Chapter 1: Prologue
Lightning arced across the darkening sky, followed by a deep rumble of thunder. A sharp gust of wind buffeted against the side of the silver Porsche Boxster, but Tim McGee barely noticed. His mind was occupied with the series of events that had happened over the past few days, a string of unfortunate occurrences which had culminated in tragedy.
Tim barely managed to keep his vehicle within the sets of lines that bordered the edge and marked the middle of the winding stretch of blacktop as the winds increased and the clouds grew heavier with the impending storm. Another bright flash of lightning pulled him from his dark thoughts and he raised his foot slightly from the gas pedal, allowing the car to slow in anticipation of the deluge that was rapidly approaching. It was then that he noticed, about a hundred yards ahead, another car pulled off on the side of the road. He could just make out the owner, standing next to the disabled vehicle, their posturing indicating a definite need for assistance.
Deciding that he could at least try to help someone, despite his failure to do so earlier in the day, he applied the brake and shifted down, bringing the car to a halt just behind the other vehicle. He positioned his car so the headlights provided illumination, climbed out of the driver’s seat and cautiously approached the driver of the other car.
“Need some help?” he asked. The other driver, a petite, dark-haired young woman, eyed him warily before responding.
“Do you know how to change a flat? I tried calling Triple A, but I can’t get a signal out here.”
Tim pulled out his own phone and was surprised to find that he could not get a signal, either. “Sure, I can change it for you. Is your spare in good enough shape to get you to a service station?”
“I guess. I’ve never used it before, and the car is only a couple of years old.”
“Should be fine, then. Do you have a jack in your car as well?”
“I think there’s one in the trunk with the spare.” She pulled out her key fob, clicked the remote, and Tim saw the trunk pop open. He walked over and lifted the lid before checking inside for the spare, which he found under the trunk floor. He twisted the cap on the bolt holding it in place and pulled it from the well with a grunt. It was heavier than he expected. He retrieved the jack and set to work raising the car and loosening the lug nuts. He looked up at the woman, saw that she was watching him intently, and gave her a reassuring smile.
“Don’t worry, I’ve done this before. I’m Tim, by the way.”
“Kaylee. How long do you think it will take? I really don’t like the look of those clouds.”
“Not long.” He finished loosening the last lug and pulled the damaged tire off the bolts, then quickly replaced it with the spare, urged on by the rumbles of thunder that seemed to be getting closer by the second. He put the lugs back in place and tightened them before releasing the jack and lowering the car until the spare rested on the road. He then gave each lug a few more twists with the tire iron until they were sufficiently tight, then rose and rolled the tire back to the trunk. He put it in the well, secured it, and put the flooring back into place.
“All done. Just in time, too,” he added as the first large drops of rain splattered against the car.
“No problem. Drive carefully.”
Tim turned and started to walk back to his car, wincing as an incredibly loud crack of thunder sounded behind him, closely followed by a second, and he felt something slam into his back. He barely had time to register the sudden burning pain before his knees buckled beneath him and he fell face first onto the gravel shoulder. A second point of pain soon made itself known and he tried to scream as an intense wave of agony washed over him, but he was unable to drawn a breath to do so. As he lay helpless on the side of the road, he felt something slip into his coat pocket, only to withdraw a second later. A few moments later, he registered the sound of a car door slamming shut, followed by the rumble of an engine and the squeal of tires as the car pulled away, leaving him alone in his torment. As consciousness faded, only one thought penetrated the encroaching blackness.
The clouds opened and the torrent was unleashed, soaking the prone figure and diluting the streams of thick red liquid that flowed from his body. In a nearby pine tree, sheltered from the storm, three small, black figures watched the desolate scene. There was no trace of emotion in their dark, shining eyes.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
*twelve hours earlier*
Gibbs brought the sedan to a halt in front of the first of a group of compact cinderblock buildings and the four agents climbed out, checking their weapons and earwigs as they quickly made their way to the side of the building. They had received a response to the BOLO they had put out on their suspect, and the caller had indicated that the Marine corporal they were seeking, along with the thirteen year old daughter of his CO, had been seen entering the complex an hour earlier. The team had been searching for Corporal Marcus Isley for three days, ever since he had broken into Lieutenant Zickert’s home, beaten the man’s wife nearly to death, and abducted his daughter.
“McGee, with me. Tony, Ziva start at the back and work towards us.”
Tony and Ziva disappeared around the corner of the building and Tim followed Gibbs as he approached the door of the first building. After testing the lock and finding it broken, Gibbs cautiously opened the door and slipped inside, immediately followed by Tim. The cleared the room and moved deeper into the building, checking each doorway and room that they passed. Near the rear of the building, they discovered a set of stairs that went down to a basement, and after ducking down to check the room below, they pulled out their flashlights, descended the stairs and began to work their way through the lower level. Tim approached one of the doors and listened, certain he had heard something within. He motioned to Gibbs and when the lead agent joined him, they opened the door and stopped short. Their missing Marine was standing in the far corner of the small space, with the girl in front of him, a knife against her throat and a gun pointed at the two agents.
“NCIS, drop your weapons!” Gibbs shouted as both agents stepped forward and the girl let out a soft yelp when the man pressed the knife tighter against her neck.
“Get back, or she’s dead!” Isley growled in reply, and the girl began to cry loudly in terror. “Shut up!” he yelled at her and she choked back a sob.
“Let the girl go,” said Tim as he tried to keep his voice calm. “You don’t want to hurt her. Just put down the knife.”
“Little late for that,” Isley snarled and Tim’s heart sank when he saw the look that crossed the girl’s face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gibbs’ jaw clench as he, too understood what Isley had implied.
“Let her go, and you might still walk out of here,” said Gibbs. “Hurt her, and you’ll be carried out in a body bag.”
Isley’s attention was on Gibbs, but he had not lightened his hold on the girl. Tim managed to catch her gaze and gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s OK, Kristi. You’re going to be OK.”
“Put the gun down, Isley. You’re not getting out of here,” said Gibbs and the man stared at him for a moment before he slowly started to lower his weapon. Tim started to take another step forward, ready to grab the girl as soon as he could, but suddenly Isley looked at him and smiled.
“Guess I got nothing to lose.” Before either man could react, he quickly jerked the knife across Kristi’s throat, sending a spray of blood across their faces, and pointed his gun at Tim. The crack of a gunshot exploded through the small space and Isley fell, a hole in his forehead courtesy of Gibbs. Tim immediately stepped forward to catch the girl and quickly lowered her to the floor as he pressed his hands against the wound in an attempt to stop the rush of blood, but his efforts were in vain. The girl gasped once as she stared up at the agent and fell silent, her eyes slipping shut.
“No! Kristi, stay with me. Come on!” He pressed harder but the flow of liquid soon slowed and then stopped as her heart ceased. “Damn it,” he muttered as his eyes started to sting. He blinked several times to push back the tears that threatened to fall. He wouldn’t break down. Not here, not in front of Gibbs. He looked up and saw Gibbs watching him, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Boss, McGee, are you OK?”
The sound of Tony’s voice in his ear brought him up short, and he let out a shuddering breath as Gibbs answered.
“Found Isley and the girl. First building, basement, third door on the right. Call Ducky and get the kit from the trunk.”
“Just do it, DiNozzo.”
“Boss, I’m sorry, I—“
“Not your fault, Tim,” Gibbs said in a low voice. He turned and disappeared through the door and soon Tim heard a loud thump on the wall outside. He watched, waiting for Gibbs to reappear, but the doorway remained empty. Finally he stood and looked down at his blood soaked jacket. Can’t process a scene like this, he thought. He gave the room, and the victims, one final glance before he walked to the door and stepped into the dark hallway. Gibbs was nowhere in sight, but soon he saw twin lights at the end of the hallway, followed by two familiar shapes. One of the lights swept across him and he heard a gasp.
“McGee!” Ziva and Tony soon reached him, the concern on their faces apparent even in the dim light. “Are you OK?” Ziva reached up and touched his face, and he saw the red stains on her fingers.
“Yeah,” he muttered. “It’s not mine.” He pointed to the room. “Isley and…Kristi are in there.”
“He killed her. Gibbs killed him.” He looked down at his gore-soaked hands. “I need to get cleaned up, and then I’ll help.” He started to walk away and Tony grabbed his shoulder.
“McGee, are you alright?”
Tim shrugged off Tony’s hand and headed for the exit. When he reached the front door, Gibbs was waiting for him and wordlessly handed him a rag, which Tim used to wipe the blood from his face and hands. Gibbs watched the process and when Tim was finished he broke his silence.
“Wait here for Ducky. I’ll help Tony and Ziva.”
“Not open for discussion, McGee.”
After Gibbs left, Tim leaned against the building and lowered his head as he stared at the smears of crimson still visible around his nails and in the creases of his hands. A famous line from MacBeth popped into his head and he bit back a nearly hysterical snort of laughter before more sobering thoughts took over.
I’m tired of watching people die…
By the time Ducky and Jimmy arrived, the rest of the team had most of the scene documented, and Tim helped them prepare the bodies for transport. As they worked, he described what he had done in his attempts to save Kristi, and Ducky documented the evidence of his struggle. After everything had been gathered and loaded into their vehicles, Tim climbed into the back of the sedan without a word and waited for the rest of the team to join him. The ride back to NCIS was mostly silent, with only a few attempts by Tony to get Tim to talk. Once they arrived back at the yard, Tim retreated to the bathroom to scrub his hands and change into clean clothes. Soon he was back at his desk, typing up his incident report. When he reached the section of the narrative where he had to describe Kristi’s death, he paused and closed his eyes, searching for a way to describe the horror he had seen.
“McGee? You OK?”
He quickly opened his eyes and looked up to see Tony standing over him, a look of concern on his face. Tim took a deep breath and returned his attention to his computer screen.
“I’m fine, Tony. Just needed to rest my eyes for a second.” He resumed typing, but the silence from his partner was unnerving. “What?”
“McGee, you know it wasn’t—“
“Don’t. Please Tony, just don’t.”
Tony studied him silently for a moment before returning to his desk, and Tim got back to work on his report. Another hour passed and Tim sent his completed report to the printer. He rose to retrieve it and looked toward the exterior elevator just as the doors opened to reveal a tall, rather haggard-looking man in uniform. Tim felt a twist in his gut when he recognized the man as Lieutenant Zickert. Gibbs rose from his desk and met the man before he could enter the bullpen, gently guiding him towards the interior elevators as he spoke to him in a low voice that Tim couldn’t make out. The man turned once and looked at Tim before disappearing again, and Tim thought he had seen anger in the man’s expression. Why didn’t you save her? It’s your job. You could have done better.
After retrieving his report, placing it in a folder and setting it on Gibbs’ desk, Tim returned to his desk and tried to work, but the images from that morning kept flashing through his mind. He went over the scene several times as he tried to determine what he could have done differently, but he was unable to determine what other course of action could have produced a better outcome. Unfortunately that realization didn’t make him feel any better.
Finally Gibbs returned to the bullpen and after checking their reports told them all to go home. Tim grabbed his backpack and stood, quite ready to escape the scrutiny of his teammates, when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned, not surprised to see Tony standing next to him.
“Hey, McGee, Ziva and I are going out for drinks. You want to join us?”
“No thanks, Tony. I just want to go home and get some sleep.”
Tim bit back a comment about not having anything to celebrate and shook off Tony’s grip before walking to the elevator without a word.
When he reached the parking lot, he climbed into his car and shut the door, realizing that he had lied to Tony. He didn’t want to go home. He didn’t think he could sleep. Finally he decided to take a drive, hoping that would take his mind off what had happened.
Tim woke with a start and blinked, wondering why his bed was so damn uncomfortable. He raised his head and looked around, then immediately rolled over and sat up, groaning as he took in his surroundings.
Where in the hell am I?
He was sitting on the gravel shoulder of a two-lane road which stretched in either direction as far as the eye could see. The sun had already risen, barely visible through the low hanging clouds which seemed to cast a pall over the entire landscape, giving it a washed-out appearance. There was no one else in sight.
Suddenly the memory of the previous night’s events surfaced and Tim gasped, reaching around and checking his back for the damage caused by whatever had hit him. Nothing. No wounds, no other evidence of violence. His car was nowhere in sight, and when he checked his pockets, again he found nothing: no keys, no wallet, no ID, no cellphone and his gun holster was missing from his belt. He pulled up his pants leg and saw his knife sheath was missing as well. Wondering just what the hell had happened, he slowly got to his feet and took another look around. No sign of civilization, anywhere.
Tim sighed. It looked like he would have to walk until he found a phone, or until another car came along and he could convince someone to give him a ride. Now the big question was, which direction?
He was scanning the area again, trying to decide, when a sound caught his attention and he looked up to see a bird flying overhead: a crow. He watched as it landed on a tree branch a few yards ahead of him, to the east. Soon it was joined by two others and they all sat on the branch and watched for a few minutes before taking off as one and flying off to the next tree, a few yards further down the road. With a small shake of his head, Tim made his decision and started off in the same direction. No worse than flipping a coin to choose, I guess.
As he walked, the crows kept just ahead of him, flying as a unit from tree to tree. Tim recalled the correct name for a group of crows and smiled ruefully. A murder. Gibbs is going to murder me if I don’t find a phone, and fast. He picked up his pace and continued on his path, glancing back every once in a while and listening for the sound of an approaching car, but the area remained silent except for the occasional caw of one of his winged companions. I really am out in the middle of nowhere. He thought about his reason for stopping last night and winced. So much for being a Good Samaritan. Tony is never going to let me hear the end of this.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Tim caught a glimpse of a roofline through the trees. When he reached the clearing he saw a squat, weather-beaten wooden building with a gravel lot out front. The sign next to the building simply said BAR, and the small neon OPEN sign in the window was lit. There were no cars in the parking lot, but Tim figured they would at least have a phone he could use to call his boss.
When he opened the front door, he heard music, and saw an old-fashioned jukebox standing just inside the door. Soon he was able to discern the words to the song and smiled as he recognized it.
If you believe in forever
Then life is just a one-night stand
If there's a rock n' roll heaven
Well you know they've got a hell of a band…
It was one of his Grandmother Penny’s favorites. He remembered her singing it along with the radio on one of the infrequent road trips his family had made together and encouraging him to join in. Probably to annoy his father more than anything, he mused.
He looked around and saw only a single customer, seated at the bar with his back to Tim. The man appeared to be asleep, but when Tim approached he raised his head and spoke in a rather gravelly voice.
“Agent McGee. About time you got here. Pull up a stool and have a drink. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Startled at hearing his name from a stranger, Tim froze for a moment before cautiously approaching the man, ready to defend himself at the first sign of aggression.
“Who are you, and how do you know my name?”
The man turned to him and smiled. Tim stared at the man and gasped in shock when he finally realized who it was.
Lyrics are from Rock n Roll Heaven, by the Righteous Brothers.
So, who is the man in the bar? A hint: it’s someone we’ve seen on the show before ;)
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Gibbs leaned back in his chair and looked up at the large glass panes overhead, trying unsuccessfully to erase the day’s collection of unpleasant images from his mind. The rest of his team had left hours ago, but he had remained, needing the relative quiet and solitude to get his head on straight. His team knew that cases involving children always bothered their boss, but they had no idea just how much. Every young innocent face reminded him of the daughter he had lost, every expression of pain and terror he saw during the course of these investigations stabbed through his heart like a knife. The image of Kristi Zickert, wide blue eyes suddenly obscured by a spray of blood, had haunted his thoughts and while he had managed to hide his emotions, as he always did, he knew that image would not go away for a long time.
Gibbs was also troubled by the fact that another one of his team had been witness to the events and, in the aftermath, he had not been able to provide the support he knew was needed. McGee had never been one for accepting such condolences, but Gibbs knew he should have made more of an effort to ease the younger man’s pain. He’d have to talk to McGee tomorrow, under the guise of professional concern, to make sure he was really all right. He knew McGee wouldn’t accept any other type of comfort, as he feared showing any sort of weakness, but the lead agent would make sure McGee knew that he wasn’t alone in his grief.
Gibbs slowly sat up in his chair and looked at his watch. Ducky would probably still be down in Autopsy, and right now he needed the quiet comfort of his friend’s presence. Sometimes he required a different type of solace, one gained by seeing the woman he often treated like his daughter, full of energy and life, but Abby was away at a conference. He wouldn’t be able to see her until tomorrow, but he knew he needed something to help lift the pall that hung over his thoughts, so he rose from his seat and headed for the elevator, hoping to catch the M.E. before he left for the evening.
When he reached Autopsy, he saw, much to his relief, that the tables were empty and Ducky was at his desk typing up his own report of the day’s tragedy. As Gibbs stepped through the sliding door, Ducky looked up and gave him a weary smile.
“Jethro, I had a suspicion I’d be seeing you yet this evening.”
“Know me too well, Duck.”
“Indeed. I also suspect that it is not just your own issues that have brought you here. You’re concerned about Timothy.”
“He’ll bounce back. He always does,” Gibbs replied, as much to reassure himself as his friend.
“True, but one begins to wonder how long that will continue. He has taken in quite a lot over the years, and had internalized much of his anguish. Rather like someone else I know.”
“Your point, Duck?”
“Perhaps it is time you discussed this with him…before he is no longer able to keep everything ‘bottled up’ as everyone expects.”
“McGee isn’t much for talking about that stuff, Duck. Neither am I.”
“Then maybe it is time for a change.”
“What brought this up?”
Ducky sighed. “Just a feeling, if you will. Timothy seemed uncommonly affected by today’s events. I am worried about him, and I believe he needs the support now.”
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. I was planning on it…but you already knew that.”
“Yes, I did, but I think both of you need to discuss these issues, really discuss them. Before what you have been holding back reaches critical mass.”
“Don’t think that will happen. McGee’s not gonna talk to me, not like that.”
“You won’t know until you try, Jethro.”
Part of Gibbs knew what Ducky was saying was true, that McGee, as resilient as he was, might need more than the usual curt assurances and silent support but it was, if not easier, more comforting to fall into his normal routine.
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“You do that. Now as for—“
Ducky was interrupted by the ringing of Gibbs’ cell phone, and he gave a weary sigh as Gibbs answered.
“Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs?”
“Yeah?” he replied, an uncomfortable tension rising in his gut.
“This is Emily Phillips calling from Suburban Hospital. You’re listed as an emergency contact for Timothy McGee—“
“He was brought in to our Trauma Unit about twenty minutes ago. They’ve managed to stabilize him and have taken him up to the O.R.”
“What happened to him?”
“It appears he was shot. Maryland state police found him on a rural highway, about five miles northwest of Burkittsville. He was Med-flighted in.”
“Where was he hit?” Gibbs glanced at Ducky, whose eyes were wide with alarm, as he steeled himself for the answer.
“In the back, twice.”
Gibbs rubbed a hand over his face as he tried to control the rush of fear he felt for his agent. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He snapped the phone shut and turned to his friend.
“Who?” Ducky asked before Gibbs could say anything.
“McGee. He’s at Suburban Hospital. Someone shot him in the back.” Gibbs opened his phone and hit a number on speed dial as he remembered a conversation that had taken place in Autopsy just a few hours ago…
How did this happen? You were supposed to save her…
I’m sorry for your loss…
Not yet, you’re not. This isn’t over…
Gibbs barely managed to control his anger as a voice on the other end answered.
“I need you back at the Yard, now,” he barked as he headed for the exit with Ducky on his heels.
“Boss? What’s going on?”
“Call Ziva and have her meet you here. I need the two of you to track down Lieutenant Zickert.”
“Zickert? Why? What happened?”
“McGee’s been shot.”
There was dead silence for a few seconds. “Boss, is he--?”
“In surgery. We’re on our way to check on him.”
“He was Med-Evac’d to Suburban’s Trauma Unit.”
A pause. “Bad.”
“Yeah. Get a move on, Tony. We need to find the son of a bitch that did this.”
“On my way, Boss.”
The drive back to the Yard was silent.
Ziva had not said a word since the two of them had climbed into Tony’s car and left the restaurant where the two of them had been having a late dinner and discussing their teammate. To hear that said teammate had been seriously injured while they were relaxing had been painful, like a knife in Tony’s gut, and he didn’t think he’d forget the expression that had surfaced in Ziva’s eyes any time soon. The fact that she hadn’t insisted on driving gave further evidence to her distress, but Tony had been unable to broach the subject which occupied both of their thoughts, and he had lapsed into silence as soon as they were on the road.
They retrieved the Lieutenant’s file and headed for his residence in Quantico, still unable to openly discuss McGee’s situation. Tony tried to tell himself that his probie would be fine and that Gibbs’ standing order to them all that they weren’t allowed to die would be followed by the younger man. They’d find the Lieutenant, get him to confess, and then they could focus on helping McGee recover. Tony didn’t want to admit how worried he was for McGee. He understood that he was in denial, but he also knew there wasn’t really anything he could do about it.
When they reached the lieutenant’s house the lights were out and the driveway was empty. If the lieutenant had attacked McGee, he was likely on the run and had chosen to vanish rather than return home to avoid suspicion.
“He could be at the hospital with his wife,” Ziva said softly, the first words she had spoken since they had left the restaurant. Just as she finished, headlights pieced the night and they saw a car approach, which soon slowed and turned into the driveway.
Tony and Ziva climbed out and waited for the driver, who soon emerged and turned in their direction.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Lieutenant Zickert? NCIS. We need to speak to you.”
“What do you want?” he asked as he slammed the car door and headed for the front steps of the house.
“Where were you tonight?” asked Tony as he followed the lieutenant, his hand on his service weapon. The man turned and glared, nearly shaking with anger.
“Where was I? At the hospital, with my…” His voiced cracked. “With my wife. I went there as soon as I left NCIS, and… I needed to tell Liz…” The man’s face twisted with grief. “She’s gone. My family is gone.”
The man’s anguish was palpable, and Tony’s instincts told him it wasn’t an act. “I’m sorry for your loss--”
“I don’t want apologies from any of you. If you had done your job… Just get the hell out of here. Now!”
Tony glanced at Ziva who nodded in understanding. They climbed back in the sedan, but Tony didn’t start the engine.
“We should check at the hospital,” Ziva said softly. “And then we may go check on McGee.”
Tony could only nod in agreement as he turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life, and he guided the sedan back towards the gate entrance.
As soon as they arrived at Suburban Hospital, Gibbs and Ducky found the ER and searched for the information desk. The nurse on duty informed them that McGee was still in surgery, and Ducky volunteered to go get more information from the doctors while Gibbs was directed to the waiting area. He found the small room, occupied by another man who looked up as he arrived.
“Are you Gibbs?”
“Yeah. Who are you?”
The man stood and held out his hand. “Sheriff Alan Lurquin. I was waiting to transfer the evidence into our custody when I overheard the nurse talking to you. Recognized your name. NCIS, right?”
Gibbs took the offered hand and gave is a quick shake. “What can you tell me?”
“One of my men found your agent on the side of County Road 30, probably only a few minutes after he’d been shot. Wasn’t a robbery, since his car was still there, and his wallet and ID were still on him.” A strange look crossed the sheriff’s face and he lowered his voice. “My officer was out patrolling that area because this isn’t the first shooting like this we’ve seen. I was thinking I’d have to call in the FBI before I realized this latest…victim was an agent, and well, your reputation precedes you. We’d appreciate your agency’s help. I have my people at the scene now, but with this storm...”
“Not much is going to be left. What about the other cases?”
“Most recent was two weeks ago, and the other was three weeks before that. They all happened on nights where there were bad storms in the area.”
“I’ll need to speak to the other victims.”
“Unfortunately they were both dead at the scene, found the next morning. I’ll contact our local lab about having the evidence transferred to your agency, and I’ll get the autopsy reports sent over as well. We haven’t had a lot to go on so far. Frustrating as hell.”
“I’ll send my people to supervise the transfer. Anything else you can tell me?”
“No connect between the first two victims that we’ve been able to find, but maybe your agent will add another piece to the puzzle. One big question we haven’t answered was why they were pulled over in the first place. The other two men weren’t local, just passing through as far as we can tell. Any idea why your man was out there?”
“Not yet.” Gibbs heard the sounds of footsteps and turned to see Ducky walking toward them, his expression grave. “How is he, Duck?”
“They’re still trying to stop the bleeding. Timothy has had two transfusions already, and they are running low so I am headed off to donate blood. We’re the same type.”
“Can I help?”
“I’m afraid not, since you are neither Timothy’s blood type nor a universal donor. I’ve called Mr. Palmer to come and donate as well, since he is. Unfortunately none of the rest of the team can help either.”
“How bad off is McGee?”
“Well, the good news is that the bullets missed both his spine and his heart, but unfortunately they did cause a great deal of internal damage. At this point all we can do is wait for the surgeons to do their job. Now I must get downstairs to the blood bank. The doctors have promised to let us know of his chances as soon as they know.”
“I hate waiting,” Gibbs muttered as Ducky walked off and Lurquin winced in sympathy.
“I understand. Listen, I’m going to go make sure the evidence from your agent gets transferred to you. I really hope he pulls through, Agent Gibbs. He might be the best chance we have of catching this bastard.”
Lurquin left as Gibbs sat down in one of the hard plastic chairs and sat back to wait, hoping that McGee’s injuries weren’t as bad as he feared.
Tim felt as if he’d stepped off a cliff. The impossible yet horrifyingly familiar face that had haunted his dreams was staring back at him, the hint of a smile now visible in sharp contrast to hatred Tim had always imagined that this man would feel towards him.
The man’s smile grew and he nodded. “Call me Benny. Or John, if you prefer. Mind if I call you Tim?”
“B-but…you’re dead.” He glanced around, unsure of what other horrors he would see, but the bar was empty. “Am I dead?”
“Not exactly, no. Now sit down, have a drink. This one’s on me.”
“Y-you…you w-want me to drink w-with you… But I killed you!”
“Yes, I want you to sit down and drink with me, and no, you didn’t kill me.” A dark look crossed his face. “That was my no-good bastard of a partner…ex-partner.”
“That’s zero for three, kid. Probably should quit while you’re ahead. No, you’re not dreaming, and you’re not dead, but you’re not exactly alive, either. You’re here with me now because we need to talk. Sit.”
Tim slowly walked to the bar and, after another glance at Benedict, carefully pulled out one of the stools and sat down. Benedict slid a glass over in front of him and filled it from a bottle that had been resting on the bar in front of the former detective. Tim stared at the glass and Benedict chuckled. “It’s not poison, I promise.”
Tim picked up the glass and took a cautious sip, his eyebrows rising in surprise when he recognized the taste. “It’s water.”
“Hey, I was an alcoholic and swore off the stuff in life. What makes you think I’d want to go back down that road again?”
“I, uh…” Finally something Benedict had said earlier registered. “What do you mean, I didn’t kill you? We could never tell which bullet was the fatal shot, and—“
“You think I wouldn’t know? I’m dead, of course I know who killed me! And it wasn’t you.” He studied Tim for a minute. “But that is something we need to discuss. You’ve been carrying that guilt for way too long, Tim. It’s time to let it go.”
“B-but…if I hadn’t been there, yelled at you, then…”
“Archer would have shot me and left me in that alley. Probably would have gotten away with it, too.” Benedict downed the rest of his drink and turned to face Tim. “You were doing your job. End of story. Now, there are a few other things we need to talk about, and there are a few things I need to show you. Finish your drink and we’ll get started.”
Tim picked up the glass again and poured the rest of the water into his mouth, swallowing as he set the glass back on the counter.
Tim managed a small nod, and then shook his head. “Where am I?”
“Not sure what its official name would be. I suspect you’d probably call it ‘Limbo’, but that’s not really right, either. It’s a half-way point between life and death, and you’ll have to decide, eventually, which direction you’ll ultimately go.”
Tim felt a chill down his spine. “So…last night, when I stopped to help that woman, she…?”
“Yep, but that’s not your concern. Your team will handle that. That’s their job, after all.”
Tim glanced around but they were still alone. “I’m sorry, but this is just…”
“Hard to accept? I can imagine. But what matters is that you listen to what I have to say…and learn from what I show you.”
Benedict clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on kid, let’s go for a walk.” He rose from his seat and headed towards the door, and after a moment’s hesitation, Tim followed. As they were leaving, Tim noticed that the juke box had changed songs, and he heard the last few lines as the door closed behind them.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll
Lyrics are from Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin ;)
Some of you may recognize the name of the town near where Tim was found, and yes, Tony will be making a comment about it.