Life Begins at The End of Your Comfort Zone – 2/4 – 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 2: THE TWILIGHT ZONE


Chapter 5

McGee looked around him at the deliberately cool atmosphere and the blue-white low-level lighting which was calming to the senses and easy on the eyes. He took in the multiple computer monitors where his colleagues in cyber-crime were all hard at work on the encryption, even if they didn’t know what it was. He couldn’t help feeling an overwhelming emotion of smugness envelope him.

His sense of satisfaction was twofold. First off was his high status and the admiration in which he was held by the members of the Cyber Crime Unit to which he’d been reassigned two months ago. Even though he’d only been here for a couple of months, his teammates were all excited to have a genuine field agent join their midst. They wanted to hear about his exploits working under the famed Leroy Jethro Gibbs and the adventures and close calls he’d had during his time on the major case response team. For some reason, many of them aspired to become field agents and they couldn’t get enough of his accounts about the famed MCRT.

So yeah… okay, Tim could understand why they might dream of becoming a field agent since he could remember how it was. But honestly, most if not all the Cyber Crimes team were so nerdy it wasn’t funny. If any of them was being shot at, he doubted they’d be able to fire a shot without curling up in a foetal ball afterwards. Nice as they were, they didn’t have the constitution to deal with being in a gunfight.

His fellow geeks hero-worshipped him, not only for his exploits and the bizarre cases he’d worked on but because he’d achieved what they all longed to – become a real-life federal agent. And at first, when they’d tried to address him as Boss, he protested since he wasn’t their supervisor and technically, he didn’t even have seniority over them either. Although when it came to computer skills, he could run rings around pretty much everyone in the department, including the department head. So, as the days had passed, and he saw their unbridled excitement in having him – a genuine field agent in their midst, he understood how they looked up to him.

By now, he was so used to the appellation of boss that he’d started to see himself as superior to the other members of Cyber Crimes. He was a field agent and he did indeed carry a gun. Of course, now, he was stuck in Cyber Crimes, so not a field agent but that was just a temporary gig. The incumbent director, Leon Vance had promised him that! He’d even hinted that once this situation with the mole was successfully resolved, Tim was destined for greater things, including promotion and his patronage.

Although he’d secretly envied the mentor-like relationship Gibbs used to have with DiNozzo when he first started with the team, McGee knew he’d never survive Gibbs continual assaults on his head. Unlike the perpetual frat boy ex-cop, he couldn’t afford to lose even one of his brain cells – they were too valuable. So, Leon Vance’s sponsorship of his career made so much better sense; they both spoke the same language and Tim was not like Tony. He aspired to sit in the director’s chair one day in the not too distant future and that meant he needed to move up from a junior field agent to a senior field agent and then to lead a team of his own.

He’d fully expected to have to transfer to receive promotions since, unlike Tony, he wasn’t prepared to just wait around for Gibbs to retire. For heaven’s sake, Gibbs was showing no sign he was ready to hand the team over to a younger agent and DiNozzo in turn, didn’t seem as if he was tired of being Gibbs’ understudy, perpetually waiting in the wings.

Did DiNozzo realise he’d been on Gibbs’ team for more than seven years? He’d temporarily led the team when Gibbs retired, but in McGee’s opinion, he’d been a pretty shitty leader. He always seemed to have trouble making up his mind and was constantly asking Tim and Ziva for advice during those infernal campfires. So, he might be content to wait for another ten years or more till Gibbs decided to retire for real, but McGee wasn’t about to hang around that long.

He had goals and plans that involved sitting in the big chair one day soon and that meant that he needed to maintain an upward trajectory with his career. One of these days when he reached his goal, the Admiral would have to admit that he’d been wrong to doubt his son.That he’d been much too quick to call him a loser for not following in his footsteps and those of his grandfather and enlisting in the navy.

Still, he chided himself mentally, thinking about his father and their somewhat rocky relationship wouldn’t catch the mole. He needed to focus on his real reason for being here in Cyber Crimes.

Which led to the second reason he was feeling so smug. McGee was undercover.

The incumbent director, Leon Vance had seemingly broken up the old MCRT as a disciplinary measure due to the death of the former NCIS director, Jenny Shepard. Well, disciplinary action against Ziva and Tony since they were supposed to be protecting the director. Tim had been blameless, left behind in DC like always when the whole situation had blown up. However, Director Vance had used the opportunity to sanction the whole team and break them up. It had been smart really because he’d been able to manoeuvre his three chief suspects onto Gibbs’ team where he could keep them under close observation.

The director had confided in Tim that he needed him in Cyber Crimes to work on an incredibly complex encryption on a stolen computer file which only he could do. Meanwhile, Vance was monitoring the three agents he’d assigned to Gibbs’ team. One of them was a mole, passing on classified NCIS intel to an unknown source.

Leon had been appointed as the new director with a mandate to root out the mole and plug the security leak. It was McGee who he’d turned to for assistance, explaining that he wasn’t being disciplined, he was merely undercover. He made it clear that Tim couldn’t reveal that to anyone from the old MCRT, not even Gibbs. He hadn’t been briefed on the fact that the agency has a security leak, even though one of the new agents on his team was the mole. Vance said he was hoping that Gibbs might scent out who the mole was if placed right under his nose every day.

The director had somewhat ironically referred to the Marine’s notorious gut, yet McGee couldn’t help but feel that it was Vance’s eagle eye upon the bullpen and McGee’s undercover work in Cyber Crimes which would produce results. Tim couldn’t help thinking that Vance had set Gibbs up to fail. What other reason was there not to read him in unless he was under suspicion too.

Being the only one in the new director’s confidence, it was hard not to feel complacent. Of course, as part of the director’s agenda to isolate and identify the security leak, Vance told him that he’d needed Ziva to return to Mossad to find out who was buying the classified data. Not that she would know what she was doing or that she was working on the situation for NCIS of course. Ziva as an officer of Mossad was merely the pointy end of the spear according to Leon and would follow orders. In this case, the orders came from the deputy director of Mossad who was also Ziva’s father.

The best bit was that DiNozzo, the so-called undercover agent extraordinaire, had been left totally out of the loop. Even Ziva and Gibbs were involved, even if it was tangentially and were completely ignorant of the fact. But Tony was gathering dust out on a navy ship carrying five thousand navy and Marine service personnel, trying to catch them drinking and gambling. Oh, it was rich; he was blissfully unaware that McGee was the only one in the know regarding the real reason that their former team had been disbanded. No doubt he’d be green with envy… if only he knew.

No, the only purpose Mr Don’t-Volunteer-for-Iraq was serving, in their hunt for the mole was as a clueless agent afloat. His sole purpose was to convince the traitor and any of his associates that their newly assigned agents on the MCRT were legitimate. That Director Vance was pissed off with the former MCRT agents and they were being punished to send a very clear message to the rest of the agency, not to Eff-up or they’d be punished too.

The truth was that Tim still smarting over the way Tony had stabbed him in the back over the assignment in Iraq and he took great pleasure in the knowledge that Tony hated his assignment. According to Abby, Tony was desperately unhappy with his assignment as a glorified beat cop on board first the USS Ronald Reagan and now the Seahawk. Tim figured that Vance wasn’t impressed that he’d gotten Shepard killed, even if she’d given him a direct order. McGee couldn’t help feeling vindicated.

He was quite pissed off with Abby, who was on a one-woman crusade to get Gibbs to exert pressure to bring Tony home. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she was trying to blackmail Tim into helping her campaign. Humph…fat chance of that happening.

Anyway, aside from his personal preferences, even after the mole was identified and apprehended, Tim had his doubts that Tony would get to come back to DC. He’d been posted afloat for a year for starters and there was a subtle note of derision in the director’s tone whenever DiNozzo was mentioned. He sympathised with Vance’s point of view after having to work with Tony for five years.

As he continued trying to crack the impossibly difficult encryption code, he couldn’t help thinking rather gleefully about Tony’s unhappiness although he wasn’t stupid enough to voice those thoughts to anyone. No doubt DiNozzo’s lack of opportunities to date, while serving on the aircraft carrier was affecting him. Tim on the other hand, was enjoying having an active regular sex life with the fair Sandrine. If things continued the way they were currently, McGee was optimistic that she’d agree to them renting a place together.

Much as Tim loved his apartment, it wasn’t suitable for the two of them to live there permanently. With his writing, computer and gaming equipment taking up most of the space in the living room, Sandrine didn’t feel like it was her own space. It would make much better sense to get a place that had a second bedroom so he could have all his computer and writing stuff in there. Plus, when he needed to be alone, for example, to write in his journal, he needed his solitude and no doubt Sandrine would appreciate hers too.

So, he planned on taking her to dinner this Friday night and ask her to live with him. That was one of the bonuses of working in Cyber – far more regular work hours that Gibbs demanded of the MCRT unless there was a major security emergency. He could plan his love life and be almost sure he wouldn’t stand her up due to work. It had certainly helped when they were first dating since he didn’t need to cancel on her at the last minute like he had whenever he’d been trying to date someone and work on Gibbs team. When all this business was resolved, he’d miss the more regular hours.

Anyway, he’d booked a table at that fancy seafood restaurant, Fruits de la Mer, which had recently opened, and Sandrine’s girlfriends had been raving about for several weeks. After they’d eaten the seafood platter, he’d ask her to move in with him. Hopefully, they could start looking for a place this weekend.

He thought about the other important women in his life; his mother, sister and grandmother and decided that he should probably organise for them to meet Sandrine BEFORE they moved in together. He remembered back to a conversation he’d had with Abby a while ago, about how she was not the sort of girl you took home to meet your parents while he was the kind of guy who desperately wanted that.

At the time he’d been so pissed off with Abby about that, but it turned out that maybe she was right after all. Penny, his unorthodox and anarchic grandmother on his father’s side would probably have adored and wholeheartedly approved of Abigail Sciuto. While she would recognise a kindred spirit, Sarah and his mother were a different matter entirely.

They likely would not have approved of her free-spirited ways, especially her flirting with some of the less conventional sexual activities and fetishes. No doubt Penny would want to go out with her to one of her alternative night clubs. Meanwhile, his mother would likely be horrified in her genteel Southern Baptist fashion and pretend not to know what was going on. Tim wasn’t sure if Penny were more open-minded on topics of sexual practices because she’d been brought up in the Roman Catholic church or despite it. He was kind of glad that he never got to watch Abby and his grandmother going out to one of those BDSM clubs she’d dragged him off to, though.

Of course, he never had to wonder how his sister might respond to his Goth girlfriend since he already knew. Although she’d only ever met her once, Sarah had been extremely curt to the forensic scientist, even though Abby helped prove her innocence. His little sister told him that she blamed Abby for breaking her brother’s heart so badly that he still carried a torch for her for years after they’d broken up.

As she wrathfully pointed out to him several times, ‘that Goth bitch had messed him up so badly, he’d even declared his undying love for her in his Deep Six novels for all to see. She lamented that he couldn’t see that she didn’t reciprocate his feelings and had just been leading him on. She claimed that it made him… um, it made Agent McGregor look like that lovelorn pathetic Ashley Wilkes in Gone with The Wind. That his infatuation with Abby was not just extremely embarrassing for him but the whole family, including herself.

So, thinking about Sandrine, he realised that his mother and his little sister would be much more comfortable with his current girlfriend, although Penny might say she was kind of beige and boring. Still, even if she was a little bit staid, especially leaving everything up to him in the bedroom, he loved her. Sure, Abby had been practically addicted to oral sex – he flushed as he recalled all the places that they’d performed it on each other in public and the added adrenaline rush of getting caught, which had made it even hotter.

Sandrine wasn’t exactly into it, nor was she a fan of exhibitionism but she was devoted to him and their relationship. He figured that would earn her a lot of brownie points with Sarah and his mom. He did think that maybe he’d better tell her about his alter ego and his writing career before he introduced her to his mother and Sarah. It would look weird if they ratted him out – like he had something to hide or be ashamed about. Which was not the case at all.

And it was a distinct possibility since Sarah had let the cat out of the bag with Ziva and Tony about Deep Six. He’d never quite managed to decide if it had been an innocent mistake or she’d wanted to embarrass him. It was a sibling thing!

 

~oO0Oo~

Tony stared wanly at the ceiling of his small cabin cum NCIS office, glad he’d been given quarters of his own on the USS Sea Hawk. On the USS Ronald Reagan, the former ship he’d been assigned to, he’d had to share both a cabin and an office and had no privacy whatsoever. Although he had less floor space now, not having any solitude had been an unbearable strain on him since he was obsessively private by nature.

Having so many nightmares from terrible things he’d seen in his years in law enforcement plus quite a few from his childhood, he wasn’t comfortable sleeping with another person close by. It made him feel extremely vulnerable and he didn’t trust anyone not to use it against him.

That was why he preferred to go home with dates if they planned on having sex, so he could leave when they were done. That way he could sleep in his bed and there was no one to witness his frequent nightmares or the occasional night terrors which were bad enough. But the thought of having someone find out that sometimes he woke up having terrible panic attacks about not being able to breath was intolerable. He had a visceral horror of people knowing how weak he was being, unable to stop his brain betraying him while he slept.

Tony had never been able to forget that years ago, Gibbs had told a young witness who’d viewed a horrifically bloody crime scene that he wouldn’t have nightmares. Gibbs had claimed that he’d told himself as a boy having seen a friend killed that he wasn’t going to have dreams about what he’d witnessed, and voila – no nightmares and it would be the same for Tommy too.

The former Marine was so certain, so believable and his faith so rock solid that he’d left Tony feeling extraordinarily inadequate that it didn’t work for him. It made him feel weak and utterly inadequate; like he wasn’t mentally strong enough to prevent his brain wreaking havoc on his sleep whenever he started dreaming about a six-year-old girl burning to death and he couldn’t reach her.

No matter how hard he tried to live up the incredibly tough standards set by Gibbs, Tony always fell short of the mark. But never more so that when he was unable to sleep through the night. Even new-born babies could do that.

And Jenny, dying in a bloody gunfight had joined the little girl burning to death in his dreams. Of course, he knew that Gibbs was still furious that he hadn’t prevented Director Shepard’s death. He blamed him and Tony understood why he was so disappointed in him. After all, with all the sexual tension between those two, Blind Freddy could see that Gibbs and Shepard had a thing at some point. Even if they split up, the boss still had feelings for her.

Of course, Gibbs blamed him. She was dead. He was supposed to be protecting her during her trip to California. He’d screwed up and gotten her killed. Why wouldn’t he blame Tony?

Not that Gibbs was the only one who blamed him over Jenny’s death; Vance hadn’t exactly subtle with his displeasure either. If Vance had hoped to punish him, he’d succeeded. Assigning him agent afloat on a naval aircraft carrier of 5000 sailors and Marines guaranteed they’d all hate his guts on principle. From their perspective, he was spying on them, trying to catch them breaking petty rules and ruining their service records.

To wake up every single day knowing everyone hated him because of what he did was hard to bear. He was someone who thrived on social contact, not to mention his pathetic need to make friends and being liked by others. While he was intensely private about his private life and always would be, he needed social supports. Unlike Gibbs, he wasn’t the lone wolf type. Agent Afloat was torture, pure and simple.

Even worse was the knowledge that no one was watching his back if he got into trouble. For the former cop who was accustomed to being able to depend upon his partner, it was intolerable. Especially when he knew that there were plenty of places where he could be ambushed and tossed overboard should someone decide they wanted to get rid of him.

And he was finally making headway with the crew on the USS Ronald Reagan and building trust. He’d even managed to talk a young petty officer, who’d received a Dear John letter and decided that life wasn’t worth living, out of leaping to his death into the stormy seas below. After that incident, he’d detected a thawing of attitude amongst the officers at least, particularly the medical staff. The Captain had even recommended him for a commendation.

Shortly afterwards, Vance had ordered his transfer to the Seahawk where Tony had been forced to start all over again with a suspicious crew who treated him like he’d walked in something utterly disgusting and wanted to avoid being in his presence.

It was almost as if Vance didn’t want him to succeed as Agent Afloat. As if he wanted him to be unhappy and to be psychologically ostracised by all five thousand crewmembers. Tony wondered if his jacket contained data about his lonely childhood, spent growing up in a vast house on Long Island with two alcoholic parents who were too caught up with personal demons to notice their only offspring. If so, had Vance bothered to read it or even gone as far as to have a profiler devise the most effective means of punishing him, because, it sure as hell felt that way.

It occurred to him that Ziva might have shared her research with Vance and Shepard about Anthony DiNozzo’s miserable childhood. Plus, mentioning just how effective it had been to exclude him from that pathetic team dinner when she first joined the team and invited everyone else but him. He’d tried to pretend that he didn’t care about being left out but the fact that she had zeroed in so fast on something that had cut him to the quick, suggested she knew exactly where to stick the knife in to do maximum damage. It had sure helped to isolate him from the rest of the team and shore up her friendship with Abby and McGee.

Laying in his narrow bunk trying to go to sleep, he couldn’t help but think about the assignment onboard the USS Ronald Reagan. DiNozzo couldn’t help feeling it wasn’t worth all the effort of trying to build rapport with the crew and officers of the Seahawk. If he did, Vance would simply ship him out to some new TAD where it would just begin all over again and he’d be right back where he started. This quite clearly was punishment for letting his director get killed by Russian assassins, so he should just suck it up and quit being such a whiny baby.

He briefly considered the fact he had a half bottle of Jack Daniels he’d confiscated from a nineteen-year-old Marine private. The kid had been doing it tough on his first deployment away from home, feeling homesick and made a dumb mistake. But even if he considered getting shitfaced for a second or two, aside from it being against regs to consume alcohol on board, Tony was already feeling numb. The last thing he needed was to ingest an artificial depressant when he was feeling so hollow inside.

Seeing the effects of using alcohol to deal with problems up close and personal with both his parents, Tony had long ago promised himself that he wouldn’t drink to forget his troubles. There was also the fact that Tony was incredibly proud of being in law enforcement, first as a cop and now, as a federal agent. Even if as agent afloat right now he felt more like a nanny most of the time. It would be unprofessional. It would also be unforgivable if he were intoxicated and there was an emergency on board. Yes, he screwed up majorly when he let Jenny die but that egregious lapse didn’t then justify him behaving in an unprofessional manner and getting drunk because he felt bad.

Agent Afloat was his penance for Jenny dying. NCIS had lost a director and he needed to remember that it wasn’t about him. He was damned lucky he still had a job.

Sighing, Tony shut his eyes, determined to go to sleep and not dream about monsters or their victims. Not dream about Caitlin Todd or Paula Cassidy dying before his eyes while he did nothing to save them or a six-year-old girl screaming for help as he let her die. To not dream of inconsolable mothers of little kids killed in Baltimore, innocent victims caught up in gangland wars between drug dealers because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, once again he would try to do what Gibbs claimed to do so easily to prevent his demons from dogging his sleep. He made affirmations that tonight he was NOT GOING TO DREAM, determined that he could be as strong as Gibbs – after all, Gibbs had claimed that he’d been able to do this as a kid. Surely if he could do that when he was a child, a thirty-five-year-old should be able to manage it too. Even someone as weak and pathetic as he was.

It was proof of his hero-worship of Gibbs, even being rather tarnished over the past couple of years, that Tony never stopped to analyse Gibbs claims of not experiencing bad dreams. If he’d bothered to do so, Tony might have been less inclined to set himself up for failure, trying to live up to an impossible standard. If he’d sought advice they may have [pointed out to him that the level of traumas he’d endured plus, accentuated his overly developed level of empathy.

Gibbs was not an overly empathetic individual – partly by nature. Also due to his military training, including all his black ops work as a sniper. Although, some people might argue that the reason why the gunny was singled out for that role was that he manifested signs of personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality and even sociopathy. All conditions where empathy was non-existent or in short supply.

Aside from which, it was obvious that Gibbs had trouble sleeping, hence his napping on the lounge or under his boat in the basement. He napped anywhere but in the master bedroom which he’d shared with Shannon or the second bedroom which he’d shared with three red-headed Shannon substitutes. If he’d examined these facts, Tony might have questioned the veracity of his words about dreams and nightmares.

Unfortunately, it never occurred to Tony that Leroy Jethro Gibbs might simply be lying about his ability to control his nightmares – lying to himself, lying to the young boy Tommy. Maybe even lying to people to maintain his façade of invincibility. If it had occurred to him, the former detective might have been more inclined to give himself a break over his inability to prevent traumatic events from creeping into his night-time slumber.

If only Tony had been capable of stepping back and taking a less bias view of his former boss and their distinctive personality traits, he might have observed that Gibbs was angry with the world over the hand that fate had dealt him in losing the three women in his life (mother, wife and daughter) who he adored. He might also have realised that Gibbs was always on the lookout for a scapegoat for his anger. On the lookout for a case so he could use to direct his anger and rage onto and failing that, to make use of Tony as his whipping post, or he was until recently. Judging by the icy silence from his former team leader since his hurried reassignment afloat, Gibbs was still furious with him over Shepard’s untimely demise.

Sadly, for him, Tony never contrasted Gibbs anger, which was constantly impacting on everyone around him, to his way of coping with traumatic events. His technique was to turn his anger inward, to blame himself rather than looking to lay blame on others. Even when Gibbs was being toxic to those around him, Tony tended to blame himself for not finding leads fast enough, for being too flippant or not being quick enough to recognise that Gibbs needed to siphon off some of his escalating tensions over the case before it bled over everyone else.

Finally drifting into a restless sleep, he awoke several hours later, despising himself for being unable to stop the nightmare. Tonight’s had been an oldie but a goodie. He’d been unable to prevent a man from getting beaten to death while he was undercover with the Macaluso clan. Realising that he’d be unable to go back to sleep, seeing the man’s terrified expression begging Mike’s minions to spare his life, he decided to get up. He’d shower and then take a few laps of the ship, killing two bird with one stone.

Patrolling the ship at odd hours sent a message to the crew that they could never anticipate where he might pop up so, they’d better toe the line or expect to get caught abusing regs. It also meant he could exercise and burn off some of his excess energy, which seemed to get worse when he was cooped up in such a highly populated space. He couldn’t wait to go for a real run the next time they docked for some much-needed R&R. With any luck, he’d be able to get some half-way edible Italian food, since most of the stuff in the mess brought back unpleasant memories from his youth spent in a string of boarding school served up institutionalised food.

Those posh establishments might have charged exorbitant fees to warehouse rich parents’ inconvenient offspring so they could concentrate on making ever more piles of money – because when was anyone ever too rich? However, the fare served up to students was generally cheap and nasty, apart from being consistently inedible and stodgy for a kid whose father had insisted on having a personal chef. Aside from the questionable quality, it was associated with a lot of less than savoury memories of boys being boys, hazing of smaller kids and even sexual predators targeting naïve and vulnerable kids.

Realising he was becoming increasingly maudlin, he changed into his running gear, deciding to go for a run first and shower later.

Chapter 6

One month later

Sandrine Gallagher stumbled into the elevator; her arms filled with packages as she freed up one finger to stab the button for the third floor. Exiting, she managed to make her way down the hallway and turned to the right down a hallway with a sigh. Depositing her bundle of parcels at the front door of apartment 324, she searched in her overly large handbag for her front door key. Opening the door, she stooped to pick up her shopping, taking it inside.

Looking around the living room, she smiled happily. After several weeks of fruitless apartment hunting, she and Tim had finally found this place, a two-bedroom apartment. It had a great kitchen and a moderately sized dining/living room, and they’d put a deposit down on it straight away. It was too good to be true and there was no way they were going to let it go. As well as its great features, it was only eighteen minutes’ drive from the Naval Yard. This was an important point in their decision since Tim said that Gibbs required of his agents that they live a maximum of twenty minutes away from work.

To be honest, since Tim was no longer on the major case response team, Sandrine wasn’t even sure why it was such an issue, but her boyfriend seemed quite determined about it, so she’d remained silent on the matter. After all, the apartment was everything she could have wished for. She was so excited when they moved in and began creating a cosy home with Tim. She’d created lists of things she needed and started compulsively perusing home decorating magazines every spare moment she had, looking for ideas for the new apartment. She was excited beyond her wildest dreams at how life was working out for her.

They’d moved in ten days ago and they’d unpacked everything and found a place for all their belongings. Sandrine had been feeling deliriously happy as she gazed around their new bedroom and their new bed. Tim had turned his huge sad puppy eyes on her, throwing out a huge hint about wanting to have oral sex to christen their new bathroom and she caved. Honestly, she didn’t get what all the fuss was about guys wanting to get blown. After all, having an orgasm when you were a guy wasn’t exactly rocket science.

Most males perfected the art as soon as they figured out how to jerk off but women weren’t nearly as easy to please – they had to work for their release and even with such a gentle and considerate lover as Tim, he wasn’t always able to make her climax. Not that she would tell him that because she knew that he would probably be shattered and had a bit of a fragile ego. But she’d agreed to the blow job, partly because she found the whole thing to be very messy and if they did it in the shower, it would be easier to clean up.

Plus, if Tim was happy, he was less likely to say no to her putting up drapes and a comfortable sofa and a few scatter cushions in his den, cum writing room. Her primary motivation in sneaking a sofa into his room was so that she could spend time in there with him while he wrote, which he liked to do quite a lot of, or play in his little boy fantasy world of Elf Lords.

Sandrine intended to purchase a fold-out sofa bed in case Tim’s family wanted to stay over there was a bed for them to sleep in. Tim had declared his den off-limits to her decorating urges. She was sure she’d be able to talk him round. She was planning to surprise him with a Hemingwayesque motif (courtesy of his gold AMEX card) even though it wouldn’t fit in with the Modern Tradition style in the rest of the apartment.

Although he’d ended up blissed out, she hadn’t been able to get his dick out of her mouth in time before he’d ejaculated into her mouth, partially because she had been distracting herself with thoughts of the brand new kitchen appliances she was going to buy and because she had a cramp from kneeling and sucking Tim’s dick. So, unfortunately, she didn’t get her mouth out of the way in time.

Despite managing to spit most of his come out of her mouth, she ended up swallowing a small amount and choking on the taste. Tim was very solicitous and promised to make it up to her, so they went to bed in their dreamy new bed and had sex several times in the missionary position. It was her favourite one, probably because it was usually her best shot at orgasm, and she did like the sensation of so much of her lover’s bare skin against her own. Sadly tonight, although she came close, she’d never managed to get over the line, so to speak.

Naturally, she faked it though, because she didn’t intend to injure Timothy’s fragile ego and besides, it wasn’t his fault. She didn’t want to have a repeat of the time when he decided she’d been critical of his lovemaking skills and he hadn’t been able to perform and then she had to persuade him he was the best lover ever – that it wasn’t him – it was her inadequacy. Better to just pretend, she’d decided after that fiasco. Lucky she was an actress.

And pretending it was her, not him had sort of become her new reality. As she reviewed their performance tonight, she told herself she just wasn’t in the mood because she was feeling very unsexy from swallowing his icky release. Maybe she was allergic to it – she’d read about it in a magazine once.

Still, he was happy, blissed-out happy and as she thought, he readily agreed to her plans for his den. Okay so maybe her whispering in his ear that they could use the sofa bed to have wild bouts of sex, him in his Hemingway garb of flannels, turtle-neck, pipe and corduroy jacket with suede elbow patches having his wicked way with her in a French maid’s uniform might have helped a little too. But in Sandrine’s book that didn’t count as bribery – she happened to find him sexy dressed up in his writer’s attire. Who knows, maybe she would become his muse. That would be exciting, not to mention a boon for her career.

The truth was, that she found him a lot sexier when he was wearing clothes than when he was naked, but then sex wasn’t as important to her as it was to him. Perhaps the reality was that she just wasn’t all that good at it, although her step-father had always seemed to prefer her nubile young body to her mother’s when he’d seek her out at night and like Tim, he adored shoving his pathetic little member in her mouth.

And despite her forays on the casting couch with directors and producers when auditioning for roles in New York, she’d never managed to land a leading role in anything on Broadway.

The best part she’d managed to get was after she’s done some old fat casting agent, he’d managed to get her a walk-on part as an extra in a sci-fi show filmed in Canada. And that was only because she agreed he could shove his dick in her ass which she thought was utterly gross, worse than blow jobs. Still getting the walk-on did allow her to put television actress down on her resume so some good came of it. And eventually, she hoped to ‘persuade’ Tim to write a movie for her to star in.

Now, as she stared at the evidence of her successful shopping adventures today, she decided to make herself a cup of coffee. Then she’d set about hanging the drapes she’s purchased and finding just the right place to display the real marble bust of Ernest Hemingway, Tim’s literary idol, which she’d spied in an antique store which she bought as the pièce de résistance. She hoped he’d be pleasantly surprised by all the masculine furnishings she’d selected for his study – the drapes were a dark green plaid with red and dark blue accents called Russell Clan tartan.

After that much-needed cup of coffee, Sandrine felt refreshed and ready to do battle hanging the drapes. She wanted everything done before Tim came home, although he’d sent her a text a while ago saying he had to work late, and she should eat dinner without him. Sandrine hummed along to a song from the Dixie Chicks, Not Ready to Make Nice as she worked on dressing the largish window, admiring how much cosier it made the room. The marble bust found a home on the set of steel and glass shelves, right next to Timothy’s pipe and tobacco pouch. Although he’d vetoed having any flowers in the room because of his asthma, she’d decided indoor plants didn’t qualify if they weren’t flowering varieties. She’d picked out a couple of interesting specimens that were leafy or had interesting structural elements and placed the pots strategically around the room.

She wished that the sofa people had been able to deliver the one she’d picked out today, but they claimed that the delivery driver was down with stomach flu and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow at the very earliest. Of course, it wasn’t urgent to have it today, but Sandrine thought it would have been great if Tim could have seen her total transformation all at once. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it.

She couldn’t wait for him to see what she’d picked out for his space, particularly since she’d teased him about wanting a floral, overly large and comfy style chintz sofa. She’d seen his look of unadulterated horror before he’d managed to conceal it behind a sickly grin which wouldn’t fool anyone. Sometimes Sandrine found herself wondering how he’d survived on the MCRT when he was such an open book. Of course, Tim didn’t have to go undercover – which was just as well.

Sandrine was glad that he had a much safer job now that he was down in cybercrimes.

No one was trying to shoot him and kill him, which was a good thing, although he didn’t have as much inspiration for his books anymore. Still, there was no point in worrying about that right now.

She felt disappointed that Tim wouldn’t see the room complete with sleek charcoal grey leather and steel sofa which also had a dreamily large and comfortable fold-out bed. She hoped he’d love it. At first, she was going to go with that old standard in masculinity – a brown leather Chesterfield sofa but it felt clichéd and besides, it didn’t have a sofa bed.

When she’d sighted the one which she’d purchased, she knew it was a perfect choice – fitting in with the sets of ultra-modern steel and glass shelves Tim had purchased that housed all his tech gear. Some of his junk she couldn’t even begin to identify, let alone figure out what it did. Honestly, he still had his old Commodore 64 personal computer. He was such a packrat when it came to technology!

Sandrine’s thought turned back to her furniture purchases. She’d also bought a comfy reading chair and a couple of occasional tables to place a book or a cup of coffee on. They were also being delivered with the sofa, so after a final look of satisfaction around the half-completed room, Sandrine switched off the light and closed the door on her way out. She was well pleased with her efforts today.

Although there was no real hurry since they’d only just move in, she was eager to start wooing Tim’s family and wanted to invite them over to see their new place. She understood the other women in Tim’s life weren’t exactly over the moon about her. Penny had been highly caustic, not bothering to hide her disdain for her education. Sandrine had dropped out of college soon after she’d joined an amateur theatre company, realising that she wanted to act. The aspiring actress headed to New York determined to make a name for herself and then spent the next decade paying her dues, getting mainly minor roles in some obscure plays and musicals, mostly off-Broadway.

Once she’d scored a supporting part in a Broadway play, but as the understudy and only got to go on in the role once when the actress had to attend a funeral. Later, an acquaintance, who was also an actress had mocked her for not taking advantage of her opportunity while she had it. Krystle told her she could have made sure the actress got food poisoning or tripped down the stairs, so she was unable to go on stage and the understudy would have to go on in her place. Sandrine had never even thought about it until then and she realised that she needed to make the most of her opportunities in future.

Of course, she was frustrated with the lack of any breakout success so far, but she’d recognised that she needed to be far more proactive. She needed to look at forming her own production company and look out for parts which she could star in. Unfortunately, that cost money and she’d realised that if she needed to work at creating a regular, reliable income and that meant she needed to stop auditioning for bit parts in obscure productions that paid a pittance.

Sandrine knew it was time to act grown up and get herself a proper job. That was two years ago and at thirty, she was despairing that her dreams would ever come to fruition. That was right about the time she heard about the job at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and well… the rest was history, as they say in the classics. The job seemed like the answer to her prayers since she realised that working was going to take forever for her to have enough money to finance her fame.

Knowing that one of her favourite authors worked at the dinky little federal agency playing cops and robbers by day, Sandrine felt like it was destiny finally handing her a break. She’d run into Timothy at the coffee shop on her second day and he’d asked her out straight away. That proved they were meant to be!

Now they were living together, and he’d even introduced her to his family, which proved he was smitten by her. Granted it hadn’t gone as well as she would have hoped but the McGee family were a pretty tough audience to please. Admiral John McGee had barely spoken to her. He’d looked her up and down briefly before murmuring the bare minimum of social niceties required for the social situation. He’d then proceed to berate his son, telling him how his career would be in a much better place if he’d enlisted in the navy like the previous two generations of McGee’s. Still, she got the impression he and Timothy didn’t have a great father and son relationship and so hadn’t taking his underwhelming response towards her all that personally.

She knew that Tim was much closer to his mom, sister and his irascible grandmother, so she’d tried to impress them as much as possible. Sadly, it hadn’t fared as well as she hoped it would. Penny despised her lack of tertiary education and ambition and although she thought that his grandmother might have a problem with them living together, it was the one thing she approved of. It seemed Penelope McGee was something of an anarchist, deeply despising conventions and institutions – even though she’d married the McGee’s grandfather who was also an admiral in the navy, same as her son. Different times she supposed!

No, it was Tim’s mom who was horrified that they were living in sin, being a deeply religious lady. Which immediately put Sandrine at a grave disadvantage in developing a good relationship with Lorna McGee, who she sensed could be a staunch supporter, apart from that minor stumbling block that they were living in sin…okay, maybe not minor. But Sandrine was hoping that by inviting his mother to spend time with them as a couple, Lorna would have a chance to see how happy she had made her son and thaw a bit.

His spoilt obnoxious little sister, Sarah was another tough nut to crack. She was the baby of the family and more like Penny McGee than she was like her mother, Lorna. Sharply cynical and highly perceptive, she was interested in politics, world affairs and women’s rights. Those were three issues Sandrine was woefully uneducated about, a lapse that she had little interest in addressing, either. She’d thought that perhaps since Sarah had majored in American Literature, that they might have common ground there. Turned out, however, Sandrine’s tastes were too lowbrow for Sarah; her preferences running more towards the works of Proust, Simone de Bouvier and Samuel Clements. Sandrine’s favourite authors right now were John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Plus, Sarah tended to roll her eyes a lot when she tried to talk to her about things like fashion and what was trending in makeup. It seemed that Tim’s little sister was something of an intellectual snob. Even McGee, with his genius IQ, was into designer labels such as his Hugo Boss and Saks Fifth Avenue suits, his Rolex watch and his Porsche convertible. Penny and Sarah not surprisingly had deemed them superficial frivolity, and foolishness. So, all in all, she had quite a bit of ground to make up with the three women in her man’s life, since she was determined to be in it with Timothy for the long haul.

She reckoned she and Tim could become the next power couple in theatrical and movie circles, the next Georgina Chapman and Harvey Weinstein. They had the talent and Tim had the money to get them started.

~oO0Oo~

McGee watched as the last of the other agent cum computer analysts decided to call it a day. Jaime Champion retrieved her messenger bag out of her locked filing cabinet drawer and shrugged on her black leather jacket, having shut down her monitor. The raven-haired bespectacled analyst sighed tiredly, before calling out a cheery, “Good Night, Boss,” to Tim.

Inwardly he’d been impatiently waiting for Jaime, the last one left, to leave but he responded casually, “Night, Jaime. See you tomorrow.”

Champion cocked her head to the side, examining McGee for several seconds before asking quietly. “Is everything okay? I can stay back if you need me to,” she offered, proving that perhaps his attempt at sounding casual rather than exasperated, hadn’t been as successful as he’d imagined.

Groaning internally because the last thing he needed was Champion staying back when he was going to spy on the mole. He tried to sound reassuring when he wanted to bundle her out of the room and slam the door in her face. Damn it, it wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be, doing undercover work. He had to wait until he was alone before he could do some extra-curricular snooping on the trio upstairs and he didn’t attract suspicion or gossip about what he was up to. Not even Leon Vance, who might not want him spying on the mole since he was supposed to be focused on breaking the encryption code.

Usually, he came in early before the rest of the team was there or he stayed back at night until everyone left. Sometimes he left when everyone else did and returned late at night to carry out his investigations. Vance had been adamant that no one could suspect what he was up to, since if the Mole thought they were on to him; he might decide to take evasive steps to protect himself.

The last thing Vance wanted, was for them to destroy any incriminating evidence. The new director had been most insistent, as there was a lot at stake with this undercover assignment.

Forcing himself to smile at the annoying woman who was constantly trying to earn brownie points with him, he sighed inwardly. “No, everything’s fine, Jaime. I’m nearly finished too. Just thinking about what to get Sandrine for a housewarming gift,” he lied, coming up with the excuse off the top of his head which he thought was pretty handy.

Champion looked surprised. “Wow! I didn’t realise that it was de rigueur for a guy to give his girlfriend a housewarming present when you moved in together. Aren’t you a romantic, Boss?” she twittered with saccharine sweetness. “Lucky lady. I’m sooo jealous.”

McGee realised that he’d messed up with the gift excuse. It was harder than he expected coming up with excuses on the spur of the moment. He wasn’t a practised liar. DiNozzo had always made it look so freaking easy.

He stammered pathetically, “Um yes well… she’s so excited and she’s been working hard to get everything unpacked. You know, ship-shape and Bristol-fashion,” he babbled like a demented person as Jaime stared at him oddly.

OMG, he sounded like Tony when he wouldn’t shut up. He couldn’t seem to control his mouth. “Who was Bristol anyway?” he yabbered away like a complete idiot.

Champion smirked. “Not who, where,” she replied.

McGee did a double take. “What?”

“Bristol relates to a place, not a person,” Jaime said. “It’s been an important English seaport for more than a thousand years. The city is several miles from the sea and stands at the estuary of the River Avon,” she said with a shrug when she saw his bemused look. “Trivia nights,” the cybercrimes geek explained succinctly.

McGee wanted to scream at the infuriating woman that he didn’t care about a stupid place in England or a dumb saying. He wanted her to go home and leave him alone so he could snoop. But of course, he had to swallow down his irritation though McGee’s default setting was to revert to passive-aggressiveness. It was screaming to get let loose so he could say something cutting and sardonic.

It was so hard to bite his tongue -he’d never realised how difficult it was to curb his natural inclination. Wow! He was looking forward to finally going back to the MCRT when he wouldn’t have to watch every word he said or wanted to say.

Smiling weakly, he said, “Ah, well that’s good to know, I guess.”

Jaime batted her eyelashes at him. “Maybe you could join the team for a trivia challenge, Boss,” she suggested coyly. “Reckon we’d wipe the floor if you were on our team,” she flattered him. OMG. he couldn’t believe she was flirting with him when he’d just moved in with Sandrine last week. What was wrong with the woman?

Finally, he persuaded her to go home and leave him in peace. Now he could settle down to snooping. He was finding this whole gig frustrating and he wanted it to be over so he could get back to being in the field which was why he was doing some extra-curricular surveillance. He would even volunteer for a Gibbs’ head slap if he got to go back to the MCRT sooner and yet, at this point it seemed unlikely.

With an eye on the time, Tim realised that being successfully able to spy on the potential mole suspects had become a helluva lot more difficult now that he and Sandrine were sharing an apartment. While they were dating, it would have been a lot simpler to head into work early or stay back late. Going back to the office late at night wasn’t an option anymore either since it would be way too difficult for him to explain to his girlfriend what he was doing.

Tim wasn’t a good liar at the best of times, and it felt wrong to lie to Sandrine. He was already lying to her since she didn’t know that his assignment was only temporary. Of course, he knew that he couldn’t tell her about the mole – but that was need-to-know information and it wasn’t overt lying since she’d never actually asked him if being transferred to Cyber Crimes had been permanent. Okay, so maybe she didn’t think to ask because why would she think there was a mole at the agency, right?

But somehow, Tim had a real problem telling her he had to work back or go in early because he was still working on a case. It felt like cheating and according to Redbook – the all-round magazine for the urban woman – lying to your significant other was extremely damaging to a relationship. With such a nascent relationship as theirs, it bothered him a lot that he was deliberately doing something so destructive as deceiving her about what he was doing.

To be honest, Tim had already got off to a bad kind of start with his girlfriend – not coming clean with her about his alter-ego Thom E. Gemcity and his Deep Six books. He had finally fessed up just before he’d taken her home to meet his family. Although Sandrine had told him she understood his need to protect his identity, he wasn’t completely sure that she did understand.

He wasn’t exactly clear himself on why he’d held out for so long on telling her about his books. If Tim weren’t sure, then how could he expect her to understand? To be honest, she hadn’t seemed all that surprised when he finally got around to telling her, but she said that his designer clothes and fancy sportscar had given her a clue that he’d come into money. She’d said that she’d thought that maybe it was an inheritance or something since Navy brats didn’t usually grow up rich or have a gold AMEX card.

He truly hoped that Sandrine hadn’t been told him what she thought he wanted to hear when she said she wasn’t upset about his secret life. She seemed to be okay about it but maybe she was just saying it. He’d noticed that she didn’t feel comfortable with confrontation.

She’d been quite submissive and meek with his family, trying desperately to please them – which ironically had blown up spectacularly in her face. A least it had with his sister and grandmother who both respected assertive bossy fellow females and despised those they perceived to have weak characters and acted docile.

Plus, they’d both been pretty scathing about her failure to finish a college degree. They’d decided it proved she was lacking ambition and therefore couldn’t possibly be good enough for him. They had such high standards he didn’t think anyone could meet them. It simply wasn’t true, either.

Sandrine was plenty ambitious – she had ambitions to burn, wanting to start up her own production company and produce her plays and shows. She’d temporarily decided to take a hiatus from acting so she could get a job and financing for her dreams. She was smart enough to realise that after ten years of paying her dues, it was time to look at other ways to make her dream happen. Tim thought that showed someone who was a pragmatist and someone who was equally smart and motivated.

Shrugging, he turned his attentions to the trio’s computer activity which like every other time he’d snooped on them surreptitiously, was clean but not too clean to be suspicious. For instance, Langer occasionally visited sites during work time that were almost but not quite, out and out porn sites. But he also didn’t try to hide it either so probably nothing there.

And Keating… well the computer geek had a few dubious contacts with some sketchy hackers, McGee thought disapprovingly, but then in fairness, so did Tim. Some of his MIT peers, including a former roommate, was not exactly the most lily-white of citizens, particularly when it came to the cyber ‘verse. Frustrated because his snooping hadn’t paid off, he decided it was time to go home to Sandrine.

Tim had planned to spend more time working on the massive six-layered encryption, but he was getting increasingly frustrated with it because every time his team got close to solving it, they would discover another layer concealed behind the last one. It was almost four months since he’d gone undercover and he was growing weary of it. He’d thought it would be a lot more exciting, to be honest, but most of the time he was bored.

It was also five months now since Leon Vance (an assistant director at that point) had been contacted anonymously by someone claiming to be a petty officer who was being blackmailed into stealing top-secret data by an NCIS agent. Although Vance had flown out to DC to meet with the whistle-blower, the whistle-blower had failed to turn up for the meeting and never made contact after that.

The director hadn’t shared with him how he came to have the encryption he’d been struggling to crack ever since, or why he’d narrowed down the suspects for the agency’s mole to Keating, Langer and Lee. Naturally, Tim had asked and been told that it was need-to-know and he didn’t. The director must have had more than one source or perhaps he had other teams working on the problem simultaneously.

Tim had to admit to himself that the thought that someone else might crack the puzzle before he could, was adding to his frustration. After four months he was getting desperate to solve it and go back to the MCRT as the senior field agent. He stared at the work which Jaime, Trevor and Grace, had done today and he felt like he was getting close to solving this encryption. Was the final one? After four months, surely, they must be close!

McGee decided to call it a night and go home to his new apartment. He’d stop on the way home and pick up a quart of Sandrine’s favourite double chocolate ice cream for dessert. Although he’d told Sandrine not to bother cooking him any dinner, he had no doubt she would have ignored him and left him something he could nuke in the microwave. After a late meal and dessert, he’d do an hour or two of writing on his book. Hopefully, if he could switch off and use the creative half of his brain and switch off the logic bound analytical hemisphere; he might be able to figure out what it was he was missing in the damned code.

Packing up, he made his way out of the building asap, looking forward to slipping into his pride and joy, his gorgeous Porsche Boxster for a smooth ride to his new apartment. A quick stop for some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and he was homeward bound. He couldn’t believe how different it felt to be going back to his new place, knowing that someone was there waiting for him to come home so they could cuddle up on the sofa, eat double chocolate chip ice cream together out of the carton using just one spoon. McGee liked living with someone who thought he was perfect.

For a brief second, he thought of DiNozzo still stuck on board a ship with five thousand Marines and sailors and no one to warm his bed up or even go out on a date with. Yep, for all his constant hazing every time Tim had gone on a date, Timothy McGee had ended up having the last laugh. He was going to be having sex tonight while the juvenile skirt chaser would have to settle for a quick jerking off in the shower. Hah, it sucks to be him!

And while he was amused at having finally gotten the last laugh over the annoying and childish agent (who thought he was such hot stuff he wanted to be called Very Special Agent) Tim did experience a flicker of unease. He thought about some of the comments he’d received over the last couple of weeks on his Deep Six fanfic he’d put on a fanfic site months before. Some of the responses were hinky if not downright sick and they were making him nervous. Considering the crazy fan who’d killed two of his characters and almost murdered Abby too in the mistaken belief that she or her character wasn’t good enough to be with Agent McGregor, he needed no reminders that there were some very sick people out there.

Of course, this was just one innocent little fanfic. Besides no one knew that it was Thom E. Gemcity who wrote it so it wouldn’t be like last time. What harm was there in it, no really?

And even when Loony Landon was going around killing his characters off, Gibbs had delivered a massive kick up his butt when he voiced his guilt over those two dead guys. He’d told him that it wasn’t his fault that someone decided to go picking off the people who might have been used for inspiration in his books. He’d said that you couldn’t take on responsibility for lunatics. Tim had decided that if Gibbs didn’t think he’d done anything wrong then that was good enough for him. He disregarded his sister’s opinion on the matter. Sarah had always told him it was lazy and stupid to use real people as characters rather than create your own.

Tim honestly believed that if Gibbs thought it was okay, then who was he to argue. Gibbs word was law, after all. As a Marine, he held everyone, including himself to an impossibly high standard of conduct. Sarah, on the other hand, was still an aspiring novelist, while he was a twice published best-selling author. When she nagged him about his writing, there were times when he felt like maybe her criticism was prompted by a case of sibling rivalry or downright envy.

Later that night, replete with ice cream, he logged into his McMIT account he’d set up. Going straight to the reader’s comments, he found more of the disturbing comments which had been left at the site since the last time he’d checked. What was even worse than the actual content of the comments (which were, graphic) was that unlike the others who’d discussed his fanfic, these comments which disturbed him had all been generated from a few accounts.

He read them for the third time tonight and felt a sick feeling in his gut.

Igotyaback

Agent Tommy needs to die. Painfully!

McGregor’sfoxlady

Hopefully, if we’re lucky, one of those Marines will toss Tommy overboard the next time he’s on a ship.

Igotyaback

Sounds good to me @McGregor’sfoxylady. Tommy’s such a jerk.

McGregor’sfoxylady

Got that right @Igotyaback. Can’t stand guys like him. He’s a real snake in the grass, all right!

SeniorSupervisorAgentMcGregor

Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone ran that asswipe down? I’d cry me a river…NOT.

Hot4McGregor

Plus, if Tommy died, then Pimmy Jalmer could have a new sex toy to play with.

SeniorSupervisoryAgentMcGregor

Eewww that’s just disgusting @Hot4McGregor. Pimmy Jalmer has a heap more class than f@%k that pissant Tommy.

RetiredMasterSergeant

You guys are a bunch of sick fuckers. Really sick! Seriously! This is fiction. It ain’t real people!

Hot4McGregor

Don’t like it, don’t read it @RetiredMasterSergeant. Use the back button – that’s what it’s there for. Seriously!!!!

Igotyaback

Wonder how Agent Tommy would look with a third eye. Mmm mighty fine!

Igotyaback

On second thoughts, a K-bar to the throat would look even better.

H8sAgentTom

Gotta say I like how you think @Igotyaback!

Tim stared at the thread, trying to figure out what was wrong with these people. Didn’t they have anything better to do? Igotyaback and Hot4McGregor were particularly disturbing. He was glad that they didn’t know McMIT’s real identity. That dude, RetiredMasterSergeant had an excellent point, they were a bunch of sick fuckers and their comments had completely ruined all the sane cogent ones he’d received over the last four months.

Deciding he would trust his instincts, Tim deleted the story, With Friends Like These which meant that the comments would also be deleted. Hopefully, they would move on to another story. After hesitating for a few seconds, Tim closed his fanfiction account entirely. As he erased McMIT, he felt a weight lift off his shoulders as the traces of his alter-ego/nom de plume disappeared with a final press of a button. His short-lived career in fan fiction writing now permanently erased.

It never occurred to him that he should scrub all evidence that he’d opened up an account because no one had any reason to suspect that he’d revisit the Agent McGregor ‘Verse.

Maybe he shouldn’t have posted the story but surely it was harmless, and it had served its purpose. After all the glowing reviews he’d received from fans there was a genuine market for new Deep Six books. Perhaps most importantly, this exercise had demonstrated to Tim just how much he missed writing his books. He was bursting with energy to start writing a new novel ASAP.

Okay, so, a few crazies hated Agent Tommy, but he deleted the story… so no fair no foul. He wasn’t going to let some sad little trolls stop him doing what he loved or spoil it for all his other readers too. Maybe he’d pull back a bit on the Tommy bashing for a bit and focus on how McGregor was undercover saving the free world. Yeah…that would work!

He wondered if Agent McGregor should get a girlfriend and move in with her. Would his readers approve or their relationship or would they all hate his love interest because they were jealous of her? Ships were tricky things to predict with readers, especially when you were dealing with the protagonist in an ongoing series getting involved in a long-term relationship. While some readers would approve, you ran the risk of alienating a whole heap more readers because it blocked the ship of some character that they favoured more. For instance, the Tisa shippers wanted Officer Lisa and Agent Tony to be together but other people wanted Lisa and McGregor to get together.

It was tricky! McGee figured that he’d sleep on the whole issue of if McGregor should have a girlfriend for now.

Thinking about McGregor’s fictional lover reminded him he’d never told Sandrine about his extremely brief foray into fanfiction writing. Remembering what he’d read in Redbook about dishonesty in a relationship, he bit his lip, wondering if he should confess. On the other hand, he’d already deleted his account so what would be the point?

It wasn’t as if he’d been cheating on her by watching porn online or anything nasty like that. Fanfiction was a pretty harmless secret when it came to online activities. It was just that he was embarrassed that as the published author of two popular books he’d masqueraded as a fanfiction writer in his own fandom. That seemed a bit pathetic, although he argued, one could make quite a strong case that it was a pretty clever marketing tool when used judiciously.

And yeah, he was going to go with that argument that it was roughly the equivalent of setting up a focus group to give him feedback on a book chapter. It was certainly a heck of a lot cheaper than a focus group and in some ways, a better mechanism. Since no one knew who he was, it was probably a lot more accurate way to measure the reception his work was likely to receive.

Yeah… but that still didn’t help with the dilemma of whether to tell Sandrine about it. As he brushed his teeth and changed into his sleep gear, Tim decided that unless he ventured back into the crazy world of Deep Six fanfiction again, there was no reason to tell her about what amounted to a brief marketing ploy. Besides, he had no plans to go back.

Easing into the crisp white sheets beside his lover, she turned over and kissed him before sliding one of her legs between his. Sighing he reached over and clasped her surprisingly ample breast as she moaned throatily, and he felt his dick go hard in response. Before he lost all ability to think, he wondered for the umpteenth time if Sandrine had had breast implants, before deciding that it was a moot point.

Life was good!

Chapter 7

Honestly, that annoying idiot Andy Pringle was blathering away about what was essentially a high school maths equation. Which he’d managed to stuff up!

Good Lord! Save him from that arrogant little twerp who thought he knew better than Tim did! McGee hoped today was the day when his team finally cracked the encryptions on Petty Officer Vargo’s computer so he could get into it and discover what was on that file. The green as grass rookie was driving him to distraction!

Cutting in on that smartass, Pringle midstream, he sent him back to his desk with a flea in his ear, arrogant smug little jerk. Just as he had another exchange with Trevor Dallas, who he told to get back to work and received an unctuous ’yes boss,’ from him, a familiar voice repeated incredulously from directly behind his back, “Boss?”

Oh crap! This was why Tim hated the layout of Cyber Crimes so much. He sat with his back to the door, so basically when he was engrossed in his work as he was right now, anyone could easily sneak up on him unawares. Exactly like Gibbs just did. And frighten the bejesus out of him.

Of course, Leon had given him the heads up an hour ago that Petty Officer Vargas had finally been located, dead, five months after going UA and that the MCRT had caught the investigation. Right then and there McGee knew it was only going to be a matter of time before Gibbs turned up down here asking awkward questions. Questions he couldn’t answer!

After all, for all her wailing and gnashing of teeth when they had lunch together yesterday over the team being split up, Abby had conceded that the Gibbons (as she called the new major case response team) as opposed to the original Gibblets, while green and bumbling, were adequate. Not that she was the only one who’d unfavourably compared the new team to the old one of Tony, Ziva and himself. According to Abby, who’d been told by Jimmy Palmer, Ducky referred to Keating, Michelle and Langer as The B Team.

Anyway, the point was that Vargo, who’d worked for the Office of Strategic Planning (located right next door, on the naval base) had turned up dead, so one of Gibbs’ agents would subpoena his computer. They’d discover that it had already been seized… more than five months ago.

So, Gibbs heading down here to demand answers from Tim was inevitable. Not an ‘if’ he’d come, but a ‘when’ he came scenario. And now Gibbs was going to stare at him with that ice-blue glare of his and demand to know what was going on and what McGee knew about it.

Still, even knowing Gibbs would have questions, Tim hoped unrealistically that he’d have more time. But the way the encryption was going, there would never have been enough time.

Gibbs would ask questions that Tim wasn’t allowed to answer because they were need-to-know, although some questions McGee still didn’t have answers for yet. Which was why he was pushing the other techs so hard, including, that smug little shit, Pringle. But with Gibbs involvement, it was somehow all coming to a head after four months of dedicated hard slog. This morning, he’d finally managed to break through the seventh level and instead of success, they’d found an eighth level of encryption. Tim felt like banging his head up against the wall in frustration.

Now with Gibbs sniffing around, he was losing control. Vance had been willing to give him the time his team needed, and so far, they’d needed a lot. Gibbs would not be so accommodating – he would demand answers immediately.

McGee had given a lot of thought to what happened when he finally solved this puzzle for the director. How Gibbs would react when he found out he’d been kept out of the loop. Given his behaviour after learning that DiNozzo had been working undercover for Jenny Shepard, the previous director and Gibbs had deliberately not been told what was going on, he hadn’t reacted well when he found out about it. But McGee had told himself that this situation was completely different from that one.

For starters, he wasn’t a part of Gibbs team, and secondly, the Boss had found out about Tony when they watched what was his prized mustang get incinerated by a car bomb in the middle of traffic thinking he’d died. They’d processed the crime scene and the body; for several hours, all believing it was Tony who’d died. He’d told himself that when he finally cracked Petty Officer Vargo’s computer and found the information he’d been forced to steal for the Office of Strategic Planning, it would be fait accompli.

There’d be no dramatic exploding car bomb to horrify his former colleagues. He’d simply invite Gibbs for a drink and level with him, or probably more likely, make a trip to his house. Tim would try to drink down terrible bourbon without choking and have a man-to-man talk with the Boss about his undercover assignment. Gibbs would say he was proud of him and that he’d done a great job, shake his hand and pat him on the back.

Okay…as unlikely as that sounded, even before Vargo made an appearance as a decomposing corpse, it was a surprisingly good fantasy. And given that Gibbs was here now, breathing down his neck and would likely tear him a new one over Vargo, he vowed that it would at least take place in the next Deep Six novel he was working towards. It was just too poignant a scene for it to never take place at all.

Signing resignedly, McGee stood up from his chair, turning to face Gibbs. Tim reminding himself of the “Boss,” he’d repeated, rather condescendingly having heard the other cybercrime agents address him thusly and was standing there waiting impatiently for his response.

Despite his vow to himself that’ he’d remain calm and collected (after all, he wasn’t a nervous probie, anymore) all Tim could manage as he stared into Gibbs’ mocking blue stare was to start babbling like an idiot.

“I’m not really their boss but they call me that because I’m a field agent and I carry a gun.” Even as he said it, McGee realised he sounded nervous. He could feel his co-workers are gawking until he glared at them and they scurried off back to their terminals.

Taking a deep breath and trying to redeem himself Tim said, “It’s good to see you, boss.”

Instead of given any indication that he heard Tim’s explanation or his lie about being happy to see him, Gibbs asked abruptly, “Have you heard from Ziva?”

Caught off guard by the question, since he wasn’t anticipating it, McGee said, “Um yeah. I get an email every week, until three weeks ago. I thought maybe she went on vacation.”

Gibbs frowned at him. ” No. Try undercover.”

Wondering why Gibbs was down here, asking him about Ziva and not Vargo, he replied, “Undercover would make sense. Her being Mossad and all.”

“Know how to contact her?”

“Cell phone,” Tim said, even if it was part-question.

“No longer connected.”

Before he had a chance to ask why the sudden interest in Ziva after four months of ignoring her, Gibbs received a phone call from one of his new team. Deciding that it was probably Keating from Gibbs pained expression, McGee belatedly realised he was talking with Ziva David. McGee eavesdropped because Gibbs was standing right beside him so he figured it couldn’t be that private, not that he got all the details.

After hanging up from his phone call with Ziva, (who he gathered, had been caught on ZNN during her undercover sting) Gibbs immediately turned to confront McGee, catching him off guard by bringing up Steve Vargo.

“What do you know about him?” he demanded.

McGee was caught off guard but really… he shouldn’t have been. The stunt was pure Gibbs and he’d watched him pull it enough times in interrogation.

“Boss, I’m not sure I can exactly tell you what I know… Orders.”

‘Oh, wow. Smooth, McGee!’ he berated himself mentally.

Gibbs stared at him for a long moment, tightened his lips in anger. He pointed his index finger upwards and raised his eyebrows.

McGee felt torn between Vance’s orders and his loyalty to his old boss. Damnit, it was a lot harder to deny Gibbs the information that he demanded than he’d thought it would when Tim rehearsed possible scenarios in his head.

The man’s sheer animal magnetism compelled him to spill the beans. Just like a probie, damn it! He could feel his eager-to-please puppy side wanting to obey the Alpha Male…his Alpha Male. His puppy butt wanted to waggle, and he had an almost undeniable compulsion to roll over and show his belly.

But Tim’s inflexibly logical side reminded him that Director Vance would destroy his career if he disobeyed his direct orders. Making a colossal effort to ignore his inner submissive pup, he ignored his inclination to blurt out what Gibbs wanted to know.

He managed to say, “Yeah!”

Gibbs nodded, patting McGee’s cheek in farewell and left without another word. Rather than feeling comforted by the gesture, he felt it was both a reminder and a warning. His stomach started doing flip-flops like a seal had taken up residence in there. It was not a nice sensation at all.

McGee just stood in the middle of the room, feeling so guilt-ridden. This was not how this was supposed to play out, how it had played out in his head. Suddenly Tim felt a flash of empathy, was this how it had been for DiNozzo when everyone found out about Rene Benoit. It couldn’t have been easy, and the team probably hadn’t helped either.

McGee came back to reality and realised all the cyber-geeks were watching him intensely. Could they see how dejected he was now it had finally happened?

The most empathetic of the cyber analysts, Kevin Dallas asked him anxiously, “You OK, boss?” He was always checking on him; it’s a shame his concern made him feel claustrophobic because Tim was quite sure he meant well.

Giving himself a mental head slap and trying to pull himself together he muttered grumpily for them to, “Get back to work”.

Like a bunch of eager to please children, they leapt to obey McGee with an excited chorus of “Yes boss!” “Hey, boss”.

Sighing wearily, he decided to follow his own directive, for all the good it would do. He sat down at his terminal and began working on the eighth level of the security protocol. Seriously, if Vargo wasn’t dead already, McGee would like to wring his neck and make him eat his entrails for all the mental torture his security encryption had caused him so far.

Something told him, probably it was the three-plus years he’d spent working on Gibbs team, that he had even less time than he’d anticipated breaking Vargo’s damned encryption. Once Gibbs got a scent of the target, he would keep up the pressure until he got what he wanted. He always did.

As Tim settled in, he decided that when he had time to take a break, he needed to find out about what had happened to Ziva. Even though by the sounds of things she was okay, that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t appreciate having a friend to listen if she needed to talk.

~oO0Oo~

Igotyaback had time to kill before eating dinner. Curious to see if anyone else had replied to comments they’d left yesterday about Agent Tommy, the avid fanfic reader logged on to the Deep Sixer website. It was started by a group of rabidly loyal fans of the author Thom E. Gemcity who’d written two Agent McGregor books. Some of the Sixers (as they liked to call themselves) hoped when they started up the fan site that it would encourage Gemcity to write more books about the protagonist, Agent McGregor, and his teammates.

Some fans came there to the site to link up with other like-minded shippers of the characters in the books, for instance, some fans shipped Agent McGregor with Officer Lisa – despite the author seeing Agent Tommy and Lisa as a pairing. But no matter, fanfic tended to mess with canon, most readers tended to create personal head-canon. And sometimes the fandom collectively rejected canon when it wasn’t to their liking or there was a massive plot hole that they simply couldn’t ignore.

Another popular ship was Agent McGregor and Tibbs aka McTibbs. Personally, Igotyaback aka IGYB could take most of the ships or leave them but had a huge problem with the McTom shippers. Agent Tommy was a huge jerk and the asshole didn’t deserve to lick McGregor’s boots. As far as IGYB was concerned he deserved to pay dearly for what he’d done to McGregor. Fortunately, Lance had punished him and sent him off to sea, which was pure karma as far as IGYB was concerned. With a little bit of luck, the ship would sink!

But as much as IGYB despised the McTom pairing, also known as McGrommy the disgust and outrage that IGYB felt when some poor deluded fangirl/boy posted a McSutton pairing was intense. That cheap little skank had singlehandedly broken McGregor’s heart. IGYB couldn’t understand in a million years why anyone continued to ship them, declaring that they were soul mates. It was disgusting and utterly ridiculous.

However, it wasn’t just the ships that brought fans to The Deep Sixers site. There was a huge group of fans who either got off on reading or writing whump (hurting their favourite character). IGYB was one of those people but while most of the whumpers were there to whump their favourite characters IGYB couldn’t see the attraction in hurting your favourite character. Nope, IGYB found it intensely satisfying to whump Agent Tommy who IGYB readily admitted to hating with a passion.

Agent Tommy had deliberately tried to sabotage McGregor’s meteoric rise to the top. Anyone could see that he was just an insecure and jealous jerk because he knew what a pathetic joke he was. He knew the only way he could prevent McGregor from being promoted to take over his position as the second in charge of the team was to damage and interfere with McGregor’s career and damage his reputation every chance he got.

IGYB had read a brilliant fanfic a few months ago, showing what a snake in the grass Agent Tommy truly was. He double-crossed McGregor so that he got to go to Iraq to investigate the murder of a Marine captain instead of the much smarter McGregor. It also highlighted how Forensic Scientist Amy Sutton belittled and mocked McGregor too. Shamefully, Tibbs and Goosey had also brushed him off when he tried to stand up for himself, making weak excuses for Agent Tommy.

The fanfic had been a masterful examination of how individuals who were exceptional talents were often overlooked in organisations and institutions by incompetent people who had control. IGYB had seen it all before – the old boys’ network was alive and well, ignoring people like Agent McGregor when they weren’t even fit to shine his shoes.

Even though it wasn’t the usual type of fanfic IGYB gravitated towards because it was so angsty, it was so well-written. So raw and real that it had struck a nerve, even for the whump addicted reader. You couldn’t stop thinking about the story and wanting it to go on. IGYB had been so impressed, they’d looked to see if the author had written anything else but there was just the lone story posted which was disappointing.

IGYB hadn’t read that fic for a while and decided to find it again and read again – it was that good. If they recalled correctly, it was called With Friends Like These and the whump-lover had put it in their favourite’s file. Yet it wasn’t there. So IGYB searched for it in the Deep Sixer site and couldn’t find it anywhere. What was the author’s pen name again?

Logging into the Deep Sixer fan-site, IGYB went straight to the chat room where members discussed the various fanfics uploaded on their archives or talked about various other sites which were usually multi-fandom. Posting an inquiry IGYB wrote:

I’m trying to find a fanfic that was posted on here approx. 4 months ago about Agent McGregor wanting to be assigned to Iraq to investigate a dead Marine. He made the mistake of listening to Agent Tommy and of course, the jerk gave him crap advice that he shouldn’t volunteer because he’d look too eager, then promptly volunteered himself, just so he could make sure McGregor missed out on the assignment. I’m almost sure it was called With Friends Like These. I saved it to my favourites file, but it’s purged, and I can’t seem to find it in the archive. Can’t remember who wrote it but I’m hoping someone can help me locate it.

TIA

Igotyaback

Almost instantaneously there was a reply from another Deep Sixer saying:

aw, man! loved that story sooooooo much. writer’s name on the tip of my tongue. let me get back to ya @Igotyaback

McGregorRules

Over the next couple of hours, people responded to IGotYaBack’s SOS for help but mostly replies were all just griping about the story disappearing from the site. One of the site moderators confirmed that the account, including McMIT’s only story, had recently been deleted. Lots of Sixers posted, expressing regret that they’d missed out on reading such awesome sounding fanfic.

IGYB was feeling pissed about losing the story because it had been a lot better than average and true to the characters. Not prepared to give up hope completely, because some people took bootlegged copies, even though it was against the site’s Terms & Conditions, IGYB kept their finger’s crossed that someone would offer to share. Just before heading to bed, on the off chance that someone had visited the chat room who could help, IGYB logged back in briefly and sure enough, there were reams of new messages.

Scanning them briefly, IGYB rolled their eyes at the first one.

SpecialAgentInCharge

Have you tried the Wayback Machine yet?

IGYB was tempted to reply to SpecialAgentInCharge with a Duh! Why didn’t I think of that? But they decided that it wasn’t worth the time and effort. Especially since the second of approximately two dozen replies was from IheartMcTibbs saying they had a copy of the fanfic and could send it to Igotyaback if they sent an email addy.

The next eighteen replies were to IheartMcTibbs begging for a copy of the now much hyped and desired story. Firing off a direct message to IheartMcTibbs containing their email addy and many thanks, IGYB read the last few replies amidst much eye-rolling and derogatory language.

Cop.E.Right had written to IheartMcTibbs firmly admonishing them for illegally copying and sharing a story, that for whatever reason the author wanted to be deleted. IheartMcTibbs and several others had fired back with rationalisations that it was just fanfiction, not published literature. No money changed hands, so it was harmless or argued that everyone knew that once you put something out there on the worldwide web there were no takebacks.

IGYB didn’t feel all that strongly about the issue – all that mattered was that a precious copy of McMIT’s brilliant story With Friends Like These, was likely winging its way through cyberspace to land in IGYB’s email account.

~oO0Oo~

Hot4McGregor scowled, reading the thread in the chat room. Why would Thom E. Gemcity post something for the first time in several years, even if it were a short fanfic story and then delete it like that? That was no fair!

Well, IheartMcTibbs was right about one thing, once you put something out there on the internet, it was fair game for every Tom, Dick and Harry. It just so happened that Hot4McGregor had taken a copy of the story too because after reading it when it was first posted, it struck him that there was something too perfect about the story. The characters’ voices were too accurate, and it made Hot4 wonder, so they wrote a computer program to compare the fanfic story to a chapter of each of the Deep Six novels. According to the analysis, there was a 98.04 percent likelihood that the same individual (Thom E. Gemcity) who’d written the two books had also written the fanfic With Friends Like These, by McMIT.

Now as he read through all the comments left by fanfic readers, Hot4McGregor felt angry. The Deep Sixers were loyal to Gemcity and it was an insult to them that he’d removed the story or maybe he’d been forced to delete the story. Pimmy Jalmer immediately sprang to mind as a possible culprit and Hottie decided that it was flat out censorship. Worse than that, it amounted to a breach of the first amendment right of freedom of expression and people’s rights. Hot4McGregor was not going to let that occur.

He opened a fake account in the name Mythic Gemote – an anagram of Thom. E. Gemcity’s. Hot4McGregor posted With Friends Like These on the Deep Six site and used the tag formerly McMIT in the profile for Mythic Gemote.

He was looking forward to taking that pompous Cop.E.Right down a peg or two. Hot4McGregor posted to the chat room:

Good news McSixers! It seems that McMIT didn’t delete the story, they just changed their pen name to Mythic Gemote. The amazing fanfic With Friends Like These is back! Awesome read!!

Gemcity would probably never check therefore never discover that it had been reposted but just to be safe, Hot4McGregor was going to post it to some other sites too. The story was too good to be deleted and if anyone should know that you couldn’t just expunge something after you posted it on the world wide web, it should be Gemcity. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a neophyte!

One day Gemcity would thank Hot4McGregor for preserving his work. It would be like letting Van Gogh burn his Sunflowers painting or Ian Fleming ripping up the manuscript for Casino Royale.

It was sacrilege!

~oO0Oo~

McGee heaved a sigh of relief. It was finally over. Four excruciatingly long months of being banished from field agent to analyst down in Cyber Crimes, having to deal with artificial lighting, hanging out with a bunch of computer geeks and lying to his friends. And lying to Gibbs!

Of course, as bad as it was to have to lie to Gibbs, and it was unbelievably bad, lying to Abby had been even worse. Particularly when she had a specific rule about not lying to her, plus she knew how to kill without leaving a trace. That was plenty of incentive to be scrupulously honest with her…in normal circumstances.

However, there hadn’t been anything normal about these last four months. It had also taken place immediately following the death of Jenny Shepard and anything that disturbed Abby Sciuto’s sense of equilibrium, for example, the death of a colleague, the breakup of the MCRT and two of the team being sent away from DC, affected her dramatically. Right now, she was deliriously happy with the prospect of Gibbs successful getting McGee returned to his team and Ziva David in transit back from Israel. So, she was cutting McGee some slack. But Tim was not sanguine that would remain the case for long.

He expected her to kick his butt for lying, even though he had no choice. After all, she’d given DiNozzo a hard time over his undercover mission on the La Grenouille case, even though he’d been under orders by Director Shepard not to tell anyone. A voice in his head said Abby hadn’t been the only one to make Tony feel guilty. The whole team had taken him to task, even though it wasn’t his fault. So was this karma, he wondered as he anticipated her impending wrath.

It wasn’t the only thing that had happened during the mole hunt that had forced him to view things from a different perspective – DiNozzo’s perspective. Ironic since he’d been very pissed off with his former teammate. But as Abby came down to Cybercrimes to escort him up to the MCRT bullpen for his “official” return to his desk, and she linked arms with him, practically leaping out of her skin with joy, he couldn’t help contrasting it with her demeanour when he’d eaten lunch with her a few days ago.

She’d alternated between being a whiny emotional mess who was on the brink of a psychotic break, leaking copious amounts of mascaraed tears all over his blue button-down shirt. Then in the blink of an eye, turn into a truculent and childish bully. She’d stomped around, demanding that Gibbs must fix the situation immediately and being pissed off that it was taking so long.

She had a wall down in her lab dedicated to keeping track of how long it had been since the team had been disbanded and cast to the four winds as she so dramatically expressed it. Abby had photos of the three of them – Ziva, Tony and himself. Plus, she had a collection of each of the postcards DiNozzo had sent her from various ports in the Pacific, from his assignment aboard the USS Ronald Reagan and now the Seahawk.

As the only one of Abby’s pseudo siblings still in DC, somehow it had fallen on Tim’s shoulders to have to deal with the forensic scientist’s tears and tantrums. That consisted of alternately cheering her up, agreeing about how mean and horrible Vance was to break up their little family and trying desperately to persuade her not to go and give him a piece of her mind. All the while, knowing that Gibbs could demand as much as he liked that the team be reformed again but until the mole was identified, no one was coming home again.

Tim realised in hindsight that the previous time Abby’s precious little universe had been shaken up so badly had been after Gibbs had been blown up by a bomb and retired to Mexico. He realised that the last time, it had probably been DiNozzo’s responsibility to try to keep her from going off the rails. He’d figured that as much as she freaked out with no Tony or Ziva at the office, when Gibbs was in a different country, she’d been a total whack-job. The Boss was her sun, moon and stars. He was her whole universe and he seemed to remember DiNozzo looking besieged when he returned from his frequent visits to the lab.

At the time, Tim had just assumed that he was out of his depth as the team lead. He never gave any thought to the possibility that he was being sucked dry by an emotional leech. It made him feel ashamed that he hadn’t been more supportive at the time – after all, he knew how needy Abby could be.

That and the fact that they’d both had to lie to the Boss and the team on the direct orders of directors had made him feel some empathy for DiNozzo. That said, he hoped that Vance would make good on his promise to reward McGee’s efforts to decrypt PO Vargo’s computer. He might have failed to crack the code, but he’d figured out an alternative way to find out what was on the file.

Without his expertise, they would never have managed to learn that Vargo had stolen Domino. It would have been an absolute catastrophe for everyone if the United States battle plan for an attack in the Middle East (should Israel ever get attacked) have fallen into the wrong hands. Surely, he’d earned the senior field agent role back again after that. What had DiNozzo contributed, besides whining and acting like a little girl about ‘how dangerous it was’ to be accessing information from the Pentagon’s servers via the secure Naval communications room aboard the USS Seahawk.

Tim thought back to that schizoid conversation with DiNozzo; it had made his brain feel like it was about to explode! Tony had been pretending that he was talking to his father and brother. He’d been resistant, not wanting to do what Tim requested, paranoid about the legality of hacking, but luckily, Tim suggested that Gibbs join the call. He knew Gibbs would be able to exert a subtle or perhaps not so subtle pressure on Tony since DiNozzo was psychologically hardwired to please Gibbs.

The presence of their former boss during their video call also sent a subliminal message that what they wanted to him to do had official sanction since Gibbs was a law unto himself at NCIS. Plus, having read his postcards to Abbs, McGee knew DiNozzo was desperate to come home. With Gibbs there, he knew Tony well enough to predict that he’d be hoping that if he did what they told him, Gibbs would be more inclined to try to get him back home. And usually, what Gibbs wanted, Gibbs got!

Not that he was so sure if Gibbs did want him back. He thought the boss was still pretty pissed off with Tony. But all that really mattered was what DiNozzo believed and that he worshipped the ground that Gibb walked upon. It was simply smart to use that to get what they needed.

Even so, with everything riding on him doing as he was told, Tony had been squeamish about what had been a simple task, telling him, “I don’t like the cut of your jib, McGee. This sounds suspiciously like illegal activity and …well…a man of my delicate disposition is not suited to that kind of thing.”

McGee knew his weak points, he was a critic of McGee’s hacking habits, but Tim also knew how to get under DiNozzo’s skin too. He’d silenced him with an insult guaranteed to shut him up. He taunted him with, “Don’t be such a girl, alright?”

It worked of course, just as he’d know it would. DiNozzo would do practically anything not to appear weak, especially in front of Gibbs. Still, even as he grudgingly cooperated, entering in the computer the code Tim relayed, Tony had to be all dramatic and act like a prima donna. Like it was such a big deal doing a bit of hacking. DiNozzo was looking around theatrically before leaning into the video camera and whispering, “Is this hacking McGee? Are we hacking?”

He’d responded with an immediate and categorical denial, “It’s not hacking.”

Typical of Tony, he couldn’t just let it go at that. No…he had to point out what Tim’s grandmother, Penny would call stating the bleeding obvious. “But it is illegal, right? Don’t answer that. I know it’s illegal. I’m having fun.”

McGee wasn’t entirely sure if DiNozzo was being sarcastic or not about having fun. Then again, maybe the former SFA was being serious. Tim was sure it must be mind-numbingly boring being an agent afloat. God forbid he ever was forced to spend time at sea – if he’d wanted to do that, he would have joined the navy as his father and grandfather had.

Not that he’d cared about Tony being bored to death, to be honest. He’d been utterly focused on getting the information that he’d been after for the last four months and he achieved his goal. He wasn’t even remorseful about the fact that he’d lied to his ex-teammate about the hacking either. Although in fairness, for a master hacker like himself, what they’d done didn’t meet his definition of hacking.

They had the code, password and authorisation key, even though it may be technically qualified as hacking under US law. But the law was an ass sometimes. What it was, was like taking candy from a baby.

Plus, he hadn’t been completely dishonest in their video call, either. When he told DiNozzo, “Well, I never thought I would say it and truly mean it, but it’s good to see you again, Tony,” he totally meant it.

Of course, the reason he was pleased to see him was mostly with Tony aboard the Seahawk, it meant they could finally gain access to the information that Vargo had copied for the NCIS mole. Although he was quite sure that DiNozzo was too superficial to realise that he’d been happy to see him for purely practical reasons. The dumb jock was undoubtedly preening in the belief that his Probie was floundering without him there, when in fact he was thriving and didn’t want him to return, despite Abby’s histrionics.

Tim remembered Gibbs asking if he missed working with DiNozzo which had been super awkward. It started with the boss wanting to know if he liked working down in Cybercrimes, his voice expressing how impossible Gibbs found such a scenario to be. McGee knew what he was asking though.

He’d responded as he knew he was supposed to. “Boss, I’m sorry. He made it clear I was not to discuss this with anybody.”

Gibbs stared, “Wouldn’t have stopped you in the past.”

McGee had positively wilted under the condemnation and disapproval. Like DiNozzo, he desperately craved Gibbs esteem and respect

He’d tried to explain, “It was different then. We were a team. I would give this up in a heartbeat to be working with you and Ziva again”.

Gibbs had zeroed in on his lapse straight away, “And DiNozzo?” he pressed.

Tim without realising how his nonverbal cues had given away his true feelings, had looked down, giving a half-hearted shrug. “Yeah, him too.”

And that conversation had been before he’d spent ten long minutes on a video call with a lunatic of a former colleague, raving on about Tim stealing his car, calling him his little brother and mumbling nonsense about feeding chickens. He’d called Gibbs, Pa for heaven’s sake and told him that Tim didn’t know how to change gears in his car. It was sheer craziness and reminded him of the frenetic nature of DiNozzo. He honestly had no desire to put up with a man who had never grown up.

As Michele Lee boxed up her stuff and waited for the elevator to open, spilling Ziva out of the elevator and back into the bullpen to Gibbs, Abby and himself waiting to greet her, he couldn’t help hoping that DiNozzo didn’t return.

With him gone, it was finally Tim’s chance to be senior field agent – he’d earnt it.

Chapter 8

About the same time as Ziva had her reunion with Abby, Gibbs and McGee, Tony was running around the ship on his daily bid to keep his lungs working at optimum efficiency. Well, optimum efficiency for someone who had lungs that were significantly damaged by a bout of Y-Pestis and double pneumonia three years ago. Plus, he had been lectured at ad infinitum by Brad Pitt (his doctor not the actor) about the importance of fitness in maintaining his immune system which had also been compromised by the plague.

Most days when he exercised, he preferred to run topside or at least run along the rabbit warren of multi-deck corridors when the weather was bad rather than go to the gym and run on the treadmill, although he would if he had to. However, going to the gym was not his favoured option, apart from the distinct feeling that he was a civilian, an outsider and worse a cop with the implication he was a snitch. From a purely practical standpoint, Tony tried to avoid places where lots of people congregated, because, for him, even the rhinovirus (aka common cold) had the potential to turn into a potentially deadly chest infection.

Last year when he’d dived into the Potomac River in November to save a civilian and Gibbs, trapped in a submerged car, his mild cold had rapidly progressed to what had been a minor case of bacteriological pneumonia. Luckily, Brad had been all over it, culturing his sputum (euwww) at the first signs of trouble. Even so, it had scared the shit out of him with the difficulty in breathing and the time taken to recover. Out here at sea, he wasn’t so sanguine about the docs being able to deal with any close calls as effectively. Which was why he’d become rather obsessive about his fitness.

The fact that exercising relieved his boredom too and helped while awhile the time was a bonus in his opinion. Always one to work smarter, it also proved to be an effective way of keeping an eye on his beat. Tony made sure to vary his route constantly and the times he exercised, making it hard for anyone who was planning to break regs to know when they might run into him – literally.

There would be no sword fighting on his watch either; he made sure he got to know even the most obscure places aboard the ship and turned up there unexpectedly.

The only disadvantage of running was that it gave Tony way too much time to think. In the past that had been a good thing. Tony had always been a theorizer – albeit one best described as an out-of-the-box thinker. So, it was usually an asset when he was solving a crime, because of his uncanny ability to take a bunch of disparate facts and see patterns and make connections where others couldn’t. Aboard ship though…his ability was not so much of an advantage. More of a curse!

The truth was that most of his time was spent busting young adults for ‘ extremely serious stuff’ like drinking booze and gambling, with the occasional minor assault thrown in (usually alcohol-related), fraternisation or thankfully, rarely, a sexual assault which he’d come down on like a ton of bricks. Tony never wanted people to get killed, raped or other serious crimes to occur but the truth was there was so much human depravity in the world and it happened often enough for there to be a need for people with his investigative skills. Just not on board the navy ship.

He wasn’t cocky about his professional skills, but he felt like it was a waste for him to be hanging about here as a glorified nanny. Especially when he could be making a much more meaningful contribution and solving serious and violent crimes as opposed to busting pimply-faced sailors and Marines for what was mostly drinking and gambling.

Yeah, so okay…he was bored out of his skull. And there were only so many books he could read, movies he could watch and music he could listen to before he felt he was going stark raving mad. So, not surprisingly, when he ran, his brain instead of anything other than penny ante investigations such as minor thefts and the odd threat assessment, reviewed more mundane matters. Usually how much of a mess he’d made of his life, his culpability in Jenny’s death, his guilt over being in so damned close to Paula Cassidy and Caitlin Todd and not being able to save them yet surviving himself. And if that wasn’t enough, his remorse for hurting Jeanne Benoit by falling deeply in love with her while undercover continued to haunt him. He hurt her; there was no taking that back and it was killing him living with it.

Today, three days after he’d received a video call from Timothy McGee – the first one since he’d been assigned as an agent afloat, it was inevitable that his thoughts would turn to that conversation. He couldn’t help but analyse it. Probably overanalyse it but he couldn’t seem to help himself and when he did, it was not a comfortable or reassuring outcome.

Frankly, Tony was ashamed that the mere contact with Tim and Gibbs, (yeah, especially Gibbs) after being sent to Coventry for four long months had been enough incentive for him to agree to break federal laws when he’d hack the Pentagon when requested. What he’d done was no doubt, highly illegal and he’d never been the type of cop who felt they were above the law. Yet as he ran, feeling the burn in his calf and quad muscles as he traversed the steel rungs of the ladder leading to upper and lower decks, DiNozzo admitted he’d folded like a cheap house of cards.

He’d broken the law!

Without even know why he was doing it!

Except even if he didn’t know what McGee was working on (and Gibbs too, since he was obviously in the know) Tony had done it because they’d told him to. They didn’t even bother asking him to hack (and despite Tim lying to him) Tony knew that the legal definition of computer hacking was broadly defined as, the intentional accessing of a computer without authorisation or exceeding authorised access. What he’d done had certainly fit that definition. They’d asked, or more accurately, Tim had simply told him to do it, confident that he would roll over and break the law when told to. And damn it, that was exactly what he’d done.

Oh, despite the shame he felt, Tony had lots of time on his run to figure out why he’d CHOSEN to break the law. He was such a pathetically weak individual that after a few short months with no contact with anyone on his former team, aside from emails (daily) from Abby and Jimmy (sometimes), he’d craved social interaction so badly that he’d forgotten his principles. He was a wretched piece of scum and he felt sickened by his actions.

Tony also knew that it wasn’t just his craving for social contact that had motivated him either. He hated being here even if he was honest enough to admit that his dereliction in getting Jenny killed had earnt him the punishment of agent afloat. Rationally he knew and accepted it was his penance. Yet his boredom, his fear of catching something infectious, his sense of claustrophobia, of never dropping his guard, never having the privacy of being able to drop his masks, to play his piano or guitar and maintain his equilibrium was fighting for self-preservation.

There was also the physical challenge he’d set for himself after he’d confiscated a bottle of booze of an ensign one night. Instead of throwing out the half-drunk bottle of rum, he’d held onto to test himself to see if he was able to resist the temptation to drink to forget what a monumental mess he’d made of his life.

At least that’s what he told himself. That it was a physical reminder that he never wanted to become like his father – a drunk and an alcoholic who took the easy way out when his life got tough – screw his responsibilities or anyone he happened to hurt along the way.

DiNozzo told himself that it was a talisman, that its mere presence was enough to keep him on the straight and narrow – along with the photo he’d taken of Ziva, poolside in a bikini reading when they were in LA on the fateful mission where Jenny had died. Personnel seeing the photo should they have reason to come to his cabin cum office would probably assume that Officer David was his girlfriend, but the truth was far more complex. He’d brought along that particular photo to remind himself that even a simple mission to attend a funeral could turn FUBAR in the blink of an eye. To tell himself he needed to have his guard up constantly, lest someone got hurt on his watch.

As Tony reached the top deck of the aircraft carrier, he took a deep breath of the clean Pacific Ocean air, he concluded that he needed to make some hard decisions about his future. He needed to think long and hard about the kind of man that he was and the type of agent he wanted to be, should he decide to keep working in law enforcement. First off, he vowed to stick out the year-long penance because he deserved it. He’d figure out where he fit in at NCIS, indeed if he fit there at all anymore. It could be time for him to dust off that CV of his and maybe try the west coast for a change.

Mind you, he knew that there wasn’t much of a chance of him being reassigned back onto Gibbs team. Abby had sent him an incoherent ecstatic email telling him that Gibbs had organised for Ziva to return from Mossad and McGee had already been reassigned from Cyber Crimes. Since Ziva worked for a foreign agency, the hoops necessary to jump through would be massive to get her back and yet her return was imminent. Reassigning a humble agent afloat would be a cinch by comparison, so it was clear that he wasn’t going back to DC until his year-long assignment was up.

And what sort of a fool was he that he’d sold his soul to the devil when McGee had come a-knocking, wanting a favour (an illegal favour). He’d willing whored himself and all for the promise, even if it was implicit, that Gibbs would get him back onto the MCRT again. More fool him! It served him right for breaking the law!

Not only did he have no idea what case had prompted them to call him, but they didn’t even have the decency to let him know that everything had worked out okay. He presumed it did because McGee had been rewarded with his old job again on Gibbs team. Stopping midstride, he wondered, was Tim returning as a junior field agent or had he and Director Vance’s eyes been firmly set on the position of the senior field agent. After all, McGee had been ambitious from day one.

On their second case, after the probie joined the team in Tony fourth year at NCIS, he’d unbelievably told Tony not to worry, he wasn’t after his job. It had been an odd thing for a green rookie to say to a superior with over nine years of experience under his belt. Why the hell would he even be thinking that?

On the other hand, DiNozzo had studied content analysis as a cop and he knew that when people were placed under stress, they often revealed truths that they wished to conceal. A suspect during an interview might slip and say they never killed anyone when asked about a missing person. A politician might if forced to apologise, state that they regretted if their actions had ’caused offence,’ without acknowledging being at fault. In effect, what they were doing was shifting the blame onto the victim as they didn’t believe they’d done anything wrong. They were only going through the motions of appearing to apologise because they’d been caught out and received bad publicity

So, if McGee had somehow managed to solve a case and earn brownie points with the new director, he shouldn’t be surprised if he’d gone after a promotion. He remembered Tim’s accusations about Tony trying to sabotage his career when he’d been sent to Iraq with Nikki Jardine to investigate instead of McGee. He’d spewed a lot of crap about Tony being jealous of him – projection possibly?

Anyway, it was time to resign himself to not going home – at least for another eight months. Sure, he could quit but he wouldn’t give Vance the satisfaction of chasing him out. He’d use the rest of his deployment to study. Maybe his friend at the FBI, a former NCIS agent, Vivian Blackadder could recommend some courses that might be helpful for him if he decided to make the leap to the FBI. He might as well use his time productively and stop with the pity party. It was weak and ugly.

He could do this; he didn’t need people. He could look after himself, he’d been doing that a long time.

Stopping in mid-stride, he felt as if a bucket of ice water had just been tipped all over him. Wasn’t that what Gibbs had told him three days ago? Pretty sure it was. After all the functional mute only spared him a modest thirteen words in the whole call. But the phrase, ‘take care of yourself’ seemed somehow deliberate – significant.

Truthfully, Gibbs was never one to mince his words. He said exactly what he meant…no more no less. If fact, now that DiNozzo thought about it, the well-known word-miser had actually prefaced his remark with an extraneous word.

He’d said. “DiNozzo.”

Tony had responded with a snappy, “Pa?” Okay, not the most intelligent of rejoinders but he’d been caught off guard by the whole conversation and pretending to be talking to family to hide the fact that he was doing something so fucking stupid.

Then he’d told the agent afloat,” Take care of yourself.”

He’d sappily replied, “Miss you too, Dad.”

He’d been pretending to be talking to his father and brother to allay suspicion and he’d used the situation to tell Gibbs what he could never say to him in real life.

Of course, Gibbs hadn’t reciprocated but for a couple of days, he’d felt all warm and fuzzy, thinking that Gibbs cared about him, even though he hadn’t heard from him the whole four months he was gone. At the time he thought his words had been a tacit promise to get him home, but he knew now that it wasn’t going to fly.

As he resumed his run, his synapses continued to fire with the rapidity of a machine gun, he wondered how he’d gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. Years ago, he was fluent in Gibbs-speak, able to interpret every grunt, every nuanced twitch of an eyebrow but there’d had been a lot of water under the bridge since then. Somewhere along the way, their equal partnership had devolved into an alpha boss, subservient servant/whipping boy. Even before Tony had ‘lied to him’ about La Grenouille and let Director Shepard die in a hail of bullets it had changed for the worse.

So now he was obsessing, trying to figure out what Gibbs had really been trying to tell him. He started going over what had proceeded the comment. Oh yeah, McGee, the MIT genius had asked him the completely asinine question, “Are you alone?”

That had prompted his infuriated reaction as he contemplated all the sailors and Marines in the bustling ship-to-shore com room all phoning home too. “Oh yeah. Just me and five thousand of my closest friends. I AM NEVER ALONE.” Tony leaned forward to whisper, “I really need to come home, boss.”

And Gibbs had said, “Workin’ on it.”

Okay, what else besides the palaver over his little brother driving the car without permission and Tony pretending to be bitching about him to their father – a ruse to cover up the fact he was talking to colleagues about hacking into the Pentagon.

Yeah, there’d been that cute little lie about it not being hacking and then their lack of denial about it being highly illegal. Then Tim had instructed him to email the file to him. Then he’d thanked him.

What else? Told him to look after himself, which was nice of him to be so concerned after asking him to risk his career and possible incarceration to do something that was probably important. But based on other instances during McGee’s time on their team, could most likely have been obtained via legal avenues (OMG what a stupid sap he’d been). Then Tim had made a flippant remark about not falling overboard, which in Tony’s current frame of mind, he wasn’t sure if that had been intended as a joke or not.

And yeah… that sounded crazy and paranoid, but it wasn’t. McGee even before the whole crap about Iraq could be pretty passive-aggressive, saying some pretty nasty shit and if called on it, he always claimed he was just making a joke. So, it wasn’t as outlandish as it sounded.

And Tony had responded how?

Oh yeah, he remembered, he said, “More likely to jump.”

It was at that point that Gibbs had told him to take care of himself.

Had it been because of him saying he couldn’t get him off the ship and he was concerned about him? That was unlikely though, considering his outstanding success in having a foreign operative returned not just to the team but the country.

No, more likely, it been a verbal kick up the butt, somewhat akin to telling him to get a grip and stop complaining? He could understand Gibbs doing that because it wouldn’t have been the first time although it was usually delivered by a stinging head slap.

But if he was completely honest with himself, he feared that what his former boss and mentor meant to say was, ‘you need to take care of yourself because I either can’t, or I won’t help you.

~oO0Oo~

McGee was fuming as he sat down after dinner to write in his journal in what had very recently become his nightly ritual. Tonight, he could practically feel the steam coming out of his ears and was desperate for a cathartic release putting it down in his journal. He thought of his journaling in terms of being a precursor for him getting back into writing his third Deep Six novel. He was still trying to decide on a narrative for this book but since he favoured a free form approach to writing, that didn’t bother him, not really – he knew it would come together as he got into writing it. So far, his journal was mainly a loose collection of thoughts and diary entries of what happened to him during the day. Oh, and anecdotes and funny or weird things that might be interesting.

He used to write on his antique typewriter because it made him feel like a real writer. That was before after his manuscript had been stolen by nicking his typewriter ribbon out of the trash, for heaven’s sake and two people who’d kinda-sorta been the inspiration for two characters in his book were killed by a whack job fan. Plus, the whack-job almost killed Amy Sutton… um, Aby Sciuto.

That was when he’d switched to a laptop with appropriate security, naturally. Still, the keyboard of a computer simply didn’t have the same romance as a typewriter. Who only knew who’d used Tim’s old Remington typewriter in the past? A Poet Laureate, a journalist’s Pulitzer investigative article, a novelist’s Booker prize-winning seminal work. It could even have been even a Nobel Prize winner scientist typing up their world-changing mathematical proofs.

Perchance that little flight of fantasy was altogether too fanciful, someone might have composed a love letter to their sweetheart, a eulogy for a great patriot or a parent or spouse sending a letter to a brave war hero. A laptop, much as he worshipped technology, seemed so prosaic, so dull by comparison.

And yet a computer had more security features, particularly his! Although nothing was foolproof. Still, he’d decided that it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to his new book. Sadly, he’d made a couple of abortive attempts to get started but nothing had gelled yet. Probably just a matter of persistence and he had a lot of that, he told himself as he wrote in his journal each night.

He was currently sitting at his desk, detailing the day’s events, his feelings, thoughts and impressions in his diary cum journal. He looked across at Zandrine in mild irritation. She was sitting on the cool sofa she’d bought for the den, reading his first Deep Six novel on her Kindle. Sometimes he wished that Sandrine would give him more space – she seemed to feel that this was a communal area, probably because he’d caved to her wishes and let her decorate it. Not that he didn’t appreciate her efforts because he understood she wanted to make this new apartment “their” home but when Tim wrote, he liked, NO he needed solitude.

Sure, she was being quiet as a mouse (which he appreciated greatly) but the truth was that he was still aware of her presence, even her breathing. It was preventing him from getting himself in the right headspace to write again. He needed to be in what he liked to call, ‘in the zone’. Once he was there, then once there the words just flowed out of him like a gentle river. It was an awesome feeling – even better than being crowned the Supreme Elf Lord, but the paradox was that the more you tried to reach that place, the more impossible it seemed to be able to get there.

He smirked smuttily. Going by what he’d read in an article in Redbook (the preeminent magazine for urban women) reaching ‘the zone’ was a bit like women who had difficultly reaching climax. And just like some females claimed to fake it for their partner’s ego, he’d found himself faking it – writing, even though he wasn’t ‘in the zone’ and while he knew he could write grammatically sound prose, it lacked the verve, style and creativity of being in the right headspace produced.

Knowing that he would have to talk to his partner about his need for alone time, he sighed. He was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to get it and would take it as a sign of rejection. Still, that was a conversation for another night. Especially when she wasn’t reading his first published novel. Some said out of the two, it was far superior to the second one and he supposed that was true. Still, there was a damned good reason why that was the case. The second novel had to be reworked pretty savagely after that wingnut barista where he sometimes hung out had developed a weird fixation on his book. It had completely messed with his freeform writing style.

All because Landon Grey had decided that life need to imitate art and he’d killed two of the individuals who he’d very loosely based his characters on. Which was why, having decided to return to writing the third book, he was determined for it to be even better than his first one. Which made sense, he should be able to write a superior novel this time around; he was a more experienced writer plus he had more life experience. For one thing, he was in a committed relationship and he’d also spent four months down in Cyber Crimes with the analysts who saw him as their boss. A lot more characters and material to draw upon.

As he focused conscientiously on his journaling, he thought about his recent experiences and he wondered why that hadn’t translated to Gibbs treating him with more respect. He’d refused to appoint him as the SFA of the team, probably because Abby wasn’t let up the pressure, constantly nagging him about getting Tony back on the team, too. She’d announced to Tim and Ziva that she’d given Gibbs a deadline of twelve days, revising it to 14 days to get the skirt-chaser ex-cop back on the team. Seriously, if anyone else had given the Boss an order like that, it was likely that they’d end up with their innards liquified from the heat of a Gibbs’ explosion; but Abby was different.

As she liked to remind everyone (rub it in their faces), she was Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ favourite.

Feeling his anger begin to mount, he picked up his pen and began to write:

‘If you adhered to Amy’s analogy of the team as a family, then I reckoned she’s the spoilt princess who has her father-figure, aka L. J. Tibbs wrapped around her little finger. All she needs to do is to pout, stamp her dainty foot a few dozen times and shed some crocodile tears and the bad-assed silver-haired Marine seemed to turn into mush, rushing to give her what she wanted.

Okay, maybe I’m projecting a bit because that was how it was between the two of us when we were dating, but still, the bottom line was that thanks to Amy’s inability to deal with any sort of change she’s doomed me to remain junior agent on the MCRT by making Tibbs bring Tommy back. Damn her!

It seemed that either Levi Nance had lied when he told me that after my stint undercover in Cyber Crimes, I’d get to return to the MCRT again with a promotion or he’d grossly underestimated L. J. Tibbs ability to get his own way on the issue. I’m not sure which scenario is the truth and I don’t really care; maybe both or neither. The bottom line is that second rate Agent Tommy is back on the team as of right now and worse, back as the senior field agent again.

It makes me so damned furious; I feel like I want to punch someone in the face at this moment! A few short days ago it was me who saved the world. I caught the mole and I was being feted and praised by both Tibbs and Nance.

Then it all turned to shit when we’d caught a case where there was a tie-in with a Sailor aboard the USS Seahawk. That necessitated the MCRT having to liaison with Agent Tommy who was gadding about in the idyllic Caribbean port of Cartagena, investigating the death of Lieutenant Evans and his wife. Unfathomably, Director Nance decided to send Tibbs and Officer Lisa to meet up with him.

Hah – pretty apparent that Levi Nance didn’t have much faith in Tommy’s competence. But still, it was cold comfort to be stuck in the office yet again.

It was Iraq all over again. I missed out on going overseas because I am The Computer Expert on the team. Well, how the hell am I supposed to get more field experience when they won’t let me go anywhere.

No! On second thoughts, this situation was a lot worse than the Iraq debacle. At least then, Lisa AND the Boss had been back at the office doing the unsexy drudge work too. This time, Tibbs and Lisa both got to fly off to an exotic locale and go onboard the Seahawk to find the killer.

I was stuck behind a computer back at the office and making it worse, Tibbs knew how desperate I was to go on an overseas investigation, but he took the liaison, Officer Lisa, over me anyway. He could have told Lisa to stay behind and do the drudge work.

After all, she’d just been in Morocco undercover as a night club singer a couple of days ago, while I’ve been stuck in a boring windowless basement in DC for the last four months saving the world. Talk about a lack of gratitude!

Then to add insult to injury, after Amy Sutton and I find the murderer (using a brilliant logic bomb) Tibbs gives the collar to the sophomoric Agent Tommy, telling him to escort HIS prisoner back to DC. I doubt very much that Director Nance had approved of that action or felt it was necessary.

Nope, it was a stunt, pure and simple to get him off the ship so Amy would stop hassling her silver fox. Of course, you didn’t need to be a genius to have predicted what would happen next, when Agent Tommy was back on DC soil. It became an epic alpha dog pissing contest, Tibbs versus Nance, A battle of the Titans, a battle that the Boss ultimately won, and Nance ceded ground.

Of course, Nance’s surrender also meant that McGregor lost out too. AGAIN!

IT WASN’T FAIR!!!!!!!!!’

~oO0Oo~

“Hey, Sweetie.”

Tim looked up, to find that Sandrine had slipped out of the den and made them a cup of cocoa. Huh! He’d entered ‘The Zone’ and hadn’t even realised it!

He smiled, appreciating the domesticity of living with her. As he sipped his cocoa, he realised that as peeved as he was over failing to get promoted as promised…as he’d earned, he had something that DiNozzo didn’t have and probably never would. He had a loving and joyful relationship to come home to each night with a pretty lady who cared about him. Tony didn’t have anyone and never would because he was way too selfish and self-centred to think of anyone besides himself.

If he cared so much about the team as he professed, then he should realise that Tim was a superior agent to himself (due to his technical abilities and intelligence which made him a better investigator) and he’d get out of his way and let him be the senior field agent. But Tony lacked the insight to be able to see that he was a mediocre federal agent and should step aside for McGee’s career.

Tim finished up his warm drink and dutifully washed his mug before putting in the dishwasher since Sandrine was a bit of a martinet when it came to cleaning up after yourself. Drying his hands, he noted that along with the comforting milky drink and the revelation about how fortunate he was, his venting in his journal had helped him feel a heap calmer.

Now the prospect of sex with Sandrine or even just cuddling if she wasn’t in the mood, made him feel even mellower. Life was good!

McGee slipped in beside his girlfriend who was wearing the expensive emerald green peignoir, which he’d bought her for their one-month anniversary. That meant he was getting lucky tonight.

As he felt himself getting aroused, Tim realised that he couldn’t hide his relationship from Gibbs and the others for much longer. With him back on the MCRT and DiNosy having returned from the USS Seahawk, he’d need to introduce the team to Sandrine before they found out about her.

He’d kind of like to keep their relationship a secret because he didn’t want to cheapen what they had with all the inevitable smutty jokes and innuendos, but Tony would sniff out that he was concealing something right away. Plus, Ziva and Abby would only be a step or two behind and not give up until they forced the truth out of him. He could resist DiNozzo but somehow not Abbs or Ziva.

He wasn’t looking forward to having his girlfriend meet the team. He guaranteed that DiNozzo would hit on her. Ziva would interrogate her just as Sarah had done and like his sister, she would think she wasn’t tough enough, she’d say she was too submissive.

And Abby would…well, she would be like Penny, thinking she was too vanilla and boring. Plus, Sandrine already seemed jealous of Abby but that was probably because she was only part-way through Deep Six. Still, it was going to be all kinds of awkward to introduce his former girlfriend who he worked with to his current girlfriend, who he lived with.

Could it be any worse than introducing her to his family though? That hadn’t exactly been a resounding success. His mom liked her okay but kept sending him pictures of engagement rings which wasn’t exactly subtle. Speaking of subtle, Sarah kept trying to set him up with friends who she described as strong, smart and intellectual. Yeah, real artful, Sis!

Penny didn’t do subtle though and he wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad thing. She just told him not to mistaken lust and a strong healthy sex drive with romantic feelings; that she’d told Tim’s father the same thing about his mother, but the fool hadn’t listened and that had worked out so well. She said there was absolutely nothing wrong in sex, loads of sex between consenting adults but to make sure he always used a condom and checked that it was intact before he did the deed because some people were dumb and shouldn’t be permitted to sully the McGee gene pool. Yeah, not subtle at all!

The Admiral just ignored Sandrine but to be fair, he pretty much ignored Tim most of the time since he considered Tim’s failure to enter the navy to be a personal slight against him. To be honest, he’d spent most of his marriage ignoring his wife too, except when she did or said something that invoked his ire. Sarah was the only one who was graced with his undivided and adoring attention.

As his lover took his semi-hard member in her hand, he decided that worrying about introducing her to his team could wait until tomorrow. He had much more important things to think about right now.

Endnotes:

https://definitions.uslegal.com/c/computer-hacking/

Chapter 9

Tim finally informed the team he’d found someone who he was in a committed relationship with, and it had gone about as well as he’d expected. Abby and Sandrine were like a couple of cats circling each other and eyeing off a tasty piece of prey, daring each other to try and seize it to see who would give in first and make a move. One thing was clear though, they HATED each other!

Of course, Abby had gotten off on the wrong foot by calling his girlfriend Sandy. Sandrine hated the nickname with a passion. Tim probably should have warned his ex about it.

Ziva was at least polite he supposed, but the fact that Sandrine was girly wasn’t a point in her favour. Nor did she make a great impression when she turned green and ran off to be sick when Ziva started describing her collection of lovely knives (and not the kitchen variety) and moved onto where she hid them on her person. Frankly, Tim was feeling a little ill himself, but he knew Ziva had been testing Sandrine. He wasn’t sure if she managed a passing grade.

Gibbs had been suitably uninterested aside from telling McGee that he better not play any grab-ass with Sandrine in the bullpen, or anywhere else at work. Then he’d given him his gimlet eye and said that when they were on call, he’d better arrive at the bullpen within 20 minutes if called in, even if it meant a case of coitus interruptus. Failure to do so would result in his boot getting acquainted with Tim’s butt. Although Sandrine had looked quite scandalised, and then furious, McGee thought his reaction was pretty much what he expected. If it didn’t affect him doing his job, Gibbs’ wouldn’t care that he was living with Sandrine and happy as a pig in mud. Well, he was still mad about his promotion or the lack of it!

It was Tony who surprised him, to be honest. He expected him to be all over Sandrine, trying to charm her and embarrass him with stories about poison ivy and falling into Rock Creek looking for evidence amongst many others. And yet, he’d been polite but distant, watching but saying little. Improbably, he’d been the one to distract Abby and Ziva when their toying with Sandrine got a little too vicious, even for them. He’d even told both ladies to play nice and McGee wondered if he was pranking them.

Oddly, Sandrine had been quite rude to DiNozzo and that had surprised McGee and made him wonder what was going on between them. Perhaps she’d expected from reading about Agent Tommy in Deep Six, as a skirt- chaser, that Tony would hit on her and been insulted that he hadn’t. Maybe she thought that meant she was ugly which was not true obviously, but females weren’t always the most logical creatures – which was why he subscribed and read Redbook. It gave him insight into the female mystique.

Of course, Ducky had been gracious and welcoming, and McGee got some idea of what he must have been like with the ladies. He reckoned that he would have been quite the lady killer in his day. And Jimmy Palmer had been his usual boy next door polite, tripping over his feet, physically and verbally but Sandrine had found him adorable and that thought Ducky was gallant.

All in all, it could have been a whole lot worse. Abby and Sandrine could have killed each other he figured, so Tim decided to count his blessings.

Maybe they could have a dinner party, invite the team over to their new apartment. Sandrine could get to know people a bit better because these were the people McGee spent a lot of hours with. Gibbs probably wouldn’t attend, although he’d come to Ziva’s dinner when she’d first joined the team. But even if the boss didn’t come, no doubt the rest of the team would, particularly Tony since he hadn’t been invited to Ziva’s.

Tim had no intention of excluding Tony this time around. To be honest, he wanted Tony to come so he could see just how blissfully happy he was with Sandrine. Maybe DiNozzo would realise that he’d never experience what they had together because he was a selfish immature jerk and no one in their right mind would want to share their life with him.

A week later, any tentative plans for a dinner party at their new apartment with the MCRT and Ducky, Palmer and Abby had been placed on hold indefinitely when they caught two new cases back to back. Both had been particularly brutal and both cases didn’t just break one of Gibbs Rules ~ never get personally involved in a case. They smashed it to smithereens.

The first investigation had been another of those ‘friends of Gibbs’ who ask him to get involved as a favour’ type cases. There’d been a few over the years that McGee had witnessed. Mike Franks, his former Senior Supervisory Agent and mentor at NIS, Gibbs’ former commanding officer Marine Colonel Will Ryan and Maddy Tyler sprang to mind. Senator Kiley, who’d served in the Marines with Gibbs had approached Gibbs after the Naval Lieutenant Commander he was sleeping with was murdered and he didn’t want the affair to come to light. If Gibbs had shared the affair with the team, Tony with his one-track mind about the wife always did it would have investigated the senator’s wife and prevented her from also murdering the Senator’s aid who suspected her.

As it had unfolded, Tim could see exactly why the case should never have been investigated by Gibbs because he knew two of the suspects and was therefore biased. Yet, the very next case was one where Gibbs knew the suspects, had grown up with them in the small Pennsylvanian town of Stillwater. Which should have meant he stepped aside from working on the case and let his team investigate without him or they should have handed it over to Balboa’s team. However, while Gibbs expected everyone to obey his rules, it seemed like he thought it was fine if he ignored them when it suited him. So, when they caught the case of two corporals who were attacked outside a club in DC and one of the Marines died and the other was fortunate to survive and happened to come from the same town as Gibbs, he’d immediately decided to focus on the survivor and travel to Stillwater.

Sandrine wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of Tim going away on a work trip. She hadn’t been all that happy when he was reassigned back onto the major case response team again. She said that the hours were brutal – which they were, and that they hardly got to see each other anymore, which wasn’t entirely true. He usually made it home most nights even if it were just to shower and crawl into bed for a few hours of sleep. He got that she needed more though, and he was sorry that he hadn’t been upfront with her when they moved in together and he’d been assigned to Cyber Crimes. The trouble was that he’d been undercover so he couldn’t tell her that the transfer was always going to be a temporary one.

When he called to tell her about the case, and that he was headed to Stillwater, Pennsylvania, Sandrine hadn’t taken the news well. He’d tried to reassure her that it was probably just a quick overnight trip and he’d be back the next day. At that point, he thought that would be the case – he had no idea that Abby would end up coming to Stillwater too because that didn’t usually happen. Sandrine, who hated Abby, was not happy about the Goth going and Tim tried to assure her that they’d wrap the case and still be able to attend the art gallery black-tie opening night that Thom E. Gemcity had received an invitation to attend.

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it home in time, thanks to DiNozzo. DNA testing confirmed that two miners from Chuck Winslow’s mine had killed Corporal Taylor and seriously injured Corporal LaCombe at the behest of Winslow’s son-in-law Nick Kingston. All because that fool Kingston erroneously believed that his wife Emily had cheated on him with Ethan Lacombe and Ethan was the biological father of Nick’s five-year-old son, Chris. They’d arrested all three men and Gibbs had taken savage pleasure in informing the family that Emily’s girlhood boyfriend, Ethan was her half-brother and Winslow’s biological son.

McGee thought how ironic it was that Chuck had done everything in his power to prevent anyone, including Ethan and Emily from finding out that he was Ethan’s father. All because he didn’t want his illegitimate son to try to claim an inheritance from him. It was that deception that ultimately resulted in Emily’s husband being so pathologically jealous of Ethan that he would miss a heap of his son’s childhood incarcerated in jail.

But the successful closing of the case had been marred by the fact that DiNozzo who was supposed to be getting a warrant from a judge to collect blood and DNA samples from the suspects in the case, had failed to turn up for work yesterday. Vance had to arrange for another agent (that bumbling geek, Daniel Keating who’d messed with McGee’s computer while he was down in Cyber Crimes) to bring Abby up to Stillwater with her lab equipment. As the forensic scientist wasn’t an agent she was only allowed to go out in the field with an escort.

It was fair to say that Vance was less than impressed by Tony’s unprofessional behaviour, just not showing up. Despite calling him constantly, DiNozzo wasn’t answering his phone, either. Not a smart move from someone who was normally such an obsequious follower of Gibbs rules as he was.

Gibbs was also fuming over his no-show and McGee really wouldn’t like to be Tony when Gibbs finally caught up with him. The boss was so pissed off with Tony, Tim couldn’t be entirely sure that Gibbs wouldn’t throw him off the team and if that happened, Vance would probably seize the opportunity to fire him. Maybe Tim might end up as Gibbs’ SFA after all.

~oO0Oo~

Jimmy was doing an inventory of supplies when Gibbs arrived to talk to Ducky. Palmer felt a sense of relief that FINALLY the agent had arrived, mixed with a sense of pessimism about Tony’s disappearance. He wanted there to be decisive action taken asap.

He’d been extremely disturbed when Tony had failed to show up to work, fearing that something bad had happened to his friend. Ducky had cautioned him about raising the alarm when there might be a perfectly logical explanation for his disappearance. He’d warned that it might even put him in danger if he were undercover or he might just be overreacting if he were just indisposed due to a night of overindulgence. Jimmy decided this was a Ducky euphemism for getting stinking rotten drunk or carousing with floozies.

Instead, the medical examiner counselled caution, suggesting to Jimmy that he should wait for Gibbs to return. Ducky felt that he was the one who was best placed to deal with Anthony’s non-appearance at work.

Jimmy was frustrated, especially with Ducky. Despite Dr Mallard gaining a post-graduate degree in psychology, the medical examiner didn’t seem to get Tony at all. So, Jimmy couldn’t help questioning just how useful it could be for him to conduct his forensic autopsies on strangers when he was so far off the beam when it came to someone he’d known for years. Unbelievably, Dr Mallard had gone so far as to call DiNozzo a narcissist and he and Gibbs had joked about his similarity to a serial killer.

Not that they were the only ones who misunderstood his friend. McGee had likened Tony to a serial killer they’d been hunting who was obsessed by everything about the 1950s, who was kidnapping young women and chaining them up. The sicko who was a chaplain had incarcerated them in prison-like cells as surrogate brides. Really, McGee?

These were individuals…investigators who were supposed to be top-notch law enforcement investigators, yet they were blinded by their prejudices and preconceptions. How in hell could they solve crimes when they couldn’t even understand a colleague who they worked alongside for years and failed to look below the superficial. Jimmy didn’t get it at all.

While Ducky was supremely optimistic about Gibbs ability to locate Tony, Jimmy was not so sanguine. Tony hadn’t been responding to his calls and texts and that was unusual because he would know that Palmer would worry about him if he didn’t acknowledge him with at least a text. Jimmy just knew something was wrong.

Ducky seemed as relieved to see Gibbs as Jimmy was, although probably for different reasons. The medical examiner seemed to have a great deal more faith in Gibbs than his autopsy assistant did, despite many instances over the years of his fallibility.

Dr Mallard beamed at the gruff federal agent. “Ah Jethro, I trust you have put the case to bed?”

“Just waiting on the final report from Abby,” he stated tersely.

“Excellent. So, what news on the mysterious disappearance of young Anthony? Is he on some top-secret undercover mission for the director?”

Gibbs snorted. “Doubt it. Vance wants to fire him.”

“My goodness, why?”

“He’s furious. Vance said he was willing to give him one last chance when he came back from the Seahawk. Thinks DiNozzo doesn’t take his job seriously enough and failing to turn up is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Ducky scoffed, “Well that’s patently ridiculous. Anthony is far from perfect, I’ll concede, but he takes his job extremely seriously, as you well know. Has anyone considered that he may be indisposed?”

“Ya mean drunk or engaging in his other favourite pastime?”

Ducky looked confused. “Movie watching?”

“Getting laid.” Gibbs snarled at him furiously.

Even though Ducky had expressed similar concerns to Jimmy, now that he was missing going on forty-eight hours, he didn’t seem quite so ready to express those opinions anymore. He shook his head.

“No. I meant indisposed as in injured or ill, Jethro,” he scolded patiently. “Have you gone around and checked on him to see if he is alright? Do you know where his car is right now? Has he accessed his bank accounts, used his phone?”

“Duck, he’s probably hungover somewhere, sulking just because I wouldn’t take him to Stillwater.” He protested grimly.

Jimmy exchanged an incredulous look with Ducky. Was Special Agent Gibbs for real? Sure, Tony had been disappointed about not going to Stillwater – Gibbs hometown – but he was working on getting warrants for the MCRT to collect DNA and blood samples. He knew he was going to be driving up there to deliver them just as soon as the judged signed off on them.

And that theory that he was pissed off also ignored the fact that Tony was law enforcement right to the core – he wouldn’t let disappointment over an assignment threaten a case. Nor would he let down his teammates; it was unthinkable.

Perhaps when Ducky had downplayed Tony’s sudden disappearance, he hadn’t believed that Tony was ‘indisposed due to a night of overindulgence’ but had thought he was undercover and concerned about blowing his cover. Jimmy sure as hell hoped so or else, Ducky wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was. Still, it didn’t excuse Duck’s accusation of narcissism, which was patently ridiculous.

Ducky huffed in annoyance and addressed his fuming assistant apologetically. “I think that previous action I cautioned against might be the prudent course, now Mr Palmer.”

Gibbs looked suspicious. “And what’s that, Duck?”

“Mr Palmer wanted to take some personal time this afternoon to assist a friend. I told him to wait until the MCRT had returned in case our services were required, however that doesn’t seem to be the case. Please deliver these samples to Abigail from the Ensign Gilbert case before you go, my boy.” He said.

Palmer was impressed by Ducky ability to very adroitly remaining factual, yet purposefully vague. Abby was concerned about Tony being missing too and when she’d talked to Ducky about her concerns, he’d cautioned her not to act ‘precipitously’ too. Deciding that he could never act all innocent, unlike Ducky when Gibbs stared him down like that, he figured a retreat was the best option.

Nodding emphatically, he said, “Thanks, Dr Mallard. I’ll drop off the evidence now before I go. See you tomorrow.”

He grabbed his messenger bag, his coat and the specimens and practically ran out of autopsy before Gibbs decided to interrogate him.

~oO0Oo~

Abby’s mood was deteriorating rapidly, going from badly irritated into intense anger. She was worried about Tony not showing up to drive her to Stillwater, but she was a professional. She’d stayed focused on her job, running blood and DNA tests because two Marines had been senselessly attacked and one died. Yet it didn’t mean that she wasn’t concerned about her friend and co-worker.

Nevertheless, she was so glad when the results isolated the killers and also shed light on why the attack occurred. So many times, while they managed to identify a killer through forensics, it still meant those left behind were asking why their loved one had died. People who stood accused of murder were often in the habit of remaining mute about their motives since to do otherwise would likely incriminate themselves and attorneys usually counselled discretion.

In this case, science had given Corporal Taylor’s family closure. While it didn’t make up for his death, they weren’t left with unanswered questions about why their son was dead. So, all in all, Abby felt a strong sense of job satisfaction at the end of this case.

And BONUS! She got to meet her Silver Fox’s father.

What a cutie, Jackson Gibbs was, a dead-set flirt who could give Tony a run for his money, when he was on form. Although, DiNozzo hadn’t been up to flirting for a while now. Ever since Shepard had stupidly asked him to seduce the daughter of a dirtbag arms dealer who was secretly working for the CIA. He’d fallen head over heels for her, silly boy and ended up with a broken heart when the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Sometimes Abby wanted to dig Jenny up and reanimate her, just so she could kill her all over again for her stupidity in believing all that crap about Tony being a callous skirt-chasing lady’s man.

His falling in love with Jeanne Benoit gave a lie to that bunch of crap. Unlike Abby who genuinely got anxiety at the thought of ever being tied to one person permanently, Tony’s serial dating was because he was so desperate for love and social cohesiveness. Bottom line, he was terrified of giving away his heart to another individual, to give them ultimate power to break him, after the fiasco with Wendy the Welcher. She’d left him broken and bleeding at the altar. What a BITCH!

Like a porcupine uses its quills to protect itself from predators attacking its soft underbelly, Tony never stayed with a partner for more than a handful of dates before moving onto another date before he could fall in love. With Jeanne, because it was an assignment, he spent far too much time with her not to start opening up to her about his emotions. The result was inevitable in Abby’s opinion.

She knew a bit about Tony’s less than ideal childhood. It was far from the life of privilege that McGee envisaged. Honestly, as someone who aspired to be a writer, not to mention purporting to be an investigator, how could he be so dense about people?

As Abby hit send on her email to Gibbs after completing her final report on the La Combe/ Taylor investigation, she sighed in relief. It was time for her to focus on finding out what had happened to Tony. The first thing she did was fire off an email to Brad Pitt to see if he’d heard from him and another one to Vivian. Abby was probably one of the few people at NCIS who knew that Tony had remained friends with Blackadder – probably because he knew that Gibbs would frown on their friendship or misinterpret it and assume that they were having sex, which was far from the truth.

As far as she could tell, he and Viv were friends and former colleagues. She also knew he made a rule of staying on good terms with people he worked with, if purely for practical reasons. Tony was a past master at networking and his skills frequently paid off when he needed leads in cases or help in tracking down people or data.

Although Abby suspected that his reasons ran a lot deeper with Viv. Her theory was that he honestly liked and cared about Viv as a friend. It hadn’t escaped her notice that their working relationship had been far less adversarial, and more supportive than the agents who’d come along after her. Well, except for Michelle Lee, who Tony was also quite protective of during the four months she’d been assigned to the MCRT and she’d been appropriately respectful of him too.

The point was that Viv might have heard from Tony or at least she might be able to shed some light on who else she could contact. She was determined to leave no stone unturned, even if Ducky thought he was okay. Abby had a bad feeling about him, and she’d learned to listen to those feelings.

She was also going to call around to his apartment as soon as she left NCIS. Although she knew how obsessively private Tony was, especially about his place, Abby had been there once or twice, albeit briefly and he had given her a spare key for emergencies. In her book, this qualified as such.

As she started the process of shutting down her various equipment and her computer, she heard the unmistakable sound of Timmy and Ziva heading through the door of the lab. Ziva was teasing McGee about Daniel Keating, who Director Vance, in the absence of Tony, had assigned to drive her and her babies to Stillwater and help the MCRT. Tim had not been happy to see Keating and seemed to not care for the slightly dorky agent.

Abby thought that Tim probably saw him as a threat since he’d also had attended MIT but later than McGee. Computer whiz-kids tended to be extremely competitive bunch – it was a rapidly evolving everchanging discipline. In comparison to say chemistry or medicine, despite its constant breakthroughs and the high burnout rate, other disciplines had much more career longevity. Most so-called computer geniuses were considered by the industry to be on the scrapheap by age thirty – it was a pretty damned cut-throat profession.

McGee tended to place a heck of a lot of currency upon his computer skills, despite wanting to be a field agent. Tim was not stupid – he knew that as an agent, it set him apart from all the other junior agents in his cohort since he wasn’t particularly brilliant in other areas like hand to hand abilities or interrogation skills. He was constantly reminding people he had a master’s degree in computer forensics from the much-respected MIT.

Abby figured that having someone else with the same educational level, who was younger than him probably made him feel outmoded. Which was ridiculous since he wanted to be a field agent, not a computer nerd.

Still, the male ego was a mighty fragile thing and Timmy’s ego was even more precarious than the average guy, no doubt in part due to his father who was not exactly warm a fuzzy – being an Admiral and all. Feeling insecure about Daniel probably explained why he was in passive-aggressive mode, using the five-hour drive back to DC to make pointed barbs about how unprofessional it had been of DiNozzo not to turn up. He kept hammering the point all the way back to NCIS that Tony was juvenile, insufferable, a mediocre agent, and unable to navigate his way around a computer.

Abby had been ready to strangle him – he would never be so blatantly disrespectful if Gibbs had been in the car, mainly since Tony’s computer abilities left her Silver Fox’s for dead. Also, Gibbs had a real love-hate relationship with them, tending to look down on computer experts somewhat like he did military officers, even when she and McGee solved a case. Unfortunately for them, Jackson Gibbs had given his son the car that he’d rebuilt for him and Gibbs had left them in the dust as he drove off, telling them to take all the forensic equipment and evidence back to the office in the company car.

So, after his performance earlier on, Abby was not exactly ecstatic when he and Ziva turned up in her lab. Especially when Tim was now promoting the opinion that Tony had gone AWOL as he was sulking because Gibbs picked Ziva and McGee to accompany him to Stillwater, leaving Tony behind. It seemed Tim’s five hours of character assassination on their road trip back to DC had convinced him that Tony was a spoilt brat who would run off and pout because he felt like Gibbs was being mean to him.

Abby was ready to punch him or stomp on his foot, she was so furious but just as she decided to do both, Daniel sauntered into the lab to ask McGee about some software he’d been asked to beta. Of course, he also caught McGee talking crap about DiNozzo again, having been present on the ride back from Stillwater where he’d remained quiet. Now apparently, he felt compelled to express his disagreement over Tony’s mediocrity. He told McGee that when he’d attended FLETC, DiNozzo’s various undercover missions were used as teaching examples during their training, which didn’t support Tim’s assertion that DiNozzo was a mediocre agent.

Watching Timmy’s face when Keating disagreed with his opinion reminded Abby when he’d had a serious hate on about Tony tricking him not to volunteer to go to Iraq, claiming it was because the senior field agent was jealous of him. As an example, he’d cited Tony telling workers in the secretarial pool that McGee was gay because he didn’t want the competition and she’d flat out scoff at the notion. She’d laughed and told him that he was cute in a McCauley Calkin kind of way but was no competition for Tony.

In hindsight, although she stood by her assessment, it hadn’t been the wisest comment for her to make but she’d been caught off guard by his belief that Tony had started the gay rumour because he felt threatened by him. Anthony DiNozzo might have a wealth of insecurities – flirting with or getting dates sure as hell wasn’t one of them. The man knew he was sexy as all get out.

Just a few weeks before they’d caught the case in Iraq, Tony had chummed up with a homicide detective to solve a crime with the Metro PD and afterwards, he and Sparr had gone out a few times. Abby had been hopeful because it was the first time that he’d dated since the debacle with Jean Benoit, but it had petered out for some reason. But the point was, he never been short of people wanting to go out with him.

Still, her incredulity made McGee if not more insecure, had likely made him even more resentful of Tony. Much the same way he was now glaring at Agent Keating, with, if not hatred for obviously admiring Tony, then at the very least, feeling strong contempt. Just as she was attempting to try to pour oil on the troubled waters of McGee’s feeling, even though she was fed up with him attacking Tony, Jimmy appeared. He had a specimen that she needed to sign for to maintain the chain of evidence and she needed to start running the trace evidence. Luckily, she hadn’t gotten around to shutting down Major Mass Spec yet and she made swift work of preparing the test after shooing everyone into her office, so they didn’t contaminate the evidence.

As she worked, she heard Ziva say in the background, “I do not believe that Tony did not turn up because he was sulking about not getting to go to Gibbs hometown, McGee. I think that when we left him alone here, he got drunk because he was depressed. He is blaming himself over about Director Shepard’s death.

Finishing up her prep and giving Major Mass Spec his head, Abby stomped into her office, pissed off with their stupid gossiping. When she found that McGee’s girlfriend, Sandy, had sneaked past her while she was occupied to join in the post-mortem, she saw red.

“That’s not true, Ziva! Tony was NOT depressed when he went home the other night. He was fine! Something is wrong and as his friends, I’d expect you all to be helping to find him.”

Tim snorted derisively. “There’s nothing wrong, Abbs. He’s jealous that Gibbs picked us not him and then we rubbed his stupid face in it when we left him in the bullpen. He couldn’t cope because he knows that Gibbs is still pissed over Director Shepard dying. Getting left behind shows the boss doesn’t trust him,” he said obstinately.

Ziva was equally steadfast in her convictions. “I disagree, Tim. When we were aboard the Seahawk, you were not there,” she said with a subtle dig that Tim had been left which earned her a scowl.

“I found a half-empty bottle of liquor in his office which was also his sleeping quarters. Alcohol is forbidden aboard the ship and he was disobeying the rules. Knowing how much of a goody-gumdrops he is about following rules it is obvious he was drowning in guilt.”

“I think you meant to say he is a goody-two-shoes, Ziva. Goody gumdrops is an old fashion exclamation of joy or excitement, Sandrine explained, with just the faintest air of condescension.

Flicking a haughty look at her before turning back to the conversation, she said, “Abby is right! Perhaps we should be checking to see if someone picked up an inebriated DiNozzo and put him into a drunk cell for his protection,” she suggested. “Has anyone tried checking the morgue for John Does who have committed suicide?”

Abby side-eyed her in disbelief. Was Ziva serious? Before she had a chance to respond, Sandy got in first.

“But I don’t understand.” She continued. “Why would Agent DiNozzo feel guilty about the former director’s death. I thought someone said Director Shepard died in a house fire.

Daniel looked bemused. “She did die in a fire.”

Abby rolled her eyes at the stupidity of some people. Although Director Vance, the MCRT, herself, Jimmy and of course Ducky (who carried out the autopsy) knew that Director Shepard died in a diner in the California desert, it was supposed to be classified information for reasons why she wasn’t entirely certain of.

Nor was she clear if TPTB were on board with Vance’s interfering with her dead body, staging her death to make it look like a tragic accident instead of the brutal assassination it had been. Not to mention the murder of a former agent and his partner. Still, one thing was clear, Vance would tear them a new one, or worse, reassign them all again if they spilt the beans about the real reason former director, Jenny Shepard was dead.

It was bad enough that Ziva had spoken out of turn around Daniel, but at least he was a federal agent. McGee’s ditzy girlfriend Sandy worked in the pay office. She was not cleared to hear about Director Shepard’s death – the real cause of her death and why Tony would always regret obeying her orders to not accompany her on her trip to the diner.

Deciding the best way to stop Sandy asking awkward questions that she had no clearance to know the answers to, Abby changed the subject abruptly. “Look, why are you all down here, anyway? I still have work to do.”

McGee frowned. “Well, since it was your first case in the field, we came down here to suggest we go out for a drink to celebrate the successful solving of the case, Abbs.”

Okay, so her change of topic ended up pissing her off. She was hoping to side-track the other individuals in the room, particularly those who weren’t supposed to know about Director Shepard, but it distracted her too. With a member of the team effectively missing in action, they were seriously proposing to go out and celebrate?

She looked over at Jimmy who was biting his lip and had that little frowny thing happening between his eyes. No doubt he was thinking the same thing that she was. Weren’t they the slightest bit concerned?

She glowered and said curtly, “Count me out. When I’m finished here, I have to check up on a good friend of mine.”

McGee shrugged, either he was being deliberately obtuse, or he hated Tony.

Sandy snuggled into Tim’s side with a triumphant look. “Celebratory drinks sound great. I’m in,” she smiled sweetly. “Then I suggest we have an early night, Darling. We have a lot of catching up to do,” she fluttered her eyelashes at him and stuck her boobs into his face suggestively.

Abby wanted to puke. She was didn’t try to hide her antagonism ever since Tim introduced them a couple of weeks ago and announced they were co-habiting. Abby knew that Little Miss Prim didn’t like her, and the feeling was mutual. Of course, she and Tim never really liked each other’s partners but there was something hinky about Sandy that she couldn’t put her finger on. Sort of too good to be true.

She’d talked to Jimmy and Tony about it, finishing up by saying she was ‘flight attendant friendly,’ but Jimmy had just looked at her as if she was crazy. Tony immediately got the pop-cultural allusion and said, “What, like Stepford Wives?”

“Exactly like that, Tony!” Abby had nodded so hard, Tony warned her about a contrecoup brain injury. At which point it had taken several minutes of Tony explaining the Stepford Wives reference to Jimmy and then he’d had to remind Abby what contrecoup was before the conversation got back on track.

Tony had observed that while he’d been perfectly polite to her, he didn’t think Sandrine liked him very much, either. Jimmy in his socially bumbling manner had asked Abby if she was jealous that Tim had someone. Abby had admitted that she didn’t generally like Timmy’s girlfriends because he always picked controlling, bossy females, who usually led him around by his dick. Tony had laughed so hard at her answer he’d choked on his beer and they’d ended up pounding him on the back.

Abby had demanded to know what was so funny and Tony had made eye contact with Jimmy who was looking rather alarmed before he shrugged.

“Rule 1, Abbs.”

She frowned. “Never screw over your partner,” she said promptly. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“No. I was talking about your rule. Never lie to Abby,” he told her solemnly, but with a hint of laughter in his expressive eyes. “Pot, kettle, Abbs.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Mister?” she challenged him, archly.

“Controlling, bossy females who usually lead him around by his dick? That description could equally be applied to you as well, my Princess of the Dark,” he said with a grin. “Let’s face it Abbs, Little Miss Submissive you ain’t.”

As much as she wanted to punch him, Abby had to admit, albeit grudgingly that he had a point, she had led McGee around by his dick when they were going out together and yeah, she was more dominatrix than a sub. Scowling fiercely at both men since she could see that Jimmy agreed with Tony but didn’t have the guts to say it to her face, she finally settled for a shrug.

“Maybe you’re right but still, it’s different when it’s me doing the bossing and the dick holding,” she conceded, ignoring his snicker.

Afterwards, they’d ended up at her apartment for pizza, Tony stopping by his place to pick up DVDs of The Stepford Wives for them to watch, appalled that Jimmy hadn’t seen either one. They started off watching the original 1975 horror/ thriller film starring Katharine Ross and then moved on to watching the 2004 version, a satirical comedy starring Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick from which the quote about being flight attendant friendly had come from.

It had been the last time they had spent together; the Senator Kiley case had kept them busy and then they’d caught the case that had led them to Clearwater. She’d missed hanging out with him while he’d been away for over four months at sea.

More troubling, Abby was getting some bad vibes about him. Just like that time when Vanessa, the crazy serial killer had abducted him after Gibbs let him go out tailing a suspect with no one to watch his back. He ended up trapped in the sewer and they’d nearly lost him, and well… she was feeling the same badness in the pit of her tummy.

Realising that this bunch was not going to be much help in finding Tony because they were so invested in their view of him, she knew that it was time to get serious and find people who would take his disappearance seriously and start to look for him.

Surely her Silver Fox wouldn’t let her down though? After all, they were a family, even if Gibbs was still angry with Tony over Jenny Shepard’s death. Not that she thought for a second it was Tony’s fault, but Gibbs was grieving someone he’d loved and needed to blame someone because he was still in the second stage of grief – the anger stage. But Tony was family, and family stuck together.

Keating also responded enthusiastically to the idea of going out for celebratory drinks. He probably didn’t even realise just how insular the MCRT truly was or that the invitation wasn’t meant to include himself. “Yeah, that sounds great! Does that include me too, you guys?” he asked with an adorable puppy-dog expression of hope intermingled with soulful pleading.

Abby, feeling particularly vengeful about their apathy for Tony leapt in, even as McGee’s body language changed, going all stiff in outrage at the suggestion that Keating should join them.

“Of course, it does, Daniel,” she asserted with fake cheer. “On this case, you were a part of the team, like me. Isn’t that right, Timmy?”

McGee shot her one of his passive-aggressive special looks and she stifled a giggle despite he worries. Oh, Cate. You might have sucked as a psychological profiler, Sweetie but you nailed Timmy perfectly, Abby told her dead friend mentally.

Yet she figured that if Caitlin Todd were still alive, she would probably be brushing off Tony’s disappearance too because he could run rings around her. Anytime she managed to get close enough to even try to figure out his psyche, he’d rile her up and push her down one of her blind spots such as misogynism, feminism and sexual puritanism and she’d waste time chasing a red herring.

Ziva was nodding in agreement with Abby. “Certainly, Daniel. Come along and perhaps you can fill us in on what was going on in the office while we were gone.”

As everyone began to depart, Jimmy shot her a look and said, “Can I help you at all, Abby?”

She nodded, “Yeah that would be good. You can fill me in on the evidence. I’m not up to date on that case.

Once they were all gone, the bespectacled autopsy assistant heaved a massive sigh. “Thank God! I thought they’d never leave.”

 


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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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