Disclaimer: I don't own anything that's got "NCIS" on it. Seriously.
A/N: Okay, this is the One-Shot I promised in the latest chapter of TDATD and the Frog Incident that is mentioned there. It is set in my "The Day Universe". That Universe is a little bit AU but in this story you won't notice it since I kept it pretty general. So I guess you could read it without knowing my other stories, but it could get a little confusing because you won't know the OC, James Nixon.
He is actually the reason for this One-Shot. When I wrote my other stories and had to think of a name for Tony's little friend, the first name that came to mind was Jimmy. It took waaaaay too long until I realized that that was already the name of our dear Palmer. How embarrassing. That happens to me all the time. The villain in my Stargate Atlantis story is called Jackson. I was writing chapter 17 when it hit me like a truck that one of the good guys in Stargate is called Daniel Jackson and everytime I wrote something like "Jackson grinned like a lunatic" it felt like I wrote a bad thing about Daniel. Stupid.
So this is my attempt to work my faux pas into a story. It cronicles the very beginnings of Tony/Jimmy friendship and there is a teeeeeeeeeeeeny tiny bit of tentative Ziva/Jimmy. Blink and you'll miss it.
Thanks to my beta AZGirl who worked super fast on this! Thanks dear!
Please read the AN at the end of the story. It could clear some questions that you may have after reading the story.
The Day of the Frog Incident
"I never liked them."
Timothy McGee looked up from the papers on his desk to regard his fellow agent with a questioning look. "What are you talking about?"
Ziva David twirled a pen in her fingers and stared across the bullpen towards the interrogation rooms where Gibbs was grilling their latest murderer. "Biology teachers. Never liked them."
McGee followed her gaze and thought about the teacher they had just arrested for the murder of three of his students, all kids of famous Marines. "He is crazy." McGee frowned. "It's not like I like him much either."
"No, not him." The twirling pen stopped and she began to tap it on her desk. "Well, him as well, of course. But I was talking about biology teachers in general."
The tapping quickened and grew louder until Tony DiNozzo, who had merely listened until now finally threw a paper ball at his colleague to get her to stop. Instead of it hitting her head, Ziva deflected the ball with her pen as if she were flatting away a fly, not even tearing her gaze from the interrogation rooms. Tony allowed himself a second to admit how utterly cool that was, before his irritation came back full force when Ziva resumed the tapping as if nothing had happened.
"And why is that Zee-vah?" he drawled. "Did one dare to tell you that you can't actually kill a human being with a paper clip?"
"One did try, yes. But I convinced him otherwise very quickly." Ziva said and Tony had a moment's pause where he wondered if the poor guy was still alive when the grin of the Israeli's face told him that she'd actually made a joke. "I just never trusted them. I mean, who forces children to slice open little animals?"
McGee rubbed his cheek and said, rather timidly: "That sounds strange, coming from you."
Ziva's face snapped to him and Tony could almost see McGee's desire to crawl under the table. "What does that mean?"
Before the junior agent could wet himself, Tony decided to interfere. "It means that it's hard to believe that a trained assassin would feel sorry for little amphibians."
Ziva screwed up her nose and crossed her arms. "I do not understand how that is weird. Defenseless animals and dangerous individuals who should have seen it coming. That's like comparing apples to pears."
"Oranges." Tony and McGee corrected. Ziva just snorted and went back to tapping her pen on her desk. Tony prepared more paper balls, just in case.
"I have to admit," McGee started after a few minutes of silence. "I never enjoyed dissections either. I did it because it was required, but I was happy when it was over."
"What?" Tony asked, already having forgotten what they were talking about.
"The thing with the frogs. Dissections. When we had to cut them open to see how they worked. I never understood why we couldn't just read that in a book or something."
"You can't learn everything from a book, Probie. Sometimes it needs to be hands-on."
Ziva shot him a disgruntled look. "I suppose you had no trouble with the assignment. You probably impressed your fellow school mates with you butcher skills."
Tony thought about it and his fellow agents where surprised to hear a gentle laugh escape his lips. "Actually, we never did that assignment."
McGee looked interested. It wasn't often that Tony talked about his early years. "Why? I thought all schools had to do this? Isn't it kind of mandatory?"
"Oh we had to do it too." Tony conceded. He remembered his excitement when his teacher had told them that they would cut open some frogs next week. He had looked forward to that like only any other eleven year old, adventurous and curious boy could, not noticing that not everyone in his class was as eager as he was. He also remembered his bitter disappointment when it was canceled and his utter delight when only hours later he'd realized that he had made his first true friend.
Ziva became interested in the topic as well. "What happened?"
"It just didn't work out." His colleagues appeared dissatisfied with that answer but he was unwilling to tell them more. He had only told one other person about the incident with the frogs which had changed his life for the better all those years ago...
Eleven year old Anthony DiNozzo scowled at the blackboard like it was at fault for all the problems in his life. He was much too aware of the gazes of his classmates and the silence following his teacher's words. He clenched his fists under the table, his fingers twisting the material of his trousers until he was sure they were going to rip at the seams. He forcefully unclenched his fingers. Another wrecked pair of trousers was all he needed now. Father would not be pleased. Not that father was ever pleased with him.
"Did you hear me, Anthony? Or are you suffering a sudden case of hearing loss as well on top of the loss of your common sense?" The teacher, Mr. Candon, sneered, probably beyond pleased with the humiliated blush on Tony's cheeks and the spiteful giggles of the other students at his words.
'I can hear you just fine, you old bat.' Tony thought. He kept his head down but his eyes strayed to the boys to his right and stared at them sniggering and pointing through the fringe of his hairs. He should have known that they would find this highly amusing. Just because they had declared themselves to be his best friends just a week earlier, didn't mean that they couldn't have some fun at his expense.
Tony averted his eyes again and stared at the tabletop instead. He should have known that there was no such thing as friends in this world. His father had always urged him to be friendly with the kids of his associates, to get an early start making the right connections, but while most of the kids were friendly to him in return, Tony always knew that it was simply because their parents had asked them to be friendly to the DiNozzo kid as well.
Tony didn't have friends; he had acquaintances – something that had always bothered him. So when he'd changed schools yet again, and two boys had asked him to become best friends, he had jumped at the idea of having friends who weren't connected to one of his father's business contacts.
The three of them had caused much mischief over the past week, especially since the two had already been known as troublemakers and Tony didn't want to be left behind. They weren't the brightest of the bunch, but Tony didn't have a problem with that since they sincerely seemed to like him for himself. What more could he ask for?
And now they watched and laughed at him getting reamed out for something he hadn't done without even attempting to stand up for him. Tony bit his lip and tried to keep his eyes away from the two of them. He couldn't help but feel disappointed and resentful. But then again, maybe one week was not nearly enough to ensure the loyalty that would urge his two friends to share the wrath of their teacher with him just to support him.
Nevertheless, he felt more and more bereft and he started to wish that he had stuck with only having acquaintances. That kind of relationship was easy, because there wasn't really any. Real friendships were much too confusing and strange. He felt like he was learning a new language, not even knowing if he had the right dictionary. But maybe it was just him who wasn't able to grasp the rules of friendship.
Maybe father had been right and he was too stupid for complicated matters like that.
"Well?" Candon snapped and pulled Tony out of his thoughts. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
"I don't know what you want me to say." Tony gritted out through clenched teeth. "I already told you that it wasn't me."
Candon snorted and put his little wrinkled hands on Tony's desk. "And you think I'll believe that? Someone whose name I won't mention, told me that you said that it would be funny to see those frogs hopping free around the school."
Tony now definitely didn't look at his two "friends". He really had said those words a few days earlier and the two of them had been the only ones to hear them. He sighed and slumped in his chair. He should have known that it was hopeless. Should have known that he was incapable of making real friends. Maybe there was no such thing, at least not for him.
It was true that he had told his "friends" that it would be funny to let the frogs run wild but he hadn't really considered doing it, since he was much too excited about the assignment in the first place.
Tony allowed himself a small smile when he remembered how, just a few hours earlier, some of the female teachers - and a surprising number of male teachers as well - had suddenly emerged from various classrooms, crying and shrieking, followed closely by dozens of little green frogs. The beasts had seemed to come out of every corner and the male teachers and some of the older students had tried to catch them again, with varying degrees of success. They had apparently been stored in one of the unused and locked classrooms in boxes, still alive so as to keep them as fresh as possible for the assignment, and someone had stolen the key out of the teachers' lounge and set them free.
The ensuing chaos had been rather funny, but not anymore, not when everyone seemed to be convinced that it had been Anthony DiNozzo's idea of a prank.
Tony stayed silent, refusing to answer his teacher. They couldn't prove something he hadn't done, and he didn't think they would expel him for something they couldn't even pin on him.
"Well, I see that you've decided to be stubborn. I guess you leave me no choice but to call your father. Maybe he can bring you to your senses."
Tony paled and started to shiver. Oh yes, his father would definitely put some sense into him. Probably by beating him senseless for defiling the DiNozzo name.
Tony opened his mouth, wanting to say something, anything. Maybe if he admitted that he had done it and accepted the punishment they wouldn't call his father immediately. Maybe they would just write a letter which he could intercept. He'd learned early on how to copy his father's signature. He could pull this off without getting a beating from the man. The knowledge that he had done nothing wrong was bitter but it just cemented his belief that nothing was fair, least of all the life of little Anthony DiNozzo.
He was just about to confess a crime he hadn't committed when a timid voice from the back of the room interrupted him.
"Uhm- Mr. Ca-Candon. Sir?"
The teacher spared the boy not even a glance. "What is it James?"
Tony turned in his seat to look at the boy who'd spoken up. It was a scrawny, little kid, with wild, reddish hair and freckles around his nose. He looked younger than eleven and the uniform hung from his shoulders like a sack. It wasn't a boy Tony had spoken to yet, but he remembered that his name was James Nixon. He watched in astonishment as Nixon stood up and stared at their teacher, demanding his attention. He looked kind of pale and sickly and he seemed to be trembling quite a lot.
"I-It's just th-that..."
A girl to Tony's right sniggered and whispered just loud enough to be heard in the whole classroom that the stutterer should hurry it up, since they wanted to go home today. Mr. Candon didn't reprimand her and Nixon's face flushed a bright red. Tony was sure that he would sit down again and stop whatever he had been trying to do, but James surprised him when he merely swallowed and tried again.
"It, It wasn't Anthony, sir. It wa-was m-me."
There was a moment of stunned silence before the classroom burst into laughter.
"You?" a fat boy in the front row cried. "Don't be ridiculous stutterer! You don't have the balls to do something like this."
Tony was the only one who didn't laugh. He too, had thought Nixon to be a timid and shy kid. Not someone he would think capable of a prank like this. But since Tony knew that he hadn't done it, he knew that James either really had done it, or that he was, for whatsoever reason, ready to shoulder the blame in Tony's stead. Neither option made much sense for Tony.
Mr. Candon sighed and finally turned towards Nixon. "Really James, I don't know why you are doing this, but..." he broke off when James put his hand into his pocket, produced a key and wordlessly placed it on his desk. Candon was silent for a long time and Tony realized that he must have recognized the key as the one that had been stolen. "Very well Mr. Nixon. Be so kind as to accompany me to the Headmaster, would you?"
The whole class gaped at James Nixon as the boy made his way out of the classroom with his head hanging low and his hair hiding his face. As soon as teacher and student were gone, the whole class erupted into babbling. Nobody had thought that shy, little Nixon had it in him. The two boys that had been Tony's friends tried to talk to him but he brushed them off without a glance. He was still staring at the door in utter confusion.
He didn't understand what had just happened.
Tony lingered after school in the hallways, well aware that it would get him into trouble with his father, but not caring. He was still utterly confused. He needed to understand and there was only one person who could answer his questions.
When James Nixon left the Headmaster's office the school was mostly empty. Tony noted with a rather detached expression that Nixon's eyes were red and puffy as if he had been crying and he was carrying a letter which was no doubt addressed to his parents.
Tony debated not asking him after all, but he needed to know. He knew himself and he knew that he wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't get an answer today, so he stepped in front of the unsuspecting boy and hissed a low "Why?"
James recoiled and clutched the letter to his chest. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "Wh-What?"
"Why did you do this?"
A blush crept over James' face and he averted his eyes. "W-Why did I set the frogs f-free?"
Tony wanted to shake his head since that wasn't what he wanted to know at all before he stopped himself. If he was honest with himself, it actually did interest him a little bit why such a little do-gooder like Nixon had set the frogs free.
So Tony nodded and Nixon seemed to search for the right words.
"I ju-just couldn't let them do this." he finally burst out, loud enough to cause Tony to take a step back. "It is wrong to kill defenseless animals, to keep them a-alive long enough and then just kill them so a bu-bunch of ki-kids can slice them open. Every frog is the same. There's n-no need to do it again and a-again." James was breathing heavily when he concluded. "I had to help them."
Tony was left speechless. He had never heard the Nixon kid talk so much at once and with so much passion at that. It was like he was talking to a stranger. "Wait, so you tell me that you set them free in the school to spare them a grisly death?"
Nixon flushed even more and fidgeted from foot to foot. "T-That was an accident. I-I actually wanted to get them to a park or something bu-but the bo-boxes where so heavy and I dropped one and then the others sort of toppled o-over and sud-suddenly they were all out and-" he shrugged and a self-conscious smile pulled his lips up. "It was all pretty fast."
Tony felt himself laughing a bit, imagining James Nixon trying to save the frogs and only making it worse. He noticed the pinched expression on the other boy's face and tried to cheer him up. "I'm sure most of them found their way out. And the others are probably still here. Just a few minutes ago I saw one or two in the boy's room." James smiled and Tony pointed to the letter in his hand. "Did the Headmaster expel you?"
James' smile grew wider and he actually chuckled a bit. "No, he reamed me out but when I told him my reasoning he sent the other teachers out and actually told me that he admires the way I was ready to defend my beliefs but that he had to punish me at least a little bit or Mr. Candon wouldn't let him hear the end of it."
Tony nodded. The Headmaster was a real nice fellow, always willing to listen to the students that are sent to him before making a judgment. Anyone else would have probably expelled the boy without another thought, not caring for his reasons and beliefs.
Nixon looked ready to say goodbye but Tony stopped him with a hand on his arm. James looked at the hand and swallowed nervously. "Yeah?"
"That's actually not what I wanted to talk to you about." Tony confessed.
Nixon suddenly looked a bit uncomfortable and his voice came out in a rushed whisper. "Listen, I'm sorry that I didn't speak up s-sooner. I wa-was pretty scared."
Tony was once again left speechless by this boy. Who would have known that unassuming James Nixon would manage to surprise him so much.
"I actually wanted to ask you why you spoke up at all? The old geezer was convinced that it had been me and if you hadn't told the truth they never would have even suspected you. Why didn't you just let them punish me?"
That bothered Tony the most. Why would someone willingly admit to something when there was a perfect scapegoat available? Especially considering that he and James Nixon hadn't exchanged three words before today. What did the boy hope to gain from this?
James looked at him like he hadn't heard a more stupid question in all his life and he answered it in a manner in which others might explain to a little kid that water was wet and fire burnt you. "Because it wouldn't have been right."
Tony blinked. He couldn't believe that it was this easy, but the earnest expression on James' face told him that the boy was telling the truth. He had gotten himself in trouble and spared Tony a punishment because doing anything else simply wouldn't have been right. It really was that easy.
Tony felt a grin pull at his lips and the rigid hold he'd had on James arm turned into a friendly pat. "Hey Jimmy, let's be friends."
James, or rather, Jimmy looked shocked, probably hearing those words for the first time in his life, but then he smiled as well, a shy but pleased smile. "O-Okay, Anthony."
"Call me Tony."
Tony went home that day with a skip in his step. Maybe, with the right kind of friends, he would be able to figure this friendship thing out after all.
Tony was pulled from his memories by the arrival of Palmer, Ducky's current assistant. Tony didn't quite know how to feel about him. He seemed like a nice kind of guy and Tony liked him well enough but his shy and skittish manner and most of all, the name reminded him too much of his first best friend. Tony simply couldn't bring himself to call the man by his given name so he had made up all kinds of ridiculous nicknames for him, his favorite being Autopsy Gremlin. He didn't need Ducky's reproaching looks or Palmer's little winces every time the name passed his lips to know that he should stop, but distancing himself as much as he could from the younger man just seemed like the safer bet.
And it wasn't like, apart from the shyness and occasional stutter, the two Jimmy's were all that similar. They looked nothing alike and Nixon never would have worked in Autopsy. The man could barely stand the sight of blood.
There was no reason why Palmer should remind him of Jimmy so much. No reason to give this more thought than it deserved. Tony was even rather annoyed that a simple name shared between two people would affect him so much. His Jimmy had been dead for several years, he should be over it by now. He would start calling Palmer by his given name, no big deal.
"What is it Palmer?"
Just not yet.
Jimmy Palmer fingered the reports in his hand and placed them on Gibbs' desk. "Dr. Mallard asked me to bring these up." He gave a little awkward wave and went back to the elevator when Ziva's voice stopped them.
"What about you Jimmy? Did you also have to dissect frogs in your school?" Ziva always tried to include the young man in their conversations. Tony had noticed rather early that she gave the man more attention than anyone else outside their team. He didn't quite understand it, but maybe it was just a Ziva thing.
Jimmy looked puzzled before he grinned crookedly. "I actually failed that class. Had to take summer classes to make up for it."
McGee looked shocked. "You failed biology?"
Jimmy nodded and scratched his cheek, something he only did when he was embarrassed about something. "It was either that or being expelled and since I didn't fancy going to the other school ten miles away..."
"Why would you have been expelled Mr. Autopsy Gremlin?" Tony asked with a condescending air, not acknowledging the lump in his throat.
"We-Well I kinda stole the frogs that we were supposed to dissect. I managed to bring them to a pond and set them free, but a teacher caught me in the act."
Tony stared at his tabletop, missing Ziva's delighted smile. "So you also think that it is a cruel custom?"
Jimmy shrugged, a faint blush on his cheeks. "I just couldn't do it."
McGee looked as if he didn't know if he should laugh or call Ducky. "But you cut open dead people every day. Why should a frog bother you?"
"The people that come to Dr. Mallard are already dead. Nothing much I can do about it. But the frogs back then were still alive, I would hear them every time I walked by the biology lab where they were stored." A fierce expression stole over Palmer's face which reminded Tony of another boy, years ago. "Just the thought about those poor things, awaiting their unnecessary death in that dark room made me sick. No living being deserves that." He sighed and ended his tirade with words that shot right through Tony's heart. "I just had to help them."
Tony sat frozen, looking at Palmer as if he had never seen him before and for a second he saw another Jimmy in his mind's eye, begging him to search for the remaining escaped frogs, so they could catch them and bring them to the pond behind his house. He remembered how he and his best friend had crawled under tables, sneaked into the girl's room and generally did everything they could to find and rescue a few frogs, animals he hadn't even liked very much.
But most of all he remembered how much fun the two of them had had.
Palmer fidgeted when the agents remained silent, growing more and more uncomfortable under their stares. Maybe he shouldn't have told them that. They probably considered him more of a geek than before now.
"Well. I admit, it is k-kind of stupid."
To his utter surprise it was Tony who disagreed with him, his voice soft and a small smile on his lips. "No Jimmy." he murmured. "I don't think that's stupid at all."
Yay, I love writing little Tony!
Okay, first of all, my beta and me don't know if it is actually possible that some schools actually keep the frogs alive. Probably not, although I think I saw something like that somewhere once. Admittedly on TV but that's what spurred this idea. If this kind of scenario as it was portrayed in my little story is completely impossible, then I ask you to overlook it for the sake of simply enjoying my piece of writing. This is fanfiction and a humorous one on top of that: Please don't take it too seriously and attack me with reviews or PM's that contain nothing but "That isn't even possible."
And Ziva mentioning that she doesn't like biology teachers doesn't mean that she had to dissect frogs as well in Israel, but simply that she distrusts adults that guide children how to cut open little animals. I don't think kids in Israel have to dissect frogs (if they have to dissect animals at all).
I, for one, had to dissect a fish here in Germany. Wasn't pretty. Tell me your experiences or just tell me how you liked the story. Either way, the review button is right where it has always been. :)