As the office emptied out, Gibbs watched the now shocked and upset trio traipsing out at the Director's sudden dismissal. Gibbs dug his heels in and stood at the door before closing it and turning to watch as Leon gazed stiffly out of the window. He wanted answers and wasn't willing to leave until he got them and so, he rounded on his boss and took a step towards him in the hope that he'd turn around and look at him face to face.

"Leon, what the hell's going on?" Gibbs felt a sense of satisfaction shoot through him as Leon turned to face him with a steely look on his face. He was knocked down a peg or two though, by what the Director had to say.

"You blew it, Gibbs! You had one of the best minds in the agency at your fingertips; jumping through hoops to please you. For how many years now? And all you've done is use him as both your computer fall guy and as Ms. Scuito's fall guy. How many times, Gibbs? How many times were you gonna make him pay for her behavior? How many times were you gonna allow her to put your agents in danger, like she did in Mexico, before you did anything about it? I'm still waiting for the answer to my question. Tell me; if she'd gotten in trouble when she took off on her own and turned her cell phone off; when she disappeared this time, would you have blamed him? I'm guessing the answers to both questions is 'yes'."

Gibbs glared at Vance for a long anger charged minute before he turned on his heel and headed for the door. "Well, that was certainly expected." Vance threw out there before the Team Leader had a chance to grab the handle and open the door. Gibbs stopped in his tracks and turned and faced Vance with a pissed look on his face, silently waiting for the man to make his point.

"Knew it wouldn't be long before you gave up the fight for him. Guess McGee was right." Vance shook his head at Gibbs' look and sat down at his desk, glaring at the older man standing before him. "You really have earned that second 'B' now Gibbs. I'm ashamed to have let this get as far as it did."

"Leon, I'm not gonna play this game with you. You got something to tell me about my agent, just say it!"

"He's not your agent, Gibbs. At least, not any more. Hell, the way he sees it, he hasn't been a part of your team, in the way that let him feel like you had his back. From what I read of him, he's felt like that for quite a while now. The fact that you can't deny that you would have blamed him if she'd disappeared, tells me that McGee was pretty damn right about it all."

"Leon, what the hell are you talking about?"

"C'mon, Gibbs! What he went through in Mexico wasn't bad enough? Then you made him wade into that mosquito infested water without proper equipment even after he asked you to wait until HAZMAT had been called in! Damn it! It was red tagged! Where were the hip-high waders usually available to your team? You let him get in that water with inadequate equipment and put his health and safety at risk. In the case before that, you let one of your suspects beat up on your agents. You have never put McGee's well being very high on your priority list, Gibbs. Guess that's spot reserved for Ms. Scuito, isn't it?"

"You're out of line, Director Vance!" Gibbs spat out nastily as the truth in the man's words cut deep.

"Am I? Really? You know, I've been reading up on some of the cases that have been brought to my attention since I've talked with McGee. They brought up some very interesting questions that I demand the answers to, Gibbs. I'm surprised to see that you didn't learn your lesson in letting Ms. Scuito act foolishly or without regard for your team members in either the Mawher case or even with the Drug Dog case. From all accounts, McGee was bitten pretty badly in that case and had to put up with Miss. Scuito's attitude and bullying about what he did….About saving his own life.

"Those cases were solved, Leon. You really gonna dreg up the past now?" Gibbs growled.

"You're damn right, I am!. Isn't that what we do? Investigate the past to find out what happened to instigate a situation?. Mawher got past Ms Scuito and into McGee's apartment because she opened the door for him; but you punished McGee, quite publicly, too. I believe he was made to kneel by his desk because you didn't feel he deserved to sit down. Why is that?" All of a sudden, Gibbs felt as though he was on the wrong end of an interrogation and sat down heavily in the chair opposite the Directors desk.

"I'm not a suspect, Leon. You don't get to do this!" He growled as Vance carried on, oblivious to what he'd just said.

"And in the case with the drug dog…Jethro? I believe that's what McGee called him. I found it interesting that you made him drive back here from that house, shortly after he'd been attacked that morning, with the dog in the car with him! You must have really been pissed at him for some reason to completely disregard his safety like that; knowing he'd do anything you told him to; whether he felt safe doing it or not!"

"Leon….." Gibbs tried to defend but was cut off by Leon who had obviously not finished.

And then he adopts that same dog! Just how did Ms Scuito manage to manipulate McGee into taking in the dog that attacked him, anyway? Doctor Mallard tells me that McGee had a rough time of it after the attack and suffered from nightmares and all. Did that even bother you at all, Gibbs? An interesting turn of event, was the fact that Agent DiNozzo felt compelled to use that attack to ridicule, Agent McGee. Now, I accept that McGee loves that dog…now, but at the time he was bullied and harassed by Abby, into doing her bidding. One last question for you on that case, Gibbs. Tell me, did you ever make sure Ms. Scuito replaced McGee's expensive jacket that she deliberately used to wrap around the dog? That's quite a list of broken regs on Ms Scuito's part in that case alone, Gibbs; and not a single disciplanary action taken against her for any of them."

Gibbs felt as though he'd been sucker punched. While he never expected all of this to come back on him, hearing where he'd screwed up with McGee left him reeling from the weight of it all. In hindsight..huh, ain't that a wonderful thing he thought, what he'd done made him no better than some of the scumbags that had made the kid feel worthless all his life. In fact, he was one of those scumbags and the team were just as bad. He couldn't have felt guiltier if he tried and hearing what kind of impact this had had on Tim, made his gut clench uncomfortably. Oh yeah, heads were gonna roll.

"In all of these cases, the only concern you've shown has been towards Ms. Scuito. What part of that don't you follow? What is it that I am saying, that is so hard to understand?"

"Where is he, Leon?" Gibbs asked with a forced calm that he didn't feel. He chose to ignore Leon's questions, knowing that the man was right and admitting it would show exactly how wrong he had been over the years.

"You tellin' me you actually give a damn?" Vance asked in disbelief. "You decide to care about him now?"

"He's one of mine, Leon! You're damn right, I give a damn!" the team leader barked.

"Funny, you couldn't show him that before he decided to walk away from being the team scapegoat, Gibbs! What was it McGee told me?… oh right, 'They only care when the chips are so far down that they have to ask if I'm okay because they want to seem human'."

"Where is he?" Gibbs demanded, even as he felt as though the wind had been knocked clear out of him once again at this new piece of information Vance was laying on him.

"Need to know, Gibbs. And you don't." Leon announced with an unbending air. "All you need to know is that you're not getting him back."

"You make him sound like a piece of furniture, Leon!"

"And you treated him like one, Gibbs! Guess that makes us both culpable. Only difference is, I'm trying to protect him from being hurt anymore by the neglectful damage, you and your team did over the years."

"We didn't neglect him, Leon." Gibbs said quietly as emotional exhaustion started to weight heavy on him. "He was always part of the team."

"No, Gibbs. He wasn't. I'm as guilty in this as you by not seeing what was staring me in the face. We all had a part to play, and now we all need to pay the consequences. Unfortunately, the one paying the biggest price is McGee."

"Leon, you can't seriously be considering letting him throw away his career like this! He's worked too hard and fought too damn long to get where he is now." Gibbs put out there with conviction. It didn't matter if Tim was still on the team; well, it did, but the more important thing was for Tim not to sacrifice himself just to get away from this.

"Relax, Gibbs. McGee's too much of an asset to NCIS to let him go too far. I said he wasn't comin' back to your team; never said anything about him leaving the Agency. You'll see him again. It just might not be where you expect him to be or even want him to be."