Gibbs was so beyond furious he didn’t know how he was capable of not killing everyone in sight. A marine and his wife and two of his three children had been slaughtered in the most gruesomely sadistic way possible, and the third child was missing. And now some nameless character with a whole bunch of black-suited flunkies was trying to take the case away from him.
He’d had to return to headquarters from where he had been working a crime scene because Abby had told him that the first load of evidence had already been taken away from her before she’d ever gotten anything.
The office looked like it was about to explode. All the rest of the NCIS agents were glaring just as angrily as Gibbs at the milling men in suits, but in an even more focused away at the man who stood out from everyone else: wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, one of his eyes was covered in a black eye-patch, and he was clearly the one determining what evidence would remain and which would be removed.
That made him Gibbs’ target. Under any other circumstances he would have had something contemptuous to say about this man’s team building skills given how quickly his flunkies got out of Gibbs’ way.
“I don’t know what the hell kind of jurisdictional crap you’re trying to pull here, or what kind of political pull you think you have, but this is my case and you are not going to take it away from me.” He started yelling even as he approached the man and by the time he finished, he was practically spitting in the guy’s face.
But for all that, the man just let him yell. Gibbs found himself panting a bit, like he’d been holding his breath too long, had yelled with everything he had in him, and now, wasn’t sure what to do next.
For a moment the man just watched him and then said, “That’s not my call to make.” And then he turned away.
That, Gibbs knew how to deal with. He grabbed the man, spun him around and forced him against the nearest wall. “Like hell it isn’t!”
More than a few guns had been drawn, both by the agents in black and by the watching NCIS agents, but the man in Gibbs’ grip didn’t even struggle.
“No, it really isn’t. You just said yourself, you don’t know what the hell of kind of jurisdiction I’m pulling. Well, maybe you should think about it a bit. What kind of jurisdiction am I pulling?”
The calmness of the man actually did work a bit to help Gibbs calm down. At least he could breath right, even as he continued to pin the man to the wall. “The shitty kind of jurisdiction.”
The man actually had the gall to roll his eye at that. “Obviously. But tell me, what is so secret that you can’t know it? You’re the head of the major crimes response team of the Navy police. What is it that you are not allowed to know?”
“What?” Gibbs actually took a step back at that, letting the man stand on his own feet. The man had sounded… angry. He hadn’t been mocking Gibbs, he’d been angry at Gibbs for not having high enough clearance.
This time the man took a step forward. “I hate working with the government agencies, just like every other agent here, but I think I have it right. Because my organization doesn’t do classified. We do secrets because we’re all a bunch of crazy mavericks, but we don’t do classified. I can tell whoever the hell I want about whatever the hell I want. We have brochures. We have powerpoint presentations. We have support staff to help friends and family understand, to help victims and bystanders and random curious civilians. We tell anyone who needs to know or wants to know. Except,” it wasn’t until the man poked Gibbs in the chest that he realized their positions had been reversed and now Gibbs had been backed into a wall, “except,” the man repeated, “for agents of the United States’ government. Those, we don’t get to tell.”
It was practically a snarl by the end.
“What?” Gibbs found himself repeating. He wanted to desperately to fight someone and this man had seemed the obvious target, but this didn’t make sense. This didn’t make any sense at all. A quick look around showed that the other NCIS agents in the work area were just as confused. The agents in black, however, clearly knew exactly what was going on.
The man seemed to deflate. Closed his eye. “That’s the political pull I have.” He sounded weary. “In exchange for all the information and all the resources you have and full immunity for my people performing their duties, I don’t involve any federal agent in our mission or allow them to become involved. In exchange for the information, I send my people in without back-up or risk to government agents.”
Gibbs blinked and then did another quick look around. The agents in black were listening intently but the fact that they’d done nothing to protect this man from Gibbs now made a whole lot more sense. This man wasn’t their leader or their teammate. He was providing assistance under duress, and now they were listening carefully to make sure he didn’t overstep their lines. But they didn’t care about him at all.
Gibbs looked at them and then turned back to the one-eyed man who was the only person here without back-up. “What’s your name?”
It was an inane question, but it seemed to break the tableau they’d gotten themselves into.
The man snorted lightly. “Xander. You?”
“Jethro.” If this man was going by his first name, Gibbs would too. “Why don’t we go out and get some coffee.”
The agents in black stiffened and one of them finally tried to intervene. Both Xander and Gibbs ignored him, for all that Xander shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Jethro. I would love to have your help. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier if I could use you and your team. But my girls are out there right now, looking for your killers. They’ll find them and they’ll kill them. Our people have a very specific jurisdiction and within that jurisdiction, our people are judge, jury, and executioner. We need the immunity we’ve bartered for in exchange for going in without back-up.”
Xander paused, but Gibbs knew enough about interrogations and confessions to know that he wasn’t finished. Gibbs was just as glad to know that the people who had caused the slaughter he'd seen would get no offer of mercy. He wasn't upset by that, at all, and he knew the other observing NCIS agents weren't either. And while Xander was clearly directing talking directly to Gibbs, Gibbs was absolutely sure that Xander was well aware of the rest of the NCIS agents listening in. He may not be allowed to brief anyone here, but he wanted to—he would give them as many clues as he could, along with warnings.
Xander looked down, took a breath and then looked directly into Gibb’s face, and said, without flinching, “They’ll also find the missing kid, dead or alive. And if they find him still alive, they’ll judge whether he’s merely been tortured horribly, so that they can take him to the hospital to recover, or if he’s been inducted into the gang. Because if they find that he’s been made to kill, has been brought into the gang like every other member of this gang has been recruited, then they’ll kill him just like they do the others.”
“He’s ten years old!”
“Which maybe means they just took him to torture. And kill.”
“He’s. Ten. Years. Old.”
“Yes, he is. But once upon a time, every other member of the gang was, too. Every single member of this gang was a victim and unwilling participant once upon a time. We don’t deal with regular bad guys, we don’t punish and we don’t rehabilitate. The grey areas of human conflict are left to other organizations. We only deal with the extreme cases and we only provide extreme solutions.”
One of the agents in black coughed rather pointedly.
Xander’s answering smile was more wry than happy. “And I've reached the limit of what I can say.”
They were still staring at each other when a phone rang.
Xander looked away to answer his cell phone before the second ring. “What’s the what?”
Gibbs could faintly hear a girl’s voice on the other end. A woman’s voice, if he wanted to be politically correct, although really, it sounded more like a girl’s voice to him: young. He couldn’t tell what she was saying.
Xander looked surprised, though—surprised and happy. “Really?”
More talk on the other end.
Then, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. And maybe a quick patrol of the hospital itself, too. Just to be safe. But well done. Both of you. Ice cream is on me.”
The squeal on the other end of the line made Gibbs wince, but Xander was smiling when he hung up.
“You lucked out, Jethro. Marcus was found, tortured but alive and uninitiated. He’s on his way to the hospital.”
Gibbs was almost out the door when Xander caught his arm. “I assume you’re going to help figure out his living situation?”
Gibbs glared at that. That couldn’t possibly be a real question.
Xander rolled his eye again and did not remove his hand. “It’s a yes or no question.”
“Of course I’m going to help him!” Gibbs yelled.
“Good. Because my team has somewhere else to be. But,” and Xander released his grip on Gibbs’ arm to pull out his wallet and remove a business card, “here’s the contact information for a psychiatrist who is in the know. If she can’t help him herself, then she might be able to recommend someone else who can.”
Gibbs accepted the card and then had to glare off one of the agent in black who tried to take it away.
“Seriously, dude?” Xander addressed the agent in black. “It’s a business card for a local psychiatrist to help a traumatized kid. I’m not even carrying any of my own business cards for this trip.”
While the agent in black apparently accepted this explanation, it brought Gibbs’ attention back to how crazy this whole situation was.
“What’s to stop me from just asking this Dr. Noake to tell me what she knows?”
Xander shrugged. “Nothing. You can ask whatever you want and she can tell you whatever she wants.”
Gibbs frowned. There had to be a trick.
Xander shrugged. “I wasn’t lying to you: we like having allies in the know. But… I also wasn’t lying to you about how we have brochures and presentations and support staff to assist with the telling. It’s not an easy debrief to make. A lot of people who aren’t even officially part of our organization still come to us to help with telling someone new. It’s not easy and there’s a reason why the U.S. government doesn’t want their agents involved. And… I can’t completely disagree with them.”
Gibbs just stood there thinking it through. He knew he needed to get to the hospital, but this was important.
After a minute of Gibbs contemplating the card in his hands, Xander went back to sorting through the last of the evidence, for the agents in black to cart away. Before leaving himself with his escort, Xander paused in front of Gibbs again. “Whether or not you decide to ask or receive an answer, make sure that Marcus gets help. It’s not an easy world we live in.”
Xander waiting until Gibbs nodded his agreement, but then left without telling Gibbs his last name or even his organization’s name or answering any of the many questions circulating in Gibbs’ head. What he left behind, though, were plenty of avenues for further investigation and a gut feeling that Gibbs, and any other agent who decided to follow this though, would learn some pretty terrible things they wouldn’t be able to un-learn.