Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 302

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

Chapter 302: The Tip of the Iceberg

Abby and Corwin were dusting a collection of evidence for prints when Tim got back from his chat with Gibbs.

"Everything okay?" she asked


She nodded at that. That was enough for right now, and when they get home they can talk for real. He headed over to the new lab annex, where his computer (okay, his keyboard and monitor with the little black hearts on it, the computers were all off in Abby's office now) ended up, and got back to work.

Three hours and two cups of coffee later, Abby was leaning against the doorway. "We're wrapped for the day over here. How about you?"

He looked up from what he'd found. (Possibly) (Hopefully) The break he needed.

"Twenty more minutes?"

"Okay." She squeezed his shoulders gently, and kissed the back of his neck, then headed back to her office to wade through more paperwork. (Requisition forms! Not much fun, but if they don't want to run out of reagents, pipettes, and the like, vital.)

Half an hour (and orders placed for new vials, replacement motor for Major Mass Spec, he'd been slow and techy all week, and sterile growth compound) later, she headed back to him.

"Closer to done?"

"Not exactly." He shook his head, looking at her with a less than enthusiastic half-smile on his face. "I found which company we need to lean on to break this. Herden Titanium Works. Only twenty people work there, so it's not like they can play the no-one-knows-where-the-invoices-come-from game."

"Let me guess, you aren't going to wait until tomorrow to get into this?"

"Got a lot of brownie points I need to earn back. And if I get into a car now, I should be up in Downingtown in…" he quickly googled, "six hours. Be able to start questioning Eva Flanders, their bookkeeper, first thing in the morning, maybe have whoever hired Mason by lunch."

She gave him a long, gentle kiss. "See you tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah." He kissed back, hands clasped on her low back. "Give Kelly an extra-long snuggle for me."


He'd told Draga to meet him in the motor pool, and there he was, standing next to one of the Mercury Sables, go bag slung over his shoulder.

"So, where are we going?" Draga asked as he unlocked the car.

"Downingtown, PA."

"Where's that?"


Draga's answering look was a pretty clear, that was amazingly useful, thank you oh so much.

Tim shrugged back at him. "I did a quick google. It's six hours from here. GPS'll have more details. Let's go."

So in they got, and as Draga backed out, Tim set the GPS for Herden Titanium Works and explained why they were heading there.

They managed to drive for eleven whole minutes before getting to the first traffic jam. I-495 was gridlocked and the GPS was telling them they still had two miles to go before they could get to the exit that would let them find a new route. Estimated time to that exit, forty-five minutes.

"I take it this isn't uncommon?" Draga asked.

"You wish. I've lived here since 2003 and the entire time some part of the 95 interchange has been under construction and mucking up the rest of it."


"Yeah, there's a reason to live inside DC if you can possibly afford it."

"Or don't have kids living with you."

Tim thought about that for a second and made the connection between Draga and his son. "There are some really great private schools."

"Uh huh."

Tim thought back and remembered what Draga was making these days. "Kevin's starting kindergarten next year?"


"Maryland's got great schools, but not right next to DC. Supposed to be some good charters near DC."

"But you get into them by lottery, and the Virginia side has great schools, but I can't afford it." Draga sighed. "His mom's lawyer's harping on the fact that where she is the schools are better."

"Don't they have programs in DC for cops and schoolteachers and nurses and stuff, try to get them into better neighborhoods?"

"They do. I don't qualify because I'm a Fed and make too much money."

"That sucks."


"Ziva and I used to live in Silver Springs. Schools were okay there."

"Okay. Not great. Not terrible. Anywhere in the areas I can afford, I've got to be able to come up with tuition to one of the private schools to get a better education than he can get where he's living now."

"And tuition is too much."

"At the places I've checked. They all say financial aid is available, but I can't apply for him if I don't have custody, and I can't get custody because I can't prove that I can get him adequate schooling. At least, that's where the argument is right now."

"I'm really sorry."

"Me, too. On the upside, her lawyer is offering summers, Christmas, and spring break, so that's him bending to some degree. Before it was just every other weekend, and if I couldn't get down there for him, too bad."

"You gonna take it?"

"Right now, I'm thinking I am. Trying to get my lawyer to make sure there's something in there about revisiting the agreement in three years."

Tim nodded, he got that. In three years, Draga will be up three levels and making enough to afford a better place to live or tuition.

"So, what's going on with you and DiNozzo? Good talk?" Draga asked a few minutes later as they sat in gridlock, staring at cars just sitting still.

Tim shrugged.

"You gonna be working in the lab forever?"

"No. Just, you know, sometimes it's a good plan to make yourself scarce for a bit."

"Yeah, I know that. Gibbs sticking around?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

That surprised Draga.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Tim asked.

"Thought if anyone would know, it'd be you."

"It probably would be. I'll lay odds on him not staying. You ever get caught between what you want and the right thing to do?"

"You mean like not kidnapping my son?"

Tim glanced over and saw that Draga may be playing that for a joke, he wasn't nearly joking as much as he should be. Granted, Tim was feeling a bit edgy on the idea of one, maybe two, nights without seeing Kelly, so the idea of only seeing her summers and at Christmas would drive him insane.

Draga saw Tim get it, and Tim nodded back at him. "Actually, yes, probably a lot like that. It'd be good for you, but probably not for him, not in the long run. Same thing with Gibbs and Tony. Gibbs sticks around another year, that's good for Gibbs, bad for Tony."

"But Tony's Team Leader."

"Yep. As he put it, it's like the difference between driving with whoever taught you how to drive in the seat next to you, and driving on your own."

And for as much as Tim didn't intuitively get that difference, the lights went on for Draga, who apparently had a much less exciting first driving experience than Tim did.

"New team for Tony?" Draga asked.

Tim sort of squinted at Draga, honestly shocked that he'd ask that. "Think they have leaderless teams just hanging around waiting for a new person? You get a team by being around when the old leader leaves. But say there was one, what happens to you and Ziva in a year when Gibbs leaves? Or say you and Ziva go with him, where does Gibbs go? Just like there's no new team hanging out waiting for Tony, there really isn't one for Gibbs. We haven't put any new field teams on the ground since…2008? I don't remember, but they did offer Tony the one they were forming in Rota and he didn't take it."

"So, you're saying it's going to be a damn long time before I hit Senior Agent?"

"He'll age out in ten years. And who knows, if Russia makes a move on Estonia, we might start building up in Europe again, which'll probably involve a few new teams, but… You might be the low guy on the totem pole for a while. It's not a bad thing. You still get raises every year, or few years once you've been in for a bit, you still move up, Vance is good about making sure talent doesn't just sit there-"

"Hence your lateral move?"

"Technically it's lateral and quite a bit up. I got offered Okinawa back in '10. That was the last new Cybercrime team. Field agent still worked better for me than desk jockey back then, so I declined. Asked for Cybercrime and got okayed for it back in... March? So my move's been on the books for a while. But, I'm still here because I can't go there until Jenner heads off, and he's taking his sweet time looking for his perfect next job. The only reason I can shift into head of Cybercrime is because I'm better than the second and third in commands and happen to be the guy the Director calls in for all of his personal hacking. Otherwise, I'd be stuck until they open a new team. It's like anything else, can't move up unless someone moves out, or they expand or reorganize forces. None of that's happening right now."

"So, really, damn long time?"

Tim shrugged. "Technically, I was a Senior Agent for less than four months. Ziva's never been a Senior Agent. Few more months, I'll run my own department. Excellence counts for a lot here. Be better at your job than anyone has any right to expect you to be, and Leon will work with you to make sure you're properly taken care of."

The sun had set and they were well out of DC when Tim felt his phone buzz. Text from Jethro asking, of all things, how gmail worked.

Why not? He shook his head slightly and started talking him through it, idly wondering who Jethro wanted to chat with.

Did you tell Tony you found a lead? Popped up on his phone after he explained where he was and why.

He stared at that text and cursed under his breath. Then he texted what he said. Then he started quickly texting Tony, getting him up to date. He didn't ask permission to go. It's written as an update. Here's what I found, I'm on the lead, taking Draga along, will send more when I know more, sort of thing.

A few seconds later he got one back saying that Tony wanted updates as fast as he had them and that Mason and his lawyer were due in in the morning, and if he had it cracked before they came in, they'd appreciate that.

On it. he typed back to Tony, and then got back to texting Jethro.

Once that was wrapped up, he said to Draga. "Just remembered to let Tony know where we are."

"Isn't there a rule about that?"

"Never be unreachable." He held up his phone. "Obviously, I'm reachable. Abby knew where we were going."

"But Tony didn't." Draga glanced away from the road toward him. It was pretty clear that he had assumed Tim had squared this with the rest of the team before they left.

"Did you tell him?"

"When would I have? During the fifty seconds between 'get a car we're going to Pennsylvania' and getting the car, or the minute between that and you popping up next to the car?"

"Good point. He does now."

"He's really not your Boss, is he?"

"Apparently not."

Zero for two on being a good team player. Wonderful. He used to be good at this. He used to be the most reliable one of the three of them on the not just wandering off and doing his own thing aspect of this job.

When did that change? When he took over the team or when Tony moved up?

Both things happened so close together he couldn't really tell. He'd only been working for Tony two days when Tony got hurt and he took over for two weeks.

Is it that he can't see Tony as his Boss, so he's just on his own, doing his own thing, or did running the whole show shift how he saw his job?

Tim didn't know, didn't care. Either way, this had to change. Okay, fine, Tony wasn't his Boss, (even if, right now, he technically was) but he was the Team Leader, and he needed to know where the whole team was and what they're doing at any time. So he could, you know, lead the damn team.

Or put this way, eventually he'll have a pile of computer techs all working for him, did he want them just going their own way without at least a heads up?

Actually… that was a good question.

He mulled over it. What level of I-know-exactly-what-you're-doing did he want? He wasn't a micro manager. He knew that. He didn't want hourly updates from everyone about precisely what they're doing.

Ultimately… maybe… set the task with daily check ins… Let him know if there was a big break… That sounded decent. Given what he knew about his soon to be employees (not all that much) that might work. Of course, given the current quality of the work they were doing… more frequent check-ins may be necessary.

He'd seen their resumes, so he knew that once upon a time there was talent in Cybercrime, it just seemed to have drained out of the people down there.

But, eventually, he wanted to be able to give them a task, and have them handle it, and report in only when they came up with something he needed to know. Kind of like how Vance handled Gibbs.

Like Vance… That wasn't a bad template… Maybe…

Teams. 'Like Vance' worked better if he had teams. Each problem comes in, assign a team to it, foursomes… web specialist, database specialist, code wizard, hacker… Whoever had the most specialties on whatever it was got the leader position, and he'd check in with Tim. Swap 'em around so everyone got some leadership time…



"What's up? Lots of texting and then you went dead silent."

"Oh… Nothing. Just thinking of how to reorganize Cybercrime."


"Yeah… Kind of a mess down there. And, haven't done a whole lot of running the show. So, gotta figure out how to do that."

"It'd be nice to not be completely clueless on day one."

"Something like that."

They were in Northern Maryland, getting gas and "dinner." Tim was fueling up the car while Draga foraged for sandwiches and drinks from the Wawa.

"So, how does this work. We get one room, two?" Draga asked when he came back, setting a bag with subs and two sodas on top of the car.

"They let us expense up to seventy-five dollars for food and lodging per-diem. So, usually one of us gets the room, and the other gets the food, and that way everything gets covered. But, if you want your own room it's not a problem. I'm good either way."


Tim was googling away while Draga started unwrapping his dinner. "Least expensive thing I can find in ninety a night."

"One star roach motel?"

Tim flipped his phone around and showed Draga the picture.

"Wonderful. I'd prefer not getting bedbugs. What's the least expensive three star place?"

Tim changed his parameters. "One twenty-three."

"How's that work?"

"Form E-458-B, we pool all of the receipts and expenses, and they cut one of us a check, and then we split it."

"Lovely. One good thing about the Navy, your bunk goes with you."

"We can sleep in the car."

"I'm thinking no on that," Draga said, shaking his head.

"Good. I hate sleeping in cars."

It was well after 1:00 when they got to the Fairfield Inn in Exton. (If there were hotels in Downingtown proper, they either cost too much to hit Tim's search, or weren't online. Either way, they were in the next town over.) It was a basic, no frills, hello-business-traveler-on-a-tight-expense-account kind of place.

It was clean. Smelled decent. Not too hot, not too cold. They had a room with two beds. Bathroom was functional. There was a coffee maker. Wi-fi worked. It was good enough, and better than some of the rat traps Gibbs had picked for them over the years.

Way better than Afghanistan, not as nice as the place they were in in Lejeune.

By all rights, Tim should be able to brush his teeth, slip into his pajama pants, and crash, not moving until the alarm kicks him out of bed six hours from now.

But he wasn't having an easy time settling, feeling edgy, and apparently Draga noticed.

"First full night away since she was born?"

"Yeah." Tim nodded, lying down. "Feels weird to not at least touch her every day."

"I know. You thinking we'll be home tomorrow?"

"I really hope so."

"Okay. Gonna get a swim," they had to go past the indoor pool to get to their room, "blow off some of the drive."

"You have swim trunks in your go bag?" Talk about non-standard go bag equipment.

"It's one in the morning. Who's gonna notice I'm in boxers?"

"Good point."

1:53, he was still awake. Usually he was pretty good, especially when tired, at hitting the pillow and going to sleep. But it wasn't his pillow, and Abby wasn't next to him, and he hadn't seen Kelly, and yeah, all of the things that say SLEEP, NOW weren't firing, because they weren't here.

Granted, there was a fairly… easy… solution to this issue, that usually worked awfully well, but he was really not a fan of doing it when he was sharing a room. They've all done it, (Okay, Tony and he have done it. He was honestly not sure about Gibbs, and didn't need or want to know.) at least once, especially when it was day three or four of the case, and they all ignored it, but… still, it wasn't anything he ever got particularly comfortable with.

But Draga was still off swimming.

Not like he was looking to really work himself over, just wanted to blow off enough tension to fall asleep. Wouldn't take more than five minutes.

He sat back up, snagged his phone, and headed for the bathroom. Rule one of jerking off when you're sharing a room: Always use the bathroom. You do not jerk off in bed when you're sharing a room; you just don't. (You really, really, REALLY don't if the other guy is in the room with you.) Even Tony, who was not exactly discrete in his habits, knew this.

The bathroom had those lights that turn the fan on as well, so no shot of whomever else is in the room hearing what was going on in there, which was nice. He locked the door, because… years of boarding school or the Marines meant that neither Tony nor Gibbs would think twice about walking in to use the head or brush their teeth when another guy was already in the bathroom. First time it happened, Tim was in the shower, barely awake, and just about jumped out of his skin when the water went ice cold when Tony flushed the toilet.

Door locked. Fan on. Good pictures of Abby on his phone, he went for the ones of her tied up from their honeymoon… very, very good pictures… set the right mood very quickly. (And reminded him of how long it'd been since he tied her up. Way too damn long!) He sent her a cock shot to perk up her morning. (Along with the caption, Thinking of you.) And yeah, it didn't take more than five minutes, but he was feeling awfully loose and relaxed by the time he hit the bed again.

He was just about asleep when he started to wonder if Draga actually was getting a swim, or if "getting a swim" meant taking advantage of the likely to be completely empty locker room.

He smirked at that, and fell asleep.

Eva Flanders, long term bookkeeper for the Herden Titanium Works, lived in a pleasant, little house on a street lined with other pleasant, little houses and large maple trees, blazing scarlet in the October sunshine. They all looked like they were built around the end of World War II and the effect of the whole thing could be described as "quaint."

Draga knocked. Tim already had his ID out.

If Betty White had a twin sister, she was standing in front of them, looking mildly confused at the two men on her doorstep at 8:00 in the morning.


Tim flipped open his ID, and Draga got out his. "Tim McGee," he nodded to Draga, "Eric Draga, we're with NCIS and we'd like to talk to you."

Mildly confused morphed into boggled. "NC—what?"

"Naval Criminal Investigative Services. May we come in?" Tim asked.

"But… I'm not in the Navy."

"No ma'am, we didn't think you were." Tim glares at Draga for that.

"We investigate crimes involving Naval personnel, their families, and Marines," Tim explained.

"You're a bit late on that fellas, Bob died back in '82."

Tim and Draga glanced at each other, confused by that.

"Ma'am?" Draga asked, as she opened the door and let them in.

"Bob Flanders, my husband. He died back in '82."

"Was he Navy ma'am?" Draga asked.


"Ah… And… was he murdered?"

"Lord, no." She looked appalled by that idea. "Died in his sleep."

"Okay…" Draga was staring at Tim now what? on his face.

"Was there a crime involving your husband ma'am?" Tim asked.


"Ahhh… Okay." He smiled brightly at her, deciding to get to the point. "We were hoping to talk to you about your job with Herden Titanium Work."

"Why on earth would you want to talk about that? They don't work for the Navy."

"Could you just tell us about some invoices?" Tim asked, taking copies of the Herden bank statements from his pocket.

"Maybe." She saw the papers. "Let me get my glasses, back in a jiff."

He nodded at Draga, letting him know to keep an eye on her. Yeah, it wasn't likely that she was about to run off, or call someone at Herden, but this not-all-there-thing might be an act, and he wasn't about to get caught sleeping on this.

So Draga looked like he was checking out the pictures on the wall, keeping her in view, as unobtrusively as a guy who was 6'2" with bright red hair could.

She shuffled back in a few seconds later, glasses on, and sat down next to Tim. "So, what do you want me to look at?"

"We found that your company was paying Ralph Mason six thousand dollars a month for web design, and we wanted to know who hired him."

She squinted at the bank records and saw the transfers to Mason Web Consulting. "Oh, gosh. Tommy does all of that. I just make sure the books balance and the checks get sent out. You'd have to talk to him."

"And who is Tommy, ma'am?" Draga asked.

She stood up and headed over to one of the pictures on the wall. It was some sort of company picnic shot, from the look of it all twentyish people who work for Herden were in it. She pointed to a man with brown hair and eyes, tan skin, happy looking smile. "Tommy. He took over about two years ago when Bill died." She pointed out an older version of Tommy, standing behind Tommy, hand on his shoulder.

"So, Tommy Herden?" Draga asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you have any idea where he'd be right about now?" Tim asked.

"He usually gets into work about noon. Stays until eight or nine. He handles second shift."

"Thank you very much Ma'am." Tim said, getting ready to head off.

"So…" Draga said as he got into the car. "We gonna get him at home, or wait for him to head into work."

"We're going to his place. Eva may be cute and sweet, but she may also decide to give Tommy a call, and if she does that, and if we're waiting at work, he may never show up."

"Okay. You want me to text Tony, let him know what's up."

"Yes, good idea." And once again that hadn't occurred to him at all. And yes, it was a good idea.

Another modest house in a neighborhood filled with modest homes.

Draga was staring at them, shaking his head as they cruised on through, looking for Tommy's address. "I'd figure you'd be living higher on the hog if you were going to screw the government."

"Twenty people work there, he was only pulling off about 500K a month. Wasn't making a whole lot of money on their other accounts."

"So, you're saying he was only stealing enough to stay in business."

"Sounds dumb as hell, but yeah. I mean, unless he's got a whole other account or something we haven't found."

Draga shook his head as he pulled into Herden's driveway.

"So, what's the plan?"

Tim scanned the house. Then quickly looked it up on google maps. "There's a backdoor."


"I'm going to the front door. If everything goes well, I'll knock, he'll open the door, I'll tell him why I'm here, and he'll let me take him in nice and easy."

"And if it doesn't, he'll take one look at you and run for the back."

"Where you'll be waiting for him. And then I'll cuff him and we'll take him in."

Draga looked very excited by this prospect. He was grinning as he said, "Let's do this!"

It didn't go according to plan. Tim knocked. He heard footsteps heading down the stairs. He saw the vague outline of a man look through the beveled glass on the door, saw the man stop, see someone he didn't recognize, with a badge, and then he started running for the back.

"Draga!" Tim yelled, opening the, surprisingly enough, unlocked front door.

Two seconds later, he was walking up behind Herden, who was standing in front of Draga, holding very, very still, because Draga was pointing his gun at him.

"Thomas Herden?" Tim asked.

Herden nodded.

"You're under arrest for defrauding the Veteran's Administration."

Draga put his gun away and was going over Herden's rights as Tim stepped closer to put the cuffs on.

Tim was looking down, focused on getting the cuffs on, he had it clicked around Herden's right wrist, and was opening the cuff for his left, standing directly behind Herden. He remembers hearing Draga saying, "If you can't afford—" And then his face exploded.

He kept a hold of the cuff, and didn't let go until he felt Draga tackle the guy. Then he tried to figure out what the hell had happened.

Best guess: he'd been head butted. Probably not a bad idea. Timed right, and on someone greener (like Draga) it probably would have worked. Crack the guy putting the cuffs on in the face, he'd let go, you'd run. As long as you got the hit in when Herden did, after the first cuff was on, before the second one, your hands would still be free, and you'd have no problems getting away.

Except Tim did hang on. And Draga was, from the sound of it, (Tim's eyes were still closed, watering, probably swelling shut, and he was sure the liquid dripping over his mouth and chin was blood, but he wasn't sure if his nose was broken.) was possibly using a tad more force than was strictly necessary to get Herden to stay down. (He thought Draga may have kicked Herden about three times more than he needed to, but Tim wasn't feeling particularly sympathetic to Herden right then.)

But, after a minute or two, Draga did get Herden secured, and into the car, and read his rights, (Though, 'You have the right to have your ass kicked all the way up I-95 and back down it again,' didn't seem to be one of the standard ones, and Tim wasn't entirely sure he didn't just imagine that, because, you know, he was in the house and Draga was putting Herden in the car, which was not, technically, in the house.) and was crouching in front of him, gently checking him out.

"That was a perfect head butt." Draga sounded vastly too entertained by that.


Draga gently poked his forehead, nose, and eye sockets. "Nothing's broken. How are your teeth?"

Tim very gently, very tentatively poked his front teeth with his tongue, none of them moved. "Fine."

"Hold still, head back, pinch the bridge of your nose, I'll be back with something to help with the bleeding and some ice in a minute."

Tim nodded, finally able to get his eyes open again. And a minute after that Draga was back, with an ice pack, a pile of tissues and… "Is this a tampon?"

"Yep. There's at least one woman here often enough to have some in the bathroom. Cut one in half, yank the string off, and you've got something that's perfect for a bloody nose or a bullet wound."

"I'm good with the tissues."


"I think that's what you generally call people who use tampons."

Draga snorted at that, "Good to see you've still got your sense of humor," and gave him a hand up.

After the brief wash of dizziness passed Tim said, "Rule number… hell, I don't care, pick whichever number you want… wait until after the guy is cuffed to put your gun away."

"Noted. Now what?"

"We go see if the local LEOs will let us borrow their interrogation room. I want him broken and confessed before we drag him back to DC."

He got the text from Tony, an update as to what Mason wanted, namely immunity or almost immunity for the guy who was organizing this whole thing.

Don't take it. I'll get it out of Herden in a few minutes. He was letting Herden stew in the Downingtown PD's interrogation room while he got ready to interrogate him.

He put his phone down, took off his jacket and button down, blotted his nose one more time, and then headed in to interrogate Mason.

If there was an upside to two black eyes, a nose still slowly oozing blood, wearing only your blood spattered undershirt, (Because your main shirt looks like you were slaughtering livestock in it, and you were not about to change into yesterday's shirt until you got the chance to wash some of the blood off of you.) jeans, and gun, tattoos and wrist cuff visible, and then sat down, slowly, alone, in front of the guy who did it to you, who was currently sitting, hands cuffed behind him, glared him down while fingering your gun, and explained to him how he was going to jail for at least five years for assaulting an officer, while indicating by body language alone, that five years in prison was going to be immensely preferable to what you were personally going to do to him if he did not immediately start telling you everything he'd ever done, including jaywalking violations, it was that he'll tell you everything you could possibly want about why you tried to grab him in the first place.

At ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds, that was Tim's fastest interrogation. Add in the fact that at least four minutes of that was Herden saying how he really wasn't a bad guy, how he was just trying to keep his business going, and hell, their business paid more than taxes than they were taking anyway… And that was practically a record-breaking interrogation.

When he got done with that, Tim asked the Downingtown PD if they had a locker room he could borrow, got a quick shower, changed back into something a bit less scary looking. While he was doing that, Draga was in charge of getting Herden ready for transport, and securing the warrant they need for the next step up the ladder.

By the time he was done, Draga had Henry Bing's address up on the GPS, Herden handcuffed and in the back of the car, and they were ready to head to Bowie Maryland to get the guy who made all of this possible.

His next text to Tony read: Henry Bing, Bowie Maryland, going to get him.

The problem with traveling with the guy you just arrested in the back seat was that you had to listen to him. And Herden won't shut up. He went on and on about he was totally getting screwed by the government, and how since the ACA went into effect, they can't make enough money on the things they sell to even stay in business, but he can't stop making the screws and nails and other medical devices because if they stop making them people will suffer because there'll start being shortages of those screws and nothing works better than titanium screws for the sorts of fractures they use those screws for… and on and on and on…

Finally Draga had enough and snapped at him, "Do either of us look like a defense attorney to you? Shut up until you're paying someone to listen to you."

Herden glared and shut up.

When they got to Bing's place in Bowie, MD, Tim got out of the car, opened the back door, saw Herden flinch back from him, grabbed his hands, uncuffed the left hand, and then closed the cuff around the post that kept the headrest attached to the seat, then stepped out, closed the door, and locked it behind him.

"Think that'll hold him?"

"Hope so. At the very least, we'll hear it if he tries to run."

"Same routine as last time?"

"I'll take the back door this time."


Bing wasn't home. From the looks of it, Bing left in a hurry. Several computers, all still working, were arrayed on a desk set up in the front room. Cup of coffee, stone cold, was still sitting next to the computer along with a half-eaten sandwich.

"So…" Draga asked.

"Herden still in the car?"

Draga looked out of the window.


Tim turned on the monitor and got to work while Draga kept poking around. Didn't take him too long to find what he was looking for. Bing had a fairly specialized search running, still, on his computers. From what he could tell it checked the booking data of basically every law enforcement agency in the US. And apparently it sent Bing an update as soon as one of his guys got booked.

Mason's name was up and flagged. Time stamp was yesterday afternoon. Bing had twenty hours on them. Herden's name had just popped up less than an hour ago. He was tracking everyone he worked with.
Tim was reaching for his phone, getting ready to call Tony when he noticed exactly how many names Bing's search was working on.

Close to eight hundred.

He took several more minutes to go hunting through his computer. Bing was running… a talent agency for guys who ran scams on the government.



"Take a look at this." He started scrolling through the information, piles and piles of it. Social security fraud. IRS fraud. Medicare and Medicaid fraud. WIC fraud. If it was government agency that had money, Bing had someone in his files who specialized in bilking them.

"Good Lord," Draga said, shaking his head, starting to dig into the data.


"We don't have jurisdiction on this, do we?"

"Nope." Tim lifted his phone, hit Fornell's contact number.

A few seconds later, "McGee? Gibbs in trouble again?"

"No. What if I told you I've got the computer of someone who's got the goods on literally hundreds of guys who are scamming the government?"

"Sounds too good to be true. You handing it over because it's hot?"

"I've even got a search warrant to go with it."

"I'd say thank you."

"You're welcome. I'm at 365 Blowder Dr., Bowie, Maryland. How fast can you get guys here?"

"An hour."

"See you then."

"Who was that?" Draga asked as Tim slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket.

"Our FBI contact."

"Do they have jurisdiction?"

"They've got a hell of a lot more of it than we do. And I don't know anyone at the IRS."

Tim made copies of everything on all the computers. Using up all of his thumb drives and Draga's.

"I see what you mean by you go through them like gum."

"Yep. Get 'em in bulk at Costco, keep em at home."

"How's your face feeling?"

"Not bad." Getting into the case and the data was distracting him, but as he thought about it Tim decided to steal a paper towel and some ice from Bing for another ice pack.

They set a BOLO on Bing's car. Draga checked to see if he had any other modes of transportation registered in his name. Nope. Tim grabbed his laptop and began to get permissions in place for his credit cards and the like. Wouldn't be done by the time the FBI got there, but it'd be a start.

They were sitting in Bing's house, looking around, taking pictures of everything, keeping an eye out for Bing should he decide to come home suddenly.

"You know, this makes me think of Heat," Draga said.

Tim looked up from the stacks of books on Government Aid Programs. "Heat?"

"Yeah, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val—"

"This is probably a conversation for Tony."

"Okay, I won't bore you with the details. Anyway, it's about a heist that starts to go wrong. The thieves all have this, 'don't keep hold of anything you aren't willing to leave in 30 seconds flat' motto. Whatever it is, just walk away."

Tim nodded. The tracking program Bing had running on everyone he was working with, and the fact that he left it up and running certainly indicated that. Coffee on the desk. Car missing.

He saw Mason's name come up and ran.

"God, McGee, you look like shit," Tony said as Tim headed into the bullpen six hours later.

Tim cracked half-a-smile, raised his eyebrow a fraction of an inch. (Which hurt like hell.) "Thanks."

Judging by how people have been looking at him all day, he did look like shit. Fornell went white at the sight of him when he passed the case over. Bob, who runs the metal detector downstairs, muttered, "Good Lord" as he went through. And Seth at the coffee cart gave him a cup filled with ice without him asking for one.
But this case is closed. He's got it in the tank. So, all in all, he's feeling pretty good, well-nigh giddy on the lack of sleep mixed with exactly how easily today's dominoes fell.

Tony half-nodded. "What do you have?"

"I've got a confession. I've got evidence. Draga's got Herden in processing. I've got how they got hooked up with Mason. I've got the name and address of the guy who set the whole thing up. I've got eleven other companies who were also using Mason's services. The one thing I don't have is the guy who set it up. Henry Bing apparently started running as soon as we grabbed Mason. So, he's got twenty hours on us, but they'll find him."

"How does Bing even work into this?" Tony asked. He'd gotten Tim's somewhat cryptic text, but let it be, trusting that he knew what he was doing.

"Talent broker, basically. He hooked up companies with guys like Mason. From what we found at Bing's place, he was doing it for all sorts of companies and all sorts of government agencies. Say you sell something that Medicaid would pay for. Bing's the guy who hooks you up with another guy to handle defrauding Medicaid for you. You pay him ten grand, next thing you know you've got a guy who'll keep the government money flowing in."

Tony looked at Tim's desk, where Tim was not sitting at a computer, hunting away for Bing. "They'll find him?"

"Once I saw how many agencies Bing was working on, I gave him to FBI. It's their turf. They've got the accountants and analysts to take care of him, and we don't."

Tony did not look pleased by that.

"We've got Mason; we've got the companies he was working with; we can get full sentences on all of them because we've got hard evidence; all of that is… kind of… our jurisdiction. But only because that artificial knee was located in a Marine. We've got no standing, at all, for going after a civilian who's ripping off Social Security."

That was true, but didn't touch on how it should have been Tony's decision to call in the FBI.

It took a second before Tim got why Tony was glaring at him, and he sighed, and said quietly, "Zero for three."

Curious gets added to annoyed on Tony's face.

Tim shook his head. "Few more months at most."


"We really don't have the personnel for it."

"Not the point."

"I know." They stared at each other for another minute. "You mind if I head down and say hi to Abby."

"No." Tony looked in the direction of the stairs. "Write it all up for me, and then I'll take care of Mason and his lawyer.

"On it."



"Once it's written up, head home, get some sleep."


Relying on habit was often a sign of sleep deprivation. So, while it was true that Tim bopped pretty happily down to the Lab, it was also true that the part of his mind that was aware that someone other than Abby worked there hadn't reported for duty.

So, in he bopped, saw her eyes go wide and the question start to form on her lips as he pulled her into a very sexy, and enthusiastic hello kiss.

Which was when he heard, from behind him, Zelaz talking to Corwin and then stop dead mid-sentence.

It occurred to him, Abby's husband or not, her co-workers probably did not expect to see her being groped in the lab.

She was shaking her head as he stepped back, amused smile on her face. "Hello to you, too. I take it you'll live?" She looked past his shoulder to Corwin. "I'm taking a ten minute break. Back soon." And then took Tim by the hands and led him to ballistics.

"What happened to you?"

So he told her, and she very gently traced the bruising and swelling across both of his eyes, and the place where the skin on the bridge of his nose split. "He really clobbered you, didn't he?"


"And yet you're amazingly chipper. I take it the rest of today went well?"

He was smiling at her, took her by the hips, lifted her to the counter they load the guns on, and snuggled in close, lips pressed to her throat, holding onto her for a long second before saying, "Yeah, it did."

He told her about it, hands sliding up and down her back, smelling her skin and feeling her pulse thrum against his lips. It had been a while, since the day after Kelly was born, since he'd gone a night without any snuggle time with her. And, at least that night, he was in the same room and able to hold her hand if not be in the bed with her.

He pulled back after a few minutes, and she skirted her fingers, very gently, over the bruises on his face. "How are these?"

"Sore. I think they look a whole lot worse than they are."

"So, you'd be up for something tonight?" Apparently she did receive his naughty selfie.

He grinned, flashed his eyebrow at her (ouch, he had to stop doing that), smiled, "Maybe tonight Lord McGee gets his revenge. Maybe he's in charge." He traced his fingers over her lips. "Maybe he's fought his way out, gotten free, and has now captured Lady Skye. And maybe tonight Lady Skye learns that it's not nice to tease a man that long."

Abby smiled back at that. "And what would she have to do to earn forgiveness?"

"Good question. Gabriel'll be thinking about that. But until he figures it out, all she'll get is fingers."

"No cock?"

"That'll probably be on the menu, too."

"Good." They were both grinning at each other, she kissed him tenderly, and stroked along his cheeks. "You're goofy today. How much caffeine have you had?"

"Significantly less than it would have been this time last year."

"Okay, how much sugar?"

He smiled a little. "You probably don't want to know."

She looked at him curiously, and he shook his head. "No, really, not that much. I can feel it, this is that stupid so tired, everything is funny and good with a pile of everything in the case went just right."

"And let me guess, you're gonna crash in about three hours?"

"Yeah. Gabe and Skye'll actually probably be tomorrow. Gotta write this up for Tony, then I'm going home, giving Kelly a huge hug, and probably sleeping… Do we have Shabbos tonight?"

"No. Didn't know when you'd get home. I invited Gibbs for dinner tonight, anyway." Abby checked the clock, already 3:30. "Go fast you can get a nap."

"I'll be wrecked if I do that."

"Finish up, go home, get some food and rest. Gibbs can hang out with Kelly and I tonight, and get some time with you tomorrow."

He thought about it, and was leaning in to kiss against her, maybe nibble gently on her lips, when Benedict knocked on the door to ballistics.

Abby rolled her eyes and glared at the door. Tim stepped back so she could slip down from the counter. She quickly signed to him, when I get home, I expect to find you in bed, asleep. If you are, I'll wake you up nicely tomorrow morning.

He smiled at that and headed out of ballistics to write up that report.

"Benedict?" Abby asked, sounding annoyed.

"Got the results back from the mass spectrometer." He had a pretty sheepish look on his face, and it was awfully clear that the three of them had just been looking for an excuse to snoop on their new boss and her hubby.

"And…" she said archly.

"And it's exactly what you thought."

"Uh huh." Abby said, holding Benedict by the arm and dragging him into the main room of the lab. "All three of you, front and center: rule number twenty-two, 'Don't bother Abby in ballistics.'"

"Okay, what are rules number one through twenty-two?" Corwin asked.

"Rule number one is don't lie to Abby. Number nine is always have a spare. The rest you'll learn as I make them up. But the next time someone bothers me in ballistics, unless the world is about to end or the lab is on fire, especially if I'm having any sort of private conference in there, very bad things will happen."

"Why isn't 'Don't bother Abby in Ballistics' rule number two?" Zelaz asked.

Abby sighed at them, wanted to glare, but didn't; they didn't know, and she wasn't exactly feeling like explaining. "It's just not. So, world isn't about to end, don't bug me in ballistics. I won't ever be in there for more than half an hour, so, are we good?"

"Can we use ballistics for conferences, too?" Corwin asked.

"I don't see why not. As long as the work gets done."

Three nods followed that pronouncement.

"Oh my god! Tim! Are you… What… Can I get you some ice packs?" Heather was leaping off the sofa to tend to him when he got home.

He held up a hand. "It's part of the job. I'll be fine. Kelly napping?"


"Okay, I'm going to head up and…" Well, watch her sleep for a little bit and maybe rest a hand on her tummy, but saying that felt weird so he didn't.

"Okay. Really, ice packs?"

"Sure, if you want to. I'll be down in a bit."

Getting used to having a nanny in the house has been kind of… weird. First of all there was this extra person in their house twelve hours a day, which was just… yeah, weird. Second of all, while it was true that Heather's there twelve hours a day right now, it was also true that Kelly sleeps for six of them, so, she keeps doing stuff… and who knew, maybe this was normal nanny stuff, but neither he nor Abby had put it on the list of things they expected Heather to do, but it kept happening and it did make things easier, but still, it felt, kind of, just… odd.

Like she did the shopping, which was cool, and a week into it she started asking what they wanted to have for dinner. She didn't cook the dinner. They never know exactly when they would get home, so getting it ready and hot was something of a challenge, but if they tell her what they intend to eat, when they came home all the ingredients would be prepped, whatever it was may be marinating, the table would be set, and all of the things they would use to cook the dinner would be laid out and ready to go.

(And if it was a slow cooker meal, it would be in there, bubbling away.)

And like, she did the laundry. They expected her to do Kelly's laundry, just can't keep a baby in enough clean clothing in you weren't doing laundry at least once a day. But she did their laundry, too. They'd find it sitting on the bed, in nicely-folded, sorted piles. Stuff that goes on hangers would be in the closet, (his shirts and Abby's skirts ironed) but she didn't put anything that goes into drawers back because… he guessed… that going into their drawers was too private.

He knew she cleaned. House was a whole lot tidier than it ever was. For example, he knew he hadn't personally dusted or vacuumed anything since Heather joined them, and he was fairly sure that Abby hasn't, either, but the dust bunnies were not freely roaming about his office, so, obviously, someone was taking care of it, and he was awfully sure it wasn't Kelly.

So, he wasn't saying he didn't like it. Having someone else do that stuff was really convenient. It just felt a little weird to have someone else do it. It was like having someone else carry your bag, yeah, it was nice, but he didn't feel like the kind of guy who had other people do stuff like that for him.

And all of that was a moot point as he eased open the door to Kelly's room, took the three (very quiet) steps to her crib, and stood there, watching her snooze.

Almost four months old. The little brownish blond fuzz she was born with had been falling out, so right now she was almost bald on top, with a little ring of dark blond hair around the back of her head. (Pediatrician said it was normal. Penny said Tim was born with dark brown, almost red hair that all fell out by the time he was four months old, and he didn't have visible hair again until he was almost one.) If her eyes were open, he'd be able to see how they're just starting to edge toward green. And if she didn't have the pacifier in her mouth, he'd be able to see how her lips are the same shape as his. He could see that her face was shaped like Abby's (or will be as she grows).

Her eyes fluttered, and she sucked enthusiastically on the pacifier. Dreaming baby dreams of nursing, probably.

He knelt down, resting his arm on the edge of her crib and his face against his arm, and then placed his finger tips on her chest and stomach, feeling her breathe.

"Hey, baby," he whispered. "I'm home."

Watching Kelly sleep seemed to trigger his 'time to crash' mechanism, so by the time he got downstairs he was dragging (and hurting, his face hadn't bothered him much over the course of the day, but right now it was making up for that with a vengeance) and the ice packs Heather had set for him, along with the sandwich and iced-tea sitting next to them were very welcome.

He sat at the kitchen table, one pack held to his face as he chewed. "Thank you."

"No problem. Looks like you had an exciting day. Bad guys all put away?"

"Bad guys are in jail. NCIS, FBI, and from the looks of it the IRS are all about to have a massive field day."


"Yeah. Good day."

She was staring at his face. "Is this… normal?"

"Not really. Maybe once a year, once every other year, I get pounded by work, but it's usually not this bad."

She was looking at him with very wide eyes, and while he knew she was older than he was when he started at NCIS, he felt like she was very, very young. "Have you ever been shot?"

He shook his head. "Well, not without a vest. I have been blown up, twice, mauled by a dog, exposed to black plague, irradiated, fights like this… the thing in Somalia…" (Which probably qualified as torture, but he doesn't call it that, even in his own head, because he knows what they did to Ziva there.) "and frozen but, I'm the tech guy, so believe it or not, I've got the least dangerous job."

"Yeah, sounds really safe." Kind of nice to see she had some sarcasm in there.

He smiled, tiredly. "Found a guy who ran a ring that's probably defrauded the government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. Put away a guy who was doing it in the ten million range. Got on that case by helping to solve the murder of a Marine. I do stuff that's more important than safe."

"I guess."

"How'd today go with Kelly?"

He listened to her talk about taking Kelly shopping and for a walk, and about how she seemed to like seeing the Jack-o'-lanterns that were starting to pop up all over the neighborhood. She asked if they had any plans for Halloween, and off the top of his head, he doesn't.

The second time she asked something and he just sort of blanked out on it, she looked at him and said, "You should probably go to bed."

And by that point, he just nodded slowly and headed back up to his bed.


Shards To A Whole: Chapter 301

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

Chapter 301: Inevitable

When he gets home, he opens up his computer, not really sure what he wants to do.

Not true.

Not really comfortable with what he wants to do.

What he wants to do is call Rachel up and just talk to her. Well, what he'd really like to do is actually see her, share a cup of coffee, and talk to her. But he knows that's a bad plan. They are, as she made very clear, not dating. Technically, she's not actually a friend. He can't just call her up at 8:53 on a Thursday night just to talk because he had a bad day.

But, God, he wants to. She'd sip her coffee, listen attentively, ask good questions, help him sort out his head in a way that woodworking just doesn't.

In a way that isn't lonely.

But he can't ask her to come over. Can't suggest going to her. This little fantasy of talking to her, her on his sofa, listening to him, is already dangerously close to over the line, and actually seeking her out would be way over the line.

So he won't.

But he can email, and ask to shift this week's assignment. In that it's October and his thirty-sixth wedding anniversary is creeping up on him, he's supposed to be coming up with a plan for what he's going to do to mark the day.

He can ask to put that off, right? That's within bounds, right?

So, he opens his email account, and begins to hit the compose button when he looks to his contact list on the left and sees the little green dot next to Rachel Cranston.

He's aware of those dots. Noticed them before. But he doesn't know what they mean.

He pulls out his phone and flashes a text to Tim. What's the little green dot next to someone's name on gmail mean?

Three minutes later he gets back I'm fine, too. Thanks for asking. How are you?

He rolls his eyes. Frustrated. I don't know what the green dot means.

It means the person's online.

So if I send an email they'll get it immediately?

Yeah. Or you can chat with them.

How's that work?

Double click on the name, little box pops up, type. Who you talking to? Tony?

No. Already talked to Tony.

How's he doing?

Better than he was two hours ago.


Tomorrow or the next day.

Probably Saturday, not sure when I'm getting back.

Back? Where are you?

Tracked down a lead in PA. Snagged Draga, heading north. Traffic on the beltway means we're just hitting the middle of Maryland right now.

Gibbs is glad to hear he's got a lead, more happy yet that he's following it, but then something else hits him. Did you tell Tony you found a lead?

There's a minute where nothing comes up on his phone, and then one word flashes up. Shit. Two minutes later: Done. Have gotten permission to go to PA and hunt down lead. I wouldn't mind if he thought I worked this late in the lab and just left.

Gibbs shakes his head. Ziva's right, Tim needs to go. He's beyond ready. There's taking initiative, and then there's you're in charge on your own. He knows he wouldn't be thrilled if Tim just ran off, snagging another agent, on his watch without at least a heads up as to what's going on.

Good plan. He types. Tony doesn't need to know, this soon after the two of them blowing up, that Tim's on his own.

So, who you want to chat with?

Tomorrow. Dinner. Your place. Hate texting.

No problem. See you then.

He double clicks on Rachel's name and a little box did appear in the lower right corner of his screen. Sort of like texting then, but at least for this he's got a real keyboard.

So… how do you start this?


He's feeling stupidly off balance waiting for the response. Half-afraid that he's intruding on her, half-nervous that she just won't respond, but mostly feeling foolish that he's so out of sorts he can't wait until Monday and just talk to her then.

Hello Jethro.

He feels like he can hear her voice as those words pop up on his screen.

Now what?

Can I change my assignment for this week?

Having trouble?

No… Not like that. Lot happened this week. Wanna talk about it.

That's not a problem. How about you send me an email, get me up to date, and we can hit the ground running on Monday?

That sounds good.

The screen stays blank and he's not sure how to sign off for this.

He types goodnight but deletes it before hitting enter.

I'll have it in your inbox by tomorrow. That he does hit enter for.

And a few seconds later he gets back. Looking forward to it. See you Monday.

It took him close to three hours to get it all out and it's probably the most… real… thing he's ever tried to put into words.

It's rambling, and doesn't make a ton of sense, but the swings are there, that resignation he had before Tim gave him the out, the elation of getting another year, the desperate grab for more time, feeling like shit for pulling it on Tony, guilt for that, ripping it up, burning the bridge, and now this just sort of numb, terrified hopelessness.

Not knowing what to do, what comes, next.

Being scared by that, too.

How he's afraid he needs more than just the kids and grandkids. How he's afraid that until he finds it, he'll be clinging to them so hard they'll get sick of him. That he's afraid there isn't more, not for him.

That he doesn't know who he is if he's not a cop.

That getting booted out is so fucking unfair. It'd be one thing if he couldn't do the job anymore, but he's getting shelved because he's… inconvenient and expensive. And he's angry at it. Angry at Tony right now, even though he probably shouldn't be. Tony's more than within his rights to want his job, he's earned it, he's put the time in, and Gibbs' clock has almost zeroed out so suddenly adding more time wasn't fair, either.

But running out when you can still do it… He's good at his job. He's probably one of the best at his job, but being the best, or near best, doesn't matter, because it's not a meritocracy. That makes him want to rage.

But mostly, through all of it, is scared. For almost twenty-three years he's always known what he was going to do the next day. He was going to get up, grab a shower, throw on some clean clothing, and then do the job. And maybe nothing else would be stable, or make sense, or make him feel good, but that's always been there.

And come January 16th, it won't be.

But sitting in front of his computer won't solve it. Nothing'll solve it. The clock won't go backwards, and it keeps running forward, closer to tomorrow. So he heads to bed. Might as well try to get some sleep.

It's not like he usually springs out of bed with a song in his heart and joy in his soul. It's more like he sort of grumbles his way out. His team… he sighs… Tony's team, knows he's about as much fun as a splinter under your fingernail until he's got some coffee in him, and stomping out of his nice comfortable bed, and usually fairly pleasant dreams, does nothing to make that any better.

But he's fairly reliable about wake up, get up, get showered, get dressed, eat, and out the house. He doesn't laze around in bed. He doesn't linger in the shower. He's a Marine, and Marines are up, in, out, and done. (Shannon used to have a rather off-color joke about that, one he had appreciated greatly. Though back in those days, he didn't go sprinting out of bed right after waking up if he didn't have work. In fact, before Kelly, on several occasions, they didn't make it out of bed for anything but food and the bathroom. He misses those days.)

He doesn't have an alarm.

Doesn't need one.

His body knows when to get up, and it doesn't matter when he went to bed, he's up when he needs to be.

But this morning, he's just… laying there, not really feeling like it's worth getting up.

And the little mental pep talk (bad guys to get, people to arrest, lives to save) isn't exactly revving his engine. He finally wills himself out of bed by the sheer fact that if he's late to work and doesn't give them a reason for it, they'll send out the Mounties to go find him.

And lying in bed in a bad mood is nothing he wants to expound on, let alone why he's in the bad mood.

He gets in after Tony and Ziva, and both of them are at their desks reading up on something. No Tim or Draga, so they must still be in PA working that lead.

"We got Mason and his lawyer in?" Gibbs asks.

Tony nods toward Ziva who is reading up on Tim and Draga's notes. "They'll be in a ten. McGeek and TechSupport Mark II are both grilling Eva Flanders, the bookkeeper at Herden's Titanium Works. Should get a report back in an hour or so about them moving up the food chain. Ziva's playing catch up for talking with Mason and his lawyer. You're going to go in there with her, look menacing, and if any of her questions get to him, make a note of it. We'll send McGee and Draga in on the second run."

"I can do that."

And he did. Because he loves the job. Because doing it feels right. And even if he's not the Boss, the rhythms of a case, of paperwork, of puzzles to solve and people to save are his life.

He's sitting next to Ziva, keeping a close eye on Mason, and as he does it he feels his silence coming back. Not that he'd ever gotten particularly talky at work, but the shield of no words will help keep fear and sorrow, not tamed down, but hidden.

It'll help get the job done, and if he can only do it for two and half more months, he'll do it as much, as fully, and as well as he can.

But he can't talk about it, because if he does, it'll show through his voice.

The end is near, and he can't pretend that it isn't.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 300

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

Chapter 300: The Right Thing

Ziva, Draga, and Gibbs all watched Tony head through the bullpen to his desk.

He sat down, drug his chair into the center, and said, "Report."

All three of them sat there, still staring at him.

"Is there a problem?"

"No, Boss," Draga said, scooting into the center, Ziva and Gibbs following a second later.

"Are you okay?" Ziva asked. Doesn't take a trained investigator to see sad and angry on him.

"I'm fine."

She and Gibbs nodded, looking at each other, tucking that away for things to be talked about later. But they also know that right now is not the time to ask about it.

So, Tony, having declared himself "fine" and requesting a report, Draga launched into pretty much the same report Tim had. Then Ziva added what she had found going through the VA joint registry, and how there were close to 5000 artificial joints that had been purchased multiple times, and God alone knew what else. Joints, pins, heart valves, things that go and stay inside bodies have serial numbers, but literally thousands of other devices get used on a daily basis by the VA, and without physically going to the warehouses and hospitals and counting up inventories to go with purchase orders, there's just no way to tell if the amount of stuff purchased is even remotely like the amount of stuff in the stores.

Gibbs explained that he had overseen Mason's processing and that his lawyer was due in tomorrow morning, and as of this point said lawyer appeared to be paid for by Mason, (he found him in the phone book) but that he'd get on checking that out. (Okay, he's actually already checked that out, but he's waiting to be told to do it to produce said information. Another hour or so and he'll volunteer that Meyers, Briggs, and Meyers is, as best as he can tell, in no way related to any of the companies they're investigating.)

"McGee's rechecking the financials, looking for an actual person who paid Mason," Tony said, not looking toward McGee's desk, not expecting him to come near unless he has a breakthrough.

The other three nod at that. The problem with these companies is that they're huge. Somehow, somewhere an invoice shows up for services rendered by Mason, and someone in Accounts Payable handles it, but when you're talking about a company with five hundred employees it's awfully hard to find exactly who is making sure things like this happens.

"Until we've got more to go on, finish up the paperwork on the Finely case."

They nod at that, too, and go back to work.

The LabRats kept shooting Tim curious looks as he worked next to Abby. Not every day their boss's husband showed up and then decided to commandeer a lab computer. But neither of them said anything about it to them. (Though he did, briefly, by sign, get her up to date on what was going on.) So they didn't ask.

He was sorting through Mason's financials, hunting down every company that was paying him, looking for one that might be small enough to actually locate a specific person who had to take responsibility for agreeing to pay his invoice.

So far, no dice. The fact that he appeared to be providing legitimate web work and IT services didn't make this job any easier.

About an hour into it, while he was cross checking company web sites with IRS filings, looking for the right target, Gibbs headed in, Caf-Pow in hand for Abby, and a cup of coffee for him.

Abby accepted the Caf-Pow and the kiss on her cheek while pipetting something into the vials they use for Major Mass Spec. "Don't have any updates, yet."

"I know." He turned to look at Tim, placing the coffee cup next to him.

Tim took it, sipped it, and stood up, stretching a bit. He eyed the door and Gibbs got that look. Neither of them need to have this conversation with the LabRats lurking.

When they were outside, Tim leaning against the south wall of NCIS, sipping his coffee, Gibbs facing him, both of them sucking up a bit of October sunshine, Tim said, "I'd say we managed to screw that particular pooch in every direction a pooch can be screwed in."


"Yep." He took another sip of his coffee. Then he closed his eyes, let his head drop against the brick wall, felt the sun warm on his skin. "It's not done, yet. Leon's looking into it. I can still make it go away."

"You probably should."

He opened his eyes and looked into Gibbs' seeing the doubt, fear, and uncertainty there. "Do you want me to?"


But wanting isn't having and sometimes we shouldn't get the things we want. "Should I? Really?"

Gibbs closed his eyes, and Tim can see the pain there. "Yes."

"I'll let Leon know. Gotta win back a ton of brownie points on this, so I won't have time to fix the data for a bit, but when this case is put to bed, I'll do it."


"Sorry, Jethro."

"Why are you sorry?"

"I got your hopes up. Back when this was inevitable, you were better with it."

"Nah. Just doing a better job of hiding it. You don't bitch about the things you can't change."

Tim nods.

"I'm grateful, Tim, even if it didn't work."

Four hours later, he was home, doing what he always did when he had a bad day. Woodworking and bourbon was always good for clarity and peace in the past. But, as he's carefully stroking the first layer of the maple stain onto Anna Palmer's crib, Gibbs isn't feeling particularly calm or clear.

Been a long time since he's been so torn between what he wants and 'the right thing to do.' Last time he felt this torn between want and right, he was looking at his new redheaded probie thinking about at least half a dozen x-rated things he wanted to do with and to her.

At least then he knew it wasn't right.

This time he's not nearly so sure.

He knows he can do the job.

He knows he can do it way better than anyone else Tony can get to replace him. That's just a given. No fresh-out-of-FLETC, wet-behind-the-ears, newbie (that's what Tim calls them, right?) can match his twenty plus years.

He just can't.

And honestly, anyone who'd be willing to transfer into their team, even with experience, won't be as good. Not bad, certainly. Different, of course. But he clears more cases, more quickly, with a higher conviction rate than anyone else in NCIS.

That's his team, working his rules, doing it his way…

Except it's not. Not anymore.

Because it's Tony's team, and letting him run it is the right thing to do. He's ready for his own team. He can run it. He's good at his job and knows the way to make it work. He's ready.

And he doesn't need Gibbs staring over his shoulder.

Because while it's true that sticking around for another year may be the right thing for Gibbs, it's not the right thing for Tony.

And it's not selfish to want his own team. It's not bad or wrong or anything else. And Gibbs knows he's got to go for it to really be Tony's.

Because that's just the way it is.

But if he goes, people will die. Cases won't get solved as quick. Tony's good, he's solid, his instincts are sound, but he doesn't have Gibbs' gut. He just doesn't. And soon, Tony and Ziva will have two probies, and that's a lot of untested, un-experienced, un… everything, to have on your team and watching your back.

Which means some of those people who may die may be Tony or Ziva, because he won't be there, watching their backs, and anyone who replaces him won't be as good.

He hears his front door open, followed by heavy, quick steps, searching the upstairs from the sound of it. Not Tony, he's too pissed to chat tonight. Too heavy to be Jimmy or Tim, who might want to have a chat with him, touch base and see what's up. Not Draga, Draga doesn't come here, not yet. Ducky would have headed straight to the basement, so not him. Likewise, Fornell would have headed straight down, too.

He catches a faint scent of coffee and whatever that cologne Leon wears is.

"In the basement, Leon."

A second later he hears the first step on his stairs.

"Do you even use the rest of the house?"

"On occasion."

Leon looks over the crib and smiles. "Newest baby Palmer?"

"Anna. She's supposed to be on the outside middle of December. Want to get this done by Halloween."

"Good plan." He faces Gibbs, leaning against the workbench. "So… What's this bull McGee's telling me about you being born in 1960?"

Gibbs stares at the ceiling and sighs. "A bad idea."

"Uh huh," Vance says in that exceptionally understated way of his. "I understand DiNozzo and McGee had a conference this afternoon as to the suitability of this plan, and worked on reinforcing proper respect regarding the chain of command?"

"Something like that."

"And is the chain of command in place?"

"I think so. Tim'll be up to tell you not to go forward on the new birthdate thing soon, but right now he's putting in his 110% to try and make it up to Tony."

"Good." Leon took a form out of his jacket pocket and unfolded it on Gibbs workbench, then poured himself a drink. "1087 B. It's filled out and signed."

Gibbs looked at it, the form that allows for exceptions to the mandatory retirement age.

"Thought you couldn't get one of these if you had more than twenty years in."

"You usually can't, but in that I'm the guy who okays them…"

Gibbs nods, and Leon nudged he document. "No need for McGee to go and perjure himself to get you another year."

"Thanks, Leon."

Leon shook his head. "There's a whole ball of strings attached to that, Jethro."

"I know."

"Do you?"

"I do now."

Leon took another sip of his drink. "Is DiNozzo ready? You two just pulled the rug out from under him, and he didn't have a clue until after."

"He's ready."

Vance nods. He taps the form. "If he's ready…" You don't need to stick around is loud and clear.

"I know. He can do it. He'll do it well. But…"

Vance nods at that, too. He's fifty, and'll hit twenty years in in '16. He knows that as Director his job doesn't have a get-out-of-town date attached to it, but he also knows that in the next five years he's going to start getting hints along those lines. "Date on the form is October 15th. Don't need it back until then. Take it. Think. Talk to him."

Gibbs nods.

"Jethro, there's more to NCIS than just hot cases. We need recruiters. We need instructors. We have a whole team going through cold cases in DC alone. We need translators. You speak what, four languages?"


"You wanna run classes on sniper skills or tactical assessment or interrogation technique; I'll set you up for it. Things are still unstable in Crimea, you want to finish up the Shannon, head to the Black Sea, find a nice port city, hang out, read newspapers, and keep your ear to the ground, I'll send you."

"Spying mission on my own?"

"Passive intel gathering. Just feet on the ground seeing what's going on, but yeah, I'll send you. You do speak Russian, right?"


"Wouldn't be like your cloak and dagger days. More like retired tourist keeping an eye on things, but, you want it, we can do it."

Gibbs looks at the crib and shakes his head. "I need to be closer to home. A week or two, fine, but I can't miss my girls for too long."

Leon smiles at that. "Know that feeling." He takes one more sip. "Even if January is the end of your days as Team Leader, it doesn't have to be the end of your days being useful."

Gibbs shrugs at that. "Pushing paper doesn't do it, ya know?"

"Yeah. I know." It had taken a full half year for Leon to get used to not jumping up to handle field assignments. "But it's not useless, either. And we do need talent scouts, and we do need people who have been there and done that to teach the younger ones."

Gibbs just looks at Leon, getting across exactly how much that's not what he wants to be doing.

Leon nods at that, he gets it. "So, let me see these newly discovered documents. I poked around on the computer records he built you, and they're clean."

Gibbs led Leon upstairs, and showed him his "new" birth certificate, first driver's license, first report card, and a few other odds and ends.

Leon studied them carefully. "Good work. Where'd he get the paper?"

"They're the originals. Abby lifted the old ink and made new ink to match it. Tim's better at copying handwriting, and owns the typewriter for the rest."

"Yes, I know how good he is at copying other people's handwriting. Especially DiNozzo's and yours."

"Thinking of an assignment for him?"

"Not right now. We've got people who do this when I want it official. But it's good to know that if I ever don't want it official, I've got someone who can do this."

"According to Abby, unless the exact right bit of the paper gets carbon dated, there's no way to tell it's forged."

Leon nods, then stands up. "You get some quiet time tomorrow, head over to HR and take a look at what all we've got going on that you don't need to be under fifty-seven for."


Before he and Ziva got together, Tony was never much of a bath guy. There were probably several reasons for this, but most of them could be distilled into this, none of the things he liked doing outside a bath could be done in it.

Can't watch movies in the tub, can't watch the game, can't pick up women, can't dance, you probably could play the guitar, but it'd be really bad for your guitar.

So, though the apartment he lived in at the time had a killer bathroom with a very nice tub, he never bothered to use it.

Ziva's place didn't have a particularly good bathtub. Kind of small, and it took forever to fill because the faucet was too tiny. But Ziva did like baths. She liked filling up the tub with hot water, fragrant oils or salts, and settling in to read for an hour or so.

And when they got together, taking advantage of his tub was something she enjoyed.

And from there, Tony found that he enjoyed sharing a bath with her.

And the worse the day was, the more stressed he was, the more he appreciated being able to fill up the tub, add the bath salts, (sandalwood and jasmine, pleasantly fragrant, doesn't make him feel like he smells like a flower shop after) and settle in to talk with her.

Add in the fact that their current place had a Jacuzzi tub, and yeah, happy muscles relaxing and trying to let go of the day.

He was already in the water, laying back, trying to get himself calm. She sat on the edge of their tub, twisting her hair up into a knot. "Are you going to tell me about it?"

"What's there to tell? Papa Smurf is scared. Brainy Smurf is desperate for Daddy to pat him on the head. Put the two of them together and I get screwed."

"Tony." She smiles sadly at him.

"I think I've got McGee handled. When we left he was still hunting down leads. For a few more days at least, I think he'll be putting in the extra to try and make me smile." Ziva drops her robe on the floor, and slips into the water, settling so that she's sitting between his legs, back against his chest, head resting on his shoulder. He kisses her temple. "Lord… the thing with Gibbs is such a mess."

She smiles gently at that, too. "This is fixable."

He shakes his head. "Not by me. I can't spend another year working for him, and I can't cut his head off. 'It's like dying,' he actually said that to me. How am I supposed to make him leave after that?"

Ziva shrugs, she doesn't know how he can do it. She does know that he needs to do it, because he's right, he can't work for Gibbs for another year. "We talked a little. I told him he can't stay unless you really are the Boss, and he thought about it. Didn't jump in and give me an immediate I-can-do-it answer."

He thinks about that and says, "I need to talk to Vance in the morning."


"Tell him I'm keeping Gibbs."

She winced slightly at that.

"Too little, too late?"

She nods. "Perhaps something along the lines of you've got your mutineers in hand and are in control again and that anything that doesn't go through you is to be immediately reported to you and that you'll handle it?"

He shakes his head again. "That's the thing about a mutiny. Even if you do get it under control again, anything you do about it reminds the higher ups that you lost control."

"Ignore it? Pretend it didn't happen?"

"I don't think that looks like in charge either."

She turned in his arms, and reached up to kiss him.

Gibbs stared at the form on the workbench.

"It's like dying."

He probably shouldn't have said that to Tony. That was beyond a low blow. But…

But it's also the most honest thing he's said about retiring. It's not like dying. It is dying. 'Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS.' 'Gibbs, NCIS'

He doesn't spend time doing cop things. He is a cop. That's… not his whole life, but it's so damn close. At least ten hours a day, five days a week, and most weeks it's probably closer to nine hours six days. He thinks of cases when he's not working them, he works them until he drops or solves them, he hasn't taken a vacation since his last honeymoon. Hasn't taken a break since he left with Franks, and even with that, he was driving Franks buggy, fixing everything that wasn't nailed down.

He's a cop. He's been a cop for twenty-two years, twenty-three years four days before he retires. If he retires. He touches the form again. Another year. Three hundred and sixty five more days until he has to… become something else.

If he can.

He knows retired military. He knows retired doctors and lawyers and farmers and accountants and… and just about everything.

But he doesn't know a lot of retired cops. Because the ones he made friends with, the ones he liked, they lived the job. It was their end all and be all and when they weren't on the job, there wasn't anything else.

And when they retired, they died, and not in the metaphorical sense of the men they used to be shriveled up and vanished, but in the literal within a year their wives/kids stuck them in a box and buried them sense.

The guys he knows that are still around are like Mike; they burned out on it. They left by choice. They didn't get booted out. The ones who were forced out, they didn't do so well.

Because when your whole life is the job, you just don't keep going when it's gone.

So, his whole life can't be the job.

His fingers trace over the form. The right thing to do. What he wants to do. The right thing for him, or the right thing in general. He can remember the version of him Mike showed him, the one who did the 'right thing' and let Hernandez go. That broken shell of a man, living on bourbon and hate.

But that was the 'right thing.' Just not the right thing for him.

But this time it's not just about the right thing for him. It's the right thing for Tony, and by extension, Ziva, too. It's the right thing for his kids.

But it feels like throwing himself on his own funeral pyre.

Gibbs knocked on the door to Tony and Ziva's place. It's not too late, but not exactly early, either.

Ziva opened it a few seconds later, in her bathrobe, and looked mildly surprised to see him.

"Can I see him?"

"I'll check."

She headed off to their bedroom, and he heard quiet voices. Two minutes later she was back, and nodded again. But he can see she's wary, so he smiles a little at her, letting her know that Tony won't regret this.

Tony's sitting on their bed in a pair of shorts. Yankees are playing on the TV, but he's got it on mute. Gibbs knows they do that. Tony watches the games on silent while Ziva reads.

Tony looks him up and down, also wary. "Gibbs."

He held up the form. "1087 B, filled out by Vance. He's given me until the 15th to hand it back in." Gibbs turned his back to Tony, so he can't see his face, can't see the pain of this. Then he ripped the form into little pieces, flicked on the switch that turned on the gas fireplace in their room, and dropped the bits. He swallowed once, and then twice, opened his mouth, and then closed it, not sure if his voice would hold. Two more seconds, the sound of the rushing flames and the smell of burnt paper filling the room. Then he was sure he could get a few more words out. "January 15th. That'll be my last day."

Tony nods at that, and Gibbs heads out, he doesn't want to talk, and he doesn't think Tony does either.

Ziva follows him to the door and hugs him as he gets ready to head off, holds him close for a long minute, then reaches up on her tip toes to kiss his forehead.

He burrows his face against her shoulder, and stands close to her, not sure what happens next, but eventually he pulls back and head out of their home back toward his own, feeling hollow, aching from the sense of nothing left to do.

The fact that it's the right thing doesn't make it any easier.


Shards To A Whole: Chapter 299

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

Chapter 299: A Discussion

Tim's not at his desk when Gibbs gets back up. Ziva is. Draga's not.

She's looking pretty calm, so either she doesn't know what's going on, or it's not bothering her. Probably doesn't know.

"He give you any trouble?" Gibbs asks about the suspect.

Ziva flashes Gibbs her, no not at all, don't be silly look.

Gibbs nods at that. Good to know collecting the suspect went well. And since they tracked him through tech stuff that Tim and Draga handled, they were probably interrogating him.

"Draga and Tim in interrogation?"

"Yes. Where is Tony?"

"Don't know."

Now she's sending him her curious look. Always be reachable, make sure someone knows where you are, those are bedrock for their team, and Gibbs above and beyond everyone else usually knows where everyone is.

Gibbs holds his phone so she can see he's texting on it. He sent a quick message to Tim about what just happened.

"Gibbs?" Now she's starting to look a bit worried and nervous.

So he starts at the beginning. They're in the bullpen in the middle of the office, so he tells the 'official' version, but she knows well enough to know that's bullshit and why he's lying, and the bit where he mentions how McGee was 'helping him find the right documents' to prove how old he really is lets her know exactly what happened.

He looks fairly sheepish as he gets done with the telling, and he can see she's torn. Half-pissed at him for not treating Tony with more respect, half-understanding that desperate need to be useful and to save lives and do the job.

Of all of them, she's the one who gets that need the most. She's the one, like him, with the dark red blood on her ledger, trying to erase it one solved crime at a time. It never washes out, and what Ari did wasn't her fault, any more than what happened to Shannon and Kelly was his, but in the end, that doesn't matter, the red is still there, and only one thing eases the ache of it.

"Why didn't you go to him? He would have been fine with it if you had just told him."

Gibbs isn't entirely sure of that, but he does know that Tony would have been a whole hell of a lot better with it if they had asked him.

"Honestly didn't think to."

"Because you're the Boss and the Boss doesn't ask."


She mutters something, low and quiet, and possibly not English, while shaking her head. Then says in her normal tone, "You cannot stay if he's not the Boss. A few months isn't a problem. A year is."

"Thirty-eight," he says quietly.

"No Gibbs. Your lead, your case, no." She shakes her head. "No your rules. It's his and it gets done his way and he runs it how he likes, and if you are going to stay, you need to show the proper respect for that."

"And you'd know something about that?" he asks, realizing at some point Ziva must have had this conversation with herself, must have made the decision that Tony could be her husband and her boss.

"Yes. I would. So, can you do that, or do you have to go? We know McGee has to go. He's ready for his own team, and they are both stepping on each other's feet. Especially this last month... But that will happen, sooner than later."

Gibbs nods, he wants to say that he can do it, that he can jump in and surrender the team and whatever it is he needs to do to stay, but… But he realizes he needs to really think about it. Three leaders on one team is two too many, but two isn't much better, and certainly isn't fair to Tony.

"I'll know soon."

"Good enough. Maybe… you might talk to Rachel about it?"

They tend to skirt around the fact that he sees her, just like they don't much talk about the marriage counseling that Tony and Ziva are doing, but he nods nonetheless. Talking to Rachel about it probably is a good idea.

Tim felt his phone buzz. Just once. Probably Gibbs or Tony letting him know he was up. He doesn't check his phone. In interrogation, get buzzed twice and that means pull it out and look, once means get 'round to it when you can.

Draga's taking lead on this interrogation, not his first time, but he likely hasn't hit ten yet, either. Tim's chilling in the corner, staring down at Ralph Mason, intentionally looking bored, making sure Ralph feels like they've got him dead to rights and this is just about getting the paperwork filled out. (Which, as far as Ralph is concerned, is true. Who he was working for is another story, one they want a conclusion to.)

Draga's asking about the technical specs of what Ralph was doing. (He cloned the VA's website interface for doctors, stole their info, then used it to order extra medical devices from several companies. VA never got the devices, but the companies that made them got paid. Not their usual sort of case, but the last murder they handled involved an artificial knee that they traced by the manufacturer number, and found that said knee joint had been sold four times… Solved the murder two days ago, but decided this stunk to high heaven and needed to be checked out.) Tim's enjoying getting to be the guy who hangs out in the corner. In the past, he's always had to write up notes that were too deep for Tony, Gibbs, or Ziva to do the questioning, so they didn't. They hung out and looked menacing and he asked the questions.

So, Draga's working Mason over, laying the verbal trap to get the names of who actually set this up. His voice is calm, the questions are lulling, he's even adding a sort of Robin Hood angle into it, making Ralph look like some sort of hero, after all, times are hard, and those 'extra' orders kept a bunch of people employed, and no one got hurt, really… so…

About three words too late, Ralph figured out what was happening and froze, demanding a lawyer.

And a quick change of track, the 'come on, you don't really need one, only guilty people need lawyers' didn't get Ralph's tongue to loosen again. And as Draga's aiming for another run at that, Tim ends things, gently pulling him out without making it obvious he's doing it.

So, they head back out of interrogation. Tim pulls out his cell, sees the note from Jethro, and feels a… he's not sure, and right now isn't a great moment for introspection. He says to Draga, "Okay, give him a few minutes in there, then take him down to processing, they'll handle the details."

"Got it."

He tucks his cell back into his pocket. "Also, next time, once they ask for a lawyer, you've gotta stop. If you get the wrong judge or the right lawyer, anything he says after he's asked for one'll get tossed, and anything we find based on anything he says after he's asked for one'll get tossed, too."

"Okay. What'll you be doing?"

"Having a chat with Tony." He's not entirely sure about that, but he's guessing they better get it done.

"You two okay?" Draga doesn't look like he's sure he's allowed to ask that, but he does, anyway.

"Nothing you need to worry about."

"You know, if you want to talk or something…"

Tim smiles at Draga, appreciating the offer. "Even if I did, it wouldn't be appropriate. He's your Boss."
Draga thinks about that. "But he's not yours, is he?"


"Is that the problem?"

"Yeah." Tim glances around, they're the only ones in the hallway outside of interrogation, but he pitches his voice low, anyway. "Look, we're not talking about it yet, but, yes, your interview question about why are we replacing Gibbs with you was right. We're not replacing Gibbs with you, we're replacing me. When Jenner leaves, I'm taking Cybercrime. Cybercrime does not know this, yet. Jenner does not know this. Jenner's second-in-command really does not know this, and I do not want him to find out from anyone but me, got it?"

Draga nods. "No scuttlebutt."


"But Gibbs is a few months away from fifty-seven."

Tim doesn't comment on that.

"So, he should be leaving, right?"

"That's the question."

"So, is Gibbs not leaving?"

"That's what I'm going to be talking to Tony about."

"Why would you be talking to him about it?"

"Because if Gibbs isn't leaving, it'll be my fault."

Draga looks perplexed by that answer.

Tim shakes his head. "There are a few ways around mandatory retirement. Let's leave it at I found one of them for Gibbs."

"Okay." He thinks about it. "That a long enough wait for…" he tilts his head toward the interrogation room.

"Actually, yeah, that was. Take him to processing, then head back to the Bullpen. Ziva or Gibbs'll have something for you."

He'd only gotten Wh of where are you texted into his phone when the door to observation opened and Tony curled his finger, indicating Tim was to come in.


Tony looked mad enough bite his head off, and his voice was sharp, but he didn't ask about Gibbs, so Tim answered the question he did ask crisply, "Mason lawyered up. Draga handled the interrogation, got enough out that we've got him dead. Realized he was in danger of incriminating whoever's hiring him, and shut up."

Tony's not really paying attention to his answer, probably because if he was in observation, he saw the interrogation and doesn't really need a report. Finally he notices that Tim's finished and says, "See who's paying for the lawyer. If he is, he should roll pretty easy for the reduced sentence. If one of the companies is, we'll see if we can put pressure on him for conflict of interest."

"That's the play."


Tim turns, getting ready to head to processing to find out who Mason's lawyer is, and who's paying for him when Tony says, "So, you gonna tell me why you woke up a few days ago thinking, 'I know, today I'll fuck Tony's team?'"

He turns and squints at Tony, feeling like he's being overly dramatic about this. "Please. I maybe goosed you, no one got fucked."

Probably wasn't the right answer, ready to bite his head off morphed into the level beyond it, a sort of dangerous calm where Tony's brain speeds up and he starts really seeing everything around him, ready to go in for the kill.

Tony takes a deep breath, exhales long and slow, and then says, "Really? You goosed me? That's how you see going over my head, to my Boss, about my team, without talking to me first? You think that's a minor deal? You think making sure that Vance knows that I'm not in charge of my own team is like a pat on the ass?"

Okay, that was a decent point, and one Tim hadn't thought of. "I'm sorry. I just…"

"You think rearranging my team is just a minor little thing? Gibbs around for a whole nother year, that's a moot point? You think that, really?"

Well, actually, yes on that. Sure, he hadn't been thinking about it when he was getting everything ready to get Gibbs another year, but he is now, and now he's not seeing it as a big deal. Tony's been working with Gibbs for sixteen years, not like one more should be an issue. So Tim says, "Okay, I get how going to Leon over you looks bad, but how is keeping Gibbs an extra year fucking you or your team? You're running it. Everything is going nice and smooth. You've an experienced hand to help take care of things and keep Draga in shape. You'll have him good and trained before you bring in someone new, instead of trying to ride herd on two probies. Why is this a bad thing?"

"Because that means he'll be here for an extra year! That means instead of breaking in someone new in the next few months, I'll be breaking someone new in next January, you know, about the time Ziva and I were hoping to be having a baby. But it's my team, so I've got to be here to break in a new person. And Ziva obviously can't be anchoring the team while I'm on paternity leave because she'll be on maternity leave, and no matter how good Draga is, he can't be running a brand new probie of his own less than two years in, so yeah, I'm fucked by this. Ziva is fucked by this."

"Oh." Tim winces, yeah, he's fucked Tony over royally and he's feeling like shit for it.

"Yeah. Why would you do this? I get why he's doing this. He's staring into the goddamned abyss and seeing nothing staring back up at him. But you're supposed to be the smart one. You're the one who sees three moves ahead, so why the fuck would you do this to me?"

"It's not about you…" Tony doesn't look happy at that, at all, but Tim keeps explaining, "Because the gold watch wasn't enough. You and I were talking about that, remember, what we'd do for him when he retires, and I was thinking about it, and there isn't anything that's enough. And we're sitting in the car, and I'm watching him do the job, and he's not done. He's not ready to retire. And I could do it for him. I could fix that. I never managed to get my Dad anything that made him proud, but I could fucking well do it for Gibbs. God, he looked so happy when we showed him the new documents. It was like the way he looked at us when we told him Abby was pregnant.

"I'm sorry, but I didn't think about you at all when it came to this. I know that's bad, but you didn't cross my mind."

"Because I'm not your boss."

"Because it wasn't about you! I should have thought about you, but I didn't. I should have been thinking three moves ahead, but the three moves I was thinking through was how to hack into the Social Security database to change his birthdate."

Tony's staring at their reflections in the window to interrogation.

Tim's leaning back against the door staring at the ceiling, not sure what to say next. He gave it to Gibbs. He saw the way he lit up at the idea of it. He heard the hope in his voice when they showed him his new documents. He wants this, wants it bad, probably wants it more than he's wanted anything in decades, and when push comes to shove, when it's Tony and Ziva's happiness or Gibbs' he's more attached to Gibbs.

But it's Tony's team, and Tony and Ziva's family, and… and he fucked it up.

He doesn't want to take it away from Gibbs.

He doesn't want to be the guy who screwed Tony and Ziva.

"Leon's still checking into it. I can fix this. Make it go away."

Tony closes his eyes and grits his teeth. "No. It'd be like cutting his head off. I can't do it."

Tim nods at that. They stand there quietly. "The team doesn't always have to come first, Tony. Honestly, it probably shouldn't. Just because that's how he ran it doesn't mean that's how you do."

Tony stares at Tim's reflection, blinks slowly, once, and Tim doesn't know what that means.

"Just… You married Ziva, not Draga, not NCIS. You're allowed to let it go to the back burner long enough to have babies. World won't end if Draga and whoever the other Probie is do paperwork for a month or get loaned to someone else. Lab didn't fall apart because Abby left. Her new guys were on for three days before she left. Crimes still got solved, murderers got put away, NCIS kept going. You're allowed to leave. Or… if she got pregnant now, you'd have Gibbs in place to cover for you…"

Tony's not glaring, but this doesn't seem to be anything he wants to hear. He waves that away. "As long as he's here, I'm not in charge. He's staring over my shoulder, making sure I'm doing it 'right.' Draga's the only one who actually thinks I'm his Boss. I know I'm never really going to be Ziva's Boss, don't want to be, not really. It's good to have a partner. But until he's gone, it'll still be his team. We'll still do it his way. Keep his rules. Follow the same patterns."

"What do you want to change?"

Tony shakes his head. You're not getting it clear on his face. "You remember the difference between how it felt to drive with… who taught you to drive?"

"My grandfather."

"Remember the difference between driving with him next to you and the first time you got behind the wheel on your own?"

"Not really. Messing with the windshield wiper, looking up, seeing the bus two seconds away from plowing into me then feeling it hit is pretty much the only concrete memory I've got of the first time I drove on my own."

Tony looks pretty frustrated by that. "How'd it feel when you were running the Ender case?"

"Good. I liked it. Didn't feel much different than usual, though. More handling people, less tech."

Tony sighs. "No. I guess it didn't." So much of what Tim does is all on his own. None of the rest of them actually know what it is he does on the computers, so they don't ask, and he doesn't tell, and until he's ready for them to move, he's just on his own. Tony shakes his head again. "It's not the same with him here. It's not like it was back when he left and I was really in charge."

"Okay. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, great." It's very clear that sorry hasn't fixed this, can't fix it.

"What do you want me to do?"

Tony waves at the door. "Go through those companies' financials again. Bring in the bookkeepers if necessary, someone okayed the payments to Mason. Go find them."

"On it."