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A Friend in Need

by: tutncleo (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 007 Word Count: 63347
Rating: ADULT
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo, Ensemble
Category(ies): New Character, Established Relationship, Episode Related, Action/Adventure
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo
Episode(s): 4-08 Once a Hero, 5-04 Identity Crisis, 5-11 Tribes, 5-16 Recoil
Summary: After barely surviving two attempts on her life, a wounded FBI agent seeks help from Team Gibbs to take down a kidnapping syndicate. This story would not exist without the continued amazing imput of Marianne, collaborator and beta extraordinaire!

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Next Chapter

Chapters one and two

“A Friend in Need”
Chapter One

Spoilers for Identity Crisis, Recoil and Tribes

For the first time in well over a week, Ziva David was enjoying a deep, restful sleep. It had taken her far longer than she found acceptable to recover from her undercover assignment to catch the serial killer targeting military wives. The struggle at the end of the mission shouldn’t have been so difficult. She was a trained assassin, well versed in a multitude of moves designed to incapacitate her opponents. Yet somehow, in that instance, she had been reduced to crawling away from her target, desperate to get to his gun, since she was, for the first time in a very long time, completely unarmed. To have carried a weapon would have blown her cover as the promiscuous wife of a Marine currently deployed overseas. She had been the bait, and as she had recently so blithely informed Special Agent Courtney Kreiger, bait frequently gets eaten. She had triumphed in the end, her opponent falling dead upon her supine body, and the image of his emotionless face, and blank eyes would not let her rest in peace. Ziva had experienced night terrors after previous assignments, but never for this long. She couldn’t recall another time when she had been as badly shaken by a near death experience. She was prepared to die for her country, to die in battle, but somehow, this time, it had been different.

The situation with Michael Locke had complicated issues further. She didn’t understand how she’d let things get so out of control. It was one thing to seduce a suspected killer, in the hopes of entrapping him, but to sleep with a witness because you were feeling alone and vulnerable, a witness who became a suspect in a copycat killing, no less, was unforgiveable. She had seen the look in Tony’s eyes, when he had correctly guessed what had occurred between her and Michael, his expression radiating worry and disapproval. She was well aware that Tony was concerned about her, and ever since that moment, she could feel him watching her at work, as if waiting for an outward sign of weakness. She had been furious when she realized he was shadowing her, intent on ensuring her safety. She didn’t require his assistance. It was not necessary. Yet as much as she publicly and vocally decried his actions, it was reassuring to know that her partner cared enough to try to protect her. He could not, however, protect her from her own thoughts and memories, and certainly not from her nightmares.

The confrontation with Gibbs down in Autopsy had actually done more to get her back on an even keel than anything. His statements may have seemed harsh to anyone not familiar with the former Marine's penchant for brutal honesty, but he had gotten through to her. He told her point blank that if she couldn't trust her instincts, then she was useless as an agent, and was on her way to getting herself, or her teammates, killed. That had been the turning point for her. She could finally start breathing again. It had still taken several days, but finally, finally, she could go to sleep with no nightmares haunting her. This was going to be her first night of real sleep, and she intended to enjoy every minute of it. When she had returned home from work, she had taken a long, relaxing bath, then a short shower to wash her hair and after completing her normal nightly routine, she had gratefully crawled into bed to find the rest she desperately needed.

Ziva had been asleep for all of six hours, when the ringing of her cell phone began slowly impinging on her subconscious, pushing her toward wakefulness. Pulling the pillow over her head to block the sound, she fought it, trying to ignore the conditioned response to immediately answer the phone. Even asleep she knew her team was not on call, so it couldn't be Gibbs or Tony calling her to a scene. Still, the habit to respond was ingrained by years of working for Mossad, and more recently, her adherence to Gibbs' Rule Number 3: Never be unreachable. Her tired mind tried to pull her back down into a deep sleep, but her conscience and her dedication won the battle, and pulling the pillow off and tossing it irritably to the side, she fought her way back to consciousness.

Her hand landed on the cell phone which she had placed on her night table out of habit. Her voice was roughened by sleep, but she spoke clearly as she answered, "David," not even bothering to look at the display to see who had the audacity to ruin her well deserved rest.

The voice coming through her phone was speaking softly, but the fear and desperation came through clearly. "Ziva, its Courtney. I'm in trouble, and I really need your help. Can you come and get me, please?"

Ziva snapped the rest of way awake in an instant and sat up, reaching over to turn on the lamp on the night table. "Location?" she demanded, as she was already sliding out of bed.

"Braddock Mall, north side, at the Food Court," came the hurried response.

"I will be there in 30. Watch for me. Are you injured?" Ziva asked, having heard just the slightest tinge to Courtney’s voice, suggesting the young woman was in pain.

“Just a little. I’ll be fine. Just hurry, okay?” Courtney pleaded.

Ziva was already out of bed, and grabbing clothes from her drawers when she answered, “I will be there as soon as possible. Stay there,” Ziva said as she pulled on a pair of black cargo pants.

“Thanks,” Courtney breathed, and then disconnected.

Ziva tossed her phone onto the bed, so she could pull a sweater over her head, then reaching into her top dresser drawer, she began to arm herself. One leg of her pants was pushed up, so that she could strap on a knife and the ankle holster that housed her tiny automatic. A belt was threaded through the loops of her pants, and another knife case was secured to it. A gun holster was strapped to the opposite side of the belt and she slid her Sig into its leather holder, clipping extra cartridges next to it. Then, satisfied with her armament, she reached over and snagged the phone, which she tucked into a pocket. After hurriedly pulling on socks and shoes, she grabbed a light jacket and car keys and headed for the door.

Braddock Mall was usually a twenty five minute drive for Ziva, but worry compelled her to hurry. As she whipped around the slower moving cars, honking her horn when necessary, she thought about the young FBI agent. Courtney had managed to worm her way into Ziva’s life so slowly that Ziva hadn’t even been aware it was happening. It had started with a few lessons in hand-to-hand, and then one night, drinks afterwards. Courtney had shared some of her frustrations with being the most junior member of her team, and Ziva had offered awkward sympathy and advice. From there they had progressed to a weekly dinner, and before she knew it, Ziva was viewing Courtney as a surrogate little sister, something she wouldn’t have thought herself capable of, one year ago. As she sped on, she realized she had not heard from Courtney this week, which was unusual, but Ziva had been so wrapped up in what was happening in her world, that she had not noticed. Now, Courtney was injured and in need of her help. That thought spurred her on, as she pressed the accelerator even further to the floorboard, her little Mini jerking as its engine was pushed to its limits.

Seventeen minutes later, Ziva pulled up in front of the mall, parking her car illegally by the entrance that led to the food court. Leaping out, she saw Courtney huddled on a bench beside the entrance. “What are you doing out here?” she demanded, as she hurried over to her young friend.

“The mall was getting ready to close, and the workers in the court were beginning to give me dirty looks,” Courtney explained, as relief washed over her now that Ziva had arrived.

“Let us get into the car, and then you can tell me what this is all about,” Ziva suggested, as she reached out and gave a little pull on Courtney’s left elbow. Courtney hissed in pain when Ziva touched her. “Where are you injured?” Ziva demanded, as she let go of Courtney’s arm.

“My shoulder,” Courtney replied weakly. “It’s just a graze, though,” she assured her friend.

“A bullet graze?” Ziva asked, wondering what in the hell had happened.

“Uh huh,” Courtney managed to answer, as she rode out the wave of pain that had just threatened to overwhelm her.

“We need to get you help. I am calling 911,” Ziva said, as she pulled out her cell phone.

“No!” Courtney cried, before Ziva could dial anything. “No paramedics or cops. This can’t go out over the radio,” she said vehemently.

“Courtney, you are wounded,” Ziva said, trying to be reasonable. “You need medical attention.”

“I’ll be fine. It just needs to be cleaned and dressed. Please Ziva, you don’t understand,” Courtney pleaded.

“Then make me understand,” Ziva demanded, confused by the panic in Courtney’s voice.

“Let’s go to your car, and then I’ll tell you everything,” Courtney promised, as she looked around, making sure no one was too interested in them. She didn’t want to risk anything happening to Ziva, and the events of the day had left her paranoid and jumpy.

It took a little effort, but Ziva finally succeeded in getting Courtney into her car. Starting the engine, she began to drive, with no real destination in mind, as Courtney began to explain what had happened.

“We’ve been working a stake out for the past week and a half. There are five of us, and we’ve been working in twelve hour shifts, with Ed Morgan and Liz Templeton in the night and morning, and Brent Langer and Victor Merit in the afternoon and evening. I work from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M., straddling both shifts, so that all the agents could help train me on surveillance. I got sent out at about one, on a coffee run, and when I got back I found Langer and Merit shot, both just barely alive. After I called 911, I did the best I could to staunch the bleeding until the paramedics got there, and then I called Morgan, who’s my team leader.” She paused there, trying to get herself back under control. Just remembering what had happened had shaken her to her core again, and she could feel tears threatening to spill out. She blinked hard several times, not wanting to appear weak in front of Ziva.

“Go on,” Ziva instructed. “What did Morgan do?”

“He called Fornell, who has been supervising the entire operation, and Fornell ordered Morgan and Templeton to process the scene, and for me to stay there and hold off the local LEO’s from doing anything until they got there. He told the paramedics to take Brent and Vic to Bethesda, saying he’d meet the ambulance there. You can imagine how well that went over with the Metro Police. Morgan and Templeton arrived with Asst. Director Glenn at about the same time a Deputy Commissioner from the DC Police got there.” Courtney stopped again, as she remembered the fight that had ensued between the two men. There had been a great deal of posturing and vying for supremacy, but finally, federal jurisdiction trumped local, and the local LEOs were charged with simply guarding the site until the FBI techs could complete their forensic work. She skipped the details and simply said, “Morgan and Templeton were left to supervise the FBI technicians as they processed the scene.”

“What did Glenn say to you?” Ziva wanted to know.

“After he heard what had happened, he said we needed to go to Bethesda and brief Agent Fornell. He seemed really bothered that someone was brazen enough to attack, and try to kill, two FBI agents.” She once again became quiet, contenting herself with staring out the window, while she chewed on her bottom lip.

“So, what did Fornell do when you got there?” Ziva prompted. Courtney seemed to be having trouble focusing, she noticed, and she became even more concerned.

“That’s the problem,” Courtney began. “We never got there. We’d only gone a couple of blocks, when a black Hummer pulled out in front of us, cutting off the way. The driver had to slam on his brakes, and before I knew it, the back of the Hummer had opened, and people were shooting at the car. Director Glenn pushed me down and covered me with his own body, but the shots kept coming until I could hear sirens approaching. By the time I could sit up, the Hummer was racing away, the driver was dead and Glenn was seriously wounded.” She lapsed into silence again, although by now she was shivering slightly, as she remembered pushing Glenn’s inert body off of her, and the blood that seemed to cover her head to toe.

“Courtney. Courtney, can you hear me?” Ziva was saying, when Courtney finally came back to the present.

“Yeah, I hear you. I’m sorry Ziva,” she said.

“You have no reason to be sorry,” Ziva assured her. “Tell me what happened next,” she ordered, wanting to keep Courtney on task and stop her from sinking back into silence.

“The cops got there, and called for an ambulance and back up. One of the responding officers recognized us, and called in to his Deputy Commissioner. When he arrived on scene, he demanded that I cooperate with the DC police, since this was the second shooting I’d been found at in the same day. Of course I refused, and told him it was a federal crime and had to be handled accordingly, especially since an Assistant Director of the FBI was wounded, and his driver killed. I called Fornell to tell him what had happened, and he ordered me to hold fast and guard the scene until another set of forensics people could get there to process the scene. The local LEO were furious, and tried to badger me into cooperating, but I refused. Finally, another Assistant Director, Christopher Webb, arrived with more FBI agents, and took me into protective custody. A forensics team was left there to process the car and the body.”

Courtney had stopped talking yet again, and Ziva could hear her teeth clattering together. Looking around, she saw a small park to her left, and pulling a fast u-turn, she headed for its parking lot. Once she got the car stopped, she pulled off her seat belt, and turned to Courtney. “Let me look at your shoulder, Courtney,” she said gently to the woman beside her. Courtney didn’t bother answering, but she did turn to face Ziva, which served to reassure the NCIS agent a little. When she pulled back the blue sweater Courtney was wearing, she saw that Courtney had improvised a makeshift bandage of sorts out of toilet paper and paper towels, from the bathroom at the mall most likely, which were being held together with scotch tape. Ziva was relieved to see that although some blood had seeped through the dressing, there didn’t appear to be a great deal of fresh blood. ‘How had this happened?’ Ziva wondered. Surely if Courtney had been hit in the car, the FBI would have gotten her proper treatment when they took her into custody. Why was Courtney on the run? And why hadn’t she called someone from her own agency. “Courtney, I need you to tell me the rest of the story,” Ziva said softly. “What happened after you left with Director Webb?”

Courtney stared over at Ziva. “I just wanted something warm to drink and to take a shower and wash off the blood,” she said, causing Ziva to look at her quizzically, as she tried to follow Courtney’s train of thought. “At the Hoover building,” she clarified. “That’s where they took me so I could tell them the whole story. Finally, they let me get cleaned up and into some fresh clothes, then they transferred me to a safe house. I managed to drink some vegetable soup and green tea, and then lay down for a nap. I had only been asleep a few hours when loud noises woke me up and I realized the safe house was under attack. I grabbed my back-up gun, which, I thankfully still had on me, since my regular issue SIG had been confiscated by the forensics people, and started toward the door to help the other agents. That’s when I got hit by a stray bullet. Then suddenly it got deadly quiet, and I realized the attackers were searching for me. I managed to climb out a window in the bedroom and got away, but since I was now in a residential neighborhood, in the suburbs of Virginia, I didn’t really know what to do.”

She took a deep breath, before she continued, her lip quivering dangerously. “God, every time I called for help today, something worse happened than what had already happened. I knew that the agents assigned to guard me were most probably dead, and I only had a single weapon and my purse with me. I immediately turned off my cell phone and removed the battery, so I couldn’t be tracked with the GPS chip inside it, and just started walking. Finally I came to the mall. Fortunately I was wearing a dark jacket, so the blood didn’t show too much. I went straight to the bathroom and used some toilet paper and paper towels to cover up the wound, and fortunately I had a small office supply kit in my purse so I was able to secure them in place with some scotch tape. Then, I stopped at the first store I came to and bought this sweater, so I could toss the bloody jacket. I used the last of my cash to purchase a pre-paid cell phone, but I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t want to contact anyone at the FBI, since it's going to be more than a little hard to explain how everywhere I go, people keep ending up dead. I ruled out calling the local LEOs, because I didn’t know how to get their help without revealing anything about the on-going investigation, or worse yet, endangering them, since the 'bad guys' seem to have eyes and ears everywhere I turn, and that’s when I thought of you. I knew you’d know what to do,” she stuttered.

Ziva looked at Courtney, a little humbled by the sheer faith the younger woman seemed to have in her. “I do not know what to do,” she admitted. “But I know who will.” Refastening her seatbelt and turning on the car, Ziva said to Courtney. “We are going to see Gibbs. If anyone can figure out what it going on, it is Gibbs,” she stated with complete confidence. She backed the car out of the parking spot and headed towards Gibbs’ house.

“Chapter Two”

When Ziva finally arrived at Gibbs’ house, she was surprised to see Tony’s car sitting in the driveway, by itself. Looking at the darkened windows, she became worried that Gibbs might not be home. Had he and Tony gone somewhere together, in Gibbs’ car? ‘Why did I not call ahead?’ she berated herself, careful not to say anything aloud, not wanting to wake Courtney, who had fallen into a fitful sleep on the drive over, if there turned out to be no reason. Scanning the house carefully, she breathed a huge sigh of relief when she saw a light coming from the basement window. Gibbs was home; he was just working on his boat. Reaching over, she gently touched Courtney. “Wake up,” she said, as gently as she could. “We are there.”

Courtney’s eyes flew open and she looked around, disoriented. When she inadvertently jarred her shoulder, she gave a little gasp, as the pain surprised her, but then the earlier events of the day came rushing back. “We’re there?” she asked, still trying to clear out all the cobwebs in her head.

“At Gibbs',” Ziva patiently reminded her. “It looks as if he is in the basement. Do you need help getting out?” she asked.

“No, I’ll be fine,” Courtney assured her, although she was glad Ziva was there. The NCIS team leader had always scared Courtney a little, even though Ziva had assured her his bark was worse than his bite. Courtney had to smile a little, actually, when she thought about that, because that hadn’t been what Ziva had said. Ziva had told Courtney that Gibbs’ meow was worse than his bite, and it had taken her a few minutes to get over the giggling fit that an image of a grumpy Gibbs meowing had caused, before she could correct Ziva’s English.

“Why are you smiling?” Ziva asked, when she got a better look at her as the overhead light in the car lit Courtney’s face when she opened the door.

“Meow,” Courtney answered, and let a giggle escape.

Ziva couldn’t help laughing also, as the memory of the past conversation returned. Plus, this was the first time all night Courtney had seemed like herself, so Ziva’s laughter was also born from relief. If Courtney could laugh, then surely she couldn’t be too badly hurt.

When they got to the door, Ziva turned the handle and opened the door.

“Aren’t you going to knock?” Courtney asked, wide eyed at the notion of walking in on Gibbs unannounced.

“There is no reason to knock. Gibbs never locks his door. I will call to him before we go downstairs, so he is not surprised,” Ziva told her, as she wove her way through the darkened living room, heading towards the kitchen, and the stairs to the basement. Courtney followed close on her heels.

As she entered the kitchen, Ziva could hear muffled voices and a laugh that could only belong to Tony coming from the basement. When she reached the open door that led down to where she knew they must be, Ziva called out, “Gibbs, it is Ziva. I am here with Courtney Kreiger, and we need to speak with you.” She did not want to startle the two men and end up with Courtney coming face to face with two drawn guns. That said, she began to descend. When she got far enough down the stairs that she could see into the basement, she was more than a little surprised by what she found. Tony sat on the workbench, dressed only in an old pair of sweatpants, his chest as bare as his feet, holding a beer bottle and looking at Ziva, equally as surprised to see her. Gibbs wore a white t-shirt and a pair of faded jeans that were zipped but not buttoned, and he too was barefooted, as he leaned against the side of his boat frame, a piece of pizza from the box sitting next to Tony held firmly in his hand. A thousand scenarios ran through her head to explain why Tony was in Gibbs’ basement, virtually naked, but she kept returning, uncomfortably, to just one. Before she could dwell on that for too long, however, Tony interrupted her thoughts.

“You know, in America it’s customary to call before visiting, Ziva,” Tony said, after he recovered from the initial shock of seeing her.

“I am aware of that, Tony,” she snapped. “But something has happened. Courtney has been wounded and is in trouble, and needs our help. She can not go to the FBI, as she does not know who to trust,” she told the two men.

Gibbs stepped over to where Tony sat, and set the piece of pizza he was holding back in the box, then turned to Courtney and ordered “Report, Special Agent Kreiger!"

Complying, Courtney took a deep breath and told Gibbs everything she had already shared with Ziva. When she mentioned the names of the agents, Gibbs and Tony exchanged a shocked look, but neither interrupted her. Then she told them about Assistant Director Glenn being shot, and his driver being killed, about the safe house being breached, and that all the other agents were probably dead, at which point, she began to shake violently, as recounting the events again caused everything to finally catch up to her. Before Gibbs could question her further, she slid to the floor, unconscious.

Gasping, Ziva rushed over to her. “She needs medical attention, Gibbs. She was shot in the shoulder as she escaped from the safe house, and although it does not appear to be very serious, it has not yet been treated,” Ziva said, as she crouched down beside the stricken young agent. “She was afraid to allow me call for paramedics, since she feels sure the FBI has been compromised, and does not know who to trust. That is why I brought her here.”

Gibbs was already reaching for his cell phone, which sat on the workbench. “I’m calling Ducky now Ziva. But we need to know more about this, before we can go any further. At the very least we need to know all the particulars of the case they were working,” he told her, as he hit speed dial for the elderly M.E.’s number.

In the meantime, Tony had grabbed a blanket and a pillow from behind one of the doors on the cabinet under the workbench, and was gently easing Courtney’s head down onto the pillow. As he covered her up, Ziva realized he’d known just where to find the items. Clearly Tony was no stranger to Gibbs’ basement. Ziva’s eyes scanned Tony’s body once again, her eyes stopping when they met Tony’s. Raising an eyebrow in silent challenge, Tony held her eyes, both aware of what Ziva had already worked out for herself. Ziva looked at him, as everything seemed to crystallize before her very eyes. Tony’s unrelenting need to please Gibbs, Gibbs’ almost hyperawareness of everything Tony did, even the origin of the heads slaps, suddenly made complete sense, and she found herself wondering how she had failed to realize this before now. They could both hear Gibbs talking to Ducky on the phone, but still they remained frozen, staring at each other from either side of Courtney’s prone body, neither one willing to be the first to look away. Finally, Tony broke the silence by asking, “You going to be okay?”

Ziva knew exactly what he was referring to, and she gave a little shrug as she said, “Why would I not be? It is no skin off my chin.”

Tony visibly relaxed as he smiled ever so slightly and said, “Nose - no skin off your nose, Ziva.”

Ziva was saved from having to retort when Gibbs said, “Ducky’s on his way.” He knelt beside Courtney to examine the wound. Carefully pulling the makeshift bandage off, he peered closely at where the bullet had caught her. It was ugly, but soft scabs were forming, and it was clear to all three of them that the bullet wasn’t in there. “Looks like she just got winged,” Gibbs said. “I think the shock and exhaustion just caught up with her. Ducky’ll be able to say for sure. Stay with Kreiger, Ziva, while Tony and I go get ready, in case we need to leave,” he directed, as he stood back up.

Ziva watched them climb the stairs, Gibbs in the lead and Tony following closely behind. Funny, that was how she always thought of them, she realized. ‘How long has this been going on?’ she wondered, as she sat beside Courtney, absentmindedly patting her arm. 'Days, weeks, months, years? Had they been together when Gibbs had retreated to Mexico? If so, Tony's efforts to hold the team together were even more impressive. What about when Tony had been undercover with Jeanne? Had Gibbs actually known about it, or had Tony kept it a secret? Did anyone else at work know about them – Jenny, Ducky, Abby, McGee? Am I the first, or the last?’ she wondered. From where she sat on the floor of Gibbs’ basement, she could hear their muted voices, distance muffling the words, as they quietly spoke to each other.

“Are you going to call Fornell, and check on Brent?” Tony asked as they headed up the stairs that led to the bedroom, knowing that Gibbs was extremely fond of the FBI agent who had once worked for him.

“I don’t think I can, not until we know more about what’s going on. If Kreiger’s right, the FBI is leaking like a sieve, and there’s no way to know who to trust,” Gibbs said, the frustration and anger he was feeling clearly evident in his voice. “Did you hear her say that Liz Templeton was on the team? I hope she’s gotten better since she was on my team,” he muttered, remembering the last case they had worked together, seven years ago, the case in which he’d met Tony.

As they got to Gibbs’ bedroom, Tony, too, was thinking back on that case so long ago, the case that brought Gibbs to Baltimore, where Tony was working as a Homicide detective. It had turned ugly, and Tony had been hurt, in more ways than one, but in the end, Gibbs had recruited him for NCIS, and for himself. They’d been together ever since, the relationship going through an inevitable series of ups and downs, given the volatile temperament of both men, but despite the turmoil, they always ended up back with each other. Tony started when he felt warm, calloused hands grip his shoulders and roughly pull him close. Automatically, he parted his lips, before Gibbs’ mouth even closed over his. It was a wet, hard kiss, and Tony let himself melt into it, contenting himself by wrapping his arms around the older man, knowing Gibbs was seeking balance, not release. That would come later, when they were alone. When Gibbs released his mouth, Tony murmured, “I’ve always been kind of grateful to Templeton. If she hadn’t fucked up so badly, maybe you wouldn’t have wanted me on your team.”

“Oh, I’d have wanted you, Tony. Don’t ever doubt that,” Gibbs said quietly.

“Yeah, well, I think Ziva’s got that all figured out now, too,” Tony said.

“That going to be a problem for you?” Gibbs asked Tony softly.

“Not for me, Boss. But I kinda thought you might be bothered by it,” Tony said, surprised that Gibbs didn’t seem to be the least bit worried about it.

“Always figured she knew; that Mossad’s background profiles would have picked it up. Guess we’ve been sneakier than I thought,” he said with a slight shrug.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Tony demanded in surprise.

“There wasn’t anything to say,” Gibbs said. “I figured if she didn’t say anything, it didn’t bother her, so it was a non-issue. Guess now we’re going to have to wait and see if I was right.”

Tony extricated himself from Gibbs’ embrace so that he could get a better look at his face. Gibbs’ expression seemed to support his words. “Aren’t you worried she’ll say something to someone? Tell Jenny?”

Gibbs snorted over Tony’s last statement. “I’m sure Jenny knows, Tony. It isn’t something that would likely slip past her. I’ve always suspected that was part of what was behind the whole Jeanne assignment.”

Tony just looked at him. “So who else do you think knows? McGee, Cynthia, Palmer? Why haven’t you ever mentioned any of this to me?”

“Because it isn’t anyone else’s business, Tony. It doesn’t effect how we do the job, and it doesn’t effect how we conduct our private life. This is between me and you, no one else gets a say,” Gibbs said forcefully. “Does this feel any different, now that you know Ziva knows?” Gibbs asked, as he reached over and grabbed Tony, pulling him in for another hard kiss, which he dragged out as long as he could, until the need for air effectively ended the kiss for him. When he was done, he pushed away and looked at Tony. “Well?” he demanded, although he began to relax a bit, when Tony met his glare with a saucy smirk.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you do that again, and I’ll get back to you with an answer?” Tony suggested.

“Oh, I’d like to, but it’s gonna have to wait. Get dressed. Ducky will be here shortly, and maybe we can get to the bottom of this mess. Something tells me there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and Kreiger has information we’re gonna need,” Gibbs asserted, forcing himself to turn away from Tony, and go in search of clothing.

Tony crossed to the side of the bed and picked up the jeans, t-shirt and undergarments he’d carelessly tossed there earlier in the night, and began to put them on. With each new article, his mind focused more clearly on the problem at hand. “It takes a lot of balls to attack an Assistant Director, Boss. Whoever these people are, they’re ruthless.”

Gibbs had been having similar thoughts. “Yeah, and desperate,” he added. “The attack on Glenn’s car was out in the open, where people could see them, so they must have thought Kreiger had either seen something, or knew something, that warranted that kind of risk. I hope she knows what it is. She’s still plenty green,” he observed, as he continued to dress.

When they were both dressed and armed, they headed back to the basement, where they found Ziva looking worried, as she sat on the ground beside Courtney. “Should she not be waking up?” Ziva asked.

“She’s in shock, Ziva,” Tony said. “Let her be until Ducky gets here. There isn’t anything we can do for her right now, and the sleep will do her good. I’ve got a feeling the night is just beginning, and Courtney’s going to need all the strength she can find.”

“When will Ducky be here?” Ziva asked.

“Soon,” Gibbs answered. “Did Kreiger tell you anything about the case they were working, Ziva?” he asked.

“No, and she was so frightened and seemed to be in so much pain that I did not want to push her until I had to,” Ziva responded, although she, too, wished she knew more about what was going on.

“Well, it’ll just have to wait,” Gibbs said, then reached for his gun when he heard voices coming from upstairs. He relaxed again, when he recognized one of them.

“Right this way, my dear,” he heard the unmistakable voice of his old friend and colleague say to someone. “Watch your footing as you go down. The stairs are rather narrow.” Gibbs could see two sets of feet appear, one set clad in sensible oxblood colored wingtips, and the other, much smaller set, in navy blue heels. He watched as legs were also revealed, two in grey flannel pants, the others encased in nylons. Finally, they got far enough down the stairs for Gibbs to see who Ducky’s companion was – Dr. Jordan Hampton, another medical examiner they had met on an earlier case, the same one where they met Special Agent Kreiger.

“Jethro,” Ducky said, as he hurried over to Courtney, his eyes having already swept the basement and noted the fallen woman on the floor. “I got here as soon as I could. You remember Dr. Hampton, I’m sure,” his concern for the agent making his introduction somewhat abbreviated, and less formal than was his wont. “Jordan is spending the weekend with me, and I didn’t think I dared leave her alone with Mother. Plus, I wasn’t certain what I would be walking into, and determined another set of skilled hands might be needed.”

When Ducky paused to lift the dressing off of Courtney’s shoulder, Gibbs couldn’t help but think that this was certainly the night for revelations, as he looked over at the shapely woman who had accompanied Ducky into basement, and nodded a hello.

“What’s happened here, and why haven’t you called for paramedics? When we spoke over the phone you told me someone was ill, and required discreet care. This is a gunshot wound,” Ducky announced, as he studied Courtney’s shoulder.

“It’s complicated,” Gibbs said, in lieu of a more detailed answer.

“It often is with you,” Ducky rejoined. “Isn’t this young woman with the FBI?” he asked, as he looked more closely at Courtney’s face.

“Yes,” Ziva answered, from her place next to Ducky.

“I thought I recognized her,” Ducky nodded. “Why aren’t her own people caring for her?” he wanted to know, as he opened the medical bag he’d carried in with him, and began to pull out supplies.

“There’ve been three ambushes on FBI personnel today, Ducky. Agent Kreiger was at each one of them. We have reason to believe someone is after her, and that there’s a leak in the Bureau. I need her conscious, so I can get more information,” Gibbs told him.

“Well, that will have to wait until after I’ve cleaned and dressed this wound. It isn’t very deep; the bullet did little more than graze her. But that is enough to be quite painful, and without proper cleaning and antibiotic creams, the wound could become infected. Plus, I can tell from her heart rate and the feel of her skin that she’s in shock. Ziva, dear, could you move aside and allow Dr. Hampton to take your place? I could use the help, and she’s a bit more qualified than you,” he said kindly, as he watched Ziva reluctantly remove her hand from the arm she’d been touching.

“Of course, Ducky,” Ziva said, as she fluidly rose to her feet, to make room for the other woman.

All three NCIS agents stood and watched as Ducky and his lady friend became engrossed in caring for Courtney. At one point Tony was dispatched to fetch a wash cloth, soap and a bowl of warm water, but other than that, they were largely ignored by the pair of doctors. Courtney woke up during all this, and Ducky had soothed her, making introductions and assuring her that she was safe and would soon be well. Too tired to argue, Courtney had settled down and allowed herself to be treated after glancing around to be sure Ziva was still present. Finally, satisfied with his results, Ducky stood up. “She needs to be in a bed and sleeping,” he informed Gibbs.

“Soon Ducky,” Gibbs promised. “But first we need to know everything she can tell us about the operation the FBI was running. Brent Langer was shot and seriously wounded in all this, and I can’t just let it go, without knowing what’s going on. If the FBI’s been compromised for some reason, I need to know this isn’t something that could effect NCIS, and it doesn’t sound like I can just call Fornell and ask. So she’s got to hang together long enough for me to talk to her,” Gibbs said.

“It’s okay, Dr. Mallard,” Courtney called weakly from the floor. “Agent Gibbs is right. Something bad is happening, and it’s got to be tied to the case we were working on. I need to tell him about it.”

“Very well, but try to keep it short,” Ducky said, pinning Gibbs with his eyes.

“It all started about two months ago, we think,” Courtney began. “For the past week we’ve been investigating the apparent disappearance of several highly placed business executives, all of whom work for one of the Fortune 100 companies. The men and women vanish, usually for a period of about one to two weeks, and then suddenly re-appear, with no explanation provided to their co-workers, or law enforcement. They were never reported missing by their families, and when they re-appear, they are in good health, with no obvious injuries or ill-effects of their time away.

We only became aware of their disappearances because the newly hired personal assistant of the latest woman to vanish was previously employed by the FBI. When her boss, a Melissa Carter, failed to show up for work one morning, and she couldn’t locate her via cell or home phone, she took it upon herself to notify the woman's superior, who assured her there was no problem, her boss was simply attending a highly confidential meeting, and would be unavailable for an indeterminate period of time. The assistant was ordered to reschedule all of her boss' appointments, and to discuss her absence with no one. If asked, she was to say her boss was on vacation at an exclusive spa, and would return soon.

The personal assistant, a woman named Sarah Bruce, was used to maintaining confidentiality, but none of this was adding up for her, and so she ran a check on her boss' credit cards, and cell phone usage. There was nothing after the day she left work and disappeared. As time went by and she didn’t hear from her boss, she becomes more and more concerned. Then one day, she was in the break room and accidently overheard the company CEO and CFO in the next room, having an argument about a ransom demand, and how it was to be handled. That made her contact a friend from her FBI days, Julia Barrett. Julia is the personal assistant to Assistant Director Luke Glenn. Julia went to Director Glenn and told him what her friend overheard, and he handed the initial investigation over to Agent Fornell, since he’s the Supervisory Field Agent for all the teams in the D.C. area. Fornell in turn assigned it to his top Team Leader, Ed Morgan, and that’s how I got involved, since I’m Morgan’s rookie.

We had to be covert, since no one reported the crime, nor had they asked for assistance in re-acquiring their executive. We put in place wire-taps, cameras, etc. and set up a monitoring post in an adjacent building. That’s when our computer expert, Victor Merit, picked up some scary information. Turns out, other CEOs have suffered the same loss, but they got their executives back after a payment of $5 million dollars was wired to an off-short account. That’s when we slowly began to realize that the syndicate behind these crimes is very well organized, very careful, and totally ruthless.

As far as we can tell, only one executive wasn’t returned, and he was found beaten to death. It turns out his CEO, who happened to be an Israeli national, refused to negotiate or pay the kidnappers. Non-negotiation with terrorists, or in this case, criminals, was so ingrained in his psyche that he couldn’t accede to the demands. It led to the death of his employee, and we suspect he is out for vengeance, although we don’t know how much trouble he’s going to be yet.

The LEOs investigating the murder had no idea the man had been kidnapped, and were treating the crime as a random robbery turned homicide. Since they didn’t have all the facts, they were at a distinct disadvantage, and the case went cold. No one made the connection between the man's death and the kidnapping syndicate until we picked up a conversation over our wiretap between the two CEOs.

So, that’s where we were. The woman has been missing for a week and a half, and we’ve been running the surveillance for five days now. I don’t have any idea how someone knew what we were up to. We’ve been very careful to cover our tracks, and no one in the area seemed at all suspicious.” Courtney had to stop at that point. Her voice had been getting weaker and weaker as she talked, and it was clear that only a strong sense of duty, and an iron will, had enabled her to get that much out.

“Why hasn’t her family reported her missing?” Tony asked.

“She doesn’t have any children,” Courtney informed him, “and her husband is a Marine Corps officer, who’s deployed overseas right now. Mrs. Carter’s boss ordered the assistant, Sarah Bruce, to tell the husband the same story about the confidential meeting when he called, so as far as he’s concerned, there isn’t anything wrong.”

“God damn it!” Gibbs swore when he heard that, causing Courtney to flinch. A soldier had been deliberately lied to, and the FBI hadn’t notified NCIS about a kidnapping case with a direct tie to the Marine Corps. Well, he knew now, and Mrs. Carter’s husband being an officer in the Corps made this as much NCIS’s jurisdiction as the FBI’s. Fornell had some explaining to do, and Gibbs intended to force him to do it. But first, they had to get Kreiger somewhere safe. She was their only link to the FBI’s investigation, and the day’s earlier events, and it was quite clear that the FBI wasn’t going to be able to adequately protect her. He needed more information, like the names of the other kidnapping victims, but he also realized she was on her last nerve. Courtney wasn’t going be any good for anyone if he pushed her to the breaking point right now. They could get more details from her once she was in a secure location, and had gotten a little sleep.

“Ducky, can you take Agent Kreiger to your home in Reston so that she can safely get some rest?" he asked his friend. "Ziva will go with her to provide protection, although she shouldn’t need it. There isn’t any way anyone could guess she’s with you.”

Ducky, who had been stunned by the story, hurriedly agreed. “Of course, Jethro. I’ll make a couple of calls and get someone to keep Mother entertained, and then pack this young lady off to bed. What are you intending to do?”

“DiNozzo and I are going to have a little chat with Director Shepard. Since the missing woman’s husband is a Marine, we have as much right to investigate as anyone else. Then, Tobias and I are going to have a little talk,” he promised, his voice menacing, and Ducky was glad he wouldn’t be on the receiving end of that ‘conversation.’ “I’m going to need more details from Agent Kreiger later, but it can wait until morning, after she’s gotten some rest,” Gibbs said.

“That’s for the best,” Ducky agreed, “I think she cannot take much more tonight.”

“Let’s move out people,” Gibbs said, as he looked around the room.

Courtney was gently helped up by Tony, and tucked into Ducky’s car. Arrangements were made for Ziva to follow along behind in her own car, watching closely for anything that looked like a tail. A slightly shell shocked Dr. Hampton got into the car beside Ducky, not really knowing what to make of all that she’d heard, but vowing not to breath a word of it to anyone. Once everyone else had been dispatched, Tony and Gibbs headed for Tony’s car, intending to pay Director Shepard a late night visit.

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