Friday, January 3, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 272

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

Chapter 272: Loose Ends

“Did I lose a day, Honey? It’s Saturday, right?” Elaine asks as Tim heads into the diner. She’s not facing him, so he thinks she identified him by his car coming in, as opposed to watching him walk in. She turns to him, and as she does, she sees he’s very much not in his Special Agent garb. “Oh, it’s Saturday all right. You’ve got a whole other side to you, don’t you?”

He’s got a ratty MIT t-shirt, sneakers, and his flannel jammy pants on. Wrist cuff and the bottom of the bicep cuff tattoo are visible. It’s occurring to him that he didn’t brush his hair before leaving the house.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

Elaine smiles at him and says, “Amen to that. So what brings you out here in your pjs?”

“Wasn’t planning on heading out. But I’ve got Gibbs trapped at my place, and Abby keeps feeding him vegetables. He tells me he’s starving, and he needs you to save him.”

Elaine chuckles at that. “And am I just rescuing him from healthy food, or am I rescuing all three of you?”

“All three of us. Please?”

“Not a problem, Hun,” she says, placing a coffee cup (of course it’s decaf) in front of him. “For the wait.”

“Thanks, Elaine.”

She handles their orders and the other customers, but after a few minutes she drifts back. “So, when do I get to see that baby girl of yours?”

“Tomorrow or next Sunday, I promise. We’ll come in for breakfast before church.”

“You better. He’s been showing me pictures since the sonogram, time for me to see his little princess in the flesh.”

Tim smiles at that. “You will.”

“So, why’s he trapped at your place?”

He told her about Gibbs’ knee, and staying with them. She nodded and made appropriate sounds as he worked his way through the story.

“Good that he’s got someone looking after him. That man’s been alone for too long.”

Tim grins and sips his coffee, feeling the stress of the presents finally really fade away. “He’s been holding out, just waiting for you to make an honest man of him.”

She laughs at that, waves at him (brushing his comment off), smiling, and shakes her head. “My husband might have something to say about that.”

“All the good ones are married.”

She laughs again. Her husband, the man who actually makes all the food they adore, whacked the bell, and Tim knew those to-go boxes meant their order was up.  

“Thanks, Elaine,” he said, paying and heading out.

Summertime dinner on the porch. Nothing better than that. Gibbs is on the chaise. (Which Tim usually shares with Abby, but he’s not resenting not having a place on the prime lounging real estate.) He and Abby both have chairs at the table. Kelly’s in her bouncy seat, kicking her feet a little, making the chair bounce.

The sun’s low enough everything is pleasantly orangy-pink, the air is hot and humid, but not oppressively so. A tall pitcher of ice cold mint-lime-soda (Abby calls it non-alcoholic mojitos) is sitting on the table, drops of water meandering down it.

Cicadas are chirping away. Lightning bugs aren’t out yet, but as the shadows get deeper, they will be. 

While they eat, Tim tells them about the last day of the case, starting with the info dump, and ending with telling Kort to fuck off. (Gibbs laughed out loud at that, very pleased by the idea.)

As he’s wrapping up the story (by then the lightning bugs were out, and Kelly had headed up for yet another nap) Tim says, “I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s a big piece of it missing. I mean, I know we don’t usually get everything tied up into a tidy bow. I know there’s usually something missing…”

“Tim, when it’s over, walk away.” Gibbs’ voice is serious about this, because he doesn’t want Tim gnawing on this one for years. But he has to admit, there’s that little niggle in the back of his head, too. The gut does not like this case, at all. But right now, everyone they were hunting is dead, (They pulled the plug on Blake at 3:30 in the morning, after the second doc declared him brain dead.) so it’s not like that niggle can lead to anything good.  “We never get all the pieces.”

“I know, Jethro, but something just feels off about this.”

“Off like there’s another part ready to jump out and attack…”

Tim raises an eyebrow when Jethro says that. Sounds like he’s also feeling that sense of not done. “Yeah, but I don’t know how there could be. I got them. I got their communications system, that was all of them, but, it just feels… wrong.”

“What’s sticking out?” Abby asks.

“The dead battery. It’s such a dumb mistake. Come on, I carry back up batteries for everything we use. Draga has back-ups. Ender’s trained by the best, he runs a plan where he’s putting guys in place four years in advance, he’s gotten his hands on super-duper high-level secrets--We weren’t even supposed to know where those subs were. The Israelis weren’t sharing on that; we stole it.--so how did he find out?  Which is another thing that stuck out...” Tim waves that off, he had a point and he’s getting lost in the details, so he swings back to the original point. “He rigs the detonator with a dead battery? It’s just… wrong.”

“We don’t know he rigged it,” Gibbs adds.

“True. Blake probably did. That was his thing, but… He’s successfully blown up things on at least three continents, and he uses a dead battery?”

Abby thinks about that for a moment. “Why don’t you know who set the detonator?”

“Hmmm...?” Tim asks. That hadn’t occurred to him.

“Is my team completely asleep at the switch? Why didn’t they tell you who put the battery in? Should have prints on it. After all, who wipes down a bomb detonator?”

Tim looks at Gibbs, who’s looking back at him. They did get prints. There were prints all over everything down in that storage area, but…

“Give me a second…” Tim gets up and goes to his computer. A few minutes later, he’s logged into his account at work, and checking the print reports. He’s scanning through it, and finally gets to the detonator. No prints.

Who wipes down a bomb detonator? The man who’s exceedingly cautious. But the man who’s exceedingly cautious also double checks the damn battery to make sure it works.

The man who wipes down the detonator is the man who knows the detonator is going to be found.


He just about ran out to the back porch. “I’ve got to go see Leon.”

“Tim?” Abby asks, and Gibbs is looking pretty concerned.

“Your team wasn’t asleep. Well, sort of, they didn’t highlight it. The reason we didn’t know who set the detonator is because there were no prints on it. It had been wiped clean. This isn’t done, yet.”

“You want me to come?” Gibbs had successfully hobbled, by himself (and his crutches) the length of the living room and kitchen for dinner, and his knee didn’t feel like it had slipped the whole time.

Tim shakes his head. “No. But get on my computer and look around for evidence we don’t have but should. Something’s really wrong here.”

He wants to try and calm down, but it’s not working. He’s driving fast, that special, hyper-alert zone that he sometimes hits when his brain’s on overload so it focuses down on one thing and gets ultra-aware. Usually for him that’s a coding thing, but right now it’s a driving thing, too.

Right now he could tell you, from memory, the license plate of every car around him.

And it’s a driving thing because he won’t let his brain flail about on the case. Not enough intel. But something about this is really, really wrong.

“McGee?” Kayla Vance is very surprised to see him on their doorstep. He’s never been here when she was here. Last time he was here… No don’t think about that.

“Is your dad home?”

“Yeah. Come on in.” She turns and points toward the living room, calling out “DAAAAADDDD!”

Vance heads out of the dining room saying, “Kayla, what have I said about y…” Tim sees Vance’s face get tight and the tension in his posture shoot through the roof as he recognizes Tim standing there. By the posture he knows that Vance has a piece of the puzzle he doesn’t.


Shit, how bad is this? He’s calling me, Tim.
“Can we talk in private?”
“Yes, I think we should.” Vance leads him into his office. It’s a tidy room, lots of books, lots of boxing posters, a few trophies, some bronzed gloves, lots of pictures of the kids, a few pictures of the four of them from before Jackie died. Some pictures of the kids with Lara, and, stereotypes about dating the nanny aside (apparently it was working for Vance) there’s a new one on his desk of him, the kids, and Lara. It’s very much a shrine to the things that make Vance, Vance. Once he closed the door, he says, “What’s on your mind, McGee?”
Tim doesn’t sit down, and Vance doesn’t either. He leans against the edge of his desk, and Tim paces.
“The dead battery’s been bugging me since we found it. I was telling Gibbs and Abby about it, and I mentioned that we didn’t know who installed it.”
“Probably. He’s the guy who does that. But we didn’t know. Abby asked us why didn’t we know that, because that’s like the number two piece of evidence she’d send up. Which is when I checked, because we should know that. Of everything we should know, that’s the top of the list.
“The detonator was wiped clean. The only guy who does that is the guy who knows the detonator is going to be found. Something’s really wrong on this one.”
Vance nods toward the sofa on the far wall of his office. “What do you drink, Tim?”
Tim feels his stomach knot up and his knees get that loose, wobbly sensation that means his body is sure something very bad is about to happen. He sits down, quickly, and licks his lips, his whole mouth suddenly very dry.
“I’m good, Sir.”
“We’re in my home. Here, I’m Leon.”
“Okay, Leon, I’m fine and right now; I don’t need a drink, but you offering me one and calling me by my first name is making me really nervous, so how about we just get to why you think I’m going to want a drink?”

Leon pours himself one, grabs the chair from behind his desk and drags it over so he can sit in front of Tim. “Bit after two-thirty this morning Clayt,” it takes Tim a second but he realizes Clayt is Jarvis, “came in to see me. Carl Hanson,” Vance pauses to see if Tim knows who that is, and he does recognize the name of the Director of the CIA. “had just gotten word that Ender was killed and that we were the ones who did it. Ender was on a deep cover, report directly to Hanson, long-term mission…”

Vance keeps talking, but Tim doesn’t hear it, all he could hear, feel is the voice in his head screaming NOT AGAIN.

He can see Benedict crumple a few million-year-long seconds after the bullet hit him. That was the shock of the first time he’d shot someone, the first time he ended a life. And it was bad. But since he got the news of who Benedict was, there’s been the feeling of getting kicked in the gut to go with that image, the screaming desire to take it back, make time slow, to do, anything, anything to have not made that decision.

He can see it, replaying in his mind, Ziva hooked up the canister, and for about three minutes while the DEA vans made a huge noise and spectacularly broke into the across-the-street neighbor’s house, he and Draga waited, not really breathing, hoping she could do it and not get caught. They watched all three men on the heat monitor, watched them watch the DEA raid, and apparently they decided it wasn’t their problem, so they went back to their computers.

And then she was back in their van, and they waited, watching the three as they moved slower and slower, and one slumped onto the ground, and another’s head fell to his chest, and the third… he was already pretty slouched, but eventually they saw his hand slip off the mouse.

And it wasn’t until they were all presumed out of it that Tim gave the go for the evacuation of the neighborhood. He didn’t want to start the evac until he was sure none of them could see it and hit a kill switch.

That took two hours, but they weren’t going in until everyone was out of the blast range.

And yeah, he knew the longer a person was exposed to the gas, the lower the survival chances were. He knew it, and he watched the figures on the heat feed slowly get cooler and cooler as their bodies shut down.

They didn’t let the Coroner or EMTs into the Ender’s safehouse, couldn’t get it safe enough. Two of the bomb squad techs carried him out, body limp, one arm trailing on the ground.

And last night he went to sleep with a clean conscience because there were more than forty kids in the blast range, and every single one of them made it out alive. Last night, that image… It’s not that it didn’t bother him, but it was firmly filed in the greater good pile.

And now it’s not. Now it’s tied to a ragged mental voice screaming NOT AGAIN.

Part of him is sitting apart from the screaming. Part of him is amazed at how much this feels like the first time, it’s that same breath stolen, want to pass out and puke sensation.

“Tim…” Leon’s shaking his shoulder. “Come on back, Tim. That was a clean kill. I know it. SecNav knows it. Even the CIA agreed.”

“How clean can it be? He was one of ours, and I killed him.” Tim hears his voice crack on that.

“Clean, Tim. CIA wanted to fuss. Clayt went over our notes. Hanson went over our notes. Given what we knew, no one could give us a way to get Ender out of there without that whole neighborhood blowing up. CIA wanted to. They wanted to yell about it, but Clay sat down with their higher ups, at three in the morning, and told them, ‘Have at it! You’re all so smart and good at this. Get Ender out without killing the whole neighborhood.’ No one had a better answer than you did.”

It helps, a little. Not enough. But it’s better than nothing, helps anchor him to the idea that this time everyone isn’t staring at him like he’s the enemy.

“What do you mean, ‘given what we knew?’”

Vance wishes he hadn’t said that. It’s easy to forget that Tim’s not just computer smart. “Kort had orders to break Ender’s cover if he needed to. He decided he didn’t need to. CIA did have an exit plan in place for Ender. But, because Kort didn’t see any need to tell us about Ender’s real alliances, they didn’t get to put that plan into place.”

“What was it?”

“Kort was going to have the FBI fake an arrest of the ‘terrorists’ who tried to blow up the Reagan. He’d also supplied all three of them with high quality, fake, US Army IDs. He even had ‘fake orders’ for them. The plan was they’d hop a transport for South Korea, and then cross the border for their next job. Only thing was, that transport flight wasn’t going to work the way they were hoping.”

“Kort didn’t tell because he didn’t think I could catch Ender.”

“Kort didn’t think we could catch Ender. He was there before you took over, and he didn’t tell DiNozzo or Gibbs. According to him, this was an operation that required brains and finesse, not just… ‘bull doggish tenacity and an intimidating stare.’”

Actually, Kort had said nothing of the sort. But it sounded like him, and if you’re going to lie, you need to be specific, and Vance is a good liar. Which is also why Vance changed one other key detail in his story, those IDs were supposed to be Marine IDs.

Tim had called that one correctly. It wasn’t NCIS in general that Kort doubted, (When they were planning what the target should be, and who would eventually take Ender in, Kort had recommended a Navy or Marine target so NCIS would catch it because he knew Gibbs could handle it. He knew Gibbs would be ready and able to make sure that transport plane was the end of the trip for Ender, Simmers, and Blake.) it was Tim in specific. Once Kort knew he wasn’t getting out of this, he owned up to the whole thing and his report made very clear that he figured there was no shot at all of Tim taking Ender down, so there was no reason to compromise his cover, and once DiNozzo or Gibbs was up and about again, he’d read them in. But… And because of but, Ender was dead.

But none of that is anything Vance thinks Tim needs to know. This’ll be enough of a hit to McGee’s confidence, and from what he’s been seeing these last few years, McGee confident is capable of great things, and he wants that man working for him, running his Cybercrime department. He’s not about to do anything to hurt that. He does not want him second guessing himself any more than he already will be, and honestly, right now, he was wishing Tim was a little less sharp, so this whole thing could have just died.

Tim sat there for a long minute, staring at his hands, seeing the bodies on his screen slowly fade as the heat leached out of them.



“I like scotch.”

Vance nods, gets up, and gets him one.

Tim holds it, looking at brown liquid and clear glass. Then he takes a good swallow. He’s not really looking to get drunk (he still has to get home, and he’s still aware of that) but he hopes the burn will help pull him out of this numb space.

At least the screaming is over. That’s kind of nice.

“So, what happens now?”

“Nothing. Like I said, CIA wanted to yell. I told Jarvis we go to the wall on this one, because we are not sacrificing anyone just to keep CIA happy, especially not when they don’t play fair with us. He went in full bore, and by this morning it was done. Not sure what’s going to happen to Kort. If he wasn’t so damn dangerous, they’d cut him loose, but he knows too much to ever really retire.”

“That’s why they call them spooks right? They live forever?”

“Something like that. My guess is that Kort might be spending the next year or two brushing up on his Farsi, and find himself doing some deep cover field-work.”


He sits quietly next to Leon for another moment.  

“You going to be okay?”

Tim shrugs.

“It was a clean kill.”

Tim sighs. “No such thing, Leon. He’s still dead, and I gave the order that did it. That’s on me, and it always will be.” He takes another sip of his drink.

“That’s on Kort.”

“Kort might have put me there, but I still made the decision.”

“It was the right one.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t.” Tim thinks about it. That’s a difference. Probie McGee couldn’t have said that. Soon-To-Be-Head-of-Cybercrime McGee can. Given what he knew, it was the right decision. He does feel sure about that. It still hurts, but... he’s not doubting himself. He follows that thought a bit further, what if he had known…

Even if he had known Ender was one of the ‘good guys’ he’d… still do it. Sometimes you can’t get everyone out. “I’d make it again. You don’t leave two guys with dead man switches sitting on tons of explosives in a neighborhood. They had mercury switches on the windows. Some kid misses the ball playing catch, and it hit one of those windows, that whole neighborhood would have gone up.  You can’t leave that in place and hope the angels are on your side while you wait for the seventeen part trap you’ve got to play out. When we handed it over to the FBI, their techs were saying they’d basically have to dismantle the house to declare it safe, and they were planning on searching for landmines, too, given how much crap was in that place.” He takes another sip of his drink. “But he’s still dead, and I made the call, and in the end, there are no clean kills, not for something like this.” 

“I know.” 

“Was there anything in the reports about James or Lisbeth Ender?”

“Not much. No one knows who killed James. Thomas was going to take James’ place, that was part of the plan, but what was supposed to happen to James isn’t in any of the reports. Thomas did recruit Lisbeth for what he was doing. The CIA made sure she was reimbursed for the phones she was buying.”

“How’d we miss that?”

“You didn’t. They had an off-shore account for her, under a fake ID. We know who she became when she vanished, and they’re getting her back.”

“Great.” He hands Vance his still mostly full glass. “I should get home. Abby and Gibbs are both waiting to see what’s going on.”

“Okay. I meant it about you guys taking the week off.”

He nods. Not sure if he’s going in on Monday just to have something to do, or curling around Abby and clinging to her and Kelly for a week.

It’s after ten when he got back in the car. Abby should be nursing again. And hopefully sleeping soon after that. He’s been using up her sleep time, and that’s not fair, not with her getting up every three hours to feed Kelly.

He texts Gibbs. Everyone up?

Right now.

Case is over.


Long damn story. It’s done.

That doesn’t sound good.

Is it ever? He pauses for a second. Is Abby reading these, too?


Tell her I’m on my way. Will be home soon. Head to sleep, I’ll be there for snuggling soon.

Are you? He wonders about that briefly, and then gets the idea that Gibbs is asking if he’s telling her to head to sleep, so she doesn’t notice him just driving around on his own, or whatever, for a while.

Yeah. I’m coming home and going to bed. Not sure about sleep, but…

I’ll still be up when you want to talk about it.


Gibbs was on the sofa, reading, waiting up.

It occurs to Tim that this is the first time he’s ever come home and had a Dad waiting up for him. That gets a sigh.


He shakes his head.

“I’ll be here.”

Tim nods and heads up. His eyes take a second to adjust to the dark of their bedroom, but once they do, he sees she’s on her side, her usual sleeping position, but he’s usually behind her, holding her.

Long exhale. Keep your routine. Routine helps. So he did. He stripped off and brushed his teeth, peed, and headed for bed, just like any other late night. It’s just not like any other late night. He wishes it was.

He snuggles up against her, between soft, nubby sheets and a light summer blanket. Warm, soft body, easy breathing, vague scent of her perfume and shampoo, deeper, stronger scent of her skin, little whiff of baby spit up. Home.

She scoots a bit closer, her neck resting on his arm. Automatically, his other arm curls around her, hand coming to rest under her breast. He kisses the back of her neck, and she sighs in her sleep.

Clean kill.

If that means anything.

I am a gun in the service of life, and if I have to end a life to protect others, I do it.

That’s why I’ve got the badge.

That’s the purpose of the gun.

That’s the job.


It’s not just a job. That’s the life. The life you chose, because it matters, because it’s the man you need to be.

You do what you need to to save lives, and if some goddamn son of a bitch sticks himself in the middle of a fucking bomb, he’s gonna die because I’m not letting the fucker blow. Not me. Not on my watch. Not in a neighborhood filled with families just like mine.

He feels pure white anger surge as he gets to that last bit of his mental monologue. It’s his job to protect people. That’s the long and the short of it, and when it all comes down and works out, that’s who he is. The rest is just window dressing. And that son of a bitch built a cage so dangerous no man in his right mind could let it stand, walked into it, locked the fucking door behind him, and then expected to be saved.

You wanna live, asshole? Don’t sit in the middle of a goddamned bomb, and don’t ask me to get you out. Don’t stay with maniacs who are walking death.

But Ender is still dead, and the screaming from before isn’t guilt, and it isn’t fear. (Or maybe it was, but it’s not now.) It’s rage.

God damn that motherfucking cunt for putting me here. GOD FUCKING DAMN HIM!

Tim rubs his face and can feel he’s shaking, so he gets up and tosses on some pants. He’ll wake Abby if he keeps holding onto her this angry, and she needs her sleep.

“So?” Gibbs asks as Tim walks down less than fifteen minutes after he went up.

Tim shakes his head, pulls on sneakers, and points to the door.

Gibbs nods. He gets it. Sometimes you can’t talk. Sometimes you’ve got to work it off, and it’s got to be physical. If he could run, or fight, he’d go along, but he can’t. So he nods again, and once again says, “I’ll be here.”

Tim closes the door quietly, and Gibbs snags his phone. He flips through his numbers and calls Leon. “He’s not talking about it, yet. What happened?”

And Vance told him.

With Benedict there was sorrow, and grief (which, until that point, he thought was a synonym for sorrow, but after Benedict he knew it wasn’t, not really) there was guilt, mountains of stomach emptying guilt, and fear (which took care of everything in his intestinal tract that he didn’t puke up).

This time, running, hard, though his quarter-moon, ghost-silver neighborhood, there’s just rage.

He wants to scream it to the heavens, but he’ll settle for running. Too late, too public for screaming.

But that little voice is in the back of his head, screaming in rage.


Fucking twice.

His feet pound pavement, his body races through humid dark, heart pumping, sweat dripping, endorphins fighting so far outside of their weight class it’s not funny.

Once was bad enough. Everyone’s got that one case where you fucked up and the end was bad. Everyone.

But twice. When you did everything right?

This isn’t even failure.

This is what, a pyrrhic victory? This is every move done right. Meeting and exceeding everyone’s expectations, being three steps cleverer than the people who doubted him, and the wrong guy still died.

Not died. The wrong guy was killed. Passive voice. Avoidance technique. It’s yours. Own it.

You did everything right, and you still killed the wrong guy.

Tim stops running, staring at the stars, listening to the cicadas and the frogs, and then walks home.

He slumps onto the love seat. “Would it help if I shot Kort?”

Gibbs doesn’t know if Tim knows him so well he just knows he’d have gotten the story from Leon by now, or if he just doesn’t care if he knows the story.

“Can you look at yourself in the mirror without wincing?”

“Probably.” He left the light off while he brushed his teeth, and didn’t spend any time looking at himself.

“Good enough. Unless you’re between eating your gun or feeding it to him, you don’t shoot a man for this.”

“What’s this?” Tim sighs, feels like he’s been doing that a lot, staring at the ceiling.

“Hell, if I know the word. Fucked to hell and gone? Nothing else you could have done, nothing else you can change, you did the best you possibly could and it’s still wrong.”

Tim nods.

“And for that, you only shoot him if it’s you or him, and you’re not there.”

“No. Not even close.” Tim shrugs. “Never been close.”


“Not close isn’t the same thing as spiffy.”

“Nope. It was the right decision.”

“I know.” And this time, Gibbs sees that Tim does. He really does. That’s not the problem not today. “I am so fucking pissed at that asshole for making me do it. This must be what suicide by cop feels like, if you’re the cop.”

“Which asshole?”

“I was thinking Ender, but Kort’s got a mountain of shit I want to drop on him, too.”

“Why Ender?” This is when Tim realizes that he never did get deep into the details of the safe house.

“Front door had a bomb under the welcome mat. All of the first floor windows had mercury triggers on them, any vibration stronger than a lawnmower would have set them off. Bomb squad said they were set so that if, somehow, the cops missed the welcome mat, breaking through the door would set them to blow. Pressure plate on the door they used to get in and out, step over it, fine, but most people would have landed right on it. Pressure plates on the back porch. More mercury switches on the sliding glass doors on the back. Garage doors were wired with magnets. Every entrance of that house on the first floor was wired to blow. And a fucking softball tossed the wrong direction could have taken that whole neighborhood out. And Ender let Blake set it up, walked his ass into it, and somehow trusted us to get him back out again.

“And I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. Stick me in that van, tell me Ender works for the CIA, and I’d still make the call. I’m not going to dance around and wait for the CIA to come up with some rescue plan that gets him out three weeks later, leaving this huge bomb in the middle of a fucking neighborhood waiting to go off. Hell, a delivery guy at the wrong address, neighbor knocks on the back door… No. I’m not doing it.

“That son of a bitch made me kill him. Because I’m not the guy who can just sort of hope it’ll go okay and wait it out.

“He was good at what he did, and he wrapped up a cell with more than fifty guys in it, and if I could have gotten him out alive, he would have gone right back to it, pulling in more guys, dangerous guys, evil guys, but he’s not doing it anymore because he let one of the assholes build the trap that I couldn’t let stand, and it didn’t matter if he was still in it or not.

“And all the right decisions in the world doesn’t help with the fact that I want to get his corpse up and smack the shit out of it because I’m the one who had to pull the fucking trigger on him.”

Gibbs starts to get up, and Tim glares at him, then moves, sits on the floor so he’s next to Gibbs. (Gibbs is across the sofa with his foot up.) “This what you were aiming for?”

“Close enough.” He squeezes Tim’s shoulder, and leaves his hand there. “I know it doesn’t help, but I’ve been there, too. Half of sniper training is guns and math, feeling the wind, understanding distance, knowing where something is going to be instead of where it is, trajectories, air currents, calibers, vantage points, and cover. Half of it is pulling the damn trigger. Snipers take out other snipers. We take out machine gunners. We take out high power targets like the other side’s officers. Big enough gun and we take out engine blocks, that’ll force a column off the street and into the mines.

“And when you’re doing that, you’re taking out enemy targets, and that’s just how it is.

“And I was good at it.” Gibbs smiles a little, but it’s not happy, just acknowledging the bittersweet flavor to being exceptionally good at killing people.

“Really good. And in Colombia I ended up… Another son of a bitch with a bomb, and the idiot Lieutenant wants to parley, hoping we can get our guys and some villagers back by talking. He knows where I am, and the idiot keeps walking around, and the son of a bitch is getting more and more aggravated, and I know where this is going, but I don’t have a clean shot because that idiot keep walking back and forth…” Gibbs goes quiet, seeing that moment through his scope again. Wet behind the ears, twenty-one-year-old moron fresh out of Annapolis, who’d been told not to do this, walking back and forth, and Gibbs can see Delando Cortenz smirking, hand on the trigger that’ll blow his hostages, and he knew where it was going to go, knew that smirk wasn’t going to lead to anything good. “So, I swapped up, bullet big as your thumb, damn thing would have practically gone through an elephant, and it did go through the Lieutenant. He didn’t even slow it down, and it went through the son of a bitch, and we got our guys out, and a dozen villagers. And no one ever said anything about it… but, yeah, I wanted to hit him. If he had stayed the fuck out of it, I would have had a clean shot and gotten our guys out with no problems. If he had stayed to the side, just picked a place and stayed in it, I could have gotten a clean shot. But no, the little asshole had to keep moving around.”

Tim squeezes Gibbs hand back.

“How old was he?”

Gibbs shakes his head, looking frustrated. “Twelve? Something like that. Too damn green, too damn stupid. So full of himself, thought he was God’s gift to all things military. The next incarnation of Chesty Puller.”

Tim doesn’t say anything, he just sits there, and Gibbs lets him. There’s nothing else to say. Eventually, he hears Kelly crying, asking for yet another meal, so he stands up, kisses Gibbs on the forehead, and heads up to bring Kelly to Abby, save her from having to get up yet again.

“Tim?” Abby sounds sleepy as he lays Kelly in front of her. “You get any sleep at all?” she asks as she gets Kelly settled on her breast.

“Not yet.” He pulls off the pants, and curls into bed behind her.

Between no sleep, and the fact that she has to be able to smell the sweat on him, there’s fear in her voice as she asks, “How bad is it?”

His lips on her shoulder, his arm over her side, his hand on Kelly’s back, he says, “I’ve had better days. But nothing that won’t hold until tomorrow if you’d rather doze while she eats.”

“You think I’m going to nap after that?”

“I can hope?”

“Uh uh.” She lifts his hand to her lips, kissing his palm, his wedding ring, and the tattoo of her lips. “Let me help you carry this.”

So he told her, and held onto her and Kelly, and tried to let anger go, and maybe it didn’t entirely, but being home helped, running helped, talking to Gibbs helped, wrapped in his home and people who love him, helps, and eventually, when Abby flips over, Kelly now between them, so she could nurse on the other side, Tim falls asleep to soft, little sucking sounds, and the feel of his hand on Abby’s hip, his forehead pressed to hers.

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