A/N: And we're back. Yay! References are made to a handful of episodes here, but all of them are Season 5 or earlier.
Semper Frater Meus
Tony reflexively clutched his knees as the car sped around the corner at an uncomfortably high speed. One of these days, Gibbs was going to kill someone. "You know where you're going, Boss?"
"You've been there a few times yourself, DiNozzo, you tell me. Am I going the right way?"
The casual mention of past trips to McGee's apartment brought back painful memories in an unexpected rush. Flash of McGee's face when he'd said he wasn't like the rest of them. Of harassing McGee about his writing, even though Tony was secretly impressed. The first time he and Kate had broken in, happy to tease their new team member.
Tim had been angry with them that day, making for an awkward car ride until they stopped for coffee and Kate purchased him a double shot espresso. After that, he had been only too happy to give them any details they asked about the game he had been playing. It had, actually, been a fun ride.
Now, he was the only one left.
Feeling suddenly nauseated, he clenched his hands tighter around his knees to keep from revisiting his breakfast. He couldn't do anything to help Kate, then or now, but McGee still had a chance. As long as he kept it together.
"What can you tell me about Sam?" Gibbs asked as he stomped the gas just a little harder, zooming through a yellow light milliseconds before it changed and throwing Tony back in his seat.
After taking a moment to get his breath back, Tony found he could only offer a half-shrug. "Not much. He's been in prison the last few years. Before that, he was a good cop, and a decent friend. The designated driver type."
The kind of guy McGee had become, now that he thought about it. Usually able to hold his own in a teasing fight, even sometimes dishing it out better than he got. But still the kind of guy you could read like a book, who would take off his jacket for a lady to walk across. The all around nice guy that you couldn't decide whether to be friends with or punch.
Now, that first nice guy hurting, killing, the other one. As if there wasn't enough messed up stuff in the world.
"Couldn't have been that good, if you thought he was capable of being dirty."
Tony winced. The reminder of just how wrong he'd been about that was painful. He swallowed thickly, trying to force himself into speech. Wasn't withholding information, no matter how painful it was to say, his biggest annoyance with witnesses? Maybe he'd have to be more patient from now on. "I was the last one to buy in to the idea. Sam was usually so blunt about everything; I just didn't think it was possible for him to do something like that."
"What changed your mind?" Gibbs glanced at him; that split second his eyes were off the road causing Tony's stomach to do flips.
Reminding himself that at least he wasn't driving with Ziva, he answered, "he hit a suspect. Broke his nose and cost us the case. Two days later, he actually seemed glad that Rios was dead—the narcotics cop. It was so unlike him, and with all the evidence, I started wondering."
Gibbs nodded, and Tony released the breath he'd been half-holding. He'd been waiting for a lecture on loyalty and trusting your friends all morning, but it looked like Gibbs was holding off on it for now. Tony had to admit he was grateful for at least that much sympathy. The lecture going on in his head was bad enough.
"Got any ideas where he might take McGee? Any favorite hang outs or hiding places along the east coast?"
"Maybe if I had a time scale or something to go off of, I could narrow it down. It was easier pulling teeth than to get him out of his room." In spite of the situation, in spite of everything, a little lingering affection crept into Tony's voice. Sam had been a bright spot in his childhood, and time hadn't changed the memories. "He loved to read mysteries. He had Encyclopedia Brown memorized as a kid, and always wanted to be a cop."
Gibbs turned to look at him, causing Tony to cringe. "Encyclopedia who?"
"Kids detective books, Boss. They always had the answers in the back, so you could try and figure it out yourself first. Sam never looked until he was sure he had it."
"We only get one shot at this, DiNozzo."
They stopped just inches before the emergency barricade, climbing out with badges in hand before the officers started to move.
"Special Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo, NCIS," Gibbs barked, and the young patrolman in front did a double-take. Had he felt in the mood, Tony might have found it funny.
"What's NCIS doin' here at a house fire?" The older looking partner asked, eyeing them warily. He was obviously gearing up for a jurisdiction dispute. "That apartment belong to a sailor?"
"No. An agent." Gibbs didn't pause to explain, and Tony followed silently in his wake. Hassling these rookies would only waste time, and no matter how fun that sounded he wasn't willing to do that today. It was likely to take them more than an hour to comb the scene. McGee couldn't afford many more injuries like the first one.
"You can't go in there." The pair of officers was following them, old gruffy still speaking for both of them. "They barely put the flames out, there are still hot spots."
Tony turned and glared his best Gibbs glare, causing the pair to falter just long enough for Gibbs to reach a huddle of firemen standing nearby.
"I need to speak with the Fire Marshall." It was Gibbs's best no nonsense voice, and everyone in hearing distance snapped to attention. Tony couldn't help admiring that skill.
A man in a dark uniform strode toward them with an air of authority that could rival the director. Might even give Gibbs a run for his money. "You must be Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo. Special Agent David said you were already on your way, but I didn't expect you to get here that quickly."
Gibbs didn't miss a beat. "And who are you?"
"The Fire Marshall you were looking for. John Mason at your service, Agent Gibbs." Even with his hands in his pockets and that easy smile, Tony could tell this guy was never at anyone's service.
This was going to be fun.
"You called NCIS to tell us about this." It wasn't a question, and it was very clear Gibbs wasn't happy about it.
"Right after we contacted the family. His sister is already here." Mason nodded over to where Sarah McGee was standing.
She looked even worse than the last time Tony had seen her, and he marveled a little that her older brother's apartment being on fire would shake her up more than being accused of murder had. She looked pale, and there were obvious tear streaks on her face from left over salt. One hand over her mouth, her dark eyes watched the still rising smoke with a look of horror.
"We called NCIS to see if Agent McGee was at work when the fire started," Tony heard Mason say as he made his way toward the frightened girl. "I take it from your presence here that he wasn't."
"No. But he wasn't home either." Gibbs answer was just background noise to Tony as he reached out to touch Sarah's shoulder.
She jumped, startled at his touch, and whirled around. They stared at each other for a few heartbeats before she launched herself at him, wrapping skinny arms around his middle. Tony jerked, surprised by her sudden action, and made no attempt to return the embrace. It was his fault McGee might never get to yell at him for touching his sister.
"Tell me he's alright," Sarah muttered, sounding a little too much like Abby, a little too much like a little sister, tightening her grip just a little. "I need you to tell me he's okay. That he sent you here to take me back to school to take my midterm. Please, Tony."
He wished she'd called him Tommy. Then he could pretend that this was happening to someone else, or that they weren't close enough for him to owe her some kind of explanation. Except she'd learned his name, and for some reason that made all the difference.
"He wasn't home when it happened." It surprised even him how steady his voice sounded. Surprised him even more that he almost wished Tim had been, because a sudden violent death was so much better. "At least, he wasn't killed in the explosion if he was."
Sarah pulled back, obviously realizing Tony wasn't going to give her any of the comfort she wanted. "I don't like the way you said that. It sounds like something else killed him."
Leave it to an English major to pick up on that. Tony felt unsure, and he hated it because normally he just knew the right way to go. What did you tell your best friend's little sister when he'd be kidnapped? What was he allowed to say? "He's not dead, Sarah. He's in trouble, but we're going to help him. I promise."
"What kind of trouble? What happened to Tim?" She took another step back, clutching her short jean jacket closer to her body, fighting off an imagined chill.
"I can't tell you." Even if it wasn't classified, he just couldn't get the words up. It was like any vocabulary that was McGee related had been locked up somewhere he couldn't access. Didn't really want to.
The conversation of Gibbs and the Fire Marshall came out of the background noise in a sudden rush.
"I'm not waiting around here for your Fire Investigator to show up." Gibbs sounded angry. Never a good thing to be at the receiving end of.
By contrast, Mason sounded completely calm. "This isn't just a crime scene. We have to find the source of the explosion, and we can't have you removing anything that might help to determine that. As Agent McGee is a federal agent, it is even more important we find the exact cause. You understand this, don't you, Agent Gibbs?"
"It wasn't a terrorist attack." Gibbs said flatly, and Tony could just see the ears of the woman standing a few feet from him perk up. Reporter.
"I didn't say it was," Mason said, his tone deliberately light. "You sound so certain though. How can you be sure?"
"Because I've got video of the guy that did it." Gibbs matched the other man's light tone, though his had a certain edge of steel to it. Sarah perked up now at this, listening intently, and Tony had to resist the urge to drag her away. She should know what they were dealing with, even if Tony couldn't tell her.
Mason, too, seemed to suddenly be paying attention. "He contacted you?"
"And I have twenty-four hours to find my agent." Gibbs leaned close to the other man, deliberately invading his space. "You want to be the one I hold responsible for the loss of my agent; you go ahead and keep getting in my way."
Mason visibly flinched, and Tony couldn't stop a grin. Fire Marshall Mason might not admit it, but Gibbs had just won.
"The Fire Inspector is going with you. She'll have to approve anything you take. If she doesn't, you leave it and take pictures."
"We'll see as we go," Gibbs responded, his grin becoming almost predatory.
"Jethro!" Sarah's half-delighted yell surprised Tony to the point that he jumped. Gibbs turned to give the girl a strange look, but she wasn't looking at him. Her eyes were riveted towards one of the bushes beside the apartment, where a dog head was just visible peeking out the bottom.
McGee's dog. He hadn't given the German Sheppard a thought all morning. Of course he would have been there when Sam came for McGee. It was just surprising that the dog was still alive. Most people didn't get as many chances as that dog.
Sarah raced toward the dog, ducking under the caution tape without losing a beat. Tony hurried after her, ignoring the firemen calling for them to stop. Sarah slowed down as she approached the dog, and Tony took his cue from her, kneeling down when she did.
"Hey, Jethro," Sarah murmured, brushing a stray strand of dark hair back behind her ear before slowly extending a hand out to the dog. Seeing blood on Jethro's muzzle, and knowing his history, Tony braced himself for snarling and a quick snap of powerful jaws. Instead, the dog whined softly, looking up at the pair of them with woeful eyes. He leaned forward, trying to lick Sarah's hand, but seemed unable to.
Tony leaned forward, pulling back the foliage to reveal the rest of the dog's body. His front left shoulder was covered in blood, likely from the deep gash there. It was wide enough he could even see the dog's bone below. Jethro's fur was also patchy, with some severe looking burns, and he didn't seem able to move his back legs. The blood could have been from licking at any one of his numerous small cuts, but there was no way Tony could say for sure.
"Abby isn't going to like this," Tony muttered, absentmindedly reaching out to lay a hand on the dog's head. Having McGee in trouble was difficult enough for her to cope with, but her beloved puppy? This was going to be over the top.
"Poor Jethro," Sarah said softly, carefully running a hand over the injured dog's muzzle by his eyes, obviously avoiding the blood.
"Call Palmer." Gibbs's voice behind them startled Tony and Sarah, but Jethro greeted him with a half-hearted tail wag. "I want him to go with the dog to a vet. Get all the evidence off him he can. Give him a call, then get suited up. We're going to get the evidence."
"On it, Boss." Tony gave Sarah a sympathetic look, and Jethro one last pat, before standing up to get his phone out of his pocket.
Half-way up, Sarah reached out and grabbed his hand, forcing him to look at her. "Tony…find Tim. Please. He's my brother, and I want him home safe."
His instincts told him that making such a promise was unwise. That he was bound to let her down somehow. Instead, Tony found himself nodding, even reaching out to squeeze her hand back. "I promise I'll get him back to you. No matter what."