Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 271

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 271: The Perils of Being Famous (Sort of)

She’s young, perky, professional. Her name is Heather Yung.

Gibbs doesn’t like her.

Abby does. Probably because she came in, talked about her experience with babies a bit more, played with Kelly some (she seemed to approve, or at least didn’t cry) then asked politely about his knee, listened carefully, offered some helpful suggestions, and then told him about how well her grandfather was doing after they put the artificial knee in, and how much better artificial joints are these days than they used to be. According to her, her grandfather was up on his feet without a cane only three months after the surgery and that a year later he was only barely limping. She seemed to think that was comforting.

Mostly she just made him feel seventy million years old, and broken on top of that. Sure, she’s twelve (okay, not really, she’s probably twenty-six) and bustling with useful purpose and energy. No need to rub that in.

When Heather got up to use the bathroom, Abby grins at him. Keep your butt on the sofa awfully clear in that expression.

He glares back at her, I hate the universe pretty clear in his.

That makes Abby laugh.

When Heather returns, Abby hands off Kelly, letting Heather put her down for her nap and that went… They both listened carefully, yep, smoothly. No crying. And in ten minutes Heather was down again, commenting on what an easy baby Kelly is, and they were talking about schedules, expected salary, and when she could start.

All in all, it was an hour out of Saturday, and by the end of it, Abby seems pretty pleased.

Once she saw Heather out, she sits down next to Gibbs and says, “So?”

He half shrugs. She’s fine, on his face.

“Good enough?”

“Good enough.” He says grudgingly, and it’s not the sort of ‘you’ll do’ statement he made about Tony. There’s no affection here, just a recognition of the fact that Heather is good enough. “You can probably do better.”

“Kelly seems to like her the best. No fussing on naptime.”

“True.” This was the first of the nannies who got Kelly down without any protest.

Tim wanders down a few seconds later, looking awfully out of it, hair sticking up in all directions and only wearing his pajama pants, and sat on the floor in front of Abby, resting his head on her knee. “Someone just leave?”

“Yeah. We had an interview today,” Abby answers.

“Oh.” He looks annoyed, mostly at missing it, not at her. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

Abby kisses his forehead. “Because when I finished Kelly’s one AM feed, you still weren’t home.” Yeah, it wasn’t too long after two that he finished his second report and headed home. He hadn’t even told them about the team having the week off, yet.

“How’d it go?” Gibbs asks.

Tim nods. “Let me get some food, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

He’s in the kitchen, located some chicken lettuce wraps (“Thank you, Abby!”), stuck half of them on his plate (it’s after four, so he’s hungry, but dinner’s less than two hours away, so he doesn’t want anything too big) when he notices a package on the kitchen table.

“What’s this?” Tim asks, carrying it into the living room (food forgotten for the moment) and putting it on the coffee table.

Abby shrugs at him. “No idea. Has Thom Gemcity on the address, so I didn’t open it. UPS guy asked about that though, and I let him know that it’s your penname and that stuff with that name can be sent here.”

Tim feels a shiver of fear go up his spine. Things with Thom Gemcity on them should go to his publisher or agent. Not to his home. Never to his home. He checks more carefully and sees that Thom Gemcity is a redirect, it had gone to his agent first.

He sighs with relief. Gibbs is watching him carefully.


“Fan stuff shouldn’t come here.”

Gibbs nods; he remembers why fan stuff isn’t supposed to come to Tim’s house.

Tim smiles at him while heading back into the kitchen for his food and a knife. Yes, fans are great, but no, he does not want them knowing where he lives, that one time was more than enough.

A minute later he's back and opens it up and finds a very cute little basket of baby goodies, along with a few onesies, and some stuffed animals. Okay, good, it’s all pink and covered in little flowers. Standard cute baby goodies.

Tim’s checking a card, thinking it might have actually been from his agent, when he realized he had no idea who it was from. Which meant this was from a fan.

Which meant somehow one… shit there’s a bunch of packages in this box… several of his fans knew he had a child.

He was getting into freak out, hunt down the stalker, make sure his family is safe mode, when Abby says (pulling him out of it) (for a second, at least), “You’ve got a publicist, right?”


“And she posts things online about your life?”

“Sometimes.” Oh shit! He’s trying to remember if he ever specifically said he didn’t want anything about his kids posted.

“When was the last time you checked your Twitter or Facebook page?”

Tim winces. That’s a really good point. “Damn it.” He gets up, goes upstairs, grabs his phone and begins to go through “his” tweets and almost drops the phone when he sees that there’s a shot of Abby and Kelly, still in the hospital, along with the announcement that mom and baby were doing fine. Thom’s Facebook page had the same thing.

And yes, the fact that he had close to twenty thousand congratulatory tweets/likes whatnot is nice, but in that he’s in a frothing rage that his publicist posted that pic… and that he’s seriously contemplating getting his gun and scaring the shit out of her…

Then he realizes he didn’t send that picture to her. He sent it to his agent, who must have given it to her. Unlike his publicist, who works for his publisher and answer to them, not him, his agent actually is his employee, and he’s a valuable property she wants to keep happy. After all, she’s getting ten percent of each of his contracts, and at this point his contracts take her, on average, twenty minutes every three years.

His hand is shaking while he dials the numbers. She picks up on the third ring and before she could say anything he yells, “Doreen! What the fuck?” (He half notices that Gibbs appears to approve of this, and if his knee was working, would be volunteering for the scare-the-shit-out of-whoever-did-this plan. Meanwhile, Abby is looking really irked at him, and signs Kelly’s napping!)

“Tim?” she’s sounding really startled by that. She’s never heard him raise his voice, let alone yell or curse.

“I just got baby presents from a fan,” he says, still angry, much more quiet.

“Yeah.” To her this is really obvious. Of course fans will send baby presents. That’s part of what fans do. “We decided to send them on immediately. If we waited until we do your usual quarterly fan mail drop they’d be too small for Kelly. Four more packages showed up today. How’s she doing?”

“You posted pictures of my baby online!” His voice is rising again, and she’s still clueless.

Obviously he’s pissed, but this is just weird… So she patiently explains, “Well, yeah. Fans love stuff like that. They love little peeks into your life behind the writing. It makes them feel like you’re a real person and keeps them happy and eagerly anticipating your next book. Any ETA on that, by the way?”

He’s staring at the ceiling, vibrating with the desire to reach through the phone and pull her lungs out. He finally pulls it together enough to head into the basement (which should minimize the risk of waking up Kelly), shut the door behind him and say, “Do you remember about ten years ago, when that…” he can’t even start to think of a word for that, so he goes with, “fan started killing the people I was basing my characters on? You remember how he hunted down Abby and tried to kill her? And, remembering that, WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU POST A PICTURE OF MY CHILD ONLINE!?!”

Silence meets his ears.

And Doreen suddenly gets it, really gets it, and realizes that she’s got no idea how to fix this. “Would you like me to take them down?” she asks meekly.

“Them?” Tim’s heart is beating so hard he can actually see the pulse in his eyes when he shuts them.

“It’s just the one pic. Only one I had.”

He inhales deeply and lets it out long and slow. “How many places did you post it?”

“Fifteen,” she says, very quietly, suddenly very aware of the fact that Tim’s only got two books left on his contract, and that it’s suddenly extremely likely he’s not resigning with her when it comes time to negotiate the contract for the next three books. “You’ve got some fan sites in addition to the Facebook and Twitter and tumblr, and there are the bio pages on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads so…”

“Fuck!” He scans through the Twitter feed. That shot had been retweeted and reposted hundreds of times. “It doesn’t matter if you delete it or not. Do not ever, EVER post any pictures of Kelly or Abby. If I want pics of them up, I’ll post them myself, and you’ll note, I haven’t posted any pictures of Kelly at all and the only ones of Abby are our engagement and wedding shot. That’s it. I don’t want anything beyond that out there.”

“Okay. What do you want us to do with the baby presents?”

“Oh, God.” He thinks about that for a moment. He’s too damn nervous to use them, even though the rational part of his mind is sure they’re just nice little presents. “Donate them. There has to be a shelter or something that works with pregnant women who need baby gear. Write up thank you notes for me. I’ll copy and send them out.”

“Okay, I’ll get on that.”


Pulse still racing, he fired off a quick thank you for all the well wishes, and another one saying that Kelly had everything a baby could possibly need, and that while he was touched by all the presents, if fans felt moved to send presents that donations to Wounded Warrior Program or whatever local services were available to low-income mothers would be a very fitting present.    

Tim spent about five minutes just pacing around his basement. Not really looking at anything, just trying to make himself calm down.

He knows that immediately moving and changing their names is not only not rational, it’s also not warranted. Almost everyone on earth who’s even a little famous has their private life splashed all over, and all that happens is that they get people looking at them. But he can’t help but feel the fear that there are all these people out there who not only know he has a wife and child, but knows what they look like.

One of those maniacs found him before.

They can do it again.

And the unknown vulnerability of it makes him want to be sick.

Eventually, he called his sister. “Hey, when you told me about starting your own imprint, were you serious?”

She sounds surprised that he’s calling her in the middle of the day to talk publishing, but says, “Yes.”

“You want a bestselling mystery writer? I move about fifty-thousand copies in hardback per book. More in trade.”

“Tim?” She can’t believe this. They’ve talked about him going indie, and about what she’s hoping to do with her own start-up. But he’s always been so set on staying with his own machine that he mostly just listened and smiled.

“My agent just screwed us big time.”

“Doreen? Really? I’ve always heard good things about her. What, she skimming or something?”

“No, nothing like that. She posted pictures of Kelly online.”

“Oh.” Sarah knows that that’s not a traditional definition of my-agent-screwed me. She also knows that’s a hot button issue for Tim. “We’re starting up a YA Urban Fantasy imprint. Not that I wouldn’t love someone who’s got a name that actually sells books, but…”

He nods on the other side of the phone, understanding that he’s not part of their brand. “Okay. I’ve been with Doreen since ’03. Never shopped around, and I don’t want to query again. You know anyone who’s any good at this stuff?”

“Yes. I can shoot you a few names. Trust me, Thom Gemcity isn’t going to have to submit queries. Tell me more about it?”

“She published the baby shot I sent all of you to let you know Kelly was on the outside online without telling me.”

“Oh! Ouch.”

“On all my fan sites, twitter, Facebook, tumblr. It’s everywhere. They’re sending me baby presents.”

“That’s cute.”

“Yeah. Until I find they’ve got razor blades or trackers or some other shit in them.”

“Tim.” Her voice is making it very clear that he’s being, not silly, not with his history, but overreacting is likely.

“I know. I really do. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t about to shit myself when I saw it.”

“Okay. Just calm down. Talk books more?”

“Yes.” He nods. Books are easy. Books are calm.

“You know, you’ve got the name recognition, you could go it on your own. Skip the publishers all together and put it out yourself.”

“More work than I want to do.”

“Maybe not. We get our imprint going, you can contract with us on flat fee basis. At least until we’ve got some real sellers, that’s part of our business model. We’ll get you set up with typesetting, cover art, editing, what not. You just write the book and do whatever publicity you normally do.”

“Normally my publisher does that.”


“Yeah. I have no idea how they get the damn things in book stores, and I don’t have the time to find out.”

“It’s not too hard. Not for someone who’s already selling as well as you are. Besides, how many bookstores do you think will still be around by the time your contract is up?”

“That’s a point. It’ll be 2018 by the time I’m out, and…”

“And almost the entire market will be digital by then. And trust me, if I can get a book on Amazon, you can, too. It’s not rocket science.”

“By 2018, how set will your brand need to be? I mean…”

“Set. Blog placement, reviews, ad networks, I know that for my market. I don’t for yours.”


 He sits there quietly, neither of them talking for a minute, then, “Tim, I’m about to be late for dinner. Talk to me about this tomorrow? We’ll get a plan set up, and I’ll give you some names for possible new agents if you want to try that.”


“Things like this happen a lot?” Gibbs asks when Tim heads back out of the basement.

“First time that’s happened.” Tim paces around their living room, staring at the presents. Yeah, he got lots of congrats tweets and whatnot when they got married. No one sent presents. “My core demographic is twenty-five to fifty year old males, they usually don’t get too weird about fan stuff, but sometimes they do, and my weird fans are really weird.”

Abby’s unpacked all the baby gear from the box, but hasn’t taken anything out of its packaging. “You don’t want to keep this, do you?”

“It’s cute.” The set closest to him appears to be a stuffed Bunny from the Pat the Bunny books, the Pat the Bunny books, and a little white hat with white and a blue bow and pink bunny ears. It’s adorable. He’s terrified it’s got a tracker in it or slow acting poison, or just something. “I can see it’s cute. But, no, I don’t want it in the house. I know it’s fine. I’m sure there’s nothing bad in there, but…”

“It’s okay, Tim,” Abby says. If there’s anyone who is going to sympathize with him on his fear of what might happen if his fans figure out where he lives, it’s Abby.

He puts everything back into the box. “You guys mind if I go take this to Goodwill?”

Abby hugs him and shakes her head. “Not at all. Bring some dinner home?”

“Sure. What do you want?”

Before Gibbs got a chance to say something she says, “I think Gibbs is in junk food withdraw.”

“Okay. How about I hit the diner and tell Elaine you’ve been stranded at my place and Abby keeps force feeding you vegetables?”

Gibbs smiles at that. “Good. Food. Tell us about the case. Snuggle your girls.”

Tim kisses Abby, and then pats Gibbs’ shoulder, and heads up to find a shirt. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 270

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 270: Future Thoughts

Kelly’s fussing. She’s on her back, on a blanket, on the floor, under one of those baby play arch things. It’s a plastic u-shaped device with colorful stuffed animals hanging off of it. Supposedly, when she’s a bit older, she’ll be able to kick and punch at them, make them move. Right now they’re just bright shapes for her to stare at.

Gibbs is on the sofa, also on his back, foot and knee propped up, ice on his knee.

It’s Saturday afternoon, and he knows why Kelly cries. Being stuck on your back sucks.

He carefully starts inching his way to getting onto the floor to get her, but Abby, who had been in the kitchen, making lunch for both of them, beats him to it, scoops Kelly up, and puts her on his chest.

She glares at him. “You staying put?”

He rolls his eyes and sighs, focusing on Kelly, stroking his hands down her back.

Abby nods and heads back to the kitchen.

Gibbs looks at Kelly, who’s calming down and staring at him. “I’m bored, too.”

“I heard that,” Abby calls back.

“It’s not a secret.”

Abby came back into the living room a few minutes later, drinks for them in hand. She takes Kelly from him while he very carefully pulls himself up, and then gives her, and his coffee, back to him. “Chicken lettuce rolls sound good?”

Gibbs nods at that. For all the crud they eat on duty, food at the McGee house is surprisingly healthy. Of course, that’s probably counterbalancing all the crud they eat on duty. Though right about now, he’d really, really like something with a ton of fat and probably some bacon on top. He might suggest burgers for dinner. Tim’s home, sleeping off yesterday, which they still haven’t heard about beyond last night’s Got ‘em. Home late. text, and he’s not helpless with a grill.

“Got another possible nanny you can try to scare into submission this afternoon.”

“Wonderful.” Gibbs doesn’t feel particularly scary lounging about in his pajamas, knee in a brace, four days of stubble on his face. Crabby sure. But right now he feels like any of the potential nannies take one look at him and start to get nervous that they’ll be taking care of him, too.

Or maybe that’s him projecting.

He’s nervous about it. And that’s part of the reason why he’s bored and crabby, because he’s taking this seriously, staying down, healing.

Once he got enough of the pain meds out of his system that his brain was back online, he was planning on telling everyone to stop pampering him, and let him go to work. As much as he’s sure that putting the fear of Gibbs into potential nannies is important, (That’s his darling girl there, and they had better well take the best possible care of her or they will answer to him!) terrorists trying to kill people takes a certain sort of precedence.

He’d been absolutely certain that the doc had been exaggerating, and that she was just trying to scare him into resting (wouldn’t be the first time someone with a string of degrees next to his/her name told him to do something he didn’t really need to do), and all he needed to get up and… and he did get up, and he felt the top half of his leg move immediately when he told it to, his hip and thigh were completely with the program and doing exactly what they were told to do. His knee and calf on the other hand… he felt the bottom half lag behind the top for a heartbeat or two, pain shooting through his knee, (and that was just getting up, he hadn’t put any weight on his knee, yet) and he suddenly got the idea that maybe the doc knew what she was talking about on the whole ripping out his knee thing.

So, he keeps the brace on a lot, (even though it does dig into what is still his very bruised calf, and hurts like a bitch) because every time he moves without it on, he can feel that there is a lot more play in that joint than he wants. When he stands up to hobble over to the head, or get a shower, even with the brace, he can feel the slide between those bones, and he’s very, very aware of how easily this could go very wrong.

So, for the first time ever, he’s actually following doctor’s orders and resting. And trying, but he’s afraid he’s not really succeeding, to not be a massive pain in the ass to Abby or Tim.

They’ve already got a baby, they don’t need a helpless fifty-six-year-old living on their sofa, especially not for a year.

Sitting on his ass worries him on another level, too. Because there’s only so much reading and sleeping he can do. Which means he’s got lots of time to think. He did do a lot of thinking about the case, but thinking about the case reminded him of something.

One day soon, there won’t be any more cases.

And when that’s true…

He remembers the case they worked about the CO who ate his gun rather than face mandatory retirement. And he’s not there, not at all, he’s got Kelly and Tim and Abby, and Molly and the new baby, and lots of family stuff but… They all have their own lives and jobs and things that fill up each day.

And he’s got the Shannon, which for some reason isn’t nearly as done as he was expecting it to be at this point. Something about building cribs… (He’s got some maple he’s planing away, getting ready to find out if Baby Palmer is a boy or girl.)

But there’s only so much woodworking he can do, and that’s not twelve hours a day, every day…

And sure, once Shannon’s done, he’ll take her out, but he’s not feeling much desire to just vanish for six months at a time anymore.

There’s deskwork. They’ll let him review cold cases and recommend ‘new’ leads on them until the reaper finally shows up for him. And like Mike, he’ll be able to come back every now and again and ‘help’ (he’s already checked the regs, post-mandatory retirement, he can’t spend more than fifteen days a year on active duty). And if he feels like bouncing from one base to another, chatting with guys who are coming to the end of their enlistments, he could become a recruiter. 

But for a guy who’s used to working eighty hours a week, that’s still a lot of down time.

Tim and Abby need a nanny. They need someone who knows the hours, understands why they can’t say, ‘we’ll be home at seven,’ loves their baby, and will do everything to take great care of her.

He looks at Kelly, who’s on his chest, chewing on his t-shirt, (She must have lost her pacifier in transit. Yep, it’s on the carpet, just out of his reach. And he’s damned if he’s going to call Abby out here to make a whole other trip to get it. He’s never been so frustrated by something being less than five feet away in his life.) so he gives her a finger to suck on, which she approves of. And honestly, though he is enjoying grandpa-hood, and though he loves time with Kelly, he can’t see himself doing this full time.

He loved his own Kelly beyond all reason, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t about to jump out of his skin the week Shannon had pneumonia, and he was on stay-at-home-dad duty.

Of course, he was a really different guy then.

“What do you think?” he asks Kelly. “You and me? Let mom and dad have someone who already understands the insane hours?”

“Think about what?” Abby asks, sitting down next to him. “Did you lose your paci?” she asks Kelly.

Gibbs nods. “Think she might be getting hungry, too.” He gestures to the large drool soaked spot on his shirt. If it’s anything to guess by, Kelly’s looking for a breast.

Abby sighs. “Okay.” She grabs the pacifier off the floor and hands it to Gibbs, who didn’t mind getting his left hand back. Then she got up again, headed into the office, rooted through the bag with his clothing in it, and found Gibbs a clean t-shirt.

A moment later, she’s got Kelly in hand, who is indeed trying to get to a breast, and Gibbs is changing out of one t-shirt for another.

“Can I eat my lunch?” Abby asks Kelly.

Kelly whines at her.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Abby says. She hands Gibbs her lunch, “Hold this,” while settling Kelly in to nurse again. “You just ate. What is going on?”

“Almost six weeks old. Growth spurt time.”

“Great. So, what were you asking her?”  

“Just playing with an idea. Not sure it’d work. Not sure I’m actually up for it.” Abby’s looking intrigued. “Gonna retire soon enough. Maybe you don’t need a nanny for all that long…”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “You serious?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Went pretty stir crazy when I was on all babies all the time with my Kelly, but… You need someone who understands the hours are crazy, someone who gets why you can’t tell them when you’ll be home.”

“True…” Abby’s nodding. “Keep thinking about it. If you’re serious, then we’ll talk about it, but… you sure you’re not just looking at the calendar and realizing you’ve suddenly got nothing planned?”

If he could reach, he’d kiss her forehead, but he can’t, not without seriously changing his position, so he squeezes her hand and smiles. “Always did know me too well.” 


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 269

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 269: And That Was Friday

By Friday morning Tim was starting to feel like he was in the habit of going to work again. Up, shower, food, dress, and out.

Felt like he was getting his rhythm back.

That was kind of nice.

“Good morning,” Tim says as he heads into the Bullpen, seeing Ziva sitting at her desk.

Ziva grunts at him. She’s mad. He can feel that coming off of her. It’s not the same PISSED that radiates off of Gibbs. This is a duller, slower, longer lasting anger. Tim spends a moment really looking at her, and decides that she’s pissed, but not at him, and not at being at work today.

That figured out, he’s not going to poke it. If it looks like she’s not letting it go as the day goes on and they get more intel, he’ll have a go at it later.

The Information Fairy, AKA Fornell, had indeed been kind. Split between them it was three hours of reading.

After three hours they knew this:

Lisbeth Ender (or at least someone who looked like her and had her passport) left the US for Tanzania on the 22nd. Tim put in the call for someone to hunt her down, but he wasn’t holding his breath on that. Wanted for questioning was awfully low on the priorities list for most international crime hunters. And though all her travel documents are flagged, he’s also not expecting her head back to a first world country using those documents anytime soon.

Thomas Ender had been extremely good as a spy. His evals indicated he was at the top of the CIA’s talent pool. He’d been trained for long-term, sleeper-cell style missions, where he could spend literally years in place, working his way deeper and deeper into the local culture, keeping an eye on things, and “nudging” them one direction or another.

His assignment as Aref Al Jalil, had gone smoothly for almost two years. He was settled in, working as an opium smuggler, making contacts in several small villages between the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, returning good intel, and then things went wrong.

Apparently he was so well-settled, he’d found himself a wife and had a child. And Kort’s “Stockholm Syndrome” actually translated into drone attack hit the wrong target, killing them, and apparently half of Ender’s in-laws.

Once the CIA figured out what had happened, they captured him.

Then the Taliban got him back.

That was 2009. In the intervening six years, rumors of what Ender was up to had spread. But they never got past rumors. He was good enough that deep, deep cover kept him a ghost. However, if rumors (or the NSA, CIA, Interpol, MI6, and the like) were to be believed, he ran training camps out of Columbia and Uzbekistan, and managed to spend some time working with just about every major terror group on Earth. 

Fornell’s friend of a friend had something of a brainstorm, and decided to check James Ender’s travels, and found that he’d been all over the world, all over the United States, and managed to do it while reporting for duty every shift.

Further digging found that James Ender had two passports and driver’s licenses.

And if there’s one thing the TSA doesn’t do, it’s give military personnel in uniform with correct travel documents a hard time.

“Draga, we got the IDs back on Simmers and Blake?” Tim asks as he closes the flap on the folder in front of him. (FBI’s reports on Ender.)

Draga shakes his head.

“Okay, keep reading. Come on Ziva, let’s get some lunch. What do you want, Draga?”

You don’t have to be a genius to see Tim wants some time to talk to Ziva alone. She’s been radiating mad all morning, and it’s not getting any better. Draga’s not stupid, so he’s not having any issues figuring out that Tim is not going to even try to handle her the same way he did with him, so Draga doesn’t get up at the mention of lunch. “Where are you going?”

“Thinking Carlo’s. That okay with you?” Tim checks with Ziva.

Ziva nods.

“Cobb salad, no blue cheese, extra hard-boiled egg.”

Tim makes a note of it on his phone. “You get IDs on them, let us know.”

Draga nods. He’s still going through the MI-6 file on Ender, mostly detailing what they suspected was a six month stint in the IRA.

“Okay. Come on, Ziva.”

Like Draga, Tim’s not stupid, and he also knows he can’t handle Ziva the same way he did Draga. He can’t just draw a line and tell her to toe it. Too much water under too many bridges there. So, once they had their food…

“Talk to me.”

Ziva’s still oozing angry. “I am not a child.”

Okay, not what he was expecting, but he knows the right answer to that one. “No one thinks you are.”

Ziva glares at him. Or maybe not the right answer. Obviously, according to Ziva, someone was treating her like a child. “He yelled at me. Actually yelled.”

Tim’s giving her the tell me more look. His husband senses kicking in and telling him this might be a good conversation for him to say as little as possible and do a whole lot of listening.

“Once we got home, he yelled at me for running to them. Screamed about it. Told me that if I ever disobeyed a direct order from him or Gibbs again, he’d fire me.”

“Wow.” Tim gets Tony was scared. He knows he would have been in a blind panic if Abby ran toward him into a dangerous situation, but he also hopes he’d handle the aftermath better than that. Though, given how bonkers he went on the whole pregnant-wife-thing, he’s also awfully doubtful that he’d manage it.

“I am not a child. I can decide for myself if…”

He squeezes her hand. She’s shaking her head, still angry.

“He has no right to…” She stabs her chicken.

“He’s your husband. He’s allowed to get scared and angry when you’re in danger.”

“And I’m not?”

Also not what he was expecting. Apparently they aren’t just talking about Tony reacting to danger. “Not saying that. After the freezer, when I got calmed down, and it was her turn to go crazy, Abby hit me, couple of times, until I held her wrists and made her stop. Only reason I didn’t get hit yesterday is because I ran away from the blast. I run into a blast, I get two steps past yelled at. So, I’m not going to say you’re not allowed to be scared and angry, too. But it’s not the same for you or her as it is for us.”

Ziva’s not buying that at all. “Of course it’s the same.”

“No, it’s not.” Tim takes a bite of his lunch. “Are you pregnant?”

“Are you insane?” Not buying it has morphed into seriously irked.

“Not any more so than normal,” Tim says dryly. “You pregnant?”



She rolls her eyes. “Soon.”

“So, are you really certain you’re not pregnant?”

“It’s extremely unlikely.”

“But it’s not impossible.”

Tim’s noticing he’s about to get some Ziva anger aimed at him if he doesn’t get to the point soon, and it had better be an awfully good one. “It’s very unlikely but not completely impossible.”

“And that’s why it’s not the same. We… men… live in the present. Our bodies exist now and that’s it. When they’re gone they’re gone. You… women… live in the present and, maybe, the future. There’s always that chance that the next generation is along for the ride, and that’s the difference. Sure, you’re not pregnant. Sure, he knows that. But if yesterday was the end, you going with him took not just him out, not just you, but maybe any future he’s got, as well.”

That apparently was not a good enough point, she’s glaring at him. “McGee, you are full of shit. It works that way for us, too. That is the father of any children I’m ever going to have, standing in front of a bomb. He’s as much my future as I am his, and if he goes, that’s the end of it, and I am an adult, and I am allowed to value that future more than a life without it.”

Tim shrugs. He may not believe Ziva’s right about that, because she not. It’s not the same, at least, he doesn’t feel that way, not in his gut, because it’s the difference between… between the idea of a baby and a baby that might already exist… (He can feel Penny glaring at him on that, for being old-fashioned and patriarchal, but he’s comfortable with it.) but he’s also not going to argue about it. It probably does feel the same, to Ziva.

“You’re the love of his life. You didn’t need to die, and you ran into a bomb blast to be with him. You scared the shit out of him, probably Gibbs, too. I bet he’s going to yell at you, or at least give you a headslap when you get in range again. I’d yell at Abby and probably say some god-awful stupid things if she did the same thing, because sometimes you’re so damn scared all you can do is yell.”

That gets a little nod out of Ziva. “She told us about not being able to carry in any groceries while she was pregnant.”

“Exactly. Now, how ridiculously stupid is that compared to a bomb? It’s really stupid. That’s an entire level of special stupid that only guys get, and only about their pregnant wives, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Jimmy feels the same way about Breena. I think it’s just part of being a guy.”

“It’s part of being a human, McGee. Do you think I do not feel that same fear every time we go out? Or that Abby doesn’t when you’re at risk?”

Judging by the fact that he’s never seen or heard of Abby, Ziva, or Breena hovering nervously over any of the three of them when they’re doing fairly normal and extremely low-risk things, and he knows that both he and Jimmy did it for their wives when they were pregnant, he’s thinking the answer is no. But he’s also not about to say that.

And he also knows that there is fear there, and it’s there all the time, and the fact that it’s not the same doesn’t make it any less real, or any less intense for the person feeling it, so he says, “I know you do. I know she does. I’m not moving to Cybercrime because I want career advancement. I would have taken a position as a tech down there if Vance hadn’t gone for Department Head.

“And I ran away because that’s my promise to her. That’s our marriage. She and Kelly come first, and I can’t put them first if I’m not alive. But… is that your promise to Tony? Will you live for him… Okay, that sounds wrong, but do you get what I mean?”

Ziva nods. “Yes, I do.”

“Is that your marriage?”

Ziva shakes her head, and he thinks she’s saying she doesn’t want to talk about it, not commenting on their relationship.

“You two going to be okay?”


“You two gonna be able to work together?”

She shrugs. Not a problem that has to be dealt with today. And honestly, not Tim’s problem, either, at least, not until Tony gets back and takes over again as leader.

“Your head in the game enough to be here with me?” But that is his problem, and it does need to be dealt with today.

“Are you asking as my friend or the senior member of the team?”

“Right now, it’s as Team Leader.”

Ziva takes a sip of her soda. “I am, in the game, as you put it.”

“Good. ‘Cause I need you to ask a favor.”

Getting back to the case was making Ziva happier. Work is almost always easier than relationshipping when the going is rocky. “A favor of whom?”

“Orli Elbaz. I’ve got Vance working it on our side, and I want to know from hers as well. Who knew where those subs were going to be, and did anyone reroute them?”

“You know she isn’t head of Mossad anymore?”

“She’s the highest link on the chain I can get to, unless you know the current guy…”

“I do, but not as well. He wasn’t a fan of my father, and I do not think he’d be interested in doing me any favors.”

“Okay. Get me what you can. It can’t be a coincidence those ships were that close to each other.”

Both of their phones buzz. Tim grabs his while waving to their waiter for the check and boxes to take their lunch back to the Navy Yard. Jason Simmers aka Xavier Martinez, last known as part of ETA. Vanished in 2010.

Tim looks at Ziva. “Didn’t the ETA sign a cease-fire in 2010?”

“Yes, and disbanded in 2014.”

“Unemployed terrorist looking for a new gig?”

Ziva shrugs. She’s certainly heard worse ideas.

By the time they got back, Blake had a new name, too. Seamus Ivers, formerly of the IRA, dropped off the face of the Earth at the end of 2010, and apparently, rejoined it as Edward Blake, of the US Navy.

So… three terrorists… though Tim’s thinking that doesn’t quite sound right… Not for targets that big. Not if they’re aiming at military targets. Three mercenaries? Special ops? He supposes it’s possible that Ender found the biggest target he could locate as a way to strike back against the US, but, what… the Israeli Subs were just icing on the cake?

No. He’s working for someone and that someone has to be a government, or a quazi-government with some real money and intel behind it.

From everything he’d seen from the info dump on Ender, (and having IDed Blake and Simmers, massive mounds of new info on them were pouring in) the man was more than capable of planning a mission where he’d get men in place four years ahead of striking.

His phone buzzed, and he saw it was Vance’s private number.


“Feel like getting a coffee with me?”

“Yes, sir.” What the hell is going on now? Intel too delicate to put in writing? Did I just screw something up? Are we being pulled off? Shit.


Five minutes later, he was standing next to Vance, holding a cup of iced-coffee (it’s really too hot for hot coffee) wondering what exactly Vance doesn’t want to say to him in his office.

“I understand you have Ziva putting out feelers for why those subs were where they were?”


Vance sighs and rubs his eyes.

“I know you’ve been on Gibbs’ team for a long time. And I know I take a hands off, let him take the case wherever it leads approach.”

Tim feels his stomach start to knot up as it dawns on him what the problem might be. “So you’re saying we weren’t supposed to know those subs were there, either?”

“Mossad knows we spy on them. We know they spy on us. That’s just how the game works. But, until Ziva started calling, they didn’t know that we had managed to get our hands on that bit of intel. And they also hadn't know about the almost attack on the Reagan.”

“Shit. Sorry.”

Vance shakes his head. “Solve the case and all sins are forgiven.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I also have some news for you on our side of that. The path the Reagan was on had been planned out more than six months ago and was unaltered.”

“Who planned it out?”

Leon smiles, but it’s not a happy gesture. “Let’s put it this way, if the people who planned it are compromised, we’ve got vastly bigger issues than a possible terror cell.”

“I understand. Will someone be checking to make sure we don’t have vastly bigger issues than a possible terror cell?”

“Yes, discretely.” That answer makes Tim think that some members of the higher ups were about to answer some very uncomfortable questions.   


“How close to solving this are you?”

“Closer than I was yesterday, not as close as I’d like to be.” Tim doesn’t say that he’s desperately worried that he’ll be able to figure out the puzzle, put all the pieces in place, but still not be able to catch the guys because they’re better at hiding than he is at seeking. “I’ve got positive IDs on everyone. More information is coming in by the minute, but we’re playing catch-up.”

Vance nods, finishes his coffee, and says, “Play harder,” as he heads back into the Navy Yard.  

The thing is, as he’s sitting there with Ziva and Draga, is that none of the three of them are the ideas guy.

Okay, that’s kind of dumb, sure he’s the ideas guy, as long as those ideas involve a computer. And Ziva’s the ideas girl, as long as those ideas involve a gun. And Draga might be the ideas guy, as long as it involves seeing some little detail the rest of the missed.

But those are ideas. None of them are the IDEAS guy.

Right now, they’re missing their ideas guys. Faced with a Mount Everest of facts and evidence,  Gibbs or Tony would be the one to have the Eureka! moment and know what to do or where to look next.

And for the most part it’s the three of them that do the looking.

And they’re doing great at looking. They’ve got scads of information now. Wading through piles and piles of it. All three of those men have had long and glorious careers blowing stuff up and killing people for whichever “cause” was paying the bills. And Tim, Ziva, and Draga are reading up, learning patterns, getting familiar with how these guys think and why.

What they don’t have is where the hell they’re located now.

Or how they got off that ship.

Or how they all got onto it, too. Who got Simmers and Blake on the Reagan in the first place? Or, once again coincidence?

Or how they knew when and where to hit.

Or why three guys, three guys who are really great at what they do, used a frigging dead battery to power their detonator. Was the point even to blow up the Reagan, or just scare the hell out of everyone?

Sigh. Tim turns another page, learning more about Blake’s training as an explosives expert.

“Think they’re in Tanzania?” Draga asks.

Tim shrugs. It’s possible. “Any of their aliases go traveling recently?” Specifically, and this is something that worries him deeply, is the idea that the three of them boarded planes using their military IDs and got out of the country before NCIS was even looking for them.

Sure, they requested intel on that, and yes, they set the BOLO, but the fact that nothing has popped up can be just as much a matter of the TSA being asleep at the wheel as those three are still in the US. (In fact, given the CVs Tim's reading on these three, it's more likely not seeing anything is the TSA asleep at the wheel than these three still being in the States.)

But, now that they’ve got IDs for all three with their real names, the list of potential aliases just got a whole lot longer.”

“I’m checking on that,” Draga answers.

Tim’s staring at his screen, looking at reports connecting the explosives in Simmers’ fortress of Solitude to “explosions” (Sometime around 2009 most of the West realized it was in the best interest of everyone if any bombing that could be passed off as some sort of industrial accident, was.) in Ireland, England, Canada, the US, and Australia, and the residue they found at Blake’s place.

So, at the very least Simmers and Blake are working together, and they can put the explosives that just about blew them up in Blake’s hands. And they can now confirm that Blake really is Seamus Ivers. The facial recognition was only 92% sure, but no two bombers use the exact same explosive recipe, and the chemical composition on the explosives is identical.

Wonderful. More pieces together. Still no closer to finding them.

Tim checks his email, sure he’s not going to find that any of the three of them got caught in a BOLO, but he might as well hope.


Simmers and Blake were on the Reagan together. They could talk to each other easily. Ender wasn’t. There had to be some way they communicated with each other.

No phone records. No financials. No useful emails.

So, how were they doing it?

He’s tapping his fingers on his keyboard, rubbing his forehead.  They never did get around to combing through social media. Worth a shot.

“We still don’t know how they were talking to each other. Social media time. Ziva, you take tumblr. Draga, you’re on Facebook. I’ve got Twitter. They had to talk to each other, let’s find it.”

Two hours later, they finally did hit the eureka moment. “Guys!” Draga sounds really excited.

Tim and Ziva look up at Draga.

“They’re all players on Minecraft. Got their own server and everything!”

Tim remembers that thing about the NSA watching people online on gaming communities. “That’s where they’re talking?”

“Think so. And… yeah… they’re on now.”

Tim quietly sends a quick thanks to God, and starts to hack. “I’ve got this. Gear up. Ziva, let Vance know what is up. I’ll have a location in…” He taps the keyboard waiting for his computer to find what he needs. “Fredricksburg, Maryland. Let’s go!” He’s up and moving to the car while lifting his phone to his ear to call in back up and the bomb squad. They almost got blown to smithereens once, they’re not taking that chance again.

There are times when Tim is more than vaguely worried about the militarization of local police forces. Like, he very rarely thinks they actually need tanks or tank-like transports. And having dealt with a decent number of LEOs who would find counting to twenty-one difficult unless they were naked, he’s… skeptical is probably a good word, about their ability to use those weapons and the tactics that go with them well.

But right now, as he’s being introduced to Lt. Jeffery Tomlinson, Fredericksburg SWAT, he’s feeling pretty comfortable with the fact that Tomlinson knows what he’s doing, and he’s got enough firepower behind him to take out a moderately sized country, like say, France.

They’re in a “Lawn Care” van, three streets away from the target house, in front of a foreclosed on house, and Tomlinson actually has two guys very slowly mowing the lawn.

In front of them is a bank of monitors, showing the house their perps is in from four separate angles.

“Once we got the call, we set up the surveillance,” Tomlinson says, as he shows them how to control the camera feeds. “Nothing in that house has moved since we’ve gotten the call.”

“Good. How’d you set it up?” Tim asks. “One of them is CIA-trained and probably knows what to look for.”

“Saw that when we got your call. We went in with a UPS truck, and delivered ‘packages’ with hidden cameras to the front porches of a few of the neighbors.”

“Cool.” For several minutes Tim, Ziva, and Draga just watch, getting a feel for the layout. They’ve got really good line of sight. In fact, it’s too good. 

This is some sort of trap waiting for them. Tim can feel it. Ziva’s looking really nervous, too.

“Too easy?” If anyone would know, it’s their Ninja.

“Yes.” She’s staring at the aerial shots of the neighborhood. There’s no cover anywhere. It’s a fairly new development, no trees, very few bushes, and the ones that are there are all small. “They’re practically inviting us to come in and get killed.”

“Sooo… what’s the trap?” Draga asks.

“The warehouse was simple. This is probably simple too. Easy to hide. Easy to disarm, they don’t want to blow themselves up. Easy to trip…” Ziva’s looking back at the footage of the house. It’s a basic, cookie cutter, low end of the expensive spectrum, house for yuppies. Lots of windows, big front yard, no trees. Two hundred other houses all exactly like it, all on .75 acre lots, all facing tidy-little two lane streets, arranged into a near-fractal of cul-de-sacs.

Ziva uses the controls on the cameras, scanning around, giving them a better view of the front of the house. “Does it look like they ever use the front door?”

“Be a lot easier to tell in winter,” Tim says. Nothing like snow for making obvious footprints. July isn’t very good for that.

Ziva shakes her head. “I know, but… The cars are parked on the driveway next to the garage and side entrance. The post box is at the end of the driveway. Who would use the front door? Police coming in.”

“Give me a close up of the front of the house,” Draga says. He looks, seeing, Tim has no idea what, but he says definitively, “Side door. They don’t use the front.”

“So…” Tim says, waiting to see what they’re thinking.

Ziva focuses in a bit tighter. “Does that lump under the welcome mat look suspicious?”

“Looks like something I’d stay away from,” Draga says.

“If I had any idea how much explosives they had, I would be tempted to just toss something onto the mat and let them blow up,” Ziva says, flash of her old self showing through.

“But…” Tim says it, though he doesn’t really need to. They all know ‘but.’ This is residential neighborhood with hundreds of people in it, and they’ve got no idea what all is in that house.

“Heat feed is online,” one of the techs from the Fredericksburg SWAT says.

“Good!” Ziva says, keying it up.

It’s honestly kind of boring. Three guys, sitting in front of computers. From the feed Tim’s got on their servers, they actually are playing Minecraft right now. Probably. They’re in creative mode and building something really big. The fact that they’ve also got a completely detailed, to scale, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier on their server means that whatever they’re building, it’s probably not just for fun.

“That can’t be good,” from Draga gets Tim’s attention off of what they’re building and back onto the heat cameras.

It takes him a few minutes to see it, but once he does… “Shit.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that Blake is part of this group, he’d probably be significantly less worried about the fact that there are multiple places on the house, like the front door, the garage doors, the back door, around several windows, that aren’t radiating heat the way the rest of the house is.

It’s July. It’s 93 degrees outside. Most of the house is radiating a bit cooler than that, which makes sense, they’ve probably got AC going on the inside. But, if say, there were large blocks of something very solid, something that didn’t transmit cool well, there would be darker, hotter sections, where whatever that dense material that wasn’t transmitting the cool was.

And there are. A lot of them. And Tim’s awfully sure those blocks are more of the C-4ish stuff Blake makes. The whole house is wired to blow, and from the looks of it, just about every entrance they could choose is set to blow anyone who comes in sky high.

“McGee,” Ziva’s voice, and her sounding concerned sends ice down his spine.


She points to the square, cooler spots on each of the men.

“They’re all rigged to blow, too, aren’t they?”

“That would be my guess.” She focused in closer on one of them. “Though I’d say they aren’t switched on yet, this one is using both hands on his computer.”

“Great. So, how do we get them out, without having them blow up the neighborhood?” He looks at Ziva, and she shrugs. Draga shakes his head. Tomlinson began setting up a plan to evacuate the neighborhood, which is something that Tim’s in favor of in general, except the great line of sight means that as soon as they start doing it, the guys in the house will notice, and probably blow the place.

“You guys willing to get some bad press?” Tim asks Jeffery.


“They’ve got cameras all over the house. We can’t move without them seeing it. If we could get a bunch of DEA or PD vans or something and go storming into one of the neighbor’s houses, make a big deal about it, lots of noise and attention, maybe we could get in and get them shut down before they notice they really are the targets.”

Draga looks up at that. “Better idea. Do that, but we’ll gas them.”

Ziva perks up considerably. “I like that. Big, huge show next door, I’ll sneak up to the heat pump, hook in the canister, and then we can go in once they’re asleep.”

Tim knows the theory behind the gas. Sleeping bad guys don’t put up any sort of fight. He also knows that as of this point no police force has managed to use it without killing at least half of the people they were trying to take down, and, honestly, at least half usually meant a whole lot closer to all of them.

If the Reagan had blown, that was at least 5700 lives, plus who knew how much nuclear fallout. Only sheer luck the warehouse didn’t get them. And this house, in the middle of a neighborhood filled with people…

It’s his call.

He got his cell and made it. Since the beginning of ’14 all SWAT teams had been equipped with the gas. NCIS wasn’t because they didn’t usually go into situations like that, but Tim’s call to Tomlinson’s commander got the gas released for use.

He’s not dying to capture these three, and neither is anyone else. Not today.

Half an hour later, on his orders, while the DEA staged a raid on the house two doors down, Ziva crept around to the back and hooked a non-descript canister into the house’s HVAC system.

An hour after that, (while Tim personally apologized profusely to the owners of that house, assuring them that all the damage would be paid for, and the Fredricksburg PD made sure that all the nearby homes were evacuated) the bomb squad went in with gasmasks. Ender and Simmers were dead. Blake was going to have a whole lot of explaining to do, if he ever woke up.

But the EMTs who took custody of him after the bomb squad got him out didn’t seem hopeful about him waking up anytime soon.

It took the bomb techs close to three hours to clear the house. And even after that, they weren’t willing to guarantee that they’d found everything, or for that matter, short of tearing the whole place apart, that they ever could find everything.

But you can’t process a scene if you can’t go in it.

And the scene needs to be processed.

So, it was with extreme caution and very slow, very deliberate motions (and as much body armor as they could put on and still move) that Tim, Ziva, and Draga began going through the house.

Why every inch of that house was wired to blow was evident less than five minutes into going through the place, everything anyone could possibly need to roll the whole organization up was in there.

And that organization was much larger than three guys.

Much, much larger.

Tim had Fornell on the line before they’d even gotten halfway through pulling stuff out, and having done so, it was only an hour before the FBI showed up, with their own passel of bomb techs, explosive sniffing dogs, and probably every crime scene tech out of the Baltimore office.

Yeah, NCIS likes credit for big busts, but in the end domestic terrorism isn’t their job. Not unless it happens to Navy or Marine personnel or their families.

Playing catch up, running down the likely fifty to a hundred guys in this group, Tim was fine with handing that off. They got their guys for their crime, and that was enough.

And if it looked like there was more Navy or Marine servicemen involved, Fornell had promised they’d get the call as soon as they knew.

It was well after midnight when Tim was finishing up the first of his reports.

He’d talked to Vance when they got in, debriefed him on what they had found, the most pressing bit being that this group appeared to be large enough to make good on Simmers’ enemies list, so even though Simmers was dead, the protection details couldn’t yet be lifted.

Then came the process of the first report, namely a general what all happened when and why. There’d be more detailed reports later, in which every single second of the day would have to be accounted for, but those could wait until tomorrow. (Checking the clock on his computer, they could wait until later today.)

Tim rubs his eyes and was about to hit the send button when his phone rang. Vance’s secretary was requesting that he head upstairs to talk to the Director.

Tim didn’t like the feel of that request. They’d already debriefed, so this added call was making him nervous. But he hit send, and headed up, wondering what was going to happen next.

“Agent McGee,” Vance says as he heads in. He’s not smiling, but he doesn’t sound angry, either.


He looks over and sees Kort standing next to Vance’s desk, looking smug. Vance looks smug, too. Something weird is about to happen, and Tim’s aware of it, on edge. He doesn’t like being dropped into the middle of a set-up without being told what the set-up is.

“Mr. Kort, on behalf of his organization, felt it was necessary to complain about the handling of today’s incident. He wanted to voice his, and the CIA’s, distress at losing such a valuable ‘asset.’”

Tim’s staring at Vance, trying to see where this is going. Vance isn’t smiling, but there’s that amused, enjoying himself look in his eyes.

“I was thinking, that as the Agent in charge of today’s actions, that you should have the chance to respond directly to Mr. Kort.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Tim can see that not quite smile is still there, and he really hopes he’s not misreading the cues, and that this is, in fact, the guy who said he’d pay to see him cuss out the commander in charge of Lejeune setting him up for another version of that show.

Only one way to know for sure.

“And would this be a response from me personally, or from NCIS as a whole, Sir?”

Vance’s smile broke through for a half a second. “I think, in this matter, you’re more than qualified to speak for NCIS as a whole, Agent McGee.”

“Ah. Good.” Tim turned to face Kort. “Kort, fuck off and die you ungrateful son of a bitch. I got all of their phones, all of their computers, all of their papers, and their safe house, all intact, and now all in the hands of the FBI who are having a field day with all of this intel they’ve never seen before because you bastards never share.

“I got all of their contacts. There were fifty-seven people on that Minecraft server and unlike the NSA trolling operations, none of them are thirteen-year-olds just looking to have a good time.

“What you and the CIA couldn’t do in five years, my team did in five days. You don’t want your valuable assets dead, do your own damn job, and risk your own ass to capture them yourself. Me and mine aren’t dying for your fuck ups. And I’m sure as hell not risking three maniacs blowing up an entire neighborhood just to preserve your assets. We clear?”

“Crystal.” Kort looks at Leon, who is, for the first time, noticing that McGee’s actually pretty tall. “That was impolitic, Director.”

“Oh, my, you are right.” The full force of Vance’s sarcasm was withering. “I am shocked, deeply shocked at what Agent McGee had to say. He’s usually much more polite. McGee!”

“Yes, sir.”

“You and your entire team are being placed on paid leave. Once your reports are filled out, I do not want to see any of you here again until August. For the next week, I want you to go home, rest, relax, and think about the grave severity and dire consequences of saying impolitic things to pretentious assholes who upon being offered cake, ice cream, and cookies complain about the lack of whipped cream with sprinkles on top and deserve to have their ungrateful asses kicked.”

“Yes, sir.” Tim nods, trying very hard not to smile.

“Go on. Wrap up that report, and I’ll see you in a week. Now, Mr. Kort, do you have any other complaints I can deal with?”


It was a bit after two-thirty when Vance finished reading McGee’s report. Clear, concise, matched DiNozzo’s, Draga’s, and Tomlinson’s.

It was the final wrap up that Vance found most interesting. When the case is closed, the Team Leader writes up what happened. He’s gotten hundreds of them from Gibbs and a few from DiNozzo at this point, and McGee’s was similar, until he hit the end.

The final section had the heading:

Unanswered Questions:

1. How did they get off of the Reagan?
2. Why was the battery that powered the detonator dead?
3. Why stay in the US?
4. Who actually killed Thomas Ender?
5. How did they know those subs were going to be there?

Vance stared at those questions. He doesn’t know the answers, and if what the doctors are saying about Blake being brain dead are right, he’s not going to be providing them, either.

FBI’s problem now.

He flicks off his monitor, and stands, ready to head home, when he hears his door open. He sent Sharon, his secretary, home after McGee and Kort left. No reason for her to stay while he read reports.

“Hello.” And while it’s true he’s not a field agent, he does keep a gun in his top desk drawer, and he’s opening that drawer as he greets the figure entering his office.


He knows that voice and relaxes, sliding the drawer shut. “Don’t sneak up on people like that, Clayt.” Jarvis took a few steps into his office.

Jarvis is not looking happy. And Leon can imagine why, it’s after two in the morning, and instead of being home, he’s here. “CIA is pissed.”

“Oh, come on, Kort deserved every word of what he got, and if he can’t handle McGee telling him to fuck off, it’s time for a new job.”

“That’s not why CIA is pissed. And that’s not why they’d call me in. In fact, I didn’t know…” That’s when what Vance said really starts to get to Jarvis. He spends a moment thinking about who was on DiNozzo’s team, and finally remembers which one McGee was, the tech guy who was running the interesting test on Cybercrime. He cussed out Kort? “Really?”

“Really.” Vance says with a smile.


Vance nods. “For a whole thirty seconds there Kort actually looked almost pissed off. That mildly annoyed, better than everyone else in the universe mask of his almost cracked. So if it’s not about Kort, why are you here?”

“I’m here at two forty-three in the morning because at some time around one in the morning CIA Director Carl Hanson got the news that Ender had been killed.”

Vance shakes his head. Really, they’re going to moan about it? “It was a clean kill, Clayt. Probably saved hundreds of lives.”

“Ender was still a deep cover asset for the CIA, reporting directly to Hanson. Kort had been instructed to provide as much information as he could while protecting Ender’s cover, but he was instructed to break that cover should it be necessary to get Ender out alive. According to his report, he was intending to tell DiNozzo of Ender’s real allegiance should he get too close to catching him. He didn’t think McGee was up to it, and if somehow he managed it, that McGee wouldn’t be willing to use lethal force to apprehend Ender. Apparently the use of the gas wasn’t the ‘by-the-book’ play he was expecting McGee to come up with, so he didn’t reveal that the entire plan was for them to get captured, all of the info compromised, and for Ender to ‘break free’ again once we transferred him to an Afghani black-site.”  

Vance sits back down, feeling like his stomach is about to drop out of his body, and gestures to one of the chairs near his desk for Jarvis. “So Kort screwed the pooch, underestimated my man, and the CIA is mad at us?”


Vance sounds tired. “Clayt, it’s too damn late for this. Kort keeps his cards too close to the vest, he gets what he gets.”

Jarvis flashes him a look that indicates he agrees with Vance, but there’s more bad news coming. “They want an inquiry.”

“They can have one, but I’ll scream so loud and hard about what they were doing it’s going to look awfully bad. The fact that they were running an illegal op on US soil will be the least of what I’ll throw at them. I’m not letting them crucify McGee for doing his job and doing it well.”

Clayton Jarvis stares at Vance for a moment. He knows Vance is protective of his people, but he also knows Vance has the political skills to let one take something for the team if it’ll work better in the long run. If he’s willing to embarrass the CIA over this, burn those bridges… “It’s that cut and dried?”

“We go to the wall on this one and we fight to the last man, Clayton. If we don’t, none of our men will ever step up when we ask them to. I’ll send you the report. It was a clean kill. Even with Ender being an asset, Blake and Simmers weren’t and they were both wearing functional kill switches that could have…” Vance turns his computer back on and sorts through his reports. “According to the bomb squad, if any of those vests had gone off, they would have touched off an explosion large enough to level three thousand meters in all directions, as well as shower debris all over the surrounding area. When they evacuated, there were sixty-three people in that area, and since it was late afternoon on a Friday in summertime, forty-six of them were children. He made the right decision, and if the CIA wants someone to fall on his sword, they need to tell Kort it’s time to get sharpening, ‘cause it’s not going to be McGee.”  

Clayton nods. “Send me all of the reports. I’ll make sure we put the full power of the Navy behind McGee on this one. Knowing we won’t roll over should shut the CIA up, but if it doesn’t, we’ll fight.”

“Okay.” Vance sighs and reaches for his phone.

“Thought you were just about to head off.”

“I was, but now I’ve got one more call to make.”

“It’s almost three in the morning. Let him sleep. Once I’ve got the full report, I’m going to talk to CIA again. If this is as cut and dried as you’re saying, the CIA won’t fight.”

And that was Friday.

And on Saturday, a bit after noon, when he was just getting up, Leon found a text from Jarvis: CIA folded. They’re not going to make an issue of it. Ender officially died in 2009, he’s already got his star on the wall, and that’s all that needs to be said about that.

A few seconds later Vance got Are you going to tell McGee?

No. Not having a good agent second guessing himself for doing his job right.