Chapter 17

Tim tried to inconspicuously watch his agents. His agents. He still had trouble believing that Tony had truly given him this team lead. It was crazy. No one else would have given a junior agent a chance like this, in a situation like this. But still Tony had enough faith in him to appoint him the team lead, despite the heat he certainly would get for his choice. You didn't need a MIT degree to know that Tony would have to face accusations of favoritism, not just for giving him a team, but also for putting Ziva ahead of Mark York.

Tony may have made a great deal of his time here at NCIS close to a living hell, with all the jokes at his expense, the pranks, the hazing. Sometimes, Tony was out of line, there was no other word for it. But, looking at his team now, he also knew that a big part of it had been Tony's way of preparing him for just this. To hold his own in the field, even against hard-asses like Gibbs. Or Tony. To be able to go on missions that could very well be suicidal. He remembered how angry he'd been when Tony had fooled him a few years back so he wouldn't get that assignment in Iraq, instead snatching the job for himself and Jardine. Tim had felt deeply betrayed by someone he had thought was his friend. It was only when Tony had volunteered him for the mission in Somalia that he'd truly understood that Tony's actions had indeed been those of a friend. Back then, he hadn't been ready yet to go to a warzone, needing some more years and experience under his belt. And then, when he had been ready, Tony had still made sure that he'd be there to have his six, just in case. And now, he was sending him out on his own.

With his own team.

The little time he had before they had to head out to the plane and the ride down to New York he had used to memorize the plans of the stadium and then the personal files of his new agents. He knew them all by name, of course, but he had decided to only think of them as Probies 1 to 4. It was easier to stay detached from the thought that he was possibly leading them to their deaths. Besides, once this mission was over, hopefully successfully, they'd be assigned to one of the existing teams while he'd go back to the MCRT. No need to get too attached to them.

Probie 1 wasn't really a probie anymore. She was a transfer from their office in San Diego where she had held the position of Senior Field Agent. Former Air Force. She was two years older than him and obviously higher ranking than him, with a lot more experience in the field. Logic told him, she should have gotten this team. But Tony had trusted him to do this job and he was adamant that he would not make his SFA regret his decision. Probie 1 had said nothing at be assigned under him, but he got the feeling, should he make just one mistake, she'd be there to step in and take charge. So he'd have to watch himself with her.

Probie 2 was a former cop like Tony, fresh out of FLETC. He'd been on the beat for four years before making detective and working on narcotics in Metro PD. His record was impeccable and very contrary to Tony, the guy hardly spoke and he had yet to see a smile from him, let alone hear a joke. Maybe it was just the extraordinary circumstances, but he thought not. And again, it gave him a whole new appreciation of the comic relief Tony brought to his every day. Sure, sometimes the exuberant agent went too far, but it made dealing with their difficult job indeed easier. He'd kill for a joke right now that would steer his thoughts away from what lay ahead.

Probie 3 came from Legal. It was probably unfair to her, but he was very weary of having her on his team and even more so of having her on his six. She spoke five languages and her record showed good results in both shooting and hand-to-hand combat; still, after Lee had been a traitor and Jardine being Jardine, he just had a hard time having much confidence in her.

Probie 4 would be probably the most useful on this mission. An explosives expert in the Marines, he had recently left the corps after the death of his wife to be there for his twin sons. It was also what made McGee swallow down bile again and again. He was already the only parent left for his boys and now he was taking him on a possible suicide mission. And there was no question who would have to disarm the bomb as soon as they found it.

But he had no choice. Tim had to charge his agents with what they could do best and would promise the best outcome for this mission. And hope for the best.

"You got any last instructions for us?"

Ziva looked up to see her temporary Senior Field Agent standing in front of her. She had been going through the mission ahead of her in her mind and wasn't happy about the interruption nor the derisive tone in which it had been delivered. She leveled her gaze at York. "No."

Turning her gaze out again at the Chicago skyline she wasn't really seeing, she was aware of the glare and the presence still pressing down on her. With an inward sigh, she saw no choice but to address the offending man again. "Something else you need, Special Agent York?"

A muscle in his jaw clenched. "Just because you're sleeping with the boss, don't think I'll let you lead my team into this disaster, Agent David."

Ziva raised an eyebrow, briefly entertaining the vision of pounding a fist into York's solar plexus before double kicking his stomach and head. But Gibbs - and Tony - had taught her better over the years. What a shame. "It does not matter what you think, Special Agent York. Balance has declared war on not just your country, but humanity. Your director, appointed by the Secretary of Defense, gave you an order. You can follow that order or you can stay in this bus while the rest of your team will give their lives, if necessary, to stop this attack. It is your choice. But my director gave me an order and I will not go back before I fulfill that order or die."

She kept hold of his eyes, saw how the irritated man clenched his fists. 'Nice, Ziva. But now that you've busted his balls, you might want to remember that this is the guy who's supposed to have your back,' an inner voice that sounded annoyingly like Tony told her sarcastically.

Scowling, she bit her lip, before she sighed. "Look. I understand the position you are in is not easy. You just learned your team leader is a traitor. And yes, Tony put me ahead of you, giving me team lead. But he did not do this because I am his partner or whatever you think the reason is. He put me in charge because he knows that I ran point on several similar missions for Mossad. You may not like it, but I am your best chance of getting home alive." York did not look as if her speech was doing much to improve his opinion of her. She took a deep breath. Tony trusted her to do this. And he trusted this guy to have her back, and she trusted him in his decision. He had an almost impeccable instinct where people were concerned. Way better than hers, as much as she hated to admit this. "Mark, I can bring you all home safe. But not without your help. The others will follow your example. So I ask you to trust Tony and me to have nothing but the safety of you, your team and the people of Chicago in mind and follow your orders. Can you do that for your team? Your country?"

To her amazement, York actually seemed to contemplate her words, albeit unwillingly. She was even more surprised when he gave a short nod. "You better don't screw this up. Or I'll not hesitate to put an official complaint to whoever will be in charge once this is over."

"That is only fair," she nodded, proud that she had managed to secure his cooperation. Tony would be proud too, she bet.

Good. Maybe it would prove to him that she was ready to listen to what he had to say. And willing to do what it took for him giving her another chance.

Their bus came to a screeching stop in front of the Soldier Field Stadium. First though, she needed to get back to him. She needed to get them all back home. So she pushed every thought of Tony back into the deepest part of her mind, for he had not stayed out of it since the day she met him all those years ago, and concentrated on the mission ahead.

"As we said, a joint operation under the lead of Interim Director Anthony DiNozzo of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is underway as we speak in order to prevent the bombs from detonating and destroying some of this country's most beloved buildings. As it is still an ongoing operation, we cannot answer any questions yet. You will all get a chance for that once the immediate threat is over. We only released this official statement as it is obvious the evacuation of the five targets could not go undetected and we do not want any wild theories scaring the citizens more than they already are by the evacuation. Now, let's move on to the state dinner the President will still attend this evening."

With a jerky movement, Gibbs turned off the television. Part of him wanted to believe what he had just heard on the TV to be a hoax. He may be out of the loop, but after everything he'd managed to learn about what was going on, he just knew this was the mess he'd left Tony with to deal with. And if that hadn't been confirmation enough, one look at the grave expression on Ducky's face would have been enough. Just like he knew that the unthinkable news the press secretary had just told the nation was not all there was to know. Of course there was more. There was always more. "What is it, Duck? What aren't they telling us?"

His old friend looked back at him and he had no trouble seeing the silent cursing Ducky was subjecting himself to for his lack of facial control. But he remained silent, turning his back on him.

All right. Gibbs may be too weak to get out of bed and go help, but his mind still worked fine. Really, it wasn't that hard to figure out. "Nuclear or biological?" he asked grimly as it was the only thing that made sense of everything. Well, most of everything.

Ducky threw him an exasperated glare over his shoulder, one he met with his own. He was tired of being kept in the dark. "Look, Duck, either you tell me or I will call in a few favors. You know I'll find out soon enough, it will just eat more of my energy the longer it takes," he argued icily.

With a sigh, Ducky turned around to face him again. "Biological," he admitted tersely. "Really, Jethro, when will you learn to respect what proper rest means? We had a reason not to tell you, my worried friend."

"I'd rather know what my team's having to face than have to imagine a worst case scenario," Gibbs hissed, his hands curling into fists. Though he had to admit that no, knowing there were biological weapons involved didn't ease his mind at all. "Which toxin is it? Anthrax? Smallpox? CX?" Ducky looked down and Gibbs got a real bad feeling. "Ducky?"

This time, the ME's sigh spoke of wariness and concern, and not just for Gibbs. "Yersina Pestis."

It was certainly the drugs they gave him that had him hallucinating. There was no way Ducky had just told him that his Senior Field Agent was facing the agent of a medieval pandemic for the second time around. The machine monitoring his heart showed the increase in its rate and he felt as if there suddenly wasn't enough air in the room anymore.

Quickly, Ducky stepped to the side of his bed and put a hand on his shoulder, as much to squeeze it reassuringly as to hold him down, stopping him from trying to get out of bed again. "Now, Jethro, try to stay calm and keep in mind that Anthony is running this operation. Meaning he is safe in MTAC overseeing the different missions and nowhere near the field, or the possibility of exposing himself," the ME told him in a soothing voice that actually did manage to slice through his panicked haze, reassuring him somewhat.

Once the initial panic ebbed down, he frowned. "They gave him point? Not Fornell or one of the other agencies?"

"No. Anthony seems to have really left quite an impression on the Secretary of Defense. He himself not only appointed him interim director but also gave him the lead of this operation."

Gibbs' frown deepened. Yeah, Tony, in full leader mode, would make an impression, all right. It was also convenient though to give the lead of such an operation to the unlucky underdog. Easier to blame and hang out as scapegoat if the operation failed. But of course, what they could hardly know, was that if the teams sent out failed and the plague was released, growing into a pandemic, Tony wouldn't be alive long enough to actually be there to have all the blame dumped on him. Either he would leave the safety of MTAC to go help his people out there, getting blown up in the process, or worse, risking exposing himself again, or soon he'd find a bullet or knife or something to take his life whilst out in the field. He wasn't the type to eat his gun, but there were more ways to make damn sure to not see the sunrise again and DiNozzo had played at the edge of them enough times to have no trouble finding that edge and letting himself shoot way past it.

"What about McGee and Ziva? They with him?" he asked, because he may not be able to do a damn thing about it, but he had trained his team to watch out for each other. As long as the junior agents had his senior's six, things were maybe not so bad. He knew Tony would do everything for his partners and not subject them to the same pain and horror he had lived through when Kate had been killed right in front of them. Not voluntarily.

But the concerned expression on Ducky's face told him everything he needed to know, even before the gentle words reached him. Closing his eyes, he turned his face away, unwilling to let even this man who was his best and longest-standing friend see the panic and fear that seized him at the thought of his junior agents being on scene with their own teams, facing a terrorist attack while Tony was back all alone with no one watching his six, making sure he wouldn't go too far in his need to protect his agents and the world.

Gritting his teeth he reminded himself that he had trained them well. That they were the best damn agents he had ever had the honor of working with. That they were resourceful, sharp and knew how to watch their backs. That Tony wasn't alone but had Abby and Fornell there to talk some sense into him, should the need arise. It helped. A little. Mostly though he couldn't shake the helplessness, the panic, that after this day was over he might not just have lost one of them, but maybe even all of them.

One would be bad enough, but if it was Tony or all of them - then he knew all these efforts to save him would have been in vain. He'd lost enough. Comrades, friends, his mother, Mike, Kate, Jenny. Shannon. Kelly. He'd fought enough. If this world was so cruel to now take away his team too, to rip away from him the life of the man he'd become to love as a son ...

No. No, in that case he was done fighting. He would use whatever strength there was left in him to bring down the ones responsible and if that fight didn't kill him, then by God, this time there was nothing left to stop him from pulling that trigger.

"We found the bomb."

Tony felt a surge of adrenaline racing through his body - and once again cursed his being stuck in MTAC with no way of expending at least some of that adrenaline. Stupid suit-and-tie-job! Okay, so maybe as a field agent he also wore suits most of the time, but that was a choice of style not a necessity. If it had been, Gibbs would most likely never have even considered joining NCIS.

In order to calm his racing pulse, he breathed out before he calmly responded. "Roger that, Team W. Where is it located, and can you disable it?"

The MTAC techs switched the big screen to the sight of the Pentagon, on one part the live feed from the choppers they had in the air, on the other the maps of the building. "As Crest said, it's connected directly to the water tanks. We have a bomb squad in place, looking at it right now. After the first inspection it seems like it's doable, but it won't be easy." Keller paused for a moment and Tony and the rest of them could hear a low murmur in the background. "Sir, that was the bomb squad. They were able to open the bomb and confirm that the agent is in place but also that the disarming is proving to be more challenging than anticipated."

"The building is evacuated?"

"Yes, Sir, only our teams and PFPA remain on scene."

Tony's heart wanted to tell them to clear the building and save their lives. To not take the risk. That the building didn't matter as much as their lives and the lives of their families that would be forever changed if their loved ones were killed or crippled. But he couldn't. This was the Pentagon. Not only was it a National Historic Landmark, after 9/11 it also became a sign of hope and strength. To lose it would be devastating for this nation and as much as he wanted to order his men out, it wouldn't be the right thing. Besides, most likely, the agents would refuse to go anyway. This was what they were trained for, what each and every one of them had sworn to protect.

He knew he wouldn't leave either.

"Good. Send us pictures of the bomb so we can forward it to the other teams. And keep us updated."

Keller confirmed and went off. On the map they had marked where the bomb was found. Tony studied it for a moment before he told the techs to call up the maps of the other targets. Comparing the location of the bomb in relation to the different floor maps he highlighted the most likely places for the other teams to search first and told them to forward it along with the pictures to the other teams.

And because he knew pacing impatiently would not send a good message, he forced himself to sit down in one of the chairs and breathe regularly. There was not much else he could do otherwise, except respond to an update when one came in. At least they were coming aplenty. Sadly not with any breaking news.

He hated every second of it.

Finally, after half an eternity, or at least that was what it seemed like for Tony, Keller radioed in that the bomb squad had been able to disarm the bomb and secure the biological agent. He shot to his feet, unable to sit still any longer. "Great work, Keller. Have the explosive experts wire us the disabling process. Then proceed with securing and processing the scene. If there is one clue, no matter how tiny it is, as to who placed the bomb, I want it bagged and tagged and transferred to our lab."

"PFPA won't be happy about that," Keller replied dryly.

Tony looked briefly at Fornell and Kort, who had returned a short time ago, reporting that no one would be getting to Crest, not even Crest himself. Tony hadn't asked for further details. The less he knew the better. He trusted that the CIA knew where the limit was, especially with a cooperating informant. For now. Judging from the hard, calculating looks of the seasoned agents, PFPA wouldn't be the only Agency fighting for this particular bone. And truth be told, as great as Abby was, she couldn't do this alone. "Tell them that it's only in order to collect and process all evidence in one place. As soon as we've processed it, they along with the other sister agencies are free to join the examination of the evidence. In fact, I propose they name one of their own forensic analysts to join our team here. If they still give you a hard time about this, refer them to me." Keller confirmed and ended the transmission. Tony looked at his fellow agency representatives. "Same goes for you. This is too much for one agency to process and we need to look at all evidence collected from the five scenes as one. The different eyes could even prove helpful. But our Ms Sciuto will have the lead," he added, his tone making sure they knew that this was not negotiable. Otherwise one very angry pigtailed forensic analyst was going to kill him and his body would disappear for all eternity. As it was, Abby was probably already going to kill him for siccing a whole bunch of other lab rats on her.

Not that he couldn't understand the feeling. But if he had to play nice with the other alphabet soup agencies, then so would the rest of his team.

He turned back to the big screen and told the techs to get him the other team leaders on the line. "The Pentagon is secure," he told them straight away, knowing that this excellent news would give the other teams hope and a much needed confidence boost. So far, Balance had always been a step ahead of them. "The disabling process has been sent to you, see to it that your bomb squads get it. What is your status? Team N?"

"Building and surrounding blocks evacuated and closed off. We just located the bomb. Bomb squad is starting to disable it now," McGee answered, his voice strainingly calm, which told Tony that his friend was feeling quite the opposite. Oh well, it was his first mission as team leader, a little nervousness was pretty much a given in that case.

"Good. But be careful, I wouldn't be surprised if they used different bombs just for this case," he warned, hoping he was wrong, but not at all sure about it. Balance had shown how deviously and ruthlessly they could operate and besides, they had more than enough people to have more than one bomb expert. Also given the different and mostly wide apart location of the targets, it was likely that they may have followed a main construction plan but built in different traps. "Team C?"

"We arrived on scene half an hour ago. The evacuation is still underway, but we should have the zone cleared within the next thirty minutes. Search teams are looking for the bombs as we speak," Ziva reported neutrally, telling him that she was in full ninja mission mode. Good. That's what he needed from her right now. "We will keep you updated."

She didn't even wait for his confirmation. It was so like Ziva, he had a smile tugging at his lips as he called for Team L. Agent Callen responded shortly that they too were still in search of the bombs, the evacuation however was completed. Agent Lara Pierce from Team H reported the same thing. So far so good.

Resignedly, he sat back down, knowing that once again, the only thing he could do was wait and be ready.

Tim's hands wouldn't stop glistening with sweat, no matter how many times he swiped them on his pants. Probie Four seemed to have been sitting in front of the bomb for an eternity now, trying to disable it. The front was off, but as it turned out, Tony's gut had been right. The bomb was different than the one they found in the Pentagon so all bets were off.

At least the building was clear. Only his team and the response team from New York were still in the danger zone. Which was bad enough. If something happened ...

Well, it would not matter much, at least he'd be dead along with his team and wouldn't have to live with the guilt. Was that why Gibbs and Tony always refused to leave when they had the chance to get out, even if it was to go get help or force the rest of them to leave them behind?

"For the last time: you need to leave. This is my city, my call."

Still not able to look away from his probie, Tim sighed. "And as I told you already: this is a joint operation, led by NCIS Director DiNozzo. He sent me here to find and disable the bomb and secure the scene and that's what I'm going to do. I respect that you're the chief and this is your city. We can't save it from yet another disastrous terror attack without your help. And I promise, you will get all the credit for it. But for now I'm the one in charge and I will not get out and wait behind the lines for either my people coming out alive or going up in flames. If you want to go, that's fine. We do need someone who overviews the securing of the scene outside."

"Careful, boy. You seem to forget who you're talking with. I was keeping this city safe long before you even were a beep on the radar. And you do not get to come here, push me aside and tell me how to do my job," the chief raged, red-faced.

"That's not my intention in any way whatsoever, Sir," Tim answered calmly, holding his breath as Probie Four cut another wire. Nothing happened. So far so good. He turned his head to look the chief in the eyes. "I'm just doing my job and I suggest you do yours. Your citizens are scared. I'm sure they'd feel a lot more secure if they could see their chief working at keeping them safe and hearing you reassure them that everything is under control. My place is here - yours is out there, with your citizens."

The chief glared at him. "Your director will hear from me," he promised, shoving him his finger under his nose. But he turned on his heels and finally left them alone. Tim watched him go with a grin. "You do that," he muttered, proud to have successfully dealt with him. Gibbs would be proud of him and so would Tony. And if the chief was indeed calling Tony to complain about him, he'd be in for a surprise.

He chuckled, imagining just how expertly Tony would deal with the indignant man. The chief wouldn't know what hit him. Beside him, Probie One raised an eyebrow. Quickly, he stifled the chuckle. "Do we have the security footage?"

"Yes, all packed up and ready to go," she answered, glancing to her teammate and the bomb.

He nodded. There really wasn't anything more to do, not until the bomb was disabled. "Good. Take P ... Agent Phelps and bring the footage back to the plane. We have to get it back to Abby as soon as possible. Send Phelps with it. Then come back. We should have this under control by then and there'll be a lot to bag and tag."

Probie One frowned slightly, but nodded and left. Behind her, Probie Two waited for instructions as he watched Probie Four work, not showing any nervousness at all. Tim wasn't sure if that was bravery or stupidity. And once again he was struck by the difference between this former cop and Tony. By now, Tony would have interviewed every single one from the manager down to the janitor and still not be tired of de-stressing them all with movie references corresponding to the present situation. Diffusing the tension. But this guy? "Have you talked to the manager?"

"Yes, he has no idea when or by whom this bomb was placed," the probie answered.

"Anyone else got an idea?" Tim wanted to know, trying not to sound too impatient.


Tim waited to see if the ex-cop would elaborate on that a bit. He did not. Okay. "And you talked to?"

"The head of security and the guards. No one coming in today stood out or wasn't on the list."

Of course they wouldn't. They had moles in the White House. Having an inside guy here at the stadium was a picnic compared with that. Shaking his head, he suppressed a snarky comment. "Take the list and run a background check on all of the names. Also, I want background checks done on all the employees or anyone else who had access." It would get him out of the danger zone - and out of his sight. He couldn't help himself, he didn't like this man. He didn't seem to be a particularly good agent. Either way, he was glad that after this mission, he hopefully wouldn't have to work with this guy ever again.

The probie frowned. "That's a lot of people."

"So I suggest you start with it," Tim told him dryly, with a warning in his voice that would do Gibbs' silent threats justice.

The ex-cop finally got it too and left with a shrug and a very quiet mutter. Finally.

"Cheery guy, huh?"

He looked back to Probie Four. The retired marine was still concentrated on his work, but there was a lifted corner to his mouth. He smiled. "Yeah. How's it going?"

"Almost done. You still got time to get out."

"Nah. Running never was my strong suit," Tim answered lightly, actually coming closer to have a better view.

Probie Four briefly looked up at him, then shrugged, going back to cutting another wire. "I hear your boss is a marine. He taught you good."

The words made Tim's chest swell with pride. Yeah, Gibbs had taught him good. And so had Tony. He squatted down beside his agent. "We're going out together," he confirmed. "Question is, how?

"Well," the widower and father of twins said calmly, cutting another wire. "Looks like we're going out on our own two feet." He stood up and stretched.

Perplexed that it was over so suddenly, Tim looked from the bomb up to his agent. "It's done?"

The marine just smiled.

In the end, the Chicago bomb was found quickly. It was also attached to the water supply, like in Washington and New York. What was different was that there were two bombs. They found a second attached to the ventilation, so Ziva ordered the local bomb squad to work on the one at the water tanks while she took the second one.

"Evacuation is complete and we finished the search. There are no other bombs."

She nodded absently, frowning at the mass of wire in front of her. "Good. Secure the camera footage, then get out of here too."

York frowned. "And you?"

"I will follow soon. Go now," she ordered, not bothering to look up. She had seen similar bombs, had disabled them even, the problem was that the wiring was always the tricky part. She had to cut the right ones in the right order or she would trigger it. It took her a while to notice that her temporary SFA was still lurking behind her. She looked back at him, raising an eyebrow. "You are waiting for something?"

York sighed and made a face. "Yeah. You."

She frowned. "I do not need your help. You can go."

He snorted. "Nothing new there, Agent David. Look, Tony would kill me anyway if he learned that I left you behind to die alone. So I figure I'd rather die here with you, if I have to die anyway."

She shook her head. "We are not going to die. You, because you will leave now and make sure that this scene is secure until I am done here, and me because I am perfectly able to defuse this bomb. But your staying here is still too great a risk and unnecessary as well. So go now, that is an order."

York watched her for a moment, before shaking his head. "With all due respect, Ma'am, I refuse. Neither you or I may like it, but for the moment, I am your second, which makes me your partner which in turn means I'm staying and not going anywhere unless it's with you."

"That does not make any sense," she told him, not seeing why he had to be so stubborn all of a sudden. He was being almost as infuriating as Tony often was. Maybe to be so annoying wasn't Tony's personality after all but came with the job?

Either York could read her thoughts or he had similar thoughts of his own, because he sighed exasperated. "Tony must have the patience of a saint if you always are as clueless and stubborn as this," he muttered, before he came a bit closer to squat down beside her and look her in the eyes, very seriously. "Think. How many times did Agent Gibbs order you to leave or do something else to keep you out of harm's way while he was determined to stay in the danger zone? And how many of those times did Tony actually follow that order, directly or indirectly?"

She actually did think back, trying to remember similar situations. Most prominently, there was the case with Gibbs' daughter's best friend. Then there had been that bomb. The hostage case in a way. The mess with the Reynosa cartel. And others. She nodded. "Not very often."

He grinned. "With Agent Gibbs? I bet. Tony's one busy SFA for sure." He grew serious again. "We do the paperwork, school the probies, keep our junior agents safe and if necessary, we step in to take the lead. But our most difficult and important job is to have our leader's back. Whether they want it or not. Right now, you and me are partners and the core team. And as your partner, I will not leave you behind but I'll stay at your side until it's over. Or, if I see you can't disable this bomb but still have a chance to save yourself, I will drag you away for your own good, even if I have to club you in order to do that. Because no matter how much I like you or how well you know me, for the time being, I am your SFA and that is my job and duty. Are we clear?"

Ziva looked down, his words ringing in her ears - and her heart. With shame she recognized that if she were in Mark York's place, if Tony had made him team leader and her his SFA, she would have just left and followed her orders, not even thinking about any of what York had just explained her about his duties. Maybe, that was one of the reasons why Tony had made her team leader because he had known she was well able to be in charge - but not so good at being a senior field agent. It would be like him, to think ahead like this while at the same time ensuring that she had someone good at her back who watched her six, no matter what.

And she thought she knew all about Tony there was to know. Even after all the times he had already surprised her over the years.

Meeting her SFA's eyes again, she slowly nodded. "I think I understand. Thank you. Nevertheless, I strongly suggest you run if I order it. I promise, I will be right behind you."

"It's a deal," York agreed with a smile but there was also a warning in his eyes that she'd better be.

This man was not going to leave without her. Very well. In that case she just would have to make sure that they both could leave. With even a stronger determination, she turned her attention back to the bomb.

So far, it looked as if they had been just quick enough. The Chicago team had just radioed in that they had finally managed to disable the two bombs. DiNutso had been obviously relieved, but was far from relaxed. That Fornell could understand. But the young man also seemed on edge, more than he should be. Which in turn made him nervous. The boy had a gut that was almost as good as his boss'.

"What is it?" he asked quietly, as soon as DiNutso ended the video transmission with David. Kort must have heard him too though as he joined their little group as well.

DiNutso looked at him, then back to the big video screen. He shrugged. "I dunno. It's too easy."

"Easy?" Fornell repeated, incredulous. Coordinating five major operations in five different cities all over America, disabling bombs and stopping a massive act of bioterrorism was anything else but too easy in his book.

"Please," Kort snorted as well. "You just want an out in case something goes wrong. But you won't get it. You wanted the lead. Something goes wrong, you take the responsibility now and don't get to excuse yourself that we didn't listen to your gut."

DiNutso didn't have to answer as in that moment, phones started ringing and at the same time, Ms Sciuto stormed in, repeating his name endlessly, each time with increasing urgency. With a telling look towards Fornell, DiNutso stepped forward, holding up both hands in a calming gesture. "Breathe Abby. I'll be with you in a minute, unless it's life-threatening?"

She thought for a moment, then shook her head. He nodded and stepped towards the big screen, signaling to the agents at the controls to put the calls there. The screen split in two, showing LA and Hawaii. Agent Pierce from Pearl Harbor spoke first, Commander McGarrett, coordinating HPD, beside her. Shots could be heard in the background and they looked both very tense. "We've got trouble. Balance sent a strike team to protect the bomb. We're under fire. So far we can hold our position, but there've been casualties already."

DiNozzo looked back at Fornell. "We got anyone in Hawaii who we can send in to help?"

Fornell shook his head, so did Kort. All personnel they had were already in place or at least should be. Clenching his jaw, Tony turned back to the screen. "Copy that, H. Do what you can, I'll see if I can get you some reinforcement." He looked at the operator. "Get me SecDef, ASAP," he bellowed. SecDef appeared on a corner of the screen within thirty seconds, not looking too happy about the urgent call. Well, too bad. DiNozzo plunged right ahead. "Pearl Harbor is under fire. We've got casualties. There's a Seal team on base and the Ronald Reagan's docked in. Request to send the forces in to help our guys."

SecDef didn't think twice about it and nodded. "I'll send them in immediately. Keep me posted."

Nodding, DiNozzo switched back to Agent Pierce and Commander McGarrett, telling them to expect help any second now. After they acknowledged him, obviously relieved, Kort shook his head. "Even if SecDef's orders already reached them, it will take some time to assemble the teams and send them in. It's unlikely they'll make it in time."

DiNutso smiled ferally. "Commander McGarrett is a reservist Seal. He already put his old buddies on alert. And I spoke with the Captain of the Reagan as soon as we learned that Hawaii's a target. He knows me from my time as Agent Afloat on his ship and promised to help. As soon as the official orders form SecDef come through the proper channel, he'll give the go and they jump into the action."

That rendered Kort speechless, which made Fornell smile, despite the tense situation. He had no idea when DiNozzo had had the time to prepare all this, but it didn't surprise him much. The ex-Cop knew how to make buddies he could ask for a favor or who owned him something, always a very useful thing and one of the reasons why he had offered the young detective a job right after their first meeting, despite their mutual initial dislike. That and his knack for multitasking. It was undeniable that in the same amount of time, DiNutso managed to do twice as much as most agents he knew.

Meanwhile, the man in question had turned back to the screen to talk now with LA. Fornell's smile dropped instantly as he listened to an ashen faced Agent Callen. "We located two bombs. One we could disable but the second was triggered by remote. Half of the Kodak theatre is gone, along with the LAPD bomb squad and two FBI agents. The scene was contaminated. They think it's confined to the bomb site but further tests must be conducted before we can confirm that. To be safe we've expanded the evacuation zone with a mile. Our Agents Deeks and Blye were exposed. They are being treated as we speak."

There was a heavy silence in MTAC before DiNozzo nodded slowly. "Keep us updated. And please send us the names of the fallen so we can contact their families. What about Balance? Could you follow the signal? Did they show up at the scene?"

"Not that we noticed and we're still analyzing our data. As soon as we have a lead, we're ready to strike," Callen said darkly.

The transmission ended and DiNozzo turned around, met Fornell's eyes. "I'm sorry about your agents," he said quietly.

Fornell just nodded. It was always hard to lose agents, even if you didn't know them personally. He could see the same sorrow he felt mirrored in the expressive green eyes he was looking into. As this time it was him who sent those men in to die, it probably weighed even harder on DiNozzo than him. It wasn't his fault and DiNozzo was long enough in law enforcement that he knew it himself. And with time, he would remember that and it would ease his mind. Still, Fornell knew from experience that a crash was going to come, and he hoped sincerely that by then Gibbs would be well enough again to catch the boy. Otherwise he'd have to step in and apart from the fact that he wasn't sure DiNozzo would listen to him, it would seriously disturb their snarky work relationship.

Not to mention that Gibbs was going to skin him if he failed the boy.

"Tony, Tony, Tony!"

In a flash, DiNozzo had his features schooled into an easy-going, if maybe a bit stressed expression as he turned to face Ms Sciuto. No hint of his sorrow remained. It wasn't the first time Fornell had watched it happen over the past couple of days, but it still was just creepy how that man could control what he let others, even his best friends, see and what not. "Abby, can't it wait? You see we're a bit busy here."

"I know, but trust me, you need to know this." Not giving her friend any time to answer, she plunged right into it, leaving all of them staring at her in surprise. "I think I know where they're keeping Vance and the rest of the directors."


Author's Note: First of all, sorry it took so long! Life was a bit hectic in the last couple months, plus NaNo and the holidays … Yeah well. Here at last the new chapter and boy, I hope you liked it. It was far from easy to write and I hope it's not totally off the book or unrealistic. If it is – well, sorry. I do try my best to keep it more or less accurate but I'm far from an expert in anything and the internet can only help so much. Obviously, we have tiny crossovers with NCIS LA and Hawaii Five-O as I borrowed some characters from the show (which, btw I don't own either). I hesitated to do so, but with LA and Hawaii involved, anything else just wouldn't have felt right, especially after NCIS LA and Hawaii Five-O already did shoot a double episode together. While I do actually love and watch Five-O faithfully, I only watch LA sporadically but I do hope I stayed true to them all anyway. Anything left? Nope, I think I'm good. Next chapter hopefully sooner than this one, but as mentioned before, these are some of the last chapters and they are always tough for me to write and wrap up everything. But I am working on it and with all the fabulous encouragement you send my way (thanks so much for that!) I'm sure it's only a matter of a couple of weeks, more or less.