A/N: I a trying my first challenge on NFA. This is an interesting take on the Stockholm Syndrome challenge. This is another Tim, but quite a bit different than Uncommon Minds. I hope this interests you. And I would love it dearly if you let me know. Sheila

Surviving Winter

Chapter 1

McGee was at the office early. At least twice a week, he woke up before 5 a.m. Sometimes, it was because of nightmares or anxiety about an unsolved case, or it could be something that Gibbs said that wouldn't stop echoing in his head. He used to try and go back to sleep, but the effort was generally wasted. These days, he was taking a lesson from Gibbs. He never understood how his boss could manage on the amount of sleep he got, but he had done worse in life than to learn from Gibbs' example. If he was up, he might as well go to work.

It was 6:30 a.m. He liked the quiet of the room before agents started piling in. He organized paperwork for the day. He liked finishing things, and treasured the quiet of the morning to make problems disappear.

He opened his email and was surprised to see something from Vance's office. The director wanted to see him and Gibbs in his office at 8 a.m. He frowned. It had been quite a while since he'd been summoned to the top office. The last time had to do with his hacking practices. He squirmed a bit. It was probably time for another accounting of his sins.

He was very good at hacking, gifted even, and when time was of the essence, everyone appreciated his ability to gain access to high security places. But when things were quiet, he needed to learn to restrain himself better. It was a hard line to walk. Most days, it wasn't clear to him if he hacked because he needed to or because it was just so damn easy. Plus, McGee carried enough ego to know it would be near impossible to trace it back to him in any meaningful way.

Still, anxiety settled in his gut and he lost his concentration. Instead of doing paperwork, he tried to remember the last ten times and places he'd hacked. He wasn't going to hide anything. McGee's rules were simple. If he did it, he would admit it and let the chips fall where they may. Lying to Gibbs would be too high a price for him to pay.

Ziva came in at 7:15, smelling like the ocean air. This was probably one of the mornings where she ran some unimaginable distance along the seawall outside the Navy Yard. On those days, she usually showered downstairs, and came into the bullpen clean and fresh. McGee smiled when he saw her coming. She was intoxicating on a good day, but when she was freshly showered, he found her simply irresistible.

"Good morning, McGee!" she said, smiling brightly.

He grinned like an idiot. She smelled so good.

"You are very happy this morning," she observed.

"I love the way you smell when you're fresh out of the shower," he said without thinking.

She chuckled. "We can't have you getting impure thoughts now. You're my BFF, you know."

"Doesn't mean I can't appreciate beauty when I see it."

She wagged a finger at him. "You are a…wolf in sheep's clothing."

McGee grinned. "Whatever that means."

She pushed her chair in his direction. "Why don't you come running with me in the morning?"

"Because you and Gibbs and Tony live like sleep is an afterthought. I am not superhuman like that. I need my sleep. When I get home at night, I can run five miles, de-stress from work while doing it, and be ready to sleep 6-7 hours like a regular mortal."

She frowned. "You are every bit as good as we all are."

"Very sweet for you to say, but I know my limitations."

DiNozzo came in at 7:40 a.m. As usual, he walked in with his usual swagger. "Where's Ziva?"

McGee's head snapped up. He was still trying to remember all instances of hacking, large and small, over the last 6 months. "Coffee."

"I see you're having another early morning, McMorpheus."

He looked at Tony and mumbled, "I need to start keeping a log of these things."

"Of what?"

McGee shrugged. "Times I access sites without authorization."

Tony grinned. "Oh, you mean hacking."

Tim made a face and returned to his list.

"What's up?"

McGee looked at him out of the corner of his eye. "Vance wants to see Gibbs and me at 0800."

Tony shook his head. "We have warned you about your criminal proclivities, McGeek."

"Right. How many times I have heard, 'McGee, we don't have time. Do your thing.'"

"Hmm. I don't remember ever saying that. But don't worry, I'll visit you every month at the big house."

"You going to prison, McGee?" Gibbs said as he sailed past them with a cup of coffee in hand.

McGee winced. "Boss, you and I are expected up in Vance's office in about ten minutes."

He raised an eyebrow. "What did you do, Tim?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I may have accessed…sites without authorization…a few times."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Don't hack without my permission…ever."

"Yes Boss."

"Alright, let's get our butts up there and fix this."

McGee smoothed his shirt and straightened his jacket. There was no tie. He'd stopped wearing one about two years ago. He wore clothes that were comfortable and casual now. He sat up straight in the reception chair. He looked over at Gibbs who was hiding a smile. McGee blushed. He guessed he probably looked way too nervous. Then the door opened and he jumped to his feet just as Vance looked around the door.

Gibbs put a hand on his arm and McGee knew to slow down and follow his lead.

Vance welcomed them in.

"What you got, Leon?" Gibbs asked as he passed him.

"Oh, you're going to love this one, Gibbs."

Gibbs frowned and signaled for McGee to sit down.

Vance pointed toward the new MTAC feed in his office. "We're on with a Marine Colonel Edgar Winter."

Gibbs looked at the MTAC feed and frowned. "What does he want?"

"Winter is the favorite son over in Afghanistan. He's been making strides that no one else has. He has Sec Nav on his speed dial. The old man is always scrounging up resources for Winter." Vance narrowed his eyes. "I expected you to be a little more excited than this. I thought a successful Marine mission in Afghanistan would have you cheering."

Gibbs shrugged. "Never met him, but I've heard stories."

"Well, Sec Nav wants us to take his request very seriously."

"Which is?"

Vance pointed his remote at the screen. "Let's find out."

Winter's face moved and found theirs. "Director Vance. Gunny Sergeant Gibbs. And I am guessing that the baby face in the corner is Special Agent McGee. I've heard a lot about you."

McGee stood awkwardly when the Colonel mentioned him. Gibbs frowned and looked back at McGee. The Colonel had reserved his warmest greeting for his junior agent and he didn't like it.

Winter was a handsome man with deeply tanned skin, sandy hair, and clear blue eyes. He was in his late-forties, but was as trim as any of his soldiers.

Vance nodded. "It's good to finally meet you, Colonel. Your successes in Afghanistan are weekly news around here. To what do we owe this pleasure?"

Winter smiled. "It's always good to know that we aren't forgotten over here."

Gibbs twitched. "U.S. troops overseas are always primary in our thoughts."

"That's good to hear. Good to hear. I won't take up too much of your time. I understand that your agent McGee is a computer genius and field trained. It's rather an oddity to find both traits in one man."

Gibbs didn't move a muscle. "He's qualified in both areas."

Winter looked past Gibbs to McGee. "Son, how would you like to come to Afghanistan and save lives, many lives?"

McGee stared at him, his mouth open.

"You're getting a little ahead of yourself, Colonel. Agent McGee is a civilian not a serviceman." Vance said.

Winter nodded. "Sec Nav has assured me that it can be arranged."

Gibbs strode forward. "McGee is not available!"

Winter narrowed his eyes. "I think this is McGee's decision actually. As a civilian, he can do what he wants."

Gibbs turned to McGee. "Tell him."

McGee felt like he was having an out of body experience. "Ah, Colonel, I am already fully committed as an NCIS agent on Special Agent Gibbs' team."

"What if you come and save soldiers and be finished in three months? Sec Nav has guaranteed that your job will be waiting for you when you return."

McGee cocked his head. "I can't imagine what it is that I can do to make such a difference."

Vance nodded. "McGee's right. Could you outline the mission, Colonel?"

Winter nodded. "It's quite simple actually. We need McGee's hacking skills. Rebel forces in Northern Afghanistan have started communicating by internet instead of radio. To intercept these signals requires a whole new skill set."

McGee cocked his head. "Why me, Sir? It isn't that hard to find hackers."

Winter smiled. "They warned me you were humble. We can't just use any old hacker. We need someone to come in and work with our troops on the ground providing technical support. We need someone who can do that, and be able to handle the stressors of combat."

"McGee is not combat-trained," Gibbs responded.

"He's field trained, Gunny. Are you saying that there is a significant difference?"

"Enough of a difference, Colonel. He is contributing to the safety of our country quite nicely where he is right now."

Winter looked at Gibbs. "It wouldn't be that you don't think McGee can handle the pressure of combat?"

Gibbs felt McGee's green eyes staring at him. "Of course not. McGee is quite capable."

"Interesting that you think so. Sec Nav gave me access to his personnel file. I read your probationary evaluations of McGee. The first two are quite interesting, and in fact, I am quite surprised that he is still on your team."

Gibbs stared back at Winter. "These tactics are beneath someone of your stature, Colonel. McGee is going to stay right where he is."

McGee felt something hot form in his gut. There was a subtext to the conversation about him that he couldn't quite understand.

"Sec Nav will be disappointed, gentlemen."

"Colonel, do me a favor and send me a brief on what McGee would do for you. We'll want to look that over." Vance replied.

Gibbs threw a glare in his direction. "McGee is not right for this assignment!"

"McGee," Colonel Winter said. "Are you willing to let your boss speak for you?"

Tim stood up as straight as he could. "I would like to help. I would be honored to do anything that would save soldier's lives. My father was a serviceman. And I've wanted to serve NCIS in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, I have complete faith in my Boss, sir. If he doesn't think it is a good idea, I'm pretty sure he's right."

"I must say I'm disappointed, McGee. I am sure that you would have saved lives over here. And I admire that, with your skills, you've clearly never hacked into your personnel file. I don't know that you'd have so much faith then, Son. I could use someone with that amount of integrity."

"Send me your brief, Colonel. We'll look it over." Vance said and the screen with Winter went blank.

Gibbs was red in the face. "Tell me you didn't know what that was going to be about, Leon."

"I'm just as surprised as you are, Jethro. Honestly, it would be a great opportunity for McGee in the field, and we could accommodate a three-month leave. I am surprised you were so adamant."

"He was selling snake oil. Couldn't you see that?"

"Not from my view of the screen."

Gibbs turned to McGee. "Can you excuse us, please?"

McGee turned without a word and left the room.


He came down the stairs, flushed and confused. There was something about what the Colonel said that was eating at him, but it was all so visceral that he couldn't really pinpoint anything.

Tony spotted him coming down the stairs. There was a witticism at the tip of his tongue, but he bit it when he saw the look on McGee's face. "What happened, Probie?"

Tim looked at him and blinked. "I don't know."

Ziva stood up. "Tony told me that you were up there getting a scolding about hacking. Was the director rough with you?"

McGee sat down in his chair and ran his hands through his hair. "No scolding. It was…something I don't want to talk about."

Tony wheeled over to his desk. "You look like you've been fired. Have you been fired, McGee?"

McGee startled. "No! I was not fired."

"McGee?" Ziva asked softly.

He closed his eyes. "Just let me do my work right now, okay?"

Gibbs came into the bullpen a few minutes later, his eyes quickly sweeping the place. He stopped when he saw McGee. He walked over and dropped a file on his desk.

Tony and Ziva sat at their desks waiting. Thoughts of getting more coffee were abandoned. Nobody was walking away from whatever this was.

McGee looked at the file Gibbs dropped on his keyboard. He opened it up for a moment, and then closed it quickly. He picked it up and dropped it on Gibbs' desk. "I don't want this, Boss."

Gibbs looked up. "You have a right to know."

"It's not appropriate for me to look in my own personnel file. I don't want it." McGee was agitated.

"You want to know, McGee. I can see it on your face." Gibbs pushed it toward him.

"No!" McGee shouted at L.J. Gibbs for the first time in his life. "I don't want to look at it! I shouldn't have to look at it! I should already know what's in there."

Behind them, the room grew silent. Gibbs sighed. "We should talk elsewhere."

"I don't care, Boss," McGee said in a low voice. "I don't need privacy. I just want to know what happened upstairs. It sounded like a pretty good gig to me."

"A war zone? You're serious?" Gibbs said, standing.

McGee closed his eyes.

"You want to go into a war zone? You don't have a clue, McGee! He's not giving you an opportunity. I know men like him. He's using you as a pawn."

"He said I could make a difference." McGee was looking away from Gibbs.

"Of course, he did! He looked at you and knew you'd be a sucker for this. Guys like that can smell guys like you a mile away."

"Guys like me," McGee repeated softly. "What's the file going to show me, Boss? What's the file going to tell a guy like me?"

Gibbs sighed heavily. "About nine months after you started on the team, I requested a probationary transfer. I recommended sending you down to Cybercrimes. I didn't think you were ready for fieldwork. You'd done well in every other way, but on busts, you were just too awkward. I was afraid something would happen."

Eyes closed, McGee nodded. "What happened to the transfer?"

"Kate died."

McGee sighed. "So you were down a person and couldn't afford to lose another agent."

"No, McGee! That is not why I kept you!" Gibbs was his feet, red-faced. The room went silent again, agents looking at them from over dividers, the whole room at a standstill.

McGee opened his eyes and saw them all. His cheeks colored. Then he turned and grabbed his coat.


Tim turned around. "Give me a little space, Boss. Okay? Is that too much to ask? I'm wearing my phone. Call comes in and I'll meet you there, okay?"

Without waiting for an answer, McGee trotted toward the opened elevator and jumped on. The doors closed.

Gibbs cursed under his breath and slammed his palm onto the desk. "DiNozzo, follow him."

Tony was already grabbing his coat. "I'm on his six, Boss."

Ziva sat there, wide-eyed as Tony ran for the stairs. She looked at Gibbs.

He shook his head. "I'm an idiot."

Ziva nodded slowly. "You do have your moments, Gibbs."

Tony found Tim seated on a bench a few hundred feet from the building. McGee stared out at the sea, and barely acknowledged DiNozzo when he sat down beside him. For a while, the two of them said nothing.

McGee sighed. "I don't need you to take care of me, Tony."

Tony cocked his head and looked at McGee's face. "In this light, your eyes look just like the ocean."

McGee snorted. "Great pickup line."

"Yeah, always good to practice."

"I can't believe I yelled at the Boss like that."

Tony nodded. "That was really something. Although, I gotta' say that your cred with the rest of the office just went up. Not too many can walk away from Gibbs and live to tell about it."

McGee winced. "I didn't mean to be respectful."

"Oh yes, you did. You were feeling that one, Probie."

"I knew I wasn't great in the beginning. I had all the computer stuff, all the investigator stuff down, but I was so nervous every time I had to use a gun. I'm better now, but I know that I'll never be like you or Ziva. I'm not like you guys."

Tony shifted. "Okay, we had this conversation when you killed Benedict. Let's not repeat ourselves. You are like us. If you weren't safe in the field, nobody would want to work with you, me included. When you're on my six, I know I'm going to be okay, Tim. I have no questions."

McGee nodded. "Thanks for that, Tony."

"What happened up in the director's office?"

McGee let out a deep breath. "A Colonel name of Winter wants me to come to Afghanistan and help the troops hunt Al Qaeda using my 'hacking' skills."

Tony's eyebrows went up. "Whoa, Probie! I had no idea."

"Gibbs shut him down right away even when he offered it up as a three month assignment with a guarantee that I'm back on the team when I'm done. I could see Boss felt strongly about this so I backed him, but I really was excited, Tony. I really wanted to do it."

"Where'd your personnel file come in?"

McGee frowned. "Winter brought it up, said he'd looked at it. Said I wouldn't like my first evaluations. Said he was surprised I was still on Gibbs' team. Boss had a meltdown after that. I tried not to read too much into it, but it felt really weird."

"Winter tried to play you."

"I don't get it. A Marine Colonel in Afghanistan knows who I am. Thinks I can help save lives. I figured that Boss would be happy to let me have this opportunity. It's the Marines. Think of what it would mean to my Dad. I could get the kind of experience that would really improve my field skills."

"Or it could get you dead."

"We risk that all the time. What's different about this?"

"Gibbs is protective of you, I mean he is about all of us, but you're the youngest and still growing the most. Gibbs can't watch after you if you're half a world away."

"I don't need a babysitter. It's been seven years and you still treat me like I'm new out of college." Tim said. Tony could feel the frustration radiating off of him still.

"Boss has his reasons. You've always trusted that before. Got to trust it again."

"What if you'd been called up to the office 'cause someone wanted to you to go to Afghanistan."

Tony smirked. "I would've told them to go to hell. I don't have a death wish."

McGee shook his head. "I know you. You would've been all over it."

A breeze blew in from the ocean and McGee closed his eyes to it.

"McGee, you can't this thing get buried inside of you."

He turned to him. "Did you know Gibbs was planning to kick me down to Cybercrimes all those years ago?"

"No, but it really doesn't matter, does it. You're here now, you've been here seven years, and this is where you belong. Obviously, he made a mistake, but he fixed it."

"I gotta' let it be that simple, don't I?"

Tony grinned. "With Gibbs, it's the only way."