[coughs] Uh, so. Yes. Been a while... I could insert a long string of excuses, starting with finishing my degree and ending with finishing a draft of a novel, but it all boils down to one thing: Real Life has been kicking my ass. However, things seems to be settling down now, so I'm going to attempt to get the rest of my writing back on track. I'm not going to run through all of my WIPs (this a/n will end up being longer than the posting!), but suffice to say you're going to see a bit of a feast of posting after quite a famine - and for more details, you should check out my profile.

Disclaimer: Out of this story, all I own is the plot. The rest is borrowed from Bellisario et al with no offence intended and no (well, very little!) harm done.

This story takes place in the Coming Back To Life universe, but is set back in season 6, shortly before Bounce. You can safely assume spoilers for all seasons and some vague references to my story Coming Back To Life. Two shot - the second part will be up tomorrow.

No beta readers were harmed in the production of this story

In Vino Veritas

One

Knowing when you were needed was a skill that Jimmy Palmer had worked extremely hard on perfecting and, as he entered the bar, he judged that his arrival was not a moment too soon.

His quarry was not yet drunk, but, to judge by the fact that he was drinking tequila rather than beer, drunk was what his quarry was aiming for. Jimmy sighed. What had set him off now?

He slid into the seat next to his quarry and signalled the bartender for a beer. "Hey."

"Hey."

The bartender dropped the beer off, giving Jimmy the excuse to pause before beginning, "So...?"

"Vance offered me a promotion."

For most people, that was cause for celebration. Jimmy sipped his beer. "You don't want it."

"That's the problem. I do want it."

Jimmy winced. "Ah."

"I shouldn't want it. It means moving to LA. It means leaving about the only stable place I've had since college. It means more paperwork than any sane person wants to handle. It means even longer hours. It means Vance is setting me up for a fail so big I don't have the words for it."

"But?"

A shot of tequila was sunk. "But it comes back to one thing: I don't think there's anything left for me here. Present company excepted, of course."

"What makes you think that?" Jimmy asked, although he was pretty certain he already knew the answer.

"Where do I start?" Another shot of tequila was sunk. "I could start with the team leader who doesn't trust me. Or how 'bout the ME who thinks I'm a narcissist and that the only difference between me and a serial killer is that I have compassion. Or the partner who thinks that I'm too dumb to live. Or then there's the other partner who just simply hates my guts. I think it's only you and Abby who're prepared to give me the time of day - and some days, I'm not sure about Abby."

Jimmy winced. He'd known things had been tense but he hadn't realised just how bad things had actually become.

"Thanks for confirming none of that's in my head, Palmer."

Jimmy sighed. "Tony, I'm not going to pretend that things don't suck right now. But- Are you sure about all that?"

That got a shrug. "Gibbs would rather work with Mike Franks than deal with me. He's made that pretty damn clear. Ziva's been making her feelings clear, too. As for McGee, he's always looked at me like I'm a chump who somehow lucked my way into NCIS - the difference now is that he actually comes right out and says it."

Jimmy winced again. "Okay, so tell me about this promotion."

Another shot of tequila was sunk. Then: "Vance is reorganising OSP. It was his baby down in San Diego and he wants to put more into it, now he's the lord of all he surveys. So he's shifting assets around. Strengthening the team. Looking for agents with undercover skills. Lucky me. My name pops right to the top of his list. But he doesn't want me to go to LA as an agent. He wants me down there to frickin' lead the team. Like I'm even halfway qualified to do that."

Privately, Jimmy suspected that his friend was more than qualified to do precisely that, but he doubted his friend would ever recognise his own skills - and he certainly was in no frame of mind to take it on now. "It sounds like a good job," he offered cautiously.

"It's just another Vance headfuck," came the retort. "He wants me out of NCIS and since I'm too dumb to quit and there's nothing in my jacket he can fire me over, the next best thing is to promote me way over my head and let me screw up. And the worst part is, I know all that and I'm still thinking of taking the job."

Jimmy drained the last of his beer and signaled the bartender for another. "You ready to hear what I think?"

"Sure."

"I think you're wrong about Vance-"

"He hates me."

Jimmy grimaced. "I can see how you would think that, but I really don't think he does, Tony. You said it yourself: OSP is his baby. He's not going to trust that to someone just to watch them screw it up. If he's offered you team lead, he's done it because he thinks you can do it."

"So you don't think he's screwing with me."

"Really don't."

"Then it's settled. Monday morning, I'll go in, accept this promotion and be outta everyone's hair by lunch."

"I didn't say I think you should take the job," said Jimmy hastily.

That earned him a slightly bleary version of his friend's normal force ten glare. "Palmer, so not in the mood for riddles. You just said-"

"I just said I think the offer's a genuine one and if this had come up, say, three or four months ago, you'd have been crazy not to accept. Right now, though, I think you'd be accepting it for all the wrong reasons. I think that taking this job would be just like you joining NCIS in the first place. Just like leaving Peoria. You'd be running."

That earned a long moment of silence. Then a very soft, "Maybe I want to run."

"I think you'd regret it. Give it a month or even a couple of months, and you'd regret that you left DC with everything on such bad terms."

"You're probably right. Doesn't stop me from wanting out, though."

"No," said Jimmy studying his friend for a moment. "No, I can get that." He wondered vaguely what the rest of Team Gibbs would make of this particular sight and suspected that they'd all be some form of shocked.

In the next moment, an idea blossomed in the back of his mind that was simplicity itself and yet terrifying in so many ways, not the least of which were he'd be betraying a confidence - albeit one that was unlikely to be remembered come the next morning.

"If I stay... What then?"

Jimmy brought his wayward thoughts back to the conversation at hand. "Then you have a chance to fix things."

"And if they can't be fixed?"

"At least you'll have tried and you'll know that leaving won't be running."


It was late by the time Jimmy managed to haul his friend home and see him into bed. He was, Jimmy knew, going to wake up with a stinking hangover, but just as long as there were no emergencies over the weekend, no one else would be any the wiser come Monday morning. The DiNozzo that everyone saw would look just the same as he had done every day since his return from the USS Seahawk, but Jimmy knew the difference. And it nagged at him over the weekend.

There had to be something he could do to make this situation better.

He was well aware that there was at least a portion of the general displeasure Tony was feeling that was probably deserved. Jimmy knew that a personality like Tony's would grate over an extended period of time and he knew better than anyone that there were times when Tony could - and would - extend a joke beyond the point of humour. He could be crass and insensitive, too. The flip side of all that, however, was a man who was loyal to a fault. A man who would always stand by a friend in trouble. A man who would defend those friends to his last breath - something that every member of Gibbs' team ought to know, having felt the benefit of that both individually and collectively over the years they'd worked together. And all that was before you reached the parts that were relevant to the day-to-day business of being an investigator.

There was no question in Jimmy's mind that Tony was damn good at his job or that he'd earned the several promotional offers that had come his way - not the least of which was the one that had brought about this present tailspin.

For one wild moment, the idea of informing McGee and Ziva, in detail, just what Tony had turned down to stay with the team crossed his mind. Jimmy dismissed the idea as quickly as it had formed. While it would be satisfying to show both of them how far wrong they were, that really wasn't his place. A much better approach would be talking to the one man who could really make a difference.

Except for the part where it would probably lead to an untimely and unquestionably painful death.

Balanced against that was the knowledge that, roles reversed, he knew for damn sure that not only would Tony be willing to risk the verbal evisceration; he would probably have already done it. Hell, had already done it, when Jimmy considered the rather impressive dressing down the senior field agent had administered to a couple of other agents who had been inclined to generally mistreat Jimmy. Or the equally impressive method Tony had used to put a stop to all the gossip relating to Jimmy's relationship to Michelle. On the basis of both of those examples, Jimmy felt that perhaps he actually owed it to Tony to step in now.

Except he was fairly sure that Tony wouldn't consider the two situations even remotely equivalent and presumably wanted to deal with his own situation himself.

The problem with that, Jimmy recognised, was that Tony's method of 'dealing' involved a lot of avoidance and probably more of the behaviour that irritated those around him. So, really, perhaps Jimmy had to step in because if he didn't, Tony's own self-destructive behaviour would take care of everything.

It was a huge mess, and one that Jimmy was still wrestling with come Monday lunchtime when he found himself making his way up to the bullpen to deliver some paperwork to the team.

To his general surprise, however, as he rounded the corner from the elevator to the MCRT's section of the bullpen, he realised that the only person present was Gibbs. That piece of pure happenstance cut through his indecision - fate was handing him the perfect opportunity to say what needed to be said. Of course, that meant the terrifying prospect of speaking to Gibbs about something other than a dead body - and he usually did so well with that in the normal course of things, didn't he? - but he had to try.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Jimmy strode into the desk pod as though he belonged there and came to a halt in front of Gibbs' desk. Of course, the first thing he was greeted by was one of Gibbs' finest glares, but Jimmy reminded himself that he hadn't done anything wrong - yet - and instead set the file of paperwork down on Gibbs' desk.

"That's the paperwork from the Jennings case," he said.

Gibbs said nothing, but his expression clearly implied it was time for Jimmy to leave.

Jimmy stood his ground. "Agent Gibbs, there's something I think you should know."

A slowly raising eyebrow was the only response.

Gamely, Jimmy plowed on: "If you continue the way you're going, you're going to lose Tony. And I don't think that's what you want."

The eyebrow twitched.

"Director Vance has offered Tony a huge promotion."

That got a proper reaction out of Gibbs. A look of shock briefly crossed his face, followed by one of annoyance. The annoyance took up more permanent residence. "He's done what?"

"Offered Tony a huge promotion. One where his skills would actually be appreciated," Jimmy replied. He left the words 'unlike here' unsaid, but from the barely perceptible wince, Gibbs caught them all the same. "I don't think Tony's going to take this one - not that I'd blame him if he did - but the next one will be a different story. And there will be a next one. Tony is a highly capable field agent and investigator with skills that are not being used or appreciated."

"I know that."

"Do you?" Now that Jimmy had got into this, he found the words coming easily. "If that's so then why shut him out so completely? Why work with Mike Franks?"

"That's none of your business."

"Okay, then if you know and appreciate his skills why do you keep letting Agent McGee and Officer David undermine him? Why did you keep him in the dark over-" Jimmy swallowed. "-over Agent Lee?"

"I brought him back," said Gibbs as if that was answer enough.

"And you've ignored him since. Makes me wonder why you bothered to make the effort."

That goaded Gibbs into an attack of his own: "Did he put you up to this?"

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "If you really think that then perhaps you don't know Tony even a little. Tony would never ask someone to step in on his behalf. He just quietly packs his bags and leaves. It's what happened in Peoria and it's probably what would have happened in Baltimore if you hadn't come along when you did."

"Then why are you?"

"Because, frankly, Tony deserves better than this and you know it."

The ding of the elevator arriving broke the spell and reminded Jimmy that at any moment the rest of the team - including Tony - could return from lunch. He realised, though, that he had managed to say just about everything he'd had in mind to say, so rather than say anything else - and risk turning back into the Autopsy Gremlin with a permanent case of foot-in-mouth syndrome - he turned on his heel and smartly marched away before Gibbs found a comeback.

It was only once he was safely into the elevator and on his way back down to autopsy that the magnitude of what he'd done hit him. He had told off Special Agent Gibbs and actually survived the experience. Jimmy marvelled at that for a moment, then sobered. Would it do any good? He could only cross his fingers and hope so.


To Be Concluded...