Friday, February 20, 2015

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 409: Brand

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

Chapter 409: Brand
Tim's eyeballing his dresser. He's standing, sans crutch (though most of his weight is on his good leg) and getting ready to grab something, and then actually, while holding said something, walk (two steps) back to his bed.
It's progress. He grabs his boxers, socks, and jeans, and limps the two steps back to his bed.
Even though the last cast only covered his foot, it's still a lot easier to get dressed without it. He's not worried about catching it in his boxers or jeans, which is nice. And, in a 'look on the bright side' sort of way, holding his foot extended so he can get his jeans on is sort of like PT, getting all those muscles stretched out again.
Plus, first time in weeks he's been able to wear socks and shoes on both feet. Sure, the sock goes under the ankle brace and the shoe over, but, as he checks himself in the mirror, fully dressed, he's back in what he considers his 'real clothing' and that feels good.
Feels more like himself, less like everyone is staring.
He grabs the crutch and begins to head off to face the day.

"You text Jimmy? Let him know you need more pills," Tim asks as they idle at a stop light.
"Nope. OB appointment tomorrow," Abby replies.
He smiles at that. "Get to see little dude!"
She's smiling back. "Yep!" They're both quiet for a few seconds. "Need to talk to Heather, ask if she's on board with taking care of two baby McGees."
Tim sighs. "I really hope so. I love Heather. She's awesome. And I don't want to have to find a new nanny, once was enough. What did she have in her profile?"
Abby shrugs. "I don't remember. But even if she had it listed that she was cool with watching twelve kids, we still need to talk to her."
Tim nods.

"McGee." He's sitting at his desk, looking at pictures of the Isle of Skye, when his phone rings and he answers it.
"There's a kid here, says you're expecting her," says the familiar voice of Burt at the front desk.
"Assuming she's Kristin Brand, she's right. Newest Cybercrime hire. Send her down."
"Her ID checks out, but you still need someone to escort her until she's got her badge."
"I'll be up. Tell her it'll take a bit, okay?" Burt knows why Tim's not going fast these days. He puts the phone back, grabs his crutch, and begins the trek to the first floor.
As he's hobbling out, he sees Manner working away at his desk. He did a good job of making sure Cybercrime didn't imploded while he was out. Actually… That's a combo that could work really well. Brand has talent coming out her ears. New ideas, new theories, lots of enthusiasm. Manner has a lot of skill, lots of experience. He knows how and why things work. Assuming they don't end up killing each other, they could learn a lot from each other.
He smiles as he heads up. He'll get Kristin settled and once she's in place, say a month from now, she's going to get some assignments with Manner.

Kristin Brand feels overwhelmed. She's in her most 'adult' outfit, (a very conservative navy blue suit, cream blouse, pearl necklace, hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck) trying her best to not look twelve, but everyone else around her is eyeballing her like she's some sort of interloper who accidentally got lost from the career day field trip and needs to get back to her class before the bus leaves without her.
Burt referring to her as 'a kid' didn't help. And standing there, waiting, and waiting, and waiting isn't making this any easier.
But, finally, she sees Mr. McGee, he waves, heading slowly toward her, and after a second, when he gets past the metal detectors and she can see all of him, including the crutch and the broken arm, and her eyes go wide.
"Hi, Brand."
She goggles a bit, and finally says, "Hi."
He smiles at that, giving off a relaxed vibe, and if she had been staring at anything besides the cast arm, she would have noticed it.
"Come on down, let's get you processed and settled in."
She nods, meeting his gaze, finally sees that he's not annoyed by her staring, and feels a little better. "Okay, sir."
Tim shakes his head. "McGee or Boss, Brand. I work for a living."
She nods at that, too, not getting it, but not about to argue or ask. As the doors to the elevator are opening, she's kicking herself for doing this. Her friends are still at home, getting ready for college. They're playing or messing around with summer jobs, enjoying the last rush of freedom before school starts for real.
She's alone, in a new city where she knows literally no one, with a driver's license so new that it still smells like hot plastic, a brand new car, and a tiny, furnished apartment her parents had to co-sign for. Everything she owns is in six boxes, four of which are still packed, and right now she's wishing she had stayed home.
They head toward McGee's office, and once in there, she looks around again, really seeing it this time. (She's not sure she got this far last time. She knows she messed around with Howard and Ngyn—Brand looks around but doesn't see them here right now—but she doesn't think she was in here.) So, as McGee sits down, saying, "I'd pull a chair over for you, but can't really do that yet," she gets the hint she's supposed to sit down, and does so.
As she sits, she sees the target with the smiley face shot into it, then looks back at McGee, broken arm, walking with a crutch, and sits there, staring, unblinking, wondering what on earth she could have possibly just gotten herself into.

Tim smiles to himself as he hears the elevator bong. He quickly glances up and can see Manner's look of annoyed shock as he walks Brand past his desk. Gonna be fun. He's sort of happily anticipating sticking Manner with Brand in a sick sort of way. He's got the sense that this is how Gibbs probably felt about sending him and Tony out together for the first time.
He's sitting down, getting comfortable, and Brand is staring at him like he's a train wreck. He can read the What the hell did I get myself into? look on her face. So he lets her stare, lets her get her bearings. He tries a gentle explanation for what he was doing, but she's still too shocked to really engage with him.
Finally he says, a little louder than the first two gambits, "Do you want to know what happened?"
She jerks a little at that, his voice having finally gotten through, and blushes, embarrassed at having been caught staring. "Uh, yes, sir."
Tim sighs, he's got a feeling they'll be doing this a lot. She's got to get comfortable before she can get out of her how-to-deal-with-adults politely training. "McGee or Boss. I intentionally did not become, sir. All of your co-workers, call them by their first or last names. They'll let you know which. You're a full member of this team; no one in Cybercrime is Mr. or Mrs. to you. Field agents are Agent Insert Last Name Here until you're invited to use their names. Everyone else, Mr. or Ms. is fine. If you run into Leon," she doesn't know who that is, "Director Vance, you can call him, sir." She's sitting on the edge of her chair looking like she's about to leap out and run away. "You can breathe, Brand. It's okay to relax here." He eyes her outfit, wondering if that's part of why she's acting so nervous. "It's in the employee handbook, which you'll eventually have to read and initial, but the dress code down here is casual. If you're dressed like this because it makes you comfortable, that's fine. Be as formal as you like. If this is what your parents picked out thinking it'd make a good impression/make you look like an adult, wear what you like. Down here, you don't have to pretend to be anyone you aren't."
"Uh, yes." She's still looking very fish out of water.
"Official story for this," Tim gestures to himself, "is that I went to a conference and got in a car accident on the way home. The official story is bull. The real story is classified, and I'd prefer it stays that way. But suffice it to say, there is a reason why you and everyone else on this floor will have and maintain FLETC martial arts and firearms proficiencies."
"This happened to you at work?" Brand looks horrified by that.
Tim's realizing that she probably did not sign up with the idea that people would beat the shit out of her in this job. So he quickly fills in, "Not here. I was a field agent for fourteen years, so I get sent on some interesting jobs. You are not a field agent, nor are most of the people around you. You'll likely never run into a situation where you'll need to do anything more violent than staple paperwork. But if you ever need them, you will have the skills to defend yourself."
She doesn't look like she's buying that.
"DC can be a scary place. I'm 6'1", have a martial arts proficiency, and will not voluntarily go into some parts of it without a gun. My wife can shoot. When my daughter is your age, she'll be able to shoot, too. Trust me, this is a skill that's way better to have and not need than it is to need and not have.
"Okay, so…"
"It's in the handbook. We offer classes here. They won't issue you a gun because you're not a field agent, so you'll have to buy your own."
"I don't like guns."
Common enough. "That's fine. You don't have to like them. You still have to be able to use one, and that'll be a lot easier if you own one to practice with. I try to get everyone to the range at least once a month; you can come with us or not as you see fit, but you do have to learn how to use a gun."
She's looking really unhappy about that, and he's wondering if she has some of the same issues he did, great with her brain, not so great with her body. "How long do I have to learn this?"
"By the end of your Probie year, you've got to have your certifications, and re-cert every year after. Trust me, you'll get it. I got it, and I was awful with a gun at first. Plus, it's a really good way to blow off steam and clear your head after too many hours online."
That gets a tiny smile as Brand seems to remember that Tim actually does know his way around a computer.
He stands up, wishing he'd thought of this before they got seated. "Come on, let me show you around."
It's a pretty quick tour, partially because she's seen all of Cybercrime before, partially because Tim's not taking her anywhere out of the way. He directs them to her desk. "This is yours. Set it up however you like. If you want or need something you don't have, shoot me an email and I'll see if we can get it for your or figure out how to jigger something up to make do with. That pile of paperwork," he points to the three inches of forms next to her computer, "all need to be filled out, in black or blue ink, perfectly, or else Delores the HR Troll comes up and yells at us. I'll probably be gone before you get that done." He's still not back full time, and having gone back on the Tylenol 3, he's got a nap and more PT up for this afternoon. "But, get that done and have Manner," he points to Manner's desk, "show you the system. He can run you through how we work cases. That'll probably be all of today for you.
"Hours are flexible. You need to be logged in and working forty a week. Since we work world-wide now, it doesn't matter which forty you're here. You need to have at least ten off for every sixteen on, though. And if we end up with shifts that need more coverage, I ask the computer to start picking ID numbers at random until we've got those hours covered." It hits Tim that last month this girl was a Senior in high school and someone else set her whole schedule. So he makes how it works in the Dungeon even more plain. "You come in when you like, you leave when you like. You get lunch when you're hungry. You work the jobs as they come in, and you work until you hit a stopping point. If you've got a week where you do sixteen hours the first day, crash ten on the sofa, sixteen up again, crash again, and then do sixteen again until you are done with the case, that's fine. Overtime is in the handbook. If we've got a light week and you decide you want to do five hours a day each day, that's fine. You want to do four ten hour shifts, that's also fine. Be here when you need to be here, do the jobs that need to be done, and beyond that, you set your schedule however works best for you."
Tim can see a gleam in her eyes at that. He thinks he recognizes the look of a teenager given vastly more freedom than she's ever had before. Brand nods, looking at her desk. Right now there's a monitor, a keyboard, a stack of paperwork, and four black pens. The rest of it is up to her.
"The girls I was talking to last time?"
"Ngyn and Howard."
"Yeah. When are they usually here?"
"Howard's usually in around two in the afternoon. Ngyn usually gets in after midnight. For the next month, you'll be mostly shadowing people, so if you want to shadow them, that's fine." And for the next month, until she's on her feet, that is fine. But he's going to be getting her working with Manner more. He's sure her style needs some discipline, and he knows Manner's needs some fresh air. "Both of them will be happy to help with whatever you may need. So am I." Tim flips open the handbook, and since he's taken over, page one is McGee's rules. "Never be unavailable. You need something, call or text. Someone on the team will always respond. Okay, I'll get out of your hair and let you fill out forms."
She smiles and gets to filling out.

Manner heads into his office about twenty minutes after Brand's started filling out her forms. He shuts the door, pulls up a chair, and sits down across from Tim.
"You hired a nine-year-old."
Tim flashes his amused look at Manner. It's not that there's been a radical change in their relationship. Mostly Manner's been doing his job, keeping his head down, and doing his best not to have to interact directly with Tim. He might like the challenge of actually being a real law enforcement officer, but he's also still wary of Tim's fast and loose with the rules style. But, especially after having more or less run the place while Tim was out, he's feeling like he's earned the right to speak his mind freely.
Which Tim doesn't mind. He may not like what Manner has to say, but he'd rather Manner just outright say it rather than hiding and being a pain in Tim's ass about it.
So, it's with a somewhat relaxed and sassy attitude that Tim says, "You were young once, too."
Manner's not annoyed, yet, but Tim can tell annoyed in on the horizon. "The difference is, when I was young, I wasn't pretending to be a Federal Agent."
"She's not pretending. Her ID, once they print it up, will be just as real as yours."
"That's worse!"
Tim doesn't like the edge in Manner's voice as he says that. "You going to give her crap on it?"
Manner rolls his eyes. "What crap could I give her? I figured you'd know this by now, what with all the pictures of Kelly you've got up. The thing about babies they give you crap. Not the other way around. We're going to be cleaning up her messes day in and day out."
Tim shrugs. "Maybe. But that's a possibility when any new hire."
"No, it's not. Any other new hire would have at least proven they could get through college. You don't know if she can hack nine to five well enough to graduate from… Where'd she get in?"
Manner's not impressed by MIT. "Let alone actually do this job without cracking."
"Let her do her job. Treat her like any other Probie, like Howard."
"Howard belongs here. She graduated college. She graduated FLETC. She got hired by… NSA?" Tim nods; he thinks that's right, but doesn't really remember. "She proved she's up for it."
"Brand's proven she belongs here. These days the ticket to Cybercrime is skill. She's got it. We'll work on the rest of it as we go along."
Manner is very determinedly not rolling his eyes.
"Remember, we're not bookkeepers anymore. We go out and take down bad-guys. She took out Anonymous. That's more bad-guy-taking-down than you've done in the last five years, and it's more than I've done with a computer, ever. And part of why she could do that is she, unlike you, unlike me, doesn't code like a middle-aged white guy who's been doing this for decades. The bad guys know our style, so we're getting people with new styles so we can take them down."
"Took 'em down. Yeah, she took down Anonymous. No convictions. Nothing she's got can stick because what she did was illegal, in that she's not a cop and just want traipsing all over the place. All she did was scatter them to the winds. That's where you want us going?"
Tim thinks about that for a second. "Sometimes. We'll get convictions as much and often as we can, but I'm sure there'll be times where fast and done will matter more than by the books. When that has to happen, that's what's going to happen."
Manner's giving him that I hate dealing with unruly cowboys look.
"Yeah, I know. You're happier by the book. I'll keep that in mind the next time we've got a few hours until an ISIS cell goes hot and kills thousands of people."
That gets another quiet glare.
Tim shifts topic. "You did a good job keeping on top of everything when I was out. Thank you."
Manner inclines his head. "Yeah, well, that's why it's a good idea to put administrators in charge of departments instead of agents. I know what you did. It was important. Navy's happy. But you weren't running the ship while you were doing that. Vance doesn't investigate crimes anymore for a reason, you know?"
Tim sighs, and nods. Yeah, there is something to that. "Anyway, thanks."
"You're welcome." Manner stares at Tim for a second and then his eyes go wide and his shoulders slump. "Oh, God, you're going to make me babysit her."
Tim smirks. "Not anytime soon. I want her settled in and feeling a bit more confident before that happens, but yeah. She'll need more discipline, and you haven't learned a new trick since Hannibal was eyeing Carthage."
"Hannibal was from Carthage," Manner doesn't say 'you twit' out loud, but Tim knows it's there. "He didn't sack it."
"That just means it was even longer ago than I was thinking. It'll be good for both of you."
That time Manner does roll his eyes, and he heads out.
Tim smiles as he does, finding that whole experience perversely satisfying.
Dealing with Manner gets Tim thinking. While he was out, Manner took over the administrative stuff. Is got dotted, ts got crossed, and while he did have a huge stack of papers to be signed, emails to go through, and stuff to do when he got in, his department did not stop doing its job.
But Cybercrime doing its job isn't just about getting all the forms filled out. (And yes, there are still forms. New ones popped up today.) They still had cases to work, two big ones in fact, and Howard stepped up and took over coordinating the efforts for that, making sure that the right people did the right things at the right time all over the world.
She won't be in today until after he goes home, but he does think it's important that, like Manner, she gets some petting for doing a good job while he was away. He writes up an email thanking her for stepping up and doing the job well.
That done, he gets onto that stack of paperwork. After all, someone has to sign the requisitions for staples.


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