Chapter 16

Fire? Seriously? He thought not. Ignoring the alarm for the moment, Tony fixed Crest with his glare. "How will the bacteria be released?"

For once, Crest didn't hesitate to answer. "The water. They'll poison the water."

"So we just have to turn off the water?" That seemed too easy. "Is the water already poisoned or do we still have time?" Crest bit his lips. Losing his patience, Tony pounded hard on the table. "For God's sake, talk already!"

"No. We rigged bombs to go off at 22.00 this time. The blast will be enough to also release bacteria into the air. And to set off the sprinklers," Crest admitted.

Of course. He knew it couldn't have been that simple. "Where are the bombs placed?"

But Crest shook his head. "I don't know. I swear I don't! They told me the basics I needed to know to keep the bacteria alive and spread out to the maximum, but I wasn't involved in the whole rigging process."

That Tony believed. Grinding his teeth, he got up and moved towards the doors, barking his orders at Kort. "Stay with him. Do not leave him alone, under any circumstances. See if you can find out some more. I'll have to start the search teams and see what the hell's going on out there." The alarms still blared loudly. He didn't wait for Kort's reply and hurried back to the bullpen. His agents were already following procedure, evacuating the building via the stairs. Not that he could see any fire. Nor did he smell any smoke. He let out a sharp whistle, and everyone turned their heads toward him. "Stand down. Before we all leave the building I want it confirmed that there is a fire and the alarm isn't just another distraction."

Above him, Shelley came out of her office. "Autopsy and lab are clear, Sir."

Others were already on the phone, talking to the other departments. One by one they confirmed that there was no fire anywhere. Pounding up the stairs, Tony stormed into Vance's office, aiming for the phone first. He hurriedly informed the fire department that it was a false alarm, while he called up the emergency program. Looking up he saw that Bell and Keller had followed him up. Good. He put in the code from the MCRT then the other team leaders added theirs, as it needed three team codes to turn off an alarm. Well, the director had his own, but he didn't know Vance's and there hadn't been time yet for him to get his own. Once they were finished, he quickly gave the command to stop the fire alarm. As the klaxons muted, they all sighed with relief.

Unfortunately, time was still of the essence. Deciding that these two men wouldn't have come to help with the alarms if they were the traitors, he took the risk of trusting them, starting now. "Bell, grab some of your team and go to interrogation one. Kort's there, guarding the doctor who gave Balance the pestis bacteria. Tell him Sydney, that should let him know that I sent you. Make sure Dr Crest stays safe. He knows an antidote, we need him kept alive no matter what the circumstances."

Bell nodded grimly and left. Tony had no doubt that he'd rather die than let anyone get to Crest. Good. He turned to Keller. "We know the targets. They're hitting the Pentagon at 22.00. There's a bomb somewhere connected to the water supply. Take your team and go find that bomb. We don't know who we can trust, but call in any help you think is safe and start evacuating the Pentagon."

"Yes, Sir," Keller said, for once their animosity forgotten as he left too, followed by Tony, whose eyes swept over the room below. As he had thought, the MCRT's bullpen was empty, a laptop lying on McGee's desk. Going down, he inspected it. He could see nothing amiss, but then, this wasn't his field of expertise. Seeing Fornell leaving the elevator, he held up a hand to him as he flipped open his cell phone, pressing speed dial three. It was picked up on the first ring. "You okay, Probie?"

"Yeah, Tony. The alarm was a hoax?"

"Mmm. I think they used the confusion to neutralize the laptop. Come back to check it out. Tell Abby to pull the security feeds. I want to know who set off the fire alarms and who got to the laptop, assuming it was tampered with. I need to brief SecDef but call me as soon as you know something. Did you get in?" he asked with an afterthought.

"Yeah, finally. But it's a lot of data. Abby and I are going through it, so far we found nothing important but we really just only began."

Looking at the laptop in front of him, he frowned. "But ..."

"We swapped the hard disk for a new one," McGee explained, anticipating his question.

Tony grinned. "Smooth, Probie, very Covert Affairs of you." He hung up to McGee's sputter, still grinning. God, that felt good. But seeing Fornell scowling impatiently at him, he was reminded that there were still a myriad things to do. Most of all, tell SecDef everything they knew – but not over a video link. With everything that had happened, he didn't trust anything anymore. He would talk directly to SecDef. Maybe that would take up more time than they really had but it was still safer than risking letting Balance know everything they'd learned in the past few hours. He waved Fornell to follow him, heading for the elevators.

"Where are we going? And what the hell happened here?" the FBI agent asked as he fell into step beside him.

"Someone set off the fire alarms. Another distraction," Tony explained, entering the elevator car.

Fornell frowned, also coming into the car. "The laptop?"

"Yeah. But my team secured the data beforehand. And Bell's team and Kort have Crest secured."

"Did he talk?"

"Oh yeah. And it's not good. But still, at least now we have a chance," Tony said, punching the button for the parking level. "We probably can't stop all the attacks but with a bit of luck, we can minimize the damage." There would probably still be hundreds, if not thousands of lives lost but he couldn't think about that right now. They still had a little over eight hours. Time to send in search teams, call off the at-risk events, warn other governments. And they had the source for the antidote. It wasn't perfect, but it sure as hell was a lot better than what they'd had before.

Fornell nodded grimly, no doubt having similar thoughts as he had. "You still haven't told me where we're going."

They arrived on the parking level and the doors opened. "To the White House," Tony answered and headed outside, leaving a stunned Fornell behind.

To be honest, he didn't feel much better. When he had called SecDef to inform him that he had new information that he only would tell him in person and SecDef had told him that in that case he'd best come meet him at the White House he had almost balked and relayed the report over the video after all. Swallowing his slight nausea at the thought of where he would be headed in a short time, he agreed, but on a desperate whim said he'd take Fornell with him. To be frank, he didn't want to go there alone. He'd prefer Gibbs on his six, but in his absence, Fornell would do. Besides, he knew the intel on Attorney General Bishop. There hadn't been time yet for a briefing between them.

Still, he was nervous. Guys like him didn't go brief anyone in the White House. He was just a Senior Field Agent for God's sake! SecNav briefed the people in the White House. Or the Under Secretary or if at all, the Director, but not ... But of course, there was the whole reason why he was on his way to the White House now. With Vance and SecNav gone and not able to trust the Under Secretary he was the only one left. Lucky him.

Ugh. He just hoped he didn't break anything. Or puke on SecDef's shoes.

Another thought came to him and he paled, definitely having to swallow down bile now. God, he hoped he really only had to brief SecDef and not - not someone else ...

By the time Fornell and DiNozzo returned to the Navy Yard from the White House, NCIS headquarters hummed with busy activity. Teams readied themselves for their missions, the agents checking their weapons and equipment while intel flashed over the big flat screens and the team leaders briefed their people about the impending mission.

DiNozzo had called ahead as soon as they had left the White House, getting everything in motion. Halfway through their meeting, right after DiNozzo had briefed him on everything they'd learned from Crest and the attempted sabotage actions, SecDef called the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in. And when DiNozzo stopped him from also calling Bishop, he had called the Chief of Staff to join them. At that point DiNozzo had looked ready to faint. But the boy had stood his grounds, especially when they challenged him on his suspicions against the Attorney General. Gibbs would be proud of him. Heck, he was proud of the boy, despite not really having any claims to him to justify that. But as he didn't plan to ever tell DiNozzo as much that wasn't really a problem, was it?

The White House was busy with informing other governments of the impending attacks on their cities and preparing an official press release. DiNozzo had pointed out that under the circumstances, with the evacuation of the Pentagon and the canceling of several major events, not to mention these big joined operations in the five cities, there was no way to keep this all under wraps. The Chief of Staff had agreed immediately, but they had all also agreed that it would be unwise to mention the plague.

Meanwhile, DiNozzo and him would coordinate the police, FBI and NCIS and whoever else there was in law enforcement to search the five targets. The elevator stopped on the level of MTAC. Fornell took three steps before he noticed that DiNozzo wasn't following him. Keeping the doors from closing, he raised an eyebrow.

Slumped against the back wall of the car, eyes firmly shut, the boy looked like he'd rather face a firing squad than go out there. He could relate to the feeling. Unfortunately, it wasn't time yet for the boy to crash and bury himself in a hole. "Come on, DiNutso. You can bail and wail like a girl over the unfairness of the situation after we've gotten those bastards."

DiNozzo's head shot up, glaring at him. "Must really be hard for you to not only have the lead of this operation handed to NCIS, but me of all people, huh, Toby? Poor FBI having to be content with only second place."

"I'll try to see the positive side of it," Fornell replied with a sardonic smile. "If you screw up, I can just tell Gibbs that I've been right about you all along, plus the FBI is fine off with NCIS having to solely take the blame."

The boy straightened and stepped up to him, a smile playing on his lips as well. "Too bad, Toby. You'll be sorely disappointed then." Striding by him with new energy and a slight swing returning to his step, he didn't see the wide grin with which Fornell followed him.

As DiNozzo moved to the mid-level of the stairs to let out a loud whistle that had every head turning upwards, he joined his fellow liaison agents at the railing in front of MTAC, coming to stand besides Lorn from NSA.

"DiNozzo sure seems to like these grand speeches," the old man grumbled.

Fornell shrugged. "He earned it."

Lorn sneered, shaking his head.

"Listen up, everyone," DiNozzo called out before looking at his secretary who was standing at his old desk. "The videolinks to the other NCIS bases airing already?"

The secretary and McGee nodded, pointing to several big screens.

DiNozzo nodded at them. "By now you're all aware of what a great threat our country is facing. If we don't stop it, in a few hours bombs will go off here in Washington, New York, Chicago, LA and Hawaii, that'll release the plague. I don't have to tell you what that would mean, but I'll say it anyway: thousands of people will get sick and die if we're lucky, a pandemic will erase more than half of our population if we're not so lucky. But we have a chance to stop it. Together with local police forces, the FBI, CIA, NSA, Homeland and every other law enforcement agency we have a chance to stop it from happening. We have to stop it."

It was silent in the room, no one daring to make a sound, all enthralled by the energetic man who was going to lead them into the biggest operation of their life. DiNozzo leaned on the railing, looking at everyone before continuing, very seriously. "You've already received your orders. These are dangerous tasks and I wish I could guarantee you that they're not suicide missions. But I can't, nor do we have the luxury of asking for volunteers. We need every single one of you in order to stop these bastards. I can only promise you that I'll do everything in my power to have your six out there. And if you can't come back, your families will hear from me personally that you died a hero." He smiled. "But then again, we're used to be underestimated, aren't we? So go out there and show Balance and the whole world what stuff NCIS agents are made of! Show them that they can't hurt us, that on our watch, no lives will be senselessly taken! Kick their ass!"

A roar of almost reverent approval answered him from the assembled agents below. Even Fornell had to fight against a sudden very patriotic humbleness at listening to Jethro's second in command. Boy, his old friend would never forgive him for being here to witness this moment while he was stuck in a hospital bed, missing out on all the fun.

"Semper Fi!" DiNozzo called over the uproar, again being answered thunderously by his agents. He nodded, then with a wave sent everyone off, before giving Fornell and Ziva a signal. Simultaneously, they turned to the persons standing beside them, putting their cuffs on them.

"Agent Walther Lorn, Agent Ida Lopez, you are both under arrest for treason, terrorism and collaboration in the murders of Special Agents Matthews and Perth and the attempted murder of Special Agent Gibbs. Among other things," DiNozzo said loud enough for the agents in question to hear them, glaring icily at both of them. He nodded to the holding cells. "Get them out of my sight, read them their rights and put them on suicide watch."

Lorn was shaking with rage. "What's the meaning of this? This is preposterous!"

"You were good at covering your tracks," Fornell told him, shoving him before him. "But like DiNozzo said: you underestimated NCIS. They had no trouble linking Attorney General Bishop to you, nor with the phone calls you placed to him over the last few days, or finding the money trail that led us directly to Balance. Oh, by the way, don't think your old buddy can help you. Bishop was arrested an hour ago already," he informed the NSA agent with great pleasure.

Lorn paled before his eyes turned to ice as he stopped struggling. "Doesn't matter. You can't stop us now. The best you and that snotty boy can hope for is to save a few lives but you'll never manage to avert every attack."

"Maybe not," Fornell admitted, the knowledge weighing heavily on his mind. "But we can and will stop you from destroying our country and society. And now, we know who our enemy is. Within no time your precious Circle of Five will be on the most wanted list of every law enforcement organization all over the world. It won't take us long to find and destroy you," he vowed, silently making a promise to himself to not rest until this goal was achieved.

Tim looked at the bustling energy all around him, feeling a bit lost. There wasn't anything he could do here anymore, not really. Sure, going through the recovered data from the Cullums, but that really wasn't something Abby or the tech guys couldn't also do. He wanted to go out there. He was a field agent after all, wasn't he? His place was in the field, finding those bombs, helping save all those lives. But without a team, he was stuck in here, doing little to nothing.

"Can you believe this? This is crazy!" Abby exclaimed, pacing up and down between their desks, never tiring from looking around the bullpen, taking in all the preparations. "I'm so excited and bumped up, but at the same time I'm so scared for everyone and what could happen. God, this is big, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Tim sighed, not able to stop himself from looking over to Miller's team with longing. Yeah, this was big, probably the biggest operation in his career and he had to watch it play out from the sidelines.

"I'm just glad that for once at least I don't have to worry about all you guys," Abby said, the relief evident in her voice and whole body language.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Abs." Seemingly out of nowhere, Tony appeared behind her, drawing her in for a quick hug and a kiss on her temple before coming to stand in front of Tim, looking at him with a serious expression he'd rarely seen on his Senior Field Agent. "We have four probies and new transfers here who haven't been assigned to anyone yet." He put a stack of files on his desk. "They're your temporary team. Grab your gear, you'll head out in thirty minutes to go help with the search in New York."

His team? Flabbergasted, Tim stared at the files, then up to Tony, his mind blank, but panic swiftly swelling up, the more the implications of his latest orders set in.

Tony smiled knowingly and laid a hand on his shoulder, the contact almost jolting him. "Yeah, your team. I wasn't kidding up there, you know? I need every last one of you out there. You've been my SFA for four months, stepped in as my replacement whenever I was away and have eight years on MCRT under your belt, under the lead of legendary Leroy Jethro Gibbs. You're more than ready to lead your own missions. I just wish there was time for you to actually learn to know your teammates." He sighed. "But I'll be there, Tim, monitoring all missions, including yours. If you need help, just call in." His serious expression turned to a wide grin. "But you won't need it, will you? After all, you can't shame your training officer like that, can you?"

Tim blinked, the realization that he was about to go out with his own team, as team leader, finally sinking in. For a moment he was tempted to tease Tony as always, mentioning something along the lines that he knows better than disappointing Gibbs like that. But then he remembered that this might very well be a mission he wouldn't return from. And in that case, he desperately needed to tell Tony something, as he realized with a start. He stood up and looked him straight in the eyes. "No, Tony, don't worry. I won't disappoint you. You'll be proud of me, you'll see."

Tony held his eyes and nodded ever so slightly before he smiled and slapped his back again. "Aww, Probie. Don't you know? I've always been proud of you."

There was suddenly a very big lump in his throat, but Tim at least managed to nod and smile back shyly in acknowledgment of the unexpected praise. Like their boss, Tony seldom had words of reassurance for his junior agents, even if he didn't hold back with them as much as Gibbs. So to hear something so positive from him was a big deal and meant a lot to McGee. But it also brought home the fact that he had a very dangerous mission ahead, plus the responsibility for the lives of four people he didn't even know yet! At that thought his stomach churned. Badly. Swallowing down the bile, he concentrated on not throwing up, determined to not give Tony such ammunition for life.

But with a sly grin, his Senior Field Agent slapped his back. "And because I'm such a great training officer, McGreen, here's a little parting advice: always head to the head before a mission. You never know when's the next time you can go, besides, if you bite the dust, the less there is in your bladder, the better, if you get my drift." He started to walk away, but turned back to him with an even wider grin. "Oh, and don't forget to rinse your mouth. You don't want to die with the taste of bile in your mouth, do you?"

Exasperated, McGee glared at his disappearing back. But as his eyes returned to the stack of files on his desk, his gut turned upside down again. Quickly he mumbled an excuse to Abby and hurried towards the bathroom.

Damn Tony for always having to be right!

"I demand to know on what grounds you are arresting me," Lopez fumed, glaring through the bars at Ziva. "This is ridiculous! I'm a team leader in a federal agency. I swore to protect my country and this is the thanks I get for my efforts?"

Ziva merely looked back, taking in the fury and what seemed honest indignation. But she thought she could also detect calculation and a flash of panic in Lopez' eyes. Then again, she never had liked the fiery Latina women. While she heartily approved of having more female agents in charge, sadly, they were seldom people you could easily befriend. Either they were too career hungry to be trusted or, like in Lopez' case, trying to get into any pants that could ultimately help them move up. So while it unnerved her that in organizations like NCIS and also Mossad men were still mainly in charge, she also had to admit that with a few exceptions, she herself preferred to work with men.

Of course, that could lead to problems as well. The recent rift between her and her partner was a perfect example of one such.

"Oh, I get it. This was all your doing, wasn't it? You were jealous of me since the day I came here and took over my team," Lopez accused her with narrowed eyes. "That I have my own team while you're still stuck as a junior agent. That Tony was more interested in me than he ever was in you."

She couldn't help it, at that ridiculous thought Ziva had to laugh. It was true, Lopez had flirted with Tony from the moment she had joined the office, but she knew her partner. Of course he had flirted back, always had a smile for Lopez, but there was never real interest on his part. She had no problems detecting the signs when he was truly interested in a woman, having had to witness it more times than she cared for. It was only his feelings concerning her she could not read.

The laugh did not help in calming Lopez down. "If anyone here's a traitor, it's you. You already betrayed your nation and your own father by turning your back on your heritage, who says you're not fooling us now too? You're the mole and now you're trying to blame it on me!"

Ziva shook her head, still smiling. "That is a nice theory. But we have you on tape starting the fire alarm and then using the resulting chaos to sabotage the recovered laptops with a magnet, erasing all data. How do you explain that?"

Lopez paled a bit, but didn't give up. "Please. Video tapes can be manipulated." She smiled nastily. "Especially with someone like McGee at your beck and call. Tell me, who's better in the sack, the geek or the jock?"

"That's something you'll never know," Ziva smiled, having a bit of fun with her before she narrowed her eyes, the woman'sridiculous accusations starting to get on her nerves. "We will go with a brush through your life and all your records. No doubt we will find further links to Balance. If I were you I would rather think about how you can avoid the death sentence you certainly will receive for your treason instead of trying to throw unfounded accusations towards me. Maybe, if you tell us where the bombs are exactly and how we can disable them and everything else you know about Balance, we can help you."

Lopez held her eyes for a long moment before she straightened and stepped back. "I have nothing to say to you. And just so you know, you never intimidated me. I certainly won't start now to fall for your Mossad tricks."

"As you wish." With a shrug, Ziva turned around and left without another word, unwilling to lose more time with this unpleasant woman. Though she hoped that at some point, after the immediate danger was over, she would get the chance to interrogate the foolish woman properly and show her what her 'Mossad tricks' truly looked like.

"Did she have anything to say?"

Suppressing the urge to jump, she looked up to see that Tony was waiting for her in the little alcove behind the stairs. Annoyed that he had been able to creep up to her like this, she glared at him. "No, nothing of interest. She did try to knit it that I set her up and am the real traitor though."

"Twist, Ziva. You twist it," he corrected her with amused exasperation. It was good to see him smiling. Not just because his smile had an unexplainable power over her that dangerously threatened the steadiness of her knees but because he was exhausted and it just didn't feel right when he smiled as rarely as in the past couple days. But then he looked behind her and the smile vanished, replaced by this serious version of him that she respected but was also starting to view with trepidation. "I trust that she's still breathing?"

She rolled her eyes. "She is unharmed."

He raised an eyebrow. "Really? Not one bruise that wasn't there before you arrested her?" he asked doubtfully.

Again she shrugged. "She may have run into a few walls and doors on the way to the cell," she admitted, unabashed. After all, this woman was partly responsible for putting Gibbs in the hospital and injuring Tony. Not to mention the deaths of their fellow agents. In her eyes, she deserved a lot worse.

Tony nodded, but thought better of asking more. Instead, he changed the topic, still being very serious. "I'm sending McGee to the scene in New York with four probies and new transfers."

"Not ideal but you do not have to worry, I will have his six so those probies will not end up killing him," she assured him immediately, secretly glad to hear that she could head out. She had assumed he would assign her to one of the other teams but she preferred to have at least one partner out in the field she could trust. Even if it was just McGee. Not that he was a bad agent, not at all. But there was no point in denying that in matters of the field, he still had the least experience of them all and that both Tony and Gibbs were faster and the better marksmen. Just like McGee was hands down the best researcher they had and, as she had learned, in an investigation, research was as important as the field work, if not more.

But to her surprise, Tony shook his head. "I wish I could send you with him but I need you to take Ida's team and go help with the search and evacuation of the Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago."

She frowned. "Take her team?" she repeated, wondering if she had understood him correctly.

"As team lead, yeah," Tony sighed. "I've already informed them. They're not happy, still confused and in shock over Ida's betrayal, maybe some even in denial. But as much as I hate to send them out at all, there simply is no other choice. And you have more leading experience than Mark. While I don't really like the idea of them having your back, I do trust you to keep them as safe as possible under the circumstances and to be able to make them listen to your orders."

"Mark?" she asked, though his serious compliment, rare as they came, had her secretly very pleased.

It was Tony's turn to roll his eyes. "Mark York? Her SFA?" Seeing that she still gave him a blank look, he shook his head. "Seriously, Ziva, you need to put more effort in getting to know our fellow agents. You never know when a situation like this one comes along that forces you to trust your life to them. At least knowing their names would be a good start."

Unwilling to admit that there was maybe some truth in his words she ignored them and nodded. "Okay. I should go prepare to leave. And introduce myself to the team," she added as an afterthought, starting to move towards her desk in order to go grab her gear. Also, she would need to visit the armory to get more efficient weapons and firepower.

But Tony stopped her by grabbing her arm and pulling her close. "Hey. You watch your back out there, understood? I expect you to get back in one piece. We still have unfinished business. I may not particularly look forward to sorting it out, but you don't get out of this by dying, got it? Once this is over, you and me, we're going to sit down and have a long overdue talk."

Her heart beating ridiculously faster with unabashed hope flaring up and warming her from the inside out at his impassioned words, she slowly nodded. "Got it," she promised softly.

It didn't matter that she knew better than to make such promises, when it was very unlikely that it was within her power to stop herself from being killed in action. Every time any of them started a new day, she was well aware that it could be their last. They all knew it and had still chosen this life for themselves, ready and willing to die for their country, their government and organizations and for their partners. But she could promise to do everything in her power to come back, and she knew that he understood that was all she could say and that he didn't ask for more. And for him, she vowed silently to herself as she left with a last smile at him, for this chance to perhaps have a life with him one day, she would damn sure come back from the dead, if necessary.

After Ziva had left, Tony moved to the foot of the stairs where he paused, looking at the busy bullpen. McGee was back from throwing up and busy studying the personnel files. He still looked a tad green around the nose and his shoulders had a definite slump with the heavy responsibility he'd dropped on him. But his back was straight and the determined look on his face reassured Tony that he had made the right call to entrust these few agents left to his command.

It was normal for the probie to feel nervous, even a bit nauseous in the face of having to lead his very first team, and in one major mission none the less. In fact he preferred people who could be this affected to those who were too eager and proud, who'd neglect their preparation. Besides, in his experience, those who threw up before or after their mission seldom lost it at a critical point during the operation.

He hadn't thrown up before his first case as lead detective but it had been close. And he sure had spent time in the abode of the white porcelain gods plenty afterwards. Actually, right now he wasn't feeling too great either. He hated the fact that he had to send out McGee and Ziva on their own, without at least having each other watching their six.

Looking for Ziva he spotted her at the desks of Ida's team, instructing them. With a frown he watched them listening to her with obvious displeasure and in Mark's case even open dislike and the lousy feeling in his gut worsened. He could relate to them, really, but then again, especially Mark with his Marine training should know better than to question his orders. Of course though, it sure didn't help that the orders came from someone who only yesterday had been his equal and not his superior. Plus, they were friends and he'd probably figured the team lead was a sure thing for him.

But while Tony liked Mark and thought him a very good agent, Ziva was simply better and more experienced in these kinds of missions. He knew it was normally a bad idea to send anyone out with an unfamiliar team, let alone one that still reeled from the discovery of having had a traitor as team lead. Almost as bad an idea as sending out a team lead probie with a bunch of other probies.

But what other choice did he have? Keep them here while every last agent they had was needed in the field in order to stop a catastrophe from happening? Especially when he knew that both Ziva and McGee were more than capable of taking the lead on these missions? And could watch their own backs and their team's, even under these circumstances?

So he had made the call like a good little director was supposed to. But inwardly - he was their SFA, had trained them for years, was responsible for their safety. They were his friends, if not more than that. He loved Tim like a brother and Ziva ... Well, Ziva was Ziva. To have to send them out on something that could very well be a suicide mission was killing him. But it wasn't just them. He was responsible for every NCIS agent at that moment and he was sending them all to their possible deaths.

The thought was overwhelming. Again he felt the bile rise and he knew, this time he could only hope to keep it back long enough to reach the bathroom.


Author's Note: first of all thank you all so much for the wonderful reviews! They're an overwhelmingly boost and motivation. So here we had a last breather before we dive right into the action. The calm before the storm. In that sense, watch out, the alarms are soon going to ring - hopefully!