The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 5: Bad Sunday

When Gibbs returned to his desk the next morning after driving home for a shower and a clean set of clothes (something he ordered Tony and Ziva to do as well), he found someone already sitting at his desk, waiting for him—with two cups of coffee.

Tobias was going through the same lists of terrorist suspects that Gibbs had been pouring over the night before, his expression sour.

“Hey,” Gibbs said, standing in front of the desk and taking one of the cups. He frowned when he found it empty, and picked up the other one. This one was full. “You’re in my chair.”

Tobias glanced up at him, sighed, and stood up. He pointed at the coffee in Gibbs’ hand.

“Might be a little cold,” Tobias said, moving to the side so Gibbs could sit down. “Been sitting a while. I thought you’d be here all night.” He ended up leaning against the small table on which the large flat screen was sitting. “I got here at 6:00 am to find the place deserted except for your two PhDs.”

Gibbs looked up from the lists on his desk, surprised. “Ducky is here already?”

Tobias gave a nod. “Came in at the same time I did, which was a good thing, since I was able to drop off our profiler with him. They’re down in your autopsy department, pouring over our people’s records.”

Gibbs shrugged slightly as he took a sip of the lukewarm coffee, and then picked up the papers on his desk. Tobias had put checkmarks next to some of the names.

“You get anywhere with these?” Gibbs asked.

“No,” the FBI agent admitted. “There must be a way to narrow them down, but now that I know your man has hacked at least two different agencies, the DOJ, Metro PD and the Virginia State Police, it makes the possible list of suspects longer. The local LEOs are sending you and me two more sets of lists.” He shook his head. “There must be something we’re missing here.”

Gibbs frowned, his mind tripping over something Tobias said as he scanned the list they had already. It clicked a second later, and he looked up, puzzled.

“Did you say, Tim had hacked two agencies and the DOJ? And two PDs? All in one day?”

Tobias nodded. “According to your forensics specialist.”

Gibbs frowned, then stood up again, shaking his head. “McGee’s not that good. I don't think anyone is.”

Tobias said nothing in return, just got out of the way and then followed right behind as Gibbs left his desk and headed towards the elevators.


Tony was already in Abby’s lab when the two senior agents arrived, leaning on Abby’s table and fiddling with a pencil, tapping it to the beat of Abby’s music. When Gibbs came in, he jumped up, dropping the pencil on the floor and looking sheepish.

Gibbs frowned at him, then frowned more at Tobias. “I thought you said Tony wasn’t here?” He looked back at Tony. “And I thought I told you to go home and shower?”

Tony just shrugged. “I showered in the building—I only just got out. Abby sent me a message, asking me to drop by, so here I am. Figured I’d see if I could help Abby before heading back upstairs, and, while I was at it, bring her that.” He pointed at her computer, next to which were two Caf-Pows.

The forensic specialist just smiled, wrapping her hand around the one closest to her keyboard in order to take a sip.

“Two, Tony?” Gibbs said, arching an eyebrow. “And how did you get them—caf’s not even open yet.”

Tony just grinned. “I have my ways, Boss.”

“And her name is Mandy,” Ziva said, coming in from the back room. Her hair, still obviously wet, was up in a high pony-tail—apparently, Tony wasn’t the only one to use the showers in the building. “And he didn’t get her two,” she continued, “just one. I bought the other one.”

“I’m loved,” Abby said, smiling happily. Then she turned and looked expectantly at Gibbs. He just narrowed his eyes.

“Not until you give me something I can use,” he said.

She sighed, and turned around, calling up a screen. A picture of the world appeared, and a red-line was currently winging its way across the Atlantic Ocean to somewhere in Europe.

“McGee’s logged on—has been for about two hours. I’m backtracing where his signal is coming from, but…” She shook her head. “It’s been bouncing since I started. Whoever set this up planned for this contingency. They must have guessed that, if the white hats hacked a lot of agencies, at least one would catch them and try a trace.” She grimaced. “There’s no telling how many ISPs it’ll hit before landing on the origin.”

Gibbs frowned, “So, what you’re saying is—“

“It could take days, Gibbs, if they’re as good as I think they are.” She gave him an apologetic look.

“It looks like a spider-web,” Ziva noted, standing behind the table now. Like the previous day, she was clearly still of the mind that looking at the monitor from a distance would help. Abby chuckled, glancing at the screen, and nodded.

“It does. A red spider-web.”

“Just like Spidey’s,” Tony added, yawning into his hand.

Gibbs frowned at him, before returning his attention to Abby. “Fornell tells me that McGee sent you multiple screenshots last night. Are you sure they’re all his?”

“Oh,” Abby perked up. “No. They’re not. He’s given Tara Stokes access to his shared drive. She’s been dropping screenshots into it as well. I think she did the PDs.”

Fornell’s eyes widened. “You didn’t tell me that!”

Abby appeared genuinely puzzled. “You didn’t ask. You just wanted me to tell you which agencies they’ve hacked so far.”

The FBI Agent frowned at her, and crossed his arms. “And you didn’t think I might like to know that my agent is working with yours, that she’s alive?”

Abby blushed. “Oh.” She ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“FBI guys are so touchy,” Tony whispered (not so quietly) to Ziva.

Gibbs slapped the back of his head, even though he knew Tony had said that to get the heat off Abby. Tony just sighed long-sufferingly.

Gibbs returned his attention to Abby. “What else have you got, Abbs?”

“You mean,” she said, “have I cracked McGee’s passwords?” As she asked the question, she walked to a small laptop off to the side, and turned it around. A window with the three files sitting in it was clearly displayed. “No. It’s why I asked Tony to visit. I’ve tried googling everything about the movie Sneakers, but nothing has worked. Actor’s names, famous quotes, the names of the directors and producers…” She grimaced. “I then tried every hacker movie I could think of, even Hackers, but I hit a dead end. Tony has given me a few more. Thing is…” Her eyes narrowed as she peered at the laptop, as if she could will the files to open by sheer force of will. “McGee’s just not that big of a movie buff. More than that, he’s a snob. I mean,” she looked at Tony apologetically as she said, “I just can’t see McGee using an Independence Day reference as a password.”

Tony’s hands lifted, moving to stand next to Abby. “Why not? Jeff Goldblum hacked an alien ship with a Mac, and you know how much Probie loves Apple. He lined up for six hours just to get one of the first iPhones.”

Abby just sighed again. “I still don’t think it's right, but I’m getting desperate.” As she spoke, she typed. Nothing happened. She shook her head at Tony. “See?”

“I do not understand. The movie is called Sneakers, yes?” Ziva walked around Gibbs and Fornell to look at the same small laptop monitor as Tony and Abby, her head tilted slightly. “Now, I know, in English, not all words and phrases are used the same way by everyone, but sneakers are also shoes, are they not? At least, they are here. In the West, I believe they say tennis shoes. In England, I was told they call them trainers. But, regardless, here, they are shoes. And McGee is from here. Why would he not use something like Nike or Reebok for the password?”

Abby and Tony had both gone completely still.

Ziva’s eyebrows lifted. “What? Too obvious?”

“KISS, Abby?” Gibbs asked cheekily.

Tony and Ziva’s eyes both widened at that one, but Abby just smiled wryly. Narrowing her gaze, she started typing.

“Do you want us to leave, Boss?” Tony asked, coughing politely. Gibbs huffed a quick laugh, shaking his head.

“Nike,” Abby said out loud, her fingers flying. “Reebok. Adidas. Uh…”

“New Balance.” Tony prompted. “Converse.”

“Saucony,” Gibbs said. “Brooks.”

“Asics,” Ziva added. “Fila.”

“Asics,” Abby repeated softly as she typed, then she jumped and grinned. “Yes! Ziva!” she said, whipping around and hugging the startled Mossad officer tightly. “I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about you!”

“You’ve said bad things about me?” Ziva asked innocently, her breathing obviously constricted.

Abby just hugged her tighter. “Not anymore!” she promised, letting Ziva go and returning her attention to the laptop. “Oh, wow! Look at this thing go!”

Gibbs walked around to look at the laptop, frowning at the sight of lines and lines of code spooling down the screen.

“Yeah,” Tony said, obviously as much at a loss as his boss, “Pretty cool. Sort of like the Matrix except not so green or vertical or numerical.” He tilted his head. “There are words in coding?”

“Are you kidding?” Abby asked, her eyes positively glowing. “This is so much cooler than the Matrix! I don’t even know half of what I’m reading! This must have taken months, years even, to develop. Wow!” She tried typing something, paused, and then tried again. “Oh shoot.” Her smile fell as she tried a third time. “Whoops.”

“Whoops?” Gibbs asked. “What whoops?”

“I might have infected the laptop.” She was typing more, faster, but nothing looked like it was changing on the screen. “I thought I’d effectively isolated the files so they couldn’t infect the computer, but…wow. It just cut right through the firewalls like they weren’t there. This thing is…good.” She pulled her hands away from the keyboard and curled them into fists. She bit her lip. “I can’t get it to stop.”

“Find a way.”

She looked up, giving him a stricken look. “But—“

“Don’t tell me you can’t do it.”

“Well, I—“

“Abby, I’m guessing that, come Monday morning, what you’re looking at will be spread to half of this country’s agencies in a matter of minutes. You need to find a way to stop it before it does. Or, at the very least, stop it immediately after it does.”

Abby shook her head. “Gibbs, you don’t understand. This program is seriously sophisticated. Even if McGee were here with me—“

“Well, he’s not here, is he? But he sent this to you because he believed you could stop it. Are you telling me you’re going to let him down?”

She gave him a dark look. “Oh, that’s dirty pool, Gibbs.” When he said nothing in reply, she set her jaw and snapped backwards, giving him a salute. “You can count on me, sir!”

Gibbs nodded at her, then turned and walked out. Fornell blinked once, looking a little like he’d just witnessed a play he didn’t wholly comprehend, before turning to follow Gibbs. After the two senior agents were gone, Abby slumped and buried her face in her hands. Tony patted her shoulder.

“That bad?”

“That bad,” she confirmed.

Ziva handed her the other Caf-Pow.


Ducky called Gibbs before he even hit the elevator, turning him around, Fornell still at his side.

When they walked through the doors into Autopsy a few minutes later, they found Ducky listening with his head down and a hand to his chin to a tall, dark suited man next to one of the autopsy tables. The man, who was obviously the profiler Fornell had brought with him, was chattering away about “typical behavior for these sorts of people.”

It took Gibbs’ seasoned eyes only a moment to see that Ducky was not, in fact, listening. He was looking at something on the table.

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed slightly—the table was covered in objects from Tim’s desk and from his home. The other three tables in Autopsy were similarly strewn with objects and papers, each representing one of the white hats taken. But seeing Tim’s things with the others—it was one of the reasons he’d been avoiding coming down here. Gritting his teeth slightly, he returned his gaze to his old friend.

“What have you got for me, Ducky?”

Ducky came to life immediately, turning and smiling up at Gibbs and leaving the FBI profiler in mid-sentence. “Ah, Jethro, there you are! Thank you for coming so promptly.”

“I always come promptly when you call, Ducky,” Gibbs replied. He glanced over Ducky’s head at the FBI profiler. “This guy help you figure out what was bothering you last night?”

“Indeed he has,” Ducky said, “though not in the way he thinks.” He turned and gazed up at the now confused profiler, and patted him on the arm. “Not your fault, young man. You’re quite intelligent for someone so limited in his thinking.” Gibbs ducked his head to hide the smile at Ducky’s patronizing tone, while Fornell just gave the doctor a dark look.

Missing both, Ducky had reached down and picked up Tim’s framed FLETC diploma, tucking it against his chest before walking over to Gibbs. “What this gentlemen did was kindly remind me that I was focusing too much on what our four kidnappees have in common and not enough on what makes them different. Obviously,” he waved a hand at the four tables as he spoke, “as he just got through telling me, one could type all four as being introverts and loners, as well as being highly skilled and highly intelligent. They are all also protective personalities, which is why they all ended up in the service of their country. One can also assume that the fact that it is boy, girl, boy, girl is not a coincidence, nor that both women taken were young and pretty, and the men themselves not unattractive.”

“They can use the threat of harming the women over the men,” Fornell said.

“And vice versa,” Ducky said, inclining his head. “Furthermore, these three,” he walked away to indicate the three tables other than Tim’s, “have very limited or no family contact, and no established friends in the area.”

“But McGee has friends,” Gibbs said automatically, his brow furrowing. Ducky turned around, pointing a finger at Gibbs.

“Precisely! And that’s what has been bothering me. Our Agent McGee does not fit in with these other three. Oh, certainly, he is young and intelligent and clearly a genius with computers, but, unlike these others, he has family close by—his sister, whom we all know he adores—and his friends at NCIS. So, if, as my profiler friend here assumes, all four were taken because they would not be immediately missed, then something is, as Abby would say, hinky. Tim would be missed. And was missed rather quickly, as we know.”

“That doesn’t mean the kidnappers knew he had such contacts,” the profiler said, a touch sullenly. “On paper, Agent McGee appears very similar to these others.”

“Oh, he most certainly does not,” Ducky said, shaking his head. “And even if he did, do you really think that these four were chosen purely based on how they were described on paper?”

“Well—“

“You really should think these things through before you speak, young man,” Ducky said, still holding Tim’s diploma under his arm, turned back to Gibbs. “It is not a simple thing to organize the taking of four agents, studying their habits to know precisely when to strike, and finding a weekend when none of the four were slated to be on call.” He shook his head. “No, these four were deliberately chosen, and their movements watched and timed, probably while they were developing the computer virus that Abigail is attempting to crack. It would not have taken them long to discover that Timothy has friends, that he often spends time with both Tony and Abby on the weekends, among others. He is no loner, not matter what his profile says. And yet…” Ducky trailed off, raising a hand in a shrug.

Gibbs frowned. He already knew where this was going. It had been in the back of his mind ever since Tony had inadvertently brought it to his attention yesterday morning, but he hadn’t wanted to believe it. Ducky caught his eye, and smiled sadly. But before saying anything, he looked past Gibbs to Fornell. Tobias was staring across to the table with Tara Stokes picture on it.

Ducky cleared his throat. “Can I ask you a question about Agent Stokes, Tobias? I just want to verify something.”

The FBI Agent jumped slightly, as if he had just been somewhere else entirely. He focused on Ducky and gave a nod. “Of course, Doctor.”

“Agent Stokes, she wasn’t actually apart of your team yet, was she?”

Fornell shook his head slowly. “No. She was still in training.” He gave a shrug, looking across at the table with her things on it. “That’s actually how we discovered she was missing. Sacks and I were going to take her to the gun range on Saturday, see if we couldn’t give her a head start on becoming an agent. When she didn’t answer her door at our knock, and didn’t answer her phone, and her doorman insisted she was not seen leaving…” He frowned, looking down at the floor.

Ducky sighed. “I thought so.” He returned his gaze to Gibbs, and, if possible, his expression grew even more sympathetic.

Because Gibbs was furious with himself, and it showed on his face. He didn’t hide it. Ducky sighed.

“You already know what I’m going to say, don’t you?” the older man asked quietly.

Gibbs frowned angrily. “The government employs computer security experts in almost all of its divisions, people who are just as qualified and expert as McGee, but they still took McGee. They took a trained field agent, top of his class at FLETC…” He gestured to the diploma under Ducky’s arm. “…instead of just another geek like those three. His training alone sets him apart.” He walked across to Tim’s table, picking up the copy of Deep Six sitting there. “And they took him despite knowing that it was likely he would be missed within a day.”

Ducky nodded. “Yes.” He put the diploma down on a side table, obviously not needing it anymore.

Gibbs gripped the book harder, feeling the rage growing inside him. “Damn it!” he shouted, throwing the book violently across the room, hitting the metal doors with a massive clang. “I should have seen it!”

“Wait, hang on,” the profiler interrupted, raising a hand, his expression showing his confusion. “Do not forget that timing could be a reason here. It’s likely that these kidnappers had a slate of people they could choose from, but, if what they needed done had to be done this weekend, they were forced to pick the four who—“

“They still wouldn’t have picked McGee,” Fornell said morosely, shaking his head. “He’s too dangerous.”

The profiler opened his mouth as if he was going to argue again, and then he closed it again. He shifted his gaze to Tim’s table, taking in the objects on it, then looked to the diploma. Ducky had put it down. You could see the moment the FBI's profiler got it.

The moment he finally understood what the other three already knew.

That taking McGee had been personal.

“Damn,” the FBI profiler said quietly, looking up to meet Gibbs’ eyes. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Ducky grimaced, nodding. “As am I, Jethro.”

“Does Agent McGee have many enemies?” the profiler asked.

“No,” Gibbs replied, his jaw tense. “But I do.”


“Compare the list of everyone I’ve sent to jail, or whose family members I’ve sent to jail or killed, against the lists sent over by the other agencies,” Gibbs commanded Tony as he swept into the squad room.

“What?” Tony was up out of his chair. “Why?”

“McGee was targeted deliberately,” Gibbs replied, already sitting down at his desk. He pushed aside the empty coffee cup Tobias had left there—the FBI Agent had left with his profiler to do his own search back at his own office.

“McGee? Are you sure?” Ziva asked, standing up as well. A split second after she said it, her eyes widened, and she nodded. “Of course, he was,” she muttered. “I should have seen it. A trained field agent—he should have been too big of a risk.” Her gaze locked again on Gibbs. “So, are we assuming McGee was chosen first?”

“It’d be a good bet,” Gibbs said, already running a finger down a list of people he’d put away who were released from jail this year.

“Then that would suggest the other three were picked to balance his skills out,” Ziva said thoughtfully, walking over to his desk. “Abby has shown us that McGee has really only hacked those agencies he’s hacked before. So the others are probably hacking the others, yes? And were probably chosen specifically because they could do so quickly, like McGee has.”

Gibbs stopped reading the list, surprised by the thought, and, after a moment, he looked up. Damn, Ziva was clever. “That’d be a good bet as well,” he said.

She didn’t notice, still working her idea out in her head. “It means someone had to have access to not just their personnel records, but to the list of agencies they’ve hacked. Is that information with their personnel records, or is it kept separate?” She looked over her shoulder at Tony.

“It’s separate,” Tony said. “Every time McGee hacks something for us, a record is made for legal purposes, to protect him. It’s also put into the case file for evidentiary reasons. To find it, you’d have to not only hack the personnel files, but the case files a certain agent has worked on. That’d be one hell of a hard thing to do—it could take months.”

“So they have another hacker,” Gibbs said. “But one who isn’t as fast.” He looked at Ziva. “Call the other agencies, and have them do a search for—“

“­—evidence that someone has hacked into the case files of the agents who are missing, and see if they have a name or any information on the hacker.” She nodded again, already walking quickly back to her desk.

“Boss,” Tony said, his eyes thoughtful, “how did they know McGee was off this weekend?”

Gibbs looked up. “We finished a case.”

“But we didn’t know we were going to finish that case Friday, until about mid-day. So, how did they know?”

Gibbs frowned, letting Tony answer the question himself.

“If our boy really was the lynchpin, then his availability would be paramount,” Tony continued. “And you wouldn’t have known that he was free this weekend just by hacking a computer….”

“You’d have to have someone physically here, who could alert them that the plan would work,” Gibbs finished, his eyes flashing with anger. “Get on it. If someone at NCIS is a mole, I want to know who that person is.”

Tony was way ahead of him, already tucking his phone against his ear in order to call security for tapes from Friday.

Gibbs was almost rigid with rage now, focused once more on his known list of enemies. As his eyes scrolled down the list, he found himself instinctively picking out certain names.

The ones who had families he’d hurt.


Tim stood a few feet away from his chair, watching as Duncan worked to integrate his malware with DOE’s systems. Reams was walking around, as usual, watching the other three work, keeping an eye on them.
McGee wondered if Reams really knew what he was looking at, or whether it was a bluff. He’d begun to suspect the latter when Reams didn’t react when McGee had carelessly kept his network file open in one corner of his screen about an hour ago—which was when Tim had successfully hacked the DOE’s server and taken a screen shot before turning his computer over to Duncan. Either way, it had taken a while for Tim’s heart to stop trying to beat its way out of his chest.

Reaching up, he wiped a trickle of sweat from the side of his face. It wasn’t hot in here, and, in fact, the pouring rain now bucketing down outside had guaranteed cold temperatures, but Tim still felt like he was burning up. Exposure, he guessed. Maybe the beating. Not eating enough. Not sleeping. He wasn’t even going to think about the bucket in his cell. He hadn’t the strongest constitution at the best of times.

Reams looked at him over Tara’s shoulder, just in time to see Tim wipe some more sweat from his face. McGee saw the other man’s eyes narrow, and he looked away, not wanting to draw any more attention to himself.

The large man sidled up next to McGee, standing shoulder to shoulder with him, and imitated Tim’s focused gaze on the computer screen.

“I’m impressed, Agent McGee,” Reams said conversationally. “Hacking the DOE in only…” He trailed off, glancing at the large black watch on his wrist. “Seven hours. Considering you’ve never hacked the DOE before, that’s quite a feat. Did you know, when I had Duncan hack into the various government servers in order to get each of your personnel files, it took him weeks to hack just one? They kept kicking him out before he could establish a foothold. Needless to say, that is why he’s not part of this final phase.”

Tim didn’t answer. He didn’t lift his eyes from Duncan’s work. The shaky blond, however, glanced over his shoulder to shoot a glare at Reams from behind bloodshot eyes. Reams paid no attention as he continued.

“Of course, that means it’s now almost 1:00 in the afternoon, and you still have two more agencies to hack before midnight, one of which is the NSA. Took you almost the entire day yesterday to hack the CIA. Will it take you that long, do you think?”

Still Tim didn’t answer. Inside, though, he was thinking about telling Reams the truth—that he didn’t think he could hack the NSA. At least, with the CIA, he’d had some backdoors in. He had nothing with the NSA, not even an idea of where to start.

“I can hack the NRO,” Tara said suddenly, her eyes worried. “That way Tim can focus just on the NSA.”

Reams smiled at her almost kindly, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, my dear, but no. That’s not your job. It’s Agent McGee’s.”

“But if I can do it…,” Tara insisted. “Please.”

Reams furrowed his brow, letting his smile falter. “Are you telling me you’ve already hacked all the PD’s on the eastern seaboard, Agent Stokes?”

“No,” she admitted. “But surely the NSA is a bigger prize. And—“

“How would you know, little girl?”Reams headed back to her side, his hands behind his back. He leaned down to stare at her profile, his nose almost against her cheek, and Tara shrank away slightly. “How do you know,” Reams pressed, “that the PDs aren’t the organizations I need to take down the most? And you’ve only hacked three of them.” Quick as a lightning strike, he slammed the desk next to her keyboard, causing her to jump. “Three is not good enough!” he shouted in her ear. “Why haven’t you hacked the NYPD yet? You’ve had all morning, and all I’ve seen you do is whine about needing more water!”

Tara nodded softly. “I’m almost in.”

“Then finish it! I want New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts before my watch hits 9:00 pm, you understand?”

She nodded quickly.

“I can hack the NRO.”

Reams’ surprise appeared more genuine this time, and he straightened up to look across at Angela. She didn’t look up from her computer, and for a moment, Tim wondered if she’d even spoken.

“They’re connected to Army CID.” The red-headed woman finally looked up, her green eyes hollow inside her almost translucently pale face. From colorless lips, she added, “I have a back way in. I could do it.”

Tim huffed in surprised—it was the first string of sentences he’d heard her put together since being beaten that first night. The lack of inflection was a little creepy—she spoke like a ghost.

Reams’ eyes narrowed again, his lips pursing. “You couldn’t hack the Pentagon, Agent Zelnitz, but you can hack the NRO?”

“The NRO is pure military. I can hack it. The DOD is a different sort of animal.” She lowered her eyes again to her monitor. “I also have SecNav on line for you.” She leaned back in her chair. “Whenever you are ready.”

Duncan’s head popped up, and Tim saw him frown in annoyance, his hands trembling over the keyboard. “Don’t let them kick you off this time,” the kid sneered. “I’m almost done here.” He was back to typing, this time more quickly.

Angela just nodded. Her gaze drifting now to the floor. The bruising on her face had faded, but it was still livid. More yellow and purple now rather that red and purple.

Reams studied Angela for a long moment, before turning to look at McGee. “Why are they protecting you?”

Surprised, Tim lifted his head, and turned to meet Reams’ gaze. “What?”

Ignoring the response, Reams turned to Nick. The blond agent was ashen, not as pale as Angela, but still very pale. He hadn’t looked up.

“What about you, Cheevers. You going to volunteer to help McGee as well?”

Nick blinked slowly, then gave a slow head shake. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not helping you anymore than I need to.”

It was simple, cold, and it made Reams laugh.

Not a good thing. Tim, Angela and Tara watched the large, gray-haired man warily, waiting for the laugh to end. Waiting, because Reams was certain to take Nick’s flippant answer out on one of them. Nick still didn’t look up.

Finally, Reams’ laughter faded to a chuckle, and he wiped a tear from his eye. Sighing, he walked over to Nick’s station, barely registering as Duncan jumped up from Tim’s and jogged over to Angela’s at the same time, to upload his virus into SecNav’s server. She got up out of his way.

“Problem is, Nick,” Reams said, leaning over Nick’s chair, “you haven’t really been much help to me, have you?”

Nick shrugged. “I got you the Secret Service and the State Department,” he said.

“Actually, I think McGee got me the Secret Service, and Angela showed you how to get to the State Department, which, admittedly, is surprising since she completely failed at breaking us into the Pentagon.” He glanced at her. Angela was standing now, watching as Duncan attacked her computer with a spastic energy.

“Took me days to crack the White House before,” Nick answered quietly. “You couldn’t have expected me to—“ He broke off with a yelp as Reams pressed down on his broken leg. The yelp turned into a choked scream as Reams pressed even harder.

“Once you’re done with the NSC,” Reams nodded at Nick’s screen, “You’re going to hack the NRO for me, Cheevers. If you don’t do it…well…” Reams smiled ruefully. “You know.”

He released Nick’s leg, and Nick panted heavily, blinking like a drunk.

Straightening, Reams turned to look at McGee, who was trying very hard not to react in anger. It was taking everything he had not to tell Reams exactly what he thought of him. Reams must have sensed the tension in him, because he smiled that sickly smile again.

“You have a reprieve, Agent McGee. I expect you to break into the NSA before 8:00 pm. If you don’t, I’ll kill Cheevers here, and you’ll still have the NRO to hack. Understand?”

Nick’s eyes met Tim’s briefly, and there was no denying the dark look he gave him—Nick was blaming Tim for what just happened. McGee frowned, returned his attention to his computer and started typing again.

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