McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 400: Take Aim
Jimmy is not in any way surprised to see Gibbs' truck sitting in Tim's driveway when he pulls in the next morning. They hadn't called each other or planned it out, but apparently he and Gibbs are both on the same track. Namely the check in and make sure no wires are crossed track.
He is, however, as he walks past the truck into Tim and Abby's home, a bit surprised to see three Mylar Happy Birthday balloons floating in the cab.
He guesses they're his next target.
'Practice when you can' means that Jimmy was able to do not much of anything at all involving any sort of weapon, whatsoever.
He wasn't kidding when he mentioned he wasn't going to have a lot of time for working on the house this summer because he's got Continuing Education Units he's got to get done before the end of the year. (Two of four classes just got bumped back to the fall because he was in California instead of attending them.) Monday night meant the first of his historical pathology seminars. (Okay, yeah, it's not vitally useful in terms of building skills, but it is interesting, and he's got the time for it, and, and this was a big deciding factor, only two of the seminars required him to actually go to a lecture, and the exam is open book pass/fail.)
So, school's eating up time.
Then work's eating up time. Eating up his usual time, and on top of that, he's got backlog from when he was out. Ducky handled Autopsy while he was out, like the pro he is, but once he got back, Jimmy still had to double check everything, make sure nothing got missed, and then, even with the computer spitting out the paperwork (which made this vastly faster, otherwise he'd be in the office filling out forms until July) he still had to initial and sign everything.
Plus a week away meant he wanted to spend as much time with Breena and his girls as he could get. He doesn't regret or begrudge the time he was in California… At least, not for Tim or Abby or Gibbs, for them he was fine with being there. Wasting a week of his life because John McGee's a fucking bastard who wouldn't know a good son if one walked up and kicked him in the nuts (which Jimmy would entirely approve of happening) is a different story all together. But he did miss Breena, and anything that reminds him of how fragile life and joy are makes him want to cling to her.
Which means, that while he did go through taking the rifle apart and putting it back together in his head several times, he didn't do any actual, hands on work with the paintball rifle.
Jimmy opens the door quietly, and doesn't hear anything. Or see anything for that matter. He checks Tim's office as he heads through the downstairs, but he's not napping on his futon in there, or crashed out on the sofa, which means everyone is upstairs, or in the backyard.
He heads to the kitchen and looks out through the sliding glass door, everyone's on the porch, having breakfast from the look of it. Jimmy can smell coffee perking away, so he makes a detour to fix himself a cup. A quick sip at half way full to make sure it's Tim's blend and not Gibbs' lets him know how much to pour. It's Tim's, so he fills the cup three quarters full, and tops it off with milk. Then he heads out.
No one's surprised to see him as he steps out saying, "So, we're lying to Grandma?"
"Don't ever let her hear you call her that," Tim says.
Jimmy sits down at the patio table, next to Abby, who has Kelly in her lap. Both of them get their cheeks kissed. "Yeah, because Grandma's the tricky bit."
Tim rolls his eyes at that. "Technically I am not lying and neither are you two. I am practicing mental reservation, and, assuming you're not stupid, you just won't say anything. Then, if plan A and B both fail, and The Admiral drops over dead from a bullet wound, Grandma will know that I asked you not to do anything, and she'll know that Gibbs was in the room with her when it happened, and she'll know that I'm not a sniper, and she'll know that John has a lot of enemies from his drone work, and she'll be able to pretend one of them took care of him."
Jimmy nods, curtly. He's not upset about how this is working out, but he does want to make sure everything's all in place. He doesn't want to get burned on some loose detail.
"What's the mental reservation?"
"I said I wanted to handle it. And I do. And right now, trusting you to take care of it is how I want to handle it."
Jimmy's not sure what he feels at those words, but it's something proud and intense. He smiles at Tim, and Tim smiles back.
"And look, I may change my mind, but you're still learning, so we've got time, right?"
Jimmy nods and Gibbs does, too. "We've got a lot of ground to cover. Sniper school was ten weeks for Basic and another twelve for Advanced and all we did was hide, stalk, shoot, work with our rifles, and learn how to put the shot where we wanted it."
"So, I don't have to decide for real for a while. I meant it, I want Stan to find something on him. That'd be… I want that." Tim says with a desperate smile. "But… If it doesn't happen. If it can't… There's still the deal with Jarvis, probably, in play. And in a year or two, if that hasn't happened… I don't know. You'll be ready to act. Or maybe I'll do it myself, frame him with kiddie porn or something…" Tim shakes his head. That doesn't feel right. "I want him disgraced, and I want him to do hard time, but I want it to be for something he did. I want who he really is to come out and be seen by everyone. If I can't get that, dead's a good second place." Tim takes a sip of his coffee. "But if dead's the answer…" He looks at Gibbs and Jimmy, both of whom have buried children, and he doesn't need to say any more than that, lying to Grandma, making it that little bit easier, they're on board for that.
After a minute, Jimmy says, "So, why doesn't she like Grandma?"
"Same reason she didn't go by Mrs. McGee or Mrs. Mallard. She wants to be known by the person she is and the things she's accomplished, not the relationships or men in her life."
Jimmy thinks about that for a minute, he can understand that. Then he looks at Abby. "Mrs. McGee doesn't bug you at all, does it?"
"No! I like it. But I had a choice about it. When Penny got married people, everyone started calling her Mrs. Nelson McGee. Penny Langston literally vanished. That didn't happen to me. I gained a husband and a family, I didn't get absorbed by them."
Jimmy nods, then sighs. He takes another sip of his coffee. "So, we should probably get going if we're going to get any shooting in before Penny who is not Grandma and Mr. Langston show up at the house to work on windows some more."
Gibbs nods, standing up, and Tim smiles. "Call him Mr. Langston in front of her, that'll make her day."
Jimmy chuckles at that as he and Gibbs head off.
"Where's Mona?" Jimmy asks as they get to the house and he notices that part of their party is missing.
"Decided she wanted to sleep in with Abbi."
Jimmy smiles. Gibbs grabs the balloons and hands them to him. Jimmy notices he's also got a ball of twine and a bag of the basic, blow them up yourself balloons as well.
"Late case for Abbi?"
Gibbs shakes his head. "Likes to sleep in when she gets the chance."
Jimmy smiles at that, too, as they head to the boathouse. "We need these right away?" he asks about the Mylar balloons.
Gibbs shakes his head, and Jimmy finds a block to tuck the ribbons under so they don't float away. While he snaps on his gloves and gets the paintball rifle set up, Gibbs blows up several of the regular balloons and wanders around their property tying them to different tree branches.
Not much in the way of clear shots. The bit right around the house is mowed lawn, but most of their land is woods, and Gibbs is tying the balloons in the wooded section. There are other trees, branches, bushes, scrub, leaves, vines and all sorts of stuff between Jimmy and the balloons, and on top of that, Gibbs has not secured the balloons tightly to the branches, they're dangling off, swaying in the breeze.
The only upside Jimmy can see is that they're bright yellow, pink, blue, and white. They do not blend in with the surroundings.
"Instructions?" Jimmy asks when Gibbs gets back to him.
"That's what I figured. Anything else?"
Gibbs shakes his head. "Right now, just track how they move, and shoot them. Find wherever you need to be to hit. Like when we were working with punching, if you've got to do it from ten feet away, do it from ten feet away, just make sure you hit."
Jimmy nods, and starts towards the closest of the balloons, a small pink one. He spends a while walking around, occasionally sighting with the rifle.
"Tell me what you're doing," Gibbs says to him.
"Looking for a good vantage point. I don't want to shoot from ten feet away, but I don't want too much stuff between me and the balloon."
Gibbs nods. "Even a paintball is traveling fast enough to go through a lot of this scrub."
"That part of why training you took six months?"
"Yeah, I can figure what sort of rifle and bullet to use to shoot through a car if need be."
Jimmy stares at him, wondering why you'd want to shoot through a car. "How can you even see where the person you're aiming for is if you're on the other side of a car."
"Shot like that, the target isn't moving."
"Do I want to know?"
Gibbs shrugs. "Do you?"
Jimmy thinks for a second, and realizes he does. Not just because he's curious, but as best as he can tell Gibbs doesn't talk about this part of his life, and talking about it might be good.
"Shot was set days in advance. Car was there intentionally. Target had security. Security checked and monitored all clear lines of sight. Half a klick behind the car, I was in the clear, no one watching or checking. I had all the time I needed. Marked the car, knew exactly where I had to hit on it, to send the bullet straight through to the Target. Spotter closer to the Target let me know when he was in place. Target got up to give a speech, he didn't finish it."
"Was he just a target?"
"You'd just… go in and do this cold?"
"It's a lot easier when you go in cold. Two hardest shots I ever took were Hernandez and Saleem. Targets are things you can be cold about. It's a job, and you do your job well. Even if you hate someone, that someone is a person, and killing people is hard. Neutralizing a target isn't easy, but it's easier."
Jimmy nods at that. "John's a person."
Gibbs nods. "We hate him. Hate the pain he's caused. But hate means we feel for him, about him. Means we feel for the people at home in relation to him. Means Tim and Abby and Penny and Sarah are all there when you're shooting, ghosts in your head. With a target there are no ghosts. There's just time, distance, wind, and fire. God willing, you're only ever going to have to take one shot, but those ghosts'll be there, talking to you while you wait for the right second.
"We'll pick a time and place where I can get you in the right spot for the rifle we've got, so all you've got to do is shoot. You're not going to need months of math and aiming technique or which caliber does what, when, and how. But mastering the ghosts, that'll be on you."
Jimmy nods at that. He scans the woods, looking at the pink balloon swaying gently. "Were Kelly and Shannon happy when you shot Hernandez?"
Gibbs shakes his head. "No. They knew it wouldn't fix anything. But they knew I needed to do it if I was going to do anything other than self-destruct."
"Buying yourself enough time to heal."
"Something like that."
Jimmy lifts the rifle to his eye, sights the balloon, watching it move, trying to track it, trying to feel where it's going to be, and fires. He nicks it, sending it snapping into the branch, where it pops.
Gibbs nods again. "Right now, do whatever is comfortable, you're learning how to put your bullet where your target is going to be. But when you shoot for real, you probably won't be standing up. Lying on your stomach, crouching behind something, you'll be more stable, have an easier time making sure the bullet goes where you point it."
Jimmy nods at that. He can be very still for a long time, but that's not the stability you get from leaning on something. He goes looking for a different vantage for the next balloon while Gibbs takes the string and dead balloon down from the tree.
He heads over to a downed tree and uses that as a prop. He misses the next balloon he's shooting at twice, but nails it on the third shot. From the tree he can sight another of Gibbs' balloons so he goes after that one, too. Much longer shot, and this one's got a lot of small branches, leaves in the way, but the air is still, and it's just hanging there, barely swaying.
One shot and Jimmy hears it pop with a sense of satisfaction. He knows John probably won't just stand there and wait to be shot, but one pull and gone felt really good.
Five more balloons tied in the woods, and Jimmy hits all of them, eventually.
Gibbs watches, satisfied. Training won't be fast. The difference between how a paintball rifle shoots and a real one is massive, but the basic level, where is the target, where is the target going, that's the core of this, and that skill stays the same no matter what you're aiming with.
"Ziva's gonna teach you knives?" Gibbs asks as they head back to the boathouse.
"That's the idea. Want to see what's involved before okaying Tim on it."
"Not really learning for you, then?"
Jimmy shakes his head. Then he inclines it slightly. "You don't ever want to go up against me with a knife. You really don't want to go against Ducky. I mean, yeah, I don't have any defense, but one, two hits tops, and you're dead, so I probably don't need much. Spend twenty hours a week taking people apart with knives and you get a really good feel for what to hit if you ever have to."
"How good?" Gibbs asks.
Jimmy takes two steps in front of Gibbs, and walks toward him, tapping him lightly on the upper, inner thigh and then stomach as they pass each other. "Get medical attention in the next two minutes or die from blood loss. I've just severed your femoral and aortic arteries."
Gibbs stops walking and glances at the paint gun. "Why are we doing this?"
"For the same reason I'm pulling the trigger. The Admiral gets a sudden case of extremely precise scalpel wounds, and I'm the top of the suspect list, or Ducky."
Gibbs nods, that makes sense.
"Probably be easier to stay calm if I'm far away, too. Go in hot, and it's probably easier to miss."
"So, walking up next to him, having to touch him, not sure I can do that and not just start beating the shit out of him."
Gibbs nods, he's gets that. He's not sure he could get in touching range of John and pull off a calm, precise hit. Actually, that's not true. He could do it. He would. He's always been able to shut down and do the job, but it wouldn't be easy.
Jimmy's holding the paintball rifle already, but he can do that one handed easily. The fingers of his right hand trace over the barrel. "I figure with this I can stay far enough away to kill him and leave no trace. Stay far enough away that I won't get tempted to go for pain or fear. Just one hit, fast and done."
"So, what are these for?" Jimmy asks as Gibbs grabs the Mylar balloons out of the boathouse.
"People aren't on tethers. They move all over the place."
"You're going to let them free and I'm going to shoot."
Gibbs nods again, and they head out to the end of the pier. No chance of getting the balloons tangled, at least, not at first, if they're over the water.
"Give it a five count before you aim." Then Gibbs lets the first one go.
Jimmy counts, tracking the motion with the scope, and on five he fires, and misses. He does it with the second and third one, too. He's annoyed, but Gibbs isn't.
"Get all three, and you get to start shooting people."
Jimmy looks alarmed by that.
"Get good with air and wind currents, and then you get to try to hit me."
That gets a smile.
"I'm going to snipe you?"
Gibbs nods. "When you can get me, without setting off my danger sense, then you get to start working with a real rifle and real bullets."
"And when do I get to go after John?"
"When you can take the head off of a turkey."
That makes an awful lot of sense to Jimmy.
Tony and Ziva pull up shortly after that, and find Jimmy and Gibbs working on popping the first of today's windows out of the house. It probably would be faster if they could just pop them all out and then put all the new ones in, but that's still not a good plan.
Tony peeks under the tarp covering the windows that haven't been put in yet, and says, "Five hundred down, twenty six million to go."
"It's not that bad, Tony."
"Not that good, either. You guys just get here? Doesn't look like you made any progress!" Tony calls over to Gibbs and Jimmy, grabbing yet another window and heading fifteen feet further down the side of the house from them.
Jimmy smiles to himself on that. No it doesn't look like they've made any progress, because nothing's been done on the house.
"Just got started," Jimmy says, hearing another car pulling up. Ducky and Penny this time.
They amble over to where Jimmy and Jethro are in the process of getting another window out.
"Hello. Jethro, Jimmy, I see you are hard at work."
"Getting there, Duck."
There are rhythms Ducky and Jimmy have for working together, long practiced, which, even though this is building a house and not an autopsy, both of them tend to fall into them easily.
"Good morning, Mr. Langston," Jimmy says in a perfect mirroring of his usual greeting Ducky while working routine.
Ducky arches an eyebrow, and says precisely, "That's Doctor Langston, thank you very much."
Penny smiles at that, laughing, amused by the whole thing. "I take it you had some sort of chat with Tim and Abby?"
Jimmy nods. "Tim didn't exactly dare me to do that, but he did want to know what happened if I did."
Penny laughs some more. "And what brought that up."
"I was wondering why Tim doesn't call you Grandma or something like that. He got into it. Same reason you aren't Mrs. Mallard or Mrs. McGee."
Penny smiles, warmly, realizing how much of her life Tim never saw. "I was Mrs. McGee for a long time. And even now, were I to change my name, I'd hold tight to Doctor."
Ducky appears interested by that. They've never spoken of even the possibility of her changing her name. "And would you have been Dr. Mallard?"
Penny smiles back at him, turning the tables. "Would you have been Dr. Langston?"
Ducky shrugs. "My sense is that it's easier for all involved if we do not have identical professional names."
"They're only identical when spoken," Jimmy adds, helpful, grinning.
"Which is more than enough. How many calls do we need to get for Doctor Langston or Doctor Mallard if the one title refers to both of us before it becomes unwieldy?"
Penny's nodding at that. Ducky still gets calls from colleagues, and her students all call her Doctor Langston.
Tony hands over more crowbars, eyeballing Ducky, "You know… I never did get a good nickname for you. What'd'ya think Penny, should I call him Mr. Langston?"
Penny laughs at that, and Ducky says, "Anthony, you do know that my given name is not, in fact, Ducky?"
"Of course I do, Donald, but it's not much of a nickname when you introduce yourself with 'Call me Ducky. Everyone else does.'"
Ducky smiles, remembering the first time he met Agent DiNozzo. "By all means then, especially compared to Autopsy Gremlin or McWhatever I will happily be christened Mr. Langston."