Notes/Disclaimers: Poor McGee. Why do we always hurt the ones we love? I do not own the characters or places of NCIS. No profit was made from this snippet.

McGee stood still and waited for Tony to answer the question. He flexed his arms and felt his muscles squeezed tighter in Freedman's and Avery's hard grips. 'Where the hell is Gibbs?'

The crack like breaking ice when Crane's fist slammed against Tony's face snapped McGee's attention back to his partner. Tony turned slowly back to his tormentor. A crooked smile belied the smeared stain of blood splayed across his mouth. "You hit like a girl."

McGee's lips curled in against his teeth. 'Dammit, Tony, now's not the time to insult the man.' But he seethed silently, knowing any protest he offered would just add fuel to the dangerous flame he could see flickering in Crane's eyes.

"Forget it, Crane, he either doesn't know or won't tell."

Crane's neck twisted as he stared down his accomplice, Freedman. "Brilliant, Freddie, thanks for the insight." Turning away from Tony, he faced McGee.

McGee couldn't help it, he stiffened and braced himself. How long would it be before he could mimic Tony's laugh in the face of danger, or emulate Gibbs' cool and detached way of standing up to the enemy? How long would it be before he didn't lick his lips with nervousness and show every fear, every emotion, and every doubt on his face? Well, that was just too long.

Somehow he missed the movement, but found himself bent double, sucking air greedily through his mouth. He watched Crane's feet move away from him, and listened to his voice filter through the sudden haze in his brain.

"I don't know why I didn't think of this before."

Crane's feet stopped and McGee chanced glancing up. His gut twisted in a cramp. His teeth came together with a soft snap, trapping the groan unheard in his throat.

"Gibbs is a seasoned soldier; we wouldn't have gotten anywhere with him, anyway." Crane lifted his hand and gestured at Tony, sitting still and silent in the chair with his hands tied behind him. "DiNozzo here's been around long enough to know the ropes -- even David has experience with torture." Crane turned back to McGee. "But you -- I bet all you do is sit behind a desk all day and feed information to the others. You're soft -- and I bet you got all the answers tucked away inside that little head of yours." He moved closer. "Let's crack it open and see what we can find."

He opened his mouth, not sure what was going to come out, but got a mouthful of Crane's knuckles instead. Coppery blood flooded his mouth and slid down the back of his throat. McGee spat and shook his head, trying to clear cobwebs that had sprung up while he wasn't looking. His knees buckled before he felt the punch in his gut. This time, he couldn't keep the groan from escaping.

His vision tunneled for an instant. McGee collapsed to his knees, suddenly absent of the grip that had held him up until now. He braced himself against the floor and waited for the spinning to stop, then looked up when Gibbs' steady voice spoke quiet and deadly from across the room.

"That's enough, Crane." The casual way he held his gun focused abruptly when Crane moved and the barrel that pointed unerringly at the man's head froze him on the spot. "I wouldn't move if I were you."

Taking his advice, Crane stayed where he was. Ziva moved around behind him, tucked her gun into her hip holster, then quickly and expertly yanked his hands behind his back and cuffed him.

Gibbs, his gun still aimed on Crane, spoke softly to Ziva. "These officers will take care of Crane and his men. Untie Tony and help McGee up." Without pulling his gaze away, Gibbs tilted his head slightly. "You're wrong about him, you know."

Confusion pulled creases into Crane's forehead. He watched Gibbs as one of the police officers made sure Crane's cuffs were secure, then tugged on his arm to let him know it was time to go. "About what?"

"McGee. He does more than just know all the answers, Crane." Finally breaking eye contact, Gibbs straightened and put away his gun. "He doesn't just sit behind a desk; he backs me up when I need him." Moving fast enough to elicit a yelp from Crane, Gibbs grabbed his arm and pulled him in tight. "And if you ever mess with my people again --" Gibbs held still, letting Crane see the promise in his eyes. "I'll be sure you don't walk away next time."

Nodding at Ziva for her help, McGee straightened and watched as Crane was led away. Okay, so maybe he didn't have Tony's finesse, or Gibbs' dangerous edge, or Ziva's deadly accuracy -- but he did have their loyalty, and until he could figure out how to master the other, that would have to do for now.

The End