Loyalties
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Title: Loyalties
Author: djmicheals
Rating: R (for adult moments, some cursing, and angst)
Category: Angst, team as a family fic
Genre: Gen
Pairing: None
Spoilers: Set after Agent Afloat
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warnings: AU, Angsty piece, OOC behavior

A/N: This is another piece that would not get out of my head. Please r&r. I love feedback. However, if you are going to take issue with the fact that “it wouldn’t happen like that” or “they wouldn’t act that way” please don’t. This story is AU for a reason and you have been warned.

Summary: It all came down to loyalty, something Gibbs had never had to question about this team his team before.


Tony spoke in a low, soft but vehement tone. “Not a word Probie. I knew exactly what I was getting into and I’d do it again in a heartbeat right now. You keep your nose clean of this if you can. Best case scenario I’m on suspension, worse case I’m fired. Whatever happens, you need to be here at NCIS, just not today. Got it?! I can stand either option a lot better than you can and you know it. If worse turns worse, I can always go ask my father for a job or just stay at home.”

“But Tony!” McGee protested equally soft and equally forceful.

“I mean it Tim. What happens if we are both gone?”

McGee nodded his head and a look of resolve came into his eyes. “OK. You’re right, but I’m not backing down without a fight and neither will you. If it ends this way, you’d better not cut us out.”

He looked down at the younger man, Tony saw just how far he had come from the nervous, stuttering kid he used to be to the now self-assured man challenging him to do what was right and it made him proud. “I won’t Tim, it wouldn’t change a thing. It just wasn’t the way I wanted it all to come out, not the way I wanted to leave.”

When Ziva entered the bullpen she knew something was off and it wasn’t just a Monday thing. Gibbs was not at his desk. Tony was speaking to McGee who sat at his desk. They looked up at her entrance but did not stop their discussion. She put her rucksack down and turned on her computer eyeing them warily. She then saw Tony stick out his hand to McGee and they shook, then Tony returned to his desk. By the looks on their faces, it looked like they sealed a deal with the devil.

Ziva crossed to Tony’s desk and leaned forward with both hands placed on his desk and eyed him suspiciously, “What is going on? Where is Gibbs?? What were you and McGee talking about??”

Tony looked up at her with a bland expression. “And a Good Morning to you too Officer Dah-veed. A little tardy today aren’t we? To answer your questions nothing is going on that you need to worry about, I’m not completely sure where Gibbs is at the moment, and what McGee and I were talking about is personal. You know, manly man guy stuff. Go back to your desk. Don’t you have work to do Zee-vah?? I know that Gibbs wanted you to run down those phone logs. “

“DiNozzo, you come with me right now.” Gibbs yelled angrily as he came charging down the stairs from Director Vance’s office. The entire floor went quiet. He continued on to an interrogation room and didn’t stop to see if Tony would follow and did not explain why he wanted him. Agents stopped and stared, jumping out of his way.

Tony had been watching for Gibbs and when he saw him coming he stood and followed the order, not before he gave a final hard look to McGee that had the younger man nodding.

Ziva saw the look between them. She watched Gibbs and Tony go down the hallway for a moment before stalking over to McGee with slit eyes and hissing at him. “I know that there is something going on McGee and I know that you know what it is. Tell me and I will not injure you, much.”

McGee slowly stood up and looked her squarely in the eye and spoke in a hard, flat tone of voice she had never heard from him. “If Tony wanted you to know what he was saying then he would have said it loud enough to for you to hear him Ziva or else he would have told you outright.”

He grabbed his gear and walked towards the elevator.

“McGee! Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“When will you be back?”

“Later.”

When Tony entered the interrogation room Gibbs barked out an order, “Sit,” to which he complied, albeit a little more slowly than normal.

Tony looked up at him with an expression of bored insolence and smirked. “Is there someone in there and if so, am I a suspect in some crime, a real crime, not one made up by Chip the forensic psycho assistant, or Korte the CIA nut job, or my lovely ex-mark Jeanne?”

Gibbs slammed a form down on the table using as much force as possible and bit out a question “There’s no one in there. Explain this. In-full-detail.”

“Ooh, that answers that question. I*am*a suspect.”

“Cut the crap DiNozzo. I want some damned answers and I want them now. You can start with what this is all about? I get called to Vance’s office for this. Liptick’s in there and says you know what it is about and refuses to go into specific details unless you aren’t properly reprimanded and punished for the charges. He said that if he brings it out, there will be repercussions against innocent NCIS personnel. What the hell is he talking about and what the hell happened?” The last part ended on a roar.

Tony cocked his head to the side, picked up the paper, cocked an eyebrow and grinned. “Looks like a complaint form, more specifically an Adverse Actions form. Hmm. The complainant is one Special Agent Mortimer Liptick aka Morty Limp-dick,” he waggled his eyebrows at Gibbs, “(for those in the know Boss) and the complainee, is that even a word complainee I think someone needs to get out the dictionary. Anyway the complainee is one Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, Moi. What is that little shit complaining about now?? Let’s see shall we?” He quickly scanned the document and this time both eyebrows raised. Except for a brief flash of hardness in his eyes, his face completely closed off and then there was nothing but boredom and amusement.

“Oooh, a very serious complaint indeed. Let’s see, Assault of a Federal Employee, nice, verbal abuse,” he let out a chuckle at that one and continued, “threatening a Federal Employee, oh very nice, and last but not least and I quote ‘Failure to conduct myself in the highest ethical manner in relationships with seniors, peers, and subordinates’ end quote. Well, aside from the exceptional lack of detail, that’s about right. What about it?” He had the audacity to look unfazed.

Tony shrugged one shoulder in a careless gesture. “It’s just like he says Boss. I have threatened harm both verbally and physically; and physically assaulted Federal employee. What else do you want to know and what more do you expect? I know how this works. Whatever the consequences are, I’ll take the punishment. Administrative leave, suspension without pay, or firing it doesn’t matter. Call me when I have to be before IA or if I’m fired, whatever.” With that he got up and walked out of the room leaving Gibbs very surprised.

He quickly walked to his desk, slung his bag over his shoulder, took out his Sig and badge from a drawer, removed his clip and placed them all on Gibbs’ desk. He walked past a stunned Ziva who had been watching him with open curiosity, gave her a backward wave and “Later David,” and was out of the building and off of the Navy Yard in less than five minutes. On his way out he made two phone calls then shut off his cell phone.

It was the utter surprise that left Gibbs in a state of inaction. He took a breath and fell hard to the chair. In all of his years with Tony, he had never seen look or attitude directed at him, during interrogation with a suspect, outside agencies, or undercover yes, but not with him. He looked over the complaint again.

The charges were serious, but Tony was right damn it, it was completely vague and lacked detail, leaving out all references of the name or sex of the employee on whom whose behalf the complaint was made and the dates of the allegations. Why the hell wouldn’t Tony defend himself against the charges? Then he remembered what Liptick had said about repercussions against other NCIS personnel and he had part of his answer. Tony was protecting someone and it was someone that he cared about which meant his team, his family of Ducky, Jimmy, Abby, Tim, Ziva, or himself. He sat for a minute before heading out to the bullpen with a determined look. He was going to get to the bottom of this whether Tony liked it or not and if he couldn’t get the answers from him he would check with the rest of the team.

Gibbs stalked down the hallway, with agents fleeing to get out of his way. He turned the corner, opened his mouth to spit out a demand and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that Tony was not at his desk. Gibbs turned to Ziva who was sitting at her desk and all but yelled, “Where the hell did DiNozzo go now?”

She looked at him with somber eyes that glittered, “Gibbs, he left. He took his bag; He said ‘later’ and just left.” She looked over at Gibbs’ desk. Gibbs followed her gaze and took in the badge, gun, and clip sitting there.

“Son of a bitch.” He wiped a hand over his mouth and chin; his shoulders slumped.

“Gibbs what is going on?”

“I wish I knew Ziver, I wish I knew.”

“Gibbs, I do not want to betray a confidence but where no one confided in me or asked that I not say anything, I will tell you. When I came in this morning Tony and McGee were in a discussion. They were speaking quietly and when they finished they shook hands. It looked very serious. When I asked Tony what was going on but he said that it was nothing that I needed to worry about, men stuff. Before Tony followed you he and McGee shared a look and McGee nodded. After you and Tony went away I told McGee that I knew that there was something going on and I knew that he knew what it was. He would not answer and said that if Tony wanted me to know then he would have told me. Then he left saying he was going “Away” and would be back “Later”. I have tried to call him but my call goes directly to voice mail. I have tried Tony’s cell and it does the same thing. I believe their cell phones are shut off.”

“Shit.”

At that moment Ziva’s computer dinged. “It is an email from McGee. He says that he does not feel well and asks me to let you know that he will not be back today.”

“Let’s go see Abby. Maybe she knows what is going on.”

Then took the elevator to the lab to speak with Abby only to find her absent and a temp was working in her place, Lt. Laurie Winters, who had filled in for Abby before.

“I am sorry Agent Gibbs; I don’t know where Abby is. Director Vance called me and asked me to fill in for Abby for a couple of days. He said that she would be out for the rest of the week and possibly next week.”

The ride in the elevator back upstairs was in silence. Gibbs pointed to Ziva’s desk, “Sit” the same as he had just minutes before to Tony “Keep trying them.” He continued back up to Vance’s office without knocking and dropped down to a chair.

The Director merely looked up at his entrance. “Didn’t you just leave? Have you had a chance to speak with DiNozzo and find out what the hell is going on? I have a bad feeling about this and don’t trust Liptick’s telling the entire truth.”

“No. He clammed up pretty tight, and then left. He didn’t even try to argue about it. Something is wrong Leon. You know my team and how they work. As far as the assault, verbal abuse, threats, ah hell, I can think of any number of times where any one of my team smacked each other, threatened death, and verbally abused each other and that was just on Friday. They do it on a daily basis, several times a day. The threats from Ziva alone are pretty creative. It’s how they work. They treat each other like siblings. Yeah, they aren’t professional in their treatment of each other, hell, sometimes they are downright vicious to each other, but if someone even pokes one of them and you have the others on your ass. Some days I swear I got tagged for babysitting for the worst family on the block’s kids.”

“They are professional with other agents when they don’t know them and then once they get to know ‘em, its pretty easy relationship wise. Tony especially is pretty low key and familiar with just about everyone in the building. I don’t think there is a LEO in the area that he doesn’t know or know of and have some type of relationship with. It seems that most of my team has left for the day. DiNozzo left, McGee said he was sick in an email, and Abby isn’t in her lab. The tech there said you called her in. What’s wrong with Abby??”

“She called me this morning before this whole mess started. Said it was a female issue. Actually she said a lot more. I was trying out the software Cybercrimes installed on my phone lines so I recorded the conversation. You might want to take a listen.”

“Yeah, go ahead.” Gibbs sighed wearily.

“This is Director Vance, how may I help you Ms. Sciuto?”

There was something obviously wrong when a subdued Abby replied. “Hiya, Director. I’m calling you cause Gibbs is totally not answering his phone which really screws with Rule #3, you know never be unreachable. Although, he totally never follows the rules anyway if it doesn’t suit him so I’m not surprised. Why should now be any different? Anyway Um.. this is personal but I need to use some sick days or personal days for a female problem I’m having. See, I keep getting these really bad periods like one on top of the next continuously where I cramp up like a mother and then I bleed for like ever. So I’m having some tests that are pretty invasive. See they take this dye with this tube-thing and inject..”

“Ms. Sciuto! Stop. I don’t need the details. Just tell me how long you will need to be gone.”

“The rest of this week definitely and probably next week too. I can totally call you when I’m done with the tests each day and let you know what happened and what they found out and how they went.”

“No, no. That isn’t necessary. Why don’t you call me when you will be back and I will let Special Agent Gibbs know that you will be gone for a while? Is that doable?”

“Yep. Thanks Leon. See you in two weeks. Bye.”

Gibbs was chuckling by the end of the conversation. “She is something else isn’t she? Although I wasn’t aware that she was having any personal issues. I didn’t know you were on a first name basis with Abby, Leon.”

Vance grimaced, “I’m not. See what you can dig up on your boy and what the hell is going on with him and Liptick.”

Gibbs left the office a few minutes later with no more answers on Tony’s situation than when he went in. He knew that his Senior Agent would give his life for any one of them and had taken bullets for them. This time the bullet came from within the Agency in the form of one Special Agent Liptick.

Unfortunately for him both of the people he relied upon to do the technical work were both unavailable. He didn’t know if McGee was sick or not but based upon the relationship the two men had, Gibbs would bet that he was sick; if not in fact then in heart. McGee looked up to DiNozzo like an older brother. Gibbs hoped to hell that this would be over and not reflect on the younger man. He snorted and had a half smile on his face. McGee, DiNozzo, and Abby were thick as thieves and loyal as hell. He would be willing to bet his next months paycheck that whatever was going on, all three knew about it and were off somewhere plotting revenge, leaving him, and Ziva, to guard. But guard what? He wished he knew what was going on.

“Ziva, did you reach anyone?”

She shook her head, “No Gibbs, they are not answering and I did not find anything. Their phones are turned off so I cannot run a locator on them either.”

“Ok, we need to pull the surveillance tapes and run through them. We also need to track down McGee, DiNozzo, and Abby.”

“I thought Abby was ill. Do you think she knows what is going on?”

Gibbs pinned her with a look, “Oh, yeah, she knows all right.”

They spent the next several hours out of the office separately going to the three missing team members’ homes with no luck. They checked with the nuns Abby bowled with, Tim’s sister, the park that Tony runs in and still nothing. They even went as far as calling Abby’s doctor to see when her appointment was under the guise of picking her up afterward, but had been told that due to HIPPA rules and regulations, 42CFR, they could neither confirm nor deny that there was someone being treated there by that name. By the end of the day Gibbs had visited Ducky several times and was assured that he had no idea of what the hell was going on with Team Gibbs either.

The next day McGee was still out “ill” and Tony was not answering either of his phones. When Gibbs had gone to Tony’s apartment to see if he could discover anything, he found Tony’s cell sitting on the counter in the kitchen with the battery removed and the landline unplugged.

As he was discussing it with Ducky, Palmer came in. “Good morning, Doctor, Agent Gibbs. I didn’t see either Abby’s or Tony’s cars in the lot this morning. I hope Abby is feeling better; Tony too, of course.”

Gibbs rounded on him so quickly that he jumped back. “What do you know about this Palmer? I want the truth and I want it now.”

Jimmy did not stammer or stutter when faced with the anger radiating from Gibbs or the disapproval in Ducky’s eyes. After a few false starts Jimmy began to tell a story that was bittersweet and made Gibbs realize just how oblivious he had been.

The group originally consisted of Tony and Abby; they agreed to include Kate. They voted Jimmy in after he started. When Tim was assigned to DC, they voted to add him. It was a way, he explained; that they could get to know each other better and possibly expand their horizons a little. No one could be invited to join the group without a unanimous vote. No one could be excluded from the group without a unanimous vote and the reasons why they were being excluded would have to be explained to the person before the activity took place. Once every two months they gathered together outside of work for an activity. Each time it was a different member of the group’s turn to choose and they could not choose the same thing for either 3 turns or 12 months whichever was longest.



It was at this moment that Ziva entered the morgue and stood beside Gibbs and Ducky who were leaning against the desk. Jimmy hopped up onto an exam table to get a little more comfortable and continued the telling of the story. He smiled in remembrance when he explained what each of the members brought to the group since he had joined.

Kate had two turns before she died. The first was a day spent making them eat only soy foods and drinks which was unanimously voted on NEVER-EVER happening again. Her second turn was going to a poetry reading and then to dinner. Abby had a handful of turns that were musically related; concert and clubbing somewhere picking different bands and genres of music and then discussing what they had heard over coffee at an all-night coffee house. The summer before Kate died they all went to a Habitat for Humanity site and worked for a Saturday; Jimmy said he later found out that Abby and Tony worked the entire weekend. Tim had a few turns less than Abby but he always chose something to do with computers or an outdoors activity (generally when he needed some help with his Boy Scout pack). Jimmy said his turns were mostly related to professional sports or spending the day with some elderly people at a care center he volunteers at on a regular basis; and Tony was the wildcard.

Jimmy told how Tony was never the same activity on his turns but he never, ever, chose a movie and he always paid for the entire group. Days spent at a shooting range, a one day cram course in Italian, a self defense class, ballet, becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister, and a symphony. They went to the Kennedy Center when it was his turn last Christmas and they saw a performance of The Nutcracker.

The year Kate died Tony had two turns: the first one was a day at the shooting range after a particularly hard case in which a Navy Captain was proven to have plotted to kidnap and kill his wife and three kids so that he could run away with his mistress. Each target was fitted with coffee cups over and over again, Gibbs smiled at this. They all had a great time; he and Abby included which Jimmy admitted surprised him.

Tony’s second turn that year took place the weekend before he got the plague, less than a month before Kate died and he had begged Jimmy to trade turns.

Tony picked them each up at their homes on a Friday night when they normally would have been going to bed; he drove for almost five hours only saying when they got to where they were going it would be worth it, listening to a myriad of complaints. Jimmy not sure if he wanted to drive wherever for no matter what the reason when it would take them just as long to drive back as it would take to get there and he still had to study on Sunday for a major test on Monday; Tim bitching that it was waaay past the time he normally went to bed and Tony knew he couldn’t sleep in moving cars; Abby complaining that if he wouldn’t tell them the where or why at least he could do was to get her some Red Bulls because she hadn’t had nearly her normal amount; Kate snarking that if they left Virginia she would have Tony arrested for 4 counts of kidnapping and transporting across state lines as they were fleeing during the middle of the night like common criminals. Specifically that she would make sure to tell Gibbs that it was ALL Tony’s fault if they weren’t back to work on Monday with plenty of time to rest and get ready for work, or God forbid, if they got called for a case when they were on an unsanctioned field trip 6 miles West of BFE, only to have Abby call out ‘Kaaate’ in an mock-scandalized voice and Tony and Tim grin and snicker.

Jimmy admitted to pausing for a few minutes once the cabin returned to quiet before naively asking Kate how she knew where they were going and just where was Beafy because he had never heard of it and they were traveling East so was it on the coast (both Ducky and Gibbs chuckled at this and Ziva looked puzzled).

How this caused the passengers of the jeep to erupt with laughter, and Abby, who was looking at Tim, shot the Mountain Dew that Tony had given her out her nose and all over Tim’s pants. How Kate slapped her hands over her mouth, shook with laughter, tears streaming down her reddened, embarrassed face, Tim very nicely explained to Jimmy exactly what BFE stood for, to a new chorus of laughter. She and Abby breaking into fits of giggles whenever someone, usually Tony, would call out ‘Beafy’.

How Tony’s final stop was in Virginia Beach at an all night gas station and while everyone else hit the head; he got three thermoses full of hot chocolate and some breakfast bars and filled the jeep with gas. Less than five minutes later he ushered everyone out of his Jeep, lead them down to the beach, sat them down on a spread out a blanket, doled out more blankets, sweatshirts, jackets, breakfast bars, and hot chocolate; and they watched the sun rise over the ocean on the nearly deserted beach due to the approaching hurricane. Jimmy described the majesty of it; jet black behind the sun coming up painting the sky a kaleidoscope of blood red, pumpkin orange, sunshine yellow, and the brightest blue, black and blue waters heavy with foam crashing so loudly onto the beach that you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the sucking sound as the water dragged the sand backwards before crashing forward again. Jimmy told of silent tears running down Kate’s and Abby’s faces, the look of wonder and awe on Tim’s face, how his own throat ached and his breath caught. How they just sat there for hours watching the rise and fall of the tide before they were asked to leave by local police. How ride home was so different, made in reflective silence; Tony dropped them off at their homes 18 hours after picking them up, how none of them would ever forget the sheer violence, force, and stark beauty of it as long as they lived.

How that last month, he would sometimes catch Abby, Tony, and Tim quietly whispering ‘Beafy’ whenever they passed her, to crack Kate’s composure and to make her laugh. And how on the day that Ari blew up the car, Jimmy got lost driving, Kate walked up to him as he was climbing out of the truck, holding on to the door, cocked her head to the side, and with a raised eyebrow and an impish grin said ‘Not quite BFE, huh, Jimmy?” and he replied with a grin, ‘Close, 6 miles west’ and that was the last thing they said to each other. How at Kate’s funeral they all had some common memory of a shared joyous moment, something they could all point to and say ‘Do you remember her face when she said that?’ and they all could and did remember and sat round Abby’s drinking well into the night toasting AND roasting their beloved Kate. How she was now the one that was 6 miles West, while the rest of them were home.

How, after Kate died, they continued after some stalled, flat attempts they finally got back into it after Abby took them all bowling with four nuns from her league. How even though they did not feel like going, they divided the teams between Tim, Jimmy, Sister Rosita, and Sister Augusta on one team with Abby, Tony, Sister Margareta, and Sister Emmanuelle on the other team. How, when Sister Rosita called out ‘Beafy’, Tony dropped the ball down the gutter causing his team to lose and they all smiled and laughed again for the first time since their wake.

How they healed and it slowly got better from there even through the rough times when Tony was accused of murder three times, Abby was stalked, Gibbs retired to Mexico; and how it got worse again when Jenny died and Tony went away. He told how it was his turn that first weekend Tony was Agent Afloat and Abby balked, how she dug in her platform heels and refused to go out without him, how desolate she was that he was gone. How he, Jimmy, went into the lab one evening to convince her only to find Abby sitting on the floor crying quietly, hair down around her face, knees drawn up, hugged to her chest, her body protecting itself. How he sat down and put his arm around her and listened to her explain that Tony was her big brother; he protected her, he made all of the monsters go away and would stand guard, who would do that now. How he wondered from what monsters did Abby need Tony to protect her, how often, how long it has been going on, and does Tim know everything; how it dawned on him that Tony always seemed to touch Abby in some way; a pat on her head, a kiss to her cheek, a tweak of her pigtails; grounding her, and while Tim knows something, he does not know either.

How Jimmy asked about Gibbs protecting her and Abby said he couldn’t (Gibbs grimaced at this). How sometime during that conversation, Tim had come in. How he suggested that although he, Tim, and Jimmy weren’t the big brother, the eldest, they were brothers and they could help. How she merely shook her head and continued to cry saying she needed Tony to keep her safe and she needed to make sure he was safe. How Tim turned and left and a few minutes later Jimmy’s phone rang asking him to bring Abby up to MTAC. How when they got there Tony was on the screen, and Jimmy and Tim left them their privacy but when they went back 10 minutes later it was better and they went out, picking up Gabe on the way.

Two months later it was Tim’s turn. This time he dealt a pre-emptive strike and had Jimmy drag Abby up the stairs to MTAC. Again they left her alone for 10 minutes, it was better, and they went out. This time Gabe met them.

Then, Tony returns home and it is healing again. They go to a bar to celebrate the return of the favorite, long lost brother. She is like a child, clamoring for his sole attention chattering away ninety miles a minute and gets it, in the indulgent way he has with her, they all have with her now since Kate. If Abby is clingy and does not wander far from Tony, they do not say anything and understand. If Tony growls and throws steely eyed glares at anyone approaching Abby, making her distressed at the thought that they might interfere, they support his cause, the eldest protecting the youngest, and the younger brothers following the eldest’s lead. Gabe gives Tony an amused, understandingly tolerant smile.

Now it was their first time since Tony was home and it was Abby’s turn and she wanted to spend the rainy Saturday afternoon at a matinee showing of a blockbuster movie that had come out when they were split apart and Tony was gone. They all agree their; familial unit is healing again. After the movie, they went to their favorite sports bar for something to eat and a few drinks. It was a cop bar that catered to the younger generation and place that they frequented often, owned by a frat buddy of Tony’s. They knew and were well known by the friendly crowd. It is a place where Tony can bring his siblings and not worry about being ever vigilant, a place that will watch out for his. The men were all wearing a version of the same thing, jeans, t-shirt and sweatshirt. Abby was relaxing in her favorite ‘hanging out with the boys’ outfit composed of birthday gifts: a collar that sparkled in deep forest green from Kate, a practical black denim jacket with leather accents from Jimmy, dangling cross earrings accented with garnets from Gabe that sparkled in the light, her favorite pair of jet black skinny jeans that hugged her curves but weren’t painted on, black tank top with devil horns under an oversized black scoop necked shirt with ‘My Brothers Will Kick Your Ass’ in neon green that Tim got her, and her black biker boots with skulls and crossbones that Tony had had made.

The bar was packed due to a college game that would be starting soon, and they saw a group leaving. While the boys were snagging the table Abby went to the bar to order the drinks and snacks. People were calling to them from around the bar and Tony’s friend Nigel called out from behind the bar to Tim and Tony about MIT’s rowing team losing to Ohio State. It happened in a moment when the entire room was quiet and people had their attention on the bar listening to Nigel describe the glorious win by an entire three lengths. Agent Liptick came up behind Abby called out ‘Hey Sciuto, looking good’ slapped her on the backside with a loud crack that resounded throughout the bar, whispered something in her ear, and then palmed her ass for good measure.

She gave a screech of outrage that had several off duty officers jump up weapons raised, safety’s were clicked off, pointed at Liptick; men jumped to Tony’s, Jimmy’s, and Tim’s sides to restrain them. Jimmy told with a wry chuckle at what happened next. Before anyone else could do anything more, Abby had put the self defense lessons to work; she spun around and kneed him in the groin, jabbed Liptick in the solar plexus with a mean right hook as he fell to his knees, called him a Dick, and walked around him towards the table, receiving high fives and applause as she went. As he rolled on the floor gasping in pain, Liptick was treated to the catcalls, hooting and hollering, and general demoralization of over 60 law enforcement-type people. He eventually picked himself up from the floor and sat as far away from their table as possible.

While the little girl lost was still lurking about, the confident young woman assured of her place in the world made a renewed appearance, if only for a little while. As Tony, Tim, and Jimmy were paying attention to what was happening with Abby someone had swiped her chair so when she returned, she plopped herself down on Tony’s lap and remained there the rest of the evening, only moving herself once to each Tim’s lap and then Jimmy’s lap when Tony got up. Since his table was near the ladies room, someone accompanied Abby and waited for her whenever she went to the head.

They tried to relax and at one point Tony jokingly smacked Tim on the back of the head for a comment made against the beloved Buckeyes, but nothing worked. After two hours of continually receiving evil, hate filled looks from Liptick, Abby was scrunching further and further down. Abby was moved to Tim’s lap when Tony made an excuse and disappeared for a while. Jimmy caught sight of him having a ‘chat’ with the agent. Whatever was said, the other man paled considerably, threw some money on the table, and left in such a hurry that he knocked his chair and table over spilling his beer and breaking the dishes. Tony went up to the bar and passed over some money to Nigel and returned to the table. The group returned to Tony’s apartment after that and Abby went into Tony’s room and fell asleep on the bed.

The next day, Sunday, they were supposed to meet for brunch but Tony called to cancel saying that neither he nor Abby were feeling well and then Jimmy’s mother was rushed to the hospital after collapsing from a heart attack.

By the end, both Gibbs and the normally affable Ducky enraged at Liptick’s actions and not a little put out that the ‘children’ hadn’t come to them when a problem arose, to which Jimmy replied that “they handled it”. Gibbs pinned Palmer with a look, that he returned and stood straight and tall without a hint of remorse.

When had he lost his fear of Gibbs? Gibbs knew that there were a million more things that were left out of this seemingly carefully edited story and he planned to get the bottom of them as soon as this was wrapped up.

“Ziva, Get me the security camera footage of this. I want to see what happened before I talk with Abby, McGee, and DiNozzo for trying to hide this. Palmer, you do not leave the Navy Yard until I say so.” Gibbs took a post-it pad off Ducky’s desk and wrote the specific location and time, handed it to her, and left autopsy.

Ziva returned upstairs to follow the lead while Gibbs went for coffee. Gibbs took a long pull of his coffee and several deep breaths before sitting down at an outside cafe. Tony could be ass about inconsequential things. But when it came to his team… he took them very seriously. Gibbs knew he could count on Tony having not only his own six, but McGee’s, Ziva’s, Ducky’s and Abby’s as well. But that was the ‘old’ Tony, the ‘new’ Tony was harder, he lost the mask of the happy-go-lucky affable frat boy somewhere and hadn’t bothered putting it back. This new Tony was vastly different from what he was used to.

Things had changed between them months ago; no really it was years ago. When did Tony become the person that chased her monsters and when did Abby stop turning to him in favor of Tony? Had it started with Kate’s death or before that? How did it get so screwed up that when someone attacked one of his, and make no mistake he thought of Abby as his, the rest of them retaliated without his knowledge, approval, or his help? When did he become the outsider?

Gibbs was no dummy; he was a highly trained observant individual, but apparently he blatantly overlooked critical facts. When had he failed to see that first Tony and Abby had formed their own family - a brother without a sister and a sister needing an older brother - and then they added Kate - who already had siblings but had competed with them her entire life, there was no competition in this family - then Palmer - an odd choice for this group, a seemingly lonely goofy young man who lived with his mother and sister until a year ago with no male influence, he apparently took to Tony immediately and filled a void as the youngest brother - and then McGee - only one sister and no brothers, he became the middle child, older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister, the voice of reason, agreeing with the eldest to protect the youngest, joining the youngest in tormenting the eldest, or even the boys versus the girls; how did the girls win you know they had to fight for it. Where was Gibbs when this was happening?

This family they made looked out for each other, did not compete off the clock where no one was watching them, and shared their weaknesses with each other as well as their strengths. He never knew that they did this and had since the beginning, Tony had been with NCIS for almost eight years. Eight years of meeting every other month and doing a family building outing, 48 times. 46 times Abby and Tony spent an entire day or night together, adding to their family and losing from it.

Gibbs knew that they seemed to deal with the loss of Kate well but didn’t know how. When had he failed to see them rally around each other at the loss of someone, who according to Jimmy Palmer and hell he would know, was considered to be the elder sister? How had he never seen the way that Tony and Tim treated Kate and Abby was akin to pulling their pigtails, literally in Abby’s case? He had never noticed them indulging the girls; they never treated them like they were weak, condescending.

And really, God help he who poked at one of them. Gibbs had seen with his own eyes, had had it happen to himself. Kate, Tony, and Tim all at each others throats, screaming, pushing, and viscous as can be when someone stuck their nose in it only to have it chopped off handily, or attempting to lend a helping hand only to draw back a stub and be given the hand back bleeding, and raw on a plate. How many times had he gotten in between Tony and Kate when they were fighting only to find two pairs of slitted eyes trained on him like he was the enemy? Tony had obviously held Kate’s hand after her boyfriend died; she sat with him when he had the plague. There was no doubt that the two of them loved each other. It wasn’t romantic or sexual it was pure unadulterated love. They complemented each other, seeming to know what the other was going to do in and off of the field. What was it that his grandmother said, do not meddle in the affairs of dragons. That was Kate and Tony, dragons both of them, teaching Tim their ways. If she hadn’t been killed, with their combined skills and those of his own, there was no doubt that Tim would have been the best agent that NCIS had ever had at a very early age.

Gibbs knew that both young men treated the women with respect and deference on occasion but he always put that up to the job not because they were female. When had he failed to notice that Ziva, while also treated with respect, was excluded? If he thought back and really analyzed it, he was certain that absolutely yes, Kate and Abby were treated differently from Ziva from everyone around himself included but especially Tony and Tim. Kate and Abby were treated with respect, deference, and affection that he knew wasn’t shown to Ziva. The jokes, jibes, and taunts between Kate, Tim, and Tony were gentle teasing, pointed lessons from someone that knows you best and loves you anyway; what took place with Ziva was barbed, sharp and hard. Ziva looked for weaknesses to exploit in order to use at a later date and Tony volleyed back just as hard.

Tony seemed more protective of Tim since Kate, was that because he lost his sister and didn’t want to lose a brother or was it because he didn’t trust Ziva as far as he could quite literally throw her. It had been over three years since she joined NCIS. As he thought about it more, he realized that given a choice Tony never put Tim alone in the field paired with Ziva. Tim was always paired with either Tony or himself. Gibbs had noticed that earlier but thought that due to her lack of investigative experience he needed to show her, Gibbs thought it was his decision. Now he realized it was careful maneuvering on Tony’s part. Rile her up enough, piss her off to where he had to step in and separate them, and as if by magic Ziva was always with either Gibbs or Tony as a partner rarely with Tim.

With his head aching from the revelations made by Jimmy, the questions swirling around his head, and his coffee long gone cold and forgotten, Gibbs returned to the office to see what Ziva had found if anything. To his surprise, she was in luck and Vance was waiting with her. He had the computer skills necessary and this accusation towards Tony did not sit well with him. Tony was not Vance’s favorite person but he would not be played.

The video clearly showed the entire scene at the bar and the audio was perfectly clear right down to the part Liptick told Abby he had been watching her, and loved her choice of underwear that night and if she wasn’t nice to him, something would happen to McGee or DiNozzo in the field; to where Tony told Liptick that if he ever assaulted his sister again, ever came near her or treated her in any manner other than with the utmost respect and professionalism, if he ever did anything to one of his brothers, no one would ever find the body. 548 acres in the West Virginia Mountains, only accessible by horse or ATV, teeming with wild animals, gave plenty of opportunity for a body to disappear and never be heard from again.

It hit him like a ton of bricks when Vance spoke up, “Sounds to me like Liptick was stalking Abby and using your team, DiNozzo and McGee to get at her.”

Once they had the video to use against him, it still took most of the next day to track down Liptick, who suddenly had a family emergency, and get him to surrender. When he was found, hiding out in his mother’s home, he gave up so easily in the face of an irate Gibbs that it was ridiculous. He admitted to stalking Abby since Tony had been reassigned, to putting bugs and hidden cameras in her house and was incensed because she rarely was home. He followed her only to find out that she was living at an address that he found to be Tony’s apartment. It was a secure building and he could not get in no matter how hard he tried. Liptick admitted to telling her that there would be no backup in the field because he had Ziva’s blessing to get rid of Tony. Upon hearing this, Ziva advanced upon the man so violently that he backpedaled and fell to the ground crying, pleading for his life; he tried to hide behind Gibbs. She slapped the handcuffs on him wrenching his arms back particularly hard and tightened them to the point just shy of cutting off circulation. He was arrested for attempted murder, terroristic threats, stalking, and breaking and entering.

Problem solved, case closed everyone can go home; he snorted. Wait a minute… There was the little matter of the two missing Special Agents and Forensic Specialist, and apparently the Autopsy Gremlin now too. Ducky found a note on the table he had been sitting on earlier and Palmer was gone. Gibbs had not heard from either DiNozzo or McGee, save the sick calls to his voicemail. Gibbs had called Tony’s and left a message that he was clear, Liptick had been arrested, and should come to work Thursday, he left a message on McGee’s phone that he should not show up without a doctor’s note saying he was cleared for duty, and left a message for Abby asking that she call him in regards to the conversation she had with Director Vance. His greatest hope was that they would show up tomorrow.

Sitting at home later that night, Gibbs could find no solace in either the boat or the bourbon. It had been a long confusing three days and Gibbs sighed, hanging his head in defeat. It brought back just how difficult it was to work a case with two people, when the ones he depended upon the most were gone. He had become much too used to having four people work the cases, in particular having Tony back him up. Gibbs was still pissed off that most of his team left, that they had never told him about their little group, and had stopped relying on him. Little things like why they never mentioned their gatherings, who the hell was Gabe that Jimmy mentioned with a fond expression and the relationship with Tony.

When had it all gone wrong; and make no mistake it was all wrong, Gibbs knew it was before Michelle, before Jen, before Kate, before what…. If he were honest with himself, he knew that things had been wrong footed between him and Tony for a long time now and he had no way of knowing why or how to even try to fix it. In fact, he felt he now knew less about his Senior Agent than he had when he first hired him.

It all came down to loyalty, something he had never had to question about this team his team before.