“Back-up’s on the way, he’s on the edge, so we take it slow and steady, contain the situation. McGee, Bishop, go round back, we move on my mark.”
“On it Boss.” Tim signalled for Ellie to follow him and they circled the barn, preparing to bring to an end the suffering of Marine Sergeant Eric Dougan’s captive. Dougan had received final divorce papers during his latest tour of Afghanistan, and on learning he’d lost custody of his two year old son he’d come home a broken man. He’d tried to abduct the boy but had been thwarted by his wife’s brother, unable to get to the boy he’d raced through the countryside until finally coming to a halt at his family’s horse-riding stables. In his blind rage he’d taken one of the stable-hands hostage and had demanded his son in exchange for Mark Bailey, the terrified young man currently being held at gunpoint.
Ellie was so intent on watching for any movement she almost tripped over a fallen branch, Tim reached out and kept her upright. “Steady Bishop, we don’t want to spook him.” His voice was a low whisper, she nodded and smiled her thanks, they continued, taking care to make as little noise as possible.
They got to the rear entrance to the barn and settled into position, weapons at the ready, waiting for Gibbs’ word. They’d only been waiting a minute when there was a loud commotion inside the barn, the sound of horses whinnying, hooves clattering on the hard floor. “Something’s happening, why doesn’t Gibbs call?” Ellie was already heading for the door.
“Wait! It could be a…” Tim’s words died on his lips as Ellie pulled the door open and stepped inside. It was too late for further warning, whether this was a diversion or a trap, Tim had to follow. “Boss, we’re going in!”
Tim didn’t waste breath trying to explain, he raced in; Dougan had his gun raised, and Ellie was running right into the line of fire. “Bishop! Drop now!”
Gunshots echoed through the barn and the terrified horses set up an ear-splitting commotion; all was noise and chaos. Then, almost as fast as it had started the noise faded and order was restored; Gibbs and Tony had incapacitated Dougan, and freed Bailey. Before he had time to tear Tim and Ellie a new one the back-up team arrived and Tony handed the care of their wounded prisoner over to them; Gibbs strode toward the rear of the barn, his face like thunder. Ellie picked herself up off the floor, ready to face the music. She’d moved before being cleared to do so; she was for it now, Ellie braced herself, but Gibbs walked right past her, his rage turning to anxiety.
“McGee, Tim! Talk to me.”
Ellie spun round, her mouth turned dry as she saw Tim. “Is he…? Please don’t…” She heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief when the prone figure on the ground let out a quiet groan.
“I’m…good, landed awkward…winded.”
Tony was already at his friend’s side. “You need a hand Tim?”
“Couldn’t hurt, thanks Tony.” He was grateful for the support, getting the breath knocked out of him had left him light-headed. Tony looked him up and down, satisfying himself that Tim hadn’t been hit. “Why didn’t you wait? Back-up was almost here, you could have…why Tim?”
“It was my fault.” Ellie was shaken, more than she had been even when she’d taken a bullet, her Kevlar vest had saved her, but this time she hadn’t just put herself in harm’s way, she’d put her partner at risk and she wasn’t about to let him take the blame. “I heard the horses…thought he was going to start shooting, I…I made a mistake Gibbs; a really big one.”
Gibbs took a few deep breaths, his anger had quickly turned to concern when he saw Ellie and Tim on the ground, and when Tim didn’t move…they all needed time to process what had gone on here. “Put it all in your reports. Tim, when the EMTs get here for Dougan I want you to get checked out.”
“I’m fine Boss.”
“It wasn’t a suggestion.”
Tim bowed to the inevitable and sat quietly as one of the medics gave him a brief examination, declared herself satisfied and after getting him to agree he’d take things easy for the rest of the day, she let him get back to work.
“Seriously Tony, I think I can manage a tray of coffee without help.”
“Just assisting with the doors.”
“Most of which are automatic.”
“Mere details…Hey, check out the probie.”
They’d made a strategic withdrawal to the coffee shop so Gibbs could talk with Ellie undisturbed; judging by her slumped shoulders as she stood staring at her desk, the talk had not gone well. Tony took a cup from the tray and the candy bar from his pocket and waved them in front of her, she didn’t move. “Come on Probie, you know you want this.” He ripped open the candy bar and wafted it under her nose.
“I shouldn’t sit there, it’s not right.” She brushed her fingertips along the surface of the desk; then with a sigh she finally looked right at them. “The women who sat there, they were special, I just can’t step into their shoes. Today…McGee you could have…”
“I could have what, stopped you before you opened the door, shot Dougan before he managed to fire…?”
“No! You know what I mean, he turned the gun on you.”
“And he missed. You made a mistake, it’s happened to all of us, the important thing is you don’t beat yourself up over this; learn from it and move on.”
She smiled rather sheepishly. “That’s kinda what Gibbs said.”
Tony grinned. “I can imagine; now sit, because unless the boss gave you your marching orders, you’re here to stay.”
Reluctantly she did as he said. “It feels wrong, Agents Todd and David…they’d never have been so stupid; how am I ever going to measure up to them?”
Tim set the coffee cups on her desk. “Campfire Tony?” His friend nodded with a smile and they both wheeled their chairs to Ellie’s desk. “Listen Bi…Ellie; Kate and Ziva, not going to dispute they’re a tough act to follow, but they…all of us, we’ve made mistakes.”
“Tim’s right. Kate…she made a fatal mistake.”
Ellie raised her eyebrows. “What? I thought she was taken out by a sniper, how could that be her fault?”
“The mistake happened months before, she…there was a hostage situation down in Autopsy. The bastard who killed her, Ari…she could have taken him out that day, but she let him live, and it cost her.”
“Did you get him, the sniper?”
Tony and Tim exchanged glances. “He’s dead.” Tim didn’t want to elaborate, some things they weren’t quite ready to share, not yet. Ellie could see the two of them were still deeply affected by Kate’s death.
“She meant a lot to you.”
“Oh yeah.” Tony smiled a little. “She had a big heart, but we soon got smacked down if we got out of hand. You remember Tim, when I went on Spring Break?”
“How could I forget? Gibbs was about ready to bang heads.”
Ellie could feel the tension leaving her shoulders, she was going to enjoy this. “Don’t leave me in suspense, spill Tony.”
“It was the year after Tim joined; I had a great vacation, Panama City, sun, sand, girls, booze.”
Ellie nodded. “Sounds like Spring Break.”
“Try telling him, seems MIT didn’t go in for having fun.”
“Yadda, yadda…move on Tony, this isn’t about me, how about we get to the picture?”
“Oh yeah; one of the bars we hit, they had a picture gallery of past winners…wet
T-shirt, there were some foxy ladies and right there, in all her glory, Caitlyn Todd.”
“You’re kidding!” Ellie knew the basics about Agent Todd, ex Secret Service, no nonsense member of the MCRT, to think of her, young, carefree, somehow made her death all the more poignant.
“She knew how to have fun, but there was a line you didn’t cross.”
“Sounds like the voice of experience Tony.”
“I tried…not really sure how serious I was, back then I flirted with pretty much every attractive woman I met; and she was beautiful, we worked well together.”
“She cared for you Tony, a lot. Remember when you got sick with the plague? She stayed with you when the doctors told her to leave.”
“Not likely to forget…never got the chance to tell her how much that meant.” Tony saw the question in Ellie’s eyes. “She…when I got back to work, it was only a few days and she was gone.”
“How about you McGee, were you close?”
“With Kate…? I admired her, was a little in awe I guess, back then I was really green, and when I first started it was all I could do to get a sentence out without stammering…took me a while to feel like I wasn’t the odd one out. Tony and Kate, they were a partnership, sometimes felt like I was on the outside looking in…She wasn’t slow to put me in my place if I screwed up, but she was kind too, when Erin Kendall was killed, she took time out to comfort me.”
Tony was puzzled. “Erin?”
“Guess the case meant more to me, it was the first time Gibbs let me decide whether we took a case.”
“I remember her…that was tough.”
“Not as tough as losing Kate. I grow up a lot after…never lost someone I cared about to a violent act…when I finally plucked up the courage to see her in Autopsy, you were there for me Tony, helping me through.”
“Not sure about that, I was pretty mean to you when she was killed…had to work through some stuff on my own.”
“You couldn’t have saved her Tony, no one could.”
They all sat in silence for a few minutes, Ellie felt privileged that they’d share their feelings with her, it was clear that despite the passage of time Kate Todd’s death still had the power to move them. Tony let out a sigh. “Wasn’t long before Ziva came; now she’s a different proposition, Ziva, she’s complicated. At first I didn’t trust her, she was Mossad through and through; Tim, he took to her right away.”
“I thought at first it would be great not to be the newbie; didn’t take me long to figure out there was nothing new about Ziva, she’d seen…and done so much. She was a stranger in DC, I showed her around, helped her get settled I guess, but in the long run it was you she cared for Tony.”
“She had a weird way of showing it sometimes, you should have seen them Ellie, the two of them sticking up for each other against me.”
“Hey! It was never that…guess the name-calling got a bit intense at times, and the joking around was juvenile…I think part of it was Ziva’s way of hiding her true feelings for you. I went along because sometimes…let’s just say Ellie, we haven’t always been in as good a place as we are now.”
Ellie leaned toward Tony. “So you and Ziva. You were an item?”
“The truth? I never knew; there were times when we were real close, and then…her past would rear its ugly head and we’d be as far apart as ever.” He took a long swig of coffee. “She left the team once before, went back to Israel; there was a…situation with an old boyfriend of hers, didn’t think we’d get her back that time.”
“Oh! I heard about this.” Ellie was looking at her team mates with real admiration. “You went to Somalia to bring her home; that mission’s gone down in NCIS history, people have already told me about it, you guys were amazing.”
“Didn’t feel that way at the time, just felt like the right thing to do. We got her back and for a while it felt like she’d come home, even became a US citizen so she could be a regular field agent. Then her Dad was killed, Mrs Vance too…she changed, it was like she went back into full Mossad killer mode again…I couldn’t reach her…Tim, she trusted you.”
“I told you before Tony, she asked me for the kind of help I can give better than you.” He turned to Ellie, it was important she understood this. “ZIva asked me to do some online searching, trying to find the man who did the killings, we would have been in real trouble if anyone found out, we’d been told to steer clear of investigating Bodnar. If Ziva could have done the searching herself she would have, she needed a geek, I was…useful. Tony, she was trying to protect you, not hurt you; we made a mistake, see Ellie, another one of those.”
“Tim’s right, mistakes happen, it’s how we deal with them that matters. Ziva, she wasn’t perfect; a prisoner died in her custody, on an undercover op one time, she got way too involved with a suspect, put herself in danger, and she walked away from this team…and that might just be her biggest mistake. We were good for her; when she first joined she was hard, all sharp edges, we softened her I think, made her kinder, showed her there was more to life than killing…”
“But she left you all behind.”
“Her choice Ellie, I asked her to come home, we weren’t what she wanted.”
Ellie smiled at them, her earlier error not forgotten, but put into perspective; it couldn’t have been easy for them to open up like they had, it was plain to see some of the wounds were still raw, yet they’d been willing to share their memories with her just to make her feel better about what she’d done. “Guys, I…I’m sad for you that Ziva left, but if she was still here I’d still be at the NSA, and I’d never have met you. I’m only just learning what it means to be part of a team but I know I’m lucky to be with you.”
Tim laughed quietly as he got up and headed back to his desk. “Let’s see if you still feel that way at the end of a tough case, when we’ve all been working round the clock and you haven’t seen your husband in days.”
“Bring it on, I’m ready!”
Tony was smiling, looked like their conversation was having the desired effect. “I think you are Agent Bishop. Now, let’s get finished with these reports before Gibbs gets back.”
Ellie took a bite of her candy bar and started typing. She’d been lucky today, the results of her impetuous action could have been much worse, but her biggest stroke of luck had been joining the team. As she’d expected Gibbs had hauled her over the coals for what she’d done, thankfully he’d also given her another chance to prove she could become a part of the MCRT; she wouldn’t let them down again.
The shoes she was stepping into might be unfillable, but she was going to do her best, and with the help of this amazing team, she knew her best was going to get a whole lot better.