Two sailors are enjoying liberty in Baltimore. One is helping his friend, who is staggering from too much to drink. As they make their way across the street, they see another friend, "Adams", lying down in front of an alley. The more sober friend calls out to him, and warns him to get up, because he can't carry both of them. When Adams doesn't respond, he nudges him, and is horrified to find Adams soaked in blood.
In the office, Ziva and McGee are whispering together, worried that Tony hasn't said a word in over an hour. "What if he's sick?" speculates Ziva." McGee considers this, and dismisses it: "He'd be whining. He always whines when he's sick." Tony tersely tells them that they aren't very good as whispering, and that he's not sick. He goes on to declare that he needs to be quiet, reflect and find his "deep calm." Ziva and McGee exchange a skeptical look. "Yeah, he's sick," declares McGee as he and Ziva bear down on Tony to check for fever. Ziva spots a document in Tony's hand and snatches it away. "What's this?" she inquires. Tony tries to take it back, but Ziva recovers it. It's Tony's performance review from the year before. "How did you get this?" she asks him. "The NCIS fairy left it under my pillow," he grits, snatching it back. Ziva wins the tug of war, and reads Gibbs' comments aloud: "Agent DiNozzo displays exemplary skills, though he can be too talkative in the field." She snickers, and McGee adds, dryly, "By 'too talkative' he means that you never shut up!" Ziva tells Tony she thinks Gibbs was being too gracious, but Tony argues that, after ten years, Gibbs should realize that this is how he works. McGee isn't buying it: "I thought it was a mild case of Tourette's, or something," he quips, to Ziva's amusement. Tony maintains that talking things out is how he processes information. "Coming from a functional mute – that's rich!" he grouses. Tony then wonders if maybe he should "dial it back, get my quiet on." McGee tells him that he's overreacting, but Tony, competitive as always, declares that he will ace the next review: "DiNozzo: Professional. DiNozzo: Focused. DiNozzo . . ." "Too much yabiyabba," Gibbs adds as he strides in, announcing a dead petty officer in Baltimore. "Too much yabiyabba? When did that happen?" Tony hisses at McGee. "The womb, would be my guess," McGee tells him, sighing.
Approaching the crime scene, Ziva wonders if they are likely to run into Tony's former co-workers, or even Wendy. Tony tells Ziva that he and Wendy have decided to leave it alone. "Turns out Ol' Blue Eyes was wrong – love isn't always lovelier the second time around," he quips. "In fact, it's painful and strange . . ." he trails off as Gibbs fixes him with A Look, and reminds Tony: "Yabba." Tony clams up. Ducky determines that, from his wounds, Adams was in a fight before he died from a single stab wound. "Ugly," comments Tony. Ducky is surprised. "That's it, Tony? Only one word? No wisecracks about wayward sailors on shore leave? No obscure 'On The Town' references?" Gibbs glances at Tony, who mutters, "Is that a movie?" and slides away as Ziva asks, "I understand that sailors often refer to this liberty as their annual 'beer and crabs' week?" Tony can't resist: "Not those kind of crabs, Ziva," he says with a knowing grin that fades as he catches another Look from Gibbs. "Ah," exclaims Ducky with satisfaction, "That's the Tony we know and love!" McGee announces that Baltimore PD has a suspect in custody. Apparently, the police received a 911 call before Adams was discovered. It was traced to an auto repair shop, and the police discovered a man at the shop washing blood from his clothes. A squad car pulls up, and the suspect is escorted to the team. His clothes are bloody, but he maintains that he is being railroaded. His name is Michael Thomas, and when Gibbs asks him if he wants to contact a lawyer, Michael tells Gibbs, "No, I want to call someone else."
The "someone else" is Leon Vance. As Michael is escorted into NCIS headquarters, he is met by Vance and vehemently declares his innocence. Vance tells him to do as the agents tell him. As he is led away, Gibbs asks, "Your wife's kid brother?" "He's my family, too, Gibbs," declares Vance. "Then you'll be recusing yourself?" Gibbs asks, knowing the answer. Vance insists that there is no reason for him to recuse himself. "He's a murder suspect, Leon. Your rules, not mine," Gibbs reminds him. Vance insists on accompanying Gibbs to question Michael. Heading to Interrogation, Gibbs opens the door and motions Michael in, but Vance demands a minute alone with Michael. Gibbs isn't pleased with the interference, but agrees, stepping in the room and closing the door to give them privacy. Vance asks Michael if he killed Adams, and Michael insists that he did not. "I've never seen him before this morning, hand of God!" he swears, holding up his right hand. He begs Vance to believe him, and after a moment, Vance nods in agreement, telling him that Gibbs is the one he has to convince, not him. The door opens. "Minute's up," Gibbs tells Vance brusquely, leading Michael in.
During the interrogation, Michael tells him that he's never been arrested before, and that his skittishness during his arrest was due to the officers not listening to him. Gibbs leans back and invites Michael to tell him what happened. Michael tells him that he found Adams on the sidewalk while on his way into work, and tried to help him, getting blood on his clothes as he did so, but realized he was dead or dying and called 911 to report what he had found. He couldn't stay because he was afraid his boss would fire him for being late. He appears shaken by seeing Adams die in front of him.
The team reviews the 911 recording, and determines that Michael's account of what happened is consistent with the information he gave in the phone call. The team can't find any connections between Adams and Michael. Tony has found that Adams called a woman, Meredith Bilson, several times before he died, but she has moved from her last known address. Gibbs wants her found. Ziva notes that the only charge on Adams credit card was for pizza at a Baltimore pizzeria. "Pizza and beer – hell of a last meal!" chortles Tony, but he abruptly stops at A Look from Gibbs. McGee discovers that one other member of the crew didn't return from liberty the night before, a petty officer named Brian Smith. "Maybe a second victim . . ." Gibbs muses, but is interrupted by Vance, who is watching from the staircase: "Or maybe involved?" Gibbs glances at Vance in exasperation. "There's no way to know that!" "Figure it out," growls Vance.
Ziva and Tony interview the pizzeria's owner, who tells them he loves Liberty Week, because it doubles his business, but he doesn't remember seeing Adams. His gestures to the restaurant, filled with sailors, noting that they all look alike, and that they were all good kids, with no trouble or fights. The owner turns away, busy, and they are approached by a sailor, Robert Epland, who was a friend of Adams. He tells them that Adams was fine at 11 pm, and was talking about how much he loved his girlfriend. Tony confirms that her name was Meredith Bilson.
In Autopsy, Gibbs is bothered by something in Vance's attitude toward the case. Ducky reminds him that Vance has always been protective of his family, but Gibbs says it's something else he can't put his finger on. At that moment, Vance enters the room and requests a report on Ducky's findings. Ducky indicates that Adams was stabbed from the front. "So he knew his killer?" Vance theorizes. "Not necessarily," cautions Gibbs. Ducky notes that the bruising and wounds from a fight had begun to turn purple, which means that the fight happened several hours before his death. Gibbs and Vance leave and enter the elevator. As the elevator starts up, Vance stops it, and declares to Gibbs that Michael didn't kill Adams, and that he won't try to sway the investigation. Vance's phone rings –it's his wife. He doesn't tell her about Michael, just tells her that he'll be late. "It's complicated," he sighs to Gibbs as he hangs up. "Family, Leon," Gibbs agrees, "it always is."
Tony and Ziva pull up in front of Meredith Bilson's home. Tony is still worried about his excessive chattiness being annoying, but Ziva pointedly tells him that "your asking me about your chattiness non-stop for the past twenty minutes is annoying, yes!" Tony tells her that Wendy didn't like his chattiness, either, and told him that it made him sound 'nervous' and 'insecure' – "as if that's even possible," he says dismissively. Ziva tells him he's obsessing too much over one comment, and adds that she thinks it's a good idea that he "turned the book" on the relationship with Wendy. "Turned the page, closed the book," he corrects her, as Meredith Bilson answers the door. She doesn't know Adams is dead, but uncomfortably tells them she can't talk now and begins to close the door. However, behind her, Brian Smith is descending the stairs, shirtless, buttoning his pants, and asking who is at the door. Tony recognizes him and tells him that a ship full of people are looking for him. Smith bolts out the back door, with Tony in hot pursuit. He tackles Smith a block away, and draws his gun on him. Getting a good look at Smith's battered face, Tony tells him, "I know a dead guy who has bruises just like yours."
In Interrogation, Tony shows Smith photos of Adams' body. Smith looks away, but insists that he did not stab Adams. "Finding you in the dead guy's girlfriend's apartment with your pants around your ankles doesn't exactly scream 'innocent.' In my business, that's called 'motive'," Tony tells him. Meanwhile, Meredith is explaining to Ziva that Smith was banging on her door at 6 am, telling her that he and Adams had had a fight. Meredith had talked to Adams about 11:30 pm, when he wanted to come over, and broke the news to him that she was in love with Smith. "And he lost it." Smith tells Tony that Adams attacked him and they scuffled, but he ran away and never saw Adams again. He insists that he would never hurt Adams, as they had been best friends for years. Meredith tells Ziva that Adams called her later that night/early morning, rambling about wanting to win her back by buying her a ring. She then tells Ziva that she doesn't think Smith killed Adams, but confesses that she's scared for him because she washed his shirt that morning because it had a lot of blood on it.
As Tony and Ziva compare notes, McGee joins them with some news. He has found that Michael did, indeed, have a police record that was sealed because he was a juvenile. The arrest was for assault with a deadly weapon. Gibbs confronts Michael, asking why he didn't tell him about the arrest and lied to him about never having been arrested. Michael said he was "just a dumb kid who didn't know any better, it wasn't a big deal," but Gibbs is unimpressed that Michael considers putting someone in the hospital "not a big deal," and wonders what else Michael may have lied about. Michael insists that he didn't kill Adams: "Why can't you just accept that?" "Because a young man is dead, and I can't accept anything, yet!" Gibbs declares angrily. Vance opens the door, to Gibbs' dismay, and orders Michael to remain silent. Vance turns to go, and Gibbs follows him, seething. In the hall, Vance tells Gibbs that he should be focusing his energy on real evidence and real suspects. Stung, Gibbs reminds him that Michael is a suspect. Vance tells him that the only person Gibbs should be worrying about is Smith, and Gibbs reminds him that he was supposed to steer clear and allow him to do his job. "I'm not satisfied with the job you're doing, Gibbs," Vance bites out. "It's not about me, and you know it," Gibbs tells him, irritated. They argue over whether Michael's prior arrest is relevant, and Gibbs asks him, "Why the kid gloves?" Clearing the hall for privacy, Vance tells Gibbs that he has been looking out for Michael since he was 8, when Michael's parents died, and that Michael has been challenging. But Vance is convinced that Michael has found his way, and the last thing that he needs is people giving up on him now.
Responding to a call from Abby, Vance and Gibbs join her in the lab. At first, Abby is flustered, knowing Vance's special interest in the case, but then settles down to explain how the victim was stabbed, and describes the knife as a five-inch boning knife, a favorite of fishermen everywhere. The only prints on the body were those of Smith. Triumphantly, Vance tells Gibbs, "You have your guy." Gibbs tells Tony to search Smith's belongings for a fishing knife and Vance insists that Michael be released to his custody.
At his home, Vance's children are delighted to see "Uncle Michael," but Jackie is angry. She shoos the children to bed, stares at Michael, and then tells Vance, "I want him out of my house. NOW," as she leaves the room. Michael and Vance look at each other in consternation. In the kitchen, Jackie and Vance speak privately, and she accuses Vance of continually cleaning up behind Michael and not seeing him for what he is. "Leon, you have fathered him long enough. When are you going to let him stand on his own two feet?!" she exclaims. Michael, sitting in the living room with his head bowed, hears every word of the argument. Vance reminds Jackie that Michael is opening his own repair shop. "And two years ago, he was going to finish college, and the year before that, he was selling that miracle crap," she says, exasperated. "I will always love him, but I had to let him go. And I wish you would, too," she adds softly. Vance agrees that Michael will leave in the morning.
In the early morning, Gibbs comes into the lab – Abby has stayed up all night testing the knife found in Smith's bag. She's a little dazed from lack of sleep, but reports that the knife only has traces of fish blood. Gibbs realizes that the clean knife means that Smith probably didn't kill Adams. "Abby, you stayed here overnight trying to clear Vance's brother-in-law?" Gibbs asks her, taking in her exhaustion. "Well, the Director is like family," she explains, "and you'd want me to do the same . . . for . . . you," she finishes hesitantly. Gibbs gives her an ironic smile, and asks for the toxicology results. Abby tells him that Adams had downers, or "disco biscuits" in his system. "Very retro, but they're making a comeback," she adds, explaining that the drugs would have impaired his motor skills and caused blurred speech. She wonders how he got the drugs, and Gibbs suggests that she test everyone that was on liberty that night. She asks for McGee's help.
Morning in the Vance household, Jackie has thawed a bit towards Michael, and she and the children are laughing with him over breakfast. Vance joins them, hurrying everyone to get ready for school. Jackie has decided that Michael can stay if Vance wants him to, and outside, Vance explains to him that he must stay and can't leave the house. Michael eagerly agrees, apologizing for the inconvenience. He asks if Michael has located a spot for his repair shop, and Michael tells him he's looking at a few places, and thanks him for a loan (for the business). He tells Vance he will pay him back, every cent, and Vance adds jovially, "and free repairs for life!" As Vance turns to leave, Michael tells Vance that he doesn't like the way Gibbs looks at him. "He looks at everyone that way!" Vance chuckles.
At the office, Gibbs is displeased that Michael isn't with Vance, but Vance says that he got the briefing that they found the knife. Gibbs corrects him and tells him that it wasn't the murder weapon, and wonders if Michael is a flight risk, which Vance denies. Abby and McGee report that three other sailors had a similar sedative in their systems, and proceed to try to trace the origin of the drug. "Keep me in the loop," Vance orders. "Like I could keep you out of it?" inquires Gibbs dryly.
One of the sailors tells them that they heard from a friend of a friend about a "gentleman's club" where they could play blackjack, but he ended up losing all his liberty pay in an hour, and felt woozy and dizzy. He tells them that it was a private game in the back of some pizza place. Putting two and two together, Gibbs and Tony show up at the pizzeria. The owner greets them, but Gibbs wants to know where the game is. Spying a door, he breaks it down, discovering a smoke-filled room with a gaming table surrounded by sailors. The sailors try to flee through the back door, but are stopped by Ziva.
In Interrogation, the owner of the pizzeria, Marty, is confronted by evidence of the same drugs found in the sailors' bloodstream, and admits that he was running the game to make extra money. "Times are tough," he says, but Gibbs is unimpressed. "Cash off the backs of young sailors, serving their country, on liberty, in a crooked game?" The owner protests that the game isn't crooked, but the drugs cause the sailors to make bad decisions. He then tells Gibbs that Adams was "breaking our hearts, telling us about his girlfriend dumping him," and kept playing to try to win money for a ring, but he lost it all and went nuts, flipping the table and running outside. Marty's attorney arrives, and Marty stops talking. As Gibbs rises, he deliberately shoves the table, hitting Marty in the chest. "Oops," he says, unapologetically.
In the hall, Gibbs asks Tony, "Thoughts?" Tony reports that Ziva and McGee are looking through security footage from cameras, but so far, no luck. Gibbs frowns. "I know that. I asked you your thoughts, DiNozzo." "My thoughts? I thought you didn't like my process, my 'yadiyabba'," Tony tells him diffidently. Gibbs shakes his head. "Doesn't mean I don't depend on it," he tells Tony, who immediately cheers up. Gibbs tells him to help Ziva and McGee, while he "has to see a lady about a card game." Abby is analyzing the playing cards, trying to identify the hundreds of fingerprints on the cards to see what she can find.
Ziva and McGee have recovered a somewhat corrupted security film, and believe they have identified Adams on the film, but are trying to get a clear shot of another man who is there at the same time. As McGee tries to sharpen a reflection in a window, they report that the sailors said that there was one man who was winning consistently, who Vance and Gibbs believe was the "shell" in the game, conning the sailors. At the same time they are able to identify the reflection in the window, Abby has a hit on the fingerprints: It's Michael Thomas. Grimly, Vance turns and walks out.
At home, Michael is playing a video game with the children. Vance walks in and grimly stares at Michael. They misunderstand his displeasure, thinking that he is angry the children are playing video games on a school night. He tells Jackie to take the kids on in to dinner while he talks to Michael. The kids drag out reluctantly, herded by an alarmed Jackie. Vance asks him why he participated in the card game, and discovers that Michael has lost all the money that Vance had loaned him betting, and the owner was giving him a chance to earn it back by recruiting players. Michael describes Adams becoming angry and attacking him because he thought that Michael was responsible for him losing the money for his girlfriend's ring, and pulled a knife on him. "It all happened so fast, Leon," Michael tells him woodenly, "The next think I know, he's face down, and the knife's in my hand. It was an accident – I didn't mean to kill him." Vance stares at him grimly. "But you did," he tells him. Michael declares that he will spend the rest of his life making up for it, and promises that if Vance helps him, he will make it up to him, the "whole damn world . . . and the guy." Vance is silent, and then tells Michael that he will help him, "more than I've ever helped you before." Turning, he opens the door, admitting Gibbs and Tony who is carrying handcuffs. As Tony moves to handcuff Michael, Jackie comes from the kitchen, her hand pressed against her mouth. "Please," she begs him quietly, "not in the house." Gibbs gives Tony a small nod, and they lead Michael out. Michael apologizes to Jackie as he leaves, and as Vance and Gibbs watch Tony help Michael into the car, Vance is despondent. "I was so close with him, Gibbs – he was becoming a good man," he tells Gibbs. "It's not your fault," Gibbs says, "You didn't fail anyone. It's just time to . . . let go." Deeply hurt, Vance watches them leave and then returns inside, to face Jackie. After a long look, she gives him a comforting hug, and his son, Jared, creeps back into the living room asking when Uncle Michael is coming back. "Not for a long time, son," Vance tells him, sighing. Jackie leaves, leaving Vance to deal with his emotions privately. Jared approaches Vance and bravely tells his father that it wasn't Uncle Mike's fault that he was playing X-Box. Vance tiredly tells him that he knows, and Jared, confused, begins to turn away. Suddenly, Vance looks up and invites him to show him how to play the video game. Happily, Jared agrees, and sits down on the sofa beside Vance. Impulsively, Vance reaches out and hugs his son to him, tightly.