He didn't want to be put at her desk. If anyone but Gibbs, with his steel blue eyes and frozen countenance, had told him to set up shop there he probably would have begged to be put anywhere else. But if Gibbs could manage to order him there, then he could manage to do it without making things harder on all of them.
He'd expected animosity from Tony over it. For all their bickering Tony and Kate had in some ways been the closest of them all, and he had expected to be hated for being promoted to her now empty place. Tony had shot him a sad, half-way conspiratorial smile his first day at Kate's desk, instead of a glare, before looking away and not meeting his eyes again until they were heading out to a crime scene, walking together three paces behind Gibbs.
Tony never mentioned it, never told him he didn't belong there. Tony always made sure that he was behind him, out of the line of fire, when they were out investigating and he didn't call him Probie anymore. He didn't know why he missed it, but he did. He would suffer being called Probie the rest of his life if it meant having Kate back.
But he was McGee now, and Kate wasn't coming back.
A witness slips Tony her phone number as they're getting ready to leave. She's nearly six feet tall and drop dead gorgeous, wearing a sequined outfit that leaves little to the imagination as she waits for her turn on stage.
Tony waits until they're outside before he throws it away. McGee doesn't make a crack about it. There's some unwritten rule these days that they don't make fun of each other anymore.
They hardly say anything at all.
Tony never says "Kate would…" or "Kate did…" or "If Kate was here..." He never says her name, like saying it might remind him she's gone and if he ignores it he might be able to pretend she's still around. McGee doesn't say it either, because he doesn't want to risk breaking whatever truce her death has made between the two of them—because he's already lost Kate, and Gibbs and Tony are both half-gone. He won't risk getting pushed further away then he already is, and if he needs to remember Kate he can always go see Abby.
Abby says her name all the time.
Gibbs puts Tony on three days enforced leave when he screams at an armed suspect to shoot him, to just get it fucking done with if he has the balls, and stop wasting their time. Gibbs tackled the guy before he could get off a shot, but McGee is fairly sure he had been so startled by Tony's taunting that he wouldn't have fired anyway.
He goes to visit Tony that night. It's the first time he's ever been there and he doesn't know what to do when Tony actually lets him in. It's not what he's expecting. He's expecting pizza boxes and empty beer bottles and ESPN playing loudly in the background. The place is spotless to the point McGee wonders if Tony's coping with this by scrubbing everything he can get his hands on clean. The TV isn't even on, but the radio is, and that's not what he expected either. The music seems too sad for Tony's tastes, and when he asks what it is, all he says is that it was Kate's.
It's the first time he's heard Tony say her name since she died, and he wonders at how he manages it so casually, shrugging it all off like it didn't matter before throwing himself on his couch. "What are you doing here, McGee?" he asks.
He clamps his mouth shut at his first instinct to tell him the truth—to say he was worried about him because he doesn't act like Tony anymore, and god help him, he misses it. "I was in the neighborhood," he says instead, and Tony laughs because he knows it's not the truth and for some reason finds it funny. McGee doesn't ask him why.
"Right," Tony says. "Missed me already, did you?"
"I miss a lot of things," he says, and he doesn't know where it comes from, or how he's stupid enough to say it aloud.
Tony just grins wryly and closes his eyes. "Don't we all?" he asks.
He doesn't say anything else for five minutes, so McGee lets himself out.
Tony comes back on Monday and he and Gibbs are avoiding each other. Tony's upset at being put on enforced leave, and Gibbs is worried he's brought Tony back too soon. He's been pushed into the role of buffer, filling the space between them, trying to keep the peace. It's exhausting and he wonders how Kate ever managed it.
Of course, McGee realizes, it had never been this bad before.
Gibbs doesn't hit Tony upside the head anymore, and Tony hardly seems to smile—oh, sure, if you stick him in a room with a witness he'll turn it on, like a switch, just start oozing charm like nothing changed, but it's all semblance now, and McGee can't decide if it always had been and he's just learned to see through it or if Tony has simply changed that much.
Four days after Tony comes back he tries to resign. Gibbs tells him no.
McGee wants to say something, to both of them—wants to do something, but he doesn't do anything. He can't even meet their eyes.
"I'm thinking of going west," Tony tells him whimsically. "Maybe California. LA. I don't know, somewhere not here."
He's been saying that for weeks, but Gibbs still won't accept Tony's resignation and he isn't pushing it. McGee doesn't know if that's because he doesn't really want to leave or if he just doesn't have energy left to fight.
"California is nice," he says lamely.
"It's just so fucking cold here," Tony says. "I never noticed before, but it's like it never gets warm."
Its 84 degrees and cloudless, but he doesn't bother to point it out.
They're training again and these days, it's always Gibbs and Tony against each other. He switches off with sparring partners. Sometimes he doesn't even know their names, but they never hit below the belt.
Sometimes they scare him, though, Tony and Gibbs. Sometimes it's like they're fighting for real, fighting for their lives even, and he doesn't know how they can stand all that intensity because he can barely stand to watch it from four feet away.
"You're going to get yourself killed," Gibbs snaps, just before Tony swings at him.
"Let me worry about that," Tony says, smiling falsely before Gibbs trips him, pulls his legs out from under him and then straddles him, holding his wrists over his head.
"It stops now," Gibbs tells him firmly. "Or you're going to be off field work."
"Fine," Tony yells back, and then surges up, breaking Gibbs hold and slipping out from beneath him.
The next day he comes into work wearing a smile and cracking jokes, and it's surreal and so much worse than before because it isn't real, but if he didn't know better he would think it was. Gibbs must notice but he doesn't say anything. He hits Tony upside the head when he calls him 'old man' and asks him if he needs his glasses.
He starts to see why everyone says Tony is so good at undercover work.
Morrow came by to tell Tony how happy he is that he's finally adjusting, and that he was glad he was doing so well. McGee just barely restrains himself from laughing at that, because Tony still has California in his eyes, and he honestly doesn't know what keeps him here.
He thinks it might be Gibbs. They seem to have conversations all the time now, right in front of him, without ever saying anything. It's like they've joined forces in some vendetta and have locked him out. For all that Gibbs and Tony weren't coping he was sure they would have fallen into even more pieces without each other.
He's a little jealous of that kind of connection, because he doesn't have it, not with either of them. Not even with Abby. He tries to help and be supportive and it only pulls him further away.
He's dodging bullets again at the end of the week. He wonders how he could have thought this wasn't part of his job—getting shot at, that was—how he had ever convinced himself that he was just the investigator. Tony shoves him to the ground when the fire gets too close, and hisses at him to stay down.
He probably saves his life, doing that, but he doesn't act like he would have a couple of months ago. He doesn't plaster on a smile and tell everyone how McGee's life belongs to him now, because he saved it. Later, after all the reports have been filed and the gun fire has stopped echoing in the back of his mind and the suspect is dead, because Gibbs shot him just minutes after he would have shot McGee, he finds Tony sitting at his desk. Sitting at Kate's desk, really, because that was how they all still saw it.
He was quiet, never a good thing with Tony, leaning back and staring at the clock on the far wall. He doesn't ask Tony to get up, doesn't point out his own desk is only a few feet away. He just stands there fidgeting until Tony finally speaks, and when he does it's to tell him harshly that he'd better not get himself killed. "I'm next," he says, and McGee thinks he might really believe it.
He watches him for a minute before he can finally turn away, and Tony just keeps watching the clock.