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.


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