Tony was leaning against McGee's car when the younger agent emerged from the building.
"How'd it go?" Tony asked, eyeing McGee's pale face and shaking hands and hoping for the best.
McGee just stopped and stared, not sure he could handle DiNozzo right then. Not after the meeting with Gibbs and the director about his relationship with Morgan—and the fallout of that relationship that had ended with a civilian getting shot.
Not to mention DiNozzo almost getting his head blown off.
McGee sighed. He knew his partner had downplayed that part in his report—and he also knew Gibbs knew that. How, he wasn't sure, because DiNozzo had been calm and collected since the standoff. Hell, DiNozzo had been calm and collected during the standoff. McGee knew he would never forget the sight of Tony on his knees with a gun to the back of his head, a gun that had previously been trained on his own head.
"Did you see her?" McGee blurted. "Did you know she was in the hallway?"
"First things first, partner," Tony said, watching McGee shake and wishing he'd met the agent at his home. The NCIS parking lot wasn't exactly the place for McGee to have a meltdown. But from the wild-eyed look of him, he wasn't really in any shape to drive, either. "You are still my partner, right? You still have a job?"
McGee looked at the ground. "Yeah. Suspended for a month, without pay."
"Ouch," Tony said, though he was extremely relieved to hear he hadn't gotten fired. "Good thing Mr. Gemcity can pay the bills." McGee didn't respond so Tony said quietly, "It could have been a lot worse."
"He could have killed you, Tony," McGee yelled, tears in his eyes.
"He could have killed any one of us," Tony returned calmly.
"But you… Tony, you… I…"
McGee looked lost. Tony plucked the keys out of his hand and gently pushed McGee into his own passenger seat. He slid behind the wheel as McGee asked dully, "What about your car?"
Tony lifted a shoulder and started the car. "It'll be fine here. I'll get it later."
Tony drove toward McGee's apartment and tried not to worry too much about his silent, brooding partner. He didn't try to make conversation, and McGee was pathetically glad for it. Before he knew it, McGee was following Tony through the door of his own apartment, relieved to be home instead of at Tony's place. He needed to be surrounded by familiar things, and the first thing he did was walk to his typewriter and brush his fingers over the keys.
Guess I'll have plenty of time to write, he thought bitterly.
He wanted to thank Tony for his kindness but found himself saying instead, "You don't need to stay, Tony. I don't need a babysitter."
"How 'bout a friend?" came Tony's soft reply from over near the window.
McGee was glad Tony wasn't facing him as he blinked tears out of his eyes. He sank tiredly onto his couch and pressed his hands against his aching head, wincing when his fingers brushed over the fresh stitches behind his ear.
"You got any Tylenol?" Tony asked, drawing McGee's eyes up to his partner's bruised face. Tim felt sick that the damage he'd done joined with the split lip from Karras. "You must have one hell of headache, Tim."
McGee blinked. "I'm fine."
"Liar," Tony said simply, without malice, and disappeared down the hallway. He came back moments later with a glass of water and put it in Tim's hand along with a couple of painkillers.
McGee swallowed the pills and hoped they'd work quickly. He found himself wishing they'd take the fog that had nothing to with the concussion out of his head, too. "How's your face?"
"Fine. I've been hit harder," Tony paused. The corner of his mouth twitched upward. "By you."
"I'm so sorry, Tony," McGee said, burying his face in his hands again.
Tony saw his shoulders shaking and realized he should have kept his big mouth shut. "Hell, Tim, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I know you feel bad about what happened." Tony went and sat beside the younger agent, wondering if he should touch him and whether or not he was crying. He thought back to a time when he'd wondered what the hell he would do with a drunk Gibbs in his apartment. Right about now, he figured he was better equipped to handle that than a potentially sobbing McGee.
Tony put a hand on Tim's shoulder, felt the shuddering breath he took. "Tim, it's okay. Everything is going to work out. Serve your suspension, get your head clear. That's what it's for, you know. Spend some time with Morgan. You're good for her. Or don't, if you think it'll be too much. You're always welcome at my place if you get that desperate for company. And then, in a month, come back and do your job. You'll be fine."
McGee was dry-eyed when he looked up at Tony. "You didn't see him. The way he looked at me. The disappointment."
Tony didn't have to guess that McGee was talking about Gibbs. "You know how many times I've been on the receiving end of one of those looks?"
"I didn't throw a paperball at someone, Tony," McGee said, his voice ragged and strained. He put his hands to his forehead again, barely registering the warmth of DiNozzo's hand on his shoulder but somehow still glad for the contact. "I wasn't playing Tetris on the job. I almost got someone killed because I allowed myself to be distracted. It could have been Morgan who died because of me. Or Plassmann. Or the SecNav's daughter." He locked eyes with the senior agent. "Or you."
Tony's hand tightened on Tim's shoulder. "Technically, I almost got myself killed by running my mouth. You had nothing to do with that so don't even start blaming yourself for my actions. I made the decision to do what I did in there, and you know what? I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Tim's lip trembled and Tony thought he might finally give in to the tears shining brightly in his eyes. He didn't, though. He just asked again, "Did you see Morgan in the hallway? I need to know."
Tony debated for a fraction of a second, knowing full well he could pull off a lie. He didn't, though. "No. She was too far off to my right. If I'd have been able to see her, Karras would have, too, since he was behind me."
A shudder ran through Tim's body as the image of Tony on his knees flashed behind his closed eyelids.
"Then why, Tony? Why would you do what you did?" McGee's questions came out strangled with emotion.
"Look at me, Tim," Tony said softly, moving his hand from McGee's shoulder to his jaw. Tony fought not to react to the hollowness in his friend's eyes. "We're partners. Plain and simple. I did what I did because I thought it was our best chance of getting everyone out of there alive."
"But why would trade places with me after the way I've treated you?"
Tony had never heard McGee sound so broken. He struggled for something to say, but McGee just continued. "You saw what being with Morgan was doing to me, and you tried to help. And I hit you for it. So why the hell would trade your life for mine after all that?"
"I don't have a death wish," Tony said carefully. "I knew I had my backup, and I was just waiting for a chance to use it."
"And if he blew your brains out before you got that chance?" McGee asked, watching Tony flinch at his blunt choice of words.
Tony took a deep breath. "Well, then I'd really never have a chance of ever being as smart as you, McGoo."
McGee laughed despite himself. But he sobered quickly. "Really, Tony? This isn't funny."
"Nope, but no one died, you still have a job, and Plassmann is so glad he's still breathing and not being sent up the river as a serial killer that he won't even think of suing, if he even knows about your mistake, which I doubt he does. And I doubt Gibbs or the director will spill. Everything's gonna be fine."
"What about us?" McGee asked softly. "Are we okay?"
Tony laughed lightly. "Other than you creeping me out by sounding like you're my longest-lasting relationship ever? We're fine, Probie."
McGee smiled faintly. "Nah, Gibbs is your longest."
"Now that's scary," Tony said with a little shudder of his own. "You hungry?"
"You really don't have to stay."
"Um, you're forgetting something, McSymptom. You have a concussion. Someone's gotta wake you up every couple of hours so you don't McDie," Tony said. He sighed. "Aw, hell. The concussion. I really hope you remember this conversation in the morning, Probie. Because I sure as hell don't want to have to do this all over again."
"I will, Tony," McGee said, standing and following his partner into the kitchen. "McPromise."
A/N: And as Abby says in SWAK, that's all she wrote! Thanks to everyone who followed along, and a double-thanks with a cherry on top for everyone who reviewed. I love them all! A detailed review makes my day, all day and every time—no matter what that pesky thing called "real life" chooses to throw at me. I heart you all!