CHAPTER 7

Tim arrived to work pretty early the next day after digging himself out from under the dog pile. For some reason they had been literally piled on him when he woke. He was still surprised he hadn't noticed his position until he woke and even more surprised he was able to break throughout the night. Abby had been sprawled on half of him, Ziva had been on the other half, her arm around Abby, and Tony had somehow sprawled out between his legs a bit sideways, his head practically using Abby's butt as a pillow.

The man really was a grabber in his sleep.

He had been really tempted to wait it out and tease Tony about his position, of not only being between his legs but also how his head on Abby's butt, but he had wanted to get an early start to the day. And somehow, he had gotten out from under them without waking them up. They were behind as he headed to NCIS early, he had more searching to do on Nikolai Puchenko and Arkady Kobach.

So after grabbing himself another cup of coffee from the break room, he returned to the bullpen and saw Gibbs and Franks.

"Morning McGee."

"Boss," he nodded. "Mike."

"Hello Tim." Mike got up from his previous position of leaning against Gibbs' desk and stood before him with his hand out. "It's good to see you again."

"Likewise." He shook Mike's hand before continuing to his desk.

A part of him wanted to be angry at the man and confront him; he had been with Jethro for all those months down in Mexico, and never said a word. But all he had to do was think about his own actions, or lack of actions, and his anger went away. There was no use getting angry when he was partially to blame for Jethro not remembering earlier than he did. Besides, Jethro did remember and they were working on their relationship, and there was no doubt that Jethro addressed Mike's lack of information of his and Tim's relationship.

"So, uh, how are you?"

Raising his head to look at Mike who looked uncomfortable, Tim hid his smile as Mike looked a bit like Jethro did at the beginning of their relationship when he tried to be open and not his usual closed off self. It was rather adorable, though he would never say that out loud.

He nodded. "I'm doing well. Besides this case, how are you?"

Mike shrugged, his hands stuffed in his pockets. "Can't complain." He continued to stare at Tim for a few seconds before looking away and around, only to return to looking at Tim. Tim patiently waited as he knew the man wanted to say something else, and when he wasn't looking, Tim glanced at Jethro and smiled which Jethro gave a smirk in return. "So…I, uh, heard," he cleared his throat and Tim bit his lip to definitely make sure he didn't smile. "I heard you had it pretty rough these past few months."

"Yes." No use lying.

"Yeah." Mike scratched at his beard before stuffing his hand back in his pocket. "Well, I guess it's partially my fault, so, you know…sorry."

Gibbs was smirking as he sat at his desk and Tim finally let his smile show. Privately a little pleased that Mike apologized, he stood and walked around, clapping Mike on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it Mike. You're not alone in the keeping quiet part of this. Besides," he grinned, "we geeks are stronger than we look." Turning to Jethro, he said, "I'm gonna head downstairs to the cyber division so I can do a bit of deeper digging on the Russians. Can't keep hacking into things from the same computer or I'll get caught."

With a wink, he grabbed his coffee off his desk and headed out. But he heard Mike speak to Jethro before he was too far away.

"I knew I liked him for a reason, Probie, but, man, are you going to have your hands full with that one."

"…I know. It's great huh?"

He snickered and took a sip of his coffee as he waited for the elevator. The doors barely closed before a hand slipped in to stop it, and Jethro joined him. They rode a few floors before Jethro flipped the switch and turned to him.

"Yes Jethro?"

Instead of answering, Jethro grabbed him and pulled him to his chest in an embrace that filled Tim with warmth. He sighed into the man as he relaxed and tucked his neck into Jethro's neck, smelling the man and pressing a soft kiss to the skin, giggling when Gibbs groaned and his arms tightened.

"Tim, we said slowly."

"I know."

"Well, I can't go slowly if you do things like that."

Smiling, he pulled back. "Okay."

Jethro raised his one of his hands to rub the back of his neck in a soothing motion, his fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. "Thanks for not hating Mike."

"I can't hate him," he admitted. "Besides," he shrugged, "what I said was the truth. He wasn't alone in the keeping quiet part. I never said anything, he never said anything, and even the rest of our team didn't say anything and some of them had more opportunities to tell you than I did." Jethro nodded in agreement. "Now," he said placing one hand on Jethro's chest, smiling at the familiar feel of touching the hard chest, "I need to get to hacking."

Smirking, Jethro let him go with a kiss to his temple before he started the elevator back up.


Gibbs watched Tim get off onto the floor he needed, and smiled to himself when the elevator headed back up to his floor. He was glad Tim didn't hold a grudge against Mike, especially when Mike had done the unexpected and apologized. Tim really was amazing and had a way about him that he even got Mike to apologize.

Shaking his head, he headed to his bullpen and saw that Tony and Ziva had arrived, talking with Mike. His phone rang then and after hearing who it was, he suggested his two agents take Mike for a tour.

"Yeah," he said once they left.

"Agent Gibbs, Mr. Puchenko's lawyer, Marty Allen, is here."

"Alright thanks. You can send him up." After he hung up, he made a call for Puchenko to be escorted into interrogation room one and inform him that his lawyer was there.

It wasn't long when the three came back and Mike leaned against his desk again as he, Tony, and Ziva watched the screen where Nikolai Puchenko was in handcuffs and talking with his lawyer. Puchenko made a gesture to the camera.

"Same to you, Nikolai," Tony said.

"Who's that with him?"

"Marty Allen. His lawyer," Gibbs supplied before going back to his phone call.

Mike continued to stare at the screen. "Hope he's not a good lawyer."

Finally getting off the phone, he asked Mike, "Enjoy your tour?"

"Yeah, place is like a video arcade. You've got more technology in one room than we had in every office across the whole damn country. You know, if I needed to interrogate someone when I worked at Camp Pendleton, I'd take them into the broom closet with a telephone directory."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "No broom closet, no telephone directory…" and seeing the cigarette that was suddenly between his lips, he plucked it out and held it for Mike, "and no smoking."

"…Another three reasons why I left just in…time."

He looked over at what Mike was looking at that made him pause and saw Jenny with a man in a suit approach. She braced herself against the divider. "Special Agent Gibbs," she addressed, "may I have a moment?"

"Hoo-rah, gunny."

Smiling, he walked over to them, hearing Ziva ask Mike, "You know that guy?"

"Yeah. Like a rat knows a snake."

He stopped in front of the pair by the large windows. "Director Shepard."

"Special Agent Gibbs, this is Roy Carver, Homeland Security."

Carver stuck his hand out to shake, and knowing his manners for the guest—yeah he did have some manners that he followed—he shook his hand in return. Though he was agreeing with Mike and knew he was in the presence of a snake.

"Mr. Carver is here in relation to a suspect we're holding."

"Nikolai Puchenko."

"I'd like you to transfer him into Mr. Carver's custody."

He looked between the two. "Why?" His manners only went so far.

"He's working for us," Carver said, and wasn't that bull if he ever heard it. "He's providing valuable Intel on the arms trade among terrorist groups in Eastern Europe."

"Was he working for you when he killed a sailor yesterday?"

"I read the preliminary autopsy report on that, Agent Gibbs. Seems there's a lack of evidence linking Puchenko to the crime."

"He was carrying an illegal firearm."

"Not connected to the shooting."

"Yet."

"Well, find evidence that proves he was involved in any serious criminal activity and I promise I'll hand him right back to you."

Jenny stared at him with her director face and he really hated it. Hated even more the fact that he didn't have anything to stop this Carver guy from taking his suspect. "Do we have anything yet, Agent Gibbs?"

"We will."

"Until we do," she said slowly, "I'm releasing him to Homeland Security."

He looked away from the two and looked at Mike, who as expected didn't look happy with the order. He wasn't either, but he didn't have that disappearing bullet, so he couldn't hold Puchenko. So, looking away, he ordered, "Ziva, get Puchenko."

Gibbs made his way to sit at his desk while Carver talked to Jenny and Mike left to go talk to Tony, and it wasn't long before Ziva came back with Puchenko and the lawyer. She uncuffed him while Jenny had Carver sign the custody transfer forms that he used his desk as a surface to write on.

Mike straightened his suit from beside Tony's desk and Gibbs' watched him approach Jenny from his position. "Director…" Jenny faced Mike, "may I draw your attention to an NIS case code name Sunburst. Which dealt with serious allegations of arms smuggling by this man Nikolai Puchenko."

"I'm aware of the case, Mr. Franks."

Carver had straightened and turned his focus to Mike at the name Sunburst and cut in. "As I recall, the file was lost, Mike."

"I made a copy, Roy."

That obviously threw Carver off as he stared at Mike silently before speaking. "Jack Vale was the key witness. He's dead. You don't have anyone to testify."

"I was the case agent. I'll testify."

Gibbs hid his smirk. "Serious enough charges for you, Director Shepard?"

Jenny looked to Ziva who had silently made her way behind Nikolai during the talk, and nodded. "Take him back into custody." Tony got up to help Ziva with a now agitated Nikolai as Jenny took the form back from Carver. "I'm sorry Mr. Carver but NCIS is not through with this man."

"Homeland Security looks forward to reviewing the file."

Marty Allen sort of lunge forward a bit to be closer to them, though he pointed and addressed Gibbs. "This is an outrage. I strongly protest your department's treatment of my client."

Yeah, and he strongly protested the fact that he had to deal with lawyers, but you didn't see him complain. Instead, he inwardly rolled his eyes and jerked his head at Tony and Ziva to get them moving on escorting the arms dealer away. Though Puchenko didn't go quietly.

He started screaming in Russian and Gibbs stood at the threat to walk around to Mike.

Jenny watched the man get dragged away. "What did he just say?"

"He said you're a dead man." Gibbs stared at Mike. "Mike."

"Well, Mr. Carver, I believe that's all you need here. I'll escort you out."

"No need, I know my way out." And giving Mike one last look, Carver left and Jenny followed after.

"Um…what did I miss?"

The two men left looked at Tim who was holding a few papers and frowning. "We got a threat."

"…While I was gone?"

"Yeah."

Mike went to go sit in his chair while Tim moved to his own desk, still frowning in confusion. "What happened?"

"Nothing," Mike said at the same time Gibbs said, "Puchenko made a threat on Mike."

"I thought he was in one of the interrogation rooms."

"Don't worry about it. You got everything?" Tim nodded as he typed a few things on his computer and brought up the pictures of Arkady and then came over to join him, just as Ziva and Tony came back. So he gathered them round. "We're taking Puchenko's threat to kill Franks seriously, so right now this is who we have to worry about." He pointed to the first picture up. "McGee?"

"Arkady Mikhailovich Kobach, late 40s. Served with Puchenko in the Spetsnaz. That's the Soviet Special Forces. First Afghanistan then Chechnya. In 1990, Arkady executed three clerks in a payroll office because they could not pay his men. He then shot the colonel who came to arrest him. Been dealing arms ever since."

"I want a 24-hours protection detail. DiNozzo you're team leader."

"You're in safe hands, Mike," Tony assured as he looked at the more in depth information on Arkady.

"I've seen your hands, DiNozzo. They don't impress me." He addressed Gibbs but he wasn't hearing any of it. "I don't need baby-sitting, gunny. I can look after myself."

"After spending four months in that crap hole you call a home in Baja, I find that highly debatable."

Mike stared at him, like he was going to cave. Yeah right.

"Safe house, Boss?" Tony asked.

"Yep. Mine. Make yourself at home, Tony."

"Won't touch a thing, Boss."

The phone on Tim's desk rang before Tim picked it up. "McGee. We'll be right down. Boss, Ducky found the bullet."

They all made their way down to Autopsy where the freezer holding Vale's body was open and Vale was pulled halfway out. They all leaned against the closest table to the freezers while Gibbs stood next to the body, and Ducky was across the room, taking off his lab coat.

"It's fascinating where bullets can end up," he said as he made his back to the team. "I once found a .22 caliber slug in a woman's knee and she'd been shot in the chest. See, the bullet entered her heart, was pumped down through the aorta into the iliac and on down into the femoral artery. Extraordinary," he smiled and looked at Gibbs' agents and Mike who stared back at Ducky.

"So the missing bullet's in his knee?" Tony asked.

"No, no. Good heaves, no. That's much too easy, and anyway, it would have shown up on the x-rays."

Ziva asked, "So where is it?"

"I have no idea. None at all."

What the hell? He straightened. "You said you found it."

"Well, I have. I just don't know where. I can, however, tell you how. It was Abby who gave me the idea when she said that she would be sick to her stomach if she ever lost evidence. "Sick," that's the key word. So I had Abby run some tests of material I took from his esophagus and we found traces of protease pepsin along with all sorts of other things such as sulfides, oleic acid, polyphenols. But the smoking gun, so to speak, was the presence of triticum durum." He walked over in his enthusiasm to one of his screen that showed results from the test. They all continued to watch him.

"Pasta?"

"Specifically spaghetti cooked with garlic and olive oil. Spaghetti aglio y olio, as the Romans say. Very nice with a glass of Sangiovese. Anyway, anyway," he said as he walked back to the body, "when the bullet became lodged in his stomach, he became sick. What you might call projectile vomit."

"He puked up the bullet?"

"Yeah. Find the puke and you'll find the bullet."

Ziva's eyes widened as Tim finally spoke, "So you want us to look for a pile of dried-up vomit."

"Yes, and I'll need a generous sample so I can positively match it to what I found in the victim. Oh, and of course, the bullet."

"Ziva, McGee, get onto it."

"Well, uh, Boss, we have narrowed it down to a few city blocks."

Ziva spoke from beside Tim, her face scrunched up in disgust at her and Tim's task. "Vale must have still been on foot when he was shot or he would have gotten sick in the car."

"So maybe a parking garage or a parking lot. That narrows it down."

He nodded. "Go, go. Don't come back without the bullet." He was about to follow them out when he looked to where Mike had been and saw him gone. He turned to Tony. "Where is Mike?" Tony looked to where Mike had been before doing a circle as he looked around. "I thought you were supposed to be protecting him."

"I was," Tony said as he followed him out. "I mean, I… He was right here." They rode the elevator up. "Couldn't have gone far, Boss."

Gibbs nearly snorted at that. Tony didn't know Mike. "Don't count on it."

"Franks?" Tony called as he kept on walking, Gibbs stopping when he looked at the door and an idea came to him. "Franks?"

Gibbs walked around, smelling the smoke, and found Mike tucked in a corner behind the stairs with a cigarette. "Couldn't find a broom closet," he explained before putting it out under his shoe.

He got closer to his former boss so their conversation wasn't heard. "How do you know Carver?"

"Just another spook from the old days that made my job difficult."

"You never mentioned you made a backup copy of that file." The information would have been helpful to know when he had been trying to get Jenny to not make him hand over Puchenko to Carver.

"It was a long time ago, Probie."

"Is it enough?"

"Should do the trick."

"What's in it?"

Mike stared at him. "Where'd you lean to be such a pain in the ass?"

"Working with you. There's a lot of people who want to see what's in that file, Mike."

"Guess they're going to be disappointed. There's nothing to see. But there's plenty to listen to."

"…Vale was wearing a wire?"

Mike nodded as he walked away a bit to put distance between them. "And I was on the other end of it listening to every word. Dubbed a copy. Tell what I heard, audiotape backs me up and everybody's happy except for Nikolai."

"Where's the tape?"

"Safe."

"How safe?"

He sighed. "Safe enough that no one's found it for 15 years. This director, she's okay, I guess, but I get the feeling that you've been working under her a little too long."

"The world's changing, Mike."

"All the lines are getting blurred, Probie. Hard for a man not to step over them. And you can call off this protection detail." Gibbs shook his head as he leaned back against the wall. "I can take care of myself just fine."

"No, I can't do that, Mike. All you have to be is half a second slower and you're dead."

"Or the other guy just has to be a half-second faster just like it's always been. I'll be fine."

"I'm not gonna do it."

Tony peeked around the corner, his eyes on Mike, before sighing and yelling, "I found him, Boss!"

Mike smiled amused. "Nice work, DiNozzo."

Tony paused before looking at Gibbs who smirked and watched Tony nervously laugh.


Turned out the safe house was compromised and Mike disappeared, Tony left with a bump on the back of the head. Thankfully, when they got back and by the time Gibbs got done talking to Jenny and Carver, Tim and Ziva got back with the bullet.

Grabbing it once Abby was done with it, he made his way to the interrogation room and sat across from Puchenko and Allen, who was looking a little arrogant. But…he was a lawyer.

"I demand you release my client, Agent Gibbs. You've got no grounds to hold him. Your key witness has disappeared. You have no case."

"Oh, you're right I don't have a case against your client for arms dealing." He smirked as heheld up the little jar the bullet was resting. "But I do have one for murder."

Satisfaction ran through him when both men suddenly looked as if the floor had been ripped out from under them and starting whispering to each other as they leaned close. Gibbs looked back at the mirror to let the others know that he was proud of them for getting him what he needed.

He eventually turned back to Puchenko as he needed information that would get him to his former boss. "Nikolai, you have a choice. You can spend the rest of your life in prison, or you can cut a deal. And you can tell me where to find your friend, Arkady."


They quickly found where Mike was, but Gibbs was a bit thrown with how easily Mike shot Arkady, after he had lowered his gun. After he made sure Ziva and Tony had control of the scene, he followed Mike out to the front of the hotel and leaned against the wall like Mike.

"You set yourself up as bait."

"The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish you catch. Arkady never would have got to court, Probie, and you know it. Carver or whoever else is pulling the strings would have made sure of that. Another crappy deal. More innocent people die." He paused before talking again. "If you think I'm not going to sleep well tonight because of what I just did, then you're wrong. I'm going to sleep like a baby…because Arkady Kobach was a scary S.O.B. who kept me awake nights for the past 15 years."

"Someone else will take his place."

Mike chuckled before pushing himself off the wall. "That's your problem, Probie." He handed him the beer and Gibbs took it. "I got my guy."

He turned and was about to leave before Gibbs remembered about the tape. "Hey. You got that audio tape?"

Mike handed it over with a smile. "Beer's getting warm," he said before he turned and started walking away, and Gibbs was about to head back into the hotel bar when Mike called back. "And get rid of that damn moustache, Probie! It's not you!"

Chuckling, he got back to work.


Gibbs was at home, getting ready for his date with Tim that Tim agreed to. The case was closed, Nikolai was off to prison, his paperwork was done and he had gladly handed the tape over to Carver when he asked for it. Yeah, he knew there wasn't anything but Mexican folkdance music on the tape, but Carver didn't know that. But he would soon.

He looked at himself in the mirror, remembering Mike's words and the team's reactions to his moustache, and making a decision, he grabbed his razor.

The hair was gone in a few easy strokes, and when he rinsed his face, for the first time, he felt like…himself again. He completely felt like himself for the first time since he got his memory back. He felt balanced.

Heading over to Tim and Ziva's apartment, he couldn't keep the smile off his face. It was amazing what a removal of a moustache could do. He headed up to the apartment and knocked.

"Coming!"

Gibbs listened to the approaching footsteps and the door opened to present Tim, who gasped in surprise. "Oh God," he whispered as he stared at him, Tim's eyes raking his face.

He took his time to look Tim from head to toe, liking what he saw, and looked back up at Tim's face to see the brightest smile aimed his way. Gibbs didn't know how long it's been since he'd seen that bright smile, but he knew none of Tim's smile had been this bright, loving, and happy since the explosion. So…months. Too damn long.

"Hello Tim."

"Jethro," Tim whispered, still smiling.

Gibbs smiled back, and offered his hand to Tim, squeezing the soft pale hand once it rested in his hand. Things were going to be good. It would still take time, but it was going to be okay.

The End.


A/N: I like to think that Gibbs shaving off that damn moustache is like the finally step to get things back to the way they were. Because, like Tony said, the moustache isn't Gibbs.

The McGee's Keeper Series will be taking a pause for the rest of December as I'm kind of being hit by holiday ideas. "All You Need Is Faith" being one of them, along with a few Harry Potter fics, and a surprise NCIS fic that I've already written but won't post till Christmas. I just hope ya'll like it. :)

PLEASE REVIEW! They are appreciated.