The lost son


Rose de Sharon

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to the owners of the NCIS TV show.

Author's notes:

- English is not my native language and I don't have a beta-reader so all mistakes are mine.

- This is my first attempt at an NCIS story. Please be nice!

- "The Watcher" is a character from Marvel comics.

Chapter 1: A decision

Special Agent Tim McGee was seated at his desk at the deserted NCIS' bullpen, which wasn't a surprising sight in itself: the young man often did overtime work, not because he was a procrastinator; quite the contrary, he was highly conscientious and, on top of working on current affairs, he loved to search through cold cases in the hopes his computer skills would allow him to find the missing clue that would unmask the perpetrators who had thought for too long that they had gotten away with it. And doing this kind of research was easier when the phones were quiet and everyone had gone home, including his boss and his teammates.

Tonight, however, McGee wasn't working cold cases but on a special project and he was getting close to finish it. Unknowingly to Leroy Jethro Gibbs, his boss, McGee had been contacted several weeks ago by General Stephenson, Head of Operations of the US Army Forces stationed in Afghanistan; the General had asked for his help in the elaboration of a computer program to increase the safety of American soldiers stationed patrolling in remote provinces. The main idea was to create a device that would detect landmines buried on dirt road to protect Hummers and thus foil the enemy's ambush plans.

McGee had been a bit surprised by General Stephenson making a personal call at his house, late in the evening; he was, first and foremost, an NCIS agent: why would he be asked to design a detection device? But General Stephenson – a tall, grave-looking man with a world-weary gaze – had talked about their own engineers hitting a dead end and "a pair of fresh, young eyes" could succeed where others have failed. The General had also explained him meeting Admiral McGee, Tim's father, at a meeting held at the Department of the Navy.

This piece of information had made the young man feel very uneasy; Tim wasn't exactly on speaking terms with the Admiral, who never missed an occasion to complain publicly about "his disappointment of a son" working at NCIS instead of joining the Navy like six generations of McGee have done in the past. But General Stephenson had smiled before saying that, in the downpour of Admiral McGee's ravings, he had let out about Tim earning a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Science degree in computer forensics from MIT, all this before reaching his twenty-fourth birthday.

"And I don't think this kind of degrees are delivered to dunces, Agent McGee," had said Stephenson, "especially not so young. Your father may be oblivious to your intelligence, but rest assured a lot of us bigwigs are not. NCIS isn't a closed world, Directors talk among each other, echoes of conversation can be heard as high as the Department of Defense or the White House."

Stephenson had let Tim some time to think about his proposal; right after the General had left his house, McGee had called Leon Vance, Director of NCIS, to ask for his advice. The young man had been a bit self-conscious about calling so late but Vance had accepted his apologies straightaway – unlike Gibbs, he wasn't insensible to politeness – and had asked what the matter was. After Tim had explained the whole story, Vance had made discreet inquiries and, the next day, he had called McGee back to give him his authorization. Of course, since Stephenson's request concerned the security of troops deployed overseas, McGee wasn't allowed to talk about it to his co-workers and his boss.

"Not that it would have done any good," thought the young man somberly. "Talking about the project would have earned me Tony's mockeries, Ziva's embarrassment and Abby would have bombarded me with questions, regardless of me being sworn to silence. And Gibbs would have hit the roof, yelling at me for working for someone else than him and how it would slow down the resolution of cases."

Tim McGee had always felt the odd man out of the team, in spite of having worked at NCIS for almost seven years. He had proved his worth in innumerable situations, both out in the field and by his computing skills, obtaining classified information that proved to be of invaluable help in the solving of cases – including cracking in ultra-protected sites. Never late for work, always delivering his reports on time, constantly providing help and support, loyal to a fault, McGee could exemplify the model NCIS agent (according to Director Vance). But, no matter how hard he tried, the young man didn't seem to earn the same amount of respect from his boss, Team Leader Gibbs, and his co-workers. In spite of having greatly matured over the years he felt constantly overlooked, a consequence of his lack of military or police training.

McGee sighed and shook his head; who was he kidding, of course he was overlooked! Senior Agent Tony DiNozzo had been a cop in Baltimore; Agent Ziva David, born and raised in Israel, had been a Mossad officer; two highly trained persons, able to face any kind of situation and to use physical force whenever it was required. McGee had followed a thorough physical and firing training at NCIS and yet, he couldn't pretend reaching his teammates' skills level and Tony never missed an occasion to rub his face in the dirt about it. As for Forensics expert Abby Sciuto, she was Gibbs' favorite and woe to the one who would forget it! Tim had loved Abby but her whimsical nature had ended their relationship, leaving behind a heartbroken young man. Abby, however, would too often use Tim's feelings to obtain whatever she wanted, uncaring if her shenanigans would put her former lover in trouble with Gibbs.

That last part was the most painful for McGee; he admired Gibbs a lot and would have given the Earth to obtain his respect, but this wish seemed to be doomed for the very beginning. Gibbs loathed computers, didn't understand a thing about technology and simply couldn't comprehend Tim's technical prowess in the numeric world. For Gibbs, computers were enigmas and their handlers – including McGee – mere tools at his belt to help him solve cases. Tim would have accepted his fifth wheel status within the team if, at least, Gibbs and the others would have expressed concern whenever he had been hurt on the job. Unfortunately, it hadn't happened; no matter how many times Tim had been shot at, tazered, mauled by a dog, beaten up or preyed upon, his teammates had always reacted with sarcasms and Gibbs with indifference. The young man had been left alone to deal with his wounds, all this in the name of "beating the softness out of him" according to Tony. The Senior Agent apparently wasn't aware that nobody had died and named him Drill Sergeant.

Tim sighed again, and then he checked his computer screen: the program he had designed (nicknamed "The Watcher") for General Stephenson was indeed working perfectly but it needed a real application on Hummers. Tim had already built a casing for the Watcher to fix it on his Porsche's bumper, and then he had drove through town as a test, but there was a far cry between a sports car running on smooth tarmac and an army vehicle on a bumpy dirt road…

"Agent McGee?"

Tim's heart jumped in his throat as he saw Director Vance standing right in front of his desk. The young man had been so caught up in his thoughts he hadn't heard the man coming.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Director, I haven't realized you were still at here," said Tim, rising of his chair out of deference to his immediate superior.

"Paperwork never ends and isn't that a sad fact!" grumbled the dark-skinned man, his usual toothpick stuck in the corner of his mouth. "But your presence surprised me as well; I thought I was the only soul left in the office. Are you still working on Gibbs' cases?"

"Er… No, Sir; I was making the last checks on the computer program for General Stephenson."

"Ah, The Watcher!" said Vance with a half-smile. Trust this smart agent, video games aficionado and fiction writer to give the name of a comic book character to a program designed to protect soldiers. "So it is alive and working?"

"Yes, Sir, it's going smoothly but there are still the practical sides to be developed. I'd to run The Watcher in the same conditions it would do in Afghanistan in order to be sure it would work at its full potential."

"You need to test it on the field," stated Vance.

"That's right, Sir, but I can hardly think a place nearby D.C. would do the trick. Desert country would be good, like Arizona or Oklahoma, but it implies taking a leave of absence and I am not sure that… Agent Gibbs would allow it."

Tim hoped the man hadn't noted the hesitation in his voice. A quick roll of the tongue made Vance's toothpick change of side, and then the Agency Director casually sat on a corner of McGee's desk, much to the young man's astonishment: never had he seen Vance acting so casual!

"McGee, The Watcher is needed to protect our troops in Afghanistan. I don't have to remind you of last week's attack, where a Hummer had exploded after it had hit a land mine and the enemies gunning down the rare survivors. If your program can help moving vehicles in detecting mines, it will be a huge asset in the war. Soldiers' lives preserved, enemies detected before they would strike... Gosh, the possibilities are endless but we are running out of time; The Watcher must be tried in real overseas conditions."

Tim's green eyes widened slightly at those words. Surely, the Director didn't mean..?

"Yes, McGee, you have to go to Afghanistan and work on your program there. You'll also have to improve the casing with whatever materials can be found on the scene. I'm not going to lie to you, Agent McGee: this mission will be perilous and likely to last for a minimum of six months. Are you ready to go?"

Tim never hesitated: "Yes, Sir. I'll be happy if my knowledge and experience will be useful to our troops."

Vance had a sad smile. He knew the young agent was courageous and wouldn't cower in fear at the thought of being sent overseas, in one of the world's worst war zones. Of course, General Stephenson had assured of his entire cooperation and McGee would be in good hands. But he was also the most brilliant mind of NCIS and his computer expertise will be solely missed in solving cases.

And there was also the matter of Agent Gibbs...

"I appreciate you volunteering for this mission, McGee. All details have been arranged with General Stephenson; you will be leaving for Kabul at the end of the week; it will give you time to put your affairs in order."

"Thank you, Sir, but what about Gibbs? Surely he won't be happy with me leaving for six months..."

"You leave Gibbs to me. He will rant and rave as usual, but your orders have been approved by both the highest military authorities and General Stephenson. Gibbs will have nothing to say for that matter and I will make it clear he is not to give you a hard time. In spite of what he thinks, he doesn't own you – you are a Federal Agent, you obey to superior authorities and that's final! How about you, do you have any second thoughts about leaving your family and your team?"

Vance's obsidian-colored eyes met his agent's emeralds, but the young man never faltered.

"No, Sir. I'm not on speaking terms with my parents, since my father never approved of me joining NCIS. My sister Sarah just got her first teaching job and she is entirely focused on writing her first book. As for my team, I sincerely doubt they would miss me," said Tim with a hint of bitterness.

"That's surprising, considering you have worked with those persons for eight years!"

"Please Sir; I don't have to remind you I'm only the computer geek of Team Gibbs. Geeks are easily replaceable; any guy from Cyber Crimes can crack codes, find classified information or track vehicles via their GPS transponder."

"None of them are faster than you are, Agent McGee," pointed out the Director. "And your knowledge of the numeric world is unbeatable."

"Well, maybe, but the people of Cyber Crimes are very good at their jobs, Sir. I am sure you will find a valuable replacement among them."

"But will they be patient enough to endure Gibbs' less-than-amiable attitude, or DiNozzo's ridiculous jokes and jibes?"

McGee lowered his gaze to the floor; the answer to this question was "No". For all their professional qualities, Gibbs and DiNozzo were particularly difficult to deal with in normal life. Gibbs was an ex-Marine and he was also rude, impatient, authoritarian and inconsiderate. As for DiNozzo, his police training gave him – or so he thought – license to constantly ridicule people with academic background. McGee, with two degrees under his belt, had thus become DiNozzo's favorite target. Lots of people at NCIS had often asked over the years how the young agent had managed to endure his boss and colleague's attitude while the Cyber Crimes' members had protested to the previous Director, Jenny Sheppard, about the names of "geek", "weakling" or "coward" DiNozzo had loudly and abundantly called McGee all over the bullpen. For the Cyber Crimes gang, this attitude was a blatant discrimination towards intellectuals but Director Sheppard, an old flame of Gibbs, had paid no heed to these protests.

"I don't know, Sir," answered Tim frankly.

"Neither do I, but the Watcher takes absolutely top priority so your replacement will just have to take a leaf out of your patience's book. Go home, McGee, and start packing. Also, you'll have to get a complete medical check-up and get some shots. I will talk to Gibbs first thing in the morning; of course, he will yell his head off at the news but then again, maybe he'll appreciate you a lot better when you are back?" said Vance.

McGee couldn't share the Director's optimism; too many times Gibbs had unjustly punished him for Abby's antics; too many times Tim had been the butt of Tony's cruel jokes and put-downs; too many times he had found primordial clues for cases just to be relegated back to the shadows, his work being considered "insignificant" compared to Ziva's knife-throwing prowess, Tony's brashness and Abby's scientific knowledge. The truth was, he couldn't trust his teammates any longer. They functioned pretty well out on the field but apart from that, McGee had ceased to believe he would ever be considered as a friend and trustworthy partner. He had showed an impeccable facade for years, a mask of cordiality to hide the fact he had been suffering from their callousness.

Well, enough was enough. This mission in Afghanistan would be a welcome change and Tim McGee would help saving lives, a goal fitting his chivalrous nature. General Stephenson seemed to appreciate his work, Director Vance had approved the mission and McGee trusted his Director's judgment.

The low man of Team Gibbs' totem pole was walking away; no doubt the sculpted column would tumble and fall, but Tim had reached the point he didn't care about it any longer.