The team was between cases, nothing but paperwork to occupy their time. Ziva was typing away, idly wondering if the annoyance of filling out these forms was meant to balance out the peace and quiet. She was just about to suggest the idea to McGee when Tony walked in, dropped a thick sheaf of paper on McGee's desk, gritted out, "Conference, now," and walked away before McGee could respond.
A bit rattled by Tony's behavior, Ziva could only think that the phrase "stormed off" suddenly made sense. She gave McGee a curious look, and was concerned to see how nervous he was. It had been years since he'd looked so worried about speaking with Tony. He walked over to the elevators like a convicted felon approaching their death sentence, and Ziva found her curiosity growing that much stronger with every reluctant step he took.
Feeling only the tiniest bit guilty about snooping, she walked over to McGee's desk and inspected the top page of the pile. It was blank but for two lines, which read:
Deep Six: Rough Waters
Another LJ Tibbs Adventure
Oh. McGee's next book. Obviously this wasn't the final edition, or it would have a better spine than the plastic spiral Ziva found herself playing with as she thought, but given its size it must be a complete draft. So why had McGee given a copy of it to Tony - and what about it had made Tony so angry?
Ziva really, really wanted to find out.
Just as she was about to open it, someone called her name. Ziva dropped the page like it was on fire and backed away, putting on an innocent face that probably wouldn't fool anyone, least of all Abby. She was a little out of breath - a sure sign that Tony and McGee were still having their conference and inadvertently forcing Abby to run up the stairs. "I was just - " She spotted the book and cut herself off, pointing at it. "Is that Timmy's new - ?"
"The copy Tony was - ?"
Abby bit her lip. "Was he - ?"
"Very upset." Ziva nodded towards the elevators. "They are having a 'conference' about it."
"Oh boy." When Ziva gave her a "go on" look, she said, "I might have made a mistake."
"Tim asked me for advice about this one, and I told him Tony wouldn't mind."
"It seems you were wrong about that."
"Well, technically, I said Tony wouldn't kill him for it," Abby rephrased.
"Let's hope that much is true." Ziva eyed the elevators warily, then gave Abby an interrogative look. "Just what did McGee do in this one?"
A few conflicted expressions crossed Abby's face before she gave in and pulled up a seat at McGee's desk. Ziva peered over her shoulder at the book as she paged through it, finding the right spot about a third of the way through. "Here," she said, and pointed at a paragraph. Ziva skimmed it easily, and what she read made her jaw drop.
They walked into the interrogation room and Tommy's eyes went wide. After a moment of surprised silence, their primary suspect, Petty Chief Theodore Clemens, smiled at him and said, 'Hey stranger. Thought you were still in Baltimore.'
'I moved,' Tommy said shortly, backing out of the room. 'Excuse me.' McGregor shot a confused look at Clemens and followed him out of the room.
'What was that, Tommy?' he asked. Tommy could be rude, even crude, but when he was unprofessional there was a reason for it.
'I can't be involved in this case,' Tommy said, shaking his head. He crossed and recrossed his arms, obviously anxious. 'Not if Ted's a suspect.'
'Come on, Tommy,' McGregor insisted, 'we've investigated friends before.' Tommy averted his eyes, and understanding struck McGregor across the back of the head. It left him dumbstruck for a moment - Tommy, tamed ladies man, actually an equal opportunity flirt? Still, they were on a case, and Tibbs wanted results ASAP. No time to think about things like this. He persisted, 'We've had to investigate people who were... more than friends too.'
'Yeah,' Tommy snarked, 'and that's worked out so well for everyone involved.' But McGregor could see a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and his posture was much less defensive. He was relieved that McGregor hadn't made a fuss about his past relationship. They needed Tommy on this case, so McGregor intended to make sure no one else had the chance to take offense.
"בן זונה," she breathed.
They didn't say a word to each other as they waited for the elevator to empty. Once it was, Tim shot Tony a nervous look, but Tony was keeping his eyes aimed straight at the door, his expression blank. The doors closed and the elevator started to move, and it was only then that Tony shot an arm out to jab at the emergency stop button. The elevator shuddered to a halt, the lights dimmed, and Tim's tension shot through the roof.
Tim swallowed past a tight throat. He had been expecting this. He'd been a coward and given Tony a copy of the manuscript to read days ago, rather than just tell him himself, and every day since had been spent on tenterhooks, waiting for him to get to that scene and - Tim didn't know, set the book on fire, assault Tim with it, something. But there had been nothing, until now.
Tim had expected violence, shouting, the kind of vicious externalized anger he knew Tony was capable of. This cold, silent fury was something new, and all the more intimidating for it.
"So," Tony said at long last, and the chill in his voice was almost enough to make Tim shiver.
"So," Tim parroted uncomfortably when Tony didn't continue. "Uh... I take it you didn't like the book?" And it was this, of all things, that got Tony to finally look at Tim, and he immediately wished he hadn't. The flat, hard edge to his mouth, the tightness in his jaw, the furrow of his brow, it all spoke to a barely restrained anger, all of it focused on Tim. He hated it and was afraid of it simultaneously.
"First off, McGemcity, I have never liked your books. The plots are laughable, the prose so purple eggplants weep in shame, and the characters are farcical at best." Tim barely held back a wince. He'd gotten worse reviews, but it was different hearing it from someone he actually respected. "None of that has changed since the first book. But what you did to me in this one - "
"It wasn't about you, Tony!"
Tony gave Tim a flat look. "You made me gay, McGee."
(A few months earlier...)
"You won't seriously - this is discrimination! You're lucky I don't sue!" Tim hung up his phone with more force than necessary and swore under his breath.
Shamelessly eavesdropping, Tony grinned. "The publishing biz not so McAuthor-friendly today?" he asked, barely containing his glee at the Schadenfreude of it all.
"You could say that," Tim grumbled, returning to the sanctuary of his computer.
A little miffed that Tim wasn't more prone to gossip, Tony said, "Come on, Tim, share! Tell your buddy Tony all about it. It can't be as bad as the time your editor told you Agent 'Lisa' being granted US citizenship was 'unrealistic'."
Tim smiled, just a little bit. "At least that one is funny in retrospect. This, though... this is serious, Tony."
He certainly sounded serious about it, Tony thought. But he wrote mystery novels, what could be so serious about that?
The next month or so, Tony kept catching the end of angry phone calls Tim was having with what sounded like everyone involved with his book - his editor, his publicist, his agent, even some higher-ups at the publishing company. But whenever Tony asked what was going on, Tim just bitterly cited "creative differences" and went back to work, fuming but otherwise not letting his second career interfere with his first. Ziva and Gibbs overheard some of these calls too, but they didn't seem to get any more from Tim than Tony had.
Abby, though. Given how many conversations between Abby and Tim stopped when Tony came in the room, Tony figured she was Tim's confidante on this issue, whatever it was.
And then one day, when Tim was looking particularly stressed and Tony was fairly certain a deadline for his next book was looming, Tony was coming down to the lab to check on Abby and Tim's progress with their victim's computer when he heard his name. Well, sort of.
"I think you should make it Agent Tommy."
"What, are you crazy?" Tim asked, voice gone shrill. "Tony would kill me!"
"Just trust me, okay?" Abby said, reassuring. "He won't."
"...do you know something I don't?"
Abby cackled. "Always, McGee."
Tony chose this moment to pop his head in and say, "Okay, my ears are burning, who's talking about me?" Tim jumped and stumbled over his response, and Abby just smiled in a very "cat got the cream and the canary" way. Neither of them really explained themselves, but they had a case to work on, so Tony didn't pay it much mind.
Something changed after that conversation, though. Tim stopped having near-shouting matches on the phone, and his conversations with Abby stopped cutting off when other people entered the room. Instead, he spent a lot of time trying to have a conversation with Tony, and utterly failing. It was kind of funny, in the way pratfalls and Charlie Chaplin movies are, but watching Tim try to gradually direct a conversation towards some uncomfortable topic, only to give up five sentences in, got old fast.
Eventually, Tony got fed up and held most of the conversation for Tim.
"Okay, look," he said, "you've been trying to have this conversation with me for weeks now. I'm pretty sure I know what it's about at this point, so we might as well just get it over with. You were having trouble with your book. Not writing it - something you wrote made your publisher angry. And that it made her angry made you angry - am I right so far?" Dumbfounded, Tim just nodded. "Then Abby made a suggestion that you like, and more importantly your publisher likes, but which you think I won't like. Something about Agent Tommy?" Tim nodded again. "Tim, if Abby suggested it, don't you think she took my opinion into consideration?"
Tim cleared his throat, finding his voice. "Well, yeah, but - "
"Trust that Abby knows me, and knows me well enough to guess how much something you did to Agent Tommy would bother me." Tony paused, considering the possibilities. "I mean, it's nothing really bad, right? You aren't gonna blow him up or something?"
"No!" Tim looked horrified. "Of course not, nothing like that."
"Good," Tony said, "I've had too many near-misses as it is, no need to jinx me further."
"But, Tony - "
Tony sighed. "Look, if it's really got you that worried, just tell me." When Tim looked stricken at that, he added, "Or give me an advanced copy or something. Then I'll know without you having to say it."
Something in Tim's posture relaxed at that. "I - yeah. Yeah, I can do that."
Abby was always happy to give to her friends. A sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, a hard smack on the shoulder, an appreciative leer; whatever they needed, she could and would provide. But in Tim's case, what she was best at providing was probably advice.
He'd come a long way from his first years at NCIS, when he'd been unsure of himself in the field despite being a very competent agent, but every once in a while a touch of that old insecurity would come over Tim, and more often than not he'd come to Abby for help. Lucky for him she was awesome and knowledgeable enough to help most of the time, but this latest thing with his publisher had been stumbling up her Agony Aunt Abby routine for weeks.
When he got a call in the middle of a case that brought a sour "it's her" look to his face, Abby nudged him away from the keyboard and took over hacking the victim's hard drive, tuning out the arguing while she worked. Tim would give her the details after it was over, anyway, so she might as well make the hard drive her priority. A few minutes later, Tim slumped into his seat and groaned, defeated. Abby stopped hacking and looked him over.
"I gave in," Tim admitted, joining her at the keyboard. He started typing, and added in a falsely light tone, "It was either change it or remove the subplot altogether, unless I want to ruin my chances for a fourth book."
Abby's heart sank. This was the worst of all the worst possible outcomes! "She can't be allowed to do this, Timmy! I mean, there's gotta be rules, laws - "
Tim shook his head. "I checked. Nobody's actually officially said I can't write it, they just assured me - off the record - that publicity'll vanish and sales will drop." He sighed. "And their anti-discriminatory policy is against authors, not content."
"Still!" she protested. They were destroying Tim's authorial vision here! Such as it was. "We could go online, tell the fans, there's gotta be a couple of them who'd get up in arms over this kind of - of - utter grossness. And if the news picked it up - "
"No," Tim cut her off immediately. "No, I don't want any attention like that. And I definitely don't want to bring the fans into this. I'm not really comfortable with that, since... you know."
"One of them started killing the people who inspired your characters, and nearly killed me too?" Abby turned her attention to a different method of attack, trying to find weak spots in the hard drive's encryption while Tim sat there and squirmed.
As if she could forget what Tim's fan had done.
Well, Abby could understand why he didn't want to interact with his fandom anymore. "Okay. So what are you going to do, then? If it can't be McGregor - "
" - or Tibbs," Tim added. "God forbid the main character be - "
"What about Amy?"
Tim stopped typing, obviously touched. "Abby... you'd be okay with that?"
She shrugged. "I don't care about these books anywhere near as much as the others."
Oh no, the soft, touched look was gone! "Not like that! I mean - Tony and Ziva sometimes read too much into how Tommy and Lisa are portrayed. I don't do that. Besides, it's not like it wouldn't be true, Tim."
Tim was quiet for a minute, considering it. They made their way through a layer of encryption, only to find one even more complex underneath, before he said, "Thanks, Abby. Really, I mean it... but I can't."
She blinked; she hadn't expected that response. "Why not?"
It took Tim awhile to find the right words. "Because... it has to be a guy. With girls - especially when it's a male author - making it a girl just looks like... titillation. If it's a guy, it says something." Abby stopped typing altogether and just looked at Tim. He was leaning over the keyboard, eyes open but not really seeing anything, shoulders hunched up high and fingers flexing nervously.
"Are you... trying to say something?" she asked carefully.
He sighed, nearly shook or nodded his head a couple times before saying, "I just... I want to stop being quiet."
Oh. Of course, how had Abby not realized? "...okay. I get that."
He looked up at her with wet eyes, looking lost. "You do?"
"Yeah, I do." She engulfed him in a patented Abby Hug, and didn't let him go until his stiff nerves had faded, his shoulders had relaxed, and he started hugging back. She smiled, and was relieved to see him smile back, however small. Maybe now was a good time to share an idea that had been floating around in the back of her head for a few days. "You want to know what I think? I think you should make it Agent Tommy."
...and there went the smile. And the tension was back too, nuts! "What, are you crazy? Tony would kill me!"
"Just trust me, okay?" If Abby knew Tony the way she knew she knew Tony... "He won't."
Tim frowned, considering her. "...do you know something I don't?"
Abby laughed. What kind of question was that? "Always, McGee."
Before Tim could ask for more details, Tony walked in and brought their attention back to the case. But Abby was sure things would work out for the best. It'd be the easiest way to fix Tim's book, it wasn't any of the characters his publisher had marked off-limits, and there was no reason Tony should be bothered by it!
...or so she'd thought. Now, standing in front of the elevators waiting for him to finish shouting at Tim, Abby fought the urge to chew at her lip and hoped she hadn't been too wrong.
"I didn't make you gay, Tony."
Tony snorted. "If you try to tell me Agent Tommy isn't me..." Tim's characters were the least subtle part of his books, and Agent Tommy was utterly transparent. Tony didn't understand why Tim refused to admit it; it was one of the bigger problems he had with the books, just because of how defensive Tim got about it. Of course, that had nothing on the problem he had with Agent Tommy's sailor ex-boyfriend showing up on a case.
"He isn't," Tim muttered weakly. More confidently, he added, "And I didn't make him gay. I made him bisexual."
"What difference does that make?"
Tim gaped at him, looking offended. "It makes all the difference. I wrote a bisexual character, not a gay one."
As far as Tony was concerned, that didn't matter. Either way, it said something he didn't want said, not like this. "But why did it have to be me?"
"This isn't about you, Tony," Tim insisted.
"Yeah, you said that already, and I didn't buy it the first time. You took a character with a skewed version of my name and my personality and announced to your alarmingly large audience that he likes guys. If that's not about me, who is it about?"
Tim clenched his fists and quietly, emphatically said, "Me."
Tony's jaw dropped. Oh. Uh-oh. "Tim?"
Tim stuffed shaking hands into the crooks of his arms, but not before Tony had seen them. Oh man, he'd screwed this up. "I... my publisher wouldn't let me make McGregor bi. Apparently my primary narrator can't be bi, because that alienates the reader and isn't realistic." He said this bitterly, and Tony had a feeling it was an exact quote.
"You wanted to make McGregor bi... because you're bi."
Tim let out a shuddery sigh and straightened up, glaring at Tony. "Yes, Tony, I'm bisexual. And if you have a problem with that - "
"No!" Tony interrupted him. "No, no way, Tim. I just - God, I feel like a giant heel right now." He ran a hand across his brow, giving himself a moment to cover his eyes, avoid whatever look Tim was giving him now. "I thought... maybe Abby had told you, accidentally or because she thought we were close enough that it was okay, and you decided to use me as an easy way to shove in some diversity and an edgy post-DADT storyline."
When he finally dared to look, Tim was confused. "You thought Abby told me... what?"
Deep breaths Tony. You've said it before. It's not that big a deal. "I'm bi too."
Realization really could dawn on someone. The way comprehension spread across Tim's face was like sunlight and hope and everything good in the world. "So, you thought I was using your sexuality as a plot twist..."
"And you thought I was being a homophobic asshole." Tony sighed. "What a mess."
"Does it really have to be?" Tim wondered. Tony shot him a confused "elaborate, please" look. "We both understand each other now. Problem solved, right? Unless..." Realization dawned again, and it was more like sunset the way Tim's face gradually closed off. "You're closeted."
Tony shrugged. "I don't have to stay closeted," he said, feeling strangely relaxed about the idea - almost enthusiastic about it, even. Tim wasn't trying to use him, and he'd come out to him - they'd come out to each other! - everything was good. If this feeling faded after the book came out, he could just tell people Tim was using artistic license or something. "I trust my team these days, and it's not like anybody at NCIS reads your books except us."
"Thanks, Tony," Tim said dryly.
He shrugged again, grinning. "No problem, McGee. Now," he said, reaching for the emergency stop, "what say we get off this ride, huh?"
The elevator door opened with a small chime, allowing Tony and McGee to step out. They both looked... fine. Maybe a little happy, even. Not what Ziva had been expecting, given what Abby had told her, but definitely a good result.
"Timmy!" Abby launched herself at McGee, apologizing as she hugged him. "I'm sorry, this was all my fault! I was so sure Tony would be okay with it, I should have just asked - "
"It's fine, Abby," he said, pulling out of the hug. "Just a misunderstanding, that's all," he added, exchanging a glance with Tony.
"A big misunderstanding," Tony added. "But no real harm done. Maybe even some good done, actually."
"Really?" Abby stared at him intently, and a nonverbal conversation Ziva couldn't parse must have happened, because Abby squealed and pulled Tony into a hug of his own.
"Okay, Abby, that's enough," Tony said once the hug had gone on too long. "We're getting weird looks, it isn't that big a deal - "
Abby stepped back to grab Tony's face and pull it close to hers. Very seriously, she said, "Tony DiNozzo, it is the biggest deal." Then letting go of him, she called the elevator and hopped inside. "I'll be seeing you later, misters," she said as the doors closed. Tony and McGee nodded in response, crooked smiles on their faces.
They returned to their desks, and when it looked as though they were simply all going to return to their paperwork, that was it! Ziva could not hold back her curiosity any longer. "What was that all about?" she asked.
Before either of them could answer, Gibbs walked out of the director's office. "We got a dead marine in a warehouse downtown," he announced, taking the stairs two at a time. They started pulling out their guns and badges obediently, but Ziva paused before getting up.
"No," she decided. Everyone stopped.
"Excuse me?" Gibbs said in that low, slow way of speaking he had that implied threats. But today, at this moment, Ziva David would not be deterred.
"Not until they tell me what happened. They went into that elevator furious at each other twenty minutes ago," she explained, "because in McGee's next book Agent Tommy is revealed to be bisexual."
Gibbs looked between them, indifferent to their suddenly nervous expressions. "So?"
"So, they went in angry and now they have come out happy!" Tony coughed, loudly, but Ziva ignored him, saying, "And I want to know why."
"I don't care," Gibbs said pointedly, holstering his gun. "If you'd rather gossip than do your job, you're welcome to stay here." Behind his back, where Gibbs couldn't see, McGee mouthed "later" at Ziva. She resisted the urge to sigh. It would have to do.
"My apologies," she said to Gibbs, quickly holstering her own weapon.
Leading them out of the room, Gibbs said, "Don't see why people make such a fuss about stuff like that anyway. It's no one's business but your own." Ziva noticed the matching smiles on Tony and McGee's faces at that, the same kind they'd smiled at Abby earlier, and wondered.
"Couldn't have said it better myself, boss," Tony said cheerily.
Later couldn't come soon enough.