a/n - yep, new story. Written for the Hobby Challenge. Deadlines are a wonderful thing to keep a writer motivated.

During Backfired, someone asked how different it would have been if the team had not been left out of the loop. Well, you know how my mind works. Those that were the last to know are now the first. I'm not 100% sure the M rating will be necessary for a while, but at least it keeps the lazy children from bothering the rest of the grown-ups. Speaking of lazy children, have you read the new gen story I'm posting on my other profile? I think you'll enjoy the team's reaction to the bad guy or should I say bad girl. Very, very bad girl.


Impressions

"McGee able to leave on time?"

Gibbs looked up in surprise at Vance's question as he shut down his own computer. "All three of them left about twenty minutes ago, why?"

"Apparently he's helping the local LEO's with an undercover drug operation tonight. I appreciate his initiative in working with other agencies. Makes us look good at budget time."

"Good night, Director." Gibbs was in the elevator and headed to his car before he realized he had no idea where the sting was happening. A quick phone call sent him in the direction of a park not far from McGee's apartment. He stopped at a coffee shop down the street from McGee's place for his usual and a newspaper before casually sitting on one of the benches at the park. Watching carefully, he spotted McGee walking his dog around the perimeter of the park.

At first glance it looked like McGee didn't have much control over the large animal, but then Gibbs realized that their wandering path was because Jethro was on the trail. Becoming more impressed, he continued to observe as McGee used the dog's energetic movements as cover, carefully speaking into his wrist as he rubbed his head in what looked like frustration. It was only the inside knowledge that allowed Gibbs to see that man and dog were tracking bags of cocaine that the dealers would hide up in the tall pine trees.

The take-down, when it happened, was a thing of beauty as wild mongrel and harried owner instantly transformed into a well-oiled machine. The two dealers separated, running in opposite directions to maximize their chances for escape. McGee dropped the leash, chasing one of them down, outrunning several of the cops also moving in, while Jethro bounded after the other, knocking him flat with a flying leap.

Gibbs was on his feet the second he'd heard McGee's yell, discarding the paper and cup as he cut across the park to back up his man. By the time he arrived, McGee had his suspect in cuffs and handed over to the LEO's and was grinning down at the second suspect who had given up trying to get out from under Jethro.

As he watched, McGee gave a short whistle and Jethro immediately returned to his side while several officers handcuffed the second suspect and roughly pulled him to his feet. Now that the situation was contained and his questions would not be a distraction, Gibbs walked the rest of the way over to McGee.

"Hey, Boss, did we get a call-out?"

Gibbs wanted to roll his eyes at the obtuseness of the man. "You don't get enough of chasing bad guys on the job, McGee?"

"This is my neighborhood, Gibbs. This is where I take Jethro for a run every night. When Scott told me the park was being used to move cocaine and asked if I could help, I wasn't going to say no. Especially not after they lost one of their dogs last week."

Scott was Lt. Scott O'Neil from Silver Spring's narcotics unit, that much Gibbs knew, and the death of one of the police drug detection dogs had been on the news almost daily since the car accident. "Not suggesting otherwise, McGee, just don't do it behind my back again."

"I wasn't hiding anything. As per regulations I notified the Director in writing before joining the operation."

Gibbs resisted the temptation to head-slap the man in front of the local cops. "I'm not talking about regulations, I'm talking about letting me know. How can I watch your back if I don't know what's going on?"

Eyebrow raised, he waited and watched. He saw when McGee finally got it when the shy smile crossed the younger man's face. "Sorry, Boss, I didn't think about it that way. Scott and the guys have been great about letting Jethro and me use their training facilities and going with them when they're short a team is pretty much second nature by now."

The fact that McGee was so comfortable with a team that wasn't his own bothered Gibbs, but this wasn't the place to talk about it. "You about done here?"

"Yeah, let me just check in with Scott for a minute. Jethro, you stay with Gibbs, alright?" He bent down and gave the dog a treat before handing the leash over to Gibbs. Not familiar with handling a working dog, Gibbs automatically wrapped the leash around his wrist as he noted how comfortable McGee was with the local police.

As Gibbs watched, McGee joined a group of officers. They greeted him easily, laughing, talking and patting his back as if he was a part of their inner circle. Attention focused elsewhere, he didn't notice when Jethro's nose twitched and he stilled, watching a powder covered squirrel come down out of one of the trees.

Eighty pounds of fur covered muscles against an unsuspecting man, by the time Gibbs registered what was happening, he was airborne. Unable to let go of the leash, it was all he could do to protect his face as he was dragged through the mud.

"Jethro, halt." The deep, booming voice stopped the dog instantly, but it took Gibbs a minute to realize that it had been McGee's voice. He was still climbing to his feet when the younger man arrived.

"Crap, you okay, Boss?" Gibbs glared at him, ignoring the snickering behind them as McGee snapped his fingers and pointed down next to him. The chastised dog slunk over to sit against McGee's leg.

McGee stared at his boss in both horror and amusement, not quite able to stop the twitching of his jaw. The older man had bounced back up easily enough to suggest that he wasn't injured, but he was covered head to toe in mud, seriously negating the glare he was directing at his agent. "You want to get cleaned up at my place before you drive home?"

Gibbs handed over the leash before wiping at the mud on his face and flinging it off of his hands. "Ya' think, McGee?"

-NCIS-

A park service hose had taken care of the worst of the mud, but it was still a dirty, wet and cold Gibbs that followed McGee into his apartment. Jethro immediately retreated to his bed in the corner as McGee began to speak, suddenly nervous at the thought of Gibbs actually in his apartment. "The bathroom is right through there, Boss. I'll get you some warm sweats and if you toss your clothes out, I'll take them down to the laundry room and get them started."

After watching McGee interact with the narcotics detectives, Gibbs hated to see the return of the shy, nervous version of his agent. "Appreciate it, McGee. How long have you lived here?" He glanced around the apartment, it was nothing like the tiny, dark apartment DiNozzo had described back when Tim had joined the team. A sea of fresh greens and reds caught his attention and he moved further into the living room.

"It's been a few years, my old place was way too small for a dog Jethro's size." McGee knew exactly what had caught the older man's attention and waited for the question.

"You're growing tomatoes in February?"

"Hydroponics, Boss, you can grow pretty much year-round" Tim's voice raised as he pulled out a pair of sweats and several towels for Gibbs. "I started out with greens for salads when I was losing weight, but there's nothing better than a vine ripened tomato on a BLT, especially in the off season."

"Is that an offer, McGee?" Gibbs could feel his mouth watering at the sight of several large tomatoes ready to pick.

Surprised, McGee returned from dropping his load on the bathroom counter. "Sure, I guess. I was planning on BLT's and some soup tonight. You're welcome to join me." To prove his point, he walked over and harvested four tomatoes and took them back into the kitchen.

Once Gibbs was in the bathroom, McGee let his head fall back to hit the wall as he wondered exactly had possessed him to invite Gibbs to stay for dinner. He glared at the dog. "This is all your fault, Mutt. You know better."

The bathroom door opened and closed as Gibbs set the basket of his clothes out in the hallway. A minute later, the shower came on. Tim started preheating the broiler before taking the clothes down to the basement laundry room.

-NCIS-

Warm, clean and working on dry, Gibbs wrapped one of the towels around his waist when he heard knocking at the door and continued to dry his hair as he walked across the living room. "What'd you do, McGee, forget your keys?" He swung the door open to find a heavy-set, older woman with bright red hair.

She smiled, looking him up and down. "Well, I guess this explains why I can't catch Tim's attention."

Something about the woman set his teeth on edge. "Your loss, my gain. And you would be?"

"Veronica Parsons, but my friends call me Ronnie." She leaned forward as she played with a straining button on her blouse.

He wasn't buying it. "Well, Ms Parsons, can I give Tim a message, or is that for him?" Gibbs pointed out the large envelope in her other hand.

She held it up, still smirking. "So, you boys ever like to come out and play?"

"No, we don't." They both looked up to see McGee arriving back. "It's not necessary to hand deliver my mail, Ms Parsons."

"This one looked special and I had to sign for it." Veronica tapped it against her cleavage, hoping one of them would take the bait, but Gibbs moved back into the apartment to let McGee deal with her. Tim was just locking the door when Gibbs came back out of the bathroom dressed in McGee's sweats.

To give McGee privacy while he read the registered letter, Gibbs wandered through the apartment, noting several oil paintings on the wall. It was the faint smell of synthetic turpentine that drew him closer to one, close enough to notice the familiar signature at the bottom.

"You painted this? You're just full of surprises tonight, McGee." Questions forming in his mind fast and furious, Gibbs came closer to sit at the counter and watch McGee work in the kitchen. "So, you cook, too?"

"Nothing fancy, just the basics, Boss." He might claim nothing fancy in the kitchen, but Gibbs had never seen anyone mix brown sugar and chili powder and sprinkle bacon with it. Once the bacon was under the broiler, McGee turned his attention back to the registered letter. Gibbs would have been worried, but the more the younger man read the paper, the happier he seemed to be.

"Good news?"

"Yeah, kinda." Without elaborating further, McGee slid the letter back in the envelope and stuck it up on the refrigerator before filling a pot with a deli carton of soup.

Fifteen minutes later food was set on the counter and McGee joined him, sitting in the stool to Gibbs' left. Gibbs ignored the thick black bean soup for the moment and picked up the sandwich. He hadn't recognized the labels on either the bread or the mayonnaise and McGee only mentioned a local farmer's market in passing, so he wasn't sure what to expect. It was really all about the tomatoes however, and he grinned at the sight of the thick red slab.

-NCIS-

For Tim McGee, the evening had taken on a surreal quality the moment he'd seen his boss bodysurfing through the mud, propelled by Tim's over-eager dog. The arrival of his landlady, always on the hunt for fresh man meat, hadn't helped the situation at all, especially when Gibbs opened the door to her wearing only a towel slung low on his hips.

Now Gibbs was sitting at his breakfast bar, waiting to be fed and with a dozen questions obviously on his mind. To give himself time, Tim concentrated on the food. His weight loss the previous year had been the butt of many jokes by DiNozzo and virtually ignored by the rest of the team, but it had been the result of replacing take out with healthy, traditionally cooked foods and many hours running with Jethro through the park. He'd learned to concentrate on the flavors of the food, adding small touches of good quality fats and higher calorie items to what he fixed. Instead of the bland, mass produced Miracle Whip of his childhood, he spent the extra money on a gourmet mayonnaise produced in small batches and only sold locally. The artisan bread came from the same year-round stand, while the bacon was from a small meat shop that hand prepared and smoked all their own meats.

As the deli soup warmed on the stove, Tim sliced the tomatoes and bread. The tomatoes were sprinkled with some fresh herbs while the bread was toasted. Once the bacon was done, he layered it all together, adding the baby lettuce leaves he'd harvested the day before.

Gibbs sniffed appreciatively at the bowl of soup when McGee set it in front of him, but his attention was on the thick sandwich that Tim sliced in half before sliding it on the plate. As Tim watched in amusement, Gibbs took a large bite, his eyes rolling back as he moaned. There was an expression on the older man's face that Tim had never seen before as he thoroughly enjoyed the mouthful he was slowly chewing.

"Guess you like it?"

"McGee, I have married for less than this." Grinning, Gibbs wiped some mayo from the corner of his mouth and sucked it off his thumb.

Tim couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, but I'm not that easy." He froze when his brain caught up with his mouth, but Gibbs was laughing, too.

"It's a good thing, otherwise that neighborhood cougar would have her claws into you. What's her story, anyways?" Gibbs took another bite as he waited for an answer.

"She's my landlady, I just stay one step out of her reach."

Gibbs started to wonder about McGee's self-preservation skills. "You really rented from her?"

"Her ex-partner, actually. He died a few months after I moved in."

"What'd she do, wear him out?" While McGee spluttered, Gibbs returned to his food with a smirk.

The soup was good, but it was the sandwich that made the meal to Gibbs. Seeing this, Tim loaded a plate with the remaining tomato, bacon and lettuce and set it and the jar of mayonnaise next to Gibbs before turning his attention to slicing and toasting more of the bread.

"You could have had this for lunch tomorrow." Even as he voiced his objections, Gibbs took the offered bread and slathered on a thick layer of mayo before piling the rest of the ingredients on it.

"It's not as good the next day when the bacon's cold and if I warm it up in the microwave, it's just not the same."

After making his sandwich, there was one slice of bacon left, and Gibbs broke a piece off and popped it into his mouth. "How'd you learn to fix bacon like this?"

"Broiler's less messy than frying it on the stove."

Gibbs shook his head as he licked his fingers. "No, I mean the brown sugar and the chili powder."

"A roommate I had in college was from Alabama. Since my family was stationed overseas, I'd go home with him on school vacations." Tim broke off his own piece from the remaining bacon. "That's the way his grandmother would fix her bacon, just with a whole lot more brown sugar."

"It must have been hard, having your family so far away while you were in college." Gibbs thought through what he knew of McGee, realizing how superficial that knowledge was. "You started pretty young, sixteen, right?"

"Actually, I was fifteen, I missed a semester after I broke my leg. The only reason I got to go back to MIT was the fact that Preston's family agreed to step in as my legal guardians when my folks went to Asia."

"Your folks were okay with that?"

Somehow, having the man sitting in his apartment, eating his food, made it easier to tell him. "I think my dad decided that it would be less embarrassing than having me go to court to become emancipated."

"I thought you were close to your parents."

"Things are better now." McGee picked up what was left of the last slice of bacon and split it in half, offering one to Gibbs. He took it, understanding the implied end of that subject, so he tried another approach.

"You and Jethro looked pretty comfortable working with the locals out there tonight."

"Yeah, I enjoy working with Scott and his team." Realizing how that could have sounded, Tim rushed to explain. "I'm not thinking about changing agencies or anything, it's just..."

"It's just what, Tim?"

"I'm the least experienced agent on the team and it doesn't matter how long I've worked or what else I've learned, I'll always be the least experienced agent. Sometimes it just nice to be treated like an equal."

When Gibbs suddenly fell silent, McGee shrugged and left to go downstairs and put the wash in the dryer.