Jimmy finds himself in hot water and Tony finds a change of heart. What does Gibbs find?


"Tony. Talk to me. How can I help?"

Having asked the question, Tim frowns as the shocked silence over the phone line drags on. "Tony?" He tries to get comfortable on Jimmy's couch with his own laptop open in his lap. He'd made sure to get Jimmy to drive over to his car before they drove off the yard last night and get it along with his 'to go' bag out of it, He's thankful now that he insisted they bring both items in with them when they got here last night. Now, with his fingers hovering over the keys waiting, every passing second of silence has Tim wondering if he's doing the right thing.

On the other end of the line, the sight of Tony's slack jack has Ziva looking questioningly in his direction. As she begins to rise up out of her chair, he waves her back down and gets out of his seat to head out of the squad room towards the break room. He's only gone a minute and when he comes back, the phone is tucked up against his ear as he sits back down. She can't hear what he's saying since he's keeping his side of the conversation very low. She's surprised when he turns to his computer and keyboard and once again begins typing, this time with more energy than he's had in the last two hours. Something's going on. With a slight shrug of her shoulders, she gets back to her own tasks. He'll tell her. He usually does. If not, there's always paperclips.

****NCIS****

He's thought about it off and on throughout the incredibly busy day and Jimmy's come to the realization that he cannot remain mum about it any longer. He has to find out. It would be medically irresponsible of him not to and he takes his profession much too seriously for that. Not to mention, he's concerned about the patient and is beginning to second-guess himself on the choice he'd made. Did he make the right call last night, by letting Tim sleep instead of getting him checked out?

Now that they've completed the autopsy and their guest has been tucked back inside his drawer, Jimmy pauses in his task of cleaning up their equipment. "Dr. Mallard." As he steps closer to his boss and mentor, he finds the nerve he needs to tap into to 'fess up trying to abandon him, but refuses to let that happen. Standing straighter, he waits for the guillotine to be primed, visualizes himself with his head on that chopping block. Blinking, he forces the image to go away.

"Yes, Mr. Palmer. What is it?" The M.E. replies as he works on his report without glancing up.

"I meant to ask you about this earlier this morning, but I got distracted. I'm really sorry."

"Oh?" Ducky looks up from his work, his eyes locking onto those of his Assistant. "Well, this sounds serious."

"Before he fell asleep last night…." Jimmy falters, unsure of the best way to put this into words.

"Yes… do go on, Mr. Palmer." Ducky chides impatiently.

"Well, it's just that….Tim was in a lot of pain last night, so much so that he couldn't sleep if he moved around. It set off an awful fit of coughing."

"I see." The M.E.'s restraint is remarkable but Jimmy can still see the smoke gathering just under the surface. "Anything else you need to tell me, Mr. Palmer?"

"No. Sir."

Watching his assistant for a moment to assess the accuracy of that last statement, Ducky finally let it rip; beyond angry and completely disappointed in Jimmy's choice not to say something sooner; worse even, not to act on it "Mr. Palmer! Why on earth didn't you say something sooner?"

"I'm sorry, I stood by in case he needed me and it seemed to ease off. It only happened the one time and he went right to sleep, so I thought it was more important that he be able to sleep through the night."

"And you came to the decision that so long as it didn't happen again, he did not require a trip to the emergency room or to his doctor in the later morning hours." Ducky barely manages to harness his anger as he sums up the situation.

"Well, yes. That's about what I figured. I see more exhaustion than anything else being wrong with him." Jimmy explains. "I would have taken him to the emergency room if it happened again, but it didn't."

"That may well be, Mr. Palmer. However, one simply can not assume there is nothing else wrong and you, of all people should know this!"

"I know. But, Dr. Mallard, I think Tim's smart enough to tell us when he needs help."

"Mr. Palmer. I do realize that your knowledge of Gibbs' team is limited by the lack of interaction when not working on an active case together; however, as you well know, they all share one unhealthy trait and that is they are far too stubborn in such matters for their own good."

"Hence, the tough guy routine." Jimmy surmises aloud as internally, his gut clenched. Has he done what Ducky obviously fears; left a serious problem untreated with Tim?

"Yes. And contrary to your belief, Timothy is not the exception. If anything, that young man feels the need to carry it even further so as to fit the mold Gibbs has set for them." Ducky remains deceptively calm as he gives voice to the thought process Jimmy's just owned up to using in the situation.

"Yeah. I …that helps make sense of a lot of what they do." Jimmy admits tentatively as he waits for the shoe to drop.

"Yes, well understanding is all well and good, Mr. Palmer, but what you should have done, at the very least, was to call me and inform me when it was going on!" The boom of Ducky's voice as his anger rises to the surface on Tim's behalf, bounces off the walls and seems doubly loud.

"Duck? Everythin' alright? Heard you before I even got off the elevator." Gibbs announces with tangible concern as he hurries through the Autopsy doors.

"Everything's fine, Jethro." Ducky tactfully pulls himself together and refrains from saying anything further while glaring at Jimmy relentlessly.

"Hmm. Mmm." Gibbs grumbles as he makes it clear he knows better. He also knows Ducky's not letting him in on whatever's going on. Not willing to fight that battle with him since, judging by the glare he's giving Jimmy, it has to do with their jobs, he goes for his own agenda. "Whatcha got for me?"

"I've already given you my preliminary findings, Jethro." Ducky's tone picks up a bit of regret mixed with anger and his own dose of impatience "And there was nothing remarkable enough to warrant extra attention."

"Okay." Gibbs' tone makes it clear he's not expecting any major news but he's also not hearing what he came down here for.

"I'm afraid the official report is not yet complete." The M.E. offers ruefully

"What's the hold-up?" Gibbs walks closer to his friend's desk, coming to a standstill where they can communicate without their voices reaching above a low volume.

"I do apologise, Jethro, but, I'm afraid I could not postpone my own personal appointment, as I had done so previously time and again and…"

"You alright, Duck?"

"Oh, yes. I'm perfectly fine. However, as you well know, we are all subject to fulfilling the agency's requirement fo…"

"Okay. Let me know when you've finished." Gibbs cuts him off, not wanting him to think he owes more of an explanation than he's already provided.

"Certainly." Ducky gracefully accepts the free pass.

Gibbs nods and turns to head out.

"Jethro, if I may…?"

Gibbs turns back to his friend, not missing in passing the scared rabbit look on Jimmy's face, even as he asks Ducky the question. "Somethin' wrong?"

"No, well, that is. I'm afraid your report will have to wait until I return. Something's come up that I simply must take care of immediately." The M.E.'s eyes slide back over to his assistant for the briefest of moments.

"Dr. Mallard, I can do that for you." Jimmy offers almost meekly as his eyes meet the older man's and his own conscience tells him exactly what his mentor is referring to.

"No, Mr. Palmer! What you will do, is stay here and double check that everything done for our most recent guest, has been done accurately and without error. Then you will do the same with your report on the matter. I want no mistakes, Mr. Palmer. If you find yourself with spare time after that, you will do some homework on that matter we were discussing earlier so that you never again make such a grievous assumption!"

Ducky heaves out a frustrated breath as he struggles to get his emotions back under wraps and his breathing back under control. "I shall return, Jethro, although I make no guarantees as to when I shall be able to do so, if at all today. You shall have that report just as soon as I can possibly get it done."

"Okay, Duck." Gibbs offers almost nonchalantly as his long-time friend heads out of autopsy, placing his hat on his head as he walks. Waiting until the elevator with Ducky on it has left the floor, the Team Leader turns to the Assistant M.E. "Palmer."

"Yes, Agent Gibbs?" Jimmy feels like he did years ago when he first met the intimidating man; most of the anger he's felt toward him on Tim's behalf lately has scurried behind the rock that is his guilt at this moment, abandoning him like a rat from a sinking ship.

"What the hell's going on?"

****NCIS****

It's nearly an hour of steady typing and waiting and typing again, in whatever steps and sequence of steps Tim tells him to and suddenly, they're waiting once again for the computer to do its thing. This time, however, during the lapse, Tony can't help but hear the ragged edge developing in Tim's breathing over the phone line and he wonders if he's doing right by the younger man.

It hits him, that it was very petty and childish of him to even for a moment, to have been upset that they were a man down on this case. It wasn't as if it had been Tim's fault that he'd had been hit by that trucker. Maybe when things with the case were resolved, he can work on making things right with Tim. In the meantime, the younger man's health is quickly becoming a bigger concern, even over the phone, prompting him to ask about it.

"Probie, you alright, man?" Tony asks seriously, no doubt he's concerned.

"I'll be fine, Tony."

While he doesn't quite believe him, Tony knows they have to get the answers for the case, although his mind is quick to taunt him with the question of whether they're doing right by the Agency and by Gibbs. He doesn't want either of them to get in trouble for this. He can't change how he has handled it, even as he thinks back on how it got started, thankfully while the Boss was away from the squad room.

55 Minutes Ago:

"Tony. Talk to me. How can I help?"

Startled, Tony gets out of his seat and immediately leaves the squad room so he won't be overheard. "Probie, what the hell?"

"I heard the case is giving you guys hell. I just want to help where I can."

"That would be great, Probie. But, I'm no…"

"Tony, You guys need to catch your killer. Let's just do this."

"First, you tell me how you're doin' Probie? Musta been tough, that wreck, tough enough even the boss is giving you some mending time."

"What? Tony, what ar…"

"You can relax about the suspension, Probie, he only gave you two days for that. The rest of the week's so you can get back on your feet."

"Gibbs told you that?"

"Yeah. When I asked him flat out right after you walked out. He even told us that he's plannin' on talkin' to you about it, but I know he won't have the time; or take the time, I should say, until this case is solved, so…"

"Oh. Thanks, Tony. I mean it. Thank you."

"Anytime, McLazy." Tony teases, all former residue of anger at this young man's absence now gone in the wind.

With a small huff of laughter, Tim gets them back on track. "So are you going to let me help with this case or you just going to keep chasing your tail on it?"

With a deep-seated sigh, the Senior Field Agent gives in and returns to his desk, grateful beyond measure for the help, although aggravated with the Autopsy Gremlin for telling tales outside of school. He knows now, without a shadow of a doubt that it was the M.E. Assistant that took his probie home for the night. He's actually relieved about it now. " Palmer's got a big mouth. But, yeah, okay, we've looked everywhere for this guy. Even the geeks in Cybercrimes have come up with nothing when we gave them a go at it early this morning. So, tell me where to start in the deeper digging."

****NCIS****

Ducky's still upset yet trying to calm himself as he drives to Jimmy's apartment. He's hoping and praying that Jimmy's assumption regarding Tim's health wasn't as grievously incorrect as he fears. He can't fathom any other reason for Timothy to have experienced such difficulty in breathing and moving comfortably since the hospital report cites no corresponding injuries.

He's relieved when he finally reaches the apartment complex and can focus on what to look for when he checks Timothy over. Parking his Morgan, he grasps his medical bag and exits the vehicle, not bothering to lock it, since he hates the very thought of some thug breaking one of her beautiful vintage windows to get in if they're so inclined. Nestled in his hand is the apartment key Jimmy had handed him long ago – "for emergencies, Dr. Mallard". He's never had to use it, thank goodness, until now, that is and only so as to avoid waking Tim up , in the chance that he is sleeping now.

It's not long before he's inserting the key into the lock, letting himself into the apartment and frowning at the sight that meets his eyes as they are drawn to the movement off to his right, on Jimmy's living room couch. "Timothy! Honestly!"

****NCIS***

"Timothy! Honestly!"
"Ducky?"

Tony has to grin now as he hears Tim's squawked reply that is obviously borne of shock and dismay at being busted for working while mending from the wreck, even if it is just over the phone. He can't help but grimace at the possible scenario Tim's facing right about now. He'd hate to be in his shoes right about now.

On the one hand, he's grateful that the M.E. has gone to check on his friend and teammate; but on the other, he's worried that Tim will catch hell for helping on the case while being suspended. He knows that Tim took the initiative to call and dive in to the case because solving the case for the victims is always the team's top priority. Tony just hopes that no one will sanction him for going above and beyond the call of suspension the way he has.

Truth be told, Tony has enjoyed working with Tim in this most unusual way, not to mention, found a newfound measure of respect for the probie; his probie. The kid really does know his stuff! What was it Abby said about this stuff; mad skills? Yeah, that's putting mildly, in Tony's book. McGee's definitely got mad skills and the Senior Field Agent, for one, is thrilled the probie's on their side!

"DiNozzo!" The boss' bark has Tony nearly falling out of his chair in surprise. He hadn't heard or seen him coming. He doesn't however; miss the click in his ear as Tim wisely hangs up.

"Oh, hey, Boss!"

Gibbs stops dead in front of Tony's desk. Cocking his head in that way that says he's scrutinizing very deeply, he asks a question. "How long?"

"Boss?"

"You lose your hearing, DiNozzo?"

"No, Boss, jus…"

"How long has McGee been on the phone with you?"

"Uhm, I'm not really sure. I wasn't paying attention to the time. But, he hung up now, so…"

"Almost one hour." Ziva pipes in with all seriousness. 'I was not aware that McGee was the one on the phone with you, Tony." Her tone promises retribution, possibly with paperclips, for being left out in the cold on that information.

Tony rewards her verbal chastisement for not letting her in, with a small smile of understanding mixed with apology.

"How far did the two of you get?" Gibbs keeps them on track since the case still needs to be solved.

Tony hits the print key on his keyboard as he picks up the remote for the plasma TV, bringing up the information he and Tim have just found. "Turns out, our dead Petty Officer ran in some pretty untamed crowds. Meet Tom Jones and his equally likable brother Timmy Jones, racketeering pros from the time they were still in varsity athlete jackets. Never got pinched though. Guess they were smarter than the average Joe when it came to avoiding arrest."

"Yeah? And they're connected to our victim, how?"

"You ready for this, Boss?" Tony's tone is a blatant attempt to build up the drama surrounding his upcoming answer but Gibbs is too impatient, for several reasons, to tolerate it now.

"Just tell me, DiNozzo."

"Grade school. Best friends. Did everything together and when I say 'everything', I mean 'everything' Played peeping tom in neighbor's windows, used neighbors' garage doors and windows for bb gun targets, played chicken on their bikes on the neighborhood streets. Basic, daredevil, 'I'm invincible' boy stuff that boys that age like to do."

"Damned unlikely jump to from that to murder twenty years later." Gibbs' disbelief is almost tangible.

"That's why we couldn't find it. Hell, even Cybercrimes couldn't find it. Because none of were thinking that far back, Boss."

"But McGee did." Gibbs announces calmly, almost too calmly as he glares at Tony.

"Well, yeah. He had a hunch that they'd done something dark and ugly together that was, for some reason, possibly coming to someone's attention. Someone they didn't want knowing about it."

"You let McGee work on the case." The man's tone spells trouble; for both of them, causing Tony's reflexive defensive response to kick in.

"Boss, he called me; asked how he could help. I asked him if he was okay before I did anything else, I swear."

"DiNozzo."

"Boss, we all know that solving the case comes first; over everything else." Tony reminds him firmly, his expression that of steel that isn't about to bend, much less break.

Gibbs feels himself freeze. All thoughts and arguments he'd had dried up as his mind grabs on with both hands, to the crux of the problem facing his team right now. Putting the case above everything and everyone. It's why McGee hadn't come to him about being hurt and needing to stay out of the field. The guy was right. He wouldn't have wanted to hear it. Hell, Abby'd been yelling at him that something was wrong and he'd refused to hear it. What the hell had crawled up his ass yesterday morning? Even Jimmy had gotten involved; thankfully taking Tim in and keeping him out of the way of his wayward temper and harm's way. Why had he been such a bastard not only to Tim, but to Abby as well?

Introspection is never easy and even harder on those who seldom have second thoughts about what they've said or done. Needing the air to breathe as well as the space and time to do some of that dreaded soul searching, Gibbs snatches up his coffee cup and silently heads out; not sparing either of his agents a glance or another word beyond, "Follow-up."

"Tony. I do not know how you managed to do it." Ziva remarks almost reverently as she keeps her seat at her desk.

Pensively watching the boss' retreating form, Tony almost absently replies. "Do what, Ziva?"

"Strike at the very core of what is wrong here."

Instead of the puffed out prideful reaction Ziva is expecting, Tony glances her way, his expression pensive and calm. "Good. Maybe now, we'll be able to fix this mess."

"This sounds like you no longer believe McGee is to blame."

"Somethin' like that."

"What happened to change your mind, Tony?" Ziva pushes quietly as she approaches his desk.

"I talked to him. That's what happened."

"I think it is more than that."

Tony glares at her for a moment, unhappy that she's pushing for more from him. It's not often that he's willing to admit he's wrong and when he does, it makes it easier when people just accept his explanations at face value without pushing like this. "Fine. You want more. You're right. Satisfied?"

Ziva shakes her head sadly. "Tony. There is nothing wrong with admitting when you are wrong about something. Especially when it involves falsely judging a friend."

Tony sighs. "I know. And you're right. He is my friend. Abby's right, too, ya know? I should have been asking and worrying about where he was yesterday morning, long before he walked in."

"I agree." Ziva offers quietly.

"Gee, thanks."

"I agree that we both should have done so, Tony." Ziva clarifies her response.

Getting to his feet, Tony paces. "Yeah. All of us should have. Instead, we treated him like crap when he finally was able to get here, fresh out of the hospital."

"Tony. What was it that changed your mind?"

"He called me."

"Yes. He did. I was here." Ziva reminded him.

"To help us on this case."

"McGee is usually motivated to go the extra step on a case, yes?"

"While on suspension? AND while still hurting and banged up from a car wreck?"

"The suspension is a problem, yes?" Ziva worries aloud.

"That, depends, Officer Da'vid." Vance's voice startles them from the edge of the squad room at Tony's desk.

"On what, Sir?" Tony walks up to him as he asks the question.

"On what it is exactly Agent McGee did while on the case while on suspension."

"He talked me through how to dig deeper into our victim's past life, in hopes of finding a connection to someone who would want him dead, Sir. We already gave Cybercrimes a go at it, this morning. They came up with nothing." Tony relayed.

"So, he did none of the work himself?"

"Not a bit."

"And did his 'talking you through it' help the case at all?" Vance asks, purely for his own curiosity since that answer is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.

"Absolutely! Broke it wide open on motive and persons of interest we need to look into." Tony is practically crowing with pride.

"Then I don't see a problem here." Vance calmly states as he turns to head out. "Carry on. Without any more of Agent McGee's help, at least until he's recovered from his wreck, Agent DiNozzo."

"Yes, sir." Tony can barely keep the relief out of his tone. Waiting with bated breath, until the man has disappeared behind his outer office door upstairs, Tony exhales and offers a jubilant half pump-up of a closed fist in celebration of the free pass they've just been given. "Yes!"