Tim McGee stood outside MTAC, resting his arms on the railing, gazing down at the squad room. He wasn't happy, and everyone knew he wasn't happy. He had already given the team a bawling out but the main object of his ire hadn't yet returned and he decided he'd wait here until he did. If nothing else it would freak out his staff.

Beneath him, the team all scurried around like so many little ants, aware of his displeasure. They were at least pretending to be busy, but he saw them shoot little glances at him every so often, and he noticed them making several frantic, furtive phone calls, leaving messages when there was no pickup. He stood still, looming over them, a constant presence, intimidating them by sheer force of will – he'd learned that trick from the best and he'd always been a quick study.

The elevator pinged, and the heads of every single person in the squad room swivelled towards the sound. The air of panic was palpable. Blazing stand-up fights between the director and his senior field agent were rare, but when they happened everyone ran for cover.

McGee's heart did a little flip of relief as Tony DiNozzo's tall, broad frame came into view. At least he was still alive…if a little the worse for wear. He had a cut on his jaw and a bruised cheekbone, and McGee was pretty sure that if he could see Tony's knuckles they'd be torn and bloody.

Tony strode into the squad room and his team got up, like three frightened rabbits.

"Carter – there's a suspect having his fingers taped up downstairs. When the medics are done with him put him in Interrogation Room One and wait for me," Tony ordered.

"How did he break his fingers?" Carter asked.

"Sheer carelessness on his part. There was a doorway and he was going through it even though I asked him very nicely to stop. Somehow the door got shut on his fingers. Accidents happen." Tony shrugged, the malicious gleam in his eye making it clear it had been no accident.

He opened his desk drawer and threw his gun into it, then looked up, a dark expression on his face. "Carter – you're still here, and yet I distinctly remember telling you to be someplace else," he said. Carter looked as if he was going to sink through the floor.

"Uh…I know…uh…I just wanted to find out if I should start the interrogation, Boss?" Carter asked. Tony raised an eyebrow. "No…I shouldn't, because that's your job…you're the boss…I should just put him in the room and sit and wait until you get there."

"Ya think, Carter?" Tony growled, sitting down at his desk – Gibbs's old desk - and clicking onto his emails.

Carter turned and gazed, agonised, at Agent Morris and Agent Banks, who both gazed back with terrified eyes. Then Agent Banks looked away and sat down at his desk – McGee's old desk – and pretended to be busy. McGee made a mental note of the fact that Banks had opted out and left his team to go it alone.

"You tell him," Morris mouthed.

"No - you," Carter mouthed back.

McGee smiled, and bit back a laugh. This was almost like the old days. His smile faded; he missed the old days.

"I want to live," Morris mouthed.

"So do I!" Carter returned.

"I'll shoot you both if one of you doesn't tell me what's going on," Tony said without even looking up from his screen. "You – Morris. Spill."

"Uh, Boss…it's just that the director was here looking for you," she said, with a grimace. "He said that when you came back you were report straight to him."

"Did he now?" Tony glanced up, straight at McGee far above him, and then turned back to his computer screen. "Well, I'm busy," he said, loudly.

"He seemed pretty mad," Morris said. "He uh…he said we'd all be fired if you didn't report straight to his office when you returned."

Tony glanced up again, one eyebrow raised. McGee gazed down at him, steadily, and raised an eyebrow of his own, waiting. Tony glared at him. McGee glared back. Finally, Tony sighed and got up.

"I'll fire you myself if that suspect isn't processed by the time I get back," he snapped at his team. They all scurried off in different directions.

Tony stood there, looking up at him, eyes narrowed threateningly. McGee folded his arms across his chest and tapped his foot. Tony got the message. He swept towards the stairs, took them two at a time, strode along the hallway towards him, and then took it a step too close, invading McGee's personal space.

"You wanted me, *Director*?" he said, in a soft, dangerous tone.

McGee took a step forward, invading his space back in return, so they were now nose to nose. Tony gave him a hard look but McGee stood his ground, unfaltering, eyes blazing, and eventually Tony had the grace to look down.

McGee glanced at the cut on Tony's jaw and his bruised cheekbone but said nothing, still holding the glare. Tony glanced up at him through his eyelashes, eyes admitting defeat, and only when McGee was sure the entire squad room had seen that he'd won this particular altercation and got his AWOL senior field agent under control did McGee speak.

"My office. Now," he said tersely, loud enough for everyone in the squad room to hear, and then he turned on his heel and led the way.

You could have heard a pin drop as they left.

McGee held the door open for Tony to stride through, and then pushed it firmly shut behind him. Slamming doors wasn't his style, even though he was very tempted right now.

"You shouldn't scare the kids like that, Probie," Tony drawled once they were alone, a faint hint of old Tony mischief in his eyes. McGee wished they saw it more often but even so, he wasn't going to let it distract him from making it clear to Tony exactly who ran this agency.

"I'm not the one who scares them," McGee pointed out.

"Are you kidding me? You've been down there doing a Gibbs on them," Tony said. He fished his cell phone out of his pocket. "I don't know what you said to them but I have seventeen calls from them, all begging me to tell them where I am."

"They should have known where you were!" McGee snapped. "That's my point!"

"It's not their fault. I didn't want them to know." Tony sat down in McGee's big black chair and put his feet up on McGee's desk.

"Which brings me to my other point," McGee said. He walked over to his desk and stood behind Tony. "Regulations say that no agent, and that includes you, Special Agent DiNozzo, goes out on an arrest without backup."

"Like Gibbs never did," Tony muttered. McGee slapped the back of his head.

"You're not Gibbs. Now get out of my chair, Tony."

"You only had to ask, Director McGeek," Tony replied, with a grin. He got up, lumbered across the room, and threw himself down on McGee's couch.

"Tony – the rules are there for a reason," McGee said, in a softer tone, sitting down at his desk.

"I know." Tony shrugged.

"This guy you went after – he's something to do with Jonssen, isn't he?"

Tony's entire body stiffened. "Looks like it," he muttered. "I'll know more when I've questioned him."

"Tony, it's been four years," McGee told him. "Maybe you need to accept…"

"Do you accept? Does Gibbs?" Tony interrupted, his eyes flashing angrily.

"No…but you can't let the way you feel blind you to the real risks you take whenever you get a lead on Jonssen," McGee pointed out.

"They're my risks to take," Tony snapped.

"Is that why you didn't take your team? Why you didn't even tell them where you were going?"

"Yeah." Tony shrugged.

"You should let them in. They're good people," McGee said. "And I'd feel much happier if they were with you, providing backup, when you go off the grid like this."

"Well I wouldn't be off the grid if I took them with me, would I now, Probie?"

McGee sighed – they'd come to an agreement, when he became director, that Tony wouldn't call him 'probie' in public. Tony had stuck to that agreement religiously ever since, but he took great delight in still using the nickname in private, even though McGee outranked him. Technically speaking, anyway. Sometimes McGee felt like he was *still* a young probie, and Tony his completely infuriating but always more senior colleague.

"Look, Tony, if you won't do it because of the rules, then do it for me," McGee said, trying another tack. Tony raised a questioning eyebrow. "I don't want to be the one who has to tell Louis that his dad is dead because he went out without backup," McGee told him quietly. It was a killer blow, and he knew it. Tony's eyes flashed, angrily.

"That's not going to happen," he snapped.

"It might. That kid already lost his mom - you want him to lose his dad too?"

"He's got Gibbs – and you and Ducky," Tony replied. "He's got more than enough daddies in his life. He'll be fine."

"I can't believe you just said that!" McGee said, heatedly. Only Tony could ever make him this angry. Tony did at least look a little ashamed by his words.

"Look, I'm not great at the whole father thing, Tim, you know that," Tony said, softly, and McGee knew he'd reached him now. Tony rarely opened up to anyone these days. The time when he would tell them anything and everything about his personal life was long gone. Although…even back in the old days, for all the information he gave them it had never been easy knowing how much of it was true and how much of it Tony made up to misdirect people from the truth. In that, at least, he hadn't changed.

"You're his dad and he thinks the world of you," McGee said. "I know he'd like to see you more often - the kid idolises you – anyone can see that."

"He shouldn't." Tony shook his head. "I've let him down, Tim. It's been four years and I still haven't caught the bastard that killed Abby. Jonssen is still out there, and every lead I get on how to bring him down goes nowhere." He kicked out and caught the coffee table with his boot, sending it flying half-way across the room.

"Do you think Abby would have wanted you to do this?" McGee asked. "Do you think she'd prefer to have you chasing down the man who killed her rather than raising your son – her son?"

"Don't throw Abby at me," Tony growled. McGee took a deep breath.

"I loved her too. We all did," he pointed out. The anger faded from Tony's eyes.

"Yeah. I know," he muttered.

"Tony – you lose all sense of reason when it comes to Jonssen and I'm not going to let you take these risks," McGee said firmly.

Tony glared at him. "You're not going to stop me following up any leads I get," he said, eyes narrowed.

"No, I'm not," McGee replied. "But you will take backup."

"Or else?" Tony raised an eyebrow.

"I'll bring on the big guns," McGee said, with a tight little grin. Tony sat up straight.

"You wouldn't do that to me, Probie."

"I can and I will," McGee replied. "Tony – I told you last time that if you went out without backup again I'd tell Gibbs."

Tony stared at him for a long time. It was a stare that would have had all his team running for cover but McGee didn't falter under that hard-eyed gaze, and stared right back at him, holding his ground.

"You won't," Tony said at last, flatly.

"Yes I will," McGee replied.

"Gibbs doesn't need to know about this," Tony growled.

"Gibbs doesn't need to know about what?" a voice at the door asked. Both McGee and Tony jumped and then McGee gave a wry smile; even after all this time Gibbs still knew how to creep up on them unawares.

"Nothing," Tony said quickly. "What are you doing here, Boss?"

"It's lunchtime, Tony – you said you'd take Louis out, remember?"

"Oh. Right. Yes. Where is he?" It was clear from Tony's expression that he'd forgotten and that made McGee even angrier than he'd been earlier. Whenever Tony got a lead on Jonssen he forgot about everything else – even his son.

"I left him downstairs with Agent Morris. She looks terrified – have you been scaring your team again, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, with a raised eyebrow.

"No more than you scared us, Boss," Tony replied. "It does them good; keeps them on their toes."

"Hmm. Just so long as you remember to throw them the occasional 'attaboy' as well as slapping them stupid," Gibbs said.

"Yeah. Right. I got three 'attaboy's in ten years," Tony replied dryly, rolling his eyes. "And a slap on the back of the head at least once a day."

"And what does that tell you, Tony?" Gibbs asked.

"That you like hitting me?" Tony suggested innocently. Gibbs gave him his patented Gibbs glare and Tony winced. "Or that you were just trying to slap some good sense into a highly annoying field agent to help him learn faster, Boss," he added hurriedly. Gibbs nodded.

"That's better," he said.

"I got several 'attaboy's and only a few head slaps," McGee said, in a self-satisfied tone.

Tony glared at him. "Well, that's because you like to suck up, McGee," he commented sourly.

"Okay boys, break it up," Gibbs growled. "Tony – what the hell happened to you?" He grabbed Tony's hand and surveyed the grazed knuckles, and then touched his fingers firmly to Tony's face, turning his head so he could see the cut on his jaw and the bruising on his cheekbone.

"He went out without backup," McGee said, taking a savage kind of pleasure in dropping Tony in it – but if Tony wouldn't listen to him he was damn sure he'd listen to Gibbs.

"Is that so?" Gibbs asked, in a dangerous tone.

Tony glared at McGee. "Thanks, Probie," he muttered.

"He was chasing a lead on Jonssen. Again," McGee said.

"You want to tell the man what I ate for breakfast too while you're at it?" Tony demanded.

"I warned you, Tony – last time you did this I told you what I'd do if you didn't obey my orders," McGee said firmly.

"Aw, our little probie is all grown up and giving us orders now, Boss," Tony said facetiously. A second later, Gibbs's hand struck the back of his head lightly and he made a high-pitched squeaking sound, and put up a hand to rub the sore spot. "Okay, I deserved that," he muttered.

"He's the director – you do as he says, Tony," Gibbs told him.

"Like you always did when you were senior field agent and Directors Morrow, Shepard and Vance gave you orders?" Tony demanded hotly. McGee grimaced – Tony clearly had a death wish.

"Never disobeyed a direct order," Gibbs told him. Then he slapped his head again – hard this time. "And that's for going out without backup, DiNozzo."

"They slow me down!" Tony said angrily.

"Then teach them to go faster," Gibbs replied, implacably.

"Daddy!" a voice cried, and a small, dark-haired boy ran into the room and launched himself at DiNozzo. Tony swung him up in his arms and smiled at him, a taut, strained smile.

"Hey, Louis - how are you doing?" he said. "You have a good time helping Boss build the boat this morning?"

"Yeah. Boss says she'll be ready to sail by the end of the summer," Louis replied. His smile faded, and he put a finger on Tony's cut jaw. "Did a bad guy hurt you, Daddy?" he asked. Tony shook his head.

"Nah. I just got careless," he said. "Went somewhere without taking my friends with me to help out. It's okay though – Boss and McGee tell me my friends will be coming with me next time, so I won't get hurt again."

He glared at Gibbs and McGee pointedly over Louis's shoulder.

"You're bleeding. You want one of my Spider-man band-aids?" Louis asked him solemnly.

McGee almost laughed out loud. He wondered what Tony's team would say if their hard-assed boss came back with a band-aid on his jaw covered in cartoon characters.

"I've got one," Louis said. "I got a splinter working on the boat this morning and Boss put one on my finger." He held up the finger in question and Tony kissed it, obligingly.

"I don't think I need a band-aid, Lou, but thanks anyway," he said, putting the kid down.

The child was four years old, and while he looked the spitting image of Tony, his eyes and his personality were all Abby. "We've got the black hair dye and studded collars ready for him the minute he turns into a teenager," Tony would often joke, the humour never quite reaching his eyes. It was painfully obvious that the little boy hero-worshipped his big, heroic, field agent father. His light green eyes were shining as he looked up at Tony.

"Is Uncle Tim coming to lunch with us?" Louis asked, glancing at McGee hopefully.

"I don't know – ask Uncle Tim," Tony said. "He's being kind of a grouch today so who knows." He shot a look in McGee's direction, and then looked back at his son. "Thing is, Louis…I know I said I'd have lunch with you today but something has come up and I have to work."

Louis's face fell. "You're not coming to lunch?"

Tony's eyes flickered for a second, but then hardened. He crouched down in front of his son.

"No. I have a bad guy sitting in a room downstairs and I need to go talk to him," he said.

"Is he the bad guy who hurt you?" Louis asked. "I know you said he didn't but I think he did."

Well, he was Abby's kid, and he had her knack for seeing right through Tony, McGee thought to himself.

"Yeah - that's right." Tony nodded.

"How do you know he won't hurt you again?" Louis whispered.

"Well…because I kind of broke his fingers and now he's scared of me," Tony replied. Louis's eyes widened like saucers and Gibbs sighed.

"Way to go, DiNozzo," he muttered.

Tony got up, and he and Gibbs stood face to face for one tense moment. Then Tony reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, and handed Gibbs a fistful of twenty dollar bills.

"Ducky's downstairs – it's his consulting day today. Why don't the three of you take Louis to that nice Italian place Louis likes so much – the one with the special ice-cream," he said to Louis. "You like it there, don't you, Lou?"

"I guess," Louis replied, unhappily.

McGee wanted to hit Tony himself for letting the child down like this, but he knew, as Gibbs knew, that there was no stopping Tony when he thought he had a lead on Jonssen, so lunch was out of the question.

"Of course you like it there – you're a DiNozzo – you know good, old-fashioned Italian food when it's put in front of you!" Tony tousled Louis's hair.

"Last time we were there the lady at the restaurant told me I have a French first name and an Italian last name," Louis said.

"Well, considering your mom wanted to name you Lestat, you got off lightly, Lou," Tony told him, with a wink. "Louis was the compromise option in a world full of bad vampire names. You're lucky I vetoed both Spike and Angel and we won't even get into some of the others."

"What's a com-promise?" Louis asked.

"Something your dad has forgotten how to do," Gibbs muttered darkly.

Tony glowered at him, then crouched down and kissed the boy on the cheek. Then he stood up, and, with a hard look that just dared either McGee or Gibbs to stop him, he strode out of the room. Louis watched him go, his eyes solemn.

"Hey – he'll come with us another day," Gibbs said softly, holding out his hand. Louis took it, looking suddenly very small and subdued.

McGee was glad the child had Gibbs as his primary care-giver because Tony wasn't around often enough to pay him the attention he needed. He wasn't sure exactly how the arrangement worked, but Gibbs had been retired for just a few months when Abby had been killed. Louis was a baby at the time and Tony had been out of it for about six months after Abby's death so Gibbs had stepped in and taken care of the child.

He was surprisingly good with Louis, and had just packed up and moved in with Tony and Louis so he could look after the child while Tony worked. McGee had assumed it would be a temporary arrangement while Tony got himself straightened out but that had been four years ago and there was no sign of anything changing. He was glad about that – Louis needed a father figure in his life, someone solid who would be there for him, and Tony wasn't that person right now. He wondered whether he ever would be.

As for Gibbs – well everyone knew how much he had adored Abby, and he wasn't about to let her son down now she was gone. He had raised Louis pretty much on his own, with Tony's occasional help – when Tony wasn't working himself into the ground.

"Did Daddy really break the bad guy's fingers, Boss?" Louis asked, as Gibbs led the child out of the door.

It always amused McGee to hear Louis call their old boss "Boss", but that was what Tony called him, so that was what Louis had learned to call him, and there was something kind of right about it. Besides, McGee couldn't exactly see Gibbs answering to 'Uncle Jethro' somehow.

Gibbs glanced at McGee over Louis's head. McGee shrugged, and gave a gesture of futility with his hands. He might be the director but Gibbs was the only one Tony ever really listened to – that, at least, hadn't changed.

"Probably," Gibbs replied tersely.

"Is he going to kill him?" Louis asked, his eyes wide and a little scared. Gibbs raised an eyebrow in McGee's direction.

"I sure as hell hope not. What do you think, Uncle Tim?" he asked, pointedly.

McGee sighed. "Oh god - I'd better go and make sure he doesn't," he said, running off in the direction of Interrogation Room One.

Agent Morris and Agent Carter were both standing in front of the big window watching Tony do his interrogation when McGee arrived. He let himself in silently and walked over to watch, ignoring the nervous looks Morris and Carter shot towards each other at his presence.

McGee suppressed a sigh when he saw Tony's suspect. The fingers on his right hand were neatly taped up, but he also had a big cut on the bridge of his nose and a bruise around his eye. McGee hoped that the man was actually guilty of something or they'd have one hell of a lawsuit on their hands. Not that Tony cared about that. He was too consumed by his own desire for revenge to give a damn about embarrassing the agency – or about damaging his own career come to that. McGee worked overtime sometimes just to make sure Tony's recklessness didn't lose him his job – or worse, land him in jail.

"I know you work for Jonssen and you know you work for Jonssen," Tony was saying to the man. "It'd make this go a lot easier if you just admitted it."

"Or what? You hold me down and slam a door on my hand again?" the man asked. "I want to see a lawyer."

"I've sent for one. Might take an hour or two for him to get here though." Tony gave a tight grin. "So that gives us plenty of time to chat before he arrives, Stackton."

"You have a legal department – you could get a lawyer in here within ten minutes," Stackton said.

"I could, but let's face it, I'm not going to," Tony said. McGee groaned and buried his face in his hands. "Jonssen pays you a retainer, doesn't he, Stackton?"

Stackton glared at him. "I'm not saying anything until I get a lawyer."

"Where is he? Where is Jonssen? He too scared to come back to the US?" Tony asked. "If he didn't do anything wrong why is he so scared?"

"Lawyer," Stackton replied, with a smug grin.

"That why he has to pay you a retainer? Because he's too chicken to come back? So he needs you to do his dirty work for him over here?"

"Maybe he knows you'll pull him in for questioning the minute he sets foot on US soil," Stackton said.

"If he's got nothing to hide then that shouldn't worry him," Tony replied.

"Says the man who just broke my fingers. Where's my lawyer?"

"Where's Jonssen?"

Stackton just smirked. Tony smiled, and settled back in his chair. McGee stiffened, waiting for it…A second later Tony brought his hand down hard on the table.

"Tell me!" he roared.

Carter and Morris both jumped, glancing at each other nervously, and then at McGee.

"He learned from the best," McGee told them, with an impatient flick of his head.

"Hey – put me in a room with the boss and I'll tell him anything he wants to know," Carter joked. He was a smart-mouthed, good-looking young agent, always joking around and utterly and completely loyal to his temperamental boss. It was so achingly familiar that McGee found it painful to watch sometimes.

"I don't know where he is!" Stackton said, looking genuinely shaken. "One of his overseas companies deals with me – I never speak to Jonssen directly. So what if I occasionally do some work for him and he pays me for it? That's not illegal!"

Tony nodded, smiling again. "Thank you. And no it isn't illegal. It is criminal though – it's criminal that your scumbag boss is still out there when he should be behind bars."

"You've never managed to make a single charge against him stick," Stackton said, with a vicious grin.

"We nearly did," Tony said grimly.

"Forensics didn't exactly pan out though, did they?" Stackton said softly.

McGee winced. "Oh shit," he said, heading for the door. "Well come on!" he yelled at Carter and Morris. "We all know what's going to happen next!"

They burst into the next door room just in time to find Stackton's chair overturned, and Stackton himself pressed against the wall with Tony's hand wrapped around his throat and Tony's fist poised to strike.

"Agent DiNozzo! Agent Carter will take it from here," McGee said firmly.

Tony's eyes were blazing as he stood there, fist still held back in readiness.

"The forensics didn't pan out because Jonssen killed our forensic scientist before she got a chance to prove her case," Tony hissed. Stackton grinned at him.

"What – you only got one forensic scientist?" he asked. The hand Tony had wrapped around his throat tightened.

"Oh I think you know that Jonssen killed Abby and set fire to her lab to destroy the evidence," he growled.

"Another thing you feds don't seem able to prove," Stackton gasped. "Seems to be a long list – either Jonssen is innocent, or you guys are really bad at your jobs."

"Agent DiNozzo!" McGee said hastily, seeing Tony's eyes flash, and an old, familiar expression of angry despair settle there. Stackton clearly knew all the right buttons to press.

Tony stood there for a moment, fist still poised, Stackton grinning at him triumphantly, and it could have gone either way.

"Tony," McGee said softly. "Let him go. Carter will take it from here."

Slowly, the anger drained out of Tony, and he lowered his fist and released his hold on the prisoner. Stackton sank back against the wall, panting but still grinning widely. Tony turned on his heel and left without another word.

"He's insane," Stackton said to McGee, rubbing his bruised neck. "He could have killed me!"

"Yes, he could." McGee nodded. Then he moved close. "And if you don't co-operate fully with Agent Carter then next time I might just let him," he said in a low, deadly tone. Stackton's eyes widened. "He's all yours, Carter," McGee said tersely, and then he left to go after Tony.

He was halfway down the hallway when he became aware that someone was calling to him. He turned, to find Agent Morris running after him.

"Director McGee? I was wondering if I could have a word with you?" she asked.

McGee paused, trying to get his irritation under control. He wanted to go after Tony and calm him down, but he suspected that Tony was long gone by now in any case – he'd probably taken off somewhere to punch his fist into a wall in private. He'd likely reappear in a couple of hours with a badly bruised hand and a dark look in his eyes that would take days to fade.

"What is it, Agent Morris?" he asked, more curtly than he'd intended. She was a tall, elegant woman, with thick dark brown hair, cut into a bob, and intelligent brown eyes. She always reminded him of someone but he could never quite place who.

"I wanted…look, this is difficult, but I want to make a complaint against Agent DiNozzo," she said.

"Did he say something inappropriate?" McGee sighed.

"What? No…nothing like that." She looked surprised, and McGee realised that it had been a long time since Tony had been inappropriate around women in *that* way. "Look, I don't want to make a formal complaint – I just thought that if I spoke to you about it, off the record, then maybe you could do something."

"What's your complaint then, Morris?" he snapped, impatiently. Complaints against Tony were commonplace – dealing with them had become a major part of his job since he became Director.

"It's just that Agent DiNozzo treats me differently to the other agents on his team," she said. McGee raised an eyebrow. "I could understand it if I wasn't as good as they are but I am! I'm excellent at my job but he consistently passes me over for dangerous fieldwork. I get all the babysitting assignments, the stuff any probie could do – but I'm not a probie, Director. I'm the senior agent on his team!"

McGee nodded, suddenly realising who she reminded him of. "You know why Agent DiNozzo does this?" he asked. She frowned.

"I've been thinking about it – but all I can assume is that it's some kind of chauvinism. Maybe he doesn't think a woman can do the job as well as a man."

McGee laughed out loud and she looked at him, curiously.

"Oh, he doesn't think that, trust me," McGee chuckled. "This is the man who worked with Mossad officer Ziva David for many years. So I can assure you that he *really* doesn't think that."

"So why then? Is it me? Does he think I'm not good enough?" she asked. She was a confident woman, but McGee could see just a hint of insecurity flitting through her dark eyes.

"No, that's not it. It's more complicated than that," McGee told her. "He probably doesn't even know he's doing it – not consciously anyway. Did he ever mention the name Caitlin Todd to you?"

She shook her head, frowning. "No – why?"

"Well, she was someone he worked with, a very long time ago," McGee murmured.

"What happened to her?"

"She was shot dead while out working on a very dangerous case," McGee told her tersely. Her eyes widened. "She was a lot like you," McGee added.

Morris looked outraged. "Well just because she looked like me doesn't mean…" she began hotly. McGee held up his hand, interrupting her.

"Did he ever mention Ziva David to you?" he asked. She shook her head again. "Well, he and Ziva were close – they worked together for years until she was killed defusing a bomb. It was another dangerous case and he was covering her while she worked because there was a good chance the people who planted it would return to ensure it went off. She was good – very good – but there wasn't enough time, and it exploded."

"Is that where he got that big scar on his arm?" Morris asked, looking a little shaken. McGee nodded.

"He was trapped under the debris for three hours before we managed to cut him out. Bits of her were all around the place. Can you imagine what that was like for him?"

Morris nodded slowly. "I understand, but just because he's lost…"

"And you know about his wife?" McGee said. Morris took a deep breath.

"Yes, sir," she said quietly.

"She was killed right here, under his nose, down in the forensics lab, and he couldn't do a damn thing to stop it," McGee told her.

"It wasn't his fault," Morris said.

"You try telling him that," McGee replied wryly. "Maybe you're right, maybe he *is* a chauvinist, but he always says we lost the best of us and he was right. These women – Kate, Ziva, Abby…" his voice choked a little as he said that last name. "They were the best of us, Agent Morris. And we lost them – we lost all of them, and if Tony is trying to keep you out of the firing line that's the reason why. It's not that you're not good enough – it's that you're too good and he doesn't want to lose you."

"That's nice to know – but it still doesn't make it fair or right, sir," she said softly.

"I know." McGee nodded firmly. "I'll have a word with him. Agent Morris – Felicity - just…cut him some slack, okay? He might be a bastard but he's a good man."

She bit on her lip, her dark eyes full of empathy. "I know that, sir. You couldn't work with him and not know that, even if he is as scary as all hell."

"Good." McGee turned to go, and then felt her hand on his arm.

"Sir…people say…it's just…I heard that he used to be very different?" she asked.

"Yeah." McGee nodded, turning back. "He was. I've worked with him for years and he was a very different person back when I started out. He was kind of an idiot, always goofing around, playing stupid jokes, teasing us and driving us all insane."

"I can't imagine that," she said, shaking her head.

"No, well – events can change a person," McGee sighed.

"Is that why you don't fire him?" she asked. McGee raised a warning eyebrow. "Just…he's been investigated by the FBI more times than I can count," she said hurriedly. "And it's no secret that his methods are considered unorthodox. He's a loose cannon."

"And he gets results," McGee growled. "He's the best agent I have." He shook his head, seeing the look in her eyes. She wasn't the only one who wondered why he kept DiNozzo around when he had the potential to be such a massive liability. "Listen," he said. "There was once a young probie who made a big mistake – he shot an undercover cop, and couldn't sleep for second-guessing himself and what he'd done. He was on the verge of handing in his badge and giving up his job - and it was Tony who went to his apartment and spent half the night talking him out of his funk."

"You were the probie?"

"Yeah – and Tony's many things, a lot of them not very pretty I agree, but the one thing he is now and always has been is loyal to a fault. He's also a brilliant agent – he's the second best field agent I've ever known."

"The first being Gibbs?" she asked. "He seems to be a legend around here."

"He is," McGee grinned. "With good reason. Look, Felicity, I know Tony's a bastard of a boss to work for, but all I can say is that you should have tried working for Gibbs. Now *that* was tough."

"But Mr. Gibbs is always so nice when he comes in with Louis," she said. "He's a real sweetheart."

McGee laughed out loud, and patted her arm. "How you feel about Tony – that's how we all felt about Gibbs," he told her. "Now, if there's nothing else I have someplace I need to be."

He was about to turn and leave when she touched his arm again.

"You lost all those people too," she said quietly. He looked at her sharply.

"Yes I did," he murmured.

"I'm sorry, sir," she told him. He swallowed, hard. She smiled at him. "You're a good man, sir," she told him. "And he's not the only one who's loyal - you always stick by him, no matter what."

"You had to know him," McGee said, his voice sounding a little hoarse. "You had to know him back then. You had to know them too – all of them. Kate, Ziva, Abby…it's, it's been hard for us, Felicity, losing them. Tony's right - they really were the best of us. I wish you'd known them. I wish they were here now so that you *could* know them. If they were, things would be very different around here."

She squeezed his arm. "I know *you*, Director," she said softly. "And I know what a good job you do here, juggling a hundred different problems at once – at least half of them caused by Agent DiNozzo." She smiled again, and then drew back. "Sorry – just…I should probably get back to work now."

McGee nodded and watched her go, feeling suddenly winded. The past never failed to make him smile and make his heart ache in equal measure. It was hard seeing these new people, so bright and full of promise, and remembering himself, the way he'd been back then, before time and events had taken their toll on him – on all of them.

McGee made his way back to the squad room but Tony wasn't there – he hadn't expected him to be. He probably wouldn't return for a couple of hours. Even so, it wasn't worth leaving anything to chance where Tony was concerned, so McGee pulled out his cell phone and put through a call to security.

"This is Director McGee," he told the chief. "I want you to put two men outside Interrogation Room One. They are not, under any circumstances, to let Special Agent DiNozzo in there without my express authorisation."

That done, he thought he deserved some lunch.