A/N: For the sake of this story; Dog Tags took place before Requiem.
Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or it's Charactors.
As they went thru the days following Gibbs' near-drowning; Tim watched Tony and Gibbs closely. He had always known that they were tight. Hell, they'd been working together; depending on each other; saving each other from the bad-asses they dealt with; for 3 years before he had even come around! But,now? Now things were different in much more obvious ways.
Tim had noticed the difference for a while now; but Gibbs' near-death had brought those differences into much sharper focus for him; the one left out; no longer needed. Before Tony had rescued Gibbs from drowning; Tim had been growing steadily more and more concerned. Now? Now, he was downright worried; for his boss; for his co-worker; but mostly for himself. The more frequent and more meaningful looks between those two; as well as the way they were more openly concerned for one another out in the field and in the office; the almost secret smiles; the looks between those two that spoke with more volume than their spoken conversations; had not gone unnoticed..
While Tim felt more shut out every day by both Gibbs and Tony; it was feeling it from his surrogate father that hurt the most; cut the deepest; undermined everything he had felt good about in himself since he had joined this team. Almost daily; Tim felt the cold seeming to radiate from them towards himself. On more occasions than he could count; Tim had heard them laugh at something he had done or said; or not done or said; when they didn't think he could hear or see. It seemed to come from both Gibbs and Tony; like he was just somebody to be tolerated now. All of it added up to bad vibes for Tim and he was at a point where he almost hated coming to work anymore.
It all made sense now; which actually brought Tim a sense of relief. It had taken him a while to figure it out; add it all up. But, now he knew he wasn't totally losing his mind. Whether or not Gibbs and or Tony realized it; Tim had figured their relationship out already. It wasn't a secret to him. He was glad he had realized it in a quiet; non-geekish way. He didn't let it be known that he knew; in fact; he was secretly hoping that Gibbs and Tony hadn't yet realized that he knew. It seemed safer that way. Safer for whatever was left of his position on the team; if he even still had one; that bore any merit anyway. Tim was extremely careful not to let on that he knew. He refused to say anything to anyone about it. And since most of what he was struggling with daily involved this "Non-disclosure" situation; Tim's emotions were both bottled up and boiling. He had lost something invaluable and treasured and damn it; it hurt like hell. The worst sting of it was; he couldn't talk to anyone about it. No one at all. There would be too many repercussions that he was not willing to bring down on anyone; no matter how hurt or pissed at them he was. It wasn't in his character to ruin someone like that.
It had taken Tim a long time to feel like he was really and truly a valued member of this team; and now; he had lost that feeling. He no longer felt that feeling of being part of a family that looked out for each other; more like a "red-headed step-child"; an outsider looking in; looking into a close-knit family. The bond didn't even come close to covering him; or even being extended to him. That feeling; that sense of belonging; security; had slipped away; had been tugged away; bit by bit; a little more each day; the stronger Gibbs and Tony's relationship became; the harder that feeling; that security was tugged away from Tim's grasp.
This, in turn; led Tim to become more withdrawn; back into the shell; Gibbs and Tony (and Kate; God rest her soul); had helped him shed years before. Tim had managed to resurrect it; piece by emotional piece; the joking had stopped; the joining anyone for lunch or after work had dried up; the joining in surrounding conversations that didn't deal with the case at hand; gone!
Tim had no more patience for any of that. He could barely handle getting thru the long days and never-ending late nights on the job. Going home time; was the only time Tim felt like he could breathe.
Tim had become so beaten down with the weight of no longer feeling like he was a part of "the team" that he was starting to lose both his appetite and his ability to sleep. After noticing over a period of a month; that he had spent more nights awake at his computer than he had asleep in his bed; he stopped to figure out what he should do. Fearing that it was all due to over-thinking things; Tim resolved to carry out the plan he had come up with.
Five O'Clock Monday morning found Tim already at his desk at work putting step one in his plan in motion. Steadily he typed away at his request for three days off. He had given this a lot of thought. Tim didn't want to push his luck; but he knew he needed more than 1 day to clear his head; and to be missed from the team; if that was even possible any more. Tim had thought about only putting in for 2 days; he knew that the probability of Gibbs approving that was much higher. But, he had reached the point where he was ready to push some boundaries; step out of his comfort zone and push Gibbs' buttons just a hair. Ready to test just how much he was or wasn't' needed here; Tim went ahead with requesting the three days. He needed the answers this unusual request would hopefully bring. If Gibbs approved the 3 days leave; it would be proof positive that Tim was indeed; no longer a necessary part of this team.
When he got to the question of "Reason for Request"; well, Tim had given that a lot of thought too. He decided to keep it down to the one answer he knew Gibbs wouldn't refuse; "Down Time". Based on past experience with Gibbs; Tim knew that this reason worked well with his "marine tough" boss.. Gibbs may be a hard-ass of a boss; but even he understood the need for a break. Tim knew that Gibbs took his agents request for "Down Time"; very seriously. Until two years ago; everyone on Team Gibbs had just kept going and going until they were ready to snap; that is until Gibbs had put his foot down and demanded that they start owning up to their need for their "D.T." before it was too late; before an investigation got sloppy or worse; someone got hurt. Since neither outcome was tolerated by Team Gibbs; the "D.T Request Rule" had been set down in stone.
Tim had only used this reason for a leave request on only two occasions since Gibbs set down that rule. Both times, however; Tim had talked to him about it before putting in the request. This time; well, this time was different. Tim had no intention of talking to him about it; any of it. All he could do was cross his fingers and hope that Gibbs wouldn't catch that difference in this request. Tim wasn't hopeful enough about it to hold his breath on it though. It was a huge difference in Tim's eyes; would it even be a glimmer of one in Gibbs'?
By five thirty; Tim had his request completely filled out and signed; sitting turned over on Gibbs' desk. He stored his backpack under his desk; locked his computer and went for coffee in the break room. Tim didn't feel like leaving the building; so the coffee shop stuff would be sacrificed for this morning. He wanted to be back at his desk, working; before Gibbs got in. Or did he? Maybe it would be better if he took his time getting coffee and gave the man time to see his request and think on it; without him being present to yell at? Yeah; Tim decided; giving Gibbs time to think before reacting in person; would probably be in his best interests.
When he headed back to the squad room 20 minutes later; it was; as he had hoped; to find Gibbs already at his desk; apparently reading Tim's request. Thankfully, Tim hadn't actually entered the squad room fully. He managed to stop where he figured he could see Gibbs; gage his reaction; without being seen. It would help him "possibly" see what was coming in response to his request. His gut was telling him; this wasn't gonna be as easy as he had hoped. Even remembering that he had rarely asked for leave for this purpose; didn't bolster Tim's hopes.
Gibbs left Tony asleep, as he usually did; to come in early. Tony functioned better with more sleep than the few hours of sleep that Gibbs required. Gibbs got more done coming in early and it helped him keep tabs on the rest of the team; allowing him to see them when they first got to the squad room; helped him gage their moods for the day; enabled him to possibly catch if something was wrong with their world. It was a small window into who they are and it was the only one he had any control over. Most days he stood where they didn't realize he was watching; so they never thought anyone was looking as they came off the elevator to their desks. First impressions were very valuable.
He never expected to find something new on his desk from one of his own team members. He was usually the last one to leave at night. Gibbs knew he had been the last one to leave last night. Even though yesterday was Sunday; the team had come in to finish up a case. So, whatever was on his desk could not be good. Turning the document over, having gotten comfortable in his chair and taken in enough coffee to hopefully deal with whatever this was he would be looking at; Gibbs read the paper. Apparently, he needed to read it again; because there was no way he was seeing what his eyes were telling him he was seeing! Gibbs re-read the Leave Request. He read it a third time. Finally, he gave up hoping he had read it wrong and put it down in front of him. Removing his glasses and massaging his temples; Gibbs let his mind run thru the thoughts coming thru.
Here it was bright and early on a Monday morning and obviously Tim had made it into work before even Gibbs had! Gibbs had been surprised to note Tim's Leave Request was date stamped for this morning; time stamped for 05:15 AM? Jeez; was his agent not sleeping as well as not talking to anyone? Gibbs wondered. "If Tim's this upset about something that he won't talk about it; he's distancing himself from all of us; and now he's requesting this "Down time" then… wait a minute!" Gibbs picked up the Leave Request again;
"3 days? Tim's requesting 3 days? And isn't this the 1st time Tim's put in a request for this type of leave without talking to me about what was going on first?" Gibbs could hardly wrap his mind around these questions running thu it.
Alarm bells were ringing louder than a 5-Alarm fire in Gibbs' head. "Something big is happening and damn it; Tim's gonna talk to me before he's given any leave to deal with whatever this is about on his own! Tim should know me better than that!" Gibbs silently fumed.
Forcing himself to take a deep breath; Gibbs brought his emotions in check. "Think, Marine!" Gibbs lectured himself. Somebody needs to reach out to that young man. DING! A light bulb went on in Gibbs' head. Was that the problem? Has anyone tried to reach out to Tim about what's going on with him; other than to demand that he talk to them? Probably not!
Tim, Gibbs had noticed; had been withdrawing slowly but surely back into his shell. They hadn't seen that shell in a very long time. Tony and Kate (God rest her soul) had brought Tim out of it; helped him toughen up; mature; and realize he was part of their family. Gibbs knew that he had played the part of the "tough guy- Dad" who didn't want to be bothered with their squabbles or their emotional issues; but he had also tried hard to make sure Tim knew that Gibbs cared about him and how he was doing as a person; not just a member of his team.
But, now? For some reason; over the last several months; Tim had barely tolerated any of them. Even Abby was finding it hard to relate to him; talk to him even. Gibbs had listened to her rant and rave about Tim's aloofness too many times to keep track. Ziva had not mentioned it; but Gibbs could see it in her eyes whenever she attempted to talk to McGee. She had noticed it too. Gibbs hadn't mentioned it to Tony; he already knew that Tony had noticed it for himself. He'd seen the way Tony would look hard at McGee while McGee was studiously typing away at his computer or talking case related stuff on the phone; it had become obvious to all of them.
Something big was eating at Tim and it was serious enough that he wouldn't talk to anyone about it. It was that silence that worried Gibbs the most. Tim; whose expressive eyes really were "the windows to his soul" had gotten better at not being quite so expressive. And Gibbs knew for a fact that Tim had stopped confiding in any of them. He no longer talked to Ducky; even. But, Abby? Tim used to tell Abby everything! And now, he wouldn't even talk to her about anything that was not case related.
Gibbs realized Tony had been focused on recovering from his ordeal of having to save both Gibbs and Maddie; with his compromised lung history; they'd had to be careful. He was also caught up in building his relationship with Gibbs. Gibbs, himself had been focused on pretty much the same thing. Ziva, in all probability, had given up any attempts to talk to McGee. She wasn't one to push if it was obvious her attempts were not welcome. Abby, bless her heart; would have been hurt deeply enough after the first few attempts to talk to him; she would have given up trying, too. Ducky; bless his heart; wasn't one to put his nose out there to be knocked out of joint because he wasn't welcomed. Palmer was too distanced from the team; his shyness never fully enamoring him to the team or the team to him. That left himself and Tony.
Tony, Gibbs knew; would not be someone Tim would confide in under normal circumstances; their rivalry being too sharp; too "in your face" daily. That would have left himself. Tim had made no effort to talk to him or ask him anything in a very long time. Warning bells were beginning to go off in his head. Gibbs took a deep breath and made a decision. He wouldn't sign this until after he talked to McGee.
Sliding Tim's still unsigned leave request into his top drawer, Gibbs reached for his coffee and started to get up from his desk. Feeling someone watching him; his eyes rose up and met those of Tim's; frozen in place just outside the squad room. Obviously, he had stopped there, on his way back to his desk. "He probably thought I couldn't see him there"; Gibbs thought to himself in amusement. That amusement quickly faded as Gibbs saw fear cross Tim's face; fill those eyes. Fear that hadn't managed to hide quickly enough from Gibbs' eyes before it had been noticed.
Tim felt himself shocked frozen in place. He couldn't move; hell, he couldn't even close his eyes or look away from Gibbs; looking back at him. "Oh, God; I'm so dead!" he muttered to himself. Finding a twinge of courage; Tim was able to move; doing the 1st thing his panicked brain thought of; Run! His brain screamed. No, not the head; to easy to get trapped in there; don't' wanna get corned by Gibbs; he lectured himself as his feet took him to the stairs; need space; need room to move;go outside; Tim ordered his feet as he ran. He had never run from Gibbs before; but he didn't know what else to do. He let his feet just keep going; his body finding it easier to breathe with each bit of distance he put between himself and Gibbs.
Gibbs watched his young field agent turn and run. He heard him practically throw open the door to the stairwell and almost fly down that 1st set of stairs. Shaking his head in concern; Gibbs let out a tiny chuckle of humor; watching that boy move that fast brought back memories of the Road Runner and Wylie Coyote cartoon!