Friday, January 9, 2015

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 397: This Is My Rifle

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

Chapter 397: This Is My Rifle

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…

HTR 2000 
HTR 2000. Smooth, black, deadly, nestled in gray foam and a milled steel case. This is not Gibbs'. It never has been. It never will be. This one is Jimmy's. Gibbs closes the case. He has never touched this weapon, and he never will. He has touched the case and so has Abbi, so right now he is very carefully cleaning it, wearing gloves.

Rule one on this rifle is no one in their family is touching it skin on steel.

There was a time, and it really wasn't all that long ago, that the idea of giving Jimmy any sort of loaded weapon would have literally never formed in Gibbs' mind. Jimmy was the guy you gave the gun to… Actually you never gave him the gun, he grabs it after everyone else who can shoot is dead. He would have been the absolute last line of defense, the guy who just sprays bullets all over the place, full well knowing he's going to get killed, but he does it so the women and kids have that much more time to run or hide.

He remembers, after Tony opened the plague envelope, and Jimmy showed up with the cell phones and the officer in charge of the munitions locker. He said they wouldn't trust him with the weapons, and Gibbs had said he wouldn't either.

He sighs. Twelve years is a long time and brings a lot of changes.

My rifle and I know that what counts in a war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit…

Somehow Gibbs thinks the Rifleman's Creed likely isn't the correct way to go about teaching Jimmy how to be a sniper.

After all, this isn't a nervous, wet behind the ears, green as green can be eighteen-year-old with fifty other eighteen-year-olds next to him. And, as Gibbs well knows, a sniper and a rifleman are not the same thing, at all.

This isn't war, either. Just a man. A man, and a job, and maybe a hint of justice, or a little peace.


Maybe it won't even be necessary.


Gibbs's heard the whispers about Jarvis. He's seen the man in action, the way he's willing to compartmentalize, his lack of caring for the people, tools, he uses.

And Gibbs knows that what Jarvis has done is bought himself time. A year, or six months, or… whatever. It's more important to keep Leon happy than it is to keep John happy, at least until the election, so Jarvis will sacrifice John for the sake of Leon. But he's set it so he won't act immediately, and should the scales shift, should John become more valuable, or Leon less, then Gibbs is highly skeptical of the likelihood of anything happening to John.

And, if, as he suspects, John's still walking around a year from now… How'd Jimmy put it? "He won't be."

We will hit…

That's it. That's the Sniper's Creed. Everything else gets stripped away. No matter what, we will hit. Set up days in advance, spend hours on your stomach, laying in your own piss if need be, perfectly still, perfectly invisible, waiting for that second where time stops and the world narrows down to a head or chest and the feel of the trigger under your finger.

No matter what, you can't miss. You can not take the shot. You can scrub the mission, go at it again later. You can set it up at a different angle or a different time, but you can't miss. If you miss, you basically never get a chance to shoot again.

There have been shots, long shots, difficult shots, ones where he had to slow everything down to the point where Gibbs felt the firing pin engage before he heard the shot. But he did it, because you never get to shoot twice.

Saleem was like that. He was in place before Tim and Tony even went off to get captured. He spent thirty hours on that ridge, waiting. Day, night, day, not moving, not shifting, just watching and waiting.

That was probably the hardest shot he ever took. Not because it was longest, not because it was technically the most difficult, but because he had to master himself. He couldn't be scanning around looking for Ziva, he couldn't move the scope to see if Tony was still talking or if Tim was moving.

One shot. We will hit. And he did. Because that's what a sniper does.

"Gloves and coveralls?" Jimmy asks as he pulls up next to Jethro's truck and sees what's next to the rifle case.

Gibbs nods. "None of us ever touches this. It's going in the boat house, under a bunch of scrap, and if anyone ever finds it there'll be no proof any of us even knew it was there."

Jimmy looks irked by that. "Everyone will know it belongs to one of us."

Gibbs glares at him. "Point is not to go to prison. Circumstantial evidence doesn't get convictions, and that's all they'll ever get."

"Okay. Was kind of hoping we'd get rid of this after, so if any of us touched it, it wouldn't be an issue."

Gibbs nods at that. "I was thinking about before. I've had my place ransacked, I know Tony and Ziva have, too. Don't want anyone finding anything. Don't want anyone able to put a rifle in your hands, ever."

Jimmy nods at that, too, pulling on the coveralls. "So, should we be out here?"

"Not for long. Just waiting for you to get your gloves on."

Two seconds he's got them snapped on, and Gibbs looks at the case. Jimmy picks it up, and they head toward the boat house.

"Lighter than I thought it'd be."

"It's not a hunting rifle."

"Not deer, at least."

Gibbs inclines his head. "Won't be too light by the time we're done. Gonna get Abby to modify the case. Set it with a thermite charge. Take the shot, hit, light the son of a bitch, and out of there."

Jimmy thinks about that. He's seen thermite burns on TV and Youtube; it's not subtle. "Won't smoke attract people to where I'm shooting from?"

Gibbs has his I'm trying to be patient look on his face. "It's a sniper shot, Jimmy. And it's not like you're going to be doing it from a mile away. There is going to be a very small number of places you could be shooting from, and any investigator who's got a laser pointer or a piece of string will figure it out as soon as he's got a medical report. Might as well make sure you can't be caught with the rifle, and it'll be too destroyed to be useful for anything else."

Jimmy nods. "Put the charge on a timer…"

That's better than lighting it by hand. "Give you a few minutes to get clear. Depending on where he is and how we do this, we'll make sure the first responders are busy elsewhere, and by the time they get to the scene, all they'll have is a scorched smell and ash."

Jimmy's looking a little worried. "How are you going to make sure they're busy?"

"Bomb threats? Reported fire? Something. Few calls all at once, get them all busy elsewhere."

"That'll screw anyone with a real emergency."

Gibbs shrugs. "We'll work out the kinks later. If we're lucky, he'll decide to go camping or for a sail on his own, or something away from everyone else."

"We're not that lucky."

Gibbs doesn't disagree with that.

They get into the boathouse, which is currently sans boat, but not sans piles of random stuff the previous owners hadn't bothered to get rid of. Among them, a workbench. Gibbs points, and Jimmy puts the case on it.

"Now what?"

"You open it."

"Oh, yeah, right." Jimmy flicks open the latches and pops the lid open. He stares at it for a moment, and Gibbs waits for it to hit, that this is a rifle, a weapon, designed primarily to kill people. He can't tell if Jimmy's really getting it or not, but he lightly touches it, first two fingers stroking over the barrel.

"What's first?"

"Gonna learn how to put it together, how to take it apart, how to clean it."

"Okay. Show me."

Gibbs shakes his head. "Learn how to do it by feel."

"Let me at least see it once. I need the images in my head so I can get it oriented right and then do it by feel."

Gibbs nods at that, pulling on his own gloves. Jimmy's pleased to see he brought his own, as well. He talks Jimmy through it, showing him how each piece fits together, how to slip and twist them apart. Jimmy takes it from Gibbs, fitting the pieces back together, watching himself do it, and then takes it apart again, and goes through it again beginning to end, watching.

From under the padding the rifle had been resting in Gibbs pulls out… Jimmy doesn't know what it is. Looks like a very large chunk of parachute.

"What is that?"

"Silk bag." Gibbs puts the rifle into it, pulling it, snug isn't the right word, the whole thing is very baggy, not snug at all, except for the drawstring at the top, where the sight is sticking out, which is tied, tight.

Jimmy raises an eyebrow. "Okay, and you've got one tied around the rifle because…"

"Because it's light, doesn't mess with air flow, covers mussel flare, thin and flexible enough you can feel everything through it, but the weave is tight enough that you can fire and not come up positive for gunshot residue."

"Oh." That sounds good.

"Yes, all of your training with this will be with the bag over it. You'll take it out to clean and load, but everything else will be through this."

"Why am I wearing gloves then?"

"Sight's out." And it is. That's the only part of the rifle sticking out.

"Got a ski mask in there, too?"

Gibbs nods, not in assent, he doesn't have a ski mask, but he's realizing that skin on the face is just as likely to leave DNA trace as skin on hands. "I'll get one."

"Won't training involve shooting, regularly?"

"Got a few of them. Burn the used ones when you're done."

Jimmy looks at the rifle, swathed in silk, in his hands. "Shooting?"

Gibbs shakes his head. "Not today. Not for a while. Only thing you're going to learn on this is how to hit with it. Everything else you'll train on a different gun."

Jimmy notices Gibbs has two more cases on the floor below the workbench. "Those are yours aren't they?"

Gibbs nods, picking up the top one, taking it and them to the dock.

"So, what are we doing?" Jimmy asks as the get to the end of the dock.

Gibbs sits down, feet hanging off the edge of the dock. "Waiting."

"All day?"

"Few hours at least."

Jimmy nods.

Gibbs unpacks his own rifle, lifts it, sights, and then points out a flower on the other bank. Probably five, six hundred feet away. Without a scope, Jimmy can just see a small pink dot. Without a scope, he's not sure if Gibbs can see it, period. Then he hears the sound of the shot, and that dot vanishes.

Gibbs starts disassembling his rifle. "That's the easy part. You can train a monkey to do that. But we only get one shot. Shoot and miss, and he'll never get into a place where you can shoot again. So, you've got to hit. You've got to be able to sit there, and wait for the right second. Might be sitting all day, just waiting. That's the hard part."

"What if you miss the right second? Wait too long."

"There's no such thing as too late. Not for an assassination. Not like this. As long as you don't shoot, you get to try again, later. Unless his heart gives out or someone else gets a hold of him first, we've got all the later on Earth. But if you shoot and miss, we're all screwed. So, we wait."

Jimmy sits and waits.

He doesn't particularly love just sitting on his ass doing nothing. If given the option of fun things to do on a Saturday, it's not on the list. And he's not sure if this is training so much as just proving that he can do it.

Either way, he's going to do it.

He looks at is as a mental discipline. Death yoga. Sniper pose. Hold, focus, breathe.

Two hours.

Gibbs is impressed. He had no idea that Jimmy could just sit, for two hours, doing nothing. He was expecting questions and fidgeting and motion and… And just stuff. He doesn't think he's even seen Ziva go still for this long. He knows she can do it, but he's never been in a position where she's had to. He's honestly not sure if Tim or Tony can, and he absolutely knows Abby can't.

But Jimmy did it.

He stands up and offers Jimmy a hand. "Could have done good things with you twenty years ago."

Jimmy takes his hand, stands, and begins to stretch out again. "I couldn't have done that twenty years ago."

"Nah, but I could have gotten you there."

Jimmy rolls his shoulders. "Weren't you already at NCIS twenty years ago?"

"Thirty years ago."

"I was eight."

Gibbs shakes his head and picks up his rifle. They head back into the boat house, where Gibbs deposits his rifle and gets the other case. Jimmy's looking at the weapon he removes from it with narrowed eyes. "That's not actually a rifle, is it?"

"Paintball rifle."


"You've never actually shot anything like this, right?" Gibbs asks, handing it over.

"You mean a paintball gun or a rifle?" Jimmy responds, feeling the paintball rifle in his hands. If he thought the sniper rifle was lighter than expected, this one is practically, okay, actually, a toy in comparison.


"Right. Just handguns with Tim."

"We're going to start with this. Getting used to aiming. Learn how to find a vantage and use it. How to read a target, get a feel for where to shoot."

"Why not with the real one?"

"Don't need bullets for that. You gotta learn to figure out where the target is going to be, and you've got to figure out how to find a place where you can be invisible."


They head back to the dock, this time with the paintball rifle, a ball of twine, and a basketball.

Their patch of waterfront property is almost five hundred feet long, and there's no one else nearby. A good place to do something you don't want anyone to see. Better yet if you want to teach someone how to shoot something small and slightly moving.

Gibbs has a basketball attached to three hundred feet of twine.

It's, for a beginner, a far shot.

And it's going to be a moving one.

He tosses the ball into the river, and ties the twine to dock. The ball gently floats out, caught in the current, heading downstream.

He hands Jimmy the rifle. "Look in the scope, figure out where it is, where it's going, and aim for where it's going to go."

Jimmy sets the scope to his eye, glad he wore contacts today, tracks the ball, following it for several seconds, getting an idea of how fast it's going, where it's going, and then aims for where it's going to be and pulls the trigger.

His paintball overshoots by less than two inches.

Gibbs nods, and Jimmy gets a little pat on the shoulder. For someone who's never done this before, that's a good shot.

"Again. You see where it is, find where it's going to be. Just like when you were learning how to track where Tim or Ziva was going to hit you."

Jimmy misses the second and third shots, too. He's close, but not quite on.

Fourth shot, the ball hit the end of its tether, unable to go farther, and he hits that one.

"Were you tracking ahead, or did you see it was out of string?"

"Out of string." Jimmy answers as Gibbs begins pulling back the ball. "Easier to hit with this than a gun." And it is. He didn't do this well with a hand gun and a target twenty feet away the first time he went shooting with Tim.

Gibbs nods at that, too. There's a reason why they aren't starting with a stationary object, you really can train a monkey to shoot correctly with a rifle this well designed if whatever you're shooting at is staying still.

He gets the ball back up on the dock, and then tosses it out again.

"The skill is finding where your target is going to be. Most of the time people don't just sit around and wait for you to shoot them. They move. They pace and walk and shift and look around. You get into the target's head, figure out where it's going, and you shoot there."

Jimmy's shuts his eyes for a second, centers, and then sits down, takes his shoes off, and wades into the river.

He shoots again, able to feel the water, and this time, he doesn't miss.

He does, however, reveal a flaw in Gibbs' training plan, namely hitting the ball a second time smacked it with enough force the string snapped or detached, or something, and it began rapidly bobbing its way down the river.

"Have at it," Gibbs says as the basketball is heading for the Atlantic.

Jimmy shoots quickly, five more times, but he's not centered or feeling what's happening or where the ball is going to go, so he misses all of them.

With the basketball rapidly heading out of sight, it's time for new targets. Gibbs isn't quite willing to offer up his own skin until Jimmy's a bit better at the aiming thing.

Well, they're on the water, there are trees all over the place, and there's something of a breeze…

"Oak tree, hundred feet down river, see if you can get a leaf."

Jimmy just stares at Gibbs for a moment, then he licks his lips and says, dryly, "I'm not the ex-Boy Scout. Best I can do is look down stream and say, 'Yep, those are trees.'" Jimmy hands over the paintball gun and heads back into the boat house.

He's back a minute later with a life jacket.

"This on the other hand…" Gibbs starts tying more string to it, and tosses it out.

Jimmy starts each shot with his eyes closed. He listens for the splash, then looks, checking with naked eyes first. Through the sight comes next. It feels odd to have it hundreds of feet away and then right in front of his eyes, but it's only odd for a second. He's done this with a microscope over and over.

He experiments some. With the scope you keep both eyes open and allow your vision to overlay the image you need with what's in front of you. That doesn't seem to help much. But he'll keep experimenting, after all, having both eyes open improves depth perception.

Being in the water helps. He's got a much more concrete feel for how the life vest is going to move with the water swirling around his feet and knees. The current is faster, smoother where the vest is, but having the eddies of the edges helps him.

Gibbs has said that when he's shooting for real, he'll take wind markers, because that will matter more for where the bullet goes, but for right now, using the water is a fine way to start.

Hell, maybe if he's lucky, John'll feel like getting a swim.

That thought in mind, Jimmy nails the life vest a third time.

Gibbs calls time as it's getting onto lunch. Partially because it's a good plan to have breaks in place. Partially because Ducky, Penny, Tony, and Ziva are all coming at lunchtime to work on the house some more.

They pack up the paint gun, and Jimmy strips off the wet coveralls and puts his shoes and socks back on, neither of them talking about what they just did.

"Practice when and as you can. Next week, we'll get some balloons and tie them onto the trees. Good way to track how something moves when it's not steady like the current."

Jimmy nods at that.

As they're walking back toward the house, Gibbs asks, "You okay?"

Jimmy shrugs a bit. "Think so."

"If you're not… You don't have to do this."

Jimmy stares at Gibbs, eyes cold and steady. "I want to." He smiles a little, but it's not a happy gesture.

"You want to for you, or to keep me from doing something stupid?"

"Both." Jimmy's not sure how to say, or get into, or even really think about, for that matter, what Tim is to and for him. He doesn't really have words. Best friend… sounds like something a fifteen-year-old girl says about another fifteen-year-old girl who'll be gone from her life by the time she gets to twenty. Tim's the man he trust to raise his children and take care of his wife if something happens to him and he can't do it, but that's only part of it. He's the person, next to Breena, that Jimmy most enjoys spending time with, but that's only part of it, too. Brother, friend, whatever, Jimmy doesn't have a good word for it, but he feels it in his guts.

He can see the way Gibbs is watching him, and he knows Gibbs gets it.

Jimmy nods quickly and adds, "And for Tim, and Abby, and… because I can. Because I've got the best shot of getting away clean. Because…" Jimmy's staring into the distance, and shakes his head. "Because I would have set myself on fire if it meant I got a life with my son, and he threw his away." He shakes his head again. "Lots of reasons. But I know I can back out. I know I don't have to do it. But late at night, especially in the hospital, when Abby and Tim were sleeping, I was hoping that Jarvis would back out or fuck it up, because I want John dead and I want to do it myself." Jimmy stares at Gibbs for another second. "Only one man I'm willing to hand that rifle to, and it's Tim. He wants it for himself, and I'll bow out, otherwise…"

Gibbs nods. He understands.


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