Striking the Camel's Back
For Siberian as part of NFA's 2012 White Elephant Fanfiction Exchange
Disclaimer: Nothing recognised as NCIS belongs to me; I've just borrowed the characters for a good cause.
Warnings: References to alcoholism
Summary: It starts with an offer. But like all offers, he really should have read the fine print.
A/N This is set #28 and I've gone with prompt one: Another agency is trying to recruit someone from the team; by any means necessary.
"Um, Agent Kort, this is Special Agent McGee. Timothy McGee."
"Yes, Agent McGee?"
"Uh, yeah." Pause. "Look, that job you offered … is it …"
"Thought you'd never ask."
It starts with an offer.
But like all offers, he really should have read the fine print.
"You know, Probalicious," Tony remarks one day.
Tim looks up from his computer. "You haven't called me that in years, Tony."
Tony ignores him. "We really should get you a Probette," he muses, kicking back in his desk chair.
Ziva snorts. "Tony, why can't you accept the fact not all men want to get into the pants of women every other day."
Tim rolls his eyes and goes back to his computer.
Just another day at NCIS.
I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
"Gear up. Dead Marine in the National Park," Gibbs announces as he strolls into the bullpen.
Tony smirks as he picks up his backpack. "Don't forget the calamine lotion, McPoisonIvy. They're breeding 'em nasty this year."
"Thanks for the warning, Tony," Tim says curtly and brushes past Tony before the other agent has a chance to respond.
Tony glances at Ziva. "What's up with McGrumpy all of a sudden?"
Ziva shrugs, but comments as she exits the bullpen, "Maybe if you did not torment him with those juvenile nicknames every second word then perhaps he might talk to you."
"It's how we express the love, Zee-vah," Tony retorts as he follows Ziva out of the bullpen. "Ziva?"
She steps into the elevator with Tim and Gibbs, and shrugs again.
The doors close, leaving Tony to catch the next ride down ... and ponder Ziva's words.
"Timothy McGee," Tim says sleepily as he answers his cell phone.
"Agent McGee," comes a voice that Tim thinks he can place and probably would if it weren't so early in the morning.
Tim rubs his eyes and glances at his bedside clock. 3:30 am. "Yes?"
He stifles a groan. What on Earth does the CIA, or whoever the hell Kort works for now, want at 3:30 in the morning, nope, 3:31 in the morning?
There's a chuckle on the other end of the connection. "Not pleased to hear from me, Agent McGee?"
"How did you get this number?" Tim asks as he sits up in bed.
"How do you think, McGee?" Kort shoots back, sounding amused.
"What do you want?" Tim sighs and he thinks he can hear Jethro wuffling outside his door.
"To offer you a job," Kort replies simply.
"What?" Tim doesn't think he heard that right.
"Exactly what I said," Kort replies and adds, "We have cookies."
"Go away," Tim mutters and hangs up, even though his mother taught him never to hang up on people. He flops back down onto his pillow and closes his eyes.
What a strange dream.
In his hotel room, Kort eyes the beeping phone critically. "Strike one, Agent McGee."
"Cause of death, Duck?" Tim hears Gibbs ask as the sun beats down on them. Forget the calamine lotion, what he needs is sunscreen.
"Blunt-force trauma to the head, Jethro," Ducky replies solemnly.
Palmer smiles inappropriately. "Kinda ironic, don'tcha think."
Ducky and Gibbs stare at him and he crumbles. "Well, you know," Palmer tries to dig himself out of yet another Palmer-shaped hole, "since his name is Alan Blunt and all …"
"Mister Palmer," Ducky berates and Palmer mutters a quiet apology.
"Hey. McGee." Tim looks up when he hears Gibbs calling his name. Tony and Ziva glance up too.
"You just gonna stand there or take some pictures?" Gibbs says, frowning.
"Right. Sorry, boss." And to illustrate his point, Tim raises his camera to his face and snaps a picture.
He misses the looks Tony and Ziva give each other.
I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.
Jethro's crying pitifully as Tim opens the door to his apartment.
Jenna, his dog walker, is crouched down next to him. She looks up as the door opens and chews her bottom lip. "I … I don't know what happened."
Tim drops his bag and falls to his knees next to his dog. He watches as Jethro takes a shuddering breath and pants heavily. He turns to Jenna.
"I … don't know what happened," she repeats worriedly. "He was fine this morning, I swear, but then I was walking past your apartment and heard …" She chews her bottom lip again. "I called your vet." She pauses. "He's on his way over. I … I don't have a car."
Tim ignores her and strokes Jethro's paw. Something's wrong, and not just with Jethro. He can feel it.
He really should have known better than to say no to the CIA.
"What the hell did you do to my dog?" Tim demands when Kort picks up the phone.
"Hello to you too, Agent McGee," Kort chuckles.
"What. Did. You. Do. To. My. Dog?" Tim repeats through clenched teeth.
"Consider it an incentive," Kort replies and this time he hangs up.
Tim angrily throws his cell across the room and it shatters, sliding down the wall in broken pieces.
"Yo, McGrumpyPants, would it kill you to smile a bit," Tony harasses as they conclude that it was the ex-girlfriend who blunt-forced traumatised Alan Blunt.
"Shut up, Tony," Tim snaps and checks his (new) cell phone. Three missed calls, all blocked numbers.
"And thus my point is proved," Tony announces grandly, sauntering up to Tim's desk. He frowns when Tim doesn't bite again. "What's on your mind, Tim?"
"None of your business," Tim mutters.
"No, Tony is right," Ziva adds, coming up beside Tony and giving him a sideways glance, "for once. Something is up, as they say."
"Nothing is up," Tim grumbles through gritted teeth, but Tony and Ziva aren't letting up so he sighs and explains, "Jethro's sick." He leaves out the part that says the CIA did it.
That shuts the other two up and he gets sympathetic looks rather than inquisitive stares.
"Oh, McGee," Ziva says, looking at him with sad eyes. "Is he okay?"
"Yeah," Tony echoes, abashed, "sorry, man, I didn't know."
Tim forces a fake smile. "He'll be fine." And doesn't add if the vet can figure out what the hell is wrong with him.
"Oh. Uh, good."
It's awkward between them, and it hasn't been like that in a long time.
"Timmy!" Abby bounces up to him and clutches his arm. "I heard Jethro was sick," she says breathlessly, mirroring Ziva's earlier look. "He'll be okay, right?"
"He's fine, Abby," Tim mutters and pushes Abby out of the way as he continues down the corridor.
Abby stares at him, gaping like a fish.
And if he thought it couldn't get any worse, Kort had one more card up his sleeve.
It's a set of photographs this time.
It's the straw that breaks the camel's back.
There's another dead body, this time in an old warehouse, and he hasn't heard from Kort since the photographs were deposited on his front door step. He's on edge and everyone knows it, but no one can bring it up because he'll just bite their head off.
"Everything okay, McGee?" Gibbs asks casually, after Tony and Ziva have left for the night.
Tim looks up. "Fine, boss," he says tiredly.
"You've been saying that quite a bit, lately," Gibbs observes neutrally.
"Because I am," Tim replies, defensive.
"McGee … Tim … You do know you can …" Gibbs starts, but Tim cuts him off.
"Like I said," he repeats with a false smile, "it's fine."
He's photographing the scene again and trying not to think about another set of photographs when all hell breaks loose.
What happens next is a blur, but ends with two injured agents and the blame squarely on Tim's shoulders.
That's the straw that breaks the camel's back.
"I can't believe you shot Tony, McGee!"
"What the hell were you thinking, Agent McGee?"
"What's gotten in to you lately, McGee?"
"Timothy? Are you okay?"
"I got shot because of him!"
"It was not all McGee's …"
I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
"Um, Agent Kort, this is Special Agent McGee. Timothy McGee."
"Yes, Agent McGee?"
"Uh, yeah." Pause. "Look, that job you offered … is it …"
"Thought you'd never ask."
It's not what he's expecting, though he's not really sure what he was expecting. Maybe glass and steel and smooth edges and class, like in the movies, but Tim's pretty sure he wasn't expecting a rundown old house.
Kort laughs. He has a permanent eye-patch over his missing eye and it makes Tim shiver. "Oh, don't look like that, Agent McGee. Looks can be deceiving, you know."
Tim says nothing as Kort keys in a number on the security pad, clicking open the wooden double doors.
"So," Kort says casually, using his back to push open the doors, "how's that dog of yours?"
"Fine," Tim mumbles and risks glancing at Kort's smug expression. Something stirs inside of him. "The vet finally figured out what was wrong, would you believe." There's bitterness in his words.
"Huh." Kort looks amused. "Funny that."
"Yeah," Tim echoes flatly.
"Never mind that," Kort changes the subject as he gestures grandly, "welcome to, well, us. We prefer not to use a moniker."
Tim's gut, not that he has much of one, is churning loudly. "You are the CIA, aren't you?" he asks suspiciously.
"Of course we are," Kort replies evenly.
They both know he's lying.
They're breaking down his door before he's even sitting behind his desk. His assistant does little to keep the four of them from tumbling into his office in a heap.
Gibbs is the first to speak. "What the hell, Leon?"
The others follow.
"Gone!? How can he be gone?" Eyes narrow. "Did you fire him?"
"Seriously, man, it wasn't his fault." An arm is held out. "It's just a flesh wound. Honestly, McGeek wouldn't be able to shoot himself out of a cardboard box."
"Surely it was a mistake, yes?" Dark eyes bore into him. "One that does not warrant firing."
Vance holds up a hand and shushes them with a glare. It's barely eight and he's already got a headache. Time to finish this.
"For the first and last time, I did not fire Agent McGee," Vance states calmly. "He chose to leave of his own accord."
There's a snort. "Yeah, right."
"Ms Sciuto, I did not fire Agent McGee."
"Then where is he?" she argues.
Vance sighs. He doesn't know. "I don't know."
Gibbs glares at him. "What do you mean, you don't know?"
"Exactly what it says on the tin, Agent Gibbs," Vance snaps. "I am not his keeper nor is he required to inform us of where he is going."
Gibbs glares at him one more time and storms out. The others linger for a moment, but turn on their heels and disappear. Vance sits down heavily and pinches the bridge of his nose.
Surely it's not too early for a drink?
Actually, that's an understatement.
He has a desk with a computer. And that's where the similarities end.
It's pretty quiet, most of the time. Each agent? operative? worker? works on their own, occasionally asking their neighbour for a piece of advice. It's a far cry from the team environment he's used to.
His, no, not his, team … Tim glances at the clock in the corner of his screen and wonders what they're doing. Maybe Tony's rattling off another movie reference while Ziva rolls her eyes and Gibbs glares. Abby's probably running something through Major Mass Spec and Ducky is no doubt elbow deep in dead body with Palmer.
And him? Well, he's tracking an IP address through China, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and back again. Great fun.
Tim looks up and sighs. He catches the eye of one of his co-workers … Rob, he thinks his name is. But Rob just smirks and turns back to his computer to do god knows what. He has no idea what anyone else does here, but he's pretty sure he's in a room with enough narcissistic and egotistical people, who are probably one step away from full on psychopaths, to keep the entire psychiatric profession afloat.
Was he surprised? Well, he'd been surprised that he wasn't surprised. Did that count? After all, as Kort mentioned on his first day, it takes a certain kind of person to do his (their) line of work.
He doesn't know what that means until he does.
Tony's the first.
"McGee! Open the door!" There's banging and Tony's voice carries across his apartment.
Tim ignores him and picks up his beer.
"Come on, McGee," Tony protests, still banging on the door, "you know I can pick this lock. Not as well as Ziva, but I can."
Tim doesn't respond and sips his beer.
"Dammit, Probie, open the door!" Tony shouts, and it's back to Probie. Again.
Tim doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he settles for yelling back, "Go away, Tony!"
"Nuh-uh, Tim," Tony responds angrily. "I'm not going anywhere until you open. this. door."
Tim frowns, but stumbles to his feet, leaving a half empty beer bottle on the table. He unlocks the door, but leaves the security chain on, and musters up his best Gibbs glare.
He repeats, "Go away, Tony."
Tony's frowning too, still dressed in his suit. "Let me in, McGee," he says, trying to sound patient.
"Fine," Tony huffs, "we'll do it here then." He pauses. "McGee, look, it wasn't your fault." Tony twists himself so that Tim can see his left arm waving about in the air. "See, all better. It takes more than a flesh wound to bring down a DiNozzo." He grins goofily, but Tim's not in the mood.
"So, you know," Tony rushes on, "nobody blames you. Not even Abby. So you come home. Now."
Tim snaps. "Oh, you think this is all about you, do you," he says angrily. "Well, newsflash, DiNozzo, not everything revolves around you. You really think that … that … a little flesh wound would be enough for me to quit the job that I love? Please. Get over yourself, Tony, and go away!"
He slams the door in Tony's face.
"McGee … Tim …" Tony starts, sounding upset, but then changes his mind and falls silent.
With tears prickling at the corner of his eyes, Tim listens to Tony's disappearing footsteps.
He hears it first on the news.
A housewife and mother of three killed in a raid apparently gone wrong. It's terrible and tragic and shouldn't have happened, but Kort's about to give him his new assignment after tracking that damn IP address around the world so he doesn't give it another thought.
"We believe the shooting took place in a house just south of Chicago where eye witnesses say …"
The hairs on the back of Tim's neck stand up. He'd tracked his IP address to a house south of Chicago. He whirls around and Kort's standing there, eye-patch and all.
"Unfortunate," Kort remarks, nodding towards the television, "but necessary."
"Necessary?" Tim stutters as the walls seem to collapse in on him. "H-how … how is that … that …"
Kort shrugs. "Potential bad guy."
"But she was a housewife!" Tim says in a strangled voice.
"Well, yes, so we discovered afterwards," Kort replies. "But we got what we were looking for."
"And what was that, exactly?" Tim asks, breathing heavily.
"Need to know," Kort answers curtly. "But good job."
"Good job? Good job?" Tim all but yells.
"It was," Kort replies. His remaining eye eyes Tim critically. "What you'll understand one day, McGee, is that there is no such thing as good and evil. There's just power. Even the best man will turn for the right kind. We stopped some of that power changing hands today."
"At what expense?" Tim whispers, thinking of three motherless children.
"Casualties are the one constant of war, McGee."
I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
Abby's at his door that night.
And this time, Tim doesn't even bother to open the door.
Abby cries, and shouts, and despairs, but Tim ignores her.
It's pretty easy when he's working his way through his second bottle.
He knows what Kort meant now.
Days blur into weeks.
He tracks IPs, hacks schoolgirl computers and creates software that brings down companies. The bodies pile up (and so do the bottles), the hours grow longer and soon he's not sure whether it's Monday or Tuesday or Sunday.
Tim even thinks Kort is starting to get a little worried, that his prized recruit is on the verge of losing it.
He's not wrong.
She doesn't even bother knocking and just lets herself in one day. Her eyes widen, but years of training means she keeps her mouth shut and her face passive. Tim looks up from his glass of wine.
"I should call the police," he says tiredly and doesn't even bother to really tell her off for breaking into his apartment.
Ziva shrugs as she surveys the room. "Where is Jethro?"
"With Jenna," Tim replies as he sips his wine and that's all he offers her.
"Right." Ziva screws up her nose distastefully. "McGee …" she starts, almost warily.
"Just don't, Ziva," Tim sighs. "Really, just don't."
"We are all worried, Tim," Ziva blurts out.
"Don't be," Tim snaps. "I'm fine. Besides, I'm not your problem anymore." He smirks bitterly.
"Who are you, McGee?" Ziva asks, looking directly at Tim as though she doesn't quite see him anymore.
"Good question," Tim mutters, turning away.
He picks up the wine bottle and stands. "I'm going to bed," he says curtly. "You can show yourself out." He stumbles into his bedroom.
And lies there, flat on his back, until he hears Ziva close the door behind her. Only then does he cry.
Gibbs is on his doorstep the next night. And Ducky after that. Then it's Tony again, tag teaming with Abby and Ziva. Even Palmer tries, babbling something about the wedding, which is (or maybe was, he's not quite sure anymore) this weekend.
He ignores them all, bottle in hand.
So they stop coming.
His doorstep remains silent and his neighbours breathe a sigh of relief when there's no more banging outside the reclusive Mr McGee's.
It's the silent door that finally kills the camel.
When the body of a little girl is added to the pile, he's done.
After three months, two weeks and five days: He. Is. Done.
So help me God.
"Gibbs, we have to do something," Abby pleads in his basement as she fiddles with a screwdriver.
"Abby is right, Gibbs," Ziva adds. "McGee … McGee is not … healthy."
Tony snorts. "Understatement, Zee-vah. Has anyone spoken to McGee lately?" Silence. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I'm pretty sure he's not all there anymore."
"Jethro?" Ducky turns to look at their boss.
Gibbs sips from his jar. "McGee is a big boy," he says evenly, "he can make his own choices."
"Even when they're the wrong ones?" Tony counters, eyes blazing. "Come on, Boss. Even you can see things are not right."
"And what do you expect me to do, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asks gruffly. "Slap some sense into him?"
"Yes!" Abby nods furiously.
"Don't you think I would have done that, Abs, if I'd thought it would have made an ounce of difference?" Gibbs replies.
"But we cannot let Timothy continue to – flounder – either, Jethro," Ducky notes sadly.
"I know that, Duck." Gibbs sighs and he sounds like he's aged ten years. They all do.
"Is this where you suggest an intervention?" a soft voice interrupts and five pairs of eyes zero in on Timothy McGee.
And when Tim says he's done, he means it.
It doesn't mean he's going quietly, either.
"McGee!" Abby throws her arms around him as he stands at the foot of the stairs.
"Hi, Abby," he replies quietly, but doesn't hug her back. He looks over her shoulder at the rest of the team and bites back the urge to run.
Tony steps forward and grins. "Welcome back, McGeek." He pauses. "At least I hope it's a welcome back, McGeek."
He brushes Abby off and steps forward, taking a deep breath. "I … I think I need your help," he says, and suddenly everything seems a little more right with the world.
"The first thing we need to do is keep McGee safe," Ziva decides once he's finally finished telling them his horrifying tale. "We do not know what Kort," she screws up her nose at his name, "will do once he finds out McGee has flipped out on him."
"Flipped on, Zee-vah. And it'll have to be a safe house," Tony responds immediately, "which means we'll have to let Director Vance know."
"He needs to know anyway, Tony," Ziva replies as she pulls out her cell phone. "Kort cannot continue to do this." She mutters something in Hebrew, a curse no doubt. "And I thought the Mossad was bad."
"Guys," Tim protests, "you don't have to do …"
"Yes, Tim, we do," Tony cuts in firmly. "Kort can't continue to get away with this. You said so yourself."
Abby wraps her arms around his waist and leans on his shoulder. "We have to keep you safe, Timmy," she murmurs, "now that we have you back." She looks worried. "You are coming back, right?" Her eyes dart over to Gibbs.
"We'll see, Abs," Gibbs replies, but they all know he'll fight for Tim's reinstatement.
They all will.
Surprisingly, Gibbs is the first to volunteer to keep an eye on him. Tim's determined to go back to his apartment and not hide out in a safe house, and besides, he's got Jethro to think about.
They pick up Jethro from Jenna and the German Shepard is overjoyed to see his master again. Even Jethro the agent cracks a small smile as Jethro the dog prances and struts all the way up to Tim's apartment.
But the smiles fade and turn to winces when Tim unlocks his door. He should've warned Gibbs that his apartment was in a bit of a state. Cleaning hadn't really been high on his priority list lately.
Tim blushes. "Oh, um, I'm really sorry, Boss," he stutters, sweeping up an armful of bottles and trying to unsuccessfully shove them into his small rubbish bin all at once.
Gibbs picks up an empty bottle and frowns. "Really, McGee," he says quietly. "I'd've thought you'd have more sense than this."
Tim blushes again and shrugs. "It's been a long three months," he replies, avoiding Gibbs' eyes.
"You should have come to us, Tim," Gibbs remarks.
"I know." Tim sighs and they both know Gibbs really means you should have come to me.
"You'll get help for this," Gibbs says.
"I don't need …" Tim starts to protest.
"You'll get help for this," Gibbs repeats and it is not a question.
"Yeah," Tim murmurs, "I guess I will." And then he has an overwhelming urge to make Gibbs understand.
"It wasn't just shooting Tony, you know," Tim blurts out suddenly.
Gibbs puts the bottle down and listens.
Tim wrings his hands nervously. "I-I mean … They, Kort, whoever, they poisoned Jethro. And I'm not being paranoid, Boss, coz the moment I accepted Kort's job he got better. And …" Tim shudders. "And he threatened Sarah, Boss. My sister …"
"That's enough to put Kort in jail, McGee," is what Gibbs finally says. "Blackmail. And it's certainly enough to get Congress to conduct a review of Kort's little outfit."
"I don't care about jail," Tim replies desperately, "I just want it to stop."
"I know, McGee," Gibbs says, "I know. And with your help, it can."
Tim thinks there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
It all moves surprising quickly.
They go to Director Vance. Director Vance goes to the SECNAV and the SECNAV goes even higher than that and before they know it, Tim's the star witness for the new review board investigating Kort's little "loosely attached to the CIA" unit.
Kort glares at him with his one good eye as the federal review board takes apart their headquarters. "What are you doing, McGee?" he growls.
"What I should have done the moment you first offered me this job," Tim replies quietly as he leans against a wall. "I should have never let it get this far."
"You have no idea what you've done," Kort hisses.
Tim tilts his head to the side. "Oh, I think I do," he says lightly and it's the first anything he's done lightly since this whole mess began. "Someone once told me there is no such thing as good and evil. Just power." Tim pauses and watches as Kort's unit is dismantled. "My first case, you told me we stopped power changing hands that day. Consider this the same thing."
"You don't know what you've done, you little …"
Tim cuts Kort off and shakes his head. "No, Kort, nobody should have this much power. Not us, not anyone. We don't play God. That's not what we do."
"Yeah, so what?" Kort sneers. "With us going under review, you have no job."
Tim smiles. "I said that's not what we do. And I didn't mean you and me we." He steps away from the wall and smiles at his team, standing across the road with the car. "I'm going back to my real job."
"NCIS can't offer you what I did," Kort warns. "You'll regret it."
Tim shakes his head. "Oh, I know," Tim says happily, "and I don't think I will." He starts to walk away.
Kort calls out after him, but Tim replies without looking back, "I am done, Kort. And will you please shut up? I have somewhere I need to be."
His (yes, they're his again) team greets him with smiles, hugs and a thump on the back from Tony.
"Ready to go, McGee?" Gibbs asks.
Tim gives the building one last look. "Yeah," he says. "Let's go home."