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.



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