Chapter Nine
Tearing and Tears

Death fills Tim McGee's ears, his eyes are clenched in anticipation of fiery agony but all he feels is a body pressed to the front of his. He forces his eyes open, sees the face of his beloved inches from his own. She's looking up at him from the floor, her red hair a halo about her head, but: "Are we dead?"

Tony DiNozzo, standing above them, suspects that their position may well be the Probie's idea of Heaven but "No, we're not dead."

McGee looks back and up at him. Tony is spattered with blood from head to foot, though his face is smeared with red. He'd tried to wipe off the gore.

He looks further about. Ziva is spattered to her waist. Gibbs, behind his desk as she had been, is equally marked. He'd tried to wipe away the blood, but it covers him in a sickening wash. Tim remembers feeling himself hit from behind - he doesn't want to see it.

He turns over, rolls off Siobhan and she sits up, her legs still pinned under his and they stare at where Mary Whitney had stood. Gibbs and David examine what's left of both halves of the woman's body. It's almost severed within the restraining steel that had been clamped about her body, and the odor of death and worse is thick in the air.

Blood drenches the bullpen, covers the four agents. Only Siobhan, shielded by Tim's body, had been moderately protected, the blood on her spotty.

McGee barely has time to take in the scene, to comprehend what's happened. Whitney lies where she'd stood, her midsection blasted, what's left is soaked in blood and worse and he doesn't look long. The glimpse of what's left, above and below her waist, is sickening enough.

Amazingly, the metal brace clamped about her body is intact. It contained the explosion of the twenty-five bombs, obviously less powerful than they'd seemed, directing the force inward to Whitney's midsection and upward and downward through her body, blowing out most of it. What's left of her body isn't severed, the spine remains somewhat intact, but the gory devastation is horrific enough.

Siobhan, still partially under him, shoves him, shoves again. She gets him off her legs and leaps to her feet, hand clamped over her mouth as she dashes out of the rear of the bullpen, cuts around through the adjacent bullpen and sprints for the Ladies room.

xx

In less than a minute agents who'd stayed near the entrances crowd Operations. These, however, are experienced Crime Scene Investigators so Gibbs' bullpen is kept vacant except for SSA Kevin Lamb and his teammates Lisa DuBois and Janet Levy, assigned to process the grizzly scene.

For the next half-hour Melanie Kelman, Patrick Larsen and Kenneth Templeton take statements from the shaken agents in the adjacent bullpen. Every moment had been recorded, but debriefings are essential. There are so many questions to be answered but some, they know, may never be.

Gibbs' team's bullpen is uninhabitable, covered with human detritus. The ventilators, revved up to full power, are inadequate to the job of clearing the air of the stench. No one leaves, however. Each Investigator knows that the only way not to smell the vile remains is to stay at their jobs; after a few minutes the sense of smell is simply overwhelmed and shuts down, the brain just stops receiving the impressions. They anxiously await that moment.

While furniture can be cleaned, virtually all paper, books, photos and other porous surfaces are heavily spattered with blood and various bodily fluids. Some things can be copied or replaced, but the majority must be trashed.

x

Tony had left the scene almost as soon as the other teams had arrived, but he'd changed clothes elsewhere rather than heading for the restroom, which had been his oft-stated destination during the standoff. Now, blood washed off and wearing blue coveralls, he sees Melanie Kelman has finished speaking to Ziva and approaches him to take his statement, but he holds his hand up to halt her. He's seen the haunted look in McGee's eyes as Patrick Larsen finishes their debriefing and drifts close enough to him to speak privately. Kelman waits, allows the men the moment. "Hey."

"Hey." McGee's still shell-shocked, he's spattered in blood and worse from behind, and neither is going to be so mindless as to ask if the other is okay. Avoiding that does limit, however, the things one can say.

"They done taking samples?" Tony glances pointedly over Tim's shoulder, referring to the Probie's bloodstained back. Of all of them only O'Mallory, shielded by and under Tim, had been spared being drenched.

"You?" McGee asks, his tone haunted, not even realizing the reply has nothing to do with the question.

"Yeah."

"Dry cleaning's gonna be a bitch."

Tony won't consider dry cleaning. He'd gotten out of his clothes and into the shower at the first possible moment after he escaped the room. "I'm gonna burn them."

Though Tim's grateful for a moment to talk, to try to get his head back together, the thought of 'head' makes him think of Tony's earlier needs. He'll think of anything rather than the blasted, nearly severed body under the red-splotched sheet in the bullpen behind him. "I thought you wanted to hit the Head."

Though he'd showered, Tony still feels unclean, and the overwhelming odor of exploded human body pervading the bullpen beside them won't let him forget the stench he'd had follow him downstairs. "Well, Probie, when those bombs went off, that wasn't exactly a problem anymore."

x

Abby and Ducky, their respective initial evaluations of the scene complete, join their colleagues in the adjacent bullpen.

Except for Tony, who'd acted before anyone among the equally ranked agents could assume control of the scene, they'd only been allowed to wash hands and faces. After photos have been taken, the clothes will be collected. No one is expected to want them back.

"What happened?" Jennifer Shepherd's demand to Abby is half a word faster than Gibbs'.

"I'll have to give you the details later," Abby says, "but those explosives were nowhere near as powerful as we'd been afraid of. They weren't even as strong as M-80's - not that they needed to be more, pressed up against her body like that. The twenty-five cylinders were open on the body side. The steel clamp that I thought was to prevent someone from shooting the cylinders contained the explosions. They directed all the force inward, upward and downward. Her shattered spine is all that's holding her together. Kind of."

"She wanted to rejoin her husband," Ducky observes, "and make sure you five lived with the guilt."

"I really thought she wanted us dead," Ziva says, holding her mask as firmly as she can.

"It turns out not. She wanted you alive - to suffer."

"Her version of revenge," Gibbs concludes, his voice tight when he wants to shout. There's no one to vent at. "Survivor's guilt and suicide-by-cop."

"I'd noted earlier she considered herself a devout Roman Catholic," Ducky continues, as though normal conversation could drive the horror back. "It is odd, considering her actions; however, I believe that while she was willing to commit suicide she did not want to face the consequences in the Afterlife for five murders. She preferred for you, rather than herself, to have eternal suffering."

x

Abby returns to Gibbs' bullpen to supervise the collection of evidence. It's unnecessary, the Forensics Team is quite capable and her place now is in her lab, but she pulls rank to stay close to her friends.

Shepherd turns to Gibbs, puts herself directly before him, her tone hard as iron. "You and your team report to the Staff Psychiatrist; then set up a schedule of therapy and go home. Take the rest of the week off, effective immediately."

Gibbs is as unwilling as she'd expected when she'd decided to make it an order. "We've been through wor–"

"Your team was held as hostages for nearly three hours, almost died–"

"I'd have handled it if O'Mallory hadn't interfered." She'd run away fast enough when she'd seen what was left of the body, which contents him. He'd thought she never should have been appointed and will be happy not to see her again - in spite of any potential connection to one of his team.

"I'll handle that." Shepherd knows the priest had followed her conscience and training and intends to 'handle' this complaint by depositing it in the circular file. There are more important things to consider now. "Your people have had their sanctuary invaded - and pretty much destroyed. Most of it must be scrapped - we'll try to preserve some personal stuff if we can. Now you know the Regs as well as I do so spare us both the quoting. Take the help in good grace and then go on vacation." He tries to cut in, she won't hear it. "A few days vacation will look better than Medical Rest Leave. Hit the showers and go home."

Gibbs wants off this subject and turns instead to Ducky. "You took your time getting here."

"Yes," Ducky grants, feeling caught between them. "When the explosives detonated the others rushed off immediately, but I was delayed dealing with a minor fainting spell."

Gibbs looks to where Kenneth Templeton debriefs Michelle. She and Ducky had arrived together. "She seems okay."

"Actually," Ducky pitches his voice lower, "I would be grateful if you would exercise some discretion on that subject. I fear that if Anthony finds out, Mr. Palmer will have quite some time living it down."

xxx

A half hour later Ziva slams the full box of ammunition onto the ledge before her and adjusts the fit of the large ear-covers that will shut out the devastating noise about to fill the basement firing range. She knows she cannot shut out anger the way she can shut out sound; she had failed to protect her partners and, except for a perverse twist of the mad women's mind, she and her part- her friends, would be dead.

She has already set the target sixty feet down the middle of three fields.

She draws her Sig, sights upon the target and does not try to repress the anger. She cannot.

She had never before been impressed with the American government's sense of Political Correctness until today. She puts a bullet through the female perp's forehead.

Two more hole the eyes and the rest of the bullets slit the target's throat.

She ejects the magazine, reloads and proceeds to dismember the image at every joint.

There's a stack of targets under the ammo box.

xx

Michelle Palmer opens her apartment door, turns right and cuts through the living room to the hall toward the bedroom but: "'Chelle."

She halts as Jimmy closes the door. She doesn't turn, doesn't say anything. All the way home she hadn't said anything.

"What can I do?" he asks from behind her. He'd always suspected, despite her denials, that there was more to what had happened to her on that dreadful day, but she would never let him in. He feels she's still not letting him in.

"Oh, Jimmy."

"I'm sorry."

This does make her turn quickly. "No, you have nothing to apologize for. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I - was..."

"'Chelle, why couldn't you tell me?" She bites her lip. Is it to keep from speaking, or from crying? She's not sure. He's not sure.

"I couldn't." The assault, the capture, the rapes had come just as he'd been recovering from shooting George Franklin. She hadn't been able to admit to the rapes, but "You were suffering so. I couldn't add to it."

"You were hurt. I'd've helped you."

She blushes, can't meet his eyes, finds a pull on the carpet. "You couldn't."

"I'd've tried."

"I needed you to," she admits, ashamed. She still can't look at him. "I told everyone nothing happened. I needed to talk. I couldn't find anyone left."

He steps up to her. "I'm here. I've always been here."

She looks up, reaches up, runs her hands over his chest. She forces a smile that she tries to make erotic. "I know how you can help me feel better."

He knows too, and he knows why she wants it. He stops her hands with his. "We will. Later."

Surprise makes her meet his eyes. He's never turned it down or even hesitated. Did he know she was doing it to-?

"Talk to me."

She can't.

"Talk to me."

"They-" The first word brings such pain, such a flare of misery that she has to fight. She'd tolf him about the beating, the torture, that's less than half the horror. She tries again, wants to say it, to express herself in words - calmly - and tries again. Misery slams her to silence.

A battering ram of grief smashes through her and she can only fling her arms about him, bury her face into his chest.

He holds her gently as the torrent overwhelms her.

xxx

Tony knocks on the door, knocks again, and his heart eases as he hears the locks on the other side click off. When the barrier opens he feels his heart open. He and Jeanne have been through so much, not the least of which had been revelations about her father and their brief separation until heart and soul brought them back together again so many months ago.

Now heart and soul are in equal pain, and she doesn't have to ask any questions. He supposes his eyes say everything, for she just opens her arms and takes him in.

He needs the pain to ease... but there's so much of it.

xxx

Gibbs stops on the basement stairs and looks down at the half-finished boat. Building it is therapy for him but there are some things a boat simply will not handle.

He finds he won't be working on the boat when Jennifer Shepherd steps around from the opposite side to stand in front of it.

"Waiting long?" He doesn't care if he gets an answer.

"Surprised I beat you, actually. You were the only one to leave without scheduling an appointment with Doctor Gyves."

"Got nothing to say to him," he tells her, descending the stairs. He knows the conversation isn't over so, reaching the bottom, he says what's been on his mind during the long drive circling the city twice. "She doesn't belong in NCIS."

Jennifer knew this old subject would weigh on him more than a disturbed woman making it all the way into Operations and trying to kill him and his team. That was an overt threat that a man of action and direction has an easier time dealing with. He's expressed this other point three times already in the past few months, and she decides it's time for a reasoned answer.

"NCIS is a strange puppy, Jethro. Always has been. Civilians investigating the Armed Forces, we take from the most eclectic walks of life and she's more civilian than the civilians. She's not even NCIS in the strictest sense. She carries a badge but she was recruited, not as an Investigator, but as a Consultant, or perhaps Independent Contractor."

"Damned too independent."

"If you mean she didn't follow your orders, you're right and I'm going to go into that. But I'm not letting her go, our people need her both in the religious sense and as an outsider who doesn't keep the records Gyves must."

He doesn't answer. Few could fill the many roles the priest does, and the service she provides is helpful on too many levels.

And then there's McGee. He can't very well distance himself from her when, in a week, there'll be two McGees for him to contend with.

"You don't like her, do you?"

Her words break into his thoughts and he can't answer this either. He'd first met her when she was a witness in a murder case and they'd butted heads harder than he had with any other witness in years. He hadn't liked how any of that case had turned out, and her personal involvement with a member of his team hadn't helped.

What if there hadn't been that involvement? Well, in truth she's a very attractive redhead and he's seen a lot of very appealing-

But she's associated with a member of his team and in a few days is going to be vastly more associated.

x

"Do you trust her?" Shepherd asks, contented with not receiving an answer to her previous question. She hadn't really wanted one for herself.

He'd never known, even when they were 'butting heads', of any reason not to trust her. In fact, her vocation and his knowing her distinct idiosyncrasy - that she can't look at someone and tell even a 'white lie' so to do so she removes her glasses to effectively blind herself - makes it easier to trust her than most other people he knows. If she keeps her glasses on, he doesn't even have to try.

x

"Would you fire her?"

Beyond her association with McGee, her service is too useful to too many agents. No, he wouldn't fire her. Yes, he's attracted to her and he's more comfortable with her at a distance for that very reason. Yes, he's mad that she followed her conscience and disobeyed his orders but she's in a position of not having to obey him - because she obeys someone else.

A strange puppy indeed.

"Now, Jethro," Jennifer says, satisfied with what she'd read on his inexpressive face, "let's discuss what you really need to talk about."