A/N: This story was suggested by a friend of mine, channeld. She died last week and never got to see this story's beginning. I don't normally post stories while they're in progress on ffnet, but because of the circumstances, I want to post this one as I write it...as a last tribute to a much-missed friend. Pam wanted to see a story in which Tim decided to pursue a Ph.D. but she waited until I was finished with my own doctorate because of all the troubles I was having. I wish I could have started it sooner.

Disclaimer: I own nothing of NCIS, and I am not making money off this story.

Truly Great Madness
by Enthusiastic Fish

Dedicated to channeld (Pam)

"Truly great madness can not be achieved without significant intelligence."
Henrik Tikkanen

Chapter 1

Tim sighed as he found the information he'd been searching for. This was not what he'd hoped. It put things off still further into the future. But at least now he could start preparing for it.

"What's up, McGee?" Tony asked as he came in from lunch.

"Nothing, Tony," Tim said and quickly closed the window before Tony could get to his computer. He had no desire to let Tony know of his idea. That would be inviting torment whether he was successful or not.

"Oh, that's your it's something but I don't want to tell you nothing."

Tim smiled...and said nothing.

"Come on, Probie! You've got to tell me! It'll eat you up inside!"

"Why would you say that?" Tim asked.


"Sorry, Tony. I'm unconvinced."


Tony was thinking of something he could use to force Tim to tell him what was going on. Tim smiled. It was kind of a game, but until he knew for sure how all this would pan out, there was no way he'd tell any of his coworkers. Gibbs would have to know and Vance, by extension, but not anyone else at NCIS.

"Okay...how about this: Rule number 4."

Tim grinned. "Nope. Doesn't work. Best is to keep it to yourself. Second best is tell one other person. No third best."

"One other person!" Tony said triumphantly. He gestured at himself.

"Nope. The one other person I'd tell if I had something to tell is Gibbs."

"Gibbs? Gibbs?! How could you tell him and not tell me?"

"Because Gibbs would need to know. You don't."

"Probie! I'm hurt!"

"You'll get over it," Tim said and silently thanked the powers that be that he had made a habit of clearing out his browsing history after each session.

"Get over what?" Ziva asked.

"The Probie is holding out on us, Ziva!" Tony said. "He has a secret and he won't confide!"

"You just proved my point completely, Tony. You can't be trusted with a secret."

"So you do have one?" Ziva asked.

"Not really. Not yet anyway," he said with a smile.

Ziva grinned back and then sat down and looked at Tony.

"You told her, didn't you, Probie," Tony said. "I knew you liked Ziva more than you liked me!"

"I don't have anything to tell her, Tony. You're the one who says I have something to tell."

"Are you done gossiping?" Gibbs asked as he strode into the bullpen.

"Definitely," Tim said with a look at Tony.

"Yes, Boss," Tony said.

"Good. I expect you three to get your reports written up and submitted before the sun goes down. JAG is prodding."

They all nodded and got to work. Tim did as well, but his mind was still dwelling a little bit on this idea that had started to take shape over the last few months. Maybe it was ridiculous, but he'd never know unless he tried. He hadn't even considered it until Sarah had started talking about it.


Tim looked at Gibbs.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Writing requires actual movement."

Tim swallowed.

"Yes, Boss."

He refocused on the case at hand. He wouldn't convince Gibbs that his idea was a good one if he couldn't keep his mind on his work.


They all got out at a decent hour that night. Tim joined Tony and Ziva for a drink...during which Tony again tried to convince him to spill the beans, no matter what those beans might be. Tim refused and excused himself after about an hour. After hanging out with Jethro for a little while, he sat himself down at his computer and did a couple of searches. It only took a few minutes before he was ready to make a schedule. With a deep breath he signed up for a date a month away. That would give him time to prepare. The first step.

Then, he opened up two sites he'd been to numerous times in the last couple of weeks and started reading the information again.

The Ph.D. programs in computer science at Georgetown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

He knew that if he wanted to keep his job at NCIS, he'd have to pick a program nearby. He'd looked at the programs at all the universities nearby. He'd chosen these two as the best options, hoping that there would be a possibility of getting in. No matter how much more educated he felt than Tony, it had still been years since he'd been in school. Maybe he'd lost his geek skills. It was one thing to hack and work on computers at NCIS. He did what was necessary when it was necessary. In a school setting, even at the doctorate level, there were procedures he'd have to follow...and he'd gotten sloppy in some ways.

"But if I don't try, what's the point in wondering?"

He would have to retake the GRE which wasn't going to be fun, but it had been too long since he'd taken it the last time. They didn't have his scores on file anymore...which was too bad because he'd done really well, scoring high in both areas. Now, the GRE was a lot different from the test he'd taken way back when. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He'd have to study. ...a lot.

"I hate taking tests."

Jethro barked at him.

"Yeah, I know. You need to get out. I probably should, too. Otherwise, I'm going to start stressing about it. How long do you think I can keep this a secret? I just need to do it until I get accepted. I can't stand the idea of Tony poking and prodding, making fun of me for wanting to go back to school again. ...and if I didn't get accepted? If I bombed the GRE? He'd be insufferable."

Jethro nudged Tim's elbow. He had his leash in his mouth. Tim laughed.

"Okay, okay. Let's go for a run."

He changed his clothes and let Jethro drag him out of his apartment.


One month later...

"Hey, McGee...what's up with you?" Tony asked.

"What do you mean?" Tim asked.

"You look a bit...nervous."

"Why would I look nervous?" Tim asked.

I'm going to take a major test that will determine whether or not what I want is going to be possible. Why would I be nervous? There's nothing to be nervous about. Only my future...

"I don't know...but you're nervous. Why?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tim said.

He had succeeded in keeping his hopes and his plans secret from everyone at NCIS. Tony had given up on trying to find out when he realized that Tim wasn't acting more secretive and furtive. It was just that the next day was the day he'd be taking the GRE and Tim was stressed out about it.

Gibbs came striding in, as usual.

"Grab your gear. Turns out that Mendoza's death wasn't an accident. Ducky found evidence of poison."

Tim was surprised at that and jumped to his feet to follow. Ziva got off the elevator and saw them all heading toward her.

"I will meet you at the car, Gibbs," she said quickly and ran to grab her bag.

Tim was actually relieved as they hurried back to the crime scene. Something to distract him from the coming test.


It was her view that the country's problems had been...something...by foreign technocrats so that to invite them back would be counterproductive.

That had been the last sample question he had done...last night. What word would best fit in that blank? He thought about the choices and then mentally clicked on exacerbated.


"Yeah, Boss?"

Gibbs glared at him.

"That's the third time he told you to get going on the bathroom, Probie," Tony said with a gleeful grin.

"Uh...sorry, Boss."

"You know, if your thoughts are so important, McGee..."

"Please, Tony, don't exacerbate the problem," Tim said...and then had to hold back a smile. How appropriate. He cleared his throat and hurried into the bathroom. As he began searching for any evidence of drugs or poisons that Mendoza might have had on hand, his mind began to wander again...this time, to the possible essay topics. He was worried about getting everything right.

"Exacerbate? What kind of a word is that?" Tony asked.

"A long one," Tim said, leaning out of the bathroom. "Would you like me to define it for you?"



Tim and Tony both winced and rubbed their heads.

"Work. Stop talking."

"Yes, Boss," they said in unison.

Tim cleared his throat and started checking through the medicine cabinet and under the sink.

"What was it that Ducky found?" Tim called.

"Signs of organ damage that can't be explained as natural causes. Abby's running the tissue and blood again."

"Okay. I don't see any drugs, prescription or otherwise, in here. Some Clorox under the sink...and some...Scrubbing Bubbles."

He heard Tony chuckle.

"Sounds like a real exciting bathroom, McGee."

"I have more stuff in mine."

"Yeah, all your girly lotions."

Tim rolled his eyes.

"Tony...sometimes, you are so puerile."

"I'm what?"


"What in the world does that mean?"

Tim just laughed. If nothing else, he was having fun using these words he'd been studying against Tony.

Tony poked his head into the bathroom.

"You been reading a dictionary in your spare time?"

Tim smiled.

"Nope. I haven't."

"You sure?"



They all continued to work on processing the scene. Nothing really screamed murder and hadn't when Mendoza had been found...except for the fact that he'd been dead and they hadn't been able to tell exactly how he'd died, until now. It would be up to Abby to discover what there was in his blood, but if they had something that might explain it...

Tim really hoped that there wouldn't be anything that would call him in. He'd requested time off already. He hadn't told Gibbs about it. He didn't want to until he knew if there was anything to it.

Unfortunately, Gibbs didn't agree. After they got back to NCIS with more stuff for Abby and they were going through the information they had on Mendoza to try and figure out what had led to his death, Gibbs skewered Tim with a look. Tim gulped. He didn't think that he done anything that bad.

Still, Gibbs said nothing until the end of the day. Tony and Ziva left and Tim was about to leave as well. He wanted to get a good night's sleep before his test.


"Yeah, Boss?" Tim asked, wondering if he was going to be lectured for something.

"What's going on?"

"Uh...I'm going home?"

Gibbs smiled a little and raised an eyebrow.

"You've been distracted...more than just today. For the last...month."

Tim was chagrined.

"I didn't think it was obvious."

Gibbs' smile widened. "It wasn't."

Tim groaned a little. He had walked right into that one.

"What's going on?" Gibbs asked again.

"I'm...taking the GRE tomorrow morning," he said in a rush...and let out a whoosh of air.


In for a penny. In for a pound.

"So that I can apply to a Ph.D. program and get my doctorate in computer science."

Gibbs' brow furrowed.


"Because I want to."

"Were you going to mention that to anyone?"

"I was going to wait until I'd been accepted to tell Tony and Ziva...and Abby and the rest. I was going to tell you if I did well enough on the GRE. No point in sharing if I was only going to fail. ...and if I do fail, I don't want Tony to razz me about it."

Gibbs said nothing and that goaded Tim to keep speaking.

"It's been a long time since I went to school. It's been a long time since I took a test. ...but I was talking with Sarah. She's going to grad school in California and she has been so excited about all the challenges and...and I just started to miss it myself. My master's was stressful, but I really liked it...and the challenge is something that I think I want."

"Are you trying to convince me that you're right about this?"

Tim chanced a smile. "If I have to. I hope I don't."

"You going to keep working?"

"Yeah. It might backfire, but I'm not doing this to get a different job. I think this will make me better at the job I already have."

"You don't think you're good enough?"

"I'm never good enough to stop learning, Boss. If you're not trying to do better at something, what's the point? I've kind of been coasting, and I don't want to keep doing that."

"You're taking the test tomorrow?"


"Then...good luck, and let me know."

"I will. I promise."

Gibbs smiled. "All right. Good night, Tim."

"'Night, Boss."

Tim hurried off to the elevator and headed home. He resisted the temptation to study more and instead went to bed.


The next morning...

Tim took a breath and stared at the computer screen. It was time. He indicated that he was ready to begin.

1. Just as human beings who depend on each other, there are no _ foliages.

Another breath.

Okay. Bring it on.