Jethro Gibbs sighed in frustration as he looked down at the man in the bed. Tony DiNozzo, his chief agent, had barely moved since Jethro had been ushered into his room at the New York City hospital two hours before. A heavy bandage covered his right hand, the back of the left pierced by an IV needle. There was a large dark blue bruise marring the skin of his temple and extending downward to bleed across the top of his cheekbone. Jethro leaned forward in his chair and tentatively cupped Tony’s cheek. “It’d be nice if you woke up and told me who the hell did this to you, DiNozzo,” he murmured.
Tony stirred against his hand and Jethro withdrew it quickly. Fortunately Tony’s eyes stayed closed though Jethro could see his eyelids flickering as if he was dreaming.
“We just might have an idea of that,” said a vaguely familiar voice from the doorway.
Jethro stood quickly and spun around, feeling his jaw drop in surprise as he recognized the man standing there. “Mac? Mac Taylor?”
‘Hello, Jethro,” Mac said, walking forward to grip his hand in a firm handshake. “It’s good to see you though I’d have preferred it to be under better circumstances. I’m sorry about your agent,” he added, nodding at Tony.
“I am too,” Jethro said. “What are you doing here, Mac? I didn’t even know you were in New York.”
“It’s been a long time, Jethro. Long story short, I’m heading the New York CSI. We’ve been investigating similar crimes for a month or so now.” Mac lowered his voice as Tony began to stir, his eyes blinking slowly as he looked up at them in obvious confusion. “I’ll give you some time with Special Agent DiNozzo and then I’ll be back to ask him a few questions, if you don’t mind. I’ll go get the doctor to come look him over first, make sure he’s up to it, all right?”
“Thanks, Mac,” Jethro replied, turning back to the bed. He reached out and grasped Tony’s shoulder in a soft grip. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Tony. How you feeling?”
“Like I was run over by a truck which then backed up and ran over me again,” Tony croaked. “What happened? One minute I’m having a drink in a bar and enjoying my vacation-“ he stopped suddenly, his face flushing. “Where did they find me?” he asked so quietly that Jethro had to lean down to catch the words.
“In an alley out back of a place called Section 8,” Jethro replied, sitting down in the chair again. “You want to tell me what you remember?”
“Not much,” Tony said. He rolled his head to the side and looked at Jethro. “You know what sort of place it is?”
“I do now. I had Abby run a discreet check on it before I flew over here.”
Tony groaned. “Abby knows?”
“You can trust Abby, you know that. I thought you knew you could trust me,” Jethro said.
“With something like this?” Tony shook his head then winced in pain. “You gonna tell me you wouldn’t have had a problem knowing I was bi.”
Jethro took a deep breath then leaned forward and whispered in Tony’s ear, “No more than I would have expected you to have one if you knew I was.” He sat back and watched as Tony’s eyes widened in shock.
“Can we come in?” Mac leaned in through the doorway and then stood back to allow a tall blond man in green scrubs and a tall dark-haired man in a suit to precede him through. He stood at the end of the bed as the doctor approached Tony.
“Special Agent DiNozzo, I’m Dr. Miller. I’ve been keeping an eye on you since you were brought in,” the doctor said. “This is Detective Mac Taylor and Detective Don Flack. They’re investigating your case.”
“Thanks for that,” Tony replied. He watched through suddenly wary eyes as Jethro moved away to stand next to Mac and the other detective.
“Could you gentlemen all wait outside while I examine my patient?” Dr. Miller said. I’ll let you know if and when he’s able to answer your questions.”
“Gibbs can stay… if he wants to,” Tony said quickly, casting a pleading look at Gibbs. He looked suddenly very young and scared and Gibbs moved around to the other side of the bed and placed a hand on his shoulder again.
“If that’s what you want,” he said softly, watching as the two detectives left the room.
“Was I raped?” Tony asked, his uninjured hand knotting the bedcover beneath it.
“No,” the doctor said, “but the detectives think your attacker was disturbed by the person who found you. You were drugged and beaten and your right hand had been stamped on. There’s a boot print on the back of your hand and you have several broken bones there. You also have a concussion, a couple of cracked ribs, and a hairline fracture of your cheekbone. It appears whoever attacked you slammed you face-first into the wall of the alley then stomped on your hand when you fell.” He frowned. “If you’re still in any degree of pain, I can give you some more pain medication and tell the detectives to come back in the morning for your statement.”
Tony shook his head. “No, I’ll answer their questions now. The sooner I do, the sooner they can catch whoever did this before they do it to someone else.”
“All right then, I’ll tell them to come in,” the doctor said. “If you need anything at all there’s a call button next to your bed.”
Jethro watched as the doctor left the room then gave Tony’s shoulder a small shake to get his attention. “You want some water?” He picked up the glass from the bedside table when Tony nodded then adjusted the head of the bed so he could partly sit up and drink from the straw.
Tony winced in pain but he drank almost half the glass of water before turning his head away.
“You want me to stay while they interview you?” Jethro asked.
At Tony’s quick nod, he walked back around to the other side of the bed and took his seat again.
There was a tap on the door and Jethro called out, “Come in” then sat back and watched alertly as Mac and the other detective came back in.
“I’m Don Flack,” the dark-haired detective said, going around the end of the bed to stand at Tony’s other side. He flicked an appraising glance over at Jethro. “You are?”
“Special Agent Jethro Gibbs,” Gibbs replied, “DiNozzo works for me.”
Flack nodded and looked back down at Tony. “You okay with him staying?”
“Yeah, I asked him to,” Tony said quietly. “I’m not sure how much help I’ll be. I didn’t see the guy who did this. Don’t even really remember anything past walking out to my car.”
“As an investigator you’d know every little bit of information you can give us can help us build a case against the perpetrator,” Mac put in.
“Yeah, I know.” Tony rubbed a hand across his forehead. “So where do you want to start?”
“Let’s begin with how long you’ve been in New York,” Flack asked, pulling a notebook from his jacket pocket.
“Three days. No, I didn’t come to visit anyone,” Tony said, obviously anticipating the next question.
“Hey, me cop, you victim,” Flack said but his dark blue eyes twinkled as he spoke.
“Sorry, force of habit,” Tony replied, smiling back at him.
“Have you been to that bar before?’ Flack went on.
“A few times. I go whenever I come to New York.” Tony flashed a small smile. “It’s why I come here actually. Can’t risk going to places like that back home. I’m bisexual. Every now and then I prefer the company of men.”
“But you’re not military or navy,” Mac interrupted. “DADT wouldn’t apply to you.”
“Probably not.” Tony shrugged. “I’m just not ready to come out of the closet yet. Haven’t found the right person to do it for, I guess.” His eyes flicked over to Jethro who allowed a smile to cross his face.
“You meet anyone in particular that night, have a drink with anyone?” Flack asked.
“Nope,” Tony replied. “In fact it was pretty quiet, not many guys there. I got bored after a half hour or so and left.” He stopped and closed his eyes briefly.
“What?” Jethro asked, leaning forward. He could read Tony like a book and it was apparent from the expression on Tony’s face he’d just remembered something.
“The bartender came onto me, kept wanting to give me free drinks, hinted that we could maybe get together when he got off work…”
“You knocked him back?” Flack asked.
“Yeah, he wasn’t my type.” Tony’s gaze drifted over to Jethro again and he colored a little. “Too young.” He looked back at Flack. “Sorry, that’s about all I remember. It gets hazy after that.”
“We’ll let you get some rest,” Mac said, moving to stand next to Jethro and holding out his hand to him when Jethro stood up. “It was good to see you again. Maybe we could have a drink before you go back? Catch up a little.”
“Yeah, sure. Tonight maybe? I’m staying at the Novotel. Tony’s going to be in here for a day or two more. I’ll hang around till he’s ready to head home,” Jethro said, shaking Mac’s hand. “Thanks, Detective,” he added to Flack.
“Don,” Flack replied with an infectious grin. “Any friend of Mac’s… Agent Di Nozzo, I’ll be in touch.”
“It’s Tony,” Tony replied around a yawn. “Sorry,” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Can’t seem to stay awake.”
“Get some sleep, Tony,” Flack said.
Jethro followed them out into the hallway. “Mac, when you came in earlier you said you might have an idea of who did this. You gonna fill me in?”
Mac looked at Flack who nodded. “Okay, we identified the boot print on the back of Tony’s hand as coming from someone who had trodden in ethanol. There were also traces of broken glass, the kind of glass cocktail glasses are made from.”
“The bartender,” Gibbs said flatly.
“Pretty sure,” Flack replied. “Investigations have turned up a few other guys who were beaten outside Section 8 in the past couple of weeks. Two of the men didn’t report the assaults because they were raped as well as beaten.”
“How’d you find them then?” Jethro asked.
“One of the other men did come forward. Unfortunately nobody believed him at the time.” Flack flushed and shrugged apologetically. “He’s a hooker. Cops he spoke to decided he’d tried to rob a john and gotten done over for his trouble. It was only when Tony was found that I double-checked the blotter for similar cases and found the report. He knew who the other guys were – bar scuttlebutt, I guess. I spoke to them early this morning. They both confirmed the attacks but are refusing to take part in a line-up or to testify in court.”
“If this goes to court, Tony will need to testify,” Mac said. “Do you think he’d be willing to do that?”
“The defense will try to tear the prostitute’s credibility to shreds,” Flack added, “and they’ll probably succeed.”
Jethro knew that was likely to be true. He’d seen it before. “I’ll talk to him about the possibility. Up to him though.”
“Fair enough,” Flack said. “I gotta get back to the station. “I’ll see you for dinner?” he asked, turning to Mac.
“Sure. 9 at Caravelli’s,” Mac replied. “Jethro, see you at your hotel around 7, okay? Tell Tony I hope he’s feeling better soon.”
“I will.” Jethro watched as they walked down the hallway then stuck his head around the doorway to Tony’s room. Tony was still asleep so Jethro headed downstairs where he could use his cell phone to call Abby and let her and the rest of his team know that Tony was going to be fine.
It wasn’t till he got into the elevator that he realized what Mac’s casual ‘9 at Caravelli’s’ might mean. Caravelli’s had a reputation for its romantic atmosphere. He and Shannon had dined there on their honeymoon. That made him smile. He liked the idea that his old friend, Mac, had someone in his life, someone to love and be loved by. His own life looked barren by comparison. Then he remembered the look Tony had given him when he’d said the bartender had been too young and a small seed of hope took root. Maybe there was still something in his future to look forward to after all.
When Jethro got back to Tony’s room, he found him awake and in pain. He over-rode Tony’s declaration that he’d be fine and rang the call bell himself. Tony had groaned when the nurse had insisted on giving him a shot for the pain but the fact that he’d accepted it readily enough when it came told Jethro just how much Tony was suffering. When Tony drowsily asked him what was happening with the case as the drug took effect, Jethro told him to get some more rest and he’d talk to him about it the next morning. Then he sat till Tony’s heavy eyelids drooped and finally closed and when he was sure he was asleep again, Jethro squeezed his hand and left.
He showered and dressed in his hotel room then went downstairs to meet Mac, finding him already waiting at the bar, two glasses of bourbon on the rocks in front of him.
Mac shoved one over to him then picked up his own and tipped it in a salute. “So,” he said, grimacing as he took a sip. “This stuff still tastes like crap.”
Jethro grinned. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“Me either,” Mac replied. “Did you end up marrying that girl you kept talking about over there?”
Jethro swallowed a gulp of the fiery liquid then nodded. “Yeah, Shannon and I got married. We had a daughter, Kelly. They both died a few years back.”
“What about you?” Jethro asked. “Married? Kids? Boyfriend?” He grinned as he said it then felt like he could have bitten his tongue when Mac replied softly, “I was married. She died on 9/11.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea,” Jethro said.
Mac nodded. “It’s okay. I’ve come around to accepting it, I think. Helped a lot when I met Don, when we decided we wanted to be together. He understands that part of me will always love Claire.”
“I thought you might be together.” Jethro smiled and drank down the rest of his bourbon then tapped the bar to get the bartender’s attention. “You want another?” he asked Mac.
“Sure, one more for the road. We look that together, huh, me and Don?” Mac asked but he looked pleased at the idea of it, Jethro thought. “Nobody else for you since your wife and child died?” he added.
“Three ex wives and a pile of alimony,” Jethro replied with a grimace, picking up his glass when the bartender brought it and sipping at it.
“What about Tony?” Mac asked softly, looking shrewdly at Jethro as he spoke.
“I don’t know,” Jethro replied honestly. “Until today, I thought he was straight.”
“He’s in love with you.”
“Yeah, I was hoping that too.” Jethro laughed. “Up till now the closest I’ve got to telling him how I feel about him is giving him a slap on the back of the head when I think he needs it.” He shook his head ruefully. “It’s an excuse to touch him at least.”
Mac drained his glass and stood up. “Maybe something good can come out of what happened to him then,” he said. “Look, talk to Tony about testifying, all right? We picked up the bartender and we have some physical evidence but Tony’s testimony could help put this guy away.”
“I know. I will.” Jethro stood up and pulled Mac in for a hug. “I missed you,” he whispered. “I always wondered… if we’d stayed together once we got back…”
“Wasn’t meant to be,” Mac said. He pulled away and smiled at Jethro. “I hope things work out for you and Tony. I’ll see you both before you leave, I hope.”
“Yeah. Bye, Mac. See you soon.” Jethro walked out of the bar and headed back to the hospital. Somehow sitting next to Tony while he slept suddenly seemed more appealing than being in his lonely hotel room.
“I don’t know if I can do that, Boss,” Tony said as he swung his legs gingerly over the side of the bed, his uninjured arm wrapped protectively around his ribs. The doctor had cleared him to leave and he’d been bugging Jethro to get him out from the minute he’d opened his eyes and found Jethro sleeping in the chair next to his bed.
Jethro helped him to stand then pulled his jacket a little straighter over his shoulders. “Look, I know it’s going to be tough but the physical evidence isn’t going to be enough. They need to be able to show a pattern and you’re the only one who can bolster the other guy’s story. Listen, Tony.” Jethro turned Tony around and pulled him into a gentle hug, mindful of his injuries. “New York’s a long way from home and if you do get any flack for testifying I’ll be right there with you, backing you up.” He pushed Tony away a little and watched as Tony’s eyes widened in surprise then leaned in and kissed his mouth gently. “I hope that look you gave me yesterday meant what I thought it did,” he murmured as he pulled back.
“Um, it did. I just didn’t think that you… Me and you?” Tony looked stunned and Jethro gave him a gentle tap on the back of his head.
“Yeah, me and you, DiNozzo. We’ll keep it quiet… at least until you’ve testified then we’ll see what the lay of the land is, okay?”
Tony nodded. “Okay. Will you come back here with me when I have to testify?”
Jethro put an arm around Tony’s waist and ushered him towards the door. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”