Disclaimer: ... *Kidnaps Michael Weatherly's dog* ... I need somethin' here :(

Spoilers: Major ones to 9x02 "Restless," basically everything Tony, and a mention of Shmuel Rubenstein.

So, this story has two chapters :) the first is Tony and McGee and the second is Tony and Ziva, and that's important to note because there are minor elements of Tiva in here, and if you are either a Tony/McGee shipper or a Tony/Ziva hater, this might not be your fic lol. Consider yourself informed!

This fic is about bullying. For the most part, it isn't graphic and doesn't go too deep into the subject (which I regret, actually, but it wouldn't have fit the characters), but in case you would rather not read about bullying, you might not want to read this, either.

And that's it. Enjoy!

-Soph


Qualms

"Hey, McGoo! Drinks?"

Tony watched as the junior field agent across the bullpen paused midway through the motions of putting on a coat, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"It's a school night," McGee answered slowly.

"Yeah, I know." Tony hesitated. "Just consider it a little thanks for the whole John Smith thing."

"You don't need to thank me for that, Tony."

"Uh, I want to."

"Really, it was no big deal. It just took a few—"

The senior field agent made a noise of irritation. "Could you please just come, McRefusal?"

"Fine," McGee sighed tiredly. "But you're paying. Make no mistake about that, Tony."

"I thought that was already made clear," Tony grumbled as he stood up, grabbing his own coat and backpack and then swinging out from behind his desk to meet the other agent.

"How'd the apologizing go, anyway?" McGee asked as they both made their way towards the elevator, and Tony opened and shut his mouth like a goldfish.

"I'm gonna need a little alcohol in me to tell you about that," he finally squeaked.

"Huh." McGee frowned at him. "That bad?"

Tony was sure his expression was enough of an answer.

xoxo

The shot of vodka had already been knocked back before the Italian-American realized that the man seated beside him (with the harmless club soda in hand) was staring at him.

"Told ya I needed the alcohol," he muttered.

"Gibbs is gonna kill you for the hangover tomorrow," McGee answered matter-of-factly.

Tony stared into his shot glass. "He won't."

"I take it he knows what happened?"

"Yep."

"What happened? Smith not accept the apology?"

"Oh, he accepted it." Tony ran a hand through his hair, watching McGee take a sip of the club soda. "Turns out he's not the one who needed it."

McGee froze with the glass in mid-air. "Who did?"

"Me."

"Huh." McGee seemed to ponder that as he lowered his club soda. "Never saw that coming."

"Well, neither did I." Tony shrugged, laughing bitterly. "You know I switched things around and didn't even realize it? This very special senior field agent right here, last in the line of the great DiNozzos, he's the one who got strung up by his tightie-whities. Must've been a real moment of glory for me—except I can't even remember it."

"What happened?"

"Who knows? I'm just messed up, McGee." Tony leant heavily against the bar, balling his hands into fists.

McGee shook his head, sighing into the club soda. "You're not, Tony. Bullying just messes people up that way."

"Hmm." Tony thought about that quietly for a moment before asking softly, "How bad was it for you?"

"Wasn't too horrible. Mostly passive-aggressive."

"How'd you get past it?"

McGee's eyes, hard and sombre, met his. "Do you think I'm 'past it'? You asked me this morning if I was bullied and I told you I wasn't."

"Why'd you lie?"

"'Cause there's no pride in telling a bully that you were bullied, Tony. Or maybe there is, but only if you're sure that you could best the bully."

Tony lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry, McGee."

And McGee reached out and clapped a hand to Tony's shoulder.

"I am, too."

xoxo

"You know, you made it out."

"Huh?" Tony glanced up dazedly, having fallen deep into his own thoughts.

"You made it out," his co-worker repeated. "That's all you should hold on to."

And suddenly, Tony was reminded of how very lucky he was that even though he'd done his fair share of ragging on McGee, the man was still trying to be there for him.

"Is that how you do it?" he whispered, feeling so small.

"Yeah. I mean, I'm a federal agent. There's no more kickass way of showing that bullying didn't ruin my life." McGee hesitated. "And y'know, you kind of had it worse, so you have even more of a reason to celebrate."

"But I don't even remember getting bullied, Tim. And I don't know when I flip-flopped it, so that means I entered cop academy either high on the knowledge that I stepped on others to get there or so low in spirits that I had to reinvent my life and forget about the original. Neither of those are a reason to celebrate—I'm wondering instead what else in my life I rewrote! Hey, maybe I didn't blow my knee out in college. Maybe I flunked—"

"You didn't flunk out of college,Tony," McGee interrupted sharply. "And you have the degree to prove it. Look, I don't know what part of your past is true and what isn't, but today you learnt about one of the worst memories of your life—and you went back to work and threw yourself into the job until we caught the guy. So, don't tell me you wouldn't have prevailed. You always do, DiNozzo."

"But what's the point of prevailing," Tony objected, "if I don't know what I'm prevailing over?"

And McGee had no response.

"Yeah," Tony murmured, "that's the question, isn't it?"

xoxo

"You know, people reinvent their lives for all sorts of reasons."

"Oh, yeah? Like what?"

"Well, some people just want a new start. I'm just sayin', Tony … you wouldn't have been the first person wanting to forget about the past."

"And that makes things better, how?"

McGee sighed. "Tony, whatever you started out as, you're here now. You were a Baltimore cop so good at your job that Gibbs personally picked you to be part of his team. The only part of his team aside from himself at one point, in fact. And you're still here after all these years—that says something about you. You found your niche; the job you love and are good at. And, guess what? We love having you here. So, in case you're wondering whether your past at all affected your decisions—I don't know; maybe it did, but I have to say that I have no qualms about who you are right now."

Tony rubbed a hand over his mouth, swallowing the lump in his throat and lowering his gaze so that McGee wouldn't see the wetness in his eyes. "Thanks, man."

"Yeah," McGee acknowledged, tapping his fingers on the wooden counter before proposing, "you should tell Ziva, though."

Tony looked up, startled by the sudden change in topic and forgetting his tears. "What?"

"Ziva. I think she'd want to know."

Tony snorted. "You think Ziva would want to know I was bullied?"

"Of course," McGee said, sounding puzzled.

"You're talking about the woman who punched some guy's lights out at the mere age of eight for telling her he liked her."

"She did that?" McGee questioned, wide-eyed and momentarily distracted, before continuing dismissively, "but that's not bullying. That's her defending her honour."

"Right."

"Trust me. She'd want to know, Tony. She cares about you."

Tony cleared his throat. "I don't know."

"Let her care," McGee told him gently. And with that, he slid off the barstool and threw a couple of bills onto the counter. "Well, I gotta go. You actually gotta go too, if you want to be awake enough for work tomorrow, but it's your choice. Just … tell Ziva, okay? And don't get drunk before you do it."

"Roger that."

The mock salute Tony sent in McGee's direction earned him an eye-roll of gigantic proportions, but the Italian-American knew that his friend was right—Ziva just made him feel comfortable and safe in a manner than none others from their little hodgepodge, cobbled-together-through-shared-pain family could.

And it was reassuring that they knew him so well.

Turning back towards the bar counter, he caught sight of the bills and only then remembered that he had wanted to treat McGee to the drinks—and it turned out that the Probie had bested him, after all.

Chuckling and shaking his head, he pulled his phone out of his pocket.

If McGee had no qualms about who Tony was right now, then Tony himself had no qualms about whom he chose to spend his days with.