The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 3: Puzzle Pieces

“None of McGee’s neighbors saw or heard anything unusual Friday night,” Ziva reported, putting down the phone on her desk. “Although his immediate neighbor did say it was the first night in a long time he didn’t have to blare music to drown out McGee’s shredder.”

“Suggests he got nabbed as soon as he got home, Boss,” Tony said, leaning back in his own chair. “Which explains the knocked over box of uneaten Chinese food.”

“Ya think, Tony?” Gibbs replied, standing up and walking over to McGee’s desk. He frowned briefly at how neat it was—never a paper out of place. The cleanliness was only augmented by the fact that Tim’s computer was missing—currently downstairs with Abby. He looked across at his senior field agent. “You get anything from Metro or any of your other contacts?”

“Nothing yet,” Tony said, putting his hands behind his head. At Gibbs’ glare, he brought his hands forward and reached for his phone. “But I’m going to check again.”

Gibbs just nodded, looking down at his watch. It was now 2:00 in the afternoon. Assuming McGee had been grabbed at 9:00 pm the night before, which was about when his doorman remembered letting Tim through the door, that meant he’d been missing 17 hours. He gritted his teeth and looked across at Ziva, who was on the phone again, this time with Tim’s publisher, looking to see if there were any new, real stalkers they needed to be checking up on.

Gibbs had also already called Tim’s sister, just in case she’d heard anything. She was out in California at some sort of budding writer’s convention, and she swore to him that she hadn’t heard from him. She’d then asked if she should come back to DC, but he’d told her no. He wondered if she would listen to him. Unlike her brother, Sarah McGee was not very good at following other people’s orders.

Feeling momentarily at a loss, Gibbs turned in the direction of the elevators, planning on going to check on Abby, when his cell phone rang.

He frowned at the name, the put the phone to his ear. “What can I do for you, Tobias?”

“Off the record,” Agent Fornell replied, “I need your help.”

Gibbs gave a quick smile at that. “My help? Well, you know I’m always willing to help the FBI, Tobias, but unfortunately I—“

“Technically,” Tobias interrupted, before Gibbs could continue, “I don’t need your help, Gibbs. I want to borrow McGee.”

Gibbs’ gut went stone cold. “McGee,” he repeated, turning to look at Tony, who was watching him now. A glance a little more to the right saw Ziva had her eyes on him as well. “Why do you need McGee?”

There was a long sigh on the other side of the line before Fornell replied. “Because one of my agents is missing. My computer expert, Tara Stokes. Looks like she might have been taken last night. I need someone to break into her files on her computer. She has some sort of password thing that my people can’t break, and I don’t want to send it to the Cyber Security Division since I have no real proof that this was a kidnapping yet. But I’m betting your man can get in. So…,” Fornell drew in a deep breath, “Can I have him? I won’t break him, Jethro, I promise. If he helps me find Tara, I’ll be in your debt, and his.”

Gibbs’ eyes shut briefly at the statement, then opened his eyes again. “How quickly can you get here, Tobias?”

“What? No, actually, if you could send—“

“McGee’s missing as well. He was kidnapped the same day as your agent.”

There was silence on the line, then: “That doesn’t sound like a coincidence,” Tobias said quietly.

“Boss,” Tony called suddenly, straightening in his chair, his phone still to his ear.

“Hang on, Tobias,” Gibbs said, holding the phone away from his ear and covering it. He looked at Tony. “What?”

“Army CID just told me that their resident top computer geek—a woman named Angela Zelnitz—isn’t answering her phone. They’ve been trying to reach her to ask if she’s had any contact with McGee lately. Apparently,” Tony grimaced, “she always answers her phone.”

Gibbs stared at him a moment, then gave a nod. He put the cell back to his ear. “Tobias, we have a problem.”

McGee was back at his own station, though he couldn’t stop his eyes from checking on Nick every so often. His fellow agent was working again, despite the fact that Reams had done nothing to alleviate the pain Nick was in from having his leg fractured. At least it wasn’t a bad break—Reams had given McGee the go-ahead to check on the injury before returning to work. Basic first aid training had allowed Tim to tell that the bone wasn’t misaligned—cracked, sure, but not out of place. It needed to be splinted, though, because it had to hurt like a son of a bitch.

But Reams wouldn’t let McGee waste the time.

Nick had been sat down and told to continue hacking the White House. Cheever’s jaw was so tense, it looked like it might shatter.

Tim was so intent on making sure Nick was alright, he forgot that he wasn’t supposed to succeed in what he was doing. So it was a bit of a surprise when the Interpol mainframe popped up on his screen, asking for a command.

He swallowed, staring at the blinking cursor for a moment. Then looked up. Reams was watching over Angela’s shoulder, directly across from Tim, so he caught the gaze.

“Something wrong?” Reams asked coolly.

“No,” Tim said, looking down. “I’m…” He grimaced, swallowed, and then shrugged before looking up again. “I’m in.”

Reams straightened up, and, slowly, he smiled. Tim had to look away. By the time he looked up again, Reams had walked around Tara to Tim’s station and was leaning over his shoulder.

“How long can you stay logged on?” Reams asked, peering at the screen almost hungrily.

“I don’t know,” Tim admitted. “It’s the weekend, so they may not be monitoring their servers that closely. But I wouldn’t think it would be long.”

“Mmm,” Reams nodded. “We thought that might be the case. Duncan?”

McGee looked up as the so-called computer expert sidled over, all limbs and arms and pasty white skin. The boy leaned over his shoulder, smelling strongly of b.o. and too much Old Spice. McGee tried not to react to the noxious combination, backing up a little to the left.

Duncan tapped a few keys, moving him around Interpol’s system, and then nodded. “He really did it, Chief,” he said, his voice as high and as reedy as ever. “I can install the malware right into their main communications server—it’ll spread to the entire network from here.”

Reams nodded, and looked down at his watch. “Looks like we’re right on schedule, if the others are as quick as our star here.” He tapped Tim on the shoulder. “Out of the chair, McGee.”

Tim did as he was told, backing up to get out of the way as Duncan sat down and closed down all of McGee’s windows to pull up something else from the computer’s hard-drive.

As the new window popped open, revealing the virus coding Duncan was going to send, McGee had to grit his teeth in order not to smile. He read down what he could see in the open window, trying to get a grasp on Duncan’s malware. It looked huge—probably a metamorphic virus. Duncan then called up another program, and this one looked like a worm, designed to deliver the virus across networks. Huh. Impressive. And, of course, packaging it all inside a trojan so no one would know it was there until too late. It must have taken them a long, long time to develop this. But seeing work like that wasn’t why Tim had to fight not to smile.

The malware was on the hard drive.

Reams had just made his first mistake. If the malware was on the hard drive—was on everyone’s hard drives—then Tim could potentially find a way to stop it. If he could open it long enough to study it, he might be able to find a weakness in the code, a way of blocking it or neutralizing it before it launched.

Duncan glanced back at him, eyes narrowing slightly, and Tim looked away, meeting Tara’s eyes over the top of her monitor.

Who was he kidding? When could he study the malware? If Reams wasn’t looking over his shoulder, Duncan was. They’d spot the malware on his screen the moment he called it up.


But maybe he could find a way to send the malware to someone outside of this room who could work on it for him.

He was already inside his own network…. If he sent the malware to one of his shared files, and someone found it, it would at least warn them of the threat, and if they knew what the malware looked like, they might be able to locate it and purge it before it spread. They might even be able to counter it.

Which, really, meant he could only send it to one particular person—the only person he trusted enough to access his personal network’s shared files. And the only one smart enough to open the malware without infecting NCIS at the same time.

Problem was, how was he going to alert her to the fact that it was there? Second, how did he tell her which agencies were being infected? And third…

Third, how did he send the file so that she would know it was a virus, and not to be opened except on a unique computer? Because if she opened it up on her lab computer, she would kill him.

Abby had the music blaring, her head bopping along with the heavy guitar riff, following the rise and fall of the notes. Her eyes, though, were glued on her computer screen, pouring through McGee’s emails, notes and messages as quickly as she could. Behind her on the table were a bunch of items from McGee’s apartment, separated into piles and neatly arranged. Everything was bagged and tagged, and nothing had provided any leads to where he was. There weren’t even any fingerprints, other than of people she already knew.
This was her second review of his computer. The first time she’d been through it, she’d dismissed all emails and messages from people she recognized. In this second, she was parceling out agency requests and work requests from personal emails.

She also had a computer diagnostic skimming through Tim’s files, searching for anyone who might have accessed them over the last month. She found a few trails of people who’d tried to hack him and failed, and the trail of the one person who had successfully hacked him—Tara Stokes (and they all knew about that. Poor McGee)—but other than that, it looked pretty clean.

All in all, she hadn’t spotted anything really hinky so far, but that didn’t mean anything. If there was a lead to McGee’s whereabouts in his computer, she’d find it. And then she’d hand everything over to Gibbs to track down.

And he’d get McGee back.

He would. Of that, Abby had no doubt. McGee would be fine, and Gibbs and Tony and Ziva would bring down the bastard who had taken him, hopefully with a baseball bat. And maybe a bulldozer. And then a Zamboni.

Some might call her trust in McGee’s return a refusal to face facts, but Abby would argue that the only fact they had right now was that someone had taken Tim. No other facts were known yet. So, the only fact she had to face was that he was missing and they needed to work to get him back. Hence, her utter belief that they would get him back. And until provided another fact telling her otherwise, that was all she was going to focus on. Getting her Timothy back.

So, when her computer beeped, telling her that someone had sent her a game request alert, she almost missed it. She got several of those a day, and when she was really busy, she didn’t even bother replying. But something had her opening the request, ready to shoot off a “rain check” note.

But the message she opened was blank. It also had no return address, because it hadn’t been emailed, and no particular game was named. A game request from no one. Just a link to a file on someone else’s network.

She frowned, then quickly did a search for the file.

Her eyes widened, and her hands scrambled for the phone.

Director Jenny Sheppard stood very still in MTAC, looking up at the Directors of the FBI, Homeland Security and Army CID. Gibbs stood on her left, and Agent Fornell on her right.

And she was trying very hard not to lose her temper.

“I understand, gentlemen, why each of you believes your respective agencies to be the most qualified in finding our missing agents, and I also understand why each of you believes your agency has the best jurisdictional case to be made, however, my agency was the first to notice that one of its agents was missing, and—“

“Just because you were first, Director Sheppard,” interrupted the FBI Director, “does not mean you have any greater knowledge of this case than the rest of us. Frankly, the FBI’s expertise and experience on this matter, not to mention its resources, far outstrip—“

“Agent Gibbs and Agent Fornell have a long standing relationship,” Jenny snapped in return. “And Agent Fornell has already agreed that, as my team has the head start on—“

“Face it, Director Sheppard, you are out of your element here,” said the head of Homeland Security. “Since what we are looking at here is clearly a threat to national security via the taking of each of our top cyber experts, and since Homeland Security has the farthest reach when it comes to cyber crimes—“

“Farthest reach?” the three star general scoffed. “Army CID is already in places Homeland Security can’t even dream of going, and if this cyber threat ends up coming from abroad, then—“

“Then the FBI is still the best equipped to handle it!” yelled the FBI Director. “And if you think—“

“Stop it!” Jenny barked furiously. “This is not the time for a pissing match! Our people are out there, gentlemen, and my best and your best…” She glared at the FBI’s Director. “…are already working side by side on this! I have already told you that I welcome all the assistance the FBI, Army CID and Homeland Security can provide, but NCIS is leading this case. We were first, and we intend to stay first, and absent a directive to the contrary, NCIS will be the lead, and you will follow.” She turned and slashed her hand across her neck, before any of the men on her screen could say a word, and turned to glare at Gibbs and Fornell. “Any questions?” she demanded of Fornell.

“No,” he replied, shaking his head somberly. “I just want find our people.” Jenny nodded, then pointed to the door.

“Then go do it. Now.”

Fornell wheeled around and marched out. Gibbs stayed long enough to throw a small, proud smile at Jenny before turning to follow. As he did so, his phone rang, and he answered it as he was pushing through the doors.

Jenny watched them leave, then closed her eyes and sighed. Under her breath, she whispered a short prayer that they got McGee back safe. And the others too, but for Gibbs’ sake—McGee first.

Gibbs stared at the plasma, brow furrowed. Next to him, Tony had his arms crossed, looking even more puzzled. Fornell stood a little behind them, head tilted at an angle, his lips pressed tightly together. Ziva leaned against the side of the table behind Abby’s workbench, as if looking at the screen from a distance might help.

It didn’t.

Gibbs sighed and turned to look at the woman working behind the lab bench.

“Why am I looking at three zipped files on a screen, Abbs?” he asked.

“Because those files weren’t there before, and a lot of other stuff was,” she answered. She was typing away quickly as she spoke, trying to find a way to get a message back to Tim, but not sure how. She’d dropped a file in the same shared drive, but he hadn’t opened it. Maybe he couldn’t.

“Meaning?” Gibbs prompted.

“So impatient, Gibbs!” She stopped typing and walked around the end of the bench to point up at the screen. “This was McGee’s game file on his shared drive. He gave me access a long time ago, and it’s always been filled with…” She smiled softly, waggling her fingers. “…what you might call unusual games.” The way she emphasized the word “unusual” was not lost on the older man.

Gibbs sighed, looking up again at the three innocuous looking folders. “So?”

“So…” She rested her hands on her hips. “I know for a fact that those three files were not on this drive a week ago, and, I know for a fact that they’re not game files.”

He grunted in annoyance, and Abby smiled innocently.

“My point,” she said, “is that someone deleted all the other files from McGee’s shared drive and put just these three in there, in their place. And only one person has the ability to do that.”

“McGee,” Gibbs said.

“McGee!” Abby agreed, grinning. “See? I knew you’d get it.”

“Get what, Abby?” He walked back towards her, stopping near her table. Tobias and the other two just continued to stare up at the screen, as if something magic would happen now. “McGee put new games in his shared drive this week?”

“No,” she said, resting her hands on her hips, “McGee put these files, which aren’t games, into his shared folder on his network and erased all the others half an hour ago.”

Gibbs stared at her a moment, then lifted his eyebrows. “Are you sure?” he asked softly.

“I’m sure,” she said. “I get an automatic message anytime McGee puts something new in the folder, and that's when I got it.” She turned around and tapped a few keys on her keyboard.

“How do you know they’re not games?” Tony asked, looking at her between the computer monitors.

“Ah.” Abby held up two fingers. “Two reasons. First.” She made it one finger. “They’re too small. These files couldn’t hold a game, not the way they’re made these days. Millions of lines of code—typically, that’s at least megabytes of space. I mean, they can reduce the size if they use binary instead of measuring by LOC, but—“

“Abby,” Gibbs warned softly.

She smiled sweetly at him. “Right, sorry. Anyway, my point is, there’s no way something this small could be a game.”

“What’s the second reason?” Ziva asked.

And for the first time, Abby looked mildly chagrinned, glancing at the Mossad agent sheepishly. “Yeah, the second reason…” She grimaced, and tapped away on her computer. After a moment, she clicked her tongue in annoyance.

“Abbs?” Gibbs called quietly.

“The second reason,” she said, finally looking at Gibbs, “is that I can’t open them. He’s got them password locked.” She grimaced.

Fornell frowned. “Why?” He came around the side of the bench. “If McGee was trying to send us a message, why would he lock these files so we couldn’t see what was in them?”

Abby shook her head. “I’m not sure. But I’ve tried all of the username and passwords that McGee’s told me, or that I figured out on my own, and none of them are working. He’s deliberately made this hard for me. I even think each file has a different lock on it.” She started typing again, pouting a little.

“Would that take long to do?” Gibbs asked, his tone thoughtful as he looked up at the plasma again. “Password lock these files before dropping them in here?”

Abby paused in her typing, recognizing the “I have an idea” tone in his voice. She gave a headshake.

“No,” she said, her tone just as thoughtful. “Actually, he could do it very quickly.” She began to nod. “If he’s being watched, which he probably is, and his activity monitored, he probably can’t send a real message. Someone could find it. But just dropping these files into his shared drive probably wouldn’t raise any flags—they probably wouldn’t even notice, if they know he’s using his network. Which means…” Her eyes brightened. “He password locked them to tell us something about them!”

“More likely to warn us about them,” Gibbs amended, meeting her gaze.

Abby’s eyes widened, and she clicked open the properties of the three files. “Oh, Gibbs…” she shook her head. “You’re right. All three of these could contain malware. They’re the right size!”

“What is malware?” Ziva asked, rolling her tongue around the clearly unknown word. “Is that the same as spyware?”

“Spyware is a kind of malware.” Abby frowned distastefully. “But it is not the only kind. Computer viruses, worms, adware, and others—they’re all malware. That big one…” She pointed up at the central file. “Is probably a virus, based on its size.”

Fornell’s eyebrows shot up. “Agent McGee sent you a virus?”

“No, of course not,” Abby said quickly, bristling defensively on behalf of her Timmy. “He was alerting me to three files that may or may not contain malware, and password locked them so I couldn’t open them and thus infect not only my lab but potentially the entire NCIS network.”

Gibbs’ eyes squinted slightly, still staring at the files. “Abby,” he said slowly, “if you could open these on a remote computer, not connected to anything…” He looked at her. “Could you find a way to stop the viruses that they might contain?”

She frowned slightly. “I don’t know. Maybe.” She gave a small nod. “It’s probably why he alerted me to them. McGee wants me to find a way to block the malware, or neutralize it, or something. But, even if I did put them onto their own computer…” She sighed.

“You can’t open them.”

“No.” She frowned again. “Not unless I can figure out the passwords he used.”

“What do the files’ names mean?” Tobias asked then, from where he’d returned to looking up at the plasma, and the titles under each files. “Aren’t these movie actors? Redford, Poitier and Kingsley?” He looked at Abby and Gibbs.

“Sneakers,” Tony said automatically.

“What?” Gibbs asked, turning around.

“Sneakers,” Tony repeated. Then he grinned. “Oh come on, Boss! Sneakers! The movie? Redford, Poitier, Kingsley, Ackroyd, River Phoenix…? It was a classic! A group of security experts, whose job it is to hack companies to show them the weaknesses in their computer security systems, get blackmailed into hacking the NSA to steal…” He trailed off, his whole face paling. “Oh wow.”

“He sent these not knowing we’re already looking for him,” Abby noted quietly, showing she’d already guessed the reason behind the file names. “He called them that so that I would figure out he’d been kidnapped, and that he’s not the only one.” She gave a soft shrug. “That several white hats have been taken.”

“White hats?” Fornell repeated.

“It’s the term used for good guy hackers, like McGee,” Abby explained.

“In other words,” Tony said, nodding in understanding, “besides a cry for help, he sent us these as a warning—he and the three others been taken in order to drop this malware into as many agency networks as they can.”

“I’m sure that’s not all of it,” Fornell said quietly.

“Probably not,” Gibbs agreed, crossing his arms. “But you know it’s the coup de grace. Four skilled government hackers, trained and able to break into almost every agency this country has, and a computer virus that’s probably the cyber equivalent of a sleeper cell. Upload this thing to the servers of all those agencies, and set it to go off inside all of them at the same time…”

“Boom,” Abby said softly. When she saw them look at her worriedly, she gave a crooked smile and twisted her hand around. “Figuratively speaking,” she added quickly. “It’ll bring down most of the intelligence network, at least for a day or two.”

“Only for a day or two?” Tony asked.

“Yeah,” Abby shrugged. “Today’s computer security is designed to protect against this sort of thing. All the really important stuff is saved into unique accounts on different networks, some not even on networks at all. At most, all this can do is take the agencies off-line for a while, so they can’t contact each other via email or access databases except those they have direct, physical access to.” She frowned. “It’s an annoyance more than a threat.”

“Unless they’re also mining for information, or can use that downtime to their advantage somehow, to break into places that shouldn’t be broken into. This creates chaos.” Gibbs arched an eyebrow at Abby. “And chaos can be a great cover.” She grimaced at his tone.

“Oh. Then, yes,” she said, blushing slightly. “It might be a little more than an annoyance.”

“So…” Gibbs’ eyebrows lifted as he returned his gaze to the plasma. “Figure out a way to stop this malware thing from working.”

Abby pursed her lips, and turned back to her computer. “I’ll do my best, but until I—“ Her computer beeped, and Abby’s eyes widened as she recognized it as another blank alert from McGee’s network. “He’s dropped a new file into his shared drive.”

As one, the agents in the room looked up at the plasma, and, sure enough, a fourth file had joined the other three. They could also clearly see that there was no little lock on the file. Abby stared at it for a long moment.

“Is it from him?” Gibbs ask, moving around to look over her shoulder. Abby inclined her head slowly.

“Should I open it?” she asked.

“It’s not locked?”


“Then open it,” Gibbs said. Abby looked at him sideways, bit her bottom lip, and opened the file. There was only one thing inside—a picture file. She frowned in puzzlement and opened it up. Her heart sank.

“Oh no,” she whispered. It was a screen shot, likely of McGee’s current desktop. There were a variety of command boxes filling it up, which were unintelligible to everyone in the room except Abby, but there was one thing they could all see clearly.

In the background was a large open window of a desktop, with the word “INTERPOL” quite clearly displayed.

“Tim hacked Interpol for them,” Abby said, her voice soft.

“What the hell?” Fornell demanded suddenly, turning an arched stare at Gibbs. “He’s helping them?”

Gibbs didn’t answer, his face with expression as he stared at the screen.

Fornell cracked his cell phone. Gibbs heard the sound and turned around.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. Fornell glanced at him, frowning slightly.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m calling Interpol to tell them that someone is inside their net—“

“Stop!” Gibbs and Abby yelled it at the same time.

Fornell frowned. “They need to be warned! Besides being infected by this malware thing, who knows what kind of information might be being stolen from their database?”

“Abby.” Gibbs turned to her. “Can they monitor McGee without alerting McGee or whoever may be looking over his shoulder that he’s being watched?”

She grimaced. “If they’re careful.”

“Why shouldn’t Interpol stop him?” Ziva asked, her tone curious. “If they kick him out, then—“

“Way too fast,” Abby replied quickly. “It might make them suspicious—think McGee alerted them somehow. They might…they could…” The words were stuck in her throat.

“Kill him,” Ziva finished. Abby’s whole face scrunched up, and she turned away to hide her face.

“And,” Gibbs added quickly, “it would take away any chance McGee has to tell us who else he’s hacking—which is clearly what he’s planning on doing by sending us screen shots. And there are three other hackers working as well, don’t forget.”

Fornell frowned deeply. “McGee should still be monitored. We need to know what these people are after, besides dropping this malware into the system.”

Gibbs sighed, glanced at Abby, and she gave a reluctant nod. So he nodded at Fornell. “But tell them to be very careful—McGee cannot know he’s being watched.”

Fornell sighed, nodded, and pressed the phone to his ear, walking to a different part of the room to make his call.

Abby sighed, turning to look at her computer again. Ridiculously, she wished she could reach through the screen and hug McGee on the other side.

“At least now we know he’s still alive,” Ziva said suddenly, pushing up off the table. When the others all turned to look at her for the morose statement, she frowned. “What?” she asked. “You were all thinking it. He could have been dead. Now we know he’s not. This is a good thing.” She waved at the screen. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Tony admitted softly, his tone unhappy. Ziva frowned in confusion.

Gibbs walked over to Abby’s side, wrapping a hand around her arm, partly in comfort, and partly in encouragement. “It’ll be especially good if Abby can find a way to trace McGee through these puzzle pieces he’s sending us.”

“Oh, uh….” Abby grimaced, looking unhappily at Gibbs. “I’m trying, but he erased his login, and without that, I can’t trace the ISP he logged in from.”

Gibbs frowned, looking at Abby’s screen again. “Is there any other way?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe. If he logs in again—”

“He’s not logged in now?” Gibbs said, clearly surprised. “But he just sent you another file.”

Abby stared at him a moment, and then her eyes widened. She started typing quickly, her gaze narrowing.

“What is wrong with me today!” she snapped. “Of course, you’re right. But…,” she shook her head, her eyes skimming down the file she’d just opened. “He’s still not registering as being logged in to his own network, but he must be. So where is he?”

Gibbs’ just gave her an amused smile. “I don’t know, Abbs. You tell me.”

She pouted again, but didn’t stop working. “I’ll find him,” she promised fiercely.

“I’m sure you will,” he said, tapping her shoulder. At almost the same time, Fornell walked back towards them, closing his phone up. He was looking up again at the screenshot on the plasma and shook his head.

“You tell them what to do?” Gibbs asked. Fornell nodded.

“As directed, lead agent Gibbs.” He was still staring at the screen, and his eyes narrowed. “What I don’t get,” he said, “is why would our people be helping them to do this? Knowing the damage it could cause…?”

“I can’t speak for the others,” Tony replied, “but I can speak for McGee. He’s biding his time. Waiting for an opening to get him and the other three out of there alive.”

Fornell lifted an eyebrow. “And will he?”

“He’s the only one of the people kidnapped that’s a trained field agent,” Tony said. “So he’s hampered if he thinks the others won’t be able to keep up with him. But he’ll try, if he thinks he can succeed.”

“And in the meantime,” Fornell said, crossing his arms, “my agency, yours, and a bunch of others are being hacked and infected. The damage this could cause…” He trailed off.

“We’ll find them before that happens,” Gibbs promised, looking at Tony, his expression suggesting that Tony had said something that bothered him.

“And if we don’t?” Fornell asked.

“McGee won’t let it happen,” Tony said firmly.

Gibbs lifted his eyebrows at that, still staring at Tony. The younger man met the gaze evenly, utterly confident in his teammate. Gibbs smiled softly, inclining his head. Fornell just sighed heavily.

“Well, okay,” the FBI agent said, sounding resigned. “So, now what?”

“Now,” Gibbs said, looking across at his old friend, “we let Abby work on finding McGee. The rest of us get back to finding out who took him.”

Tim caught Tara looking at him every so often, just out of the corner of her eye. She smiled a couple of times when he actually looked at her, blushing a little. She seemed more confident now than she had at the beginning of the day, especially since they discovered they could send each other notes.

It was purely by accident. Tim had been using one particular line of access to hack into the CIA, a redundant backup system he’d used before that was housed on the FBI’s network, and he’d somehow found himself looking right at Tara’s own work. They were using the same access point—though, for her, it wasn’t surprising, seeing as she was FBI. He wondered if she had even been the one to create the redundant system, specifically so she could use it this way.

Taking a chance, he’d interrupted her coding and sent a quick, “hi.”

He’d seen her jump a little at her station, glance at him, then at Reams, and then start typing again.

A second later, inside her own coding on his screen, was a warning. “don’t they’ll see.”

He’d smiled softly, then, surrounding his words with a lot of nonsense coding, asked if she was okay. He saw her frown, and he sensed a little annoyance in her expression.

Taking his lead, she responded quickly with a “no.” Not surprising. Then: “won’t ask how you found this system but get out its mine.”

McGee really had to work to hold back a smile at that. Underneath that timid exterior, she was just as competitive as he was. She’d have to be, to be as good as she was. He quickly typed a message back.

“no chance. you’re my way into cia.”

She’d shown a little puzzlement over that, and then her eyes widened. Slowly, she gave a nod. Next message he got was, “clever. i would have spotted you eventually though. i could kick you out.”

“but you won’t.”

“what’ll you give me?”

“what do you want?”

“to get away. short of that, tell fornell i am better than you.”

It took a lot not to laugh. He really, really needed a laugh right now.

Made him wish, suddenly, that he had Tony here with him.

The thought sobered him up instantly. He didn’t have Tony here. Tony didn’t even know he was in trouble—not unless Abby had received and, hopefully, deciphered the “message” he had sent.

But now he had something else that gave him hope.

Over the next couple of hours, spacing the conversation so as not to be caught, he told Tara about sending the malware to Abby, and his plan to send screenshots of each of the agencies he hacked. She’d been wary, afraid he’d be caught when he sent the next screenshot, or if Duncan found evidence of what he’d done later on tonight (because it was a certainty that Duncan would be reviewing their work). McGee told her he was almost completely certain that he’d covered his tracks, but he admitted there was a risk. Still—he was confident that this was their best chance of stopping Reams, and maybe being rescued.

Tara had said nothing for a while after that.

Until she cracked the DOJ’s server. After Duncan inserted the malware and gave her back her computer, Tara sent a note to Tim. She asked for the backdoor entry into Tim’s network.

He’d smiled, shot her the information, and then held his breath.

He saw his network server accept data into the shared file. Tara had sent a screenshot of the DOJ’s server.

Tim really, really hoped that Abby was on her computer this weekend.

Especially when he successfully hacked the CIA for only the second time in his career.

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