Wolf Pack Law
"For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack…" – Rudyard Kipling (The Law of the Jungle)
Most people didn't dream about growing up to become a bureaucratic paper-pusher.
Actually, Martin Kramer hadn't, either, even if that was what he'd become in recent years. Technically, the name he'd given his chosen occupation had been "lawyer," once upon a time. But in recent years the lines had blurred between his actual profession, and what people saw his job description as being. It was an honor, really, being a paper-pusher of his…distinction. It had certainly been an honor to have been hand-picked by the director of NCIS to work out some complex legal strings that had become tangled. Legal strings that had to do with certain highly-sensitive and classified information, and involving NCIS's top team of agents.
An honor indeed. But not, it appeared, an honor without its downside. Its very…very tangled downside. Martin was beginning to think that perhaps being chosen for this duty was not quite so much an honor, as a challenge to test his mettle. Perhaps others had tried and failed to fill this post before him? Besides having on his resume a thorough knowledge of things legal, and a deft touch when it came to dealing with delicate matters, Kramer knew he had a reputation for extreme patience and resolve to see through to the end anything he'd begun.
It was a good reputation. A reputation he intended to keep. A reputation that was most definitely being challenged on even on this, day one of his observational assignment to Special Agent Gibbs' team.
Gibbs did not like him. That was something he could live with. You did not acquire a doctorate in his profession without hearing your fair share of lawyer jokes, and Martin's skin had never been thin when it came to being looked upon as a "slimeball"—among other things. That wasn't to say it couldn't become disheartening on occasion.
From his own cubicle within the same row as the rest of Special Agent Gibbs' team—but placed discreetly at the far end—Kramer had been observing agents David, McGee, and DiNozzo. After the "conversation" that Kramer had been a part of yesterday (featuring an admirably rational Director Sheppard facing off with a heated Agent Gibbs), today was certain to be tame, if only by contrast. He'd won the battle—or rather, the Director had won it for him—and now it was simply a matter of buckling down to work.
As it turned out, avoiding meeting the icy stare of one Special Agent Gibbs was a mission in and of itself. Martin was quite sure the man never stopped working. And yet, somehow, he always seemed to have enough time to barrage his newly- and unwillingly-obtained addition ("slimeball" was not the word Agent Gibbs had had for him) with glances that Martin could've sworn penetrated directly into his skull and retrieved his every thought.
However much Gibbs might intimidate him, though, he wasn't the first to think an ex-military background made him scary enough to back down a desk-jockey like Kramer. No, Gibbs' reaction did not surprise him. Agents David and McGee had only looked at him once with distaste, and then gone about their jobs. That was not a surprising reaction, either. Naturally, Gibbs would have informed them as to the reason for Kramer's presence, and, naturally, they would be hesitant about the idea of being observed.
And then, last but not least, there was DiNozzo. The first look cast his way by the Senior Field Agent was simply curious. Then DiNozzo had deposited his backpack on the floor next to his desk, and sat for a few minutes in front of his computer, booting up and checking something, smiling in a way that suggested that "something" was not work-related.
Then, quite unexpectedly, Agent DiNozzo sauntered over to Kramer, leaning on his desk, and bluntly, but not hostilely starting out with a, "Huh…" as he looked Kramer up and down with a considering eye. "So you're the lucky guy the Director's appointed baby-sitter of NCIS's most prestigious team?"
"Ah…" Kramer began, not so much daunted as surprised to be getting such a sudden, up-close-and-personal look at the very man he was assigned to watch. Surely DiNozzo knew? His teammates obviously did.
"I've never had my own, personal paper-pusher," DiNozzo continued, his smile looking, of all things, proud.
Kramer cleared his throat. "Yes, well, technically I am filing reports on your team as a whole." DiNozzo frowned at that, and for some reason Martin found himself adding, "But your…ah…unique abilities are the primary reason for my presence here."
DiNozzo looked like he wanted to give him a friendly clap on the shoulder, and Martin instinctively pulled back a little in his chair.
"Like I said," DiNozzo beamed, "my own, personal paper-pusher." He gave Martin that appraising up-and-down again. "How long you sticking around, Martin? I can call you Martin, right?"
"Oh…um, yes. Please do. A specific length of time has not been set by Director Sheppard; I will be here as long as is necessary."
DiNozzo was still gauging him, and it gave Kramer an uncomfortable feeling. He was supposed to be gauging DiNozzo, after all.
"Look, Martin," Tony lowered his voice to a confidential level, "seeing as you'll be sticking around for a bit, I figure you could use a few tips."
"I would appreciate that, Agent DiNozzo."
"First of all," Tony began soberly, "do not—and I repeat, do not—get between Gibbs and his coffee. As a matter of fact, if you're looking to be given any slack at all, I'd suggest you bring him a cup every now and then. Black, and dark as you can get it. And none of the gas-station-type junk."
"Black…" Martin repeated with a nod, having a hard time figuring out whether DiNozzo was just playing with him, or in earnest. "What about Agent David? Flowers, perhaps?" Martin hazarded dryly.
Tony blinked at him. "Flowers…for Ziva?" He chuckled. "Only if you have a death wish. Not that she dislikes flowers, but you have to earn the right to give 'em to her." Leaning in closer, he informed Martin in a stage-whisper, "Agent David is ex-Mossad, as I'm sure you've heard. I'd just steer clear of her as much as you can, buddy."
"McGee, McGee…" Tony mused with a shake of his head, and a tight-lipped expression. "Don't let the harmless geek look fool ya. The Probie could hack a Giga Pet."
Martin raised an eyebrow. "I see." He didn't see, really. He wasn't entirely sure what a Giga Pet was, or how Agent McGee's ability to hack one posed a threat to him. However, this conversation seemed like an act of goodwill on DiNozzo's part, and showing too much open skepticism would've seemed rude.
Agent DiNozzo's speed was praise-worthy, as he whipped around the moment his name was spoken, answering Gibbs with a prompt, "YesBoss?"
"Stop fraternizing and get your rear in gear."
"But Boss, he's actually kinda nice—"
Martin never got to hear exactly the rest, because the next words out of Gibbs' mouth was left no room for further delay on DiNozzo's part, and sent the younger agent hurrying back to his desk.
So far, Martin was only sure of one thing when it came to this assignment on Agent Gibbs' team: it was going to be an interesting one.
The rest of that first day was lacking in any meaningful revelations, at least as far as Martin could gather. But the next morning he came in hopeful of being shown another glimpse into the team that was Agent Gibbs'. After all, they had to become accustomed to his presence sooner or later, and let down their guard.
Agents David and McGee were already at their desks. Gibbs had come in several hours ago, even before Martin's early arrival, but was presently nowhere to be seen.
"Good morning, team," DiNozzo greeted brightly, drawing out the "good" to gratingly cheerful proportions.
"You are late," David pointed out without looking up.
DiNozzo dropped into his chair. "Wake up on the wrong side of the bed, Zee-vah?"
"At least I woke up in time to be here on time," Ziva responded levelly.
"Yeah, well…" DiNozzo tried to respond levelly, "I have a good excuse."
"Let's hear it, Tony," McGee spoke up with a benign smile.
"Yeah, let's hear it, DiNozzo," Gibbs agreed, striding through their midst to his own desk.
"Mornin' Boss," DiNozzo grinned, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. "Oh look. You have a secret admirer."
Gibbs eyed the indicated cup of coffee on his desk, picked it up and took a sip, and set it back down with an unreadable expression.
At least he hadn't spit out or dumped it in the trash without trying it, which Martin supposed had to be a pretty good sign, given the man's forthright way of letting people know what he thought.
Gibbs didn't comment one way or the other on it, though a cool glance in Kramer's direction said he plainly knew who it was from, and recognized it as the feeble peace offering it was. Gibbs wasn't easily distracted, though, and he still hadn't received an answer. "Your good excuse, DiNozzo?"
"Oh, right. That," DiNozzo hemmed, squirming, "Well, it's…it's…"
"Complicated?" Ziva supplied smugly. "Has to do with a woman, yes?"
"The brunette from the café last week?" McGee added.
Tony frowned at his teammates in affront. "No, Miss Nosey, and McPry-a-lot, it does not have to do with a woman." His expression took a turn for the wistful. "Well, not in the way you're thinking. It does concern a her..."
McGee and Ziva exchanged glances.
"DiNozzo, what about your car?" Gibbs demanded.
Martin was having some trouble following this conversation, but he managed, jotting down a few notes, as much to keep up an appearance of being occupied as for recording purposes.
"Someone rammed my baby," DiNozzo growled. This was clearly personal.
"Tony, you were in an accident?" McGee asked.
"My car was, Probie," DiNozzo corrected. "I merely got whiplash, a killer headache, a nice big, purple bruise across my shoulder from the seatbelt… Oh, and a growing bill at the auto shop." He sighed, wistful again. "But she'll be okay."
Ziva rose from her desk to loom over Tony with crossed arms. "And you had to wait for a taxi? That is why you are so late?"
"No…I walked here," DiNozzo answered. "Like I said, growing bill at the shop, and I've got to feed my baby, too—gas isn't cheap."
Ziva glared. "You are impossible, you know that? I have a half a brain to break your fingers."
Tony grinned in the face of her wrath. "It's 'half a mind', Ziva … Mind." He paused, threat registering. "Wait a minute, what did I do? I'll have you know that tailgater's insurance says I'm the innocent one, here."
"You are many things—" Ziva began.
"—an idiot with half a brain—" McGee supplied helpfully.
Ziva finished seamlessly, "—but you are not innocent."
"Hey, Boss," Tony whined, "help me out here."
"Sounds like you don't want our help." Gibbs took another sip of the coffee. "Or you would've called one of us to pick you up."
Despite the merciless edge to his tone, there was something else in his expression as he scanned his Senior Filed Agent with a critical eye. Martin couldn't quite read him. Concern? And…reproach? It was maddening, all the subtle communication that seemed to go on between these four. Martin couldn't quite figure if they hated each other, or actually cared.
Ziva turned her back on Tony with a huff. McGee shook his head with a reproving look.
"Oh c'mon guys…" Tony protested.
"I want you to have Ducky take a look at you," Gibbs cut him off.
"It wasn't really an honest-to-God accident; it was more like a fender-bender. Well, the jerk actually damaged more than the fender, but still, we're talking band aids, not surgery…"
"DiNozzo, if you don't get your butt down to autopsy, I will break whatever fingers Agent David doesn't."
Tony's eyes widened a fraction at the calm guarantee in Gibbs' voice. "I hear you, Boss."
"Gone…" Tony rose with a placating smile, "…like the wind."
Head bent over his keyboard, Martin kept his reactions to the conversation to himself. Psych evaluations must've been a real circus around here. He had to admit, right now he was at a loss to understand how a group like this made it to the top of the list as NCIS's best team. He realized the finger-breaking threats had to be in jest, and Agent Gibbs' brusque way of handling things was simply part of the man's personality. McGee had sounded concerned. As for Agent DiNozzo... He must have a more serious, dedicated side to him…somewhere. The director had said she didn't want to lose him—that he was good agent.
The bottom line was that Kramer was beginning to realize that the "Sentinel issue" he had been briefed on by the director was only one of many puzzling questions when it came to these four individuals.
Martin didn't bring Gibbs coffee the third day. Gibbs didn't seem like the type to let bowing and scraping score points, anyways. He would do his job without apology, and he would be thorough. Still…he wished he had at least one ally.
Two allies would be nice, actually.
Gibbs was out of the office at the moment—he was always doing that, disappearing, only to reappear unexpectedly just in the nick of time—and Agents McGee and David were at their desks. DiNozzo was making a lunch run. Now was the ideal time for Martin to make a move to implement his plan. He cleared his throat, standing, and pacing around his desk.
"Agent McGee, Agent David—I wonder if I might have a word?"
McGee and David looked at him, looked at each other, and David answered with equanimity, "Speak."
He would not take offence at how the "invitation" sounded more like a command. "I feel my presence here may not have been adequately explained to you."
"You're here to observe and assess our team," McGee stated.
Kramer moved closer so they could keep the conversation private from the ears of those occupying the cubicles around them. "Well, yes. That is what my official assignment is."
"And unofficially…?" Ziva raised an eyebrow.
"Let us just say that there is more to my job here than a simple assessment of your team."
"Bigger fish to broil?"
"Fish to fry," McGee corrected Ziva absently, attention firmly on Kramer.
"Yes, exactly." In a whisper, Martin added meaningfully, "I do know about Agent DiNozzo's newfound abilities."
Ziva was suddenly up from her desk, and so was McGee. Somehow, the purpose of their advance didn't feel to Kramer like it was for the benefit of hearing him better.
"Oh yes?" Ziva asked, something unfriendly in her casual attitude.
"You knew I knew, didn't you?" Kramer asked nervously.
"We knew you were informed…to a degree," McGee affirmed, eyes narrowed. "But we didn't know you were here specifically because of Tony."
"You are here to judge him, and decide whether he is capable of doing his job." The casualness in Agent David's voice was bleeding out, to be replaced by a hard, cold sound. She didn't phrase it as a question, either, suspicion burning in her dark eyes.
Martin's eyes flicked from her to McGee, looking for a more reasonable reaction, but found McGee to be an equally hostile-looking, resolute stone wall.
"We did have our suspicions," McGee said in a low voice.
"Look…" Martin raised both hands, trying to radiate good-will. "I'm not here to judge anyone. I'm just here to observe the dynamics of your team, and in particular how Agent DiNozzo fits in, and report on how—"
"What do you mean 'how Agent DiNozzo fits in?'" Ziva demanded, tone all ice now. "He is one of our team, the senior field agent to be precise. That is how he fits in."
"I understand you're all used to working together, but there are certain concerns that need to be taken under consideration, what with Agent DiNozzo's...condition."
"Condition?" McGee's eyes flashed.
"Please explain yourself," Ziva not-requested.
Martin resisted the urge to run a hand over his face. This could end in bloodshed. Non-violent background aside, even McGee had the advantage of height on him—and he wasn't letting himself consider the ways David might take him out. "I simply mean that, while Agent DiNozzo's abilities may provide many possible advantages, there could also be some downsides. This is an unprecedented case we're working with, here, and no one wants to see NCIS's top team taxed by the stress of dealing with…the issue."
"Of course DiNozzo has issues, Kramer."
When Gibbs spoke up unexpectedly from behind him, Martin jumped. "Agent Gibbs. I was just trying to explain to Agents McGee and David…"
"As a matter of fact, I have a few issues myself," Gibbs continued, coming to stand in front of Kramer.
McGee and Ziva parted like the Red Sea, flanking their boss on either side.
Something in the way Gibbs looked at him as he said "issues" led Martin to think he was referring to something that involved lawyers. Kramer cleared his throat. "I have no doubt your senior field agent is perfectly capable, but for his own sake as well as yours, I do think you should all consider the possible repercussions of his new…um…" He didn't dare say "condition" again. He started over. "What I mean to say is, he may…relate differently now. The information I've received leads me to believe a…ah…Sentinel may have newfound drives, what you might call…territorial instincts."
Gibbs was right in his face. "You comparing Special Agent DiNozzo to a dog, Kramer?"
"N-no, not at all." Martin was backed up against his desk. He couldn't retreat unless he climbed over or under. Neither was a dignified solution. "What I meant by 'territorial' is that he might feel the drive to challenge the leadership of the team. Among other things, his abilities may stir up a certain instinctual urge to…dominate."
"Like a wolf pack?" Gibbs asked.
"Exactly!" Martin realized his voice had gone up too high in his eagerness to agree, and he wrestled it back down to a discreet level. "Exactly…" Then he realized his mistake. "Not that I'm comparing you all to…wolves, either."
"This idea, about DiNozzo challenging leadership… That the director's theory?" Gibbs titled his head to one side.
Martin liked to watch the Discovery channel, and the look reminded him of a bird-of-prey considering its meal.
"Ah…no. No, it is my theory," he claimed gallantly. Perhaps the director had dropped a few hints to the effect of concern in that direction, but he would accept the responsibility for voicing the idea. He had a feeling Sheppard was already going to take plenty of heat over this before the issue was seen through to a satisfactory end.
Martin was saved by the return of DiNozzo, who heralded his entrance with a, "Hey guys!" before he got a good look at the way the rest of his teammates had converged on Kramer, and scolded, "Now who's fraternizing?" He put a swift check to the insolence as he approached Gibbs. He had two paper bags in one hand, and a cardboard tray full of drinks. Setting it all down on the nearest desk, he selected a cup of coffee from the tray, and a sandwich from one of the bags. With great ceremony he swept a graceful obeisance, offering them to Gibbs. "Lunch, O Great One."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. He didn't immediately take the offering.
"What?" DiNozzo played innocent. "It's black, I swear on the memories of all my revered ancestors, Great—" he broke of, wincing in a correction premonition of the swat Gibbs delivered to the back of his head, and finished, "—One."
Gibbs took the offering then, setting down the cup and glancing calmly at Martin as he unwrapped his sandwich. "Hope you didn't forget the newest member of our pack, DiNozzo."
"Beta dog always remembers, Boss," DiNozzo replied, proudly handing Martin food and beverage as well.
"Beta dog had better have remembered to get himself some food too," Gibbs remarked dryly.
Tony's grin froze as his attempted cover-up was found out. "Yeah, well…ah, I did kinda forget that member of the pack."
Gibbs took half his sandwich and held it out, his look daring Tony to argue the point.
DiNozzo's grin became animated once more. "Thank you, Alpha leader." Taking the food, he executed a quick retreat to his desk.
Martin turned his back on them, slowly, thoughtfully taking his seat and eating his lunch. DiNozzo was going on about some waitress he'd met, McGee and David rolling their eyes and scoffing openly at this newest love of his life, despite DiNozzo's adamant claims.
The hostility Gibbs, David, and McGee had been showing Kramer a moment ago seemed to have faded, or at least taken a back burner for the time being. They'd made their point, and were happy to ignore him for a while.
While McGee leaned back in his chair, Ziva leaned a hip against the corner of DiNozzo's desk, teasing him smugly, and handing him her drink.
Gibbs observed it all, still with that bird-of-prey look about him. Or perhaps the look of an Alpha leader regarding his pack? Martin met his eye for a moment, feeling the need to acknowledge...something. It was clear this team was functioning, after all—functioning uniquely, but doing so surprisingly well.
"Eww," came DiNozzo's voice in the background, as he took a loud slurp of Ziva's drink, "this doesn't taste like regular Coke. Must be the girl cooties."
"Honestly, Tony, I have not even taken a drink yet."
"Yeah? Well…you touched the cup."
"I must say, this is the firsttime I have ever heard you complain about 'girl cooties.'"
"Maybe it's just yours he objects to, Ziva?" McGee suggested, with a smirk in Tony's direction.
Ziva looked at Tony, narrow-eyed, as he sputtered protests and denials.
Yes, certainly unique. But Martin had a feeling their peculiar way of relating to each other had not changed since DiNozzo's abilities had come to light. There were loyalties between these people that you might not notice at first glance, but just try to threaten one of them, and then you felt it—as Martin had just discovered.
"Agent Gibbs?" Martin said, as an aside, "I am beginning to think I may not need as much time to observe your team as I originally thought."
"Oh?" Gibbs was serenely unconcerned. "You think we're that easy to read?"
"Not at all, Agent Gibbs, not at all…" But, he had read the first chapter, and had a feeling he already approved of the book.
Tony sighed loudly into the evening quiet of the office. "Finally, our little resident spy's wandered off."
Ziva was amused. "I thought you liked him, Tony."
Tony blinked in pointed shock at the idea. "Well I didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings."
Without looking up from whatever geek-ish pursuit he was so intent on at his computer, McGee asked, a little darkly, "Why not?"
Tony blinked at him, too. "Geez, what did he do to you, Probie?" He knew, despite appearances of preoccupation, Gibbs was listening to the conversation, even if he wasn't contributing anything to it so far.
"It is not what he did," Ziva answered for McGee, "it was what he intended. Perhaps still intends."
"Oh…" Tony said with understanding, "you two are all riled up about how you're gonna look in that report." Fingers laced together behind his head, feet up on his desk, Tony yawned with ultimate unconcern. "I wouldn't worry…too much. You guys can be pretty strange, but I don't think that'll come as a revelation to the Director."
"Tony," Ziva hissed, leaning across her desk with an intent look, "the man is not after us."
Tony hated to disappoint them by not showing any surprise. "Oh yeah. Yeah, that's right, he's after the one with the…ah…'territorial instincts,' right?"
McGee did look up then. "You heard all that…what Kramer said?"
Tony unlaced his fingers to tap an ear with his forefinger. "Abby didn't dub them 'super-powers' for nothin', McSide-Kick." He felt pretty pleased with himself, and even without looking, he knew Gibbs was smiling.
"One question, Tony," Ziva asked, demonstrating one of the sly looks she did so well. "What makes you so certain you are Beta wolf? That is second-in-command, yes?"
"Senior Field Agent," Tony boasted, and added triumphantly, though remembering to keep his voice to a level that didn't broadcast across the entire room, "Senior Field Agent, with super-powers."
"You know what happens when the Beta wolf gets too full of himself, DiNozzo?"
Contrary to popular belief, Tony did watch educational channels occasionally. He's seen a few of those wolf pack documentary…things. "Ah…no one's questioning you're the Alpha of the pack, Boss. Right guys?"
Ziva tilted her head to one side, considering him pointedly. "I do not know… It seems to me someone has been becoming a bit too big for his pants, lately."
"It's 'big for his britches,'" McGee corrected, and concurred with a nod, "And definitely."
Tony swallowed hard. "Now Boss, you know that lil' paper-pushing creep was totally—and I mean totally—wrong about that whole challenging authority theory…"
Gibbs just smiled.
"Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw, In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of your Head Wolf is Law." - Rudyard Kipling (The Law of the Jungle)
A/N: Well, I hope you enjoyed this little (admittedly rather self-indulgent) piece, guys. It may not be the last our Wolf Pack sees of Martin, either… *g* I'm still working on those longer stories I mentioned (and I have more of this size to post…soon =P).