Summary: Life at NCIS so often seems to move around Tim like he's not a part of it, so Tim decides to build his life outside it. Is he ultimately too deeply entrenched in his job and his co-workers to leave it all behind? Tim/OC. OC death. Dead Reflection spoilers (Season 8).
This fic contains an original character, but ultimately I consider it team-fic.
Disclaimer: Not mine, and no money made here.
If Tim McGee were a different sort of man, he'd be getting sloshed about now in whatever hole-in-the-wall pub was closest to the Yard. But since he's just plain old Tim McGee, he's taken a table at the upstairs café of a gallery he patronizes as Thom E. Gemcity. The Fold's a local hotspot for college kids with a penchant for both organized and spontaneous open mic sessions, and even when their offerings are just plain awful, Tim enjoys listening to them, often finds himself inspired by their works and their bravery for just putting it out there.
Tonight he's not here for his Muse's fancy, though. Tonight Tim's here to try to forget because, you see, it's not like him at all, but Tim honestly finds himself fighting to shrug off the growing dislike he feels for EJ Barrett.
Tim sips his caramel cappuccino and tries to focus only on the undergrads' attempts at beat poetry behind him. They must be working on a unit, he imagines as he considers the similarity of their works.
It's no good though: The quiet rhythms making their way to his ears can't quite drum out today's revelations. It was bad enough when Agent Barrett took over Balboa's old area right beside them. The way she butted heads with Gibbs knocked the whole team's rhythm off, and Tim's been feeling those echoes for weeks. Now, though, to find out she's sleeping with Tony… Tim sighs.
Tony's never been shy on sharing information about his relationships, sometimes to the point of making Tim blush, and while McGee hasn't physically blushed in years over Tony's exploits, Tim'll still often feel like he's listening to things he has no right to hear. He's always a little embarrassed for the women whose secrets Tony shares so readily.
Regardless of the unasked for insight Tony's always offered into his personal life, Tim had honestly thought of Tony as his best friend, but Tony obviously doesn't feel the same if he doesn't want to talk about such an important relationship with Tim. Even beyond their friendship though, Tim is Tony's teammate and the older man's relationship with Agent Barrett is already affecting their own team's dynamic.
And then there's Abby and her new friendship—Tim hopes—or whatever it is with Barrett's teammate Agent Cade. Photographic memory. Tim shakes his head. Abby's always wanted to surround herself with people who could keep up with her. Tim's just starting to realize that he never could. He may have smarts and he may have education, but there's always been something about him that Abby's found lacking. Tim's tried so hard over the years to figure out what that something was, tried his best to remedy the problem, but then today, seeing Abby with Agent Cade, even as Tim felt that old jealousy rear its head, the feeling that stuck with him the most was just exhaustion. Tim just felt so tired—tired of trying to find that something inside himself that always makes Abby walk away from him in the end.
The more he searches himself tonight though, the more Tim comes to understand that Tony's enforced distance from him hurts more than Abby's does. It's honestly the only bright side to this day because, as Tim reasons, if he's more upset that Tony and he aren't as close as he thought than Tim is that Abby's moving further away from him—again—then maybe he's finally starting to put this whole thing with Abby behind him. Maybe Tim'll finally get over her this time.
It's a very tiny silver lining, but Tim's holding onto it pretty tightly.
Tim takes a deep breath and holds it, runs his fingers through his hair as he tries to bring himself back around to this moment he's in. He's pretty sure the effort's useless. He lets every bit of that breath out heavily and shakes his head. He feels nothing but drained.
"That's some tough criticism for some lowly undergrads," an amused alto tells him from his left.
Tim's head jerks in the direction of the voice and over to the redhead he'd noticed at the table next to him earlier as she offers him a bit of a smirk.
"Oh, no, I," he automatically sets to correct his perceived impoliteness, but the woman, who must be around Tony's age, just grins all the wider. Tim chuffs and ducks his head, can't help but grin back at her pretty smile. Without conscious thought, his eyes roam down her body, noting the curves, and—wow—the legs in that skirt. He blinks, recognizes his rudeness at once, but before he can apologize, she speaks again.
"You look as though your day's been about as bad as mine," she observes.
He lifts his gaze back up to hers, "I hope not," he says. "Beautiful woman like you shouldn't have to have days like this," and the words just pop out of his mouth, and Tim literally cringes, noting how very Tony-like his phrasing is when Tim'd been nothing but sincere.
She tilts her head at him, studying his features. "I don't know," she returns wryly. "I think beautiful women, like me," she emphasizes, a growing glint in her eye, "get bad days just like everybody else." And then she uncrosses and recrosses her legs, angling her body towards him.
Tim's eyes note the invitation at once, and the pass is all the more obvious to him for its rarity. He licks his lips, but his mind is totally blank. "Buy you a cup of coffee?" he blurts.
His heart sinks when she shakes her head. "Got one already," she points to her mug on the table, "but you can join me," she lifts a brow.
The grin goes wild across Tim's face as he takes the chair across from her at the small table. "Thanks," he offers her his hand. "Tim McGee."
"Lila Johnson," she returns the gesture, seeming both pleased and amused at the exchange.
"Lila," he repeats because it's the best way to remember somebody's name after they introduce themselves. "It's good to meet you."
"You, too, Tim," she comes back warmly and every inch of her face claims sincerity in the phrase. "So tell me," Lila begins anew, "why are you having a bad day?"
Tim shakes his head, lips curling all over again at the twinkle in her eyes, which is gloriously straightforward to him. It feels so good for someone to be upfront with him today. "You know, I don't really remember right now."
She purses her lips, but her smile goes wider anyway. "What a coincidence," she says, "me neither."
And by the end of the night, he knows Lila's a history professor at Waverly who enjoys ballet, hates TV, and takes every opportunity she has to travel. The thing that stays with him the most in the week that follows, though, is the way she runs her nails down his back when she comes.
McGee wears a turtleneck to work the next day to hide the hickey low on his neck. He gets away with it because it may be April, but there's still a little bite to the air. Moreover, he's not exactly known for one night stands, and the whole team knows he's not seeing anyone after his most recent disaster with Maxine.
It makes it easier to hold Lila a secret inside him through the day because most of what they shared occurred between the sheets, and Tim's never been one to talk about such intimacies with anyone, preferring to respect his lovers' privacy the way he'd want his own intimate moments respected. Regardless, Tim knows he normally would have at least told the team that he'd met someone, that he thought maybe it could go somewhere, even though he frankly doesn't know if Lila will use the card he'd left on her pillow when he'd kissed her goodbye that morning. He hopes she will, but Tim doesn't speak a word of any of it to his teammates.
He likes the idea that his co-workers don't know something that important and fantastic happened to him. He likes the balance it gives back to their relationships.
And when Lila calls him again that night and bids him over just as he's leaving the MCRT cubicle, he doesn't let his voice change in the slightest though he's unbelievably ecstatic at the invitation.
He spends every night that week in her bed, and then the whole weekend. It tapers off a bit afterwards as they mutually and gradually back off a relationship that mostly exists between the covers and let their lives return to normal. Three months in, they're down to meeting maybe once a week when she calls him on a Thursday afternoon. The conversation spikes a feeling of concern in him right away because while she's often talked to him when he's working, she never intentionally phones during normal business hours.
In retrospect, he wonders if maybe a part of him knew what she was going to tell him when she asked him to come over that evening no matter how late it was when he got off work because there's a pitch of excitement that starts in his blood at her tone that doesn't calm for the rest of the day. While most of the feeling might be attributed to nerves, there's a portion that he can only ascribe to anticipation. It carries him to her doorstep that night and stays with him through the words pregnant and yours and I'm keeping it.
Before they slip between her sheets that night, she decides she's keeping him, too, and Tim's never felt more satisfied with his life as he does in that moment when they start making plans for the future together.
About six months later…
"Ahh, it's a beautiful day!" Tony exclaims as he bounces into MCRT.
Ziva smirks when she glances up at his announcement. "It is storming out," her eyes flicker to the window.
"Yes, but it's a replenishing storm," Tony angles his palm upward as if it can grasp the sky in all it's replenishing-ness.
"This would not have anything to do with the fact that Agent Barrett and her team caught the first flight back to Spain this morning, would it?" Ziva raises a brow, but the glint in her eye tells Tony she fervently shares the sentiment.
"Oh, was that today?" Tony casually shrugs his pack down to rest beside his desk. "I'd completely forgotten."
Ziva chuckles in that sweet, low rumbling laugh she has that sometimes makes Tony lift his chin, sometimes makes him laugh with her, but always gets him to react. Today, he winks at her and offers a grin.
And Tony settles behind his desk, feeling more at ease with the world than he has in ten months—ever since EJ arrived. He doesn't know what it was about the woman that made him doubt Gibbs' law back in March, but he knows for certain now that he will never question el Jeffe again.
Probably the only person who's actually sad today is Abby. She's probably already got a picture of Agent Cade hanging in her lab starting the count up of how many days he's been gone—and wow!—Tony seriously hopes the number just keeps getting higher, because although Simon wasn't too bad a guy, it'll be nice to have the team finally return to normal.
Tony glances over to see Tim's coffee still steaming on his desk, his pack lingering at the far side of his workstation. "Betcha twenty bucks Tim spends all day today in the lab," he smirks at Ziva.
"I will take that bet, Tony," Ziva leans back in her chair, twisting her pencil between her fingers thoughtfully. "McGee has rarely been down to see Abby at all in recent months. I do not believe he feels the same attachment to her he once did."
"Exactly, Ziva!" Tony asserts. "Tim's been avoiding her the entire time she was dating Mensa Man. It was too much for him to see that glow around her when she was all bow chicka wow wow with somebody else! No," he shakes his head, "mark my words, Tim's gonna take this opportunity and run with it," Tony declares because one of the things that will stay certain around NCIS is that Tim McGee will always have it bad for Abby Scuito. Although, Tony squints as he considers, truthfully, Probie has been surprising un-sullen about Abby's whole thing with Agent Cade.
"Ha!" Ziva jumps to her feet and points to him as she closes the distance to his desk. "You have seen it, too!" she tilts her chin. "McGee is not nearly as enamored of Abby now as he has been in the past. Admit it!"
Tony lifts his chin and scans Ziva's posture. "I admit no such thing," the words come out rapidly.
"Hmmm," she chuckles again, and this time, she gets him to crinkle his nose and bite at the air in her direction.
"Good morning," Tim offers cheerfully as he rounds the corner from the direction of the back elevator—which he might have already used to go see Abby in her lab, Tony notes satisfactorily.
"Good morning, McGee," Ziva offers, her eyes still on Tony.
Tony narrows his own eyes, then stands and moves over towards Tim's desk in one fluid movement. "Morning McEarlyBird," Tony checks Tim's posture, the lanky look of him. "Catch any worms?" he asks pointedly.
Tim lifts both brows as he looks at Tony head on. "Nope," he smirks. "But if I had, Tony, I'd be sure and send them your way."
Tony jerks his chin up and back down. "Haha. Very funny."
"I thought so," Tim leans down and brings his computer out of hibernation.
Tony peeks down. It looks as though Tim was checking his calendar earlier. Tony squints.
"Is that another doctor's appointment you've got for today?" he stalls Tim's hand over the mouse before Tim can close the application.
"Tony!" Tim tries to smack his hand out of the way, but Tony won't be deterred.
"That's got to be the third one in two months!" Tony straightens up with alarm, then turns back to glance at Ziva, whose brow is furrowed with concern.
Tim flicks off the monitor and places his palm on Tony's chest, giving him a firm shove out of the way. "That's none of your business, Tony."
"It is completely my business, our business," he corrects with a look back behind him at his partner, "if you're sick, Probie!"
"Hey," Tim lifts that hand that shoved Tony and lands it on the back of the Senior Agent's neck. "I'm not sick," and Tim levels his gaze right at Tony when he says it.
Tony glances back and forth between Tim's eyes, but he already knows Tim can't directly lie to anyone. Still, Tony's found over the years that Probie could teach seminars on lies of omission. He narrows his gaze at Tim, but Tony can still feel the echoes of fear creeping up inside him. He wonders if Probie can see it in his eyes. "So why are you seeing a doctor?" he prods again.
"None of your business," Tim says one more time and then he just turns away from Tony like that's the end of the discussion.
"Ohhh," Tony shakes his head, "I'm just going to find out anyway, Probie. You may as well tell me now and save us both some pain and suffering, and by both of us, I mean you," he ends on a grin that sometimes doubles as a threat if he can angle his head enough to the right.
"Tony," Tim starts, his tone almost bored as he sits back down at his desk and angles his monitor away from Tony, "I have a right to privacy, as do you. The only difference between my right and yours is that you seem to think that only your privacy seems to matter."
Tony doesn't even pay attention to the new direction of the monitor because something in Tim's tone totally hits him in a weird way, and suddenly Tony recognizes that there's something terribly wrong with this situation. "That's not true," he comes back trying to lighten the tone of the conversation. "I tell everybody everything." He glances to Ziva. "Don't I?" he prods.
Ziva wrinkles her nose in distaste. "I am afraid I must agree," she nods, and Tony raises an arm towards her in example. "In fact, I would quite welcome a greater sense of decorum from him," she concludes.
Tony squinches his eyes at her insult, but then turns right back to Tim at his proven point. "You see!" he declares.
Tim leans back in his chair and looks at Tony in contemplation, and there's something in his posture that makes Tony feel like there's more to his consideration of him than Tony could really imagine. "Agent Barrett," Tim points behind Tony, and for a second Tony jerks before he realizes Tim hasn't spotted her, but rather he's using her as a point. "Jeanne Benoit," he continues. "Claire."
"Those were ages ago," Tony interrupts, feeling his chest tighten in something that maybe someone less even-mannered than he is might consider panic as he wonders why Tim might be bringing all those things up after so long. Why would he still find such ancient history important? "Besides, it's not like any of it meant anything in the long run," and that's kind of what Tony always tells himself, but he can see by the set of Tim's shoulders as he stands that his Probie doesn't agree.
"Maybe it didn't mean anything in the long run," Tim allows, but Tony does not let down his guard, hearing the 'but' coming already. "However," of course Probie goes for the three syllable version of the word, "maybe this thing of mine doesn't either."
And Tony purses his lips because that, right there, is an out and out lie. Whatever it is Probie's keeping from them, it matters to him a lot.
By the end of the day, Tony gives up the twenty dollars to Ziva, but it doesn't even phase him when the bill leaves his hand. Tony seems terribly shaken by McGee's words throughout the entire day, and Ziva must confess she is, too. She watches the look on Tony's face when McGee leaves for his latest doctor's appointment at nine o'clock, and it is as if all the steam has been let out of his tires.
The tension between the two men continues through the rest of the day, but it's not until Abby joins them in MCRT late in the morning, shortly after McGee returns, her new sadness brimming over at her lover's absence, that Ziva notes McGee's estrangement seems to be, not from Tony alone, but from the whole team.
There is the way that McGee allows Abby to hug him, but steps away from her quickly—not as if he dislikes the contact precisely, but more as though he feels no connection between them. Then there is how McGee does not engage the others in conversation during lunch, a fact that suddenly makes Ziva realize he has not truly been involved in personal discussion for some time. But worst of all is the look on Gibbs' face when she catches him watching McGee spring out of the office at the end of the day. By the look in their team leader's eye, he has been observing something unusual about McGee for quite a while. She steps up to Gibbs once the lift's doors have closed on McGee, but Gibbs shuts her down before she can even open her mouth.
"If he'd wanted us to know, he would have told us," Gibbs says with a shake of his head and refuses to say anything more about it. He stays in the office for a long time afterward, and Ziva is certain he is only doing so to keep Tony from using federal resources to investigate what is occurring with McGee.
Tony finally gives up after an hour, and Ziva leaves when he does. They decide to take supper in a nearby diner to determine their next step.
"Any ideas?" Tony asks the moment he sits down.
Ziva widens her eyes and tilts her chin. "I am certain he is not ill. I had thought at first perhaps a loved one was instead, but he seems too happy—peaceful even for that to be so."
Tony nods his agreement. "But why would he go to the doctor about something good?" Tony questions.
Ziva turns to look outside, though she is only really examining from within. "We are assuming it is a medical doctor."
"But it could be anything!" Tony finishes her thought. "Did Probie say at any time he was actually going to see a doctor doctor, or are we just assuming?" Ziva turns to Tony just to watch his face fall, "But if it were an appointment for another kind of doctor," Tony begins.
"Then why would he be permitted the time off?" Ziva concludes with a shake of her head.
Ziva hums and automatically orders a coffee when the waitress comes through. Tony gets a soda. "Oh," she raises both hands and claps them together. "Maybe he is helping someone with a medical condition. A, uh," her brow crinkles, "a donation!" she finishes triumphantly.
"Ha!" Tony waggles a finger at her conclusion. "Good thinking," he praises.
"There are many things one can donate," Ziva continues, "blood, plasma, bone marrow, perhaps even an organ if he is close enough to the individual."
Tony locks eyes with her, and she can tell they share the same thought. "Sarah," Tony says it first and immediately begins to worry his bottom lip.
Ziva reaches across the table to grab his arm. "He is not worried, remember," she tries to reassure him. "If McGee is making a medical donation, it is not to someone he feels especially close to."
Tony nods and slowly leans back in his chair. Some of the color starts leaking back into his features. "Okay," he furrows his brow. "So medical donation. Most of those databases make their lists and DNA findings available to law enforcement, so if Tim did put himself on one of their registers—"
"Then Abby should be able to find it when we ask her to look it up tomorrow," Ziva finishes with a flourish.
And Tony nods and smiles, but the expression does not reach his eyes, and Ziva can feel the worry he feels for their friend.
"He will be alright," she tries to convince Tony.
"Even if he is," Tony shakes his head, concern shading every movement, "we're not. Our team," he clarifies, though he does not have to, "our team's in trouble, Ziva."
And Ziva's eyes flitter to the white table between them, seeing only that he is correct. "Tomorrow," she reminds him, "tomorrow we will ask Abby to help us with the searches, and we will figure this out," she promises.