Fragments: After the Fall (McGee)
A/N: I really hope I'm not beating a dead horse by adding another chapter to this, but a few folks mentioned they'd like to see the story from McGee's side. Real life got in the way for a bit, but I finally came up with a small offering.
For Louise, because she asked so nicely.
McGee laid his head gently down on his extended arm where it lay wrapped around the toilet seat in the NCIS men's room. His knees were starting to protest the cold tile floor, but that was a small price to pay. His rebellious stomach was slowly beginning to settle. Not enough that he was ready to drag himself to his feet and go rinse out his mouth, but enough so that he began to think maybe the worst was over.
He'd never tell his co-workers, but he'd spent more than his fair share of time in this position during his college years. They'd only laugh, because it hadn't been due to excessive drinking – only excessive studying. He'd been extremely nervous back then, much more so than he had when he first joined Gibbs' team.
In fact, he'd changed so much in the five years since he'd moved to NCIS headquarters from Norfolk that he had little doubt that folks from the base there wouldn't even recognize him. As Tony had mentioned once or twice, McGee had 'grown a set'. Oddly enough, McGee took that as a compliment, and coming from DiNozzo, it was. Of course, it was due to the way Tony constantly rode him that caused McGee to finally step up to the plate anyway. Some days the bullpen definitely had a 'kill or be killed' attitude to it as they sought to outdo one another in the boss' eyes. For the most part though, McGee knew Tony didn't mean anything by his frequent jibes.
Tony. The mere thought of the man was enough to start his stomach rolling again. Oh, God, the man was never going to let McGee live this case down. Letting the boss get hurt on Tim's watch was something the senior field agent might never forgive him for. DiNozzo could flip from being Gibb's loyal Saint Bernard to being his rabid pit bull in a heartbeat. The senior field agent took it upon himself to ensure the team leader's safety, and even if it hadn't been part of his job description, Tim was pretty sure Tony would have done it naturally.
After all, it was obvious to anyone watching that Tony idolized the silver-haired agent. Tim had spent more than enough time watching Tony do his Gibbs impersonation after the boss retired to Mexico to know exactly who Tony wanted to be when he grew up. If he grew up. But Tony did hold the record as the only agent ever to last more than five years under Gibbs tutelage, a record he held to with pride. McGee had been rather proud himself when he tied Stan Burley's record a few months back, and he secretly looked forward to surpassing it. But Tony had already been with Gibbs for three years when Tim came on board. In fact, for a long time, it had been just Gibbs and Tony, when a string of other probies couldn't make the grade.
When the call had first come in a few days ago about the dead marine, Tim had been surprised that Gibbs apparently intended to work the case with just the two of them, since Tony and Ziva were jetting off to Paris. That surprise had quickly turned to delight as he realized his team leader was confident enough in McGee's ability to handle the increased work load. And though there had been a few periods of doubt along the way, Tim felt pretty good about the way he'd carried himself.
At least until the end.
His stomach gave another violent twist and he leaned forward, retching all over again as he tried not to think about how much worse it could have been than Gibbs walking away with a broken shoulder. If Tim hadn't been standing there, if the boss hadn't had to push him out of the way, Gibbs never would have gotten hurt. He wouldn't be sitting down at the hospital even now, having who knows what done to him. Gibbs hated hospitals. Gibbs hated being injured.
Gibbs was going to kill him. If Tony didn't do it first.
Tim heard the tap of footsteps on the tile floor of the bathroom. He hadn't noticed the sound of the opening door over the noise of his own making, and he held his breath, hoping foolishly that whoever it was would just go on their way without disturbing him. He knew that hope was in vain when a head full of dark hair and green eyes appeared in the open doorway of the stall. McGee groaned inwardly, wishing he could curl up an die. Anybody but Tony.
"Probie?" Tony said softly. "You okay?"
"Peachy, DiNozzo," he snapped, allowing his irritation to bleed through.
"Yeah, I can see that," Tony replied, stepping closer. "Guess I probably didn't need to ask, huh? If you were okay, I doubt you'd be in here tossing your cookies." He squatted down and leaned back on his heels. "What's going on?"
McGee sighed quietly and spit once more into the toilet before flushing. "Nothing. I'm fine. Just give me a few minutes."
"Take your time. You hurt?" Tony asked, reaching a hand towards Tim's head and lifting his chin to look into McGee's eyes.
The hand was surprisingly gentle as it moved to the side of his head, and Tim wasn't quite sure what to think. "No, not hurt," he replied. "At least, I don't think so. I might have hit my head when Gibbs pushed me out of the way," he trailed off, thinking. It kind of freaked him out when Tony was nice to him, and Tony was definitely being nice to him now. Unexpected.
"Yeah, I think you did. You got a bit of a bump here," he said, his fingers probing carefully. "Out, not in. That's good. You got a headache? Dizziness? Double vision?"
Tim leaned back against the metal wall and closed his eyes, scooting away from the john. If Tony wanted to think he was in here losing his dinner because of a head injury, that might be okay. Better than the alternative of him knowing it was nerves or guilt. He took the out Tony offered. "Little headache. No dizziness or double vision."
"And I guess I don't have to ask about the nausea. You're still looking a little green around the gills. C'mon, McPasty, let's get you down to Ducky."
Tim's eyes flew open. "What? No. Tony, I'm fine. Really. It's nothing," he cajoled.
"If it's nothing, then Gibbs will be happier hearing that diagnosis from Ducky than from either of us. Trust me on this, McGee. I've kind of got the whole 'getting hit in the head thing' down to a science.
Tim allowed a brief chuckle at that. "Truer words, Tony . . . " he replied, taking the hand offered to him by the older man. "Just give me a minute to rinse, okay?"
"Take your time." He leaned back against the sink and watched intently while McGee turned on the water.
Tim let the water run and splashed some on his face, relishing the coolness against his still heated skin.
Tony cleared his throat. "You want to tell me what happened?"
McGee stopped splashing to look up at him. "You mean other than me nearly getting the boss killed?"
DiNozzo merely raised an eyebrow in response, waiting before passing judgment on that statement.
McGee knew there wasn't much point in not telling Tony everything. He'd get it out of him eventually. The other man was a natural born investigator. Some might be tempted to just label it nosy, but deep down, Tim knew better. He sighed.
"We were in the office with Beringer, reading him his rights. There were a few folks gathered at the door. Beringer said he didn't put the hit out on Nora, and Gibbs must have believed him and put it together, because he took off after Sturgis, who had been watching but had disappeared. We followed him down to the parking garage, but Sturgis made it to his car. We pulled our weapons and started firing. The car kept coming straight at us. Sturgis never even slowed. He took a hit to the shoulder and must have lost control of the car, because the next thing I know, Gibbs was shoving me out of the way before he rolled up onto the hood of the car and then fell to the ground." Tim shut off the water and stood up, reaching gratefully for the paper towels Tony held out, pressing them against his face and trying to blot out the memory of Gibbs bouncing off the car.
Tony folded his arms in front of him, and nodded his head sagely. "Not your fault, Probie."
Tim looked at him in disbelief. "Gibbs dislocated his shoulder pushing me out of the way of the car! How is that not my fault?"
Tony stood and placed a hand on McGee's shoulder, leading him out of the men's room towards autopsy. "It would have been your fault if Gibbs had gotten hurt because you weren't there watching his back. But you were, Tim, standing right next to him. Right where you should be. Right where I'd expect you to be. Yeah, the boss got hurt. But that's not your fault. Relax - you done good."
The rare use of McGee's first name by the senior agent caught his attention, and he stared at Tony, waiting for the punchline. But Tony's face was as guileless as Tim had ever seen it, and he paused, running over the idea in his mind that maybe Tony didn't blame him. And if Tony didn't blame him, maybe it really wasn't McGee's fault. Huh.
McGee's stomach wasn't quite sure it was on board with the idea, but it was definitely worth thinking about.
The time in autopsy went fairly quickly. Ducky poked and prodded, shined lights and took x-rays. Tony and Abby kept McGee company, sharing the story of a night of clubbing they'd done early on in their friendship that had gone horribly wrong, involving a girl named Dora, a male stripper, a clown and a Doberman Pincer. Despite hearing the tale, McGee still wasn't sure how those things fit in together, but he was grateful for the laughter that kept his mind off of where Gibbs probably was at the moment.
When Ducky asked for Abby's assistance in developing the x-rays, Tim was once again left alone with Tony. There was no censure in the older man's eyes, and Tim started to believe that maybe he hadn't screwed up after all.
Tony looked up from where he was playing with Ducky's instrument tray. "Yeah?"
"Don't take this the wrong way, but you're being nice to me. It's kind of freaking me out." Tim winced as he suddenly remembered Tony saying almost exactly the same words about Gibbs the night they lost Kate. He watched the other man's face darken for a fraction of a second before the shadows were forcibly chased away. The look may not have been there long, but it was enough to see that Tony recognized the words as well.
Just when he'd started to feel better. "Sorry," he mumbled.
He half expected a head slap, but Tony only gently patted him once on the cheek.
"Better not let Gibbs hear you say that," Tony grinned.
Tim returned the smile, appreciating Tony's effort to keep things on an even keel. "Nah, it's okay. Ducky told me even Gibbs says apologies are okay when they're between friends."
If anything, Tony's smile grew. "Then by all means, continue apologizing. In fact, you can start back from when you took my American Pie coffee mug and work your way up from there."
"Tony," Tim whined halfheartedly as the doors to autopsy opened behind him.
"Ah, Anthony. Are you misbehaving again?"
"Hey!" Tony said, sounding affronted. "Why does everyone always assume it's me?"
"Because it usually is you?" Abby offered, slipping in behind Ducky and coming to stand next to McGee, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Oh, hey Abs," Tony said, his voice returning to a normal conversational tone. "You know, you kind of sounded a bit like Gibbs there for a second."
"Really?" Abby beamed. "Cool!"
Ducky turned his gaze towards McGee. "Your x-rays look good, Timothy. Are you feeling any better?"
McGee shot Tony a grateful look before answering the simple question. "Yeah, Ducky, I am. Much better in fact." He was pleased to see the senior field agent's head dip in acknowledgment of the underlying message.
"Excellent." Ducky's brogue caused the word to roll off his tongue. "I don't think you've suffered any permanent damage. However, I think it might be best for someone to stay with you tonight, just in case of any unforeseen complications."
Tony gave a longsuffering sigh. "Alright, McHurl. Looks like you've earned yourself a night at Casa DiNozzo, you lucky dog. Puke on my carpet and our friendship is over."
McGee knew the offer was an honest one. He also knew the older man had some place else he was itching to be. Before he could say anything, Abby chirped in.
"Nothing doing, Tony. Timmy's coming with me. I'll make sure he's tucked in all safe and sound."
Tony let out a lascivious growl at the implications, while Ducky clucked his tongue. "Now Abigail, I'm afraid he's in no shape for . . . "
"Guys!" Tim could feel the blush creeping up his neck. "That wasn't what she meant."
"Sure, Timmy," Tony teased. "Whatever you – Hey!" he yelped, when Abby punched him solidly on the arm.
"That wasn't what I meant, and you know it, mister," she told Tony. "I'm just offering to take him home and put him to bed."
Tony raised an eyebrow, appearing ready to jump in with another lewd comment, only to be cowed into submission when Abby raised her fist again.
"Besides, Tony," she continued, "we all know you need to go and check on Papa Smurf."
Tony's grin ran away from him. "Please tell me I can tell him you called him that."
"Not if you want to live to see tomorrow," she threatened. "You know I can kill you without leaving any forensic evidence." She stuck her tongue out at him when he joined her verbatim on the last part of the sentence. "Well, I can."
"Nobody knows it better than I do, my mistress of the dark," Tony charmed. "McGee, you going to be good with Abby?"
"I'll be fine, Tony," McGee answered, trying not to chafe at the mother-hen attitude of the senior agent. Though it was nice to know Tony cared, he really did feel fine.
"Okay, then, kids, I'm out of here. See you all in the morning."
McGee watched him depart, suddenly realizing sometimes Tony really did seem an awful lot like Gibbs. A nicer Gibbs, definitely, but still – the similarities were certainly there.
One of these days, he might even tell Tony that.
Despite the talk with Tony last night, McGee was still feeling some rather heavy residual guilt. He had thought about it this morning on the way into the office and decided to offer Gibbs his services as a chauffeur since the older man probably wouldn't be able to drive for a while. It was the least he could do, and it might even give him a chance to see another side to his team leader. He glanced up as Gibbs entered the bullpen, making a comment about Rule 12, and Tim noticed the arm in the sling still held a familiar white and green cup.
'Oh, man. His coffee arm. I'm so dead."
McGee winced as Gibbs gave him the toned down version of the glare when he asked after the Boss's shoulder. He was seriously starting to think now might be a good time to shoot himself, when Tony chimed in.
"Boy, when you blow it McGee, you blow it big."
For some reason, the words were exactly what McGee needed to hear. It snapped everything back into perspective, and he was actually grateful to Tony for once again knowing exactly what Tim needed.
"DiNozzo, it was an accident. MTAC, McGee." Gibbs ordered.
Hearing the Boss defend him didn't hurt either. "Yes, Boss," he answered, grabbing the papers sitting on his desk. He rose and turned towards Tony. "Hey, in Paris, who got stuck with the couch?"
"Me," Tony answered shortly. "We flipped a coin."
Tim caught the subtle wink Tony threw him as he passed, and smiled, knowing there was more to that story than met the eye. He looked forward to weaseling it out of Tony later on.
After all, that's what friends were for.