NFA "Missing Moments" Challenge

"Somebody's Sarah"

Written for the NFA "Missing Moments" Challenge

The challenge: to write a one-shot about a moment that was missing from an episode.

Author's note: This story contains spoilers for the season 4 episode "Smoked." Just in case anyone doesn't remember the conversation that is referenced, I'll quote it here:

TONY: I've seen a lot of things since I became a cop, Ziva. But this? Guy tortures and murders nineteen women, and then gets off on eating their toes? Whoever whacked this sick freak did us and the world a favor.
ZIVA: And our job is to arrest them. It makes perfect sense to me.
MCGEE: Justified or not, it's still a crime, Ziva. In this country you cannot take the law into your own hands.
TONY: Unless it's your little sister wanted for murder, right, Probie?
MCGEE: You know what I mean.
TONY: What if this was your sister? Or her?
MCGEE: My point is that we cannot just investigate the crimes that we want to.


(Later that evening)

Tony always knew just what to say to get to him. Even when he wasn't actually trying to get to him.

It was a dumb argument, borne of the stress of a bizarre and disturbing case. He was pretty sure Tony and Ziva were feeling the same way he was. Like they were seeing some kind of new low in criminal behavior. Just when murder had become almost commonplace, here came Evil itself, personified in the form of Charles Bright.

What if this was your sister? Or her?

It was an offhand remark, meant to goad him. He deserved it, really. He'd been lecturing again, acting as if he was somehow above the revulsion to which Tony freely admitted.

Maintaining a mask of professional indifference was important in this job. It had not been easy when he first started at NCIS, but gradually he had developed it, just like any other skill. Coming face-to-face with Erin's killer had changed everything for him. Staring him down, and realizing that he was going to kill him for what he did to her had been enough to scare him straight. After that, the mask, bourne out of necessity, had come easily.

What if this was your sister?

For just a second, his eyes had flicked to the screen. For just a moment, he saw wavy brown hair. Scared brown eyes, instead of the blue eyes of the victim.

What if this was your sister? Or her?

He had regained his composure quickly, so quickly that he was pretty sure Tony never knew he had lost it. He was getting good at that. Too good, really. Three years on the job had taught him to cover his emotions, to not get personally involved in the cases. Not to feel anything for the victims.

Or at least, not to show that he felt anything.

Some people say that a good officer never stops feeling. When you do, it's time to change jobs. Others say you can't allow yourself to feel anything if you want to survive in this line of work.

He wasn't sure which one was right anymore. He was good at covering his emotions and focusing on the job at hand. But that didn't mean he didn't feel. Fear, sorrow, pain, anger, thoughts of revenge…they still woke him in the night sometimes. Or kept him from going to sleep at all. He began to understand why Gibbs built boats in his basement during the nights.

This job could bring out the darkness in anyone.

What if this was your sister?

It was nine o'clock in the evening now, but the comment was still bothering him.

What if it was my sister?

This guy deserved to be stuffed in a furnace and burned. Preferably while still alive. Or maybe shot in both kneecaps and left to slowly bleed to death. After the pain and terror he had put those young women through…how scared they must have been, as life left their bodies…then to mutilate them as a final indignity.

Damn you, Tony.

Why had he kept lecturing? Why couldn't he just admit it?

"You're right, Tony. If that had been my sister, I would have torn the guy limb from limb. He's a piece of human garbage, and the world is much better off without him. I'd like to give his killer a medal."

His cell phone rang then, pulling him out of his thoughts. He glanced at the name on the screen: SARAH.

"Hello?" He hoped she couldn't hear the slight tremor in his voice.

"Hey, it's me."

"Hey, Sarah."

"What's wrong?"

So much for covering it up.

"Nothing. Just…tired. Long day."

"I saw this crazy story on the news tonight, about the FBI digging up the backyard of a house in Dale City. They've already found three bodies… wait a minute. Tim, are you working that case?" Her voice rose to an excited squeal.

McGee swallowed hard. "You know I can't talk about our cases outside of work."

"So you are, then."

"Did you need something, or did you call just to pry?"

"Touchy. I just called to see if you want to have lunch tomorrow."

"Translation: I'm broke and I want you to buy me lunch," he thought.

"I don't have anything to do, and we haven't hung out in a while," she continued.

"So you were board and thought of me, as a last resort?"

"Something like that. We could meet at that deli on M Street. Around 12:30?"

"Sounds good to me."

"Great! Well, I gotta go. I have a date."

McGee frowned, his brotherly instincts kicking in automatically. "With who?"

Sarah giggled. "Nobody you know. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Wait!" Tim struggled for words. "You, uh, you still have that can of mace I gave you, right?"

"Yes, Mom. And I still lock my car doors when I drive, and I still buy my own drinks."

"You won't be walking across campus alone tonight, will you?" He managed to keep from adding "you know what happened last time."

"Noooo... At least, if this date goes well, I won't."

"Sarah-"

"Tim, I'll be careful. I'm always careful. I gotta go." And she was gone, hung up without saying goodbye, as she always did when she was in a hurry.

McGee stared at the phone, listening to the dial tone for a long time. Did she really listen to the advice he was constantly giving her? Did it really matter? All the advice in the world might not be enough against a monster who tortured and raped and killed.

There were a lot of Charles Brights in the world. And a lot of Sarahs. It was the thought that kept him going, kept him searching for justice. That, in every case, every victim was somebody's daughter. Somebody's mother, or sister. Somebody's Sarah.

It was that thought that helped keep the darkness at bay.

Or maybe, it was that thought that brought the darkness a little closer each day.

It was hard to tell the difference anymore.