Big thanks to Emergency70 for the beta!
John stood back and watched as the NCIS team geared up in the TAC vests and weapon holsters that the Odyssey crew had provided for them all. His own people – and himself – had gone to get themselves geared up while Gibbs and team were getting their transmitters in the infirmary. General O’Neill had thoughtfully gathered the equipment they’d brought with them from Atlantis and had it beamed up for them (Rodney’s tablet laptop and whatever was in his pack, Ronon’s gun, John’s favourite LSD, and all their black leather team jackets – the non-descript ones that had no identifying badges or writing on them for those missions where they wanted to keep their affiliation with Atlantis or the SGC secret). Daniel had asked a helpful crew member for comms and ZATS for all of SGA-1, too.
The NCIS team wouldn’t have ZATS, of course, but they were provided guns and ammo, since none of them had their service weapons on them. Ronon was inspecting the ZAT Daniel had given him, curious, and Teyla was nodding as the linguist explained their use to the two Pegasus natives. Rodney was grumbling under his breath about how stingy the SGC was, not sending the Atlantis expedition any ZATS ever in the last four years (excluding the year they spent incommunicado). John kind of agreed with his friend on all that grumbling, but didn’t say anything since there wasn’t a thing he could do about it that he hadn’t already tried.
Gibbs was ready almost immediately – no surprise there – and helped Tony figure out some of the straps for the thigh holster, being unused to this gear (it was a little different than the tactical gear he was used to as an agent or cop). Ziva was nearly as quick as Gibbs, and helped poor Tim McGee with all his gear when he got tangled up, since he’d rarely had occasion to wear any such gear, even at NCIS.
Once they were all geared up and comm checks were completed, Daniel stood back and waved a little, wishing them luck as they were beamed down near the payphone in Phoenix, AZ, where Mike Franks had made his call to Gibbs.
Thanks to the time difference, there was still a bit of daylight out – but not much. It was rapidly getting darker, which would make checking the scene out much more difficult. Gibbs said as much to Sheppard, and John nodded and replied, “Then let’s go. Ronon, Teyla, bring up our six.”
Gibbs kept up with Sheppard as they quickly, quietly, and with all due stealth crept through the darkened alleyway toward the street and the abandoned service station. Tony and Ziva followed their leaders, with McGee and McKay right behind them, Teyla and Ronon last but not least. Just before they hit the street, John called a halt behind a couple old dumpsters and pulled out his LSD from his vest.
“What’s that?” Gibbs asked, in a voice low enough not to carry beyond their group.
“Handy little thing we picked up in Pegasus. Basically it tells me if there are any people or whatever in our vicinity.” John explained quietly, showing the screen to the older man. “That group of dots is us, and you can see there’s no one else around for a good half-mile radius.” He pushed it back into his vest and motioned, signalling an all-clear. “Let’s go. We need to make this quick.”
Gibbs nodded once in agreement and led his people to the street and around the corner. They found the payphone, its receiver dangling by the cord, and obvious signs of struggle. Gibbs frowned, not liking that at all. “Look around, people.” He directed, crouching down to study the broken Plexiglas scattered around the booth.
“Uh…boss? What exactly are we looking for?” Tony asked, doing as ordered but still unsure what he was supposed to find. Ziva and McGee exchanged glances and quickly made themselves scarce, checking out the parking lot and abandoned building. They didn’t even protest when Teyla and Ronon split off to accompany each of them. McKay stuck with John, who was basically keeping watch with his LSD in hand, awhile the NCIS team did their thing.
“Gee, DiNozzo…” Gibbs answered in a tone so heated and frosty at the same time it came out frighteningly calm and reasonable. Tony knew that tone all too well, and knew it was deceptively even-tempered. He flinched and smacked himself on the back of the head, even as Gibbs continued, “I don’t know! A clue, maybe?”
“Of course, boss! Blonde moment.” Tony eased away, deciding to go look around the parking lot with Ziva and the big guy, Ronon. It looked safer.
John raised an eyebrow, faintly amused, but made no comment. Instead, he checked the LSD, then glanced at his best friend. “I don’t suppose doing any scans would be useful, would they, McKay?”
“Not unless you expect me to find a ZPM lying around, no.” Rodney retorted. But he pulled out his own LSD – the modified one he’d tweaked himself to scan for energy readings other than life signs (among other little things he’d found useful on occasion). “But then, it doesn’t hurt to look, anyway.” He muttered.
Gibbs stood and carefully inspected the booth. “There’s blood around here, but not much. If it’s Mike’s, then he’s probably alive.”
John nodded grimly, hugging his P90 close to his chest. “They’d want him alive to get the location of the documents from him.”
“Yeah. Though, I have to wonder how they knew he even had them to begin with.”
“I don’t know, but we’ll find out.” Sheppard replied, grimly.
“There’s something else.” Gibbs studied what looked like burn marks everywhere that the Plexiglas had broken from on the booth. “This is strange.”
At which point Rodney spoke up. “We have weapons’ fire, Colonel. My scans show residual energy from the blasts.” He looked up from his LSD, expression grave. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have said Wraith, but more likely it’s the energy signature of a Jaffa staff weapon. I can confirm that on Odyssey.”
John frowned deeply. “That’s not good. And you can’t tell with your scanner thing?”
“No, it’s not good at all, and no, I can’t because I didn’t program it for energy signatures from this galaxy, Colonel. It was a pointless idea since there are no Jaffa or Goa’uld in Pegasus.” McKay explained grumpily.
“Of course, Rodney.”
“So that means what, exactly?” Gibbs demanded, cutting in agitatedly.
“It means, Agent Gibbs, that the Trust is looking for those documents, which means your friend is very likely in their custody now – which means this whole debacle just got very, very dangerous and complicated.” Rodney answered, glaring up at the darkened, twilight sky. “Let’s just hope the NID keep their noses out of it. I hate dealing with those idiots.”
John sighed. There were times when he disliked his job, and this was turning into one of those times.
Ziva’s voice called out and they looked in her direction as McGee and Teyla emerged from the building.
“Nothing, boss. It’s empty.” McGee reported apologetically.
“Ziva’s got something.” Gibbs strode over to her. “What is it?”
She solemnly held out a leather wallet in one gloved hand. “It was in this tall grass, here.”
“And there are footprints and tire tracks, boss.” Tony added, though he was certain that this crime scene was not going to be investigated in their normal way.
Gibbs took the wallet and opened it. The first thing he saw was Mike’s driver’s license and the worn photo of his daughter-in-law, Leyla, and granddaughter, Amira. He swallowed back the anger, fear, and frustration, and said harshly, “Damn it all, Mike.”
“It’s his?” John asked.
“Yeah.” Gibbs confirmed, quickly rifling through the contents to see if anything was out of place, missing, or a helpful clue. A white business card was folded between two twenty dollar bills, and Gibbs pulled it free.
“What is it, boss?” tony wondered as Gibbs read it.
“Hotel business card.” Gibbs had to smile a little. “A hotel here in Phoenix.”
“So we go there and check it out?” McKay wanted to know.
“How do you know he even has a room there?” John was still frowning. “He might have just picked up the card intending to go back later, after he’d contacted you, Gibbs.”
“I know because of this.” Gibbs held the card out to the officer, who took it and read the backside at a glance.
“It’s a bunch of numbers…” John blinked. “It looks like a service number.”
“It’s me, Sheppard.”
John raised his eyes, understanding dawning. “Ah. I get it.” He handed the card back.
“So we go?” McKay repeated.
“Yep. We need a car though.” Gibbs sighed. “As handy as it is, we can’t beam into the hotel or anything.”
“Right.” John raised a hand to his radio. “We’ll go back to Odyssey, and I’ll arrange transportation.”
“Are you sure we should go there tonight?” Teyla asked, frowning thoughtfully. “Perhaps our search would be better continued in daylight.”
“We need to at least check the hotel tonight.” McGee was the one who answered. SGA-1 looked at him, and he glanced around at everyone. “Even if we don’t find Mike Franks, we still should be looking for his family, too. They need to be protected.”
Teyla’s eyes widened, and she nodded. “Yes, of course. Forgive me for not understanding.”
“It’s fine, Ms. Emmagan.” Gibbs waved it away. “You didn’t know about them. McGee is right. I know I won’t sleep until the girls are safe, so we’re going to the hotel.” He glanced at the card’s address. “I don’t know where this is, so we should get a map or something.”
John tapped his radio. “Sheppard to Odyssey, beam us aboard. We’ve got a lead.”
“Odyssey here, Colonel. We copy.” Daniel’s voice answered and in the next instant they were back on the bridge of the ship, face-to-face with the multi-talented linguist. “What did you find?”
“A wallet. Franks’. With a card for a hotel in Phoenix.” McKay was already moving to a computer console. “Give me the address and I’ll find it.”
“We’ll have to leave most of our gear behind.” Sheppard said as the scientist ran the search for the hotel. “We can’t go in fully geared up, much as I’d prefer it after what we found down there.”
Gibbs nodded in agreement. “We can handle ourselves, Colonel, I assure you.”
“What else did you find?” Mitchell asked with a frown.
“Weapons fire – likely from a Jaffa staff weapon.” McKay responded. “The payphone and the booth were blasted into bits.”
Mitchell and Daniel winced, exchanging worried glances. “So it is the Trust – and/or Baal?” Daniel sighed unhappily. “Jack’s gonna hit the roof.”
Ziva gave him a look. “I have noticed some very…turbulent emotions from you all concerning this – what did you call it? Goa’uld? You have some personal issues with this creature beyond the obvious?” Her expression said she wasn’t quite sure she believed she as saying such things, talking about aliens and what not like it was a common occurrence.
Mitchell rubbed at the back of his neck, one eye on his teammate as Daniel scowled behind his glasses and nodded sharply once. “That’s one way of putting it, ma’am.” The ship’s commander drawled.
“What did he – it – do?” Tony wanted to know, nosy as ever.
“All you need to know is that Baal is extremely intelligent, sneaky, and dangerous. He won’t hesitate to kill you if you get in his way – unless he thinks you can be useful to him, in which case you’ll likely end up tortured until you talk or find yourself snaked.” Daniel paced the short space between the view screen and consoles agitatedly. “And to be honest, death is preferable to either one of those options.”
“We aren’t exaggerating here, folks.” Mitchell warned, seeing their expressions and the obvious doubt of SG-1’s seriousness. “This guy and the people who work for him are not the sort of bad guys you’re used to. These guys are a whole new level of Bad. They’re scary enough on their own, but they’ve also got equally scary weapons and technology at their disposal – and Baal isn’t the sort to not use whatever he’s got on anyone who gets in his way.”
It wasn’t only the NCIS people who were frowning about Mitchell and Daniel’s words. Teyla and Ronon weren’t looking too enthused, either – despite their brief run-in with the Goa’uld (whoever it was) that had taken over Colonel Caldwell of the Daedalus a couple years earlier. Still, John wasn’t all that concerned about their ability to deal with this galaxy’s bad guys. They had, after all, survived their whole lives under the Wraith threat in Pegasus, and no matter what, the Wraith were much scarier than the Goa’uld any day of the week. Dangerous, yes. Scary, no.
“They do have a weakness, however.” McKay spoke up, joining the discussion again, and stepping up close to stand next to John. “Arrogance. Their egos are the biggest you’ll ever find.” Which was truly something to hear coming from Rodney.
“Baal’s certainly is.” Mitchell agreed, dryly.
“He’s also power-hungry and a control freak with a huge dose of narcissism.” Daniel added. “He’ll spend a lot of his time trying to get you to admit how all great and powerful he is. They all did – do. They called themselves ‘gods’ for millennia.”
“Gods?” McGee repeated, incredulous.
“Yes. In particular, the Egyptian pantheon. Even some of the Greek pantheon.” Daniel sighed at the shock on their faces. “I know. Kind of a let-down, right?”
“Uh, Daniel, I don’t think that’s why they look so surprised.” McKay chuckled.
“We should ditch our gear, if McKay’s got our destination?” Sheppard looked to Rodney for confirmation (the scientist nodded) and then at Mitchell. “Could you arrange for a vehicle or two for us?”
“Sure thing. Get squared away, Sheppard, and I’ll take care of the pesky details.” Mitchell gave a smile and a sloppy salute of two-fingers as his fellow officer led everyone to the ready-room to change.”
When Mitchell said he’d take care of their transportation needs, John hadn’t thought much about it, figuring some unsuspecting Airmen would drive a couple fleet vehicles from wherever, or maybe some rental agency would mysteriously have two cars ready and waiting for them.
John had forgotten Mitchell had a spaceship at his disposal – a spaceship with Asgard beams that were capable of beaming just about anything anywhere. Mitchell also learned well from Jack O’Neill in the use of power, rank, and position, using his ship to requisition two SUVs from Nellis and beam them to Phoenix. John preferred not to think about the logistics and such this involved (to do it all without being seen by any innocent civilians on the ground) and went with a “don’t ask” policy).
McGee, on the other hand, marvelled at it. Mitchell just grinned and shrugged, patting the arm of the Chair proudly as he drawled, “One of the ships beamed an entire skyscraper, once.” The young agent goggled at the idea of that.
And so they were currently driving the two SUVs through Phoenix to the hotel, NCIS in one car and SGA-1 in the other. The trip was made mostly silent – both teams aware that their conversations could be heard by the other team over the comm units – and with the air of anticipation that came with the territory when in pursuit of something or someone.
John could see the same adrenaline-fuelled tension in Ronon that he was feeling himself. Really, if it had been an option, the big guy would have run to the hotel. On foot. Teyla, on the other hand, was quite calm, despite the noticeable tension in her posture and an alertness that came from the adrenaline rather than restfulness. Rodney, however, was appearing very much like he did back home in Atlantis whenever some crisis was going on that he was trying to solve without having slept for a few days. It was that sort of alertness that came with over-tiredness. John gripped the steering wheel tighter and sighed a little as he remembered they were running on D.C. time – a couple hours ahead of them, now, in Phoenix. No wonder they were all getting punchy.
“This is it.” Rodney suddenly declared, pointing out the windshield at the glowing lights of the hotel’s sign. John hit his signal and turned into the parking lot, pulling into a parking stall off to one side of the building that had a view of the main doors but was hidden partially in shadow. He got out of the SUV as Gibbs pulled in next to them and cut the engine.
“I’ll go in with you, Gibbs. My team will cover the building outside.” John stated decisively when the agent joined him outside before Gibbs could say anything.
“Fine. McGee, stay with the vehicles, just in case.” Gibbs agreed easily (having figured it was what Sheppard would want to do), and started issuing commands to his people. “DiNozzo, David, recon inside.”
“On it, boss!” Tony offered an arm to Ziva and said, “Shall we check out the lounge, Ziva darling?”
She rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand, pulling him along after her as she stalked toward the hotel, “We are not here to play, Tony.”
“Ow! Aw, come on , Ziva!”
John smirked, and glanced at Rodney. “You can go with Teyla or Ronon, McKay, or you can stay here. Your choice.” He offered, noting his scientist looking very un-eager to go running around in the dark.
“Uh…I’ll stay with the car.” Rodney frowned, glancing at the hotel briefly. “Besides, if something happens I’m the only one other than you who can drive.” It was a valid, perfectly good excuse.
“True. Go.” John said, turning to Gibbs as Teyla and Ronon swiftly disappeared into the darkness. Rodney slid into the driver’s seat with a grunt. “Alright, Gibbs. Your show.”
Gibbs nodded and headed for hotel reception, John striding alongside.
There was a moment of silence between the two vehicles, and then McGee rolled the window down and leaned out a little to speak to McKay.
“So…aliens, huh? What’s that like?”
McKay groaned (cursing mentally and rethinking his decision not to tag along with Teyla – not Ronon, though, because Rodney could never keep up) and, instead of answering, shot back, “So…crime novelist, huh? How much of what you write is based on your real-life cases?”
If the kid was shocked that McKay knew, he didn’t let on.
It was a nice hotel. Clean, organized functionally, and welcoming, it was somewhere between not quite family-oriented like a typical Holiday Inn and not quite fancy business chic like a Hilton. John kind of liked it.
Gibbs didn’t waste time. He headed for reception without even pausing to look around – though if he was as good as John had the sneaking suspicion he was, the former Marine likely threat assessed the entire place within visual range at a bare glance as he walked. Reassured that at least the man wouldn’t be a complete liability on this disaster of a mission-cum-investigation, John followed along with the casual, laid-back grace that came naturally to him and garnered plenty of attention.
Just not the sort that would be a hindrance.
He leaned back against the counter, taking in the area in his own TA (spotting Tony and Ziva at the bar of the open lounge just off the lobby) while Gibbs pulled out his NCIS identification and badge to flash at the receptionist who came to serve them.
“Gibbs.” The agent declared quietly and calmly, but no less firmly. “NCIS. Can you tell me if a young, Middle-Eastern woman and a little girl, no more than two years old, recently checked in?”
“NCIS? What’s that? Like CSI?” The woman asked in confusion, looking apologetic despite her apparent ignorance. “I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot give out guest information…”
Gibbs frowned, reminding himself that there wasn’t much reason for someone in Phoenix, Arizona to have ever heard of or dealt with NCIS, as there wasn’t exactly a Navy or Marine base around, and therefore not to lose it on the innocent woman. John, however, was quick to jump in like the Special Ops soldier he was.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service, ma’am. If you could help us out, it’d be much appreciated.” He flashed his patented Sheppard grin – the one that immediately set Rodney to sputtering and griping about his apparently inherent charm and good looks whenever he used it around his friend, and, typically, he charmed whichever alien Chief or princess or whoever into whatever they wanted. “They are supposed to have checked in here, and we really need to speak to them.”
“The Navy?” The receptionist’s eyebrows went skyward in scepticism. “Well, without a warrant I’m afraid…”
“Listen, before you say no,” John overrode her quickly, “you should know we’re not here to arrest her or anything. She’s done nothing wrong. We just want to talk to her about her father.” John leaned in conspiratorially and continued in a low voice, wincing internally and hoping Gibbs would forgive him later. “He’s done a lot of bad things, you see, and we’ve come to find her and tell her it’s safe for her to take her daughter home.”
Gibbs blinked, the only sign he gave to that big fat lie, but went with it like the professional he was. “Really, ma’am, we’d appreciate it if you could…”
He was cut off by the accented voice of a surprised young woman, standing in front of a closing elevator door with an adorable little girl in her arms. Gibbs whirled and smiled in relief, hurrying toward her.
John scratched his head bemusedly and flashed another smile at the receptionist. “Never mind. Thanks anyway.” He said, quickly striding away to join Gibbs, who was directing the woman, Leyla, out of the way to where they wouldn’t be easily overheard. Sitting down at a table in the lounge, off in one corner, Gibbs was still smiling as Leyla relinquished her daughter to his open arms.
“Say hello to your godfather, Amira.” She said, smiling fondly at the two.
The child babbled happily and hung onto Gibbs with the typical enthusiastic affection of a toddler. John couldn’t help but be immediately charmed – by both Amira and her mother, but also by Gibbs’ obvious devotion to the little one. The man, John was beginning to see, was as multi-faceted as any gemstone.
“This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Leyla.” Gibbs introduced him, nodding, seeing that his hands were full. “Sheppard, meet Leyla Shakarji, and my goddaughter, Amira.”
John smiled and offered a hand to Leyla, who shook it briefly and said, “Hello,” in return. John chuckled when Amira just played shy and tucked her face into Gibbs’ neck.
“Not that I am unhappy to see you, Gibbs, but…what are you doing here, and how did you find me?” Leyla asked, getting right down to it.
“Mike.” Was all Gibbs said in answer. He shook his head when she looked like she was going to ask questions. “Not here. You’re checked in?”
Leyla nodded. “An hour ago. Mike said if he did not return in an hour, I was to come here and get a room for the night. He said he was going to try and find out what was going on, but didn’t know how long it would take.” Her dark eyes filled with worry.
Gibbs sighed and reached out, taking her hand gently to give it a reassuring squeeze. “It’ll be alright. But right now, you need to trust me. We’ll go get your things and get out of here to someplace safe. Then we’ll talk.”
Leyla frowned, confused and scared, but with a backbone of steel as she looked at her daughter, then Gibbs and John. “As you wish. But I want to know what’s going on, Gibbs.”
“I promise I’ll tell you all that I can.” Gibbs vowed, standing and motioning with one hand for her to lead the way.
In their ears, they heard DiNozzo’s voice report in. “Nothing weird so far, boss. All clear.”
Gibbs didn’t reply until they were stepping into the elevator. “Keep an eye open, Tony. My gut’s twitchy.”
“Mine, too, but that could have been Ducky’s Yorkshire pudding at desert.”
“Ziva, smack him for me.” Gibbs ordered, followed by a distinctive, “Ow! Not so hard!” from Tony.
John swallowed back the urge to laugh and checked in with his team, too. “Sit-rep, kids?” He smiled at Leyla, who was watching and listening to the one-sided conversation curiously. “We’ve found the ladies and they’re fine.”
“All is…quiet.” Teyla answered first, though the slight pause had John perking up.
“It is nothing, John. Just some foolish young boys who have since seen the error of their ways.” Her tone was that very disapproving one she typically aimed at John and Rodney. He shook his head, wondering what, exactly, had happened but deciding it was better not to ask.
“Okay then. Ronon?”
“Good. Except for the stench.”
“What?” John wondered, trying really hard not to laugh when Ronon answered.
“I’m using a large metal container as cover and it reeks like Zelenka’s still.”
“Oh my god! Remind me never to drink any of his home-brew ever again!” Rodney’s voice responded to that emphatically in disgust. “It’s a trash dumpster, Ronon, that’s why it smells.”
“Ah. Then why does Zelenka’s moonshine smell like this?”
“I really don’t want to know. Gah! That’s so gross.”
“Stay frosty, everyone.” John ordered, not bothering to conceal his amusement. “And we’ll need our rides in…oh…ten minutes?” He glanced at Gibbs, who nodded in agreement. “Everyone copy?”
“Yes, yes.” McKay’s tone was impatient, but agreeable.
McGee was a little more by the book. “Copy that, Colonel.”
Teyla, Ronon, Tony, and Ziva all gave their own acknowledgements as Leyla led them down the hall to her room.
Once inside, John parked himself near the door while Gibbs kept Amira entertained so her mother could quickly pack up all their things. It didn’t take long, as there wasn’t much to pack. They’d left in a hurry, after all, and likely without any baggage since their belongings probably blew up with their home. John could see that what they had was all brand new.
Now that he thought about it, where were they going to go? And where could the SGC stash them safely and without breaking any of the necessary secrecy? Frowning to himself, he reached for his ear to talk to Rodney again.
“McKay, contact Mitchell and Dr. Jackson, and see what sort of exit strategy and safe house we might have for the ladies.”
“Okay. Any suggestions you want to make?”
“Not off the top of my head, but explain the situation and see what they can come up with.”
“Alright. McKay out.”
“A safe house?” Leyla stopped stuffing clothes in a bag, looking at Gibbs uncertainly. “Gibbs?”
“Not like you’re thinking, Leyla. It’s fine.” The older man assured, giving Sheppard a meaningful stare. John nodded, affirming the promise.
“I just…I assumed we would be going to your home in Washington.” Leyla resumed packing, but kept shooting worried glances at both men. “Mike always says it’s the safest place to be.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee Mike’s opinion of that this time.” Gibbs looked rather annoyed by it, too.
“Ma’am, you needn’t worry that you’ve inadvertently gotten involved in anything.” John said after a moment, hoping to alleviate some of her fears. “We just want to protect you. Our concerns for your safety stem from…the possibility of being used as a hostage or something like that – not because the bad guys are interested in you for other things.”
Leyla stood with the bags, staring at him in such a knowing, older and wiser than her age way that John had the sudden insight that this woman had known the kinds of trouble and tragedy no one should ever have to. He wondered just what, exactly, her story was, but resolved to ponder it later. At the moment she was studying him consideringly, trying to judge whether or not to believe in him and trust him.
“Very well. We should leave quickly, yes?”
John felt some of the tension drain away and straightened up. “Yep. Let’s go.”
Downstairs in the lobby they were met by Tony and Ziva. “Go with them, Leyla.” Gibbs said, handing Amira off to her mother. “I’ll check you out and be right there.”
Tony took the bags and headed for the doors, Ziva escorting Leyla and Amira, while John brought up the rear. He listened over the comms as Gibbs dealt with the receptionist again, asking a couple of questions he hadn’t had the chance to earlier, then hurrying out to join them at the SUVs.
Ziva and McGee helped Leyla and Amira get settled in their seats, while John, McKay, and Gibbs conferred outside. Teyla and Ronon were already seated in their vehicle, waiting.
“What did Mitchell and Daniel say, McKay?” John asked.
“Colonel Mitchell said we have two options – get on a plane and fly to either the Springs or Vegas and be met by an SGC escort, or drive to either Peterson or Nellis. Either way he said that getting to an AF base would be best because, well, let’s face it; you flyboys have more pull there than on other bases of other military branches.” Rodney sighed, making a face. “Not to mention that, really, Nellis is closer and a better bet. I have more pull in Nevada, let alone any of you.”
John ran a hand through his hair, thinking about it from all angles. “I’d feel better about the Springs. It’s the next best place, short of the Mountain itself, and our people are all over the place, there.”
Rodney looked pained. “That’s a really long drive, John. Really long. And in case you’ve forgotten when we last slept…” It was almost a whine, but John couldn’t blame him for it.
“I’m tired, too, Rodney, and we can switch off on the driving.” John pointed out. “I know it’s frustrating, but…”
“Why don’t we just fly?” Gibbs asked, then raised a hand, answering his own question. “Never mind. Whoever’s got Mike – and so quickly – can find us easily if we leave a paper trail. I’m tired, too. And I could really use a cup of coffee.” It had been a few hours since his last mug.
“What do you want to do, Gibbs?” John asked quietly, aware that they were being watched by Leyla closely.
“I just need to talk to her before we take her somewhere safe while we handle the rest of this…mess.” Gibbs responded, frustration and weariness evident, as well as temper. “I need to ask her a few questions, too, try to put together exactly what happened to Mike from the time I saw him off at the airport until he called me.”
“Well…let’s hit the road, then.” John shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “We’ll drive for a couple hours then find someplace for a pit stop.”
Then Rodney did that snappy-finger-fist thing he does whenever a light bulb goes off in that big brain of his. “Wait, wait, wait! You can talk to her in the car on the way, right?” He asked of Gibbs, who frowned a little but nodded. It wasn’t how he preferred doing it, but it would have to do. McGee could drive. “So you talk, we drive for a couple hours, and wherever we stop we can have Mitchell beam someone else to escort them the rest of the way to the Springs while the rest of us go back to D.C. and regroup in the morning.”
John stared for a minute, torn between smacking himself for not thinking of it himself, and kissing Rodney for being the genius he is. Refraining from either of those, however, he settled for clapping the scientist on the back proudly and saying, “That works for me. Gibbs?”
“If you can guarantee that she’ll be safe with whoever comes to meet us…” Gibbs was beginning to really dislike how many unknown people he was being asked to trust with the lives of people he cared about – particularly these two people. If something happened to them, Mike would kill him, and Gibbs would let him.
“Gibbs, you know I can’t guarantee that. Nobody could. Shit happens that’s no one’s fault, sometimes.” John shook his head at the older man’s darkening scowl and cut off the oncoming protest. “What I can guarantee is that whoever gets the job will protect those ladies with their lives, if they have to, and will do everything possible to see them safely to their destination.”
It was Rodney’s quiet words that finally swayed Gibbs vote.
“Only those who are deemed to be the very best of us are part of the programme, Agent Gibbs. Not just at what they do but as people, too. Civilian or military. And they’ll have Odyssey keeping an eye on them, too, so they’ll be as safe as can be.”
John blinked at his friend in surprise, since it wasn’t a very Rodney-like endorsement concerning other people, but kept his mouth shut against the smart-assed comments he wanted to say.
“Alright. I guess I don’t have much choice. Let’s go.”
Gibbs gave in, heading for the passenger’s seat.
John slid into their SUV, glancing at Rodney as he started the engine. “A three hour drive should do it, you think?”
“Yeah. Let’s put lots of space between us and Phoenix.” Rodney agreed, looking around the parking lot nervously. “I don’t like how fast the Trust found this Franks guy.”
“Me neither.” John echoed the sentiment, frowning as he pulled out into traffic, noting that the NCIS team was following closely. “Radio Mitchell, tell him the plan.”
Rodney reached for his ear.
In the other SUV, McGee was battling his own set of nerves, having very rarely been the one behind the wheel on any investigations – especially with Gibbs present. So when Gibbs informed him he was driving and to follow Sheppard, he had to stop and take a deep breath before settling in with determination to prove he could do this simple task…
…with both Ziva and Tony protesting loudly about it – Tony, because he preferred driving whenever Gibbs wasn’t and because he felt that McGee drove like a Granny while Ziva…should never be allowed behind a wheel for the safety of everyone, and Ziva because she as confident in her evasion skills as a driver and felt McGee lacked the skills to deal with a situation that would require such evasion.
Gibbs told them both to shut up and either go to sleep or listen in while he talked to Leyla because he would leave them both on the side of the road if they didn’t.
Instant peace and quiet was the response.
Sitting in the middle of the vehicle with Leyla and Amira, Gibbs very quietly and calmly explained what Mike had gone to L.A. for, what had happened, and the very bare bones of why people were after him now. He also broke the news that it appeared Mike had been found and captured. Gibbs explained that they were concerned for Leyla and Amira’s safety, too, because they feared the bad guys would try to use Mike’s family to get him to cooperate.
Leyla listened attentively but silently. She hugged her daughter to her side, unconsciously protective, and her breath caught at some points, but she still managed to keep herself collected. Despite being very worried and afraid, she did not break out into hysterics as many people would at hearing such news – no doubt due to where she’d grown up, Gibbs realized quite quickly. The young woman was born and raised in the Middle East, a volatile region of the world. He had to admire her strength, much as he did Ziva’s, if not for the exact same reasons.
“And you have a…lead?” Leyla asked after Gibbs fell silent, not sure if she was using the correct term. “You know where Mike is?”
“Not yet, no.” Gibbs hesitated only a second before deciding the truth was the only way to go with her. “But we will, and we will find him and bring him home, Leyla. I promise.” He squeezed her hand, and she gave him a weary, sad smile that said she knew better than to expect perfectly happy endings, and that she understood everything he wasn’t saying.
Still, she replied, “I know you will. Thank you, Gibbs, for once again protecting my family.”
“Boss?” McGee interrupted apologetically. “Col. Sheppard is asking for you.”
Gibbs nodded and reached for his ear to tune back in to the frequency they’d been using. He’d turned off the comm to speak to Leyla, so as not to be distracted. “Sheppard, this is Gibbs. You need something?”
“Rodney is making noises about coffee and Ronon’s got the munchies, so I thought I’d check in with your car and see if we need a pit stop.” The Colonel’s reply came quickly. “We’re about a little less than an hour out of Phoenix now, and headed for Flagstaff.”
Gibbs blinked (not realizing how much time had passed) and rolled his eyes at the “munchies” bit, but whole-heartedly agreed that coffee would be fabulous right then. “Yeah, sure. Coffee would be good.”
“Alright. There’s a service area coming up in a couple of miles. We’ll go there.”
“Copy that, Colonel.” McGee responded for Gibbs.
“Did you and Amira get something to eat, earlier?” Gibbs asked, glancing down at his goddaughter (who had fallen asleep cuddled up to her mother’s side).
“Yes, thank you. But some water would be welcome. And coffee, also.” Leyla smiled.
“We stoppin’, boss?” Tony inquired from the back seat.
Once they were back on the road, Gibbs waited until Amira was asleep again before questioning her mother about what had happened in Mexico. Unfortunately, she didn’t know much, as she wasn’t present when the explosion had occurred.
Leyla told Gibbs that Mike had come home tired and upset, but relieved to be home again. She hadn’t asked about any of it, knowing it was likely something he couldn’t talk about even if he’d wanted to.
Mike had taken the rest of the day to rest and play with Amira, and in the morning they’d went to town together to go to the marketplace to shop for groceries and things. Leyla told Gibbs that around noon, when they’d decided to have lunch before going home, she’d noticed Mike became tense and alert, even wary. When she’d asked what was wrong, he’d told her it was nothing and not to worry. She’d accepted that, even if she didn’t believe him. She’d kept her eyes open, trying to figure out what was putting her father-in-law on edge, but could not seem to spot the danger.
Leyla related how she’d spotted several strangers around town that day in the marketplace, and that though this wasn’t unusual on a market day, these strangers did stick out rather obviously. They were white men (and possibly two women), dressed well – but not like tourists. When she’d pointed them out to Mike at lunch, he’d given in and confided that it seemed like they were being followed. When she asked him why, he’d said it had nothing to do with her or Amira, and that they should remain in town for a while longer while he sought some answers. Mike had left them at his favourite cantina, and went to get those answers for himself.
Not ten, maybe fifteen, minutes later, Leyla continued, they’d heard an explosion. She had no idea what happened, nor did anyone else. It had drawn the townspeople toward it, though, and she’d been worried about Mike, but resolved to stay put until he either came back for them or contacted her somehow. Thankfully, she hadn’t waited long. Twenty minutes after the explosion, Mike returned to the cantina and took them out of town. From there, after telling her that the explosion had been their home and people were after him, he got them to the airport and they’d flown to Phoenix – this being the first available flight back to the States that he could get.
Beyond all this, Leyla knew nothing else. She hadn’t asked questions, knowing it was probably safer for all of them, and because she knew Mike likely wouldn’t tell her anything.
“He did tell me to call you if something should happen to him, however.” Leyla informed Gibbs quietly, stroking her daughter’s curly hair. “He was already late when you found us. I was going to wait another hour or so, and if he did not return, then I would call you.”
Gibbs absorbed it all, thinking it through carefully, trying to piece together the puzzle. Unfortunately there was a large piece missing, from the time between leaving Leyla and Amira at the cantina and coming back to pick them up. Until they got Mike back, there was likely not going to be a way to fill in the hole.
Which led Gibbs to wonder how, exactly, they were going to find Mike. Sure, they’d recovered his wallet from the scene, there’d been tire tracks and other evidence – but none of it pointed in any direction that said “Mike is here” for them to follow. Especially as they hadn’t had the chance to work the scene properly.
Glancing ahead, out the front windshield, as if he could see the other SUV in the dark, the NCIS agent wondered if Sheppard and his people knew things that he did not, or had some fancy alien gadget that would let them track Mike down. It was a discussion they would have to have sooner rather than later.