Frames of Reference

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed. And after Synergy, thank goodness this flashfic is actually of flashfic length!

Time passes more slowly in Mexico than it does in the rest of the world.

At least, that's how it seems to Gibbs, now that he's back in D.C. Or maybe it's not Mexico that's the problem. Maybe it's trip there and back that slowed things down, the process of travel subjecting Gibbs to Einstein's time dilation.

However it happened, the end result is that while Gibbs was struggling to pull together the pieces of himself as he is (or was), the rest of the world has moved past him, progressed further, grown. Changed. Being forced to play catch up all over again is...unsettling.

It's not that he expected the world to stand still--or at least slow down to his pace--and wait for him. He just didn't care. It didn't matter what passed him by, because he wasn't going back. Hell, he wanted all the bullshit and the changes that clashed so harshly with his sense of himself to pass him by.

But he's been tossed back into the middle of it now and it's harder than he expected to pretend like he's the same as he always has been. He's not entirely sure he's succeeding; the strange looks his team shoots him covertly (at least, they think they're being covert) when he does something simple like hand them coffee tells him he's not getting it quite right.

Hopefully they'll get used to it, because he doesn't think he's going to get much closer to how he was.

Of all the changes, all the people and relationships that have grown past Gibbs, Tony is the most obvious, his differences the most jarring. Gibbs remembers a young man with excellent investigative instincts who could use a little more discipline. He remembers moments of inspiration and long, hard nights when he and Tony were the only ones who managed not to pass out, but he also remembers Tony goofing off and spending as much effort on investigating his coworkers as on the case.

But Gibbs can't be sure if Tony has changed or if his memory is at fault, more of Tony's finer moments edited out of his recollections. Whichever it is, the Tony he finds himself working with now is more focused, more decisive than he's used to.

It's thrown off his rhythm, but instead of irritating him, Gibbs is finding it almost impossible to dismiss Tony the way he used to. It's harder to look away from him, harder to stop thinking about him, harder to stop himself from reaching out to touch. Harder to keep his distance.

Impossible, in fact.

Gibbs reaches up and knocks on Tony's door, hoping the man hasn't been watching him through the peephole, because he's been standing here an embarrassingly long time. Thankfully, the door takes a few seconds to open, but Gibbs doesn't have much time for relief because Tony is wearing shorts and a t-shirt and his skin is sheened with sweat. He must have been in the middle of a workout.

"Gibbs," he says, not sounding the least bit surprised, and smiles. "Come on in. Have a cup of coffee."

Gibbs steps across the threshold and smiles...and he and Tony snapped back into the same frame of reference.