Amazing Artist: mella68 - please go to mella68 dot livejournal dot com backslash 87952 dot html to see Mella's wonderful art!
Pairing/genre: Gen, Team as family
Spoilers: through Season 7, episode 4
Warnings: Some scenes may be triggery: non-con, dub-con, rape, violence, torture, adult situations, bondage, beheading, suicide, multiple Gibbs!slaps & stuff.
Notes: Written especially for the NCIS Big Bang on Live Journal
Betas and cheerleaders: Thanks so much to my betas: annieb1955, gategirl7 and Zan65! Any mistakes are purely my own as I am an incurable, pathological tweaker. Thanks also to my cheerleaders: slipstream and luthien, I couldn't have done this without all your wonderful input and support!
I don't own NCIS, it owns me…
Memories of Me
Special Agent L.J. Tibbs stood pensively at the rear of the movie theater, methodically scanning the darkened room for a seat. The previews had already started, casting the theater in flickering, sometimes blinding light interspersed by total darkness. In the light of a celluloid explosion, he observed only a few other people were at this showing; the movie had been out for a few weeks now and, in a town driven by money and power, not many people attended the early Wednesday matinees.
As an extended preview about an odd cartoon weasel scrambling around with a huge acorn in a movie he hoped he would not be subjected to any time soon brightened the room, he purposefully made his way to a seat halfway down then awkwardly scooted across the empty row to avoid banging his knee. Reaching his seat, he carefully set the popcorn and coffee cup into the armrest slots before quickly removing his jacket, neatly folding it and draping it over the seat next to him.
Fall had arrived in DC with a vengeance, bringing with it a cold which went directly through his bones – the theater was a warm refuge in the bitter late October cold. The old Marine relaxed into the seat, leaning back as the feature started. The movie was loud with thunderous explosions and orchestrally punctuated double-crosses at every turn. Knowing his second in command would grill him later for details, he easily found himself caught up in the action. Even without Harrison Ford in it, he had to admit this was his type of film.
He chuckled lightly to himself at an implausible scene. How the writers could ever imagine a spy would do that was beyond him – he, himself, had only seen a vaguely similar scenario play out once and still shook his head at the memory. Anyone else would have been dead by the perpetrator's hand but, as only Tommy could, he had driven the man to such distraction, the suspect didn't get around to killing him before not only admitting to the crime but also explaining his entire motive to the cheerfully talkative yet obviously dim-witted agent in such excruciatingly explicit detail, the team had plenty of time to get into position for the take down. For his impromptu interrogation, Tommy had received a well deserved commendation and an even more well deserved cuff to the back of the head.
A tap on his heel during a particularly intense scene brought all his senses to high alert. Keeping his head forward, Tibbs surreptitiously took a more thorough survey of the room as he kneaded at a crick in his neck only to settle back into his seat with a sigh. Sinking deeper against the backrest, he watched the action on the screen as his mind wandered between the movie and the room around him.
The only movement in the stillness of the theater was the action on screen as the people around him lived vicariously through the action heroes. As much as he enjoyed the entertainment the movies provided, Tibbs knew enough real heroes, who had executed and survived scenarios just as fantastic, that movies were typically a rare treat shared with friends. When the movie ended with a rousing crescendo and the end credits began to roll, he could hear the shuffling and scraping behind him as the people headed towards the exits.
Once he was satisfied the theater was empty save the young man working slowly from aisle to aisle with a trash bag, dustpan and broom, Tibbs slowly rose to work the kink out of his knee and gather his things as the end credits finished scrolling and the house lights came up. Picking up his jacket, his cell clattered to the floor noisily. He swore lustily as he picked it up from the sticky floor along with the Jujube box next to it. Slipping his cup into the empty popcorn box, he worked his way up the ramp and out of the theater, dropping his trash off on the way.
Tibbs shrugged his jacket on as he approached the door, slipping the candy box into one of the roomy outer pockets before pushing the door against the pressure of the brisk October winds. Stepping out into the bright light, he tipped his collar up to keep the biting gusts coming off the Potomac off his neck as he hurried to his car. He could hear the box in his pocket rattle lightly as he ran – the clatter of rock hard candies against thin cardboard. A red sports car eased past him, the tall driver flashing him a friendly grin when their eyes met briefly. He bit back the returning grin, allowing for a curt nod of thanks for letting him pass.
Reaching his own car, Special Agent Tibbs blew out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding as he quickly started the engine and got the heater running. Pulling out into traffic, he could see the red sports car deftly weaving through the lunch hour rush the Capital city was notorious for. Tibbs chose to take a more sedate pace, staying in the slow lane to watch for any followers. A detour along the riverfront to avoid the worst of the traffic then a stop at a drive through coffee shop assured him he was alone before he accelerated towards the Navy Yard and the Agency.
As Gibbs strode out of the elevator, he could see Tobias Fornell leaning impatiently on his desk. The FBI agent's partner, Ron Sacks, tapped away on DiNozzo's computer, earning a harsh glare from the former Marine.
"There's an empty desk over there. Use it," Gibbs ordered as he passed a coffee to his FBI counterpart.
Picking up on the source of the lead agent's displeasure, Sacks' superior matched the glare with one of his own. Gibbs watched impatiently as the younger FBI agent twitched his mouth ever so slightly, his gaze sliding from one man to the other. Fornell tipped his head towards the other desk with a raised brow, watching his man log off the computer and rise.
Satisfied that that was now under control, Gibbs briefly met Ziva and McGee's questioning eyes as he swung behind his desk to check his weapon, his eyes radiating confidence to his two junior agents. He watched them both relax at the implied message while remaining ready for the next command – they weren't as attuned to him as Tony but they both had learned well.
"So, Jethro, how was the movie?"
Gibbs momentarily regarded the senior FBI agent with a raised eyebrow. "Better than that damn chick flick I went to last week."
"Boss, I don't think 'Transformers' qualifies as a chick flick," McGee protested before finding himself caught in a cerulean frown. "Um… uh…" Slipping his hands into his pockets, McGee backed next to Ziva. "Nevermind."
"I am a chick and I liked it," Ziva offered her partner with crossed arms and a challenging look as she patiently hovered close to the lead agent's desk while Gibbs quickly double-checked the small pile of messages awaiting his return.
"Ninja chicks don't count -- you're also packing an entire Ginzu set…" McGee rejoined unapologetically.
Fornell snorted in amusement before getting back down to business. "Did you meet with him?"
In answer, Gibbs looked up and quirked the corner of his mouth inscrutably. Rising to his feet, he grabbed the jumbo Caf-Pow! cup, swung his arm to include all of them and headed for the elevator. "Abby's lab. Now."
Reaching the elevator, Fornell eyed his compatriot suspiciously. "You aren't going to tell us anything until we're down there, are you?"
The team leader shrugged noncommittally before escorting his contingent into the elevator. "It'll keep 'til then. We're gonna need Abby's input." Raising an amused eyebrow at his friend's impatient huff, he spun to face the door without another word.
As the elevator headed towards the basement, Sacks condescendingly spoke up from the corner he had been crowded into, "You know, the FBI elevator has muzak."
"That's a good thing?" McGee asked pointedly.
Ziva glanced quizzically at her partner. "What is this muzak?" she inquired softly.
"Sterilized music." McGee huffed. "You do realize we don't have that many floors. It's not like we're in the elevator that much."
Catching Gibbs' eye, Fornell chuckled, "Speak for yourself, McGee."
"Yeah, well… Would the muzak keep going if the elevator is turned off?" the junior field agent wondered out loud.
Ziva slyly cocked a brow at McGee before coyly offering, "I could hum, if it would make you happy, Agent Slacks."
"Enough!" Gibbs barked as the door dinged open to the usual cacophony found on the lab floor. He noticed the two FBI agents momentarily recoil from the din while his own agents were right on his heels when he strode out the elevator and into Abby's open door without a backwards glance, his brief smile hidden from their view.
"GIBBS!" Abby hurtled towards him, grabbing the Caf-Pow! from his hands while still bouncing in his path as questions poured out of her. "Did you see him? How did he look? Did he give you a message for me? When's he coming home? What's—"
She obediently snatched up her remote, clicking it in the general direction of the stereo and plunging the lab into silence before turning back to the team leader only to look incredulously at the candy box he calmly handed her. "Gibbs! You've been going to way too many movies! These are, like, the worst for your teeth!"
"What about this?" he asked, jiggling her cup with an upraised eyebrow.
She drew a long slurp from the straw, glaring at him in outrage. "This…" She licked her lips. "..is the nectar of the gods," she happily explained, smiling smugly in reply to his indulgent grin. She eyed the box again. "So, what's this?"
"That's what I want you to tell me," he answered simply, following her to her workbench when she twirled in place and slipped on some gloves.
Abby opened the box carefully, peeking into it before reaching for a pair of plastic forceps. McGee eagerly leaned closer when the first flash drive came into view. As he slipped into some gloves himself and reached for the device, Abby slapped his hand away.
"McGee! The doctor is still working!"
"Yeah, I can see four more, but there's a whole bunch of candy in the bottom, so that may not be all."
"Four more?" Sacks interrupted, earning a glare from the forensic technician. "How much information did he get?"
"Uh…" McGee considered the small electronic devices thoughtfully as Abby continued to arrange them in a neat row on her counter. "There's really no telling until we open them up," he explained.
Once she extracted the four additional drives, Abby busily scooted on her stool through the crowd to another counter. Grabbing a petri dish, she pushed off, ending up where she had started. With everyone watching closely, she tipped the candy box over it, sending a multicolored cascade of small, hard pellets bouncing into it and across her workbench before extracting one more Jujube encrusted drive from the bottom of the box.
Checking the now empty box one last time, Abby's blood red lips spread into a broad, happy grin. Her ponytails bouncing, she flipped the box so Gibbs could see. "He left me a message!"
The lead agent peered into the box curiously. With one hand on hers, he turned the box, squinting slightly and letting out a short chuff of amusement as he made out the small heart sketched inside with a roughly scribbled smiling bat silhouette in the middle.
"I hate to interrupt, but what do we have here?" Fornell asked wryly.
"Well, uh, it looks like six flash drives, each one capable of handling approximately a hundred twenty-eight Gigs of memory…" McGee passed a can of compressed air to Abby's unspoken request. "Once Abby has them cleaned up, we can see exactly what Tony found so far."
Ziva picked a pellet up, examining it curiously. "This is edible? A candy. Yes?"
"Depends on what you deem edible," McGee answered cautiously. From past experience, he strongly suspected Ziva's definition of edible was considerably broader than his own.
"It does not look or smell edible…" She balanced it on the pad of her thumb before flicking it with her forefinger. When it bounced off Sacks' forehead with a dull 'thwip', she grinned in delight at his scowl.
McGee averted his eyes to hide his amusement. Leave it to Ziva to find a martial use for Jujubes. Wondering what she could do with a Nutterbutter, he made a mental note to not aggravate her near the snack machines as he concentrated on the flash drives Abby was working on.
"This drive's pretty clean," Abby observed out loud. "Let's take a peek at it now and I'll get the rest functional and uploaded as soon as possible." She swung her stool around, scooting it the short distance to her computer. Inserting the drive into the port, she initiated access to the small device.
Tim leaned over her shoulder as she sorted through the information while everyone else crowded around the pair. "Looks like only a few files are encrypted," he noted absently.
"Yeah." The forensic scientist's ponytails bobbed in agreement while she opened another file, scrolling through the list of numbers it yielded. "It looks like this is all in code."
"Any idea what kind?" Fornell asked at her elbow.
Gibbs rounded the counter to look at the plasma. He squinted at the numbers. "Could they be bank accounts? Passwords?"
"I don't know. They aren't all the same length, so if they are, it'll take some narrowing down. A couple have a letter or two interspersed in them but most are simply numerical. They could be anything," Abby admitted. "I'll run some decoding and search programs to see if anything pops up."
"What else is on this disk?"
"Not much. It looks like mainly .jpgs."
She opened a picture of a freighter then sorted through the files again before opening another. This one showed a group of men. In the back, with a broad smile, stood Tony, one arm around a shorter man's shoulder, the other with a drink raised in salute. The man in Tony's embrace grinned around a large cigar, which dwarfed his small facial features, his upraised eyebrows chasing a receding hairline across a furrowed forehead.
"Jesus, Jethro, do you have any idea who he's with?" Fornell exclaimed.
The lead agent didn't know all the men in the picture, but the shorter man next to his senior field agent was the prime target of the sting, Salvatore "The Bulldog" Zaccharia. "There's a reason we sent him in," Gibbs observed proudly even as his gut twisted at the infamous man's closeness to his agent. Looking intently at Tony's face, Gibbs crept closer to the screen. He could see the nearly hidden lines of strain, the slight cloud to the usual sparkle, which sharply contrasted with the wide, friendly grin.
Despite his unremarkable looks, Zaccharia was notorious for his sadistic temper. The brutal, iron grip he maintained on his business dealings was the stuff of legend and any attempts by law enforcement to coerce cooperation from his associates were all met with terrified silence, mysterious disappearances and, in some cases, suicidal reactions.
Gibbs studied the picture for a moment then looked to the senior FBI agent standing next to him. Fornell had approached the plasma with a look akin to awe as his mind raced with possibilities.
Tobias shot a glance at him out the corner of his eyes before returning to his scrutiny. "We may have to rethink the target of this sting," he muttered to Gibbs.
Fornell snorted at his options. "I'd have to run it by a few people, but there are some big fish in that picture. It'd be a perfect opportunity to expand and get them all."
"Not without reading Tony in. The bigger the op, the greater his exposure is gonna be. His neck is all ready pretty far out."
"Do you think you could get word to him?"
"Our next meet isn't until next week. He's in too deep to attempt unplanned contact without having an extraction on stand-by."
"That works for me. I'll talk to my superiors as soon as your people get those files opened – see what they want to do."
"Well, let's get to work; I want this closed sooner, not later," Gibbs cautioned. He peered over his shoulder to where he could meet Abby's eyes over her monitor. "Abs, any chance there are any of those eggs in the pictures?"
"Easter eggs? The file sizes wouldn't indicate it but I'm already checking, just in case."
Sacks stepped closer. "If there wasn't much on this drive, why would DiNozzo use so many of them?" he enquired curiously. He retreated slightly when Abby glared at him. The FBI agent would never admit it, but the NCIS women scared him far more than any of the men.
"Apparently someone thinks I wear spikes for decorative purposes," she muttered under her breath with a demonstrative twirl of her wrist. The Goth stabbed sharply at her keyboard to open a picture of a yacht while she answered defensively, "Just for starters, Agent Slacks, we still don't know how much data is on the others. This drive was only loaded two days ago."
Gibbs rounded the counter to slip up behind her, his chest lightly brushed against her back as he peeked over her shoulder. He felt Abby unconsciously sink into his body warmth, his breath tickled her ear as he suggested, "He may have used a blank one each time he tried to download something in case he got caught."
"That would be the safest way to do it," McGee admitted as he closed rank on the other side of the forensic scientist.
Seeking to help break up the tension, Tobias pointed out, "Like you always said, Jethro, you might not always understand his methods but you gotta love the results. A few of these pictures alone are going to make some people very uncomfortable – I see a few people who have managed to dodge any tangible link to Zaccharia up to now. Abby, do you have any idea how long it will be before we get to see what's on the other drives?"
Looking thoughtfully over her shoulder to meet Gibbs' eyes before answering, Abby shrugged slightly. She faced the FBI agent as she replied, "It should take me an hour tops to clean them up enough to work with but then it totally depends on what's on them. This one only has a couple encrypted files and they look like rudimentary encryptions. Not what I would expect from an organization which is involved in what we think it this."
"Why's that?" Sacks asked.
"Ah…" McGee frowned at the easy question as he paused to sort his thoughts. "With the kind of money and potential ramifications any sort of exposure could involve, it would behoove them to use the best state of the art security, especially on sensitive files. DOD level, preferably. Rule of sevens rewrite/erase protocols…"
"Ducky did suggest Zaccharia was a bit of a technophobe and enough of a narcissist to feel he didn't need to worry," Ziva reminded everyone. "Considering he's a third generation gunrunner, whose family has managed to steer under the radar for so long, he may feel somewhat untouchable."
"Fly under the radar," McGee corrected quietly.
Ziva shook her head at him. "But, they have boats, yes?"
"It's still fly," McGee asserted. He met Gibbs impatient nod, directing his partner's attention towards the senior agent.
"Let's let Abby do her work. We can talk upstairs," Gibbs suggested as he discretely signed –my girl- next to his lab tech's cheek. He paused until he saw the hint of a sparkle break through her preoccupied expression before he turned to head for the door.
"Gibbs?" Her hands tightly clenched in her lap, Abby waited for him to turn back, gratefully watching as he directed the rest of the group to continue on without him.
Eyeing her posture, as Abby slouched slightly on her stool with her feet hooked in the legs, he strode over to her, only stopping when her knees brushed against his thighs. Tilting his head, he bent low to meet her eyes. "What's up, Abs?"
She looked away nervously for a moment, before tentatively meeting his gaze. "Are you sure Tony's okay?" She grimaced before continuing in a rush, "I had that dream again – the one where he's trapped in the hourglass… I'm just afraid something hinky's gonna happen."
Gibbs sighed softly. As much as he wanted to dispel her concerns, his own gut hadn't settled since they began this op and he had long ago learned a healthy, grudging respect for Abby's seeming precognition where his team's safety was concerned. "He looked good when I saw him today," he assured. "With the rate this case is going, he should be back before you know it."
Abby nodded unhappily, only looking up when Gibbs gently lifted her chin.
"I'll send McGee down in a little while. See what DiNozzo's got for us this time and maybe we can get him home where he belongs. Okay?"
A kiss to the cheek elicited a shy smile. He signed -I love you- behind his back as he trotted out of the lab. Abby numbly returned the hand sign to an empty doorway before clicking her remote at the stereo to saturate her corner of the universe in Android Lust, and then directing all her energy into her work.