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Friends in Strange Places

Chapter Text

It’s a weird fucking case from word one.

Staff Sgt. John McAvoy, USMC, 31 years old, walks away from his post in the Middle of Nowhere, Colorado one Saturday (no one notices he’s gone at first on account of it’s his day off and everyone figures he’s on his couch at home with a beer watching college ball or something until he doesn’t show up for duty the next morning); somehow makes his way to DC.  Walks up to a table out on the sidewalk out in front of a little Mediterranean café in Georgetown, all buddy-buddy with the guys sitting there -- couple of colonels doing God-knows-what classified shit at the Pentagon -- shoots them both in the heart, in the head, clean shots, nice, sort of thing you’d expect from a guy who’d spent most of his career in Spec Ops, calmly walks down the street to a Starbucks’, shoots the place up, leaves the gun, vanishes into thin air  before the cops have a chance to get there.

Should be an open-and-shut case: guy must’ve had PTSD, guy snapped, guy shot a bunch of people, now it’s just a matter of finding the crazy dude and making sure he’s locked up in the Secured Wing at the hospital in Bethesda (for his own good, for everyone else’s good) before he shoots anyone else.

That’s the story his records want to tell.  Been in Iraq, been in Afghanistan, lots of lines blacked-out in what they’re allowed to see, but end of story, McAvoy comes home with a lot of new bling to pin to the front of his uniform, spends a few weeks in the hospital, gets his ass reassigned to guarding a bunch of eggheads working on some deep space telemetry project (whatever the fuck that is) out in BFE, Colorado  Survey says:  Shit Went Down,  NCO now damaged goods (but either now so decorated they can’t kick his ass out outright, or not so damaged they can just hand him a medical discharge and expect it to stick if dude isn’t feeling complicit in his own firing), NCO gets sent to the middle of nowhere to live out the remainder of his career where he can’t hurt anyone.  The police would probably believe it.  Hell, for that matter, most of NCIS would probably believe it. 

But if you listen close, there’s that subtle sound of bullshit rattling around when things should be ringing true.

Thing is, guy’s that damaged, even if you can’t prove it, you sure as hell don’t hand him a big gun (even if he’s only sitting in some guard booth in the Middle of Fucking Nowhere with his thumb up his butt checking IDs and making the yellow-and-black striped arm go up and down and up and down and intimidating the hell out of the bored teenagers that drive up there for shits and giggles and then going out for beer and pool with his buddies).  No, you hand him some line about how he’s going to be shuffling Important Paper for the good of God and Country and the honor of the US-fucking-MC (oo-rah) and chain his damaged ass to a desk where Someone Can Keep an Eye On Him. 

And then there’s the matter of Shooting Up Starbuck’s.  Crazy guys, ones who believe Everyone’s a Dangerous Terrorist, Even Soccer Moms, they walk in, start blasting away, kill as many as possible, and then run like hell before the Evil Terrorist Cops show up and drag them off to Evil Terrorist Jail.  What they don’t do is carefully ensure that while fifteen people were shot (in the arm, in the knee, in the thigh, in the foot), exactly zero people were killed.  Wounded, traumatized or pissed as hell, or traumatized and pissed as hell, depending on individual disposition, but pretty much the exact opposite of dead.  And Crazy Paranoid Dudes Who Ran Like Hell From The Scene sure as shit don’t leave their gun with fingerprints all over it (same gun used to shoot a couple of Very Important Colonels Working on Mysterious Shit at the Pentagon) right out there in the open for the local law enforcement monkeys to find.  And they sure as hell don’t wear their uniforms and make damn sure they’re on the security camera footage while they’re Shooting and Not Killing fifteen people, thus pretty much ensuring NCIS will be called in on this long before anyone bothers to run the fingerprints that are all over the gun 

If it’s not quite writing NCIS on the passenger seat of your car in your last few ounces of blood, it comes pretty damn close.

But it’s the meeting with the civilian linguistics specialist (what the fuck’s that got to do with telemetry, deep space or otherwise?) that finishes it.

Just blind stupid luck it’s Gibbs and Ziva that talk to her when finally she gets in to D.C. (long damn flight from The Ends of the Earth, Colorado, even absent the delay in goddamn O’Hare airport – there’s always a delay in goddamn O’Hare airport – and she’s exhausted and upset about John who she’d just seen Friday night, in fact).  DiNozzo’s out with the flu, and McGee’s off doing some incomprehensible  techie thing for another case they’re working and really can’t be spared right now unless Gibbs wants that asshole from JAG breathing down his neck (again, as usual) about how Gibbs is intentionally delaying them being able to take this thing to trial, and that’s the last thing he really feels like dealing with right now.

Dr. Willis is petite, blonde, mid-30s.  Green eyes.  Stylish wire-rimmed glasses.  Recently-trimmed shoulder-length hair pulled back in a short ponytail.  Jeans, pink Ralph Lauren polo shirt, gold Seiko watch.  Comfortable shoes.  Wears the visitor ID like she’s used to wearing a clip-on badge (would be, should be).  Carrying a big tan leather hobo bag that looks like she could hide an Uzi in it and which probably would cost him a month’s salary, at least.  She holds out a hand, Gibbs shakes it, Ziva shakes it.  Willis’s nails are short, neatly trimmed, unpolished.  Her grip is firm, her palm is dry and warm.  They offer the usual thank-you-for-coming-I-know-it-was-a-long-flight-out-I’m-concerned-about-my-friend-do-you-have-any-idea-what-happened-happy-to-help-in-any-way-I-can pleasantries; Willis’s face is serious, a little sad, a little worried.

Gibbs can feel the gun calluses on her fingers.

They’re in a conference room, not in Interrogation – no reason for interrogation, since she’s not a suspect, just there to help them find one.  Willis sits first, folds her hands on the polished table, crosses her legs, right-over-left.  Sits, as a lot of civilians would, with her back to the door.  Intentionally sits with her back to the door.  DiNozzo would have missed it.  McGee would have missed it.  Gibbs almost misses it, the way Willis’s shoulders twitch in discomfort  for just an instant after she sits, the way her neck tenses like she’d like to turn it and look at the door, rather be sitting in any other chair but this one, before she forces herself to relax (nothing to see here, just a civilian, move along).  It’s over so quickly Gibbs would have thought he was simply being paranoid (whole damn case is a big bucket of weird and it’s making him edgy) but for the quick look Ziva flicks in his direction.  Did you just see what I just saw?

The interview doesn’t feel scripted, doesn’t feel fake.  So far as he can tell, so far as Ziva can tell, given that she hasn’t yet shot Gibbs that look, Amanda Willis (Amanda Willis who is intentionally sitting with her back to the door) is telling them the truth.  Her truth, (mostly) unrehearsed, unedited, save the things that anyone working on a highly classified project carefully avoids saying.

No, of course she had no idea that McAvoy was planning to fly to Washington and kill people (she’d certainly to have reported it to her superiors if she had).  No, he’d never said the first word to her about knowing the two colonels he’d killed, much less having any kind of grudge against them.  But she doesn’t really know much about his contacts outside of Colorado, or even his family.  Not really at the take-the-girlfriend-home-to-meet-the-parents stage yet.  Probably won’t ever get there now, given recent events. 

They’d talked about football, and about maybe taking a vacation to San Diego when he got some leave time after New Years’.

    She has no idea where he’d go in D.C., who, if anyone, might shelter him.  Like she said, she doesn’t know any of his friends off-base.  But she assumes he’s smart enough (having been Spec Ops) not to get back on a commercial flight after what he did, or to rent a car under his own name.   And anyway, she’s incredibly worried about him (clearly he’s snapped), and hopes they find him before he hurts anyone else or he gets himself killed.

    It’s not that Gibbs gets the feeling that Amanda Willis isn’t telling the truth.  Certainly she’s not telling the whole truth, but given the nature of what she can’t say she’s working on (whatever the hell that is), that’s only to be expected.  No, it’s more her body language that sets his teeth on edge.  The body language that anyone in the office that wasn’t Gibbs or Ziva (or Jenny , which is to say anyone who isn’t still or wasn’t a paranoid fucking spook at some point in their career) would have missed.  Willis’s posture, the fact that she sat first, without being invited, the way she positions herself in the room, all studiously, carefully say, civilian.  Academic.  Harmless. The way she leans forward when talking to them says honest, helpful.   Her expression says, worried.   But Gibbs can’t miss the way Willis studies them out of the corners of her eyes when she seems to be looking down at her well-groomed nails, her gone-in-a-split-second, you-can’t-really-have-seen-that discomfort at sitting where she’s sitting, the way he’s pretty sure she’s scoped out all possible exits from the room.  And the one unguarded instant when he catches the woman glancing at Ziva and registering danger.  It’s quickly hidden, quickly covered with a façade of simple, civilian I’m worried about my friend who went crazy and shot up Starbuck’s; God, I hope you catch him before he does anything else.   But Gibbs saw it, and he knows from the subtle, interested pursing of Ziva’s lips that Ziva’s seen it too.  Both of them can feel the wariness radiating off the good doctor, for all it’s hidden several layers deep.

    For those that have ever been part of, or on loan to, one of the Agencies With Three-Letter Names, any of the many soldiers in dozens of Secret Little Wars, or Secret Big Wars, or Secret Parts of Not-So-Secret-Wars, that wariness becomes a reflex, natural as breathing, as necessary to one’s continued presence in the world of the living as a heartbeat.  Lose that wariness and you’re as dead as if you’d swallowed cyanide, or worse.  Gibbs feels a sense of kinship with her, a flash of sympathy, just for an instant.

    Again, what in God’s name that has to do with deep space telemetry, Gibbs has no idea, but the point is that there’s no reason at all for Amanda Willis’s body language to be quietly, subtly whispering spook

      Gibbs asks Willis who she reports to.  Asks it like it’s the pro forma question it is; he asks everyone.  If she thinks he’s too interested in the answer, Amanda Willis certainly gives no sign.

      Woman named Lt. Col. Samantha Carter, USAF.  Gibbs knows that name from somewhere, but isn’t sure where until they show Amanda Willis out (here’s my card, give me a call if you think of anything else) and Gibbs gets a chance to do some digging. 

      Carter’s an egghead, been on TV a couple of times with bits of wild technology the Air Force has been playing with.  McGee practically idolizes the woman, to DiNozzo’s eternal eye-rolling, God-you’re-such-a-geek-even-if-she-is-kinda-hot disgust.  But what interests Gibbs is that Sam Carter’s military record, up until she disappeared off to Buttfuck, Colorado seven years ago to work on deep space telemetry (at least with her degree in theoretical astrophysics, her assignment there makes sense), was nothing short of spectacular.  Egghead, yes.  But the kind of egghead you’d want on your team if you thought your mission to recover  the Technological McGuffin of the Week from the Enemies du Jour was likely to go 100%, completely and totally pear-shaped, because Sam Carter could shoot her way out of a situation as easily as think her way out, and make sure she dragged your sorry ass out with her while she was at it.

      What’s even more interesting is the identity of Carter’s CO. 

      Batshit Jack O’Neill (Gibbs served with Batshit Jack, years upon years ago, and while he can’t quite remember the details these days, he does remember that Batshit Jack was the one you sent in after everything had gone to shit and there was no help for it but to simply torch the whole fucking thing and start over fresh).

      A Marine that kills two  colonels who were working on some project way above Gibbs’s pay grade at the Pentagon, walks down the street and shoots a bunch more while Carefully Not Killing Them, and  then seems to want NCIS to investigate before  his fingerprints get run.  The Marine’s girlfriend, the academic-who-has-no-reason-to-read-spy-but-does.  A specialist in ancient languages working on a deep-space telemetry project.  Lt. Col. Samantha Carter, badass uber-geek.  Samantha Carter’s CO, Batshit Jack, who has apparently spent the last six years in Asshole, Colorado playing nursemaid to a bunch of eggheads after a highly-decorated career of doing things that are generally blacked out with permanent marker before anyone gets to read his record .  Leroy Jethro Gibbs doesn’t like it, because what you get when you solve that equation is two dead guys who used to work on Top Secret Shit at the Pentagon and a big ball of what the fucking fuck .