Tim sank down on the couch and loosened his tie, fumbling slightly with his bandaged fingers. It had been an exhausting day, and he felt both physically and mentally drained. And, with Abby driving Leigh back to her base, he was, unusually, alone.

His solitude was short-lived, however, thanks to the entirely predictable arrival of Gibbs.

But if he was unsurprised that Gibbs had stopped by, he was simply astonished to see him pull off his belt, fold it in half, and hold it out to him. Tim didn't move to take it from him and, instead, simply blinked at him uncomprehendingly.

'I failed her, Tim. If I hadn't told her that her CO might spank her...'

Tim realised what Gibbs wanted almost immediately, but that didn't make it any easier to wrap his head around the fact that this conversation was happening. He understood the guilt that Gibbs was feeling, the regret about not being able to protect Leigh. He was feeling the same way himself. And on some level he even understood why Gibbs was coming to him. He was the logical person to dole out retribution on Leigh's behalf. And there was no one left who Gibbs was used to having to answer to when he screwed up; Tim was family, and a reversal of their usual roles for the sake of needed absolution did make sense. To his horror, Tim realised that he might someday have to get past the complete freak-out he was feeling at the thought, and actually spank Gibbs, for his sake.

But that didn't mean he had any intention of doing it today, for something that wasn't Gibbs's fault.

'This is Leigh we're talking about, Gibbs. She would have done anything to keep her record clean for flight school, whether you'd warned her or not. And she's hardly a stranger to the concept of paying for her screw-ups with a sore ass. She would have...'

'But when she called to tell me...'

'She told you that she'd been spanked. You had no reason to think it was anything more than that.'

'But...'

'Gibbs, this is only one man's fault. And it's not yours.'

'But...'

It took another fifteen minutes before Gibbs finally threaded his belt back on, and even then Tim wasn't entirely sure if he was convinced that it wasn't his fault, or if he'd simply given up. Damned stubborn Marine, he thought, getting up to grab a couple of beers from the fridge.

He was reaching for the bottle opener when he heard DiNozzo at the front door. He snagged another beer before heading back to the living room, arriving just in time to hear Gibbs start to tell Tony that he felt responsible for Leigh's injuries.

thwack!

Tim froze in the doorway, staring at his former partner in disbelief. Gibbs, stunned into silence mid-sentence, looked over his shoulder at Tony, then suddenly burst out laughing, melodramatically rubbing the back of his head.

For his part, Tony seemed equally shocked, and was staring at his hand as if it were under the control of some alien life form. Handing him a beer, Tim was inclined to agree.

Because even if Gibbs didn't seem to mind the non-verbal message, he was pretty sure that Tony must have lost his mind.