A/N: This bunny came to me on the heels of last night's episode.


Although extremely late, his basement visitor isn't entirely unexpected. In fact, Gibbs has been expecting him for hours now. Having sent the guys home at 1900, the Team Leader himself had made short work of wrapping the day's work up and coming home to unwind after the stressful case they'd just put to bed. They'd done good on this case, his boys; especially Tony. Oh, there was no doubt the Senior Field Agent needed a good head-slap or two; for hiding his insomnia; for asking his team mate to hide it from the boss and for going after a suspect alone and without at least clueing the boss in. All risks that were unacceptable.

Even with all that hanging over them, Gibbs knows DiNozzo won't be his guest tonight. No, tonight, Tony will be sleeping; at his desk in the squad room – but at least he'll finally be getting some shut-eye. For that the boss can only feel relieved.

Tim, however, is a different story. Forever trying to be the utmost gentleman and abide by the rules, the younger man's visit here now is definitely not a surprise, even if the lateness of the hour he finally arrived is. For all his intensity and dogged persistence in the search for the boss' approval, Tim's quandary of choosing to protect Tony's rear rather than save face with Gibbs, hadn't gone unnoticed. Then again, ever since Ziva's departure, not much has escaped the boss' notice.

Like how Tony was right in that no one will even say Ziva's name now, not even Tim. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that his former agent's decision to leave the team has greatly affected those left on that team; all of them. Maybe that's why Tim made the choice he'd made – to safeguard Tony's secret – despite the fact that it was anything but safe to do. For all he knows, his junior agent probably feared Tony's wrath and displeasure more than the frown of disappointment Gibbs would be giving him. Although that doesn't sound like the Tim McGee he knows, Gibbs also realizes that times are changing and so are his people; even those he's never taken the time to really get to know before, like Tim.

"Hey, Boss." Tim's timid greeting breaks through his thoughts.

"McGee."

"I know it's late. I'm really sorry about that but…."

"Just spit it out, McGee." Gibbs orders wearily. "What's got you so tied up you came to me?"

Tim blinks. Did he just mean that the way it sounded? Is the man pissed because Tim came to him at all? The first time he's ever come here on his own and he suddenly wishes he hadn't. Maybe coming here to fess up and ask for forgiveness wasn't the brightest idea he's had in a while; but it certainly wasn't the dumbest either. Still, with Gibbs this grumpy and the lateness of the hour…

"McGee!"

Brought back to the present, Tim swallows hard and lets his thoughts have his voice. "I needed to ask you ….that is….Boss, I keep thinking about the way I handled what I found out and didn't tell you and…well, I think I should have told you."

"Yeah, you should have, McGee." Gibbs growled at him.

"Boss, I'm.."

"Don't!"

Tim looks away. He hates it when things get this bad between him and Gibbs. It's hard enough to tow the straight and narrow with the boss as it is. Throw in the curveball that is Tony's way of handling things and the line between what he should do and what is expected from him by his teammate with seniority and with whom he has to work much more closely every day becomes seriously thin and blurry. The way he sees it, it was a predicament he'd probably handle differently if he had to do it again, but if the boss is too pissed at him to hear that, what good does that do him now?

As Gibbs returns his attention to his repair project, Tim can't help but feel dismissed. A jolt of anger rises up and before he can stop himself, the question he's been dying to know the answer to, is out of his mouth. "Would you?" Despite how disrespectful the question sounds, it's exactly the opposite because he really does want to know how Gibbs would have handled being put in that position.

Gibbs glares at his agent. McGee's not really expecting an answer to that, is he?

The boss' silence in place of an answer seemed only to spur the younger man's boldness on even more, his eyes remaining locked on his boss. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Tim pushes his luck just a little bit more, desperate to hear the man's answer.

"Would you have ratted Mike Franks out? If he'd gone days without sleep and was still going out in the field and carrying?" Tim needs to hear that answer so badly; he can barely sit still as the boss takes his time to mull it over.

The ensuing silence that settled between them was like none before. Finally, after what seems like forever, the air between them is filled with the sound of the boss speaking again.

"Lemme ask you somethin' McGee." Gibbs replies instead of answering the question.

Tim silently awaits whatever is coming down the pike.

"When did you stop trusting me?"

*****NCIS*****

Strolling into work the next day, Tony stops in his tracks as his eyes take in the two foot pile of case folders on Tim's desk and the fact that it's barely 0659 and the kid is already engrossed in reading one of them while tapping away on his keyboard as if successfully multi-tasking. There's no way there's this much brain power already engaged so early in the morning, so what the hell is going on? Tony is brimming with curiosity but also feels his gut clench up on him just enough that he knows this isn't some freak example of Tim's push to excel. With no sign of Gibbs in sight, he has the time to inquire.

"McGee?"

"Morning Tony." Tim answers without stopping what he's doing or even taking the time to look Tony's way. His quiet tone sets the older man's Geiger counter for stress nearly off the charts.

"What gives, McWorkaholic?" The Senior Field Agent asks seriously as he approaches his partner.

"Just getting started with the day." Tim answers in the same quiet tone, as if he's done something to be upset with himself about.

"DiNozzo." Gibbs grunts as he strolls through with his coffee and stops only when he reaches his own chair. Sitting down and immediately directing his attention to his own computer screen, the boss says nothing else.

"Mornin', Boss." Tony replies as he turns his body in the direction of the Team Leader's desk. "So, I take it cold cases are up for the day, Boss?"

"Not for you. Go clean out the truck and make sure it's restocked."

"Wow, Boss, you know that if there's one thing I hate more than cold cases, it's truck duty. Besides, that's usually a 'in the dog-house' assignment." Tony remarks, almost as if he's hoping the assignment will be handed off to his teammate in exchange for the dreaded cold cases. Seeing the glare he gets in return from across the room tells Tony he's actually hit the 'dog house' nail on the head. Uh-oh, what the heck's going on here? "Did I miss something, Boss?"

Gibbs' glare changes into a look that says Tony shouldn't even have to ask. "What are you still doin' here, DiNozzo?"

Swallowing hard, Tony kills any further argument. "Right. Okay, then. I'll go clean out the truck and make sure it's restocked." He can't help but glance over at his teammate before he leaves though and is startled to find the younger man steadily multi-tasking, as if he'd completely tuned the rest of the world out. Mentally he shrugs it off. Hmm, maybe he has. It is McGee, after all.

As he heads out, the silence that descends in his wake feels thick enough to cut with a knife. What the hell had he missed between those two? Tony hoped like hell whatever it was, wouldn't last. The air in here was a mite bit uncomfortable to say the least.

****NCIS*****

Lunchtime finds Tony returning to the squad room, only to find Tim still slaving away at the now reduced pile of cases on his desk. "Wow, McStudious. Still at it, huh?"

"Yeah." Tim replies in that same quiet tone as before, as if trying not to disturb the progress he's making.

Tony is momentarily struck dumb as a thought hits him. Huh. The kid hasn't even looked up from his desk at all today, I'll bet. What the hell's goin' on? Finally, with own tone is once again serious because he knows now that something is indeed going on and he really wants to help, he poses the question he needs the answer to: "So, you gonna tell me what the hell's goin' on, Probie?"

"Done, DiNozzo?" Gibbs growls as he comes around the corner, almost as if from out of nowhere.

"Uh, yeah, Boss. All cleaned and restocked." The Senior Field Agent steps back from his partner's desk and swivels to look the boss head on.

"Good. C'mon, you're with me." Gibbs orders as he heads to the elevator, a surprised Tony on his heels.

Although the ride down to the front entrance is a quiet one, it's the open air and room to speak freely that soon has Tony letting the $64,000 question out into the open. "Boss, is something going on I should know about because you know, McGee is…"

"Your partner and partners should cover for each other, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asks dryly with his patented eyebrow march while he waits for Tony to catch up to his meaning.

"Well, yeah, but, OH! Wait, you mean Probie's taking punishment for covering for me?"

Gibbs returning glare says Tony should know that's how things roll with this team. Keeping secrets from the boss is never cool; especially potentially dangerous ones. While Tim had been right on the money to question Tony's carrying a weapon when he was so short on sleep, it wasn't something that should have been kept from Gibbs.

"No, wait, you're not just punishing McGee. I mean, otherwise, he would have had to clean out the truck too, but,…." Tony's verbal reasoning grinds to a halt as his brain glues the pieces of this mess back together for himself. Yeah, of course the boss would be pissed. After all, Tony hadn't asked Tim to keep his mouth shut for the hell of it, right?

***Thwack***

"Ow. Guess I had that one comin' huh?" Tony asks with genuine meekness usually reserved for these quiet man-to-man discussions.

"Ya think, DiNozzo?" Gibbs growls as they continue walking down to the coffee shop. "That one's for asking McGee to cover your ass! And for not comin' to me on your own! "

**Thwack**

"That one's for endangering us all by carrying out in the field when you damned well shouldn'nta been!"

"Boss, I…that is I'm…"

"Don't!" Gibbs warns, not in the mood for listening to apologies. He hadn't accepted one from Tim last night and he damned sure wasn't going listen to one from Tony now. He wanted more from both of them

"It won't happen again, Boss." Tony finally gives the promise he knows the Team Leader needs to hear.

"I know." The man's emphasis on the second word tells Tony, he's out of reprieves and the Senior Field Agent realizes it's his own fault. Now, if only he can get Tim out of the hot seat!

The rest of the walk to and from the coffee shop is completed in contemplative silence, at least, that is, until they reach the building once more. Gibbs turns to head to the service elevator but stops to say one last thing. "Still owe you one, DiNozzo."

"Boss?" Tony is surprised. The man's already doled out two. What's a third one for?

"Are we a team or not, Tony?"

Oh. Right! The lone wolf routine! Yeah, Tony realizes he should have seen this coming because the boss is right. He should never have gone off without telling his Team Leader where he was going. Before he can even offer to promise that it won't happen again, Gibbs is gone, having made his point.

****NCIS*****

"When did you stop trusting me?"

Try as he might, Tim has not been able to get that question out of his head all day. Even the brief exchange of words that had followed it still remained stuck in his head now.

"What? Stop..? No, Boss, I…"

"First your Creds, now Tony, what's next, McGee?"

How can he explain that he's never stopped trusting his Team Leader? How does one explain the unwillingness to be on the receiving end of the man's ire or displeasure or even disappointment? The trouble is now that he's made the choices he's made while trying to avoid all of those, he's landed himself right smack dab in the middle of it all, anyway!

Suddenly, covering for Tony's insomnia doesn't seem to have been worth it. Even though Gibbs never answered Tim's question, the young man already knows the answer; Gibbs would have done the same thing. Then again, the leadership styles between Gibbs and Mike Franks, while cut from some of the same cloth, were different enough that this is probably not a valid argument.

This leaves Tim feeling conflicted. Should he have thrown Tony under the bus in favor of not keeping secrets from the boss? How does one answer that? Blinking to clear his vision, Tim returns to his endless supply of punishment. Truth be told, he doesn't mind it, at least, not nearly as much as he minds the boss actually believing Tim doesn't trust him anymore. The bigger question weighing on Tim's mind now is whether or not this means Gibbs is questioning the trust he has in Tim!

Obviously, Gibbs thinks that Tim screwed up in both cases by not coming clean with him. For himself and his lost creditentials, that's a no-brainer. But with Tony; well, there has to be some logic there or he wouldn't have warned the older man himself that he shouldn't have been carrying in that state. Yeah, he had to admit it. Gibbs is right. On both counts.

Considering the man had barely wanted to talk to him last night, Tim doesn't have a clue how to work this out with him. He hates like hell to leave it like this between them even for as long as it's been. Their conversation was over and done by 2345 last night and it's now well over twelve hours later – leaving Tim with a genuine weight of worry that this will cause a rift that won't be fixable. He sighs in frustration. Not being straight with Gibbs is definitely NOT worth it!

Seeing Tony come back to the squad room alone has Tim up and out of his chair for the first time all day, in no time flat. "Tony. We need to talk."

"Yeah, Tim. We do. I shouldn't have told you to keep my insomnia from Gibbs. I'm sorry, man."

"Thanks. But, I have to take the responsibility too. I mean, I did choose to listen to you, right?"

"Bottom line, McGee. We both screwed up."

"I know." Tim sighs. "I mean Gibbs really thinks I don't trust him enough to talk to him! I can't believe I let things get this far out of hand."

"Ditto." Tony admits quietly.

Tim frowns. Since Ziva left, it's just the three of them and they should be strengthening their team, not tearing it apart like this. "I just wish I knew how to fix it"

"Don't let it happen again." Gibbs throws in as he returns to the squad room behind them in stealth mode.

With quiet huffs of relieved laughter, both Tony and Tim answer without missing a beat. "Yes, Boss."

~~~FINIS~~~