Changes and Choices

Disclaimer: I do not own "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," or "NCIS."

AN: Thank you to everyone who reviewed Chapter 3! Thank you bloodroses 18, Poopie, Amitris, slaterbug, hungrypiranha, jcanderson33, Wild320, DLillith21 and sambam17.

Chapter 4

A Strange Case

"What do we have?" asked Gibbs gruffly at the crime scene, avoiding eye contact with Tony.

"Lt. Claudia Grand, U.S. Navy," responded Tim. "She works over at the Pentagon."

"What kind of work?" asked Gibbs suspiciously, looking down at the lieutenant's body. The woman had probably been attractive in life; she was slim, with brown hair and big brown eyes. She had a kind face. It was a shame that she had been left in this empty parking lot next to the dumpsters, like she was trash.

"Nothing major," answered Tim. "She was basically a secretary."

"They like to be called 'administrative assistants,' Probie," bit off Tony, though admittedly with less verve than usual. His heart just wasn't in it. He and Ellie hadn't been speaking this morning and it had set his entire day off on the wrong foot. He felt completely out of sorts.

"How'd she die, Duck?" Gibbs asked the medical examiner, who was crouched next to the victim's body while Jimmy fetched the stretcher from the van.

"This poor lady was both strangled and stabbed," replied Ducky. "The bruises around her neck and the petechial hemorrhages in her eyes indicate strangulation. She would have fallen unconscious due to her lack of oxygen. Hopefully, she was already unconscious when she was stabbed, which is what I believe killed her, although I won't know for certain until I get her back to NCIS and open her up."

"Stabbed?" questioned Gibbs. "Where's the blood?"

"Probably wherever she was stabbed, Jethro," said Ducky. "The lividity shows that the lieutenant was moved approximately an hour after she died; she would have bled out long before that, judging from the wound in her abdomen."

"Do we know what kind of knife did this?" asked Ziva, jumping in.

"I can't tell you that until we get back to NCIS, but I would tentatively say a rather large blade made these wounds," said Ducky. Then looking around exasperatedly, he shouted, "Mr. Palmer, what is keeping you? Has the wheel gotten stuck again?"

"No, Doctor, sorry, Doctor," apologized Jimmy, finally approaching. Jimmy had been hoping Gibbs would walk away before he came over. It wasn't that he was scared of Gibbs; it was that he was terrified of Gibbs.

Gibbs and the team then continued to look around the crime scene but found very little, again indicating that the body had been dumped there from somewhere else.

"Um, Boss," called Tim, waving Gibbs over to where he was crouched on the asphalt.

"What do you got?" asked Gibbs.

"I'm not sure," replied Tim. Gibbs just quirked an eyebrow at him. "I mean, it's some kind of chemical or something …"

Gibbs looked more closely and saw the faintest traces of some yellow goop that looked pretty noxious. "Any ideas what it is?"

"No … but I'll bag it for Abby."

"Good," said Gibbs, nodding. Then the team, having collected all the evidence at the location, packed up and left.

~ x ~ x ~ x ~

It had been hours since the team had been at the crime scene and now Gibbs and Tim were sorting through evidence in the bullpen while Tony and Ziva were in the field interviewing Lt. Grand's friends and family, trying—in vain—to find anyone who disliked the woman. They had found bupkus so far. Everyone liked her: her coworkers, her family, her neighbors. They had found one disgruntled ex-boyfriend, but he was currently overseas in Iraq; there was no way he had killed her. Gibbs was getting frustrated. He hated cases like this, cases where they just ran into dead end after dead end. Even the goop Tim had found had gotten them nowhere; Abby had tried to analyze the sample, but had come back even more confused than before. It was organic, but unlike anything she had seen before. The best she could guess was that it came from a cryptid. Needless to say, Gibbs was very unhappy about that, although Abby was rather excited.

Ellie wandered into the bullpen nervously. She knew she had to speak with her husband, but she was dreading it. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw only Tim and Gibbs sitting at their desks. "Hey," she said, feigning nonchalance. "Where're Ziva and Tony?"

Gibbs just glared at her. As much as he liked her, he couldn't stand the sight of her right now. She was about to break his senior field agent's heart.

Luckily for Ellie, she didn't notice Gibbs' anger as Tim simply looked up from his computer and told her, "They're out working on the case, interviewing people and stuff."

"Oh, great," said Ellie, forcing a half-assed smile. "What's the case?" she asked, more out of habit than curiosity.

Tim jumped right into the case, telling her about its weirdness. Gibbs, unable to remain with this adulterer, left the bullpen to go visit Abby.

"So, all the blood was drained?" asked Ellie faintly.

"Yeah," replied Tim, "which is why we think the body was moved post-mortem. We're trying to find—"

"What about the goop?" interrupted Ellie.

"The goop?" asked Tim faintly. "Oh yeah, the organic substance we found at the crime scene. Abby can't figure out what it is."

"Can I see it?"

"Well, it's in the lab," said Tim, knitting his brows together. Why did Ellie want to see Abby's anomaly?

"Can I see a picture of it?" asked Ellie, putting on her most innocent face and widening her eyes to the point that Tim couldn't say no.

"Sure," said Tim, pulling up the crime scene photo of the chemical on the big screen for Ellie. He couldn't understand why she was so interested in it. But, nevertheless, she was looking closely at it, as if she could unlock all its secrets through the screen.

"Thanks," she said abruptly, before leaving.

"Wait," called Tim, standing up. "I just … I wanted to apologize if Abby and I caused any problems between you and Tony. She just felt that he needed to know. She was worried about you. I was too."

"I know," said Ellie, her face softening. "But that doesn't mean you're entirely off the hook. I don't need you or Abby or even Tony to protect me." I hate when people do that, she thought.

"I'm sorry," said Tim, and Ellie was moved by his sincerity.

After briefly smiling at him, Ellie walked off to make a phone call.

"Hello."

"Hi, Angel," Ellie said into her phone, smiling that secret smile that she had only for Angel.

"Buffy," Angel said, surprised to hear from her so soon. "What's up? Have you changed your mind?"

"No," replied Ellie stubbornly. "I was just wondering something about the Sardines."

"The Sardines?" asked Angel, confused at the odd turn their conversation was taking.

"Yeah, you know, the demons," clarified Ellie.

"Oh, the Sargniss," Angel corrected.

"That's what I said," huffed Ellie.

"What is it?" asked Angel, chuckling softly, having missed even Buffy's off pronunciations.

"Um, do they sometimes leave behind gross yellow, globby stuff?"

"It's called plakticine," explained Angel. "Some demons—like the Sargniss—secrete it."

"Is it toxic?" asked Ellie, worried for Abby, who she knew was working with the substance.

"Not really, but I still wouldn't suggest eating it or anything."

"Wasn't planning to," retorted Ellie.

"Good," said Angel. Ellie could hear the smile in his voice and it made her heart beat just a little bit faster. "Why do you ask, anyway? Have you come across some plakticine recently?"

"No, I mean yes, I mean no," flip-flopped Ellie. "The agents here at NCIS—you know, where I work—are investigating this woman's murder and they found this plankton at the scene and can't figure out what it is. I thought it looked demon-y, so I called you. Also, the woman was stabbed and all her blood was drained. Looks like the Sardinians got victim number four."

Angel didn't even bother to correct her this time. "What about the pentagram?"

"Nuh-uh," said Ellie, shaking her head even though Angel couldn't see her, "they think her body was moved. There was no blood at the scene."

"OK, just one more question," said Angel. "What's NCIS?"

As Ellie finished her phone conversation, Gibbs watched her. He was too far away to hear what she was saying and she was turned in profile, so he couldn't read her lips. But that didn't mean that he couldn't study her posture. She looked relaxed and, although he couldn't see her entire face, he could swear she was smiling. She's probably on the phone with her boyfriend, thought Gibbs angrily. After finishing her call, Gibbs watched Ellie shake her head, smiling, and head back to her office. Gibbs needed to do something about this; he couldn't let this keep going on.

Heading back to the bullpen, Gibbs saw that Dinozzo and David were back. Before he could lose his nerve, he strode up to Tony and barked, "Dinozzo, follow me."

"Uh, yeah Boss," said Tony uncertainly. He had no clue what he had done wrong now, but he was just glad that Gibbs wasn't going to chew him out in front of everyone else. Maybe the boss had noticed how anxious Tony was about Ellie and was going easy on him for it. Why ever Gibbs was leading him to the elevator though, Tony just followed.

After entering the elevator, Gibbs pushed the emergency stop and the elevator halted as the washed-out emergency lights came on. "One of these days," joked Tony, "they're going to just disable the emergency stop button and we're going to need it and not have it."

"We'll survive," said Gibbs, avoiding eye contact with his agent. This time Tony noticed and he sobered immediately.

"What's wrong, Boss?"

Gibbs ran his hand over his face, trying to find the words to begin with. "It's Ellie," he started. But, before he could get further, Tony jumped in.

"I know," he said. "We had that huge fight last night and we haven't spoken since. I'm trying not to let it affect my work, but it's hard."

"Fight about what?" asked Gibbs.

"About what Abby told me, about that guy at the café," said Tony, suddenly feeling overwhelmed again. "I tried to talk to her about it, but she just got mad at me and told me to drop it. I know she's keeping secrets from me, but I don't even have a clue as to what they could be."

"I do," said Gibbs softly.

Tony's head snapped up. "What do you mean?"

"I caught the tail-end of your fight last night," said Gibbs. "I saw Ellie storm off and I followed her." Off of Tony's look, Gibbs expounded, "I like your wife and didn't want anything bad to happen to her. Anyway, I followed her and saw her with this guy."

"A guy?" asked Tony, just looking confused. "The guy from the café?"

"No, a different guy," said Gibbs. "Tall, dark hair, thin, white—definitely not the guy from the café."

"Was he making Ellie cry too?" asked Tony concernedly.

"Not exactly," said Gibbs, knowing he had to choose his next words very carefully. "She seemed very comfortable with him."

"What does that mean?" demanded Tony. "Just tell me."

"I saw her kissing him, Tony. I think she's cheating on you."

"She can't be," asserted Tony. He knew Ellie was keeping secrets from him, but she would never cheat on him. She wasn't that kind of woman.

"Tony," said Gibbs, "I think you should take some time off, talk to your wife, go home."

"No, Boss. I want to keep working this case. If I talk to Ellie now about this, I might say something I'll regret later. I know I can be kind of a hothead, but with this I really need to be calm and level-headed. I want to keep working."

"OK," acquiesced Gibbs. If Tony needed to work to deal with his emotions right now, Gibbs wouldn't stop him. Gibbs would make certain Tony spoke with Ellie at some point in the next few days though, come hell or high water.

As Gibbs and Tony entered the bullpen, to curious glances from Ziva and Tim, Gibbs received a phone call from Abby. "Gibbs," she chirruped into his ear, "I've got something, and I can't believe I had to call and tell you. You're slipping."

"Be right there, Abs," said Gibbs, before hanging up his phone and heading toward the elevator … again.

"What did you and Gibbs speak about?" Ziva asked Tony, always straight to the point.

From where he sat at his desk, with his head in his hands, Tony groaned and said, "I don't want to talk about it, Ziva."

"If it has something to do with this case, then we should be informed," said Ziva. She felt very left out and she hated feeling left out.

"It's personal," said Tony, lifting his head and enunciating each syllable separately.

"Fine," said Ziva, a bit miffed. Then, softening, "If you need to speak with anyone …"

"Thanks," said Tony brusquely, really not wanting to get into it. While he knew that Ziva would never joke or tease him about something as serious as his wife possibly having an affair, he just couldn't bear the humiliation. When he had first said he was going to marry Ellie, Ziva had been against it. She had believed that Ellie was too young and that Tony was moving too quickly. She had told Tony that there was too much he didn't know about her. But Tony had known that he loved her and he felt that that was enough.

"Gear up," called Gibbs, coming back into the bullpen.

"Where are we going, Boss?" asked Tim.

"Abby found particulates on Lt. Grand's body that point to a certain old warehouse as the murder scene," answered Gibbs.

~ x ~ x ~ x ~

The team found the warehouse with no problems. The problems came though when they found the pentagram painted onto the floor in the center of the warehouse.

"What are we thinking, Boss? Satan worshippers?" asked Tony.

"And look," called Tim, "there's dried blood all over this thing. A lot of blood, more than just from Lt. Grand."

"So, we're looking at multiple murders," deduced Ziva.

"Looks like," answered Gibbs. "Tim, I want you to—"

Gibbs was hit on the back of the head with no warning. Although he went down, he was not knocked out. He pulled his weapon, but suddenly felt weak and shaky as he saw the thing that had attacked him. It was huge claws and teeth, and green, scaly skin. It was like iguanas on serious steroids had been mating with bears. Gibbs shook his head, trying to banish the Abby-like thoughts from his mind. These creatures were like nothing he had ever seen before. Tony and Tim were in a similar state of shock. Ziva was the only one with the presence of mind to fight back, but she was quickly overwhelmed by three of the monsters. The others were subdued by a few more. There seemed to be about twenty all together and all Gibbs could think was that he had been hit on the head harder than he had thought.

In seemingly no time at all, the Sargniss had taken away the NCIS agents' guns and trussed them up, hands and feet tied. The Sargniss had even found Tony's hidden belt-knife.

Gibbs couldn't understand what the things were saying, but he knew that it didn't sound good. Human criminals he could deal with. This made him feel panicked. He could feel the end coming and he was just sorry that his team was going to meet it as well.

x TBC x

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