Once Tony got McGee back up on his feet McGee was facing West Maple Street 1244. Four men were sitting on the lawn in front of the house with their hands cuffed behind their backs, being guarded by the FBI agents. McGee recognized both Logan and Pete, the two men that had been with Benny on the night of his attack and he felt relieved that they had been arrested. One of the agents held a blood splattered handkerchief to the back of his head, but he didn't seem too badly injured.

"Is he okay?" McGee asked Tony.

"Yeah, sure," Tony said. "One of the gang members weren't so lucky though. He took a round to the chest and didn't make it."

"What happened?"

Tony sighed. "When we went in they were in the kitchen, cutting cocaine. The FBI had had a tip about a large shipment coming in, that's why they had this place under surveillance. They have to take it in and analyze it but Agent Woodford, that's the agent with the head injury, he estimates that it has a street value of about 5 million dollars."

McGee whistled. "Not bad. The FBI has to be happy now then."

"Well," Tony said. "At least they can pin drug charges on those guys, but unfortunately they're only low-level players. So they've got their job cut out for them, trying to tie it to a bigger name. Anyway, you don't have that much cocaine in a house without being heavily armed and… well, you heard the gunshots. Ziva and Woodford came in through the backdoor, so we managed to surround them. After that it was pretty easy to get them to give up, especially with their friend being killed."

"What about Benny?" McGee asked. "The FBI said that he'd gone into the house with the others, right?" He turned around and watched Ziva none too gently wrestle Benny over on his stomach so she could handcuff him. The others could've helped her of course, but they doubted that she'd appreciate missing a chance to manhandle him a little.

McGee frowned. He was sure that he'd hit Benny. And Benny had screamed as if he'd been shot, but McGee couldn't see any blood.

"Gibbs asked that bozo Logan that too," Tony said, although his tone of voice suggested that 'asked' was just a politically correct term of how Gibbs had addressed Logan. "Just before you told us you'd spotted Tucker, Logan said that Tucker'd gone out the backdoor and cut through the backyards to get to this girl he usually hooks up with. That's why the FBI never saw him leave."

The sound of sirens made McGee turn back to the crime scene. More FBI agents were coming, too late for back-up but just in time to help manage the arrested gang members. An ambulance pulled up behind them, having been called by dispatch, so Tony never had to make the call Gibbs had ordered him to.

The paramedics rushed into the house but came out again a minute later. There was nothing they could do for that gang member. He was long gone. One of the paramedics took a hold of the injured FBI agent and pulled him with him to the ambulance. The other paramedic started towards them.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs called. "Help Ziva get Tucker over to the ambulance."

"But they're coming here, Boss," Tony said, pointing down the street.

"Well, let's just say we meet them half-way," Gibbs said coldly, and as he and Ziva pulled Benny up on his feet McGee saw that one of Benny's white sneakers had turned red. He'd been shot in the foot and suddenly it was very clear why Gibbs wanted Benny to walk, or hobble, on his own. That had to hurt.

Tony took over Gibbs' hold on Benny's arm and he and Ziva started ushering Benny down the street while Gibbs beckoned for McGee to join him. Benny's gun was lying on the ground and Gibbs picked it up with a pen to preserve Benny's fingerprints.

"What's your serial number?" he asked McGee and McGee rattled it off from memory. Gibbs compared it with the gun he was holding and smiled.

"It's yours," he said. "We've got him."


McGee sat silently on a gurney in an ER cubicle, staring at his own clasped hands. Ziva leaned against the wall next to him, arms crossed over her chest, keeping him company in silence. She hadn't been happy with the assignment, she'd much rather be guarding Benny.

The ER had been packed, but after a long wait McGee had finally gotten the broken stitches in his shoulder repaired again. Luckily there was no new damage to it and he was otherwise unharmed.

Tony and Gibbs walked in, Tony beaming from ear to ear. "Nice shot, McGee," he praised enthusiastically.

McGee looked up. "What? Benny? Is he gonna be okay?"

"Oh, he's going to be fine," Tony drawled. "He's gonna be known as Nine Toe-Tucker for the rest of his life though."

McGee frowned, a little slow on the uptake. "What?"

"You shot his toe off, McGee. Blew it to smithereens, poof, gone forever…"

McGee held up a hand. "Thank you, Tony. I get the picture." Then he looked suspiciously at Gibbs. "You didn't… uh… do anything to him, did you Boss?"

"What do you think?" Gibbs growled at him.

"Well, he couldn't, could he?" Tony said cheekily. "This is a public building after all, lots and lots of witnesses—" A slap to the head cut him off. "Thank you, Boss."

But when Gibbs turned away Tony stage-whispered, "He stared at him the whole time, though."

Gibbs turned back to him, his face clearly showing what he thought of Tony at the moment.

"Just like that actually," Tony said.

"Are you finished?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah, Boss," Tony assured him.

"I was asking McGee," Gibbs told him humorlessly.

"Oh…" McGee said. "Yeah, I think so."

"Good, let's get you back to Ducky's place then." Gibbs turned around and started walking, confident that the others would follow. "Ziva, Tony, Tucker's been patched up and is ready to be transported. Go."

"With pleasure," Ziva smirked.

"Uh, Boss. I was thinking…" McGee started, trailing after his boss. "Maybe it's time for me to go back to my own place."

Gibbs turned back again, looking at McGee.

"Or I could go to Ducky's," McGee conceded. "Ducky's place is good."


But somehow both Gibbs and McGee ended up at the Navy Yard. Gibbs couldn't quite figure it out. Leaving the hospital, he'd had every intention of taking McGee to the nearest bed and give him a handcuff tuck-in if it proved necessary, thinking that he was way overdue for a proper rest, but somehow McGee had convinced him that going back to the office was a better idea. Either McGee was getting slicker, or Gibbs was getting softer. Gibbs really hoped it was the first one.

They rode up silently in the elevator when Gibbs suddenly sighed, leaned forward and flicked the switch that stopped the elevator. The lights flickered off, leaving them in a familiar gloom.

McGee tensed. Was this about him not staying in the car? Because he really thought he'd done the right thing. Otherwise Benny would've gotten away.

"You okay?" Gibbs asked, turning to him.

McGee looked almost surprised. "Sure. It was just a couple of stitches."

"Not that," Gibbs all but growled. He didn't like having to do the mushy stuff. "With everything that's happened, how are you doing?"

"Oh, that, er, I'm okay…" McGee trailed off, his eyes moving down to his own feet. Lying to Gibbs was never an option. In fact, it was never a possibility. Looking up again at his boss' serious face he said, "I'm getting there I guess. It feels great that we've caught Benny, but… uh… there's the… uh… And sometimes I'm… uh… uh… And with the… you know… sometimes at night…"

Gibbs nodded, hearing every word that wasn't being said.

"It's just that… It's not that easy," McGee gave up trying to explain.

"It's not supposed to be," Gibbs said seriously. "There are things you never get over, things you carry with you for the rest of your life. No one's expecting to you to be okay right away, you're going to need a lot of time. But I have confidence in you. You're strong minded, you've shown that you can be the bigger man and your heart is in the right place. You're going to be fine."

"Uh… thanks, Boss." McGee was completely taken aback by Gibbs' statement. He hadn't expected that and it showed on his face.

"Good," Gibbs patted him on the shoulder. "And remember, if you need to talk…"

"I'll go see Ducky or Abby."

Gibbs grinned. McGee's wit was back. That was a good sign. He turned around and reached for the switch to start the elevator again, but McGee stopped him.

"Boss? How… how much trouble am I in?"


"For shooting Benny. I mean, I wasn't supposed to be involved."

Gibbs scrubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "It was self-defense, McGee, you had no choice. No one will dispute that. If anyone's in trouble it's me."

"You, Boss?"

"I'm your boss. You weren't supposed to be there. I knew that and I brought you anyway and put a gun in your hand. If there's any fallout from this, it's going to be on me… and that's what you're going to say if anyone asks. My responsibility, McGee, not yours. Remember that."


"No buts, McGee. My responsibility. By the way, have you talked to your family yet?" Gibbs asked.

McGee looked down. "No, I didn't think they needed to know."

"The same way we didn't need to know?" Gibbs asked with a raised eyebrow.

McGee looked up. "You needed the facts to be able to catch a criminal."

"That wasn't why we needed to know. We needed to know because it happened to you. We needed to know so that we could help you. You really should talk to your family. They can help too."

McGee remained silent, thoughtful, but as Gibbs leaned forward and flicked the switch again he said, "I guess the suffering in silence gets old after awhile, huh?" He was thinking of Abby and her little tantrum earlier in the day. "Boss, I've got some vacation time saved up."

"Take a week… after you've finished your paperwork. And McGee… Good job."

"Thanks, Boss."

"But if you ever disobey my orders again…"

"Read you loud and clear, Boss."


Later that night, Benny was wearing an orange jumpsuit and was securely locked away, and with the exception of his court days, no one expected to see him in a more flattering attire for a very, very long time.

The interrogation hadn't been pretty. An interrogation hadn't been strictly necessary as they already had everything they needed to bring Benny up on multiple serious charges and of course no one expected any kind of confession, but that hadn't stopped the team. They weren't going to hand Tucker over to a prison without having a little chat with him first.

Tony and Ziva had bickered about who would get a crack at him first, but they had been bypassed by Gibbs who'd simply stepped around them, although they'd all gotten their turn. Even Abby had come up for a piece of the action, but of course Gibbs hadn't let her into the interrogation room.

Knowing that Benny wasn't easily intimidated they'd all brought their A-game and McGee hadn't been surprised to see Benny look uncharacteristically shaken as he was escorted to the prison transport. Neither had he been surprised to see a very satisfied smile on Ziva's face.

Even though he knew things were far from over, McGee still felt rather satisfied as he sat at his desk, helping to sort through and organize all the paperwork. Sure, telling his story over and over again to lawyers grilling him wouldn't be a picnic. In fact it would be nauseatingly nerve-racking and fodder for many more nightmares, but at least Benny had been captured. He couldn't hurt anyone anymore.

Moving a folder out of the way, McGee unexpectedly found an envelope. The content of the envelope had been written on its outside. It contained the pictures that had been taken of him at the hospital a week ago. The others probably hadn't intended for that one to end up in his to-do pile.

Sitting stock-still he hesitated. He hadn't actually seen his own back; he wasn't a contortionist after all. But he'd heard the doctors and nurses talking in the hospital, even though he'd been pretty out of it at the time. The police that had taken the photos had asked if he wanted to see them but it hadn't seemed like a good idea then.

But now… everyone else had seen his back. And Ducky had said that it wasn't too bad. Of course, he could've been speaking from a medical standpoint. Although that would be good too, if it meant that there wouldn't be any scaring. How would he be able to explain having a big, shiny 'geek' eternally etched on his back to any future girlfriends? Maybe he could convince them that it was body art, a statement against superficial social structures or something.

McGee clutched the envelope in his hand. He was stalling. Did he or didn't he want to see... Maybe it would be good for him. Maybe he was making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe he was just making excuses… He slowly opened the envelope. Wow, that was a lot of photos. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly bone-dry.

He reached in and closed his hand around the photos, hesitating another moment before extracting them. Holding his breath he turned them face up and spread them out on his desk. Oh god…

He felt so detached. There had to be a mistake. This couldn't be his back. It just couldn't. Yes, his back had hurt, but not like this. Those words… This couldn't be him. And then it dawned on him. This wasn't him. Tony had been right that first day, in the men's room. This wasn't him. This was Benny, all Benny. Benny was the one who couldn't put things behind him. Benny was the one who couldn't move on, or grow up or make sane decisions.

But he could. He had. He was a bloody NCIS agent after all! And he was good at it. There would always be Bennys in the world. He was just grateful that he wasn't one of them.

Tony looked up from his desk and saw the blank stare McGee had turned on the photos.

"Hey there, Probie. Whatcha doin'?" he asked carefully, recognizing the photos.

"I was just thinking…" McGee said slowly.

"About?" Tony prodded.

"About that saying, you know. Sticks and stones may break my bones…"

"…but words can never hurt me," Tony finished for him.

There was a snort from Ziva's desk "Words can never hurt me? Who came up with that stupid saying? You Americans have such a strange relationship with your language, you know. I mean, the counting of chickens for example, what's that all about?"

"It's an idiom," Tony said. "A figure of speech. You're supposed to read between the lines, think outside the box, all that."

"See, that's what I mean," Ziva said. "You can't even explain an idiom without using other idioms. You're not really giving people a fair chance, are you?"

McGee let the argument wash over him as he gathered up the photos and stuffed them back into the envelope. This was his life, just the way he liked it.

The End


A/N: Well, that's all folks. It's been a fun ride, I've hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks a million for all the wonderful reviews, I appreciate every last one of them.