Disclaimer: Story's mine; NCIS is not.
Hello! This is set sometime in the spring of Season 9, before the finale arc. It's kind of a weird little thing, and remarkably plotless. I wanted to play with McGee as a narrator, since I usually use Tony.
Before you go in-I don't actually know for sure if McGee does speak another language. I know he says at one point that his Spanish is rusty (which I've chosen to interpret along the lines of "um help I don't really speak Spanish"), but I'll admit I don't recall most of the first two seasons very well, and so if there's information in those about McGee having linguistic capabilities…well, for this story, just ignore them.
(If you're weird like me and get frustrated when a lot of people are in a scene and you can't visualize where they are in relation to one another, this seating arrangement has Tony and Gibbs on one side of a booth, and Ziva, Tim, and Abby on the other, in that order. So, Tony and Ziva are more or less across from each other and Abby and Gibbs are more or less across from each other and Tim is in the middle of it all.)
The conversation began because of Ziva's tendency to mix her languages when drinking. A couple mojitos in, she was quite steady but had begun throwing foreign phrases into conversation with a much higher frequency than usual. She didn't appear to notice, and nobody else minded; it was one of those peculiar things that made Ziva who she was, and Tim, seated to her right in a long booth, thought it was actually kind of endearing. He'd had the opportunity to hear Ziva's language-jumping more often lately, as he and she and Tony and Abby (sometimes Jimmy, but not tonight) had started to go out for drinks on a fairly regular basis. It was usually Tony extending the invitation, and Tim was somewhat certain it was related to his determination to "Let friends get closer." And really, Tony's idea benefited them all. What wasn't fun about going out together to get some dinner or drinks after work?
Tim looked at their distorted reflections wobbling across the highly-shellacked tabletop. For once, the whole MCRT team (plus Abby) was present. Gibbs had been in the mood to humor them. In fact, he'd been in the mood to humor them more or less all week, smirking at Tony's jokes, gruffly complimenting an app Tim designed to help them fill in paperwork more quickly, spending last Saturday morning at Ziva's apartment fixing her table's wobbly pedestal base. He'd even grabbed them all coffee once, and gotten every order right.
Tonight felt good. It wasn't a special occasion, but felt vaguely like it ought to be, since the boss had come. An hour into their time at the bar, Gibbs was wearing a small smile, which may or may not have indicated slight intoxication. Even if he was intoxicated, he looked as though he'd be ready to pull on his windbreaker and stride off to the car if a call came in. Though, Tim mused, judging by Abby's flushed cheeks, Ziva's giggle-snort-giggle, Tony's even-more-expansive-than-usual body language and the warm fluid feeling in his own limbs, Gibbs would be responding to that call solo. (Not that Tony and Ziva weren't reasonably functional when drunk, but Abby would be far too clingy and emotional to perform her usual miracles, and he was not a particularly stable drunk, himself.)
Ziva directed something at him just then that had an awful lot of consonants in it and was most definitely not English, followed by "please, McGee?" He looked at her blankly. After a moment Abby, who did not speak Russian but definitely did speak Girl, tugged at his arm until he slid a bit closer and gave Ziva the extra space she'd apparently been asking for. "Gracias," Ziva smiled at him, resettling.
Tim pictured Ziva's mind as a complex, densely populated place, like a neighborhood in a country he'd never visited, where one wrong turn took you to a street where everyone spoke Hebrew or Russian or Spanish. And when she drank, she kept trying to turn down these brain-streets until her friends' conversation pulled her back to the English thoroughfare. It was a vastly different vision from the one he had of his own mind, which he tended to picture as a series of labeled doors, all filled with things he found fascinating and all neatly organized so he could access a bit of intel from two months ago as easily as he could reach L.J. Tibbs' character details or his mother's birthday. Abby's mind would be a whirling mass of color and figures, organized in a way that made sense to her and her alone.
And speaking of Abby, Tony had just said something vaguely suggestive about her dog collar. Tim couldn't help looking at him a little sharply.
"All I'm saying, chica, is that a matching leash maybe wouldn't be such a bad idea," he was saying. Then he raised his hand to pat at the back of his hair, and Tim rolled his eyes, wondering if Tony realized that he was either subconsciously protecting himself from a Gibbs slap or administering a form of one to himself. But when Abby answered with a great deal of suggestive snark, ending the sentence with a heartily-delivered "chico" (well within the limits of Tim's Spanish knowledge) and then Ziva snorted and said something with lots of rolled R's (definitely outside the limits of Tim's Spanish knowledge), he began wondering tetchily what exactly was in the drinks that made everybody feel the need to get out their linguistic passports.
Tim had fulfilled his high school's requirement with two years of German, and his college requirement with two more. Then he had made a mostly-conscious decision to abandon it, because really, who needs German all that often living in Virginia and D.C.? The rest of the team hadn't gotten that memo, apparently. He was about 96% sure that they could all live comfortably in D.C. without knowing Spanish or Russian (or whatever the hell it was Ziva had told him to scooch over in earlier), but they just persisted, didn't they?
Dimly, he was aware that he was a little jealous. He would probably be good at languages, he thought a bit wistfully. Memorization and all that. Sure, his memory wasn't like Ziva's nearly-photographic one or the remarkably accessible jumble in Abby's head, but it was pretty damn good. In Somalia, he had been the one to memorize all the "take me to your leader" type phrases Tony had made him practice over and over again as they traversed the desert, and he'd used them more or less correctly when they'd been captured. He'd helped Abby translate the Hebrew which had gotten them there, too (although Abby admittedly deserved most of the credit on that one).
Abby sometimes talked to Gibbs in sign language, and nobody else had a clue what was going on. Gibbs and Ziva could communicate in Russian. That had actually never happened, as far as Tim knew, but the point was that it could. Ziva and Tony both spoke Spanish and had, in fact, used it to jokingly exclude him before, not unlike parents spelling out words over a small child's head. Tony claimed sometimes to know Italian. Tim doubted it, but could never be quite sure. Ducky spoke a little of everything and a lot of some things. French, for instance, and Scottish Brogue, which was not technically a language but which Tim decided to count anyway. Did Palmer speak anything beyond anatomy-speak? Uncertain. He made a mental note to check. Vance? Vance almost certainly spoke something else. Probably several somethings else.
As for himself…he spoke the language of computers, of binary code and viruses and circuits. He also spoke pidgin Klingon and a bit of Elvish, but those were disappointingly unusable in everyday life—although in a few online circles they garnered him a certain amount of admiration.
ASL, Spanish, French, German, Italian. Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Pashto, Hebrew. English, he added belatedly. Binary. Klingon. Scottish Brogue. Anatomy-Speak. Angry Marine. Government Jargon.
As a group, they were either brilliant or crazy. Maybe both. Probably both. He frowned. He didn't add enough to the list. Usually his skill sets added a lot to any lists around, even compared to old-timers like Gibbs. It's hard to properly format "Magic Gut" in resume form, after all. Much harder than listing a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins or Computer Forensics from MIT. It just didn't seem right.
Tony reached over the table and nudged McGee's shoulder with his glass. "Hey! McThoughtypants!" Ziva snorted into her drink and Abby's cheeks got pinker as she tried to repress her giggles.
"That one's pretty lame, DiNozzo," she gasped finally.
"Don't doubt me," said Tony, waving his drink in her direction, "I choose when to use my skills. Now, McTipsy."
Tim raised an eyebrow.
"I can feel your mind working from over here. What is it that's making your little gears turn so hard?"
"Well yeah, we got that part. The question though, is what it is! What it is that's percolating in your head and making your little gears work so hard that smoke is practically coming-no, more like gushing out of your—"
"Tony means he wants to know what you're thinking about," Abby finished loudly over Tony's ramble.
"Yeah, thanks, Abs," Tony said, looking at the ceiling.
"What? Your question was taking too long."
"My question was eloquent."
Abby gave him a pitying look and patted his arm.
"What's that for?"
"Your question was far from eloquent," Ziva pointed out.
"Says the woman who just told McGee to move in a language he doesn't even speak? Your communication skills, Ms. David," he paused to take a sip of his drink, "suck."
Ziva's face took on such an affronted look Tim thought it nearly qualified as a pout.
Abby slipped in to the rescue. "I think that might be overstating it, Tony. She's really pretty clear most of the time. And the malapropisms are kind of like a puzzle to figure out, you know? I like puzzles."
"She said I looked like a 'porkupig' once! How is that effective communication?"
"That was years ago!" Ziva burst in. "I had just gotten here!"
Tim blew out a long breath and decided to drag the conversation back to its original track. "Guys!"
Three faces turned to him, and Tim spared just a glance for the one that didn't—Gibbs seemed to be shaking his head at his bourbon.
"Yes, Timmy?" Abby asked, head tilted at what Tim decided was a delightfully saucy angle. He quickly shook the thought out of his head and rolled a sip of wine around his mouth while they awaited his answer. And make them wait he did. Nice.
"What I think about is my business," he said finally.
Three sets of eyebrows quirked a bit. Okay, so, maybe he should've known better than to make such a claim to his teammates.
Tony cocked his head and grinned. "Oh, is that so, Tim?"
"It is." Might as well stay strong now.
"Because last week when you had that thing Abby ordered for you, and then you called her a babe—" here Abby cackled— "and spent fifteen minutes explaining why your sister's current career choices are misguided before pulling up the trailer for The Avengers on your phone and making us all watch it TWICE, it really seemed like you were sharing your thoughts. But hey, maybe I—"
Everyone's heads snapped around to Gibbs, who was giving the group of them The Glare (albeit, Tim thought, with an unusual hint of twinkle).
"Quit ribbing McGee. You want him to retell the story of the last time you had a little too much?"
Tim screwed his face up, trying to remember something embarrassing he'd seen Tony do drunk lately. Nothing particular came to mind. But both Abby and Ziva looked curious, and Tony's eyes shifted nervously from Gibbs to McGee to the scotch he'd been drinking. Just then Tim caught the tiniest twitch of a wink from Gibbs.
"Ohhh," Tim said loftily. "THAT time."
"What time? There wasn't a time!"
"You do not want me to tell about that time, DiNozzo."
"Seriously, whatever I did, it wasn't that bad," Tony informed Abby and Ziva. Abby laughed.
McGee smirked at him.
Gibbs sighed pointedly.
"Shutting up, boss."
There was a short silence, while they all surveyed their drinks, Abby grinned madly into her hand, and McGee made a neat pile of the citrus peels, cherry stems, and mint leaves that she and Ziva had managed to scatter across the table. The amount of garnish seemed vastly disproportionate to the number of drinks consumed, and he made a note to ask them about it later.
Tony suddenly leaned his elbows on the table and broke the silence. "Um. Sorry about all that, Tim."
Tim was narrowing his eyes at the uneaten lime wedges on Ziva's napkin, mind still mostly on the Great Garnish Mystery. "Uh, okay."
He was startled back to paying attention when Abby slapped her hand down, eyes turning wet as she abruptly shifted emotional gears. "You're like brothers," she told him emphatically, turning her head rapidly between Tim and Tony. "And Gibbs is like your dad telling you to quit picking at each other. And Ziva and I are like your sisters. And—" here her metaphor ran out of steam as Tony's face took on a slightly uncomfortable expression and Tim felt his own face morph to mimic it.
"Hypothetical sisters," Ziva offered.
"Yeah. Hypothetical," Abby said with a grateful nod to Ziva. "Not biological, of course. Because we don't even look, like, remotely alike. So, adopted siblings. So we could technically procreate with each other and not have the genetic risks of brothers and sisters procreating, but we still manage to keep that tight brotherly-sisterly and parent-childerly bond!" She paused. "Childerly's not a word. Childish?"
Abby looked at Gibbs, and Tim nearly laughed at how abruptly her face turned guilty. Framed by the swinging pigtails, she looked remarkably like a toddler who had been caught pulling the cat's tail and not like a woman with multiple advanced degrees who had just implied that intra-team sex was a plausible if slightly incestuous idea.
While Gibbs gave Abby some sort of wordless admonishment, presumably for the offense of putting into his head images of his de facto children doing the sorts of things which might create de facto grandchildren, Tony nudged Tim with his drink again.
"Hey. You're still quiet."
"Gibbs is talking without words," Tim said.
Tony blinked. "Okay, not the answer I was expecting. But you should really have already noticed that he does that. It's been like nine years, Probie. That's a quarter…a fourth…no…well, a lot of your life."
"Do you think he was born with that ability, or that he picked it up when he was a Marine?" Ziva asked as she played with her straw.
"Born with it. Nonverbal communication. You should know, Agent David."
Tim interrupted the start of a round of his teammates' favorite form of nonverbal communication before it even properly began. "Would you say that counts as a language?"
"I suppose," Ziva shrugged.
"Definitely. I happen to be fluent in body language," Tony said, winking. Tim was not completely sure if the wink was meant for him or Ziva and considered rolling his eyes until Ziva stole that idea and threw one of her wedges of lime at Tony to boot.
Yes, of course the wink was for her. Stupid question. He must be McTipsier than he had thought. Tipsier. God. Language was hard.
"Is something bothering you, McGee?" asked Ziva. She was tipsy enough herself to look at him directly as she spoke, which somehow made the words feel even more tangled in his head. These days Ziva was queen of the sideways glance and the carefully neutral expression, and he depended on that when she asked him uncomfortable questions.
He pondered, glanced around. Tony's expression kept vacillating between concern and anticipatory delight that the probie might say something embarrassing. Abby had somehow engaged Gibbs in conversation (of the verbal variety), so that was them out of the way. Ziva's face clearly said she was a bit drunk and naturally tenacious and not about to drop the subject.
"When did you learn all your languages?" he asked. She blinked.
"Over time. Some as a child. Some when I was in training. I've been thinking lately about learning Farsi."
Tony smiled fondly at them across the table. "Ah, of course. Just picking it up. Tell me, Tim, do you want to pick up a language?"
Tim opened his mouth, but Tony interrupted him before his vocal cords engaged. "Because I, as you know, have picked up languages, and Ziva picks up language like—" he snapped his fingers, "but you have yet to pick up anything but Klingon."
"Tony, you do not pick up languages like that," Ziva said loudly, mimicking his snap. "You know two languages. And you've had plenty of time to practice."
"Three! Three languages!"
"Two and a half!"
"Two and three-quarters!"
"Two and a quarter."
"That's the wrong way, Ziva. Haggling doesn't work like that."
"I know how haggling works. But I am not haggling with you. I am telling you that you do not speak Italian fluently."
Tony set his drink down and pushed back from the table, crossing his arms. "Do so," he muttered.
"Quit pouting, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, barely turning his head in his senior agent's direction.
"Anyway," Ziva turned back to Tim with an animated face, "Are you hoping to learn a new language?"
She waited a moment, but when it became obvious that he wasn't going anywhere with that sentence, she tried again.
"Then…why were you asking?"
"I don't know."
"I am fairly certain that is false."
He poked at the garnish pile for a minute.
"You guys all speak so many languages," he said finally, feeling Tony and Ziva's eyes heavy on him. "I don't." Wow, it seemed really lame to say it that way. He tried again. "I mean, it's just, you know, a skill set I don't have. And everybody else just...does." Well, that wasn't really any more articulate.
He waited for them to say something, and when they didn't, he glanced up. And immediately wanted to look back down, because Ziva was looking at him with her eyes all soft and Tony was looking at him like he had lost his mind.
"I'm sorry, but are you speaking a different language right now?" Tony asked. "Because last time I checked, you were the one in charge of talking to the computers and making them do the computer magic thing, and we had people who did the rest of the translating stuff. Like her." He nodded toward Ziva. "So…I'm not really sure what the problem is."
"You still speak three languages, Tony, and Ziva speaks like, a hundred of them. And I really only speak one, and maybe that's not enough. It's just…stuff you can do and I can't."
"See, Ziva. McGee says I speak three languages."
Ziva rolled her eyes. "You don't speak three and I don't speak a hundred." She turned to McGee. "You should not let this bother you so, McGee."
"Of course I know more languages. In many countries, it's common to be bilingual or trilingual. I began learning English in grade school. And there are more languages around you in some other places. You know there are days here where I hear nothing but English and maybe a little Spanish all day long?" She slapped her hand on the table and shook her head. "I grew up hearing Arabic and Russian and even French. Israel is a country of immigrants, McGee."
"So is America."
"I don't think it's quite the same. McGee, if you had grown up hearing more languages and needing to know them, then you would know more languages," Ziva shrugged. "It is nothing to be ashamed of."
"Plus her family IS the intelligence business, Probie," Tony stage-whispered over the end of Ziva's sentence. "Our Ziva here was probably learning Russian in preschool when you were fingerpainting and waiting for computers to be invented on a home market scale."
Ziva didn't deny this.
"My resumé though," Tim tried to explain and Tony sighed dramatically and fixed him with a look that was surprisingly serious.
"Timmy, your resumé is very impressive. So quit worrying."
Ziva patted his hand. "Drink your wine, McGee."
"McGee." Three heads swiveled to the end of the booth.
"Yeah, boss?" Really, Gibbs had amazing hearing.
"Can you communicate with all of us?"
"Are you looking for a new job?"
"So you want to keep this job?"
"Did I hire you to be a translator?"
"Well, okay then. Stop worrying." He pointed to McGee's drink. "Drink whatever it is you've got there."
"Told you," said Ziva.
Tim blinked around the table at all of them. "Okay," he said. They kept looking at him. It was weird in a way, how they were all so quick to tell him that his concern was not concern-worthy. Maybe it was because they were collectively a little bit drunk. Or maybe he was being ridiculous after all. That was probably it, actually. He decided to go with that one, and embrace the whole monolingual thing, since apparently the rest of them didn't terribly mind restricting themselves to English when he was around. Usually.
"Thanks," he added.
And just like that, everyone was back in their usual patterns. Gibbs took a sip of bourbon. Tony stole one of Ziva's dwindling supply of lime wedges. McGee swirled his wine and Abby smiled and dropped her head on his shoulder.
He looked down at her. "What're you up to?"
"Making you feel happier. Is it working?"
"Well, I can't move my arm now."
She appeared unconcerned, grinning and popping something into her mouth without moving her head.
He squinted into her lap and made out a cocktail napkin stuffed with fruit.
"Hey! You have oranges and you weren't sharing!"
"Muh-Gee! Keep your eyes in appropriate places!" She was just teasing him now. And perhaps trying to get him headslapped. Fortunately for Tim, Gibbs ignored it.
"Did you steal fruit from the bartender?"
"No," she said through a mouthful of cherries. "He gave it to me." Tim sneaked another glance at the napkin resting on the hem of her very short skirt. He couldn't blame the bartender. The maraschino cherries matched her lipstick remarkably well.
He glanced over at Ziva, who appeared to have begun participating in a staring contest with Tony without bothering to appoint anyone as judge.
"Yeah, her too. I think he gave her like two full limes' worth of wedges," said Abby, holding up a piece of orange. "Want some?"
He smiled. "You know it."
She stuck it halfway down his throat—peel and all, dammit—and he choked a bit, and suddenly she and Ziva were pounding the life out of his back while Tony shoved his glass under his nose and urged him to drink.
Gibbs had the gall to chuckle.
So, weird non-ending sort of ending to a completely plotless piece? Eh. Hope you enjoyed anyway!