AN: You do need to have read the longwindedly titled Graduation Celebration Confrontation to make head or tail of this story… I just felt there was a bit more mileage left in it…
Huge thanks to all the people who reviewed GCC; it meant so much being in contact with so many fantastic people. Flattery? Me? Nooooooo….
Brothers Up In Arms
Terry Packer was an angry man. He was also broke, and full of resentment. It was a SWAT team's job to take the risks… so they should be allowed to take them their own way, right? Criminals used violence, so it was right to use violence against them, right? And the best way to handle a situation was to get in first and ask questions later. All his team agreed with him; he'd trained them well. It was inevitable that the ethos of the leader would trickle through to the rest of the guys; that was how he wanted it, how it should be.
And if the perp got handled a bit roughly afterwards, well so what? If they hadn't been perpetrating something, they wouldn't have brought it on themselves. Anyone calling him or his men heavy handed should try doing the job. Nobody had been killed; what was the big deal?
Except that the guy had already had a bullet in his chest, and nobody had bothered to look. Except that the guy had hardly been able to stand… his gun had been pointed at the floor, and there were witnesses to say he never attempted to lift it; bleeding hearted witnesses who said he'd been punched and kicked and stamped on when he was already cuffed. Except that the guy was a freaking federal agent.
He'd mouthed off at him, for crissakes, made fun of him, and the way he did his job, he'd asked for what he got. Except that the brass didn't see it that way. 'Excessive force.' 'Poor reading of the situation.' 'Overuse of violence endemic throughout team.'
So, Lieutenant Packer, your team will be split up and sent to other leaders who will teach them how to achieve the correct balance in their work and not to believe in the use of violence as the only method of dealing with a situation. Or, for that matter, a person. You will be demoted to sergeant, and sent to run a rural station, where you will show yourself able to deal wisely with every kind of person and situation on a daily basis before you will be reconsidered for any sort of rapid response work.
Screw that! As Senior Lieutenant, Barraclough was only one grade above him, and had been a SWAT leader himself. He should have supported him, not hung him out to dry. So they hadn't sent the rent-a-mouth to Mercy Hospital, again, so what? He didn't take orders from feds. The fact that the fed had intimidated him, scared him rigid, had nothing at all to do with it.
"I expect you to make sure he gets the best medical care in the city."
Well, that was Mercy, where they always sent injured cops, but this guy was nothing to do with him. Expect away. When the EMTs said the general hospital, he didn't bother to put them right. And for that they were demoting him? He'd banged his badge down on the Captain's desk in a fit of self-righteous pique, and quit.
Looking for sympathy in the bar that night, he found it hard to come by. The leaders of the two other SWAT units were not pleased at the possibility of being tarred with the same brush. "No, Terry, we don't run our teams like that. And we don't want anyone thinking that we do." Overhearing a conversation he wasn't supposed to didn't make him consider that eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves.
"You sorry to be off Packer's team?"
"Sorry? Hell, no. I'm relieved. I stood there and watched… that fed was covered in blood and I just watched while Packer and Tresco beat on him. I just feel guilty… glad it's over. Shit… I'm glad he's gone!"
He stormed out, picked a fight with the first drunk he met, beat him senseless, and went home to fester. Three weeks later, he hadn't found a job, and hadn't stopped brooding on the unfairness of life, or his loathing for an agency he'd never even heard of before. His bank account was empty, his blood was dilute scotch; as he walked by the University, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, glowering at the few postgrads who were still around over the summer break, he really wanted to kill somebody.
Tim McGee was a happy man. He was a contented man, a fulfilled man, and a man in love. Sitting at his desk, trying to keep his mind entirely on the report he was writing, he still kept putting a hand in his pocket and fingering his phone; as if touching it would make it buzz. He was aware of Gibbs giving him a thin, amused smile, and Tony's head turning towards him every time his hand reached down.
"McGoo, if I didn't know what you were doing, I'd wonder what you were doing…"
Tim returned both hands to the keyboard hastily, as now Ziva was showing an interest too. He shrugged internally, he was almost relieved to hear the comment; it was almost the first thing DiNozzo had said since he dozed off at his desk at lunchtime. He wondered if the Senior Field Agent was not feeling too good. OK, he didn't tire as easily now as he had a week ago, when he'd returned to work, too soon as usual. But he was 'fine', wasn't he always… they just kept an eye on him, as always – Tim's phone buzzed, and he snatched it from his pocket, his heart beginning to pound anxiously.
"Why are you anxious, McGee? Any researcher would jump to have Mari working with them. Yes… but if she doesn't get a post over here, she'll keep on working in Switzerland… and she won't marry me…" He read the text, aware that all three members of the team were watching him, and the smile that spread slowly over his good-natured face told them what they wanted to know.
When he replaced the phone, Gibbs raised an eyebrow.
"It's all done, Boss. Mari's a full time senior member of Professor Oshiro's team, as of today. She's moving to New York permanently. I owe you guys."
"Please do not start saying that again, McGee," Ziva said. "We have covered that grass before – " she waited for a correction from DiNozzo, but none came – "We are happy for you."
Tony gave him a brilliant smile. "That's great news, McGroom," he said.
It was impossible to faze McGee these days. "Give me a chance, Tony… she's not exactly said yes, yet."
"But she has not exactly said no either," Ziva joined in, observing in passing that Tony's smile faded as soon as Tim wasn't looking at him, as if the effort of maintaining it was too much...
"She says she's going to go and lease a car," Tim said happily, "She'll be down here tomorrow night."
"Let's hope for a quiet weekend, then," Gibbs said. "So, go home and talk to her, McGee."
"Er, thanks, Boss!"
"Everyone, finish up tomorrow." Nobody needed to be asked twice.
Tony DiNozzo was a bewildered man. Completely shocked. Heartbroken probably came into it somewhere too. When Josh Cooper had called him and said he was in Washington, how about meeting for a beer, he'd been delighted. He'd only seen him once since he left the hospital, when his young friend had graphically told him how Tim had dealt with the kidnappers.
"Way I hear it you did OK too, Josh."
The young man had laughed. "You should have seen Anni with the table lamp! Never thought of myself as an action man, but you know, I might want to become an agent one day…"
"Hey, let me know if you do."
Last night, they'd met in Tony's favourite bar; he'd expressed surprise that Anne-Marie wasn't there too.
"I needed to talk to you alone, Tony."
For a moment, the big agent remembered his ramblings in the hospital, and thought with a surge of delight that Josh really was going to ask him to be his best man; but the look on the youngster's face was uncomfortable and anything but happy.
"O-kay… what's up?"
"Gill? Is she alright?" Tony was alarmed.
"Yes, she's fine. No… actually, she – she's not. She thinks I shouldn't be associating with you any more." In a rush, without warning. Tony was stunned.
"Not… not associating with me? Or does she mean NCIS?"
Poor Josh struggled to get the words out. "Both, Tony. But mostly she doesn't like me being friends with you."
"What? I mean, Josh, why? What have I -" A horrible thought struck him; it was ludicrous, but he couldn't think of anything else drastic enough to explain what he was hearing. "She doesn't – I mean, you and me… she doesn't think we're - "
"No, Tony! Hell, no, nothing like that. She knows you're my friend." Josh took a deep breath. "Claire's been sleeping really badly. She saw you shot, and rough-housed by the SWAT team; she keeps dreaming about it, sometimes it's me, sometimes Anni, she sees the Swat guys dragging you around by the hair, and …well, she's had a few of these bad nightmares."
"Poor kid," Tony said. "Is she seeing anybody? To talk to?"
"The same lady she saw when Dad was killed; she says she'll work through it, and be OK, and I think she will, not that I'd know, but it's worrying Mom. She was shocked and really afraid as well, I think she thought she'd lose me too… but she says she's fine, and she won't see anyone. She says she's dealing, but it's the third time she's had to, and she's not doing as well as she thinks she is."
"Oh, Gill," Tony said regretfully. "She's had it tough, that's for sure… you know we all tried to be there for her, don't you? All the time you were away; we didn't leave her to cope on her own, Josh. That's the truth."
"I know that. Of course I know it! Tony, she knows it too; that just makes it worse."
He paused, not knowing how to go on. Finally, he braced himself. He owed it to the staunch, good friend sitting there looking banjaxed, to keep it together. "I asked Anni to marry me," he went on eventually, "We set a date for after I finish at Georgetown, next June. I wanted to ask you to be my best man… when I told Mom I thought she'd be pleased; but she was… I don't know… a bit cool about it; said I should choose someone closer to my own age. I told her I felt closer to you than to any of my college friends, and I reminded her that you'd got me through the time after Dad was killed."
He looked at his hands. "She said, 'Real friends don't nearly get you killed, or fill your head with foolish notions of being a secret agent."
"I really don't understand," Tony said, bewildered, "How did I do that?"
Josh ran his hand through his hair. "I told Mom that none of the bad things that had happened were your fault, or NCIS's, they'd have happened anyway. I said how you all worked afterwards, to put things right… you and Tim both risked your lives to save Anne-Marie and me, and Mari; and she said…" He gulped.
"She asked what was so all-fired wonderful about being a Special Agent that you were trying to get me to leave a good, safe career to go off on the same ego-trip you were on."
Tony was really worried by now. "Now that's not Gill. She's my friend too, Josh… it was her idea for me to escort her, and Claire, at your graduation, and I was proud to." He laughed sharply. "Hell, we had a great time – until it all went pearshaped of course…why would she say something like that about me?"
"I don't know. She's still shocked… she's worrying about Claire…"
"But where did this idea come from of me trying to make you become an agent?"
"D'you remember I said to you that it might be fun one day? I wasn't really serious… I mean, your team are all single, I don't know how Tim'll cope as a married man…"
"Very perceptive of you," Tony though, and tried not to let the sudden wave of bitterness he felt wash over his face.
"I wouldn't want Anni to be always worrying about me," the young man went on in complete innocence. "She knew I was joking too, but apparently when she told Mom, it didn't go down too well. Tony… I'm sorry… if she was OK, I'm sure this wouldn't be happening." He sighed, and shook his head. "I told her that you were my friend and you wouldn't do that, and I intended to stay your friend, and she…"
"Go on," Tony said, his heart sinking further.
"She said if I really loved her, I wouldn't say such things."
Tony took a pull of his almost forgotten beer, and said very softly, "That's really not Gill. Have you talked to Nadia?"
"She won't let me. Tony…"
"Let me say it, so you don't have to. We agree, your Mom's not well. But you can't go against her. You can't, Josh. Whatever we do to put this right, in the mean time, if you want to look her in the eye and say you're not seeing anything of me, then that's how it has to be, right?"
"I guess… " They left the rest of the beer and got up.
"We can text; I'll talk to Nadia, and Ducky… see what they say… in the meantime, try not to worry…" they were heading out to their cars by now, "We'll fix this, Josh. Oh, and next June… I will be your best man."
He watched his young friend driving away, then sat in his car with his heart in his boots. This wasn't happening.
He didn't sleep well; he wasn't going to sit back and do nothing, but whatever he might do had to make things better, not worse. After a fretful night he had rolled into work early, and fallen on paperwork with an appetite that amazed him, never mind his team. He managed to spend some time alone in the archives room, where he didn't have to pretend to anyone that everything was fine; then after a brief consultation with Ducky about PTSD, 'It's not me, Ducky', 'I know that, my boy', he'd returned to his desk to open a new ruck of emails.
One was from Gill Cooper; it had spread a web of icy cold across his back, and taken hold of his guts with a giant claw.
I am glad to hear that you are out of hospital. I would like to thank you for kindly escorting myself and Claire in Princeton, however badly things worked out.
I wish that you had prevented Joshua from becoming involved; but it seems that he enjoys following your example, and taking no thought for his own safety or his family's feelings.
I appreciate your help in the past, but on reflection I feel that friendship with you is doing my son no good at all, and I shall be grateful if you will give him no encouragement in the future.
He had actually felt tears welling up; the sheer injustice of it to a fine young man, let alone to himself, and from a woman he admired, left him too shaken to even scuttle back to hide among the archives. He had laid his head on his arms and hoped to sleep.
AN: Well… do I go on?