AN: This was originally intended as a short one off, a bit of bonding between Gibbs' terrible twins, but as I had another story in mind, it seemed as if it might make a good introduction. It's a bit shorter than I usually like a chapter to be, but at least I've made a start instead of just procrastinating.
Who's Oonagh? She'll be along in a while.
McGee wasn't going to complain about cold cases – not that there was anyone else there to complain to. He'd got up with the dawn, and come into work early, positively eager to bury himself in them. He was happy to be off rotation; to sit at his desk all day until he was forced to go home again, when he planned, like last night, to lie in a very hot bath for a very long time, trying to think about nothing.
He wondered about going down to the forensics lab; he knew that the moment he walked in there looking sore and puppy-like he'd receive a great shoulder massage, but the shoulders in question were so bruised and lacerated he couldn't let anyone near them, least of all the kindly, enthusiastic, always willing to help Abby. Maybe he should go and talk to her anyway... but no way was he going to tell he what he'd seen and thought yesterday, or how it wouldn't get out of his mind, and he wouldn't be able to fool her that he was there for small talk.
He feared there wasn't enough brain bleach in the whole USA to purge from his head the sight of those grey-encrusted hands, sticking out of the half-dried concrete in useless supplication. The victim had been alive when they'd thrown him in. He wished he couldn't still feel the sickening blow to the back of his skull that had rendered him unable to defend himself, but still aware that he was being endlessly, painfully dragged by his feet across sharp brick rubble, towards another footing trench – where he was clearly intended to end up like his informant, the owner of the hands.
His thick NCIS jacket had saved most of his back from abrasion, although as Ducky had remarked, every notch of his spine had its own bruise; at least, even in his semi-conscious state, after the first couple of whacks he'd managed to keep his head raised.
"That was fortunate, Timothy; if you had become unconscious from repeated blows to the back of your head, you could easily have inhaled the concrete; and even if we could have cleared your airways in time for you to breathe again, the lime is corrosive and the silica abrasive..."
"I don't think I want to know, Ducky..." (He didn't. He was trying not to imagine how the guy had died – but his excellent imagination was insistent on giving him every detail.)
"Of course not, dear boy, I'm so sorry – I'm just trying to reassure you that you did the right thing, even when not in control of yourself, or indeed your situation. Anthony said something similar... Dear me, you have quite a lump here, although the cut is fortunately not too big..."
If Tony had said something complimentary about him, he supposed he ought to be interested in what, but he'd tuned the good old man out, not exactly deliberately; corroded or not, abraded or not, it wouldn't have mattered. If DiNozzo hadn't foreseen trouble and arrived in time, dead would still have been dead.
He rolled his shoulders slowly and carefully. He wondered if he wouldn't rather be painfully working a crime scene than taking the opportunity to rest physically. Sacrilege; he knew the Boss had fixed it so he could rest. (How pleased he'd be to find him here before him was anybody's guess.) He and Tony had waited in the rain until assistance came in the shape of LEOs and the works foreman; when they'd got back from the building site, dirty and bedraggled, himself jittery and in pain, his partner dark and sardonic, having shot two men dead, Gibbs had gone straight to the Director...
"Marchetti's team's handling it. Get yourselves cleaned up and warm. See Ducky. Get some food. Make your reports – short – go home. We're off rotation."
He snapped out of his funk with an effort, and forced his attention back to the file in front of him, but focussing his eyes, let alone his mind, was an effort...
A hot sub landed miraculously on the desk in front of him. A hot sub... and... a Nutter Butter! He looked up in surprise, into quizzical green eyes.
"Tony! How did -"
"How did I know you were here? And needing McGeeding feeding? Well, I'd like to say it was because I'm brilliantly intuitive and perceptive... but the truth is, I saw your car was here, and when I went to the deli I asked Debs if you'd been in. She said not. And even if you ate at home, which I doubted, I figured you could manage a second breakfast."
"Well, yeah, I can... thanks Tony... er, I mean, no I didn't eat at home, so this is my first... I mean..." he frowned and rubbed his eyes. "How did you know I didn't eat at home?"
Tony unsubtly nudged the food closer to the younger agent's hand. "Had a feeling you'd still be too McRattled to think about it," he said, and waited with his head on one side. Both the stance and the slightly goading tone suggested that some sort of response might be a good idea, because Tony wasn't going to go away until he got one.
Lurking at the back of Tim's mind had been the ungracious little thought, that he didn't really want to think, that breakfast or not he didn't want Tony's, or anyone's company right now, (what the heck was he doing in so early anyway?) He just wanted to be left alone. Unreasonable, he admonished himself silently. If he'd wanted to be alone, what was he doing here?
"It was new, wasn't it," he said finally. "All the things we've faced – guns, knives, bombs, cars, viruses... terrorists and poisoned money – no problem. Yeah, I am rattled – by a trench-full of concrete."
Tony dumped his pack behind his desk, then sauntered back over in a deceptively casual way that didn't deceive his colleague at all, hitched himself up on the corner of Tim's desk and waited to see if he had anything to add. As his friend struggled, he nudged again, verbally this time. "Did Ducky give you anything? For the pain?"
Again, it worked. "I've taken it. I'm not proud... and I'm fine if I don't make any sudden moves. That's not it, I've had worse."
'Whoa,' Tony thought, 'that's my line,' but he didn't interrupt.
"It wasn't the feel of the stuff pulling at my legs... the suction... you know, the sound... well, it was a bit -" he shook himself. "The guy's hands... grey... covered in it... I was thinking that if he could lift his hands out of the stuff, why couldn't he lift his head? Then I thought of the weight of the stuff on his face, clogging up his nose and mouth, pushing him down... what a god-awful way to go. It got under my defences, you know? They threw him in alive... conscious... and the next thing I know is, they're going to do the same to me -"
"And they're both dead," Tony reminded him in a low, harsh voice.
"And I'm alive," Tim agreed just as quietly. "Tony -"
"If you're going to say thanks again, we've done all that. Next time I'm hanging over a stairwell -" he spread his hands and left the rest of it unsaid. After a short silence he added encouragingly, "Your sub's going cold."
"OK..." Tim obligingly took a bite, and there was a longer silence while he chewed, then he smiled. "This is good... thanks... where's yours?"
DiNozzo grinned. "Snarfed it on the walk back. Fought nobly not to eat yours as well."
"Ah." The younger agent stopped with the sub halfway to his mouth, and huffed a sigh. "Well, yeah, it was bad. I'll deal with it. We always do, don't we?" He sank his teeth into the bread.
Tony's expression was wry. "Yeah, we do. You will. We do seem to practise a lot. Just don't sit there all morning trying not to, OK?" McGee's nod was half-hearted, and the SFA frowned. He'd tried food, and reassurance, and getting him to open up... "Look," he said in the end, "You do know you did good, don't you?"
"How's that?" Tim asked indistinctly.
"How's that? Well... I saw Moreton whack you with the chunk of timber before I even stopped my car... I saw them drag you over to the trench, I knew you were still alive cuz you were holding your head up off the ground. I saw them pitch you in there, and I ran like hell. They had guns, and I was thinking a bit crazy... why didn't they just shoot you – not that I actually wanted them to, OK? – I thought they were sadistic bastards who'd rather kill you slowly, and up to then I'd not seen the other guy. The one already in there... They started to turn their guns on me and I fired first, and then – d'you know, I was scared to look in that trench... but there you were, flopping around like a concussed Captain Crusty, but you still had the sense to keep your arms spread. D'you know how deep the concrete was?"
Tim looked green. "I don't know if I want to know... but I guess I need to... go on, tell me."
His friend made it flat and factual; he drew the line at trying to come over as a hero when McGee was trying to deal, but hey, best deal with it all at once.
"I talked to the foreman later on," he said calmly. "They'd poured four feet, and if you'd gone in on your back, or head first... hell, I didn't know you could have stood up in it – if you'd already gone under I wouldn't have known whether jumping in after you would just have made things worse. But there you were, McThiswayup – I nearly wet myself with relief, when all I had to do was grab your arms and start pulling. Like I said, you did good."
Tim frowned. "Looks like I'm not the only one who's rattled."
"You overuse that word."
Tony shrugged. "I'd hate for it to die out. You know you meet people sometimes who can't wait for you to finish your sentence and shut up so they can cap your story? I'm actually not trying to shove my viewpoint in your face right now."
"'Just don't sit there all morning trying not to,'" Tim quoted. "I've told you mine... " He tried a nudge of his own. "Ziva was peeved at Vance... when I came back from seeing Ducky, she told me he'd asked you if you had to kill them both."
Tony laughed – his tone was the same sardonic one he'd used last night on the rare occasions he'd spoken.
"I didn't particularly set out to kill them – although after I saw your poor damn' informant – well, his hands anyway – I can't say I was sorry. I just wanted to make sure I didn't have to deal with them while I was pulling you out, and there wasn't time for finesse. Near as I can tell, the Director accepted that."
Tim just looked at him; he had no idea that his head was on one side and his expression exactly the same as Tony's had been a few minutes previously. The SFA recognised it, however, and relented.
"Stating the obvious – none of us like killing... But getting you out was the priority, and Vance didn't disagree. You said the feel of the stuff round your legs wasn't the worst thing... but you were the McRope in a tug-of-war between me and the grey stuff... There you were, glassy-eyed, blood in your hair," he peered round Tim's head to look at the damage; "still heroically doing the right thing. I told myself I was going to get you out of there if it dislocated all our shoulders... but the goop was hanging on to you, and no-one was there to help... Very Special Agent DiNozzo was thinking 'what if I can't?'..."
He paused reflectively, and then grinned as if a switch had been flicked. "The noise as that concrete finally let go was like an elephant's fart."
"You've heard one?"
"No, but I've got a good imagination... eat your breakfast, McShrink."
He headed back to his own desk, intending to power up his computer, then groaned.
"Well, my powers of deduction tell me that since Gibbs isn't here yet, he left this little lot for us before he went home last night. I was going to offer to take some of your files... a one off, for this campaign only deal, until I saw these." The stack on his desk, and on Ziva's, were just as tall as the one on Tim's. The Boss had a pile of his own too. "Bless him."
"I'm not complaining," Tim said ruefully, as he gingerly rolled his shoulders again, and bit on the last of his sub. "Maybe there'll be something interesting... let's see what your CORD can come up with."
Tony returned the rueful smile, and picked up the top file; for a while the only breaks in the silence were when Ziva and Gibbs arrived, within minutes of each other. Ziva looked at the top folder in her stack, and wondered if anybody really had a name like Elgin Hackenfaffer the Third; the Boss looked over his terrible twins, but made no comment on the hour. He simply disappeared, and came back ten minutes later with a tray of hot drinks.
Occasionally Tony would sneak a checking-up sort of glance at Tim; occasionally Tim would sneak a checking-up sort of glance at Tony. And occasionally they'd both do it at the same time, and laugh. After a while, however, Tony became aware that he was now the only one doing the checking, as the younger agent was becoming more and more engrossed in the file in front of him. He'd made space and spread out the contents of the folder on his desk, and gave the impression of trying to read all ten or so pages at once.
After he'd picked up one photograph after another and frowned over them, the SFA was just getting to the stage where his curiosity was going to get him a sharp word from Gibbs for not concentrating on his own cases, when Tim swivelled his chair round, and asked him,
"D'you know anything about aircraft crash investigation, Tony?"
"No," the SFA said dubiously, and then he smiled broadly. "But I know a man who does!"
AN: I've started... so I'll have to finish, won't I?