Disclaimer: I own nothing related to NCIS. Nothing. I mean, really, if I did, why would I be here?
Author's Note: Sometimes people in stressful jobs have days when everything gets too close. And sometimes, we have days when it should but somehow it doesn't. And those days are harder, because those are the days you question who you are. I thank God I have Doc to talk to about those things, in much the same way Tony has Gibbs. This story was inspired by a seriously crappy shift. I hope you enjoy this, I hope I got the character and voice well, and I hope you review:) Thanks!
The scene was horrific, even Gibbs would have to admit that. The collision with a gasoline tanker that had killed both the driver and a young petty officer had been a gigantic fireball covering all four lanes of the highway and had taken forty-five minutes to put out the flames. And once the fire had been put out, Tim McGee wished it hadn't been. His stomach rolled viciously for the fifteenth time in less than an hour, and he wasn't able to keep from audibly gagging.
"Hey, Probie!" Tony DiNozzo yelled at him from across the scene. "If you're gonna puke, get back to the truck! Don't toss your cookies in the middle of a scene. Gibbs, that's gotta be rule number 800 or something, right?" Of course DiNozzo would be able to hear him from the other side of the highway… Did the guy have radar or something?
McGee swallowed hard, and closed his eyes for a second. He had to keep control. He was not going to throw up. He was absolutely not going to give Tony the satisfaction. But the smell was bad. Maybe the worst he'd ever been around. He swallowed again, refraining from making noise this time. He knelt down to examine a piece of… something… and suddenly Gibbs was right behind him.
His boss knelt beside him and pressed something into his gloved palm. He examined it, then looked quizzically at Gibbs. "Vicks Vapo-rub, Boss?"
Gibbs nodded, opened it, pulled off a glove and put a little bit around his nose. Then he offered it to McGee, who mimicked the action. The overpowering smell of menthol filled his nostrils, instantly covering the horrible odor of burnt flesh. He managed a weak smile of relief. "Thanks."
The elder agent put the small jar into McGee's pocket, and was about to push himself to his feet when Tony squatted beside them. "What's that, Probie? A piece of our petty officer, or just some roadkill?"
That was it. All the self-control in the world, all the determination in the world to prove his tormentor wrong went out the window. McGee staggered to his feet, the color draining from his face. "Tony," he managed around his rising bile, "how long does it take in this job before you stop being human? I need to know so I can get out in time!" With that, he fled back in the direction of the vehicles.
Gibbs turned to his senior agent. "Uncalled for, DiNozzo." Then he turned back to the task at hand. He didn't see Tony standing there for several long moments, staring after McGee. He didn't see the pain McGee's parting words had inflicted.
The Team had wrapped up the case quickly, as it had been relatively cut and dry, and by 5:30 the bullpen was almost empty. Tony DiNozzo sat alone at his desk, staring at the report he had finished almost an hour ago. McGee hadn't spoken to him since the scene, and no one else seemed to have noticed that he was quieter than usual. No one seemed to notice that his smile hadn't quite reached his eyes in several hours. But Tony didn't care. He had bigger things on his mind.
The voice beside him startled him enough to almost make him fall from his chair. "Spill it, DiNozzo."
Recovering with a barely perceptible breath, Tony turned to face Gibbs, who had pulled a chair over. Forcing his patented "DiNozzo grin", he tried to play innocent. "Spill what, Boss?"
Gibbs gave him the Look, and Tony tried to stand against it. He squirmed in his chair, but after a few moments of silence Gibbs saw through it and showed a little mercy. "You were kinda tough on McGee back there." Tony winced, but didn't respond further. So, close but not there… Ah! "But he got a pretty well aimed shot back, too. The kid learns quick…" Tony went positively pale. Bullseye.
The younger agent fiddled with some papers, before he cracked and looked up at Gibbs with tears in his eyes. "How long does it take, Boss?"
Whatever Gibbs had been expecting, that wasn't it. "How long does what take?"
Tony swiped roughly at his eyes and looked away. "How long does it take to lose whatever makes us human? 'Cause I need to warn McGee. I don't want him to ever end up like this!" When he finally looked back to Gibbs, the tears were gone, replaced by a fierce anger. "How long did it take me to trade in that piece of my soul?"
Ouch. How in the hell was Gibbs supposed to answer that? "Why do you think you've lost a piece of your soul?"
Tony shook his head. "Where were you earlier?! I made McGee puke, when you were trying to help him hold it together, I was a complete jerk. And I referred to the remains of a member of the United States Navy as roadkill! Even you commented on it being uncalled for." He caught himself before beating his fists on the desk, but it was a closer thing than he would have liked. "There was a dead person, what I was joking about was a person once, my age and he might have left behind a wife or kids or something and I was making jokes. I didn't feel anything!" He buried his head in his hands.
"Hey!" demanded Gibbs, somewhat alarmed at the defeat in the usually untouchable agent's voice. "Come on, you were just showing off for McGee. You know, like a big brother."
Tony's mouth twisted into a sarcastic mockery of is usual smile. "No, Boss, I wasn't showing off. I'm not sure what showing off would be now… Juggling the charred pieces? I was picking on him, yeah, that's just second nature because I do feel like the big brother. But I was just… I don't know." He finally looked up into Gibbs' eyes, and was no longer making an effort to hide the pain there. "How screwed up are we that what we saw today didn't bother us?"
Gibbs shrugged at that. "DiNozzo, it's just what we do. Some of us can. And someone has to. So those of us who can, do." He paused. "Did that make any sense?"
Tony thought for a second, then nodded. "Yeah, actually, it did, Boss. I guess you're right. Someone has to."
A thoughtful nod and a small smile came from the older agent. "And we can. It doesn't make us any less of a person because of it. You gonna be okay?"
Tony nodded. "I think so. Yeah."
"Good." Gibbs smacked his hands on the desk with finality and stood up. He had turned to leave, but there was still one thing Tony's mind.
He turned around. "Yeah?"
"What about McGee?"
"What about him?"
"Is he gonna… I don't know… be like us someday?"
Gibbs shrugged. "Probably. He's tougher than most people give him credit for. A little more time and he'll be an excellent field agent."
Tony shook his head. "I hope not. I don't want him to get this cold."
Gibbs looked him in the eye. "DiNozzo, you want McGee to keep puking on scenes?"
"Well, not necessarily. I just don't want him to ever be as hard as I was back on that scene. He's a good guy. He deserves better."
His voice softening to a level of compassion so rarely heard from Gibbs that Tony could barely focus on the words, he said "Tony, do you think McGee will get any sleep tonight? Or sleep without nightmares for the rest of the week? Or eat tomorrow without smelling that scene?" Tony thought about it for a second, wincing at the thought of what the young man must be going through. "Still want to be that green? Still want to feel everything he felt today?"
Tony dropped his head. "No, Boss. I don't."
Gibbs nodded. "Good. Now, go home. Get some sleep." He turned to go, then paused. "Get enough sleep for you and McGee both. You know he's going to be useless tomorrow."