A/N Ah, Season Six…like many NCIS fans I was quite disappointed in what I considered to be the deterioration of the team dynamic that is a key element of the show. I felt that many of the character relationships were way off kilter.
This story began as (and still is) a case fic and my attempt to return to the Tony/McGee friendship and banter of old. However, as it progressed, I was lured back to my favourite theme - Gibbs/Tony friendship/family. I found it intriguing that after seeming to distance himself from Tony for most of S6, Gibbs provided him so much support in Bounce and especially in Aliyah! What happened in between? What caused the turnaround?
Set in Season 6, after Cloak but before Bounce, the later chapters address a possible cause for the deterioration the team dynamic and the strong bonds of friendship between the characters. Those of you who have read my stories before, will know that I like to mix up the drama, action, humour and angst throughout the story to (hopefully) provide some light and shade. This one is no different but it has a huge Tony/Gibbs angst toward the end.
The story is complete and I will post a chapter a day. I hope you enjoy it or that it at least provides "food for thought." Cheers, L
LG, To have you in my corner as I wrestle with storylines and dialogue is wonderful…to have you in my corner as I battle life's biggest challenge, is priceless. I love you, L
DISCLAIMER:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and no copyright infringement is intended.
Means To An End
The Secretary of the Navy, Phillip Davenport pressed the off button on the remote and watched as the large plasma in his office faded to black. Another button reversed the dimming effect of the lights. He turned to face the two men seated beside him.
"There it is Leon. You know what we know. This assignment is highly classified - it must be quick and covert. If news of this leaked to the public there'd be mass hysteria," SecNav said.
NCIS Director, Leon Vance nodded his understanding. "Excuse me, Sir, but wouldn't Special Ops or Navy Seals be better equipped to take on an operation such as this."
SecNav stood and paced impatiently around his luxurious Pentagon office. He was not a man who was used to explaining himself or his decisions.
"Most of our Special Ops and Seal teams have been deployed overseas. To recall them at such short notice would require too much red tape and attract far too much attention. We have a very short window of opportunity, Director and we do not have time to waste," he hissed.
Jason Brady, Senior Aide to the Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence spoke up from his position at the far end of the sofa.
"Director Vance, this assignment has come straight from the Under Secretary himself. From the highly sensitive details you've just seen, you can understand how imperative it is to keep this matter as "need to know" with as few people involved as possible."
"This assignment is get in, get the data, get out. No questions asked," SecNav continued. "I assured the Under Secretary that NCIS was more than capable of handling this operation. Was I wrong Leon?"
"No, Sir," Director Vance replied. "The agents I have in mind can handle the job. The tough part will be running interference and diverting the attention of the other two team members who will most definitely be asking questions."
"I don't care how you deal with your people, Leon, but deal with them! Show me that I wasn't wrong to choose you as Jenny Shepherd's replacement," SecNav snarled. Vance shifted uncomfortably at the verbal challenge.
"This is a rare opportunity for your agency, Director Vance," Brady added. "If this is done right, it will be a big feather in the cap of your agency and your leadership ability. Not only will it make a lot of important people sit up and take notice, but I can guarantee you that the Under Secretary will certainly have NCIS at the forefront of his mind when it's time for next year's budget allocation."
The intercom buzzed and SecNav moved to speak briefly into his desk phone. He looked up at the two men.
"My next appointment is here," he said bringing a sudden end to any further discussion. "I will be attending a conference with the Secretary of Defence for the next two days and will be unreachable. Mr Brady will act as your liaison, Leon. He has top-level clearance in regard to this assignment and is to be kept apprised of any and all developments."
"Yes, Sir," Director Vance replied as he rose to his feet and headed for the door.
"Do this right, Director," SecNav ordered. "The successful outcome of this assignment is not only crucial for national security but also for any future you hope to have in this or any other agency." He closed the door firmly behind them.
Brady looked at Vance as they cleared the last security checkpoint and walked towards the parking station at the Pentagon. "So," he started, "you mentioned that you already have agents in mind for this assignment?"
"That's right," Vance replied. "Two agents attached to my Major Case Response Team."
"And you're confident they can get this done – no questions asked?"
Vance drew himself up to his full height. It was bad enough that he had to bite his tongue and endure the snide innuendo and comments from SecNav, he was not about to cop any crap from the arrogant young man chosen as his liaison for the duration of this assignment – no matter who's senior aide he was.
"I can assure you, Brady, that I would not have selected them if I was not certain they could successfully complete the assignment," he said sternly. "One is a computer specialist and the other is a Liaison Officer from Mossad. Both are highly trained and will follow orders without question or protest."
"Of course, Director," Brady replied, "and the diversion you mentioned?"
"The team is currently in North Carolina where they've just finalised a murder investigation at Camp Lejeune. They're due back around noon tomorrow," Vance said thinking out loud. "I need to divert the team leader and senior field agent to another area for a day or so to avoid any unnecessary questions and delays. By the time they get back, McGee and David will have already successfully completed the assignment."
The two men were only feet apart, each carefully sizing up the other and strategising the move that would bring about the demise of their opponent. Expressions of intense concentration and the overwhelming desire to do irreparable harm filled the quiet room with a thick tension-filled atmosphere.
The younger man's eyes flicked up to meet the intense gaze of his older opponent. Though there was a vast age difference, he knew from experience that to take the older man lightly, would be a fatal mistake.
After ten excruciating minutes, the younger man was about to make his move when his opponent spoke.
"You know, Mr Palmer, chess originated in India around the 7th century AD," Ducky said. "The game was in fact a battle-plan drawn on a smaller scale, to find out ways and means of outsmarting the enemy."
Doctor Mallard and his young assistant, Jimmy Palmer had attended to their one and only "customer" several hours earlier. Their reports were completed, tests run and results analysed and their supply cabinets and coroners van were fully re-stocked. They were taking advantage of a rare quiet day to complete a game of chess they had started almost a week ago.
Jimmy was nodding as though he was listening carefully but his attention was focused entirely on his next move. Ducky had already placed him in "check" four times and he was desperate to avoid another embarrassing defeat at the hands of his mentor.
"In fact chess soon became very popular world-wide. Landlords during the Renaissance period of the 12th and 13th centuries even played with live people who were beheaded instead of simply being captured!" the elderly ME replied. "Take your time, Mr Palmer, see the whole board. Concentrate."
Jimmy studied all the pieces on the board, trying to anticipate Ducky's next move while formulating a winning strategy of his own. It was still a great source of embarrassment to Jimmy that Doctor Mallard casually countered his carefully formulated moves about 30 seconds after he'd made them. The Doctor had a mind like a steel trap. Of course, Ducky didn't have someone chatting relentlessly in his ear while he was trying to concentrate on the task at hand.
"Chess is a game of war, Mr Palmer, created to train warriors or as a civilized way for kingdoms to settle their differences since chess is a battle between two armies. It was brought to Europe by crusaders…."
"Doctor, please!" Jimmy pleaded struggling to keep his focus on the game.
"Oh, of course my boy," Ducky replied, "how thoughtless of me! I should have realised that I may have been inadvertently disturbing your thought process."
Jimmy smiled to himself, knowing that the wily older man's constant ramblings were as much a strategic manoeuvre on his part as the movement of any chess piece.
Finally, after 12 intense minutes, Jimmy brought his bishop into play and removed Ducky's knight. He leaned back in his chair with a self-satisfied grin, thinking that he had just gained the upper hand in this game.
"I believe it's your move, Dr Mallard," Jimmy proudly stated.
"Oh!" Ducky said with surprise. "Oh yes, so it is!" Then he moved his rook into position and announced. "Checkmate, Mr Palmer."
Jimmy was still staring open-mouthed at the chessboard when the sliding doors opened and the agency janitor, Harry Cooper walked into Autopsy looking decidedly agitated.
"Mr Cooper, my good man! What brings you to our neck of the woods this fine morning?" Ducky greeted.
Harry Cooper was a portly, man in his mid-fifties. He had worked as the agency's head janitor for several years now, unobtrusively going about his work in an efficient and almost transparent manner. Noticing the man's unusual nervousness and anxiety, Ducky quickly asked Jimmy to find Harry a chair and a glass of water.
When Harry had calmed a little, he told Ducky and Palmer of the blatant theft of cleaning appliances from the janitor's storeroom. Harry was particularly concerned and sought Ducky's counsel about how best to handle this delicate matter with the other janitorial staff and whether it should be brought to the attention of the Director.
As Harry reached for his glass of water, Ducky glanced at his young assistant who needed no words to hear the instruction and nodded his understanding. As Ducky offered Harry further discussion over a nice cup of tea, Jimmy surreptitiously slipped out of the autopsy rooms.
An hour and a half into their return trip to Washington, Tony scowled and muttered under his breath as he guided the NCIS sedan, north on the I-95.
"Come on, Tony, how many times do I have to say I'm sorry!" an exasperated and bored McGee said from the passenger seat. "You can't ignore me all the way back to Washington! Well? Aren't you going to say anything?"
"Okay, how's this? I can't believe that you, of all people, saw fit to stab me in the back and rob me of one of life's pleasures!" Tony answered in an uncharacteristically surly fashion. "So please excuse me if the thought of spending four hours driving back to DC with you, doesn't excite me. There…. I said something. Happy?"
"You're just in a bad mood because the Boss took Ziva to interview that suspect and not you," McGee countered.
"Just so you know, Probie, after taking witness statements from 43 marines during our last investigation, I could care less about interviewing another suspect."
"Then why are you mad at me?" McGee complained.
"The Director arranged for the Boss and I to go to Parris Island to interview a suspect. We were just about to leave when you opened your big pie-hole about the suspect being Turkish and only speaking a few words of English."
"Well, in my defence, the Boss asked me to check out the background of the suspect the Marines are holding at Parris Island. When he heard the guy's name was Serkan Toros – a Turkish name, he decided to take Ziva along as a translator," McGee said. "Anyway, what's so exciting about going to Parris Island?"
"If you must know, McKilljoy, they'll be flying home tomorrow night in a Gulf Stream while, lucky me, I get to listen to you prattle on about your new PDA for 300 miles."
McGee's face lit up as he looked at his prized PDA and ran his finger lovingly over the state of the art device.
"This isn't just any PDA, Tony," McGee enthused. "This is the Addison 345XL. It has a 240-by-320-pixel touch screen, camera and video capabilities; it's automatically in sync with my laptop and desk PC's. It even has a MP3 facility capable of storing up to 20,000 songs."
"Enough space to download every Yanni and panpipe recording ever made," Tony muttered as McGee continued nonplussed.
"It has all the bells and whistles, Wi-Fi card for wireless networking, GPS Navigator capabilities, it can act as a pedometer, calorie counter, has an accounting program to balance your cheque book, and has a built in sensor on the back that can take your pulse and blood pressure and tell whether it's at safe level for your age and body weight….."
Right on queue the device emitted three loud beeps.
McGee smiled and reached for his backpack. "It also acts as a reminder to tell me to take my vitamins."
Tony frowned. "What does something like that cost?"
"Actually, if you're really interested, my supplier could probably get you one for about two thousand." McGee replied matter-of-factly.
"Dollars or pesos?" Tony asked incredulously.
"Dollars, of course."
"Thanks anyway, Probie, but for two thousand dollars, I'd expect it to do my laundry and wash and wax my car. Where'd you get that kind of money, anyway? You write another book?" Tony asked suspiciously.
"No. Deep Six has just been released as a paperback and the sales have been great," McGee replied proudly, "so, I decided to treat myself. I've even downloaded a Spanish tutorial on my PDA so I can listen whenever we have any downtime."
"You're learning Spanish?" Tony asked.
"Yep, I thought knowing another language would enhance my abilities as a field agent, maybe even improve my chances of getting my own undercover assignment. I'm really starting to get the hang of it, too. Do you think another language would help?"
"Hmmm…being fluent in another language is a definite plus in the arsenal of an agent, McLinguist, and learning Spanish isn't a bad idea. After all, there's not much call these days for Klingon or Elven unless you happen to find yourself trapped on Middle Earth and under attack from a Bird of Prey."
McGee bit back his retort and thought despairingly about the many miserable miles ahead with his Senior Field Agent in such a foul temper. Perhaps, if he could steer the conversation to one of Tony's favourite topics, his mood would improve and the trip would be more pleasant for both of them. McGee's eyes widened as he thought of a solution.
"So, Tony," he said, "you still seeing Christy? Two weeks – must be close to a record?"
He thought he'd struck gold as a large smile appeared on Tony's face but it disappeared just as quickly.
"After two nights of sharing a hotel room with you and listening to you snore all night, McBuzz-saw, I can't wait to see the lovely Christy."
McGee rolled his eyes. "Just for the record, Tony, I do not snore."
"You do so!!" Tony said emphatically. "Each night I had to get up and push your bed away from the window so you wouldn't inhale the curtains!"
"That was you?" McGee asked. "I wondered how that happened."
"What about you, Probie? Are you seeing anyone?"
"Nah….not since Stacey and I broke up a few months back. It just didn't work out, I guess."
"Months??" Tony repeated incredulously. "Months!! You must be feeling a little frustrated there, McMonk. Come on, Probie!! You're a single man in your prime – you've gotta exercise the dog or it's gonna break the leash. What are you waiting for??"
McGee was quickly starting to regret raising the topic. "Well, Tony, it's not always easy to find a nice, intelligent girl with similar interests."
"That's why you've got to get out more, Probie. Contrary to the Geek Gazette, the hot babes don't all hang out in Book Clubs and Star Trek conventions."
"Is that right? I suppose you would recommend your method of meeting girls," McGee defended. "It should be against the law to loiter on college campuses and harass the female sophomores….wait a minute….it is against the law!!"
"Laugh it up, McSexless, Christy happens to be 29 years old and an Associate Professor of Psychology."
"That explains it," McGee said nodding his head.
"She's probably using you as a test study for her thesis on Abnormal Adolescent Behaviour in Adults," McGee replied with the sudden realisation that making the rest of the trip in silence wasn't so bad after all and he placed the ear-buds of his beloved PDA into his ears.
Ducky couldn't help but cringe as the vibration of the loud music and indecipherable lyrics made its presence known through the soles of his sneakers and caused an annoying buzzing sensation in his head. He walked to the inner office and turned the volume way down noting that, in his opinion, it did nothing to improve the quality of the music.
Abby had been completely focussed on the minuscule wool fibre trapped under the glass slide of her microscope but looked up sharply as the volume of her music was lowered.
"Hey, Jimmy! Will you quit doing that!" she complained as a large Caff-Pow appeared on the counter beside her.
"Oh, it's you, Duckman," she said. "I thought it was Jimmy again. Not that I don't appreciate you and Jimmy delivering my daily Caff-Pow rations but Jimmy messes with my music every time he comes in here. It's very…disconcerting…in a Gibbs-ish kind of way."
Ducky gave her an understanding smile. "I've sent Mr Palmer on a small errand, so I thought I'd bring this to you myself. After all, we need to keep our promise and avoid the wrath of one Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Ducky replied with a wink.
It was then that Abby noticed how Ducky kept glancing nervously over his shoulder at the doorway.
"Is there something wrong, Ducky?" she asked.
"Wrong?. .Is something wrong?… I'm not sure I know what you mean, Abigail. Whatever could be wrong?"
Abby's eyes narrowed in suspicion. " You seem a little jumpy."
"Jumpy? Me? I've been described as many things in my time but never jumpy. Whatever would I have to be jumpy about? Hmmm?" Ducky enquired.
The sound of running feet pounded along the corridor towards the laboratory and Jimmy Palmer made a very brief appearance. His attempt to stop abruptly on the slippery surface found him sliding right past the glass doors of the lab, arms windmilling as he tried to regain his balance. Seconds later, he entered the lab at a more sedate pace although red-faced and slightly out of breath.
"Well, Mr Palmer?" Ducky asked. "Did it work?"
Jimmy smiled. "Like a charm, Doctor, crisis averted. I did exactly as you suggested and the last I saw of Harry, he was shaking his head and muttering to himself about needing a holiday."
"Well done, my boy, well done!" Ducky enthused.
Abby looked from one to the other, her hands on her hips and her eyes still narrowed. "Okay, spill," she ordered. "I know that something's going on and I want to know what it is."
"Actually, my dear, Mr Palmer and I just engaged in a little subterfuge - on your behalf, I might add," Ducky told her.
"On my behalf??" Abby said, confused.
"Well, you see, Abigail, Mr Palmer and I had a recent discussion with our industrious janitor, Harry Cooper," Ducky explained. "It seems that many of his recently requisitioned cleaning appliances have been misappropriated from the Janitor's storeroom and he was threatening to ask the Director for access to the security tapes."
"Uh oh," Abby said looking decidedly guilty and turning in the direction of a nearby collection of mops, one bearing the impassive and slightly impatient face of Gibbs, while the others wore the bemused and surprised faces of Tony, McGee and Ziva.
"Not to worry, my dear, Mr Palmer made a quick dash to the local hardware store, purchased four identical mops and placed them back in the storeroom before our dear Harry could demand a thorough search of the building. So you see, Abigail, no harm has been done."
"Aw…thanks you guys," Abby said wrapping them both in a grateful hug. "I'm so sorry that I caused you so much trouble," she said sadly as she turned back towards her mops. "I just miss them all so much!"
"It is exceedingly quiet without them here but cheer up, my dear!" Ducky consoled her. "With the Camp Lejeune investigation finalised, I believe they are on their way and should arrive back in a few hours."
"Yay!!" Abby said, suddenly a lot more animated as she picked up the mops and placed them all in her own small supply room.
"Um… Doctor…I just ran into Agent Balboa, and he mentioned that the Director sent Special Agent Gibbs and Tony to Parris Island to assist in an investigation there. They won't be back until tomorrow. Sorry Abby," Palmer advised regretfully as he watched Abby's shoulders slump with disappointment. "On the bright side, McGee and Ziva will be back around lunch time."
Palmer and Ducky exchanged a wistful look and watched as Abby sighed deeply, walked back to her supply room and re-positioned the Gibbs and Tony mops beside her workstation.
Thanks for reading!! Hope you'll join me tomorrow when Tony & McGee arrive back at the Navy yard and learn the details of the assignment, L
Thank you to WhenIComeAround186 - you and I know why.