Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Three Days Left

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

Chapter 342: Three Days Left

On Wednesday, Gibbs is bored.

He hasn't felt this edgy without a case in years and he knows why. Three days left.

On Friday, they'll put him out to pasture, and…

And filling out paperwork isn't doing the job. It's not keeping his attention.

He finally gets the all clear for full duty from his doctor and suddenly everything goes silent. No cases. Nothing, at all. Not even a decent theft. Tony's phone might as well be disconnected for all the ringing it's done.

He'd be suspicious that Tony had worked some sort of deal with dispatch, but three of the other four teams out of the Navy Yard are also sitting at their desks filling out paperwork. It's like every sailor and Marine from Baltimore to Norfolk, DC to Charleston, WV, all decided, simultaneously, to go on the straight and narrow.

He glares at his paperwork, grabs his coffee cup, tosses it into the trash, and heads off to get a new one.

It doesn't help. Coffee, which usually quiets his mind and makes him more alert, more able to focus, more able to do pretty much whatever he wants, isn't doing the job today. Probably can't do the job today. Only so much you can ask ground, roasted beans to do.

He's about to head back to the bullpen when he decides there's no rush. It's not like he's got to race to get that paperwork done. What's Tony going to do if he doesn't get it done soon, fire him? He finds that mildly amusing for about ten seconds and then jittery comes back.

Going to his own desk isn't going to help.

So, instead of hitting the up button on the elevator, he hits the B for basement.

He hasn't been down here since the last time Tim worked Cybercrime. He did intend to go down at some point, but he was figuring he'd give Tim some time to get settled in (he knows Tony's doing the same thing, making sure Tim's secure in his own Boss role before anyone else who has that claim on him heads down), but he's not feeling very Bossish, past or present, right now.

And… if he's being honest, he's missing Tim.

The elevator doors slide open, and the first thing Gibbs notices is that it's not dark down there anymore. It was dark the last time he was down here. Just the glow of the computers keeping people from crashing into things.

It's not dark now. The walls and floor are still gray, the cubicle walls are black and lighter gray, which leads to a feeling of dark, but it's not actually dark. It's the idea of dark.

He heads in, noticing the coffee station Tim had been talking about. Looks like more of his goodies showed up yesterday. There's a coffee maker, a bunch of cups, microwave, fridge, two vending machines, a soda machine, and… The Caf-Pow dispenser he was talking about... It's not there yet, but the space is there for it, and Gibbs knows it'll be there soon, all clustered against one wall.

He's walking past a big screen plasma, which he thought was Tim's conferencing area, until he noticed two sofas (black) and three bean bags chairs (dark blue) in front of it, along with a coffee table, and several remotes that look really familiar.

He's not sure, because he's not seeing anyone using it, but he's thinking Tim's got a game station set up there.

He shakes his head at that. But, apparently, if you get to the level of Director, you can mess around with your set up however you like. (It occurs to Gibbs that if he was in charge of the field agents, he probably would have wanted to make sure there was a spot for them to crash, too. Sleeping at your desk or in the morgue isn't a good plan. Of course, Leon appears to be under the impression that you're supposed to take breaks and go home, even when working a hot case, which is probably why there aren't any nap stations…)

There's a divider wall between the tv area and the next section, four collections of desks in little triangles, also walled off into their own sections, two really casual looking techs working away in one of them. In between the desk units is the conferencing area, long table, lots of chairs, whiteboards at the ready.

He sees two of the techs standing next to the whiteboard, writing something, while a third one sits in front of them on the table, talking and pointing things out.

To the left he sees what had been a cinderblock wall switch to glass, and then an open door.

The "office" Jimmy had mentioned.

And Jimmy wasn't kidding. It's a real office. With bookshelves, and a door, and chairs, and blinds that close so you can have a private conversation.

Right next to the door, on the cinderblock wall, is a whiteboard that says:

1. Never be unreachable.
2. Never screw your team.
3. Verify.
4. Trust your instincts.
5. Work hard, play hard.
6. Fix it first, apologize later.
7. Own it when you screw up.

Gibbs smiles at that. It's very much Tim's little kingdom in the basement. It feels like him. He's been here a week and a half and he's already got his fingerprints on everything.

As Gibbs looks around at everything, he isn't sure what the emotions going through him are. Part of it is the awareness that Tim was beyond ready to go. That they held onto him for too long. He should have been running his own team for years by now.

Part of it is pride. No help. No direction. No double thinking or nervousness. Hell, he didn't even know what the damn job was, but he's got it. And it's absolutely clear that he owns this. It'll take time to get it all ironed out, but this is Tim's team, hell, his department and he's going to be amazing at running it.

Part of it is regret. Day after tomorrow he's gone. He won't be here to see Tim do it. He won't be able to just drop on down and catch up. He assumes this is like when your kid goes off to college, you're happy for them, proud of them, you know it's good for them, you know they need it to be happy, to be the people they want to be, are meant to be, but you know you're going to miss having them in your life every single day.

He watches Tim at his desk. He's focused, typing away at something, fast, eyes scanning over the screen. Whatever he's doing, it has his full attention. Gibbs sighs. No matter how this works, that's gone. Tim won't be part of his daily life, not anymore. None of them will be. Gibbs takes a deep breath at that.

"Hey!" Tim's looking up from his computer, waving him in, smiling at him, cutting his musings short. "What bring you down here? Draga in the weeds?"

"Nah. He's filling out forms like a champ. Just wanted to see you, see your stuff."

"Come on in." Tim stands up and closes the door behind him, offering him one of the chairs, sitting on the corner of his desk. "What do you think?" Once that question would have been begging for approval, the combination of knowing it's a good job, but desperately needing confirmation of that. Now it's just the excitement of sharing something good with someone you love.

Gibbs nods, smiles a bit, turning to see the department behind him. "Lot better than the last time I was down here."

Tim nods with that. "Yeah. It really it. Be better yet, soon. IT's balking a little bit, but they tell me I'll get my new stations for group work or solo work in the next two weeks, and Physical Plant's trying to get out of doing it, but rumor has it they'll be moving the filing cabinets out of here and replacing them with work benches and some actual tools eventually."

"Faster than light bulbs?" Gibbs had been appalled to hear about not being able to change your own bulbs.

"Probably not. They won't give me a firm date. Just, 'I'm on the list,' whatever that means."

"Where are the filing cabinets going?"

Tim shrugs. "Don't know, don't care. Evidence lock up, maybe? Deep storage? I went through the regs, and found out that there's nothing that says I have to have copies of the paperwork on literal paper." Tim points to the glass bowl on his bookshelf that he's got filled with thumb drives. "Until we get the paperwork database up and running, I've got them saving the forms on their computer and to these. They're all coded for each sort of form. I'll get second and third copies, make sure we've got them in storage, and if we ever need any of this crap again, I'll print it out."

"You can do that?"

Tim shrugs. "Legal may have a different interpretation of how paperwork works, but as I said, I checked the rules, and they do not specifically say that I have to have paper copies, just that I have to have copies, that those copies must be secure on and off site, and that I cannot destroy those copies. Same as the regs for emails."

Gibbs smiles. "Eighteen?"

Tim grins back at him. "Exactly."

"Legal's gonna love you."

"If I do my job right, they're never going to notice me, at least, not for this. I've got a conversation coming up with one of them about hiring. But, for this, it's not exactly like I'm going to run up there and say, 'No more paper copies for me!'"

Gibbs nods, looks around, hearing the hum of the computer, a few voices, and what he guesses is probably the ever-present tapping of fingers on keys.

He looks at Tim, half-sitting, half-leaning against his desk, posture relaxed, black leather jacket, red button down, and, Gibbs doesn't shake his head, but having seen the dress code Tim wrote up, he's not surprised, black nail polish. Right now, everything about him is radiating comfortable.

He smiles at Tim. "You're finally home, aren't you?"

Tim nods a bit. "Upstairs was home, too."

Gibbs shakes his head. No, it wasn't. Not like this. He's happier, more satisfied looking than Gibbs has ever seen him at work. "Upstairs was what you needed to do, to be, to get to be the man who could find this home."

Tim inclines his head. Gibbs knows that means probably.

Gibbs stands up, looking around at the office, at the rest of the basement, at the techs working away. There's this huge bubble of feelings, there's pride, and joy, and the sense of loss from not being here, and love and more happy to go with joy, and… and when it comes down to it, he couldn't find the words for it if his life depended on it.

But it must be coming across in his face, because Tim nods at him, smiles, acknowledging it.

"It's good, Tim. You've done good."

"Yeah, it is."

He's half tempted to hug Tim, but they're at work, and he can feel some of the techs are watching… And sure, that likely wouldn't bother Tim, but it feels weird to him, so he pats his back and says, "Okay. I'll let you get back to it. I know you're busy."

Tim nods at that, too. "Job scheduling system went live upstairs yesterday, and Hemmer's team has already found a way to break it." He sounds significantly more excited by that prospect than Gibbs would have expected, but he's guessing that figuring out how to fix it is Tim's current mystery.

Gibbs shakes his head, walking out, hearing Tim's fingers clicking away behind him.

The elevator doors open just as Tony's putting the phone down. Gibbs knows that look, knows the gestures, and heads straight to his desk to grab his bag.

"Murdered sailor in Arlington," Tony says.

And with that, jittery flees and Gibbs settles back into case mode.

Processing away (he's on photos) Gibbs thinks that his first case was like this. A murdered sailor in… It wasn't a suburban home, but it was a home, an apartment, but someone called it home. And it wasn't daytime, it was night. And… actually it wasn't much like this at all.

He was taking pictures. That he remembers. Franks was moderately sure he could handle photographing the scene without messing anything up, so that was his first job.

Franks had been sure that he was good, and that he'd eventually be useful, but Gibbs knows, back in the beginning, that Mike wasn't sure he could put enough of himself aside to do the job. He knows, those first few cases especially, that Mike worried he'd get too caught in what they were doing, get lost in his own experience from the other side. He knows Mike was nervous that Gibbs would blow up and kill someone, but he also didn't mind, too much, as long as that someone was one of the 'bad guys.'

He had been nervous that first day. Didn't know what the hell he was doing. Hadn't felt that way about anything in decades, since being a recruit stepping off the bus. Hadn't felt much of anything about anything for months by that point, so at least nervous was a step in the right direction.

He catches Tony watching out of the corner of his eye, realizes he's just standing there, not taking any shots, and gets to it. Crime scene isn't going to document itself.

"What do you got for me, Abbs?"

The LabRat (He hasn't bothered to learn their names. He should. They work here. They're good at their jobs. But they aren't Abby. It's the male one in his late forties. He ran the lab in Norfolk.) looks up at him and Gibbs mentally kicks himself. They processed the scene, got on their secondary work, (he was on witness statements) reconnoitered back at the Navy Yard, got Ducky's preliminary autopsy report (yes, the knife sticking out of the vic's chest was indeed what killed him), and now he was in the Lab, with the Caf-Pow, wanting to know what was up with the trace.

But it's 23:42. Abby's probably been home for hours now. She only sticks around after 18:00 for floods of trace, and this isn't that sort of case.

"Abby's not here right now."

Gibbs nods, feeling a little embarrassed. "What do you have, then?" He hands over the Caf-Pow and the tech (Corwin? Something like that…) looks at it curiously and puts it on the desk.

"Finger prints. Wife's prints were all over the knife."

"Kitchen knife from her home. It'd be weird if she didn't have prints on it."

"Prints in Duncan's blood." That's not the sort of thing that's common on kitchen gear. "We've also got a second blood sample on the knife. If we can get a sample…" Gibbs knows how that works. A breastbone is hard, stab a knife through it, and if you don't have a good grip, you'll cut yourself, too. Happens all the time.

"We'll hunt her down, see if she's got cuts on her hands. Anything else interesting?"

"No. Looks awfully straight forward. He was in a fight with whomever stabbed him. Ducky sent hair, blood, and skin samples from under the vic's fingernails, and they're all the same DNA. So, you don't have the wife in custody?"

"Missing since this morning. Neighbors heard a fight, called the cops, by the time they got there she was gone, and he was dead. Draga's hunting her by phone and financials."

The tech nods.

It was Thursday morning when Draga got the alert. Credit card activity.

Took them less than an hour to find her. Shelby Duncan wasn't exactly running. She was having coffee at a Starbucks. Was still there, sitting in a comfy chair, reading something on her phone, sipping a latte.

They watched the scene for a minute.

Ziva looks at them, nods to Shelby, takes her NCIS jacket off, she doesn't want to spook her, and heads in. Gibbs and Tony keep an eye on the front. Draga's in the back. When she sees Tony nod at her, she approaches Shelby and quietly says, "Shelby Duncan?"

Shelby looks up, split lip and black eye very visible under some haphazard makeup.

"I'm Ziva David, NCIS," she shows her badge, "I'd like you to come with me."

"Okay." Shelby goes to tuck her phone into her purse, and Ziva tenses, hand hovering over her gun, but all she does is put her phone in her bag and stand up, slowly. As she gets to the van, it's easy to see the bandages on her hands.

"This is about Paul, isn't it?"

Ziva nods, ushering her into their van.

"He's not gonna be okay, is he?"

"No ma'am, he's not," Tony says.

There had been a fragile, holding together by cobwebs sort of feel to Shelby. That's why Ziva had gone in soft and gentle. But that air of helpless damage fled before a brilliant burst of savage joy when Shelby said, "Good. Son of a bitch deserved everything he ever got."

Ziva's on point. She's in the interrogation room, gently pulling the story out of Shelby. Gibbs and Tony stand behind the two way mirror, listening.

It's a bad story, one he's heard too many times.

Awful marriage. The wife who took all she could take, and finally quit, got out, got help, got the restraining order, but just like too many other women learned the hard way, a restraining order is just a piece of paper. And a piece of paper has never, ever, in the history of paper, stopped a man who wanted to make trouble.

But a ten-inch chef's knife can and will and did.

They've got the case wrapped by lunch.

Gibbs wishes he could feel some sort of triumph, go out on a high note. (He supposes there's always tomorrow, or even this afternoon for that, but he's not feeling it.)

But maybe going out on a case like this is fitting.

Maybe keeping in mind that they aren't all wins, that sometimes justice isn't in the cards, sometimes all you could do is hope, and maybe pray some, that the perp gets the best damn lawyer on the East Coast and squirms out of it.

Maybe that'll help ease him out.

Keep him focused on how he'll never have to put another battered woman behind bars.

And it does help, for maybe five minutes, long enough to fill out the first form and stick his name on the bottom, but as his pen scratches the last s on his signature, it fades.

Unless his gut is wrong, and it may be, he certainly hopes it is, this is it. He's never going to bust anyone again. He's never going to put away another murderer, pull lies out of a thief, he'll never find another missing kid, he'll never say to another victim's family, 'We've got him.'

That hits hard enough he has to get up and head to the restroom to get control of himself again.

Ziva's kept one eye on her paperwork, and the other eye on Gibbs since she got out of interrogation.

It's clear he's not in a good place right now, at all.

And when he slams down his pen, and storms off in the direction of the men's room, she glances up at Tony, he nods at her, and she follows Gibbs.

She's probably about fifty seconds behind him, and isn't sure what she'll see when she gets in there. Nothing good. She stops at the door, listening, but doesn't hear anything, and then heads in.

He's leaning against the back wall, jacket folded over the wall of the nearest stall, ripping his undershirt to shreds.

He's got the polo shirt on, but his usual white undershirt is already in about four pieces. He's working on five as she watches.

Ziva gets this. Understands it on a visceral level. Anger is always easier than sorrow. And if you can't kill the sorrow, you might as well revel in anger.

He doesn't look up when she comes in. Or when she gently lays a hand on his shoulder. His shirt makes a very satisfying ripping sound.

She doesn't try to stop him, but just stands there, quiet, present, and about half an hour later, when he's got a huge, fluffy mass of shirt shreds she finally says to him, "Better?"

"A little."

"We can hit the gym next time. You are cleared to fight now."

He nods. That would have helped, too.

"I don't want to go." His voice broke on go.

She wraps him in a hug, stroking the back of his neck. "I know."


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