Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters belong to Bellisario, not me, which is a shame. They'd make for a really cool Christmas gift.

Spoilers: Contains spoilers for "Forced Entry" and "Chained". Takes place shortly after "Chained".

A/N: Many thanks to Kirylyn for beta reading. This was written for Kerlin for the Yuletide 2004 challenge.

"Timothy? What keeps you here on this fine winter night?"

McGee jumped at the sound of his name. He quickly dropped his feet from the top of his desk to the floor and spun his chair around to find Ducky standing a only few feet away. "Ducky? What are-" He reached behind himself and blindly grabbed a manila file folder from the stack on his desk. "Paperwork. I'm doing paperwork. I need to get it finished before I go home."

Ducky nodded. "I see." He draped his coat over the back of a visitor chair, pulled it over to McGee's desk, and sat. "I must say that I'm surprised to see you here this late. I'm sure I heard Abby mention that she planned on attending a new exhibit at the Smithsonian with Kate this evening. The history of corsetry, I believe it was. Were you not invited?"

"No. I mean, I was, but it sounded like a girls' night out, and... wait. Corsetry?"


McGee frowned. "I thought Abby said it was about dresses."

"Ah. I suppose they are related topics. No bother then; you can catch up. I'm sure she'd love to have you along."

McGee shook his head and reached over to nudge his mouse. The screensaver faded away and was replaced with a view of a half-completed Summary of Investigation form. "I can't. Gibbs comes in sometimes on Saturdays. I should get this done in case he needs it tomorrow."

Ducky leaned in to examine the screen. "Is that your report from this week?

"Yes?" McGee said hesitantly.

"May I see?" Ducky motioned for McGee to move aside, then efficiently took control of his keyboard to save the document and shut down the computer.


"You won't need to finish that until Monday or Tuesday at the earliest. I know that, so surely you must. Go, catch up with the girls. It won't be long until the season turns even colder and more unpleasant. We should all enjoy the weather while it lasts."

McGee toggled the power switch and booted the computer again. "I have to finish this," he said seriously. "There's a complaint against me now from the State Department. The least I can do is make sure I'm not behind on paperwork too."

"Timothy, what makes you think Gibbs cares about that sort of complaint? Has he said anything to you about it?" Ducky asked.

McGee's brow furrowed as he thought back. "No. Actually, he sounded almost pleased when I mentioned it to him the first time. But Ducky, I lectured the Deputy Secretary of State, and she's still furious. That's not something he can just ignore."

"Well, I don't know about that," Ducky said. "He has a great deal of practice ignoring problems undeserving of his attention." Ducky studied him for a moment before continuing. "Were you the one who was originally scheduled to speak with her?"

"No. She was looking for Gibbs, but he was in the field. I didn't have any choice."

"I see. Did she deserve the lecture?"

"It was the Deputy Secretary of State!"

Ducky pondered that. "So, if I understand you correctly, you walked into MTAC without preparation or alternative options and tried your best to exercise patience and diplomacy. Then, when that didn't work, you tried Gibbs' preferred method of dispatching with bureaucrats, which solved your most pressing problems admirably. You'll forgive me when I fail to see why you believe he would disapprove."

McGee looked at him in disbelief. "How can he not? Ducky, I drank his coffee last week. It was a stupid trick, but I fell for it. How many chances am I going to get before someone decides I really don't belong here?"

"Timothy...." Ducky paused to consider his next words. "A young agent started here before you, perhaps three or four years ago. He was a bit of a problem child. He was very bright and he showed a great deal of promise, but there were times when I feared he'd be strangled in frustration by the other members of his team before he ever had time to prove himself."

"What happened to him?"

"Well, not long after he started, an investigation led his team to a dairy farm in Maryland, and he took a strong interest in the farmer's daughter. I don't believe she was quite as interested in him, however. I never did learn precisely what happened between them, but it ended when she asked him to help her retrieve an animal from the pasture. It had rained the night before so it was a very muddy pasture, and when he saw that the cow was nothing but a baby, he offered to bring it over to the fence himself so that she'd be able to stay in the truck. How much trouble could something be if its head only came up to his chest? Even its horns were still small."

A look of horror mingled with amusement spread across McGee's face. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," Ducky said gravely. "He was very lucky that day. It was a bull, of course, not a cow. The horns should have been his first clue. He did manage to make it to safety before he was gored by the bull, and that would have been the end of it if only he'd leapt the fence with a little more grace. I made him tell me the whole story that afternoon while I was stitching up the rather nasty gashes he got from the barbed wire."

"Wow. What did Gibbs say?"

"I can't say, exactly. I would never share embarrassing information about one colleague with another, especially a story that could be used to knock him down a peg or two in the future."

"Of course not," McGee immediately agreed.

"Absolutely. I can tell you that for weeks afterwards, he jumped when he heard Gibbs coming, so you can be sure that whatever was said was memorable. I'm not sure that he's completely shaken the habit even now."

"Hold on. You mean the agent is still here at NCIS?" McGee asked.

"Oh yes," Ducky said earnestly. "He still seems very young to me, and there are times when I still fear for his safety, but he's proven himself to be a very capable member of the team despite his foibles."

"Do I know him?"

Ducky stood and collected his coat from the back of the chair. "Haven't you ever wondered why Anthony never boasts about the scar on his thigh?"

McGee's mouth hung open as he tried to process that, while Ducky took advantage of his distraction to shut down the computer for a second time. "Jethro has high standards, but they are not unreachable. Do your best. Do what you believe is right. Don't worry so much. You'll be fine."

"Thanks, Ducky." McGee gathered his things, and the two men walked towards the elevators together.

"Corsetry?" he asked.

"Corsetry," Ducky replied. "The Spanish used to make corsets out of iron, you know. Horrible for the body, but I suppose they liked the effects on their figures. You should see if they're still at the museum. I'm sure it's a fascinating exhibit, and I seem to remember a mention of hot chocolate afterwards. The coffee shop by Abby's apartment makes an excellent amaretto hot cocoa."

"Corsetry," McGee muttered. "The woman's nuts."

He dialled anyway. The report in his briefcase could wait for a night.