I can't believe this. Tim said to himself again; as he'd repeatedly been doing for the past hour. He was still reeling from the long conversation he'd had with Gibbs earlier in the day and now here he was on his way to dinner at the man's house! At the boss' request! Sure, Gibbs had warned him that it was so he and Tony could work things out in a neutral place without it affecting their jobs or becoming out of control. But, still! Dinner at the boss' house? Tim thought back to the last part of his conversation with Gibbs earlier
"Thanks, for what, Boss?"
For being the man you are. For rising about it all; the crap you've put up with; from me, from Tony, and even Ziva and Abby. For not letting it chase you off. For not calling me on any of this in front of the team. I know you would never do that, and thank you for that, too. For working so hard to make this work, even though you had all this stowed away. Although, I'll be the first one to tell you, McGee; keeping it all inside isn't the best way to handle things."
"McGee. If it seems like I favor Tony more than you, I am sorry. Trying to use each of you in the areas of your strengths "aces in their places" is important. But, so is helping you develop other strengths and building up your skills where you're not as strong; weak even. Sending Tony and Ziva on a mission doesn't mean I don't think you're capable of doing the job. I have just as much confidence in your ability to do your job as I do in Tony.
But, the fact remains that you have different skill sets and we all know how that works. But, just in case you missed the point? Having you here without them gives you the chance to build on somethings for youself while they're gone."
"Thanks for telling me this. I appreciate it, Boss. If that were absolutely true, wouldn't you have pushed more computer training on the others?"
"I should have way before now, you're right. It's something else I need to fix."
"I'll help in any way I can, Boss."
"I know, McGee. I know I can always count on you to do that, no matter what the task is. Don't think I don't appreciate that about you either.
"McGee. I've never intended to be there for them more than I have been for you or even the other way around. I'm just not the touchy, feely type and you seemed to need less of it than they did. I apologise for shortchanging you on it. Especially when it was about the team losing someone. That was the other thing I meant to say to you earlier. I am sorry, about all of this."
"Thank you, Boss. I really appreciate you telling me this. It helps a lot."
"Good. And just so you know? There is no third wheel on my team. You are all needed equally and don't you forget that!"
"Why haven't you said anything about what Tony said to you yesterday that set you off in the first place?"
"Isn't that what started all of this? The fact that I told somone that Tony's' the best' and that I told his father that Tony was 'one of the finest young agents I've ever worked with."?"
"No. That wasn't it, Boss."
"Okay, I obviously missed something."
"It wasn't what he said. It was the deliberately cutting, slap in the face, way he said it."
"Okay. I can understand that. You're telling me that hearing what he said didn't bother you?"
"No, Boss, what he said didn't bother me."
"I already told you, I'm used to it. I should be used to the way he says it, too. I guess I was just too worn down by everything that's happened in the last month and I wasn't able to let it bounce off me like I usually do. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Boss; especially since it's on the weekend. I'm sure there's other things you'd rather be doing. I'll see you on Monday. C'mon, Jethro, time to go home and feed you."
Tim had stoically walked away after quickly picking up his things and Jethro's leash; not wating to give Gibbs the chance to say anything else. Everything had been said. Now, maybe the boss would let things drop and they could get back to the path of normalcy. Five minutes later he had finished stowing everything away in his car and even gotten the dog settled in the back seat when he again, heard his name.
"Got plans for tonight?"
"Good. Dinner at my place, six o'clock. Be there. You and Tony can use the evening to talk this out. You both need to get this out in the open where it won't affect your job and someone can be there to make sure you don't kill each other. Bring Jethro, he can have the run of the backyard while you're there."
"Okay. Thanks, Boss."
"What did you mean 'you found that out the hard way with Mawher,?"
"Boss, I know you remembered punishing me for what happened."
"Yeah, of course I do."
"Did you even say anything to Abby?"
"That's what I thought."
"McGee, explain it."
"Boss, she goaded and pushed me over a stupid toothbrush. And then when I strictly told her not to open the door for anyone, she did it anyway. You only cared that I had screwed up. The fact that she was the one that opened the door for him, didn't matter!"
"McGee she was in danger."
"You think I didn't know that? You think I've been able to forgive myself for that? I haven't! It's right up there near the top of the list!"
"What list, McGee?"
"Boss, nevermind... You asked me a question and I gave you the answer."
"What list, McGee?"
"Unforgivable mistakes I've made since I've been on this job."
"Why are you keeping track? What can possibly be unforgivable? Everyone can be forgiven their mistakes, McGee."
"Not when it costs someone their life and pretty damn close to it, Boss."
"I wanna see it."
Boss, it's personal."
"No, McGee, it's not; not when something that happened in your second year is on it and not if it still affects you like this. "
"I told you, Boss. I learned from it. That was the only reason I brought it up."
"McGee, I wanna see the list. I would like to know what goes on that head of yours better than I already do. Contrary to your belief, I do care about you."
Tim took his wallet out and dug his list out of it; handing it reluctantly over to Gibbs. He knew what was on it by heart. Silently and with dread in his heart, he watched as Gibbs silently read it and then, to McGee's shock, put it his pocket!
"We'll talk about this later. Don't forget, dinner at my house tonight at seven. Be there! Just put Jethro in the backyard when you get there and come on in. Like I said, my door's never locked."
Gibbs had then been the one to turn and start to walk away; leaving Tim standing there in shock.
Surprisingly, Gibbs stopped and turned back around; obviously having something else to say. Walking back to where Tim remained standing; he waited until he reached him before he spoke.
"Haven't seen a new book from you lately; not in a long time's a matter of fact."
"There hasn't been one. Not since you tossed the cuffs on my desk and told me to arrest myself."
"You weren't leaving me a choice, McGee."
"It's not about that, Boss. I just lost it. The drive the inspiration; the thought patterns of writing; even the wish to write; all of it is gone."
"Have you figured out how to get it back?"
"No. I haven't exactly been willing to dwell on my failure in that part of my life, Boss."
"Then don't. Focus on the success that it was before it was lost."
"I can't do that. Too many things were sacrficed and too many people were hurt; and those two people were killed by Landon; all because I wanted to be a successful writer and I couldn't create characters without modeling them after real people. I can't go there right now.
"Okay. Just don't give up on it completely or forever."
"Because McGee, it's part of who you are; when you're happy. Isn't it your escape from the crap and the heartache we see at work?"
"It was one of them. I still play online games to get away from it all ."
"We'll talk more about this later. Just promise me you'll think about thinking about it."
"Good. See you at seven."
Gibbs walked away and this time, he kept going.
Now, here he was sitting in Gibbs' driveway, tempted to just turn the car around and go home. But, then again, at least Gibbs knew where he was coming from now and was here to keep things from getting too out of control. Maybe, this was the best way to deal with Tony. God knows having this chance to do it at Gibbs' house was totally unexpected and most appreciated.
Getting out of the car, he put the leash on Jethro and led him to the backyard, unhooking him and releasing him into the yard, watching him run in the open space. Taking himself over to the porch, he absently sat down, getting lost in the moment as he watched his dog frolick. The soothing sounds of peace and quiet mixed with fresh air in a secure place was easy to get lost in.
"McGee." Gibbs spoke to him when he'd noticed Jethro in his backyard and had come out to look for Tim.
Tim didn't answer him which was unusal. Looking at the young man again, Gibbs realized he was lost in his thoughts.
"Huh? Oh, Sorry, Boss."
"What's going on?"
"Nothing, I was just relaxing. It's so peaceful here, for a neighborhood."
"Yeah, it is. C'mon inside, Tony's already here and we're ready to eat."
"Relax, stop worrying about it. Just be yourself." Gibbs encouraged; a rareity for him.
Stepping inside Gibbs house was a rare occasion for Tim; one that he relished; knowing somehow, while he was here, he really did belong on the team.
"Jeez, McStunned, you look you've never seen the inside of Gibbs' house before!" Tony joked from the doorway to the hall.
Gibbs stopped and looked back; to find the look on Tim's face did in fact bring home the fact that the young man had not been here before. Or if he had, it had been a very long time ago. That was a pretty damn sad state of affairs for someone who'd been on his team for six years.
"Let's eat." Gibbs broke in, not wanting anything else to come up that needed to be handled.
Soon the kitchen was quiet except the sound of three guys chowing down on subs and chips with soda or coffee to chase it all down with. The meal was a quiet one and no one seemed willing to break the barrier. But, once dinner was done, Gibbs took both Tony and Tim back out to the backporch and beckoned them to take a seat.
"We all agree this needs to be worked out now?" Gibbs asked.
"Good. Tim, the floor is yours, but to make things easy, I'm gonna throw something out there that needs to be addressed for all of our sakes. The countless nicknames Tony uses on you."
"I just need them to stop. Not all of them; just the disprespectful, intentionally demeaning ones." Tim explained.
"You're pissed because I call you names?" Tony asked in outright irritation.
"Tony!" Gibbs warned.
"How many do you have?" Tim asked quietly.
"How many what?" Tony asked bitingly.
"Tony, do you want to work this out?" Tim asked in abject resignation. He already could sense that this was a waste of time and of Gibbs' good intentions; which pissed Tim off. "Cause, right now, all you're doing is spitting in Gibbs' face. He was nice enough to let us do this here, instead of risking our jobs! The least you can do is act like you wanna work this out!" His voice had risen in anger.
"Hey! Okay, McGee! Jeez!" Tony whined. "Yeah, I wanna work this out. I just don't understand your sudden blow-up and why it's a big deal now!"
Tim silently looked to Gibbs with I told you so, clearly written on his face.
Gibbs stepped up. "DiNozzo, that's the exact attitude that has created this problem and kept it building until he did explode. You don't wear ignorant very well, so, cut the crap."
"Yes, Boss. How many what, McGee?" Tony settled down and asked the question.
"How many nicknames or names are you handed in a single day or even a week? And how many of them are as I said, intentionally demeaning or disrespectful?"
"McGee." Gibbs intervened.
"Boss, I'm not talking about 'Probie'. We've covered that one already; a long time ago." Tim looked at Gibbs with genuine appreciation for that long ago conversation that had come to mean a hell ova lot to him.
"Okay." Gibbs actually had to smile. Who would have thought that such a short conversation would have such a lasting impact?
"What do you mean you covered a long time ago?" Tony demanded.
"DiNozzo, get back to the question McGee asked you." Gibbs directed.
"I dunno, McGee. Not many." Tony answered.
"And how many do I use on you?" Tim asked.
"None." Tony admitted
"Okay. It's bad enough that I don't rate the use of my first name very often by anyone other than Ducky's version; and Abby's version. But the ones that use just to be disrespectful or demeaning? Yeah, they need to stop. Please." Tim pushed.
"I can't change over night!" Tony complained.
"You can start by working on it!" Gibbs ordered.
"Got it, Boss." Tony answered. "Anything else?"
"Well, yeah, Tony; otherwise we wouldn't be here right now." Tim answered in all seriousness.
Gibbs' attention snapped on that remark. It was obvious that Tim needed to be shown in the near future how welcome he was to all aspects of being on this team; including being here more often for dinner; so that he wasn't uncomfortable here anymore, like he so obviously was right now.
"Look McGee. Gibbs already told me to cool the teasing down. I get it, man. I'm sorry. I know I go too far; but it's like I can't help myself. You're an easy target. You know I care about you. We've got each other's back. Didn't we prove that when we rescued Ziva?" Tony asked.
"Tony. I appreciate your apolgy. I'm not; however, gonna apologise for being the easy target you claim I am. Like, you; I can't change overnight. But, I have done a hell ova lot of changing in the last six years, Tony. Otherwise, I wouldn't still be here. And as far as what we proved when we were successful in rescuing Ziva; apparently is a matter of opinion." Tim answered.
"Okay, slow down. What do you mean 'otherwise, you wouldn't still be here.'?" Tony demanded.
"Can we get back to resolving this, please?" Tim requested; not wanting any more attention being put on his slip of the tongue.
"McGee. I'd like to hear the answer to that one myself." Gibbs quietly requested.
"Okay, But, later, please?" Tim asked his boss.
"Ok." Gibbs conceded.
"Fine. What did you mean about what we proved being a matter of opinion?" Tony demanded; feeling put out that Tim didn't want to go into details about something with him, but obviously, was willing to talk to Gibbs about it later.
"Simple, Tony. You told me that my contribution to the mission was; and I quote you on this; 'laying around.'. Abby told Ziva that you risked your life to save her. So, according to both yours and Abby's opinions, Gibbs and I did nothing; didn't risk our lives; and didn't even help the mission at all! Apparently, you're a hell ova one man team, Tony; complete with your own personal cheer leader! I congratulate you! You brought Ziva back safe and sound all by your lonesome!"
"McGee!" Gibbs was stunned. He hadn't seen that one coming.
"I'm sorry, I guess that one was festering worse than I thought. I need some air." Tim walked down off the porch steps and spent a few minutes playing with Jethro while he forced himself back under control. That had been stupid; stooping to Tony's normal level of handling things. But, God, it felt so good to have it off his chest! That crap with Amanda really tore the roof off worse than he'd thought. Maybe he needed to get away before this got worse.
Walking back to the porch and sitting back down, Tim couldn't bring himself to look at either Tony or Gibbs. "Can we move on with this, please?" His question was asked in general. Tony answered it.
"McGee, I was joking when I said your contribution to the mission was you laying around. I thought you knew that! It was not meant as a put down. I know damn well it took all of us to see that one through successfully and get back here alive. If you thought for a second that I believed otherwise, I'm sorry! And you gotta know that Abby made her statement in regard to Ziva's relationship trouble with me over Rivkin. She definately didn't mean it the way you're saying she did!" Tony explained.
"Tony, I appreciate that. And, I'm smart enough to realize that what you're saying about Abby is right. But, it all ties in to a much bigger picture." Tim replied.
"Ok. So tell me what that picture is!" Tony requested.
As Tim explained it to Tony in the same manner he'd explained it to Gibbs earlier; Tony began to see the intricices of how Tim's mind worked and why everything had blown up in his face yesterday. "I'm sorry, McGee. I never meant to treat you like a high school bully. A college frat pledgie, sure; but I get it. There's a time to stop with that and treat you with the respect you've earned and I haven't done that; not completely. I'm sorry. And I know I lay into you about women too much, especially after this thing with the assassin."
"Thank you, Tony. I know neither of us can change over night; but it helps to know that I'm not fighting a losing battle on this front." Tim managed to respond.
"Did you really think you weren't needed on the team anymore?" Tony asked in surprise.
"Yeah, Tony. I did. I'm glad I was wrong, though." Tim answered.
"So. You and me; we're good?" Tony asked.
"Yeah, Tony. We're good; so long as we both keep working on keeping it that way." Tim replied with a small smile.
"Go on; get outta here. I know you've got a date." Gibbs told him with a smile.
Tim stood up, getting ready to call Jethro in from the yard so they could leave too. He gave the dog some time playing catch first as Tony left.
"Tim, you don't have to leave yet. I'd like to finish our conversation from this morning." Gibbs told him.
"Okay. I don't guess you're gonna let this drop."
"No. I think it's too important."
Monday morning, everyone was at their desks before the official start of the day. Each of them already had breakfast and coffee; compliments of Tim. Now, each sat lost in their own work; their thoughts churning with both the cold case in their hands and the events of the past couple of days.
Tony was relieved that he and Tim had mended things and that for the most part things could return to normal within reason; with some serious but important changes that he could live with and that he also now understood the need for.
Ziva was relieved to see that all was well with her team again; without her having to have gotten in the middle of things.
Gibbs was thankful to have had the opportunity to breach the walls that surrounded Tim's personal ordeals and struggles; both on and off the job. Seeing where the young man had been coming from and what he'd been holding in and holding onto and why he had been; had been an eye opener for Gibbs. Between that and the blow up he'd been fortunate enough to be witness too; Gibbs had been given the wake-up call he needed to fix things before it had gotten to be too late.
Tim was overwhelmed with relief and a sense of belonging that he hadn't had before on this team; ever. He had never before had the chance to talk to Gibbs and get to know him and allow Gibbs to get to know him; like they'd been able to do on Saturday morning and again Saturday evening. After Tony had gone for his date and Gibbs had asked Tim to stay; a lot of things had been talked about and ironed out.
Gibbs had even helped him put away that stupid list he'd been carrying for years. The guilt and pain he'd been carrying for the deaths he'd continued to feel responsible for had been put into proper perspective. And this crap with 'Amanda' had been talked about until he felt better able to live with who he was as a person; in spite of what she'd done.
Vance came in apparently expecting trouble; if the look on his face was anything to go by. When he found peace and quiet and alert agents at their desks on time and already working, he was left with only one question to ask.
"Are we good?"
"Yes, Sir. All good!" came the chorus of four voices in agreement.
Oh, Yeah All was right with the world, finally.