A Sign of Communication

(in the A Sign of the Times Universe. Eg: Tony and Tim have learned ASL from Gibbs. Post-Hiatus, Post-Jeanne)

Laurie Greene studied the print out on her clip-board. It was laminated and held a short bio of each participant in this week's "Intensive Partnership Workshop." She personally thought of it as brain-washing, but it paid the bills. Her partner in crime, Jerry Caine, was handling the survivor training part of the week. She got to deal with the personalities. Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo were from NCIS. She'd had to look the abbreviation up to find out they were from the Navy. Agents Brown and Rafe were ATF. Agents Jones and Smith were theoretically from Homeland security and she'd seen the ID's, but she still didn't believe those were their real names. Agents Diller and Clansey were from the FBI. It was a nice mix of agencies for once. Hopefully she'd be able to get them to work together.

Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and she hadn't eavesdropped enough to know what nickname he went by, had found a bench and leaned back in a nap almost instantly. He was still below retirement age, but his hair was silver. He looked to be in fairly good shape. His hands betrayed him as a woodworker or handyman. She'd caught a glimpse of wolf-blue eyes and told herself firmly that she would not be smitten. His partner, the much more outgoing Anthony "call me Tony" DiNozzo, was making the rounds of partners, introducing himself. He was dark-haired and designer-dressed from head to toe. She wondered if he'd remembered to pack something suitable to the woods rather than schmoozing. He'd already hit on all three women in the room including herself. His smile was bright and cheerful, rather than predatory, so she simply noted his flirting as opposed to being offended by it. He was currently flirting with, ahem, comparing guns with Smith.

John Smith, as if, was the same height as Tony, but slightly thinner. His smile was sharper. His hair was a rich brown that matched his eyes. His hands were strong and confident on his weapon. He was wearing jeans and flannel shirt, as if he were planning to walk out into the woods immediately. His partner, Margret Jones, was a sturdy woman with short-cut light brown hair and a permanent frown on her face. She'd dismissed Tony with a brief nod and hand-shake. She was watching him with Smith. Her eyes held amusement and Laurie made a note to get her to smile at least once during the week. Smith was now showing off his knife. It was a good five inch blade that opened one-handed. It looked like Smith was a camper.

Diller and Clansey had been on their cell-phones practically the entire time since they'd arrived three hours earlier. She still wasn't sure who they were talking to. Sometimes it sounded as if they'd called each other from across the room. Diller, and to hear them talk, they only went by last names, was tall and boy-next-door attractive. He had sandy hair and golden hazel eyes. His partner was a petite red-headed woman with elfin features that had started to round out with age. Her eyes were a clear blue. When they stood together, it was as if they had no personal space, but they never seemed to speak directly to one another. She wasn't sure if they had been fighting or if they simply had run out of things to say to one another on the drive up. They weren't making an effort to fit into the group.

On the other hand, Henry Brown and Paul Rafe were talking about something sports related. Brown was a robust African-American man with more of a stomach than she expected in a field agent. His smile was enthusiastic as was his description of the play. His partner was smaller with dirty blond hair and a baby-face. He was nodding and occasionally interjecting during the story. His smile revealed a missing front K-9. She wondered what the age difference was between the two and glanced down at her sheet to see that it was four years. That wasn't the largest age difference of the group.

Tony wandered away from the conversation that had started between Jones and Clansey. Smith was going to join Brown and Rafe. The designer-clad DiNozzo stood out among the assorted agents like a peacock. He stopped in front of his partner and tapped his foot with a toe. The grey-haired man's eyes opened. He raised a brow. Tony started to sign and Laurie scanned her sheet of bios quickly. No one had told her that Agent Gibbs was deaf. It could change everything.


"Gibbs, be sociable. There's two red-heads here. Clansey's a little short for me," he signed, "but she's still cute enough. Laurie's got a great figure. She was nice about the brush off, so you might have a chance."

"Not interested," Gibbs signed back, frowning. "Will you stop trying to hook me up with other people. I told you, I do remember the promise I gave you before the coma."

"Really?" Tony's eyes held the tremulousness of the question.

"DiNozzo." He used his sign for Tony – cop-heart – slowly. The younger man gave him a shy smile.

"So, when do I get the diamond?"

Gibbs snorted. "What did you learn?"

"Smith and Jones are from one of the A's. Brown was a cop before he went ATF. He and Rafe were partnered about three months ago. They're here because their boss thinks they're the best, not because they messed up. Clansey and Diller are here because they don't play nicely with other partners. We are here because you pissed off Jenny."

Gibbs blinked at the sign for the director a J+dog. "Tell me you didn't pick that up from Abby?"

"Not exactly how it went."

"Be careful. She might have learned to read sign by now."

"I doubt it. Besides, she and I have come to an understanding."

Gibbs raised his brows to ask for clarification. DiNozzo practically blushed.

"We've agreed not to be catty to each other because we've both been territorial over you and now she's dating again. She kept me from quitting when you left the second time."

"She actually admitted that?"

"She doesn't know that we were ever actually in a relationship. She just assumes it's a one-way crush for me. And we both know that assumptions can be killers."

"I pissed off Jenny?" His own sign for Jenny was J-Sheep, so he guessed he couldn't call Tony on his sign.

"Yes." Tony fidgeted a moment. "See, you started dating this colonel?"

Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "And you didn't even bother to tell me you were dating."

"Like that ever works for me. You knew."

"Of course I knew you had an undercover gig. I know you. It took me a while to get everything back on line, but I do remember your tells."

"Ziva knows my damned tells. You never called me on lying."

"You never lied directly to me. I can't get pissed over lies of omission. It's the only wiggle room I left you." That earned him a grin. "You going to talk to clipboard over there? She's been watching us."

"I know. Probably thinks you're deaf."

Gibbs rolled his eyes.

"Could be fun, boss."

Gibbs considered the implied suggestion. He shook his head. "No, even though it would be fun. It's too much work." He spoke then, "Sit down, DiNozzo. It's going to be a long week."

"Camping. Fun. I checked the weather." The younger man sat down, mirroring Gibbs' earlier pose. "It's supposed to be clear and bright all week. No hint of rain."

"I already packed the rain gear."

DiNozzo laughed at that. "Of course you did."


Laurie was studying the pairs of students intently when Jerry arrived. "Hey, Laurie."

She gave him a smile. "Hey, Jerry." She handed him the clipboard. "All of our happy participants are here."

Jerry glanced over the list and then through the room. He tried to match the bios with the faces around the room. Truth be told, that wasn't his strong suit, but he was trying to do better. He did a visual check of the participants. "My money's on pretty boy, the old man, and the fat guy to wash out."

Laurie sighed. "Agent DiNozzo, Agent Gibbs, and Agent Brown?"

"If that's what you call them." He winked at her.

"So who else do you see?" she asked, eyes twinkling.

"There's the gambler, the lesbian, and the hick."

"Agent Smith. Agent Jones. Agent Rafe."

"The other red-head and sulky."

"Agent Clansey and Agent Diller."

"We're going to have to surgically remove those phones from their ears. We don't get cell-service where we're headed. Think Pretty Boy even brought jeans?"

"I think Agent Gibbs packed for him. He just settled down. Keep an eye on Agent Gibbs. I think he may have some hearing loss. They were signing earlier, even though they're talking now."

Jerry nodded. He'd make sure no one got hurt too badly on this week's adventure. "Welcome!" he called out. The agents' heads turned towards him. Diller and Clansey even finished up their phone calls and hung up. "I'm Jerry Caine, I'll be your wilderness guide this week. Laurie Greene will be your communications guide. If you'd all come a bit closer and form a half-circle in front of us, we'll go over the schedule for tomorrow and let you all get that dinner you were promised."

The old man and the pretty boy got up and wandered over slowly. More slowly than even the gambler who gave every indication of being the most paranoid member of the group. He was the best armed. It was a bit of a challenge taking a fully-armed group out to the woods to confront personal and professional demons. The members of the group were focused on Jerry now and he took a moment to bask in that attention. "We'll meet here at six for a quick breakfast and supplies check. We'll be taking a van out into the woods and then hike another hour in to base-camp. The tents are already set up. You'll be sharing with your partners, unless the ladies choose to share a tent, in which case their partners will share a tent. Laurie will run your first exercise of the day over lunch. We'll do a quick orientation on the area, then three more exercises before dinner and a socializing period. We will not be returning to this hotel until the end of the week. The rooms are yours, however, so please feel free to leave you suits and other things here. Safe deposit boxes are available for cell-phones and laptops. We don't have any cell coverage out there."

"What sort of emergency contact equipment do you have?" Agent Clansey asked. She glanced at her partner, who rolled his eyes.

"I carry a satellite phone and an emergency transponder that hooks up with the local ranger station. If it's activated, he'll send out paramedics immediately. Please note that emergency really means emergency. Twisted ankles, blisters, and minor cuts don't count. We have a first aid kit for that and I am a trained paramedic."

Clansey nodded slowly. "I'm a doctor," she informed him. "I work as an ME more often, but I can assist in the case of an emergency."

Jerry grinned. "Great! That's better than our last group. Three of them fainted at the site of blood. It was caused by a splinter," he told them. There were appreciative snickers at that. "Our weather for this week is supposed to be good, but pack your rain-gear. Weapons are allowed, because I know better than to get between an officer and her weapon. However, there is no hunting and most wildlife in the area is small. We do get bears, so we will have strict trash rules to go over when we get to camp." He saw pretty… erm DiNozzo shoot a glance at his partner. The older man was watching Jerry like a predator. That was slightly disconcerting. "Any questions?"

There was silence in the room.

"All right then. Time for dinner. Just follow me." Jerry led them into the dining room. The seats had been arranged to split up the partners. All four pairs exchanged looks. DiNozzo picked up his place-card and flipped it over. He studied the selections that were written on the back.

"Well, they got my selection right," he said cheerfully. He picked up the next card over. "Diana, did you get the fish?" he asked Clansey.

"Yes, I did. They don't seem to have gotten the seating right though. I think everyone should check." DiNozzo handed her her place card.

"Here, boss, red meat all the way for you, I see. What would Kate say?"

"Don't tell me Ducky's lectures have finally gotten to you."

Jerry noted the "boss" with surprise. He thought the men were partners.

DiNozzo grinned. "Don't be silly. Like I’m going to turn my nose up at a steak when someone else is paying for it? Now, what to do about seating. We have three females and six males. We can't do a traditional arrangement. What do you think Margaret?"

"Maggie," Jones corrected him. "You get to sit at the kids table with Agent Rafe over there." She pointed at the corner. "Don't mess up the nice shrink's test."

"Aw, you're no fun."

"It's a big table and there are no windows in here. I think we can handle the seating the way it stands."

DiNozzo pouted at her and Jones shook her head. He rearranged the cards. "There, now everyone's split up including our guides. Maggie you're next to me. Clansey, you're next to Gibbs."

"DiNozzo," Gibbs growled.

The younger man gave him a sweet smile. "I put Laurie on the other side of you. No need to thank me. Now, ladies, he's been married four times, but he's never left the marriage. His third wife is an evil woman who thinks her current husband is a plot to drive her insane. His fourth wife tried to kill him. I haven't met the second one yet. And his first wife died tragically trying to do the right thing by testifying against a drug dealer. He's anal-retentive and set in his ways, yet is dedicated to the job and will never begrudge you a partner or your own passions. He likes woodworking and biographies. He doesn't smoke and only occasionally drinks."

"And is not looking for another wife," the man interrupted. "Quiet. Ladies." He pulled out their seats. DiNozzo did the same for Maggie, and despite her rolling eyes, she allowed it. Everyone was seated around the table. Laurie signaled for the servers to begin. A conversation sprung up about the best and worst places to get a meal in DC. DiNozzo was surprisingly good at drawing out the quieter Diller and Clansey. The conversation spun towards stake-out stories and shop-talk. Laurie and Jerry were content to listen in and occasionally ask a question. Jerry didn't realize he'd been drawn into a discussion of tracking until half-way through a story. At least this group wasn't going to be snappish and taciturn. It was going to be an easy week, as long as no one got hurt during a trust exercise.


Laurie looked at the group assembled for the hike. Gibbs and DiNozzo had been there before she had. They were sitting and talking over coffee. They'd fallen into sign language again and she wondered why they did that. They were both dressed in broken in jeans, hiking boots, several layers of shirts. Matching NCIS windbreakers and baseball caps hung off of their chairs. Their supplies were spread out on the table in a more orderly fashion than she'd have ever expected from Tony. In fact, there weren't half of the things she'd thought he'd bring with him.

"Morning, Laurie," Tony said. Gibbs nodded a hello. "The donuts are good, but the hot food's better," Tony informed her. "The coffee is excellent. Will we have the same brew on the road or do I have to go snag some from the kitchen to keep Gibbs from going into withdrawal?"

"It won't be exactly the same, but it's not bad. We've had lots of campsite practice," Laurie assured. "It's the one chore that doesn't get assigned out when we have law-enforcement groups."

Diller and Clansey were rearranging their supplies between the two piles. She assumed they were trying to lighten the small woman's pack. Jones and Smith had their supplies laid out in matching piles. Smith was playing with his knife while Jones was finishing her breakfast. Rafe and Brown's piles were more haphazard than the others. They were sharing a newspaper and eating a hearty breakfast. Jerry was going through his checklists at each table. He was looking at the ATF agents' piles. He checked off that they'd brought what they were told. He also noted how much extra they'd brought. Laurie used that information to sort out what was most important to them.

She got her breakfast. DiNozzo pulled a seat out for her at their area of the table. It was the cleanest of the sections, so she took it. Okay, so maybe she didn't want to be near the flipping knife either. The men went back to their discussion. She wished she could over-hear it. The man sitting next to her was not the peacock with money she'd seen the day before. This one was more similar to his partner than not.


Tony fell into step behind Gibbs without thinking. He cataloged the trash that they passed as "important" or "not important" as if they were heading to a crime scene. He didn't join in the sports conversation behind him. Smith and Jones were quiet. Diller and Clansey were studying their surroundings with strange intensity. They seemed to communicate with glances. The FBI agents were used to being in hostile territory together. Diller was a profiler. Tony realized the man was probably looking for burial sites the same way he was looking for evidence. He marked Gibbs' steps with a frown. It looked like the older man's knee was bothering him. He'd have to talk him into using some liniment tonight.

Jerry was at the head of the line. Laurie was working her way up and down the line, spending most of her time as the tail of their snake. They reached the camp-site almost exactly one hour later. Tony had to congratulate Jerry. He'd found a campsite that was far enough away to give people a sense they were in the middle of nowhere, and close enough that if they really needed help, it could be reached fairly quickly. As quickly as any wood emergency could be at least. The tents were good quality and made for two. There were even cots inside, thank goodness. They were in a semi-circle around the fire-pit. Gibbs snorted. "Just like a hotel," he signed.

Tony rolled his eyes. "No maid service. No room service. No coffee pot. We need to work on your definitions."

Gibbs smirked. "Get to work." He held Tony's pack up to let him slip out of it, then handed over his own pack as well. "Eat something before you get cranky."

Tony smirked back. "Now is not the time and place for that."

That startled a short bark of laughter from the older man and Tony counted it good. He set up the inside of the tent with their sleeping bags and settled their packs on the provided hooks. It wasn't a particularly cold day, but Tony knew from experience that he needed to keep his windbreaker with him, even if he tied it around his neck in true preppy style. He grabbed one of the power bars out of his pack and tucked another into his pocket. He nibbled on half of a third one while he checked the tent out for anything that might need to be fixed before nightfall. He joined Gibbs outside and offered the other half of the bar.

"No, thanks. Do a six foot perimeter sweep. Go left. I'll meet you half way." Tony nodded sharply. He started from the entry and worked a perimeter sweep, working on staying quiet. He could hear the members of the camp unpacking. He raised his brow as he found the first "trap." It would set off a jangle of tin cans. He resisted the urge to cut the trip wire, but rather stepped over it and noted it in reference to the camp. He found three more "traps" with different triggers. He met up with his boss half-way around. They exchanged information in sign before slipping back into camp. Jerry raised his brows as he saw them come back in.

"You didn't use any three-leaved plants right?" he asked with a grin.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Nope. I was planning on bringing some back but my conscience," he gestured to Gibbs, "wouldn't let me."

"He's one of the weird ones who isn't allergic to the stuff," the older man added with a scowl.

Tony batted his lashes innocently. Jerry snorted. "Why don't you give me a hand with lunch, since you seem to be unpacked already."

The men didn't correct him. They were still planning a midnight escape attempt if the first session was as hellacious as they thought it would be, Director's anger notwithstanding.


Jerry watched the partners work in concert to set up lunch for the group. He still didn't know why they'd been sent on this trip. And he was still sure they'd wash out. Despite the fact that the younger man had dressed down, he still was obviously not the outdoors type. And the elder was in good shape for his age, but he was still older. He just hoped neither of them got hurt. They worked together easily, but Gibbs was obviously the dominant partner. Tony called him 'boss' for one thing, although it might just have been a nickname. He'd have to watch to make sure Tony was willing to take the lead.

"So how long have you worked together?" he asked.

"God, um, almost six years now, right?" Tony said.

Gibbs considered. "Yes. Didn't HR get you a congratulations card? You lasted out over Burley."

Tony smirked. "Good."

"You really were jealous weren't you?"

"Of Saint Stan?" Tony hands paused for a moment. "Yeah. I was. I'm not anymore. Kate didn't like him."

Gibbs said quietly, "No. Of course, I don't think she liked you much either."

"We worked things out." The men shared a sad smile. "Can you imagine her out here with me? She'd be fighting to share a tent with someone else."

Gibbs chuckled. "No more than Ziva would."

"Now that's not fair. Ziva and I have an arrangement. We don't share a room together, I don't have to smother her to stop the snoring. Kate would just throw something at me." Tony frowned. "You know, she never did show me her tattoo."

"You didn't look at the autopsy report?"

"No, I knew how she died." The young man's voice grew hard. It softened a moment later. "You're going to tell me right? I haven't gotten it out of Abs."

"You're better than that."

"Well, it's Abby. She sees through my BS too easily." Tony finished chopping the onion and tomato for the sandwiches. "Hey, Jerry, what sort of meat you have for this?" Tony dipped the knife into the shallow cleaning water.


"What else?"

Jerry paused. "Nothing else."

"Not good. Henry's Muslim. He doesn't eat pork."

"The ATF agent?"

"Yes. His family converted in the sixties and he grew up Muslim. We traded non-believer stats. He comes out ahead because not eating pork and shell-fish ranks higher than automatically crossing yourself when you enter a church."

"I brought turkey for tomorrow. We'll do a half and half split then. Does Laurie know?"

"I have no idea. He said he doesn't do the five times a day praying anymore, but he does do dusk."

Jerry nodded as he ran through the schedule. It shouldn't change anything. "Who's Kate?"

"She was our partner. She was shot."

The trainer didn't push any further. It wasn't his part of this. He wasn't paid to deal with emotional fall-out.

"What sort of BS games are we going to be playing after lunch?" Gibbs asked.

Jerry laughed. "After lunch is Laurie's time. After about an hour everyone will be happy to haul themselves into the woods for trust exercises."

That got an appreciative laugh from the men. He saw DiNozzo's hands move quickly. Gibbs responded in the same manner. Jerry tried not to frown. Them pulling out of the group wasn't his problem unless they were on an exercise. They finished assembling sandwiches.


Laurie surveyed the group as they finished up their lunches. The partners had paired off to eat, but that wasn't surprising. She'd sat down with Jerry after all. She wiped her mouth and packed away her trash. She took a sip of water, then stood up. "Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let's begin. We're going to do an ice breaker you probably all did in high school. I want you to introduce yourself to the group with your name and one thing that no one else knows about you."

Tony raised his hand. "Define no one? As in, not even our partners or as in not something we'd usually share with strangers?"

"No one. Which leads to my next point. Everything and anything you hear during this week is confidential. You may never see each other again, but I expect you to not to tell anyone anything you hear here. It was in the agreement waivers you signed." Most of the teams rolled their eyes. Diller just snorted.

"Why don't we start on the right?" She pointed to Agent Gibbs.

"Jethro Gibbs, NCIS."

"And something no one knows about you?"

"I'm thinking." Tony's lips curled up at his partner's response. Gibbs slapped him gently across the back of the head. The younger man laughed.

"When I was six my grandfather taught me to shoot by hanging a comic book next to my target. My aim improved instantly."

"So that's who I have to blame for losing my cover," Tony muttered. "Me next, I guess. Tony DiNozzo, NCIS." He smiled brightly at the group. "When I was fifteen my father caught me kissing my step-mother. Before you freak," Tony held up a hand, "she was an eighteen-year old blonde. He started divorce proceedings before the ink dried on my ticket to boarding school."

Agent Jones raised her brows. "Maggie Jones, Homeland Security." She paused. "My mother adopted me when I was three months old." Her partner gave her a startled look.

"John Smith, Homeland Security," he said. "When I was in college, my first major was fine art."

"Henry Brown, ATF. My first dog jumped out of my grandfather's pick-up truck and ended up dying in my arms."

"Paul Rafe, ATF. I used to do competitive ballroom dancing with my sister as a kid."

"Frank Diller, FBI. When I was ten, my little sister committed suicide. I found her note and hid it so that everyone would think it was an accident."

"Diana Clansey, FBI. When I was four, I learned to suture cuts from my father when we were on a boat in the middle of a storm. I had to sew him up in order for us to get back to shore."

Laurie nodded. "Thank you. Thank you for trusting us with those secrets. Now, I want each partner to tell us the event that he or she thinks shaped your current relationship the most. Jethro?"

"Call me 'Gibbs.'"

"Alright, Gibbs?"

He thought for a long moment. "I never said 'thank you'."

"Didn't need to, boss," Tony protested. Their eyes met.


"He didn't say 'goodbye.'"

Laurie frowned. "Can you give us a little more context. Let's start with you, Tony."

"No," the young man stated. "He knows what I'm talking about. And you don't need to know."

That got a snort from Smith and an approving nod from his partner. "We'll go next," John said. "I didn't wear the pin."

Maggie blinked. "I drank the Nyquil and vodka."

"You are a very brave woman," Tony said.

John grinned. "Isn't she?"

"That means its our turn." Brown grinned at his partner. "I lost the bet."

Rafe echoed the smile. "He brought me a glazed donut and coffee."

Laurie narrowed her eyes at the two men she now knew were trouble-makers, no matter how personable the young man seemed.

"She watched the video with me."

"He helped me when my daughter died."

"So, what's next?" Tony asked brightly.

"Part two. Tell me why your partner believes in his or her shaping event."

Gibbs frowned at her. He looked at his younger partner. "He thought it meant I didn't care enough to come back."

Tony looked down and away. "Tony? Is that true?"

The young man didn't respond for a long moment and Laurie literally bit her tongue to give him the silence. "Not exactly. It meant he'd only come back because of the emergency, not because he gave a damn about us."

"Us?" she prompted.

"The team. There are five of us. Eight to be accurate and include Gibbs and a few side people." Tony looked at Gibbs. He shrugged. "We survived."

Laurie let it go. It was too early in the week to push him much farther. "So tell me why Gibbs believes in his moment."

"Because he was an unmitigated bastard about taking over the team again. And Ducky lectured him about it."

"No he didn't."

Tony raised his brows. Gibbs smirked.

"It was Abby."

That made the younger man laugh. "Okay, I need to hear the Nyquil story." He turned to Smith and Jones. Laurie's eyes narrowed.

"In a minute. You both chose the same event?"

The men exchanged a look. Tony raised a shoulder as a part-shrug. "You could say that. He left. Then he came back about six months later. Took over my team."

Gibbs smirked. "Our team," he corrected gently. That earned him a surprisingly genuine smile from the younger man.

"Right, Boss, our team. The kids are all grown up." Tony wiped away a mock tear. "I am glad you came back, you know." Gibbs inclined his head. "So, Nyquil and vodka? What were you thinking?"

"That I'd be sick as a dog. It was the only way to get him to take the cough syrup though. Idiot man got bronchitis pulling me out of the drink."

"John, why do you think Maggie chose this incident?" Laurie guided.

The man smiled. "It was the first time I got to save her as opposed to her saving me."

"Maggie, why did John pick not wearing the pin?"

The woman paused for a moment. "It meant that he was willing to support me, even if it was going against what he believed in." Her lips twitched, but she didn't smile. "And that's a bigger commitment than getting married would be."

"What was he supporting you in?" the counselor pressed.

"None of your business."