This is my nineteenth NCIS Mystery and the eighth of my Second Season. It's set during the fifth season of the televised series. The list of stories got so extensive I moved it, with summaries, to my profile.
This story resolves the mystery from 'John 8:7', 'Swiss Knife' and 'Pieces'. It begins four days after the events in 'Hatred'.
The usual legal disclaimers apply. I don't own anyone except Rev. Siobhan O'Mallory, SSA Melanie Kelman and other original Agents.
Rating: T or NCis-17.
The Bullpen is quiet but Tony, Ziva and Michelle can hardly miss Tim McGee's return from lunch at 1537. "Quite a vacation, Probie," Tony calls as McGee stalks to his desk. "On Thursdays we limit lunches to three hours. You are so lucky Gibbs is home on the range."
McGee doesn't answer, barely spares DiNozzo a glance but pulls off his weapon and shield and slaps them into the desk drawer harder than necessary. He plops down in his chair, locks his attention onto his computer monitor and calls up a file. He pointedly shuts out his friends and types with unnecessarily heavy strokes. The palpable tension in him is even more significant than his prolonged, unexplained absence.
With Gibbs qualifying today on the firing range, Tony feels this is an opportunity for his own target practice that's too good to miss. He crumples a sheet of paper, aims carefully and bounces it off his partner's head.
"Is that all you have time for?" Tim gripes, pushing the white ball off his desktop into the garbage.
"Well, it's either this or paper airplanes," he says, leaning back to the limit of his chair and propping his feet up on the edge of his waste basket, "and I haven't quite worked out the dive bomb feature yet."
"I'm not in the mood, Tony." He looks across the bullpen to Ziva. "Can't you shoot him or something?"
"I have considered it."
Tim knows that for her to consider it at all is significant, but he doesn't care to know if he's missed anything. The pair has carried on a clandestine relationship that's hardly a successful secret.
"How about you?" he asks Michelle Palmer at his right. "You can use some target practice."
"I'm game. Have you an apple?"
This almost interests him; the young Asian woman used to be so timid she could rarely string three sentences together. He suspects marriage has changed her for the better, but right now he doesn't give a damn.
He returns his gaze to the reclining man in time to see an incoming ball and smacks it across the room. It lands in Gibbs' chair. "I said I'm not in the mood."
"That's some real anger there, McGrumpy," Tony sits forward, a little less playful. "Something eating you?"
This is enough to shock all of the playfulness from Tony. He and the women exchange glances of equal concern and astonishment. "Probie," he ventures, able to come up with only one reason for this fire. They'd collectively endured several distressing days last week, during a friend and co-worker's far more traumatic ordeal. That was from New Years to Friday, now it's Thursday and McGee had left for lunch in a somewhat mellow mood. "How's O'Mallory doing?" He knows no one else who can inspire such passion from the man.
"I wish I knew."
This grasps everyone's attention. Last Wednesday, New Year's Day, after a party at NCIS Headquarters, McGee had driven Reverend Siobhan O'Mallory back to her home in Saint Mary the Virgin Rectory. There he'd asked her to marry him.
She'd said 'yes'.
Minutes after they'd parted and she's gone to her room on the Rectory's second floor, she'd been assaulted and kidnapped. She'd been held prisoner for three days by a sadistic murderer; beaten, tortured, raped and crucified.
They'd saved her just barely in time, had gotten the bastard last Friday and got O'Mallory to a hospital. McGee had been almost unbearable for the whole time. He'd gone without sleep for over three days, living on adrenaline and 'Caf-Pow!' and all his friends had feared he'd snap. But O'Mallory's safe recovery had seemed to indicate things could return to normal for them.
Tony, Ziva and Michelle glance silently among themselves; no one has an answer or wants to take the chance of driving the man's anger further by asking. Tim locks his attention on his monitor and makes his shutting them out as obvious as possible.
Tony, having begun the conversation and being the senior agent, glances at the others and finds himself elected by default.
Tim whirls on him. "She's gone, Tony! Okay, are you happy? She's gone." He slams his attention into the monitor, but doesn't see it. "She's gone."
"What'da'ya mean 'gone'?" He knows only that, against advice, O'Mallory had checked herself out of the hospital only a day after being rescued. He'd assumed she was recovering at home - at the Rectory rather - and was an out-patient for treatment but he knows nothing more, certainly not the motivation for this broiling rage.
He looks in appeal at the women but finds no insight from them. He's left to pursue the point alone. "What does 'gone' mean?"
Tim bites back the anger, swallows down frustration and sighs; they have a bitter taste. He knows there'll be no end to this until he explains how the world has dropped out from under his feet. Furthermore, they'll find out in time anyway.
He turns to Tony, visibly tries to restrain his anger. "She asked me for a lift to Reagan and dropped it on me while we were in the car; that she was flying out. She didn't want to prolong the pain, wouldn't even let me come into the terminal to say goodbye."
"Flying out? Flying where?"
"She flew to Ireland." He checks his watch. "By now she's halfway to Shannon."
There was a time DiNozzo would've quipped 'you ask her to marry you and she flees the country?' but the woman had gone through her hell and McGee had gone through his.
He looks to Ziva and Michelle; they clearly have no better clue how to proceed through this minefield than he does. He hates to ask the patently obvious, but there's no way now to avoid it. "Why? I mean, did she just up and quit?"
Tim heaves an exasperated sigh. "No, Tony, she didn't quit." He turns to his aggravating friend. "She took a Sabbatical from Saint Mary's and a Leave from NCIS and went to Ireland to stay with her family."
"Oh …. Well ... Okay, she's on vacation; it's not like she's gone gone. She's visiting her folks. She went through a hell of a time. She's gone to her family, taking some time to clear her head. A week off and–"
"Tony, a sabbatical is not for a week. It's like an Extended Leave; it's for as long as it has to be. She decides when, or if, she's coming back!"
His anger silences the room, but he sees an agent beyond Gibbs' desk poke his head up over the partition and his anger mounts. The man ducks back but McGee knows now that even agents in adjacent sections can hear the fiery conversation.
"Well, as long as you're here," Tony decides to reduce outside interest. Rather than dealing with this while the man's so agitated, it's best to focus on work, "we're hosting the CNO, the S of D, the SECNAV and a bunch of Admirals tomorrow."
He will not use Chief of Naval Operations DePardu's name, nor will any of them if it can be avoided. Enough time will never pass for them to forgive the man's willingness to let a murdered NCIS agent's reputation be dragged into hell to protect Navy secrets.
"I was at the briefing, Tony," McGee says, his tone stressing the very obvious.
For a moment DiNozzo is tempted to inquire if the easygoing Probie has been replaced again by Dennis Whitney; the surgically altered felon who had impersonated him to such devastating consequence months ago. But that man had been gunned down in this room as the climax to a shocking case of kidnap, espionage and murder. Further, the joke would not only fall flat, it would aggravate the situation by recalling torments they would all rather forget.
Best to focus on work.
"All right; then let's go over it again, because that's what Gibbs would want, and he'll expect us to be on top of our game when he gets back.
"Tomorrow, early in the morning, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Secretaries of Defense and the Navy and a slew of Admirals will each arrive here with their own staffs and a platoon of Field Agents for protection. They're going to go straight to MTAC with the Director and we're to keep out of their hair until it's time for them to leave."
"That's the plan."
DiNozzo boosts himself out of his chair by a slap on his desk and approaches his partner. "All right, McGressive, I know you're stressed out; this has been a hard couple of weeks for all of us but I expect a bit more professionalism out of you. Are you able to give us that without a slap to the head?"
McGee holds up his hand. "You're right, Tony, I'm sorry. I let myself go. And I won't anymore."
Satisfied, Tony considers the situation. Fortunately, the clock on the wall helps. "Look, it's nearly quitting time. Go home, get your head back on straight, make a long distance call; be here bright tailed and bushy eyed oh-seven-hundred. I'll square it with Gibbs."
Tim gathers his equipment, grateful for the graceful out. "Thanks, Tony."
"See you in the morning."
When he is gone Ziva, impressed with DiNozzo's handling, speaks up for her former lover. "That was nice, Tony."
"I'm never nice," he counters as he returns to his desk. "I just didn't want him acting like that when Gibbs comes back with his trigger finger warmed up."
He doesn't notice the silent exchange between the two women. He might try to project a callous attitude; they've come to know him better. Sometimes a good nature can't be masked.
"With the Probie out of action, that leaves more work for the three of us."
"What work?" Ziva counters. "Agents will bring everyone in, the routes are plotted. Once they are in MTAC we are to make sure no one attacks them in the most secure room on the Base."
"Gibbs will want the impossible covered too," he reminds them. "We'll have so much brass here we could outfit a night club. After the CNO, the SECNAV and the SECDEF–"
"He is not known as the SECDEF," Ziva cuts in, "just 'Secretary of Defense'."
"Well, he ought to be, it's more symmetrical; SECNAV, SECDEF, SECSTAT, SECTREAS–"
"All right, Tony, we get the point."
"Well, after them it's eleven Admirals, sixteen Vice Admirals, twenty Rear Admirals and a partridge in a pear tree. There'll be more scrambled eggs here than at a prayer breakfast and they're not here for their health. In fact, their health is our job."
"Well, we may never know what they are here for," Ziva points out, "but when will any of that be unusual?"
"Our job is to make sure they get here safely, have their fun and go, preferably without bringing the wrath of God down upon us. Or worse, the wrath of Gibbs. Has everyone here considered what'll happen if someone decides to lob a few scud missiles this way?"
"Well, we won't have to attend the debriefing," Michelle quips.
"I am sure everyone has thought of it," Ziva maintains. "We have only been read into the plan two weeks ago; it could be two years in the making so far as we are being told."
"I still don't know why they're having it here, whatever it is," Michelle says. "I mean, the Pentagon's so much more secure than we are."
"Until a plane hit it," he holds up his hand to cut off her protest. "I know what you're saying; I said it to Gibbs. Nearest anyone's worked it out, as you know, is that this place isn't as overtly secure as the Pentagon. The Pentagon, for all its security, is a camp site for every Network's camera crew, plus newspapers, radio, I could go on..."
"Please do not," Ziva cuts in.
"The point is it reminds me of a castle surrounded by a moat of cameras."
"Whereas no one wants to know what NCIS Headquarters looks like," Ziva agrees.
Tony grins. "If they filmed a Reality Show about NCIS, no one would watch it. Then again, they could make Probie-Wan Kenobi the star and it'd be a Sitcom."
"A television show about NCIS?" Michelle asks, incredulous. "Has Special Agent Gibbs hit you one time too often?"
"Cute." He considers the point. "Actually it's been almost a week. I think he likes the job I've been doing lately."
"I think it is more likely he is storing them up," Ziva quips.
"Hilarious. Meantime, I have my own theory as to why they're holding this big shindig here."
"Do tell," Ziva urges. Now that the mission is upon them and they have covered the hows in exhausting detail, there's time to speculate on the whys.
"This place is Navy, though we do let a few Marines into the party."
"You are so lucky Gibbs isn't here," Michelle observes.
"Not so, Probette. But the Pentagon is Army, Air Force, the whole banana boat. I always thought they should divvy up sides, each branch take a fifth and the politicoes can have the bottom but who listens to me?"
"Not many," Ziva quips helpfully. Michelle shakes her head.
"Heh heh. The point is if the Navy wants someplace secure to throw something up on the big screen in a private party, we're the best place. Our MTAC's second to none."
Neither woman will contest that. Finally there is something upon which they may agree.
"Then why did you send McGee home?" Ziva asks.
"Because everything that can be done has been done. We're among the many who don't get to buff the brass; not even Gibbs is invited to the party. We're just to keep an eye out, provide cover fire in the case of assault – like that's gonna happen – and go about our business. The Probie will be among those who'll monitor the area from space. Ziva, you're on spy chatter. Keep that link with your sources wide open and if anything even smells like Al Qaeda you give a yell. Probette, you're still on cyberspace threats. I hope your computer skills are up to it."
"Don't worry, sir, I took an elective in Cobol in Junior High."
"Isn't that from 'Battlestar Galactica'?" Again he waves her off. "Just make sure you're on top of your game. Come on, people, do I have to remind you of what we've been briefed on a dozen times already?"
Neither woman wants a thirteenth.
Tim McGee sits at his home computer in Silver Spring, web-surfing and seeing none of it. Regardless of what he pulls up on his screen, his mind cannot engage it. He seeks one distraction after another, but his favorite sites evoke nothing. His mind returns again and again to the same thing: Siobhan O'Mallory and her sudden departure.
He'd been at his desk just after twelve, finalizing his part in the security details for tomorrow's conference when he'd gotten the call. She'd asked him to meet her, to drive her to the airport. She'd said she had something she had to tell him. That revelation had dropped the bottom out of his life.
He'd been surprised when she had a wheeled suitcase to load into his back seat. He'd assumed she was meeting someone she'd drive back with – when he'd thought anything about it at all. To him it had been an opportunity to spend an hour with her, something he does as often as possible after not just his proposal and her saying 'yes' but after the trauma of her kidnap and the ordeal she'd endured.
When they'd left the Rectory she'd told him what was too difficult to say over the phone. It's been four days since she'd stood in the pulpit on Epiphany and announced that she'd forgiven the sadistic murderer who'd beaten, raped, tortured and crucified her.
He'd sensed it was less by choice than by duty that she'd done it. She'd searched her soul and her own faith to decide, and it had been a difficult decision indeed. She'd had to divorce emotion from duty while her fractured stability was at its worst.
But in addition to her own beliefs, she knew that if she is to teach forgiveness, she must forgive. She'd told her congregation from the pulpit on Epiphany morning to forgive so they would not strike out in hatred.
But despite her commitments, dealing with what had been done to her was not as easy, nor will resolution be quick.
And finally, after days of doing little other than trying, she'd decided it could not be done here.
There were too many memories, too many distractions, too many pains, too much of too many.
Since checking herself out of the hospital on Saturday, against the advice of doctors and friends, she'd found she could no longer endure the well wishing, the well meaning friends. They'd come to offer their help, their prayers, their sympathy and she was grateful, but all she wanted to do was to put the ordeal out of her mind.
No matter how much she loves people, Tim included, she had to get away, to escape, to deal with things from a distance. After four days she'd decided that escape was her only option.
She'd sat next to him, makeup covering bruises he knew were livid and ugly, and poured out her heart, tearing his apart as well.
She wanted to go home. She needed to go home. As much as she loved him, she had to go home.
She'd wanted to tell him this privately, but in the car where she could avoid drawing it out. She hadn't let him come with her into the terminal because she couldn't endure any longer the pain so deeply etched into his face. She'd said 'goodbye' to him in the car, and when they parted they had no idea how long it would be before they saw one another again.
He'd tried to understand, tried to endure, but as much as he wanted her to stay he couldn't ask her to. He knew she was right, that there would be no healing for her if she stayed where it had all happened. He knew that if she is to recover she had to make a clean break; and if he loves her as much as he says he does he has to let her go.
He still has no clue when - or, God forbid, if - she'll come back.
He opened his email as soon as he got home, searched for something from her, even though he'd checked it before the confrontation at NCIS, and again on his PDA while at a stop light, knowing it was unreasonable.
It would take hours for her to get to Ireland, get to her family, have a reunion with them, answer a thousand questions and finally have the time to sit down and compose a message to him, but he'd tried anyway. And tried again. And again.
He finds nothing, admits again it was insane to try; and tries again. He blindly surfs the web, his system set to alert him the instant a message arrives. But though many emails do, even one from his Publisher about his third novel, the upcoming 'Cearbhall's Quest', none of them are from her. Still he sits, unwilling to leave the machine, attentive for the alert that will let him live again.
It takes hours, he realizes, when he remembers to check the time. He can barely believe he's sat here until nearly ten o'clock at night, lost in surfing and reading, quite unable to remember where he'd been or what he read.
He answers another alert, his jolt of excitement washed away – again – when he sees it's more garbage. He stabs the delete button, determined to write a more efficient firewall. It's been seven eternities and–
His telephone upon the table behind him rings. He launches himself from his chair, thinking uncharitable thoughts hot enough to melt the damned thing that would take him away from monitoring his contacts. He snatches up the receiver, his eyes still on the computer screen, and waits for that little alert to pop up. "Tim McGee," he acknowledges bitterly.
"SHAV!" His heart comes alive again. "I was just thinking about you." Do they give awards for understatement?
/Timmy, I'm so sorry./
"No, I understand. You had to get away, I know that. I'm just glad you called."
/Timmy, please don't be mad when you hear what I have to say./
His heart dies - again. "You're not coming back."
/No. No, that's not it at all. Timmy, I…./
"What is it? This call must be costing you a fortune, tell me what's up." There's a knock at his door. 'Of all the stupid –.' he thinks, bites back a curse. "Shav, what's wrong?" The knock comes again. He covers the receiver and calls loudly "Hold on a minute." Into the phone he says "There's some idiot at the door."
"Just a second, I'll get rid of whoever it is." He puts down the receiver, stalks to the door, unlocks and yanks it open. "Listen, I'm on the pho–"
"Hello, Timmy," Siobhan O'Mallory says, her smile apprehensive.