My Probie's Keeper

Chapter 18

McGee couldn't sleep. There was something he wasn't remembering, something the others didn't want him to know. He had seen the looks that passed between DiNozzo and Gibbs, the almost hesitant way Tony approached him, and the small acts that were supposed to go unnoticed such as the slippers that magically appeared at the foot of his bed when his feet started to get cold and the Nutter Butters that were slipped onto his food tray that the on-duty nurse pretended to ignore. He knew the culprit was DiNozzo for Abby was far less subtle and Gibbs and Ziva were not the small gift-giving type, but what was with all the secrecy? What had happened after he had discovered Sheldon's brother was up for parole in the NCIS bullpen and the time he had woken in the hospital that was invoking this reaction in his partner?

All he had been told was that the two of them had been manipulated from the start in a dramatic plan to get Sheldon's brother released on the grounds that his two arresting agents were either dead or in a psych ward. With no one to testify against Mark Sheldon, the chances of him being released were high considering the model prisoner he had been these last four years. In interrogation, Fries revealed that it would have drawn suspicion if both agents were found dead so Sheldon had plotted to have Tony committed since his testimony as Lead Agent carried more weight than McGee's. They had bribed Keenan, the witness to the murder of Petty Officer Jackson, to say that he had seen two of Iniguez' known associates carry out the murder in order to get NCIS on the case. When he had gotten cold feet and wanted to tell the truth, they had him shot and refocused the case in a different direction. Susanna Carson had been collateral damage: her sole purpose was to plant the seed of doubt and uncertainty in DiNozzo's mind and a few thousand dollars had been all the motivation needed to get the Kate Todd look-alike to pretend she was the former Secret Service Agent. The fact that she had had substantial firearms training and had no qualms about killing was only a bonus in their eyes.

When the Leavenworth police heard of this elaborate scheme, the judge had immediately denied the Mark Sheldon's appeal. The younger Sheldon would serve the rest of his sentence without parole and maybe some additional years if they could prove conspiracy in the plot to get him released.

Which left Tim to worry about what had happened in that cell in Maryland. He had borrowed his sister's laptop while she was sleeping, hacked into the NCIS server, and located the case file. In the crime scene photos, there appeared to be evidence of a struggle, maybe even a fight, judging by the patterns in the dirt floor, the traces of clothing fibers imbedded in the walls and the two distinct blood types with small splatter patterns. But the pictures stopped there, not revealing anything about who was involved.

McGee had heard from Abby who had eavesdropped on a conversation between DiNozzo and Gibbs that Tony had knocked out the guard—had that been the fight depicted?—and called Gibbs who had swooped in, guns blazing. Fighting the effects of some hallucinogen, DiNozzo had managed to kill the Kate Todd imposter, effectively saving Gibbs' life, though McGee had no doubt the Lead Agent would have somehow managed to save himself had Tony not been conscious.

He had read through Gibbs' and Ziva's reports and had gleaned no new information. He eagerly anticipated Tony's report revealing the answers but either it had not yet been uploaded into the system or was being kept private for reasons unknown.

While he was waiting for the report to appear, he mentally dug through the memories surrounding that day in hopes that one would trigger the events of those lost two days but time and time again he came up blank. He wanted to ask but was afraid of upsetting the already delicate balance between him and DiNozzo—not that Tony would ever admit that something was bothering him, but McGee could see the slight strain in their conversation despite Tony's assurances nothing was amiss. So he suffered in silence, forcing himself to remember.

But this awkward gap left him with even more questions: if no one wanted to talk about what had happened, did that mean he had experienced some horrific trauma? He had bruises around his neck and face that he had not had before arriving at Tony's home and he had a shallow gash on the back of his head where he had been hit with Tony's faux Oscar statue that was currently residing in Evidence…Had he been tortured? He didn't think so, considering the damage done was not that severe. DiNozzo had a few additional bruises though: had the assailants been evenly dividing the blows?

Had he even been conscious for any point of that incident?

Only time would tell. The doctors had said that he may never remember that period of time and that he should be satisfied he had regained all that he did, but it was not enough for McGee. He needed to know, especially after he saw the utter relief that had crossed Tony's face when Doctor Travis had shared that information. What had gone on in that cell was clearly something Tony did not want him to know, which made the stubborn genius want to remember it even more.

As the days passed, he recovered the bulk of his memory, thanks largely to his family who filled his room with pictures, diplomas and papers lest he forget all he had accomplished. By the end of his term at the hospital, the only event he would not recall was his time spent in Maryland. It was like an itch he couldn't scratch, the knowledge of the missing data was so infuriating it was driving him utterly insane.

As the clueless seconds drifted into fruitless minutes which morphed into frustratingly empty days, McGee slowly became more and more complacent with the fact that he may never remember what had happened. If it had been something traumatic, he came to realize that maybe it was better if he didn't know. So he put his quest on the back burner, realizing that if he was meant to remember it, he would.

Then, in a skull-splitting moment of clarity, the night before he was set to be released, he did.

The next morning, Tony waltzed into the hospital, flashing the very attractive nurses with his mega-watt smile as he burst into McGee's room.

"Ready to go home, Pro—What's wrong?" he quickly sobered as he saw McGee sitting on his bed, legs dangling over the edge, his head buried into his hands.

"I remember," the younger man breathed, his voice barely audible.

Tony cautiously lowered himself onto the bed, unsure of how to act. "Most people would say that is a good thing," he ventured, hoping that McGee was not remembering…

"We were in that room…in Maryland."

Well damn. Apparently that was exactly what he was remembering.

"I—I don't know what happened but I hear myself saying awful things and I see myself charging…You! We were fighting….and I think…I think I'm trying to kill you."

McGee turned suddenly, his eyes boring into Tony's own. "Was it real?"

Tony fought to keep his face blank, mentally cursing himself for not having a scripted response. He had bought into the good doctor's best case scenario that McGee might remain blissfully aware of that night's events and had not planned for the unlikely probability that his partner would in fact recall what had happened.

Which left him in the quandary: did he tell him the truth or did he lie? To lie would be to keep a potentially harmful secret from his partner, but to tell the truth would give the Probie an additional burden to bear.

The time Tony spent considering gave McGee for which the answer he'd been looking.

"I'll put in my transfer immediately," Tim informed his partner as he scooted to the other end of the bed, certain that they could not continue to work together after what had unfolded. Tony was a fairly forgiving guy assuming you didn't try to blow up his car or call him to work during the Magnum P.I. marathon but an incident like this would surely be too much for him to handle. After all, what did you say to someone to whom you tried to do bodily harm? "I'm sorry, now let's go find a killer?" Somehow those words didn't seem strong enough to express the utter horror he felt for his actions.

"You know, I was good in the CyberCrimes unit. They looked up to me, respected me…"

"You're not transferring, McGee," Tony stated firmly.

McGee looked up in confusion. "But I tried to kill you. Why would you still want to work with me?"

Tony snorted. "That wasn't your fault McGee. You had a severe head injury. I'm just glad you're alive."

"But that doesn't change the fact that I charged you, made us fight…"

"Tim, you were hurt," Tony explained slowly. "I'm not going to deny that its completely horrible to have your partner honestly believe you're a killer, but I know that something like that would never happen while you're healthy—at least I hope not," he added with a half-smile, trying to inject some levity into the conversation.

The smile dropped from his face as McGee buried his head deeper into his hands and let out an exasperated groan.

"How can you dismiss it that easily?" he asked. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive—"

"Stop it right there, McGee," Tony interrupted, putting up his open hand. "You are not going to blame yourself for this. You had swelling in your brain. You should be lucky you survived, not worrying about how you acted when you were sick."

McGee looked like he was going to argue, so Tony began again. "In fact, it kinda taught me that I may not have always been the nicest person to you. But I didn't know that was all you were going to associate with me."

"Tony, you're you. I wouldn't expect Abby to give up death metal any more than I would expect you to not needle me to death on a daily basis."

The corner of Tony's mouth lifted slightly but his solemn expression revealed he wasn't convinced.

"Besides," McGee offered after a moment, "it's not all bad. I do remember some good things..."

"That so?" Tony asked, intrigued.

"'When the going gets tough, the tough go clubbing'," McGee repeated verbatim, watching as a genuine smile lit across Tony's face.

"Things like that are kinda hard to forget: you coming over at midnight, making me stay up until God-knows-when."

"Abby made me," Tony lied. "She was worried about you."

Tim quirked one eyebrow.

"Okay, maybe I was worried about you, but don't get any ideas. This is a strictly professional relationship between the two of us. The day you start bringing little gifts to say you're sorry is the day I crack open the How to Lose a Partner in 10 Days manual."

Silence settled in the hospital room.

"I heard what you did for me," McGee began after pausing to collect his thoughts, "from Abby of course. Gibbs wouldn't tell me—he said it was your story, but I know enough. You saved my life."

Tony waved his hand dismissively. "It was nothing you wouldn't have done for me. Oh wait, you did, a few weeks ago, at Carson's safe house," he added with a pointed look in McGee's direction.

"You're my partner," McGee shrugged, as if that statement explained everything.

Luckily, for Tony, it did.

The two sat in a thoughtful quiet for another moment before DiNozzo rose to his feet and clapped McGee on his shoulder.

"C'mon McInjured. Let's go home."

Kevin Bacon was lounging at Tony's desk, his feet between the American Pie coffee mug and the letter opener, flipping through a GSM Best-Of edition. He stopped at the centerfold and turned it on its side to get the full effect. He was staring in slack-jawed awe when the phone rang.

The magazine flew into the air as Agent Bacon spun around in the chair trying to keep from tipping over. After a precarious wobble, the chair came to a stop and he snatched the phone from the cradle.

"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo's desk, Kevin Bacon speaking," the new agent panted.

"You weren't reading my GSM were you, Bacon?" Tony accused. Since he was still on mandatory sick leave for another two days, Bacon's assignment with Team Gibbs had been extended. This was to allow the Lead Agent to work half-days in order to keep an eye on his healing agents.

"No, no, I wasn't," Bacon stammered, picking said magazine off the floor and smoothing the cover.

"You were on Page 57, weren't you?" Tony continued relentlessly.

"No, no, Special Agent DiNozzo—"

"Very Special Agent," Tony corrected."

"Whatever. I was not reading your magazine."

"Yeah, Bacon, and pigs fly. Look here: I know where everything is in my desk, so I'll know if you ate my mid-afternoon Snickers or my mid-morning Twix or if you tried to beat the high score on my Whack-A-Terrorist game. If I come back and even the slightest thing is out of place, I will cure you and send your remains to the nearest HoneyBaked ham factory, savvy, Agent Bacon?"

The newest agent gulped audibly. "Never, Agent DiNozzo. I would never—"

"Good. So put down my magazine that you were not reading and go order yourself some green eggs and ham in the cafeteria. My treat," DiNozzo paused to consider, "Or more aptly, Special Agent McGee's treat since I have been charging lunch to his account for the last four weeks. Maybe I should change that credit card number before he gets back to work. It's his own fault though, leaving it out on his desk. That's practically an open invitation to lift it…"

Kevin rolled his eyes while hastily restoring the coffee mug and the Mighty Mouse stapler to their original position.

"Cute, DiNozzo."

"Oh wait, it's Wednesday. The special today is pigs in a blanket. My bad."

Ziva walked into the squad room at that moment and saw the shell-shocked, yet slightly exasperated, expression on Bacon's face.

"Is that Tony?" she asked loudly, wanting to be heard on the other end.

"I'm hanging up now. Good work bringing home the bacon," DiNozzo announced, but before he could thumb the "end call" button, Ziva's voice came on the line.

"You are supposed to be resting."

"I was. A man can only rest so much. Gibbs works on his boat day-in and day-out and McGee spends more time sleeping than a polar bear. I'm going section eight here, Zee-vah! You've gotta help me!"

"You are keeping Agent Bacon from doing his work."

Tony snorted. "He's not working, he's reading my GSM."

Ziva glanced at the younger agent who shrugged.

"Well, he is supposed to be filing paperwork for Fries' transfer to the state penitentiary pending their trial," she said with a pointed glance. He recoiled slightly and scurried off to his desk at the end of the bullpen and began typing madly.

"Have you heard the news?" she asked, watching the breaking news bulletin unfold on the plasma.

"In Washington, D.C., Nathaniel Sheldon, rumored to be the second-in-command in the famous Iniguez drug cartel, was captured shortly after trying to outrun the Metro police department," the blond anchor reported. "One of his known aliases, Jeffrey Spencer, was flagged at a routine traffic stop. In order to avoid detection, Sheldon led the police on a high-speed car chase along the George Washington Parkway that lasted for five minutes until he lost control of the vehicle. He did not sustain any life-threatening injuries and is being taken to NCIS where he is suspected of having some involvement in the abduction of Special Agents Anthony DiNozzo and Timothy McGee."

"I hate that picture," Tony remarked as his employee photo was flashed on screen. He had also been watching the local news, though Gibbs had known about the crash hours ago and had long since left to take control of the scene. He had wanted to go along, but the Marine had threatened another week's sick leave if he left the house, so Tony reluctantly stayed behind. He convinced himself he couldn't leave McGee home alone in case something unforeseen were to happen, but that didn't make watching his boss leave without him any easier.

"It suits you," Ziva smiled at the long, slicked-back hair and the black leather jacket. "Very Travolta from Saturday Night Fever."

"Miss David, I do believe I told you to watch that movie," Tony said with a note of appreciation. "So technically, I get half-credit for the reference."

Ziva rolled her eyes. "How are you both doing?" she asked, switching subjects before Tony could start on a Travolta tangent.

"I've never been better and the Probie's all set to return to work next week if he's released by his doctor. He's got another appointment later today."

"Well, I am glad to hear that. I will stop by later but now I must go: Sheldon will be here any moment and I do not want to miss his interrogation."

"Ziva, Ziva, could you record that for me, please?" he pleaded, but the Israeli had already hung up.

He stared at the phone, contemplating whether or not to call Ziva back. Deciding she probably wouldn't answer, he placed it on the dining room table and walked up the stairs to check on McGee. The Probie was still sleeping, sprawled on his side and breathing loudly through his mouth.

He quietly walked by the open doorway, stopping when he heard a loud, "You're tiptoeing again."

Tony stopped in the doorway, watching McGee ease himself into a sitting position.

"Was not."

"Was too."

Tony smirked. "I do not tiptoe, McSleepy. I was just…walking quietly so you could get your beauty sleep."

"Your quiet walking could use some work," McGee returned, rubbing the lingering drowsiness out of his eyes. "It's like trying to sleep through an elephant stampede."

"Let's see you do better," Tony goaded.

"I don't have to do better. I'm not the one stomping around like a little girl."

Tony's mouth dropped open with mock affront. "I resemble that remark, McSnippety. You'd better be ready to defend that claim."

McGee narrowed his eyes and flung the sheet away from him, dangling his legs over the side of the bed. "Call of Duty: Black Ops," he challenged, reaching for his laptop. "Last one still alive spoke the truth."

Tony scoffed at his partner's geeky suggestion. "That's to your advantage, Elf Lord. Basketball: one-on-one, game to 11. I'll even let you use the women's three-point line just to make it sporting."

"Yeah right, Mr. Varsity Team Captain cos that's totally fair," McGee retorted.

They paused to consider. "Five Card Draw," they said in unison, twin grins crossing their faces.

They dashed from the room, racing down the stairs in a tangle of arms and limbs, arriving at Gibbs' dining room table without further injury.

"I'm dealing," Tony declared, pulling the poker set someone had gifted Gibbs from a chest of drawers.

"You're on, DiNozzo," McGee vowed. He allowed him a small grin, glad the tension between the two of them had dissolved during their prolonged stay at Resort de Gibbs.

He pulled up a chair and steeled his game face, wondering at what point Tony would remember he had gone to MIT and learned to count cards from the best in the business...

McGee was cleared for desk duty later that day after having won the impromptu poker tournament by one hand without needing to count cards. It took an additional two days for the paperwork to get filed through Human Resources before he could return to work. Agent Bacon had been politely dismissed from the team that morning and had all but sprinted out of the room after having been the sole recipient of Tony's pranks for the past few days. The morning of McGee's return to work, coincidentally his last night staying at Gibbs', arrived…almost…without incident.

"No!" Tony gasped, staring wide-eyed at McGee as the elevator jolted to a stop, opening onto the orange walls of the NCIS squad room. "It can't be!"

"It's true, Tony," McGee confirmed with mild exasperation. "I have never seen Hocus Pocus."

"C'mon McGee! It's one of the greatest Halloween films ever made after Night of a Living Dead, Pet Semetary, Bram Stoker's Dracula—which, by the way, was directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola—and…" Tony paused for dramatic effect before continuing with a game show announcer's enthusiasm, "The Exorcist in first place purely for its disturbing and occasionally offensive nature. I watched it with a girlfriend once, late at night. Needless to say, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made."

Suddenly, Tony stopped dead in his tracks, throwing out his left arm. McGee saw the motion out of his periphery and awkwardly backpedalled to avoid being strong-armed.

"What the hell, DiNozzo?" he swore, staring irritably at the older man.

"I can't believe I completely forgot about Carrie!" Tony gasped in disbelief.

"Who is Carrie?" Tony jumped slightly at the sound of Ziva's voice directly behind him, his hand going to his side as the movement tugged on his healing side.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you it isn't polite to sneak up on people?" he snarled at her, trying to keep his heart from pounding straight out of his chest.

Ziva stared at him and raised her eyebrows in a very Gibbs-like move, waiting for him to respond to her original question.

Tony frowned at his partner. "Carrie is not a who it's a what. It's a film about a socially outcast teenage girl who realizes she has telekinetic powers after enduring mental and physical torment by her friends and family, mainly her mother."

"Fascinating," Ziva returned, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly, pushing Tony out of the way so she could access her desk.

"Sounds like a pointless movie," McGee contended as his phone beeped. He pulled out his newly upgraded iPhone 4, his eyes widening as he saw sixteen unread messages from Abby, most of them from Abby asking when he was finally going to check his mail and respond to her original email about concert tickets for Brain Matter later this week. Speaking of, where was….

"MCGEE!" he felt something crash into his back and arms and legs wrap themselves tightly around his chest. He smelled the faint aroma of gunpowder and awkwardly reached behind him to complete the hug.

"It's so good to have you back," Abby babbled excitedly without releasing her death grip. "It's been so empty here without you, and that Kevin Bacon," he felt her shaking her head rapidly, "not even close—"

He got whipped with her pigtails as she glanced left.

"TONNY!" she shouted, releasing McGee and heading for the Italian. DiNozzo froze mid-turn with barely enough time to brace himself before Abby slammed into him. The two of them faltered backwards but Tony regained his balance before the two of them fell.

"Good…to…see…you…too," he gasped as his air supply was cut off by the very excited scientist.

Ziva saw how purple his face was turning and decided to intervene on his behalf, considering it was his first day back and all.

"Abby, you are killing him," she said gently.

"Oh," the Goth gasped, releasing him and taking a step back. "Sorry."

"I'd forgotten what an Abby-hug felt like," Tony wheezed. Abby stationed herself between the two of them and slung one arm over each of their shoulders. She was tempted to handcuff herself to the two of them, but given the recent turn of events, she decided that would be a rather tactless idea. She would settle with almost constant video monitoring for the time being until she came up with a more sensible means to keep tabs on her agents.

"There's so much that's been going on since you left. Did you know Sister Rosita has been praying for you nonstop ever since you were admitted? You really should sent her a thank you note when you have a moment, and I got these tickets for the concert this weekend, but McGee, you haven't said you wanted to go yet so someone else asked but I said I would wait for you—"

"Have you seen the movie Carrie?" Tony interrupted before Abby's stream-of-consciousness speech gave him an unwanted headache.

"Well yeah, hasn't everyone?"

Tony motioned toward McGee and Abby's eyes widened in understanding. "Tell McOblivious here how Carrie truly captures the essence of the good-old fashioned Halloween scare," Tony implored, knowing Abby was the only other person in the room who turned on their television occasionally.

"That right, DiNozzo?" Gibbs' voice came from directly behind Tony cutting off Abby's enthusiastic response.

Tony winced reflexively, prepared for the Gibbs-slap that usually followed such conversations and a surprise greeting from his boss. There was a long silence as he remained braced for the slap and Gibbs and Abby exchanged amused expressions over his bowed head.

"Gear up," Gibbs ordered after a long while, deciding to let Tony's conversation slide…just this once.

He grabbed his weapon from the desk and tossed McGee the keys to the NCIS van. "We gotta body in Norfolk."

Tony immediately picked up his gear and scrambled toward the elevator before Gibbs decided to change his mind about not head-slapping him.

To his credit, he was silent for the majority of the elevator ride before the overwhelming urge to make a movie reference became too great.

"You know…" he began after giving McGee a quick once over, "if I squint, you bear a distinct resemblance to Thackary Binx…I'm sure his nightshirt would go great with your David Niven collection—"

This time, he wasn't disappointed as Gibbs' hand connected solidly with the back of his head. Tony rubbed his crown thoughtfully, realizing just how much he had missed the sharp, stinging sensation.

"It's good to be back, boss," Tony said with a cheeky grin.

Though Gibbs did not speak, DiNozzo and McGee did not miss the swift glance that said, "It's good to have you back."

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