Early morning. Gibbs pulls up to a diner, where he is obviously a regular. He casually greets an older couple who are leaving, enters, and takes a place at the counter, where he engages in comfortable banter with the waitress. From the corner of his eye, he sees a young man who had been seated in the corner of the diner approach him, hands shoved deep in the pocket of his hoodie. Suddenly, the man pulls a gun out of his pocket. Gibbs whips out his gun and aims it at the man, calling "FEDERAL AGENT!" A moment hesitation, a gun fires, and suddenly, a rapid montage of scenes of Gibb's life flashes before him.
A pause, and a sudden shift of light, and Gibbs is suddenly staring, puzzled, at a bullet suspended in midair. He gazes around the diner, and notices his father smiling at him from a booth. At the next booth, Abby, Tony and Ziva smile a welcome. A young woman sitting further down the counter calls out to him happily, with a big smile: "Jethro!" "Matts?" he answers, smiling in confusion – it's Joan Matteson, the PFC that was killed when he was a young Marine. Suddenly, a young Jethro brushes past Gibbs, and embraces Joan in an enthusiastic greeting. Gibbs stares in confusion, and freezes in disbelief when Mike Franks walks up to him, smiling, and casually reaches up to flick away the bullet that is still suspended in midair. "Mike?" Mike grins. "Well, how do I look?" "Alive . . ." Gibbs answers slowly, incredulously. "Hell of a thing, isn't it?" Mike responds, still grinning. Suddenly he turns serious. "What are you doing, Probie, hesitating like that? You should have shot him!" he chides. Gibbs mulls it over for a second. "Why . . . is that it? It's over? I . . . I wasn't done, yet!" he protests. Mike tells him "That's the problem. Folks want to help you see the things you accomplished, understand the choices you've made. Jethro . . . this is your life we're talking about," he tells a stunned Gibbs. (CREDITS)
"Didn't expect to see you so soon, Gunny . . . guess you can't predict these things," Mike tells him, clapping him on the back and leading him down the narrow aisle. McGee stands up, nods, and eases past him, and Mike and Gibbs take the booth he was sitting at. Over Mike's shoulder, he gives a start as he sees Jenny, her hair long again, and brushed up, casually chatting with a woman at another booth. Looking at Mike, he shakes his head. "I didn't see this coming," he mutters. "Ain't life grand?" Mike smiles happily. A waitress drops off a menu, which only has three items: Steak. Coffee. Whiskey. Gibbs turns it over, studying the blank piece of paper. "What is this, Mike?" "A gift." "Well, it's doesn't feel like it," Gibbs says impatiently. Mike tries to explain. "People want to give you closure, a chance to see what you did." "I didn't do anything!" Gibbs objects. "BULL! You solved hundreds of cases, you helped families get over burying their dead by putting away murderers." "I was just doing my job," Gibbs tells him, at a loss. Mike tells him that what he did was more than that. As Mike tries to explain, Gibbs looks over his shoulder again. Palmer is leaving the diner, but as he leaves, Ari walks in and silently passes Gibbs' table. Gibbs' eyes are glued on him. "I don't get it!" he exclaims. Mike urges him to try to understand how things would have been different if he had done things differently – starting with the day before.
Twenty-four hours earlier: Ziva and Tony are studying McGee's desk – things have been changed on it, and change makes them nervous. When McGee arrives at work, he asks them why they are at his desk, and Tony tells him that the angle of the monitors has been changed – something is definitely up. McGee laughs off Tony's questions. Gibbs enters with news of a dead petty officer on the U.S.S. Gentry, a decommissioned ship. The dead petty officer has been found in the communications center of the ship, a restricted area. Palmer notes some nearby drums of explosives, and comments that that the area wasn't the best place to discharge a firearm. Ducky and Palmer prepare to move the body, and as the team looks around, Ziva finds a small trail of blood drops. She follows them to a closed door. She and Gibbs enter cautiously, and find an unconscious civilian, who has been shot and is slumped against a pillar. Is he the shooter?
Back at the diner, Gibbs' eyes are closed as he remembers yesterday's events. "Plenty of time to rest later, Probie" Mike scolds him. Gibbs blinks at the sight of Ari and Vance immersed in a game of chess. "You think?" he asks. "I don't follow – I didn't ask for this!" Mike explains that he earned this opportunity because Gibbs has made some tough decisions – and that sometimes good comes from the hurt. Gibbs scowls. "Don't talk to me like a greeting card," he tells Mike. "I'm talking to you like a friend," Mike corrects him, and Gibbs sees Fornell turn away from the counter and salute him with a cup of coffee. Mike leads him out of the diner, but as he leaves, Ducky enters and greets him. Another shift, and Mike and Gibbs are back at the office. Gibbs scans the office, and turns to Mike. "Why are we here?" "One decision can change everything," Mike tells him, "sometimes better, sometimes not. There's a point to everything – you've just got to find it." Gazing around, Gibbs' attention is arrested by a framed photo on a desk: It's a picture of Tony and Kate, with their arms around each other, obviously a couple. On the desk is another framed photo, of Tony and Kate smiling into the camera. "Kate's dead," Gibbs says slowly. "Doesn't have to be," Mike tells him. "What if you had seen Ari on that rooftop? An alternate ending unfolds: Kate takes the shot for Gibbs, but Gibbs spies Ari across the way, and calls in air support, which interrupts Ari before he can get off the shot that kills Kate.
Back at the diner, Mike is digging in to a plate full of food. Gibbs is still thinking. "You mean to tell me that Ari never took the shot? He never hit Kate?" he asks Mike. Mike tells him that he couldn't because Gibbs stopped him. "It didn't happen that way," Gibbs insists. "But what if it did?" Mike asks. "This time, you protected your team and kept it from happening." Gibbs takes a deep breath. "Kate's . . . alive?" Mike tells him that he knows what he's thinking – if Kate's alive, a lot of things would have been different . . .
Shift. Tony bursts out of an elevator in a hospital, in a state of agitated excitement. "Did I miss it?! I promised her I wouldn't miss it!" Tony exclaims to Abby and McGee, who reassure him that it's understandable since he was undercover. "Everything works out, Tony – look at me and Tim!" Abby tells him soothingly. Tony darts toward a door, and is intercepted by a doctor, who assures him that everything is OK. Kate is sitting in the hospital bed, and Tony immediately apologizes for drug deals that never go as planned. "But at least you look . . . smaller!" he tells her awkwardly. Kate rolls her eyes at him. "What?!" "Oh, boy," grimaces Tony. "Exactly!" says the doctor – Kate and Tony have had a baby boy.
Back at the diner, as Mike explains that "Life's dominos . . . ripples . . . like a stone skipping across the pond – and you're the catalyst. Think about Ziva, if Kate lives. Ziva would have stayed with Mossad . . ."
Shift. In the hall outside Interrogation, Vance is warning Tony to "be careful with this one – I know her father well. To say that she's dangerous is an understatement." Tony points to his wedding ring. "Dangerous women are my speciality," he tells Vance. In Interrogation, Tony starts his interview of a defiant Ziva. "I remember you!" he tells her, studying her. "Riva! Lisa . . .? Uh . . . Tiva?" Ziva sighs. "My name is Ziva David," she tells him. "Ah, yes, Ziva – the icy Israeli. I followed you to a hotel pool once." "Clearly, I made an impression – I can't say the same about you," she says dismissively.
Back at the diner, Gibbs shakes his head and tells Mike that there's no way he can be blamed for everything. Mike tells him that he's not responsible for everything, but we are as responsible for the things we do as for the things we don't do. He tells Gibbs that there was more to his case the day before than he saw coming.
Yesterday. Tony and Ziva are still worried about McGee's desk – his trashcan is filled, and he has obviously been cleaning out his desk. They catch a glimpse of McGee and quickly get back to work, but McGee isn't fooled. "It's finally happened – you two have stooped to snooping together," he tells them. The dead petty officer had made two $30,000 deposits in the last week, which they are tracking down. The civilian, Peter Germaine, works for a shipbuilding firm that has recently been taken over by a Chinese company. Chinese entities are not permitted on military installations, and before a ship is repaired, sensitive information is supposed to be removed. The team wonders if espionage is involved, perhaps a deal that went bad. Gibbs goes down to the lab, and is surprised to find Palmer laid out on Abby's worktable, groaning as she prods at his well-muscled stomach. Gibbs asks what is going on, and Palmer explains that he pulled a muscle, and Abby was rolfing him. At Gibb's incredulous look, Palmer quickly darts out of the lab, and Abby shows Gibbs the results of the bullet tests – all three bullets (two from the petty officer, one from Germaine) were fired from the same gun, the gun that had been placed in the petty officer's hand after she died, which indicates a third person. A fingerprint on a casing turns up Michael Rose, a freelance systems analyst. Gibbs realizes that all three people had clearance to board the ship, so perhaps they were in on it together. "Nice work," he tells Abby, adding "Who knew Palmer had abs like that?" leaving Abby speechless.
Back at the diner: Gibbs is protesting that he's not taking the blame for everything that has gone wrong, but Mike has disappeared. A waitress places a slice of apple pie in front of him. As he protests that he didn't order it, she ignores him, and slowly pours a thin stream of chocolate sauce on top of the pie. "Well, sometimes we don't know what we want until someone shows up the possibilities," she tells him, turning away. "Chocolate . . . my mom used to do this," he muses. His attention is caught by her curly reddish-brown hair. "What did you say your name was?" he asks. "Ann," she tells him, without looking at him. "That was my mother's name . . ." he says slowly, craning to see her face. Slowly, she turns to him, with an impish smile. It's his mother. She brings him more coffee. "It will hurt my feelings if you don't eat it!" she tells him. "You know I can't . . . Mom?" he tells her. Reaching out to stroke his hair cheek, she smiles sympathetically. "Poor thing, your brain must be running in circles, trying to make sense of all of this!" she tells him, as he smiles at the caress. "And here I am, not a day older than the last time you saw me, carrying on about a mother's pride . . . ." She blinks back tears. "Mothers!" she exclaims. "You never told me you were proud," he tells her quietly. "Proud of the boy I knew. Proud of the man you've become. And proud of everything in between," she tells him earnestly. She offers to wrap up the pie so he can take it home with him. "Why can't you go home?" he asks her. "Eventually," she says serenely. But her tone changes briskly. "I do have one bone to pick with you," she tells him sternly, nodding over to the booth with young Jethro is arguing loudly with his father. "You could have cut him some slack," she tells him. "Dad blamed you for everything and hated you for leaving," Gibbs tells her, and Ann looks away. "Well . . . trust me, he had one foot out the door already," she tells Gibbs wryly. "So he drove a few women home," she shrugs. "God knows, I put that man through hell – a man his age shouldn't be changing his wife's bed sheets every night. The best thing I did was go." "No – don't you say that," Gibbs protests, shaking his head. Ann tells him that it's true, and that it was hard for his dad to raise him alone. "You'll need a couple of miracles for that to come out right," she observes, as young Jethro storms out of the diner, leaving a discouraged father behind. "Just ask Michael Rose . . . "
Yesterday. Michael Rose is a divorced single dad who lives in McLean, Virginia who is a systems analyst for the government. He is facing money troubles – no money in his account, and his home is in foreclosure. His son is 17 years old, an honor student named Steven, who is applying to colleges and only has a small savings account. However, Rose deposited $20,000 two days earlier, and his co-workers haven't seen him since. He has made two cell phone calls – one to his son, and two to the Chinese embassy. Ziva is sent after the son, and Tony and McGee are sent back to the ship to search for Rose.
At the ship, Tony is reviewing McGee's recent odd behaviors: " Computer monitors. Clandestine meetings in Vance's office. You're up to something, McDevious, I can tell!" He tries to goad McGee by asking if he is finally getting that sex-change operation, and finally, McGee tells him that Vance has offered him a job promotion, as head of the Cyberdivision in Okinawa. "That's it?" asks Tony, disappointed. "Everybody knows THAT. Good for you! You gonna take that opportunity? The last cyberagent? He's at Microsoft now!" "Yeah, head of security," McGee agrees. "The guy's a rock star!" McGee asks Tony why he's being so "normal" about this. "Your sincerity is disconcerting." "You prefer that I attack you with some sort of hostile, sarcastic remark?" Tony inquires. McGee sighs. "Sorta – yeah. What do I do?" McGee asks plaintively. Tony gazes at him. "Your choice," he tells him, "but I'd trust my gut – that's what Gibbs would do," he adds encouragingly.
Ziva is outside of Rose's house, and observes Steven getting off the school bus, carrying a lacrosse stick. When she greets him on the sidewalk, he takes a sudden swing at her, attacking her. Quickly, she disarms him and efficiently disables him as she identifies herself as an NCIS agent. Steven tells her that her dad told him to be careful of the Chinese.
Outside the diner, Gibbs and Ann sit on a bench. Gibbs flips curiously through a newspaper that is blank except for a masthead. Ann tells him that it's blank because he hasn't decided how things will play out, yet. "it's all intertwined, Jethro – you'd be surprised how one decision ripples into another. It's your ship to sail son," she tells him. He glances down at the paper, which now carries a headline: "Injured NCIS Agent Kills Suspect", with a picture of Gibbs on the front page. "I didn't pull the trigger, yet," Gibbs says slowly. "Nope – sure didn't," Ann agrees. He sighs. "I wish I had known all of this before – learned from it," he says. "Doesn't work that way, son. Like it or not, you made a difference in folks' lives – you certainly did mine, albeit short." Her voice quivers as she tells him, "I never wanted to leave you – tell me you know that." Gibbs gazes at her. "Yeah – yeah, I know that." With a smile, she reaches up and pulls her to him, placing a kiss on his forehead as Gibbs closes his eyes and savors his mother's embrace.
Back inside the diner, Gibbs finds himself studying a jukebox, as Reilly asks him what kind of music he prefers. "After all this nonsense today, you're more interested in a choir of angels," Reilly tells him sarcastically. "Who are you, Reilly, The Ghost of NCIS Past?" asks Gibbs. Reilly protests that he didn't want to be there, but Gibbs invited him. "I'm here because you need me," Reilly tells him. "I need a crook and a murderer?" Gibbs asks skeptically. Reilly reminds Gibbs of Mexico and Pedro Hernandez. "You let your emotions get the better of you that day – damn foolish, if you ask me." He demands a quarter from Gibbs, inserts it in the jukebox, and starts a big band song. Reilly closes his eyes, enjoying the song. "Fond memories, Reils?" asks Gibbs dryly. "At least I'm not haunted by mine," Reilly tells him. Reilly asks him to think about what might have happened if he had never killed Pedro Hernandez. Gibbs declares that he had to, and Reilly tells him that it may have been just, but that didn't make it right. "And if it didn't happen?" ask Gibbs. Reilly tells him that if he hadn't killed Hernandez, Abby wouldn't be carrying around "the secret of a lifetime." Gibbs remembers Abby anguished plea to tell her how to handle what she knows. "Maybe this time I did more harm than good," he admits, "but if I didn't do it, where would that have put me? I need to know!" Reilly doesn't answer.
Yesterday. Gibbs is interviewing Steven. Reviewing his records, he comments, "You're an honest kid, Steven. How about your dad? Is he as honest as you are?" Gibbs asks him if he knew that his dad was selling secrets to the Chinese, but Steven doesn't believe him. "My dad's a good man, he just got involved with some bad people," he protests, explaining that his dad was feeling pressured by money problems. "He may have gotten wrapped up in something bad – but he would never hurt anybody!" he insists. He asks Gibbs to help him.
At the diner, Gibbs is intently watching Pedro Hernandez, who is calmly sipping a cup of coffee at the end of the counter. Mike tells him "it's done – let it go." "I can't – I did what I thought was right," Gibbs replies stonily. "Well, what was right – was wrong," Mike tells him, "we all make mistakes." "Where is McAllister?" Gibbs wonders, glancing around. "Was that opinionated jackass here? I figured he'd bring this up!' exclaims Mike. Gibbs asks what would have happened to him if Hernandez hadn't died. "It's not good," Mike shakes his head, but Gibbs insists. Mike tells him that if he hadn't shot him, it would have eaten him up. "A man carries around his demons long enough, they start to take over . . ."
An alternative view of the future, in Gibbs' basement. A scruffy, unkempt Gibbs finds an almost-empty bottle of whiskey. Before he can finish it off, he hears the door open upstairs, and Ducky, Abby and McGee descend to the basement. Abby and McGee are carrying casserole dishes. "What?" he asks rudely. "You're alive, Jethro," says Ducky in mock surprise. "It's been months since anyone's spoken to you." "Nothing to say," mumbles Gibbs. Abby gently places the casserole on the table, as McGee asks, "So – how are you, Boss?" "I'm not your boss, McGee – I haven't been your boss in years," Gibbs says in a surly tone, and conversation grinds to a halt. Abby glances around, and observes that the boat's still there, and asks what he has been working on. Ducky goes over to examine the boat, which is hanging in the ceiling. Gibbs tells Abby that he was working on a hope chest and a rocker. "What are you hoping for?" asks Ducky, with a double-entendre meaning. "To be left alone – guess that didn't work," says Gibbs shortly. Abby touches the rocker. "Is this for Kate's baby?" she asks, smiling. McGee tells him that he missed the shower. "And the birth," adds Abby, her smile faltering. "What did she have?" Gibbs asks. "A girl – eight pounds, six ounces. She named her Kelly." Gibbs looks down and doesn't answer. Another awkward moment passes, and then he asks, "I guess you want to stay for supper?" Abby politely says, "Oh, we don't have to, but . . . " Gibbs cuts her off. "Good. Because I don't want you here." Abby is hurt. McGee holds up his food containers. "Abby and I made you gumbo and bread pudding last night," he offers. Abby tries again, holding back tears. "It's my mother's recipe." Still no response. Taking McGee's arm, she tries one more time. "We'd love for you to come by and see our new place," she tells a silent Gibbs. Ducky adds, gently: "Jethro – you're missed. Perhaps it's time to stop thinking about yourself and started to think about the ones that love you." Impulsively, Abby crosses the room and throws her arms around Gibbs' neck. "I've missed these!" she tells him, but he doesn't hug her back. "What is this, an intervention?" he says, scowling and shrugging her off. "Gibbs – no!" Abby protests. "Get out – I don't want your pity," he tells them, turning his back on them. Sadly, Abby and McGee turn to go, but Ducky approaches Gibbs and asks him, softly, "What DO you want, Jethro?"
In the diner, Gibbs watches Pedro Hernandez leave as Mike tells him that he did what he had to. "I shot the son-of-a-bitch, Mike," Gibbs says softly, "but when I got home, my home was empty, and my girls were still gone." Shaking it off, he mutters, "Mom mentioned Michael Rose – why bring all this up now?!" he demands. "Folks do the wrong things for the right reasons," Mike tells him. "You, of all people, should understand that. Maybe you and Michael Rose aren't so different."
Yesterday: After a thorough search of the ship, the team finds Michael Rose's hiding place. Steven is with them, and begs his father to come out, and his father emerges, promising to tell them everything.
In the diner, Gibbs bends down to pick up the bullet that Mike had flicked away. As he straightens, he sees Kelly standing before him. "You look kinda lost," she tells him. "I do? Well, you look pretty smart," he tells her, hiding a smile of delight. "My mom said we should help," Kelly tells him, taking his hand and leading him to Shannon. "This little girl belong to you?" he asks Shannon. Shannon gives him a smile. "She belongs to you, too, I think!" Gibbs can't tear his eyes away from Shannon, but Kelly urges him to sit down. He settles back with his arm around Kelly, and Shannon tells him, with a smile, "We've been waiting for you!" He glances down at a picture Kelly is coloring – it's their family. "Is that for me?" he asks.
Yesterday: Gibbs shows Rose a picture of Peter Germaine, who has just died, and a picture of the dead petty officer. Rose admits that the three of them had a plan, but as the time of the plan grew closer, he began to realize that he wasn't just selling secrets, he was selling people's safety – and his honor. "You could have asked for help," Gibbs tells him. Rose tells him that he tried to call the Chinese embassy to back out, but there was no answer, and when they arrived at the ship the next day, they were already there. "That's when the shooting started," he says, closing his eyes in pain. "You killed them?" "I killed them in self-defense," Rose admits. "I killed them – and probably saved thousands of others." Gibbs says nothing, and then asks if that is his confession. Rose tells him that he was ashamed that he was losing his house and couldn't tell his son that he couldn't afford to send him to college. "We need the money, Agent Gibbs – I was trying to save my family."
Back with Kelly and Shannon, Gibbs tells Shannon ruefully, "I didn't see this coming." "I always knew it would happen – eventually," Shannon tells him confidently. He tells her that he shouldn't have let it happen, that he shouldn't have let her testify. Shannon leans toward him. "I wanted to help, Gibbs – I wanted to put that drug dealer in jail." "I should have known better," Gibbs whispers. "It wasn't about you," Shannon tells him. "It was about this family," he argues. Kelly looks up at him. "It wasn't your decision, Daddy." Gibbs is unconvinced. Shannon reminds him, "If we hadn't died – you wouldn't have joined NIS. You wouldn't have become an agent." "None of that mattered," whispers Gibbs. "No Tony. No Ziva. No team," Shannon continues. "But I'd have my girls," he tells her longingly. "I'd have had you." Shannon chokes back tears. "If you had stayed a Marine, Gibbs . . . the loss would have fallen on us, instead."
In an alternative future, Shannon is busy in the kitchen, and calls to Kelly to get ready for dinner. Kelly starts to argue, but Shannon reminds her that her father will be home in just a couple of weeks. Kelly laughs, and begins to put away her crayons, but freezes at a knock on the door. She stares at the door, and slowly stares at it. "Mommy?" she calls uncertainly. Shannon returns. "Who is it?" she asks, and freezes as she sees, through the windowed door, two men in uniform slowly saluting in the time-honored custom of delivering news of a military death . . .
In the diner, Shannon touches Gibbs hand. "Just think of all those cases . . . all those lives you've touched, Gibbs. You've sacrificed everything to help those people." Gibbs shakes his head. "But – I wanted both," he tells her. "It doesn't work like that," Shannon tells him sympathetically.
Yesterday. It's evening, and Gibbs has returned from interview Rose. He finds Steven in the conference room, and tells him he can go. Steven asks if he can help his father – he has talked to him, he knows what kind of man he is. "He killed two people," Gibbs reminds Steven implacably. "Nothing right about that." "Good people do things, sometimes," Steven says through gritted teeth. "Irrational things – things that just don't make sense. You won't help him, will you? It's your decision, Agent Gibbs," Steven says in despair.
It's early morning. Gibbs enters the diner, and the same scene plays out – the coffee, the friendly banter with the waitress. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a young man pulling a gun out of the pocket of his hoodie. He draws his gun: "Federal agent," he says, and then realizes that the young man is a agonized Steven Rose. He hears a whisper of Mike's voices, "We all make choices . . . it's your decision – what's it going to be?" as Steven's gun fires. Gibbs winces as the gun bullet grazes his shoulder – but he doesn't fire. "Steven," Gibbs whispers. Steven lowers his gun and other customers in the diner wrestle him down, as he sobs, "I'm sorry!" Gibbs blinks as he sees Mike sitting in a booth with his back to him. "Guess you weren't done yet, Probie," Mike's voice drifts back to him. He glances at Steven crying, and back to Mike – but the booth is empty.
The next morning, McGee announces that he is passing on the Okinawa job. "McGee, why? That is a tremendous opportunity!" exclaims Ziva. McGee explains that he thinks he still has more to do here, to Tony and Ziva's delight. Gibbs walks in and announces a dead Marine in DC. "Are you sure?" asks Ziva. "You were injured – we can do this one without you." Tony encourages him to stay behind, and McGee points out that Gibbs had a really traumatic day the day before. Gibbs pauses, and tells them, "My choice – I wouldn't have it any other way." McGee, Tony and Ziva stop arguing with him and prepare to leave. As Gibbs leaves, he pauses and surveys the office, with a quiet smile.