"You had to save his life, didn't you?"
"What?" Tony said, spinning around and looking at McGee, who was sitting behind a pile of files and heaving a frustrated sigh.
"You had to save his life, didn't you?" McGee repeated, grabbing the next file off the stack and returning to his work.
Tony blew out a breath and sat down, his own pile of files in front of him. "Yeah … well … it seemed like a good idea at the time."
It had been a very very long day at NCIS. It had started at 0400, with a terse call from Gibbs that brought Tony, McGee and Ziva out into the cold November morning to a parking lot behind a seedy hotel near the interstate. There was a dead sailor there, with no apparent wounds or trauma of any kind. It took a while, but after 14 hours of investigation, Abby had discovered that the kid was killed by a virus left by a tick, which had bitten the sailor after he'd passed out, drunk, in the parking lot. The sailor had a spotty record, a list of reprimands longer than McGee's hair, and a half-dozen run-ins with the law on domestic violence raps. So it's not like they were finding the All-American Kid dead on a roadside. But it was still a long day that was capped with Tony being the one to call the kid's parents, who were devastated, and Ziva being the one to call the kid's wife, who started to cry at the prospect of being spared from more abuse. Ziva was sent out to get the wife's statement, Abby was sent home as a reward for having broken the case, and Tony and McGee were told to continue with the cold case files they'd been working on all week, since it was only 6:00 p.m., and they were a month behind on the files as it was. They both knew that they'd be able to leave in an hour or so, but that didn't really make them any less tired.
"This sucks," Tony said, tossing a completed file on the still-smaller-than-the-In-Box pile of completed files. "We've been up since four, and I'm beat. I'm heading out." He looked over at McGee, who was staring blankly at an open file. "McGee?" Tony stepped closer. "PROBIE!" Tony shouted, causing McGee to fall out of his chair, a pile of files falling after him.
"That never gets old," Tony said to himself with a chuckle. "Sorry Probie," he said, out loud, extending a hand to help McGee up.
"Geez, Tony," McGee said, picking up files and straightening his chair. "Was that necessary?"
"You were in a trance," Tony said. "Mesmerized by minutiae." McGee looked at him. "I'm heading out," Tony repeated. "Come on … it's late. We'll pick this up tomorrow."
"What about Gibbs?" McGee said.
Tony's face darkened just a touch. If you weren't looking for it, you'd never see it. "What about Gibbs?" Tony said, in a voice lighter than McGee expected. "It's not like he's never run off without telling anyone where he's going. He'll live." Then Tony's face brightened up as he laughed as his own joke. "He will, indeed, live," Tony said, grabbing his backpack and shooting McGee a smile.
McGee looked around and tried to complete the mental equation that would tell him whether the risk of leaving was worth it. But he was too tired. He turned off his computer, straightened the stack of files, and followed Tony to the elevator.
The two were standing, breathing sighs of relief at the day being over, when the elevator opened. It was, of course, Gibbs, standing there, along with Ziva, who had returned from the sailor's widow's house. Both were holding cups of coffee.
"Going somewhere?" Gibbs asked, an eyebrow raised.
"Home, Boss," Tony said with a smile. "It's been a long day and the Probe and I are having to read everything twice in order for any of it to register. And since workplace efficiency is the new catchphrase around here these days, we decided it would be far more efficient to sleep now, and work later."
McGee and Ziva looked at Tony as if he had just told them that he'd decided to leave NCIS and join the circus. They both instinctively stepped aside, just a bit, to get out of firing range.
"Efficiency," Gibbs said, sipping his coffee, still in the elevator. He nodded slowly and thoughtfully. Ziva's and McGee's eyes got wider, and McGee slowly moved to head back to his desk and resume his work.
"Sounds about right," Gibbs said, leaving the elevator, a stunned Ziva still standing inside. "Have a nice night."
"Thanks, Boss," Tony said. He was relieved, surprised, and suspicious all at the same time, but didn't want to press his luck. He quickly stepped into the elevator, taking the spot Gibbs had vacated. Ziva continued to watch Gibbs while McGee joined his co-workers on the elevator. Just as the door was closing, Gibbs turned and stuck his hand in, stopping the door from closing completely.
"I knew it," Ziva said, letting her head fall against the back wall of the elevator car.
"We're dead," McGee said, his head hanging limply, hair flopping forward.
Gibbs looked at the trio, his gaze landing on Tony, who stood confidently in the center of the group, looking at Gibbs expectantly.
"Boss?" Tony said, lightly. There was a beat of silence, and then the two men smiled at each other – just barely. It was the kind of smile that made you think they were sharing a joke that you weren't in on.
"Nothing," Gibbs said, releasing the door. "Have a nice night."
The elevator doors closed and the car began its descent.
"I don't believe it," Ziva said.
"What the heck was that?" McGee asked, confusion blanketing his face.
Tony smiled and sighed. "That, my dear Probie, is what you get for saving someone's life."
Ziva and McGee looked at each other, and then back at Tony.
"You won't be able to use that again, you know," Ziva said, a somewhat smug tone in her voice.
"Seriously, Tony," McGee agreed. "He's only gonna let you get away with it a couple of times."
Tony nodded and looked at them both as the elevator door opened and they headed to the parking garage. "I know," he said. "But right now … right here … do we care?"
McGee and Ziva looked at each other and then at Tony.
"Nope," they said in unison.
And as the trio said their good-nights and got in their cars to head home, Gibbs watched from the upstairs window. He chuckled once, drained his coffee, and headed to Autopsy. Ducky was saving some very old and very expensive Scotch for "a special occasion." To Gibbs, this qualified.