Disclaimer: The NCIS characters mentioned below are not mine and no profit has been made in the writing or posting of this story.
Summary: "You're part of a team, McGee. If one person is having issues, it affects everyone."
Spoilers: Major spoilers for 10x11 "Shabbat Shalom" and 10x12 "Shiva", slight reference to 10x10 "You Better Watch Out"
He leaned back in his desk chair, looking out at the empty bullpen bathed in the dim lighting reserved only for night, without really seeing it. Too much had happened over the course of several days, too much pain and suffering and loss, for him to be able to completely prevent the images and sounds from replaying in his mind over and over again. Ziva's cries for her father still echoed in his head, the shattered look on Vance's face as he exited the emergency room was forever etched into his memory. Kayla's sniffles at her mother's funeral, trying to remain stoic and brave for the sakes of both her father and younger brother but succumbing to her own grief, and the blank expression on Jared's face, a small boy unable to fully comprehend that his mother was gone, that she was so violently taken from her family, had nearly shattered the already broken pieces of his heart.
He sighed heavily, running a hand down his tired face. The night sky was black, the only light reflecting through the wall of windows coming from the stars and cityscape that headquarters overlooked. It usually captivated him, a scene he was so used to seeing, completely transformed in the later hours of the day, bathed in darkness but illuminated in light. The outside world looked as beautiful as it did before, as it did every night. Why should it not? It was just a regular night for everyone else whose lives did not revolve around what happened in this brick building.
There was still so much to do, yet everything was at a standstill. They knew who was responsible, who had murdered Jackie Vance and Eli David, and who caused so many lives to spiral out of control. They knew that the power-hungry Ilan Bodnar had ordered the hit, but the man had disappeared, and no matter how many searches he had McGee run, no matter how many calls DiNozzo made, the murderer had remained elusive.
He had sent the boys home hours ago, to rest and regroup so that they could tackle the new day with as much intensity and ferocity as possible, not that they had not been doing so already. They both had exhausted themselves, working themselves into a stupor, trying to glean any clue, any lead that they could. He himself had stayed at his desk longer than what he had planned, going over the evidence again and again. No matter how hard he looked, the facts remained the same: two people were dead, a third if the reports about Kazmi were true, and the killer was named but not found.
Lightly massaging his forehead, he glanced at his watch, noticing the time. It was late and he needed to follow his own instructions. He needed sleep, or his best attempts at sleep, at in own house, on his own sofa. Ziva needed this from him, Jackie deserved it.
Standing up gingerly, he stretched his back, causing it to pop and he sighed in relief. He had been sitting still for too long. All the more reason to go home.
Stooping down to retrieve his bag, he threw one more glance around the empty bullpen. It was too quiet without his "kids." Turning off his desk lamp, the area fell into darkness, and he made his way to the elevators relying more on memory than sight. This was his home away from home, and the people who worked there were his family. Someone had hurt his family, again, and Bodnar would pay. Just not today.
He rode the elevator down to the ground floor, throwing a wave over his shoulder to the night guard, George. He was fumbling in his pockets as he walked, trying to retrieve his car keys, but the jagged edges of the key's teeth had caught on the fabric of the pocket. He stopped, hoping to get his pocket straightened and therefore be able to procure his keys, when George called out to him from the guard desk. "You guys are working a late one tonight, Gibbs? You're doing the case for Mrs. Vance, right?"
"Decided to call it a night," he answered, still trying to untangle his keys. "We'll have fresh eyes in the morning and hopefully be able to find something."
"Yeah, thought so. When I saw Tim's Porsche still in the garage, I figured you guys must still be working that case."
His head jerked up from his pocket. "McGee's still here?"
"Far as I know," the guard replied, confused. "Hank just came back from a smoke break and said he was by the Barry. Figured he was just taking a breather before coming back to do that thing he does with the computers."
His mind whirled. He had sent both Tony and Tim home hours ago. What was Tim still doing here? And why was he outside by the Barry? Kid must be freezing.
Seeing the thoughtful expression on the agent's face, George looked uncomfortable. "He's not gonna be in trouble, right? Last thing I meant was to get him in trouble."
"Nah, he's fine," he assured. "Thanks for the heads up, George."
"Yeah no problem," the guard called to his retreating back.
He walked through the automatic doors, the chill of the winter's night instant assaulting his face. Puffing out a breath of air, he watched it, the light gray mass hovering around his mouth but for a moment before it dissipated into the black night sky. Pulling the collar of his coat up and tighter around his neck, he followed the pathway down to the marina, nodding his head in greeting to those whom he passed on the sidewalk. Aside from a few people taking a leisurely stroll along the Riverwalk, it was fairly void of anyone given the late hour and January temperatures. So when he did eventually come upon the Barry, it was easy enough to spot the man leaning against the waist-high black metal posts lining the walkway overlooking the water.
He watched the man straighten up, toss something lightly up in the air and catch it with the same hand before gripping the object more tightly, bringing his tense shoulder and arm back behind his head, then rapidly propelling his arm forward, releasing whatever it was in his hand. He heard a plop as the object dropped into the water and slowly sank to the bottom of the Anacostia.
He recognized those tense shoulders, that sandy layered hair, the dark olive trench coat with the matching belt knotted in the back allowing the sides of the coat to flap in the wind. He found his wandering agent.
He stooped down, scooping a small stone from the walkway up in his hand. Tossing it up in the air and catching it in his hand, he made his way over to his agent. Tim drew back his arm again, throwing something in the water, tracking it with his eyes until the audible splash. He came up beside the younger man, leg resting casually against the linked metal chains connecting the black posts to one another. He was silent for a moment, giving his agent an opportunity to become aware of his presence.
"You need to put more wrist in it," he began. "You'll get it to go farther. Flick it like a Frisbee."
Tim said nothing, but changed his grip on the small stone in his hand, propelling it forward with a sideways movement of the hand. It skipped once across the water before sinking into the harbor.
The lights strung around the gunwale on the Barry cast a warm twinkling glow on the harbor, bathing the water in a pale yellow glimmer. The numbers 933 on the port side of the ship gleamed in the illumination, causing the otherwise plain metal contraption to become a beautiful, captivating radiance on the river.
He gripped his own stone in his hand, before readying it in the proper position and flicking his wrist, releasing it. The ship's light provided enough luminosity to watch it skip nine times across the water before finally having to give into gravity and descend into the watery abyss.
He remained by his agent's side, neither one looking at the other, both gazes out on the water, the light from the Barry casting interesting shadows on their faces. He shrugged his shoulders in an attempt to reposition his coat closer around his neck without removing his hands from the warmth of his coat pockets in which he had safely tucked them moments before.
Tired of waiting for an explanation, he got right to the matter. "Talk to me," he ordered.
Tim let out a big puff of air from his mouth, a sigh, visible to the eye for but a moment before it disappeared into the night. "Just been a long couple of days, Boss."
"Then why are you here instead of at home?" he asked, not yet seeing why his agent was willingly subjecting himself to the cold instead of being tucked beneath his blankets, in his own bed.
"I needed a few minutes to think," Tim offered in explanation.
"You've been out here for more than a few minutes, McGee."
The other man started, and turned to him in confusion. Digging through his pockets, his agent procured his cell phone, pressing a button to illuminate the display screen and show him the time. Seeing the late hour flash across his screen, the younger man looked back to him, clearly embarrassed. "I must have lost track of time. I'll head off to home and see you in the morning, Boss. Night."
Tim turned away from him, and started to move away from his perch along the walkway. "What's going on, Tim?" he tried, calling his agent to come back, to have a conversation.
The younger man would have nothing of it. "It doesn't matter, Boss. Just some things that I've been thinking about lately. See you tomorrow."
"It's bugging you," he noted.
"Yeah, it is," the other man agreed. "But in light of everything that's happened, it doesn't matter."
Tim had stopped his retreat, though the man's back was facing him. Taking a couple of steps, he came up behind his agent, swatting the other man on the back of the head.
"You're part of a team, McGee. If one person is having issues, it affects everyone."
"I wish I could do more for them," his agent sighed dejectedly, voice quiet, rubbing his head absentmindedly. "Mrs. Vance was always really nice to me. She was one of those people who made you feel important, even when you weren't doing anything important. Those kids, the Director, Ziva, they're all hurting and I don't know how to help."
He thought of himself. He felt the same. Powerless to help, to stop the torrent of grief that had settled on the people around him. "You've done really good work, Tim," he offered, his hand this time coming to grip his agent's shoulder, squeezing it to emphasize his point.
The corners of Tim's mouth twitched into a small smile that did not reach his eyes. "Thanks, Boss."
His agent's eyes became thoughtful, and the man shrugged himself free from his grip, making his way back to the waterway. "Superman Soup," Tim murmured aloud, albeit quietly, though it was loud enough for him to hear.
He sidled up beside his agent once again, studying the face that was refusing to meet his, which was instead looking out upon the river. They remained that way for several moments, before Tim visibly shook himself out of his stupor, casting a glance at his mentor. He quirked an eyebrow in response, silently questioning. Tim grinned sheepishly, cheeks flushing.
"Something I would make for my mom and Sarah when I was younger," the man offered in explanation, clearly embarrassed at the confession.
Tim got a wistful, faraway look in his eyes. "Yeah. I needed something to keep Sarah busy when she was a toddler, so I would let her separate all of the alphabet pasta we had into different piles. She'd get on these kicks, you know, when she thought on type of letter tasted better than the others. One time she insisted that we only use S's in the soup, and since Superman has an S on his chest…"
"It became Superman Soup," he finished.
"Yeah," his agent agreed. The man's smile deepened. "Think she wanted the S's because Sarah starts with an S, but Sarah Soup didn't have the same ring to it."
"Mom loved it too," Tim continued wistfully. "Said Superman Soup would make her feel strong again. It's stupid, really, but it always was our go-to comfort food. With everything that's been going on, I guess I just thought that it might help."
He clasped his agent's shoulder. "I'm sure it will."
Tim clenched another stone in his hand, before positioning in his palm and flicking it out into the water, dislodging the hand of his boss. It skipped four times before it lost its momentum with a plop and descended into the dark, frigid water.
"You call home recently?" he casually asked.
Tim glanced at him questioningly, eyes then darting quickly back to the river. "After the bombing at the Yard, I called Penny," he started. "I got an email from Sarah a few months ago."
"And your dad?"
The younger man was quiet for a while, and he thought that he would not receive an answer. "I called him a few hours ago," Tim admitted quietly. He waited for his agent to elaborated further, but the younger man did not offer any more information.
"And?" he asked leadingly.
Tim sighed, but it was not a sigh of trepidation or exhaustion. Rather, it sounded sad. Still looking at the river, refusing to meet his eyes, Tim answered, "He hung up as soon as he knew it was me."
They were quiet for a moment, the water lapping against the rocks below the walkway the only audible noise. "Yah know what," Tim started, "it's been a day. I'm tired, I'm sure you are too, let's just call it a night. This isn't about me. It shouldn't be about me. Ziva, the Director, the kids, this about them. Not me or my family's dysfunction."
He leaned casually against the waist-high pillar. "Family's a bitch," he declared, half smirking.
Tim huffed out a laugh. "Don't I know it." His agent threw another stone into the river.
"I was mad at Jack for a lot of years," he began carefully losing his previous mirth, eyes sliding over to his agent to gauge his reaction. "We lost a lot of time."
"But it's better now," Tim stated, almost questioning.
"Yeah, it's better," he agreed, "but still doesn't mean that all the years worth of arguments just went away over night."
"At least your dad tried," Tim murmured. "Tony's dad too. Especially at Christmas."
Tim smiled minutely, though the expression did not reach his eyes. "Despite all the horrible, awful, evil things he did, even Director David tried in the end." Realizing how it sounded, his agent rushed, "Not that it makes up for all the things he did to Ziva."
He nodded his head, letting his agent know that he understood what was meant and no offence had been taken. "That why you called home?" he asked. "To give your dad a chance to try?"
"Yeah, look how well that turned out," Tim replied bitterly. "It's going on a decade and the Admiral is still too mad to talk to me."
He took in a breath for fortification before plunging into what needed to be asked. "He still blame you for your mom?"
Tim's posture instantly stiffened, head snapping in his direction, an expression on his face bordering on disbelief and horror. "You know? How?" he asked shocked. Eyes rapidly darting left and right without seeing, trying to figure out an answer, the younger man closed his eyes in defeat when he reached a conclusion. "My personnel file."
"You were her primary caregiver, McGee," he reasoned gently. "That's going to show up."
"I know." Time sounded lost. "I guess I was just hoping that it wouldn't."
He pressed on. "Just like it would show up that you were the one to sign the papers to take her off of life support."
"She didn't want to be stuck in a body that wasn't going to work anymore. That couldn't work. She knew Dad would never agree to do it when the time came…"
"So she signed the forms to make you the one in charge of making those decisions," he surmised.
"It happened so fast," Tim replied, caught up in the memory. "Dad was at a conference in South Korea when she took a turn. She tried so hard to be strong, to hold on, but it just got to a point that she couldn't fend off another recurrence. I knew he would fight it if he was here, not let her have the last thing she wanted."
"So you turned off the machines before he could get a judge to change it," he finished.
"Yeah. The call to let him know she was gone was the last time he really let me talk to him." The grief and guilt was evident in his agent's voice.
They lapsed into silence, both overlooking the water, the cheery lights coming from the Barry reflecting a warm yellow glow on the river. Their cheerfulness seemed out of place for the serious conversation that was occurring. He cast a worried glance at his agent. The man looked exhausted, not just physically, but emotionally as well. There were too many memories dancing through his head, none of them pleasant.
"You know why I hired you?"
Tim glanced at him, surprised by the sudden change in topic of conversation. "Always figured it was because you needed a tech guy who had experience using a gun outside of video games."
He ducked his head in agreement, sure to make the movement visible enough for his agent to see. Turning around, so that he was heading back to the parking garage at headquarters, he called over his shoulder. "That, and knowing that no matter how difficult of a choice, you'd do the right thing. You did the right thing, Tim."
He smirked, visualizing his agent's stunned reaction. Walking briskly on the sidewalk, his footsteps echoing in the blackness of night, he called out, "Go home, McGee."
The next morning, the elevators announced his arrival with the usual ding, sliding open to allow him access to the bullpen. It was still very early, the first rays of light barely peeking through the wall of windows, and thus the work area was pretty quiet. The night shift was in the process of shutting down their computers and the day crew had yet to arrive. Taking a swig of coffee from his Styrofoam cup, he made his way to his desk, giving a cursory glance around the bullpen. The three desks surrounding his own were unoccupied, although Tim's computer was on. He must have left it on overnight, most likely conducting searches. He smiled fondly. Kid was persistent.
Sliding his pack from off of his shoulder and onto the ground behind his desk, he then proceeded to secure his gun away in his drawer. Carefully placing his coffee cup on his desk, he noticed a plastic Tupperware container that had not been there the night before. Letting curiosity get the best of him, he gingerly took off the lid, face contorting in confusion as he examined the contents of the container. It looked to be filled with a watery liquid, with chopped, bite-sized vegetables floating in it, in addition to unique looking pasta. Eyes narrowing, the pasta pieces came into focus, and he smiled in recognition. The pasta bits were in shaped in S's.
Spotting a folded piece of paper tucked underneath the Tupperware, he gently tugged on its corners until it slid out from bowl. The message was short, written in familiar handwriting:
Thanks for making me feel strong again.
a/n: I hope that you found this humble story interesting and that you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for taking the time to read!