Tim had been sitting at his desk for nearly an hour when his boss arrived at 7:30, coffee in hand. Gibbs was a master at hiding his reactions, but Tim could tell that he was the last person Gibbs had expected to see at work so early that morning. Tim had barely slept, but he needed Gibbs to make this right, and that meant that he had to be there before anyone else had arrived.
Gibbs put his coffee down and faced McGee. "Are you waiting for something?"
"I wanted to tell you again how sorry I am…"
"Stop apologizing. You did what you did and it's over." Gibbs' tone was gruff.
"No, it's not." Tim was surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. "I need you to trust me again."
Gibbs fixed his gaze on the junior agent. Tim's instinct was to look down, but he kept his eyes locked with Gibbs' and pleaded silently that he wouldn't walk away. Neither of them said anything for several moments, but it was Gibbs who finally spoke.
"With me." Gibbs instructed, and strode briskly towards the conference room. Tim scrambled to his feet and followed his boss, his stomach tightening. Encounters with Gibbs and his agents in the conference room rarely involved much talking, but Tim was ready to take whatever Gibbs dished out. He deserved it.
Once they were both in the room, Gibbs closed the door.
"I want to know why, McGee."
"I don't know. It just happened."
"That's a child's answer."
Tim wasn't sure that the real answer was going to sound particularly mature either, but at least it would be the truth. "I wanted to impress Tony. I thought he'd respect me more."
"Is Tony's respect really that important to you?"
Embarrassed, Tim shook his head no.
"Then whose respect does matter to you?"
Tim looked down at the floor, but Gibbs reached out and lifted Tim's chin with his finger until he made eye contact again. "Answer the question, Tim."
Tim's answer was barely audible. "Yours, sir." He knew that Gibbs hated being addressed that way, but he couldn't help himself in this environment.
"And yet you risked losing that respect by deceiving me."
"I didn't think of it that way. I guess I didn't think about it at all until I was in way over my head. And then it was easier to just hope that it would go away."
"That's not how problems get solved, McGee."
"I know, Boss."
Gibbs sighed. "I'm going to have to punish you."
Tim nodded. He had anticipated this, and though he was scared he also felt a sense of relief. A punishment meant that Gibbs was taking care of the situation, and that was the first thing that had seemed right to Tim in days.
Gibbs signaled with his hand that Tim should turn to face the wall. "Hands against the wall," he instructed. Tim leaned forward and braced himself with his hands. "Legs farther apart." Tim complied, and hoped that his knees wouldn't buckle. He waited, knowing that Gibbs was removing his belt and preparing to whip him with it.
The spanking was hard, but Tim was determined to take it without making any noise. He wanted Gibbs to know without a doubt that he accepted the senior agent's authority and discipline. He thought that any cries would be interpreted as childish weakness. As the strokes landed Tim gritted his teeth, and soon all he could hear was the blood rushing through his ears. Each lash of the belt brought him closer to a breaking point, but he focused on the wall in front of him and willed himself to ignore the mounting pain. Tim was concentrating so intently on holding his position that his legs began to tremble.
At last it stopped. He heard Gibbs tell him it was OK to stand up now, and with an effort he pushed himself shakily upright.
"Turn around, Tim."
Tim obeyed, but knew he would start to cry if he looked at his boss.
Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder. "The next time you think about lying McGee, I want you to remember that you're better than that."
Tim nodded vigorously and hoped that Gibbs would just let him hide with his emotions, which he was finding increasingly hard to suppress.
"All right then. Come back to your desk when you're ready." Gibbs headed towards the door, clearly wanting to give Tim the privacy he was seeking. But as he reached for the door handle Tim called to him with a choked sob.
"Do you think you'll ever trust me again?"
Gibbs turned back to his young agent. Gently he said, "I do trust you, son. Turns out all I needed was another five minutes."