmly but gently by the still scruffy chin to examine the bruise
on his temple. “This is odd,” she remarked before John eased out of her grasp.
DiNozzo frowned as he studied John’s face then glanced down at the towel just to
make sure it wasn’t unduly tented, relieved for John to find that it wasn’t. He
hadn’t realized the entertainment for the evening had been bothering the witness,
in fact he would have bet his last dollar the man was enjoying the education. His
guilt trip was cut short by a harsh rap on the interior door that connected to the
next room and he moved to it quickly, pushing over the lock to let Gibbs in.
“Never go underwear shopping with Kate,” Gibbs declared fervently as he brushed into
the room, a tall cup of coffee in his hands. “And why the hell didn’t you get double
“They were fresh out, boss,” Tony declared with an inscrutable expression. “Well,
they had one, but the room it was connected to was already taken. I went for security
over modesty,” he finished, smirking at Kate.
“Our room is a king, too?” Kate asked irately.
“Don’t you trust Gibbs? Or is it yourself you don’t trust?”
“Enough,” Gibbs barked. “I’m gonna tell you like I told Kate, whatever this crap
is between you two it’s gonna stop or you’re both gonna be looking for a new job.
Am I clear?”
“Crystal,” Tony replied, certain Kate had gotten a much worse ass-chewing without
an audience, secretly pleased by the thought. “Let’s eat.”
Gibbs glared at both of them then grimaced when he caught sight of John who was quietly
watching the proceedings with wide eyes. “That’s gotta hurt.”
“I got you some Motrin,” Kate said turning to John as she dumped the contents of
the shopping bags one by one until she found what she was looking for. “You should
take it with food so it doesn’t upset your stomach.” She tore off the box and the
protective wrapper, opened the childproof lid then tossed away the cotton ball before
finally shaking two of the pills into her hand.
“Thank you,” John smiled self-consciously as he took the offering and popped them
into his mouth, turning to the sink to take a handful of water from the tap to wash
them down. He graciously forgot to mention he already had some.
“I also got you a razor, a toothbrush, a comb, some antibiotic ointment for your
wrists and some Sudafed. I noticed you sounded a little congested in the car. You
probably have allergies and I’m sure hanging out in that dusty room all day didn’t
help,” Kate rambled as she sat the handful of items on the sink. “Take two of these,”
she instructed, unwrapping the allergy medicine.
A little overwhelmed, John shot a bewildered look to Tony and Gibbs who watched their
teammate fusing over him with unconcealed amusement.
“She’s a profiler,” Tony explained with a shrug. “She notices things like how people…
“Kate, why don’t you give him something to wear?” Gibbs suggested helpfully.
Kate looked up at Gibbs and then back to the near naked but oh so sculpted body next
to her. “Right. Actually, John, you’re a little more muscular than I first though.
Some of this might be a little tight.”
Gibbs snorted and took a long drink of coffee.
“Sure, Kate,” DiNozzo teased, “So much for your observational skills.”
Ignoring them, Kate handed John a three pack of boxer-briefs, a pack of tee-shirts,
and a pair of navy blue sweat pants. “I got you some jeans and a shirt for tomorrow.
Oh, and some sneakers. And socks.”
“I… I don’t have any money,” John stammered, obviously embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” Kate soothed. “I put it on Gibbs’ expense account.”
“Thank you,” John said sincerely.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m gonna charge it back to Tucker anyway,” Gibbs dismissed
the gratitude uncomfortably.
“Go put on some clothes so we can eat,” Tony urged as he moved the food over to the
round table with two comfortable chairs in front of the windows.
John went into the bathroom to dress while Tony grabbed the small desk chair and
Gibbs ducked back into the other room to get one more. Feeling strangely maternal,
Kate gathered John’s old clothes and folded them, placing them in one of the empty
Wal-Mart bags before putting the rest of the bounty away.
“How’s he doing?” Gibbs inquired as he lugged the chair through the door and over
to the table as Tony pulled the drink holder out of the box.
“I don’t think he’s mad at me anymore,” Tony reported thoughtfully, setting the box
out of the way and rummaging through the bags. “But I don’t think he’s remembered
anything else either. In fact I think he’s trying not to.” A stray fry found its
way to his mouth as he sorted out a burger for each of them.
Kate finished arranging the toiletries on the sink and joined them at the table.
“What do you think?” Tony asked her as they both settled in.
“I agree. I think there’s something so horrible lurking in this guy’s subconscious
that he has literally willed it away. I’m not sure making him remember would be
the best thing for him.”
“If he doesn’t remember,” Gibbs retorted as he located his errant cup, “We may never
find out what happened out there.”
The bathroom door opened and a much more contented John came out in the sweats and
a tight, white tee-shirt, his hair slightly askew. He put the packaging in the trash
and dropped off the extra underwear on top of the bags in the closest then made his
way to the table. “Is that coffee?” he asked hopefully as he sniffed the air, his
nose narrowing in on Gibbs.
“Maybe,” Gibbs answered evasively.
“I’m sorry, I got you soda. But there’s another cup of coffee,” Kate smiled as John
sat next to her.
“That’s mine, too,” Gibbs protested.
“Oh,” John said, sounding disappointed as he unwrapped the burger Tony plopped in
front of him. He took a big bite and chewed, making appreciate noises. “This one’s
better than the one at lunch. It’s still hot.”
“You had a Big Mac for lunch, too?” Kate asked solicitously, still frowning at Gibbs
for not sharing.
“McDonald’s was the only thing open on this end of town,” Gibbs grumbled, finally
sitting down to eat.
“We’ll get you some real food tomorrow,” Tony promised through a mouthful of fries.
“And all the coffee you want.”
Gibbs made a disgusted noise and grabbed the other hot cup. He popped the lid off
both and split the full cup evenly. “Here,” he offered sullenly.
“Thanks,” John grinned, accepting the cup reverently. His pushed the food aside
and closed his eyes as he took his first sip. “Mmmm.”
“How can you forget everything else but still remember coffee?” Tony asked as he
finished his fries and the half of Kate’s that had been accidentally spilled onto
“Because coffee is important,” Gibbs answered for him as he fought back a grudging
“They gave me coffee at the clinic, but cut me off after three cups.”
“Separated at birth,” Kate chided with a laugh.
“By about fifteen years,” Tony added fearlessly.
“Can it, DiNozzo,” Gibbs warned, playfully threatening to smack him in the back of
the head. “Then when you’re done killing that burger set up a videoconference with
Abby before you get back to your porn.”
“Porn?” Tony asked artlessly. “This place has porn?”
“We were watching the Discovery Channel,” John added, hiding his smile behind his
hard earned coffee.
“They really were, I saw it,” Kate confirmed. “It looked like something on the pyramids.”
John sat his cup down and hid his trembling hands under the table.
“Hmm?” John asked, deceptively calm as he snaked a hand out to grab his burger and
take a bite, chewing slowly as if he wasn’t sure he’d actually be able to swallow
Tony studied him for a minute but let it pass. Popping the last bite of his own
dinner into his mouth he got up and went to get his laptop, taking it to the desk
to locate the advertised high-speed internet connection.
Feeling slightly nauseated, John pushed the rest of his meal away in lieu of the
coffee. He held the cup close to his chest as he searched for something to say to
break the suddenly unbearable silence around the table as they finished up. “Navy
you say,” was all he came up with.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” Gibbs provided for the second time.
“The Marines are actually a branch of the Navy so they fall under our jurisdiction
as well,” Kate went on to explain. “That’s why we’re here, one of the victims… one
of the other victims was a Marine.”
“Ah.” John nodded nervously and took another drink. It still made no sense to him.
“Semper Fi,” Gibbs commented under his breath.
“Excuse me?” John asked, leaning forward with a spark of interest.
“It’s a Marine greeting. It’s Latin; it means ‘always faithful’.”
“No,” John corrected, his brow creasing in thought. “Always faithful, that would
be semper fidelis, I think.” He blinked back at the two sets of eyes suddenly staring
at him. “Is that right?” he asked warily, looking around anxiously for Tony who
approached from behind and put a reassuring hand on the back of his chair.
“Technically, yeah…” Gibbs granted slowly.
“Let’s try another one,” Kate suggested. “Um, let me think… noli me tangere.”
“Touch me not,” John translated without hesitation.
Tony snorted lightly. “Only you, Kate. John, say this in Latin,” he proposed, “It's
not the heat, it's the humidity.”
“Non calor sed umor est qui nobis incommodat.”
“Is that right?” Gibbs asked this time, looking at Tony then Kate.
“Beats me,” Tony shrugged as he sat down. “It sounded good. Say ‘the designated
hitter rule has got to go’.”
“Lex clavatoris designati rescindenda est.”
“So he knows a little Latin,” Gibbs shrugged.
“No,” Kate shook her head in amazement. “He’s not pulling out a common word or phrase.
He’s very confident in his responses. I’d say he’s fluent in Latin even if we don’t
know what he’s saying.”
“Is that a scroll in your toga, or are you just happy to see me?”
John paused and eyed Tony uncertainly before speaking. “Estne volumen in toga, an
solum tibi libet me videre?”
“That’s enough,” Gibbs decided with an aggravated sigh. “Did you hook up with Abby?”
“Not in the literal sense, but yeah,” Tony joked. “She had to answer a call for
another case, though. She’ll be right back.”
“Tony, Kate, let’s go into the other room for a minute.”
“You’re going to talk about me?” John asked.
“Yeah,” Gibbs admitted truthfully. “Don’t answer the door, stay away from the windows,
and don’t try to use the phone. If you’re not here when we get back, I’m going to
“But if I’m not here how can you…”
“Just don’t even think about leaving,” Gibbs interrupted sternly.
John held up his hands in supplication as the agents moved to the connecting door.
The last one to leave, Tony smiled at him. “It’s okay. I’ll be right back,” he said
as he pulled the door shut.
The little amount of coffee that remained in his cup was growing cold so John drained
it in one gulp and stuffed the empty into one of the bags. He poked at the remains
of his food but ended up folding it up in the wrapper and tossing it too. Before
he could clean the rest of the table a female voice called from the other side of
Looking around in surprise, John checked the TV to make sure it was really off.
The voice seemed to be coming from the desk so John approached it guardedly. “Hello?”
John’s jaw dropped when he realized the tiny woman in black on the much smaller screen
was actually interacting with him, though her movements appeared a little jerky and
her voice faded in and out ever so slightly. “Hi,” he greeted again, mentally going
over Gibbs’ orders. Nowhere on the list was talking to the TV so he sat on the edge
of the bed and pulled the computer closer to the edge of the desk.
“Whoa! Back up a little, I can’t see you,” the woman requested. “See the camera?”
“The little round thingy? Looks like an alien? One eye?”
“Alien?” John asked in confusion, certain he would know an alien if he saw one. “This
thing?” he pointed to the webcam.
“Yeah, turn it a little to the… yeah, yeah, that’s it. Stop! Right there, I gotcha.
And may I just say ‘wow’. You’re a babe. Who are you?”
“I’m, uh, John. Well not really, that’s just what Tony decided to call me. John
“Oh yeah, you’re the witness,” the girl crooned sympathetically. “You poor guy.
“Hi Abby,” John repeated his salutation a little more enthusiastically, thrilled
to meet somebody new, somebody perhaps a little stranger than he was.
“So tell me about yourself.”
“Um, I like coffee… and apparently I speak Latin. That’s pretty much it.”
“You know Tony can help you with your hair.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing a little mousse can’t fix,” Abby assured with a broad grin. “I’ll clue
Tony in for you. What happened to your face?”
John fingered his temple and realized it was a bit sore. “I don’t remember.”
“Huh. So… you got any tats?”
“What’s a tat?”
“Hi,” the handsome young man smiled as he leaned on the counter.
Louise sighed, unmoved by his obvious charms. She was tired, her feet hurt and her
back ached after the hellish shift she’d just pulled. Not to mention the fact that
she knew a big juicy secret and she couldn’t breathe a word of it to anyone. The
night clerk would be in in only fifteen more minutes but no, she just couldn’t catch
a break. “What can I do for you?” she asked indifferently.
“Actually, it’s more like what I can do for you.” He held up a stiff new one hundred
dollar bill between his forefinger and thumb. “I need some information.”
Knowing more or less where the conversation was headed, Louise shook her head tersely.
Losing her job and going to jail were not on the top of her to-do list. Not for
a measly hundred bucks, although it was tempting.
The stranger stroked his thumb along the back of the C-note and like magic it multiplied
by five. “No one will ever know but you and me,” he persuaded, holding the money
like a hand of playing cards and fanning it gently under her nose.
“What do you want to know?” Louise asked, reaching for the money with a greedy gleam
in her eye.
Gibbs turned to his people as soon as they were through the door. “Well?”
“He could be a translator for the UN. That might be why they grabbed him,” Kate
“Uh, yeah, last time I checked, Latin’s a dead language,” Tony pointed out acerbically.
“I just thought maybe he speaks other languages as well. Some people don’t stop
at one or two if they have a knack for it, and frankly, that sounded like a knack
to me. On the other hand, there are certain jobs where Latin is still spoken.”
“I guarantee that man is not a priest,” Gibbs scoffed. “He’s looking more and more
like a soldier. Or maybe a spook.”
“One of ours?” Kate asked.
“Don’t know. It’s just an impression. Tony, you get anything else?”
“Yeah, uh, he’s got a healed gunshot wound on the back of his thigh that doesn’t
look very old,” Tony brought up reluctantly.
“That’s interesting,” Gibbs replied. “Give me your weapon.”
Tony frowned at Kate as he handed over his Sig Sauer. “What? He was getting into
the shower, I noticed the scar. I wasn’t looking at his ass.”
“Did I say anything?”
“Everything is homoerotic with you lately. I gotta tell you, Kate, it’s getting
“I think you’re protesting too much,” Kate replied coyly. “Besides, it’s not like
you don’t give me plenty of ammunition.”
“Like what?” Tony asked incredulously.
“Is that a scroll in your toga or are you just happy to see me,” Kate quoted.
“Stop,” Gibbs warned as he released the clip and handed it back to Tony. “Speaking
of ammunition, empty that,” he instructed as he checked the chamber. “So you think
he might speak something other than Latin?”
“It’s possible,” Kate shrugged.
“I’ll try a little Spanish on him,” Tony said crabbily as he freed the rounds one
by one until the clip was empty.
“I know a phrase or two in German,” Kate volunteered.
“Okay, good,” Gibbs agreed as he took the cleared clip from Tony and slapped it into
the gun before sticking the whole thing into the back of his waistband. “Did you
notice anything else?”
“He definitely works out,” Kate mentioned. “Well he does,” she sulked as her coworkers
both rolled their eyes.
Gibbs shook his head as he opened the door and passed through, leaving Kate and DiNozzo
to argue in his wake. John was at the mirror with his shirt pulled up. “What are
you doing?” Gibbs inquired drolly.
“Looking for tats?” John replied uncertainly, lowering his shirt and lifting his
head just as Gibbs brought the gun out from behind his back. He spun so fast, Gibbs
didn’t have time to react to the hand at his throat or the leg sweep that took him
“John!” Tony shouted, already on his back and grabbing the arm that pinned Gibbs’
“Easy,” Gibbs ordered as he stopped struggling, looking up into the wild eyes of
the man on top of him.
“Come on, John,” Tony urged gently.
John swallowed then slowly released Gibbs as Tony pulled him back, holding him tightly
around the chest from behind.
“I’m sorry,” John swore, heaving for breath. “But why? I didn’t try to leave.”
“I wasn’t going to shoot you,” Gibbs soothed, looking a little shell shocked as Kate
helped him sit up and hovered by his shoulder. “That was a stupid move on my part.
I should have known you would react that way.”
“I didn’t even think about it, I just reacted.” John sagged against Tony as the
adrenaline rush subsided. “How could you know?”
Gibbs let out a pained laugh as he rubbed his throat. “Well for starters, you fought
against your kidnappers. There was blood down the back of your jacket but none on
your shirt or the back of your head.”
“So it had to be his blood,” John reasoned, still slightly breathless.
“I figure you head-butted the guy that grabbed you from behind,” Gibbs explained.
“And you were good and dirty which points to a physical altercation, probably rolling
around on the ground,” Tony agreed. “Plus they couldn’t have punched you in the
back while you were handcuffed to that chair. You didn’t go easy.”
Tony climbed to his feet and offered John a hand up while Kate assisted Gibbs.
Gibbs gingerly pressed on his hip to check for damage, and then tested his weight
bearing ability. Satisfied nothing but his pride was injured he faced John. “Let’s
try this again.”
“What?” John looked uneasy as he rubbed his own sore back.
“Just relax,” Gibbs instructed as he handed him the weapon butt first this time.
John accepted it with a sigh, frowning at the weight. He checked the clip first,
then the chamber before finally engaging the safety even though he now knew the gun
wasn’t loaded. Lowering his arm to hold it straight down to his side, he looked
at Gibbs questioningly. His grip was comfortable and firm with his finger resting
lightly over the trigger.
Gibbs and Tony exchanged deliberate glances as DiNozzo reached out to retrieve his
“What?” John asked again, releasing it immediately.
“I’d say that’s a natural fit.”
“You know your way around handguns,” Tony interpreted, slipping the gun back into
his holster then digging the bullets out of his pocket to reload the clip.
“John! Tony? Anybody?”
“Abby,” Kate called out as she trotted over to the desk. “Hey!”
“What’s going on?” Abby scolded. “I couldn’t see! What was all that noise?”
“Oh Gibbs pulled one of his little experiments without warning anyone and it backfired
“It didn’t backfire,” Gibbs argued. “In fact it told me a hell of a lot.”
“Right, a hell of a lot he’s obviously not going to share with the rest of us,” Kate
confided to Abby.
“Give him time. Gibbs likes to pick his moments. So did John find anything?”
“What kind of anything, Abs?” Gibbs questioned apprehensively as he shooed Kate out
of the way and took her place in front of the camera.
“Tattoos, piercings, you know, body art.”
“Ask Tony. Apparently he’s seen the whole package,” Kate laughed as Tony glared
at her and John looked back and forth between them, not quite blushing.
“What have you got on the prints, Abby?” Gibbs requested with the patience he always
seemed to hold in reserve for the spirited forensic tech.
“Okay, we hit the jackpot right off the bat with two sets of prints in the military
database. Both were Marines, one active, one not.”
“Lance Corporal Jeremy K. Murdock?” Gibbs queried knowingly.
“Yep, that’s our active duty guy. He’s been in for four years but quit showing up
for his guard duty gig at the Pentagon three days ago. Officially he’s listed as
“Well now he’s DOA,” Tony remarked, replacing the clip and sliding the gun back into
“Yeah, that’s the one we have dog tags for,” Gibbs said with a nod. “What about
the other one?”
“Master Sergeant Andrew Weber, no middle initial, called it quits when his enlistment
was up last year after putting in eighteen.”
“No body walks away that close to retirement,” Gibbs argued. “Where was he stationed?”
“It’s hard to say, I think his record has been scrubbed. There’s some nonsense about
deep space radar telemetry at NORAD, but it looks pretty bogus to me. My friend
Ashton at NASA has never heard of it either. He thinks it might be a cover for some
dark ops. I’m exploring other avenues.”
“Any of this sound familiar to you?” Gibbs asked, turning to John.
“Maybe,” John said, licking his lip and looking concerned. “Just, uh… what’s a NORAD?”
Gibbs grunted and turned back to Abby. “What about John Doe here?”
“No database match yet, but he was definitely in the cabin.”
“We already knew that.”
“Oh, and no match on the fourth set of prints either. And I don’t think we’re gonna
“Because unless bachelor number four just miraculously had the exact same scar on
every single finger, his prints were surgically altered.”
“Curioser and curioser,” Tony replied.
“ETA on the bodies is like two hours from now and Ducky has been chomping at the
bit ever since talking to you. The rest of the evidence should arrive some time
before dawn, but I’ll hang out here in case Ducky finds anything on the any of the
“Thanks, Abs. Good job.”
“Wait! Let me talk to John,” Abby requested before Gibbs could terminate the connection.
Gibbs released a long suffering sigh and moved away as John sat on the edge of the
bed and without needing to be told again readjusted the camera. “Hi Abby,” he said
with a shy smile.
“Did you find anything?”
“No,” John reported, sounding almost disappointed.
“Don’t feel bad. I’ll show you the rest of mine when you get here, okay?”
“Now let me talk to Tony.”
“Christ,” Gibbs swore, checking his gun and moving to the door. “I’m gonna take
a quick look around outside before we bunk down. Don’t chat too long.”
“I’ll go with you,” Kate said.
“Something up, boss?”
“Just being cautious,” Gibbs assured. “Abby, I’ll talk to you first thing in the
“Sure thing, bossman.”
Gibbs opened the door and glanced out into the hall. “Take the lobby. I’ll go down
the stairs on the end. Meet me back here in ten minutes,” he told Kate as they left.
“What’s up, Abs,” Tony asked, leaning over John into view.
“Mousse,” Abby ordered, gesturing with her fingers. “Do the spiky thing.”
Tony ran his hand through his longish hair. “You know I’m trying to get away from
“Not you, igmo, John!”
“Yeah, it’s shorthand for ignoramus,” Abby teased. “Promise me you’ll make him look
good. It shouldn’t be hard.”
“Abby, have I been replaced in your affections?” Tony asked, pretending to be hurt
as he held a hand over his heart.
“Time and time again,” Abby grinned back at him. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Bye Abby,” John said with a timid little wave.
“Bye sweetie…” Abby purred as Tony disconnected the link and she disappeared.
“I like Abby,” John decided.
Tony grinned. “This is gonna kill McGee.”
“So what’s the big emergency?” Jack asked, still wearing civvies as he entered the
briefing room and dropped his small carryall to the floor. He checked his watch
then studied the other half of his similarly attired team.
“I’m not sure, sir,” Major Carter reported as she stood from zipping an overnight
bag. “We were just asked to pack a bag and meet you here.”
“General Hammond has been preoccupied with phone calls since our arrival,” Teal’c
added from his location near the window overlooking the Stargate. “I believe him
to be most displeased.”
“You don’t think Daniel upset the apple cart in Washington, do you?” Jack asked casually.
“Ruffled a few feathers maybe?”
“I doubt it, sir,” Sam smirked. “Daniel is very diplomatic. That’s why they sent
him and not you.”
“Ha,” Jack scoffed. “He’s also stubborn, insubordinate, and sarcastic as hell. You’d
a thought Oma would have drilled some of that out of him while he was out there floating
around the galaxy.”
“SG-1,” General Hammond greeted solemnly as he entered the room and took a seat at
the table. The present three-fourths of the team found chairs as well. “Have any
of you had contact with Doctor Jackson since he left for Washington?”
“Nope,” Jack answered for the increasingly uneasy group. “But he’s only been gone
since yesterday. He’ll probably call tomorrow if he’s not too busy hobnobbing with
the brass. What’s going on, sir?”
“I spoke to Major Davis at the Pentagon earlier this evening,” Hammond began gravely.
“He informed me how much easier the briefing to the Oversight Committee would have
gone if Doctor Jackson had been present.”
“What?” Jack asked in surprise. “Daniel ditched the big meeting?”
Hammond held up a hand to forestall further questions until he could finish. “Then
he told me he understood how painful a slipped disc could be and to tell Doctor Jackson
to get better soon.”
“Daniel Jackson sustained no such injury.”
“Sir, I took Daniel to the airport myself,” Sam gasped. “I saw him pass through
security to the gates.”
“And he got off of the plane in Washington,” Hammond assured. “That’s been confirmed
by airport security tapes.”
“So where is he now?”
“All we know is a uniformed Marine met Doctor Jackson at Dulles. They left the terminal
“Davis sent a Marine to pick Daniel up?” Jack asked doubtfully.
“No, in fact he canceled the car he’d arraigned when he got the message that Doctor
Jackson wasn’t coming.”
“Oh God,” Sam breathed. “Somebody took him.”
“Major Davis has reported the incident to the proper authorities.”
Teal’c clenched his jaw slightly but didn’t comment.
“Permission to take my team on a field trip, sir.”
“Granted, Colonel, but I don’t have to remind you…”
“I know, sir,” Jack sighed as they grabbed their bags and swiftly moved to the stairs,
“For now,” Hammond agreed as they clattered down the metal steps. “Bring him home
safe,” he requested to the empty room.
After cleaning off the table Tony taught John the finer points of solitaire. At
the sound of the door opening in the next room, he reached for his gun and motioned
for the witness to get down. John immediately rose to his feet and followed him
towards the inner door instead.
“It’s us,” Gibbs announced, entering the room with Kate right behind him.
Tony relaxed his stance but shot John a disapproving look which John chose to ignore.
“The parking lot looks like a damned network news convention and we settled right
in the thick of it.”
“It is the closest motel to the fishing camp,” Kate pointed out. “It’s not like
we planned it.”
“Yeah, and they don’t know we’re here. Yet,” Tony replied. “The clerk who checked
us in figured us out but I swore her to secrecy.”
John cleared his throat. “Actually, he threatened to throw her in jail,” he elaborated.
“That’s our Tony,” Kate remarked wryly. “Subtle.”
“Gracias, amigo” Tony replied sarcastically to John, “Por pegar un cuchillo en mi
“Usted es agradable. No piense nada en él,” John retorted with a smile.
“Smart ass,” Tony huffed. “Well, apparently our little polyglot here speaks Spanish
as well as Latin.”
“We’re not going to do party tricks again, are we?” John asked charily.
“Why don’t you just save time and tell us if you speak any other languages?” Gibbs
“Because I don’t know,” John insisted. “I didn’t know that I spoke Spanish until
I heard what Tony said and then I just understood and answered.”
“Kate speaks German,” Tony remembered.
“I didn’t say that,” Kate objected immediately. “I said I knew a few phrases in
German… well, one actually.”
“Let’s hear it,” Gibbs prodded.
“Okay, um, keep in mind it’s been awhile,” Kate warned John.
“How long,” Tony just had to ask.
“College,” Kate explained. “One of my sorority sisters set me up with her German
cousin before graduation and had me learn a traditional greeting to make him feel
at home. He turned out to be a real jerk…” Kate trailed off at Gibbs annoyed look.
“Never mind. Uh, let’s see… my pronunciation will probably be appalling.”
“Spit it out!”
“Okay, okay. Kommen sie ich mit dine hosen in dine han. There,” Kate said proudly.
“That came out better than I though it would.”
John stared at her and rubbed a hand slowly down his face.
John raised a finger as if to make a point. “You say a friend taught you to say
“Well, no, more of an acquaintance. In fact we had a little tiff over a man our
sophomore year and I don’t think she ever really got over it. Why? Was the pronunciation
“No, ah… what do you think you just said?”
“It’s a simple ‘have a nice day’ kind of greeting,” Kate explained with a shrug.
“I forget the exact meaning.”
“What’d she really say?” Tony practically begged, grinning wolfishly.
“Come and see me with your pants in your hand,” John translated sympathetically.
“That bitch,” Kate exclaimed under her breath as Tony howled.
“Alright, settle down,” Gibbs ordered after allowing Tony a minute to get it out
of his system, barely managing to keep a neutral expression himself. Tony finally
wiped his eyes and tried in vain to keep a straight face as Kate brooded.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” Gibbs instructed, looking at his watch. “It’s almost
twenty-three hundred now and I want us on the road by oh five thirty. Maybe we can
sneak out of here before the news people catch wind of us. Tonight we’ll each do
two hour shifts.”
“I can pull a watch,” John volunteered, quickly doing the math in his head.
“What?” Gibbs asked.
“That’s what you mean, right? That each of you will pull a two hour watch. If you
let me do one too then everybody gets more sleep.”
“John, buddy, you are what we’ll be watching,” Tony broke the news.
“Oh,” John uttered in surprise. “Sorry, I forgot. This just felt so… familiar.”
“Tony, you‘ve been babysitting the longest so you can go last,” Gibbs granted. “Kate,
do you want first or second watch?”
“First, if you don’t mind. I can never get back to sleep if I have to get up during
“Get some rest,” Tony told John, patting him on the back as he grabbed his pack and
followed Gibbs to the other room.
“Is that really what I said?” Kate turned to ask John as soon as the door closed
and Tony was out of earshot.
John nodded sheepishly. “Yeah. Sorry.”
Kate smiled a little and tried to herd him towards the bed. “Come on, get some sleep.”
“I’m not tired,” John insisted, standing firm. “I feel fine after the nap in the
car and then a shower and some coffee. I feel like I could stay up all night.”
“You should at least try to rest.”
John groaned in frustration, scratching his head. “I wish I had something to read.
They had magazines at the clinic.”
“Yeah?” Kate teased. “You must have picked up lots of tips on dating and diets.”
“And cooking,” John joked. “I still don’t understand why the one that said ‘lose
thirty pounds in thirty days’ had a picture of a chocolate cake on the cover.”
“Nobody understands that, John,” Kate chuckled. “Don’t you want to at least try
“I don’t think so,” John sighed forlornly.
“I don’t want to close my eyes. I… I see things,” John admitted.
“You’ll have to sleep eventually,” Kate advised, reaching out to him but pulling
back when he crossed his arms over his chest, closing himself off. “You can’t fight
the memories forever.”
“When I get tired enough, I’ll sleep,” John promised. He looked at the TV but shook
his head and sat on the end of the bed dejectedly instead of turning it on.
Kate watched him surreptitiously glance at the closed door between the rooms, finally
understanding the real problem. “I know!” she exclaimed with a sudden flash of inspiration.
She went to the far nightstand and pulled out the drawer. “Ah ha! Here you go.”
She handed him the bible with a smile. “This ought to keep you busy for awhile.”
“Thanks,” John replied gratefully as he crawled up the bed next to the lamp and settled
in to read.
Kate sat down at the table where she could see both doors and John. She gathered
the cards and quietly shuffled them, wondering if Tony was aware just how much the
witness had come to depend on him.
“Listen to this…” John started animatedly as he got up from the bed and joined her
at the table, never taking his eyes off the page.
Opening the door a crack Kate peeked into the room, letting her eyes adjust to the
darkness. Finally she could see well enough to know that Gibbs was laying face down
on top of the covers closest to her, fully clothed including his boots. An unidentified
lump under the covers on the other side of the bed snored a lot like Tony.
“Gibbs,” Kate whispered as she crossed the room, tripping on a shoe that by the process
of elimination had to be Tony’s. Gibbs twitched and muttered something unintelligible
in response. “Gibbs,” she said a little louder and reached for his shoulder only
to be met halfway by a hand.
“Everything okay?” Gibbs asked in a sleep roughened voice as he rolled over and sat
up with an involuntary moan of pain.
“Yeah, all’s quiet,” Kate assured. “Are you okay?”
Gibbs nodded and yawned, checked his gun and headed into the other room.
“And good morning to you, too,” Kate muttered under her breath as the door shut practically
in her face. She went to the sink and turned on the light to do an abbreviated version
of her nighttime ritual, removing makeup and brushing her teeth. Then she slipped
into the bathroom to do her business and get a quick shower.
Ten minutes later she came out wearing an oversized basketball jersey and carrying
her carefully folded clothes. Leaving the light on in the bathroom she pulled the
door almost completely shut behind her and headed for the bed, kicking the shoe out
of the way and depositing her clothes on the nightstand. She stopped cold as she
reached for the covers.
“Tony, you’d better not be naked under there,” she warned.
“You wish,” Tony answered groggily, not bothering to come out of his burrow.
With that faint assurance Kate apprehensively pulled back the covers on her side
and slipped under them. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply as she settled in.
The bed felt wonderful to her tired body and Tony was far enough away she couldn’t
even feel the heat from his body.
“Sure beats sleepin’ at your desk, huh?” Tony asked, sounding barely awake.
“Yeah,” Kate laughed lightly. “Go back to sleep.”
Tony was quiet for a few minutes but his breathing never evened out.
“John’s okay,” Kate promised. The silence lasted so long Kate almost though he had
gone back to sleep.
“I can’t believe I let him get to me,” Tony confessed softly. “I really shouldn’t
care, should I?”
“It’s okay to care,” Kate insisted reaching over to touch him on the back of the
shoulder. “He looks up to you, you know.”
“You think so?” Tony asked, rolling over to peek out at her from the shroud of sheet
“I definitely think so. You’re the closest thing to a peer he’s got. Heaven help
us, but you’re his mentor.”
“Yeah, I like that,” Tony grinned sleepily then rolled back over and adjusted the
blanket. “Thanks, Kate.”
“Good night, Tony.”
Long moments passed and again, Tony’s breathing never changed.
“What?” Kate asked at last, knowing she would never be able to fall asleep in a bed
with a conscious Anthony DiNozzo.
“You’re not wearing that little red negligee are you?” Tony asked in a pseudo-sexy
Kate laughed out loud. “You wish.”
“I want to be buried with that thing.”
“Keep it up and you’re going to be buried in that thing and a whole lot sooner than
Tony chuckled then quieted. A minute later his breathing evened out and he was once
again dead to the world.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” Gibbs inquired brusquely as he entered the room and went
straight through to the bathroom, leaving the door open as he peed. “Well?” he prodded
a minute later when he stepped back out to the sink to wash his hands.
“I wasn’t tired,” John mumbled distractedly without looking up.
Gibbs made a disbelieving sound and got himself a glass of water. “Can I take some
of your Motrin?”
“Sure. There’s some stronger stuff in the brown bottle.”
“Thanks,” Gibbs muttered, finding it and holding it at arms length to read the label
before popping off the top and taking one of the large orange pills. “Want coffee?”
he asked grudgingly.
John finally looked up. “You can get some?”
Gibbs pointed to the little two-cup coffeemaker on the counter with one filter and
one small bag of grounds. “Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not great.”
Laying the book down, John got up from where he sat at the table and watched with
great interest while Gibbs went about setting the pot to brew. “That’s it?”
“That’s it. Give it a minute.” Gibbs walked over to the table and picked up the
green hardcover book. “This is what had you so enthralled?”
“Yes. It’s incredible, I… I can’t believe it was just lying around in a drawer in
this very room,” John stuttered excitedly, talking fast. “I mean what are the chances?”
“Pretty good, actually, it’s been in print for a really long time.”
“Really. You’ve read it?”
“Not the whole thing,” Gibbs snorted. “I’ve read parts of it.”
“These stories… I know these stories,” John continued in awed fascination. “Kate
also seemed very familiar with them. She could actually quote passages.”
Gibbs smiled a little at the thought of a young Kate in Sunday school. “I’m not
surprised.” They waited in silence until the drip began to slow.
John closed his eyes and leaned his head back as he took a deep breath. “I love
the smell of coffee,” he declared.
This time Gibbs chortled softly. “Me, too,” he admitted as he poured the hot black
liquid almost equally into two cups then handed one over.
John cautiously lifted the steaming drink to his lips and took a sip. “It’s good.”
“Salute,” Gibbs replied, making a face as he too sampled the coffee. “It’s terrible.”
“I’ll drink it,” John offered.
“That’s what I thought.”
They took seats at the table and drank their prized java in silence until it was
gone. Finally Gibbs leveled his gaze at the witness. “I want to ask you something.”
John blinked and looked down at his empty cup, uncomfortable with the scrutiny. “Go
“Why did you pull your punches?”
“You caught me by surprise. You could have easily injured me or even killed me but
“I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“You thought I was going to shoot you,” Gibbs pointed out impatiently.
“I know,” John admitted, knotting his brow together as he thought about it. “I just…
I don’t know.”
After a moment of silence it became clear John wasn’t going to offer any more insight
into the matter so Gibbs accepted the odd proclamation at face value. “Do me a favor.”
“If your life is in danger again, don’t hold back. Keeping in mind of course that
none of us are going to hurt you.”
John gave a terse nod then retrieved the bible and got up.
“No way,” Gibbs refused, taking it from him. “Nobody reads the whole bible in one
night. It’s time for you to get some sleep.”
“I’m not tired,” John protested. The lie was made obvious as he stifled a yawn.
Gibbs narrowed his eyes as he studied John’s anxious face. “I’m going to check in
with Ducky and then I want you to at least close your eyes for a little while.”
“Okay,” John gave in reluctantly. “Will Abby be there?”
“Probably,” Gibbs harrumphed as he got up to set up the computer. He fumbled for
a minute but then everything fell into place. “Got it.”
“Hey Gibbs,” Abby greeted as soon as the link went through to the morgue. “Where’s
“If you mean the witness, he’s right here,” Gibbs grumbled, sitting on the edge of
the bed and adjusting the camera.
“Hi John! Cool, you’re a night owl.”
“Hi Abby,” John answered, kneeling on the mattress behind Gibbs so he could see and
“Doctor Mallard, meet John Doe,” Abby introduced formally as an older gentleman stepped
into view. “John, this is Ducky.”
John nodded then broke into a smile. “I get it… Mallard… Ducky.”
“Hello, John, I’m pleased to meet you,” Ducky hailed energetically.
“I must say, the majority of John Does I’ve come across through the years have unfortunately
been on my table. Although we did recently make the acquaintance of a Jane Doe,
but alas, she ended up there as well… or rather pieces of her…”
“Ducky,” Gibbs cut him off. “Have you had a look at the bodies?”
“Given they’ve been here all of forty minutes I haven’t had much more than a look,
but yes, I’ve managed a cursory examination of one of them.”
“Cooked through and through. More than cooked actually, burnt to a bloody crisp.
I dare say even the bone marrow has been boiled away. A few hundred more degrees
and they would have effectively been cremated.”
“It wasn’t lightning, was it?” John asked.
“Very doubtful, young man,” Ducky smiled his approval of the question. “Although
lightning can be very damaging to tissue, I’ve never seen it to this extent. Generally
there is a clearly demarcated entry and exit as well, but these poor souls are equally
charred from head to toe as it were.
“As for identification, I’m afraid all we can really do at the moment is wait on
the dental records to arrive to sort out our two Marines until I can attempt to locate
some useable DNA. Perhaps the brain, although encased in the skull I’d imagine the
heat would have intensified to the point of... “
“Try to stay on topic, Ducky,” Gibbs requested wearily. “It’s late.”
“Yes, of course. The clothing is almost totally burned away but there are small
bits of metal interspersed with the remains. I’m assuming watches and other jewelry.
Some of it is melted, the gold in particular. Abby will be examining these items
while I attempt autopsies. It won’t be easy; they tend to crumble a bit when cut.”
“Cause of death?” Gibbs queried.
“I’m ninety-nine percent certain it was some type of instant incineration.”
“But not by lightning. So how?”
Ducky took off his glasses and frowned. “Honestly I haven’t a clue. However I do
recall once on a trip to Madrid…”
Gibbs looked up from watching CNN without the sound when Tony came through the door.
“I was just about to wake you.”
The younger agent tapped a button on his watch producing a rather tinny rendition
of the Looney Tunes theme. “I set my alarm.”
“Didn’t that wake Kate?”
Tony shrugged with an evil little smirk then rubbed his eyes. “Didn’t seem to bother
him,” he noted, nodding to where John lay sprawled on the far side of the bed.
“I’m surprised. He hasn’t been out long.”
Sniffing the air, Tony surveyed the empty cups sitting on the table. “You gave him
coffee at bedtime?”
“What, is he three?” Gibbs snorted as he got up and headed to the door. “That’s
mother’s milk to true caffeine addicts like us.”
Tony shook his head as he watched Gibbs leave then moved to the bed to claim his
former nest of pillows, stretching his socked feet out on top of the covers. He
flipped a few channels before deciding on an old Abbott and Costello movie. A minute
later the mattress beside him dipped as John tossed his own pillow up against the
headboard and joined him, shoulder to shoulder.
“Scoot over,” Tony objected without looking.
“I can’t see from over there,” John countered in a quiet voice, obstinately not scooting.
With an annoyed sigh, Tony turned to glare at him as he grabbed for one of the pillows,
planning to just let him have the good side of the bed. When the stark terror on
John’s face registered he halted his movement, realizing the other man was furtively
seeking comfort and not merely trying to take control of the remote. Inwardly he
cursed himself for being such a sap but he settled back against the headboard. “Bad
dream?” he asked with concern.
“Bad,” John rasped out, ducking his head. “Not a dream.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” John changed his mind about the physical proximity and tried to retreat
but Tony latched onto the back of his tee-shirt and hauled him back.
“Tell me,” Tony insisted, clicking off the TV.
“Can we talk about something else?”
“No. Come on, it might be important to the investigation. No telling what’s camped
out in your subconscious.”
“You’ll think I’m nuts.”
“I already think you’re nuts, you’ve got nothing to lose,” Tony teased, bumping his
shoulder lightly against John’s. “Sometimes when you say it out loud it doesn’t
seem so bad.”
“I don’t know, I’m not good with this touchy-feely stuff,” Tony confessed honestly.
“But that’s what I’ve heard. It’s worth a shot.”
“It’s going to sound strange,” John stalled, still sitting way too close.
“I was a homicide detective, I’ve heard it all. I promise, you’re not gonna surprise
“It’s in a desert,” John started, glancing up nervously for Tony’s reaction.
“That makes sense.”
“Yeah,” Tony encouraged. “Desert Storm maybe, you’d have been about twenty-five,
twenty-six I’m guessing. Of course it could have been a lot more recent.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry about it, just tell me about the dream and maybe it’ll give us a clue.”
“Okay,” John let out a long, slow breath. “I see a pyramid in the middle of these
endless sand dunes and I know there are people inside that I care about. Then there’s
a bright light from out of the sky...”
“Like a missile.”
“Um, no, not really, it’s more of a continuous stream of energy.”
“Like a ray gun. Or what do you call it? Photon torpedoes? No, no phasers,” Tony
provided, careful not to appear anything but attentive.
Picking up the amused undertone anyway, John glowered at him.
“And the ray comes from,” Tony pointed upward, “the sky.”
“Yes,” John provided coldly.
“Where in the sky, exactly?”
“You’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you?”
Tony shrugged. “I’m not jumping to any conclusions here.”
“It was a space ship, all right? A big, black triangular space ship.”
“That surprises me,” Tony finally admitted with a straight face.
“Tony, you’re an ass,” John growled heatedly, abandoning his pillow and moving away.
“Not so fast.” Tony caught him in a loose chokehold and pulled him close. When he
was sure John wasn’t going to bolt he relaxed his grip, leaving his arm around John’s
shoulder as he patted him on the chest comfortingly. “I’m sorry. It was just a
dream. Okay? People dream about all kinds of weird stuff. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“It wasn’t a dream,” John persisted, getting agitated. “It really happened, I’m
“So the pyramid blew up?”
“Yes, it exploded. The whole area was destroyed. The people died,” John’s voice
cracked with emotion. “And it was all my fault. I was being punished; I think that’s
why I had to watch.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just feel it,” John replied dejectedly, dropping his head into his hands.
“Where were you?” Tony asked, pulling his arm back to force John to raise his head
and drop his hands.
“If you were at the temple then you would be dead too and not here dreaming about
it,” Tony reasoned. “Right?”
“I wasn’t at the temple, I was…” John paused, making a face and clearly not wanting
to verbalize the thought.
“On the spaceship,” Tony finished for him.
“No! Well, yes, in a way…” John waffled. “I was everywhere. Or maybe no where,
I don’t know. I watched the whole thing from every angle, totally removed from it.”
“Like an out of body experience,” Tony speculated.
“I didn’t exist in the physical sense at all, if that’s what you mean. I wasn’t
human; I was something else, something insignificant and all encompassing at the
“I don’t know. I was… I was stardust.”
They sat still for a long while. Tony kept his arm wrapped around John although
he was no longer trying to get away, John’s slightly ragged respirations the only
“You’re not stardust now,” Tony soothed at last. He sighed but didn’t say anything
as John sunk lower into the bed and leaned his head back against his shoulder.
Shooting a concerned glance at the door that separated the rooms Tony weighed his
options. If Kate caught him cuddling a male witness in bed he knew he’d never hear
the end of it. However he was also aware that if he appeared to reject the tormented
man now he wouldn’t ever reach him again and that, for some reason he couldn’t quite
explain, was unacceptable. The quiet holding seemed to do John a world of good as
his breathing slowed and the slight tremors of panic and anxiety gradually abated.
“Go back to sleep,” Tony urged with a squeeze and an unspoken ‘I’ve got you’.
John relaxed a little more but never closed his eyes completely and Tony was content
to watch each slow blink of lashes, mesmerized by the half-lidded blue. He ached
to make the pain he saw there go away and held on when he knew he should let go.
The warm, solid form in his arms felt good and he was happy to risk Gibbs’ wrath
and Kate’s scorn for as long as John would allow.
“Why does Kate think you like to kiss men?” John asked without warning.
Tony startled back from his thoughts, uncomfortable with where they had taken him.
“Why are you so fixated on that topic?”
John shrugged tiredly. “It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than my problems.”
“And a lot more embarrassing.”
“It’s more embarrassing to kiss a man than to be crazy?”
“I’m not gay,” Tony objected, dropping his arm in a knee-jerk reaction but still
trapped under John’s weight. “I made a mistake and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I told you my deep dark secret,” John persisted, turning his head to look up into
Tony’s face. “Tit for tat, remember?”
“Do you ever forget anything?”
“Not since I forgot everything. Tell me.”
Frowning at the stubborn set of John’s jaw, Tony decided to make a deal. “If I tell
you what happened will you leave it alone?”
“Okay,” John agreed hastily, anxious to hear the story.
Tony hesitantly replaced his arm, mostly to encourage John to lay his head back down
because he didn’t especially want to tell the story face to face. John complied
with the wordless request and settled in contentedly.
“It was, um, six weeks ago?” Tony began. “We were surveilling this really hot chick
for a possible connection to the murder of one of our own agents. He had been watching
her when he got killed.”
“He was a friend of yours?”
“Me too,” Tony paused to swallow the lump in his throat. “Anyway, I got the opportunity
to get up close and personal with the woman and I took it.”
“So I crossed the line,” Tony acknowledged guiltily. “I, uh, I made out with her
at a bar.”
“And she turned out to be the murderer?” John guessed.
“Yep, she was very conniving, very clever, and hiding in plain site. She was also
John turned to look at Tony in confusion, sitting up and pulling back enough to see
him clearly. “You couldn’t tell?”
Tony laughed bitterly. “I keep asking myself that same question.”
“And now Kate won’t leave you alone about it. Hasn’t she ever made a mistake?” John
asked, sounding angry and a little protective.
“I give Kate crap all the time,” Tony waved him off. “She just finally found a way
to turn the tables on me. It’ll pass eventually if Gibbs doesn’t can both of us
in the meantime.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
“Now we don’t ever have to mention it again.”
John nodded, then taking his pillow with him, moved closer to the middle of the bed.
“I’m going to try to sleep now.”
“Good. You do that,” Tony approved as he turned the TV back on. He crawled under
the bedspread to offset the loss of body heat but it wasn’t the same.
Despite being hopped up on soda Abby unpacked the evidence carefully, checking the
invoice against each item. As she generally didn’t have any contact with victims
other than an occasional glimpse of a bod on an autopsy table, she was a little unprepared
for the emotional aspects of what she found. Having conversed with the adorably
bashful but eager to please John Doe she couldn’t help herself, she felt angry and
upset as the contents of the box became clear. She reached over and snapped off
the blaring CD leaving the lab in eerie silence.
“Those bastards,” she muttered, pressing the heel of her gloved hand to her forehead.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Come on Abby, get it together,”
she scolded herself then, ever the professional, got back to work.
Finally reaching the bottom of the plastic bin she read the label on the last bottle
and set it aside with the rest of the various and sundry drugs. She kept those separate
from the less civilized items that thankfully appeared free of dried blood. Wedged
in the corner of the package she found a small button shaped mechanism that she might
have overlooked if it hadn’t been in a clearly marked evidence bag. Abby held it
up and read Gibbs scrawled handwriting: ‘unknown device, found with interrogation
“Wow,” she exclaimed, laying it flat on the table and spreading the plastic for a
better look. “I’ll check you out later,” she told the odd piece in a very Ducky
With a renewed sense of responsibility she made a list of tasks and prioritized it
as efficiently as she could. The van would be arriving any minute so she set up
the tests that could run unsupervised when she went down to check it out then got
started collecting fingerprints from the drug bottles in the meantime.
Tony figured out in no time at all that TV without sound was for the most part mind-numbingly
boring. As soon as John fell asleep he gravitated back to the porn channel where
audio was optional anyway. At a quarter to five he considered jumping in the shower
but knew Gibbs would skin him alive if he left the witness asleep and unguarded.
When he glanced over he found John lying on his side peacefully watching him.
“Another bad dream?”
“No. I dreamed about… something else.”
“See? My idea worked,” Tony gloated proudly as he got to his feet. “Listen, I
really want to take a quick shower before everyone gets up.”
“Go ahead,” John yawned and started to do a full body stretch under the covers but
promptly averted the maneuver as various aches and pains rudely resurfaced. “Ow.”
With an empathetic cringe Tony peeled off his already unbuttoned outer shirt and
dropped it to the bed. “I can’t let you stay out here by yourself. I’ll leave the
door open and you can stand by the sink and talk to me so I know you’re okay.”
“That’s fine,” John accepted the plan easily, propping his head on his hand as he
watched Tony take off his holster. “How do I know if I’m gay?” he asked unexpectedly,
rubbing his sore ribs lightly with his free hand.
“You’re not gay,” Tony maintained, reaching for the hem of his tee-shirt and tugging
it out of his pants.
“How do you know?” John asked watching intently as abdominal skin began to show.
“I could be.”
“I still think if you were you’d know,” Tony reiterated. “Hey, this isn’t a floor
show,” he grumbled just in case.
“Sorry,” John laughed and turned his head toward the TV instead where a tacky wedding
ceremony implausibly turned into a free-for-all without the benefit of sound. “I
could be married I suppose.”
“I don’t think you’re married either,” Tony stated matter-of-factly making a face
at the slight odor as he tugged his tee-shirt over his head and tossed it on top
of the holster. “If you are you don’t wear a wedding ring. Look at your left hand,
no tan line on your fourth finger.”
John examined his hand closely. “But I do wear a watch apparently,” he observed
as he traced the very slight color change of his wrist just above the abraded skin.
“When did you notice that?”
“Yesterday when I fingerprinted you,” Tony replied, stepping out of his pants and
wandering towards the bathroom in his socks and underwear. “Turn that off in case
they get in here before I’m done.”
“Gibbs doesn’t watch porn?” John asked as he clicked off the TV and rolled out of
bed to follow.
“I don’t know about Gibbs but I’m almost certain Kate doesn’t.” He went into the
bathroom to turn on the water. After fussing with the temperature for a minute he
closed the curtain and switched on the shower. When he turned around he found John
standing in front of the sink checking him out. “What?” he asked a little defensively.
Tony stared him down until John sighed and looked away as he perched on the edge
of the counter.
“You haven’t got anything to be ashamed of,” John berated him gently. “Your body
is a least as nice as those guys on TV, if not better.”
“Good God, maybe you are gay,” Tony retorted as he tore off one sock and then the
other before stalling at the waistband of his underwear. “Look, John, maybe you
just forgot but guys don’t just stand around and watch while other guys get undressed.”
“You watched me get undressed last night,” John pointed out calmly.
“Yeah, well, that was different. I was doing my job, checking for injuries and…
stuff,” Tony stammered.
John looked him in the face, raising and eyebrow. “I’d already been examined by
a doctor, and believe me, she looked everywhere. In fact it scared me to death when
Gibbs came into the cabin wearing rubber gloves. It was the only flashback I’ve
ever had that didn’t involve sand.”
Tony relaxed and chuckled, finally stepping out of his shorts. “You’re a regular
whiz kid at arguing, that’s for sure. Maybe you’re a lawyer.” He stuck a hand behind
the curtain to test the water then stepped in. “Keep talkin’,” he ordered.
“What am I supposed to say?” John asked from a lot closer than Tony expected.
Parting the curtain from the wall, Tony found John inside the small bathroom leaning
against the door frame next to the shower. “I don’t know, what did you and Kate
talk about last night?”
“We read bible verses,” John answered truthfully.
With an amused harrumph, Tony closed the curtain and got under the water, grabbing
the soap. “So you’ve watched porn with me and read the bible with Kate. At least
you’re getting a well rounded education. What did you do with Gibbs besides drink
“Nothing really, Gibbs kind of intimidates me.”
“Gibbs intimidates everybody. That’s part of his charm,” Tony assured as he soaped
his chest, underarms, and belly. “So why do you think you’re gay?” he couldn’t help
“I had a dream,” John answered readily. “I dreamed I kissed a man.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re gay,” Tony mused. “I mean that’s what we were talking
about right before you went to sleep, not to mention watching all those skin flicks.
You’re just lucky your dream wasn’t the wet kind.”
“I dreamed I kissed you.”
“Oh.” Tony finished washing his body in silence as he contemplated John’s words
then grabbed the shampoo and lathered up.
“Do you hate me now?” John asked softly after a few more minutes of silence.
Tony pushed back the suds in his hair and yanked opened the curtain. “No, I don’t
hate you, it was just a dream,” he reassured. “After all you’ve been through its
only natural for you to project uh… feelings,” he cleared his throat uneasily, “onto
the person who, you know, might have comforted you.”
“I keep wondering if that’s really what it would be like,” John admitted, dropped
his gaze but not all the way to the floor. His expression was curious but just innocent
enough that Tony didn’t punch him.
In a move that surprised them both, Tony grabbed John by the head and pulled him
under the water for a brief, bruising, closed mouth kiss then released him with a
little push. “Now you don’t have to wonder.”
John gaped as bubbles of shampoo dribbled from his earlobes onto his now spotty wet
tee-shirt. Slowly he licked his lip to check for damage, apparently stunned.
“Sorry,” Tony breathed heavily, flushing as he stared back at him. “I don’t know
why I did that.”
A small, startled titter escaped John’s mouth as he pulled off the damp tee-shirt
and used it to wipe away the dripping foam. The chortle grew into a full blown belly
laugh and he backed out of the bathroom to lean on the sink counter and try to regain
In spite of his mortification the shampoo presented a more immediate problem as it
began to run into his eyes, stinging fiercely. Tony snatched the curtain closed
and rinsed his face and hair, but the laughter proved contagious. Soon he found
himself sniggering over his actions as well. By the time he turned off the water
his side ached. When he pushed back the curtain John handed him a towel, grinning
like a mad man.
Tony couldn’t help but smile back at him. “That was weird.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “Not what I was expecting.”
“Me either,” Tony declared as he wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped out
of the tub. “Come on, I’ll teach you how to shave.”
Kate woke to the sound of running water. Bleary eyed, she managed to look at her
watch, frowning to find it was exactly five o’clock. “How does he do that?” she
mumbled to herself, wondering if Gibbs had some kind of internal Marine clock or
something. At least she hadn’t been awakened by Tony’s annoying watch alarm this
time. When the shower came on she knew she had a couple minutes of privacy so she
got up and quickly dressed.
After pulling her hair back into a ponytail she splashed water on her face and brushed
her teeth before applying a light coat of mascara and some lipstick. She knew she
didn’t look her best but she was not going to be caught fussing with makeup when
Gibbs came out of bathroom. Packing quickly, she left her bag on the bed then decided
to relieve Tony of babysitting duty so he could get ready.
When she let herself though the inside door she was surprised to find an empty bed
and two well defined bare backs at the sink, one of which sported some spectacular
bruising. Tony in a towel and John in only his sweat pants stood side by side facing
the big mirror, their lower faces covered in shaving cream. They turned as one to
look at her, razors in hand.
“Why are you wearing a towel?” Kate asked on impulse.
“I suppose ‘because I was wet’ would be too obvious?” Tony asked acerbically. “Didn’t
you ever learn to knock?”
“Whoops, sorry,” Kate apologized, nevertheless making her way to sit on the foot
of the bed for a ringside seat. “I didn’t think you would have John up yet. And
it’s not like I haven’t already seen everything you’ve got.”
“Kate’s seen you naked?” John questioned with a smart-alecky grin.
“I was wearing a chair. Part of the time,” Tony amended. “You can stay but no comments
from the peanut gallery, this is serious business,” he warned Kate as he turned back
to the sink and turned on the hot water. “Okay, remember what I told you; go with
the grain. Long, even strokes.”
“Uh-oh, maybe I should go,” Kate teased, winking at John who glanced up at her in
the mirror but did not appear particularly amused by the comment.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, Caitlin,” Tony retorted indignantly. “Go ahead,”
he urged John and they both focused their attention back on their own images.
“Like this?” John asked, taking his first tentative swathe through the now two days
growth of stubble.
“Take your time,” Tony encouraged as he began to shave his own face, frequently swishing
the razor under the running water. “You might want to press a little harder.”
“Not that hard. It’s okay, it happens,” Tony advised, ducking into the bathroom
and coming out with a roll of toilet paper. He tore off a tiny corner and reached
over to stick it to the small drop of blood on John’s jaw. “Try this.” Tony stuck
his tongue against the inside of his mouth making a lump on the outside. “See?”
John copied the action and nodded his head, picking up where he left off.
“Be careful around the chin, it’s tricky.”
Already bored with the shaving lesson, Kate rounded the bed and turned on the TV
to find a weather report. After two seconds she shut it off. “I’m going to check
around outside,” she announced and disappeared out the front door.
“I told you Kate doesn’t watch porn,” Tony commented offhandedly as he stretched
his neck to get to the underside of his jaw. John caught on quickly but continued
to watch out of the corner of his eye, picking up new shaving faces as they went
When Gibbs entered the room the occupants were fully dressed but Tony’s hands were
busily in John’s hair. “Where’s Kate?” he asked without a second glance at the unusual
“She went to recon the parking lot,” Tony replied as he studied his masterpiece and
tugged a few more strands into place. “That woman has an incredible work ethic.”
Certain he smelled coffee John darted a suspicious glance towards the door then at
Gibbs until Tony grabbed his chin and turned his head side to side for one final
“You’ll do,” Tony announced, slapping him playfully on his freshly shaven cheeks.
Gibbs ignored them and sat on the bed to turn on the TV. “I told her those pants
would be too tight,” he commented and settled back on one elbow as he watched the
“They are, aren’t they?” John asked as he looked down at himself and then over his
shoulder to catch the reflection of his rear end in the mirror.
“They’re fine,” Tony told him, squirting another dab of mousse into his hand and
rubbing it into his own hair, smoothing it straight back. He looked over at John’s
near perfect do then re-sculpted his slightly longer locks into spikes as well. It
didn’t quite work out the way he wanted so he ended up combing it back again. “I
need a haircut.”
“I thought you wanted to get away from this look,” John mocked impishly as he picked
at his bangs.
Tony slapped his hand away. “Shut up and don’t mess with your hair, it looks good.
Do you want some cologne?”
John shrugged indecisively but watched with rapt attention as Tony picked up a bottle,
sprayed the air and walked through it. He sniffed experimentally but Tony pulled
him through the lingering mist without waiting for his decision. John wrinkled his
nose as he waved a hand in front of his face, blinking profusely before sneezing
Gibbs finally rolled his eyes at their antics. “If you two are through primping
I’d like to get out of here sometime today,” he declared, turning off the TV and
getting to his feet. “That better not show up on your government credit card,” he
threatened as he pointed to the TV on his way back to his own room.
“Ignore him,” Tony replied as he began packing his things. “He’s particularly abrasive
in his pre-caffeinated stage.”
A minute later Gibbs appeared back in the doorway holding two cups of coffee. He
wordlessly handed one to John who was struggling with the top of his pain medicine.
“Where’s mine?” Tony asked.
“It’s only a two-cupper, and your supplies are already depleted,” Gibbs smirked nodding
towards the used pot next to the sink. “Addicts first.”
“Thanks,” John smiled, taking a deep drink, using it to wash down a Motrin and then
a Sudafed. “You want a drink?” he offered, holding the cup out to Tony.
“Not without sugar,” Tony made a disgusted face as he packed his toiletries into
a small travel pouch. “See if your stuff will fit in my pack.”
John gathered his collection of Wal-Mart bags and began to place his meager belongings
on top of Tony’s things. At the tap on the door Gibbs and DiNozzo both went for
their guns. Gibbs got there first but put his weapon away after checking the peep-hole.
Tony followed suit leaving his boss to open the door as he returned to the bed to
help John close the overstuffed backpack. He took the bible out and dropped it onto
the bed, giving John a disbelieving stare.
“What’s the situation?” Gibbs queried as Kate entered the room.
“The clerk at the front desk is stoned and there’s a group of working girls chatting
in the lobby but the parking lot is devoid of life. Wow, look at you,” she grinned,
checking out John in his new clothes and slightly worn leather shoes. “You clean
up nice and you smell good, too. Those jeans are perfect.”
“Too tight,” Gibbs argued grouchily. “I don’t know how he can breathe.”
John blushed under the scrutiny, practically backing into Tony who looked up and
wordlessly plucked the piece of tissue from his jaw, obviously proud of his handiwork.
“Let’s get a report before we hit the road,” Gibbs decided. “We’ll stop for breakfast
somewhere after we get on the interstate.”
Tony went to the computer and quickly had Abby on the line as they all gathered around
“Good morning,” Abby greeted sleepily, looking for one person in particular after
worrying about him half the night. “Hi John, hey Tony, good job!” she approved all
in one breath with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“Thanks, Abs.” Tony smacked John’s hand again as he reached to fuss with his hair.
“Who would have thought Tony could be a make-over guy,” Kate agreed. “For once I’m
glad he’s a devout meterosexual.”
“A what?” Gibbs asked, echoed by John half a beat later.
“Meterosexual, that’s a straight guy that grooms like a gay guy,” Abby explained.
“It’s a Queer Eye kind of thing.”
“There’s nothing wrong with looking good,” Tony defended, narrowing his eyes at Kate.
“Abby, please,” Gibbs requested as he crushed his now empty cup. “Have you got anything
“Tons,” Abby exclaimed excitedly. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Busy girl,” Tony crooned, flashing a grin.
“Start with the van,” Gibbs directed succinctly.
“Okay… I lifted prints from all four of the people we know were at the camp ground
plus a few unknowns, but those could be from almost anybody and it’ll probably be
days before I get them all processed. I’ve got some other stuff I should work on
first,” Abby reported. “By the way, only the guy with the starburst fingerprints
touched the drug bottles and the seal had only been broken on three of them; the
Demerol, the Versed, and the Sodium Amatol.”
“That certainly points to a professional,” Gibbs noted.
“What, uh, what are those drugs for?” John asked inquisitively, biting his lip.
“Used together they can put a person into a more accessible state of mind, sort of
a ‘truth serum’,” Tony explained making quote marks in the air. “It’s not fun but
it sure beats torture.”
“Speaking of which,” Abby replied with a strange huskiness in her voice, “The awls,
hooks, drills and other pretty accessories are all clean. A few prints from ‘Inquisition
Guy’, but no blood.”
Gibbs nodded. “Yeah, they didn’t get the opportunity to progress that far.”
“Thank God,” Kate sighed, patting John on the shoulder.
“Except for this thing,” Abby held up the slender electrical device. “It has traces
of blood on it that I’ve type matched with the sample from John… which I haven’t
finished the drug screen on yet so don’t even ask.”
“That thing is most likely how they ruptured his eardrum,” Tony provided, watching
as John reacted with a shudder that he tried to hide.
“I’d say that’s a good bet. Oh, and I haven’t figured out what this doohickey is
yet either.” She held up the metallic button, “But I have an idea where they used
it. Can somebody send me a close up of the bruise on John’s face?”
“Can it wait?” Gibbs asked, noting that oh five thirty was rapidly approaching as
he glanced at his watch.
“Gibbs,” Abby stated with grim determination, “This technology is like nothing I
have ever seen before.”
“Never?” Tony asked dubiously.
“Never,” Abby reiterated in a very serious tone. “I’ve never even heard speculation
of anything like this. I can’t open it… I don’t even know what it’s made of. This
could be very important. It’s most definitely some type of hush-hush secret agent
Convinced by the spy argument, Gibbs gave in. “Make it quick.”
“Just take a still on the webcam,” Abby instructed. “And somebody measure it for
Kate examined John’s temple as Tony grabbed the camera and held it close to John’s
injury. “How’s that?”
“Good enough for government work,” Abby approved, looking at her monitor closely.
Tony snapped a screen grab then tapped on the keyboard for a few seconds, obscuring
the image of Abby in her lab.
“The bruise itself is perfectly round and there’s a tiny scab right in the center.
The whole thing is about six centimeters in diameter,” Kate told Abby. “What? I
happen to be very good at estimating size and distance,” she claimed when Tony shot
her a surprised look. “Just because women are told all our lives that this is six
inches,” she said as she held up her thumb and forefinger a scant three inches apart,
“Doesn’t mean we believe it.”
Still working on the keyboard DiNozzo shook his head and stifled a laugh.
“Abby we’ve gotta go,” Gibbs snorted, glaring at Kate.
“One more thing, no wait, two more things…” Abby insisted, popping back up on the
screen as soon as Tony sent the e-mail. “Crispy critter number three had the vestiges
of not one, but two watches on what remained of his person. One was melted into
his left wrist where we would expect to find a watch but the other was sort of fussed
into the right side of the pelvic girdle.”
“He took the victim’s watch when they handcuffed him to the chair and put it in his
front pants pocket,” Gibbs deduced, pointing at the screen emphatically.
“That’s what I’m thinking. And even better, the pelvic watch had a partial inscription
on it,” Abby grinned broadly. “To Dr. Jacks.”
“It’s a miracle I got that much, the rest is too melted to read.”
“Jacks? Does that ring any bells?” Tony turned to John to ask.
John crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive pose and shook his head as he
sat on the edge of the bed. Kate sat with him, exchanging a puzzled glance with
“What’s the other thing, Abs?” Gibbs prodded.
Abby lifted a brown carryall up to the lab table. “Found this in a hidden partition
in the floor of the van.” She unzipped the outer pocket and pulled out a boarding
pass. “It’s for a Daniel Jackson coming out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. There’s
not anything else with a name on it in the bag, I’m guessing his wallet was in somebody’s
pocket when they got fried, but this was in the secret compartment, too.” The screen
filled with a cardboard sign with ‘Doctor Jackson’ printed neatly in large black
letters on it. “It’s not a positive ID by any means because we don’t even know for
sure if this or the watch actually belong to John. It’s all pretty circumstantial.”
“But if this Doctor Jackson was expecting to be picked up at the airport by a Marine
he didn’t know then we definitely have a military connection. Maybe he’s a civilian
consultant,” Gibbs mused.
“Assuming the interrogator wasn’t Doctor Jackson. Maybe he liked the victim’s watch
better and traded,” Kate suggested, playing devil’s advocate. “Or maybe his watch
“Check the underwear,” Tony urged with a sudden flash of inspiration.
“If the bag belongs to John you should find some white, size 32 BVDs,” he predicted.
After several seconds of digging around in the carrier Abby fished out a pair of
white briefs. “Excellent,” she praised.
“We gotta go,” Gibbs replied gruffly after once again checking his watch. “If you
get anything else call me.” He disconnected without waiting for Abby to respond,
half expecting his cell to start ringing.
“Nice job on the underwear,” Kate said to Tony.
“Thanks,” Tony grinned as he powered down the laptop and put it back into its case.
“I’ll get our bags from in here,” Gibbs called as he went to the other room.
“So I guess we should call you Daniel now,” Kate suggested to a very quiet and still
“Let’s not rush it,” Tony recommended, sharing another meaningful look with her over
John’s bent head. “I’m already used to John anyway.”
“Me, too,” John agreed, looking up at Tony gratefully.
“Okay by me,” Kate backed down without an argument, amazed how easily Tony could
read people sometimes.
John got up and started to shoulder the pack. “Wait a minute,” Tony said as he opened
a side pocket on it. “Put these on.” He held out a pair of sunglasses which John
took and slid on, hiding the bruise to some extent. Tony tossed him his windbreaker
and he put that on, too before retrieving the bible.
“Looks like we’ve got a new member of the team,” Kate approved.
Gibbs handed Kate her bag when he came back in, eyeing John and nodding at the implied
ruse. “Let’s go.”
Tony put on his NCIS baseball cap and grabbed the computer, taking the bible from
John’s hand and tossing it back to the bed. “There’s a special place in hell for
people who steal bibles,” he warned.
“I haven’t finished it yet,” John objected, slinging the pack over one shoulder.
“We’ll get you another one,” Kate promised as she ushered him out into the hall.
“Can I wear the hat?” John asked sullenly.
“No, Abby will kill me if you mess up the hair. I’ll meet you guys outside. I’m
gonna go get us checked out.”
“Give us that stuff so we can pack the car,” Gibbs instructed. “Take the witness
with you and we’ll pick you up in front of the lobby. Don’t fart around, we need
to get the hell out of here.”
Kate took the computer and Gibbs hefted the pack as they headed for the back stairs
which were closer to where the car was parked. Tony and John went to the elevator
but it was on its way down so Tony steered them down the inside stairwell instead.
A minute later the elevator dinged and a news crew stepped out. “This way,” the
dashing young man in charge whispered, “Room two thirty-seven. We’ll set up in the
hall and wait until they come out.”
DiNozzo pulled out his wallet as he approached the front desk. “About that adult
channel…” he began, fishing out his personal credit card.
Still pouting over the loss of his book, John wandered toward the plate glass window
to look outside. The sun hadn’t yet risen but there was a pre-dawn gloom silhouetting
the mountains on the horizon. The bleak contrast was beautiful in a dismal sort of
way and seemed to fit his mood, not that he could really see it all that well behind
“Well hello, gorgeous,” a woman’s voice purred as a pair of hands twined up and around
his upper arm. “Wanna party?”
“Hi,” John grinned shyly down at the red haired vixen firmly attaching herself to
him, jumping slightly when he was accosted from the other side as well.
“You look like you need a little brown sugah, Sugah,” the much taller black woman
drawled huskily, sliding a hand under the windbreaker to wander over his side and
John flinched at the gentle pressure on his tender abdomen but kept smiling, letting
his gaze wander nervously down to the scantily clad breasts pressing up against him.
“What? Are you ticklish, honey?”
“I don’t think so,” John answered uncertainly, not quite sure what to do with his
Standing slightly taller than John in her stiletto heels, the dark beauty pulled
his sunglasses down his nose with a long, red fingertip. “I could drown in these
eyes,” she whispered in his ear, her hot breath making him shiver. “What do you
say? We could have a real good time.”
“I saw him first,” the short redhead insisted, squeezing closer as well.
“Buzz off, Ruthie, he likes me better.”
“I like both of you,” John announced, finally daring to put an arm around each of
“That’s doable,” the Amazon agreed after an eager nod from Ruthie. “Have you got
“Not anymore,” John told her, turning to look for Tony to get some guidance. “We
were just leaving.”
“Don’t you want to stay and play?”
Seeing John’s plight, Tony quickly finished up with the extremely mellow desk clerk.
“Break it up, girls,” he advised good-naturedly, flashing his badge as he walked
“Pig,” Ruthie grumbled as she released John and stalked away.
“Now, now, be nice,” Tony chided after her affably. “You too, RuPaul, let him go.”
She smiled wryly, not quite ready to give up. “We could still work out a threesome.
I’d do you boys for free, sort of a public servant public service.”
Tony laughed at her play on words as he physically unwound her arm from John’s torso.
“Not in this lifetime, baby, now run along before I run you in.”
“Tony,” John objected under his breath, reluctantly letting her go.
“Mmm, mmm, mmm,” the woman complained as she sauntered away, glancing brazenly over
her shoulder for one last leer. “What a fine whitebread sandwich that could have
“Okay, John,” Tony emphasized ironically, pushing the glasses back up John’s nose.
“I can see we need to have a little talk about the birds and the bees.”
“You don’t understand, they wanted to have sex,” John explained in exasperation,
completely forgetting about Gibbs for the moment.
Tony scratched his ear thoughtfully, deciding how best to explain prostitution to
someone with no pop-culture references and without the usual euphemisms. “Yeah,
I got that, uh… those were hookers, okay? Men pay them to have sex.”
“They never pay on TV.”
“That’s different, that pure male fantasy. Besides, one of your little girlfriends
wasn’t even female.”
“Really?” John’s eyes went wide and he turned to stare after the ‘women’ as they
disappeared out onto the street. “Which one?”
“You figure it out,” Tony sighed, herding him towards the door as the rental car
pulled up under the covered drive.
“The tall one?” John guessed as he made a cupping motion in the air with both hands.
“But she had big…”
“And a nice, prominent Adam’s apple, too,” Tony interrupted him, pushing his hands
down. “I’ve learned to look for these things.”
“Will we be able to get some hookers later?” John asked hopefully as they exited
“God, I’ve created a monster,” Tony lamented, stopping John and turning him around
so they were face to face. “Listen to me very carefully; the stuff we saw on TV
is just like Penthouse Letters; it never really happens that way.”
“Never?” John asked, obviously disappointed.
Tony winced. “Okay, maybe occasionally, but usually sex is a little harder to come
by and costs a lot more than money. Besides, prostitution is illegal.” Gibbs honked
the horn impatiently and Tony tugged John over to the car. “We’ll talk about it
later. Do me a favor and don’t mention the sex stuff in front of Kate.”
“I’m confused,” John said as Tony opened the back door and placed his hand on his
head, ever cautious of the hair, and then urged him to slide over.
“Aren’t we all,” Tony replied cryptically, getting in behind him and shutting the
“What’s a Penthouse Letter?” John asked as he remembered to buckle his seat belt,
getting it right this time.
Tony groaned. “That falls under the category we weren’t going to talk about in the
car,” he explained.
“Oh. Sorry. I suppose I shouldn’t ask about a whitebread sandwich then either?”
Gibbs finally laughed out loud as he put the car in gear.
“What’s going on?” Kate asked suspiciously.
“Nothing,” Tony sighed, “John just nearly started a riot with the ladies in the lobby.”
As they sped off a TV crew came scrambling out of the building. “Was that them?”
the camera man asked, heaving for breath.
“Shit,” the reporter cursed, throwing down his mic. “That tip cost me five hundred
bucks. I knew we should have gotten here at four.”
A block away a gray panel truck turned onto the street and slowly headed towards
After a politically correct explanation of porn, Penthouse Letters, and the in context
meaning of ‘sandwich’ to John, Kate berated Tony for exposing him to ‘illicit’ material
when he was in such a defenseless and impressionable state.
By the time they reached the interstate John had been thoroughly briefed on acceptable
public behavior, especially in reference to the opposite sex. Even as he realized
his world view had been somewhat skewed prior to the lecture, he couldn’t help but
be a little disheartened by reality. Occupying his mind with lurid thoughts had
turned out to be a very useful tool in keeping away the ominous visions and he felt
somewhat bereft at having his flights of fancy unceremoniously striped away from
“And if you whack off in the shower you’ll go blind,” Tony muttered under his breath
when Kate finally finished her diatribe.
“What was that, Tony?” Kate enquired irritably.
“Nothing, dear,” Tony answered in a phony, cheerful voice, avoiding John’s wounded
puppy look by staring out the window as they drove on in silence.
“We’ll eat there,” Gibbs decided a few miles down the road as he slowed the car and
took the exit specified by a billboard that advertised a roadside diner. The place
was just off the highway, small but clean in appearance, and surrounded by eighteen
wheelers. After parking as close to the front door as possible, they all piled out
forming a loose, protective circle around the witness.
“Try to act normal,” Gibbs advised John as they crossed the parking lot.
“I don’t know what normal is,” John bemoaned with a sigh, a dejected slump to his
His disposition improved instantly when they entered the busy restaurant and he glanced
around trying to take in everything at once. The clientele were mostly truckers
but a few businessmen and some workers from a nearby factory just coming off the
graveyard shift were also scattered among the early morning crowd.
Tony tugged John by the sleeve to get him to moving again and they seated themselves
in a booth away from the front windows without waiting for the hostess. John and
Kate took the inside seats and Tony and Gibbs the outer respectively.
“Mornin’,” the waitress greeted warmly, laying down the menus almost before they
had settled on the benches. “Can I get cha a cup o’ Joe?”
“Yes, please,” Gibbs accepted, turning the heavy cup in front of him right side up
in the saucer.
John quickly copied the action, smiling at the waitress as she poured a round for
everyone. “Thank you,” he replied then savored the much better coffee as he perused
the menu, reading it word for word.
“I’m Patty. I’ll give ya a minute to decide and then I’ll be back to take your orders.”
“What looks good?” Kate asked, trying to engage John in conversation as the waitress
went to bus the next table.
“Everything,” John stated as he read, comparing the menu items to the pictures as
he tried to figure out what was what. “What are you going to have?” he asked turning
“This one.” Tony pointed to the top picture before closing the menu and leaning over
John to snag a couple packets of sugar for his coffee. They appeared comfortable
in each other’s space even though Tony was still a little put out by the lecture
en route John had inadvertently triggered.
Kate watched the interaction as she added a packet of artificial sweetener to her
own cup, determined to make some kind of connect with John. She planned on working
up a modified profile on the way home and hoped he would open up to her. “Would
you like to try some sugar in your coffee?” she queried, reaching across the table
to remove his sunglasses so she could see his eyes.
“Why?” John blinked at her, taking a perfectly contented sip.
Gibbs collected all the menus except John’s. “Good boy,” he approved smugly.
“What do you want to eat, John?” Tony questioned. “You need to decide before the
waitress gets back.”
“I haven’t finished looking yet,” John complained with a slight frown of concentration,
burying his nose back in the menu.
“Just get the Big Breakfast; it has a little bit of everything. I’ll order it for
you if you want,” Tony offered as he leaned closer to show him the top picture again.
“Okay,” John gave in, reluctantly handing over his prized reading material.
“What’ll it be?” Patty inquired a minute later, looking to Kate first.
“I’ll have a bran muffin and a small orange juice.”
“Yes ma’am. Sir?” she asked turning to John next.
“We’ll have two Big Breakfasts, scrambled, sausage instead of bacon,” Tony rattled
off quickly for both of them, indicating himself and John with his thumb.
“Would you like white bread or wheat for your toast?”
“White… no, wheat,” Tony amended at John’s schoolboy snigger. He shot him a reproving
look but ended up elbowing him and grinning instead.
“Make that three,” Gibbs ordered, giving them a ‘don’t make me separate you’ look,
“But I’ll have the bacon.”
“All righty then, it’ll be out in a few,” Patty assured cheerfully, tearing off the
page then gathering the menus and promptly disappearing into the kitchen to turn
in the order.
Tony finally laughed. “You are so immature,” he scolded John teasingly.
“Must be the company he keeps,” Kate replied batting her eyelashes at Tony as he
mock glared back at her.
John’s smile faded as he picked up the shades and put them back on. Under the table
he fidgeted with the hem of the windbreaker until Tony reached over and stilled his
hand, his fingers lingering for a moment before pulling away. The action seemed
to calm him and soon John picked up his cup and sipped his coffee. Suddenly he winced
and cupped his ear.
“What is that sound?” he asked in a pained voice, the color draining from his face.
“What?” Gibbs asked, looking around.
“It’s a high pitched whine,” John tried to explain.
“Like a ringing in your ears?”
“I guess, but just this one,” John agreed pointing to his injured ear.
“It could be from the eardrum,” Gibbs suggested. “Did you get water in it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you need to see a doctor?” Tony asked as he draped an arm across the back of
the bench without actually touching John, outwardly appearing casual.
“No,” John replied automatically, making an effort to look unconcerned as he brought
his hand down. “It’s better now.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes not so secretly watching John as the color
slowly came back to his face.
“They’re inside,” the driver confirmed as he got back in the truck and slammed the
“I told you so,” the smaller man in front of the elaborate computer setup sneered.
The other occupant of the panel truck sighed. “So the system really does work. Let’s
back off a little before they spot us.”
The driver started the engine and pulled onto the highway back the way they had come.
“Stop it,” Tony said, grabbing John’s hand and pulling it under the table to keep
him from rubbing his ear. “I thought you said it didn’t bother you anymore.”
“It doesn’t really hurt, but now I’m aware of it,” John explained, relaxing his hand
and leaving it on the top of Tony’s thigh where it landed.
Tony coughed once as he looked around cautiously then gave John’s hand a little squeeze
and gently but firmly deposited it on the seat between them. Although she couldn’t
see what actually happened, Kate narrowed her eyes at Tony. He returned the stare
evenly as he brought his hand above the table and rested his chin on it.
“You got a problem, Kate?”
“No. But I’m beginning to think you do.”
Gibbs motioned for them to be quiet as the waitress approached balancing a large
tray over her head on one hand. “Here we go,” she called out, lowering the tray
and expertly placing the correct meals in front of each of them before handing Kate
her juice. Finally she grabbed the coffee pot off the center and dropped the tray
down to her side in a maneuver made easy by years of practice.
“That’s amazing,” John uttered in fascination at the balancing act.
Patty beamed at him as she topped everyone’s coffee off. “Can I get you anything
Glancing down the table for the ketchup, Gibbs shook his head. “I’m good.” He poked
Kate in the arm and she passed it to him.
“I’ll check on you in a bit then. Enjoy.” Patty placed the tab upside down on the
table between Gibbs and Tony then took her coffee pot to refill her other patrons.
John watched with interest as Gibbs covered his hash browns and eggs in ketchup then
dug in. He reached for the bottle but noticed Tony only used the salt and grabbed
“Go easy on that stuff,” Kate warned as she picked her muffin apart and popped a
piece of it into her mouth. “It’s bad for your blood pressure.”
“Beside the word ‘nag’ in the dictionary there’s a picture of Kate,” Tony advised
around a mouthful of buttered wheat toast. “In fact they kicked her out of the Food
Police because she wouldn’t let anybody eat anything but soy and tofu. A whole city
starved to death. It’s true; I have the newspaper clipping…”
“Ha ha, Tony,” Kate huffed.
John tried not to grin but Gibbs had no such compunction as he obviously agreed this
time. “Kate, let the man eat in peace,” he ordered.
“I was just trying to help,” Kate groused, feeling more outnumbered than usual.
It had already been a long night but the day dawning promised more worry for SG-1.
The flight from Colorado in the back of a C-130 had been somewhat expedient but
rougher than expected and they’d arrived after midnight and a bit airsick. Even
Teal’c appeared worse for wear but whether it was nausea or concern for his friend
no one really knew, and Teal’c being Teal’c wasn’t talking. O’Neill suspected at
times like these the big Jaffa still secretly longed for his missing symbiote, even
though Jack himself was elated that Junior was gone.
Thankfully Major Davis had personally met them at Andrews, whisking them back to
a secure suite where a command center had been set up with all the comforts of home
plus a top of the line computer system. On the valid claim of national security
a team of detectives had rapidly been assigned to the case, bypassing the usual missing
persons procedures. A small force of high-security Air Force personnel rounded out
the team, although officially, it was a ‘police matter’ until proven otherwise.
The hours since their arrival had been filled with briefings and interviews but Jack
soon realized the need-to-know nature of the case would unavoidably hamper the detectives’
efforts. Both sides quickly became frustrated with the number of questions that
simply couldn’t be answered. It was proving to be an incredible waste of time, time
that Daniel might not have. He wished the cops luck but he was glad to see their
backs even as they left with nothing more than a few details and their carefully
crafted cover story to work from.
Teal’c stood like a statue in the window as he watched the sun rise over the capital
city, waiting for the word to go, ready to explode into action in an instant. Having
finished a half dozen early morning phone calls to various Naval brass Sam hovered
silently just over Jack’s shoulder as he watched the grainy black and white airport
security tape for the fourth time. She cringed at the sight of Daniel looking very
GQ in his best suit as he approach the uniformed man who smiled innocuously as he
held up a sign that clearly read ‘Doctor Jackson’.
“It was a trap,” Sam blurted out as Jack stopped the tape, a frozen tableau of the
trusting archeologist shaking the young Marine’s hand remaining on the screen.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed with an irate sigh. “The whole damn thing was a setup. I can’t
say I was surprised to find out Kinsey was the son of a bitch who insisted they needed
Daniel to come in person for this cockamamie oversight shit. I still think me and
T should go pay him a little visit.”
“I concur, O’Neill,” Teal’c stated in a low rumble, turning away from the view.
“With all due respect, sir, we can’t prove anything,” Major Davis objected. “Senator
Kinsey just planted the seed. Most of his cohorts in this were newly introduced
to the Stargate Program. They were enamored at the idea of meeting a real member
of SG-1, especially the man who opened the gate. Kinsey might have guided their
exuberance, but he did nothing wrong per se…”
“So he covered his ass, as always,” Jack interrupted heatedly. “In the meantime
the cops are running around chasing their tails while the NID does God knows what
Several members of the support team looked up from their computer monitors at the
“We don’t know it’s the NID,” Sam offered quietly with a placating gesture.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh, it is,” he assured her.
“I think the Colonel might be right,” Davis admitted, clearing his throat. “There’s
been a lot of interest in Doctor Jackson’s time as an ascending being from the people
in the know at the Pentagon. I mean he’s one of us again now but he was an alien
for almost a year. No offense,” he added to Teal’c as he moved closer.
Teal’c bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement but his face remained impassive.
“Conceivably, this interest extends to the legitimate operations of the NID, although
officially they’ve denied any responsibility for Daniel’s disappearance,” Davis finished.
“What about the bastardized operations,” Jack retorted with a sarcastic snort. “Those
are the ones we should be worried about, the ones that never see the light of day.”
“But Daniel doesn’t remember anything about the time he was ascended,” Sam insisted
with an undertone of anger in her voice. “They made sure of that,” she added as
she pointed towards the ceiling.
“Which is why no one ever insisted on taking Doctor Jackson to area 52 for debriefing,”
Davis explained, holding his hands up defensively at the three hostile glances thrown
“Officially,” Jack replied coldly.
“Why now?” Sam asked in frustration. “He’s been home for six months, why wait so
long before grabbing him if it is an unsanctioned NID operation?”
“We grew complacent with time,” Teal’c surmised. “They merely waited for an opportune
“Yeah, we let our guard down,” Jack agreed unhappily. “There’s no way they would
have been able to take him when we first got him back.”
Major Davis picked up the thread again tensely. “I did a little snooping last night.
I don’t know if they were directly in relation to Doctor Jackson or not but recently
there were a lot of studies begun at area 52 on memory-enhancing nutrients; specifically
lecithin and phosphatedylcholine…”
“So?” Jack interrupted.
“They were all abruptly shelved about a month ago.”
“You think they discovered a drug that will make Daniel remember,” Jack guessed.
“Or they found something else that made the drugs unnecessary,” Sam pointed out as
the scientist in her kicked in. “There’s an awful lot of alien technology stored
at area 52 just waiting to be studied and SG teams bring more through the gate every
“Would not any method of memory restoration prove ineffective in Daniel Jackson’s
situation?” Teal’c inquired. “His memories were in fact removed.”
“We don’t actually know if they were removed or just blocked, Teal’c,” Sam explained.
“It’s now widely accepted that all of our memories are permanently stored in our
brains, even the things we’ve forgotten. They just become inaccessible due to faulty
neurons or crossed wires if you will. The fact that Daniel remembered Braytac and
Ry’ac were in trouble shows that at least some of those memories are still there.”
“Perfect. The NID thinks Daniel has all the knowledge of the ancients stored in
his already overloaded brain, ripe for the pickin’.”
“Major Carter?” one of the technical advisors called out.
“What’s up, Captain?” Jack asked as he got up and followed Sam to the bank of computers.
“Maybe nothing, sir,” the nervous woman responded. “I was doing background checks
on people who had worked in Cheyenne Mountain and had recently separated from the
“Yadda,” Jack prodded impatiently with a wave of his hand.
“I was kicked out when the system was shutdown.”
“Why was it shut down?” Sam asked, reading the incoming IM over her shoulder.
“SOP, someone hacked in. I’m on with the administrator now; the person was trolling
for information on Doctor Jackson.”
“Do they know where?” Major Davis asked excitedly.
“Yes sir, here in DC, NCIS headquarters at the Naval Ship Yard.”
“Good job, Captain,” Sam praised, smiling for the first time in hours.
“Can the administrator get us an address?”
“She did better than that, sir,” Sam enthused, rapidly writing on a scrap of paper
then holding it up. “She identified the hacker’s computer.”
“Let’s go,” Jack urged, grabbing his jacket on the way to the door.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” Davis asked urgently.
“NCIS? They are the police,” Jack called back over his shoulder as his team disappeared
out the door.
“Busted!” Abby exclaimed, hitting the power button to quickly shut down her computer
as she scrambled to her feet. “I knew I should have waited for McGee,” she fretted,
wringing her hands as she stared at the now thankfully dark monitor. She jumped
a nearly a foot at an unexpectedly touch on the shoulder.
“Ducky!” Abby wailed. “Don’t do that!”
“Good heavens, child, calm down,” Ducky instructed firmly, seating her back at her
desk. “Take a deep breath and then tell me what the devil is going on.”
“Okay, um, on a hunch I Googled ‘Doctor Daniel Jackson AND Colorado Springs Colorado’
since we had a NORAD connection. Actually, I had some down time and I Googled ‘Doctor
Daniel Jackson AND’ a whole lot of other things, but I got a fairly reasonable hit
on Colorado Springs.”
“What did you find?”
Abby continued to fidget but calmed down as she got into the story. “Well, this
particular Daniel Jackson, and believe me there were a LOT of Daniel Jacksons, was
a multiple PHD linguist and archeologist.”
“A linguist, you say!” Ducky approved. “That may very well be our John Doe.”
“Except the info was in an obituary from over six years ago, so I’m thinking not.”
“But get this; he worked for the Air Force on… guess what?”
“Ah ha, deep space radar telemetry,” Ducky assumed.
“Give the man a cigar!”
“Have you informed Jethro yet?”
“Well no, since that Daniel Jackson is dead and all, but the coincidence was a little
too much to just drop either so I had another idea. Unfortunately, it didn’t go
so well,” Abby cringed as she looked back at her traitorous computer. “I hacked
into the personnel files at Cheyenne Mountain.”
“Oh my,” Ducky sighed. “I hate to ask, but haven’t you done things like that before?”
“Yeah, but this time I got caught. In fact I think it was a trap and I walked right
into it. Top Secret doesn’t even begin to describe that place,” Abby bemoaned. “I
thought it seemed way too easy to get in. Ducky, I’m going to jail!”
“Nonsense. Gibbs won’t let them lock you up without an appeal to Director Morrow,”
Ducky soothed, patting her on the back. “You were working on an investigation, weren’t
“Yeah, but I’m sure they won’t approve of my methods.”
“Can they trace you?”
“Well, if it was me, I could,” Abby shrugged. “But considering they had it set up
precisely to nab any unauthorized viewers I expect a Special Forces team to kick
down my door any minute.”
Ducky laughed. “I’m sure it won’t come to that.”
“I hope not,” Abby replied, worriedly chewing on her lip.
“What?” Gibbs asked in resignation at the concerned look on Kate’s face as she came
out of the restroom and spotted Tony with John in the tiny, eclectic gift shop of
“Nothing,” Kate protested, sensitive to the perceived criticism.
“Kate,” Gibbs released a longsuffering sigh. “If you’ve got something to say just
“Fine. Don’t you think they’re getting a little too close?” Kate ventured as she
watched Tony moving slowly along the counter explaining the various junk to his eager
“Maybe you’d better explain that,” Gibbs frowned.
“I just don’t know if it’s healthy for John to be so dependent on Tony, that’s all.
He looks to him for everything, copies everything he does. Frankly, I’m surprised
Tony is taking it as well as he is.”
Gibbs grinned and shook his head. “That really surprises you? I need to talk to
Morrow, we pay you too much.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means put those highly touted skills of yours to work here.”
“I haven’t had the chance…”
“Not the witness, DiNozzo,” Gibbs clarified. “You know him well enough. What does
Tony crave more than anything else? And think about it before you answer.”
“See, you just jumped to the wrong conclusion. The correct answer is: attention.”
“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” Kate nodded her head grudgingly. “Sometimes I think
he must have really been ignored as a child. I’d love to have a nice long chat with
his mother. That’s a very astute observation, Gibbs.”
“I have my moments,” Gibbs drawled, edging her toward the register where Tony was
paying for something. “If you still want to try to talk to John why don’t you take
“Thanks, I will.”
“Tony bought me a book,” John gushed as soon as Kate was close enough to escort him
to the door while Gibbs paid for their meal.
“That’s great.” Kate couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm. “What did you get?”
John grinned as he handed over the large, dusty hardback that had been marked down
time and time again.
“Mysteries of the Ancient Americas,” Kate read, glancing at Tony as John reclaimed
it before she could examine it further.
“I tried to get him to get the Tom Clancy novel but that’s what he wanted,” Tony
explained, twirling a finger around his ear to show what he thought of the decision.
When Gibbs joined them they stepped out into the bright morning sunshine and made
their way back across the parking lot.
“I’ll sit in back,” Kate told Tony as they neared the car.
“Shotgun Kate is giving up the front seat?” Tony asked skeptically.
John looked up from his study of the book cover but didn’t protest. When Gibbs clicked
the remote the door locks popped open. Remembering Kate’s earlier lecture John tucked
his treasure under his arm and reached for the handle, beating her to it.
“Thank you,” Kate smiled at him as he opened the door for her. She was somewhat
surprised at the guiding hand on top of her head as she got in.
“What?” John asked, looking at the amused glances from Gibbs and Tony. “Did I do
“You did that perfect,” Tony grinned, waiting for John to get in next to Kate before
opening the front door. “You’d make a darn good cop.”
“So,” Kate turned to John as soon as the car was in motion. “Let’s talk.”
Having just opened the hardback, John frowned, his disdain of the idea clearly evident
on his face. He blinked at her, not putting the book down.
“Okaaayyy…. maybe later,” Kate acquiesced with a conciliatory smile.
John nodded his thanks and absently patted her hand, already losing himself in the