Chapter Three - Ineptitudes
McGee cuts the overseas connection and I can feel Vance's eyes on me almost instantly. I'll admit it wasn't the best idea to call a 5 star general out on his bullshit on a conference call, but no one ever said they hired me for this job because of my people skills. The tension in the room keeps McGee's back to me with shoulders slumped and I can feel the director walk up into my personal space, the urge to draw my gun calling to me at the invasion.
"Leon," I put a warning there behind his name but like always, he ignores me.
"He's a five star general, Gibbs." Vance hisses and even though I can't see his face I know the look he's giving me: eyes slightly bulged, threats telegraphed across his face but never spoken... get that look enough over the years and you can sense it on you anywhere.
"Yeah, well, he's an idiot."
"I know that. Hell, every man in this room knows that, but you just can't go around calling members of the senior staff of the Army morons!" I can tell he's pissed but also that he's not going to do anything about it and has resigned himself to the fact that his afternoon will be spent placating bruised egos in the name of interagency relations.
"Will there be anything else, Director?" I ask sharply, swallowing down my apprehension of him being so close and turning to face him so that we're practically nose to nose. I'm bucking his authority with the maneuver but he lets it slide and shakes his head.
"No, that'll be all. But I need McGee to stay behind."
"Fine," I fire back on the turn of my heels and I'm out the door before he can think of anything else to say to me.
I let the door to MTAC slam shut behind me and head for the railing at the side of the platform just outside and spy Tony. My second in command is standing in front of the windows with arms crossed watching the storm clouds gather in the sky above the river outside. He doesn't have the personnel files I sent him out to retrieve from downstairs, but my eyes dart to my desk and I see them sitting on one corner. Thunder rumbles outside the windows and I feel it shake the metal railing beneath my hands and my eyes are again drawn back to Tony. He looks like a kid in a candy store and I watch him crane his neck to get a better look at the lightening display currently developing outside NCIS, my earlier irritation at him melting away.
He's been through a lot lately and though I'm sure he thinks I haven't noticed or maybe that I don't care, that's just not the case. I've had my eye on him for awhile now and pick up on more than he thinks I do but it's never been an easy thing for me to show him what I'm really feeling. For so long I've relied on my subtle nuances to convey what it is I just can't put into words but there are times when I think that this system I've developed to convey emotion isn't working as well as it should. It's just not enough sometimes and I find myself seeing the hurt I put on their faces with my standoffishness when really I'm just not sure how to tell them what it is I'm really thinking. Tony takes these ineptitudes of mine in stride and I'm luckier than I realize to have the team I do. Because every other agent as NCIS wouldn't have stuck with me this long.
I make my way down to where Tony stands and take up the place beside him and I think I startle him a little when he realizes I'm standing there. His frame immediately stiffens and he drops his arms to his sides to stand with fists clenched and I kick myself for my earlier insensitivity. I know for a fact that the 695 is a mess right now and that it's the best route for him to take to work (despite McGee's insistence to the contrary) but I let the grouch on the phone in HR piss me off and I took it out on Tony.
"Boss," he says in acknowledgement and I want to apologize to him for earlier but that's not something I do and he knows it. When he meets my eyes I try to convey as best I can what I'm really doing there beside him.
"Storm's coming in," I say as my pseudo apology and he nods at me knowingly before looking back out the windows.
"And it looks like it's going to be a doozy, too." Tony's comment drips with fascination and I let my own eyes wander to the banks of clouds rolling in and wonder at what it is he sees in them. The storm looks angry to me but Tony's looking out at it like the heavens have just opened up and all the movies he's ever loved are raining down from the sky in tightly packed shrink-wrapped boxes. But then again, he always gets like this when storms are brewing.
"What are they calling for?" I ask him, hoping he picks up on the fact that there's more to my question than just disinterested small talk.
"The guy from channel 4 said there was the possibility of some severe weather this morning. Looks like he was right." DiNozzo says as he points in the direction of the storm front and lightning flashes from the thin layer of clouds that has settled over our building to illuminate his outstretched hand. As if it knows it's being addressed directly the lightning bolts the storm lets lose interrupt power to our floor and for the briefest of moments the lights above our heads flicker before another crack of thunder sounds. Tony and I both take a step back instinctively and I search the pane of glass for cracks. The thunderclap was immense and I can see several heads pop up from cubicles in my peripheral vision.
Someone mutters a "Wow" to my left and I turn back around to see McGee descending the stairs from MTAC. He heads to the other side of Tony and the two put their heads together to start talking weather while I make my way back to my desk and to the probationary agents' files that sit on the corner of it waiting to be looked through.
Bishop has been called away for a mission with her previous agency and is likely to be gone for a few weeks so Vance has gotten it into his head that this would be the perfect opportunity to break in a few new agents. Under the guise of training, he's ordered me to try these new guys out but I'm not that stupid. There's only one reason he has me do this anymore and it's to test if a new agent has what it will take to make it in this agency and I've become the best judge of that somehow. I think Vance knows if someone doesn't have the chops to make it under my command for a week at least then they're not worth their weight around here and can be reassessed and reassigned. I think this process should offend me but on the other hand I can where the director is coming from and I pull the first file over in front of me to shuffle through its pages as another crack of thunder explodes outside the windows. Someone behind me stifles a surprised gasp with their hand and I look over to see that it's Abby.
"Holy crap that was loud," she exclaims as she passes me a sheet of paper with lab results on it. I sit blinking at it until she realizes I have no idea what it is she's just handed me and she flushes a little. My heart swells minutely at the show and I can't help but smile up at her.
"Oh, those are the results on the Sanderson case. It was definitely the Ensign's DNA under her fingernails and that there," she says, nodding in the direction of the paper I'm holding, "should be enough to arrest him on."
I get up from my desk chair after looking over the numbers and codes I have no hope of understanding and give my forensic scientist a quick peck on the cheek.
"That's good work Abbs," and I want to follow it up with a Calf-Pow, but if the incoming storm outside our windows has anything to say about it, I'm going to have to settle with the kiss as payment for the good news. The Sanderson serial rape case has been a rough one and everyone on my team is going to be grateful that we're finally putting it to rest.
"I see that the weather geeks are getting a kick out of the storm," she says with a smile in Tony and McGee's direction and I look over to them and catch the tail end of their animated argument over velocity and wind speeds. Tony really does get into this stuff.
"Don't let DiNozzo hear you call him that," I warn with an amused shake to my head and Abby laughs a little before making the movement to zip her mouth shut and throw away the key, a movement so reminiscent of my Kelly that my heart skips a beat in my chest. Abby is looking away from me when it happens but I still resist the urge to rub the spot in my chest that aches so suddenly. Even though I know she has no idea she does it, sometime I have to look away from this woman that has wormed her way into my heart and remind myself that she is not my daughter, though I love her like she was.
When I look back to her Abby is studying me but I don't think I've let anything critical show because she smiles and then leaves me to join in with McGee and Tony on their weather debate. The sky outside our windows is dark now, eerily grey (green almost) and another crack of thunder rumbles the building so hard this time that the pens in the coffee mug on my desk rattle against each other. I put my hands out to steady things just as McGee and Abby come back towards me, something on the plasma pulling their interest, when it happens.
For a fraction of a second I think I catch the muffled wail of a far off siren, its voice barely penetrating the concrete walls NCIS is made of before it's not just thunder that's shaking the floor beneath my feet, but something else. It's something I can't find the word for because I've never experienced it before and my brain is confused by it's existence. The lights above my head flicker and I look over to the bank of windows where Tony still stands and watch as he backs away from them as if in slow motion. The pressure in the bullpen builds and I suddenly feel my ears pop painfully just before Vance throws the door to MTAC open to bellow at us to take cover, the windows in front of Tony burst in on themselves and someone to my left starts to scream.
The lights go out in an instant and plunge us into a green semi-darkness that my eyes have trouble adjusting to for a moment but I can still make out Tony crouched low and shielding his face from the flying glass as wind whips in from the open windows and sends any lose paper it can find swirling away. Not really thinking it through I'm up on my feet and sprinting past the stunned faces of Abby and Tim and towards Tony when I finally register what it is that I'm seeing.
Right outside the decimated windows, maybe 5 yards away from where I stand, is an earthen colored funnel that quakes the floor beneath my feet with the force of its roar. My legs and a rain soaked wind want to take me in another direction, but I propel myself forward and towards Tony who is looking up at the funnel from one knee on the floor and not moving. He's memorized by it and I try not to let the hypnotic twirl of the twister outside our windows pull me under its trance as well.
I have no words for what I see.
Give me terrorists and criminals any day and I'll do everything in my power to put them behind bars and make them answer for their crimes. But pit me against a force I have no defense against, and you can kiss your sweet ass goodbye.
I reach Tony's side just as the tornado fills the view from the window completely and put a hand on his shoulder as if to pull him away. He tries to blink the blood out of his eyes from the cuts in his skin from the glass and look up at me, but there's no time for it and the floor beneath us shifts and then it isn't there anymore. Tony is torn from under my hand and I hang in a weightless limbo for a microsecond like I'm stuck in some kind of sick cartoon before I plunge down into the chasm the rending floor has made.
I don't know how many floors it is that I fall through but the tornado is biting out a chunk of the side of the building and I keep catching glimpses of it outside as I fall.
It's like falling out of a tree and I bounce off bits of each floor as I pass, each obstacle stopping my fall minutely before collapsing beneath me to send me downward again. I know that I'm hurt and that things are cracking as I plummet, but the roar of the building and the tornado raging around me are demanding all the focus I have.
A vortex of wind envelopes me and starts to lift me up at one point but it doesn't carry me far before slamming me hard into something that manages not to give way under my weight. It's the polished foyer of the lobby and I turn my head in time to see the floor above collapse and destroy one of the metal detectors before racing towards me just as the windowed front of NCIS is sucked out into the sickly green sky that's now visible above me.
Ask me someday to take you though the events of the day and I'll never quite be able to explain to you how it was I managed to get to my feet. Or how I'm somehow able to find one of the receptionist desks and throw myself against it for some kind of cover before the building comes down around me.
Somehow I do it.But luck is not entirely on my side this day and when a piece of debris traps my head between itself and the stone lobby floor, I have no defense against the blackness that carries me up and away.