Truth Be Told

by: BuffyAngel68 (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 002 Word Count: 5376
Rating: TEEN
Character(s): Ensemble
Category(ies): Action/Adventure, Angst/Drama, Episode Related, Humor, Hurt/Comfort
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Episode(s): 3-10 Probie
Summary: A week or so past the episode "Probie", Tim is suddenly facing anonymous attacks from every direction, both physical and otherwise. The team are determined to find the source before the young man can be taken from them.

Author Notes: Written for the recent gen NCIS zine Gear Up (I believe title is right)

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I own none of the recognizable characters in this work of fiction and have made no money from their use. Any original characters that may appear belong to the author.

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"McGee!"

"Here, Boss."

"You done with the pictures?"

"Absolutely."

"You get that stuff around the back of the building?"

"I did."

"Shoot everything inside?"

"Everything."

Gibbs paused for a long moment then grinned lightly and cuffed Tim on the shoulder.

"Good man. Head on back to the office, take 'em to Abby and help her start the analysis."

"You sure, boss? I could give Tony a hand with the sketches or..."

"If those two couldn't handle my assignments, they'd be somewhere else."

"Right. The computer research..."

"If we need you when we get back, I'll pull you out, but I'd rather have you on the pictures. Now get the hell outta here before I make you sweep the Navy Yard parking lot and detail every car." Gibbs growled, but Tim could see him fighting the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth. He responded to the rare glimpse of humor with a proud grin and immediate compliance.

"Got it, boss. Going right now."

As he turned toward the car he and Tony had arrived in, the strap supporting the camera around his neck broke and he bent forward a bit in order to catch the falling device. A moment later, he was showered with dust and debris from the brick wall just behind him and he dropped into a crouch, cautiously looking around and cradling the camera and its vital memory card within the curve of his body. Before he could straighten up, he felt a hand on his neck, keeping his head down, and one on his arm forcing him to rapidly shuffle around the corner into shadow and safety.

"Boss? Wh... what was that?"

"Sniper. Good thing that strap was a piece of junk or you'd be dead."

"Sniper? Firing at me? What... I mean..."

"Relax and stay here. You hear me? Stay... here."

"Okay... Boss, be careful!" he hissed as Gibbs shifted away from his side to peer around the building and survey the open area.

"Always am, McGee."

Several recent events, which belied this claim, flooded into Tim's head, but he wisely kept the examples to himself. When Gibbs saw that Tony and Ziva, standing some distance away, were unaware that the attack had happened, and hadn't been injured themselves, he cautiously rose to his full height and stepped out into the bright sun. Over his shoulder, he delivered a more intimidating repeat of his previous command. "You move, you even breathe too hard... I'll shoot you myself. Understood?"

"Crystal clear, Boss."

"Better be."

Slipping two fingers into his mouth, Gibbs whistled shrill and loud then stepped back into the dimness. Tony, recognizing the signal that meant, "get over here but don't draw too much attention", casually strolled in the direction he believed the sound had come from.

"Boss?"

"Sniper fired at McGee. Impacted somewhere behind you, see if you can find it."

"Uh-huh. And I'm Ivana Trump."

"Just do it, DiNozzo!"

"Damn, if I was wearing my Nike's this would be so much more funny..."

"Damn it, get serious, or when I can reach you I'll crack you so hard you won't see straight for a week!"

"Whoa, back up a minute... you mean it? Somebody actually shot at Tim?"

"Snipers don't waste ammo on empty air." Gibbs snarled. Tony got the point finally and turned to examine the wall behind him.

"I see it. There's not a lotta damage. Once we've cleared the perimeter, I'll try and dig it out. You gonna be okay here by yourself for a few minutes, Probie?"

Tim's eyebrows went up when he heard genuine concern in the question, but he put his confusion aside and responded quickly, if very softly.

"I'll be fine, Tony. Thanks."

"Hey, getting shot at is scary as hell, no matter how many times it happens. Stick to this side of the building and try not to move around too much. You get active, he might be able to pick you out, once his eyes adjust."

"That's kinda what Gibbs said... but he phrased it as a death threat."

"He would." Tony snarked. "Hang in, kid. We'll make it as quick as possible." He added, before slipping around the corner again and disappearing. Gibbs patted Tim's shoulder once then swiftly followed.

Despite what he'd been told by both men, Tim couldn't help the small movement required to look down at his watch occasionally. Three time-checks added up to nearly half an hour and he was beginning to get worried, darkly speculating on the welfare of his teammates, when Ziva suddenly appeared at his side, startling him into pulling his weapon.

"Calm down, McGee. I am no threat."

"Ziva! Don't do that! I was already worked up! I could've shot you out of pure reflex!"

"Apologies. You can put your gun away," she advised him, a light smile twitching at her lips.

"Oh... sorry. You just..."

"I understand. You may come out, now. Tony, Gibbs and I have cleared the area."

Tim heaved a sigh of relief and gratefully accepted the hand Ziva offered to help him to his feet.

"This is ridiculous." He declared as they moved back into the sunlight. "Nobody would shoot at me. It doesn't make sense. They must've been aiming for Gibbs."

"Are you saying he has given someone motive to want him dead, McGee?" Ziva teased, fighting not to smile. It worked just as she'd hoped, throwing Tim into confusion and making him produce half-finished sentences.

"No! I don't... I mean, I guess... well, he was a Marine, so it's possible... not that all Marines make enemies, I'm sure they're great people..."

A firm hand on his shoulder brought a squeak and another abrupt full-body jump out of Tim, as he turned to confront the potential threat.

"Gibbs. Boss, I didn't mean any of that..."

"Is the camera safe?"

"Perfectly."

"And the memory doo-hickey?'

"Uh-huh."

"Okay, then we're back on track. Tony, you find the bullet then get him to Abby and stay with him. David, you're with me."

All three stared at each other for a second or two, then shrugged, shared resigned grins and moved to do as they'd been ordered.

-----------------

NCIS: ONE HOUR LATER

"Relax, I'll go down to the lab with you, Tony. I just have to get the flash drive with the program Abby and I have been working on. I'm hoping it'll help with the... photos. Oh... oh boy."

Just outside the bullpen, DiNozzo huffed out a frustrated breath.

"What? One of the fairies in your dumb games break out and mess up your desk?"

"Ummm...not exactly. I... I need gloves... and an evidence bag."

Tony pulled the requested items from a pocket and moved closer to check out what had unnerved the other man. What he found disturbed him as well. A small bird had been stabbed with Tim's letter opener and left on top of his waiting paperwork. To the side, an envelope with only McGee's name on it had been carefully placed out of the pool of blood. "Tony can you... I don't think..."

"Yeah... yeah, of course. I'll take care of it. Go see Abby."

"Gibbs said..."

"I'll be there ASAP, alright? You'll be fine in the elevator." Tony replied, snapping on the gloves.

"I don't... I don't understand. Who'd do this? Why me?" Tim mumbled, gaze frozen to the gruesome display. Tony moved in front of him, blocking his view, and that seemed to shake the other man free.

"I'm handling this. You don't need to look at it anymore. Turn around..." he ordered gently, guaranteeing Tim's compliance by lightly pushing on one shoulder and tugging on the other. "...and go downstairs."

"Tony..."

"I know. Get moving."

Certain that Tim would look back to reassure himself at least once, DiNozzo watched until the younger man was actually in the elevator before returning to the distasteful task awaiting him.

With an effort, he managed to ease the deeply imbedded letter opener out of both the tiny victim and the desk without doing much more damage to either one. The weapon, the bird, and the destroyed papers all quickly vanished into individual bags, but Tony hesitated and thought long and hard before tackling the envelope. The vivid memories of his near-fatal mistake, and the fear and pain he'd suffered ever since, made him think seriously about calling in an alert, stepping back and giving way to the people who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, he was all too aware that Tim might not be as safe as he'd tried to make him believe and time could be very short. Grimacing and holding his breath, Tony lifted the envelope, placed it into a fourth evidence bag and quickly secured the seal. Gathering all the evidence, he headed for Abby's domain.

-----------------

"Damn it... I hate this. I won't let him go through what I did, Abby. Never. Nobody else will ever face that again..." Tony griped as he watched Abby work with the envelope in the small isolation chamber, just as she had with the one that almost cost his life.

"You did everything right, Tony. You left it to me to open and now, no matter what... we should all be safe. Just chill while I check it out, okay? A little more... there. Got it. Tip it over... ah-ha. No powder. Looks like we're good. Now to pull it out and find out what's on this creepazoid's so-called mind..."

"Abby, no!"

"Tony, will you relax? See mask, see the extra heavy, extra long, make-you-sweat-buckets gloves? You've got a right to be freaked, I get that, but I can't focus when you're doing it this close to me."

"Yeah... sorry. Just... flashbacks, I guess."

"That's totally normal and you and I will talk it out and I'll give you a huge hug when my hands aren't so busy..."

Tony grinned despite his anxiety.

"... but the case comes first. I know. No more panic attacks, I promise. Go ahead and get it out of there."

Abby leaned around him and gazed into her office, where Tim sat with his head in his hands, then looked at Tony again.

"He's got stuff on his chest. You take care of him while I do this, okay?"

Tony grinned faintly, amused as always by the unique way Abby chose to phrase things, and surrendered to her attempted diversion.

"Okay. You just... you know."

"Precautions, any and every. Gotcha."

Tony laughed, kissed her on the cheek and moved off to see what he could do about lifting Tim's spirits.

"Hey, kid. Guess you're not doing any better, huh?"

"Not even close. How do you not... I mean, seeing things like that, how can you stay so..."

"... calm? I wasn't, trust me. I've just been doing this so long that I'm kinda... one step removed is probably the best way to put it. I have to be. All the hurt and fear we have to deal with on a daily basis... if I let it in, it would start dragging me down and I couldn't do the job. I know it doesn't feel like it now, but in your own way and your own time... you'll get there too."

"I don't think so. I came down here and headed straight for the bathroom, Tony. Seemed like I gave back everything I've eaten in the past week. That's not exactly a reaction worthy of a federal agent. Especially someone on Gibbs' team."

"Oh yeah?" Tony challenged as he moved inside and perched on the edge of the desk. "I'm still here aren't I?"

"You mean you..."

"First month on the team. I'd seen bad stuff as a cop, thought I was ready for whatever NCIS could throw at me. Then we caught a case where a Navy wife had tried to turn her cheating Lieutenant husband into one a'those chainsaw carvings, like at the state fair. When I first saw the body I turned around, ran about ten feet, fell on my knees and puked for two straight minutes. Gibbs just watched until he figured I was pretty much done. Then he walked over, offered me a handkerchief and a hand up and told me the same thing I'm about to tell you. Next time, it won't be such a big deal."

Tim frowned.

"That's not a good thing, Tony. It can't be. I respect Agent Gibbs and I admire him... but I don't wanna be like that. Indifferent, cold, tunnel-visioned on the cases because you have nothing else... that's no life."

"Damn right it isn't, but this isn't your life, McGee. This is work. You don't learn to separate the two and put all this crap behind you in your off hours... that's when you'll end up like Gibbs. You feel like getting out of here? I figured we'd go upstairs, you can tell me what paperwork you've lost and I'll help you replace it."

"You'd do that?"

"Absolutely. We work fast, nobody higher up will ever know anything happened to it. We can get that program you were talking about, too... bring it back down to Abby later, after she's got all this stuff outta sight."

"Yeah... okay. Thanks."

"No problem. Maybe I didn't come in here as a probie, exactly, but I've been a rookie. I know the ropes. Stick with me, I'll show 'em to you and make sure they don't end up wrapped around your neck."

They were halfway to the door when Abby called them back.

"Guys? You should see this." she advised, stripping off her mask and gloves. "Not a word, Tony. And no panicked looks, either."

"I wasn't about to, I swear. What is it?" Tony asked, anxiety bleeding through the facade of calm and control, in spite of Abby's admonition.

"There was a letter in the envelope... but I don't understand it. 'Sorry I missed you, I'm sure my aim will get better.' What's that supposed to mean, McGee?"

Both men flushed deeply. Out of necessity, Tony had informed her of the situation up in the bull pen, but had not yet informed her of what had occurred earlier, knowing how upset she'd be.

"Ummm... out at the scene... somebody took a pot-shot at Tim."

"And you didn't *tell* me?!" she screeched, smacking both her colleagues in the chest and shoulders

"Abby! Hey..." Tim protested.

"I knew you'd react like this." Tony added.

"Like *what*, DiNozzo? You want me to be all bluebird of *happiness* when I find out my best *friend* just got shot? Huh? Do you?" the young woman countered, keeping up the mild assault until McGee grabbed her wrists.

"Shot *at*, Abby, not shot." McGee corrected. "He didn't hit me."

"Could've been a she, Probie. You never know..."

Recognizing that Tony was trying to lighten the mood and calm Abby down, Tim released her and went with the flow.

"You're the one women take out contracts on, DiNozzo."

"That was only once and it wasn't my fault. How was I supposed to know I was flirting with the engaged granddaughter of a really touchy mafia boss?"

"Like the two massive bodyguards weren't a big clue? I swear, Tony, sometimes..."

DiNozzo began another rejoinder, but Abby glared at him and McGee fiercely. Both turned their eyes down and spoke in unison.

"Sorry."

Abby performed one of her infamous split-second, mercurial changes of mood, smiled brightly and pecked the men on the cheek one after the other.

"I know. I still love you both. Now what're we doing about this?"

"The rest of us will protect him, Abby. Somebody'll be with him all the time 'till we figure out the who and why and take the bastard down."

Tim scowled and protested.

"No, no, no. This could take weeks. I don't want anybody in my apartment that long, not even if they're protecting me. Besides, my place is tiny. It's basically a bedroom and one other room, most of which is taken up by computer equipment and furniture and..."

Abby moved closer to him and laid a hand over his mouth.

"Timmy, don't, okay? Only I'm allowed to babble when I'm scared."

"G't it." He mumbled around the obstruction and she removed her hand. Tony smirked and patted Tim's shoulder.

"C'mon, McGee. Let's head upstairs and get started. Can't wait to see you babble at Gibbs."

TBC....

2/2


TWENTY MINUTES LATER:

Gibbs and Ziva wearily entered the bullpen just as Tony and Tim were finishing sorting out what paperwork needed to be replaced. The older man strode slowly over and gazed critically down at what the pair was doing.

"I thought you had these filled out and ready for me to sign, McGee."

"I, uh... I did, but... through no fault of my own and-and completely beyond my control... several of them were, ummm... ruined."

"Do I need to crack DiNozzo in the head?"

"Oh, no, Boss. He had nothing to do with it. It was... another message for me. Everything is down with Abby now."

"Everything?"

Tony finally managed to calm the giggles he'd been suppressing and spoke up.

"The letter opener, the punctured parakeet and the paperwork it leaked all over."

Gibbs threw a glare at Tony then turned back to Tim.

"That all?"

"No. There was an envelope and a letter. It, uh... it said 'Sorry I missed you, but my aim will get better'." Tim reported softly, his gaze on the floor.

"McGee. Eyes up."

"Boss?"

"That's not happening."

"I trust you with my life, Gibbs. I've just... I've never dealt with this, never been through it... I don't get why someone is doing this to *me*. When things don't make sense..."

"Stop, McGee. I'll fix this, but you have to stay calm. Nothing's gonna get any better if the most logical brain on my team melts down. I need you to keep it together. Clear?"

"Clear, Boss. I'm with it... with you."

"Good. The papers can wait while you take a break. Head down to the cafeteria, get a strong cup of coffee and put some thought into who this could be."

"Uhhh... okay. Can... can Tony come with me?"

Gibbs glanced at DiNozzo critically.

"Company, not conversation, Tony." He ordered gruffly.

"Gotcha, boss." The two men headed off, leaving Gibbs and Ziva staring at each other, concern creasing both their brows.

"The message... it would have to have been placed here when we were in the field. Probably not long after we left." She began.

"Which means he missed the kid on purpose."

"It seems as if his purpose is to terrify McGee, not kill him."

"So far. We need to find the bastard and lock him up before he changes his mind."

----------------------

TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER:

Tony gazed at Tim's dejected form, breathed out heavily and reached across to take his second cup of full strength brew from his trembling hands.

"Tony..."

"Hey, have you looked at your watch?"

"Huh. So it's almost six-thirty. So what? Boss said..."

"I'm pretty sure *he* doesn't know what time it is, either. You're gonna have enough trouble sleeping tonight as it is. You don't need any more of this. No luck straightening things out in your head?"

"No. I just don't get it..."

"It's okay. Time to get you home, get some hot food in you and lock us both in for the night."

"Tony, I told you..."

"We're going to my place. It's twice as big, two bedrooms and every take out menu in D.C. *and* the state of Virginia in the drawer of my phone table."

"Look I understand why you're offering and It's really generous of you... surprisingly generous, actually... but I don't need anybody protecting me."

"Maybe not, but it isn't all to do with you, Probie."

"It isn't?"

"I promised Abby I'd be your personal guardian angel 'till this is over and if I don't deliver, I don't even wanna contemplate what she'll do to me. So... my place, whatever you want for dinner and the knowledge that any sleep you're able to manage, you'll be safe while you get it. Okay?"

"Yeah... okay." Tim finally conceded, rising and looking around nervously.

"I'll call Gibbs and let him know we're heading out. Stick close."

"You don't have to worry, trust me."

A few minutes later their exit was approved and they moved for the elevator down to the parking garage, Tim almost literally on Tony's heels. As they stepped out into the chilly, dark area, DiNozzo's phone sounded off again, his ring-tone resounding through the enormous space.

"Hang on, Probie. Don't wander off, okay? DiNozzo. Yeah.... No, I can't... I told him the plan and he... I know. Yeah, I know... okay. Yeah, five minutes. Right. C'mon, kid." Tony replied, striding towards his car

"What happened?"

"Security needs to see me. Something about how the SOB got in to leave that mess on your desk."

"Then what are we doing?"

"I'll be a few minutes. You'll be fine inside 'till I make it back."

"No! I'll go with you. I don't mind..."

"You're exhausted and my car alarm is the best there is. Anybody breathes a half *mile* from the windshield, it'll go off."

"Tony..."

"Tim, relax. There's a security station ten yards away. Just over there. I wouldn't do this if I really thought you were in imminent danger. I may joke around and act the idiot sometimes... but I know this is nothing to kid about. I'm taking your safety seriously. Just get in and I'll lock the car with my remote."

"I'm not that tired."

"McGee, for God's sake..."

"Okay, okay. Just hurry." Tim grumbled, sliding into the passenger's seat, closing the door and intently watching Tony punch a key on the remote.

"I swear." Tony assured him raising his voice a little to be heard. Turning, he jogged to the station and hailed the guard.

"Can I help you Agent DiNozzo?"

"I was told security wanted to speak to me."

"No, sir. Nobody upstairs alerted me. Let me check. Hmmm. Nope. Sorry."

"What the hell... Oh God. Follow me!"

"What's wrong?"

"Run, damn it!"

When they reached the car, the front passenger door was wide open and McGee was nowhere in sight. "Hell... hell, hell, hell."

"Sir..."

"Call upstairs. Get Agent Gibbs and our team down here. Tell him... tell him..."

"Tell him what?"

"God... tell him I screwed the pooch."

------------------

"DiNozzo!"

"Boss, I was right over at the guard station, just a few yards away, gone less than five minutes. He was locked inside my car!"

"Why the hell did you leave him alone at all?!"

"Security called... I thought it was security. They said they needed to talk about how somebody got in to do that to Tim's desk... it must've been the suspect... "

"Tony..."

"Damn it, he should've been fine! I could see the car... but I never turned around. Why didn't I turn around?!"

"Tony, quit! We need to focus on finding him, now."

"Yeah... I didn't mean... I promised him *and* Abby nothing would happen. She'll slaughter me..."

"Not if we get him back in one piece. Right?" Gibbs insisted, gripping Tony's chin fiercely so the younger man couldn't turn his gaze down.

"Right... right, boss."

"Better. Have you looked at the car?"

"Some. I can't see anything wrong or broken. It's almost like...like he opened the door himself. That has to be why the alarm didn't go off. But he was so scared, he wouldn't do that..."

"Not to save his own ass." Gibbs posited.

"You're saying... shit. The guy threatened Abby..."

"Or you."

"No... don't think so. McGee wouldn't throw in the towel over my existence either." Tony murmured. Gibbs thought about forcing him to repeat the nearly inaudible words, but knew he didn't have time. Instead he rallied Abby, Tony and Ziva to gather what evidence they could, make all possible speed back to their respective work areas and begin to process it.

In the darkness of an occupied parking spot some distance away, tucked on the far side of an SUV, McGee shivered and stared into the face of his captor, who smiled grimly and pressed the end of his gun barrel a little more firmly into the center of Tim's forehead. Next he leaned in and whispered into the young agent's ear.

"Good. You just keep quiet and stay perfectly still until they all leave. After that, it won't take long, I promise. First... I tell you who I am. Then you go the way of that poor little bird... bleeding out all over everything in sight. Nobody knows you're here. Nobody's coming to save you."

As the image of the innocent animal on his desk flared into life in his memory, McGee's eyes slammed shut and he grimaced. "That's right. You just keep thinking about that. I left you that for a reason... 'cause that's the way you left *him*. You and that traitorous so-called *partner* of his." the man pressed against him spat. "I'll find a way to get to his people eventually. I just figured I'd do you first... knew you'd be easy to scare, easy to separate from the herd... easy to kill."

To distract himself from the panic swiftly taking over every muscle and every nerve in his body, McGee sent his mind racing back over the previous twenty-four hours of his life, frantic to memorize his last encounter with each member of the team, the people that meant the most to him. He lived alone, had no love life to speak of, never saw his parents and was treated to visits from his sister only when she needed cash or was in desperate trouble. The people he worked with and for were the closest thing he had to family and their faces and voices were what he wanted to take with him if he was, indeed, facing his last moments.

Abruptly, the conversation he and Tony'd had before the other man walked away blazed into life in Tim's head and wouldn't leave, no matter how he pushed at it. Later, he would reflect that it almost took him too long to figure out why it was so persistent. Praying that the SUV's owner was as conscientious as DiNozzo, Tim took a deep breath and a huge risk, let his eyes roll back and slumped against the tire that had been holding him up. As he went with the flow of the pretend seizure, he made sure his flailing hand struck the bumper of the vehicle. The shrill bleating that immediately assaulted his ears also sent his heart soaring and his kidnapper running for his life.

------------------

"Go check it out, DiNozzo."

"Already gone, boss. Whoops, so is somebody else..."

Tony gave chase and Gibbs detoured to check out the alarm. He found McGee curled up on his side on the concrete, hands wrapped around his head as he shook and fought for breath. Crouching down, Gibbs employed words rather than touch as a first attempt to get his attention, understanding that getting hands on would only scare the young agent more.

"McGee. It's okay, we've got you. Tim, look at me. You're safe."

"B-Boss?"

"Yeah. Tony went after the guy who did this. We'll get him. It's over... c'mon, sit up. That's it. Easy..."

Moments later Tony stumbled back into view with the struggling, cursing suspect in tow.

"No1 He has to die! He's a murderer! How can you protect a freaking killer! You know what he did!"

Gibbs rose and took custody of the man, dragging him a few feet away to where several security personnel waited. The moment Tim saw Tony, he was also up on his feet and pulling his colleague into a fierce hug.

"God, he said he'd kill you... said he still had the rifle and this time... this time..."

Tony forced down his confusion and shoved away the awkwardness of the situation and marginally returned the embrace.

"Easy, kid... easy. You're okay, now..."

Slowly, McGee calmed and pulled back.

"I don't even... wait. Maybe I do. He might have something to do with the cop I... with the shooting. Did he say anything?"

"Couldn't shut him up. He's the guy's nephew. His father got him so twisted up about the whole thing, he felt like he was the only one who could get justice for his uncle."

Tim's expression grew dark and brooding and Tony stepped toward him, trying to think of what more he could say to comfort and reassure the younger man, but just then a scowling woman ran up with a set of keys outstretched to silence the alarm and the other two were both directed away from somber mental paths by the task of explaining that her car was actually never in danger of being stolen.

It was several minutes before they were able to extricate themselves, but Gibbs was still waiting when they arrived back at Tony's car. Noting his supervisor's standard formidable expression, McGee sighed inwardly with fatigue and frustration, but not a trace showed on the surface.

"I know. I'm heading up to start my report now, boss..."

"The hell you are. What was the plan for tonight, DiNozzo?"

"Take out and lock down at my apartment. But..."

"Stick to that. I don't wanna see either of you for the next 4orty-eight hours, got it?"

"Yeah... okay. Your wish and all that, boss." Tony agreed. "C'mon, probie. Let's head out before he decides otherwise, huh? If I can get you in my car again in this lifetime."

-----------------

TWO HOURS LATER: TONY'S APARTMENT

"Timmy..." Abby nudged, looking from a nearly full container of Chinese food back to her close friend and colleague. "... you're not eating. You have to try."

"Hmmm? Oh... sorry. Not really hungry. Just... still shaken up, I guess."

"Yeah. It takes a while to feel safe again. But you will."

"It's not that. I feel safe enough with both of you here. It's just... it's knowing that what I did damaged somebody so much. The bullet I fired destroyed a cop, that kid and maybe his entire family..."

Tony wiped his hands thoroughly on a napkin then reached out and gripped Tim's chin, forcing the younger man to meet his intent gaze.

"You listening, McGee? Paying attention?"

"Yes, Tony." Tim conceded rolling his eyes slightly. Tony tapped him lightly in the back of the head and repeated himself patiently.

"I didn't ask if you were humoring me, now did I? I asked... if you were listening."

"Okay. I am."

"We don't know that you did anything other than your job. Truth is, we'll never know. It. Doesn't. Matter. I've had some pretty bad days, kid. You've been there for some of the worst. Like I told you... I'm still here. Once Gibbs chose you, you were in. If you plan on fighting him on that, give me a big heads-up so I can get a couple miles away."

"But..."

Abby cut him off by taking over the chin hold.

"Stop right there, McGee, unless you want me to kick *your* butt from here to the Navy Yard and back! We're a family, for better or worse,'till death do us part, get it? Family doesn't throw you away like a-a half-black, smelly, gross banana peel the minute you make a mistake!"

Tony grimaced, stared at the food on his fork and dropped the utensil back into the carton he'd been eating out of.

"Way to turn a phrase, Abs. Suddenly I'm not so hungry either." He mumbled, setting the carton aside and addressing Tim once more. "Look, Probie... the point is that the past is the past. No matter what happened or didn't... you get the full benefit and absolutely no doubt. Okay?"

"Yeah... okay. Thanks you guys."

"All in a night's work." Abby assured him with a sweet smile and a brief kiss on the cheek. "Now get eating before Tony's appetite comes back, or there won't be any left."

"Hey!"

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END.

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