Title: Clean Slate

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Donald Bellisario, and I hope he won't mind that I continue to borrow them for my own amusement. The story is not connected to any particular episode or storyline from NCIS.

Warning: This story contains the corporal punishment of an adult. If that's not your thing, it would be best if you didn't read it, or at least that you refrain from telling me about it.

A/N: This story is set several weeks after my story Five Minutes. Reading that story first might be helpful to understand the context and Tim's mindset, but it should be possible to follow and enjoy this story in its own right if you don't.

Special thanks to sasha1600 for her encouraging words.

Tim was comparing the details on a couple of personnel files when Gibbs hung up the phone and addressed his agents. "There was another attack at the base last night. A cashier at the commissary was assaulted when she got off her shift."

"That's the third one in ten days," Tim offered.

"I know that, McGee." Gibbs snapped. "So why don't you stop staring into space and go see if Abby's found anything on the cafeteria worker's clothes." Tim winced at the rebuke while his boss turned to his partner. "DiNozzo, call the Personnel office on base and get them to fax over all the information they've got on the clerk." Gibbs strode off before anyone could ask where he was going.


DiNozzo replaced the phone receiver that he'd just picked up. "Yeah?"

"Um, well, I was just wondering…does Gibbs sound mad to you?"

Tony looked at Tim incredulously. "It's Gibbs. He always sounds mad."

"Yeah, but do you think he sounds particularly angry today? At me, I mean?"

"Why, McFreak-Out? Did you do something to make him that way?" Tony suddenly seemed interested in McGee's panic.

"No, I haven't done anything to make him mad at me, Tony. He just seems sort of…gruff…lately."

Tony looked at Tim like he'd just pointed out that dogs have tails. "Um, yeah, McGee. Welcome to NCIS – can I show you around the place or would you like to get your desk set up first?"

Tim grimaced at Tony's sarcasm. "No, you're right. Of course it's just Gibbs. It's probably just the case getting under his skin." Three civilian females working on the base at Norfolk had been sexually assaulted, and so far they had no leads. That would make anyone edgy. Still, Tim replayed his boss's voice in his mind as he headed for Abby's lab – was the sharp tone just quintessential Gibbs, or was he right to be concerned? It was true that their supervisor was never really friendly when directing his agents; hell, he wasn't even professionally courteous, at least by any normal workplace standards. And Tim was used to that mode of communication by now, and had learned not to take it personally.

Well, maybe he didn't take it quite as impersonally as the others seemed to be able to do. Tony treated Gibbs a bit like a cartoon character, and Ziva seemed to thrive on the military nature of their boss. Only Tim had a hard time separating emotions from business. Still, for the most part Tim really did know that Gibbs wasn't angry when he barked orders – the former Marine was just an extremely focused and driven man who didn't see the need to slow things down with superfluous pleasantries or praise. Tim could appreciate that sort of single-minded efficiency, and he also recognized that being brusquely ordered around by Gibbs meant that he was part of the team. If Gibbs didn't like someone then at best he ignored them completely, and at worst he forcibly removed them from his path. Tim had completely analyzed Gibbs' behavior. Except that had been B.L.I. – Before the Lying Incident. Ever since he'd lied to Gibbs, Tim felt like all the rules had changed, and he wasn't sure what the new ones were. Tony might call him Probie as a joke, but it was a pretty accurate description of how he felt these days around their boss.

From a purely rational standpoint, Tim knew that he should have been able to put the Lying Incident behind him. He'd screwed up, sure, and he'd broken his boss's trust. But he'd confessed, and Gibbs had punished him for it. Hard. Tim's stomach flipped as he recalled the whipping – not just the pain, but the incredible vulnerability he'd felt in front of his mentor. Weeks after the fact he still couldn't remember the incident without feeling embarrassed and ashamed at the memory of disappointing Gibbs. He'd been an idiot. He'd behaved like a child and his relationship with his leader was damaged forever.

Tim could still hear Gibbs reassuring him after the punishment was over. "I do trust you, son," Gibbs had said in an uncharacteristically gentle voice, letting the young man know that the spanking had erased the misdemeanor in his mind. Things were so clear to Gibbs – there were actions and consequences, and if you accepted the consequences of a mistake, then there was no need to dwell on it any further. Tim desperately wanted to be like that, but he just didn't see how. Maybe that worked in the military – he could see how ineffective a Marine unit would be if everyone was mentally stewing over their last missed target or faltering in the field. But not everything in life was so straightforward. It was like cheating in a relationship – if your partner slept with someone else, then you might say that you forgave them, and you might even want to, but would you really ever completely trust them again? Could you really ever forget what they'd done? Tim was pretty sure that some things never got completely erased, and he knew that there would be a permanent scar on his image in Gibbs' mind. If he screwed up one more time, that would be the end of his relationship with Gibbs, professional and otherwise. So it was of the utmost importance that he never let down his boss again. Whatever it took, Tim would not disappoint Gibbs again. Ever.