It's Felder who is the first to move. He's surprisingly gentle with Martin as he puts the young man's hands behind his back and leads him to the doors. Others are slowly making their way to their feet, cramped muscles no obstacle to their impending freedom. They don't bolt for the door. They are professionals after all. But then, they don't make for the door at all. They surround McGee. They shake his hand. They hug him gently. They are hushed when they have every right to be jubilant. They are reverent though they should be boisterous. Left to any other person, none of them would be alive. McGee feels his throat tighten as he is surrounded by agents.
He looks up and catches sight of DiNozzo leaning against the open door. He nods. Tony nods back. And then he kind of rolls his shoulders along the jamb, turns into the hallway and disappears. McGee is alarmed and politely pushes his way through the crowd. He makes it to the hall where others cheer his arrival, clap him heartily on the back and he ignores it all and stands on his toes to see Tony's back, the others' long stride taking him further away. He's saved by Sullivan who promises to run interference for him and he takes off down the hall, through the door where he catches sight of Tony's designer heel as he rounds the stairs.
"Tony! Tony, wait!" he races up the stairs and stumbles back as he nearly runs into Tony who is leaning casually against the wall.
"Good work today, Director,"
"Thanks, I-" Tim cocks his head and points an accusing finger at DiNozzo, "Wait, you just called me Director,"
Tony's eyebrows raise, "Uh, yeah. That's what you are, aren't you?"
"Yes," he answers guarded, "but you always call me, Probie,"
Tony stands straight and shoves his hands in his pockets, "Probie," he grins, "you'll always be Probie to me. But that's me and only me. From now on, you are the Director for everyone else,"
Tim feels as though his face will split in half and he knows he looks ridiculous. But then, Tony is grinning madly back so it's all good.
"Think I'll have anymore problems with Arnold?"
Tony snorts, "Well, if you don't post him to Antarctica first, I think the other agents will make his life enough of a living hell that he'll be begging for a transfer,"
Tim shrugs. He feels warm and proud and territorial about his people and he looks at Tony whose smile is faded and he's looking at Tim with fondness and yes, even pride. But there's more in his gaze, something solemn and final.
"This is why you've stayed, isn't it? I didn't get it before, why you thought you couldn't go," Tim looks to his shoes. Tony remains quiet. McGee takes a deep breath and looks back to his friend, "Thank you, Tony. I mean it, I-"
"Tim, don't," he stares into Tim's eyes and Tim feels something twisted and sharp break. He feels peace for the first time in nearly two years. "You're a good man. A good friend. I couldn't go until I knew you were going to be okay here on your own,"
"Okay," he whispers.
"It was an honor, Tim," Tony stands tall and lifts his chin, "It's always been an honor,"
Tim's head jerks up and down. He ignores the sting in his eyes and the tightness in his throat.
"An honor, Tony. Always,"
Timothy McGee turns around and walks on wooden legs down the stairs and through the door. He meets with those he needs to meet with. He gives a statement to the press. He calls a frantic Bethany and tells her over and over that he loves her and he'll be home tonight. He puts Agent Sullivan with Agent Dwayne Wilson's team and then leads a shame faced Agent Arnold into his office. There is no yelling. Nothing is thrown and no bruises appear on either of them. Arnold quietly packs his desk and the next day he is assuming his new post as an archives clerk. Martin Stone is in jail and Dan Felder is interviewing him tomorrow. Felder will be reporting to McGee personally. He's more than happy to do so.
Tim leaves his office that night and is nearly knocked off his feet as Janice throws off all professionalism and tearily squeezes the breath from him. She's embarrassed as she pulls away, but he kisses her cheek and lets her know her joy is appreciated. It takes him twenty minutes to leave the office and he should be floating with all the genuine love and admiration he's being showed. He does, really. But once in the parking lot, once alone, he feels solemn. He remembers all those who didn't get to go home at the end of their shifts. He doesn't go home.
It's thirty minutes later and he's accepting the shot from the bartender. He lets the soft jazz fall over him, the dim lighting wraps itself around him, sheltering, protecting. There are no accolades here. No thumps on the back. There is only him…and the wall.
He stares at the photos. So many added over the years. He acknowledges quietly that there could have been many, many more added tonight. He gives thanks for the photos that aren't there.
And finally, finally after one year, eleven months and two days, he forgives himself for the one that is. The one that he could not have saved, but the one that had sacrificed his own life so that McGee's own photo would not be here. Instead of pain, for the first time, he feels pride.
The half torn picture of Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo stares laughingly back at him. Tim smiles, remembering the joke they were sharing when the picture was taken. He allows the memories to wash away into the night, memories of blood gushing between his fingers; of green eyes searching his and his own pleas for Tony to stay. And he had. Leave it to DiNozzo to interpret the word 'stay' in his own way.
But that was DiNozzo. Ever loyal.
Tim stands straight, arms at his sides, heels together. He raises his glass.
"Stand down, Tony," he throws back the shot smiles softly, "I have the watch now,"