Ten Years On: 2. Part Two



His driver dropped him off at his Georgetown townhouse and he was grateful to stand under the hot water in his shower, allowing it to soak and soothe away the night’s excesses. By the time he’d finished up and cleaned his teeth the Advil had kicked in and he was feeling more human. He pulled a clean suit out of his closet and had just finished dressing when his cell phone rang. He suspected it was Gary, calling him to ask where he was and did he know there was a broken glass and suspicious wall stain in his office, so he pulled it out with a grimace.

“Gary – I know about…” he began, only to find himself interrupted by Tony’s terse, worried voice.

“Tim – it’s Louis and Gibbs,” he said. “They’re gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?” McGee asked blankly, trying to figure out what Tony was telling him.

“Gone – Louis’s bed is mussed up, but Gibbs never went to bed last night by the look of it and…”

“Maybe they just got up early and went for a walk?” McGee suggested.

“I’ve found a pool of blood in Louis’s bedroom,” Tony hissed urgently, sounding as if he was going to throw up. “Tim, I think someone’s taken them.”

“Who would want to kidnap Louis and Gibbs?” McGee asked, reaching for his badge and gun and running for the door.

“Jonssen of course,” Tony replied angrily. “He knows we’re onto something with Stackton and he’s trying to scare us off.”

“Tony – just stay there. I’ve got the car outside. I’m leaving right now. I’ll be with you as soon as I can,” McGee told him, and then he ended the call and started dialling all the people he’d need.

His heart was racing but he tried to think about it logically. If Louis and Gibbs had been kidnapped then Tony was right – Jonssen was first on the list – but McGee had worked with Gibbs for too long to just go with what was obvious. They had to explore other possibilities. Even so, this moved Stackton up the urgency list. He put in a call to Carter and told him to get Stackton back into the interrogation room immediately and start working on him. Then he called security and doubled the detail on their suspect.

“Are you expecting someone to try and break him out, sir?” the security chief asked, in a puzzled tone.

“No, I’m expecting someone to try and kill him,” he said grimly.

“Any idea who?”

“Yes – Agent DiNozzo. Do NOT allow him anywhere near that prisoner unless I’m with him.”

Right now, Stackton was the only lead they had on Jonssen and McGee knew enough about Tony to suspect that he’d be physically incapable of doing anything except beat the man to a pulp if he thought he’d had anything to do with this kidnapping – and that wouldn’t get Louis and Gibbs back.McGee ran out of the car the minute they pulled up outside Tony’s house in Vienna. Tony had bought the place with Abby when they got married; it was a nice house, three bedrooms, a yard for Louis to play in, and a large garage – where Gibbs was building boat number five or whatever number they were up to now. This boat was a big one though – bigger than any of the others, and he’d been working on it ever since he’d moved in. McGee had often wondered if they’d ever get to see this one actually sail anywhere. There was at least the possibility because Gibbs would be able to get the damn thing out of the garage, something that would have been a physical impossibility with all those boats he’d built in his basement.

McGee remembered what Gibbs had said about Tony inheriting a fortune from his father and wondered why he’d never moved anywhere bigger – the Vienna house was nice but it wasn’t anything fancy. Then again, Tony hadn’t been interested in anything except his revenge since Abby died so house-hunting probably hadn’t even crossed his mind.

The front door was open so McGee pushed his way inside to find Tony pacing up and down in the hallway anxiously, waiting for him.

“McGee – you have to let me question Stackton,” he said, grabbing McGee’s arm the minute he stepped through the door.

“Hang on just a minute, Tony,” McGee told him, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing hard, trying to calm him. “I’ve called in a team of agents – let’s treat this as a crime scene and learn what we can here first before chasing off in what might be the wrong direction.”

“Oh, come on, McGee!” Tony roared. “We pull in Stackton for questioning and the same night Gibbs and Louis get kidnapped! I *know* Gibbs beat the same lesson into you as he did to me – we don’t believe in coincidences.”

“No, we don’t – but we don’t have enough facts yet to know that’s what this is and I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t investigate the crime scene thoroughly before running off on a hunch – Gibbs also beat that lesson into me, same as he did to you.”

Tony glared at him, and then glanced over his shoulder as three NCIS vans pulled up outside.

“See you brought the cavalry with you,” he murmured.

“Of course – this is Gibbs and Louis we’re talking about,” McGee told him, still gripping Tony’s shoulder firmly. “I’ll throw every resource NCIS has at it. What I won’t do is chase after a hunch without doing a proper investigation first. Got it, Tony?”

Tony didn’t look happy about it but he nodded, stiffly. “Got it.”

McGee let go of him and turned to brief Morris and put her in charge of his teams, and then he turned back to Tony.

“Okay – talk me through what happened when you got home, Tony,” he said, in a soothing voice.

Tony glared at him. “Christ, McGee – don’t use that stupid tone of voice with me. We’re just wasting time with this. I’ve already figured out what happened here – what we need to do is get back to NCIS and start putting some pressure on Stackton.”

“*We* don’t need to do anything. *I* am the senior investigating agent here – not you,” McGee told him. “In fact you’re not investigating anything – you’re a witness.”

“And a suspect?” Tony growled. “Come on, Tim – you and I both know that you rule out close family members first.”

“Tony I know you didn’t do this,” McGee told him gently. “But I also know that you’re in no fit shape to head up the investigation, either. Now I can assign someone else if you’d prefer, but I’d rather do it myself.”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “Nobody else. You’re the only one I trust to do this right, McGee.”

“Then talk me through what happened when you got home this morning,” McGee coaxed.

Tony nodded, his jaw tightening. “Okay. It was about 5.30. Gibbs usually gets up early but not that early…”

“What time?” McGee interrupted. “What time does he usually get up?”

“Around six. And he usually gets Louis up around seven if he hasn’t already started charging around the house by then. So, it was around 5.30, and I didn’t want to wake them so I went up to the bathroom, took a shower, shaved, cleaned my teeth and then I went and got dressed.”

McGee glanced at him. It was rare these days that Tony wore one of those snappy suits he used to live in. Nowadays his usual work uniform was jeans and a shirt and that was what he was wearing now, together with a pair of heavy duty boots. His hair was washed, and he had shaved and smelled a hell of a lot better now than he had a couple of hours ago so his story panned out so far. Despite what he’d said to Tony, as an experienced investigator McGee couldn’t ignore the fact that in any normal investigation of this kind Tony would be their number one suspect; Tony was right about that much at least.

“Go on.” McGee nodded.

“I went down to the kitchen to eat something, and then I thought it was kind of weird that Gibbs wasn’t up so I went back upstairs.”

“Show me,” McGee said.

Tony nodded, and McGee followed him up the stairs. He peered into the bathroom, and saw a sodden towel on the floor and the clothes Tony had been wearing the previous day hanging out of the laundry hamper in the corner.

“So then what?” McGee asked. “You went to check on Gibbs?”

McGee started moving down the hallway towards the spare room; he opened the door and then glanced back at Tony, who was still standing outside the bathroom, an uncertain look on his face.

“Tony? You came in here to check on Gibbs?” McGee questioned. He’d hadn’t been upstairs in this house very often but he’d occasionally read Louis a bedtime story on the evenings when he’d dropped by to see the little boy, so he knew the general layout of the house, and where the main bedroom, spare bedroom and Louis’s room were.

McGee glanced into the spare room. It looked kind of unlived in, and there was a pile of clean laundry on the bed, along with some of Louis’s toys and books. McGee frowned. Something about this didn’t feel right.

He glanced back at Tony to find him still hesitating by the bathroom door, a glimmer of uncertainty flickering in his eyes, as if he had something to hide. McGee wondered what the hell that was about. What could there possibly be that Tony didn’t want McGee to find out? Surely he hadn’t really had anything to with the disappearance of his son?

McGee dismissed that thought immediately. Apart from anything else he doubted that Tony would have had the time, after leaving him at NCIS, to come home, do something to Louis and Gibbs, and then take a shower, get shaved and call him, even if he had a motive for hurting either of them, which McGee was sure he didn’t. He knew Tony could get into some pretty fierce rages these days but Gibbs could always talk him down from them, and even at his worst McGee didn’t think it was even remotely possible that Tony either could or would hurt their ex-boss or his own little boy. So what else did Tony have to hide?

“Tony?” he asked again, still standing in the spare room doorway.

“Gibbs doesn’t sleep in there,” Tony said finally. “He sleeps in here.” He opened the door to the main bedroom and McGee walked back down the hallway and stepped inside. Now *this* room looked lived in. The bed was still made, so Tony was probably right about it not having been slept in.

“Does Gibbs make the bed as soon as he gets up?” he asked. Tony shook his head.

“Not usually – which was why I thought it was weird that it hasn’t been slept in.”

McGee glanced around the room. It had a feel of Gibbs to it. There was a newspaper on one of the nightstands and a couple of books – thrillers by the look of them, with big titles in silver lettering. They were the kind of books he’d once written, a lifetime ago, before life got too busy, too sad and too complicated and his creative spirit just curled up and died. There was also a handful of loose change, a pair of glasses, and a child’s sippy cup. That side of the room looked neat and tidy but the other half was a mess.

On the other nightstand stood a clock radio, a half-eaten bag of popcorn, and a stack of DVDs, with titles ranging from Shrek, Monsters Inc, and The Barnaby Twins to Casablanca, North by Northwest and The Bourne Paradox. Around the far side of the bed were some discarded clothes, several pairs of boots and sneakers, a stack of old magazines and, for some mysterious reason, a squished and completely unusable basketball.

Opposite the bed was a large screen TV, fixed to the wall – no mean feat considering how huge it was, but then McGee guessed that had been an easy enough job for someone like Gibbs. Beneath that was a cupboard containing a DVD player and a download hub.

“So Gibbs wasn’t here…which already made me feel uneasy,” Tony said. “I thought maybe he could have snuck out while I was in the shower – but why? I already knew he wasn’t in the spare room because I’d got changed in there – we kind of use it to store the clean laundry. So…”

“Hang on – if you use the spare room for the laundry then where do you sleep?” McGee frowned. “On the couch?”

Tony made a face at him, as if he was really slow not to have figured this out already.

“No – I sleep in here. With Gibbs,” Tony said, and then he leaned back against the wall and gazed at McGee steadily, daring him to say something. McGee dared.

“In here? With Gibbs?” However hard he tried he couldn’t quite put that information together in a way that made any kind of sense.

“In here. With Gibbs,” Tony repeated firmly. “When I’m not drunk. When I am, I sleep on your office couch or in a motel. Or sometimes in the garage, under that damn boat Gibbs is building – although he doesn’t know that I do that.”

McGee was still hung up on the “In here. With Gibbs” part.

“You sleep in the same bed?” he asked, and even then his mind still refused to accept the most obvious reason for such an arrangement. “Why?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Because we’re together, McGee, and so we can have sex, obviously,” he replied. “Why the hell else?”

“You have sex? With Gibbs?” McGee was aware that he kept asking really inane questions, but he just couldn’t get his head around this.

“Yes, McGee. I do. We do,” Tony said slowly, as if he was talking to a child Louis’s age. “Look, my kid and my – what do you want to call it? – partner, boyfriend, lover, whatever, although I’m pretty sure he’d hate all those terms – are missing, so could we get over your homophobic freakout and start looking for them?”

“I’m not having a homophobic freakout!” McGee protested. “I’m just trying to…you and Gibbs?”

He shook his head and glanced around again, suddenly realising why half the room was ex-Marine tidy while the other half was DiNozzo messy. Those DVD titles and the popcorn made sense as well, as did the enormous TV screen – since when had Gibbs ever been particularly into watching movies?

“Since when?” McGee asked.

“Is it relevant to the investigation?” Tony glowered.

“It might be.” McGee shrugged. Tony glared at him, and then hunched his shoulders.

“Since the first anniversary of Abby’s death,” he muttered. “I was feeling pretty low that day and drank myself into the ground. He yelled at me – told me never to come home drunk like that again because he never wanted Louis to see me that way. I threw up all over myself – and him.” Tony winced. “He cleaned me up, put me to bed, and the next day, when I was sober, we did some talking – and in my case some crying. I was in a bad way – I was falling apart and he put me back together the best way he knew how. And he’s stuck around ever since to make sure I stay that way. Even if he knows I’m just held together with band-aids and string.”

McGee shook his head, feeling an irrational surge of anger. “How the hell do you do it, Tony?” he asked. “You had Ziva and Abby, and now Gibbs.”

“I never ‘had’ Ziva,” Tony growled. “We were just friends.”

“Oh.” McGee wasn’t sure why but that surprised him. “I always thought you and she…”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “Hell, that would have been a disaster. If we’d ever slept together – which, admittedly, would have been totally hot – we’d have had to kill each other afterwards.”

“But Gibbs, Tony?” McGee felt oddly affronted, as if Tony and Gibbs had got together just to spite him. ”Were you thinking of working your way through the entire team?”

“You’re jealous that I never got around to you?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “Not that you’re not cute but…”

“No! I just…why you? What is it about *you* that’s so damn irresistible that first Abby fell for it and then Gibbs, of all people? I mean, why YOU for god’s sake?” McGee snapped irritably. “I suppose I can just about understand why Abby chose you but Gibbs.” He shook his head. “How did *you* end up with Gibbs?”

“What – you wanted Gibbs too?” Tony’s raised eyebrow crawled into his hairline.

“Well, no, obviously,” McGee sighed. “But since when have either of you been gay?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve had the hots for Gibbs since I first joined his team,” Tony replied. “Sure, I slept with a lot of women, but I also slept with a lot of men – I just didn’t talk about it. I like sex, McGee. Hell, I *need* sex – always have. I need it to function, and I’ve never been that fussy about the gender of the people I sleep with although I’m not stupid enough to broadcast that fact. I never thought anything would happen with Gibbs until it did – there could never have been another woman for me after Abby in any case. There couldn’t even have been a guy unless it was Gibbs. Maybe he knew that, and maybe he knew how much I needed to be touched. Either way, he made it happen, not me – I was too fucked up to make anything happen.”

“And Gibbs? He’s gay?” There was absolutely no way in which that phrase fitted into McGee’s worldview.

“Well gee, considering he’s had four wives I’d assume that he’s bi too, McGee,” Tony said sarcastically.

“You’d assume? You don’t know? I mean, you haven’t talked about it?” McGee frowned. Tony rolled his eyes.

“We’re guys, Tim. We don’t talk about stuff like that. I assume he’s been with men before because he sure as hell knows what he’s doing in bed but no, I never asked him who he’d been with before me because I don’t really care.” Tony shrugged. “Now, can we move on with this?”

His jaw tightened and McGee nodded. Unlike Tony, he *did* think this kind of background was relevant – it was certainly a line of questioning Gibbs would have pursued – but he understood Tony’s sense of urgency. He would have to file this away and come to terms with it later, when they got Louis and Gibbs back – because they WOULD get them back. McGee was determined about that.

“Okay. Go on.”

“I had a feeling something was wrong so I checked in the nightstand drawer for Gibbs’s gun. He keeps the drawer locked, so Louis can’t get at it.” Tony gestured with his head. “The gun’s still there if you want to take a look. So I was running now, calling their names. I ran out of the room, down the hallway…”

McGee followed him as Tony went to Louis’s room. He knew this room well; it was decorated in giant cartoons which Abby had painted on the walls in bright colours.

McGee stopped in the doorway. The rest of the house seemed untouched but there were definite signs of a struggle in here. A rocking chair was over-turned, and…and his stomach heaved as he saw a small pool of blood on the floor. Next to the upturned chair, lying half open, was a similar looking book to those he’d seen on Gibbs’s nightstand back in the main bedroom. A child’s night lamp was still alight on the nightstand, as was a small reading lamp on a table by the upturned chair. Whatever had happened here had clearly taken place during the hours of darkness.

“Louis has a vivid imagination,” Tony said quietly. “And sometimes he can’t sleep. Gibbs comes in here and sits in the rocking chair and reads his book for half an hour or so while Louis drops off to sleep. Gibbs is the monster-scarer, according to Louis, and Gibbs always promised him that no monster would ever get past him to get to Louis.”

“Looks like one did last night,” McGee muttered, glancing around.

“Yeah – but not without a fight,” Tony replied darkly. “Look – I was thinking this through while I waited for you to get here and here’s how I think it went. It was maybe around 7pm – I’d spent the afternoon with them and we’d eaten dinner. Then I headed off out. Gibbs gave Louis his bath and put him to bed, same as always. Then he sat down on the rocking chair with his book the way he often does if Louis asks him to stay for awhile. He doesn’t do it every night, just when Louis asks. Louis has a spidey-sense for monsters and he always knows when they’re on the prowl and he needs Gibbs to stay and scare them away. So Louis is maybe asleep, or nearly asleep, and Gibbs hears a noise outside, on the stairs. He doesn’t have his gun – that’s locked away in his room – so he gets up quietly, opens the door, and finds someone just outside the room.”

“Just one person?” McGee asked. Tony nodded.

“Yes – more than one and he might not have been able to put up such a good fight. So he sees this guy in the hallway and sees immediately that this guy has a gun. So Gibbs tries to shut the door on him but the intruder has the element of surprise and he shoots at Gibbs as Gibbs closes the door – just one shot but Gibbs is winged.”

Tony pointed at the small pool of blood on the floor, and then moved his arm in a circle to a small indentation in the wall behind him.

“Bullet is still in there – we need to get it to forensics immediately. So, Gibbs has been hurt but I’m thinking not too badly – maybe a flesh wound in his arm – something that bleeds but isn’t so bad that he can’t fight back. I don’t think this guy intended to kill him in any case – just make him easier to order around.”

“So you think Gibbs is still alive?” McGee asked quietly. Tony met his gaze, both of them going very still, and then nodded.

“He’s alive. There’s not enough blood loss for the shot to have killed him – plus, you know, he’s Gibbs. It’d take a silver bullet and a stake through the heart to kill him and even then I wouldn’t bet on him staying dead.” Tony managed a wry, faded grin and McGee gave a little grunt of acknowledgement.

“Okay – now Gibbs has been hurt but there’s no way he’s going to let some psycho anywhere near Louis if he can help it, so he gets up again just as the gunman comes through the door.”

Tony pointed at the boot print in the blood stain on the floor. “That’s Gibbs’s boot print – I’m sure of that,” he said.

McGee accepted that without question. Being able to tell the kind of shoe or boot a print was made from was one of Tony’s special, if somewhat peculiar, talents.

“He puts up a good fight and maybe the gunman doesn’t want to make more noise than he already has in case the neighbours come running, or maybe the plan is to take Gibbs alive so he doesn’t want to shoot him again. Whatever – by now Louis is obviously awake and Gibbs is hampered by needing to protect him – and this guy has a gun too so it’s not a fair fight. There’s some kind of a struggle because the chair has been knocked over but at some point Gibbs goes down again and Louis…” Tony’s voice went a little hoarse. “Instead of doing the sensible thing and running out of there while the fight is going on, the brave little guy goes over to Gibbs to help him. Look.”

Tony pointed at the small child’s footprint in the blood. “Gibbs is too concerned for Louis’s safety to do more than go along with whatever this guy has planned at this point. So he picks Louis up – probably at gunpoint.”

“How do you know he picks Louis up?” McGee frowned.

“No more of Louis’s footprints,” Tony pointed out. “Not on the floor anyway – but there’s this…” He gestured to a mark on the door, half-way up. “You can get your teams onto that but I think that was made by the side of Louis’s foot brushing against the door as Gibbs carried him out. They walk downstairs…see, you can just about make out the faint outline of the blood on Gibbs’s right boot as he walks.” McGee followed Tony out of the room, along the hallway and down the stairs.

“Gibbs opens the front door.” Tony gestured with his head at a slight bloodstain on the door handle. “Presumably because this guy is behind him with a gun held to his head. They go outside, and…I’m not sure about this but I think the guy has a car out here. He gets Gibbs to open the trunk and he makes Louis and Gibbs get inside. Maybe he ties Gibbs’s hands behind his back – I don’t know.”

“Why do you think he has a car?” McGee asked.

“Well, it was dark but even so he had to have something parked close to the house – right up here on the driveway – or else someone would have seen a man holding a gun on a blood-stained guy carrying a small child and reported it – wouldn’t they?”

“Probably.” McGee nodded, thinking Tony seemed to have it all about right. He wasn’t McGee’s most senior agent for nothing – he had years of experience of crime scene investigations behind him and he’d solved almost as many hard cases in his time as Gibbs. They were now standing outside the half-open garage door. “Did you check in there?”

“Yeah – that’s why it’s open. They’re not in there and there’s no blood in there either,” Tony said tightly. McGee could only imagine what it must have been like for him to open that door – if the gunman had wanted Louis and Gibbs dead then that was the most likely place for him to have dumped their bodies.

“How did the gunman get into the house in the first place?” McGee asked, examining the front door. “No sign of forced entry.”

“You know Gibbs – he doesn’t always remember to lock the front door when he’s in the house,” Tony said. “He does at least lock it before going to bed most times but he was hours away from going to bed when this happened.”

McGee sighed – that sounded like Gibbs. He doubted the man would lock the door at all if it wasn’t for the fact that Louis lived here too.

“Okay – I’ll get the teams testing the blood and sweeping the place for prints,” McGee said, beckoning Agent Morris over. He filled her in quickly and she frowned.

“How do you know it was Mr. Gibbs’s blood, sir?” she asked.

“We don’t,” McGee replied. “We’re just hoping it is,” he added grimly.

“Hoping?” She raised a surprised eyebrow.

“Because if it isn’t Gibbs’s blood then it’s probably Louis’s and none of us want to think about that possibility,” McGee growled at her, watching her eyes darken with anxiety as he spoke. Everyone at NCIS adored Louis – he was like his mother, and had the ability to charm people with his happy nature and good heart wherever he went.

At that moment Ducky’s ancient roadster drew up and the elderly doctor got out and hurried over to McGee.

“I got here as soon as I could,” he said. “What do we know?” McGee filled him in. When he’d finished, Ducky glanced around. “Any suspects?”

“Well there’s the obvious one – Jonssen. Tony’s convinced it’s him but…” McGee paused, and shook his head.

“Maybe it’s a little *too* obvious?” Ducky asked.

“Yeah. The other thing I thought…you know we were talking in the restaurant yesterday and Gibbs said we had to rein Tony in…you don’t think…he wouldn’t stage anything like this, would he?” McGee asked. Ducky looked horrified.

“No,” he said. “Absolutely not! My dear boy, what were you thinking?”

“That’s he’s staged things before without telling us,” McGee replied grimly, remembering a couple of ops Gibbs had sent them on where he hadn’t been entirely up front with them.

“Timothy this is completely different!” Ducky remonstrated. “Besides, Gibbs, better than anyone, knows just what a powder keg Anthony is. There’s no way he’d risk sending him over the edge by doing something like this. He simply wouldn’t.”

“Thank you,” McGee said, relieved. “I didn’t think so but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t consider it as a possibility.”

“Well you can rule it out,” Ducky said firmly. “Now, what do you want me to do, my dear boy?”

“Go keep an eye on Tony,” McGee said. “I’m going to lead the investigation and I don’t want to worry about him going off somewhere on his own and doing something stupid. Here…” He pulled a little device out of his pocket, no bigger than a dime, that Morris had given him earlier. “Get this on him. It’s a GPS locator. If he does go off the grid then he knows I’ll trace his cell phone so he’ll turn it off. If we get this on him then at least we’ll be able to track him without him knowing. You can get it on him without him noticing can’t you?”

“Of course.” Ducky grinned, and took the device. McGee turned to go but Ducky put a hand on his arm and pulled him back. “You will find them, Timothy,” he said. “I have every faith in you.”

McGee felt a bit better knowing that. He wasn’t used to cases being this personal. He loved all these people and the knowledge that if he made a wrong turn he might lose any of them weighed heavily on him, making his gut churn. It wasn’t just Gibbs and Louis he had to worry about – he knew that. If anything happened to either one of them, or, god forbid, both of them, then there was no way Tony was coming back from that. He’d come back from too much already and there were no reserves left in him for that kind of a journey. If they lost Gibbs and Louis then they’d lose Tony too.

“Thanks, Ducky,” McGee said, with a tight smile.

His cell phone rang and he pulled it out and walked over to the garage to answer it, away from the melee, so he could hear.

“Sir – it’s Carter.”

“What have you got for me, Carter?” he asked tersely, glancing into the open garage door. The boat Gibbs was building was a beauty – and nearly finished too by the look of her. There was just one section that needed varnishing, and, inevitably, she didn’t yet have a name. McGee wondered what Gibbs intended to call this one.

“I’ve been leaning on Stackton for the past hour and he’s scared – very scared,” Carter said. “He knows something – he’s hiding something – but I’m not sure this is what he’s hiding, sir.”

“What do you mean?” McGee frowned. He wandered into the garage and reached out a hand to touch the shiny, varnished wood.

“Well, I told him we knew what Jonssen was up to – and he clammed up on me just like he did yesterday – but when I later mentioned about Gibbs and the little kid, well, it was almost like he was relieved – and kind of surprised. I’m not sure, but I think he thought we were onto something else – not this.”

“You *think*?” McGee demanded, in his best Gibbs voice. “I need more than just your damn thoughts, Carter. I need to know if we follow up Jonssen or we look for someone else. Gibbs and Louis don’t have the time for us to get this wrong. So do you think this is Jonssen’s work or not?”

Carter hesitated. “I’m not sure, sir,” he muttered.

“Not good enough!” McGee growled. “What does your gut say, Agent Carter? Just tell me what your gut says.”

He heard Carter take a deep breath. “My gut tells me that Jonssen didn’t do this, sir. But he’s done something else – something Stackton knows about but doesn’t want us to find out.”

“Okay. Good,” McGee said. “You go back in there and find out exactly what it is Stackton doesn’t want us to find out and I’ll chase up other leads. If anything changes, if you have *any* new leads for me, you call me straight away – understood?”

“Yes sir.”

McGee cut the connection and turned around, to find Tony gazing at him from the garage door.

“Any news?”

“It’s not Jonssen,” McGee replied, striding past him on his way back out.

“What? Don’t be a damned idiot, McGee!” Tony roared, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back. “Of course it’s Jonssen!”

“Tony – this is my call and I say it isn’t,” McGee snapped, brushing Tony’s hand off his shoulder. “I’m not ruling it out for good – I’m just saying I don’t think it’s him so I’m not throwing all our resources at it and ignoring other avenues of investigation.”

“*What* other avenues of investigation?” Tony asked incredulously. “Who the hell *else* would want to kidnap Louis and Gibbs? Jonssen knows I have a personal vendetta against him, he knows I have enough on him to haul his sorry ass in for questioning the minute I can find out where the hell he is, and he’s taunting me. He’s smarting because I pulled in Stackton and he wants to scare me away.”

“I know – it does all sound very logical,” McGee said quietly. “But it’s just a little too neat for a man who hasn’t even set foot in the country, as far as we know, in three years. How did he even know you’d arrested Stackton? And if he DID know, how did he manage to get someone out to your house to kidnap Louis and Gibbs so fast?”

“He’s a wealthy man. He has resources,” Tony muttered darkly.

“Maybe – and maybe he did do this, but if so, for what reason? What does he hope to gain by it? He must know we’d chase after Louis and Gibbs – and that eventually we’d trace their kidnapping back to him. One thing we’ve always known about Jonssen is that he’s cautious where his own personal freedom is concerned and does everything he can to protect it. Would he risk this over Stackton? A man who might or might not talk? Wouldn’t it be better if he just waited it out to see if Stackton *does* talk?”

“Depends what Stackton is hiding,” Tony growled.

“Tony – can you think of anyone else who might have a vendetta against you?” McGee asked. Tony’s face split into a dark grin.

“A couple of thousand,” he said. “Where shall I start?”

McGee sighed, and then a thought occurred to him. “Gibbs told me you came into some money a couple of years ago,” he said. “Could this be a ransom demand?”

“If so, they’ve forgotten to actually *make* the demand,” Tony pointed out.

“But you’re good for it if someone does?” McGee asked. Tony shrugged.

“Are you asking me how much I’m worth, McGee?”

“Yes I am. Money is the most likely motive in my view.”

“Nobody apart from Gibbs knows how much I’m worth,” Tony argued. “I don’t live anywhere ostentatious, and I still go to work every day. There’s no reason for anyone to assume I have any money.”

“But your father was a well-known, wealthy businessman, and you’re his only child. It might not be too hard to figure out,” McGee said. “How much did he leave you, Tony?”

“A hundred.” Tony shrugged.

“A hundred thousand? That’s not enough to…”

“A hundred million,” Tony interrupted.

“What?” McGee was aghast. “And you still think Jonssen is more likely than a kidnapping when you’re sitting on that kind of money?”

“It’s probably more now. I haven’t touched any of it.” Tony shrugged again. “Or at least not much of it. I don’t care about the money.”

McGee thought that was another thing that had changed; Tony had always kind of liked money, back when he hadn’t had that much of it.

“Tony – you have to at least consider that having that kind of money does make kidnapping for ransom a viable possibility.”

“Okay. Maybe.” Tony shrugged.

“Have you checked your cell phone? Has anyone tried to call you and make a demand?”

“Yes I’ve checked and nobody has called.” Tony got his phone out of his pocket and waved it at McGee, and that gave McGee another thought.

“Did you try Gibbs’s cell phone?” he asked.

“Well duh – why didn’t I think of that, Mr Director, sir,” Tony growled sarcastically. “Yes, I tried Gibbs’s cell phone. No reply.”

“Would he have had it on him if he was just in the house reading?” McGee frowned. “Did you find it anywhere in the house?”

“No – but I already called Banks and asked him to do a GPS trace on it and nothing showed up so it’s either switched off or…”

“It’s here,” Morris said, coming towards them, holding up the phone. The front of it was smashed in. “We just found it in on the sidewalk.”

“Then our gunman must have taken it off Gibbs before putting him in the trunk and threw it away hard enough to smash it,” Tony said. He reached out a hand but unlike Morris he wasn’t wearing gloves so he stopped before touching it.

“Get it bagged and sent to forensics immediately – there might be prints on it,” McGee said to Morris. She nodded and hurried away.

“McGee – we need to hurry this along,” Tony said urgently. “It’s been over twelve hours already. Christ, if only I hadn’t gone out drinking last night. If only I’d come back home instead…” He ran his hands through his hair, leaving it standing up in messy points.

“You didn’t know,” McGee said shortly, turning away.

“Hey.” Tony grabbed his arm. “Are you judging me, Probie?”

“Yes, Tony – I am,” McGee snapped. “If you weren’t always just one step away from total self-destruction and we weren’t always rushing around after you trying not to let it happen then…” he paused, and sighed. “No…I’m sorry – this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know that some psycho was going to break into your house and do this.”

“But you think I’m a lousy father, right? A dad who gets drunk and isn’t around to protect his son when he needs him.”

“No – I know you love Louis but I think you’re always so busy mourning what you lost that you’ve forgotten what you’ve still *got*,” McGee said tersely.

He pulled away from Tony, and went back into the garage to put some distance between them. Tony didn’t get the message and followed him in there.

“Don’t shut me out, Tim,” he said quietly. “I might have been a lousy dad and a crap boyfriend but I need to be in on this. I need to help find them.” His voice broke slightly as he said that, and McGee felt a wave of sympathy for him. This was always the problem with Tony – it was just impossible to stay mad at him for long.

McGee stood next to Gibbs’s work bench and glanced at it. All his tools were neatly locked away, out of the reach of small hands, and even the inevitable stash of bourbon was stored high up, on a shelf that Louis would never be able to get to.

There was a sheaf of papers on the worktop, so McGee thought it probably doubled as Gibbs’s desk and general work area. He could see some bank statements and utility bills stacked there, awaiting payment. McGee brushed his hand over them and then paused as something caught his eye.

It was a bright yellow piece of paper with ugly black writing on it, crude but eye-catching.

“I know what you are”, was all it said. McGee frowned, wondering what the hell that meant. He rummaged through the stack of papers and found another yellow piece of paper with the same lettering on it – and just one word: “Faggots”. One more said, “You’ll burn in hell”.

McGee held up the pieces of paper to Tony. “Have you seen these?” he asked. Tony took them with a frown, shaking his head.

“No. This is all Gibbs’s stuff – and he never showed these to me,” he said. Then he looked up. “Why wouldn’t he have shown these to me?” he asked. McGee knew why, and it must have showed in his eyes.

“I was too caught up in Jonssen,” Tony said, his jaw tightening.

“Yeah – maybe he mentioned them to you but you weren’t listening. That happens whenever you think you’ve got a lead on Jonssen,” McGee said quietly. “But, more likely, he thought he could take care of it himself – if there was anything to take care of. The notes might have been recent – if he’d received them in the last couple of days then there’s no way he’d have showed them to you. You’ve been all over the place.”

Tony’s jaw tightened again, and he nodded. McGee thought that maybe it was about time he started seeing himself the way they all saw him – a wild, loose cannon, flailing ever more spectacularly out of control, and neglecting those closest to him in the process – hurting them even, although McGee was sure that wasn’t the intention. It was the end result though.

“How would anyone know?” Tony asked, looking closely at the yellow paper. “Even you didn’t know about me and Gibbs and you know us better than anyone. How would anyone know we were together? We don’t go out as a couple, and Gibbs could easily be here looking after Louis as his uncle or grandfather or something – why would anyone assume anything different?”

McGee remembered the way Gibbs had put his arm around Tony’s shoulder at the restaurant yesterday, and kissed his forehead. It had been surprising because of the personalities of both men – Gibbs in particular – but it hadn’t been overtly romantic or sexual in nature. Anyone watching it could have taken Gibbs to be Tony’s older brother – or, at a stretch, his father, and McGee had never seen them give any outward sign of a deeper closeness over the past three years. However, remembering them at the restaurant made another thought occur to him.

“Louis,” he said suddenly. Tony looked confused. “Yesterday at the restaurant, Louis said some stuff about you and Gibbs that made it sound like you were a couple. Me and Ducky both noticed it. You and Gibbs kiss around him, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Tony said cautiously. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing. I’m just saying – Louis wouldn’t think twice about mentioning it to other people. Plus – he must know you share a bed, right?”

“Yeah.” Tony nodded. “Every Saturday night we all watch movies together in our bed, with popcorn. Gibbs calls it movie night and makes me promise it’s the one night of the week I’ll stay home. Louis loves movie night – at least there’s something of me in him.”

“I don’t suppose that he thinks that you and Gibbs sharing a bed is a secret,” McGee pointed out. “So he wouldn’t think anything of talking about it.”

“It’s not a secret,” Tony said.

McGee put his head on one side and gazed at him. “You and Gibbs have been together for three years and I never knew about it,” he pointed out.

“It’s not a secret, it’s just not…” Tony paused and sighed. “You know Gibbs – he’s the most private man in the world. How long had we been working with him before we found out about Shannon and Kelly? I know he’s not ashamed of me, or us, or what we do in bed – he just can’t stand anyone knowing his business. And as for me…I suppose it just wasn’t…important?” He winced as he said that. “I don’t mean the relationship isn’t important to me because it is, but…”

“But you never really even think about it because you’re too busy thinking about getting your revenge on Jonssen?” McGee suggested. He didn’t doubt that Gibbs and Louis were important to Tony – vital to him even – but he did wonder whether Tony was so blinded by his desire for revenge that he’d failed to realise just how much he needed them – and just how little he showed them that.

Tony’s eyes darkened. “Something like that, yeah,” he muttered.
“Agent Morris!” McGee went to the garage door and she came running over. He handed her the yellow notes. “Get what you can from these,” he said. She frowned as she read them.

“You think this is some kind of a homophobic hate crime?” she asked, glancing up at McGee, and then, more surreptitiously, at Tony.

“It’s possible – so we need to put it on the list,” McGee said.

“But why would anyone think Agent DiNozzo and Mr. Gibbs are a couple?” Morris asked, frowning.

“Because we are,” Tony said tersely. Her eyes flickered in surprise but she covered it well and just nodded.

“Who are Louis’s friends?” McGee asked Tony. “We need to find out who he might have talked to when their parents were around.”

“I don’t know,” Tony said, his shoulders stiffening. McGee glared at him.

“You don’t know who his friends are?”

“No.” Tony shook his head.

“I know one boy he mentioned yesterday – Nathan – Louis said he spent some time at his house. Morris, find out who he is. Also…Louis goes to daycare a couple of mornings a week doesn’t he?”

Tony nodded, still looking angry and defensive about not knowing who Louis’s friends were.

“Which daycare does he go to? We can ask around and find out who knew him and who he played with.”

“I don’t know,” Tony said again, his forehead furrowing angrily.

“You don’t know which daycare your son goes to?” Agent Morris said, without thinking, making notes on her PDA, and then she looked up, embarrassed. “Uh…I noticed a calendar in the kitchen that I think mentioned something about daycare. I’ll go check it out,” she said hurriedly, running off.

McGee looked at Tony, who was shaking his head.

“Christ I’m fucking useless,” he snapped. “I just…I left all that stuff to Gibbs. He took care of it.”

“You don’t have the luxury of self-pity right now, Tony,” McGee told him sharply. “You need to focus.”

“I know.” Tony nodded. “Okay – what else?”

“Well, we have three viable routes of investigation: a kidnapping for ransom, a hate crime, and Jonssen.”

“Why would whoever was sending us these notes want to kidnap Louis and Gibbs?” Tony asked, puzzled. “It doesn’t make sense. I think that’s the least likely of the three.”

“But still viable so we follow it up,” McGee said firmly. “Gibbs beat that into us too.”

“Yeah. It’s amazing that either of us is still alive with all that beating going on,” Tony said with a faded grin. It was just a figure of speech but accurate in the sense that those lessons had been hard learned, and had required many slaps upside the head in the learning.

“And in turn you’ve done a good job of beating it into your team,” McGee pointed out, because Tony’s team were at least as in awe of him as he and Tony had been of Gibbs in their time. “That’s why they’re such a good team.”

“Not as good as we were,” Tony said. “You, me, Gibbs, Ziva, Abby, Ducky – we were the best. Numero Uno. The A Team.”

“Your team are pretty good too, when you give them the chance,” McGee pointed out. At that moment Agent Morris came running back.

“I just spoke to the daycare. The little boy Louis talked about was Nathan Glover. I’ve got some other names too but listen to this – Nathan was taken out of daycare last month really suddenly – no warning. His mom just took him out. Word on the grapevine is that she ran off with Nathan and the dad was pretty mad when he found out. He’s a violent kind of guy so the courts granted custody of Nathan to his wife and she took the child out of state. The dad doesn’t know where they went and it’s tearing him apart.”

“Louis did say that Nathan’s mom and dad argued the whole time,” McGee mused.

“Yeah but this is the best bit; Nathan’s mom had a lover – that’s who she ran off with.”

“So?” Tony frowned.

“The lover wasn’t a guy – it was another woman,” Morris said.

“Address?” McGee said, running after Tony as he took off out of the garage and across to his car at a fast sprint. Morris ran after them both. They got into Tony’s car and McGee yelled to a surprised Ducky that he was now in charge of the crime scene and to make sure everything was taken back to NCIS and processed immediately. “Get Banks on the phone and tell him to find out everything he can about Glover,” McGee ordered to Morris over his shoulder as Tony flipped them sharply around a bend, almost toppling the car in the process.

The Glover house was only a few blocks away. There was no reply when they knocked on the door. Tony drew his gun and pointed it at the lock, but McGee pushed his hand away.

“Don’t be an idiot, Probie,” Tony hissed. “We both know we don’t have time to wait for a warrant and I’m not going to spend five minutes picking the damn lock when I can just shoot it off.”

“I know.” McGee nodded. “Stand back,” he said, drawing his own gun and pointing it at the lock on the front door. Tony raised an eyebrow.

“Breaking the rules, Director?” he asked.

“Director’s prerogative – but if we’re going to break the rules I’m going to be the one doing it and I’ll take the blame for it,” McGee said tersely. He blew the lock off the door and Tony pushed the broken door to one side and strode into the house, gun drawn.

The place seemed like a normal suburban house. There were some child’s toys still in there, but it had only been a month since Nathan’s mom had taken him away so that was to be expected. They moved swiftly around the place, guns drawn and raised, covering each other as they entered each room. The place was a mess, with empty beer cans and pizza boxes everywhere, but they found nothing more sinister than that.

“Maybe we got this wrong,” McGee sighed.

“Wait – there’s a basement.” Tony pointed at a door tucked almost out of sight at the end of the hallway, the one place they hadn’t yet looked. “Like Gibbs’s old place – where he built all those boats he never intended to sail.”

They moved toward the door, moving cautiously but fast, in sync with each other, each knowing what move the other would make. It had been a long time since he’d worked out in the field with Tony and McGee realised just how much he’d missed it. They made a good team; long years of working together and their own personal friendship had meshed them into a perfect working unit. Tony was right – they had been the best. They still were.

They got to the door and Tony tried it with his hand to find that it was locked. He stood back and McGee ran forward and slammed his foot into it, putting all his pent-up, nervous anxiety behind the kick; he was gratified when the door splintered and swung open. He stepped inside and then paused.

“Oh my god,” he breathed.

“What is it?” Tony pushed past him, and then stopped. “Oh shit,” he muttered, gazing around.

The basement area was a shrine. One entire wall was decorated with pictures of a little blond boy. Whoever had been with him in some of the pictures had clearly been cut out, savagely, with a knife rather than a pair of scissors, McGee thought.

“I’ve seen this kid around my house. It must be Nathan,” Tony muttered. “And I’m guessing it’s his mom who’s been cut out of the photographs.”

McGee walked down the stairs, into the basement, and then his blood turned cold as he saw a stack of yellow paper piled up on a workbench shoved against the far wall. He pointed at it and Morris nodded.

“Looks like the same paper those notes were written on,” McGee said. “We need to get it to forensics to confirm that. Morris get an NCIS van over here.” She nodded and began talking into her cell phone.

“Doesn’t prove anything though,” Tony said. “Just because Glover wrote the notes doesn’t mean that he kidnapped my family.”

That was the first time he’d used the word ‘family’. McGee suspected it was the first time he’d ever used it about Louis and Gibbs but that was exactly what they were to him and he was pleased that Tony was finally waking up to that fact.

“No…but this might,” Morris said softly, pointing to a box of newspaper clippings she had found. “Glover was cutting out anything to do with gays – gay rights, gay marriage, and these…” She pointed at another box of papers, with an expression of distaste. “There are brochures from far-right crazy organisations,” she said, flicking through them. “They think gays should be strung up and left out to die, and given who Glover’s wife ran off with, I’d guess those were views he had a lot of sympathy with.”

“I still don’t understand why he’d kidnap Louis and Gibbs,” Tony muttered, rifling through the material. “Fuck, this stuff is insane.” He held up a pamphlet with the lurid title: “Corrupting America’s Youth”. “Oh shit,” he said as he looked through the rest of the papers. “Most of this stuff is about how gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to look after kids – which must be his personal issue at the moment, after what happened with his wife. This one thinks all children should be forcibly removed from any kind of gay parenting environment. I can see why he’d be all over that idea.”

“He was already angry, and he’s been getting angrier since his wife left him,” McGee said, glancing around. “He’s been reading this material, brooding on his son – the courts think his son is better off living with a lesbian couple than with him, and that makes him feel impotent, emasculated – just like he feels about the fact that his wife left him for her female lover in the first place.”

McGee paced around, trying to get into Glover’s head and figure out his thought process. “So he’s stoking himself up, getting more and more upset about it, and he remembers something Louis said about you and Gibbs, so he starts sending those notes…and it feels good. It feels like he has some control back in his life. He can’t find his little boy, but he can do this. Now he has a target, someone to focus on…he’s taking his revenge on a group of people who he thinks have hurt him just by existing. And you and Gibbs – and even Louis – represent a whole group of people to him – you’re not individuals any more.”

“That means he’s dehumanised you,” Morris said. “And that’s making it a hell of a lot easier for a man – a *father*- to take a little boy hostage. I don’t like where this is going.”

“But even so, at the moment it’s just a revenge fantasy – something must have pushed him over the edge,” Tony said. “What the hell made him snap? What was the trigger? What made him go over to my house last night, shoot Gibbs, and take off with him and Louis in his car?”

“The gay marriage thing,” McGee said, clicking his fingers.

“What gay marriage thing?” Tony frowned, and McGee remembered he’d been too drunk yesterday, and too caught up in Jonssen, to pay any attention to what was going on in the rest of the world, even if he was remotely interested in this particular piece of news – which McGee guessed he probably wasn’t. He couldn’t exactly see either Tony or Gibbs as gay rights activists, or the kind of people who were hankering to get married; Gibbs had a positive antipathy towards marriage in any case, which was hardly surprising given his track record.

“I saw it on the news yesterday – gay marriage is now legal in Virginia,” McGee told Tony. “It just got passed. Glover must have seen it too and it sent him into some kind of a frenzy. He’s a psycho, he’s furious, and he wants revenge on someone…”

“No,” Morris interrupted. “That’s not it. Or at least – that’s only partly it. He wants revenge, yes, but he also wants someone to listen to him because he doesn’t feel that anyone cares about him. Nobody cares about his feelings, or his loss, or about how unfair it is – how plain *wrong* it is that the law has given custody of *his* son to a lesbian mother and her lover rather than to a solid upstanding citizen like him – because that’s how he sees himself. He wants people to hear him, to understand…”

“Oh shit. He’s going to make a big statement,” Tony said, straightening up from where he’d been crouching, looking through the material. “He’s going to do something big, something people will have to listen to…” His jaw locked into a tight line. “He’s going to kill them,” he said quietly. “He’s going to kill Louis and Gibbs and then he’s going to kill himself. That’s his statement.”

“I think DiNozzo’s right. Glover is determined that he *will* be heard – any way he can,” Morris said. “Even if it means dying in the process. This is his way of getting everyone’s attention.”

“But to kill a child – a child the same age as his own son…” McGee shook his head. “Would he really do that?”

“Yes,” Tony said, in a hard tone of voice. “Read some of this shit, McGee.” He shoved a pamphlet at him. “He’d view it as liberating Louis – he honestly thinks death is better than living with me and Gibbs, with us…corrupting him.” His jaw tightened again, so hard and so taut that McGee thought it looked as if it might snap. “We have to find them, McGee – we have to find them before that happens,” he said urgently.

“We will, Tony,” McGee replied. “We will. Morris, get Banks on the phone – let’s see if we can figure out where Glover has taken them.”

She speed dialled and then put the phone on speaker so they could all hear.

“Banks, this is Director McGee – what do you have on Glover?” he asked tersely.

“Sir…I haven’t had long to do much digging but…” McGee could hear Banks’s fingers typing fast in the background.

“You’ve had long enough to find something!” McGee snapped. “Come on – do your damn job!”

“Yes, sir.” Banks sounded petrified of him, McGee thought, and he was surprised by how much that pleased him. “His name is Paul Glover, he’s forty, and he’s currently unemployed, but he used to be in the Marine Corps.”

McGee and Tony exchanged glances.

“Explains how he got in there and managed to take Gibbs down. Nobody but a marine would be able to do that,” Tony commented. “And if it had been a fair fight, without Louis around, then Gibbs would have kicked his ass – I’m sure about that.”

“Maybe – this guy is twenty years younger than Gibbs though,” McGee pointed out.

“Yeah – but Gibbs is Gibbs,” Tony reminded him.

“Agreed.” McGee nodded, because there was no arguing with that. He’d never seen Gibbs beaten in a fight – ever. “What else do you have on him, Banks? Why did he leave the Corps?”

“General discharge – not an honourable discharge,” Banks replied and then there was a long pause.

“Details!” McGee snapped.

“Just getting them, sir…oh…okay, nothing too specific but it seems he was a little over-zealous in his treatment of prisoners, and he had a habit of losing it on the battlefield and going on the rampage. His CO tried to contain him but in the end he was too dangerous to keep around.”

“I know the feeling,” McGee muttered, glancing at Tony, who gave him a surprised look in return. Maybe he didn’t even realise how much of a pain in the butt he was.

“He has a fascination with weaponry and a couple of assault charges on his record,” Banks added. “Oh…and there’s a history of domestic violence against the wife. She’s taken out an injunction against him to prevent him from coming within ten miles of her or the child – and she’s asked for her current address not to be released to him.”

“That explains his frustration,” Morris said. “He can’t get at them – his real targets – but he could get to Louis and Gibbs.”

“You said a fascination with weaponry?” Tony asked.

“Yes,” Banks replied. “Guns, knives, explosives – his CO said he was borderline obsessive about it – and that also made him raise some questions about Glover’s mental stability.”

“Anything else, Banks?” McGee demanded irritably. “Anything that might actually help us figure out where this guy is?”

“Uh…no…um…I mean, but I can keep looking…”

“Do it,” McGee snapped, and then he severed the connection with an angry flick of his hand.

“Being a bit hard on the poor probie there weren’t you, Director?” Tony said softly.

“He annoys me,” McGee replied, remembering how the previous day Banks had sat back and let Carter and Morris deal with Tony on their own, rather than taking his share of their boss’s anger.

“He’s okay,” Tony said quietly. “He’s young. He’s still learning.”

Morris rolled her eyes. “He always cuts the probie more slack than the rest of us,” she muttered to McGee.

“Hey – he’s just a probie,” Tony said with a shrug. “And you know me – I’ve always had a soft spot for probies,” he added, with a hint of a grin in McGee’s direction.

McGee snorted, but that did make him think that maybe he’d been a bit hard on Banks. There was just something about the kid – he was so young and so painfully eager a lot of the time – maybe he just reminded him too much of the way he’d once been. At that moment Banks called back.

“I’ve found something!” he said. “Glover has a cabin.”

“Where?” McGee looked at Tony – this might be their first real lead on where Glover had taken Gibbs and Louis.

“Big Stone Gap. It’s, uh, quite a long drive from your current location,” Banks said. “I’m sending the details over to Morris’s cell right now.”

“Big Stone Gap? He’ll be there by now,” Tony said, running for the stairs. “We’re hours behind him.”

“Wait…Tony – I’m going to call in a helicopter to take us there,” McGee said.

“You can do that?” Tony frowned.

“No – but I can call in a favour from a friend who can,” McGee replied.

“You have those kinds of friends?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “See, I knew I should have taken the job as Director.”

“Again with the not being asked thing, Tony!” McGee said, but he shot him a tight grin anyway, knowing that Tony was using banter to handle the situation because right now he was going crazy inside.

McGee put in his call and they went back outside to get into Tony’s car and drive the short distance to where they could pick up the helicopter. Outside, an NCIS van was just pulling up – and, a second later, a car screeched to a halt behind it and Agent Carter got out and ran towards them.

“Sir, Agent DiNozzo – I have something,” he said breathlessly.

McGee figured it must be important as he’d driven out here to tell them in person.

“Is this about Louis and Gibbs?” Tony demanded. “Are we on the wrong track?” He glanced at McGee. “Does Jonssen have them after all?”

“No – it’s not about that. It’s Jonssen – he’s here.”

Tony went very still and McGee gave a mental sigh. Any mention of Jonssen and Tony gave his usual Pavlovian response.

“Where?” Tony asked, his eyes darkening.

“I’ve been working on Stackton and he finally let something slip. He didn’t mean to but I found out he knows that Jonssen’s mother’s ill.”

“Jonssen’s mother’s ill?” McGee asked, looking at Tony in surprise.

“Yeah. She’s got terminal cancer,” Tony replied impatiently. “Nobody knows how long she’s got left but it can’t be long.”

“And when the hell were you going to tell me this?” McGee demanded.

Tony shot him a hard look. “When you needed to know.”

“So you’ve had someone watching her in case Jonssen came to say goodbye? For how long?” McGee asked.

Tony’s jaw twitched. “Six months,” he muttered.

“Six months? You’ve been watching her for six months? How the hell…? An undercover operation like that, around the clock, would cost NCIS a fortune but all your agents are accounted for and you haven’t submitted any additional expenses to me,” McGee said.

“I paid someone,” Tony snapped. “Privately. I knew you wouldn’t sanction an expensive long-term op like this but I have the cash lying around so I used it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

McGee’s eyes narrowed. “When all this is over, you and I are going to have a long talk about your methods, Special Agent DiNozzo.”

“When all this is over I’ll be happy to, Director McGee,” Tony replied grimly. “Go on, Carter.”

Carter nodded. “There was something about the expression in Stackton’s eyes – just a flash but I knew this was the thing he was hiding. So I called that guy you’ve been paying to keep an eye on Jonssen’s mother…”

“Hang on – *you* knew about this guy?” McGee asked. Carter grimaced.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you didn’t think of mentioning to me that your boss was running his own secret undercover op all this time?” McGee demanded.

“Uh…” Carter gave Tony an agonised look.

“Give him a break – you’d have covered for Gibbs over something like this if he’d asked you,” Tony said. “Carter – stop worrying that McGee will fire you because if you don’t tell me what the hell is going on I’ll shoot you and then you won’t have to worry about your job.”

Carter winced. “I couldn’t reach the guy on the phone so I went over to his apartment.”

“Was he there?” McGee asked.

“No,” Tony said, shaking his head. “Or at least he was – but he was dead, wasn’t he, Carter?”

“Yes – I found the body. He hasn’t been dead long. A couple of days – no more. Professional hit. One shot, clean between the eyes.“

“Stackton killed him,” McGee said.

“Ya think, McGee?” Tony growled. “Yes, Stackton killed him. I knew that son of a bitch was hiding something – and Jonssen wasn’t paying him all that money for nothing. Jonssen’s mother went into a hospice a month ago so she must be near the end. Jonssen found out she was being watched and sent Stackton to kill the guy I was paying to do the watching, which means…”

“That Jonssen is back in the country and wants to visit his mom before she dies. He might even be there right now,” Carter said. “He knows it won’t be long before you find out about your watcher being killed – he has to get in and out of there before that happens.”

“How did Jonssen get back into the country without me knowing about it?” Tony asked, frowning.

“Well, like you said, he’s a wealthy man – he has resources,” McGee told him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Morris answer her cell phone.

“Unless…this thing with Gibbs and Louis – are we sure we have the right guy?” Tony asked. “Is it Glover – or is it Jonssen, trying to keep me distracted?”

“I think the two are completely unrelated,” McGee said firmly.

“A coincidence?” Tony raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“No. Just bad timing. My gut tells me that Glover is our guy. What does yours tell you?” McGee asked. He knew this was pivotal – Louis and Gibbs’s lives were at stake – they couldn’t afford to get this wrong. Tony stared at him, his eyes savagely dark. McGee saw him struggling with himself, *wanting* it to be Jonssen, but eventually he sighed and shook his head.

“My gut says it’s Glover too,” he said eventually. McGee gave him a curt nod, surprised but pleased because where Jonssen was concerned Tony’s gut wasn’t always very reliable.

“It is Glover,” Morris interjected, pointing to her cell phone. “That was Banks. He says that a guy has been calling the local newsrooms saying he’s got two hostages, a man and a child, and he wants to make a statement. They dismissed him as a psycho initially but he’s persistent. He’s asked for camera crews – the whole works. Says he’s going to make the entire country hear what he has to say. It’s Glover, sir – and the place he wants the camera crews to go to is the cabin.”

“That’s our answer then,” McGee said tersely. “Morris – get me a news blackout on this. I don’t want the media anywhere near this. Tell them he’s a crank – someone we know about. Tell them he’s always making these kinds of calls and there’s no story there.”

“On it, Boss!” she said, turning away.

McGee turned back to Tony, who was talking to Carter in fast, urgent tones. McGee could see that familiar darkness in Tony’s eyes, now that Jonssen was within reach. This man that he’d hunted so desperately for four years, this man who had killed Abby and destroyed Tony’s life, was back. And this time they could probably link him to the murder of Tony’s undercover operative, and, if they finally had a chance to interrogate him, a whole lot of other crimes as well – god knows Tony had a dossier three feet thick on Jonssen. As McGee watched Tony he had a sudden flare of suspicion; he could see what was going through Tony’s mind but he couldn’t actually *believe* that he was really going to do it.

“Tony!” McGee said sharply. He grabbed Tony’s arm and pulled him away, up the driveway, out of earshot. “I don’t damn well believe you,” he said in a low, angry tone. “You are not seriously going to chase after Jonssen when Gibbs and Louis are being held hostage out there by some madman!”

Tony gazed at him darkly, his eyes a black pit of obsessive revenge, bleak and savage. Tony’s revenge was so close that he could almost smell it, and McGee could see just how badly he wanted it.

“Damn it, Tony,” McGee said in a low voice. “You don’t deserve Louis or Gibbs –either of them. You don’t deserve any of us. Hell, you’ve been with Gibbs for three years now – that’s longer than you were with Abby. It’s longer than you’ve ever been with anyone. I don’t pretend to know or understand what’s between you and Gibbs but you’ve got someone in your life now who clearly loves and cares about you, and you’ve got the sweetest kid in the world, a little boy everyone adores, and you keep chasing after the past, after Abby and after Jonssen. Well Abby wouldn’t care about Jonssen! She’d care about Gibbs, and about Louis, and, poor deluded girl that she was, she’d care about you and what you’ve been doing to yourself these past few years. She’d care about the depression, and the drinking, and the anger, and the obsessive desire for revenge! And let me tell you this – no matter how much she loved you, she’d put a bullet through you herself if she knew that you were going to chase after the guy who killed her instead of going to rescue her son.”

“Are you finished?” Tony asked grimly. “Thank you, Director. Your opinion of me has been duly noted. Now, I have to go.”

He turned on his heel and walked back towards Carter with fast, angry strides. McGee watched him go in disbelief, and then hurried after him. This was insanity! He had to stop it. If they got Louis home alive then he didn’t want to be the one to tell him that his father had opted to chase after his own revenge instead of rescuing his son. McGee doubted that even Gibbs would stick around Tony after this – it was just too big and too unforgiveable.

“Carter – take whoever you need and go to the hospice. Do NOT go alone,” McGee heard Tony say, and he felt a wave of relief flood through him. Maybe Tony hadn’t totally lost touch with his priorities after all. “Keep in touch – let me know what goes down.”

Carter nodded eagerly, looking delighted to be trusted with this mission, knowing how close it was to his boss’s heart.

“And Carter – bring him down,” Tony ordered grimly. “Get Jonssen, and bring him back to NCIS for me – alive.” Carter nodded and ran back to his car.

Tony turned and saw McGee. “I didn’t even think about it,” he snapped.

“Yes you did,” McGee replied. “For a moment you did.”

Tony stared at him, and then nodded. “You’re right – I did,” he said softly. “But just for a split second and I knew I wouldn’t do it. I’m not that far gone, Tim, and you’re right – this is Louis and Gibbs. You think I’d walk away and leave them with some psycho just for the sake of my own revenge?”

“You itch to go after Jonssen. He’s so close you can almost taste it,” McGee pointed out.

“Yes. That’s true.” Tony nodded. “But the living are more important than the dead.”

“I’m glad you finally realise that,” McGee muttered, “because it’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years.”

“Yeah, Probie. I know.” Tony shook his head. “Now let’s get moving. Morris – you’re with us.”

The cabin turned out to be little more than a hut on the side of a hill. McGee set up base in a neighbouring cabin, further down the hill, and began assembling the teams he knew he’d need to handle this. Tony paced around like a caged tiger the entire time, his large frame moving around restlessly.

“Morris – keep those cameras out,” McGee ordered, noticing that despite their “no media” embargo, a couple of camera crews had decided to investigate anyway.

Tony came over. “Have you got eyes and ears in the damn cabin yet, McGee?” he asked for the hundredth time. McGee nodded at the bank of screens his technical unit had set up; they were still displaying snow at the moment.

“I’ve got a team on it, Tony. You know how these things work. We have to take it slow and quiet getting a camera through the wall so Glover doesn’t hear us. The minute we get something in there, you’ll see it.”

“It’s been hours. Glover has to be getting restless. He wants his news teams,” Tony muttered, still pacing.

“If that’s what he wants, then that’s what we’ll give him,” McGee replied. “But not yet. First we find out all we can about the layout of that place, and where he’s got Louis and Gibbs – then I go in there and talk to him.”

“Why you?” Tony asked.

“Because I’m in charge,” McGee replied tersely. Tony’s jaw tightened.

“I’ve handled plenty of hostage negotiations,” he pointed out. “I know how to work them.”

“So have I and ditto,” McGee said.

“I’m good,” Tony pressed.

“I know – but how many of those previous negotiations were for your son and your… well, whatever Gibbs is to you?” McGee asked. “This can’t be you, Tony – it has to be someone with a clear head – no personal involvement.”

“You have a personal involvement too,” Tony pointed out. McGee stood there for a moment, and then nodded.

“I know,” he said softly. “But I can keep a clear head – you can’t.”

Tony conceded the point with a grunt, and then glanced out of the open door. “Damn it – more news crews have just arrived,” he said. “Why can’t they keep the hell away?”

“Because they know there’s a story here,” McGee replied sensibly.

“Gibbs will go crazy if they make *him* the story,” Tony muttered.

“You know, if he gets out of there alive then I really don’t give a damn how pissed off about it he is,” McGee said. Tony’s jaw tightened again, and McGee could have kicked himself. He hadn’t meant to be insensitive; he was still trying to get his head around the fact Tony and Gibbs were in a relationship and had forgotten that he wasn’t just talking to Tony about their ex-boss – he was talking to him about someone he was sleeping with, someone he loved. McGee wished he hadn’t just raised the possibility that Gibbs might *not* make it out alive.

At that moment, several large, black vans showed up, with “FBI” written on the side. Tony glanced at McGee who glanced back at him, both men surprised. A tall, graceful black man got out of the lead van and walked over to them.

“Agent Sacks?” Tony frowned, going to greet the man. “I didn’t know we were expecting the FBI.”

“Neither did I,” McGee said.

“Heard about your problem – thought you could use a little help,” Sacks told them. “And that’s Assistant Director Sacks to you, Special Agent DiNozzo.”

Tony grinned. “FBI must be desperate for directors,” he said. “Just like NCIS.” He cast a glance at McGee who rolled his eyes at him.

“Remind me again why you didn’t make it past Special Agent?” Sacks asked. “Oh yeah – I remember – it must be the amount of times they had to send me over to investigate you over the years.”

“You never made anything stick,” Tony grinned.

“Only because you’re one hell of a lucky bastard, DiNozzo,” Sacks retorted.

“Seriously,” Tony said quietly. “Thanks for showing up today. I’m grateful, Ron.”

“FBI, NCIS – whatever – when push comes to shove these are *our* people,” Sacks replied firmly. “And nobody hurts our people. We Feds have to stick together. Now, Director McGee, you’re in charge – where do you want us?”

McGee was glad they weren’t going to have a pissing contest about who was going to run this operation – it was hard enough fending off Tony, without taking on the FBI as well.

“Well, we’ve been having problems keeping the media at bay,” he said. Sacks nodded.

“On it!” He strode back to his vans and barked out some orders.

“Seeing you with him reminds me of how Fornell and Gibbs used to be with each other,” McGee murmured to Tony. Then his attention was drawn to the screens they had set up as one of them flickered into life.

“We have a visual inside the cabin, sir!” one of his technical agents told him. Tony was there in an instant, gazing intently at the picture as if his life depended on it.

The cabin consisted mainly of one big room with a door leading to a tiny bathroom to one side. It was sparsely furnished. They could just about make out a galley kitchen and…

“There!” Tony prodded his finger at the screen, pointing at what looked like a bundle of rags leaning against the far wall of the cabin. McGee nodded.

“Get us in closer,” he ordered. The technical unit set about working on it. The spy cameras they had these days were sophisticated, and the cabin was made of wood so it hadn’t been too difficult to get one of them positioned in the wall. Now one of his technicians moved it around and refocused to get a better visual. The picture zoomed, went further out of focus and then snapped back into focus, and McGee found himself looking at two faces he knew very well.

Gibbs was lying back against the wall. There was a dark stain on his shirt, and McGee felt two surges of relief both for the fact that he was still alive, and that it hadn’t been Louis’s blood they’d found back in the house. Gibbs could handle a gunshot wound – god knows he’d had enough in his time. His arms were tied behind his back, and his legs were tied together. There were several dark bruises on his jaw and he had a cut above one eye. Louis was nestled against him, a tiny figure beside him. McGee’s relief that the child was unharmed was swallowed immediately by a wave of anger.

“Fuck it – he’s got Louis tied up too,” Tony growled, his words echoing McGee’s thoughts. It was so wrong to see a small boy tied like that, hands behind his back, feet together. McGee felt Tony’s entire body stiffen beside him, suffused with a raw fury. The little boy wasn’t moving much but he was at least still alive. He was dressed in a pair of Spider-man pyjamas, nothing on his feet, and he was shivering as he pressed against Gibbs. Gibbs was doing his best to shield the boy and keep him warm with his own body heat, while at the same time he was warily watching someone else, who moved in and out of camera shot.

“Get us a visual on the bastard,” Tony said. There was a pause, and then the camera closed in on a tall, broad man, with a shaven head. He was moving around the cabin, working on something, busy laying…

“Explosives,” McGee muttered.

“Lots of them,” Tony said, pointing at the screen, where McGee could see that Glover was busy rigging up the entire cabin with enough C4 to sink a ship. “At least now we know what he’s going to do.” McGee glanced at him. “He’s going to make his statement to the media, and then he’s going to blow that entire cabin and everyone in it to kingdom come to drive the point home,” Tony told him.

“Over my dead body,” McGee replied.

“You have a plan?” Tony asked, never taking his eyes off the screen, where the camera was now focussed back on Gibbs and Louis again. Gibbs was talking to Louis in what looked like calming tones, trying to keep the boy still.

“Yeah. I have a plan.” McGee turned to the technical unit. “Can you get us audio?” he asked.

“Just coming through now,” came back the reply, and a second later Louis’s voice sounded in the room.

“My feet are cold,” he said. His voice was so familiar and sounded so close that McGee wanted to reach out and scoop him up.

“I know, Lou. Don’t think about it. Think about something else,” Gibbs replied softly, still watching their captor warily as he worked. “Think about something nice. How about that puppy you saw at the mall last week?”

“She was very soft,” Louis said in a tremulous voice. “She licked my nose. She liked me.”

“I bet she did,” Gibbs replied.

“Could we get a puppy?” Louis asked.

Tony gave a little grunt of amusement. “God, not that again,” he muttered.

“Sure,” Gibbs said. “We’ll get you a puppy.”

“Daddy said I couldn’t have a puppy,” Louis pointed out.

McGee glanced at Tony. “What? So I’m not a dog person,” Tony said with a defensive shrug.

“Your dad will let you have a puppy if I tell him to,” Gibbs said tersely. McGee had no doubt at all that that was true. He still couldn’t completely get his head around the idea of how Tony and Gibbs’s relationship worked, but he suspected that if anyone had the ultimate say in what went on in the Gibbs/DiNozzo household it was Gibbs.

Gibbs glanced around the cabin and then paused, and moved his head so that he was looking straight at the camera.

“I used to have a dog once,” he said firmly. “Just one dog – no more than one, but he was from a dangerous breed. Unstable. It helped to talk to him when he was barking at me though – I could sometimes calm him down that way. But sometimes the slightest thing would set him off and he’d go really crazy; when he did, nothing seemed to get through to him. You’d look in his eyes and know he’d do whatever he was planning – that dog didn’t bluff.”

“He’s talking to us,” Tony said. “He’s seen the camera.”

“Yeah.” McGee nodded, because Gibbs’s powers of observation were the sharpest of anyone he’d ever known. There was no way they’d have got that camera in there without him seeing it. “He’s giving us intel on Glover.”

“Can we go home now?” Louis asked. “I don’t like it here.”

“I know, Lou,” Gibbs said softly, moving his head down so that he could kiss Louis’s hair. “We’ll go home soon.”


“When your dad gets here,” Gibbs replied, looking up, straight at the camera again. Tony’s hands curled into fists.

“Are you sure Daddy is coming?” Louis asked.

“Yes I am. I told you he was, didn’t I?” Gibbs replied.

“Just…sometimes he says he’s gonna come and do stuff with us and he doesn’t,” Louis said. Tony’s eyes flashed and McGee winced. That had to have hurt.

“He’ll come this time,” Gibbs said firmly. “I promise. He just needs some time to find us.”

“Are we lost then?” Louis asked, and the kid sounded petrified. “Is that why he can’t find us?” McGee remembered Louis’s story about being lost in the mall that time; it was one of the child’s worst fears.

“No,” Gibbs told him. “We’re not lost. How can you be lost when I’m here with you, huh Louis?”

That seemed to satisfy Louis and he rested his head against Gibbs’s chest.

“My wrists hurt,” he whispered, and Tony muttered something angrily under his breath, his fists furling and unfurling in rage.

“I know,” Gibbs replied soothingly. “Won’t be much longer now though, Louis.”

“I’m scared of Nathan’s dad,” Louis said softly. “I’m scared he’s going to hit you again, Boss.”

“It’s okay – it doesn’t hurt, Lou. Look, if he gets angry again, I want you to just roll out of the way and let him hit me, okay?” Gibbs said. “Don’t try and help me like you did last time because you could get hurt.”

“But I don’t like him hitting you…” Louis began.

“That’s an order, Louis,” Gibbs told him sternly. “You remember what I told you about following orders?” Louis nodded unhappily. “You remember I said that that’s what good marines do – they follow orders, even when they’re not happy about it.”

“Okay,” Louis whispered. He moved his head and must have jolted Gibbs’s wounded arm because he took a sharp intake of breath. “You need a band-aid on your arm, Boss,” Louis said.

“Yeah. I know,” Gibbs said. “Don’t worry – your dad will bring a whole box of them when he shows up.”

“Why’s he always late?” Louis said, gazing over towards the door as if he expected Tony to just walk right in.

“Well you know your dad, he’s kind of busy,” Gibbs said wearily.

“Why?” Louis asked.

“He’s got important stuff to do,” Gibbs replied vaguely.

“What stuff?” Louis asked.

“Damned if I know,” Gibbs muttered, glaring at the camera. “So what are you going to call this puppy, Louis?” he asked, in what was clearly a blatant attempt to change the subject.

“Beanie,” Louis said promptly, without even thinking about it.

“Interesting name,” Gibbs said, shifting slightly and peering to his right. “You know, I think if we’re going to get a puppy it should be soon – really soon – because otherwise it might be too late, and the shop will have sold out.”

Tony turned to McGee. “He’s right. We know enough. We have to move,” he said.

“Hang on – I’m still setting something up,” McGee said, turning back to his technical unit to see where they were at with it. At that moment Sacks and Morris both returned to the cabin.

“You got visual?” Sacks said, looking at the screen, and then a little vein in his forehead pulsed angrily when he saw Louis and Gibbs. “Bastard,” he muttered. “Nobody should do that to a little kid. You okay, DiNozzo?”

Tony didn’t say a word – the expression on his face said it all. McGee finished briefing his technical team, and then took off his jacket and threw it onto a nearby chair and ripped off his tie. He reached for a Kevlar vest from a stack on the floor and put it on. Morris and Sacks followed suit while Tony stayed, watching the screen darkly, an unfathomable expression in his green eyes. There was a sudden movement on the screen and Glover came into view again. He loomed over Gibbs.

“Tell the kid to shut up,” he hissed.

“He’s just a kid,” Gibbs replied. “And he’s scared – he’s talking because he’s scared.”

“Shut him up or I’ll shut him up for you,” Glover snapped. Louis looked petrified, and he buried his face as far under Gibbs’s arm as it would go.

“What’s the plan, Glover?” Gibbs asked quietly. “You’ve done a good job with the explosives – what happens next?”

Glover moved his hand and there was a cracking sound as the butt end of a pistol slammed into Gibbs’s jaw. Tony winced. Louis let out a little sob, and Glover’s hand went back again. Gibbs pushed Louis away from him with his body, and twisted to one side to draw Glover’s attention away from the child and towards him.

“You disgust me,” Glover hissed at Gibbs, and then he delivered another blow to Gibbs’s jaw, making his head slam back and hit the wall behind him. “Scum like you shouldn’t be allowed near kids. Scum like you shouldn’t pretend to be normal, or to try and do the things that normal people do. You shouldn’t be allowed to marry, and look after kids, and walk around as if it’s okay to be what you are. The law shouldn’t give you rights and allow scum like you to corrupt our kids. You make me sick.”

Gibbs didn’t say a word. He just rested his head back against the wall and gazed at the man from one open and one half-closed eye. Louis was scrunched into a little ball beside him, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head resting on them, his eyes tightly shut, his entire body shaking. The brave little kid was following orders, McGee thought to himself, just like they all did whenever Gibbs handed them out.

“I told you that you’d burn,” Glover said. “I sent a note, warning you. Now I’m going to make that happen – and the world is going to watch.”

Then suddenly he turned, and looked straight at the camera.

“I know you’re watching,” he said. “Now get me my news crew up here – because there’s a lot I want to say, and if you don’t send them up right now I’ll put a bullet through the kid’s kneecap. You’ve got five minutes.”

Glover moved away again and Tony turned, and grabbed a Kevlar vest from the pile. He pulled it on, his eyes as dark as McGee had ever seen them. Then he undid his shirt sleeves and pushed them up his arms. McGee saw the long, familiar ridge of twisted scarring on his left arm and wondered what Tony was thinking now, with Gibbs and Louis trapped in a cabin that had just become a giant bomb. He hoped that Tony wasn’t thinking about Ziva and what had happened to her.

“So what’s the plan, McGee?” Tony asked, in a low, dark tone.

“He wanted a news crew – let’s give him one,” McGee said. “Morris, Sacks – go borrow a couple of cameras from those news crews out there.”

“I don’t think they’ll like that, sir,” Morris said.

“I don’t care!” McGee growled. “Do it!”

Sacks and Morris disappeared and McGee turned to Tony.

“I’m going in there with Sacks and Morris,” he said. “They’re going to be the news crew he asked for.” McGee grabbed a small, hand-held monitor from his technical unit so that he could view the interior of the cabin as they approached it.

“I’m coming with you,” Tony said grimly. McGee looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded. There wasn’t any point in telling Tony he had to stay behind – he wouldn’t do it, and in all honesty McGee didn’t blame him.

“Okay – but stand behind me, and I’m doing all the talking – understand?”

Tony’s eyes flickered evasively but he nodded. “Whatever, McGee. Let’s just get up there.”

Sacks and Morris reappeared with cameras and McGee filled them in on the plan, and then they walked slowly up the hillside to the cabin. From the outside it looked so peaceful, just a little wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere, but McGee could see the SWAT team hidden in trees all around the place. Glover had boarded up all the windows in the cabin though, so unless he was stupid enough to stand in the open doorway McGee doubted the SWAT teams would be much use.

McGee stopped several yards away from the door and then raised his megaphone.

“Mr. Glover – my name is Timothy McGee and I’m here to help you. You called for a news crew; I have them here for you,” he said.

He glanced at his hand-held monitor and saw Glover pull on a piece of cord. The door swung open, and McGee could just about make out the dark interior.

“No shot,” the captain of the SWAT team confirmed in his earpiece.

“Send them in,” Glover shouted. “I’m ready. By the way – I’m sure you already know this place is wired to explode at the press of a button. Well, I have the button right here.”

He held up his hand and McGee glanced at the monitor again and saw he was holding a box with a single green button on it. He looked at Tony.

“Not a dead man’s switch,” Tony mouthed, but even so, that wasn’t a great deal of comfort. Even if they got a shot at him it’d have to be a damned good one to make it worth the risk of his finger hitting that button and the entire place going up in a big ball of flame.

“Okay – look, we just want you to have a chance to tell us what’s upset you,” McGee said loudly, in his most soothing voice. “We know there’s a lot you want to say and this is your chance to say it. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt – the world is watching you right now. Everyone is watching you and listening to you – you don’t need to hurt anyone to get people to listen. They’re already listening.”

“Send in the news crew,” Glover yelled.

McGee glanced at Morris and Sacks. They could all be walking to their deaths – for all he knew, Glover could just press that button the minute they got in there, but Morris and Sacks didn’t hesitate. They all walked slowly into the cabin, Tony bringing up the rear.

Once inside, McGee didn’t allow himself the luxury of glancing over to the far wall, where he knew Gibbs and Louis were huddled. Instead, he made eye contact with Glover as soon as he got in there, trying to build some kind of a rapport with the man. Glover had a gun in one hand and the detonator in the other. Morris swung her camera around as if she was a pro, looking every inch the seasoned newshound.

“You don’t have to do this, Paul,” McGee said softly. “We know you’re angry about your little boy. We’ve found Nathan – he’s waiting down the hillside for you. If you want, we could go down there and see him right now.”

“I don’t believe you,” Glover replied, stony-faced. “See, I asked if I could visit him but they said I couldn’t. They said I wasn’t allowed near him, like I’m more of a danger to my boy than those filthy cunts who stole him from me. When I think he has to live with that…he has to see them kiss and touch and they tell him that’s *normal*…it makes me fucking sick.”

“It’s not right,” McGee told him. “I agree. It’s not right. It’s not fair. But your argument isn’t with that little kid over there – let him go, Paul. Let Louis go.”

“The world should know how wrong it is,” Glover continued. “I have to tell everyone that it’s wrong.”

“You are. That’s what you’re doing right now – telling the world,” McGee said. “That’s what these news crews are here for. They’re telling everyone.”

“I want to see it,” Glover said. “On the TV. Show me.” He pointed at the TV sitting in the corner of the room. “Turn it on. I want to see it,” he said.

Tony took a sharp intake of breath but McGee just walked over there and turned it on. Immediately an image flashed up of the outside of the cabin. An attractive female reporter was standing there talking, saying that they were now receiving footage from inside the cabin, and then feed from Morris’s camera began playing. McGee shot Tony a little look – he’d trained the NCIS technical unit himself, and he *knew* they were the best; he hadn’t given them much time but he had never doubted they’d pull this off.

“See,” McGee said, turning back to Glover. “The whole world is watching. You can say whatever you like.”

He saw Tony glance over at where Gibbs and Louis were sitting, in the far corner, slumped against the wall, and he hoped he wasn’t going to do anything stupid.

Glover tucked his gun into his thigh holster, but his grip on the detonator didn’t falter.

“Give me the mike,” he said, gesturing at the large black microphone Sacks was holding. Sacks moved towards him, clearly trying to get within combat range, but Glover wasn’t an idiot. “Roll it on the floor!” he ordered. Sacks paused, and then crouched down and did as he was told. Glover picked it up and then looked straight into Morris’s camera and began talking. He talked fast, and was so enraged that he didn’t make a lot of sense.

“They say it’s normal but it isn’t. You know it isn’t. America knows it isn’t,” Glover was saying. Tony glanced at McGee, and then at Gibbs. “It’s sick and it’s disgusting. These people are corrupting our little kids, and we’re letting them. Passing laws saying they can marry, like they’re normal people when they aren’t. They’re filth, and they want to screw around with our kids…Someone has to stand up and say it how it is and I look around and people aren’t listening. People aren’t *listening* to us. They’re not listening to *me*.”

“I am,” Tony said suddenly. McGee glared at him but Tony ignored him and stepped forward, holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m listening, Paul, and you’re right. You know me, don’t you? I’m Louis’s dad – I’m the person you really want, not Louis. He’s just an innocent little kid. He’s like Nathan – just a child. You don’t want to hurt him – you want to hurt me.”

Glover stared at him, his eyes flashing angrily.

“When you went to my house last night you really wanted me and Gibbs – you didn’t want Louis. You just took him because I wasn’t there, didn’t you?” Tony said softly. “I know you didn’t mean to take him, because I know you’re a dad and you wouldn’t hurt a kid.”

McGee saw the faint little glimmer of uncertainty in Glover’s eyes. He was pretty sure that Glover *had* intended to take Louis but he could also see that Tony was giving him an out here.

“It’s me and Gibbs who should burn. You’re right. We’re the ones who should suffer – not Louis,” Tony said softly. “Why don’t you take me instead of him, Paul? I’ll be your hostage. It’s me and Gibbs you want, not Louis. We’re the ones you want to punish, not him. Let him go, Paul. Just let me go over there and get him. I’ll give him to McGee and he can take him out of here but I’ll stay as your new hostage. Then you can do whatever you want to me and Gibbs.”

McGee could see the uncertainty in Glover’s eyes. He’d meant to do this, had psyched himself up to it and had known exactly how he intended to play it, but now Tony was confusing him.

“Let me just go over there…” Tony said, taking a step towards where Louis and Gibbs were sitting. “You’ll still have two hostages – me and Gibbs – but let Louis go. He’s just a kid. Like Nathan.”

That seemed to swing it for Glover, and he gave a curt nod. “Okay – you can take the kid – but you stay here. When this place goes up, you’re going up with it,” he growled.

“That’s fine. I deserve that. This is my fault,” Tony said softly, moving silently but fast towards the far wall. He got there, grabbed Louis, and walked swiftly back. He shoved Louis into McGee’s arms. “Go, take him – quickly, Tim. Go out and don’t come back,” Tony said urgently.

McGee stared at him. Tony and Gibbs were his team, his family – he couldn’t just leave them here to die. If he didn’t though, Louis might die too, and Tony had just bought Louis’s life with his own.

“Tim, you’re my best friend. With me and Gibbs gone you’re the only person I trust to take good care of him,” Tony said fiercely. “He’s yours now – go. Go!” he barked.

McGee knew he had no choice – he turned and ran out of the door, desperate to get Louis to safety, half expecting Glover to press that button and for the cabin to blow up behind him before he got Louis out. He ran a little way down the hill with the child, and met the paramedic team waiting on standby down there, with Ducky hovering anxiously beside them. McGee didn’t have a clue how and when Ducky had got there but he was glad to see their old friend. Ducky took Louis out of his arms, and McGee pulled his knife out of his sock holster and cut the ropes around Louis’s wrists and ankles. The little boy threw his arms around him and clung on tight the minute he was free.

“Uncle Tim, there’s a bad man and he hurt Boss,” he said, his little body trembling against McGee’s.

“I know, Louis, but it’s okay. It’s okay,” he soothed.

“It’s not! Boss was bleeding worse than anything I’ve ever seen, even when I had that nosebleed that time,” Louis told him. “And the man kept hitting him, and Daddy is in there now and…”

“Ssh…it’s okay…” McGee said soothingly, feeling Louis’s breathing hitch as his body shook even more. “I know, I know.”

He glanced back at the cabin in an agony of indecision. Tony had told him not to go back, and it was true that if that place went up in smoke that Louis would lose both his parents and that would make McGee and Ducky all he had left. All the same, McGee didn’t think he could just leave them there. He had to DO something.

“Louis – I need you to go to Ducky now – okay?” he said. The little boy was so traumatised and clinging onto him so tightly that it was all McGee could do to let go of him, but Ducky reached out his arms and Louis saw a familiar face and allowed Ducky to pluck him away.

McGee took out the handheld monitor from his pocket and looked at it. Glover was pointing his gun at Tony, forcing him back against the wall, next to Gibbs. Tim turned, and ran back up the hill, listening to Glover talk via his earpiece as he went.

“You two – leave now. I’ve said what I have to say,” Glover commanded Morris and Sacks. “Go outside and film this place getting blown sky high. I told them they’d burn but they didn’t pay me any attention. Nobody ever paid me any attention – well now they’ll have to.”

McGee glanced at the hand-held monitor as he drew close. He could see Sacks backing out of there and watched, in slow motion, as Morris turned as if to follow him, and then she moved fast, so fast she was a blur, and her gun was in her hand when it hadn’t been a moment before, and she threw the camera sideways at the same time as she fired her gun. McGee sprinted the final couple of steps towards the cabin, knowing that if Morris had missed then Glover would be right on the brink of pressing that button and the whole place would go up, taking all of them with it…

McGee heard a crash inside and he ran into the cabin to find Glover lying flat on his back on the floor with a hole in his head, eyes wide open in death, the detonator still held loosely in his hand. McGee crouched down beside him and removed the detonator from his fingers, then barked into his wire to his explosives unit to get up to the place and make it safe.

“Get out,” he ordered Morris and Sacks. “Just in case this place still blows. We don’t know how he rigged it.”

McGee ran quickly over to the far wall, where Tony had pulled a knife from his sock holster and had cut through the ropes around Gibbs’s wrists and was busy sawing away at the ones around his legs.

McGee crouched beside Gibbs. “You okay?” he asked anxiously. Gibbs nodded.

“I’ve had worse,” he growled.

“We’ve got a paramedic team outside waiting,” McGee told him.

“Louis?” Gibbs asked.

“He’s fine. Ducky’s looking after him.”

“I told you not to come back, McGee,” Tony snapped at him.

“I know.” McGee shrugged. “I’m sorry. It was instinct. You’re still my team, even after all this time.”

Tony finished cutting through the ropes around Gibbs’s ankles and then picked up his good arm, slung it around his shoulder, and helped him to his feet. McGee had rarely seen Gibbs show pain but he did see a little flicker of a grimace pass across his face as Tony pulled him up. Tony clearly saw it too, because he wrapped an arm around Gibbs’s waist, and held him tight as he swayed on his feet.

“Uh, McGee knows,” he said, in an apologetic tone. “About us.”

“I figure the whole damn world knows about us now,” Gibbs muttered, glancing at the TV set.

“Uh – no actually. Just the people in this room and in the cabin down the hillside,” McGee said. “That wasn’t a real news broadcast – Glover just thought it was. I had my technical team patch it in using a…well, you don’t need to know how of course,” he said hurriedly, seeing the look Gibbs was giving him. “Just that nobody saw it – it wasn’t a real broadcast. It was just for Glover’s benefit.”

“Way to go, McGeek,” Tony grinned at him as he half-carried Gibbs out of the cabin. “You had me fooled.”

“Of course that’s not hard,” Gibbs commented. Tony grinned at him too, and then, much to McGee’s surprise, pressed a kiss against the side of Gibbs’s face.

“I love you too, Boss,” he said. Gibbs rolled his eyes, but McGee noticed that the hand he had wrapped around Tony’s shoulder squeezed, gently, in response.

“You did good in there,” Gibbs said wearily. “Both of you.”

“Worth an ‘attaboy’?” Tony asked cheekily. Gibbs grinned, and moved his hand to stroke the back of Tony’s head.

“Attaboy,” he murmured, and Tony gave an absurdly wide smile, lapping up the petting. McGee remembered what he’d said about needing to be touched, and it suddenly occurred to him how very tactile Tony was. He’d never thought about it before, but seeing Gibbs and Tony standing in front of him like this he had a sudden flash of insight into how it worked between them – maybe how it had always worked. All those head slaps Gibbs had been giving Tony for so many years served the dual purpose of slapping some good sense into him and giving him the physical contact he craved so much. No wonder Tony always seemed to do his best to provoke Gibbs into delivering them.

They got outside and a team of paramedics rushed forward and took Gibbs away from Tony, and put him on a gurney. A second later there was a little cry and a blur of blue and red dashed past McGee and straight into Tony’s arms and settled there, clinging on tight. Tony put his arms around Louis and held him as if he’d never let him go, kissing his hair and face repeatedly.

“Boss said you’d come for us,” Louis said. “He said you would and you did, and there was a bad man who hurt Boss – his arm was bleeding and he said it didn’t hurt but I knew it did and we were locked in the trunk of a car and Boss said to go to sleep but I couldn’t so we sang songs and he made up stories and he said you’d come and I thought maybe you wouldn’t but then you did and the bad man put rope around my hands and it hurt, Daddy.”

Louis paused for a moment in his stream of consciousness talk to hold up one arm, which bore a little white bandage around the wrist. Tony kissed it, over and over again.

“I’m sorry, Lou. I’m so, so sorry,” he said. “I called Uncle Tim as soon as I knew you were missing and we didn’t stop looking for you until we found you.”

“We weren’t lost though,” Louis told him, urgently, as if this was very important. “Boss said we weren’t lost because he was with me and he knew where we were and that you knew too and would come and get us so we weren’t really lost.”

“No, just missing – not lost,” Tony said, kissing Louis’s cheek. “Not really lost.”

“Is Boss okay?” Louis looked around anxiously.

“He’s fine. He’ll get a bandage just like yours and he’ll be okay,” Tony told him.

“I was scared. Boss said it was okay to be scared but I was really scared,” Louis said.

“I know. Me too.” Tony rested his forehead against Louis’s and held him quietly, rocking him in his arms for a long, heartfelt moment. “I couldn’t lose you, Lou,” he said, in a choked tone. “I love you, Louis,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” Louis told him, and then he pulled back and looked at his father. “Boss says I can have a puppy,” he added. Tony laughed out loud.

“Yeah, you can have a puppy, Lou,” he sighed. “Now, shall we go and see Boss?”

Louis nodded eagerly and McGee followed them over to the ambulance. The paramedics had cut Gibbs’s shirt off him and bandaged his wounded arm and he looked a little better – his face was a little less grey than it had been although his jaw was badly bruised and cut in places. Ducky was standing beside him, rolling his eyes in exasperation – an emotion that seemed to be shared by the equally frustrated-looking paramedic who was busy placing Gibbs’s bandaged arm in a sling.

“They want to take me to the damn hospital,” Gibbs grumbled.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Tony said to the paramedic.

“I think you should go,” McGee said. Gibbs glared at him. “You were shot – you’ll need more than just patching up,” McGee pointed out. “And he hit you with his gun a few times as well – we should make sure he didn’t break any bones.”

“The gunshot is a flesh wound,” Gibbs said irritably. “It looks worse than it is, and trust me, McGee, I’d KNOW if I’d broken any bones.”

“You really are the most exasperating patient, Jethro,” Ducky remonstrated with a heavy sigh. “It’s always the same. I don’t know why I even dared to think it might be different this time around.”

“Only way they’ll get me into a hospital bed again is if I’m unconscious,” Gibbs growled. “Can’t stand the damn food in those places, either.”

“I’ll get you some painkillers,” the paramedic sighed. “The heavy-duty kind. You’ll need them.”

“Waste of time. He won’t take them,” Tony said with a shrug. “He’ll be fine. Let him come home with us.” He gave Gibbs a hard look. “Ducky can keep an eye on you but if at any time he says you need to go to the hospital then I’ll drive you there myself. Oh, and if the only way you’ll go is unconscious, well, I’m sure I can arrange that.” Gibbs glared at him and Tony raised an eyebrow, daring him to protest, and then, much to McGee’s surprise, Gibbs sighed and looked down in capitulation. Tony grinned.

“Are you okay now, Boss?” Louis asked, looking torn between wanting to be wrapped around Gibbs and wanting to stay wrapped around Tony.

“I’m fine, Louis,” Gibbs told him, with a little smile.

“Why did that man want to hurt you and Daddy?” Louis asked.

“Why do you ask so many questions?” Tony said, tickling Louis and making him giggle.

“Because I want to know the answers!” Louis replied sensibly, still giggling. “Why did he take us, Boss? Why did he bring us out here? Why did he let me go and keep you and Daddy? Why was he making a bomb? Why didn’t he like us?”

“It wasn’t you he didn’t like, Louis – it was me and Boss,” Tony told him.

“But why?” Louis insisted.

“Because he was mixed up in his head,” Gibbs replied. “He thought your dad and I wanted to get married and it upset him.”

“You and Daddy are getting married?” Louis’s eyes widened excitedly. Gibbs sighed.

“No – that’s just what he thought and that’s why he was mad at us.”

“Why would that make him mad?” Louis asked, confused.

“Well, that’s a good question,” Tony said with a shrug.

“Why aren’t you getting married?” Louis asked, continuing his run of incessant questions. McGee almost laughed out loud at the look on Gibbs’s face – until he saw the musing look on Tony’s.

“Well, that’s another good question,” Tony said thoughtfully. “Why don’t we, Boss?” He glanced at Gibbs, and his eyes were alive and dancing in a way that McGee hadn’t seen them in a very long time.

“Tony…” Gibbs said in a warning tone. “If I was standing up right now and could reach then I’d slap the back of your head.”

“Aw – you wanted me to be more romantic about it? You should have said!” Tony grinned. He got down on one knee, so that he was level with Gibbs on the gurney, Louis still in his arms.

“Leroy Jethro Gibbs – will you marry me?” he said. “I love you, and, as McGee pointed out, you’re the longest relationship I’ve ever had. Admittedly I haven’t been the best boyfriend in the world but it’ll be different going forward, I promise. McGee has been making me see myself in a different way these past couple of days, and, well, nearly losing you and Louis has sure as hell made me re-examine my priorities. So…marry me. Please.”

Louis was grinning, looking from Gibbs to Tony and back again excitedly. Gibbs was glaring at Tony so hard that McGee wondered if Tony had a death wish kneeling so close to him, and definitely within slapping distance.

“Come on! I know you’ve never been that great at the whole marriage thing but hey – fifth time lucky?” Tony grinned. Gibbs *did* slap him for that. Tony laughed. “Was that a yes?”

“Say yes, Boss!” Louis urged excitedly.

“This isn’t fair,” Gibbs growled.

“I know!” Tony grinned. “But hey, if I have to put up with a dog in the house for the next god knows how many years, the least you can do is wear my damn ring on your finger.”

“You’re crazy,” Gibbs muttered. Tony’s grin widened.

“I know that too. C’mon – don’t make me beg. Marry me!”

McGee could see Gibbs was weakening. “You and Tony do make a fine couple,” he said, adding his two cents. Now Gibbs glared at him. “And he is loaded,” he added. “So you could always marry him for his money if nothing else.”

“Gee, thanks, McGee,” Tony pouted. “Also, I’m good-looking, charming and great fun to be with. Okay, so not so much lately, but I can be again – I promise. Probie – didn’t you say I had three months vacation time stacked up?”

“I did, Tony.” McGee nodded.

“Well I’m taking them – all three months, starting right now,” Tony said. “I’ve missed out on a lot these past few years – I have some catching up to do. Also, it’ll give us a chance to plan our wedding.” He winked at Gibbs.

“I haven’t said yes yet,” Gibbs growled.

“You will,” Tony said confidently.

“I’m used to being the one doing the asking,” Gibbs pointed out.

“So ask.” Tony shrugged.

Gibbs thought about it for a moment, and then looked at Louis who was gazing at him with shining eyes, and then, finally, he heaved a big sigh and gave in.

“Tony,” Gibbs began. “Will you…?”

“Yes,” Tony said quickly. “There see – that was painless.” He leaned forward, and kissed Gibbs on the mouth before he could say anything else.

McGee thought he should be shocked or surprised or something to see his old boss and his old friend locked in such an intimate embrace but oddly it seemed like the most normal thing in the world. In fact, it seemed so normal that he wondered how he’d never realised they were in a relationship before. It all seemed so incredibly obvious now – and kind of *right*. There was an easy back and forth between them, and a banter that only people who loved each other exchanged. Gibbs had stuck by Tony when the going was tough, and McGee had a feeling that Tony knew exactly how lucky he’d been to find someone who’d do that. He couldn’t have been easy to live with these past few years, but Gibbs, of all people, knew what it’d been like for him, and had loved him during the dark, bleak times, when he didn’t love himself.

He looked at them for a moment, feeling a sudden pang of loneliness as he watched Tony and Gibbs kiss and Louis scramble from one lap to the other, happy to be part of the moment. It might be unconventional but these three were a family, and while he didn’t begrudge them their happiness he did long for his own happy ending.

He tore his eyes away and glanced over at Ducky, who seemed to be taking this new development as much in his stride as McGee. All McGee could see in Ducky’s eyes was a sense of satisfaction and a little glow of happy approval.

McGee moved away to ensure that the clear-up operation was moving along efficiently. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tony and Gibbs chatting while Louis nestled in Gibbs’s lap, and then Tony got up and went over to talk to A.D. Sacks.

McGee turned and almost bumped into Morris.

“I just heard from Carter,” she said, holding up her cell phone.

“Shit – I’d forgotten all about Jonssen,” McGee said, beckoning Tony over.

“It’s Carter,” Morris told Tony when he loped over to them. “He just called. About Jonssen.”

Tony went very still and McGee sighed, wondering if he’d really meant it about taking three months off – it didn’t seem likely if they had Jonssen sitting in their interrogation room.

“Jonssen was a no-show at the hospice,” Morris said. “No sign that he’d been there, either – Carter talked to all the nurses. And there’s not much chance of him showing up now because it’s too late – his mother died earlier today.”

That muscle in Tony’s jaw twitched and McGee held his breath, waiting for the familiar darkness to flood into his eyes the way it always did when a lead on Jonssen went bad. This time, though, it didn’t happen. He just nodded.

“Okay. I think I’ve wasted enough of my life – and enough of Louis’s life – chasing after him. If the bastard ever comes near me I’ll go after him, but I’m not chasing him any more. It’s over,” he said quietly. McGee felt a mixture of surprise and relief.

“You mean that, Tony?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tony said softly. “You were right, Tim. I was too busy mourning what I’d lost to notice what I’d still got. And what I’ve got is something pretty damn good – I just didn’t realise that until I almost lost it too.”

Tony glanced back at where Gibbs was still sitting on the gurney, his bandaged arm in a sling, his other arm around Louis who was talking away to him while Gibbs nodded patiently, listening to every word the little boy was saying.

Tony turned back, and looked at McGee. “Thank you for helping me bring them home safely, Tim,” he said softly. “And now I’m going to do something for you.” He glanced at Morris. “Well done, Agent Morris,” he told her. “You did a great job in there.”

“Uh…thank you, sir,” Morris said, looking startled. Tony gave out praise about as often as Gibbs, McGee thought – in other words, not very often. No wonder she was surprised.

“I mean it. You could have just got out of there and let him blow the place – and us – to kingdom come, but you took a shot at him, knowing that if you missed he’d press the button and you’d go up with the rest of us. That took guts – and also, it was a damn good shot. I’m glad I insisted on you all taking those regular lessons on the range,” Tony grinned. McGee smiled; Tony had been just as insistent as Gibbs had always been about his team being able to shoot fast and accurately, and, like Gibbs, he’d been right.

“You’re a damn fine agent, Morris,” Tony said and her face split into an ear to ear grin. “You’re also fired,” he told her, and the grin faded immediately.

“What?” she said, looking from Tony to McGee, aghast, but McGee had no idea what Tony was up to. “Director McGee?” she said angrily. “He can’t fire me for doing a good job!”

“Of course he can’t,” McGee told her soothingly. “In fact he can’t actually fire you, period – I’m the only one who can do that. Tony, what the hell are you playing at? She’s the best agent you’ve got!”

“I agree,” Tony said, nodding. “You’re an exceptional agent, Morris, and you deserve to be out in the field. That’s why I brought you with us today – not Carter, not Banks, or any of the others, but you. This was my family in danger – and you were the only one I trusted to do the right thing out here.”

“So why the hell are you talking about firing her?” McGee frowned.

“Because she was right to complain about me,” Tony replied with a shrug. “I’m just surprised it took you so long, Morris. You’re right – I often don’t select you for the more dangerous field work and that’s not a reflection on you or your capabilities, it’s just that I don’t want to lose another Kate, or Ziva, or even Abby. And you deserve better, frankly.”

“You can’t fire me because of your own damn issues!” Morris said hotly.

“I agree,” Tony grinned. “And McGee’s right – I can’t *actually* fire you, and he sure as hell won’t. I was just trying to get your attention. You see, I just had a word with Assistant Director Sacks over there, and he was pretty damn impressed with you today and says that if you ever want to leave NCIS then there’s a job waiting for you at the FBI.”

“Leave NCIS?” Morris glanced at McGee, an anxious look in her eyes, and then looked back at Tony. “Why would I want to leave?”

“Well, Sacks can offer you a promotion – more money, a chance to lead your own team, and work out in the field. Although I hear your new boss is a complete bastard so that might take some getting used to.” He grinned at her. She gazed back at him, her face still shocked, unable to take this in.

“I don’t want to leave,” she said, glancing at McGee again. “I have a lot of loyalty to NCIS, and particularly to Director McGee.”

“Yeah…about that,” Tony said. “McGee is totally in love with you but he won’t ask you out while you’re one of his agents for some blah blah reason to do with rules and sexual harassment or something – I wasn’t really listening and you know how he likes to go on and on – so if you do take the job with the FBI then he’ll be able to ask you out on a hot date. Or you can stay at NCIS and just gaze at him longingly whenever he walks past because it’s never gonna happen while you still work for him.”

McGee felt his mouth open like a goldfish, and his face flush from his neck all the way up to the tips of his ears. Morris was looking equally flustered.

“What…I don’t…I do NOT *gaze*…” she floundered.

“Yeah, you really do,” Tony told her. “Think about it. I’ve done my bit to help the cause of true love between geeks. The rest is up to you two now.”

“Tony!” McGee yelled hotly, but Tony had already turned and begun striding away. “I WILL kill you!” McGee promised. Tony waved a nonchalant hand in the air.

“You’re welcome, Probie!” he shouted over his shoulder.

McGee turned back to Morris, to find her staring at him.

“You’re totally in love with me?” she asked.

“Uh…no,” he said. “Well maybe. A bit. Well, quite a lot actually, but don’t worry, it’s fine, I…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish that sentence because she flung herself at him and kissed him, hard, on the mouth. She tasted warm and sweet and soft and, once he’d got over the shock, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back.

“That hot date – make it tonight,” she told him when she finally released him. He stared at her, feeling giddy. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited – I’m not waiting another second,” she said.

“Uh…how long?” he asked curiously. “Have you waited that is?”

“Three years – since the day I joined NCIS and DiNozzo yelled at me all day long and you were the only one who was kind to me. I have this, well, kind of unrequited love habit and my friends have all been saying this is typical of me and that it’s such a cliché to have a crush on your boss, but I knew it was more than that even if you didn’t seem aware I existed.”

“Oh, I knew you existed,” McGee told her, grabbing her hand and holding it tight. “I definitely knew you existed, Felicity. Three years though?”

“I know!” She flushed and shook her head. “You always seemed so lost and lonely and I wanted to stand on my desk and shout at you to get your attention but you never seemed to be looking so I just sat there and stewed in my unrequited love, the way I always do.”

“Not unrequited,” he said, aware of feeling something that he hadn’t felt in a very long time – so long, in fact, that it took him a moment to figure out what it was. Hope. It was hope. Hope that after all the sadness of the past, there might actually be some kind of happiness in the future. “Uh, does this mean you’re accepting the FBI job?” he asked her anxiously.

“I’ll talk to A.D. Sacks – see if I like the sound of it, and then I’ll decide,” she told him. “I always thought DiNozzo was such a bastard.” She shook her head. “Maybe I was wrong and he isn’t a *total* bastard.”

“Yeah.” McGee grinned back at her. “Like I said, Felicity, he’s a good man – and a good friend.” He put his hand in his pant pocket to find his cell phone and frowned as his fingers made contact with a small, round piece of metal. He drew it out and shook his head when he saw it was the GPS locator he’d given to Ducky to plant on Tony. Tony must have found it and planted it on McGee instead. “And he’s also really, really annoying,” McGee added, rolling his eyes at Tony’s retreating back.


McGee stood next to Ducky and watched Louis trying to loosen his tie. The boy wasn’t used to wearing a formal suit, but, like his father, he looked fantastic in one. Tony was wearing a smart new suit as well, in soft, expensive grey flannel, and he looked just as good as his son. The two months Tony had taken off work so far had been good for him, as had giving up his blind obsession with chasing after Jonssen. He looked relaxed for the first time in years. McGee knew he’d faced up to his alcohol problem and hadn’t touched a drink in the past eight weeks. He also knew that it hadn’t been easy for him, and he’d had days when he’d occasionally struggled with it. Gibbs had been there with him every step of the way. He’d given up alcohol himself to make it easier on Tony, and had been both tough and loving with Tony while he fought his addiction. Now Tony was eating well and no longer drinking excessively or working himself to the bone and McGee thought that he honestly looked ten years younger as a result.

Gibbs was also wearing a suit – dark, navy blue in his case, with a white shirt and a vivid blue silk tie that matched the colour of his eyes. McGee suspected Tony had been the one who’d selected the outfits for the wedding – Gibbs had never been very interested in clothes. Neither had Tony for the past few years, but now it seemed that his old interests were slowly resurfacing.

Ducky and McGee were the only witnesses – Ducky as Gibbs’s best man and McGee as Tony’s – Gibbs had refused to let anyone else attend, apart from Louis, obviously. McGee suspected that Ducky was wiping a surreptitious tear away as the two men pushed rings onto each other’s fingers and exchanged vows. Gibbs’s vow was short and to the point; Tony’s was much longer and surprisingly sincere and poignant. McGee thought that they were both perfect for the occasion.

The woman officiating smiled and said they could kiss. Gibbs looked as if he’d rather be eaten by a shark than kiss in front of witnesses but Tony wasn’t taking no for an answer and grabbed him, and Gibbs submitted without further protest to having his mouth thoroughly explored by Tony’s tongue. McGee noticed that Tony’s hand was cupping Gibbs’s ass cheekily but Gibbs didn’t seem to mind – his own hand was pressed firmly in the small of Tony’s back, keeping him close.

Louis rushed around them, zooming through the room like a miniature dynamo, happy and excited by the occasion. He had suffered some nightmares after his ordeal initially, but Gibbs had refused, point blank, to take him to a shrink.

“What he needs is his parents, and some time, love and reassurance – not some idiot asking him a load of damn fool questions,” he had snapped, and Tony had agreed with him. McGee thought he was probably right about that because the boy had bounced back and looked the happiest he’d ever seen him. He loved the sheer amount of time his father was spending with him every day, and seemed closer to Tony and less in awe of him than before. McGee knew that Gibbs and Tony took it in turns to read to the child at bedtime each night, and then sit with him while he dropped off to sleep – he wasn’t ready to go to sleep alone yet.

“I have two monster-scarers now, Uncle Tim!” Louis had told him excitedly when he’d dropped by to visit one evening. They were in the process of buying a new house so they could all have a fresh start; Tony had his eye on some big place out in Alexandria although Gibbs thought it was too fancy and preferred a smaller place in Arlington. McGee suspected Gibbs would win that one.

Tony finally relinquished his hold on Gibbs and held out his hand to Louis who took it happily, and they all went off to the marina for the wedding breakfast – which was in fact a hamper packed with champagne and sandwiches.

Felicity Morris was waiting for them there, sitting on a bench beside the hamper, holding Beanie’s lead. Beanie was a huge, excitable golden retriever. She adored Gibbs, who seemed to be training her with effortless efficiency, had already won over Tony by snuggling up to him whenever she sensed he was down, and treated Louis like a fellow puppy – and best friend.

Felicity let Beanie off her lead and the puppy ran over to greet Louis, dashing around with excited enthusiasm as if she’d been separated from him for weeks instead of a couple of hours. Louis ran over the grass with her, around and around, the two of them jumping and playing, Louis giggling and Beanie wagging her tail so fiercely that McGee was surprised she didn’t knock Louis over.

Felicity got up, came over to him, and kissed him on the lips. McGee wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her back. They’d been dating for two months and had been inseparable in that time. He hadn’t known a relationship this *easy*. They never stopped talking and laughing and after all the years of sorrow and loneliness that was such a relief.

“Is it time?” Louis shouted running over to the sleek boat that was waiting for them, bobbing on the water.

“It’s time!” Tony said, grabbing him and throwing him in the air. Louis giggled. It was such a happy, familiar sound that it made McGee smile. Felicity squeezed his hand.

“Okay – let’s go,” Gibbs said.

“Wait!” Tony pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. “This is a momentous occasion, Boss. Someone should say a few words.”

“Oh god,” Gibbs sighed. Tony grinned at him.

“Probie – get out the champagne!” Tony ordered. McGee opened the hamper and poured a glass of champagne for himself, Felicity and Ducky, some fizzy water for Gibbs and Tony, some orange juice for Louis, and a bowl of water for Beanie.

“Friends!” Tony announced, holding up his glass. McGee rolled his eyes. “This here – this boat, is the fifth boat my, uh, husband has built, but the first one ever to float on, you know, actual water. We’re all relieved and hope this means he won’t feel the need to build any more because frankly, it’s kind of a weird hobby. “He ducked instinctively, waiting for the head slap but Gibbs just gave him a good-natured kind of glare. “Okay, my good people – all aboard. I give you a toast. Here’s to the Abigail.”

Tony gazed at Gibbs as he said that and Gibbs gazed back, and McGee felt a lump rise in the back of his throat. He saw the boat’s name, Abigail, written in neat black letters on her brown varnished surface; it was a lovely touch.

“To the Abigail,” they all said, holding up their glasses in a toast, and then sipping their drinks.

“You sure she won’t sink?” McGee overheard Tony whisper to Gibbs as they all climbed onboard. Gibbs *did* slap the back of his head for that.

McGee sat down at the side, with one arm around Felicity as Gibbs took them out onto the open water. Felicity’s dark hair blew into his face as the wind whipped up around them. Ducky grinned at them, shading his eyes from the sun as he looked out over the glistening water.

Beanie slumped down at McGee’s feet, nose on her front paws, looking suddenly exhausted, although her golden tail was still full of life and continued thumping energetically on the floor of the boat.

Gibbs stood beside Louis, showing him how to sail the boat, one arm wrapped around the small boy as he instructed him how to move the rudder, the sun glinting off Gibbs’s new gold wedding ring as he moved his hand. Tony came over and stood beside them both. He was wearing a matching gold ring and he wrapped his arm around Gibbs and kissed his cheek, and then crouched down and kissed Louis’s cheek too.

McGee wasn’t sure when he’d last been this happy but he thought it had probably been a very long time ago. Now though, as he sat here on this sunny day, with the blue sky above him and the people he loved most in the world around him, he thought that maybe, after all they’d been through, everything was finally going to be okay.


The End


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