PART 3: Wednesday
Wednesday morning, Ziva made her way to MTAC to pick up a threat assessment from Analyst Woolcock. He'd promised her a report on a terrorist cell in Morocco that had obtained a shipment of weapons stolen from Norfolk. The team wanted to see if there were a link between that group and a person of interest in their investigation.
Daniel turned when MTAC was accessed and watched as Ziva approached; she fascinated him. He was one of the few people privy to the details of the MCRT mission to Somalia. Better than most, he knew the particulars of the fanatical group they'd taken on. He was no psychologist, but the science fascinated him and he liked to try out the knowledge he'd acquired in college. He believed that the team's experience should have either bound them together or torn them apart. It must have been the latter if DiNozzo needed a change.
"Good morning ma'am. How are you?"
"Good morning, Daniel. Please call me Ziva."
"Yes, ma'am. I mean Ziva." Unconsciously he found himself staring at her, wondering if her background in Mossad would have prepared her for her ordeal.
Ziva waited a few moments for him to speak. "You asked me to come in, Daniel. Do you have a report?"
"Oh, yes. Um, now where…" he searched through the files stacked haphazardly at his station. A few fell to the floor as he identified the one he needed.
"Oops. Here." He bent down to pick it up. "The information we have on the group is sketchy. They were recently identified by a prisoner at Gitmo and our agents have just begun to develop contacts with people close to the compound. They've put together a preliminary list of the group's known associates both in country and abroad."
"Is there a link to our suspect?"
"Um, nothing definite yet. It says here, that a cousin, no, a nephew… some family member meets with the leader of the cell regularly, but it's, um, it's circumstantial as to the involvement of your suspect at this point." His awkwardness evoked Ziva's sympathy. She knew Daniel wanted to get some experience in the field, but she didn't know if he'd be able to succeed as an agent. Tony had compared him to Tim when he'd worked at Norfolk, but she had a difficulty believing that Tim had once been this awkward.
"Agent Wells in Rabat promised to check in with more information in the morning; I mean in their morning." Woolcock finished his report.
"Thank you, please keep me informed."
"I will." As she turned to leave, he blurted out. "Is it true, about Agent DiNozzo?"
"Is what true?"
"That he's leaving NCIS for a job with DC Metro police."
"Where did you hear this?" The undercurrent in her voice made him nervous.
"Hu-human resources. Mrs. Hogue said there would be an opening for an agent because he was leaving. He's tired of working here, I guess. Of course he wouldn't be tired of you, but maybe your boss, he's always giving those head slaps and the evidence techs keep talking about how McGee can't handle himself at a crime scene, he gets sick at the sight of blood…" His voice trailed off as he saw her expression change.
"I do not know Agent DiNozzo's plans." Ziva said coolly and walked away annoyed. Woolcock was wrong in his assessment of the team. Tony's relationship with his boss was better than ever before; Gibbs' respect for him seemed to have grown during the past year. McGee was more than capable at crime scenes and hadn't turned green at the sight of one in years. Maybe she should pay a visit to the evidence technicians to straighten them out about that point.
However as she began to work, she had difficulty dismissing the analyst's words. He had a reliable source of information; Ziva knew Marliss, and the woman was incapable of spreading gossip. In spite of his poor reasoning, Woolcock might be right about Tony leaving NCIS. Since she knew he had no problem with the men on the team, she wondered if his difficulty were with her. After she'd returned to NCIS, she thought she'd mended matters between them and that they'd worked back into a comfortable relationship, but maybe it hadn't been enough.
Tim was waiting for the elevator in the lobby. He'd enjoyed the day off, taking Jethro for a long walk and working on the continuing adventures of Agent McGregor. He grinned, anticipating Tony's reaction when he read the next book. In the chapter he'd just finished, Agent Tommy was watching an attractive woman during a stakeout. When he disobeyed Tibbs and asked her out for drinks, Tommy discovered the woman was actually a man. Tim almost laughed out loud in remembrance. The resolution of the Voss case had been a highlight of the first year he'd known Tony.
The mention of Tony's name made Tim aware of a conversation taking place nearby. He turned slightly and saw two of the new aides from Legal standing behind him. He should know the blonde girl; was her name was Lena? No, it was Lisa, just like Officer Lisa in Deep Six. He remembered now he'd thought of her that way because she couldn't take her eyes off Tony when he was around.
"Why would he leave?" Lisa's friend was asking.
"They said he wants a change and a chance to work with a new team." Tim was confused, were they still talking about Tony?
"It's got to be that witch he has for a partner. He risks his life to single handedly rescue her from her captors," Tim restrained a snort of amusement, "and what does she do? She's insulting him every time I see her. She's threatening to kill him with a stapler. That's ingratitude for you."
"She has no respect for him. Did you know that she followed him into the men's bathroom to interrogate him?"
"I know. Did you see what she did to his drink at Halloween? It took him forever to get that blue dye off of his teeth." The elevator doors opened and Tim moved in then turned to face the girls.
"If I were fortunate enough to have him for a partner, you'd never see me doing something like that. Why, I'd…" Lisa raised her eyes to see Tim looking down at her with an eyebrow raised. She blushed and backed away with her friend stammering something about how she really should take the stairs.
As the doors closed, Tim shook his head. It was ridiculous the rumors that flew around the building. Someone must have missed seeing Tony yesterday, mentioned it to someone else, and suddenly he was missing because he'd quit his job. He bet whoever started the story hadn't noticed that the rest of the team had been away as well.
Tim passed Ziva sitting at her desk. "Good morning, Ziva." She must have come in early to put in some work on the arms dealer investigation. A number of the illegally obtained weapons from a previous shipment had ended up in the hands of Hamas, and Ziva took that kind of thing very personally. He frowned when he noticed she wasn't paying attention, maybe there was something disturbing in the report she was reading. "Ziva, is something wrong?"
"I do not know. I just spoke with Woolcock in Intel. He told me that Tony was leaving for a new job."
"I heard the same story from some of the people in Legal on my way in. You can't believe that, it's just gossip."
"I thought so as well, but it was Marliss Hogue in human resources who told him. She barely speaks, let alone spreads rumors. She would know if he had filed a notice."
Before Tim could reply, Gibbs' desk phone rang. He was closest and answered. "Hello, Agent Gibbs' desk…. Tony, is that you?" Ziva stood up and walked over. "Oh, okay, I'll let him know. See you then."
"What was that about?"
"Tony is sick. He said his doctor wants to see him and scheduled an appointment for him this morning. He'll be in sometime after lunch."
"Tony is going to see a doctor voluntarily? That does not sound like something he would do."
"I know." Tim remembered the combined efforts of the team couldn't get Tony back to the hospital after he'd almost been blown up while he was still recovering from the plague. He might like the sympathy he got when he was wounded, but he didn't like being treated by doctors.
"Do you remember what he was doing the last time he missed work on short notice to see a doctor?"
It took Tim a minute to see what she was implying. "I'm sure he really is sick. I doubt Director Vance sent Tony undercover in the pursuit of our latest suspected arms dealer."
"Still, it makes one think." Ziva returned to her desk.
And Tim was thinking. Could Tony really be looking for another job? During the summer Tim had been concerned about Tony. However since they'd returned Ziva to NCIS, he'd pulled out of the fog he'd been living in. Things were not perfect on the team now, but Tony's rapport with them was better than it had been since Director Shepherd assigned Tony the La Grenouille mission. They were doing better as a team now, more efficient in the field…and maybe that was the problem. Tim had changed a lot in the years he'd been working with MCRT, he was not just a computer geek, but was more competent and confident in his abilities. Even early on, Tony had displayed some jealousy of the treatment Gibbs gave Tim. Surely Tony didn't think that his skills weren't needed on the team anymore.
Ducky was going over the conclusions he'd made about the victim of a narcotics overdose. The physical evidence at the crime scene pointed toward an accident. The victims' roommate was distraught and under arrest for having obtained the drug. Most of the evidence from the autopsy also indicated the overdose was accidental, but some of the details were inconclusive. Ducky was outlining what would need to be done to eliminate the uncertainty when Abby rushed into the lab.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, there you are! And Ducky's here, too. Of course he's here. It's autopsy. Where's Tony?"
Gibbs looked down at his coffee. All out. He'd need a full cup to deal with Abby at this level of excitement. "He's not in yet; had a doctor's appointment."
"At the doctor! You remember what happened last time he left to see a doctor? He wasn't sick was he? Have you ever heard of blue flu? I guess it would be black flue in Tony's case, but that sounds too much like the black plague and ooh, he's had that, the pneumonic plague anyway, what if he really is sick…"
"What are you talking about, Abby?" Gibbs cut her off.
"Why didn't you tell me Tony was leaving?" Abby accused him.
"Leaving for what?"
"You mean he hasn't told you either? Oh this is not good. This is bad; this is very, very bad. Stop. Positive thoughts. He's not going to leave, he won't leave after he hears what we're going to say."
"What do you mean, Abigail?" Ducky asked.
"Tony is going to quit his job at NCIS, but we aren't going to let that happen. We are going to have an intervention for him in my lab this afternoon; it's all planned out. We are going to tell him how much we appreciate what he does and how much we need him. I even wrote scripts for everyone, because I know some people might not know what to say. We'll have cake, too, with Ohio State colors. He should like that even if the team isn't doing well this season. How are they doing? I should know; I should take an interest in his interests. Then maybe we wouldn't be in this place…"
"Did Tony tell you he was leaving?" Gibbs brought her back to the point.
"Gibbs, Thurman Atteberry told me he heard Tony talking with Detective Sparr from Metro about a new job. He's looking for a different team and wants a change."
"Tony didn't tell you himself."
"Well, how could he, what if something I've done is the reason he wants to leave?"
"Abby, you are not part of his problem. He's not leaving." Gibbs threw his cup away and started out the door.
"How do you know?" Abby called after him.
"My gut." He really needed to get some more coffee.
"I suppose it's good news that the gut doesn't believe it, but I don't want to trust just that." Abby sounded somewhat reassured. "Ducky you'll be at the party, won't you?"
"Of course my dear, but I'm not sure I believe Anthony is leaving either. It doesn't seem in character for him to leave for such a trivial reason."
"I didn't think so either, but Thurman is certain he heard Tony say he was leaving. I've been trying to understand. He wouldn't want to work at Metro if he didn't like the job he was doing here."
"I couldn't imagine that he would want different teammates either. He, as well as the rest of you, moved heaven and earth to bring Ziva back." Ducky sat down at his desk to search for a file. "You know despite his sometimes juvenile actions, he has a great capacity to care for and protect his friends. Remember how he took looked after Timothy during the Benedict case? Perhaps his reason for leaving is to shield us from something."
"But what could it be?"
"Lately we've noticed he becomes fatigued easily. Gibbs asked me to take him aside to speak with him when I had a chance. He had a nasty cough Monday night, and today he has a doctor's appointment." Ducky found the file he was looking for.
"Are you thinking he has more than a cold?"
"It could be as simple as a cold. However with the damage his lungs have sustained, he could easily develop pneumonia." Ducky opened the file. "There was something I read in his personnel file that induces me to review his detailed medical history. His mother died early, did she not? I want to learn the particulars of her case then discuss them with him. But perhaps he's discovered that he inherited her disorder, and now symptoms are beginning to emerge. He decides he doesn't want us to have to deal with him during a physical decline and so he looks for another position. Of course, it would be a poor reason…"
"Check the records, Ducky. I need to go, I have to set up a party and finish working on the blood samples from the Scott case." Abby called out over her shoulder as she was leaving. "Tell Jimmy when he comes in."
Tim and Ziva had been working quietly; though they exchanged little conversation, they'd decided to complete some of Tony's reports. To each other, they excused it by saying Tony would assign the work to his probies anyway, but unspoken was the idea that they were doing this as a token of appreciation for Tony.
Tim's desk phone rang. "Agent McGee."
Abby's anxious voice rang out. "Is Tony back from his doctor's visit, yet?"
"No, he's not."
"Put me on speaker and get Ziva over here." There was a slight pause while Ziva made her way to Tim's desk. "Have you heard about Tony? He's leaving us for Metro. How could he do that? What do they have that we don't? Their forensic lab is…"
"Yes, Abby we've heard." Tim cut through her speech to curtail what would become a rant about the DC Metro scientists.
"Aren't you upset?"
"If he is leaving, and so far we have not heard it from him, then yes, we would be upset." Ziva assured her.
"He was talking to Andrea Sparr about finding a new job, so something is going on. We have to stop him. When he comes in this afternoon, everyone will gather in my lab for an intervention. We're going to tell him how important he is to our team and let him know he can't leave. We'll stay as long as it takes; I brought refreshments. It's a good thing that I don't have much evidence to run today, imagine mixing up the sugar with acrylamide."
"What do you want us to do?" Tim asked.
"Call me when Tony gets in and I'll gather everyone here. While you are waiting, think of something nice to say about him. If you can't think of anything, that's okay. I mean it's not okay that you can't think of something, but okay because I wrote out some ideas for each of you. I can send them to you. Ziva, you could begin with what a wonderful partner…"
"Thank you, Abby, I do not think that will be necessary." Ziva smiled.
"Okay, I need to go; one of my babies is calling. Bye."
"How many Caf-Pows do you think she's had this morning?" Tim grinned as he hung up.
"Too many. Tim, would you go to Abby's lab when Tony gets here, and let me escort him downstairs alone? What I want to say to him I could best say without everyone listening."
She walked away, leaving Tim to wonder what it was she had to say.
Tony strolled into the bullpen Wednesday afternoon having come directly to work from his doctor's office. He'd just wanted to get a prescription for a stronger cough medicine, but ever since he'd contracted the plague, his doctors overreacted to the tiniest of sniffles. Dr. Sapra had wanted Tony to come in for an appointment to check out his lungs. He'd waited in a crowded room for the doctor for over an hour with people who sounded much worse than he did. The antibiotics the doctor had prescribed should be useful, because if he weren't actually sick now, he soon would be.
"Tony, good afternoon, how are you doing?" Ziva greeted him with a smile and a cup of coffee. "I just made a coffee run and thought you might enjoy a cup."
"What did the doctor say? Did he think it was anything serious?" Tim looked up from his work.
"No, it's probably just a sinus infection. You don't have to worry about catching swine flu from me."
"That's not why I asked. I just thought that you should take it easy. Ziva and I finished your paperwork for Gibbs on the Young case so you can go home early and rest."
Tony looked at the bottle of antibiotics suspiciously. Did they give him hallucinogens instead of penicillin?
Tim looked at his watch. "Excuse me, I need to go check on something Abby's working on." He headed for the elevator.
"So, Ziva, what did you do on your day off?"
"I read a good book and cooked. You?"
"I went to the local gym and played some pick up basketball."
"You are on the NCIS team, yes?"
"Well…" Tony was interrupted by Ziva's phone ringing.
"Yes. We will be there shortly." Ziva hung up. "Abby wants to see us in her lab."
"I didn't ask."
"I bet she has some new ideas from the conference she attended. Something about cuts or clips like last time."
"SNPs. No, I think she was excited about some equipment she heard about. They are developing a compact DNA identification device that can be used in the field."
"One more thing for us to carry around." They stepped into the elevator.
Once it was in motion, Ziva hit the emergency stop switch. "I need to tell you something."
"What about Abby?"
"She will wait a few minutes." Ziva took a deep breath. "Tony, beneath your joking exterior, you are an excellent agent and I have learned much from you since I joined the team. You have always had my six and I should never have lost sight of that." She paused; it was evident that she was having some difficulty telling him this. "You were the driving force behind the team coming to my rescue this summer and I must say again thank you. I understand you need a change, but I hope it is not because of our past." She started the elevator again.
The rest of the trip was made in silence. Tony was confused, he had no idea what Ziva meant about needing a change. The cold medicine must be playing with his head. Maybe they gave him a decongestant with codeine. He never responded well to painkillers; he'd have to ask the doctor call in a new prescription. In the meantime, he could pull Abby aside after her report and ask her what was going on. Maybe she could explain why Ziva and Tim were acting so strangely.
When they arrived at the lab, the lights were off. "Abby?"
"Surprise!" Abby yelled. The lights came on and he saw Gibbs, Ducky, and Tim in the lab as well.
"What's going on here?" Tony was well past confused now. Why were they throwing him a party?
"Tony, This is an appreci-vention party. That's a cross between an intervention and an appreciation party. We don't tell you often enough how important you are to us. We love you Tony and we don't want you to leave. You can't leave NCIS, we're not just a team we're family. A strange and unusual family with Gibbs as our Dad and Ducky as our uncle. You and me and Timmy and Ziva are siblings, or maybe half siblings, because then some of the relationships would definitely be hinky…"
"Abby." Gibbs interrupted.
"We are all," Abby glared significantly at Gibbs, "going to tell you why you have to stay at NCIS. It was my idea, so I'll start. Tony, you've become my best friend and I want you to stay. But more than that, you bring something special to the team and they need you to be able to do what they do. When you were assigned…"
As Abby spoke, Tony's mind was whirling. Abby thought he was leaving NCIS. Ziva thought he wanted a change. As he wondered where they got those ideas, a vision of a shocked and silent Thurman flashed through his mind and he remembered the phone conversation he'd had with Andrea Monday night. They thought he wanted to leave them. Tony opened his mouth to explain, but was stopped by a second thought. It wasn't often that he heard anything like this from the team, and it would be interesting to hear more, especially from Gibbs.
"Tim, it's your turn" Abby was saying as he returned his attention to her.
"Tony, you might call me names, glue my fingers to the keyboard, and borrow my money without returning it, but I know that you only do it because you care. Ow!" Abby punched McGee in the shoulder, "Timmy!"
"Seriously Tony, I know that I've come a long way from the Probie that you met at Norfolk. You've helped me change from a guy who's only comfortable with computers into a real field agent. I know that your experience and instinct are invaluable to our team. We couldn't do the work we do without you."
"Thank you, McGee." Tony decided a serious, brief response was the best way to keep the revelations coming.
"Anthony, I've watched you turn from an overly confident rookie into a fine agent and gentleman. I remember the case we worked on Air Force One…"
As Ducky reminisced, Abby saw Jimmy in the doorway and motioned him over. "Jimmy, come on in."
"Hey, what's going on?" Jimmy asked in an undertone.
"I'm glad you got my message. We're all telling Tony why he shouldn't leave the team. Do you have anything you want to say?"
"Why would you want him to stay? The other guys obviously don't want him there." Jimmy's raised voice caught everyone's attention and they all turned to him in shock.
"Jimmy, how could you say that?" Abby wailed.
"It's true. I was at the last practice and Hoffman make it clear that if Tony couldn't show up on time, he didn't need to come at all. They should know with his schedule that he can't guarantee he'd be on time. Tony gets along really well with the guys at Metro homicide, maybe he could join their team."
For once Abby was speechless. As she opened and closed her mouth trying to form a reply, Tim asked. "Are you talking about the basketball team?"
"Yes, isn't that what you were talking about?"
All eyes now turned toward DiNozzo. Abby regained her ability to speak. "You're not leaving NCIS? Why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't know what you were talking about Abby, so I didn't want to say anything. But you don't really think that I would leave NCIS? You should know better, all of you, but thank you for the party. It was really special to hear everything you had to say." Tony grinned and put his arms around Tim and Ziva. "Now that I know I inspire you, I think I should share more of my wisdom and experience with you. I could be like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. You know the 1989 movie directed by Peter Weir? Robin Williams plays Professor John Keating and teaches the young lads to look beyond their—Hey where are you all going?" Tony protested as people started to move toward the door.
Tim clapped him on the shoulder, "Enjoy your cake." Ziva took his face in her hands and patted his cheek.
"You all can't leave now! The party's just getting started." Tony protested.
"My dear boy, I think that while we are all pleased to know that you are staying with us, you must understand our chagrin in acting on our mistaken belief. Come along, Mr. Palmer. We have a new guest in autopsy with which to become acquainted." Jimmy waved and grinned as Ducky ushered him out the door.
Abby hugged Tony. "I'll stay. I'm so glad you aren't leaving."
"Gibbs, wait, weren't you going to say something?" Tony made one last effort.
"Get back to work, DiNozzo."