Six Weeks Later
Gibbs had watched in his normal 'functional mute' way as his team reconnected even stronger over the last month and a half than before the whole kidnapping incident. He couldn't be more satisfied with how they'd handled everything, especially his boys. Tony was undoubtedly happier than he'd been in a very long time and the two of them were getting along and genuinely working together almost seamlessly, like they'd done while Ziva had been back in Israel those few months. They'd even woven the fabric of their team tightly enough that Ziva, too seemed more settled within the ranks, with no more need to play the peacemaker or even the voice of reason. There were days Gibbs wondered if he'd stepped out into the twilight zone or if his team had been replaced by aliens. Still he couldn't knock it for the better way things were for his kids.
McGee seemed to have finally let go of his guilt from his mother's death; probably having worked at it over the course of the first few weeks. He'd never mentioned it to Gibbs again, although the boss had kept a closer eye on him after that, than he'd ever done before, which was why he'd noticed the diminishing signs of sleep deprivation and tension eminating from his recovering agent. Outside of those signs, the young man had acted as if the whole kidnapping and being beaten up incident had merely been a challenge to rise above and he'd done just that, climbing every step privately and without fanfare or discussion, never looking back.
In fact, Ducky had mentioned being concerned at McGee's total avoidance of the subject, even going so far as to suggest that Gibbs might need to make a point of talking to the young man and getting him to at least let them know he was talking things through with some one, hopefully in the professional community so he would not be visited by this at a later point in his life, if left lying unresolved deep within the recesses of his mind; or worse, buried where it could rise up again one day.
Since those few stress filled, painful days. Gibbs couldn't be more proud of McGee than he was as he watched him treat each new day as just that; a new beginning and never once doing anything but looking at the present day or even the ones to come. As he reined his thoughts on this in, he found his thoughts automatically turning to his other 'son'.
Tony had bounced back with extra vigor and a happiness he hadn't been able to hide; something else that wasn't lost on Gibbs. The frat boy persona seemed to have been replaced overnight with a more mature, less hazing version of the Tony they all knew and loved. While the pranks and jokes didn't stop, they had lost their deliberate overstepping bite and had definitely stopped going over that line that crossed into personal intrusion and invasion into Tim's personal business. After a few raised eyebrows when the newer, more respectable Tony began to emerge, things got back to normal, albeit a newer, more mature version of it.
They'd all gone to Sarah McGee's graduation and that night had given Gibbs more insight into just how much Tony had changed in the last few weeks. He now sported the manners fit for a true English Gentleman and never so much as glanced at another woman while Sarah McGee was in his presence, hardly at all, even. Surprisingly, McGee had seemed perfectly okay with taking the less active role at Sarah's side that night, even going so far as to beg off from being her escort to the graduation parties she was keen on going to. "I love you, Sis. But that's actually Tony's forte, not mine. I think you know that by now." He'd smiled at her and at Tony. Sharing a telling look with the Senior Field Agent, McGee had congratulated her once more and then left, anxious to get home and take care of his dog.
Shaking his head slightly at the memories of that night, Gibbs took a moment to realize things weren't completely back to normal just yet. There were still moments where Tony looked over at Tim with uncertainty, but always when the younger man wasn't looking. While the reason behind this hadn't clear at first, all it had taken was one time of seeing Tony's glance down to his phone right before he looked over at Tim, for Gibbs to have figured out what was going on. The boss knew that Tony kept a graduation photo of Sarah McGee on his phone and had it set proudly as his wallpaper. Tony had accidentally left his phone open on his desk one day a couple of weeks ago, and the photo had been impossible to miss. Just as the guilty look on Tony's face had been impossible to miss when he'd realized Gibbs was on to him about still seeing the young woman. Gibbs had smiled and walked away. There'd been no need to discuss it because it was his senior agent's business, and the relationship didn't seem to disrupt the team in any way.
Gibbs still remembered the talk he had with a certain young woman who'd respected him and his place in her brother's life enough to come to him and be upfront with him about it since she knew would affect him.
"What's this about, Sarah"
"I needed to ask you something important."
"And you couldn't ask me in front of my team." He reasoned out her need for his attention when no one else was around.
"No." She admitted.
"I need to know if you'd have a problem if Tony and I decided to start seeing each other. I know you have this rule about your team members dating…."
"And you're worried that I would apply that rule to you, too."
"Well, Tim's always saying that you're dead serious about your rules, so.."
"Sarah, I appreciate you checking with me first. I have to ask what happens if Tim doesn't like the idea?"
"We'll work through it. I promise you, Agent Gibbs. I will never put Tim through anything like what just happened again." Sarah vowed.
"That's good to know, but Tony's hardly in the same category as that lunatic." Gibbs told her sternly.
"What? Oh, no! That wasn't what I meant! I was talking about the secrets and dishonesty."
"Good to know, too. He deserves more respect than what you showed him in this mess."
"I know, Agent Gibbs. I can't tell you how sorry I am about all of this."
"Hmm. Not me you should be saying this to."
"I know. And I intend on talking to Tim. Just not tonight. He looked like he'd had enough of even thinking about it to last him a while. I wanted to give him some space."
"So you could ask me if I have a problem with you and Tony dating?"
"While I have the chance, yes."
"Mmm. No, Sarah. I don't have a problem with it. But, if it screws up my team, I'll definitely have a problem with it."
"Why would it…Oh, right. No, I promise, I'll talk to Tim and make sure he's okay with it. But, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to be able to decide for myself when the best time to do that would be. I mean, I don't want to jump the gun and say something to Tim if it turns out nothing happens between Tony and I from this point anyway,"
"Thank you, Agent Gibbs. I know this is a bit forward, but would you mind driving me to Tony's? I have the small matter of collecting on that bet that I'd like to take care of while it's still fresh on Tony's mind."
Gibbs grinned as he turned the car around and headed towards Tony apartment. He liked the way this young woman had grown and matured. She was gonna keep Tony on his toes, that's for sure.
Looking back at the silent dancing around each other they'd been doing lately, it was clear that his two boys hadn't resolved at least this one issue. While it hadn't affected their work or even their attitude with each other, it was clearly affecting them as individuals. Gibbs remembers that Sarah had vowed to talk to her brother about her dating Tony and he couldn't help but wonder if her plea to be allowed to have that talk in her own time, was a mistake. It's clear that said conversation hasn't taken place as of yet and for some reason, Tony is more antsy this morning than he has been in a long time. Determined to knock this one last mis-aligned piece of the puzzle back into place, he stood up and rounded the front of his desk.
"DiNozzo, with me." The boss ordered somewhat quietly as he walked by the man's desk enroute to the elevator.
Tony looked up and frowned, but the look on Gibbs' face as he walked past told the younger man, that he meant business. With a heavy heart, he stood up and followed his Boss knowing that this wasn't going to be good.
"McGee." Ziva loudly whispered over. She waited until Tim looked up at her and leaned forward. "What do you think Gibbs wanted?"
Tim shrugged. "Who knows. With Tony, anything's possible."
Ziva nodded and went back to her emails, leaving Tim gazing suspiciously over at the elevator doors as they closed.
"Boss?" Tony asked nervously after Gibbs had flicked the switch to his makeshift office. "What'd I do?"
"You got something on your mind?"
"Not that I know of. Why?"
Gibbs raised his eyebrow in his patented 'you know exactly what I'm talking about' look.
Tony swallowed around the lump in his throat and nodded. Sure, things were off and the reason behind it was his relationship with Sarah. Tim obviously knew about them, but for some reason he'd steadfastly remained silent on the subject, causing Tony to believe that his relationship with the probie's little sister had caused a minor rift between the two friends and maybe even the siblings. Tony thought that rift was growing wider each day.
"DiNozzo, spit it out before it chokes you. Something's off with you. I'm not blind. Judging by the way you keep looking at McGee, it's between the two of you. If this is gonna affect my team, I won't have it. "
Again, the eyebrow marched up to the hairline with what the boss didn't need to say but clearly needed Tony to be reminded of.
Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tony nodded. "I'll talk to him."
"Make sure you do." Gibbs stated firmly and set the lift back in motion. His hand jerked up causing Tony to flinch, but instead of the head slap, Gibbs paused with a grin and tapped his cheek. "Attaboy." He stood still as Tony moved out of the elevator. "
Before Tony had taken more than four steps, heard his name called again.
Looking back, he noted the boss hadn't moved and stood waiting for him to return back to him to hear what else he needed to say.
"Boss? Tony asked when he once more stood in front of the man.
"Ask Sarah if she intends to keep her promise to me. Might wanna remind her she's on thin ice with it."
"Boss?" Tony questioned with genuine confusion but found himself speaking to the air around him since the boss had already walked out around him and returned to his desk and his work.
Tony walked back into the squad room and squared his shoulders. Gibbs was right; this really couldn't go on and the longer it did, the more it threatened to cause real problems. He paused briefly in front of his desk before carrying on to Tim's. "Hey McGoo. Boss wants us to go out for coffee."
Tim didn't look up from his searches while he answered. "That's a one man job, Tony."
"Come on! It'll be fun. You…Me…when do we do anything together?" He watched Tim sigh before turning to him with a suspicious look on his face.
"Tony, what's wrong with you? You hit your head or something?" Tim sighed and went back to what he was doing. He winced as a hand connected with the back of his head.
"Just go, McGee." Tim rubbed the back of his head and moved to take his wallet out of his top drawer. "Won't need that. It's on me." Gibbs pulled some money out of his wallet and handed it over to Tony before going back to his desk as silently as he'd walked up the boys.
"Thanks Boss. You ready?" Tony offered.
Tim nodded. "Yeah."
Tony turned and walked over to the elevator, only pausing briefly at the recently open door, to wait for Tim. Once they were inside, he mimicked his Boss and flicked the switch so that the box stopped and the emergency lights flicked on.
"Tony? What's wrong with you?" Tim asked cautiously.
"McGee. Tim. I…we…damn it." Tony rubbed his hand over his eyes and sighed. "Look, I…I can't do this." Flipping the elevator switch back on, Tony thrust the money at Tim and disappeared from his sight, leaving Tim holding the money and rooted to the floor in shock.
Shaking his head, Tim hit the button for the right floor and went about what Gibbs had asked him to do, knowing it was fruitless to chase Tony down. He'd talk when he was ready. He couldn't help but worry about what it might be that had Tony this flustered around him. Common sense and the knowledge of who Tony was on the inside, had Tim's brain going to the answer rather quickly. Sarah.
Smiling, Tim continued on his way toward the coffee shop and placed the orders, sitting patiently at the counter while the coffees were made. His thoughts automatically returned to their previous focus point. Seeing Tony this nervous could only mean he was getting serious about Sarah and was afraid Tim was gonna ream him out or worse, chase him off. Tim had no plans to do either of the two. Still it would have been nice if his little sister had talked to him about this. Tony being too scared to face Tim about his little sister was understandable. Sarah's avoidance of him and not talking to him about it was not.
Still, being hurt by Sarah's choice to distance herself from her brother did not trump making sure Tony knew that his desire to pursue Sarah was not a problem. As the drinks were placed in front of him, Tim blew out a sigh of frustration as he put his thoughts away and walked back to the office with a semi-blank slate of thoughts, wanting the peace and quiet that thinking about nothing in particular brought with it.
Coming back to the squad room, Tim found it empty except for Tony, who sat morosely behind his desk, staring off into space, his face scowling at something unknown. Tim stood there watching Tony and could see the nervousness in his friends face along with the scowl. He didn't begrudge the man a relationship with his sister; far from it. What worried him was Tony's long-standing habit of publically playing like he was Don Juan and Tim didn't want Sarah getting hurt. But, then again, these last few weeks had proven that Sarah knew what she wanted and Tony had indeed seemed to settle down and focus solely on Sarah, so Tim knew he didn't have to do the worrying about his little sister nearly as much as he'd had to before.
He did, however, still need to be there if things fell apart; and this time, he'd need to be able to be there for his best friend as well as his little sister. Before things got too much further for either of them, Tim felt it was time he said something; even if they couldn't or wouldn't say anything to him. His role in both their lives was too important to him and he wasn't about to let either of them believe he wasn't going to be there for them. He'd talk to Sarah later. But right now, he needed to talk to Tony.
Tim couldn't help but look at the older man who'd long been his best friend and teammate with a serious look on his face. With a resigned sigh, he frowned at Tony's increasingly stressed out state and walked over to his desk and cleared his throat, causing the older man to look up at him finally. "Hey, Probie."
Tim squared his gaze on Tony so that he could drive his point home with as much feeling as he could exude. "Tony. Just don't hurt her."
It was at that moment, as he paused in returning to his desk from around the corner of Tony's desk, that Gibbs realized that the time had come when his team was truly back to normal. Hearing McGee let Tony off the proverbial hook where dating his sister was concerned, brought everything back full circle and allowed the Team Leader the realization that nothing more needed to be said; to any of them. Despite Ducky's concern to the contrary, everything was fine. He felt confident of that because he knew that they would all find their own feet at some point in time.
He silently walked back to his desk and as he sat down, Tim also returned to his seat, amidst Tony's stunned silence. Once seated, Gibbs sat back in his chair and let his gaze wander to each of his agents as they returned their attention to their respective workload in front of them.
It had been a long time since he had seen them all just being themselves and he could only hope, that whatever else life threw at them, they'd conquer it and let nothing ever stand in their way of being at peace with themselves like this again