Title: When All Else Fails, Ignore the Instructions
Pairings/Characters: Tony/Ziva, Tim McGee
Rating: K+
Summary: Things aren't always as easy as they look...
Spoilers/Warnings: None

A/N: Written for Shywriter, for NFA Community's "Secret Santa 2012" Challenge.

The prompt was: "Tim-Tony buddy fic: they have to combine their talents & skills to accomplish something – solve a puzzle, escape a situation, design the perfect prank, build a fire – you get the idea. Could a series of vignettes, with different tasks/goals, or one longer story with one project/goal."

Shywriter also expressed a desire for "TIVA-friendly: need not be TIVA story, but must at least be possible or in the background, as in no other pairing for either Tony or Ziva, good vibes between them. E.g., can be established "offscreen" TIVA."

This is what I came up with. :)

Tony furrowed his brow in concentration, staring intently at his computer. It was quitting time, and Tim regarded his co-worker suspiciously as he scooped up his backpack and slung his coat over his shoulder.

"It's 1700, Tony." DiNozzo grunted acknowledgement, but did not lift his eyes from the screen. Curious, McGee sidled over to see what was more important than a prompt exit on a Thursday evening. "1080p...progressive scan...24fps...that's high-end stuff," he gushed. "You're not seriously thinking of buying one of those, are you? You'll never get away with it. Those days are over, my friend."

"It's not just for me," Tony smirked. "It's for US."

...Two months ago, after a lengthy and it's-supposed-to-be-a-secret-but-everybody-in-the-Agency-knows courtship that had Gibbs throwing up his hands at the demise of Rule 12, Tony and Ziva had finally decided that co-habitation wasn't such a bad idea. The months of October and November had been spent jockeying for position; Tony's bed...Ziva's cookware...Tony's sofa...Ziva's end tables... It was much harder than either of them had anticipated to let go of 50% of their belongings – especially since neither of them was entirely convinced of the permanence of this arrangement, and both considered the possibility of having to restore their respective households to their previous, individualized state.

December had blown in, and with it the dreaded decision of whether to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or both (or neither, Tony had quipped). They'd settled on keeping it subtle. A menorah in the window, a small tree in the corner, and absolutely NO GIFTS. "You are my gift this year," Ziva had let slip in a rare unguarded moment, and an odd warmth had crept up the back of Tony's neck at her words. It was a lovely idea. But as the day grew closer, and his co-workers shared proud tales of shopping conquests big and small, he began to feel unsettled. There would be nothing under the tree. NOTHING. It just didn't feel right.

Hanukkah fell early this year, and Ziva had gone to visit family in Israel. It was the perfect opportunity. He would surprise her. The Sound of Music, 45th anniversary edition, on blu-ray (Oh yes, this was true love!). And a gorgeous surround-sound home theatre system with which to savor it...

"You're going to want internet connectivity."

"Thanks. Go home, McGoo. I think I've got this covered." Tony waved his hand dismissively. "If there's one thing I know all about, it's home theatre."

"Oh, I'm not disagreeing with you. That's a sweet set-up you've put together. I'm just saying...Netflix, Hulu, Pandora...streaming content is the way of the future. Why not build it in up-front?" Tony shot him a derisive glance. "Ok, ok. Knock yourself out... Who you gonna get to install it?"

There was a long silence.

"Oh, no. Don't look at me, Tony. I'm busy this weekend."

"Doing what, exactly? You got a hot date with Assassin's Creed 3?" DiNozzo's face seized the moment the words were out of his mouth.

"What do you know about Assassin's Creed 3, Tony?"

"Nothing," came the response, a little too quickly. Tony kept his eyes fixed on the computer

McGee took another look over his friend's shoulder. "You DO have internet connectivity built in there. And a slot for a PlayStation 3. Well, well, well. The DiNozzo secret is out. You're a gamer!"

"At least I still have balance in my life," Tony said defensively. He bit his lip. "Don't tell Ziva."

Tim laughed. "Yeah, right. Like you're going to be able to keep THAT a secret."

"I've managed to keep it from you for 9 years," came the terse retort.

"I don't live with you," Tim fired back. "Besides, I always suspected you were a closet geek. Just never had the proof until now."

"Look. Are you gonna help me, or not, Tim? If I don't get this thing installed before she gets home, she might try to talk me into taking it back."

"What's in it for me?" Tim dropped his backpack and sat on the corner of his desk.

"My undying gratitude?"


Tony thought for a moment. "Ok. How about...two tickets to that sold-out Android Lust concert Abby wanted to go to?"

McGee frowned. "How...?"

"I have my sources," Tony responded warily.

"Deal. 10 am Sunday."

Rather inconveniently, they caught a case early Friday morning, and it was not until 1400 that rainy Sunday afternoon that Tony was able to sneak off to the Electronics Superstore to make his purchases. His partner, covered in mud from head to toe after chasing down their suspect in a cow pasture, had wisely chosen to head home for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Time was of the essence, as his lady would soon be arriving home, so Tony decided to get a head start. He knew how to use a screwdriver, hammer and drill (he'd spent enough time in Gibbs' basement, after all). And he could read. How hard could it be? McGee would be useful for the fine-tuning, but the rest, Tony figured, should be fairly straightforward.

At last, at 1625, Timothy McGee, electronics guru extraordinaire, arrived at the DiNozzo/David doorstep, bearing two large coffees, Danish, a tool box and a superior attitude that was about to be shot down in flames. The door opened, and the true nature of Tony's plight revealed itself with a single glance over his friend's shoulder. Chaos did not even begin to describe it. Plastic bubble wrap, styrofoam and various bits of cardboard lay strewn amongst wires, speakers and larger components. The living room resembled a crime scene. For his part, the senior agent bore a look that was 50% I'm-going-to-kill-someone-any-minute-now, and 50% abject terror. Without a word, Tim handed him a coffee.

"Sit." Tony obeyed, much to McGee's surprise.

"The instructions are all in Chinese," he muttered, yanking the bag out of Tim's hand and diving into the flaky pastry with gusto. Tim slid out of his coat and shoes, and padded around the living room, surveying it with the eye of a veteran NCIS investigator. Spying the installation manual on the coffee table, Tim flipped through it, eyebrows raised.

"Actually, this is Cantonese. Where's the English version?" he questioned, eyeing Tony suspiciously.

"I told you, there isn't one," came the muffled response in between bites. Tim blinked at his friend, sticking out his bottom lip in concentration. He glanced up at the clock.

"When's Ziva get back?"

"Her plane lands in three hours," Tony sighed dejectedly. "I'm doomed, aren't I?"

Never one to just roll over and surrender when faced with a technological challenge, Tim straightened, took a giant swig of his coffee, and uttered, "No way. We can do this. But..." he pulled the danish out of Tony's hand to get his attention, "you have to promise to follow my instructions exactly. And no attitude. Got it?"

Tony gritted his teeth. "Don't push, Probie. You want those tickets, right?"

McGee sighed. "Ok, finish your coffee first. Last thing you need right now is a spill."

The next two hours played out something like a bad episode of The Odd Couple. While Tony was perfectly willing to defer to McGee's expertise when it came to in-wall wiring and connecting the components, this was still, after all, his domain, and he wasn't about to let the Probie completely run the show. Besides, he hadn't been making it up when he'd said he knew a thing or two about home theatre set-up. As things began to take shape, and with only one speaker left to install, DiNozzo stopped worrying, and began to focus once more on his 'vision' for the perfect in-home movie experience.

"The sofa needs to be further back."

"Would you stop obsessing about furniture placement, and help me pull this wire through?" Tim stood spread-eagled against the back wall, arms outstretched, nodding his head towards a tiny hole he'd drilled near the corner. Catching his friend's eye, the younger agent's plight suddenly drew his attention.

"Ok, ok. What do I have to do?"

"We need something to hook it with."

Tony's face lit up. "Hold on." He scampered off into the spare bedroom (which doubled as a home office), and moments later returned, triumphantly bearing the patch holder from his gun cleaning kit. Tim had to hand it to Tony – the guy certainly had his moments. Truth be told, there was no-one he'd rather have with him in a crisis.

Granted, this was Tony's crisis, not his. Still...

Tony slid the looped end of the patch holder into the hole where the speaker would be mounted, and dragged it up and down until it caught the exposed end of the wire. He pulled it out triumphantly.

"Not just a pretty face, huh?"

"Not bad," Tim nodded approvingly. "Just don't let it go to your head, ok?"

Tony chose not to acknowledge the attitude being dished out at him. Nothing could quell his growing excitement. Despite his reputation, DiNozzo was far from helpless when it came to small household repair jobs, and he deftly plugged the wire into the back of the last speaker and mounted it with the bracket provided, cleverly concealing the hole in the wall. He stepped back to admire his handiwork.

"Ok, now we move the sofa."

"No. Now we clean up the mess."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Geez...you sound just like Ziva."

"Better get used to it," Tim laughed, "especially if you're hoping to enjoy the use of this amazing surround-sound theatre-quality setup yourself."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, with that attitude, if you're not careful, she just might kick you out..." Tim eyed his friend knowingly. "Think about it," he drawled.

Monday morning...

"Welcome back, Ziva." Tim looked behind her as she strode into the bullpen. There was no sign of Tony. Strange...

"Good morning, Tim." Ziva nodded, dropping her backpack and eyeing her co-worker with a sly smile.

"How was Haifa?" he asked innocently. There was something unsettling about his co-worker's mood. In truth, he was dying to know how Tony's extravagant gift had been received, but didn't dare ask that question.

"Haifa was fine." Her eyes narrowed.

Tim suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. "Where's Tony?"

She strode towards him and planted her hands on his desk, leaning into his personal space. "Tony could not get out of bed this morning. It seems he has injured his back. Apparently I demanded too much of him last night..."

This was definitely more information than Tim McGee either wanted or needed. His cheeks reddened, and he desperately tried to think of some pretext under which he could escape to Abby's lab.

Ziva's eyes danced as she realized where his thoughts had taken him. She tossed her head back and laughed.

"I made him move the sofa."

~ MERRY CHRISTMAS, Shywriter! ~