Til You Can Stand

By JadeBear

Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me. Grrr.

This story is complete and I'll be adding the rest of the chapters tonight. (would have had them up sooner but my computer is evil I'm weak)

Warnings: death fic. I know, I actually did it. *shiver*

**(**

It's the fourteenth spitball in three hours. He knows. He's been counting.

"Tony…" He sighs the sigh of the long suffering.

"Come ON, McBoring! Aren't you done yet? I'm McBored over here," DiNozzo whines and adds a sigh of the exasperated variety.

McGee glances irritably over to the leather couch in time to watch Tony flop dramatically back, arms flinging gracelessly away from his body.

"You don't have to stay," Tim grumbles, his hands flying once again over the keyboard as he types up his daily report. And he used to think field reports took forever. At least then it was one case or two, not the entire department.

"Of course I have to stay. Where else would I go?"

"Anywhere but here,"

"Hey!"

"Tony! Come on! I've got a dozen reports to finish up, plus the evaluations and then-"

A knock at the door interrupts him and he quickly snaps his mouth shut as the door is pushed open with a distinct air of hesitancy. Janice, his secretary steps in, looking across the room and then to McGee.

Tim's ears blush scarlet at obviously being caught arguing, loudly…again…and Tony simply reclines back on the couch, arms folded behind his head and a wide smug grin stretched across his face. Tim shoots him a glare promising all kinds of hurt. Tony only smiles wider and mouths, "Busted,"

"These transfer requests just arrived for you, Sir. And Special Agent Arnold asked that you arrange a meeting with your contacts in South America regarding the Tomlin case,"

Tim turns his full attention on the tall brunette, refusing to acknowledge the way Tony is eyeing her up and down.

"Asked?" Tim arches a brow. Janice smirks, a rueful expression overcoming her features. Arnold is a relatively new Agent to the Navy Yard. The man has ten years experience with NCIS and twenty years black ops before that. He treats the Navy Yard like his own personal command center and its staff like candy; chewing them up and grinding them out. Him included. The game is getting old.

"Yes, Sir. Asked. In his own special way,"

"Of course. Thank you, Janice,"

She nods and walks smartly to the door, looking back towards the couch one last time before leaving and closing the door with a soft click. Tony wiggles his fingers at her and settles himself back into the cushions.

"Gonna have to do something about that guy, Probie,"

Tim slumps in his seat. Tony is not going to let this go. Avoiding the question he snarks back, "I am the Director of NCIS, you know. I'm not a probie anymore. I haven't been for years,"

He turns his focus back to his computer screen even as he hears Tony ease himself off the couch. A shadow looms over his desk and he hunches his shoulders a little more. The shadow moves until he can see hands bracing themselves on the smooth desktop. He ignores them and the body they belong to. But then, when is Tony ever one to be ignored?

"Could have fooled me," Tim hates the way the other man can pitch his voice low and soft, demanding attention in a way that yelling and spitballs can never do. He doesn't even know when he stopped typing. "you tip-toe around that jerk like it was your first day on the job,"

"I do not," and if that came out sounding just this side of petulant, well then, who else was there to hear it?

He could hear the intake of breath that isn't quite a laugh, and isn't quite a snort, but more like the sound of amused pity. He really hates that sound.

"At least when you were a real probie, it was expected. Now it's just sad. You're so worried about making a good impression as Director and making everyone like you that you're forgetting what's really important here,"

Tim looks up, finally making eye contact with his friend. Tony's eyes are as intense as ever. Tim looks down. He's always envied that. The way DiNozzo can project so much with just a look. Rage, laughter, pity, disbelief, pain...

"Tim?"

One more long suffering sigh, "What, Tony? What am I forgetting?" There is such a long pause that Tim isn't sure if DiNozzo is still there. He looks up and is trapped by that hard stare.

"Respect, McGee,"

"Respect?"

"Yeah, you know, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…you know, that thing that makes people take your orders and like it? That thing that makes them NOT throw you down and use you as a doormat? That thing that makes you not look like you have a pencil di-"

"Yeah, okay, I get it,"

Tony leans away from the desk and folds his arms over his chest. A smirk stretches his mouth, but no amusement is held there.

"No, kid, you don't. And that's why I'm still here,"

**(**

McGee finishes up late and is headed home, his favorite jazz album silenced and his fingers still on the steering wheel instead of tapping out a rhythm in tandem with whatever would have been playing. It's well past ten p.m. and instead of that knowledge lending speed to his driving, he turns off a side street and decides to take the long way home. Bethany would be in bed, glasses perched on her pert nose and a romance novel on her lap. Thinking of her doesn't even bring the usual smile to his face that her name always evokes. He sighs and leans back into the soft leather, thinking how Tony has finally approved of his choice in vehicles.

Tony.

Tim slumps down further, his left arm resting by the window while his fingertips rub his brow. He doesn't know what irks him more; That after four months as the new Director, he really is cow-toeing to everyone or that Tony is right. Here in the darkness, with only the rhythmic sloshing of rain under tires to accompany him, he can admit that while trying his damndest to succeed, he's failing. Flailing. When they had offered him the promotion, he'd nearly hyperventilated. He'd had his own team for two years at that point and though he'd entertained the notion in wild moments of fancy, he'd never thought it could be a reality. He'd almost turned it down. Bethany had been wonderful and supportive and told him that she'd stand by him no matter what he wanted to do. And he could see in her eyes that she meant it. Just as he could see in her eyes the almost desperate hope that he would accept it, if only to bring him in off the streets and out of danger. But she would not give voice to her own fears. She'd known he was a cop when she'd agreed to spend the rest of her life with him. She would never take that away from him. Still, he'd felt intensely selfish because he knew he couldn't give it up just for her. He would die for her. But he couldn't take himself away from his team for her. There had to be more. There had to be another reason. And that was when Tony had met him in the elevator and casually mentioned that he'd heard about the job offer.

"So, you gonna take it?"

Tim knew better than to ignore him, "I don't know yet,"

Tony had nodded sagely and continued leaning bonelessly against the back wall. Tim pursed his lips. He smoothed his hands on his trousers. He looked up at the numbers. Aw hell. With a jerky motion he lunged forward and hit the emergency stop button. He whirled on Tony who was looking calmly back, eyebrows raised in question.

"What would you do?"

"Me?"

"Yeah,"

"Weeeell," DiNozzo drawled as he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his dark grey Armani trousers. "first off, I'd hire a grad student named Tiffany to be my receptionist-"

"Tiffany?"

Tony looked at him. "Have you ever met an ugly Tiffany?"

Tim actually took a minute to think about it. "Um, no, I don't think I have,"

"See! So, when that's settled I'd make Friday Hawaiian shirt day- but not for you. You just can't pull it off, McTastless. And then all the baggy bunnies would have to wear these cute little-"

"Tony! Come on, I'm serious here!"

Tony looked affronted and spread his hands. "Hey, so am I!"

"Forget it," Tim turned around and moved towards the stop button. "I should have known you can't take anything serious. Forget I even asked,"

He didn't know how Tony moved so fast, but then, he never did, but there was Tony, standing between him and the emergency stop.

"Look man, I'm sorry. This is really messing you up, isn't it?"

Tim could only shrug miserably.

"Jenny was a good person, but she let her personal ambitions and vengeance get in the way,"

Tim looked up, puzzled. He thought about Director Shepard now and again but with the mention of her name, he recalled it all. Those last few months. Recalled the toll it had taken on his friend. Recalled in vivid detail how Tony had stood at his desk, daring him, wanting him to take a swing at him because he felt he deserved it. Deserved the blame for Shepard's death. He had never hated Jenny for doing what she'd been driven to do, but he had come close. She'd abused her position…abused the trust of her agents and used it against them.

It was…unforgivable.

"Then there was Vance,"

And that was said with a bitterness that always underlined that name when spoken from Tony's mouth. The man was a little like Gibbs, he'd always thought. Doing things his way and only letting you in on the know if felt he needed to. And yet, with Gibbs, he never kept you out of the loop if he thought it would put a member of his team in danger. Gibbs would stand where the danger was before he'd let any of them anywhere near it. Tim had liked Vance. Liked in a guilty way that he'd been recognized for his skills and given the lead in Cyber Crimes. Liked how Vance valued his gifts with a computer and actually knew what he was talking about when he explained how he'd arrived at a conclusion and not being told to speak English. It had made him, arrogant. He could admit that now with little shame. He was older now and while praise was still a good thing, it lacked the headiness it once did from the Director to finally pull his head out of his ass and see what had been going on around him. He hadn't liked what he'd seen. It was politics now. Everything. From ammo to terrorists. Somehow, it had stopped being about what was right to being about what LOOKED right. The glow that had surrounded Leon Vance had dulled then. And when Vance saw the gleam vanish from the younger man's eyes, he'd conceded him a loss and had moved on to a new golden boy. And even after Gibbs had retired, they still belonged to Gibbs and Vance had known it.

"So now the chair sits empty again," Tony's soft tenor cut into his thoughts and he looked into his friend's eyes. "but who will take it? Now that is the question. And if the class will recall Gibb's guide to a successful investigation," He wagged his finger in front of McGee, "Don't just ask questions,"

"Ask the right ones,"

Tony snapped his fingers, "Very good class! Now, you asked me what I would do, right?"

"Yeah," he answered eagerly.

"I would run. I would run as fast as my legs could carry me. I could never sit behind that desk, Probie. I'd slit my wrists with a stapler first,"

"So I shouldn't take it?"

"Hey, you're not paying attention. I said that's what I'd do. The question you need to ask is, the right question, is what would YOU do?" Tim just stood there as Tony smiled, and after a moments pause, realized the conversation was essentially over. He reached forward and hit the emergency stop button. The elevator jerked slightly and then began moving upwards.

When the doors opened, Tony took a few steps and then leaned back in, blocking Tim's way even as others began filing on. "It's like this, no one cares who's sitting in that chair. Just that the person sitting in that chair cares about them,"

And with that, the doors closed and Tim found himself riding the elevator for another hour before finally making up his mind. When he stepped out of the silver box and strode purposely towards MTAC, he had only one thought in mind. There would never again be another Shepard or Vance occupying the Director's office. Not on his watch.

And there hadn't been.

Because neither Vance nor Shepard would have taken Agent Arnold's crap. Vance would have put him in his place with a few well chosen words and he would have loved to of seen the verbal beating Director Shepard would have bludgeoned him with. Anyone who could go toe to toe with Gibbs, regardless of personal history…

Arnold actually reminds him a bit of Gibbs, a comparison Tony had hotly rejected for ten days straight. Repeatedly. Every. Chance. He. Got.

Conversations went similar to, "Hey Tony, what are you doing?" "Oh nothing really, just contemplating how Arnold is a bigger bastard than Gibbs ever was, what are you up to?" By the tenth day of the same conversation, he'd conceded that Tony was a bigger bastard than any of them.

He sighs and finally turns down familiar streets, knowing he needs to be home. The truth, unfortunately, is that Tony is right. While Gibbs could be a jerk and a control freak, it was all tempered by the fact that he cared. Cared for his team. Cared for the people they were supposed to protect and the victims they were supposed to garner justice for. But Arnold…McGee has no idea what the man cares about. And that's the problem.

**(**