A/N: This plot bunny was given to me by the completely awesome Choas Babe. I've got big plans for a Tony/Sarah friendship series, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Thanks for reading and please review.
** * ** * ** * **
It was nice to have an older brother.
She could always go to her big brother for help – especially when she couldn't go to her parents.
Of course, there was the expected teasing and occasional bossing from older brother to younger sister.
But, all things considered, Timothy McGee was a good brother.
He had always been there when she needed help – whether it was Band-aids for scabbed knees, a Tooth-fairy stand-in or the more serious stuff like rescuing her term paper from a blacked-out computer, helping her move into her first apartment… or picking her up from the side of a street in the middle of nowhere because that's where her boyfriend – now ex – had left her.
Choking back another heart wrenching sob, she dialed Tim's number again.
He didn't pick up – just like the last four times, he cell went straight to voice-mail.
She hiccoughed, and, giving up on her brother, began to scroll through her contacts.
Surely there was someone she knew who would be willing to drive at least four hours to pick her up.
Four hours from D.C. – where Tim was – but a much longer drive from her home in upstate New York.
Of course, she wouldn't need a ride if Rex hadn't been everything Tim had said he was. Her boyfriend had spontaneously announced that he was taking her on a romantic getaway – she nearly broke down in tears again as she thought about what that bastard Rex did to her.
Honestly, who was stupid enough to bring along pictures of the other girlfriend on a vacation with the first one?
Tears blurred her vision so she could no longer read the list of contacts she was sorting through. A wave of barely repressed anger washed through her – at Rex, at her own helplessness, and at Tim for not answering his gosh-darn phone.
She heard the trilling ring of an outbound call and glanced down at her phone, realizing with some surprise that she was clenching the device so hard her knuckles were white. She sighed, and prepared to end the accidental call. She knew that the polite thing to do was to apologize for having the wrong number, but she wasn't in the mood.
The voice was small and tinny because she held the phone so far away from her ear, but she didn't want to hang up. A wave of hope surged through her – there was someone she knew alive and answering their phone.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
Without thinking, she brought the phone up to her ear and spoke.
"Y-yes. It's Sarah…" She chocked off a sob, trying to regain control. Dang it, why couldn't she just be calm and rational – it wasn't like this was a real crisis. She wasn't really facing any real danger – not like the kind of danger Tim faced every day on the job.
But she was on the side of the road in the middle of Virginia countryside and it was nearing dinner time. At least her phone got good reception.
Focusing on the positive side helped a little.
"Sarah?" Her name was said without any recognition. "Sarah, are you still there?"
Focusing on the friendly voice on the other side of the phone helped a little more.
"Yes, yes, I'm here. I need help." Belatedly, she realized that she was essential asking someone she didn't recognize to help someone he didn't know. "This is Sarah McGee. I- I need a lift."
"McGee – as in Tim McGee's kid sister?"
Thank God – she'd called someone who knew Tim. Maybe she'd called someone from D.C. Suddenly, she felt very stupid for asking this person for help. She didn't know who he was – and, from the sound of it, he didn't know her well either.
"Yeah, that's right. I- I need help, and he isn't answering his phone. If you could just –"
"Where are you?"
Sarah was a little taken aback by the strident concern in the man's voice - still she couldn't place the smooth, rather attractive tones.
Surely she'd recognize that voice?
"Virginia, but if you could –"
"Are you all right? You're not hurt?"
"No, I'm on an old highway, I think. I don't have a car. I just need-"
"Any trees nearby?"
"Yes." Sarah gave up trying to ask Whatshisface if he could reach her brother - or call a cab. Now that was a brilliant idea.
A car rental company would pick her up – except that Rex had tossed her purse out the window when she'd hit him with it. Dang it.
She was really lucky she still had her phone.
"Alright, good. Look, I'll be there in a few hours to pick you up. I want you to go sit in the trees – out of plain sight of the road. Okay?"
Okay? That was more than okay. But she couldn't let a stranger drive who knows how long to come pick her up.
"You don't have to pick me up, really. If you'll just-"
"Wonderful. Stay away from the road, don't try to hitchhike, and I'll be there soon."
Shoot, but that man was infuriating.
And he'd hung up on her.
Sighing, she checked the calls log on her phone.
She'd called Tony DiNozzo.
She'd actually met him once – he hadn't seemed like that bad of a guy, really. Even so, Tim had warned her about him. Ever since her brother started working for NCIS, she'd heard him complain about 'Tony'.
Tim had called him all sorts of names – juvenile, self-centered, and mean jerk all came to mind. Those were probably her brother's most frequent complaints. However, Tony also had a reputation for being a womanizer. Tim would say that Tony had only offered to pick her up because he wanted to sleep with her.
Well, at least she knew who to expect.
She sighed and clumped her way over to the nearby woods to wait for her champion, as directed.
** * ** * ** * **
As soon as he hung up on Sarah – maybe that was a little rude, but he'd apologize later – Tony called Abby.
As he'd suspected, the Goth was still at the lab – even this late on a Friday - and had been happy to give him a trace on Sarah's cell phone. Abby had applauded him for going to get 'Timmy's' sister while he was doing some mysterious assignment for Director Vance. If she hadn't been needed at the lab, she would have come along.
As it was, she stuck to just giving Tony pointers on what to say and how to act – and not act – around Tim's sister. Apparently, he wasn't allowed to date her.
Tony had been in the car and on the road before he'd managed to end the call with Abby.
He was speeding, which, while not something he never did, was rather unusual for him. But he was making good time. He wouldn't beat Gibbs' record, but damn if he didn't come close.
Two hours in it started raining. He winced and pushed down on the accelerator.
When he'd called Abby, the one thing he hadn't told her was how distraught Sarah had sounded. He hadn't asked her how she'd ended up on the side of the road without a car, but something told him that there was an emotional explanation.
He'd just be the cab driver, he decided. When they got back to D.C. Tony would let Tim sort out whatever emotional trouble his sister was having.
Scowling at the thought of McGee, he hit speed dial 5 again.
Feeling rebellious, he didn't leave a message this time either.
McGeek always seemed to be on some personal favor disguised as a 'special assignment' or another for Toothpick.
He knew that it bothered Gibbs and Abby, too, but they'd decided not to say anything just yet.
Tony grumbled. Tim should be here – some instinct told him that Sarah needed her big brother.
Well, Tony was just gonna hafta do for now.
He sighed again, almost wishing he'd brought Gibbs.
'Cause Tony knew that he sucked at comforting distraught, weeping women.
** * ** * ** * **
Sarah threw another rock at one of the tall trees surrounding her.
The more she thought about her situation – about the person on his way to 'rescue' her – the more dire it seemed.
She had just decided to call Tony and send him back to D.C. when it started raining.
And by raining, she really meant down pouring. Despite the thick canopy above her, enough water trickled down through the leaves to have her wet and shivering inside a few minutes.
She had just decided not to call DiNozzo when her phone rang.
It was DiNozzo. Wonderful.
"Sarah? It just started raining here – are you okay?"
Well, that was actually rather considerate – even if it was a stupid question.
Of course she wasn't okay.
"Well, yes, I'm just as right as rain." She supposed she should really be grateful for the domineering ass on his way to get her, but she just couldn't hold back the sarcasm.
After all, she'd spent the last two hours remembering every bad thing Tim had said about Tony DiNozzo. At this point, she still wasn't sure whether she wanted to get into the same car with him, rain or not. Not wanting to spend any more time in the rain than she absolutely had to, she set half her brain to remembering if Tim had ever said anything good about Tony.
"All right. I'm about an hour out – maybe less if I push it."
Oh, lord, he was speeding to impress her. She could already tell that he was a show-off.
"Fine, I'll see you then."
She hung up, knowing she was taking her foul mood out on someone who was essentially an innocent bystander – who was making what should have been a four hour drive just to pick her up. And he'd somehow managed to shave off an hour of time she would spend waiting in the rain.
Shoving her phone in her back pocket (in hopes to keep it dry) she leaned against the nearest tree and went back to thinking bad things about Tony.
At least she wasn't thinking about Rex.
** * **
Less than an hour later, her cell phone rang again.
She answered it instantly, hoping that DiNozzo wasn't just calling to check in again.
"Sarah, I'm here. Or, er, hereabouts." He paused and she could hear some muted beeping in the back ground. "I shouldn't be more than fifty yards from your position. I need you to walk out to the road to see if you can see me."
Moving quickly, she reached the side of the road in barely a minute. Not more than fifty feet from her was a bright red mustang idling on the side of the road. A man that could only be Tony leaned against the side of it, cell phone in hand. He smiled when he caught sight of her.
"Hey," he called, hanging up his phone. "You alright there?"
She nodded sharply, jogging towards the car and potential dry warmth.
Before she could say 'Skirt Chaser' she was ensconced in a fluffy blanket and secured in the front seat of the Ford.
"Buckled in?" Tony asked, kindly, from the driver's seat.
Sarah nodded, but frowned. So far Tony hadn't acted the way she'd expected him to. She watched warily as he fiddled with a rather expensive looking GPS system. She wasn't about to let him catch her off guard.
"Alright, it looks like the nearest town with a department store and decent food is about twenty minutes out. Well have you in dry clothes and fed in no time."
"Thank you." She smiled weakly. She wasn't just saying that to be polite – she really was grateful for all the trouble Tony had gone through for her sake, even if she wasn't so sure of the guy himself.
"You know," he started quietly, his tone oddly serious. Even in the short time she'd known him, she was startled to hear anything but that sugary-sweet cheerful tone from him. "McGee would have been here if he could."
Sarah nodded again, not having anything to say to that. His tone was just so dang sympathetic that she couldn't stand it.
They rode the rest of the twenty minutes in silence. Sarah noticed that DiNozzo was going the speed limit this time. She wondered if that was for her benefit or if the speeding he must have done earlier had been. Either way, she told herself, she didn't care.
When they pulled up to the small clothing store – the only one in town – Tony reached into his wallet and pulled out a credit card.
"You want me to go with you, or would you rather I looked for food?"
Again, Sarah was surprised by his courtesy. After the day she'd had, she would rather not be alone again. However, shopping with Tony would be very odd. She hadn't even ever taken Rex along when she shopped for clothes.
As if sensing her dilemma, Tony smiled and announced that Martique's was having a sale on men's ties and that he needed one.
"So, if you don't mind, I'll go look at those while you find something dry to wear." He handed her the credit card and climbed out of the car, not giving her a chance to refuse.
** * ** * ** * **
Half an hour later, Tony sat with Sarah in a small, cozy diner waiting for their orders to be brought out.
Sarah was dressed in new, dry clothes that seemed to fit her fairly well. Tony couldn't help noticing, though, that the clothes were considerably more conservative than the ones he found her in.
Even though she had repeatedly thanked him, Sarah was putting out very strong 'leave me alone, I don't like you' signals.
He hadn't really expected her to be overly friendly – especially considering the little adventure she just had, but he didn't expect her to be like this, either. McGee's sister was borderline hostile.
And, maybe that was it – Sarah was McGee's sister.
Until recently, McGee had been very standoffish and resentful around Tony. After Gibbs' sojourn in Mexico, McGee and Ziva both had been slow to warm to Tony again.
Tony sighed – he couldn't say that McGee had liked him in the beginning, either. Tony knew that Sarah and McGeek fairly close – the younger McGee had no doubt heard a lot of bad things – er, mostly justified complaints – about Tony.
He couldn't blame her for being wary.
Still, it would have been nice to have the benefit of the doubt – especially since he was missing a Magnum rerun marathon for this.
Sarah pulled another napkin from the dispenser and began shredding it. She soon had a handful of long strips which she tore into small square pieces and dropped in the growing pile in front of her.
Tony rolled his shoulders, trying to work out some of the invisible tension that gripped him. He did his best to appear casual and confident – he didn't want to upset Sarah any more than he had. Straightening in his seat, he decided it was time for him and Sarah to have a little chat.
Damn, but he wished McGee was here instead of him. Or that Abby was. Or Gibbs. Or, hell, anyone but him.
Sarah looked up, but didn't respond. Clearly she didn't intend to make this easy for him.
"You got any particular destination in mind?" Tony was careful to keep his mental grimace off his face. This was his roundabout way of telling Sarah that McGee was 'not available'.
"My brother's apartment," Sarah responded promptly and predictably.
"Sarah," he began softly, "McGee isn't there."
"He's on assignment from Vance – probably rubbing shoulders at some convention or another. He's been doing that a lot lately. Vance seems to think it's important to keep up PR for the team or something like that. Says McGee is the only one he trusts to do that."
Sarah shook her head.
"Tim always tells me when he leaves D.C." Her glare dared Tony to disagree.
"He may not have left the D.C. area," Tony responded diplomatically. The young woman across from him – while no longer sopping wet – still looked exhausted and emotionally distraught. Tony was doing his level best to be sensitive and considerate – lest he set her off. "Even so, he's not at his apartment. Most likely, if he's at a convention, he's staying in a hotel nearby, courtesy of NCIS, of course."
"You mean you don't know?"
Tony shook his head. McGee had stopped telling him these kinds of things the minute Gibbs had turned back up.
"I'm sure Gibbs knows. And Vance would probably tell you – maybe even be able to get in contact with him. He hasn't been answering his phone – either that, or he's ignoring both of us."
Sarah didn't respond, still staring at him suspiciously. Tony sighed. He tried to think of something else to say, but was saved by the waitress delivering their orders.
They ate in silence for a while – the food was good and they were both hungry.
"Sarah, it's gonna be late when we make it back – do you know anyone besides Tim that'll put you up for the night?"
Reluctantly, Sarah shook her head.
"I've got a spare room," he offered, "but, if you're not comfortable with that, I know someone else who would offer you a couch to sleep on – you remember Abby?"
Sarah nodded but her lips pinched uncomfortably. Tony raised his eyebrow. Surely she didn't not like Abby?
"I – you don't think I could get into Tim's apartment? I usually have a key, but…"
Tony shook his head.
Truth was, he could get her into McGee apartment. Even if he didn't have a key, he was relatively sure he could pick the lock. He would have let her stay there, but his gut was advising him not to leave her alone.
He knew he wasn't the ideal person to support the dispirited young woman in front of him, but he had to be better than no one. At the very least, he could make sure she didn't do something stupid.
"Well, then, I really don't want to bother anyone else – "
Tony nodded, deciding not to argue with her.
"It's settled then – you'll stay with me tonight and tomorrow we'll hunt down your brother." Tony smiled reassuringly – or tried to.
Sarah shuffled in her seat uncomfortably and Tony bit back another sigh.
He really, really sucked at this.
** * ** * ** * **
Wordlessly, Sarah climbed into the passenger seat of the flashy Mustang.
Dinner had been strange.
Tony wasn't at all what her brother had described countless times. It wasn't like Tim to hold grudges or to say things that weren't true.
But DiNozzo –
She honestly didn't know what to think.
Sarah watched DiNozzo as he pulled out of the diner's small, pothole ridden parking lot and pointed the car towards D.C.
Tony turned the radio on and fussed with the tuner for a while before stopping at a classical station. Sarah frowned.
Classical music isn't exactly what she'd expected from Tony.
The driver seemed to sense her scrutiny. He smiled and shrugged shoulders before offering an explanation.
"McGee says you play classical piano – I thought this might relax you. You should get some rest."
Sarah eyed him incredulously. There was no way that the man Tim worked with and the man diving her to D.C. were the same person.
She didn't understand this. And she didn't like that.
"Why are you doing this?" She demanded. Sarah winced at her slightly confrontational tone.
Tony sighed and flexed his hands on the wheel.
"I know you've had a long day, so I'll get right down to it." Sarah raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. "You don't trust me because of something your brother said about me."
Well, that was an interesting non-answer.
Even in the dim light she could make out a dry smirk on Tony's face. Her biting sarcasm didn't seem to faze him much – a fact that disgusted her.
"Yes, well, astuteness is a requirement for the job."
"You haven't answered my question."
"Fine." His tone took her by surprise – he sounded angry. She gulped and leaned more against the door. "I know McGee and I aren't on particularly good terms – and we've never really been close, even though I thought we were beginning to –"
Tony cut himself off and Sarah couldn't help believing that the emotion in his voice was sincere. It wasn't just anger, but frustration and bitterness.
"Yes?" She prompted.
"Your brother is part of my team – a team of which I am the senior field agent. McGee is my responsibility – his personal interests, as well as his safety, are mine to protect and maintain. I picked you up because I knew he couldn't. If I had let anything happen to you, he would never have forgiven me. I never would have forgiven me." Tony paused and, though his voice was remarkably well controlled, Sarah thought the words were hard for him. "We're a team and that's the way teams work. Whether or not McGee realizes it."
Sarah stared at the special agent in shock. This rather convincing display of loyalty did not mesh with the picture Tim had painted for her.
Or did it?
Suddenly, she remembered something Tim had said in passing. Actually, several somethings Tim had stated rather casually.
Sacrifices made during a tight situation, agonies endured, or hurdles overcome.
Tim never talked much about the cases he worked, and even less about the danger he faced. Sarah knew he faced it – even if he didn't tell her about it in detail. She suspected that he was trying to protect her, trying not to give her a reason to worry about him incessantly.
"You saved his life, didn't you?" Sarah asked this question softly, even though she was sure she already knew the answer.
"And he mine. That's the way teams work."
Sarah nodded, able to accept his answer after the little epiphany she'd just had. Suddenly, she realized how lucky her brother – and, by extension, she herself – was.
Tim had a loyal friend watching out for him, even if he didn't realize it.
But, still. Sarah remembered how vehement Tim had been during some of his rants against Tony. A sliver of doubt crept in her mind.
What if DiNozzo was just playing her?
"But Tim has said – you super-glue him to his desk, steal his lunch, call him –"
Tony interrupted her with a laugh.
"And he doesn't take it anymore, does he?"
Sarah blinked, stunned. The agent was right. Tim still complained about DiNozzo, but he was more confident and much more proactive. Could Tony really be even partly responsible for this change?
As if sensing her thoughts, Tony chuckled.
"It is also my responsibility, as senior field agent, to assist the lead agent in ensuring that the junior agents are field trained. Capable and confident."
"From what I've heard, you've rather unorthodox methods."
"But effective – why else do you think Gibbs puts up with me?"
Sarah snorted, but in truth, that statement calmed her. She'd met Gibbs only a few times, but between those brief meetings and Tim's words on the subject Sarah had developed an enormous respect for the man, even though she hardly knew him.
Surely Agent Gibbs wouldn't keep some idiot on his team for eight years running. That meant that there was probably more to DiNozzo than met the eye – particularly Tim's.
Some kind of intuition told her that that was the way Tony wanted it. She wondered what had happened to make him so determined to hide behind childish antics all the time.
"So," she said, changing the subject, "you're going to help me find Tim tomorrow?"
Sarah smiled and settled back in her seat, relaxing for the first time in Tony's presence.
** * ** * ** * **
Tony's breath whooshed out of his lungs in a relieved sigh as his passenger finally, finally relaxed.
He felt like he'd just been on the wrong side of one of Gibbs' interrogations. Not that Sarah had been rough or verbally abusive – though he didn't doubt she could be tough if angered.
Tony's discomfort had been mostly of his own making – he'd forced himself to be completely honest with her.
He didn't want to upset her and he needed her to trust him. Besides, he felt he owed it to McGee's sister because he owed it to McGee.
Honesty seemed the only policy, even as unsavory as he felt the truth really was.
After all, who could really like Tony DiNozzo? That's why he created the act in the first place – at least he could control who liked or disliked him then, and why. That wasn't the point here.
The point was that, even though Sarah had relaxed, he still worried about her.
She hadn't said a single word about how she'd ended up on the side of the road.
Naturally, he hadn't prodded her, but, still. He had no doubt that if he had brought the issue up, she would have actively avoided it.
Well, he supposed, glancing at his snoozing passenger, it could likely wait till the morning.
He'd turn her over to McGee and everything would be fine.
Tony did his part – someone else could step in and take care of the rest.
A/N: Well, what do you think? Once again plans for a simple one-shot back fired on me. Should I continue?