Fandom: NCIS/Stargate Series
Warnings: Character Bashing, Death – Major Character, Discussion – Murder, Discussion – Torture, Kidnapping, Murder, Slavery, Violence – Canon – Level
Genres: Alternate Universe, Canon Divergent, Crossover, Established Relationship, Science Fiction, Slash
Relationships: John/Rodney, pre-Ronon/Tony
Word Count: 21,544/78,112
Author Note: This starts during the NCIS episode Dead Air. The Stargate Series are AU, so don’t waste a lot of time trying to sync the timelines. Also, DADT has already been repealed, because I refuse to mess with that. Thanks to Jilly James for help with the art. The line about attraction to your brother’s spouse was completely for her. While I have seen many stories use avatars for Atlantis, Keira Marcos’ Lantean Legacy was the first time I had seen it adapted to individual ships in Stargate. I hope my Alex lives up to that standard.
Summary: While taking voice prints for a case, Special Agent Tony DiNozzo stumbles across a kidnapping. His trust in his team is shattered when his expected rescue never appears. Now he finds himself forced to use every skill he has to keep himself and his fellow victim alive as he is thrust into a universe that is much larger and deadlier than he ever imagined.
Trust Issues: Chapters 1-4
“Now that was a woman who is hot and lonely. Not my type, but you have to appreciate a woman confident enough to answer the door in a sports bra and a G-string. Wonder who she was expecting? Maybe it was the pool boy.” Special Agent Tony DiNozzo rattled on quietly as he crossed the street at the corner. He had been at this for two hours, trying to get voice prints for analysis from all the residents of Royal Oaks. It was fortuitous that they had found a recording of a potential perp in their murder investigation. It’s not every day that a radio personality is murdered on the air. So here he was practicing his gift for gab while his partners, Ziva David and Timothy McGee, were handling the recordings and providing backup from the car.
Tony would gladly change places with them, but that would take twice as long. Smooth was not in Timothy McGee’s vocabulary. He wouldn’t have been able to manipulate people into speaking long enough to get a viable sample. And Ziva David may have learned in Mossad how to make people talk, but he would prefer to accomplish it with no torture and bloodshed. Tony, on the other hand, cut his teeth on small talk and was highly trained in undercover work. Anything from high pressure, deep cover to the casual delivery boy role. This one was a monotonous assignment, so all he could do was keep up a stream of chatter so his team would have a continuous status on him. “Probie, you’ll have to come back here. Even you might have a chance with that one.” Tony didn’t bother to hold back the slight smile as he thought about McGee trying to make time with the sixty-year-old woman he was leaving behind. He had worried about his virtue there for a moment, but she would be a step above McGee’s usual fare.
Watching as the garage door closed on the black sedan that just pulled in, Tony selected his direction to start on the next block. He checked the street signs then looked at his phone as if he were checking messages. “OK, guys. Starting at the corner of Willow Court and Ferol Lane. Only three blocks to go, and we’re getting approximately seventy percent of the neighborhood for voiceprint analysis. East on Ferol. Recording mark. Next house is 222 Ferol Lane.”
Tony slid his phone into his pocket while being careful not to disturb the wire on his jacket. He strolled slowly to the front door, mentally working through how long it would take for the driver of the car he had seen to get from the garage into the house. Tony didn’t want to be perceived as too aggressive. He was just a potential buyer in the neighborhood who wanted to get a feel for the area to see if it’s a good fit. He casually reached up and rang the doorbell, then straightened his hair where the reflection in the storm door showed a lockout of place.
He didn’t wait long before a woman answered the door. She was tall, brunette, and built like an athlete. Her frame blocked the view inside the house. He gave his classic, all-around American boy smile and started his patter. “Hi, My name’s Tony.”
“Look, solicitors are not welcome here.”
“Oh, me? No, I’m not selling anything. I’m buying, actually. Well, considering buying a house in the neighborhood and just had a few questions about the neighbors and the atmosphere here.” Tony pushed and angled himself to possibly stop the door from closing in a non-threatening manner. “Have you had any trouble with crime in the neighborhood?”
“No. Look, I’m busy and don’t have time to talk.” She tried to close the door.
Tony leaned in against the door frame, allowing his lower arm to lean across the door jam. “I understand. Is your husband home? See, my wife asked me to get some information here before we place a bid, and I hate to disappoint her.”
“Sorry, he’s not home, and I need to ask you to step back.” A crash of glass caused her to turn, and Tony looked past her to see a man in a dark grey suit who was hanging onto a second man. The second man was the cause of the disturbance. He was just under six feet, receding hairline, in a rumpled blue suit. Of course, what really drew Tony’s attention was the tape over his mouth and the hands cuffed behind his back. His attention had wavered just seconds, but it was seconds Tony realized he had wasted as he felt the barrel of a handgun pressed to the side of his skull.
“Hey, no reason to get all up in arms here. It’s not my place to say what kind of kinky bondage games you and your husband are into. As long as everyone is consenting, who am I to call for help.” Tony started calculating the best methods to buy time and defuse the situation.
“Wrong place, wrong time for you. Step into the house, nice and easy, and maybe you get to live today.” The woman pushed with the barrel, and Tony bent his head to the side slightly.
With the door frame in the way, he couldn’t find a way to disarm her safely. The last thing he wanted to do was give himself up, but he was concerned about the hostage as well as his own life. A second weapon was suddenly in his face from a third perp, and Tony realized he didn’t have a choice. Knowing that Tim and Ziva were at this moment calling in the calvary helped keep Tony calm as he stepped in to prevent things from escalating.
“Look, I’m just trying to get a feel for the neighborhood here. You don’t want me and the wife to move in, we’re happy to find another location. But, my wife doesn’t like it when anything holds me up. Two out of three of you with guns will probably make her cranky. And, trust me, you don’t want to see her cranky. Her name is Ziva, she’s with my brother Tim, and I’m sure they’re looking for me now. What say you just let me and the other guy go. No harm, no foul.” Tony kept speaking, even as he slowly walked in the direction he was being prodded. His only goal now to provide his partners with as much intel as possible to assist in his rescue.
Tall Brunette kept the weapon aimed at Tony while Second Gun left and returned with a bit of rope. He quickly and efficiently tied Tony’s hands behind his back and then reached into his jacket pocket to pull out Tony’s cell phone before pushing him down onto the couch next to the other victim. Tony got his first look into the man’s face as they sat side-by-side. The first impression was of amazingly blue eyes that looked perturbed more than anything else. And there was a certain tenseness to the man as if he had trouble keeping himself still. Tony had the distinct impression that the only thing holding back a spew of derogatory language was the gag in place. Overall, it was nerves and not fear that was ruling the man. Tony was glad. He could work with that. It was much harder to work with irrational victims.
“Ok, Tony, was it?” Brunette asked, drawing Tony’s focus. He nodded briefly. “You stay still and keep quiet. Trust me, if you become a problem, your little wife will never find a body.”
Tony didn’t even have time to respond before she was dragging the other two to the far side of the room. She didn’t even try to keep her voice down as she began to berate them. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, bringing him here now? You’re two days early.”
“We had an opportunity and took it. He blew up when the International Advisory Committee started pushing during the meeting. That French rep was picking away at all his decisions, and then she went and mentioned Doranda. McKay just lost it. He insulted them all in one of the most creative ways I’ve ever heard, told them that he wouldn’t work for the primordial sludge that was growing in the microscopic vacuum that was their brains, and then quit and walked out. He didn’t have his security detail, and they probably think he’s just cooling off.” Dark Grey Suit explained to Brunette. He was shorter than the rest, reddish-blond hair, and glasses.
Second Gun added, “We called the Doc on our way here. It won’t take long, and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“I don’t care how good of an opportunity you had. We’ve lost this location. We had a warehouse that would have been clear starting tomorrow. The doctor would have been on hand at a moment’s notice. By bringing him here, you have cost us this location. Even if you left now, they would trace him here. Keep your eyes on those two while I grab our equipment.” Brunette never even glanced back toward Tony as she stalked out of the room.
“What are we going to do with this other guy?” Second Gun asked. The guy had an ex-military vibe.
Brunette called out from the next room, “If you’ve got a zat, take care of the problem. If not, then we take him with us and let the snake decide if he’ll be useful.”
Tony didn’t know what zat was code for, but the indifferent way she spoke about his life didn’t imbue him with any confidence. Since neither man made a move, he assumed that he had a temporary reprieve. In this situation, time was his friend. Time to give Tim and Ziva a chance to follow procedure and organize a possible breach. McGee had probably already pulled up the blueprints for the property. Ziva was pacing, angry that they were not ready to bust in and start shooting. Gibbs was at this moment driving like a bat out of hell to get here and lead the op to get his SFA and the hostage out without a scratch.
Even at Gibbs’ fastest, it would still be at least ten minutes more before he could arrive. That’s assuming his partners’ first call had been to Gibbs. It had better have been for at least one of them, or the Boss would be rolling heads.
“So, it’s not that I don’t find this all enjoyable.” Tony felt the other guy on the couch jerk…McKay, was it? He glanced that way to see the man staring at him like he was a moron. For some unknown reason, that look just made him want to smirk back at the guy. He repressed the urge, barely. “But can someone explain why you have us here?”
Second Gun flashed him an angry look while Dark Grey Suit spoke. “What we are doing is deciding if we keep you alive. It’s in your best interest to keep your mouth shut.”
“Well, I’m all in on the staying alive part. But, like I said before, I’m worried about my wife. You’ve got nothing on her temper when she doesn’t get what she wants. Though, she’s often complained that I talk too much when she would rather have quiet.” Tony continued.
“Trust me, you do. Now shut up.”
“Hey, I’m not trying to cause any problems. Just wondering, you know. Why this guy? I get that I just fell into this, but what’s so important about this guy that you would just grab him?” This is DC. The main reasons someone would be kidnapped here were money, leverage, or intel. The fact they kept referring to the Doc, made Tony lean toward intel. Probably had someone coming with some sort of sodium pentothal cocktail to make the guy talk.
Dark Grey Suit glanced toward the gagged man and grinned. “McKay here is the smartest man on the planet, don’t you know. A powerhouse in the sciences. There are people several worlds over that would pay a fortune to own him. People pay millions for just hours of his time. After all, it’s not everyone who can destroy a solar system with the power of his brain.”
McKay mumbled angrily behind the gag while his eyes flashed fire. Apparently, whatever the guy said, it really set McKay off.
Tony was just keeping the atmosphere non-threatening while wondering about this guys’ strange turn of phrase. “So, he’s pretty smart? Got information you want? It’s like a spy thriller. The poor unsuspecting scientist solves one of the great puzzles of mankind and is taken for the information. The nefarious villain hires some evil doctor to give the scientist truth serum to give away his secrets.”
Grey Suit chuckled, “Don’t worry yourself. The good doctor who’s coming doesn’t want to put anything into Dr. McKay here. It’s all about what he wants to take out.” Then he laughed louder as McKay tensed up.
“Why don’t you shut them up in the powder room while we wait?” Second Gun suggested as he pointed toward a door to the side. “There are no windows there and only one door. She’s in the hallway, wiping down surfaces. You can go help her as soon as we lock them in.”
“Fine.” Grey Suit sighed before motioning with the gun. “Stand up, and don’t try anything.”
Tony used his shoulder to stabilize McKay as the man stood, before working his own way out of the ass-grabbing couch. He moved slowly in a very non-threatening manner while appearing to be hesitant to enter the small restroom. Internally he was smiling because this would give his team the best option for a breach. Knowing that the potential victims were out of the direct line of fire was an optimal opportunity.
They were shoved in, and with a brief instruction to keep quiet, the door was shut. A minute later, the sound of a chair being wedged under the door handle proceeded the footsteps walking away across the tile floor.
Tony let loose a sigh of relief as he maneuvered his hands to the location of his hidden cuff key. “Alright, guys. I’m here with a Doctor McKay. As far as I’ve seen, there are three perps in the house. First is female, brunette, about 6’3” and built. Very comfortable with a 9mil in her hand. Second perp is around 5’7” with reddish-blond hair and glasses. He hasn’t shown his weapon, but his suit isn’t quite cut right for the shoulder holster he’s wearing. Last one is male, 6’1”, black hair, military cut and bearing. Carries a Beretta and knows how to use it.”
“Dr. McKay, if you could stand with your back to me and let me get those cuffs for you?” The man looked at him strangely before slowly turning around and offering his hands. Tony kept up his intel as he worked to get the key in by touch. “In case you didn’t catch guys, now would be a good time. The good doctor and I are in the powder room. Front door opens into an entry hall that emerges into a family slash dining room. Open concept with stairs to the left as you enter. The powder room is to the right side, on the far side of the room. French doors lead out the back, curtains were drawn so couldn’t see the landscape there. I’m working on getting myself and the doctor free of our restraints, but there is something wedged by the door. Probably the old chair trick.”
Tony felt the key enter the slot, and he turned, relieved to feel that click. “Ok, Dr. McKay, if you could help me with the rope, I would really appreciate it.”
“Ow, ow, ow.” The sounds of tape being slowly pulled from the face accompanied the pained noise. “I certainly hope you are speaking to someone because if I’ve been stuck in here with some fluffy headed, schizophrenic, moron, then I’m throwing you under the bus when they come back to kill you. I can’t be responsible for keeping idiots alive. Well, no more than I’m usually responsible. But come to think of it, normally they send me idiots who have trouble telling the difference between reality and their own delusions of competency.”
“Gee, Doc. Normally I have to make it to the second date before they’re telling me what they really think.” Tony held back a grunt as the rope was suddenly pulled tighter. “Take it easy there.”
“Look you, ropes I know. Getting untied after neanderthals have tied you up and shoved you in a cave, I know. You, egging on the armed kidnappers…wait…your name isn’t Sheppard, is it? You kinda look like that with the eyes and the hair.” Tony felt the rope give as McKay spun him around. “You even have that slightly vacant look that says you are pretending that you’re thinking when you are really planning something obnoxiously stupid.”
“Wow, tell me what you really think, Doc.” Tony rubbed at his wrists and then started checking around the tiny room for anything that could be used as a weapon.
“I don’t think you can handle what I think. But…you’re not psychotic, right? I mean, sometimes I don’t have a filter, but you’re not really crazy? Because I would rather not be hurt by the crazy people while waiting for the traitorous trio out there to come up with a plan.” McKay suddenly had this fragile quality in his eyes.
Tony took a breath to keep his cool. “No, Dr. McKay. I’m not psychotic. My name is Tony DiNozzo. I’m a senior field agent with NCIS out of the Navy Yard. I was here gathering evidence when I found you.”
“Found. That’s short-hand for stumbled face-first into trouble without a plan or hope in hell of a rescue.” McKay sat down on the toilet seat and lowered his head into his hands. “Great, I have to rely on Rent-a-Sheppard for rescue. They’re never going to find my body.”
“Calm down, Doc. You have nothing to worry about. I’m not out here alone. I have a team monitoring communications with me. The moment I was taken, they were calling in backup and planning a rescue for both of us. Trust me, there is no team better than mine. All they have been waiting on was the best chance to take the perps while keeping us safe. Now that we are in here without the immediate threat of a gun in our face, they are going to breach the house and free us.” Tony smiled reassuringly.
McKay looked at him like he wasn’t sure he was sane.
“I trust my team without reservation.” Tony bent down to check his backup piece. He wanted to be sure he could get to it quickly.
Standing up, McKay instructed, “Turn around.”
“Excuse me?” Tony looked at him questioningly.
“I’ve been kidnapped and held hostage more than anyone I can imagine. The first lesson I learned is to go whenever you get the opportunity because you never know where the next stop will be.” McKay stared at him frankly until Tony shrugged and turned around.
Facing the wall, Tony waited a minute. As it started to stretch into two minutes, he asked, “Need me to run some water for you?”
“No. I’m perfectly capable of handling my own bodily functions, thank you very much. I spend enough time with gun-happy jarheads in the field that I’m not intimidated by using the facilities in a small room with another man.” The sounds of liquid hitting water signaled success. As the noise continued, McKay spoke again. “Are you just going to stand there saying nothing while I’m going? What are you? Some kind of weird sexual deviant?”
Tony laughed lightly, “Well, what would you have me say, Doc?”
“First, say you’re not a sexual deviant.”
“I’m not a sexual deviant.”
“If you were, wouldn’t you say you’re not?” McKay zipped, and the toilet flushed. “Oh, was I supposed to do that? Do you think they will come back in here from the noise?”
“I’m sure they don’t want to come back in here just because of a toilet flushing,” Tony assured him. He slid toward the corner to free up space for McKay to wash his hands. Honestly, it would probably have been better to avoid the noise so they wouldn’t suspect their hands were free, but no reason to frighten the victim with possible outcomes.
“So, if you do have backup, how long do you think it will be until they try something? If they really can hear you, is there any way to ask them to bring a power bar or something? I’m hypoglycemic, and I need to eat regularly. Just nothing with citrus. I’m deathly allergic to citrus, and I would prefer if they don’t save me from kidnapping just to murder me with their ignorance.” McKay asked.
Tony just stared for a moment before realizing that McKay’s face was morphing from questioning to doubting his sanity again. “Yes, right. I’m sure they can hear you. But guys, the Doc here is hypoglycemic and allergic to citrus. If someone could have something available when you rescue us, he would appreciate it.”
They moved back to their previous position with McKay sitting on the toilet seat and Tony standing in the corner for a clear view of the door and room to access his weapon. Several times McKay opened and closed his mouth without speaking. There really wasn’t much to say, but Tony could feel the minutes ticking away.
He glanced at his watch, his brows furrowing as he mentally calculated the time elapsed. It’s been at least an hour since he was taken. Twenty minutes of that must have been in this room. Fifteen minutes at the very least. A breach should be occurring any moment. “Come on, guys. Times a wasting here. We don’t know how long they will keep us here. This is the best shot you’re going to get.”
“You’re certain you have a team listening in?” McKay asked while leaning slightly away from Tony.
“Don’t start that.” Tony saw the look on McKay’s face again. “My team is right outside, waiting for the best moment. Maybe there was a delay in getting backup here. They won’t try a breach if they don’t have to until everyone is in place.”
“Ok, I believe you.” McKay was watching him just a little too closely.
“Look, I don’t know the people you work with. But in my line of work, you have to trust your partners to have your back. That’s the way this all works. Trust is a commodity that we have to have if we’re going to risk our lives to protect civilians and the military men and women that count on us.”
“Fine. I believe you. Your partners are going to swoop in and save the day. But can they do it a little faster? I don’t do well in monotonous circumstances. And, while these idiots probably don’t mean to kill me with their ineptitude, accidents happen. I’m not worried, exactly. I mean, I have people that will be searching for me now, but that doesn’t mean they’ve started the real search. It’s still three days before the Ap…the equipment will be in place to find me.” McKay stuttered a little to a stop.
“Trust me, Doc. Everything will be just fine.” If only Tony believed that, it would be great. But, honestly, even getting backup on-site, there is no reason for them to delay now that they are aware they have a clear field for the breach. Gibbs would have made an attempt with just a three-man team if they knew it was clear. Something here wasn’t sitting right, and Tony felt like a python was wrapped around his ribcage.
Where the fuck are they? Tony slipped down to sit on the floor, figuring it would be better to lower the chance of a stray bullet hitting high. What if McGee or Ziva were spotted? Let’s not forget this is a murder investigation. Wait! What if McGee and Ziva were injured or taken prisoner as well? What if they didn’t get a chance to call Gibbs?
Tony shook his head. That didn’t make sense. There was absolutely no indication before he came to this house that there was a problem. And, no reason for anyone to suspect they were involved with Tony. They have to be OK. So, where was everyone?
Sudden sound at the door had Tony kneeling forward on one leg. He motioned McKay back against the wall. The door opened slowly outward, and Second Gun was ordering them out.
“How did you get out of those cuffs?” He motioned them back toward the living room, and Tony tried to place himself between the weapon and McKay.
Tony was silently cursing that the breach didn’t occur while they were locked up. But since there was nothing to do about it, he started looking for opportunities. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he was going to have to get himself and McKay out of this situation.
Unfortunately, Second Gun was a pro and did not allow him an opportunity to retaliate. He called ahead to the others in the house, and they were prepared when they emerged. Grey Suit slipped back in to pick up the rope and cuffs before they once more restrained Tony and McKay. This time with the handcuffs on Tony.
“How did they get loose?” Brunette questioned the men.
Grey Suit shrugged, “How should I know. They were tied up when we locked them in there.”
“Did you search hubby over there to make sure he didn’t have something McKay could use to pick a lock?” She asked, staring pointedly at Second Gun as if he were the one who should have thought of it.
“I’ll take care of that now.” Second Gun spun Tony to face the wall while Brunette pointed her weapon at him. Tony winced when he hit the backup piece on his right ankle since that was the only one he was wearing at the moment. “What have we here?”
“Well, you never know what fringe elements you may find in neighborhoods today.” Tony sighed when he started checking more carefully. He found Tony’s primary knife, his handcuff key, and his lock pick set. Tony tried to keep calm and not give it away when he missed the knife in his belt buckle. But thorough held true, and it was just another moment before he found the wire in his jacket. He threw it down and stomped on it.
“Damn! You idiots didn’t think to check this?” Brunette yelled. Her grip tightened on the weapon. “Who the fuck are you?”
Tony considered his options and then decided to go for truth because there is no way his backup didn’t know he was made. “Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS. Your best option is to give up peacefully. I’ve got backup waiting to breach at any moment. No one wants to see anyone get hurt here, so let’s just take a moment and calm down.”
“Baker!” She called out as she glanced toward the windows.
A fourth man entered the room. “It will take me a few minutes to set up my tray.”
“No time. We need you to take it now, and you can patch him up on the way.” She kept her weapon aimed at Tony while making a motion with her chin for the other men. “Use the table. We don’t have time to do this the neat way.”
“What are you doing?” McKay’s voice went up an octave as he was half-dragged toward the dining room table. “Stop. I’m certain we can discuss this.”
Second Gun shoved him onto the top of the table. “Just shut up, McKay. We have to deliver you alive so you can work. You don’t need a tongue to do that.”
“I need to give him a local before I can start cutting,” Baker said as he reached for a syringe.
Brunette called back over her shoulder. “They can hold him down, just start cutting, Doc. If the good Dr. McKay is well behaved, then I will let you give him a local before you stitch him up.” She shifted a foot back to have both the table and Tony in her line of sight. “And, Dr. McKay, if you fight this, then we’re just going to kill the Navy Cop.”
Tony took a deep breath before he let it out and tried to keep up the calm appearance. He watched as the doctor, Baker, felt around on McKay’s leg until he found a place he seemed to like.
“It’s here, right?” Baker asked.
Baker just shook his head. “I can keep trying until I find it. It’s here?”
McKay nodded, then screamed as the doctor started to cut.
Whatever it was he was looking for was tiny, but there was something that he dug out of McKay’s leg. He dropped it and quickly applied pressure with a stack of gauze.
She ordered the men, “Wrap that up and get him to the van. And you, Agent DiNozzo, are going to walk in front of me to the garage and get into the van. If you don’t, I will shoot you. You are just collateral, but you can hope that you prove useful.”
“I’m all about being useful,” Tony muttered as walked.
They were both belted into the seats with their hands restrained behind their backs and cautioned to not cause a scene, or they will shoot the first person who tries to help them. The back windows were darkened and Tony was certain no one could see them.
As they drove through the neighborhood toward the gate, Tony kept his eyes peeled for signs of activity. There was nothing to indicate that anyone was in the area. Nothing and no one that he recognized was in sight.
The van stopped at the corner next to a black SUV that was parked on the side of the road. Tony nonchalantly looked through the driver’s window to see Tim McGee reading a magazine while in the passenger’s seat, Ziva David had her nose buried deep in a thick book. Both perfectly fine. Both oblivious to the world around them and Tony’s plight. His partners, his backup, his…friends?
Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs drove silently toward Anacostia Naval Station. He really wished DiNozzo was with him on this. Gibbs clenched his hands on the steering wheel. His team was taking their sweet time getting voiceprints for comparison to the recording they had on file in their murder investigation. It was important. It was necessary. But it was only one of many cases he was responsible for at a given time.
His reason for travel today was the closing of a five-month-old case involving teen runaways. When the case started, they were investigating a possible human trafficking ring. Four missing teens from the D.C. area fit the criteria for victims. One of those was the youngest daughter of the base’s NCO. The investigation eventually showed that Michaela Fitzgerald had actually run away with her boyfriend, William Barilleaux, three weeks before her eighteenth birthday.
On the day of her birthday, a friend handed over a recording of the two. It explained that they refused to stop seeing each other just because their parents ordered them to. Since they had video evidence that the two teens left voluntarily, the case was officially closed. As a favor, Gibbs kept feelers out to see if they showed up. Today he got the call from Dwayne Pride out of the New Orleans office. The kids were alive, well, and now married.
It was a somewhat happy ending, but difficult. Mr. and Mrs. Barilleaux had denied permission to share their location. No matter how the parents felt about it, Gibbs was obligated to respect their wishes. Hopefully, just the knowledge that the kids were healthy, happy, and pursuing their life and educations together would be enough. Gibbs seriously doubted it would.
Gibbs rolled his shoulders slightly to release tension. Frankly, it was the wife he didn’t want to deal with. They had clashed from moment one in the investigation, and at times the only thing that kept him from pulling his weapon on her was DiNozzo. He just had a natural way of calming the woman down. If only he were through with the voiceprints. Well, they should be. What could possibly be taking them this long?
Decision made, Gibbs cut across the lanes and took the next exit to head for Royal Oaks. If they’re not finished, then he can just take DiNozzo with him to speak to the parents and let McGee and David finish the voiceprints. There are not that many people there, so surely the two of them can get what’s left. And that will leave him with a DiNozzo shaped buffer between him and the shrill…ahem, distraught mother.
He considered calling ahead but decided to just drop in to see if they were goofing off and wasting time. Gibbs drove the rest of the way with a slight grin.
The drive to Royal Oaks had been easy this time of day. After entering the gated community, Gibbs kept his eye out for which team member might be taking the voiceprints. He didn’t see anyone walking before spotting the SUV the team had checked out that morning.
Parking a block away to avoid bringing attention to the vehicle, Gibbs casually strolled up behind the vehicle and stopped. He cocked his head to the side, taking in the scene. McGee was in the driver’s seat, magazine spread out across the steering wheel. Ziva was relaxed against the seat and door, a book open in her hands. She was tapping at the page with a bookmarker.
The book and magazine weren’t too bad since it would have looked strange for two people to be waiting in a car and obviously watching people. But he was standing in full view of the rearview mirror and the passenger side mirror. What kind of situational awareness were they practicing that they hadn’t acknowledged his presence yet?
Gibbs got that tight feeling in his gut that said things had already gone sideways, and he was just noticing it. He made a slow, careful turn to check out all of the homes in his line of sight. DiNozzo had to be in one of these. Much more than a block away, and they wouldn’t be any good as backup.
The longer he stood there, the angrier he got. He had to take a breath and reel it in before he just marched up and dragged them out of the car. Once he was certain he could act casual, he strolled up and stopped next to the car. They didn’t react until he tapped on Ziva’s window. The doors were flung open, and his agents bolted up and out.
“Gibbs!” Ziva exclaimed, quickly throwing her book back into the car.
“Boss?” McGee was looking around as if he had forgotten where he was.
“What kind of situational awareness was that bullshit?” Gibbs growled at them. His eyes tightened as their mouths opened and closed like a fish out of water. He stopped them before they could try to come up with some obvious lie. “I need DiNozzo. Where is he?”
“Well, Boss, Tony is getting the voiceprints,” McGee said haltingly.
Ziva started to open her mouth to add something when Gibbs’ gut twinged again, and he cut her off. Stepping forward, he moved her away from the door and leaned in to listen to—nothing.
“If he’s getting the voiceprints, why can’t I hear him talking?” Gibbs glared at McGee, who had leaned down to look in the other side.
McGee quickly climbed into the driver’s seat and touched a button on the device. Static clearly filled the car. With nervous glances toward Gibbs and Ziva, McGee continued to fiddle with the thing. “Um, I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. Tony was just on here. Maybe he damaged his wire.”
“Maybe, McGee?” Gibbs glared at him. “Well, where is he?” McGee looked over at Ziva, who motioning at him to speak. “Where is your damn log? What was the last address you recorded?”
McGee twitched. “Well, see, Boss…we…”
“Now, McGee!” Gibbs cut off the obvious excuse that was on its way. Gibbs ripped it out of his hand as McGee picked it up. Flipping through the log, he saw a total of ten entries. “What the fuck is this?” He threw it back in McGee’s face. “Were you even recording anything?”
“Yeah! Yes, Boss. Everything’s recorded. We just figured we would fill out the log from the recording after Tony…after Tony finished.” McGee explained.
Gibbs felt bile rising and swallowed it down to keep it together. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Tony, your partner, is out there canvassing the neighborhood alone, and you haven’t been listening or logging his location.”
Ziva threw up her hands in the air in frustration. “Gibbs, it is a pie walk job. It does not require three of us to just talk. And I don’t see any reason that we have to listen to him going on and on when all he is doing is talking.”
“I think you mean cakewalk, Ziva,” McGee interjected automatically.
“I think the two of you don’t get to think anymore. Instead of correcting her speech, you had better be finding DiNozzo’s last location. Then I am going to pick him up, and the two of you can head back to the Navy Yard and prepare a statement to explain your activities today. I don’t want to read it, but I’m sure the Director and IA will be interested in your dereliction of duty.” Gibbs ordered with a voice that held promises of hellfire. He kept himself rigid in the seat and held in his fury, barely.
McGee gulped audibly before backing up the recording a few minutes to listen to…more static. Then again…and again. It was at least an hour back in the recording when they finally heard a sound.
It started with a woman’s voice. “How did they get loose?”
Gibbs ground his teeth together as he listed to the rest. “How should I know. They were tied up when we locked them in there.” Male voice. “Did you search hubby over there to make sure he didn’t have something McKay could use to pick a lock?” Woman again. “I’ll take care of that now.” Different male. “What have we here?”
“Well, you never know what fringe elements you may find in neighborhoods today.” Tony’s was the last voice heard before a crunch and static.
Gibbs motioned McGee. “Find out where that is.”
McGee sampled the recording in steps until he finally found the beginning…almost an hour before the last words. “222 Ferol, Boss.”
They took off to the house, on the opposite side of the subdivision from where Ziva and McGee had been parked. Tony had been all over the damn place. They reached the house to find the garage door open and no cars inside.
The door into the house from inside the garage was wide open. Taking a few minutes to examine the home for activity, Gibbs finally gave the word for them to enter. All they found was an empty house and a bloody mess on the dining room table.
As he stared at the blood, Gibbs flashed through images of all of the agents he had lost over the years. So many lives lost in the line of duty. An image of Tony from years ago flashed into his head. Head bent over in the front of a vehicle with a serial killer in the back seat. For a moment, the blood that had been on Tony’s throat that day spread to cover his chest, and he saw a ghostly view of Tony laid out on the table in front of him, eyes staring accusingly at him in death.
It was almost a three-hour drive from Royal Oaks to an estate in Maryland. A gated property with armed security and an opulent house. It brought back unfortunate memories of childhood for Tony. He realized it was his emotional overload that made his lungs fell like they wanted to seize up. Of course, memories of home sweet home weren’t the only reason for his discomfort.
He had been working nonstop to hold it together since the gut-punch of realizing his partners had left him without backup in the field. He can’t pretend that it’s an equipment malfunction. Let’s face it, DiNozzo, he told himself. If they had just lost the feed, they would have been pulling him in to check. No, there’s only one explanation. THEY. WEREN’T. LISTENING.
It made him sick to think of all the times he went over and beyond to make sure they were protected. How he took the heat off them when Mount Gibbs was ready to erupt. The head slaps he had taken that they deserved. The safety net he provided them. No matter how inept McGee was at keeping a cover. No matter how many times Ziva went off the reservation. He did his damn job, and he had their back.
And how did they repay that? By stabbing him in the back. Tony hit his head against the car door, and Second Gun cleared his throat to remind Tony he still had a gun pointed at him. Tony settled down in the seat as the gate opened to the estate, and Tony reminded himself that backup or not, he still had a job to do. There was a victim he needed to protect and possibly rescue. He ignored the small voice in his head that insisted he was a victim, too.
“Where are we?” McKay asked as they were getting out of the van.
Grey Suit just shook his head. “Just get inside and shut up.” He motioned McKay and Tony to enter the rear entrance and down into a finished basement room. One bed, an en-suite, two chairs, and a small side table were the only items in the room. The only windows to offer light were floor to ceiling across the side of the room with a brilliant view of the private beach and water. Of course, the windows were in eight-inch strips that couldn’t open. It was gorgeous unless you wanted to use it to escape.
McKay looked about ready to erupt again, so Tony stepped in to redirect. “Excellent interior decorator here. Please let our host know we appreciate the decor. Will we be meeting soon?”
“The boss will meet you when he’s ready. Stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and maybe he’ll let you live.” Grey Suit smirked as he started to leave the room.
“Excuse me, but if your boss wants me to work at some point in the future then I’m going to need a few things. First, I need these ropes off. I think I lost feeling in my hands. If I don’t have my hands, it’s going to be a little hard for me to work.” McKay responded snippily.
“Really, McKay? How many hands do you really need? Your mouth works without common sense, let’s see if your brain works without your hands.” Grey Suit held his ground as McKay glared at him, but there was a slight flinch in the shoulders of the suit that told Tony the man was totally bluffing. Whoever this Boss was, he wanted McKay in working condition.
Tony leaned nonchalantly against the door frame to the bathroom. It was harder than it looked with handcuffs. “Well, Dr. McKay. I suppose he would know what kind of work his Boss wants you to do. I’m certain if you were going to need your hands to function, then he would know, and the Boss will be happy that he took the initiative.”
Brunette stuck her head in and looked around. “Get the ropes off of him.” She tossed the handcuff key to Second Gun and pulled her weapon while he turned Tony to reach the cuffs. Grey Suit grumbled but was quick to obey. He was a little rough but did not actually damage McKay.
As they moved to the door, McKay started again. “I’m going to need something to eat soon. I’m hypoglycemic.” Suit growled, but that didn’t stop the good doctor. “It’s a real condition that can kill me without regular meals.”
Second Gun motioned Suit to leave and called out as the door was closing, “Don’t worry, McKay. You’ll get your food. There are going to be guards stationed outside this door at all times. Even try to get out, and I’ll just let them shoot you.”
“And I’m allergic to citrus!” The McKay yelled out as they heard the door lock.
Tony started examining the room as McKay sat on the bed and raised his leg up to let it stretch out and elevate. “You like to push the envelope, don’t you?”
“Hey, I have an actual medical condition. The hypoglycemia causes loss of advanced mental functions before my body starts to shut down. I’ll pass out before I slip into a coma and die. And I’m deathly allergic to citrus. Any at all, and I’ll stop breathing.”
“Do you carry an EpiPen?” Tony stopped his room search to look at the man.
“Of course I carry an EpiPen. It was in my suit jacket…which is back in the committee meeting room.” McKay looked a little worried for a moment before looking at Tony. “Besides, you’re one to talk. They need to keep me alive. Right now, you’re only alive because they think they can make me cooperate to keep you breathing.”
“Way to make a guy feel important, McKay.” Tony cracked his neck because snark or not, McKay was right. The ride here was a telling pronouncement of his impending death. You don’t show the hostages where they are being held if you plan to release them.
“Look, I’m really sorry you were stupid enough to get caught up in this mess. Why were you even at that house alone?”
“I wasn’t alone. I have…had…I was there with partners who were supposed to be backing me up.”
“Shut up, McKay. I…I don’t know what happened. I mean Rule Number One is never screw over your partner.” Tony rubbed his fingers through his hair before rubbing the back of his neck. “But they were just sitting there in the car when we drove by…reading. What the fuck did I do to them that they didn’t have my back when it counted? Forget having my back…how about just doing their fucking jobs. All they had to do was listen, and apparently, that’s too much to ask.”
“Okay, then. Obviously, you need new partners.” McKay looked at him like he was both earnest and sympathetic.
Tony opened his mouth to argue and suddenly wondered what he was arguing about. It’s not like there is any reason he could ever accept for what happened. Shaking his head, he decided to change the topic because this was just going to either anger him or depress him. Either way, he needed to keep his head in the game. Someone wants McKay, so he needs to know why.
Tony slipped into the bathroom to check in the drawers for anything that could be used as a weapon. “So Doc, any idea why they want you?”
McKay looked worried. “I have a list of reasons they want me, and none of them are good. Some, of course, are worse than others, and with my luck, it will be one of the worst kind.”
“Want to elaborate on that?” He called out.
“No,” McKay answered petulantly. “No matter which of the multitude of reasons they took me, they are all classified above all recognition.”
“I understand classified. I work on the Major Case Response Team out of the Navy Yard. I’ve signed more non-disclosure agreements than you can imagine.” Tony reentered the room, empty-handed. They hadn’t even left them a toothbrush.
“Please. You don’t even know what a non-disclosure agreement is. I guarantee you that your country has no agreement on this earth that you have signed to equal even a third of the ridiculous agreement I was forced to endorse before I could start working here.”
“You’re not American?”
“As if. They keep offering, but there is no way I will accept your narrow-minded citizenship. I’m Canadian, thank you very much.”
“So, name one thing you bring to the table that they would want.” Tony just wanted to keep the man talking for now.
“I have an IQ of 235 and understand how the universe works in a way that would leave you feeling like a drooling idiot.”
Tony was used to having highly educated people look down on him for being a cop, but his reaction was a split between that biting put down and a slight bit of awe at that IQ. “Ouch. Seriously? I assume you have a degree?”
“Two. Doctorates in Astrophysics and Mechanical Engineering.” McKay moved his leg and winced.
“That doing ok?” Tony motioned toward McKay’s leg with his chin. “Do you need me to have a look?”
“Why would I have you look at it? Are you going to arrest it?”
“Law enforcement officers are trained in first aid procedures since we are often the first on the scene to provide help in an emergency. I have a Bachelor’s in Physical Education with an intensive study into kinesiology. And, I have in-depth experience in rehab. So I think I’m qualified to see if you’re bleeding.” Tony waited for some derogatory remark about his education, but McKay just stared at him.
“What?” Tony was getting the strangest vibe that McKay was judging him.
“What else?” McKay asked.
“What do you mean?” Tony asked, confused.
“Did you not retain the part where I said I was the smartest man on the planet? I’ve worked with the U.S. Military for most of my professional life. You introduced yourself as a Senior Field Agent with NCIS. That position requires that you have or are actively working on a Master’s Degree at the least. So, what else do you have?”
Tony hesitated a moment. “Maybe they gave me a waiver because I’m so good at my job.”
“No. They are nothing if not aggressive on following their little rules. So what else do you have, and why in the world would you pretend to have anything less than your highest degree?” And now McKay had that look like he doubted Tony’s sanity again.
Tony shrugged, he didn’t really have a reason for hiding things, he just was waiting for his coworkers to have a little initiative and discover it on their own. “Master’s in Criminology. I’ve done most of the coursework for a psychology degree but haven’t finished my thesis. Honestly, I’ve done a lot of self-study over the years but never applied it anywhere. I’m probably two semesters short of a bachelor’s in Film Studies.”
“I became a cop, and Film Studies didn’t seem like something that would help me with my career.” Tony shook his head, isn’t that obvious?
“No. You obviously have a brain somewhere under that hair. Why are you wasting it on useless stuff when you could be using it for science?” And damn if McKay’s honest to goodness whine didn’t set him off.
Tony started laughing and sat down hard in the chair beside McKay. He’s barely said anything to this guy, and he’s already figured out more about Tony’s education than the fully trained investigators he works with every day.
“So, Doc. Why exactly did they hack into your leg?”
McKay sighed and appeared to be deciding on answering. “Well, if you must know, they removed my transponder to make it impossible for my…employers to find me.”
“Wait, there was a chip in your leg? Like one of those pet ID chips?” Tony was a little creeped out about the big brother vibe.
“And now you’re making me lose IQ points. No, not like a dog. It was a highly advanced GPS-equivalent device that would allow my location to be tracked from orbit.”
“So they can use satellites to track your movement. Extremely big brotherish. Isn’t that invasive?” Tony shivered at the thought.
“No, getting kidnapped seven times in four years is invasive. Getting rescued in under twelve hours is, frankly, worth it.” He leaned back and adjusted the pillows. “Besides, everyone in the program has one.”
Tony’s eyebrow quirked up, “What program?”
“Classified.” Came McKay’s sing-song reply.
Gibbs heard the cacophony with a heavy base beat that Abby Scuitto, their Forensic Technician, called music before he opened the door. He could feel it in his bones as he saw her running back and forth between machines. Her pace was frantic, and he figured he waited a little too long before checking on her.
With the nightmare that had been his day, he didn’t have the patience to pander to her. He bypassed his normal attempt to get her attention and just pulled the plug on the music.
“Hey!” She exclaimed while spinning around to face him. She froze for a single second before she exploded onto him. “Gibbs! GibbsGibbsGibbsGibbsGibbs. What happened? Have you found Tony? Is he ok? He needs to be OK, Gibbs. Promise me he will be ok.”
“Abbs!” Gibbs tried to stop her.
“No. No, Abbs. You need to promise me because Tony would never disobey your order, and you never break your promises to me. If you order him to be ok and then promise me he will be, then I will know he will be—ok. So—come on—promise me.” She just stood there and stared at him.
Gibbs just stared at her for a moment, trying to speak the lie that would make her feel better. But somewhere deep in his gut, he just knew that DiNozzo would never be back here as his SFA. He was still alive out there, somewhere. But, even if he made it back in one piece, he would never be able to restore that trust.
“Gibbs.” Abby started to cry, and he held her a moment before he carefully pushed her back to arm’s length.
He didn’t have time to coddle her anymore. Tony was counting on them. Softly he asked, “What have you got for me, Abbs?”
She looked him in the eye before accepting his non-answer. “OK, I haven’t ID’d the blood yet, but it’s not Tony’s. Tony’s blood type is A+, and this blood is AB+, so it can’t be Tony.”
Gibbs nodded and released one bit of tension. There hadn’t been that much blood, really. Not enough to be life-threatening. But the thought of Tony bleeding out on that table while the others were in the car…
Abby had turned toward her equipment and didn’t see Gibbs’ relief or the spike of anger. “I’ve started the voice analysis on the neighborhood, but I’ve already separated the recording from Tony’s last location. They don’t match the recording we have on file of your suspect. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not related, but it’s definitely not your caller.”
“You’re certain of that?”
“You doubt me?” Abby looked affronted.
Gibbs didn’t have time to deal. “Abby! Focus on the tape. Do we have anything on the victim?”
“No. They refer to him as Doctor McKay, and one of them said something that didn’t come through clearly about people paying a lot of money for his time. I sent the information to McGee so he can start searching for any Doctors named McKay or something similar.” She was looking around at the screens. “They were able to pull a lot of useful fingerprints, but the computer is still working on it. There’s only one match so far, and that’s Tony’s. So we know he was in the house.”
Realizing she had nothing more to share in evidence at this point, Gibbs turned to leave. As he did, she called out in a sad, almost begging voice.
“What about Timmy and Ziva?”
“Not now, Abbs.” And Gibbs stalked to the door.
An alarm on one of her machines had him turning around to face the lab once more. He followed as she ran toward the screen, which was showing a positive ID to one of the fingerprints. The screen showed the front and profile pictures of a man. He had short, receding hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders, and a crooked mouth. The expression on the ID was trying for no expression but ended up just looking pissed off and constipated.
A name with a standard list of vital statistics came up on the screen. Dr. M. Rodney McKay, Ph.D., Ph.D. Gibbs stood behind Abby as she scrolled down to find employment and related information. There was none.
“McKay…McKay,” Abby paced back and forth a moment before she stopped. “OMG! Gibbs. Dr. Rodney McKay is like one of the smartest people on the planet. He’s supposed to be scary smart, and he has like the highest IQ on record. He hasn’t published anything in forever. Rumor is he’s working on above-classified projects, and he’s rarely seen. But they pay him millions for just a little bit of his time. I mean, look how classified his file is. There is nothing here you can’t find with a basic google search.”
“Has anyone reported him missing?”
Abby moved to another computer and started searching. “No, nothing reported.”
“Who is he working for now?” Gibbs moved back to the original file as Abby tried to access current employment.
Suddenly notices started popping that they were trying to access classified information. It was barely a minute later when the screen on Abby’s system started to change, and she started typing frantically.
“No…No, no, no, No…NO! They back hacked me through the system and removed the data. There is nothing here now on Dr. McKay.” Gibbs watched her another moment before her monitor went black.
It was not even twenty minutes later in the Bullpen that Gibbs was trying to get information from any contact he had when a team of black suits entered the room and headed straight for Director Leon Vance’s office.
Gibbs had already given Vance a briefing on the case and had fought for NCIS to retain the investigation. It was his damn agent who was missing after all. Rick Balboa and his team had stepped in to assist with the crime scene and were running the leads on the house, but only Rick was aware of the full extent of McGee and David’s failure on Vance’s orders.
Vance stated that he didn’t want this situation to detract from the search for DiNozzo. Of course, he didn’t seem that heartbroken about it being Tony. Gibbs realized he wasn’t fair, but this wasn’t one that he would allow Vance to forget about just because he didn’t appreciate how Tony did his job. And as for Ziva and McGee, as far as he was concerned, their careers in this agency were over. But he also couldn’t in good conscience allow another agency to be burdened with them.
Gibbs glanced over toward the empty desks around him. Officially, the two of them were working out of conference rooms to prepare their detailed statements for the case. The truth was he just couldn’t stand to look at them right now.
The elevators opened on the upper level, and Secretary of the Navy, Phillip Davenport, headed toward Vance’s office with a security detail. He briefly glanced at Gibbs as he passed by. Almost twenty minutes later Gibbs heard Balboa’s phone ring. Seconds later Balboa was headed for the Director’s office as Gibbs’ phone rang.
“I need you in my office, now,” Vance ordered.
Gibbs hung up without acknowledging. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like this.
The door was open and waiting for him. The moment it was closed behind him, Vance hit his button for the SCIF and locked down the room. Gibbs stepped up next to Balboa. Neither of them had been offered a seat.
Secretary Davenport took over. “Gibbs. Agent Balboa. What I am about to tell you is classified at the highest level. Your agent stumbled into an operation that is being coordinated with the National Intelligence Department. Your investigation into the disappearance of your agent threatens to compromise their operation. As of this moment, you are ordered to cease and desist all activity.”
He motioned to the black suits in the room, “These gentlemen will be gathering all evidence related to this case. You are to hold nothing back from them.”
“With all due respect, Sir, DiNozzo is my agent. You can’t expect me to just forget that he’s been abducted.” Gibbs started.
“I can, and you will. As far as you are concerned, nothing happened. The official story is that DiNozzo is being loaned out to another agency for an operation. The op is classified, and he is unreachable. There was no abduction, it was a mistake.” Davenport ordered.
Gibbs turned to Vance, “Leon, are you going along with this?”
“We all have our orders, Gibbs. And no, I’m not going to discuss mine with you. There is no discussion.”
Gibbs felt the bile rising, and he worked as hard as he could to prevent himself from killing everyone in the room. He glared at the men from NID until one of them spoke.
“Don’t worry, Agent Gibbs. We have eyes on our target. You have nothing to worry about. I’m certain Agent DiNozzo is expanding his horizons as we speak. If he’s as good as they say, maybe we will even try to recruit him.” The man gave him the briefest smirk before settling back into the bland face for which they were known.
Davenport stood, and Vance flipped the switch to release the room. “Remember what I said, Gentlemen. This never happened. I don’t want to see a record in any way, shape, or form related to this.” Then he left the room, his security keeping pace.
The NID team was waiting by the door. Balboa looked at them before directing his attention to Gibbs and then Vance. Vance just stared at him a moment before nodding, and Balboa left with his new escort, shutting the door behind him.
“Sit,” Vance ordered Gibbs before getting up to fill a couple glasses of Bourbon. He handed Gibbs one and said, “Drink.”
“You’re just letting them sweep everything under the cover, and DiNozzo just ends up collateral.”
Vance sat down in his chair and took a drink before setting the glass down and looking at Gibbs. “I am not letting them do anything. This has been classified above our rating. This is one of the highest ratings for National Security. Whatever DiNozzo stumbled into, they won’t allow us to stop it until they accomplish whatever it is they need.”
“You know as well as I that collateral bystanders end up falling down holes that don’t have an end. I’m not going to accept DiNozzo just disappearing.” Gibbs grimaced and took a drink.
Vance pointed at him. “Yes, you are. You are going to sit here and be angry until you can hold it together out there and pretend everything is still fine. Anyone asks you about DiNozzo, he’s on loan for an op and no idea how long it will last. That is your new gospel, and you are going to sell it. Then you and your team are going to take the rest of this week off. Michaelson’s team will take over the Military at Home Case.”
“I don’t have a team. DiNozzo is missing, and David and McGee are out, or don’t you remember?” Gibbs glared at Vance.
Vance just glared back. “Did you or did you not hear what was said in this room? It. Never. Happened. I can’t reprimand or fire agents for something that never happened. You can’t mention it, and you can’t act on it. Those are your orders. I will get you a TAD SFA by Monday. Now, get out of here.”
Gibbs downed the rest of his bourbon and slammed the glass down on the desk before he stood up and stalked to the door. “Better get me two agents, because there’s no way in hell I will order anyone to go out with McGee and David into the field without backup.”
Tony picked up his pace and corrected his form while running in place for another minute before dropping to the ground for the next round of push-ups. He was stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers to exercise this morning so he could save his clothes. He felt the burn building, and the sweat was pouring off of him as he pushed through it to do as many push-ups as possible for this last round. Finally, when his arms could no longer support him, he dropped to the ground. He just let himself breathe for a sixty count, and then started stretching for a cool down.
“Seriously, you’re making me tired just watching you. Why would you chose to do that to yourself when no one is forcing you?” McKay complained.
Tony considered that complaining must be one of McKay’s superpowers. The man could find so many creative ways in which to find fault with everything around him. Honestly, it was annoying and yet strangely funny at the same time. The man had opinions, so many opinions, but could carry on a conversation about almost anything. Though most of his insight found fault with all aspects of the world. Tony had decided that of McKay’s superpowers, his intellect came first, followed by his snark, and then his ability to insult your existence, followed by the complaints.
“Well, first, exercise is good for you. Keeping a strong body to support your mind is worthwhile, no matter your profession. It could increase your stamina for marathon inventing sessions, or whatever it is you do. Second, we need to keep up muscle tone to be prepared for escape if the opportunity arises. Third, I think better when I’m moving. And, last, I have to exercise daily to keep my lung function.” Tony looked away to avoid seeing the standard look of horror as he finished. “I had the pneumonic plague and received damage to my lungs.”
“You really think exercise could help me to work longer?” McKay immediately asked.
Tony spun toward him. “I tell you I had the pneumonic plague, and the concept that exercise will help your work is more interesting?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. You were infected with a disease that is known on Earth. I—Am—Shocked. There, happy?” McKay made a disgruntled sound at Tony’s look of disbelief. “Look, did you turn blue, lose the ability to make human sounds, and start to develop a hard carapace on your extremities?”
Tony just glared at McKay’s over-the-top response.
McKay pointed at Tony. “So, that’s a no? Then it’s not even the strangest thing I’ve seen this year.”
“Whatever, McKay.” Tony got up and headed to the shower to clean up. He quickly washed out his clothes and hung them to dry as he did, before redressing in his rumpled slacks and button-up shirt.
He and McKay had been stuck in this room for two days now. They had towels and food delivered, but no one spoke to them. The doctor had slipped in the day after they arrived to check McKay’s stitches, and then he was gone. He was pretty sure the man wasn’t coming back after McKay had called Dr. Baker a fumble-fingered, barely literate, quack who received his degree through the Milton Bradley School of Operation.
The guards were the only ones who interacted with them at all, and it was never with words. Any attempt to get them to engage was useless. They brought food and fresh towels and watched their every move without a sound when the door was open. Brunette, Second Gun, and Grey Suit were still around. He had seen them outside the room, but they only spoke to the guards. Tony didn’t know if they were doing it on purpose, but other than the doctor, no names were given in their presence. It would make him feel better if it were deliberate. He would at least feel better about his potential for survival.
Grey Suit seemed to have something against McKay, but when asked, McKay only knew that he was part of the N.I.D. He thought the man’s name was Jones, or Jacobs, or Jeans, or maybe Jenkins. Given that McKay had called the doctor “Beaker” he wasn’t certain he could trust any name McKay remembered anyway.
Having an agent with the N.I.D. involved in an abduction was concerning. Tony hadn’t had much interaction with the National Intelligence Department. Cases that crossed their path had a tendency to dry up and blow away or just plain disappear. They were practically a ghost department. And, while he doubted that anything happening here was official, he didn’t like the chances of the N.I.D. cleaning up when they realized there was a mess in their house.
As bad as Tony was at staying still when there was nothing around to stimulate him, McKay was a nightmare. They avoided talking about McKay’s work because he had apparently signed his first NDA when he was eleven. Though, he is an incredible mixture of jaded and fragile based on his responses to things like Tony’s plague disclosure. And, occasionally some of his random mumblings are bizarre and almost delusional. Tony figured it must be a side effect of genius.
Outside of the work subject avoidance, conversation with McKay was fun. Granted, his movie repertoire focused heavily on science fiction, but they did spend an entire evening debating Farscape vs Babylon 5 and the influence of Star Trek on their success. They conversed fluently in French and Italian. McKay’s Spanish was halted, but he did spend two hours correcting Tony’s pronunciation in Russian. And, though he didn’t respond, he did laugh when Tony cursed in Chinese.
They had traded first names but hadn’t made it to the personal history stage of the relationship. All told, it was probably one of Tony’s most comfortable abductions to date.
It was evening when the door opened. Tony and McKay were motioned to move out of the room. They both took a moment to put on shoes, Tony assuring his belt was carefully in place, that buckle knife was the only weapon he had left.
They were led into the dining room where a well-dressed gentleman was seated at the head of the table. He was older, his hair on the whiter side of grey with a neatly trimmed beard. His blue eyes were piercing, and he held himself with casual power. He motioned toward seats on either side of the table as they approached. Dinner already served.
“Welcome, Dr. McKay. I hope you haven’t found your stay too onerous. I apologize if my employees upset you with my invitation.”
McKay looked like he was biting back a response as he exchanged looks with Tony. “Yes, well, I would prefer to be given the option to decline an invitation.”
The Gentleman smiled in response. It was a smile that spoke of amusement and seduction while leaving Tony feeling as if something was intrinsically off about the man. “I understand, Doctor, unfortunately it wasn’t a response I could chance.” He inclined his head toward Tony. “You as well, Agent DiNozzo. I realize you may not understand why you are here at this point, but you seem to have a calming influence on the good Doctor. For that I am grateful.”
Tony casually took the seat, noticing the opulent place setting. “I agree with Dr. McKay that it is preferable to allow your guests the opportunity to negotiate their stay.” He looked around the room casually, noting the exits and the visible guards. “I do have to compliment you on your decor. You have impeccable taste.”
“Thank you. While I do have people to organize these things, I take great pleasure in being involved in the details. After all, people do judge you on appearance.”
“True.” Tony agreed.
“Please, Dr. McKay. Have a seat and relax. I prefer to enjoy my meal with good company and intelligent conversation. We can discuss our business after dinner. Rest assured, there is absolutely no citrus in the house.” He motioned once more toward the seat.
Tony nodded once when McKay looked at him, and then he breathed a sigh of relief when McKay sat down. To draw attention away from McKay’s stiffness, Tony took up conversation again. “So, you seem to know who we are. Might we be allowed to know the identity of our host?”
He smiled in amusement. “Of course, of course, where are my manners? I am Maxwell Hendley.”
“It’s good to make your acquaintance, Mr. Hendley. I understand your company won the bid for military-grade drone production. You must feel satisfied to have overcome the initial setbacks during development.” Tony remarked.
The next hour and a half were filled with a five-course meal that could have been served in any of the best restaurants in D.C. Too bad the situation didn’t allow for the meal to be enjoyed. But Tony never let his discomfort be seen. He cut his teeth on small talk and navigating the niceties of society.
Hendley was smooth, Tony would give him that. They conversed on a wide variety of subjects, and while McKay hesitantly added his thoughts when asked, for the most part it was a verbal dance between just Tony and Hendley. D.C. was a town of who’s who and Tony had learned early in life to keep track of where the power originated. Hendley had increased his presence and influence in the last four years, especially in his DOD contracts.
By the end of the meal, Hendley seemed…almost enamored with Tony. It was hopeful as far as survival goes, but creepily disconcerting as well. Eventually, the plates were cleared away, and they were left with just an after-dinner coffee.
“That is one of the best dining experiences I’ve had since arriving here. Thank you both for joining me.” Hendley motioned lightly, and two servants came forward with small boxes. “Unfortunately, as they say, all good things must end. Hopefully we can keep the good spirits alive. I look forward to getting to know you both in the days ahead. So, let’s discuss business.”
With a motion, one of the servants stepped forward and placed their box in front of McKay. He looked at it like it might have a viper hidden inside.
Hendley just gave a small laugh. “Go ahead, Doctor. I assure you that you will find what’s inside fascinating.”
McKay slowly opened the top, hesitated as a look of confusion morphed into understanding and then excitement. “Where did you find it?” He reached inside and pulled out two items. They appeared to be metallic but lit up when McKay touched them. One was a cylinder, and Tony briefly wondered if it was a sex toy based on how McKay pet it. The second was initially shaped like an oval cylinder, but McKay sat down the first object and used both hands to pull the second apart. The oval split into two connected parts before it just kind of morphed into something like a datapad. It was obvious that McKay was well versed in its use, while Tony had never seen anything remotely like it. Not even in McGee’s tech magazines.
McKay was scrolling through data at a speed that was hard to believe when he froze and set it down on the table in front of him. His hands were shaking slightly. “Where did you find it?”
Hendley gave that knowing smile again, “Not around here, as I’m certain you saw. Few can read the language at your speed, Doctor.” He took a sip of his coffee before casually continuing. “So, do you believe you can get it to work?”
McKay raised his chin in a false bravado. “Well…obviously there isn’t enough information to know if it’s viable. And I’m not certain…” McKay’s eyes started darting around, anywhere but at Hendley. He looked like he was trapped and searching for a way out.
“Oh, come now, Dr. McKay. You are the foremost authority on Ancient technology. If anyone can complete it, it would be you.”
McKay gestured toward the datapad wildly. “There is no indication that the Ancients completed the power systems. It might as well be just one giant paperweight since, according to that, you haven’t even made it past the stasis field.”
“And that is where you come in, Doctor. I haven’t had much success with the gene therapy in my employees. But it worked for you.” Hendley leaned back confidently.
“And if I say no?” McKay pushed everything back, and the first cylinder went rolling across the table toward Tony.
“I think I can find a way to persuade…” Hendley stopped cold as the cylinder moved to Tony’s side of the table and rolled off the edge.
Tony reached out and caught it before it could fall to the floor. Suddenly it lit up brightly in his hand. Tony stared at it as it seemed to encourage him to move his hand to the end. As he did, a holographic display of some kind of space ship appeared in the air in front of Tony, just over the device.
Hendley’s surprise morphed into a look of calculation and pure pleasure. “Well, aren’t you just so full of surprises. I am so glad you have joined us, Agent DiNozzo. I just know you, and I are going to get to know each other so very well.” Hendley stood up, and the servant moved forward to collect the items.
The second servant stepped in front of Hendley and held open the top of the box he was carrying. Hendley reached inside and made motions as if he were putting on a glove, though the servant blocked Tony’s view. McKay, on the other hand, looked downright terrified.
Suddenly the guards, who until now had seemed more decorative than useful, moved forward with their weapons and urged Tony and McKay to move away from the table toward Hendley.
“You may now come forward and kneel.” Hendley motioned, and Tony could see his hand now had some golden jewelry from the fingertips past his wrist.
McKay jerked, and Tony got a feeling that there were levels to the weird he was missing. Tony wasn’t certain what to do, but McKay just stood upright. Then his chin jutted out, and he got a supremely stubborn expression on his face.
“I feel I should warn you now that I don’t believe in Gods.” He glared at Hendley and stood straight.
Hendley’s eyes suddenly flashed with an inner golden light, and his voice took on a deep reverberation. “I am the God, Peitho. I assure you, Doctor McKay, you will believe in me.”
Shock was the only explanation Tony had for his inability to move. He allowed the guard to shove him the final foot toward Hendley. As he stepped into place, the man touched a crystal on the back of the glove, and huge rings suddenly appeared around their group. There was a bright flash of light, and the dining room disappeared.
Tony paced the room like a caged tiger. He was in space. He stood on the bridge of a freaking spaceship and stared out at the actual planet Earth before being marched into this prison cell.
Tony shook his head and continued pacing. Every time he thought it, he lost the ability to think. It was just so…so…damn!
“Are you going to be doing that much longer?” McKay asked.
The man had spent the first thirty minutes in the room searching it for any possible access ports that he could hack, without success. Now he was just sitting on the bed with his head between his hands.
“Well, excuse me for having a little difficulty with having my entire world view smashed into a teeny, tiny, little ball, and then blasted with a flame thrower. Not everyone believes there are little green men out there to find. And now I find out that not only do aliens exist, but they actually come to Earth and kidnap people. I mean, sure, you run across the occasional hick off his meds who believes that some little grey-skinned, bug-eyed aliens kidnapped him along with his pet cow for experimentation, but…” Tony felt his lungs grow heavy in his chest as he saw that look pass across McKay’s face. The one that said he knew something.
Tony slid down the wall behind him to sit hard on the floor. “Grey-skinned, bug-eyed?”
McKay shrugged. “Well, I don’t know if I would call them bug-eyed. But short, grey…yeah, Roswell was real. But they’re the good guys. And, honestly, they haven’t kidnapped anyone since Thor forced Loki to stop…well, no one we know of. So most of those people were probably off their meds.”
“Thor and Loki? Someone was watching a bit too much MCU when they named them.” Tony quipped as he tried to lighten his own mood.
“More like MCU stole from them. Thor and Loki from Norse mythology. All of these assholes like to pretend to be gods to primitive cultures. Holographic projectors and technology to confuse the morons and then they either enslave them or offer them their protection.” McKay waved his hands around as he spoke. “Whichever you claim it is, they’re still all assholes. Won’t even share the good tech with us. Just some B.S. about us still being children playing with dangerous energies we can’t understand. I created a nuclear bomb when I was in Jr. High. It totally would have been working with the right material.”
Tony just shook his head. “OK, McKay…aliens are real, spaceships exist, lay it all on me. I feel like I’m floundering around here. I need intel.”
“Damn. Things must be bad.” McKay suddenly gave a huge, extremely painful-looking smile. “Check quick, is half of my face drooping?”
“Are you sure? My brain is going to melt. I actually wish Daniel Jackson were here.”
McKay let out a huge sigh. “OK. First, there were Ancients. A bunch of idiotic assholes who liked to explore, experiment, and leave their faulty experiments all over the place. Why? Because they were hypocritical fucktards that didn’t like to solve their problems, they just ran away from them. They had a problem with those in power in their home galaxy, so they ran away to the Milky Way. Here they created these things called Stargates. Forgetting the science that is so far above your head it would take me a year to try to explain how they work, basically if you have stargates on two different worlds and know the address, you can dial it and step through a wormhole.”
“Wormhole Extreme! You guys created Wormhole Extreme for plausible deniability.” Tony laughed and then stood to go to the other bed. It looked like this was going to take a while, and he might as well get comfortable.
“Ugh, don’t remind me. And no, we didn’t create it. Technically this guy from another planet did without permission. He was supposed to be lying low.”
Excited, Tony jumped in. “Like Men in Black? Earth as the planet that offers political asylum to aliens who blend in as human. Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith.”
“No.” McKay made a face and continued. “When we found out what he was doing, we let him keep it up. I agree with the idea in theory, but couldn’t they at least correct the science?”
Tony shook his head. “You do realize that Hollywood is rarely concerned about realism? Do you know how many crime dramas make it look like they can process evidence and solve a crime in a day? Even when we have it expedited, DNA evidence takes three days on average. And that’s because we have a dedicated lab. Normal processing can take weeks or months to get back an analysis.”
“Whatever. So, Ancients. They basically looked human. But they had higher brain function…in theory, and they lived a lot longer than us. They put out the stargates and claim to have created humans…or advanced humans.”
Tony looked at him closely. “You realize that when that information is given to the public, there is probably going to be civil unrest around the world.”
“Of course we do. People aren’t ready for the truth. It’s frustrating as hell because there is so much we know that we could use to save lives and make things better, and we can’t share it because people are stupid and inflexible when it comes to what they believe.” McKay moved back so that he was lounging instead of sitting. “You wouldn’t believe how many papers we have waiting to be published, and it might never happen in our lifetime.”
Tony could understand why someone like McKay considered that one of the worst parts of having such an amazing job. “Well, that sucks. But eventually, you will go down in the history books as one of the first to leave the planet and interact with aliens. That’s got to mean something.”
“Maybe. So…Ancients put these stargates everywhere then eventually there was this virus that was killing them off. So they dropped everything and ran away from the Milky Way. They went off to the Pegasus Galaxy where they went on to do amazingly stupid experiments. They became obsessed with entering a high state of being. To exist as pure energy. Eventually they figured it out, but before they did they created the ultimate science experiment gone wrong. They’re called the Wraith, and humans are their food source.”
“Holy Hell!” Tony sat upright and stared at McKay. “How do we know that? Are there records?”
“No, but a while back we sent an expedition to the Ancients’ primary base/ship in Pegasus. The Lost City of Atlantis. We found it. That’s where I’ve been stationed. And believe me, the Wraith are alive and hungry. They’ve eaten their way across Pegasus and frequently cull planets to extinction if they develop beyond a certain technology. We’re basically at war with them there.” McKay looked away, and Tony could see the despair lurking in his eyes.
Tony motioned toward the door. “So…this guy? Hendley? Is he one of those…wraith?”
McKay rolled his eyes. “No. And forget Hendley. He’s just the host. That thing is Peitho. He’s a goa’uld. They’re a snake-like, parasitical race that inhabit humans and other species. The host is in there, but he’s trapped, unable to take control of his own body. They attach to the brain stem, which not only gives them control but access to memories. They are incredibly strong and really hard to kill. They basically kidnapped people from around the world at different points in history and took them off to other worlds where they set up their little kingdoms and rule as God.”
“So, we’re fighting them, too?”
“Of course. And, we’re winning for the most part. I thought Stargate Command and Homeworld Security had cleared the goa’uld off Earth.” McKay shrugged. “Anyway, what else do you want to know? We’ve probably got a week until we reach the coordinates on that datapad.”
Tony thought about it for a moment. “Hmm. So, if I’ve got this straight. Aliens are assholes who either experiment on us, infest us, or eat us.”
“Sounds about right. Welcome to the food chain, DiNozzo.”
Gibbs swung the hammer over and over against the hope chest. With every swing, he imagined another face, another favor that had dried up and blown away. Word was out on the street that it was best to get lost if Jethro Gibbs came to call in a marker. D.C. was a city of whispers, and they moved faster than the wind.
This wasn’t the first time he had come up against the N.I.D. in a case. They were cockroaches that skittered in the dark, playing their games of secrets on U.S. soil. There were rumors about their secrets. About their true mandate. Ugly rumors if you listened to the right people. He supposed some of them must be true…some of the right people had a tendency to disappear if they whispered too loudly.
He took another swing at the chest. It was supposed to be Ziva’s. He had been carving it for her birthday. As far as he was concerned, she would never get another moment of his concern. He renewed his pounding even though the chest had practically disintegrated by now. He hit it again, and again, and again, and…Gibbs let out a guttural yell as he spun around and let loose with the sledgehammer to send it flying to the other side of the basement.
“Well, it’s nice to see that you’ve calmed down.” Leon Vance was standing at the top of the basement stairs, a toothpick tucked firmly between his teeth.
Gibbs stiffened then proceeded to pick up the pieces of the chest, throwing them into a box. When he had them all, he went up the stairs without looking at Vance and headed to the fire already burning in the fireplace. The wood for McGee’s file cabinet was burning nicely. He continued to ignore the man as he added wood to the fire.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit childish to ignore me?” Vance huffed when the silence continued. “I would expect this kind of behavior from DiNozzo, not you.”
Gibbs spun around as he stood up to glare at Vance. “You never could appreciate what DiNozzo brought to the table, Leon.”
“Bad table manners, childish jokes, and an inability to act like an adult,” Vance replied.
“The ability to adapt to almost any situation, stability and stress relief when the team was ready to snap, and a keen investigative intellect. The problem is you only see what you think is there, not what’s right in front of your face.” Gibbs turned back to keep feeding wood into the fireplace. “If you valued his contribution, then you wouldn’t have allowed them to write him off.”
Vance took out the toothpick. “Contrary to what you may believe, we don’t always get a choice about what orders we follow. We have to choose which fights we can fight. When the man says National Security and classified at the highest levels, that’s not a fight where we can afford to step in the ring.”
“Fine…then just walk away from the fight. Play your games of politics and favors. I’ll be the one over here in DiNozzo’s corner when you’ve all walked away.”
“That’s why I’m here, Gibbs. You’re not just in his corner, you’re rattling the cage. You have to know you’re being watched. You were told to leave it. Nothing happened. But you trying to go behind everyone’s backs isn’t leaving it. If you interfere with a classified op at this level, you can disappear as quickly as DiNozzo did. These people mean business, Gibbs. And they don’t care who you are or who you know.” Vance put the toothpick back in his mouth.
For a moment, Gibbs imagined pulling the damn thing out of his mouth and throwing it into the fire along with the rest. He placed the last pieces of the chest into the fire, then replaced the grate and took the box away.
“I mean it, Gibbs. Everything you’re doing is endangering DiNozzo. Whatever this op is, he needs us to keep away from it.”
“You’re not naive, Leon. DiNozzo isn’t participating in some damn op. He’s collateral damage. Even if he did stumble into the middle of their op, they could care less about what happens to him. They said they have eyes on him? You’ve worked undercover. You know the score. The job comes before protecting civilians who stumble into the middle of it. No matter what, they will protect their cover. Tony’s life doesn’t even figure into it.”
“I know. And I’m sorry it went down this way. But it doesn’t change the facts. If by some miracle DiNozzo makes it out of this alive, what do you want him to come back to? Have you thought about that, Gibbs?” Vance looked at his watch and sighed. “Look, tomorrow’s Sunday. Why don’t you do DiNozzo a real favor and go clean out his refrigerator or something? It’s the best thing you can do to help him at this point. I have a few agents who will be at the Navy Yard on Monday, who can fill in as TAD for several weeks. Most of them have filled in as SFA before, so I’ll let you take your pick.”
“I want McGee and Ziva off the team. Call it whatever you want, but I don’t want to see them.”
“You know I can’t do that right now. We wouldn’t be able to explain it. Especially with the story of DiNozzo loaned out.”
“Don’t give a damn how you explain it, Leon. It’s my team, and I don’t want them.”
“It’s my agency, Jethro. They stay. Nothing has changed. That’s your mantra from now on.”
“You’re wrong. Everything has changed.”
Tony followed his escort back to his cell while projecting a calm, casual attitude. Unfortunately, the guards—jaffa as McKay called them, never loosened up. They were practically robots when it came to doing their job. Still, that wasn’t a reason to give up and break character.
“So, any chance for a little sightseeing tour while I’m out? No? I mean, I’m not sure how big your spaceship is, but you would think you could at least find a different path between the cell and the dining hall.” Tony chattered on with inanities and questions that he knew would receive no answer.
They reached the cell door, and the guard opened it before giving Tony a shove to enter.
“And thank you for the enjoyable after-dinner conversation.” Tony smiled wide at the jaffa as the door closed.
“Why do you bother? They’re not going to respond unless ordered, so why waste your time?” McKay was snacking on some kind of dried fruit thing while reading material on a datapad.
“It’s not a waste. I’m building a persona here. Putting them at ease with my compliance and easy-going attitude. Trying to get them to drop their guard.” Tony cracked his neck at McKay’s snort. “I’m playing the long game here, McKay.”
“Teal’c is a jaffa who has worked with the SGC for years. Relax and drop his guard are not words in his vocabulary. You’re better off teaching a pig the principles of aeronautics. It’s just the way things are. Goa’uld are dedicated to power, and complete obedience through their fake godhood and the Jaffa are indoctrinated from birth that they exist to serve their gods. Your long game won’t change that level of cultural indoctrination.” McKay waved around the stick like blue fruit thing as he talked.
“You see, you denigrate the soft sciences, then you throw around terms like cultural indoctrination,” Tony quipped. He smirked unrepentantly as McKay flipped him off. He let the brief amusement roll through him before considering McKay’s words. “Peitho isn’t like that.” Tony shivered. “He is very personable and smooth. It’s seriously creepy to play at pleasant dinner conversation while knowing that I’m really talking to some kind of head snake. And, how come you get sent to bed with snacks and reading material while I have to stay out there and play nice with the sinister alien?”
McKay winced and looked a little green. “He likes you. Well, the snake likes you. I mean, you’re likable enough in the fluffy-haired-puppy sort of way. But you look like—well, like some GQ cover model, you can keep up with him on almost any conversation, and you have the ATA gene in spades. Isn’t it obvious?”
Tony just shook his head because he still hadn’t assimilated everything in McKay’s Fucked Up New World lessons.
McKay stared at him until Tony was becoming seriously twitchy. Obviously, he had missed something major. “He’s planning on taking you as his next host.”
Tony jerked. “Oh, hell no. He has a host already.”
“Sure, but you’re basically an upgrade. A newer, younger model with a shiny new gene.” McKay grimaced.
“That is seriously the scariest, most fucked up thing that anyone has ever said to me.” Tony sat down and went back through all of his interactions with Hendley/Peitho. Damn. McKay was right. Peitho was playing with him. Grooming him. “Tell me the truth, McKay. How screwed are we?”
“Bent over without lube. The moment they removed my transponder, it became twenty times more difficult for my people to find me. Not being on the planet? They won’t even have a clue we’re gone. If I could get a signal out then, eventually…maybe. But everyone is super vigilant on this ship.” McKay held up the datapad he was reading. “They haven’t missed a step. I figure our best hope at this point is to see if they drop their guard, and we get a chance to access the stargate on this world we’re going to.”
“You said there’s one of these stargates on Earth, and you know the address, right?” Tony asked and then continued when McKay nodded. “So we make it to the stargate, and we can just dial Earth and go to your Stargate Command. That’s the plan?”
McKay winced. “No, you can’t go straight to Earth. There’s a shield over the gate to keep the goa’uld or whoever out. You have to send a code to the SGC, so they open the shield. We’re compromised, so even if I had a way to send my code, they wouldn’t open the shield. We’ll head to one of the beta sites for help. They can send us home.”
Tony felt so unprepared for this. “I need to know how this whole system works. If something happens, then I need to be able to make a move.” Tony looked up to see McKay’s brow furrow deeply as his mouth twisted, and his face fell. Aww, Hell. Tony walked over and sat down next to McKay. “We’re together in this. I’m not an asshole who would leave you behind to save my own butt. You’re the expert out here, but you’re also a civilian. Doesn’t matter where we are; it’s my job to protect civilians. I’m not leaving without you, but I need to know what to do if you’re incapacitated.”
McKay relaxed and stared at him. “Are you sure you’re not a Sheppard?”
Tony just grinned. “How long have you and Sheppard been together?”
“He joined the SGC just before we left for Atlantis.”
“Sure, you said. But how long have the two of you been together?”
“Why would you think…” He trailed off when Tony gave him the look.
Tony could tell when someone was deeply entrenched in the closet, and that wasn’t McKay. But the man had worked with the military most of his career to hear him speak, so it was probably more of a situational closet. Tony had learned the hard way what happened when these things became known in law enforcement, so he could appreciate a little hesitation to share. “There’s a look in your eyes when you talk about him. When your life depends on watching for tells, it’s easy to see. You cover it well by all the gruff, but I do this for a living. So, come on…spill. DADT has been gone for four months.”
McKay huffed. “Oh, yes. Your country’s latest attempt to catch up with enlightened societies. Fine. I won’t say there wasn’t instant mutual attraction, but John’s position in the military was always a little too precarious to take the chance. And, contrary to most opinions, John never crossed that line, even when the SGC removed the rule from the Expedition’s Charter.”
Tony could understand that. “OK, but that was before the change in the UCMJ. Is he worried about discrimination if he comes out? Because I can’t see you having the patience to wait if it’s not necessary.”
“Seriously…how do you know this?” McKay stared at him a moment while Tony just raised and lowered his eyebrows at him repeatedly. “Alright, fine. Yes. The day we got the notice, I broke up with Jennifer, our CMO. Then kissed John in the middle of the Gateroom.”
Impressive, Tony thought. McKay didn’t seem the type for the grand gesture. “Bold move. And his response?”
“He took the day off, and we had sex in a jumper in space.” McKay smiled with a wonderfully satisfied look as he was obviously remembering.
“Go you. How did the girlfriend react?”
“See, that’s what I don’t understand. She was pissed. I mean, I thought everyone on base knew she was our beard. For some reason, Jennifer had already picked out engagement rings or some shit. She’s been all passive-aggressive with me ever since.”
“Well, you did publicly dump her to run have space sex. Ohhh, space sex. Was that like zero-G?” Tony leaned over to nudge McKay’s shoulder with his own.
“Get your mind out of my gutter, DiNozzo.”
Gibbs arrived at the Navy Yard a full hour before his team was due to arrive. He had argued with himself on Sunday. Half of him wanted to shove his retirement papers up Vance’s ass. The other half knew that his only hope of ever finding out what happened to DiNozzo was to be here when and if the man ever called for help.
His gut said DiNozzo was in deep trouble, but still alive out there. And if he knows anything, he knows that DiNozzo is fully capable of getting himself out of any trouble he can get himself into. So here he is in the last place he wants to be today, backing up his partner the only way available to him.
The first thing he did was clear out DiNozzo’s desk. When Tony comes back his mighty-mouse stapler will be safely packed away for him. He hesitated a moment and then opened the bottom desk drawer to pull out the stack of awards that DiNozzo had accepted on his behalf. Gibbs smiled and added them to Tony’s box as well.
After he stored everything in his car to take home that evening, Gibbs stopped by his usual coffee shop to pick up a couple of refills. This was the other thing he had considered: his plan of attack. Right now, all his potential sources were avoiding him like the plague. Hounding them was not going to get a response. So, he needed to play with his food. Do the unexpected, act out of character, and eventually they will come sniffing around to see what he’s up to.
He watched until he saw Vance’s car arrive then headed back. He was in the building and sitting in Vance’s office when the man arrived. Gibbs watched with concealed amusement as the Director turned on the lights, hung up his jacket, and turned to put his briefcase on his desk before noting Gibb’s in the visitor’s chair. It was amazing that the man didn’t swallow that toothpick.
“Leon.” Gibbs took a sip of his coffee to hide the smile. Vance had expected him to come storming up into the office after everyone got here, but he wasn’t going to do it. Storming the gates wasn’t going to get him a response to his demands, so he was going to kill them with compliance. It would drive Vance crazy, trying to figure out what he was up to. Double win.
“I’m…surprised to see you here so early.” He tried to casually finish his actions, but the jerky movement showed Gibbs had drawn first blood.
Gibbs gave him an innocent look. “Ready to start the day.”
Vance’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his head at that friendly tone.
Gibbs decided it was the little enjoyments in life that would keep him going today. “You said you would have some TADs for me to chose from.”
“Yesss. You’re accepting a TAD? No argument?” Vance carefully sat down and ran his hands along his desk drawers.
Gibbs grinned through another drink of coffee. As if he had tried to get into Leon’s desk. He paid attention to where the man’s hands and eyes hesitated longest. Always good to know where the important files where hidden.
“OK, I have three files to choose from.” Leon unlocked his right-hand drawer and pulled out the folders. He hesitated only a moment before handing them over.
Gibbs flipped through them quickly. He was already aware of which agents were available for assignment in the area, but needed to know who Vance would offer. Walt Brently was an intelligent young man, but his history was too heavily entrenched in white-collar crimes to be a good fit for the MCRT. Besides, there was a note that he was only available three weeks before his next assignment out of San Diego. He put it aside.
Philomena Sands was ex-Navy, spoke three languages, and had spent part of her last assignment on a joint task force with local law enforcement. The recommendations from Mayport, FL PD showed she worked well with them. She was more than qualified for the promotion to SFA when a position became available.
Internally Gibbs relaxed when he opened the last file. He had been hoping for this. Mike Williams was coming off a two-year assignment on the Truman as Agent Afloat. He had seen combat in the Marines and was discharged at the rank of Captain. The transfer note in the file indicated he had been married for less than a year and was requesting stateside assignment due to the impending birth of his first child. More importantly, he was a solid investigator with stellar leadership skills.
“I’ll take Sands and Williams.” He handed the files back to Vance.
“You only have one position to fill.” Vance opened them side by side as if trying to see what it was Gibbs was looking for.
“I’m doing my job. I’m not causing waves. But I meant what I said about not sending anyone out into the field with McGee and David. You want them to stay on the team? Fine. But it’s my choice how I run my team and how I use them. I won’t allow anyone to take the risk of them turning off their comms because they don’t like to listen to someone doing their job.” Gibbs drank the last of his coffee and stood up.
“I want Williams as my SFA. Sands will be his partner in the field. Between the two of them, they have most of what DiNozzo brought to the table. Would probably have to hire three or four people to get it all.” Gibbs turned and headed for the door, the beginnings of a smile showing on his face.
Vance’s voice behind him didn’t make him hesitate or turn. “How do you plan to use McGee and David?”
“Well, I figured you’re supposed to be traveling off and on the next month. I’m assigning them for your security detail.” As he swung the door shut, he allowed the smile to grow.
McGee and Ziva were at their desks before Gibbs returned from his latest coffee run. He knew they had received the same orders he had regarding Tony. McGee looked like he had been sick all weekend. Good. Ziva, on the other hand, looked relieved and superior. He was going to take pleasure at chipping that away.
He carefully put away all urges for murder and picked up a box of files from behind his desk. Gibbs placed it on the corner of McGee’s desk. “Cold Cases. I’ll get you more when these are finished.”
“More, Boss?” McGee asked quietly.
“Do you have a hearing problem, McGee? Maybe you need to use headphones so you can turn up the volume?” Gibbs saw him swallow hard and bit back another retort. “Get to work. As soon as our new people are here, we’re back on rotation. If we get a callout, the two of you will be working from the office. The Director has meetings on the Hill this afternoon, and you two are on his security detail.”
He just glared at them when it looked like they were going to speak again. He noticed the glances they exchanged as they picked up files to work. The aborted stares at Tony’s empty desk were telling.
Gibbs just worked on his reports for the next hour until his two TADs arrived. He stood as they were escorted to the bullpen together. He reached out to shake hands, “Agent Sands. Agent Williams. It’s good to meet the two of you.”
“Agent Gibbs, I’m glad to get the chance to work with you.” Agent Williams spoke first. “There are stories around the fleet.”
“I bet.” He motioned toward the empty desk across from him and bit back the urge to pull the man away from Tony’s spot. “Please, drop your gear here. This will be your desk. Agent Sands, yours is on the opposite side of the divider. I have a request to have it moved, but that’s waiting on building services.”
“No problem, Agent Gibbs. And feel free to call me Sands or Mena. Never Philomena, please.” She stepped around to the other side and came back with just her folio in hand a few moments later.
Gibbs took the time to glare McGee and David into submission and preemptive silence, before turning back with a smile to the new agents. “If you could come this way. I have a conference room ready to get you up to speed.”
He led them to his reserved room and checked as he entered that the speakerphone and video camera were both still unplugged. He wouldn’t put it past McGee to try to tap into the system to snoop.
Williams looked at Gibbs as he took a seat and then reached out to run a finger along the phone cord. “So, Gibbs, before we get started, can you clear up some rumors about DiNozzo?”
Sands pushed her pen and paper away from her hands then stared at Gibbs with a serious expression.
“What do you need to know?” Gibbs put his hand under the table to make a fist.
Sands traded looks with Williams before starting. “The rumor mill briefly exploded and then imploded, and nothing is coming out of this office. First we hear that DiNozzo was missing, then something about it being a mistake. He’s not here, so what can you tell us?”
“Officially, DiNozzo is on loan to another agency for an op. Unofficially, that is all I’m allowed to tell you.” Gibbs narrowed his eyes in thought, watching them process that. DiNozzo had mentioned the two of them once or twice, and while Gibbs didn’t remember details, he knew the impression was always positive where it counts.
Sands looked angry, and Williams just briefly sad. It was good to know that the two of them could extrapolate the consequences of those few sentences. The problem with the secrets they keep is that few of them led to happy endings when silence was required. But how much silence did the powers that be really expect when DiNozzo has contacts everywhere.
Williams nodded slowly and then showed his intelligence by letting it drop, “What do you expect from us?”
“Do your job. Until further notice, you’re my SFA.”
“I’ve heard rumors about how this team is run. I respect your skill and your record, but I’m a little more by the book. Is that going to be a problem?” Williams looked ready for a fight.
Williams just raised an eyebrow and waited.
Gibbs leaned forward. “We work together. We solve the cases. I like things done my way, but you’re free to make your mark.”
“And when it comes to the rest of your team?”
Gibbs grimaced because he hated to lay that out on anyone, especially when he couldn’t tell them why. “You both have higher ratings and more time in service at higher positions than either of them. They don’t get a say.”
Williams looked at Sands, “You got any questions?”
Sands made a face. “A couple dozen, but I think I will just get the brick wall if I ask. So, for now, just one question. If you were only replacing one person, why did you request both of us?”
“You’re both due promotions. You are due for SFA, and Williams should be looking for a supervisory position, not SFA. If he can get one, he’ll need an SFA he can trust. Prove you can work together while Vance is watching.” Gibbs looked to see if she understood, it was hard to tell. He motioned to the door. “Why don’t you go get settled in? And remember, you don’t answer to them.”
She nodded and left, closing the door behind her.
Williams waited until the door was secure before glaring at Gibbs. “Not answering to them isn’t enough. The rumors were much more damning. Why are they still on your team?”
“Because officially, nothing happened. You want to get those two off the team, wait for them to give you a reason you can take to Vance.” Gibbs shrugged. It had been made clear that there were no reasons that request would be entertained if coming from himself.
Williams shook his head. “I worked with DiNozzo a couple times when he was afloat. He didn’t pull punches when he talked about you. Do you want to tell me the real reason you asked for me?”
“Tony respected you when you worked together. It takes a lot to earn that respect, and I trust his instincts. The MCRT has a job to do, and I need someone trustworthy to see that it gets done. I know my duty, but between just us I could care less right now. My focus is protecting Tony, no matter which way I need to do it. When I get him back, and I will get him back, my job here will be done.”
Williams raised an eyebrow while giving Gibbs a half-smile. “You’re offering me your job, Gibbs? Last I checked, you weren’t the person around here who could offer that position.”
“Maybe. You’re on Vance’s radar. He didn’t approve your reassignment from a ship in the Pacific just to move you to D.C. without a plan. I figure there are a few old-timers up for retirement in the next two years. Most of them don’t have someone ready to take over. He’s probably planning to move you into place in one of the more visible slots, but most of them will be a waste of your skills. So, prove to him you can do this job. I’ll sit back and let you and watch them lose their minds wondering why.” Williams shook his head, and Gibbs just grinned, happy that the man’s file had been on the list.
He sobered quickly and stared, thinking about how to word it without stepping over that invisible line. “I want you to remember that on this team, you and Sands are partners. When you go out into the field, you need to trust each other. Be careful who else you trust.”
Williams looked at him, concerned, before cocking his head to the side in consideration and then nodding. He stood up and waited for Gibbs to join him. “Thank you for your welcome, Gibbs. I think we can work well together.”
Gibbs led him back to the bullpen and got the team’s attention. “Everyone, this is SFA Mike Williams. He’ll be my second on the team until further notice. Over here is Agent Mena Sands. You can get to know one another on your own time. For now, Agent Williams, get yourself settled in. When you and Sands are ready, call down to our dispatcher and let them know we are back in rotation.”
Gibbs watched the expressions McGee and David were trading for a moment before grabbing his weapon and heading out to the coffee shop. He needed to give Williams some room to smack them down with a newspaper when the two of them tried to push for info.
Tony shivered as the ship left hyperspace and entered orbit above a beautiful, clear world. He would almost call it earth-like, though the single continent he could see was humongous. He imagined it was something like Earth would have been if the continents hadn’t split. It was deceptively inviting after the time spent on the ship.
He and McKay had been escorted to the…well, bridge? Tony wasn’t certain what they called it. But they were brought here thirty minutes ago to see their arrival. Peitho was as charming as ever. He treated them more like friends and partners than like prisoners at times like these. Though his temper was mercurial, and he could have guards putting you on your knees at a moment’s notice.
Right now, Peitho had come up between them and had his arms wrapped around their shoulders in a casually friendly pose. It took every undercover skill Tony had ever mastered to not shudder away from the interaction. Since McKay had pointed out that Peitho was sizing him up as a potential host, he had dreaded every touch.
“Just look at it. So much potential in such an unremarkable place. There are rich mineral sources as far as the eye can see. The asteroid belt in this system is rife with riches that the Ancients barely touched. It is almost as if they set up this entire place for automation and then left without turning it on. Fabulous and frustrating in one, given that so few are found with the ability to operate the systems.” Peitho hugged them both briefly before releasing them and walking toward the center of the space.
“Not to worry, though. With the two of you here, I’m sure we will make wonderful work of it all. I can’t wait to see what you are capable of accomplishing. With the right incentive, of course.”
The jaffa shoved Tony and McKay into place near Peitho, and the ring transporters dropped into action. Tony quickly shaded his eyes as the brighter than normal sun flooded the landscape. By the cursing under his breath beside him, McKay was doing the same. Peitho seemed unaffected by the change. As for the jaffa, who could tell?
They walked toward a ground vehicle that looked like some cross between a Star Wars land speeder and a golf cart. It was all shiny metal and bizarre. But Tony happily climbed aboard because the gravity was just enough over Earth-normal to be noticeable. Tony was not looking forward to the inevitable health issues.
The vehicle shot forward across the open land toward what looked like the base of a large hill, or very small mountain. There were signs of recent excavation in the area, but as they approached, doors slid open, and they entered an underground structure.
The vehicle entered a lift, and it started going down. Tony didn’t know if it was his imagination and things were feeling lighter, or if he was just adjusting quickly to the gravity. The lift passed through metal and rock to emerge in what appeared to be a massive man-made cavern. It was so big he couldn’t see the other end, but what was visible was a sci-fi movie on steroids. The best CGI out there couldn’t create something this fantastical.
It was alien and yet aesthetically beautiful in a way the goa’uld’s ship had not been. And mixed with the other-worldly, there was a feeling of welcome and excitement and warmth and need and…McKay nudged him and frowned harshly.
Tony nodded in understanding. McKay had explained about Ancient technology and how it would try to interact with people, but Holy Hannah. This was a mind fuck. He thought about creating a wall between himself and the tech. Then his mind flashed over to Harry Potter occlumency lessons, which in retrospect wasn’t a good idea because that made him think of Death Eaters, and snakes, and the fact that Voldemort would probably have been one of the best and worst hosts for a goa’uld.
And besides, Snape just used the lessons to torture the kid, which was completely horrific and seriously detracted from trying to portray the character as this ultimate tragic hero at the end. Why he allowed himself to get sucked into that pit after it showed teachers and government employees taking sexual pleasure out of torturing kids was completely unknown. Frankly, he had found his dedication to completing the experience appalling.
It took a moment for Tony to realize it, but the stream of movie trivia consciousness had succeeded in divorcing him from the pull of the technology. It was like it gave him something to hold onto that was just Tony. Just himself without anything pressing down on him from outside.
They were nearing a ship…an actual spaceship that appeared to be resting gently in a cradle that supported it for work. It looked new and pristine as if it had just rolled out of the factory. It was all shiny metal in a shape and pattern that seemed to imply speed and power. Something beautiful, but that hinted at deadly. Around the ship was an energy field. Strangely Tony got an impression of something sleeping deeply within.
They stopped and got out at a balcony that allowed one to look out over the ship. It was embedded with a range of equipment that seemed to do everything from monitor to analyze to control the ship. It was all turned off, though it obviously had power flowing through it. Obviously, because someone had torn apart one of the monitors for no obvious reason.
Peitho stepped forward to look. “Isn’t it beautiful, Doctor?”
“Um, yes. It is impressive. Can I…May I? What I mean is, can I look at the equipment?” McKay stumbled, obviously chomping at the bit to figure out how it worked.
“Of course, Doctor. That is what you’re here for.” Peitho grinned and leaned forward to watch as McKay hopped from one system to another while making sounds that ranged from disgruntled to joyful to strangely sex-like.
Tony felt the tendrils of something brushing against his mind again and firmly pushed back. The last thing he needed was that distraction right now. At that thought the feeling receded, and Tony wondered if it was responding to his desire.
They were there for at least half an hour before they returned to the vehicle and were taken into a residential hall for a meal. Tony noted since he had been with the goa’uld that his people were very tuned to McKay’s dietary requirements.
As usual, the meal was filled with pleasant conversation and no talk of the work for which they were present. Once they were finished, they retired to the lounge. Peitho was in a great mood, while McKay’s had been rapidly degenerating throughout the meal.
“So, Doctor, what do you think of my Ancient Warship?” His eyes shined briefly on the word Warship.
“Well, yes, it is impressive. However, it was unfinished before the Ancients ascended. It was clearly a proof of concept design and never intended for functioning in a…” McKay trailed off as the smile faded from Peitho’s face.
“Now, Doctor. This relationship won’t work without complete honesty on both our parts. I may not be fluent in Ancient, but I can understand enough to know that ship was intended for heavy combat.”
“Be that as it may, it is still unfinished. The Ancients put it in stasis and stopped all production when they abandoned Pegasus. The last entries in their database are dated not long after they left Atlantis at the bottom of an ocean. After this much time, you know it may not be possible to fix it.” McKay jutted his chin up.
“Another lie, Doctor. That stasis field has left the ship pristine. It is as it was the day they walked away from it. All we need is for you to bring down that field, and we will be able to assess what is needed to make the ship operational. It will be mine. And you, Dr. McKay, will make it happen.”
McKay’s eyes darted around, and he paled drastically before squaring himself and standing tall. “No.”
“Excuse me?” Peitho’s voice didn’t modulate from its pleasant tone, and yet something about it made the hair stand up on the back of Tony’s neck.
Peitho snapped his fingers, and a servant ran forward with that glove thing on a pillow. The goa’uld slipped it on while he started speaking to McKay. “You are obviously under the impression that you have a choice here, Dr. McKay. And while you are correct in that I am loathed to damage you, there are many ways in which I can impress upon you my power in this situation.”
Tony watched and calculated his chances to get between McKay and Peitho. Unfortunately, he did not need to worry. He saw the look of terror on McKay’s face a moment before Peitho turned and reached out his hand toward Tony. The eyes glowed, and light brought crashing pain upon him. He fell to his knees.
“Stop. If you want to hurt someone, hurt me. Tony has nothing to do with this.” McKay’s shout rang out.
The reverberation from the goa’uld’s voice echoed through his skull with the pain, “I assure you, McKay, Agent DiNozzo has everything to do with this.”
“I’ll do it. Just stop!”
Tony tried to shake his head, to stop McKay. But the pain…all he could think/feel/be was the pain.
“Let us make sure this object lesson lasts, shall we. I’m certain Agent DiNozzo would not like for you to have to repeat it.”
The pain exploded and overwhelmed his senses, the only sound he could hear was the screaming. In some small part of his brain he realized it was his own as he felt his nose and eyes gush blood and his lungs seized. Then Tony heard no more.
Tony awoke on a pillow-soft bed with silky sheets running across his bare chest. He sat up quickly and allowed the sheets to slide off the bed. A choked sob was his only notice before arms wrapped around him, and he felt McKay drag him in for a hug.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think Peitho would go after you.” McKay hugged one last time before releasing and sitting back.
Tony patted him on the shoulder before running a hand over his own face. “What was that? I thought I was dying.”
Tony dropped his hand and stared at McKay. “Excuse me.”
“He killed you and then used his sarcophagus to bring you back and heal you.”
“Yeah. I had to agree to work on the ship before he would put you in it.” McKay looked so guilty.
Tony suddenly understood. “I’m grateful to be back, but we can’t let him have that ship…can we?”
“No. We can’t allow Peitho to get his hands on that ship once it’s fully functional. Earth’s got nothing to match it. The only thing that’s remotely close is Atlantis. This ship’s got all the potential of Atlantis in a much smaller package. I think it was originally designed for science, but the Ancients altered it for war.” McKay groaned, “I can’t let him have it.”
“I understand. McKay.” Tony sighed because they were way past last names now. “Rodney. If he does this again, you need to let me go. I can’t…I can’t let him use me against you. Not with the number of lives at stake.”
McKay poked Tony in the chest. “No. You don’t get to run out on me that way, DiNozzo. We just need a new plan. We pretend to work on his ship and find a way to destroy it. Then we high tail it to the stargate and leave this rock alone.”
Tony stared back into Rodney’s eyes and nodded slowly. “Ok, we have a plan. Pretend, sabotage, escape, and evade. Whatever it takes.”