Here it is, the second - and final - part :) I hope you'll like it, let me know !
Timothy McGee was drawing closer to Tony's room after his daily trip to the hospital cafeteria, bringing back as much food as his arms could gather, when he heard his partner's grunt. McGee ran. Santiago Munoz, the terrorist that had escaped them a week earlier was still on the run, and NCIS had (tried to) put Tony and himself on protection detail in fear of retaliation from Munoz. His little stunt with DiNozzo and McGee had only made Gibbs twice as feral, and he had spent every minute he was not in the hospital trying to pin each and every terrorist threat on the country on his gang. Tony and McGee being two key witnesses, Gibbs was pretty sure Munoz would try to come and get them at some point. Hence the running.
"Can't this wait, Leon?"
McGee stopped on his tracks when he heard Gibbs' low voice in the room.
"I'm sorry, but this is not in my hands. Every alphabet organization wants a piece of Munoz. Yours and Agent McGee's reports are gonna be read by all of them, and we can't have them question any of your actions in this."
"And what in my report do you think is questionable, Director?" Tony said, his voice wary but still sarcastic.
McGee hovered around the door, torn between the want to go in and defend his partner's actions (How could anyone have anything to say about what Tony had done?) and the feeling that he shouldn't be eavesdropping in a conversation between the director of the federal agency he worked at, his boss, and the partner that had saved his life.
"You reported that you provoked them before they got to the car battery."
"They would have used it at some point anyway, but yes, I did, so?"
"That thing you did that they didn't like, does it explain why you found yourself with one of their guns at your feet for half of their... administrations?"
"Yes. I knocked it out of my best pal Raul's hands and he didn't see where it had fallen. Not his fault, really, he was too busy preparing that electrocution thingy after that."
"My question, Special Agent DiNozzo, is: why didn't you take the gun and put one between Munoz's eyes?" Vance asked bluntly, not caring about Tony's deflection nor wanting to beat around the bush any more than necessary.
"Well, that's a good one, Director. You'd rather I killed the guy just like that? What, did he do something to piss you off too? I thought it was just me!" Tony answered immediately with a flippant tone that didn't cover the cold bite in his words. McGee could just imagine it reflected in his eyes.
"Leon," Gibbs intervened. "What's your point here?"
"My point is, Agent Gibbs, that people are going to find it weird when they read that an NCIS Agent had a gun at his feet but preferred being electrocuted for some obscure reason. Your report reads that you chose not to take the shot. I need to know why."
There was silence, and McGee had that weird feeling of déjà vu, hearing things he couldn't see, pricking his ears to try and understand what was happening just a few feet away from him. He felt uneasy all of a sudden and moved away.
"Probie, have you brought my food?" came the voice of his partner inside the room, and McGee stopped moving. How on Earth...? He turned to face the half-closed doors. There was no way...! "X-Ray vision, McGee. Now come here, and you better have my food with you, McI-take-my-time."
McGee hesitantly opened the door to be welcomed by two staring men and a seemingly carefree-though bound to bed-Tony.
"DiNozzo, we were-" Vance began talking.
"He can hear it, Director, he was there too. I didn't take the shot because I had an eye swollen shut, a broken something in my shooting hand and because there were five of them by then."
Vance's toothpick was moving in the air as if animated by its own soul and life, and for a ridiculous second, McGee thought the toothpick was performing a ballet. Maybe he was still concussed after all.
"You chose the reasonable option." Vance said it as if it was shocking enough to be repeated out loud.
"You seem surprised," DiNozzo smartly replied, his stare not wavering from Vance's for a few seconds. Then, "Probie, food!"
And the tension vanished. Vance left seconds after that. McGee was not sure he'd been finished, but apparently DiNozzo was.
It got McGee thinking. How could he have not seen it? Tony didn't not know how to communicate in peace with Vance, he chose not to. McGee had always thought that Tony just didn't get Vance's new ways, that he didn't understand him and thus didn't like him. He had felt so proud and cocky when he'd realized that he was the favorite. Not Tony, not Ziva, he was. He'd thought it meant that the director saw in him what agents should be like. Up to date with technology, able to read encrypted data and use a gun properly. But he'd been so wrong. The director had just been effectively dismissed by the senior field agent. It was Vance that hadn't proved himself worthy enough in Tony's eyes, not the contrary.
As realization dawned on him, McGee forced himself not to think back to all the times he'd been arrogant enough to rub his new position as the favorite in his partner's face. Tony had taken it all in stride. He had never told him he was wrong. Never gotten angry. Just deflected. But sometimes Tim had seen something in his partner's eyes. As if he wanted to say something, but chose not to. And McGee understood now. He would never have heard anything his partner, his friend,would have told him to bring his feet back on Earth. He'd have thought it was petty jealousy, because it just sounded so like Tony.
"I'm gonna hit the head, I'll be back in a few."
"You okay, Elf Lord?" Tony asked without looking up from the sandwich he was thoroughly inspecting. How did he do that?
McGee thought about just heading home. It was weird and disconcerting how one event could change everything he thought he knew about his partner. And yet, while washing his hands, something inside him was telling him that he'd always known. He'd never once doubted that Tony had his back in the field. He'd never believed that Tony was less than a great agent. It was just his pride. He had always thought that Tony wanted to be just like Gibbs and that it was the reason why he followed him like a puppy everywhere. McGee'd been so haughty when he'd realized that he had taken his independence from Gibbs when his senior partner hadn't and apparently could never do. He'd had it all wrong.
McGee was walking back toward Tony's room when he caught Gibbs' question.
"-lie to Vance?"
"Me? Lying? You're insulting me, Boss," Tony quietly answered, chewing the bite he had just taken.
"Com'on, DiNozzo, what kind of excuse was that eye swollen shut crap. You'd have nailed that shot blindfolded."
Tony chuckled, and McGee's heart quickened inexplicably. Seconds passed without a word being uttered, but McGee could imagine Gibbs's patient stare on Tony while the latter took his time eating.
"You know why, boss," Tony ended up saying. And there was something heavy in his words.
"McGee's a big boy, DiNozzo. You could've saved yourself a damn near death experience if you-"
"Now who's bullshitting, huh, boss? You know I couldn't have taken the chance. I was outnumbered. I'd have shot three of them tops, maybe created enough commotion to run or to lose the two others, but it was a stupid risk to take."
What was he talking about? He'd had an opportunity and had not seized it? McGee wanted to barge in and ask why the hell Tony preferred the promise of a slow death to the possibility of getting the hell out.
"DiNozzo. You heard the doc, you know they were not just interrogating you, they left thinking you'd be dead by the hour." McGee had never heard Gibbs talk that much.
"Well yeah, but they didn't know me well, now, did they?"
"If I'd escaped... or if they'd killed me too soon, nobody would've had his back, boss," Tony resumed when McGee thought they'd decided to just drop the subject. "Maybe I wasn't in the best shape, but at least he knew I was there."
And McGee felt it again. The ever-growing alien sentiment that had progressively invaded his chest since that day. He felt humbled, thankful and ashamed all at once. What kind of partner was he if Tony preferred to be tortured just because he was afraid McGee couldn't handle it? Timothy just shook off the thought. It was probably more than just that. With Tony, it was always more than he thought.
Tim didn't realize he'd stayed there unmoving before Gibbs said his goodbyes and left. McGee stood there, mortified to have been caught so obviously eavesdropping, but Gibbs just stared at him with his knowing eyes. Looking at him as if to say, "Did you hear all that?" Had Gibbs wanted Tim to hear them? So that was why he'd insisted so much on hearing Tony voicing his reasons.
"You never have to actually hear his answers to understand him, do you?" McGee asked without thinking. Gibbs shook his head, as if he was missing the point again.
"I don't need to ask the questions for him to give me the answers."
"How do you two do it? I thought I had finally managed to break the code, but I'd never... I..." McGee was getting frustrated, and this conversation-or lack thereof-was ludicrous.
Gibbs smiled, and crooked his finger to ask him to get closer. McGee complied.
"It's a new daaawn, it's a new dayyyy, it's a new liiife, for meeeee, and I'm feeelinnng... Oh hey, boss!" Tony said, popping his earphones out when he entered the bullpen.
"Tony!" Ziva seemed surprised and genuinely happy to see him. She got up from her desk and stopped in front of him, scanning his body with her eyes.
"Liking what you see, Zee-vah?"
"Everything seems in place. But you are still pale, Tony. Aren't you supposed to rest for another week or two at least?"
"What? And leave my two BFFs here alone without me? Are you crazy?" Tony exclaimed before he winked at McGee and went to his desk.
"BFFs? Oh, I know that one, best friends forever, yes? I did not realized that we were that close. Are partners always BFFs?" she asked, half serious, half teasing.
"I was talking about Palmer and Abby, but hey, you're alright for a ninja-chick, I guess we could be friends too," Tony joked while firing up his computer and checking the pile of mail that had been growing for the past week and a half.
Gibbs had yet to say anything-he had picked up the phone the moment he'd seen Tony-and McGee was keeping silent to avoid raising suspicion on his own early presence. He'd never realized how hard it was to try to come back to work a week after being shot. He was so used to seeing Tony and Gibbs being shot and returning to work after a few stitches in the back of an ambulance or after having left the hospital AMA to go track a perp without missing a beat. He'd ended up thinking it was easy. Well, it wasn't. Ziva had shot him an understanding look when she'd noticed how white he was, but she hadn't said anything. He was thankful for that. He'd come back the day before and hadn't left the building, but he had yet to go four hours straight without taking a nap at some point. And Tony was beaten, electrocuted, kicked and left for dead, and still looked like he was just back from a two week vacation in Hawaii. Life was unfair.
"DiNozzo, I called Ducky. Go down to autopsy. If he doesn't clear you, you're out of here. McGee, go to Abby. "
In Gibbs talk, that meant, "McGee, go take a nap on Abby's futon, you look like crap."
Tony smiled and got up as if he had been expecting it. He got in the elevator and waited patiently for McGee to slowly get up too, wait a second for his spinning head to settle, and join him.
"How's Abbs?" Tony asked when the door slid close.
"She told me she went to see you yesterday, Tony, you know how she is."
Tony smiled softly and shook his head a bit, as if McGee had missed the point. "Tell her to lower the music, you need the rest," he ended up saying seconds before the elevator dinged open and he got out.
"McGee, open your eyes. You're thinking so loudly I can't focus."
McGee opened his eyes to find Abby bending over him, her head close to his, staring intently at him with her big doe eyes. He sighed. He'd been trying to sleep for the last twenty minutes, but still couldn't.
"Spit it out, McGee, I have tests to run, nuns to call and little rats to save."
"I'm going on a personal mission later, I've planned it all with Tony yesterday. I'll tell you later. Now you. Talk. "
"What makes you think I have anything on my mind, Abbs?" Abby rolled her eyes at him. "It's about Tony."
He took a few seconds to consider what he could say. How he could voice the mental turmoil that kept him frustrated and awake when he knew he should close his eyes and rest?
"You don't get it. You should've seen him, Abbs. I'm not even talking about how he put himself on the line for Sammy and I. We could hear him, you know. Not very well, but the sounds..."
Abby was hugging him now, but he wanted to tell her, so he didn't stop talking. "It's what he did after. I thought he was dead. They'd left him to die. But when the guy got closer to Samuel, Tony… he, he rose up. And when the guy shot me, he just- he went mad. Nothing could've stopped him. He bit Juan's ear off."
"Well yeah, Tim, Tony wouldn't let anything happen to anyone on his watch. Especially to you."
"You're saying it as if it's the most natural thing. Abs, I know that Tony's always had my back. But this was more. This was spectacularly…"
Abby sat back on the futon next to him and was looking at him with a big smile and a calm expression. She looked like she had been waiting for this to happen and was now ready for them to have that talk.
"You know, at first, I kind of…"
"Hero-worshiped him. Yes, go on."
"Gibbs and him, they had this whole reputation from when they were a two-men team, so I thought… But then I started working and hanging out with him, and he's so..." McGee eyes were staring at nothing. He seemed to be talking more to himself than to his friend.
"Yes, and a pervert too. But Gibbs stayed Gibbs. You know, cold and distant, and having his mysterious ways of knowing everything and always appearing when you least expect it." Tim turned around to check that nobody had come in. That would've been the worst.
"And so, you know, I started thinking that maybe the rumors were all Gibbs. And that leaders were like that. Serious, driven and giving orders without explanation. But Tony, he's so…"
"That's it! That's the problem." McGee was getting more and more frustrated with the confusion he was feeling. And there was this bloody new feeling that kept growing and, he was sure, was about to explode in his face.
"That's the problem, Abby. Don't you see? Tony is Clark Kent! Only, he doesn't wear glasses and work at a journal to hide his real identity, he makes dumb jokes and annoys me."
"Do you realize that-"
"And you know the worst part? I thought I knew him! I'm like Lois Lane before she discovered who he was. I feel cheated."
"Timmy, do you realize that-"
"And I don't care if it sounds petty or feminine. But how can he do that? I thought we were equals. No, you know the truth? I thought I was getting better than him, and then BAM, in my face."
"McGee, let me talk!"
"And now, there's this feeling itching in my chest-"
"Mc- Huh? What feeling?"
"What? Oh, I'm sorry, Abbs, I got carried away. I'm just so tired and I think that the drugs mess with my brain. What did you want to tell me?"
"First, wow, Tim, loooved the word avalanche right now, that was totally Abby-like. And I take it as an homage." It was McGee's turn to roll his eyes. He sighed and leaned back against the wall. "Second, do you realize that you really are comparing Tony to Superman? And third, McGee, Clark Kent is not just a disguise that Superman uses for hiding. I thought you knew better! Superman and Clark Kent are just two sides of the same coin. They're the same person."
McGee slowly turned his head to find Abby's excited face looking back at him and nodding frantically for no reason. "I thought he was trying to emulate Gibbs," he said quietly. The throbbing pain in his shoulder was coming back, and it just served to remind him that Tony would probably not be affected by such a trivial thing as pain.
Abby pouted then; her frown seemed to mean he had said something stupid.
"So you still don't get it." She was disappointed. "I thought you'd finally... Ah, McGee, how could such a genius be so dense!" The look McGee gave her made her take pity on him.
"You see things in him now that change everything, right?" She was talking slowly as if he was a kid. "You feel new things?"
McGee thought about the itching something in his chest and nodded. He was starting to feel like a kid-or an idiot-too.
"Because you've realized he's Superman?"
"Just keep nodding, McGee."
"Well, Timmy. Now you should understand. He's your Superman."
And that's when he got it. "And Gibbs is his."
Abby answered him with a bright and happy smile. "You men are so dense. Bet'cha Tony doesn't even realize how deeply he knows everyone of us. It's like he has-"
"X-ray vision," McGee interrupted thoughtfully.
"Well, okay, I was about to say the power of reading minds-which would be way cooler-but if you're so intent on keeping the Superman metaphor, then yes."
The itchy thingy in his chest stopped itching after a few days, when dust began to settle again. But then one night, McGee woke up with the feeling that someone was at his door. And there were clicking sounds showing that indeed, someone was trying to unlock his door. So naturally, without even thinking, he called Tony-speed dial two. It didn't take the twenty minutes that it took a normal person driving a normal car from Tony's place to McGee's for the former to show up. It took two. One moment McGee was moving quietly inside his room to get his Sig, and the next there was the sound of a struggle outside, a few words of choice muttered in the action, and a shot. By the time Tim was at his door unlocking the four locks that he had added to the first one, Tony had cleaned up the mess on his doorstep. The mess was called Carlos, Tony said in a breath before inviting himself in and dialing Gibbs's number.
That's when the feeling started itching again. "How did you get here that fast?"
"Don't even tell me you're Superman again, Tony, or I swear I'll hurt you."
Tony stopped mid-sentence and chuckled. They were acting as if there was no man lying unconscious and cuffed just outside the apartment. "I was going to tell you that I'd had a hunch earlier today. Thought I'd follow you just in case. Appeared my hunch was a good one."
So Tony called his gut feelings "hunches". McGee never discovered that Tony'd been following him for the past nine days.
The next morning had Tony in interrogation room number two with the mess called Carlos. Gibbs Rule 38. Words were exchanged then.
It started with a casual, "Hey, remember me? I'm the guy you wired to a car battery two weeks ago." There was a lot of talking. Some Tetris playing. At some point Tony started throwing spit balls at the glass. And in the middle of all that, there were casually dangerous, low-voiced threats that, had McGee not been paying attention extra-hard, he'd have missed. It was all "breaking into Probie's house" and "Did you think you'd wire him to some funny stuff too?"
And Tim somehow lost track of the conversation. The creeping feeling in his chest was getting stronger and distracting him. By the end they had names, phone numbers and trivial facts about a handful of Munoz's associates. Next thing McGee knew there was Carlos, looking at the glass and apologizing: to Probie McGoogle for having woken him up, to Agent Timothy McGee for having screwed one of his locks, to Very Special Agent Elf Lord for having nearly made him lose one life before he could save his game.
Tony tapped Carlos's cheek in an "atta boy" gesture. Gibbs snorted. Ziva smiled appreciatively. McGee scratched his chest unconsciously.
Three weeks later, CNN declared the capture of a very dangerous and known terrorist named Santiago Munoz by the FBI (so not true) just before what could have been a deadly attack on one of the government's federal agencies (yeah, that one was true). And something had eased on McGee's chest when he hadn't even realized that it had been weighing on him in the first place.
That night Tony had shaken his head at Gibbs and had gone to McGee's desk. He'd said, "McElf Lord, I met a chick in a bar last week and I sorta kinda maybe told her that I was a pro in that World Of Warcraft thing when she told me she was in town for some geeky convention. She said we should meet on the game, and I told her I was a tall wizard with a white beard called Gandalf. What? The Lord of the Rings is the only fantasy movie I know. Do you think I should've gone with Voldemort instead? I though it'd have been kinda creepy. Anyway, I need your help, Probie-sempai. Do you even get to choose what your character looks like in that game? I bet all the ugos choose smoking hot elves, fairies or... whatever kinda witches there are on that thing."
And Tony hadn't stopped talking until McGee realized he was not at his desk anymore but sitting on the couch of Tony's place, and that his partner had popped up The Lord of the Rings in the DVD player and was now preparing the popcorn to go with it.
It took McGee 24 hours to realize that Tony had distracted him. Not once during the night had Tim thought about Santiago Munoz, the five battered bodies they'd investigated, the protection detail (gone to hell) on Samuel Collins, the chasing throughout the damn woods or the terrifying hours he spent hidden (or being aimed at with a gun) that day.
Gibbs had a basement with bittersweet bourbon and occasionally a good session on the mats with Tony. Tony had elf lord teasing, geeking and movies for McGee.
That's when the feeling blew up in his face.
It was respect. Admiration. Trust, loyalty, pride, esteem. It was an epiphany.
It was him, feeling jealous because he felt something for Tony that he knew no one felt for him. It was the irrevocable resolution to be someday deserving of Tony's loyalty and efforts. It was the longing to be someday just like him. To be able to understand people around him and adapt to what they needed even when they didn't know they needed it. It was the annoyance at feeling like a kid with a hero-worship all over again. But it wasn't irrational, it wasn't undeserved. He had finally opened his eyes to discover who his senior partner really was. He was a Tony, founding a Gibbs. Only, it was a totally different situation, because Tony wasn't Gibbs, he was his own kind of Superman. And McGee wasn't Tony, he could actually use a phone with sensorial technology. And Tony wasn't distant and mysterious and barking orders, because the team didn't need another boss like that. He was fun, easy-going and keeping all of them sane.
For a moment, McGee thought that he probably had to talk to Tony about such an important epiphany. Then he realized that no, he didn't. Because Tony would understand. That was just what he did. He understood Gibbs and Ziva, and they understood him back. Now it was McGee's turn.
It was the end of the month. Munoz's arrest was not on everyone's lips at the office anymore. McGee was at the coffee machine when he heard four men casually talking lining behind him to get coffee.
"Yeah, that's incredible. I heard he may be given a commendation for what he did on the Collins case."
"You mean like receive a medal and everything?" a younger agent asked, looking incredulous. "Are we all talking about the same guy her? DiNozzo the jock? The guy that comes to work singing every morning and that hits on everything with a skirt?"
"Dude," a third man said, trying to motion discreetly to where he had apparently spotted McGee listening to the conversation with interest. McGee hadn't known about the commendation, Tony hadn't said anything.
The younger man turned to find McGee blatantly observing him. "Hey, kid. You're new here, aren't you?"
The man (that oozed green) winced at the first part, but nodded. "Yes, sir." It was weird being called sir.
"DiNozzo's Rule number 12: Never underestimate… anyone." He took his coffee and looked up to see the man still watching the floor in front of him. He couldn't resist reaching out and tapping the man's cheek with a smirk.
"You should start learning the rules, Probie."
So, what do you think ?