A/N: HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
Watching Tim sleep; Ziva smiles softly from her vantage point at the end of her bed where she's perched momentarily. He's earned this rest, that's for sure. Slowly, the happiness fades from her expression as confusion takes its place. When they'd finally spoken, a little while ago, of what remains on Tim's mind; he'd expressed his disbelief and shock at the distinct possibility that Gibbs had never been told about what took place in Mexico. And yet; what was it Ducky had said to Abby the first day of Tim's self-imposed vacation back in November?
"Abigail, if Timothy were giving up his position simply because of the hot tub incident, he would have done so …when you treated him so reprehensibly, deliberately disregarding his orders, putting your life and those of your innocent students in danger, while in Mexico."
It would certainly go a long way toward easing the hurt and sense of not being anyone that matters, in Tim's heart, if the Team Leader hadn't known. But the very fact that Ducky had spoken on it, dashes that hope. How is it possible that the M.E. had known if Gibbs had not? Now that she's been reminded, she recalls that even worse; every one of them had been there when the director had remarked on it first and quite angrily:
"Gibbs. … I have yet to see a disciplinary action taken against her for the stunt she pulled in Mexico, or were you fully intending on letting her get by with placing herself and McGee in that kind of danger with no consequences? I wonder, Gibbs; what would you have done if McGee's offer of his own life for the safety of Ms. Scuito and those students, had been taken up on? If the Reynosa cartel, had taken him hostage or worse, killed him. Would you still hold to your philosophy of letting her get away with acting the way she did?
If McGee had been sent back to us in a body bag, what would you have told his family? Would you have told them that it was his fault? Ms. Scuito disregarded his warnings and advice and took them all out to that site. What she did, was not only place herself and the Agent sent to protect her, in danger, but the students that she was teaching as well. By my book, that is unacceptable and yet, nothing came of it. Why?"
Surely none of them missed that? They've all professed to care about Tim and yet not one of them have ever picked up either of those discussions and pursued them further; in pursuit of finding out exactly what happened; not even Ziva, herself. She's quite sure that if they had, none of what's occurred these past few days would have happened.
So, that erases the possibility of Gibbs' not knowing. It's just not logical that the details about something of this magnitude would not get back to the Team Leader when his own people were directly involved, once he'd heard that, as they had. Come to think about, it, who could have known that much of what took place if neither Tim nor Abby had said anything to anyone about it? And yet both Vance and Ducky had let them all know that they knew. And every single one of them had dropped the ball when it had been passed on to them.
Glancing at the clock, she's disappointed to see that it's very late. She has a phone call she wants to make but is loathe to do so at this hour. Then again, she needs to offer a heads up as to her plan to take that day off tomorrow that she hadn't taken today. With one last glance at her love, she relaxes because he's finally sleeping without dreams. She eases herself from the bed and takes herself out of the bedroom, down the hall to the living room, waiting for the call on the other end to be picked up as she walks.
"Pretty late, Ziva. Everythin' alright?"
"Yes, Gibbs. Everything is fine."
"That why you're callin me at midnight?"
"I wanted to request tomorrow off in place of today."
"Tim is…he will be fine."
"Okay, then. Take the day."
"There is no…"
"I would like very much to ask you a question, Gibbs."
"What's on your mind?"
"***Sigh*** what about it?"
"When did you become aware of the details of what happened when Tim and Abby went there?"
"Where you goin' with this, Ziva?"
"We were present that first day Tim began his vacation, when Director Vance had plenty to say about it when he told us Tim had left our team. Even Ducky, later on, made it clear to Abby that he was well aware of what had taken place on that trip. You, however, have never said a word about it."
"Plenty I don't talk about, Ziva. You too."
"Gibbs, I do not want to believe that the man I have come to love and respect of as a father, would treat Tim so coldly as to be fully aware all this time of what he endured while he was there and say nothing to him about it, whatsoever!" She explodes on him angrily.
***Sigh*** It's complicated, Ziva."
"What does that mean, Gibbs?
Means I don't have the answers you're lookin' for right now."
Now it's Ziva who's sighing in frustration because it's late and this discussion seems to be going nowhere. "Very well. Goodnight, Gibbs!" She snaps her phone shut and tosses it onto the kitchen counter where she's standing. For a long silent minute, she works to calm her inner anger at the picture beginning to form in her mind about this situation. Feeling that she's no longer alone in the room, she turns to the doorway to find Tim standing there, one hand holding onto the door-frame while he leans against the opposite side of the frame, his face a picture of regret and sadness. "I didn't mean for you to do that. You still have to work with him."
"It is the only way to get to the truth, yes?"
"C 'mere." He gently requests as he stands up straight.
Without another word, she does as he asks and steps into his arms. "I am sorry I woke you." She offers quietly.
"I'm not." Even as he embraces her snugly, he answers with a hungry look in his eye that almost immediately retreats, leaving room for the focus of he wants to say now. "We need to talk some more before tomorrow anyway, since you're taking it off."
"What did you have planned for the day?
"I'm not sure you're gonna like it." Pulling back from her just enough to look her in the eye, he warns her with complete seriousness. "In fact, I'm pretty sure you're gonna hate it."
Tossing his phone down on his work bench, Gibbs immediately reaches for his bourbon. Pouring himself a double shot, he tosses it back quickly, letting the slight burn in his throat stir his thinking a little more. He'd known the questions were coming. Hell, he should have been the one doing the asking – and like Ziva just reminded him – and he should have been doing it months ago, back in November!
How did Ducky find out what he himself had never been told? Had it only been what had been spoken of in Vance's office when the agency head had blown up at them about it? Knowing the older man, he probably demanded answers so he could figure out if he needed to keep an eye on Tim and Abby down the road.
But, once the M.E. had heard that, why hadn't he ever said anything further about it to Gibbs? Better yet, why was Ziva the only one to catch this in the first place? Why hadn't he?
Blame, he knows, can easily be placed on the distraction provided at the time, of the team's emotional upheaval over Tim's departure, followed almost immediately by Sarah McGee's plea for help to check on her brother when she feared for his well-being. Everything else had just snowballed from there, completely erasing from their minds; well, his at least, what Ducky had let loose on Abby about during the course of that discussion and what Vance had let rip over him.
And yet, when the subject came back up recently at Gibbs' house, the M.E. gave no evidence that he was already aware of what it was Tim might have just reluctantly shared with Tony about that horrible time. Gibbs can't figure out why the verbal lashing Vance had given the Team Leader about it in front of them all never came back to mind or up in discussion until now.
There'd been no verbal reminders that they'd all been there when Vance had let it rip, either; that they all shared in the knowledge; but had similarly chosen to let it go – or at least forgotten about it. So, why the false sense of uncertainty from the older man? Why hadn't he just come clean about it; reminded them that he'd already known; that they'd all already heard at least parts of it? Is it possible that Ducky had forgotten? Not likely. The man's got the memory of an elephant!
That doesn't explain the 'forgetfulness' of the rest of them. Why is it, none of them have mentioned it until now? What the hell's going on? With a rueful mental shake of his thoughts, Gibbs returns to the bottom line. Try as he might, he cannot find it within himself to excuse his own not following up on either Ducky's or Vance's disclosure; incidental or not, of their knowledge of what had transpired in Mexico. For that matter, he can't begin to figure out either of their silence on the matter either. He's not even sure if it's excusable. Either way, the way he sees it; they've all screwed the pooch with this – at Tim's expense – in a very big way.
As Team Leader and the one Tim trusted to keep him safe, he holds the responsibility that matters most. His attempts to talk with the younger man, becoming stifled uncomfortable situations between them, illustrates that like nothing else; well, except the fact that he'd given up the team, of course. Shoving his drinking jar back into it' normal resting place, Gibbs tiredly scrubs a hand across his face. God, will he ever get this completely figured out? His words to the man over him, come back to him so fittingly now.
"Should've read me in, Leon. Woulda saved my people a hell of a lot of grief."
With a resigned sigh, he mentally suggests he have a similar discussion with the M.E. now. He's got questions and they all need some answers. For once, Ducky seems to be the key to both. Or maybe it's Vance with the bottom line. Hell, at this point, he's even ready to think this is all on himself! Tiredly, he heads up the stairs. It's time for some serious shut-eye if he's gonna tackle this in the morning.
0600 Tuesday Morning -
Purposefully striding into Autopsy for his best chance at getting Ducky alone with time to talk, Gibbs sips at his coffee. He knows Palmer doesn't get in until at least 0630. Undoubtedly, there won't be a better time for the remainder of the day.
Sure enough, Ducky's just getting in, still settling his coat onto the coat rack near the back set of doors; his hat atop of it. At the sound of the swooshing doors bringing him company, the older man turns to look at his early morning visitor, smiling with welcome at the sight of his friend.
"Good morning, Jethro! What brings you so early on this fine morning?"
"Questions, Duck." Gibbs replies without hesitation as he comes to a standstill close by.
"Oh? Do we have a fresh case that I am unaware of as of yet?"
"I see. And yet, these questions of yours have brought you to me in place of your normal routine of seeking peace and quiet up in your own domain before your underlings begin arriving."
Gibbs doesn't offer anything on that observation because he knows nothing's needed.
"Alright. Why don't you tell me what's troubling you while I fix myself a cup of tea?" The older man walks into his office, clearly expecting his friend to follow him there.
Huffing out a breath of impatience, The Team Leader enters Ducky's office and shuts the door behind himself. Without wasting any more time, he fires off the first question that's been burning all night. "How did you find out and why didn't you ever tell me?
Looking over at the younger man, Ducky frowns. "Jethro, I'm afraid I don't know to what you are referring."
"Mexico, Dr. Mallard."
"You are certain this is what you wish to do?" Ziva asks as she and Tim settle in their seats.
"Yes, Sweetie. I am. If you're not comfortable coming with me on such short notice. I understand, but I have to get away." Tim replies firmly as he fastens his seatbelt. "I can't take anymore right now."
"You need some distance from Gibbs."
"Yeah, that too." Tim huffs out tiredly. "Ziva, I'm sorry this is so last minute. But like I said last night, I thought about it for hours before we talked about it."
"I thought you were sleeping before I phoned Gibbs"
"Before I fell asleep. While you were working your magic on my aching muscles." He smiles reassuringly at her.
"I still do not understand why it is that while I was giving you a massage, you were thinking of leaving town without me." She says with obvious confusion and hurt in her expression. "You did not explain how it is that you did not think to ask me to come with you until you heard me ask Gibbs for the day off."
"I didn't want you to get in trouble for missing work, Ziva. this is just for a very short breather, Honey. Please, don't take it that I meant to hurt you with it. Because I didn't. After the day I had, yesterday; the crazy weekend too; all I could think was that I'm so tired of the whole….I just need to get some fresh air, ya know?"
"And distance from it all. I understand. And I am glad that you do not have to take this 'breather' by yourself. I am happy that we can enjoy it together."
Taking her hand in his, he gently squeezes it. "Me too. And thank you!"
"Will you be stopping by your new office while we are there?" She wonders with hope in her eyes. She's never been there and since that's where he's going, she's more than ready to look his new team over; to make sure she can feel he's in good hands.
"I haven't decided yet. Probably not. It's not like I was invited to."
"Did you not say that when you spoke to your new team over the internet conference that they did do just that?"
"That's right, they did! Wow, with everything else going on, I'd forgotten about that. Well, I guess I should take them up on that offer. You'll come with me, right?"
"Of course, Tim. I would love to see where you are going to be working. I would also like very much to see those 'toys' you fell in love with on your first visit." She smirks at him with a twinkle in her eye.
"Oh, they're so cool! You'll love it! Wait. You're not gonna threaten them if I happen to get hurt on the job, are you?"
Returning to the squad room a mere fifteen minutes after he'd left it, an angry Gibbs harshly sets his coffee cup down on his desk and attempts to get back to work going through his emails. Out of the corner of his eye, he spies the lamp at the desk directly across from him glowing brightly; the sign that Dwayne Wilson is already in. Sighing, Gibbs can't help but reflect back to the man's predecessor, already at the heart of his thoughts this morning.
The Team Leader'd gone downstairs to get answers to his questions as to why he'd never been informed of what had happened to Tim and Abby on their ill-fated trip. Unfortunately, both for him, and the person from whom he'd sought the answers, the end results had been distinctly unsatisfying. Ducky's words on the subject haunt him now:
"Jethro, while I am perplexed at the length of time in which it has taken you to ask this of me, I cannot in good conscience, conduct this conversation here. Although, it is understandable that you should have questions, I'm afraid, that I am not the correct person to provide you with those answers. This is a conversation best had with the Director. After all, it is his orders we all must follow. "
Across the room, while he returns to his desk, Dwayne Wilson watches silently as the Team Leader's scowl becomes deeper and darker by the minute while the man stops working and turns to stare out over empty space. Never one to pry where he's not openly invited, the team newbie turns his attention back to his own emails while maintaining a concerned peripheral eye on the boss.
Tony's arrival just a few minutes later, heralds the beginning of the work day in earnest, but it's a start that's delayed with an exchange of glances between the younger men when Tony first happens to look over and notice the expression on the boss' face. With a shrug from the Probie that says he knows nothing, Tony quickly takes himself over to stand in front of the boss' desk, a quiet question of concern escaping before he can stop it. "Boss, you alright?"
Blinking back to the here and now, at the sound of Tony's voice, Gibbs stands to his feet. It's time to get to the bottom of this. Looking directly at his Senior Field Agent, he firmly recalls that Tony has none of the information he's seeking and so he first offers him an answer to his question. "Yeah. Start on some cold cases."
Watching Gibbs walk away as the silver haired man leaves the room and heads up the stairs, Tony mutters half out loud. "Where is Ziva? She's usually here before me."
"Not comin' in today." Gibbs calls back down over his shoulder.
From over at his own desk, Dwayne shakes his head in amusement. "How does he do that?"
Two hours into their flight, Ziva sighs contentedly as she looks out the window at the clouds passing by. She's happy to see Tim resting and feeling pretty relieved that they've gotten away from the stress that's been hounding Tim lately. Speaking of that stress, she's almost forgotten her promise to Abby. Maybe it's best she get it over with now so he can truly enjoy the rest of the trip more with it out of the way.
"I had the opportunity to speak with Abby yesterday."
Tim's eyes pop open as he turns his head so their gazes lock. "How'd that go?"
"She asked me for a favor."
"As unsure of yourself as you sound, it must have been something to do with me."
"She simply wanted me to talk to you about giving her a few minutes to at least apologize to you."
"She's already done that. Months ago." Tim reminds her.
"Yes, she has. However, I believe she is referring to her more recent behaviors."
Tim shrugs. "I don't have a problem talking to her."
"Is that why you have not done so yet?"
Tim scoffs. "No. I just haven't had time."
"Timothy McGee! It has been over three months!" Ziva sternly chastises him.
"Since she apologized the first time? Yeah, I know." Tim breathes out." I've been so busy; I haven't even talked to Jimmy in in all this time, Ziva."
"I have not heard him complain."
"I'm not surprised. I still need to talk to him about it, though. Maybe I'll just send him an email – break the ice a little." Tim says as he drags his laptop out and opens it up. "I'll talk to Abby when the opportunity comes up when I go back. Other than that, as soon as I get this email sent, let's just put some space between all of that and us for at least for 24 hours, please?"
"Very well." She smiles softly. "Have you decided what it is you want to do while we are in L.A.?"
"Wee…lull." Tim drawls out for effect. "I thought we'd check out my new apartment for starters; maybe break it in a little – with your help, of course?"
"Mmm. I like the sound of that." Ziva purrs as she settles back down in her seat.
"What can I do for you Gibbs?" Vance asks a bit dryly as the silver-haired man makes an entrance into his office barely thirty minutes into the work day.
"You told Ducky not to tell me what my agent went through in Mexico; what Abby did down there; exactly what went on down there?"
"Since nothing usually gets by you and I expected you to be beating a path to my door for the answer; after I let the facts out in front of your entire team, yes. As a matter of fact, I did."
"Why?" Gibbs snaps out angrily
"Gibbs, I gave you plenty of opportunity to push the issue! You never asked!"
"But, Ducky did."
"Yes! He did. And I filled him in with what I knew while ordering him to keep a lid on it. Like I told you, I wanted to watch and evaluate for myself – whether or not anything further needed to be said or done. I wasn't in any hurry to muddy the waters for either of your people – and with their choice to deliberately leave that out of their reports, it could have gone very badly for the both of them. I figured they'd been through enough and learned from it plenty."
"There a reason you didn't tell me this last time we had this conversation?"
"You didn't ask." Vance sits down in his chair, his eyes locked onto the man across the desk from him. "If you're looking for someone to blame because it's still out there unresolved, I'd suggest you look in the mirror, Gibbs. It's not like you to let something like this go without addressing it. I expected better from you. Blaming me won't fix anything. Water under the bridge now."
"Consequences woulda done 'em both a world of good, Leon. Hell ova lot more good than what they're dealin' with now!"
"Gibbs, this is the 2nd time you've gotten up in arms over this. What the hell's going on that you haven't told me?"
"Still not mine to tell, Leon. Word of advice: try a different approach!" Gibbs retorts as he snaps the door handle in a twisting motion and yanks the door open; swinging it shut hard behind him as he exits the room, too pissed to stay in the same room with the man who'd kept too damned many secrets at too high a price that his kids are still paying.
His steps falter when his brain reminds him of the worst truth of all. You never asked!
More tired than he's originally admitted to either himself or to Ziva, the first stop once reaching L.A. has been Tim's new apartment. While just as small as his old one, it seems roomier because there's much less in it. With a scoff, he looks around. "This is definitely not home."
"You could make it home, Tim."
"Nope. Home is where you are. This is just temporary. I'm beat. I'm gonna take a nap. How about you?"
"I'd like that." She smiles as he locks the door and takes her hand to lead her to the bedroom. Within minutes, the air mattress he'd ordered and had delivered already is out of the box and completely inflated. Without even worrying about sheets, he flops down on it, letting Ziva fall with him. Together, they snuggle – letting sleep claim them far away from their D.C. family.
Returning from the Director's Office, Gibbs is more than pissed. But, the work day is waiting and so without another word said to anyone, he gets back to it. That doesn't stop the looks from his agents, though; agents he knows are sharp enough to see there's definitely something wrong.
He's not surprised when it takes Tony less than thirty minutes to approach him with questions. "Boss?"
"Somethin' on your mind, DiNozzo?"
"Well, yeah, actually. You sure you're okay, 'cause you seem kinda…."
"Pissed." Tony finishes as if he hasn't been interrupted.
Gibbs' scrutiny sharpens. But the look is softened almost immediately, as if the older man's remembering that he has no reason to take it out on him. "Nuthin' for you to worry 'bout."
"Okay. What about Ziva?"
"Nothin' there, either."
Gibbs glares at him as if he's even more pissed now that Tony's not taking his word to be gospel.
Tony swallows hard. "Okay, then." He heads back to his desk and settles back in his chair, his attention returning back to his computer monitor. The remainder of the afternoon is eerily quiet and yet somehow cold cases manage to get read, although not solved just yet.
Jimmy Palmer has long held his silence in the wake of all things Team Gibbs. In the aftermath of the fall-out of Agent McGee's departure from the team, where nothing stayed the same and changes became the new word of the day, conversations became fewer and father apart between himself and members of that team. Busy with his own life, he'd taken it on the chin and gone about his business, not even bothering to comment on it, to the obviously struggling M.E. who'd taken it not quite so 'on the chin' as the younger man had.
Even so, the Medical Examiner's Assistant hadn't been immune to the feelings of hurt and the plethora of emotions that came with that hurt; when day after day, week after week had passed with absolutely no conversation arising between himself and Tim. He'd known that the older man had felt incredibly let down by the events with that stupid hot tub; but found the extraordinarily long time without talking things out extremely uncalled for; almost to the point of being cold and just plain unacceptable.
Of course, he had options. Jimmy has long understood that. But, he's also kept in mind, that the ball has always been firmly fixated in Tim's court. The Agent was the one who'd called the others on their behaviors – by leaving and it wasn't anyone's place to force a conversation on him about it, especially Jimmy. So, the studious younger man has, in place of trying to understand the prolonged silence; kept his focus on his continuing education and his work; well, and dating, too, of course.
So, it's with a huge feeling of surprise on Tuesday afternoon when he first gets to work for the day; that Jimmy finds an email from Tim waiting for him. From the date stamp, the older man sent it early this morning. Reluctantly, there's no time to read it right now, but the curiousness of its arrival has him nearly fidgeting with restlessness to read it.
By the end of the day, he's nearly bursting from the restraint since he'd used up his lunch hour before coming to work, for part of his class time. He really wants to see what Tim has to say.
"Mr. Palmer, while I completely understand that you have lots to do off the job and cannot wait to get on with them, I would greatly appreciate it if you would curb your restlessness just a tad. I will release you for the evening just as soon as I am able."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Mallard. I guess, I'm just really anxious to read that email."
"Oh? What email might that be and why didn't you say something sooner? If that's all there is behind this fidgeting, I certainly could have given you the time you needed to do that."
"Sorry. It's from Agent McGee. See, the thing is; this is the first time I've heard from him – at all – since he left the team and…"
"And you're more than curious as to why he's contacting you now and what he has to say. Well, I don't blame you. Go on, dear boy – go and read it. The supply list can wait that long."
"No need to thank me, Mr. Palmer. All you needed to do was ask!"
"I know. I mean, I know that now." Jimmy rambles on as he hurries over to the desk and opens up his email, zeroing in on the one from Tim.
I'm sitting here on the plane with Ziva, heading for a much needed break away from everything (You didn't hear that) and it dawns on me while Ziva and I are talking – that I owe you a huge apology.
One that can't be explained in words that won't come when I try to give voice to them – so please forgive me while I try to get them out the way that works best for me – on paper
I realized just now, that in all this time that since I requested a transfer off Gibbs' team because I felt no one had my back anymore– all these months – I've never once, taken the time to sort things out with you.
I screwed up big there and I'm sorry.
Nope – don't even say it.
Just because Gibbs doesn't believe in them, doesn't mean the rest of us feel that way.
But, seriously, I am sorry. Not speaking to you so that we could clean the slate – well, let's just say, it wasn't intentional at all.
I never meant to leave this undealt with.
And now, I'm being transferred to a new position –clear across the country – for training that being on the MCRT should have already given me.(let's leave it at that) – but please, Jimmy – after you've read this – delete it –
I don't want the team knowing where I'm going. And what little I've said about it here – could start the space invaders on a quest that wouldn't stop until they figured it out – just for the sake of finding out.
I'm not even sure why I said anything about it or why I'm not just deleting it from this email myself. Maybe I just want part of my D.C. family to know where I am because I know they'll care enough to keep an eye on chatter – for signs of trouble while not spilling the beans to the others?
I'm sorry – maybe I shouldn't have – maybe that's putting you in a tough spot. But something tells me, it's a challenge you'll enjoy excelling at.
Again, Jimmy, I truly am sorry that I haven't said anything sooner. But, let's just say that as far as I'm concerned - bygones are bygones – especially if we've learned from them.
Can we do that?
"Wow." Jimmy breathes out as he sits back in the desk chair. Certainly not what he has been expecting, well, actually, he hasn't been expecting anything at all. Well, okay, that's not entirely true or he wouldn't have felt anything about the situation in the first place. Now, he's relieved and actually comfortable with the idea of letting things go – letting them rest at a place where they can just be themselves around each other again if it does ever happen that they run into each other again.
"Mr. Palmer, is everything alright?"
"Oh, yes, Dr. Mallard. Everything's fine." Jimmy answers quickly. "Actually, would you consider doing me a favor and reading it? I have to delete it when you're finished. But, I'd really like you to read it first. And I think Tim would, too."
"Oh?" Ducky's curiosity is peaked and he makes his way over to the desk and sits down in the desk chair Jimmy has just vacated for him. Silence descends as the elderly man reads the email. But when he sits back with a bemused look on his face, Jimmy can't help but share in the feeling of relief. Though it's a feeling that's plenty mixed with a sense of loss with Tim's transfer – the knowledge that he still considers them to be family and has trusted them with this information – what little is there – brings a level of comfort that hasn't been tangible with him since he left the team months ago.
"This is a good thing."
"I agree." Jimmy replies as he reaches over and highlights everything in the email and deletes it before deleting the message itself. Going through the motions – he deletes the message from the trash can as well as the deleted files folder. "I'll reply to him from home tonight. I want to keep it out of the office."
"A wise decision, young man. One I'm sure Timothy will appreciate." Ducky offers. "And on that note, we will return to our duties so that we may both enjoy what will be left of our evening."
"Agreed." Jimmy replies with a smile. It's been a long time coming, but finally, he's at peace with all things MCRT – well, Tim's reassignment, aside that is.