Ten Years On: 1. Part One


Tim McGee stood outside MTAC, resting his arms on the railing, gazing down at the squad room. He wasn’t happy, and everyone knew he wasn’t happy. He had already given the team a bawling out but the main object of his ire hadn’t yet returned and he decided he’d wait here until he did. If nothing else it would freak out his staff.

Beneath him, the team all scurried around like so many little ants, aware of his displeasure. They were at least pretending to be busy, but he saw them shoot little glances at him every so often, and he noticed them making several frantic, furtive phone calls, leaving messages when there was no pickup. He stood still, looming over them, a constant presence, intimidating them by sheer force of will – he’d learned that trick from the best and he’d always been a quick study.

The elevator pinged, and the heads of every single person in the squad room swivelled towards the sound. The air of panic was palpable. Blazing stand-up fights between the director and his senior field agent were rare, but when they happened everyone ran for cover.

McGee’s heart did a little flip of relief as Tony DiNozzo’s tall, broad frame came into view. At least he was still alive…if a little the worse for wear. He had a cut on his jaw and a bruised cheekbone, and McGee was pretty sure that if he could see Tony’s knuckles they’d be torn and bloody.

Tony strode into the squad room and his team got up, like three frightened rabbits.

“Carter – there’s a suspect having his fingers taped up downstairs. When the medics are done with him put him in Interrogation Room One and wait for me,” Tony ordered.

“How did he break his fingers?” Carter asked.

“Sheer carelessness on his part. There was a doorway and he was going through it even though I asked him very nicely to stop. Somehow the door got shut on his fingers. Accidents happen.” Tony shrugged, the malicious gleam in his eye making it clear it had been no accident.

He opened his desk drawer and threw his gun into it, then looked up, a dark expression on his face. “Carter – you’re still here, and yet I distinctly remember telling you to be someplace else,” he said. Carter looked as if he was going to sink through the floor.

“Uh…I know…uh…I just wanted to find out if I should start the interrogation, Boss?” Carter asked. Tony raised an eyebrow. “No…I shouldn’t, because that’s your job…you’re the boss…I should just put him in the room and sit and wait until you get there.”

“Ya think, Carter?” Tony growled, sitting down at his desk – Gibbs’s old desk – and clicking onto his emails.

Carter turned and gazed, agonised, at Agent Morris and Agent Banks, who both gazed back with terrified eyes. Then Agent Banks looked away and sat down at his desk – McGee’s old desk – and pretended to be busy. McGee made a mental note of the fact that Banks had opted out and left his team to go it alone.

“You tell him,” Morris mouthed.

“No – you,” Carter mouthed back.

McGee smiled, and bit back a laugh. This was almost like the old days. His smile faded; he missed the old days.

“I want to live,” Morris mouthed.

“So do I!” Carter returned.

“I’ll shoot you both if one of you doesn’t tell me what’s going on,” Tony said without even looking up from his screen. “You – Morris. Spill.”

“Uh, Boss…it’s just that the director was here looking for you,” she said, with a grimace. “He said that when you came back you were report straight to him.”

“Did he now?” Tony glanced up, straight at McGee far above him, and then turned back to his computer screen. “Well, I’m busy,” he said, loudly.

“He seemed pretty mad,” Morris said. “He uh…he said we’d all be fired if you didn’t report straight to his office when you returned.”

Tony glanced up again, one eyebrow raised. McGee gazed down at him, steadily, and raised an eyebrow of his own, waiting. Tony glared at him. McGee glared back. Finally, Tony sighed and got up.

“I’ll fire you myself if that suspect isn’t processed by the time I get back,” he snapped at his team. They all scurried off in different directions.

Tony stood there, looking up at him, eyes narrowed threateningly. McGee folded his arms across his chest and tapped his foot. Tony got the message. He swept towards the stairs, took them two at a time, strode along the hallway towards him, and then took it a step too close, invading McGee’s personal space.

“You wanted me, *Director*?” he said, in a soft, dangerous tone.

McGee took a step forward, invading his space back in return, so they were now nose to nose. Tony gave him a hard look but McGee stood his ground, unfaltering, eyes blazing, and eventually Tony had the grace to look down.

McGee glanced at the cut on Tony’s jaw and his bruised cheekbone but said nothing, still holding the glare. Tony glanced up at him through his eyelashes, eyes admitting defeat, and only when McGee was sure the entire squad room had seen that he’d won this particular altercation and got his AWOL senior field agent under control did McGee speak.

“My office. Now,” he said tersely, loud enough for everyone in the squad room to hear, and then he turned on his heel and led the way.

You could have heard a pin drop as they left.

McGee held the door open for Tony to stride through, and then pushed it firmly shut behind him. Slamming doors wasn’t his style, even though he was very tempted right now.

“You shouldn’t scare the kids like that, Probie,” Tony drawled once they were alone, a faint hint of old Tony mischief in his eyes. McGee wished they saw it more often but even so, he wasn’t going to let it distract him from making it clear to Tony exactly who ran this agency.

“I’m not the one who scares them,” McGee pointed out.

“Are you kidding me? You’ve been down there doing a Gibbs on them,” Tony said. He fished his cell phone out of his pocket. “I don’t know what you said to them but I have seventeen calls from them, all begging me to tell them where I am.”

“They should have known where you were!” McGee snapped. “That’s my point!”

“It’s not their fault. I didn’t want them to know.” Tony sat down in McGee’s big black chair and put his feet up on McGee’s desk.

“Which brings me to my other point,” McGee said. He walked over to his desk and stood behind Tony. “Regulations say that no agent, and that includes you, Special Agent DiNozzo, goes out on an arrest without backup.”

“Like Gibbs never did,” Tony muttered. McGee slapped the back of his head.

“You’re not Gibbs. Now get out of my chair, Tony.”

“You only had to ask, Director McGeek,” Tony replied, with a grin. He got up, lumbered across the room, and threw himself down on McGee’s couch.

“Tony – the rules are there for a reason,” McGee said, in a softer tone, sitting down at his desk.

“I know.” Tony shrugged.

“This guy you went after – he’s something to do with Jonssen, isn’t he?”

Tony’s entire body stiffened. “Looks like it,” he muttered. “I’ll know more when I’ve questioned him.”

“Tony, it’s been four years,” McGee told him. “Maybe you need to accept…”

“Do you accept? Does Gibbs?” Tony interrupted, his eyes flashing angrily.

“No…but you can’t let the way you feel blind you to the real risks you take whenever you get a lead on Jonssen,” McGee pointed out.

“They’re my risks to take,” Tony snapped.

“Is that why you didn’t take your team? Why you didn’t even tell them where you were going?”

“Yeah.” Tony shrugged.

“You should let them in. They’re good people,” McGee said. “And I’d feel much happier if they were with you, providing backup, when you go off the grid like this.”

“Well I wouldn’t be off the grid if I took them with me, would I now, Probie?”

McGee sighed – they’d come to an agreement, when he became director, that Tony wouldn’t call him ‘probie’ in public. Tony had stuck to that agreement religiously ever since, but he took great delight in still using the nickname in private, even though McGee outranked him. Technically speaking, anyway. Sometimes McGee felt like he was *still* a young probie, and Tony his completely infuriating but always more senior colleague.

“Look, Tony, if you won’t do it because of the rules, then do it for me,” McGee said, trying another tack. Tony raised a questioning eyebrow. “I don’t want to be the one who has to tell Louis that his dad is dead because he went out without backup,” McGee told him quietly. It was a killer blow, and he knew it. Tony’s eyes flashed, angrily.

“That’s not going to happen,” he snapped.

“It might. That kid already lost his mom – you want him to lose his dad too?”

“He’s got Gibbs – and you and Ducky,” Tony replied. “He’s got more than enough daddies in his life. He’ll be fine.”

“I can’t believe you just said that!” McGee said, heatedly. Only Tony could ever make him this angry. Tony did at least look a little ashamed by his words.

“Look, I’m not great at the whole father thing, Tim, you know that,” Tony said, softly, and McGee knew he’d reached him now. Tony rarely opened up to anyone these days. The time when he would tell them anything and everything about his personal life was long gone. Although…even back in the old days, for all the information he gave them it had never been easy knowing how much of it was true and how much of it Tony made up to misdirect people from the truth. In that, at least, he hadn’t changed.

“You’re his dad and he thinks the world of you,” McGee said. “I know he’d like to see you more often – the kid idolises you – anyone can see that.”

“He shouldn’t.” Tony shook his head. “I’ve let him down, Tim. It’s been four years and I still haven’t caught the bastard that killed Abby. Jonssen is still out there, and every lead I get on how to bring him down goes nowhere.” He kicked out and caught the coffee table with his boot, sending it flying half-way across the room.

“Do you think Abby would have wanted you to do this?” McGee asked. “Do you think she’d prefer to have you chasing down the man who killed her rather than raising your son – her son?”

“Don’t throw Abby at me,” Tony growled. McGee took a deep breath.

“I loved her too. We all did,” he pointed out. The anger faded from Tony’s eyes.

“Yeah. I know,” he muttered.

“Tony – you lose all sense of reason when it comes to Jonssen and I’m not going to let you take these risks,” McGee said firmly.

Tony glared at him. “You’re not going to stop me following up any leads I get,” he said, eyes narrowed.

“No, I’m not,” McGee replied. “But you will take backup.”

“Or else?” Tony raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll bring on the big guns,” McGee said, with a tight little grin. Tony sat up straight.

“You wouldn’t do that to me, Probie.”

“I can and I will,” McGee replied. “Tony – I told you last time that if you went out without backup again I’d tell Gibbs.”

Tony stared at him for a long time. It was a stare that would have had all his team running for cover but McGee didn’t falter under that hard-eyed gaze, and stared right back at him, holding his ground.

“You won’t,” Tony said at last, flatly.

“Yes I will,” McGee replied.

“Gibbs doesn’t need to know about this,” Tony growled.

“Gibbs doesn’t need to know about what?” a voice at the door asked. Both McGee and Tony jumped and then McGee gave a wry smile; even after all this time Gibbs still knew how to creep up on them unawares.

“Nothing,” Tony said quickly. “What are you doing here, Boss?”

“It’s lunchtime, Tony – you said you’d take Louis out, remember?”

“Oh. Right. Yes. Where is he?” It was clear from Tony’s expression that he’d forgotten and that made McGee even angrier than he’d been earlier. Whenever Tony got a lead on Jonssen he forgot about everything else – even his son.

“I left him downstairs with Agent Morris. She looks terrified – have you been scaring your team again, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“No more than you scared us, Boss,” Tony replied. “It does them good; keeps them on their toes.”

“Hmm. Just so long as you remember to throw them the occasional ‘attaboy’ as well as slapping them stupid,” Gibbs said.

“Yeah. Right. I got three ‘attaboy’s in ten years,” Tony replied dryly, rolling his eyes. “And a slap on the back of the head at least once a day.”

“And what does that tell you, Tony?” Gibbs asked.

“That you like hitting me?” Tony suggested innocently. Gibbs gave him his patented Gibbs glare and Tony winced. “Or that you were just trying to slap some good sense into a highly annoying field agent to help him learn faster, Boss,” he added hurriedly. Gibbs nodded.

“That’s better,” he said.

“I got several ‘attaboy’s and only a few head slaps,” McGee said, in a self-satisfied tone.

Tony glared at him. “Well, that’s because you like to suck up, McGee,” he commented sourly.

“Okay boys, break it up,” Gibbs growled. “Tony – what the hell happened to you?” He grabbed Tony’s hand and surveyed the grazed knuckles, and then touched his fingers firmly to Tony’s face, turning his head so he could see the cut on his jaw and the bruising on his cheekbone.

“He went out without backup,” McGee said, taking a savage kind of pleasure in dropping Tony in it – but if Tony wouldn’t listen to him he was damn sure he’d listen to Gibbs.

“Is that so?” Gibbs asked, in a dangerous tone.

Tony glared at McGee. “Thanks, Probie,” he muttered.

“He was chasing a lead on Jonssen. Again,” McGee said.

“You want to tell the man what I ate for breakfast too while you’re at it?” Tony demanded.

“I warned you, Tony – last time you did this I told you what I’d do if you didn’t obey my orders,” McGee said firmly.

“Aw, our little probie is all grown up and giving us orders now, Boss,” Tony said facetiously. A second later, Gibbs’s hand struck the back of his head lightly and he made a high-pitched squeaking sound, and put up a hand to rub the sore spot. “Okay, I deserved that,” he muttered.

“He’s the director – you do as he says, Tony,” Gibbs told him.

“Like you always did when you were senior field agent and Directors Morrow, Shepard and Vance gave you orders?” Tony demanded hotly. McGee grimaced – Tony clearly had a death wish.

“Never disobeyed a direct order,” Gibbs told him. Then he slapped his head again – hard this time. “And that’s for going out without backup, DiNozzo.”

“They slow me down!” Tony said angrily.

“Then teach them to go faster,” Gibbs replied, implacably.

“Daddy!” a voice cried, and a small, dark-haired boy ran into the room and launched himself at DiNozzo. Tony swung him up in his arms and smiled at him, a taut, strained smile.

“Hey, Louis – how are you doing?” he said. “You have a good time helping Boss build the boat this morning?”

“Yeah. Boss says she’ll be ready to sail by the end of the summer,” Louis replied. His smile faded, and he put a finger on Tony’s cut jaw. “Did a bad guy hurt you, Daddy?” he asked. Tony shook his head.

“Nah. I just got careless,” he said. “Went somewhere without taking my friends with me to help out. It’s okay though – Boss and McGee tell me my friends will be coming with me next time, so I won’t get hurt again.”

He glared at Gibbs and McGee pointedly over Louis’s shoulder.

“You’re bleeding. You want one of my Spider-man band-aids?” Louis asked him solemnly.

McGee almost laughed out loud. He wondered what Tony’s team would say if their hard-assed boss came back with a band-aid on his jaw covered in cartoon characters.

“I’ve got one,” Louis said. “I got a splinter working on the boat this morning and Boss put one on my finger.” He held up the finger in question and Tony kissed it, obligingly.

“I don’t think I need a band-aid, Lou, but thanks anyway,” he said, putting the kid down.

The child was four years old, and while he looked the spitting image of Tony, his eyes and his personality were all Abby. “We’ve got the black hair dye and studded collars ready for him the minute he turns into a teenager,” Tony would often joke, the humour never quite reaching his eyes. It was painfully obvious that the little boy hero-worshipped his big, heroic, field agent father. His light green eyes were shining as he looked up at Tony.

“Is Uncle Tim coming to lunch with us?” Louis asked, glancing at McGee hopefully.

“I don’t know – ask Uncle Tim,” Tony said. “He’s being kind of a grouch today so who knows.” He shot a look in McGee’s direction, and then looked back at his son. “Thing is, Louis…I know I said I’d have lunch with you today but something has come up and I have to work.”

Louis’s face fell. “You’re not coming to lunch?”

Tony’s eyes flickered for a second, but then hardened. He crouched down in front of his son.

“No. I have a bad guy sitting in a room downstairs and I need to go talk to him,” he said.

“Is he the bad guy who hurt you?” Louis asked. “I know you said he didn’t but I think he did.”

Well, he was Abby’s kid, and he had her knack for seeing right through Tony, McGee thought to himself.

“Yeah – that’s right.” Tony nodded.

“How do you know he won’t hurt you again?” Louis whispered.

“Well…because I kind of broke his fingers and now he’s scared of me,” Tony replied. Louis’s eyes widened like saucers and Gibbs sighed.

“Way to go, DiNozzo,” he muttered.

Tony got up, and he and Gibbs stood face to face for one tense moment. Then Tony reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, and handed Gibbs a fistful of twenty dollar bills.

“Ducky’s downstairs – it’s his consulting day today. Why don’t the three of you take Louis to that nice Italian place Louis likes so much – the one with the special ice-cream,” he said to Louis. “You like it there, don’t you, Lou?”

“I guess,” Louis replied, unhappily.

McGee wanted to hit Tony himself for letting the child down like this, but he knew, as Gibbs knew, that there was no stopping Tony when he thought he had a lead on Jonssen, so lunch was out of the question.

“Of course you like it there – you’re a DiNozzo – you know good, old-fashioned Italian food when it’s put in front of you!” Tony tousled Louis’s hair.

“Last time we were there the lady at the restaurant told me I have a French first name and an Italian last name,” Louis said.

“Well, considering your mom wanted to name you Lestat, you got off lightly, Lou,” Tony told him, with a wink. “Louis was the compromise option in a world full of bad vampire names. You’re lucky I vetoed both Spike and Angel and we won’t even get into some of the others.”

“What’s a com-promise?” Louis asked.

“Something your dad has forgotten how to do,” Gibbs muttered darkly.

Tony glowered at him, then crouched down and kissed the boy on the cheek. Then he stood up, and, with a hard look that just dared either McGee or Gibbs to stop him, he strode out of the room. Louis watched him go, his eyes solemn.

“Hey – he’ll come with us another day,” Gibbs said softly, holding out his hand. Louis took it, looking suddenly very small and subdued.

McGee was glad the child had Gibbs as his primary care-giver because Tony wasn’t around often enough to pay him the attention he needed. He wasn’t sure exactly how the arrangement worked, but Gibbs had been retired for just a few months when Abby had been killed. Louis was a baby at the time and Tony had been out of it for about six months after Abby’s death so Gibbs had stepped in and taken care of the child.

He was surprisingly good with Louis, and had just packed up and moved in with Tony and Louis so he could look after the child while Tony worked. McGee had assumed it would be a temporary arrangement while Tony got himself straightened out but that had been four years ago and there was no sign of anything changing. He was glad about that – Louis needed a father figure in his life, someone solid who would be there for him, and Tony wasn’t that person right now. He wondered whether he ever would be.

As for Gibbs – well everyone knew how much he had adored Abby, and he wasn’t about to let her son down now she was gone. He had raised Louis pretty much on his own, with Tony’s occasional help – when Tony wasn’t working himself into the ground.

“Did Daddy really break the bad guy’s fingers, Boss?” Louis asked, as Gibbs led the child out of the door.

It always amused McGee to hear Louis call their old boss “Boss”, but that was what Tony called him, so that was what Louis had learned to call him, and there was something kind of right about it. Besides, McGee couldn’t exactly see Gibbs answering to ‘Uncle Jethro’ somehow.

Gibbs glanced at McGee over Louis’s head. McGee shrugged, and gave a gesture of futility with his hands. He might be the director but Gibbs was the only one Tony ever really listened to – that, at least, hadn’t changed.

“Probably,” Gibbs replied tersely.

“Is he going to kill him?” Louis asked, his eyes wide and a little scared. Gibbs raised an eyebrow in McGee’s direction.

“I sure as hell hope not. What do you think, Uncle Tim?” he asked, pointedly.

McGee sighed. “Oh god – I’d better go and make sure he doesn’t,” he said, running off in the direction of Interrogation Room One.

Agent Morris and Agent Carter were both standing in front of the big window watching Tony do his interrogation when McGee arrived. He let himself in silently and walked over to watch, ignoring the nervous looks Morris and Carter shot towards each other at his presence.

McGee suppressed a sigh when he saw Tony’s suspect. The fingers on his right hand were neatly taped up, but he also had a big cut on the bridge of his nose and a bruise around his eye. McGee hoped that the man was actually guilty of something or they’d have one hell of a lawsuit on their hands. Not that Tony cared about that. He was too consumed by his own desire for revenge to give a damn about embarrassing the agency – or about damaging his own career come to that. McGee worked overtime sometimes just to make sure Tony’s recklessness didn’t lose him his job – or worse, land him in jail.

“I know you work for Jonssen and you know you work for Jonssen,” Tony was saying to the man. “It’d make this go a lot easier if you just admitted it.”

“Or what? You hold me down and slam a door on my hand again?” the man asked. “I want to see a lawyer.”

“I’ve sent for one. Might take an hour or two for him to get here though.” Tony gave a tight grin. “So that gives us plenty of time to chat before he arrives, Stackton.”

“You have a legal department – you could get a lawyer in here within ten minutes,” Stackton said.

“I could, but let’s face it, I’m not going to,” Tony said. McGee groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Jonssen pays you a retainer, doesn’t he, Stackton?”

Stackton glared at him. “I’m not saying anything until I get a lawyer.”

“Where is he? Where is Jonssen? He too scared to come back to the US?” Tony asked. “If he didn’t do anything wrong why is he so scared?”

“Lawyer,” Stackton replied, with a smug grin.

“That why he has to pay you a retainer? Because he’s too chicken to come back? So he needs you to do his dirty work for him over here?”

“Maybe he knows you’ll pull him in for questioning the minute he sets foot on US soil,” Stackton said.

“If he’s got nothing to hide then that shouldn’t worry him,” Tony replied.

“Says the man who just broke my fingers. Where’s my lawyer?”

“Where’s Jonssen?”

Stackton just smirked. Tony smiled, and settled back in his chair. McGee stiffened, waiting for it…A second later Tony brought his hand down hard on the table.

“Tell me!” he roared.

Carter and Morris both jumped, glancing at each other nervously, and then at McGee.

“He learned from the best,” McGee told them, with an impatient flick of his head.

“Hey – put me in a room with the boss and I’ll tell him anything he wants to know,” Carter joked. He was a smart-mouthed, good-looking young agent, always joking around and utterly and completely loyal to his temperamental boss. It was so achingly familiar that McGee found it painful to watch sometimes.

“I don’t know where he is!” Stackton said, looking genuinely shaken. “One of his overseas companies deals with me – I never speak to Jonssen directly. So what if I occasionally do some work for him and he pays me for it? That’s not illegal!”

Tony nodded, smiling again. “Thank you. And no it isn’t illegal. It is criminal though – it’s criminal that your scumbag boss is still out there when he should be behind bars.”

“You’ve never managed to make a single charge against him stick,” Stackton said, with a vicious grin.

“We nearly did,” Tony said grimly.

“Forensics didn’t exactly pan out though, did they?” Stackton said softly.

McGee winced. “Oh shit,” he said, heading for the door. “Well come on!” he yelled at Carter and Morris. “We all know what’s going to happen next!”

They burst into the next door room just in time to find Stackton’s chair overturned, and Stackton himself pressed against the wall with Tony’s hand wrapped around his throat and Tony’s fist poised to strike.

“Agent DiNozzo! Agent Carter will take it from here,” McGee said firmly.

Tony’s eyes were blazing as he stood there, fist still held back in readiness.

“The forensics didn’t pan out because Jonssen killed our forensic scientist before she got a chance to prove her case,” Tony hissed. Stackton grinned at him.

“What – you only got one forensic scientist?” he asked. The hand Tony had wrapped around his throat tightened.

“Oh I think you know that Jonssen killed Abby and set fire to her lab to destroy the evidence,” he growled.

“Another thing you feds don’t seem able to prove,” Stackton gasped. “Seems to be a long list – either Jonssen is innocent, or you guys are really bad at your jobs.”

“Agent DiNozzo!” McGee said hastily, seeing Tony’s eyes flash, and an old, familiar expression of angry despair settle there. Stackton clearly knew all the right buttons to press.

Tony stood there for a moment, fist still poised, Stackton grinning at him triumphantly, and it could have gone either way.

“Tony,” McGee said softly. “Let him go. Carter will take it from here.”

Slowly, the anger drained out of Tony, and he lowered his fist and released his hold on the prisoner. Stackton sank back against the wall, panting but still grinning widely. Tony turned on his heel and left without another word.

“He’s insane,” Stackton said to McGee, rubbing his bruised neck. “He could have killed me!”

“Yes, he could.” McGee nodded. Then he moved close. “And if you don’t co-operate fully with Agent Carter then next time I might just let him,” he said in a low, deadly tone. Stackton’s eyes widened. “He’s all yours, Carter,” McGee said tersely, and then he left to go after Tony.

He was halfway down the hallway when he became aware that someone was calling to him. He turned, to find Agent Morris running after him.

“Director McGee? I was wondering if I could have a word with you?” she asked.

McGee paused, trying to get his irritation under control. He wanted to go after Tony and calm him down, but he suspected that Tony was long gone by now in any case – he’d probably taken off somewhere to punch his fist into a wall in private. He’d likely reappear in a couple of hours with a badly bruised hand and a dark look in his eyes that would take days to fade.

“What is it, Agent Morris?” he asked, more curtly than he’d intended. She was a tall, elegant woman, with thick dark brown hair, cut into a bob, and intelligent brown eyes. She always reminded him of someone but he could never quite place who.

“I wanted…look, this is difficult, but I want to make a complaint against Agent DiNozzo,” she said.

“Did he say something inappropriate?” McGee sighed.

“What? No…nothing like that.” She looked surprised, and McGee realised that it had been a long time since Tony had been inappropriate around women in *that* way. “Look, I don’t want to make a formal complaint – I just thought that if I spoke to you about it, off the record, then maybe you could do something.”

“What’s your complaint then, Morris?” he snapped, impatiently. Complaints against Tony were commonplace – dealing with them had become a major part of his job since he became Director.

“It’s just that Agent DiNozzo treats me differently to the other agents on his team,” she said. McGee raised an eyebrow. “I could understand it if I wasn’t as good as they are but I am! I’m excellent at my job but he consistently passes me over for dangerous fieldwork. I get all the babysitting assignments, the stuff any probie could do – but I’m not a probie, Director. I’m the senior agent on his team!”

McGee nodded, suddenly realising who she reminded him of. “You know why Agent DiNozzo does this?” he asked. She frowned.

“I’ve been thinking about it – but all I can assume is that it’s some kind of chauvinism. Maybe he doesn’t think a woman can do the job as well as a man.”

McGee laughed out loud and she looked at him, curiously.

“Oh, he doesn’t think that, trust me,” McGee chuckled. “This is the man who worked with Mossad officer Ziva David for many years. So I can assure you that he *really* doesn’t think that.”

“So why then? Is it me? Does he think I’m not good enough?” she asked. She was a confident woman, but McGee could see just a hint of insecurity flitting through her dark eyes.

“No, that’s not it. It’s more complicated than that,” McGee told her. “He probably doesn’t even know he’s doing it – not consciously anyway. Did he ever mention the name Caitlin Todd to you?”

She shook her head, frowning. “No – why?”

“Well, she was someone he worked with, a very long time ago,” McGee murmured.

“What happened to her?”

“She was shot dead while out working on a very dangerous case,” McGee told her tersely. Her eyes widened. “She was a lot like you,” McGee added.

Morris looked outraged. “Well just because she looked like me doesn’t mean…” she began hotly. McGee held up his hand, interrupting her.

“Did he ever mention Ziva David to you?” he asked. She shook her head again. “Well, he and Ziva were close – they worked together for years until she was killed defusing a bomb. It was another dangerous case and he was covering her while she worked because there was a good chance the people who planted it would return to ensure it went off. She was good – very good – but there wasn’t enough time, and it exploded.”

“Is that where he got that big scar on his arm?” Morris asked, looking a little shaken. McGee nodded.

“He was trapped under the debris for three hours before we managed to cut him out. Bits of her were all around the place. Can you imagine what that was like for him?”

Morris nodded slowly. “I understand, but just because he’s lost…”

“And you know about his wife?” McGee said. Morris took a deep breath.

“Yes, sir,” she said quietly.

“She was killed right here, under his nose, down in the forensics lab, and he couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it,” McGee told her.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Morris said.

“You try telling him that,” McGee replied wryly. “Maybe you’re right, maybe he *is* a chauvinist, but he always says we lost the best of us and he was right. These women – Kate, Ziva, Abby…” his voice choked a little as he said that last name. “They were the best of us, Agent Morris. And we lost them – we lost all of them, and if Tony is trying to keep you out of the firing line that’s the reason why. It’s not that you’re not good enough – it’s that you’re too good and he doesn’t want to lose you.”

“That’s nice to know – but it still doesn’t make it fair or right, sir,” she said softly.

“I know.” McGee nodded firmly. “I’ll have a word with him. Agent Morris – Felicity – just…cut him some slack, okay? He might be a bastard but he’s a good man.”

She bit on her lip, her dark eyes full of empathy. “I know that, sir. You couldn’t work with him and not know that, even if he is as scary as all hell.”

“Good.” McGee turned to go, and then felt her hand on his arm.

“Sir…people say…it’s just…I heard that he used to be very different?” she asked.

“Yeah.” McGee nodded, turning back. “He was. I’ve worked with him for years and he was a very different person back when I started out. He was kind of an idiot, always goofing around, playing stupid jokes, teasing us and driving us all insane.”

“I can’t imagine that,” she said, shaking her head.

“No, well – events can change a person,” McGee sighed.

“Is that why you don’t fire him?” she asked. McGee raised a warning eyebrow. “Just…he’s been investigated by the FBI more times than I can count,” she said hurriedly. “And it’s no secret that his methods are considered unorthodox. He’s a loose cannon.”

“And he gets results,” McGee growled. “He’s the best agent I have.” He shook his head, seeing the look in her eyes. She wasn’t the only one who wondered why he kept DiNozzo around when he had the potential to be such a massive liability. “Listen,” he said. “There was once a young probie who made a big mistake – he shot an undercover cop, and couldn’t sleep for second-guessing himself and what he’d done. He was on the verge of handing in his badge and giving up his job – and it was Tony who went to his apartment and spent half the night talking him out of his funk.”

“You were the probie?”

“Yeah – and Tony’s many things, a lot of them not very pretty I agree, but the one thing he is now and always has been is loyal to a fault. He’s also a brilliant agent – he’s the second best field agent I’ve ever known.”

“The first being Gibbs?” she asked. “He seems to be a legend around here.”

“He is,” McGee grinned. “With good reason. Look, Felicity, I know Tony’s a bastard of a boss to work for, but all I can say is that you should have tried working for Gibbs. Now *that* was tough.”

“But Mr. Gibbs is always so nice when he comes in with Louis,” she said. “He’s a real sweetheart.”

McGee laughed out loud, and patted her arm. “How you feel about Tony – that’s how we all felt about Gibbs,” he told her. “Now, if there’s nothing else I have someplace I need to be.”

He was about to turn and leave when she touched his arm again.

“You lost all those people too,” she said quietly. He looked at her sharply.

“Yes I did,” he murmured.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she told him. He swallowed, hard. She smiled at him. “You’re a good man, sir,” she told him. “And he’s not the only one who’s loyal – you always stick by him, no matter what.”

“You had to know him,” McGee said, his voice sounding a little hoarse. “You had to know him back then. You had to know them too – all of them. Kate, Ziva, Abby…it’s, it’s been hard for us, Felicity, losing them. Tony’s right – they really were the best of us. I wish you’d known them. I wish they were here now so that you *could* know them. If they were, things would be very different around here.”

She squeezed his arm. “I know *you*, Director,” she said softly. “And I know what a good job you do here, juggling a hundred different problems at once – at least half of them caused by Agent DiNozzo.” She smiled again, and then drew back. “Sorry – just…I should probably get back to work now.”

McGee nodded and watched her go, feeling suddenly winded. The past never failed to make him smile and make his heart ache in equal measure. It was hard seeing these new people, so bright and full of promise, and remembering himself, the way he’d been back then, before time and events had taken their toll on him – on all of them.

McGee made his way back to the squad room but Tony wasn’t there – he hadn’t expected him to be. He probably wouldn’t return for a couple of hours. Even so, it wasn’t worth leaving anything to chance where Tony was concerned, so McGee pulled out his cell phone and put through a call to security.

“This is Director McGee,” he told the chief. “I want you to put two men outside Interrogation Room One. They are not, under any circumstances, to let Special Agent DiNozzo in there without my express authorisation.”

That done, he thought he deserved some lunch.

Louis was finishing off his ice-cream by the time McGee made it to the restaurant. It was a warm day so he was sitting on the restaurant’s back patio with Gibbs and Ducky, smears of green all around his mouth, and he was slowly but happily sucking on his spoon.

“Hey – pistachio right?” McGee said, grinning at him as he took the empty seat opposite him, next to Ducky and across from Gibbs.

“Uncle Tim!” Louis’s face lit up. “Is Daddy with you?” he asked. McGee shook his head.

“No, he…uh, had to do some work,” he said lamely.

“Did he kill that man?” Louis asked. McGee winced.

“No – that was just a joke, Louis,” he said quickly, crossing his fingers as he spoke. Gibbs raised an eyebrow at him. McGee grimaced.

“You know, Louis – why don’t we go over to the play area?” Ducky suggested, glancing from Gibbs to McGee and back again. There was a jungle gym and a slide over in the corner of the restaurant’s yard.

“Can I, Boss?” Louis asked, his chin dripping ice-cream.

“Sure – let me just clean you up.”

Louis grinned happily as Gibbs grabbed a napkin, spat on it, and wiped it over his face, and then Ducky took Louis’s hand and led him away. Ducky had retired a few years ago but McGee thought he never seemed to grow a day older. His hair was thinner now but he was still lively and vigorous – of them all, McGee thought that maybe he’d changed the least. He still came into NCIS one day a week to take newbies on a tour of Autopsy, or look over Palmer’s shoulder and comment on his work while regaling him with various long and sometimes improbable anecdotes. Jimmy didn’t seem to mind – everyone loved Ducky and they all enjoyed having him around, even if it was just for one day a week.

“So – what’s going on?” Gibbs asked, stirring his coffee. His hair was now completely silver, but his blue eyes were as sharp and formidable as ever. Retirement – or maybe it was looking after Louis – suited him. He looked more relaxed these days, and, if anything, he looked younger now than when he’d been at NCIS. The lines on his face were softer, and he smiled more often. He had an air of contentment about him and that was something that McGee had never seen in him before. He could still be as focussed and demanding as ever though, and whenever McGee was with him he felt he regressed to being a young probie again, even now, as a forty-something man in charge of a federal law enforcement agency.

“Tony thinks he’s found one of Jonssen’s lackeys, Mark Stackton, but I don’t think that guy is going to talk. He’s more scared of Jonssen than of Tony – even if Tony did have him up against the wall with his hand around his throat,” McGee sighed. “You were right, Boss. I only just got there in time to pull him off.”

“Where did he go?” Gibbs asked.

“Wherever it is he goes when he’s feeling like this,” McGee shrugged. “He’ll be hitting something right now – the wall, the punching bag in the gym – we just have to hope it’s not, you know, a person.”

Gibbs grunted. “Christ. He’ll be hell when he gets home.”

“Do you hide the bourbon or just leave it beside his bed to get it over with?” McGee asked. It was no secret that Tony turned to drink when things got bad.

Gibbs glared at him. “He knows better than to drink in the house when Louis is around – or to come home drunk for that matter. I made that damn clear to him,” he growled. McGee was glad that he hadn’t been there when the two of them had had that particular conversation. “If he wants to get drunk in a bar then he can sleep it off in the office or find a hotel room,” Gibbs added.

“I just had a conversation with Agent Morris and it got me to thinking…” McGee said, and then he paused. Gibbs took a sip of his coffee. McGee hesitated.

“Well spit it out, McGee,” Gibbs ordered.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” McGee asked anxiously. “I mean, we rush around after him, we cover for him, we smooth things over for him – maybe we shouldn’t.”

“What’s the alternative?” Gibbs asked.

“I don’t know. I just feel, sometimes, like we’re his enablers or something,” McGee sighed. “I mean – you look after Louis for him and I protect him at NCIS. We all make it possible for him to carry on being like this.”

“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “We do what we have to do, Tim.”

“Well, with all due respect, Boss, I do sometimes wonder if either of us thinks objectively about this situation. I mean…Abby meant the world to both of us, and you…” He broke off. Gibbs glared at him.

“Say it,” he ordered.

“Well, you empathise with him too much, Boss!” McGee said forcefully. “You know you do! Your wife was killed too and you know how that feels so you cut him a lot of slack because of that.”

“You think that’s it?” Gibbs shook his head. “Yeah – I know what it’s like, Tim. I know how he feels every single damn day he gets up, and yeah, I do put myself in his place. I do wonder how I’d feel if I hadn’t put a half dozen bullets through the bastard that killed Shannon and Kelly. At least I got some kind of – what’s the fancy word they use for it? Closure? Yeah, I got that and Tony hasn’t, and I do understand what drives him, and why he’s so obsessed with getting Jonssen.”

“And all this time Louis is growing up and Tony hardly sees him!” McGee said, in a heated voice. “Maybe, if we made Tony face up to reality, he’d get his priorities right and realise he has a son who needs him and his revenge isn’t as important as that poor kid over there.” McGee glanced over to where Louis was hanging from some monkey bars.

“You think that if we stepped back that’s what’d happen?” Gibbs asked, in a tone of disbelief.

“It might!” McGee protested.

“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “Tony’s father died a couple of years ago, Tim – did you know that?” he asked.

“I was vaguely aware of it. What does that have to do with anything? I know he and Tony weren’t close.”

“He left Tony a fortune,” Gibbs told him. “And I mean a serious fortune. Tony doesn’t have to work ever again if he doesn’t want to, and if I said I wasn’t going to look after Louis any more, I know that Tony would just hire someone to take care of the kid and I *won’t* let that happen, not to Abby’s son. You tell him you’re not covering for him at NCIS, and he’ll just go off on his own, follow up his own leads, outside the law, and end up either dead or behind bars for the rest of his life.”

McGee gazed at him, aghast.

“We do what we have to do to keep Tony contained, to try and help as best we can, to stop this mess getting any messier, and, hopefully, to keep Louis’s dad alive for long enough for the kid to at least have his dad around, even if he’s not in his life as much as we’d like. We lost Kate, and Ziva, and Abby. We’re not damn well losing Tony too,” Gibbs said firmly.

“What if we screw up though?” McGee said quietly. “Tony is out of control, Gibbs – you know it and I know it. One of these days he *will* get himself killed. I’m sure of it.”

“He’s not out of control,” Gibbs said firmly. McGee glanced up at him sharply. “Not yet anyway, and I won’t let it happen,” Gibbs snapped. “You’re right though – he’s close to it and he needs a few slaps upside the head. You keep him tethered at the office and I’ll slap some sense into him at home. Between us we’ll contain him. That’s the best we can hope to do though – because unless he finds Jonssen and either kills him or puts him behind bars, I can’t see him changing.”

“And what if he does?” McGee asked. “What happens after?”

Gibbs sat back in his seat, a muscle in his jaw twitching.

“Don’t say you haven’t thought about it,” McGee hissed. “What is he after the burning desire for revenge has gone? *Who* is he? Do we get Tony back? The old Tony? Or does he not have anything to live for any more?”

“He’s got Louis,” Gibbs stated firmly.

“He hardly spends any time with the kid! To all intents and purposes you’re Louis’s dad. You’ve raised him.”

“I wanted to,” Gibbs said softly, and McGee knew that and he knew why. Gibbs was great with kids – always had been – and while McGee knew that Louis was in no way a substitute for Kelly, the little boy did fill a least some of the gap that her loss had left in Gibbs’s life. McGee was glad of that – Louis adored his “Boss” and Gibbs loved the child with all his heart in return, but Gibbs wasn’t Louis’s father – Tony was.

“I know,” McGee said. “I know, Boss, but I’m just saying – I don’t know how much longer we can all keep doing this. Something has to give.”

“I’ll talk to Tony,” Gibbs said grimly, and McGee grimaced at his tone. He wouldn’t want to be in Tony’s shoes when Gibbs got hold of him. “We’ll do what we have to do, Tim,” Gibbs told him. “To keep Tony safe. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Even if he hates us for it?” McGee asked.

Gibbs gave him a terse grin. “Hell, if he doesn’t hate us for it then we aren’t doing it right!”

At that moment they were interrupted by a squeal, and they looked around to see Ducky kneeling in front of Louis, showing him a magic trick that was clearly delighting the small boy. He giggled and then launched himself at Ducky, throwing his arms around his neck and giving him a big hug. The way he moved was so familiar that it made McGee’s throat constrict. He looked at Gibbs to see him looking at Louis in the exact same way.

“I still miss her so much,” McGee murmured.

Gibbs cleared his throat and finished his coffee in one gulp. “Yeah. That’s why we have to do our best for that boy over there,” he said grimly.

“I suppose there’s one good thing in all this,” McGee mused, watching as Ducky got to his feet and held out his hand to Louis.

“Which is?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“That Louis takes after Abby and not Tony,” McGee grinned. “Because otherwise you really would have your hands full, Boss!”

Gibbs managed a little chuckle at that, and they both turned as Ducky and Louis reached the table.

“It’s your turn to amuse our young friend now I think, Uncle Timothy,” Ducky said, with a meaningful smile in McGee’s direction. Louis was great fun but he had the combined energy of both Abby and Tony, who were two of the most high-octane people McGee had ever known, and that made the child exhausting company sometimes.

“You’re a hard act to follow, Ducky,” McGee complained, reaching out to tickle Louis and pulling a mock-scary face at the same time. The little boy immediately dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Ducky took his seat at the table. “I take it we have more problems with our mutual friend?” he murmured to Gibbs, with a glance at Louis to make sure he hadn’t picked up on who they were talking about. The child threw himself at McGee who picked him up and hung him upside down so that his soft dark hair brushed the ground.

“Yeah.” Gibbs nodded. “He’s got a lead on Jonssen.”

“Another one?” Ducky sighed. “I wish he’d just let it go.”

“He can’t, Duck, and I can understand that,” Gibbs said.

“But you’ve seen what he gets like whenever this happens. It’s not good for him – for any of us,” Ducky said. “I remember the last time – he drank himself into the ground for weeks, and then there were all those mysterious injuries he sustained and which he made me treat.” He gave a little wince. “All those bruised knuckles and black eyes – either from bar fights or over-zealous, work-related encounters. It was all very dispiriting.”

“Like I said – we’re his enablers,” McGee muttered. He flipped Louis back onto his feet and sat down at the table again.

“McGee isn’t sure we go about this the right way,” Gibbs explained to Ducky. “But I don’t think we have a choice.”

“Well, Jethro, he long since stopped listening to me I’m afraid – and, I’m sorry to say this, Timothy but I don’t think he listens to you, either. That just leaves you, Jethro. Now he *does* still listen to you.”

“I know,” Gibbs snapped. “I’ve told McGee that I’ll have a word with him.”

“Who are you talking about?” Louis asked, curiously.

“A friend of ours, my dear Louis,” Ducky told him, brushing his untidy dark hair into a semblance of neatness with his hand.

“Is he okay?” Louis asked. “Your friend? Why are you all talking about him in whispers? Is he dead?”

McGee gave a little laugh. Louis had a kind of morbid fascination with death, although he didn’t really understand it. Maybe that was just his mom coming out in him again.

“No he isn’t dead, Louis,” Ducky replied gently. “He’s just…lost his way.”

“He’s lost?” Louis’s eyes glowed anxiously. “You have to find him! I got lost last week – in the shopping mall. I was really scared. A nice lady found me and they called for Boss over the loudspeaker thing.”

“I only turned my back for a second,” Gibbs grunted. “I hate shopping malls. Although I did tell you to stick close by as there were so many people there that day,” he said to the child. Louis nodded.

“I know. Boss yelled at me and hugged me a lot when he found me,” Louis said. “He said I scared him but I was scared too when I couldn’t find him. I was really scared.”

He bit on his lip, gazing at Gibbs, and then put his arms up, looking upset by the memory. Gibbs lifted him up onto his knee obligingly and kissed his hair. That seemed to reassure Louis because he stuck his finger happily in what remained of his now melted ice-cream.

“I told Boss I got lost because I saw a puppy and went to stroke her. I want a puppy,” he said wistfully, sucking the ice-cream off his finger. Gibbs raised his eyes heavenward and McGee wondered how many times Louis had been asking him for one since that day in the mall.

“McGee! Where the hell are you hiding, McGee?” a loud voice rang out from the back door of the restaurant. They all looked up, in surprise, to see Tony striding towards them.

“Daddy!” Louis scrambled off Gibbs’s lap and charged over to him but Tony brushed him aside without even looking at him, almost knocking the child over in the process.

“You put security on the damn door? Security? To keep *me* out?” Tony shouted, looking as if he was about to explode.

“Oh hell,” McGee muttered under his breath. “Here it comes.” He stood up. “You weren’t in control of your temper back there, Tony – you’re not in control of it now, either, by the look of it,” he pointed out. “I don’t want anyone dying in our custody.”

“I wasn’t going to kill him. I was trying to scare him!” Tony growled. Louis shrank back against Gibbs and McGee winced – the last thing any of them wanted was for Louis to see Tony in one of his rages.

Gibbs got up, and handed Louis to Ducky.

“Duck – please take Louis to the restroom. Tony and I are going to have a little talk.”

“No we’re not – McGee and I are going to go back to NCIS where he is going to call off his security detail so I can do my job,” Tony seethed.

“Shut up and sit down,” Gibbs said, in a low, dangerous tone. Louis’s eyes widened. Ducky took the child’s hand and led him away.

Tony glared at both Gibbs and McGee but McGee held his ground, staring Tony out.

“I said, sit down, Tony,” Gibbs growled. “Don’t make me say it again.” Tony looked as if he was about to go off like a firework. His body was tense and his eyes dark, flashing angry sparks at them both. Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder. “Easy,” he said softly. The effect was instantaneous, and, McGee thought, a little surprising. Tony inhaled sharply, and then, with a glare at McGee, he sat. McGee relaxed.

“Go wait over there,” Gibbs said to McGee, gesturing with his head towards the doorway. “I’ll handle this.” McGee turned and went to stand by the door, waiting for Ducky and Louis to return from the restroom.

He glanced back at the table. Tony was sitting down, facing him, every muscle in his body still screaming his rage. Gibbs was standing behind him, both his hands on Tony’s shoulders, clamping down tight and talking into his ear in a low, urgent voice.

“I don’t give a damn who you’ve found – don’t ever talk like that in front of Louis again. He doesn’t need to see you like that. And I don’t care how angry you are – you damn near knocked him over when you charged in here and there’s no excuse for that.”

“McGee is behaving like an idiot. Carter won’t get what we need from Stackton. I need to talk to him again!” Tony protested angrily.

“According to McGee, last time you talked to him you nearly choked him.”

“Well, I’ve calmed down now.”

“I can see that.” Gibbs’s tone was so dry that McGee couldn’t help but smile. Gibbs squeezed Tony’s shoulder, and McGee was surprised to see Tony’s anger evaporate visibly. His entire body seemed to deflate, and he glanced up at Gibbs with a desperate, pleading expression in his eyes.

“I need to speak to Stackton, Boss,” he said in a quieter voice.

“I know – but it’s Tim’s call. He’s in charge, Tony. And he’s not going to agree to it if you keep yelling at him. You might want to think about making nice instead.”

“When did you ever make nice to anyone?” Tony muttered. Gibbs slapped the back of his head.

“When I had to,” he growled.

Then he sat down beside him, sliding one arm around his shoulders as he sat, keeping in continuous physical contact with Tony. He leaned in close and whispered something straight into Tony’s ear. McGee watched, frowning, wondering what was going on here. Tony listened though – he and Ducky had been right about that; Tony was listening to Gibbs, even if he wouldn’t listen to them. As Gibbs spoke he moved his hand, stroking Tony’s shoulder insistently the entire time. McGee was aware that he was watching a master class in bringing Tony down, and he wished he knew what the trick was.

“Yes?” Gibbs said, drawing back a little. “Can you do that?”

Tony bit on his lip, and then, eventually, he sighed. “Okay. I’ll try,” he muttered.

“Good boy.” Gibbs moved his hand and ruffled Tony’s hair as if he was Louis and not a grown man in his forties.

At that moment Louis and Ducky emerged from the restroom and came over to where McGee was sitting.

“Are Daddy and Boss still fighting?” Louis asked McGee anxiously.

“I don’t think so. And they weren’t really fighting earlier, Louis. They were just…talking loudly,” McGee told the little boy, hauling him onto his lap and cuddling him. Louis was a great cuddler and he nestled in close, reaching out to play with McGee’s tie in a distracted way, still keeping one eye on his father and Gibbs.

“Why was Daddy mad with you?” Louis asked, his eyes still worried despite the reassurance of the cuddle. Like his mother, he hated it when the people he loved were on bad terms with each other.

“I did something that upset him but it’s going to be okay. It’s kind of like when you ran after that puppy at the mall last week and Boss was mad with you,” McGee said. “It was okay after though, wasn’t it? Boss hugged you and it was okay.”

“Yes.” Louis nodded solemnly. “Will you hug Daddy?”

“Maybe not,” McGee grinned. “I don’t think your dad likes being hugged that much.”

“Boss hugs him and he likes that,” Louis said.

McGee frowned. He’d never really thought much about the day-to-day lives Gibbs and Tony must lead, living under the same roof with Louis, even if Tony did seem to spend every waking hour at the office. Gibbs had never exactly been a huggy kind of man though – only Abby had ever really been able to give him hugs. He couldn’t exactly see him hugging Tony so maybe Louis had got that wrong. He glanced back at the table, to see that Gibbs had moved his arm back so that it was around Tony’s shoulder again, and had pulled him close and was talking to him, saying something McGee couldn’t hear in soft but firm tones. So maybe Louis hadn’t got that wrong after all, he thought, with some surprise.

“Me and Boss play a game – we try and make Daddy smile,” Louis told him. “When it works we high five – but Daddy mustn’t see us doing that,” he added with a grin. “It’s cheating if I hug or kiss Daddy or Boss hugs or kisses him though because that always makes him smile.”

McGee frowned, and glanced up at Ducky, who raised an intrigued eyebrow at him. McGee thought he was seeing a whole new side to whatever domestic arrangement Tony and Gibbs had going on between them.

“Well, trust me – your dad definitely wouldn’t smile if I hugged him right now,” he told Louis.

“I don’t like it when Boss and Daddy yell at each other,” Louis confided. “When I went to my friend Nathan’s house his mom and dad yelled at each other the whole time. I hated that. I’m glad Boss and Daddy don’t do that.”

McGee chuckled to himself at the likeness Louis was drawing between what he clearly saw as the dynamics of two different sets of married couples. Then he glanced back at Tony and Gibbs again. As he watched, Gibbs pulled Tony over, pressed a kiss to the side of his head, and then released him with a little push and a grin. Tony shot him an oddly affectionate smile in return, and Louis laughed.

“See – there – Boss cheated!” he said. “He always cheats!”

“I can see that,” McGee murmured with another puzzled glance at Ducky. He wouldn’t have said that this was normal behaviour for either Gibbs or Tony but then, as he’d told Agent Morris earlier, a lot of things had changed over the past few years.

Tony got up and walked over to where they were sitting. McGee braced himself, but Tony’s earlier towering rage had dissipated, although that darkness was still there, in his eyes. Whenever Tony got a lead on Jonssen that obsessive darkness always came back. He just hoped Ducky hadn’t been right earlier about the drinking and bar fights. It was hard enough handling Tony when he was sober.

Tony gave McGee a grudging nod and then crouched down in front of him, so he was at eye level with Louis.

“Hey, Lou. Look – Boss just told me I was kind of mean to you when I pushed past you earlier. I’m sorry about that. So…why don’t you, me and Boss head out for the park and throw a ball around?” he suggested. “That’s if Uncle Tim will give me the afternoon off?” he asked, glancing up at McGee. Louis glanced up too, his eyes alight with hopeful happiness at the thought of spending an entire afternoon with his father.

“Tony – you have about three months vacation time stacked up. I’d be delighted if you took the afternoon off,” McGee replied. “So would your team I suspect. I think we’d all enjoy the peace and quiet.”

“Okay then.” Tony nodded. He stood up and looked McGee in the eye, his expression a little shame-faced. “When Carter’s done with Stackton, and we’ve gone over the tapes, will you let me interrogate him again, Probie?” he asked.

“Only if I’m there with you,” McGee replied firmly. “So the security detail stays on the door until I’m ready to go in there with you – and I’ll need to know exactly what angle you’re going to take with this, Tony, because right now we’re holding a man on suspicion of working for someone you don’t like very much – and that’s not actually illegal.”

“Should be,” Tony grinned.

McGee grunted. “And Carter might do better than you think with him, Tony. He’s a good agent.”

“I’ve taught him well,” Tony replied, with an offhand shrug.

“Yeah – and he’s desperate to impress you so maybe he’ll have something for us if we let him do his thing.”

“He’s desperate to impress me?” Tony raised an eyebrow. McGee rolled his eyes.

“They all are, Tony, but yeah, him in particular. He reminds me a lot of you – and of how you used to be, around Gibbs, back in the old days.”

Tony’s jaw tightened – he always got antsy whenever McGee reminded him of the old days.

“They’re nothing like us,” he snapped.

“Yeah – they are – they’re good people,” McGee told him. “You should try letting them in, Tony. Treat them like a proper team – the way Gibbs did with us.”

“The way Gibbs *sometimes* did with us,” Tony commented sourly, with a glance in Gibbs’s direction as he walked towards them.

“The way I sometimes did what?” Gibbs asked. Tony grinned at him.

“Nothing, Boss! Come on, Louis – let’s wait outside while Boss gets the check.”

He swung Louis up and hauled the kid easily onto his broad shoulders. Louis squealed with delight and held onto Tony’s hair, making Tony grimace theatrically. Ducky went ahead and opened the door for them and McGee watched them go.

“Looks like you worked some magic there, Boss,” he said to Gibbs as they went into the main interior of restaurant and over to the bar to pay the check. Gibbs got out his wallet, and fished out some twenty dollar bills.

“It’s like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound,” he muttered. “He’s still a bomb waiting to go off. Do *not* let him interview Stackton alone,” he added, glancing at Tony’s disappearing back, Louis perched atop his shoulders, laughing as they went.

“I had no intention of it,” McGee replied grimly. “I already told him that.”

They both waited, and McGee gazed up at the TV screen above the bar as the waitress dealt with the check and handed Gibbs his change.

“Heh – looks like it passed.” McGee pointed to the rolling news at the bottom of the screen. Gibbs glanced up as he put some quarters back in his wallet. “The gay marriage thing,” McGee added. “So gay marriage is now legal in the state of Virginia – about time too.” Not that it affected him, but he had some gay friends living nearby and he had always thought it was stupid that marriage was a right denied to them.

“No idea why *anyone* thinks marriage is a good idea, gay or straight,” Gibbs grunted.

“So it’s not something you’ll attempt again?” McGee asked, as they left the restaurant.

Gibbs laughed. “Only if I lose my wits,” he said. “And if I do, you have my permission to shoot me.”

McGee grinned back at him – and Gibbs reached out and touched his arm. “What about you, Tim?” he asked. “The years are passing. Hell, I’d been married three times by the time I was your age but you’ve never tried it once.”

“Oh well…I just never met the right girl,” McGee replied, feeling himself flush. “Or…I met her but she married someone else.”

Gibbs gazed at him steadily.

“And then…you know, got herself killed and left us all with a kid to look after,” McGee added, with a wry, self-deprecating grin. Gibbs nodded, and slapped his shoulder gently.

“It’s been a long time. Maybe you need to start looking for someone else?” he suggested.

“Like Tony has?” McGee asked. “He used to date a different woman every night of the damn week but there’s been nobody for him since Abby.”

Gibbs gave him a searching look. “Tony’s circumstances are different. As for Abby – I know you both loved her but she made her choice. Look, Tim, you’re one of the youngest directors NCIS has ever had and you’re doing a great job over there – I always knew your career would be on the fast track. You were just too damn bright and too damn good at your job not to make it to where you are right now. But…there are other things in life besides work you know.”

McGee laughed out loud. “Is that really Leroy Jethro Gibbs I hear giving me that advice?” he asked. “The same Leroy Jethro Gibbs who never arrived at work after 08:00, or left before 21:00?”

Gibbs gave him a tight little smile. “Yeah, well, maybe looking after Louis these past few years has given me a different perspective,” he said. “You going back to the office now?”

“Yes. Strange as it may seem I have more to do as Director of NCIS than run around after Tony DiNozzo all day long. I have a whole stack of paperwork to deal with and a meeting with SECNAV later. I also want to take a look at what Carter has got out of Stackton before Tony comes charging back in,” he said.

“Okay. I’ll try and keep him out of your hair for as long as I can,” Gibbs promised, and then he patted McGee’s arm again and strode off after Tony and Ducky.

McGee spent several hours trying to clear at least some of the paperwork that had built up on his desk as a result of his wasted morning, and then he spent the rest of the day and most of the evening in a long, tiring meeting with SECNAV.

The new SECNAV had only been in the job for a few months and she was a hard-nosed kind of woman, keen to stamp her mark on her new post. McGee was good at his job and had an excellent memory so he was able to keep up with her habit of barking unrelated questions at him and expecting a thorough answer – frankly, an apprenticeship with Gibbs had left him easily able to cope with even the toughest boss. All the same, he was tired and had a splitting headache by the time he returned to the office. It was nearly 10pm and he knew there was no way he’d be getting home before midnight.

His assistant was long gone, and he unlocked the door to his office with a relieved sigh, grateful for the peace and quiet, and then, without turning on the light, he headed over to his desk to find the stash of Advil he kept in his top drawer. He opened the packet, knocked two into the palm of his hand and then looked around for the bottle of water he usually kept on his desk.

“Want to wash them down with this?” a voice drawled and he jumped, startled, and snapped on the desk lamp to see Tony sitting on his couch, legs up on his coffee table, holding up a glass of bourbon – *his* bourbon. The bottle was open on the table in front of him – as was the door of McGee’s wet bar in the corner. McGee felt his jaw tighten – he’d taken enough crap from Tony today and was in no mood, after a long day and with his thundering headache, to take any more.

“Tony, what the hell are you doing here?” he growled.

“I often come up here when you’re tucked up at home in bed, McGeek,” Tony told him. “You keep the best liquor.”

“How the hell did you get in here? The office door is kept locked,” McGee snapped.

Tony just looked at him as if he’d said something really stupid, which he had; they both knew that Tony could pick just about any lock if he put his mind to it – a trick he’d learned from Gibbs and Ziva.

McGee sighed. “You come here and drink my whisky – seriously?”

“No, mostly I come here and spend the night on your couch,” Tony replied. “That’s usually after I’ve been drinking although it sure as hell helps knowing that I can get a refill if I need one – that’s an extensive collection of liquor you’ve got there, Probie. Didn’t even know you liked to drink.”

“I don’t,” McGee muttered, going over to the table and grabbing the glass of bourbon out of Tony’s hand. “I keep it to offer to visitors.”

He threw both Advil into his mouth and took a deep swallow of the bourbon, making a face as it burned his throat on the way down. Tony held out his hand to have the glass back. McGee glared at him.

“Hey – you said you keep it for visitors. *I’m* a visitor,” Tony said.

“No, right now you’re a trespasser. You broke into my damn office, Tony!” McGee snapped. “Why the hell are you here anyway?”

“Can’t go home. Too drunk. Didn’t know you’d be coming back,” Tony said. “Besides, I want to be here first thing tomorrow to interview Stackton.”

“I authorised him to be put in the cells overnight,” McGee told him. “And it is not a given that I’ll let you interview him first thing tomorrow, Tony. I want some time to review the interrogation file first – and the pretty damn paltry paperwork you filed detailing his supposed ‘crime’.”

“He can lead us to Jonssen – I know it,” Tony said mulishly.

“Maybe – or maybe he’s another of your dead ends,” McGee said tersely. Tony’s expression darkened. “Either way, I have some work to do – and you are in the way.”

“Nah. I’ll just lie here…” Tony swiped the glass from McGee’s hand and downed the rest of the contents in one gulp. “You won’t even know I’m here.”

McGee thought about it, but he really didn’t like the idea of a drunk Tony DiNozzo snoring his head off on his couch all night. He also wasn’t sure what Tony might look at while he was in here – although he was pretty sure he’d have already looked through Carter’s interrogation report which he’d asked to be left on his desk. All the same, Tony had clearly spent some time in a bar this evening and McGee wasn’t sure he was in any fit state to find a hotel room. He could put him in a taxi and send him home but…

“Gibbs won’t let you in the house if you’re drunk, will he?” he asked, remembering what Gibbs had told him earlier, in the restaurant. Tony pulled a face.

“Nah. He’ll just throw my sorry ass out again if I go home like this. Doesn’t want Louis to see his dad stinking drunk.” He poured some more bourbon into his glass, and then threw his head back and took a long gulp. “He’s right,” he slurred. “Used to see my dad drunk all the time when I wasn’t any older than Lou. Had to put him to bed myself some nights later on. Never was a night he went to bed sober. Glad Louis’s got someone looking out for him.”

McGee sighed. He wished Tony had had someone like Gibbs looking out for *him* when he’d been a kid – maybe, if he had, he wouldn’t be so hard to handle right now.

“You’re pissed off with me,” Tony said. “I can tell.” He didn’t seem bothered by it. In fact he just held up the glass again, said “cheers’”, and downed the rest of the bourbon in one gulp. McGee fought back a wave of irritation.

“Yes, I’m pissed off with you, Tony,” he said.

Tony belched, loudly, grinned at him stupidly, and then reached for the bottle. He fumbled with it, still grinning inanely, and something about his drunken stupor annoyed McGee beyond belief. It had been a long day, and his anger spilled out. He grabbed the glass out of Tony’s hand and threw it across the room where it smashed against the opposite wall and shattered into pieces, leaving a big stain on the wallpaper.

“Oops,” Tony said.

“Fuck it, Tony!” Tim yelled, losing control of his temper. “You drive me fucking insane! I’ve had it with you! Yes, you lost Abby but we all did and we’re not all getting drunk the whole time. You don’t fucking understand what you’ve *got*, and you’re throwing it all away, chasing after revenge and oblivion and…and…the fucking *darkness* rather than just sucking it up and getting on with it, like the rest of us are doing. Do you see Gibbs drinking himself stupid every night of the week, huh? Or me? We lost them too! We all lost Kate, and Ziva, and Abby – not just you!”

“Aw. You’re angry. Wanna hit me, Timmy?” Tony said, pointing at his already bruised jaw. “Go ahead. Go on. I’ll give you the first one for free.” His eyes sparkled dangerously and McGee knew he was relishing the thought of a fight.

“No I don’t want to fucking hit you! I want to shake you!” McGee shouted.

Tony grinned at him, a dark, hostile grin, and reached across the coffee table for the bottle of bourbon. For some reason that irritated McGee and he launched himself over the table to get to the bottle first and remove it from Tony’s reach. Tony shoved him out of the way and McGee shoved him back – hard – harder than he’d intended. Tony took a clumsy swing at him, catching McGee unawares, and connected a feeble blow to McGee’s midriff. In sheer exasperation, McGee lashed out and landed a swinging punch to Tony’s mouth. Tony fell off the couch and onto the floor with an almighty crash where he lay, giggling inanely, his lip cut and bleeding.

“Tony…shit…” McGee felt angry with himself for allowing Tony to get to him. He moved towards him and then, a second later, found himself flying through the air as Tony kicked his ankles out from under him. He ended up banging his head against the coffee table and lay there on his ass, gazing blearily at Tony who was gazing back at him with a twisted grin on his face. “I fucking hate you, Tony,” he said.

“Yeah. I know.” Tony shrugged.

“You’re such a bastard. I loved her too, Tony. I loved Abby – but she chose *you*. Have you any idea what it was like to stand by and watch the two of you…”

He closed his eyes shut tightly. He’d loved Abby for years, ever since he first met her. They’d dated for awhile, many years ago, but she’d never been as into him as he was into her. She’d let him down gently, but she was so nice that he’d mistaken that for meaning that he still had a chance with her. Maybe he’d just never listened to the messages she kept giving him that it was never going to happen between them. In his head he’d just always assumed that it *would*.

Tony, meanwhile, had pursued his life of endless bachelorhood with his usual gusto – punctuated only by meaningful glances at and a low-level flirtation with Ziva. McGee had never been entirely sure what was between them but he knew they were close, and he suspected that at some point the relationship ended up in the bedroom. He hadn’t been all that interested – he was too fixated on Abby, and on his certainty that they’d one day end up together and all he had to do was hang on in there until she woke up to that certainty too.

Then Ziva had been killed on that horrible, long, endless day and they’d spent hours freeing Tony from the collapsed building where he was trapped. Gibbs had paced around like an angry, caged tiger, yelling at anyone who came near him. At that point he hadn’t known which of his agents was dead and which alive; they had body temperature readings that *someone* was still alive in there, but they didn’t know who. McGee often wondered whether Gibbs was relieved or disappointed that it was Tony. He’d known Tony the longest of all of them and the two men had always had some kind of weird bond, but Ziva was a woman and Gibbs had some old-fashioned views about the women under his command.

Tony had been half dead when they finally dragged him out, and Gibbs…well, it was as if someone had turned back the clock to when Kate had been killed – only worse. Tony was in the hospital for weeks – he had more broken bones than McGee could count, and it had been touch and go whether they’d save his left arm. He’d been left with terrible scarring there but even worse than that was the fact that the light seemed to have gone out of him.

When McGee visited him in the hospital he found him subdued, unable to make his usual stupid jokes, and prone to obsessing about those few hours leading up to the bomb blast and if they could have done anything differently. What he never talked about, to McGee at least, were those dark hours he’d spent trapped in that burned out building, with bits of Ziva’s body all around him, knowing she was dead and trying to come to terms with that as he lay there badly injured.

That was the first time McGee had witnessed the dark well of anger inside of Tony that he’d since become all too familiar with. Looking back, he thought that maybe that was when Tony had begun to change, although none of them had been aware of it at the time. The only people he had responded to, in those first few weeks after the bomb blast, were Gibbs and Abby.

Gibbs visited him whenever he could tear himself away from tracking down the people who’d killed Ziva and putting several bullets in them, the way he’d done with Ari, and with the man who’d killed his family. Abby went to see Tony every day though – and McGee realised for the first time that she and Tony had a strange bond that went way back, to a time long before he’d joined NCIS. They had both always had a certain childlike quality to them – or just plain childish in Tony’s case – and now they clung to each other like children. At first he’d dismissed their growing closeness as just her warm heart reaching out to his obvious distress, but it had slowly dawned on him that it was turning into something more than that.

When he finally confronted her about it they had a big argument – largely his fault he thought, in retrospect.

“You’re sleeping with Tony?” he accused after finding out that she’d spent every night since Tony’s release from the hospital at his apartment. “Tony? For god’s sake, Abby! How long do you think that’ll last? Tony’s incapable of loving any woman for longer than a month!”

“Don’t be an idiot, McGee,” she said, her face looking strained and taut. “Me and Tony…well, it was kind of always going to happen. It just had to wait until we both grew up a bit.”

“What? What do you mean *always* going to happen?” he asked, totally mystified. “Since when?”

“Since we first met.” She shrugged. “We both knew we’d get around to it one day.”

He just stared at her, totally and utterly unable to get his head around what she was saying.

“We just had to walk on the wild side a bit first,” she added with a grin. “Both of us. Him and all his girlies, and me and all my crazies. Now we’re done with that. We’re kind of getting a bit too old for it as well. It’s okay to sleep in a coffin and make out with vampire wannabes when you’re in your twenties, but it gets totally uncool when you’re heading past 35.”

“I think you’re both completely insane,” he told her.

“McGee,” she said softly, patting his arm. “Don’t be like this. You and me – that was a long time ago, and Tony needs me right now. I have to be there for him.”

“Well don’t come running to me when it ends in tears – and it will.”

“Hey.” She pulled him into a big hug and he hung there stiffly, until finally it was too much for him and he gave in, and surrendered. It was always impossible to hold out against Abby for long. “I’ll always love you, Timmy. You know that,” she whispered in his ear.

He did know that, but it hadn’t made it any easier. He had been wrong about her relationship with Tony ending in tears as well. It hadn’t. In fact, they’d been obviously and deliriously happy for a couple of years, and McGee had been forced to suck it up, and learn how to live with it. He’d been the best man at their wedding, even though it had hurt to stand there and watch Gibbs walk Abby down the aisle in a black silk dress and deliver her up to Tony of all people.

Tony had never hurt her though, the way McGee had thought he would – although he was pretty sure that Gibbs had taken Tony to one side and promised to break all the *other* bones in his body if he ever hurt his beloved Abby. Whether it was because of that, or whether it was because he’d just finally grown up, Tony clearly doted on her and never looked at another woman from the minute they got together. Abby just as clearly adored Tony and was as happy as McGee had ever seen her, and, in time, he had grudgingly had to admit, to himself at least, that he’d been wrong, and somehow this most unlikely of couples worked – which made it all the more devastating when Abby had been killed.

“Here, Probie, if you’re going to go getting all dark and maudlin on me then you’ll need this,” Tony said, snapping him back to the present, handing him the bottle of bourbon. McGee took it, threw his head back, and took a deep gulp of the fiery liquid.

Tony laid back against the couch, blood seeping out of his split lip and running down his chin.

“She wasn’t even supposed to be here that day,” McGee muttered, taking another deep slug of the bourbon. “She was still on maternity leave but her replacement just wasn’t as good, and couldn’t get the forensics to pan out, and she had dropped into the office with Louis and I mentioned it to her…I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You didn’t know, Probie,” Tony sighed.

“But it’s always stayed with me!” McGee said savagely, staring at the bottle of bourbon in his hands. “If I hadn’t asked for her help…”

“She was the best – of course you asked her, Probie,” Tony said softly. “Besides, you weren’t Director then so it’s not like you ordered her to help out. She wanted to.”

“I know. I know.” McGee shook his head, took another gulp of bourbon, and handed the bottle to Tony, who took it with a twisted little smile.

“I could have stopped her too,” Tony said. “I was senior agent and you and she were both on my team. Hell, we all could have stopped her but there was no reason to think anything would happen to her.”

McGee remembered how they’d all looked after Louis together in the squad room while Abby worked in her lab for a few days. It had been such a great time – the first time since Ziva had died that he felt they’d all pulled together as a team again, and it had started to feel like it used to, back in the old days. Of course, looking back, he realised that was the last time he’d felt that way. A few days later Abby had been killed inside her own lab – and all the evidence she’d been working on had been destroyed as well.

Jonssen had walked free and then fled immediately, before he could be called in for more questioning on a number of outstanding unsolved crimes he was linked to, and Tony had made it his life’s work ever since to track the bastard down. It wasn’t a goal that McGee was unsympathetic to – they all wanted to catch Abby’s killer. He was pretty sure that Gibbs would have been the first in line for that particular crusade if it hadn’t been for Louis. Someone had to take care of the baby, and Tony had been a wreck for several months. Gibbs had just assumed the responsibility with typical efficiency and lack of fanfare.

McGee watched Tony take a slug of bourbon and then hand the bottle back to him. Tony’s back was against the couch, while McGee was propped up against the coffee table. His head hurt and he could feel a little trickle of blood seeping out of the cut on the side of his forehead. Tony looked even worse – the split lip McGee had given him just adding to his other facial injuries from earlier in the day, giving him a battered look.

“I’m sorry I hit you, Tony,” McGee said.

“Nah – I deserved it.” Tony shrugged. “I’m sorry I tripped you – you’ve been a good friend to me, Tim. And I know how you felt about Abby. I guess we all felt that way. I know it’s not just me who…I know you all miss her too. I just can’t…” His hands curled up into fists. “I can’t stop myself, Tim – you know that.”

“Yeah. I know,” McGee sighed. He glanced at the stained wall and the shattered shards of glass all over the floor. “Shit. I should clear this up before Gary comes in tomorrow.”

“McGee! You’re the goddamned director!” Tony laughed. “Who the hell cares if your assistant sees a broken glass? Maybe he’ll just figure you had a good night for once, McAll-work-and-no-play.”

“Someone has to keep this place running.”

“Well, it’s not my idea of fun. I’m glad I turned the job down.” Tony grinned at him provocatively.

“Tony! They never asked you!”

“They would have if I’d been interested,” Tony said with a wink.

“Tony – you were being investigated by the FBI for the what – seventh time? – when the job became vacant. Trust me; you weren’t even on the list!”

“Sixth,” Tony said, with a wounded pout. “Also, the first few times weren’t my fault – first time it was Abby’s weird forensics gremlin making trouble for me. Second it was Jeanne wanting revenge for the many crimes of love I committed there.”

“Third time Gibbs covered for you,” McGee said.

“Yeah. And the fourth,” Tony agreed.

“And the fifth time *I* covered for you,” McGee pointed out.

“Yeah.” Tony grinned. “Thanks for that, Probie.”

“And the sixth time Agent Sacks took pity on you,” McGee sighed. “You’re lucky that way, Tony.”

“Don’t want anyone’s pity, Probie,” Tony said, taking back the bourbon from McGee. McGee thought that although Tony had several hours head start on him, he was catching him up fast in the being drunk on his ass stakes. “Besides, Sacks just gave in eventually to the legendary DiNozzo charm. They all do in the end – it’s only a matter of time – although in his case, I grant you, a *lot* of time, but hey, the guy’s as stubborn as Fornell, may he rest in peace.”

McGee grinned, because for a moment that sounded a little like the old Tony, all monstrous exaggeration and misplaced confidence.

“Anyway, I’m just saying I *could* have made Director, although I think we both know I’d have been lousy at it. Like Gibbs would have been if they’d ever been stupid enough to offer it to him.” They both paused for a moment to shudder at that thought. “And hell, you’re a good director, Tim, better than any of the others I’ve worked for – ‘cept maybe Morrow. I liked that guy.”

McGee reached over to swipe the bottle back from him. “Nearly gone,” he complained, looking at it.

“You’ve got more in the bar.” Tony gestured with his head.

They sat there in silence for a long time, and then McGee remembered something.

“Agent Morris made a complaint about you,” he said.

Tony laughed. “Really? Took her long enough. Usually they complain about me within a week and she’s been with me for nearly three years.”

“Don’t you want to know what she complained about?” McGee asked. Tony’s eyes darkened and he shrugged.

“I know what she complained about,” he muttered.

“She thinks you pass her over for the dangerous field work,” McGee told him. Tony shrugged again. “I took a look at her case record – she’s right.”

“Yeah,” Tony replied.

“I told her why,” McGee said. Tony raised an eyebrow. “I told her she reminds you of Kate. I told her you lost Kate, Ziva and Abby and you don’t want to lose her.”

“Shouldn’t I be sitting *on* the couch if you’re gonna psychoanalyse me, McFreud?” Tony commented, gesturing over his shoulder to the couch he was slouched against.

“Am I wrong or right?” McGee asked.

“Who cares?” Tony waved a hand. “You do know she has the hots for you, right?” he said. McGee stared at him.

“Who?” he asked, frowning.

“Agent Morris. The beautiful Felicity. She lights up like a Christmas tree whenever you walk past her desk.”

“No she doesn’t. That’s just crap, Tony,” McGee growled, feeling himself flush all the same. He really didn’t want to talk to Tony about his love life – or lack thereof – or his feelings for Felicity Morris, which he thought he’d done a good job of keeping hidden. He was good at unrequited love – he’d had years of experience after all.

“Would you even notice if a woman looked your way, Tim?” Tony asked him, in a quiet voice, the teasing tone gone. “Maybe you need to pull your head out of your ass, stop living in the past, and go out and get yourself laid. Might stop you being such a grouch.”

“I’m not a grouch. I’m…Agent Morris?” McGee asked, still blushing.

“She’s hot,” Tony grinned.

“I hadn’t noticed,” McGee parried, disingenuously.

“Yeah – you had.” Tony leered at him.

“Stop it, Tony – that’s disgusting. Besides, if you think she’s so hot, why haven’t you made a move on her?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re getting laid either, Tony.”

A strange expression flickered in Tony’s eyes, and he shifted uncomfortably.

“Oh my god! You are!” McGee accused. “You are getting laid. Who is she, Tony?”

“None of your business,” Tony growled. “Now are you going to get the new bottle of whisky or am I?”

McGee got up, staggered over to the bar, found another bottle of bourbon and staggered back with it. He dropped down onto the couch, opened the bottle, and took a long drink from it. It wasn’t anywhere near as fiery as the other one, he thought hazily, or maybe the back of his throat had given in and was just going with it.

“How the hell did you even find time to meet anyone?” he asked. “You’re always here, or else getting drunk somewhere – or chasing down bad guys and beating their brains out with your fists. Did someone take pity on you or something?”

“What’s with the pity theme?” Tony growled.

“Only way I can see you getting laid,” McGee grinned down at him. Tony’s shoulders hunched and he reached up and grabbed the bottle out of McGee’s hand.

“Yeah, well, now I think about it there might have been some pity involved. They sure as hell had little enough reason to want to go there otherwise.”

“*They*?” McGee queried incredulously. “There’s been more than one?”

“Just a figure of speech,” Tony muttered. “Anyway, we’re not talking about me – we’re talking about you and the delectable Fe-lee-cee-tee.” He strung out her name unnecessarily, the way he always used to do with Ziva. “She has the right background for you, McGee. She’s smart – she talks all that computer geek stuff that you talk – and she went to Harvard. And she’s classy; did you know that her friends call her Flick? Man, I swear Carter mocked her about that for three months solid when he found out. Flick?” He laughed out loud. “Like she’s a pony or something – a thoroughbred maybe?” He grinned up at McGee. “You like her, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t matter if I do or not,” McGee replied, taking the bottle back. “Rule number twelve remember?”

“Never eat beans on a stakeout?” Tony frowned, looking confused. McGee slapped the back of his head.

“Gibbs’s rules – not DiNozzo’s!” he grinned. “Rule number twelve – never date a co-worker. And in my case, as I’m director, asking her out could constitute sexual harassment.”

Tony sighed, loudly. “McGee – if you live by the rules you’ll die without getting laid ever again and that, my friend, is something I’m not gonna let happen. Hey – what about SECNAV? She’s kind of sexy in a weird, scary way – and we all know you like weird and scary.”

“Do not!” McGee protested hotly. He knew they had to both be very, very drunk because they hadn’t talked this way in years, and although he suspected they were a bit too old for it, it felt kind of nice. Like the past few years hadn’t happened and they were younger, less world-weary versions of themselves. “You’re the one who likes weird and scary, Tony, not me.”

Tony grinned up at him. “Yeah. You could be right,” he said.

McGee was sure that he replied, and that Tony said something back, but he was equally sure that they were making less and less sense, and possibly even talking total gibberish. At some point he fell asleep, sprawled out on the couch.

He woke several hours later, his face squished against the side of the couch, and stared at the familiar and yet unfamiliar-from-this-angle fabric for several minutes, wondering why he had such a terrible headache. Then he remembered, and came to with a groan. He glanced around and saw Tony, lying on his back on the floor beside the couch, his hand wrapped around the half-empty bottle of bourbon. His mouth was open and he was snoring loudly. McGee poked him with his finger.

“Shut up,” he said. He glanced at his watch to find that it was 5am. His assistant, Gary, who always got in very early, would arrive within the next hour or two, and he really didn’t want him to find his boss in this kind of a state. “Wake up, Tony,” he said, sitting up, his head thundering in protest.

“Whaaa?” Tony sat up without so much as a groan, but then his body was more used to handling a hangover.

“It’s 5am and you stink.” McGee wrinkled up his nose. “Go home, clean up, and come back. Then we’ll review Carter’s interrogation notes together.”

“I already did,” Tony said.


“And he did okay but I know I can do better if you just shut me in a room with Stackton.”

“We tried that yesterday,” McGee told him. “Look, I’m going home to take a shower. You do the same – are you sober enough yet to drive?” He asked suspiciously. “Hell – am I? I’ll call us both a couple of drivers.” He got up, and then let out an involuntary moan as a wave of nausea shot through him. He sat back down again, and swallowed down a heave.

“Wuss. That’ll teach you to drink with the big boys,” Tony said, getting to his feet effortlessly and pulling McGee to his. McGee groaned, and stumbled over to his desk in search of the Advil. He held the packet up to Tony who just grinned and shook his head.

“I’ll see you back here at seven, Probie,” Tony said, in a loud and unnaturally cheerful voice as he headed for the door. McGee winced, the noise assaulting him in his current fragile state. He swallowed the Advil with a sigh, and then called for a driver to take him home.






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