Life Begins at The End of Your Comfort Zone – 4/4 – SASundance

Title: Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone
Author: SASundace
Fandom: NCIS, Criminal Minds
Genre: Crime Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Relationship(s): Anthony DiNozzo/Detective Andrea Sparr; Timothy McGee/OFC
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence – Graphic, Character Bashing, Reference to past sexual assault of a child; Reference to sexual assault of an adult; Reference to past child abuse and neglect
Author Notes: This is essentially an NCIS story with a minor Criminal Minds crossover of three characters – Rossi, Reid and Hotchner. There are a number of reoccurring NCIS characters, several OCs and minor characters who feature in the story. The story is set in the time mainly between the episode S05e15 In The Zone and S06e04 Heartland. Many thanks to Darian for the awesome artwork for this story and much appreciation to Arress for her help, too.
Beta: Arress
Word Count: 117,750
Summary: When Tim missed out on an assignment in Baghdad which he believed should have been his, everyone told him that he wasn’t ready yet, that his time would come. Frustrated, he turned to his writing, immersing himself in his alternate reality. Four months later, he was instrumental in finding the mole, after working undercover in Cyber Crimes and meeting the love of his life. McGee thought his life was perfect, unprepared for his alter-ego to draw him and everyone around him into a dark malevolent evil which would change everything forever.
Artist: Darian MacAver



PART 4: THE IMPACT ZONE


Chapter 15

Abby and Viv burst through the door to Fornell’s office to find two extremely tense men waiting for results. Fornell was consuming massive quantities of coffee and Palmer was sipping on his second green tea and talking desultorily. Mostly they were caught up in their private thoughts.

As the two women entered his office, with just a cursory knock, Viv had a sheaf of paper clutched tight in her hands while Abby was practically squealing with excitement. Fornell felt a sudden stirring of hope that their lab techs had found something useful, which would make sense, given that Abby was bouncing around like the Energiser Bunny. He noted that Blackadder was smiling broadly too, and he wondered fleetingly if there might be more going on between DiNozzo and the former NCIS agent than he’d considered.

Before he had a chance to follow-up on that random thought, Abby announced exuberantly (and not in her inside voice, either). “We got something. Ohmigod. Ohmigod. Ohmigod, Omigod Om…”

Interrupting her, Jimmy put his hand on her shoulder, not exactly gently, shaking her slightly and said rather firmly, “Just tell us, Abby.”

Looking a little abashed that she’d gotten carried away, she smiled apologetically over at Viv who held onto the forensic report. “Sorry, go on Viv.”

The FBI agent read out the findings to Tobias and Palmer. “Um, so these are just the preliminary findings so far. There are epithelial cells on the paper and the tech thinks that they are from two individuals. Presumably, one set is from Tony and the other set from the kidnapper. Plus, they found a partial fingerprint that appears to match the one on DiNozzo’s phone that was tossed in the dumpster.”

“We might have a way to get clearer prints,” Abby added hopefully, “but that’s still in the planning stage. But there’s more. Tell them, Viv. What do you got?”

Everyone, even Fornell smirked at the familiar phrase before Blackadder started reading from the trace evidence findings.

“So according to Dr Nagarajan, the note most likely had some contact with the ground, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. So, he’s theorising that the paper was probably stepped on at some point, as the lab found several woollen fibres. Dr Nagarajan states that the profile of the fibres is consistent with a pair of socks.”

Abby interjected, “We can probably narrow that down even further to the type of sock, given a few more hours.

Viv took a breath before resuming her reading of the report. “The analysis of the paper shows traces of some quite toxic substances, including arsenic, boron and methyl mercury. Plus, a bunch of other nasty chemical compounds that I can’t hope to pronounce, but which the forensic people agree is consistent with something called Black Liquor,” Viv concluded with a flourish.

Palmer looked bemused. Despite his medical background, he was prone to opening his mouth before thinking. “They’ve got a still making home-made liquor where Tony’s being held?”

Viv rolled her eyes discreetly, but Abby noticed and took pity on the autopsy gremlin. “Not that kind of liquor, Jimmy. Black liquor is a by-product of paper manufacturing and it is extremely caustic.”

“How caustic?” Fornell asked Abby.

She regarded him nonchalantly. “About as caustic as lye,” she told him.

Looking at her oddly he asked, “And lye is the main ingredient in Drano, right?”

“Yep, sodium hydroxide. It decomposes most organic matter, including hair and grease.”

She smiled sadly, remembering a conversation she’d share with Tony quite a few years ago, back when Viv had still been working with them, long before even Catlin Todd had been hired.

He’d brought her some blood samples from a bridge where they suspected the victim might have gone over (willingly or by foul play) and drowned in the river.

He’d noticed immediately that she was changing the pictures on the walls of her lab. He asked her, “You re-decorating?”

She told him, chuckling, “I thought I’d brighten the place up a bit.”

Tony had eyed them admiringly before asking, “You take these?”

Abby had nodded enthusiastically, her two black pigtails bouncing up and down as she said, pointing at one, “Yeah, that’s a cross-section of what a 12 gauge did to an L3 to L5.”

Tony looked a little stunned. “Shotgun-shattered backbone?” he clarified.

“Yeah,” she confirmed proudly. “The middle one there is a cross-section of an ice pick to a cerebellum,” she indicated to a picture in the middle.

Tony had grimaced, then he’d looked at another picture appraisingly before asking, “Duodenum?”

Abby had nodded, impressed he’d figure that out, and yet, not. She’d learn he was way more than just a pretty face. There was an extremely sharp mind under that mop of thick lustrous hair, which he’d worn been a bit longer back then.

“Yeah, I like to call it Duodenum with a Lye Chaser. It’s a sad end of a Drano drinker,” she’d finished solemnly but with a wicked gleam to her eye.

Tony had shaken his head at her in mock despair, telling her, “You need to get out more, Abby.”

Without missing a beat, she’d flirted with him shamelessly, “Is that an invite?”

To his credit, he immediately invited her out, and Viv too, taking them to dinner and much to Viv’s disgust a zombie movie marathon. Blackadder had bailed about a third of the way through, but Tony had stuck it out to the bitter end, even though he thought zombie movies were kind of dumb. The Goth smiled at the memory and hoped they found her friend soon. Abby wanted a lot more movie marathons with him.

Seeing that Fornell was watching her with a strange look on his face, (sort of grossed out but proud of himself too) he told her, “When you said you could dispose of a body and leave no trace, that’s how you’d do it, right?” he demanded.

Abby chuckled, not the squealy little girl annoying giggle that drove Tobias crazy, but a deep throaty contralto laugh that was sexy as hell and immediately made Fornell (and Jimmy by the looks of him) horny.

Shaking her finger at the FBI agent playfully, she scolded, “Tobi, ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

Looking mildly amused by the interplay, Viv said brusquely,” Okay, you lot; according to Dr Nagarajan, the trace elements with those chemicals were on the underside of the suicide note to where the woollen fibres were found. Which further supports his theory that the note was stepped on.”

Fornell pursed his lips. “DiN…ozzo probably dropped it deliberately and stepped on it hoping to leave trace evidence for us to find. Smart!”

Abby, Palmer and Blackadder all agreed it was the most likely scenario and that it was clever but they expected no less of Tony.

Viv resumed reading the lab report from Dr Nagarajan. “There was a report a few years ago, of not only water contamination but also monitoring of fish. It found chemicals consistent with Black Liquor, boron, methyl mercury, arsenic and others in the upper levels of the Potomac. It was thought to be from a former paper mill, although the contaminants weren’t proven to have come from there.” She told them raising her eyebrows.

Jimmy and Fornell exchanged looks. “So…what does this mean?”

Abby rolled her eyes, “It means that with an identical composition of chemicals and the identical concentrations and proportions of those chemicals make it almost certain that the traces found on the paper used to write the fake suicide note are from the same source as the contamination reported in the literature in 2003.”

“So, Tony’s been held somewhere on the Upper Potomac?” Fornell clarified.

Abby paused, “Yes, probably the Potomac and we need to check the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal alongside it. Flooding could theoretically have carried these contaminants a long way downstream or potentially across into the canal, so we can’t automatically rule anything out.”

Viv said to Fornell, “I’ll coordinate the search with Metro PD and let Detectives Kochifis and Sparr know too. Quite sure they’ll want in.”

Fornell nodded. “I’ll see who else we can recruit for the search, maybe some the FLETC students and or cadets from the FBI Academy might volunteer.”

“Good idea,” Blackadder nodded her approval.

“I’d like to help look too, if that’s okay?” Palmer asked the FBI agents.

“It’s alright by me,” Blackadder shrugged looking at Tobias to see if he agreed and noted his slight nod of approval.

Jimmy looked at Abby. “Doesn’t McGee spend a lot of time around the C & O Canal with his Webelo’s?”

“Yeah and the Potomac too,” Abby said casually.

“Oh, okay. So, he should be familiar with the terrain. Maybe we can get him to help out with the search?”

Fornell shook his head subtly at Viv who interrupted Jimmy. “I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves a bit. We’ll see about more NCIS personnel including McGee later, Palmer. Right now, let me call Metro PD and get the search underway.”

Fornell smiled his appreciation at the younger agent. Yeah, there was no way he was going to let Tim McGee help search for DiNozzo right now.

Suspicious factors coalescing around McGee at this point were making him very antsy. According to Palmer, he’d told DiNozzo (warned or threatened him) that no one would notice if he went missing. Now Palmer casually mentioned that the NCIS agent spent time exploring the area around the Potomac River and the canal with a bunch of boy scouts where they had strong evidence to suspect Tony was being held.

He was of one mind with Gibbs when it came to coincidences – he didn’t trust them. There were too many for his liking and they all seemed to involve McGee.

Jimmy seemed oblivious to the by-play between the FBI agents. He looked over at Abby and asked, “Are you coming out to search, Abby?”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so Jimmy. Something is bugging me, and I need to figure out what it is. Maybe I can figure out a way to narrow down the search area. We don’t know how much time we have,” she ended, sounding slightly teary.

Jimmy gave her a comforting hug and pat on the shoulder. “Okay, Abbs. Keep in touch.” He followed Blackadder out of Fornell’s office.

Abby sat down in Fornell’s chairs and stared intently at the FBI agent.

“Do you believe in dreams, Tobi?” she said without preamble.

Wincing at the use of that hated name, he realised that it probably served him right for all the times he called Tony DiNotzo to rile him up. Wondering idly if Abby knew he hated that name, he recalled her outrageous antics when they’d been investigating Rene Benoit’s death. It was lucky that Palmer was such a level-headed type, even if he was a total klutz. At least he was serious and wholly credible.

Sighing, he looked into her pale green eyes and asked with a small sigh, “Why do you want to know, Dr Sciuto?”

“Call me Abby, we’re practically family,” she told him firmly, much to his bemusement.

“Since when?”

“Oh pooh. Since you and Gibbs shared a wife, you’re like brothers-in-law and we’re his Gibblets, ergo…family.” She replied airily.

“More like brothers-in-war,” he bitched, and she pretended not to hear.

Giving him the stink eye, she told him, “Sometimes I get dreams about stuff that’s going to happen, like with Tony. Or I have this dream that Amy Sutton- who’s me by the way – although McGee denied and denied it until the crazy barista… where he got his coffee, started to kill his character, see?”

Fornell shook his head because, no, he didn’t see. Not at all.

Abby nodded violently. “Right, I know. It’s crazy. He tried to kill me at the convent, but I still can’t believe it either, I mean what sort of a lunatic goes to a convent to kill a forensic scientist, anyway? Not that Sister Rosita was there or Sister Josephine, or Sister Mary Teresa or Sister Augustine or…well um… none of the nuns were there and that was a good thing because Landon Grey had a gun and he came in and tried to shoot me.”

Fornell didn’t know what Abby was going about and when she ran out of steam, he opened his mouth to ask her what the hell she was talking about. Unfortunately for him, she got her second wind.

Seeing him open his mouth, she said, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re gonna say and I think that too. Who goes through someone’s trash to find a used typewriter ribbon and then goes to the trouble of reading it to learn what your favourite author is going to write about in their new book? I wouldn’t, and I bet you wouldn’t either and then go and kill all the characters you hate?

“I mean that isn’t just crazy, it’s rude and inconsiderate. If Grey had killed Amy Sutton in the convent, it would have been practically impossible to get the bloodstains out of that old stone floor that the nuns have.”

By now, Fornell was at the point where he was thinking about tearing his hair out in frustration because he had no idea what the fuck Sciuto was banging on about. Ultimately, he decided not to pull out his hair since he wasn’t exactly well endowed in that department. It didn’t seem fair that someone like Gibbs had a full head of hair and yet he committed that awful atrocity upon his hair called at a high and tight haircut, when someone like himself would have cherished having his luxurious locks.

Banging his head on his desk instead, he wondered if that load of gobbledegook that came out of Sciuto’s mouth was some sort of variation of the old board game Clue with Colonel Mustard? Maybe Amy Sutton had been bumped off in the dining room with the lead pipe or the revolver by Landon Grey, the crazy barista. Guess it must be a variation on the butler, did it?

While he was engaging in his bout of self-harm, Abby stared at him like he was acting crazy – like she had room to talk.

Leaning over and patting him on the back, she told him, “If you’re trying to clear your crown chakra or your third-eye chakra, Tobi I think you should try crystals, instead. I’m sure that will work a lot better for you. What star sign are you? You wouldn’t happen to know what your ascendant planet is, by any chance?”

As he continued to pound his head, she reassured him, “It’s okay if you don’t know your Star Sign, we can figure it out. And the planets too, well so long as you know the precise moment you were born, we can figure it all out,” she said soothingly.

Losing his last solitary iota of patience with the flaky forensic scientist, he raised his voice…several decibels.

“Abby! Who. Is. Amy. Sutton.”

Looking quite surprised, she told him, “Amy Sutton is me…Abby Sciuto. Of course, I always knew that I was Amy Sutton, but Timmy denied it until he was blue in the face. But when Landon Grey started trying to kill me and he did kill the other two characters, as you know…

“Well, then, McGee had no choice but to admit that I was Amy Sutton, didn’t he? Not that it came as any great surprise, of course. As I said before, I’ve always known.”

Stupidly shaking his head, which was pounding painfully, Tobias was now wishing he hadn’t been so impulsive. The FBI agent demanded irritably, “Is this some sort of a board game like Clue…or a role play game like Dungeons and Dragons? Is Landon Grey one of the other characters?”

Abby looked at him stunned before she started laughing hysterically. “No, it’s not a board game and it isn’t an MMORPG either Tobi. It’s Timmy’s books, his Deep Six novels. Amy Sutton in the Goth loving forensic scientist who works at NCIS with Special Agent L.J. Tibbs.”

She paused and went all still like she’d been frozen like a statue. Then in a spooky kind of singsong sort of voice, her pupils large and unfocused, said.

“I’m Amy, Tobias! I’m Amy Sutton. Tony was talking about me.”

Fornell wasn’t sure what had just happened. All he knew was that the hair at the back of his neck and the hair on his forearm stood up at attention. Not for the first time, he found himself wondered what the hell kind of shit the Goth was smoking or was she possessed?

“And Landon Grey was a fanboy who became obsessed with Agent McGregor… that was Timmy…well technically Thom E. Gemcity was the author, but Landon Grey thought Amy Sutton didn’t deserve to have Agent McGregor because…”

The Goth stopped in mid-sentence. “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod! I think I figured out what my dreams were trying to tell me. Thanks for all your help, I couldn’t have done it without you, Tobes!”

She leapt out of her chair and threw her arms around him, planting a kiss on his cheek. For such a slender female, her hugs sure packed a punch, he decided ruefully. Even as his head throbbed hideously, he wondered idly if she ever cracked ribs when she hugged people – he wouldn’t be surprised. When she let him go to find her cell phone, Fornell fished around in his desk drawer and found a couple of headache tablets, swallowing them dry.

Still not having a clue what she was talking about, he looked at Abby who’d switched from a full-on raving banshee to a reasonable rational adult forensic scientist once more. The change was more than a little bit creepy, he decided.

Abby pulled out her mobile phone and was dialling someone furiously. When he asked who she was calling, she held up her finger. Whoever it was answered because she smiled, although her grin set his teeth on edge. She put the phone on speaker so Fornell could hear the conversation, too

“Hey Timmy, I need your help.”

Sure Abs. Where are you?

I’m helping a good friend, McGee. Just one thing. I need to remind you about Abby’s number 1 rule – never lie to Abby.

Sounding a little nervous he said, “Of course. How can I help?”

“I want to know if you’re writing a new Deep Six book, Tim.”

“What would you ask about that, Abbs? It’s been ages since the last one came out.”

Fornell mouthed, “He’s not telling the truth.’”

Abby nodded angrily, mouthing back. “I. Know!”

Shaking in rage she told him, “Don’t you dare lie to me, McGee!”

They heard an audible gulp on the other end. She raised her voice. “Is there another book? Tell me the truth.”

There was silence and she knew he was trying to think about what to say. Finally, he said, “I haven’t started writing a new book, trust me.”

Fornell scribbled on a pad – ask him if he’s written anything.

“Have you written anything, McGee that’s not a book?”

“Um…I’ve started keeping a…journal.”

When Abby didn’t say anything, he volunteered more information.

“Yeah, a journal. I’m… ah keeping a journal, see. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people keep a journal. And when…if I write anything, then I have ideas and thoughts and feelings.”

“And people’s conversations and things they told you in confidence, or details about a victim’s pain and suffering,” Abby finished tartly.

Abby frowned at the phone. “Remember Rule number 1, Tim. What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing!”

“Nothing, McGee”

“Nothing important, I swear.”

Fornell was getting a bad feeling. He scribbled, What about something unimportant? ASK THAT!”

Nodding, Abby said, “Okay so what aren’t you telling me that isn’t important, Timothy Farragut McGee?”

“Um… well… I may have written an innocuous little fanfic…just to see if anyone still cares about Agent McGregor and L. J. Tibbs,” he said quickly. “But trust me, it was just a harmless marketing exercise to test the waters,” he told her. “It was just something I wrote on the spur of the moment, you know?”

Now he’d confessed, he couldn’t stop talking about it.

“And so, you decided to post it, McGee? On the Deep Six fan site?” she asked, knowing him too well.

Some time ago, he’d confessed to her that he’d been flattered to find so many fans loved his books and felt invested in the characters enough to write fanfiction about them. Which she thought had been more than a bit insensitive of him, considering the Landon Grey fiasco.

“What happened, Tim?”

“Oh, I took it down.” He said. “No harm was done, Abs.”

“Why did you take it down?”

“Well, you know, it got a lot of hits and received a lot of positive reviews except for one or two people who didn’t know what they were talking about. So, it proved that there was a market for more of my Deep Six books,” he told her brightly.

She groaned audibly, and Tim heard her.

“What’s wrong Abby. I’m not lying. I promise I took it down, okay?”

Fornell, as well as an experienced interrogator, was trained to look for signs that someone was trying to conceal things or lie. Big red flags included, phrases like trust me, you must believe me, I wouldn’t lie to you or I’m not lying and a lot more stuff. Fornell was sure that McGee just lied again, or at the very least he wasn’t being completely truthful again.

Putting pen to paper again, he wrote, “He’s not telling the whole truth!!!”

Abby nodded forcefully. He wasn’t sure if it was a simple agreement or she was just acknowledging his comment.

“If the reviews were all so great why did you delete it, Tim? That doesn’t sound like you,” Abby challenged him.

“Um… well because I just thought that if someone found out that Thom E. Gemcity was posting fanfic of his own books on a fan site, I’d be the laughingstock of my fellow detective story writers,” he said.

Fornell looked at Abby nodding and wrote down, ‘He’s telling the truth about this.’

“You believe me don’t you, Abby?” Tim said pleadingly and Fornell’s radar pinged. He wrote another note, ‘Now he’s being deceptive again… there’s more he’s not telling you.

The Goth huffed, “About you not wanting to be a laughing- stock? Absolutely… I believe that but there’s another reason why you deleted the story and you’re trying to hide it from me.

“Now stop being a baby and tell me what it is. If you make me find out what it is, I’m going to be incredibly angry with you. I punish people who lie to me, McGee,” she threatened him sternly.

Abby and Fornell heard a little eep sound before he huffed angrily. “FINE! I also may have taken it down because it might have maybe attracted a couple of nasty comments, okay? It wasn’t a big deal! So… are you satisfied now?” he spat at her, passively-aggressively.

“I’m kind of busy cooking dinner for Sandrine for tonight. We missed our six-month anniversary because I was working on a case last week so, I decided to surprise her and make her a romantic dinner with some recipes from the Lady’s Home Journal,” he said rather sarcastically. “If you don’t mind?”

Tobias caught Abby rolling her eyes impressively and the agent and father felt she could give every petulant teenager he’d ever had cause to question, a run for their money with the bad-tempered attitude in that single action. Nevertheless, he wasn’t expecting her awe-inspiring putdown.

“That edition, Make Your Man A Romantic Dinner was always your fav, McGee.”

McGee, obviously not reading the tone of the comment, replied blithely, “Well there are so many great recipes in it, I had a hard time choosing.”

Oh, she hadn’t been joking!

Abby frowned scarily. “Just one more thing, McGemcity, what pen name did you use, because it’s obvious you didn’t use your usual pseudonym and what was the name of the fanfic?”

“You don’t believe me! I swear I deleted it, Abby.” Tim whined, sounding remarkably like a wounded puppy, if it could talk, of course.

“C’mon Tim, don’t be so naive. You should know better than anyone Mr I-went -to-MIT, that once you put something out there on the world wide web, you can’t control it. Ever heard of screenshots, not to mention the Wayback Machine, you idiot? What’s the betting that hundreds of your little Deep Sixers have copies of it?

Tim’s silence was a testament to the fact that Abby spoke the truth.

“Whatever,” he snarked, capitulating. “It was called, With Friends Like These and I used the pseudonym McMIT. Alright? Happy now? Can I go?” he pleaded.

“One more thing, Tim,” Sciuto pressed her advantage. “When you say you got a few nasty comments, were they about you?”

“No! I told you, everyone was extremely positive.”

“Okay, so were the nasty reviews about Amy Sutton?” she demanded.

Furious, he yelled at her. “I told you a hundred times, I’m sorry about Landon Grey. Why can’t you let it go, Abs. I wrote that L.J. Tibbs drinks to relieve the burden of his messianic complex and he didn’t get all bent out of shape about it. He thought it was funny. He also said I can’t be held responsible for what some nutjob decides to do because he read my book. It’s fiction!” he whined sounding like a truculent teenager as opposed to a federal agent.

“And FYI, no! The nasty comments weren’t about you. Are you happy now?” Tim snarled, sounding like he’d reached the end of his tether.

Ignoring his attack on herself, she said, “Who were the nasty remarks about, Timothy?”

“Agent Tommy. There! Are you satisfied?” and hung up the phone before she could say another word.

Ignoring Fornell and the mountain of questions that he had, Abby bullied her way behind his computer after explaining she needed to find out if Tim had truly deleted his story, that she wanted to read the comments. She had a hinky feeling, bearing in mind her dreams that the fanfic might give them some much-needed answers to Tony’s disappearance.

So, Abby gave him a rapid-fire lecture on some of the crazy fans, about the trolls and crazies who hung out on sites, as her fingers flew across Tobias’ computer keyboard. In just a few minutes she frowned and said, “It’s back up again.”

Tapping and clicking furiously, she said, “Okay, he did delete it but then a few days later it was re-posted under the username Mythic Gemote – saying it was formerly McMIT’s account.”

Then she decided to find a cached copy of the original story which only took her a few more minutes to pull up. Ignoring the story for the moment, she started reading through the comments, becoming increasingly disturbed. Her language turning decidedly blue.

Tobias was troubled too. Not just with the fanfic fiasco but also with the fact that it was yet another inter-sectional point in DiNozzo’s disappearance involving McGee. His gut was telling him that the NCIS agent was in it up to his neck somehow. Pulling out his phone and stepping outside to make the call so Abby, who was seemingly intent on what she was doing, wouldn’t overhear his conversation, he hoped he was wrong. As angry as she was with McGee right now, Sciuto would be devastated if he were behind DiNozzo’s abduction – Jethro too.

He called Ron, who despite the animus between himself and DiNozzo was a competent agent. Give Sacks a task where he didn’t have to think outside the box, where attention to detail was key, and he fine. Ron’s strengths were his doggedness, his ability to not give up, his willingness to check every data entry or phone number in a list to try to find a connection between a victim and a suspect or connections between suspects. Fornell knew Sacks would do a thorough job, like always. He just wasn’t the type of agent to have epiphanies, regrettably. The bald truth was he was singularly lacking in imagination or flair. Like everybody else, he was far from perfect.

Unfortunately, Ron’s weaknesses were also his doggedness, his ability to not give up, his willingness to check every data entry or phone number in a list to try to find a connection between a victim and a suspect or connections between suspects. When Ron got hold of the wrong end of the stick (like he had when he decided that DiNozzo was a killer) he was quite literally like a bull terrier, who’d locked his jaw on his adversary and he wouldn’t let go.

Fornell wasn’t certain, he’d never actually asked the FBI agent, but he suspected that the reason why Ron disliked DiNozzo so much was that Tony was the antithesis of the humourless agent. Ron was stolid and dependable but could never be described as exceptional. Tony had flair, was mercurial and had flashes of sheer brilliance. Ron took himself incredibly seriously and Tony didn’t. DiNozzo excelled at being undercover and thinking fast on his feet; Ron lacked imagination and the ability to improvise.

And perhaps of most significance, despite the appearance of brash cockiness, DiNozzo had a vulnerability about him that inspired loyalty in a surprising amount of people. Sadly, Ron wasn’t all that likely to win a lot of friends with his stuck-in-the-mud pedantic personality.

Still, as different as the two agents were, Ron was most definitely the person Fornell wanted chasing down minutiae when it was important not to leave anything out or overlook a tiny detail. Having Yang around would hopefully ensure that any outlandishly implausible possibilities were not overlooked, too.

When Sacks answered, he sounded weary. “I was going to call you, give you an update in twenty minutes,” he said neutrally and Fornell wasn’t sure if he was feeling aggrieved about Tobias’ departure from the schedule. To be honest, the SSA didn’t care all that much!

Luckily, Sacks had the information Fornell was after. McGee had been splashing around a lot of money in the past few months. He’d moved into a big two-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend, purchased a lot of expensive furniture and electrical goods, putting most of it on his credit card.

Fornell was surprised! The apartment was in an expensive section of town and he wondered how the junior agent could afford such luxuries. After all, he drove a Porsche Boxster and Fornell happened to know that Federal agents pay wasn’t exactly generous.

He was getting more worried about McGee’s involvement by the minute. He’d never agreed with the way that Jethro ran his team, forcing DiNozzo to compete against the junior agents with a helluva lot less investigative experience or know-how. He argued with Gibbs about letting David, Todd and McGee treat the position of SFA and its occupant with flagrant disregard, but Gibbs had flipped him off. Crudely.

Still, Fornell always felt that no good could come of forcing agents to compete against people who were not their equals in terms of rank, experience, or ability.

Now he was wondering if Gibbs leadership style (where he forced all his agents to compete on a level playing field) may have created such feelings of jealousy and hate that it led to Tony being ambushed. Was that possible? Of course, in most teams, management encouraged growth and change, not stagnancy the way Jethro operated. The question was, would someone become so desperate to gain a promotion that they got rid of the competition?

Who was he kidding? It happened in families all the time. Grandma was taking too long to drop off the perch, so their greedy, spoiled, entitled children or even grandchildren arranged for granny to have a permanent vacation six foot under. One sibling bumped off another, so they didn’t have to share mom and dad’s  inheritance.

As he was thinking about the unpalatable possibility that McGee had decided to get rid of DiNozzo, he heard Wentworth yell out to Sacks, “Don’t forget about the top of the line mountain bike and bike trailer that McGee bought last week.”

Ron told him, “Since when is it suspicious to ride a bike, Luke.”

Fornell didn’t catch the answer so he said, “What did he say?”

Sacks humphed in exasperation. “He said when Agent McGee was in a still new relationship – his first-ever live-in-lover relationship. He said that most new couples do things together.”

Tobias said, “Ron, put me on speaker. I want to talk to the others too.”

After saying hello to Wentworth and Yang, Fornell said, “That’s good work guys, but maybe his girlfriend doesn’t like cycling.”

Melissa Yang said, “Good point, Boss or maybe McGee got the bicycle and trailer to go on some ride with his Webelo’s. According to his file, he’s their troop leader.”

Wentworth said feistily, “Look, I agree with you guys. There’s probably a perfectly logical explanation for Special Agent McGee getting a bicycle last week. For all we know, it could be that he and Gallagher aren’t getting along, and he wants to get away from her.

“BUT. We are looking for suspicious activities and maybe McGee thought it was easier to get around off-grid on a bicycle than an ostentatious vehicle like his white Porsche Boxster. I’m just saying that it wouldn’t hurt to ask him,” he stated calmly, sounding quite logical.

Fornell thought about the visibility angle, thought about the other so-called coincidences that kept adding up in the ‘could be a suspect’ column and sighed. He didn’t want McGee to be guilty because partners and teammates are supposed to have each other’s backs, but fuck it, Wentworth was right. They were federal agents, they had to ask the tough questions, even if there were other plausible explanations. Even if they didn’t want a colleague to be guilty.

Melissa Yang chimed in, “Luke’s right, Fornell. We do need to find out about the bicycle. We should talk to McGee.”

Fornell said, “Agreed, Agent Yang. I want you and Sacks to go get him and bring him down to the Hoover building. Additional information has also come into my possession which I’d like to discuss with Agent McGee too. Wentworth, you stay there and keep searching. We don’t want to drop the ball, guys, and we also need to be checking out the others, too.”

Finishing up the call, he checked his watch and slipped the phone into his pocket and found Abby waiting for him when he returned to his office.

He took in her expression which was intense, and he wondered what was up.

“How’s it going?”

Abby shrugged. “I found the original comments that freaked Timmy out, I think. They’re graphic and threatening. Without tracking down the authors of the comments, there’s no way to tell if they’re trolls, harmless whack-jobs letting off steam or crazy dangerous peeps that need locking up for our protection types. We’ll have to trace them all, and we will probably need to recruit some people to help. Nikki Jardine would be good – she called me while you were gone, wanting to help find Tony. She’s an analyst, so she is good at sifting through data and she knows her way around a computer.”

Fornell was shocked. Ditzy Abby seemed to have gone on vacation and grownup Dr Sciuto appeared to have taken up residence instead. He much preferred the latter personality; Ditzy Abby was down-right exhausting and she’d made his head hurt deeply. He was about to answer her request for assistance when Viv blew into his office without warning.

Sensing she’d interrupted something; she dipped her head at the senior agent respectfully. “Sorry, to interrupt, Fornell. I just wanted to let you know, Jimmy and I are headed out to join Metro PD and a bunch of cadets from the FBI. We’re also expecting recruits from FLETC to help join in the search within the next hour and the Commish  told us he’s going to try to secure a bunch of police cadets from the police academy because it would be a good experience for them. He suggested they could ride along the bicycle paths and cover more ground. He said he’d try to get some of the cops who do patrols on cycles to help coordinate and supervise them.”

Fornell’s head came up. “Bicycle paths?”

Blackadder looked at her supervisory agent. “The 187 miles of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is a national park, the towpaths are only open to hikers, runners and cyclists, not motorised vehicles,” she explained.

“There are hundreds of structures such as locks, lock houses plus aqueducts, boathouses and barns where we need to search.” she outlined the massive nature of the search. “And that doesn’t include the banks of the Potomac, either. “She looked at him curiously. “Problem?”

He shrugged, not wanting to mention the bicycle issue in front of Sciuto, not until he was certain. But McGee was certainly looking more like a suspect every minute.

Abby jumped up and hugged Blackadder. “Please find him for us, Viv,” she begged. “And look after Jimmy. Make sure he’s got his supplies,” she said.

Viv looked at her, “What supplies, Abs?”

“His insulin and his snacks. Jimmy is a Type 1 diabetic.”

Vivian nodded. “Got it. I’ll keep an eye on him, don’t worry.”

She looked across at Fornell. “I’ll keep you updated, Fornell. We’re setting up a command post at the Great Falls Taverner Visitor’s Centre near Lochs 17 – 20 if you need me.

Fornell nodded, “Roger that, Blackadder, good hunting!”

Chapter 16

After Viv left, Abby said, “Toby, can I run something by you?”

When he nodded cautiously, hoping that Ditzy Abby wasn’t going to make an unwelcome appearance, she said, “That suicide note? I’ve been thinking about it?”

“And what did you come up with?”

“So, okay well, we know it’s a fake note because Tony knows that I loathe that dumb movie, Pretty Woman about a rich guy saving a whore from her life of misery and wickedness. It’s a really bad message to be sending to young girls or really to any woman, that you need to be rescued by a man, particularly a rich one,” she said and Tobias figured as the father of a young girl Abby might indeed have a point there.

Especially since prostitutes existed because men were willing to pay someone, usually vulnerable or poor, for sex that they were unable or unwilling to access in normal interpersonal relationships. Ironically, it was predominately usually rich white guys. Even as he was getting ready to agree that it wasn’t a message, he would want Emily to internalise, Abby cocked her head slightly, recalling something.

“Well, maybe there’s one scene that’s kind of cool, which that I don’t totally loathe, exactly. It’s when Julia Roberts goes shopping with Richard Gere’s credit card in the expensive clothing boutiques and all those snooty sales assistants look down on her because she’s a prostitute. So, she goes to town, buying up the stores and the bitches end up fawning all over her because she’s rich and she flips them the bird.”

Fornell had no idea what this had to do with the suicide note but he hoped Abby was going to get to the crux of the matter soon. He wanted to organise an interrogation room for Special Agent McGee, and not for the first time, he wondered what had happened with Director Vance’s interview. Pity he wasn’t there.

Her voice sounding sad, Abby said, “I kind of know what it feels like to have people look down their noses at me when I walk into a shop like I’m some sort of freak. It isn’t nice. So, I thought that scene in the movie was kind of realistic. Okay… so a gorgeous whore who looks like she just stepped out of fashion shoot and hasn’t been bashed up by her pimp or john and isn’t strung out on meth or heroin and doesn’t have rotten teeth isn’t realistic, but still. It was awesome!”

Fornell had never seen that vulnerable side of Abby Sciuto before and it made him like the forensic scientist a lot more than her happy Lolita-Goth persona. But still, he had other things to do than become her father confessor right now, Time was critical at this point, plus he was trying to come to terms with the fact that Timothy McGee was firming up as a credible suspect. So, he hurried her along.

“What about the note, Abby?”

She started, evidently deep in thought. “What? The note. Oh yeah, well see we were down in my lab the afternoon we all came back from Stillwater after logging in the evidence and writing the reports. And Ziva was insisting that the reason that Tony had disappeared was that he was depressed about Jenny dying when they’d been with her in LA.”

“Hang on, Director Shepard died in DC, Abby,” he corrected her.

“See, that’s my point, Toby. She died in California, but it was covered up by the Head Honchos and very few people knew about it. As far as most people knew, her house in Georgetown caught fire and she died. She was already dead – and I shouldn’t be telling you this I guess, since no one’s supposed to know, but you see, I can’t see why the suicide note said he couldn’t live with the guilt about Director Shepard’s death.”

Fornell was starting to see what she was getting at. “We know that the note is a fake because DiNotzo um DiNozzo used his duress phrase to alert us that he’d been taken. If only a limited number of people know about Director Shepard’s real death taking place in California, how would the kidnapper know about it and make Tony write that?”

“Yeah…unless it is one of us who took Tony?” the Goth whispered, finishing Fornell’s unfinished thread.

“Or they told someone else, Abby,” he said not sure if he was offering logic or comfort to the shattered scientist.

At that, she sat up, demonstrably indignant if he was any judge (and he was) and she gave him her patented Abby Sciuto stink-eye. Tobias decided it was practically guaranteed to turn men into simpering little boys. It was scary.

“But it was classified.” And then in case, he didn’t get what that meant, she said, “It was top secret.” For good measured Abby mimed zipping her lip, locking it, and dropping a key to demonstrate just how secret it was.

Tobias refrained from indulging in a monumental eye roll, but it was a challenge. “I get that Doctor, and yet, you told me,” he pointed out mildly.

Abby looked guilty. “I know I did. But you didn’t know about the fake cause of death or the place of her death and I thought you wouldn’t understand the relevance unless I explained it to you. I might have been naughty telling you, but you know lots of classified intel. And you’re one of the good guys, Toby,” she concluded firmly.

The jaded agent gave a brief grin, “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Abby. But we need to be logical about this. We’re saying that it might be someone who took him who was down in your lab for a conversation where Ziva talked about DiNozzo being depressed, because Shepard died in California not DC, right?”

Abby nodded unhappily.

“We’re willing to accept that they would abduct him and force him to write a false suicide note to convince people he’s taken his life, so we’ll stop looking for him. Yes? So why can’t we also entertain the possibility that someone spilled the beans about Director Shepard’s death to the kidnapper, Abby?”

Tears pooled in the forensic scientist pale green eyes as she whispered, “You’re right, I know.”

Fornell swore under his breath. Like most men of his generation, he did not cope well with tears. “So, let’s be logical, Sciuto. Who was down in the lab during the conversation with Ziva about Tony feeling guilty?”

“Jimmy, me, Ziva of course, McGee, Sandrine…” she said, and Tobias detected a hint of negativity. “…and Daniel. That’s it,” she concluded, sniffling discreetly.

Fornell ran through the individuals. McGee again… and Ziva David. She was a Mossad spy. He doubted that she hadn’t already shared the real circumstances of Shepard’s death with her father at the very least. Palmer had been helping in the investigation – he and Sciuto were instrumental in getting an investigation launched. The other two…he knew he’d heard their names a couple of times during the investigation, but he couldn’t place them.

Looking at his watch because he knew that Ron would be arriving back at HQ with McGee in tow soon, he asked, “Daniel who?”

“Daniel Keating,” Abby told him. Seeing his vague look, she said, “McGee’s replacement when Vance broke up the team. He’s not Tim but he’s pretty damned good all the same.”

Fornell knew that Abby was no slouch on the computer either, so her opinion carried weight with him. “And Sandrine? Why does that name sound so familiar?” He watched carefully, curious why Abby had a problem with this Sandrine person.

“Timmy’s live-in girlfriend. Sandrine Gallagher.”

“You don’t like her?” Tobias asked perceptively.

“Nope but then that’s not a surprise. I don’t usually like any of his girlfriends.” She said with perfect honesty.

Tobias hid a grin. A touch of the green-eyed monster? “Why is that Sciuto?” he asked playfully.

“Because Timothy McGee aka Thom E. Gemcity aka Agent McGregor has terrible taste in girlfriends,” she told him bluntly.

“Present company excepted,” he joked.

Abby looked surprised at the implied compliment, then smiled coyly. “Oh no, I was a terrible girlfriend too. He wanted a picket fence, kids, the dog, cat and a canary,” she pulled a face to indicate her distaste at that prospect.

“While I wanted sex in a coffin, no commitments and nonconformity. Plus, I cheated on him because he stifled me with his emotional neediness,” she admitted candidly.

Fornell was shocked by her frankness. But he also figured that he should probably pay more attention to this Sandrine person. And how likely was it that she didn’t know about Director Shepard if she was sleeping with McGee? Not very.

The BAU had already profiled him a serious security risk waiting to occur.

~oO0Oo~

Tony was feeling like crap. His head was constantly hurting. He felt dizzy and he was sometimes confused.

Meanwhile, this nutjob who kept calling themselves I Gee Why Be was off their trolley. They kept banging on in that creepy synthesised voice about wanting to make a fan video, whatever the hell that was because he wasn’t clear about it.  Just that he had to fix the mess he’d made by coming back.

Of course, he’d never been under any illusions that he made a complete mess of things, at times. The situation with Jenny Shepard was a good example.

After getting screwed over by the director when Jen sent him on an unsanctioned undercover operation, destroying Jeanne and leaving him an emotional mess, he’d blamed her. She’d used him to get close to her sworn enemy, not because of national security concerns but because she’d been hell-bent on revenge for her father’s death. She didn’t care who she hurt in her pursuit for personal justice. Further collateral damage in her private war had been Rene Benoit’s bodyguard, who died driving Tony’s beloved mustang which had been destroyed by a car bomb.

So, he thought it was understandable he’d been pissed off at her and was not that happy to be assigned, alongside Ziva as the director’s protection detail when she went to California for a funeral. After the funeral, when she’d ordered him and Ziva to stand down from their protection duties because she had some personal business to attend to, a part of him knew he should have ignored her orders. The problem was that he was jaded and suspicious that she was up to the same shit as before.

If she was planning on taking out another enemy, then he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me, so he’d stepped back and obeyed her orders not to follow her, telling himself that she might be planning a romantic tryst with someone or meeting up with a married man.

When she ended up dying in a gunfight that turned into a bloodbath in some abandoned diner in the desert, of course, he was devastated by it. As much as he’d been angry at her and, yes, he still was angry with her (death hadn’t dimmed his sense of betrayal and hurt) never in a million years did he want her dead. And yet, there she’d been, her body riddled with almost a dozen gunshots wounds. It hadn’t been a gentle death and he wished she hadn’t been killed.

So yeah, he messed up – it hadn’t been the first time and unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last. Unless, of course, he didn’t get out of this predicament. Hopefully, though, help was on the way. While this lunatic, who he’d taken to calling Crazy Dragon Lady (although he wasn’t certain of the freak’s gender) had coerced him into sending off a suicide note to NCIS, he was hoping help was on its way.

Although it was handwritten, he’d used the duress code he and Jimmy Palmer had nutted out together one night nearly six months ago. So, Tony was hoping that Palmer would realise he was being held captive, not feeling suicidal and going to blow his brains out. The code had been a bit of a joke at the time, but he wasn’t laughing now, he was hoping it would save his life.

Ironic if something that they’d dreamed up over a couple of beers when Tony had been experiencing one of his periodic fits of insecurity, could be the key to being rescued. Lately, he’d been prone to periods of existential angst; questioning if he even had a future at NCIS, particularly on Gibbs’ team. It had become almost normal for him to feel that way, especially while he was agent afloat. When Tony was reassigned back onto the MCRT he’d been hopeful that the doubts would cease or at least, decrease. Sadly, that hadn’t proved to be the case.

However, the simple duress phrase he and Palmer had come up with had for him at least, been more of a distraction than anything. And yet, here he was, grateful as hell that writing about Jimmy’s Kinky Boots DVD would alert the autopsy gremlin that Tony was in trouble. At the time, they’d decided on the movie theme because it seemed plausible that anyone who knew even a little bit about him would know that he was obsessed with movies. He’d managed to explain to the looney tunes dragon that even in a suicide note people would expect him to mention his favourite subject. Luckily, the dragon had okayed it and he’d even managed to send a message to Abby, not that he’d ever talked about needing a duress code to her.

Which was kind of odd when you consider the type of conversations they often had. Once they’d discussed ways they didn’t want to die – like falling into a woodchipper or discussing the unusual photography studies, Abby had chosen to frame and adorn the walls of her lab.

Despite feeling increasingly unwell, Tony couldn’t help reminiscing fondly about one such conversation a lifetime ago. It was back in the Viv Blackadder era when he didn’t feel like he had to pretend to be a dumb frat boy. Back when he could correctly identify a photo of a duodenum without Abby blinking. Those were the days.

As a wave of dizziness washed over him, Tony thought about the fake suicide note. It seemed obvious that Dragon I Gee Why Be wanted to take the heat off, which meant that the team must be getting close. He’d wished he’d been able to help them more – give them some brilliant hidden message about where he was being held. The problem was, unfortunately, he didn’t know where he was being held.

All he could do was to deliberately fumble the note when he finished writing it and drop it. He’d pretended to accidentally tread on it in his socked feet since Dragon I Gee Why Be had taken his shoes off him. He could only hope that the ground would hold an abundance of trace evidence and bacteria.

With a little bit of luck, there would be something unique about where he was being held, like when they’d found Gibbs and Maddie Tyler and help would come bursting down the doors. Much as he hated not being able to save himself, he knew Jimmy and Abby wouldn’t let him down when they saw the so-called suicide note. He just hoped that Dragon I Gee Why Be would lose interest in Abby in the interim. He couldn’t bear it if something happened to her too.

Now, it was just a question of holding on until the team arrived. He knew that there was probably something a little more serious than a concussion going on. He’d had quite a few concussions over the years, first as a kid after his mother died and then later when he was playing football at Ohio State University. Then when he became a cop and later a Fed, he’d collected more still. The latest one had been when Gibbs former boss had been in protective custody and cold-cocked him so Franks could go off and murder a Russian Mafia guy in cold blood without any eyewitnesses.

Tony was finding that he was having trouble keeping things straight in his mind. Particularly because Dragon I-Gee-Why-Be was shockingly confused about reality too, calling him Agent Tommy and yelling at him or slapping him for being so mean to the brilliant Special Agent McGregor. And today, there had been a script – well that was what the freaky dragon had called it. It was full of long and boring wads of first-person dialogue where he was supposed to gaze into the camera and wail and gnash his teeth, metaphorically he assumed. Although, maybe not, about how wickedly he’d wronged the handsome and brilliant Agent McGregor and how he wanted to atone.

Frankly, if he’d been Professor DiNardi, (who was his undercover persona teaching online film studies at Georgetown University during the Benoit shambles) Tony would have given the script an emphatic F for fail, it was so bad. For some reason, I Gee Why Be, who’d admitted to writing the drivel, aka the screenplay, also wanted him to talk like some two-bit mafia thug from the Bronx.

When he didn’t say the words exactly the way the creepy dragon director wanted, he got punched in the gut. Then he’d get a lecture about being from New York City, so stop putting on airs and sounding all hoity-toity.

Shortly thereafter, Director I Gee Why Be would emerge again, intent on getting the scene filmed as if nothing had happened and Tony wondered if this was simply a crazy-ass delusion. Seriously, this nut job with the creepy alien-like voice was even now, very earnestly explaining to him the motivation of the scene, like they were making a movie or something.

He was trying his best not to stumble over the clunkily written dialogue because even if this wasn’t real, getting punched in the gut was hurting badly. It was like he was in some surreal soap opera, talking to the camera and telling the audience his thoughts. Well, Dragon Director’s thoughts about what he was thinking.

As Dragon Director ‘physically encouraged’ him to sound more Italian American, his keen hearing picked up soft scuffling sounds. Someone was climbing through a window, he was almost sure it was a guy, although they were wearing a baseball cap and a bandana tied around their nose and mouth. At first Tony had thought that it was help arriving for him, but when his rescuer pulled out a gun with a silencer on it, that hope was quickly dashed. As Dragon Dude became aware that Tony’s attention had drifted off task, the kidnapper/director followed the direction he was looking in.

I Gee Why Be leapt up shouting furiously at the intruder. “No. Get out! This is a closed set. No one is permitted to be here while we’re filming!”

In the heat of the moment, Dragon Director forgot to use that dumb voice synthesizer to disguise their voice, which Tony noted was decidedly female. So, he was right, she was a Dragon Lady and he couldn’t help thinking that there was something familiar about her voice. He’d heard it somewhere; he was sure of that.

The intruder, who was unambiguously male, called I Gee Why Be an extremely vulgar name and the Dragon Lady hissed at him in fury. The man ignored her outrage, launching into a vitriolic rant about her, morphing into a tirade about how intellectually challenged she was. He told her that her stupidity had implicated McGee and thanks to Director Vance ignoring his warnings about her, now he needed to step up and save the day.

At which point he aimed the gun at her and shot her, once in the head and when she fell to the ground, he fired two more rounds to her chest. Tony decided at this point that this probably wasn’t going to end well for him, either.

Unless this was all a hallucination, he thought hopefully.

~oO0Oo~

Kev pushed the semi-conscious man into the trunk of his car forcefully and slammed down the lid before getting into his car and driving away from the parking lot. There was no one around, fortunately, his car had been the only one in the parking lot. Apart from the metallic blue Mazda hatchback that had belonged to the stupid bitch. Not that she would be needing a car anymore.

As he drove away, he permitted himself a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. Well sort of.

Yep, he’d killed that stupid Gallagher bitch so she wouldn’t be able to fuck things up for Tim any more than she already had. Which was quite enough.

When everyone found out what she’d done, people would immediately suspect that Tim McGee was guilty, too and it made him furious, especially since it never needed to be that way. He’d know she was trouble from the moment he set eyes on her. So, he watched her, learnt all about her. Kev knew her secrets and he’d started getting concerned some time ago about what she might do.

At first, he’d put it down to a healthy (or maybe not so healthy) jealousy over McGee’s affections. He’d had a crush on the special agent for some years now, watching as he lurched from one romantic mishap to another catastrophe with several unsuitable girlfriends.

It was plain as the nose on Tim’s cute face to Kev aka Hot4McGregor that the reason why he never found ‘the one,’ and why every romance he had was an unmitigated disaster. McGee was in denial about his sexual orientation.

Kev knew how it was, to be so afraid to admit that he wasn’t heterosexual and a typical alpha male. He knew that being around uber alphas like Gibbs and his father Admiral McGee would have made it even more difficult for Tim to admit to himself who he really was. Which explained why he kept picking domineering females to have unfulfilling relationships with. Not surprising, they’d walk all over him and end up losing respect for him and moving on to greener pastures. He kept hoping that McGee would get a clue but so far, he was still in deep denial. Hooking up with Sandrine had been a classic example of how he couldn’t see how unsuitable she was. It was frustrating.

Still, he would wait for McGee to realise who he was. It would happen, after all, Tim was a genius. He was MIT educated so he was no fool, although his emotional intelligence quite clearly was not as well developed as his IQ.

Kev adored him and knew in his heart that he was the one. He was worth waiting for. That was why when he’d realised the disaster that was steaming straight towards Tim, he’d tried to prevent it.

As he drove north, he was thinking about why he’d decided to take DiNozzo with him. He could have just left him there. The state he was in, it was obvious that he wouldn’t have lasted long, especially with a head injury. While he didn’t have a lot to do with DiNozzo, he’d always considered him to be a simpleton and a joke.

As far as Kev was concerned, the only redeeming feature he had was when he’d heard McGee bitterly complaining that he’d cock-blocked him with the ladies in the admin and secretarial pools, telling them all that McGee was gay. However, after reading about what had happened in Iraq and his outrageous betrayal of Tim to prevent him get a chance to go to the Green Zone, that had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Anyone who was out to destroy Tim was automatically Kev’s sworn enemy.

The problem was that as much as he wanted Tony to suffer for what he’d done; he also couldn’t help but notice how much he reminded him of his former partner Joe. Joe was everything Kev wasn’t,  outrageously good looking, confident, popular, a real people person. He’d also been in a loveless marriage and trying (like many men like him) to deny that he was gay…until they’d met, and Joe had seemed fascinated by him. He’d asked him a heap of very personal questions regarding Kev’s sexuality since he made no secret that he was gay, but he’d recognised the signs that Joe was struggling. He tried to answer Joe’s questions as honestly as he could, and they’d spent increasing amounts of time together as friends.

One day Joe got around to asking him what it felt like to have sex with another guy, and one thing led to another. Joe had stayed the night and Kev showed him the ropes. A few days later he’d left his wife, although he didn’t explain why he was leaving her and moved in with Kev.

Life had been great…for a while. About six months after they got together, the arguments started. Right from the start of their relationship, Joe didn’t want people to know that he was gay, or that he was living with someone. And at first, Kev had been patient and respected his wishes because he recognised his lover was on a steep learning curve. Kev loved him and he wanted him to have time to adjust.

But as the months went by, he found himself becoming less patient with Joe’s stubborn refusal to compromise. And as much as he understood the fear of facing the hatred and bigotry, Kev had been living openly as a gay man since he was twenty. Most of his friends were gay, and he wanted to go out to gay bars and nightclubs with them, but Joe was too scared to go with him. He said it was because he was a high-profile financial advisor and his clients were super-rich conservative and homophobic. He was afraid that they’d drop him if they knew the truth about his sexual orientation.

Kev rolled his eyes and told Joe that no one would care that he had sex with another man; the only thing they’d care about is if he didn’t make them filthy rich. But Joe was terrified about the backlash if someone found out he was gay. Kev tried to assure him that all gay people go through the coming out of the closet stage – unless they lived a lie for their entire life and who the hell wanted to do that anymore? Sure, it was scary, even though they did encounter some jerks and some people who believed they were destined to go to hell. But most people believed that what consenting adults did in private was their own business.

In the end, Joe had given him an ultimatum, his friends, or his lover and reluctantly, Kev stopped hanging out with his friends, who thought he was nuts. But Kev had been head-over-heels in love with Joe who was super sexy. He had an amazing physique, broad shoulders, and narrow hips, with washboard abs. With a bit of tutoring from Kev, since sex had always been humdrum for him with his wife, Joe had blossomed into a talented and insatiable lover. Kev knew damned well he was punching well above his weight with Joe.

Sadly, even with his sacrifice of his friends and lifestyle, slowly the relationship disintegrated. Joe began spending more and more hours working, saying he had several big clients who were demanding a large chunk of his time and things would settle down eventually. Eventually never came though. One day Joe came home and confessed that he wasn’t happy anymore and broke up with him.

It hadn’t been a complete surprise; he knew it was on the cards. However, Kev was not expecting Joe to confess as he gave him back his key, that he’d been cheating on him with a younger guy who’d recently joined the financial firm where he worked. That had hurt and Kev had taken a long time to heal, even with the support of his friends, who’d been quick to welcome him into their lives again.

Which was why he’d decided that McGee was the person he wanted to spend his life with. He was smart, didn’t possess male model good looks, although he wasn’t a troll, either. He was more of a John Boy Walton; a clean-cut guy and like Kev, Tim didn’t possess an Adonis-like physique. Theirs would be a pairing of two equals, although obviously, McGee needed to realise he was gay (or maybe bi-sexual) before they could be together.

Kev rarely thought about Joe these days, he figured that for all the good things about their relationship, not being open and honest had been a deal-breaker and he was better off without him. So far, Kev had made inroads into McGee’s life, if only as a friend but he hoped one day to be more. Kev strongly believed that gay people like himself and Timothy McGee would one day soon be able to get married on Capitol Hill if they chose to.

Then last week, he’d happened to open the social pages of the Times and saw photos of a pretentious black-tie event at the Smithsonian. And sure enough, there was a picture of Joe in his Armani tuxedo looking fabulously handsome and another man, blonde and like some Greek god holding his hand and gazing lovingly into his former lover’s grey eyes. Kev had read the caption and sure enough, it said financial investment advisor Joe Ricci arriving with his partner Ronin Johnson. He’d cyberstalked them and discovered that Joe and Ronin were openly living together and were planning on getting married in one of the first same-sex marriages performed in Connecticut in November.

Kev was feeling distraught, hurt and extremely angry. He knew he was not wealthy and good-looking like Ronin, but he was a good person. He’d never have cheated with someone else’s partner, unlike Johnson did. Although, maybe he didn’t know that Joe was living with someone else because Joe was keeping him a secret. But even if Ronin didn’t know, Joe knew he was cheating. Suddenly, he wondered if Joe hadn’t wanted to tell anyone about them not because he was afraid of the haters but because he was ashamed of Kev. Well, he might not be an awesome catch, but he was loving and loyal and he wouldn’t cheat on his partner, ever.

Looking at DiNozzo, he couldn’t help but compare him to Joe. Both men were rich, good looking, had been college athletes and neither one thought twice about breaking people’s hearts. He’d heard about how DiNozzo was a skirt chaser, a heartless cad who’d made a vulnerable innocent woman, fall in love with him just because he was trying to destroy her father. She’d been devastated when she learned that he’d used her and then to rub salt into her wounds, he’d killed her father. No doubt that monster had left Benoit feeling like it was her fault her papa was dead.

He’d heard a rumour that she’d been utterly broken-hearted and was so emotionally destroyed that she’d had to leave the States to try to get over him and what he’d done to her. Poor thing was probably still grieving! But sadly, it wasn’t that easy. Lord knows, Kev was proof positive that getting over betrayal was not that simple.

He decided that in the limited time he had left, Special Agent DiNozzo should pay for the harm he’d caused Dr Jeanne Benoit. Why on earth should he get away with playing with her affections and then throwing her away like some piece of trash? That’s why at the last minute he’d decided that instead of just leaving him there to die, or shooting him like the hyena he was, he’d help Benoit get vengeance for the death of her father.

He’d already killed that stupid bitch, Gallagher to protect Tim. Kev wasn’t a killer by nature, but she was like an infection taking over the host, consuming and slowly killing the individual. Sometimes the threat was so serious that you had no choice but to sacrifice a limb to save the patient. So, even though he hated being forced to kill, she had to be sacrificed to save McGee’s life.

Tim was special, he was brilliant – one day he would be the NCIS director, Kev did not doubt that for a minute. And so, Kev had reasoned SHE had to go, so he could survive. No, not just survive, but live long and prosper.

He knew that with the damage done to McGee’s reputation, Tim was going to have a difficult time for a while, but honestly, the man was so damned smart, you couldn’t keep someone like him sidelined for long. Tim would be back, bigger than ever, he had no doubt. But Kev would never forgive the Director, Leon Vance. He’d had warned him about that crazy bitch and that stupid SOB had ignored his warning. And just look at what happened.

Vance had a lot to answer for. Most critically, when he was forewarned, why didn’t he act before she’d ambushed Special Agent DiNozzo?

Now he had Anthony DiNozzo stuffed in the trunk of his car as he drove north to his buddy Julius’ log cabin in Luray. Julius was in Florence for a month and his friend had given him the keys to the cabin in Virginia, in case he wanted to get away on the weekends, since it was right near the Shenandoah River. To be honest, Kev wasn’t exactly a boating, hiking, fishing kind of guy and he got hives at the drop of a hat. Probably why he preferred computers.

Now though, he was awfully glad that Julius insisted Kev take the keys just in case he changed his mind. He’d called into working saying he was sick and taking a few days off this morning and since he worked so much overtime, HR was frankly overjoyed by the prospect of him not working for the rest of the week.

So, he was all set. He’d already sent an email to Dr Jeanne Benoit before he took care of IGYB this morning. Plus, he’d packed the car with supplies and taken his laptop and various equipment. If everything went to plan, Jeanne would come to Luray, get closure from this heartless brute and then they could drop DiNozzo’s body in a hole somewhere remote or weigh it down and throw it in the Shenandoah River where, with a bit of luck, it would remain undisturbed for a long time.

And while he waited for Dr Benoit to come, he decided it was high time to plot Director Vance’s downfall. He had to realise that sacrificing Tim like that was not going to wash with Kev.

Amends must be made.

Chapter 17

Fornell strode towards the stone structure, which was set back from the canal, automatically noting the crowd of grim-looking people, (cops, Feds, crime scene experts and an ADA) coming and going. The crime scene was approximately thirteen miles south of the command post, situated at Great Falls Tavern Visitor Centre. The building and the area around it had been cordoned off with crime scene tape and a Metro PD uniformed officer, clad in a bicycle uniform, was checking people’s IDs, including Fornell.

According to Blackadder, who had given him a brief sitrep over the phone, the building where they’d found the woman’s body was a former barn used to house the mules who pulled boats along the towpath, back when the canal was used for transporting goods. That was before the completion of the railroad in 1850 which signalled the C & O Canal’s eventual demise, even though cargo continued to be transported until 1924.

Blackadder had notified him about an hour ago that two cops who were on the search team had found a dead body which had multiple gunshot wounds. Almost as if she felt his presence, Viv emerged from the building looking tired. Spying him, she headed in his direction, nodding to Special Agent Melissa Wang who’d accompanied him to the scene.

She nodded, “Hey Fornell, Melissa. The ME arrived about 15 minutes ago,” she informed them, redundantly given that the large black FBI Mortuary vehicle was parked conspicuously out front. Despite the ban on motor vehicles in the national park, there were other vehicles, including four-wheel drives and quad bikes clustered around the building.

“Any ID on the body?”

“She shook her head. “No. The victim took a shot to the head and two to the chest. Dr Hunter estimates the time of death to be no more than 12 hours ago and maybe as little as four,” she reported professionally before dropping her mask of professional FBI agent as she said, “Tony was here, Sir, but we missed him.”

Tobias frowned. “Not that I doubt you, it’s too much of a coincident but how can you be sure?”

Looking furious, she replied, “Oh I’m sure because there’s video footage of the victim in there holding Tony captive and forcing him to film some crazy video,” she said. “Plus, some footage of what happened, but unfortunately it’s mostly audio.”

Fornell said, “So you’ve watched the tape?”

Shivering at the bizarre video, Viv nodded. “Yeah, I watched it when I first got here. The crime scene techies made a couple of copies,” she said, leading them towards one of the four-wheel drives.

She grabbed hold of a laptop which was loaded with a flash drive containing the footage for Fornell and Yang to watch. They watched silently, caught up in horror at the ominous figure, clad all in black and wearing a white dragon or dragon-like mask to hide their identity. The kidnapper was using a voice synthesiser to disguise their voice and referred to themselves as I Gee Why Be on several occasions. Tobias wondered briefly what sort of significance that the name had – it was a bit odd. They watched as the carefully disguised figure (who now lay dead) appeared to be directing DiNozzo in his delivery of a recitation of nonsensical statements proclaiming he was Special Agent Tommy.

Viv looked resigned but angry and Special Agent Yang looked plain confused. He couldn’t blame her, if he hadn’t read that fanfic story (although technically if McGee wrote it, was it fan fiction) then he’d be feeling just as confused as Yang was. As he listened to the kidnapper insisting that Agent Tommy was a native of New York so he needed to work harder on his accent, Fornell tuned out the crazy woman known as I Gee Why Be to focus on the NCIS agent.

His appendages were restrained with what looked to be zip-ties and bound to the chair with a huge amount of rope around his torso. The metal chair was in the middle of the space; Viv had informed him it had been secured to the floor with a large square of cement. It was clear that this had to have been done some time in advance of the abduction. This indicated even if I Gee Why Be was batshit crazy there was still an element of premeditation involved.

Tony was grubby, his shirt was filthy and ripped. He looked like he was wearing one of those loincloth thingies that Sumo wrestlers wore but surely not. Tobias belatedly realised that it was more likely to be an adult diaper and he grimaced at the implications. When people watched TV shows and movies about abductions, the writers tended to skip over the stuff that might repulse the audience but victims needed to piss and shit and if you were tied to a chair you couldn’t exactly use a toilet.

Even more worrying was that even though every so often he could see the DiNozzo trademark snarky attitude making an appearance, he periodically looked confused. Sometimes his tongue would trip over a word or there was a slight slurring of certain sounds that suggested he was struggling.

Of course, Fornell reminded himself, DiNozzo was an outstanding actor, which was one of the reasons why he was so successful undercover. He could be faking, trying to make his captor think he was physically compromised, hoping to catch them by surprise. He hoped like hell that was the case, but he had his doubts.

He looked across at Viv and asked, “How long does this go on?”

She winced. “Roughly a couple of hours, Sir. But I think you’ve got the gist. I fast-forwarded through most of it. The CSU will go through it with a fine-tooth comb, but I can say categorically that it is Tony.”

Fornell nodded. “Agreed.”

Blackadder said, “If you just bear with me, I’ll find the spot where it gets interesting.”

She fast-forwarded it until she reached the section where I Gee Why Be was punching Tony for not saying his lines to the captor’s satisfaction. He smothered a minuscule smile at DiNozzo’s eye roll before Tony stiffened as a third voice started yelling at the captor/videographer, using some vile language. Agent Fornell looked across at Melissa who was equally surprised and Viv, who remained poker-faced, although this wasn’t the first time that she’d heard it.

The auburn-haired agent met his gaze, stopped the footage, and commented, “Sounds like I Gee Why Be, and the killer already knew each other.”

The older agent nodded, “Probably. He certainly seemed to know I Gee Why Be,” he said. “Hard to say if it was reciprocal or not.”

Viv conceded the distinction before starting up the footage again. The male voice, who referred to himself as Hot Four several times switched from screaming straight out obscenities at her, began berating her instead for being so stupid and implicating McGee in her idiotic scheme.

Tobias cursed under his breath. All roads seemed to be leading to the NCIS agent and he thought about the interview he’d begun when Yang and Sacks brought him back to the FBI for questioning. Before Fornell got the call about the dead body, McGee had emphatically denied any knowledge of the abduction of DiNozzo. He’d seemed genuinely shocked at the accusation but as a seasoned agent, Fornell knew that while the shock was probably real, he could just as easily have been shocked that the FBI was onto him. He needed more time to question him about the anomalies which had cropped up in the investigation, but he’d dropped everything when Blackadder informed him that one of the Metro PD bike cops and a cadet, had located the body of a deceased female who has been murdered.

Earlier, when questioned about a bicycle and trailer which had been purchase last week on his credit card, he claimed total ignorance. When Sacks had suggested, quite reasonably that since his girlfriend, Sandrine Gallagher had been spending a lot of his hard-earned money on buying stuff for the new apartment, perhaps she’d bought the bicycle and trailer, he denied it. He claimed Sandrine hated riding bicycles.

They needed to process the scene and then figure out where they stood with the investigation. He noted that the male who referred to himself as Hot Four (why the hell did these people have weird code names) was finally winding down in his spirited defence of Special Agent McGee. Then, just before Hot Four put three rounds in I Gee Why Be, and judging by the muted sounds of the gunshots, he was using a silencer, Hot Four dropped a massive bombshell.

Fornell got Blackadder to play it back several times just to make sure he hadn’t misheard it. But no, the gunman clearly said, “Thanks to Director Vance, who ignored my repeated warnings about the danger you posed, I have no choice. I had to step up and clean up the unholy mess you’ve made.”

~oO0Oo~

Halfway around the world, Jeanne Benoit had travelled to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly known as Zaire. She was there for a video consult with a specialist in Britain regarding one of the clinic patients. Dr Genevieve La Pointe had spent almost six years working for Medicine San Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) in DRC and still acted as a consultant if the current doctors were out of their depths. Which was why Jeanne was here now.

Even though Kinshasa was a large city with a population of roughly 11 million, it’s internet coverage could still be somewhat patchy. The best bet for making these semi-routine calls was to head to one of the international hotels and book a room. Since Jeanne could easily afford the cost of a hotel room and many of her fellow doctors were not exactly wealthy, she usually got to make the trek to the megacity located on the banks of the Congo River. Plus, there was also the practical matter that Dr La Pointe was originally from Belgium and French was her native tongue. Jeanne also spoke fluent French due to her French upbringing.

Standing on the balcony of her room, she admired the view. It was possible to see Brazzaville, in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, in the distance across the mighty Congo River. Jeanne had learned since coming here that Kinshasa and Brazzaville were the second-closest pair of capital cities to each other after Rome and the Vatican City in Italy.

Staring across the Congo River towards the distant capital, Jeanne conceded that she didn’t mind the semi-regular expeditions into civilisation again. She got a chance to have a proper shower, eat some passably good French food and check her email and talk to her mother since it was usually impossible to receive email regularly. After showering and completing her video call to Dr La Pointe, she was looking forward to dinner with some excellent French wine and a long chat with her mother, Helen.

Checking out her emails, she frowned. Seeing an email with the subject line, Attention Dr Benoit, she saw it was from the US and the username proclaimed it was from Agent Tommy’s Worst Nightmare, she frowned. Opening it up, she read it quickly.

Someone was offering her a chance to take revenge on Agent Tommy to bring closure to her for the egregious wrongs he’d done to her. The writer of the email, calling himself Hot4McGregor was apologising to her for Tommy breaking her heart and bringing about the death of her father. He’d told her, he too knew the pain of being betrayed by someone you loved, and he believed that only after she’d had vengeance would she be free to move on with her life.

Quite frankly, the tenor of the email was off, it disturbed her. Especially when the writer exhorted her to act swiftly, that he believed that Agent Tommy was physically failing, and he wanted her to have her pound of flesh before it was too late. He told her she deserved to heal her heart and he pleaded with her to contact him via a secure website that he’d set up for them to communicate on.

He provided her with a link and Jeanne was getting an unbelievably bad vibe about the writer. While she was still grieving the loss of her father, she was trying to make sense of the fact that the father she loved unconditionally and had always looked to as her hero, was an arms dealer. That he was someone who’d probably contributed greatly to the civil wars, death, corrupt governments, dictators, and despots, including all the terrorism and political instability on the African continent. Seeing much of her work was due to the factors that left many of the inhabitants in Africa too poor to access the type of healthcare first world countries took for granted, it was a bitter pill for the altruistic young doctor to swallow.

As she considered the email, she guessed that the sender was talking about Tony DiNardo, who she now knew was really Anthony DiNozzo even though she couldn’t figure out why he kept referring to him as Agent Tommy. To be honest, while she still had episodes where she felt overwhelming anger at Anthony DiNozzo aka Tony DiNardi, as a doctor she realised that he was just doing his job and trying to save lives. Plus, after coming back again to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jeanne had a chance to cool down and realise that Tony had lied to her, but it was when she demanded to know if he’d ever loved her after she’d tried to have him arrested for murder. While he might have lied about who he was, she also knew that he hadn’t been lying about having feelings for her up until then.

If he had been lying, he would have told her that he loved her when she tried to manipulate him into saying it back to her when they were dating. A liar would have had no compunction saying it to keep in good with her, but he couldn’t lie to her. And later, when he came to her and told her he loved her, he’d been devastated about something – he’d had a terrible nightmare that same night. She didn’t believe he was lying about his feelings for her at that point but after she tried to have him arrested, he must have been hurt, guilty and just wanting her to go away.

Jeanne could see the signs of suffering in his eyes at the time, but she had refused to admit it to herself. It was easier to hate him than for her to deal with who her father was.  Her father was a monster!

While she still experienced bouts of anger at what Tony did, she didn’t hate him anymore. The truth was that she’d wronged him, too. So, Jeanne didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, especially not something that might be happening because of her or her family. She didn’t know if the email was legitimate, but in her medical opinion, the writer sounded disturbed – possibly even delusion.

Jeanne decided she wouldn’t have a moment’s peace until she could check out the situation and make sure Tony was okay. She didn’t feel like it was appropriate for her to contact him though after what she’d done the last time they’d met, but she could check on him via the FBI. Luckily, Jeanne still had the contact details for that nice older agent – Tobias Fornell. She decided to send him an email and set up a video conference as soon as possible. Hopefully tonight!

~oO0Oo~

Fornell was briefing the Deputy Director on the status of the investigation. To his surprise, Deputy Director Morrow was still there too. He’d wrongly assumed that once the interview with NCIS Director Vance had concluded that he would return to the Department of Homeland Security. It seemed that the two men had a laundry list of issues to discuss and one of them was the status of Special Agent DiNozzo.

Frankly, Fornell was having a lot of trouble keeping up with the different avenues that had cropped up as the result of this investigation into Tony’s disappearance. There were just so many issues to keep up with, including the latest one that their team of agents, with Ron Sack on point, had turned up. It seemed that they’d uncovered solid evidence that since resuming her place on Gibbs’ team, a few weeks ago, Ziva had been living with an Israeli national who was reputed to be a Kidon operative.

Now, he was no prude. What people did in their own time, if they were consenting adults was no concern of his. BUT…and it was a big but, why was Ziva on the MCRT in the first place, given she was a spy, assassin, and Ari’s former handler. Was she handling Michael Rivkin, and if so, what the hell were the two of them up to? What was Mossad up to?

She’d been pushing the whole narrative that Tony was just depressed and drinking to cope with his guilt. With this information about Officer Rivkin, Tobias had to wonder if she had an agenda, or it was all completely harmless speculation. He snorted loudly, as he waited to get the go-ahead to enter Kirsch’s office. Surely using Ziva David and the word harmless in the same sentence was an oxymoron, wasn’t it?

Still, putting the Ziva issue aside for the moment, this whole case had become a leviathan. Who could tell from one hour to the next who was going to be implicated or vindicated or what was crucial information might come to light? Tobias had praised his agents for their outstanding efforts and told them to document everything they found that raised a flag. If it turned out later that it wasn’t connected to the case, he’d turn the details over to whatever review process was held after the dust settled. While it was way above Fornell’s pay grade, he knew there were far too many irregularities uncovered so far, for there not to be a systemic examination of what was going on at NCIS.

Therefore, he was focusing on the latest information and sharing it with the deputy director. They had a tentative ID on the victim found by the search of the C & O Canal system, and it wasn’t looking good for Timothy McGee. While they were waiting for formal identification to take place with the victim’s family, I Gee Why Be’s fingerprints had been matched to that of an NCIS employee named Sandrine Gallagher. She also just happened to be McGee’s girlfriend and his live-in lover and yet again, the threads of Anthony DiNozzo’s disappearance all seemed to be connected to McGee.

His agents, Sacks, Yang and Wentworth were searching through the apartment that McGee and Gallagher had shared. They were hoping to find anything that might help connect either one to the gunman (Hot Four) who seemed to be well acquainted with them both. Sacks had managed to get a search warrant in record time, and Fornell hoped that the trio would find something to help them figure out who the gunman was. And even more importantly, insight into where he’d taken DiNozzo.

He’d also had a sitrep from Blackadder at the crime scene and she’d informed him that the Metro cop and the cadet had come across the bicycle and trailer bought using McGee’s credit card. He claimed to not know about the bike and had refused to believe that Sandrine had anything to do with Tony’s disappearance. He’d also stated that she hated riding. So far, they hadn’t told him that they believed she was dead, because well… Murder Investigation 101. With so many points of intersection between Special Agent McGee and the case, they needed to rule out that he was not Hot Four.

It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that he might have decided to sacrifice her if he thought he was in danger of being exposed. If she was dead, then Gallagher wasn’t in any position to blame McGee. If he thought she might rat him out he may have sought to divert suspicion onto her first.

Five minutes later, he was laying out all this information for the two deputy directors as they went over the crime scene and what Sacks and his team had uncovered. It had been a good call, assigning Sacks the task of ferreting through people’s personal lives. He never gave up – he was a proverbial stubborn bulldog.

Both deputy directors wanted to hear the portion of the tape where the gunman had spoken. Tobias figured they wanted to hear for themselves what the killer had said about not just Timothy McGee but Leon Vance too as it was an explosive allegation. After they all listened to the relevant section and he showed them a portion of the tape where Sandrine Gallagher interacted to DiNozzo, they had been silent for a while.

Fornell still hadn’t had a chance to catch up on Director Vance’s chat/interview with the two deputy directors and the BAU’s Unit Chief, Special Agent Hotchner. He had been trying to find a few minutes to watch Agents Hotchner and Rossi hand Gibbs’ ass to him on a platter, but he’d had so many other things to do and while he was chasing down other leads. Fornell respected their opinion that they didn’t think Jethro was actively caught up in the mess, but it also didn’t mean he wasn’t at least partly responsible for what was going on in his team.

If they ran into a dead-end, then Fornell would take the time to review the interview but as of right now, he was focusing on McGee and to a lesser degree, Ziva David and her Mossad boyfriend. Still, with the killer accusing Vance of knowing about Sandrine, he would be negligent if he didn’t even ask about the interview with the NCIS director.

Adrian had looked at Tom before he answered slowly. “Well for what it’s worth, I found him to be cagey. He considered his words extremely carefully and I think he knew full well that we asked him here to give us more than just background information on DiNozzo.”

He looked to Tom Morrow appraisingly. “What was your impression, Tom? You’ve had much more to do with him than I have. He was your agent after all.”

Tom pursed his lips as he chose his words. “I’d have to agree with you, Adrian. He was most definitely wary about what he said. A couple of times he started to say something inaccurate or derogatory about Agent DiNozzo. I suspect to make it seem like he wasn’t to blame for failing to report his disappearance, but then he’d remember that I had worked with Tony, too. To be honest, I had a lot more experience with Tony than he has, so I could call him if he started the victim-blaming.”

There was a sharp rap on Adrian’s office door, and the assistant director smiled briefly as he called out for the person to enter.

As Aaron Hotchner walked in and took a seat, the FBI director explained to Fornell, “I asked Agent Hotchner to attend this meeting because I thought it would be valuable if he shared his impression about the interview with Director Vance. I also wanted Aaron to review the footage recovered from the crime scene. I thought he might have some insight into the killer’s psychological state or how we might figure out where he’d take Agent DiNozzo.”

Hotch nodded to Fornell in a friendly manner before he said in his unflappable demeanour, “Director Vance displayed behaviour consistent with concealing or attempting to deflect us away from certain topics. I think he is very aware that we view him as possibly involved in the kidnapping, but he doesn’t want to concede that fact.” He leaned forward slightly, making brief friendly eye contact with each one of the three other men.

“I do believe that he is trying to keep things conciliatory, even though he is being deceptive. Vance has some narcissistic traits and consistent with narcissists, he sees himself as a lot smarter than everyone else around him. So, he is playing this cat and mouse game with us, trying to find out just what we do know.”

Tobias noted that Tom Morrow and Adrian Kirsch were listening carefully and nodding at his insights

“He’s reluctant to play the lawyer card though because that would be a declaration that he knows we suspect him. Once he lawyers up, there is no putting the genie back in the box. Plus, he believes he can outsmart us because he honestly believes he’s way more intelligent than everyone else.”

They swapped a few more desultory thoughts about the interview, then Hotchner asked if he could watch the tape from the crime scene now.

Fornell played the last section of the footage, just the last few minutes before the killer, Hot Four revealed themselves and Hotchner listened carefully. “He knows the abductor, Agent McGee and Vance. If he did indeed warn Vance about Gallagher, no wonder the director is being so cagey,” he mused.

“Why wouldn’t he act if Hot Four did warn him?” Fornell asked rhetorically since none of them had a crystal ball that could give them insight into the director’s mindset.

Aaron looked over at the assistant director and requested. “I’d like copies of the footage if possible.”

Kirsch raised his eyebrow, “Where the killer interrupts I Gee You Be?”

“No, the entire tape. I want the other profilers on my team to watch it too. There could be a clue in what is said that might give us leads as to where these people know each other from. If we can understand their motivations it may help us figure out their connection and identify who Hot Four is.”

Tobias flinched. “Something about that name strikes a chord like I’ve seen or heard it recently,” he said in frustration as he received a text. “I just can’t remember where.”

Pulling out his cell phone, he read the message quickly. It was from Abby Sciuto and she’d just figured out the significance of the moniker I Gee Why Be – it was the phonetic form of the anagram IGYB. Now, she was trying to figure out what the four-letter anagram meant plus, she said she was still trying to figure out who Hot Four was. She assumed it must be a nickname.

Fornell told the others what Abby had figured out, while Hotchner had been randomly scrolling through IGYB’s so-called fan video. He stopped it and asked, “Why does Gallagher constantly refer to Agent DiNozzo as Agent Tommy? Has she mistaken him for someone else?”

Fornell groaned. How could he explain this convoluted story in a few short sentences? He tried to keep it simple, explaining about McGee’s Deep Six books and his newest one he was considering writing, ignoring the looks of astonishment from Hotchner and Morrow. He’d already given Kirsch an outline earlier so the deputy director wasn’t surprised, just suitably pissed off.

The FBI agent stumbled a bit when he got to the convoluted account about McGee deciding to write fanfic as a form of anonymous market research from his fans. He explained how he’d received some negative feedback from the fans about Agent Tommy and he’d deleted the story and his account after the Landon Grey fiasco. Tobias briefly outlined what had happened when Grey got fixated on McGee’s books. He also gave an account, stumbling over the details of how Sciuto had located the latest story, back on the same fan site but under a different pen name, discovering that it had now been posted to several other sites as well. Ironically, the fan story had attracted far more attention after fans noticed it was gone and gained many more readers.

At the end of Fornell’s somewhat clumsy explanation, Hotchner looked solemn. “I think that it’s entirely possible that the killer and Gallagher were online fans of the Deep Six books and interacted on one of those sites. IGYB and Hot Four sound like they could be pen names or usernames to me.”

Fornell hurriedly grabbed his phone and called Abby. When she answered, he asked her, “You know that comments you read out to me earlier, wasn’t one of them from Hot Four?” he asked, finally remembering where he’d seen it.

Abby located the information she’d found from the Wayback Machine and must have been skimming through them. Finally, she replied, “Can’t find a Hot Four but there are some comments from Hot4McGregor,” she sounded excited, before asking if he got her text about IGYB.

~oO0Oo~

Fornell looked around the BAU bullpen. Aaron Hotchner had called in the other profilers from his team. Some of them were watching the disturbing fan video but they seemed to take it in stride, doing whatever it was they did. He thought they were profiling Gallagher (who was dead) so he wasn’t completely sure what that was supposed to do. The rest of the profilers were attempting to profile Hot4McGregor. Meanwhile, Abby, Nikki Jardine and the BAU’s resident information analyst Penelope Garcia were desperately searching to find all the digital traces of Hot4McGregor online and passing them over to the profilers to umm profile.

Hotchner had briefly explained that Dr Reid had been hassling him about taking a more active role in trying to locate DiNozzo, so when the fan video surfaced, he’d decided to rope in the rest of the team to help, too. It seemed that despite being on stand down due to some extremely nasty back-to-back cases, they’d eagerly volunteered. Now, they were slowly building up a profile of the Thom E. Gemcity’s fan and it was not encouraging.

Fornell wandered off to check on if the shooter might have left any clues at the scene. He checked in with the ballistics people and they were still tracing the gun used in the shooting. The ME’s findings narrowed down the time of death but still wasn’t all that helpful. The crime scene techies had found used syringes at the crime scene. The analysis revealed they contained Rohypnol, otherwise known as Roofies which was a common date rape drug because it made victims compliant and frequently caused amnesia.

Plus, there was about half a dozen bottles of water, laced liberally with high doses of melatonin that would have knocked him out. Traces of blood and other bodily fluids were also found that had been traced, presumptively back to Tony. Nothing so far, that shed light on who Hot4McGregor was or where he’d taken DiNozzo.

After talking to the forensic people, he’d headed back to his floor where his team of Ron Sacks, Luke Wentworth, Mel Yang and Viv Blackadder were currently investigating McGee and Gallagher, trying to figure out if Hot4McGregor was merely a fan or might have also had physical contact with them at some point. DiNozzo’s two detective buddies from Metro, Sparr and Kochifis had brought in a bunch of pizzas for everyone and they’d ended up staying, helping go through endless mountains of documents as well.

As soon as he returned from the lab, Sacks and Blackadder both jumped up to complain that Gibbs was ringing Fornell’s office phone regularly every five minutes and driving everyone nuts with his voicemail messages, demanding to be informed about the FBI’s progress. He’d somehow managed to get hold of Sacks phone number and he kept ringing him too, demanding that NCIS (i.e. Gibbs) run the investigation. At some point, one of his sources told him that the FBI had located a body and he was demanding to know who’d been shot and why they were holding McGee for questioning.

Blackadder also informed Fornell that Ziva David had been using her contacts inside the bureau to try to find out what was going on, but everyone was refusing to talk to her. Meanwhile, Jimmy Palmer had left for an examination in histopathology but wanted to return later to help.

Fornell grabbed himself a slice of pizza, nodding his thanks to the cops who’d brought it in. He wandered into his office and sat down at his computer. Even though he’d just been down talking to the forensic people, he checked his email box compulsively to see if Hot4McGregor might have left some forensic evidence behind. He also couldn’t help noticing several emails from Gibbs (and who knew the old Luddite knew how to use electronic mail) so he opened a couple and snorted, somewhat amused despite being pissed off with Jethro.

The body of the message was virgin white, left blank which was quite hilarious. The message was all in the subject line, all in caps, of course, consisting of CALL ME ASAP!!!!! STOP IGNORING ME, YOU ASSHAT! PICK UP YOUR PHONE. There were probably over a dozen more of the same messages, all shouting at him which he duly ignored, deleting them swiftly.

And as he was imagining the state of Gibbs’ blood pressure by now, he noticed he’d received a message from someone he had not been expecting to hear from, Dr Jeanne Benoit. The subject line read, Urgent must speak asap! Opening the actual email, he noted that unlike Gibbs, Dr Benoit used the actual body of the email to convey useful information.

She quickly explained she needed to organise a video call, if possible, to speak to the FBI about a strange email she’d received approximately six hours ago. She claimed that she only found it a short while ago when she had booked into a hotel with reliable internet coverage in Kinshasa. She believed that the email she’d received was about Anthony DiNozzo, although the email talked about Agent Tommy. She’d attached a copy of the email and requested a video conferencing call with him urgently.

Fornell cursed loudly, here was another coincidence and he didn’t like that it once again involved the daughter of an arms dealer who had good reason to hate DiNozzo. He needed to have someone sit in on the call who could tell him if this was some sort of sick prank or if this might be the lead they’d been hoping for. Quickly he called Dave Rossi, hoping he’d agree to sit in on the video conferencing call.

Firing back an email, he told Benoit that it would take approximately forty minutes for him to organise and told her that someone from the FBI computer department would contact her asap to set it up.

Chapter 18

Fornell looked at the younger woman in the passenger seat of the FBI’s black SUV and asked her again, “Are you sure you want to do this? No one will think any less of you if you want to pull out. We can send in Agent Prentiss instead.” He suggested, not entirely comfortable with the idea of sending someone in undercover who wasn’t FBI.

“Agent Hotchner assures me Prentiss is a highly experienced undercover operative,” he said persuasively.

She huffed in frustration, “Yes, Agent Fornell, for the fifty-seventh time, I’m fine going in undercover. I volunteered for the op, remember? And while I’m sure that Prentiss is a very capable agent, with lots of experience, I’ve done my fair share of undercover work too,” she reassured him firmly.

“I’ve worked in Vice, and as a female vice cop, I did a lot of undercover gigs,” Andrea Sparr told him resolutely. “Apart from which, even though I’m an inch taller than Jeanne Benoit, I look more like her than either Viv or Agent Prentiss. Especially with the cosmetic changes,” she pointed at her hair and eyes.

Fornell smiled briefly. Both Blackadder and the formidable Agent Emily Prentiss had volunteered too but Detective Sparr had pointed out she was the closest in appearance to Dr Benoit, they had a similar bone structure. Sparr had darkened her honey blonde hair to mid- brunette colouring, and she was wearing coloured contact lens, the intense shade of blue of Jeanne’s eyes, except Benoit’s eye colour was natural. Plus, they both had a similar complexion and slender build, so she probably would be a more believable Dr Benoit.

In the end, Sparr prevailed, although he’d had to get Assistant Director Kirsch to okay the operation and sign off on using the homicide detective from Metro PD to impersonate the doctor. Although Benoit offered to fly back and meet Hot4McGregor so that the FBI could locate DiNozzo, it had been agreed that there simply wasn’t enough time. Based upon the contact they succeeded in making with the shooter, who believed he was conversing with Jeanne, Hot4McGregor had revealed that DiNozzo had a head injury. He urged Jeanne to hurry because Tony was becoming progressively weaker. Plus, as Fornell had pointed out, even if they had the time to spare for Dr Benoit to return to the states, the FBI was not in the habit of letting civilians go into what they knew would be dangerous situations.

So, they’d set up a sting and the BAU, Abby Sciuto and Nikki Jardine had done a truly outstanding job of collecting and analysing every scrap of information they could find on Hot4McGregor. The profilers compiled a profile that tentatively allowed them to identify him an NCIS employee who’d worked at the agency for more than five years and they theorised he’d  likely worked with McGee at some point.

The preliminary profile they’d developed then permitted Penelope Garcia to zero in on anyone who fit the outline and whittle away people who either didn’t match, matched but had alibis or anyone who weren’t computer savvy enough to pull it off. Now, fairly certain they had their guy; the team of professionals was quite gung-ho about mounting a rescue mission. They knew he had a serious head injury and needed medical treatment.

The advice from medical experts had concurred, several FBI doctors had viewed the fan video and told them that DiNozzo had some obvious abnormal neurological signs, pointing to more than a simple concussion. Everyone agreed it was crucial to get him out of danger asap. So, the sting had been set up for later that evening.

Now they were driving to the meeting point where the NCIS cyber crimes analyst, Kevin Dallas agreed to rendezvous with Jeanne Benoit so she could avenge her heartbreak upon DiNozzo. Hopefully, if everything went to plan, they would rescue him tonight. Thinking about the calibre of the team backing up Detective Sparr, it should all go off smoothly.

Collectively, there was a lot of experience and talent since all the BAU agents insisted on coming along. Hotch had logically made the case for their involvement, pointing out that if anything went wrong, they were highly experienced in getting hostages out alive. Having profiled Dallas, they were also the best placed to talk him down if it was necessary. Fornell had agreed it made sense.

In addition to Detective Sparr, the other Metro homicide detective, Andy Kochifis insisted he go as Andrea’s back up. As did Agent Blackadder. Sacks, Wentworth, and Yang all argued that they were needed too, as had Jimmy Palmer. He wasn’t a cop or agent but when Fornell tried to explain that to him, Palmer pointed out that he could help stabilise Tony until medical help could reach him. To prove his point, he’d brought along a huge first aid kit which included a stack of medical gear, including IV fluids and a portable oxygen tank. Fornell was forced to admit that it was a wise precaution, but having a civilian on the team made him uncomfortable – worse than letting Detective Sparr go undercover. Jimmy had received very explicit instructions to stay well back, that he wasn’t to approach until the scene had been properly cleared.

It wasn’t just Jimmy who was told to stay back. The profilers had warned that using the usual standard operating procedures for following Dr Benoit (Det Sparr) would likely be swiftly detected by Dallas. The techies had quickly established that his academic pedigree was on par with McGee’s. According to what they’d found out by speaking to his supervisor, he didn’t possess the drive or ambition McGee did. But any type of electronic tracking device or even just a wire was, in the BAU’s opinion far too risky. Also, if Dallas found that Andrea was found to be wearing a wire or a gun, it could send him off the deep end and he’d already proved he could be extremely dangerous.

In the end, the R&D department had recommended that Sparr be injected with some harmless medical-grade isotopes which they’d revved up in the lab to have a unique signature. That way they could track her from a distance with some sort of computer slash Geiger counter technology which could be accessed by their in-car computer systems. Fornell reckoned it was very futuristic and James Bond. Palmer had agreed with him, saying Tony would be so excited if he knew.

After dropping Andrea at a car that was like the one Benoit owned, she’d driven to a pizza place at Georgetown where Dallas had issued instructions for her go. Once she arrived, he sent her inside to order a pizza, wait for it to be cooked and then walk north until he picked her up. It was obvious to everyone that Dallas was suspicious and not exactly trusting.

Fornell was relieved that they’d played it safe and not sent Sparr in with a wire. As much as he wanted to know what was going on, it was safer for Sparr. The Special Agent in Charge knew it was the right call as a female cop who’d gone undercover as a working girl regularly wasn’t about to panic under pressure. Which was why in the end he’d chosen her over Viv who had minimal experience in undercover work. While he hadn’t had time to get to know her all that well, the detective seemed to very competent; her personnel file had borne that out too.

As he drove, with Sacks monitoring the biological tracker, having joined him in the SUV after he’d dropped Andrea off at her vehicle, they could tell immediately when she was picked up by Dallas. The speed changed and Fornell radioed to the other vehicles that the contact had occurred. They would hang back as much as possible and make sure that they didn’t lose them.

For the next hundred and five minutes they followed Detective Sparr at a distance, the isotopes working fine. There hadn’t been any indications of where they were headed; Dallas didn’t own any properties in this part of Virginia, nor did any of his family members. They didn’t think he would rent somewhere, and they hadn’t been able to find any rentals under his name but then Fornell knew that lots of smart people do dumb things. All in all, it was a bit of a mystery and they had ensured they didn’t lose her.

The bio tracker slowed when they reached Luray, Virginia. It looked as if they might have reached their destination as they followed Dallas several miles out of town to a medium-sized cabin, situated roughly a quarter of a mile from the Shenandoah River. Fornell signalled via hand signs to the other agents that they needed to move in, carefully, not even daring to use comms in case he detected their conversations. They were so close; they didn’t want to spook him now and put DiNozzo or Sparr in jeopardy.

~oO0Oo~

Andrea had quickly figured out that Kevin Dallas needed for Jeanne Benoit to be devastated and angry, seriously angry at Tony. She’d briefly talked to Jeanne via video call and talked to Fornell at length about their relationship since he had investigated Tony when Jeanne had accused him of murdering her father in cold blood. It had been a terrible time for both Tony and Jeanne, but it wasn’t Tony’s fault – he’d been doing a job.

Frankly, the whole situation with Kevin Dallas was beyond bizarre, but Andrea had had her fair share of broken hearts over the years. She decided if she just channelled her own hurt feelings and devastation, it should seem authentic. Especially if she used the time one scumbag boyfriend had been dating Andrea and her cousin at the same time. She was fairly sure that her anger would come across as genuine heartache of the type he’d ascribed to Dr Benoit.

For the entire trip to Luray, Andrea had been on edge. While she knew that Dallas was dangerous – he’d shot Gallagher after all, and she could sense his seething anger just under the surface – her main fear was that he might become suspicious of her. She was desperate for him to believe she was Dr Benoit, so she could find out where he was holding Tony.

At first, she tried to talk to him, trying to find out about the stressor that had tipped him over the edge, but he’d stubbornly refused to discuss it. Instead, he wanted to know how she was planning to get her revenge against Tony, and it seemed to the bloodier her plans, the more cheerful he became. When Andrea’s creative abilities waned, he would leap in with new grotesque ways of inflicting pain and suffering. At one point, he’d asked her if she had a gun and she admitted that she didn’t.

She told him that as a doctor who had taken the Hippocratic oath to first do no harm, she’d never thought a gun was something that she’d need, but now, she was wishing she hadn’t been quite so holier than thou and purchased one. He’d expressed surprise that as the daughter of an arms dealer, she didn’t possess multiple weapons, but she reminded him that until she found out about Tony’s real identity, she thought her father was a harmless businessman. They’d talked a bit about how difficult that had been when she learnt who her father really was.

As they’d driven toward Luray, a plan had emerged in Andrea’s head, as she spent time with Dallas and began to get a feel for the man. With several little details he’d let slip, she decided he’d quite clearly had his heart broken. The profilers had been certain that he was infatuated with Timothy McGee and that his jealousy over his girlfriend had in part, caused him to kill, but Andrea felt he was in a lot of pain and hurt, that jealousy per se didn’t truly explain.

She couldn’t help remembering her Psychology 101 back at college, an introductory course that had looked at defence mechanisms, in particular, projection as a way to cope with emotional pain and suffering. Andrea felt strongly that he believed she was suffering deeply from being betrayed, that he needed to believe it since it was how he was feeling and he was coping with his emotions. So, she was trying to take advantage of that knowledge to create a sense of camaraderie between them, emphasizing that they’d both experience great loss.

By the time they arrived at the cabin, it was dark, which would make it easier for Fornell and his team to approach but harder to see where she was going. Dallas led her inside and when she saw Tony, she was furious. He was suffering from dehydration and he appeared to be extremely confused. Tony called her Jeanne and she wasn’t sure if he thought she was Benoit, or he was just playing along with the con to protect her. Either way, she needed to finish this ruse as soon possible, she didn’t like his glazed expression or the way he was slurring his words.

Channelling her anger at his physical state into seeming to be angry at him for lying to her, Andrea ranted about how much Tony had ruined her life and made her incapable of trusting other men. Dallas looked delighted, he egged her on, urging her to slap him, kick him, make him suffer. Andrea didn’t want to hurt Tony any more than he was already, but she did need to put on a show, so she punched him in the stomach, trying not to put any power behind the hit, before screaming at herself for being so dumb as to fall for his lies.

When Dallas tried to comfort her, she ranted about how she wished she had a gun so she could shoot DiNozzo and make him feel a fraction of the pain she’d felt. Sparr knew that she was so close to winning. She asked the computer geek if there was anywhere in town where she could get a gun. She must have been convincing because Dallas meekly handed his own gun over to her.

Still, the homicide cop wasn’t about to let her guard down yet. Andrea needed to be sure this that it wasn’t some sort of byzantine trap to test her. She needed to know whether the gun was loaded or not and if Dallas had access to another gun. She pretended not to know how to use it, asking him how to fire it. Dallas obligingly instructed her on how to fire the gun and she aimed it at Tony, pulling away at the last second like a frightened novice might misfire the weapon. Andrea heaved a sigh of relief when a bullet exploded into the wall.

It seemed that Dallas had trustingly handed over a loaded gun. It wasn’t an elaborate test to see if she would follow through. Now it was time to end this.

Smiling at him, she said, “Thank you for giving me your gun,” and pointed it at his heart, told him, “Metro PD, now slowly interlace your fingers and put your hands on your head. Then I want you to kneel and cross one leg over the other one. Don’t move anything else, unless you want me to shoot you.”

Detective Sparr just knew that Dallas wasn’t going to go quietly. Outraged that she’d tricked him into handing over his gun, he gave a bellow that sounded rather like an angry bull. Stupidly, he lunged for her. With calm deliberation, she put a round in his dominant right shoulder as he fell to the floor screaming in agony.

Shouting out that he was down, and she and Tony were safe, nearly a dozen law enforcement agents came storming into the cabin. As the relief of knowing that it was over and they had DiNozzo secure set in, Sparr yelled for Jimmy Palmer to get his ass in here and help Tony. She was not about to let DiNozzo get away from her this time.

~oO0Oo~

Tobias Fornell strode down the corridors of the hospital. Jimmy had informed him earlier on that day that Tony had finally regained consciousness four days after surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He’d told him that Tony had asked to see him, but today, like the other days since they’d launched the successful rescue mission, had been a bitch! There was something extremely rotten going on at NCIS. DiNozzo’s abduction had been the catalyst which brought much of it to light or had at least given people a chance to catch a brief glimpse of the rot before eyeing fresh sources of incompetence or corruption.

So, it was late, nearly the end of visiting hours when Tobias was at last able to drag his weary ass down to Bethesda to the National Naval Medical Centre to see him. It was six days since he’d last clapped eyes on him, back in the local hospital in Luray, where Jimmy had insisted that they take him immediately. The stubborn medical student had asserted that Tony wasn’t stable enough to transport back to DC. He told Fornell that DiNozzo was severely dehydrated, and he was concerned that the agent’s kidneys were shutting down. It was lucky that Jimmy had been on the rescue operation because Tony did indeed require immediate medical intervention. Palmer had DiNozzo’s medical power of attorney and he’d overruled the confused NCIS agent, who kept telling everyone he was fine to travel back to DC.

The doctors at the local hospital had agreed that Palmer made the correct call. DiNozzo was dangerously dehydrated. It had been a couple of anxious hours before they managed to re hydrate him safely. Once he was stable, they were able to begin assessing his head injury, diagnosing a worrying build-up of intracranial pressure from bleeding in the brain and inflammation. They worked diligently to stabilise him enough to make it into surgery, they also treated his head injury with medication to try to reduce the swelling. However, as he continued to bleed into his brain, the doctors were blunt about his prognosis, telling them he’d require emergency surgery to survive which they weren’t equipped to perform.

Palmer had contacted Tony’s friend and pulmonologist, Brad Pitt, who concurred, after consulting with the doctors in Virginia and studying his medical records. Brad arranged for one of his colleagues, a neurosurgeon to do the delicate surgery and they’d organised an air ambulance to get him back to Bethesda where Dr Pitt could monitor his lungs during the surgery and his recovery. The surgery had been carried out four days ago, and DiNozzo was unconscious until today, only waking up around lunchtime, giving his friends quite a scare.

As Fornell made his way to the neurosurgical wing of Bethesda hospital, he ran into a nurse, quite literally. After he apologised, he immediately sized her up as military, all the way down to her sensible crepe-soled white shoes and her hair styled severely in a no-nonsense bun. When he asked her what room Special Agent DiNozzo was in, she glared at him fiercely, demanding to see his ID asap.

Having inspected it carefully and scowling at him the whole time, she returned it, suspiciously. She’d protested about protocols and procedures, admonishing him that Agent DiNozzo was not cleared to be interviewed and he should take his ass back to the FBI and wait like a good little agent for Special Agent DiNozzo’s doctors to give him the all-clear. Only then he would be permitted to interview him, but for a limited time and Fornell wouldn’t be permitted to stress him out. AT ALL!

At which point in the dressing down of the agent, just when he was attempting to get a word in edgewise, Palmer emerged from somewhere down the corridor with a small tub of ice which he’d fetched for Tony. Taking pity on him, he said, “Hey Lorraine, it’s okay. He’s one of the good guys. Special Agent Fornell is one of ours.”

The RN stated at him dubiously. “He doesn’t look like one of yours, Jimmy. You sure about that?”

Jimmy chuckled, “Yeah, he’s the one who ran the whole operation to find Tony.”

Lorraine raised her eyebrows, “Oh, so he’s that one. Well okay, I guess you can stay, but not for too long. Visiting hours end in 12…no make that 11 minutes, she told him sternly as she marched off down the corridor to answer someone’s buzzer.

Tobias flashed the young medical student a grateful smile, which he returned. “Lorraine’s bark is much worse than her bite,” Palmer told the FBI agent as he led him into room 2232.

As he looked around the room, Fornell was surprised by the number of bodies taking up space in Tony’s not exactly spacious double room. He spied Abby, who was listening to her iPod and silently rocking to the music while perched on a hospital chair by the window. Special Agent Blackadder was sitting cross-legged on the foot of Tony’s bed. While he dozed, she was carrying out a whispered conversation with Detective Sparr, who was snuggled into Tony’s side on his bed, her hand intertwined in his.

Tobias did a double take at that. Wow! How the hell had he missed that?

Still, there had been so much going on, it had been impossible to keep track of everything. Still, it did explain Sparr’s determination to go undercover to rescue DiNozzo, though. If Tobias had known they were together, he might have insisted that Emily Prentiss impersonate Dr Benoit instead of Sparr, but in the end, it hadn’t mattered.

The homicide detective had done an excellent job, taking down Kevin Dallas without sending him to the morgue in a body bag and that was a damned good thing. And not just because revenge should never replace justice and importantly, they weren’t a judge, jury or executioner. After days of observing his constitutional right to remain silent, Kevin John Dallas was, as of right now, sequestered with a team of lawyers from Department of Justice, spilling the beans on NCIS director, Leon Vance about how the cybercrimes analyst had warned him about Sandrine Gallagher. How she’d made online threats against Anthony DiNozzo because she blamed him for McGee’s  career goals being thwarted, especially when Tony returned to the MCRT from his Agent Afloat assignment.

What was not clear, if what Dallas alleged was true, was why Director Vance would ignore those warnings. Tobias suspected that would require a lot more digging to get to the bottom of that mystery and if Fornell was any judge, it was all going to get very dirty. He was fairly certain that the whole matter was well above his pay grade, so it wasn’t his problem. And for that, he was incredibly happy!

As Andrea noticed his arrival, she gave a tiny wave with her free hand before going back to listening to Blackadder whispering. Tobias was pleased to see that the Metro PD detective had gone back to her lighter hair colouring of honey-blonde. The night of the rescue, DiNozzo had been somewhat distressed because the injured agent kept confusing Andrea with Jeanne, insisting on apologising for lying to her.

Sparr had handled the situation with tact but even he could see that it had upset her. The FBI agent had a much better understanding of why that was now. Returning to her real colouring would be a relief to everyone, he was sure.

As Fornell continued his observation of the other visitors in the room, his gaze took in several more people who he wasn’t all that surprised to see. Detective Kochifis was chatting to that NCIS analyst who Abby had referred to once or twice as Neat-Nut-Nikki. He searched around for several seconds before identifying her name as Jardine. He was bemused to see her wearing a surgical face mask and wondered if she was sick. Surely if she was sick, she shouldn’t be visiting Tony in the hospital though?

Initially, he thought there was a patient in the second bed, but then he realised that it was a doctor lying casually on the spare bed dressed in blue scrubs. A stethoscope was slung haphazardly around his neck, his feet crossed at the ankles and his hands interlaced behind his head, insouciance oozing out of every pore as he conversed softly with Dr Spencer Reid and David Rossi. Woah. What? That was a surprise! He honestly never expected to see the genius profiler or the veteran of the BAU here, either.

Fornell looked around the room at the disparate group of people and asked Jimmy, “I thought the staff enforced strict rules about the number of visitors per patient, especially when they just regained consciousness from brain surgery.”

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, they do. Usually! Why do you think that Lorraine is in such a bad mood?” he smirked, a wicked gleam visible in his green eyes.

Fornell gestured around the room. “So, how are you getting away with so many visitors in here?” he demanded inquisitively.

Jimmy stared across at the man in surgical scrubs and asked him flippantly. “You want to take this one, Doctor Pitt.”

When he sat up, Tobias belated realised this was Tony’s doctor, the one who’d saved his life when he contracted the plague and he was the same one who’d broken his leg when they were back in college.

Brad stood up and made his way across the room to introduce himself to Fornell. As they shook hands, he looked at Palmer and asked, “What was the question again, Jimbo?”

Rolling his eyes at the nickname he said, “Agent Fornell wanted to know how we are getting away with breaking the strict rules about the number of visitors permitted per person.”

Brad chuckled and said, “Friends in high places,” before becoming serious. “Tony needs support as he starts to recover, and people want to be here for him.” He said with quiet conviction. “He’s going to take this shitstorm at NCIS extremely hard and he’s going to need everyone’s help to mend,” he said suddenly serious.

As if the NCIS agent could feel Brad’s eagle eye on him, he started to stir, looking pleased to see Fornell there as he got his bearings. Gesturing him over to his bed, he took a deep breath and managed to say after several attempts, “Thanks for loo…king,” before gasping for breath and looking frustrated.

The FBI agent was concerned about how much effort it had taken for the normally voluble agent to utter such a simple phrase. That said, Tobias understood (in part from talking to Palmer) that DiNozzo feared that no one would miss him or bother searching for him if he did go missing. He appreciated the sentiment and emotion behind those three simple words, which had taken so much effort.

Smiling at him and the people crowded in the not overly large hospital room he said, “You’re welcome, DiNozzo.”

The normally exuberant Fed reacted with shock, his jaw dropped open and his eyebrows almost disappeared underneath the impressive bandage covering the top of his head. It was the first time in his presence that Fornell had pronounced his name correctly. Straight away Tony understood that it marked a truce between them and acceptance. Hopefully, it would foster newfound respect for each other as fellow law enforcement professionals.

Nodding gratefully, his eyes drifted shut of their own volition and while he dozed, Fornell found himself being drawn into the plans for after Tony was discharged. They were seemingly plotting a celebratory get-together, having a movie night to watch Kinky Boots and Pretty Woman. Much to his surprise, Spencer Reid volunteered Dave Rossi’s home and his culinary skills. Once again, Fornell wondered about why the profilers were here.

Later as he made his way out of the hospital, he mused about the massive debacle.

Who could have foreseen that a routine operational decision to send DiNozzo to Iraq to investigate a murder six months ago could have been the catalyst for so much damage and destruction? That assignment, along with Gibbs’ toxic management style, setting his agents up to be in constant competition with each other had ultimately led to Tony’s abduction and injury. The subsequent investigation into his disappearance also shined a light on practices that were unacceptable and would probably result in the mass casualties.

Only time would tell whose careers’ and personal lives would be intact when it had finally played itself out. Fornell knew just enough to recognise that the repercussions were immense – for everyone.

As the FBI agent climbed into his car, Fornell was feeling infinitely weary and more than a bit melancholy about what was to come. In the coming weeks and months, DiNozzo was going to need his friends around him as Dr Pitt had said and Fornell realised he would too.

Except that he didn’t have a lot of friends – his career had put paid to that and a broken marriage had ruined the rest of his friendships. He decided that he’d accept the invitation to the movie night –and if he read them right, the offer of friendship. It was time to start cultivating some new friendships and besides, it was ages since he’d had proper homemade Italian dinner. The word around the bureau’s watercooler was that David Rossi was one helluva good cook.

Maybe he’d even learn what had drawn the two profilers into DiNozzo’s odd circle of friends. Tobias would say this…Tony had a knack of befriending the oddest people.

~oO0Oo~

Leon sat in his darkened living room, his head in his hands. He could recognise the writing on the wall. His tilt at political greatness was about to come crashing down around his ears.

He would lose everything, his directorship, his career aspirations including a cabinet position or higher and maybe even his family. Ironically, it was only now, with his career in the toilet, Vance realised that his wife and children were the most precious things in the world. He’d sacrificed their happiness and security for his selfish ambitions of prestige and power.

He was scared that Jackie would divorce him, that she might cut him out of Jarrod and Kayla’s lives as she had done for her father and recidivist brother. His wife’s morality tended towards black or white, right, or wrong. She had very little patience for any shades of grey or mitigating circumstances. When it came to someone breaking the law, there was precious little room for forgiveness or second chances.

While his wife was a lot more lenient with their children, undoubtedly since they were still developing a moral compass, as they grew older, Jackie’s tolerance for any lying and stealing decreased quite markedly. He knew that she had a horror that her children might end up of questionable moral character – like her brother and father. And when she found out what Leon had done, more than likely he’d end up on the Persona Non Grata list in their kids’ lives.

It had all seemed like such a good idea at the time. When he’d learnt through his sources that Sandrine Gallagher had been found murdered, he’d initially felt a moment of optimism that DiNozzo was also dead and this would all go away. Of course, that transitory madness he’d experienced had ignored the important factor of the Cyber Crimes analyst, Kevin Dallas, who for some reason, had taken an instant dislike to Gallagher. Dallas was equally as brilliant as Timothy McGee when it came to computer technology but curiously, had been born without the driving ambition of McGee or himself.

Perhaps by way of compensation, he had the tenacity of a ferret sent down a rabbit hole to hunt prey. The man was an asset in Cyber Crimes to be sure, but he’d rapidly become a thorn in Leon’s side. Not just because of his prodigious nocturnal activities when he decided to cyberstalk the admin clerk in the pay office. Vance was convinced he was almost singlehandedly drawing out the whole process of trying to decrypt PO Vargo’s security measures on the file they know knew held Domino. Without his doggedness, he was pretty damned sure McGee would have abandoned the decryption way sooner than he had and suggested hacking, which had always been the plan.

Dallas had come to him with dirt on Gallagher, saying she wasn’t who she pretended to be. He’d claimed that she’d gotten a job at NCIS with only one purpose in mind, to trap Special Agent McGee because he was a famous author and she was a fangirl, after him for his money. At first, Leon scoffed at the whole fanciful tale but as Dallas continued to bombard him with data, he started checking things out on his own.

The first thing he discovered was that Dallas wasn’t delusional, McGee had written two books about a team of MCRT agents at NCIS consisting of the lead agent L.J. Tibbs, his dumb as a rock 2IC, Agent Tommy and Leon had snorted in amusement about that. When he read about Mossad liaison Officer Lisa, he was much less amused since the liaison position was dodgy at best, and he didn’t want to advertise the fact to the public. Finally, there was the protagonist of the series, the heroic Agent McGregor.

Even worse was to come, though. Vance soon realised that McGee had used real-life cases, cavalierly changing a few details in what smacked of a perfunctory attempt to disguise his literary laziness by borrowing from real life. Tim had blithely ignored privacy issues, classified information and all but shat on the non-disclosure clause which all NCIS employees, not just agents, had to sign before being hired. He couldn’t believe that Jenny Shepard had let him get away with publishing the first book. However, the second one was nothing short of criminal negligence.

Following these revelations, Leon realising that he’d have to keep a close eye on McGee because he could envision that the Walter Mitty-like agent would have no compunction in using the Domino situation as a plot or subplot in his next book. Vance was not about to let that happen, but he also needed to be cautious. With the state of play, re Vargo’s file still poised delicately on a precipice with Leon’s very job depended on getting to the bottom of that damned file, he’ couldn’t exactly come the heavy-handed approach with McGee right then.

At that point, he’d still been holding out the carrot that McGee would return triumphantly to the MCRT as the new senior field agent, so wielding a big stick over those damned books wasn’t an option. Leon figured that having Sandrine Gallagher chasing after him and seducing him because she was a huge fan of the excrement that McGee called fiction, was a harmless enough deflection. Sandrine and McGee screwing each other’s brains out regularly, equalled a lot less time for him to start writing a new book.

Should he write a book after the decryption of the file was solved, Vance would be free to come down on him like a ton of bricks – and tear Gibbs a new one for not putting a stop to it too. Especially since he could hardly rip shreds off the former director.

In the spirit of distracting McGee when he went home at night, lest he felt the urge to write again, the director may have encouraged him to move in with her. Done very subtly of course. Leon operated with the finesse of a true Slytherin as his wife and Kayla would say, as they both loved the Potter ‘Verse with a passion. While Vance revelled in playing the all-powerful puppet-master, pulling everyone’s strings from behind the scenes even if they didn’t know it, he’d miscalculated big time with Dallas, the Cyber Crime analyst. He assumed the man was a fan of Thom E. Gemcity aka Agent McGregor.

After all, McGee’s embellished persona in his books was essentially projection, for the most part. In Leon’s opinion, it was a hackneyed hybridisation of the fabled fictional investigator, Sherlock Holmes crossed with a pseudo secret agent à la James Bond. Leon had figured that type of character probably appealed to an introverted intellectual type like Kevin Dallas, who, like McGee was heavily into online gaming in his private life.

So, he’d underestimated him, fobbing the analyst off by telling Dallas that he’d checked out Gallagher personally and would continue to keep his eye on her. That was a mistake, in hindsight. Dallas had continued to send him data about the pay clerk, turning up credible evidence that she stalked McGee when he was on book-signing tours. Under normal circumstances, Leon would probably be concerned enough to terminate her contract. However, these weren’t normal circumstances, she was providing a valuable service in keeping McGee happy and occupied, so he let it slide.

Leon’s second miscalculation was that when Gibbs performed his end run, dragging DiNozzo back to DC. Although his rationale had been the flimsiest of excuses, i.e. that it was the agent afloat’s arrest, therefore he got to escort the suspect, Stateside, Vance had decided not to sweat the small stuff. Let Gibbs have his hollow little victory. Leon decided it was probably a good thing to be able to keep a close eye on Special Agent DiNozzo given that even Kort of the CIA had recognised his penchant for white-hat wearing. So, the director had convinced himself having him in DC was win-win. Meanwhile, with the mole business done and dusted, he was considering if he should enlighten McGee about his stalker, Sandrine Gallagher.

That never happened though. He’d come across DiNozzo confiding in Dr Mallard’s autopsy assistant, Jimmy Palmer, on one of his sneaky strolls around the office and things went to hell in a handbasket from that point on. When he’d assumed the role of director, he’d decided to take a leaf out of Gibbs’ book. Wandering around, he learnt a lot about what was going on right under his nose.

Which was how he’d discovered that DiNozzo was thinking about leaving NCIS because he wasn’t happy with the situation on the MCRT and Gibbs’ leadership style. Frankly, Leon was astounded that someone who’d become a detective at such a young age after a relatively short time, would put up with being Gibbs’ second in charge for long year seven years, given the way he treated people like crap that he stepped in.

Even though Leon thought DiNozzo was an extremely average agent, Gibbs’s lack of respect for the position of SFA would have seen Vance look for greener pastures, if he’d been in DiNozzo’s shoes. If the senior field agent had wanted to move on to another agency six months ago, Leon Vance would have been ecstatic and helped him out the door. Now, the idea of DiNozzo leaving caused him to suffer crippling bouts of anxiety at the thought that he might inadvertently slip and reveal where they hacked into the Pentagon. After all, he wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, not by any means – he could blurt it out without thinking and just like that, Leon would be toast.

DiNozzo had put up Gibbs crap for years. Why did he have to get itchy feet now, when Leon had finally achieved his goal? After all his butt-kissing, there was no way Vance could take a chance on Agent Dumb Ass spilling the beans about the incident aboard the Seahawk. So, when the extremely persistent Cyber Crimes analyst (McGee’s self-appointed protector) sent him more intel on Sandrine Gallagher, it seemed heaven-sent opportunity.

Dallas had included transcripts of comments she’d made online, seeking to prove categorically she was, to use Dallas’ words, ‘a whackadoodle fangirl,’ who was making serious threats online against Tony DiNozzo. Leon was quick to see the ramifications – if Gallagher acted on those stated intentions, it would solve the director’s problem of DiNozzo leaving NCIS to work for another agency and potentially telling secrets Leon wanted to stay buried.

If faced with DiNozzo’s life versus his own – his career, family, and their prosperity, it hadn’t been that hard of a decision to make. And it wasn’t as if DiNozzo has a spouse or dependents who would suffer if he were to die unexpectedly.

He’d done some sneaky poking around which convinced him that Gallagher was potentially violent, so he was reasonably confident he could pull strings and get her to do what he wanted. And he was right! It hadn’t been all that hard, either. Using the transcripts Dallas had supplied, he logged onto the fan site and set up a fake account called AgentMcGregor and started private messaging Sandrine, sowing the seeds of dissension. He send a few PMs, agreeing that Agent Tommy was trying to sabotage McGregor’s career and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

At work, when he encountered Gallagher, which was usually by design, he praised her work and McGee’s too. He casually observed a few times that it was a shame that McGee didn’t get the recognition he so richly deserved with a promotion but DiNozzo’s return meant Tim had to be demoted. Leon was hoping she’d take the bait and she did, and he felt his usual sense of euphoria at getting people to do what he wanted them to without them being aware of it

Unfortunately, he’d also grossly underestimated just how much of a whack-job she was. Instead of just killing him, Gallagher rather bizarrely decided to create a fan video to right the wrongs she believed DiNozzo had perpetrated against McGee – or to be accurate, Agent Tommy carried out against Agent McGee. It seemed that her abducting DiNozzo had been too stressful and caused her to decompensate. Her ability to distinguish between what was fantasy and real-life became increasingly blurred.

Gallagher had, regrettably for Leon, been determined to keep DiNozzo alive until she’d completed the damned video. Increasingly alarmed, Vance had been tempted to try to communicate via the website, urging her to get rid of her prisoner but he’d deemed it too dangerous. Not surprisingly, when all hell broke loose over DiNozzo’s disappearance, even though he tried to buy her as much time as he could by not reporting it, she must have panicked. She’d come up with the slapdash and ultimately botched suicide note, which proved to be her downfall as the FBI managed to find her location after they analysed it.

Director Vance’s real mistake, apart from convincing a wingnut to abduct DiNozzo to get rid of him, was when he assumed that Kevin Dallas was just a loyal fan of McGee’s. It turned out the man was as much of a fanboy as Gallagher was a fangirl; perhaps he was not quite as crazy as Sandrine, but the analyst was still not playing with a full deck of cards. Dallas had followed Gallagher and while she was directing her video, killed her, ostensibly to protect McGee from her crimes.

Then, like the amateur he assuredly was, Dallas had left behind the video of the crime, the dumb ass. The FBI used the so-called fan video to figure out who Gallagher’s killer was and bait a trap, thanks to a tip-off from Rene Benoit’s daughter. Proving that Leon had the worst luck in the world, some inconsequential homicide cop managed to locate DiNozzo, who, unfortunately, was still alive. As if that weren’t bad enough, instead of shooting and killing him, like Gibbs would have done if he was leading the rescue operation, the female homicide detective brought Dallas in alive.

Bad news indeed for Leon Vance. The NCIS Director had been tipped off that Kevin Dallas was currently spilling his guts to the Department of Justice about Leon’s involvement in the disappearance of Special Agent DiNozzo who, although in a coma, was still hanging in there. It seemed that the cocky federal agent, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had more lives than a cat, while Leon’s dreams of a cabinet post or higher lay crushed in the dirt.

How ironic was it that DiNozzo, who was his inferior in every way possible, would be his bête noire?

Epilogue: The End Zone

Six months later

Former NCIS cyber-crimes analyst, Kevin Dallas looked at his wristwatch and realised that his visitor would be here in just under fifteen minutes. On the first Thursday of the month, Special Agent Spencer Reid drove down from DC to visit Dallas. He would interview him about Sandrine Gallagher and Kevin’s digital investigation into Timothy McGee’s live-in girlfriend, who he’d had killed six months previously.

The computer analyst had spent weeks investigating her when she’d first appeared upon the scene, primarily because he was jealous of her. He’d been in love with Timothy McGee for several years now, and he kept hoping that McGee would notice him. Sadly, for him, McGee had no idea that Kev existed, even after he’d worked shoulder to shoulder with Dallas, in Cyber Crimes for four heady wonderful months.

As much as Dallas adored McGee, and wanted them to be together, he was also not an idiot. While he was convinced that McGee was deep in the closet, still in denial that he was gay or perhaps bisexual, Kev knew it was recognition which Tim needed to reach on his own. Yes, it had saddened Kev to know that because of his overbearing, authoritarian and super macho father, Tim was afraid to embrace his true sexual orientation. He also knew that no one else could force him to face up to it, either. He had to face the truth on his own terms.

Still, it hadn’t stop him feeling infuriated when he saw Tim hooking up with females who were only interested in him for his fame, wealth, brains or because they thought it was cool to go out with an agent. He knew whenever Tim started seeing someone, it would end badly, and McGee would have his beautiful heart hurt all over again. And all the while, Tim was forever mooning over that sex-crazed commitment-phobic Goth, Abby Sciuto who was the forensic scientist and absolute darling of the Major Case Response Team.

Frankly, Kev couldn’t stand the bitch. She’d made Tim fall madly in love with her years ago when she had no intention whatsoever of being his forever lover. She had just used him to scratch an itch and the worst thing was, she had no idea how deeply she’d hurt him, as she’d never understood his heart and soul was so sensitive, so pure. But Kevin Dallas did!

McGee was so much like he was, in many ways. Even though Kev had embraced the fact that he was gay when he was still at college. It had been a liberating experience, but he knew that not everyone was at a point in their life to face such an epic life-changing truth. He’d also been so fortunate to have a family who was incredibly supportive of who he was.

Of course, his family and friends were shocked when he was arrested and charged with premeditated murder and the abduction and incarceration of a federal agent. They were still insisting there must be some mistake. Kev was ashamed that he had hurt them so badly but try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to regret killing Sandrine Gallagher. She was pure poison!

He knew from the moment he clapped eyes on that bitch that she was trouble. The way she’d zeroed in on Tim and had him eating out of her hand in no time told him all he needed to know about her. She was after something from McGee – he wasn’t sure if it was fame, wealth, or something more, but she didn’t love him. And as he investigated her, he realised she probably wasn’t capable of loving anyone.

So, he’d made it his business to investigate her background as he watched Tim fall head over heels in love. He was such a romantic fool, giving her carte blanche to trample all over his loving heart. What Dallas learnt, and continued to learn about her over these months when he’d been remanded in custody awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, abduction and conspiracy to murder a federal agent, convinced him he was right to get rid of Sandrine Gallagher. She was a danger to unsuspecting men like McGee and was better off dead.

As the guard escorted him down to the interview room where he met with Agent Reid every month, Kev was feeling rather depressed. This was likely to be their last session because although he’d stretched out his research as much as he could, he’d reached a dead-end in obtaining information about her. To find out anymore he’d need to talk to her and ask questions, which of course was impossible. Therefore, he’d reached an impasse and that meant no more interviews with Spencer Reid either.

He was going to miss having these chats with Spencer, it had been so wonderful to be able to share everything he’d discovered about Sandrine Gallagher with someone who was interested. But he barely had enough data to be able to fill up this last session today. Initially, he’d sought out the object of his unrequited affections, writing letters to Tim McGee. He wanted to tell him everything he’d discovered about that little cow, so he’d see how lucky he was that he’d managed to escape her clutches. Oh, he’d dodged a bullet with her, and Kev thought he should know that.

Not that she had, he smirked. Sandrine aka Igotyaback had never seen them coming for her!

Alas, McGee had refused to even read Kev’s letters, sending them back unopened. When that didn’t discourage Dallas from trying to share his exhaustive research about Gallagher with him, the man who he longed to spend his life with had taken out an injunction. The courts telling him he was not allowed to try to contact Tim.

It had crushed him. He knew that Tim was terribly upset about Sandrine, he felt things deeply, which was also why Kev was so attracted to him. Dallas was hopeful though, that one day in the future, the computer genius would realise how lucky he was that he hadn’t married that little piece of work. She was not who she appeared to be, and neither was Tim, so the relationship would have been yet another disaster in his ill-fated love life.

When Dallas was banned from writing letters to McGee, which hurt his heart, it wasn’t his only sorrow. He also knew that McGee needed to begin the healing process and get on with his life but to do that he also needed to realise that it wasn’t his fault – that Sandrine Gallagher had never loved him. So, Kev had been ecstatic when Spencer started probing into the reasons why Sandrine had abducted Special Agent DiNozzo. Especially when he’d approached Dallas to see if he would agree to share what he’d learned about Gallagher, he hoped that the information would get passed along to Tim.

Arriving in the room where Dr Reid was already waiting for him, he smiled at the ridiculously youthful-looking agent. It was amazing to be able to spend time with someone as intelligent as Spencer was every month. Dallas knew he was a very smart guy – his IQ score and college degrees were testimony to his brilliance, but the profiler was in another stratosphere of genius entirely. What was even more refreshing, the kid didn’t have an ego the size of Texas either, he was adorably awkward.

He was also very self-effacing. As much as he admired Tim and had hoped they be together someday, he had to admit after spending time with Dr Reid, that despite his multiple PhDs, Reid never flaunted them or his massive IQ you your face. Unlike McGee, who was prone to be a bit arrogant at times but then, no one was perfect.

Spencer was reading from the voluminous file he’d accumulated since starting his investigation of Gallagher, a combination of his own research, Kev’s data, his interpretations, and speculation. Of course, since Reid was able to speed read text information at a prodigious rate, it probably didn’t seem all that daunting to the profiler.

As the prison guard escorted him in and secured him so that he couldn’t attack Reid, as if he would, Kev huffed, Spencer looked up and smiled at him professionally.

“Hi Kevin, thanks to agreeing to meet with me again,” he greeted the former analyst. “How have you been?”

Dallas smiled, a little sad since this would be their last session and there wasn’t a lot more to cover. Maybe Dr Reid would stay and just talk until their allotted time was up. He was going to miss being able to engage with someone of Spencer’s intellectual calibre. He found intelligence a lot sexier than muscles.

“Pretty good. The AG has offered to reduce my sentence if I testify against Leon Vance,” he told Reid. “My lawyer is negotiating as we speak.”

Spencer nodded distractedly. He wasn’t interested in Dallas’ legal situation. Kev figured he didn’t approve of him killing Sandrine, even though the analyst – okay former analyst – was utterly certain that he’d done the right thing.

Reid opened his legal pad to a fresh page, picked up his pen and said, “So before we get started, I thought as this is the last interview, I’d quickly summarise what you already told me. Is that okay with you, Kevin?”

Kevin wasn’t at all unhappy with that suggestion as it would stretch the session out longer, something he’d been hoping for anyway. He nodded, “No, that fine by me.”

Spencer nodded. “Okay, so when you decided to investigate Sandrine Gallagher, you discovered she had moved quite recently, to DC. Before that she’d spent almost ten years living in New York City working as an actor, auditioning for roles in dramatic and musical theatre productions. Mostly she had minor roles, off-Broadway and one on Broadway. She was the understudy in a supporting role, and she filled in for one night for the actress who couldn’t go on.”

Dallas nodded in agreement and Reid continued to summarise.

“During that time, she worked at least ten times as an extra on various episodes in the Law and Order franchise and on about a dozen movie sets, as an extra. Curiously, she didn’t even put them down on her resume. It suggests that she was possibly ashamed of this work for some reason,” he said looking contemplative.

Dallas nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. I think that she was embarrassed that the only parts she could get were as an extra in nonspeaking parts.”

Spencer shrugged. “That’s a possibility. Your research revealed that in 2005 she travelled to Vancouver and had a minor role consisting of a few lines dialogue in an episode of a Sci-Fi television show called Stargate SG1. She played an alien.”

The former analyst nodded, “Yeah, a Tokrah – race who was parasitical and needed to cohabit in a humanoid body. The alien when speaking had a weird synthesised voice, while the human part just sounded like a regular human. I figured that’s probably where she got the voice synthesizer from. She probably nicked it from the set or the props department.”

Spencer didn’t acknowledge Dallas’ comment other than a brief nod as they’d covered it previously. “She did put that role in Stargate SG1 down on her resume, so you might be right about the non-speaking parts. You also talked about how she wasn’t able to earn enough money based, upon her tax returns which you ‘acquired’ to be able to pay her rent and bills from her acting roles.”

The profiler looked up, “My understanding is that is true of a lot of actors. The vast majority have a second career or even multiple casual jobs, trying to survive between acting jobs. And that’s if their lucky and get work.”

Kev said, “That’s true. Most actors, wait tables, are bartenders, work in construction or as fitness trainers, all casual jobs.”

“Yeah, and they also work as croupiers in casinos, even security, or as exotic dancers, or in Sandrine’s case, as sex-workers,” Reid said without judgement.

Kev figured that Spencer worked with a lot of that type of crowd, but he hadn’t. Despite what many people thought about gay lifestyles and prostitutes, that was just a tiny proportion of the gay community – just like it was in the straight world. Kev was monogamous and was conscientious about practising safe sex. Well, he had been until his former lover cheated on him with another guy.

To be honest, the whole sordid world of prostitution turned his stomach – gay or straight prostitution, he didn’t condone it. Lord only knew what Sandrine picked up from her clients. He’d discovered while he was researching, that most paying clients tended to be quite promiscuous and didn’t like using condoms and they paid more for sex sans protection. It was one more reason why he was desperate to warn McGee to get tested because that whore might have infected him with something life-threatening.

Spencer sipped some coffee before continuing. “So, in August 2006, she attended a book signing for McGee’s novel Deep Six and bought a copy of the book that he autographed. Over the next six months, she attended at least ten more book signings in NYC, and various cities in New Jersey and New York State, meeting him and getting him to sign books which she purchased.

“Then in June 2007, Gallagher engaged in a similar process, attending multiple book readings and signings for McGee’s new book Rock Hollow, meeting with him and speaking to him on numerous occasions and yet he apparently never recognised she was a massive fan. Possibly even an obsessed fan.”

Dallas leapt to Tim’s defence. “She was an actress, used to changing her appearance and people who knew her said she was good with accents.”

Spencer nodded in agreement although he looked somewhat sceptical. “That’s a distinct possibility but he was also supposed to be a trained observer, so it doesn’t say a lot about his powers of observation if he didn’t notice.” He must have realised that Dallas wasn’t comfortable with criticism of Timothy McGee because he let the matter drop.

“So, then you discovered that Gallagher managed to use her contacts in the entertainment world and some of her high-profile johns to learn who Thom E. Gemcity’s real identity was. She was finding it increasingly difficult to get any acting work and she suddenly just up and moved to DC. You believed it was to try to start up a relationship with McGee who again, seemed to have no clue that she was practically stalking him.”

Not wanting his beloved Tim to be judged as naïve or unaware, Dallas said, “To be fair, Spencer, while I guess you could say she was quite pretty, she also had the sort of face that was easy to disguise. With wigs, makeup, and different accents, I’m not surprised that Tim didn’t recognise her. Plus, there were intervening periods between their meetings, weeks sometimes months,” he justified protectively.

Spencer looked at him contemplatively but didn’t say anything. “So, it looks as if she saw the job advertised in the pay department and decided to apply. That way she’d be working with McGee, so she’d been close enough to start up a workplace romantic with him,” he said as the killer nodded in agreement.

“Then you decided to check out her background from before she moved to New York to act. You hacked into her NCIS personnel file and learned she was from a small town in south-eastern Minnesota, called Lanesboro. Her mother was a beautician/ hairdresser and worked in a salon in town.

“Her father is not known, but her stepfather Robbie Greene was a funeral director who owned a mortuary. He went missing when she was almost eighteen. Back then, Sandrine was Sandra Greene, although her stepfather called her Sandy. Gallagher was her mother’s maiden name and when she moved to New York, she took the name, Sandrine Gallagher.”

The FBI profiler looked up at Dallas and said, “I don’t think I’ve left out anything salient, have I?”

He shook his head. “Now you covered the main points.”

Spencer looked pleased. “So, let’s get started on the final part of the information you obtained before warning former Director Vance.”

Kev looked at his sheaf of research papers that he’d painstakingly compiled while he was in prison, relying on his excellent memory to recreate a lot of it. “Well, while Gallagher always had gaps when she wasn’t acting and she was making money from prostitution, there was a gap of ten months last year where she was off the grid. No work as a television extra, no stage work and as far as I could tell, she wasn’t whoring either,” he said derisively.

“Did you figure out where she was?” Spencer leaned forward interestedly.

“She had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital under her legal name, Sandra Greene where she spent almost nine months receiving treatment.”

“What diagnosis?” Reid asked.

Dallas shrugged. “PTSD, drug-induced psychosis, delusions and a bunch of other symptoms. She claimed to have been raped by a client.”

Reid said, “Prostitution is an extremely dangerous occupation. I think that it is highly probable that it occurred,” he chided the ex- cybercrimes analyst.

He shook his head. “No, Dr Reid. You misunderstood. I believe she was assaulted, but not by a client. I did some more digging and discovered that she’d attended an audition for an off-Broadway production, a post-modern revival of Annie Get Your Gun, except it was set in Queens. Gallagher tried out for the lead role of Annie,” he said pulling a face, indicating his thoughts on the show

“Anyway, during the audition, the extremely rich and well-connected producer was stabbed by an unnamed assailant and he required emergency surgery. It was all hushed up, but within twelve hours of him getting attacked, Gallagher was in a psychiatric facility where she spent the next nine months.”

Reid nodded, “That is suggestive, I admit. But correlation does not equate to causation, Kevin. I’d thought you of all people, would know that fact,” he challenged him calmly.

Dallas smiled. It was good being around people who confronted him intellectually. “I do know that, Spencer, which is why I hacked into Gallagher’s counselling sessions with her psychiatrist. The producer, who, like Voldemort (as in He who must not be named), apparently lured her into acting out an intimate scene with him and forced her into having sex with. Later, she returned and stabbed him.”

“It turns out that she was accustomed to producers and directors expecting sexual favours for roles, but this time she was triggered and told him to stop. She said the more she resisted the more turned on he became and then he got violent.”

Reid was taking copious notes which always amused Kev since he wasn’t sure why he did it. The profiler was reported to have an eidetic memory.

“What triggered her,” Reid asked him.

“She said he called her Sandy.”

Reid stopped writing and considered the implications. “You said that only her step-father called her Sandy.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“He disappeared when she was eighteen?”

“Almost eighteen. Right before she went off to college for one semester when she decided she wanted to be an actor.”

Reid nodded. “And he never turned up?”

“The missing person case remains open – even though it is considered a cold case. But Angie Greene, Gallagher’s mom had her husband Robbie declared legally dead about sixteen months ago, so she could get married again.” Dallas told the FBI agent.

“You suspect that her step-father was molesting her, and she killed him,” Spencer asked, admitting it fit a generic profile of many sex workers.

“Yeah, I did suspect she killed him. She told her psychiatrist that her stepfather started molesting her not long after he married her mother. She was nine and it continued for years but she didn’t tell the psychiatrist that she’d killed him, or if she did, then it’s not in his notes.” He said shrugging. “But you could approach him and check if you were curious,” he pointed out to Reid.

“Even though the producer didn’t press charges and it was hushed up, he made sure that the word went out not to hired her,” Kevin told Spencer as he finished telling him the last little piece of information.

“So, anyway, Dr Reid, when she was discharged from the hospital, her assaulter had blacklisted her. Even work as an extra on TV and movie sets in NYC had dried up. She might have been deeply disturbed but she was still smart enough to realise that she wasn’t going to work there again. I think that was why she set her sights of Tim.”

They talked for a while longer about minor details but essentially, he’d finished sharing everything he’d learned about Gallagher. Hopefully, now, Spencer would find a way to let Tim know that the girlfriend he thought he was in love with, wasn’t the girl next door she’d pretended to be. That wasn’t who Sandrine Gallagher was. Then, just as he was preparing himself to say goodbye to the cute profiler, Spencer caught him unawares with another request.

“Kevin, I’ve been asked to write up this case and a couple of others for a textbook on social media and crime. I was wondering if you’d be willing to help by giving me background on the culture and history of fanfic, fanzines, and the like? There is a whole different lingo that I don’t understand.”

Dallas was not expecting that, but he welcomed the request. It would mean that he got to spend more time with the brilliant and handsome young profiler, and he wasn’t averse to that. While his heart belonged first and foremost to Timothy McGee, he strongly suspected that his love would likely always be unrequited. To have any kind of chance for them to be together, McGee would have to recognise why he’d killed Sandrine. Tim would have to accept she’d posed an existential threat to him and everyone around him, demonstrated by her abducting DiNozzo and destroying everyone’s lives. But Kev wasn’t sanguine that it would happen.

And even if it did, there was still the intractable issue of McGee needing to reconcile his sexual orientation if they any chance of being together. Yeah, at this stage it would seem to be highly unlikely.

Which was why he agreed to help educate Special Agent Reid about the social media world of fanfiction and fanart. He was already looking forward to continuing their monthly sessions.

Spencer was adorably cute – he totally rocked the awkward geek look with his argyle vests, cardigans, loafers, and corduroy trousers. He wondered if Spencer had reconciled his sexual orientation, since it was obvious to Kev that he was gay, like McGee and himself. As such a brilliant young man, it must have surely occurred to him and if it had, he wouldn’t be attracted to some muscle-bound hunk with a six-pack upon his six-pack. Reid would find a super-intelligent brainiac to be sexy, surely?

As he was escorted back to his cell, there was a spring in Dallas’ step that had been missing on the way to the meeting. Perhaps all was not lost after all.

Two weeks later, on the advice of his legal team, Kevin John Dallas, former Cyber Crimes analyst pled guilty to the three charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to murder a federal agent and abduction and illegal detainment of a federal law enforcement agent. In return for his testimony against former NCIS Director Leon Vance, the Attorney General had agreed not to seek the death penalty and for him to recommend he received a reduction of his sentence.

Now he was awaiting the sentencing portion of the trial to determine what his sentence would be.

In the meantime, he had been formulating a massive quantity of information – starting with an introductory guide to fanfiction/fan art. He was looking forward to seeing Spencer again.

~oO0Oo~

Deputy Director of the FBI, Adrian Kirsch packed the last of his reference library, including his law enforcement periodicals into the box. It was sealed with cello tape and a label stuck on it which his admin assistant Mary Watts had conjured up out of thin air for him. He was going to miss her and not for the first time, he wished she’d accepted his offer of a new job. Still, he could hardly blame her, it wasn’t as if people were falling over themselves to put themselves forward for the position.

The job had claimed the last two incumbents within the 13 months and the only individuals who’d expressed interest in applying for it were also the types who wanted the job for what they could gain from it, not what they could give back. Unfortunately, some individuals craved the power, prestige and rubbing shoulders with people of influence to help their political aspirations and agendas; rather like the past two directors.

Looking around his cavernous office now that all his possessions had been packed up, Adrian wondered exactly how he’d allowed himself to get railroaded into this situation.

As if he could read his mind, the Deputy Director of DHS, who’d stepped in for one last visit, chuckled in amusement. “Bit late to be having second thoughts, isn’t it?”

Glaring at his colleague, he retorted, “Don’t you dare get started, Morrow. I put the blame well and truly at your doorstep, you know. I never wanted the job in the first place, and I must have been crazy to let you talk me into it,” he grumbled at Tom irascibly.

Morrow laughed before growing serious. “Which is exactly why I fought so hard for you to take on the job of the new Director of Naval Criminal Investigative Services. You didn’t want it but accepted it because you knew it was the right thing to do.”

Tom shook his head disgustedly. “The last two directors have been an unmitigated disaster and have decimated the entire agency and the one in the big chair before them was inexcusably blind and made some god-awful decisions,” he said, referring to himself candidly.

Despite speaking the truth, Adrian was not in the mood to be patted on the head when he was having second thoughts about taking the job. And third and fourth thoughts too. Morrow must have realised this as he kept on metaphorically patting him on the back.

“You don’t see it as the stepping-stone to a better job, because you know that, at best you’ve taken a sideways promotion. But I saw how outraged you were over what the agency had become. It hurt you because you understand that its failures are also failures for all of us, that it hurts us all. Which is why I called upon my own rather battered sphere of influence, called in a lot of hard-won favours to make sure the job went to you, my friend,”

Adrian scowled, “A friend wouldn’t have recommended me for this poisoned chalice,” he protested, although he understood why he’d been tapped on the shoulder. He didn’t like it, but he got why.

Morrow sighed. I was going to take you to lunch to share this good news with you, Adrian but maybe I should tell you this now to cheer you up. SECNAV is being shown the door, even as we speak,” he said with a small pleased smile.

Kirsch looked worried. “Any word on who is going to replace Davenport?”

Tom nodded, “Yeah, and that’s the best news. Robert Crowe, a retired Naval officer. He was Captain the USS Fitzpatrick back in 1997.”

“I’m surprised that they didn’t pick an Admiral or a General,” the soon to be sworn in new director observed.

Tom rubbed his hands together. “Oh, this is where it gets rich, my friend. Captain Crowe blew the whistle on a dodgy electrical refit of the Fitzpatrick, claiming it was a danger to the crew and alleging that the contractors were related to the then SECNAV and the whole tendering process was corrupt. He lost his commission and his promotion to Admiral, plus SECNAV pulled some strings and had the matter hushed up. Tragically, two years later, there was an electrical fire in the engine room of the USS Fitzpatrick and four sailors died.

“Crowe was scathing, and he didn’t win a lot of political friends with his outspoken I-told-you-so commentary. In light of Davenport and Vance’s political aspirations which caused them to keep quiet about the threats to Domino and Israel’s fury over not being informed about it for months, there are a lot of very unimpressed people up on the Hill right now. Not to mention the Joint Chiefs of Staff were all having apoplexy when they found out, so it’s safe to say that TPTB is not going to be messing around. They’re determined to send a message to people in positions of authority that putting your own job aspirations over the welfare of the country and its citizens, including our troops will not be tolerated.

Kirsch looked slightly more optimistic at that piece of news. He thought about how both Philip Davenport and Leon Vance had completely ballsed up the whole fiasco which was Domino. They’d chosen to try to solve the security breach in secret, desperate to minimise potential damage to their careers, and in the process letting five months go which had left the US and Israel potentially vulnerable, while twiddling their thumbs. That was unforgivable and criminal.

Ironic that the Mossad was helping them, unknowingly – all the while they were in jeopardy, all because two inordinately ambitious men cared more about their careers than about putting the security of their country first. Just because they refused to ask the Pentagon what file Vargo had illegally copied and given to his former colleague.

And when former NCIS Cyber Crimes analyst, Kevin Dallas dropped the dime on Leon Vance to get back at him for not protecting McGee from his nutjob girlfriend, it had resulted in an investigative process that had unexpectedly brought the whole travesty to light. The enquiry had revealed that Vance had deliberately engineered the breakup of the MCRT just to place DiNozzo in a situation where McGee could use him as a conduit to hack into the pentagon.

That was undeniably cynical and cowardly. However, what shocked everyone was Vance and Davenport had been prepared to wait four months to find the intel that they could have easily accessed if they’d possessed an iota of ethics and fortitude. Something which had been sadly lacking in both of them.

As to Vance’s rationale for wanting to cover up the illegal activity aboard the Seahawk, to protect his ass, thereby aiding and abetting Sandrine Gallagher when she decided to kidnap Agent DiNozzo and kill him, it was sickening. In Vance’s clichéd and self-serving justification, DiNozzo posed a threat because Leon feared he would tell someone about the hacking incident, so he needed to be taken care of. This was even though DiNozzo didn’t know what Domino was, since it was need-to-know and no one had told him what it was.

Yet, it didn’t stop Vance wanting to get rid of him. Supposedly because Agent DiNozzo was too stupid to realise what he knew and blab about it.

They were all such shocking revelations to Kirsch and his fellow law enforcemet colleagues, and he was ecstatic that Leon would serve time in federal prison. It was certainly well deserved but perhaps the most shocking thing about the whole mess was that despite such ridiculously labyrinthine lengths that they’d been prepared to go through for the stolen file, Vance and Davenport hadn’t even managed to locate the real mole in NCIS.

Once the board of enquiry convened and began investigating, it became obvious to everyone that Langer had been innocent and was set up to take the fall for the real mole. The enquiry swiftly pinpointed Michelle Lee as the real infiltrator, discovering that she’d blackmailed and subsequently killed PO Vargo because she was also being blackmailed by the traitor. Fortunately, her sister, Amanda had been rescued alive. Lee helped them capture the true culprit, but she would serve time for the murders of PO Vargo and Special Agent Langer. Her sister had been taken in by Special Agent Melissa Yang’s brother and his wife.

So, the security breach had been dealt with…finally and yet Kirsch reflected that the whole cockup was totally incompetent and downright sloppy. Vance, according to the psychological profile put together by the BAU, considered himself to have an intellect far superior to your average law enforcement agent. Frankly, Kirsch didn’t think much for his methods.

The man might be a genius, but like a lot of highly intelligent individuals, the execution of a plan was not his forte. Yet, his arrogance was immense. According to McGee, he’d once confided to McGee that he wanted NCIS to be a place which turned out federal agents like himself and McGee and got rid of agents like DiNozzo because they weren’t smart enough. Although, he probably hadn’t meant that quite as literally at the time, it still spoke to a massive hubris on his part, unwarrented clearly.

Little wonder with all that incompetence, corruption, and self-interest that Adrian was ecstatic he was going to get a SECNAV who was honest, ethical, and prepared to stand up for what was right. Although it didn’t address the immediate issues, vis-à-vis the mess that awaited him after he was sworn in tomorrow. NCIS needed to be decontaminated with a flamethrower in his humble opinion. Of course, while they all needed a swift kick up the butt, far and away the worst offenders had been Gibbs’ team. Circumstances had taken care of that, he thought ironically.

During the intelligence committee review of Domino’s security breach, McGee’s history of illegal hacking had rather spectacularly hit the fan. Most of the security and law enforcement alphabets were furious about his activities and hadn’t hesitated to drop the dime on him, given an opportunity. The hacking, plus he’d published two supposed works of fiction containing classified intel and personal and private data about victims and crimes which breached confidentiality clauses he’d signed as part of his employment contract had caused a huge kerfuffle.

It was no surprise to Kirsch, even if it appeared to be to the naïve Agent McGregor that he’d been terminated for breaching the nondisclosure clauses and was facing federal charges for computer hacking. The fact he’d revealed classified information to his girlfriend about Director Shepard’s death was probably the least of his worries. Of more concern was Admiral John McGee who was reported, fit to be tied at the mess his son had gotten into.

There was the case of the equally disturbed and disturbing Ziva David. She was deported back to Israel after Sacks, Yang and Wentworth had discovered she was living with a Kidon operative and further investigations revealed she was acquiring classified military intel (mostly but not exclusively from NCIS) and passing it on to Michael Rivkin. While the discovery was shocking, she’d been quite nonchalant about the whole thing, insisting that Jenny Shepard had known and approved of the so-called document exchange with Mossad. Except that no one else seemed to be aware of the scheme and there had been no reciprocity from Mossad which could be found.

Meanwhile, running parallel to that intelligence investigation, Morrow and Kirsch had launched an official inquiry into how and why an Israeli Officer from Mossad had come to be appointed as a liaison on a major case response team whose main raison d’être was to investigate crimes. Part of its objective was to examine why Gibbs had allowed Officer David to collect evidence, serve warrants and arrest and question suspects in direct contravention of US law. Her actions and Gibbs had led to the disgraceful situation where over one hundred convictions were potentially gained illegally. It would also examine why no one further up the chain of command put a stop to it.

It wasn’t a surprise that Gibbs found himself in considerable hot water. It wasn’t only the thorny issue of allowing Ziva David to illegally act as a federal agent, jeopardising pretty-much every case she’d had worked on. They’d demanded to know why he’d encouraged McGee to hack into literally anything resembling a databas and, failing to get proper authorisations. Then there was the matter of his failure to report for a full medical and psychological examination after his significant injury resulting in him taking four months off due to injuries several years before, thereby making his return to field agent status illegal.

Every shot fired, every case he’d investigated, every interview he’d conducted, and testimony given was done without him being declared fit to resume field duties. All of which presented the agency with a massive legal headache. Adrian honestly didn’t believe that Gibbs had a future at NCIS. At least not in a Naval Criminal Investigative Service which he’d been put in charge of.

He followed the law and expected his agents and staff to do the same; he truly couldn’t see Gibbs becoming compliant. Which only left Special Agent DiNozzo from the DC major crimes response team and Kirsch would need to decide soon regarding what his future with the team would be. The injured agent would soon be fit for field duty after his serious head injury and months of rehabilitation including intensive counselling, although the NCIS agent remained closed mouth about his plans.

Kirsch was in something of a quandary. He was aware just how brilliant the ex-detective was as an investigator and that he was also a gifted undercover operative. He knew that he was also adept at gathering skilled people around him and forging them into a team – look at how many disparate people had come together out of loyalty and admiration to search for him. The situation with Gibbs, David and McGee was an aberration as far as Adrian was concerned, mostly manufactured by Gibbs’ constant sabotage of his authority.

Gibbs set him up to fail – Kirsch did not doubt that. The team leader had done everything he possibly could to ensure that DiNozzo’s junior colleagues despised and ignored him. Despite his denial, Adrian knew it had come from the top-down, otherwise, he’d have done his job as a leader and stopped it asap.

He’d studied DiNozzo’s brief stint as a team leader exhaustively. He’d demonstrated innovative ideas and had taken a team of three inexperienced investigators, melded them together and gotten astonishing results. He’d achieved closure rates that even teams of experienced agents would aspire to achieve. Gibbs departure had barely caused a ripple in the solve rates – leading him to conclude that the statistics had more to do with Tony than Gibbs.

Kirsch knew damned well that every agency in the Alphabet soup wanted to recruit him, but even if DiNozzo agreed to take over the MCRT, Adrian still had a major problem with that scenario. DiNozzo had helped McGee hack into the Pentagon servers when Gibbs and McGee had told him to…and that was an issue. Frankly, it was a massive problem, especially in an agency in which Adrian was in charge.

As he continued his rehab following his abduction, the former cop was spending quite a lot of time with David Rossi. After reading his psych eval, in a way it made sense to Adrian. It seemed clear to the new director that DiNozzo craved a mentor relationship with a charismatic male figure to make up for his abusive childhood and lack of connection with his father. Since his distancing from Gibbs and the other members of his immediate team after Shepard undercover mission and then his deployment afloat, he’d been further isolated. Lately though, he’d begun seeking out Rossi, who was Italian like his father and a Marine like Gibbs, although the similarities stopped there. While Gibbs had trained him how to shoot, fight and think like a Marine, Dave had ministered to his soul.

Rossi had been encouraging him to play his piano, not hide his considerable musical ability. He’d urged him to talk about the books he read instead of pretending that he’d only seen the screen adaptations. Most importantly though, Rossi encouraged him to heal emotionally, found him a counsellor who he was seeing regularly, and he was learning to process his not inconsiderable issues instead of denying their existence.

Dave had also become something of an advocate for him, admitting that Tony had become far too dependent upon Gibbs’ approval, paltry as it had been. He reasoned that when he withdrew it, it had made Tony vulnerable to being manipulated into hacking when Gibbs had made the request. Dave had also contended that DiNozzo fully acknowledged his guilt and accepted responsibility for his actions, which ironically had also nearly cost him his life

Kirsch was happy to hear that but as he said to the profiler, “What’s to stop him becoming too dependent upon your mentorship, Dave?”

Rossi had replied immediately, not even needing to think about his answer.” Several things, Adrian. He’s working through his considerable trauma with his counsellor and for the first time in his life, he is engaging with the counselling process, even if it is incredibly confronting for him. That shows commitment to personal growth.

“He’s also in a healthy long-term relationship, which is giving him a good deal of the emotional nurturance that he’s missed out on and has been desperately looking for, but paradoxically, has been running away from, until now. It is scary for him but he’s working on it and reaping the rewards,” he said, looking proud.

“And lastly, he has a set of good friends, who are there for him and who fill him up, not run him into the ground to close cases. He’s learnt that he is more than the sum of his parts – that their friendship isn’t conditional on his successes.” The profiler concluded with a satisfied smile.

Kirsch had a great deal of time for David Rossi – he spoke a lot of sense. He was more inclined to take his opinion of DiNozzo onboard than an agency-shrink. After all, they had failed to identify Special Agent Timothy Farragut McGee as a potential security risk or Gibbs with his narcissistic sociopathic tendencies.

“I believe that in time he will become a truly great team leader,” Rossi declared. “And I know that if you don’t want him, someone else will snaffle him up. I hear the FBI has been fishing,” he said with a sly smile.

Adrian was probably 90 percent convinced by Dave’s recommendation, but he was also curious. “If you’re so sure that he is going to get snapped up, then why are you fighting so hard for me to give him the MCRT?”

Dave’s eyes had crinkled up in amusement. “Two things, Mr NCIS Director. The agency is still home for him, despite some of the crap that has happened and I almost certain, even though he hasn’t said, he wants to stay. He knows every agent at the naval yard and equally importantly, they all seem to admire him. They will follow his lead and that will also make your job much easier implementing reforms.

The profiler paused, frowning before he continued. “Most importantly, he has been duped by two Directors who put their personal needs and ambitions ahead of his welfare. I don’t want him to be taken advantage of a third time. I trust you to do the right thing by him.” He said with simple honesty.

Which was how Adrian had found himself invited to Rossi home tonight for a home-cooked Italian feast to get to know DiNozzo and his girlfriend, Andrea Sparr. He was planning to offer him the lead agent of the MCRT and with it a chance to create a team from scratch. Dave was going to vouch for Adrian, given their long friendship over the years and allay DiNozzo’s paranoia and suspicions about NCIS directors.

Given that one almost got him killed and the other tried to kill him, it was understandable that he’d look at the incumbent director with a jaundiced eye. Adrian was also cognizant of the obstacles he’d face in learning to trust, not just his superiors, but his team considering Ziva David’s espionage and Timothy McGee’s betrayal. His writing had fomented the milieu that triggered DiNozzo’s abduction with his so-called works of fiction, giving Vance the opportunity to play God.

Adrian couldn’t help but be reminded of a fundamental if pessimistic truth, exemplified so articulately by the French philosopher, Voltaire who wrote not long before his death that, “if you can get people to believe absurdities, you can get them to commit atrocities.”

If Rossi was right, a team with Anthony DiNozzo in the lead would become the gold standard for investigators in the future. Should DiNozzo accepted his offer though, there would be no cutting of corners or stepping over lines on his watch as Director. Director Kirsch genuinely hoped DiNozzo would accept his terms because, just quietly, when he had been at the FBI, he’d dreamed of poaching him away from Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Kirsch had long ago recognised that he was far too good to stay in the arrogant Agent Gibbs shadow. Now it was his time in the spotlight instead of being Gibbs understudy waiting patiently in the wings.

~oO0Oo~

Ten days later, two hikers walking along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (approximately 3 miles south of the stone structure where Anthony DiNozzo had been held captive) stumbled across a badly decomposed body. The police believed that the cause of death to be due to blunt force trauma to the head. The victim’s skull had received repeated blows.

Unfortunately, detectives were unable to identify the mostly skeletonised remains, although a forensic anthropologist from the Smithsonian did confirm that the remains were female and approximately between the ages of 25 – 40 years of age. Unless her identity was discovered, she would eventually be buried as Jane Doe# 0172008.

Over at the Deep Sixer Fan site, there had been a lot of grumbling that Mystic Gemote removed the extremely popular fanfic ‘With Friends Like These’ for the second and final time. Fortunately, the story wasn’t truly gone (because nothing truly disappears once it has been posted on the internet) since plenty of readers had copied it without the author’s permission and were happy to share it with anyone who asked.

Some of the more regular visitors to the site, who commented frequently on stories or hung out in the group chat rooms noticed that H8sAgentTom hadn’t been active for many months. A few people sent messages, asking if their peer was okay but they went unanswered. Most people assumed that H8sAgentTom had just moved on to a new fandom.

No one had any idea that H8sAgentTom had been the victim of a brutal murder, who was currently taking up space, unmourned and unmissed in a cardboard box in the Medical Examiner’s office. Unless someone unlocked the secret to who she was, ultimately, she was destined to be buried in Potters Field one day in the not too distance future.

It was a pitiful dénouement for Gallagher’s accomplice, who’d assisted with the plan to abduct and murder the swashbuckling socially repugnant Special Agent Tommy, the dogged pursuer of dirtbags and any skirt over the age eighteen. At least Sandra Greene aka Sandrine Gallagher had been laid to rest in a picturesque cemetery in Lanesboro, Minnesota where her mother could make weekly visits to leave bunches of her favourite roses on her grave.

Finis



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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

9 Comments:

  1. Wow! Awesome story

  2. Interesting take on this period of NCIS canon, especially the use of multiple POVs to get into the various characters heads. The use of the , “will no one get rid of this troublesome man”, trope as a clever piece of theater.

  3. Awesome story as always from one of my favorite NCIS writers! Glad to see Vivian Blackadder again and loved that Tony had kept in touch with her, and the competence she showed in getting the investigation started despite the indifference of Tony’s team except for Abby and Jimmy. And what a twist at the end to reveal that Leon Vance had orchestrated it behind the scences.

  4. Nice story. Thank you for sharing it

  5. Another great story from your pen/keyboard. Why do I have a strong feeling that McGee will deny that he did anything wrong all the way to his prison cell.

  6. I enjoyed this very much. I was extremely worried about Tony for a while there! I thought you made use of multiple points of view very well. It never got confusing and it was interesting to see what motivations people had.

  7. Fascinating story, well thought out premise, thank you.

  8. Loved the story. It was great to see it from several different pov. And intresting to se people manipulate and try to manipulate other people. Thanks for sharing!

  9. As usual, a great read, like everything you write.

    I especially enjoyed the sections written from McGee’s point of view. You captured his high opinion of himself while making it crystal clear to the reader why he’s so wrong, wrong, wrong… I’ve not read better character bashing from the character himself

    Loved Viv appearing and Tony staying in touch with her, good for Tony starting a serious relationship, and what an interesting twist on Vance’s motives and actions.

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