Disclaimer: same as Chapter 1.

Author's notes:

- Id est is Latin for 'That is', usually abbreviated i.e.

-'The English patient' is a 1996 romantic drama movie, starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche.

- To Guest: please don't worry; The Watcher 2.0 is almost finished. Tim just wants it the new version to be perfect out of respect for the fallen Marines.

- To Sprouthater: I hope you will like this new chapter! ;o)

- To RedDragen: thank you for your kind words. It is nice to be back, believe me!

- To Corala: I think you will find some answers in this new chapter.

- To None: Ziva will certainly tell Tim about her feelings, but she rightly thinks he is still mourning Aimee and she wants to give him time to heal.

- To Guest: thank you for your good wishes! The dissertation's results won't arrive before long weeks.

- To mark gibbs: like Roald Dahl, I believe in baddies getting their just desserts! :o)

- To Guest: Tim did not have an USB copy of The Watcher since it was a highly-confidential project… In fact, the only backup copy he has is in his brains!

- To Francis: thank you! I hope you will keep on enjoying the story.

Chapter 73: A termination

Gibbs' basement…

Gibbs tightened his grip on the glass of Bourbon to refrain himself from exploding in anger. In the past, he had always been glad to see Abby at his house; she always brought food and they would share it over glasses of Kentuckian alcohol, while she would pour her heart out about the problems she encountered at work, or her latest bowling competition with the nuns of the St. John Chrysostom convent, or even the most gruesome cases his team had to investigate. Abby would generally end up in tears at the recollection of the victims' sorry state and Gibbs would console her by reminding the murderers were in jail, all thanks to her good work at the lab. Abby then would ask him if she were indeed the best Forensics scientist of NCIS and Gibbs would answer by the affirmative, with a sworn statement that she were the smartest person he had encountered in his life.

Abby would then go home in her strange-looking car with a happy smile on her face, reassured in both her professional skills and her special place she had in the team. She treasured her status of 'favorite' and she was ready to keep it at all costs, with a determination matching Tony's for his title of 'adopted son'.

But from some time now, in fact since he had returned from his botched rescue mission in Afghanistan, Gibbs had felt nothing but annoyance towards the Goth woman. He had kept a stone-like attitude at work in an effort to stop the NCIS' rumor mill from buzzing wildly about his team members, since they needed new gossips like they needed to be whacked over the head with a hammer. But in the comforts of home, lost in his misery about the goof he had made with Butler and the recollection of Tim's rage, the ex-Marine was not in the mood of hearing the usual ranting and ravings of a vexed Abby. And her furious glares towards McGee's picture were not improving the situation, either.

"What do you want, Abs?" asked Gibbs without relinquishing his hold on the rosewood frame.

"This is not what I've asked, Gibbs! How is it that you have a picture of McGee on your worktable?"

"Last time I've checked, what I have or don't have in my house is none of your business, Abby."

"But… But… It's McGee!" sputtered the woman.

"And your point is…?"

"How come you don't have a picture of me, huh? How come? You've always said I was your favorite! Why is it you have a photo of McGee instead of me?"

Gibbs was about to say he did have a picture of her. It was the one taken during the Fourth of July barbecue, in which all the team members gathered around grilled ribs and sausages, and it was currently gathering dust just behind the toolbox. He could have grabbed it to show the Goth woman the mistake she had made but decided against it, as he had never felt the need to justify any of his actions in his life, not even to Abby.

"Like I've said, what I do in my house is of no business but mine, Abs!"

"What's wrong with you? Have you completely forgotten about me?" bellowed Abby while stomping her platform boot on the basement's floor. "You've left me out to dry with that creepy Peterson and you spend all your free time daydreaming about McGee, instead of coming to my aid!"

"Abby, this is uncalled for! You cannot accuse me of ignoring about you. I've tried to make Peterson change his mind about the complaint but he wouldn't budge. What did you expected me to do, kill him?"

"Yes! That what the former Gibbs – the better Gibbs! – would have done, to save me! After all I've suffered in my life I expected more consideration from you!"

The ridiculous statement left Gibbs speechless but, in a way, he was not surprised. Abby never missed an occasion to mention her tragic childhood as an orphan – omitting she had loving, adoptive parents –, the impervious attitude of her peers at school towards Goth music – overlooking the fact she had relished on the attention –, and her financial struggles at university – conveniently forgetting her squandering of scholarships – to explain why she needed Gibbs' constant moral support. She had been soooooooo unfortunate in her life that she needed to be protected from 'enemies' (id est jealous persons who envied her scientific mind) and 'ignoramuses' (in other words, whoever unaware of the Goth culture) by her silver-haired fox at all times.

And Gibbs had been the perfect man for the job; anyone who had dared to stand against Abby had never fully recovered from his or her encounter with the ex-Marine, conferring the Lab Rat an aura of invulnerability allowing her to do as she pleased despite the fact her actions could put other people in trouble, especially McGee. However, Peterson did not deserve to be executed because he had refused to withdraw his complaint against Abby. Tim's departure had widened Gibbs' gaze at long last and he had to admit – even if it hurt to do it – that Peterson's grievance was based on solid ground. The man had definitively not appreciated the insults Abby had hurled at his head on the day she came back to work, simply because he had dared to tidy up the lab during her absence.

"Abby, this is getting ridiculous. You cannot expect me to kill the employee of a federal agency just to save you from trouble! Who do you think I am, a contract killer?"

"But what will I become, if you don't help me? Don't you give a damn about my career?" shouted Abby. "Don't you care about me anymore? Am I to be tossed out on the streets, like the lowest of the low? Don't you respect my work? I have done wonders for NCIS! For your information, you wouldn't have solved one single case without my input!"

"We're a team, Abs," answered Gibbs as calmly as he could. "The contribution of each one of us is needed as we all aim for the same goal."

"But MY contribution is more important than the others! I'm the brains of the team!"

"Good grief, Abby, there's no need to act like a Drama Queen! Everybody's important in my team: you, Tony, Ziva and Tim, you are all equal to my eyes. Why can't you see it?"

Abby started to cry, startling the ex-Marine as her volatile temper never missed to surprise him but for once, he did not feel like employing the usual way to calm the Lab Rat – namely, hugging her and telling she was the best. Instead, he remained seated with Tim's photo in his hands, remembering his youngest son's harsh words about favorites and how they could get away with anything whereas others would be belittled at the slightest misstep.

He remembered the promise he had made to Tim in the hospital room, about proving to the young man that he was of equal importance as Tony, Ziva and Abby. Tim had refused to believe him and it had been quite a blow to Gibbs' pride, since he considered himself being the most trustworthy boss in the world but he had pushed aside feelings of bitterness.

Only Tim mattered and Gibbs was resolute in keeping his promise, even if it would take years to fulfill it. In fact, this promise had become Gibbs' lifelong mission and nothing would prevent him from reaching his goal, not even a few tears shed by Abby. As upset as she was about the possibilities of losing her job, it did not give her the right to make murder plans against a federal employee or to pretend being the more important member of a team.

"Yeah, and you sure told her about this itty-bitty fact over the years, haven't you, Gibbs?" asked the mocking voice of Good Sense inside the ex-Marine's brains. "You certainly have made sure Abby would never think she is more important than your other 'kids', not in a million years… Oops, nope, you didn't! In fact, you've let Abby believe she was untouchable, up on a pedestal. And now, she reveals her true colors: a scared woman who falls apart as soon as someone makes a stand against her, and who is pathologically possessive."

Gibbs let out a sigh, making Abby look at him through tears-filled eyelashes. Something was wrong: she had been crying for more than a minute and her silver-haired fox had not hugged her yet. The Teeam Leader would normally take her into his arms as soon as a second tear would drop, but lately he had seemed reluctant in offering his usual reassurances. In fact, he seemed to be more distant since his return from Afghanistan, after that no-good Ziva had stayed behind with traitor McGee.

"That's quite enough from you, Abby."

"W-What?" stuttered the Lab Rat, barely believing her own ears.

"I've said, enough! It's completely useless to turn on the waterworks andyou are overreacting about Peterson's complaint. Besides, the whole matter would have been solved weeks ago if you had gathered the courage to fess up and admit to Vance that you have been out of line with Peterson."

"Rule no. 6! "Apologizing is a sign of weakness!"" shot Abby.

"Rule no. 8: "Never take anything for granted"", shot Gibbs back. "You wrongly thought Peterson would back down at the mere sight of me, just like I was wrong to think Tim would accept to work for thoughtless bullies for the whole duration of his career."

"Bullies? Who are you talking about?"

"US, Abby! For God's sake, I'm talking about US, the entire team, without exception! We all played a part in Tim's decision to leave. Why can't you admit it?"

"But I don't give a damn about McGee! He can stay in Afghanistan, or go to China, or be transferred to the South Pole for all I care – and you should wash your hands off him as well. He has never been good enough for the team anyway, whereas I've proven time and time again to be irreplaceable."

Abby dabbed at her eyes with a black silken handkerchief, convinced she had made a valid point. With her schooling and Gibbs in her corner, Abby had not encountered any problem in imposing her superior knowledge to the other members of the team. Tony, the late Kate and Ziva were absolute dunces when it came to science so Abby had remained totally unchallenged in her field. She had quickly proven her worth and whenever she brought much-needed forensics' results for murder cases, she would get kissed on the cheek by Gibbs with the cherished words "Good work, Abs", crowning her accomplishments. For a time, she had been the indisputable Queen of Science… until Tim McGee had showed up, with that annoying brilliance of his.

Abby could not forgive McGee for having gone to MIT and John Hopkins and she had reminded him many times that she could have gotten a second degree as well, if she had had the money but she was not the privileged offspring of a Navy Admiral! Tim had tried to explain that his education had been partly financed by a trust fund from his late grandfather; the rest had been paid for with scholarships and math tutorials to kids, since Admiral McGee had been less than supportive about his son's education. But Abby's resentment had been too deep and she had brushed off Tim's explanations, persuaded he wanted to take her place as the team's scientist while Tony would laugh out loud at McGee's statement about working night and day had prevented him to flirt with university girls.

Afterwards, Abby had tried to devalue her alleged rival's scientific knowledge by asking Gibbs to order Tim to help her at the lab – the implicit message being, 'McGee's only good as an assistant'. She had solicited his help time and time again, regardless of her demands impeding on Tim's work but her little game had backfired badly since rumors had reached Jenny Sheppard's ears about Abby being too busy to keep up with Team Gibbs' schedule. As a result, she had been granted an official assistant, Charles Sterling, who had tried to kill her.

While Abby was trying to recompose herself, Gibbs was having a hard time to not explode out of sheer indignation. Tim McGee, never good enough? His Tim, his son who had worked his ass off to become one of the finest agents NCIS ever had within its ranks? Wash his hands off Tim McGee, the probable future Director of a federal agency? That was a blatant insult! The silver-haired man was seething with anger and, if it had been anyone but Abby, he would have walloped the idiot daring to make such an outrageous statement.

"I cannot believe you've just said that, Abs," said Gibbs between clenched teeth.

"And I cannot believe you'd let McGee's absence distract you from real problems, Gibbs – namely, my problem with Peterson. It's hard for me to think you've put me in the backburner, considering all what we had to go through since McGee's desertion…"

"He's NOT a deserter, Abby! NCIS is a government's agency and people can make career choices as they please. I forbid you to call him this!"

"But you gotta admit everything has gone downhill since he has turned his back on us," insisted Abby. "Tony's been demoted, Ziva is abroad and me being unjustly suspended, and then getting a Citation Release for having defended Jethro."

"That dog didn't need defending in the first place; it was a matter of you sticking your nose where it didn't belong and then you stupidly assaulted a police officer, simply because he was doing his job. Now you've got a record and I had to pay your fine at the courthouse since you've never been penny-wise."

"All this would NEVER have happened if McGee had stayed with us! And now, Ziva's got that wild idea in her head about her having to play nurse in the middle of the desert, just like that French actress in 'The English patient' movie. But if she thinks her angel of mercy act will give her a chance with McGee, then she has another thing coming. I won't let her. I won't let her!" sputtered Abby in rage.

This last statement made Gibbs frown; he could recognize jealousy when he saw it and Abby's rigid posture, clenched fists and shining eyes made a perfect illustration for that 'Othello' line about jealousy. He was quite aware the Lab Rat had ended her romance with Tim years ago: the official reason was out of respect of rule no. 12, "Never date a co-worker" but the unofficial reason was Abby being incapable of commitment. The very idea of a serious relationship made her run for cover, since she preferred a lifetime of parties and Goth music concerts to the quiet stability of a home.

Her carefree nature had broken McGee's heart – twice – but in parallel, Abby went green of envy whenever a woman expressed an interest towards the computer tech. Not that Tim had much luck in the sentimental field, though: almost every woman he had met had turned out to be a psycho, a fraud or a killer. It had taken him a mission in Afghanistan to finally meet a good woman… but she had been killed because of Gibbs and Tim would mourn her for the rest of his days.

The silver-haired man grunted softly as guilt stabbed him in the heart like a thin, icy blade. To think I've hurt my baby so much…

He was about to tell the Lab Rat to not say stupid things, but then… he thought twice about it. For all her recklessness, Abby was still one of the sharpest people he had ever met and her intelligence, combined with jealousy, was quite effective in nosing out a teammate involved in a relationship.

Tim and Ziva? Was the idea plausible? Judging from Abby's venomous glares, it was possible. After all, the former Mossad officer had not hesitated for a second to brave Vance's orders and jump in a plane as soon as she had learned about the kidnapping. And Tim had made it clear he did not considerate Gibbs as his boss any longer and thus, he did not have to obey his rules. But the silver-haired man knew his youngest son's big heart; it had been torn to shreds by his lady-love's death and it was going to take some time before he would consider starting a new relationship.

Then again, Ziva had learned to be patient during her Mossad training…

But if there were a chance Tim and Ziva would fall in love, then it was up to Gibbs to not let anyone to stand on their way, not even his surrogate daughter.

"What do you mean, you won't let her?" asked the ex-Marine in a low, dangerous voice that Abby failed to notice.

"Just like I've said, I won't let her. Ziva has no business with McGee. She'd better back off, or else…"

"Or else, what?"

"I'll make her life so unbearable that she'll rue the day she double-crossed me!"

That was the last straw. A quote from Confucius, saying "To go too far is as bad as to fall short" came to Gibbs' mind as he carefully put the framed photograph back on the worktable. Abby had overstepped her bounds and she definitively needed to hear what her silver-haired fox had to say about threats towards his adopted niece and insults about his youngest son.

"No you won't, Abby."

"But, Gibbs…"

"You won't! You are going to leave Ziva alone if you know what's good for you. In the eventuality she and Tim become an item, you won't make one move against them and keep poisonous comments to yourself – otherwise, and don't think for a second these are idle words, I will go to Vance and personally ask him to kick you out of NCIS."

"WHAT? You can't be serious!"

"Oh, I am dead serious, Abby. I've already told you about me being fed up with your diva-like attitude and the habit you've developed about lashing out at random anytime something vexes you. For the past months, you've done nothing but causing dissensions in my team – the scene with McGee at the bullpen, your arrest at Langdon Park, pushing Ducky away, the spiteful comments at the conference room and the trash you've served Peterson, all this because you were furious at the thought Tim wouldn't be around for months to be your doormat."

"You… You… You're taking Ziva's side?"

"To Hell with sides! What we need is a bit of solidarity between us to get our team back! Do the words Esprit de Corps have any meaning for you? You know, that sense of shared purpose and fellowship felt by people belonging to a particular group? Well, it has been missing for years within Team Gibbs and I've been a complete moron not to notice it."

"But Ziva is aiming for McGee, and she has no right to do this!"

"And why not?"

"Because he's mine; Timmy's mine, Gibbs!" pleaded the Goth woman with a new batch of tears running on her cheeks. "He has been for years and nobody can come up to snatch him away from me!"

"Oh, yeah? You were not really concerned after the terrorists had snatched Tim."

"That's not true!"

"Yes, it is. "McGee is inept; he cannot lie nor fight; he's a complete flop and now we have to find him, what a chore!" Isn't that what you've said after we've learned about his abduction? That's hardly the words of a concerned party, if you ask me. Since you don't care about Tim, then you're the one who has no business in meddling into his personal life. You have ceased to be a couple years ago so Tim isn't yours anymore and I'm tired of watching you twist his heart around, treating him like a lackey while dangling promises of a renewed relationship in front of his eyes."

"You have no right to judge me!" roared the Goth woman, her white skin turning red with anger under the make-up. "I've never done anything wrong to Timmy!"

"Delude yourself as much as you want but stop that screaming-mad banshee act, this is not worthy of you. You're supposed to be a smart person so you shouldn't have any trouble understanding when I tell you this: I won't let you or anyone else meddle in McGee and David's lives in case they find happiness with each other. Their relationship will be off-limits to you, just like it will be for Tony and his lousy jokes and anybody else for that matter."

"So that's it, then? That's really it? I'm less important than McGee for you?"

"You damn well know that's not the point!" exclaimed the Team Leader, reaching the limits of his short temper. "Gosh, I curse the day I've let you all believe you had to fight against each other to win a 'Gibbs' favorite' trophy that doesn't even exist."

"First you've failed to solve my problem with Peterson, and now you refuse to help me with Ziva trying to steal McGee from me! But what in the world is wrong with you, Gibbs? Are you still Gibbs or maybe you're a clone! Yes, that's the only logical explanation. You're a pale copy of Gibbs failing miserably in trying to act like him!"

"Abby, cut that nonsense! I'm not in the mood for science-fiction and you'd better heed my words: clean up your act at work and don't even try to pry information about McGee. Now go home, and I expect you to be at the lab at 7:00 sharp tomorrow morning."

"How can I go to work tomorrow? You've terminated me!" said the Lab Rat while noisily blowing her nose with her handkerchief.

"That's not true; you still have a place in my heart, regardless of how outrageous your behavior had been recently, do you hear?"

"Yes…" whispered Abby, not sounding too convinced.

"Good. Now, I want you to engrave two stated facts inside your memory: A) Tim is not yours and B) you leave him and Ziva alone. Straying off that path will have severe consequences for you; consider this as my first and last warning! Go home, have some rest, and in the meantime consider again a certain advice about apologizing to Peterson. Rule no. 51: "Sometimes, you're wrong." I've discovered this rule late in life and I don't want you to do the same mistake.""

Gibbs turned about to look at Tim's photo and did not bother watching Abby storming off the basement in a state of complete and utter confusion. Doubtless she was at a loss about her silver-haired man's change of heart but deep down, he could not care about her opinion for the moment. Confucius once said, "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps". Gibbs' goal was clearly defined: he wanted Tim to be happy with Ziva but the action steps had been adjusted. Instead of watching it from afar or making snide comments about Rule no. 12, he had to make sure the persons likely to bother the eventual young couple had to step down. It was clear Abby would not have accepted to be sidelined and it had taken all the authority of her boss and surrogate father to rein her temper in – just like he was looking forward to have the same kind of conversation with Tony DiNozzo. Abby had to get out of Tim's and Ziva's way and she would probably hate her silver-haired fox's guts for the rest of her life.

It would be a very difficult situation for Gibbs, but watching his youngest son smile again would be worth it.