Title: Emergence – Prologue & Chapters 1-4
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: NCIS, The Sentinel, Stargate SG-1. Minor Cross with: Criminal Minds, The Magnificent Seven ATF AU, CSI:Miami
Relationships: Tony/Gibbs, Jim/Blair, Jack/Daniel, Hotch/Reid/Rossi, Chris/Vin, Buck/Ezra, Josiah/OMC, Other M/M, M/F
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, A/B/O (of a sort), Crossover, Fusion
Warnings: Adult language and themes, canon-level violence, explicit sexual situations, minor Ds themes
Content Rating: NC-17
Betas: Elsa Kallan and Naelany
Art: fanarts_series (marlislash)
Summary: Gibbs is the Alpha Dragon for the east coast Wing… and the lead for the NCIS MCRT. He has two rules above all others; No other emerged dragons on his NCIS team, and no relationships with non-dragons.
Tony has no dragon blood, so hides his feelings for Gibbs behind smiles and misdirection. Things will change drastically for Tony when he mysteriously falls ill after an investigation on an aircraft carrier.
– – – –
If Tony were going to die, these circumstances were about as far from ideal as he could imagine. On another Damned Boat, in freaking cold-ass January. And not just January, New Year’s Day. Talk about fucking up the New Year!
He and McGee had their hands in the air, in the universal gesture of surrender, trying to convey harmlessness. They were too far away to effectively communicate with the crazed Lieutenant with the big-ass gun, but even if they were closer, the noise level on the main deck of an aircraft carrier was not ideal for a heart-to-heart. They were completely out in the open, but wielding an M4, even the worst shot could nail them both before they could reach cover. Yep, they were going to die. Then Gibbs was going to kill Tony for this.
If he survived, he was personally going to look into how that man got ahold of an assault rifle on this Damned Boat.
They were called out to the USS John Stennis the day after Christmas to investigate the murder of an Ensign who was the nephew of a Congressman. Tony considered it a minor miracle that they’d gotten through Christmas Eve and Day before being called out.
After five long days, the investigation finally led them to Lieutenant Harold Chambers, who they thought was having an affair with the victim’s wife. A rather trite situation, all things considered, but you couldn’t beat a classic. Considering the weapon pointed their way, guilt seemed somewhat assured. At least the deck crew made it to cover while the Lieutenant was focused on Tony and McGee.
Tony tried to edge a little closer, indicating that he wanted to talk, but Chambers just tensed and raised the M4 higher. Tony immediately stepped back and tried to make a placating gesture while keeping his hands in the air.
Though he didn’t have Gibbs’ famous gut, Tony had his own instincts and they were screaming that this guy was going to go out in a blaze of glory and take as many people with him as he could.
The Lieutenant suddenly gave him a cold crazy smile, and Tony knew this was it. Just as the realization sank in that Chambers was going to pull the trigger, he was seeing a wall of black. It took his panicked brain a few seconds to realize he was seeing matte black scales. Lots of them.
Tony hadn’t even realized Gibbs was nearby. And now he had transformed right in front of them. Though his mind registered the faint report of weapon’s fire, he was primarily focused on the sight in front of him.
Without much conscious thought, Tony reached out to touch the scales less than a foot away. They were warm, which he didn’t expect. He stroked them carefully, wanting to keep touching, he’d never been this close to Gibbs in his dragon form. But abruptly he brought himself back to the reality of the situation and dropped his hand. Gibbs had to have taken the shots meant for Tony and McGee. Maybe he had been hurt?
A quick assessment showed McGee getting back to his feet, wincing slightly, sans bullet holes; likely knocked over by Gibbs transforming in front of them. Tony looked the other way just in time for a massive black dragon head to swivel around and nail him with an icy blue gaze. Tony was trapped in that gaze for a few seconds and it felt like his stomach flipped over.
Gibbs jerked his head in a clear indication for Tony to get moving. Shaking off the unsettled feeling, Tony jogged around Gibbs’ large frame, ducking under the tail to take a cautious look. He found Ziva already had Lieutenant Chambers in cuffs. So why hadn’t Gibbs shifted back?
A quick perusal of Gibbs showed a small amount of blood pooled on the deck. The M4 must pack enough punch to penetrate dragon scales. “You got him, Ziva?” Tony called out as he moved closer to Gibbs to search for the source of the injury.
“Of course, Tony.” She realized what Tony was doing and quickly queried, “Is Gibbs injured?”
“There’s some blood. Still looking for the source.” Hearing a rather loud huff, Tony looked up to find Gibbs staring down at him with pretty clear exasperation in his eyes. “Hey, you’re injured!” Tony called up. “You can suck it up and let me find it, or point me in the right direction, but we are not just ignoring it!”
Another huff of breath, then Tony had to jump back as Gibbs’ head was suddenly close. He gave Tony a small glare, then nosed a section of his scales. When Gibbs’ head was back out of the way, Tony looked closer and saw the area seeping deep red blood.
McGee appeared at his shoulder. “Looks like a round slipped between a couple of scales.”
“Thank you, McObvious. Gibbs had just pointed that out.” Tony felt completely out of his depth. “So what do we do?”
Flashing Tony a slightly smug look, McGee replied, “He won’t shift back until the bullet is out. The round is likely very close to the surface. It should have lost most of its velocity penetrating the scales and dragonhide. The ship’s doctor should be able to get it out in couple of minutes. And he’ll heal quickly as long as he’s shifted.”
“Tony,” Ziva called, “you should take care of securing the prisoner and let McGee and me handle Gibbs. We both have the requisite experience.”
“And yet, that’s not what’s going to happen.” He turned to McGee. “Go with Ziva to take Chambers to the brig. Log the M4 into evidence.” Without waiting for a response, Tony turned to one of the Masters at Arms, several of which had shown up in the last couple minutes. “Would one of you go with them, and another of you summon the ship’s doctor?”
Ziva looked like she was going to argue, but seemed to catch herself. He was glad she had enough sense not to get in a pissing match in front of several dozen Navy men. Tim didn’t look happy either, but at a raised brow from Tony, and an annoyed huff from Gibbs, he left with Ziva and the Master at Arms.
Tony moved to stand closer to Gibbs’ head, which Gibbs lowered when it became clear Tony had something to say. He quickly discarded several things, finally only saying, “Thanks, Gibbs.”
– – – –
Three Weeks Later
Tony flipped through McGee’s interview notes, then glanced back at the financial information. Something was teasing at the edges of his mind, but he hadn’t quite put the pieces together yet. He sighed and rubbed at his temples for the hundredth time.
He wished Gibbs were here and not off on one of his Super Secret Dragon Duties – Tony always mentally added the capitals, or thought of it as SSDD. After all, Gibbs’ mystery trips deserved some sort of special lingo.
Normally Tony didn’t mind being in charge the eight to ten times a year Gibbs had to attend to his duties as the Alpha for the east coast Wing, but he’d felt like crap the last couple weeks, and it was only getting worse. His headache, while not unbearably severe, was beyond persistent, and resistant to any medication he’d tried. He had so many weird symptoms, and he was just plain tired of feeling bad. Plus, lately, his back had been itching like crazy. He forced himself to ignore it, but it was just one more thing adding to his general impression of not being right, and an overall feeling of misery.
Didn’t help that Ziva and McGee were acting up this time. Normally they settled down after Gibbs had been gone a day or so, but they were three days into this trip and things weren’t improving. Although, in truth, it had been a steady decline since they got Ziva back from Somalia four months ago. She was chafing at any hint of leadership from Tony, and McGee seemed determined to follow her lead. Tony was trying to be patient and give her time to get her legs back under her, but he was running low on tolerance at the moment. He figured McGee was following Ziva’s lead as his own gesture of support.
Which Tony would be able to handle better if his head didn’t hurt all the fucking time.
Suddenly the information snapped into focus, and Tony had a solid line of questioning into the disappearance of Marine Captain John Wight. He looked up to ask Ziva or McGee a question about the interview of the girlfriend, but snapped his mouth shut when he realized neither were in the bullpen. What the fuck? He must be really off his feed to not notice them leaving. But they should have said something before just disappearing.
Tony felt his annoyance level shoot up, then ruthlessly pushed it down in order to focus on the case. He picked up the phone to make a couple calls to see if he could confirm his suspicion about the captain’s girlfriend.
Five minutes later, McGee and Ziva returned, chatting and carrying cups of coffee. He noted, with irritation that he immediately suppressed, that they didn’t think to bring any for him. Normally, he’d let them grab lunch – it was already 1115 hours – before going to Silver Springs to get the girlfriend. But they just had a coffee break; he figured food could wait until later.
“McGee, Ziva, pick up Captain Wight’s girlfriend and bring her in for questioning,” Tony ordered, while making note of a couple of questions for Melissa Henridge when they brought her back.
Ziva stepped up to his desk, and snapped out, “We already completed a thorough questioning of Ms. Henridge, Tony. She knows nothing.”
Tony met her glare with one of his own. He’d have been happy to discuss his reasons if she’d bothered to ask. “Not thorough enough, Probationary Agent David. I have questions more for her. Now go get her.”
Her jaw clenched, she opened her mouth with the clear intention to argue her point further.
McGee stepped close to the desk and quickly offered, “Tony, we really did do a thorough interview. She was home by herself. The Captain never came home. She doesn’t know anything.” McGee’s tone was placating, but he was still, once again, siding with Ziva.
Tony’s glare shifted to McGee. “Since when is being home alone an alibi, McGee?”
“Come on, Tony, You always think it’s the girlfriend or wife,” Ziva bit out.
Pasting on a fake cocky smile, Tony replied, “And how often am I right? Quite frequently, actually.” Ziva opened her mouth for another retort, but Tony cut her off. “This isn’t a democracy. Go. Pick. Her. Up.” Tony abruptly got to his feet, stuffing his notes into the case file, then slid it into his desk drawer. He brushed past McGee and headed toward the back elevators to Abby’s lab. “I expect you back with Melissa in an hour,” he called back over his shoulder.
He could hear the murmur of their voices, Ziva’s irritated and Tim’s more calming, as he walked away. Made him wish he had Gibbs’ super dragon hearing so he could spy on what they were saying. Well… maybe not. It’d probably just piss him off.
With a sigh, he headed downstairs. He didn’t really expect Abby to have anything yet, but he figured he’d stop off to say hi. Then he’d see if Ducky had a couple minutes to check him over. Before Gibbs left, he had strictly ordered Tony to get a medical check before Gibbs got back from wherever the hell he went. Gibbs had said he’d be gone four to seven days, so Tony was running out of time to get it taken care of in case Gibbs came back tomorrow.
He’d tried so hard to cover up that he didn’t feel well, but eventually Gibbs had noticed. Tony mentally snorted at his thinking. Of course Gibbs noticed. What the hell didn’t Gibbs notice?
Tony wouldn’t mind the checkup if he thought the order was because Gibbs gave a damn. But, “Dammit DiNozzo, I need you working at your best. Not whatever the hell you’ve been doing lately,” wasn’t exactly an expression of concern. Tony’s place in Gibbs’ life was all about utility… if Tony ceased to be useful, he knew he would be out.
The elevator door slid open and the pounding of Abby’s music was like an icepick through his brain. He mentally steeled himself and ventured into her lab, closing the door behind him for some small measure of privacy from any nearby dragons. There were only Betas on site with Gibbs gone, but even they could hear much better than a human.
She was poking at Major Mass Spec, so she saw him immediately. She started to smile, but at his prolonged wince, she jumped for the remote and turned the volume down.
“Another headache?” she asked in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
“Same headache,” Tony replied, rubbing his forehead. Maybe the headache was getting worse. A lot worse.
He felt Abby’s arms come around him in an oddly gentle hug. “Whoa! You’ve lost weight, Tony. Your suits are like a Tony disguise!” She pulled back to peer at him closely. “You see a doctor yet?” She wasn’t even babbling at him… much. Maybe he looked as bad as he felt. God, he hoped not! He had an image to uphold.
“No.” He caught her frown. “Don’t look at me that way. I’m going to pop in on Ducky and see if he has a few minutes. If he doesn’t have time, or thinks I need to see someone else, I’ll make an appointment to see someone in the morning.”
“Geez, Tony-boy, cutting it close. Bossman could be back tomorrow.”
So Gibbs told Abby he was under orders to see a doctor. Tony barely managed to not roll his eyes.
She plopped on her lab stool and spun in a circle. “So what can I do for you, Temporary Bossman?”
Tony blinked at the subject change. He half expected her to give him a bit more of a lecture. But he wasn’t about to look this gift horse in the mouth, because she definitely could bite. “Thought I’d check in on the case. Anything yet?”
Abby frowned at him. “You know my babies need more time, Tony! It’ll be at least another hour. Probably two.” She stared at him suspiciously. “You didn’t bring my Caf-Pow, so what did you really come here for?”
“I just needed to see a friendly face, Abbs.” He grimaced, realizing he’d just revealed something he didn’t intend to.
She cocked her head to the side and looked thoughtful. “Problems with Timmy and Ziva?”
“What? No,” he laughed it off. He was usually so careful to keep Abby away from any problems with the team. He’d headslap himself if he could handle the worsening of his headache. “Just not a lot to go on in this case, and I think everyone’s a bit moody. Besides, you know there’s no one I like to see as much as you!” he offered with a grin.
Eyes narrowed suspiciously, like she could read his thoughts, she simply murmured, “Uh huh. Sure.” But she seemed inclined to let him off the hook. “Sucks when Gibbs is away, huh? I hate SSDD.”
Tony frowned at her, wondering what she was getting at. “Yeah…”
“You worry about him when he’s away,” she observed.
“Well, yeah, Abbs. I do worry. Who knows what might happen, and who’s watching out for him…” he trailed off at her look. Not sure how to interpret her smile. “What?”
“Nothing, Tony! So, you want to go to the movies with me this weekend?”
Tony blinked a couple times at the non sequitur, then shrugged one shoulder. “Sounds good.” In his head, he quickly went over what he thought was currently playing and what was about to be released. All of sudden he had an awful thought. “Wait a minute… tell me you’re not talking about Becoming Omega!”
Abby looked sheepish. “Maybe.” Before he could reply, she wheedled, “Come on, Tony! You never go see dragon movies with me. I mean, seriously, with your near encyclopedic knowledge of films, I just don’t get why you won’t see dragon films. They’re awesome! It’s like this big hole in your movie trivia scores. It’s not natural, I tell you!”
“Abbs!” he near shouted to get her attention, mostly succeeding in aggravating his own head. He closed his eyes against the pain for a second. “I’m just not interested in dragon movies, okay? I swear it feels like we’ve been having this argument for a decade! Besides, it’s all just CG… usually bad CG. I mean, who ever heard of a dragon turned actor?”
“But, it’s supposed to be about Omegas! And I read that it’s scary accurate.”
“Oh please. We can’t even get an accurate movie about Alphas and Betas, and there are tons of them… well, relatively speaking. What are there, like, less than ten Omegas in North America? Supposedly. And the Dragon Council guards them like they were the Hope Diamond and Star of Bombay combined. Nothing in that movie is going to be accurate.”
Abby pouted, then retorted, “But you never want to see any dragon movies. And I–”
“Abbs, please… let it go. I know you’re fascinated by them, but I’m not, and I don’t want to have this discussion again!” He hated arguing with Abby, but he was feeling too poorly to deflect with humor the way he usually did. He should have headed straight to autopsy and not stopped by the lab.
She got a mulish expression on her face that made his guts clench. That expression always boded poorly for him. He wasn’t going to get off easy this time. “Just give me one reason why you won’t talk about dragons, or see a dragon movie. Just one, Tony. A REAL reason.”
Tony snapped, “Because I’m tired of playing second best to dragons! I get it enough at work, I don’t want to spend my personal time on it as well.” He immediately hated himself for putting that shocked and hurt expression on her face.
“Tony… that’s not… I can’t believe… I mean, how could… I…” She took a deep breath, and tried again. “How long have you felt like that? Because no one here thinks of you that way. You know that right?”
“Seriously?” He was unable to stop the expression of incredulity. “Please don’t try to tell me that you haven’t heard the rumors about why Gibbs gave me the SFA position.”
Abby blinked a few times, then a look of comprehension crossed her features. “Don’t tell me you’re talking about that ridiculous crap about being on Gibbs’ team because you have no dragon blood.”
Tony simply raised a brow.
She huffed a little in exasperation. “No one who matters believes that silliness.”
His brows climbed higher.
“No, Tony!” She shook her head in vehement denial. “Any agent who’s worked closely with you knows better. And the team certainly doesn’t think that, and the rest of your friends know better, too!”
Tony was unable to stop his flinch. He’d overheard Ziva say that very thing on more than one occasion. Tim hadn’t said it within his hearing, but he hadn’t disagreed with Ziva either.
Abby looked shocked, then confused, then she looked like she was starting to get pissed. Time to close that line of thought.
“It’s not just that, Abbs. I’ve felt this way pretty much since I came to NCIS…” he trailed off, not knowing what else to say, and feeling like he’d already said too much. He should have kept this conversation from happening.
“Tony! NO! Why since you came here? Why–”
“Abbs,” he cut her off. “I didn’t exactly mean it that way. I just…” he ran his fingers through his hair, trying to figure out how to explain it. “When I was growing up… not many dragons around. My dad was a wealthy business man, and you know that dragons aren’t drawn to the boardroom or stock exchange.”
“Well, yeah… protect the tribe not the dollars.”
“Exactly. I’m sure there were guys at the military academy who eventually became dragons, but only one emerged while I was there, and that was in the last month of my senior year, so I never really had to deal with him. College… there were a couple. I played a lot of sports, and even though dragons tend to play sports recreationally, we didn’t have any on the football team, and only one Beta on the basketball team.
“They’re really limited on what positions they’re allowed to play because of their enhanced strength, especially in football. Who knows if any of them emerged after college. Dragons tend to emerge in mid-twenties to early forties, so any of my classmates could be a dragon now.”
“Well, that’s true for Alphas and Betas, Tony… who knows about Omegas. I mean, information is closely guarded by the dragon community, it’s like–”
“Abbs! So not the point.”
Abby made a motion of zipping her lip.
“Anyway, the point is that I didn’t encounter any in a meaningful way until I joined the force.”
“Oh yeah. Lots more dragons in law enforcement!”
“No kidding, but even then, I didn’t think much about it. I never felt second best. I get how the enhanced senses and strength could be an advantage as a cop – not to mention a nearly impervious alternate form – but sometimes I thought the whole protect imperative got in the way of good investigation. Not all the time, but sometimes. It can fuck up objectivity… at least, that’s what I saw.”
He paused for a second before continuing. “So I felt I had my advantages, too, and it never bothered me that I had no chance of ever becoming a dragon. I was the youngest detective ever in Peoria. Maybe Peoria isn’t the greatest, but I was good, Abby. Just as good as the dragons on the force. Better, maybe.”
“I know you were great, Tony. You don’t have to sell me… you’re one of the best NCIS agents, so I know you were a great cop!” She hesitated a moment. “So what changed when you came to NCIS?”
“Gibbs,” Tony stated with no inflection.
“What?!” Abby nearly screeched, making his head throb horribly. “Tony, Gibbs totally thinks you’re a great agent. How could you even think that he believes you’re second best? He trusted you faster than any other agent I’ve ever seen him work with.”
Before Abby could build up a full head of steam protecting her precious silver fox, Tony placed two fingers over her lips. “Abbs… I’m not saying anything bad about Gibbs. I just feel second best.” He hated feeling this vulnerable, but now that it was coming out, he felt unable to stop it. “I feel second best to every dragon in his Wing. He’s going off-grid all the time. He doesn’t let me have his back. I’m not sure he’s ever really trusted me.” In truth, all he wanted was to feel good enough, but he never did with Gibbs. “Gibbs has that no dragons on the team policy. So maybe he did make me SFA because I have no–”
This time Abby placed her fingers over Tony’s lips and pulled his away from hers. “Tony, tell me this, were there any Alphas in any of the departments you worked at?” She pulled her hand away so he could answer.
Brow furrowed, Tony considered his response. “No. Only Betas. Of course there were Alphas in each city, but only Philly had an Alpha on the force, though not in my department. He was the lieutenant in Major Case; I was vice, then homicide.”
“Alphas are just different, Tony. No matter what their territory, how big or small, they have a responsibility to their Wing, and yet a big responsibility to their human job, too. Gibbs has a HUGE territory. You can’t handle dragon business for him. And even though Gibbs has seconds to help with some dragon matters, he has a lot to do to keep up with his Alpha Primes all over the east coast.
“But he trusts you completely with his other responsibility; His duty to protect servicemen and their families. He trusts you to run the team and get justice when his priorities are split. He trusts you, Tony. He has faith in you. Never doubt that.” Abby reached out for him and gave him a big hug, whispering in his ear, “You’ve never been second best, Tony.”
Tony surrendered to the hug, wondering if he’d be able to if he didn’t feel so worn down. Knowing him, he’d be deflecting more if he felt better. But no matter how awful he felt, there was no way he’d voice his fear that he was so sick that Gibbs would boot him off the team. “We see him so differently, Abbs.”
She pulled back a bit. “I see the truth of it, Tony. And if you’d been willing to open up about this, I could have set your mind at ease, like, eight years ago! Now, you listen to Aunt Abby and stop fretting about your place in Gibbs’ life.” Tony stiffened a little at her wording, but she ignored it and continued on. “No more insecurities today, young man. You need to go see Ducky, because you’re running a fever, and now I’m really starting to worry about you.”
Tony stepped back and nodded, Abby’s words were like a balm to his soul, but he was afraid to really believe it. He wasn’t going to stop being insecure about Gibbs in one afternoon. Especially not with this mystery illness looming over his head. “All right. Off to see the Duck-man.” He hesitated before leaving. “Thanks, Abbs.”
Abby watched him walk away and whispered, “Anytime, Tony. Anytime.”
– – – –
Dr. Donald Mallard peered at the preliminary autopsy report for Agent Balboa’s team, checking the facts typed up by Mr. Palmer against his recollection of the autopsy. Out of long habit, he kept track of his assistant’s movements and faint mutterings as Jimmy completed the monthly inventory.
The swish of the autopsy doors caught his attention and he looked up just as Anthony strode in. He was not looking well; he was rather pale, had a furrow in his brow that Ducky knew from long experience meant a headache, and his suit did little to disguise the fact that he had lost weight.
Masking his concern, he called out, “Anthony, my dear boy, how nice of you to drop by.”
“Hey, Tony!” Jimmy stuck his head out from the supply closet and waved, his expression shifting to a frown as he took in Tony’s appearance.
“Jimmy.” Anthony waved in response. “Hey Ducky, um…” Anthony trailed off, looking uncomfortable, eyes flicking subtly to Jimmy.
Ducky took the hint quickly. “Mr. Palmer. I need to have a bit of a private chat with Anthony. Would you be agreeable to taking your lunch a few minutes early?”
“Sure, Dr. Mallard.” He emerged from the closet and made a rather awkward gesture. “I’ll just get my stuff.” A minute later, he exited the lab with a, “See ya later, Tony.”
“Later, Jimmy.” Anthony looked back to Ducky, but seemed unsure how to proceed.
Trying to make it easier for him, Ducky offered, “I wondered when I might be seeing you, Anthony.”
With a slight roll of the eyes, Anthony replied, “Gibbs ratted me out to you, too, huh?”
Ducky’s brows shot up. “I assure you, Jethro was simply concerned for you. In fact, if you hadn’t sought me out today, I would have called to persuade you to come down for a visit.”
Anthony looked skeptical. “Gibbs made it clear how little use I am like this, so my hopes of this going away on its own and unnoticed are apparently futile. And he gave me a deadline to see someone before he got back. So…” he trailed off, then reluctantly continued, “Do you have time to look me over? If not, I can see if I’m able to get into the clinic tomorrow.”
Hiding his worry over Anthony’s comment about Gibbs, and Anthony’s perception of Gibbs’ regard, Ducky quickly replied, “Of course I can have a look. I may still have to refer you to another colleague, but let’s see how far we can get, shall we?” He gestured to the table closest to the desk. “Have a seat and tell me what symptoms have manifested, and how long you’ve been feeling poorly.”
Looking as if he were headed to his own execution, Anthony crossed to the table and carefully seated himself on the cold steel table. “I guess mostly just headache and fever for about three weeks.” He shrugged dismissively, as if three weeks of ill health was of no consequence.
Ducky frowned at the careful movements. Anthony’s natural exuberance typically leant itself more to hopping up on the table rather than these cautious precise motions. He was also a little disconcerted that Anthony had felt ill for so long and had not sought out assistance earlier.
He stepped into his office to retrieve his medical kit, sadly realizing that he’d had cause to use this kit on Anthony more than any other person he’d known. The poor boy disregarded his health entirely too often. And perhaps Anthony’s colleagues took his seemingly endless energy and good humor for granted?
Returning with his bag, he asked, “Anything other than the headache and fever? Despite your rather sharp yet camouflaging suit, I’m quite able to see that you’ve lost weight.” He made a gesture for Anthony to remove his suit coat, then pulled out his sphygmomanometer to assess Anthony’s blood pressure.
“Yeah… a few little things, but I don’t know that any of it is related.” Without being prompted, Anthony rolled up his sleeve.
Securing the cuff, Ducky gently chided, “Why don’t you tell me every symptom, and let me judge its relevance, hmm?”
“Well, I think I started having stomach cramps first, then intermittent headaches, which became more constant over time. I think the fever has been off and on, too.” Drumming his fingers against his thigh in agitation, he added, “I’ve been kind of stiff and achy. Oh, and itchy. I’m really tired most of the time. My appetite has been off, and sometimes I’m nauseated. I’ve lost a lot of weight.” He made a vague gesture of frustration. “I mean, yeah, it makes sense with the appetite and all, but not this much weight.”
Ducky felt somewhat alarmed and was briefly distracted from inflating the cuff. “How much weight, Anthony?” This sounded appallingly like meningitis. He could tell from just touching Anthony’s arm that he had a rather acute fever.
“Over thirty pounds in the last three weeks.”
Ducky’s eyebrows shot up. “My word! Are you certain?” One possibility immediately popped into his head, but he quickly dismissed it. He was talking to Anthony after all. Meningitis was much more likely, but sadly more concerning.
As a dragon, Ducky was immune to meningitis so he had no concern for his own safety. However, the safety of the rest of the agents and staff was potentially a problem if it were bacterial. Although, the likelihood of Anthony suffering with meningitis untreated for three weeks, without collapsing, was rather slim. Medically, it was something of a mystery at the moment.
Anthony nodded. “Yeah, Duck. Unless the scale at home and here are broken exactly the same.”
Feeling even more concerned, Ducky gestured for brief silence while he listened for Anthony’s blood pressure. He read 105/62. Anthony had always had healthy blood pressure, but this was a little on the low side. Checking it again, he had the same result.
Pulling off his stethoscope, he immediately reached for his temporal thermometer. Anthony’s stubbornness about his health was the largest factor in his decision to purchase the instant read forehead thermometer. He could spring it on Anthony and get a reading before Anthony realized what he was up to.
He ran it over Anthony’s temporal artery and read 103.4. He blinked and checked it again. Same result. Absently, he gestured for Anthony to continue, then reached up to palpate his lymph nodes. “Anything else?”
Anthony rubbed his forehead, clearly trying to put off saying the next bit. “And, uh, all my, um…” he trailed off uncertainly.
“Anthony, I’m uncertain what has you in such a quandary, but I assure you anything you say will remain between us. I need to understand the full scope of the problem, so if there’s more, I need to be informed. Believe me, dear boy, there is nothing you might have to say that I have not heard before!”
Sighing in resignation, Anthony finally managed to say, “All my hair has fallen out.”
Ducky’s eyes flicked to Anthony’s head, as if to ascertain if Anthony were wearing a wig. “Ah… You seem much the same as ever—“
“No,” Anthony interrupted, “I mean all my body hair. It’s gone.” He gave Ducky a meaningful look. “All of it.” He pointed at his head. “This that you see… my head hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are all that’s left.” He huffed in annoyance. “I haven’t even had to shave in a week!”
The impossibility that had occurred to Ducky briefly before was now almost a certainty. He was instantly relieved that Anthony likely did not have a serious medical condition, and simultaneously excited about this new possibility. There must have been an error in Anthony’s blood workup! He was unable to stop the smile.
Anthony frowned at him for his apparent good humor. “Something you want to share with me, Ducky?”
“I believe I know the source of your affliction, and it’s nothing alarming. I just need to check a couple things.” He reached up and turned Anthony’s head to the side to look behind his ear. He blinked a few times. There was nothing. With three weeks of symptoms, the pre-scales should be nearly complete. Perhaps Anthony was slow to emerge, or was mistaken in the duration of symptomology? Best to check the shoulders. “Would you remove your shirt for me, so I can check your skin?”
Looking somewhat suspicious, Anthony shrugged out of shirt. “Other than the itching, my skin is fine.”
Immediately, Ducky noticed the complete absence of chest hair as well as the effects of the weight loss. He’d told Anthony several times that he could do with losing ten to fifteen pounds, but now he was looking a little on the too-lean end of the spectrum.
Pulling himself back to the task at hand, he peered at the tops of Anthony’s shoulders, while simultaneously feeling for the minute texture change of pre-scales. He saw nothing. He felt nothing. It was utterly baffling.
“You said you’ve been itchy?” Itching was a clear indicator of the development of pre-scales.
“Yeah. My back. It drives me crazy sometimes. I can’t reach half the places that itch.”
Ducky briefly froze, his hands still on Anthony’s shoulders. Back? Returning to his senses, he jerked his hands away. Taking a deep breath, he walked behind Anthony to confirm his rising suspicion.
And there they were. Almost completely formed. The small, flesh-colored pre-scales that marked an emerging dragon. All along the spine, they disappeared below the waistband and continued up to the base of Anthony’s neck. When they reached his hairline, the process would be complete and Anthony would emerge – as an Omega.
The prolonged silence was starting to make Tony fidget. What the hell was wrong with Ducky? He’d moved behind Tony and then did nothing. Ducky’s demeanor was odd through the whole exam. He hadn’t gone off on even one tangent. Tony was starting to worry something was seriously wrong.
“Ducky?” Silence. He twisted around to see the doctor, who seemed to snap out of whatever it was. “Ducky?” he repeated. “Is something wrong with me?”
Ducky stepped back a bit and took another deep breath, then moved around to face Tony. “My apologies, Anthony, I was woolgathering a bit. I can shed some light on your situation, and give you something to help with your symptoms, but perhaps you could don your shirt before we continue?”
“Umm… okaaay.” The shirt was on in short order. “So, what’s wrong?” Tony bit out with barely concealed frustration.
“Perhaps blunt would be best?” At Tony’s nod, Ducky continued. “You’re emerging.” He looked at Tony expectantly.
For his part, all Tony could do was blink in confusion. What in the world did that mean? Ducky said it like it was supposed to make sense. “Well, huh, I’m not sure… uh… what do you mean by that? I’ve only heard that term used in regards to dragons becoming… well, becoming dragons.”
“Er… what?” Tony’s brain simply refused to process the information.
“You are becoming a dragon.”
Tony jumped off the table, fists clenched, the sudden move escalating his headache, which he ruthlessly ignored. Ducky immediately backed away a few steps. “That’s not funny! We know, hell, everyone knows, that I am NOT latent. I have none of the genetics.”
“I would not jest in such a manner, Anthony!” Ducky quickly interrupted Tony’s impending tirade. “I say it to you in all seriousness.”
Tony teetered a little, then slumped back to lean against the table. “What?”
This was not possible. It was well documented that the DiNozzo and Paddington families were free of dragon blood. Tony was tested as a child, again at RIMA, at the police academy, and at FLETC—the detection tests had improved over time, so he had been tested frequently and thoroughly. This had to be a mistake.
With a sympathetic look, Ducky added, “I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than just you emerging.”
“How could it possibly be more complicated? Jesus, Ducky, Gibbs is going to kick me off the team! I’m going to lose everything. How much worse can it be?” Mostly Tony was struggling with shock, but there was a faint feeling of despair creeping in. He was going to lose his place on the team, possibly his job. His whole life was turning upside down.
“Your pre-scales are on your spine,” Ducky offered in a gentle tone.
Tony’s feelings flipped from shock to confusion. And really, he felt too awful for emotional flip-flopping. “Huh? What the hell is a pre-scale?”
“When a dragon is in the early stages of emerging, most of their changes are internal, the only outward manifestation are fine, flesh-colored scales. After emergence, they are shed and yield way to the permanent, colored scales. In your case, they’re on your spine.”
He had to ponder that for several moments. “But, if they give way to permanent scales, why on my back? I thought dragon scales were behind the ear, down the side of the neck and across the top of the shoulders?” Tony tried to remember when he’d seen dragons shirtless.
He’d seen Gibbs without his shirt several times and didn’t recall scales on his back. And he was pretty sure he’d remember if Gibbs had scales there. He’d always been intrigued by the stripes of black scales across the tops of Gibbs’ shoulders and sides of his neck. Of course, the black scales at his temples were always visible, so somewhat less captivating to Tony than the normally hidden scales.
He shifted his thoughts to other dragons. Nope, still no spine scales in memory.
“Correct. That’s the scale pattern for Betas, and Alphas have the same, plus the extra set, the Alpha Mark, at their temples.” He looked at Tony expectantly, as if waiting for him to put the clues together.
So, if he didn’t have Alpha or Beta markings – “Oh, hell no!” Tony put his hands in front of him, as if he could ward off the news. “No… no. NO!”
“Anthony!” Ducky nearly yelled. “I can see this causes you a great deal of distress, but, in light of your status, we need to act on this immediately. You must calm down. I promise you’ll be able to indulge in upset at a later time.”
“What?! My status? No… you promised this would stay between us! I need time to figure this out before you tell anyone!” And was that really Ducky-speak for he could have a temper tantrum later?
“And I assure you that anything you say to me regarding your health is confidential, but your status as an emerging Omega must be addressed. The Council has very strict rules about this, Tony. You must be under protection of an Alpha immediately.”
Tony stared at Ducky blankly for several seconds. “Ducky, please, slow down. I don’t understand any of this. I certainly don’t understand these rules. I really know very little about dragons. Besides, Gibbs will be back soon… can’t it wait for him to get home? We can just keep it between us until then.”
Ducky shook his head in vehement denial. “No. Absolutely not. And you need to be under the protection of a mated Alpha, Jethro would be a most inappropriate protector for you right now. Though, of course, he will be informed immediately.”
Mouth hanging open in astonishment, Tony was unable to even form the right questions to ask. When Ducky nodded decisively and started to move toward his phone, Tony came back to himself. “Whoa, Ducky, just hold on. I get that you have your things to do, and frankly, I need a little time to think. I’m going to go back to work, try some more Tylenol and we can talk more about this later. Okay?” Anything to get away from the crazy that had taken over autopsy.
Abandoning the phone for the moment, Ducky returned to Tony, subtly getting between him and the exit. “No. You cannot leave autopsy unprotected.”
Tony didn’t think he could handle any more shocks coming his way. “What the hell are you talking about now? I’m a fully trained federal agent. I do not need protection inside NCIS. Plus I’m in the middle of a case!”
Another emphatic shake of the head from Ducky. “Someone else will take over the case. You are staying here for the moment. Please don’t test me on this, Anthony. I know I seem mild-mannered, but I am still a dragon, and I assure you that you will be staying here.”
Nearly floored by the implied threat, Tony could only gape.
“In addition, I need to brew you a special tea emerging dragons need to ease their symptoms. Frankly, I’m amazed you’ve lasted this long without it, and were still able to remain upright. Your constitution is quite impressive, my boy.” Ducky’s expression was completely resolved, and Tony was certain Ducky would do whatever was necessary to keep Tony in autopsy… and make him drink tea.
The notion was so absurd, Tony had a fight back a near-hysterical giggle.
It would be embarrassing to get in a fight with Ducky. For starters, he’d look ridiculous fighting with a man so much his elder, and second, Ducky would probably win. Dragons were stronger than humans, no matter the age. A particularly skilled fighter could possibly best a dragon, but considering that Tony wouldn’t want to actually hurt the older man, brute strength would triumph. So he raised his hands in an abbreviated surrender gesture and took a step back.
Ducky watched him for a few seconds, then returned to the phone. “I’ll make your tea in just a moment, my boy.” He punched out a number from memory. Tony listened to Ducky’s half of the conversation, deliberately not thinking about the Omega stuff. He couldn’t have a meltdown right now.
“Richard, it’s Ducky. … … Could you make your way to autopsy? It’s rather urgent. … … I realize that there are no autopsies pending for your team. This is Wing business, nothing to do with NCIS. … … Yes, right away if you would. Be sure to bring your sidearm. … … Thank you.” After hanging up the phone, he turned back to Tony.
Oh brother. Gibbs’ Beta was on the way. Joy.
Rick Connelly was the SFA for the Family and Sexual Violence Unit that sat on the second floor. He’d been Gibbs’ Beta at NCIS for nearly a decade, since back when Gibbs had only NCIS and DC to be concerned with. Gibbs was asked to step up to take over the east coast about six years ago, but kept Rick as his Beta for the NCIS Wing.
Rick had always been pleasant to Tony, though Tony had never made any particular effort to get to know him. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he’d resented Rick a little for his close bond with Gibbs. Especially in an area of Gibbs’ life that Tony knew next to nothing about, and which Gibbs firmly kept him out of.
The shock, confusion and panic had receded just enough for Tony’s headache to be forefront in his mind again. “You said something about a tea for my headache, Duck?”
Ducky nodded. “It should help you quite a bit. I’ll begin brewing it just as soon as Richard arrives.”
“Seriously, Ducky? You don’t trust me not to make a run for it?”
Ducky cocked his head to the side, and considered the question. “I wouldn’t put it past you to sneak away if you felt so inclined. However that is not my reason for delaying the preparation of your infusion. I’m truly not a suitable guard for you, Anthony, so it’s rather imperative that I stay focused. Your safety is my primary concern.”
Tony rolled his eyes and shook his head. This was ridiculous. He didn’t need protection.
“Why don’t we move to my office? It’s a more defensible position, and I’m sure you’d be more comfortable on the couch.” He gestured for Tony to precede him.
Defensible? Ducky spoke like Tony was in imminent danger. He’d argue it out with Ducky, except he’d known the man long enough to know when he was in an intractable mood. And he’d never seen Ducky look quite as resolute as he did at that moment. No stories, no pleasantries, no tea. It was just plain old weird.
He was momentarily resigned to being treated like a precious pretty princess too delicate to pluck a flower, but he’d be damned if he’d put up with it for too long.
Tony moved into Ducky’s office, and even though it should only take Connelly a few minutes to arrive, Tony needed something to do. Anything to keep his mind off what had just happened. He just wasn’t ready to process it yet. Why do it now, when there’s a perfectly good later? Besides, he’d been promised a temper tantrum. “How about I call Tim to get him set to re-question the suspect? They should be back shortly, if not already here.”
After appearing to consider it for several seconds, Ducky finally replied, “I’d rather you wait, Anthony. While it makes good sense for you to talk to Timothy, I fear my instincts are quite adamant that you should have no contact with anyone until Agent Connelly arrives.” Ducky closed the office door and locked it, standing between Tony and the door.
Tony fought back serious annoyance. “Tea?” he prompted. Might as well not have a headache for this.
Ducky looked toward the electric kettle briefly, then shook his head. “I’m afraid it will have to wait a moment or two. I don’t want to be distracted right now.”
This was so far into the realm of the absurd that Tony wasn’t sure he could take it seriously anymore. Was this for real? Maybe he was having some fever-induced hallucination?
Tony wasn’t sick, he was emerging, he was a rare Omega, he had pre-scales; Ducky was acting bizarrely Alpha, threatening Tony to keep him hostage in autopsy. No, this was too insane to be real! Though, you’d think a good hallucination could give him a reprieve on the giant pain in his skull.
Barely thirty seconds passed before there was a tap at the door. Ducky wasn’t surprised, so he must have heard someone enter autopsy.
“Ducky?” Tony easily recognized Rick Connelly’s voice.
Ducky opened the door and peered out, before stepping back to let Rick in.
In person, Rick was an intimidating man. He and Tony were about the same age, but Rick topped him by about three inches, had dark brown hair, blue eyes and was heavily muscled. Tony always thought the color of his scales, a bright plum, to be rather incongruous with his appearance. A guy could get hassled for purple scales, but who would be brave enough to pick on someone that size?
Rick’s brow furrowed when he found Tony sitting on Ducky’s couch. “Hey, Tony.” He waved absently, then looked back at Ducky. “A Wing issue?”
Seeming to relax a little, Ducky gestured toward Tony. “Anthony is an emerging Omega.”
Tony nearly choked. Christ, that was blunt!
– – – –
Gibbs adjourned the meeting for a fifteen-minute coffee break. At least the Alphas he was meeting with had enough sense to keep him supplied with good coffee.
He poured a hearty cup and considered the last three grueling days. The Florida Alpha Prime had died a week ago, and the question of who would step in was up in the air. At least, as far as the other Alphas in Florida were concerned.
The Miami Alpha Prime had arranged for the meeting to take place at a large bed and breakfast about thirty minutes from the Miami Airport. The entire place was reserved for however long this would take. Gibbs had already made his decision, though he didn’t think anyone was going to be happy about it. So, as far as he was concerned, this was over soon. Still, he was giving the Alphas time to make their case, but by tomorrow morning, at the latest, he’d announce his choice and head home.
Sipping his coffee, he thought about his team. He hadn’t heard anything, so he assumed everything was under control. At least, under DiNozzo’s notion of control. Thinking of DiNozzo nearly made him wince. Tony better damn well have seen a doctor by now. Though he’d never show it, Gibbs had become very worried about Tony over the last couple weeks. It was clear he was sick, though trying to hide it. Gibbs had assumed Tony had a cold or flu and had left him alone, but he was getting worse and clearly not dealing with it.
Gibbs had to be careful how much concern he outright showed for Tony. Ordering him to the doctor was the best he felt he could do.
He wasn’t oblivious to Tony’s attraction to him, but it could never be anything. And he valued Tony too much for a couple casual rolls in the hay. So keeping him at arm’s length was the only option. He didn’t want to see Tony hurt, and getting more attached to Gibbs would only do just that.
His cell phone rang, and he quickly checked the display. It was Connelly… he’d only call if there was a Wing issue he couldn’t handle. Gibbs took a few steps farther from the group, and tersely answered, “Gibbs.”
“We have a situation here. When can you be back?” Gibbs could detect the notes of anxiety in his Beta’s voice, and his brows shot up. One of the reasons Rick was his second was his cool head under pressure. Before he could inquire further, Connelly added, “DiNozzo is unwell. You’ll want to be here.”
Gibbs was instantly worried, but simultaneously confused. How sick was Tony that Gibbs had to come back ASAP, and why was the news coming from Gibbs’ Beta? “What’s the situation, Rick?” Out of long habit, his brain was pulling the clues together to form a picture. One that made very little sense.
“Rule zero, Gibbs,” Connelly offered in low measured tones.
Gibbs’ brain ground to a halt. That was not the picture he’d come up with.
Out of long practice, he dealt with the problem in front of him. “Get Hotch there. If he’s out of town, call in some appropriate Betas. I’ll take care of the other calls.”
“Not Fornell if Hotchner is away?”
“Hell no.” He glanced at the Alphas on the other side of the room. “I’m on my way.” He snapped his phone closed without waiting for a response.
Several of the Alphas were already bristling about Gibbs’ imminent departure, not even bothering to disguise the fact that they were listening in. Fortunately, that was a code he’d worked out with Rick, so only he knew what it meant.
“Gibbs, we don’t have this settled yet!” the most aggressive of the Alphas insisted.
Having heard entirely too much from the man over the last few days, Gibbs was happy to ignore him. He pinned Caine with a hard stare. “I know you don’t want it, Horatio, but you’re the new Florida Alpha Prime. Pick someone to take over Miami, and let me know your choice in the next two weeks.”
A sudden cacophony of voices rose in protest. Gibbs silenced them with a glare. “This has nothing to do my early departure. I made the choice yesterday, but was giving you all the opportunity to be heard. This is my decision. It’s final. Don’t like it? Talk to Ellison.” He seriously doubted anyone was calling Jim to complain. Jim had about Gibbs’ level of patience with whining.
He motioned for Horatio to follow him up to his room. Gibbs was in a hurry, but he needed to settle things with H. While he quickly shoved his things in his duffle, he tried to appease a stony-faced Horatio. “I know you don’t want this. I felt the same when Ellison asked me to give up DC and take on the east coast.
“We both know the only viable option out of that bunch is too young and inexperienced for a whole state. The other Alphas would give Ian so much grief, it could completely destabilize the hierarchy here.” He was certain that the other Alphas were listening in. Privacy around Alphas was a bitch, but Gibbs wasn’t trying to hide his opinion.
Caine slumped back against the door and huffed out a breath, an expression of resignation on his face. “You’re right. I saw the same things you did, I just didn’t want this.” He got a thoughtful look on his face. “Maybe Ian would like to move to Miami?”
Gibbs nearly laughed. One of the things he liked about H was that he could be devious when he needed to be. He zipped his duffle closed, grabbed his garment bag and replied, “Good idea. And if you hate taking care of the whole state, give Ian a few years and switch places with him. In the meantime, do some housecleaning.” He gave H a meaningful look. There were too many problems in Florida. Gibbs was starting to think it was bordering on corruption, which was extremely rare in dragon hierarchies.
Nodding, Horatio stepped out of the room and preceded Gibbs down the stairs and outside. Gibbs didn’t bother saying anything to the other Alphas. H waited by the car while Gibbs threw his things in the back. “Hope the emergency gets resolved easily, Jethro.”
Nothing with Tony was ever easy, Gibbs thought. But he forced a smile and nodded, then headed out. When he was a mile down the road, he pulled out his cell and punched the speed dial for Ellison.
A voice more soothing than Ellison’s could ever be answered on the third ring. “Jethro! How’s Florida in January?”
Gibbs felt tension he’d been completely unaware of drain out of him. Gibbs had met only a handful of Omegas in his life, but each had this effect to some degree. Just their presence felt like it smoothed out all the jagged edges. Blair more so than any other he’d met. “Hey, Blair. It’s low 60s most of the time, though I’m headed back to DC now.” Even though not fond of chitchat, he was always willing to talk to Blair. He was still mindful that he had a major issue to discuss with Jim.
“Man, I am so jealous. It’s like 22 degrees here today. Jim is all growly when it’s this cold.” Gibbs clearly heard the indignant, “Hey!” in the background. “Anyway, if you’re headed home, guess you’ve figured out the new Alpha Prime?”
“Yeah… Horatio Caine.”
There was silence for several beats before Blair replied, “Really? He was so dead set against giving up Miami. I mean, he’s a great choice, but kinda unexpected.”
“He’s really the only good choice right now. There’s a young Alpha who’s promising, but too inexperienced. I am concerned about some of the Alphas I met with. H will need some support to do some housecleaning.”
“I hear you, man. We have the worst problems with Florida… Horatio will get it fixed, and we’ll help him with whatever he needs. I’ll let the Council know about your choice.”
Gibbs smiled faintly. Blair was well aware of Gibbs’ dislike of dealing with the Dragon Council bureaucracy. “Thanks, Blair.” He hated to cut any conversation with Blair short, but he needed to get Jim in the loop on the current crisis. “Could you put Jim on?” He could have told Blair, but Jim would get the subtle hints quicker, necessitating less conversation on the phone, which could easily be monitored.
“Sure. Here he is. Bye, Jethro!”
A moment later, Jim’s voice came over the line. “Hey, Gibbs. Glad to hear Caine stepped up.”
“Yeah.” Gibbs would explain some other time that he’d been a bit autocratic and simply appointed Horatio. “He’s the right one for the job. Can you come to DC?”
There was a brief silence, then, “When?”
“Now.” There were only a couple things for which Gibbs would request Ellison’s immediate presence. He hoped Jim would put it together without having to explain further.
The silence was longer this time. “We’ll be there tonight.”
“Thank you, Jim.” With that, he shut his phone.
It took another twenty minutes to get to the airport. The next direct flight to DC was in forty minutes, but only had first class available. Gibbs really didn’t care. He just had to get home. Even with his law enforcement credentials, he barely cleared security in time.
Once settled on the plane, he wanted to take advantage of the five minutes left to call for an update from Rick, but wasn’t prepared to have any of that conversation on a plane.
With nothing to do now but wait, he couldn’t avoid thinking of the situation any longer.
When Connelly had initially near-ordered him home, and he’d first started putting together the clues about Tony’s illness, he’d thought Tony was an emerging Beta; despite the improbability considering Tony’s blood status. The thought, however brief, had given him hope for something he’d thought impossible. He could have Tony.
For Tony, he’d have forgone his rule about no dragons on the team, and to hell with rule twelve.
But then Rick had given him the code for an Omega emergence, and Gibbs felt that brief hope, that he hadn’t had since Shannon, wither and die. Human Tony wanted Gibbs, so a Beta Tony would, too. But Omega Tony was something else. Because the human in Tony wouldn’t get to make the choice, the dragon in Tony had to choose. And Gibbs felt that was too slim of a chance to bother with something fickle like hope.
Aaron Hotchner set the case file in the stack for Morgan, then opened another to determine who to assign it to. JJ normally did this kind of review, but she was out for a few days to spend some time with Henry. The team had been out of town with back-to-back cases lately, and had only returned from Wyoming last night.
He was jolted from his perusal of the file by his cell ringing. The display read ‘Rick Connelly.’ With Gibbs out of town, Fornell should have been on standby for anything that Gibbs’ Beta couldn’t handle. Though he couldn’t imagine what Gibbs’ Beta couldn’t handle.
“Hotchner,” he answered tersely.
“Alpha Prime Hotchner, this is Rick Connelly, Gibbs’ Beta at NCIS.” Hotch could make out subtle signs of tension in his voice, as well as the very muffled and faint sounds of someone yelling about a missing suspect. Fairly typical ambient noise for law enforcement.
The formal address had Hotch reaching for his things. He wouldn’t be getting this call, referencing his Wing hierarchy, unless he was needed. “I remember you, Agent. What can I help you with?”
“I just spoke with Gibbs, we have a situation that he needs you to take charge of until he can arrange for you to be relieved.”
The careful phrasing gave Hotch pause. “Just me, or Rossi and Reid as well?” There was a protracted silence, and eventually Hotch added, “Just tell me if there’s a reason not to bring my Omega.”
“No, sir.” There was palpable relief in Connelly’s voice, as if Hotch had understood something important, which he really didn’t. Very odd.
“All right, we’ll all be there. Where exactly are we going?”
“NCIS HQ. Call me when you arrive and I’ll send someone to escort you to wherever we are.”
This was getting odder by the second. What Wing troubles could be happening physically at NCIS?
“We’re about forty-five minutes out. Is the problem contained until we arrive?”
There was a brief hesitation. “I’m not sure ‘contained’ is the word I’d choose, but we’ll manage until you arrive, sir.”
Hotch ended the call, grabbed his coat and joined the rest of the team in the bullpen, where everyone was eating lunch. He stopped by Spencer’s desk.
Spence quickly glanced over his attire. “I was about to bring you some lunch. Are you going somewhere?”
“We are going somewhere.” He nodded to Dave. “You, too. Urgently.”
The fact that it was the three of them was all the clue Rossi needed, and he hastily moved back to his office to retrieve his sidearm and coat. Spence was on his feet immediately, grabbing his things.
Morgan also got the subtext of their departure and looked concerned. Prentiss was a little more confused, but was starting to put it together.
Hotch addressed Morgan. “I don’t know what’s going on or how long we’ll be gone. I’ll update you as soon as I’m able. You’re in charge of the team.” Morgan was more than capable of running things. He was also a strong Beta, and Hotch had frequently wished Morgan were his Beta for DC, but having a territory’s Alpha Prime and Beta be on the same team was a really poor idea.
He shook his head at Prentiss when it looked like she might start questioning, then led Spence and Dave down to the car.
Once they were on the road, Dave immediately asked, “What’s going on, Aaron?”
“I don’t know.” He quickly filled them in on his conversation with Connelly.
“Hmm.” And that was Spencer’s noise that meant he knew something.
“Okay, what have you figured out?” Dave prompted.
Looking lost in thought, Spencer murmured, “Oh, just a theory.”
“Your theories have a tendency to become fact, so why don’t you share with the rest of the class, Dr. Reid,” Dave retorted with a smile.
Flashing them both a rare mischievous grin, Spence shook his head. “No. I don’t think I will. You’ll just have to be surprised.”
Hotch didn’t want to do anything to put a damper on Spencer’s light spirits, they were too rare lately, but he needed one reassurance. “Okay, keep your secrets, just tell me if what you suspect is dangerous?”
A quick shake of the head was followed by, “Not in the way you mean. If it’s what I suspect, there’s potential for it turn into trouble, but our presence is to prevent that.”
That added some dimension to the picture. He was sure Spencer wanted him in the dark, and that also filled in some pieces. Hotch now had a niggling suspicion. He glanced in the rearview mirror at Dave. Oh yeah, they were having the same thought. But they’d play along with Spence.
Rick ended the call with Hotchner and took a deep breath. He was outside Ducky’s office while he made his calls, which, for the moment, were all completed. Tony had needed to touch base with his team, so Rick was guarding from outside the office so they could both use the phone without disturbing each other. Ducky was carefully monitoring to make sure Tony didn’t let anything slip about his changed status.
Shortly before Rick had called Hotchner, Tony had started yelling at whomever he was talking to. In that moment, he’d envied an Alpha’s hearing, as they’d be able to clearly tell what had upset Tony, even through a closed door and over the phone. He really wasn’t looking forward to finding out what that was about. He was sure he’d have to untangle whatever was going on because Tony sure as hell wasn’t going to be doing anything case-related right now.
Cassie should be here soon, so he’d wait for her out here and fill her in before joining Ducky and Tony. She was his first call, even before Gibbs. Having the bombshell of a lifetime dropped on him that he had an emerging Omega to protect was not what he expected out of the day. He knew Gibbs would expect him to secure protection first, even before notifying his Alpha.
Gibbs and Rick were the only dragons at headquarters, but Cassie’s team was based out of Anacostia, and considering she was his mate, she was an appropriate guard for Tony.
He kept his focus on his surroundings and paid only cursory attention to Tony’s voice as it shifted from normal speech to yelling and back again. Tony had always struck him as pretty even-tempered so it must be a real cluster-fuck to get him that mad. Something about a suspect. It didn’t make much sense from the one-sided conversation.
A few minutes passed before he heard the phone slammed down, then the low murmur of Ducky’s soothing voice. The autopsy doors slid open and his beautiful mate strode in looking a little frazzled. She’d clearly rushed to get here, for which he was grateful. Just her presence helped ease some of his tension.
“Cass.” Before she could say anything, he pulled her close for a brief moment.
“What’s happening, Rick? Why the urgency?”
He stepped away from her. “You know DiNozzo, right?”
She looked perplexed. “Sure. I know McGee better, but I’ve talked to DiNozzo a few times. We even worked a case together once. Why?”
“He’s emerging, Cass.” Feeling agitated, he started to pace. “Gibbs is on his way back from Florida now, Hotchner and Rossi are at least forty minutes away.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “This was way too much for just me, he has to have more protection. I don’t know how long you’ll be needed, but Gibbs should be back in a few hours and can sort that out.”
Her expression shifted from stark confusion to shock. “Whoa! Are you saying he’s an Omega?”
“Oh… yes. That’s the really important bit, I guess. Sorry, it’s just been a hell of a,” he glanced down at his watch, “God! Has it only been twenty minutes?”
“How far along is he?”
“Ducky says three weeks. He just has to finish forming the pre-scales on the back of his neck. I don’t know how he managed to cope for this long without the enzymes from the heather tea. It took the Navy ten days to figure out what was going on with me and get the tea, and the last couple days were like purgatory.”
“Holy hell. That’s… kind of scary, really.” She bit her lip in the way he knew meant she was thinking. “How are we going to handle this?”
“We have several issues. The first is that I’m antsy about being in autopsy. Two entrances, neither of which are very secure without initiating a lockdown and alerting the entire building that there’s something going on. A lockdown, which the director could cancel if he chose, assuming we went that route. So, I want to move him somewhere more defensible but don’t know if we should do it before Hotchner and Rossi get here.
“Second is that Tony looks sick, and needs the tea, but Ducky and I are worried that the effect on him might not be great in the current circumstances. Even though the lethargy caused by the tea is minor, do we want Tony hampered from aiding in his own defense? And finally, there’s some big catastrophe with the case Tony was working before he came to see Ducky today that has to be dealt with.” He took a deep breath and added, “I have some thoughts on everything but I’d like another opinion.”
She nodded decisively. “Okay. First, we have to move. Now that I know what’s going on, my skin is crawling from the vulnerability of this position. There are not a lot of great choices in the building, but I think changing buildings is a greater risk. The best option might be Abby’s lab.”
Before he could object, she raised a hand and continued, “I know it goes completely against the grain to tell someone what’s going on before an Alpha from Gibbs’ Wing is here, but I think we have to. We can get behind multiple doors in her lab that can be independently locked without causing an alert. And I know Abby can be trusted with Tony’s safety on the line. If we explain the dangers he’d face if word got out prematurely, she wouldn’t say anything. Plus we could keep an eye on her with her right there in the lab with us.”
Rick nodded. He’d basically come to the same conclusion, but having it validated helped. Though he was thinking more along the lines of kicking the director out of his office and activating SCIF mode. Maybe that was overkill?
At his agreement, Cassie continued. “Okay, second, could the lethargy be any worse in terms of response time than the hindrance he’d experience with the killer headache he has? Plus whatever other symptoms are affecting him?”
He cocked his head to the side, considering. “No. So first thing, Ducky gives him the tea. Then we move.”
“Maybe we should play the case issue by ear until we know what’s up, then figure out how, when, and who to hand it off to.”
“Yeah. Okay, let’s face the dragon… so to speak.” Rick hesitated before opening the door. “By the way, Cass, I should warn you that he doesn’t seem thrilled about this whole situation, so we may have to be a little creative with how we handle him.”
“And isn’t that the cherry on the sundae?” With that, they re-entered Ducky’s office to find Tony sitting on the couch with his head in his hands, looking especially disheveled. Even more so than earlier. His suit coat was off, shirt untucked and getting quite creased, hair pointing every which direction.
Tony looked up as the door closed behind them, lines of pain clear around his eyes, and looking rather defeated. “Hi, Cassie, welcome to the madhouse.” Then he looked to Ducky. “Can I have that damned tea now? I can’t imagine how tea could possibly help this headache, but I’m willing to try anything at this point. And if not that, at least give me an Advil.”
Rick nodded to Ducky, who quickly poured the infusion into a mug and handed it to Tony.
“Are you guys just going to watch me?” Tony asked, sounding weary.
“Yes,” the three dragons answered simultaneously.
“Oh, whatever.” Making a dismissive gesture aimed at the rest of the room, Tony turned his attention to his tea.
Rick decided to give it a bit to see if Tony got any relief before springing anything else on him.
It only took a minute before Tony jerked a little and made a surprised sound. “Holy shit. My head is starting to feel better.” Blinking rapidly and looking around, his expression was complete surprise. He peered into his empty cup. “Wow. That’s some serious tea. What is it, Ducky?” Though the pain lines had eased, Tony still looked tired and pale.
Before Ducky could begin a lecture about heather infusions, Rick interjected, “Tony, I promise we can talk about it in just a few minutes, we just need to change location first.”
“Where exactly are we going?”
“Abby’s lab until an Alpha arrives.”
Tony’s brows drew together in a frown and he shook his head. “I don’t want Abby involved in this. Supposedly I’m in some kind of danger and I don’t want to expose her to that. Also, she’s weirdly fascinated with Omegas and I’m not up to any excitement over this situation.”
In a reversal of role, Rick was about to reply, but Ducky raised his hand to Rick to hold off. “Anthony, I could waste time trying to talk you around, but I’d rather be blunt with you. I know you appreciate plain speaking. We are quite resolved to see you in a safer location that doesn’t involve leaving the building. I assure you, Abby will be protected, too, and will come to no harm. Please don’t make me reiterate my ultimatum from earlier.”
“Jesus, Ducky! Are you threatening me again?” Tony shook his head in aggravation, running his fingers through his hair, nearly yanking the short strands. “You guys are going to make me cooperate? That’s fucked up.”
Rick’s guts clenched. Physically forcing an Omega to do something was unheard of, but leaving one so unprotected was just as bad. Thank god Ducky took that bullet, because Rick would have had a hard time even making the threat, never mind actually doing it.
Ducky stepped close to Tony, closer than Rick was comfortable with. “Please be patient a little longer. Someone will be here soon who can explain all of this to you. Please, Anthony.”
“Fine,” Tony bit out. “But I promise you, Ducky, I’m done with the threats. I’ll make this move to Abby’s lab and fill her in, and figure out how to get my case un-fucked while unable to actually work on it. But, next time, you’re going to have to actually throw down and make me.”
Nodding in agreement, Ducky replied, “That’s fine. By that time, Jethro will be back and can take over the threatening.”
Tony actually laughed at that. “Touché, Ducky. All right, let’s move this wagon train to forensics.”
Rick took point, then Tony and Ducky, with Cassie bringing up the rear. He wanted to have his sidearm out, but that would alarm anyone who saw them, and raise the suspicions of anyone monitoring security cameras.
The journey to the forensics lab was relatively short, and they were almost there when there was surprised exclamation from Ducky. Rick whipped around in time to see Tony stagger into the wall and brace himself.
Glazed-over green eyes lifted to Ducky. “Did you drug me?” he asked with a hint of betrayal in his voice.
Ducky began reply, but Tony’s eyes rolled back in his head and he started to fall. Rick was barely able to catch him before he hit the floor.
– – – –
Abby stared moodily at her computer as it searched through AFIS for a match. Too moody to even play her music, she was worried about Tony and not really focusing on her work. He was sick and, once again, not taking good care of himself. And she was really concerned about some of the comments he’d made earlier. She always got the most out of Tony when he wasn’t feeling good. For someone so brash and confident, he had remarkably fragile self-esteem.
She’d have to give Gibbs a good talking to. She loved him like her own father, but clear communication about his feelings was not his forte. Tony needed reassurance, and dammit, Gibbs was going to give it to him.
And something was up with Tony, Tim and Ziva. She wasn’t sure what, but something wasn’t sitting right. Getting Ziva back from Somalia was supposed to bring the family back together again. It should have made them all closer, but from her limited view, that didn’t seem to be happening. To her, there seemed more of a rift. Maybe she was imagining it; though she was not imagining Tony keeping something from her. And she’d get to the bottom of that, too!
She was startled into nearly falling off her chair when it seemed like an army of people quickly poured into her lab. After a moment, she was able to process that it was only a few, but one of them was carrying Tony. “Oh my god! Tony!” She started to run to him, but was caught around the waist with enough strength to halt her momentum.
“Abigail, he’s fine!” The familiar voice kept her from lashing out as she belatedly realized it was Ducky holding her.
Before she could reply, the man carrying Tony proceeded through to her office and lay Tony on her futon.
Abby turned accusing eyes on Ducky. “That’s not fine! That’s unconscious! You have a strange definition of ‘fine’!” She tried to pull away from Ducky, to go to Tony, but he kept a hold of her. “Let me go, Ducky. I have to help Tony!”
“Abigail, you must calm down and listen to me. I assure you that he is well. He’s simply had an odd reaction to a medication I gave him.”
Shifting agitatedly from foot to foot, Abby tried to process his words while still trying to see as much of her office as possible. She finally realized who was with Tony. Rick Connelly and Cassie Yates. Taking a few deep breaths, she forced herself to calm down. Rick and Cassie wouldn’t just stand around if Tony were sick. She absently took note of the fact that they were staying with Tony.
Her panic started to recede and she thought about what Ducky had said. A medication reaction? Oh yeah, that was so Tony. “What did you give him, Ducky? I know he was coming to see you, ‘cause he’s been really sick and not dealing with it, and Gibbs could be back tomorrow and Tony had orders to get better, and that is not better! That’s worse, and–”
Ducky’s hand abruptly cut off the flow of babble. Okay, maybe she wasn’t exactly calm yet. “I promise to elucidate presently, but first I need you to take a few deep breaths. Would you do that for me?” He pulled his hand away and she immediately started to ask why, but he stopped her again. “No no, my dear, deep breaths, please.”
Reluctantly, she did the deep breathing and finally felt herself calm down. She finally took a good look at the ME and noticed that he had lines of tension around his eyes and mouth. She bit her lip, feeling guilty. Ducky had clearly had a difficult morning and she was making it worse.
When she was breathing normally and no longer nearly vibrating, Ducky finally said, “I need you to listen to me carefully. Anthony is fine; he is merely sleeping. However, I would like to examine for a moment. I know you want to be with him, but there are several things that must be done as expediently as possible. Will you extend me your trust to help Cassie with these tasks, and then I’ll explain further?”
She wanted to object, she really did, but Ducky was asking for her help, and she didn’t want to let him down. “You know I trust you, Ducky. I’ve just been so worried about Tony and now–” She cut herself off before she could get upset again, then nodded decisively. “Just tell me what to do! I’m a woman with a mission!”
He smiled at her encouragingly and patted her cheek. “You’re a wonderful woman, Abigail, and with your assistance, I know this will sort itself out quickly.” He stepped away, then went into her office.
Abby had to fight with herself to keep from breaking her promise. But she only had to struggle for a moment because Ducky was counting on her, and she wasn’t about to let him down!
Cassie came back out. “Hey, Abby. I have a couple questions, then a few things for you to do, and then I’ll get you up to speed, okay?”
“I’m on the case! What’s first?”
“All right, let’s start with lab surveillance. Is it still video only, or audio, too?”
“Just video. Audio can be remotely accessed through my phone, but I’d notice if someone did that.”
“Great. Next, what cases are you working on today?”
Abby really wanted to ask questions, but Cassie’s expression didn’t really invite Q&A. “I’m working on Tony’s case – fingerprints and trace – and I’m running DNA for Balboa, but it won’t be ready for about three hours. Other than that, I just have the usual reports and administrative junk.”
Cassie appeared contemplative for several seconds. “Okay, first thing I need you to do is lock the main lab door. I promise I’ll explain in a few minutes. Then I need you to check and see what flight Gibbs is on.”
“Gibbs is coming back today?”
“Considering the timing, he may not have a flight yet, but he’s trying to get the first flight back.”
Now Abby was starting to feel a little alarmed. What was going on?
Touching Abby’s arm to be sure she had her attention, Cassie added, “And I need your promise that you won’t say anything to anyone about what’s going on until you get the okay from Gibbs.”
“Gibbs knows what this is about?”
“He does. And it’s critical you wait until you talk to him before you tell anyone anything. Including Tim or Ziva, or anyone else.”
“What if someone comes to the lab?”
“Just tell them that you’re working on something confidential and they’ll have to come back later in the afternoon. If it’s urgent, let me or Rick know and we’ll work something out.”
Abby chewed her lip. She was not happy about this, but she wasn’t going to let Gibbs down. “Okay, let’s lock us in!” She closed and locked the outer lab door, then returned to her computers. “And now…” After several minutes of searching, she had nothing. She nearly panicked. “There’s nothing!”
“Don’t get alarmed. Rick only talked to him about thirty minutes ago. He could still be en route to the airport. Let’s just check every few minutes, okay?”
“Got it. Now what?”
“Now, I’m going to fill you in. So, have a seat.” Cassie steered her towards her lab chair. “I want you to hear me out, okay?”
Abby nodded, pressing her lips in a thin line to remind herself not to talk.
“Tony is emerging, he’s an Omega. That’s why Gibbs is coming home, to make sure Tony has protection. We also have the DC Alpha Prime on the way, and he’ll be in charge here as soon as he arrives.”
Cassie was afraid she’d broken Abby, who was wide-eyed and frozen in place. She had more to say, but she didn’t want to have to repeat it if Abby was zoned out or something.
Suddenly Abby was out of the chair and bouncing around like a demented bunny. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! This is so AWESOME! We are so having a party!” Eventually she wound down and turned to face Cassie, with her hands braced on her hips. “Wait a minute… isn’t this a good thing? What’s with all the cloak and dagger?”
Without verbal reply, Cassie simply pointed at the chair and raised a brow until Abby relaxed her militant pose and sat back down.
“Forget everything you’ve heard about Omegas. I’m going to be blunt and explain why this situation is dangerous. But first I want your vow that you’ll keep everything I say confidential unless Gibbs gives you express permission to relay it to someone else. Otherwise, I swear I’ll handcuff you to your desk until Gibbs gets back, and keep you in in the dark.”
Abby nodded her head rapidly. “I swear I won’t reveal anything unless Gibbs okays it.”
Reluctantly, Cassie accepted the promise. “There is nothing more precious to dragons than Omegas. I would go so far as to say we are hard-wired to protect them. And there is nothing an Alpha or Beta would not do to keep them from harm. I’m sure you want to know why, but that really isn’t up to me to tell you.” She hesitated a moment, then plowed on. “One of the biggest problems we have in the dragon community, that we do not let the human world know about, is how frequently there are kidnapping attempts on Omegas.”
“Why?” Abby whispered, looking appalled.
“Remember that I said a dragon would do anything to keep them safe? So imagine if someone were to take an Omega hostage, what might they be able to force dragons to do for them? Steal? Kill?” It was even more complex with an unmated Omega. But she definitely wasn’t getting into that.
“Oh god… has that actually happened?”
“Yes. There are a couple rather famous examples from history where an Omega was used as leverage. It always ends badly, Abby. You’ll have to ask Gibbs if you want specifics. The Dragon Council has worked hard with mundane governments to mask the truth of those incidents. But the point is that, aside from the ongoing threat to Omegas in general, at almost every new Omega emergence, there’s a kidnapping attempt.
“Some of them we understand because an emergence is announced to the Council, who disseminate the information along appropriate channels. But sometimes the attempt occurs before the Council is even notified. We’ve known for a long time that somehow information is getting leaked. We assume it’s illegal tapping of phones, email and internet traffic.”
She paused for a second for Abby to nod her understanding before continuing. “These days, we are extremely circumspect about how we communicate a new Omega emergence. If someone is monitoring around Gibbs closely enough, they won’t have heard the word Omega, or seen it in email, but they will know Gibbs was summoned home, Hotchner was summoned to NCIS, and I’m guessing Jim Ellison is on his way. And that’s a suspicious picture. My hope is that no one knows and no one is watching, but until someone with actual authority is here, Tony is extremely vulnerable. That’s why we came here instead of taking him out of the building. Being out in the open is too great a risk.”
Abby’s expression had shifted several times with emotions ranging from anger to fear. Right now she looked overwhelmed. “Will he be safe once Agent Hotchner is here?”
Cassie was relieved that Abby appeared to be taking this seriously. “In this context, he’s not acting as an Agent, and that’s important. He’s Alpha Prime Hotchner. And he has enough authority with the dragons of the city and the Council to keep Tony protected. As an FBI agent, he hasn’t got any. But we need a Council member here to ensure the rest of the emergence proceeds properly. That’s why we’re fairly sure Gibbs called in Ellison.”
“So what happens next?”
“We hunker down. Hotchner will be here soon and he’ll decide the action plan.”
“Will Tony be safe once Jim Ellison is here?”
“We’ll keep him safe, Abby,” Cassie reassured.
Nodding, Abby looked a little teary. “So why is Tony unconscious? Was it really a bad medication reaction?”
Cassie smiled. “Yeah. Leave it to DiNozzo. It’s not an unheard of reaction, but it’s still really rare. Most of us it just makes a little lethargic, even a bit sleepy.”
Abby brightened. “Oh! You mean the heather tea to give the enzymes you can’t make until your first transformation!”
“And you know way more about dragons than Tony does. Emergence will still happen without getting those enzymes, but almost all of the symptoms are caused by the lack. Emergence would be a really miserable process if someone hadn’t figured out what we needed and how to get it. Nature did a good job of bringing dragons back into the world, but not a perfect job.”
Abby suddenly jumped. “Gibbs! Gotta check the flights.” Back at her computer, her fingers flew over the keyboard. “Yes! He booked out of Miami just a few minutes ago. He’s due back a little before 4:30, so a little over three hours from now. And it’ll take at least 40 minutes to get here.”
Cassie nodded, thinking through what they needed to do. “After Hotchner gets here, we’ll work out getting someone to pick him up so we can get him here ASAP.”
“Got it! What else do you need from me?”
“Just be here with us, Abby. Help us run interference, misdirect, lie, whatever you have to do to keep people from knowing what’s going on here.”
“Can I leave the lab if I need to work with someone, or get Caf-Pow?”
Shaking her head, Cassie replied, “I’d rather you not leave, Abby. You know what’s going on, and it’s not that I don’t trust you, but my dragon instincts say you need to be here. At least until an Alpha approves you leaving. Besides, Tony was really worried that this would put you in danger, so we promised him we’d protect you.”
“Aww, he’s so sweet.”
“Let’s play it by ear and hope no one needs you in person this afternoon. Oh. I forgot one thing. I need you to show me, then Rick, how to lock the doors to the ballistics room, and the door to your office – both from the system and any manual engagement. We’re going to move Tony all the way back to the ballistics area. It’s small but it sets our dragons at ease to have him in the most secure area. In fact…” Cassie looked around the end of the computer station to peer into Abby’s office. Tony had already been moved. “It’s done. They moved your futon and office chair to ballistics.”
Abby nodded, then cocked her head to the side inquisitively. “Why show you one at a time?”
“One of us will always stay with Tony. If we need someone to do something outside the lab, Ducky will go. In fact, we have to figure out what’s going on with Tony’s case, and get someone else to take over. Ducky may have to handle that.”
“What? Why? What’s up with the case?”
“I don’t know all the details. Rick said something went wrong with bringing in the suspect. Ducky has the details and will brief us in a few minutes so we can decide what to do.”
“Why can’t Ziva and Tim take care of it?” Abby seemed to be getting on the defensive.
“I don’t know, Abby. Rick is in charge right now. If he says someone else will be taking over the investigation, that’s what’s going to happen. Tony is not going to be working any cases. I do know that the team are fine, there’s just a problem with the suspect. We’ll find out what’s going on in a few minutes. First, I need you to show me the locking mechanism, then I’ll send Rick out.”
Abby frowned, but showed Cassie how to work all the security doors in the lab.
Rick waited somewhat impatiently for Ducky to finish assessing Tony’s vitals. They’d moved into the ballistics lab first, then Ducky insisted on a quick check up. At the same time, he stretched his hearing to keep track of Abby and Cassie’s conversation. He wasn’t thrilled with the amount of information that had to be revealed, but whatever they had to do to get through this situation.
He’d never wished as hard for Alpha senses… anything to better manage the environment they were in. The idea that someone could be out there, already aware of Tony’s status and that he had limited protection, frankly made his nerves jangle in a really unpleasant way.
Finally Ducky stepped back and grabbed Abby’s throw, then carefully covered Tony, who simply appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
“How is he?”
Ducky considered for a moment before replying. “As well as can be expected. His pulse is a little fast and blood pressure a little lower than I’d like to see. I think his body is extremely overtaxed from delaying treatment for such an extended duration. I’m afraid he’s going to need the heather more than once a day for at least the next two to three days. Then he can resume the normal once daily dosing.”
“How long do you think he’s going to sleep?”
“I would be afraid to speculate. However, if you knew Anthony as I do, you’d be trembling in your boots at how difficult it will be to persuade him to take that elixir again.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “I almost hope Jethro is here before Anthony awakens.”
Rick made a noncommittal noise. As an unmated Alpha, Gibbs really shouldn’t be spending a lot of time with Tony. He refused to even try to speculate about how that would play out. “Do you know enough about the problem with Tony’s case, or do I need to get someone to figure out that, too?”
Ducky looked pained. “Yes, I heard the whole thing quite clearly.” He outlined the case for Rick, and where things were left earlier today.
“So what went wrong?”
“I’m afraid Timothy and Ziva disagreed with Anthony’s assessment of the girlfriend as a suspect, and instead of picking her up as he directed, they phoned the woman and asked her to come in right after lunch. And then they went to, ah, attend to their midday meal.”
Rick stared at Ducky with a sort of appalled fascination. “Oh hell. Well, I can understand why Tony would be angry. If one of my junior agents ignored a direct order, and had lunch instead… I’d be pretty damned pissed.”
“I’m afraid it’s rather more complicated than that.”
He could only think of one thing that would make the situation worse. “The girl did a runner?”
“It seems so. After Anthony recovered from the surprise, he ordered them to track her down. Her cell phone had been turned off, but had last been used forty minutes after the call from Timothy, from a cell tower near the Baltimore airport. Baltimore is rather the wrong direction. Things were left unresolved, with Anthony ordering them to find her and bring her in, ‘or else.’”
Rick wasn’t sure how to react. If one of his subordinates had pulled that, he’d have them formally reprimanded and suspended so fast their heads would spin. “Ducky, as soon as Cass finishes with Abby, we’re going to have to get someone on this case. To me those two have shown they cannot work a case unsupervised.” Ducky looked like he wanted to argue, so Rick added, “I’m not here to play team therapist, or figure out their team dynamics. It’s not my place to reprimand or anything else. It’s a clear cut problem and solution.”
Ducky looked really unhappy. “What do you suggest we do?
He understood that the MCRT had tight bonds with the ME and Abby, but that had to be set aside in this situation. “As soon as Cassie comes back, I’m going to send you back to talk with Abby. Do not tell her what happened with the case. I have a feeling that she’ll get defensive on their behalf and this isn’t the time for it. I’ll make some calls and get someone to take over the investigation, and Gibbs can sort out the mess when he gets back.”
“Very well, I’ll accede to your judgment in this matter.”
“Did Tony mention where the notes he took about the holes in the girlfriend’s alibi are?”
Ducky nodded. “Center desk drawer.”
“Great. Also, Hotchner should be here almost any minute, and as soon as he arrives, I’d like you to meet them and escort them down here.”
Again, Ducky nodded tersely, then turned a rather pensive gaze on Tony.
Rick tuned into what was going on with Cass and Abby. Sounded like they were wrapping up the lock demonstrations. Rick watched Cassie leave Abby, warding her off to keep her in the outer lab, then move to join them in ballistics. “Problem?” he inquired.
“Not really. I mentioned something vague about the case issue and she got a little agitated. I told her you’d be right out for her to demo the lock system for the lab.”
“Hmm. Okay. Ducky, please tell her I’ll be right out, I just need to make a couple calls. And again, do not reveal any of this.”
Ducky looked vaguely indignant at being reminded, but Rick just stood up straighter and met his stare. Rick very much respected Ducky and would happily defer to Ducky in many instances, but this whole situation was under Rick’s authority, and Ducky was going to have to accept that.
A moment later, Ducky gave a terse nod, and left for the main lab.
Cassie flashed him a clear questioning look.
“Just listen to the phone call I’m about to make, and you’ll get the gist of it.” He decided to start with his team lead, and if that didn’t work, he’d try Balboa next, and then work his way through HQ if he had to. Hopefully before the Alpha Prime arrived.
His lead, Agent Weaver, seemed amenable to helping out. They had recently wrapped a case, and with Rick unavailable, he had no problem with helping another team. Rick twisted the truth when he explained that Tony was ill and under Ducky’s care, and had asked Rick to help Tony’s team. But now Rick had an urgent issue to deal with for Gibbs and couldn’t fulfill that obligation. He gave an outline of the situation, including why the suspect was MIA, and where to find Tony’s case notes.
After he hung up, he glanced at Cassie, who was shaking her head. “Well, isn’t that fucked up,” she said. “Glad it’s not my problem to fix.”
“You and me both.” He squared his shoulders and left to deal with Abby.
Ten minutes later, he had a good understanding of the lab’s security, but was also getting frustrated with Abby’s persistent questions. He’d told her his team was helping out on the case, and everything was fine, but she wasn’t letting it go.
“Gibbs doesn’t like other teams messing with his cases,” she insisted. She opened her mouth to continue, but Rick had hit his limit.
“Abby!” he yelled. “Enough! This isn’t Gibbs’ case. It’s Tony’s. And Tony is ill and unconscious at the moment, in case you’ve forgotten. The investigation is being handled, and that’s it. No more discussion.”
She instantly looked contrite. “I’m sorry, Rick. I’m just all discombobulated with everything going wrong for Tony, and the dragon thing, and Gibbs is gone when we need him, and now Tim and Ziva are having problems with a suspect. I’ll stop… I promise.”
He wanted to leave it there, but felt he needed to make the point strongly. “I’m serious, Abby, no more. I get that Tony is part of your family, and you’re worried, but I need you making the situation better, and right now you’re making it worse.
Eyes a little watery, Abby nodded in acceptance. “Okay. Can I see Tony now? I think that would help.”
Rick really wanted to say no. Every instinct said keep a mundane away from an emerging Omega, but rationally he didn’t really have an excuse. “For a few minutes. But Hotchner will be here soon, and you’ll need to leave as soon as he arrives. And don’t ask. I know you have questions, but you’re just going to have to do this my way for now, and see if Gibbs will answer your questions later.”
He gestured for her to precede him, and she practically ran to the ballistics lab.
With a jerk of his chin, he indicated for Cassie to take up station in the outer lab while he maintained guard in here with Ducky.
Only a couple minutes had passed before his cell chimed with a text message indicating that Hotchner, Reid and Rossi were parking and would be signing in shortly. He sent back that Dr. Mallard would meet them in the lobby. As FBI agents, they could escort themselves in the building, but he wanted to keep their exact location unspoken. Of course, anyone that interested in what they were up to could likely hack the video surveillance system. The whole security thing was a nightmare. He was so glad someone was here to take over.
Rick showed Ducky the text, and the ME left immediately. He waited for Abby to finish some comment to Tony about the movies they could see now, then tapped her on the shoulder. “They’re here. I need you to go back to the main lab and wait where Cassie shows you. She’ll stay with you.”
It was nearly ten minutes before he heard the tap on the outer door.
– – – –