Author's Note: It has been awhile since I've written more about Dinozzo and the rest of the NCIS cast. Hopefully, those who enjoy my writing will continue to do so with this latest installment. I needed to give Tony a break, and a friend, and it needed to happen before the Jeanne debacle (still working on how to write about that…). Jimmy Palmer is one of my favorite side characters: unassuming, undemanding, and an all-around good kid. Enjoy!

"How was work today, Daniel?"

Marine Captain Daniel Wise grinned without humor at his best friend. "It was…potentially explosive, James."

The two men often met up after work (or before work, or during work…their schedules were problematic at best) for beers. It had started when they were undergrads at Princeton (both groaning under the weight of academic requirements, family expectations, and indecision in their majors). Daniel Wise, from his birth into a family that had, for generations, spawned genius overachievers, had fit in relatively well with his siblings. He'd graduated from high school at the top of his class at Cheshire Academy, and then had followed up with a Computer and Network Systems degree from Princeton. Throughout his academic career, however, he'd felt unsatisfied. Even his Polymer project at Princeton, while interesting on one level, didn't satisfy a basic need that he had from birth: he wanted to help people. To make a difference. So when Marine Captain Ken Meyers had approached him with talk of recruitment, he'd listened. It had been an exhilarating and exhausting six years, and he'd faced some issues with his bewildered family. But he loved his job. Working at Quantico in high-level international surveillance fed his appetite to be intrigued, challenged, and helpful all at once.

When Ken Meyers' son, Kody, had taken his classroom hostage at his Quantico high school earlier in the morning, Daniel had volunteered to head the team going in with NCIS. He understood the technology that they would be using, and he knew Kody a bit. He wanted to help. It had definitely ended in the best possible way, and Daniel knew that it was mainly due to the levelheaded thinking of the agent in charge during the hostage situation. However, it was the relationships and conversations between the agents that had Daniel puzzled.

"Have you ever been in a situation at work where there is open disrespect for a superior?" He couldn't be specific, of course, not even with his friends, but he really needed to talk the generalities through.

"Sure." James nodded. "I don't think I could ever have that mentality myself, but I've seen it."

"Yeah. Me too. Not for a while, because in the Corps, any disrespect is dealt with immediately." He sighed. "It's just…this guy saved everyone today and he got nothing for it. No respect at all. It was crazy."

"I hear you, man. I have a guy at work like that. He's a good guy…a bit off-color, a bit rowdy, but really great at his job. I know that his boss understands him; these guys see pretty scary stuff every day, and they just have to deal with it and move on to solving crimes. No one could do that forever without serious defense mechanisms in place. This guy? It's movies. Old movies, new movies, American, Russian, independent, blockbusters—I swear it is as if he has seen every single movie ever made. But he's got this almost uncanny ability to work plots of movies into real-life situations. It's crazy." James smiled. "Unfortunately, no one ever looks at him and realizes that it's all an act. I'm honestly not sure what he does in his spare time…if he has friends or family that he talks with. But I can say that at work, no one really appreciates him."

Daniel stared at his friend for a moment. "You said you were interning with an M.E. in a Federal capacity, right?" No way could there be two people like Anthony Dinozzo.

"Yeah." James tilted his head curiously. "Why?"
"Is it NCIS? Is that who you are working for?"

"How did you—Tony was the guy who saved everyone and got nothing for it." James nodded. "I knew something had gone down, because our forensic specialist and the incredibly tech-savvy field agent on Gibbs' team were in her lab working on something for them. It was the hostage situation, right? At the high school?"

Daniel cast a quick look around the bar, but no one was within hearing distance. He couldn't give information, but confirming something his friend already knew wouldn't be breaking any military rules. "Yeah."

"Tony never seems to be appreciated. Doesn't seem to bother him, either. I guess he's too self-confident to let what other people think of him interfere with his job. He's a bit of a legend at the office; no one has stuck with Gibbs this long, and he's got an amazing way, as I said, of solving cases based on his knowledge of social situations and observation skills." It was clear to Daniel that James had a bit of a hero-worship situation going on with Special Agent Dinozzo, but he really couldn't blame him. The way that the man had talked to the Director had been Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, and John Wayne all rolled into one.

Even so, there was one part of the afternoon that stuck in Daniel's memory. One weak spot, if it could be called that, in Agent Dinozzo's armor…

It was getting on towards sunset. The early evening sun streamed in through the windows of the high school and illuminated tiny dust particles in the air. The stressful situation in the room made it difficult to breathe…Daniel knew what the worst case scenario would be: the death of Marine Major Ken Meyer's only child, along with a classroom full of other innocent victims. Because there was little doubt in anyone's mind at this point that Kody Meyers was little more than a puppet, following through on an agenda he didn't fully understand. No one wanted the worst case scenario to happen, but they didn't have enough information about the real dirtbags to locate them.

Agent Dinozzo had a wretched decision on his shoulders. The snipers had the shot. As the very pretty Israeli agent had pointed out, a head shot could put an end to the hostage situation. But would it? It seemed as though the real people in charge knew exactly what was going on in the classroom. So Kody Meyer's death could, in fact, doom the rest of the students instead of saving them. Plus, Kody was just a kid. He was doing something horrible, but he was still a child. If he died today, he would be forever known for the actions of his last few hours. Still, it was Daniel's job to inform command officers of the situation.

"We may not get another chance." He would regret his part in Kody's death if that is what it came to, but ultimately, it was Dinozzo's decision. For a split second, he was grateful that although he was one of the youngest Marine captains and certainly the youngest to be as trained as he was, he was NOT the person who had to decide the fate of this boy. "Sir, we're going to lose the target."

Dinozzo looked at him then, and Daniel saw the decision in his eyes. ""He's not a target. He's a fifteen-year-old boy who misses his mom. All sniper units stand down."

There was no doubt in Daniel's mind that Agent Dinozzo knew what it was like to be Kody; completely alone in the world. And he knew that, at the end of this day, no one would lose their lives except the real villains. Because that so-called "weakness" in Agent Dinozzo's armor was what made an ordinary leader truly great: empathy. Dinozzo knew what it was like to lose. And he also knew what it took to win today…

"How well do you know Tony Dinozzo?" Daniel finished his beer and glanced at his watch. Hell. This had been a long day, and he was exhausted. Still, he needed to make sure that the agent who had saved the day had someone to talk to.

"Not too well. I mean, I've stopped over to his apartment before to watch a game or have a couple drinks, but we aren't best friends or anything. Why?"

"Do me a favor: stop over and have a couple tonight, would you?" Daniel stood up and threw a couple twenties down to cover the tab.

"Why? What's up, Daniel?" James asked doubtfully.

"Just because everyone assumes that a person is fine, doesn't mean he really is. If a person really spends that much time watching movies, and obviously has for a really long time to have as much knowledge as he does, well, seems to me that person must really want to escape his own reality." Daniel smiled wryly, remembering his huge, empty house as a child and the parade of nannies who had raised him. "Just trust me on this, would you, Jimmy?"

The rare request, coupled with an even rarer use of James' nickname, clearly won his friend over, and James Palmer nodded his head. "Yeah, okay Daniel. I'll take care of it."

Did it really matter, at the end of the day, where the idea had come from?

Tony sat in his living room, his apartment blessedly silent save for an occasional door closing or movement in the hallway outside. It was dark—pitch dark outside, actually, but he hadn't turned a light on. Many nights, he allowed the city to cast a soft, gentle glow in his home. Just a whisper of illumination was enough, really. His television and excessive movie collection beckoned, and he was almost tempted to watch Speed, but resisted. Silence, although he didn't love it, was what he had needed for the past two hours that he had been home.

Luckily, the Meyers case closed without bloodshed and had included a family reunion. Kody Meyers got his mother back, and even if Tony was suspicious regarding the convenient reappearance of the woman, he was happy that the boy got what he needed. It didn't even appear that he would be facing charges, even though he had nearly annihilated everyone in the school building. But whatever, right? As long as everyone was happy.

The problem with watching too many movies, however, was that Tony knew better than most what an unfulfilling resolution felt like. In Much Ado About Nothing, why did Claudio get rewarded for judging his fiancée as a whore? By the end of the movie, he definitely regained the love of a girl he had publically humiliated hours before. In The Day After Tomorrow, the audience was supposed to be reassured that all essential characters survived the new Ice Age and was not to think about the millions of people that had died in the process. Not to mention that illegal immigration had taken on an ironic new meaning. It left him with a bad taste in his mouth—these half-assed conclusions that didn't resolve anything. Just ended them.

He was certainly happy that he hadn't listened to his boss or his coworker and sanctioned the slaughter of a child. He'd been thinking about it…had actually been pretty sure that he would allow the snipers to take the shot, in fact. Until Marine Captain Daniel Wise had helped him, inadvertently, change his mind. He'd helped Tony remember that this wasn't a target. It was a lonely and sad kid who missed his mom. Ziva's bloodthirsty attitude and casual acceptance of the boy's death reminded him of a few things too. If she had been in charge, Kody would already be dead. And Gibbs as well, and every other person close to the blast zone. She needed to understand the difference between Israel and America. Just because she had seen a twelve-year-old suicide bomber did not mean they existed in Washington DC. By telling Tony, "A head shot will stop this without setting off the bomb", she demonstrated that she did not have the compassion or leadership ability to make decisions such as these in America. And the assumption that Kody could be the brains behind the operation without stopping to consider alternatives meant that she lacked the creativity to look at a situation from all angles before making a judgment.

So, ok then. He could be assured that he had done the right thing. Everyone ended up happy. This was a win and he needed to accept it as one. Was he still thinking about leaving NCIS? Yes. But that idea felt more and more like the new Ice Age ending of his life.

Thankfully, before he could get more maudlin, his doorbell rang. It was probably Joseph DeWinter. His wife, Agatha, had made a family dinner every Friday for the last twenty years in the desperate hope that her only son, Vincent (a tax lawyer in Georgetown) would bring his wife and two children to visit her. Tony vaguely remembered that Joe had said they had only come once, when the now teenaged grandchildren had still been wearing diapers. Every Friday, Joe came down with leftovers for Tony. It was nice…one less day that he ate takeout, anyway. Sometimes Joe would stay and visit with him while he ate. The opportunity to visit with someone who had no real idea what he did for a living was pretty appealing to Tony, and they had even watched a few movies together. Once, Tony had even coaxed Agatha (a homebody), to come down and watch Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird.

"Hey, Joe—"

Instead of his neighbor (who looked so much like Carl Fredrickson in Up that it was uncanny), Tony found himself staring at Jimmy Palmer, autopsy gremlin.

"Hey Jimmy. Did we have plans?" He smiled politely, while groaning a bit on the inside. He wasn't really up for entertaining anyone who didn't bring home cooked food with them.
"No. I just—I mean…um, can I come in for a minute?"

If Tony were pressed to give a one-word assessment of Jimmy Palmer's personality, the word "earnest" would suit perfectly. He was a nice kid, and very sharp (Tony remembered vaguely that he had an undergraduate degree from Princeton, or another Ivy League school). He and Ducky seemed to get along very well and Tony liked him overall. None of this, however, shed any light on why he was standing at Tony's door at 9:00 on a Friday night. Still, Tony was raised with manners, and occasionally even used them.

"Please, come on in." He quickly turned on a few lights (because sitting by himself in the dark seemed a bit pathetic from an outsider's perspective). "Can I get you a beer? Some wine? Did you eat dinner yet?"

"Maybe some water. I met a friend for a couple beers after work and I'd rather not drink anymore." Jimmy seemed to have very pretty manners as well. Obviously etiquette had been important in the Palmer house. "No movie tonight, Tony?"

Tony shrugged. "Had a pretty exciting day myself. Don't really need a whole lot more drama. Did you want to watch something? I could put a movie in if you'd like."

"No, I'm fine." Jimmy seemed content to sip water in silence, which baffled Tony, but he was required to make pleasantries while he tried to figure out what the purpose of the visit was.

"How has work been with Ducky? Get all the Probie vomit cleaned up?" He smiled, thinking of the young agents' expressions during their first visit to Autopsy. Ducky loved to make people squeamish.

"Yes, although it took a lot longer than I expected. It looked like they had all eaten at a Chinese buffet before coming down to see us." Jimmy made a face and Tony grimaced in commiseration. "I guess you're wondering why I stopped by."

"A bit," Tony admitted, shrugging. "I mean, I don't mind that you came over; you're welcome here. But you don't generally visit."

"I went to Princeton with Marine Captain Daniel Wise. We were roommates. When we got together for drinks tonight, we got to talking about you. He couldn't tell me much of anything, of course, but I saw what Abby and Tim were working on in her lab. Seems like you averted a major tragedy today." Jimmy sipped his water.

"I wouldn't say I averted tragedy. More like Keanu Reeves did and I remembered it." He wasn't sure what angle Jimmy was working. Daniel Wise had seemed a little frustrated with his decision not to issue the order to kill Kody Meyers. "I didn't get any indication from Marine Captain Wise that he agreed with my decisions."

"He was bothered a bit by the disrespect he saw and heard from the other agents on scene. Daniel is a good man and an excellent Marine, but I believe he was pretty grateful not to be in charge today. He asked me to stop by and make sure you knew how close you all came to a major catastrophe today." Jimmy smiled a bit. "He had two more beers than usual tonight, so I know he was stressed from whatever went down."

"No, believe me. I know how close we came to losing." Tony stood up and walked over to his window. The rent was more expensive than many other apartments double its size, but Tony lived there for the view of downtown. Reminding himself that his problems were only big to him, and that millions of other people had problems that were big to them helped put things in perspective most days. He needed that reassurance now. "If things had gone just a little differently, we'd be sending Kody and his fellow classmates to you and Ducky."

"Yes, but they didn't. Everything worked out for the best, and from Daniel's view, it didn't seem like you got very much appreciation." Jimmy stood next to him.

"It's fine. I'm ok with it." Again, Tony tried to shrug everything off.

"No. It isn't fine. If it was fine, you wouldn't be thinking of leaving NCIS."

"How in the hell do you know what I am thinking about?" Tony turned to face Jimmy, irritated now. "I never told anyone that at work!"

"I brought up Ducky's findings on the Lewis case last week. I heard you on the phone with the LAPD. It's not that I blame you. I just think that you do such good work here." Jimmy turned to face him.

Tony snorted. Rubbed his hands over his face. "You're the only one."

"Please. Pretty sure I'm not the only one." Jimmy snorted.

"Really? I mean Gibbs never has anything good to say to me that isn't a setup for a punch line. And the others see me the way I've encouraged them to see me. It's my own fault…I'm immature and annoying most days. And those are the good days." He laughed bitterly.

"OK, first of all, you aren't any more annoying than anyone else in the office. None of us are going to win any scintillating personality awards anytime soon. Secondly, you are an integral part of the team and have helped a lot of people. And finally, I could give you a list, if you want, of the people who you have helped to save. I am pretty certain that they appreciate you." Jimmy crossed the room and took a drink of water.

"I know. I'm sorry, Jimmy. I just get a little self-pitying sometimes." Tony scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to snap himself out of it.

"It's not self-pity. It's you, trying to please people who will never be satisfied. I am going to guess, using the three psychology courses I took at Princeton, that this is the result of being raised by parents who had high expectations that you were never able to meet." Jimmy was sitting down on the buttery leather recliner where Tony slept most nights. He had a perfectly good bed, of course. It was just easier to collapse into the chair; sure, the sleep wasn't as deep as it could be in a bed, but it was sleep. "See, I know a bit about difficult to please parents."

Tony smiled, but he knew it wasn't pretty. "Yeah, well, you get it then. You went to Princeton, so I'm sure you get 'old money' and 'expectations'. I put out some feelers about job openings…just used some old contacts. Nothing official yet. I don't want to leave, not really."

"Then don't. Stay. Stay because you are helping people and because those people need you. Stay and be there for Abby, who only thinks she loves Gibbs best of all. Stay for me, so I don't go crazy listening to Ducky's stories. But in the end, stay for you. You know you love the work. Who doesn't have a few issues at their jobs, anyway?" Jimmy drank some more water.

"I'm impressed, Palmer. I'm glad to see some backbone out of you. And you're right. I guess I was just looking for family at work, and I really thought I had it for a while." He stretched his arms over his head and stared at the skyline.

"Eh. Family's overrated. Plus, believe me. If you work with family, eventually, it all gets ugly. And also, if the people at work are your family, that makes what Abby and McGee did a few years ago punishable by law."

This time, Tony's laugh was genuine, and he shook his head. "Thanks for the mental image, there, buddy."

"And I know I'm not a field agent or anything, but I just wanted you to know that you can talk to me about stuff. I don't know if you need another friend, but I could always use one. And you know what? Pretty sure Daniel wouldn't mind including you in our after-work drinks. You're always welcome."

For a single, shocked moment, Tony was sure that he was going to cry. Jimmy Palmer had nothing to gain from this offer. He wasn't trying to spy on him or be promoted over him or exclude him from anything. There was no competition in his eyes, just friendship. It was beyond the realm of his normal experience, and he wasn't sure how to deal with it.

Finally, he nodded. "Count me in, Jimmy."