Friday, September 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: The Eye of the Storm

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

Chapter 388: The Eye of the Storm

It's after 01:00 Eastern Standard Time when Leon gets the call. He pulls himself awake, sits up, rubs his eyes, and then checks the name on his phone.



He listens as Jarvis gets him up to date, nods a few times, and slips out of bed, quietly, hoping not to wake Lara.

"McGee's alive, right?"

"Yes. He's sedated. They're setting his arm, and wrist, and hand, and I think ribs, and then we're on the helio to Alameda. He didn't want his Dad's staff treating him."

Vance nods at that, too. He wouldn't want the guys who work for the guy who tried to kill him operating on him, either. "Okay, start at the beginning, Clayt."

"The test went off without a hitch. Everything was fine. John and Mane, his secretary, had left to go handle the aftermath of the Stennis 'firing' on the Borealis. Tim mentioned to me that he's had some issues with his father and that he had planted a false lead in their conversation. If the men on the Stennis did their job right, they'd trace the attack back to NCIS. But he said to John that if someone showed up to arrest him for espionage, we'd know they'd traced the attack back to him."

Leon gets to his desk and sits down, rubbing his eyes. "But the attack couldn't be traced back to him because he didn't attack from the ship."

"Right. After that test, he went to his quarters to monitor what the techs were doing, how they were responding, what they were doing to try and hunt him down. That's what he told me he was going to do. He also mentioned that he was nervous, doesn't get on with his dad, and was afraid that this would go badly.

"Mane shows up in the afternoon to do the inspection. He's talking, making hints that Tim may be a spy. I tell James that I want him sticking to McGee, and that if someone grabs him, he's to stay with him until he's safely locked in a cell."

"Should have stayed with him in the damn cell."

"I know that, now. Been a while since I ran an 'accident' in a prison and didn't expect them to try it here. This is a US Navy ship, for God's sake! We're supposed to be better than that."

Vance sighs. "Often looks different from my end."

"I know. Anyway, James stayed with him until he was locked in his own cell and Mane had left. Then he went to get me. I was already on my way there, so McGee was only alone for, three minutes, tops, but that was long enough for Mane to come back, unlock the other guys, let them into Tim's cell and go full out on him."

"What did they do to him?"

"You want the diagnosis?"

"Yeah." He hears Jarvis asking about it.

"His right arm's a mess. It was dislocated at the shoulder and wrist, broken in three places, three of his fingers are broken, and his hand is, too. As soon as he hits Alameda, they're gonna have a team of surgeons for that because… Assuming he wants any shot of really using it again, they're going to need specialists working on this. Broken nose, cracked ribs, and his left foot got stomped, bunch of little broken bones in there, too. He's black and blue from head to toe, but doesn't appear to have any damage to his internal organs. He'll live. His brain is still working. They didn't break his neck. His right arm's going to need a lot of PT, and he may never get full use of it again. But, they're saying he'll probably be up and walking again, with a crutch, in a few days."

"Okay, what's happening now?"

"We're in the infirmary. I'm about ten feet away from McGee, watching him get ready to travel. The four he went up against are in here, too, getting patched up. McGee mentioned he does MMA fighting, and that probably saved his life. Never would have guessed he could hurt four guys as badly as he did."

"He held his own?"

"The only one who doesn't have any broken bones is the guy he elbowed in the throat and took out of the fight in the first two seconds with that hit. He hit the rest of them as hard as they hit him."

"Good." Vance hopes they hurt, really, really hurt.

"Each of the attackers has his own MA keeping watch, and they aren't being allowed to speak to each other. Tim mentioned that. Once they get out of here, we'll get them squirreled away where they can't make up some story.

"The Agent Afloat isn't on this ship, she's on the Dewey, but she's getting here as fast as she can. The Admiral's been confined to quarters, and James is running the hunt to find Mane."

"Mane's vanished?"

"Yeah. Obviously, he's on the ship somewhere, but… Big ship."

"Okay. Was John in on it?"

"Not so anyone could ever prove."

"Is that a yes?"

"I'm sure the words, 'go attack my son' or any variation on that theme never crossed his lips. I'm sure no verbal hint of any sort along those lines ever occurred. I also know he was not dismayed about the attack when James told him about it, was not surprised about the attack, and did not ask James what condition Tim was in."

"I see." Leon nods. He knows that the stretch between I'd-approve-if-something-bad-were-to-happen and ordered-a-hit-on-my-son is going to be almost impossible to prove.

He thinks through who he has on the West Coast to send in. This is way more job than one Agent Afloat can handle. Then he thinks further west, because further west is the best option for this case, seeing that DiNozzo is out of the picture because he'll just go right in and kill everyone. "I'll give Agent Burley a call. His team will handle the investigation. How far out of Pearl are you?"

"Eleven days."

Not even remotely close then. "I'll have my guys there as fast as possible, and I'll call the Agent Afloat to let him…" No, Sarah Angua is the AA for the Stennis group. "Her know what's going on. If you can, get that ship back to San Fran."

"I can do that. I haven't called his family."

"I've got it. Let me know when you get moving toward Alameda. I'll have his family waiting for him there."

"Thanks, Leon."

Leon remembers the first time he met John McGee, first and only time. He remembers Gibbs saying that John didn't respect anything Tim was doing.

This is quite a few steps past 'didn't respect.'

He also remembers that John wasn't at Tim's wedding, nor was John ever mentioned by anyone talking to him. Granted, he's not part of the intimate family, but he is a cop, and he was paying attention, and at no point did he ever hear something like, "Gosh, it's a shame John couldn't be here for his only son's wedding."

And one other thought goes through his head. Gibbs killed the man who killed his girl. What on earth would he do with the man who hurt his son?

The frustrating part of this… One of them anyway, is that Vance is certain that Admiral McGee has made sure that a case cannot be made linking him to this attack.

He is absolutely certain that Admiral McGee never said that he wanted this to happen to Tim. He never suggested that such a thing would please him. He wouldn't have to. A secretary who's that good at his job knows his Boss inside and out; he'd never need the order. (Just like Vance's secretary wouldn't need instructions for something along those lines, either. The major difference is, Karen wouldn't kill a man for him.)

If Mane is the kind of man who would do that to McGee, then he's also the kind of man who will fall on a grenade to protect his Boss. He'll take the rap for this. He'll claim it was all on him.

Which means they'll have to break him, break him so bad he lies.

And that's going to be difficult. Maybe impossible.

But one way or another, Admiral McGee is going to pay for this. Because there was only one way Mane would have pulled this crap, and that's because he knew the Admiral would approve.

Vance is a good Boss; he's a very good administrator. He's good at finding talent and letting that talent do its job without him interfering.

The problem with that technique is that he's not as up to date with the seconds-thirds-and-fourths in command of his different teams as a micro manager would be.

He has a plan, he knows what he is going to do. What he doesn't know is who he needs to execute part of that plan. Normally, should a plan like this need to be executed, he'd call in McGee, and obviously that won't work.

At two in the morning, on the road to the Navy Yard, he's about to make a call to Abby, and then decides against it. While it's true that she's the person most likely to know who Tim's most trusted second-in-command is, it's also likely that if he calls her in the middle of the night looking for a tech, she will flip out. So, he is not calling Abby, instead he's making a call to Dr. Palmer, the man most likely to know what he needs to know.

"Nrgh." Sound of Jimmy rubbing his eyes. "I'm awake, Palmer here. What's going on?"

"Doctor Palmer. I have a question for you."

"Director?" Jimmy sounds surprised to hear Vance on the phone.

"Yes. I know McGee relies heavily on Ngyn and Howard, which one of the two of them is better with a secret?"


"Ngyn or Howard, Dr. Palmer?"

"Why aren't you asking Tim?"

"Because the Stennis is under radio silence right now, as part of making sure that McGee's test doesn't get out." That's a complete lie, but one he doesn't mind. He doesn't need handling Palmer on top of Gibbs right now.

Jimmy thinks for a moment. "He tells us about how good Howard is all the time. I don't know if she can keep a secret. Ngyn's one of his wunderkinds, too. He likes both of them, trusts both of them. Ngyn's more likely to be in the office right now. Oh, and she's really shy, so she probably wouldn't enjoy blabbing about something."

"Thank you, Dr. Palmer." He hangs up before Jimmy can get enough brain cells together to wonder why Vance would be asking that in the middle of the night.

He doesn't have Ngyn or Howard on his personal phone. He does have McGee's desk. So he tries that. After four rings, "Cybercrime, McGee's desk."

"Who am I speaking to?"

"Sturm. Who is this?"

"Director Vance. Is Howard or Ngyn down there?"

"Yes, sir." A quiet moment passes. "Ngyn here."

"Ngyn, this is Director Vance, can you meet me in the evidence lock up in twenty-five minutes?"

"Uh… Sure…"

"Good. See you then."

Vance remembers one other thing as he walks toward the Navy Yard, another early morning, one very much like this, when he walked in through the bullpen and found McGee working on David's computer.

He remembers being told that McGee was making sure everything was nice and secure.

He remembers a few months later, when David walked into his office, handed him a bloody knife, and said, "For your wife."

She left, and he never asked. He didn't have to.

He knows that Gibbs' whole team handled the wet work.

He's sure McGee's the one who did the actual tracking.

And he knows, absolutely, that he owes McGee, all of them really, but right now he can repay one of them.

And he will.

The frustrating thing is that, even with Burley on it, and Vance knows Burley will hold this case and work it until he's out of case to work, is that John's secretary will fall on a grenade for him. And that the one thing they'll never know is if he was specifically ordered to make the call, or if John expressed displeasure and his secretary handled it, knowing, without being told, what his Boss wanted.

He thinks the play that Clayt is thinking of works like this. Once John no longer has the President's protection, Clayton will make a fuss, a private fuss, to John, one that will make it exceptionally clear that he will blast John's career and destroy his reputation if he does not step down immediately.
He doesn't know John McGee, but you don't get to be an Admiral unless you live and die for the Navy, so the embarrassment factor on having his name dragged through the mud, shaky case or not, should provide enough traction to get John out of his stars.

Leon thinks about that for a few minutes.

Then he thinks about what would have happened to McGee if Clayton hadn't gotten suspicious and decided to keep eyes on him.

Resigning is not good enough. It's a start. It has to happen because being forced to resign will, if John McGee is even half of the man he thinks he is, hurt like an amputation. But it's not nearly enough.

And he's got an idea of where enough begins.

Vance knows, on an intellectual level, that McGee'd revoked the dress code. But it'd been a while since he's been down in Cybercrime, so he was rather surprised to see this… girl… woman… he looks closer, she's a real adult, just small and dressing young, in jeans, a t-shirt, and oversized Converse All-Stars standing in front of the evidence lock up looking nervous.


He walks through the lock up, keying in his numbers, and goes to the back where the weapons they have confiscated are kept until they are destroyed. It takes him a moment, but he finds what he is looking for.

HTR 2000. Sniper rifle. Wanna-be Marine sniper who decided to show the world what he could do. Case pre-dates Vance as Director. Scheduled for destruction in three weeks. The last appeal had been exhausted in March. This gun is done.

For what he needs, it'll do.

"Agent Ngyn, I want everything regarding this gun destroyed. All records of ballistics, every case it was involved in, the fact that this gun ever existed needs to vanish."


"Everything. Dr. Palmer tells me McGee thinks highly of your skills. I need this gun to vanish. I need the fact that you and I met down here, that I'm taking this gun out of here, all of it needs to evaporate. Can you do this?"

She's staring at him, very wide-eyed. "Yes, sir."

"Good. Up you go to my office. Use my computer." He quickly writes down his passwords. "Take care of it."

"Yes, sir. Sir?"


"Why is Doctor Palmer recommending me on McGee's behalf? McGee's okay, right?"

"Yes, Ngyn." He smiles kindly. "He's fine. You know 'he's at a conference?'"


"He's war gaming. Top secret. Right now, he and everyone on his ship is locked down for radio silence."


"Got an undercover op that just went hot and needs a clean gun, normally he does things like that, so I had to find out who he'd send in if he couldn't do it for me himself, and I figured that if anyone would know, it's Palmer."

"Huh. Okay. I'll get on it."

"Thank you."

It's slightly before 03:00 eastern time when Vance, with a rifle, opens Gibbs' door.

He almost breaks his nose when the door doesn't actually open as he steps forward.

So he knocks, wondering when on earth Gibbs got a lock and why.

Less than a minute later the dog, who's name he couldn't remember, had bounded down the steps and is barking vigorously at him. Suddenly the lock makes a lot of sense. He's awfully glad he didn't just walk into that. Three minutes later a sleepy, disheveled, and upside down looking Jethro ambles down the steps in a pair of shorts and Marines T-shirt.


Gibbs sits up, rubbing his eyes. One shift from working Gibbs to retired Gibbs is that he actually sleeps when he sleeps now. Before some little part of his mind was always a few degrees awake, ready to leap into action.

He hears another knock on his door. Great.

Abbi rolls over, looking at him, little bit of curious in her eyes. He waves it off. "Go back to sleep. Probably Fornell. He crashes here when he's got a case he doesn't want to take home."

She nods, looking mostly asleep too, and he gets up slowly, heads to his dresser, finds some shorts and a t-shirt and, still pulling the shirt over his head, wanders down the steps.

"Mona, hush up."

One last bark, and she bounds up the steps to him, thumping on down with him as he goes to the door.

Through the leaded glass in his door, he can't see who's there, but with each step, he's feeling a little more awake, and as sleep clears from his mind, that little voice that's always been able to sense danger starts to scream.

For a second, he can't place it, there's just a sense of blind panic.

Then he opens the door and sees Leon standing there, holding a rifle case.

Gibbs feels his knees go week. One second he's standing up, the next he's on the ground. Leon kneeling next to him, case forgotten for a second. It takes a good thirty seconds before he can pull his voice together enough to ask, "When did it happen?"

"Oh." And Vance, who is fully in revenge and justice mode, snaps out of that, realizing how bad this would look to Jethro. "No. No. Jethro. No. He's alive. Tim'll be fine, eventually."

From there, everything goes cold. He stands up slowly, taking the rifle case into his living room. "What happened?"

Vance explains, and then he explains some more, and then he pats the case. "And if we can't get a case against him, there's this."

Gibbs nods slowly, and he opens the case, looks at the contents, nods, and heads up the stairs.

While he does that, Vance calls Karen. She's less than thrilled to be woken up at 03:45 with a request to get the Lear Jet up and running and ready to go to Alameda, but she doesn't ask questions. She knows if he's asking for the fastest transport the Navy has for civilians in the middle of the night, it's important.

"When will you be back in the office?"

"Tomorrow, I hope."

He calls Lara, telling her what's going on, why he's not in bed, why he's not going to be home for a while, hopefully tonight, but probably late. She understands.

By the time he's done, Gibbs is down, he's got a duffle packed. It's not very full. He stuffs the rifle case into it, too. Now it's full. He takes a moment and gets a second bag packed, stuffing two bowls, dog food, and some rawhide chews into it.

"Abby next, right?" Leon asks.

Gibbs nods. Then Palmers', someone has to take Kelly and Mona in.

This wasn't supposed to happen. That was the whole point of Cybercrime! Gibbs and Vance weren't supposed to be in her home at 04:23 with bad news. He could have stayed a cop if this…

She's barely awake, pregnancy tired clinging to her, trying to drag her back to warm dreams where everything is fine, battling the surge of adrenaline that goes with waking up, finding Gibbs in her room, Vance hovering at the door to her bedroom, looking ready to kill someone.

She's crying, sobbing, before she can even put together what's going on, really.

But she knows, in her gut, she feels it. They wouldn't be here if everything was all right.

Gibbs has got his arms around her, rocking her, gently, saying… something, but she can't get the words, she's too trapped in tired/pain/hormones/terror bawling.

"Abbs… Come on baby, pull out of it. Abby… he's alive." Gibbs has said that about three times now, but it's not breaking through the immediate horror of him at her door in the middle of the night, Leon behind him. "Come on, Abbs, you've got to pull it together, hear what I'm saying, baby, he's alive. He's alive, and we've got a jet waiting for us so we can get to him. We've got to get Kelly all packed up and over to Jimmy and Breena so we can get to him. Come on…"

Eventually 'he's alive' filters through. It'd be almost comical the way she jerks when it finally hits, but this is real, and someone you care about's abject, soul-deep horror isn't funny.

She sniffs, wipes her nose. "Alive?"

"Yeah, Abbs, he's alive. He's hurt. But he's alive. And we've got to get to him."

She nods and begins to get up out of bed, grabbing her robe. "I'll get dressed. Can you…" her voice is rough, and it cracks, but she keeps talking, "get a bag packed for Kelly."

"Yeah. Want me to call Breena, too, let her know she's got some visitors coming soon?"

"Yeah. That's… Yeah. He's alive?" There's desperate terror in her voice, and Gibbs suddenly gets that the last time someone showed up in the middle of the night at her home and told her someone was alive but hurt, it was her parents, and her mom was already dead, and her father only had hours left.

Gibbs nods, holding her tight, kissing her forehead. "He's alive. Vance says that as of 04:10 he was stable to travel and they were med-evacing him to Alameda."

"How badly hurt?"

"Vance has more details than I do. Get dressed, get packed, stuff for Tim, pajamas and clean clothes, and he can fill you in when we go to Jimmy and Breena's."

That gets her moving. Every minute talking is a minute they aren't getting closer to Tim.

The second time a phone rings in the middle of the night, Jimmy's awake, and scared. It's Breena's phone, but she's still pretty groggy, so he grabs it.

"No bullshit this time, what happened?"

Gibbs wasn't expecting that, but he answers, "Tim's hurt, we're going to California, can Mona and Kelly stay with you? Don't know how long it'll be."

"Hurt? Hurt how?"

"John had his men try to beat him to death."

Jimmy goes cold at that. "Fuck. Okay, no more talking to me. I'll pick up the details when we're on the plane. Get the girls here as fast as you can."

"Thanks Jimmy. Vance has more details than I do, he'll call when we're in the air."

"Okay." He hangs up.

"Was that my phone?" Breena blinks a few times and sees that Jimmy's so pissed he's shaking. "What happened?"

He's jumped up and is packing a bag. "Can you take a few days on your own with an extra kid and Mona?"

"Jimmy, you're scaring me."

"Tim got on that fucking ship, and his dad tried to have him killed. All I know right now is that he's alive and Gibbs and Abby and Vance are heading to California, and if you can handle the kids, I'm going with them."

"Okay. Mona and Kelly are coming here?"


"I will handle it. Ducky and Penny'll help."

"Yeah, they will."

Breena gets up, and wraps Jimmy in a hug. "Okay, you get a shower, and eat. You've just packed nine pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two left shoes, no shirts, and no underwear. I'll get you set to go. You get calmed down because Abby's going to need calm people around her, got it?"

Jimmy swallows, takes a very deep breath, lets it out, shakily, and nods. "I've got it."

She kisses him, holding onto him, tight.

"I don't even know how hurt he is." Jimmy's somewhere between rage and about to cry. "It's got to be bad because he's not talking to us, though."

She nods, holding him close, cradling the back of his head, kissing him. "We'll find out, and you'll get there, and you'll be his doctor, making sure they treat him right and he comes home to us."

"Yeah." He wipes his eyes, takes another deep breath, and heads for the shower.

It's a quiet handover. Kelly sleeps through the whole thing, and no one is surprised to see Jimmy's up, packed, and ready to go. Mona's confused because she doesn't see Molly, and visits to this house always involve Molly, so there's some barking, but Breena swings into Bad Ass Mommy Mode (which is identical to Alpha Bitch mode) and has her calmed down and toeing the line in a matter of seconds.

She kisses and hugs Jimmy and Abby as they head off. "You bring our boy back."

They both nod, ready to go.

"I'll call Ducky and Tony when it's really morning. Let me know how he is as soon as you do."

More nodding, more hugs, more kisses, and they go.

Tim wakes in a panic, everything hurts, there's this weird whupping noise, and he has no idea where he is, how he got there, or why. On top of that, he finds he can't move.

Fortunately, before he gets the chance to even start yelling a face hovers into view, one he doesn't know.

"He's awake, sir."

Jarvis comes into view.

"You didn't want to stay on your dad's ship, so as soon as you were stable enough to move they got you on a medevac flight. We're en route to Alameda."

"Okay." That helps with some of the panic, and the whupping noise suddenly makes sense, he's got to be on a chopper.

The first face, probably some sort of medic comes back into view. "Are you in pain?"

"What the fuck do you think? I'm enjoying this?" Tim's eyes go wide as that comes out. He'd been thinking it, but apparently the pain meds he's already on have shot the filter between his brain and mouth to shit.

"Scale of one to ten, how bad is it?"

"Eight? I'm conscious, and I don't want to be."

"Okay. More pain medication coming up."

He can half-see out of his peripheral vision someone else messing with his IV. Then the medic comes back into view. "Do you know why you're here?"

"Sort of." He remembers fighting. He hurts all over, so he's got to be hurt bad. But he doesn't know how hurt he is.

Seems like Jarvis got that. "You remember the fight?"

"Images. Details are fuzzy."

"Do you remember after?"

"Not really." The image of his arm sprang to mind. "Oh God…" Fortunately the Medic is with it enough to figure out what that cue meant and gets the backboard he's strapped to tipped to the side, before he started to retch. No food in his system so it's just dry heaves. "My arm!" Tim manages to gasp when he stops retching. He remembers how it looked when the fight was over, but he's strapped down so he can't see it now, and he can't feel it, either.

"All bandaged up for travel. There's a team of orthopedic surgeons who are waiting for you in Alameda. The Stennis has a combat ready medical suite, and they say you should get full use of it back when it's healed up," Jarvis says.

"Can't feel it." There's a lot of panic in his voice as he says, "Everything hurts, but I can't feel my arm."

"You're on pain medication for your whole body, and a nerve block on your arm. You can't feel or move it." The Medic replies. That calms Tim down, he can't see his arm, but apparently it's still attached to him. "They assessed you in the infirmary. You have a concussion, a broken nose, chipped tooth, broken arm, and broken foot."

He'd nod if he could, but he can't. "Neck damage?"

"No, but we're not taking any chances for the trip. Your neck is braced and you're on a backboard. Once you get out of surgery you'll be able to move you head and neck again."


The Medic says a few other things, but by that point the pain medication is kicking back in again, and Tim checks out.

A Lear jet is the fastest transport NCIS has to offer for four people traveling together. There are lots of nifty goodies on board, the flight crew is beyond obsequious. On any other occasion, this would be a lovely trip.

But it's not, because anything other than Star-Trek style transporters is too damn slow. (And honestly, even if they could be beamed to California, it'd still be too slow.)

Gibbs is sitting next to Abby, keeping an arm around her. Right now she's praying, and from the looks of it, Gibbs is, too.

Jimmy's got Tim's medical records up on his computer. The rough version they filled out aboard the Stennis. He finishes reading, carefully shuts his computer, stands up, and kicks his seat, hard, three times.

Gibbs, Abby, and Vance stare at him as he does it. When he gets done he rubs his eyes, then stalks over to the bar, finds the strongest alcohol they've got (Vodka) pours three shots of it, and hands one to Gibbs, one to Vance, and shoots his back.

He picks up his computer, sits next to Abby, and says. "I'd have poured one for you, but I figured you wouldn't want it." She nods, face a mask of fear. Vance looks curious about that, but no one says anything, so he puts two and two together and decides Abby's pregnant again.

Jimmy opens his computer and begins to go over the details with them.

They're racing the sunrise, and winning. Perpetual dark of near dawn envelops the jet as it continues westward.

It's a bit after 06:00, by Vance's watch (Eastern time, he's not sure what local time is, or for that matter where they are) when they get confirmation that Tim's in Alameda, in surgery, and that they're in the process of putting his arm back together.

He gets up and asks the pilot how far out they are, and he says they're about an hour from starting the descent.

His mouth tastes really bad. That's the first thing that hits Tim as he starts to inch toward awake. His mouth tastes bad and is really, excruciatingly, dry.

He wants a drink.

A lot of drinks.

Hurting. That comes up next. Not as bad as last time, but everything, including his right arm, aches. Must be out of surgery.

There's a weird tugging sensation on his hair, and that finally gets him to open his eyes.

"Oh, you're awake. Hi. I'm Amelia Clark, one of the post-op nurses," says a woman in scrubs who's hovering over him.


"Not yet. You'll just throw it up. I can give you a damp sponge to suck on."

"Okay." That weird sensation is in his hair, and he hears clicking. Tim gingerly turns his head. Oh. I'm being processed.

Jarvis is standing in the corner of the room. There are two other people, in scrubs, so nurses maybe. One of them is taking pictures of him. He still can't see most of himself, but the photographer is getting shots of his left foot and leg, which are awfully black and blue.

He thinks the medic on the trip said something about a broken foot. "Is that the broken foot?"

"Yes." The nurse who is photographing him replies. "Amelia has a walking cast we're going to get you set for in a moment. Just have to get the shots."

He nods, and then feels more tugging on his hair. "There's DNA from three of four of them on my clothing. Have you scraped my nails?"

"Yes." The nurse who is combing through his hair answers.

"Are they in custody?" Tim asks Jarvis.

"Everyone but Mane. The four you were fighting are all being kept apart from each other."


"Vance is calling in Agent Burley to handle the case. Do you know him?"

Tim's a bit surprised and dismayed that it's not Tony handling the case, but he knows Stan, he'll do a good job.

"Yeah, I do. He's a good guy. Gibbs' first Probie."

Jarvis doesn't seem to know what that means, and Tim isn't feeling like explaining.

The nurse who is combing out his hair glances to Jarvis, and then says quietly, "Do you need a rape kit?"

"No." He wonders exactly how badly thrashed he looks if she'd ask that, and then it hits him that his leg is bare, he tries to touch his leg, see if he's got his shorts on, but comes to the conclusion that's not going to happen. His right arm isn't going anywhere, and the IV is in his left. He can't tell, but he's guessing he's naked under the sheets, and may have come in that way.

The photographer nurse steps to the side, lifting the blanket off of his other leg, taking photos. Apparently that leg's all bruised up, but nothing's broken. Amelia, the only one he's got a name for, carefully eases a cast under his right foot and ankle and begins to strap him into it.

"You'll get written instructions, too, but you can get this wet and walk on it. In six weeks, when you're home, they'll re-xray make sure everything is properly healed, and if it is, you'll be out of this." She then tucks his leg under the blanket as the photographer finishes with his leg.

He knows what comes next, but Amelia's glancing at Jarvis, silently asking if he wants Jarvis out of the room. "He can stay. Just take the blanket off and do them all at once, okay?"

The photographer strips him down, and begins shooting. He's bruised all over, and it does look like at least one of them got him in the balls. (Good thing there's no food in his stomach, just seeing the swelling and bruising is making him nauseous again.) That might also explain part of why the nurse wondered if he needed a rape kit.

(It's also making him wonder how much pain medication he's on. Everything right now aches, but… Well, he's taken a shot to the balls before, a much less severe one, and that hurt about ten times more than he does now.)

He can't see much of his chest, it's wrapped in tight bandages. But Amelia notices him looking. "Three cracked ribs. They were already wrapped when you got here, and we're not unwrapping you. Open your mouth."

She pops something that looks like a lollipop in his mouth. It's wet, which is good, and god-awful sour. He'd spit it out if it wasn't for the fact that his mouth is so damn dry.

She nods, apparently that's a common reaction to whatever this thing is.

"Keeps you from trying to swallow the liquid. Looks like Barb is done with the photos." She begins to pull the blanket back over him.

"Back, gotta get my back."

"Can't. Your arm is in traction for the next two days."

Right, the arm. He finally turns his head to look at it and… He can't really see it. There's this wodge of bandages, and some sort of pulley system attached to the tips of his fingers, and a black vinyl thing that looks a bit like his walking cast for his leg, and some other soft foam thing keeping his arm elevated, and another strap across his chest so that it can't flop around and…

"Am I ever going to move it again?"

The nurse waves that away. "Of course. Hon, you're in a trauma ward for the US Navy. Please, that's barely a flesh wound by our standards. Last week we put an arm that was clean torn off back on a Sargent. You're gonna be fine."

That's reassuring.

"We're pretty much all done here. How about you get a nap, and when you wake up, your family'll be here."

That also takes him by surprise, somehow the idea that they'd be on the way didn't hit him.

"Vance tells me they landed a few minutes ago. Still have an hour's drive to get here, but they'll be here soon," Jarvis say.

Tim nods slightly, closes his eyes, and finds that falling asleep, even aching from head to toes, isn't that tricky when you've got this much pain medication in your system.

It's a long hallway. A really long hallway. They come in from one end and find Jarvis, he leads them toward Tim, at the other end.

Solid door, they can't see in, and it's closed, so they don't know what's on the other side.

Abby hugs Gibbs and Jimmy, and then says, "I'll… I need to… Alone."

"Okay. We'll wait, right out here," Jimmy says. Gibbs just gives her another hug.

Her first thought upon entering the room, stupid, silly thought, she sat next to Jimmy as he read the different files, she knew, intellectually, how bad he was, but it didn't stop her from almost turning right around, walking out and saying, "This is the wrong room. That's not Tim."

His face is so battered and swollen and bruised, she couldn't have identified him by looking at it.

They cut his shirt off and didn't put a gown over him, so she can see the tattoo on his delt, marred, swollen, black ink merging into black, red, blue, purple bruises, and knows it has to be him.

She makes herself look, makes herself see, analyze, and plan, because she cannot just throw herself on the bed, weeping, wrapping around him.

His face is black, some spots are purple or green, one tiny patch along his right ear is still skin-colored. There's a brace on his nose. His lips are split, swollen, bruised.

There are choke marks on his throat. His collarbones are black and blue, both shoulders covered in greenish-yellow-purple. Upper chest doesn't look too bad, comparatively. Little patches of skin colored skin. Middle and lower chest are wrapped up tight in some sort of bandage.

His left hand is black-purple-green, knuckles bandaged. Left elbow in similar shape. There's an IV leading to the back of his left hand, which she's praying is sending powerful pain medication into him.

His right hand and wrist are in traction, his right shoulder is propped up, and strapped to the bed to keep it immobile. There's some sort of black vinyl thing, a cast of some sort, covering from his armpit to mid-forearm, and another device cradling his wrist. Each finger is braced, and wrapped in bandages, with a web of lines pulling on his hand, keeping the tension on it.

She can feel the tears pouring down her face. She can't hold him. She can't lie down next to him, rest her head on his chest and just soak up him being alive. She's crying, trying to be quiet, because she doesn't want to wake him up, though she's fairly sure they drugged him enough that he won't wake for anything short of the Apocalypse.

Abby spends a few minutes sitting there, next to him, fingers on his left wrist, stroking very gently over unbruised skin. For a moment she wonders where the cuff went. He's got his wedding ring, but beyond that appears to be naked under the blankets.

Her fingers find his pulse, feeling it, strong and steady. She spends a few moments thanking God that he's still alive.

There's another spot on his left shoulder, about the size of her palm. She lays a kiss to that little patch of un-hurt Tim, about to get up and let Jimmy and Gibbs in, and hears, voice very rough, "I must look like complete shit if you won't kiss my lips."

She snaps up, hand reaching to touch his cheek and then pulling back.

He sees her face, no makeup, red and puffy from tears. Sees her almost touch, but not quite.

She swallows hard. "I didn't think you'd wake up."

"Not sure if I am. I'm half-sure this is a dream."

She kisses his leg again. "I'm here. Jimmy and Gibbs and Vance are outside. Once you can travel, we're going to take you home."


She shakes her head. "No."



"What's the day after that?"

"Monday. Maybe. We just got here, haven't gotten to talk to anyone, yet. Whenever they can unhook your arm, then you get to go home."

"Okay. Why are you kissing my shoulder?"

She wipes away her tears and tries to smile. "No bruises. I couldn't stand to do anything that might hurt you more."

His tongue slips over his lip, mapping the splits and the puffy, swollen flesh around them. She leans in and kisses the tip of his tongue.

"Do you have a mirror?"

She does but she says, "No," anyway. He doesn't need to see his face today.

He knows that she has a compact that lives in her purse and has a mirror on it, so she's lying to him. "Is it really that bad?"

She nods, more tears in her eyes.

"Okay. I don't need to see."

"Not until the swelling goes down some."


She kisses that bit of arm again. "I love you, Tim. Love you so much."

"Even ugly?" He tries to smile and that hurts, too, he can feel the skin of his lip separating again, so he stops.

"Tim!" She sniffles.

"I told you I'd fight to the last breath to come home to you."

"You did." Another sniff. "I love you so much, so much. Gibbs and Vance came at four in the morning and…" She's crying again.

"I'm alive, baby." His left arm seems free, so he very tentatively reaches up to stroke her face. That hurts bad. He doesn't know what's wrong with that arm, but it's not happy. However, her cheek in his palm, lips kissing him matters more than the hurt. He tries a very small smile. "I'm alive."

"I know. I do. Now." She wipes her eyes again. "Jimmy and Gibbs are going to want to see you. You want them to come in?"

"Little bit, feeling tired again."

"Okay, little bit, then you sleep some more."

They're waiting right outside the door, but by the time Gibbs and Jimmy get into Tim's room, he's asleep again.

Gibbs looks at Tim, lying there, just… broken.

He very gently ruffles his hair, kisses the top of his head, sees Tim wince in his sleep, and pulls his hand back.

He looks over at Abby, realizes that the little bit of his shoulder that she's touching has to be the only part that's not hurt and swallows hard, staring at the ceiling. He blinks once, twice, and once more, forcing himself under control. He can't break down, not in front of Abby, not until he's on his own.

So, if he can't fall into a mess, he can get mad.

He kisses the top of Abby's head, squeezes her shoulders, and heads into the hallway, where Vance is, again.

Vance didn't go in. This is a quiet, intimate, family moment, and he's not going to crash it. At the same time, though, he did look in and felt every ounce of blood in his body boil as he looks at McGee.

Vance is a cop. He's been at NCIS thirty-five years. He has seen literally thousands of dead people, and a whole lot of them looked way better than Tim McGee does right now.

Gibbs comes out a few seconds later. "I want on that ship."


He's giving Leon the help me or get out of my way look. "Leon."

"No. Agent Burley is heading there, with his team. The ship is heading back to port, and when they land, you can talk to him, but you will not get within sight of Admiral McGee. We will handle this properly until we cannot handle it properly anymore." There's so much ice in Vance's voice that it gets through to Jethro. He actually listens.

"Jethro, what do you know about John McGee?"

There are a lot of things he could say, but most of them are private, for Tim and the family and that's it, so he says, "He's the man who didn't call to see if his son was alive or dead after the Deering bombing."

Vance nods. He hadn't known that, but isn't surprised.

"Here's what I know about you: if I let you on that ship, you'll kill him. Here's what I know about me: Dying by your hands will not be nearly as slow or painful as what I want to happen to him will be. Here's what I know about him: He loves his rank, his ship, and his job, more than anything on earth, so we will rob him of it. Hell is whatever hurts worst, Jethro, and we will make him hurt. That rifle I gave you, use it, after he's been stripped of his rank and dishonorably discharged."

And Gibbs has to admit, that's something he can wait for.


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