Title: Ground Rules

Author: Mooncatff

Rating: T

Summary: Tony on protection detail, alone with Vance and McGee. It just has to go wrong, doesn't it? Before he knows it he's on the run, not only from assassins hell-bent on killing his director but from enemies of his own as well.

Warnings: Violence to a certain degree, some bad language, Tony-whumping.

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of NCIS.

Copyright: Sarah Diaz 2012

Author's Note: Yeah, yeah, another Tony on protection detail that goes wrong story. And boy, lots of Tony in charge and Tony the hero. But I just couldn't resist and hope you like it. Now remember English is not my mother tongue. I do my best though and scousemuz1k looks for the rest. Thank you so much for straightening out my German-influenced English! Okay, now enough babble, let's move on to the story. Enjoy!

Ground Rules


Getting out of the truck, Tony quickly took in the scene to which they'd been called. For once, they had arrived before Gibbs, who'd been delayed by a meeting with Vance and SecNav. So it had been Tony who had gotten the call, leaving a message for the boss to follow them. And it was his job now to get the team started on processing this scene.

From the look of it Ensign Paul Garth had committed suicide by jumping down from a bridge. Then again, he had learned a long time ago never to assume. For now, this was a crime scene and that's how they would handle this scene. "Ziva, shoot and sketch, McGee, bag and tag." Ziva sighed, but moved to the back of the truck to get her equipment. McGee though didn't move. Tony raised an eyebrow. "You waiting on a written invitation, Probie?"

"No, Tony, but what will you do while we do all the work?" McGee asked, giving him a not so nice look.

Tony sighed inwardly. It was getting hard to make McGee listen to him lately. In or out of the office, that was one thing. But in the field? "Until Ducky arrives I'll talk with the officers first on scene and then interview the witnesses," he answered evenly, hoping it would spur his junior agent along without further argument. But it was hard to suppress a more creative reply, which for sure would lead to more talking back.

Unfortunately, McGee didn't get the hint. Like so often. If they weren't delivered written down, with a head-slap or in the form of computer codes, taking hints wasn't his probie's forte. "Why can't I do the interviews? Oh, let me guess. You want to flirt with the girl beach volley ball team that found him. Really, aren't they a bit too young, even for you?"

Tony glanced at the waiting girls, in their cute little outfits, sweat glistening on their bronzed skin. Interviewing them would indeed not be that much of a hard chore. Then again, they were pretty young, some cried, some looked definitely green around the nose. Conducting interviews with such witnesses, even if they were without doubt a nice treat for the eyes, was not so much fun. But of course, that wasn't the point. "Oh, okay then. If you'd rather deal with sobbing girls, sure, go ahead. I'll go get the equipment and start with the evidence." He made a few steps towards the back of the truck, catching Ziva looking from him to McGee with a frown of exasperation. Shaking her head, she turned away and went to work. Snapping his fingers, he turned around, his eyes hard as he glared at McGee. "Oh wait, I think I forgot something. Now, what was that again?" He put his head to the side before holding up a finger. "Right. Just a small detail, easy to forget, I'm sure. Know what that could be, Probie?"

McGee gritted his teeth but said nothing. Well, that was something, at least. "It's called chain of command. And last time I checked I'm still the senior agent here. Bag and tag, McGee, before I write you up for insubordination," Tony finished, his voice tightly controlled but rising a bit at the end.

His eyes flashing with indignation, his junior agent raised his chin. But before he could say something that would leave Tony no choice than to follow through with his threat, a not very pleased voice sounded from behind them. "Care to explain why you two aren't working?"

Cursing silently, Tony smiled widely at Gibbs. "We were just about to start, Boss. In fact, McGee was already on his way to go get his bags to start bagging and tagging." It was a cheap way out of this issue, but there was no way he could let his probie get away with anything other than what he had been ordered to do. And Tim may dare to question his orders, but he hadn't the balls to do it in front of the boss.

Gibbs' only reply was a telling look before, like Tony a few minutes ago, he took in the scene, then glanced expectantly at McGee. Finally the junior agent sprang into action, not without a last withering glare towards Tony though. He returned the glare before looking back at Gibbs who merely raised an eyebrow. He shrugged then nodded towards the officers waiting at the edge of the crime scene. "I'll go talk to the LEOs. So far all points to a suicide." He didn't need to add more, knowing that only too well, so he left to do as he'd said, not in the mood to be his usual jovial self. His probie used to be a great source of fun, able to take most of his sometimes admittedly crude humor in his stride, but lately, not so much. Just the opposite, it seemed as if the probie rather sucked out the little fun this job provided. Being a cop for almost twenty years now Tony desperately needed that small spark in order to be able to continue this job and come back every morning. Besides, Tim's attitude was starting to get on his nerves – and making him look incapable of being in charge. Not to mention the lives it was putting at risk.

Tony knew there were orders that could be ignored, as well as orders that had to be questioned. It was why he never joined officially one of the military branches. Or, to be honest, why he had changed his job every two years before finding a partner and boss he could trust to usually give out reasonable commands. Although following orders blindly just wasn't in his nature, he also knew that there were times where there couldn't be any questions, that only blind obedience would do.

For years, he'd thought his probie knew and respected that too. Now he wasn't so sure anymore. Admittedly, this hadn't been a life-or-death situation. Nonetheless, they'd been in the field and working a case. Not the place to question orders. His probie should know that.

Instead, he'd been insubordinate. This time there had been no harm but he shuddered to think about what could happen the next time McGee thought he didn't have to follow an order.

With a scowl, Tim stashed away the evidence he'd collected. There hadn't been that much so it only had taken him an hour or so, still, it hadn't been enough time for him to cool down. He had so had it with DiNozzo! Always putting him down, ridiculing him, pranking him, giving him all the undesirable jobs he didn't want to do himself. While he had collected the evidence, crawling around all over the crime scene, Tony had joked around with the LEOs, flirted with the witnesses and heaven knew what he had done the rest of the time. Not much, from Tim's vantage point. Worse, Gibbs let him get away with almost everything lately. He barely reined DiNozzo in with a glare, headslap or a sharp warning anymore. God, how Tim missed those wonderful old times where Tony was the main focus of Gibbs' very special teaching methods. He didn't know what had changed that Gibbs had eased off his gruff disciplinary treatment of Tony but he truly wished that he would go back to them. At least then Tony had been somewhat bearable.

At least the director still valued Tim's skills. While he and DiNozzo still didn't see eye to eye, for which Tim was very glad. Admitted, the animosity between the director and the senior field agent had ameliorated, mostly thanks to Gibbs' insistence and refusing to exclude his second any further than what was absolutely necessary, but it was far from having any deep respect for each other.

The focus of his grief suddenly spoke up outside of the truck. "Looks more and more like a suicide, Boss. Some of the girls saw him jump. None of them saw anyone else on the bridge. In fact, they all claimed he had been alone. I went up on the bridge and couldn't see any signs of foul play, but I took the prints, maybe they'll tell another story. Though I also spoke with the LEOs and one of them recognized the victim from a case a couple of weeks back. Apparently Ensign Garth and his fiancé were robbed on the street, after the ensign got some cash from an ATM. According to the report, he'd forgotten his wallet. Instead of handing over the money, he put up a fight. Turns out the robber was armed. The fiancé was hit three times in the chest and was gone by the time the medics and police arrived on scene. I put in a call to his CO. Today would have been their wedding day." There was a slight pause. "Sorry, Boss, but I think this is exactly what it looks like," he finished sadly.

"Ducky agrees. There are no defensive wounds or bruises that suggest he was pushed. Looks like he blamed himself and couldn't live with the guilt." Gibbs sighed. It was no secret that the boss never accepted suicides easily. Hence his dedication to always making sure it wasn't anything else. Sometimes, Tim wondered why he was so reluctant to believe a brother in arms could choose to take his own life. After all, statistics showed that the military was one of the professions with the most suicides. Oh sure, most soldiers chose to go out in style, especially the higher ranking they were. But it was suicide nonetheless. And he wondered, after the boss had lost his wife and daughter, if he'd never sat there in his basement with a gun to his head. And if he had, what had stopped him from pulling the trigger. But maybe whatever reason he'd had was also why he had such a hard time accepting it when other soldiers hadn't been as strong as him.

"Was the robber caught?"

"No, they're still looking for him."

Tim suppressed a groan. Great. If he knew the boss any way at all, next thing they'd be moving heaven and earth in order to find that bastard and bring him to justice. There was no doubt in his mind that in Gibbs' eyes, the robber was the one truly responsible for this senseless death. Jurisdiction be damned. Vance would have a fit, Tony would enjoy another chance to get one over Metro police, Ziva would follow all the orders and he would be stuck in the middle, probably having to run a few dozen search programs in order to find the suspect. Not that Tim disagreed per se. Gibbs was right, the robber was responsible and should be off the streets and punished for the murder of that poor woman. But this was clearly not their jurisdiction and Metro wouldn't be pleased to have their toes stepped on. Which wouldn't please Vance, letting out his frustration on Gibbs. Who in turn would become even more of a bastard than usual and take it out on all of them. And there was no question whom Tony would take it out on.

"See if you can get the original case files. But first go check out his place, talk with his parents and friends. Maybe he left a suicide note or talked with someone about his intentions. Take McGee with you."

Again, Tim suppressed a groan. The last thing he needed or wanted now was to be stuck alone with Tony for hours and hours.

Apparently, Tony shared his feelings. "I'd rather take Ziva. You know some prefer to talk to a woman and as they don't know Ziva ... Besides, if you want to go after that robber, despite that case not being our jurisdiction, it may be smoother to get those files the unofficial way, if you get my drift. The sooner McGeek can start with them, the better."

Tim held his breath. Gibbs didn't like his orders questioned. Most of him wanted the boss to listen to Tony's pretty reasonable comments. Anything to get away from the senior field agent for a while. But there was also a part of him, surprisingly dark, that hoped Tony's request would be met with the usual Gibbs reply: a head-slap or even better, some well chosen words that would put the senior field agent in place, finally. Try as he might, he may be his senior but that still didn't make him team leader.

But Gibbs huffed his agreement. Tim rolled his eyes. Of course. Let Tony get away with one more thing. There was the sound of someone walking away, most likely Tony. But then - "DiNozzo."

"Yeah, Boss?"

"You've got a problem with McGee." Was that a question or a statement? Tim wasn't sure and he barely dared to breath, desperately wanting to hear the rest of that particular conversation. He didn't think they'd noticed him inside the truck and now certainly wasn't the time to let them know that he could hear their every word.

There was no answer from Tony. Too bad he couldn't see them as well.

"Fix it," Gibbs said, his voice making sure that this order was absolute.

At last, Tony sighed. "Yeah, Boss."

This time, there were two sets of steps walking away and he could hear Tony calling for Ziva and Gibbs' low murmur with Ducky. Remaining where he was, Tim thought about what he'd overheard. Maybe he'd been wrong and Gibbs had after all noticed how Tony's treatment of him had gotten way out of hand lately. Tim wasn't sure how he felt about Tony easing off his harassment of him only per Gibbs' orders, then again, right now, he would take all the leeway he could get. And of course, it was nice to know that Gibbs for once took his side, chiding Tony instead, albeit pretty lightly.

Tim smiled. Yeah, that was a start. Hopefully, one Tony would respect.

"You wanted to see me?"

Vance looked up from the report he was reading, unnerved that Gibbs had yet again managed to sneak up on him and got by Cynthia unannounced, but determined not to show his best agent his exasperation. The less weakness he showed in front of the ex-gunnery sergeant, the better. Not that he was afraid of the man. Hell, as much as he hated to admit it, he respected him, and over the years they had come to an understanding that allowed them to work extremely well with each other. Nonetheless, he knew that the older man would only accept orders from him so long as he regarded him as an equal. Of some sorts.

Leaning back in his chair, Vance tapped with his pen onto the file. "I see your latest case was ruled a suicide."

Like always, Gibbs' face and eyes gave nothing away. "Looks like it. The investigation is still pending though."

Vance raised an eyebrow. "Witnesses claimed there was no one else on the bridge as Ensign Paul Garth jumped. Preliminary autopsy report suggests no foul play. And we have a motive. What, if I may ask, Special Agent Gibbs, is there still to investigate?"

Gibbs shrugged. "Just tying up some loose ends before wrapping it up, Leon. Besides, you know very well that a case is only over after the autopsy has been fully performed."

"Oh yes. Unfortunately it seems as if Dr Mallard is swamped with other more urgent tasks and signaled he won't be able to finish his report for a couple of days," Vance said, watching the lead agent closely – whose answer was the ghost of a smile.

"Too bad."

"Too bad indeed," Vance sighed and sat up. "Very well, as we don't have another case for you yet I'll let you play with this one. But as it is obvious you'll hardly need your whole team to wrap the case up, since it's only to confirm a suicide, I have a new assignment for Agents McGee and DiNozzo."

The stiffening of his back was the only sign of Gibbs' displeasure. "What assignment?"

For a moment Vance indulged in the fantasy of telling Gibbs that it was none of his business and as director, he could order his agents doings as he pleased. But as he also knew to pick his battles wisely, especially with Gibbs, he restrained himself and just answered in a businesslike tone. "I agreed with SecNav that I have to personally attend the annual law enforcement technology conference in Philadelphia. We're interested in several technological modernizations for NCIS. As this is the expertise of Agent McGee, I require him to attend as well. And seeing that this was once DiNozzo's turf, it's probably a good idea he's the second agent to cover my security detail. We'll leave tomorrow." To be honest, he had been very close to picking Agent David instead. The prospect of having to spend four days up and close with the exuberant and most of the time very annoying Agent DiNozzo was not something he was looking forward to. Not to mention that DiNozzo's track record with security details was considerably lacking.

Then again, Vance prided himself in thinking logically and using his resources to the optimum. So taking an agent who was familiar with the location, maybe even had some useful connections to aid them, finally won over his exasperation with DiNozzo.

And whether he liked it or not, over the years he'd come to accept that there was a good reason DiNozzo was Gibbs' second-in-command and, despite all the head-slaps or maybe because of them, hands down the gruff marines' favorite. Some would say Ms Sciuto held that place in Gibbs' heart, but he knew better. He had first hand experience of how determined, pissed off and worried Gibbs got whenever DiNozzo was threatened or even just in a possibly dangerous situation. Admittedly, it had taken him some time to figure it out.

His first clue should have been Gibbs' insistence on getting DiNozzo back on his team after he'd promoted him to Agent Afloat. But he had to face a royally pissed off marine after sending DiNozzo alone to track Reynosa's brother to Mexico before he learned his lesson. To say Gibbs had been displeased with his decision would be like saying the Pope was just a bit catholic. There'd been a moment when Vance had been sure Gibbs would pull a gun on him to demand that he order DiNozzo back home on the spot. Luckily, Gibbs had restrained his urge and Vance had learned his lesson. Which was why, when SecNav had wanted DiNozzo to do an undercover op for him, he'd done his best to discourage Jarvis from that plan. And when that had failed, make it perfectly clear to Gibbs that this hadn't been his idea at all and if he wanted to nail someone's ass for using his agent without his permission, he had to go to SecNav. Which Gibbs did, not much to Vance's surprise. But it once again brought home to him the fact that as long as Gibbs breathed, no one who threatened DiNozzo or placed him in a potentially dangerous situation, perp or superior, was safe from the ex-sniper's wrath.

Oh no, DiNozzo was definitely Gibbs' favorite. Vance had learned to work with that. But it didn't mean he stopped being the director. He still tasked his agents with what he thought was best suited for them and if that collided with Gibbs' need to protect his own, well, so be it.

As expected, Gibbs was already frowning slightly. As usual, it was close to impossible to read the reason for the frown. Was it displeasure at losing two agents temporarily, disagreement with his decision or his sending DiNozzo away from where Gibbs could keep an eye on him? "Got a problem with that, Agent Gibbs?" Vance asked, perhaps with a bit more hostility than intended.

"Apart from you splitting my team up?" Gibbs replied dryly, before he moved his head once to the side. "Maybe you better take David instead of DiNozzo," he finally admitted, and for once his reluctance to admit this was obvious.

Intrigued by this uncharacteristic disloyalty to his most prized and favorite agent, Vance raised an eyebrow. As much as he didn't like DiNozzo away from his six, Gibbs would usually rather die than imply that perhaps, DiNozzo couldn't handle something.

"Really? Why is that?" But Gibbs wasn't ready to say more and he simply stared back at him, almost a bit defiantly. "You think DiNozzo's not up for the job?" Vance asked, not willing to let it rest yet.

Gibbs narrowed his eyes in clear indignation. "You don't get better than DiNozzo," he stated flatly.

Vance held out his hands, palm turned upwards. "So then?" Again, Gibbs was unwilling to give him an answer. Shrugging, Vance dismissed him by looking down onto the file. "If you have no clear reason for me not to take DiNozzo I stand with my choice. Please send Agents McGee and DiNozzo up so I can brief them. Meanwhile, unless you get a new case, you can wrap up the suicide. But Gibbs, I expect the full and finished report by the time I get back."

"If you say so. Have a good trip, Leon," Gibbs said sarcastically, giving him that look that said he was doing the wrong thing but if he didn't know better himself, Gibbs couldn't be bothered with his insufficient hindsight.

With a scowl, Vance watched the door close after Gibbs, tapping his pen on the file as he mentally went over the details, trying to see whatever it was that had made Gibbs unwilling to send DiNozzo with him.

Gibbs was sitting at his work bench, patiently carving out the details of a locomotive. Amira had a fascination with them and her birthday was in a few weeks. He planned to have a whole three to four feet long train ready for her by then. And then he still had to make Mike's gift for her as well. He had left him with a detailed list of presents to give her over the years for her birthdays and at Christmas, a legacy he was honored to fulfill for his old mentor. Besides, although bittersweet, it felt good to make presents for a little girl again, even if it was only his godchild.

Soft footsteps made the boards above him creak, but he calmly continued his work, recognizing the steps immediately. He had been waiting for his SFA to arrive for the past two hours. Either Vance had kept him longer than anticipated or DiNozzo had taken some time before following his unvoiced invitation - okay, order really.

Already the footsteps moved down the stairs but he didn't look up. With his second in command you best waited him out until he spoke. Most of the time it didn't take long, though it was always debatable how much truth there was in the things DiNozzo said. That man could dodge direct questions and avoid telling unwanted truths better than all the best politicians worldwide together. He was glad every day that DiNozzo had never decided to go into politics. As much as he respected the younger man, politics corrupts and what a shame it would have been to lose such a bright spark that shone in the often dark days in the life of a law enforcement officer, federal or otherwise.

It was that very spark he was worried about. Philly hadn't been a good place and time for DiNozzo and he loathed the thought that his agent was heading back there with a director that didn't appreciate him enough and a junior agent that lately seemed to be more interested in hurting his training officer rather than having his six. In fact, he hated it so much that he had come as close to actually reinforcing Vance's disregarding opinion of his SFA as he'd ever come. Of course, Tony wouldn't thank him for his efforts. Hell, if he ever got wind of it he'd be pissed, hurt and pissed some more. And he'd have every right to.

But he couldn't help it. It wasn't just the memories that would most likely haunt his second in that godforsaken place. He had enemies there. Powerful enemies who would be either much displeased to see DiNozzo come back onto their turf - or, maybe even worse, rejoice in the fact that the mouse had walked back right into the trap. There was a reason why Gibbs always found a reason to not take a case that was too close to Philly and it had nothing to do with the lousy weather there. Since that damn SWAT letter yet another reason why this place was no good for Tony.

"I brought pizza and beer. It's upstairs." At last Gibbs looked up, taking a good look at his SFA.

Tony grinned, holding up his hands. "No offense, I'm sure everyone loves a layer of sawdust on their pizza but I thought it may be a bit more comfortable? Plus, the game's on tonight and as you still lack a TV that deserves its name down here ..."

To most of the world, Tony seemed to be his usual sarcastic but jovial self. But Gibbs knew better. The smile didn't reach his eyes, his grin was only a hundred watts tops, instead of a hundred and fifty to two hundred, and there were slight lines of stress around his eyes, not to mention the tension that practically buzzed from his body. Wordlessly, he carefully put his carving away and moved to the stairs.

They settled on the couch, turned on the game and wordlessly ate. Well, wordless on his part. Tony of course commented on the game. But Gibbs noticed with concern that he failed to be aggravated a few times when his team messed up a pass or was fouled without the referee doing anything to discipline the other team. Even worse, DiNozzo apparently wasn't too hungry. While he usually had to fight the guy for every slice, when they finished up there were still two slices left after him already eating one more than his half. But Gibbs said nothing as he tidied up and made coffee while Tony watched the end of the game. Nor did he say anything as Tony's team lost and he hardly had any comments on that, or when they moved back down to the basement, with him returning to work on the locomotive again while Tony just sat on the stairs, saying nothing.

It was eerie and unnerving, this silence from his usually so talkative agent, and Gibbs soon started to go through possible ways that he could keep DiNozzo in DC after all. When some more minutes passed in silence, the marine sighed, got up and brought out the bourbon. Emptying one nail glass for himself and taking his usual for Tony, he poured them both a healthy shot and handed one to Tony. "When're you leaving?"

"We're picking up Vance at six thirty. Flight's at eight thirty," Tony reported calmly. Too calmly. It was seldom a good sign when his SFA went all businesslike, not coloring his answers with some trivia, a joke or a movie reference. Especially here, far from the office.

"I could find a reason to keep you here," Gibbs offered, tired of waiting DiNozzo out and plunging right into it.

Tony didn't stiffen nor did he immediately insist that this was unnecessary or that he was fine. It deeply unsettled Gibbs. "I don't see how, Boss. Unless you plan to give me such a head-slap it gives me brain damage or stage my kidnapping I don't think the tooth pick will change his mind. And he shouldn't have to," Tony finally said, his face hardening. "From his point of view, it makes perfect sense to pick me for this detail. I am one of the most experienced agents he has, plus I know the turf."

"You also have enemies on that turf," Gibbs reasoned. "They find out you're back in Philadelphia and come after you, it puts the director in danger too."

"Yeah, but then again, it's been almost fifteen years. Paccieti is still on death row, Malcuso's serving a few lifetimes, both rotting away in SCI-Greene. Most players from back then are either dead or in prison. It's highly unlikely they screen the airports or whatever for me comin' back," Tony answered evenly. "The chances of this old story posing a threat to Vance are highly unlikely."

Yeah. And if this was anyone but DiNozzo Gibbs would be inclined to agree with him. But this was DiNozzo. It was also highly unlikely for someone to be pushed out of an airplane, be drugged and dragged to the gutter to die slowly and painfully, go on the run chained to a psycho-killer, be accused of murder not just once but three times or have three cases involving his scumbag father. And let's not even talk about contracting and surviving a certain medieval disease. No, with DiNozzo, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, no matter how practically non-existent the chances were.

But Gibbs also knew when Tony's mind was made up and he could see, while Tony was reluctant to go on this assignment, he was also determined to not let his past interfere with his duties. He sighed. "Don't do anything stupid. Don't visit or contact old friends; stay away from any place you've ever been to in Philadelphia. Don't go to the grave or anywhere near where the shooting took place. Stay away from anything Italian. Especially pizza places. And if you see, hear, smell or just feel anything off, spot a familiar face or anyone from the family, you duck and call me. Understood?"

There was a smile playing on Tony's lips. "You telling me not to leave the house without a coat and gloves on too?" Gibbs just glared and he sighed. "I hear you, Boss."

Gibbs intensified his glare. That was not what he wanted to hear.

Tony shook his head. "All right, I'll watch my six." As Gibbs still kept his unyielding stare on him, he nodded. "And I'll call whenever I have to take a leak."

Finally, Gibbs nodded satisfied. "You do that."

He was not kidding. There was no better place to abduct or attack someone than in the head. You were usually alone and if there was someone waiting for you, it would take them at least double the time to wonder why you took so long and even longer until someone decided to go check on you after all. So yeah, if it helped protect his SFA, Tony damn well better called him before heading anywhere alone. Including the bathroom.

Tony rolled his eyes, but Gibbs was confident that he had gotten the message. Satisfied he nodded, reaching for his tools and the wooden locomotive. "Oh and DiNozzo? Don't forget to put on gloves and a shawl whenever you go outside."


Author's Note: So, yet another story born ... Hope you liked this little Prelude. And yeah, you guessed it, lot's of tension in it. On that note perhaps a word to the Tim-fans out there. I love Tim and I love the dynamics between him and Tony. But sometimes he's just out of line in a way Tony never would be. Especially these past few seasons. So this story will partly deal with that and Tim's got to have to learn a hard lesson - which will be doubly hard for Tony. And I can't leave it be, you should have guessed it as well - once more a lot of Tony-in-charge-mode, simply because we hardly ever get that on the show, so well, guess I'll have to write it moi-même ...

That's it, more I won't tell. Hope you like it anyway, as well as the rest of this story. First chapter will come soon!