Monday, December 23, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 268

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

Chapter 268: That Was Thursday

Like with Tuesday, Thursday began with crying.

“And another one bites the dust,” Tim says quietly, putting Kelly’s empty bottle on the floor.

Bottle done, now he’s on burp and back to crib duty. So they rock gently, sitting on the rocking chair where Gibbs and Shannon did this with their Kelly, as he’s patting away, humming to her.

He doesn’t have a lot of good baby music.  And most of the jazz he likes isn’t exactly slow and soothing. (Okay, he finds it soothing, but the beat is usually pretty fast, and he can’t hum it well.)

So, often he finds himself humming, or quietly singing the songs he’s recently come into contact with. Bits of music that have jumped into his head. Back in April, he’d been sitting on Jimmy and Breena’s back porch, Abby on his lap, hand rubbing over Kelly’s baby bump, feeling her kick, and Breena had cranked the volume on the music, saying she loved this song, and it stuck with him.

So when he got home, he added it to his playlist. Passenger’s not his usual taste, but he’s okay, and Tim likes Patient Love. He probably listens to it, once, maybe twice a month now. It’s attached to sunshine and laughing with people he loves, all manner of good things.

So that’s the song he’s half singing/half humming to Kelly.

“Got a pinch of tobacco in my pocket/I’m not gonna roll it/ No, I’m not gonna smoke it/’Til we’re staring at the stars and the rockets/Twinkling in the silvery night.

“Though the sun may be washed by the sea/And the old will be lost in the new/Well, four will not wait for three/Three never waited for two/Though you will not wait for me/I’ll wait for you.

“I’ll wait for you.”

He knows he’s skipping verses and probably has them out of order, too. But it’s four thirty in the morning, he’s amazed he can even produce coherent sentences.

For a day, maybe two, sometimes a week after you almost die, everything is more intense, more important, more pressing. You love your loves more deeply, everything tastes better, pleasure is so much sharper. (The converse of this is also true. You tolerance for bullshit drops like a rock. Life’s too damn short for it.)

And right now, very much in that space, half-humming, half-singing to his daughter, he gets Patient Love in a way he hadn’t before. He gets why out of all the music in his head, that’s the song that popped up today.

Life is short, and it goes fast, and sure that’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché he’s living very intensely right this second.

Kelly won’t wait for him. She’ll grow up at a million miles an hour, and one day he’ll blink and she’ll be fourteen or twenty and off on her own world, own life, and these gray-midnight minutes will be gone, barely memories.

But he’ll be there, waiting for her, whenever she needs him.

For a moment, he has a very clear sense of who she’ll be at twenty: the young woman she’ll grow into; the life that will orbit his for vanishingly few years, to break away into its own trajectory. Suddenly he gets, really gets, what Jethro meant about your kids not being yours. That they belong to themselves and whomever they may give themselves to, but not you.

He holds her tight, inhaling deeply, trying to burn this sensation, this scent, these little baby sounds into his mind, because one day they will be gone and all he’ll have left is his ability to recall this, so he focuses, listing the details, writing them out in his head, committing them to his memory.

After a few seconds of that, she squawks at him, you’re holding onto me too tight, pretty clear in that outburst, so he loosens up his grip and goes back to patting her back, coaxing out the burps.

She finally burps, which means it’s crib time, so he stands up, and gently sets her in the crib, resting his hand on her tummy and singing five or so more verses of Patient Love.

“I’ll wait for you… Staring at the stars and the rockets… twinkling in the silvery night…”

Her eyes get droopy, and the sucking on the pacifier slows, so he quiets down, pulls his hand away gently, and creeps out of her room, hoping, praying, that this time she’ll actually fall asleep.

He stands outside her door, tense, waiting, counting to three hundred, and this time they made it. Still no fussing, no crying, so he went back to bed, and in about two hours she’d wake up again, and he’ll start his morning for real to the sound of his wife and daughter, next to him, in his bed.

Always come home to this. Always.

Seven o’clock came around, and Tim did wake to the feeling of Abby getting out of bed, and then getting back into it, and the soft, contented sucking sound Kelly makes when she nurses, along with Abby singing something upbeat and perky to her.

He takes a few minutes longer than normal to lay there, next to them, his lips pressed to Abby’s hip, arm over her legs, floating and sleepy and enjoying them.

He gets his shower, and then heads down to make them some breakfast.

Tim almost jumps out of his skin when he hears the toilet flush in the downstairs bathroom, but then he remembers it isn’t just the three of them in his house.

Gibbs hobbles out a second later, then sits at the kitchen table. Tim puts the pan he’d just grabbed on the burner, grabs an extra chair, gets Gibbs’ leg up on it, and then stares down at Jethro.

“You’re supposed to be in laying down.”

“Doc said I could get up to hit the head. Gotta eat, too.”

“You remember what she said about blowing out your knee?” Part of him is reminding Gibbs about the doctor’s orders, part of him is genuinely checking to see how much Gibbs remembers. He was pretty out of it last night, though he’s looking sharp now, and is wearing the brace on his knee.


“Good. Abby and I are more than happy to have you here the next week.”

Gibbs’ eyebrows go high at that. He’d been thinking a day, maybe two. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he is really hurting and the pain meds do help, (if he didn’t have to take them on a full stomach, he’d have already gotten more of them.) and he’s not stable enough on crutches and one foot to be on the pain meds alone. But he’d also been thinking he’d stay on the pain meds for, at most, two days.

“You don’t have a full bathroom on the first floor of your house,” Tim explains. “And it’s a whole lot easier to lay around if Abby’s glaring at you every time you get up.”

Gibbs nods, that’s true. Disappointed girl staring at him will probably keep him in line just fine. (And drive him crazy, but that’s a different story for a different day.)

“But the point I was getting to is, we both want you here for healing up. But neither of us are going to be happy with you sleeping in my office for a year if you blow your knee out by being stupid. And you’re not going to be happy with that, either.”

Gibbs rolls his eyes and looks put upon. “Yes, Mom.”

“You were a complete snot as a teenager, weren’t you?”

Gibbs smiles at that.

“Good. Seriously though, you blow your knee out not doing something stupid, or you ever just need a place to crash, my office can move upstairs. You ever need it, that room can be a bedroom fast.”

“Tim…” Gibbs doesn’t quite know what to do with that. It’s just… “Wow. Okay.” He gestures for Tim to get a bit closer, and he does, kneeling next to Gibbs. Gibbs hugs him. “Thank you.” And that is genuine and heartfelt. Then he gently slapped Tim upside the back of the head, and finished by petting his hair. “And I’m not decrepit, yet.”

Tim snorts a quick laugh at that and stands up. “Tell me that when you can outrun Kelly again. I’ve only got decaf, you want coffee?”

Gibbs cringes.

“I’ll pick some of yours up along with your clothes. Sometime today, email me a list of what you want from your house.”

He nods. “Orange juice?”

“That, I’ve got.”

“Sleep well?” Gibbs asks a minute later, after he sips some juice.

“Yeah, thanks.” And especially given how yesterday went, and waking up to get Kelly, it had been a pretty good night of sleep. No nightmares. No waking up in a cold sweat. No trapped in that minute of scalding grief. “You?”

“Well as I could, given the circumstances.”

Tim raises an eyebrow. If Gibbs wants to talk about the aftermath of almost dying, he’s here to listen. Surprised, but definitely willing to listen.

“Different sofa, different room, pain killers making me feel dizzy, different nighttime noises.”

Or it could be a much more mundane set of issues. Then he stops, looks at Gibbs, realizing what he just said, and for a second, seeing the smile on Gibbs’ face, Tim’s wondering if Jethro is daring him to blush. He doesn’t. He does shake his head wryly, then sips his coffee, smile on his face, getting fruit out of their freezer, and says, “Yep, babies are kind of loud.”

Gibbs laughs at that. “Babies, uh huh.”

“Any given night I bet you’d get the same sounds at Jimmy and Breena’s.”

Gibbs nods. “Molly’s been sleeping through the night for eight months.”

Tim grins at him, mix of naughty and cocky on his face, and takes another sip. “What do you want for breakfast?”

That look gets a laugh out of Gibbs. “What are you making?”

“Abby’s been doing smoothies lately, so I can make an extra serving of that for you. We usually split some scrambled eggs. And I’ve got bagels.”

“Eggs, bagel.”


A few minutes later, Tim’s putting eggs on plates, and sitting next to Gibbs to tuck in.

“We’re not waiting for Abby?”

“Nah. Only takes me five minutes to eat. I bring her food up for her, she eats while she finishes nursing Kelly.”

“Getting a pattern set?”

“Hopefully. Come September everything goes upside down again. But at least for right now, I think we’ve got a groove.”

Gibbs nods. “Kelly’s hearing okay, right?”

“Huh? Yeah. They did that test the day she was born. Why? Oh...” He realizes this is Gibbs asking why he’s learning sign language. “We want to be able to talk to each other without little guys listening in. I’ve still got a little high school French in my head. Abby’s the same with Spanish. But she’s already fluent in ASL, so we figured we’d go with that. Can’t listen in and translate a conversation you have to see to understand.”

“Planning on having a lot of conversations the kids can’t be part of?”

“Probably more than other couples. Hey Honey, let me tell you about the gory details of today’s case. Oh look, our four-year-old finds that disturbing. You mean you didn’t need to know about how mommy had to rebuild that bullet because it shattered inside the vic’s body?”

“Good point.” Gibbs chews a bite of his eggs, looks around for his pills, he thought he brought them.

“What do you need?”

“Meds. I thought I had them.”

“I’ll go.” A minute later Tim was back with the pill bottle. Gibbs shook one out and swallowed it. “Why do you know sign language?”

“Undercover op.”

“You did a lot of them, didn’t you?”

“Used to. Mike was better at running them. I was better at playing whatever the role was.”

“Like you and Tony.”

“Sort of.”

“So what sort of op required you to learn to sign?”

“Dead Marine. We thought it had something to do with his rehab. He’d lost his hearing and was going through a program for deaf soldiers to help get them settled back into civilian life. Lip reading, signing, stuff like that.”

“So you went in as the newly wounded Marine.”

“Learned to sign, read lips, overheard a lot of conversations I wasn’t supposed to.”

“I’ll bet. Catch the guy?”

“Yeah. Took a while, but we got him. And also found that being able to convincingly play deaf made for a great information gathering tool. Lip reading was useful, so, even after the case was over, I kept up with it, finished the whole course.”

“Cool.”  Tim finished his plate, and got up to put it in the dishwasher. Gibbs was done, too. “Okay, where do you want to be today?”

“Living room.”

“Then let’s get you over there.”

When he left for work, Gibbs was on the love seat. Kelly was on the floor, getting a little tummy time before her next nap. Abby was also on the floor, reading over the resume and the notes from the first interview, getting ready for her second visit with Elizabeth Henger, potential nanny.

He supposes getting the Gibbs gut in on the nanny hunt is a good thing.

Draga’s at his desk, working hard, and looking very run-down, and very contrite.

There’s not much Tim can do about contrite. Part of being a Probie is the fact that you will mess up, you will screw the proverbial pooch, and if, like Draga, you’re lucky, no one dies.

He, can, will, and should, however, keep an eye on run-down.

“How’re you feeling?”

Draga shake his head, not looking up from the files in front of him. “Doesn’t matter.”

Tim leans against his desk and catches Draga’s eye. “It matters. How are you feeling?”


Black circles under his eyes, general look of discomfort, slightly shaking hands as he flips through the file in front of him. “Yeah, you look it. Go home.”

“What?” Draga stares up at Tim, startled by that. There’s no team if Draga goes home. No work happens. He can’t go home.

“Tony and Gibbs may be fine with the sit there, stew, and bury yourself in work technique for getting through stuff, but they aren’t here, and I am. You’re embarrassed, sad, scared, or feeling like you’ve got something to prove, I don’t care. Do it somewhere else. If you’re here with me, you’re on the case, and you’re working the case to work the case, not to prove to me or anyone else that you deserve to work the case, got it?”

Draga nods.

“Good. And if you’re here with me, it’s because you’re in good enough shape to work the case, so let’s try this again. How are you feeling?”

“Left ear hurts, and everything sounds like it’s underwater on that side.”

Which is, if Tim remembers correctly, exactly how it's supposed to be. “Okay. How’s the rest of you?”

“Headache. No, it’s not the concussion. I get them when I sleep badly. I slept badly.”

“Also, okay. You’re riding the desk today. What are you looking through?”

“Contents of the warehouse as well as they can tell.”

“Good. Keep it up. When you’re done with that, I want you working on why the hell Blake is part of this. Go chat with Ducky and Palmer for that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir.” Tim fires that one off before he’s even realized it was Gibbs’ line. And it might be Gibbs’ line, but it’s his, too. He’s not Sir, and made a very clear set of decisions in his life not to be Sir. Though he’s wondering if Gibbs turned down a shot at Officer Training. He knows Gibbs could have been Sir here at NCIS, but chose not to be.

Tim settles behind his own desk, looking to see if he’s gotten anything back on the Ender parent’s phone and financial records.

“McGee?” Draga asks half an hour or so later.


“Is DiNozzo going to take my badge?”

Tim’s on the verge of automatically answering no, because every Probie messes up. Granted some messes are more spectacular than others, but then he remembers that Draga’s mess almost got Ziva killed.

“I don’t know.”

Draga’s staring at him, eyes wide, worried, vulnerable, looking very young. “When you’re up there, it’s just your own skin on the line. Well, your skin and a few hundred million dollars’ worth of equipment. You fuck up over the ocean, it’s just you and deep blue.”

“Not for us.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that.”

Financials for the Ender family. Numbers, lots and lots of numbers, none of them interesting. If Mom and Dad were bankrolling Thomas, it’s not on any account he can find.

Phone… also boring. They talk to friends, family… There’s one other Ender child, a sister… That might be interesting. From the looks of it Lisbeth Ender calls her parents once a week, same with James, until he died.

They’ve called her a dozen times since they got the news about James, but none of those calls have been more than a minute long, and none of those calls have been returned.

Probably means Lisbeth’s in the wind… Interesting.

He checks his messages. Nothing. But there wouldn’t be. He scoots over to Tony’s computer, logs on, and gets into his email.

Draga looks up at him. “McGee?” What are you doing on DiNozzo’s computer? pretty clear in his tone of voice.

“I’m not team leader. He is. So all communications would go through him.”

“He be okay with you rooting through his email?”

“Doesn’t matter if he is one way or the other. He’s not here. I am. And it’s got to get done.”

“You just have his password?”

“Not exactly.” Though he knows that Tony cycles through four main passwords with a few variations on those. It won’t take him long to figure out which one he’s using today.

“Wait, you’re hacking his account?”

Tim looks up from Tony’s computer. This would be a lot faster if he wasn’t answering questions about it. “He used to do it to me all the time.”

Draga’s looking across the bullpen at Tim, puzzled. “Used to? Why’d he stop?”

“Just about two years ago, he found out I wired a bomb into my phone when it blew a guy’s hand off. Since then he hasn’t messed with any of my accounts.”

“You… wait… what?” Draga’s just staring at Tim, utterly stunned by that.

“Don’t ever mess with my phone.”

“You handed it to me last night!”

“Uh huh.” Tim shrugs, suddenly getting the idea that being handed a small bomb might be discomforting to a person who just went through an explosion. “And I was sitting right next to you. It’s pretty safe. Just, don’t try to go digging in it.”


“Gibbs has the same treatment on his. Speaking of which, when you get your new one, let me have it. All of our phones have been wired to send off a distress call if they ever shut down, or get broken.”

“What happens when you turn it off?”

“Don’t turn it off. Put it on vibrate. Don’t let it run out of juice. Number three.”

“There are two number threes.”

Tim nods. “And something like six number ones. Gibbs is better at coming up with rules than keeping track of which number they are.”


“McGee?” Draga looks up.

“Tony’s got to clean out his email more often. Finally found something useful. Got an emailed transcript of the interview with the Enders.”

“Good stuff?”

“Maybe.” Tim checks the corner of Tony’s computer, 8:13, LA time. Late enough. He punches in Callen’s number. “It’s lunch time. Get yourself something to eat. Bring me food, too.”

“What do you want?”

“Don’t care. Food. Protein, vegetables, not a lot of carbs.”  

Draga salutes and heads off.

On the fourth ring he hears, “Callen.”

“Hello, Agent Callen, it’s Tim McGee over in DC, you sent my partner an interview transcript, and I was hoping to take a moment to talk to you about it.”

“McGee.” Callen’s thinking about that.  “We met once, million years ago?”

“Yeah.” God, when was that… 2009? Something like that.

“You’re part of Gibbs’ team.”

“Yes.” Technically Tony’s, but… no, for him it’s Gibbs’ team and always will be.

“Okay, what can I do for you?”

“I’m looking at your transcript”


“What’s your gut saying about the sister?”

There’s a pause on the other side of the line. Then… “Something’s off about her.”

“Beyond the fact that Mom and Dad haven’t been able to get a hold of her?”

“They didn’t mention that.”

“Was she there?”


“They’ve called her a dozen times, none of the calls have lasted more than a minute.”

“That’s suspicious,” Callen says.


“Does she travel a lot?” Tim asks Callen.

“Yes, she does. She’s a sales person for a medical device company. Sells artificial joints, things like that. Every month she’s talking to new doctors in new cities, letting them know what her company makes and why it’s better than what they’re using.”

“Lots of little towns?”

“Not really, but she’d probably have to pass through a lot of them to get to the bigger cities.”

“Yeah, she probably would. How about the parents?”

“Looked like they got hit with a truck. First the news, then the it has got to be a closed-casket funeral, two dead sons, then oh one of them may not be dead.”

“Isn’t dead. We’ve got confirmation that the KIA was faked.”

“Great. Those poor people. Did the one Ender kill the other?”

“We don’t know.” It wasn’t in the transcript, but… “You guys didn’t suggest that, did you?”


“Okay, good.”

Tim’s up from Tony’s desk and over to his, requesting permission to dissect Lisbeth Ender’s life, see what’s going on with her, when Callen asks, “So, how’s the old man doing? He finally retire?”

Tim takes a second to realize Callen’s talking about Gibbs. “Not yet. January.”

“Can’t believe he’d ever hang it up.”

“Well, they’re taking him out kicking and screaming.”

“That sounds more like it. He find himself another redhead?”

Tim smiles at that, been a while since they’re seen a redhead that wasn’t an ex-Mrs. Gibbs. “Nah. Got himself a tiny, little blonde right now, but no redheads.”

“Really… It serious?”

Tim laughs. “Very serious. I’d say he’s hooked for life…” Callen sounds about to say something, but Tim adds, “She’s my daughter. Five weeks old. He’s been on grandpa duty.”

Callen laughs at that. “Sniper magazine do the trick?”

Tim smiles, remembering that. “Something like that.”

“You got pictures?”

“Oh yeah.”

“You’ve got to send me one.”

“Will do.”

“Tell the old coot to give me a call.”

“No problem.”

“Enjoy your gossip,” Draga asks, having caught the tail end of Tim’s conversation with Callen.


Draga hands Tim a carton of some form of Chinese food.

“What is it?”

“Food: protein and vegetables, low carbs.”

Tim opens it up. “Tofu and mixed veggies?”


“For future reference, protein means meat.” Not like he hates tofu, sometimes it's pretty good, but he prefers meat.

“Noted. What’d you get from Callen?”

Tim fills him in. “How about you? Anything interesting in the warehouse?”

Draga looks pretty dismayed. “How sure are we that Simmers’ really isn’t bonkers?”

“More sure of that than of anything else in this case.”

“Good. One of the things he did have in there, that did make it through, that seems to have been carefully located to ensure it would make it through no matter what, was an enemies list.”

Tim glares at Draga, and Draga looks alarmed. “Not you. Him. How long is it?”

“Sixty-five people.”

“Son of a bitch,” Tim says under his breath. “Specific threats to specific targets?”

“Times, places, dates, methods, everything, and they’re all Navy personnel.”

Tim slumps and grits his teeth. All credible threats have to be noted, reported, and investigated, plus the targets of those threats have to be protected. Short of blowing up the Navy Yard (again) there’s nothing Simmers could have done that would have monopolized more NCIS manpower.

“Send me the list. I’m going to talk to Vance. Go head down and chat with Ducky about Blake. By the time I’m back, I want to know why he’s doing this.”

“On it.”

“Can I see Director Vance?” Tim asks Vance’s secretary.

“Is it important?”

“I’m not up here to ask him out to lunch,” he says with a tired smile.

She gives him a wry look and lifts her phone to her ear, asking Vance if he’s got the time. She hears his response, nods, and says, “He’ll see you.”


“McGee?” Vance asks, looking up from his computer.

“Case just got worse.” He put the list Draga complied for him on Vance’s desk.  

Vance reads over it, says… something, Tim doesn’t catch what, because it’s very quiet, but it’s definitely kin to his earlier ‘son of a bitch.’

“I don’t have the manpower for this,” Tim says. With everyone on his team, he doesn’t have the manpower for this, but especially today. Hell, today, he doesn’t even have the manpower to coordinate getting the manpower necessary to take care of this.

Vance looks up at Tim, frustrated, tired, and knowing, exactly like Tim does, that this is a wild goose chase, but it’s a goose he can’t ignore. “I don’t have the manpower for this. There aren’t enough agents out of the Navy Yard to put a protection detail on sixty-five people.”

“We’ve got safe houses.”

“If I put all of them, or even a large number of them, in one safe house, that house is going to explode.”

Tim shakes his head. Sometimes it’s good to not be the guy at the top of the chain.

“Can you get me more face time with Kort?”


“There’s an Ender sister, Lisbeth, and my guess is she’s the one who’s been doing the stateside legwork for Thomas. Want to know, what, if anything they’ve got on her. I also want to know how Ender found out about those subs, how he knew, down to the minute, where they’d be. There’s got to be a way to find these guys, and knowing that will help.”

“I’ll put the call in.”


“You going to check with the FBI?” Vance asks. The CIA isn’t, legally, allowed to do any surveillance inside the US. So if Lisbeth Ender had been in the US the whole time, then the CIA shouldn’t have anything on her. Of course, shouldn’t and don’t are not the same thing.

“Fornell’s my next call.

“McGee?” Fornell sounds very surprised to hear Tim’s voice on his phone.

“I’ve got a possible homegrown terrorist aiding and abetting an attempt to blow up the USS Reagan.”

That has Fornell’s attention. “No messing around with you. What do you need?”

“What do you have on Lisbeth Ender?”

“I’ll find out. Why are you calling me?” Tim gets the context of that. This isn’t why is NCIS calling the FBI for information, let alone Fornell personally. No, this is why is Tim calling. When they need Fornell’s help, Gibbs calls, or maybe Tony would since he’s the leader right now. If Tim calls, it means something has gone very wrong.

“Everyone’s alive and everyone is going to keep being alive. Yesterday was a bad day. Gibbs’ll tell you about it eventually, but I need that info as fast as you can get it.”


“Today it’s my team.”

“Oh God.”

Tim slumps a little at that and rolls his eyes. “Your faith is overwhelming.”

“No… Just… Your team means you’re the only one still standing, right?”

“Draga’s here, too. And I’ve got seniority over Ziva.”

“Uh huh. But she’s not there.”

“No. She’s with Tony. Can we maybe have this conversation about how shocked you are that I can run a team when I’m not hunting down a terrorist cell?”

There’s a pause on the other side. “This is coming out wrong. You need extra boots on the ground? I got men I can shuffle over to you. Hell, I can be there if you need it.”

“Oh. Yes. We need help. Call Vance, we need a ton of people for protection details.”

“How about you?”

“I need information. Right now we’re playing catch up. Everything you can find on Lisbeth Ender or Thomas Ender/Hiri Al-Said. He’s been on the CIA radar since ’07, but if you’ve got anything on him, that’ll help.”

“I’ll get on it. Which hospital is Gibbs at?”

“My place for right now.”

“You’ve got a terrorist threat and he’s at your place?”

“Pump enough pain killers into him, and even Gibbs is useless as an agent.”

“Ah. I’ll call Vance and offer help.”


Two minutes later his phone buzzed. He doesn’t recognize the number, but he’s awfully sure who it belongs to. There’s a one word text: Coffee?

Sure. When?


Be down in five.

The CIA are jerks. How’d Sam Axe on Burn Notice put it? “Bunch of bitchy little girls.” Such bitchy little girls.

Kort’s staring at Tim with cool disdain.

Tim’s tired of this shit. Yes, Kort’s vastly too cool for everyone and everything. Yes, everyone outside of his team assumes Tim’s tech support and that’s it. Great. Doesn’t mean he’s willing to play the games, especially today.

“How did Ender find out about those subs?”

Kort continues staring at Tim, getting across, by body language alone, how little respect he has for Tim. “Aren’t you the last link in the chain of command?”

“I’m the link fixing up your mess. If those subs weren’t supposed to exist, then they couldn’t have been common knowledge.”

Kort nods, the look of a patient man explaining something very simple to an extremely stupid child. “Not common knowledge and unknown are not the same thing, Agent McGee. Those subs had to be built, and the country they belong to did not have the infrastructure to build them for themselves.”



“Nuclear subs?”

“Yes again. Which is why something else that would blow radiation all over the place had to be involved in the explosion.”

“Okay. So… how many people are involved in building a sub? Sure you can claim they’re being built for someone else, but that kind of sub… that lie’s not going to hold. Hundreds of people knew about them?”

“You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.”

Yeah, he’s really done with this shit. “That fake eye of yours itch sometimes? Ducky once told us they had a ‘tendency to pop out during vigorous interpersonal interactions.’ You ever have that problem?” Tim deliberately steps into Kort’s blind spot. “You want to guess who tracked you down in Hawaii when you lost the real one? Through all the fake names and IDs. You’re, what, the best the CIA has to offer, on a top secret mission, and I caught you, and I did it without having to break a sweat. If I’m the last link in the chain of command, it’s because no one else can do my job. So quit the bullshit; I’m not putting up with it today. Did Ender get on the crew building them? Is that how he knew?”

Kort seems amused by that. Seems amused by most of this world. Amused disdain might be his permanent expression. “No, but that’s a good guess. A better guess is who killed three members of that crew shortly after they finished their work.”

“Ahhh.” That would have been useful to know going into this. “I’m going to want the files on that.” Kort nods. “How would he know where those subs were supposed to be? I’d assume that’s not something hundreds of people knew.”

“That, we don’t know. But we do know who knew officially. And who would have known unofficially, and we are… investigating them and every contact they’ve ever had with the sort of delicacy and thoroughness the CIA is known for.”

“How many of them have you flown to black sites in Afghanistan?”

Kort smiles. “As soon as we know where the leak was, we’ll let you know.”

“I bet. Lisbeth Ender?”

“What about her?”

“Everything. What do you know about her?”

“The CIA does not investigate US Citizens on US soil.”

“Yeah, and the NSA doesn’t engage in indiscriminate information gathering. Remember, I’m not as stupid as I look. What do you have on Lisbeth Ender?”

“We maintained surveillance on all of the Enders for two years after Thomas was officially KIA, checking to see if he made contact. He didn’t. At that point we stopped watching them.”


“Two years is a long time to run an illegal op, Agent McGee.” 

“You mean you got caught?”

“In a manner of speaking. We had our budgets cut. Anything that could be trimmed, was. Illegal fishing operations that weren’t producing results were ended.”


“We never found Lisbeth doing anything interesting. We never saw her make contact with her brother. We did notice that she was not, enthusiastic, about her brother’s choices in careers.”

“Pacifist or Islamists?”

“A combination of both while we were watching her.”

“Wonderful. One more question.”

“Fire away, Agent McGee.”

“Why would one of our aircraft carriers be that close to those non-existent subs?”

“Are you suggesting that someone altered the path of that carrier?”

Why not? “Every new layer on this case takes it deeper. Is it possible that Ender and Co. are that well-connected?”

“Anything is possible. Though I’d imagine your own men would be better placed to tell you if the path of the Reagan was altered and if so, by whom. Likewise, perhaps you have a better indirect route to information as to why those subs just happened to be there than I do.”

Riding the elevator back to the bullpen, Tim texts Vance about the Reagan’s path. Just in case he doesn’t have enough to do with coordinating the protection details. Actually, he probably handed that off to someone else. Tim also requests to find out who’s in charge of that, so he can keep an ear on it.

He sees Draga back at his desk as he heads back to his own, and says, “So, tell me all about Blake.”

“Remember how, back in ’14, in order to meet recruitment goals the Navy loosened its standards for who qualified to re-up?”


“Yeah, so until ’13 Blake had pretty normal evals. Then in July of ’13 he was on deck when one of the planes didn’t exactly nail the landing, and got caught in the explosion. He healed up, some scarring, but functional. Biggest issue was nightmares and post-traumatic stress. He was doing his job well enough, so when he re-upped in March of ’14, they let him, but no way in Hell Blake would have made the cut to re-up back in ’13.

“After the accident, his psych evals indicate he had developed some sort of dissociative type of thing. That he had, ‘empathy issues,’ but they thought he was basically harmless as long as interesting puzzles kept him occupied.”

“And Ender gave him the mother of all interesting puzzles?”

“Looks like it.”

“Wonderful. What’s Ducky think?”

“Basically, it’s a defense mechanism, that rather than deal with the trauma of the accident, he shut down the emotional centers of his brain. But unlike Simmers, Ducky’s a whole lot less sure on this one. The huge pile of nothing we found at Blake’s house, and his lack of anything interesting in his personal effects, means that Ducky’s doing this cold, based on just those psych evals and the lack of stuff we found.”

“So, we’re barely scratching the surface on him.”

“Basically. What’d you get?”

Tim gets Draga up to date.

“Lisbeth Ender is up next?”

“Yes.” Tim checks his email, he’s got the permission he needs. “You want communications or financials?”

Draga cracks his knuckles. “Bring on the financials.”

As a kid, Tim hadn’t been a big fan of puzzles. (Sounds kind of ridiculous seeing how he ended up a cop and mystery writer, but it’s true.) His sister was. So, as a bored fifteen-year-old, babysitting his six-year-old sister, he did a lot of puzzles.

In each puzzle there’s a point where you get enough of the pieces together to finally get a feel for what’s going on.

By the time he was getting ready to head off to college, his sister was old enough and patient enough to whip out the 2500 piece puzzles, and though he still didn’t love them, he had gotten to appreciate the rhythms of successfully putting one together.

You get all the outside pieces together. That gives you the boundaries. And like with puzzles, cases work the same way. You get edges and you know that anything outside those edges isn’t part of your case.

At this point, sitting at his desk, going through Lisbeth Ender’s phone records, he feels like he’s got the edges of this case down.

Once you get the edges you start grouping colors together, looking for details that only show up in a few places so you can get all of those bits together.

Likewise, he’s feeling like they probably have all the major players in place. They’ve got the colors and some of the details.

And once you’ve got those colors groups, you start putting the bits together, looking for lines to cross each other, and shapes to form.

The various Enders are one big color group for this puzzle, one he feels like he’s getting pretty well set. Sure, most of what he’s got with Lisbeth is a hunch, though as he’s going through her phone records, he is finding some interesting patterns. Circumstantial patterns, but… interesting none the less.

Hopefully Fornell will have something useful to back his hunches up.

Blake’s another color group, but it’s one of those dull colors that shows up all over the puzzle and you have no idea where it goes or why.

Would you really blow up a ship because it’s interesting? Would anyone? Anyone who can pass a Navy psych eval?

Same thing with Simmers. He can see the shape of that piece, he feels like he’s got a handle on what it’s doing, but not why. Who in their right mind wakes up one morning and starts playing insane?

“Done with the financials,” Draga says.

Tim looks up from thinking about the case and puzzles. “What do you have?”

“Nothing concrete.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Same on the phones?”

“Yeah. So, financials?”

“She does work for a medical company, and yes, I checked, they’re legit. They pay her every two weeks. First and fifteenth of every month. On the sixteenth of every month she cashes out five hundred and twenty-five dollars.”

Tim holds up his finger, signaling hold on, that’s ringing some bells for him. He quickly goes through the different phone records he’s been working on and finds that MDeed’s burner cell got it’s extra 1000 minutes a month every month on the seventeenth. “MDeed’s phone always got more minutes on the 17th.”

“Good. Got a connection there. You have the list of the places where his phone got more minutes?”


“Shoot it over here. I’m going to call her company and see where she was working when.”

“Okay. Five twenty-five probably means four other phones getting refills.”


“Any trace of her getting money from her brother?” Tim asks. He doesn’t know how much she was getting paid, but $525 a month isn’t petty cash for most people.

“Not that I could see. But if it was in cash, or if she’s got accounts in other names…”

“We don’t have any real movement on this by end of business tomorrow, I’m getting the forensic accountants in on this. Money’s got to be coming from somewhere.”

Draga nods at that. They’ve got to get something to break on this. “So, what do you have on her phones?”

“Everything was supposed to go boom on the 18th. Her last call, to a hotel in Hampton Roads, was on the 17th, after that every phone number attached to her went dead.”

“You check the hotel?” Draga asks.

“Was about to do that. What was her last credit card transaction?”

“Rental car, also in Hampton Roads.”

“Call the company get everything on that car,” Tim says to Draga as he grabs his phone and punches in Ziva’s contact. “Ziva, you still in Hampton Roads.”


“Got a lead. Are you still at the hospital?”

“Yes.” She sounds tired, and Tim’s starting to feel like a jerk at barging in like this, but it’s the job, and she’s the one closest to the scene right now. “Tell me about the lead.”

“Thomas Ender’s sister got a hotel room in Hampton Roads on the 17th, and she rented a car down there as well.”

“Send me the information. I’ll check it out.”

“Good, be careful. Don’t engage them, just… Do you still have those trackers in your go-bag?”

“Of course.”

“If you can find the car, stick a tracker—“ Draga’s looking at him, giving him the cutting off gesture. “Draga’s got something. What?”

Draga’s shaking his head. “Rental company confirms that her credit card was used to rent a Ford Taurus, but it was returned on the twenty-first. It’s been rented out again and isn’t due back for another three days.”

“Damnit. You get that?” he asks Ziva.

“I did. Want me to check the hotel anyway?”

“Yeah. The mileage on the car should at least give us an idea of how far they could have gotten. And if by some stroke of luck, they’re still in the hotel, wait for us. We’ll be down and loaded for bear.”

“You think they’ll still be there?”

Tim’s shaking his head. They aren’t that lucky. “Not if the car was returned. But it’s not impossible. How’s Tony?” He hears the phone switch hands.

“Annoyed.” Tony’s voice. “They won’t let me out of this bed until I get one more CAT scan.”

“Then sit your butt in that bed and get the scan.”

“Sounds like you’re spread pretty thin.”

Tim snorts at that. “You’ve got no idea, and you’re not getting one until you’re cleared by the Docs.”

“At least send me the electronics. I can read files—“

“You on pain meds?”


“No files for you. Heal up. Once they know for sure you’re not about to have an aneurysm, then you can read files.”

“You bench Gibbs? He’s got to be on more meds than I am.”

“He’s sitting at my house helping Abby interrogate potential nannies.”


“Yeah. I’m not having this fall apart because one of my investigators was working stoned.”

“It’s only Tylenol 3.”

“I’ve seen you on pain meds. Go rest. I’ll see you when you get back to DC.” Tim hangs up and switches focus back to Draga. “What was the mileage on the car?”

“Eight hundred miles.”

“Dulles, Reagan, Philadelphia International, and Baltimore.”

“I think Newark is in that range, too,” Draga adds.

“So, every major airport in the Mid-Atlantic, hundreds of bus and train stops.”

“I’ll get the BOLO out.”

“For whatever it’ll be worth this late in the game. Flag their travel documents. Stick them on the terrorist watch list.”

“Closing the barn door after the cows got out?”

“After Mrs. O’Leary’s cow got out.”

Draga winces.  “What else?”

“I’m heading down to talk to Ducky about Simmers. He’s not bonkers, so why is he doing this? You’re going to call every one of those places that MDeed’s phone got refills from, see if they recognize the shot of Lisbeth, and see if anyone remembers what other phones she may have bought or refilled.”

Tim heads down to autopsy, and sees both Ducky and Jimmy have the books out, crime scene photos out, and a collection of everything they’ve found on Blake.

“How’s it going?” Tim asks them.

They both look up and Ducky answers, “Frustrating, Timothy, very frustrating.”

Tim shoots Ducky his, I’m with you 10,000% look. “Anything interesting?”

Jimmy slips off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “The only interesting thing is the complete and utter lack of things. It’s like Blake didn’t exist before 2011. He has school records and medical records, but everything is so minimal. It’s barely even a sketch of a person. I know more about the background of the characters in your books than I do about Blake, and supposedly I’ve got his entire life sitting in front of us.”

Ducky’s nodding. “There is barely the shell of a man here. He went to high school, got middling good grades, but no one remembers him, he was on no teams, no picture in his yearbook, nothing. He worked odd jobs for three years, made an impression nowhere. Then he joined the military and ghosted through there. He made no close friends, kept to himself, did his job, and that was it. His phone has no books, no music, no favorite webpages, and besides a penchant for computer games, his computer is in the same shape.”

“Pictures?” Tim asks, maybe if there’s a shot of someone they can run it through facial recognition and get a clue.

Jimmy shakes his head. “None. He’s got a Creeper from Minecraft for wallpaper and that’s it.”

Great big heaping pile of nothing. Wonderful. “Can I pull you two off the mystery of Blake and onto Simmers?”

“Certainly, we’re not getting any further with Blake, not without any extra information,” Ducky replies as he and Jimmy start to pack up the information on Blake.

Tim spreads out what he’s got on Simmers. “I know you’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not really insane. Great. But… if he’s not, what is he doing? Why would he want to blow up a ship in the first place?”

Ducky looks at the picture of Simmers tapping it gently with his index finger. “That is a very good question, Timothy. Why does a sane man put the lives of over five thousand people in jeopardy?”

Tim’s staring at the picture they’ve got of Simmers from his military ID, willing it to tell him why they’re doing this, or better yet, where they are so they can get them.

“Guys…” Jimmy sounds excited.

“Yeah, Jimmy.”

“Is this correct?” Jimmy’s holding up the page with Simmers’ stats on it.

“As well as we can tell,” Tim says.
“Then something’s really wrong. Simmers’ was supposed to be born in ’88, but his Social Security number is really close to Molly’s.”

“Close how?” Tim asks. Other than his and Abby’s, he knows nothing about Social Security numbers.

“They circle through the numbers, as older people die they get put back into circulation. His number doesn’t look like it should have come from the ‘80s.”

Tim’s got his phone out and is logged into the social security database in a heartbeat. A few keystrokes, a few seconds spent waiting, and… “Jimmy, how often do I tell you I love you?”

Jimmy shoots him his amused smile. “Often enough.”

Tim wraps his arm around Jimmy’s neck and kisses him on the cheek. “I love you. Jason Simmers was born on May 22, 2011. Then on October 15th, 2011, Jason Simmers enlisted in the Navy.”

“What an enterprising infant,” Ducky says dryly.

Jimmy nods, and Tim finishes, “Whoever our sailor is, he’s most certainly not Jason Simmers. Thank you.” He’s got his phone up to his ear. “Draga, get Simmers and Blake into the facial recognition software... Why…” They hear Tim explaining as he heads back to the bullpen.

He’s on the stairs, just having put down his phone when it rings again. Ziva’s number.

“Hey, what do you have?”

“Lisbeth Ender reserved and paid for the room in cash on the 15th. Thomas Ender did show up on the 18th around 10:00 PM to check in. The desk clerk never saw anyone else, and according to the records Thomas checked out at 6:00 AM the next morning.”

“Okay, so he was there for eight hours. Anyone else with him?”

“I was also able to talk to the maid who cleaned the room, and according to her both beds were unmade and there was an extra blanket on the sofa. It is likely three people slept there. I asked around the local businesses, and there was a breakfast shop two blocks over from the hotel, and one of the waitresses remembered seeing Ender, Blake, and Simmers, but there wasn’t a woman with them.”

“Okay.” Tim’s adding that to his mental list. Whatever it is Lisbeth was doing, it doesn’t appear to involve actual physical contact with the guys.

“I checked the car rental, too. Lisbeth Ender took out and returned the car.”

“So she was in Hampton Roads as of the 21st.” It’s not a question, Tim’s mostly just talking to keep the ideas straight.

“Yes. Any idea where she is now?” Ziva asks.

Tim’s shaking his head. “Your guess is as good as mine. Thanks for checking it out.”

“No problem. It is good to do something useful.” Tim thought that was an odd comment. Not that he disagrees, but being with your wounded husband would be pretty high on his list of useful.

“When are you guys coming home?”

“Hopefully tonight.” That also sounds tired.

“Is he really okay?”

“Yes. I think so. They keep telling me that this is just to be safe, that head bleeds can be tricky and they want to be absolutely certain he is ‘out of the woods’ but he’s acting like himself.”

“He going to be able to work tomorrow?”

“He’s going to want to. The doctors do not think it’s a good idea, though.”

“You going to come in?”

“I intend to.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow then. You guys need anything, give me a call, okay?”


Tim puts down his phone, hoping things are going all right with Tony and Ziva, and wondering if he’s going to have to pull the same, if you’re here working the case you’re working the case with Ziva that he did with Draga. 

Draga has Blake and Simmers up on the plasma. “So, the good news is both Blake and Simmers aren’t really Blake and Simmers.”

“And the bad news?”

“The bad news is even with ultra-top priority rush, we’re still at least ten hours away from coming up with anything on the facial recognition software.”


“I’ve got more good news.”


Draga shrugs. “I talked to Lisbeth’s boss. She requested vacation from the 12th to the 30th. She was telling her co-workers that she was going to Tanzania for safari. Apparently her tumblr is uploading pictures of her adventures and the critters she’s seeing.”

“Would explain why her parents aren’t in a blind panic over her. They probably don’t expect to be able to contact her, so they haven’t gotten worried, yet.”

“You think there’s any shot she’s in Tanzania?”

“We’ll check. But someone had to return that car.” Tim checks his watch. 6:35. “Go home. Rest. Until we know who those guys really are, we’re stuck. I’ll let the FBI and CIA know what we’ve got, and get them searching, too. First thing tomorrow, we hit the ground running, knowing who these guys are.”

“Sounds good.” Draga stood up.

“Tonight, you sleep, take some melatonin or something if you need to, but I don’t want us to be stuck in here tomorrow. Ziva’ll be in, too. If we need to move, we’re moving, so be up for it. Got it?”


“Good. Eight AM tomorrow, we end this.”

“Amen,” Draga said as he left.

Tim prepared a quick report on everything they had and fired it off to Fornel, Kort, and Vance. Then he fired off one last email requesting any travel data for Lisbeth Ender. Not too many flights from the US to Tanzania, shouldn’t be too hard to find if she was on one of them. With any luck, tomorrow the Information Fairy would be ready to bestow it’s blessings upon them, and the break would come.

He was halfway home when he remembered that he’d told Gibbs he’d swing by his place and pick up his stuff. A quick U-turn and ten miles of driving took care of that. It felt weird to walk into his house with no one there, let alone doing it knowing he’s got to rifle through the man’s stuff to get…

He checked his email and found the list from Gibbs, clothing, toiletries, coffee, pillow, bourbon (Tim squints at that, not sure how well it’ll mix with Gibbs’ pain meds), sketch pad, and all the paperwork from NCIS.
Too late for the paperwork. It’ll still be there tomorrow. Mounds and mounds of it. Because of all the things he’s done today, filling out paperwork isn’t any of it.

Later. Clothes, coffee, home.

If Tim thought being in the house by himself was weird, being in Gibbs’ bedroom was even stranger. He’s been in it once before, after the Susan-talking-thing, and it looks pretty much the same, though it’s changed some. There had been a picture of Kelly and Shannon up on his dresser when he was there last. Now there were shots of all of them, mostly from the different weddings, but he sees one that Breena probably took (she takes most of the pictures) of him and Gibbs, and Tony, and Jimmy, Ducky and Fornell from the Fourth of July party. Judging by the looks on their faces, that is definitely the No Shame story. He looks at that one more closely. There’s an orb behind and to the left of Gibbs. He know that’s just some sort of anomaly that happens with digital cameras, dust mote hits the light right, something like that. He also knows that ghost hunters think they’re signs of spirits present. He smiles a little and shakes his head a little at that, and puts the picture down.

Stay on track. Clothing. Being in the house is weird, being in his bedroom is really weird, going through his dresser, okay, that’s borderline uncomfortable.

He grabs six pairs of boxers fast and tosses them on the bed. Socks next.  T-shirts were in the next drawer down. Pants, mostly jeans, in the drawer below that. Easy enough. He tries to remember if he’s ever seen Gibbs in shorts, but he doesn’t think he has. But shorts would be easier with the knee brace than jeans or slacks.

Barring shorts… Sweats. That’ll do the job. He’s got to have sweat pants somewhere. Tim knows that because he’s seen Gibbs exercise, fight, and sleep in them, so maybe the next drawer down…

Nope. Picture albums in that drawer.

Tim’s curious, really curious, like hand on the cover of the one on the top curious, but he doesn’t open it. He’s seen some of Gibbs’ photo albums, shots of him and his girls. And these albums don’t look like that, they’re thicker, and Tim has the sense that it’s not just photos in these books. So he closes that drawer and spends a moment looking around Gibbs’ bedroom, wondering where sweat pants would live.


Nope. Suits, dress slacks, button down shirts, a collection of those golf shirts he likes in every color on the planet, as well as lots of jackets, but no sweat pants. Sneakers were in there though, so Tim grabs them, and then puts them back, no need for sneakers when all you’re doing is laying around.

There’s a chest at the foot of the bed. Wood. Probably made by Gibbs. It’s not where Tim would keep sweat pants, but he knows Gibbs owns them, and he’s not seeing them, so… Not in there. Blankets, towels, quilts, extra pillows.

The only place left is the two bedside tables, which, well, Tim would really rather not go rooting through them. He knows what’s in his bedside table and… Well, he’s perfectly comfortable with the idea of allowing Gibbs’ condom, lube, and sex toy preferences to remain a mystery.

He takes out his phone and flashes a text to Gibbs. At your place, found everything but sweat pants, where do they live?

He heads downstairs and grabs both the coffee, and then to the basement for the sketch pad and bourbon. He’s halfway up the steps when he gets back: Bathroom shelf, over the hamper.

Thanks. Home with your stuff soon.

Good. You eat yet?


We’ll get something on for you.


I’ll ask Abby nicely to put something on for you.


Back up to the bathroom, where there is a tidy looking hamper-shelf combo, which he’s thinking Gibbs must have made for himself because Tim’s never seen anything like it. It looks like a sink cabinet, but instead of a sink at the top, there’s a flat wooden door. Open it, and the hamper is underneath. On top, there’s a shelf with sweat pants and comfy looking t-shirts (Gibbs’ jammies). The shelf above that has clean towels on it. On the outside of the side piece, facing the shower, there are hooks for the towels that are in use.  

Very clever.

Tim scoops up Gibbs’ jammies and lounging around wear, snags his toiletries out of the bath, and realizes he doesn’t actually have a bag or anything for all of this.

Back to the closet for a suitcase, and Tim was ready to head home.

Home again.

Tim’s pooped, all he wants to do is crash on the sofa.

But there’s already someone laying on the sofa, reading, looking awfully comfy.

And though he’s awfully fond of Gibbs, he’s not the person Tim wants to crash onto the sofa next to and wrap around.

So he crashes on the love seat, lays there for a moment, eyes closed, enjoying quiet and the fact that Gibbs isn’t interrogating him with questions as to how today went.

After a minute, he sits back up and looks around. No Abby, but there is a plate of food and a tall glass of iced tea on the coffee table. Checking the clock shows it’s a bit before eight, so she’s probably putting Kelly to bed.

“You human again?” Gibbs asks when he sits up.


Gibbs is really staring at him, looking, maybe not worried, but… Hell, he’s too fried to figure out what emotion is hiding behind those blue eyes. He is, however, awfully sure why Gibbs is looking at him like that.

“Yes, I saw them. No, I didn’t snoop.”


“Not saying I wasn’t tempted.”

Gibbs nods. “Wouldn’t have been the end of the world or anything, but, they’re private.”

“And they still are.”


Tim’s pointedly not asking what was in those books as he drinks the iced tea, but he certainly wouldn’t mind if Gibbs would just tell him.

Gibbs sees it and shrugs. “Shannon kept all of our letters. Made sure I kept the ones she sent me. And, back in… ’83, we got a Polaroid camera.”

“Oh.” And Tim has a very good idea of what’s in those books, and he’s feeling awfully glad he didn’t open them.

“Yeah. She put them all in books.” There’s a somewhat bittersweet note in Gibbs’ voice, but at least he’s talking about it. “Her very own romance novel: The Maiden and the Marine, she called it.”

Tim smiles at that. “Got a box like that upstairs. All of Abby’s poems are in there.” He rubs his temples feeling life crest back into him with the sugar from the tea. “Okay. That helps.” The chicken breast, green beans and cauliflower on his plate was looking awfully good, too.

“How’s the case going?”

Tim slowly shakes his head. He opens his mouth, about to say, “You wouldn’t believe it…” but his phone rings, and it’s Fornell.

“Let Fornell know you’re actually alive.” He tosses the phone to Gibbs. “I’m going to get more iced tea.”

As he heads to the kitchen he hears, “Tobias… Yeah… Knee’s shot. Doc wants me on my back…  Since she tells me that if I screw this up I’m not walking again without a cane…” Tim’s back in the living room. “No. He’s not.”

Tim gestures for the phone, and Gibbs hands it back. “No, I’m not what?”

“Letting Jethro work,” Fornell says to him.

“He’s on Percocet, a lot of it.”

Fornell didn’t say anything to that, so maybe that meant he agreed, or maybe he thinks Gibbs is going soft, either way, Tim doesn’t much care. “What’s up?”

“Christmas in July for you. Friend of a friend did some digging and got everything you ever wanted to know about Thomas Ender. I’ve got FBI files, NSA files, CIA files, Homeland Security files, and now you do, too. If it’s got initials he’s gotten flagged by them.”

“And yet he still manages to sneak onto an aircraft carrier.”

“True. Mostly because he fell off the face of the Earth two years ago. We honestly thought he was dead at that point. It’s all in the files. I’ve also got everything we had on Lisbeth Ender, which was nothing. She’s never hit the radar. We’re running Blake and Simmers, and setting up a database of people we’ve wanted who went quiet the same time they enlisted. Should speed up the process of IDing them.”

“Thank you. How’re the security details going?”

“Don’t know. I handed that one off.”

Gibbs had been watching that exchange. “Security details?”

Tim shakes his head at Gibbs and signs, Long story. Tell you when Abby is down.   

“Thanks, Fornell. Looks like I’ve got reading to do.”


Abby’s down a few minutes later. Curled around her, he begins to get them up to date on what happened today. He’s half-telling them to let them know, half-laying it out in his own mind, to work on getting the pieces sorted out further.

And for that sort of talking, Abby and Gibbs are very good listeners. Quiet when he needed quiet, asking good questions, and Gibbs, who he can see is purposely not taking his next dose of pain meds to keep his own mind as clear as possible, looks like he’s really thinking his way through today’s deluge of new information.

Tim talked through Kelly’s full sleep cycle, and feels bad about that, because Abby stayed up with him, listening, instead of getting more sleep. Though he didn’t mind getting a little extra snuggle time with Abby, and he was happy to go get Kelly and bring her down to nurse, while he wrapped up what had happened today.

Eventually she finished eating, and he had finished talking, and he’s ready to sleep too.

He offers Gibbs some help getting back into his office, and was in the process of heading off to grab him more to drink so he could take his pain meds and sleep, when Gibbs says, “Tim, would you sign something for me?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Tim can’t imagine what paperwork could have possibly wandered into his home without him taking it there, but the damn stuff is like bunnies, you turn your back and suddenly there’s more of it. There were three sheets of paper, printer paper, printer paper from his printer, okay… paper work that originated at his house, sitting on his desk.

He finds a pen and asks, “What am I signing?”

“I remember you saying it to the Doc, and thought things would go a lot more smoothly if it was real.” Which gets Tim actually reading the pages in front of him. It’s the legal documents necessary to make him and Abby Gibbs’ medical proxy and official next of kin.

“Oh… I thought Ducky…”

“He is, will be until we get this filed. We talked about it. He thought switching over to you two made sense, too.”

Tim smiles a little at that, half-pleased at the switch, half-sad at the recognition of the fact that Ducky isn’t going to live forever.

He signs, noticing that Abby’s already done so, and then takes the time to actually read the pages. Most of it is straight forward legalese giving both of them the power to make life or death decisions for Gibbs, the last page is his living will.

“I didn’t know you were DNR.”

Gibbs shrugs. “I’ve got more tying me to life than I have in a long time, but, when I’m done, I’m done. My heart stops, and that’s the end of it. Don’t bring me back. And if you let me linger on a machine, as soon as I am dead, I will come back and smack you so hard upside the back of the head your ears’ll ring for a week.”

“Yes, Boss.”


He scans the rest of the page. “Organ donor, too?”

“For whatever they’re worth. Can’t imagine there’ll be too much demand for my liver, and I smoked for ten years, so my lungs aren’t in top shape, but my last check-up said my heart was in great shape and my kidneys should be good. And yeah, you can put me on a machine and keep me going long enough to find good homes for them, then let me go.”

“Okay.” Maybe it’s just the long day. Probably it’s the lingering feel of having thought he lost them all, but that idea hits Tim really hard, and he feels his eyes burn and throat try to close up. He swallows hard a few times, and then shifts the topic to something that won’t make him cry. “You smoked?”

“You work with Franks and you either light up and smoke ‘em directly or you get ‘em second-hand.”

Tim knows all about that from his role playing days. “When’d you quit?”

“’Little bit before you signed on. Abby’d rag on me for it. Keep giving me pamphlets on lung cancer. Sending me pictures of tar-filled lungs. Had Ducky put a smoker’s lung on my desk. Stuff like that. Just easier to quit.”

Tim can imagine that. “Yeah. She would have. I’ve never lit my pipe. Just like having it to play with. I like the way the tobacco smells before you set fire to it, and Abby still gave me crap about it.”  

Gibbs chuckles about that. “Get some sleep, big things tomorrow.”


And that was Thursday.


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