Epilogue

Five hours later Tim looks down from a helicopter hovering over the grassy field at the eastern edge of NCIS Headquarters. It looks like over 300 people are crammed into the grove, leaving barely enough room for the helo to land safely. It backs some of the people on the edge away as it touches down, but no sooner is Tim safely beyond the edges of the slowing blades when it seems the signal for decorum to be thrown to the slowing wind.

A roar that could be heard at Norfolk, 200 miles away, and he's crushed by a tsunami of friends and acquaintances, all determined to hug him simultaneously. He can barely breathe but continual back slaps keep his lungs working, though he's nearly deaf from the continuous shouting, words lost in chaos.

It seems like fifteen minutes before a more familiar face is before his, each person having hugged, pummeled or, in the case of the women, kissed him thoroughly before ceding their places to others. It is a good thing because the initial 300+ are being added to by the emptying building beside them.

"Probie-Wan!" Tony hugs him so tightly his breath whooshes out and he's lifted a foot in the air. "A feat worthy of a Jedi!"

"Thank you Tony…." He wheezes with the last bit of breath before he lands back upon his feet, needing to be steadied.

Gibbs is there before his vision clears, shaking his hand thoroughly. "Good job! Damn good job!" Tim knows that, for the undemonstrative Team Leader, this is more enthusiastic a display than Tony's or most of the other people.

From his left side Ziva pushes in, her arms about his neck pulling him into a thorough kiss that is equal parts friend and partner and former lover, and he's almost strangled by her arms and smothered by her lips until he has to push back before he can get any air.

An instant – less than an instant later it's Abby who's trapped his arms at his sides and her enthusiasm, though brief in its display, is even more intense than Ziva's.

She pulls away, actually blocking others with her body, because inches to his left is a red haired woman who in the first second hesitates. She's dressed in her 'working garments' so she's so often cautious, but then she throws decorum to the wind. Where everyone else's welcome could be collectively explosive, hers is a nova blast!

x

It's some time before the volume about them diminishes to the point where actual conversation can be heard and though Siobhan's lips eventually leave his, while to this point it was tacitly understood each person would express his or her feelings and move on, she will not relinquish her embrace.

"Congratulations," Director Jenny Shepherd says from beside him. He'd release Shav and turn to her but neither of them can let go of the other yet, and he really can't bring himself to try. There were too many moments, ever since the leap onto Millennium, when he thought he'd never hug Shav ever again.

"Thank you, director." He tries for decorum, then gives up and surrenders to the inevitable. He's not going to let go of Shav until after the next Millennium – and not the ship! "What did I miss?"

He'd missed a lot, he believes, having been kept incommunicado except for a lengthy series of debriefings.

"The Navy is falling all over itself trying to explain away what happened," Shepherd tells him, sounding very much like a conversation with a man hugging another woman were standard procedure, or at least one she'll allow today. "I wouldn't have believed it possible to contain this, but they're working wonders."

"Wait a - wait a minute!" Incredibly, this does make him let the woman go and he turns on his director, leaving only one arm about Siobhan at his side. After all he just went through…! "How can they contain something like this? How can they disguise - how many dead?"

"Three thousand, eight hundred seventy eight." Her words hit like a hammer on his heart. Shav actually has to steady him, one hand on his chest, the other on his back.

"The attack on the school," DiNozzo interjects bitterly from the edge of the forced perimeter. No one pushes the NCIS director out of the way, "was the work of 'terrorists caught and killed in a shoot-out with Federal authorities'. No trial."

"The Boeing 777," Ziva announces, "was a bomb planted by terrorists."

This is outrageous. "And the Ticonderoga? That was a planned event with a former crew! Civilians!"

"They're never going to be able to contain this," Shepherd admits. "It's impossible. The White House, the Pentagon, the spin doctors are gearing up for the biggest PR disaster in U.S. history."

"Good for them," McGee says, for the first time dropping the shields blocking his anger. Having been on the ship, he knows it's impossible to keep this secret.

x

"The lies some people are telling the public will come back to haunt them, and very soon." Shepherd makes sure her voice carries to the closest of the crowd, knowing the words will be passed along in time. "For the moment I'm issuing a gag order until the government sorts out what it decides its story is." She scans to meet scores of eyes, all reflecting the same outrage those in the front feel.

"In the meantime, the Millennium Project is officially on hold. The international ramifications of this disaster are going to be as nothing we've ever seen. Our focus is going to be weeding out the corruption in the Navy and Marines." No one comments upon how tremendous a job that will be.

"So, of course," Ziva declares after Shepherd's pronouncement, "McGee's part in this goes unnoticed." Her words are drowning in her outrage.

"You do," Shepherd says with heavy irony, "have the gratitude of a grateful nation. That is, if they could acknowledge it."

Tim feels Siobhan step in closer, her support returning to a hug. He tries to lose himself in this, to gather strength not to say what's churning his mind.

"Thanks." There, that didn't sound too ungrateful, did it? And who cares if it did?

But part of him is also disappointed. He's disappointed to hear that Millennium, after all this, may never launch. In the right hands – what are they? – it's a sweet ship.

"More important, you have our gratitude," Shepherd indicates the throng filling the field.

"That means more," he says, having to force the words. "believe me."

"Still, it's not fair," DiNozzo grouses, putting his own thoughts into words he can't say. "It's one thing to do the almost miraculous,"

"Amen." Siobhan cuts in, hugging him tighter. Does she know she's giving him the strength to keep his feelings silent? He looks into her emerald eyes. Yes, she knows.

"And it's one thing to be an 'unsung hero'," Tony continues, "but McGee doesn't even get a note."

"No, Tony, I do understand." Held in Shav's support, he can say it with most of his usual equanimity of tone. "They've kept the secret of the Millennium for months - years. Now their baby has killed thousands and almost brought the country to its knees. They don't want to admit, though they'll have to wake up and do it, that an American ship did this because American officers betrayed us. The only way they see to keep the secret that they kept that secret is to keep this secret - even though it'll blow up in their faces."

"Maybe you should run for office, McGee," Abby suggests, surprising him. "I imagine it'll be an open field, with every politician in the country getting kicked out."

"No thanks." He appreciates the compliment but the idea of politics is worse than jumping out of a plane.

x

"You have no time, McGee," Gibbs declares, his readopted slave-driver persona fooling none of those closest. "The enemy is still out there. Admiral Hing was Morrison; that still leaves two ringleaders."

"Ohanian, no matter who he is, has been taken," Shepherd reveals. His capture had not been gentle, though it had gone unnoticed - openly - on the International stage. They figure they have, at best, a day before that situation reverses itself and there's hue and cry from the UN in New York down to the local hot dog stands. "If he's one of them, we'll get the third. Either way, we'll get them all. Every Agency in the country is on top of this, at the highest level. The lid's blown off."

"About time." To McGee, it's long past time.

"So," DiNozzo concludes, still dissatisfied for his friend, "the Force was with you, you beat the Death Star and saved the galaxy as we know it. It's just not fair there's no victory march through a thousand soldiers and Princess Leia's not there to give you the medal you deserve."

McGee looks to his left, down into the gleaming emerald eyes of the woman holding him, her face shining with love, then smiles at his friend. "You're wrong, Tony."

As Tim and Siobhan kiss, the cheer can be heard for blocks around.

.

Next Episode: Accused.

The death of a Marine Drill Instructor hits too close to home for many at NCIS, and the bitter pain of betrayal threatens to tear friendship apart.