Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 315

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 315: Endings

Tim's nervous. Really, really nervous. They're due over any minute now. The plan, dinner, get to know Kelly, spend a few hours at his house before they go back to the hotel, followed by the full on baptism festivities tomorrow sounded good when he was typing up the email.

Now it sounds insane. What the hell was he thinking doing this? His stomach is hurting, and he's picked up his glass at least twenty times, taken a sip, put it down, and fidgeted around.

Right now, it's just him, Abby, Kelly, and Gibbs.

He's not precisely sure how Gibbs got invited to this. Part of why he's nervous is Gibbs and his mom in the same room. Of course, Abby and his mom in the same room isn't going to be a picnic either.

Hell, him and his mom in the same room probably isn't a great plan, either.

"You really want to do this?" Abby asks.

He nods, taking yet another sip of water, wondering if they've got any good snacks in the house, because he really wants to eat, something to keep his hands and mouth busy.

"Hey." Gibbs rests his hands on Tim's shoulders. "We're gonna make this as easy for you as we can."

"I know." He doesn't, not really, but it's the right thing to say. And right now he's not even sure what easy would be.

His phone rings, and he more or less sprints to get it.

Gibbs looks at Abby as he leaves the living room for his office. "Is he ready for this?"

"He says he wants to try." No! very clear on her face.

"Is there anything we can do to make this easier? Last time he was that tense…" Gibbs shakes his head. He doesn't remember seeing Tim this tense. Maybe when they walked down that hallway and saw John?

Abby shakes her head back at him. "This isn't in our hands. We're making sure he knows he's loved and not alone."

A minute later he's back.

"Who called?"


Gibbs and Abby both look at him expectantly.

He manages something that's vaguely smile-ish. "Last minute pep talk."

They nod.

The knock on the door.

He doesn't know if it's worse for being expected or not. But he does jerk at the sound of it, and then hops up to open the door.

They look the same as they always do. His mom, tall, blondish hair even more gray now, but the same straight posture and conservative clothing. Ben's as round and smiley as always. He shakes Ben's hand first, that's easy. Nothing about that changed.

Ben steps in, hugging Abby, talking to Gibbs, and Tim stares at his mom.

She smiles and hugs him, and for a second he feels himself melt into it, into the comfort of old lies and memories, and then he pulls himself out of them, and steps back a bit. Her hands are still on his shoulders. "Let me look at you! Oh, Penny told me married life was agreeing with you, but I didn't think... You look fantastic, Tim."


Abby allows herself to be hugged, but she's not doing her usual enthusiastic, all-encompassing Abby hug.

"You remember Jethro Gibbs?" Tim says.

His mom and Ben nod. He shakes hands with both of them, cool but not the level of frigid Gibbs can easily do, let alone his full on malice.

"Dinner'll be ready soon. We're eating kind of early because Kelly usually wakes up and wants her dinner a little before seven," Tim says, and the nervousness is audible in his voice, along with the way he's started rambling on about the fact they're having roasted chicken.

Ben breaks in, rich voice soothing over Tim's nervous ramble, relieving him of the need to fill the quiet, which he appreciates, complimenting Abby (good guess, she did cook) on how wonderful the chicken smells, asking what she'd used to spice it with, and wandering into the kitchen with her, dispersing some of the tension.

Tim and Gibbs follow along, and Terri ducks out.

She's back a minute later. "Almost forgot this." It's a bottle of chardonnay. Good one by the looks of it. And Tim smiles a little, fairly sure that "almost forgot this" means "I've got a bottle of red and a bottle of white in the car and was waiting to see what dinner was before picking one of them."

"Can't forget that, Darlin.'" Ben smiles at her. "Tim, you got a corkscrew?"

"Yeah." He grabs it and hands it over, along with some glasses, to Ben. Ben's opening the wine, Abby's messing around with the vegetables, which his mom rapidly joins in helping with, Gibbs settles in at the table, watching, comfortable, but Tim can see the edge there. He's ready to jump in if need be.

"Who wants wine?" Ben asks once he's got the bottle open. Terri and Gibbs say yes. Abby shakes her head, "Still nursing. If there's some left after Kelly's last dinner, I'll probably have some then."

"Any for you, Tim?"


"Part of how you're staying so trim?" Ben asks.

"Something like that. Remember how when we went to visit you, you guys picked up the best ice cream ever? Well, we've got the best cupcakes, and I want to have some." They do have great cupcakes. And he does keep track of his calories that closely because otherwise it is too easy for him to go overboard and start putting on weight again, but that's not it. A glass of wine to go with dinner won't tip him over that far. He just doesn't want to deal with alcohol in addition to everything else tonight. Doesn't need anything, even a glass or two of wine, mucking with his emotional control.

Ben laughs at that, happy to hear it. "Always save room for great cupcakes. So, your grandma's been telling us about this mixed martial arts thing you've been doing, is this," he gestures to indicate how much more in shape Tim is now compared to a year ago, "the result of that?"

"Some. Added yoga, too. That's my everyday exercise. Bootcamp's just on Sundays. Diet just gets you thin, working adds muscle."

"Well, whatever you're doing, it looks good," Terri adds.

"How'd you get into this?" Ben asks, sipping his wine. "Great pick, Terri."

She nods, appreciating the approval.

"You remember me telling you about how Jimmy and Breena lost the baby?"

They nod at him.

"Jimmy was talking about being so angry and not having anything to do with it. So we fought. Then this one," he nods to Gibbs, "took a look at us, decided we didn't know what the hell we were doing, and that it was more than time that we learned. Something about making sure we'd both be ready and able to put the fear of Dad into future boyfriends."

Gibbs smiles at that, looking satisfied, and took a sip of his wine. "They had the basics, just getting them polished up."

"Getting them ready to singlehandedly invade France," Abby adds, grating nutmeg onto the carrots she was sautéing.

Gibbs smiles. "Nah. Ziva's doing that."

"Ziva's the pretty little thing with the dark hair?" Ben asks.

Abby smiles at that. Of course, if you'd only seen Ziva at a rehearsal dinner and wedding, you might think that about her. "Yes. Though she used to work for Mossad. They call her the ninja."

"She's the team's hand to hand combat specialist."

"And you're computers?" Ben asks.

"And precision pistol shot." Gibbs adds. "Haven't made a target small enough Tim can't hit it with a hand-gun."

"What are you?" Ben asks Gibbs.


"Interrogator," Tim adds.

The timer dings, and Abby takes a big step to the side, away from the oven, but still able to keep the carrots moving in the pan, as Tim gets the chicken and potatoes out. While he carves the chicken, Gibbs gets up, showing off his ease in their home, and sets the table.

Relaxing dinner at home with the parents. They all work toward that illusion.

Ben does a good job of keeping up pleasant, easy conversation. He's like Tony in that he can keep everyone, even Gibbs, chatting comfortably. They talk about Tim's soon-to-be new job, how the team is faring, a bit about Gibbs' retirement plans, some about the new development he and Terri are working on. Just a round hour of fairly gentle, pleasant interaction.

Tim can feel how easy it would be to slide back into this. This is what visits with his mom were like before.

There's warmth, and laughter, and even with the edge that everyone is working hard to pretend isn't there, this could be something lovely.

He can imagine Penny and Ducky, Sarah and Glenn here as well. Everyone together, first time in a year. All goes well, that'll be tomorrow after the party.

He's almost feeling hopeful when they hear Kelly's tiny cry.

Gibbs stands up; he's done eating. (Downside of the formula they're feeding her, baby poop right now is fiercely awful, and even two or three hand washes after, little whiffs of it seem to linger. Since he's done eating, and Tim and Abby aren't, he's offering to get her.) "I've got her. Back in five or so."

And in about five minutes, Gibbs does head down, Kelly cradled in his arms, leaning against his chest, bright-eyed and looking at everything.

Terri hops up fast to go to her, and stops, a step away, eyes warm and brimming with tenderness for the tiny child in Gibbs' arms. "Hello Kelly, I'm your grandmom," she says while moving to Gibbs' side so Kelly can see her face easily. "May I?" Gibbs looks to Abby and Tim, and they nod so he hands Kelly over.

"Oh, God, Tim, she's perfect," his mom says as she snuggles Kelly against her shoulder.

And those words shot the fragile peace of dinner to bits. They rip through Tim like hot knives, each stab ripping open infected psychic wounds, swollen with anger, putrid with regret. He bites his lip, and both Abby and Gibbs know that's a classic unhappy Tim sign, closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, stands up, and says, "Yeah, she is. Exactly the way she is."

"Yes." She holds Kelly a little further away, cradling her head in her hand, so wrapped up in studying her granddaughter that she's completely missing, for the moment, the heat in Tim's words or look. But eventually, she feels his look, glances up, sees the rage behind his eyes, and blanches.

He shakes his head, takes Kelly in hand, gently, and turns around, heading back up the stairs.

Terri looks stunned. She's been desperately trying to not say or do the wrong thing, and cannot begin to even fathom how she could have gone wrong by saying Kelly was perfect.

But Abby gets it, and after a few seconds Gibbs does, too. Timothy was the child who wasn't perfect to his mom, not the way he was.

Abby looks to both of them. "We'll be... I don't know. I've got to feed her," and heads up after Tim.

Vastly stronger women than Terri Allister have faltered before the death glare of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And men, much, much harder than Ben Allister have fallen before that look.

So the fact that it took all of three seconds before neither of them could meet his gaze wasn't exactly a surprise.

He does feel a little bad for pulling it on Ben, who, from what he can see, is a genuinely nice guy who got dumped into a massive family mess that from his side of it, ended years before he even got on the scene.

But Tim is his boy, and he's hurting, and if there's one thing Gibbs is good at it's spreading hurt all over the place.

Gibbs doesn't say anything. He's never precisely rude. He just keeps looking until Terri starts to cry. Then he stops.

And then he didn't look at her again.

For a minute after she starts crying, it seems like Ben is going to try something, but he sees the look, sees the force, the anger behind it, and realizes that Gibbs might literally kill him if he tries to defend Terri on this, and he decides not to say anything.

That's probably a wise move.

Ten of the longest minutes of history go by, and Tim still doesn't come back. Gibbs can, just, almost hear him, and part of him is wondering if he's really hearing the tears, or if he's just imagining them. Probably imagining them, all of the times he's seen Tim cry, he didn't make any noise.

But he can feel it, hear it, if hearing it is what's happening, and it goads him into moving. He grabs Terri, who jerks at his touch, trying to get away from the vice-like grasp on her wrist, and pulls her to the back porch, waiting the barest second for the door to shut behind him before he starts in on her.

"You knew. You knew, and you didn't stop it." Those aren't questions. They're statements, statements edged with broken glass and laced with poison. "It was your job to stop it. You had a beautiful, brilliant boy, and instead of treating him like the love of your life, like the light that made you happy to get up in the morning, you broke him."

Terri nods. She knows right now would be a very bad time to disagree with Gibbs.

Gibbs' voice is very low. "He's not yours anymore. He's mine, and he's Penny's, but he is not yours. You and Ben leave here, and you don't come back."

"He invited us."

Gibbs shakes his head. "You leave, and you do not come back."

"He wants—"

"No." Gibbs' voice is cold and hard, almost calm sounding, but he's not calm. Or if he's calm, he's the calm of a beach where the water has pulled back, gathering into the wave of the on-coming tsunami. "You leave. You leave right now. He will go to you, on his terms, in his own time, if he wants you. But right now, you leave, and you do not ever set foot in my presence again. You hurt my son. You hurt him worse than you can imagine, and you and John are only breathing by his sufferance, so you leave, you turn around and you walk out of here, now. And you pray he never sheds another tear over you because otherwise you will answer to me."

Less than half a minute later, Terri and Ben are gone.

He heads upstairs, knowing they'll be in their room. The door is closed, and he's not sure if that's to keep the sound down, or to keep everyone out. But before he can knock Abby calls out, "Come on in."

He does, sees them on the bed. She's nursing Kelly with one arm, and has the other around Tim. His head is on her shoulder, and yes, he is crying, silently.

Gibbs' immediate instinct is to join them, but they're in their room, in bed, so he's hesitant of violating the intimacy of that space. Abby sees him pause and nods a bit to Tim's far side, kissing him on the forehead in the process.

And with permission granted, Gibbs heads over, sitting next to Tim, wrapping his arm around him.

He looks up, face red and wet, eyes bright green, looking a little embarrassed that this still hurts so bad, hits him so hard.

He sniffs, his defensive, sad smile in place. "She was supposed to feel that way about me."

Gibbs smiles back at him, also sad. He nods, ruffles Tim's hair and kisses his temple. "Yeah, she was. And she should have fought to the death to protect you, too."

Tim wipes his eyes. "They still down there?"

"Nah. Sent them away."

"Okay." He sniffs again, inhaling hard, his head resting on Abby's shoulder. He pets Kelly's cheek, hand skirting gently over her shoulder and arm.

"Why wasn't I enough for them?"

And that's the question that Abby and Gibbs can't answer.

We love you. You're more than enough for us. We adore and cherish you. All of that's great. All of that matters. That's his soul and bedrock.

But it doesn't help with the pulsing hot, sick ache of not being that for his mom.

And all of the snuggling, cosseting, and petting he's getting right now, all of which he needs, doesn't answer that question, can't answer it.

And the only way to get the answer is to go to the dragon's den and look it in the eye.

But he's not ready for it. Not yet. He needs a few more minutes to put himself together, and time after that to don his armor.

Half an hour later, when his face has calmed down, and his emotions are a bit more in check, he texts to his mom. Where are you?

Does it matter? Comes back a few seconds later.

He's honestly not sure. It'd be easy to just hide away, let them leave, not speak of it again. But he thinks of Jimmy saying this is pain he probably has to go through, and that he can't just leave this festering.

Yeah. Like to talk to you. Probably won't be fun or pleasant. Probably don't want Ben around. I know I don't.

Okay. DC Hilton.

Be there soon.

It's a fairly high end hotel. Not too far away. Not too close. Only takes Tim twenty minutes to get there.

He changed before he headed out. When his mom and Ben got to his house he was in his standard work clothing. Nice jeans, belt, button down, jacket, loafers. His blend in, don't attract attention look.
The kind of look, where, if you're paying close attention, you can catch occasional sight of the wrist cuff, and that's it in the way of hints that there might be something interesting going on below the surface.

It's November, night, and cold, so he doesn't go for his full on Goth-wear. Kilt, t-shirt, Abby's gray sweater, (It's a men's sweater, oversized on her, just right on him.) leather jacket, boots. He did his nails, left off the eye makeup. He's sure he'll be crying again.

He added just a little of Abby's perfume. On her skin it's walking sex, but he's spent many pleasant, drowsy, very happy moments where enough of it has rubbed off on him that he's got very warm, cherished, loved, sated and safe associations with that scent on his skin. On his skin it's adored afterglow, and he needs that right now.

Like the knight going into battle, he carries his lady's favor. Being able to smell her scent won't hurt, and will help keep some good things in his mind. And if it's a bit more sweet and femme than a 'guy' scent, he doesn't care, not like he's wearing gallons of it. Just enough so he can catch the occasional hint, just enough to help anchor him in now, not let him get lost in the past.

Because he knows it'll be too easy to get caught in the past. The child/teen he was is right below the surface right now, and he'll break through very easily.

He knocks, almost wishing he could just run away from this, knowing that never getting done with it will bite him eventually.

She opens it, and looks him up and down, bit of shock coming through the sorrow on her face. "Oh."

He steps in, nods.

"Penny and Sarah mentioned the kilt. It's..." He can see she's horrified by it; he might as well be wearing a pretty floral sundress, her eyes flick to the painted nails, and he feels her discomfort at it. Trying to be kind she limply finishes with, "nice."

"I like it."

"I like the dragon." She does look carefully at the tattoo. "That's the family mark, and each rope goes with a baby? That one's Kelly's, and you're leaving room for others?"

He's surprised she's good with the ink, but it looks genuine. Of course, she saw some of the arm cuff tattoo when they were in Texas (the bit that's an inch or so below where most of his t-shirt sleeves end). She didn't ask to see the whole thing, but it didn't seem to bug her, either. "Yeah."

"It's nice work. Always liked that about living on base. The guys usually had interesting body art."

"Oh." He hadn't known that about her. "Thanks."

They stare at each other.

"So, why all dressed up now?"

He shakes his head. "This isn't dressed up. This is me." He slips the boots and jacket off. She's sitting on the bed, so he sits on the chair by the dresser. "This is me, hanging out, at home, with my family, on the weekend. The other stuff, that's what I wear to blend in, be like everyone else, not attract attention."


"This is me, Mom." He's shaking his head. "And I shouldn't have had to wait thirty-seven years for you to see it. Shouldn't have had to spend thirty-four years only letting little hints of me come out, constantly terrified of getting chewed into dust for being me. This is..." His eyes are tearing up, and his voice is warbling, so he takes a few second to steady it. He doesn't just have to say it; she has to understand it, too. "I should have been enough. You should have looked at me like I was perfect. I am your son, and that should have been enough!" He takes a long, deep, shaking breath, feeling years of... he doesn't even know what all, too many emotions, he can't even begin to name them, let alone sort them out, all come bubbling up.

"It was, Tim!"

"Like fuck it was!" He's not looking at her, making sure he doesn't start sobbing because she needs to hear the words that he's not done saying. "You and Dad spent my whole life with you trying to change me. Nothing about me was ever good enough. Didn't matter if all the answers on the test were right, I still had to do better. Didn't matter how bad life sucked, I still wasn't allowed to cry about it. Didn't matter if I hated whatever it was you and Dad wanted, I had to do it. Nothing about me was ever enough for you.

"And you look at her, and you hold her in your arms, hands trembling, face lit up in a huge smile, love oozing out of every pore... You were supposed to be feel that way about me!" He's inhaling shaky and harsh between words, but still intelligible. "I was supposed to be perfect to you! Just the way I was. I was supposed to be enough…" And that did break him. He is sobbing, audibly. Not loud, especially not by grown-man standards, but it's probably the first time in twenty-five years that he's let go enough to make any noise.

She sits there, tears streaming down her own face, too. She wants to get up, hold him, comfort him, and starts to, but he glares at her, so she sits back down on the edge of the bed, fingers clenched, nails digging small crescent shaped tears into the palms of her hands.

Finally he gets himself together. "Why not me?"

She takes a few seconds to get her own voice under control. "When you were a baby I held you just like that, and cuddled you, and told you you were perfect and sang to you and petted you and snuggled you all the time."

"When I was a baby..." He snorts. "Love doesn't have an expiration date. What, I turned three, wasn't cute enough anymore, and that was that? When did I stop being your perfect little boy? Because if I ever was, it was way before I can remember."

She smiles, very sad. "No one's perfect. Not really. That's not how it works. Babies can be perfect because all they have to do is exist. And even babies aren't really perfect. But… No. Your kids aren't perfect the way they are. I wasn't. You weren't. Kelly won't be. They are going to want things that aren't good for them. And it's your job to stop that. You're the adult, you're the one who knows how to survive in this world, and you will do whatever it takes, even if she hates every single second of it, to make sure she has what she needs to make it through.

"It's not about perfect. And it's not about not being enough or not loving. It's about the fact that one day she won't be a baby. It was about the fact that one day you were going to be out there on your own, and you needed to be able to survive it.

"Kelly won't want her vaccinations, she won't want her medicine when she's sick, she might not want to learn how to swim, or do algebra, or whatever. She'll be rude and wild. But there are skills she is going to have to have if she's going to survive, and even if she hates you for it, you will make sure she has them, because giving her the best shot she can possibly have to survive out there, that's what being a parent is."

If Jimmy or Gibbs had said that to him, he'd agree wholeheartedly. But she's not Jimmy or Gibbs, and he survived her and his father's version of 'I don't care if you hate it, you will master this,' so he can't come up with a detached, 'Yes, that's a pertinent insight into the rearing of children' type response.

"So this was my medicine? It was good for me? God, you sound like those assholes who hook their gay kids up to electrodes and try to shock the gay out of them," comes out instead.

She thinks about it for a second and then shocks the hell out of him by saying, "You know what, yes! If you honestly believe that your child is doing something that will result in a lifetime of pain, let alone eternal torment after that lifetime is over, you do whatever it is you can to change it. If you think literal Hell, flames and eternal torment, is looming for your child, you put a stop to whatever it is they're doing because otherwise you aren't doing your job. I mean... You wouldn't let Kelly walk into a bonfire. No matter how much she protests about how the fire is fine, how you're an old-fashioned moron for believing it'll burn her, how it won't hurt her, how she belongs in the fire, and all her buddies are there. No. And if you can't convince her, you will literally pick her up and take her away from it because you don't want her to get hurt. And you will listen to her scream at you, you will hear her cry about it, and you will do it anyway, because you're her father, and that's what a parent does.

She brings it back to raising him. "And we… we were so afraid that you'd get hurt. You were so timid and eager to please, and we didn't want you to be the kid who just went along with whatever the crowd wanted you to do. Didn't want you running into the bonfire because your buddies thought it'd be cool."

His eyes are hard as he asks, "Really? Is that what Dad was doing?"

She shrugs, looking very sad. "It's what he said he was doing. It was what I was doing. And I did it wrong. I know that now. But the goal, the only goal, was to make sure you were strong enough to handle anything that came your way. That's why Johns Hopkins and writing and MIT and working for NCIS and all of that was fine to me. That was you being strong enough to be you."

Tim snorts at that. "You ever think I was so 'timid' because there was someone yelling at me all the fucking time?"

"I do now."

"I used to peek at my Christmas presents."

She nods. "We knew."

"Why did you think I stopped?"

"Figured you didn't care as much anymore. You were eleven when you stopped. Christmas wasn't such a big deal."

He shakes his head. "It's because I had gotten to the point where I could think ahead well enough to understand what would happen to me if I got caught. You say I was too timid, you wanted me to be able to stand up for myself, then why never reward me when I did? Seventeen years, I don't ever remember being petted for being bold. Sarah was. She got compliments and happy smiles, and all sorts of good piled on her for being sassy. Why constantly keep doubling down on me?"

"You needed to be able to draw from your own strength and handle anything that would come your way. If you do whatever it is for someone else's praise, you'll fall down when you don't get that praise anymore. And there will be times when you don't get it. You had to be able to do what was right for you on your own because it was right, not because someone would praise you for it. And Sarah, even as a baby, she just kept rolling. Didn't matter if you liked what she was doing or not, she just kept it up. But you didn't, you were much more sensitive to the people around them, always checking in to make sure they were happy with what you were doing. You needed more help to rely on your own strength than she did, so you didn't get the same kind of treatment.

"Life'll beat the shit out of you, Tim. You know that. The punches just keep coming, and it doesn't end, and it may be decades before it gets better-" She sounds so sad as she says that, weary.

"That's the point of family, to make sure you've got a refuge…" And it hits Tim like a punch to the gut. "You didn't, did you? Stuck in a marriage you hated, little kids constantly needing attention, moving every eighteen months/two years, no close friends, can't complain to your parents about your husband, they told you not to marry him in the first place, your church is telling you to suck it up and pray…" He looks at his mother, trying to see the woman, not just the mom, sitting in front of him. "You were trying to make me hard enough to live your life."

She half-shrugs. "It's just life, Tim. Up, down, doesn't matter, you've got to handle it. Like I said, I wanted you to be strong enough to handle anything that came your way, and I know, now, that wasn't the way to do it… I'm sorry we were wrong about that. I'm sorry that kindness would have worked better, and we didn't try that. But… But I'm not sorry I did everything I could think of to make sure you had the skills, the brains, the grades, and the balls to do anything you ever wanted to do." She does look sorry, and he can feel deep regret and pain on her.

But he's angry, and he needs real answers, and honestly, he doesn't much care that this is painful to her. She didn't want this kind of pain, she didn't have to do this to him in the first place. "How could you have possibly thought that was the right way to do it?"

"Because doing things your kids hate because they need it is a ton of being a parent. Do you remember swim lessons?"

He shakes his head. Not that he doesn't remember them, because he does have vague memories of cold, fear, wet, and crying, but because he's got no context for them and he's not even entirely sure those memories were swim lessons.

"When you were three, the house we ended up in had a pool next door. No fence. Nothing to block it off or keep you out of it. I couldn't watch you twenty-four/seven. We could tell you not to go over there. We spanked you, one of the maybe three times that happened, when you did. But it wasn't stopping you, you kept wandering on over because you were fascinated by the water, so you had to learn how to swim.

"And you hated every single second of those lessons. You'd cling to my legs, crying, begging not to be put in the pool. You'd cry through the whole lesson, and cling to the edge of the pool or the girl teaching you. It was a disaster, but we kept doing it because there was no way we were going to live right next door to a pool with a child who was too young to stay out of the water and couldn't swim. You hating me for dragging you to those lessons was less important than you possibly drowning."

He thinks back. "And let me guess, by the time I could swim I was so terrified of the water it wasn't an issue anymore?"

She shakes her head. "We moved before you got it down."

He thinks about it, unsure of how long they stayed wherever it was when he was three. "So you're saying you tortured me for, God knows how long, months after I hit the point of being so terrified of water that there was absolutely no shot of me going anywhere near a bathtub, let alone a pool," he does remember fighting over the bath time. A lot. He was probably six or seven before he decided water was okay. "because of some insane notion that my three-year-old self absolutely had to be able to swim."

"Can't quit once you start. Have to see it through." That's his dad, at least, he always thought of that as his dad, talking.

"I was a baby!"

"You were a child, Tim. And you did need to learn how to swim. And you needed to learn to finish what you start."

"I didn't start it. You did."

"Tim…" Her face is heartbreakingly sad, and she's shaking her head gently. "It doesn't matter. It's over."

He feels the tears start again, and he's biting his lip, hard, before he gets out, "It's not over because I am still here, and I am still dealing with this crap, and God…" He rubs his eyes. "It's not over! I don't suppose you ever just got in the pool with me and played, splashed around a bit?"

"Your dad did."

"Until, what, I started crying on him, and he got disgusted and gave up? Handing me over to swim lessons until I grew gills or died? And if I wasn't going to grow gills, he really didn't much care if I died."

"It wasn't like that." Her eyes are soft and voice gentle as she says that.

"Of course it was! I had to be able to swim by four because we were a Navy family and I needed to be a little fish to make Dad happy. He stopped getting in the pool with me because he couldn't bear to be seen with a child who was afraid of water. And you couldn't watch me twenty-four/seven to keep me out of the neighbor's pool? Did this house have no doors or locks? Molly's really clever for almost two, but she's not unlocking doors and toddling her little self out into the backyard on her own."

She shakes her head and says dryly, "Your niece may be clever, but you were smarter. And there is a massive difference between almost two and not quite four. You knew how to get out of the house when you wanted to. I only had to grab you two feet from that pool twice, both of them in the first week after we moved there, before you were going to have swimming lessons. You had to be able to swim and that was that.

"You had to have the skills to do whatever it was you wanted to do and not get burned. You wanted to play in the pool. I wanted you to be able to play in the pool. You couldn't do that if you couldn't swim. So you were going to learn to swim."

"If I wanted to play in the pool so bad, why did I hate every single second of swimming lessons?"

A very brief twitch of a smile lights her face. "You didn't, at first. You were really eager on the ride over. Little swim trunks, flip flops, even had your own tiny goggles. You told everyone you ran into how you were going to learn to swim. You were happy, so happy until you got into the water and it was cold, and then the teacher was trying to show you how to do the breathing bit and you were already unhappy with cold and wet and then you sucked in a big mouthful of water, felt like you were going to drown, panicked, started flailing around, slipped out of her hands into the deeper water, and it took her maybe ten or twenty seconds to grab you, but by then you hated the pool, hated swimming, hated her, and didn't want anything to do with water ever again."

The tiny, rational voice in the back of Tim's mind is saying, very quietly, that making your child learn to swim is not insane. The much louder part, the part that is rapidly remembering more and more details (that may be imaginary) of swimming lessons is more or less screaming in rage at what they did and how. He does get calm enough after a few minutes to say, "And from there you decided, what? I needed another sixteen months of swimming lessons after that, never learning how to swim, terrified every day? Was I still running out to the neighbor's pool then?"

"No. But you still had to learn to swim, because the alternative was if you got in the water, you'd drown, and that wasn't going to happen."

"I'm sure."

"You're not thinking like a parent. You're thinking like a child."

"I am your child! And I was a child when you were doing that to me. And yeah, the part of me that's a Dad knows Kelly has to learn how to swim. All the kids do. Molly's already learning. But we don't have to terrorize them to do it. Water's too cold, go somewhere else. Hates the instructor, try someone else. Get in the damn pool and play. There are a million things you can do that don't involve constant pain and terror. Almost everyone else on earth manages to teach their kids how to swim without instilling a multi-year long water phobia."

"I told you, we did it wrong," She snaps out. "Okay? I know that now. I didn't then. I was alone. Just me and you and… And there were things you needed to do, needed to be, and I tried my best, but I didn't know."

"How could you not know?" His voice goes soft and hard for that. Anger beating sorrow into the background shutting it off. "Yeah, I didn't come with instructions, fine. But treat like a human being. Treat like you want to be treated, all that golden rule crap and loving each other they spouted at us every Sunday, how hard would that have been? I mean, just basic kindness. That's not the mystery of the ages."

She doesn't answer that, instead she says, "It was done with love. It happened because I love you. You're nine, the docs say that no, you don't just have bronchitis, more antibiotics aren't the answer, that's asthma. All you want to do is hide inside and read, play the Nintendo, and every damn day I was forcing you outside, making you run, making you play little league and kiddie soccer and whatever the hell else it was, and you're whining and moaning about you hate it and the other kids hate you and you suck at it, and you think that was fun? You think I did it because I got my kicks from seeing you trembling and crying and hating every afternoon? Is that why you think I did it?"

"I don't know why you did it! And all Dad had to say was to stop being such a goddamn fucking pussy and get out there and play."

"Of course he said that." Terri looks very tired. Tim's getting the sense that she may be feeling like she got fed a line by her husband and not only did defending it suck, but the 'line' was a cover for him to be cruel. Then he forces himself not to think that. It's just another way for him to give her wiggle room and absolve her of the responsibility of her actions. Tim tunes back in and hears "…the doctors said the more you ran around and played and did hard physical stuff, the stronger your lungs would get, the less you'd need the inhaler. The fewer inhalations the better because you were sucking steroids right into your lungs and they had nasty side effects for long term use."

"And you couldn't tell me that?"

"We told you it was good for you. We told you you needed the exercise. We told you it'd make it easier to breathe. We told you all of that, and you still wanted to sit around and play make-believe games and write and read. You were ten. You didn't care about being able to breathe much, you just wanted to do what you wanted to do, and it wasn't run around.

"Laying around wasn't going to happen. It didn't matter that you loathed it, you needed to be out there, so out you went. And fortunately we moved again and whatever you were allergic to there was less of at the next place, so we didn't have to force it so hard because you could breathe better on your own. But you needed to be out there, running around, and you wouldn't do it on your own, so we kept it up and made sure you were on at least one sport until you got out of high school."

Once again, the rational part of his mind can see that. He was also overweight then (though it occurs to him that if he was sucking steroids straight into his lungs, that may have had something to do with being overweight) and exercise was good for him, and if a Doctor was telling him that getting Kelly out and exercising was necessary for her to be healthy... Yeah, he'd make her do it. But... and once again the angry voice takes over, "And the fact that they were all team sports? Was that for my own good, too? It wasn't enough to make me run around and get exercise? I couldn't have done laps around the backyard, or hell, I could swim then, joined a pool or something like that. I had to have twenty other guys constantly ragging on me all the time because I wasn't very good at any of those sports? I had to have coaches and other little league parents screaming at me when I dropped the ball? What, was that helping me develop character?"

Her posture slumps further. "You needed friends. On your own, you'd spend all your time reading, living in your head with imaginary friends. You needed real, live people in your life."

"Why?" That stupefies him, always has. He has never understood when people say that someone needs to make friends, and then proceeds to dump that person into a crowd of other people who treat him like utter shit. "What good did I get out of being constantly mocked and bullied? Just. No!" The logical part shuts down and all emotion is coming out now. "I don't care what your justifications were. I thought I did. I thought I wanted to understand, but I don't. I don't care. I'm sorry torturing me for my own good was so painful for you." Skin lashing sarcasm on that line. "You know what Jimmy says, when we're off doing something stupid? That pain is your body's way of telling you to stop; that what you're doing is bad for it, and if dragging my ass all over hell and gone and forcing me to do stuff hurt, then you should have stopped."

There's a tiny spark of fire in her eyes as she says, "You don't stop when it's someone you love. You don't stop. You don't give up. You do whatever you need to do to get them where they need to go. You needed to stop second guessing yourself. You needed more confidence. You needed to learn to work, to study. You were so damn smart you were just going to coast along on your memory if we didn't keep raising the bar. You had to get all the answers right because we knew you could get 95% of them right without even trying, but eventually that wouldn't be true, and you had to have the skills to learn things you couldn't pick up from one read or listen. You needed to physically play, or you would have just curled into your brain. You needed to stop being afraid of everything, or you'd let that fear stop you from being who you wanted to be. You needed-"

"To be someone else. I needed to be Dad or Sarah or… Not me."

"No. The fear, the weakness, the shyness, none of that was you. That was standing in the way of being you. You've let it go, even this… mess between us… is part of having let that go. You're fearless now, or as close as any sane man gets. You've got the confidence to be whoever you want to be. This is all I ever wanted for you, and you've got it."

"Of course it was me. All of it's me! I'm not fearless now; I'm just loved. I've got a whole crop of new fears because I've got people I love all around me, and something happening to them scares the shit out of me. I'm not any less shy. I just handle it better because I've got a safe place to be me at the end of the day. I am less nervous, but that's because so much more of my life is under my control. I don't constantly worry about putting a toe out of line because I know it won't get chopped off now.

"But all of it was me. You didn't teach me to stand up for myself. You made me so miserable that I stopped caring about what was going to happen next. I was so unhappy by the time I was applying to John's Hopkins my self-preservation mechanism shut down and all I could care about was being able to finally give Dad back a taste of what he'd been doing to me.

"When I ripped up the Annapolis letter, I was sure he was going to literally kill me. He was going to do it with his own hands or drag me onto his ship and let his sailors fuck me to death the way he kept threatening. And by that point I didn't care anymore. No matter what happened, dead or alive, I'd end up out of his house, out of his reach.

"And for decades I pretended you didn't know. You and I, we were victims together. Hiding out from him. But you knew. You didn't just know what he was doing to me; you helped." He's crying again, quietly, tears streaming down his face. "I don't care what you thought you were doing. That's a lie. I do care. I care, and I hate caring, because there's still that kid in there, scared, crying, silently, not wanting anyone to hear, who loves his mom more than anything and wants her smiles and petting and...

"And he's not dead, not yet. But you are. That image of you is gone. There's just that screaming child who wants his mom to adore him, but you didn't."


"No, Mom. Don't tell me you love me. Not if that's what love is to you. I've got people who love me now. Really love me. Even Tony, who is a grade A asshole sometimes, doesn't pull crap like that on me. When he's ragging on me, he doesn't try to make me think it's for my own good. He doesn't tell me or him lies about how he's trying to make me a better man by ripping me apart.

"Don't tell me it was for my own good. Don't tell me that I needed those skills. You're right; I did, but not like that. Don't tell that screaming child that all those hours of pain, all of that fear, all of the alone and alienation was love. None of that was what he needed."

"I'm sorry. I know we were wrong."

He feels the break inside, somewhat like the break when he started throwing the beakers, but this is more of a hyper-aware sensation as opposed to the numb-dead that went with that. This is perfect, aching clarity.

"It's not enough." And it's not. All the sorry on earth can't, won't make this better. "Don't come to the christening party." He stands up and slips on his boots. "We're not going to see each other again. We're not going to talk. Kelly, Abby, and I aren't going to be part of your life." He shakes his head. "I can't forgive what you did to me. And I can't pretend you didn't do it. And I can't just leave it there and go on. So, we're done." He puts his jacket back on, and without looking back at her, turns and leaves.

"Well?" Abby asks, but it's on Gibbs' face, too. They're both waiting up for him. Though it's actually not really late. Only 8:45, though it feels like day three of a four day long no sleep work-a-thon to Tim.

He sits down heavily between them on the sofa snuggling into Abby, Gibbs' hand on his shoulder. "No one's the villain in his own story."

They both stare at him, questions on their faces, waiting for more explanation.

"It was all for my own good, and yes, it was the wrong way to do it, but it had to happen and… She treats it like making me take my medicine. I didn't like it, but I needed it, so it had to happen. That's how she understands it."

Abby hugs him a little tighter. Gibbs squeezes his shoulder.

"I told her we were done. Walked out, didn't look back. It doesn't matter why she did it, she should have known it was wrong."

Abby says, "Yeah." Gibbs nods.

Tears are forming yet again, and he struggles against them for a moment, wishing this was just done, but struggling doesn't help, and again sobbing rocks through him.

They both hold him, and let him cry for as long as he needs. And neither of them are very surprised when he quiets down less than half an hour later, not because he's done, not really, but because he's fallen asleep.

Only so much you can deal with in one day, and sometimes after that, you just shut down.

Eventually, Kelly starts chirping again, the 'feed me' cry of the four-month-old. Abby looks over to Gibbs, who nods. She slips out of Tim's arms, shifting him gently over to Gibbs, who keeps holding him, very gently stroking his hair.

Tim doesn't sleep through it, waking with a start a few seconds after Abby got up. He starts to pull away, feeling a bit embarrassed, but Gibbs hold on. "I've got you, Tim. She'll be back down in a bit. You rest, okay? It's been a long damn day, and tomorrow's not going to be any shorter."

He nods, letting himself settle further against Gibbs, feeling pulled into deep, numbing sleep.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 314

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 314: Forward and Back

Inviting his mom to visit five minutes before becoming the next head of Cybercrime was awfully bad timing.

Tuesday morning an effusively happy email was waiting for him, confirming that Terri and Ben would be up for the christening. And that's when the full-bore: Holy shit what the hell was I thinking; do I really want to see these people? crashed into him along with a side of muscle twitching nervousness.

Add in two days of testifying on top of that, which is more free time than he needs right now. He's gotten to the point where testifying is old hat. Waiting to testify, though... They stick him in a room by himself, and he waits and waits and waits. Eventually some junior legal beagle shows up to go over one final prep, and on the stands he goes.

The testifying part is usually fine. He doesn't get called in as often as Tony, Ziva, or Gibbs, because his part of the job is usually very technical and tends to bore jurors.

Likewise, at this point, defense attorneys tend to not like him, either.

When he's answering prosecution questions, he gives somewhat lively versions of 'explaining how it works to Tony and Gibbs' style answers. He keeps it simple, short, and as amusing as possible. Jurors don't exactly listen to him, attention riveted to his words, but they don't fall asleep.

When he's on cross-examination, he whips out 'explaining it to Gibbs or Tony when someone else I want to impress with my brains is in the room' and pulls out all the tech speak. This buffs his expertise cred and puts the jury to sleep/makes them annoyed at the defense team for making them have to listen to all this nit-picky crap they don't understand.

So, that part's not too bad.

But right now, sitting in this room, doing not much of anything beyond worrying about his mom and Ben showing up, is not fun.

He's got the personnel files for everyone on his soon to be team. (Had to get special dispensation for that. The Defense side was wary he had some sort of extra case prep that hadn't been agreed on, but finally decided he could keep the folders with him once they'd glanced through.) He's trying to pay attention, write up notes and brief dossiers on everyone. But the enormity of Mom's coming on Saturday is making it difficult to focus.

He knows part of the reason this is jarring him so hard is that he just signed up for an undetermined number of hours of emotionally intense interactions. Even if everything goes perfectly (and he's not even sure what perfectly would be) this is going to be tense and draining and… and… and that's not really it. That's part of it. That's the easy part of it.

He's typed out the email, twice, the nope, I'm not ready for this, don't come email, but doesn't send it. (Can't send it. He's not allowed contact with the outside world until he's done testifying. Even if he could, he wouldn't.)

He doesn't send it because he knows what he's doing. If he sees her, he'll have to make a decision. Can't be in the same place, same room with her for hours and leave it in this half-functional limbo. Once she shows up, he has to act, has to make himself forgive or burn that bridge.

Sending that note would just be putting it off that much further.

Once identified as the problem, some of his nervousness starts to ease into the background. At least he has an easier time forcing himself to look at the folders in front of him and really see, focus on them.

He'd gotten a hold of Cybercrime's resumes earlier, in an effort to figure out if Manner had hired the B Team, or if working under Manner turned good people into the B Team. Nothing he's seeing in the personnel files is disabusing him of his original impression that Manner had hired decent people and then sucked all the life out of them. As he looks through, he sees things like Manner was giving them commendations for how well-done their paperwork was or how efficient their code was and stuff like that, which is all well and good, Tim's in favor of correct paperwork and efficient code, but he also noticed that Manner never gave anyone any petting for actually catching bad guys.


Worse, doesn't look like he's ever given anyone any grief about not catching bad guys. He's not allowed to have contact with the outside world while he's waiting to testify, so he makes a little note to himself: Check Cybercrime hours. He's got the sinking suspicion that this department never racks up any overtime.

On the upside, it's a pretty evenly balanced team. Twelve members, four basic skill sets: coders, hackers, web specialists, and database experts, everyone's got at least some skill in all four, and their specialties divided nicely.

Except… Edward Riely. Joy of working for the Federal Government, can't get rid of deadwood… He's a mainframe specialist who's most recent language is C++. It's not that Tim has anything against unique or weird specialties, it's that NCIS doesn't have a mainframe and hasn't had one since the mid-90s. And best he could recall, every other US Gov. agency had gotten rid of their mainframes, too. So, unless he's called in to go back in time and solve a crime in 1992, this guy is more or less useless.

He takes out his phone and writes another little note, reminding himself to find out if they've got a computer guy on the cold case team. That might be a way to fob this guy off and open up his desk for a new hire. Tim's thinking that if he can get that free desk, Catherine Howard, who he'd interviewed for the MCRT, would be a good fit.

"Agent McGee?"

He looks up and sees one of the bailiffs staring at him. "Yes."

"You're being called to the stand."

"Okay." He quickly packed everything up and headed off to explain what it is he does and how he does it.

Thursday he's back in the office, and for the moment, there's only paperwork.

He looks over to Tony, who's working his way through the mound of forms on his desk. "You mind if I head down? I told them I'd be poking around down there when I had some downtime."

Tony looks up at him, and though he seemed happy for Tim when the news broke, he's been… Tim doesn't know… hasn't seen enough of it to know, but there's something besides I'm happy for you going on back there.

"Your stuff done?"

Most of it is. He's got about a quarter inch of forms to go. Monday night he'd been part of the hard original push on the case, but he'd been sidelined for Tuesday and Wednesday, so he hadn't been as involved as he usually is in one of their cases. Tim stands up, grabs his short stack of paper, and puts it on Draga's desk. Draga glares up at him. "Hey!"

"Two months from now, it'll all be yours, anyway. Might as well get used to it." Then he turns to Tony. "Yep."

Tony appears to approve of what Tim just did. He smiles. "Have fun."

Tony watches McGee head toward the stairs. The idea that he's really leaving, that two more months and his partner will be gone...

He's happy for McGee. He really genuinely is.

And it's time. He knows that. They're butting heads like two bucks fighting for control of the herd. He talked with Gibbs about it, a little. Can't have more leaders than followers in a team. And Tim's not a follower, or at least, he's not willing to be Tony's follower, not anymore.

Either way, it's time. He knows it. He's pleased. Tim's getting his own department and the family life he wants to go with that. That fantasy life of the house in the 'burbs with the babies with pig tails and black diapers that he'd told Gibbs about back when they started dating: Tim's there.

But his partner's leaving. The geeky kid who turned into a man with balls of steel on his watch is leaving. His wing man, his back up, his straight man, no more. And that aches.

He's talked with Ziva about it, how weird it'll feel not to have McGee's quiet, stable energy there. He hasn't mentioned, though he's sure she knows, how lonely it'll be not to have a good listener for his stories.

He wonders, a bit, if this is how Ducky would feel if Palmer was moving on.

But it doesn't matter, McGee's leaving. Two more months, sort of, he'll probably be spending more and more time down there as they get closer to his go day, and then, one day he'll come up here and McGee'll be gone. All of his stuff will be off the walls, Draga'll be sitting at his desk, and everything will be different.

This time Tim heads down, and for a few minutes lingers just outside the elevator.

He supposes, if he tried, he could come up with a less welcoming work environment. But short of hanging up an "Abandon All Hope/Ye, Who Enter Here" sign with a few manacles to the blank, gray wall that's the first thing anyone sees when the elevator doors open, nothing is immediately springing to mind.

It's a big, dim, dank (But not really, it should be dank, it's gray and dim, and dank goes along with that, but it's not dank because computers don't like dank. It's psychosomatic dank.) rectangle of gray painted cinderblock walls, gray concrete floors, not nearly enough overhead light, no natural light, twelve (gray) cubicles in three straight lines, all of them softly glowing with individual lights and computer screens. It's simultaneously a little too cold, (ACs on high to keep the computers cool) and a little too warm (all of those computers are throwing off a lot of heat). It's loud in an indistinct buzzing sort of way, computers, exhaust fans, AC, dehumidifier, music on too loud through headphones.

Filing cabinets on one end (army drab instead of gray). Out of date coffee pot (God, it's a drip pot on a hot plate!) and snack and soda vending machines on the other.

There's absolutely nothing he can do about the lack of natural light. They're three floors underground here. (Which is intentional. Nothing short of a mag pulse or a bunker buster will take out their systems. After Deering's bomb, the level between Cybercrime and the rest of NCIS was strengthened; a "regular" bomb going off in the building won't take out Cybercrime.) But from what he can see only one out of three of the lights hanging from the ceiling are actually lit. He doesn't know if that's some sort of green use-less-energy thing, or if it's a matter of physical plant hasn't been down here in months. He does know, that unless there's an awfully good reason for it that he's not seeing, as of day one they will get some freaking light bulbs down here.

He circles around, and like every other time he's snooped electronically, everyone is in his or her own cube, working away. They're all looking very industrious. He doesn't see how they communicate with each other. (IM? Maybe? He's not looking closely enough at their screens to see if that's how they're doing it.) He also, from just walking around, can't tell who's working on what.

They do, however, have little nametags on their cubes. He ducks into the one labeled "Summers," remembering that he's a fellow Beaver (undergrad/machine learning), database specialist, has been with NCIS four years, and has received two commendations from Manner for (unspecified) excellence.

It's a very tidy, lighter gray on the inside, cubical.

Tim stands, waiting for Summers to take a break. And eventually (three minutes later) he does.

"Can I help you Mr. McGee?"

"It's just McGee, and yes, thanks. You mind telling me what you're working on?"

"Running down an IP for Hanson."

Tim nods, he knows Hanson, he runs the third of the five DC field teams. "Then I'll leave you to it. Don't want to slow you down."

"Won't matter." Tim's getting a sense that just possibly Summers is less than perfectly thrilled by how Cybercrime is currently run. At least, that 'won't matter' sounds awfully hopeless. And the way Summers is looking at him, wary but hopeful, is making him think there's more than just a conversation about a specific bit of hunting going on.

"Why not? Faster you get that address, the faster they can move."

"Cases are first come first serve down here. Get a case, work it to the end, pick up a new one. This one's been on the board for three days. And extra few minutes won't matter. All I can do now is tell them where the suspect was."

Tim stares at him, dumbfounded. It takes a literal thirty seconds before he can say, "Three days?"

"Yeah." Summers nods slowly. I really don't like this all over his face.

"Is there any chance this is a cold case?"

"Might be by now." Oh, that's really not the answer Tim wants to hear. Likewise the fact that his team is the fastest team in the building is very sharply coming into focus, all the other teams farm their computer work down to Cybercrime.

"Help me out, why has a lead on a hot case been sitting for three days?"

"Because it was sixth in line."

"Okay, where's the line?" Summers wrote down an address for their NCIS interweb. "New things get added to the bottom of the chart, old things are at the top, as soon as you finish one job you pick a new one."

"Who else is working this one with you?"

"No one."

Tim blinks slowly, stepped around, and read over Summer's shoulder. No it's not a big job. It'd take him maybe two hours on his own. So, soloing on this makes a certain amount of sense. He looks at the chart. "How about any of these. This one… Rundlebach…" he'd heard a few mentions of that case, big time fraud involving enlistment benefits, "that's big case, who's on that?"

"Ngyn. I think."

"Who else?"

"No one. You finish one job, you grab another."

"So, you're telling me you're all working solo?"

"Yeah." The look on Summers' face makes it perfectly clear he does not approve.

Tim's shoulders slump, he sighs, and then straightens up and smiles. "Okay. That's good to know. Thanks, Summers."

"No problem."

He walks the circuit one more time, watching, listening, getting ideas in mind for how this whole thing is going to change, and then heads over to the coffee pot, pours himself a cup, and practically spits it out. The stuff they have upstairs is revolting. (There's a reason why it doesn't matter how nasty it is outside, they always go to Seth's cart.) However, it's manna from the coffee heavens compared to this. He's not even sure if this is genuine artificial coffee flavored coffee. (Tony talking about his civil war reenacting days with his dad, being forced to drink the stuff they called "coffee" which was brewed from something like burnt dried corn and acorns, springs to mind.)

He flashes a text to Abby: You'd think, in that we're NAVAL criminal investigative services, that someone, somewhere would have heard of the idea of triage.

A minute later he got back: You'd think. Though none of my guys ever served. How about yours?

He thinks for a few seconds. Nope. They're, like your guys, doing the cases first come, first serve, doesn't matter how big or urgent. Get this, they're also doing all of them one tech to a case.

Oh Lord, even my guys knew that wasn't good.

Yeah. Coffee sucks, too.

That's easy to fix. Now you can get that Keurig you look at longingly every time we go to Target.

He smiles at that. He does look at it longingly, occasionally petting it, but at home, he's the only one who drinks coffee, and he's got a perfectly good machine, so no reason to get a new one until the old one dies.

I think I have a plan for Saturday. Kelly and I are going on a Target run, getting one of those, along with a ton of coffee pods. I may not be able to change anything else, yet, but I can get my guys better coffee!

There you go. You'll be McGee: The CoffeeBoss.

I can live with that. Are you in charge of what color the walls are in your lab?

Ish. Part of the maintenance routine is every five years they paint. They give me a list of options, and I pick one.

How about new equipment? How's that work?

Got a yearly budget. As long as I don't go over, I can requisition new stuff.

Carryover from year to year?

Yeah. No way I'd ever be able to afford the new scanners or the gas chromatograph, otherwise. Don't tell Major MassSpec, but we're saving up for a combo GC-MS. Should have enough cleared in two years.

My lips are sealed. Besides, he wouldn't believe me even if I did tell him. He'd assume I was rumormongering to just make him angry.

There's a long quiet minute. Tim assumes she's actually working, and he opens his laptop and logs into the task log, getting a feel for how it works, and becoming familiar with what's on tap for Cybercrime.

Then his phone buzzes again. It's just hitting me. This is how it's going to be from now on. You won't be coming by to chat and work. Might stop in to mess around or something, but it won't be every day. We'll text about work, maybe have lunch together, but you and I won't sit next to each other at the desk, working the same job, not anymore.

(sad smile) Yeah. I know. You won't be read in on all my stuff anymore, or I yours, too.


Yeah. No unmixed blessings.

Guess not.

He heads over to HR and asks for information about how the hours in Cybercrime work. Doesn't take too long of hunting through the forms before he's sure that part of what is going on down there is that no one is working overtime. They all get in at eight. They all leave at five. They each take every single day of vacation. (Okay, he's assuming on that, it'll take hours to go through everything that thoroughly.)

He takes his phone out and sends a text to Gibbs: I know why you hired me, now.

A few minutes later, as he's heading toward Accounting, curious to see what shape his budget is going to be in, he gets back. Couldn't resist those pretty green eyes.


Not yours, Abby's. She kept pouting at me about it. But Gibbs, we neeeeeed McGee! I run the lab; I can't be your tech girl, too.

Love you, too. They get in at eight. They go home at five. God forbid you need computer work done at 5:15.

There was a reason why Abby was doing all our tech before you showed up.

Yeah, and now I know why you needed a tech guy. I'm also feeling significantly less cool about mocking the other teams for being so slow.

Mock away, the other team leaders could have done the same thing I did and hired a computer guy.

Guess so. Just hitting me that you and Kate and Tony worked pretty well as a trio. You didn't actually need another field agent.

Didn't think you'd ever really become one. Probably the best surprise of my life.


There's a few minutes' pause while Tim makes a note to himself about getting Cybercrime onto a twenty-four hour cycle. Crime happens all the time, so someone's got to be around to handle casework. He also makes a note to make sure that there's not some sort of messy labor rules against it.

His phone buzzes again while he's searching the regs.

Draga's getting sassy. Says if he's doing your paperwork, he should have your desk. He just scooted over there.

:) It'll be his soon enough. I'll boot him out when I get back up there, though.

Nothing against it he could see. Time to head off.

Tim gets to Accounting, asks for the budget information he wants, waits for the girl to call up to Vance to get the okay for this. She's staring at him warily, apparently requests to see departmental budgets are few and far between, let alone by guys who are not actually in charge of said department.

But, after a brief conversation with Vance, she stares at him, nods grudgingly, and sets him up at an empty desk, giving him the log in information he needs to view what will soon be his budget.

It's very nice. Painfully tidy. Like the rest of Cybercrime it's in perfect shape. The accounting team probably loves them. Nothing's over, everything appears to be accounted for, he's even got, and this pleases him quite a bit, close to twenty thousand dollars unused. Yeah, that's not big money, not in the grand scale of things, but that would certainly spruce up the basement, get the work flow better, upgrade some of the tools, and add a few toys to keep his techs happy.

Of course, no one in Cybercrime ever works overtime.

That 20k may vanish really fast if he gets them working the kind of hours they need to work.

He grabs his phone and flashes another text to Abby. Where does money for overtime come from?

From your budget.



They're working perfect 8 to 5, no overtime. I know I've got stuff I want to change that'll cost money. And I know keeping butts in chairs'll run overtime.

Welcome to management! ;)

He snorts at that. Thanks.

Comp time may or may not be your friend. Or, you shake them up enough, and they only log 40 hours, but work more because they love the team. Same way you guys do.


Not feeling hopeful of that?

Not immensely. Talked to one of them, Summers, he was showing some signs of wanting things to change.

That's good.

I hope so.

And a pile of new trace just came in. Off to actually work.


He's digging through his numbers, looking into what all it is Cybercrime spends money on (software licenses, wages, hardware, bonuses: It's not too complicated.) when his phone buzzes again.

Gibbs this time. Really weird to see him sitting at your desk.

Tim supposes it would be, but he's not having any sort of gut reaction to it. Probably would have this time last year, but... The desk isn't home so much, not anymore.

I haven't left yet.

Nope. Just different.

Yeah. I know. Would have felt the same way if I'd been the one who left later, and had to see someone else at your desk.

Don't remind me. Tony and Ziva are rummaging through resumes right now.

Gotta fill that space sooner or later.

Guess so.

At least it's less traumatic than the last time we filled an empty desk.

Amen to that.

Ziva is sitting next to Tony, both of them scanning through the list of resumes on file with HR for field agent positions.

Her eyes dart over names, qualifications, just little bits and pieces of information. They want more tech, sniper skills, a Marine would be good, and if they can get all of that with a psych background, someone who can really nail the interrogation angle, that'd be perfect.

But it won't be perfect, because her team is splitting up and heading off.

It's been almost five years since she told Cranston that she wanted something permanent, something that couldn't be taken away. When she said that, she was envisioning her team.

Silly answer. She knows that, feels it now, but she needed it then, the idea of a rock to chain herself to.

But nothing is permanent, everything changes, and anything can be taken away. Of all of the team, she knows that most intimately.

Which is probably why she wanted the opposite more than anything.

Now, though, having lived five years of changes, she knows that if you've got permanent, you're looking at something/someone dead.

Her team will never be the same. It'll never work as smooth. It will never be the haven from life outside.

But that's okay, because she doesn't need that anymore. And, privately, in the very deep thoughts, the ones she's still playing with herself, the ones she hasn't even voiced to Tony, yet, she's not sure how much longer she'll be part of the team. There are parts of her that have been hiding, afraid to see the light for decades, and she's thinking that maybe, wrapped in a family that loves her, it might be okay to see about exploring them again.

Back when this started, when she became Special Agent Ziva David, NCIS, she was replacing the smoldering ruins of a blasted, destroyed family with a team. It wasn't enough. But it was what she could get. And it was safely distant enough that she didn't have to risk, yet again, heartbreak.

Once again, she has a family. She doesn't need a team to fill the void left by ghosts of a brother and sister, mother and father.

She looks through resumes with Tony, and thinks about a conversation they need to have.

Tim spends another hour, through lunch, on the computer, checking around, coming up with some ideas. (Modified shareware/freeware. Cybercrime spends more on licensing than it does on anything else, and if he can free up some funds by switching software, he can get more hours out of his people, and get better tools for them to work with. Get more out of each of those hours. That's the plan, or one of them, at least.)

By the time that was done, he felt like he'd done as much as he could with what he had. Tomorrow, Monday, he'd start heading down to shadow individual techs... God, there's got to be a better name for them.

Abby's got LabRats, so what should his guys be?

Worms? They're underground, never see the light of day, and computer worms are a thing. But he doesn't like worms. Too... worms.

He's got a dungeon. Dark, gray, dank (but not really). Who works in a dungeon? Imps?

Computer Imps?

Diskworld references aside, he's not loving that. No, if he's going to be the grand overlord of Cybercrime he's got to have... A smile spreads across his face, yeah, it's kind of dumb, but it'll make Abby laugh and it amuses him.

McGee's Minions.

That works.

Tomorrow he'll start spending at least an hour or so a day observing his Minions. He feels a bizarre desire to rub his hands together and cackle at that.

When he got back up, Draga was sitting at his desk, working on his computer. He just stares at him, Really, you gonna pull this shit on me? on his face.

"In two months, it'll be my desk, might as well get used to it, right?" Draga says with a cocky smile.

Tim steps behind his desk, kicks (lightly) at the back of the chair while pointing to Draga's desk. "Out!"

Draga stands up, grabs the stack of papers, leaving about half of them on Tim's desk, and moseys over to his own.

Tim shrugs and starts filling them out. Not like he hasn't done it before.

"How was it McGee?" Ziva asks looking away from Tony's computer.

"It's going to depend a whole lot on how the people working there react to change. I can see a lot of easy ways to make things better, but..."

"But if they do not want to change..." she leads.

"Yeah." He smiles and nods. He tells them a little about what he's noticing. His teammates are all properly appalled. Tony makes a joke about how if he'd known he could have gotten regular hours by learning computers he would have bothered to learn. Gibbs watches them (because it is a paperwork day, and a certain amount of goofing around is allowed on paperwork days) fondly.

As he's talking, Tim's thinking about how much he's going to miss this. Easy, fun chatting while they all fill in the blanks.

And for as much as he's looking forward to the future, as much as he wants to see where Cybercrime will take him, there is a sort of anticipatory ache of losing this.

Tony's phone rings. He picks it up, listens, nods, asks a few questions, jotting down answers. They all know what this means.

Like Gibbs, Tony's kept the start of case mantra, "Gear up."

Cases, all cases, begin with "Gear up." The team will change. Tim'll go. Gibbs'll go. Eventually Ziva will probably take maternity leave. But those words will stay the same. "Gear up." And the cases'll keep coming. No matter what, sometime, somewhere, some poor son of a bitch'll buy the plot, and NCIS'll show up to figure out what happened.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 313

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Book Four: The Boss

Chapter 313: The Boss

Tim gets into the office, sees that he's, like usual, in after Gibbs but before Tony and Ziva. He's not sure if Draga's in yet or not. There is a RedBull on his desk, but there's usually a RedBull on his desk. Could be fresh, could be yesterday's. He's not poking around to find out.

So, paperwork.

He sits down and fires up his computers.

Like always he hits his email first. Checks to see what's new or interesting or updated. As he's scanning through the list of new letters, he finds himself thinking of talking with Jimmy, and then later, over dinner, with Abby, (wasn't the most romantic meal ever, but probably something they needed to talk about. After dinner made up for it.) and hits the compose button.

It's quick, just a few words:

Hey Mom,

Kelly's christening is on Sunday. There'll be a big family party after. I know it's last minute, but if you and Ben want to come up for it, we'd like you to.

If you're free, dinner's at our place on Saturday, 5:30.

Hope to see you then,


And he hit the send button before he could think about it again.

He's filling out paperwork when his phone rings. That startles him. Yes, he has a phone on his desk, but it's probably been three years since he's given that number to anyone. If you want to get a hold of him, you call his cell phone.

That's even the number on his card now.

But the phone on his desk is ringing, and for a second there's a tinge of dread in his heart. Is his Mom calling him? Does she want to actually, physically talk?

But it's still ringing and the rest of his team is staring at it, so… "McGee."

"Agent McGee…" He identifies the voice of Vance's secretary and feels a wash of relief. "Director Vance would like to see you."

Oh. That sends a spark of flushed happy through him, only one thing Vance is likely to want to have a one on one chat with him in person about. "Okay. I'll be up in a few seconds."

He hangs up and feels all four of his teammates looking at him. He points up, and everyone nods, understanding what's about to happen.

Fifteen seconds later, he's standing in front of Valerie, and she tells him, "Go on in," so he does.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes." Vance looks up from his computer, stepping out from behind his desk. "Twenty minutes ago Jenner gave me his letter of resignation. Sixty days' notice." He offers Tim his hand, and Tim, smile breaking across his face, shakes. "Congratulations McGee, as of January 4, you'll be the newest NCIS Department Head."

There's a smile on Leon's face, too, but Leon's smile has some bite to it. "My understanding is that the techs down in Cybercrime are aware of Jenner's resignation. So, while it is true that you are not taking over for two more months, letting them know that you're their new Boss is entirely on your shoulders."

"Ah." Yes, there is that, and especially sitting down with Manner to have a chat with him about how he's not the guy taking over Cybercrime. "Then I guess I should be making an appointment to have a talk with Jenner soon."

"I'd think that would be an excellent idea."

He knows exactly what is going to happen if he heads right down to the bullpen. He'll have all four of them congratulating them, and in a matter of minutes Abby, Jimmy, and Ducky will be up for a little impromptu party.

Which would be great. Which he's intending to enjoy. But not right this second, because the guys in Cybercrime don't know about it yet, and he doesn't want them finding out via scuttlebutt. He especially does not want Manner finding out by having someone say to him, "Hey, did you know there's that guy up in the MCRT celebrating getting your job?"

So he flashes a quick text to all seven of them: 1/4/16 first day as Head of Cybercrime! Cybercrime doesn't know that yet. Need to talk to Jenner and Manner.

As he's heading down the steps, his phone buzzes, another text from Abby to everyone, along with Breena and Penny: If there's no hot case, we're cutting out early. 5:30. Dinner and drinks on us, at the diner.

Three quarters of the way down the steps, he's hunting through the NCIS employee directory, finding Jenner's number. He sends a quick text. Can we talk?

Once he's back at his desk, supposedly working, watching everyone smiling at him, smiling back at them, not really paying attention to his paperwork, feeling really happy, he gets back. Kind of busy. Does it have to be today?

Be nice if it was, but no, it doesn't.

Two more minutes go by. Got a few minutes at 2:00. That do it?

Probably. See you then.

"Agent McGee."


They stare at each other. He worked with Jenner briefly back when he was down here. He's changed. Jenner hasn't. Still that same tightly wound, pale, nervous personality. The kind of guy who's physical appearance is so bland he blends into the background while you're looking at him, but his mood is so nervous he puts everyone else on edge. "What can I do for you, McGee? We're kind of busy down here, big changes coming soon, and I didn't expect a request for time from the MCRT golden boy. Finally run into a puzzle so big you can't handle it on your own?"

Tim looks at Jenner strangely. There's a lot of bite in those words, and okay, yeah, he'd been spying on his team, and making sure Vance knows how inefficient Jenner's managerial style is, but he also didn't think Jenner knew that. And, also, he's thinking that it should be fairly obvious why he's down there. A senior tech guy shows up at your desk half an hour after you give notice, putting two and two together shouldn't be difficult. But he's not getting any sense that Jenner knows this call is about anything other than a case.

"It's about those changes. Vance tells me your last day is December 31st."

He sees the recognition light on Jenner's face, and felt his mood go from curt and slightly annoyed to absolutely frosty. "And your first day is January 4th."

Tim nods, smiling, trying to... He's not sure… Trying to not piss this guy off just by existing? Screw that. He stops smiling.

"So, why are you down here?" Jenner asks.

"I wanted to talk to you, get up to date on all the cases you're working, let your team know that I'll be taking over, transition stuff."

"Before I leave, I'll have briefs written up for all active investigations. Obviously we won't be working on the same things then as we are now."

"Nope. From now until then, when I'm not actively investigating or in court, I'd like to be down here, getting to see how you work, how your team functions, getting to know the players."

Jenner shrugs. "You can do that, but I don't think it'd be very informative. No one does their best with someone breathing down their necks."

"All right. Then I'll see how they do when they're at less than their best. When do you want to tell them I'll be taking over?"

Never is clear on his face. "Doesn't matter."

"Then today will work fine. I understand you were grooming Stephen Manner to be your replacement?"

He nods, terse, and Tim gets the sense that Jenner genuinely likes Manner and is pissed that he's not getting this job.

"Steve's been my right hand man for six years now."

He gets another layer of this. "And you told him he'd take over for you?"

Jenner nods. "He deserves to run this department. He's put the years in, done the job, and done it well."

Tim has his own opinions about that, but in that Manner is one of the only two techs who passed all of his tests, he deserves at least basic respect.

"Obviously Vance thinks I'll do a better job of it."

"With all due respect, Agent McGee, Vance has no idea what happens down here. He wouldn't know a worm from a phishing attack."

"But I do. And he knows that when he needs the impossible done yesterday, he calls me, not you. And he knows that when NCIS needed to up its Cyber security, you guys built a system. That system got hacked in three weeks. So, he had me build a wall around us that's never been breached. A wall so well-designed that people have had an easier time breaking into the building to use our computers than getting through by hacking. So, do you mind if I pull Manner off of his station for an hour or so and have a private chat with him?"

"Have at it, Agent McGee. I assume you know who Manner is?"


Manner's sitting at his desk, earbuds in, some sort of pop music blasting away, fingers flying over his keyboard. Tim doesn't interrupt. He hates it when someone breaks his flow, so he's not going to do it to someone else. Sooner or later Manner'll notice him standing there.

The correct answer is a hell of a lot later than Tim expected. For ten full minutes he stands there, watching Manner at work. By the end of the third minute, he's thinking Manner may be intentionally ignoring him, but since his eyes haven't flicked off his screen, and this is the guy who coded straight through his font attack, it's entirely possible he's really that into it.

It's a good long time to study the man. Since he's trying to get Manner to notice him without interrupting, he's facing him, so he can't see what he's doing on the computer. That leaves his physical person.

Tim's pale. He always has been, always will be. Can't be Irish back to the dawn of time and not be pale. Manner's ghostly: porcelain skin, white blonde hair, light blue eyes. Tim's debating if he's some sort of albino or whatever that tribe in Northern Europe the girl from Frozen was based on is. Either way, working in a dimly lit basement is not helping at all.

But, eventually, his fingers slow down, and Manner looks up, sees Tim, leaning against the edge of his cubicle, and jerks with surprise.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. Hi." He holds out his hand. "I'm Tim McGee. I was wondering if you'd be willing to get a cup of coffee with me?"

Manner squints at him, seems to be figuring out who he is, does not shake his hand, and looks annoyed. "I've got work to do. Don't need to be flirting with you."

Tim stands up a bit straighter, tucking his hands into his pockets. "Let's try this again." He smiles, but it's not warm. "Hi. I'm Tim McGee, in two months I'll be your boss. I thought, since Manner kept telling you that in two months you'd be the boss, that it'd be a lot easier to get the news that wasn't going to happen in private, and that we could talk about what happens next without your eleven co-workers all listening in. So, want to get a cup of coffee with me?"

Tim waits, patiently, as what little color he has drains from Manner's face when it hits him that he's not going to be filling the office he'd been designing in his head for however many months now, then he waits through the homicidal rage phase, which lasts a bit longer than he was expecting, and he waits a few more minutes for the what-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-do-now phase to pass into the find-out-more phase.

So, all in all, he stands there for almost twenty minutes before Manner says, "Let me get my jacket."

"It wasn't supposed to be you."

Tim shrugs. It's not raining anymore and warmed up a bit, so they're sitting on one of the benches outside the Navy Yard. For all he's been thinking about this moment, because he's known for months that job one was going to be telling Manner he didn't get the job, he never felt like he'd gotten to a good way to deal with this. If Manner can play with the team, Tim wants him to play. Manner's probably about a good third of the talent NCIS Cybercrime has on staff, and losing him would hurt.

But if he can't play, or won't accept Tim as his boss, Tim's not interested in dealing with that headache.

So, somehow, he's got to get through this, making sure that Manner knows he's the better man for the job, but not alienating him so much that he decides to stick around and be a pain in his ass.

"I disagree, and Vance does, too."

Manner shakes his head. Like Jenner, he doesn't seem to hold much respect for Vance when it comes to what they do. "How did you…"

"I went up there and asked for it. I gave him a plan for where I wanted Cybercrime to go. I gave him a tactical assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. And then I showed Vance why I'd do it better than Jenner is, and honestly, better than you would, too."

Manner isn't buying that. Scorn's radiating off of him as he sips his coffee. "You really think you're good enough at this to be my boss?"

"I know I am."

Another snort. "Yeah, I know your reputation. You're the one everyone calls in when they're stuck. But it's not just hacking down there. You've got to run the team, run the ops, run the paperwork. So you're slick with a computer, fantastic for you, you've got to be a bureaucrat, too."

"I need to do it, you're right. But you don't, and Ngyn doesn't, and Hammon and Brent and Jiff and the rest of them don't. Right now, bureaucracy is the biggest problem you guys have down there. We're cops. What I need to be is a team leader. What you guys need to be is a team. You've been sitting down there thinking you're some sort of hall monitors and keeping all your paperwork tidy. You've got the cleanest record of any government agency on the east coast, lowest cracked case ratio, but your paperwork is perfect because you spend more time dotting I's and crossing Ts than you do catching bad guys. No more. We catch bad guys. We stop them from hurting people. That's our number one priority. We do it with computers instead of guns, but we work together and we do it. Are you in any way surprised that Leon found that to be a compelling vision for NCIS Cybercrime?"

"Are we being honest with each other?"

Tim holds up his hands. "Why not?"

"I don't think Leon cares one way or another what happens down in Cybercrime. I don't think he has a clue as to what we do down there. I think he's got a pet who's handy with a computer who asked for a new assignment. If the rumors I hear about you are true, it's in Leon's best interest to keep you happy, because otherwise you'd be a nightmare of a whistleblower. And, now, instead of running a smoothly functioning operation, I'm stuck with having to manage a cowboy who wouldn't know a rule if it jumped up and bit him in the ass."

Manner looks sincerely taken aback when Tim bursts out laughing at that.

Tim shakes his head. "The rule thing. You have no idea. And if you'd ever seen me near a horse, you'd know why I'm laughing at the cowboy image."

"Rumor has it you've hacked the CIA, FBI, DOD, Justice, Mossad, Coast Guard, MI5 and 6, more private companies than anyone can list, more individuals than anyone can count, couldn't care less about legal or warrants, and you think you're good on rules?"

Tim smiles, still amused, but he can see this is pissing Manner off. "The thing about rumors, most of them aren't true. But the thing I find really interesting here is this, you seem significantly more interested in following the rules than catching the bad guys."

"If we don't follow the rules, we are the bad guys."

"Justice and Law aren't synonyms."

"Said every villain ever."

"I'll remember not to send you in on the wet work missions."

Manner's eyes went wide.

Tim holds up his hands again. "I'm kidding. The real question is, do you want to stick around? I can guarantee you Cybercrime under me will not look like Cybercrime under Jenner. If you don't like that, I won't hold you leaving against you. Jenner'll give you a great review, and I will, too. If you aren't interested in working for a 'villain,' now might be a very good time to spruce up your resume.

"But, you are one of the two techs who passed every test I ran. And while I don't like what you did with that, I don't want half of my best talent running off as soon as I show up."

"Don't like… Tests…?" Manners is looking very confused by this.

"Like I said, I did a tactical assessment for Leon of your strengths and weaknesses. Think it's a coincidence you've been hacked several times since summer? You and Ngyn were the only ones who noticed I was doing it. She actually figured out it was me. Vance had to tell you because you missed my breadcrumb trail. Neither of you thought it was worth pulling your team into action, or letting Jenner know what was up.

"My first goal for this team is that it will be a team. One of you gets hacked, it'll be an all hands on deck until we're secure again. I sat there and watched as all twelve of you had your screens go bonkers, and most of you did nothing. You coded straight through it, and didn't even make a move until after you'd finished your work.

"And if you think that maybe you deserve Cybercrime more than I do, that you'd do a better job of it, that I'm getting this department because I'm being paid off to keep me happy and silent, then you need to ask yourself why you didn't rally your team, fix the breech, and find who caused it? Because I can absolutely guarantee I would have, and Vance knows that."

"I didn't 'rally the team' as you put it, because I knew the attack was coming from the inside. It didn't do anything important, so there was no reason to go full bore on it. Vance said it was a test, so there was no reason to go any further."

"The attack looked like it was coming from the inside. It wasn't."

"Yeah, well no one is suggesting you don't know your way around a computer."

"I'm flat out saying that you're the second best person in Cybercrime and you fell asleep at the switch. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but ever since I built the wall we've got protecting NCIS, all attacks have come from the inside. No one's gotten through from the outside, which also should have been a huge neon sign for who was hacking you. So, if you're staying with us, I want the words, 'coming from the inside' to vanish from your vocabulary. I know for a fact we've had people break in to screw with us, because it's easier to get into the building than it is to get into the computers."
Manner is not looking thrilled with this assessment.

"So, you sticking around?"

He shakes his head. "I don't know."

"Fair enough."

He heads back into Cybercrime with Manner, who goes straight back to his cubical. From there he stops by Jenner. "You've told them you were resigning, right?"

"Yeah. Told 'em Stephen was their new Boss, too."

Tim mentally winces. "Wonderful." He thinks for another moment. "Was 'busy' code for getting the congratulations party in order?"

"It was."

"You mind if I get them together to tell them I'm taking over in January?"

"Go for it."

"Thanks." Tim turns away from Jenner and quickly notices there's no good workflow here. He can't just gather them together or call campfire. His eyes flick over the basement, straight rows of cubicles, huge bank of filing cabinets, at the far end there's a counter, a coffee pot, a soda machine, and a snack vending machine.

Closest thing they've got to a meeting place.

He takes a minute to set the text then sent it to all of his team. Meet at the coffee pot. 15:05.

And in five minutes he had twelve techs, all standing, pretty awkwardly, in front of the coffee pot, most of them looking around curiously.

"I'm Tim McGee. I work upstairs with the MCRT." They kind of nod along with that. From the way they're looking at him, they're expecting him to hand them a problem to solve. "Jenner told you today that he's resigning at the end of December. Come the beginning of January, I'll be taking over as Head of Cybercrime." Eleven sets of eyes all turn toward Manner. He rolls his eyes, shrugs a bit, and gives them a life sucks gesture. "Right now, I'm still a field agent, so as often as I need to be in the field, I'll be out there, but when I'm not investigating, I'll be down here, talking to you guys, seeing what you're doing, getting a feel for how you do it. Come January 4th, I want to be able to hit the ground running, up to date on your cases." They all sort of nod at that.

"I guess what you really want to know is what is going to happen when I take over. Is everything going to be change? Yes. It is. Part of what I'll be doing is figuring out what you do and how to do it better. Any ideas you've got, plans you'd like to see put in place, stuff that just bugs the hell out of you, all of it, make notes, talk to me. I haven't worked down here since '08, and I was only here for four months, so I've got no attachment to any ways or traditions. You can't step on my toes by telling me you don't like how things are done. Can't win points by liking how things are either.

"Total blank slate time. We're going to rebuild from the grown up. So, from now until January, keep thinking about how you want this job to be. Think about what tools, what practices you need to be able to do your job as well as you possibly can."

They all stare at him. He hands out a stack of his cards. "Anything you want, need, want to talk about, drop me an email. I'm in court tomorrow and the next day, so I won't be down then, but if a case doesn't go hot, I hope to be down here on Thursday, just getting a sense of how this works."

There's some mumbling along the lines of, "Okay, yeah, we'll think about it," but he knows that they really just want him to head the hell off so they can commiserate with Manner and gossip with each other about him without him listening in.

"Okay. See you Thursday!"

He was in the elevator when he got the text from Tony. Dead body. Meet us at the car. So much for celebrating.

It's well past two in the morning when he gets home. Like anytime they get a dead body call, he heads straight for the washing machine to deposit his clothing, and sitting on top of the washer, where Abby knew he'd be, was one of the tirimisu cupcakes he loves.

Next to it is a piece of paper with a little heart on it.

He smiles, takes a bite, and heads to his office to decompress for a few minutes before going to bed.