Leroy Jethro Gibbs didn’t like to be late, a legacy of his years in the military. Unfortunately, even his formidable will had to bend to the irregularity of airline service. As the cab he and his lover were riding in pulled up in front of the Huxely Hotel, he was all too aware that he’d missed the beginning of the meeting they’d flown to Vancouver for him to attend. That fact distracted him enough that it wasn’t until he was exiting the cab that he noticed the black-clad police officers surrounding the building.
“Wait.” Gibbs held up a hand, stopping Tony from getting out of the taxi. There was no way that Tony was leaving the relative safety of the vehicle until Gibbs had made sure it was secure.
“But my legs are cramping,” there was a definite whine in Tony’s voice. The younger man stuck his head out of the car, took in both the police officers and Gibbs’ glare and immediately popped back in. “Will do, Boss.”
Despite the uncertainty of the situation, Gibbs stifled a grin. It’d taken years, but Tony had eventually learned that it was Gibbs’ prerogative to insure Tony’s safety.
Gibbs approached the closest officer. “Is there a situation I need to be concerned about?”
The young man was blond and, in Gibbs’ opinion, just a little too cute to be taken seriously in the black uniform. Until, that was, he turned to answer Gibbs’ question and the ex-Marine could see the eyes of a fellow combat veteran. Young as he was, this policeman had seen far too much.
“Not really, we’re just here as a preventative measure.” The expression on the blond’s face made it clear what he thought of the assignment. Now that he was closer, Gibbs could read the name sewn into the other man’s uniform – Braddock.
“Preventative measure, huh?” Gibbs knew that O’Neill had been concerned about this particular meeting, but had been tightlipped about why. “Someone must owe O’Neill a mighty big favor.”
“I wouldn’t know about that, sir.” Braddock answered. It was odd to see such a baby-face with such a stony expression. “The Strategic Response Unit is just here to keep the peace.”
Gibbs knew he wasn’t the only Defender who’d brought his Trouble Magnet along. At a minimum, Daniel Jackson and Blair Sandburg would be on the premises, along with Tony. That meant that the SRU’s presence was probably not overkill.
“Good luck,” he told the young officer sincerely. They were going to need it.
Putting the police out of his mind, Gibbs turned back to Tony and held out his hand. “Come on, DiNozzo, daylight’s wasting.”
Tony hopped out of the cab and, while he gave Gibbs a pained look, didn’t comment on the fact that it had been the Defender that caused the delay. By the time the driver got their bags and had been paid, Gibbs’ thoughts were already on to locating where the meeting was taking place. More importantly, he wondered what sort of arrangements O’Neill had made for Tony and the other Trouble Magnets’ safety.
The hotel was a luxury one, with an attentive staff and lots of shiny surfaces. Even so, Gibbs thought he smelled something as they entered the lobby. He stopped and sniffed deeply, wishing he had Jim Ellison’s nose. He couldn’t quite place the scent and, before he could ask Tony if he smelled it too, he was approached by someone with a familiar face.
“LeRoyJethroGibbs” Teal’c said all of Gibbs’ names together as one, as he did with everyone else. Gibbs sometimes wondered if the Jaffa resented that Gibbs had three rather than the customary two. Teal’c’s face remained stoic, however, as it always did. If it bothered him, Teal’c would die before showing it.
“Teal’C.” Gibbs nodded back. Teal’c wasn’t much for small talk, a trait that Gibbs thoroughly approved of.
“AnthonyDiNozzo has been assigned to me.” Teal’c explained. Gibbs would be worried about the gravity in Teal’c’s voice, but Teal’c always sounded that way. “You are to report to the River Room, on level three.”
“You’re not separating the TMs again, are you? Like at the board meeting.” Tony broke into the conversation. “We are all grown men, you know.”
Gibbs smirked. “We know, but that doesn’t stop you from needing babysitters.”
Tony sputtered in a way that Gibbs, privately, felt was adorable. Teal’c, however, took the conversation seriously and intervened.
“Indeed. This facility has a screening room and it has been decided that it should be safe enough for those individuals not involved in the meeting to view a movie together.” Teal’c told them.
Tony’s eyes lit up, but then narrowed in suspicion. “What movie? You didn’t let Sandburg or Jackson pick it, did you? They always want to watch documentaries.”
“I believe there is a variety from which to select. “ Teal’c assured Tony. “The others have been waiting for your arrival.”
“Popcorn?” Tony asked.
Teal’c nodded. “The members of hotel staff have been most accommodating. There is a device in the room which heats the grain to the correct temperature for it to explode.”
“We can make our own?” Tony’s grin was back. “Sweet.”
Gibbs reached out and slapped the back of DiNozzo’s head. “That doesn’t mean you get to use a gallon of oil.”
Tony’s nose wrinkled. “Who’d want to?”
After a quick kiss from Tony and a point in the right direction from Teal’c, Gibbs headed off to his meeting. The River Room turned out to be a standard hotel meeting room. The door was closed and right before Gibbs was going to knock for admittance, it opened.
“About time you showed up.” Jim Ellison muttered under his breath.
Without further ado, the Cascade detective turned his back on Gibbs and headed back to the conference table. Gibbs was familiar with Ellison and, of course, Jack O’Neill. The third man was new to him, but by the uniform, the nearly-bald stranger belonged with the police stationed outside. It wasn’t just people around the table. There were two laptops set up, one turned so it was facing the center. Gibbs was tech-savvy enough to see a webcam attached to it. The screen was blank, but obviously someone would be remotely accessing the meeting at some point.
As he walked into the room, Gibbs paid close attention to the conversation that he was joining. The more he heard, the more concerned he became.
“So what you’re saying is that it’s contained for now.” O’Neill was addressing the new guy.
“Affirmative,” came the quick reply. “But there’s no guarantee how long that’ll last.”
Ellison snorted. “And I, for one, do not want this to cross the border.”
Gibbs stepped forward. “What are you talking about?”
He was almost expecting an answer having to do with heavy weaponry, based on their comments. Instead, O’Neill’s answer was even worse.
“A new Trouble Instigator has emerged.” O’Neill’s expression was serious. “Here in Vancouver.”
“Aw, fuck.” It wasn’t a curse word that Gibbs used often, but it was more than warranted if there was a new TI on the loose.
“You can say that again,” Ellison didn’t look any happier about it than Gibbs felt.
Trouble Magnets were men who seemed to attract trouble. They were typically earnest and intelligent souls with the best of intentions, but Trouble just seemed to find them no matter how careful they thought they were being. Defenders were the men who loved them and worked hard to minimize the effects of the Trouble that found their TM.
Trouble Instigators were a whole different animal. They didn’t just attract Trouble; they courted it with gusto and sometimes with bribes of puppies and chocolate. TIs were almost universally exceedingly intelligent men, genius-level. Unlike the TM sub-group “Highly Intelligent but Socially Awkward,” TIs were perfectly aware of social niceties and boundaries; they simply didn’t think any of that crap applied to them. In fact, they were master manipulators of both other people and trouble alike. Rarely did the consequences of their actions fall on them, a fact that often was met with much glee from the TI.
Not too surprising, Defenders didn’t like TIs very much.
“It gets worse,” Ellison’s expression was dark. “The TI’s home territory is this hotel.”
“What the hell.” Gibbs turned on O’Neill. The odd scent he’d detected earlier now made sense; Gibbs had smelled Trouble. “You let me bring Tony to a TI’s backyard?”
“Let’s slow down, fellas.” The bald man responded, using a soothing tone that Gibbs found himself responding to almost in spite of himself. With twitch of his shoulders, though, Gibbs shrugged it off.
“And who are you?” Gibbs demanded.
O’Neill stood up and took command of the situation. “He’s Sergeant Greg Parker of Toronto’s Strategic Response Unit. Greg, this is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.”
The newly identified Parker nodded solemnly at Gibbs. “Thank you for flying out here.”
“Parker asked for our help.” O’Neill went on.
“We’re not as organized as you are in the States,” Parker rubbed his nearly bald head. “And no one has any experience with a TI.”
“Toronto,” Gibbs pulled out a tidbit from Parker’s introduction. “What are you doing in Vancouver? Hell, what are we doing in Vancouver?”
“The TI doesn’t leave the city,” Parker explained. “In fact, he doesn’t leave this hotel.”
“Agoraphobic,” O’Neill added. He’d obviously been briefed more than the other two Americans. “He hasn’t left the Huxely in the six months since his fiancé was murdered on the street in front of it.”
“And let me get this straight,” Ellison growled as he lurched to his feet. “You let us bring Blair, Danny and Tony here?” He looked at Gibbs. “No telling what’s going to happen to them.”
“Relax,” O’Neill sat and gestured for the others to do the same. “The TI is a professional chess player. Right now, he’s in his penthouse with the door guarded by both Major Carter and Simon Banks.”
“I knew there was a reason you asked me to bring Simon,” Ellison looked slightly mollified.
“So what you’re telling us is that we have a TI restricted to his room, with nothing to do but think up ways to pull Tony, Blair and Daniel into his Trouble?” Gibbs wasn’t mollified at all. “Are you insane?”
“Didn’t say he didn’t have anything to do,” O’Neill smirked. “You guys aren’t the only pairs I invited. Like I said, Arkady Belagan is a world chess champion and right now he’s teaching Gary Bell how to play.”
“That’s. . . .” Gibbs looked for the right word. “Cruel.”
Gary Bell was a newly identified TM and his Defender was an FBI agent named Bill Harken. In many ways, they were a typical TM/Defender pair. Gary was younger and extremely intelligent, borderline genius if not the real thing. Bill, on the other hand, was big and gruff, thoroughly enjoying teasing Gary himself, but protecting the younger man fiercely if danger was present.
For all of that, there were two ways that Gary and Bill were different from other pairs. The first was that they weren’t sexually involved. Gary was autistic and, in many ways, was very childlike, while Bill was happily married. Even if Bill were inclined towards men, there was no way that Gary was mature enough emotionally for that kind of relationship. More importantly, though, both Gary and Bill were Alphas – individuals with superhuman abilities. Bill could control his endocrinal "fight or flight" response, giving him short spurts of increased strength. His ability made him the perfect Defender.
Gary’s Alpha ability was the capacity to view all wireless communication signals. Coupled with his high intelligence, it would make him a quick chess study, since he could look up information on the game or even view footage of other games while he played. That sort of information was the last thing that any Defender would share with a TI, so his ‘teacher’ would have no idea how Gary was learning so fast. Whoever this Arkady Balagan was, teaching Gary Bell to play chess was likely to be a frustrating experience to say the least.
O’Neill rubbed his hands together. “Balagan is a TI, a little aggravation will be good for him and it’ll give us some time to get some strategy going.” He looked at Gibbs. “You didn’t actually miss much, Gibbs. In fact, we’ve been waiting for one more guest to this party. Is it time yet?”
The question had been directed to Parker, who looked at his watch. “Just about now.”
He rose from his chair and walked to the laptop. After a couple of buttons were pushed, the screen lit up. Within moments, a face filled it and Gibbs blinked. He recognized the other man, although there had been a lot of changes in him since he’d breached their board meeting some months earlier.
“Ellison and Gibbs, I think you remember Mycroft Holmes.” O’Neill again made introductions. “Mr. Holmes, this is Sergeant Greg Parker of Toronto’s Strategic Response Unit.”
“Thank you for joining us,” Parker addressed Holmes. “Especially in the face of your recent loss.”
Gibbs winced. While it was brave of Parker to address a potential elephant in the room, no Defender liked being reminded of the loss of his TM. When that TM was also a brother, well, Gibbs had no siblings, but he could only imagine how painful it was.
Holmes did look like a man who’d taken a swig of sour milk, but when he spoke, the reason for his expression was not what Gibbs had expected. “Your condolences are unnecessary. Sherlock is not dead.”
“Really?” Ellison looked as surprised as Gibbs felt. A quick glance at O’Neill proved his reaction was the same.
“Don’t be an infant; of course he’s not deceased. The word of Sherlock’s demise was exaggerated, to say the least.”
Holmes managed to look smug, but as Gibbs looked closer, he could see signs of wear. He could only view a head shot due to the laptop’s screen, of course, but even from that, he could see that Holmes was more disheveled than he’d been in person months earlier. Dark circles under his eyes completed look of a man who was in over his head. It didn’t jive with the image of the self-possessed professional that he’d met before.
“What happened?” O’Neill barked the question, not reacting well to the unexpected news.
“Sherlock faked his own death, to throw off his adversary.” Mycroft Holmes explained. “It was the only way to keep those he cares for safe from Moriarity’s retribution. James is truly an evil genius. Sherlock will work from the shadows to bring the man down and clear his name.”
Ellison snorted. “Unless you just screwed everything up by announcing his plans on an open line.”
Holmes sniffed in obvious distain. “You lot may not have secured this connection, but I assure you that it has been done by my people. James Moriarity will not detect this communication.”
“And he’s here, why?” Ellison addressed the question to O’Neill .
“Shortly before Sherlock’s death,” O’Neill held up a hand to prevent Holmes from speaking. “Shortly before his reported death, his status was updated from possible TM to definite TI. Mycroft is here to advise us on possible avenues to pursue with managing Mr. Balagan.”
“Well, that explains why we couldn’t nail down which was the TM, Holmes Jr. or Watson,” Gibbs mused. “Although from what I’ve heard, Watson seems more like a TM than a LSC.”
Trouble Instigators weren’t the same as Trouble Magnets and, as a result, they didn’t have Defenders the way TMs did. Given the level of Trouble that TIs started, even the best Defender would be driven mad in a short amount of time. Instead, TIs tended to attract individuals who had the right combination of personality and skills that enabled them to clean up after the TI. These underappreciated men and women were known as Long Suffering Companions. They went behind the chaos caused by a TI and soothed ruffled feelings and did whatever else was necessary to keep the TI alive and, preferably, out of prison.
O’Neill shook his head. “There’s nothing that says a LSC can’t be a TM too.”
Ellison whistled long and low. “What a cluster fuck that would be.”
“It isn’t exactly a holiday,” Mycroft admitted. With his stiff upper lip, Gibbs figured that was one hell of an understatement. “Thankfully, I do have a number of government agencies at my disposal that can assist.”
“Government agencies?” Parker had looked concerned before; now he appeared near panic. “How much Trouble can one man generate?”
“If he’s a TI, plenty.” O’Neill responded. “Okay, time for the briefing.”
The other laptop was positioned in front of O’Neill and he tapped the keyboard, causing it to project onto a handy screen. A brief glance at Holmes’ laptop showed that its screen was now divided; Holmes could see what they did.
The first image was a map of North America, with several locations highlighted.
“This is the geographic distribution of known TIs.” O’Neill nodded at the map. “We have Gregory House in New Jersey and Cal Lightman in D.C.”
Gibbs flinched. Lightman, in particular, was far too close for comfort. There were times when he’d been called in to back up the man’s LSC. Thankfully, House was in medicine and not law enforcement; the Trouble he caused stayed localized to the hospital and Dr. Wilson rarely needed assistance in cleaning up after him.
“Patrick Jane is, of course, in California, but there’s a whole police unit to help Lisbon control the mayhem he causes .” O’Neill looked at Ellison as he continued. “You’re the closest to Vancouver, Ellison, you’re probably going to have to pitch in at some point with Balagan. Even the best LSC sometimes needs help and whoever is going to fill that function for Balagan is going to need some training.”
Ellison grimaced, but seemed resigned. “I figured that would happen.”
The next image was a close-up of a man with curly blond hair and blue eyes. He was one of those timeless-seeming men who could be anywhere from in his 30s to early 50s and he managed to have an aura of sadness about him, even with his piercing gaze.
“This is Arkady Balagnan.” O’Neill started right in on the background. “Russian national.”
“Any chance we could ship him back and let the Russians deal with him?” Gibbs asked. Sometimes the easiest solution was the best solution. Ellison snorted his approval.
“Unfortunately, no.” O’Neill clearly had entertained the same thoughts. “Balagan defected years ago and has, in fact, donated millions to pro-democracy groups in Russia. He’s convinced that the KGB is out to get him. As long as Putin is in power, he won’t be returning to his homeland.” O’Neill glared at them all. “And before you suggest sending him anyway and letting him take his chances, his fiancée - his pregnant fiance - was gunned down six months ago and Balagan thinks that he was really the target. Until that theory has been confirmed or debunked, there will be no attempt to deport him.”
“Not that I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, but you said he was contained to the Huxley Hotel. Why?” Ellison asked.
“Apparently he suffered a bout of agoraphobia when he was a kid and it reared its ugly head after his fiancée died.” O’Neill’s expression softened. The death of a loved one was a fate that a man of his character would not inflect on anyone, even a TI.
“Is he rich?” Gibbs asked the next question. “This hotel isn’t exactly cheap and if he’s living here. . . .”
“Apparently his money’s tied up in Europe.” O’Neill explained. “So Balagan is using his big brain and strategy skills to get paid to solve puzzles.”
“Puzzles?” Ellison looked as confused as Gibbs felt. “How can he make money solving puzz-. . . ? Oh, hell. He’s one of those idiots who thinks he’s better qualified to be a police detective than a real cop is, even though he has NO idea what it means to carry a badge.”
O’Neill looked at Ellison warily. “He’s getting paid for solving cases, sort of like a private detective.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ellison swore. Obviously, this was a sore spot. “If that novelist out in New York wasn’t bad enough, not to mention TWO pretend psychics working with the police, and now a god-damned chess player? What next, a game operator from Chuck E. Cheese?”
“Or maybe an anthropologist?” Gibbs couldn’t help saying. He blamed Tony’s influence.
Ellison looked, if anything, more irritated. “Yeah, right. Like an Israeli would ever been allowed on staff at a government police agency like NCIS.”
“Guys!” O’Neill didn’t get up, but he did smack his hand on the table to get their attention. “We can debate the value of having civilians involved in police work later. The fact is that Arkady Balagan is a TI who likes doing detective work. That’s a given; our job is to figure out how to deal with it.”
The suggestion, when it came, was from an unexpected source.
“I could see to it that Balagan’s funds are freed up in Europe,” Mycroft Holmes suggested. “That would allow Mr. Balagan to dedicate time to his true profession, chess.”
Parker shook his head. “That’s a generous offer, Mr. Holmes, but from our reconnaissance, Balagan seems to have been bit by the detective bug. I don’t know that having his fortune back will change that now.”
“Besides,” O’Neill added, “at the moment he’s contained in the Huxley, which limits the sphere of Trouble he can cause. We want to keep it that way.”
That statement prompted Gibbs to ask a question that had been slowly building. “If Balagan’s agoraphobic and can’t leave the building, then how’s he managing detective work? I don’t care how smart he is, sometimes legwork needs to be done.”
O’Neill sighed. “That brings up the second problem.”
He pressed a button on his laptop and the photo on the screen changed. This time the man pictured was young, perhaps early 20s. He had dark brown hair and startling, light-colored eyes, although from the quality of the image, Gibbs couldn’t tell if they were green or blue. This photo was taken a bit further back than Balagan’s and Gibbs could see that the young man was dressed similarly to a college student. Something about him, perhaps his expression, exuded innocence.
“This is Sam Besht,” O’Neill told them. “Graduate student and amateur chess fiend. He does Balagan’s legwork and follows-up on most of the investigative work that has to be done outside of the hotel.”
“If Balagan’s hurting for money, how does he pay him?” Ellison asked.
O’Neill winced. “He pays the kid in chess games.”
Gibbs blinked, not sure he’d heard that correctly. “Wait a minute. We have a TI taking money for unlicensed private detective work, the college student doing the dangerous stuff is a TM or my name isn’t Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and Balagan isn’t even paying him?”
When O’Neill nodded, Gibbs continued grimly. “Let’s see how much trouble Balagan makes when both his legs are broken.”
“Wait just a damn minute.” Greg Parker had risen to his feet and Gibbs had a feeling that even the mild curse word he’d used was unusual for him. “There will be no legs broken over this – or any other limbs either. Arkady Balagan has not broken any laws and Samuel Besht hasn’t even been determined to be a Trouble Magnet yet.”
“’Yet’ being the operative word,” O’Neill gestured to Parker, who reluctantly sat down. “Sorry, Greg, but a kid like Besht brings out every protective juice a Defender has to the surface. He might not officially be a TM and maybe he won’t develop into one, but I think we can all agree that Besht is not a good choice of LSC for Balagan.”
There were nods from around the table and O’Neill pushed another button on the laptop. “Parker provided us with some other possibilities, but he feels – and I agree – that none of them are quite right.”
The slide changed and the photo of another man appeared. This one was older than Balagan and obviously stocky. He had that watchful expression that told Gibbs that the man had been a cop at some time in his life, maybe retired?
“This is Hugo Lum,” O’Neill told them. “Huxley Hotel head of security.
Ellison was shaking his head before O’Neill stopped speaking. “No way. I ran into him while I was verifying the set-up for the movie room. There’s got to be a good reason he’s not a cop anymore and it’s not just because he couldn’t pass the physical.”
“More to the point, Balagan doesn’t respect him,” Parker added. “I think he’d be willing to monitor Balagan’s activities, but wouldn’t be effective for anything else.”
All of a sudden Ellison held a hand up and tilted his head to the side, stopping the conversation. The rest of them tensed, knowing that the Sentinel could hear things that they couldn’t. It would be just their luck if Balagan had managed to slip his watchers and was privy to their conversation.
“False alarm,” Ellison told them, body relaxing. “Someone’s cleaning the room next door.”
O’Neill went on the next slide. Unlike the others, this one had two photos on it and both of them were of women. They were two different individuals, although both women were young, attractive and had long, dark hair.
“The one on the left is Pippa, the dead fiancee’s little sister.” O’Neill stated. “She’s an amateur blogger. The one on the right is Danni. She’s the hotel bartender and Balagan’s confidant.”
“An LSC can be a woman,” Gibbs mused. In fact, of the three active TIs in the United States, two had LSCs that were female.
“I don’t know,” Ellison said. “From what O’Neill has said, both women have strong ties to Arkady Balagan. That might not be best Sam Besht’s future safety.”
“On the contrary,” Holmes disagreed. “The same could be said to my fraternal ties to Sherlock, yet I do not think anyone has taken issue with my oversight of Dr. Watson. Indeed, if anything I’m more concerned about his condition that Sherlock’s.”
“He not taking Sherlock’s ‘death’ well?” O’Neill guessed.
“Not at all well,” Holmes replied frankly. “Mrs. Hudson is beside herself.”
“What about family?” Gibbs asked, getting back to the Balagan issue. He pointed at Holmes’ laptop with his chin. “It’s working for our friends in London.”
O’Neill nixed that idea. “Balagan left his family behind in Russia. He sends them money, but there’s little contact. As for Sam, not much is known about his family. His roommates, all seven of them, are clueless college students, just like him. He doesn’t have any university mentors either; he spends all of that energy on Balagan.”
The five of them, the four in the room and one present via computer, stared at each other in silence. Ellison startled again and, after a quick listen, whistled softly. “Put a sock in it, fellas, I think we’re about to have company.”
They all looked at the door. Gibbs was expecting for Balagan to come in or perhaps hotel security. In fact, when the door opened, a woman in uniform entered. Gibbs hadn’t seen too many security people in dresses, though, so figured she must be housekeeping.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” her voice had the soft accent of someone who’s native language was Spanish. “You will tell me why you are discussing Mr. Balagan and Sammy.” Her gaze raked over all of them. “And you will tell me now.”
For all that she spoke quietly and politely, Gibbs had heard less command in a drill sergeant’s voice. He glanced at O’Neill and smirked at the way the general’s mouth was opening and shutting. He wasn’t the only military man reacting to that tone.
“And you are?” O’Neill asked, much as Gibbs had done earlier with Holmes.
“Alcina Albeniz,” she replied. “Huxley Hotel staff. I was cleaning next door and I heard you discussing Mr. Balagan and Sammy. I want to know why.”
Ellison stopped looking concerned and began looking curious. “How did you hear that?”
She snorted. “The walls are thin, so please answer the question.”
Greg Parker stood and walked over to her, hand outstretched. “Greg Parker, Strategic Response Unit, ma’am.”
“The police?” Alcina put her hand to her throat. “Oh, no. Why would the police be here for Mr. Balagan?” She stopped and sighed. “Yes, I can understand why you might be here for Mr. Balagan, but Sammy is a sweet boy.”
“Sam’s not in any trouble, Alcina,” Parker reassured her. Gibbs could tell that the cop’s soothing voice was having an effect; the woman was a lot less tense than when she’d walked into the room. “In fact, we’re here to help.”
“Sitting in a conference room, showing pictures and talking about Mr. Balagan and Sammy is helping?” The tension was back.
“We’re worried about them too,” Ellison piped up.
Parker looked at O’Neill for direction and O’Neill made a gesture with his hand. Ellison had already agreed to be involved with this TI. From her very questions, Alcina was likely Balagan’s LSC. Since Ellison would be the one working with her most closely, it was important for him to establish a relationship.
Alcina was oblivious to the byplay. Instead, her focus remained on Ellison and she stared at him with her eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Did you see my partner?” Ellison asked. “Long, curly hair, bounces when he walks?”
For the first time, Alcina smiled. “Ah, Mr. Blair. He helped me set up the popcorn machine.”
“Well, Blair’s kind of like your Sammy and these other guys have similar situations.” Ellison told her. “So we have a club where we give each other advice on how to make sure our partners are taken care of.”
“Mr. Balagan can barely take care of himself,” Alcina stated softly.
“And that’s why we’re concerned about Sam.” Parker spoke again. “Normally, Mr. Balagan would be the one to look out for him, but as you said yourself, that’s impossible because of Mr. Balagan’s special circumstances. In fact, Mr. Balagan could use some special looking after too.”
Alcina rolled her eyes. “You think I don’t know that? I’ve been doing what I can, but Mr. Balagan doesn’t make it easy.”
“We can help you with that,” Ellison offered. “If you let us.”
None of the men dared to say anything as Alcina looked at each of them in turn. She didn’t bat an eye at Mycroft Holmes’ face on the laptop; obviously she was used to that form of communication. Gibbs got the distinct impression that he was being assessed and hoped that he wasn’t found lacking.
“All right,” Alcina finally came to a decision. “I have six children and one grandchild, but Mr. Balagan is like nothing I’ve ever dealt with and dealing with him is the key to keeping Sammy safe. That boy would agree to anything Mr. Balagan asked and I worry about him.”
“Good,” O’Neill felt as relieved as Gibbs felt. “Why don’t you take a seat and we can get started.”
Alcina tisked at him. “I am working. The Huxley does not pay me to look after Mr. Balagan.”
“What time do you get off?” Ellison pulled her to the side to make arrangements.
Gibbs thought of something and turned to O’Neill. “LSCs do a lot of TI cleanup, but this has got to be a first.” The general just looked at him and Gibbs let himself grin. “An LSC who’s a professional cleaner, that’s taking things pretty literally.”
“Very funny. You get things settled?” The last was said to Ellison, who’d finished with Alcina,. She was already almost out the door.
“Yup. She, Blair and I will be having dinner together. Our treat.” The look he gave the others could only be called hopeful. “Now that the Balagan situation’s settled, any chance we could go down and watch a movie with the others?”
O’Neill smirked. “Oh, yeah. Been looking forward to it.”
“What’s wrong with you guys?” Gibbs was perplexed by the other two’s reactions, they were downright giddy and not all of it could be attributed to finding Balagan’s LSC. “Don’t you ever go to movies?”
Thanks to Tony, Gibbs went to the movies a lot.
“Well, yeah.” Ellison looked sheepish.
O’Neill seemed equally embarrassed. “It’s just that Danny likes these documentaries. . . .”
“Art films,” Ellison added.
“Foreign films.” O’Neill looked downright glum at the thought. “Of course, Danny knows the languages, but I don’t and subtitles give me a headache.”
“Fine.” Gibbs gave in graciously. He enjoyed going to the movies with Tony, simply because it made Tony so happy. Snuggling with him in a darkened theater wasn’t too bad either. “How do you know they won’t have a documentary going when we get down there?”
O’Neill smirked. “Because I’m the one that put together the collection for them to choose from.” He turned towards the laptop. “Thank you, Mycroft. If there’s anything we can we can do to help you in your situation, let us know.”
“I doubt that will be necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment.” Gibbs doubted it, since Holmes still looked as though he’d been sucking on a lemon. “Good day, gentlemen.”
Before they could respond, the connection was broken on Holmes’ end.
“Well, I guess that is that.” O’Neill turned to Parker. “Greg, are you going to join us?”
“Thanks, fellas, but no.” Parker ran a hand over his bare head. “I’m going to join my team guarding the hotel. We’re going to be a presence until the rest of you head back to the States.”
“Thanks, we appreciate that.” O’Neill spoke for the rest of them. “And you might want to find some time to talk to one of us about your Sam. We’ve all seen combat.”
“I might just do that,” Parker’s smile was a whole lot more sincere than Holmes’ had been. “Thanks.”
After a round of handshakes, the Canadian left and O’Neill went to follow. Gibbs, however, stopped him with a hand planted firmly on his chest.
“Just a minute there, Jack.” Gibbs leaned close so that he and O’Neill were nose to nose. “If you ever pull a stunt like this again, not warning me about bringing Tony into a TI’s territory, I will kick your ass so hard you won’t need one of your stargates to get to another galaxy.”
Ellison nodded, jaw clenched and eyes steely. “Ditto.”
O’Neill puffed up like he was going to fight, but then backed down. “Yeah, I hear you. “ He grinned at them gamely. “Buy you a beer?”
“More than one,” Ellison agreed. “But after the movie.”
“Yeah, after the movie.” O’Neill repeated. “Let’s go, boys.”
Gibbs followed along. He could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching a movie with Tony and the company of other friends. He spared a moment of consideration for Alcina Albeniz. The woman probably didn’t know what she’d gotten herself into, becoming the Long Suffering Companion of a Trouble Instigator. Then he remembered how she’d taken control of their group and realized that she’d be more than equal to the task.
Arkady Balagan didn’t know what was about to hit him. At the thought, Gibbs laughed and turned his mind to more important things. Namely, Tony.