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 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.

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.

Chapter 3

“A Friend in Need” – Chapter Five

Gibbs and Fornell slept all the way to Fornell’s house, leaving Tony alone to his private thoughts. He knew he should be as tired as the other two men, but for some reason he wasn’t. Maybe it was because he was younger, he supposed, although he suspected that wasn’t the real reason. He was fairly sure his run in with Templeton had more to do with his current state of alertness. Her initial greeting, that nasty crack about fetching and carrying for Gibbs, had immediately heightened all his senses. He’d been aware she was gunning for him, even though he couldn’t figure out why. She’d taken it up a notch by calling him a whipping boy, and when she referenced the collar, it was like declaring open season. Tony had been both angry and embarrassed, and he’d been keenly aware of everyone else in the room looking at them, as he struggled not to retaliate by stooping to her level. He had been able to feel Gibbs’ anger literally crashing through the room like waves, even before he had stood up and announced they were leaving, and that, more than anything, had helped Tony keep his mouth in check. Then, when the doctor had described Langer’s condition, Tony, already over-sensitized, had felt Gibbs’ pain as if it was his own. Having the two men asleep was actually a relief. It was allowing him time to get control of his emotions again. He'd struggled to hold himself in check ever since Liz had begun her verbal attack, and that, he suspected, was why he felt so wide awake.

When he got to Fornell’s, he woke the sleeping men up. It didn’t take Fornell all that long to shower and clean up, and by 6:30, after a stop for coffee, they were walking into the bullpen at NCIS headquarters. As Tony had suspected, McGee was already there, and no one was surprised to see Abby, lounging on top of his desk, as they both studied something on McGee’s monitor.

When they looked up, alerted to the new arrivals by the sound of the elevator doors, they both zeroed in on Fornell. Then Abby poked McGee and said, “You owe me five bucks,” which made him groan.

Fornell looked at them suspiciously, but didn’t comment.

Gibbs, after watching Abby, looked at Tony and smirked, “That’s why I wouldn’t bet you twenty.” Tony laughed, thankful for the momentary respite from the suffocating intensity of the last several hours.

Fornell glared at Gibbs then, and said, “I don’t even want to know.”

“So what’s this about Boss?” McGee asked.

“Let’s go to Abby’s lab,” Gibbs ordered, without answering the younger agent’s question. He didn’t want anyone to overhear their conversation, and even though there were almost no people in yet, Gibbs knew agents would begin pouring in within the hour.

Abby and McGee gave each other a puzzled look, but scrambled to comply, hurrying to follow Gibbs as he led the way back to the elevator.

When they got down to the lab, Gibbs turned to Abby and signed for her to kill any video and audio surveillance in the room. Abby raised an eyebrow in silent question, but hurriedly humored Gibbs. When she was sure there was no way anyone would be able to record the meeting, she told Gibbs out loud, “All set. Spill!”

Gibbs and Tony then took turns describing Ziva showing up with Courtney, Ducky treating a wounded Courtney and then being moved to Ducky's, with Ziva along as bodyguard. They also recounted all that Courtney had told them the previous night. At some point during the recitation, Jenny arrived, and stood, silently listening again to the information she’d learned the night before. No one said anything until Gibbs got to the raid on the surveillance team, and the wounding of Vic Merit and Brent Langer. At that point, Abby had interrupted, demanding to know how Brent was, and then quietly tearing up when Gibbs’ shared what the doctor had said.

“I want to go see him,” Abby stated. “He may have deserted us and gone to work for the dark side,” she said, with a quick glance at Fornell, “but he’s still a good guy, and he’ll always be family.” Abby, who had a hard time letting go of anyone, had remained friends with Langer, even after he started working for the FBI, an act she likened to a cardinal sin, and made a point of having drinks with him at least once a month.

For his part, Fornell was having a hard time listening to Gibbs. He hadn’t heard all the details of Kreiger’s narrow escape from the ruthless killers the night before, and he was angered all over again that one of his own had been hunted down and forced to seek refuge with someone from another agency, since she felt like she couldn’t safely trust any of her own people. Now, instead of being able to go get the bastards with his own agents, he was having to go to the same agency that Kreiger had for help, knowing these people were incorruptible, that they considered Langer one of their own. NCIS would move heaven and earth to find the people who were holding Melissa Carter, a Marine wife, and take the scumbags into custody. To top it all off, he knew that Gibbs had been serious when he’d promised not to seek any credit for capturing the criminals, that just stopping the bastards would be enough for him. There were days when he had to ask himself if the prestige of working for the FBI was really worth it. More and more he found himself thinking it might be nice to work for an agency that actually seemed to work hard at staying under the radar. The FBI was the complete opposite. They wanted their every accomplishment splashed all over the front page of newspapers and making the nightly news. ‘When did it stop being about putting the bad people away,’ he wondered, ‘and more about the public face that would get them higher appropriations come budget time.’

By the time Fornell managed to drag his thoughts back to what was being discussed, Gibbs had finished summarizing the events of yesterday, and was explaining to everyone what he and Fornell had agreed upon – that NCIS would shelter Agent Kreiger and covertly start its own investigation, so that whoever was leaking information at the FBI would be none the wiser.

“What makes you so sure there’s a leak at the FBI?” McGee inquired.

Gibbs pointed out that would be the most likely explanation for how the kidnappers knew about the FBI investigation, and then told them that on top of that, the fact they had known where to find Courtney further suggested inside information. As he talked, he’d become more and more irritated, as Abby and McGee started sneaking looks at each other. Finally, when he was midway through explaining how both the interior and exterior cameras at the safe house had been disabled, so surely that meant someone with direct knowledge of the security codes had to have been involved, he was unable to ignore it anymore. “What ever you’re thinking, spit it out,” he demanded, “and stop with the knowing looks.”

Abby and McGee looked at each other again, silently willing the other to answer. “Well, um, Boss, you see,” McGee began, uncomfortable with sharing an opinion that contradicted Gibbs’.

“Oh, for God’s sake McGee,” Abby cut in, impatiently. “What he’s trying to say is that none of that has to depend on inside information. Anyone with enough computer skills could have deactivated the security cameras at the safe house. I’ve been able to hack into the FBI since I was fifteen,” she said, smiling rather predatorily at Fornell. “Plus, if the bad guys took all the paper at the surveillance location, they probably got Courtney’s cell number. Then, all they would have to do was track her phone to know where to find her.”

“That makes sense, Boss,” Tony exclaimed. “Remember how Courtney said she pulled the battery from her cell phone after she got away from the safe house? That’s probably why they couldn’t find her.”

When Abby and McGee heard that, they both grinned and reached over to give each other a satisfied high five, which earned them another glare from Gibbs. “Maybe so,” Gibbs allowed, “but we aren’t going to relax our guard, because it doesn’t disprove a leak either. All the hard drives from the computers at the surveillance site were taken, and there hasn’t been a trace of evidence left at any of the attack sites, so at the very least, these guys know a lot about forensics and investigative techniques, and we know they want to get their hands on Kreiger.”

“So, what do you want us to do?” Abby asked, almost bouncing in her chair, eager to start.

“I want you and McGee to research the missing executive, Melissa Carter; find out absolutely everything you can about her, there’s no telling what is going to be useful. Then, see about getting into Metro’s system and find out what they have on the Hummer attack. It happened in broad daylight, and even though these people are careful, there had to be someone on the street who took pictures with their camera – nothing seems to happen completely unrecorded these days. Even though the FBI took over the crime scene, it’s more likely that an average citizen would share their pictures with the police, rather than the FBI, especially since the police were the first on the scene. This may be our chance to get a look at them, since they disabled the security cameras everywhere else,” Gibbs said. When he was done, Abby started waving her hand around in the air, like an overeager student in a class. Smiling slightly, and marveling at how Abby always seemed able to amuse him, even in the worst of situations, he said, “Yeah Abs, go ahead.”

“Thanks,” she said. “You know, just because they got to the security cameras, doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be able to get a look at them. There are still the traffic cams and cameras from other buildings to look into.”

“Good point,” Gibbs said. “Go ahead and look into those too.”

It was at that point that Fornell hoisted the black shoulder bag off his shoulder that had been there since they came in, and set it down on the table next to where Abby and McGee stood. “What’s this?” Abby asked.

“My laptop,” Fornell said, looking over at Jenny, to make sure she understood the significance of what he was about to do. Pulling a piece of paper out of the side zipper pocket on the bag, he handed it to McGee. “This has all my ID codes and passwords on it. With these, you should have no trouble accessing every computer system at the Hoover Building, and you won’t have to waste time hacking in,” he said, giving Abby and McGee a small smile, as he dished out the backhanded compliment. He knew this was an enormous risk. Abby would most certainly make a copy of his hard drive – she wouldn’t be able to resist - but you had to trust someone, at some point, Fornell had decided, and these were the people he’d decided to trust. What surprised him was how comfortable he was with this decision. If anyone ever found out what he’d just done, it would spell the end of his career, but somehow, he knew that would never happen. “Everything the team recorded as they ran their surveillance on the building, hoping to get information on the kidnapping scheme, was sent by direct feed to Headquarters. When you get into the system, you’ll be able to download both the audio and visual recordings. Maybe you’ll see something we missed. It should also let you get a look at what was done to knock out the cameras. Maybe if we understand how they did it, we’ll learn more about them.”

Gibbs had been stunned when Tobias had offered up his computer. They hadn’t talked about this in advance, and although he knew Fornell had agreed to work with NCIS, he hadn’t expected this kind of cooperation. ‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘I wouldn’t have even asked for it.’ Apparently he wasn’t the only one who recognized what an act of faith it had been, because Abby had rushed over to the FBI agent, and was in the process of wrapping him in a tight hug. Fornell was clearing his throat, incredibly uncomfortable with such intimate physical contact, and his eyes were beseechingly seeking out Gibbs.

“That’s enough, Abs,” Gibbs said, choking on his laughter, which caused everyone else in the room to laugh over Fornell’s discomfort. “I don’t think they’re very big on hugs over at the Bureau.” Abby reluctantly let Fornell go, but the moment had served to bring some much needed levity to the situation, and everyone was feeling just a little bit better. Gibbs couldn’t help taking a brief moment to think about how proud he was of his people, each one so different, and yet together, as tight a team as anyone could ever hope for. “We need to get over to Ducky’s and talk to Kreiger,” he said, “see what she can tell us. McGee, you stay here and work with Abs. Let us know if you find anything useful, and we’ll keep you informed on what we learn from the girl.”

“Jethro,” Jenny said, speaking for the first time since she’d arrived. “Everyone must be exhausted, including Ziva. I want to send Frank Balboa’s team to Reston to take over protection duty this afternoon. You all are going to need to rest, or you’ll be too tired to get these people, and even though Ziva will probably not be willing to leave Agent Kreiger alone, she too is going to have to get some sleep. I’ll talk to Balboa, make it clear that this is a top secret operation. I’ll keep it off the books so there won’t be any way anyone else can get wind of it, I can assure you,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Gibbs acknowledged. He might not like having to involve another team, but he knew that Jenny was right. They were going to have to get some sleep, and sooner rather than later. Most of them had been going straight for over 24 hours, and although this wasn’t the first time that had happened, and wouldn’t be the last, he knew they weren’t in top form, and exhaustion led to mistakes, which was something they couldn’t afford to have happen. “Have them there by noon. Make sure they know to be inconspicuous,” he added. Then goodbyes and last minute instructions were given, and before Tony knew it, he, Gibbs and Fornell were once again back in his car, this time headed for Ducky’s home in Reston, VA.

While all of that had been happening, things were beginning to stir at Ducky’s house as well. Courtney had woken up about an hour ago, driven from sleep by a nightmare. She’d been put to bed the night before in a second floor guest room. Ziva and Dr. Hampton had helped her undress and then slipped her into one of Ducky's mother's sleeveless cotton nightgowns, so nothing was rubbing against the bandages on her shoulder. Ducky had insisted that she take a couple of analgesics and antibiotics, and she was already getting sleepy as she donned the unfamiliar garment. He’d also given her a glass of vanilla flavored kefir, since food wasn’t something she’d been able to tolerate at that moment, but he wanted her stomach coated so she wouldn't have a reaction to the antibiotics. And there she had lain, blissfully unaware of any of the activities around her, until her dreams had shattered the drug induced sleep. Upon waking she shot up from the pillow, momentarily disoriented. Pain radiated from her shoulder, as the analgesics had worn off during the night, clearing the nightmare from her head, and memories of the day before washed over her, so vivid it was as if she was reliving them.

She thought of Brent and Vic, covered in blood and barely alive when she returned to the office. The next image that flashed into her mind was of Assistant Director Glenn grabbing her by the arm and literally shoving her down on the floor of the SUV when the gunshots had erupted from the Hummer in front of them. She heard glass breaking, then Bill Flowers, their driver, an agent she knew only vaguely, cry out as he was hit repeatedly by the bullets from the AK-47s that were being aimed at them. She felt Glenn's body fall on top of her, and heard him grunt in pain as he, too, was hit repeatedly. Courtney could barely remember the sounds of the sirens that heralded the arrival of the DC Metro cops who were first on scene. She had slowly become aware of the lack of gunfire, and then there had been cops yelling outside the vehicle, asking if anyone was hit. One look into the SUV, and calls had gone out for EMTs and ambulances, and she heard someone recognize the plates as government, then someone else saying they were running the plates, then everything became too much, and she must have passed out from the shock.

Courtney remembered with a shudder what had happened when she returned to consciousness. She’d looked down and realized she was covered in blood. Literally, covered in blood. She knew some of it came from her efforts to offer aid to Brent and Vic, but the blood now covering her face and the rest of her clothes had to have come from Assistant Director Glenn, and she had known that amount of blood was not a good sign. She’d found herself lying on a gurney, and a female EMT was frantically checking her for injuries. When Courtney somehow found her voice she’d tried to tell the woman that she wasn't injured, it wasn't her blood. As soon as the EMT realized that Courtney was conscious, and heard Courtney's assurances that she wasn't injured, she told her she was probably in shock and to stay put, she was going to help the other EMTs working on the men from the SUV. Courtney nodded and laid her head back on the gurney, trying to take stock of everything that happened today.

She had realized she had to phone her boss, and let Morgan know that more FBI agents were injured and possibly dead. Fumbling in her pocket she’d been relieved to find her cell phone still intact, and pressed speed dial 1 to contact Morgan. As soon as she heard his voice, she started talking, telling him about the Hummer, and that Glenn was probably seriously injured, or maybe dead for all she knew and that Flowers was most probably already dead. Her voice started going up the further into her report she got, and she could hear Morgan yelling at her to calm the hell down and give him a location so he could get agents on the way to assist her. She told him the local LEOs and paramedics were on-scene, and everyone was being treated, but she didn't know where they were, and at that point, a police officer approached her to take a statement. She handed him her phone, saying in a barely audible voice, "Please tell my boss where we are... I don't know where we are.... can you please..." The officer had taken pity on her, and after reaching into the ambulance and grabbing a latex glove, he’d taken the bloody phone out of her hand with a gloved hand. The officer heard someone yelling "Kreiger, Kreiger, are you still there?? Where the hell are you???" The officer identified himself, and spoke to Morgan, who identified himself a Supervisory Special Agent Morgan, of the FBI. After giving Morgan the location of the ambush, and a quick assessment on the conditions of the three occupants of the SUV, he’d assured the FBI agent that they would guard all of the occupants until the FBI arrived.

As soon as the call terminated, the officer had returned Courtney's phone to her, and then stepped away, but Courtney had been able to hear him place his own call to Metro’s HQ to talk to his boss. He told him that a FBI SUV had been attacked, ambushed for lack of a better description, and that an Assistant Director and two agents were injured. He also told him about his conversation with Morgan, and that the FBI was claiming jurisdiction, and he was going to need back-up from somebody much higher up the food chain if they had a hope in hell of finding out who was waging war on the streets of DC, and taking out feds with no hesitation.

Courtney was spared from having to relive any more of the previous events for the moment, when Ziva came gliding into the room to check on her. Ziva had stood guard during the night, roaming the house, constantly checking the front and back areas of the house to ensure the safety of its residents. She was still tired from the events of the past week, but at least she had gotten a good solid six hours of sleep before this whole nightmare began, not that it had made up for an entire week of lost sleep, but it gone a long way towards allowing her to function normally again. Also having Courtney's situation to focus on had taken her attention away from her lingering embarrassment over her lapses in judgment during the prior case, and lessened her anger and disappointment with herself for her inability to get past the events that had occurred. Courtney's safety was now her responsibility, and Ziva was excellent at discharging her responsibilities on protection details. “I am glad to see you are awake,” Ziva said to her friend, when she saw Courtney sitting up in the bed, although she was privately disturbed by the sweat on Courtney’s face, and the slightly wild look in her eyes. “Are you in pain?” she asked.

“No, no, I’m okay,” Courtney assured her. “I was just thinking about everything that happened yesterday.”

“Well, no need to think about that right now. Gibbs, Tony and Fornell are on their way here, so there will be lots of time to go over that later. We need to get you showered and into some clean clothes. I asked them to stop and pick up some things for you to wear, but until they can bring them, I have found something for you to put on for the moment,” Ziva told her, not yet sharing with the woman just what it was Ziva had procured for her. She helped Courtney out of bed, and produced a plastic bag and some white adhesive tape that would do no further damage to her skin. She proceeded to cover the bandage on her shoulder with the plastic and affixed it with the tape. She then had Courtney walk to the bathroom, following closely behind her. Once she was sure that Courtney was stable enough to tend to her own personal hygiene, Ziva left the room to get the promised articles of clothing.

Ziva, Ducky, Dr. Hampton, Ducky’s mother, and her nurse had all been having a quick breakfast when Gibbs had phoned to say he was on his way. Discussion had immediately moved to the need to get Courtney up, bathed and fed, which had led them to the unpleasant realization that Courtney had no clean clothes to put on. Ziva had a bag of fresh clothing that she always kept in her car for emergencies, and Dr. Hampton had the clothes she’d brought with her for the weekend, but, although the two women were able to provide undergarments that would work, neither had outer clothing that would fit the FBI agent. Mrs. Mallard was the closest to Courtney’s size. In a stunning display of patience, Ducky had been able to get his mother to understand that they had an unexpected female guest who had arrived without the appropriate changes of clothing, and Mrs. Mallard had immediately offered to take Ziva up to her room to find something for the young woman to wear. Ziva had a bad feeling about this, and had quickly placed a call to Gibbs, explaining that they would need to stop and get Courtney some clothes to wear, and had suggested that Tony would probably be able to help with this, since she was rather afraid of what Gibbs and Fornell would come up with if left to their own devices. But in the end, she had allowed herself to be persuaded to follow Mrs. Mallard to her room, to find something for Courtney to wear while they waited. Jordan, who by now had a better sense of Ziva, had volunteered to accompany them, not at all sure that Ziva possessed the amount of constraint the ensuing situation might require.

When they’d gotten to Mrs. Mallard’s suite and Ziva had gotten her first look at the room sized closet, she had been immensely relieved that she’d asked Gibbs to pick up something for Courtney to wear. There was hanger after hanger of dresses of all kinds – floral, paisley, lace, every pastel color known to man, even sequins – floor length, short, and tea length. When Ziva had inquired as to where her pants were, Mrs. Mallard had looked at her askance, and informed her that proper ladies didn’t wear trousers, and looked pointedly at both Ziva and Jordan, who were clad in pants. Then, as Ziva was still choking down a reply, Mrs. Mallard began to pull things out of the closet to consider. Her first choice was a green beaded evening dress, circa 1958, which, after studying, she dismissed as too dressy for the morning. Next came a lavender and pink floral dress, that would have made the Queen Mother proud, and Jordan had jumped in before Ziva could respond, telling the older woman that it wasn’t right for Courtney’s coloring. Finally, after several dresses had been considered and discarded, they settled on what Ziva decided was the least offensive of the available choices, a cream colored lawn dress made of a soft cotton voile, that would have only been appropriate on a debutante at an afternoon tea party.

So, armed with the delicate dress and the more practical bra and panties she and Jordan had provided, Ziva re-entered Courtney’s bedroom to wait for her to emerge from the bathroom. Courtney had not been pleased with what she’d been presented with, but as she had no other choice, she’d slipped the garments on, accessorizing the outfit with the white running shoes she’d gotten the day before. Jordan appeared with a breakfast tray, laden with food and more medications and had managed not to laugh out loud when she’d seen the disgruntled FBI agent. Ziva and Jordan had left Courtney alone then, after she’d promised to eat the food and take the pills, knowing she could probably use some time alone to compose herself, and had gone downstairs to wait for Gibbs’ arrival.

When the men did arrive, about forty five minutes later, Tony had handed Ziva a large shopping bag. “Here you go,” he said. “Do we need to wait while she gets dressed?”

Ziva had snorted with laughter at the question, and said, “No, I do not think so. She is dressed for now. These will be useful later.” She gave no further information, even though Tony was looking at her quizzically.

Jordan excused herself at that point, volunteering to go get Courtney, and promising to round up some food for the new arrivals while they talked, since she had accurately guessed that it had been a long time since they had last eaten. Ducky led them into the dining room, a formal affair, tastefully decorated in yellows and Delft blues and anchored by a glorious walnut dining set, saying this would allow them to all sit around a table while they talked. Gibbs was bringing Ducky up to speed on what was going on, when Courtney entered the room, and all four men turned to look at her in stunned disbelief. Courtney stood in the doorway, swathed from neck to ankle in sheer, floating layers of fragile cotton, little bits of finely woven lace peaking out from under the bell sleeves and around the neckline, discreetly masking any décolletage, shifting uncomfortably from one tennis shoe clad foot to the other. Ziva, who had already seen the spectacle, merely shook her head. Tony was the first one to find his voice, “Um, Daisy Gatsby, I presume?” he said, his voice shaking with laughter, which made everyone else in the room break down.

Courtney managed to walk stiffly over to the table and sit down, with an admirable display of dignity, refusing to acknowledge the others’ laughter, although her cheeks burned red in embarrassment. The jovial atmosphere didn’t last long however, as Gibbs resumed updating Ducky, Ziva and Courtney on Director Glenn’s death and Vic Merit's and Brent Langer’s conditions. Courtney was wiping away the tears she hadn’t been able to stop when Fornell asked her in a surprisingly gentle voice to tell them in complete detail what had happened the day before.

Courtney had begun then, recounting everything she had remembered so clearly when she’d first awoken that morning, and continuing by telling them all about the attack on the safe house, and her subsequent escape. Gibbs, Tony and Fornell stopped her periodically asking for clarification on a point, and Jordan interrupted once to bring in pots of coffee and orange juice, a tray of bagels, cream cheese and butter, scones, fresh fruit, and plates, silverware, glasses and cups and saucers. Everyone took a short break while food and drinks were distributed, and then the interview was resumed, each point recounted again, and carefully considered by all. They had just about finished when Fornell’s cell phone rang.

“Yeah,” he said into it as he answered. “When?” They could all hear him say. Fornell was quiet then, as he listened intently to the other person on the line. “That’s all he could remember?” he asked. When that question had been answered, he said, “I’ll pass that on. I should be there shortly to relieve you, at which point you will go home and get some rest.” Then he closed his phone without waiting for a response.

Looking up at the others in the room he said, “Merit’s awake and Morgan just got to talk to him. Seems there was a knock on the door of the surveillance room, and someone had called out, ‘Exterminators.’ When he opened it, intending to send them away, he’d been shoved backwards, with a sharp clip to his sternum and was momentarily stunned. Brent had drawn his weapon and aimed towards the men pouring into the room, but before he could get off a shot, one of men, using a handgun equipped with a silencer, shot him. By that time Merit had his own gun out, but before he could shoot, someone else had managed to shoot him. He took a bullet to his left shoulder, since he had been struggling to his feet when the shot hit. The thug had been aiming for his heart, but his attempt to rise had saved his life. The last thing he remembers is falling back down to the ground. He didn’t get a good look at them, because they were dressed in coveralls and had some kind of masks on their faces, presumably to protect them from the fumes of the chemicals. He did remember they had gloves on their hands, and some kind of booties on their feet, which explains why we couldn’t get any good trace evidence or fingerprints. Oh, and he said there were three of them.”

When Courtney heard this she gasped. “I bumped into one of those guys when I was leaving to get food and coffee for the team. In the lobby. I was digging in my purse and didn’t see him. I made a big deal of apologizing to him after I hit him,” she said, stunned that she had been that close to one of the men who had attacked her teammates.

“Can you describe him, Courtney?” Ziva asked, excitement creeping into her voice.

“Oh yeah,” Courtney answered. “I looked him right in the eye. He wasn’t wearing a mask at that point. I noticed the other two men as well, although I didn’t really pay that much attention to them, because I was so embarrassed about plowing into the other guy,” she apologized.

“Now we know why they want to get their hands on her,” Gibbs said to Fornell. “Ducky, can Ziva and Courtney use your computer? If they get on the phone with Abby, and Courtney describes this guy, Abby should be able to work up a composite picture with Courtney’s help, but they’ll need to be able to see what Abby is creating on her computer, to offer suggestions and corrections.”

“Not a problem Jethro,” Ducky said. “What do you intend to do now?” he asked, since Gibbs, Fornell, and Tony were on their feet.

“Frank Balboa and his team should be here any minute to take over protection detail. Ziva will stay here to supervise, but I want her to get some sleep, too. We’re going back to D.C., Fornell will need to see Merit himself, and Morgan needs to be relieved and read into what we’re doing. It will probably take Abby and McGee some time to get anything new for us to work on, so, before you even say it, DiNozzo and I will stand down for a while and get some rest,” Gibbs told him.

“I’m glad to see you being so reasonable, Jethro,” Ducky nodded in approval.

“Not reasonable, Ducks, just realistic. If we don’t get some sleep when we can, we aren’t going to be of much use when things start to break,” Gibbs answered.

“Well, whatever the reason, I approve of the plan,” Ducky said. “Don’t worry about us here, between Ziva’s watchful eyes, and Balboa’s able assistance, we shall be just fine.”

“That’s what I’m counting on,” Gibbs said, as he turned to leave.

“A Friend in Need” – Chapter Six

Tony found the drive back to the hospital considerably less tense than the drive to Ducky’s. Finally they had something new to go on, something no one else knew. Even though they were aware it would take time for Abby and Courtney to come up with an image, and even longer for Abby to run it through all of their databases, hope was slowly replacing the fear and helplessness they had all been feeling. They spent most of the ride talking about the brazenness of the killers, and they were all disturbed by the level of subtlety that the abductions revealed, and the complete lack of evidence left at the various crime scenes. These were not your average criminals, they were incredibly sophisticated and well organized, and even if they weren’t being aided by inside information, there was no denying their understanding of forensic investigations. Tony proposed that one, if not more of them, had a background in either the military, or some sort of law enforcement, and Fornell and Gibbs had both agreed with him.

When they got to the hospital, Tony was surprised to find Morgan sitting alone in the oppressive waiting room, with no other FBI agents to keep him company. Apparently Fornell was as well, since the first question he asked Morgan was, “Where is everyone else?”

“Estes and Wilson got called back in, and I sent Templeton home to get some sleep. She wasn’t doing me, or anyone else, any good being here,” he said, still angry at her behavior earlier, but unwilling to discuss it in front of two NCIS agents, even if they were friends of Fornell’s.

“That’s good,” Fornell said. “This gives us some time alone to talk. Some things have come up that you need to be aware of, and I didn’t get a chance to fully brief you earlier.” Fornell proceeded to bring Morgan up to speed on everything that had been discussed during Courtney’s debriefing.

Morgan listened to it all, horrified by what Courtney had gone through, but inordinately proud of the bravery she’d shown. He couldn’t help thinking that Kreiger and Templeton were night and day. Courtney was always sweet, eager to please, and hesitant to put her self out there, and yet, when push came to shove, she could be as tough as any seasoned veteran. Templeton, on the other hand, sought out and reveled in the limelight, which she never graciously shared with others, but when hard, thankless work was required, Templeton always seemed to hold back. “You’re sure Kreiger’s going to be okay?” he asked.

“She’s going to be fine,” Fornell assured him. “Dr. Mallard may be an M.E. now, but he spent years as a military doctor in England.” Then, changing the subject, he said, “So, now you know what’s going on. We can’t tell anyone that Kreiger’s safe, or that she is able to identify at least one of the gunmen. NCIS is going to work on that angle. We’re going to keep going on the kidnappings. They still have Melissa Carter, and it’s got to be getting close to time for them to make the deal with her CEO. We need to re-establish surveillance, somewhere else, and try to make sure no one gets wind of it. Who do you think we can trust?”

“I’m not really comfortable trusting anyone right now,” Morgan grumbled, “but I think Templeton’s probably a safe bet. I’d also be willing to bet Wilson and Estes are okay. If there’s a mole, it’s more likely to be someone higher up on the food chain, since they have more access to all on-going investigations.”

That made sense to all the men in the room. “We’re going to need a go-between, so that you and Gibbs can swap information without anyone else picking up on it,” Fornell said. Then, knowing what he was about to suggest was likely to inflame Gibbs, he added, “Templeton’s probably our best choice.”

“Absolutely not!” Gibbs roared. “I don’t ever want to see that woman again,” he hissed, as he felt Tony go rigid beside him. “Her behavior this morning was unforgivable, and if it had happened in any other situation I’d have demanded she be formally reprimanded.”

Fornell sighed. He knew Gibbs would react that way, and he wished they had another option, but he honestly couldn’t see one. “You’re right,” he told Gibbs, “and I will personally address that, but what other choice do we have, Jethro? Templeton knows all the players, so we don’t have to waste any time bringing her up to speed. Plus, she’s already on Morgan’s team, so no one’s going to question him sending her out on unexplained errands. Even if we do conscript Estes and Wilson, they have their own team leader to answer to, so we can’t guarantee that something wouldn’t get said to the wrong person without our knowing it,” he reasoned.

Gibbs was shaking his head furiously, and was just about to object again, when Tony piped up. “He’s right Boss. She may be a bitch, but I’m a big boy. Sticks and stones, you know,” he added with a grin that even Gibbs wasn’t able to see behind.

No one bothered to defend Templeton’s honor when Tony called her a bitch, since there wasn’t any denying that he was right, and they all seemed to hold their collective breaths, waiting to see what Gibbs would say. He remained quiet for over a minute, clearly waging some private battle with himself. Finally, he took a deep breath, and said, “Alright, we’ll try it. But if she says…”

“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Morgan said, stopping Gibbs before he could go further. “She’s on my team, and I will make it clear to her that she embarrassed me earlier, and that I won’t tolerate any further incidents.”

By now Tony was embarrassed. “Just let it go,” he said to Gibbs. “She only made herself look bad,” he pointed out. He was uncomfortable with other people feeling like they needed to defend him, especially Gibbs. He never wanted to appear weak or needy.

“Can’t do that,” Fornell said to him. “She crossed a line this morning, and needs to have that pointed out. She’s come close before, but never took that last step.” Having correctly guessed the source of Tony’s discomfort, and artfully turning the thrust of the discussion onto Templeton’s need for correction, rather than Tony’s need for defense, Fornell proved he wasn’t the leading supervisory agent at the FBI for no reason.

Gibbs shot Fornell a grateful look, when he was sure no one else was looking, and then nodded his head, “It’s settled then.”

From there they moved to a more general discussion of the case, but when Morgan began to yawn discreetly, Fornell announced it was time for him to leave. Gibbs and Tony agreed to take Morgan home, so he could get some sleep while Fornell stayed behind at the hospital.

When Gibbs and DiNozzo left to take Morgan home, Fornell prepared to spend a long day waiting in Bethesda's ICU visitor’s lounge. As he sat alone he couldn’t help thinking about all his agents had to endure yesterday. He knew how hard Morgan had been hit by the attacks. Two of his men had been seriously wounded and his rookie had been forced to run for her life. No good team leader wants their rookie exposed to danger, ever, and they do everything in their power to protect and nurture the ones with true potential. Kreiger was one of those. After a rocky start, she had proven a fast study, and apparently Officer David had been giving her some pointers. Now that he had been made aware of their friendship it explained the rapid improvement in her fighting skills and was a testament to her determination to succeed as an agent. The girl was a sponge, and absorbed any new information she was taught. Her ratings were excellent, and her appraisals were glowing. She would go far in the Bureau, if they could keep her alive long enough to get through this current clusterfuck.

The day passed slowly for him. During the time Fornell had been there, operating on no sleep, but massive infusions of coffee, he had been visited by the Director of the FBI, who wanted an update on the condition of the two injured agents. The Director stayed long enough to spend a few minutes with Merit, then demanded an update from Fornell on the investigation. Fornell knew he couldn’t keep his arrangement with NCIS a secret from the Director, so he took him to the Doctors' Lounge, and after plying him with very good coffee, brought him up to speed on exactly what was happening. He didn't go into detail, but he did make sure the Director was aware that Fornell suspected a leak at the Bureau, and that NCIS was involved. He assured the Director that the Bureau would take all the credit when the case was solved.

The Director was not pleased that another agency was investigating an attack on the FBI, but Fornell’s concerns about a leak truly worried him. Fornell was rarely wrong, and if what he suspected was indeed true, then the Director had to reluctantly agree that the plan with NCIS was a good solution - as long as it stayed under the public radar. Fornell assured him that Director Shepard was fine with the FBI taking all the credit, and preferred NCIS not be publicly acknowledged as being involved in the investigation, as it would free up her people to work in peace. The Director considered being insulted, and then, being the politician he was, and knowing how Jenny operated, asked what their assistance was going to cost. Fornell told him truthfully he didn't know, but that issue would have to be addressed at a later time. The Director agreed, insisting that all details of the investigation were to be run through Fornell, and kept confidential until the case was solved, since they didn't know who might be the leak. Then, after ordering Fornell not to talk about his suspicions, or NCIS’ involvement with anyone else in the Bureau - no matter who - he left.

There were other visitors throughout the day. Agents who stopped in for an update and a chance to show solidarity, a few reporters who managed to sneak by security, although Fornell wasn’t sure how that could have happened, and finally, Assistant Director Christopher Webb. Webb demanded an update, but Fornell remembered what he’d promised the Director, and only gave the man a vague overview of everything that was happening on the forensics front, and the on-going search for clues regarding the three attacks. When Webb left in a huff after he realized he was being kept out of the loop, Fornell sat and prayed fervently no other visitor was going to require any kind of political finesse, since he was obviously too tired to be any good at it. That thought reminded him of Gibbs, a man who refused to ever kowtow to politics. ‘I hope he’s getting some sleep,’ Fornell thought. ‘One of us is going to need to be on their game, and it doesn’t look like its going to be me.’

That was certainly Gibbs’ game plan when he left the hospital late Saturday morning. After dropping Morgan off, Tony and Gibbs had headed back to Gibbs’ house, both in need of a shower and some long overdue rest. They rode in silence back to Gibbs’ place, both too tired to bother making small talk, and were relieved when Tony finally pulled the car into the drive.

Walking into the house, Gibbs turned to Tony and said, “Go ahead and take the first shower, while I put a pot of coffee on.” Tony readily agreed.

By the time Gibbs had the coffee maker dripping merrily, he could hear the shower going in the master bedroom. Climbing wearily up the stairs, he dragged his tired body into the bedroom, undressed, and sank down onto the bed to wait for Tony to finish.

Tony had been in a hurry to get into the shower and let the water pound down on his tired and cramped muscles. It had been over a day since he’d last slept, and his body was screaming at him in outrage. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Templeton’s words had bothered him a great deal. They’d reminded him of what had happened seven years ago, in that basement in Maryland, when he and Abby had been abducted. Even though the case had ended successfully, and he’d found a new friend in Abby and a new boss and lover in Gibbs, he still had the occasional nightmare about Jeffers. What the man had done to his body while he’d held him captive still haunted him, and Liz’s words had brought all of that back. He found himself scrubbing and scrubbing, trying to once again remove the imaginary traces of Jeffers’ hands from his skin.

Gibbs had dozed off while he sat on the bed, and it was his own light snores that woke him up. Looking around, he saw that Tony wasn’t in the room, and then he realized that the shower was still going. Glancing over at the alarm clock, he saw that Tony had been in the shower for almost twenty minutes. Standing up, he walked into the bathroom, and peered through the glass door of the shower. Tony was standing still, his arms stretched out and braced against the wall, eyes closed, with his head bent down, allowing the water from the shower head to rain down on him. “Hey Tony?” Gibbs said. When he got no answer, nor any sign that Tony had even heard him, he sighed. Either Tony was so tired he’d just zoned out, or the bravado he’d shown earlier over Templeton’s remarks had been just that, bravado. If he had to hazard a guess, he’d go with the second option.

Quietly sliding the door open, he climbed into the shower behind Tony. The water that splashed onto him was only lukewarm now, Tony had been in the shower long enough to use up most of the hot water reserve. “Tony,” he tried again, before he reached out and ran his hand down his lover’s back.

Tony jerked up, and Gibbs wasn’t sure if it was because of his words or his touch. Tony turned to face him, and Gibbs saw him form a smile, although it was a half hearted effort at best. He was pretty sure Tony wasn’t even aware he’d done it. “Hey,” he said in surprise. “Did you miss me?”

“Thought I better get in here while there was still some hot water left,” Gibbs answered him, and watched as Tony looked confused when he realized that the water was no longer steamy hot.

“Must have lost track of time,” he told Gibbs vaguely, as he silently wondered just how long he’d been in the shower.

“Thought so,” Gibbs answered, and sought out Tony’s eyes, forcing him to look at him directly. When he was sure he had Tony’s attention, he asked, “Something bothering you, Tony?”

“No, why would there be?” Tony answered, letting his eyes slide away from Gibbs’.

Gibbs didn’t answer immediately. He’d seen Tony like this before, although not often. Jeffers had made Tony feel dirty, made him distrust his own body, and Templeton’s remarks had clearly rekindled those feelings.

"You've never been able to lie to me, Tony. Why do you even try?" Gibbs asked fondly.

Suddenly Tony felt defensive, even though he knew Gibbs wasn't attacking him, and his posture reflected this, as his shoulders hunched, and his head dipped. He muttered his response to the floor of the tub, "I'm not lying, I'm just tired and I must have zoned out for a bit. After I get some sleep, I'll be fine."

Gibbs didn't believe a word of that explanation, but he let it go for now. Knowing Tony wasn't ready to talk yet, he picked up the bar of soap from the tray, rubbed it until his hands were covered in lather. He spun Tony around until his back was facing him again, and began to run his slickened hands up and down Tony’s back. Then, with the bar of soap still in his right hand, he moved closer so he could wrap his arms around Tony, until his hands were sliding up and down Tony’s chest. When he felt Tony gradually start to relax against his body, he slowed his hand movements down, letting them become more sensual, as his hands snaked up and down from slowly distending nipples to increasingly interested cock. The lather from Tony’s back rubbed off onto Gibbs’ chest as Tony’s body began to match the rhythm of Gibbs’ hands, and when he turned his head to the side, Gibbs leaned forward and caught his lips in a kiss. When Tony shuddered, Gibbs let his lips slide off Tony’s mouth, and began to slowly trail down the side of his face, until his mouth fastened on the juncture between Tony’s neck and jaw, where he began to gently nibble.

Letting the bar of soap drop to the floor of the tub, Gibbs wrapped his arms even tighter around Tony, until they were pressed so closely together that neither man could truly move their bodies. Then, tilting his head a little more to the side, Gibbs began to bite his way down Tony’s neck, occasionally stopping to suck and press kisses on the spots his teeth had just nipped. When he felt Tony’s hands reach up, and press into Gibbs’ arms, trying to bring them even closer together, Gibbs slowly began to undulate his hips, allowing his cock to rub against the crack of Tony’s ass. As Tony began to softly moan, Gibbs pulled away from him, just long enough to gently turn him around, so that they were facing each other again, then he reached back out and pulled Tony back into his body, allowing their cocks to rub together. Sliding his hand up, he worked his hand into Tony’s wet hair and held his head steady. He took a moment just to gaze at Tony who was looking at him heatedly, his expression both soft and needy at the same time, his face flushed and his lips swollen. Then unable to resist, he pulled Tony’s head to him, once again capturing his mouth in a deep kiss, slowly working his tongue in as he savored the tastes and textures he found there. As they kissed he began to grind his own erection against Tony’s. When their mouths parted, Tony wrapped his arms around Gibbs’ middle, then lowered his head, until he’d captured one of Gibbs’ nipples with his mouth and nuzzled at it. When he felt Tony reach down to stroke his erection, and then begin to sink lower, Gibbs knew what he intended to do, and he reached down and pulled him back up.

“Not this time,” he murmured, as he kissed Tony again. “This time we come together, just like this,” he said when their lips had separated briefly for air. Sliding a hand down between them, Gibbs took both of their hard shafts in one hand, and pressed swollen flesh against swollen flesh. Using the water and the leaking pre-cum to lubricate his hand, he increased the pressure and began to stroke up and down, increasing the friction as he pumped, and at the same time, he sucked on Tony’s lower lip. When Tony began to make the soft, repetitive mewling sounds that always signaled his approaching release, Gibbs pulled back his head one last time and wrapped his free hand under Tony’s jaw, capturing his chin. When Tony looked at him, his pupils blown with lust and his eyes mere slits, Gibbs said, “You’re beautiful like this. I want to watch you come undone.” That was all it took. As Tony closed his eyes, he began to pulse out his release, his cream coating Gibbs’ hand. Gibbs’ body shuddered out its own climax in response.

When Tony was through, and the water had washed them clean, Gibbs backed him up against the wall of the shower, while encircling his body with his arms, to lend him support. As they stood there together, the heat radiating from their bodies warmer than the water that rained down on them, Gibbs kissed him again, this time slowly and gently. Reaching over with one hand, Gibbs turned off the water. “Lets go to bed,” he said quietly, and he pulled back and slid open the shower door. Tony had still not spoken, but the tension Gibbs had seen when he’d first climbed into the shower was gone, and the expression on his face made it clear his silence was now a result of being completely satiated. Gibbs gently pulled him out of the shower and grabbed a towel. He ran it over Tony's sensitized body, using it to absorb most of the moisture, then grabbed another to use on his own body, before steering Tony towards the bedroom. They fell into bed together, and Gibbs reached over and encased Tony in his arms. They lay there silently, Tony’s head resting on Gibbs’ chest, allowing their hearts to slow, and finally, Tony started talking, his voice soft and tired.

"That crack about the collar threw me. I shouldn't have let her get to me, but I wasn't expecting to be attacked like that, especially when I barely know her. I don't care if she doesn't like me, but what the hell could I have done to her to set her off like that? Jesus, I spent one day working with her, seven years ago, and even then, it was what, a couple of hours? It almost seems like she has a grudge, but for what? I don't know her, she doesn't know me, it's not like I stole her job. She was leaving before I ever got there. What the hell is her problem?"

"Liz managed to push your buttons, and you're giving her more power than she deserves. I don't know what her problem is, but if she's going to be working with us, you have to get over this, whatever it is, now. You let her see a weakness, she's going to keep jabbing you with a stick, and the stick with the sharpest point is the Jeffers case. You beat him, Tony, all alone, with no weapons, and with Abby to protect. You still managed to come through it alive, and keep Abby safe. You did that, and no one can take that away from you. Allowing her to use anything that happened back then against you, allowing her to throw you off balance, that's not going to happen again, you got me? You're my senior agent, Tony. You represent me, and you will not let her have power over you! Is that clear?"

"Yeah, it's clear. I'll be ready for her next time, so it won't matter what she says, she won't get to me. It just took me by surprise, since there was no reason for it. Who knows? Maybe she just needed somebody to fight with, somebody to get over on. I wasn't functioning all that great after Kate, so maybe this is her way of dealing with her partners being shot, and Courtney being missing. I don't know, that makes as much sense as anything, I guess. She just took me right back there..." Tony said, his voice fading as he drifted toward sleep.

"I know, Tony, I saw it. Nobody else did, but I know you, and I saw it. She's a bitch, she always was, and that hit came out of left field. Let it go, she did herself more damage than she did you. We have to get some sleep. You'll fight better after you get some rest," Gibbs murmured, as sleep worked to claim them. Then, just before Gibbs’ eyes closed for good, he felt Tony press a gentle kiss into his chest, and murmur a quiet, “Thank you.”

Chapter Seven

“Chapter Seven”

Gibbs’ NCIS team and Fornell’s agents were not the only ones who had been busy on Saturday. An hour away from Washington, a few miles outside of Calverton - a small town in Virginia, the morning sun found Peter Phelps pacing the library floor in the spacious old plantation he was renting. The house was isolated from its neighbors by acres of rolling meadows and tree lined grounds that offered innumerable places to roam and savor nature’s beauty. But Phelps wasn’t interested in nature that morning. He was waiting - waiting for four other people to arrive. Waiting to hear the details on how his world had almost fallen apart last night. Waiting to make sure repairs had been made. Waiting to find out what he would need to do next. There was only one problem - Phelps wasn’t good at waiting.

Peter Phelps had spent twenty seven years with the FBI. Twenty seven years, during which he’d worked hard, slowly rising through the ranks until he was a well respected team leader in the Washington offices of the Bureau. He’d never married; he hadn’t had time for a personal life. His job had been his life, his team and associates, his family. That had all changed the year before last, though, when he’d been seriously wounded in what should have been a routine apprehension of a mid level drug runner. He’d been left with nothing but gross motor function in his left hand and severe reduction of his eyesight. He went from perfect vision, to needing extremely strong prescription eyeglasses, and even with that aid, had very limited night vision and frequent migraines. You couldn’t be an active field agent with those challenges. Rather than force him to retire on disability, however, the Bureau had offered him a desk job, running high clearance background checks. It had not been a supervisory position, but it allowed him to utilize his training and talents, and also provided the Director and Assistant Directors with an example they could wave around to various special interest groups and Congressional Subcommittees, highlighting how the Bureau was accommodating the 'special needs' of agents who had been seriously wounded while on active duty.

Phelps had found the job demeaning and mind numbing, and he became increasingly bitter. Slowly, his old friends began to fall away, and he’d blamed it on his new position, never taking into consideration that his increasingly vocal dissatisfaction with the Bureau might have something to do with it. Finally, finding the pay too little to compensate him for the humiliation he felt over his new position, he’d taken the early retirement package they had offered him right after his accident, and accepted a much more highly paid job in the private sector, working corporate security. The firm that hired him had initially been pleased to acquire an employee who had such extensive experience in federal law enforcement. However, his superior attitude made for a poor work environment for his co-workers, and he was let go within six months of being hired. That had left Phelps living only on the disability checks he received from the FBI, and with far too much time on his hands.

Eventually, Phelps had come up with a scheme for making the kind of money he felt he was owed after working for years to keep his country safe, sacrificing the use of his left hand and the better part of his eyesight in the process. The plan was actually based on an idle thought he’d had one day while completing one of the many background checks he’d been assigned, right before he’d left the Bureau. His job had been to check out not the actual person of interest, but all those around them: parents, children, spouses, lovers, and best friends, anyone who could be used to coerce the person of interest into betraying their country. As Peter spent more time on this assignment, he started noticing who was making a lot of money, who was in a position of power, and who made contributions to their employers that were highly valued. On that particular day he’d been struck by a strange notion. These people would make perfect targets for kidnapping, and if he were the one doing it, he wouldn’t bother asking their families for ransom. That wasn’t where the real money was – no - he would ask for ransom from the employers. He hadn’t thought much more about the idea, though, and soon he had left the Bureau to take the other job. But, eight months later, once again unemployed, he’d made an amazing discovery while tooling around on the internet one day.

Out of curiosity, Phelps had attempted to use his old ID code to get into the FBI databases. Imagine his surprise when it worked! For some reason, probably due to the serious under-manning of the support staff areas at the Bureau, no one had bothered to deactivate his codes when he’d ‘retired.’ He could still access the files he had been working on before he left, and newer files that were being created all the time, since no one had bothered to change any of the access codes. Then he remembered that strange idea he’d had one day while still working there, and he realize this gave him the perfect way of targeting victims, if he ever actually wanted to realize his plan.

He stopped his pacing and reminiscences when he heard the sound of a car pulling into the long, circular drive in front to the mansion. Looking at his watch, he saw it was 10:15 A.M. Whoever had arrived was early. He suspected he knew who it would be, and peering out the window he saw that he’d been right. Climbing out of a jazzy little black Mercedes sports car was Sylvia Cooper, her long blonde hair tied back so that the wind from the sunroof didn’t tangle it beyond all repair. Peter stood and admired her. She was attractive in an understated way, and rarely dressed to show off her womanly curves and long shapely legs, and her intelligence shown through on her beautiful face, making it that much more engaging. At thirty three, Sylvia was in her prime.

Sylvia had been the first person Peter had recruited when he’d committed himself to actually trying the kidnapping scheme. He had met her while he was working corporate security. She ran her own consulting firm, and many private security firms brought her in to evaluate the effectiveness of the systems they were installing. Peter had liked her right away. She really knew her stuff; bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Sciences having ensured that, and he respected her for her knowledge. Sylvia had come from money, but her family lost the majority of their wealth in a Ponzi scam, and she felt cheated – to which Peter could certainly relate. Ultimately, it was that bitterness he’d tapped into when he broached the subject, offering it as a way for her to get back some of her family's lost money from these faceless companies that made a habit of sucking people dry.

Moving to the door, he let the young woman in, pressing a kiss to her left cheek. “Good morning Sylvia. I hope you got a little rest,” he greeted her.

“Hello Peter. I’m not surprised to see I’m the first here. I suspect everyone is having a hard time getting started today,” she answered. “How’s our guest today?” she asked.

“Getting restless,” his answered. “I peeked in on her earlier, just after Garrison had given her breakfast, and she was clearly agitated. I hope yesterday’s events haven’t made it impossible for us to conclude our business with her employer and get her home. I would hate to have to kill a woman.”

“I think it’ll be okay. Jillian and I spent hours pouring over the files David pulled from the surveillance room yesterday, and it doesn’t look as if the FBI had any actual contact with her CEO, so if nothing changes, we should be okay,” Sylvia responded, referencing two of the other people Peter was expecting to arrive.

Jillian Marshall worked for Sylvia at her consulting firm, and that was how she’d gotten involved in the kidnapping syndicate. Sylvia had hired her for the firm because of her background – twenty five years in the Marine Corps, where she’d been trained in covert ops and extractions in hostile environments, as well as computer investigation. She was tough as nails, but lacked the polish and political savvy that would have allowed her to advance past the rank of Captain, so when her twenty five years were up, and she could retire with full military benefits, she’d cut and run, knowing she could find work in any number of security related fields. Like Sylvia and Peter, she was single. For twenty five years her job had been her whole world. Not that she’d led a monastic life; she’d had plenty of short term relationships, and one or two that she would even have qualified as serious. One of which was still going on.

For the past ten years she’d been involved on and off, with a man named David Barker. David was different from the others she dated, who tended to be military men. Although he had once been in the Marines, he didn’t carry himself with the same rigidity she associated with the military. David was suave and trendy, and when she first met him, he’d told her he was a consultant for various companies, and hadn’t elaborated. Over time she’d come to realize he wasn’t that at all, rather, he supported himself by gun running, extortion, and high end cons, but by that time she was infatuated, and since he actively worked at staying off law enforcement's radar, and wasn’t likely to soon star on a 'Most Wanted' poster, she’d turned a blind eye. When Sylvia had recruited her for the kidnapping scheme, it was Jillian who had suggested that David should be included, and after meeting him, Sylvia had agreed. There was no telling when a little muscle would be needed, and David was in the unique position to supply that. Not only was he not above getting his own hands dirty, but he also had four men who worked with him regularly as hired muscle. They would be able to pay these men a minimal weekly salary and make use of their services, without ever having to divulge all of the details of the operation. It had been a win-win for everybody.

“I certainly hope so,” Peter said to Sylvia. Then, before he could get the door shut, he saw another car pull in. “Speak of the devils, here come Jillian and David. I thought we’d meet in the kitchen. There’s that large table and everyone can help themselves to drinks and food as they see fit.”

“Sounds good. All I ask is that we have a full pot of coffee at all times. I’m beat; it was a long night,” Sylvia agreed.

“There’s some already brewed. Go on in and help yourself while I wait for the newest arrivals,” Peter told her.

Jillian and David hurried when they say Peter standing in the doorway. “We’re not late, are we?” Jillian asked as they approached the door.

“No, you’re on time. Sylvia just arrived, and Richard isn’t here yet,” Peter assured her. “Good morning David,” he then said to the man walking behind her, his voice less warm than it had been when he’d addressed Jillian. He was angry with the other man, as he blamed him for the events of yesterday that had resulted in none of them enjoying a decent night’s sleep, but was not willing to fully show his irritation until he’d heard the whole story.

“Peter,” David greeted him, as he watched the man warily. David Barker didn’t really trust Peter. He’d been a criminal too many years to be completely comfortable teaming up with an ex-FBI agent, even if the whole scheme had been his idea. Even though they now had a common goal, they just didn’t see the world the same way. He knew Peter would be upset over the way yesterday had turned out, and he’d spent the drive out to Calverton dreading the impending meeting. All he could hope was that Peter would be too focused on making sure they collected the ransom for Melissa Carter to let yesterday be a deal breaker.

“Sylvia’s back in the kitchen. Why don’t you both go and get yourselves something to eat while I wait here for Richard. He shouldn’t be much longer,” Peter suggested, eager to have just a bit more time alone before they had to start analyzing the situation. He stood aside and watched the couple as they meandered through the formal living room towards the kitchen. Privately he thought that Jillian was a fool to let herself get involved with that man, but that was her business, not his, he reminded himself.

He was again just about to close the door, when he saw the car he’d been waiting for arrive. ‘I’m beginning to feel like a doorman,’ he told himself as he waited for the last of his partners. The dark sedan pulled in next to Sylvia’s Mercedes, and Peter watched as Richard DeAngelo climbed out. He could barely hide his grin when he watched the man carefully lock his car. ‘Once a cop, always a cop,’ he thought to himself, ‘As if anyone was going to get into the car, out here, miles from the next nearest house, even farther than that from an actual town.’ That was one of the main reasons he’d picked this house, after all, when he’d started looking for rental property to use as their home base. That, and the fact that the utilities were paid by the rental property company, so there would be no extraneous records of their residency.

Peter had known Richard for many years, due to his position as Washington Metro’s FBI Liaison. They had shared drinks and dinners on occasion over the years, and worked well together. Peter learned about Richard's personal life, and his wife's almost pathological hatred for his dedication to his job. When her frustration with his job had destroyed their marriage, Peter had been there. Richard's wife wanted a husband who was actually home at a normal hour every night, and who wasn't called into work at all hours of the day and night, with no regard for family events, such as birthday parties and anniversaries. She wanted a husband who was more than passingly familiar with fatherhood, and could actually make and keep a promise to attend a child's school play, or baseball game. After fifteen years of disappointment, she had finally had enough and filed for divorce. Peter had quietly supported Richard through his marital woes, and his subsequent frustration at his lack of access to his children, and their less than enthusiastic responses in the time he actually did get with them. When Peter's mission had literally blown up in his face, Richard had been one of the few people who stood by him, and worked to maintain their friendship. So, when Peter had started to put his new ‘team’ together, he’d immediately thought of Richard.

In the end, it had been surprisingly easy to convince DeAngelo to join up. Peter’s plan was to kidnap ten executives and hold each of them for a ransom of five million dollars. Dividing that up equally amongst five partners would give each person ten million dollars. All Peter had had to do was point out to Richard the kind of freedom that money would buy him. Richard had seen it as a way to reclaim his family. He’d retire, buy some land somewhere, convince his wife to take him back, then they could take their children and move out of the city and start all over again, free from the pressures of a job that demanded twenty four hour a day availability. It didn’t matter if the plan wasn’t realistic - it was the best opportunity Richard thought he’d get. So he’d signed on the imaginary dotted line, and agreed to lend his extensive knowledge and access to both the Metro Police’s and FBI’s computer systems, files, and facilities to the mission.

Richard was shaking his head as he climbed the three steps that took him up to the wide front porch that the mansion’s front door opened on to. “Well, things certainly got out of control, didn’t they?” he said to Peter, when he was close enough to be heard. “Probably what we deserve for bringing a thug like Barker into this.”

“We don’t know that this was all Barker’s fault,” Peter said. “After all, he was sent in to disrupt the FBI’s surveillance of the Nabscot corporate offices,” he reminded his friend. This was why he’d wanted to be alone when Richard arrived. He’d suspected the police captain would be more than a little agitated, and he hoped to calm him down before the meeting began.

“Disrupt, yes - shoot two federal agents, and then later gun down another agent and an Assistant Director of the FBI in broad daylight – no!” Richard snapped. “And let’s not forget about the other three dead agents at the safe house and the missing girl.”

“We need to hear the whole story, Richard. We were all so busy working damage control yesterday that no one has a complete picture of what went down. Get a hold of yourself and then we’ll go in. Everyone’s gathered in the kitchen, so we can get started as soon as you’re ready,” Peter soothed. There was no way he was going to let this devolve into finger pointing and hurled accusations. Not when they’d gotten this far already. He just needed to hold them together long enough to successfully conclude the transaction with Carter’s employer, and move on to the last four targets. Then they could take their money and never have to see one another again.

“Let’s get it over with,” DeAngelo said, as he brushed past Peter and marched towards the kitchen.

Peter hurried along behind Richard, not willing to let Barker and DeAngelo be in a room alone together without him there to serve as a buffer. When they got to the kitchen, they found the other three conspirators sitting at the table, nursing cups of coffee and nibbling on pastries from the tray Peter had set in the middle of the table. Peter didn’t allow anyone else to say anything. He began speaking the minute he cleared the threshold. “Okay, now that Richard’s here, we can get started. I’m going to start by summarizing what we already know – just so we have a clear framework. Okay?” he asked, and looked around, pleased to find four heads nodding in agreement.

“We all know that on late Thursday afternoon, when Sylvia was running a sweep on the Nabscot CEO’s office to determine how close he was to paying the ransom, she picked up on some other electronic surveillance, which she backtracked to an office on the tenth floor of the next building. Does anyone have anything they want to comment on here?” he asked. Four heads shook in response.

“Okay, so then Richard did some snooping and discovered that the Bureau was running some kind of operation in the area, although no one he talked to had much information on it. Sylvia eventually managed to get mike feed on the office and we learned it was indeed the FBI, but that they seemed to be running some kind of independent surveillance, without the knowledge of anyone at Nabscot. Sylvia, do you want to add anything?” he asked.

“I’ve got more information on that, but I’ll wait until you’re done summarizing,” she said.

“That’s fine,” Peter said. “So, we determined that it would be possible to get into the building the FBI was using by disguising David and his men as exterminators. To that end, Sylvia hacked into the management company’s computers and downloaded the appropriate work orders, while Jillian and David raided the offices of the pest control business they usually used to get coveralls and equipment, while two of David’s men – was it Joe White and Marty Franklin?” he asked, looking at David for confirmation. When David rolled his eyes and nodded, Peter continued, “Okay, White and Franklin arranged to have logos made for the van that would identify them as employees of the extermination company. The plan was for David and three of his men to go in on Friday afternoon, leaving Garrison in the van as lookout, get past security, go up to the tenth floor, restrain anyone in the surveillance room, and get the hard drives from any computers in the room and all the paperwork they could find, so we would know exactly what they were up to, and put a stop to the operation.”

“Is this really necessary?” Barker snapped. “We all know what the plan was.”

“It never hurts to review,” Peter said, rather fastidiously. “We can’t talk about what went wrong if we aren’t clear on what was supposed to happen.”

“Well, we’re clear now, right?” Barker asked, looking around the table at the others. When no one seemed to disagree, he said, “Why don’t you let me tell you what did happen?”

“Let’s let Sylvia start, why don’t we?” Peter suggested, hoping Barker would cool off before they got to him. “Just take us through the break in on the surveillance site for now,” he instructed her.

“Well, you’ve already covered most of it,” she said. “Once the operation started, Jillian and I didn’t have a lot to do. The only thing you left out really, was that Jillian and I spent most of Friday morning perfecting a virus we could introduce into the computer system that runs the security cameras for the office building the FBI was using. Once we set the bug loose, it deactivated all the security cameras on the inside and outside of the building for one half hour. Barker had a stop watch so he could keep track of the time. That way there wouldn’t be any visual record of them being there. That part of the plan worked perfectly,” she said, rather smugly.

“Okay David, tell us where things went wrong,” Peter said.

“It started when we got into the lobby,” Barker said. “This girl was coming out of the elevator, and she was digging in her purse, not looking where she was going. She rammed right into me, knocking us both off balance. When I reached over to stop her from falling, I brushed up against her side and felt a gun, so I knew she must be one of the feds. Anyway, the stupid bitch made a big deal of apologizing, and once we got loose from her, we headed to the elevators.”

“So why didn’t you abort right then?” Richard demanded from across the table.

“Because it wasn’t supposed to be that big a fucking deal,” Barker snapped back at him. He was tired and that made his temper, which was never very good, even more hair triggered. “Put on the face masks and gloves, get in, tie up anyone in the room, take out the computers, grab the papers and run. Nothing to warrant an all out manhunt. Figured they’d be so busy scrambling to figure out why they’d been hit that it would take them a few days to find their own asses and get around to realizing she’d seen anything.”

“That was your first mistake,” Richard muttered under his breath.

David just ignored him. “Anyway, we got up to the tenth floor and they opened the door just like we planned. Then it all went to hell. I knocked down the agent who answered the door, but before we could get to the other one, he’d drawn a gun and Steve Holmes had to shoot him before he could shoot me. Then the other one, the one on the ground, pulled his gun and started to get up, and Marty put a round in him. No one planned for that to happen. Since we were in there, we went ahead and got the hard drives and shoved them and all the paperwork we could find in the empty spray canisters, destroyed all the surveillance equipment we could see, and got the hell out of there with eight minutes to spare,” he finished with a quick glare at DeAngelo.

“And then?” Peter prompted.

“And then I had a fucking problem, didn’t I?” David hissed. “Two FBI agents had just been shot, I wasn’t even sure if they were dead or not, and some stupid little bitch could identify me.”

“That’s enough,” Peter warned, tired of David’s profanity and hostility. “Just tell us about the Hummer attack, which was featured on the nightly news last night!”

“When we got the van back to the garage we were stashing it in, we pulled the fake insignia, swapped the license plates and got out of the coveralls. I called Jillian to tell her what had happened. She told me to look through the paperwork and see if I could find anything that might identify who the agents assigned to the case were. So we did that, and ended up finding a sheet with the names, badge numbers and phone numbers of five people. I called Jillian back and gave her that info, and she and Sylvia ran a trace on their phones, and told me to come on back to Sylvia’s consulting firm. I sent my guys away and arranged to meet them in two hours at another garage, and then I drove the van to where we usually keep it, and got my own car. While I was doing that, Sylvia and Jillian were able to figure out who the two agents were that we hit. When I got to Sylvia’s you were there,” he said to Peter, “so you know what happened.”

“Richard doesn’t David,” Peter said, trying very hard not to lose his patience. “Go ahead and tell him.”

“When I got to Sylvia’s, Peter debriefed me, and when he and Jillian heard about the agent in the lobby they freaked,” David told Richard. “They said she’d been trained to remember faces and details and Peter said I had to take her out right away. Peter had me call my guys back, and told me to go get the Hummer, while Sylvia ran a trace on the girl’s phone. The plan was they’d let me know when she was on the move, and we’d take her out before she had a chance to give anyone a good description of me. So my crew met me at the garage, we put on black coveralls, gloves, and face masks, got clean plates for the Hummer, and headed towards the girl's phone signal. Once she was on the move, Sylvia tracked her, and we set ourselves up to intercept. And everyone knows the rest. When Sylvia said the signal was almost by us, we saw an SUV with government plates and knew that had to be it. We circled around, got in front of them, and then cut them off. My guys opened up the back of the Hummer, and shot the hell out of that SUV with AK-47’s. No one in that SUV should have been able to walk away from it.”

“But they did, didn’t they?” Richard said hotly.

“That is not my fault,” David hissed. “That SUV looked like swiss cheese.”

“Why didn’t you get out and make sure you’d got her?” Richard wanted to know.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because we were in the middle of fucking downtown D.C. and I could hear the cop cars coming before they’d even got done shooting?” David said.

“Take it easy,” Peter told David, and he shot DeAngelo a look, letting him know he had to back off. “Just go on.”

“There isn’t all that much more to tell,” David said. “It was hours before we had another crack at her, since they took her to the Hoover building straight from the SUV attack site, and no one’s getting in there. But Jillian kept the trace running. Finally they moved her, we followed, figured out it was a safe house, and Sylvia and Jillian did their computer magic,” he said.

Sylvia looked over at Richard and elaborated, “I was able to knock out their cameras and alarm system with that new program I told you about. It’s a mistake to run both off the same computer,” she said with a self satisfied smile.

“We got in there, ended up killing the three agents guarding her, but somehow she got away,” David said.

“And we lost the trace right after that,” Sylvia said. “I guess whoever picked her up was smarter than she was, and had her disable the phone. We’ve been tracking her bank accounts and credit cards all night, but there hasn’t been any movement on them. Guess the feds have her locked down pretty tight.”

“They don’t have her,” Richard said.

“What?” Peter asked. “What do you mean?”

“They think we have her,” Richard said, and they all looked at each other in confusion.

“I think its your turn Richard,” Peter said, when he got over the shock. “How did you learn this?”

“I did just what you and I discussed. I got myself over to Bethesda as soon as I could, after I spent hours listening to the Chief rant about the holier than thou attitudes of the FBI. When I got there, the visitors’ lounge with crammed with agents. The team leader - a guy named Ed Morgan was there, a couple of other lower level agents, Tobias Fornell and Jethro Gibbs from NCIS and his second….”

“Did you say, Gibbs?” Peter interrupted him.

“Yes, Gibbs,” DeAngelo confirmed. “Why?”

“That isn’t good. What was he doing there?” Peter wanted to know.

“One of the guys shot at the surveillance site, Langer, had worked for him. I think he was there checking up on him.”

“Does he know about the kidnapping?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know, that wasn’t mentioned at all,” DeAngelo said, confused by why this was such a big deal.

Peter could see this, and attempted to clarify. “Gibbs is like a dog with a bone. The things that set him off the fastest are crimes against children and crimes against wives of military personnel. He learns about Carter, there won’t be any holding him back. I knew these two agents, Liz Templeton and Viv Blackadder who used to work under him, and they had horror stories. He’s got a whole set of rules his agents have to learn and follow, and once, on a joint operation, I saw him physically assault his second in command.”

“Liz Templeton was there last night,” DeAngelo told Peter, “and so was his second, a guy called Tony DiNozzo. I don’t think he’s going to be assaulting that one. He and Templeton got into it, and Templeton spewed venom at the guy, and Gibbs about killed her. If looks could kill, Templeton would be dead already, no bullets necessary,” he joked, but Peter didn’t laugh. Instead, he just looked thoughtful.

“What’s the condition of the wounded agents?” Peter asked.

“Well, I’m sure you already know Glenn died. Its been on every TV and radio station all morning,” DeAngelo said. “Victor Merit, the one that got it in the shoulder, made it through surgery fine, and the doctors said he’d make a full recovery. The other one, Brent Langer, is in bad shape. His lungs got damaged, and he’s developed an infection. They don’t know if he’s going to make it. He’s the one that worked for Gibbs. I could tell he took it hard because DiNozzo spent some time consoling him, just before they left.”

“Gibbs is going to be a bigger problem than the FBI,” Peter scowled.

“He’s NCIS,” David scoffed. “Almost no one’s ever heard of them. How big a problem can he possibly be? Besides, as long as he doesn’t find out about Carter, he doesn’t have any jurisdiction.”

“That’s just it,” Peter said. “Gibbs doesn’t need jurisdiction. He does whatever he pleases. He’s going to go ape shit when Langer dies, and by the way, Langer and Merit need to die. They may not have seen your faces, but we can’t take that chance. We’ll have to figure out how to deal with that later. This DiNozzo may be our answer with Gibbs. If they’re as close as you think, Richard, maybe we can use DiNozzo for leverage with Gibbs. We’ll have to watch Gibbs, and see if that’s going to be necessary. One last thing, explain why they think we have the girl. Did Fornell say something about that?”

“No, they never mentioned her. But after they left, I went and sat with Morgan, and I asked him if they’d found the girl. He said they’d called off the search for her because they hadn’t found any sign of her. Said Fornell had decided that the attackers on the safe house must have taken her. So I don’t know what that means, or where she is,” DeAngelo said, frowning, not liking the unexplained mystery.

Peter didn’t like it either, it just smelled wrong to him. “Well, now we all have a better picture of what’s going on. Now we need to decide what needs to happen next.”

They determined that since the papers they’d confiscated had told them that the FBI had not had any contact with the CEO of Nabscot, and that the FBI had only learned about her disappearance through back channels, which is why they had been running a covert surveillance operation, hoping for information or at least confirmation of a kidnapping, that they could proceed as planned. The rest of the procedure they had in place for collecting the ransom would be carried out as if no disruption in their routine had taken place. The money was be wired to the off-shore account then transferred to their Swiss account, after it had been passed through several banks along the way, all set up by Sylvia, and virtually untraceable. Carter would be delivered to her home, unconscious, just as the others had been, and left with a note reminding her that her life will be forfeited if she notifies any authorities of where she had been, or what happened during her absence. The note would say she was to contact her CEO immediately upon awakening, and he would explain everything to her.

They then refocused on the troublesome FBI agents. They all agreed that DeAngelo couldn’t be the one to do any of the killing, since people would note his presence way too readily. Peter decreed that he was far too recognizable a figure to both FBI and DC Metro cops, so he couldn’t even be present at the hospital when any of the killing took place. Everyone thought his time would best be spent focusing on finding Kreiger. After discussing it, DeAngelo suggested he offer the assistance of DC Metro to the FBI in finding Kreiger and her captors, and see how the offer was received. That might give them some idea on how to proceed. Jillian and Sylvia were to keep monitoring Kreiger's bank accounts and credit cards, but Peter wasn’t hopeful. ‘She's a law enforcement officer, and she knows that 'follow the money' is one of the cardinal rules of tracking someone, so she's likely to avoid using any and all of her credit cards and she would also stay away from her bank, but then how is she accessing funds, and WHERE THE HELL IS SHE???’ he thought.

David was assigned the task of developing a plan for the elimination of Merit and Langer, and the additional responsibility of watching Gibbs and his team. Peter made it clear he wanted to know if it looked like Gibbs was even mildly interested in the FBI’s operation.

Finally, with nothing more to discuss, Peter ended the meeting and sent everyone on their way, demanding he be given hourly reports on their progress.

Chapter Eight

“Chapter Eight”

Saturday seemed to drag by for everyone involved in the case. Phelps and his gang had their meeting and then parted ways to see to their individual assignments. Abby and McGee frantically searched for answers using Abby’s computers, deep in the bowels of NCIS. The occupants of Ducky’s home in Reston spent fitful hours fretting about a situation they had no control over, and Tobias continued his long vigil at the hospital, while Morgan, Tony and Gibbs slept the afternoon away.

Melissa Carter sat in her beautifully appointed prison, wondering if she would ever see her husband or friends again. She’d been here nine long days now, her only contact with the rest of humanity consisting of the three daily visits paid to her by a ski masked man. With each trip he’d deposit a food tray, removing the last one as he left. He would appear with no warning, wearing a black jumpsuit and purple latex gloves, his body so carefully concealed that she didn’t even have a hint as to his skin color. She didn’t even know what his voice sounded like, since he always wore a voice synthesizer. When she’d first gotten there she’d been relieved by his efforts at concealment, telling herself that if he was being so careful to hide his identify from her, then he didn't intend to kill her - she would get out of this, whatever this was, alive. At least that’s what she initially thought. But now, nine days later, she was beginning to have her doubts.

Melissa wanted her husband. They’d met while still in high school and dated all through college. They’d married soon after graduation, and he had enlisted in the Marines, while she headed off to college. That was twenty five years ago. Jeff, her husband, had served two tours in the Service before leaving, although he’d stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves. For years that hadn’t entailed much more than the occasional weekend and once a year month long retreats, allowing him to move up in rank (he was currently a Colonel) both in the Reserves and at his job, where he was an executive for a major national trucking firm, a job that had allowed him to utilize the logistical training he’d received while in the Corps. Then the Iraqi War had happened, and he’d been called up. Now he was in Afghanistan. Melissa had missed him, but they’d stayed in contact via phone and email.

They’d wanted children, but that had never happened, so they’d clung to each other, growing closer than many couples. They weren’t just lovers, they were each other’s best friend. Melissa wondered if he was worried about her yet. Did he realize she was missing, or had the kidnappers found some way to dispel his worries? She wouldn’t be surprised if they’d managed to do that, they had certainly done their research on her. As a matter of fact, they seemed to know so much about her, it was almost as scary as the actual abduction had been.

She’d gone to bed late one night, two Wednesdays ago, and when she’d awakened, she’d found herself in a nicely appointed room that she had never seen before. Fortunately there was an attached bathroom, so after using the facilities, she tried the door leading into the room, only to find it locked. Looking around she saw that there were no windows. She pounded on the door for the next fifteen minutes, screaming for someone to let her out, and had almost falling over when the door opened, and the disguised man had appeared for the first time.

He’ been incredibly polite when he addressed her in his synthesized voice, and patiently explained to her that she’d been kidnapped, but that she would be fine as long as she cooperated. Her company would be paying the ransom, after which she would be released. Melissa had stood mute, and was still trying to absorb that information, when he asked her very calmly what she would like to have for breakfast. She hadn’t been able to answer, and when, after waiting futilely for her response, the man had shrugged and said, “I’ll just bring you your usual today, okay? One toasted multi-grain bagel with peanut butter and sliced bananas, coffee and a small glass of orange juice coming up.” After naming her normal breakfast of choice with amazing accuracy, he then turned and left.

The unpleasant surprises had just kept piling up. When she’d explored the room while he was gone, she’d discovered the closet and dresser drawers filled with sweat suits, jeans, sweaters, pajamas, bras and panties, all in her size. As a matter of fact, the only kind of apparel she found no trace of was shoes. But that didn’t mean they didn’t know her shoe size, because there were slippers – terry cloth, velveteen, and satin ballet styled slip-ons. The bathroom was stocked with her favorite beauty products, and the medicine cabinet even contained her brand of toothpaste, dental floss, and mouthwash. There was a cafe style table, where apparently she was to take her meals. There was a tray on the table upon which were placed bottles of the vitamins she took daily. The depth of research done on her personal life, proven by these little touches, shook her badly.

That had been nine days ago. By now they had established a routine. The man would bring her the food, inquire after her health, ask if there was anything else she needed, then leave. She would thumb through the books she’d found in the room – all by her favorite authors, or surf the channels on the wide screen TV mounted on the far wall, near a very comfortable seating area, and try not to cry.


Many miles away, in Reston, VA, Courtney and Ziva were experiencing their own frustrations. Having to put on the dress Mrs. Mallard had provided her with had only been the beginning of what would prove to be a day of irritations for Courtney. After enduring the humiliation of having to be debriefed while wearing the ridiculous outfit, things had started to look up when she and Ziva had established a visual link with Abby, using Ducky’s computer. They’d worked together for over an hour, Courtney describing the attacker’s features, Abby madly typing away on her computer, Courtney looking at the results and offering suggestions, and Abby encouraging her with frequent outbursts of “You’re doing great!” or “It’s so cool how well you remember things!” or her personal favorite, “You’re a rock star!” Finally, Abby managed to produce a likeness that Courtney approved, and Abby had rushed off to start running it through the innumerable databases available to her, telling Courtney it would probably take several hours before they could hope for a hit, since recognition programs were slow, and that her baby (Courtney assumed she was referring to her computer) had to sift through a plethora of data. Then they’d moved on to his henchmen. That was when all the positive energy had come to a screeching halt.

Although Courtney could remember general information about the men, such as their height, approximate weight, body type, and hair color, she couldn’t seem to get a handle on the particulars of their features. She and Abby worked on it for over two hours, until Abby declared that the rather generic images she had created were about as good as it was going to get. Courtney had insisted they keep trying, saying she’d work harder to remember, but Ziva, who’d come in to the room towards then end, had disagreed.

“It will not get any better Courtney,” she said. “You have been working on it for over two hours now.”

“I can do this, Ziva,” Courtney had argued. “I’m remembering more details all the time.”

“No Courtney. You are not. You are exhausted and not thinking clearly. You must stop now, as you are keeping Abby from doing research on the case,” she said, not to be cruel, but knowing that Courtney’s sense of responsibility would make her stop, and then she could talk her young friend into taking a nap.

Ziva’s words served to persuade Courtney to stop for a while, and Abby had told her to get some rest, promising she would call when they got a hit, and telling the FBI agent that they could try to work on the other men again later. Courtney had allowed Ziva to steer her to her room, where Ducky and Dr. Hampton had joined them, wanting to take a look at Courtney’s shoulder. She’d changed back into the nightgown, so they’d have better access to the shoulder, and Ducky had been amused at the look of relief on her face, when she’d handed him back his mother’s dress, politely telling him how much she had appreciated it. While the doctors were examining Courtney, Ziva had excused herself to go check in with Balboa and his team.

After determining that the wound was beginning to heal, Dr. Hampton applied more antibiotic cream, and applied a fresh dressing. Ducky gave Courtney another round of antibiotics and pain killers, to ensure that she slept. When she had settled down under the covers, Ducky and Jordan had stepped out into the hallway, softly closing the door behind them. Reaching out, Ducky had placed his hand fondly on Jordan’s hip. “Well, this is certainly different from how I envisioned this weekend, my dear,” he said with a small smile.

As Jordan leaned her body into his, she said “Its okay, Donald. At least you know how to keep a girl entertained.” As he pulled her in a little closer, she pressed a warm kiss to his cheek.

After checking in with Balboa one more time and assuring herself that all was well, Ziva retired to the bedroom Ducky had provided her with, having chosen that one because it abutted the room Courtney was using. Closing the door, Ziva had wearily crossed to the dresser where she’d stored the overnight bag she’d retrieved from her car earlier, and pulled out fresh clothing, and a small bag filled with personal hygiene products. Then, stripping herself of her various weapons and shedding her rumpled clothes, she headed into the bathroom that was communally connected to both Courtney’s and her bedrooms. Turning on the shower to as hot as it would go, Ziva stepped in and allowed the water to relax her, before she turned to the more mundane tasks of washing her hair and body. When she was done, and had toweled off and dressed, she ran a comb through her wet hair and brushed her teeth. Her simple ministrations complete, she eased the door open that led to Courtney’s room and peeked in. Courtney lay in the bed, sound asleep. Ziva smiled when she saw how peaceful and content the sleeping woman looked, and as a small smile played across her lips, she said softly, “What works for the gander, is good for the goose.” She closed the door, crossed through the bathroom, and made her way to her own bed, lay down, and fell fast asleep. The non-stop tension she had felt when she had sole responsibility for Courtney's safety, along with everyone else in the house, had taken its toll on her. She was already tired when this had all begun, and had only slept for about six hours the day before, so now that Balboa's people were on guard, and she knew she could actually relax, she fell into a deep, restorative sleep


While Ziva slept, Abby and McGee were hard at work back at NCIS Headquarters. They had been going non-stop since Gibbs, Tony and Fornell had left, early that morning. Abby’s first chore of the morning had been making a copy of Fornell’s hard drive, so that she could secure the original in the safe in her office. She didn’t want to take the chance of anything happening to it, or of having the wrong person see it. She was well aware of the faith he was placing in her by allowing her access to the information contained on it, and she fully intended to safeguard it.

While she was occupied doing that, McGee had hacked into DC Metro's system with ease and got busy scanning through all the reports from yesterday, using Agent Courtney Kreiger as his search term, since she had been present at all three of the events involving the FBI. When he’d downloaded everything he could find in Metro’s system, McGee used Fornell’s access codes to download everything the FBI mainframe had on the cases, paying special attention to all the forensic reports. After looking them over, he’d been discouraged to discover that Fornell had been right. The attackers had been very careful, and the only thing that would be of any use was the pictures of each crime scene. There had been bullets retrieved from the SUV, as well as from the agents who had been shot, but when the FBI forensics lab had run it through their system they hadn’t gotten any hits, which meant the guns were virgins. At least they were now in the system, and if they were used again, they'd be matched immediately.

The pictures from the SUV attack were unbelievable, and he called Abby over to take a look. It was astounding that anyone had survived that attack, and they figured that with that much firepower, a lot of people must have been taking pictures of the excitement, if they weren't busy diving for cover. They also discussed the fact that the attack had occurred on a major thoroughfare, so there must have been traffic cams that they could hack to follow the SUV. That was the next order of business.

They decide that Abby would start working on the traffic cams around the building where the initial attack occurred, using the timeline given by Courtney during her debriefing. They knew everything started around 1300 on Friday, when Courtney left to get lunch, so starting around 1230, Abby started to download footage from all the cameras in a one mile radius. It was a very systematic search grid, and it was going to take her hours to check all the cameras for any vehicles approaching the building in question. They knew these guys were supposedly carrying heavy tanks, so they reasoned that they wouldn't have walked far, so the vehicle had to be nearby. Even if the building's cameras were taken off-line, other buildings adjacent to it, and across from it, both front and back had working cameras, so there was going to be a lot of footage to work through. Before she could get too far, Abby got called away from her search to work with Courtney on developing composite pictures of the men she’d seen in the lobby, which left McGee to continue scanning security cameras and traffic cams for any sign of the kidnappers/murders.

He decided to start with the second scene, the SUV attack. He began with all of the buildings in the vicinity, and after accessing each building's cameras, had then pieced together the entire scene, from the beginning of the attack to the end. He then followed the Hummer for as long as he could, using the traffic cams, and when they were no longer effective, since the Hummer moved off a main thoroughfare onto side streets, he had to resort to using individual building cameras to try to follow it. Finally, it just disappeared completely, and he couldn’t find any sign of it on any of the nearby cameras. He was completely baffled. Something as big as a Hummer couldn’t just disappear.

The Hummer’s vanishing act so frustrated McGee that he decided he needed to take a break from traffic and security cams. McGee decided to focus on the kidnappings for a while. Thanks to the FBI’s files, he now had the name of the kidnapping victim who had been murdered when his CEO had refused to pay the ransom - Morris Nussbaum, as well as the current victim – Melissa Carter. Since Melissa Carter was a Marine wife, McGee decided to start with her.

The FBI had already compiled a fair amount of background information on her that discussed her educational background, her marriage, and her employment record. The information included glowing letters of recommendation, which clearly detailed all of the accomplishments she had achieved in her career, and lauded her dedication and superior skills in her chosen profession. Since this gave him a fairly good overview of Melissa Carter, he decided to move on to her husband, knowing he could access his information more easily than the FBI through the NCIS system, since the man was a Marine.

McGee discovered that with every promotion Jeffrey Carter had received, the Corps had run a new background check, and of course, that included information on his wife. The Marine Corps file provided basic information on both Carters, and once he had been recalled to active duty, and was assigned as a Logistics Officer in first Iraq, and then later Afghanistan, a more in depth investigation had been performed by the FBI. The Colonel was charged with allocating millions of dollars, so the check run on him had been much more thorough than any previous one, and paid careful attention to his wife as well. Yet, despite all he now knew about Melissa Carter and her husband, he still had no clue as to what had brought her to the kidnappers’ attention.

While Abby had been working with Courtney, the FBI agent told her that Vic Merit had reported that the bad guys had posed as exterminators, which coincided with Courtney’s memory of them being dressed in coveralls and wearing gloves, as well as carrying heavy tanks. So after Abby had the search on the composite picture running, she’d started going back through the footage she had been downloading from all possible sources near the building. She had barely been able to contain her excitement when she located an exterminator's van, as identified by the logos on the sides of the van. ‘Now I have something to track!’ she thought, and went at it wholeheartedly. She was able to track it from various traffic and security cams. She was particularly pleased when a camera on the building opposite the one where the attack occurred picked up the three men leaving the building, via the loading dock, and immediately walking towards a black van, with tinted windows and logos for the extermination company. They got into the van and headed east. Abby pulled up the traffic cam footage and was able to track the van for about 5 miles. Then it pulled into a parking garage, and as far as she could tell, using all the cameras around the garage, it never left. By the time she had all this pieced together, hours later, her eyes were beginning to cross and she couldn’t think straight. Even Caf-Pow wasn’t helping any more, so to give her poor eyes a break, she got up to see what McGee was doing.

“Whatcha doing?” she asked, as she sidled up behind McGee, causing him to jump out of his skin.

“Geez, don’t do that!” he said.

“Do what?” Abby asked

“Go around sneaking up on people!”

“I wasn’t sneaking up on you! Why are you so grumpy?” she demanded to know.

“I’m sorry Abs,” McGee said, shaking his head. “It’s just I keep hitting brick walls. First the Hummer disappears from all cameras, and now, even though the files on Melissa Carter are really detailed, I still don’t have a clue as to why she was picked,” he explained.

“I know what you mean,” Abby said. “I thought I was doing great, had the van they were using, followed them to a garage, and then – nothing. I don’t see them leave, and the van never comes back out,” she said, as she reached down to massage McGee’s tense shoulders. “Tell you what, let me get my laptop, and I’ll call up Nussbaum’s files. Then we can compare him and Carter to each other, point by point. Two heads are better than one,” she said, as she ruffled McGee’s hair.

By this point, McGee was so frustrated that any new angle sounded like a good idea to him. “Sure, that’d be great,” he said.

While they were discussing this, Jenny, who had been at NCIS since 0700, decided to call it a night. She had come in to see what Gibbs was up to, and then deciding that since she was already there, she might as well stay and get some work done. If she was being truthful, she would have to admit that another reason she had stayed was so she would be readily available in case all hell broke loose and the FBI found out that NCIS was hiding one of their agents. She had almost been afraid to leave the office, in case something else happened and she wasn't on-site. But since it was almost 1800 and nothing disastrous had happened, she figured it was safe to leave. On her way out, she decided to stop down and check on Abby and McGee, before she left for the night.

As she stepped off the elevator on Abby’s floor, she became concerned when she wasn't bowled over by the usual noise masquerading as music blasting from the speakers. When she entered, she saw McGee and Abby both typing furiously on two computers which had been placed side by side.

She announced her presence, since they were so intent on their monitors, they were unaware that anyone had even entered the room. Their reaction caused her to pause mid step, as they both jumped and practically broke their fingers trying to black out their screens. Jenny tilted her head, and in an authoritarian voice, asked "What are you up to, Abby, and the truth would be a good place to start."

“Director Shepard,” Abby said in relief. “Sorry, we weren’t sure who had come in. Can’t let the wrong people know about this.”

Jenny studied the two technology experts. Both McGee and Abby looked slightly dazed, and there was an almost manic quality to Abby’s expression. “Have you come up with anything yet?” she asked.

McGee sighed, ‘Those are going to be the first words out of Gibbs’ mouth, too,’ he thought to himself. ‘I hope the Director takes the bad news better than he’s going to.’

“Not yet, but we're close. Really, really, really close,” Abby was assuring Jenny, who studied the young forensic scientist, and decided it might be best just to drop it for now.

“When you get something, I expect to be the second person you notify,” Jenny told them.

Abby grinned widely and nodded her head, "Yes Ma'am, right after Gibbs."

Jenny nodded back, and said seriously, "I know what you’re doing is important, but I want both of you to take a break sometime soon, and get something to eat. You've been in here for twelve hours and you need to stop and refuel, and not just coffee and Caf-Pow, but real food. Do something different, walk around for a few minutes. You can't just sit at your computers for that many hours and not lose focus. Am I clear, people?"

Abby and McGee both nodded their understanding of her orders, and Jenny turned to leave, saying, "I'll be on my cell if you find anything. I'm heading over to Bethesda to check on Langer and Merit, and see if Fornell's still functional. Call me the minute you find anything."

After she left, McGee turned and looked at Abby. “We’re really close?? I can’t believe you told her that.”

“Relax Timmy. You just have to believe. Think positive thoughts,” she said, waving her hands around as if she were casting a spell.

“I can’t think anymore at all – positive or negative,” McGee grumbled.

“Aw, poor baby. I think Madame Director was right. We need a break. It has been twelve hours since we started. So, what should we do?” Abby asked.

Deciding food and a more comfortable seat were in order, they went over to Abby’s futon and sat down, a stack of take out menus on their laps, intending to look through them and decide what they wanted to eat. As they reclined against each other, silently contemplating the merits of gyros over Chinese, McGee began to crash. He’d been awakened in the middle of the night by Gibbs, and had been unable to go back to sleep. Abby watched his eyes get heavier and heavier. When his head began to lull to the side, she scooted around and made her lap available as a pillow. McGee sank down, without really even thinking about it, taking advantage of her largesse, and before he even knew it, he began to doze. Abby sat and watched him for several minutes, his soft even breaths beginning to hypnotize her, and within ten minutes, they were both fast asleep.


Sleeping did not appear to be an option for Fornell. As the day progressed a steady stream of agents appeared, bringing coffee and pastries, soft pretzels, and sandwiches, staying for a while to offer support, then leaving either to get back to work, or home to their families. Fornell was rarely alone, and although it was good to have the show of support, he would rather have had the time to himself to think about the case, and to formulate a new strategy to help solve it and catch these bastards. By the time 6:30 P.M. rolled around, Fornell was exhausted, and finally alone. He had been up for 36 hours, and all the coffee in the world wasn't going to keep him going much longer.

Just as he was about to doze off, Jenny Shepard walked into the waiting room, carrying coffee and a bag of food. She had passed a couple of FBI agents on her way in, and spoke briefly to Assistant Director Charles Alleyne, offering her condolences on the death of Assistant Director Glenn, then she proceeded up to the ICU Waiting Room, towards Tobias Fornell. On a personal level, Jenny liked Tobias, and recognizing his quasi-friendship with Jethro, she knew he had to be a good guy. But he was still FBI, and still an adversary as often as a friend. Their relationship was not close by any means. However, in this instance, in recognition of the death of his agents, and the precarious health of the ones currently being treated, as well as his agreement to work with NCIS, she felt it was safe to let her guard down more than usual with him. He looked terrible, exhaustion and stress clearly showing on his face, and in his posture. He was not a young man, and no matter how determined or how motivated, he was about to collapse if he didn't get some rest soon. With that thought in mind, Jenny was about to pull rank and order him home to get some sleep. She was prepared to offer to stay and keep vigil for his agents, if he would agree to get some sleep.

After their initial greetings, and the offering of the refreshments Jenny had brought, she was working up to sending him home when they heard footsteps approaching the waiting room. They both turned to see the new arrivals, and were greeted by Ed Morgan and Liz Templeton, both returning to check on the status of their teammates. Jenny was relieved to see them, and Tobias was not.

His greeting to them was less than welcoming, "I know I told you people to get some sleep, so what the hell are you doing back here?"

As they walked into the room, Templeton noted that Fornell was there along with a woman she vaguely recognized, but couldn't quite place. She expected to be introduced to her after Fornell calmed down.

Templeton stopped so abruptly at the anger in Fornell's voice she almost tipped over, but Morgan, who was much more familiar with Fornell's bark, since he had worked for the man for years, hardly reacted at all. He responded calmly, "They're my agents, and I'm responsible for them. This is where I should be. I appreciate your being here, and giving me a break, but this is where I belong, and you should be the one to go home and get some rest. Sir." The sir was tacked on as a less than subtle hint that Fornell was being an ass, and he knew he was, but he was too tired to rein himself in. He nodded at Morgan, acknowledging that he was right, but not verbalizing his agreement. Instead, he turned his attention to Templeton, and demanded, "What about you, Special Agent Templeton? What are you doing back here?"

Liz wasn't sure what to make of Morgan's response to Fornell, but she figured, if he could get away with it, so could she, and she responded, "They're my teammates, sir, and I felt this is where I should be."

Liz had gone home when Morgan essentially ejected her from the room, and she was aware he was angry with her. She had stepped over the line with DiNozzo, and she knew it, but he pushed all her buttons. He also had no right to be here, since there were two FBI agents wounded, not NCIS agents. ‘Yeah, yeah, solidarity, blah, blah, that wasn't it,’ she thought. He was like a puppy following Gibbs around, and just seeing him, after the day she'd had, well, he’d been too easy a target, and she needed to vent some of the frustration and impotence she felt. She had tried to sleep when she got home, but after only a couple of hours, her subconscious had prodded her awake, and she couldn't fall back to sleep, no matter how much she wished it to happen. She had showered, dressed, forced herself to eat some cereal, and then headed over to Bethesda. She needed to check on Brent and Vic, and see if there was any word on that kid, Kreiger. Jesus, what a clusterfuck!

She had run into Ed Morgan as she was getting off the elevator, and he looked about as bad as she felt. He wasn't happy to see her, and she knew as soon as things calmed down, he'd be 'having a talk with her' or more to the point, dressing her down for her behavior with DiNozzo. There really wasn't any excuse for it, and she had no defense. She'd take the reprimand, and try to avoid the bastard in the future.

Fornell was too tired to be diplomatic, and said off-handedly, "Ed Morgan, Liz Templeton, this is Jenny Shepard, Director, NCIS. Director, Ed Morgan, team leader, and Special Agent Templeton.”

Jenny had stood when Fornell did upon the arrival of the two newcomers. She was thinking he had as much grace as Jethro did when dealing with his own people, which is to say, none.

As Jenny was reaching out to shake hands with Morgan, two more FBI agents entered the room, as well as an Assistant Director, Todd Marshall, and Captain Richard DeAngelo, of DC Metro. They hesitated inside the door, but heard what she said to Morgan.

She held out her hand to Morgan, repeating virtually verbatim what she had said during an earlier call to the FBI Director, "We, at NCIS, were so sorry to hear about the attack on your agents, and please know that we will do everything in our power to lend any assistance you may need. We consider an attack on any federal agent unacceptable, and will treat the deaths of the five who were lost as though they were our own people. Since Special Agent Langer actually was one of ours a while ago, we take the attack on him, and Special Agent Merit very personally. The resources of our Agency will be available should you need them. Please don't hesitate to let us know what we can do to assist in finding the perpetrators."

Ed Morgan's smile, though forced, was sincere. "Thank you, Director, we appreciate the support. I'm sure our Director, or Special Agent Fornell will not hesitate to call on you if they feel NCIS can help us out."

Fornell nodded slightly as Jenny finished speaking, and realized she was genuinely offering her support, and at the same time misdirecting anyone who was curious about NCIS' involvement in the operation. He had always liked Jenny Shepard. Knowing she had been Gibbs' partner, he felt she could be trusted, but this was one of the first times he actually witnessed her during an undercover operation, and he was impressed. No one watching her interact with Morgan would ever guess that NCIS was already on the case, and working hard to find the bastards who were responsible for all this death and destruction. Her presence was easily passed off as a federal agency director making a courtesy call when another agency was facing a tragedy, and saying all the right things, nothing more. Very impressive, indeed.

Turning towards Fornell, Jenny said, "Special Agent Morgan was right Tobias, you should go home and get some sleep. He's here for his team, now, and to be frank, you look like hell. If you don't get some rest, you won't be any good to anyone. We may not be in the same chain of command but I'm going to pull rank here, if I have to, and order you to go home and sleep. My driver is downstairs, and I'll be more than happy to offer you a ride. "

Not about to be shown up by NCIS, FBI Assistant Director Marshall stepped closer to the group, and extended his hand, saying, "Director Shepard, we at the Bureau appreciate your support, and I agree with your assessment of Special Agent Fornell's condition." Releasing Jenny's hand, he turned to Fornell and said, "I AM in the same chain of command, and I'll make that an order, Fornell. You will accept the Director's kind offer of a ride, and go home. I'll stay with Morgan, and there are others here as well. Go home, now."

Fornell nodded in acquiescence, too tired to argue with anyone at that point. "Yes, sir," he responded, then turning to Jenny, he said, "Thanks, Director, I'd appreciate that ride."

Jenny nodded, then looking back at Morgan, she said, "These coffees are still hot, and I brought a couple of sandwiches, since I didn't know who had eaten last. Please, help yourself, and don't hesitate to call if we can be off assistance. I'd appreciate knowing if there are any changes in Special Agent Langer's condition."

Morgan nodded as he responded, "I'll make sure you are notified of any changes, Director, and thanks for stopping by and for the food and coffee. It's appreciated."

Jenny offered a smile as she picked up her coat, and turned to Fornell and said, “Come along Agent Fornell, let’s get you home.”

Chapters Nine and Ten

Chapter Nine

Abby woke up with a start and felt something heavy on her lap. Looking down, she saw McGee, his head nestled comfortably on her thighs, softly snoring. Straightening herself back up into a true sitting position, she pulled her left wrist out from where it had been trapped by McGee’s body, and looked at her watch - 3:12 A.M. the digital readout proclaimed. ‘Damn it!’ she thought. “McGee,” she said, shaking his shoulder. “McGee, wake up! Come on, up and at ‘em!” she nudged.

McGee tried to bury his head further between her legs. “Just ten more minutes, Mom,” he murmured.

“I’m NOT your mother,” Abby swatted at him. “Come on, wake up!” she said insistently.

“What….what?” McGee said, as he rolled over so he was facing up. Opening his eyes, he saw Abby’s scowling face looming above his own.

“You made us fall asleep, and it’s after 3:00,” she accused.

“How is that my fault?” McGee asked, not fully awake, but also not willing to be blamed for something he hadn’t even had time to process yet.

“You’re the one who fell asleep while we were looking at menus,” she said. “I was just keeping you company!” Her look dared him to disagree.

McGee, who was more awake now, with his sense of self preservation firmly back in place, wisely chose not to comment. Rolling to his side, he sat up, instinctually checking his watch, even though Abby had just told him the time. After giving his eyes a quick rub, he pushed himself to his feet. “Guess dinner’s off,” he commented. “We need to get back to our searches. It’ll be morning soon, and I don’t want to have nothing to report to Gibbs when he calls in to check on us.”

They made their way back over to where, hours before, they’d set up their laptops. When they had stopped to take a break, they had been comparing Morris Nussbaum’s and Melissa Carter’s FBI files, point by point, and had yet to find a common thread. Their lives could not have been more different. “Okay, let’s review,” Abby said, as they waited for the machines to come out of hibernation. “So far, we haven’t been able to find how Carter and Nussbaum are related. For one thing, Nussbaum is an Israeli citizen.”

“Yep,” McGee agreed, “and Carter’s been happily married for twenty five years, and Nussbaum is unmarried, although he’s been in a relationship with the same woman for five years now – an analyst for the Pentagon.”

“Okay,” Abby agreed. “They don’t go to the same church, since Carter’s Lutheran and Nussbaum is Jewish. So no one scouted them out there.”

“I doubt if they’ve even attended the same conferences, since the companies they work for don’t produce any of the same kinds of things.”

“ARRGGGGGHHHH!” Abby growled. “So how did the kidnappers pick them out?”

“I wish I could answer that,” McGee said fervently. “Why did the FBI have a file on Nussbaum anyway?” he asked, since Abby was the one going through Nussbaum’s files.

“Same as Carter – they were actually running a background on his girlfriend, since she just got promoted. Her area of expertise is the Middle East, and her assigned duties involve helping in the design of the strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, and the ongoing search for Bin Laden. They had all that background on Nussbaum because he lives with her,” Abby answered.

McGee was quiet for a few seconds. Something she had just said had clicked for him. He found himself thinking about the information contained in the files. All those glowing letters of recommendation.... was it possible that each of the kidnap victims was peripherally investigated because of someone else? For instance, Melissa Carter wasn’t a criminal, and neither was her husband. They were both law-abiding, productive citizens, but here were detailed files on them. These files could be accessed for legitimate purposes, i.e., Col. Carter's promotion and increased responsibility in the military, but they could also be accessed for nefarious purposes, i.e., identifying potential kidnap victims. McGee's gut began screaming at him as he realized he’d just had a 'Eureka' moment! Of course, that made him stop and think, ‘I must have been working for Gibbs too long if my gut is now talking to me.... oh boy, what's next? Mainlining coffee, growling at everybody, and slapping them upside the head when I get frustrated? Geez!’

“Hey, earth to McGee,” Abby said, clapping her hands in front of his face and snapping him out of his musings. “Did you hear me? I asked you what you were thinking about.”

McGee hesitantly started to tell her about his idea of how the targets were identified. It was a pretty big leap, and since he hadn’t been able to confirm it yet, he was a little uncomfortable with sharing an untested theory. Abby, on the other hand, became immediately enamored with the idea.

“That’s brilliant, Timmy!” she exclaimed. “That makes so much sense. No one would even know that someone was snooping on them, since they’d be …..” her voice tapered off, as she turned to stare at McGee.

“What?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”’

“Let’s say you’re right. So, who do you think would have access to those files?” she asked quietly, not liking the answer she’d come up with on her own.

McGee nodded, having already worked it out for himself. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “Only someone with access codes for the FBI’s computer files, or one hell of a good hacker. But the problem with it being a hacker is, they’d have to know the files existed, which still means an insider.”

“Sometimes I just hate Gibbs' gut!” Abby exclaimed out of the blue.

“What are you talking about, Abs?” McGee asked, totally confused.

“How does he do that?” she demanded, still not bothering to explain herself.

“Do what?” McGee asked, squinting at her.

“Know things before we can prove it. He was sure yesterday there was a leak!” she grumbled.

McGee didn’t bother trying to answer, because he didn’t really have an answer, and wasn’t sure if anyone did. It was just one of those things you came to expect from Gibbs. After it happened to you a few dozen times, you stopped trying to understand it, and just accepted it. “So now we just need to prove it, and we need to figure out if there have been any other victims. I guess we should start by looking at the background checks they’ve run in the last year, looking for people who have significant others in powerful positions in big corporations. I think I can probably write a program that’ll help us with that.”

“While you’re doing that, I’ll try and see if I can get the names of everyone who’s accessed Nussbaum’s girlfriend’s and Colonel Carter’s files. Maybe that’ll point us in the right direction,” Abby offered.

They fell silent as they both concentrated on their individual tasks. An hour later Abby sighed deeply, and then turned to McGee. “I’ve got a list, but I’m not sure how practical it’s going to be. There are dozens and dozens of people who’ve been in their files – secretaries, accountants, HR people – you name it, they’ve opened up at least one of these files for some reason. It certainly doesn’t make you feel very secure about how confidential any information the FBI has on us is. How’s your search going?”

“My program’s working pretty well. I have it pulling out anyone who makes over 200,000 a year, and then I'll have to go in and look at each one individually to check their employers. I’m starting to compile quite a list, but we’ve got another problem,” he told her.

“What?” Abby sighed and asked.

“To confirm our suspicions, we need to know if the any of these people were abducted. But how are we going to do that? It’s not like we can call them up, and say, ‘Oh, by the way, you weren’t kidnapped lately were you?’” McGee explained.

“Not to worry, Timmy!” Abby said, smiling broadly. “You’ve got the names of their employers, right?” When he nodded, she went on. “Well, we know from the FBI surveillance that both Nussbaum’s and Carter’s CEOs were told the ransom would be five million dollars, right?” Again McGee nodded, not seeing where she was going with this yet. “So all I have to do is hack into the bank accounts of these corporations and see if any of them made a five million dollar lump sum withdrawal or transfer. If it was a transfer, maybe I can even follow the money trail!” she announced, very pleased with her own brilliance. Neither one of them mentioned just how many laws they would be breaking, as they gave each other a high five over their plan.
“Speaking of banks,” McGee said when something occurred to him. “We need to set up monitors on all of Nabscot’s accounts, too; that way we’ll know when they pay out the ransom demand for Melissa Carter.” Abby agreed, and they were soon sitting, side by side, tapping away at their keyboards.


It was the feel of fingers teasing through his chest hair, and the warm gentle pull on his nipples from Tony’s mouth that woke Gibbs up, and he allowed himself a small, selfish moment to just lie there, enjoying, before he opened his eyes and acknowledged Tony’s efforts. All too quickly, however, his body began to crave more, and he reached out, his own hand running up and down the soft warm skin of Tony’s back. His right nipple was released, as Tony raised his head and looked at Gibbs. “Morning,” Tony said with a smile, his face already flushed with desire.

“Is it?” Gibbs asked, not willing to change his position in order to see the alarm clock on the bedside table.

“Close enough, its 3:15,” Tony said. “We slept a lot longer than we’d planned, but I’m all rested now,” he added, just before he started to use his tongue to trace an invisible line from Gibbs’ nipple down his belly.

Gibbs shivered as Tony’s journey took him further south, then audibly moaned when Tony’s mouth found what it had been seeking. His tongue traced its way around the already leaking helmet of Gibbs’ cock; then, without any more warning, Tony opened his mouth wider and took Gibbs’ entire length into his mouth, not stopping until he felt the tip of Gibbs’ penis hit the back of his throat. Then, because he was Tony, he softly began to hum “Good Morning Sunshine.” The stimulation from the vibrations, and the heat of Tony’s mouth, combined to push Gibbs almost to the edge, even as he choked on his laughter. Sensing Gibbs was close, Tony stopped humming and began to move his head up and down, all the while sucking and running his tongue up and down the sensitive veins. Soon Gibbs was panting from the effort of not coming, and he managed to say between moans, “Not this way….Come up here…. let’s do this together.”

Tony released him, and kissed his way back up Gibbs’ body, stopping only when he reached his mouth, where he pressed his lips to his lover’s mouth, opening to allow Gibbs entrance. When their lips were firmly locked together, Gibbs reached up, encircled Tony’s body, and in one graceful move, flipped them both over so he was now lying on top of the younger man. Gibbs reached over with one arm, fumbling around until his hand found the drawer handle he sought, then dipped his hand in, withdrawing a small tube of lubricant. He managed to achieve all this without ever breaking contact with Tony’s mouth. As Tony began to writhe underneath him, his groin pressing up into Gibbs’, Gibbs worked his legs between Tony’s, indicating his desire for him to spread his legs. When Tony complied, firmly planting his feet on the bed, Gibbs released Tony’s mouth, slowly nipping his way down Tony’s chin onto his neck, where he paused to suck and worry at the join between Tony’s throat and shoulder, one of Tony’s favorite hot spots. Releasing Tony for just a second, he opened the tube, allowing the slick lubricant to coat his hand and fingers, then tossed the tube aside, as he brought his hand down and slid it between their bodies, searching until he found what he was seeking. Once his fingers reached their destination, Gibbs slowly teased one, then two, and finally three into Tony’s silken heat, thrusting them in and out until he was satisfied that Tony was ready, and then, in one slow, even push, he replaced his fingers with his cock, easing in to Tony until he was fully seated. When Tony arched his hips up into Gibbs’, whimpering for more, as he wrapped his legs tightly around Gibbs' waist, he began to move. Placing one hand on Tony's hip for balance, while the other was firmly wrapped around Tony's straining cock, he began pumping in time with his thrusts. It didn’t take either of them long to find their release.

Satiated, they lay panting, resting against one another, until their breathing evened out and their heart rates slowed. After Gibbs gently pulled out of Tony's body, he stretched up and pressed his lips against Tony's forehead, his hands once again roaming Tony's body. His intent was no longer to arouse, but to soothe, and he drew his own pleasure from the simple act of touching his lover. Tony sighed as Gibbs caressed him. He was a tactile person - he needed the sense of touch to connect; the surprise to him had been that Gibbs was as well. It went quite a way to explaining those head slaps of Gibbs', he had long ago realized. Tony savored Gibbs’ touch, and smiled against his chest, then lifted his head, and just looked at Gibbs. Gibbs smiled at him in return, and then glanced over at the clock on the night stand. It was barely 4 A.M., and they were both wide awake.

Tony's stomach growled, and Gibbs' stomach echoed in empathy. They both chuckled, and Gibbs started to gently push off of Tony. "Let's get cleaned up, and then we'll go out for breakfast. I want to stop at the hospital to check on Langer, then we can head into the office and see what Abby and McGee have found.

Tony's smile widened as he rolled onto his back, then continued the motion to reach the edge of the bed and stood up in one fluid motion. "I'll go put on the coffee, you get the shower first this time," he said as he headed toward the bedroom door, on his way to the kitchen. Gibbs stretched and admired Tony's body as he strode from the room. He was grinning to himself as he headed to the bathroom, ready to face what was likely to be a long day for his entire team.


Jillian Marshall had not had a good day yesterday, and as she sat in her car, very early Sunday morning, she didn’t have much higher expectations for today. She and David were on their way to the offices where she and Sylvia worked, having spent a rather tense and silent night together. After the meeting had broken up yesterday, the drive back to Washington had been an unpleasant trip. David had sat, sullen and silent for most of the drive, occasionally punctuating the quiet with a muttered curse, and Jillian had wisely left him alone to his own thoughts. Finally, when they were almost home, he’d broken his self imposed silence and said, “I’ve just about had it with DeAngelo and Phelps and their fucking superior attitudes. Who in the hell do they think they are? Acting like it’s somehow my fault that that stupid FBI bitch ran into me in the lobby? And the stuff with the SUV – it was Peter who said we had to get to her right away, not me! What the fuck did he expect me to do?” Jillian didn’t respond, knowing he wasn’t really looking for answers, and not wanting to set herself up as a new target for his anger. Much as she lusted after David, she was well aware of his temper, and went out of her way to avoid ever doing anything to set him off. Instead, she had let him rant, and lost herself in her own private thoughts.

She was worried about several things, although the two most pressing were the mystery of where Courtney Kreiger had disappeared to, and the question of why NCIS had been at the hospital. There wasn’t much she could do about the Kreiger situation. The woman had simply vanished. David had watched the FBI comb the neighborhood around the safe house, knowing he wouldn’t be able to improve on the thoroughness of their search, and she and Sylvia had monitored the girl’s credit cards and bank accounts. When nothing was turned up, she’d set it aside, knowing only time would solve that mystery, and moved on to worrying about NCIS and Jethro Gibbs. She’d met Gibbs once, when she was still in the Corps, although she hadn’t mentioned it when Peter and Richard were discussing him, since it wasn’t really relevant. He wasn’t the kind of man one easily forgot. There’d been an intensity and singularity of purpose to him that she’d found attractive, although she had known, even then, that he wasn’t the kind of man she’d ever want in a relationship. Instead, she’d contented herself with flirting harmlessly with the man who was his second, a good looking guy called Stan, if she remembered correctly. The flirtation had been harmless, never destined to go anywhere, as Stan was extremely good looking, and she’d immediately categorized him as out of her league. Not that Jillian thought of herself as ugly. Her looks were fine, she knew. She was tall and slim, and although her short blonde hair wasn’t as luxuriously thick and bouncy as Sylvia’s, it was a nice shade of honey. Her features were even, although nothing stood out as exceptional, and years of military service had given her a lean, well muscled physique. She supposed she could best be described as being attractively average, and she’d known that was not the type of woman Gibbs’ senior agent was likely to date. That memory had made her wonder what Gibbs’ team was like now. Who were they? What was their background? Would they pose a threat if it was discovered that they really were somehow involved in the investigation?

When they’d gotten back to Sylvia’s office yesterday, in the early afternoon, she’d shared her worries with David, as they waited for Sylvia to return. They’d decided that Jillian should spend some time running a preliminary check on the team members, while David scouted out Bethesda, testing the level of protection being afforded the two wounded FBI agents, since it had been determined at the meeting that they would need to be eliminated. After David had left, Jillian had started searching on the computer. After some snooping, she’d finally found a small news article from a few months ago, in one of the online Marine newsletters she subscribed to, which dealt with a case Gibbs’ team had solved. The article identified the other team members as Timothy McGee, Anthony DiNozzo, and Ziva David. Armed with their names, she began to see what she could discover about them.

She had just decided to begin with McGee, since his name was the first mentioned, when Sylvia breezed into the office and asked Jillian what she was up to. Jillian had shared her concerns about Gibbs and his team, and Sylvia had volunteered to hack into NCIS’ personnel files, since she was much more skilled on the computer than Jillian. Once Sylvia’d gotten in, she left Jillian to do the actual searching, telling her she was going to call Peter and have him let DeAngelo know that they needed to get Gibbs’ cell phone number, and preferably DiNozzo’s also, so that she and Jillian could keep tabs on where they were at any given time. That left Jillian alone with the computer once again. Revising her plans, now that she had better access to information, she decided to start at the top and work her way down. Reaching out, she typed ‘Jethro Gibbs’ into her computer.

What she found there did not make her happy. One of the first things she discovered was that a great deal of Gibb’s file was so restricted, it would be impossible to access without Top Secret Clearance. Well, she knew what that meant. Calling Sylvia over, she showed her the files. “He had to have been on black ops during the time those locked files cover,” she explained to her partner. “That means the details will only be contained in paper files, since they never trust that information to computer systems.” As they read together they discovered that he’d been a sniper while in the Corps, which he’d left eighteen years ago to join NCIS. There had been an investigation by the Military Police regarding the murder of the man accused of killing Gibbs' first wife and daughter. No charges had been filed, and the case had gone cold. Neither woman doubted Gibbs had killed the man, and it was interesting that he had gotten away with it. The file also mentioned that Gibbs had been married three other times, each marriage ending in divorce. Of particular interest to the women, was the fact that Gibbs’ second ex-wife, Dianne, had been a NCIS agent herself, and after divorcing Gibbs, she had transferred to the FBI. A few years later, she had married FBI agent Tobias Fornell, whom she later divorced as well, after bearing him a child. The women had shared a look when they’d learned that particular piece of information. Apparently Gibbs and Fornell were much more than casual work acquaintances.

Since he became a team leader, he'd had one of the highest close rates of any team leader that had ever worked for NCIS. He had more civilian commendations than any individual ever in the history of the service, and interestingly enough, he’d also had more complaints filed against him than anyone else in the service, too. As they read through the complaints, a pattern began to emerge of someone who got his man, no matter how many rules he had to break, or who he had to run over to get them. They read about him killing Ari Haswari in his basement, after Haswari killed Special Agent Caitlin Todd, and they realized he would protect his people and avenge them whenever necessary, with no regard for rules, regulations, or laws. They are not happy campers as they read that file.

Jillian commented, “He’s a fanatic. Once he gets on a case, no one would be able to bribe him or scare him off. It he gets on our trail, we’re screwed. If that FBI agent, Langer, was on his team once, we might want to rethink killing him. I don’t think we want to do anything to draw Gibbs’ attention.”

“You may be right,” Sylvia said. “I’ll talk to Peter about this later. Let’s see what the files say about DiNozzo.”

So Jillian had moved on, calling up DiNozzo’s file. They’d both been surprised to learn that DiNozzo had a considerable personal fortune from money that had been left to him when his mother died, and that had, based on the terms of the trust, become available to him when he turned thirty. Since then, however, the man had been content to leave the principle completely alone, only occasionally pulling from the interest. The file noted that Agent DiNozzo seemed to live fairly frugally, his only notable personal indulgences being his wardrobe and a relatively harmless addiction to any and all electronic gadgets currently available on the market. His only other unusual expenditures were the large donations he made annually to a variety of different charities. His record at NCIS, while good, was not nearly as impressive as Gibbs'. In one yearly evaluation, the Director had noted that he’d stayed on Gibbs’ team longer than any other agent, and it was stated as if that was somehow, in and of itself, worthy of merit.

Considering his educational background, they became curious as to why Gibbs had recruited him for his team, so Sylvia hacked into the Baltimore Police Department's personnel records to see if they could get any additional insight. They read through that, and when they get to the last case he worked, the serial killer William Jeffers, the case file was quite an eye opener. DiNozzo had allowed himself to be used as bait to catch the guy, but then there had been a screw up on the tracking device and he was actually taken. The file said that even though he had been badly hurt - stabbed, beaten, and some veiled suggestions of molestation - he still managed to kill the man, with his own weapon, no less, and protect the girl, an NCIS forensic specialist, the killer had taken along with him. According to the record, Gibbs and some M.E. had found them and gotten them to a hospital, and then Gibbs had poached the cop from Baltimore Homicide and brought him on at NCIS. According to his NCIS file, DiNozzo had no complaints filed against him, no reprimands, and many, many commendations, including letters from innumerable Navy and Marine officers and enlisted personnel who he had helped over the years. Apparently he was a lot tougher and more competent than they’d first suspected. During his time working with Gibbs, he had been accused of murder on two separate occasions, and both times he had been cleared of the charges by Gibbs, and the rest of this team.

From there, they moved on to Timothy McGee. McGee was quite different from DiNozzo. He held an undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins in bio-medical engineering, and a Master's degree from M.I.T., so on paper at least, he was the much more impressive agent.

“Why in the world is he wasting his time working for some rinky-dink little agency like NCIS, for a buck twenty a day, when he could be making a killing in the private sector,” Sylvia had wanted to know when she’d read his educational background. Jillian had been tempted to tell her that not everyone worked only for the paycheck and what it could buy you, but given what she was presently doing, she had supposed she didn’t really have any room to talk.

When they read further, they were amazed to discover that, like DiNozzo, McGee did not really need the salary he drew from NCIS. He was the author of a best-selling novel entitled 'Deep Six' and there was a sequel in the works, which was expected to make even more money, which explained his finances. There was a complaint filed against him, from an Undersecretary of State, no less, for insubordination and conduct unbecoming, but no action had ever been taken on the complaint. There were also many fewer commendations than DiNozzo had, and it looked like he was more their technical go-to guy than a real agent. Although his computer skills looked formidable, they decided he didn't pose the same level of threat as DiNozzo might in backing Gibbs up out in the field, although the fact he had directly disobeyed an Undersecretary of State suggested he was no pushover. During his time with Gibbs, his sister had been a murder suspect, again cleared by Gibbs and his teammates, and McGee himself had been accused of killing an undercover D.C. Metro detective, and he, too, had been cleared by Gibbs and their team.

That had left them with one agent, Ziva David. They both had groaned when they read she was actually a liaison officer on loan to NCIS from the Mossad. Her file was sparse, to say the least, with most of it labeled 'Eyes Only' and not in the computer at all. They both knew that couldn't be good. Her record since joining Gibbs' team was excellent, although it was noted that a man had died while in her custody, and she had been investigated for his murder, but had ultimately been cleared, by the same M.E. that had been with Gibbs when he found DiNozzo and the girl in Maryland. This was not a coincidence, so they tried running the M.E.'s record, and found he had more 'Eyes Only' information than Gibbs. That had caused Jillian to shut the laptop, and turn to Sylvia. “Who are these people?! They aren’t like any investigative teams I’ve ever run across. They don’t seem to think the rules apply to them, and they’re tighter than some weird religious cult. They seem willing to do anything to defend one of their own, no matter the established protocol. If they get involved, they’re going to be way more trouble than the FBI.”

That had been yesterday, and Jillian had been worrying about ‘Team Gibbs’ ever since. Peter had called last night and told them that DeAngelo had gone back over to Bethesda that evening and was convinced that NCIS wasn’t investigating the shootings or kidnapping. DeAngelo had told him that the Director of NCIS had shown up there last night, offering her condolences to some Assistant Director of the FBI that had been there, and that the tone had been polite, but was more like one politician speaking to another. He’d assured Peter that if NCIS really knew what was going on, there would have been posturing and jurisdictional disputes. He’d listened to Sylvia’s and Jillian’s assessment of the potential danger NCIS would present if they became actively involved, but, since Peter had other things to worry about, he’d decided to take DeAngelo at his word, and had suggested that Jillian and Sylvia get busy finalizing the details on collecting the ransom for Carter. So here it was, five o’clock on Sunday morning, and Jillian and David were on their way to Sylvia’s consulting firm, to take the final steps towards being one million dollars apiece richer.


Tony and Gibbs had stopped at their favorite diner for a quick bite to eat, ordering two egg and bacon sandwiches and some hash browns to go, figuring Abby and McGee wouldn’t have taken the time to stop for food. Since they hadn’t heard from the two technophiles since they’d left the Yard yesterday, Gibbs and Tony knew they would still be there, working to solve the mystery of what had happened on Friday, and delving deeper into the kidnapping syndicate. “I hope they stopped and got some sleep,” Tony commented to Gibbs. “Abby gets kind of psychotic when she’s too tired, and McGee is fussier than normal. You know, there’s a good chance we’ll just find two dead bodies when we get there,” he said with a grin.

“Hope they leave us a note with what they found, before they off each other,” Gibbs said, willing to play along.

“Better hope it’s written in English and not Binary,” Tony smirked, daring Gibbs to top that.

Gibbs didn’t even try. He merely reached over, and slapped the back of Tony’s head.

Once they’d eaten, and had their carry out for Abby and McGee, they got in the car and headed for the Yard. Tony was smiling; last night had started poorly, but it had ended well. This morning had been even nicer. He wasn’t sure why he’d let Templeton’s pettiness get under his skin, but any residual insecurity he’d been feeling had disappeared. Thinking about Templeton had reminded him of a thought from last night, and he said, “Ya know, Gibbs, we might want to warn Abby and the rest of the team about Liz. If she’s going to be the FBI liaison, they’re all likely to come in contact with her. Since I don’t have a clue what crawled up her butt and died, I don’t know how she’s going to behave around them. Abby knows her, but I don’t think that’s going to save her if she decides to run her mouth around Abs. If she starts saying stuff about you or me, Abby’s liable to order up a hit, and Ziva would carry it out. Then, between the two of them, Abby and McGee would make sure no one ever found a trace of Liz ever again. Not sure Fornell would be very happy if another one of his agents went missing in the same week.”

“Well, technically it’s not the same week,” Gibbs said, but he knew that Tony was right. No one at NCIS was going to willingly put up with Liz’s snide comments, and if she aimed them at Tony, he couldn’t even begin to predict how Abby would react. “But, you’re probably right. I'll say something when we get there. I’m sure Abby will be more than willing to fill McGee and Ziva in on all of Liz’s finer points. She never did like Templeton, and I doubt if she’s forgotten the cracks Liz made on her way out, even if it was seven years ago.”

Tony laughed, thinking about Abby when she was in high dudgeon. “You know, I thank God at least once a week that Abby doesn’t carry a gun.”

“A Friend in Need” - Chapter Ten

When Tony and Gibbs walked into the lab, Abby’s head shot up and her nose started to twitch. “I smell food,” she cried, looking over at them. “Oh, please, God, tell me that’s food you’ve got in that bag and Caf-Pow in that cup you’re carrying.” She leapt to her feet and rushed over to them, giving Tony only the most minimal of hugs, focusing her attention on Gibbs and the drink tray he was holding which was supporting a bag of food, a large container of coffee and a bright plastic cup with CAF-POW! written on its front.

Gibbs laughed, and in a rare moment of playfulness, raised the tray high in the air, out of Abby’s reach.

“Not fair,” Abby pouted, as she reached up, trying to liberate the tray. “McGee, get over here. I need someone taller.”

“Not a chance,” McGee wisely said from where he’d moved, now standing next to Tony, watching the game unfold.

“I’ll give you the food and cup if you tell me you’ve got something for me,” Gibbs told Abby.

“Well, then you’d better lower that tray, because you know I have something for you. We wouldn’t let you down, Bossman,” Abby declared, crossing her arms in mock affront.

Gibbs laughed then brought the tray down to within Abby’s reach, holding it steady while she reached over and snatched the Caf-Pow. As he lifted the coffee cup out of its slot and handed it to McGee, he asked Abby, “Don’t you want a sandwich?”

“In a sec,” Abby said, as she practically inhaled a third of the cup’s contents. “Ah,” she sighed. “I haven’t had anything decent to drink for hours. I couldn’t afford the time to go get a Caf-Pow, so I’ve had to make do with crappy Mountain Dew from the vending machine.” She took another large gulp, before taking the egg sandwich Gibbs offered to her.

Gibbs and Tony watched as Abby and McGee virtually inhaled the food; in mere minutes the food had completely disappeared. “When was the last time you two ate?” he demanded, after they had finished, causing Abby and McGee to look at each other, as they searched their memories for the answer to his question. The look told him everything he needed to know. “You have to make time to eat,” he lectured. “It doesn’t do any good for you to spend the night searching for answers, if you’re so weak with hunger when you get them that you don’t have the strength to do anything with them. From now on, make the time for food and Caf-Pow,” he added with a small smile, to soften his words. “So, tell us what you’ve got.”

Abby began by telling them about her success in following the exterminator’s van to the parking garage, but subsequent failure at spotting them leaving and McGee followed, explaining how he’d tracked the Hummer to the residential block only to lose it.

“I thought you said you had something for us,” Gibbs growled, “Finding them on cameras doesn’t count if you lose them again.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Abby said haughtily. “That’s not all we have. I also have a good composite drawing of the man Courtney saw in the lobby, and its running through facial identification programs right now. Oh, and we know how the kidnappers are picking their targets,” she said casually, knowing that would grab Gibbs’ and Tony’s attention, and she went back to sipping on her drink.

“Abs,” Gibbs warned, when she stopped talking.

“Okay, okay,” she relented. “Actually, it was pretty cool how we found out. See, McGee came up with the idea that …..” She proceeded to explain how they’d discovered the commonality between Carter and Nussbaum, and also how McGee had come up with a way to target other potential kidnapping victims, and that she was auditing those companies’ expenditures right now. She also told them about the trace they were running on all of Nabscot’s accounts, and how they hoped that would tell them when the ransom had been paid.

“That’s good work,” Gibbs nodded his approval when he’d heard all they’d achieved in the last few hours. “I want to know the minute you get a hit on any of those traces.”

“What are you going to be doing?” Abs asked. “Are you going back to the hospital?”

“Thought we’d start there, then, when it’s a little later, Tony and I are going to pay Melissa Carter’s boss a visit. His name’s Henry Goldblume. Can you find me his home address, Abs?”

“Sure, no problem, but I’d like to go to Bethesda with you,” she said, her face suddenly somber.

“Not today, Abs,” Gibbs told her gently. “Brent’s in Intensive Care, and isn’t conscious anyway. Wait until he’s a little better, when he’ll know you’re there,” he said, as he wrapped his arms around her when she plastered herself against him seeking reassurance.

“I’m worried about him,” she whispered into Gibbs’ chest.

“I know you are, Abs,” he said, giving her a slight squeeze.

Abby allowed herself a few more moments to merely lean against him, before she took a deep breath and pushed herself away. “Okay then, back to work,” she announced. “I’ll get you that address,” she said, as she surreptitiously wiped at her eyes.

“What do you want me to do, Boss?” McGee asked, although he was watching Abby with concern.

“Stay here, McGee,” Gibbs instructed. “Help Abs, and we’ll see what needs to happen when we start getting more information. You should both know that Fornell and I have arranged to have one of his agents function as a go-between. Her name’s Liz Templeton.”

Abby twirled back around when he said that. “Liz! You’ve got to be kidding!” she hissed.

“As you can probably tell, Abby knows her,” Gibbs said to McGee. “She was on the team for a little while, several years ago,” he added.

“What’s wrong with her?” McGee wanted to know.

“She was completely stuck up,” Abby complained. “I just hope she’s chilled out some over the years, because she was one of the nastiest people I’d ever met when she worked here!”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tony warned.

“Do you remember the way she acted when you started,” Abby demanded of him, “in front of Gibbs and everyone?”

“Yeah, I remember; it confused the hell out of me. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done to piss her off,” he told her. “We ran into her at the hospital yesterday. I don’t think absence has made her heart any fonder,” he told Abby with a wry smile.

“Did she say something to you?” Abby wanted to know.

“Nothing much,” Tony assured her, but Abby had seen the momentary flicker in his eye that told her that he was lying.

Narrowing her eyes, she pinned Tony with a glare and commanded, “Tell me what she said, Tony.”

“It was not big deal, Abs. Let it drop,” he said, making it clear with his tone that he wasn’t willing to go into it.

“She’d better not run her mouth in front of me,” Abby declared, “or I’ll….”

“You’ll ignore her,” Gibbs decreed. “We don’t have time for a pissing contest. You’re going to be the bigger woman,” he added, effectively ending the conversation.

Abby shot him a quick look, letting him know he may not have completely won that argument, but she refrained from commenting further. McGee, who had crossed over to his laptop while Gibbs and Abby were talking, wrote something down on a post-it and then handed it to Gibbs. “Here’s Henry Goldblume’s address and home phone number, Boss.”

As Gibbs and Tony headed for the door, Gibbs turned back and reiterated, “Call me the minute you’ve got something.”

“Wonder who’ll be at the hospital, this morning,” Tony said to Gibbs as they walked to the car.

“Hard to say,” Gibbs answered. “I just hope Fornell had enough sense to get some sleep last night. I doubt if the week is going to get any easier.”


Ed Morgan was sitting alone in the hospital waiting room, enjoying a few minutes of quiet. He’d had a long night, which had followed a very long day, and he was wiped out. When he’d arrived back at the hospital yesterday evening, he’d been surprised to run into Liz Templeton. He hadn’t expected her back that evening. Although Templeton usually got along with her fellow team members, she didn’t go out of her way to be overly friendly. There was always an invisible wall surrounding Liz, which discouraged people from getting too close; you could sense it, and you sure knew when you ran into it, even if you didn’t understand why it was there. It was hard to describe what made Liz different from most other agents. It wasn’t that she was routinely impolite; as a matter of fact, there were times when she was almost overly polite. The problem was, you often walked away from encounters with her feeling that the manners she had displayed were more ingrained behavior which reflected habit, rather than sincerity.

Liz had stagnated at her current level within the ranks of FBI investigative teams. No one had ever described her as a rising star, and it had become obvious she would never even achieve the rank of team leader. It wasn’t because she was incompetent; it was more because she never seemed to really connect with people – not her team members, her superiors, or even the victims of the crimes they investigated. Liz lacked warmth and basic human empathy. She wasn't exactly cold, but she was missing that vital something that made people want to confide in her, want to entrust her with their secrets or their fears. He’d witnessed her making the occasional snarky comment before, although it was usually reserved for when she was alone with the other members of the team. The blatant antagonism of the incident with DiNozzo still boggled his mind.

When everyone else had left last night, and it was just he and Templeton, he’d decided it was probably going to be his best opportunity to address what had happened between her and the NCIS agent. If she was assigned as the go-between for the two agencies, they needed to get a few things straight. The visitor’s lounge outside Bethesda’s ICU wouldn’t have been his first choice as a location for this discussion, but he didn’t see a lot of alternatives. “We need to talk about your behavior this afternoon,” he’d said. “You need to explain your totally inappropriate attitude towards DiNozzo. I don't want excuses Liz, I want to know exactly what that was about; what the hell was that crack about a collar? In detail, tell me the story."

Liz, who’d been slumped in the chair next to him, lost in her own thoughts, as she tried to find a way to rearrange the events of the day so they made some sort of sense to her, turned towards him as he spoke. When his words sunk in, and she realized what he’d asked, she sat up straighter, immediately going on the defensive. Her first impulse had been to deflect. "He just rubs me the wrong way, has since I met him. It wasn't a big deal," Liz responded, as casually as she could, hoping he’d let it go.

"Special Agent Templeton, explain the comment, and do it now," Morgan had ordered, his voice deceptively quiet and calm.

Liz recognized that the quieter Morgan spoke, the angrier he actually was, so she had quickly decided on how to phrase her report, and then began speaking. "Seven years ago, I had transferred to NCIS from the FBI. I was assigned to Gibbs' team, and at the time, the two of us WERE the team. Gibbs tends to go through agents fast, most don't even last a month. I had been with him for about that long, and I thought we were working out well as a team. One morning, he got a call from Dr. Mallard, the NCIS M.E., asking if he knew the whereabouts of their forensics specialist, a ditz of a girl named Abby Scuito. She and Gibbs have some weird kind of father/daughter thing going on, and he spoils her rotten. She hadn't shown up for work that morning, and Gibbs ordered me to start tracing her cell phone. While I was tracing the cell, he got a call from Baltimore Homicide, asking if he knew an Abigail Scuito. Gibbs identified her as an employee of NCIS, and asked why the cop was calling. The cop gave him some song and dance about finding her purse, and wanting to return it, which Gibbs didn't buy at all. So Gibbs goes tearing up the Director's office, and tells him what's going on, and then tells me to stay put and handle any cases that come in, and he takes off for Baltimore, alone, after I gave him the location of Abby's cell phone, which happened to be at the offices of Baltimore Homicide.

The next time I hear from Gibbs, he's telling me that they think Abby's been taken by some serial killer they're tracking, and he wants me to run a background check on a Homicide cop named Anthony DiNozzo. He told me to stay in the office and be available 24/7 in case he needed me, which wasn’t that unusual since he operates as though the agents assigned to his team are his property. There's no such thing as a scheduled weekend off, because if a major case comes in, Gibbs gets the call, and he expects his team to be there, with no notice, and regardless of any plans being disrupted.

So, while Gibbs was off taking over jurisdiction on the case, and I really don't know how he did that, other than just intimidating the hell out of the Baltimore cops, because there wasn’t any Navy or Marine personnel involved, and Abby’s a civilian employee of NCIS, so really, he shouldn't have even been allowed to participate in the investigation, but that's Gibbs, what he wants, he usually gets. So anyway, he's taking over the investigation, while I'm stuck running a background check on DiNozzo, which wasn't very impressive, that's for sure.

He started at a local private school then transferred to a military school for his secondary education. I figured he must have been a discipline problem, and the family's rich, so they shipped him off to try to get some control over him. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire, grade wise, and he was clearly a slacker since he tested off the scales. In college he majored in Phys Ed and Criminology at Ohio State. He probably picked it for it’s reputation as a party school. He had a partial athletic scholarship, and played on the football and basketball teams. I don't know how he qualified for that scholarship, his family is loaded, like, really loaded, so he must have been a helluva an athlete, that's all I can figure. There was something weird, that stayed in my memory because it didn't fit, and that was that he took out the maximum in student loans each year he was in school, and he worked part-time in the athletic department at Ohio State. I figured he pissed off his father one too many times, and he left him to fend for himself.

After college, he went to the Illinois Police Academy, where he graduated second in his class. Then he spent two years with the Peoria Police Department, and moved on to the Philadelphia P.D. for less than two years, where he made detective. He transferred to the Baltimore P.D. and he was there about two years, when all this happened. He had quite a few write-ups for insubordination from his lieutenant, but his solve rate was solid. I figured he had a more experienced partner, and he was getting credit for the work the partner did, since I got the impression he was some poor little rich boy playing cops and robbers, until the trust fund kicked in. I mean, he moved around a lot, and yeah, he got promoted fast, but then never stuck around anywhere very long. Must have been encouraged to move along by his supervisors, who didn’t put anything down on paper that would stop some other department from taking him off their hands.

So, Gibbs calls me at about 2 in the morning, orders me to Baltimore to pick up some evidence he needs processed asap. I drive to Baltimore, and then have to sit and wait for hours until Gibbs shows up. While I'm waiting, the cops are asking me what's happening with the undercover op, and did we catch the serial killer yet. Well, I didn't know anything about the undercover op, or that this DiNozzo that Gibbs had me run the background on was the one they sent undercover. It would have been real helpful if he had taken two minutes to fill me in so I didn't look like an idiot when I was talking to the cops, but Gibbs doesn't think he needs to tell his team anything about what's going on, he's the only one that has to know. I could have been a lot more useful to him if he'd just told me what the hell was happening before I got there, but no. So anyway, Gibbs finally shows up, then gets in a pissing match with the lieutenant in charge over the evidence, and the guy just threw up his hands and walked away, sending his guys home for the night. So Gibbs finally reads me in on the op and what went wrong, which was that the locals fucked up beyond belief and managed to lose their own guy. DiNozzo had been wearing a collar, where they hid the tracking device, but when he was taken, none of the cops were actually monitoring the tracker. Who the hell would be stupid enough to authorize everybody to go out for a coffee break at the same time? I could see why Gibbs was pissed, and he wasn't making any secret of the fact that he thought the locals were downright useless. Made him real popular with Baltimore Homicide, let me tell you.

So Gibbs gave me all the evidence they collected, and sends me back to the Navy Yard with it, and he's there with no back-up, which I pointed out to him, and he tells me that the M.E. is there, and he can help out if Gibbs needs it! The M.E.!! Not an agent, mind you, but an elderly, ready for retirement, OLD M.E. is going to be his back-up! When I tried to suggest that we might just courier the evidence back to the Navy Yard, and I could stay as back-up, he acted like I was suggesting I take over the case from him, and practically shoved me out the door, with orders to call him the minute I had anything.

I got back to the Navy Yard and got the evidence to forensics, and stayed to help, then around 7, Gibbs calls, all pissed off that he's back at the club where the cop was taken, and it's locked up. What did he think he was going to find at 7 in the morning? It's a NIGHT club, not a morning club. So he tells me to find out who owns it and get them over there immediately, he doesn't care what I have to say, just make it happen. I spent the next half hour tracking down the owner. Boy, he was not happy at being woken up just a few hours after he went to sleep, but I cajoled him into going over to the club to meet Gibbs.

A couple of hours later, Gibbs called to tell me he had the surveillance tapes and wanted them enhanced. He found the footage of some guy dragging DiNozzo out to a Jeep Cherokee, and wants the license plate number and anything I can get on the guy. He also wanted copies of the pictures he’d taken the night before during the undercover op, since we were already running them through every database we had. Since he didn't have a way to access them on the computer, and he's not very computer literate, I offered to courier him clearer printed copies of the pictures, if he would wait until I could print them out. He agreed, and the messenger that brought him the pictures picked up the tapes from the club's security cameras.

We got id on about half the men who’d been on the film, and I called Gibbs. He told me he'd have the Director assign a couple of agents to help me and we were supposed to gather as much info on them as possible and keep Gibbs informed if anything looked interesting. He was finally treating me like a partner, and sharing some of the responsibility. I worked my butt off on that assignment, and I made sure the agents assigned to help did, too. After all, an NCIS employee's life was on the line, and Gibbs was counting on us to help find her.

It took most of the day, but we finally got a response from the tech people. They had cleaned up the tape enough to get a clear shot of the vehicle, and it was a black Jeep Cherokee, and at around the same time we were working our way through the men, and one of them, William Jeffers, had a Cherokee registered in his name. I called Gibbs and he wanted the guy’s address. He was going all Lone Ranger and going after him alone. Well, he had Dr. Mallard with him, but please... so when I got off the phone, I jumped in my car and headed for Baltimore to back him up, so he'd have a trained agent at his back, and not some elderly M.E. who would probably faint if a gun were pointed at him!

I was about twenty minutes out from Baltimore when my phone rings and its Gibbs, telling me the apartment was a dead end, and he wants me to run property searches on the guy, to see where else he might be. So I told Gibbs I was on my way to back him up and he flips out at me, screams at me, and tells me to get my ass back to the Yard, and in the meantime call the agents assigned to work with us and get them started on searching for any property Jeffers might own. No, 'thank you, Liz, for worrying about your partner's safety, and wanting to back him up.’ No, 'thank you Liz for working all night and all day to help me find Abby's location, and still being willing to drive to Baltimore to assist in the take-down.' Oh no, none of that, just get your ass back to the Yard and get me the info I want NOW. So I did what he wanted. When I got back, I was the one that finally found the info on Jeffers, and I called Gibbs, and he was less than grateful, to say the least. He refused when I offered to call in the state police as back-up, and told me to only do that if I hadn't heard from him within an hour. He was still playing cowboy, and I was supposed to sit and twiddle my thumbs, while he's out playing hero!!

I put together a back-up team, briefed them, and when an hour had passed, and I still hadn't heard from him, I called the staties closest to the location, and informed them that a federal agent needed assistance, that we had a possible hostage situation, and to approach with caution. We headed out as soon as I got off the phone, and were on our way to Frederick County when Gibbs finally called to say he had Abby and the cop, and that Jeffers was dead. Instead of thanking me for handling everything while he was unreachable, he tells me to continue on to the address and process the house, the basement and the Jeep, and that's on his way to the local hospital with Abby and DiNozzo. Does he bother to tell me their condition? Hell no, that would be sharing too much information, right?

I only got the whole story after I saw the reports filed by Gibbs, Abby and Baltimore Police reports filed by DiNozzo, and his lieutenant. When Jeffers took him from the club, he had cut off his clothes at a 4H fairground, and replaced the collar with the tracking device in it, with another, a black studded one that had 'whore' on a little nametag affixed to the front. Jeffers was nuts, he wanted men, but kept trying to convince himself that he didn’t. He kept DiNozzo naked, beat and molested him a couple of times, and finally, DiNozzo managed to kill him with his own knife after Jeffers had stabbed him. Gibbs and Dr. Mallard found them shortly afterwards. We processed the hell out of the scene, and found evidence that proved that Jeffers had all the previous victims there, so at least the cases were all able to be closed, and I figured we were done with Baltimore Homicide.

Then Gibbs comes back to the office the next day, and tells me he's hired DiNozzo. This cop, with not the best record in the world, who managed to get himself taken by a serial killer, and Gibbs is bringing him on the team?? No way was I working with this guy. Why in the hell would Gibbs want him? It didn't make any sense, until Abby came back, and wouldn't shut up about him. Now, I know Gibbs has a soft spot for Abby, but even so, to take on this copshop retread because Abby thinks he's a hero? Are you kidding me? I would end up doing all the work, and Richie Rich would be coasting along on Abby's hero worship? No way! So I told Gibbs if he brought DiNozzo on to the team, I'd go back to the FBI. He didn't bat an eye, he just said, best of luck, and make sure you file all the paperwork, and give it to him for signature!!! Like DiNozzo's worth more than a trained FBI agent! There was no way I was sticking around to watch that disaster happen, so I went right to Human Resources and filed everything to transfer back to the land of sanity, where advancement up the ladder may be slower, but at least federal experience is appreciated.

I can't believe DiNozzo lasted seven years on Gibbs' team. I mean, he's an over the hill jock, who got booted out of three police departments, with a slew of write-ups in his jacket, and Gibbs picks HIM to be his senior field agent??? Man, things must have changed over there, that's all I can figure. But the guy just rubs me the wrong way. I guess he gets by on his looks and that smarmy fake charm of his, and somehow, Gibbs buys it. It doesn't make sense, since I know Gibbs has been winning Agent of the Year, every year, so maybe the rest of his team does the work, and DiNozzo gets by with literally fetching and carrying for Gibbs. I don't get it, but I see him, and it pisses me off all over again that he put one over on Gibbs and NCIS to get hired in the first place."

Morgan had sat there stunned. It had taken her almost an hour to tell the whole story, and the whole time she’d talked, he’d tried hard not to let his face reveal what was going through his head. At times during her recitation, he's been horrified by her willingness to use such a traumatic experience to poke at DiNozzo, amused by her utter lack of insight regarding Gibbs’ expectations of her, and disdainful of her personal valuation of her contributions to the successful closure of the case. He had to actively work at not shaking his head in amazement when she was talking about advancement at the FBI being slower than at NCIS, since he knew she had advanced as far as she was ever likely to at the FBI. She had investigative skills, there was no question, but she lacked people skills, and her ability to read situations was abysmal. She could follow orders, as long as they were specific, and not open to interpretation. She always wanted to be doing what the other agents were doing, as opposed to what she had been assigned.

Morgan understood why Fornell wanted her as the go-between to NCIS, but Ed was sure that, given Templeton's personality, this was going to be disastrous. Her obvious antipathy towards DiNozzo, and her admiration for Gibbs, as well as her resentment towards him, could undermine any positive aspect of her having involved in this operation. As much as he admired and genuinely liked Tobias Fornell, right at that moment, Morgan wanted to strangle the man! He made a unilateral decision not to brief Liz on the Kreiger situation, and not to let her in on the NCIS involvement. He would wait until he saw Tobias, and then tell him, in no uncertain terms, that Liz was the wrong one to be involved in this, and they'd have to find another way. In the meantime, he was going to give Liz a verbal reprimand, and warn her of a written one from himself and Fornell, if she ever again treated another agent, no matter what agency, the way she had treated DiNozzo. He had to make her understand that it was unacceptable behavior, and would not be tolerated.

“You embarrassed our team and the Bureau yesterday, Agent Templeton. Gibbs and DiNozzo showed up to offer NCIS’s support to another agency, on a day five of our agents were killed, and instead of showing some grace and appreciation for their concern, you attack the agent who just brought food and coffee for all of us, paid for out of his own pocket,” he had said.

“They weren’t here as representatives of NCIS, they were here because Langer was once on….” Liz argued.

“Enough! You’ve said more than enough already.” He shook his head in disgust. “This is what is going to happen. You WILL apologize to both Agents DiNozzo and Gibbs for your behavior, and you will also make sure that there is absolutely no repetition of what happened yesterday, ever, with anyone. If I even suspect you have shown anything but the utmost professional respect to a representative from another agency, you won’t get another verbal warning. I will personally put a written reprimand in your file, which should make advancement next to impossible. Do I make myself clear?”

Liz had sullenly nodded her head, and said, “Yes Sir.” Morgan had waited a few moments, to see if she would apologize to him. When it became clear that she had no intention of doing so, he’d sent her on her way, with instructions to be back at the hospital by 0800, hoping that Fornell would have already arrived by then, and he could talk him out of using her on the operation.

That was where things stood, when Gibbs and DiNozzo showed up early that morning, once again bearing food and coffee. Morgan stood to greet them and gratefully accepted the refreshments DiNozzo held, as he brought Gibbs up to speed on Langer’s and Merit’s conditions, both of whom had shown improvement overnight. The doctors had made it clear that Langer wasn’t out of danger yet, but had been encouraged by his response to the antibiotics they were pumping into him by the gallon in an effort to combat the infection, and Merit was most definitely going to recover in time. They sat and visited quietly for the next hour, and the two NCIS agents were just getting ready to leave when Tobias Fornell arrived at 0730.

Since it was just the four of them, Gibbs took the opportunity to bring both Morgan and Fornell up to speed on what Abby and McGee had discovered overnight, and let them know that he and Tony intended to pay Melissa Carter’s boss a visit that morning. They were just beginning to discuss their options when Liz Templeton walked into the lounge.

Liz had not expected to see Gibbs and DiNozzo first thing that morning. As a matter of fact, she’d privately been hoping it would be a good long time before she ran into them again, but apparently her luck was holding true, she told herself. Knowing there wasn’t any way around it, she took a deep breath, wished a good morning to everyone in the room, and then walked over to where Gibbs and DiNozzo were standing. “Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo,” she began. “I’d like to take the opportunity to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I was out of line, and I regret that.”

Tony, eager to put the whole ugly event behind them, said, “No problem. Yesterday had to be hell for you. I lost a partner once, and it took weeks for me to get my anger under control. No hard feelings,” he added, as he held out his hand, and Liz didn’t have much choice but to stiffly take it. Gibbs didn’t feel quite as charitable, but he did nod his acceptance of Liz’s apology. Fornell and Morgan had watched the exchange, Fornell with an expression of approval, and Morgan with a guarded look that was impossible to interpret.

When Tony began to casually visit, ignoring the fact that Liz was only answering in one word sentences, Morgan took the opportunity to ask Fornell if they could speak privately and they had excused themselves to the doctor’s lounge. Once there, Morgan had expressed his concerns with Liz functioning as the go-between, given her animosity towards DiNozzo, and her conflicted feelings about Gibbs.

“She’ll be fine,” Fornell had assured him. “You saw what just happened; I don’t think we’ll have a repeat of yesterday. She’s the best choice for this, Ed. No one’s going to pay any attention to her comings and goings, and there’s already a precedent set for her being here at the hospital. I don’t see how we can bring someone else into it without setting off an alarm for whoever’s watching the investigation. I’ll talk to her myself, and then we’ll read her in, since Gibbs and DiNozzo are already here. Go on back and send her in here to see me. Have you already spoken to her?” he asked.

Morgan told him he had, and summarized what he’d said. When Fornell observed, “Well, she seemed to take it to heart,” Morgan knew there wasn’t any point in pursuing the issue. Vowing to keep an eye on Liz, he’d gone back to the lounge, where he found the other three agents sitting in uneasy silence. Morgan then sent Liz off to speak with Fornell, and let Gibbs and DiNozzo know that they’d brief Templeton when she and Fornell returned.

Gibbs didn’t need to ask what Fornell was doing, but he did take the opportunity to ask Morgan, “This going to be okay?”

Morgan wondered what in the hell he was supposed to say to that. It wasn’t like he could offer up his own reservations, since Fornell had chosen to ignore them. Instead he just nodded and said, “Should be.”

Gibbs had merely grunted in response, and then changed the subject by asking how they were coming on their end of the investigation. Morgan was telling him about the lack of workable forensic evidence when Liz and Fornell walked back into the room.

It didn’t take them long to fill Liz in, since she asked almost no questions. She did express relief when she learned that Kreiger was okay, which Morgan took to be a good sign, but said nothing when Gibbs explained that Abby had found a way to pinpoint other potential targets, which concerned Morgan. When it looked like they had just about exhausted the subject, Gibbs was interrupted by his cell phone.

“Gibbs,” he said, as he answered.

After listening to the person on the other end, he said, “Slow down Abby. Are you sure about that?” He was silent as she answered him. “Okay, Tony and I’ll be back over there in about twenty minutes. See what you can do about verifying his information.” After he hung up, he looked at the others and said, “Abby just got a hit on the composite drawing, a David Barker, ex-Marine. She’s going have more recent information for us when we get there. Let’s go, DiNozzo.” As he stood to leave, he added, “I’ll keep you informed. When we have anything concrete, I’ll have you send Liz over for an update.” After curt nods were exchanged, he and Tony left for the Naval Yard. He said a brief hello to Richard DeAngelo, who was getting off the elevator on the ICU floor as he and Tony got on to leave.

Chapters Eleven and Twelve

“A Friend in Need” - Chapter Eleven
David Barker stood by the window in a coffee shop across the street from Goldblume’s, watching for a messenger to make a delivery. He had placed an envelope containing a prepaid cell phone, with only one number programmed into it, in the drop box for the courier service at 7:00 this morning, with printed instructions for it to be delivered to Henry Goldblume’s penthouse by 9:00 A.M. This was how they’d contacted the last five CEO’s. Goldblume would call the number, and Peter, aided by a voice scrambler, would answer on his untraceable phone, and give the man the account information for their bank in the Caymans. Then Goldblume would have the five million dollars transferred electronically into the account to secure Carter's return. Peter would assure the executive that after they received their money, Melissa would be released the next day, with instructions to immediately call Goldblume. Peter would stress that Melissa’s life would be forfeit if either she, or Goldblume, contacted the authorities. If they simply let the matter drop, everything would return to normal. David was just killing time, waiting for the messenger to deliver the envelope.

Henry Goldblume was just sitting down to breakfast. He was a slightly paunchy man in his late middle ages, short and balding, but with a kind face filled with smile lines. His bright blue eyes spoke of intelligence and, on a more normal day, a wicked sense of humor. Today though, he just looked worried and tired. He’d sent his family off to their weekend home in Virginia, claiming he had business meetings he had to stay in the city for that weekend, and had barely left the apartment since then, afraid he would inadvertently miss the kidnappers’ attempt to contact him. Having a free day at home was a rarity for him, even on a weekend. Usually he’d already be up and out, tromping through dew kissed greens, playing yet another endless game that had less to do with golf, and more to do with whatever business deal he was trying to close; but today was different. He had purposely kept his entire weekend free, in hopes that the kidnappers would contact him, and he could make the necessary arrangements to end this nightmare. There had been innumerable times over the last week and a half that he’d been tempted to ignore the initial instructions, and pick up the phone and call the FBI, but fear for Melissa’s safety had always stayed his hand. He’d told himself the criminals would have no way to know if he called for help, but the stealth with which the entire thing had occurred scared him, and his conversation with Michael Weiss had served to frighten him even more.

He’d known Michael Weiss socially for years. Although Michael was an Israeli citizen, he’d lived in D.C. for over twenty years. His children had been born and raised here, and had attended the same schools as Goldblume’s. They were members of the same synagogue, and sat on many of the same boards. He’d heard about the murder of one of Michael’s employees, Morris Nussbaum, and had even sent Michael a note of condolence, but hadn’t given it a second thought, not until Melissa went missing. When the kidnappers first contacted him, they had sent a note via messenger that explained that his employee had been taken and would be returned unharmed as long has he met the ransom demand when they made it. The note had assured him they were prepared to kill her should he not comply, saying they’d done it before, and could easily do it again. That was what made him think about Michael. Michael would never cede to a kidnapper's demands. Henry knew he’d spent time in the Israeli army as a young man, and Israel had a firm policy against negotiating with terrorists. If this had happened to Michael, he would have refused to pay on principle. So he’d picked up the phone and called Michael, saying he’d like to ask him a question about Morris Nussbaum. The uncharacteristic wariness in Michael’s voice when he’d asked Henry what he wanted to know, had confirmed Henry’s suspicions before he even got the question out, and when he’d asked if Nussbaum had been kidnapped, the dam that had been blocking Michael’s mouth burst open. He confirmed what Henry had already worked out for himself, called the kidnappers every filthy name in the book, and volunteered to use his connections in the Mossad to help Henry get his own employee back. Henry had demurred, saying he’d need to think about it, and even though they’d had several more conversations over the last week, he was still putting Weiss off. If the kidnappers had killed Nussbaum, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill Melissa.

When the doorman’s buzzer had sounded, as he sat staring at the uneaten bagel in front of him, he’d pushed away from the table and hurried to answer. Pete, the weekend doorman, had told him an envelope had been delivered and asked if Goldblume wanted him to send it up. Michael’s heart was racing now. This was how he’d gotten the first message from the kidnappers – a short, blunt missive delivered via courier. He was standing by the door, waiting, when the elevator opened, and Teddy, the college boy that worked the front desk, stepped out, carrying a manila envelope.

“Morning Mr. Goldblume,” he said smiling. “Did you stay home today so you could watch the Skins play?”

Henry managed to dredge up a smile, not sure if it was very convincing, and said, “Unfortunately not. Today’s all about work.” He’d reached out to receive the package, automatically exchanging it for a tip. He thanked Teddy, and rushed back into his apartment, tearing open the envelope as he went. Inside he found a phone, wrapped in a piece of computer paper. When he took the paper off the phone, he saw it contained instructions, 'Press one on the speed dial. The person who answers will give you the necessary information for an offshore account to which you will wire five million dollars. Melissa Carter will be returned to you, unharmed, as long as you follow orders, and contact no one.'

This was it, what he’d been waiting for all week. God he hoped he’d played this right. He’d never be able to forgive himself if this didn’t work out. Hurrying over to a bureau in his sitting room, he opened a drawer, removing a pen so he would have something to write with, then he turned on the phone, and when it had sprung to life, he pressed 1 and held his breath.

Peter Phelps smiled when the phone sitting on the desk next to him began to ring. He’d been waiting for the last hour for Goldblume to call, unsure as to when the messenger would deliver the package. In another few hours he’d be one million dollars richer. He could then concentrate on getting Melissa Carter home, and rearranging her room for their next ‘guest.’ Picking up the portable voice scrambler, and affixing it to the phone’s mouth piece, he pressed the talk button.

“Henry Goldblume?” he asked.

“Yes, how’s Melissa?” he heard the man ask.

“She is just fine, eager to get home. I hope you’re ready to make that happen for her,” Peter had answered.

“Tell me what I need to do,” Goldblume had demanded.

“You already know what you must do,” Peter said. “All you need now is the routing number for our account.” He proceeded to read of a long string of numbers to Nabscot’s CEO.

“How will I know when she’d safe?” Goldblume had wanted to know.

“Mrs. Carter will call you first thing in the morning, letting you know she is safe and sound. Remember what we told you at the very beginning. We took her once with no trouble, and we can do that again, if we have any reason to suspect you’ve contacted the authorities. Just put this behind you, say nothing to anyone, and soon it will seem like a dream, just a distant, unpleasant memory.” When Goldblume had grunted out his acquiescence, Peter had added, “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Goldblume,” and he hung up. He had then immediately reached for his regular cell phone and called Sylvia, alerting her to start monitoring Nabscot’s accounts, that the demand had been made.

While all of this was happening, Gibbs and Tony were once again in Abby’s lab, in the basement of NCIS’s headquarters. Since the team that had been dispatched to the parking garage had found no trace of the van, David Barker was now their only substantial lead. McGee had Barker’s military record called up on a large plasma screen, and they were all studying it. Barker had been given extensive training in surveillance and counter espionage training, since the Marines had earmarked him as a possible Special Forces operative, due to his intelligence and level of physical fitness. They’d investing six years in his training, only to have him leave the service, when he had the chance. None of them were happy with this information, knowing it made the man potentially very dangerous. There wasn’t a lot of other information on him. They’d run his name through civilian and FBI databases, and discovered he’d been brought in for questioning on investigations dealing with several high end scams, but his involvement had never been proven and charges had never been made. The FBI listed him as a person of interest, but that was as far as it had gone. For the last two years, Barker seemed to have kept his nose clean, and there were no further records on him. They had an address for him, right there in the Metro area, courtesy of his driver’s license, and they were currently discussing how to proceed.

“McGee, I want you to call Ziva and get her back here. You and she are going to need to go check out Barker’s address. Just observe, we don’t want to apprehend him yet. Ascertain if he still lives there, and see if you can get a tail on him. After you get Ziva on her way, put out a BOLO on Barker, make sure you specify 'do not apprehend' on it. Anyone who see’s him is to notify us. Tony and I are still going to pay Melissa Carter’s boss a little visit, right after I brief the Director. I want you to call me the minute Barker is spotted.”

“What about me?” Abby asked, as she bounced up and down on her heels.

“You are going to take a short nap,” Gibbs said, his glare daring her to disagree. When she finally gave him a grudging nod, he added. “When you wake up, I want you to keep digging into the accounts of the companies the other people McGee established as potential targets work for. Tomorrow we’ll begin contacting the CEO’s of those companies, and see if we can’t get some more information. It will also tell us who the next victim might be. I guess any of the potentials, whose companies haven’t shelled out five million bucks lately will need to be talked to, and possibly guarded.” When Tony and Gibbs left the lab to speak with Jenny, McGee was on the phone with Ziva, and Abby was slowly making her way to the futon.

Ziva, Courtney, Ducky and Jordan had been sitting in the kitchen, enjoying a second cup of coffee when McGee called. Courtney was feeling better that morning, the antibiotics had prevented any infection from setting in, and her body’s natural healing ability was beginning to kick in. She was actually just about to try and convince Ziva that a short run might be in order, when the Mossad agent’s phone rang.

“Agent David,” Ziva said, as she answered.

“Ziva, it’s McGee,” Tim said into the phone.

“Yes, I realize that,” Ziva had answered with a smile.

“We just got a hit on the composite picture; it’s a David Barker. Gibbs wants you back at headquarters so that you and I can check him out,” McGee said excitedly. It wasn’t often any of Gibbs agents were allowed to check out a lead without him, and the fact that Gibbs was entrusting such an important suspect to he and Ziva was an extreme display of trust.

“I do not like the idea of leaving Courtney alone,” Ziva said hesitantly.

“Isn’t Balboa’s team still providing protection?” McGee wanted to know.

“Yes, but….” Ziva began.

“Then it’ll be fine, Ziva. Balboa’s people know what they’re doing, and no one would think to look for her there anyway. Gibbs and Tony are following another angle, so that just leaves you and me to track down Barker,” McGee told her.

Ziva knew she couldn’t really refuse. Plus, she was beginning to go stir crazy. It would feel good to get out there and do something proactive. As important as security detail was, it was never as fulfilling as actual investigating. “I will be there shortly. I just need to check in with Balboa and make sure he knows exactly how to get a hold of me, should the need arise.”

When she hung up, three sets of eyes were fastened onto her. “Did they find something?” Courtney asked eagerly.

“Yes,” Ziva answered. “Abby managed to id the man you bumped into in the lobby, and McGee and I are going to go and check him out.”

“I want to come with,” Courtney automatically responded.

“I do not think that would be wise,” Ziva shook her head.

“It was my team members he and his gang shot,” Courtney argued stubbornly, “and my description that led to the id. I would be able to recognize him the minute I saw him.”

“They are looking for you,” Ziva pointed out. “And you are not healed yet,” she added.

“My shoulder feels much better today,” Courtney countered. “I can raise my arm just fine,” and she proceeded to demonstrate, although it was difficult to keep from grimacing as pain shot through her shoulder when she lifted her arm.

“That is quite enough,” Ducky interrupted the argument at that point. “Jordan and I did not work to patch you up, just so you could rip open the wound again with foolish maneuvers like that. You have absolutely no business being out in the field yet. You wouldn’t even be able to pass a field test right now,” he pointed out.

“Everyone knows the field tests are overly difficult,” Courtney began to argue.

“Doctor Mallard is correct,” Ziva cut in. “You are not one hundred percent right now, and you would be a liability rather than a help. Surely you do not want to be responsible for someone getting hurt, because they had to cover you instead of watching their own back?” she asked.

Courtney looked as if someone had slapped her. Blinking hard to prevent the tears she felt welling up from falling, she quietly said, “You’re right, of course.”

Ziva felt terrible. She hadn’t meant to be so hard on Courtney, but she realized the young woman would continue to argue unless someone said something to make her back down. Playing on her sense of responsibility had seemed like the easiest way to get her to acquiesce, so that was why Ziva had been so blunt. “I am sorry Courtney. I did not mean to imply you would knowingly put another agent in danger.”

“No, what you said was true. I’ll be fine here with Ducky and Jordan. You go on – just let me know what you find out, will you?” Courtney told her friend.

“Of course. Perhaps you will be ready to help in a day or two,” Ziva answered, looking at Ducky for conformation.

“I think Agent Kreiger will be able to at least resume desk duty in a couple of days,” Ducky confirmed, although he did put strong emphasis on the words desk duty.

“I must go,” Ziva told them, as she stood and prepared to leave. “Remember, no one outside of NCIS is to know that Courtney is here. If someone comes around asking questions you should immediately let Balboa’s team know, and then call either Gibbs or myself.”

“We shall be fine, Ziva,” Ducky assured her. “Now you had best hurry.”

Courtney watched as Ziva left, frustrated by her injuries and not liking the fact that she had become a commodity that needed protecting. She’d worked too hard to be taken seriously in the Bureau for the situation to be easy for her. Excusing herself, she went up to her bedroom, where, away from all other eyes, she could finally allow the tears to come.

It was close to noon by the time Tony and Gibbs finally got to Goldblume’s apartment. They had spent over an hour with Director Shepard, bringing her up to date on all that had happened since yesterday evening, and assuring her that there was no way anyone would detect the invasions on the private bank accounts that McGee and Abby had been busily conducting all morning long. They had also discussed how to approach Morris Nussbaum’s CEO, since the man was not an American citizen and their files showed he had strong ties to the Israeli Mossad. The fact he had not come to the FBI after Nussbaum had been murdered implied that he might have turned to other sources for justice, and both Jenny and Gibbs were concerned that the Mossad might also be investigating the kidnapping ring. Neither one of them wanted to become embroiled in a dispute with the other intelligence agency, so it was decided that when the initial contact was made, Ziva would be a part of the team that approached Michael Weiss. It might not prevent a confrontation, but it was their best option. Finally, Fornell was called, to alert him to the BOLO on Barker, and to explain who the man really was, since the BOLO did not specify why NCIS wanted him.

They had just been about to leave, when Abby had called Gibbs, to tell him her computer had just gotten a hit on five million dollars being transferred from Nabscot’s discretionary funds account into an unmarked account in the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately Abby had hit a brick wall in trying to discover who held the account, and while she had been working on that, the money had been transferred again, through several different banks, before landing somewhere she couldn’t find, probably in an account in Switzerland, the most notoriously difficult country to get any banking information from, no matter what the reason. Gibbs had been so frustrated, he hadn’t even asked why Abby wasn’t sleeping as ordered, instead telling her to try and see if there was any other traceable movements from the Cayman account, then had growled at Tony to follow him, as he stalked out of the building.

David Barker was still sitting in the coffee shop, slowly drinking his fifth cup of coffee when Tony and Gibbs arrived. He knew that the money had been transferred, and was merely watching to make sure that Goldblume didn’t contact the police. Peter had insisted he keep his eye on Goldblume all day, until they were ready to transport Carter back to her house, that night. Barker had been irritated when Peter had ordered him to stay, since he felt it was a waste of time. He was much more interested in checking out the NCIS agent, Gibbs, that Sylvia and Jillian were so worried about, just to assure himself there was no reason for alarm. He was completely thrown when he watched a car pull up in front of the apartment building, and Jethro Gibbs and Anthony DiNozzo got out. ‘Shit!’ he thought to himself. ‘This is not good.’ There was only one explanation for why the two NCIS agents would be there. He waited until they had entered the building, and then hurriedly left the coffee shop, headed for the black van, wanting the security of its tinted windows, his cell phone already out, as he prepared to call Phelps.

Henry Goldblume was surprised when there was a knock on his front door. ‘Why didn’t Pete call to announce a visitor?’ he wondered, as he moved to answer it. After the delivery of the cell phone, the morning had passed in a blur for him. The minute he’d hung up, he had immediately called Andrew Williford, his CFO, to give him the account information for transferring the money. Aside from himself, Williford was the only other person at Nabscot who knew exactly what was going on with Melissa. They had had several arguments over the past week, as Williford did not want to pay the kidnappers off, preferring instead for them to go to the authorities. It wasn’t until after Henry had told him what he had learned from Michael Weiss that Williford had reluctantly agreed to go along with the plan. Andrew was the one who would have to make the actual transfer, as all the security codes for their banking system were keyed to him. Since that time, Henry had been sitting and waiting, hoping against hope that the kidnappers might release Melissa early, and every time the phone had rung, he’d felt a little pang of anticipation, only to have it dashed when someone else was on the other end. Now, as he hurried to the door, he once again felt a spark of hope. ‘What if it's Melissa?’ he thought to himself. He was so hopeful, that he failed to even look through the peephole before opening the door, only to find two strange men standing in the hall.

“May I help you?” he asked in a startled voice, after he’d opened the door.

The older of the two men held up and badge and ID and said, “I’m Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, from the Naval Criminal Investigative Services, and this is my Senior Agent, Anthony DiNozzo. We’d like a few minutes of your time, Mr. Goldblume.”

“May I ask what this is about?” Henry inquired after he’d examined the man’s badge, secretly afraid he knew exactly why the men were there.

“We’d like to talk to you about one of your employees,” Gibbs said. “Do you mind if we come in?”

Henry didn’t see any way around it. What was he going to do, refuse them entry? “Certainly,” he said, stepping aside so they could enter, and then leading the way into the sitting room. When they’d gotten themselves settled in the upright chairs arranged around a small coffee table, he asked, “Just which one of my employees does this involve?”

“I think you know,” Gibbs said to him, holding Goldblume’s eyes with the force of his stare. “We’d like to talk to you about Melissa Carter,” and he watched to see what Goldblume’s reaction would be. He was actually fairly impressed with the self control the man exhibited. The only tell tale sign of distress Gibbs could perceive was the few beads of sweat that seemed to magically appear on Goldblume’s forehead. This was clearly a man who’d learned to school his thoughts over the years.

“Melissa Carter is an excellent employee,” Goldblume said rather formally. “I can’t imagine what your interest in her might be.”

“Look Mr. Goldblume, I don’t have time to verbally fence with you,” Gibbs declared. “We’re well aware of what is going on with Ms. Carter, and we know that you’ve ceded to the kidnappers’ demands. We need to know all the details so we can catch these bastards before they take another innocent person.” Goldblume seemed to deflate before Gibbs’ very eyes. His shoulders slumped, and Gibbs realized just how tired he really was, as his face paled and the dark circles around his eyes stood out in high relief.

“I can’t talk to you about this right now,” Goldblume said in a barely audible voice. “How do you know about this, anyway?” he asked.

“I’ll explain that to you when you tell me everything you know, and now would be a really good time,” Gibbs said emphatically. “Every second we don’t have the full picture, gives the kidnappers more time to hide their trail.”

“Not today,” Goldblume said, as he straightened up and looked at Gibbs with new found determination. “I have nothing to say about this – today,” he repeated, his voice growing in strength. Henry couldn’t do anything that might jeopardize Melissa’s release. Over the past few years Melissa had become more than an employee to Henry. He’d admired her drive and creative thinking when he’d hired her, and there was no denying her importance to the success of the company, but what Henry valued most about her was her friendship. He and his wife regularly socialized with Melissa and her husband, and he had deep admiration for her commitment to her relationship with her husband Jeff. They were living proof that marriages based on respect and friendship last, and Henry would be damned if he would do anything which might lead to Melissa being hurt, or worse. Jeff wasn’t here now, to protect her, so Henry had assumed that responsibility.

“Mr. Goldblume, I don’t think you fully understand the situation,” Gibbs began, but he was cut off when Goldblume snapped out a reply.

“Oh, I can assure you, I have a complete understanding of the situation. It’s you, Agent Gibbs, who doesn’t have the full picture, and I am not about to sketch it out for you in any more detail right now, not when there’s even the most remote chance that my speaking to you could endanger Melissa. I appreciate your interest in helping her, but this isn’t the way. Now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” he said, and stood up to punctuate his request.

Gibbs decided to give it one more try. “These people are dangerous, and need to be stopped. They’ve already killed one of their victims,” he said, hoping to scare Goldblume into cooperating.

“I’m well aware of what they’re capable of,” Goldblume answered, not betraying how much he knew about Nussbaum’s death. “That is why I’m not at liberty to divulge any information to you right now. Give me your card, and as soon as I deem it safe, I’ll call you,” he said.

It certainly wasn’t the concession he’d hoped to wring from the man, but Gibbs could tell he wasn’t going to get anything more at that moment. “I hope you’ll reconsider your position, Mr. Goldblume. This is a dangerous game, and the stakes are awfully high. I’m not sure you’re ready to play it. This is what we do; let us help,” Gibbs said, as he drew out a card from his wallet and handed it to the man.

“I fully appreciate the stakes, Sir,” Goldblume said, then he moved to the front door, with Tony and Gibbs following behind him. When he had the door open, he said, “Good day gentlemen, I’m sure we’ll speak later.”

After Tony and Gibbs had left, Goldblume had collapsed against the closed door, his eyes closed, and his breathing uneven. He hoped he’d made the right decision just now. The men seemed more than capable, and their desire to help couldn’t be denied, but Henry hadn’t been able to dismiss the warning given him by the kidnappers – Don’t tell anyone about this. ‘Maybe when Melissa is safe and sound….’ he thought.

After exiting the building, Gibbs looked across the street and saw the coffee shop. “Time to refuel,” he told Tony, as he headed across the street, walking around a parked black van with tinted windows, to get to the shop. They were discussing the likelihood of hearing from Goldblume later that day as they went in to get Gibbs a much needed cup of coffee.

In the van, David was having a slightly hysterical conversation with Peter. “….Sylvia and Jillian said the man was dangerous,” he was saying into the phone. Peter interrupted him mid-rant. David had been saying the same thing over and over for the last five minutes, refusing to be calmed by Peter’s more reasonable words. Now, Peter’s other phone was ringing. “I’ve got another call coming in. Sit tight, I’ll call you as soon as I’m done, and we can talk about what to do next,” he told David, as he disconnected.

When Peter answered the other phone, Richard DeAngelo’s voice washed over him, sounding every bit as frantic as David’s. “Peter, we’re in deep shit,” DeAngelo began the conversation by saying.

Peter ran a hand across his eyes; the day certainly wasn’t getting any better. “Take a deep breath and tell me the problem. Did David call you?” Peter said, thinking it would be just like David to have called Richard first, just to rile him up.

“David? Why would he call me? Is he in trouble? He’s the reason I’m calling,” DeAngelo hissed into the phone.

“What are you talking about Richard?” Peter asked.

“I just left Bethesda. I’ve been sitting there half the damn morning, trying to see what I could learn. About a half hour ago, Fornell got a call, and when he came back into the room he told me they had just put out a BOLO on a David Barker in connection with the shootings yesterday. And get this, any sightings are supposed to be reported to NCIS! I asked him what had tipped him to the man, and he refused to talk. He told me if I wanted to be helpful I could go back to METRO and get all the precinct captains to really push this BOLO. That didn’t really leave me with a lot of choices. I’ve spent the last thirty six hours offering up METRO’s help in finding the shooters, so when he finally asked me to do something, I couldn’t very well say I’d rather stay there. I want to know how in the hell they found out about Barker, and you need to make sure he makes himself invisible, right now.” Richard had sounded more and more desperate as he’d spoken.

Peter couldn’t believe it. First Gibbs and DiNozzo show up at Goldblume’s, and now this. Thinking quickly, he said, “Okay, take it easy. I’ll make sure David stays off the radar, but we need him to get Carter back tonight. I’m also going to speed up the time clock. If Gibbs is on to our scent, we need to step everything up. I’m going to have David and his crew grab the next person after they put Carter back in her own bed tonight. If we play this right, we’ll be just fine. Go do what Fornell asked you to Richard. You can’t afford to make him suspicious. It’ll be fine, you’ll see. We’ll have an emergency meeting tomorrow, after the next guy’s safely stashed in our bedroom.”

“I don’t like it,” Richard began.

“You don’t need to like it,” Peter said bluntly. “You just need to do your part. It’ll be over soon, and you’ll be ten million dollars richer. You can reclaim your family and start a new life very soon. Just keep the end goal in sight, and we’ll be fine. I’ll talk to you later. I need to get to Barker right now,” he said, as he hung up.

Picking up his cell phone, he punched four on the speed dial. When it was answered he said, “I need you back here right now. Don’t stop anywhere on your way here, and make sure no one sees you. I’ll explain why when you get here.” He disconnected without waiting for a reply.

Gibbs and Tony, drinks in hand, waited while the van in front of the coffee shop backed out of its parking spot, before they headed back to their own car. “So, where to next?” Tony asked.

“Might as well grab something to eat,” Gibbs said. “Then, if we haven’t heard anything new, I guess we head back to the lab to see what Abby’s dug up. Looks like its going to be another long day.”

“A Friend in Need” – Chapter Twelve

Ziva and McGee had been sitting around the corner from David Barker’s townhouse complex for well over three hours, and they were both beginning to go stir crazy. Ziva had by this time cleaned all of her fingernails with the point of one of her knives, sharpened two others, and was now in the process of cleaning McGee’s gun, since she claimed he didn’t take proper care of it. For his part, McGee had had a thirty message IM conversation with his editor on his Blackberry, which had resulted in him promising to have two new chapters ready within the next three weeks, just to get the woman to stop nagging him. He had also fielded two calls from Abby, and another from Gibbs, neither of whom he’d made very happy when he didn’t have anything new to report.

“This is hapless!” Ziva exclaimed, breaking the silence that had descended on the car an hour ago. “He is not going to show up here, and we are wasting our time.”

“Hopeless Ziva, not hapless,” McGee said automatically. “Hapless means unlucky or unfortunate.”

“And this is not unfortunate?” she asked.

“Well, yes this is unfortunate, but that isn’t what you meant,” McGee started to argue.

“And how do you know what I meant?” Ziva demanded.

“Look Ziva, I’m not going to get into an argument with you over this. You’re starting to sound like Tony,” he announced. When he noticed her taking out her phone, he asked, “What are you doing?”

“I am calling Gibbs. I want to check out the inside of Barker’s house, while you watch from here,” she told him.

“Why do you get to be the one to go in?” McGee asked.

Ziva raised an eyebrow as she looked at him, a trick she’d learned from Gibbs and answered, “I get to go in since I am the one who knows how to pick the lock. Is there anything else you would like to argue about before I call Gibbs?”

McGee was still sputtering about not being the one who was arguing when she pressed the speed dial button. When Gibbs answered Ziva asked him for permission to execute her plan, explaining that McGee could stay in the car and watch to make sure Barker didn’t return while she was inside. She pointed out that they’d been there for several hours and there had been no sign of the man. This might be their only chance to get any additional information. Gibbs had reluctantly consented, telling her to make sure she left absolutely no sign of her presence. He ordered her to call him immediately if she found anything that might tell them more about what was going on and where the kidnappers were holding Melissa Carter. He ended the conversation by warning her to be careful.

With McGee watching her back from the car, Ziva slipped out of the car, stepped behind the bushes of the house they were parked in front of, and vanished from sight. McGee was still wondering how she did that when his phone rang once and then quit, the sign he and Ziva had established to let him know she was in the house.

Gun drawn, Ziva had entered from a back door that opened up into a small laundry room. She sniffed the air, not at all happy to discover there was no trace odor of laundry detergent. Clearly Barker hadn’t washed dirty clothes here for a while. As she sidled into the next room, she found herself in the kitchen. Once again, there was little evidence of habitation – no dirty cups in the sink, or washed dishes sitting in a drying rack on the counter. A quick glance into the refrigerator revealed a host of condiments, some beer, a jar of pickles, and a couple of shriveled apples, but other than that, it was empty. From the kitchen, she stepped into a small living room. The furniture was modern and tasteful, a combination of black leather and blonde wood. The flat surfaces were not overrun with knickknacks, and the few chrome framed pictures sitting out were images of mountains, waterfalls, and wild life. It looked like a showcase living room, put together by some interior designer, meant to suggest masculinity, but purposely devoid of individualism. ‘Who is this man?’ Ziva found herself wondering. There were two bedrooms in the house, the first of which Barker clearly used for sleeping. There was a neatly made queen sized bed, dressed in an expensive, but understated, slate grey silk duvet, with several white, grey and black pillows stacked at its head. The birch and stainless steel dresser contained neatly folded underwear, sweaters, t-shirts, and pullovers, along with some jeans, khakis and various articles of clothing intended for working out. In the closet she found suits, shirts, ties, shoes, and various other pieces of clothing. What disturbed her were the gaps she had found in the carefully arranged hanging clothes, and the folded items in the dresser. It appeared as though Barker had packed enough clothing to see him through an extended time away.

Reholstering her gun, Ziva went to explore the other bedroom. It had been arranged as a home office, and there was a glass topped desk, the writing surface perched atop two chrome table saw shaped supports. The one thing that was conspicuously missing was a computer. Barker must use a laptop, which he had taken with him when he left. A large black filing cabinet sat against the wall, and when Ziva tried to pull open a drawer, she discovered it was locked. Pulling out her lock pick, she unlocked the unit, and took a quick look inside the drawers. She found copies of his insurance policies, which she quickly scanned, and was surprised and frustrated when she discovered that a local veterans’ association had been named as beneficiary on all of his policies. That wasn’t going to be any help. She found a copy of the bill of sale for the house, the only thing interesting about that was the fact that he had paid for it in full, rather than taking out the usual mortgage. There were bank statements, neatly filed in folders, and she used her phone to take a picture of them, so that they would have the bank’s name and his account numbers, but a quick glance through them didn’t trigger any warning signs. Barker seemed to be living fairly modestly, and his balance, as of two months ago, was only six thousand dollars and some odd cents. Copies of his utility and phone bills were there, and seemed to be paid on time. She was surprised that she didn’t find a record of him having a cell phone, and actually looked through all the papers twice, to make sure she hadn’t missed it, to no avail. She even found his discharge papers from the Marine Corps, but other than that, there was nothing in there to give her a real feel for the man.

Actually, the lack of helpful information was beginning to tell Ziva a lot about Barker. He obviously had been careful to leave no real information about himself sitting around, available to anyone who might come snooping. This was not a man to be taken lightly. Ziva recognized the caution he exhibited; her own apartment was not much different. Any important information she owned was kept in a safety deposit box at the bank, and Ziva was very frustrated by the fact that she’d found no record of Barker possessing such a thing. ‘I would bet he has one in another name,’ she thought to herself, as she looked through the closet in the office, only to discover it was his catch all closet, and was filled with office supplies, luggage, assorted sports paraphernalia, old magazines, and assorted other items equally as impersonal. Moving back through the house, she took out her cell phone and punched in McGee’s number, letting it ring twice, before she disconnected. That was the signal to indicate she was leaving.

Within minutes, Ziva was opening the door to their car, and sliding back into the passenger side. “There was nothing in there that told me a thing about the man. It is as if he were a ghost. I found some banking information, but I suspect it is not his main account, as it had only six thousand dollars in it, and seemed to only be used to pay his bills. There was no credit card account information, no phone or address books, nothing that really told a thing about how he spends his time, and it appears as if he has not been there in a while. This is a death end,” she announced in exasperation.

“Dead end,” McGee corrected her without even realizing he’d done it. “We should call Gibbs, then. If he still wants the place watched, there might be someone else who can be assigned, so we can move on to other things.”

When Gibbs heard what Ziva had seen, he agreed that Barker’s house sounded like a dead end, and told them to head back to the Yard, saying he’d get Jenny to assign someone else to watch the house for the next few hours. Ziva and McGee found themselves back in Abby’s lab by 1500, along with Tony and Gibbs, listening to Abby give them an update on her findings. She had continued searching through the FBI background check files that she and McGee had been exploring that morning, and now had a list of about twenty potential victims. Her computers were still scanning through their employers’ various bank accounts, but she already had isolated three companies, aside from Nabscot, that had made a five million dollar lump sum payout to private accounts outside of the United States. The team all agreed that these were very likely other victims of the kidnappers. She also explained how she had lost the money trail on Nabscot’s transfer, as it bounced from one account to another, and that, try as she might, she couldn’t access any additional information on the accounts. When she was done, she looked tired and discouraged.

“Go home people,” Gibbs surprised them all by saying.

“But Gibbs…” Abby said.

“There isn’t anything else we can do today, Abs,” Gibbs explained. “We’ll need to talk to all the CEO’s of those companies you’ve located, but most of them won’t be available until tomorrow. Since Nabscot paid the ransom today, Melissa Carter will probably show up somewhere tomorrow, then maybe Goldblume will be willing to talk to us. Everyone here needs a good night’s sleep, since if all goes well, things will start to pick up tomorrow, and we may not get the chance again for awhile.” Then, looking over at Ziva, he asked, “Are you going back to Ducky’s?”

“Yes. I want to check in with Balboa’s team, and see how Courtney is doing. She is getting restless; she even tried to convince me to let her go with me this morning,” she answered.

“Kreiger is to stay put!” Gibbs declared forcefully. “We didn’t go to all the trouble of hiding and protecting her, just so she can stick her neck back out and ask to get killed. Tell Ducky to call in sick tomorrow – I’ll talk to the Director. I want someone with her at all times, and Balboa and his people have their hands full securing the perimeter. You talk some sense into her,” he ordered. “Are we clear?” he asked everyone. When they all nodded in response, he said, “Get moving people.”


While the NCIS team was dispersing, people were beginning to congregate at Phelps’ place in Virginia. Barker had arrived there shortly after one, and Peter had taken the opportunity of speaking to him alone so he could tell him about the BOLO. As Peter had suspected, Barker went ballistic. When he had finished cursing Courtney, both her parents, and NCIS, Peter had interrupted him and said, “There isn’t a lot we can do about this David, except make sure they don’t find you, and as long as you’re smart, that won’t happen. All of our vehicles are registered under phony names, and their windows are tinted so darkly that no one can see into them. As long as you don’t do something stupid, they should have no way of finding you. You’ve been staying with Jillian for the last few months, haven’t you?” he asked. When Barker confirmed that, Peter continued, “Then they won’t be able to pick up your trail from you place. Is there anything there that would lead them to Jill?”

“Of course not. Do you think I’m stupid?” David snapped.

Peter kept his thoughts on that subject to himself, and didn’t answer the question. Instead, he said, “It’ll be dark when you return Carter to her home, so no one will be able to see you then. I’ve talked to the others, and we all agree that we need to step up the time schedule. I want you to take the next person tonight, after you drop Carter off.”

“That doesn’t give me enough time to plan it out,” Barker objected. “How am I going to arrange to drug them, so they’re asleep when we go in, on this short a notice?”

“You won’t be able to do that,” Peter agreed. “But if you move quickly, you should be able to use a stun gun, so he won’t get a chance to see anything useful. Then you can blindfold him for the trip out here. The next victim’s Joseph Galvin, and you’ve already done all the preliminary research and surveillance on his place. It shouldn’t be that difficult for you to get him tonight.”

Barker couldn’t really argue with that, since everything Peter had said was true. “What about getting the room ready?” he asked, still looking for a way out of hurrying into the next kidnapping. He didn’t know why, but for some reason it just seemed as if stepping up the schedule was a mistake.

“Leave Garrison here with me when you take Carter back and go to get Galvin. He can help me swap out the furnishings, to make the room ready for a male inhabitant. I’ve already purchased most of the books, magazines, and personal items we’ll be needing; it helps that he’s the same size as the first man we took, so the clothes won’t be a problem. You and I can go over his information together in a few moments, look at what I’ve already gotten, and see if we need to get anything else. One of your men can pick it up for us on their way out here tonight,” Peter said reasonably.

“What about keeping our eyes on Gibbs and his team?” David asked.

“We still need to do that, no doubt,” Peter agreed. “But the question of whether Gibbs is on the case has pretty well been answered. Now we need to see how close he’s getting, and talk about ways to slow him down. Richard managed to get his and DiNozzo’s cell phone numbers, so Sylvia can now keep track of them electronically, so you don’t have to be actively tailing him. We’ll have an emergency meeting out here tomorrow, after Carter’s been released, and Galvin is safely ensconced in the room, and we’ll figure out exactly what to do then.”

“And Langer and Merit, not to mention the girl?” David asked.

“What’s the point of worrying too much about them now?” Peter asked dryly. “They already know who you are. I assume you have several false identities already established?” he asked Barker.

“Yeah, I’ve got three I can activate with no real problem,” he admitted.

“Well, you’re going to need them, especially when all our business is concluded. I think it’s safe to say that David Barker is now effectively dead,” Phelps announced.

“Yeah, let’s just make sure that doesn’t happen literally,” David muttered.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Phelps pointed out.

Phelps and Barker spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing the information they’d gathered on Joseph Galvin. Galvin worked for a firm called Pursell and White, a small company that made three components critical to most modern network computer systems. So, although the firm was relatively small, they were making money hand over fist, and Galvin, who was in charge of the corporate relations department, had been instrumental in their success. Over the past month, Barker and the team had learned more about Galvin’s personal likes and interests than most of his close friends were likely to know. Thanks to Sylvia, they knew what websites he went to on a regular basis, what type of music he listened to, and even what sports teams he followed. Barker had broken in to his house, and inventoried his taste in literature, movies, personal hygiene products, supplements and vitamins, and had even checked his TiVo to see what television shows he enjoyed. Similar, and in some cases, identical, items had been procured, and were now sitting in the storage room in the plantation house, just waiting to be moved into the ‘guest room’, in anticipation of Galvin’s arrival. Now all they needed was for night to fall, and Melissa Carter to go to sleep.

Joe White, Steve Holmes and Marty Franklin, three of Barker’s men arrived at the house by seven that evening. Phil Garrison, the last of Barker’s crew, had already been there, as it was his day to keep an eye on Melissa Carter. David briefed his men on the plans to return Carter to her home, and then make the twenty minute trip to Galvin’s home, where David and Joe White would quietly break in and get their next quarry. Marty Franklin would stay in the car, and Phil Garrison would remain behind in Virginia, to lend Phelps a hand in preparing the room. All of the items Carter had used would need to be removed, and anything not recyclable for their purposes, would be boxed up for charity and stowed out of the way. The room would undergo a gender change, and the items that had been earmarked specifically for Galvin would be moved in. Phelps figured he and Garrison would have about three hours to achieve this, while Barker and his other three men carried out their portion of the mission. Then everyone would spend the night at the house, since it would be too late to go back to their respective homes.

Phelps prepared Melissa’s bedtime snack himself that night. Part of keeping the captives calm was establishing a routine – breakfast, lunch and dinner all served at exactly the same time each day, and a bedtime snack each night. Carter was given a cup of tea, and some fruit and cheese each night, the very same things they knew she indulged in when at home. Tonight, Phelps dropped two sleeping pills into her tea. The narcotics were strong enough to ensure that when she went to sleep that night, she would remain so for at least eight more hours, regardless of how much she was jostled about as they moved her back to her own house. When she was asleep, Barker and his men suited up in their black jumpsuits, added black ski-masks and gloves, entered the room and carefully changed her back into the pajamas she’d been wearing when they’d first taken her, then they carried her out to the van and placed her in the back. It would take them a little over an hour to reach her sleepy little suburban neighborhood, and they’d timed it so they would pull into her driveway at around 0100 – late enough for most of the neighbors to be asleep, but not so late that a vehicle travelling down the lanes in the neighborhood would immediately put an observer on alert.

When they got to Melissa’s home, Barker climbed into the back of the van and gently eased her into a sitting position. Then, sliding the side door open, he climbed out and reached back in to get the sleeping woman, throwing one of her arms over his shoulder and gripping her firmly around the waist. Although he was literally carrying her in this position, to a casual observer it would look like a friend assisting either a drunk or ill woman into the house. He had taken her key ring when they kidnapped her, and this was what he used to get her into the house. Once the door was shut behind him, he swooped her up into his arms and carried her up the stairs to her bedroom. After pulling the covers back with one hand, he set her down in the bed and reached into one of the zipped pockets on his jumpsuit and withdrew the computer printed message Phelps had prepared, and safety pinned it to the front of her pj’s, then he drew the covers up over her and turned to leave, dropping her keys on the bedside table as he left.

Joseph Galvin’s house was only fifteen miles away from Melissa Carter’s. Like her, he lived in a small suburban development, in a house that was far too big for one person, even though he lived alone. Galvin had bought the house several years ago, back when he still had a wife; now, twelve years later and three years divorced, it was just easier to stay there than move to somewhere smaller in the city. That was actually one of the reasons Phelps had selected him – no wife or children to miss him when he disappeared. The houses in his subdivision were separated by at least an acre apiece; they weren’t like the Macmansions being built now, large homes on tiny plots. The houses were surrounded by mature trees and bushes, and it took real effort to see into your neighbors’ yard. Barker had liked the layout the first time he’d seen it. If they had to grab someone without as much planning as he would have liked, Barker consoled himself with the knowledge that it was Galvin’s house they were breeching.

When they got there, Barker reached under his seat and took out the stun gun he’d stashed there right before they left Phelps’. The plan was for him and Joe White to go in through the back, while Holmes and Franklin kept a watch on the neighborhood, for any possible witnesses. They were all armed with walkie-talkies, so they could alert each other to any problems they encountered.

“I don’t like this,” White said to Barker as they got ready to get out.

“You’re not being paid to like things,” Barker snapped at him, not happy about the fact that White was verbalizing what he’d been silently thinking for the last several hours. “You get paid to follow orders, not think.”

“Whatever,” White muttered. “Let’s get this over with.”

“No talking until after we’ve zapped him,” Barker reminded White.

“How do we know his heart isn’t going to give out, when we hit him?” White asked.

“Phelps checked over his medical records. He’s in perfect health. It’ll be fine,” Barker assured him, as he opened the door and crept out, White right behind him.

They made their way around to the back, using the bushes for cover, and then Barker slid his lock pick in the door, to let them in. David had been in the house several times already, making sure he knew the shortest path to the master bedroom, so he quickly led the way up to the bedroom, the stun gun already pulled out and ready to use. When they got to the bedroom he was momentarily confused when he looked at the empty bed in front of him. The covers were pulled back, but Galvin wasn’t there. Looking to his left, he saw that the door to the en suite bathroom was closed, and a shaft of light was shining through the crack. ‘This is just great,’ he thought to himself. Frantically motioning to the door, he began to back out of the room, right as the bathroom door was opening.

“What the hell?” Galvin exclaimed, as he saw darkly clad men standing in front of him. He was just about to turn around and rush back into the bathroom, when Barker tackled him, shoving the stun gun to his neck and pulling the trigger and holding the gun there for several seconds, while the electricity pulsed through Galvin’s body. When Galvin stopped moving, Barker removed the gun and pulled a gag and blindfold out of his pockets, quickly putting them on the fallen man. He then reached into another pocket, pulling out a pair of handcuffs, which he fastened around Galvin’s wrists. This wasn’t the way he had wanted to do this. It was supposed to be easy in and easy out, instead they had a victim who would wake up in a panic, and who knew what the fuck he’d do?

“When we get to the van, I want you to tie up his ankles and put the ear plugs in his ears. I don’t trust these stun guns. I’m not sure he’ll stay out the whole way back,” Barker ordered White.

“Do you want me to zap him again, if he starts to come around?” White asked.

“Not unless we have to,” Barker answered. Phelps had said Galvin would be fine if they shocked him with the gun, but no one had discussed multiple uses. He wasn’t willing to lose another target; they were already down one million apiece because of Nussbaum, and his stupid assed boss. “Grab his feet,” he instructed, as he reached under the man’s arms, preparing to lift him up. Together they carried him down to the back door, where White let Galvin’s legs down, and took him from Barker, tossing the unconscious man over his shoulder. Holmes had seen them coming, and had the side door to the van open and waiting when they got there. Tossing Galvin in, White climbed in beside him, while Barker slid into the front passenger seat. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said to Franklin.

As he backed the van out of the drive, Franklin glanced over at Barker, who sat silent and rigid beside him. “How’d it go?” he asked.

“About the same way everything else has gone lately,” Barker replied.


While things had been ramping into high gear for Phelps and Barker, Tony and Gibbs had been trying to decompress. They’d grabbed some Chinese on their way to Gibbs’ house, fully intending to have a beer, eat, maybe watch some television, and call it a night. They’d been going since before four that morning, and they were both beginning to drag. When they pulled into the drive, Gibbs commented, “We should probably take both cars tomorrow.”

“Worried someone will figure things out?” Tony asked, only partially serious.

“No,” Gibbs said. “If us being in the same car was going to tip anyone off, it would have happened years ago. I think we’re likely to have to split up tomorrow. I want to talk to Michael Weiss in the morning, and I think Ziva might be the best person to accompany me, especially if Fornell is right about Weiss having ties with the Mossad, so I’ll need my car.”

“Is Weaver still pissed at you?” Tony teased, referring to the man who controlled NCIS’ fleet of cars. Gibbs had torn out the transmission on one of the company Chargers last week in a car chase, his second that month, and Weaver had threatened to never let him take another car from the pool.

“No DiNozzo,” Gibbs had answered, letting Tony know he didn’t appreciate the reminder by calling him by his last name. “I thought we might get done at different times tomorrow night, and neither of us would want to be stuck waiting around for the other one.”

“Always thinking, must be why you’re the boss,” Tony said with a grin, as he grabbed the bag of food, and got out. As he headed for the door, with Gibbs coming up behind him, he announced, “Last one in does the dishes,” as he sprinted on ahead.

Gibbs was laughing as he came into the house. When the door shut, Tony pushed him up against the door and kissed him soundly. “What is it about Chinese food that always makes you horny?” Gibbs asked, when they broke apart from each other.

“I don’t know,” Tony answered. “Why is it you always suggest we pick it up?” he countered.

“Sometimes I wonder the same thing,” Gibbs said with a smirk, as he stepped around Tony and headed for the kitchen.

They ended up dividing the food between two plates, grabbing a beer apiece, and carrying it all to the den, so that they could watch the news as they ate. When the food was gone and the news was over, Tony reached over for the controller. “Movie or the boat?” he asked.

“Too tired to work on the boat tonight,” Gibbs answered. “How about we clean up down here, and watch something on the upstairs television?" he suggested, smiling to himself. It hadn’t been too many years ago that the only television he had in his house was an old black and white, that only got two channels, and that was with the help of a clothes hanger antennae. Now, he had a small portable color television in the basement, a large plasma screen in the den, and a combination VCR/DVD/TV in the bedroom. Tony may not have exactly brought high culture into his life, but he’d certainly pushed him into the electronic age.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll even help you with the dishes,” he offered magnanimously. “Of course, that will mean it’s your turn again next time.”

“DiNozzo, we had Chinese that we ate on paper plates with chopsticks,” Gibbs pointed out, as he reached over and smacked the back of Tony’s head gently.

“You know, I think you’re right,” Tony said, affecting a stunned expression. “Guess that means the next two times will be your turn, since I offered to help this time, even though it turned out you didn’t need my help.”

Gibbs was laughing as he leaned over and tackled Tony, pressing his arms into the couch and hovering over Tony’s face. “Want to rethink that?” he growled.

“If I say yes, does that mean you’ll let me go?” Tony asked.

“Probably,” Gibbs allowed.

“Then no,” Tony said, as he thrust his hips up to meet Gibbs’.

Gibbs groaned and said, “Twice in one day? I’m an old man, Tony.”

“Didn’t seem so old to me this morning,” Tony answered, as he lifted up his head to nip at Gibbs’ chin.

Gibbs pressed down harder on Tony’s arms, and leaned down, kissing Tony in earnest. As he eased his body down on top of Tony’s, Tony opened his mouth to allow Gibbs’ tongue entrance. The kiss, or rather, the series of kisses went on for some time, and they were both breathless when Gibbs released Tony’s mouth and arms, so he could slide a hand between them, up and under Tony’s shirt until his fingers found their target, Tony’s right nipple. As he tweaked and caressed, he let his mouth slide down Tony’s face and onto his neck, his other hand sliding under Tony’s neck and up into his hair. He loved Tony’s hair, always had, and could spend hours just sliding his fingers through it, content just to feel the soft strands tickle the underside of his fingers and palms. He also liked the soft, almost purring sound Tony made, as his nails grazed his scalp; it was a pure sound, uncensored and totally spontaneous, a sound he wasn’t even sure Tony was aware he made, and therefore all the more special.

“It reminds me of the first time,” Tony breathed softly.

“What?” Gibbs asked, confused by what Tony was talking about.

“Chinese food – it reminds me of the first time,” Tony said, as he slid his arms around Gibbs, and pressed him closer to him. When Gibbs let his hand slid down to Tony’s groin, tracing his fingers around Tony’s genitals, Tony continued, panting slightly between phrases. “Spilled rice………ummm……….broken plates………oh God………very hot sex.” He moaned the last words because Gibbs had closed his hand around where Tony’s cock was pressing insistently against his jeans, begging for release.

Gibbs felt himself harden as Tony talked, the memory of that first night in Tony’s apartment vividly coming back to him. Suddenly groping and teasing wasn’t enough, as all the need he’d felt that night so long ago washed back over him, threatening to drown him in desire. Releasing Tony, he sat up enough that he could get both hands free, and he quickly unfastened the jeans that Tony was wearing and yanked them off his body. Then he stood, and as he was unfastening his own pants he went over to the bookcase, and reached up into a pewter mug with the Marine Corps’ insignia on it, and pulled out a tube of lube. This wasn’t the first time they hadn’t made it to the bedroom. He slid his own pants and boxers off when he returned to the couch, and using his body, he pushed Tony’s legs apart. Tony lay watching him through half slit eyes, his breath coming in starts and stops, anticipation writ large on his face, and just the merest suggestion of a self satisfied smirk.

Gibbs leaned over and sucked on Tony’s lower lip, rolling it between his teeth before he settled back down to serious kissing. Tony slid his hands up and under the polo Gibbs still had on, letting his fingers run up and down his spine as they kissed, his hips slowly undulating against Gibbs’. When Tony’s fingers worked their way lower, across the soft skin of Gibbs’ ass, tracing along the outside of his crack, Gibbs couldn’t wait any longer. Reaching up, he opened the lube and coated the fingers on his right hand. Then he pulled up enough to reach between them once again, this time sliding his hand down beneath Tony’s balls, searching for his opening. “I love Chinese food,” he said, just before he pushed two lube slicked fingers into Tony, and leaned back down to kiss him again. They didn’t speak again, as Gibbs continued to open him up and then finally push himself into Tony’s warmth. They didn’t need to; seven years hadn’t diminished their passion for each other. If anything, it had intensified it. There wasn’t the thrill of exploration anymore, but it had been replaced by the more deeply felt comfort and satisfaction they found in the simple act of love making. Yet they still had the capacity to surprise one another. For seven years Gibbs had never known that Tony associated Chinese food with the first time they’d made love, and he kissed him again, wanting to offer physical thanks for the revelation. They were positioned, cheek to cheek when Tony came, the rippling of his muscles dragging Gibbs’ own orgasm from his body. As they lay there, sticky and panting, pressed together, Gibbs thought about how lucky he was to have this, to have Tony in his life. Maybe they didn’t whisper sweet nothings to each other, but there was no mistaking how they felt.

“So, shower first, and then a movie?” Tony asked, after he’d pressed a kiss to Gibbs' forehead.

“As long as it's one I can sleep through,” Gibbs answered as he pushed himself off Tony, and reached out a hand to help him up. “The dishes can wait until tomorrow,” he said with a smile, then kissed Tony again before he reached over and turned off the lamp on the table next to the couch.

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