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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

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

Chapters three and four

“A Friend In Need” - Chapter Three

Jenny Shepard was in the kitchen, making herself a cup of tea, having given up on trying to go to sleep. Sleep had always had a way of eluding her, even when she was younger, as there always seemed to be so many more interesting things she could be doing with the time. But lately, when her body was literally pleading for the rest that sleep would provide, her brain refused to listen. So, night after night, Jenny found herself roaming the large empty house she’d inherited from her father, playing back everything that had happened in her life, and wondering how she had ended up so alone. She had just settled down at the kitchen table, her hands wrapped around the warm cup, letting the heat from the tea seep into her tired limbs, when she heard a car screech to a stop out front. Glancing up at the wall clock hung over her sink, she saw that it was almost one in the morning. ‘Who could possibly be dropping in at this hour, on a Friday night?’ she wondered, as she stood and walked out into the hallway that led to the front foyer. Peering out of the window next to the large oak door, she was more than a little surprised to see Gibbs and DiNozzo approaching the house. Not bothering to wait until they had rung the bell, she took a second to steady herself, letting her invisible Madame Director cloak fall in place, then opened the door to greet them.

“This had better be good,” she said as they came to an abrupt halt, surprised by the open door.

Recovering almost instantly, Gibbs said, “We need to talk.”

“And it couldn’t have waited until morning?” Jenny asked, wondering why she was never able to resist digging at Gibbs.

“I wouldn’t be here if it could, Jenny,” Gibbs answered, a bit of annoyance creeping into his voice.

“Well come in, then,” she said, stepping aside to let the two men in. “Tony,” she acknowledged the younger man, as he passed.

“Director,” he said. There had been an unacknowledged tension between the two of them ever since the whole debacle with La Grenouille, and Jenny was well aware of the fact that Tony no longer completely trusted her, although she couldn’t seem to work up much concern about it. 'Tony can always find support from someone else,' she thought snidely. He didn’t seem to need, or want, her approval.

“The FBI’s been holding out on us,” Gibbs told her.

“That’s what brings you over here in the middle of the night, Jethro? To tell me that? The FBI is always holding out on us,” she snapped.

Gibbs glared at her, but didn’t comment on her sarcasm. Instead, he continued speaking as if she hadn’t interrupted him. “They’ve been investigating the disappearance of a Marine officer’s wife, which is supposedly linked to a series of kidnappings of high ranking executives in various Fortune 100 companies.”

“I hadn’t heard a word about this woman going missing,” Jenny exclaimed.

“That’s just it,” Gibbs said. “No one hears about the kidnappings. The companies have been paying off the ransoms, and the people have been released, unharmed, and no one has said a thing. It was just a fluke that the FBI learned about the latest kidnapping of the military wife.”

“I heard through the grapevine that they had some kind of mission blow up in their faces today, but no one has any details yet. They’ve drawn a veil of silence around themselves. Is this investigation tied to that?” Jenny wanted to know.

“Oh yeah, they lost a bunch of agents today, and several more were seriously hurt, including Brent Langer,” Gibbs answered in a taut voice.

Jenny winced. She was well aware of how close Gibbs and Langer had once been. He’d been on Gibbs’ team for quite some time, and she knew that Gibbs had a great deal of respect for him. She also knew that even if an agent was no longer with Gibbs, a part of Gibbs still felt an ingrained sense of responsibility towards that person. That trait was one of the things that made him a good team leader. It was also one of the things that could make being on his team so suffocating, as Jenny well knew from personal experience. If Langer had been injured, and there was even a tenuous tie to the Marines, Gibbs was never going to let this go. If FBI agents had been killed, and an operation blown, Fornell and their Director were not going to want NCIS involved. No matter how she looked at it, Jenny knew this was a going to be a mess, and she sighed, weariness almost overwhelming her. “Let’s go into the study, and you can tell me how you know all this,” Jenny suggested, when she realized they were still standing, crowded together, in the foyer.

Tony and Gibbs followed her down the hall and into a large room, filled with books. Ignoring the more casual seating area in the center of the room, Jenny headed for the large antique desk that took up a sizable portion of one of the side walls, wanting the sense of authority the desk always gave her. Sliding into the leather chair behind the desk, she indicated that Tony and Gibbs should take a seat in the upholstered chairs placed in front of the desk. Placing her cup of tea down on the desk top, she looked up at Gibbs, who had remained standing, waiting for him to continue filling her in. Gibbs didn’t need any further prompting. He immediately launched into a report on the information he’d learned from Courtney, once again impressing Tony with the flawless accuracy of his recall. When he was done, Jenny asked, “So, Agent Kreiger is with Ducky and Ziva right now?”

“Yeah, didn’t know what else to do with her,” Gibbs answered.

“The Bureau must be tearing out their hair, trying to find her, Jethro,” Jenny reprimanded.

“Well, they didn’t do a very good job of protecting her when they had her,” he said defensively.

“Even so, she’s one of their own,” Jenny pointed out. “You’re going to have to tell Fornell that you have her. You can’t let them waste resources looking for someone who isn’t really lost.”

“I’m not about to give her back right now,” Gibbs glared at her. “If they don’t know how information is getting out, they can’t guarantee her safety. We can, and besides, at the moment she’s my only source of information,” he said stubbornly.

“I never said you had to give her back. I just said you needed to let Fornell know she is safe, Jethro. Besides, that should give you a reason to talk to Fornell about the investigation, don’t you think?” she asked archly.

“I don’t need an excuse to talk to Tobias,” Gibbs grunted. “A Marine wife is missing, and from what I can tell, they aren’t making much progress in finding her. We’re not going to have that problem,” he declared forcefully. “This could get ugly - politically,” he said to her. “Are you going to back me on this, Jen?” he asked, knowing that one of her main jobs was to be the mediator for NCIS in its interactions with the other intelligence agencies.

“I’ve always got your back, Jethro. You know that,” Jenny said to him, thinking about all the times she’d had to run interference for him since she’d become the Director. Even as she spoke, she had been preparing her arguments for the jurisdictional war she would have with her counterpart at the Bureau, and she couldn’t help wondering which of them was really the boss. “I can’t guarantee that the SecNav isn’t going to force us to let the FBI have the lead on this, though. If they had as many casualties as Agent Kreiger thinks they did, they’ve got a pretty strong claim.”

“But they’ve got a major leak,” Gibbs objected.

Jenny held up her hands in mock surrender. “I know that, and that’s going to be my argument. I’m just saying, we may not win this one, especially with a wounded Assistant Director. My advice to you would be to move fast on this, while the Bureau’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. Who knows, if you play it right, you and Fornell might be able to work something out.”

Gibbs didn’t answer her, he just snorted. “Let’s go, DiNozzo,” he said to Tony, who’d sat silently in one of the chairs, listening to the exchange between the Director and Gibbs.

“Where are you going now Jethro?” Jenny asked, as Tony rose to follow Gibbs.

“To find Tobias,” Gibbs said, as he turned to leave, his tone implying that the answer should have been obvious.

“Where to?” Tony asked, as they walked out to the car.

“Bethesda,” Gibbs answered as he slid into the passenger seat, his cell phone out and in his hand.

“Who’re you calling?” Tony asked as he slipped the car into gear and watched Gibbs punch in a number on speed dial.

“McGee. I want him at headquarters by 0700, running a search on Melissa Carter. I want to know everything there is to know about the woman, before we talk to Kreiger again. I also want him to track down the name of the exec who got killed, and run him through the system,” Gibbs answered, as he listened to the phone ring.

“Yeah?” Gibbs heard a sleepy voice answer.

“McGee,” he barked into the phone.

McGee immediately sat bolt upright in his bed, giving a textbook example of a Pavlovian response. “Boss?” he asked. “Is everyone okay?” he asked, thinking the only reason Gibbs would be calling him in the middle of the night, when they weren’t on call, was if something bad had happened to someone on the team.

“Relax McGee, everyone’s fine. But the weekend off is cancelled. I need you in at 0700,” Gibbs ordered.

“What’s going on?” McGee asked, wishing he was more surprised that the long anticipated time off wasn’t going to materialize.

“Corporate kidnapping, botched FBI investigation, long story. I’ll brief you first thing in the morning,” Gibbs grunted, as he disconnected the phone.

“Way to leave him dangling,” Tony commented, as Gibbs slid the phone back into his pocket. “Bet you twenty the probie’s on the internet right now, looking for some clue as to what’s going on.”

Gibbs smirked at Tony and said, “No bet.”

“So, you think Fornell’s gonna still be at the hospital?” Tony asked.

“Probably, at least he will be if his agents are hanging in there,” Gibbs said, his face going serious again, as he thought about Langer and his teammates. “He’s going to need to try and get their statements, plus he’d be there for the families. He may be a sneaky bastard, but he really cares about his people,” Gibbs observed.

“Think you just described yourself, Boss,” Tony said, as he was reminded once again of how similar Gibbs and Fornell could be. The main difference was, that when push came to shove, Fornell was a company man, and that was something Gibbs could never be. That didn’t mean Gibbs wasn’t loyal to NCIS, he was. Gibbs was loyal to everything he committed to, but he wasn’t willing to blindly follow protocol that he either disagreed with, or that got in the way of his solving a case. He wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, and that was something Fornell tried to avoid. ‘This ought to be interesting,’ he said to himself, as he thought about the impending confrontation.

When they got to the hospital, Gibbs headed directly for the information desk, where he flashed his badge and demanded an update on Brent Langer’s condition. The flustered security guard, some baby faced Marine, probably in his first year of service, called up the name on his computer and managed to stammer out that Langer was up on the Intensive Care floor, but that no further information was available. Tony could still hear him calling out information on visiting hours and rules and regulations, as the doors to the elevator closed, and Gibbs pushed the button for the correct floor. Gibbs didn’t need instructions on how to find the floor, or edification on the rules; he’d been to Bethesda’s Intensive Care Unit far too many times over the years, he thought, as he worked to compose himself. It wouldn’t do for him to be too distracted by Langer’s condition when he dealt with Tobias, not if he wanted to make sure he got his way. Fornell wasn’t above using a perceived weakness to his own advantage, and Gibbs knew he’d be scrambling. Things had gone to hell today for the FBI man, and he’d be in full damage control mode. Gibbs was just going to have to count on Tobias’ innate need for justice to work in his favor.

When they reached the third floor, Gibbs headed straight for the visitor’s lounge, where, as he suspected, Tobias Fornell sat slumped in a chair, staring blindly at the wall in front of him, his coat thrown carelessly on the chair next to him, tie loosened, and his shirt sleeves rolled up. He looked like he was on his last leg. Two other agents sat dozing in nearby chairs. Having heard Gibbs’ and Tony’s approach, he looked up, his face strained with worry and fatigue. “Jethro, I expected you earlier. What kept you?” he asked.

“I had a few loose ends I had to attend to first,” Gibbs answered, giving nothing away. “How’s Langer doing?” he asked then.

“Holding his own. He caught one high on his chest, which thankfully missed his heart. Upon entry it shattered his clavicle, and the shrapnel from the shattered bone perforated his left lung. He must have slammed his head on something on the way down, because they’re also treating him for a head injury. He’s out of surgery, but hasn’t regained consciousness yet. The doctors say it’ll be several hours. They expect him to make it, though,” Fornell told Gibbs.

“Your other people?” Gibbs asked, breathing more easily now that he knew Brent would pull through.

“Victor Merit, one of our surveillance and computer crimes experts, was in the room with Langer, and he took a bullet to the left shoulder. He’s going to be fine - in time, but not everyone was that lucky. We lost five people in all, and Assistant Director Glenn is also in Intensive Care, having been hit in the back twice, and they aren’t sure he’s going to live. Then, to top it all off, we think the perps took one of our people, because we’re missing a rookie, whose blood was found at the safe house that got hit. All in all, this was probably my worst day in all the years I’ve been with the Bureau,” Fornell said, rubbing at his tired eyes. He hadn’t bothered to elaborate on the details of the events, figuring that if Gibbs was there, he knew all about what had gone down.

Tony snuck a covert glance at Gibbs when Fornell mentioned the missing agent, wondering how Gibbs was going to play this. Would he immediately tell Fornell that Courtney was with them, or would he save it, for later? Gibbs face didn’t give anything away, as he listened to Fornell. Tony hadn’t been able to see even the slightest twitch. “You’ve lost men before, Tobias,” Gibbs said, and although you wouldn’t describe his voice as gentle, it was infused with understanding.

“Yeah, but always when they knew the risks going into the operation. Never because someone le….” his words abruptly cut off. Gibbs might know what had happened today, but he would have no way of knowing what the investigation was about, or that today’s events were probably due to a leak within the Bureau itself.

“I know all about your leak, Tobias,” Gibbs said, “and I’ve been wondering when you were going to tell me you were investigating the disappearance of a Marine officer’s wife.”

“How in the hell do …..” Fornell stopped and squinted at Gibbs. Then, as realization came crashing down on him, he hissed, “You’ve got Kreiger, don’t you? Jesus Fucking Christ, Gibbs! I had a team of agents combing that neighborhood for hours. Agents who could have been doing something else,” he glared at Gibbs. His voice had slowly risen as he’d spoke, and by the end he was loud enough to wake the two sleeping agents, who had leapt to their feet, when they heard their boss raise his voice. Tony had instinctively taken a step towards them, ready to defend Gibbs if it looked like they were going to take action.

Gibbs saw all of this happen out of the corner of his eye, as he unblinkingly returned Fornell’s outraged stare. “Let’s take a walk,” he said to Fornell, as he nodded towards his men. “I could use some coffee.”

“Fine,” Fornell managed to choke out through clenched teeth.

“Stay here,” Gibbs said to Tony, and cut his eyes towards the FBI agents, knowing Tony would correctly guess that he wanted him to keep an eye on the men, insuring that his conversation with Fornell would not be overheard by snooping ears. Tony nodded, indicating that he understood, and watched as Gibbs led the way out of the room.

Gibbs headed immediately towards the Doctors' Lounge, a haven for quiet thinking and good coffee that he’d discovered during the long nights he’d spent at Bethesda while Tony was recuperating from the plague. Doctors were rarely in there, since, like all hospitals, Bethesda was understaffed, and the physicians had practically no down time. This was particularly true late at night, when only one or two residents were left on call per floor. As they walked, Gibbs said, “I only heard the whole story about an hour or so ago, Toby. Long after you would have pulled your agents back.” He didn’t want to start their discussion with that hanging between them.

As Gibbs led the way into the room, and immediately crossed to the eternally brewing coffee, pouring out a cup for himself and Fornell into two of the Styrofoam cups sitting beside the industrial sized percolator, Fornell asked, “How’d you end up with Kreiger, and is she okay?”

“Ziva,” Gibbs answered. “Kreiger got away after getting winged in the safe house and made it to a local mall. She called Ziva for help, and Ziva eventually brought her over to my house. She’s going to be okay. Ducky patched her up, and she finally managed to tell us what happened. I don’t have all the particulars, ‘cause she wasn’t in good enough shape to get them all, but I intend to in the morning, after she’s gotten some sleep,” he said, as he handed a cup to Fornell, and nodded towards two chairs tucked in the corner, away from the door.

“Christ, what a mess,” Fornell said, after he took a sip of the coffee.

“What’s going on, Tobias? How’d this get so out of control?”

“I wish I knew. These guys are pros. We’d never have gotten wind of this if it hadn’t been for one of the vic’s personal assistants. Did Kreiger fill you in on that?” Fornell asked.

“Yeah, I got most of the basics, just no details,” Gibbs said.

“It’s like they know exactly what to do to avoid detection, and I don’t have any idea how they found out about the surveillance team. That’s why we’re so sure they must have inside information on what we’ve been doing,” Fornell said, shaking his head. “I’m going to need Kreiger back, tomorrow,” he added as an after thought. “Maybe she can shed some light on all this.”

“You aren’t going to be able to keep her safe, Toby. They hit one of your safe houses, looking for the girl. Let me keep her; they won’t think to look for her where I’ve got her. You can be there in the morning, when I talk to her, but I don’t want anyone else from the Bureau to know where she's stashed. If you can’t trust your own people, I’m sure as hell not going to.”

“It’s not your case, Jethro,” Fornell said, shaking his head.

“It is now. Melissa Carter is the wife of a Marine officer. That makes it an NCIS case,” Gibbs said stubbornly.

“We’ve got hours of manpower poured into this already,” Fornell objected, “and now, four of my agents have paid for it with their lives. I’m not going to let this go.”

“Did you get anything from any of the crime scenes?” Gibbs asked, wanting to move away from the sore subject for the moment, knowing they would have to revisit it soon enough.

“Not a damned thing. They even policed their rounds. They pulverized the equipment and and took the hard drives from the computers at the surveillance site. Forensics say there’s no way they’ll be able to retrieve any of the material. Fortunately, a lot of it was on direct feed back to Headquarters, so we’ve got a permanent record of what our people recorded over the last several days. They took every piece of paperwork that was in the room, and we’re still trying to piece together what information that provided them. We don’t know how they got into the building yet, but the tech people did determine that they had loosed some kind of bug into the building's computerized internal security system that disabled all of the building's internal and external cameras for a period of one half hour. So, even if we knew what we were looking for, we won’t have any pictures of them, coming or going.” Fornell slammed his fist on the table. “It’s like they’re fucking ghosts.”

“That’s why Kreiger’s better off with me,” Gibbs said, seeing his opening. “She must have seen something Tobias. The attack with the Hummer seems out of character for this group, so they have to be afraid of her for some reason. If that’s true, and you really do have a leak, there isn’t anywhere you could put her that would keep her safe. You have to know that,” Gibbs pushed.

Fornell sighed. He knew Gibbs was right – he usually was. The problem was, he didn’t know how he could explain that to his boss. The Director wasn’t going to want NCIS interfering in the case, not after Glenn got shot. By tomorrow that would be all over the papers, and the push for a rapid and public resolution would be on.

Gibbs could tell that Fornell was weakening. Now was the time to push harder. “Let me keep the girl, Tobias. Don’t tell anyone I have her. Let them believe that you think the perps got her. I’ll investigate any leads she can give us, and your team can keep going with what you already have. That way, no one will pay too much attention to what NCIS is up to. You and I will keep each other briefed on everything the other is doing, but no one else at the Bureau has to know. When it’s all said and done, I don’t care if the FBI takes all the credit, I just want to get Melissa Carter back, and get the bastards that did this, before they take someone else.”

Fornell knew Gibbs was being more than fair. He really did have a right to investigate the case, along with the FBI. Melissa Carter ensured that. His willingness to stay under the radar was over and above. It also gave Fornell some hope. Maybe if no one knew what Gibbs and his team were up to, they’d actually have a chance of sneaking up on the syndicate, without them scrambling away before he could get a real handle on them. “If you turn up the break that leads us to them, the FBI’s in on the bust?” he asked.

“Only you, and anyone else you can be completely sure is clean,” Gibbs stipulated, “and you get the credit,” he added to sweeten the deal, knowing he wasn’t going to share that part of his bargain with Jenny.

“Deal,” Fornell said.

“A Friend in Need” – Chapter Four

When Gibbs and Fornell had finished their coffee they went back to the waiting room, where they found Tony and the two FBI agents sitting, quietly discussing the prospects of their favorite football teams. Tony had worked hard to break the tension in the room when the older men had left, remembering how scared and angry he’d been when Kate had been killed, and knowing these men must be feeling similarly. He had sought a topic that would take their minds off the events of the day, if only for a short while. All discussion halted, however, when the two higher ranking agents walked in. Tony looked over at Fornell, and immediately noticed the more relaxed posture of the older FBI agent. ‘He and Gibbs must have worked something out,’ Tony thought to himself.

“Any word?” Fornell asked his agents, as he settled back down into a chair.

“No Sir,” one of the men answered.

Fornell just sighed. Gibbs sat down beside Fornell, prepared to spend some time waiting to hear how Langer and Glenn were doing, since there was little any of them could do until morning. Looking over at Tony, he saw how tired the younger man looked. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep, DiNozzo? We might as well stay here until the doctors have an update on Langer’s condition. We have to be back at the Naval Yard in just a couple of hours, anyway.”

Tony looked at Gibbs, knowing he was as tired as he was; but that he wouldn’t allow himself sleep until he knew how Langer was doing. Fornell could obviously use the silent support of his presence, as well. There wasn’t anything he could do to relieve Gibbs’ exhaustion, but he could make sure that Gibbs kept his strength up. “I’ve got a better idea. How about I go and get everyone something to eat, something that hasn’t come from a vending machine? There are a couple of all night places right around here.”

His suggestion elicited a variety of responses. The two younger agents looked at him in surprise, with just a touch of relief shining through, which told Tony they had probably not eaten in hours. Fornell nodded in gratitude. But the expression that mattered the most to Tony was the pride on Gibbs’ face. “Sounds good,” was all Gibbs said, but it was enough for Tony. Feeling revived, as if he’d just had a short power nap, Tony headed for the door.

“Back in a bit,” he said, as he headed down the hallway to the elevator.

Once Tony was gone, time dragged as they sat in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts. Finally, voices in the hall cut through their private ruminations, and they all turned towards the door, to see who was approaching. A trim, middle aged man, his dark hair just beginning to show some grey at the temples, stepped into the room. He was neatly dressed in an elegant grey suit, which, despite its impeccable tailoring, did nothing to compliment his olive tinged, Mediterranean skin, and the dark circles under his eyes suggested that this had been a long, hard day for him. On his heels were two other people, a man and a woman, both dressed in conservative suits, both as bedraggled as the man who proceeded them into the room. The woman’s blonde hair was pulled back in a tight bun, although large clumps of stray hair had escaped from its tight embrace and been swept behind her ears. She seemed to be in her mid thirties, and there was a tight, pinched quality to her mouth that gave her a slightly surly appearance. Any makeup that had once been on her face, had long since melted away, and she seemed pale and tense. The man, who could well have been approaching fifty, judging from his craggy face, rather than his lean muscular body, looked at the others in the room with sharp eyes that took in every detail in one sweeping glance. His face showed surprise when he saw Gibbs, but it was Fornell that he focused on.

Gibbs and Fornell stood up as the group entered. Gibbs knew each of the three people, to varying degrees, although it had been a long time since he’d seen them. The elegantly dressed man hurried over to Fornell. “Tobias,” he greeted the senior agent. “Any word on Director Glenn and the other men?”

“Nothing new, Richard,” Fornell said. “Captain DeAngelo, do you know Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, from NCIS?”

“Gibbs,” DeAngelo said, extending his hand, “it’s been a long time.”

“It sure has,” Gibbs said, as he shook the proffered hand. Captain Richard DeAngelo had the dubious honor of being D.C. Metro’s FBI liaison. For the past the past five years his job had required him to straddle the fence between looking at the world like the cop he had been for all of his adult life, and trying to see the bigger picture of joint investigations with a federal agency, which was charged with protecting the entire country. It was a very difficult juggling act, and someone was always angry with him; be it his fellow Metro cops, or whichever FBI division he was supposed to be supporting at that given moment. Gibbs didn’t envy him his position, but as far as he could tell, DeAngelo had always seemed to handle the pressures with grace and dignity. “How have you been, Captain?” he asked.

“Can’t really complain, although this has been one hell of a day,” DeAngelo said, shaking his head in disgust. He’d spent most of the afternoon trying to calm the Police Commissioner down, since he was irate over the Bureau’s refusal to share any real information with Metro. He’d also spent a couple of frustrating hours with Fornell, trying unsuccessfully to get the Supervisory Agent to share a few more basic facts about the on-going investigation that had led to the deaths of five FBI agents, and the wounding of three others. Not to mention the apparent disappearance of a rookie who had been in protective custody. 'One hell of a day' didn't even begin to cover his feelings on today's events, beyond it being completely FUBAR. In short, he’d spent the day like almost every other, on a tight rope, creeping from platform to platform, precariously balancing in the middle, the only difference was that today the distance to the ground seemed so much farther away.

While Gibbs had been greeting DeAngelo, the craggy faced man had moved over to talk to Fornell. “So, I heard you say there wasn’t anything new yet,” he said wearily.

“Nothing yet, Ed,” Fornell confirmed kindly. The man he was speaking to was Edward Morgan, the leader of the five person team that had been assigned to conduct the surveillance; Brent Langer and Victor Merit were on his team, as was the woman standing just inside the door, Liz Templeton. Fornell had known Morgan for years. As a matter of fact, Morgan had been assigned to his team when he was just a rookie, and Fornell had trained him. There probably wasn’t anyone in the entire Bureau that Fornell trusted and respected more, and it made him sick that this had happened to Morgan’s team.

When Gibbs and DeAngelo ran out of things to say, which happened fairly quickly as they didn’t know each other very well, Gibbs looked over at the woman standing by the door. “Hello Liz,” he said, acknowledging the younger woman. He hadn’t seen Templeton in almost seven years, and he couldn’t help notice that time had not treated her well. When last he saw her, there had been a kind of patrician beauty to the younger woman, but age had hollowed her face, and what once had been a showcase for high, classic cheekbones, now looked gaunt. There were creases around her mouth and eyes, that suggested she still wore a scowl more often than a smile, and he couldn’t help thinking that he was glad she was no longer on his team. ‘But this had been a horrible day for her,’ he told himself, and he silently vowed to give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps what he was seeing was merely a byproduct of fatigue and sorrow.

Liz returned Gibbs’ greeting, but couldn’t think of anything else to say to the man. They had not parted on good terms, and she had never stopped resenting him. At first she had been startled to see Gibbs there, but then she had remembered that once Brent had joked with Courtney about the improbability of three FBI agents working on the same team, all who had worked with Gibbs and lived to tell the tale. Brent had talked about Gibbs a few other times as well, and she was well aware that his working relationship with the NCIS team leader had been very different than her own. Despite the jokes Langer had made, she could tell that he held Gibbs in high esteem. Gibbs had always been loyal to his agents, past and present; that she knew. She was pretty sure, however, if she had been the one injured that Gibbs wouldn’t be at the hospital inquiring about her welfare. She was just about to force herself to say something more to Gibbs when she heard someone else coming in the room, and caught the tantalizing aroma of food. Turning around, she found herself face to face with Tony DiNozzo.

He stood in the door, clutching two bags of food and balancing a tray laden with cups of coffee, blocked from entering further by Liz. When Liz turned to look at him in surprise, he gave a small smile and said, “Hey Liz.” Then looking at the new arrivals, he added, “Good thing I bought extra.”

“Still fetching and carrying for Gibbs, I see,” Liz said, and then kicked herself, not sure what exactly it was about the ex-Baltimore detective that brought out the worst in her. It was just that everything about him irritated her, from his carefully styled hair to his pristine imported Italian shoes. He reeked of money and expensive taste, and as much as she disavowed any interest in those things, it made her jealous.

Tony ignored the jab, and said, “There are days that’s what being a senior agent feels like,” he said, allowing his smile to become a bit wider, as if they’d just shared a private joke. He wasn’t going to let the sharp tongued agent get his goat, not when there were so many more pressing issues to deal with, although he hadn’t been able to resist letting her know where he stood in the NCIS chain of command.

Gibbs, who had been watching the little confrontation between the two, didn’t want it to go any further, so he stepped over to them. “Give me the coffee DiNozzo. I’ll pass it out while you deal with the food,” he said, just as Liz was opening her mouth to make a retort, and he reached out, and took the tray from Tony. There were six cups of coffee on it, not quite enough to go around, but Gibbs wasn’t too worried. He could always get more down the hall. “Want one?” he asked Liz, when he had the tray securely in hand.

“Sure,” she said, deflating, as she reached over to liberate one of the cups, although she managed to send another glare Tony’s way before he moved off to offer food to the other people in the room.

Gibbs then went over to the two agents who’d been in the waiting room when he and Tony had arrived. Sam Wilson, the shorter of the two, shook his head in refusal, but Jeff Estes, nodded gratefully, as he helped himself to a coffee and a couple of the little packets of cream nestled between the cups. “Thanks,” he said to Gibbs, as he lifted the lid to pour in the cream.

Gibbs nodded in acknowledgement, and stepped over to DeAngelo, who’d moved away from Fornell and Morgan a bit, since they seemed to be involved in some sort of disagreement. DeAngelo took a coffee with a sigh of gratitude. “Wasn’t sure how I was going to make it much longer. This should really help,” he told Gibbs, although his attention was really focused on the two men across from him, and their whispered conversation.

“Coffee usually does,” Gibbs agreed, as he approached Fornell and his team leader. “Ed, Tobias, coffee?” he asked. Both men snagged a cup off the drink carrier, and then resumed their discussion. From what he heard, Fornell was insisting that Morgan needed to go home and get some sleep, and Morgan was disagreeing. Not wanting to interfere, Gibbs moved on. Now there was just one cup of coffee left. Gibbs looked at the cup, and then around the room. Tony was passing out food, of which there seemed to be an abundance.

When everyone else had been served, Tony approached Gibbs. “Have one, Boss,” he said, as he pulled out a wrapped egg and bacon sandwich. Gibbs took the proffered sandwich, and tried to hand the last cup of coffee to Tony. “Nah, you go ahead and take it,” Tony said. “I had a couple of cups while I was waiting for the food. If I drink any more I’ll get as hyper as Abby, and we wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said with a grin, his words intended to effectively stop any argument Gibbs might try to make.

Liz, who’d been silently watching the scene from her spot by the door, couldn’t believe what she’d just seen. Gibbs had offered the last cup of coffee to DiNozzo, rather than automatically keeping it for himself. She had never thought to see him willingly deprive himself of his drug of choice, and the smile DiNozzo had given him spoke of familiarity and friendship. God, she hated that smile! Familiarity and friendship - those were never words anyone would have used to describe her working relationship with Gibbs. In the month she’d slaved under him, she had gotten the impression that everything she did for the man was somehow a disappointment, although she’d never had any verbal confirmation of that, since he never said anything more to her than necessity dictated. ‘So, what makes DiNozzo so special? He's just a pampered preppy, playing at cops and robbers,’ she thought. She’d seen his file when he first started at NCIS – he’d been a barely above average student, and although his solve rates had been high, they were for police departments, not a government agency. He’d never been able to hold down a job for more than two years at a time before. So how had he managed to last seven years with Gibbs, who was known for the demanding expectations he placed on his agents? What made him so exceptional?

Liz wasn’t the only one watching the two NCIS agents. DeAngelo was now studying them as well, having lost interest in what Morgan was discussing with his supervisor, as it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the case. DeAngelo hadn’t figured out why NCIS was there. He hadn’t been aware that this was a joint operation, and he still wasn’t sure it was. So, why was Gibbs here? And who was the younger man that had brought the food and coffee? He hadn’t been introduced to him yet, although it was clear he was somehow attached to Gibbs. That was obvious by merely observing their body language. He could tell the two men were comfortable with each other, and although the younger man had called Gibbs “Boss,” they seemed too at ease with each other to be merely supervisor and subordinate. Finally, his curiosity won out, and since he was too tired to be subtle, he went for the direct approach. Walking over to Gibbs, he said, “I wasn’t aware that NCIS was working this operation.”

“Oh, we’re not,” Gibbs said to him. “Brent Langer was on my team for a long time. So, when I heard what happened, I came over to see how he was doing,” Gibbs explained. Then, noticing DeAngelo studying Tony, he asked, “Captain DeAngelo, have you met my Senior Agent, Anthony DiNozzo?”

“I don’t believe so. I think I’d remember another good Italian name,” DeAngelo said, offering Tony his hand, ever the consummate politician.

“Sir,” Tony said as he shook, “I just wish we’d met under better circumstances.”

“Yes, this has certainly been a trying day,” DeAngelo agreed.

While they were making small talk, Fornell took the opportunity to pull Morgan further away from everyone in the room. There were things Ed needed to know, and this looked like it was going to be Fornell’s best opportunity to share some of them. “Don’t react to what I’m going to tell you,” he hissed at the team leader, once they were out of earshot of everyone else, and he waited until Morgan nodded his agreement. “Kreiger’s fine. Gibbs has her. She managed to get away and call one of Gibbs’ agents for help.” When it looked like Morgan was going to start asking a lot of questions, he raised his hand to stop the man. “I’ll tell you more when we’re alone, but I don’t want anyone else to know. We don’t know who to trust.”

“How are you going to explain calling off the search for her?” Morgan asked, in a whisper.

“We’ll say we think the attackers at the safe house got her,” Fornell said, sharing with Morgan what he and Gibbs had settled on earlier.

“Not sure anyone will buy that,” Morgan said.

“They will if we all act like we believe it,” Fornell said.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” Morgan asked, as he glanced over at where Gibbs stood talking with Captain DeAngelo.

“Yeah, but this isn’t the place to discuss it. You and I’ll deal with it later,” Fornell said. “Just make sure you don’t say anything about this to anyone but me, for now,” he ordered, knowing that Morgan would obey, even if he didn’t like it.

“Okay,” Morgan agreed reluctantly, as he rubbed at his eyes. He was too tired to put up much of a fight right now, plus, over the years he’d learned that Fornell never did anything without having a good reason. He’d just have to wait until later to hear what his reasoning was. “I need to sit down for awhile,” he admitted when his legs threatened to give out on him, as he turned towards the chairs in the center of the room.

“I really wish you’d go home for just a couple of hours,” Fornell said, resuming the argument they’d been having earlier.

“I’m not going anywhere until I know how Langer and Vic are doing and I’ve seen them for myself,” Morgan reiterated stubbornly. “You should be the one who goes home, Fornell. You’ve been here since early this afternoon.”

“He’s right, Tobias,” Gibbs said, having crossed over to the men just in time to hear the last sentence Morgan said. “It’s his place to be here, as their team leader. You really should go home for a while, though, if only to shower and change clothes.”

“In a bit,” Fornell said, and stubbornly sat back down.

Gibbs sighed, and sat down also, determined to try again in a while. As he sat, he looked across the room to where Tony stood talking to Templeton and frowned.

When Gibbs had left to talk to Fornell, DeAngelo had excused himself to answer a text message he’d just received, and Liz had taken the opportunity to sidle up to Tony. “Seven years is along time to work with Gibbs,” she observed. “I don’t think anyone’s ever stayed with him that long.”

“Yeah, I sure beat your one month prediction, didn’t I?” Tony asked, remembering the warning Liz had given him on what had been his first day and her last day at NCIS.

“He must have found the perfect whipping boy, and you must be a glutton for punishment,” she observed. “Or maybe no one else wants you?” she asked cattily.

“I prefer to think of it as he being a master with a lot to teach, and me being a slow learner,” Tony said with amusement, ignoring the last remark completely.

“I’ll buy the slow learner part,” Liz said, “since he’s still got you doing coffee runs. Guess he’s really lowered the requirements for his senior agent position.”

Gibbs’ frown deepened into a scowl. Liz had always had an acid tongue, and now that he thought back, he remembered how she’d sneered over Tony’s background when he’d had her run a check on him, back when he was still a detective in Baltimore. Looking around the room, Gibbs saw that the two younger FBI agents were also now zeroed in on the confrontation between Tony and Liz.

“Yeah, well, we already have an MIT grad on the team, so someone has to represent the common man,” Tony said with a smile, refusing to rise to the bait, although he was beginning to grow uncomfortable with the situation. Gibbs was probably the only one in the room who realized just how disingenuous Tony’s smile was, and he knew it was only the gravity of the situation that was keeping Tony from counter-attacking, which just made Liz seem more petty to Gibbs.

“Most people with as much experience as you, especially ones trained by Gibbs, would be leading their own teams by now,” Liz snipped. “Wonder why Gibbs hasn’t recommended you?” she said, as if thinking out loud. “Of course, it’d probably be hard to find someone like you to take your place.” Her tone made it clear that that had not been a compliment. “At least he doesn’t make you wear a collar - like your last master,” she said sweetly, referring to the collar Tony had been forced to wear when he’d been held by a serial killer on the case that had brought him to Gibbs’ attention. The same case that had spelled the end of her tenure with NCIS.

That last jab hit Tony in the gut, and he had to work to keep from visibly showing that she’d managed to score a point. Summoning up his last ounce of reserve, he managed another small smile. “Well, maybe you were right earlier. A good whipping boy is hard to find,” Tony told her, not wanting to make a scene, and knowing that anything he said to defend himself would only make matters worse. Templeton was clearly baiting him, even though he had no idea what he’d ever done to the woman to make her hate him so much.

“Okay, that's it,” Gibbs growled, loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. Tony shouldn’t have to stand there and take that abuse. Glancing over at Fornell, he saw that the FBI agent had also been listening to what was going on. “We’re going,” he said to Fornell, as he reached over and grabbed Fornell’s coat and jacket from the chair next to him.

“Sure,” Fornell said. He’d watched what had been happening between Templeton and DiNozzo and would have stopped it if he’d had more energy. His inability to do so served to convince him that he really did need a change of scenery. As it was, he fully understood why Gibbs felt the need to leave just then, and he knew if they didn’t leave, there was a good chance Gibbs would pulverize Templeton, verbally, if not physically.

Gibbs stood, and snapped, “DiNozzo, we’re leaving. Now!” He glared at Liz as Tony hurried over to join Fornell and Gibbs, and everyone in the room watched silently, aware that the NCIS team leader was furious. Unfortunately, just before they could reach the door, a doctor came into the room and crossed over to Fornell, since that was who he’d been reporting to all evening.

“I’m very sorry, Agent Fornell,” he said, “but we lost Director Glenn.”

Morgan, who had stood when the doctor entered, asked, “What about Agents Langer and Merit?”

“Let me be blunt. Agent Langer is still waging his own battle for survival, and even though his lung was repaired in surgery, and we’ve been giving him a series of strong antibiotics, an infection has set in, and his fever is rising. So far, we haven’t been able to bring it down. We’re still very concerned about his condition. Agent Merit’s prospects look much better. He’s still coming out of the anesthesia, and although he’s awake, he isn’t yet fully coherent, since we have him on very strong analgesics, after his surgery.”

“Can Agent Morgan and I see him for a few minutes?” Fornell asked.

“I can only let you both in there for a few minutes. I don’t want to wear him out. After that, he can have one visitor for ten minutes, every hour, until he’s completely out of danger,” the doctor said, knowing his patient was a federal officer and that it was probably important that both men talk to him briefly, as he led them into the ward.

Tony had been watching Gibbs’ face when the doctor had broken the news about Langer. It didn’t sound good, and Gibbs was visibly shaken. “Let’s go over here, while we wait for Fornell,” Tony said to him. He wanted to put some space between Gibbs and everyone else in the room, so that the older man could have some privacy while he absorbed the new information. Gibbs followed Tony mutely, which served to worry Tony further. Reaching out to squeeze Gibbs’ shoulder in reassurance, Tony said, “Brent is a fighter, Boss, you know he'll fight like hell to beat this.” Locking eyes with Tony, Gibbs nodded in agreement, but couldn’t seem to muster up any words. Silently, however, he pledged to get the bastards that were responsible.

Liz, who had been watching, saw the closeness between Gibbs and DiNozzo. She was practically grinding her teeth together at the fact that somehow, this Baltimore 'cop' had not only lasted more than a month on Gibbs' team, but ended up as Gibbs' Senior Field Agent, and apparently, unbelievably, as his friend. It took all her training not to allow her jaw to drop open when she saw Gibbs allow DiNozzo to touch him, to offer support and friendship. When she heard Tony's statement about Langer, and that he'd called him Brent, she'd been even more shocked. Clearly DiNozzo knew Langer. Did that mean he socialized with him? Were they friends? That just didn’t seem fair. Liz had worked with Langer for three years, and the most social thing they had ever done together was grab a beer with the rest of the team, at the successful conclusion of a case. Why did everyone seem to like DiNozzo? And what was wrong with her?

Liz hadn’t been the only one watching Gibbs and DiNozzo. DeAngelo, who still stood separate from everyone else in the room, had observed the interaction between the NCIS team leader and his second in command. This confirmed his earlier suspicions that the men were more than just team mates; they were close friends. He didn’t know if that information was important, but DeAngelo was too experienced as a politician not to take careful note of every bit of information available to him about the people around him. You just never knew when it would be useful.

When Fornell and Morgan returned to the waiting room it was 4:30 in the morning, and Gibbs could tell that Fornell was dangerously exhausted. Once again reaching for Fornell’s things, Gibbs crossed over to him. “Tobias, let’s go. Morgan will call you if anything changes.”

Fornell didn’t argue, he just looked over at Morgan and said, “I’ll be back in a few hours. Call me if you need me sooner.”

Fornell, Gibbs and Tony walked silently to Tony’s car, and Fornell gave a small sigh as he eased himself into the back and spread his legs along the seat. “Why don’t you get some sleep while we drive to your house?” Gibbs suggested. “You’re not as young as you used to be Toby,” he added.

“And you are?” Fornell groused. “When are you going to get some sleep?”

“I haven’t spent all day and night worrying about wounded agents, and trying to figure out how an operation fell apart,” Gibbs said.

“Why don’t you give me the address, and you can both get some sleep while I drive,” Tony suggested, before the two old friends could start squabbling again. Since neither man could come up with a logical objection, that’s exactly what happened.

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