GENRE: Gen/Drama
CHARACTERS: Tim McGee, Tony DiNozzo (with a dash of Ducky & Palmer)
SUMMARY: Tony's in trouble. Tim has 60 seconds to save him. Using nothing but his hands.
RATING: T for a bit of cussing
DISCLAIMER: Canon characters belong to DPB, CBS & Co. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: Written for Session 5, Round 3 of the "NCIS Last Fiction-Writer Standing" competition on LiveJournal. Although this story was not the overall winner, it was chosen as "Mod's Choice", which makes me happy. Many, many thanks to Scousemuz1k for the excellent and thorough beta work on this.

A/N2: In my world, Tim McGee is a champion scuba-diver. Call it poetic licence…

Sixty seconds is a long time when you're holding your breath.

Sitting on a bench just outside HQ, wrapped in a blanket and shivering despite the warm sun beating down on him, Tim still couldn't quite believe all that had just happened in that brief space of time. It would take far longer to recount the events later that evening…

He took a giant breath as he leapt into the frigid and murky Anacostia River, knowing he only had about sixty seconds before he'd have to surface again. Seventy-three seconds was his all-time record, set just last year in a friendly competition organized by his scuba club.

God only knew what nastiness inhabited these waters, so he kept his mouth firmly shut.

Where the hell are you, Tony?

He could swear his eyes were open, but he might as well have been in Foggy Bottom at midnight, for all the good it was doing him. Swirls of black sediment enveloped him like a blanket, and the grit stung as it scraped his corneas. Spreading his arms out cautiously, he hunted for his partner. DiNozzo would not be impressed with the unplanned baptism his brand new Bruno Maglis were receiving. But that hardly seemed the most pressing concern right now.

One minute, they'd been enjoying a lunchtime stroll in the sun, jackets slung over their shoulders; wandering along the docks at the Navy Yard and munching on corn dogs from a local stand, as Tony patiently dispensed Dr. DiNozzo's Dating Advice to his recalcitrant 'probie'. The next, a huge explosion aboard the USS Barry had knocked McGee to the ground. When he'd stood up, he'd caught just a glimpse of a hand slipping below the water. Tony's half-eaten corn dog floated like a buoy on the waves generated by the shock, marking the place where he'd descended. Tim hadn't stopped to wonder what was going on (the Barry, now a museum ship permanently moored at the Yard, was often used for ceremonial Naval events, and it was entirely possible that some dignitary on board had been a target). Without hesitation, he'd cast his own corn dog aside, and plunged after his friend.

An odd rumble under the water hummed incessantly, effectively blocking any other sounds he might detect. Tim surmised it must be from the Barry's engines. The sensation was disorienting. This was going to make things even harder.

If DiNozzo wasn't within reach of his position, he didn't have a prayer of finding him.

He maneuvered himself in what felt like a circle (but who could tell, in this muck?), desperately feeling for anything that might be attached to Tony's body. A hand. An expensive designer shoe. Anything.

And then, he found it – the end of his partner's tie.

Silk and sludge didn't mix any better than river water and Italian leather.

Yanking on the tie, he drew the Senior Agent close to him and slung Tony's arm around his shoulder. He didn't dare let go, even for a second – he only had one shot at this. If he lost his grip, his partner would drift out of reach, and it would be left to the body recovery diving team to find him. God, how would he live with himself?

Ok, Tim, concentrate. Which way is up? Oh, crap...

The mire was so thick that McGee was completely disoriented.

The only solution was to start releasing air so he'd naturally float to the top; but DiNozzo was unconscious - dead weight - and they weren't budging. He quickly halted his exhalation, and assessed the situation. Their clothes were now saturated, dragging them downwards in counterbalance against the natural buoyancy of a human body. Tim had to lighten the load somehow.

Frantically, he set about peeling off layers. But who knew what kind of funky belt buckle Tony was wearing? He fingered it carefully, but didn't recognize the landscape of the metal clasp at all.

You never appreciate your senses until they're taken away from you.

Desperately twisting it, this way and that, he eventually got it apart quite abruptly, and he yanked down the fly of his partner's trousers.

This is way more intimate than I ever wanted to get with you, DiNozzo.

He had to make sure to keep a firm grip on some part of Tony's anatomy; if he clung solely to a piece of clothing, once it came free his partner might sink out of reach once more. He hastily removed Tony's shoes, socks, and slacks with one hand, clutching his tie with the other like a tether. He'd just have to hope the noose didn't tighten to the point of choking him. $350-worth of designer footwear floated away to oblivion. A small price to pay.

The shirt presented yet another challenge.

Hell, Tony, why does everything you wear have to be bespoke? There must be a million buttons on this thing!

And then, it dawned on him.

Why am I bothering to undo them?

Grasping the bottom of the shirt front, McGee ripped it apart with a force he hadn't known he possessed. Sculpted ivory buttons slowly ascended.

Tony's Cousin Petey might've liked to have some of those.

He felt a few graze his arms as they began to rise, but he couldn't see them. No matter - at least now he knew which direction he had to go.

He managed to undo the cuffs, and slid Tony's limp arms out one at a time. Feeling his way up to DiNozzo's neck, he lifted the collar, slid the tie up above it, and pulled the shirt away from his partner's body. This was no time to be messing with a Windsor knot.

Almost imperceptibly now, they were starting to climb. Good thing, too, because his lungs felt like they were about to implode.

The Junior Agent made quick work of his own attire, wrapping his leg around Tony's so they wouldn't drift apart while his hands were occupied. It was so much easier undressing oneself than one's partner.

And God, he was NEVER going to repeat THAT thought sequence to ANYONE. EVER.

Finally, he was ready to try an ascent. He let slow bubbles emanate from his nose, and wrapped his arms around Tony from behind. He kicked frenetically, hoping against hope that he could get them to the surface before hypoxia set in.

A pair of flippers sure would come in handy right about now.

Just as he was about to pass out, they bobbed up above the still-choppy waters. Gasping for breath, Tim spun his head around to get his bearings. As his eyes made contact with the air, still permeated with smoke and dust from the explosion, it felt like coarse sandpaper was being dragged across them, and he slammed them shut in agony. He allowed himself one more lungful of air to regain his strength, then made his way desperately towards the edge of the dock with his partner, yelling for the paramedics as he swam. Every sound seemed amplified now, compared with the dull, underwater rumble. He suddenly became aware of the cacophony of screams and tears from both victims and bystanders.

Can anyone even hear me?

It seemed as though every employee at the Navy Yard had spilled out onto Sicard Street to see what was what. Gibbs and Ziva, assisted by another team, tore through the crowd to the docks and quickly boarded the Barry, beginning the official NCIS investigation into the blast. But Jimmy and Ducky were ordered to remain dockside for now, until the all-clear was given. They made themselves useful while they waited, rendering assistance to the wounded. Some limped off the ship under their own steam; others were carried off on stretchers from the Barry's infirmary, still outfitted appropriately despite her decommissioned status.

Hearing McGee's cry for help, Jimmy turned, and caught sight of the man who'd dubbed him 'Autopsy Gremlin', now lying helpless and still (and scantily clothed) on the sun-baked concrete. Rushing to Tony's side, Palmer took in the sight before him. He simply couldn't suppress the next thought that sprang into his head, even as he began administering CPR to the fallen agent.

A tie and boxer shorts. It's a good look for you, Tony. No, seriously. It would make Hugh Hefner proud.

Three minutes and 30 chest compressions later, DiNozzo spewed out filthy water like a geyser. It landed squarely on Tony's own face, and his eyelids fluttered open as the spittle-infested shower hit him.

Meanwhile, Ducky hovered over 'young Timothy' for some minutes, checking his heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, all of which were, naturally, off the charts. Tim still couldn't open his eyes, now embedded with bits of God-knew-what. But he would not allow Ducky to lead him away to the eyewash station until he'd been reassured of his partner's survival by a firm hand clasped in friendship and gratitude.

A hand that had nearly been the last bit of Tony DiNozzo that Tim McGee ever saw.