Just cleaning out the one-shot bin...

Regulating Tornadoes

It's only because he's arrived at a tricky part of boat-making that Gibbs remains at the office longer than necessary, putting off the sandpaper argument with a hull that doesn't believe cooperation is essential for seamanship. In a state of wrap-up, his team is clustered around the conference table, polishing McGee's attempt to explain on paper how he'd gotten handcuffed to an already restrained suspect.

After a jury-like debate, it's decided that labeling the man Houdini's Opening Act will not fit into the Navy's report structure. He could have told them that hours ago, but sometimes it's better to lead by backing off. The difficult case has made the quasi-family a bit clingy; they could leave but will wait for dismissal. Gibbs is in no particular hurry to venture home and so the stage production that plays before him will suffice to keep him awake a little longer.

Punch drunk tired has a designated time block and a glance at his watch tells Gibbs that the hour has now passed, been reborn and is coming around for seconds. Fortunately, their loud phase is over. Weary bodies slump in chairs, rinsing yawns down with coffee and pretending not to notice that tomorrow is now today.

He's not needed.

Which gives trained eyes license to wander. The interplay between teammates is a control sample of mankind's idiosyncrasies. People watching, in his father's opinion, is better than baseball. It's always been the immaterial modes of human operation that interest Gibbs; fractional gestures that piece together the whole. From his place near a filing cabinet and a dusty plastic plant, he watches insignificance unfold into meaning.

"Try this." Ziva offers a reddish smoothie to her partner, straw tainted with a tiny smear of hours-old lip glass.

Absently, Tony reaches for the cup, tests the contents and then winces as the concoction filters past his coffee-dulled taste buds.

"It's..." a second swallow for quality control and he settles for, "odd."

"As I thought."

Looking up from his mangled report, McGee reigns in a sneeze. "Let me try?"

"I do not know where you've been," Ziva informs as the sneeze and a few of its siblings works their way out of McGee.

Tissue plastered to his nose, McGee points at a grinning DiNozzo. "But you trust where he's been?"

"I haven't been kissing the diseased, McKermit," Tony says as Tim's wadded Kleenex misses the trash can by a car length.

"She has a cold. Not malaria."

Hidden by the table, Ziva's hand escapes the shelter of her lap to float across what is sometimes an ocean and is presently a stream between she and Tony, fingers pressing to his thigh for just a moment. Warning signal or promissory note? The placement, too far from the knee and not close enough to other junctures to warrant Gibbs sudden blood pressure change, gets DiNozzo's attention. While she's quick to remove the trespasser, the smile earns a ticket for loitering.

This is what they do. The ease of casual interaction has resurfaced after being unearthed from the trenches of constant catastrophe. Gibbs can't decide if this is a good thing but sharing germs is safer than some of their other experiments.

Runners, the pair of them. And yet Gibbs detects the cord that binds one's ankle to the other so neither can get far. As long as there are vessels to traverse continents, one will follow the other, regardless of the simultaneous shoving away that comes with it.

Their entire relationship is modeled after Dr Doolittle's push-me-pull-you.

And now he's thinking in movie references. Heads turn at the involuntary groan. From the top of the pile, Gibbs yanks an expression of long-suffering and dismisses them. Because he knows his team, there's no mystery to where they'll go, what they'll do. For all their quirks, time has made them a predictable group. Varying degrees of unwinding lie ahead; McGee at home with his technology, Tony and Ziva at a bar. Gibbs no longer worries over how far the unwinding will devolve.

Anxiety grants no greater control over two people so determined to fling mud at fate.

The when/if of this game of shifting lines is played out on a colossal scale of obviousness. The signs of any new territory will be fully marked; every motion will betray it, every word will announce it. He'll know. No need to concern himself with it just yet, not when the ground is calm. But like any seismic event, there will be aftershocks. Yet every time they have to rebuild the crumbling foundations, they do a better job reinforcing the framework.

Their boat is sturdy, even if it sails lopsided.

Still, they are fragile beings inside the strong armor and he's seen more dents than his brand of wisdom can repair. Gibbs is left to wonder which will crack first, the boy who needs attention or the girl who needs validation.

Gibbs nurses a cold coffee as the elevator delivers him to the parking garage. The aisles are fairly abandoned, allowing him a view of a team who have apparently decided that drinking as a unit is a better plan. Tim squeezes behind the passenger seat of Tony's car, the smile beneath his raw and runny nose shared by Abby as if they've both been invited to the cool kids' party unexpectedly.

Tony and Ziva hover near the mustang's trunk, finishing some private discussion. Though the words are eaten by distance, the banter is a comforting quilt pulled around their shoulders. And for just a moment, before they let bucket seats and coworker scrutiny separate them, their fingers mesh. It's hardly accidental, him reaching for her and her meeting him halfway. Had they been anyone else, such contact might have been a prelude to hand-holding.

It says many things, but mostly shouts later.

Despite the frantic clenching of his jaw, a byproduct of a lecture trying to get out, Gibbs is forced to recognize the futility is fighting against whatever path these two are forging. He'd be better off standing naked before a tornado and hurling regulations at its destructive trail. Maybe not so predictable. Maybe a cause for worry. And maybe he knows nothing.

As a closing act, these two would have done Houdini proud.