Summary: A week or so past the episode "Probie", Tim is suddenly facing anonymous attacks from every direction, both physical and otherwise. The team are determined to find the source before the young man can be taken from them.
Disclaimer: I own none of the recognizable characters in this work of fiction and have made no money from their use. Any original characters that may appear belong to the author.
"You done with the pictures?"
"You get that stuff around the back of the building?"
"Shoot everything inside?"
Gibbs paused for a long moment then grinned lightly and cuffed Tim on the shoulder.
"Good man. Head on back to the office, take 'em to Abby and help her start the analysis."
"You sure, boss? I could give Tony a hand with the sketches or..."
"If those two couldn't handle my assignments, they'd be somewhere else."
"Right. The computer research..."
"If we need you when we get back, I'll pull you out, but I'd rather have you on the pictures. Now get the hell outta here before I make you sweep the Navy Yard parking lot and detail every car." Gibbs growled, but Tim could see him fighting the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth. He responded to the rare glimpse of humor with a proud grin and immediate compliance.
"Got it, boss. Going right now."
As he turned toward the car he and Tony had arrived in, the strap supporting the camera around his neck broke and he bent forward a bit in order to catch the falling device. A moment later, he was showered with dust and debris from the brick wall just behind him and he dropped into a crouch, cautiously looking around and cradling the camera and its vital memory card within the curve of his body. Before he could straighten up, he felt a hand on his neck, keeping his head down, and one on his arm forcing him to rapidly shuffle around the corner into shadow and safety.
"Boss? Wh... what was that?"
"Sniper. Good thing that strap was a piece of junk or you'd be dead."
"Sniper? Firing at me? What... I mean..."
"Relax and stay here. You hear me? Stay... here."
"Okay... Boss, be careful!" he hissed as Gibbs shifted away from his side to peer around the building and survey the open area.
"Always am, McGee."
Several recent events, which belied this claim, flooded into Tim's head, but he wisely kept the examples to himself. When Gibbs saw that Tony and Ziva, standing some distance away, were unaware that the attack had happened, and hadn't been injured themselves, he cautiously rose to his full height and stepped out into the bright sun. Over his shoulder, he delivered a more intimidating repeat of his previous command. "You move, you even breathe too hard... I'll shoot you myself. Understood?"
"Crystal clear, Boss."
Slipping two fingers into his mouth, Gibbs whistled shrill and loud then stepped back into the dimness. Tony, recognizing the signal that meant, "get over here but don't draw too much attention", casually strolled in the direction he believed the sound had come from.
"Sniper fired at McGee. Impacted somewhere behind you, see if you can find it."
"Uh-huh. And I'm Ivana Trump."
"Just do it, DiNozzo!"
"Damn, if I was wearing my Nike's this would be so much more funny..."
"Damn it, get serious, or when I can reach you I'll crack you so hard you won't see straight for a week!"
"Whoa, back up a minute... you mean it? Somebody actually shot at Tim?"
"Snipers don't waste ammo on empty air." Gibbs snarled. Tony got the point finally and turned to examine the wall behind him.
"I see it. There's not a lotta damage. Once we've cleared the perimeter, I'll try and dig it out. You gonna be okay here by yourself for a few minutes, Probie?"
Tim's eyebrows went up when he heard genuine concern in the question, but he put his confusion aside and responded quickly, if very softly.
"I'll be fine, Tony. Thanks."
"Hey, getting shot at is scary as hell, no matter how many times it happens. Stick to this side of the building and try not to move around too much. You get active, he might be able to pick you out, once his eyes adjust."
"That's kinda what Gibbs said... but he phrased it as a death threat."
"He would." Tony snarked. "Hang in, kid. We'll make it as quick as possible." He added, before slipping around the corner again and disappearing. Gibbs patted Tim's shoulder once then swiftly followed.
Despite what he'd been told by both men, Tim couldn't help the small movement required to look down at his watch occasionally. Three time-checks added up to nearly half an hour and he was beginning to get worried, darkly speculating on the welfare of his teammates, when Ziva suddenly appeared at his side, startling him into pulling his weapon.
"Calm down, McGee. I am no threat."
"Ziva! Don't do that! I was already worked up! I could've shot you out of pure reflex!"
"Apologies. You can put your gun away," she advised him, a light smile twitching at her lips.
"Oh... sorry. You just..."
"I understand. You may come out, now. Tony, Gibbs and I have cleared the area."
Tim heaved a sigh of relief and gratefully accepted the hand Ziva offered to help him to his feet.
"This is ridiculous." He declared as they moved back into the sunlight. "Nobody would shoot at me. It doesn't make sense. They must've been aiming for Gibbs."
"Are you saying he has given someone motive to want him dead, McGee?" Ziva teased, fighting not to smile. It worked just as she'd hoped, throwing Tim into confusion and making him produce half-finished sentences.
"No! I don't... I mean, I guess... well, he was a Marine, so it's possible... not that all Marines make enemies, I'm sure they're great people..."
A firm hand on his shoulder brought a squeak and another abrupt full-body jump out of Tim, as he turned to confront the potential threat.
"Gibbs. Boss, I didn't mean any of that..."
"Is the camera safe?"
"And the memory doo-hickey?'
"Okay, then we're back on track. Tony, you find the bullet then get him to Abby and stay with him. David, you're with me."
All three stared at each other for a second or two, then shrugged, shared resigned grins and moved to do as they'd been ordered.
NCIS: ONE HOUR LATER
"Relax, I'll go down to the lab with you, Tony. I just have to get the flash drive with the program Abby and I have been working on. I'm hoping it'll help with the... photos. Oh... oh boy."
Just outside the bullpen, DiNozzo huffed out a frustrated breath.
"What? One of the fairies in your dumb games break out and mess up your desk?"
"Ummm...not exactly. I... I need gloves... and an evidence bag."
Tony pulled the requested items from a pocket and moved closer to check out what had unnerved the other man. What he found disturbed him as well. A small bird had been stabbed with Tim's letter opener and left on top of his waiting paperwork. To the side, an envelope with only McGee's name on it had been carefully placed out of the pool of blood. "Tony can you... I don't think..."
"Yeah... yeah, of course. I'll take care of it. Go see Abby."
"I'll be there ASAP, alright? You'll be fine in the elevator." Tony replied, snapping on the gloves.
"I don't... I don't understand. Who'd do this? Why me?" Tim mumbled, gaze frozen to the gruesome display. Tony moved in front of him, blocking his view, and that seemed to shake the other man free.
"I'm handling this. You don't need to look at it anymore. Turn around..." he ordered gently, guaranteeing Tim's compliance by lightly pushing on one shoulder and tugging on the other. "...and go downstairs."
"I know. Get moving."
Certain that Tim would look back to reassure himself at least once, DiNozzo watched until the younger man was actually in the elevator before returning to the distasteful task awaiting him.
With an effort, he managed to ease the deeply imbedded letter opener out of both the tiny victim and the desk without doing much more damage to either one. The weapon, the bird, and the destroyed papers all quickly vanished into individual bags, but Tony hesitated and thought long and hard before tackling the envelope. The vivid memories of his near-fatal mistake, and the fear and pain he'd suffered ever since, made him think seriously about calling in an alert, stepping back and giving way to the people who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, he was all too aware that Tim might not be as safe as he'd tried to make him believe and time could be very short. Grimacing and holding his breath, Tony lifted the envelope, placed it into a fourth evidence bag and quickly secured the seal. Gathering all the evidence, he headed for Abby's domain.
"Damn it... I hate this. I won't let him go through what I did, Abby. Never. Nobody else will ever face that again..." Tony griped as he watched Abby work with the envelope in the small isolation chamber, just as she had with the one that almost cost his life.
"You did everything right, Tony. You left it to me to open and now, no matter what... we should all be safe. Just chill while I check it out, okay? A little more... there. Got it. Tip it over... ah-ha. No powder. Looks like we're good. Now to pull it out and find out what's on this creepazoid's so-called mind..."
"Tony, will you relax? See mask, see the extra heavy, extra long, make-you-sweat-buckets gloves? You've got a right to be freaked, I get that, but I can't focus when you're doing it this close to me."
"Yeah... sorry. Just... flashbacks, I guess."
"That's totally normal and you and I will talk it out and I'll give you a huge hug when my hands aren't so busy..."
Tony grinned despite his anxiety.
"... but the case comes first. I know. No more panic attacks, I promise. Go ahead and get it out of there."
Abby leaned around him and gazed into her office, where Tim sat with his head in his hands, then looked at Tony again.
"He's got stuff on his chest. You take care of him while I do this, okay?"
Tony grinned faintly, amused as always by the unique way Abby chose to phrase things, and surrendered to her attempted diversion.
"Okay. You just... you know."
"Precautions, any and every. Gotcha."
Tony laughed, kissed her on the cheek and moved off to see what he could do about lifting Tim's spirits.
"Hey, kid. Guess you're not doing any better, huh?"
"Not even close. How do you not... I mean, seeing things like that, how can you stay so..."
"... calm? I wasn't, trust me. I've just been doing this so long that I'm kinda... one step removed is probably the best way to put it. I have to be. All the hurt and fear we have to deal with on a daily basis... if I let it in, it would start dragging me down and I couldn't do the job. I know it doesn't feel like it now, but in your own way and your own time... you'll get there too."
"I don't think so. I came down here and headed straight for the bathroom, Tony. Seemed like I gave back everything I've eaten in the past week. That's not exactly a reaction worthy of a federal agent. Especially someone on Gibbs' team."
"Oh yeah?" Tony challenged as he moved inside and perched on the edge of the desk. "I'm still here aren't I?"
"You mean you..."
"First month on the team. I'd seen bad stuff as a cop, thought I was ready for whatever NCIS could throw at me. Then we caught a case where a Navy wife had tried to turn her cheating Lieutenant husband into one a'those chainsaw carvings, like at the state fair. When I first saw the body I turned around, ran about ten feet, fell on my knees and puked for two straight minutes. Gibbs just watched until he figured I was pretty much done. Then he walked over, offered me a handkerchief and a hand up and told me the same thing I'm about to tell you. Next time, it won't be such a big deal."
"That's not a good thing, Tony. It can't be. I respect Agent Gibbs and I admire him... but I don't wanna be like that. Indifferent, cold, tunnel-visioned on the cases because you have nothing else... that's no life."
"Damn right it isn't, but this isn't your life, McGee. This is work. You don't learn to separate the two and put all this crap behind you in your off hours... that's when you'll end up like Gibbs. You feel like getting out of here? I figured we'd go upstairs, you can tell me what paperwork you've lost and I'll help you replace it."
"You'd do that?"
"Absolutely. We work fast, nobody higher up will ever know anything happened to it. We can get that program you were talking about, too... bring it back down to Abby later, after she's got all this stuff outta sight."
"Yeah... okay. Thanks."
"No problem. Maybe I didn't come in here as a probie, exactly, but I've been a rookie. I know the ropes. Stick with me, I'll show 'em to you and make sure they don't end up wrapped around your neck."
They were halfway to the door when Abby called them back.
"Guys? You should see this." she advised, stripping off her mask and gloves. "Not a word, Tony. And no panicked looks, either."
"I wasn't about to, I swear. What is it?" Tony asked, anxiety bleeding through the facade of calm and control, in spite of Abby's admonition.
"There was a letter in the envelope... but I don't understand it. 'Sorry I missed you, I'm sure my aim will get better.' What's that supposed to mean, McGee?"
Both men flushed deeply. Out of necessity, Tony had informed her of the situation up in the bull pen, but had not yet informed her of what had occurred earlier, knowing how upset she'd be.
"Ummm... out at the scene... somebody took a pot-shot at Tim."
"And you didn't *tell* me?" she screeched, smacking both her colleagues in the chest and shoulders
"Abby! Hey..." Tim protested.
"I knew you'd react like this." Tony added.
"Like *what*, DiNozzo? You want me to be all bluebird of *happiness* when I find out my best *friend* just got shot? Huh? Do you?" the young woman countered, keeping up the mild assault until McGee grabbed her wrists.
"Shot *at*, Abby, not shot." McGee corrected. "He didn't hit me."
"Could've been a she, Probie. You never know..."
Recognizing that Tony was trying to lighten the mood and calm Abby down, Tim released her and went with the flow.
"You're the one women take out contracts on, DiNozzo."
"That was only once and it wasn't my fault. How was I supposed to know I was flirting with the engaged granddaughter of a really touchy mafia boss?"
"Like the two massive bodyguards weren't a big clue? I swear, Tony, sometimes..."
DiNozzo began another rejoinder, but Abby glared at him and McGee fiercely. Both turned their eyes down and spoke in unison.
Abby performed one of her infamous split-second, mercurial changes of mood, smiled brightly and pecked the men on the cheek one after the other.
"I know. I still love you both. Now what're we doing about this?"
"The rest of us will protect him, Abby. Somebody'll be with him all the time 'till we figure out the who and why and take the bastard down."
Tim scowled and protested.
"No, no, no. This could take weeks. I don't want anybody in my apartment that long, not even if they're protecting me. Besides, my place is tiny. It's basically a bedroom and one other room, most of which is taken up by computer equipment and furniture and..."
Abby moved closer to him and laid a hand over his mouth.
"Timmy, don't, okay? Only I'm allowed to babble when I'm scared."
"G't it." He mumbled around the obstruction and she removed her hand. Tony smirked and patted Tim's shoulder.
"C'mon, McGee. Let's head upstairs and get started. Can't wait to see you babble at Gibbs."