The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 14: The Step and the Walk

When Tony arrived the next morning, pushing an empty wheelchair and nodding at the guard on duty outside McGee’s door, he was doing his best to appear cool. McGee had rattled him yesterday. Worse, he’d rattled Ziva, though she hadn’t told him what Tim had said to her. As much as he wanted to believe that Tim was strong enough to deal with what Reams had done to him, the volatile man whom he’d seen yesterday had scared him.

But he’d be damned if he’d let his friend fall.

Tim could be as angry as he wanted, as mean and as cruel as he could manage—it’d be the proverbial water off the duck’s back. Tony was going to stick it through.

Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t unbelievably grateful that Sarah was staying with him. If she hadn’t been, he would have had to take McGee home with him so that he could watch him (because Abby couldn’t handle it, Ducky had Mrs. Mallard to contend with, and Ziva and Gibbs? Get real). And, yes, McGee would have called him on the babysitting, and Tony would have had to come up with some other explanation in an attempt to hide the fact that, yes, it was babysitting, and you just know that wouldn’t have ended well. So, right now, Sarah had his undying gratitude.

Of course, either way, he knew he’d been keeping a close eye on his friend for a long time.

He rolled the chair to a stop and put it to one side, so he could open the door. His hand was on the door handle when it registered, his thoughts interrupted by a strange sound.

Typing. Real typing. The kind you only heard on movie reels these days, the noise of someone clicking and clacking away like an old train at full steam.

Tony’s lips parted in surprise, and, as quietly as he could, he pushed the door open, peeking around the edge.

The curtains were open, revealing the large plate glass window and letting in the bright sunshine and heavy blue sky. Light and warmth filled the room.

The bed was empty. Tony pushed the door open further.

And couldn’t stop the smile.

McGee was already up and dressed, sitting straight backed at the small table in his room, working on the typewriter.

And by working, Tony meant working.

For a moment, he just watched. He’d seen Probie type at work on a computer, his fingers moving quickly over the keys, but this was different. The typewriter keys rattled and fought being depressed—McGee was almost attacking them as he typed. His entire body was rigid and focused, eyes staring unblinkingly at the paper unspooling on the platen, his forearms tense. His fingers were a blur.

It was oddly impressive. It reminded Tony of how Gibbs was in interrogation, or Ziva when she was tracking a criminal. It was watching an artist at work.

Good God, it was actually cool.

Better, it was hopeful.

McGee whacked the platen, sending it back to the start with a ping. And Tony released a quick laugh.

Tim stopped, clearly alerted now to the other man’s presence by the noise. His shoulders relaxed, and, slowly, he turned his head to look at the door. He frowned slightly at seeing Tony watching him, then returned his gaze to the page he’d typed. Tony pushed the door the rest of the way open and walked inside.

Sighing, Tim reached forward and whipped the paper off the roller and placed it on a pile of other papers. He fingered it for a moment, then, pressing a hand to his ribs, he stood up slowly and placed the paper into a box next to the typewriter.

“Can you help me put the typewriter in the box?” he asked Tony then, gathering up the pencils and highlighters on the table. “It’s actually been a little hard on my ribs sitting here and typing, and I know I’d never be able to lift it.”

“Yeah,” Tony said quickly, trying not to show how pleased he was, and knowing he was failing. “Yeah, of course.” Dropping the discharge papers he was carrying on the bed, he was by McGee’s side and lifting up the typewriter—which was remarkably heavy. What the hell was it made of? Solid iron?

“You need a lighter hobby, McGee,” he muttered, muscling it into the box with a grunt.

“Ziva didn’t have a problem with it,” Tim said, smiling slightly.

“That’s because Ziva’s freakishly strong,” Tony replied. “I’m not sure she’s entirely human.”

Tim chuckled. “I’m so telling her you said that.”

“Oh, come on,” Tony said, “have a heart. She’ll kill…” He trailed off suddenly, and turned to look at Tim. Yesterday, McGee had almost bit his head off when he’d made a joke. Then, later, when Tim had obviously made an effort to be more affable, it had sounded wooden. Almost forced.

But there’d been nothing forced about this. It had felt normal.

McGee was frowning now, not understanding the pause. “What?”

Tim’s smile faded, and he shrugged. “Nothing, I just…” He shook his head. “Nothing. Just in a good mood.” He smiled again.

“That’s because your ribs aren’t broken. They tell me I’m pretty much not allowed to do anything for weeks. The doctor frowned when she saw me this morning at the typewriter—apparently, she hadn’t authorized it as Ziva had said. But, well…” McGee shrugged, then winced. Ah—he’d just learned the old truth, that shoulders were connected to ribs. Tony smiled. He knew that one well.

“Not surprising,” Tony replied, smiling softly. “Ziva’s an expert truth-bender when she needs to be. But I’m glad she brought you this,” he shrugged. “It’s a good thing.” McGee frowned slightly at that and looked down, so Tony returned to putting the things away in the box. In moments, he had the top on it. He turned around. “Anything else?”

McGee nodded, pointing at the bed. “The clothes I came in.” They were piled neatly on the bed, wrapped in plastic from the hospital laundry. Tony quickly retrieved them and, popping the top of the box off, he neatly put the laundered clothes inside.

“There.” He put the top back on. “So, you ready to--?”

“McGee.”

Both men turned towards the door at the call, McGee wincing again when he twisted his torso too far. But the kid’s expression quickly cleared to end up somewhere between wonder and, well, trepidation. Tony didn’t blame him.

Nick Cheevers stood in the doorway, leaning heavily on a pair of crutches. He was wearing normal street clothes—a Dead Head T-Shirt over a pair of Army gray sweats. His moustache was trimmed back, neater than it had been when Tony last saw him out in West Virginia, and it twitched upwards as Nick offered a tentative smile.

“Hi Tim.”

McGee nodded once. “Nick.” He blinked, then seemed to get his wits back. “Uh…” He turned to face the door more fully. “How are you? Are you okay?”

Nick’s smile grew. “Yeah. Thanks to you. Um…” He looked nervous. “Look, Angela’s just down the hall. They’re not releasing her yet. She asked me to ask you to stop by on your way out. Could you?”

McGee’s eyebrows lifted. “Uh, sure.” He looked at Tony, eyebrows still lifted. “That okay with you?”

Tony actually wasn’t so sure. He didn’t know what they wanted to say, but he was a little afraid they might set the kid back a little. But he pasted a smile on his face anyway. It wasn’t his call.

“’Course,” he said. “Go ahead. I’ll follow with the chair and the box.”

McGee gave him another nod, then walked slowly out the door, his hand still on his ribs, obviously being careful not to jostle them that much. Nick had already turned, moving quickly away on the crutches. Tony knew Nick had been released Tuesday, but he’d stayed with Angela. And, from the looks of it, wasn’t going to be leaving her anytime soon.

Lifting up the box, Tony walked out the door and plonked it down on the wheelchair, then head back inside for the discharge papers. When he came out, the cop was already standing, ready to be relieved. Tony let him go with a nod, and the cop grinned, happy to be off guard duty.

Pushing the wheelchair and the box, Tony soon caught up with McGee and Cheevers, who were moving at a pace that McGee could keep up with. It was the first real walking McGee had done, and, from his stilted motion, you could tell it wasn’t easy. Tony vaguely regretted not making him get in the chair, but McGee was stubborn. He doubted he could get the kid to sit in the chair now.

As he reached them, he could tell they hadn’t spoken. There was an awkwardness in the air.

Tony was about to try and dispel it when they rounded the corner and saw another cop, this one sitting in front of an open door. The cop was reading People.

Tony just grinned at him when the cop looked up. The officer frowned and returned his attention to the magazine, flipping a page with an attitude only an old school beat cop could pull off.

Nick limped through the open door, his face lighting up as he did so.

Huh. Interesting.

McGee followed, his expression a lot less bright. If anything, his countenance seemed to shut down.

Tony placed the wheelchair to one side of the hallway, sighed once, and then turned to walk into the room after them.

Angela was sitting up on her bed, and she was smiling up at Tim, holding his hand. Nick was on the other side of the bed, settling himself into a chair.

“Do you want a chair?” Angela was asking. Tim shook his head, turning when he heard Tony’s footfall behind him. Angela looked as well, and she smiled again.

“Hello, Agent DiNozzo.”

“Agent Zelnitz,” he replied. He looked back at Tim and gestured at the door. “I’ll just be outside.”

“No, wait,” Angela said. “Actually, if you wouldn’t mind?” She bit her lip, and smiled up at McGee again. “I’d like him to stay.”

Tim frowned slightly and gave a shrug—wincing again. Tony barely resisted the urge to tease him about it. Now was not the time.

“Will you stay?” Angela asked Tony.

He shrugged as well. “Sure.” Why not?

She thanked him with a nod, and finally let go of McGee's hand. Tim backed off a step and put his hands in his jeans pockets. Clearly, he hadn’t been the one to initiate the hand-holding and didn’t want a repeat. Again, Tony had to hold back the teasing. After all—even pale and sick, Angela Zelnitz was a pretty woman.

“So, um…” She was gazing up at McGee now. “Did Nick tell you why I wanted you to come by?”

Tim’s eyes squinted slightly, glancing at Cheevers. “Uh….” He shook his head. “Not really.”

“Oh,” Angela nodded, also looking to Cheevers. “Well, we just….” She looked at McGee again. “We knew you were being released today, and I didn’t want you to go without telling you how much we wanted to thank you.” She drew in a deep breath. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Nick and I would be dead right now if you and Tara hadn’t done what you did. And…” She shifted her gaze downwards, to her hands, which were now fiddling with the blanket over her legs. “And I wanted to apologize.”

Nick sighed softly—apparently, this hadn’t been his idea.

“Apologize?” Tim repeated, clearly surprised. “For what?”

“For…” She swallowed. “The NRO thing.”

McGee’s confusion was even more pronounced now. “I don’t understand. You mean, when you tried to get Reams to give you the hack?”

“Yes.”

“But you were just trying to help me.”

“No, I wasn’t,” Angela said, deflating a little. “I was trying to help me.” Her tone was bitter, filled with a self-loathing so thick, you could feel it.

“Angela…” Nick said, reaching forward to grab her arm. “I’ve been trying to tell you that it doesn’t matter, that you have nothing to apologize for.” He looked up at McGee. “She’s got this twisted in her head, and I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

McGee clearly still didn’t understand, and neither did Tony. From what he’d been told, Cheevers had been the one to hack the National Reconnaissance Office—managing to do it Sunday night, before Reams had apparently shut down the operation.

Angela shook her arm free of Nick’s hold. “It matters to me, Nick,” she snapped. “It told me a lot about the kind of person I am, and I didn’t like it. And I’m trying to make amends, so just let me.”

Tony’s eyebrows lifted up at that. Well hell, they almost sounded married. Tim's slightly dumfounded expression suggested he’d noticed that as well. Angela returned her attention to McGee, and she smiled again weakly.

“The reason I volunteered to hack the NRO was partly because of what I said to Reams,” she began, “that I’d done it before. Actually, I’ve done it a bunch of times. It’s pretty useful for CID to be able to see where the troops are, and the NRO tracks them out of course. But the other reason I volunteered was because…” She closed her eyes. “Because I knew that, when you didn’t hack it in time, Reams would kill one of us, but keep you alive.”

McGee’s brow furrowed. “I don’t—“

“I saw it from the first time he had you take over for Nick on Saturday, Tim. Reams was after you. He was just looking for you to give him a reason to kill one of us. He wanted you to screw up, to try something, to take a risk—and then he’d kill one of us and blame it on you.” She shook her head. “It’s why he gave you so many agencies to hack—more than you could have possibly managed. He wanted you to fail.”

“I didn’t see it,” Cheevers muttered, his head down. “I just thought Reams was an asshole.”

“Please don’t swear, Nick,” Angela said, almost dismissively. “But, yes, I know you didn’t see it, else you would probably have volunteered to take the NRO as well. But it didn’t matter—Reams found a way to twist it so that it was back on Tim’s head.” She looked up at McGee again. “Didn’t he?”

McGee was standing very still. His face was pale, his expression flat.

Crap.

Angela seemed to realize how her words might be interpreted, and her eyes widened. “Oh, Tim, no. Don’t. I’m not blaming you. You being picked to star in Reams’ sadistic game had nothing to do with you. It’s entirely on Reams’ sick head. I just…” She looked pained. “I just wanted to say how sorry I was that I didn’t try harder to really help you. When I made that offer about the NRO, I was just trying to save my own life. It was selfish and it was wrong. Meanwhile, you and Tara were risking everything, trying to find us all a way out. And you did it. I’m alive and Nick is alive because of what you and she did. And I will always, always be grateful.” She bit her lip again and shifted up more on the bed. “Please,” she said, her voice soft, “will you forgive me?”

Tim seemed to have frozen, his whole body stiff.

Nick frowned worriedly, and sat forward on the chair. “McGee?”

Tony took a step forward, reaching a hand out to touch McGee’s arm. “Probie?”

Tim blinked finally, closing his eyes for a long moment and breathing out heavily. When he opened them again, he was looking down at the floor.

“Um…” He raised a hand to his face, wiping at it. He turned in Tony’s direction, though he didn’t look at him. “Is that wheelchair outside?”

Tony was out the door and grabbing the chair before Tim could speak again. He put the box on the floor and wheeled it up behind Tim, so the kid could sit. McGee sank down into it, leaning a little to one side so he could put his elbow on the chair’s arm and rest his head in his hand.

In that same time, Cheevers had stood, once more balanced on his crutches, frowning a little. Angela looked about ready to start crying.

Cheevers grunted suddenly. “Well,” he noted sourly, “guess you’re not the only one with this whole thing twisted in your head, Angela.”

She looked up at him, frowning deeply. Then she turned again to McGee.

“Tim, I’m sorry if I said anything wrong. I owe you so much, and I just….Maybe I was being selfish again. I thought it would be good if I could come clean to you about what I had done. After what you did for us….” She shook her head. “I just wanted to say I was sorry.”

McGee let out a soft sigh, and he looked up. A moment later, he straightened up as well, and his eyes were clear.

“Well, I can’t accept it,” he said.

Angela’s shoulders fell. “What?”

He shook his head. “I won’t accept your apology.”

“Why?” she asked, reaching a hand back towards Nick. The man took it, and he was staring thunderbolts at McGee.

“I don’t get you, McGee,” he snarled.

“No,” McGee said, “You don’t understand. I won’t accept it because,” he looked at Angela as he spoke, “Nick’s right. You have nothing to be sorry for, Angela.” He frowned. “Reams was a bastard, and letting him continue to make us feel bad about what he did to us means he wins. And he can’t win. Tara gave her life so we’d be free of him, and if I accepted your apology, I wouldn’t be honoring what she did for us. So, for Tara’s sake…” He lifted his chin. “I’m saying no.”

Angela’s eyes widened slightly, and Nick actually cracked a crooked smile.

After a moment, Angela's gaze lowered. "I…I didn't think of it that way."
"Neither did I, until just now," Tim admitted.
“Do you really believe that?” Cheevers asked.

Tim met his gaze evenly, and nodded. “I’m working on it.”

Tony had to press his lips together to prevent himself from grinning in pride. Now that sounded like McGee. The kid who argued right and wrong with Ziva on a daily basis, who held himself so strongly on principle, and who held so fast to those beliefs—that was the one who had just spoken. And, man, Tony was damn glad to have him back.

Angela, meanwhile, was smiling softly now, and it broadened the more she looked at Tim. Finally, she nodded.

“Okay,” she said, and looked down. “Okay,” she repeated, clearly more for herself this time.

“Fuckin’ A,” Nick agreed, grinning at McGee. “Screw Reams.”

“Nick!” Angela snapped. Cheevers just sighed and rolled his eyes. And McGee smiled.

“Right,” Tony said, stepping forward and grabbing the back of McGee’s chair. “Well, seems to me that we’ve got the air cleared, so…” He tilted his head.“I’d kinda like to get this guy out of here.”

Angela nodded, lifting a hand in a wave. “Don’t be a stranger, Tim,” she said.

“Yeah,” Nick agreed. “We’ll see you around, okay?”

McGee just nodded. “See you around,” he agreed.

Tony took that as his cue and started to turn the chair.

“Oh, hey, wait,” Cheevers said, and Tony stopped. McGee’s eyebrows lifted.

“Yeah?”

Nick opened his mouth, then closed it, and, oddly, he blushed. “Just…I’m glad you were there.” He gave a shrug. “I thought you should know that.”

Tim’s surprise was clear on his face, and Tony shook his head. There was no way Probie was answering that.

“McGee says thanks, Cheevers,” Tony said, turning the chair around fully and wheeling McGee out to where he’d left the box in the hallway. “Just invite him to the wedding.”

Cheevers spluttered at that, and so did Angela, and that’s how they left them.


When they were finally in the elevator, headed down to the ground floor, McGee looked up at Tony.

“You really think those two will hook up?” he asked, his tone curious.

“I’m thinking they’re already hooked up,” Tony answered.

“Just…” McGee shrugged (and winced again). “Kinda weird. They’re nothing alike.”

“Yeah. I noticed that.”

“Well.” McGee looked rested his arms on the box on his lap. “Maybe something good might come out of all this.”

Tony just snorted. “Oh please. I give it two weeks.”


A few months later, McGee threw a cream colored envelope down in front of Tony, his expression smug. Tony frowned, arching an eyebrow at the kid.

“Open it,” McGee said.

Still arching the eyebrow, Tony pulled the contents out of the envelope and read the contents.

It was an invitation to the Cheevers-Zelnitz Wedding. Tony groaned. It grew louder when he recalled he’d seen a similar envelope in his inbox that morning.

“Two weeks, eh?” Tim asked. He started to laugh when Tony buried his head in his hands, and then he rapped his knuckled on Tony’s desk to get him to look up again. When Tony finally did, McGee was shaking his head.

“Just thinking, Ziva still wants to go camping in the Cumberland Gap. That weekend might be a good one to plan the trip.” His smile was wicked. “What do you say?”

Tony sighed and shook his head. “I hate it when Ziva wins.”


The End

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