Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me.
Notes: Definite nod to the books by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
"Where the hell is DiNozzo?" Gibbs demanded. He glared at his other two agents, but they simply shrugged. "No one's heard from him?" he prompted, only to receive head shakes. He frowned. Tony had been late before, but never this late, at least not without calling to let someone know. He flipped open his cellphone and hit the speed dial. After it went to voicemail, he scowled and snapped it back shut. He was about to call Abby when McGee spoke up.
"Abby hasn't heard from him, either, Boss."
Gibbs hated to admit it, but he was beginning to get worried. "You two stay here. I'm going to check out his apartment. Call me if he shows up or calls in." He was already in the elevator before they could respond.-------
As he pulled into a space in front of Tony's apartment building, he noted the younger man's car still parked in its assigned spot. 'He'd better not still be in bed,' Gibbs fumed. He knew that Tony often had late nights, but it had never affected his ability to make it into the office. He took the stairs at a quick jog--he knew from experience that the elevator was usually out of service, and even if it was working at the moment, he certainly didn't want to get stuck in it if it broke down again.
When banging on the door didn't evoke a response, Gibbs took the key that Tony had given him and let himself into the apartment. "DiNozzo!" he called out. Still not getting an answer, he shut the door behind him and carefully scoped out the room. Nothing seemed to be disturbed, but the silence was starting to bother him. He eased his gun out of its holster and held it ready as he made his way down the hall. When he reached the bedroom, he slowed. "DiNozzo... Tony?" The room was empty. What caught Gibbs' attention, though, were Tony's wallet, gun, and cellphone still sitting on the table next to the bed. Now he was really concerned.
Once he'd checked out the rest of the apartment, he called McGee.
"Yes, Boss," McGee answered.
"I want you and Ziva to get over here. DiNozzo's missing."-----
Gibbs opened the door while McGee was trying to decide whether to knock or just go inside. Before he could say anything, though, Abby pushed her way past both Ziva and McGee. "Abby?"
"There's no way I'm going to sit in the lab waiting when Tony's missing, Gibbs. We're not losing him," she stated, trying hard to cover up the slight quivering of her lip.
"No, we're not," Gibbs assured her, pulling her into a quick hug.
"Have you found anything?" she asked, after she pulled back, dabbing at her eyes.
Gibbs shook his head, sighing. "No. There's no sign of a struggle, but all of his things are here--wallet, gun, badge, cellphone... it even looks like his shoes are still here."
Ziva rose an eyebrow. "So, Tony's running around barefoot?"
Ignoring her, Gibbs turned to McGee. "Check his phone records and his credit card accounts. Just because his wallet is here, doesn't mean he didn't take a card. Match them against the ones in the wallet." He tossed the wallet to McGee. "Abby, come with me."
Abby followed Gibbs into the bedroom, where Gibbs indicated the window. "That's the only thing that seemed odd--it's open part way, but the air conditioner is running."
"I'll dust for prints right now," Abby said, glad she had something useful to do.
Gibbs left her to it and almost collided with Ziva in the hallway. "Ziva, I want you to interview the neighbors. Find out if anyone heard or saw anything."
Nodding, Ziva exited the apartment. It was a relief, really. Being inside Tony's home had felt strange to her... as if she were encroaching upon territory that she had no business being in. Shrugging the feeling off, she started knocking on doors.-----
Gibbs laid his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes. They'd worked hard all day, but were still no closer to finding Tony. He'd finally sent the rest of the team home. The only things of note that had been discovered were that yesterday had been Tony's birthday, he had received a call from the rest home in which his maternal grandmother resided last night, and there were feline paw prints on his window--last Gibbs knew, Tony didn't own a cat.
When he awoke a few hours later with a cat curled up in his lap, Gibbs at first thought he might have been mistaken. But then, there had been no sign of a cat in the apartment, aside from the paw prints on the window--no cat food or dishes and no litter box. Rubbing the cat's ears, Gibbs checked it over carefully. No collar, but it seemed to be well-fed and healthy. His fur was soft and had very nice markings. Intelligent green eyes were half-lidded in bliss as Gibbs stroked under the cat's chin. "So, where did you come from, huh?" Gibbs asked softly.
Of course the cat didn't answer, but the purring was pleasing and Gibbs chuckled as it rubbed its head against his hand, encouraging more petting. He looked at his watch and sighed. It was going for ten, and he couldn't believe he'd fallen asleep here on Tony's couch. Giving the apartment one last look, Gibbs stood up, dislodging the cat from his lap.
Disgruntled, the cat meowed and weaved between Gibbs' legs. "What? Oh no, I'm not taking you home with me. DiNozzo will just have to deal with you when he gets back," Gibbs said, striding purposefully to the door. It was past time he should be home. Maybe working on his boat would help him think of something else to check... somewhere else to look. Ziva had attempted to contact the maternal grandmother, but the nurse had informed her that the woman had died during the night and, before that, had been in a catatonic state for years. When Ziva had pointed out that someone had called the previous night, the nurse had claimed it was impossible and hung up. He planned to make a personal visit in the morning.
As he walked down the hall, he could hear the cat yowling piteously.
One of the neighbors stuck his head out of his apartment, frowning. "He'd better get rid of that cat. There're no animals allowed in the building," he grumbled. "If it doesn't shut up, I'm calling Animal Control."
At that, Gibbs stopped. Then he sighed, dropping his head down. He turned without a word and retraced his steps. Opening the door, he found himself with an arm full of cat. It was licking his face enthusiastically, purring loudly. "All right, all right..." he muttered as he petted it reassuringly. After he relocked the door, he shot a glare at the neighbor who hurriedly stepped back and slammed his door shut.-----
Gibbs woke up. He didn't move, trying to figure out what had awakened him, when it happened again--his bed moved... and he heard a soft sigh. Reacting with the lightning quick reflexes that had saved his life on more than one occasion, Gibbs was immediately out of the bed and across the room, flicking on the light switch with his gun in hand and pointed at the bed. He blinked. "DiNozzo?"
A faint muttering could be heard and then Tony squinted against the light as he opened bleary eyes. "Boss? What are you doing here?"
"I live here," Gibbs replied dryly as he lowered the gun.
"Huh?" His eyes opening a little wider, Tony looked around in confusion. This wasn't his bedroom, but he was in bed, and he was naked, and Gibbs... Shock hit him like a bucket of cold water and Tony jerked the blanket to cover himself as he felt the blush burning through his skin. "Oh shit..." he breathed.
"No kidding." Gibbs glared. "Just where have you been? And why didn't you call in? The whole team was looking for you all day."
Tony's brows came together in confusion. "What do you mean? I was at work all day. Remember, you had me going through the Molinaro case file, to see if we could come up with any new leads."
Gibbs opened his mouth, then paused, studying his agent closely. When he did speak, it was obvious that he'd switched gears. "What day was today?"
At that, Tony frowned. "Wednesday, Boss. And tomorrow's Thursday... Did I get hit on the head or something?" Tony asked, suddenly afraid that he was missing something important.
"I don't know, did you? Because today was Thursday and you never showed up for work. And now... DiNozzo, what are you doing in my bed and where are your clothes?"
"I don't know?" Tony asked, uncertain of anything at the moment. "Boss... the last thing I remember is that Nana called to wish me a happy birthday... which was a real shock, let me tell you, as the woman has been pretty much out for the past few years... and then she muttered some Welsh blessing. When she hung up, I went to bed. That's it. Until you woke me up just now and... this is your bedroom?" Tony asked, suddenly distracted as he looked around curiously.
Exasperated, Gibbs strode over to the dresser and rummaged through the drawers for a few seconds. He threw a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt at Tony. "Get dressed and come downstairs. I need coffee."-----
As he waited for the coffee, Gibbs paced restlessly in his kitchen, occasionally running a hand through his hair. It hadn't escaped his notice that there'd been no sign of the cat since he woke up, but he was refusing to accept the theory that was insisting upon remaining forefront in his mind. There was no way in hell his agent had turned into a cat... and then back. He heard DiNozzo coming down the stairs and got out two mugs. Upon consideration, he also retrieved a bottle of whiskey.
"Uh... you don't happen to have anything to eat, do you?" Tony asked, and this stomach growled loudly, as if to emphasize the point.
Gibbs' eyebrows went up, but he moved to the fridge and started taking out fixings for sandwiches. By the time DiNozzo was happily munching through a turkey and cheese sandwich, the coffee was done. Gibbs filled both cups part way and then added a generous splash of whiskey to top them off.
Tony accepted the coffee with a nod of thanks, still blissfully chewing his sandwich. Once he swallowed, he muttered, "Thanks, Boss."
Gibbs simply sipped at his coffee as he watched the younger man eat. The first sandwich was gone and Tony had started in on a second. "Do you have a cat, DiNozzo?"
"A cat?" Tony asked, confused. "No... why?"
Shrugging, Gibbs took another drink. He glanced at the clock. Abby would still be up. And he was pretty sure that she would accept his theory whole-heartedly... dammit. He scowled down into his cup.
"Don't you like it?" Tony asked, surprised. He'd thought the coffee was pretty good, himself. And the whiskey certainly didn't hurt it any.
"What?" Gibbs asked, looking up.
Tony nodded towards the cup Gibbs was holding. "The coffee. You're scowling at it."
"No, the coffee's fine. DiNozzo..." Gibbs stopped. How in the hell was he supposed to ask his agent if he'd turned into a cat? And, from what Tony had said, he didn't remember anything, anyway. He sighed. "What was the blessing your grandmother said to you?" he asked. Then he winced. Tony didn't know that the woman had died.
Biting his lip, Tony shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure. My Welsh was never that great, and I haven't used it since I was a kid. Nana was the only one in the family who spoke it and, once Dad said I couldn't see her anymore..." Tony shook his head. "I think it was something about 'heart's desire,' or 'love...' something like that, anyway." He shrugged again. "Sorry, Boss, I'm just not sure.
"Your father didn't want you to see her? Why not?" Gibbs asked.
"Well, once Mom died, he pretty much cut off all contact with her family. Plus, he didn't like the stories she told... claimed it filled my head with 'foolish nonsense,'" Tony quoted.
Gibbs narrowed his eyes. "What kind of stories?"
"Oh, umm, mostly they were about these people who were cats... or vice versa. And there was a secret kingdom that only they could access from special doors. You know, fairy tales. One of them was about the lost princess of the cat kingdom..." Tony trailed off, trying to remember the details, but it had been too long. "As a kid, I just ate them up, but Dad was less than pleased."
"I'll bet," Gibbs muttered. So, people who were cats... It couldn't just be coincidence, could it? He glanced at the clock again--it was getting late and they had work in the morning. "We'll discuss it more in the morning, but we'd better get some sleep," he said as he picked up Tony's mug and took it to the sink with his own. Tony started returning things to the fridge. "You can sleep on the couch," Gibbs said. "Blanket and pillow are in the chest next to it."
Tony nodded and headed for the living room, then paused and turned back. "Uh, Boss? How did I get here? And where are my clothes?"
"In the morning, DiNozzo," Gibbs repeated. He had the faint hope that he'd wake up and the whole thing would have been a weird dream. As he climbed the stairs, he couldn't help but smile as he remembered waking up with a naked Tony in his bed. One thing was for certain, things were never dull with the younger agent around.-----
As usual, Gibbs woke at 6 AM, ten minutes before his alarm would go off. For some reason, he felt apprehensive, and it took him a moment to remember why. And then it came back to him--DiNozzo. He listened, but didn't hear any sounds from downstairs. Getting up, he debated on whether to shower first or check on his guest. Unable to shake the feeling in his gut that he wasn't going to like what he found, Gibbs headed down the stairs. As he approached the sofa, he swore, "God damn it!"
Curled up amidst the sweats and t-shirt he'd loaned Tony was the cat from the day before, and of Tony there was no sign.
Heaving a sigh, Gibbs strode over to the phone and quickly dialed. He waited impatiently and was finally rewarded with a sleepy greeting.
"Abbs, we have a situation. I need you at my house ASAP. I'll explain when you get here. Don't call anyone else." He waited for her acknowledgment and then hung up. Rubbing a hand over his face, he looked back at the sofa. The cat's ear twitched and then it opened its eyes and yawned. "How do you get yourself into these situations?" Gibbs asked, shaking his head. The cat, of course, didn't answer.-----
Abby stared at Gibbs, her eyes wide with shock. "Bossman, you're not saying that..." And then her eyes darted back to the sofa and she couldn't resist getting closer so she could look into the cat's eyes. "Tony?" she whispered, reaching out to rub behind the cat's ears. She was rewarded with a soft purring sound as the cat leaned into the caress. "Oh wow, this is so cool!"
"Abbs..." Gibbs said.
"I'm going, I'm going. First, I have to 'discover' Tony's email requesting some personal time in the mail server, and then I'm going to compare this cutie's hair with Tony's DNA." With a soft sigh of regret, she stood up. "Are you coming in this morning, or are you going to stay here with..." she jerked her head at the cat.
"Neither. I'm going to pay a visit to the facility where DiNozzo's grandmother was staying. I want to know who placed that call."
"But didn't Tony say it was his grandmother?" Abby asked, confused.
Gibbs nodded. "Yes, but she'd been catatonic for years. Someone could have claimed to be her and it's doubtful he would have noticed whether or not she sounded the same as she did when he was a boy. While you're waiting for the DNA test results, do some research on Welsh legends--anything that has to do with cats or blessings... maybe birthdays."
"Can McGee help me?" she asked.
Sighing, Gibbs agreed, "All right. See what you can find about Tony's mother's family, too."
"What about Ziva?"
"No. And don't tell McGee about our theory, either. At least not until we have something solid. He'd probably think we're both due for some psychiatric counseling," Gibbs said, adding under his breath, "and he might not be wrong."
Once Abby had bounced out of the house, Gibbs sat down on the sofa. The cat, he wasn't quite ready to call him Tony, nuzzled at his hand. "What am I going to do with you?" he asked quietly, even as he began stroking the soft fur. He smiled as the purring increased and the green eyes slitted in pleasure.-----
Gibbs was on his way back from the frustratingly unenlightening visit to the medical care facility. Evidently, DiNozzo's grandmother had left very specific instructions in the event of her death, and her body had already been cremated. No one would admit to having called DiNozzo, and everyone he spoke to insisted that it would have been impossible for the woman to have done so herself. In fact, from the times, it seemed that the woman was already dead at the time the call had been made. He was pulled from his thoughts by the buzz of his cell phone.
"Perfect match!" Abby almost squealed. "Gibbs, it's a perfect match!"
Gibbs winced at the volume. "Did you find anything else?"
"McGee's still researching the Welsh legends, and I'm waiting for an email from a friend of mine, but I did find something interesting... It seems that Tony's aunt, his mom's sister, disappeared for a couple of weeks... get this, on her thirty-fifth birthday."
Clenching the phone tighter, Gibbs asked, "A couple of weeks?"
"Yeah, and when she came back, she was married to some dude from a foreign country. I couldn't find which country, but evidently she moved there with him and there hasn't been any word from her since."
"All right, good work, Abby. I'm on my way in now."
"Oh, the Director was down here looking for you," Abby warned.
Gibbs flipped the phone shut and threw it on the seat next to him. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, thinking hard. It couldn't be a coincidence that Tony's aunt had disappeared on the same birthday as Tony. Could the same thing have happened to her? And what about this foreigner she married? He cursed softly. He really wished he could speak to her.-----
The moment Gibbs stepped off the elevator, he spotted Jenn... the Director... leaning casually against his desk. Sometimes, he could almost swear that the woman had some sort of radar that was completely focused on one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Consciously suppressing the deep sigh he wanted to heave, Gibbs strode over to his desk. "Director," he said as he moved around to take his seat. He set the coffee he'd picked up on his way in to the side and booted up his computer.
Jenn had turned and was now frowning down at him. "Gibbs, would you care to tell me why your team spent an entire day searching for Agent DiNozzo?"
Gibbs raised a brow. "Because he was missing?"
Narrowing her eyes, Jenn leaned forward. "We do not instigate a full-fledged investigation because someone is late for work, Agent Gibbs," she hissed.
"Apparently, we do," Gibbs retorted, and then he turned his attention back to his computer screen.
Steaming, but realizing she wouldn't get anything more out of him, Jenn straightened up and stalked back up to her office.
As soon as she was out of sight, Ziva and McGee glanced over at their boss and then at each other. Not even looking up, Gibbs spoke, "Something on your minds, agents?"
"Uhh, no, boss," McGee stuttered and hurriedly started typing on his keyboard.
Ziva didn't speak, but she did avert her eyes.-----
"Gibbs!" Abby exclaimed, hopping up and down in glee. She was so excited about what they'd discovered. And not having anyone to gush to about it was just about killing her. Tony was a cat! How cool was that?
"Abbs," Gibbs returned. "Do you have the test results up?"
"Right here." With a flourish, Abby displayed her screen with the DNA test results--one from the cat hair and one from Tony. With a click of a button, the two tests overlapped and became one. "Perfect match," she reiterated.
Gibbs stared at the screen. Yes, he'd suspected it, but staring at the evidence made it suddenly... real. "How is that possible?" he whispered.
"I have no idea." Abby shrugged. "Magic? I mean, it has to be, right? Cats and humans do not have the same DNA... at least, not normally."
"Magic," Gibbs repeated to himself, and then shook his head. "Well, whatever it is, we have to find a way to stop it from happening. We can't very well explain that DiNozzo can't come to work because he keeps turning into a cat."
"About that..." Abby paused, considering.
"Don't you think it's strange that it happened on Tony's 35th birthday? I mean, there must be some significance to that... especially since something happened to his aunt on her 35th birthday, too. So, my guess would be that it's related to his mother's family somehow."
Gibbs couldn't disagree. Question was, what could they do about it? And, did Tony's aunt still turn into a cat? Or had the issue been resolved? "Track down that aunt, Abby. We need more information."
"Will do. Send McGee down, will you? I'm going to pester a few friends who might have some knowledge of old Welsh legends," Abby said. She spunone full rotationin her chair and then called out before Gibbs could reach the door. "Can I tell him now? I mean, we have proof, and he's going to want to know why I'm having him track down Tony's aunt..."
Stopping before the door, Gibbs clenched his jaw. He hated sharing the information, but Abby had a point. And McGee could be trusted. He nodded sharply. "All right." He sighed and then turned back. "You and McGee had probably better come over tonight. I'll have pizza delivered and we can share what we've got. We'll tell him then. Right now, however, I'd better work on one of our cold cases so I have something to show the Director when she pokes her nose in again."
Abby nodded. "Yeah, she did seem a bit... perturbed, earlier." She grinned. "Wasn't it great?"
Gibbs shook his head and smirked. "I'm not sure if I should encourage you... but it was." The two shared a conspiratorial smile and then Gibbs strode out of the lab.-----
Gibbs wiggled the key in the lock to get it to turn, having locked his door for the first time in more years than he could remember. He'd finally had a reason to--there was actually something... or someone... that he actually gave a damn about inside the house that had been more a resting place than a home for him. As the door swung open, he cast his gaze about, but didn't see any sign of Tony. Sighing, he repressed the urge to call out "here kitty, kitty, kitty," mostly because the idea was ludicrous. And, somehow, he didn't think DiNozzo would be the type of cat to come when called.
Deciding the best course of action would be to go about his normal routine, Gibbs headed up the stairs to change his clothes. He stopped short when he spied the small form curled up in the middle of his bed. Rolling his eyes, he smirked. 'I should have known,' he thought. As he entered the room, green eyes opened and then the cat yawned widely. Unable to help himself, Gibbs reached out and stroked the soft fur, smiling as he was rewarded with a rumbling purr. "You're so easy, DiNozzo," he muttered. Almost as if in agreement, Tony butted his head against Gibbs' hand, a not-so-subtle sign that he wished to have more attention. "Cat or human, it's always the same thing with you, isn't it?" Gibbs commented wryly, but didn't stop his petting. Truth be told, he was kind of enjoying it, himself.
Finally, reluctantly, he moved away from the bed. Abby and McGee would be here soon and, though he was sure Abby would be thrilled to find out he'd been distracted by a feline DiNozzo, there was no way he would allow McGee to know such a thing. He smirked. Tony, on the other hand, would get that wicked gleam in his eye... Shaking his head, he grabbed some sweats and headed for the bathroom. Best not to think too hard about DiNozzo right now....-----
McGee stared at them in disbelief. "This is a joke, isn't it? Tony put you up to this just to screw with my mind."
"McGee! How could you say that? Of course not. Tony wouldn't... I mean, I wouldn't... Gibbs would never do such a thing!" Abby exclaimed, hands on her hips as she glared at him.
"But... but... it's just not possible," McGee stammered.
"DNA doesn't lie," Abby stated as she slapped the DNA tests down on the coffee table next to the pizza. Tony, who had been sniffing at the pizza inquisitively, shifted his attention momentarily to the papers. Accurately judging that McGee wished to view them, he immediately moved to sit down on the documents and proceeded to clean himself industriously. Abby giggled and Gibbs rolled his eyes.
"Yep, that's DiNozzo all right," Gibbs muttered under his breath.
"Gibbs... Boss..." McGee was practically pleading with Gibbs to tell him it wasn't true.
"Sorry, McGee. The evidence is pretty conclusive. Now, the important thing is figuring out how to get DiNozzo back to normal... well, as normal as he ever gets, anyway," Gibbs said.
Tony stopped cleaning to glare at Gibbs and, for just a moment, Gibbs could swear that he could see awareness in the feline gaze. But then the cat returned to cleaning as if nothing had happened.
McGee and Abby had also noticed the interaction, and Abby made a happy little hop. "Did you see that? Do you think he can understand us? Does that mean that Tony's mind is adjusting to his feline form?" she asked excitedly.
"I sure as hell hope not!" Gibbs exclaimed. "We need him back in human form."
Abby pouted, but didn't contradict him. 'Although, it would be cool if Tony could change at will... Would sure come in handy when we needed to do surveillance,' she thought to herself.
McGee couldn't stop staring at the cat. The cat that was Tony. He just couldn't wrap his brain around the idea. He darted a suspicious glance at Gibbs, but the older man wasn't cracking a smile. In fact, he looked almost thunderous, and McGee only just managed to suppress a shudder. Nope, not a joke. Shaking his head, he collapsed into a chair.
"Here," Abby said, handing him a beer. "Have a drink and eat some pizza. You'll feel better."
As they ate, the three humans found that their attention was drawn irresistibly back to the feline who had abandoned the DNA test results in favor of investigating the pizza. When he started to nibble on the pepperoni, McGee thought about protesting, but then changed his mind. If it really was Tony, and Abby and Gibbs seemed pretty sure it was, then of course he'd want some pizza. The rest of them would just avoid that piece.
Finally, wiping his mouth with a napkin, Gibbs focused his gaze on Abby and McGee. "Any luck finding the aunt?" Abby was still eating, so Gibbs raised his eyebrow in McGee's direction.
"Uhh... not... not really," McGee stammered. "It's almost as if she dropped off the face of the earth. She still has an open bank account, but the only activity for the past several years has been a semi-annual withdrawal by the post office and an annual withdrawal from a message service. And those are easily paid by the interest."
Swallowing, Abby added, "And the only address I've been able to find is a PO Box in Baltimore. When I called, the post office said that the fee is paid automatically. No one's actually seen Catherine Edwards, but someone must pick up her mail, 'cause whenever they put something in the box, it's always empty."
"What about the Welsh angle?" Gibbs asked.
Abby shrugged. "Well... there are old tales about cats that could take human form or vice versa, but nothing specific. Just old stories that no one really gives much credence. Sort of like the vampire and werewolf myths..." She paused, eyes lighting up. "Do you think there might be truth to those, too?"
McGee looked a bit ill at the thought, but Gibbs just scowled. "I don't really care right now, Abby. What I care about is getting DiNozzo back to work," he spat out.
"Uhh... Boss," McGee started, then stuttered to a stop when Gibbs' glare transferred to him. He hurried to continue as he saw Gibbs' expression darken even more. "Have you thought about... I mean, has anyone... Did anyone call Tony's parents?" he finally managed to say.
Gibbs' glare didn't diminish, but he did look away after another minute or so. "No, no one has contacted Tony's parents," the older man finally said.
"Tony wouldn't want us to," Abby stated confidently. "Besides, from what we can tell, what's happening comes from his mother's side, and his mom died when he was a kid. From what he's said, his father wasn't on good terms with her family, so it seems unlikely he'd know anything anyway."
McGee wanted to argue, but the resolute expressions on both Gibbs' and Abby's faces warned him not to. He'd known that Tony wasn't close to his family... hadn't he mentioned something about being disinherited at age twelve? But still, something like this... And then he remembered that when Tony had been possibly dying with the plague--no one had contacted the DiNozzo family then, either. Sighing, he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. They weren't getting anywhere and he was out of ideas.-----
Tony stretched languidly and then froze when he met another warm body on the bed. Blinking, he peered over and was surprised to see Gibbs' blue eyes staring back at him. "Uh... Boss?" he queried carefully.
One eyebrow rose. "Expecting someone else?" Gibbs drawled.
"No... I mean, not exactly, but..." Tony sputtered as he sat up in the bed. And then he realized that it wasn't his and memories of the last time he'd found himself here finally made themselves known. "Didn't I go to sleep on the sofa?" Then he frowned.
Propping himself up on an elbow, Gibbs watched him. "Well, yes, but that was last night. You missed another day."
"Abby and McGee were here, weren't they?" Tony asked, still frowning. "And there was pizza?"
"Yep. Remember anything else?" Gibbs asked, curious as to how much Tony the human retained of Tony the cat's experiences.
"Not really. Everything's kind of muzzy..." Tony trailed off and then he shook his head. "I have to..." he made shooing motions toward the hallway and got up. "Mind if I grab a quick shower? I feel kind of itchy."
"Go ahead. But don't take too long. We need to talk, and this time I'm not waiting until morning," Gibbs said. In truth, he was even a bit leary of letting Tony out of his sight for a few minutes, but he didn't want to have to get into the reasons why until he and Tony both had had some coffee.-----
Gibbs sipped his coffee, relaxing minutely as he heard the shower turn off. This time, he had the sandwich fixings all set out on the table when Tony appeared. The younger man had obviously discovered the fresh clothes Gibbs had set on the bed and looked very nice in one of Gibbs' old Marine sweatshirts. Quickly nipping that thought in the bud, Gibbs nodded toward the food. "Hungry?"
"Starved, Boss, thanks," Tony said, wasting no time in creating a duplicate of the sandwich he'd eaten the previous night.
As he watched Tony eat, Gibbs made a mental note that he'd need to buy groceries soon, especially if they didn't figure out this cat thing. Speaking of which... "What can you tell me about your Aunt Catherine?" he asked.
Tony blinked. He certainly hadn't expected that question. "Aunt Cathy? Uhh... she's my mom's older sister. Haven't seen her in years. She and her husband used to come to the Edwards family Christmas party, but I haven't attended one since Mom died." Tony frowned, thinking. "I'm not sure where they live, but I do have a number to call in case of an emergency, mostly because of Nana. I think it's a message service. Why?"
Right. Tony still didn't know about his grandmother's death. Gibbs sighed. "About your grandmother... Tony, I'm sorry, she died Wednesday night."
Tony blinked again. Wow. It certainly was turning into a night of surprises. It was pretty freaky, though, that Nana had died right after she called him. He wasn't exactly sure how he felt--for all intents and purposes, she'd been gone for years... "Guess I'll have to dig out that number," he muttered, his eyes fixed firmly on the table.
Gibbs took a deep breath. OK, now it was time to tell DiNozzo the really big news. He picked up the DNA test results sheets and slid them across the table. "There's more..."
More?! Oh yeah... the whole thing about waking up naked in Gibbs' bed two nights in a row. Tony felt a flush heat up his skin. He wasn't exactly complaining, but it sure would be nice to know what was going on. He reached somewhat reluctantly for the papers. His brow crinkled in confusion. "What are these?" he finally asked, holding the documents up. "I mean, I can see that they're DNA test results--looks like a match--but of what?"
"A strand of your hair and the strand of hair off a cat that keeps appearing whenever you're missing," Gibbs said.
Tony stared at him blankly, and then looked at the documents again. He furrowed his brow. "I... What?"
Gibbs rubbed his face tiredly. "It sounds crazy, I know, but it's the truth. During the day, you're a cat--a cat with DNA that's the exact match to your own."
"I don't understand," Tony whispered, looking back at Gibbs.
"Welcome to the club. From what we've been able to figure out, it seems to have something to do with your mother's side of the family. Abby and McGee are still working on it. Evidently, there are some old Welsh legends about cat people... like those stories your grandmother used to tell you. And, your aunt Catherine disappeared for awhile on her 35th birthday--just like you."
"I turn into a cat," Tony said flatly. He raised his eyes to Gibbs', hoping that it was just a really weird sort of prank... though that would be more Abby's style, than Gibbs. The steady gaze bearing down on him held no amusement, however. "Shit," Tony muttered as his head dropped. It wasn't a prank and Gibbs was less than pleased. "Sorry, Boss."
"Don't apologize, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped.
Tony just shook his head. He'd been in some crazy situations before, but this one boggled his mind... Those stories Nana used to tell might not be just stories? He tried to remember how they went, but it had been so long that only vague impressions remained. One thing he did remember, though, was that usually the transformation was controlled by the person or cat... Though, there had been a few exceptions, hadn't there? And what if they couldn't figure it out? He couldn't do his job if he was a cat, and if he lost his job, he would lose Gibbs, too... Not that he had Gibbs, but... His thoughts were immediately halted as he felt the familiar smack at the back of his head. "Ow, what was that for?" he asked, scowling as he rubbed his head.
Gibbs just gave him a pointed look. Tony was a good agent, but when it came to his personal life, he tended to tie himself up in knots to no good purpose. "We need to figure this out, not dwell on what ifs. I want you to write down everything you can remember about those tales your grandmother told you, whether you think it's important or not, and anything about your family that might give us a clue as to what's happening. Your bereavement leave is up, and it's only luck that we haven't caught a case yet. I want this thing resolved before the weekend's over--understood?" Gibbs growled.
"I just hope I don't end up like Natassia Kinski... or worse, Simone Simon," Tony muttered."What was that?" Gibbs asked.
"You know, in the movies, 'The Cat People?' In the original 1942 version, Simone Simon plays a woman who turns into a panther whenever she feels, ah... amorous. She died in the end. The 1982 remake doesn't end much better. Natassia Kinski turns into a panther whenever she has sex and can only turn back into a human if she kills. She decides to remain a panther and gets locked up in a zoo."
"Get to work, DiNozzo," Gibbs
"On it, boss," Tony said.-----
Gibbs glanced over at Tony, who was still diligently trying to comply with Gibbs' orders. He had slowed down quite a bit, however, and had long ago traded the legal pad with which he had started for Gibbs' laptop. For his part, Gibbs had kept the coffee coming, along with another snack. A couple of sandwiches a night just wasn't going to cut it for the active man whose metabolism worked at high speed at the best of times; when he was under stress, it just worked faster. Sipping his own coffee, he grimaced. It was cold, and he no longer heard the quiet tapping of keys. Raising an eyebrow, he queried, "DiNozzo?"
"That's it. I can't think of anything else. None of it makes any sense." Tony rubbed bleary eyes. "You said Abby and McGee are working on this, too? Maybe they'll see something I'm missing," Tony said.
Gibbs grunted. "I want that number for your aunt, too. If you're not available to make the call in the morning, I'm going to do it."
Nodding, Tony indicated the screen. "Already done. I added my dad's personal assistant, too. I hope you won't have to use it, but if we run out of other options, I guess we'll have to contact Dad." His mouth turned down at the thought. He hadn't needed his father's help since he left home - probably even longer than that - and he had no desire to go crawling back now. Not that he thought the man would know anything about what was going on, but it was possible. Maybe his mom had mentioned something... He yawned and eyed the time. "Not that I'm complaining, but when do you think we might get to catch some shut eye? I might not have done much today, but I'm worn out."
Gibbs was feeling much the same way, himself. And he hadn't napped the day away. Getting to his feet, he grabbed Tony's mug and dumped the contents in the sink, along with his own. "Abby and McGee are bringing lunch. Since we've made as much progress as I think we're going to for now, might as well get some rest," he said. He didn't really want to, as he was pretty sure when he woke up Tony would be a cat again. However, neither of them were at their best, and it would be nice to be coherent when Abby and McGee arrived. Those two were hard enough to keep up with when he was at a hundred percent--and he didn't think he'd be back to a hundred percent until this whole crazy cat business was resolved once and for all.
Tony gratefully shut the laptop and stood up to stretch. His back made satisfying cracking noises as he reached for the ceiling with entwined fingers.
Gibbs paused to watch, silently appreciating the nice view of Tony's abs as the shirt rode up as the man stretched. He winced at the sounds, though, didn't seem like a back should sound like a bunch of firecrackers going off. By the time Tony looked over, however, Gibbs was busy straightening the stuff on the table.
"I can do that, Boss," Tony stated. "It's my mess."
"It's fine. We're just going to spread it all out again tomorrow, anyway," Gibbs said. He knew he was stalling, delaying his departure for the upstairs. He didn't want to admit it, but he was afraid to leave Tony alone. Would Tony change if he stayed and watched? And did he want to see it? He shook his head in disgust. This whole situation was insane.
"Boss?" Tony asked, brow furrowed as Gibbs uncharacteristically seemed to be dithering.
Gusting out a breath, Gibbs looked at his agent. "Get some sleep, DiNozzo. I'll be right over there." He indicated the recliner.
Tony's eyebrows raised, but he didn't comment. Truthfully, he felt better knowing Gibbs would be close by, watching over him. Hey, the man had seen him through the plague. If he could do that, then Tony trusted Gibbs could see him through this current mess, as well. Smiling slightly, he retrieved the blanket and pillow from the chest and snuggled down on the sofa. "'Night, Boss," he breathed.
Not responding, Gibbs simply made himself comfortable in the recliner. He had no intention of going to sleep yet, but he was going to rest his eyes... just for a little while...-----
Gibbs jerked awake, blue eyes slitting open in a glare, and immediately scowled as his nose was once again licked by a raspy tongue. "God damn it, DiNozzo," he muttered as he sat up, shoving the cat off his lap. Immediately, a pressing need made itself known and he pushed himself out of the chair, grumbling about too much coffee.
Not at all put off by the less than friendly reception, Tony followed, weaving between Gibbs' legs as he walked, causing the former marine to curse more imaginatively as he nearly tripped over the cat on the stairs. In order to save himself from a less than pleasant trip down the staircase, Gibbs scooped the cat up into his arms, where he proceeded to purr loudly as he licked at Gibbs' neck.
"Now is not the time," Gibbs stated firmly. He dropped the cat off on his bed as he continued on his way to the bathroom. Unperturbed, Tony simply turned around in a circle and curled up in the middle of the bed.-----
Abby skipped into the house, a more subdued McGee following behind her with a couple of bags from a deli near Abby's apartment. "Gibbs! Tony! We've brought food!"
"It's about time," Gibbs growled as he came up the stairs from the basement, Tony grasped firmly in one hand.
"Aww, he's all covered in sawdust. Were you helping?" Abby asked Tony as she moved to take him from Gibbs, positively cooing at the cute cat.
McGee rolled his eyes and placed the bags on the table while Gibbs simply grunted as he went into the kitchen to wash up. Tony sniffed Abby appreciatively and gave her a tentative lick before purring contentedly in her arms. Hugging him lovingly, Abby proceeded to stroke his fur, leaving sawdust everywhere.
"You've been causing trouble, haven't you?" she whispered conspiratorially into his ear. "That's my Tony."
Heaving a put upon sigh, McGee started unloading the sandwiches and salads from the bags. It was bad enough when Tony was human, but now he was managing to be annoying as a cat. Though, really, it wasn't exactly Tony's fault. Evidently, Abby just really liked cats... and Tony currently was one. One that was uncomfortably close to Abby's breasts...
Gibbs came out with a beer and a small bowl of water. Both of which he sat on the table. "Drinks are in the fridge. Help yourself."
Abby set Tony on the floor so she could go peruse the selection, and he immediately jumped into Gibbs' lap. Without even thinking about it, Gibbs began to pet him with one hand while he reached for a sandwich with the other. McGee thought about mentioning how unsanitary it was to eat with an animal at the table, but thought better of it when Abby returned with two sodas. Somehow, he got the feeling that such a statement would end up with him in the dog house.
"So, did you get to talk to Tony the human again last night?" Abby asked, snatching up her own sandwich and taking a big bite.
Nodding, Gibbs took a swallow of beer to wash down his sandwich. "He gave me a number for his aunt. I tried it, but had to leave a message. I wrote down the name of the message service company, and I want one of you to check it out. I'm hoping she checks it regularly, but it doesn't seem too likely."
"I'll do it, Boss," McGee offered. He much preferred having something concrete to do rather than trying to piece together bits of old Welsh legends.
"Did he say anything else? Was this what happened to his aunt, too? Does he remember anything from when he's in cat form? What's it feel like to transform?" Abby fired off the questions excitedly.
"Everything he knows, he wrote down--either on that notepad over there or on my laptop. As for the rest... he vaguelly recalled that you and McGee were over last night and had pizza," Gibbs said. There were times when he thought that Abby was just a bit too caffeinated, and this was one them.
"Oooh, gimme!" Abby cried, reaching eagerly for the laptop. "You let him use your computer?" She grinned happily.
"It was there." Picking some turkey out of his sandwich, Gibbs held it down to Tony, who carefully took it from his fingers and wolfed it down, licking Gibbs' fingers afterward for any he might have missed.
McGee looked on with barely concealed dismay. "Uh, I'm going to get my computer," he muttered, before dropping his sandwich and heading back out to the car.
Gibbs and Abby shared a look and Abby giggled. "You're so bad," she intoned.
"He's easy," Gibbs replied, shrugging.
"You've got that right." Abby snickered.-----
McGee paused in his typing and frowned. Someone was watching him. Glancing up from the screen, he discovered the cat... Tony, sitting on the table staring at him. "What?" he asked, keeping his voice down. Tony didn't even blink, just continued to stare. "Don't you want to go bother Gibbs? Maybe crawl around on Abby?" He winced at that last statement, wishing he could take it back. Tony's tail twitched, but other than that he didn't move. McGee chanced a look into the living room. Abby had spread out the few written pages Tony had created and was making notes between those and what she found on the computer. Her head bopped in time with the music she was listening to, but he couldn't hear it, as Gibbs had wordlessly held out a pair of headphones when she'd turned it on. As for Gibbs, he'd returned to the basement. Without anyone to intimidate or any real villain to hunt down, he was taking his frustration out on his boat. Tony had followed him down, but now, it seemed, he was back. "Go away,"McGee whispered. Tony yawned in his face. Frowning, McGee returned to his screen, trying to ignore the cat. It became impossible, however, when a soft, furred head bumped against his hand. Almost against his will, McGee lifted his hand and petted the silky fur. "Wow, you're really soft," he commented.
"I'll make sure to tell Tony you think so," Abby stated gleefully.
McGee jumped, staring up at her in alarm. When had she moved so close? And removed the headphones. "Abby!" he protested.
"He's just being friendly... means he likes you," Abby said, reaching out to give her own strokes of affection. "It's still Tony, even if he is a cat at the moment."
"Yeah, I guess," McGee said, though he was still having trouble accepting it. "He's a lot quieter than Tony, though." Then he yelped. "He bit me!"
"Well, that's what you get," Abby said.
"He'll get worse than that if you two don't tell me what you've found out," Gibbs said as he entered the room. Immediately, Tony leapt off the table and ran over to greet Gibbs, tail held high. Knowing that if he didn't pick him up the damn cat would likely trip him, Gibbs bent down and picked Tony up. He'd never admit it, but he rather enjoyed the affectionate licks he received as a result.
Abby watched the two interact with a small smile. She'd noticed how affectionate Gibbs was with Tony in his feline form, and vice versa. In fact, she was even beginning to develop a theory that just might explain the whole situation, but she didn't dare vocalize it. Oh no, Gibbs and Tony had to figure this one out themselves. And so... "Sorry, nada. I mean, there are a whole bunch of legends out there, but they seem to contradict each other. I think we're going to have to wait until Tony's aunt gets back to you. It could be one of those 'family secrets,' you know, that no one is allowed to talk about?"
Gibbs scowled. That wasn't what he wanted to hear. He turned his glare on McGee.
"Uhh, sorry, Boss. I haven't been able to find anything, either. Wherever Catherine Edwards disappeared to, she didn't leave a forwarding address," McGee said.
"Anyway, McGee and I have to go. There's really nothing more we can do tonight, anyway. We've hit a dead end. Maybe we'll be come up with something tomorrow, or we could call Ducky in--he knows all sorts of strange things," Abby suggested. "Having a mystery to solve might help him take his mind off other things for awhile."
Sighing, Gibbs nodded. "That's a good idea. If we can't resolve this by tomorrow, I'll give him a call." He would have called the older man in sooner, but as Ducky's mother had broken her hip, he hadn't wanted to further burden their ME with the DiNozzo situation. But Abby was right--about now, Ducky could probably use a distraction. If nothing else, he was sure Ducky would lend a sympathetic ear. Abby was too geeked about Tony and McGee was too freaked. Ducky, on the other hand, would be sure to handle the idea with his usual aplomb.
McGee, who had been staring at Abby in confusion, finally managed to start packing up his stuff when Abby gave him a very meaningfull "Look." Evidently, she thought they should go. OK. He didn't have a problem with that. In fact, he would have been happier never to have learned about any of this. Sure, he read about such things in books, but those were just stories. He wasn't sure he was ready for the stories to come to life in the form of one of his teammates.-----
This time, when he woke up, Gibbs didn't move. Instead, he just enjoyed the feeling of a warm, naked DiNozzo sprawled across his chest. Almost of its own volition, his arm rose so he could pet the soft, short hair. It wasn't quite as soft as when Tony was in cat form, but close, and the happy humming noise Tony made was fairly reminiscent of the purring, too. There was some pleasant nuzzling of his neck and, before Gibbs knew it, Tony had moved up and pressed hot, dry lips to his own. For once not considering the consequences, Gibbs responded in kind. Three nights of having Tony in his bed was too many without acting upon it... especially when DiNozzo so clearly wished to be acted upon. When Tony finally pulled back, they were both breathing heavily.
"Boss?" Tony asked tentatively. He hadn't moved, but his muscles had tightened with tension.
Not answering verbally, Gibbs surged up and flipped them over so Tony was on the bottom before plundering the younger man's mouth once more. Tony gave a slight grunt as his back hit the bed, but didn't protest. Instead, his muscles seemed to melt as he allowed Gibbs to take control... per usual.
"Tonight, no sleeping on the damned couch," Gibbs growled when they came up for air.
"Right, Boss," Tony answered, grinning.
With a feral grin of his own, Gibbs proceeded to demonstrate that he was just as adept at pleasuring a human body as he was the feline one.-----
When he heard the growling noise, Gibbs was sure that Tony had once again reverted to cat form, and he grimaced. Opening his eyes, however, showed that to be false. A bleary eyed, but definitely human, Tony was blinking at him with a chagrined look.
"Sorry, Boss," Tony said, just as his stomach gave another fierce growl.
Raising an eyebrow, Gibbs smirked. "You know where the kitchen is, DiNozzo. Go feed the beast... and make some coffee while you're at it."
Tony didn't need to be told twice. Scooping up the sweats from the top of the dresser, he pulled them on as he exited the room.
Gibbs waited a few minutes until he heard clattering noises from the kitchen. Closing his eyes, he sighed deeply, allowing himself to relax completely for the first time in days. He smiled as he realized that he had seen the sun shining on Tony's completely bare skin for the first time... and his agent had an all-over tan. As he lay on the bed, he let what he knew of various legends of spells and curses and the like drift through his mind and couldn't quite suppress the grin he felt tugging at his lips. Leave it to DiNozzo to play the princess in some sort of fairy tale. Not that he was complaining... especially since he was the most unlikely of princes. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a knock on the door.
He was dressed in sweats of his own, armed, and half-way down the stairs before he heard Ducky's distinctive voice.
"Ah, it's good to see that you are yourself this morning, Anthony. Abigail called me earlier and regaled me with your... ah... condition, shall we say?" Ducky said.
Tony blushed. "Thanks, Duck."
"So, do you have it all worked out now?"
"Ahhh..." Tony grasped for an answer, but wasn't sure if it was all over with or not.
"I think we do," Gibbs stated as he came into the kitchen. He noted Tony's look of relief at his entrance and held out his hand. Immediately, the younger man placed a mug of coffee into it.
"Good, good. Abigail was convinced you'd work it out yourself, but I thought I'd come over this morning just to be sure. Mother's caregiver assured me she would be fine for a few hours and shooed me out of the house," Ducky admitted.
"How is Mrs. Mallard?" Tony asked, not quite sure what it was Abby had figured out, as he sure hadn't come up with anything. He was just glad to be himself in the daytime. He vaguely remembered Abby whispering something to him, but he wasn't exactly sure what... and McGee looking uncomfortable--not an unusual occurrence, that. But Gibbs... Gibbs had been very attentive...
"Oh, she's coming along. I dare say she'll be up and around in no time," Ducky said. "Now, you really must tell me everything. I've heard of such gifts, of course, but never have I actually met someone who had received one personally."
"Gift?" Gibbs asked, frowning as he noticed a stunned expression falling over DiNozzo's face.
"Of course. And a gift of love, at that. Should come in very handy, considering what we do," Ducky said.
"Gift of love?" Tony repeated faintly, and then he sat down, hard, on one of the kitchen chairs.
"Are you all right?" Gibbs asked.
Stricken hazel eyes stared back at him. "I love you," Tony whispered.
"I know," Gibbs stated.
Ducky chuckled. "Well, it certainly took you both long enough. I do believe Abigail was about to resort to locking you in the evidence locker if something didn't happen soon."
Two pairs of stunned eyes turned to stare at him.
"Oh, we've known for quite some time that the two of you loved each other. However, I was certain it would take a miracle for either of you to acknowledge it. And, I suppose, it did." Ducky chuckled once again. "I do believe I'll take my leave now. Abigail will be most interested to hear that everything has turned out for the best. Do have a good day."
"Bye, Ducky," Tony said faintly, and Gibbs just nodded.
It was just the two of them again, and Tony was still looking shell-shocked.
"Have you figured it out yet, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked as he snagged a piece of toast that Tony had made before Ducky's arrival.
"Asgre s awydda," Tony muttered.
"That's what Nana said... heart's desire. Her final gift to me was my heart's desire--you," Tony explained.
"And the whole cat thing?" Gibbs asked.
Tony grinned. "That's just a bonus. Ducky's right. Can you imagine the undercover possibilities? I could walk right up to the bad guys and they wouldn't think anything of it."
Gibbs narrowed his eyes. "We'll discuss it, later. First, we'll have to see if you can control the change... but not now. Right now, we're going to finish eating, then we're going to shower, and then... well, we'll see what happens."
"Whatever you say, Boss," Tony said, smiling broadly.-----
The orange marmalade cat jumped down from the window ledge and trotted easily to the limousine with dark-tinted windows parked a few blocks away. When the door opened, she leapt gracefully inside. In moments, a regal looking blonde woman had replaced the cat and she snuggled into soft robe that her companion held out for her.
"Well?" he asked.
She smiled. "He was quicker than I was. But he also had an advantage--he already knew his true love. I'll contact him in a few days, but there's no rush. Nana would have been disappointed that he didn't follow in my footsteps and go through the portal, but I think this is for the best. As long as he is happy, that is all that matters."
"True enough," Catherine's husband and mate replied.