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Dwayne ‘King’ Pride climbed the stairs until he reached to the MCRT bullpen. He was rather surprised to find what he assumed to be most, if not all of the staff who worked at the DC office, gathered round the stairs leading up to the mezzanine level where MTAC and the director’s office were situated. He spied a familiar and thus a welcome figure standing at the back of the mob and made his way towards him. Noting his discreet arrival, the agent flashed a smile in his direction.


“Hey, Pride, thanks for coming so quickly.”


The team leader from NCIS New Orleans field office nodded in acknowledgement. Of course, when he got the message that Leroy Jethro Gibbs was in trouble and his help was needed, Pride was going to head to DC ASAP. It was what ya did for friends, especially for friends as old as Gibbs.


Gesturing with his head at the crowd, he asked his enigmatic companion, “So, what’s going on here, why are y’all standing round waiting, G?”


Callen leaned close, speaking sotte voce. “It’s the daily proclamation of banned words added to the ever-growing list,” the OSP agent and fellow team leader explained succinctly, leaving him even more in the dark than before.


Pride frowned and focused in on the phrase banned words? WTF did that mean?


Seeing the look of confusion on Pride’s chiselled features, Callen was about to fill him in when a ripple of anticipation ran through the crowd as Director Leon Vance made an appearance on the walkway outside MTAC. He was accompanied by the redheaded Secretary of the Navy, Sarah Porter, and an obviously reluctant and seething Assistant Director Owen Granger. Pride thought that he seemed barely able to contain his fury.


Pride admitted he was curious about that – the little he’d had to do with O.G., he seemed to be a man that didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve – someone who was self-contained and reticent.


The director cleared his throat peremptorily, standing looking down on his numerous subjects er employees. “Thank you all for your attendance – we’ll keep this brief since you’re all extremely busy. As you know, one of our own was wounded by an ill-fated and tragic bovine incident while he was investigating a heinous crime scene in a rural locale. Unfortunately, this catastrophic accident has severely impinged on the ability of one of our best and brightest to be able to carry out his job.”


Dwayne looked around the mostly rapt expressions on the faces of the NCIS staff and had to admit that Leon Vance was an impressive orator when he had a mind to be. Of course, psychologically he had a huge height advantage by forcing everyone to crane their necks to be able to see his face as he spoke. And since nonverbal cues were an important component of communication, with the interpreting of facial cues up there with the most critical nonverbal cues, people were predisposed to want to see someone’s face when they spoke to them.  


“Yes, so that being the case, I must ask you all to continue to support our afflicted colleague in his heroic battle with his terrible affliction,” Leon requested, although it was more of a directorial decree.


Beside him he heard Callen snort disparagingly and murmur under his breath, “Since when is a phobia to a bull a heroic battle with an affliction?”


“So, with our colleague’s grateful thanks to you all for your assistance, I have to announce an extension of the words that we must avoid using in order to circumvent setting off our stricken agent. These obviously are in addition to the words previously identified as proving to be triggering for Special Agent Gibbs’ cruel condition. If you have any confusion at all about the status of words, please refer to the NCIS Intranet site where a comprehensive list may be accessed by all staff, 24/7. Use it.”


Pride turned to G, incredulously. Oh, Man! This wasn’t happening, was it?


The OSP veteran saw ‘King’s’ stunned mullet expression and shrugged, shaking his own head dubiously before whispering, “Later.”


“So, here are the latest words which we have found to be triggers for his phobia. Needless to say, they must be avoided by everyone at all cost while our struggling agent fights mightily to overcome his dreadful affliction. After everything he has done for every one of us here – I believe it’s the least we can all do. The words are:


“Bullets, bullet points, bulletin boards, All Point Bulletins, bullseye, bull-nosed hammer, bull necked, bullion, bully (and obviously bullying, bullied, bully-boy tactics) bullpen, bulldozer, contemptible, and deplorable.”


Pride glanced around at the throng of bodies staring up at Vance like mindless drones. What the fuck was going on? Surely, this was a dream… or a joke. Yeah, it had to be a joke – a poor one he conceded – but they couldn’t possibly be serious.


“So, any questions before we get back to work?”  Vance asked quickly, clearly hoping to get away before the mindless drones had a communal thought between them. No – it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. One hand was raised and the director scowled – obviously hoping to cower the inquirer into not asking their question. But the questioner was made of sterner stuff than most.


Sighing as if it was some terrible imposition, Leon acquiesced, albeit gracelessly. “Fine, Agent Balboa. What was your question?”


“Well… Director Vance, this agency is tasked with protecting Sailors, Marines, and their dependants and solving crimes. How the hell can we do our jobs when we’re banned from discussing bullets because they’re on a prohibited list of words…”


Cutting him off when the agent was clearly just getting started, SecNav stepped in adroitly. Callen and Pride exchanged enigmatic looks while Owen Granger was clearly ropable. Now Pride began to understand the reason for the deputy director’s palpable anger.


“That’s an admirable question, Agent Balboa, and most commendable, but I’d expect nothing less from a dedicated and conscientious agent like yourself. Rest assured, I’ve had my best people on it. They work-shopped it extensively and ran numerous digital simulations and have come up with some simple but elegant fix-its.”


Pride rolled his eyes – Porter was sounding like a consummate politician which, of course, was what she was. She’d never served in the military; like her predecessor, she was using the office to climb up the political ladder. Even if she cared about the people under her, SecNav would always look out for number one. He tuned back in to the doublespeak, knowing that the ‘fix-its’ were likely to be neither elegant, simple, nor fix-its. 


“They pointed out the impracticality of banning the word ‘bullet’ for law enforcement professionals, too, so they’ve come up with some simple user friendly, safe alternatives for you all use. After this briefing, bullets will hereto be referred to as weapon projectiles for handguns (WPGs) and weapon projectiles for rifles (WPRs).”


Vance interjected, seeing a rebellion rumbling beneath the surface at this change, “Or you could always adopt my recommendation and refer to them as ULLETS.”     


Balboa snorted derisively, as did several others in the crowd, including Dwayne and G.


“As to the term, bullpen, my people’s recommendation is that we use the alternative terms, either the cow pen or the bovine assembly point (BAP),” Porter continued.


Vance again interrupted, “With all due respect, Secretary Porter, my proposal is to just call it the ULLPEN.”


At this point, Pride began to suspect that the whole dang building had been exposed to an illicit hallucinogenic substance, leaving them all stoned to the eyeballs, since this was so surreal a situation, it couldn’t possibly be genuine. Undoubtedly, terrorists had carried out their attack via the aircon system.


SecNav  gave a long suffering sigh, moving on while ignoring Leon’s suggestion. “My people explained that All Points Bulletin is a term which is not used much anymore, and at least in this agency, we prefer the term BOLO (be on the lookout).”


A grizzled old codger lazing against the banister on the stairs held up his hand and Vance looked greatly put upon before acknowledging him. “Yes, Larry, you have a question?”


“Nope, Director Vance... an observation. Some Police Departments still prefer using APBs.” He observed, laconically – his Southern roots showing in his subtle but obvious accenting of poh-leece and Vay-ance. “You can’t order everyone to stop using All Points Bulletins just ‘cause it gives our Lee-roy a touch of the jip, Sir,” he said.


SecNav replied, “I’m sure once they know the reason why, they’ll be reasonable.”


Pride chortled, thinking of some of the PDs he worked with. They wouldn’t give a shit about NCIS or why they’d banned words. In fact, he pretty much guaranteed that once they discovered the ban, they’d take great pleasure in using the phrase all-points-bulletin at every opportunity just to piss off their Federal brethren.


Taking the deathly silence for agreement, opposed to being stunned speechless, Sarah Porter continued her proselytization. “My people also identified two more words that were likely to be problematic, given your day-to-day work – those being bullion and bulletproof vest. So, let’s start with bulletproof vests, which of course field agents use constantly, and my people have come up with the L.J.Gibbs work-safe designation - projectile proof vests or (PPVs).” She looked over at the director.


He responded, somewhat predictably if the suppressed giggling amongst the crowd was an accurate barometer of mass sentiment, “My suggestion is to just call them -  ULLETPROOF VESTS.”


Sarah Porter nodded. “Yes, of course it is… well, we can launch an internal NCIS poll to find out which options people prefer using – majority rules. I’ll have my people get onto it ASAP! But as to ‘bullion’, they have suggested that we call it non-monetized international currency or (NMIC).”  Deliberately ignoring the violent fit of coughing that seemed to overcome Owen Granger, which sounded suspiciously like ‘bullshit… bullcrap… stupid bunch of ass hats.’  Instead, SecNav shot Leon an old fashion look, retorting sardonically, “Although I’m guessing you’ll suggest we use ULLION instead, Director.”      


Looking highly offended, he shook his head decisively. “Certainly not, Madame Secretary.” Although he didn’t say so, his nonverbal cues, particularly his tone said, ‘don’t be a dumbass!’ “I propose we refer to bullion as GOLD.” Looking around smugly, he continued, “Well, I think that’s all for today.  We’ll probably reassemble tomorrow.”


“Same bat time, same bat channel,” Pride heard Callen murmur somewhat irreverently, before Agent Balboa called out loudly.


“Excuse me, Madame Secretary, Director Vance, but I have another question.”


“Save it ‘til tomorrow,” Porter advised. “My people don’t have any more user-friendly-fix-its available at this point of time.”


“It’s not about the words or the alternatives we use. This is more general.”


Before SecNav or Vance had time to shut him down, Owen Granger – who’d been conspicuously silent except for his coughing fit – stepped in swiftly. “I’m sure we have time to hear your concerns, don’t we?” he asked his superiors innocently, who were in turn shooting him filthy looks. “After all, we don’t want to make your already difficult and dangerous jobs even more problematic if we can help it, do we?” He smiled smugly at Vance and Porter.


“Fine, what was your question, Agent Balboa?” SecNav responded grumpily.


“I’m confused. It seems like a lot of manpower and resources have been spent and that you intend to continue to spend, with your fixers coming up with ways for us to limp along with our hands tied behind our backs. Meanwhile, the list of banned words grows ever longer each day, and more ridiculous, and we become even more of a laughing stock with the other alphabets. That seems incomprehensible, because it makes much better sense if your fixers focused on the real problem – Gibbs’ phobia to bulls – and fixed him.” The irate agent emphasised his cynicism about the phobia by using his hands to illustrate air quotes.


“How about grabbing the bull by the horns and give us all a sitrep on the actual problem. When does Gibbs finish his treatment? What’s his prognosis? Is he bullheadedly ignoring doctor’s orders?” he pressed them as the SecNav and director glowered at him as more people nodded their agreement and Owen looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.


Leon grimaced. “It’s complicated, Agent Balboa. The therapist isn’t optimistic. It could be a long time before it’s resolved – maybe never.”


One of the throng responded. “Then you need to get a second opinion. I had my arachnophobia cured in eight weeks,” a janitor volunteered.


An agent agreed, “Yeah, I had my aviophobia treated over six sessions. The success rate for treating phobias is really high – find another expert who is more proactive.


Vance frowned at his troops bleakly. “We did get a second opinion… and third, fourth, and fifth opinions. They all say the same thing.”


Balboa piped up again. “Gibbs IS refusing to participate in the therapy, isn’t he?” he surmised, having known the senior special agent for almost two decades. Seeing the silent acknowledgement in the faces of his superiors, he became pissed off.


“Many people who develop phobias go and get treatment and go back to work… no problem. If they don’t and it prevents them doing their job properly, then the needs of the many should take precedence over the needs of the one and The Powers That Be need to step up. What they don’t do is disrupt the entire agency, ban them from using common words, and waste everyone’s time coming up with lame half-assed alternative designations. They grow a pair and act.”


Sarah Porter scowled. “What are you suggesting?”


“Order him to get treatment and if he refuses, fire his ass!” Agent Axelrod shouted out.


A variety of shouts expressing agreement drowned out Leon Vance’s response; Owen Granger looked mighty pleased at the direction the staff meeting had taken.


Finally, when the chaos had subsided, SecNav regarded the NCIS employees reproachfully. “This is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs you’re referring to. He’s the star of this show – his closure rates are unprecedented for any MCRT for the past 15 consecutive years. In addition, he’s been awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award* for the past 15 years. He’s saved all your butts how many times and always been there for you when you needed his help to haul your ass out of the fire, and now you just want to cast him aside like yesterday’s refuse? Shame on you all.”


Balboa was speaking softly, responding to SecNav’s points and those who were around who could hear him were giggling. “Yeah, but their ratings dropped mysteriously this year – wonder why that is?


“… well, if you give him the Meritorious Civilian Service Award when he put a civilian in danger and killed her driving a car off the dock into the drink, it ain’t all that hard to win it for scratching your balls, drinking coffee all day, and yelling at everyone…


“…You’re right, Madame Secretary, I know that Chris Pacci and Cate Todd sleep really soundly because he put his obsessions aside and saved their butts.”


Leon glared at the throng. “Before you all throw out the baby with the bath water, consider this – NCIS can’t survive without Leroy Jethro Gibbs,” he declared dramatically, looking like he’d been forced to swallow a large piece of lemon – skin and all.


“Now, get back to work and remember to observe the prohibited words, including those announced today and those on the prior lists.” Turning sharply on his heel, he practically ran back to his office before anyone else had a chance to ask him pesky questions, swiftly followed by Sarah Porter. Granger spied Callen and instead he made his way downstairs to the ‘cow pen’ and sauntered over to the undercover expert, who was standing around casually in the company of another man.


G smiled wryly at his boss. “Guess they wouldn’t listen to ya,” he remarked.


The deputy director grimaced. “No shit, Sherlock,” he snarled irritably. Before he could respond further or G could introduce him to his companion, Balboa bowled up, apparently determined not to let go of the bone he’d been gnawing on.


“This isn’t going to work, you know. For one thing, Jethro is decompensating, his phobia is generalising.” Seeing three bemused expressions, he explained his statement.  “It started out that the word ‘bull’ was a trigger, but then it generalised to words that contained the word ‘bull’ –  for example bullet, bullseye, bulletin etc. Now, he’s decompensating even more. Didn’t you hear the last two words on the banned list? – Deplorable and contemptible are now triggers too. How many words containing the suffix ‘able’ or ‘ible’ are there for crying out loud and are they gonna ban them all too? Maybe we all need to use sign language around him. If he refuses to get help for being a fucking lunatic, then it will just get worse and worse, Assistant Director.


“You can ban us all from using ‘bull’ words… maybe, but what about cops? What about if they tell him that the suspect was seen exercising his bullmastiff/bull terrier/bulldog or that some evidence was found in the bulrushes in Rock Creek Park? And what about the witnesses he interviews – what happens when they tell him they’ve just arrived back from a deployment to Kabul, or their family came to America from Istanbul or they were on a trip to Bulgaria? What if the witness describes the perp’s behaviour as being like a bull in a china shop or that the suspect spun them a cock and bull story, or the killer got mad and that it was like a waving a red rag to a bull? Ya honestly believe Gibbs will grab the bull by the horns and decide he needs to get some help?”


Owen, who to be fair had argued strenuously against the current plan of eliminating all of Gibbs’ trigger words because he was ‘too valuable for the agency to lose’, was in full agreement with the incensed veteran agent. And before long, if Balboa was right (and he was), they wouldn’t be able to use the word ‘valuable’ anymore –  and no, he didn’t believe the arrogant jackass would grab the bull by the horns and go get the problem fixed. SecNav and Leon’s plan was the most asinine thing he’d heard of in a very long time, and he heard a lot of foolishness.


Truth to tell, no one was indispensable (another word that would undoubtedly be on the banned list sooner or later) and his OSP agents in LA may not have quite as high a rating as the so-called star of the agency. Still, their team effort was more than respectable (damn it, there’s another future trigger word). And the team from the New Orleans’s field office was building a decent team – Pride was putting together an impressive group of agents – yet Porter and Vance honestly believed the agency couldn’t survive without Leroy Jethro Gibbs.


Staring at Balboa and the two other men, he asked the silver-haired, craggy jawed man. “Sorry, who are you? Your face is familiar but I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.”


G smiled thinly. “Meet Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Cassius ‘King’ Pride from the NOLA field office and Gibbs’ friend for the last thirty years.”


“Ah… the infamous King… pleased to finally meet you in person,” the assistant director expressed, shaking his hand. Looking back at Balboa standing there fuming, Granger glanced at the two close buddies of Jethro Gibbs speculatively.


Gesturing with his head toward the DC agent, he confided, “He’s right you know. There’s no way to control the environment – NCIS staff, witnesses, suspects, perps, and other LEOs and feds. You can’t ban them from using ‘bull’ trigger words – it’s ludicrous – and unfortunately, Agent Balboa, I’ve been arguing that ‘til I’m blue in the face, but TPTB insist we can’t survive without Gibbs,” he told the man apologetically.


Balboa reached out to shake his hand. “Well, that’s it then... thanks for trying, Sir. I guess now would be a smart time to dust off the CV and start applying for some of those jobs with DEA and FBI before everyone else gets the same idea as me,” he said, walking off shaking his head in disgust.


Pride stared at his companions exasperatedly. “Okay, so will someone please tell me what’s going on. Where’s Gibbs? And why has he got a phobia to cows?”


“Bulls not cows,” G corrected.


“Taurophobia,” Granger interposed.


“What-a-phobia?” Dwayne frowned.


“Taur-o-phobia – it’s the technical name for fear of bulls. And to answer your second question, Gibbs is off with his team on some lame ass mission at the CGIS because the delicate little petal might be triggered if he heard the list of banned words that were announced today,” Owen retorted acerbically.  


Callen leapt in quickly. “As to why he’s got taurophobia – a bull attacked him out at a crime scene out in the boondocks.”


Granger chuckled and both Gibbs’ buddies looked at him reprovingly, thinking that laughing at Jethro’s misfortunate was not terribly professional of him. “Attacked by a bull, my ass! That’s just the official story they’re telling everyone, but it’s all bullshit! Oh, no, I just spoke a banned word, my bad!” he quipped snarkily, not looking sorry at all.


Callen knew the deputy director was a sarcastic person, but Marines usually were more supportive of their fellow Marines – sempre fi and all that jazz. But the deputy director was royally pissed off with Gibbs, believing he would bring on the destruction of the agency. “Okay… so, what’s the real story?”


Looking around, he beckoned with his forefinger moving once with an economy of energy. “Let’s go find something to eat and someplace quiet where we can talk.”


They ended up at a small bistro near the Navy Yard, ordering medium rare steaks and some boutique beers to wash it all down. Once their food arrived and they started eating, Dwayne stared at the deputy director from the west coast, AND a former Marine like Gibbs. He was curious at the animosity he’d displayed over Jethro’s bull phobia. After all, it wasn’t fair to blame him for a physical/anxiety condition that he wasn’t responsible for. Pride was not forming a very favourable impression of Owen Granger – the taciturnly cynical man was certainly not what he was expecting.


He only went to get lunch because he wanted to find out about Jethro and why his own colleagues in DC, particularly the veteran agent Balboa, seemed to be so pissed at him. Plus, he wanted to find out the real story behind Jethro’s taurus-phobia and what actually happened, rather than the spin TPTB had put on it for general consumption. Granger clearly knew!


Callen was evidently thinking along similar lines since he cleared his throat unobtrusively – no wonder he was a pro at the undercover stuff. “So… you said the story about Jethro getting attacked by a bull at a crime scene didn’t happen. So, how did his bull phobia develop then?”


Smiling tightly, Granger stared at the two agents. “Okay, so first off, he did get beat up by a bull, but it wasn’t a four-legged one, it was a human in a court room. A trial consultant called Dr. Jason Bull whooped his ass bigtime during a court case that the MCRT investigated successfully – supposedly,” Owen snarked. “He made Gibbs look like a damned fool. Caught him out, breaking the law getting a forced confession out of the defendant, who was Bull’s client. Gibbs physically assaulted him and Bull got the case dropped.”


Dwayne shook his head. “I don’t believe it. Gibbs is a very skilled interrogator – he wouldn’t physically assault someone to get a confession – he’d lay a trap and get them to walk into it.”


Granger looked sceptical. “Don’t be too sure about that, Agent Pride. Turns out that it wasn’t the first time it had happened – he struck a petty officer twice during questioning when he caught him out in a lie during an investigation. The audio technician who was recording the interview during that case was subpoenaed to testify to what he witnessed last year, and they also subpoenaed Navy Petty Officer Third Class Kyle Friedgen, the one Gibbs assaulted, and made him testify against him too.


“Plus, Dr. Bull found a heap of other examples of Gibbs flouting the law when he investigated cases. That man is a law unto himself and he thinks he can do as he damn well pleases,” Granger stated disgustedly.


Seeing their confusion, he clarified, “I’m talking about your buddy, Leroy Jethro Gibbs not Dr Bull – he believes he’s god’s gift to NCIS. Apparently, so do SecNav and Leon.”


Dwayne and G exchanged concerned looks. This was way worse than taurophobia. No wonder Granger thought that the agency would fold unless they did something drastic, and that didn’t include banning ‘bull’ words.


“Anyway, when the judge dropped the MCRT’s so-called ironclad, unlosable case, and gave Gibbs a very public dressing-down, he went ape shit. He swore retribution on Dr. Bull, tried to get him fired, except that Bull is the owner of Trial Analysis Corp, so now the slightest mention of Bull, or even a four-legged one, sends him into a homicidal rage. He’s ordered everyone  to never to mention Bull in his presence. He attacks anyone who slips and utters his name or fires them, and as time goes on, even the banned words… a list which continues to grow each day, as you saw provokes fits of rage.”


Dwayne was shocked. He might colour slightly outside the lines sometimes, but he never broke the law when he investigated crimes, or allowed his agents to do so either. That was totally counterproductive because then the perps got off on a technicality – even if they were as guilty as sin.


Callen seemed devastated as well. Finally, he responded, “So, Gibbs doesn’t really have a fear of bulls?”


Granger snorted inelegantly. “Hardly, although he has a fear of one Bull – a fear the guy will make him look like a prize idiot and have his cases thrown out of court again. Actually - from what I’ve been able to gather, it’s a miracle no one has called him on his slipshod methods before now, except in the past, his former 2IC managed to keep him reined in - mostly. Made sure to the best of his ability that he dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s - that they had properly obtained and executed warrants and didn’t assault people who pissed Gibbs off.”


Dwayne, who had been feeling distinctly down at heel, brightened perceptively. “So, the solution seems obvious. Instead of banning a heap of so-called trigger words, persuade Tony to come back.”


Owen cursed colourfully before putting the kibosh on that proposal. “Nice idea, King, it would make a lot of people happy… but it’s never gonna happen. Agent DiNozzo went out and got himself a job at the Hoover building. Says there’s nothing we have that he wants and he’s more than happy where he is.”


“The Fibbies? Jethro said he left the team because he figured it wasn’t safe to be a fed or a cop when he was a single dad,” Callen protested, befuddled.


“Yeah… well, he would, wouldn’t he, after Gibbs forced him into leaving with his passive-aggressive crap,” the deputy director fumed.


The two SSAs exchanged a look of consternation – they thought DiNozzo was Gibbs’ loyal Saint Bernard and had been shocked to hear he’d resigned, but Gibbs had explained how he did it to become a single father, which they agreed was a valid reason for leaving if there ever was one for DiNozzo.


Granger relented, revealing what had led up to the resignation. “DiNozzo says he did say that when he resigned – but that it was an excuse that The Powers That Be had dreamed up and he went along with it to get out from under. Credited the ME Jimmy Palmer for giving him the idea in the first place. Says he would have said anything to be free, including that he was happy with the way they wrote him out… um, wrote him off.


“As he pointed out about the last case he worked on when I begged him to come back, Ziva David, the former head of MI6, plus the two ex NCIS agents all still ended up dead at Kort’s hand. Even though they weren’t carrying a badge and had left that life behind them. It didn’t save them.


“Seriously, only a brain-dead idiot (or a television producer) would honestly think that resigning and becoming a civilian would stop dirtbags who he’d put in prison or had a grudge from coming after him. That being the case, DiNozzo said he preferred to carry a badge and a gun and have access to vast agency resources to help keep track of the potential perps who might want revenge. Plus, at the FBI he would have colleagues to watch his back if/when he needed help.”


Callen looked bemused. “’K… so, why not come back to NCIS, then?”


Granger snarled. “Because he said that with all the bullshit from Gibbs pissing off half the terrorist and criminal population and the rest being pissed at Vance and his Mossad cronies, NCIS had become too damned dangerous for him now he wasn’t alone. And who could argue with him? Look at his friend Fornell – he nearly died because he was helping out NCIS and didn’t have any backup. If you add up all the vendettas and threats the MCRT faced during DiNozzo’s 15 years, mostly due to Gibbs and his ability to rub people up the wrong way bad enough to kill them, then compare it to every other MCRT leader, he’s got a bloody good point, as Hetty would say.”


G and Pride exchanged enigmatic looks as they processed these very disturbing new facts about Gibbs team.


“Plus, DiNozzo said he was fed up with Gibbs and Vance breaking the law or looking the other way when others broke it, whenever their personal agendas called for it. And finally, he confessed that Gibbs forced him out – wasted his considerable (oops that’s a banned word, or it will be soon enough) talents for years now, forced him into acting like an idiot so Jethro wouldn’t feel threatened by him. Except, of course, when he needed him to solve a case or use his contacts to secure a lead.”


Pride was finding it difficult to reconcile this damning information with the man he knew as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, legendary bastard absolutely, but still a man of honour. At least he had always thought so. Could he have got it so wrong?


“Anyway, it was a mistake that the fibbies were damned smart enough not to repeat. They love DiNozzo so much they gave him his own team in the Missing Persons Division. They offered him the lead on teams in the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Divisions too, but he decided it was too dangerous for him given his new responsibilities.  But he made it crystal clear that he’s not coming back and why would he? He’s got his own team – should have been given one a log time ago.” Granger stated categorically.


Dwayne brightened up as he suddenly had an epiphany. “So, you want us to find a way to convince him to come back so he can handle Gibbs and save the agency? Then we can forget this dang foolishness about banning words.”


Owen stared at Pride. “No! What part of DiNozzo got tired of watching Gibbs and the director break the law and endanger his life did you not get? Or the fact that Gibbs froze him out, treated him like crap, disrespected the chain-of-command and his authority and wasted his skills just because, in my humble opinion, Agent Gibbs was shitting himself that DiNozzo was a better agent than him and it was only a matter of time before everyone else knew it too.


“He was already way too popular (that Q-score in 2014 was the nail in the coffin) so DiNozzo had to go.  No…really. Why else would he suddenly hire three agents to fill DiNozzo’s one spot on the team?” he demanded.


G felt his head about to explode. “Kay… so, why did he?” he asked, conceding tacitly it was out of character for Jethro to hire more than one person. Apart from Gibbs hated of change, putting three new members onto a team that had only three existing agents would totally mess with team dynamics, plus make it very difficult for them to all  learn to work together as a team.


“So that no single person could become too indispensable to the team and attract more attention and popularity than he does. With five agents, any one of them steps out of line and he can fire them immediately.  I'm telling you, he can’t stand anyone else shining more than he does.” Granger declared candidly.


Pride stared at the deputy director, wondering if or even how to defend his buddy. He knew that Gibbs always said that the second B was for bastard and that he took pride in being one, but Dwayne always believed that his colleagues admired and respected the man. Granger and Balboa’s contempt for the veteran agent had taken him by surprise, and seeing the response from the rest of the crowd, they were hardly empathetic to his supposed plight either. Maybe Gibbs had carried his bastard persona a step too far, started believing in his own omnipotence.


“So, why am I here then?” he demanded, feeling conflicted. Gibbs was his buddy but the agency was more important than any one individual.


Shrugging, the truculent former Marine eyeballed both agents. “You’re both supposed to be his friends. He’s always been a loose cannon and a law unto himself, but he’s been getting progressively worse in the last few years. He has to be the tragic dark star of the show and if any of his team look like they might become a threat to outshine him, he hobbles them.


“As to this specific situation – if he doesn’t get his irrational anger under control, he’ll destroy NCIS because of his hubris and his jealousy. His much-vaunted closure rating has already dropped markedly, and that’s only going to accelerate as time goes on and other lawyers take a leaf out of Jason Bull’s playbook and whoop his ass. Why it hasn’t happened yet is anyone’s guess. So, as to why you’re here – apart from existential angst – I’m asking you to do whatever it takes to make Gibbs to see sense and get some help. And not just for his ‘taurophobia’ either,” Granger declared bluntly.


G and King exchanged frustrated looks. Getting Gibbs to ‘see sense’, or better yet, ‘get some help’, was like telling a tornado not to destroy property in its path – a well-meaning intention, yet utterly futile.


“Either that or else take a leaf out of Agent Balboa’s book and start looking for a new job, because we can’t continue like this. This is unsustainable. It is immutable. It is undeniable.”


G wondered if worse came to worst and the agency folded, would Sam, Kensi, and Deeks follow him back to the CIA as a team? Or maybe he should do something completely different. He could become a sidekick with an androgynous name to a mysterious caped crusader – oh, wait, he’d already done that - or perhaps he could settle down and become a veterinarian in Meredith, Seattle. Nah –  done that too!


King figured he could always return to the Sheriff’s Department back home. Alternatively, he could get a job totally rewriting history, or maybe become an explorer of far off lands and peoples – sort of like an exploratory anthropologist. Maybe he could get himself a 2IC of exotic ancestry with an elfin hairdo and pixie ears.



Meanwhile several hours later, Balboa shutdown his computer as he left for the day. He’d sent off a dozen job applications for positions that might be considered suitable for an agent with his long years of experience. He was also meeting his team for a drink after work so he could explain that he’d decided to get out before the mass exodus began as the rats deserted the sinking ship.  Feeling vindictive, he stopped off at Gibbs desk, dropping off a plush baby bull to welcome him back to the office.


And Granger, having endured another interminable meeting between SecNav, Leon and the geeky word doctors was seriously considering calling in a favour or two and having Gibbs taken care of. Not so he was killed, maybe just put a few rounds into his knee so that he wouldn’t be fit for field work anymore. While the only sure bets in this world were death and taxes, it was almost a dead certainty that Gibbs would never accept an office job when he was no longer able to go out in the field.


With his charming personality and the number of enemies he’d made over his ‘illustrious’ career, there’d be a ridiculously long list of suspects to investigate.     


The End.