"You coming down, Tim, or you gonna stand there all night?"
Tim blinked and shook himself. He wasn't sure why he'd thought for a moment Gibbs wouldn't realise he was here. Wouldn't have expected him. After over a decade Gibbs' tendency to appear omniscient could still take Tim by surprise.
"Ahhh, sorry. Um."
He could practically hear Gibbs roll his eyes.
"Ain't gettin' any younger, McGee."
Tim took a deep breath and started down the stairs. He hadn't really meant to come here - he and Gibbs had become closer over the years, but it wasn't like they'd ever had the kind of relationship where Tim would just turn up at Gibbs' house for tea and sympathy, or even for bourbon and a slap upside the head.
Tim would usually go to Abby or talk to Delilah, or if he needed a guy's perspective, he'd talk to Tony. And well... that was kind of the point.
He made his way down to where Gibbs was doing something mysterious and manly with some wood, and stood uncertainly at the foot of the stairs.
Gibbs hadn't turned toward him or even acknowledged his presence beyond ordering him to come down, but that wasn't unexpected. Gibbs didn't do 'making things easy.' Tim fiddled with the hem of his jacket and tried to find a way to start the conversation. He'd never been good at small talk, but that wasn't exactly Gibbs' forte either. But big talk (or at least medium talk) with Gibbs was a new thing, and Tim wasn't really sure how to begin.
Eventually Gibbs sighed - okay, Tim could definitely hear Gibbs rolling his eyes - and looked over his shoulder. "What's on your mind, Tim?"
Something else Tim'd never entirely gotten used to - Gibbs calling him by his given name. He wasn't sure exactly when it had changed (and Gibbs was prone to barking out 'McGee!' when he wasn't feeling patient, which was still most of the time), and he mostly liked it. It felt like Gibbs regarded him as more of an equal these days. Tim was pretty sure he'd never feel comfortable calling Gibbs 'Jethro', but he did appreciate not feeling like the newbie, the probie, he'd been for so long.
After a long moment of silence, Gibbs gestured toward a battered couch. Tim perched on one end, obedience ingrained after all these years.
Gibbs dusted a couple jars and poured half an inch of spirit into each, then sat at the other end of the couch. "Spit it out," he said as he passed one of the jars to Tim, but his voice was softer now.
Tim sighed. "It's stupid." He knew exactly what the issue was, but he felt like an idiot, like he'd expected something he never should've expected, like he'd put too much stock into a relationship that obviously hadn't meant as much as he'd thought. Saying all that - admitting his own stupidity - that wasn't easy.
Gibbs didn't quite manage to tame his smirk, but he nodded. He looked at Tim for a long moment then, when it became obvious nothing more was forthcoming, said, "You miss Tony."
"How did you-?"
Gibbs' smirk really came out of hiding then. "I ain't stupid, Tim."
Heat rose in Tim's cheeks.
"You've been moping around like a kicked puppy."
An eyebrow was the only answer he got to that, and he sighed again. Was he really that transparent?
"I just..." He let one foot scuff at the floor. "I thought our friendship was..." Was what? Tim had never been completely sure where he stood with Tony - Tony was undeniably one of his best friends, and he'd hoped that Tony felt the same way about him, but... "I just thought it was more."
"More than what?"
"More than... more than something he could just walk away from!"
Tim had Delilah, and he was more grateful for that than he could say, but facing down the first Christmas without Tony, without his best friend, it just- it hurt. He hadn't thought they'd lose touch. He'd definitely thought that if they did lose touch, Tony would use the excuse of the holiday season to call or write or something.
Gibbs let out a long sigh of his own. "Kinda had a lot on his mind. Tony never was good at dealin' with emotions."
Tim screwed up his face. "I would've helped," he said quietly.
A low, humourless laugh. "Ahhh. It ain't that simple," Gibbs murmured.
"He's my friend, I would've..." What would he have done? With Tony an ocean away, it was hard to know, but he thought, he hoped, that Tony would know he could reach out. The radio silence made him feel like Tony had given up on him, hadn't trusted him to be there. And Tony moving to France felt like all the connections - the family he had here - hadn't meant as much to him as Tim had thought. "I would've tried," he said at last. "I never thought he'd disappear so easily."
Another dry laugh. "Nothing easy about it," Gibbs said with conviction. "Tim-" He stopped, shook his head. "Havin' kids, it's... it changes your whole life."
A long pause. With anyone else, Tim would've asked questions, tried to get them to open up, but he knew Gibbs well enough to realise that was a fool's errand here. Gibbs was thinking, and he'd speak when he was ready, and that was all there was to it.
Gibbs got up, topped up his paint jar and took a swig. He didn't come sit back down, just stood there, looking off into the distance, like he was seeing something Tim couldn't. "You gotta understand," he said, and his voice was low and rough now, "that he missed out on so much. That Ziver-" His voice cracked over the name, and he stopped again for a moment. "That he was as much angry as grievin'. That he was messed up." Gibbs caught Tim's eye. "He missed years of his little girl growing up, Tim. He missed Ziva bein' pregnant, bein' a mom. You can't... you can't put a price on that. You can never get it back."
Tim frowned. "But... did he have to go so far away?"
"Din't have to. Maybe needed to."
Tim looked at his knees. Tried to imagine how Tony must've felt suddenly realising he was a parent... that he'd been a parent for all that time without even knowing. Tim could barely even imagine being a parent, never mind what had happened to Tony.
Silence fell again. Gibbs didn't seem to have anything else to add, and Tim, well, he didn't know what to say or to think. If Tony had gone away because he needed that space, what was Tim supposed to do? Leave him be? Wait for him to call? Brood over what ifs and maybes?
"I just... I thought-" Tim let out a chuckle. It felt pathetic to say, but he'd come here to seek... wisdom, or advice, or maybe just to be told not to be an idiot, so he might as well be honest. "I miss him. I thought he'd miss me, too."
Gibbs came and sat down again, clapped a hand on Tim's shoulder. "Who says he doesn't?"
Tim looked over. "If he misses me, he has a funny way of showing it."
"Maybe he thinks he's left it too long. Maybe he's scared of turning up and finding out you've given up on him."
Gibbs' voice was low and sad, and Tim suddenly wondered if he wasn't just hypothesising, if maybe he'd been in Tony's position and had been let down by someone who was supposed to be a friend. Tim was still kind of mad at Tony, or at least he wanted to be, but the idea Tony might need his friendship and not feel certain of it was painfully plausible.
For all his bravado, Tony could be insecure, downright needy; it was one thing to needle and tease one another, to ignore or even be cruel, when every day they put their lives in each other's hands. Those bonds could take the abuse. Now Tony didn't need someone watching his back, but the flip side of that was not being reassured day after day there was someone who would take a bullet for him. It occurred to Tim that it could be a lonely thing, to go from the fraternity of law enforcement to being a single parent in a foreign country.
That didn't mean he wouldn't still tear Tony a new one for being out of touch, of course.
"I don't give up on people," he said at last.
"Leave no one behind."
"Tony knew that, didn't he?"
Gibbs gave him a crooked grin. "Maybe he needs reminding."
Tim grimaced. "He's an idiot."
The only response he got to that was a 'Well, duh' expression, which he really should've expected. Tim wondered if Gibbs was fighting the temptation to say it took one to know one. "So I should... call him? Maybe email him?"
Gibbs chuckled. "Can't tell you that, Tim. You know Tony at least as well as I do-"
Tim looked up sharply - he'd honestly always felt like Tony and Gibbs had a connection that unintentionally excluded him.
Gibbs didn't seem to have noticed his surprise. "You know better'n me how to get hold of him. Bet he'd be happy to hear from ya, at any rate."
Gibbs looked skyward, like it was the dumbest question he'd ever heard and he was petitioning heaven for patience, but he was smiling more broadly now. "You really need me to say it, Tim?"
Tim couldn't help smiling back. "I guess not."
"Good. 'Cause I wouldn't employ anyone that stupid."
"I just... I hope he's okay." Tim was reasonably sure his darker concerns were unfounded - if anything like that had happened, news would've got to them. But it would make him feel better if he knew for sure.
"One way to find out," said Gibbs, ever the pragmatic one.
"Stop worrying. Go back home to Delilah." He squeezed Tim's shoulder reassuringly for a moment. "You got better things to do than sitting 'round in an old man's basement wondering what mess DiNozzo might've gotten himself into. If you want to know how he's doing, stop thinking and just write the man."
"Easy as that?"
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "No one said anythin' about easy, McGee. Sure is plenty simple, though."
Tim pulled a face at that qualification, but Gibbs probably had a point. If Tony wouldn't reach out, then Tim would have to do it himself, but in the end, it was worth it when it was someone you cared about. Maybe he shouldn't need a kick up the ass, but obviously on some level he'd known he did, because why else would he have come to Gibbs? If Tim had wanted a shoulder to cry on besides Delilah's, he would've gone to Ellie or Abby. Gibbs didn't pull his punches.
Tim looked down at his bourbon, then sheepishly back at Gibbs. He hadn't drunk more than the tiniest sip. "Hard liquor's not really my thing," he admitted with a self-deprecating smile.
"Just glad it turned out you didn't need it," Gibbs shot back with a smirk, relieving Tim of the jar and downing it himself without even wincing. (Tim was mildly impressed.) "Now get outta here."
There didn't seem much else to say. Tim levered himself up, Gibbs followed, and for a slightly awkward moment they stood there looking at one another. With someone else, this would be when they'd hug it out, but while Tim was a lot more comfortable with Gibbs these days, there was no way he was gonna initiate a hug.
Gibbs smirked again, and Tim wondered if his thought process was that transparent. (Again.) But then Gibbs clasped his shoulder for a second, his smirk warming to a grin, before turning Tim toward the stairs and giving him a gentle but definite shove.
Tim chuckled and followed the silent order. Halfway up the stairs he paused and turned back for a moment.
Gibbs looked up at him, his face a question.
A smile, and a nod, and Gibbs lifted his jar in toast.
Tim grinned back, feeling inexplicably better about life, and then he did as he was told and went back home to Delilah.
~ fin ~