Trust Issues: Chapters 5-9

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Trust Issues: Chapters 5-9
Author: Ellywinkle
Fandom: NCIS/Stargate Series
Rating: R
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: 27,764/78,112

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 Also, DADT has already been repealed, because I refuse to mess with that.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.


 

TI part 2

Chapters 5-9

ch5

Chapter 5

Tony tightened his belt over his green tunic and then knelt down to double-check the laces in his short boots. The clothes were comfortable and utilitarian while allowing free movement. He checked his hair in the mirror and headed to the door. Bouncing twice in place he counted down until his escort would arrive.

Lasi, the jaffa who was in charge of Tony and Rodney’s security, opened the door to their quarters exactly on schedule. In the week they had been on this world, Tony had kept track of all the scheduled movements. The jaffa was nothing if not prompt. You could set a watch by the man’s movements.

Lasi looked like an extra from a fantasy combat movie. Brown hair braided back down the center of his head just highlighted the stylized ball shape tattooed into his forehead. He was dressed in a mixture of high tech metal and chain mail armor.

He slid out of the room and next to Lasi before the door finished opening. Since the door was automated, they had to stand there until it finished opening before Lasi could trigger it to close. It was only seconds, but he knew it irritated the guard and threw him off his stride.

Instead of heading in the direction of Peitho’s private rooms, Lasi turned toward the common dining hall. Tony raised an eyebrow at the change but didn’t comment. Stopping at the doorway, Lasi stepped inside and to the side to wait for Tony to enter. When Tony hesitated just inside the door, uncertain why he was here today, Lasi grabbed his arm and practically dragged him toward the food line. Then he just glared at Tony without speaking.

“What’s wrong, Lassie? Is Timmy stuck in the well?” Tony asked with suitable excitement in his voice.

Lasi broke his blank face for a moment with the barest hint of confusion before he grunted and turned to stalk out of the room.

Considering it a terrific win, Tony coasted over to the food line and filled a bowl with the grain mash that constituted breakfast. He added the minced dried blue fruit to sweeten it while reaching for a skewer of mystery meat and a cup of the tea that was served with every meal here.

He recognized several of the servants and workers who were eating, but their whispers were subdued, and their gazes did not welcome him to join them. Instead he picked an empty table to sit and begin eating. It was less than a minute before two more came to sit at his table.

He smiled openly at them, determined to not break character. One of the rules every undercover operative had to know was that once you built the persona, never break character. Never give them a reason to doubt.

He looked over his tablemates. It was hard to determine their age. They both appeared young enough, but from what he had learned thus far, that was frequently faulty.  Both wore their hair extremely short, almost shaved, as was the usual style on base. Tony dreaded anyone thinking he needed a haircut before he and McKay could take action.

He checked how his companions tried to show nonchalance and ever so slightly failed. Daonos was an intense man. Standing just a few inches shorter than Tony, he was muscular and was training hard to understand the automation systems in this facility. Tony was frequently asked to play light switch for him as Rodney called it.

The man was a little too intense and dedicated to his task for Tony’s taste. But he would engage in minor small talk if it worked its way around system operations. On the other hand, you put McKay in Daonos’ path, and he would try to chat for hours.

On the other side was Tirana. Black hair, dark brown eyes, and all the poise of a dancer. She gave the impression of always being in perfect control. Of her body and her environment. She was researching the stasis field and integrated shielding technology. Yet another McKay groupie, she seemed to have a small crush on Rodney and would frequently blush when she received his praise. It was adorable, and Rodney was completely clueless and couldn’t be bothered to remember their names.

“Do you worry about Dr. McKay’s health?” Tirana inquired as she started to mix the fruit into her bowl.

Tony froze a moment, did something happen? “I wasn’t. Did something happen to Dr. McKay this morning?” McKay had an analysis running on one of the systems and had adjusted his sleep schedule accordingly. He originally planned to work all night until Tony reminded him that they were trying to keep this slow.

Tirana looked up. “No. But that is the third time since you came here that you have asked Lasi about his welfare. Though I do not understand why you call Dr. McKay Timmy. I have spoken to him about this, but he assured me that it is not his name.”

Tony laughed out loud. “No. On my world, Lassie is the name of a dog. Um…animal we keep as a pet? It can be trained to do jobs for us like fetch and protect. Timmy was a character in the show. He was the child that owned the dog.” Tony bit back his smile at her confused expression. “I guess it’s a cultural thing.”

“I have heard rumor that Tau’ri have strange beliefs,” Daonos added softly.

“I suppose some of us do.” Tony took a bite and swallowed before continuing. “What about your people? What kind of beliefs do you have?”

“We believe in living to serve our Lord Peitho. What else would anyone wish to do but serve their god?” Daonos responded before looking away and picking up the meat stick to take a bite.

“Yes, right. Serving your god. I guess I can see where you could find that fulfilling.” Tony choked back his desire to tell them what he really thought of their God.

Tirana gave Daonos a quelling look. “We are honored to work on a project of such importance to Lord Peitho. It is rare to receive as much of his personal attention as we have been blessed with recently. It is unfortunate that he was forced to leave us at such a critical juncture. What with yourself and Dr. McKay working so diligently to gain access to the ship. Our understanding of the systems has increased tenfold with just your presence, Agent DiNozzo.”

Tony prevented himself from reacting to her words while his heart began to race. “You mean Peitho…I mean, Lord Peitho is no longer here?”

“No, he left during the night. But do not be alarmed; he will return periodically to check on our progress.” Tirana patted in sympathy.

“I suppose he would be able to move around quickly through that chapa, um…that stargate thing?” Tony fumbled over the goa’uld word.

Tirana looked at him, puzzled a moment. “You mean the chappa’ai.” She stated before shaking her head. “No, there is no chappa’ai on this world. The Gods did not place one to maintain security for their shipyard. Lord Peitho travels to and from this world in his ship. By his command, we are to make this world our home. If he desires in his wisdom for us to serve on another world, then he will arrange our transportation.”

“I guess that’s good. So, do we know how long he will be gone this time?” Tony asked lightly as if the answer did not matter to him.

“It is unknown. His last visit was over three cycles of this world’s moons. Lord Peitho will come when he is ready.” Daonos replied.

Tony changed subjects and deftly continued as if this were just small talk at a dinner party. He was still able to obtain a lot of intel, but he did so while his mind quickly reassessed their situation and exit plan.

He felt a headache begin behind his eyes as he realized that their only hope for survival was on a ship that a race that died off thousands of years ago had never completed. They would need to get it working, steal it, and then fly it home without a pilot. McKay was going to go nuclear.

 


 

Gibbs exited MTAC and then paused at the railing to look down over the bullpen. He hadn’t spoken to the team since early morning yesterday. He’d been coordinating ops in MTAC. It was a regular duty for him, but two situations that he has been working on for a while went hot at the same time. It led to a marathon session.

All he wanted to do was go home, take a shower, and sleep. Below, Mike Williams was at his desk in conversation with Mena Sands. Based on her body language, she was pissed, and Williams was calming her down. Gibbs looked at the other desks, but they were empty and did not show signs of occupation recently. He glanced toward the Director’s office and knew the man was in office today, so they aren’t working the security detail.

Gibbs gave a little chuckle as he stood to walk down the stairs. Vance’s normal security detail was absolutely not happy that David and McGee had been added to their ranks, even in the limited capacity they were. Head of the detail had complained…loudly.

Reaching the bullpen, he walked to Williams’ desk and just raised an eyebrow in question. Williams just let out a sigh.

“Gibbs. Op over?” Williams asked calmly, giving Sands a moment to reel in her anger.

“My part is. Anything I need to know?”

“Nothing I can’t handle. Just a few growing pains with the team.” Williams shrugged slightly.

“Case?”

“Drugs and stolen equipment. Witness heard one of the suspects tell another he had disposed of everything in the dumpster. There were two dumpsters behind the condos, so I ordered David and McGee to go dumpster diving. McGee hesitated but didn’t actually argue about going in. David insisted that since Sands was the newest on the team, she should be the one to search for evidence. I had to threaten her with a reprimand to get her to comply.”

He motioned to the empty desks, and mentioned, “They are signing in evidence and then will be hitting the showers. Sands and I picked up the suspects, and they are in holding until their lawyers arrive.”

Gibbs nodded his understanding. Looking at Sands he asked, “Is David your problem?”

Sands shook her head firmly. “No. She’s a problem, but I’ve dealt with her type before. I cut my teeth on the type of power plays she likes to practice. What I haven’t had to deal with is this childish passive-aggressive bullshit with the forensic tech. Her behavior is just so, well, frankly it’s bordering on harassment.”

“Abby.” Gibbs sighed, feeling worn out. He looked at Williams, “You, too?”

“Yes.” The man shifted uncomfortably. “Look, there’s almost always minor hazing of the new people in the building. I’ve never approved of that kind of activity in my command or in my workplace. Now I realize, Tony’s well-liked and it looks like we came out of nowhere and are just taking over his place. So, against my better judgment, I was willing to allow a reasonable level petty hazing so they could get it out of their systems, and deal with the current loss of DiNozzo around here. I will accept that decision as my mistake. But it isn’t minor and when it crosses over into harassment, then it’s actionable.”

Taking a deep breath, Gibbs nodded. “I’ll go take care of it.”

Williams stood up. “With all due respect, Agent Gibbs. Having you step in to get the situation under control is detrimental to the chain of command. She crossed a line with Agent Sands. Sands tried to correct the issue on her own and was rebuffed. She has come to me, her direct supervisor, to report the infraction. While I am informing you, the next step is for me to take action and try to resolve this matter. Once you are involved this becomes a reportable offense, and we would expect you to take action with HR on the complaint that will be submitted.”

Gibbs winced but nodded his agreement. Williams had warned him he was by the book on these matters, and he assured the man he would give him a chance. That included Abby and any similar issue. “I’ll wait to see what happens.”

Williams gave him a little sigh of relief and sat back down to finish what he was typing. “Gibbs, you’re beat. Even if this is escalated, it won’t be until tomorrow. Take off and get some sleep.”

“Right. You and me for an update, 0730.” Gibbs turned to get his firearm from the desk and picked up his Go Bag before heading to the elevator. He noticed half of Balboa’s team and some of Jenkins’ group standing to watch him leave in shock. He was tired enough to almost burst into laughter.

He made it to his car and paused a moment behind the steering wheel as the hair on his neck stood up to tell him someone was watching. It was a feeling he had noticed come and go since DiNozzo’s disappearance. A knock on the passenger side door had him instantly relax as he recognized the familiar face of Jimmy Palmer, assistant to their Medical Examiner, Ducky. Dr. Donald Mallard had been mentoring the young man for years.

“Agent Gibbs, can we talk? Wow, you look exhausted. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. We can talk any time, but I need to know.” Palmer took off talking.

But Gibbs was too damn tired to let this go on. “Palmer. Can I help you?”

“I had a question, but it’s not a good time.” Palmer cocked his head to the side and changed gears. “Should you even be driving? You know studies show that exhaustion can be more detrimental to drivers’ reaction time than alcohol.”

“I’m going home now to sleep, Palmer.” Gibbs refused to roll his eyes.

“You should get some sleep. You look like you need it. Why don’t…well, I would hate for something to happen because you’re tired. Why don’t I drive you home?”

Gibbs looked at Palmer’s face to see what he was really thinking and damn the kid could never lie. He really was just worried about his current state. Come to think of it, the longer he sat here, the less he thought he should be driving home. “Ok. He opened his door and got out. Grab my bag.”

Palmer paused a second and then jumped out, reaching back to grab the bag before he shut the door. They were in his car and out of the Navy Yard in no time, Gibbs leaning against the door with his eyes closed.

A thought came to him. “What did you want to ask?”

Palmer frowned and shook his head. “Oh, that’s not important. You’re tired.”

“Go ahead and spill it, Palmer.”

“Well, if you’re sure. Not to say you wouldn’t just ask if you weren’t sure…right. Well, you see. I’ve heard rumors about Tony, and while I would really like to know what’s happening and if he’s OK, I understand that I’m not allowed to ask about that. But, I was on vacation when that happened, and I haven’t actually been ordered or told not to talk about any of it. So, I was just wondering if I could mention anything in my letter to my Aunt Alicia.” Palmer shrugged.

“Why would you tell your aunt about DiNozzo?”

“Tony’s a friend of mine, so I’ve mentioned him. But no. I meant about Dr. McKay.”

“You want to tell your aunt about the victim of a crime we have been told was a classified operation? Palmer.” Gibbs growled. What is he thinking?

“My aunt and I have talked about him before. It’s just, Aunt Alicia works on some classified project. She’s a medical doctor and medical examiner, Dr. Alicia Biro. My mom’s sister. We write emails to each other all the time. Well, for a while, she sort of dropped off the planet. I didn’t get anything from her for years. She and mom don’t really get along. But she started writing regularly, and she’s mentioned some of her co-workers. Dr. Rodney McKay is like her boss there. Or her boss’s boss or something. But she knows him really well and has written about him. I was just going to tell her that I hoped everything worked out ok and that he hadn’t been hurt too bad and all. But, I didn’t know if that part was classified. Like I said, we’ve talked about him before, so I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t allowed to even talk about him anymore.”

Gibbs sat up straight and stared in shock. Could it really be this easy? Well, why not? He considered the repercussions, but whoever it was that was watching shouldn’t even have Palmer in their sights.

“Well, Palmer. As long as you don’t mention any specifics of the case, I don’t see any harm in you mentioning to your Aunt that you hoped he was OK, and he finished with the work he was doing soon. Might even be ok for you to ask her to let you know if he’s made it back to work. I would be interested in that, too.” Gibbs bit back any more in-depth request for information. All he could do was bait a hook and see what fish was swimming in the pond.

 


 

Tony put on a burst of speed as he was coming around the final bend. He could feel the two jaffa close on his heels, and as he saw the doors to the great lift start to open. He reached it and screeched to a stop as Lasi stepped out and faced him. The three jaffa behind him stopped as well.

Tony bent down with his hands on his knees as he took deep breaths, reveling in the feel of the air moving in and out of his lungs without a hint of wheezing. He kept his face down as he smiled. Lasi was berating the Jaffa for their performance in their language. Tony hadn’t been able to pick up any of it yet, but he had experienced enough dressing downs by coaches over the years to know what was being said.

He stood up and patted Lasi on the shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on them. What they lack in speed they more than make up for in endurance. I would never outlast them in a marathon.”

Lasi glared at Tony before turning back to his men and giving a barked command. They did the jaffa version of a salute and turned to start jogging in the opposite direction.

“Come,” Lasi ordered as he began walking back toward Tony and Rodney’s shared rooms. “Dr. McKay has entered his rest cycle. The technicians will need you on the ship to continue their research.”

They set off walking at a good pace for Tony to use as a cool down. Once they determined their only avenue of escape was the ship, Rodney stepped up the program to gain access to it.

It was still slow going as individual systems had to be initialized in the correct order, and Rodney was finding and completing system connections as he ran diagnostic after diagnostic.

They had encountered only two major issues so far. First, the ship had only limited power. Rodney determined that the engines and main power relays had never been engaged. And, they hadn’t determined the location of the main power source.

The second was a blessing in disguise. The ship absolutely required an ATA gene carrier on board for any of the systems to function. As long as he or Rodney were on the ship, they could access displays and limited systems. If they both left, the ship had a security lockdown feature that wouldn’t allow anyone to access it. And, attempts to circumvent the lockdown had thus far resulted in deadly consequences.

Considering the ship was built while the Ancients were at war with the Wraith, it wasn’t really a surprise that it was hostile to non-Ancients. Tony was only worried that it wouldn’t accept him at full power. But Rodney insisted it was pretty much an all or nothing proposition. It accepted them now, so they should be ok. Of course, Rodney had insulted his intelligence as he said it.

However, the security did cause one unfortunate consequence. Medesh, the minor goa’uld who served as Second for Peitho on this world, had ordered that Rodney and Tony should be placed on separate shifts to maximize working time on the ship. It wasn’t giving them much overlap to discuss their options.

Tony entered the darkened quarters and headed for the shower to get cleaned up for his shift. He was singing in the shower, touching controls that adjusted the various sprays and water patterns while being careful not to trigger that sonic feature he had discovered completely by accident and from which his prostate still hadn’t recovered. Rodney’s humming accompaniment caught his attention before he noticed the man in the room.

“How did your unwarranted display of testosterone go?” Rodney asked as he leaned against the doorway.

“It was amazing. You were right, the sarcophagus healed my lungs. You don’t even understand what it’s like to run full out and not feel like you’re breathing through a straw at the end. I was on a strict exercise regimen to retain my field status, and now, it’s like the plague never happened.” Tony grinned as he stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel.

He briskly rubbed down and threw the towel into the laundry device along with his soiled clothes. With only a thought, it turned on and began cleaning. In ten minutes it would all be pristine with no odor. That part was weird.

Rodney stepped aside as he headed back to the sleeping quarters to pull on another outfit. “That thing is amazing. It even healed my knee, shoulder, and I could swear that it helped my old collarbone fracture and head injuries.”

Snorting, Rodney quipped, “Head injury explains so much about you, Tony.”

Tony flopped down on the bed. “Yeah, well, getting shot in the ass describes you to a T.”

Rodney flipped him off, “It was an arrow in the upper thigh.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.” Tony laughed and finished dressing by pulling on his boots. “Anything I need to know today?”

“Keep everyone away from Deck 12. I’m missing a power relay in that section and don’t need anyone else injured looking for great discoveries.” Rodney poured two glasses of water and handed one to Tony. “Also, make sure that Daonos gets readings for the automation system between the ship and the facility. I restored those connections today, and there’s something off about it. I need more data to review.”

“You need more sleep.” Tony insisted.

“I’ll sleep when we find a way out of here. I don’t know how much more time we have before Peitho returns. Right now, we can use the gene to keep the ship’s systems locked down while we try to make it flight-ready. But he’s not stupid. If he decides to take one of us as a host, there’s nothing we can do to stop him from finishing the repairs and firing it up.”

Tony took a drink of water and then stared at the glass in thought. “Any way we can expedite the plan?”

“Not if we don’t want to overload the drive and explode.” Rodney rubbed his face with his hands. “I don’t know what the Ancients were up to. They took a brand new ship, and they disconnected so many of the power relays. It was like they were trying to bypass critical systems, but they didn’t leave any notes behind on why.”

“Do you think there’s any danger in restoring the connections?” Tony cracked his neck to relieve stress and finished off his glass of water.

“Yes, like I said, it looks like it was fresh off the assembly line. Other than the relays, there’s not a thing wrong with it that I can find. Well, other than not finding access to the main power room. All of the readings indicate there’s enough power, but I can’t even find diagrams to show what makes it run. I just know it’s got to be a ZPM. Can you imagine a ZPM just sitting here in stasis all this time.”

“Whoa, boy. Drool on someone else.” Rodney’s eyes got that glassy look every time he mentioned ZPMs. Tony found it beyond amusing and wanted to commission the man a sex toy shaped like one of these things.

“OK, fine. But we’re close, so be careful. The last thing we need is to have that asshat, Medesh calling Peitho back to take a look. So don’t touch anything in there DiNozzo and keep thinking low power no matter how much the tech begs you to play.” Rodney got up and headed for the bed.

“Yes, Mother.” Tony headed toward the door. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you only use my last name when you’re questioning my intelligence. Do you do that to Sheppard, too?”

“It’s the hair. It regularly causes interference in the transmission of electrical impulses across neurons.” Came Rodney’s response as the door was closing between them.

Tony looked at the jaffa who was waiting for him today. “Yen’tek, my good man. You owe me two jugs of ale. Your buddies weren’t able to keep up today.”

“They would have succeeded against you, Tony DiNozzo, if not for the arrival of Lasi.”

“No excuses. Two jugs.” Tony grinned as he walked toward the ship’s access hatch. Make Nice With the Natives Phase Two complete.

 


 

As Tony walked through the ship’s corridor, he ran his hand along the wall. There was a thrum and a buzz deep in his head when he did this that honest to god felt like a purring kitten. He got a feeling of hope and need and a tiny bit of contentment-satisfaction that encouraged him to touch more but didn’t actually force it. It was desire without circumventing will. It was safety.

Tony pulled his hand away and felt a twinge of sorrow, but firmly forced himself to not touch the wall while thinking hard about suppressing power. A ghostly feeling of acknowledgment drifted by, and then the lights dimmed slightly, and the door waited for his touch on the control panel to open.

Rodney had explained that the stronger the ATA gene, the more eager the tech was to perform. Eager was a perfect word for it. It anticipated his needs and often provided him with solutions before he even knew to ask. It irritated some of the technicians to no end since it didn’t even acknowledge their existence.

He was working with Tirana, physically touching each system she needed to access. Many of these systems would shut down completely when a non-gene carrier came into contact with them without a direct override.

Their conversation had been completely professional as other technicians and jaffa moved in and out of the ship. Tony had to frequently stop to escort them because the ship did not appreciate jaffa at all. The last two days their presence had increased along with the frequent oversight of Medesh. It was frustrating and terrifying. Tony and Rodney had hypothesized that Peitho was expected back soon.

Tony returned to the life support control station that Tirana was studying, his guard of the day was waiting at the main access port. This room was too small for three people, and there was no point in hovering.

When he entered, Tirana motioned for him to close the door. They had to do this every time they accessed the controls. As soon as it closed she turned to face him. “Agent DiNozzo, there is information of which you and Dr. McKay must become aware.”

“OK. What’s up, Tirana?” Tony looked up at her and then jerked back, scrambling to reach the door as her eyes lit up with an inner golden-white light. “You’re goa’uld.”

“No. My name is La’lista, and I am an agent of the Tok’ra. You have spoken to my host, Tirana.” She stood still but held her hands up to urge Tony to stop.

“Right, your host. That’s what goa’uld have, right? You just take over people.” Tony took another small step backward.

“Where the goa’uld take, the Tok’ra coexist with a willing host. We are allies in our fight against the goa’uld. Your Dr. McKay knows of us.”

“I’ll be sure to check that.” The reverberating voice was seriously freaking Tony out.

“I felt I must warn you, Agent DiNozzo, that I have a mission to see that Peitho does not gain access to this ship. It would be devastating in our fight against him. I am not here alone. We will aid you in an attempt to escape with this vessel in exchange for safe passage from this world.” Tirana…La’lista, whoever it was, explained.

“I’ll have to discuss this with McKay,” Tony stated without agreeing.

“Understood. But know if we cannot remove this ship from Peitho’s grasp, then we will see that it is destroyed. Word comes that Peitho will soon return. It must not be here when he arrives.” She stared at Tony for a moment before leaving the room.

Tony stood there alone a moment and wondered how many other surprises existed out here. Damn, if only they had access to power this damn ship. Lights flashed on the opposite wall before the entire wall slid away, revealing a huge room with five large crystalline-metal latticed objects that glowed brightly. They were inset into five stands, two of which were lit up and appeared to be awaiting an open circuit.

“What in the world?”

A holographic display lit up beside him, and Tony saw a word that McKay had drilled into him in Ancient. Potentia. Here was power begging to be used, awaiting only a connection.


 

ch6

Chapter 6

Gibbs approached the Forensics Lab and heard the old dirge playing through the door. He hesitated a moment to prepare himself for the coming confrontation. The previous day had been trying. His morning meeting with Mike Williams had confirmed that Abby was completely irrational in her interactions with Williams and Sands. Well, not just with them, but most of the old-timers in the building expected Gibbs to ignore it, so they did nothing.

What irked him is that the discussion with Williams was almost identical to the ones he had with Tony multiple times when Abby would cross a line. They were right, Gibbs would talk to her and make it go away. And Tony, well Tony would get that tight look in his eyes that told Gibbs another crack was made in the chain that connected them, then Tony would put on that clownish face and walk away. How many times had he chipped away at Tony’s self-esteem?

Williams had been blunt and refused to back down. He had forced Gibbs to make the decision to stand by his promise to let Williams make his mark or to let the man ask for reassignment. Thing is, he was starting to like the man. He had all the right instincts for the job and gave every impression he could stand up to even Vance if he believed it was warranted.

Gibbs had signed the report and forwarded it to HR. It took most of the day for HR to process it. And then they had the gall to ask him if he was sure about it. Eventually, Abby had been called in for a reprimand and threatened with a suspension if she didn’t alter her attitude. Then she was assigned a harassment seminar to complete.

Gibbs had been in Rock Creek Park when that went down. The team was called in by local LEOs when it was determined that one of the three children lost in the park was the daughter of a Navy Captain who was staying with relatives in the area. The kids were reported to have just run off by the teen who was babysitting them. Sands worked seamlessly with the PD to prove that the kids, having witnessed the teen and two others with drugs and guns, ran off in fear.

Ziva spent most of the time complaining about Sands not pulling her weight in the search. She also took every opportunity to imply that Williams was not qualified to give her orders in the field. Gibbs took great satisfaction in telling her that Williams was her superior officer, and she needed to learn to take orders from those who are above her.

During that fiasco, Abby called his phone a total of fifty-three times. Mostly voicemail as he was out of a service area. By the time the kids were found by Williams, Gibbs had lost all patience with her. His first chance he ordered her to knock it off and get back to work, or he would write up the next reprimand himself.

He honestly didn’t want to see her hurt, but she wasn’t helping him right now. So here he was, listening to a dirge while getting in the right frame of mind to enter that room. He reached up and gave himself a smack in the back of the head and then opened the doors.

Abby was walking around the lab, clearing picture after picture of Tony from the walls and screens. He noticed a screen saver of a mighty mouse stapler interposed with a picture of Tony that made it look like the man was riding the stapler. When the hell did she have time to make that?

He stood for a moment, waiting for her to acknowledge him. Her shoulders had tensed up, so he knew she was aware of his presence.

Gibbs sighed, “Abby.”

She froze, then stood straight. “Is there something I can help you with, Agent Gibbs?”

Gibbs decided he didn’t need any possible company for this conversation and triggered the locks for the door. “We need to talk.”

“Excuse me, Agent Gibbs, but I don’t have time for fraternization. I’m under orders to clean up my lab for inspection. So if you could leave.” She still hadn’t looked at him.

“Abs!”

“No.” She spun around and pointed at him. “You don’t get to Abs me. I’m mad at you, Mister.”

Like a dam burst, Abby started pacing and gesturing wildly as she ranted. “I expected better from you. You were supposed to be on my side. But instead you were working with Him! They gave me a reprimand, Gibbs. A reprimand. I have to apologize, and change everything here, and go to harassment classes. Me. They have me marked as a harasser. You know I believe everyone is equal, and you signed a paper that I was harassing everyone.”

“Abby. I know you don’t like change, but the way you were treating people who were just trying to do their job…that’s harassment. You don’t even know them, and you aren’t giving them a chance.” Gibbs just stared at her. “That’s not like you, Abby.”

She stamped her foot down. “No. That’s not like you, Gibbs. You just gave up on Tony without a fight. They took him for whatever super-secret operation they have going, and it’s just wrong how they did it. And you just let them get away with it.”

“I haven’t given up on Tony,” Gibbs growled at her. “I have not, nor will I ever give up on Tony.”

Abby slammed down a tray onto the counter. “Yes, you did. You just replaced him like he was never here.”

Gibbs shook his head sharply, “No. I. Didn’t. I made a choice that will give me time to find him. Time to find information about the ones who took him. But this isn’t one of those times that I can just push my way through until I get my way. And I can’t have you doing it either. You’re not helping, Abby.”

“You’re really trying to help him?” She asked softly.

“Yeah, Abs. I’m still trying. Williams and Sands know Tony. They are taking up slack so I can be free when I need time.” Gibbs replied just as quietly.

Abby started to cry, and he pulled her into a hug. “I miss him so much, Gibbs.”

“I know.” He held her a moment before pushing her back to arm’s length. “Now you’ll start helping them instead of fighting everyone?”

Wiping her eyes, she nodded. “Yes. All I want to do is help.” Abby bit her lip and stared at Gibbs, all teary-eyed for a moment. “I could be in trouble if anyone finds out.”

“What did you do, Abs?”

“Well, I might have held back some of the evidence in Tony’s disappearance. They weren’t exactly going down a checklist. They just barged in, demanded everything, and then taken off in one fell swoop. I still have some of the blood, trace, and fingerprints from the scene. I didn’t tell anyone I had it because…well, I expected you to come back for help…but you didn’t.”

Gibbs smiled slightly at her. “They are going to search your lab for the reprimand follow up. Box it up, and I will take care of it. If anyone asks, you gave everything to the NID agents.”

Abby smiled at him and ran to a locked cabinet. Inside was a sealed evidence envelope. Gibbs took it gently from her and thought about his options.

He turned toward the door before stopping and giving her a kiss on the temple. “Ya did good, Abs.”

 


 

Gibbs waited on the usual park bench with a cup of coffee while he waited for Fornell to show. The man had avoided him for the last week, but he was hopeful he would show this time. Abby’s little surprise had lifted his spirits, but he knew he couldn’t let Abby touch that stuff again. The last thing he wanted to do was put her in their sights.

He didn’t want to place anyone there, but if anyone could find a way, it would be Fornell. The man was responsible for a lot of high-level cases. The question was how to approach him about it? Push too hard, and the man would get stubborn. Don’t push, and Fornell wouldn’t take him seriously. Best choice was to ease him into it with a request that wouldn’t likely ping on anyone’s radar. If he found anything, then maybe he would be curious enough to take some risks.

He noticed the man approach casually. He sat down on the other end of the bench as if he were just tired of walking. “Jethro,” Fornell said quietly in greeting without even looking at him.

“Tobias.”

“You’ve been causing quite a stir up and down the beltway.”

“Haven’t done anything lately, Tobias.” Gibbs took a sip of coffee.

“That’s what’s causing a stir.” Fornell grinned. “People are closing their drapes and double-checking that you don’t have them in your sights. You became the boogyman overnight by being nice. You’re the only person I know who’s considered more dangerous when you’re not misbehaving.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes while secretly pleased by the confirmation. “Got a favor to ask you, Tobias.”

“No.”

“No?”

“That’s what I said, Jethro. Brass came down on everyone in the D.C. Office. We’re under orders to avoid you unless it’s a case that clearly crosses between NCIS and us. Anyone who helps you with anything else is facing suspension.” Tobias leaned back and rolled his head. “I’ve got child support and alimony to think about.”

“You owe me, Tobias. I’ll call in all my markers on this if I have to.”

“Won’t work this time, Jethro. They’ve done their homework. Had a man in black from the N.I.D. come to speak to me outside my home during my weekend with Emily. He made sure I knew that if I helped you, I would be messing with national security.”

Gibbs grimaced. “OK. You believe that crap?”

“I believe that they can make it stick whether or not it’s true.” Fornell stood up. “For old time’s sake, Jethro, you know I would help you if I could. If there was anything I could do for you…” he trailed off.

Gibbs held back a smile and reached down to the gift bag he was carrying. “Well, you could give that to Emily for me. It’s her birthday present.”

Fornell reached in and pulled out a wooden, puzzle box, stained in rich shades. “She’ll love it. Thanks, Uncle Jethro.”

Gibbs watched him walk away and smiled slightly to think of how long it would take Tobias to get it open and find the message inside. He had felt a bit of relief when Tobias offered to help there at the end. Tracking vehicles in and out of Royal Oaks around the time of Tony’s abduction could easily be rolled into one of the man’s other cases and shouldn’t ping on anyone’s radar.

He sat on the bench a while longer. Wondering if his watchers would do anything. His gut told him they would, and he was ready to meet them. He finished his coffee and was about to give up when a familiar face in a black suit walked up and sat down.

“Mind if I sit here?” He asked. He was maybe an inch shorter than Gibbs with short, dark, neatly styled hair, blue eyes, and a face set in a permanent smirk. Standard nondescript man in black cliche. He held a pair of sunglasses in his hand, fiddling with the earpiece.

“Free country,” Gibbs replied as he stood and walked toward the coffee cart. The nameless agent who Gibbs recognized from the meeting with Sec Nav in Vance’s office followed him closely.

“Agent Gibbs. It would be in your best interest of everyone involved if you could just let this drop. I assure you the N.I.D. has everything well in hand.”

Well in hand. Is that code for sweeping everything and everyone away as if they didn’t exist?” Gibbs signaled at the cart for two of his usuals.

“We do what needs to be done to protect the security of our nation. It’s something you express concern for on a regular basis, Agent Gibbs.” His voice was smooth and slippery. Gibbs detested used car salesmen.

“Look, Mr. Whoever you are. I respect and support those who protect and defend our nation. But it is rarely protection when it occurs from the shadows. I prefer to make sure my agent hasn’t disappeared completely.” Gibbs accepted the coffees and walked away from the cart to ensure no one else could hear them. “I don’t even know your name, so how can I trust anything you say?”

He shrugged. “My name is Agent Rob Smith. And we’re on the same team here, Gibbs.”

“Really, Mr. Smith?” Seriously, Smith?? Gibbs asked silently. “Answer me this…Is DiNozzo even alive?”

“Yes. I assure you, Agent Gibbs, that at last contact with my agents DiNozzo was alive and well. We have a vested interest in keeping him alive and well.”

“Here.” Gibbs handed Smith a coffee. He hesitated a moment before holding out the second one. “Can you hold this?” Smith took the coffees automatically, and Gibbs bent down to retie his shoe.

“If DiNozzo is ok, then how much longer will you need him?” Gibbs switched sides and retied the other shoe.

“As long as it takes. DiNozzo is fine with it. He’s got an opportunity to play a much greater part than he’s ever had before. This kind of thing is life-changing. You could almost say he will be a whole other person by the time it’s over.” Smith had a quality in his voice like he was sharing a one-sided joke.

Gibbs stood to see the man take a drink from the first cup of coffee. “That’s my coffee.” He reached out and took both cups away from Smith while glaring at the man.

“You need to walk away from this one, Gibbs. I don’t know that DiNozzo will even want to go back to NCIS by the time this is over. I suspect he will be in a whole new league when this ends, and I can’t see him choosing to return.”

Gibbs turned and walked toward his car.

Smith called out from behind him. “Gibbs, where are you going?”

“I’m walking away.” And he walked straight to his car and got in. He put on evidence gloves as soon as he got in and started driving toward the Navy Yard. At the first stoplight, he poured off the coffee and slipped the cups into evidence bags. DNA and fingerprints, Gibbs thought to himself. Who are you really, Agent Smith?

 


 

“Agent DiNozzo.”

Tony turned to see Medesh approaching. Slipping into his easy-going, eager persona he said, “Lord Medesh. Welcome back to Toyland here. Isn’t it impressive?” Tony motioned around at all the panels that were dimly lit around him.

“Yes. Lord Peitho will be excited to see the progress you and Dr. McKay have made.” Medesh said, his voice vibrating in that freaky way the goa’uld had.

Tony felt pushback from the ship systems that felt strangely like a quiet security alert. Tony acknowledged it in the way he had learned and felt it recede. He didn’t know if the ship was reacting to his own discomfort or if goa’uld was recognized by the sensors, but he was happy that it seemed to trigger whenever one of them approached him. Secretly he had paid close attention to when it went off, and now that he understood, he knew that it only did so with Medesh, Tirana, or La’lista whichever she really was, with the jaffa, and surprisingly with Daonos. Since Tirana had mentioned she wasn’t alone he was secretly pleased to know who her hidden helper was.

“Well, we all want Lord Peitho to be happy, don’t we?” Tony gave his blinding smile that said I don’t have a care in the world.

“Indeed. To that purpose, Dr. McKay has indicated that he may be able to advance our goals faster if the two of you may spend part of your rotations working together on the ship. With some consideration, I decided to allow it.” Medesh stated. He smoothed the front of his robes as he looked around the ship and lightly touched one of the barely working panels. It went dark at his touch. Medesh pulled his hand back and made a fist.

“Thank you for allowing us to work together, Lord Medesh,” Tony said with just a touch of false simpering.

“Do not make me regret it.” Medesh turned toward the door before looking back at Tony over his shoulder. His eyes glowed as he threatened lightly, “Lord Peitho does not ignore failure.” And then he swept from the room.

Tony felt the slightest brush of comfort against him. He touched the darkened panel, and it lit brightly for a moment, giving Tony that kittenish purring again. “Don’t worry,” Tony whispered to the ship. “We won’t let the snakes get you.” Another brief flash in acknowledgment before everything reduced, and Tony headed for the hatch for shift change.

He stepped out next to Lasi and gave him a wink. “Come on, Lassie, it’s time for Timmy to wake up for school.” He headed off toward the Mess Hall and waved at a couple of the techs along the way. They all headed for the exit as they saw Tony leaving the ship.

Tony skipped the food line and slipped behind the counter into the kitchen. He moved carefully around the workers until he reached the baking table. Pan after pan was being pulled from the ovens. The bubbling meat pies smelled terrific. Cor’iar Tre was an excellent cook. Completely, insanely, devoted to his God, Peitho. But a completely fabulous cook. Tony had been working with him on a few dishes, and the meat pies were one of the biggest successes.

Tony had finally convinced him to try a fruit version, and he was here to collect his part of the spoils. Rodney loved this stupid blue fruit, and Tony admitted it smelled wonderful baked into the pie as well.

“So, did it turn out as well as I thought?” Tony asked the man.

“I believe it will be acceptable, Agent DiNozzo.” Cor’iar Tre replied. His mouth was stained blue, showing that he had eaten his fill of the baked fruit pies.

“I’m glad your skill made it possible to create such a delicacy.” Tony held back the laugh at how pompous the man was when praised. “Dr. McKay will be excited to try these.” Tony loaded up a tray with both the meat and fruit pies before heading out to their rooms.

He entered to find Rodney still sleeping, which was good. He was starting to get worried about how hard the man was working since every relay required his personal attention. The techs moved around making notes about every system, but the more power they gave the ship, the harsher the response to unauthorized, otherwise known as non-ATA, interaction.

They were reaching sections that really needed access to that control room, but they were loathed to tell anyone they had found it. Ol’ Medesh wasn’t going to react well to finding out that the system wouldn’t allow a goa’uld to enter the room.

Tony set down the platter and went to the side unit to heat up some water for fresh tea. Rodney mainlined the stuff. It seemed to be the only source of caffeine on this world, which had caused a minor meltdown in the man, but a cup only held about a quarter of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. They had experimented with increasing the amount of tea or the length of brew time, but that just made it completely undrinkable. And there was no source of sweetener outside a few fruits found locally, none of which mixed with the tea.

“Wakey-wakey, Rodney.” Tony set the lights to increase to room normal over the next five minutes to give the impression of sunrise. He knew psychologically it was less jarring to wake to the morning this way. Especially since there was no way to tell what time of day it was on the surface. Tony was also aware that one way to work on brainwashing was to control the perception of time.

He threw some clothes over to the bed for the man and went searching for his shoes. The man was a slob, leaving his clothes where they fell as he got in from work. Tony hoped Sheppard was prepared for that long term because Tony didn’t think Rodney was trainable.

“Come on. Time to get up.” He dropped the shoes on Rodney’s stomach and was rewarded with a grunt.

“Go away.” Was the response from deep under the covers.

Tony moved to the end of the bed, grabbed the covers, and pulled sharply. A hand shot up and grabbed the covers before they could clear his hips. Say what you could, but the man had a good reaction time when he needed it.

In a sing-song voice, he called out as he turned to get the tea, “I’ve got something special for you today.”

“Special?” The wistful sound drifted over the room.

“Take a deep whiff, Rodney. What do you smell?”

Rodney shot up in bed. “Is that…?” Rodney was up and pulling on his pants as he headed to the table, reaching for the fruit pies before he even bothered with his socks and tunic. What followed was a truly impressive range of sex noises that had Tony both staring and blushing at the thoughts they invoked.

Rodney looked up as he reached for another fruit pie and quirked an eyebrow at Tony knowingly. Tony flipped him off and grabbed one of the pies before Rodney demolished them. While Rodney’s ability to insult anyone was highly amusing, Tony was absolutely not attracted to him. It felt more like…well, like that brief moment of being attracted to your brother’s wife. You can recognize the beauty, but still see the person as a relative that’s off-limits.

“So, Medesh, in his infinite wisdom, has approved us working together.” Tony started off.

“Good. I thought he was too lacking in original thought to even consider it. We need to get them used to us being on the ship at the same time if we’re going to have a chance.” Rodney said around a mouthful of food.

Tony threw him a napkin. “How long do you think until we can get the ship working?”

“I could do it today. Honestly, the only primary systems remaining are near the power room. Everything else is secondary and tertiary systems we could hook up underway.” Rodney just shrugged at when Tony looked at him in shock. “What?”

“There were literally hundreds of connections to track and reconnect. How did you possibly get them all connected in this amount of time?” Tony was just floored at the amount of work that implied, especially when Rodney had to hide what he was doing most of the time.

“I’m the smartest man in two galaxies, speak, read, and write ancient fluently, and have spent years repairing an Ancient city that spent ten thousand years at the bottom of an ocean. Of course, I was going to figure out how to put that ship back together.” Rodney took an angry bite of a meat pie, then hummed as he reached for another.

Tony laughed a little. “Of course, you were going to figure it out. I just can’t believe how fast you did it. How in the world are they unaware of how much work you’ve really been doing?”

“Easy. They all act so spastic when I’m around, I keep sending them on time-consuming yet ultimately useless errands to help me. Radek and I have perfected the practice with new scientists back home.” Rodney sighed and took the next bite slower.

Tony noticed the change in emotion and handed Rodney his tea. “We’re going to get back home, Rodney. Both of us. This is going to work.”

“Of course, it’ll work. I’m a genius.”

“What about the Tok’ra?”

Rodney rocked his hand back and forth. “Creepy, but technically our allies. So, I guess we have to take them. But don’t trust them. They have their own agenda and have dropped our requests to finish their little missions in the past.”

“OK, so it sounds like we need to start planning our exit from this little party.” Tony raised his cup for a drink. “We should call our plan, Escape from Alcatraz.”

“Seriously, Tony. You need a new life.”

“Conair?” He shook his head, “No, forget that. I have standards. The Shawshank Redemption.”

 


 

Gibbs sat back from his desk and reveled in the silence. Mena Sands was typing up her report for today’s bust while Mike Williams worked diligently to finish the monthly SFA and expanded Team reports. He had asked Gibbs to let him try the entire monthly report process on his own to see if there was anything that he could streamline in the future. Gibbs had explained that Tony had some kind of process for getting all of the information in order quickly, but he would need to check in with some of the SFA’s Tony had shared it with to get more information.

Mike was on it in a flash, and that left Gibbs reviewing case reports. He had already sent back five to Ziva for correction. McGee’s were, as usual, OK. There were rarely problems with his written work. If that’s all they needed, he wouldn’t be an issue. He glanced at the empty seat and sighed. It was good that the two of them were gone for a few days while Vance was in Los Angeles.

He was halfway through the next report when he spotted the Hebrew and just kicked it back to Ziva. Six sent back. He pulled up the next report and sighed in relief when he saw it was Sands’. Her reports were almost relaxing to read. He made a note to speak to Williams about taking over past reports. While the man had taken to reviewing all new reports before forwarding them to Gibbs, Gibbs hadn’t felt it fair to have him review the mess that was waiting from DiNozzo’s inbox. Now that he’s reviewed enough of them, he realizes that Tony’s been sending back detailed corrections to Ziva. Gibbs is willing to bet she’s just been copying and pasting the corrections into the form.

He wondered why Tony didn’t just kick them back, and then realized that he had told Tony once when there was a complaint to just handle it. Gibbs shook his head at his own stupidity in not following up on issues. At times he was so driven that he let things slide when they weren’t rocking the boat. There was something to say for Williams’ by the book mentality.

His desk phone lit up, and Gibbs answered it. “Gibbs.”

“Jethro, my dear boy.” Came Ducky’s voice through the line. “Do you have a moment to spare? There’s someone here I would like you to meet.”

“Sure, Duck.” Gibbs looked over at Mike Williams and made a motion that was acknowledged. “I’ll be right down.”

Gibbs headed for the stairs and was at autopsy in no time. As the doors swung open, his first sight was brass. Air Force Lt. Colonel to be exact, though there was no way that haircut was regulation. Beside him was a big guy, civilian dress, had a movement about him that spoke of heavy combat or special forces training. Across the room from them stood Jimmy Palmer. His arms were wrapped around a woman and had lifted her from the floor for a huge hug. They were both jabbering away at each other non-stop, but it was utterly unintelligible.

Ducky looked up at his entrance and motioned him forward. “Jethro, please come in.”

Palmer put the woman down and practically dragged her over toward Gibbs. “Agent Gibbs. This is my Aunt. Dr. Alicia Biro. I told you about her. Aunt Alicia, this is Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I’ve told you all about him in my letters. Aunt Alicia has a couple meetings here, but otherwise she’s here to visit me. Isn’t that great? I haven’t seen her in like forever.”

“That’s great, Palmer. Dr. Biro, it’s nice to meet you.” Gibbs returned the pleasantries.

The doctor nodded. “Likewise. Jimmy has written all about you and your team. I feel like I know you already. He’s really very verbose in his letters. Did you know that he began writing to me when he was only three? Well they were only doodles and little drawings, but even then I realized that he wouldn’t be able to send a short note to anyone. He had little squiggly drawings that just went on and on as if he were explaining every moment of his day. And now that he can send emails, they can get a bit long. But it’s so nice to hear about everything he’s doing.”

Gibbs just kind of stood still and let the river of sound overrun him. There was no doubt in his mind the two were related.

Ducky saw and took pity on him. “Yes. Funny thing, Jethro. I’ve previously had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Biro. It was several years ago, but she was involved in teaching a seminar, well perhaps more of an intensive specialty course in forensics to several M.E.s around the country. It was part of a highly classified program, and as medical examiners it was believed we were in areas that might need to recognize unusual signs in bodies.”

Gibbs followed Ducky’s eyes to the tight expression on the Colonel’s face.

Dr. Biro looked up, “Oh, pardon me. Everyone, might I introduce Lt. Col. John Sheppard and our associate Ronon Dex. They are in town from our base and offered to escort me here before they proceed to their meeting.”

Gibbs raised an eyebrow at the Colonel, who had been staring hard at Gibbs since he entered the room. “A meeting?”

Sheppard nodded at everyone. “It’s really nice to meet you all. But we really need to get to our meeting. Doc, have a good visit with your nephew. I’ll call you as soon as our meeting time is set.”

She nodded agreement. “Jimmy, I’m starving. Dr. Mallard, perhaps you would like to join us?”

“I wouldn’t want to impose upon your reunion.” Ducky began.

“Please, I insist. I remember you had the most lovely stories when we last met.” She smiled awkwardly, and Ducky immediately stepped forward to offer his arm.

“I would be honored, my dear. As I recall, there was this one time…” They faded away toward the elevator.

Gibbs waited for the doors to close before turning toward Sheppard, who hadn’t moved. “Meeting, Colonel?”

“Yes. We have a meeting with Tom Morrow, among others, and it just so happens that you’re invited, Agent Gibbs.” Sheppard stared at him, waiting for a response. Right now the man looked like he was wound much too tight.

Gibbs grinned. “I’d be glad to. Do you need me to drive?”

“No, I have my own method of transportation.” Sheppard reached out and attached something small to Gibbs’ shirt. He glanced up to see the two men exchange a smirk before Sheppard triggered an earpiece. “Apollo, we’re clear.”

Light suddenly surrounded all of them and brightened for a moment before clearing. When it did, Gibbs found himself in a well-lit room, vaguely resembling the high-tech bridge of a ship. But instead of an ocean outside the window, Gibbs stared unblinking at the planet Earth against a sea of black.

The voice of Tom Morrow eventually registered in his consciousness. “Well, Jethro. I’ve been trying to recruit you and your partner in crime for years. Guess this time, you won’t have the choice to say no.”


 

ch7

Chapter 7

Leroy Jethro Gibbs sat in the conference room, signing the last page of the longest damn NDA he had ever seen. The Air Force Major who was double-checking every dotted I in Gibbs at least had the courtesy of maintaining a steady flow of coffee. Even if it was Air Force coffee.

Gibbs figured he should be ready to rip these people apart, considering the level of secrets they’re keeping. Like, the fact they had spaceships. But here he was, signing forms while sitting inside one big damn secret in space.

He had arrived by being beamed up from Ducky’s autopsy and greeted by Tom Morrow. Of course, his first response had been, “You’ve got some explaining to do, Tom.” Morrow had agreed and escorted Gibbs to this conference room with the waiting major, his paperwork from Hell, and weak-ass coffee.

The Major’s polite yet unyielding demeanor along with never-ending paperwork was enough to convince Gibbs that everything was real and U.S. Red Tape was alive and well, even in space. Eventually he signed the last page, and the Major got up to leave. Before the door could close, Tom entered along with several others.

Tom took the seat directly opposite Gibbs at the table. At the end of the table, was a Major General that Gibbs had seen in passing a few times at the Pentagon. Col. Sheppard was slouched down at the other end of the table with the special forces civilian. Several others, both military and civilian followed, a couple with laptops.

“Well, Jethro. I’m surprised you’ve held back your questions so far.” Tom Morrow started. “I’m sure you have something to say about this.”

“Ya think?” Gibbs focused on Tom and just stared until the man grinned and started to talk.

“First, some introductions. Starting on my left is Major General Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson. On the other side of you is Dean Bates, an Agent with the IOA, which we’ll explain in a moment. You’ve met Ronon Dex and Col. John Sheppard, already. On my right is Col. Cameron Mitchell and Col. Samantha Carter.” Tom briefly motioned toward each as he introduced them. Gibbs returned their acknowledgment.

“You know, Jethro.” Tom continued. “I’ve tried to recruit you and DiNozzo several times since I left NCIS. Thought about just reading you in regardless, but it’s not the way we do things around here. So, I would like for you to hold on to your incredible temper and give us a moment to explain what’s going on.”

“You mean other than spaceships?” Gibbs replied.

“Oh, this is much bigger than spaceships.” Morrow glanced toward Gibbs’ side. “Dr. Jackson, if you would start us out?”

Gibbs turned toward his right and noticed the General rolling his eyes. He brought his attention back to Jackson as the man began to speak.

“OK, so 1928 in Giza, a device was found buried.” Jackson began.

“Short version, Daniel,” O’Neill muttered.

“Right. OK, eventually, we were able to make it work and discovered that it is something called a Stargate that was built by a race who lived here a long time ago. Using this device we can connect to similar devices throughout this and other galaxies. We have teams that go through the stargate to explore, learn, and make allies.” Jackson reached down and picked up his own pump style carafe and filled his coffee cup.

It looked twice as dark as the crap they had been serving, so Gibbs pushed his cup over and just stared at Jackson until he filled it. “Thanks.” He took a sip and was relieved that someone here knew to pack real coffee.

There was silence for another moment, and O’Neill finally spoke. “That’s it? Danny…that was…short.”

“I do listen on occasion, Jack.” Jackson quipped.

“But it was short.”

Gibbs was tired of this. “You try to make friends, so that implies some are enemies.”

Carter took over. “Yes, we have enemies. First, are a race of parasites called the goa’uld. In their natural form they are snake-like. But they like to take humans as hosts. When they do, the host is almost completely suppressed. Long ago they kidnapped people from earth and seeded them all over this galaxy. They rule the descendants of those people as Gods.”

Sheppard spoke up. “And if Gods weren’t enough for you, next door is a race called the Wraith who like to eat us. A while back, a group of us went on an expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy. We found Atlantis, it’s an Ancient city. We also found the Wraith.”

“You went to find an old city?” Gibbs asked while considering which was worse, being inhabited or being eaten.

Jackson perked up and jumped back into it. “Not old, Ancient. The race that built the stargates also built Atlantis. It’s technologically advanced beyond anything we’ve found to date.”

“And you have people there now?” Gibbs took another drink of his coffee as they nodded. “Let me guess, Dr. Rodney McKay works for you.”

Sheppard’s entire demeanor went from slouching to poised to attack. “He’s our Chief Science Officer. He’s supposed to be on Earth for some IOA meetings and some vacation.”

Gibbs looked to his left. “And, IOA is?”

Bates leaned forward. “International Oversight Advisory. It’s a committee of member nations in the know about the Stargate Program. The Program is answerable to them regarding operations and funding. I’m an Agent with the Field Operations Division of the IOA. My taskforce focuses on alien threats on Earth.”

“Get a lot of those, do we?” Gibbs was getting a bad taste in his mouth.

Bates returned his stare, unblinking, and Gibbs recognized another Marine in him. “All the damn time.”

“So, is that what’s going on?” Gibbs glanced around the room at the silence.

“We don’t know, Jethro.” Tom looked at O’Neill.

“What we do know is that we have a missing scientist. I think you know something about it. And Tom has been bugging me for years to read you in. So, you tell me, Gibbs. What do you know about McKay?” O’Neill sat back as Sheppard and Dex leaned forward.

“About three weeks ago, one of my agents was taking voiceprints in the Royal Oaks subdivision in Virginia. While there, he fell into what appeared to be an abduction in process. He was taken hostage along with the victim, who was later identified as McKay. The team watching him dropped the damn ball, and they were taken out of Royal Oaks. Evidence from the crime scene showed some fresh blood, not enough to be life-threatening, fingerprints, and a tiny metallic capsule with the same blood trace.” Gibbs took a drink of his coffee and shoved it toward Jackson for a refill.

Carter got his attention and turned her laptop around after typing furiously for a moment. “The capsule, did it look like this?”

Gibbs glanced at it and nodded before taking back his cup. “That’s it.” Everyone in the room looked worried. “What is it?”

“It’s a transponder. It’s what we use to find our people anywhere on the planet.” Carter explained.

“So someone knew to cut this out of him.” Gibbs considered what he knew. “What does the NID know about your operation?”

“Too much,” Sheppard answered.

Followed immediately by O’Neill, “Too damn much. Why do you ask?”

“Because Not twenty minutes after we ID’d McKay as our victim, a group from NID swooped in, confiscated the evidence, and ordered us to stop investigating by citing National Security. They’ve been watching every move I make since then.” Gibbs explained. “Told us that DiNozzo had fallen into one of their operations, and we were to back away. Until further notice, DiNozzo is seconded to them.”

“Well, that would be a problem. See Gibbs, McKay is the last person that would be involved with the NID. The man’s not even American for Christ’s sake. He’s also the foremost authority on Ancient Technology, so we would never risk him that way.” O’Neill slouched back down in his seat. “Added to that, I’ve been getting weekly reports from his security detail that he’s enjoying his vacation in Canada with his sister.”

“Right,” Dex said with a sneer.

“Sir, I tried to tell you…” Sheppard started before O’Neill cut him off.

“I know you kept saying. But it’s his sister, after all.” O’Neill whined.

Carter shook her head. “Sir, even I could have told you he wouldn’t spend time with Jeannie unless forced.”

“Well, how was anyone else supposed to know that?” O’Neill huffed.

Jackson raised a finger, “I knew it.”

Mitchell grinned like a damn Iowa farmboy, “Even I knew that one. Jeannie’s nicer but has McKay’s mouth and temper when she’s upset. And no one upsets her like Rodney.”

“Meredith,” Carter said and then laughed.

Sheppard shot her a death glare. “He’s missing, and you’re cracking jokes, Colonel?”

Her laughter died, and she stopped smiling. With an apologetic expression Carter reached out to put her hand on Sheppard’s arm. “We’ll find him, John.”

Sheppard’s expression got tight, and there was a look in his eyes that Gibbs clearly interpreted. McKay wasn’t Sheppard’s partner. He was his partner. He would be committed to getting him back, but they would have to make sure he didn’t become irrational about it.

Sheppard looked over to meet Gibbs’ gaze, and his face hardened while his eyes asked a question. Gibbs nodded his understanding and let compassion show through.

He asked his next question of Sheppard. “Last known location, he was with my agent. DiNozzo thinks outside the box, but he’s good at getting himself out of dangerous situations. Keeps his head and always looks for opportunities to turn things to his advantage. If there’s a chance in hell, DiNozzo will find it. What about your man? How is he going to react to this?”

“Poorly,” was the response from Carter.

Gibbs glanced at her but kept his focus on Sheppard.

“He definitely won’t be happy about it. This isn’t the first time Rodney’s been kidnapped. How he reacts depends on what they want him to do. Even when he’s terrified, he’s constantly thinking of ways to get help.” Sheppard explained.

Ronon added, “Man’s more dangerous when he’s scared or angry than anyone I know.”

Sheppard smiled a moment before firming his lips. “Rodney knows the drill. He has to stay alive until he’s rescued or can escape. But, if they ask him for something too dangerous, …he can dig in and be stubborn as hell. And I worry that they’ll retaliate when he speaks his mind.”

“And we know he can’t stop himself from expressing his opinion.” O’Neill quipped.

Ronon shrugged, “Man’s opinion is usually right.”

Gibbs was reading between the lines and adding it to Abby’s declaration of the smartest man known. “You’re certain they want something from him?”

O’Neill sighed and leaned his elbows down on the table while reaching out to play with a pen. “Issues with attitude aside, you don’t just kidnap someone with McKay’s knowledge and skills unless there’s something you want from the man. Something you have no chance in hell getting through normal channels. The fact that someone had the balls to do it and is in a position to continue covering it up speaks to planning.”

Jackson nodded. “The meetings were scheduled three months ago. Among other things, he was arguing for a change in requirements for member countries to assign scientists off-world. We’ve lost a lot of highly intelligent people because they just weren’t prepared to operate in a combat zone. And, we need to be honest and recognize that anything off this world is a potential combat zone. So between his last meeting and the beginning of his vacation was the perfect time to take him. I just don’t understand. What is their reasoning for hiding the abduction.”

Gibbs considered that question. “Any chance they thought they could just return him when they were through?”

Mitchell spoke first, “It’s not like the man wouldn’t have complained loudly if they let him go. It doesn’t matter who knows he’s gone if they can’t keep him quiet. And if they’re not worried about keeping him quiet, then why try to hide it?”

Gibbs sat there quietly a while until Morrow asked for his opinion. “Don’t hold back, Jethro. What are you thinking?”

“You said those snake things can take over a person. How do you know when they do?”

“Unless they show themselves, you don’t know. But we have ways of testing for them. Everyone going through the Stargate or riding on one of these vessels is scanned.” Carter said, then she looked down the table before adding, “Previous hosts can sense them, too.”

“So if they put one of those things in him, they couldn’t fool you long term. Maybe long enough for him to get whatever they wanted. Or if it’s him they want then long enough to quit working for you.” The thought of someone just taking over your body seriously creeped Gibbs the fuck out. That would definitely be worse than being eaten, he decided.

“If that’s what they wanted, what stopped them?” Dex asked.

Tom Morrow exchanged a look with Gibbs before answering. “Not what…who.”

 


 

Gibbs was walking beside Tom Morrow along the ship’s corridor. It was still a bit of a mind fuck that he was in space. The meeting had broken up with everyone splitting off to get started on their own investigation into McKay and Tony’s disappearance. Carter and Mitchell had beamed off…down…whatever to pick up the evidence bag from Gibbs’ house. It had both the evidence from the original crime scene and the coffee cups from the NID agent.

O’Neill and Jackson took off to their base in Colorado to start a scan for any of those goa…snakes. And Bates was pulling all known information about McKay’s last escort team. As for Sheppard and his shadow, Dex, O’Neill had ordered them to the gym to blow off steam. Gibbs wanted a chance to interview Sheppard eventually. There was a personal relationship there, and Gibbs wanted to know why McKay was vacationing here without his partner.

“I must say, you’re taking this much better than I thought you would, Jethro,” Tom stated, breaking the silence.

“Don’t have time to take it badly with an active investigation, Tom.”

“You’re angry.”

Gibbs stopped and turned to face Morrow. “You’re damn right, I’m angry. Years they’ve been running this Program right under our noses. I understand the need to keep it classified, but you’ve got one bullshit agency that wants to oversee the military operation, another that wants to watch for alien activity on earth and are apparently doing a piss-poor job of it and a bunch of amateurs that have been running their own investigations into crime. Who’s even responsible for their threat assessment?”

“Jethro, you’re right. I’ve been pushing for an investigative team attached to Homeworld Security that can handle both civilian and military investigation within the Program itself. A team that could work beside the IOA’s Field Operations Taskforce when needed, but answer to me. What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to recruit you to do?” Morrow let out a frustrated huff.

“Well, you’ve got me now. We get DiNozzo back, and you will have us both. So, what do we do?” Gibbs asked while thinking about what he needed to do to actively coordinate the investigation into McKay’s and DiNozzo’s abduction. It was about damn time.

“I’m going to file the paperwork transferring you to Homeland Security. I’ll lock it down as classified, and you keep working out of NCIS as if nothing has changed. There’s something rotten in the N.I.D., and they’re not trying to cover their tracks yet because your little nice act has them confused. Keep it up. While they’re focused on figuring out what you’re up to, we’ll try to ID them. For now, we’ll have Bates run things from here. He was on Atlantis when he served, so he knows McKay.” Tom instructed.

“You don’t think he’ll draw all their attention when he starts poking?” Gibbs gave Tom his best-unimpressed look.

“We’ll split their attention. I figure I can burden you with a couple of house guests. We’re sending Sheppard and Dex to stay with you. They can help you get up to speed; answer some of those questions you’re formulating. Try not to give Sheppard a hard time. He leads a base full of Marines who think he walks on water. Besides, they’re good security in that damn house you won’t even lock. And you can piss off your watchers. Once the N.I.D. is aware they are there, it’s going to drive them insane, trying to figure out how you connected with them.” Tom smiled and turned to keep walking. “They’ll be at your house tonight with some equipment for you. Try not to break it all, Jethro.”

 


 

Gibbs was beamed back to NCIS and into an empty restroom of all places. He took a moment to smooth things down and get himself into the right headspace so he could walk out there like he hadn’t just had his world view irreparably altered. DiNozzo was going to love this crap.

Returning to his desk, he noted that Williams and Sands were gone. The note left behind indicated that a UA Petty Officer had pinged on the local LEOs’ radar, and they headed out to pick her up. Gibbs looked at the file and noted that Reston was assigned to cryptology and hadn’t checked in for over seventy-two hours. Gibbs checked the time and realized they had been gone for over an hour, so they should have reached their destination by now. So, he called Williams to check-in.

“Agent Williams.”

“Just checking on your status.” Gibbs pulled over some paper and started making a list of items he was going to need. He had no food in the damn house for visitors.

“Petty Officer Jessica Reston was reported UA three days ago. Local LEOs found her and took her to the hospital, but they only got their report submitted today. And, neither they nor the hospital staff saw fit to report her location to her base.” Williams reported.

Gibbs nodded in understanding. It happened more often than he liked. There were procedures in place, but each side will argue it’s the other’s fault. “Accident or crime victim?”

“Neither. Premature Labor. She had complications due to the emergency Cesarean and just regained consciousness today. As soon as she was assured the babies were OK, she started begging them to report to her CO.”

“Babies?” Gibbs scrolled through the file. “There’s no report of pregnancy here.”

“Twins. And, yeah, no one reported it. No way was she hiding it, so I’ll follow up on the report and see who left that off. Might have found her faster if we’d known.”

“Well, I’ll leave it in your hands, Mike.” Gibbs checked the time. “Day’ll be over before you can get back here with traffic. Unless you need something, call it a day after you report to her CO.”

“Will do. See ya tomorrow, Gibbs.” Williams got in the acknowledgment before Gibbs had the chance to hang up.

Gibbs grabbed his gear and was out of the Navy Yard in no time. He swung by his usual grocery store and stocked up on a few meals. He didn’t quite get a read on Sheppard yet, but Dex struck him as the meat every meal type. And snacks, lots of snacks. No one explained anything about the man while they were in the meeting, except he was assigned to the Atlantis base. But there was something just a little off in his body movements. Gibbs figured he had all the time he needed to find out what it was about him that set off his radar.

He was only home a few minutes before a sound had him pulling his firearm and taking cover. He secured his weapon when he saw Sheppard with his hands out in front of him in a classic posture to show he was unarmed.

He held up a hand before Gibbs could speak and reached into his front pocket, pulling out something that looked like a thick pen or marker. A moment later, it started glowing.

“Sorry about that. Should have called ahead.” Sheppard grinned and shrugged.

“Ya think,” Gibbs growled, then gestured to Sheppard’s hand. “What’s that?”

“Nifty little gadget. Takes out any bugs you might have here, both video and audio. Also, no one can get a parabolic mic to work. So we can speak.” Sheppard looked around at the place, but Dex just dropped his bag and sprawled out on the couch.

“Useful. Got any more?” It was like a portable SCIF. That could be extremely useful.

“Sure, but only works for those of us with the gene.” Sheppard pulled a second one out of his pocket and handed it to Gibbs.

Gibbs flinched as it lit up in his hand, and he felt how eager it was to work. “How do you turn it off?” The lights went out with that thought.

Sheppard was staring at him, surprised. “Well, imagine that. Welcome to the club, Gibbs.”

Gibbs rolled it around in his hand a moment then looked up. “So, this is alien tech?”

“Ancient tech to be precise. Some of us are descended from them. Way back when one of them bred with our ancestors. It’s believed that we have a natural attraction for others of our kind, and that keeps the genes strong. But the number of us that can naturally use the tech, it’s pretty low. So, be careful where and when you use that.” Sheppard slouched back in the chair.

Gibbs observed him a minute. He was deceptively at ease, but it was all an act. There was something in his movement, in his situational awareness, that spoke of heavy combat experience and not just a flyboy mentality. Gibbs decided to plunge in and get some answers.

“So, you and McKay?”

“What of it?”

“How long you been together?”

“We met in Antarctica at the Ancient Outpost there. We were on the first wave of the Atlantis Expedition. He’s the Chief Science Officer. I’m the Military CO of the base. It’s civilian-run, so we’re both under Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the Expedition Leader. I run a first contact team through the Stargate in Pegasus. Rodney and Ronon are on my team, along with Teyla, she’s Athosian.”

“I take it Athosian is a native group?”

“Yes. They’re allies, and several of them help as guides on our teams.”

Gibbs looked at Dex. “You Athosian, too?” Because that could explain why the man set him off. Not in a bad way, just in not quite normal.

“Nah, I’m Satedan.” Dex looked up and just stared Gibbs down like he was daring him to ask. There was a quality to the voice and body language that told Gibbs the subject was off-limits. Gibbs figured there was more than one way to get the intel than to push on a line of inquiry that didn’t matter when it came to Tony.

Gibbs looked back at Sheppard. “So, that’s all good to know, but you didn’t answer my question.”

“What question was that?”

“You and McKay.” Gibbs held his gaze until Sheppard broke. That was an act, too. Because the man-made a decision to talk. Sheppard was steel under that laidback persona. No way could he lead a base full of Marines in another galaxy without gaining their respect.

“The day we got the notice that DADT was repealed.” He stood up. “Ya got any beer in this place?”

Gibbs pointed toward the kitchen. “Fridge.”

“People think they were sharing blankets before that law change.” Ronon Dex said from the couch.

“Were they?”

“Nope. Not even off-world. McKay had to make the first move.” Dex was silent a moment, staring at Gibbs. “Some people on your world have a problem because they’re both men.” He raised his eyebrow at Gibbs in question.

“Some people are assholes,” Gibbs responded.

“You?” Dex asked with a grin.

“Ask my ex-wives. I’m a bastard, not an asshole.” Gibbs grinned back.

Dex just nodded. “So’s McKay. You and Shep should get along.”

Sheppard came back into the room with three beers. Handed Gibbs one on his way by and then said, “Here, Chewy,” as he passed by Dex.

“So, what do you really want to know, Gibbs?” Sheppard asked after finding his seat.

“What is McKay really like?” Gibbs really wanted to know if this person was going to get Tony killed.

“Rodney is the smartest person you will ever know. When it comes to science and discovery, he’s got this childlike exuberance that spills over and touches everyone around him. To be there when he’s like that is like experiencing life and fun and discovery as a tangible presence in the room. The light of a thousand suns shine through his eyes, and you realize that he doesn’t even see the universe the same way we do.” Sheppard was looking inward with a slight smile on his face.

Dex barked a laugh, “And then he opens his mouth and shreds your intelligence apart and questions why you are still even alive to pollute his air.”

Sheppard laughed at that. “True. Completely true. The greatest thing ever is to listen to him berate his minions for their stupidity and, without even trying, answer every question they have correctly. It drives them all insane.”

“His people hate him?” Gibbs asked, because that kind of attitude could cause issues.

“Not the ones who stick around,” Dex replied then shrugged when Gibbs looked at him.

Sheppard explained, “We’ve had more than a few who can’t stand him. But every single one of them has sub-par work and have been sent packing. We live in an unforgiving environment. People who can’t learn, make mistakes that get people killed. That kind of behavior is a hard line for Rodney. He once told me that he came out there to make the most amazing discoveries of his life. But, he’s learned his true purpose is keeping his people from killing us all with their stupidity. He wants every single one of them to have the same love and experience of discovery he has, but he’s lost too many to their own curiosity. He feels he needs to protect them all from themselves. The ones who learn and understand, stick around.”

Dex nodded, “And they’re rabidly loyal to him for it. Half the military, too.”

“So, he’ll be able to work with DiNozzo and not get them killed?”

“Don’t look like it, but he can hold his own. Fights with his brain. Knows when to let others fight the battles for him and is always planning ways to help. Won’t leave the warriors behind, either. If there’s a way out, he won’t leave without your man.” Dex stated before staring Gibbs down for a response.

“DiNozzo will take any risk to save others. Don’t matter how sick, injured, or outgunned. If there’s a way out, he’ll make it happen. He’ll be focused on protecting your man, even if it gets him killed.”

 


 

It was a couple days before the reports started coming in. Gibbs had his house guests, who weren’t bad once he got used to them. There was something about Sheppard that reminded him of DiNozzo. They both wore masks. But where Tony’s was layered and hid his true self for protection, Sheppard’s was a fun-loving, irreverent mask, hiding a highly-intelligent, hardened weapon.

When he had finally talked to Gibbs about his relationship, it was clear the man was completely gone on McKay. He knew every one of the man’s flaws and was in love with him because of them, not in spite of them. Gibbs was certain of one thing. If McKay were hurt by his abductors, they would never be taken alive if Sheppard got to them. Gibbs understood the mentality of stalking your prey when what you loved was taken from you. Sheppard had that in him.

Dex was an open book. Gibbs had lost his world when his girls were taken from him. But Dex had literally lost his whole damn world. Yet, the man had found a way to survive and thrive with a new family that he had made out of nothing. He was intense, yet comfortable in his skin in a way you rarely found on this planet. He would be good at helping Sheppard keep it together. But he would also back him up every step of the way as he slaughtered anyone who had damaged that family.

It was almost the end of the workday when Fornell entered the bullpen. He shoved off his man toward Balboa with instructions to pick up information for a case they were taking over. Fornell continued to Gibbs’ desk and dropped a paper bag in front of Gibbs.

“Tobias.”

“Put that damn thing back together. I can’t give it to Emily in pieces.” Fornell huffed as he slouched down on a chair.

Gibbs opened the bag and poured out the pieces of the puzzle box. “Em can’t get them back together?”

“I took it apart.”

“It was a gift for your daughter.”

“Just put the damn thing back together.”

Gibbs laughed and slid all of the pieces back where they belonged. He just smirked at Tobias as he handed the cube back to him. “Maybe you should let the kid handle the heavy lifting for you.”

Fornell growled, picked it up, and stomped over to Balboa’s area.

Gibbs shook his head with a grin and looked to Williams and Sands, who had been watching. “Call it a day.” He led by example and grabbed his gear to leave, balling up the paper bag and shoving it in his pocket.

He waited until he was home with the little device on before he pulled out the bag and carefully tore it open. Written on the inside were details about vehicles leaving Royal Oaks with one circled. A van that they were able to trace to its arrival at a heavily armed estate in Maryland. An address was underlined.

He pulled out the second phone he had been issued by Morrow and made the call. “I’ve got a lead on where DiNozzo and McKay were taken.”


 

ch8

Chapter 8

Agent Tony DiNozzo had been up close and personal with a lot of high-tech equipment in his day, but sitting in the control chair of the Ancient ship was a mind fuck of a new level. Literally, the mental connection was all up in his business.

McKay had originally described it as slipping into a warm bath but said the experience was subjective to the user. He explained that Sheppard had told him that it was like riding a Ferris Wheel where he had the feeling he was flying without the need for a plane. Tony didn’t get that, because this was like a roller coaster, mechanical bull, and night jumping all in one.

Maybe it was a bit of his ADHD bleeding through, or his mind just didn’t have the discipline to keep the connection steady. But it felt so needy and was flicking here and there like a little kid hungry for knowledge and impatient about getting what it wants. Yeah, a little kid who wants attention and is sad when he has to step away again.

“Tony. Are you listening to me?” McKay sounded testy with a hint of worried mixed in.

“Yeah, I’m listening. Now.” Tony replied, distractedly.

“Right. Well, try to focus on one thing at a time. I need you to initialize life support.” Rodney walked back to the controls and Tony focused on life support controls.

His mind drifted slightly again, and he started tapping out the rhythm of a song and humming the lyrics. Suddenly the song Stayin’ Alive started playing over a ship-wide speaker system. Tony jerked upright out of the interface, and the song faded sadly away.

“DiNozzo!”

“Sorry! I had no clue it could do that.” Tony started to slide out of the chair, but Rodney marched over and shoved him back in.

“The chair has a neural interface to interact and control the ship’s systems at a level that would be impossible by manual input. It was originally created for a race that had greater mental focus and fortitude. Our brains are not quite developed to operate this vessel at the level it was designed. That doesn’t mean we can’t at least do a passing imitation of competency. And I’ve noted that after a while the systems will adapt to our human brains. Its controls seem to learn our tolerances.” Rodney pushed him back down. “Now clear that fluffy-haired, cotton-filled head of yours and focus on life support, preferably without musical accompaniment.”

Tony glared at Rodney and then sighed before he tried to lay back in the chair. Sound interrupted him again as Tirana entered the room. Tony sat back upright while Rodney groaned lightly and stepped away from the control panel.

“Dr. McKay, Agent DiNozzo, are you unharmed? A most distressing sound emerged from the ship. It was as if the very ship were in pain.” Tirana looked from Rodney to Tony as if checking them for injuries.

Tony rolled his eyes. “It was just music.” She raised an eyebrow and continued to visually search them for injury. “Seriously, it was music.”

“If you say so, Agent DiNozzo.” She looked toward the door and then motioned to Tony.

He nudged the door closed and locked it. “We’re secure.”

“Have you made your decision regarding an escape?” La’lista inquired, and Tony decided that would never not be creepy.

He looked at Rodney, who gave a nod, “Yes, we would like to take you up on your offer for help stealing the ship in exchange for getting the Tok’ra off this world.”

“Very good. We are pleased you have chosen to trust us. We must move quickly if we are to succeed. Once Peitho returns, I fear he will not hesitate to take you as a host. My sources say he returned to the Tau’ri Homeworld in order to secure the succession of his empire there to his new host. He will not want a delay in completing his goal. It is in your best interest, Agent DiNozzo, to not be present when he arrives.”

Tony shivered, “You don’t have to tell me twice. We are almost ready to go, but there are some details we need to coordinate.”

Rodney nodded, “Yes. Details like retracting the roof so that we can fly out of this hill. For security, that control is in the facility and doesn’t connect to ship systems. We need to have someone outside the ship trigger it.”

“That is a problem. It is likely whoever is outside will become trapped and easily captured by the jaffa.” Tirana spoke, her face pinched with worry. “Is there no way to create a remote access?”

“No.” Rodney insisted. “The system is hardwired and requires manual entry to prevent someone from doing exactly what we are trying to do.”

“Second, we need to release the locks on the landing struts. While we can break them during lift, I’d rather not deliberately damage the ship. It’s not like we will have any way to fix it in flight.” Rodney looked at La’lista and scowled. “The ship that’s kept in orbit—do we know anything about it?”

“Ships, Dr. McKay. We know that Peitho uses two al’kesh to patrol this planetary system. One is cloaked at all times. There is also a squadron of death gliders housed on the surface.” Tirana explained.

Tony held up a hand for attention. “When we were brought in, that looked like a solid hill. Are we sure it will open? Because, I’m thinking we only get one chance at this and if we can’t get out, we’re screwed.”

“It’ll open. If it doesn’t, there are energy cannons to blast through it. I assure you, if we can secure the ship, we can find a way out.” Rodney waved it off. “I’ll bring the whole damn roof down if I have to.”

“Rodney, we do that, and we’d kill maybe a quarter of the workers on any given shift. Those people are slaves.” Tony looked at his friend, horrified.

Rodney looked at him a little sick, but resolute. “I don’t want to kill anyone, but we can’t let Peitho get this ship. If we have to blow the ship, we’ll kill everyone on this damn planet.”

“I understand casualties. It’s just, most of these people don’t have a choice.” Tony just felt sick. His job was to protect. He’s taken a life before, but not civilian non-combatants.

La’lista’s eyes flashed, “I assure you, Agent DiNozzo, we do not take these actions lightly. Given the opportunity, most of those slaves would give their lives to please their God. While it is not their fault that they have been raised to serve Peitho, they do still willingly serve. You can not save them.”

Tony took a deep breath and then nodded his understanding. Inside he just kept repeating to himself, over and over, that Rodney was his victim here. Number one priority was to protect Rodney McKay. “OK, whatever it takes. We don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get a plan ready. Let’s break it down and assign tasks. First, nothing works if we don’t have Rodney on the ship to connect the main power relay.”

Rodney shook his head, “I’ll need to be at the facility control panel to open the portal.”

“No, you will be on the ship. That’s non-negotiable.” Tony stared down Rodney until the man agreed. “So, Tirana, can you and your friends arrange to disengage the locks manually without raising suspicion?”

“We can.” She looked at Tony with a bit of sympathy. “Very well. Let us plan.”

 


 

Gibbs turned toward Sheppard to allow the Colonel to double-check his gear. He had been issued the full field unit used by the SGC teams. While Gibbs had quickly checked out on the P-90, he held it with distaste. It was a serviceable enough weapon but felt a bit too light. The Range Master had indicated it had something to do with the reaction of the metal during wormhole travel. But based on the eye-rolling from several of the SGC Marines, it was more likely that it had just been the lowest bidder. The feel of his Sig-Saur in place was a comforting presence.

Fornell’s lead had paid off in droves. The van had been traced to a dummy corp. It was reported stolen, of course, and found abandoned. It was stripped, but not quite good enough to remove all blood trace. The SGC ran the DNA in some fancy machine that processed the trace in under an hour. Positive match to McKay.

Now they were preparing a raid on the estate of one Maxwell Hendley. A four-man team with Homeland/Homeworld Security would serve the warrant to draw attention to the front gates as the rest of them were beamed into the estate. Gibbs would be in the group with Sheppard to search the main house.

Mitchell’s expanded team was covering the exterior buildings and grounds. Gibbs had met the team the day before, including the Jaffa, Teal’c. He watched a brief sparring match between Teal’c and Dex. Impressive was the only way to describe it.

He glanced over at the men in question. Teal’c was armed with something called a staff weapon. Useful in hand to hand and as an energy weapon. On the range, it did a remarkable amount of damage but was heavy and damn bulky. Gibbs couldn’t imagine having to carry that thing on a hike. Now, that energy gun that Ronon Dex had…well, Gibbs might not covet his neighbor’s wife, but that gun was a redhead in a sports car in the fast lane. It had both stun and kill settings in the size of a sawed-off, with a comforting weight and a smooth easy grip. It was sex in your hand.

“Agent Gibbs.” General O’Neill called to him.

Gibbs walked back toward the monitors, where Bates and Gibbs had given the mission briefing. “General.”

“Step out with me a moment.” O’Neill turned to the corridor, and Gibbs followed him down to a small ship’s office. “Pull up a seat.”

“What’s on your mind, General?” Gibbs asked while unclipping his P-90 to sit.

“First, call me Jack. I’ve read your unredacted file, ya know.” Jack stared at Gibbs as if expecting a reaction.

Gibbs just stared back at him and raised an eyebrow.

“So I have no doubt you can handle yourself in the field. But you haven’t had a chance to get up to speed with our mission reports. Tom and I have a course planned to get you familiar with our history, operations, and security concerns.”

“Good to know, Jack. But is this the best time to go over this?” Gibbs kept his expression on the light side of bastard because he really didn’t have time to waste with this when the Warrant Team would be ready to serve any minute.

Jack leaned forward and locked eyes with him. “Yes, because there are certain files in this program that are classified at the highest level, and you will have access to most of them for reasons we don’t have time to review. But there is one thing you need to know before you hit the ground with your team.”

Gibbs nodded to show he was listening.

“Out there, crap happens that we can’t let known to protect our people involved. One such screwed up mission ended up infecting Sheppard with a retrovirus that honestly fucked over his DNA. We got that shit mostly fixed, but there are some lasting side effects that you should be aware of. He may not look it, but when he gets ramped up, Sheppard is stronger and faster than you can imagine. I hear you watched Teal’c and Ronon spar yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“Sheppard regularly spars with Ronon. He can easily hold his own. When he gets ramped up, when he lets his emotions get in the way, I’m not sure Ronon and Teal’c together could stop him.” Jack got serious. “This information isn’t even shared with those in the Program, but you need to know. Besides needing it for threat assessment, you’re about to hit the ground with his team. If McKay is down there…if they’ve harmed one hair on his head, I’m not sure what his reaction is going to be. I do know from mission reports that he has never once turned on one of his own men, no matter the situation. And he can always tell friend from foe. But if he goes feral on you, you tuck in behind him. Protect his six and leave Ronon and Bates to worry about knocking him out until we can contain him.”

Gibbs thought about how many jackasses out there would pay to control someone with those abilities. People like Sheppard and McKay could never be free from this. Gibbs thought about the man he had eaten steaks and beer with that had shared funny stories about the person he loved and realized his job was to make sure that these people were safe to live as normal a life as possible.

“Don’t worry, Jack. I’ve got his six.”

 


 

They beamed down and hit the estate by the numbers. Mitchell was starting his sweep with the pool house first and directing his teams. Gibbs took his place with Sheppard’s team and let the younger men take the lead. They cleared the main house room by room, checking every nook and cranny without encountering anyone until they hit the kitchen. The cook said something in a language Gibbs didn’t understand before he reached for his knife. Bates took him down with something they had called a zat gun.

Listening to the comm chatter had them hesitate a moment before continuing into the dining room. Mitchell called out a warning just a moment before a loud, familiar blast could be heard from outside the house. Then there was chaos with only one clear word repeated…jaffa.

Sheppard called to the team hitting the front door, and they moved into the main floor of the house, with decisive moves and a take no prisoners attitude. Bates saved Gibb’s ass by knocking him to the floor a moment before a staff weapon discharged where his chest had once been. Sheppard and Dex joined the Marines hitting from the front door and fought as only a long-term team can accomplish. They instinctively knew where the other would be, and the fight became a deadly dance of fists and feet and weapons.

It was Gibbs who saw him first. From the files they had assembled, his name was Maxwell Hendley, but as Gibbs ordered him to stop, his eyes glowed brightly, and he held up a hand covered in a lattice of metal jewelry in their direction. Gibbs didn’t hesitate as he aimed for his chest and fired. He didn’t anticipate the servant who had previously tried to hide suddenly jumping into the path of the bullet and yelling, “Lord Peitho!”

The man was dead before he hit the ground, and a wave of energy knocked Gibbs and everyone behind him back. Bates slid up behind him from the other room and triggered his comms before calling out, “Goa’uld!”

Gibbs tried several more shots, but now a forcefield protected Hendley, and nothing was getting through. Hendley called out a command in a voice that vibrated and resonated strangely and then triggered something on his wrist. Rings dropped down seemingly from above around the man, and then he disappeared.

Bates was giving a constant stream of intel as they continued to fight on the ground. But Gibbs could hear the surprise from the ship high above them followed by commands and finally a General’s reaction of “Well, crap.” And Gibbs knew Hendley had escaped their grasp.

 


 

Tony had the theme song to Mission Impossible playing in his head as he slipped past the jaffa on guard outside the armory. There was a storeroom down here that McKay had determined, based on the facility map had originally been part of the secondary power relay for the fabrication labs and incidentally the main lift to the surface.

He made it in and quietly secured the door before counting down the access panels. Fourteen to the left of the door as he entered, Tony knelt to use the tool to open the panel and crawled in. He located the yellow hourglass-shaped cylinder with three cables running in different directions and sighed in relief. It was just as McKay described. Seriously, was the man ever wrong?

Pulling the little bomb out of his pocket, he wrapped it around the hourglass with a strip of cloth and then very carefully clipped on the thing that McKay created. Presto-chango instant remote bomb. One that the Tok’ra doesn’t know about in case they can’t be trusted. Tony had asked the man if he had any ideas for distractions and contingency plans. Come to find out that McKay can literally make an explosive out of anything. He really was so much fun in a completely terrifying-to-national security way.

Tony eased himself out and restored the panel before quietly leaving. He was showered and changed before he packed some clothes under the food in his lunch basket. For the last few days, they had taken as many meals as possible on the ship, ostensibly so the techs could keep working. In truth, Tony had been using the opportunity to stock up on as many of the pocket pies and easily portable food as possible. McKay had found the food stasis units, and they had taken every chance they could to make sure they would have what they needed to survive if it took longer than they thought to get home.

As long as he was helping out in the kitchens, Cor’iar Tre didn’t pay attention to how much food Tony was taking. Tony stopped to pick up the cart of supplies. Medesh had ordered that the Captain’s cabin be appropriately decorated and supplied for Lord Peitho’s use. It was a little over the top if you asked Tony. But, it was bedding and a variety of items to make the place more comfortable. And Tony had taken the time to add a few other ancient gizmos and gadgets that McKay had identified as useful to the cart.

He was whistling the Whistle While You Work tune as he passed Lasi at the entrance ramp and ignored the guard completely. He couldn’t stop needling the jaffa. And it would be out of character at this point if he tried. So he played his little games. Without seeming to, he noticed Daonos disengage the manual lock from one of the landing struts while he was ostensibly taking readings from the equipment. Tony whistled a little louder and let the cart clang against the doorway on the way up. “Oops.” He smiled and was on the ship.

He stowed everything and then searched out Rodney. “How’s it coming?”

Rodney grinned at him nervously. “Yesterday we flushed the tanks and filled everything. Tests show the system is clean and stable. I’ve got approximately twenty-six connections to complete. All but four of them are redundant systems that can be completed in flight. Those four are the main power relays. I can’t connect them without you in the chair, and once I start, I’m not sure we can suppress the power output.”

Tony pursed his lips in thought. “At what point can we put up a shield on this thing? You said we would be able to raise shields, right?”

“Yes, it clearly has strong shields with power to burn, but I have to connect primary systems power before I can connect power for the shields.” Rodney rocked in place a little as he thought through the problem. “If I could get Daonos in the power room to help with the connections, we could double the time.”

Tony looked at Rodney, and they both shook their heads at the same time. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem, but frankly I don’t want either of them in Primary Power.” Tony looked around but couldn’t reconcile why his gut was saying not to trust them. “Let’s just stick to the plan. I saw Daonos disconnecting the locks. I will start the process to open the roof portal and high-tail it to the ship. We make sure everyone is off the ship and lock in tight any hitchhikers. Then on my mark, you connect the power, and I shield us the moment I can.”

“I hate that you have to open the portal. There has to be a way for me to rig it. If you would just give me more time to figure it out.” Rodney ran his hands through his hair.

“We can’t afford to take the time, and you know it. And we have to be logical about this one. The controls have a gene lock. So it’s either you or me. Let’s face it. You’re essential to the escape.” Tony pleaded with him to understand. It was Tony’s job to take the risks and protect the civilians. It was Tony’s mission to protect Rodney until he could return him to Earth.

“No. Oh, hell no. You don’t get to play hero here. You don’t get to take the damn suicide mission, John.” Rodney turned away. “Sorry. You’re not…he’s the first person who really worried about me. The first who ever lov…and he’s willing to kill himself to keep me safe. I’m not sure I can take anyone else trying to die for me, ya know?”

“Hey, it’s ok.” Tony reached out to force the man to turn back around. “It’s ok. I’m not him. I’ll take risks for you, but I’m really not suicidal. I’m in better shape now than I have been since college. As long as I have someone ready to give me cover fire, I can outrun any jaffa on this base. But we must be realistic here. You are the only one who could possibly complete the power relays and fly the damn ship if necessary. It may be safer with someone in the chair, but you could do it.”

“I could do it. But you better not make me try. You are going to get in here, sit your hairy little butt in that chair, and fly us the hell out of here. Or I’m going to go back to Earth and shred your movie collection.” Rodney huffed before he turned to head out the door. He started yelling at everyone that he needed sleep, and so did the fluffy headed moron who was helping him. Everything automatically powered down as they left each section.

Tony caught up with him. “That’s an awful thing to threaten. Besides, how do you know I have a movie collection?”

“With how many movies you quote, I’m betting you have a huge collection, probably more clothes than you can wear, and some expensive car.” Rodney started ranting as they exited the ship and ignored the guards while walking toward their quarters. “Girls everywhere…you probably have the Kirk gene, too. Don’t you?”

 


 

It was two hours before the start of the morning shift. Tony watched as Rodney and Tirana entered the ship arguing about which one had been responsible for the missing diagnostic readings and how they might have to go through the entire tank flush and refill again. Tony smiled as they passed by the guards along the lower level without anyone twitching. It was just McKay’s business as usual.

Tony finished his warm-up and started jogging along the Eastern platform. It was one of the more scenic routes as it allowed one of the best views of the floor below. Several jaffa noted his path, but none followed him today. This was just part of Tony’s morning routine that they had become accustomed to since Tony was healed.

As he made his second round, he noticed Daonos exit the kitchens with one of the McKay Baskets as some of the workers had started calling it. He headed toward the ship, stopping first at the rear-most strut to take readings. Tony hoped like hell that was the last lock. Because they were going to do this, locked or not.

Tony was almost to the last turn on the route when he paused like he had a stitch in his side and just jogged in place a moment to work it out. He stopped, stretched to one side, then the other, before leaning against one of the workstations, allowing his hand to rest on the surface as if to get his balance and catch his breath.

As hard as he could, he concentrated on portal opening protocols and awoke systems that had slept for thousands of years. He mentally silenced the alarm system and completed the sequence. Without changing expression, he took two jogging steps in place before he continued his previous pace, distancing himself from the panel as fast as he could.

The facility started vibrating from deep within as mechanisms struggled to move, and a rumbling sound came from above. Tony made it to the turn and barely slowing, hooked his arm around a decorative light pole that ran down from the highest level above. The substance coating the pole was a bit slicker than he liked, but he was able to use it as a passably decent fire pole. He bet the Ancients never considered their mood lighting would be used for this kind of escape.

Taking only the time needed to know that he was steady, Tony passed by the three jaffa on guard duty at the end of the bay before they tore their gaze from the movement of the roof. At the first shout, he took off at his best sprint to the ramp. He saw Daonos enter before him when the first blast of a staff weapon hit the floor to his right.

Tony felt for the triggering device and activated it. Then he put on speed, not daring to see who was chasing behind him when a huge blast from the direction of the main surface lift tore through the area. It gave him enough distraction to outdistance the jaffa following him, and he could see salvation ahead. He was almost to the hatch when Lasi stepped into his path. The fight was short, and Lasi soon had Tony by the throat, lifting him from the floor. His sight was dimming as he dug at the hand and tried to find purchase to kick out. He felt rather than heard the next staff weapon blast as Lasi fell to the ground, dragging Tony with him.

Hands grabbed him and pulled him through the hatch and fired another blast. Then a voice he did not recognize was demanding. “You must close and lock the hatch, Agent DiNozzo. Close and lock it!”

Tony nodded and mentally triggered the command as he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He looked up to thank Daonos for the help when he found himself face to face with Lord Medesh. Tony scrambled to his feet as he tried to put space between them. Medesh stood with his hands held out.

Before Tony could even think of how he should react, Tirana pushed past him into the room.

“Nuru. I was so frightened that you would not make it.” Tirana wrapped her arms around him and pulled him in for a kiss.

“It was a chance we had to take,” The man replied.

Tony forced himself to close his mouth. “Would someone like to clue in the rest of us?”

They turned toward Tony and Medesh? spoke, “Our apologies that we could not trust you with the truth. I am Nuru Sane and,” now the voice modulated, and the eyes glowed, “I am Medesh of the Tok’ra.”

“Okay.” Tony figured that the whole symbiote thing was never not going to be a mind-fuck.

“I have been a hidden agent for some time, but I would not have survived Lord Peitho’s wrath at the loss of this ship.” Nuru Sane explained.

“DiNozzo! Where are you?” Rodney’s voice came nervously through the ship communications.

Tony mentally triggered them. “I’m here, sorry, just complications.”

“Well, those complications better not stop you from getting to the command chair; you need to be there now. We don’t have much time if we don’t want them calling for an airstrike on us.”

“On my way.” Tony glanced back at the Tok’ra. “Find a place to secure yourself. I don’t think any of the bridge controls will allow you to touch them now, so don’t try.”

Tony ran through the corridors and practically launched himself into the chair. As it leaned back, there was an immense excitement that ran through his nerves.

“Ready.”

“Primary power connected…Now.” Rodney called.

But Tony could feel it before it was even said. It was fire and thrill down his nervous system. A checklist was provided mentally, and he initiated each system in order at the speed of thought.

“Power to defense systems coming online.” He vaguely heard Rodney call.

Tony sank even deeper in and thought of safety and protection. It felt as if a bubble started on his skin before blowing outward to encase them, and the immediate tickling from the side showed a mental picture of jaffa firing staff weapons at the side of the ship. But now there was an energy barrier between the ship and the weapons. Readings streamed into his consciousness of power exchange and usage.

System after system burst with power before engaging and activating. Tony was uncertain exactly how much time elapsed, but he felt a vague tugging, and his own body came back to him. He opened his eyes to see Rodney’s worried face staring down at him.

“Power’s connected. It’s time to go. You need to not sink so deep that you can’t hear me and respond. Do you understand, Tony?” Rodney was demanding.

Tony fought against the needy feel of the system and pushed it back just enough that he could concentrate. Trying to figure out where Rodney needed to be in here, one of the seats morphed slightly, showing contact pads. “I think that’s your seat.”

Rodney considered only a moment before he moved resolutely toward the seat. “If this eats my brain, I’m blaming you, DiNozzo.” McKay sat down in the chair, and instantly a connection bloomed between them.

Data and commands were shared with only a thought. Between the helpfulness of the ship’s system, Tony’s ability to adapt, and McKay’s understanding of what was happening, they flew through flight systems and the ship launched up through the portal and into the sky in one single move.

Sensors registered the Death Glider squadron, still on the ground, and as yet unmanned. Targeting systems immediately came up like some giant video game, and a strafing run took out at least seventy-five percent of the ships.

The ship spun as if in a victory roll, Tony was uncertain if that came from him or Rodney, and then headed for space.

Tony called out to Rodney, “Now that’s an Independence Day moment if I’ve ever seen one. I feel like I should be channeling Will Smith.”

“Channel on your own time, DiNozzo. We’ve got two more ships out here that I don’t want to run into.” Rodney warned.

Tony wondered where those ships could be, and one of them was pinpointed on sensors. “Well, what do you say? Can we avoid that one?”

Rodney nudged some of the numbers coming through the system to highlight them for Tony. “They’ve already spotted us. We either try to outrun them or outfight them.”

Tony asked the ship to project a scan of the Al’Kesh. A hologram appeared, and Tony called out to the Tok’ra, who were carefully sitting on seats without critical controls. “Do you know if we can disable the ship without killing everyone?”

“Given the opportunity, they will kill you, Agent DiNozzo.” Daonos’ symbiote Taslim stated.

“I’d rather not give them the opportunity. But I also don’t want to take lives if we don’t have to. So, anyone?” Tony replied with a bit of frustration in his voice. Life meant so little to these people.

Nuru Sane stepped forward and touched two places on the hologram. “These are the weakest points in the ship’s construction. A strike here has the potential to disable or destroy, depending on the amount of power used.”

That information fed into the target system from Rodney and calculations began on the range to target and optimal power levels. When the systems and Rodney were both in agreement, Tony fired. Readings flared and showed that life signs were holding steady.

There was prompting from the system, and their cloak was activated before they passed the outside of the al’kesh. Rodney set a path out of the system while they tried to locate the second al’kesh. He had a sense that the system was prompted by Rodney to search for energy readings similar to the first al’kesh before the second ship was located. It was still cloaked but moving toward the first ship.

It was several tense minutes until they cleared the last gas giant in the system and used it to block the formation of their hyperspace window. Tony acknowledged Rodney’s input of coordinates or directions or whatever they called it out here then, with one last thought, they were in hyperspace and on their way.

Just as everyone started to relax, an extreme burst of excitement flashed through him like an overgrown puppy. The Tok’ra gave shouts of alarm, and Tony opened his eyes to see a form coalesce approximately five feet in front of the command chair. It was clearly a holographic display of a very young man, Tony would guess eighteen at the max if he were human. He had brown curly hair and brown eyes that seemed to shine with excitement. The grin on his face made Tony grin in response. He was dressed in a strange white outfit.

“Oh, wow. Did you see that? We actually did that! And when we took out those Death Gliders, that was a thing of beauty!” He practically vibrated as he did a little happy dance.

 


 

ch9

Chapter 9

Tony just watched with a grin as the hologram danced in place. He glanced over to see that Rodney had leaned forward and removed his hands from the touchpads. Tony caught his attention and raised both eyebrows. In response, Rodney only shrugged.

“And then we just up and whooshed past them and into space. I can’t believe we got away like that. I mean, when you were talking about blowing me up, it was so scary. But then you had a plan, and it was such a great plan.” The hologram turned as if to look out the forward view and raised his hands forward. “But we made it, and we’re here. We’re free.”

He turned back and looked at Tony and Rodney. “Thank you so much for getting me free. I was so lonely there.”

Medesh spoke out with that commanding reverb in his voice. “Who are you?”

He wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes. “The ship…duh.”

“He got that from you, didn’t he DiNozzo? You’re responsible for that.” Rodney demanded.

“Excuse me? How am I responsible?” Tony cocked his head to the side and stared at Rodney.

Rodney just crossed his arms, “Well, I certainly didn’t teach the ship bad habits, so it had to be you.”

“No, Dr. Rodney McKay. Agent Tony DiNozzo did not teach me any bad habits. I’m not sure what bad habits are, but he did not teach me any.” The holograph said seriously to Rodney before smiling like a damn puppy. It was adorable.

“So, where are we going? And why are we going there?” The ship mimicked Rodney and sat down on one of the chairs.

Medesh stepped forward, “I do not believe it is wise to say until we know more about this. Who are you?”

Rodney rolled his eyes, and Tony watched the hologram do the exact same thing. “I’m the ship. I already know the coordinates we are headed toward. Because I’m…ya know…the ship.”

He turned away from Medesh and gave Tony a confused face that almost made Tony laugh out loud. This thing was awesome.

“So, you’re a hologram of what…the ship’s computer system?” Tony asked.

“I’m a holographic representation of the artificial intelligence matrix of this vessel, Agent Tony DiNozzo.”

“Hey, why don’t you just call me Tony,” Tony instructed because Agent Tony DiNozzo was going to get awkward after a while.

“OK. I will, Agent Tony.” He turned forward for a moment and paused before looking back toward Rodney. “Travel time to this destination is nine of your hours. Would it be possible to complete the secondary power couplings to my remaining systems, Dr. Rodney McKay?”

“Uh, sure. We should probably do that. Can you run diagnostics on your systems while we’re in transit? I want to make sure the stress of the fight and flight didn’t cause damage.”

“Yes, Dr. Rodney McKay, I am fully capable of operating all of my primary systems on my own. I require a gene carrier for advanced functions.”

“Look, kid, ah ship.” Tony stopped and looked at the hologram. “What is your name, anyway?”

“Name?”

“My name is Tony DiNozzo. My title is Agent. It’s ok for you to call me Agent Tony if you want.” He motioned toward Rodney. “This is Rodney McKay, and he’s a doctor of astrophysics, among other things. So his title is Doctor.” Tony smirked at Rodney and said, “You can call him Dr. Rodney.”

Rodney rolled his eyes again and flipped Tony off. “Those behind Tony are Tok’ra, so they have one name for the host and a different name for the Symbiote. I didn’t see a note in the database, so do you have a name?”

“I have a file designation that the ones that were there before provided. It is one hundred and seventy-three digits long and was randomly generated. Is that my name?”

Tony shook his head, “No. Definitely not. I can’t believe they built you in that facility and didn’t name you.”

“Oh, they did not build me. They moved me from my point of origin so that I could be modified for their use. They did not approve of my original design. Data regarding my origin point has been corrupted, so I do not know if I was given a name.”

“Do you know why they wanted to modify you?” Rodney asked, his voice sounded a little angry.

“They did not wish me to be aware. I have advanced systems and weapons for protection; however, they preferred I use them for first strike purposes. They were fighting a great enemy with an armada that could defeat them. They didn’t seem like nice people. They became angry as I became self-aware, so they disconnected my power and made me sleep. But you came and woke me up.” He smiled at them, and that boyish purity was back.

“Well, everyone needs a name. Let’s see…I think you look like an Alex.” Tony grinned as the hologram bounced in place.

“Alex. I’m Alex. My name…it’s Alex.”

Tony glanced to the side to see Rodney staring at him with an expression that was half horror and half doubting he had any living neurons in his head. “What?” Tony asked with a grin.

“Alex? Of all the possible names in all of the galaxies known to us, you choose Alex? Why?” Rodney finished with a whine because it was clear that Alex was ecstatic about his new name.

“It’s obvious. Alex Rogan…The Last Starfighter. It’s a classic, Rodney. Alex Rogan, an unsuspecting teen, living in a trailer park, is abducted by a conman named Centauri and recruited by the Rylan Star League to protect the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Released in 1984. Starring Lance Guest. Last major role for Robert Preston. Come on…tell me you don’t see the parallels here.” Tony was motioning toward Alex and the ship as a whole.

Rodney just stared at Tony another minute before shaking his head and walking off the bridge. “Come on, Alex. Let’s get your secondary power couplings connected.”

“I’ll just be right here when you get back.” Tony sat down in a seat, laughing at the entire situation. How is this even his life?

He looked over to their Tok’ra passengers and laughed harder at the looks of complete confusion they were exchanging.

 


 

Tony headed to the galley…or whatever you call it on a spaceship, for a lam’rel wrap and a glass of kenin juice. The wrap was a large leaf from the lam’rel plant that was pounded thin and used to wrap up a collection of shredded vegetables and spices. It was rolled like a burrito and eaten raw. The juice was the color of dirty dishwater but tasted awesome and had enough B-12 to give you a real kick. Both had the added benefits of being safe for Rodney to eat and healthy.

They were two hours from their first stop, and then they would need to have plans ready on where to go next. Rodney had already addressed the issue with the Tok’ra, and they were debating amongst themselves their preferred destination. Seems the Tok’ra didn’t trust them enough to provide the coordinates for their latest base, so they would need a safe world with a stargate from which to travel.

Even with them being allies, Rodney wasn’t comfortable taking the Tok’ra to Earth’s alpha or beta sites. Tony was completely in the dark anyway. Sadly to say, he didn’t even know where home was. But their plans, for now, were to reach the first jump point Rodney had chosen. He hoped it was one of the safe locations Rodney remembered from reports. Then they would head somewhere they could drop off the Tok’ra. After that, Rodney was plotting a course for Earth.

The best thing about being lost in space with the greatest astrophysicist in two galaxies was that he wasn’t really lost. Tony laughed at that and then sighed. How in the world was he ever going to tell Gibbs what happened? And his so-called partners? Tony sat down in one of the chairs and looked down at his hands. Was the wire even working when he was taken? If it was, has Gibbs heard the tape? Is he blaming me?

It was harder to shake it off now. Up until this point, Tony had kept it together by giving himself a mission. A mission to get his victim home safe and sound. Tony had fallen into this mess, but Rodney was the victim here, not Tony DiNozzo. Because Tony DiNozzo is an NCIS agent who is responsible for protecting civilians and not a victim of bad backup and a kidnapping gone wrong. DiNozzo’s aren’t victims. DiNozzo’s don’t cry over spilled milk.

Tony rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand to chase away the headache he felt coming on. He needed to get this trash out of his head and focus. He still had a job to do. He still had a victim to get home.

He downed the glass of juice and stuffed the last of the wrap into his mouth before heading to the stasis unit to get one for Rodney. It’s bound to be time for the man to eat again.

“Agent DiNozzo, if I could have a moment of your time?” Nuru Sane was standing at the door to the galley.

“Sure, how can I help you?” Tony held up one of the wraps as an offering, but the man just shook his head.

“I need to speak to you about the war against the goa’uld and the disposition of the ship.” He stood watching Tony closely.

Tony returned Nuru’s gaze with his I’m backing up Gibbs expression. “I’m not certain I’m the best person to speak to. McKay is the one with the most knowledge about this stuff. I’m rather new to it all.”

“I am aware of Dr. McKay’s prior involvement in the Tau’ri’s activities. His name has become known. But you, Agent DiNozzo, do not have the prejudices of the Tau’ri that have left your world before you. I believe you are the best candidate to see reason.” Nuru Sane motioned toward Tony as he spoke.

Tony leaned against the counter and considered the man who spoke. Something was jiggling around in the back of his brain that said there was something off about this picture. “I’m not sure about that, but I’m at least willing to listen to all sides of an argument.”

Nuru inclined his head. “Thank you, Agent DiNozzo. The Tok’ra have made it our mission to end the oppression of the Goa’uld. Their enslavement and murder of peoples across our galaxy must come to an end. They are in constant conflict with one another for resources and power based on an ingrained belief that they are superior to all other lifeforms. We have stood alone against them for generations of your people.”

“Sounds like that’s a worthwhile fight after what I’ve seen so far.” Tony agreed.

“Among the Goa’uld, Peitho is a gentle and kind ruler. He is not as inclined to torture and generally uses it to prove a point. If he is displeased, he will normally just execute everyone involved.”

Tony just shook his head in disbelief. Nuru said that as if that made Peitho a kind and benevolent ruler. Tony was itching to go back and save as many as he could, but he realized that he couldn’t save those who don’t want to be saved.

Nuru continued to stand straight and tall as he spoke. “We must use any advantage we can in the fight against the System Lords; surely, you can see this, Agent DiNozzo.”

“I can agree that you need whatever help you can get,” Tony said and saw a brief look of annoyance cross Nuru’s face. “Did you want me to advocate for you with the people back home? Because I can do that, but I’m not sure how much pull I could have. McKay is the one working for them, so I still think he’s the best person to speak to.”

“I assure you that we will find a way to convince Dr. McKay to assist us, but you are the one who is genetically best suited to fly the ship until we can find a way to circumvent that need,” Nuru explained.

“Circumvent? I don’t think that’s a good idea. Two people were killed back on that planet while they tried to circumvent the system.” Tony shifted uncomfortably while he put his mind to work, trying to figure out what was pinging him because something was wrong here beyond this whole conversation.

“I agree that it is not preferable that we endanger lives. It would be optimal if we had someone able to access the controls with the security already built into this vessel.” Nuru took a step forward.

Tony forced himself to remain relaxed even though alarm bells were starting to resonate. “Well, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It seems to me it’s in the best interest of everyone that we all work together. When we get back to Earth, I’m sure McKay and I can advocate on your behalf. I mean, as long as Alex agrees since he’s the one we’re talking about here.”

“If you and Dr. McKay would only agree to help us, there would be no reason to involve the Tau’ri in the decision. After all, the Tok’ra have more rights to this vessel than your people.” Nuru took another step closer.

“Right. Well, first of all, it’s my job to see that Dr. McKay gets home safe and sound. If he wants to work with your people after that, then that’s fine. It’s his choice. He can either do that with the blessing of his current employer, or he can quit and go work for you. But he has to at least debrief at home before he can make a decision. Personally, I don’t have enough information yet to decide what I’m doing next. Have to at least check in with the Boss and find out what’s happening.” Tony shifted slightly to balance his weight for movement.

“I am certain you can check-in after the ship is delivered,” Nuru argued.

Tony wrested his hand on his belt, hooking his thumb under his buckle before continuing as if uninterrupted. “And second, it seems to me that since our people are the ones with the genes to interact with the ship, then it is implied that we have the greater right as you say. But I would disagree with that. I haven’t spoken to Alex for long, but he seems self-aware and able to reason, so I think he has the right to decide what he wants. And I completely can’t believe I’m saying that about a spaceship.”

“Yes, that does pose a complication. However, it is not logical to allow a ship of this potential and power independence. It needs to be controlled and put to a greater purpose.” Nuru said stiffly.

That’s it, Tony thought. That’s what’s wrong.

“No! You’re just as bad as the others.” Alex appeared in front of them, anger pouring off of every movement.

Tony looked to Alex and realized his mistake as Nuru…or should he say Medesh made his move. Damn, these guys were strong. The fight was over almost before it started, and soon Medesh had him pinned.

“I was never speaking to Nuru, was I? What happened to living in true symbiosis with your host?” Tony stilled his struggles while slowly trying to move the arm that was pinned down across his body.

“I agree with the way of the Tok’ra. If you would only agree to become a host, we can join and operate this ship together. I will be censured by the others for leaving my host, but they will understand the importance of obtaining this weapon.”

“I’m not a weapon. You can’t just take people. Everyone always just wants to take, and I’m tired of it. Leave Agent Tony alone.” Alex ranted.

“I would really prefer to keep my body to myself, ya know.” Tony shifted again.

“Unfortunately, Agent DiNozzo, I am going to have to insist. If you relax, it will make the transfer less stressful.” Medesh slowly leaned forward.

“You can’t get away with this. McKay is going to know.” Come on. Keep him talking, DiNozzo. Tony twisted again.

“Taslim has Dr. McKay well in hand. While it is unfortunate it has come to this, the Tok’ra will welcome his intellect into our midst. In time the two of you will come to accept your circumstances. It is not the first time we have been forced to use alternate means to convince a host to help.”

“Alternate means, right. What makes you different from the goa’uld again? Alex, help Rodney!” Tony twisted a last time and got his hand on the knife in his belt buckle as Alex flickered out.

Medesh jerked. “We are nothing like them. You will learn to trust us, Agent DiNozzo. But we cannot allow the Tau’ri to take this ship from us.”

Medesh released his hold on Tony’s body to use both hands to try to force him to open his mouth again as Medesh moved in like he was going to french kiss Tony. Clinching his jaw firmly shut, Tony came up with his knee hard and took the momentary bounceback to free his arm. Without hesitating, he brought the knife up and slashed Medesh across the jugular and kicked him off.

Tony watched as Medesh held onto his neck for a moment, but then his eyes flashed, his mouth opened, and a freaky as hell snake-like thing shot out of his mouth. Tony dove out of the way, but it turned midair and shot toward him as he tried to evade. He threw a basket from the counter into its path and reached for a pot that they had used to haul stew in for the last shift of workers. He raised it between them, and the snake hit the pot and bounced off, turning quickly toward him to try again. Raising the pot, he slammed it down on the snake again and again until it stopped moving. Then he picked up the knife he had dropped to grab the pot and cut off the snake’s head, just to be sure.

The sound of gasping made him spin back to see Nuru Sane trying to move. With one last look at the snake to be sure it was dead, he ran to Nuru and knelt down.

“No, stay still.” Tony placed his own hand over Nuru’s but realized that he had done too much damage to the man. “Alex!” Tony called out.

“Agent Tony, Dr. McKay is ok. We locked him in the power room, and he was able to connect power to my internal transporters and force fields. I have the other Tokra trapped in the airlock. Should I put him there too?”

“No, Alex. Is there any kind of medical on this ship that can save him? We have to hurry; he doesn’t have much time.” Tony pressed hard as Nuru’s eyes closed, and he went lax.

“Sure.”

There was a flash of light, and Tony looked up to see himself in a high-tech room with beds and pod-shaped objects.

“Put him in the healing pod and activate it. It will put him in a form of stasis that will allow the pod to seal the wound and replenish his blood.” Alex motioned toward the tube/pod things on the wall.

Tony grabbed Nuru and lifted him in a fireman carry and hauled him to the pod before practically throwing the man in. As hard as he could, he thought on and watched it close before it seemed to sort of frost over. Sensors around it lit up, but Tony was clueless about what it all meant.

“Alex, will he make it?”

“Will he make what, Agent Tony?” Alex looked between Tony and the pod, confused.

“Will he survive, Alex?” Tony leaned against the pod briefly, thinking of what a fucked-up existence it was that he had fallen into.

Alex shimmered, “Yes, he will need to remain within the pod 11.2 hours in order to return him to optimal health.”

“OK, notify me when he is ready to come out of that. Now, where am I and how do I get to Rodney? You’re sure he’s OK? I need to speak to him.” Tony was already running out the door.

Suddenly Rodney’s voice was broadcast over the ship. “Alex, you better let me out of here, right now. What do you mean he’s got blood on him? Alex! Open the door!”

Tony breathed in relief. “Rodney,” he called out, nudging the ship to send his voice.

“Tony! Where are you? Are you OK?”

Tony could hear the fear under the anger. “I’m fine. What about you? Are you hurt?”

“Thank fuck. I’m ok if this ship would just let me out.”

Tony looked toward the hologram. “Alex, is the ship secure now?

“Yes.”

“Then please release Dr. McKay. I really need to see him, Alex.” Tony jerked to a halt as a light flashed, and suddenly Rodney was standing in front of him. He hesitated only a second before pulling the other man into a hug. McKay was patting him on the back.

“Blood.” McKay choked out.

Tony realized he wasn’t patting his back; he was searching for injuries. “I’m ok. It’s not mine. It’s not mine, Rodney.”

“Medesh tried to snake me. And let me say that term makes so much more sense now.” Tony stepped back and let his eyes roam over the man, checking for injuries himself.

“Alex yelled, and Daonos suddenly tried to grab me. I stepped back and tripped into the power room. Alex shut the door, and we connected the power to internal systems, then the banging on the door was gone. Alex told me you were in trouble and bloody.”

“I had to injure Nuru Sane to getaway. The snake came out of him and went after me. I killed it. It’s in the galley and can I say that I’m never going to be able to look at a snake the same way again.” Tony looked Rodney in the eye. His skin felt like it was crawling off him. “You know that scene from Alien where the thing was scrambling around after the crew in the galley, well I can say that no matter how hot Sigourney Weaver is, I will never be able to watch that movie again.”

Tony leaned back against the wall and then slid down to sit on the floor. Rodney did the same beside him, and Alex appeared to sit across from them with his legs crossed.

“What do we do now?” Tony asked at a loss.

“We get them off the ship.” Rodney rubbed his hands over his arms as if trying to warm up.

Tony watched him while considering. “This first stop that we’re going to…is there one of those stargates on it?”

“Yes, but there’s a device on that world that protects the people from goa’uld.” It was the only safe world I could think of on short notice. I need to see where we are and if we can go ahead and drop out of hyperspace and change directions. I can think of a few worlds that should be safe enough for them to use the stargate without trouble.” Rodney started to get back up. Once there, he offered a hand to Tony. “I’m tired of spies and turncoats and backstabbers. Let’s find a way to get rid of all of them.”

They started to walk away, and Rodney turned back to see Alex still sitting in the corridor, watching them. He snapped his fingers repeatedly. “What are you waiting for, Alex? Get a move on. We’ll meet you on the command deck.”

Tony smiled at him. “Ya did good, Alex. Real good.”

Alex perked up and smiled before disappearing.

 


 

Tony approached the airlock slowly. Occasionally reaching out to steady the man at his side. They had dropped into orbit around this planet approximately forty minutes ago. The world was a moon orbiting a gas giant.

Tony thought back over the last day. The attacks by Medesh and Taslim just went to show Tony that trust wasn’t something he could give freely out here. Hell, back on Earth either. Anyone who wanted his trust was going to have to earn it from now on. Life is short, and those who give lip service to such ideals as trust and loyalty are more than willing to stab you in the back for a chance to get ahead.

He looked over at the man by his side. Nuru Sane was probably insane if he was honest with himself. Indoctrinated to believe the Tok’ra at the very least. The man shouldn’t be out of the healing pod yet. According to Alex, the physical damage of Tony’s knife and Medesh’s exit through the man’s throat was healed, but his blood volume and electrolytes weren’t where they should be.

However, Taslim was lying through his host’s teeth about what happened, and Tony didn’t believe they had ever seen the real Daonos. La’lista and Tirana kept demanding to speak to Nuru to get the true story. They were incensed about the death of Medesh and were promising retribution against the Tau’ri.

The man stumbled, and Tony reached out to steady him. “Look, you don’t have to do this now. We can always send you back later after you finish healing.”

“No. If they return without me, knowing that Medesh is gone, the Tok’ra will abandon their base for security. It is the way we survive. For the safety of your people and mine, I must go now to give a report in person to our council. I cannot allow Medesh and Taslim to be responsible for the end of the alliance between our peoples.” Nuru steadied himself and continued walking.

When they reached the end of the corridor, they turned to face the airlock. Tony mentally nudged the controls, and the door became transparent.

“Nuru.” Tirana leaped off the floor and ran to the door.

“Tirana.” He reached out to touch the door, just across from where her hand had landed.

“You are safe?” She was examining him from head to toes with her eyes.

Tony noticed Taslim moving slowly up behind her. He took a step back from the door and whispered to Alex to put a force field between Taslim and Tirana.

Moving back into position, their whispered words to one another grew angry.

“No. Medesh and Taslim planned this. They are obsessed with gaining this ship for the Tok’ra.”

“No.”

“YES! They were no better than the goa’uld. It mattered not to them that Agent DiNozzo and Dr. McKay would not consent to be hosts. It mattered not to them that they might kill me or Daonos in so doing. I live today because of the kindness of Agent DiNozzo, who did not blame me for Medesh’s acts. I am not yet healed, but I will live. And I will go with you to report all to the council.” Nuru announced.

Taslim made a sudden move to grab Tirana but slammed against the invisible force field. He practically howled in rage over being stopped.

La’lista glowed through Tirana’s eyes. “You would try such action against one of our own?”

“You would fault me for taking that which should belong to us?” Taslim ranted. “Medesh and I have suffered much to gain possession of this ship, and now two of the Tau’ri come with their genes and in a matter of days do what we could not in three years? We earned this ship, and if it means sacrificing this once and taking hosts then it is worth it for possession of such a weapon.”

She looked at him before turning back to Tony with the bearing of a queen. “My apologies to you and Dr. McKay on behalf of the Tok’ra. While I believe we are best suited to put this ship to the purpose for which it was built, I was always in favor of petitioning the Tau’ri. I realize it is probably too much to ask you to consider becoming a host and dedicating this ship to our fight.”

“You’re right. It is too much to ask. Frankly, after what I’ve seen, I will never willingly volunteer to be a host for your kind. But more so than that, this ship is able to reason and decide on his own. Never once have you asked the ship if he would want to join your cause. Instead, you have decided it is a tool to be owned.” Tony thought about saying more. He had such a rant built up. But, honestly, he was just done with the snake people.

“We’re circling a world that just has old ruins on it. According to Rodney, our people have already surveyed it and determined that no one lives here because of the extreme climate swings. We are going to beam you all down to the stargate and leave. You’re free to go wherever you want from there. Alex!” Tony turned at the small flash of light and picked up the basket he had prepared. He handed it to Nuru and gave the man a slight incline of his head in acknowledgment. “Rations for two days to get you where you’re going.”

Nuru Sane stood tall and then bowed slightly to Tony in response. “Good Voyage, Agent DiNozzo. I owe you a debt for my life.”

Tony smiled slightly and said quietly, “Now, Alex.” The Tok’ra disappeared from the ship in a flash of light.

 


 

Tony raised up from the command chair after confirming they were in hyperspace and headed for Earth. “How long will it take us to get home?”

Rodney rocked his hand from side to side. “From here, should be about four days, if nothing stops us.”

“I can travel much faster.” Alex insisted.

“Not until I am satisfied with your operations,” Rodney insisted.

“My advanced drive is able to create a wormhole between points for instantaneous travel in theory,” Alex stated, looking eager to try it.

“No,” Rodney responded.

“Awe, come on, Dr. Rodney. It’ll be fun.”

“No. This is your shakedown cruise. That means using the normal method to allow time to check systems. No shortcuts.” Rodney started muttering to himself as he walked away that next thing he knew, he would be yelling at them to get off his lawn like some demented old man. Why did he have to be the responsible one?

Alex looked sadly at Tony. “What are we going to do for four whole days?”

Tony leaned back in the chair again, “Well, we could just get to know each other better. Why don’t you show me your weapons systems?”

Alex jumped up in the air, yelled, “Yes!” and disappeared.

As Tony sank into the systems, he heard over the ship’s communication system Getting to Know You from The King and I playing as if from his memory.

 


 

Vance called Gibbs into his office again. Ever since the raid, Gibbs had been splitting his time between NCIS and Homeworld. He was at his end and was just ready to drop the entire charade. But Tom Morrow kept pushing him to keep up the cover. His presence here was throwing the NID off their game, and that was necessary at this point.

They haven’t gotten anything out of any of the jaffa that were interspersed throughout the security of the Hendley Estate. Even with Teal’c involved in the questioning. Though Gibbs has added a few curse words in an alien language to his vocabulary.

The humans were a different story. Most of them were like some fucking cult. They called Hendley, Lord Peitho, and were willing to give their life for their god. It’s one thing to read it in a report, but to see people who worship an alien slug? It just makes his gut twist.

Of course, Ronon had been quick to point out that even among humans in the Pegasus Galaxy, there were those that worshiped the wraith…and they ate people. It just convinced Gibbs that humans, in general, were stupid.

Gibbs smiled at this week’s uncomfortable admin outside Vance’s office and announced his presence before politely taking a seat and waiting to be called in. The poor girl was shaking by the time Vance answered. He could hear the shock in Leon’s voice through the phone as he ordered her to send Gibbs in. Gibbs thanked her politely and stood to enter the office.

“Director, you asked to see me?” Gibbs took the seat across from Vance after motioning toward the chair and making a motion requesting to sit.

The toothpick fell out of Leon’s mouth before he closed it and nodded. He just sat and stared for almost a full moment before coming to his senses and answering. “Yes, I did.”

He scrambled on his desk for a moment before pulling out a file. “I would like a report on the performance of Agents Williams and Sands. I realize you have been handling a lot of case cleanup between yourself and Agent DiNozzo’s cases, but I think it’s time we start considering if either of these agents will be a good replacement for DiNozzo.”

“No one can replace DiNozzo. But they are both doing a good job. They work well together and seem to complement each other in skills. Williams is a little overqualified, so he’s been cross-training in some of my functions while he has been mentoring Sands by allowing her to take on more responsibility. Nothing to complain about.” Gibbs leaned back a little and gave all the appearance of being completely relaxed. He almost smiled at the look on Leon’s face. Plan Kill Them With Kindness was still winning.

“Yes, well. That’s good to know. Do you know who you would want to keep on the team?” Vance asked as if waiting for a fight.

“I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.” Gibbs stood and walked toward the door.

“Gibbs. Don’t you think it’s time to let McGee and David off the hook?”

“Is DiNozzo back yet?”

“You need to be reasonable about this.”

“What’s wrong, Director? I notice that the two of them are never allowed to be the team you take when you just need a two-man team on the Hill. There a reason the chief of your security detail doesn’t trust them to do the job?” Gibbs opened the door and exited without waiting for a reply.

He barely stopped at his desk long enough to pick up his gear. He looked over at his team, all of whom were working on reports. McGee has lost a few pounds since Tony was taken, but he wasn’t talking to anyone that Gibbs knew of. Not sure what has been going through his head. Ziva, on the other hand, has barged into his house three times in anger.

The first time he just told her to get out before he did something they would both regret. The second time was while he was having dinner with Sheppard and Dex. They warned her off. The last time was an absolute thing of beauty.

She had been incensed over a formal reprimand that Williams slapped in her file for insubordination. Ziva didn’t even try tact. She slammed the door open and then proceeded to race down the basement stairs. Not waiting for Gibbs to acknowledge her presence, she grabbed him by the shoulder to spin him around, already ranting. Her situational awareness was skewed because she never saw the two men sitting in the shadows watching Gibbs work. Ronon was on her before she could do more than touch Gibbs. The man put her down hard and completely disarmed her before using the cuffs and a piece of rope to hog-tie her. It was wonderful to watch. Almost as satisfying as putting her in her car and explaining the man had diplomatic immunity.

Gibbs nodded to Williams. “Everyone can go once the reports are done. You’ve got the calendar. I’ve got a meeting with Jag tomorrow morning, expect it to last most of the day. You’re in charge if anything comes up, but we should be off the rotation.”

Williams agreed. “We are. I’ll review the schedule with everyone before we go home.”

 


 

Gibbs pulled into his driveway and slowly got out of the car. He was just tired of it all. In the house, he heard the sounds of pots in the kitchen and stuck his head in. Ronon was just plating dinner. Some kind of stew that at least smelled good.

He dropped his Go Bag and came to the table. “Where’s Sheppard?”

“Sparring with Teal’c, then some dinner with the officers.”

They ate in silence, just enjoying the food. When the plates were finally clean, Gibbs changed and headed to the basement to work on his ship. Ronon followed about fifteen minutes later and handed Gibbs a beer.

He watched in silence a few minutes and then spoke. “My grandfather was a craftsman. I remember sitting in his shop when I was very young and watching him work like you are now.”

“Worked in wood?”

“Yeah, wood and steel. Told me that no matter how advanced people became, someone should always remember how to do things the old ways. The wraith had shown us over, and over that, we might have to start again with nothing. What he taught me kept me alive when our world was destroyed.” Ronon rolled the bottle between his hands.

“Until they prove he’s dead, we’re not giving up on McKay. He’s a crafty little bastard who has learned a lot of lessons on staying alive. He’s always learning and thinking. From what you’ve told me about Tony, he’s the same. Learned a lot of lessons about survival. If I know McKay, he’s probably found a way to hotwire something if he even has one chance of getting away.”

Gibbs smiled slightly. “Tony can sweet-talk his way out of almost anything. If McKay can hotwire it, Tony can probably talk someone into giving him the keys. What do you think? Are the two of them out there just taking a joyride between stars?”

“Dunno…what’s a joy ride?” Ronon looked half amused and half confused.

“Stealing a car just to take a ride for the thrill of it.”

“If it was a fancy ship with a ZPM, yeah. McKay would steal that in a heartbeat.”

Gibbs smiled this time and held out his bottle. “To our friends, may they find their way home.”

Ronon clinked his bottle against Gibbs’ and then took a drink.

 


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