Disclaimer: I do not own Tony, I would not own McGee for all the tea in China and nobody owns Gibbs so that settles that.
A/N Took a while to get here but here we, indeed, are. This is the final chapter and I hope you all like it. There are a couple of reasons this chapter has taken so long (aside from my own less than stellar timekeeping). Firstly I have been playing catch-up with other fics, a delay caused by the lack of writing enthusiasm after the sad passing of my next door neighbour Harold. He was a good friend and made it to 91, not a bad age to get to. He will be sadly missed. Also I didn't want to rush this chapter as it has potential to be a disaster! Everyone seems to want something different for McGee, from maiming and death to hugs and forgiveness. Well this falls somewhere in between but I hope that most of you will feel it is the right way to go. And just like a domino effect all the delays took me into final course essay territory and as important as this is Shakespeare had to come first (4000 words and each one like pulling teeth - honestly I didn't even put myself through this even when I was at school!) Anyway, on with the show.
McGee couldn't deny that he was a little nervous about tonight. It would be the first time he'd seen Tony since what he liked to term 'the visit'. The difference being that this time they would not be alone. The whole team would be there. He wondered how Tony was handling this; wondered just what kind of excuses he'd given Gibbs to explain why he'd kept his 'probie' at arms length these last few days because he must have said something, although not anything near the truth because he would be a dead probie by now. Gibbs had cast the occasional enigmatic look his way but hadn't cornered him for an explanation as to his lack of presence. McGee shrugged as he automatically checked some routine data on his computer screen, whatever excuse it was that their SFA had given it had obviously worked and that was all that mattered. As long as Tony kept his mouth shut it would all work out and this sudden gathering seemed to be proof that the injured agent was getting better because he certainly hadn't been up to company a couple of weeks ago. Tim shifted in his chair as he felt eyes upon him from above but unlike Gibbs' unsettling and hard to read stares their Director was almost certainly watching his new protege with more positive emotions. Tim liked to think that those emotions included pride. He had tried to make the most of Tony's absence to show his mentor what he had to offer, drawing the focus on himself rather than 'own the room' DiNozzo and he felt that it had worked since Vance had been putting him under intense scrutiny all morning. So confident was he that he had informed his delighted family of his almost certain promotion to Senior Field Agent - his first major step up the ladder. They had been so proud, he could hear it in his mother's voice. At this rate he could be the youngest ever butt to sit in the Director's chair. As he felt the scrutiny fade away he logged off to prepare for the evening's gathering. He would make sure that he was attentive to Tony and be everything a good friend should be, partly because Gibbs radar would throw up a red flag if he didn't and partly because Tony WAS still a friend - even if the Italian didn't agree at the moment - things would go back to normal eventually; Tony didn't bear grudges. Still it wouldn't hurt to drop a reminder into Tony's ear at some point during the evening about what was at stake and who would and would not be believed.
N * C * I * S
Vance finally turned away from the mezzanine rail and headed purposefully back to his office. He had watched McGee working efficiently as normal and it made him grip the railing until his large and capable hands had paled with the force of his anger. It was an anger born of many sources. Anger at McGee for fooling him and anger at himself for being so gullible. Anger at Gibbs for not just shooting McGee and saving him the trouble of finding a workable solution and anger at Jackie, his loyal and loving wife who had made him sleep on the couch with the dog, who hogged the blanket and snored... he never said his anger was entirely rational. But one source of his anger that he had to acknowledge, one that as much as he would like to, he couldn't ignore or deny was the anger he felt at himself for having changed so much from the idealistic young man that his wife would never have dreamed of kicking out of the bed they had shared all these years and at the ambition which had lured him from that idealistic path and that was now doing the same to McGee.
It was at that moment that Vance had an epiphany of sorts. A moment when he finally understood his ambivalent feelings toward DiNozzo. Tony was a realist. He knew the system as well as any seasoned politician or businessman yet he hadn't let it steal his idealism, his unerring belief in justice and honor. It was all the things that Jackie had once been able to see in him. With a sigh Vance put those thoughts aside for now; he would deal with his own shortcomings later, but he would deal with them; he wouldn't let Jackie and the kids down... or Tony, Gibbs and his team. Picking up the phone he began to make a series of calls that would end this unpleasant episode in the life of NCIS. He would leave it to Gibbs to deal with the emotional and personal aspects of McGee's actions. It was their right.
N * I * C * S
McGee finished the call he'd made to his mom as he sat in his car outside Gibbs house. He would be going home to a celebratory party this weekend. It was a little premature but he was running with his instincts on this one and he rated his own gut every bit as highly as everyone else rated Gibbs'. Vance had asked him to come in after the weekend for a meeting. It had to be in order to discuss his promotion to SFA. There was no way that Tony would be fit to return to duty for several weeks if not months... maybe never, although McGee didn't want to see that happen. He was happy for Tony to resume his senior agent duties eventually; Tim only needed to be in the role long enough for Vance to recognize his true potential. SFA might be the less than dizzying height that Tony aspired to but for him it was just a stepping stone. Of course, McGee mused, Vance might have already been impressed enough to promote him beyond field agent level but he doubted it. Gibbs needed a senior agent and Ziva didn't have the experience yet and a stranger wouldn't last five minutes with Gibbs in his present state of mind. McGee sighed as he exited the car. It was no use dwelling on his likely though distant future; for now, at least, he was a part of team Gibbs and even though his hero worship of Gibbs had faded in direct correlation to his growing self-confidence he was still proud to be part of the top team in NCIS... and that would look pretty impressive on his resume.
It was a folly of pride that lasted until he opened the always unlocked front door and entered Gibbs' living room.
N * C * I * S
The impact of the blunt instrument that he would soon come to realise was a rock hard fist was barely felt for a few moments as the shock of the attack took up his every faculty. Feeling returned about the same second as his body ceased it's slide along the hardwood floor. The journey was brought to an abrupt end by the kitchen unit that acted as a substitute wall. In the utter silence of the room that reigned for a few stunned seconds McGee looked up at his attacker who was shaking his sore hand.
"I could swear doing that hurt less when I was in my youth" came the mild comment as McGee, with a shaky and shocked voice queried
"That would be Doctor Mallard to you Agent McGee."
"Whoohoo! Go Duckman!" Abby's enthusiastic cry broke the tension for the shocked spectators and soon all those present except for Tony who was confined to the couch and Gibbs who had gone to fetch the first aid kit were gathered round the feisty M.E.
McGee didn't have to ask why Ducky had hit him. He didn't have to ask the others why they weren't defending him.
McGee cast a look of pure malice towards Tony who returned it with one of mixed sadness and pity. That made Tim angrier than if Tony had been the one to strike him, but before he could drag himself upright and retaliate against the other agent a voice came from above. Not God but it might as well have been. Gibbs, medical kit in hand and scowl firmly fixed on his features.
"Even think about it and I will shoot you." Gibbs moved past the sitting agent as though on the floor was where he belonged and went over to his old friend who was enjoying the attentions of the younger members of the team. He didn't need to elaborate... McGee knew that his words weren't a threat they were a promise.
McGee was ignored as Ducky gazed down at his mummified hand and pondered whether allowing Abby to minister to him had been a good idea... but she seemed so proud of him he couldn't really refuse and it wasn't as though the appendage was broken.
"I'll fix it up properly later." Gibbs gave Ducky a small smile as he whispered into the Scotsman's ear. It was a smile that quickly faded as he returned his attentions to his agent who was only now dragging his sorry ass up off the floor.
"A...Abby?" McGee homed in on the one person he thought he stood a chance of gaining sympathy from. More than any of the others Abby, despite her famous ability to bear a grudge, was the most forgiving... well other than Ducky, normally anyway. And for all her loyalty to Tony she and he had shared an intimacy that Tony had never achieved with the Goth. Surely that counted for something in all of this. He soon got his answer.
"Don't you 'Abby' me! You snake!..."
"But Abs... you have to understand... "
"Um..." McGee looked confused and glanced around at the hostile faces but he couldn't hold their anger and sorrow filled glares. He turned back to a very unhappy Abby, tears sliding down her cheeks in kohl black rivulets. "Wh...why what Abby? Why did I do it?... I was scared Abby, and I'm only human..." McGee was telling no less than the truth but that small calculating part of him inside was reckoning the odds of his admission of vulnerability triggering Abby's maternal side. Sure of his reading of her character, after all they had dated for a short time so he would understand her better than the others, McGee looked beseechingly into her dark green eyes only to find an implacable hatred that would have made him step back in shock had he not already been pressed up against the kitchen cabinets.
"No McGee, I mean why should I have to understand? I don't understand and I don't want to understand... there is NOTHING to understand. YOU BETRAYED YOUR FAMILY! you betrayed all of us" Jimmy and Ziva closed in on their friend in support but it was the calming touch on her arm from Gibbs that brought her voice back down to a more in control level... not that she felt particularly in control. How could she? She had crawled in the wreckage of the car; she had cried for both of her friends; SHE had been the one to find the evidence of McGee's perfidy. No, she didn't have to understand. More importantly, she didn't want to.
McGee had no answer to that. His mouth opened and shut soundlessly a couple of times and then snapped shut. He had a pretty strong feeling that he wasn't going to be a part of Gibbs' team much longer... perhaps that was for the best. In another team he would find it easier to become a big fish in the pond, easier to make a difference and get noticed. He ignored that part of him that was now buried deeper than he could reach but still cried out to be heard that mourned the loss of what was probably one of the most special things he would ever have in his life. In an effort to drag himself away from that cold and lonely future he noted that Palmer was looking quite at home.
"Got in there quick didn't you Jimmy? Heard there was a vacancy on Team Gibbs?... decided to switch to the other side of the autopsy table did you? Agent Palmer is it?" Even Tim hated himself for the snide tone but he was being pushed beyond his limits and was reacting instinctively now.
Gibbs pulled back harder on the black clad arm he still held. Each of them needed to have their own confrontation with their former friend and while a part of him, too, wanted to step in and defend the gentle trainee M.E. just like Abby he also knew that it was something Jimmy needed to do for himself. Of course not being the confrontational sort Palmer might still need help and Gibbs idly thought, as he kept a careful eye on Tony who seemed to be trying to disappear into the couch, that he would set the females on the team loose on McGee - they were, quite literally in this case, more deadly than the male! But Palmer didn't need any help.
Jimmy Palmer was not fond of confrontation but there were some occasions when it couldn't be avoided. A childhood filled with those bigger, stronger and cooler than him had made that very clear. But he would never have thought that McGee would be a bully. The man should know better having been bullied himself when he was a kid. Jimmy also noted with amusement that given his experience Tim should be better at it. He exchanged looks with Tony and was concerned to see the worry on the tired and pain filled face... worry for him. He knew that if he couldn't deal with this, preferably, though regretfully, without violence then Tony would jump in to defend him and that wouldn't do at all... Ducky would kill him!
"I'm not like you McGee. I'm happy doing what I'm doing."
"What! mopping up blood, fetching and carrying and filling out forms while Ducky does all the important stuff?"
Ducky desperately wanted to intervene on his protege's behalf but he held his tongue. He knew more than most that Palmer wasn't the push over some thought.
"No, I'm not happy doing that... no apprentice wants to do the dogsbody work, but everyone does. It's a part of the learning process and anyway it's not all I do. It's me that comforts the bereaved, it's me that makes sure that Ducky has everything he needs to provide answers for them about how their loved ones died. And I learn... every day I learn something new. Something that one day will make me as good a doctor as Ducky... you never know, one day me and Tony might be the new Gibbs and Ducky" He blushed at the chuckles that garnered and at the looks of pride, but it was the nod from Gibbs, the smile from Tony and the "I don't doubt it" from his mentor that filled him with a warm glow of satisfaction. A warmth that could not be extinguished by McGee's acerbic,
" That all your ambition runs to Jimmy? Tony's sidekick?"
"My ambition is to be the best M.E. I can, to be a credit to NCIS, to be a valued colleague and to make both my families proud of me."
McGee flushed in embarrassment as Jimmy's words made his own ambitions seem somehow mercenary but his anger grew at the pride in the others eyes... Jackson had even ruffled his hair... Jackson had never ruffled HIS hair.
Ziva stepped forward. She figured that it was about time for her turn. Taking turns hadn't been a plan decided on beforehand but had grown naturally from the situation. Still, however it had happened it suited her intentions.
Ziva approached Tim with all the grace and power of a panther. Just that, she noted with professional satisfaction, was enough to make the traitor's skin pale and his Adam's apple bob in a convulsive swallow of fear. For a moment she said nothing and then with the speed and shock factor of a striking cobra she made a spitting gesture at his feet. Of course she didn't actually spit because this was Gibbs house and she had been brought up with manners, but the point was made. She then leaned forward and muttered something in Hebrew that McGee was sure he would never have the courage to translate but suspected might be some sort of curse, before switching to English.
"When I first came to NCIS I did not think much of Anthony DiNozzo" she shot Tony an apologetic smile which was met with a wink of understanding. Turning back to McGee she continued. "I thought that he was a playboy and a slacker. I thought that you were very smart and although rather too innocent for your own good that you were a future leader. Someone to learn from... I was wrong. You are not fit to polish Tony's shoes let alone walk a mile in them. You remind me of my father's lackeys, each desperate to please while preparing to stab him in the back given the best opportunity. Tony has something that you will never have, something you can never comprehend..." She paused for dramatic impact and ignored the soft words coming from the sofa that sounded suspiciously like 'a hairy butt'
"What?" Tim had gone from pale to red at Ziva's words and actions and if a part of him noted that for once she had made no idiomatic mistakes the rest of him just wanted to know how such a smart woman could think that he lacked some quality that DiNozzo possessed. After all the lead agent looked happy enough to sit back and let the women fight his battles for him. Yet when the answer came not one iota of him could gainsay her damning accusation. He just comforted himself that such a trait was a hinderance in the world he wanted to join... he would see it as a strength rather than the weakness that the others saw in him.
"Loyalty McGee. Tony is loyal. To his family, to his friends and to his team." Ziva shook her head sadly as she witnessed the hardening of McGee's gaze. He was lost to them. She should have used her bowie knife on him, it would have been kinder in the long run.
"Oh McGee is loyal Ziva. Loyal to McGee."
All in the room looked to Tony at that and then Gibbs and Jimmy dashed forward at the obvious intention of the Italian to rise to his feet. Normally Ducky would advise against it while Gibbs would just push him back down with a headslap and a 'DiNozzo!' but they knew that he needed to do this, to confront McGee on equal terms, even if the crutches did take some of the impact out of it.
"There's nothing wrong with knowing your self worth Tony... maybe if you did you would have made Gibbs position by now, or maybe even Director." McGee couldn't hide the slight smirk at that. He obviously thought the directorship beyond the frat boy agent.
Tony ignored the jibe, he'd had far worse in his time. But the smirk made him angry.
"Your definition of self worth is something I would be ashamed to admit to McGee. You think that putting yourself before your friends is self worth? Try selfish. You think that lying, cheating and betraying both your friends and your position for personal gain are worthy? Try worthless... that's what you are Timothy McGee... worthless." Though his words were ones of anger Tony couldn't help the tremble of hurt leaking through. "It makes me shudder every time I think of how many times I sent you out with Ziva trusting you to watch her six... or to back up Gibbs when I couldn't. I trusted you implicitly. When I lay in that hospital bed I spent hours and hours trying to figure out how I let you down, how I caused YOU pain. Why McGee?... and don't give me that 'I was scared of what Gibbs would do' " he added quickly as McGee opened his mouth to no doubt make the usual excuse. "Gibbs may be scary but he's fair and he looks after his own. YOU KNOW THAT AND STILL YOU LIED. Was a mahogany desk and people calling you Sir worth it? " His voice dipped from an impassioned cry to a confused plea.
"Tony." Gibbs word was quiet and controlled but it's tone commanded instant attention.
"Come on Tony, sit back down, figure that's enough exercise for one day...Duck?" As Jackson moved forward to assist an unprotesting Tony back onto the couch Gibbs called for the assistance of their medic who was already organizing a sedative and a hot sweet drink.
As soon as Tony was sitting and Ducky had given him the okay Gibbs switched his attention to the man he hoped he would soon never have to set eyes on again. He smiled a cold little smile, one that he knew he usually reserved for the interrogation room and stalked toward the apprehensive agent... nah, he amended, the terrified agent. Good.
"You know you'll never work with my team again don't you?" Gibbs wasn't expecting an answer so he didn't wait for one. "I took a chance on you. I was ready to blame myself for expecting too much from you in the field. While I had every confidence in your computer skills I wasn't so sure of your backbone... but Tony was. It was Tony who made you into a good field agent, not me. It was Tony I had to admit my misjudgement to, not that I apologised." More than one snort met that denial.
"And now you think he was wrong and you were right." McGee was confused. He had expected fists and fury or conversely, stony silence... and violence. This conversational tone was unsettling to say the least although the fury was barely held in check. McGee chose to interpret what he didn't understand as a weakness on Gibbs part. After all the man may be phenomenal as a fed but he didn't do being human that well. He was obviously out of his depth and although Gibbs shouldn't be underestimated McGee felt emboldened and added.
"Is the great and mighty Gibbs admitting that his 'special' agent has feet of clay?"
"No McGee, Tony was right, you did make a good field agent."
"T...Then what...?" Now McGee was really confused. He didn't get this at all but everyone else seemed to if the tension in the room was any indication.
" You made a good field agent but your ambition made you a lousy friend and a dangerous colleague. It made you a liability. I would have forgiven you for lying about the accident... eventually. I might have even admired your courage in admitting that you were at fault... but you don't have any courage McGee. People with an eye on the prize can't afford courage because that means taking risks, making mistakes, being a friend. Can't be loyal to someone you might have to stab in the back sometime down the road.
Gibbs glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes ago Vance was due to sign the papers that severed his team's connection with McGee and just two minutes ago Ziva had given him the signal that she had received a confirmation text.
Timothy McGee was, although still an agent for now, no longer on his team.
"Get out of my house McGee, before I throw you out... and I will." Gibbs turned away and walked over to a pale but okay looking Tony. He sat on the couch arm and didn't even glance in Tim's direction.
"Y...You can't..." McGee heard the change of tone. What had been cold anger had become icy dismissal. He hated that more than anything. He suddenly understood what being cut dead meant. He looked to the others for support or even acknowledgement but as one they all moved behind the sofa almost forming an honor guard for DiNozzo who after one last sorrowful gaze at his former friend turned to Abby and swatted her playfully as she tried to insinuate Bert under his pillow.
As the others joined in the banter McGee felt the first stirrings of loneliness, which was silly because he had a proper family, a family by blood. But nevertheless, the severing of his ties with the team hurt physically and emotionally, more so than he had imagined. He left the house un-noticed and unlamented, or at least that was how it seemed to him as he returned to his car, looking back at the warm and once welcoming lights in the house where the door was never locked. He suspected that lock or no lock he would never gain admittance again.
Back inside the house the conversation flowed until the sound of McGee's engine was heard to fade into the distance. Then Abby burst into tears and Ziva stormed out back to throw her knives at a permissible target, the trees. Ducky finally felt the pain from his not-quite-broken hand and allowed a trembling Jimmy to redress it for him. He had never felt so old as he did at this moment. Jimmy, on the other hand, felt as confused and hurt as he had at school when he was eight and he couldn't figure out why his friend Marcus would have suddenly turned on him.
Tony hugged Abby as best he could without further injuring his ribs and if a few tears carrying DiNozzo DNA mingled with hers then who would ever know.
"You're gonna be okay Tony, Abby, all of us... we're all gonna be okay."
Of course Gibbs would know! A warm smile from Tony and an inelegant snort from Abby lightened the atmosphere enough that when Ziva stormed in complaining loudly that she had gotten her best knife stuck in his "stupid green coiffure" they all cried as one,
Jackson Gibbs had left the team to re-bond while he made his special hot chocolate... minus his 'special ingredient' for Tony who was still on meds. He brought the tray in and handed the mugs round before calling for a toast.
"To Tony and Team Gibbs... whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" At the incredulous looks he shrugged and added "Well it may be a cliche but that don't mean it ain't true.
They laughed and raised their mugs.
"To Tony, To Team Gibbs" they all looked to Jackson and added "To family"
With that they all knew without a doubt that they would, indeed, be okay.
It had been more than twenty-four hours since McGee's ordeal, as he liked to think of it, at Gibbs' house and he would have to admit that he had begun to feel the separation keenly. Thankfully before he could become too self critical, which wouldn't do his self esteem any good and believing in yourself was half the battle to success, he had received a message from the Director to go in for a meeting, that the original meeting had been brought forward. He had already received written confirmation that his place was no longer with Gibbs team so this must be something different... something better.
"McGee to see Director Vance." He didn't miss the coldness in the curt good morning just like he hadn't missed it from the security guards who had delayed him on his entry by checking his ID even though they knew full well who he was, or the man who had managed to run over his foot with his mail cart. Maybe he should ask Vance for a transfer... perhaps California, it would give him some great ideas for his next novel.
"Sit down Agent McGee."
McGee had to admit that he was a little put off by Vance's tone of voice but he couldn't blame the man, he HAD let him down after all. He was just lucky that Vance appreciated his skills and wouldn't do anything too rash. After all Vance had his own ambitions to protect and washing your dirty laundry in public wasn't the way to do it.
"I'm sorry I let you down sir. I've learnt from my mistakes and we both know that if Tony hadn't..." McGee attempted to get his apology in before it was demanded.
"Until you find yourself sitting in this chair McGee you will do as you are told. I told you to sit; I didn't tell you to talk. Oh and incidently, that is one place you will never be."
"I... I don't understand..." And he didn't. This wasn't going the way he had envisioned at all. And what did he mean by that last comment?
"This chair McGee. Do you honestly think that you can lie, sign a false statement and tamper with evidence without consequences? Politics may be a dirty business and the politics of NCIS is no exception even if it is a paler shade of grey than up on the hill, but once you've been caught that's it. Director? You'll be lucky to get a civilian desk job in this town without decent references."
"But I'm a sp..."
"What you are, McGee, is about to hand me your resignation... the one that coincidently happens to have already been typed out for you."
Vance pushed a piece of paper over the desk but McGee barely acknowledged it. He rose to his feet and leaned across the desk. From Gibbs it would have been intimidating but Vance wasn't feeling scared he was feeling, more than anything, pity. He couldn't help but think that 'there but by the grace of God go I'
"You can't do this!" McGee was beyond shock. How had this all gone down the toilet so quickly? But hang on a minute his inner schemer thought, he CAN'T do this, not without incriminating himself. He told Vance as much and then sat down confidant that he had turned things around.
" These your true colors McGee?" Well so much for the pity. Vance became all business.
"You WILL sign this McGee because if you don't we will both go down... and while I was guilty of not investigating a potential crime properly and would lose my job you... YOU McGee will go to jail... not a nice place for a Fed to be. And fed is all they'll see, they won't give you brownie points for being Navy "
McGee wasn't stupid; he knew when he was beaten. He read the politely worded document and signed it.
"What about references?" He wished he could have modulated his sullen tone but it was never meant to end like this. Vance was meant to choose him., not Tony. Without any further reason to be circumspect he added those thoughts out loud.
"People like you and me, McGee, we're ten a penny. But it's the likes of Gibbs and DiNozzo that make the real difference in this world. I'd be a fool to choose us over them; I'd be worse than a fool to do such an injustice to the country we both serve... or in your case served" he took the resignation letter back with regret and relief. It would have gotten messy if it had gone out into the public arena. Then remembering McGee's original query he added.
"I can't in all honesty recommend you for any position in law enforcement... but if the job is purely civilian or in government then I won't scupper your chances. Everyone deserves a second chance - just not at the expense of public safety. I hope you learn from this McGee. It's only thanks to Tony that you're not under arrest and facing worse than the unemployment line... you could think of it as a new start, although I hear that FLETC are looking for civilian computer techs if that's any use?" The insult had not been overt but Tim had understood the put down perfectly.
McGee left without a word. His personal property awaited him in the outer office alongside a security guard who was ready to escort him from the premises.
It didn't seem like a new start but rather a painful, ignominious end... and he still had to break the news to his family, the family who were at this moment planning a celebration for a success that had turned into a tragedy. Maybe, he wondered as he drove out the gates for the last time, he could tell his family that he had been offered the SFA post but had decided to search in pastures new... perhaps politics. He could spin it so that he looked quite brave... and it was only a little lie...
A/N Well hope you enjoyed. Hope it wasn't too long for you. I really enjoyed writing this story and I want to thank you all for both your patience (goodness knows you needed it! ) and your tolerance in my exploring the idea of bad!Tim. I will be doing a NCIS crossover with the Magnificent 7 at some point but I've got other stories to complete first and I'd like to get a few chapters under my belt before publishing. Until then, all the best,