"Hey, Ducky." An exhausted Tony stepped through autopsy's sliding glass doors. Between the current case and the missing cat, this was rapidly becoming a very long day. "McGee said you wanted to see me."
"Indeed I did, my boy." The doctor turned from his desk where he sat with a pile of x-rays and a steaming mug of tea. "Pull up a stool."
Relieved to be off his feet, Tony did as suggested. "You have something on Evans?"
"Hmm?" Ducky took one last look at row of film before sliding it back into a file. "Oh, no. Nothing there that wasn't to be expected."
"We experienced the strangest occurrence in our little office early this morning." Ducky turned to face the younger man. "Mr. Palmer and I arrived earlier than usual to greet our latest guest." He gestured to the sheet-covered figure resting on a metal table across the room. "We began the autopsy, and everything was quite as usual until we realized we had an additional attendee in our presence." He eyed Tony knowingly.
"Is that so?" Tony felt his stomach drop.
"Yes, and when I relayed the story to Timothy just now, he suggested that you may have some insight into the incident."
Tony swallowed. "He did."
Ducky refilled his mug from a steaming pot. With a wry grin, he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Care to tell me more about our furry feline friend?"
Tony realized, in that moment, that when he wanted to, Ducky had a stare that could rival that of his boss. "What, ah." He cleared his throat. "What do you already know?"
Ducky sat back with his mug. "I think it best if you start that story the beginning, don't you think?"
With a defeated sigh, Tony brought the good doctor up to speed.
When he finished, Ducky was quiet for a moment. "Oh, Anthony. I don't envy you when Gibbs finds out about this."
"So everyone says."
"Such a pity," Ducky shook his head. "It seemed a very nice cat. When we came upon it this morning, however, it gave Mr. Palmer quite a fright. The poor boy ran for the elevator as though the devil himself were after him."
"Palmer's scared of a cat?" Tony allowed himself a chuckle through his misery.
"Says the boy who fears a mouse," deadpanned the doctor. "But it would seem so. Of course, there are many cultures who regard the sudden appearance of a feline animal to be an omen of -"
"Ducky." Tony was running out of patience and time.
"Right. Of course. After Mr. Palmer's abrupt exit, I was able to approach the cat and attempted to ascertain its origin. After a few minutes of allowing me to pet it, it ran away."
"Wait - it let you pet it?"
"Why, yes. It seemed to enjoy the human contact."
Tony absently rubbed a punctured thumb over his scratched forehead. "If you say so."
"As I was saying, it ran away and hasn't been seen since." A quizzical look crossed the doctor's face. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen Mr. Palmer in the intervening hours either. I do hope the boy is alright."
"Last I saw him, he was hiding in an elevator."
"Oh, dear. Irrational fears are such powerful things." Draining the last of his tea, Ducky rose from his chair. "I'm afraid I can't help you with your search, but I thought you might like to know that at some point it had been here. I'll keep an eye out, as they say."
"Thanks, Ducky." Tony rose to leave, then turned. "Ah, Gibbs doesn't know that you..."
"My lips are sealed."
As he crossed the sliding doors once again, Tony turned at the sound of the doctor's voice. "Tony? If you happen to find Mr. Palmer during your search for our feline friend, do send him down this way." He glanced at the sheet-covered table. "Our guest awaits."
Finally, Gibbs could take no more.
It was the purse that was the final straw.
He stood from his desk, shrieking out a piercing whistle from between his lips. All activity in the bullpen around him froze to a sudden terrified stop.
"Will somebody tell me what the hell is wrong with all of you?"
Silence, except for yet another sneeze.
"I got Ziva drinking milk off the floor, DiNozzo handing out cans of tuna like it's candy at some sort of warped Halloween, McGee looks like he caught the plague, and will somebody please tell me why Palmer won't leave the elevator!"
"Well?" When no response was issued, Gibbs whirled to face his senior field agent. "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"
Tony's eyes widened as Ziva made a strangled sound. McGee emitted yet another sneeze.
"Nobody really knows what's wrong with Palmer, boss." Tony flinched in automatic headslap anticipation.
"We're putting out BOLOs on field mice, my senior field agent carries a purse, I've got the FBI breathing down my neck, Metro keeps sending over cheese, and why the hell did maintenance leave a dead rodent on my chair!" He glared intently at Agent David.
The elevator's insistent ding broke the tension in the room. "Sounds like you're having quite a day, Jethro."
Gibbs sighed in defeat and turned to the latest arrival. "Tobias," he greeted.
"My director sent me over here to figure out a way for our two agencies to play nice with each other before we all lose our jobs." The FBI agent sniffed the air curiously. "Does it smell like tuna fish in here?"
"Let's go," Gibbs growled. "We'll talk on the way." He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair before whirling back to face a watery-eyed McGee. "You! Buy some cold medicine before you infect the rest of us!"
"On it, boss."
With that, the gray haired men exited the bullpen, Gibbs sparing only one more murderous glance toward his clearly deranged agents.
"Kids causing trouble at school again?" Fornell asked with an impish grin.
"Like preschoolers with launch codes." Making his way to the elevator, Gibbs slowed when he realized Fornell was lagging behind.
"Actually, Jethro, could we take the stairs? That kid - Ducky's assistant - he's in there having some sort of crisis." He gestured toward the elevator.
Gibbs rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and cursed the fact that he'd come to work today at all. There was not enough bourbon in all the world for this. "Fine. We'll take the stairs."
As they walked, Gibbs shrugged into his jacket. A moment later, he felt Fornell's hand brush his arm in what Gibbs vaguely recalled from some seminar as 'yellow light behavior. '
"The hell are you doing, Tobias?" At the taller man's immediate scowl, Fornell backed away, but continued to inspect the strangely fuzzy, discolored area on Gibbs's coat. Was that...hair?
"Did you get a dog or something?"
Fornell eyed the gray tuft. "Then bad news, Gibbs. I think you're starting to shed."
Team Gibbs, minus the man himself, found themselves summoned to MTAC a short time later. Next to them stood an increasingly frustrated Director Vance, ever-present toothpick bobbing between tightened lips. On screen, the Secretary of the Navy firmly encouraged them to wrap up the case. Preferably yesterday.
"This is the last time I'm able to buy you time on this, Leon. Your people have got to get their acts together over there."
"We're working on that, sir," assured the Director. He wondered absently why the room smelled like fish.
McGee sneezed again. Tony shifted nervously and nudged a wide-eyed Ziva.
Director Vance shot him a look before turning back to the screen. "Agent Gibbs is working with FBI Agent Fornell right now to come to some sort of an agreement on the case. Should have a resolution for you by the end of business today."
McGee sneezed again. And again.
"I hope so, Leon. If we can't have a..." the Secretary trailed off and shook his head. "If we can't have a good working relationship with..." Again he mumbled to a halt, squinting into his camera.
Tony got a very uncomfortable feeling. McGee sneezed again.
"...with sister agencies, then...Leon?" Sec Nav leaned forward to peer intently into his screen. A deep scowl crossed his features. "What the hell is that on the chair behind you?"
The four of them whirled at the same time. Perched happily in the front row of the movie theater style seats was none other than the cat.
The Director's jaw dropped as the cat regarded him with a low growl followed by a hiss. It slipped through Ziva's hands, hopping into the row of seats behind them.
"Leon! Is that a cat in your building?" The Sec Nav continued to rail. "What the hell kind of security do you people have over there? This is supposed to be a secure location! If you can't manage to keep out a cat, then how on God's green Earth are you going to keep out -"
Stepping away from the angry cat, Vance sprung into action. "End of business today!" assured the director, motioning frantically to the tech to cut the feed.
When the screen went blank, the room fell to silence. The cat vaulted from its seat, scrambled past several pairs of feet, and streaked toward the door.
"At least it can't get out of-"
Just as the cat reached the door, Jimmy Palmer had the bad sense and worse timing to try to enter. At the sight of the cat before him, he leapt backward in fright, creating just enough of an opening for the cat to once again make an escape.
"Not again," wailed Ziva.
"ACHOO!" offered McGee.
"It's everywhere!" shrieked Palmer.
"I'm dead," muttered Tony.
The autopsy assistant stuttered at the door. "Out!" ordered Vance. Almost relieved, Palmer hastily followed the cat back out of the room.
Turning back to McGee, Tony, and Ziva, the director let his eyes land briefly on each of them. He took in Tony's scratched face and McGee's watery eyes. "I take it you three have some prior knowledge about what just occurred."
McGee sneezed in tacit acknowledgement.
"There was a very aggressive mouse, Director," Ziva explained.
The Director turned to the senior member of the team. "Is this why my office smells like a litter box?"
Tony sighed. It was time to tell the story.
And so, he did.
Finally, Director Vance shushed them all with a slight raise of his hand. "Let me see if I have this right." He spoke slowly, eyes falling across all those assembled. "There was a mouse. One mouse. So naturally you morons decided to steal a cat and let it loose in my building. Let it loose with no means to catch it once it ran free. The cat - the cat missing somewhere inside this building - loves Abby, likes Ducky, and tolerates McGee and David. It attacks Fornell, scares the crap out of Palmer, swipes Agent DiNozzo in the head, and materializes suddenly as if from the middle of nowhere."
"It also hisses at you," Tony offered with a weak smile.
That observation was met with a glare.
Silence filled the room as realization dawned.
"Um, guys?" McGee spoke up nervously. "Is it me or is the cat..."
"Gibbs. The cat is Gibbs."
Finally, the bullpen was quiet. In the distance, the only sound to be heard was the rhythmic vacuuming of the night janitor somewhere else on the floor. His agents had scattered for the night. Hopefully, some sleep would insure they were less deranged the following day.
Gibbs sighed as he settled in at his desk. Reaching for his coffee, he took several long swallows of the molten drink before settling back into his rodent free chair. Perhaps he'd get some sleep himself after he finished up the paperwork Vance insisted he complete. Might make that gray blurry thing go away.
Just as he was about to force himself to read those damn FBI files, Gibbs was startled by a sudden presence on top of his desk.
After a quick breath, Gibbs eyed the cat standing on the desk before him in wary surprise. The cat, for its part, eyed him right back.
Gibbs opened his mouth, then shut it.
The cat yawned.
The cat continued to stare a moment more before cautiously reaching down with furry paws to stand on top of his lap. Gibbs felt a small seed of suspicion land deep in his gut. This cat seemed almost...familiar to him.
Scanning the bullpen, Gibbs could find no possible owner anywhere nearby.
The cat briefly sniffed his steaming coffee cup before returning its attention back to his face.
Experimentally, Gibbs reached out to give it a scratch behind the ear. The cat responded happily, cupping its head into his palm.
Despite himself, Gibbs had to grin. "Well, hi there," he offered. The cat began to purr, still watching him expectantly.
There was still something vaguely familiar about the thing on his lap. After a moment, Gibbs reached carefully around his furry intruder and shuffled one file out of the stack on his desk. He flipped through the contents for a moment before withdrawing one specific photo. A dead marine posed in a barn. Nothing new, but Gibbs' eyes were drawn to the corner of the picture, where a cat could barely be seen eying the photographer from the corner of the shot. A cat, Gibbs noticed, with an "M" shaped mark across its forehead. Just like the one standing on his lap.
With a sigh, Gibbs compared photo and cat. An absolute match, as Abby would say.
And suddenly, things made sense.
At least, as much sense as they were going to make when his team was involved.
The cat continued to purr, going so far as to nuzzle his chin before lying down and falling immediately into a contented sleep right there in his lap. Curled up right there in his lap like that had been its plan all along.
Gibbs considered the appearance of the cat.
At least it was quiet.
Might be good company, too.
Kept the mice away.
And it certainly hated the FBI.
"How do you feel about building boats?" he scratched it gently under the chin.
Opening one eye in response, the cat yawned and curled up happily once more. Its work was finally done; its plan had been a complete success.
"Well, okay then," Gibbs nodded to himself. "Better get you a cat bed for the basement."
With his new roommate purring softly in his lap, Special Agent Gibbs got back to work.
A/N: Because, seriously? Gibbs needs a cat. And who can resist a cat version of Gibbs? In my mind, he totally names it Tobias.
We've reached the end of our little tale. (tail?) Thanks for reading! I enjoyed writing this immensely, and it's been fun hearing what you think! I'm happy I was able to make some of you smile!