Life Begins at The End of Your Comfort Zone – 1/4 – SASundance

Title: Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone
Author: SASundace
Fandom: NCIS, Criminal Minds
Genre: Crime Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Relationship(s): Anthony DiNozzo/Detective Andrea Sparr; Timothy McGee/OFC
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence – Graphic, Character Bashing, Reference to past sexual assault of a child; Reference to sexual assault of an adult; Reference to past child abuse and neglect
Author Notes: This is essentially an NCIS story with a minor Criminal Minds crossover of three characters – Rossi, Reid and Hotchner. There are a number of reoccurring NCIS characters, several OCs and minor characters who feature in the story. The story is set in the time mainly between the episode S05e15 In The Zone and S06e04 Heartland. Many thanks to Darian for the awesome artwork for this story and much appreciation to Arress for her help, too.
Beta: Arress
Word Count: 117,750
Summary: When Tim missed out on an assignment in Baghdad which he believed should have been his, everyone told him that he wasn’t ready yet, that his time would come. Frustrated, he turned to his writing, immersing himself in his alternate reality. Four months later, he was instrumental in finding the mole, after working undercover in Cyber Crimes and meeting the love of his life. McGee thought his life was perfect, unprepared for his alter-ego to draw him and everyone around him into a dark malevolent evil which would change everything forever.
Artist: Darian MacAver



PART 1: BATTLE ZONES


“If you can get people to believe absurdities, you can get them to commit atrocities.”
Voltaire 1785.


Chapter 1

NCIS communications officer, Derry Hume had only just come on duty and logged to his computer when Special Agent Gibbs and Acting Director Vance arrived in MTAC. They were scheduled to speak to the CO of their dead Marine reservist, killed during a mortar attack in the International Zone in Baghdad. Everyone present was a little taken aback by Marine Major Ike Varnai’s lack of reaction to the news that one of his men, Captain John Rankin, had been killed by gunshot wounds. Previously it was presumed he’d been killed by shrapnel from the mortar until determined otherwise during the post-mortem examination by Dr Mallard.

Perhaps Major Varnai was unimpressed at the news that NCIS would be investigating his death. So much for ‘leave no man behind’ and ‘Semper Fi, Hume, concluded rather cynically.

Honestly, Derry and the other communications officers and intel analysts were appalled by the Marine CO’s apparent callousness, and he had a feeling that Gibbs and the acting director were pretty pissed too. If Varnai wasn’t so blatant making himself such an obvious suspect in what had become a murder investigation, then Hume figured he’d be the prime suspect. Surely though, no one who managed to become a Marine Major would be that stupid, would they?

Once they’d terminated the connection to Baghdad, there was a pregnant pause before the acting director turned to Gibbs and asked, “So, who should I send to Baghdad to investigate?”

“Me for starters, Leon.”

“Yeah, no. I don’t think so, Gibbs. Someone must handle the widow, Dina Rankin, plus investigate from this end. She’s well connected, and from what I hear, DiNozzo’s already managed to piss her off. I want you here to keep her happy.”

“Not our fault if she walked into the bullpen unannounced while we were in the middle of discussing the case, Leon.” Gibbs was quick to defend one of his team to the assistant director, not the least because he was determined to go to Baghdad. He was positively looking forward to going toe to toe with that egotistical Jarhead CO, as Varnai seemed unmoved by the information that Capt. Rankin was murdered using a mortar attack to cover-up it up. Where was the outrage, the demand for justice for one of his own, Goddam him!

Unfortunately, his defence of Tony didn’t seem to affect Vance’s decision to keep Gibbs in DC. “Maybe so, but that doesn’t negate the fact the woman has serious money and, therefore, connections including the ear of the SECNAV. You’re a Marine – you know Marine widow lingo. I need you here. You’re staying!”

Gibbs looked pissed. “Fine, then DiNozzo goes to Baghdad. We need a senior agent to investigate the crime scene and interview the witnesses, especially in a war zone. I need my best, most experience agent over there if you won’t let me go.”

The A.D. nodded. “Fair enough. So, who else goes with him? McGee?”

“Yeah, he desperately wants to go, but…nope! He’s still way too green and crumbles under pressure. He miscalculated badly during the whole confrontation with a juiced-up Corporal Werth at Walter Reed, he rushed in and escalated Werth at the worst time, endangering civilians and wounded service personnel. And that was with the rest of us present to clean up his shit. So no, Varnai will eat him for breakfast!”

Gibbs paused before saying decisively, “I think we should send Ziva. DiNozzo will need someone who can interpret. Someone who isn’t a potential suspect or has their own agenda and loyalties. David’s been to Baghdad before and is fluent in several Middle Eastern languages, plus she’s had a heap of experience in war zones.”

Leon stared at the senior supervisory agent incredulously. “Gibbs, if you honestly think I’m going to send a Jewish Mossad liaison officer to Baghdad to represent the agency, you’re sadly deluding yourself. If she was an NCIS agent who was also Jewish then I ‘might’ send her if there was absolutely no one else available, but as it is… no way in hell! She is a loose cannon.”

The AD pursed his lips, running through all the agents who could speak Arabic and Kurdish before snapping his fingers. “What about Agent Jardine? She also speaks several languages – Iraqi, Arabic, Kurdish, and various other local dialects. She’s an exceptional analyst and has extensive knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs. Nikki has contacts that rival Ziva’s, plus she’s been dropping hints that she wants an assignment to Baghdad.”

“Jardine have any field experience, Leon?”

“None. You sure, you wouldn’t prefer to send McGee? He strikes me as a fine young agent if a little too eager to please. Think it’s time he was blooded.”

“When we’re investigating the death of a Marine in a war zone, I need experienced agents. It’s not the time to ‘blood’ someone at a Marine family’s expense. You’re the one who pointed out that Capt. Rankin’s wife is connected, Leon. Surely, you aren’t suggesting that we risk this case getting swept under the rug over there for want of a local interpreter who’s not impartial. Besides, I’ll need McGee here to do his computer stuff.”

Vance huffed. “So, who? You okay sending DiNozzo and Jardine?”

“I’d prefer to go, but since ‘apparently’ that’s not an option, then send Jardine with him if you won’t send Ziva. DiNozzo’s a former homicide detective – he’s more than capable of investigating solo and can take care of himself. He’s been there before so he knows the score. Plus, he won’t let Varnai walk all over him, either.”

Gibbs frowned, “The only problem he has is the language barrier and I’d prefer he has an NCIS interpreter… send Jardine. He’ll watch her six and hopefully, her local connections will get them some useful intel.”

Vance agreed. “Fine. I’ll tell them. We need to close this in a timely fashion. SECNAV is on my case about this one, Gibbs. Don’t screw up!” The acting director gave him a hard stare and swept out of MTAC regally.

Derry smirked at his fellow comms officers. What they’d just witnessed was a typical power play between two alpha males. Vance had gotten the last word, but it seemed that Gibbs wasn’t going to be bested.

Pulling out his cell phone Agent Gibbs punched in a number. “DiNozzo heads up. Vance is going to send Agent Jardine to the I.Z. with you. You have a go-bag?”

Gibbs was listening because he answered, “Nope. Just you two, so watch her six.” He hung up without waiting for a response and Derry grinned as the lead agent left the darkened room.

The communications officer had worked with McGee quite often and felt disappointed for the young agent, knowing he’d be disappointed to not be assigned, but the veteran analyst could see where Gibbs was coming from. Major Varnai was a real hard-ass type. He probably shat glass and ate nerdy computer techs for breakfast every day of the week and twice on Sundays. The Marine CO most definitely wasn’t going to be putting out the welcome mat for the NCIS agents when they arrived in the International Zone.

Tim was an easy-going guy, but he didn’t handle aggressive in-your-face alpha males well, or even aggressive females for that matter, Derry smirked, having seen how scared he was of the lethal Ms David and the less-lethal Goth, Abby Sciuto. And the major looked to have absorbed every stereotypical hard-assed Marine Corps officer trait and then swallowed down a damned boatload of testosterone for good measure. No doubt he drank his coffee black and strong as sulphuric acid and his steak blue and still mooing. McGee would totally crap his pants around that guy. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he freely admitted he would too, and the Marine major would smell even the slightest hint of fear and or weakness then go in for the kill.

The information analyst recalled how panicked Tim had been a couple of years ago dealing with an Under Secretary of State when Gibbs was in the field and DiNozzo was on an undercover assignment. This would be a helluva lot worse than that. Yeah, having to deal with Varnai and a war zone to boot – he’d be a basket case.

Hume also worked quite a bit with young Nikki Jardine, and he suspected that irrespective of the whole germ phobia stuff, that she was pretty ballsy. She was also a damned fine analyst and knew the ME region and Iraq extensively even if she didn’t have any field experience. He reckoned she’d do fine with DiNozzo to watch her back.

DiNozzo might seem to be a clown but Derry had cause to know, he’d gone toe to toe with the formidable Gibbs on numerous occasions, back when it was just the two of them and he could be a total badass when the situation required it. He’d have no problem standing up to Varnai, who’d try to shut the investigation down if he had his way. If Hume was any judge of the matter. The Senior Field Agent would protect Jardine’s back too, just like he doggedly did for Gibbs, McGee and David. Derry would bet his life on that!

 

~oO0Oo~

“He tricked me out of my place in Iraq,” Timothy McGee declared peevishly as he paced back and worth, waving his hands in the air in an agitated manner.

“How do you figure that, Tim?” Abby inquired curiously while setting up the call to Tony and Nikki in Iraq. The internet coverage was patchy in the International Zone and it was touch and go if they’d be able to contact the pair as scheduled.

Huffing because he’d already been through this whole situation with her earlier. “I told you all this already, Abbs. Because he told me if I wanted to go that I shouldn’t volunteer.”

“Yes, and you were already questioning if he was playing with you and debating if you should ignore him, but you over thought it and decided it was a double bluff and did nothing. Seems like you did a damned good job of talking yourself out of going to Iraq by being indecisive, Timmy.”

“He’s out to sabotage my career because he knows I’m better than him. He’s a pathetic jerk!”

“Whoa, Tim! Feeling a touch of paranoia there, Special Agent McGee?”

“What paranoia? He made sure I didn’t get to go on my first overseas assignment and not for the first time. He prevented me from going to Paraguay, too. He’s always quick to exaggerate his own importance and make me look bad.”

“Okay, reality check. Vance picked the agents to go to Iraq and you could’ve volunteered if you’d wanted to. BUT you didn’t! And when Tony and Cate went to Paraguay, you were still a probie and had only been on the team for six months.”

“Cate was barely out of her probationary field agent period, too, and I’d been an NCIS agent longer than she had,” he protested.

“Yeah, maybe but she had overseas experience from being on the presidential protection detail. Tony probably wanted someone a bit more seasoned to watch his back since things were bound to get hairy down there, which they did. On top of that, you don’t speak Spanish,” she pointed out, reasonably.

Then putting her hands on her hips and speaking in her schoolmarm’s persona, she told him, “And about him exaggerating his own importance – ya might want to rethink that statement, Timmy. People in glass houses probably shouldn’t be throwing stones, Mr ‘I went to MIT and Johns Hopkins and tell people every chance I get’ McGee.”

“I do not, Abby,” he whined huffily, before returning to his grievance with Tony. “I’m sure he’s threatened by me. As soon as he heard that I had a degree in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and my postgraduate degree in computer forensics from MIT when he only had a degree in physical education at OSU, he was jealous.”

When she smirked, since he’d just proved her point, he got pissed off that she wasn’t taking him seriously.

“He also told everyone in the secretarial pool I was gay,” McGee griped, dragging out a long-held bone of contention between himself and the SFA.

Abby giggled and punched him on the biceps. “Oh, let it go, Timmy. For starters, Cate claimed he’d told the secretarial pool you were gay, didn’t she? He never said he did. Did you ever actually bother to verify what she said was true?”

When he looked at her rather blankly, she wagged her finger at him chidingly. “You know, since we investigate crime, I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of innocent ‘til proven guilty? Did you bother going to the source for verification? If you did, you’d have found that Cate was yanking your chain…”

“Why would she lie to me,” he interrupted her dubiously.

“Because you guys were getting all mawkishly sentimental about Tony coming back to work after having the plague and it pissed her off that he could get under her skin as he did, so she got you pissed off with him as payback. She and Ziva do it all the time. You’re pretty easily baited,” Abby replied bluntly before returning to the topic at hand.

“And let’s face it, he isn’t the one that went around making homophobic remarks. You and Cate were the ones that acted like a couple of smutty little kids, teasing him about kissing a transgender person, and thinking it was a huge joke. You know Chris and Tony were friends and he unknowingly kissed his killer. How would you feel? And let’s not mention the pathetic jokes you made about the cross-dressing Petty Officer Horlacher.”

She glared at him and he felt himself physically wilt. Abby could be darned scary when she liked

“You ever think how you’d have felt if you found out you’d been making out with Jim Wilson’s killer? Tony was sickened by the thought he kissed the person who gutted his friend like a fish, not because she had a dick!”

“I thought Cate was your friend, Abby.”

“Yep, she was, and I miss her heaps, but it doesn’t change the fact she was sexually repressed and has some totally not cool homophobic attitudes. Opinions you were also quick to share, by the way.” She pointed out bluntly.

“So why is it so far-fetched that she’d start a rumour about your sexuality as a prank? After she got me shit-faced on Tequila, she conned me into doctoring a photo of Tony to make him appear to be gay after all, which was a fraud and a criminal act.”

Tim was about to object that Cate wouldn’t do that but stopped when Abby reminded him that she had done it to Tony – going as far as to create a fake picture. Kind of cut the ground out from under him.

The Goth looked chastened at that memory of wrongdoing, “We were incredibly lucky we didn’t get charged for that little folly. We were lucky that Tony wasn’t harmed by it and were fortunate he didn’t make a formal complaint against us.”

He huffed exasperatedly but Abby was too caught up in her own guilt to notice.

“I should have said no to her as soon as I sobered up, but I’d already promised, and she was my best friend,” she admitted sheepishly.

McGee was furious that it had suddenly become all about POOR TONY when he’d come down to the lab looking for some sympathy.

He was feeling way so angry he was unable to respond to her unfair innuendo that he was homophobic. He was no bigot; he didn’t go out bashing queers leaving gay bars. He was highly educated.

There was no way that the frat boy, intellectually challenged jock more open-minded and tolerant than he was. Who was Abby trying to kid?

“But you interrupted me, Mister.” Abby interrupted his internal rant with a slap on his bicep and more admonishment. “What I was going to say was, why would Tony tell people you were gay? It isn’t like he ever had any problems getting dates with people who work here, before or after you started working in DC and we’d split up.”

“He was jealous of me – saw me as competition.” He argued self-assuredly because it was obvious why he told people Tim was gay, surely.

As Abby started rolling around in her chair, laughing her ass off, he got pissed off and told her. “Just like he tried really hard to warn me off you because he was jealous of me dating you.”

“Yeah, Timmy, he tried to warn me off going out with you too,” she said quietly.

“Well, there you go – QED!” McGee pronounced smugly.

Abby looked at him pityingly. “McGee, he had no reason to be jealous. You’re cute as a button in a Richie Cunningham or McCauley Calkin kind of way, but DiNozzo is THE BOMB. He has the movie star looks, smile and charm in boatloads. I’d have slept with him like a shot if he’d ever asked me to,” Abby responded bluntly.

“Lord knows I propositioned him enough times, but he never took me up on it. Let’s face it –Tony’s seriously hot.”

“Then why would he warn me off going out with you if he wasn’t jealous?” McGee demanded frostily, deciding to ignore her declaration about DiNozzo’s hotness, mainly because he didn’t want to think about why she hadn’t said anything like that about him. Richie Cunningham, blech!

“Probably trying to save you from a world of pain.” Abby retorted rather sharply which was out of character for the kind-hearted Goth.

Noting his pupils dilating at a memory or two, she whacked him, this time much more firmly on the bicep.

“Not that sort of pain, McGee. I meant pain of the heart!”

Seeing his scepticism, she elaborated. “C’mon, Timmy. Tony knows me, probably too well and he knows that I have commitment issues… that I always dump guys when they get too clingy. He took one look at you, with your down-home John Boy Walton persona, and he knew you’d want to find yourself a nice girl you could take home to meet your mamma.

She smiled indulgently at him, in the way that you’d do with a cute puppy even if they’d drooled all over your favourite shoes and Tim wanted to shake her. How dare Abby not only patronise him but take Tony’s side against him. She was his ex; she was supposed to be on his side.

Sensing his outraged she shrugged. “As I said, he knows me well enough to know that’s just not my scene.” Abby shrugged philosophically. “He knew that sooner or later you’d want us to get serious and when that happened, I’d freak out and dump you or cheat on you and break your oh-so-tender John-Boy heart.”

“Yeah, right!” he said sceptically.

“Timmy, you went out and got a tat on your ass just so I’d go out with you, even before you’d even met me for our first date. That kind of smacks of desperation and, let’s face it, you’re still holding a torch for me some four years later, even when we are not together. I wish I’d listened to Tony when he tried to warn me off. It would have saved you a lot of heartaches!”

Pouting and unwilling to listen to her defending Tony any longer, McGee stomped off to the elevator, muttering under his breath about backstabbing ex-girlfriends, not bothering to farewell her.

Truthfully, he so didn’t want to finish that conversation about still having feelings for her in case she told him it was utterly hopeless and never going to happen. He and Abby were made for each other and sooner or later he’d make her see that he was the only one that really loved her.

He needed to cool off before the video chat with DiNozzo, anyway, so he went to find a coffee. Hey, it worked for the Boss!

Chapter 2

Several weeks later

Ever since the MCRT closed the case of the murder of Reserve Marine Capt. John Rankin, the tension had been steadily building between McGee and DiNozzo, although at least initially, Tony hadn’t noticed Tim’s simmering resentment. He was somewhat jet-lagged after Iraq and he’d been overly occupied. Lately, he’d been thinking a lot about the quirky Intel. analyst who’d accompanied him to the Green Zone and pondering over Nikki’s friendship with the young Iraqi youth, Jameel and his sister in Baghdad. The young girl truly didn’t know how lucky she was to get a hug from the touch phobic agent Jardine. Tabina had somehow managed to sneak under her skin.

Nikki had kind of done the same thing to Tony, who despite his carapace of brash cockiness and irreverence, was a nurturer to those who were innocent, helpless, vulnerable or who he considered to be friends or family. So, it was inevitable that he would admire her loyalty, to those kids and her brother. Aside from which, he’d really respected her toughness, offering to take a liver temperature to determine the time of death of a suspect, enabling him to question the Major. Tony thought that was damn gutsy of her.

Not to mention her weird ass allergy was key to identify the killer. As an investigator, he admired people who were aware of their environment and noticed details, which in this case had helped them gain a vital lead. All in all, she’d been a particularly useful addition to the case, and he thought her brother was one a lucky guy. Okay…so obviously, he wasn’t lucky to have been injured and, in a coma, but he was blessed to have such a loving sister as Jardine, despite her quirks.

Hey, he had plenty of quirks too.

They’d worked several cases since the Rankin murder and eventually Tony noticed that McGee was pissed about something. He was especially snarky when they were down in the lab and it crossed his mind that the probie had had a falling out with Abby. It was blatantly obvious to everyone that Tim still held out hope that he and Abbs would get back together one day, romantically. And it was equally obvious to even a myopic mole that his heart would get broken again.

Although Tony asked the junior agent a few times about the bee buzzing around in his bonnet, Tim had denied that anything was up. So, he’d shrugged and got on with the job before Gibbs had an excuse to head slap him.

Today Gibbs had sent DiNozzo and McGee to MTAC to interview the CO of their missing Sailor. Petty Officer Jeffrey Steadman was declared UA after failing to return to the Ronald Reagan from his shore leave in Rota, Spain. Since Steadman was the third seaman to disappear in the last two months in Rota whilst on liberty, as well as being the godson of Congressman Laurence Mathers, the SecNav demanded the MCRT investigate ASAP. The fact that the politician was on the Dept of Defense Appropriations Committee meant that finding Steadman and the other two sailors was an immediate priority in SECNAV’s view, and he had the acting director, Leon Vance breathing down their necks for immediate results.

Tony, after greeting the CO, Captain Jonathon Ryland aboard the Reagan via video link, cut right to the chase. “So, what can you tell me about the petty officer, Captain?”

The captain reported the facts succinctly. “He was last seen at 1800 on Friday evening before going off on a 48-hour liberty and failed to report back on Sunday. He was seen by his crewmates at a dockside bar and as far as we know, was last sighted at approximately 2140 in the company of a local working girl.”

“Did anyone happen to see him leave the bar?”

“No, Agent DiNozzo. That was the last known sighting.”

“And his shipmates weren’t concerned by his disappearance?”

“No,” He seemed to be contemplating whether to say more before making up his mind. “PO Steadman is a renowned skirt chaser if you get my drift?”

“Oh, trust me, Captain, Very Special Agent DiNozzo knows exactly what you’re talking about,” McGee assured him with brazen disrespect.

Tony ignored him. “So, can you tell me a little about Petty Officer Steadman? Did he get on well with the crew or were there problems?”

“My understanding is that he wasn’t universally hated by any means, but he was mildly despised for playing pranks instead of pulling his weight. Bit of a lightweight, if that makes any sense.”

McGee leapt in again before Tony could respond, “Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense to me. I have first-hand experience working with a lightweight who doesn’t pull his weight.”

Ignoring the rejoinder, the Captain carried on, frowning his displeasure at the junior agent before continuing to speak to DiNozzo.

“Having the congressman as his godfather, he tended to rely on his connections for getting him out of any strife he might otherwise find himself in. Well, that was the impression he gave to his shipmates, anyway. So, people were reluctant to cross him, but that didn’t make for particularly close relationships either. He tended to go off and do his own thing when he was on liberty.”

“Yeah, I can absolutely see why he might not have had a lot of friends,” McGee nodded unctuously. “Well, actually, Agent DiNozzo would be a lot more familiar with that concept than I am,” he observed, ignoring the dirty look that Tony and the captain were directing his way.

It was obvious to everyone including Ryland that DiNozzo was furious. Frankly, the Captain was also extremely unnerved by the comments made by Agent McGee, but he did his best to ignore it and remain focused and professional. Likewise, he watched Tony make a visible effort to shake off his anger and maintain his focus on the interview. Ryland felt sorry for the agent having such an insubordinate partner watching his six.

“So, Captain Ryland, does Petty Officer Steadman have any enemies that might have wanted to get even with him for anything? A prank that had gone wrong or loss of face? Someone he reported to superiors?”

The captain shook his head. “I’m sorry, Agent DiNozzo. Not as far as I know.”

“Okay, so what about his work? Has it been below par – anything bothering him?” Tony probed.

“Not to my knowledge. However, I will make enquiries for you. My understanding is that he tended to coast – let the rest of the team do the lion’s share of the work; do the absolute minimum to get by. I don’t think that there have been any dramatic changes recently, though.”

“I know what you mean,” Tim responded then gave a sideways glance at Tony, making it pretty damned clear exactly who he was talking about, as Tony threw him an evil look telling him to pull his head in.

“I don’t understand why all these questions about enemies aboard ship. I thought we were looking for someone ashore. Are you suggesting that his disappearance isn’t connected with the other two sailors? I thought we were looking for a pattern here?” Captain Ryland queried.

“At this stage, Captain, it’s too soon to know what we’re looking at, but it would be premature to make assumptions about what’s behind Petty Officer Steadman’s disappearance. He might have decided to use the disappearance of the two missing sailors to mask his own, or he might well be the third in a series of missing sailors. It could even be a coincidence and completely unrelated,” Tony explained, carefully.

“Understood, Agent DiNozzo. Please keep me informed and perhaps in future, it might be easier we could conduct any discussion one on one,” the naval Captain suggested, grateful he wasn’t an agent because he couldn’t tolerate working with such a passive-aggressively insubordinate underling. He’d probably end up with a dishonourable discharge for conduct unbecoming since he’d likely set the agent adrift in a lifeboat or else, he’d keel haul him if he had to work with him.

“If you or anyone else think of something, no matter how trivial, please contact us ASAP. We’ll be in touch with you as soon as we know anything,” Tony ended the conversation courteously and indicated to the techs to kill the call before rounding on McGee.

The analysts and techs in the room held their breath, waiting for the inevitable eruption. The tension was unbearable. Tony was a pretty laid-back guy, but he hadn’t worked for Gibbs for seven years without having serious sized balls.

“What the hell was with your fucking attitude?” the senior field agent demanded furiously.

“What? I was just asking questions,” McGee objected, not wanting a direct confrontation with the SFA who was visibly angry – a sight he was unaccustomed to seeing.

“No. Actually. You weren’t. You didn’t ask any pertinent questions. I’m talking about all the passive-aggressive jabs targeted at me while we were interviewing a witness. It was childish and unprofessional behaviour, Tim.”

“Oh, wow, hello pot.” The junior agent practically spat in his face.

“What the hell is the matter with you, McGee? What’s with all the snide attacks. ‘I know what you’re talking about’ crap or the ‘oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense to me because I have first-hand experience working with a lightweight who doesn’t pull his weight…

“What. Is. Your. Problem?”

“No problem. Can’t you take a joke?” McGee folded his arms and planted his feet belligerently. “You’re always making them.”

“No, there’s a problem,” Tony told him. “You’ve been acting all pissy for a while now. What’s got your panties in a bunch, McSulky?” he queried, deliberately pushing Tim’s buttons to get him to spill the beans.

“You just had to go there with those stupid childish nicknames didn’t you… you, you backstabber, you,” McGee exploded.

Tony looked confused and pissed off – a volatile combination. So much so that he seemed oblivious to the fact that they were having this confrontation in MTAC in front of the communication-techs and intel-analysts. Of course, they spent so much time there that it was easy to become oblivious of the techs who worked in the semi-dark, especially since they were all so skilled in fading discreetly into the background, anyway.

“Explain yourself, Special Agent McGee.” Tony’s voice was arctic, his usually bright eyes had lost all sign of warmth and his usual good humour.

McGee realised that he might have pushed Tony too far – he’d never seen him so pissed off. Hell, even when he had told him a few months ago to ‘just push the buttons I tell you to push, Monkey,’ it was like water off a duck’s back. After a moment of wondering if he’d stepped over the line, though, his resentment bubbled up to the surface, the neurons in his amygdala firing, and all discretion flew out the window as his mouth engaged without checking in with his frontal lobes.

“Oh, come on, you chase anything in a skirt, so you’re no doubt familiar with working girls. When you can’t trick some desperate younger woman into sleeping with you, I’m sure you’re not averse to paying one. And let’s be honest, you’ve relied on your wealth and influence to get you where you are since a Phys. Ed. Degree had about as much going for it as a hooker at a chastity support group. You’re a joke who can barely even turn on your computer without having a brain fart, Monkey!” Tim said nastily.

The sudden silence was claustrophobic and instead of zipping his lip at that point, his brain decided that spitting out even more invective and vitriol was a good plan.

“And let’s face it, no one would notice or care if you went off the grid – after all, we never even knew you were working undercover on The Frog op since you don’t have any friends here. Let’s face it, DiNasty, who’d want to be buddies with a jerk who sets out to sabotage other people’s careers because you’re such a useless agent?”

Tony looked shocked by the intensity of the attack, but before he had a chance to respond, McGee drew a breath and began firing a second round. “You knew I wanted to go to Iraq, so therefore, you had to make sure I didn’t go because you know I’m a much better agent than you are. I’m smarter and better, so you tricked me by telling me if I wanted to go. I shouldn’t volunteer, and then you went and talked to Vance behind my back.”

Taking advantage of the fact that Tony was standing there speechless, looking at McGee as if he had two heads, the junior agent went in for a final attack. “I honestly don’t know how you can stand to look at yourself in the mirror every single day. You’re contemptible!”

“That’s why you’ve been so shitty and passive-aggressive for the last couple of weeks? Seriously? Well, okay… more passive-aggressive than usual.” DiNozzo demanded incredulously, despite his fury.

“First off, Special Agent McGee, if you wanted to go to Iraq that badly, then why would you listen to what I said? Since when do you EVER take my advice? Hell, when have you EVER followed my direct orders… certainly not without me having to insert my boot up your ass?

“Oops, my bad!” he struck his head theatrically. “There was that time when you realised that you’d triggered a car bomb and I offered to take over holding it so you and Cate could get clear. You didn’t disobey my orders then.” Tony pointed out brutally as McGee flushed with embarrassment.

“Seriously, McGee, I’d have no reason to expect, based on your past behaviour, which FYI is the usually the best predictor of someone’s future behaviour, that my joking around would do anything OTHER than have you running directly to the assistant director as soon as I told you not to.”

“That’s crap, DiNozzo.”

“Oh, really, McGee. I tell you that Abby isn’t the type to go out with you and you go and get a tattoo on your ass just to prove me wrong and to persuade her to go on a date. And five years later, you’re still pining away for her because the moment you wanted to play house with her, she sent you packing. You’re writing about her hooking up with McGregor in your books instead of taking my advice on day one, that she wasn’t your type, because you think you know better. You’ll probably still be lusting after her for another five,” he predicted cynically.

“Why don’t we talk about when, as your senior field agent and you were a green little probie, I tried to give you information about the imminent danger of conducting a search for evidence while you were out in the field. You remember that time, don’t you?” he inquired with faux gaiety, and McGee winced.

“Let me remind you that YOU refused to listen because you told me that YOU graduated first in your FLETC class. You do recall what happened then?” Tony asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm and ignored the look of humiliation by his junior agent, too furious to care. McGee had stepped way over the line so fuck his precious ego!

“You ended up covered from head to foot (which included your testicles and your dick) in poison ivy because you didn’t think a dumb jock like me knew more than you did about conducting a search in the field. Guess you showed me, huh?”

He briefly thought about stopping but decided that it would be leaving the job half done. He’d always taken the insubordinate shit McGee and Ziva threw at him and maybe he should have ripped Tim a new one, years ago, so he steeled himself and continued dressing down the stupid arrogant git.

“What about every time I give you an order as SFA and you question it? Even when I was leading the team when the Boss was in Mexico, you argued about every damned thing because I wasn’t Gibbs. Let’s face it, Tim, you thought at the time that you should’ve been put in charge because you were smarter than me. You probably still do!”

“Well, after all, he did tell ME I was a good agent.” McGee sniped at him. “What did he tell you? You’ll do – that’s hardly a resounding endorsement about your abilities or achievements, is it? But then it’s probably as much as you deserve. You’re an incredibly average agent.”

It was hardly a surprise that McGee felt that way. Gibbs had set him up for failure with that little farewell scene of his. No denying that!

Ignoring the taunt, he continued his demolition job of Tim’s accusation. “When you want to do something or, conversely, when you don’t wanna do something that I tell you to, NOTHING I say will make you do it. If you were so damned desperate to go to the International Zone, why the hell would you listen to me?” Tony challenged him cynically.

“You clearly have absolutely no respect for me or my intelligence. So WHY would you take my advice this time? Tell. Me. That. Special Agent McGee.” Tony demanded angrily.

McGee stood stammering as he tried to think of a rebuttal, but it seemed DiNozzo, damn him, wasn’t done with confusing him yet.

“Oh, and one more thing…Vance was messing with you about the whole volunteering crap too. He’d already asked Gibbs about who to send and the boss had stipulated it was him or me that had to go. And that the second agent who went had to be able to act as an interpreter.

“The boss wanted Ziva to go, but the acting director refused to send a Jewish Mossad operative to Baghdad, so that’s why he picked Jardine instead. Not Mossad, not Jewish and an NCIS employee.”

~oO0Oo~

DiNozzo spun on his heels and stalked out of MTAC, clearly fuming, and the intelligence techs all exchanged looks of relief. Everyone was shocked at the amount of anger pouring off DiNozzo as he was usually seemed like such a light-hearted guy. Plus, they were all stunned by McGee’s brazen frontal attack as passive-aggressive attacks on his superior were more his style.

Everyone there remembered when McGee had attacked his SFA in an incredibly inappropriate circumstance. He’d been taking pot-shots about the unsuitability of DiNozzo being cast in an undercover role of a professor of film studies. In his typically passive-aggressive manner, he’d been sniping behind Tony’s back  in the presence of Director Shepard and Gibbs, when the senior field agent wasn’t there to defend himself. Apart from being very condescending to Tony, he’d been incredibly belittling to the director, tactlessly remarking that whoever had chosen him to be a professor was a fool. All the while he was bagging him, knowing he’d activated a prearrange ‘agent in peril’ alert. McGee’s spiteful criticisms had taken place only seconds before Tony’s Mustang was blown up.

Hume left his workstation to go over to McGee, deciding to try to calm down the junior agent that he considered a friend.

“Tony’s right about the deployment to Baghdad, Tim. I was on duty when the acting director asked Gibbs who he wanted to send. Gibbs wanted to go, of course, but when Vance ordered him to remain here, Gibbs insisted that it had to be Tony that went, and he said he needed someone who could interpret for him who was from NCIS, not the military. The Assistant Director flat out refused to let Ziva go so that’s how Nikki got assigned. Volunteering had nothing to do with it – it was based on a combination of merit and pragmatism,” Derry confirmed DiNozzo claims firmly.

“If you’re gonna be pissed off about not getting picked, then you should get pissed off at the right people. Although with all due respect, the CO in the IZ was a real hard-ass Marine, Son.” Hume told him gently as Tim looked daggers at him.

“Think Gibbs wanted someone who could not only investigate but also play hardball over there with the CO and look after Agent Jardine. He and DiNozzo have been to Baghdad before and they’re both alpha males who can play with the big boys.” He told him. What went was that McGee simply wasn’t tough enough to stand up to the Marine Commanding Officer, especially in a war zone.

“Your turn will come, Tim – you just need a bit more experience, I reckon,” Derry gave McGee a friendly pat on the back even as the junior agent continued to scowl at him.”

Shrugging his shoulders philosophically, the analyst wandered back over to his console. He’d tried at least.

The information analyst noted that McGee was stalking up the ramp to exit MTAC and he figured the youngster would probably head down to Dr Sciuto’s lab for a little tea and sympathy.

It saddened him that the agent still seemed to hold a torch for the forensic scientist. She was a lovely girl, but when it came to men’s hearts, she was as lethal as a suicide bomber with a backpack full of explosives and a dead man’s switch. DiNozzo was right to have tried to spare McGee a broken heart. Not that Tim was ever likely to acknowledge that or thank him – not to himself or DiNozzo.

~oO0Oo~

Hume’s assumption about McGee’s immediate destination was logical but ultimately incorrect.

Ducky looked up from the report he was reading as McGee came through the doors, his forehead furrowed, appearing agitated.

“Ah, Timothy, what brings you down here? I haven’t had a chance to complete my psychological profile on Petty Officer Steadman. I’ll call when I have something.”

“What? Ah, no. I didn’t come down here for the case, Ducky.”

“Indeed? So, what does bring you down here to see me, Timothy?”

“Advice. I wanted to ask you about the case in Iraq. The Marine captain who was shot.”

Ducky was surprised. “I thought that case was closed. Has new evidence come to light, my boy? Jethro failed to inform me, I fear,” he said looking perturbed.

McGee sighed impatiently. “No. Nothing like that, but I really wanted to be the one who got sent to Iraq. I’ve never been there and everyone else has, Ducky. It wasn’t fair!”

Donald Mallard felt rather confused by McGee’s complaint about a matter that had well and truly been put to bed, at least in his mind but apparently not in Timothy’s.

“I see. Well, you do realise that the others have all been in law enforcement or counterintelligence for a lot longer than you, even Ziva and she’s served in the IDF, although she’s a bit younger than you are.” Sensing that had gone down like a lead balloon, he tried again.

“Your turn will come when you’ve some more experience under your belt, dear boy,” the elderly medical examiner tried to mollify the junior field agent. “After all, don’t forget that you have less than four years of field experience.”

“If DiNozzo has anything to do with it, I’ll never get to go anywhere. He’s jealous of me and determined to sabotage my career.”

Ducky stared at McGee, quite sure that the young agent was joking, but quickly realised that he was deadly serious.

“Oh, dear! Whatever would make you think that, Timothy?”

“He made sure I didn’t get to go to Iraq. He told me if I really wanted to go to Baghdad that I shouldn’t volunteer. Then he raced off and volunteered and stole my place. He couldn’t bear to let me have my moment of glory – he had to steal it out from under me.” The junior agent looked quite cross and more than a little bit comical, his pouting more suited to a young child.

“I see,” Ducky responded, even if he didn’t. “I’m a little befuddled, lad. Why did you accept his rather illogical and frankly absurd advice? After all, you haven’t taken his advice, even when it’s been sound and prudent to do so in the past.”

He paused delicately, “For instance, I believe he once offered advice that had you taken it, would have prevented your horrendous exposure to Rhus Radicans, otherwise known as poison ivy, when you were collecting evidence,” he said sympathetically.

“Which would have been sensible because it was one of the worst cases I’d come across. I had thought about writing it up for presentation at a forensic symposium I was asked to speak at next year,” he said.

Seeing McGee’s look of outrage, he hastened to assure him, “It would be purely anonymous, dear boy. No one would be able to identify the subject, I assure you. I was going to use the pseudonym Agent Jim McGregor,” he said a little wickedly even though the subject would be referred to as Subject X.

Returning to the subject at hand he remarked, “You also ignored Anthony’s counsel to seek professional assistance for your acrophobia.” Seeing McGee’s look of frustrated confusion Ducky elaborated kindly.

“Acrophobia, Lad. The fear of heights… or perhaps you suffer from aeroacrophobia, which is the fear of high open places. Of course, it is entirely possible for you to suffer from both phobias,” Ducky mused.

“I suppose it could even be batophobia – the fear of being too close to high buildings. But we don’t know, do we? You didn’t get a diagnosis, which you would have done if you’d taken Anthony’s sage advice”

Patting McGee on the shoulder, somewhat absentmindedly, Ducky consoled him. “No mind, you can still get a diagnosis and treatment, so it is rather academic right now.” He said reassuringly the point he was trying to make, “You didn’t follow his advice about needing therapeutic help to overcome your irrational fear, my boy, which being a field agent would’ve been a wise course of action to undertake.”

Seeing Timothy’s stubborn look, he sighed. “It’s for the good of yourself and those around you,” He admonished Timothy gently but firmly because his phobia was also a significant danger to his teammates.

Donald looked at the young man who was pouting quite absurdly and decided some plain talking was in order. Victoria Mallard had never believed in beating around the bush and he’d turned out quite satisfactorily. And really, someone needed to tell him since Timothy was acting like a bit of a prat.

“You failed to obey his orders with any degree of alacrity when he was leading the team last year in Jethro’s absence. And this year since Jethro’s return you’ve been even more vitriolic about him. You must admit you’ve acted in quite a belligerent and defiant fashion towards him since our fearless leader’s return.”

He shook his head, “So perhaps you’ll excuse me if I’m a little bit confused. Why do you imagine you’d then blindly take his advice this time, young Timothy? That seems to me to be totally out of character for you,” he asked McGee shrewdly.

McGee wanted to scream in frustration and punch something, but everything was stainless steel and he’d probably break bones in his hands, so he paced around the autopsy table instead.

“I don’t know. Why is everyone blaming me? What do you want me to say – that if I’d really been serious about wanting to go, I’d have ignored him and volunteered?

Ducky eyed him knowingly. “You said it, my boy.”

“It’s all his fault for confusing me. He calls me Probie and hundreds of other dumb frickin nicknames to make me mad and belittle me. He told the secretarial pool that I was gay! He’s threatened by me because I’m so much smarter than he is, and he knows he’s inferior to me.” He ranted as his pacing becoming even more manic although he stopped at the ME’s surgical instruments on a trolley looking at it longingly before continuing to pace.

Ducky was reminded of a toddler having a tantrum and tried to make him see sense. “As to the Probie salutation, Timothy, are you aware that Gibbs’ former senior supervisory agent still refers to Jethro as Probie?” he asked neutrally.

“Yeah, Gibbs told me. I don’t get it! What does it have to do with anything, Ducky?”

“You’re a bright lad. You should be able to work it out. But I will say this. Michael Franks came running back to the USA when Jethro lost his memory, even though he hadn’t set foot in the US since he retired, and then when Jethro was hurting, who did he go rushing off to for four months when he needed sanctuary?”

Ducky hoped the lad had the emotional maturity to figure out that his hated probie moniker was used a sign of affection and ultimately of respect reserved for esteemed proteges. The ME wasn’t all that sanguine, though, as the junior agent was acting quite impulsively, dare he say he was even paranoid. Donald hoped young Timothy would ultimately prove worthy of the fealty it represented.

Seeing the clueless expression on his young companion, he sighed deeply. “Didn’t Anthony insist that he take your place holding the trigger to a car bomb and order you and dear Caitlyn to save yourselves? Even though he had just returned from the plague and could barely run?

“Or what about when that very unfortunate incident with the undercover detective in the alleyway occurred and you were being harassed by the Metro constabulary. A little birdie with tattoos told me Anthony called around to your apartment when you were feeling like throwing in the towel. That he shared something of a highly personal and embarrassing nature to encourage you to keep your pecker up instead of resigning.

“Yeah, so what?” he asked combatively.

“I hardly think if he was threatened by you or wished to sabotage your career that he would put himself in imminent peril to save your life with a bomb or divulge such intimate details in order to make you feel better. After all, Timothy, when Mr Palmer was feeling decidedly down in the dumps after his encounter with the disagreeable Mr Milo Suskavcevic last week, you didn’t humiliate yourself simply to make Jimmy feel better about himself, now did you?”

“What do you mean, Ducky? I told Jimmy that it wasn’t his fault,” McGee protested, highly affronted.

“That’s true, lad, but Jimmy also mentioned that he asked you about the first time you were shot at, but you refused to answer him. You fobbed him off. Did you not tell him that it wasn’t a fair comparison between you and him – that you were a trained federal agent? “He smiled gently as if to rob his words of insult.

McGee glared. “Well, it is the truth, Ducky.”

“You and I both know how horribly green and inexperienced you were. You’d produce rather copious quantities of vomitus whenever you saw a dead body, Timothy. Indeed, I do believe that it was Jethro who gave you your first ever nickname because of the mask you were wearing when we found our unfortunate submariner. I rather doubt that you handled the first time you got shot at or perhaps fired your weapon at someone with composure, my boy,” Ducky stated perceptively.

To prove his point, Tim went bright red with embarrassment. Ducky patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Ah…I thought as much!”

“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything,” he refuted.

“And yet, you chose not to share information with Mr Palmer which might paint you in a less than heroic light. You didn’t even admit to the poor boy that you’d left the crime scene due to your fear of heights. You chose to protect your self-image over his badly dented self-esteem, McGee, so I wouldn’t be too quick discount the significance of DiNozzo’s actions in bolstering your spirits at his own expense. It shows a degree of integrity, self-deprecation, plus a regard for you that I’m not sure you fully appreciate,” Ducky rebutted, gently but firmly.

And if he couldn’t see the truth of it, then the immature agent wasn’t deserving of it either.

“But DiNozzo knew how much I wanted to go to Baghdad,” McGee wailed, unable to stop dwelling on this subject it seemed. At which point the tone of their conversation underwent a radical change.

“Get over it, McGee!” Gibbs growled, stalking up behind his junior agent and head-slapping him forcefully, causing Tim to leap in the air in alarm and let loose a girly squeak before he lost several shades of colour.

Not that Timothy wasn’t rather pallid already, Ducky observed him clinically. All that time at work and home staring at a computer screen rather than a bracing spot of exercise in the fresh air and sunlight was his diagnosis. If Donald was a fanciful type of fellow, he might hypothesize that young Timothy was, in fact, a vampire.

~oO0Oo~

McGee’s alter-ego, Thom E. Gemcity, rubbing his stinging pate, wondered irreverently, why any of them ever bothered having private conversations that they didn’t want the boss to know about? After all, it was a dead certainty that doing so was like waving a red rag to a bull; it was the equivalent of issuing a gold-plated invitation for Gibbs to sneak up behind them. You’d think that they’d have learnt that truism a long time ago…and yet, not.

“Gibbs… um, how long have you been here?” Timothy enquired apprehensively.

“Long enough. You didn’t return from interviewing Steadman’s CO. DiNozzo was mighty pissed off about something when he came back to the bullpen and wouldn’t say what had his panties in a twist. Techs in MTAC suggested you needed to be put straight about that deployment to the IZ when we were investigating Captain Rankin’s murder.”

McGee gulped as he stared at Gibbs and managed to open and closed his mouth several times but that was the extent of his response.

“You blame DiNozzo for not getting picked because of some idiocy about volunteering or not, but if you want to blame anyone, then ya should be looking at your own behaviour, Elf Lord!” Gibbs continued; his voice icy to match his eyes. Gibbs was not in a good mood it seemed.

“He told me not to volunteer…” Tim began, but before he got any further, Gibbs interrupted.

“As you’re so fond of reminding everyone, you have degrees from Johns Hopkins and MIT and are capable of thinking for yourself, but regardless of what he said or didn’t say about volunteering, it wouldn’t have made any difference. I didn’t send you because you’re not ready.”

McGee started to protest, took one look at Gibbs with his I’m-a-Marine-and-I-can-kill- you- with-my-stare attitude and the junior agent subsided, deciding that discretion was the smart way to go. He figured his head would thank him later.

“What happened a few months ago with former Corporal Damon Werth in his psychotic state at Walter Reed proved to me that you’re still way too green for a critical investigation in a war zone, McGee.”

Gibbs continued sternly. “You endangered bystanders, hell you injured all of the team, including yourself when you raced in without waiting for my go-ahead to cuff him. I almost had him talked down ‘til you jumped the gun. Guess ya were desperate to get one up on Ziva and DiNozzo; both of whom have a helluva lot more experience than you do and yet they were hanging back, waiting  for the right time before moving in.

“Unlike you, they didn’t rush in because they knew that he was still poised to lash out and were waiting. Your dumb-ass move sent him back into fight/flight mode. It ended up endangering not just yourself and your team, but you put all the rehab patients and staff at risk too.”

McGee had been staring at the ground, but he chanced a quick look to see if Gibbs was serious or playing one of his damned mind games with him. Unfortunately, Gibbs was pissed off alright.

“I can’t trust you not to act impetuously in a dangerous situation, and that’s when the team’s there backing you up. So, ya think I’d send you to a war zone with no backup, to investigate a murder crime scene and be responsible for watching Jardine’s six.”

He stalked up to McGee and eyeballed the now rather green junior agent before delivering a second head slap. “We clear why you didn’t go to Baghdad, McGee?”

Damnit! He didn’t see that one coming. A double whammy!

Apparently taking his silence for assent he said, “Now that we’ve got that straight, do ya think we might be able to get back to our current case…put this crap to bed once and for all.”

He followed Gibbs to the elevator sulkily, although thoroughly chastened. Tim didn’t dare comment lest he earnt another head slap. He’d never really been on the end of a true Gibbs dressing down before, DiNozzo had always been there to run interference for him, but he’d heard about them. There were myths and legends aplenty, including one particularly colourful tale about the Boss destroying some poor unfortunate probie with his gunny stare and tongue alone. McGee had always scoffed at the idea but now that he was on the other end of a Gibbs’ dressing down, he wasn’t so sure it was a myth.

Regardless, McGee felt like the universe was out to get him. He couldn’t help but wondered if he’d stepped on a crack in the pavement or broken a mirror lately and hadn’t realized it. And it seemed that his misfortune wasn’t over just yet!

As they entered the elevator and the door closed, trapping them inside together Gibbs did what Tim dreaded – he hit the emergency switch. It was his way of letting people know he was using his office for something private. Like tearing some unfortunate person, a new one. Oh, poop!

Eyeing his junior agent appraisingly, McGee couldn’t bear to meet the icy blue stare of the Marine that had broken tougher men than him. Gibbs’ voice contained a hint of amusement, but Tim backed up against the corner – guarding his head against future assaults. His brain cells and synaptic connections were far too valuable to be sacrificed to Gibbs’ head slaps.

“For someone with your supposed smarts, how’d you never figured out that DiNozzo wouldn’t be trying so hard to break ya of all of that metrosexual crap of yours

like telling people you get manicures if he’d already told people you were gay?”

“But Cate said he…”

“Nuh… wasn’t DiNozzo who started the rumour… it was Todd.”

McGee snorted disbelievingly. “Why would Cate do that?”

“Maybe payback for ya staring at her butt whenever we were in the gym,” Gibbs’ eyes gave a slight crinkle – synonymous with a hearty chuckle in mere mortals whose name wasn’t Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Okay, Tim remembered her hitting him in the jewels before he started wearing a cup. She’d also been quick to jab people in the gut too. She even attacked Tony after he’d been blown up by Ari’s car bomb saving their lives just for making a mild double entendre joke. Abby had said that she’d started the rumour about him being gay, too but he discounted it because she was fond of DiNozzo and he thought she was covering for him. Gibbs, since he came back from Mexico, barely seemed to be able to stomach Tony, so it wasn’t as if he had any reason to lie for him. Maybe it was true.

Gibbs wasn’t done though. “He wasn’t the one with an issue ‘bout gays or transgender people, either. You and Todd were obsessed about him kissing Commander Voss. Neither one of you got that he was upset about kissing Voss because DiNozzo kissed the dirtbag who killed an agent he’d worked with for years. Chris was his friend. How’d you feel kissing the person who killed your friend?

“Seems to me if anyone is homophobic it ain’t him. You have a problem with people who are homosexual, Elf Lord?”

McGee gulped loudly, shaking his head emphatically.

He scowled at McGee. “Glad to hear it! Ya wanna go to Baghdad one day? Then ya better tell Agent McGregor to get his head out of his ass. We clear?”

McGee knew what was expected of him. After all, they’d been indoctrinated into all of Gibbs rules, written and unwritten if they wanted to stay on his team. So, he responded as per his boss’ expectations, sticking to the script. “Crystal clear, Boss!”

Yet even as he played the game that Gibbs required of him, showing due deference like a submissive omega wolf submitting to his alpha, McGee couldn’t help feeling a whole truckload of resentment. Gibbs ripped him a new one for trying to compete with Ziva and DiNozzo at the rehab department at Walter Reed, but Gibbs was the one who promoted competition between his agents for his approval. A work culture that was positively vicious and cut-throat most of the time.

Hypocritical much? But then that was Gibbs for you. Do as I say, not as I do, should be his overarching motto.

Guess Tim decided he’d better watch what he said about transgender and crossdressers too. Still, both the victims were already dead – he didn’t see what the big deal was about his comments. Wish Gibbs was equally solicitous about Elf Lords!

Chapter 3

Tim headed home at the end of an unbelievably bad day. Okay, so maybe he’d been a little unprofessional in MTAC today. He probably shouldn’t have let his personal feelings get in the way of the interview with Captain Ryland, but he was freakin fed up with DiNozzo and all his crap. Today, he’d been even more obnoxious. If that was even possible. He was a slacker who didn’t pull his weight but somehow managed to get lucky sometimes, when some harebrained idea of his he’d pulled out of his butt turned a case on its head.

It drove him nuts! How was it that supposedly intelligent people couldn’t understand that if you throw enough crap against the wall, something will finally stick. It was like that saying, a broken clock still tells the right time twice every day. McGee didn’t for a moment believe that it made the former cop a good agent, he was just unbelievably fortunate.

Although, lately Tim had started wondering about that. What if maybe there was something else going on?

His  great aunt Agnes, who was Penny’s crazy conspiracy theorist younger sister, used to be a psychiatric nurse. Agnes claimed that most of the doctors and nurses working in psych. hospitals were as mad as the patients. Her theory was they worked there to avoid getting committed themselves. Tim had never paid much heed to any of her conspiracy theories, to be honest. Mind you, he’d often wondered why Angie never seemed to worry that other people might think the same thing about her.

Although her wild outrageous stories about some of the staff and what they got up to, did make one wonder if there might just be a scintilla of truth in her hypotheses. Well, that one in particular.

Lately, though, he’d been reminded of her theory about crazy people when he’d started reading the work of author Jeff Lindsay. Lindsay was married to Hilary Hemingway who was Ernest Hemingway’s niece. The husband and wife duo co-authored a few books together. Although the book he was currently reading was Darkly Dreaming Dexter which Jeff Lindsay had written sans his wife. It was about a sociopathic vigilante who works as a forensic blood-spatter analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department. Dexter is also a serial killer who murders the murderers, rapists and criminals who’ve managed to slip through the justice system, so he sees himself as performing a service to the public in killing them. The fact that he is also appeasing his uncontrollable homicidal urges was a happy coincidence for Dexter.

Of course, that book (the first one in the Dexter series) was a work of fiction, but it was somewhat plausible, nevertheless. He’d heard of vice cops in real life who were sicko sexual predators who’d become cops because it gave them access to women and men (sex workers or homeless destitutes) who wouldn’t report them if they were assaulted because they knew no one would believe them. So, yeah, it did kind of give McGee pause for thought about DiNozzo’s lucky breaks.

For example, with that case of the serial killer who turned out to be a Naval chaplain, Brett Evans who was obsessed with finding the perfect 1950’s wife. It had turned out that Tony had quite a bit in common with the killer, which was quite hinky. And it wasn’t just a love of all things from the 50s they both shared but also the very same hiding spot in an old record player which had essentially broken open the case. How freaky was that?

Plus, he’d been accused of murder twice while McGee was on the MCRT – even though he had been innocent on those occasions. Well, he’d been innocent in the severed leg case since no one had died. Charles Sterling had set him up. The killing of Rene Benoit though, Tim wasn’t so sure. It did seem to McGee like maybe Kort was pressured into stepping up to claim the kill, but Tim had never been convinced that the spook did it. He suspected the boss had blackmailed him into taking the blame and saying it was a CIA sanctioned hit.

So maybe when Tony pulled out those so-called insights that quite often solved cases, it was because he was speaking from personal experience. After all, he had zero respect for women, he was constantly objectifying them. Maybe like Dexter, he was able to understand criminals, anticipate what they are thinking because he was coming from personal experience.

Yeah, if he said it out loud it would probably sound insane, but honestly, it was a much more reasonable explanation than suggesting a guy who wasn’t terribly bright and only had a degree in Phys. Ed. could solve crimes.

Hell, Tony pretty much did jack-shit ninety percent of the time but then ‘suddenly’ had flashes of supposed brilliance. Ridiculous didn’t even begin to cut it!

McGee sighed, dejectedly. Why was it that no one else could see it, either?

When he’d complained to Abbs about Tony trying to ruin his career by tricking him into not volunteering, she’d flipped him off damned quick. She’d said some highly insulting stuff to McGee. He’d expected better from Abby – after all, they’d been intimate, and he thought she was his best friend even if they weren’t still in a relationship.

He was wrong, it seemed that the DiNozzo slimy charm had struck again -Tony had stolen his lover away from him. Okay, his ex-lover but teammates didn’t do stuff like that. Just like they didn’t stop a teammate from getting a plumb assignment that they wanted badly. Okay, that’s if they had a shred of human decency. That description didn’t apply to DiNozzo.

Yet it wasn’t just Abby who’d taken Tony’s side when he’d been angry about being cheated out of going to Iraq. Ducky was usually much more impartial. Instead of an impartial, dispassionate medical examiner, he got a speech about how freakin awesome DiNozzo was. Oh yeah, and an undeserved lecture on how he didn’t live up to Tony’s standard when Jimmy was feeling insecure about his run-in with a killer at the crime scene.

Well if he was so freaking awesome, then where was DiNozzo? Why was it Tim’s place to make Palmer feel better by telling him some monumentally humiliating stuff about himself so that Palmer felt better about the whole debacle? It wasn’t like Tim had asked the annoying ex-cop to come around to his apartment and bared his soul. He did it off his own bat. So just because McGee chose not to reveal highly embarrassing stuff, now Ducky was pissed off with him and suddenly praising DiNozzo?

Yeah, that was fair!

The person who he couldn’t understand taking DiNozzo’s side though was Gibbs. He head- slapped him, putting him down practically every time Tony opened his dumb mouth. So, here’s what he didn’t get, DiNozzo had been totally lame when he filled in for Gibbs last year – he’d been a terrible leader. Trying constantly to be like Gibbs and when he couldn’t measure up (because obviously, he sucked) then DiNozzo got all these whacky ideas. Like his juvenile campfires, he thought, mentally rolling his eyes, because DiNozzo couldn’t make decisions about what to do and he wanted them to tell him what to do.

And the most telling point was that when Gibbs came back from Mexico, it wasn’t as if DiNozzo got offered his own team or anything, so clearly, he hadn’t impressed TPTB. If he’d been as good as he was fond of telling everyone, why hadn’t the director given him his own team?

Yet, despite the ample evidence of how far he’d go to sabotage Tim’s career, the Boss had still defended him with some stupid bull crap that it had never been about Tim volunteering to go to Iraq. Telling him he’d decided on who was sent based on merit not volunteering but seriously if that was true, he was smarter than DiNozzo. Example – the ex-cop couldn’t use a computer to save his life.

That crap Gibbs was sprouting about taking down Corporal Werth was rubbish. Maybe the Boss was embarrassed that he couldn’t talk down the doped-up Marine and wanted someone else to blame. Tim saw an opportunity and he’d seized the moment and taken him down. After he’d grabbed Werth, everyone else came running, wanting to be seen to be doing something but until he took the initiative, they’d been too afraid to act. Frankly, for Gibbs to claim he lost out on the assignment to Iraq because he showed initiative was so unfair.

As he settled down at his dining table with a cold one and a microwaved TV dinner, he wondered if he should talk to Ziva about the situation – she hadn’t been allowed to go to Baghdad either and she’d been pretty shitty about it. Though she’d seemed to get over her disappointment quickly, she’d been there before, unlike him. Thinking it over, Tim decided he wouldn’t talk to her about it – if she made fun of him, or worse, if she sided with DiNozzo, he didn’t think he could stand it.

Besides, Ziva was still struggling to deal with her undercover mission with Andy Hoffman, who killed five women. She’d almost been victim number six, despite her being a Kidon-trained assassin, which seemed to have shaken her abundant self-confidence. Honestly, between Ziva getting all angsty over her near-death experience and Palmer obsessing over his brush with death, there wasn’t a lot of leftover sympathy for Tim. And that sucked since this was all about his job.

Feeling blue about the team and his career prospects in the short to medium term, McGee decided to forget about not getting any support from his colleagues. They’d made their feelings on the matter clear!

He also didn’t think it was a good idea to ask his family, they’d take his side of course, because he was family. Besides, he didn’t want them to know that he was getting a hard time at work. They all thought his job was like Agent McGregor’s, where everyone looked up to him and treated him with the respect he deserved. Not treating him like a barely competent rookie.

Hell, Ziva, who was only a liaison, got way more respect than he did, and she wasn’t even an NCIS agent. If Penny knew how he was being treated, he had no doubt his grandmother would probably march down there to headquarters and kick everyone’s asses. And as much as he’d enjoy it immensely if it happened, Tim figured he could kiss his dream of becoming the director goodbye. No one would ever take him seriously if they perceived he had to get his grandmother to come along to kick peoples’ asses because he was getting bullied. Hell, no way was that going to happen.

He wished he could ask the advice of people who would be unbiased and give him an honest opinion without having some hidden agenda. As he forked a spoonful of the unappetizing curry into his mouth, he wondered if there wasn’t a way to do that. Tim had always found his fans to be able to see right to the heart of a matter in his books. He often was struck with just how shrewd they could be about things which happened and able to read between the lines.

Feeling emboldened, McGee decided it was time for Thom E. Gemcity to pull out his pen again. While he hadn’t been writing his Deep Six books for some time, he’d discovered a thriving community of his readers and fans. It was a fanfiction site where people wrote stories based on the characters in his Deep Six books.

So okay, there were some fanfic stories made him feel like puking, particularly the explicit necrophiliac stuff with a bisexual Pimmy Jalmer having sex with corpses in the morgue. Especially any which featured the autopsy assistant’s shoe fetish – they were super graphic! He had to try ridiculously hard not to think about the one he’d briefly read out of curiosity which was about him and Pimmy in a three-way with a corpse who they’d accidentally turned into a zombie. So gross!

And then there were the McGrommy slashers who wrote erotica about McGregor and Agent Tommy. That was just sick! As if Agent McGregor would ever be that hard up…euwww. Agent Tommy was a socially repugnant ineffectual jerk!

Of course, McGee thought the most embarrassing stories by far were the hardcore McAmy erotica fics, especially the ones that had raunchy sex scenes taking place in her coffin. Some of them were so explicit he felt himself blushing and yet, Tim also got very aroused by it at the same time.

Most of the sex acts were a darned sight more adventurous than anything they’d done, to be honest, and he hoped his mom and his sister never stumbled across these stories. Even for him, it was incredibly confronting, and he couldn’t help wondering if Abby had seen them. Not that she was likely to be embarrassed – she was quite broad-minded as he knew first-hand. But it was a surreal experience for sure reading about people’s ideas of their sex lives, particularly when they’d been fairly tame in real life.

Anyway, thinking it over, Tim figured if he wrote a short story about the Iraq debacle, he could post it anonymously as fanfic and see what his public had to say about it. It wasn’t as if fans at the site had any reason not to give a completely impartial opinion. It was unorthodox maybe, but he could do with an unbiased viewpoint right now.

Having reached a decision, he tucked into the remainder of his bland dinner. Maybe it was his imagination, but the rest of the meal somehow didn’t taste that bad any more. Washing it down with the rest of his beer he already felt a lot more relaxed. He couldn’t wait to hit the keyboard later tonight.

After a shower and a pot of coffee, he sat down at his computer and got started. It was an amazing feeling. Although he hadn’t written any fiction for the longest time, it felt so good to be writing again, even if it was only fanfic. Sure, he wrote reports for work but writing fiction was different. His mood improved with every sentence he typed. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he described the case of the dead Marine reservist and his wife’s refusal to accept that her husband had been murdered.

Agent L.J. Tibbs got called down to Goosey’s autopsy suite where he informed him that Captain Parker cause of death was not due to being in a mortar attack, but a gunshot wound. Which make it most likely murder. Returning to the bullpen, Tibbs briefed the team about the new case. A quick digital dive into the victim’s life revealed that Capt. Parker had become a millionaire before he was thirty.

Of course, Agent Tommy had to go and open his mouth and antagonized Tina Parker, the dead Captain’s wife calling her a trophy wife, unaware that she was standing right behind him. Honest to God, Tommy had all the class and subtlety of an adolescent chimpanzee scratching his testicles. 

And even better, Ms Parker handed Tommy his ass on a plate; she corrected him, saying Parker was a Marine reservist. When Tommy wanted to know who she was, she replied without missing a beat, ‘The trophy wife.’

 Oh, wowzah, was Tommy’s expression priceless. Special Agent McGregor wished he’d managed to capture it for posterity, it was worthy of being his desktop wallpaper.

 When Agent Tibbs interviewed Ms Trina Parker, he asked her,

“Are you aware of any enemies that your husband might have?”

Trina nodded, “Yes, one. His name is Bevan Bridges. My husband Jack as going to buy some land called Lucerne Field from him but at the last minute when they were going to sign the contract, he pulled out, saying something didn’t feel right.”

Tibbs nodded his understanding and approval. The former Marine knew all about intuition – he trusted his gut all the time and it never let him down.

He thinks about what he learnt as he made his way up to MTAC where he and Assistant Director Nance informed the Marine CO, Major Barnai that Cpt Parker wasn’t killed in the mortar attack, he was murdered and they would need to send agents to Baghdad. The major was not happy, feeing that it was a waste of time. But since he was talking to two alpha males in Tibbs and Nance, they ignored his lack of enthusiasm, cutting him off mid-rant. They both played the hardball and took no prisoners.

Meanwhile, Officer Lisa returned from the head, smiling what Agent Tommy called her Mona Lisa smile and McGregor called her secretive assassin smile. Whatever you called it, it was scary and made the hair on the back of McGregor’s neck stand up to attention. Tommy as per usual wanted to know what was going on and Lisa was happily bragging about psyching out Jacki Nadine, the intelligence analyst from the Middle Eastern Desk who like Officer Lisa, was hoping to be sent to Iraq. 

Lisa had tried to put the well-known germaphobe off going to Iraq by helpfully pointing out how many germs, microbes and fungi would be there waiting to attack her. The Mossad Liaison proudly crowed about her graphic descriptions of oozing facial sores that the analyst could contract while in the Green Zone but unfortunately, Nardine had been obdurate that she wanted to go to Baghdad. Hopefully, Lisa wouldn’t push Jacki down the stairs to make sure she couldn’t go. McGregor wouldn’t put it past his Israeli teammate since she was used to getting her own way! 

Agent Tibbs and Officer Lisa left soon after to interview Bevan Bridges who turned out to be an odious person prone to making lewd and suggestive remarks to Ziva, meanwhile denied knowing why Cpt Parker refused to sign contracts but of course, Tibbs didn’t believe him. He already had the team (Agent McGregor) investigating the repellently offensive businessman. 

Back at the bullpen, McGregor couldn’t help talking to his teammates about how much he wanted to get sent to Baghdad to investigate the murder of the Marine Captain. After all, Tibbs, Lisa and even the feckless Agent Tommy had been to Iraq, so surely it was his turn to go. He was an extremely competent agent, more capable than the good-for-nothing ex-cop. McGregor deserved to be selected for the assignment and in his sincere desire to go, he stupidly asked Agent Tommy if he should go to the assistant director and put his name forward? 

McGregor ended up going down to Amy’s lab to ask her advice as well about whether he should volunteer since Tommy had discouraged him, saying it wasn’t a good idea to appear over-eager. McGregor was conflicted because he wanted to go so bad, but he didn’t want to be a wet-behind-the-ears agent. 

Maybe, he went looking for Amy’s advice because it occurred to him that he was being pranked by Tommy. After all, he and Officer Lisa had pranked Agent Tommy and rigged his computer so that whenever he typed anything it barked like a dog. It was extremely funny, but the problem was now Agent McGregor was feeling rather paranoid. Was Agent Tommy messing with him about volunteering? 

McGee was trying to have a rational discourse with Amy Sutton about what he should do but basically, she seemed reluctant to weigh in on the issue, encouraging him to talk it out and come to his own conclusion. In hindsight, he wondered if she was in on the prank with Tommy. But she was supposed to be on his side, not Tommy’s!

 Maybe she was trying not to influence him or maybe she didn’t care. The trouble with his talking it through though was that instead of getting clearer insight, McGregor ended up going around and around in circles and making himself feel even more confused than when he entered Amy’s Lab. Why couldn’t she just tell him what he should choose to do! They were supposed to be friends! 

He finally decided to not to race up to the Acting Director to volunteer as he didn’t want to seem overeager, because that screamed probie agent – not the image he wanted to project of capable and experienced. Plus, McGregor figured that Agent Tommy (who wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box) would use reverse psychology to encourage him to do the wrong thing and make him look like an idiot. Well, it wasn’t going to work because he was smarter – he’d call his bluff!

  A little while later Levi Nance walked into the bullpen as Officer Lisa and Agent Tibbs returned from interviewing of Bridges. When Lisa spied Jacki Nadine heading into the bullpen to ambush the acting director (McGregor presumed it was to make her case for going to Iraq) Officer Lisa raced to get to him first. Wow, did she look overeager or what!

But it ended up being a tie as they both reached him simultaneously. It ended up rather farcical as both females made their case fervently, arguing about why they should be sent to Baghdad. 

“Lisa told him haughtily, “I have contacts in Baghdad.”

Quick as a flash, Jacki retorted acidly, “So do I and mine are still alive.”

OUCH! McGregor saw that as a not so subtle dig at Lisa’s former career as a Mossad assassin while highlighting Jacki’s background as an intelligence analyst. 

 Then Nance looked across at McGregor, saying he was quite surprised that he hadn’t volunteered since it was a great opportunity for an agent. 

“Tommy didn’t volunteer either,” McGregor replied calmly. He did not pout because really, Lisa and Jacki had looked like a couple of teenagers squabbling over a dress they both wanted to wear.

Nance quirked his eyebrow as he clenched a toothpick in his teeth. Wow, Agent McGregor thought that looked super cool. He decided to practise that in front of the mirror – the eyebrow thing, not the toothpick. Putting sharp objects in your mouth was dangerous! 

“Actually, Agent Tommy spoke with me earlier,” Levi told him with a condescending smirk, just before he announced that Agent Tommy was going to Baghdad, along with Jacki as his partner. 

Officer Lisa and Agent McGregor scowled at the pair who were going and the two who were chosen grinned triumphantly. God Agent Tommy was smug – McGregor wanted to smack his smugness right off his dumb face.

Yet again, Agent McGregor got passed over out when it came to the delegating of field assignments; he always got left behind to do the computer searches. It wasn’t fair! He was more than capable of investigating a simple case of murder…

 As he finished the rough draft McGee settled back in his chair, feeling cathartic. He was feeling confident he’d be able to sleep tonight and earlier on before he’d started writing, he’d envisioned a sleepless night. As he made his preparations to go to bed, his brain couldn’t help thinking about the scene he’d written where forensic scientist Amy Sutton had laughed at him when he told her Agent Tommy was jealous of Agent McGregor success with women and saw him as a threat. That stung McGregor, plus, Amy suggesting he was desperate and dateless when they started going out was extremely hurtful and cruel of her. Okay, she might have been right, but why did she have to rub his face in it.

Truthfully, he hated that she knew him so well that although they’d broken up years ago, he was still pining after her. He decided that perhaps it was time to put the past behind him and show Abby that he’d moved on with his life. He vowed to ask that new girl from the pay office to go out on a date with him. She’d been flirting with him when he stopped off to get a cup of coffee near the Naval yard this morning. It had been a nice surprise to learn that Sandrine had just started working at NCIS this week.

It had been the only bright spot in his shitty day. Tony had been even more annoying than usual this morning, pushing him to the end of his tether, which led to Tim lashing out during the MTAC video conference. Not his finest hour but hey, he was only human. He’d had a total brain snap.

As he made his way into his bedroom to get ready to go to sleep, Tim decided he would show Abby. He’d march right down to the Pay office and talk to Sandrine Gallagher in person tomorrow; ask her out on a date, maybe dinner this Friday. That’s if they managed to solve the case of course.

He really couldn’t afford to let the grass grow under his feet or DiNozzo would be trying to get her to go out with him, especially if he thought Tim was keen on her. Of course, Sandrine wasn’t the type of female that Tony would normally be interested in. Although he’d date her just to one-up McGee because he just had to screw with him. That’s if she’d give him the time of day.

He thought about Sandrine. She was no supermodel. For a start, she was only about 5 feet 5 inches tall – too short by supermodel standards but she was pretty enough in a generic if unremarkable sort of way. McGee had read a theory once that the most beautiful or attractive individuals were people whose features weren’t perfect or symmetrical. They might have a nose that was crooked or a mouth that was too big for their face, but it also made them unique or memorable. Sandrine was more like that actress Jennifer Gardner in the show, Alias. Her lack of distinctive features had allowed her to transform into various personas and disguises which was good since Sydney Bristow was a spy.

But while she might not be the most extraordinarily beautiful looking woman, she was smart and seemed like a nice person. From what he’d seen she seemed different from the super-hot, but crazy Bimby, his last girlfriend, who was rich, spoilt and did he mention incredibly hot. She’d also given him a massive case of anxiety, not to mention the yo-yo effects on his credit rating and made him the object of derision amongst his colleagues.

So, while Sandrine wasn’t an exotic beauty or a statuesque babe with big assets like Bimby, he decided that someone who was pretty would make a nice change. Besides, with her fair hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose, which he thought was kind of cute, he could absolutely take her home to meet his mom, Penny and Sarah. Grudgingly he had to admit that DiNosy and Abby might have been right about that – he did want someone who would fit in with the most important women in his life – his mom, sister and grandmother.

But… he cautioned himself sternly, he was getting ahead of himself. He didn’t even know if she’d go out with him. Although the way she was flirting with him, batting her eyes at him and touching his hands, to highlight what she was saying, he figured she’d probably accept if he asked. Having written his fanfic story and resolving to stop waiting for Abby and go looking for love, he ended up in a much better emotional state than when he got home.

Chapter 4

Jimmy Palmer entered the intimate little jazz bar in Georgetown, looking around for Tony DiNozzo, spying him nursing a beer and looking disconsolate. He grabbed a glass of soda water and made his way over to his friend.

“Hey Tony, sorry I’m late.”

“No problem, Gremlin. How was your day?”

“Better than yours, by all accounts,” Jimmy quipped, before turning serious when he realised Tony was not in the mood for his witty repartee and teasing tonight. Kicking himself for his lack of social awareness, he frowned. He needed to work on that skill.

“Everyone is talking about you handing McGee his ass on a plate,” he stated. “I do love it when you unleash Badass DiNozzo.”

Sans his usual jokey persona, Tony said, “What I am still doing here, Grem? Think I made a big mistake turning down that job in Spain. I thought I was taking one for the team.

“You said no because you didn’t think Gibbs was fit for duty.” Jimmy reminded him gently. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re right. Plus, I also don’t think you believed you could do the job thanks to the constant barrage of insubordinate behaviour from Gibbs groupies.”

He played with the drink coaster as he figured out how to express what he was thinking. “I know I’ve never served in the military or the police force either but isn’t the purpose of a team to form a cohesive unit? One that can function effectively, even if one of the individuals on the team is incapacitated, killed or like in this case, they leave?”

Tony cocked his head as he tried to figure out where the autopsy gremlin was headed. “Yeah, Jimmy. So?”

“So, if the team can’t function with a new leader, then doesn’t that indicate that the previous one sucked at their job if it couldn’t function without him?”

Tony looked at him tiredly. “Maybe, or it might mean that the new guy was a bad leader, Gremlin.”

“And that’s why you are ten times the team leader that Gibbs is because you take responsibility while Gibbs blames his team and never questions himself or his actions.” He declared loyally.

“And for the record, let’s just put this out there right now. Michelle said you were an awesome supervisor, Tony. Well except for the stapler, she said that was a shitty gift,” he teased his friend gently. Jimmy’s joking was never malicious – even if he was socially awkward and often put his foot in his mouth.

Tony smirked slightly at the memory. “Thanks, Jimmy, but it was made crystal clear today that as SFA and leader I’ve done a crap job training Tim. He’s so full of himself – he genuinely thinks he could have taken point on the physical investigation of Cpt Rankin in a war zone. I can’t believe it.”

Jimmy scowled, as much as someone of his happy-go-lucky demeanour could glare. “I can. McGee was appointed as your senior field agent after just two years as a field agent when the minimum requirement is five years- field experience. That was always going to inflate his ego, which with the way he tosses his degrees in everyone’s faces all the time, was already massively oversized.” He said, with much cynicism.

Tony looked at the younger guy pensively. He’d ever realized that McGee threw his education in Jimmy’s face too, who as a trainee doctor, was a pretty smart guy. Plus, he was no fan of Thom E. Gemcity – hardly surprising since his portrayal of Jimmy as a necrophiliac.

Jimmy frowned. “Assistant Director Vance certainly didn’t help the situation with his comment to McGee about being disappointed with him for not volunteering and then implying that you did. What’s his game?”

Tony sighed dispiritedly. “Apart from the fact that he despises me for the whole La Grenouille fiasco, you mean. I suspect that he sees himself in McGee – the whole misunderstood and under-appreciated boy genius thing.”

“Makes sense,” Jimmy said. “But why would Leon mess with Tim about the volunteering crap?”

“Mess is the operative word, Palmer. Because he can, and he didn’t lie, not technically. I didn’t bother volunteering because initially, I assumed that it was Gibbs who’d go. I mean, Gibbs is a micromanager at the best of times and when a fellow Marine has been murdered,” he shrugged, “It seemed a no brainer that he’d go. And he did  insist on going, although the techies in MTCT say Vance overruled him.”

Jimmy gave him a wry grin. “Like to have been a fly on the wall for that discussion.”

Tony shrugged, “Technically I did talk to Vance… but he approached me and informed me I was going to Iraq. Which, for what it’s worth, I already knew, because Gibbs gave me a heads-up plus, he told me Nikki was going too. As to Vance’s motive, I’m not positive, but I think he gets off overall ‘making people compete for his favour’. And to be honest, I get enough of that bullshit with Gibbs.” He said with disgust.

“So, despite Gibbs ruling Tim out prior, Vance wanted him to volunteer so he could feel all-powerful and knock him back?” Palmer mused. “That’s Machiavellian!”

“Don’t know, Jimmy, but he sure looked like he was relishing the bitch fight between Nikki and Ziva before he handed out his royal decree,” Tony drawled sardonically. “It feeds his ego, I guess,” he shrugged.

“Thank goodness he’s only the acting director,” Jimmy declared explosively. “Having two alpha males like him and Gibbs posturing and butting heads all the time to see who is the most dominant would get old pretty damned quick.”

Tony just grunted in agreement.

Swallowing down his beer before standing up to grab a fresh round of drinks, the normally cheerful agent thought about his bruising encounter with McGee and found himself trying to figure out what the hell he was still doing at NCIS. He had no idea that Tim was feeling so aggrieved and yes, so damned entitled. When he’d stared on the team, Tony had McGee pegged as someone needing to have his confidence built up. Especially since he stuttered and stammered under Gibbs’ gimlet eye, even when the Boss wasn’t about to erupt in anger.

Tony had figured if he helped him to develop a backbone, Tim would toughen up, then he’d be able to stand up for himself. The last thing he ever wanted, was for a teammate to get chewed up and spat out of a job that could quite literally break your heart if you let it.

Jimmy, on the other hand, had always maintained that McGee had an ego at least the size of Texas and had a massive superiority complex or was that an inferiority complex. Did people who acted superior do that because secretly they felt inferior to everyone else?

Anyway, Palmer told him that Tim didn’t need building up. He’d said that he needed to be slapped down repeatedly, so he’d learn to respect his superiors because he believed he was better and smarter than them. And it seemed like Jimmy had been right all along. What clever autopsy gremlin!

McGee despised him! Tony winced as he recalled what Tim had said, which had cut him to the quick, “And let’s face it, no one would notice or care if you went off the grid – after all, we never even knew you were working undercover on The Frog op since you don’t have any friends here. Let’s face it, DiNasty, who’d want to be buddies with a jerk who sets out to sabotage other people’s careers because you’re so useless at your own?”

As DiNozzo returned from the bar, drinks in hand, he sat down looking glum. Nodding his thanks, Palmer clarified, “So… we’re still going out for Thai and then a movie, right?”

Tony nodded dejectedly. “Guess so, if you want.”

“I want, DiNozzo. I could eat a horse. You?”

His friend pulled a face as he took a swig of his beer. “Not so much. C’mon, let’s go and get you fed, Grem,” he said, rising and taking one more mouthful before steering Jimmy towards the exit. While he wasn’t fussed about food at this point, he knew that Jimmy, who was a diabetic, had to be much more responsible about his diet. After a brief consultation, they decided to take one car and Tony would drop Palmer back to pick up his car after the movie.

Later when they were eating their food, Tony blurted out what had been bothering him so badly after today. Jimmy had asked him a couple of times and hadn’t gotten a response, but finally, he decided to share his worry with his younger friend. Jimmy could be a bit of a doofus sometimes, but he also had a streak of common sense when it counted. He could do with that right now!

“You wanted to know why I was so upset, Jimbo?” When Jimmy nodded, he said. “McGee told me no one would notice or care if I went missing.”

“That’s just total rubbish,” Jimmy scoffed.

“Is it though? He pointed out that no one knew I was working undercover on La Grenouille. He told me it was because I don’t have any friends at NCIS. Said no one wants to be buddies with a jerk.”

“Then I must be no one, I guess, because I’d notice if you went missing.” He grinned mischievously. “Wanna pinkie swear?”

Tony had laughed at the reference to Abby and all her craziness, but he also decided it couldn’t hurt. He knew he could be a bit insecure sometimes but if he was being childish, so be it. Swiftly hooking his little finger over Jimmy’s, they made a pact before chuckling a little self-consciously.

Although Tony attempted to get back to normal dinner conversation for two buddies out after work, Jimmy was fired up about the incident. He suggested that they should both agree on a safe word or a phrase that could signal they had been taken against their will and needed help.

Tony had brightened up, explained to the somewhat discomfited autopsy assistant that in Law Enforcement it was called a duress word/phrase. He’d looked at his friend and said, I didn’t realise that you and Michelle were into that scene, Gremlin.

Jimmy flushed scarlet. “Um…well she and Abby …” he stuttered, mortified and Tony had chuckled and let him off the hook.

~oO0Oo~

The next night Tim wandered around his apartment thinking about his day. Reviewing it. he grimaced. It could have been worse, but it could have been a whole lot freaking better too. It so wasn’t fair.

What did he have to do to get picked for an assignment anyway? Even Jimmy Palmer had made Tim look bad with his act of heroics in apprehending the killer in the trailer park a few weeks ago. Who would have guessed that the geeky autopsy assistant had it in him, though? I mean…c’mon! Palmer was always tripping over his own feet and when he wasn’t, one of them was often inserted in his mouth.

To be honest, it was hard enough to demonstrate that he was just as good at the field agent stuff as the others on the MCRT. Okay, he conceded as an inner voice protested that he’d never measure up to Ziva or Gibbs because she was a feared assassin and Gibbs was a Marine and Special Ops trained to boot. But Tim knew he was at least as capable in the field as DiNozzo, who by comparison to the other two, was just your former garden variety cop. Yeah, nothing special about him or the force. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to get hired as a cop, which was lucky because DiNozzo was as dumb as a rock. A juvenile, none too bright jock!

Once again, the MIT graduate had been overlooked for an important protection assignment guarding Director Shepard in LA. Sure, it was little more than a simple babysitting job while she attended the funeral of an NCIS Special Agent William Decker or was he a retired agent? Well, he was retired now, he snickered before admitting that his joke was in poor taste considering he was dead.

Sighing in self-pity, McGee wondered why he’d missed out on getting the assignment. And technically, could a Mossad Liaison even be assigned to protect the director of a federal agency? Probably not he decided, but then again, Shepard and Ziva were friends. They’d worked together before Shepard had been appointed to the top job. So, he supposed the favouritism was to be expected, even if it wasn’t fair.

What he couldn’t fathom was what the hell the director could see in Tony DiNozzo that made her choose him? He’d been a lousy temporary team leader when Gibbs retired, albeit it temporarily. He’d blown the undercover mission with Rene Benoit. And yet she hand-picked him to protect her when she flew to LA tomorrow. Why?

Oh, it wasn’t as if he thought it was a particularly challenging mission. It was just a funeral. Her sworn enemy, Rene Benoit was dead, so realistically what could go wrong? Yeah, he understood that it was just a simple babysitting job, one even a trained monkey like Tony would have no trouble carrying out.

But it was the principle of the thing. Even if it was a piece of cake, it was still a high-profile mission… because she was the director. Plus, they were flying to LA in SECNAV’s private Lear jet, no less. He wanted in on some of that action instead of being restricted to military flights!

What. Did. He. Have.To. Do?

Sighing as he took a sip of his beer, Tim decided to put aside the downside of his day. He needed to ignore Tony’s gleeful research into the type of hire car they’d pick up when they reached LA. Typically, it would be something loud, flashy and annoying, just like DiNozzo!

Instead, he focused on the big positive of his day; Sandrine Gallagher agreeing to go out on a date with him tonight. He decided that he’d take her out to dinner at his favourite steakhouse. In Tim’s experience ( his reading of articles in Redbook) the fact she didn’t play hard to get or pretend that she was busy for the next week and had to struggle to fit him into her busy calendar was a positive sign. It meant that she was really into him, as he’d suspected from her flirting with him in the coffee shop.

Even better, he’d suggested that they go eat at that popular new sushi place because most women seemed to like Japanese restaurants and he wanted to make a good first impression. Sandrine had insisted they go somewhere he could get a decent steak and McGee found he was more than a little in love with her already. He’d suggested that they eat at O’Halloran’s, his favourite Irish pub in DC and booked a table for two at 8 pm. He had a good feeling about tonight – and although it was a school night – he was looking forward to their first date.

After a quick shower and changing into casual clothes, he found himself at a loose end with over an hour to kill before he went to collect Sandrine from her apartment. Deciding not to obsess about his date and go with the flow, he opened his laptop, proofreading the piece of fanfiction he’d written the night before. Thirty minutes later he was done, and he ran it through a couple of different spell checkers just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. Eventually, he was satisfied that it was good to go but then found himself pausing.

Was he really going to do this? Was he posting fanfic on an online site in his own fandom to see if he was overreacting? Well, was he?

Five minutes later after arguing back and forth, he’d convinced himself that it was harmless. What did it matter if other published writers never posted fanfics of their own books and besides, who’s to say that other authors didn’t do it too? As if they’d put out a press release announcing it.

If nothing else, posting it would give him some indication if people were still interested in what he had to say. It had been quite some time since he’d published the last book and he hadn’t been as happy with it as he’d hoped. Of course, he’d been forced to make some major changes to it in the light of the crazy fan Landon Grey who’d managed to steal his manuscript. He realised that maybe he should be thinking about writing another book to take back the series since Grey had hijacked the last one. This fanfic was just some very smart market research.

Finally, convinced it was a harmless chance to get an unbiased view of the whole Iraq assignment to see if he was being unreasonable, and at worst, it was a chance to conduct free market research. Honestly, it was just a bit of fun, an opportunity to interact with some of his fans, so he decided to stop his dithering and set up an account. Choosing the innocuous pen name of McMIT, at least as far as fanfic names go since he’d seen some real doozies, he quickly posted the story ~ With Friends Like These before he could talk himself out of it.

And crazy though it sounded, the very moment it popped up on the screen he felt an irrational compulsion to delete it that he put down to nerves, but he resisted. To distract himself from the temptation, he left his place twenty minutes early for his date. Not wanting to arrive too soon and appear overeager or worse, like a desperate loser, he stopped off at the local supermarket to pick up a bunch of white chrysanthemums and a box of chocolates.

Recalling that the last girl he’d gone on a few dates with had been lactose intolerant and allergic to nuts, Tim made sure to pick something he liked, just in case Sandrine was allergic. He made it to Sandrine’s apartment that she shared with two other women, right on time.

He was pleased with himself. He’d read a Redbook article on the importance of being punctual when turning up on dates if you wanted to make a good impression a woman. Moreover, his mom had always said punctuality was simply good manners, while the Admiral was fanatical about being on time. Tardiness, even if it was just a minute or two at most, always earned his father’s ire and a harsh rebuke, except for his little princess, Sarah. She could always wrap their dad around her little finger without even trying. So unfair~

Still, the date went off so well. Sandrine (who told him she abhorred being addressed as Sandy) loved the chocolates and the white chrysanthemums and thankfully wasn’t allergic to either. She also loved O’Halloran’s Pub and ordered a ribeye steak and salad plus a baked potato and ate it all without making him feel guilty for eating cow and carbs. She also eschewed merlot or Chablis, preferring to drink a boutique beer with him instead. Even their kiss goodnight when he dropped her home hadn’t been full of awkwardness. As their lips met, he felt a jolt of electricity as she parted hers and he felt her tongue seek entrance to his mouth.

Their first kiss, rather than being the clumsy sort that people always claimed first kisses inevitably were, was exciting and sexy. If only it hadn’t been a school night, he’d have been tempted to invite her back to his place for a coffee and possibly a heavy make-out session. While his libido was imagining some hot sexual antics up against the wall, in the shower, even on the kitchen bench, his brain was relieved that he did have to work early in the morning. Along with punctuality, Redbook advised that it was considered gauche for a guy to sleep with someone on the first date unless they were only interested in a one-night stand.

Sandrine was someone he was attracted to. His rock-hard dick attested to that fact if anyone was in any doubt, but McGee wanted more than sex. He was looking for a long-term relationship. Back in the day, he’d thought he’d found that with Abby, but she didn’t want the same things as him. It had taken him all this time to find someone who seemed to want a real relationship like he did. Sandrine told him she wanted to get married and have a family and she’d seemed interested in pursuing a serious relationship with him if they were compatible. There was no way he was going to ruin his chances with her by sending her the message that he was interested in her purely for sex.

Which was why he’d watched her go into her apartment and headed home alone, which his little head thought sucked majorly. To distract himself, as soon as he got home, he logged onto the fanfiction site to look at how many hits With Friends Like These had attracted and if anyone had left any comments. He was pleased to see that he’d had 68 hits in only three and a bit-hours since he’d put it up. Impressive!

Clicking on the comments section he started to read the readers’ comments impatiently.

Albion23

Wow just wow! You managed to capture the voices of the various character in the book sooooo well. Congrats, well done <3 <3 <3

BohemianRhapsidy

That Agent Tony, he’s such a jerk. I hate him. Amy Sutton what a bitch. L.J and Goosey – really disappointed in those guys.

LoneWolf

Why can’t they see that Agent Tommy has it in for McGregor? Blind fools. McGregor should leave and go lead a team of his own – that would show them all.

RetiredMasterSergeant

This isn’t realistic … You really expect us to believe that an important investigation into an influential Marine reservist would be allocated based on who volunteered as opposed to looking at who was the best placed to lead the investigation, dude? Sorry, but that’s just not how it’s done out there in real life. Volunteering for a suicide mission or a very risky op, yeah okay, maybe I might buy that scenario, but this was just an investigation, dude. 

Even in a warzone, investigations don’t get assigned based on who decides to volunteer – it is based on merit – who is the most qualified to carry out the assignment. You Mc-Victim fans need to get a grip and stop pretending that McGregor is misunderstood tragic figure and superhero all rolled into one. 

I get that this is just entertainment, McMIT but do a bit of research before you write…please. It makes McGregor sound like a whiny brat. 

McGee wanted to fling something at RetiredMasterSergeant’s head. Doubtful if that ponce had ever worn a uniform except maybe a bus driver’s!

GottaGetMeSomeMac

Oh, poor McGregor. I want to give him hugs, having to put up with all that shit. Agent Tommy is a mean bully but he’s gonna get his. Karma is coming for you, Tommy. Better be looking over your shoulder and sleep with a knife under your pillow, you douche.

H8sAgentTommy

McGregor rocks, Tommy’s pox.

FanGirlingMcGregor

Tibbs should tear Agent Tommy a knew 1 and insert his boot up his ass! 

Okay, so that reader wasn’t that literate, Tim noted, but still, he appreciated the sentiment, nonetheless.

<3AgentMcGregor

Good story. I think that Tibbs needs to wake up and smell the roses. He needs to look after McGregor, or he’ll leave the team and then they’d lose their perfect solve rate.

Deepdownsixer

How could Levi Nance send that screwup jerk to Baghdad instead of McGregor? He should resign for being so stupid and McGregor should be made director. 

McGribbslover

LJT needs to pull his head out of his ass and swallow his pride and tell McGregor he’s sorry for not supporting him and then takes him to bed and show him some loving.

OfficerLisa&AgentMac4Eva 

Tibbs should deliver a massive head-slap to Agent Tommy.

McGregorRules

Great story, McMIT. Agent Tommy should be fired.


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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

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