Summary: Tim is missing and the search is on.
Rated: FR13
Categories: General
Genre: Case Fic
Warnings: Spoilers
Challenges: None
Series: True Friendship
Definitions of the word thread and examples showing typical use are taken from the New Oxford Dictionary of English


Something abstract or intangible, regarded as weak or fragile…

They’d been waiting for Ellie to regain consciousness, hoping she’d have something, anything that would help them in their increasingly frustrating search for Tim.

“I…I don’t remember. How can I not remember? I have to…”

Gibbs laid a hand on her arm. “Take it easy, you’ve been out for three hours, things are likely to be hazy.”

“But how can I help if I don’t…?” Ellie’s breath was coming in short gasps and Jake glared at Gibbs. “You have to let her rest.” Ellie gripped his hand. “No Jake…McGee is in trouble; I can’t lay here doing nothing.”

“You’re not going anywhere Bishop, not until the doc gives the all clear.” Gibbs understood her husband’s concerns and Ellie’s desire to help. “Right now the best way you can help is to tell us anything you can remember.”

“We were…I was watching the street, McGee was at the computer…everything routine…” Her brow furrowed as she tried to recollect the events that had led her to the hospital. “I…that’s right, I needed to use the bathroom, so I asked McGee to take over at the window…it all gets fuzzy after that…”

Tony was about ready to scream with frustration; he’d been desperate for Ellie to wake up, relying on her to give them their first tangible lead. He fought to keep his emotions under control, Ellie was already feeling pressured, she didn’t need to feel how tense he was. He took a step back and let Gibbs take the lead. “You’re doing great Bis…Ellie, don’t force it, let it come.”

“The floor…I was on the bathroom floor…couldn’t understand why, I got up, felt…weird…went to find McGee…no one there…I felt dizzy…” She lifted her hand to her head and winced. “Did I hit my head?”

“Yeah, way we figure it, you passed out and hit your head on the table.”

Ellie looked puzzled. “You figure? Don’t you have audio?”

“Wish we did.” Tony couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “There was a power outage and the audio signal was jammed, we have nothing.”

It was Gibbs’ turn to glare, and Tony felt the full impact. “We have something Tony; let’s get back to the scene. Ellie, you let your husband take care of you, and you do as the doctor says, we clear?”

“Gibbs…” Sitting up in the hospital bed she looked so tiny and fragile; Gibbs dug deep and summoned up a smile. “I’ll call when we find him.”

The smile left his face the instant he got outside the room. “Let’s move Tony, we have work to do.”

They were in the elevator heading to ground level when it hit Tony. “They were drugged…had to be; Bishop, she woke up on the bathroom floor, we thought the bump on the head knocked her out.”

Gibbs nodded. “Told you we had something, most likely the drug was airborne, there were no broken windows…”

“So we go back and check the air ducts.”

“That we do Tony, maybe they got sloppy.”

Tony sent up a silent prayer that his boss was right; Tim was relying on his team to bring him home, they couldn’t let him down, there had to be something…


Interweave or intersperse as if with threads


Finally, after too many hours of nothing they started to find fragments of evidence, fine strands they could weave together into a bigger picture.

A search of the air ducts revealed the pipe work used to deliver the toxin that had rendered Ellie and Tim unconscious, and crucially they found a fingerprint, the first strand.

Given the suspects seemed to have advanced knowledge regarding the stakeout, it was a priority they speak to Milton Sanford, the landlord who had let them the suite of offices, he was the only person outside NCIS who knew about the operation, if he’d told them…a BOLO had been out on him since Gibbs and Tony left the hospital, he’d evaded discovery for several hours, and when they did get word on his whereabouts, it was his dead body they found, bound in the trunk of his own car, there were fibres, blood, more prints, the second strand.

The toxicology report came back from the hospital, Ellie’s blood contained traces of a modified form of KOLOKOL-1, a fast-acting nerve gas developed in Russia, capable of incapacitating its victims in less than three seconds, the effects could last anything up to six hours, but Ducky was convinced she’d received a fragment of the intended dose. “I think, as the pipe was found in the air duct in the office suite, it is safe to posit that the full dose would have been delivered to that area, as Eleanor was in the bathroom she would have been subjected to a much lower dose.”

None of them said it aloud, but they were all thinking the same thing, if Tim got the full dose he’d likely been unconscious most of the time he’d been missing, was that a good thing or…? Push it to the back of your mind, concentrate on what they knew for certain, someone had to sell the KOLOKOL-1, and they knew a man who could help, much as Gibbs hated to do it, he called Trent Kort and asked for help, the third strand.

The fourth strand took them back to the painstaking work of checking traffic and security cameras, now they had a make and model for Sanford’s car, tracing his movements might give them another lead. The work was sometimes frustrating, but it was also a tried and trusted method of tracking suspects, and as Director Vance had offered every resource and as much manpower as they needed, Gibbs was ready and willing to use a well-established routine to guide them closer to their missing team mate.

As the hours raced by and the tension grew, more stands were collected as evidence was collated, test results came through, friends and relatives of their suspects were re-interviewed; however thin the lead may be they chased it down.


Threadbare


They couldn’t go on at such a pace for long, and eventually their nervous energy started to fade, the adrenaline ran out and heads started to drop. Gibbs knew it, but he was determined to keep going, Vance saw it, and he took action.

“I want you to step down for at least four hours Gibbs, you and your team; don’t have me make it an order. We won’t stop working, Agent McGee is one of my people too.”

“Leon...”

“It’s not a sign of weakness to need sleep Gibbs, you’ll do better when you’re rested; tell me if I’m wrong.”

Gibbs was honest enough to admit, if only to himself that he was out on his feet. “You get any word, don’t leave us on the sidelines Leon, Tony...heck, me too, we need to be there...”

When ordered to rest Tony had refused to go home, he’d compromised by agreeing to sleep in the conference room; Abby had already fallen asleep on the futon in her lab. Gibbs didn’t blame them, it somehow felt wrong to leave the building when Tim’s desk was still empty; he hunkered down in his chair, cell-phone held tight in his hand; the squad room was humming with quiet activity, the other teams would continue working while Gibbs and his team took a brief time-out.

Down in Autopsy Ducky reached for his coat, there was no sense staying when the small progress they had made seemed to have stalled. “Mr Palmer, I think it’s high time you went home to your lovely wife, if only for a few hours.”

Jimmy had been tidying the store cupboards, a job he normally hated, but for now it was keeping him busy while they waited...dreaded what might come. “Doctor, I can wait, Bree knows what’s happening, she understands.”

“I’m perfectly sure she does, but for the time being we are surplus to requirements; later, when we have news we may be required, and it will be better for everyone if we are well rested. Timothy...” Ducky’s voice broke; he’d tried so hard to be strong for everyone else, to not give himself time to think what might be happening.

“He’ll be okay Doctor, he’s learned from the very best, whatever he’s going through, he...” Jimmy hesitated, his attempt to cheer up his friend and mentor failing miserably. “Doctor, the KOLOKOL-1, I was checking it out.”

“Ah, now I see why you are so concerned, in truth I have done some research too, the side-effects can be brutal, however as Eleanor seems to have suffered no adverse reaction we must hope our young friend is as fortunate.”

“But...the breathing, it said there could be problems, hypoventilation...”

“Jimmy, let’s not borrow trouble, if we have to deal with any additional problems later we will do so. Look at us, we’re a fine pair, come on, everything will look better after a few hours sleep.”


Put things together or singly on a thread


“What are you doing here Bishop?”

“The doctor said I was good to go; Jake wanted me to stay home, I couldn’t, not until we find McGee. I want to help, put me to work Gibbs, Please.”

“You stay at your desk, no field duty.”

“Anything you say; what can I do?”

Gibbs set her to work, there was plenty to go around; in the last few hours more and more data was coming in, and the witness statements were piling up. It had taken time, way too much time, but at long last Gibbs had a sense they were finally close to discovering Tim’s whereabouts. A fresh pair of eyes, particularly when they belonged to a former NSA analyst might take them one step closer.

They’d come a long way since Dorneget endured the white-knuckle ride that resulted in being the passenger in a car driven by an anxious Gibbs. As soon as Abby told him she’d lost contact with the stakeout team he was on the move, when she told him the audio link had been restored but she still couldn’t raise them he floored the gas pedal. Gibbs’ anxiety turned to fear, just for an instant when he saw Ellie, pale and unmoving on the office floor, his fear turned to relief when he found a pulse and ordered Dorneget to call an ambulance. He’d scanned the room, his gut tightening; a thorough search of the other rooms confirmed it, Tim was gone.

The dreadful hours since then had been tolerable only because they filled them with work, knowing that whatever they found, however insignificant it might seem could be the catalyst for finding him.

There were setbacks, leads that turned into dead ends, and there were moments when Gibbs could see despair in Abby’s eyes, see Tony’s shoulders droop, but to their credit they didn’t stop working and now, at long last, after twenty-six hours they were almost there.

It had become obvious early in their search that the original stake-out operation had stumbled onto something much bigger than their original tip-off had led them to believe. No minor team of weapon smugglers, even with Marine training, would have been so organised, and had the resources enabling them to purchase Russian nerve gas. These people were part of a sophisticated operation, one so well drilled, they’d bribed the landlord of the building across the street from their storage unit to tell them when he let the suite of offices, they’d set the pipe work necessary to deliver the gas before the NCIS team even entered the building.

With Kort’s help, they’d found more names, the man who purchased the gas had crumbled under Gibbs unrelenting interrogation, and with sinking hearts the team came to realise they’d inadvertently stumbled on a group of men with no affiliation to country or creed, men who sold their services to the highest bidder; they were known as Dorado Incorporated, and were prepared to take on any job, anywhere in the world, so long as they got the money they thought they deserved.

Why they had taken Tim had been the question they’d all puzzled over, it couldn’t have anything to do with his hacking skills, there was no way they could have known who they were taking...the only answer, and the one they all feared, was that he’d been taken as a hostage, a potential bargaining chip if whatever they were planning went wrong. If that was so it meant he was safe, they wouldn’t kill him if they needed him, but when their job was done, when they got away, if they got away, what would happen then, when his usefulness ran out, what would they do to him?

It was another question to add to the many they’d already answered, all they could do was continue putting the information together, it was there somewhere, the thing that would tie everything together and get them a location, it had to be.

Ellie was sitting on the floor by Tim’s desk, her laptop perched on her knees, lost in the world of fact, rumour, intelligence and counter-intelligence that had been her staple diet for years. She’d done this kind of thing hundreds of times before, only this time it was personal, and that gave her work an edge she had never known before. S she sifted through the files a steady stream of snacks appeared at her side; two packs had been consumed when she sat up straighter, tabbing between several open windows on her screen. After a few minutes she set the computer on the floor and stretched her aching arms above her head. She looked again, it was still there, this was it, she’d found a trail leading from a small surveillance operation to a theft of staggering audacity.


Hang by a thread


The doors swished open and Ducky bustled into Autopsy, he had been helping Abby in the lab and had only hurried down to his domain in search of refreshment; he was more than willing to help in the search for Tim any way he could, but he simply could not face the dreadful slop masquerading as tea that was dished out by the machines in the break room. He hadn’t made two strides into the room when he came to a halt. “Anthony?” There was no response. “Anthony!”

Tony slowly registered that he was no longer alone. “Hey Ducky.” He continued to stare unblinking at the autopsy table.

“Are you feeling unwell Tony?” Ducky wasn’t surprised by the dark shadows of exhaustion under Tony’s eyes; everyone close to the search looked pretty much the same. Nonetheless, Tony’s extreme pallor and the light sheen of perspiration on his face, did give cause for concern.

“I’m scared Ducky, flat out heart pumping, gut wrenching scared. What if…if we’re too late, if Tim…if he ends up here on one of your tables.”

Ducky stepped close to the younger man and spoke in a tone of reassurance he hoped was convincing. “You will be in time Tony; you’ve all achieved so much already.”

“It’s not enough! If it was, we’d have him home safe.” Tony couldn’t take his eyes off the cold, hard autopsy table so Ducky grabbed his arm and pulled him away.

“Tony, you must listen to me. Timothy is alone out there, you’re getting closer; he knows you’ll be working every minute with everything you have to find him. You won’t let him down, believe in yourself Tony, as I know he believes in you.”

The doors opened again and a breathless Gibbs rushed in. “Bishop has a location, Tony, let’s move!”


Move carefully or skilfully in and out of obstacles, pick through the threads


Ellie paced around in MTAC, she’d done this kind of thing many times before, watched the results of her intelligence lead to an operation in the field, and before she’d joined the MCRT she’d been content to watch from a distance, tonight she was itching to be out there, to stand beside Gibbs and Tony as they led McGee to freedom.

With a silent word of thanks to everyone who had worked so hard while she was in the hospital Ellie concentrated her attention on the screen. Her recommendation had led to this, a joint NCIS, FBI strike team poised to enter one of the most secure buildings in the United States. This supposedly top secret establishment stored billions of dollars in gold from every member of the Inter-American Development Bank system. If those bullion reserves were stolen it could de-stabilise the economies of several Central and South American countries with rich and powerful drug cartels ready to step in and take over.

Right now Ellie was more concerned with the safety of her team mates. She watched as they entered the building, their heat signatures glowing bright, sudden flashes of white light indicated gunfire and she had several heart-stopping moments as they had to battle their way through labyrinthine corridors and down stairwells until they finally reached the huge vault at the heart of the complex.

Visual contact was lost and Ellie held her breath as the staccato gunfire filled the room.

“Agent Bishop, you won’t be helping if you pass out.”

She gave a nervous laugh. “Sorry Director, waiting...”

“Is hard, believe me I know.”


Lose the thread


It seemed like an eternity, but was probably less than two minutes before contact was re-established. Tony’s voice echoed around MTAC. “Scene is secure, the bastards wouldn’t back down, they’re all dead.” He swallowed hard, fighting the bile rising in his throat. “Tim...he’s not here.”

Vance caught Ellie as her knees gave out. “Steady Bishop, let’s get you to a seat.”

She took a deep breath and with a shake of her head stumbled toward the door. “I can’t sit, didn’t you hear? McGee’s still missing, I have work to do.”

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