For a split second, Tony glances at Ziva, shooting her the, I really wish these assholes would stop running look, before they break into a run after their suspect.
Where the hell does moron think he’s going to run? He’s in a tenth floor apartment. What’s he going to do, fly?
Ziva tacks right, through the living room. Tony takes left, into the kitchen.
The perp is cornered in the dining room. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Two ways in, and each of them has an armed Federal Agent pointing a gun at him standing in the middle of it. He puts his hands behind his neck without being asked and smiles at Tony and Ziva.
It’s automatic. They’ve done this so many times they barely have to think about it. He keeps his gun on the Perp. She lowers hers, grabbing her cuffs, heading (wide) to cuff the perp. They’ll take him to the car, toss him in the back, then down to the Navy Yard, Processing, Holding, and Interrogation.
He’s looking at Tony, and something’s wrong. He’s still smiling. He’s looking at Ziva. He’s not acting caught.
Something is wrong. Tony feels it all through him. Something is wrong.
Tony fires before anything other than wrong can form in his head.
“Oh God!” Oh godohgodohgodohgodohgod please, please, please pleasepleasepleaseplease. Tony feels like he’s going to shit his pants, puke, and pass out all at once, and the only thing stopping that is that he’s got to see if the man he just killed has a gun.
He’s never… He’s shot people before, but never… SHIT. Ziva’s just staring at him, stunned, and he can’t move, can’t do anything but stand there, too awash in too much everything to even see if his life is about to end, too.
Bad shoots happen. That’s just part of being a cop. You get twitchy and someone moves wrong and FUCK! He can feel the tears starting. He didn’t wait. He didn’t see. He didn’t say stop, or freeze, or hands where I can see them, or anything. He just fired, three shots, all in the chest.
Ziva finally moves, to the body, not bothering to check if he’s still alive, they can tell by the smell and the puddle of urine to go with the blood that he’s gone. She reaches behind his neck, guessing that’s got to be what Tony saw, and then says to him, “He had a gun. It’s taped up between his shoulder blades.”
Tony nods once, exhales long and shaky, and then his knees go out, and he hits the floor, shaking.
When he’s got control of himself, he notices Ziva’s moved something. Their perp (victim) had been standing behind the dining table in his home. Behind that table was a painting of a woodland scene. Ziva’s moved it, swapped it out. Now there’s a mirror over the table, and he guesses the woodland scene is wherever the mirror was.
She’s calling it in, officer involved shooting, no need for an ambulance. AI will be here soon. He’ll give them his statement. Perp had a gun and went for it. Cut and dried…
“Tell me what happened,” Ziva says, crouching on the floor next to him.
“I don’t know.” Because he doesn’t. Not really. That’s not true, he does know. He knows exactly what happened. Someone made a threatening… something… not exactly a move, but something, toward his wife and child, and he killed the man for it.
“Wrong answer.” Ziva’s cool, and in control right now. She’s in clean up mode, and he wonders, vaguely, how many times she’s done things like this. Made a bad kill look good.
He rubs his forehead, takes a deep breath, lets it out, swallows, and then says, voice calm, “We chased Darner in here. I pulled my gun and told him to stop. He looked around, saw there wasn’t an exit, then turned to face us, hands up. He put his hands behind his neck. I nodded at you, and you holstered your weapon and proceeded to take your cuffs out. I kept my gun on him. You were going through his rights. I…” He doesn’t know. He’s not sure if he saw it, felt it, sensed it, or just knew, but somehow, something, maybe a twitch, maybe his arm tightened slightly, maybe it was a little move (maybe he was just going to scratch an itch, the little, and not very helpful, voice in the back of Tony’s mind says) but whatever it was, Tony read it as a threat, to Ziva, and he open fired without warning. Tony’s eyes flick to the mirror, and what Ziva’s given him with that. “…saw him reach for his gun. I told him to stop. He didn’t. I fired three times.”
Ziva looks at him, eyes steady. “Exactly.”
AI takes hours. Jimmy and Allan have come, taken care of the body, and gone while they’re still talking. Warner’s team has come, cordoned off the building, and processed the scene, and he and Ziva are still talking to AI.
Their stories match, but not perfectly. They know how this works. They’re pros. The main details are all the same, but Ziva remembers him saying ‘Freeze’ he remembers it as, ‘Stop.’ Little details that get muddled when you look at real eye-witness statements are different, instead of rehearsed, prepped statements you get from people who don’t know how to do this.
Ziva claims she saw Darden shift his left hand toward the gun. Tony claims right. Tony was watching in the mirror. Ziva saw it from in front of him. Just little things like that, easily explained by people being people.
It’s not a fun six hours, but when it’s done, it’s done. Tony’s a good cop, with sixteen years at NCIS and a clean record. The wrong guy tried to see if he could get the drop on the wrong cop.
“You gonna yell at me for this, too?” Tony asks Jimmy as he steps into Autopsy. (He’d gotten a text saying, Come down.) “Gonna wake up and find you’ve pulled some cruel shit to go with another bad decision?”
Jimmy raises one eyebrow, and Dr. Allan decides now is a very good time to dematerialize. Two seconds later, he’s vanished, and Jimmy says, “Guy draws on your pregnant wife, you can shoot him as many times as you want and then cut his balls off and wear ‘em for earrings, and I won’t say boo.”
Jimmy takes two steps over and gives Tony a hug. Tony stands there, stiff, not letting himself be comforted. Jimmy sighs, so much for trying that. He steps back.
“I called you down so you can run me through it. If anything doesn’t match your version, it’s not going to make the report.”
“You don’t need to--”
“You’re right, I don’t. But I will. Because you did the right thing, and I see no reason for you or Ziva or your child to suffer for it.”
That gets through where the hug didn’t.
“I don’t know that I did.”
“He’s dead. She’s not. You did the right thing.”
“I shot before he reached for it. I think he was thinking about it, but…” Tony shakes his head, leaning heavily against one of the autopsy tables, staring at Darden, who is lying on the other table. “I didn’t see him move.”
“He was looking at her, and…” Tony’s replaying it, again, trying to find the trigger, what made him move. “It felt bad. Something was wrong, but… I didn’t know about the gun until after he was dead.”
“Ah fuck.” Jimmy bites his lip and says, “All the more reason to make sure everything’s clean then.”
Tony narrows his eyes. “You ream me out for Jeanne but give me a free pass on this one? This one is dead because I fucked up.”
“You’re a good cop. No one has ever doubted that. It felt bad or wrong… So you got him before he went for it? You don’t spend half your life training your gut to scream when something’s wrong to ignore it. You don’t have to let him take a shot at Ziva, not for me.”
Tony’s eyes are narrow, and he’s not looking relaxed or comforted.
“I didn’t ream you out on Jeanne for making a mistake. Jeanne wasn’t a mistake. It was wrong and you knew it and you did it anyway. This, at worst, is a mistake. People make mistakes. It happens. Place a credible threat against Breena, and I’ll attack, too. Tim’d do the same for Abby. Anyone who tries to mess with Abbi Borin better be ready to have so many holes in him he’ll work as a sieve. And that’ll be before Gibbs even gets to him…” Tony flinches. “What?”
“Gibbs’d have to get in line, because Abbi can take care of herself and she’s got all of those years of training and a gut that yells when there’s danger.”
“Ziva didn’t feel it. She was relaxed enough in it that she was looking down and getting her cuffs.”
Jimmy winces, too. “Nothing?”
“After, she looked at me, and she was surprised. That I remember.”
“Then you made a mistake. It happens. And this wasn’t some unarmed, innocent bystander, and it’s not like you were gunning for him because he wasn’t paying taxes or had a joint on him. He’s wanted for…” Jimmy waits, letting Tony fill in the blank, hoping that saying it out loud will help.
“A few bombings, believed to have killed three cops in the UK, mostly he’s a courier. Gets things from point A to point B.”
“So, this,” Jimmy points to him, “was not a good guy. This is not Mr. Wrong Place Wrong Time, and he’s sure as hell not Mr. Even If He Is Guilty of What You’re Saying He Did, That Doesn’t Deserve the Death Penalty. If you brought him in, and he didn’t deal, we’d have fried him.
“And, here… haven’t sent them over to Abby and trace yet, but…” Jimmy grabs the bag that has Darden’s belt in it. It looks like a plain, black leather belt with a silver tip on the tongue. Jimmy tugs on that tip, and out slides an inch long knife. “Razor sharp. Can’t stab with it, but it slashes just fine.” He places Darden’s boots on the table next to Tony, flips one of them over, and turns the heel. There are lock picks in there. “God knows what else he’s got hiding that I haven’t found, yet. What else he may have had in that room. Take me through the shooting.”
Tony shakes his head. “Don’t need to. It’ll all match up right. Everything in the story happened the way it really did. Only difference was I saw him go for the gun in the story and told him to stop.”
“Okay. AI done with you?”
Two days later, his gun is back in his holster, and the case is behind him.
Personally… Not even close.
He can’t talk about it. Not yet. Not to Ziva, not to anyone. He can give the route answers as to “what happened,” but they’re lies.
He fucked up. That’s what happened. Doesn’t matter what he had tucked away. Doesn’t matter that Darden wasn’t a good guy and the world is better off without him. He fucked up. There are procedures. There are steps in play to make sure you take the guy, and all of the information in his head (which was why they wanted him) into custody, alive.
He and Ziva were out there. A man, who he didn’t know was armed, made a move (probably, something had to set his threat sensor off) and he took him out. All of it happened before the part of his brain that actually thinks got into the act.
On a sub-thought level, he knows they were chasing Darden because he was part of a trafficking ring. He ended up on their radar as a link to a link that Bishop pulled out of their data feed. He was, of all covers, pretending to be a Petty Officer working for the Quartermaster out of Norfolk. Not a bad way to get things from here to there. He could find a ship, add an extra box of, something, and whoever else he had in his circle could pick it up later. He was wanted for moving humans, drugs, guns, money, anything that anyone might want, into and out of the country. According to Interpol, ‘he was a person of interest’ in two bombings (thought to have been the guy who got the explosives from point a to point b). He had successfully escaped capture three times, and killed cops twice to do it.
When Tony thinks about that, he feels better about jumping the gun. (Literally.) Obviously this guy had some sort of ace in the hole. (A plastic derringer taped to his back. And lock picks in the heel of his boot. And a tiny knife hidden in his belt. But he didn’t know that until after.) Tony likes to think all of that was processing in the back of his mind, and that, plus that move (that he doesn’t know if he actually saw or not) made his body fired before Darden could get the drop on him.
When he thinks about the fact that there are no good reports on how Darden had killed those cops, (bodies were found burned to skeletons and parts were missing) that there was no way for Tony to have known he had a gun, that he shot on blind panic, that he does not, in fact, remember seeing a move, he feels terrible.
Bad shoots happen. They just do. The cop who’s never screwed up is like the surgeon who’s never lost a patient, one who’s been on the job for such a short time the opportunity just hasn’t arisen.
If you’re lucky, like Tony, you’ve got cover, you guessed right, and the next day you go back, promising to do a better job.
If you’re not, that’s the end of the perp, and it’s the end of you, too.
But the fact that it happens. That everyone has one… That’s not making it easier to deal with the little voices in his head.
It’s been a week. It’s well after midnight, and he’s not sleeping.
He rolls out of bed and grabs his phone. You up?
Five minutes later, when he’s decided that Gibbs probably is sleeping, or might be at Borin’s or something, he gets back. Door’s open.
Gibbs is in his basement, working on Little D’s rocking chair. He’s actually been up all night working on it. After dinner he hit his groove and has been happily crafting away. The only reason it took him so long to respond was he didn’t hear his phone buzz. He’d been sketching out the shapes he wants each piece to be on the wood he’s using and decided his pencil was a bit duller than he likes for this kind of work. When he turned to the bench to sharpen it, he saw the text icon on his phone, and replied.
He knows that Tony killed someone last week. They talked about it a bit at Shabbos, but he blew it off, and Ziva gave them that little headshake that said, ‘Sensitive, don’t poke.’ So they didn’t poke.
But Gibbs knows that look. He’s worn it himself. He’s seen it on Tim. He’s seen it on Fornell. And he’s seen it on Mike. No matter what actually happened, Tony thinks it’s a bad shoot.
And he knew, when he saw Ziva’s headshake, that Tony’d be here, sooner or later, when he’s ready to talk.
By the time Tony gets there, Gibbs has two more slats sketched out, and the bourbon poured.
“She had to move the mirror,” Tony says in lieu of Hello.
Gibbs would have to admit that that’s a tad more cryptic than he’d like, but he can pretty much figure out what Tony has to be saying by it. Only one she he could be talking about, and only a few reasons to move a mirror.
Gibbs hands over the drink, and pretty much puts Tony onto a stool. “Start at the beginning.”
So he does.
Tony gets to the part about seeing or not seeing or whatever it was, and Gibbs interjects, “The gut knows.”
“Try telling IA that.”
Gibbs inclines his head. “I know.” Then he looks at Tony, waiting for the rest of the story. And, finally, the mirror comment makes sense.
“She gave you cover, something you could explain to IA.”
“Yeah. She knew it was a bad shoot—“
“Stop that. Your wife and child are breathing. Any shoot that accomplishes that is a good shoot.”
“Jimmy said that, too, but I didn’t know Gibbs, I panicked.”
“You knew. You knew he was dangerous. You knew he was in his own home. Why run into the room with no exit in his own home? Not like he got lost. You knew he’d killed other cops. You didn’t know how, but you knew he’d done it. He puts his hands behind his neck, not his head, why? Without being told, why? You knew.”
“Felt like panic. I’ve made good shots, besides the first one, I never almost pissed myself or hit the floor. Never didn’t sleep for a week after a good shot.”
“But all of those things did happen the last time you almost lost Ziva.”
“Yeah. That’s why I panicked. That’s why I didn’t say stop. I shot before anything…”
“And it was a good thing you did. He had lock picks in his boot, a hidden knife in his belt. You yell stop. He stops. Ziva grabs the gun, cuffs him, hands behind his back. Into the car you go. Call it in. On the road, he picks the lock, pulls the knife, holds it to Ziva’s throat until you stop the car and let him out. Maybe he takes your gun, too. Maybe he slits her throat before he runs, knowing that calling for help and trying to keep her from bleeding out means you won’t follow. The gut knows. You knew.
“As a husband and father, as the man guarding my daughter and grandchild, you did the right thing. As your father-in-law, friend, mentor, whatever it is we are to each other, I am proud of you. Your family comes first, above and beyond everything else.”
“As your ex-boss, as a cop, you fucked up, and not because of the shot, but because you had the person you’d take a blind shot for on your team. That’s why you were ready to piss yourself, not because it was a bad shoot, but because Ziva was the one next to you. You wouldn’t have taken that shot if Bishop had been there, and knowing how close to FUBAR you could have gotten wouldn’t have hurt so bad if Draga had been in that car with you.
“There are a lot of good reasons for 12, and that’s one of them. I have been exactly where you are, and the only reason I was even around to ever be your Boss is when Jen and I finally got the shit cleaned up, enough people had stopped breathing that no one besides us knew what had happened.
“Jen and I split after that. Lots of reasons, but one of them was I’d made it clear I couldn’t work with her. Same for you. You’re done. You can’t work with Ziva. Since you’re the problem and she isn’t, normally I’d say you need to hand in your badge, but you know she’s planning on leaving soon, and there’s no one else you’d make that mistake for.”
Tony nods, feeling absolved.
“But don’t put that gun back on if you go out with her. Better yet, don’t go out with her. I know it’s early days, but it might be time for her to leave, or go on desk work, or whatever it is she wants to do.”
Tony shrugs. “She’d been talking a bit about working with you on the houses.”
Gibbs smiles at that. He'd like having Ziva working with them.