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A Little More Than A Team

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The Good Ole’ Boy Job

 

One: The Offer

“You’re Leroy Jethro Gibbs, right?”

Gibbs downed his bourbon and motioned to the bartender for another, ignoring the man, even after he pulled out some bills and dropped them on the bar, paying for Gibbs’ drink. He hoped the guy would get the message to fuck off but when a hand was thrust between him and the bar, he knew it didn’t work. He finally looked over at the man -- tall, bald, well dressed and looked like he bathed in smarm every morning. Gibbs pegged him for a ‘company man’ right away. He dealt with assholes like this on a regular basis when he worked security for IYS. He didn’t have to deal with them now though. He ignored the hand and took a sip of his drink. The guy eventually dropped his hand. He still didn’t go away though.

“What happened to your family was a travesty! The way IYS refused to pay the ransom, left them to die after all the years you worked for them. Your company screwed you. Loyalty deserves better.”

Gibbs’s hand tightened on his glass. “We’re coming to the portion of the evening where I put you on your ass.”

The guy shook his head, raising his hands placatingly. “I’m sorry. I just, I need your help, Mr. Gibbs.”

“Look...”

“Korte. Trent Korte with Holby Garrison.”

“Korte. I’m not in the business of helping people. Not any more.”

“There’s a lot of money in it for you.”

“What exactly is it you want?” Gibbs actually liked drinking in this bar so he had two choices in dealing with Korte and the first choice would pretty much definitely get him banned, so it seemed like he was going to have to hear this jackass out.

“Avery Dunn is our closest competitor. We’re usually neck and neck for the latest government contracts. This time though, we had the upper hand, a new armor design, revolutionary stuff. Something that’s going to save a lot of soldier’s lives. Had, because those bastards stole it. I need you to get it back.”

Gibbs knocked back the last of his drink and slammed the glass down on the bar. “I’m not a thief.”

“Thieves I have, Mr. Gibbs. What I need is one honest man to watch them.”

Korte handed him the folder he had in his hand. Gibbs laid it down on the bar, opening it and spreading the dossiers out. Ziva David - retrieval specialist. Abby Scuito - thief. Timothy McGee - internet and computer fraud. All people he’d dealt with before in the course of his job. All the best at what they did. “The people you hired work alone, always.”

Korte smirked. “They were willing to bend their rules for the right price.”

“And how much is the right price?”

“Three hundred thousand for each for them and double for you.”

Gibbs shook his head. “You’ve got a crew that can get it done. I’d wish you good luck, but I don’t really care.” He closed the folder and stood up, heading for the door. Korte’s raised voice stopped him.

“There’s a bonus. Avery employees your old security agency. Think about it, Mr. Gibbs. A very nice paycheck and the pleasure of shafting the people that took everything away from you. “

 

Two: The Meet and Greet

Gibbs let Korte set up the meet at a coffee shop. He got there half an hour before the meet time and took a seat at the counter, ordering the largest plain coffee they had. He was not surprised to see David there. She had a spot in a booth in the corner, back to the wall, dark, intense eyes taking in everything and everybody present as she sipped a cup of tea.

Fifteen minutes before the meet time, Sciuto showed up in her usual eye catching attire. She reminded him of the Living Dead dolls that Kelly had collected. He swallowed a sip of his bitter coffee, shoved the memory of his daughter away, and returned his focus to the job at hand, watching as Scuito walked the perimeter of the shop, eyes darting everywhere. She stayed a few minutes and left again. Gibbs grabbed his coffee and casually followed her outside, only to see her disappear onto the top of the building. She hadn’t reappeared after a few minutes so he headed back inside and claimed a table big enough for four.

At eight o’clock exactly, David met his eyes and nodded. She strolled over and sat down, folding her hands on the table. Scuito popped up behind them from somewhere.

“Hi!”

David flinched and glared at her.

“Ms. Scuito.”

She shook her head, black leather wrapped pigtails bouncing maniacally. “It’s bad enough we have to work together but if you call me that, I’ll have to kill you. It’s Abby.”

McGee rushed into the coffee shop a minute late, grabbing his chair with a breathless apology and tossing his computer bag on the floor at his feet.

Gibbs shook his head. “Rule number six, McGee. Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”

McGee flushed, then turned to look at the other two curiously. Abby gave him a grin and a little wave, while David glared at him. Gibbs got why Korte wanted a wrangler for these three -- them trying to work together without any supervision would be a disaster of the highest order.

He cleared his throat and they all turned to look at him warily. “Okay. Here’s the plan.”

When he finished with the run through, McGee raised his hand. “Um, I’m not really sure about the whole roof thing.”

“It is a perfectly serviceable plan. Slurp it up, McGee.”

They all turned to look at David, puzzled, then Abby laughed. “I think she means ‘suck it up’. “ She reached over and patted McGee on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.”

If anything he looked more worried. Gibbs himself would be worried except he knew each of them and what they could do. He hadn’t been kidding when he told Korte they were the best, and when the time came, he knew they would perform that way.

Gibbs emptied his coffee and motioned for a refill. “Let’s go over it one more time, then we’ll move on to plan B.”

McGee looked surprised. “There’s a plan B?”

“Rule number three. Always have a backup plan. And a backup to the backup ”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

The plan went off -- not quite hitch-less -- but they got what they came for and none of the team killed each other and Gibbs counted that as a win. He watched as McGee transmitted the information to Korte and went home to his basement and his bourbon, glad he never had to see any of these people again.

He woke up curled under the frame of his boat to the sound of his phone ringing. “What!”

“You fucked me, that’s what! You and your band of merry thieves stole my fucking plans and if you don’t get them back, I’m going to...”

“Wait. We sent you the damn plans last night!”

“There was nothing there! If it wasn’t you it was one of them. You were supposed to control them, Gibbs. That’s what I hired you for.”

Gibbs slid out from under the boat and stood up, heading upstairs while he went over everything that happened last night. It all seemed on the up and up but he wasn’t exactly a genius with technology and he supposed one of them could have done something with the plans without him noticing it. He sighed. Fuck. “Okay, I’ll come over there and we can figure out what’s going on.”

“No! Don’t come here. Nobody is supposed to know those plans are missing.”

Korte gave an address in the warehouse district. “Meet me there at ten o’clock.”

 

Chapter Three: The Team-up

 

Of course it was a setup. The warehouse exploded, almost killing them all. Gibbs woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed and had to keep Abby, and McGee from panicking long enough to come up with a plan to get them all out of there before the cops got back the information on their prints. He had to admit once they had a plan, they worked flawlessly together, much like last night. It didn’t stop the bitching once they were safely away, but he figured they’d earned it.

McGee took them back to his loft and started arranging to get them all out of the country. Ziva brooded in the corner while Abby bounce around angrily. Gibbs noticed she was moving her fingers constantly and it took him a moment to realize she was cursing repeatedly in ASL.

He signed “That’s some mouth you’ve got on you.” Which stopped her for a moment. She signed back something that might have made him blush if he hadn’t been a Marine for ten years, but she was grinning.

Gibbs watched the three of them -- they were angry and a little hurt and he couldn’t help but feel guilty. They were criminals but in some ways they were still naive -- they obviously thought that whole ‘honor among thieves’ cliche was true. He knew better though. Gibbs’ gut told him that Korte was a dirt bag from the beginning but he ignored it in favor of a chance at a little payback. It might be Gibbs’ fault for taking the job in the first place against his instincts, but Korte used his family to get to him and Gibbs couldn’t let that go. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to get this bastard back.”

Abby hmmed. “He’s already made a fool of us. What’s in it for me?”

“If we do this right, a whole lot of money, and payback.”

Abby grinned. “I’m in.”

Ziva crossed her arms “And what’s in it for me?”

Gibbs raised a brow and smirked. “Payback, and if we do this right, a whole lot of money.”

McGee watched them all anxiously for a moment then took a deep breath. “I’m in too.”

Abby punched him in the shoulder “Good boy, McGee.”

McGee flushed but he grinned and stood a little taller.

Gibbs thought Ziva looked contemplative as she watched the two them but she turned sharp eyes his way. “So, what’s the plan?”

He looked at the three kids watching him with wary, eager eyes. “We need DiNozzo.”

Ziva frowned. “What is a DiNozzo?”

Gibbs grinned and shook his head. “Not a what, a who.”

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

Anthony DiNozzo gave his best Shakespeare, embracing the melancholy Dane with the fervor of a true devotee. The performance was just as bad as Gibbs expected -- this was not DiNozzo’s stage. There’s was repeated flutter of movement at the corner of his eye and when he turned, Abby was signing to him. It was too dark to catch all of it, but he got something about ‘this guy is weird’ and ‘was he dropped on his head as a baby?’.

He signed back ‘you have no idea’ and ‘maybe’ and Abby snorted next to him. She seemed to be the only one enjoying the show as much as Gibbs was. McGee looked miserable and embarrassed -- Gibbs suspected for the actors. Ziva had her eyes closed, but Gibbs knew she was completely aware of everything going on around her.

The first time Gibbs met Tony, he’d been handling security for a party being thrown for several diplomats. Tony had been ‘liberating’ some of the host’s artwork. Gibbs should have turned Tony in then, but something about him, the jaunty grin or the complete lack of fear or remorse at getting caught, made Gibbs give him a break. Tony left without the painting, but he left free.
That didn’t stop Gibbs from finding out everything he could about him. He’d had a feeling that wouldn’t be the last time they met.

 

Ziva, Abby and McGee were leaning against the car, waiting less than patiently, when Tony finally came out of the stage door, head down, eyes focused on his phone.

Gibbs clapped, drawing his attention. “Nice show.”

His head popped up. “Gibbs? What are you doing here?”

“Came to see you about a job.”

“I haven’t done anything in over a year.“ Tony held up his hands and widened his eyes in faux innocence. “I’m a citizen now, Boss. Honest.”

DiNozzo was just as gorgeous as he was when Gibbs first met him and he’d used that along with an innate acting talent -- only functional when he wasn’t in a legitimate gig -- to become a master grifter. It was those skills Gibbs was counting on. He grinned. “I’m not”

Tony smirked and ran his eyes over Gibbs then glanced behind him. “Well then, introduce me to your friends.”

 

Chapter Four: The Grift

 

“Boss, I hate to say it but I don’t think this is going to work.” McGee glanced up at him then back down where he was fiddling with the controls on their ear buds.

Over the past couple of weeks they’d been setting up the con, the rest of the team had picked up Tony’s smart ass habit of calling him boss. Gibbs had given up trying to break them of it after the first couple of days. Besides, if it helped them actually pay attention to his instructions once in awhile, he’d gladly claim the title.

“It’ll work, McGee, trust me.”

“But Tony is...” Mcgee trailed off as Tony introduced himself to Korte.

“Augustus Kenedy. Of the Texas Kenedy’s, not the Boston ones. One N. We thought two was overkill.”

“Mr. Kenedy, what can I do for you?”

“Oh, call me Gus. And the question is more like, what can we do for each other?”

“He’s good. He’s actually good.”

“Yep.” Tony’s soft drawl was like honey, his tone just as sweet but with an edge to it that said ‘don’t fuck with me’. Just the kind of thing Korte would respect.

McGee shook his head, eyes still wide in surprise. “No, Boss I mean he’s good.”

Gibbs smirked. “Ya think, McGee?”

McGee flushed but he grinned at the same time and Gibbs was glad to see he was getting a little more backbone. Ziva, Tony and Abby were going to eat him alive otherwise. They went back to listening as Tony worked his magic on Korte.

 

Gibbs wasn’t worried about Tony playing his part at all. Ziva was a different story. Short tempered, impulsive and deadly in more ways than most people knew existed was not a good combination. They were all loners but she was having the hardest time learning to work as a team -- learning to let someone else watch her back. Gibbs knew a little bit of her background, the Mossad work, the cluster fuck that involved her father, the director and her brother, the terrorist. He couldn’t blame her for being wary but he needed her on board a hundred percent if this was going to work.

“I think I should have played the tech guy.”

“I need you to be the actual thingamajig, McGee.”

“Oh, yeah.” He kept frowning down at his screen though, as he fed Ziva her lines.

“Wow! You’re way too hot to be a geek.”

“It’s the age of the geek you jerk!” McGee muttered it under his breath but unfortunately it came through the ear buds perfectly.

Both he and Gibbs winced when Ziva repeated it forcefully to Korte’s assistant.

“I happen to be a wizard at dragons and dungeons.”

Mcgee banged his head on the desk. “Dungeons and Dragons!”

“I thought it was Dungeons and Dragons?”

“Oh really? What’s your ranking then?”

“No, I don’t play.”

“Exactly.”

They could hear loud clanging. Then the assistant’s voice came back tentatively. “Oh, hey! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. It’s just the most of the tech guys that come in here...I mean, you guys are awesome. Really.”

Abby finished up and gave them the okay signal and McGee rebooted Todd’s computer.

“Oh! It’s back up. That’s terrific. Thank you.”

Ziva’s response was a grunt.

“So, do you think you might be free for...”

“No.”

McGee looked over at Gibbs sheepishly. “At least she didn’t maim him or anything.”

And actually, Gibbs would take that as a win.

 

They were all back at McGee’s loft when Tony strolled in grinning.

“I was amazing, as usual. Korte is in.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah. He might have played hard to get but his eyes said it all. He’s a greedy little bastard and there’s no way he’s going to pass up a chance like this.” He reached down and grabbed a slice of pizza off Gibbs’s plate, biting into it with an almost obscene moan.

The fact that Gibbs knew everything DiNozzo did was deliberate didn’t stop his body from reacting. It did stop him from letting it show though. Tony didn’t need any encouragement. To prove Gibbs’ point, he winked at Gibbs and plopped down on the sofa next to him, eliminating any personal space as he reached for another piece of pizza.

Gibbs slapped at his hand, but he’d already liberated the slice by then. “Get your own plate.”

Tony shrugged and leaned back. “Now what kind of grifter would I be if I went around using my own stuff before anybody else’s?”

 

Chapter Five: The After

 

People were easy to read if you knew what to look for. Gibbs had learned how to do it and do it well, first in the marines and later working for IYS, when judging a person’s intentions could make the difference between life and death for his client. His team had learned it grifting and stealing -- same skill set, different market. In the end it made taking Korte down easy. He followed the blueprint he didn’t even know he’d received and they walked out of his office in F.B.I. jackets, carrying box after box, smiling broadly for the camera.

It didn’t hurt that the real Feds in the form of one agent Tobias Fornell showed up, looking to have a long talk with Korte regarding the consequences for a federal contractor involved in various felonies and misdemeanors including bribery and election tampering.

They had dumped the empty boxes in the back of the van when Korte shoved his way through the crowd that had gathered and stormed towards them, face flushed, fists clenched. “You bastards! What the fuck did you do!”

Abby crossed her arms and shook her head at Korte like he was a naughty child. “You really should have just paid us.”

“Fuck you!”

“Somebody is a potty mouth.” McGee shook his head.

Tony, Ziva and Abby laughed. Gibbs watched Korte. The team was on a winner’s high. It was easy for them to forget how dangerous Korte was, but the guy tried to kill them. Gibbs didn’t forget for a second.

“You won’t get away with this!”

Gibbs shrugged. “We already did. See, we didn’t need the Feds to take you to jail -- though I’m sure you can look forward to that -- we just needed them to show up and take boxes out of your office all day long and scare the investors. “

Tony grinned. “If you know a company’s stock is going to fall say ten or fifteen percent, you can make a little money off of it. If you know it’s going to fall fifty percent, you can make a shit-load of money. “

Korte lunged at Tony and Gibbs had him on his ass, a knee to his throat before Tony could step back.

He leaned down, staring Korte in the eye. “Be glad this is all we did. Next time we meet, I won’t be so nice.” He got up and they walked off, leaving Korte sitting on the ground coughing, one hand on his throat. Gibbs would make sure to follow up with Fornell. If the Feds didn’t take care of Korte -- if he became a threat -- Gibbs would.

 

&&&&&&&&&&

 

The team met in the park the next morning -- a nice, neutral spot to wrap things up. A few weeks ago, the last thing Gibbs would have thought was that he’d regret seeing the last of these people. The truth was, this had been pleasurable over all -- getting back in the game, working with a team -- even if it wasn’t quite the way he was used to. It was more fun than he’d had in a long time.

“Hey, McGee did you get everything taken care of?” Tony was practically bouncing as he walked up to them.

Gibbs glanced at McGee only to find him watching Abby almost wistfully. Abby had shown up on roller skates and was busy skating in tiny figure eights. Ziva was watching her too, a frown of confusion on her face.

“McGee!”

“Huh? Oh,yeah.” McGee reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some envelopes, labeled with each of their names and handed them out.

Tony opened his and grinned. “Nice.”

Ziva was still frowning as she turned to Tony. Gibbs was starting to think that was her default expression. “What are these?”

“A little bonus.”

“Oh my God!”

Ziva was staring at the contents of her own envelope silently.

Gibbs opened his and pulled out the check, blinking at the amount. “The hell, Tony?”

Tony grinned. “I may not know computers but I do know money.” He slapped McGee on the back. “McSmith and Barney here did a little creative investing following my advice, and voila!”

“This is retire to an island money!” Abby practically shouted it. Then she leapt on Tony, skates and all and wrapped her arms and legs around him in a smothering hug, not seeming to notice that he staggered trying to keep the two of them standing. When he eased her down she turned and did the same to McGee. Gibbs’s wasn’t surprised to see his fire engine red blush return.

“This is buy an island money.” Ziva’s comment was quieter, but no less pleased.

Gibbs thought about smothering his grin, but what the hell. They were done here. He didn’t have to try and keep them in line anymore. He tucked the envelope in his pocket and finally let loose that grin.

Tony caught Gibbs’s smile and returned it. He sidled over to Gibbs. “So, what’s next, Boss?”

Gibbs shook his head as the other three looked at him expectantly. “Next, we go our separate ways, and forget we ever knew each other.” He started walking away and wasn’t surprised when Tony popped up next to him, the rest of them trailing behind like ducklings.

“Come on, Gibbs.You got to admit we were great together.”

“Yeah, but I don’t do this, DiNozzo.”

“But you did do this. Look, we’ll even let you pick the jobs.”

Gibbs stopped walking and turned to look at Tony with a sigh. “I’m not a bad guy, I protect people from bad guys.”

“So, we’ll find some bad guys then. Bad guys have money. It’s a chance to do something besides spend the rest of your days swimming in a bourbon bottle.” Tony leaned in close, vocie almost a whisper, a warm wisp of air Gibbs’ ear. “Come on, Gibbs. Black King -- White Knight. You know you want to.”

And the bitch of it was that he did. He looked at the four of them watching him with eager eyes and realized that this job had been the first time he’d felt alive since Kelly and Shannon were killed. “My show, my rules. I expect you to do what I say when I say.”

“Yes!”

“Agreed.”

“No problem.”

Gibbs looked at Tony who was the only one that hadn’t answered.

Tony grinned at him, eyes sparkling in a way that spoke of nothing but trouble in the future. “On your six, Boss.”

 

The Stork Job

 

In theory, Gibbs picked the jobs. That was the agreement, and he still had contacts all over the world he could use. At first they found clients that way and through McGee, who spent an incessant amount of time scouring the internet for stories that fit what they were looking for but it didn’t take long before people in need started to find them and they didn’t actually turn anybody down. If it looked like Gibbs was going to, Tony was right there, smiling a promise at the client and pulling Gibbs aside. They usually talked in low whispers but sometimes that turned into shouting and Abby watched them with intense fascination.

At first she thought the fighting meant the team was going to break up soon, but then she realized it was something else. It took her almost three months to get that they wanted to sleep together -- well, not sleepalthough they would probably sleep too. When she told McGee and Ziva, they weren’t surprised, which Abby thought wasn’t fair at all. If they knew, they should have told her, and she told them so. Ziva rolled her eyes, but Abby was used to that, and McGee promised they would definitely tell her the next time somebody wanted to have sex. Abby knew they were teasing her but she didn’t once have the urge to push either of them off a building without a harness so she thought it was probably the okay kind of teasing.

 

Abby tried not to show how freaked out she was by the new job but watching the little boy get snatched away from the people that wanted to adopt him made her stomach churn.

Ziva’s voice was cool, but not cruel. “How do we know he’s really an orphan? Maybe that’s just part of the scam.”

Abby swallowed hard and looked back up at the video, at the boy, Luka, trying not to see herself at that age. “See the way he jerked back from her touch? He’s not used to people touching him in kindness. The way he slipped those cookies in his pocket -- that’s because he doesn’t know when he’s going to eat again.” She looked over at Ziva who was watching her with eyes full of something Abby couldn’t read. “He’s an orphan.”

Gibbs nodded. “Okay, so, let’s go steal ourselves an orphan.”

The fact that the mark was a former actress, whose resume consisted of bit parts on bad movies made it easy for Tony to read her. He knew Irina would bite hard at the chance to be in a movie again. It was fun hijacking the movie set to lure her in. McGee and Ziva got to play with the fake blood and explosives and Tony started working on writing a scene for Irina to play. He managed to slip a death scene in there for his reel as well. Gibbs was in his element playing the new director and ordering everyone around and for a little bit, Abby could forget what the whole thing was about. Once they got Irina on the set, it would be easy to convince her that they needed the perfect little boy to play her son or they’d have to scrap her part. Tony threw all his charm at her at the embassy party they crashed and she was eating out of his hand, promising to be at early call the next day.

Her accomplice, Nicholas, was harder and using Abby as a honey trap was an absolute failure. He just made her so mad, all smug and slick, declaring certain people better than others, saying some people were worth more, deserved to survive. So she stabbed him with a fork, it was just in the shoulder, not in the throat, which was where she wanted to.

Jumping off the balcony to get out of there was instinct, but so was showing back up the office the team was using for headquarters. The urge to keep running just wasn’t there anymore. She wanted to see Gibbs flat stare and Tony’s exasperated eye roll, even while he coached her through everything she did wrong. She knew Ziva would frown, but compliment her on the stabbing technique and that McGee would ask if she was okay, even though she wasn’t the one that wound up bleeding. Abby liked knowing how everybody would react. Most of the time she didn’t get other people and why they did what they did. Locks and alarms were easy, they were the same all the time, you just had to figure out how to work them to get what you needed. The team felt like that too. Like the best Mosler.

 

Irina responded just like Gibbs said. When Gibbs declared that without the right kid, they’d have to cut the whole scene, she hastily claimed she knew just the perfect child for the part and rushed off to get him so they could shoot the scene.

Abby followed Irina to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The whole area was derelict and abandoned. Irina was talking to Nicolas and there were men around with guns, guarding crates of something. Abby ducked out of sight, sliding into the first door she saw and praying the room was empty. She didn’t know what she was expecting, more crates maybe, but it wasn’t a room full of kids who stared at her with wide, hopeless eyes. Luka was there, but before she could speak to him, she heard Irina and Nicolas coming. She dived under one of the cots and pulled the blankets down until there was just a thin slit between the wool and the floor.

Abby scrunched down as much as she could, completely silent as Nicolas came in and grabbed Luka. She knew McGee’s mini cam was catching everything. The kids didn’t even look her way until she slid out and stood up. Abby didn’t look back as she made her way out of the room. The main room downstairs had cleared out and she snuck down, prying open one of the crates. She made sure the camera got good images of the guns inside.

 

McGee met her with the van at the pick up site, silent as they drove back toward the hotel. A few miles away, he pulled the van over near the waterfront and got out. Abby got out and went around to the side where he was, waiting for him to say something.

“The orphans are just cover for gun running.”

“Yeah.”

She didn’t see how he could be so calm about it. “We have to get out of here.”

“We can’t just leave, we need to get Luka first.”

“They’re gun runners McGee! We can’t save everybody.”

“No but we can save this one.”

Abby crossed her arms. “You think this is the only orphanage like this? That those are the only kids out there? This place if full of them.”

McGee leaned against the van and stared out over the water. “I saw the look in their eyes. They didn’t expect help, they didn’t expect anything. I don’t understand.”

“You just realize there are no heroes in real life and nobody is going to come along and save you.” Abby shrugged. “It’s better this way anyway. They’d just get put into the system. “

She could feel McGee’s eyes on her and swallowed down tears. “They’d wind up like me.”

McGee reached over and took her hand, threading their fingers together. “I like how you turned out.”

“The Scuitos didn’t find me until I was ten and after they were killed I just...I couldn’t go back.”

“Not every place is horrible. Mine wasn’t.”

“Yeah but you were raised by your grandmother.”

McGee shook his head. “No, we just called her that, but she was our foster mom. She was a holdover from the sixties, all peace and love and harmony but if anybody messed with one of us, she’d give them hell. Her son is a military guy, real hard core and he hated that she took all of us in but she loved us like we were her own.”

The love in his voice made her wistful, made her remember that for two years, she’d been loved like that. Abby had a family, a place to belong and then it was gone again and for a long time after, she was mad that she’d even let herself believe she could keep it.

The thing was, she was starting to believe it again with the team. Abby knew it was dangerous but she threw herself off buildings all the time, and she thought she was willing to throw herself off this one.

“You were lucky.”

“These kids could be too. We need to get Luka out now, but we’ll come back, for them, Abby.”

She nodded, agreed because she understood, she really did.

 

Tony, Ziva and Gibbs watched the footage in silence. Abby didn’t want or need to see it again. She let her mind wander, picking out a target and diagramming how she’d steal it. She was half way through a second scenario walk through when McGee clicked the video off.

Tony cleared his throat. “We need to talk about the kids in the warehouse.”

“We already talked about it.”

Abby nodded. “And I said we should leave them.”

“It’s just, we have to focus on the client and the job at hand, we’re not equipped to deal with gun runners...”

Tony’s face was full of apology, and something like pity and Abby couldn’t stand it. She cut Tony off.

“Right, we get it.”

Gibbs stared at her intently. “I promise, we’ll come back for them.”

The others made sounds of agreement and Abby believed them. She did because it was Gibbs and McGee and Tony and Ziva and they were more than a team, more than just some people she worked with, they were people she trusted. It didn’t matter though because they didn’t know what it was like. They didn’t understand that every minute was a minute too long to be helpless and hopeless and alone when you were a kid.

Tricking Irina was easy, she might have been a grifter, but she wasn’t a smart one, and before she even realized what happened, they had Luka and were closing up shop and ready to go. The Andersons were going to be ecstatic and Luka was going to get a chance to have a home and a family and a future. Abby followed protocol, cleaning up her part of the job, making sure there was nothing to connect them to any of this. She was almost out the door and on the way to the rendezvous spot when she stopped, Nicholas’ words echoing in her head. Not everyone is worth saving.

 

Going back for the kids was stupid. Abby knew that, even as she was doing it. She’d be lucky if she didn’t get killed and she was probably going to lose the best thing she’d ever had -- the team. She did it anyway.

It was their fault really. Before they’d started this do-gooder thing, she would have walked away, shoved it to the back of her mind with the rest of the crap she didn’t think about and kept going.

Abby was used to fighting for herself, she’d been doing it all her life. It was different fighting for the kids. She’d bribed them to follow her with the promise of one of the few universal words and she wasn’t panicking or anything, but she wasn’t going to lie, seeing Tony at the top of the stairs when it looked like there was no way out brought a burst of joy, and maybe she could get used to the idea she didn’t have to fight alone anymore.

The first time she’d gone home with the Scuitos, fear and hope rolled into a tight knot in her stomach and that knot came back and stayed, through the rescue of her rescue, through the bad guys shooting the prop guns Ziva and McGee had switched out with the real ones and through McGee blowing up the warehouse.

It nestled deep, though Tony and Gibbs were arguing again, this time about Gibbs forgetting film in the camera during Tony’s big death scene. “Oh we are so stopping in Paris. Two words Gibbs -- Ermenegildo Zegna.”

It was there when they got the kids settled and she moved to the back, where McGee was checking their travel details on his phone. “Thanks, McGee.”

McGee shrugged and Abby could see a faint blush on his cheeks. “Hey, we’re a team right?”

Abby leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and the blush hit a rose pink. “A little more than a team.”

She ran to catch up to Gibbs and Tony. “Hey, Gibbs. I forgot. We have to stop at Haagen Dazs!” Inside the bus, the kids cheered.

The knot was still there, through Paris and Tony’s truly scary shopping spree, through the flight home with her team and it was still there when she made it to her safe-house and curled up tight around Bunny.

 

The Twisted Sister Job

 

Even though buying the bar had been Tim’s idea after their office building blew up, he was still surprised at how good a base it provided. Their clientele seemed more comfortable in the casual atmosphere, plus it was just fun. The pool table, the poker games in the back room, the regulars that all knew them -- it was more than just their office, it was their home. The bar patrons had their own grapevine and they picked up more clients through word of mouth than they ever had before. In a way they were like weird patron saints for the neighborhood. Still, walking in from a job in Montreal, the last thing Tim expected was to see the dark haired girl sitting at the bar, laughing with Mickey, the bartender.

“Sarah?”

“Timmy!”

She jumped off the stool and launched herself at him and only a year’s worth of great reflexes, developed by catching Abby’s spontaneous leaps, let him catch her and keep standing.

“What are you doing here?’

“Yes, and more importantly, who is she?”

He looked over Sarah’s shoulder to find Abby glaring at them, arms crossed.

“This is my sister, Sarah.”

Abby’s glare changed to a look of hurt laced confusion. “You said you were a foster kid.”

Sarah laced her arm through his and smiled at Abby. “We are. Nana was my foster mom too. “

Tony sidled over to them both with a grin. “Well, hello Sarah!” He turned to Tim with a raised brow. “So, McGee. Why didn’t you tell us you had such a hot sister?”

The head slap came within seconds and Tony rubbed the back of his head with grin. Gibbs head slapped them all, except Abby, but with Gibbs and Tony it was more like foreplay than anything else. Half the things that Tony did were to get Gibbs’ attention.

“Oh my God!” Sarah yelped and Tim knew what was coming next. He reached out to slap a hand over her mouth the way he’d done often when they were kids, but he was too late.

“They’re just like in the comic books!”

“What comic books?”

Tim wielded his hand anyway, forcing it over his sister’s mouth but she bit hard enough that he yelped and jerked his hand away. “Damn it! Sarah!”

“You haven’t told them about the Leveragers? Oh boy!”

The grin on her face made Tim remember why he used to wish it was just him with Nana. He buried his face in his hands as she started to talk, not wanting to see which one of them decided to kill him. His money was on Gibbs, but it could just as easily be Ziva. Tony was the dark horse, he might think it was funny or he might snap.

“So Tim does this series of comics based on you guys -- you’re all earth bound Elementals and you go around righting wrongs and helping the little guy. It’s actually pretty awesome.” She waved her hand dismissively. “You know, for a comic book.”

Tim winced under Gibbs’ hard glare, and he wasn’t aware he had backed up to the bar until he felt the hard wood against his back. “I can explain, Boss.”

Tony laughed and shook his head. “Wow! I knew you were geeky, McStan Lee but I had no idea just how much.”

Abby grabbed Ziva’s hand. “Come on!”

“Where are we going?”

Abby rolled her eyes like that was the dumbest question she’d ever heard. “Comic shop! I want to read about our lives.” Ziva rolled her own eyes at that but she grabbed her jacket and let Abby drag her out of the bar.

“Bring back a copy for us!” Tony shouted as they were headed out the door and Ziva waved a hand behind her in acknowledgment.

Tim was dead,dead,dead once they got their hands on those books. He couldn’t help but be a little pissed at Sarah. He really was planning on telling the team about them. Someday, when he worked up his nerve.

“Why are you here again?”

Sarah’s expression turned serious and Tim felt his stomach drop. His sister was always a bit of a drama queen but serious -- for real serious -- was rarely a part of her nature.

“I’m in trouble, Timmy and I didn’t know where else to go. “

She tucked her hands under her arms, drawing into herself in a way that instantly made him want to wrap his arms around her. He settled for giving her shoulder a quick squeeze

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m about to lose my scholarship, plus I think I’m about to be arrested for murder.”

Tim abruptly sat down, lucky to find a stool under him. “What?”

“I didn’t do it, I swear! But, the guy that got killed is my ex-boyfriend and I might have sent him some nasty e-mails. It was all talk, Timmy, I swear. You know how I get.” She’d been holding back tears but they flowed easily as Tim took her in his arms.

He looked up at Gibbs. “She’s got a bad temper, Boss, but she’s never, ever hurt anybody. We have to help her.”

Gibbs’ expression softened but it was Tony that laid a hand on his shoulder. “Of course we will, McGee. She’s family.”

 

Tim felt kind of bad about turning Sarah over to Gibbs to interrogate, but he knew if he asked her, he wouldn’t get the whole story. He’d been sort of the big brother in Nana’s house and a lot of the kids that came through there, including Sarah, craved any type of attention or approval and turned to him. He was happy to play the role, but it meant that Sarah wouldn’t be quick to tell him things that might reflect badly on her. Gibbs on the other hand was not only a stranger, he could pretty much get blood from a stone with enough time.

It took about thirty minutes but when Gibbs brought Sarah downstairs, he nodded grimly to McGee. Sarah’s eyes were red but she wasn’t crying anymore and she settled in the booth next to McGee.

He glanced up at Gibbs. “We good?”

“Yeah. When Abby and Ziva get back, we’ll start putting together a plan. Meanwhile, McGee, you need to find her a good defense lawyer.”

Gibbs laid a hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “We may not be able to stop them from bringing you in for questioning, so we want a backup, just in case.”

Sarah nodded and reached for Tim’s hand under the table. She gave Gibbs a tentative smile and Tim saw she’d fallen under Gibbs’ spell as much as the rest of them. Tim was happy to see it. Trusting the Boss was the best decision he’d ever made. He knew they’d clear Sarah -- assuming he lived through the team reading his comics.

 

The San Lorenzo Job

 

It was Ziva’s job to protect the team, and after years being rudderless, she felt like she had purpose again. Not that she would ever tell any of them that because then she’d have to kick their asses to stop the teasing that would follow. Gibbs was the only one who’d really understand anyway, and he already knew.

It was Ziva’s job to protect the team but she couldn’t always do it. She couldn’t protect them when Gibbs was injured during a job and lost his memory -- forgetting the team and the last five years of his life -- and had to face his family’s death all over again. She couldn’t protect them when Tony’s father showed up just long enough to mess up his head so much he took off for almost three months, traveling the world and trying to separate himself from his father’s son. There was nothing for her to hit or stab and all she could do was help the others ride it through.

They’d just started to rebuild from everything when ‘ the Italian’ came into their lives. Elisabetta was beautiful and mysterious and she wanted something from them. Ziva could tell she worked for some government, somewhere, and she had learned at her father’s hand never to trust anybody that did. They didn’t have any choice but to work with her though, she had enough power to put them away for a long time, enough power to keep them free, too. Ziva watched, feeling helpless as she played coy and flirty with Gibbs, raised Tony’s hackles and confused McGee and Abby. She didn’t bother with more than a smirk in Ziva’s direction.

“All I want, Mr.Gibbs is for you and your team to do what you do best.” She slid a folder across the table to Gibbs. “This is your mark. His name is Damien Moreau.”

When Ziva found out that Damien was their mark, she didn’t flinch. She didn’t even blink and yet Gibbs knew the way he knew everything.

 

Sometimes it felt like the team was invincible, at least at when they were on a job. More than once, they’d put together a miracle and a part of Ziva had come to believe they could do anything. The situation with Damien Moreau was different. Damien was a ‘businessman’ for a value of business that included every illegal, low and base thing that could earn him money. At the briefing, Tony said, “So basically Lex Luthor then.” And then he and McGee argued over the best version of Superman. But Damien was not a comic book villain, and he was one of the few people on earth that actually frightened Ziva.

After Elisabetta left she went into the kitchen and began calmly taking out pots and baking ingredients. Cooking was her cure all. It worked whether she was sad, angry, scared or frustrated or like now, when she felt all of them. McGee was pulling up all the information he could on Damien, while Tony was hunting and pecking away on his own computer trying to find out something about Elisabetta. Abby kept offering to help before finally shoving him out of the way and stealing his computer, going to work nearly as fast as McGee.

Gibbs came over to where she was mixing batter. She held out the bowl silently and he swiped a finger in, glancing back to make sure the others weren’t paying attention. Tony was of course, Tony always paid attention to Gibbs, and Ziva really didn’t want to know why Tony blushed hard and hurriedly looked back down at the computer when Gibbs sucked the icing off his finger.

He continued watching her for a moment while she chopped up the nuts and dates. “I still can’t believe how good you are at that.”

“You thought I was only good at cutting people?” Ziva flipped the knife in her hands. “Look, you hold a knife like this, it will cut through an onion, yes?” She flipped it the other way. “Hold a knife like this, it will cut through a man.” Ziva put the knife down and gathered up the ingredients, sprinkling them into her batter. “My mother taught me one, my father the other.”

“Are you going to be okay on this one?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know if any of us are going to be okay, Gibbs. Damien Moreau is the most dangerous man you’ve ever met.”

Gibbs grinned. “Nah. I’m the most dangerous man I ever met, kid.”

Ziva wasn’t afraid that Gibbs didn’t take the whole thing seriously, she was afraid that he didn’t realize that Damien wasn’t like the other bad guys they took down. He was the kind of evil most people didn’t really believe existed.

The worst things Ziva ever did in her life, she did for Damien Moreau. She went to work for him after she left the Mossad, after she left her father and what little family she had left -- when she believed in nothing anymore. Damien stepped in and he was charming and gorgeous and soulless and Ziva didn’t care. For a long time after killing her brother at the behest of her father, she thought it didn’t matter what she did. She was wrong, but none of that was important now. What wasimportant was doing her job, protecting her team and if she had to, she’d go back to that place that Damien took her, to do it.

 

Gibbs bled all the information she had about Damien out of her before he came up with a plan, one that of course, involved Ziva getting up close and personal with her own bete noir once again. Getting close to Damien was easy -- he was so arrogant he couldn’t believe that his charm wouldn’t work on her again and so he let Ziva walk right in with the fake deal Gibbs had cooked up. He even insisted on cementing things over an intimate dinner.

Ziva resisted the temptation to just eliminate him right there. Damien was arrogant, but he wasn’t stupid and she knew their private dinner was closely guarded. Besides, that wasn’t the way the team operated and she was more than just a killer now. No, she was willing to give Gibbs’ plan a chance before she handled things herself. Damien was witty and complementary and slick and Ziva could only think of how much more she enjoyed McGee’s shy, geeky enthusiasm and Abby’s blunt, quirky world view and how much she’d prefer to be sharing a pizza and watching bad movies with them than sitting across from Damien eating a gourmet meal.

When the plan went to hell and Damien escaped to an island paradise run by a government completely owned by him, Ziva wished she’d taken the chance to get rid of him anyway. Damien had everything he needed on San Lorenzo, they were never going to get him off that damn island and back to anywhere he could pay for his crimes.

There was another plan because Gibbs always had another plan. He saw Ziva’s frown and he grinned at her.

“Rule number sixteen.”

She had to think for a moment, then she grinned back. “If someone thinks they have the upper hand, break it.”

 

Ziva used to think that prison would be a joke to Damien but being a nameless prisoner, in a tiny cell, in a dungeon in a country he once owned -- that was perfect.

 

 

The Lonely Hearts Job

 

Tony stared at Gibbs in surprise when he told them the name of their new client. “What the hell, Boss? Peter Jamison is the kind of guy we take down, not the kind we help.”

“The man was crying, Tony. It was horrifying.” Ziva shuddered slightly and Tony stifled a laugh. There wasn’t an emotion in the world that she and Gibbs couldn’t suppress. He actually wished he could have been in the room with them and Jamison if only to see two of the baddest bad-asses around quaking in fear at the sight of a little honest emotion.

“So what’s the plan?”

Gibbs shrugged. “The plan is, we find this guy’s much younger and very handsome husband -- no doubt laying on a beach somewhere -- prove he got played and move on.”

“What if he didn’t?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean, what if what they had was real?”

“Aw! Tony!” Abby came over and drew him into a hug. “That’s so sweet.” She kept an arm around him and turned back to the sofa. “I’m with Tony.”

Gibbs sighed. “McGee, dig up everything you can on Thom Jamison. Last name originally Kirby.”

“On it, Boss!”

“Tony, talk to Jamison again, see if you can get any more details from him.”

“You want me to talk to the crier?”

Gibbs raised a brow, blue eyes glittering and Tony wished he didn’t find that so sexy. Of course he was pretty resigned to finding Gibbs sexy all the time, even when he was using that second B for bastard.

“You think somebody else should do it?”

Tony winced as he imagined other members of the team talking to Jamison. Gibbs did have a point. “Fine, but this suit is a Devore and I’d better not get tear stains on it.” He added a little pout onto it because he knew it amused Gibbs no matter how much he liked to pretend it didn’t.

Fortunately, except for the occasional sniff and eye dab, Jamison had himself under control though he was disgustingly moon-eyed over his missing husband. It made Tony’s suggestion of a true blue relationship seem less likely. Everything Jamison said about how perfect Thom was made it sound more and more like a con. The real thing was decidedly less rose colored but a good grifter kept the mark in the ‘just falling in love’ stage until they were done with the con.

 

“So, turns out the lovebirds met at a GLBT fundraiser -- an auction. They were bidding on the same item, dinner at Jamison’s favorite restaurant. When Thom won, he suggested they enjoy it together.” Tony grinned. “It just so happens that the same group is hosting another auction in a week in the Hamptons.”

Gibbs nodded. “Okay, everybody grab your gear. Let’s go steal an auction.”

They each got their own bungalow. Since the team knew Tony and Gibbs were sleeping together, they’d stopped sneaking around, but on a job they never knew what roles they would need to play. Bringing a mark back to your, obviously shared, room was never a good idea.

This auction turned out to be for a romantic date night auction, date included, and McGee had no problem coming up with identities for him and Ziva as wealthy gay prizes. Tony watched them on the stage among the other volunteers. Ziva rocked a dress and heels when she bothered but she was working her whole soft butch thing for this and Tony had to say it was pretty effective. McGee was his usual awkward self, though the suit Tony had dressed him in ramped up his hotness factor and Tony knew there were plenty of people that found the whole ‘geek’ thing cute. Abby had already educated him on how McGee was something called ‘adorkable’ and how she would totally buy -- well steal -- him if he was up for bid for real.

A photographer was making her way through the room, snapping pictures enthusiastically. She paused in front of Tony’s table with a smile and raised the camera in a question.

“Sure.” Tony smiled brightly. Publicity wasn’t always a smart thing but it would seem odd if he didn’t let her take the photo. If push came to shove he could always claim the picture was misidentified.

“You’re not participating in the auction?”

Tony shrugged. “Call me a romantic but I prefer to find companionship the old fashioned way.” He held up his glass in a toast. “In a seedy bar.”

She grinned. “Nothing like the classics.”

One of the waiters stopped at the table, and handed Tony an envelope. “The information you requested, Lord Charles.”

“Thank you.”

The photog raised a brow. “Lord?”

He bowed his head slightly. “Twelfth Baron Percy, but I prefer Charles.”

“I’m Meredith, Charles. I have to say, you don’t sound like a Baron.”

The DiNozzo grin came out in full force. “Well that’s because I was filtered through the east coast. It’s just a minor title, through my mother’s side of the family. My parents were the reverse of all those title hunting American heiress stories.” Meredith’s attention was completely on Tony as he deftly wove truth and fiction together. “Dad took his money across the water and brought back a Lady. I think they were hoping I would do the same. Of course my coming out put the kibosh on that one.” Tony took another sip of his drink, watching the room without appearing to lose interest in the conversation.

"Well, some lovely lady's loss is some handsome man's gain."

Tony dipped his head in acknowledgment and smiled. "Thank you, lovely lady."

Meredith moved on to the next table, smiling and snapping pictures of the older couple seated there but Tony noticed the way her gaze kept straying his way, and since he’d specifically told her he was gay, he was pretty sure her interest wasn’t romantic.

Gibbs was manning the bar. Tony saw Meredith make her way over and Gibbs serve her a drink before his attention was taken by the MC.

The bidding started and it just felt like something was off. For one thing, all the bidders were way too attractive. Most of these things had a high quotient of rich, middle aged people willing to shell out either for charity or just to enjoy a little bit of fantasy for a night, but all the bidders so far could qualify as the fantasy.

Tony kept watching them, the niggling feeling he had growing with every minute and then it snapped. “They’re grifters!”

“What?”

Abby's startled voice echoed in his ear. He tilted his head down and pulled out his phone. The earbuds were terrific but talking to himself was still enough to garner strange looks or glares in certain places, and they didn’t need anything to alert the crew they were on to them.

“They’re a team of grifters. The whole auction is a scam. Look at them work, man.” He couldn’t keep the admiration out of his voice. There was a time when this type of thing would have been right up his alley, at least for a few runs. On the whole, Tony preferred to work alone --used to anyway -- but the right scam was worth collaborating on.

Gibbs bent down and grabbed a couple of bottles of wine, keeping his voice low. “We need to figure out who the crew leader is. Scam on this level, they’ve got to be monitoring the team from somewhere.”

“Hmm.” Tony tapped his fingers on the table, watching as Ziva and McGee and the other auctionees dates cosied up to them, flattering, fluttering, soul gazing and generally selling the whole ‘love at first sight thing’. No wonder Jamison was willing to marry someone he’d only known a month.

“Abby, start a fight with Ziva’s lady.”

And Gibbs should've known better than to be vague with their Abs because rather than try and cut in, or bump into her dumping wine on her dress, Abby tapped her on the shoulder and then sucker punched her when she turned around. Tony was torn between laughter and horror and okay, maybe a little titillation as the auction turned into a street brawl. Presumably he wasn't the only one, considering how long it took the guards to actually separate the two women.

The important thing though was that the entire crew crowded around her and Meredith made her way over as well. They immediately deferred to her, and bingo! They had their ring leader. “I should have realized it was her. The camera is a perfect cover to pick out marks and keep an eye on her crew.”

McGee made his way over to the door, snapping discreet photos of Meredith and her crew. “She’s going to have files somewhere. If we find them, we should be able to find Thom and prove to the truth to Jamison. “

Ziva leaned against the bar, taking a sip of the drink Gibbs’s poured her. “We need to distract her while we look. Gibbs, she was very flirtatious with you. Perhaps that is the key. “

“She’s a pro, romance isn’t going to distract her.” Tony shook his head. “Romance won’t, but competition might. “

“What do you mean?”

“If she thinks there’s another grifter in town working the same marks, we should be able to get her focus long enough for McGee to find and go through her records.”

“So who’s up?”

“Gotta be Gibbs. She’s already made me as a mark and she’d be too suspicious of the rest of you after the auction.”

 

Gibbs approached Meredith as she was packing her camera equipment away. “You’re not a photographer.”

She smirked up at him. “And I’m guessing you’re not a bartender.”

The auction was clearing out. McGee had already arranged to meet his ‘date’ later, while Ziva’s wanted nothing to do with her after the dustup with Abby. Apparently even money couldn’t counter fear of an angry ex, which was the cover story Ziva had used to explain Abby’s actions. Tony had no excuse to hang around the hall but he did send the coat check woman on a futile hunt for a non existent jacket and scarf, giving him a reason to be in the foyer outside when Gibbs steered Meredith that way.

“You have a nice operation but you could use what I bring to the table. The best whiskey has a fine age to it. "

Meredith crooked her mouth, looking Gibbs up and down appraisingly. "Sometimes older is better, but sometimes, it's just older. What do you have that I need?"

"Experience, and skill. I can hook anybody, man or woman.”

Meredith looked around the room and caught Tony’s eye. He bowed his head and smiled at her. She turned back to Gibbs with another smirk. “Really? Anybody. You see that guy over there? He’s a Lord. You woo him, get him to go out with you and agree to another date and I’ll seriously think about combining forces with you.” She handed him a card. “Call me when you’re ready to make your move.”

They watched her walk away and Tony finally put the coat check girl out of her misery by ‘remembering’ he’d left his coat elsewhere. His apology included a nice tip.

“McGee, you and Ziva follow Meredith, see if we can find where she stashed those files, and I’ll distract her with my ‘date’ with Tony tomorrow so we can get to them.”

 

Tony crawled into the bed next to Gibbs. “So, you and Meredith were flirting huh?”

Gibbs shrugged. “All part of the job.”

“You used to flirt with me.”

“Not part of the job.”

“Good." Tony smiled as he settled against Gibbs, tucking his head down onto Gibbs’ shoulder and closing his eyes. “So tell me how you’re going to sweep me off my feet tomorrow.”

“Nope, if you’re expecting it, you’re reactions won’t be real enough to fool Meredith.”

“Hey! I’m a professional.”

“So is she.”

“You’re sure you’re going to be able to seduce me, huh? I’m not that easy you know.”

Gibbs’ arms tightened around him. “No, but I am that good.”

Tony couldn’t help but laugh. Gibbs’ confidence was one of the sexiest things about him and it wasn’t like the bastard didn’t know it.

 

Gibbs called Meredith early the next morning and told her to meet him outside the hotel. Tony stretched out in the bed and watched him get dressed.

“You sure you don’t want to salt the mine a little bit?”

Gibbs shook his head. “Nope. Just do what you’d do if you were actually here for fun.”

Tony shrugged. “It’s your show, Boss.”

He rolled back over after Gibbs left and dosed for another hour or so, taking Gibbs at his word. He had what was pretty much brunch at that point, with Ziva and McGee. McGee was chattering to Abby the whole time through her ear bud, directing their search for Meredith’s headquarters.

Shopping was his next stop and he could only grin when he stepped out of a store, bags in hand to a stormy sky and Gibbs leaning against the wall, umbrella in hand.

“You were at the auction. Manning the bar.”

Gibbs nodded. “Fornell Spirits. Tim Fornell.”

There was a rumble above them and Tony looked up at the dark sky with a rueful frown. “There go my plans for the rest of the day.” He stepped under the umbrella Gibbs was still tilting his way, shivering a little at the wet breeze that blew over them.

Gibbs stepped closer and Tony leaned appreciatively into his body heat.

“Day like this is only good for two things anyway.”

“Really, Tim? I bet I can guess what one is.” He cooled his voice deliberately. Lord Charles was neither cheap nor easy.

“Good. I’ll buy the tickets, you buy the popcorn.”

Tony blinked. “What?”

“Bogart retrospective.”

He melted a little inside at Gibbs’ grin and for just a second, he was jealous that Lord Charles got this, romantic, charming, perfect date but then he remembered that he was the one that got the real Gibbs, grizzled, grumpy, damaged and exactly who Tony wanted.

Tony hooked his arm through Gibbs’. “Lead the way. But just so you know, we’re getting extra butter.”

It was easy to pretend Meredith wasn’t following them, and wasn’t seated a couple of seats behind them. Tony lost himself in the films, ignoring the chatter in from his earbud and everything but what was on the screen and the feel of Gibbs, warm and solid next to him, just like Lord Charles would have.

The weather had cleared when they finally stepped out of the theater. Tony didn’t say a word as Gibbs steered him to the restaurant across the street. He noticed Meredith discreetly step in behind them and made sure he spent the rest of the date looking and acting as besotted as possible. Frankly it didn’t involve a lot of acting.

Meredith was gone by the time they left the restaurant and Gibbs showed him the text from her, asking to meet him after he finished with his ‘project’.

Tony grinned at Gibbs. “Thanks for the date. See you back at the bungalow, Boss.” He was surprised when Gibbs grabbed his arm.

“Tony, remember I picked you. I didn’t pick the others, Ziva, McGee, Abby but I picked you, okay? I always hated that you were on the other side of the law when I worked for IYS.” The kiss was just as much of a surprise, not just because it was out in the open but because Tony didn’t think he’d ever had a more honest kiss from Gibbs. He couldn’t help but respond the same way and for once, all the games they played with each other fell by the wayside in favor of just feeling. For the first time, Tony thought they just might both come out winners.

Gibbs pulled back and opened the car door for Tony to get in. "Rule number 5."

Tony smiled. "You don't waste good."

 

He was still smiling when he got back to the cabana. Ziva, McGee and Abby were all in the kitchen.

“Any luck?”

McGee tapped for a second and pulled up a map on his screen. “I tracked her GPS to two locations. One was the docks. No joy there, too many boats for Abby to search. The other place was an office.”

“I searched the office but it was a fake set up. The only thing I found was this.” Abby laid down a photo head shot of Thom with an autograph on it. “There was one of these all of her crew”

McGee tapped the photo. “We pulled Thom’s fingerprints off the photo and ran them. Came up with the name Lincoln Holbrook, and an address.”

“Okay, let’s go see if we can find Lincoln or Thom or whatever he’s calling himself now, and wrap this up.”

 

The modest house tucked into a cul-de-sac wasn't exactly what Tony was expecting. Neither was the guy dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans working in the garden out back who’s welcoming smile turned to a terrified freak out when they greeted him with Thom.

“I didn’t contact him, I swear! Tell me you didn’t hurt him!” He grabbed the hoe leaning against the fence and jabbed it in their direction.

Tony felt Ziva tense up beside him and he put a hand out, needing to stall things before they escalated. “Whoa! Nobody’s getting hurt. Jamison sent us to find you.”

Thom’s whole body deflated and he sagged against the fence, dropping the hoe. “Just tell him you couldn’t okay. It’s better for everybody that way.”

Ziva crossed her arms and frowned at him. “Why, because you conned him into believing you loved him?”

“No, because I do love him.” He shook his head. “You’ve met him, right? You see how sweet he is. Meredith always says who cares if rich assholes lose a little money, they’re just looking for a trophy on their arm or in their bed anyway, but Pete’s not like that.” He actually got starry-eyed. “Did you know he’s given away almost half his fortune?”

It turned out that when Meredith realized Thom or rather Lincoln had gotten caught up in the con and actually fallen for the mark, she realized the potential threat to her operation and told Lincoln if he didn’t disappear, or if he ever tried to see Jamison again, Jamison would have a terrible accident.

Lincoln shook his head, eyes bright with unshed tears. “She was right. I would have told him everything if I could have worked up the courage.”

Ziva shifted awkwardly next to him and Tony rolled his eyes and patted Lincoln on the arm. “Don’t worry. We’re going to make sure you still get that chance.”

 

“Guys, we have a problem.”

Tony left Ziva with Lincoln and stepped off to the side. “What’s up?”

“Gibbs hasn’t checked in since lunch and his earbud is offline.”

“Shit!” Ziva caught his eye, murder in hers.

“He was supposed to meet up with Meredith to keep her distracted. Can you track her?”

There was a pause, just the sound of McGee’s tapping then, “She’s back at the docks but we never found out where that location was.”

Ziva stood up. “Head for the docks and we’ll meet you there. We’ll go boat to boat if we have to.”

Lincoln looked between the two of them. “If it’s Meredith you’re looking for, she has a boat called the All In. It’s at slip number one zero zero one.”

Ziva relayed the information on their way out the door. Lincoln watched them leave with a worried look that did nothing to make Tony feel better.

Tony and Ziva pulled up to the docks just as Abby and McGee were getting out of the car. McGee had already pulled up a map of the marina and they headed in the direction of the correct slip at a dead run.

Meredith was on the boat, gun pointed at Gibbs. Gibbs was, lounging was really the only word Tony had for it, face calm. Meredith didn’t notice them, but Gibbs did. He flicked his eyes briefly and Ziva held up a hand. They all slowed, easing toward the boat.

“As good as you are, you’re not as good as you think you are. You get caught up in con and that’s deadly. You were falling as hard for your own schtick as Lord Charles was.” Meredith shook her head, face disdainful. “You’re practically in love with him already.”

“So, is that any reason to shoot me?”

“Thing is, I’m not really big on competition, or partnerships. They never really seem to work out for me.”

Gibbs nodded at the gun. “I wonder why?”

Meredith shrugged, her smile rueful as she raised the gun. She never saw Ziva until she was already on the boat, twisting Meredith’s arm until she dropped the gun with a grunt of pain. Ziva picked it up, unloaded the clip and dropped both over the side of the boat into the water.

Gibbs stood up and grabbed Meredith’s arm, escorting her off the boat, with Ziva following them. Tony watched them come toward him and threw his jauntiest smile up. “Wasn’t worried for a minute, Boss.”

From the look Gibbs gave him, Tony wasn’t fooling anybody.

Meredith looked between Tony and Gibbs. “I don’t understand...how? I didn’t even suspect you.”

Tony shrugged. “As good as you are, you’re not as good as you think you are.”

“Lincoln provided lots of information and we’ve already sent profiles of you and your crew to every potential mark on the eastern seaboard.”

“Why do you even care? We’re the same.”

Tony felt Gibbs, Abby, Ziva and McGee move behind him. He shook his head. “You broke a cardinal rule. You threatened a member of your crew.”

“I knew I couldn’t trust him.”

“You have to give loyalty to get it. There’s going to be a lot of people with money and influence pissed at you. If I were you, I’d cut my losses and get out of Dodge”

Meredith didn’t look back as she practically ran down the docks.

 

Tony watched Jamison grab his husband and hold on tight, face buried in the other man’s neck while he murmured something illegible. He had to admit it was pretty sweet.

“I love this job.” Abby laced her fingers with McGee’s and leaned against Ziva who frowned her ‘I can’t believe I put up with this when I could kill everybody in this room with my pinky’ frown, but didn’t move away. The three of them stared at the embracing couple.

Tony watched the three of them a moment, then he glanced at Gibbs who had an actual real life smile aimed their way. Tony moved down the bar until he was standing next to Gibbs and ignoring Gibbs’ raised eyebrow, kept moving over until their shoulders and legs were touching. He picked up Gibbs’s glass and toasted him with it.

“Here’s to happy endings.”