A/N: For reasons I don't fully understand, I have an endless appetite for writing mean old McGee whumpage stories. Here's another. There will be a chapter a week if all goes well. Hope you like it. Sheila
The Fear Game
He slowed at the desk. It was protocol to just flash his badge as he was leaving, but it was midnight and Jake had a long night ahead of him.
"Hey Jake," he smiled. "How's it going?"
"My oldest got all A's on her report card this quarter."
Jake glanced up at the clock. "Kinda late. Even for you."
McGee sighed as he looked up. The maritime clock showed 2300 hours. "Big project. I guess I lost track of time."
"Gibbs always looks at the logbook, you know."
"He knows I was going to be here late."
"You going to sleep in?"
"God no. Too much to do. Gotta get home and get what little sleep I can."
"Take care, Tim."
McGee stopped at the door and turned. "Your oldest- that's the one who wants to be an astronaut, right?"
"Yeah, she dreams big."
"Think she'd be interested in seeing MTAC sometime?"
"Are you kidding? She'd love it!"
"Let me talk to Vance. We can pick a Saturday next month."
"You don't have to do that."
He shrugged. "I'm going to be reviewing 2013 files for the fiscal year audit. We'll pick a Saturday when I'm already here."
Jake grinned. "That would be terrific, Tim."
"What am I doing, Jethro?" Fornell draped over the worktable in Gibbs' basement nursing a coffee mug full of bourbon.
Gibbs sighed and shook his head as he intricately shaved a post for a chest of drawers he was making. He'd stopped responding with actual words some hours earlier.
"God, I'm obsessed with Diane. I miss her and Emily so much."
"Can't believe I have to wait another month before I see them. So damned unfair. Wish I could go in and shoot Arnold myself."
Gibbs rubbed his face, noting the clocking nearing midnight. "Your detail is probably getting tired and it's cold out there."
"Hell, they can wait," Fornell growled into his cup. "Let 'em freeze out there. They've been torturing me all blessed week micromanaging me like I'm a three year old."
Gibbs sat back on his haunches and rose slowly. "Tobias, it is what it is. You've gotten death threats, and protective custody is the best option for you until Arnold gets executed. His brothers and his crew are going to lose interest in you after that. Suck it up already."
"You try living like this!"
Gibbs' mouth twitched. "I think you're afraid Diane's stepping out on you already."
"Bite your tongue!" Fornell slapped the table. "This is real, Jethro. I mean it. It's forever for her and me."
"Then why were you fussing about McGee helping Emily with her Algebra?"
Diane didn't tell me! I only found out last week that the boy genius is sniffing around Di…my girls."
"Please Tobias," Gibbs groaned as he took a swig from the bottle. "You said yourself that Emily needed a tutor."
"I didn't expect she'd choose Chucky!"
"McGee is not a threat to your…relationship with Diane. Hell, he was worried about you going ballistic like this. I had to talk him into it. He's helping your daughter pass math- that's all. Give it a rest!"
"Why him?!" Fornell pounded the cup on the table.
"He's a good tutor, Tobias." Then a grin escaped before Gibbs took another swig. "Plus, I figure Diane chose him to keep you on your toes. Doesn't want you taking her for granted or nothing."
"You don't calm down and I'll do the Arnolds a favor and shoot you myself," Gibbs drawled.
"I just miss 'em," Fornell mumbled, his outrage spent.
"I know." Gibbs eased the mug away from him.
"Protective custody sucks!"
"I know that too." Gibbs flicked the remains of the cup into a dark corner.
"Come on Jethro, I was still thirsty."
He shook his head. "Party's over. School night."
Fornell groaned as Gibbs eased him up and toward the stairs. "You should check in on her. Or on second thought, maybe not. She still looks at you funny…like you're a big bag of Cool Ranch Doritos or something."
"No thanks." Gibbs winced as he gently pushed him up the steps. "She's all yours."
Fornell leaned back and Gibbs had to steady him. "Am I drunk?"
"Hate for the detail to see that. Maybe, I oughta sleep here."
"No way!" Gibbs snorted. "You and your goon squad need to go find an all night diner and get you some coffee and eggs."
Fornell's eyebrow rose. "That don't sound half bad actually."
McGee leaned on the convenience store door and blinked as he entered the fluorescent lighting of a 7-11 at midnight. The skinny kid with the greasy hair was at the counter as usual wearing another dirty concert t-shirt. He held up a cup.
McGee smiled. "Seriously? I'm that predictable."
"I saw you pull into pump 4 a couple of minutes ago. I figured you were heading in for your usual. One part dark roast, one part decaf, two parts milk, and a teaspoon of sugar."
Tim chuckled as he took it. "It's my bedtime concoction. Gets me home with my eyes open but ready to sleep."
The kid leaned against the lottery scratch offs. "Still won't drink it in the car, will you?"
He shook his head as he took a long draw. "She's my baby. I'm keeping her pristine."
"No badge tonight."
McGee rattled his brain for the kid's name. They talked every Tuesday night when he stopped for gas after work. "I only wear it when I'm tired and I forget to take it off."
"You like being an agent? Carrying a gun?"
Kenneth? Keith? He was sure it was a K name. "I like the work. It's good, honest, hard work."
"Bet you like putting away bad guys." The kid folded his scrawny arms. "I wish I had a chance to do something like that. But they don't take guys with just high school diplomas, do they?"
"Kevin!" It came out louder than he meant. "Yeah, um, you would need a degree under your belt, but you're young. You could do that."
Kevin shrugged. "Barely graduated high school. Too many drugs. I've only been clean for 8 months. Bet they don't take addicts."
McGee took another gulp. "Kevin, you can still make your own future. The fact that you overcame something like a drug addiction says that you're capable of accomplishing big things."
"Didn't think of it like that."
"You should think of talking to someone from the Navy. That might be a good place to start. You could serve a few years, get out and get your degree on the GI bill, and then federal law enforcement is a real possibility."
Kevin screwed up his face. "No short cuts, huh?"
"Nothing worth having gets handed to you, you know." McGee grimaced when he realized he had just parroted one of this father's most annoying platitudes.
"I suppose you're right." The kid seemed to deflate.
McGee emptied the cup and slapped three dollars on the counter. "Listen Kevin, don't knock the Navy. A lot of guys really turn their lives around in the service. Really. I'll get the names of a couple of guys you can talk to- not recruiter types. Actual sailors. You can get the real story."
"But you were in, right?"
McGee looked down. He had no interest in explaining that he was basically Navy royalty who'd been born with every advantage possible. All he would've had to do was say it, and Annapolis would've been his. "Well, my old man was in. I never went in, myself."
"Don't sweat it. Not everyone's cut out. Hey, remember they let you be a Navy cop anyways."
He blushed. "Yeah, that's right. It's almost midnight. I gotta get home."
"See you next week, Tim."
McGee nodded. "You too, Kevin."
The cold air hit him as he walked out of the store. Sleeping would be hard tonight. Too many things left undone at work. All of it would swirl around in his head like accusations until some 2-3 a.m. and then he'd be up again at 6:30. Recently, he'd gotten a prescription for a sleep aid, but he was so worried he'd sleep through his alarm that he hadn't started taking them.
He started to climb in his Prius when he heard a voice.
"Hey man, I was wondering if you could give my brother and I some directions."
McGee turned. The man was Caucasian, slightly built. He had both hands stuffed in the front pockets of his jeans. "Where are you headed?"
"Uh, Alexandria. It's probably simple, but we're new to the area and I think we got turned around. I can't figure out the GPS on my phone."
McGee pointed at the highway. "Well, you're going want to get on the 395 going north and you can hop on at the second stopligh-."
The taser caught him on the back of his neck and dropped him convulsing wildly, to the ground.
Jake looked up when Gibbs approached the desk. "They called you, right?"
"Morning, Jake. Who called?" Gibbs said as he showed his badge and signed in.
"Nope. Why would he call? Got a case?"
Jake ran nervous fingers through his hair. "That's gotta be good news, right? If he didn't call you, it was probably because it's all worked out."
Gibbs put down the pen. "Jake, what's going on?"
"Uh, McGee…something weird happened."
Gibbs leaned in. "Take it from the top."
"Okay, he left here at 2305 hours. Seemed good. Got a call from some frantic store clerk at 0430. Said McGee had stopped for gas and then left his car. Clerk called the cops but couldn't get them interested. Apparently, there's a strip club across the street and a couple of bars. They were pretty sure he'd wandered off to quench his thirst. The clerk told me that McGee's car was just sitting there right at the pump. Says he knows McGee would never leave his car like that. I called the agent on-call and gave him the location of the gas station…I would've called you but you know, protocol says I go with the agent on-call…which is Syverson…and he uh…well, it's been almost three hours. I figured he would've called you. Doesn't sound like McGee to go slumming on a work night like that, does it?"
Gibbs' face was like granite. "Get Syverson on the phone."
Jake stabbed numbers and handed it to Gibbs. "Hey, it's Gibbs. You checked into this thing with McGee?...What the hell, Ronnie?!...No, he's not tying one on. That's not McGee!…I don't care about your other situation!"
Gibbs slammed the phone down hard. "I need the address on the gas station, Jake."
Tony got out of the truck and surveyed the scene. There'd been something in Gibbs' voice when he called. It had worked its way into his gut, and he'd ignored most of Bishop's questions on the way over.
"Is it a crime scene?"
He turned, noting her young, eager face. "Don't do anything until I tell you."
"We don't even know what's going on!"
He put up a hand signaling her to stay quiet. Gibbs was standing between McGee's Prius and a kid in a t-shirt drawing nervously on a cigarette. Gibbs caught his eye and gestured at the kid. Years of working together boiled down to a simple nod. He turned to Bishop. "Secure the car. Twenty yards in all directions. Call Dorneget. We're going to need another team here."
"I still don't understand," she said standing there, struggling to balance two heavy crime scene boxes.
"Do it!" he said sharply and headed for the kid. He was huddling against the brick of the building for warmth. DiNozzo nodded. "You saw McGee last night?"
"Yeah. Almost every Tuesday. I start at 10 p.m. four nights a week. He always gets gas, comes in, and has a coffee and milk. Drinks the whole thing right at the counter. Won't drink anything in the car."
Tony's mouth twitched but he said nothing.
"He went out to his car and then nothing. I wasn't watching. I was texting my girlfriend. She wants to take a break. I told her it was bullshit. She's just mad that I won't party with her. I'm clean. 8 months now."
"Alright. Let's stay focused…what's your name?"
"Kevin. You know, Tim and I talked every time he came in. Nicest guy. Thought the Navy could be a new start for me."
Tony nodded. "When did you notice something was wrong?"
"I must've been texting for awhile. A few customers came through. Quiet night. Um, I was going to change garbage cans at 1:30 and I noticed that the Prius was still there. I thought it had to be someone else's, but I went out and it was empty. Driver's door was wide open. I closed it. It looked like Tim's. I checked the bathroom. Nothing. I went back in the store and watched. No one came. I called 911 around 2:15."
"That's good, Kevin. Squad came?"
"They came and read me the riot act on waiting 24 hours before issuing a missing person's. Said he was probably over at the strip joint, but I knew they were wrong. If Tim wanted to get a drink, he could've parked his car over there. He called that car his baby. He would never have left it at the pump. I don't got a good feeling about this."
"Have there been any problems around here lately?"
"Yeah. I mean, running a convenience store at night is one of the most dangerous jobs ever. I've been held up three times in two years. There was even a carjacking a while ago, but if it was thieves, why didn't they take the car? They don't like hybrids or something? I don't get it."
Tony sighed. "Me neither. Listen Kevin, I know you've been up all night and I'm going to get someone to drive you home, but we're probably going to need more from you later."
"Anything, man. I mean, most people don't talk to the guy at the counter. Tim was different. He thought I had potential. I always looked forward to seeing him, you know."
Tony nodded and turned to Gibbs. For a moment, they just frowned at each other, but then Tony walked over, unsatisfied with the limits of their instinctual telepathy.
"You got a feeling?"
Gibbs's eyes scanned the area. "Two choices. He left on foot, walking or chasing someone. Or he was taken. He didn't call for backup. McGee isn't careless like that. If he was giving pursuit, he would've called."
"Yeah. And he wouldn't have left the car at the pump if he was walking away."
"Someone took him. There's gotta be forensics around the car somewhere."
Tony snorted. "Mingled with the 900 other people that stand in that spot every day."
"Who took him, Tony?"
There was something in Gibbs' voice that made Tony shiver. They were dealing with no active cases at present and if it came down to who was pissed at the team, the list was a mile long.
"I don't know. Why don't we throw 500 cases up into the air and see which one lands on top."
"Focus, dammit! Who's been released? Who's been complaining? Threatening us? You know the drill. I'll get Abby into his computer. You're supervising this crime scene. Find something!"
Gibbs stalked off and Tony turned and cursed into the air. He saw Bishop standing there staring at him, heavy boxes still hanging off her arms. He wanted to scream at her to grow up, but the helplessness in her eyes so closely mirrored his own that he couldn't do it. He took a deep breath. "I take lead and you watch everything I do. Got it?"
She slowly nodded.
Abby stared into his computer screen, pretending there was nothing in front of her but a problem for her to solve. It was hard. The size of her brain was only eclipsed by the size of her heart. Fear for her geek whirled in her gut like a tornado, but she couldn't show it. Gibbs was watching her. She could feel his eyes. He needed something to work with- a suspect, piece of evidence. Until then, he could only stand there glaring at the numerous agents digging through cases. She needed to find something for him to hold onto.
McGee's computer was like a museum filled with pristine, flawless databases and tools. Everything was laid out with order and precision. She quickly found a file named Revenge hidden in a little used application and she opened it. Every case for the last ten years was there with names, family members, prisons, release dates, etc… McGee had been waiting for this to happen. She couldn't help the smile on her face. Her geek was ready for every eventuality.
Startled, she blinked up into the Gibbs' worried eyes. "Tim created a database of everyone you've arrested in the last ten years. He did most of the work for you."
"Up on the screen!"
She keyed it in and it came up.
"Listen up!" Twenty heads popped up. "We work from this database starting now!"
Agents lined up around the screen while Abby printed out the copies. Then she turned back to the computer.
"I need space," Gibbs looked up and saw Vance at the top of the stairs. He muttered to Tony. He headed up the stairs, DiNozzo on his heels. They walked past Vance and he followed them into his office. Gibbs stood in the center of the room, eyes closed, rubbing his forehead. "What makes sense right now?"
"Payback," Tony said softly.
Gibbs shook his head. "Payback looks like perps walking up to McGee and capping him right there."
"Agreed." Vance nodded.
"Then it's personal. Someone wants to see him suffer."
Gibbs glared. "We work cases together, Tony! I run the interrogations. You provide the irritation to keep them off balance. Who looks past that to find the guy who's always polite?"
"If Someone's trying to hurt you, Boss, this is how they do it."
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. That fits."
"You're both forgetting something."
"What are we forgetting, Leon?"
"McGee knows a lot. He's a walking encyclopedia of NCIS activity. What if someone wants him for information."
Gibbs nodded. "Okay. What does he know that no one else does?"
Vance sighed. "It wouldn't have to be much. McGee spends a lot of time in MTAC. He hears a lot. The thing with McGee is that he's accessible. I have a security team. It would be hard to get to me. Most fools would see that taking you would be like beating on a brick wall. McGee is accessible and he's young and he looks soft."
"Someone thinks they can get information out of him," Tony said, nodding.
"What does he know now that people want?"
"It could be anything, Jethro."
The door burst open and Abby was standing there, breathing hard.
"I hacked his phone! There's been activity!"
Tony put his arm around her. "Slow down. What do you have?"
"Two texts sent at 6 a.m. and 7:15. Both sent to Diane the ex. Both asking if she has time to meet. The texts say he has algebra books for Emily."
Gibbs pointed. "This is it. This is about Fornell. The Arnold brothers have McGee."
"I'll schedule a meet." Diane said as she paced. "I'll schedule a meet and you'll get 'em."
"Hold on. We need time, Diane. You text him and tell him you've been in meetings all day and you'll call in a couple of hours to meet. We want to hear his voice."
She flashed eyes at Gibbs. "Think what they're doing to him. We need to get him out of there as soon as possible."
"Texting that you'll call him ensures that they keep him alive while we plan."
She swung around. "Where's Emily?"
"Tony took her downstairs. She'll hang out with Bishop."
She ran a shaky hand through her hair. "They took Tim so they could get to me and Emily. Oh my God! All he was doing was helping with her schoolwork. He was so patient with her. You know what she can be like." Her voice caught. "Of course, he jumped out of his damn skin whenever I got near."
"Hold it together, Diane. We're going to need your help here."
Vance's door opened and Fornell came through. Diane ran over and hugged him fiercely. Fornell looked past her at Gibbs. "You sure?"
"He's missing and the only way he thinks to do is text Diane. They're trying to flush her and Emily out into the open."
Fornell disengaged from Diane. "McGee didn't write those. The kid's a solid agent."
"They're texting her because they can't convince him to talk on the phone. What kind of morning do you think he's having?"
Fornell looked at Vance's clock. "It's almost noon. How long have they had him?"
"About twelve hours now. You know these humps. We need a briefing. What's happening to my agent?"
"Diane, you want to check on Emily?"
She folded her arms across her chest. "Not a chance in the world, Tobias."
"Three brothers leading a militia group. They are equal opportunity douche bags. The government. Taxes. Racial minorities. Jews. Gays. Immigrants. They feed off hate. They started pulling petty crimes almost twenty years ago. Things didn't get serious until they blew up a postal office in Arkansas for losing mom's tax refund about 9 years ago."
"You said they hate taxes," Vance said.
"Apparently they are amenable to refunds. Oldest brother is Chuck, then Darrell, and then little Winston. We got Chuck seven years ago when they set off a bomb at a multi-racial wedding. Two people died. Chuck left some DNA on a blasting cap, and I headed the manhunt that took him down. The trial was a real farce. He refused to recognize the government's right to prosecute him. Tried to be his own lawyer. There was dinner theatre every day until the judge banned him from the proceedings. He's got a date with a lethal injection in four weeks."
"How did you hear there was a price on your head?"
"Terrorism task force picked up chatter about the Arnold boys avenging Chuck. An eye for an eye. They called me a chipmunk. I take issue with that. Got called that when I was a kid."
"Tobias, let's stick to McGee."
"Of course. We're working this together. You'll have access to everything we have on these assholes."
Leon leaned forward. "Have they tortured before?"
"We found an informant they caught once. The details aren't important."
He wheeled on Gibbs. "Really, Jethro. Imagining what's happening to the kid right now is going to help you find him? Bullshit!"
Gibbs glared at him. "Is Chuck running this from prison?"
"Doubtful. We never saw him as the thinker. He's just mean. Word is that Darrell is the real Hitler in this group. Winston, on the other hand, is a strange little bird. He was in the army for five years. Munitions expert. When he got discharged is when the group turned to explosions. Army gave us his file."
"Why are they still at large?"
"There's an underground network. These idiots move an average of once a month. They're heroes in a number of hate communities. We're speculating that they are contracting for hire at this point. Winston is a genius with explosives. We got agents that have studied his work. It's the only way we know where they've been."
"Did they really think they could get their brother out of prison if they took us hostage?"
Fornell shook his head. "An eye for an eye, Diane. Think about it. They aren't trying to get Chuck out of prison. Killing my family is justice for them. It's why I had to stay away from you and Emily."
Diane threw up her arm. "Come on! They must be on to us. Do they really think we don't know what's going on?"
"It's a good question," Vance added.
Gibbs shook his head. "They took McGee from a gas station. Their one mistake was leaving the car at the pump. If the kid hadn't known McGee, he probably would've called a tow truck instead of the police. He's been missing from work only four hours. Hardly reason to sound the alarms. They probably figure they have until the end of the day before suspicions are raised. Only gives us a few more hours before they kill him."
"Yeah." Fornell nodded. "Diane, it's about time we send them a text."
The man with the dark eyes lifted his chin. "I know you know where she lives."
He shook his head sharply.
"Okay." The man turned, grabbed the pipe, and studied McGee tied to the chair, his hands cuffed behind him. "Which rib didn't we break, Winston?"
The other man sat on a counter, his arms hugging his knees. "I hate this, Darrell."
The dark eyed man gave him a look. "You can blow him up later. Promise."
Then without warning, he swung the pipe at McGee's side. McGee's head went back and he let out a strangled cry. The chair tilted from the force and the man grabbed it to steady it. He looked back at his brother. "You could be more helpful."
The small man shuddered and looked away. Darrell turned back to McGee. "Compose yourself. Seriously. You've got answers and we need them."
McGee felt like a building on fire. Every part of his body burned. Even his throat, raw from screaming, burned. He'd lost all sense of time and place. Had hours become days or minutes? It was impossible to know. The pipe had connected with the back of his neck at one point, and he remembered that they had to throw water at him to wake him.
They wanted Diane and Emily, but, in the chaos and pain, the reasons didn't become clear to him immediately. When they did, he could only put together parts of the equation. He knew they would kill them if he gave up information. It was also connected to Fornell in protective custody. But even with this clarity, there were moments when his mind told him that giving up the information was the right thing to do. His fear reasoned with him; told him that they would be held hostage and then rescued- just as Emily had been months earlier. He'd spent time with her and she hadn't acted traumatized. She would survive this as well. His only responsibility was to his own safety. Gibbs had said as much many times.
But his fear could only get so far with these games. The larger truth was that he stood between monsters and a mother and her daughter. Gibbs' face came to him over and over. It didn't matter what words Boss said. His example spoke louder. Gibbs would never compromise at the expense of two lives.
McGee closed his eyes and apologized to the Marine once again. He would hold out as long as he could hold off his fear, but he had no doubt that a time would come when he would babble every truth he could think of to stave off the pain.
Behind him, Darrell uncuffed his right hand, and cuffed the left to the spokes of the chair. He pulled the right hand forward and McGee looked up at him through swollen eyes. "No, please."
He placed McGee's hand on a table and looked back at Winston. "You hold or you smash. Choose one."
"God, I hate you when you're like this, Darrell!"
McGee tried to pull his hand away. "No. Let's talk. Come on! I want to talk!"
"Get over here and lean your body over his arm like this." Darrell grabbed Winston when he got close and pushed him over McGee's arm.
"No. No. Please. I know things. No. Please." McGee's head rocked back and forth. "I'll tell you addresses. Promise."
Darrell stopped and looked at him. "You'll tell me fake addresses to stall for time. You're still an arrogant fool. This is the lesson you need to understand that you can't mess with us."
He picked up a hammer turned to McGee's outstretched hand. "Flex or fold 'em. It doesn't matter. I'm not going to finish until the bones are rattling around in pieces."
"Please!" McGee screamed as Darrell swung the hammer over his head and onto the table.