(A/N: Mildly AU. When Ziva returns to Israel, they wait for months before replacing her. But what if Vance insisted they add a TAD? Largely a character study of how this affects the team. My OC is really a minor character, more of framing device than anything else. I integrated several relevant drabbles)

Abby didn't hate their new agent.

Quite frankly, that was the best that could be said about the TAD. Gibbs didn't kick her off the team within ten minutes of meeting her. McGee didn't find her so incompetent with computers that he was tempted to rip her laptop from her hands. Tony didn't try anything beyond hitting on her in a halfhearted sort of way, and she rebuffed him equally halfheartedly. Ducky didn't have to provide her with a barf bag during her first autopsy.

And Abby didn't hate her.

Which, in reality, was probably a greater accomplishment than it sounds. When Ziva took Kate's place on the team, Abby used every psychological weapon in her impressive arsenal to show her considerable hatred of Ziva. But try as she may, Abby just couldn't muster enough passion to truly, fiercely loath the new TAD. Barring her from the lab didn't faze her, snippy comments just confused her, and there just weren't that many ways to mispronounce "Jane Moore"—not that Abby let that stop her from calling the new agent "Morie." So after a few weeks of unenthusiastic hatred, Abby just accepted the fact that Moore was going to be a minor part of her life. Temporarily, of course. Because if Abby accepted the fact that Ziva was never coming back . . . well, Moore might face more hate than she could handle.

Vance had introduced Temporary Agent Jane Moore a month after Ziva's . . . transfer, or quitting, or whatever you wanted to call it. He had decided that they needed to hire a TAD after taking a walking tour of his building. Later, the team would complain amongst themselves that he had completely misinterpreted what he saw.

After all, the sheaves of paperwork on Tony's desk were usually in semi neat towers—it just so happened that Vance had walked by when they had just collapsed on top of DiNozzo. It was rare for McGee to simply fall asleep right in the middle of talking to the Director—in general, he rested his head on his desk first. The fact that Gibbs' trashcan had been filled with sixteen cups of coffee didn't mean the team was over caffeinating to stay awake—a few of those cups had been from yesterday's all nighter. And Abby—well, perhaps Vance hadn't misinterpreted what he saw in Abby's lab.

Their favorite Goth had become a little more . . . volatile in the days following Ziva's departure. When she was hyper, she bounced off walls. When she was upset, she went on crying jags that lasted hours. After one particularly violent outburst—this one following the discovery of a present for Abby that Ziva had tucked in the corner of her desk—Gibbs quietly took her aside, looked at her seriously, and said:

"She's gone, Abby. She's gone, and you can't bring her back."

Abby refused to believe that Ziva was never going to return, but she accepted that—for now, at least—the female agent was gone. After that day, Abby returned to normal, or as normal as the cheery Goth ever got. She got choked up at the mention of Ziva's name, but a Caf-Pow!, joke, or scientific puzzle was enough to distract her now. Unfortunately, Vance's tour coincided with her first real breakdown in recent weeks.

The case that week involved stacks of documents in an obscure language that the team was just certain Ziva would know. In the absence of her or an available translator, Abby was forced to scan in each page individually and run it through a translation program. This had to be done in addition to the normal processing of evidence. Abby was stressed, incredibly hyper, and reminded of Ziva with every page she scanned. She was flying from her lab to computer to MassSpec to supply closet, slurping Caf-Pow! after Caf-Pow! as she tried to do everything at once.

Her MassSpec began dinging insistently as it returned results.

The computer let out a dramatic buzzer sound—installing that had seemed like such a good idea at the time—when the first hundred pages were translated.

As the papers began printing, her printer malfunctioned, making grinding sounds as it leaked ink.

She finished examining some trace evidence, rescued the pages that had managed to print, slapped the printer hopelessly, checked to see if the photo she was running by AFIS had gotten a match yet, and took off for the beeping MassSpec. Her foot caught on a pile of empty Caf-Pows!, and she went flying. Abby hit the ground with a crash, evidence baggies fluttering everywhere, an enormous stack of paper scattering, a vial of trace evidence cracking as it hit the floor.

The printer groaned and leaked ink on her new shoes.

The mass spectrometer beeped insistently.

Abby burst into tears.

Vance walked in.

"We're hiring a new TAD," he said flatly, surveying the chaos, then crouched to begin putting things back together.

Maybe Gibbs still would have been able to talk him out of it. Maybe he would have been able to convince him that this was a one time thing, that they weren't really so overworked that they needed to fill the empty desk. But Vance pointed out that his little tour had occurred at three in the morning, and that sane agencies weren't even open that late, and it had been days since they had slept, and for Christ's sake, wasn't he Director, not Gibbs? Then he played his trump card, and reminded Gibbs about Abby's little crying fit, and Gibbs had fell silent—which was the closest thing the director would get to an agreement.

"I'll have the personnel files on your desk by tomorrow morning," said Vance calmly, grabbing his coat and leaving the building for the first time in entirely too long.

True to his word, the personnel files were on Gibbs' desk by the afternoon. The team pored over bios, class records, training histories and superior's recommendations, Tony and McGee giving their input while Gibbs reserved the final decision. Some Gibbs just tossed aside with a simple "no," not offering any explanation as the file hit the bottom of his wastebasket. Others were placed in a special pile for consideration. This pile remained unmoving for days, while the agents delayed making a choice. They waited, unconsciously, for the ding of the elevator doors, for Ziva to walk in, for her to seamlessly slip back into the team and magically return everything to normal. But the elevators doors never dinged her arrival, Vance became more and more pointed in his reminders, and McGee narrowly avoided injury after one of his massive stacks of paperwork was dislodged and nearly toppled on top of him. So in the end, the special pile was whittled down to one: Jane Moore. Tony would have gone with a hotter candidate, McGee a more technologically savvy one—but Moore was Gibbs' call, and neither agent dared question it.

She showed up the following Monday, so soft-spoken that they barely noticed her at first. Moore wandered around the floor for almost a minute before finding her new team, despite the room's relatively small size.

"Is this Agent Gibbs' team?" she asked quietly, drifting between desks. "Does anyone know where I can find Agent Gibbs? Please?"

Well, her file had focused on her investigative skills and forensic knowledge, not assertiveness. McGee was the first one to hear her, and waved her over.

"Jane Moore, is it?" he asked, leading her over to her desk. "You'll be sitting here. No, not the empty desk sitting in plain sight. You never sit there. This little desk, over in the corner. Yes, here. There you go. I'm Special Agent McGee. Nice to meet you."

The others introduced themselves to the slight, somewhat mousy woman.

"Very Special Agent DiNozzo."

"Gibbs."

McGee smiled weakly as she looked somewhat taken aback by her teammates' unenthusiastic introduction.

"They'll . . . warm up to you," he said in a low voice. Moore looked hopeful.

"Really?"

"Well, no. Probably not. You're filling some . . . legendary shoes."

"Yes, I heard about the woman who used to work here. Some crazy Mossad assassin spy, right?" Moore replied in a brave attempt at finding common ground with a team that she assumed was fed up with their old teammate. Tony, pretending not to listen, gripped his pencil so tightly it snapped in half. Gibbs, not even pretending not to listen, gave her a cold glare.

"You in the habit of badmouthing your superiors, Probationary Agent Moore?" he asked

"Superior? I thought she was a liaison, not technically a part of the . . ." Moore swallowed hard, cut her losses, and retreated. "I'm sorry, sir. In the future, I will endeavor to maintain a more respectful attitude towards the former Mossad Liaison David."

"It's Gibbs."

"I'm sorry?"

"Gibbs." The team leader looked up from his desk. "My name's Gibbs. Not 'sir.' And you have to fill out some forms before you're legally part of the team."

He tossed her a small stack of paper, the files somehow landing in a neat pile on her desk. She tugged the top form in front of her, settled to work filling it out, and promptly slipped from the team's collective awareness. It wasn't as though they willfully shut her out—she simply minded her business, and they minded theirs. The small, mousy woman in gray cardigans and sensible skirts became a minor presence in the periphery of the bullpen, one who rarely spoke and even more rarely argued.

Ducky, naturally, welcomed her with perfect courtesy and politeness, if not any particular warmth. McGee, after nicknaming her probie, making it clear that she would be taking the dirty jobs from now on, and insisting that she not sit at Ziva's desk, more or less ignored her. Tony made it absolutely clear that she would never, ever, ever fill the role of her predecessor, then bothered her only with the casual hazing that he considered himself contractually obligated to provide. Gibbs . . . well, Gibbs kept to himself. He did his job, taught her well, and showed even less emotion than usual.

And Abby didn't hate her.

Nobody really knew what Moore felt about her new job; sadly, nobody really cared. Moore didn't bother trying to bond with them. Tucked away in her corner, she could tell from the first week that her new team was buried deep in mourning for Ziva, a mourning that didn't seem to be fading. Every time the elevator doors dinged they would look to see if she had returned. Ziva's old NCIS cellphone, discarded in a desk drawer somewhere, gathered voicemails as the team accidentally called her again and again, their fingers dialing her number automatically. They kept looking for her in crowds, coming out of the elevator, at her desk, entering a doorway, each time taking a millisecond to remember that she was gone. Moore became accustomed to being addressed as "Zi-Moore" by her coworkers.

So Moore knew from the start that truly becoming a member of this strange, dysfunctional, incredibly effective group was impossible. She contented herself with being a peripheral member of the team, a unobtrusive probie who kept herself distant and her head down. But she did desperately wish that she could at least understand her new team. Not just her fellow fields agents—the crazy Goth who ran an entire lab on her own and called her "Morie" for some strange reason, and the elderly man who spoke to corpses but was one of the sanest people she had ever met. They all seemed so close, as if they were on in the inside of some grand joke she couldn't begin to understand. Her teammates were polite, but dismissive. They didn't invite her for drinks or dinner, and didn't include her in the banter that seemed a staple of their relationships. There had to be something, some dynamic, some skill, that she was simply missing.

"I ran the petty officer's financials—" she would begin, clicking the remote to bring the relevant file up on the plasma screen.

"—and we found this, Boss," said McGee, deftly snatching the remote away. "Most of his deposits coincided with the major OD's and incidents when Marine were caught with drugs. We're think the dead guy was our dealer—"

Tony plucked the remote from McGee's hand, tapping up a grainy security tape. "—which fits with this footage of a deal going down. The tape is grainy, but Abby says the dead petty officer's face is a ninety percent match—"

"—which explains the drugs. Not the petty officer's death. Who killed him and who took over his operation are the real questions." Gibbs was clearly displeased with their results. "McGee—"

"Checking to see if our petty officer had any particular friends on the ship who might have taken over his business, boss," he said briskly, reaching for his phone.

"DiNozzo—"

"Checking to see if our petty officer had any particular enemies on the ship who my have taken over his business, boss," said Tony with a tiny smile.

"Um, sir? I mean, Gibbs? Is there anything I should do?" Moore would pipe up from her corner, boggling at how easily the entire conversation had been snatched from her and how impossible it was to keep up with this absurd style of briefing. Gibbs would look at her for a moment, and even though Moore knew Gibbs had an amazing memory, she always felt like he was taking the moment to remember her name—or, she feared in the darkest corners of her heart, who she was.

"Look over witness statements," he would say, or sometimes, "review the petty officer's service records." Useful, simple instructions, which sometimes yielded fruit—yet she always felt like she was tacked on as an afterthought.

Gradually, gradually, her assignments become more interesting. She learns her strengths and weaknesses along with the team—a poor interrogator but an excellent marksman, clumsy combat skills but a good eye for detail. She had a fine grasp of forensics, and Abby didn't hate her. Overall, she was decent for a probie, and would probably eventually be transferred from the field to an office, where her talents truly lay. But decent was not enough for her new coworkers. Here, it seemed, you had to be exceptional, or fall behind. They were inhuman, impossible to keep up with. At first, she tried desperately not to fall behind. She chugged caffeine with the best of them, stayed up all night, and never quit. Within a week, she had to pee—uh, 'hit the head'—constantly, was falling asleep where she sat, and felt completely burned out. On top of which, she hadn't accomplished half the work of the others, and they seemed to be goofing off the entire time. Impossible. Insane. And totally typical of this team.

Moore was a polite, kind person. She was a fine investigator and a decent agent. But she was not extraordinary, and she was not cut out for moments like this:

"Nice going, McMoron. You interviewed that woman twice, and you never noticed she had defensive wounds on her arm?"

"She was a grieving widow, Tony. I was more focused on her desperate sobs of—"

"—really badly acted pain? Something tells me there was something else you were focusing on."

"She wasn't that hot!"

"Funny how that's where your mind went. I was just going to say that you were focusing on the poor victim—"

"Sure you were. I saw you slip her your number—"

"You gave a murderess your number?" asked Moore, horrified. The two field agents looked over the divider as if they had forgotten about her.

"Don't worry. I'm beginning to believe that half the women Tony flirts with are murderesses. It's kind of a trend in his life, actually . . ." drawled McGee.

"Not half! More like . . . okay, more than average. To my credit—" Tony began.

"—you have no judge of character? Or discriminating taste?" McGee jibed.

"I have discriminating taste! I am an official judge at bikini contests. Besides, didn't you date a convicted—"

"I didn't know about her conviction when I gave her my number!" said McGee defensively. They cracked up, though Moore didn't understand how any part of this conversation was the slightest bit funny.

Moore had worked with one other team briefly, before being assigned to this one. They had been a strict, disciplined, orderly bunch, with the professional attitude and sharp suits that you'd expect from government agents. They did not joke around, banter constantly, make up silly nicknames for each other, or know the details of each other's love lives. From what she had seen of other NCIS agents, she was beginning to wonder if they were the odd ones. She just couldn't bring herself to plunge into the conversational whirlpool that they whipped up. She wasn't sure she'd survive it.

"Am I ever going to join the team?" Moore asked Gibbs one day they're alone in the squadroom, hoping he wouldn't be bothered by the interruption. He considered her for a long moment.

"You already signed the paperwork," he replied noncommittally.

"You know what I mean," she said, and he did.

"Have you ever played M'M tiddlywinks?" he asked. This didn't make the slightest sense, and Moore was tempted to tell him so. Then again, sheer insanity that seemed to occur wherever the agents went. Pointing this out had never worked before. She opted to just admitting that she'd never played that game before.

"Neither have I," he admitted, surprising Moore. "Tony and Ziva made it up on one boring stakeout, to pass time. When McGee's shift was over, Tony taught him too. They've been playing it on long car rides, plane rides, and stakeouts, ever since. Nobody else understands the rules of their game. Nobody else knows how to play it. Nobody else ever will."

With that, he returned to his work. Well, Moore wasn't as brilliant as the others, but she wasn't stupid either. He didn't have to hit her over the head with the metaphor. She got the picture. This team of NCIS agents was something magical, something better than the norm. They were exceptional, extraordinary, and she couldn't ever truly be one of them.

But that was okay. It wasn't like they had rejected her, or shut her out entirely. She had solved a few cases. Made a few breakthroughs. Contributed a little and learned a lot. Accomplished more than most would have. Maybe even gained a few friends.

And Abby didn't hate her.