Family Dynamics

by: BuffyAngel68 (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 006 Word Count: 9402
Rating: ADULT
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo, Abby Sciuto, Timothy McGee, Ensemble
Category(ies): Alternate Universe, Angst/Drama, Episode Related, First Time, Friendship, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo, Abby/McGee, Tony/McGee
Episode(s): 5-18 Judgment Day
Summary: The team is given a unique opportunity while the regime change takes place. What they learn about each other will powerfully change them as well...

Author Notes: The end of this year's finale absolutely sucked. The plot twist was recycled, for heaven's sake! I had to fix it. I simply had to. What is fanfic for if not times like this? Hopefully you'll like my idea better. The base premise is illogical and improbable, yes... but fanfic has stretched credulity much further than this, believe you me. Enjoy...

Prologue

Title: Family Dynamics

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRT -- FRAO will vary section to section. Each individual section will be properly labeled, promise.

Summary: The team is given a unique opportunity while the regime change takes place. What they learn about each other will powerfully change them as well...

AN: The end of this year's finale absolutely sucked. The plot twist was recycled, for heaven's sake! I had to fix it. I simply had to. What is fanfic for if not times like this? Hopefully you'll like my idea better. The base premise is illogical and improbable, yes... but fanfic has stretched credulity much further than this, believe you me. Enjoy...

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

PROLOGUE:

As they stood side by side in Jenny's former office, all with different scenarios running through their heads concerning what they were about to hear, Jethro felt something building in his core that he almost didn't recognize and thought he'd wiped completely from his physical memory: fear. He didn't trust the man now seated behind the desk as far as he could throw the Washington Monument and his gut was bellowing that whatever they'd been called in for, it couldn't possibly be good for any member of his team. When Leon began to speak, however, Gibbs felt relief wash over him, but he hid his reaction, knowing all too well that what looked and felt like hope could vanish in an instant.

"This hasn't been easy on any of you, I'm well aware of that. I suppose I should start by letting you know that none of you failed, no matter what you may be thinking right now. Jenny was stubborn and determined and what she wanted she achieved, regardless of what it took. I know you were all close to her... some more than others." He tossed out, glancing momentarily in Gibbs' direction. "I've spoken with the Sec-Nav and a few friends... asked advice on what I should do for you, if I chose to do anything at all. In my opinion the Secretary had the best idea and I'm implementing it as of an hour from now. At that point you will all officially be on three weeks leave. You will be taking this time off together. That includes Miss Sciuto, Dr. Mallard and his assistant. Temporary replacements for them are already in the works."

Tim blinked and gaped for a moment or two before he found his voice.

"Sir, we can't... I don't think we..."

"It's not a suggestion. Secretary Sheffield and I both agree that this is necessary. You all need time to properly grieve... and I need time to look over your files and get familiar with what is arguably the strongest, most talented team NCIS has ever seen. Sec-Nav's words, not mine, though I think he just may be right."

"But sir... why together?" Ziva asked quietly.

"This group has been through a hell of a lot over the past few years. You've had to survive losses and struggle with issues nobody could've anticipated, with little to no down-time. Gibbs being the exception, of course. I'm giving you a fair shot at some rest and recuperation. Take it and be grateful. The chance won't come again."

"Do we get any details?" Jethro questioned, his tone low, his expression wary.

"Your plane leaves in three days from Dulles. Everything's been arranged and paid for. You just show up."

"Where are we going, Leon?"

The new director merely smiled and remained silent. Acknowledging they'd been summarily dismissed, Gibbs turned and led the way out of the office and back down the long staircase. Tim, rushing to keep up, started in the minute his feet hit the floor.

"Boss? Is he serious? Can he really do that?"

"Can and has, McGee. All a'you go through your stations. Anything embarrassing, anything valuable or sentimental you plan on seeing again, anything you want with you on the trip... pack it up."

Instead of immediately complying, Tony stepped closer and began to speak, but the older man gave him no opening.

"Gibbs..."

"Soon as you're done, you hit the morgue, Tony. Tim, you get to tell Abby."

"Boss, he can't just send us off on some trip into the Twilight Zone." Tony tried again. "He has to tell us *something*..."

"Forty-seven minutes, DiNozzo. You packin' or am I doin' it for you?"

"God forbid. I'd end up with nothing but a spare pair of boxers, my gun and a hundred extra rounds of ammo."

"Close. I checked the filing cabinet yesterday. You're out of clean shorts."

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

TBC.......
-

2

Family Dynamics 1/?

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

THREE DAYS LATER:

When he arrived at the departure lounge, Gibbs found five of the others already waiting for him. Doing a quick survey, he realized they were only missing Abby. Leaving his bags, he strode casually over to join Tony at the enormous windows and the younger man half-turned to greet him with a light smile.

"Boss. You got the same e-mail I guess."

"Yeah." Gibbs responded quietly. "Gate number, time to be here... nothing else."

"Same one, alright. You think we're goin' commercial or is that for us?" he asked, pointing at the private jet waiting below.

"Hope it's the second choice."

"Hope you're right. Much nicer than being packed in with strangers. That's the last thing I wanna deal with..."

"None of us need it. Seen Abby?"

"Shopping. She swore she'd only be ten or fifteen minutes... but this *is* Abby we're talking about."

Just then the young woman in question strode into the lounge carrying three small bags. Dropping into one of the plastic chairs, she stowed the purchases in one of her carry-on bags, zipping and re-locking it deftly. His heart twisting at the somber expression on Abby's normally jubilant face, Tony left Gibbs' side and walked over to where she sat, crouching in front of her. Stroking her hair gently, he tried to lighten her mood.

"Hey. Shopping not the thrill it once was?"

Instead of smiling, Abby leaned forward and threw her arms around Tony's shoulders, holding on tightly. He shifted to his knees and embraced her in return. "It's gonna be okay, Abs. Even if this wasn't our idea, I think it'll do us a lotta good. Give it a chance, huh?"

"You need this more than the rest of us. All you've been through..."

"Nah. I'm tough, you know that. I don't let it get to me." He countered, pulling back a little. The sad smile she wore told him exactly what she knew: tough he might be, but his second statement was a blatant lie. She was on the verge of calling him on it when a tall man in a dark uniform and pilot's cap entered the lounge. Gibbs instantly moved between him and the others, vaguely pleased when the newcomer took the move completely in stride.

"Morning. This is the group from NCIS?"

"It is. Senior Agent Jethro Gibbs."

"Darren Gardner. Nice to meet you. If you and your people will grab your things and follow me..."

Nodding, Gibbs turned back to the others.

"On your feet, people. Time to go."

Following the two men, the rest trekked slowly out to and across the tarmac, left their larger bags to be loaded into the cargo hold and hauled themselves and their carry-on up the short staircase and into the plane. They all clustered around the doorway for a few moments, studying the layout, then began to choose seating. To everyone's surprise, once her gear had been safely stowed, Ziva approached the section where Abby had just claimed a place and was welcomed with a weary smile.

"You would not mind?" Ziva asked. The hesitancy in her voice was so unusual Abby frowned slightly.

"No. Why?"

"You and I are very different. We have so little in common... I suppose I've been wary of making an effort to truly get to know you. It is a poor excuse, I know... but the best I have. After all this time, I would not blame you if..."

"Ziva. Sit."

Cautiously, the other woman complied.

"Thank you. I'm sorry..."

"Oh no, that's my line. If we're not friends... it's partly my fault too. I never really tried. I've always understood, you know. At least... I think I have. The place you grew up, what you've had to do to survive in the Mossad... just walking in and trusting new people isn't something you could do."

"I trust you now... all of you."

"So maybe with all this time they gave us..."

"Yes. Yes, absolutely. We will shop, eat, talk... we will have fun."

Abby brightened and giggled enthusiastically.

"We *so* will! You just wait 'till you try your first Caf-Pow..."

"What if they do not have them wherever it is we're going?"

"No problem. At this point I'm fifty-fifty blood and caffeine. I'm like this super-focused bloodhound who only looks for big red cups..."

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

Settled into a seat in the rear of the cabin, Tony had just reached for the headphones, intending to sink into music and mindlessness for a while, when a quiet cough and a sense of someone close by made him look up.

"Ducky."

"If you wouldn't object, dear boy... I'm feeling much the same as you seem to be."

"What about Palmer?"

"He and Timothy have enough in common to keep them occupied for hours yet, I think. Unfortunately, being immersed in their conversation isn't at all what I crave at the moment."

"I was trying for a little peace and quiet myself. If you want it... the seat's all yours." Tony offered, patting the space next to him.

"Thank you." Ducky responded, sinking gratefully into the soft leather and opening the book he was carrying to the page he'd marked with a thin strip of lace that was just beginning to fray at the edges. Despite his assertion of a moment before, Tony couldn't help but speak up once more, halting his fingers just short of actually touching the bookmark Ducky had laid across the wooden arm that separated their seats.

"I'm so sorry, Ducky..."

"No, no. What is it you needed?"

"This... it's handmade. Old, too..."

"Why yes... yes it is. Do you know something about tatting?"

"Hmm? No... not really. My, uh... my mother had some pieces identical to this... the pattern, the colors, they're all the same."

"Fascinating..."

"Why?" Tony replied, finally tearing his gaze away and bringing it up to meet Ducky's intensely curious one.

"Because *my* mother made this. It was many years ago, of course. You know... I used to go with her occasionally when she made trips to deliver her hand-work to friends and others who'd requested her to make them something. It's entirely possible I encountered you when you were quite young."

"That is so weird..."

"It is indeed. Once I have time to think, I'm sure the memory will come back to me..."

"Oh. Right. Sorry again. I'll let you get back to your book..."

"And you your music."

"Yeah. Hey, when you remember... I mean, once we get there and unpack and everything..."

"... you'll hear all the details I can dredge up."

"Cool."

Choosing a music channel and adjusting the headphones to suit him, Tony exchanged smiles with his friend before closing his eyes and letting his head drop back against the seat.

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

"Jimmy, c'mon. You're not gonna ask me again, are you?"

"Sorry. I just don't get it."

"I told you why. You're the one I know the least about. I figured we should talk."

"That's not all. There's something you're not telling me. Oh, God... am I dying too?"

"No! I just... I know I wasn't exactly fair to you in my books. I have a lot to make up for."

"No way, I got over being mad about that a long time ago."

"I haven't gotten over doing it. I don't really have a decent excuse. They say you should write what you know... and you guys are what I knew. I screwed up your character so bad because I had no clue what you're actually like. I want to change that now... if you'll give me a second chance."

"Well, yeah... of course. As if I'd give up an offer to spend time with a famous writer."

Tim chuckled.

"I'm not famous. Not yet."

"But you'd like to be?"

"I don't know. There are as many downsides as upsides to it. Pressure to make the next story better, more exciting... never having any time that's really your own... God, and learning to recover from the critics. That was the hardest thing. The good stuff almost outweighs all that, though. Knowing you did it right and people like what you've put out there... I can't get enough of that."

"Wow. Tell me more."

"Only if you give as good as I do."

"Yeah. Gladly..."

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

Still standing at the front of the plane, Gibbs released an almost silent breath of relief. Satisfied that his team were as content as they were going to get for the immediate future, he finally chose a seat of his own and opened up a magazine, focusing intently on the article in front of him, determined to push the events of the past few weeks completely from his mind.

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

TBC....

3

Family Dynamics 3/?

AN: The book mentioned in the last section is by John Moore. If any of you have an affinity for comic fantasy... you really should check this one out. It's an AbFab book, I promise.

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

Stepping down to the tarmac, McGee immediately pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and applied it to his brow.

"Whew. Okay, what's your guess, guys... West or South?" he addressed to the people descending behind him. Tony moved down beside Tim, gently nudging him out of the way, and swiped at his face with his sleeve.

"Instant sweating... that usually means south. Probably Southeast."

"Florida?" Tim questioned, suddenly tense. "Wow... that'd be... nice... I suppose."

Tony laid an easy hand on Tim's shoulder and squeezed lightly.

"Relax, Tim. I could be totally wrong. Definitely wouldn't be the first time." Tony joked.

"And you could be right."

"Hey, it's gonna be fine. If a boat shows up in this mystery plan, we'll get you through it, buddy. Just don't borrow trouble. It drops in often enough without us inviting it."

"I know. It's just..."

"Ah-ah, nope, here come the ladies. You go talk to Abby. She distracts you better than anybody else." Tony insisted, using his grip on Tim's shoulder to turn him in the desired direction. Once that was accomplished, he struck up a conversation with the recently arrived Jimmy, leaving Ducky free to engage Gibbs, who, of course, had hit the ground several minutes ahead of the rest of the group. None of them had much time for conversation, however, as a white limo pulled up a few feet away less than five minutes later. As the driver got out, Gibbs moved to speak with him and check over the man and his paperwork. The team all hung back, knowing better than to approach before their leader declared it was safe. By the time he'd done so, they had each reclaimed their larger bags and were patiently waiting for him to give the all-clear.

"Okay, people, we're good. Stow your luggage and climb in."

Once in the car, the group seemed to naturally fall into different pairings than they'd chosen on the plane. Abby and Tim stuck together and Jimmy and Tony continued their discussion, as did Ducky and Gibbs. When he caught sight of her expression, however, Tony gently questioned a quiet and somber Ziva, but she merely shook her head and asserted that she didn't mind being on her own for a while, that in fact she would be glad of a little time to reflect on the events of the past few days. Tony offered her a soft, knowing smile and a momentary touch on the arm before turning back to Jimmy.

Just under two hours later, the team was enticed away from their various conversations as they felt the car slow, then roll to a halt. The driver pressed a device on the dash and they could hear the metallic rattle of a gate sliding open. The tint on the windows prevented them from seeing it, but the sound was distinctive enough that they all knew what was happening. The limo moved forward, paused and the sound was repeated. After a further ten minute journey, the vehicle stopped again. This time the driver cut the engine and exited. Eager to view their surroundings, Tony reached for the door handle, intending to follow, but a glare from Gibbs made the younger man sit back, hands raised in supplication.

A few moments later, Gibbs opened the door himself from the outside and beckoned. One by one, the team climbed out and, one by one, they all released gasps of shock or delight.

"Holy..." Tony began, but said nothing more, the sight before him rendering him speechless.

"Wow... Dr. Mallard... look at it. Wow!" Jimmy exclaimed, staring up and around as if it might vanish if he couldn't manage to absorb it all in the next thirty seconds.

"God in heaven... very impressive." Ziva drawled under her breath, carefully studying every aspect she could see from her position.

Abby abruptly switched from standing utterly still to jumping, dancing and squealing.

"Yes, yes, *yes*! Private island, private island! This is gonna be so amazing!"

"It's a house, people." Gibbs intoned, pushing his own pleasure and curiosity deep down. "A big beautiful house... but still a house. Let's get a look at the inside before we get too happy. C'mon, find your stuff and move it off the driveway."

Unloading the last suitcase, the driver closed the trunk, reached in his pocket and pulled out a small remote control and a note.

"That's for the gate. There's a couple cars in the garage if any of you feel like going out to shop or sight-see."

"This?" Gibbs asked, holding up the envelope.

"Don't know, sir. I was asked to give it to you, I did." The man replied lightly "Hope it's good news. See you in three weeks."

"Yeah... with good luck we'll all still be alive when you get here."

The driver chuckled, got back into the limo and drove away. Gibbs moved inside slowly, opening and reading the note as he walked. He met Ducky just inside the front entrance.

"Ah. From our benefactor, I presume."

"The Sec-Nav himself lent us this place for the duration. He sends his condolences about Jenny... says we deserved the sabbatical and he hopes it helps us get our balance again."

"Quite generous of him. This place is magnificent... what I've seen of it."

Abby came bounding in from the rear of the house and threw herself into Jethro's arms.

"I love it, bossman! There's a pool out back and a Jacuzzi and a boat dock with an actual sailboat!"

"Yeah? Don't tell McGee."

"I won't, promise." She vowed, disengaging herself. Tony then arrived, moving easily down the stairs from the second floor.

"Looks good, Boss. Two full bathrooms. Four bedrooms, two up, two down, two beds each. State of the art security, solid doors, good window locks. Fridge, freezer and cabinets are fully stocked, but there's a number on a sticky-note we can call if there's anything we want but don't see. Also numbers for a doctor and animal control."

"Animal control?" Ducky asked warily.

" "Gators " " Tony and Abby chorused with wide grins.

Gibbs rolled his eyes slightly.

"Abs, you think Ziva'll mind bunking with you?"

"Should be fine. We're planning on spending a lot of girl-bonding time, anyway. Whispering and telling stories after lights out, that kinda thing... have to be in the same room to do that."

"Good. Tony?"

"Tim and I will take one."

"McGee?"

"Yeah, Boss." Tim responded instantly, sticking his head out of the kitchen.

"You okay to share a room with Tony?"

Tim was flustered for a moment but hid it admirably.

"Uh... yeah. Yeah, Boss, that'll be okay. We're getting along pretty well... it should work."

Tim snuck a quick glance at Tony, hoping he wasn't noticed. His mind shook its finger at him and warned him, as it had so many times in the past few months, that the least Tony would do was laugh if he ever discovered what the younger agent had been thinking lately.

{Besides, it's just empathy for what he's gone through. Empathy... that's all. It can't be anything more... I can't let it.} he thought determinedly, snapping out of his reverie when Gibbs spoke again.

"Duck, if you think Palmer can handle having a room to himself..."

"Of course, of course. Billeting the two elder statesmen together makes perfect sense. Mr. Palmer is actually quite shy, you know. I'm sure a room by himself will make him much more comfortable."

"One down here for you and me?"

"Yes. My knees and back would greatly appreciate forgoing stairs."

"Alright with the rest of you?"

Everyone present nodded approval. "Okay, let's get our stuff put away, then. Tony, you find Jimmy and Ziva when you're done and let 'em know what's going on?"

"Sure, boss."

"No. Not for the next three weeks. This isn't work, it's time to relax and recover."

"Right.... Jethro it is. God, that sounds weird..."

"Try Gibbs 'till you get used to it." the older man tossed back, grinning. Tony echoed the smile, but not fully, as he was still trying to adjust. As the others grabbed their things and drifted away to negotiate for the rooms upstairs, Ducky touched Gibbs lightly on the elbow.

"They'll be alright, Jethro. They're young... resilient."

"A rubber band only stretches so far before it snaps."

"Anthony... yes, I worry about him, too.... but I also have faith in his strength. As long as we're here to support him I truly don't think there's anything he can't endure."

Gibbs took a slow deep breath then turned to face Ducky.

"He hasn't said a word about what really happened out there with Jen. He refuses."

"His report..."

"Is the bare facts, nothing more. He's tearing himself up over this, damn it... I know he is. And it came so close to him having to let go of that damn, backstabbing... female." He spat. "He's gotta blow up sometime... I guess I should be glad he's got some privacy to do it in."

"Hmmm. Perhaps the Secretary had the same thought about you."

Gibbs snorted and moved a step or two away, pretending to examine the structure of the ceiling.

"Don't you have some gear to unpack, Duck?"

"Yes, I suppose I do."

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

9:30: TIM AND TONY'S ROOM

"What're you reading?" Tim handed the book over for Tony to look at while he searched his suitcase for his sleeping clothes and toiletries. " 'Heroics for Beginners. Slay dragons, rescue damsels and defeat evil in six easy steps or your money back.' Cute... fantasy novel?"

"Sort of... more sword and sorcery style."

"Yeah... but not exactly your style." Tony countered gently, dropping onto his bed. "Inspired by your online-gaming?"

"Could be. I just thought..."

"What? C'mon, Timmy, I swear I won't tease. That's not what this trip is about."

"I don't know. I thought maybe I'd step away from what I've been writing... re-anagram my name, give this kind of story a shot... for one book at least."

"Wow. Getting adventurous. You gonna use us again? We might fit even better into that type of format..."

Tim paused for a long moment then sat down on his own bed, gazing curiously at Tony.

"But you guys got so mad last time."

"Only 'cause we didn't hear it from you beforehand."

"It was my first try. So many writers fail... I didn't want anybody knowing, just in case."

"You're established, now. I say it's the perfect time to try something new. Keep the name, for the sake of recognition... but yeah, you really should pound out one chapter at least. See how it feels..."

"You know... you might be right. I can almost see everybody in their parts..."

"Me, me, do me!"

Before he could reply, Tim had to swallow hard and viciously fight off his brain's mildly licentious take on those seemingly innocent words.

"You... you'd definitely have to be the Evil Overlord. You should read the book, seriously. I can just see you milking the giant cow..."

"Pardon?" Tony asked, tossing the other man a skeptical look. Tim rose to his feet, spread them apart a bit and raised his hands in the air, forming them into fists and relaxing them over and over. He then threw back his head and produced a brief maniacal laugh. Tony leaned back on his hands, snorting with laughter as well.

"Giant cow... I get it... very cool. What about Gibbs?"

"The hero, absolutely. Maybe... I think he could.... yeah. Sort of a cross between my two favorite Harrison Ford roles... Jack Ryan and Indiana Jones. That'd work."

"He'll like that. He probably sees himself a lot closer to Ryan than Indy... but I still think he'll like it."

"Abby'd be the wizard, of course..." Tim added excitedly as his imagination really began to rev up. "And Ziva would the *perfect* Evil Overlord's assistant."

"Weapons, brains and a smokin' body in tight black leather?"

Tim grinned, blushed and ducked his head.

"Absolutely. Ducky and Jimmy would be the hardest ones to place, though. No traditional, clichéd place for them, really... not unless I take them completely out of their element..."

Tim fell silent for several minutes, his mind working at top speed. Finally, he looked up, smiling from ear to ear.

"Yeah? Spit it out, Timmy. If I can't tease, neither can you..."

"It's the only thing... the total *best* thing. Ducky... has to be a bard."

Tony stared for a few seconds before abruptly falling over on his side, tears leaking from his eyes and one hand clamped over his mouth to be sure his guffaws wouldn't wake the girls sleeping in the next room. Eventually, he recovered enough to choke out his response.

"Bard... a storyteller... God, yes... doesn't get better than that! And... and Jimmy's his apprentice... a kid who writes the worst poetry in the history of the world. That'd open up so many chances for huge laughs..."

"It would... it really would. That's a great idea, Tony. Boy, this might actually happen... Would you... I mean you wouldn't consider..."

Tony sat up, swiping at his eyes, but suddenly sober as a judge.

"Tim... Timmy, are you asking... what I *think* you're asking? You know damn well we'd drive each other crazy."

"Just one day a week at first. Anything else we can do through e-mail and IM. If it seems to be working, though..."

"Wow. I... I'll think about it. I mean that, I really will. Lemme know when you're done with that book, huh?"

"I'm almost finished... I should be able to get through the last few pages tonight."

"Cool. Why don't you, uh... go get cleaned up and ready for bed. I've got a lot of serious mulling over to do..."

Tim smiled shyly, made sure he had everything he needed and hurried off to comply. Just outside the bathroom, however, he stopped, grimaced, leaned back against the wall and softly banged his head a few times.

"What are you thinking? You make a vow and all it takes is six hours and a few laughs to wipe it right out of your head... don't do this to yourself, Tim. God, don't do it to your heart *or* his! It's better... it's better and you know it!" he whispered to himself. Swiping a tear off his cheek, he moved inside the large bathroom and quietly shut the door.

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

TBC......

4

Family Dynamics 4/?

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

Approaching the doors to the rear deck, Jimmy looked around carefully, hoping nobody was nearby. Despite the loose, knee length shorts he wore over his swim trunks, and the long-sleeved t-shirt that covered everything but his hands, he still felt overexposed and didn't want anyone seeing him. His plans for a private swim were dashed as he got close enough to see out the glass panels and realized Tony was just climbing out of the water. His disappointment was quickly supplanted by admiration, however, as the other man shook his head, spraying droplets, slicked back his hair with both hands then raised both arms high and stretched.

A moment later, a tiny sound from his left caught a still entranced Jimmy by surprise and he jumped, turning to find Tim leaning against the wall deep in the shadows.

"Agent McGee... I'm sorry if I intruded, I didn't think anyone..."

"It's Tim, and you weren't intruding." Tim interrupted tiredly. "I just..."

He trailed off and slowly, as if he didn't know he was doing it, reached out to place one palm against the glass. Jimmy turned his gaze back to the outdoors and echoed Tim's quiet sigh as he watched Tony execute a picture perfect dive back into the pool.

"Yeah... he's pretty amazing, huh? I couldn't look like that if I worked out ten hours a day for the rest of my life... not to mention I'd need a whole new face. I wonder how much plastic surgery actually costs..."

Jimmy flinched and frowned when Tim's hand pulled away from the glass and swept up to crack him lightly in the back of the skull. "What was that for?"

Tim flushed and looked chagrinned, but he stuck to his guns and voiced his reasoning.

"It's what Gibbs would've done if he heard you talk like that. You're not Tony and you're not supposed to be. All the stuff you and I talked about on the plane... you're smart, insightful and really funny. Plus the work you do gives families peace. A pretty face and a tight ass don't compare to gifts like that."

"Wow... yeah, I guess it is kind of... I mean... he's in great shape, but I never... I don't look, not on purpose..." Jimmy stuttered, staring at Tony but trying to seem like he wasn't.

"No, me either." Tim agreed too quickly, forcing irritation into his tone. "You can't exactly help but notice, though, can you? He loves wearing those tight jeans... flaunting everything right out in public. Hell, look at that tiny Speedo... the man has no shame. No humility, either. Guys who were born with the face and the money and nobody to answer to or protect... they just never get it."

Both men were silent for a few minutes, but eventually Tim glanced over at Jimmy, sensing he was being intently scrutinized. "What?"

"You're not really mad. You want me to think you are... but it's not true."

Tim scowled down at his feet and grunted a response.

"I take back what I said about the insight."

"Agent... Tim, I'm sorry, I didn't know..."

"Know what? There's nothing to know." Tim countered immediately, fighting to keep any trace of trace of fear out of his voice.

"I'm not telling anyone, I swear. It's not my business if you're... attracted to Tony. Like I said, I can understand why you would be. To tell the truth... I am too. A little."

Tim raised his eyes minimally and glared back out at the pool from under his lashes, watching as Tony dried off a little then draped the towel over a lounge chair and causally stretched out, slipping on his shades and relaxing in the sunshine that was just beginning to slide over the back deck. "You don't understand." He mumbled then repeated it loud enough for Jimmy to hear, turned on his heel and stalked away. "You don't understand... nobody could possibly understand."

"Tim! Wait, please..." Jimmy called quietly, cognizant of the others nearby who might still be asleep. McGee heard him, but had more than enough incentive not to pay attention and never stopped. Distressed, Jimmy watched his friend practically run up the stairs, deeply upset at the truth Tim had just told. A moment later the youngest member of the team nearly jumped out of skin a second time when a concerned voice spoke from close beside him.

"That looked serious. You two okay?"

"Tony... don't... don't do that."

"Easy. Catch your breath, kid."

"Sorry. Last I knew you were across the deck. I didn't hear the door open..."

"Just one of the benefits of life with Gibbs. You learn to move reeeally quietly. So... big fight?"

"No... difference of opinion." Jimmy sighed, turning his gaze back to the now empty staircase.

"Okay." Tony responded slowly. "If it gets to where you need a referee, you'll tell one of us, right?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"Good. I'm gonna make some breakfast. You hungry?"

"No... thanks."

"Okay. Well, the pool's all yours. Have a good swim. By the way, I don't mind that you were watching... but I promise not to return the favor unless you tell me you're okay with it."

"It wasn't... I wasn't trying to... you're just so..."

"Hey, hey, relax. I said I was cool about it. Go on, get out there and have your time in the water before Ziva wakes up. She loves swimming and if you let her get in there first she'll probably be doing laps for hours."

"She... how do you know that?"

"Story from when she first showed up. You feel like getting around that fire pit out back and making some smore's after dinner tonight... I'll tell you all about it."

"Okay. That... that sounds good. Thanks."

"No problem. Get going, now, before you lose your place in line."

Jimmy smiled briefly and made his way out the door, chin tucked into his chest so he wouldn't have to think about how close the two of them were as he brushed by. Tony shut the door behind him, chuckling to himself, and moved into the kitchen. Just as he reached the spot where the coffeemaker sat, he heard faint noises from the front of the house. Grinning, he filled a mug and held it out to a lightly perspiring Gibbs. "Good run?"

"Not long enough. Just out to the gate and back... mmm, good brew. Nobody else'll drink it this strong, though."

"There's an extra pot under the counter in case this one breaks. I figure the rest can make their own batch."

"Hmmph. Good idea. Thanks for this. How's the pool?"

"Gorgeous. Jimmy's having a turn out there at the moment..."

"... so stay away from the back deck. Got it."

"I was just about to start some food. You feel like anything in particular?"

"Toast."

"Uh-huh. Anything else?"

"Butter and a knife to spread it with."

"Why do I even bother to ask?" Tony snickered, shifting over to get into the fridge and pull out the bread. Shuffling footsteps sounded behind him and he turned back just in time to be embraced by a sleepy-eyed Abby.

"Morning, Abs. You sleep good?"

She nodded lazily against his chest, but her verbal response had nothing to do with his question.

"Coffee."

"Already made. Help yourself, if you can drink it brewed on the Nuclear Waste setting, like the boss." Tony teased gently. Abby looked up at him with a soft, grateful smile, gave him one final squeeze and released him to head for her morning boost. Only after the first sip did her eyes open fully, drawing a laugh from Jethro.

"Better?"

"Much. Shower or pool, Tony?" she asked, tipping her mug in the direction of the knee-length terry robe he wore.

"Pool. Figured I'd better get out there before the crowd descended. Ziva still asleep?"

"She wanted me to think so. I'm worried about her. She was so quiet yesterday and I don't think she slept more than a couple hours..."

"Give her space, Abs. She's doin' what we all are." Gibbs advised.

"Which would be?" Tony inquired as he turned back around after pushing the bread down into the toaster.

"Workin' out what she is and isn't responsible for."

Tony frowned lightly, his gaze shifting first to the floor and then into the middle distance, but he didn't reply, grateful for the reprieve when he heard the distinctive snap from the small appliance behind him. Opening up a cabinet, he retrieved a small plate and dropped the toast onto it, holding it out to Gibbs without looking in the older man's direction. Gibbs knew enough not to push and silently took his meal to the large table a few feet away. Abby, however, refused to ignore the voice of her heart and moved to Tony's side, wrapping an arm around his waist. He briefly dropped his head onto her shoulder in acknowledgment of her concern.

"I'm okay, Abby."

"No you aren't, Tony. Bossman is right... none of us are okay yet, but you have to know we will be." She reassured him quietly. "And you have to see you didn't do anything wrong. Okay, so Jenny started out as a pain, but I got to like her and I never would've wanted her to suffer. Her way... she didn't."

"I know... she was an adult, it was her life and her right to choose how it ended. I just wish she hadn't screwed Ziva and me in the process... here, take the butter to the table, okay?"

"Tony... I don't have to worry about you too, do I?"

"No. Like Jethro said... we'll all work it out for ourselves. Go, Abby. Please."

"You better not be lying to me. I hand out a lot worse than a dope-slap if you piss me off."

"I remember." He replied, kissing her on the cheek. "I swear, I'll never give you cause to dig up the duct tape again, okay?"

"Okay."

Abby moved away and Tony took a deep, slow breath. He considered heading upstairs to check on Tim, but was fairly sure that he was the basis for the issues the younger man had with Jimmy, so he chose to search the fridge for omelet ingredients instead. Cooking had always been an effective distraction from his troubles and now he dived into it with relish, shoving Jenny Sheppard and her actions into a tiny corner of his mind and locking them away.

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

TBC.........

Chapter 5

Family Dynamics 5/?

FRM this time for one instance of very bad language.

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

By the time Ducky and Ziva were up and ready for breakfast the others had finished and drifted off to explore and Tim had still not appeared. Tony huffed out a frustrated breath and glanced toward the stairs while speaking to the man and woman just settling at the table.

"What can I get you two?"

Ziva shot him a surprised look.

"You are cooking?"

"Work and eating actual meals don't exactly go together. When I'm home... I worship the Food Network. So?"

"What's available, dear boy?" Ducky asked, smiling gratefully as Tony placed a steaming cup of tea in front of him.

"Omelets are a specialty, but I can pretty much whip up anything you want. Like I said yesterday, the pantry, fridge and freezer are bulging."

"Hmmm. A western omelet sounds just the thing."

"Toast, bacon and three eggs scrambled, please." Ziva added.

"Coming right up."

For the next twenty minutes, Tony shocked and impressed Ziva by easily controlling and monitoring two frying pans at once, making sure the toast was generously buttered while still hot and plating both meals perfectly. When he actually grabbed a napkin and carefully wiped down the messy edge of her plate, her jaw dropped open slightly. Tony smirked mildly as he set her plate in front of her.

"Hey, presentation is fifty percent of the job. If it doesn't look good, you won't enjoy it as much and this... I want you to enjoy."

Raising a critical eyebrow, Ziva nonetheless took a cautious bite. A moment later she broke out in a pleased grin and looked back up at him.

"Oh... the touch of garlic is perfect. Fresh, too."

"As fresh as the grated parmesan."

"Mmmm, indeed." Ducky piped up. "This is marvelous, Tony. Nearly as good as your cacciatore."

Ziva looked at him, eyes wide and brows arching once again, and he laughed. "Tony's cooked for me several times. I may be one of a select few, judging by your reaction. Anthony?"

"Work is one thing, doc, real life is another. I'm a different person off the job. I have to be, or... or everything'd be a huge mess."

Ducky knew full well that Tony had changed the end of his sentence at the last minute, but, after a long moment of consideration, declined to call him on it, believing he'd be far more likely to draw the truth from the younger man the next time they found themselves alone. Dropping his gaze back to his plate, he continued eating, mentally working out how to make absolutely sure the private encounter happened.

Tony looked around the kitchen at what dishes waited to be washed and nodded, satisfied that they could survive until he returned from completing the next item on his priority list for the day. Sighing, he turned back to the pair at the table. "Okay, I'm gonna head up and get changed so I can go for my run. Just leave the dishes and pans 'till I get back."

"I can do them, Tony." Ziva protested. "My training in the Mossad did not erase the lessons from my mother..."

Tony chuckled as he wiped his hands.

"Don't sweat it, okay? They'll wait. Beside, you never mess with a chef's cookware. You damage it and your head might end up having a close encounter with a twelve-inch frying pan when you least expect it."

"I have heard this." She responded seriously. "Fine, but I will wash the plates and utensils. I feel... off-kilt if I cannot contribute."

"Deal." He agreed, not betraying for a second that he'd caught another of her customary slips of the tongue. "Take your time with your breakfast. Everybody else is done."

Tossing the dishtowel down next to the sink, he walked away, patting Ducky's shoulder as he left. Ziva looked up to find Ducky inexplicably smiling and forcing back laughter.

"What?"

"Apologies, my dear. The phrase is off-kilter."

Ziva whipped her head around to stare at the arch into the main room where Tony had vanished a few moments before then pulled her gaze back to Ducky.

"But... but he did not... that is not Tony. He told me about a movie while we were in California. It was something about stolen bodies..."

" 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.' Classic message film. One of my favorites. You don't have to worry that Tony has been replaced with an extra-terrestrial, Ziva. What occurred has deeply shaken all of us, I'm afraid, and we'll all have to come to terms with Jennifer's death in our own fashion. Anthony is coping by shifting into his off-the-job persona. I realize you haven't seen much of him in that mode..."

"No. It is that different?"

"Oh, yes. The private Tony is quiet and introspective... and oh my, the knowledge he possesses would leave your pretty chin scraping the ground for days. The problem is getting any of it out of him. I've often thought raising the Titanic must've been easier than getting Tony to share his love of classical music and literature with me."

"You are saying that he reads more than superhero comic books and men's magazines?"

Ducky frowned at her.

"That was unfair and uncalled for. True, he knows a great deal about films and popular culture... but for the most part he studies those to allow him to fit in. At times, our modern, self-obsessed world can be cruel and unforgiving to beautiful faces with high-IQ brains hiding behind them. Tony is merely showing them what they expect to see so his deeper nature remains safe."

Ziva paled a bit and looked down at her plate. "Ah. And I see he isn't alone." Ducky guessed gently.

"Fulfilling your parents wishes for you is not such a terrible thing."

"It is when it does terrible things to your heart, your innocence and your spirit."

Ziva smiled thinly, shoved the remains of her egg around her plate with her fork and refused to look at the older man.

"I am what I was trained to be. Nothing can change that now."

Ducky rose to his feet with plate and tea cup, delivered them to the sink and returned before answering, after which he walked out of the kitchen.

"Nothing but you."

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

UPSTAIRS: A FEW MINUTES LATER

As Tony returned from the bathroom in shorts and tank top, he glanced at the other side of the room, but Tim still hadn't moved from the spot where he was staring out the window. Taking a deep breath, Tony tried once more to pull some response from the younger man.

"You sure? It wouldn't be any problem to hunt up Jimmy and send him in."

Tim merely shook his head. "You guys need to get this settled, Tim. We're down here for three weeks and if you two stop talking to each other... incredibly awkward is the nicest description I can come up with."

"Tony, please... it wasn't him, okay?" Tim sighed. "I was the one at fault. When I'm ready, I'll find him and say I'm sorry."

"That isn't like you, Tim." Tony offered gently. "You usually go miles out of your way *not* to start fights and hurt people."

"Usually... that's the key word there." Tim replied, his voice tinged with bitterness.

"Whoa. What was that about, kid?"

Tim shook himself a bit, clenched his hands and turned around.

"Last week, I was doing a standard computer search through older files and data archives... and I accidentally found out about Rota."

Tony instinctively stiffened, but swiftly forced himself to relax, not wanting Tim to know how powerfully the admission had affected him.

"Accidentally."

"I didn't go looking for it, Tony. I stumbled on the records."

"And you're regretting what you said. You don't have to. I put that behind me a long time ago."

"I thought I had, too... turns out I was wrong. If I'd known..."

"No way you could, Timmy. Yeah, maybe I was a little hurt at the time, but it didn't last. Not like the pain from what I did to you guys all those months."

"That wasn't you, Tony, we all know that. Sheppard gave you orders... it was her obsession, her responsibility. None of us blame you."

"I do." Tony gritted out. "Orders or not, I should've refused. I knew she had a personal agenda... I *knew*, and I still let her manipulate and twist me up like a damned pretzel... hell, you know why I wasn't really pissed over the crack you made? I finally admitted you were right. I owed the team better than the half-time, half-assed leader I was while Gibbs was gone... and a *hell* of a lot better than the liar and absentee partner I was after he came back. I know everybody wondered why I just tucked my tail and showed my belly to the boss when he suddenly decided to *be* the boss again. Listen close, Timmy, 'cause this is big news and you're the first to hear it. I caved because Gibbs would've *never*, not in a million years, let himself be convinced that betraying people he was supposed to be a fucking *example* to... was in the best interests of his country. If I couldn't give you and Michelle and Ziva any better than that... how the hell could I ever be worthy of my own team?"

Spinning around, Tony shot out through the door. By the time McGee recovered from his shock and ran after him, the other man was already down the stairs and nearly out of the house. Gaping, Tim descended one step, hesitated, then sat down. After a moment his head and upper body slumped forward until he was bent almost double. Wrapping his hands around the back of his neck, he retreated from the cyclone his thoughts had become, focused only on not hyperventilating and passing out.

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



6

Family Dynamics 6/?

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

Gibbs found Tim on the stairs some twenty minutes later, his head still bowed and his mood even darker. Dropping beside him, he laid a hand on the young man's neck and shook him just slightly. Tim startled and looked up finally.

"Boss..."

"Hey. What happened?"

"Nothing... maybe. I don't know."

"Who?"

"It's okay, Boss. I can handle it. You don't have to..."

"McGee."

Tim studied Gibbs carefully then sighed and gave in.

"Jimmy... then Tony. My mouth just had a mind of its own this morning."

"Tell me."

"Boss?"

"It's what this is about. And for the next three weeks, Boss doesn't exist. Gibbs, hey you... anything else."

"Okay... Gibbs. "

Gradually, the majority of the story emerged. As Tim's words faded, Gibbs grinned faintly.

"I got it... so far."

"Um... that's all there is."

"Uh-huh. What were you and Jimmy doing when you had the blow-out?"

"Doing... well... we were just... standing by the sliding doors... to the backyard."

"While Tony was out there swimming."

"Was he? I, uh... I didn't really notice..."

"Cut the crap, Tim."

"Boss..."

"What'd I just say? Huh? You can't use my name?"

Tim chuckled softly.

"Hey, you don't know... it's like fighting on a battlefield with General Patton then meeting him at a picnic and suddenly being asked to call him Georgie-poo. I need a little time to adjust, okay?"

"Take all the time you need... but you start calling me anything that ends in poo, I'll not only fire your ass, I'll kill you. Slow and painful."

This drew a heartier laugh out of Tim.

"Gotcha. B... Gibbs."

"Better. Now talk about Tony."

"I can't." Tim replied, his darker emotions returning in force, along with his hang-dog expression. "Not like it matters anyway... not after this morning. I really hurt him."

"Wrong. He's pissed off."

"You didn't hear what he said..."

"Fine, it's both, but if he is in pain, you didn't cause it. He's beating himself up over a lot of things, McGee. Jen's death... that's just the latest. It goes back a long way."

"Kate..."

"Yeah, Kate... but you have to put his mom on the list, too. Then add Paula, Jeanne, Sheppard... hell, even I might start seeing a pattern where there isn't one. The only connection is that none of them were his fault. His problem is that he'll never believe that."

"I know. So why add to what he's got on his plate, right? Never mind that there's no way to predict how he'll react..."

"Can't argue with you there." Gibbs acceded as he pushed back up onto his feet. "One thing I can pretty much guarantee, though... he won't be pissed anymore. Surprised, maybe, bit not pissed."

"I couldn't... I just... I don't dare..."

"Then you'll never get anything you want or need, will ya?" the older man concluded then jogged back down the stairs. Tim watched him go silently, knowing how right Gibbs was, but without the first clue how to change things.

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

9O MINUTES LATER:

Tony jogged back into the house, stumbled to an unsteady halt and bent forward with his hands on his knees, struggling to slow his breathing. Just as he was beginning to realize he either needed to find help or pass out and wait to be found, a strong hand grasped his elbow.

"Tony?"

"Abs... in... trouble..."

"I can see that. Big doofus... you never heard of humidity? Ducky!" she shouted in the direction of the living room, where the doctor was relaxing. Hearing the anxiety in Abby's voice, he hurried out to join the pair as she was settling Tony into a seat at the kitchen table.

"Anthony... what were you thinking? You know better than to push yourself so hard, especially in this climate!"

"Wasn't... thinking..."

"Obviously. Luckily for you, I came prepared. A cool damp towel, Abigail, quickly. Then please hand me one of the plastic bags I've stored in the freezer."

Abby complied at top speed, spreading the damp towel over Tony's neck and shoulders and staring in surprise when Ducky pulled a second kitchen towel from the bag and clamped it over Tony's mouth. "Breathe as deeply as you can... yes, that's it... excellent, my boy."

"What in the..." Abby murmured.

"Cold dry air, to counter what he did to himself outside. Another, please, and lay this one out flat somewhere. It must be completely dry before we replace it in the freezer."

"Sure... is he okay? Tell me he's okay, Ducky."

"Better. The second towel will help even more." He prompted, offering her a smile.

"Right. Sorry. Here you go..."

"Thank you. Slowly, Anthony... slowly. Right..."

After another minute or so, Tony reached up and gently pushed the fabric away from his face with a faintly trembling hand.

"I'm good now, Ducky. Thanks."

"Are you sure? You're still a bit flushed..."

"Positive. Sorry for scaring both of you. Unintentional, I swear."

Abby knelt down and hugged him carefully.

"Don't ever do that again, okay?" she chided him as she pulled back a little. "I know you hate thinking about it, but your lungs will never be back to a hundred percent, Tony. You can't just use your head as a placeholder for this gorgeous face." She teased, touching his cheek.

"I was mad. When I get that way... I have to purge it. You know that, Abs."

"Mad? Why? You were fine earlier."

"Don't go there, okay? I'm over it, no need to discuss it."

"Tony..."

"I was pissed at myself, now I'm not. Just let it go, Abby. Please."

Her hand slid into his hair and gripped lightly.

"If you need a shoulder, or an ear, or a left big toe, or anything..."

"I'll find you when I'm ready to vent, I promise."

"But you never will be."

"Scary how well you know me." He told her, offering a sad, mildly apologetic grin.

"Yeah. I love you."

"Ditto times ten." He replied, tweaking her nose. "Now go find Ziva and do something girly."

"It'll be a challenge just getting her to understand that concept." Abby countered as she moved gracefully back onto her feet.

"If anybody can do it, you can."

"We'll see. It'll be fun trying, anyway. You start taking care of yourself, you hear me?"

"Yes ma'mm." He responded crisply, throwing her a perfect salute. She smirked, stuck her tongue out at him and exited. Ducky was silent for several minutes, finally speaking as he replaced the damp towel over Tony's neck.

"If someone hadn't been nearby..."

"I know. Ducky you can't tell them. Gibbs... if he knew he'd never let me stay. This job is all I know... it's everything."

"I'm your physician of record. I can't say anything unless you give me explicit permission."

"Doesn't mean you wouldn't throw out a few major hints if you thought it was necessary."

"True. Your secret will remain so, Tony, no fear. On one condition"

"Yeah?"

"Stop letting your emotions turn you into a blithering idiot. You simply *cannot* be so careless again. Not once more. You are so loved and needed... you're a vital presence in Abigail's life. What she'd do if you were gone, I'm sure I don't know. Moreover, I'm sure I don't want to."

Tony chuckled tiredly.

"I hear you. From now on I don't run alone. That way I'll have a monitor to keep me from staying out too long or going too far."

"That will do fine. If you feel you must have solitude, restrict yourself to dusk or early morning when the heat and humidity won't be such a hazard, alright?"

"It's a deal."

"It had better be. Now upstairs with you. Get some rest."

"Should I salute you, too?" the younger man asked lightly as he stood and handed off the now warm compress.

"Of course not. Total capitulation and obedience will suffice."

"Right."

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

TBC...........

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