Actions

Work Header

Albatross

Work Text:

Navy Yard Medical Offices :Friday 8pm.

 

“Good Evening, Special Agent McGee.”

“Doctor Avery.” The sad-eyed man in the waiting room almost came to attention at her greeting. He shook her hand and the flicker of a smile washed over his face, though neither of them was under the illusion that it was anything more than a polite fabrication

It was a formal interaction, a strategy they had adopted to get over the patient’s obvious reluctance to step over the threshold into her territory and bare his psyche for her scrutiny. And yet he came here of his own volition; he was not under orders, indeed none of his colleagues nor his superiors knew of his fortnightly visits, nor of the efforts he was prepared to make to keep them private.

As on every other visit he avoided the couch and the comfy chair, choosing instead the window seat with its view out over the Potomac. It was unusual for him to be here after dark and for several minutes he scrutinised the night time panorama of the DC skyline. From this seat he didn’t have to look at her and from her position she could only see his face in profile but she deduced much from the defeated slump of his shoulders and the anxious, restless wringing of his hands.

“Tim.” Her voice jogged his attention back to the present and a quick glance at his watch told him that ten minutes had passed in silence. “Tim, how has your week been?”

He was on borrowed time, the both knew that, and he was very afraid that, despite his best efforts, his world was crumbling around him. Normally he came early on a Saturday morning but this was a Friday evening and he looked as exhausted and dejected as she had ever seen him

He wasn’t by nature a rude man and he couldn’t bring himself to ignore her gentle enquiry but he was reluctant to answer, to give voice to the untruth that he was fine when they would both recognise it for the lie it was.

“Do you want the truth or the pretence,” he shrugged finally.

“Anything but the truth is wasted here, Tim,”

“I don’t think I can keep on pretending for much longer. Every day it gets harder and harder. I see them looking at me sometimes and I think they can see inside my head, that they can hear the thoughts that I have to keep hidden.”

“Why do you have to keep them hidden, Tim? Don’t you think they will understand?”

“No.” He laughed bitterly. “No, they won’t, they can’t understand. They don’t know what it is like for me - they don’t see things the way I do. . .they never have. They get better at their jobs and I have to keep trying harder and harder just to keep up. . .and I can’t. I’m just so tired. I just want it all to stop.”

“Tim, last time you were here we discussed you taking some sick leave. . .have you reconsidered it?”

“I can’t, not right now.”

“Tim, no one is indispensible.”

“You don’t understand! We’re just about ready to wrap up a really big case. It’s been going on for weeks. . .months. And it’s not just our agency. I can’t just walk off the job now. I can’t.” He pulled a folded and slightly crumpled paper from his jacket and slapped it down onto the cushion beside him.

She recognised the paper as the request for sick leave she had signed at his last appointment. She was worried that he had still not handed it in. She knew it was risky to push him but the situation was fast becoming critical.“Yes, you can, Tim. You’ve been carrying that sick note around for two weeks and instead of handing it in and taking the time you need to rest and heal you have been pushing yourself further into the ground.”

“I need to be there!” He picked up the paper and ripped it into smaller and smaller pieces until it fluttered like confetti to the carpet at his feet.

She was concerned by his sudden and uncharacteristic expression of agitation but she schooled her features to neutrality just in case he happened to see it, though she knew from past experience that he very rarely looked at her during their sessions.

“Tim, you said you’re tired. Have you been sleeping any better?”

“I’ve been busy,”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” she chided him gently. He shrugged his shoulders and gazed off at the view from the window.

“Tim! How many hours sleep a night are you getting?”

“Some!”

“How many hours?” she demanded more forcefully.

“Three or four,” he finally admitted.

“Tim, that’s not enough, not with the type of job you do!”

“I’ve been working. . .writing. . .doing research. . .it takes time!”

“That’s time you can’t afford. . .not if you want to keep functioning.” Again his only response was a shrug of the shoulders.

“Tim, I want you to describe to me your normal routine. . .your normal day. I need to understand what you are trying to deal with.”

“My life is very, very boring, believe me. I get into work at about six. I spend an hour in the gym and am at my desk by 7.30.”

“You exercise every day?”

“You told me I needed to keep active, that the endorphins would help me to feel better,” he challenged.

“That’s true, Tim, but without proper rest and food you are just stressing your body further and don’t tell me you are eating well because I can see from the cut of your suit that you have lost more weight!”

“I do eat!” he grumbled petulantly

“When do you get breakfast?”

“I have a coffee and a danish at my desk while I’m waiting for the others to arrive.” He cringed when he heard her pained sigh at his admission.

“OK, and then?”

“Then I work. . .we usually eat on the run if we’re out on a case or we grab a bite at lunchtime from the food court depending on what’s happening.”

“And ?”

“And then we work till the job’s done. I go home, eat dinner and wait for the whole process to start over again!”

“There are a lot of ‘home’ hours unaccounted for if you are only sleeping for three or four! How long do you spend writing and researching?”

“All the ones in-between” he answered facetiously but then he was swamped with guilt at his unaccustomed rudeness and he whispered a quiet “Sorry”

“It’s alright, Tim, you can be as rude to me as you like, I won’t shatter. I think that there is something that you are hiding, something that frightens you. Can you tell me about it?”

“Not a good idea!”

“Tim, you need to be honest and open with me. I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me, if you don’t make me understand!”

“I. . .I don’t. . .I can’t. . .please don’t ask me anymore.” He was suddenly very distressed and she was half afraid that he would bolt for the door. She had never once seen him lose control . He kept his emotions locked down so tightly that she knew he was hurting himself with his efforts at self-mastery.

He wanted to bolt, to get out before he would have to explain but as he was contemplating forcing his legs to support his escape she was facing him on the window seat his hands clasped gently but firmly within her grasp. “Easy, Tim. Just take a deep breath. You are safe here. Take a breath and relax.” Her voice and her presence were a comfort but it took a while for his racing pulse to settle and for the overwhelming feeling of panic to pass. Once he had regained a little composure she poured him a glass of water and sat quietly beside him whilst he took a shaky swallow.

“Tim, do you trust me?”

“Yes.” His voice was barely more than a whisper.

“I’m here to help you but I can’t do that unless I really understand what is happening. Can you tell me what just happened?”

“I. . .I. . .think I might just be going crazy” The fear in his voice was palpable and heartrending.

“Why, Tim? Why do you think that?”

“I keep losing time! I keep finding myself in places and I don’t know how I got there or how long I’ve been there!”

“How much time do you lose? Could you just be falling asleep?”

“No. One night last week I was doing some online research for my book and I ‘came to’ several hours later with no recollection of how those hours had passed.”

“And you’re sure you weren’t just asleep at the keyboard ?”

“No. I looked back on my browsing history and I had visited dozens of sites, I’d even bookmarked pages. . .and I have no recollection of doing it or of what I had read.”

“And has it happened at work?”

“No. No ,not yet. . .as far as I am aware. But yesterday after work I got into my car to drive home and I found myself in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Fairfax. . .I’d driven miles out of my way, through the rush-hour. . .and the whole journey is a blank!”

“Tim. I can’t say that I’m not concerned about this but these are all recognised symptoms of depression and I think we both have to acknowledge that the time has come to accept that counselling is not enough to treat your symptoms.”

“If you are suggesting anti-depressants then the answer is no! I don’t want to go down that road, not again.”

“Tim, depression is an illness. If you had an infection you would take antibiotics, if you were diabetic you would take insulin. . .depression is an illness and drugs are very effective at helping to control the symptoms.”

“But at what cost!”

“Tim, you are getting to the stage where you can no longer function safely, especially not in your job. You should have been on sick leave two weeks ago.”

“It hasn’t affected my work. . .it hasn’t! And I won’t be able to do my job, to function properly if I take the pills. . .they make me slow. . .disorientated. . .They fill my head with cotton-wool!”

“But what if it does affect your work! What if you blank out in the middle of a field assignment. . .you would be putting yourself and your colleagues and members of the public at risk.

“Look, I just need a few more days; just until the operation is over. I have Friday booked as a day’s leave, I’ll have a three-day weekend to relax and recharge my batteries,” he offered desperately

“Tim, I have a responsibility to you and to the Service. . .and I just don’t think you are fit for duty. . .not as things stand.”

“What can I do?. . .please, there must be something.”

“Why is it so important that you are in at the end of this operation? Is it really worth your health. . .your peace of mind?”

“I’m the one who made the connection. I was the one who realised that the case we were investigating was a whole lot bigger and more complicated that we first realised. We thought it was just a case of murder but it turned out to be theft, embezzlement ,extortion with links right up into the pentagon. . .the FBI and the DHS are all involved but it’s MY case. . .I want to see it through!”

“Tim, you’re exhausted, you’re having blackouts. . .”

“I’ll go home and rest. . .I’ve got the whole weekend. . .”

“Tim, you haven’t been sleeping! You haven’t slept properly for days. . .for weeks! What makes you think you will sleep this weekend”

“Please, Dr Avery. Give me another week. . .I’ll even take the blasted pills.”

“Tim, I don’t need to tell you that it can take weeks for antidepressants to make a noticeable difference to symptoms. There is no quick fix for this. This has been building for months, probably for years. You can’t go on pretending that you are able to deal with your life as it is now.”

“I know. I Know! I’ve let it all get to me and I want it to change. . .I don’t want to be like this anymore. . .but please, let me finish this, let me have just one moment of. . .of worth!”

“Of worth! Tim, you were picked for the most prestigious team of a top Federal agency, you are a highly successful author and you are a good man! Why do you still feel the need to prove that you are worthy of all you have achieved!”

“Because I can’t do it like they do. I can’t be like them. . .I’m not like them and I never will be. . .IQ and degrees just don’t count if you can’t hack the job. I love what I do, I love the job. . .it’s all I ever wanted. . .but the longer I stay there the more I realise that I’m a square peg trying to force myself to conform to a round hole. . . I just don’t fit!”

“Tim you rarely mention your team-mates. . .not since you first came to see me. Are they part of the problem?”

“NO! I’m the problem.”

“Do they still give you a hard time?”

“No, if anything they are nicer to me now than they’ve ever been. . .I mean, I still get teased, especially by Tony. . .”

“Tony is the senior Field Agent?”

“Yes”

“But he’s stopped with most of the pranks, and more often than not he even uses my name rather than one of the very many nicknames he’s invented over the years but mostly, now, well, he leaves me alone.”

“And who else?”

“Ziva. . .she’s OK, very self contained and more than a little scary on occasion but we get along.”

“And your boss? How are things with him now? I remember he was the catalyst that brought you to me in the first place.”

She noticed the sudden tension in his posture and as her patient gathered his thoughts she looked back over his case notes and recalled the distraught and stricken state of the man before her when he had first been referred to her by Dr Mallard six months previously. Then it had taken nearly two hours for him to finally voice what had brought him to such a low point. . .a public, humiliating punishment that he considered was undeserved and unjust He was hurt then by an overwhelming sense of betrayal by his boss and by his friend Abby. But she and Dr Mallard had helped him get past that, had helped him to confront his boss and his friend in his typically non-confrontational manner. He’d forgiven them but the damage the incident had caused had never really healed, although he had managed to conceal the fact from those who took his outwardly calm demeanour at face value.

“Gibbs is Gibbs,” he shrugged finally. “He’s the boss. He works us as hard as he works himself. . .he sets high standards and . . .”

“Do you trust him, after everything that’s happened between you?”

“I do trust him. I have to trust him. . . “

“But!”

“No. No buts. Out in the field we have to trust each other. . .all of us; Gibbs, Tony, Ziva, we’re a team. . .we look out for each other.”

“And what about when you’re not in the field?” He didn’t answer her question and from the closed off expression in his eyes she knew that whatever he was hiding was still buried too deep for her to get at.

“Tim, have you confided in anyone about how you’ve been feeling recently?”

“No,” he laughed bitterly, “who could I tell!. . .I sometimes think Ducky might suspect but he is too polite to ask. . .or perhaps not. . . but I think if he were really concerned he’d have invited me down to his lair to ply me with tea or maybe even a dram of his finest Scotch until I confessed all my deepest darkest secrets.”

“I can imagine that he is rather tenacious when he has a mystery to solve.”

“Yes, Ducky likes puzzles . . .he’s our ME but talks to his patients, you know. . .it was quite disconcerting when I first worked there. . .but Ducky. .. well, he’s a law unto himself, he can give a severe tongue lashing without ever raising his voice. . .even Gibbs isn’t immune to his tirades when Ducky thinks he’s deserved it.”

She studied him intently for a few moments and he forced himself to bear the scrutiny. She could see his desperation and she wanted nothing more than to give him the leeway he wanted but she just couldn’t ignore his obvious exhaustion nor discount her worry about the true depth to which he had slipped.

“Tim,” she said finally “ I have a suggestion to offer but I need to check something first. Sit tight for a moment while I make a call.”

“You’re not going to call my boss, are you?” The insecurity in his softly spoken plea tugged at her heartstrings and she feared she was losing her ability to judge this case dispassionately.

“Tim, what happened to trust!” she chided with a sad smile as she stepped outside to the outer office to make a call.

Tim let his mind wander. Of all the things he regretted about the last few months what hurt him most was his estrangement from Abby. They had been friends even before he was assigned to Gibbs’ team, had been lovers for a while and their friendship had survived when the intimate relationship had not but she had been his friend. . .right up until the moment when she had betrayed his trust and his friendship. . .when she had allowed Mikel into his home and had allowed him to face Gibbs’ wrath for the incident. Somehow it didn’t matter that he had confronted them both about the way they had treated him; he had accepted her apologies but the trust was gone and neither of them had found a way to repair the breach. Tim had buried himself in his writing and Abby had thrown herself into a new relationship. Tim mourned for what had been lost, knowing that he had failed yet again.

When she returned ten minutes later he was still in the window seat, his forehead pressed to the glass with his eyes closed though from the way his hands were still twisting she knew that he wasn’t sleeping.

“Tim?” she spoke quietly and he jolted back to full awareness.

“Tim, I’m going to admit you to sick-bay. . .”

“No, you can’t. . .I told you I need to finish the case.”

“This is just for the weekend,” she assured him. “ As long as you co-operate with me over this and accept what I propose then I hope you will be fit enough to work next week.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I will have no other option but to report my assessment that you are unfit for duty.”

“What happened to patient confidentiality?”

“Tim, when you first consulted me, I explained to you that I was engaged by the Service and that I had a duty of responsibility to them and to you. . .you accepted that then and chose to continue seeing me rather than seeing a doctor not connected to your work. . .I’m afraid that that bird has now come to roost.”

“What do I have to do?” he asked, defeated by his own impotence.

“Do you have any plans for the weekend? Do you need to inform anyone where you will be?”

“No. I have no plans,” he laughed bitterly, “ and our team is not on call. I was going to spend the weekend continuing my research for my writing,” he explained. “Will I have a chance to go home? I have nothing with me for a weekend stay.”

“No,” she smiled but she wasn’t about to allow him to get away and have the chance to change his mind. “If I know you, Tim, you have an overnight bag and a change of clothes in your car or your locker. . .”

“I do,” he admitted.

“Then let’s go and fetch them and head over to sick-bay. The sooner we get you settled, the sooner we can start to help you feel better.”

 

NCIS Squad room. Monday 8.30am

 

“Where the hell’s McGee?” Gibb’s irate bark was loud enough to silence all the background chatter in the bullpen and to bring several heads peering up over the cubicle dividers.

“Ya, want something?” he demanded of the gawkers as he raked them with a glare. The heads disappeared and the hum of subdued chatter resumed

“Well, DiNozzo?”

“Sorry, Boss, he’s not picking up,” Tony explained; he looked across to Ziva, his glance asking for rescue.

“Perhaps McGee is unwell,” she offered.

“He will be unwell if he doesn’t get his butt in here within the next two minutes. We have a briefing for all the Agency team leaders at 09.00hrs.”

“I’m sure McGee has a good reason to be late, Gibbs. It is not like him to be late. . .he is always first in,” Ziva offered. It was true, she realised, it was the first time in weeks that McGee had not beaten them all in.

“Well, he’s not first today is he, Officer David!”

“No, he is not.”

“Ziva, try Abby, see if she knows anything.”

“ DiNozzo!”

“Yes, Boss?”

“Go check with MTAC that we are all set up for the briefing.”

“On it, Boss.. . .Eh, Boss, what about McGee?”

“Unless you can conjure him up out of thin air. . .he’s the least of my worries! I’ll deal with him later.”

As his agents disappeared to do his bidding, Gibbs was unable to ignore the empty desk opposite nor was he able to push aside his gut-feeling that he had waited too long to try to resolve the ongoing tension he had sensed in his youngest team member. Gibbs was all too aware that McGee was not up to par and had become increasingly subdued, though the changes in his behaviour had occurred so subtly that he wasn’t sure the others had noticed. . .no, that wasn’t right, he corrected himself silently. . .Tony’s treatment of McGee had altered over the last few months. It wasn’t that he treated him with kid gloves, the teasing was still there but it was gentler. . .without the brotherly malice of their earlier interactions. And Abby. . .well, it seemed that she and McGee were now little more than team-mates; Tim rarely went down to the Lab and when he did their interactions were cordial and professional but their special relationship was definitely over and that thought saddened Gibbs.

Gibbs picked up his cell and punched speed dial with an aggression that was likely to shorten the life of yet another phone. In the silence of the bull-pen a feint buzzing caught his attention only to be silenced when the call went to answer-phone. Peering over McGee’s desk he spied something they had all missed. . .McGee’s cell was plugged into its charger on the shelf behind his chair and on closer inspection he could see the strap of a backpack pushed under the desk.

“Damnit McGee!” Gibbs growled, venting his frustration by thumping the desk.

“Er, Boss. . .I found McGee!” Tony and McGee jogged down the stairs each carrying a stack of files. McGee dropped the files on his desk and settled into his chair, automatically palming his cell and wincing at the missed calls.

“Well!” Still leaning over his agent’s desk, Gibbs made no effort to remove himself from Tim’s personal space.

“Sorry, Boss. . .I-I forgot to take my charger home. . .won’t happen again, Boss”

“I’m not interested in your phone or your excuses, McGee. What you got for me?”

“MTAC is all set up for the conference, Boss. The surveillance intel from the weekend has been collated. . .Fornell wants to see you later to finalise the details of the operation. He wants his team to take the lead! Full operational control. If all goes to plan the takedown will be Thursday.”

Gibbs took in the info with a nod but he didn’t back away. He interrogated his agent with his most penetrating stare. Tim tolerated it with an equanimity that surprised and reassured him. McGee was paler than usual and the dark circles under his eyes were still too noticeable, but for the first time in weeks McGee did meet his gaze. . .it wasn’t the old McGee by any means but it was a distinct improvement. He was about to step away when he noticed the large bruise on the back of McGee’s hand. Before Tim had a chance to retreat Gibbs grabbed his wrist and examined the bruise more closely.

“Something you want to tell me, McGee?” he growled. This wasn’t just a bruise. . .the puncture wound at its centre couldn’t be explained away by accident or clumsiness. . .this was a medically inflicted injury.

That simple enquiry caused an instant withdrawal. The improvement of a few moments before evaporated like mist in a breeze.

“I-I. . .”

“Spit it out, McGee!”

Tim took a deep breath and held it long enough to be uncomfortable before releasing it in a loud explosive exhale. “Blood test, B-Boss.”

“And?”

“And what, Boss?”

Gibbs growled and grabbed the stammering agent by the collar, pulling him to his feet and towing him towards the elevator.

“Boss!”

“You really wanna discuss it in front of the entire office, McGee?”

“No, Boss”

“Didn’t think so.”

Gibbs didn’t let go of the collar until the doors closed and the elevator lurched to a halt between floors.

“What’s going on, Tim?”

The concerned tone seemed as out of place as the use of his first name. Tim wondered how to survive the encounter with his worried boss with his integrity and his secrets intact. He wondered if he would get away with it if he told the truth but not the whole truth. It was against everything he believed in to try and deceive his boss; the man he both feared and revered.

“I –I saw the doctor on Friday,” he stuttered. . .”I’ve been feeling a bit rough. She drew bloods, told me to get more rest and to look after myself better.”

“And did you?”

Tim winced inwardly. . .he hadn’t just slept, he’d spent most of the weekend in a pharmacologically induced stupor .“I slept most of the weekend, ” he offered finally in response to Gibbs intense but silent interrogation .

“And the test results?”

“I have an appointment to see her a week from today.”

“This is an important week, McGee. . .we can’t afford any screw-ups. You sure you’re fit to be here?”

“She gave me the go-ahead, Boss. I already booked next weekend off . . .Friday thru Sunday. . .”

“That for your publisher’s shindig?”

“I booked it for the writer’s workshop, yes, Boss.” Again it was the truth. . .just not the whole truth. He wasn’t about to admit that his invitation had been withdrawn.

“And if the case runs over?”

“I think our input will be finished on Thursday. . .the FBI will want to get the glory. . .no reason why they shouldn’t get the paperwork too!”

“McGee, you sure you don’t want the glory. . .it’s your case as much as anyone’s.”

“Fornell’s team are welcome to any brownie points they can muster.” Tim explained, with a detachment that sent Gibb’s alarm bells ringing. “To be honest, Boss, I’ll just be glad when it’s over. “

“Me too, McGee. Me too.”

Within the confines of the elevator it was impossible for Tim to evade Gibbs’ increasingly uncomfortable scrutiny and, as he had done so often in the previous months, he kept his eyes down and avoided any chance of meeting his all too perceptive gaze.

“Tim, when this case is over we need to sit down and thrash a few things out. . .things we, things I should have dealt with before now.”

“There’s no need, Boss. . .I’m fine. . .there’s nothing. . .”

“Tim, you’ve never been able to lie convincingly and you’ve never deliberately lied to me before and if I had time now I wouldn’t let this go on a moment longer and I’m damned sorry that I have to put a case before the welfare of one of my team.”

“I know the case is important, Boss.”

“Damnit, McGee, you’re important!” For the first time in months Gibbs punctuated his exclamation by sharply cuffing him. Tim’s eyes watered at the familiar but recently unaccustomed gesture but Gibbs pretended not to notice as he turned around to punch the switch and get the elevator moving. “Monday morning, McGee! You and I are going to sit down and thrash this out,”

“Too little, too late!” Tim whispered bitterly to himself as he followed meekly back to the squad-room.

Abby and Tony were whispering together and Ziva was attempting to look busy as the two returned and from the frigid tension radiating between Gibbs and McGee they all realised that attempts at levity would not be well received.

Gibbs picked up the stack of files from his desk and headed up the stairs two steps at a time. “McGee, you waiting for an invitation!” Gibbs growled “ Abby, you got nothing better to do than gossip!”

“Gibbs!” Abby pouted, “ Tony needed the analysis on Carlyle’s cell phone records.”

Gibbs waved McGee into MTAC before leaning over the balcony. “Unless you three want to spend the next three evenings cleaning out the evidence locker. . . Get To Work!”

“He is not happy!”

“Well spotted, Ziva.”

“What is going on with McGee?”

“Abby?”

“I don’t know guys, I hardly see him these days. . .you spend all day with him, don’t you know?”

“He hasn’t said anything. In fact he’s barely spoken.”

“Perhaps he has writer’s block again. . .last time I asked him about it he said he was working on his next book.”

“I wonder if we’ll be in it.. . I would love to know if Tommy and Lisa get together,” Abby smirked.

“Do you wish to be in it after all the grief we gave McGeek last time. . .do you think he’ll risk it?” Tony offered. “He’s been pretty much keeping his head down . . .you know, keeping in the background, trying to be invisible. . .especially to Gibbs. He used to hide down in the lab when Gibbs was on his case . . .now he spends more of his time up in MTAC doing geeky stuff.”

“You are right, Tony. Since this big case started he has hardly been out in the field with us. . .do you think that is his request?”

“Techy- stuff is what he does best. . . not that he’s not a good field agent. . .but computers are his speciality.”

“And it helps him avoid. . .us!”

“But he’s our friend, Ziva,” Abby protested.

“Is he! Has he been to any of our social events recently? Have you been inside his new apartment? Does he still confide in you or make anything more than polite conversation? Does he even try to respond to your razzing, Tony?. . .No, he has not done so for months.”

“It’s not that bad, Ziva. I’ll admit he has been a little quiet lately. . .”

“Tony, we all know you like to play dumb but you are too good at reading people not to have seen the changes!”

“Look, ladies, McGee will sort himself out. . .everyone goes through bad patches. We just need to give him time and space.”

“How much more time and space will it take before they take him off active duty?”

“It won’t come to that, Ziva,” Tony assured them, “I won’t let it.”

&&&&&&

 

The week that had started out with just a hint of optimism had quickly deteriorated into a blur of misery. After the confrontation with Gibbs in his elevator office, any benefit McGee had gained under Dr Avery’s care had evaporated.

McGee was again hanging by a thread.

He buried himself in his work and tiredly thanked his lucky stars that circumstances kept him apart from those who could read him best. Gibbs, Tony and Ziva were still heavily involved in surveillance of the suspects, spending long hours away from the office. McGee was tasked with collating intel and searching for more leads to connect the underlings to those at the higher layers thought to be the masterminds of the criminal conspiracy.

Tim was at his desk by 06.30, foregoing his usual exercise routine in an effort to get a head start on the day. He worked in MTAC or down in the cybercrimes basement, only stepping away from his console when his body demanded relief. There was no one to monitor the hours he put in nor the strain he was under; his colleagues were as busy as he was.

Only once did he think of seeking some friendly company. On Tuesday morning he set a programme running to collate phone and email records for one of the high ranking suspects. As the system chuntered through the data he became aware of his own discomfort. He had been at the computer for hours without a break; he was tired, dehydrated and so stiff that he let out an involuntary groan as he flexed his tense arms and shoulders.

“Can I get you a coffee or a soda?” he asked Marty, the intel tech next to him, as he painfully unfolded himself from his seat.

“You finally taking a break! Go and get some fresh air, McGee, you look like death warmed over,” Marty offered, barely taking his eyes from his own screen of quickly scrolling data.

“Nice to know I look as good as I feel. What can I get you?”

“Large black coffee, three sugars,” Marty requested.

On his way back from the men’s room he found his feet taking him down the stairs to autopsy. As the doors swished open at his approach McGee took a deep breath, hesitating at the threshold. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been down here for a social visit and even his work related visits had been few and far between recently; he wondered just how warm his reception would be.

“Can I help you?” The unfamiliar, female, voice caught him by surprise and he rocked back on his heels.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I-I was looking for Ducky,” he finally managed to stutter.

“I’m afraid Dr Mallard is unavailable. Is it a professional or a private matter?. . .if it is the former, I believe I may be able to assist you, if it is the latter than I’m afraid it will have to
wait until next week.”

“McGee, I don’t believe you have met Dr Wilson, she is standing in for Ducky this week,” Jimmy explained, walking past carrying a large silver basin of something disgusting-looking.

“Pleased to meet you, Dr Wilson, I’m McGee, Timothy McGee.” Tim offered his hand for a handshake but withdrew it swiftly upon noticing the doctor’s bloodied gloves.

“Ah, so you are the elusive McGee. I have met the rest of your team and Donald briefed me on you all before he left.” Dr Wilson eyed the young agent before her with a smile that faltered when she observed him more closely.

“Was there something you needed, Agent McGee?”

“No-no, thank you. . .it was. . .it was just. . .Is Ducky ill?” he stuttered

“No, don’t fret, he is quite well. He is in Scotland this week. . .attending a medical school reunion, I believe. He will be back on Monday, jet-lag permitting.”

“Oh. Oh, yes, I should have remembered.”

“McGee, is everything okay,” Jimmy asked.

Tim nodded, swallowing hard. “I’m fine, Jimmy, thanks. . .just something I needed to ask Ducky. It will keep. If you will excuse me , I need to get back to work. Nice to meet you Dr Wilson.”

“Mr Palmer, is special agent McGee always quite so uptight!”

“They have a big case. They are all under a lot of pressure and McGee has been. . .well, he’s been a bit off for a while.”

 

On Wednesday morning McGee was walking up the stairs to MTAC when a commotion in the bullpen drew his attention. Tony and Ziva were both supporting Abby who was clearly distressed. He couldn’t hear what she was saying but Gibbs’ comforting words were clear enough.

“Abby, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. Good, that’s good. You need to go home Abby. Your family need you and you need to be there at a time like this. We can get a temp in to cover the lab for you. . .you’re up to date on all the current cases, aren’t you?”

“Gibbs is right, Abs,” Tony added, hugging her. “The FBI labs can handle any new forensics that come up. Go home and be there for your parents.”

After a few more minutes of quiet conversation that Tim couldn’t quite hear, Ziva and Tony ushered Abby away towards the rear elevator.
McGee swallowed down on a sudden up swell of betrayal. There was a time when he would have been the one to comfort her, that he would have been the first one she turned to. . .now he was so far out of the loop that none of them had even thought to include him.

Gibbs glanced up and saw McGee halfway up the staircase, frozen in place and seemingly unaware of his surroundings. In the time it took Gibbs to answer his cell, collect a file and make it up the stairs himself his youngest agent hadn’t moved.

“McGee?” Gibbs’ softly spoken enquiry elicited no response. “McGee, you okay?” only the hand on his arm seemed to bring the younger man back to an awareness of his surroundings.

“Sorry. . .sorry, Boss, did you want something?”

“What’s going on, McGee?”

“How’s Abby? Is she okay?” McGee ignored the boss’s enquiry, posing instead his own questions.

“She will be, McGee. Her brother has been rushed into hospital. She’s going home to be with her family.”

“Alone?”

“No. She has asked her boyfriend to go with her.”

“Good. . .That’s good. . .good that she has friends looking out for her.”

“Do you want to see her before she goes? I’m sure you’ll catch her before Jimmy drives her home.”

“No. . .No, she’s in safe hands and I. . .I need to get up to MTAC. . .I. . .the Director. . .”

The wall was back up and Gibbs had no idea how to begin to break it down. “Go on then, McGee.”

“On it, Boss.” McGee made no effort to hide his relief at being able to remove himself from the increasingly awkward encounter.

Gibbs growled in frustration. Under normal circumstances he would have taken his worries down to Ducky but the ME’s absence precluded that outlet and he felt totally out of his depth in knowing how to help McGee. The continued estrangement from Abby and the fact that he had effectively isolated himself from his colleagues, for whatever reason, had been compounded by this god-forsaken case that had consumed the whole teams focus for so long. It had been too easy to overlook the problem; easier and less messy to ignore the tension and the distress he had occasionally glimpsed in McGee’s countenance, especially as Gibbs was too well aware that some of the blame lay at his own door. McGee had been struggling to deal with a situation that was clearly beyond him and because he had never complained or asked for help he had been struggling on alone.

 

It was late when McGee finally left MTAC and the bullpen was dark and empty. He had two missed calls on his cell, both from Dr Avery. It was too late to call her back but he took the time to send her a text, assuring her that he was okay and that he would keep his appointment with her on Monday, after his weekend away.

Too tired even to drive home, he took a quick shower down in the locker room, grabbed a candy bar and a cup of hot chocolate from the vending machine and pushed two easy chairs together in the lunchroom and tried to fool himself that he would get some sleep.

Thursday 3.45pm Bullpen

Tim huddled over his desk in an almost empty squad room in a state of complete bewilderment.

He knew he should be somewhere, doing something, something really, really important. . .he just couldn’t work out what or where.

He tried to take stock of his situation. He was dressed in field gear; he could feel the flack-vest under his black jacket. . .he was still wearing his cap and sunglasses and given the way his head was pounding he was loath to take them off. His heart was racing and he felt a strangling tightness deep in his chest.

Where was everyone? Why was he here on his own?

How had he come to be here?

He feared that the answer to that question was one he didn’t want to even contemplate. He had lost time again. . .not just a few minutes. . .not just private, home time but work time. . .important work time. The frailty he had feared and hidden for so long could no longer be hidden, not now that he had brought it into work and flagged it up for everyone to see.

He thought about calling Dr Avery but he didn’t know what to say and he seemed to have mislaid his cell phone and it certainly wasn’t a call he wanted to risk going through the office switchboard. He folded his arms on his desk and allowed his head to drop, just too tired to think or to plan or to even work out what was happening to him.

Some time later he was roused by his desk phone ringing.

“McGee!”

“B-Boss?”

“McGee, what the hell are you doing at headquarters?”

“. . .”.

“McGee. . . We’ve had the whole damned detail searching the docks for you for the last hour. . the divers are about to start dragging the river,” Gibbs voice was quiet but it dripped with a ferocity McGee had never encountered. “You’d better have a damned good excuse, written up in triplicate when I get there or I’ll be throwing your sorry ass to the mercy of the Director, Fornell and Assistant Director Morrow. . .all at once!”

“Boss. . .”

“Save it, McGee. . .Do not move from your desk until I get there. That clear!”

“Yes-yes Boss. . .Boss, I’m sor. . .” The phone went dead before he could finish his apology.

 

McGee had nothing he could write-up in his report to explain to Gibbs or the Director how he had come to be back at HQ when he should clearly have been out in the field supporting the takedown. But he started to type anyway, dismissing the pounding headache that made the words jumble on the screen.
He could recall the early morning final briefing down in the evidence garage. He could recall getting geared up for the mission, he could remember driving out with the team to the dockyard, though not any of the conversations that had taken place. He could recall waiting in the surveillance van at the stakeout and even remember hearing the Director giving the command to begin the takedown and then. . .and then. . .nothing!

He did disobey Gibbs on one point, he left his seat once. . .the nausea and headache that had plagued him since he found himself back at HQ got the best of him, he staggered to the men’s-room and heaved painfully.

When the elevator pinged McGee’s stomach roiled and he glanced up briefly from behind his sunglasses. Gibbs and Fornell came out side by side, both with faces like thunder, followed by Ziva and Tony and two other agents Tim only vaguely recognised as being Fornell’s team. McGee half rose to his feet, steadying himself on both arms.

“DiNozzo, David, escort Agent Fornell and his team up to MTAC,” Gibbs barked preventing his two agents from doing anything other than dropping their gear at their desks. Not another word was spoken until Gibbs and McGee were alone in the bullpen.

Looming over his junior agent, Gibbs forced him back into his seat with just the force of his glare, his anger so palpable that McGee cowered.

“Have you any idea what you did today, McGee?” Gibbs spat viciously, banging a cellphone, McGee’s cellphone, onto the desk. “You made us a laughing stock in front of the FBI and Homeland security. . .you disgraced the Service. We were all so intent on looking for our ‘lost’ agent that two of the suspects got away. . and. . .Dammit. . .you let me down, McGee!”

“B. . .Boss. . .”

“Not. A. Word, McGee. . .Do not say one word. . .I am so damn mad right now. . .so help me if you say one word. . .!” Gibbs stepped back a pace clearly trying to get a handle on his fury. He took and released two deep breaths and only then did he turn his attention to what was on display on McGee’s computer. He tapped the screen. “Is this all you got?” he demanded, taking control of the mouse and scrolling to the beginning of the report.

In the wake of his Boss’s fury, McGee could not control his panic; waves of icy heat engulfed him, he felt the clammy wash of sweat down his back and he couldn’t seem to pull in enough air to breath and all the while his heart was pumping faster and faster until he was sure Gibbs could hear its noisy clamber. Despite the fear that the pain in his head would cause him to blackout, McGee staggered to his feet, blindly heading for the restroom before he could disgrace himself further by throwing up over the senior agent. Gibbs watched him go without a word and continued to read the half-written report.

“You done?” Gibbs demanded ten minutes later when McGee returned, pale and sweating, pointing him back into his seat. “You sit there until this report is completed. . .and I mean every detail. I don’t care if it takes you till next week. . .you got that?”

Tim couldn’t get out a single word but he nodded his acknowledgement to Gibbs’ disappearing shadow.

Tim was no nearer to any kind of answer when Tony reappeared.

“I’ve never seen the Boss quite that pissed before, Probie.” There was no gloating or levity to Dinozzo’s remark.

“Just leave it, Tony.”

“Can’t do that, Probie, your mistakes reflect on me. . .you know, the senior agent.”

“Tony, this is my screw-up. . .nobody is going to blame anyone but me,” Tim said bitterly.

“Are you nearly done yet, McGee, because the Director has given us all a long weekend off. . .you know, as a thank you for all our hard work. . .despite your little indiscretion.”

“I already had the weekend off, Tony, I booked it weeks ago.”

“Well, you won’t be going anywhere till you have that report on the Boss’s desk.”

“And I would get it done a whole lot more quickly if you would just leave me the hell alone, Dinozzo.”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. . .I’m not the one who pulled the vanishing act, McHoudini.”

“Tony, I’m really not in the mood for your juvenile antics, so leave it. . .Where is Gibbs anyway?”

“He and Fornell are trying to work out how to track down the two perps who slipped the net. . .the FBI, as lead agents, get the pleasure of spending their weekend looking for
them,” Tony grinned, packing his bag and getting ready to head out.

“So tell me, McRomeo, was it a hot date. . .did you slip off to romance a geeky girlfriend?”

If ever there was ever a miss-timed attempt at humour that was it. Harmless and mild by DiNozzo’s usual standard, it was, however, one miscalculation too many. Before he had time to react,Tony found himself forced face first into the filing cabinet, his arm twisted painfully up behind his back, the handles of the drawers pressing sharply into his chest and abdomen.

“I said, ‘leave me the hell alone’, DiNozzo. You just never know when the hell to Shut Up!” Tim punctuated his accusations by pushing Tony harder against the cabinet, hard enough to make the metal rattle.

And that was the scene that greeted Gibbs when he rounded the corner. He slammed his cup onto his desk, dislodging the lid and spilling some of his precious brew over his keyboard.

“Hey!” he bellowed. “Stand Down, McGee!”

His barked order went completely unheeded. He could see DiNozzo struggling against the younger agent’s grip but McGee’s fury was fuelling his strength.

“Not so funny being on the receiving end, is it, DiNozzo?” Tim’s words carried a whole world of bitterness.

The wildfire confrontation had drawn the attention of every agent and tech in the room and heads bobbed up over the cubicle dividers like meerkats on the savannah, shocked at just who was involved in the altercation. And so it was a full house that got to witness the saga play out to the shocking end. They all saw Gibbs approach the struggling pair, saw Gibbs put a hand on McGee’s shoulder to pull him away. . .

“I said, ‘Leave Me The Hell alone!’”

. . .and, like a slow motion shot in an action movie, they all witnessed McGee spin round, arm drawn back and land a heavy punch on Gibbs’ jaw, sending him sprawling on his back to land in a dazed heap between his and Ziva’s desks.

In the shocked silence that followed only Tim’s laboured breathing could be heard. At the sickening realisation of what he had done thundered into him, they all saw Tim’s shocked reaction and were witness to him collapsing to his knees, his face buried in his hands.

“What the hell. . .Gibbs are you okay?. . .” Tony extended his hand and pulled Gibbs to his feet. When they turned round McGee was gone and Ziva was there.

“Has everyone gone mad in this place today?”

Gibbs perched on the edge of his desk, rubbing his jaw and shaking his head to dispel the residual fuzziness.

“Where’s McGee?”

“I believe he was headed for the men’s room,” Ziva informed them, waving her hand to get rid of the general audience.

“You okay, DiNozzo?”

“Yeh. . .Yeh, I’m okay. . .but where did that come from, Boss. I mean, I’ve come close to clocking you many times, Gibbs. . .but I never thought that Probie would beat me to it!” Tony joked to hide his shock, rubbing the bruise on his chest.

“You going to file an official complaint, DiNozzo?”

“No. . .no of course not. . .I shouldn’t have. . .”

“Ya think!”

“Are you, Gibbs?” Ziva asked.

“Am I what?”

“Are you going to write him up?”

“Waddya think. . .he should know better than to pull a stunt like that in a room full of witnesses. My hands are tied, Ziva. . .word of this will all ready be spreading by the scuttlebutt express. I can’t sweep this under the carpet.”

“What can I do, Boss. . .should I go and . . .”

“Go home DiNozzo. Nothing is going to happen today. You too, Ziva. I don’t want you back here till Monday, that understood?”

“What about McGee?”

“I’ll deal with it.”

“Will he be back on Monday, Gibbs?”

“Yes, I’ll stall the Director till Monday. We all need the weekend to calm down and work out what the hell’s going on.”

“He needs help, Gibbs. McGee’s in trouble and I don’t just mean for this fiesta,” Ziva warned.

“Fiasco, Ziva and I know. . .now go, both of you, before the director has a change of heart.”

Gibbs watched them both leave then stepped over to McGee’s computer, saved the document and shut it down. Picking up McGee’s backpack he set off to retrieve his errant agent and try to salvage something from the whole sorry mess.

When Gibbs entered the restroom the two agents at the sinks exchanged a quick glance and made for the door.

“Your boy’s in there, Gibbs,” Bryant whispered quietly as he passed, pointing at the closed door of a cubicle stall. A career agent with more than twenty five years service, nothing much surprised him and he knew Gibbs.

“Boy’s got a good left hook!” That almost raised a smile from Gibbs but it was closed off when the older man continued, “Despite that, I’d say he needs some TLC rather than the chewing out he deserves. . .he’s been heaving in there for the last ten minutes.”

“I hear you, Bryant. . .I won’t kill him, besides, Abby’s not here to dispose of the evidence.”

“I’ll leave you to it. . .and Jethro . . .play nice!”

Gibbs grabbed a handful of paper towels, soaked them in cold water and pressed them against his jaw.

“Come on out , McGee.” Gibbs deliberately moderated his tone, making it an invitation rather that an order.

“Come on, McGee, it will be OK. . .I’m not angry, Tim. Let’s talk it out.” The younger man didn’t respond but at least there was no further sounds of him heaving, though Gibbs was concerned at the continued evidence of laboured and distressed breathing.

“McGee , I’m coming in,” Gibbs warned him, using his pocket knife to flip the lock.

McGee was on his knees, his forearms resting on the toilet seat, one hand supporting his head and the other tightly clasped around a pair of sunglasses.

“Come on, Tim, you’ve got nothing left to throw-up.” Gibbs grabbed him under the arms and lifted him up onto his feet. He didn’t resist. He allowed himself to be manoeuvred, pulled up and propelled to the sink. He sluiced out the bile from mouth and still seemed to be in a daze.

“Show me your hand, McGee,” Gibbs instructed quietly.

McGee raised his clenched fist but Gibbs wasn’t interested in his bruised knuckles; he turned the hand over and one by one uncurled the fingers from around the now shattered glasses, the bloodied fragments dropping into the sink.

“If I’m not mistaken this is gonna need some sutures!” The laceration extended along the base of the middle three fingers and was bleeding steadily enough to drip into the sink. Gibbs grabbed another handful of towels and wadded them into the cut.

“Let’s go get Ducky to patch you up.”

“He-he can’t.”

“Who can’t?”

“Ducky.”

“You got a problem with Ducky now, McGee?”

“He’s not here, Boss. . . I wish he were.”

“Dammit, I forgot. . .Well, Dr Wilson can take a look at you and decide if you need to be seen in the ER.”

Tim kept his head down but they didn’t pass anyone on the way to autopsy.

“Dr Wilson?”

“Special Agent Gibbs. I wondered if I’d be seeing you down here. Word spreads pretty quickly in this place. Do you need an ice-pack for that?”

“Not here about me, Doc. . .a bruised jaw isn’t going to slow me down.”

“Then what. . .?”

Tim stopped two steps short of the doorway, terrified of stepping into the full realisation of what he had done.

“McGee!” An order, even a softly but firmly worded one would normally have him jumping to action but now. . .

“In you come, Agent McGee.” A plump, motherly arm across his shoulders and just the faintest hint of Channel No 5 achieved what Gibbs order could not and got him across the threshold, through autopsy and settled in the leather sofa in Ducky’s office.

He allowed himself to ignore the whispered conversation, shutting his eyes to block out what he was too ashamed and humiliated to face.

Someone took off his jacket and flack-vest and he shivered at the sudden exposure to the air-conditioned chill.

At some point Gibbs answered his cell and disappeared but Dr Wilson continued with her exam, taking his vitals, cleaning and suturing his hand and force feeding him a mug of something rich and sugary.

“Timothy, I need you to listen to me,” as the sugar hit his system he felt the pull back to awareness and he turned his attention to the doctor. “Good. OK. Now you are dehydrated and your bloodsugar was through the floor. You should start to feel better quite quickly but I want you to drink this while you are resting.” He nodded. “I need to take some bloods, OK?” He nodded again and took a sip of the can of soda she handed him, barely flinching as the cannula broke his skin.

“OK, all done. Now I want you to rest here. Agent Gibbs has been called up to MTAC but he wants to see you before you leave. . .do you understand?” Dr Wilson observed him more closely, realising that he hadn’t spoken once since Gibbs had brought him down.

“Do you want to talk about it, Timothy? It might help. . .I promise I’ll keep your confidence.”

“Nothing can help me now. . .nothing!” he croaked.

“There is always help. . .but you need to reach out for it. Do you talk to anyone? Is there someone you can go to: family? a colleague? a pastor?”

“Doctor,” he whispered, finally.

“Have you seen them recently? Do you have an appointment?”

“Monday. I’m seeing her on Monday.”

“I think it is important that you to speak to her before then. Would you like me to call her for you?”

“NO. No, I’ll do it. . .but right now I just want to sleep.”

“Very well. I have some things to finish off but you just rest here until Agent Gibbs comes for you.”

Tim didn’t answer he just lowered himself along the length of the couch and closed his eyes. For a while he listened to the muffled sounds coming from autopsy but gradually the exertions of the day caught up with him and his body shut down, sliding him into deep sleep.

 

&&&&&

 

Tim was aware of two things when he lurched back towards consciousness; one was a pounding headache and the second and more urgent was the need to locate a receptacle in which to vomit. Thankfully someone, probably Dr Wilson, had left a large stainless steel basin on the floor next to Ducky’s couch. The only light illuminating his present abode was the blue fluorescent glow from one of the x-ray viewers in autopsy. When he finished throwing up he took a few minutes to allow his nausea and vertigo to settle. A glance at his watch informed him that it was approaching ten pm and from the absence of Dr Wilson or Jimmy watching over him he deduced that everyone had gone home.
He felt worse than lousy and not just physically. As the nausea settled his memory kicked back into full gear and the awfull realisation of his monumental failings swamped him. He flexed his injured hand and embraced the pain as due punishment for attacking Gibbs; in light of all his other transgressions. . .again his rebellious stomach betrayed him, though he had nothing left to bring up.

“I need to get away. . .before I do any more damage,” he whispered aloud, but there was no one to hear him but his own guilty conscience.

Even standing was a challenge but he forced himself to his feet, not allowing himself any further show of weakness. Picking up his jacket and bag he staggered towards the elevator, praying that no one would be there to question him.

The squad room was deserted; the only sign of occupation was the illuminated lamp on Gibbs desk. Even the on-call duty officers’ desk on the far side of the bullpen was empty. Tim checked his own desk; his gun and badge were in the top drawer and someone had shut down his computer. He clearly hadn’t been fired yet but he knew it was only a matter of time. He snorted at the irony of it. Time, loss of time, was what had got him into this mess and now time was ticking away, counting down till the moment his world would finally collapse around his ears; a process long and slow in coming but as inexorable as death.

He really didn’t want to examine the almost overwhelming feeling of relief that it would finally all be over. Giving up wasn’t in his nature, wasn’t what or who he was. . .but knowing that there was an end in sight, even an ending he had fought so hard to prevent. . .all he felt was relief.

He was tired. So very, very tired. So tired his bones ached, even his hair, his breath, his thoughts. . .ached.

He was too tired to go home. Too tired to drive, too tired even to call a cab.

He couldn’t face another uncomfortable night in the lunchroom but surprisingly his tired mind conjured up an alternative. At the opposite end of the balcony to MTAC and the Director’s office were three on-call rooms for the night duty staff. Two were in regular use; only during periods of increased alert were three agents rostered for night duty, so the third room, closest to the elevator and therefore more noisy was generally unused.

Not even bothering to switch on the light, he dropped his bag and jacket on the end of the unmade bed, locked the door against intruders and slumped down onto the bare mattress, sinking at once into deep but troubled sleep.

Agent McGregor. . .no, he couldn’t call himself an agent anymore. . .that privilege had been snatched away from him in the wake of his most recent and most spectacular. . .failure. It had never been his intention to betray the team but he had. Tibbs would be in the hospital for weeks with his jaw wired in so many places that he could only take nourishment through a straw and only talk with his hands. And the rest of the guys; Tommy, Lisa and even Amy, were not even a team any longer. They had been so angry at the team being disbanded that they had each, in their own way, threatened him with bodily harm if they ever caught up with him.
He didn’t blame them. If he had the courage he would do the decent thing. . .a bullet to the temple or a handful of pills would erase his treachery and free them to put themselves back together, as they should be. But he wasn’t that brave or noble. His life was crap, everything he valued had turned to ashes but he was too much of a coward to die, at least by his own hand. . .but he could disappear.
One of the many things Tibbs had taught him was that anything was possible, that with the right preparation, the right expertise it was possible to do anything, fool everyone, even the system. He had the tools, he had the knowledge and, thanks to the environment he worked in, he had the means. . .

Tim woke with a groan, the dream still so vivid that for a moment he wasn’t sure who or where he was. He had spent so long in McGregor’s head over the last few months that sometimes he wasn’t sure where Tim McGee ended and Agent McGregor began. His current manuscript was not going well, he and McGregor were too close and McGregor wanted out. Night after night at the keyboard trying to solve the dilemma. Chapter after chapter written, re-written, discarded, replotted until finally all the night-time hours of research were coming together. Tim now knew how to get McGregor away, how to create a whole new identity. McGregor’s life was over and now he had to escape. . .and if it could work for McGregor then it would work for Tim. He had the tools and the expertise; he could even access a new readymade identity along with all the necessary documents. With a sense of purpose he hadn’t felt in a long time Tim locked away his emotions and started to put his plan into action.

Working through a still pounding headache wasn’t easy but at least the nausea had gone. Stopping only to get a cup of coffee from the vending machine, Tim settled at his desk in the deserted squadroom and made himself a checklist.

His first task was to retrieve a pouch of documents from Gibbs’ filing cabinet. At Gibbs’s insistence all the team had to have two or three sets of false documents on file in case they needed to go undercover at short notice. Tim had three; Thomas Scott, Travis Murray and Albert Ross. Tim chose the last one, smiling bitterly to himself to recall how the irony of the name had been completely lost on Tony and Ziva, but Albert Ross suited his mood and his disposition perfectly. . .if ever there had been an Albatross weighing down the team it was him. With the package in hand he powered up his computer and worked his way into the personnel records and deleted the requisition for the creation of Albert Ross; anyone examining the file would see that Agent McGee had two sets of documents on file to correspond to the two sets in the cabinet.

With his new identity stashed in his shirt pocket, Tim’s next task was to remove all of his personal data from his Pc and from the network. He downloaded all the work related files and shortcuts onto one data stick and his personal files onto another then triple scrubbed the hard-drive using his own programme. When he was sure all of his private information was gone he reloaded the work files and removed all the security passwords so that his successor could access them.

His next task was to deal with his car. The Porsche was too conspicuous for him to use it and he was in no state to drive but he needed to keep it safe. At present it was in the underground staff garage; if he couldn’t drive it off the Navy Yard than he would have to hide it in plain sight. Taking the back elevator down to the parking garage he retrieved it and with utmost care drove it down another level and punched the keypad to give him access to the Vehicular Evidence Storage Area; one level below the evidence lock-up it was a secure area where vehicles held as evidence in ongoing cases were stored. Backing the Porsche into a numbered space between a battered pick-up truck and a blood-spattered white van, he popped the trunk and disconnected the lo-jack system. Finally, he retrieved a tarp from the storage area and covered the car and walked sadly away.
From the computer in Abby’s lab he pulled up the evidence files and inserted a fictitious case number in the evidence log to correspond to the bay number in the garage; it wouldn’t fool anyone for long, especially if a random evidence audit was called, but Tim was betting on no one looking too closely. Next he accessed the security surveillance system and with a few keystrokes deleted the evidence of his actions.

Going back to the squad-room, he realised that dawn was fast approaching. Leaving his weapon and badge in the desk drawer and his field jacket and cap on the back of his chair, he retrieved a few personal items from his desk. With agents and the early-shift janitorial crew beginning to arrive, Tim slipped away without notice into the pre-dawn twilight, taking one sad final glance at the view of the city over the Potomac. He still had some admin tasks to sort out but from that moment on, in his own mind, Special Agent Timothy McGee ceased to exist.

 

On Thursday evening when Gibbs finally emerged from MTAC it was late and the bullpen was empty. There was a note on his desk from Dr Wilson to let him know she had signed out for the evening, reassuring him that McGee was fast asleep in Ducky’s office. There was a P.S. at the bottom informing him that the alcohol and tox screen she had run on McGee’s blood had come back negative.

Grabbing two coffees from the vending machine in the lunchroom, Gibbs, headed down to Autopsy, unsure how the upcoming meeting with his youngest and most troubled agent would play out. Autopsy was deserted, the only sign of McGee’s presence, an empty soda can and a bowl soiled with vomit. He tried McGee’s cell but it went to straight to voicemail. Cursing up a storm Gibbs drove to McGee’s apartment in Georgetown but got no further than the concierge, an ex-marine who was not in the least intimidated by the irate and bruised agent.

“I can assure you, Agent Gibbs, Mr McGee signed out at 06.00 on Wednesday morning and has not returned since. . .not that I was expecting him to. He had plans for the weekend and was intending to go straight from work this evening.”

“And when do you expect him back?”

“Late Sunday evening.”

“And you are sure he has not been back here in the last couple of hours?”

The concierge tapped into the keyboard and turned the monitor towards Gibbs.” As you can see we have a very sophisticated security system. These are the access logs. . .Mr McGee has not entered via the garage entrance nor has he come through the foyer. He is not here Agent Gibbs.”

“I need to see his apartment!”

“I can’t let you do that. Not without a warrant. Our residents expect total privacy. It was one of the reasons Mr McGee chose to live here. . .I understand in his old apartment it was too easy for unwanted visitors and over-enthusiastic fans to bother him.”

“But I’m afraid he’s ill!”

“He’s not here, Agent Gibbs, and if he were he has an emergency call button and an intercom.”

Gibbs growled out his frustration but admitted defeat. He pulled out a business card form his jacket. “Please, when he comes back, tell him to call me. Tell him it’s urgent.”

 

&&&&&&&

 

When Gibbs arrived at his desk at 06.30 on Monday morning his stress levels were already high. The bruising in to his had turned multi-coloured over the weekend and moving his jaw to talk or swallow still sent spikes of pain up towards his temple. . .not that it stopped him from taking large swigs of especially strong coffee. Sitting down at his desk and looking over towards McGee’s space another wave of frustration caught him off guard. He had been calling McGee’s cell all weekend until the voicemail inbox was full but the errant agent had not called him back and his calls to his publisher’s work number had gone straight to voicemail.

When DiNozzo and David stepped off the elevator at 07.30 they both approached their area cautiously, each nodding a greeting to their scowling boss but saying nothing as they settled into their respective desks. The long silence stretched until they were all squirming with the discomfort of it and all the while McGee’s empty desk mocked them.
By 08.00 none of them were making any effort to hide their clockwatching.

“Gibbs, are we expecting McGee in today?” Ziva was the one to break the silence, coming to stand in front of Gibbs’ desk.

“Why, do you know something I don’t, Officer David?” Gibbs barked. Ziva was not intimidated by his icy tone or his thunderous expression.

“I do not know anything specific but it would not be unexpected for McGee to have been suspended, given that he attacked you!”

“He didn’t attack me,” Gibbs replied tiredly, subconsciously rubbing a hand over his jaw and wincing. “He was defending himself.”

“Against what!”

“I don’t know, Ziva but have you ever known McGee to resort to violence before. I don’t know what is going on with him right now but when he gets here I intend to find out.”

“Didn’t you ask him on Thursday, Boss?” Tony had now joined Ziva at Gibbs desk.

“I didn’t get the chance.”

“Did he even finish his report?”

“No. After the. . .the incident, I took him down for Dr Wilson to patch him up. When I got free from MTAC he had gone.”

“And you let it go!”

“No. I didn’t just let it go, DiNozzo. I’ve been trying to speak to him all weekend. I went by his apartment and I’ve been calling his cell all weekend. . .I guess he didn’t want to talk.”

“And what about ‘never be unreachable’? If I had been off-grid all weekend my ears would be ringing into next century,” Tony groused.

“He was on leave, DiNozzo.”

“You’ve never let me use that as an excuse.”

“Perhaps that is because he is generally more responsible than you, Tony,” Ziva shot back with a grin.

“Pack it in the pair of you. Do either of you have any idea where he was going for this writers’ weekend? It is not on his leave application.”

The two agents looked at each other both expecting the other to know.

“No, I never asked.”

“He never said.”

“God, what a mess. DiNozzo, get over to McGee’s apartment and find out what’s going on. Ziva, check with personnel and find out the number of McGee’s sister and his doctor.. .if you get no joy there, try Ducky.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to look on his contact list on his computer,” Tony asked.

“It would if you hadn’t snooped into his personal files once too often DiNozzo. . . ..he has so many levels of security and passwords it would take a month of Sundays just to get to his address book!”.

“OH,” Tony nodded sheepishly heading for the elevator.

“DiNozzo, call in if you find anything.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“You are worried, yes?”

“Yes, Ziva. My gut is telling me we really dropped the ball.”

“We will find him, Gibbs. . . .”

What ever else Ziva was about to add was lost when Ducky and Abby arrived. After brief enquiries about their recent travels it was Ducky who turned the conversation around.

“Jethro, I have a rather disturbing report here from Dr Wilson. What on earth has been going on in my absence?”

“It’s a long story, Ducky.”

“I presume it has something to do with that very impressive and colourful bruise,” the Doctor enquired backing Gibbs against his desk and palpating his jaw and cheekbones, batting away Gibbs hands when he tried to prevent the impromptu examination. “Did you bother to get this checked out? No, of course not, silly question.”

“Who did that to you, Gibbs? Who do I need to sort out?” Abby demanded.

“It’s nothing, Abbs.”

“That’s not nothing, Gibbs! You’re not supposed to get hurt. . .especially when I’m not here to look out for you.”

“I’m fine, Abby, and I don’t need looking after.”

“And you didn’t answer my question!”

“It was an accident.”

“Getting slugged on the jaw is not an accident.”

“Gibbs. Where is Timothy?” Ducky asked.

“Not in yet.”

“Gibbs,” Ziva cut in, “wasn’t McGee supposed to be getting some test results today? Perhaps he has been delayed by his doctor.”

“Oh, hell, I’d forgotten that.”

“Tests” What test?. . .and you still haven’t answered my question. What are you hiding, Bossman?”

“Abby!” Understanding dawned as Abby’s gaze shuttled between Gibbs and McGee’s empty desk.

“NO! Tim wouldn’t. I don’t believe it. Tony or Ziva maybe, but not McGee. . .McGee would never hit you, Gibbs.”

“That’s what I thought, Abby. . .I guess we were both wrong.”

Ducky shuffled through the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Jethro, why did Dr Wilson run a tox screen on Timothy?”

“Ducky, he lost it right here in the bullpen. . .he attacked Tony and then slugged me so hard I landed on my ass. . .and that was after he went AWOl during one of the biggest Ops
we’ve had in years. . .he just walked off the scene without a word to anyone.”

“And did he explain why?”

“No, he had no explanation. Instead of looking for two of the perps who slipped the net, he had the NCIS and FBI teams combing the docks looking for him. . .we were about to call in the divers when I managed to get hold of him here,” Gibbs explained.

“And you thought he might have been drunk or drugged up! Gibbs this is McGee we’re talking about,” Abby remonstrated.

“Gibbs, the only thing of significance in this blood work is a therapeutic dose of a prescription medication,” Ducky explained.

“What drug?”

“ An antidepressant.”

“No!”

“McGee has certainly been most unlike himself recently,” Ziva offered, “but I did not think it anything so. . .so . .Oh, I do not know the word!”

“McGee can’t be depressed. . .he would have said something. He’s just been a bit. . .a bit. .sad.”

“Has he actually spoken to you about anything recently Abby or to any one.”

No, Ducky. . .but we would have known if he was depressed. . .wouldn’t we?”

Before Ducky had a chance to answer Gibbs’ cell phone rang.

“Gibbs.”

“Boss, I think we have a problem.”

“Ya think, Dinozzo.”

“No, I mean a real problem, Boss.”

“Well?”

“It appears we are not the only ones looking for McGee.”

“Waddaya mean?”

“I can’t get up to McGee’s apartment. . .the FBI beat me to it and they are processing it as a crime scene!”

“And McGee?”

“According to the doorman, McGee left early Friday afternoon saying he was going off on an assignment. . . .Boss, he signed the apartment over to his sister before he left.”

“What!”

“I know, Boss, it doesn’t make sense. You don’t think the Director has him working on something hinky, do you?”

“I’m sure as hell going to find out!” See if you can find McGee’s sister before the FBI get to her and bring her in.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Oh, and DiNozzo, who is the lead for the FBI team?”

“Only the crime scene techs are here now. . .but I’ll give you three guesses as to the name on the business card they left with the concierge. . .”

Gibbs snapped his phone shut as the elevator dinged and two dark-suited agents stepped over to McGee’s conspicuously empty desk.

“Fornell, what the hell is going on?” Gibbs demanded getting right into the face of his friend and counterpart.

“Not here, Gibbs. I think we need to take this somewhere private.”

“This concerns my team, Fornell. . .my whole team.”

“Then you’d better find us a bigger conference room than your usual office!”

“Autopsy. Now!” Gibbs barked and took the lead expecting them all to follow. When the elevator arrived he ushered them all in and pressed the button for autopsy but stepped out before the doors closed.

“I’ll be down in five,” he said heading back towards the stairs.

Sweeping past the Director’s assistant, Gibbs barged right into the office.

“Director. Do you have any of my team working on one of your. . .secret, special projects?”

“Good morning to you too, Gibbs.”

“Dammit, just answer the damn question.”

“Special Agent Gibbs, I don’t yet have the report on last week’s. . .altercation. . .and despite my order Special Agent McGee has failed to report to me. . .he should have been here
at 08.00.”

“McGee hasn’t shown up yet and as we speak the FBI are processing his apartment as a crime scene!”

“What!”

“I thought that might get your attention,” Gibbs muttered.

“What has McGee done now?”

“That’s what I need to find out but first I need to know if you have sent him off on some covert mission because apparently he left on Friday, signed the tenancy of his new expensive apartment over to his sister and told the concierge that he was off on indefinite assignment!”

“He’s not doing anything for me, Gibbs. After last week’s incidents he was in line for a psych evaluation and a possible suspension.”

Gibbs nodded and sighed. “You’d better come down to autopsy and hear what Fornell has to say.”

 

“Well, Fornell?” The team were huddled together around one of the autopsy tables when Gibbs and the director stormed through the doors.

“Director, Gibbs. . .I have a warrant to take McGee into protective custody.”

“What?”

“We do not need another agency to protect one of our team.” Ziva spoke for them all.

“Where is McGee?” Fornell demanded.

“We don’t know, Fornell. No one from here has spoken to him since last Thursday evening.”

“Tony said you have already been to his apartment so you already know that he left there on Friday afternoon.”

“He had booked the weekend off to go to a writers’ conference.”

“Do you know where?”

“No. . .he never said.”

“And he hasn’t yet returned?”

“Apparently not!”

“If you don’t mind my asking, why do you think he needs protection, Agent Fornell?” Ducky asked.

“Yes, what haven’t you told us?” Gibbs demanded.

“We have spent the weekend tracking down the two suspects who slipped the net during Thursday’s take-down. They were both middle-ranking players not just hired muscle. . .both have long rap sheets and a history of violence. Late yesterday evening, in Georgetown, we apprehended one of the two men. . . he was staking out McGee’s apartment! ”

“And?”

“We think that when McGee left the surveillance van on Thursday he stumbled across Parker and Stolly escaping via the sewer system. According to what we could get out of Stolly, they got the drop on McGee and Parker struck him down. They dragged his body behind a dumpster and made their getaway. They thought he was dead. . .when they learned that he had not only survived but had walked away they decided to silence him for good.”

“They put out a contract on him?”

“Not exactly. . .with their organisation taken down they no longer had the resources to finance a contract. . .they planned to do it themselves.

“So, Parker is still out there and planning on killing McGee?”

“According to Stolly, yes.”

“But why? Why take the risk?”

“Because they fear McGee can identify them and place them at the crime scene.” Fornell explained.

“Jethro, you never said that Timothy was injured. . .did Dr Wilson know?”

“I didn’t know, Ducky. He never said he had been assaulted.”

“It sounds as though he may have been concussed. . .this really changes everything.”

“It would explain why his memory was shot and why he was behaving so out of character. He was vomiting too. . .I was so mad at him that I never stopped to think that he might have been injured.”

“But Dr Wilson examined him, didn’t she? Wouldn’t she have noticed if he was concussed?”

“She didn’t know he had been struck down. She took his vitals while I was there and sutured up his hand, took bloods. . .I remember her saying that he was dehydrated and that
his blood sugar was low.” Gibbs explained .

“Wait a minute!” Abby had been listening to the conversation in frustrated silence but now she set off the discussion in a new and more worrying direction. She turned to Fornell.

“Why are you processing McGee’s place as a crime scene? What are you expecting to find?”

Fornell took note of the sudden hike in tension. “As I explained earlier, our warrant was to take McGee into protective custody. When he didn’t answer the door we had the concierge let us in.”

“And?”

“And, the apartment was spotless. McGee’s cell phone was on the kitchen counter along with an envelope addressed to his sister. His laptop and PC have both been scrubbed clean of all personal data and most of his clothes are still in his closet.”

“But why call in the crime scene techs?”

“There was no sign of a struggle but we did find fresh blood smears on the doorjamb and the kitchen counter. We are waiting to hear if they are McGee’s.”

&&&&&&&

 

Tony stepped off the elevator to find the team’s area deserted. He was about to call Gibbs’ cell when the other occupant of the lift stopped beside him. The attractive female returned his appreciative glances.

“May I help you?”

“Thank you. Could you tell me where I can find Timothy McGee?”

On second glance the woman was slightly older than he had originally guessed. The visitors pass clipped to the identity badge on her lapel indicated that she was not a complete outsider but given the current circumstances, her asking for McGee set Tony’s alarm bells ringing.

“I’m sorry, McGee isn’t available, but it would be my pleasure to offer whatever assistance you require,” he explained, taking her hand and flashing her his most winning smile.

“You must be DiNozzo!” Her observation took the wind from his sails, “Tim has often mentioned you.”

“OH! Look, this really isn’t a good time right now, Miss. . .?”

“Avery, Beth Avery.”

“I’m sorry, Ms Avery, but we have a bit of a crisis. . .can I take a message and get McGee to call you when he’s free?”

“If Agent McGee is not here then I think I need to speak to his superior.”

“Can you at least tell me what it’s about?”

“No, I’m sorry, Agent DiNozzo, I’m afraid I can’t.”

“OK , give me a moment.” Tony flipped open his cell and punched quickdial.

“Gibbs.”

“Boss.”

“Did you find her?”

“No, Boss. According to her room-mate Sarah McGee has been in San Diego with her parents since the middle of last week. . .not due back till Wednesday.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, Boss. There is a woman here in the bullpen looking for McGee. Says she needs to speak to you.. . Boss, where is everyone?”

“Autopsy.”

“Autopsy! My God, McGee’s not done something stupid, has he? Not over a punch-up.”

“Oh, My God! Suicide!” Dr Avery’s gasp was loud enough for Gibbs to overhear.

“Nobody said anything about suicide. DiNozzo, bring McGee’s visitor down to Autopsy. I think we need to hear what her connection is to McGee and why she thinks he’s a suicide risk.”

 

After an uncomfortably silent descent, it was with great trepidation that Tony ushered Ms Avery out of the elevator and through the door into the Autopsy suite; all conversation ceased as the team waiting for them assessed the stranger in their midst. Before Gibbs could move forward to begin firing questions at the self-possessed woman Ducky beat him to it.

“Dr Avery, my dear, always a pleasure. What brings you down to my lair?” he kissed her hand gallantly and ushered her further into the room.

“Ducky!” Gibbs didn’t try too hard to keep the sharpness from his tone.

“Director, Agent Gibbs, may I introduce Dr Beth Avery. Dr Avery has offices in the medical centre here at the Navy Yard.”

“Dr Avery, I believe you are one of approved psychiatrists,” The Director clarified.

“Yes, Director, I have been working for the service for a little over five years.”

“And can I assume that you know Agent McGee in a professional capacity?”

“Agent McGee has been a patient for several months,” she confirmed.

Abby could no longer keep silent. “Several months! No way! Gibbs this must be a mistake. . .it’s like everyone is talking about a stranger. I mean, I know Tim and I haven’t exactly been close recently but he’s still my friend and I would have known if he was in trouble. . .we all would. . .wouldn’t we?”

“Not if he didn’t want us too, Abby.”

“Agent Gibbs is right, Ms Scutio. Timothy has been working very hard to keep his concerns. . .private. I have been encouraging him to talk to his work colleagues but he was not comfortable to expose himself in that way. He talked to me because he felt safe to do so but even with me he was guarded in what he was prepared to discuss.”

“He did not trust us?” Ziva voiced what they were all thinking.

“No, I’m afraid he didn’t , at least not with personal issues.”

“And in the field? Was he going out with us even when he didn’t trust us to have his back?”

“Agent Gibbs, he had absolute trust in you and the rest of the team for his physical safety,” Dr Avery assured him, though she could see it was of little comfort.

“Can I assume from this meeting that Agent McGee is not on sick leave?” she asked.

“No, should he be?”

“Yes, I believe he should. I tried to sign him off three weeks ago but he rejected my advice. His condition has been deteriorating. Last weekend he agreed to be admitted to sickbay. I only allowed him to continue working this last week on the understanding that he hand in his sick-note when the big operation he was working on was wrapped up and that he would see me today. When he failed to keep the appointment or answer his phone I was worried enough that I came over.”

“Dr Avery, why did you assume Timothy had harmed himself?”

“I’m sorry, I am not comfortable discussing confidential information about a patient.”

“What do you feel you can share with us, Doctor? We know Timothy was taking anti-depressants and you have confirmed that you have been seeing him for several months. We need help if we are going to find Timothy. We believe he may be in danger.” Ducky explained.

“Agent McGee is suffering from Depression. Over the last few weeks his condition has deteriorated. He only recently agreed to take medication to treat his symptoms but it is too soon for them to have made much impact on his condition.”

“Why is that? Why would he take pills if they weren’t effective?” Tony asked.

“They are effective but it can take several weeks for the patient to realise the full benefit and notice an improvement in symptoms. . .and sometimes doses or even prescriptions need to be adjusted.”

“Was he even fit to be at work?”

“I can’t answer that, Director. He was adamant that he wanted to finish the case he was working on. He was pushing himself hard. . .maybe too hard but it was really important to him. I was afraid that pulling him off the case would have been more detrimental than letting him finish what he’d started. As I am sure you are all aware, Timothy has some major confidence issues and recent events at work and in his personal life have exacerbated those.”

“And you think he is a danger to himself?” Ducky asked.

“I think the potential is there. Timothy has been feeling increasingly isolated at work, for reasons you can all probably answer better than me. For whatever reason he no longer feels he has the support of his co-workers. That, along with the fact that his social life has become a source of stress too; his house move, his writing, his lack of social support and even his family being so far away have created a situation where he genuinely feels he has no one to turn too.”

“But he never expressed those feelings, as far as I am aware,” Ducky explained.

“Timothy already felt himself to be the weak link in the chain, Ducky. Verbalising those feelings would have been another acknowledgement of weakness.”

“But we didn’t shut him out, did we guys,” Tony protested, “it was more like he cut himself off. . .he stopped coming out with us after work, when he changed apartments he never asked us to help with the move and I don’t think any of us were invited up to his new place.”

“That is true, I never got past the doorman,” Ziva confirmed.

“Did you ever think to ask him why he moved?” Dr Avery asked.

“No, I guess he just wanted a bigger fancier place; something to spend his writing windfall on!”

“I’m sure you are all aware that many people who have their homes invaded never again feel secure there! After Tim’s apartment was broken into by that stalker he could no longer bear to live there.”

“You mean, Mikel. . .my stalker?”

“Yes, Ms Scutio. . .and I understand that that incident caused a breakdown in your relationship with Agent McGee. . .and with you too Agent Gibbs!”

“There was a misunderstanding but we got it sorted. . .”

“But Timothy never got past it, did he? He felt betrayed by the teams’ handling of that incident.”

“We talked it out!”

“But forgiving and forgetting are two different things, Agent Gibbs. . .did you ever, in fact, apologise?”

“. . .”

“No I thought not. And you, Ms Scutio, was your relationship with Tim ever the same after that. . .you allowed his Boss to punish him, publicly, for something that really wasn’t his fault.”

“He knew I was sorry, I gave him a hug. . .that’s always been enough before.”

“Well, in this case it wasn’t nearly enough.”

“Is that what this is all about. . .McGee sulking for having his chair taken away!” Tony scoffed.

“No, not all, but I believe it was the catalyst.”

“Dr Avery, in your opinion was McGee’s medical condition a result of his situation at work?” the Director asked.

“I can’t answer that. . .it’s not that simple. Depression is as much a physiological as an emotional problem. I would say that given Timothy’s background and personality, his reaction to situations of prolonged stress is not unexpected. He has a tendency to internalise his worries and finds it extremely difficult to open himself up to others. Although he would be loath to admit it, he is one of life’s natural victims. He has always been different, an outsider, an easy mark for those who boost their own ego by belittling and picking on those not willing or able to fight back.”

“I remember him implying that he was bullied at school,” Ducky offered, “ and that sort of torment can have long lasting consequences, as we are all aware.”

“Oh, I think we all know that he suffered both emotional and physical torment long after he finished his schooling, Ducky!” Dr Avery’s barely veiled criticism caused Tony and Gibbs to shuffle uncomfortably .

“If he was emotionally unsuitable for the job, would it not have been picked up on his psych evaluation, Director?” Ziva asked

“Possibly. But clearly whoever did the eval thought his unique skills would make him an asset to the agency and outweighed the risk that he might not be up to the job.”

“Damnit, he is up to the job! He is a damn fine agent.”

“No one is doubting that, Jethro,” Ducky soothed. “No one is immune from depression. . .it can happen to anyone, at anytime and it is treatable. The fact that Timothy has succumbed to this condition does not make him a bad agent nor is it a sign of weakness. . .If anything the failing is in us, his friends and colleagues. If Timothy had had the support he so clearly needed, the situation would not have escalated to this point, We each of us share the blame and when we get Tim back where he belongs it is up to us all to help him find his feet.”

The team had all but forgotten the presence of the FBI agents but now Fornell stepped forward. “This is all very well and touching but it is not getting us anywhere. We need to find McGee and we need to find him before Parker does.”

“This is our case now, Fornell.”

“Gibbs, I understand that McGee is your man but this is our investigation!”

“No, your job is to find Parker and get him off the street. . .We will find McGee. . .Isn’t that right, Director?”

“Agent Fornell, I believe mutual co-operation would be the best course of action to achieve our common goals,” the Director coaxed.

Fornell knew Gibbs well enough to know when to yield the field. “Very well, but I want to be kept in the loop about McGee. . .he’s a material witness. I do not want any of the scumbags to walk because your man’s flipped!”

“Get out of here, Fornell before I do something we’ll both regret!” There was no mistaking the fury in Gibbs’ comment or body language.

Gibbs turned back to his shell-shocked team.

“Abby. . .”

“On it, Bossman. . .I’ll trace McGee’s phone records and chase up the forensics from the FBI lab. We’ll find him for you, Gibbs.”

“Good girl. Tony. . .”

“I’ll chase up McGee’s bank records and see if he’s left a trail and I’ll put a trace on his car.”

“Ziva. . .”

“I will go and see that horrible publisher woman and see what she knows.”

“No violence, Ziva. . .but bring her in if she gives you any trouble.”

“Yes, Gibbs. . .I almost wish she would,” Ziva added with a feral grin.

“What about you, Gibbs?”

“I’m going for coffee! Then I will get in touch with McGee’s family.

“You think he may have scarpered to San Diego toplay happy families with Mom and Dad, Boss?”

“Fingers crossed that it is that easy, DiNozzo.”

ooooOOOOOoooo

 

“Ok. What we got?” The team had each spent the day on their allotted tasks and had come together to share information.

“Abby?”

“Ok, Gibbs. I called the FBI crime lab. The blood smears did belong to McGee. . .not more than three or four days old.”

“Anything else?”

“I re-ran the blood sample Dr Wilson took on Thursday. . .nothing new for major mass spec to find. There have been no outgoing calls on McGee’s cell since Wednesday evening and that was a text message to Dr Avery’s office. I ran a check on his email accounts and there has been no traffic on any of them since Thursday. . .of course, he could have accounts we don’t know about but we can’t trace them until we have a message to trace.”

“What about his land line?”

“He doesn’t have one, Gibbs.”

“OK, good work, Abby.”

“There is something else, Gibbs. . .I checked McGee’ s PC. . .it has been scrubbed clean of all his personal data. The case files are still there but all the extra security programmes he put in to keep others from accessing it have gone.”

“Can you retrieve anything?”

“It’s possible but only if Tim was really sloppy. . .and I’ve never known him to be sloppy.”

“Ziva, what do we know of McGee’s movements?”

“After he disappeared from the stake-out on Thursday he was picked up by a DC patrol car a few blocks from the docks. The officers recognised his uniform, said he was acting suspiciously. . .they thought he might be drunk, said he seemed out of it. They dropped him off at the front gate.”

“OK. What did you find out from his publisher?”

“That woman is evil!”

“Apart from that?”

“McGee’s picture is no longer on the office wall.”

“McAuthor has been demoted!. . . *ouch*. . .sorry boss”

“Gibbs, according to Ms Crawford her company no longer represents, McGee,” Ziva explained.

“What! Since when?”

“Since shortly after McGee’s second book was published. . .I do not believe their parting was harmonious.”

“McGee was fired?”

“No, Tony. According to Ms Crawford’s assistant it was McGee who terminated their contract.

“And the writer’s conference he was due to go to?”

“McGee’s invitation was withdrawn months ago. The conference was for the Agency’s writers only.”

“Hang on, even last week McGee said he was going!”

“Did he?” Gibbs questioned.

“Yeah, just before he attacked me. He reminded me that he had booked the weekend off to go.”

“And he did.”

“But. . .”

“He did book it for the conference, DiNozzo. He was being economical with the truth.”

“He lied! McGee never lies!”

“No Tony, he didn’t lie. He booked the time off for the conference when he was still eligible to attend. . .he just never told us the situation had changed.

“Ziva, has he found himself another publisher?” Ducky asked.

“No, not according to Ms Crawford’s assistant, Tim hasn’t signed with any of the other big publishers.”

“But he is still writing, isn’t he. . .writing is really important to him,” Abby put in.

“According to Dr Avery, Tim was deeply involved in his newest manuscript,” Ducky explained.

“Did Ms Crawford say why Tim left her agency?”

“She would not say but she was clearly very angry to have lost one of her more profitable clients. I managed to corner her assistant and he was quite happy to talk. Apparently McGee’s original contract was only for two books with an option to extend it if the books were successful. . .Ms Crawford wanted him to sign on again. His books were best sellers and the agency had been approached by two of the major TV networks and a film production company. . .there was a bidding war for the rights to turn the stories into TV or Film franchises. It would have been a very lucrative deal for McGee and Ms Crawford. . .but Tim would not sign.

“What? Why?”

“I believe it was because McGee no longer trusted her. . .not after that stunt she pulled to get extra publicity for his last book.”

“So he just walked away?”

“Yes.”

“He must be off his trolly!. . .look what selling the film rights did for that Harry Potter woman. . .he would have been made for life!”

“And yet he walked away with his integrity intact and he never said anything to us. . .what does that say about us,” Ducky chided sadly.

“So, if he wasn’t at the conference we have no clues as to where he spent the weekend.”

“No, Boss.”

“What did you find in his bank records?”

“Almost nothing to help us. He booked a weekend reservation for an upmarket hotel in Fort Lauderdale but he never showed up there. There have been no transactions on his credit or debit accounts since Thursday.

“Nothing! No Gas, no hotels, no restaurants, not even any cash withdrawals?”

“On Friday morning he took three withdrawals of five thousand dollars from his account from different branches of his bank. He also closed one of his savings accounts and took the funds as a Tellers cheque,” Tony explained.

“How much?”

“Close to fifty thousand dollars, Boss.”

“Can we trace it?”

“No. He could cash it anywhere.”

“And his car? That can’t have disappeared?”

“We have a Bolo covering the eastern seaboard.”

“He’s been gone since Friday, DiNozzo. He could be anywhere.”

“You want me to extend the Bolo nationwide?”

“He could have driven to California or Mexico by now . . .and he does have family in San Diego!”

“Or he could have driven into the nearest tree if he was as concussed as we fear,” Ziva offered.

“I have checked the hospitals and the FBI have an alert out for him.”

“What about airports, stations, Greyhound, car hire. . .?”

“All checked. He is not listed on any passenger manifest.”

“So we have nothing.”

“No. What about his family, Boss? Have they heard from him?”

“No, nothing since the beginning of last week. What about the Bank teller, the doorman at his apartment? Did they think he was acting under duress?”

“According to the doorman, McGee was in and out several times on Friday morning, always alone and on foot. He described him as being subdued and a bit distracted but not noticeably nervous. When he finally signed out early on Friday afternoon he said he was going on assignment and would be away for a while. He left carrying just a black sports bag.

“So we can assume he left of his own volition.”

“I think it likely, Jethro. Fornell said that Stolly and Parker were still planning to target McGee when Stolly was picked up on Sunday evening. . .it appears that they didn’t realise that McGee had already slipped away.”

“Anything else to add, Ducky?”

“Nothing that will help us find Timothy I’m afraid. I have spoken at length to Dr Avery and we have gone over the transcripts of her most recent sessions with Tim. . .I’m afraid Timothy was far more ill than I realised. Apparently his depression had begun to manifest itself as blackouts.” Ducky explained.

“You mean he was having fits? Passing out?” Gibbs demanded angrily.

“No, Jethro, Dr Avery explained them more as mental absences. . .apparently on one occasion Timothy drove all the way to Fair Oaks in Virginia and had no memory of the journey or why he had gone there.”

“Could he have blanked out on the stake-out?”

“It is possible, though if Fornell’s suspect was telling the truth and Tim also suffered a head injury. . .well, that could cause a temporary memory loss.” Ducky explained.

“But why would he run, Ducky? Why wouldn’t he come to us if he was in trouble?”

“My best guess would be fear and guilt, my dear. Fear and guilt!”

 

&&&&&&&&

 

Wednesday. Week 1

“Ok. What we got?” It was the same question he had barked out umpteen times over the last three days but when there was little to report.
“We have nothing, Gibbs. Nothing! Tim left everything he values behind: his badge, his phone, his laptop, his ID, his wallet, his passport, even his credit cards. His family don’t know where he’s gone or why and he’s not been in touch with anyone we can trace. . .Why would he do that Gibbs? Why?”

“I don’t know, Abbs. . .I just don’t know.”

“Tony, Ziva, you got anything new?”

Tony flicked the remote and brought up a jerky surveillance tape onto the plasma screen “Boss, you reported that McGee had gone when you came out of MTAC at 22.30.”

“And?”

“The security log at McGee’s apartment shows that he didn’t arrive there until early Friday morning.”

“So?”

“So, assuming he wasn’t in any fit state to be out on the town. . .”

“You getting to the point any time soon, DiNozzo!”

“I checked the security cameras here. . .I tracked McGee leaving autopsy just after 10pm. . .but he didn’t leave then, Boss, he went upstairs. . .”

“To MTAC?”

“No Boss, to the on-call rooms.”

“So when did he leave?”

“From what I could tell he came back to the bull-pen at around 03.30, spent a couple of hours at his desk and finally went off radar just before the day staff arrived.”

“Could you see what he was doing?”

“No. The picture quality is really poor and several times blanks out altogether.”

“Malfunction or interference?” Gibbs demanded.

“No way to tell. The playback system for the whole of last week is hinky. The engineers are still working on it. . .”

“Abby?”

“I’ve had a look at it Gibbs but some of the data just isn’t there. . .I can’t retrieve images that weren’t recorded”

“What are we missing, Gibbs?” Ziva asked.

“Wadd’ya mean, Ziva?”

“To disappear so completely is not an easy task, it takes planning and resources. I could do it if I needed to but I would not have expected it of McGee .”

“You suggesting McGee had this planned?”

“If we are to assume that he is still alive then he must have had an escape plan or a lock-hole already in place,” she commented. No one had the heart to correct her error.

“Given what we know of his state of mind, I think it highly unlikely that Timothy had the time or the energy to plan his own disappearance, my dear.”

“Then how do you explain it, Ducky. . .I would not have though McGee capable of such deception.”

“I can’t. . .this sort of impulsive, irrational behaviour is totally out of character for Timothy.”

“Ducky, do you think he is dead?”

“Dr Avery is concerned that he might be capable of doing himself harm but I will hold onto my hope until I am forced by circumstance to believe otherwise. His medications were not found in his apartment, so we must hope that he is still taking them and that it is helping him to cope.”

“And the threat to him from Parker?”

“That is a greater concern, I will admit, but my heart tells me that Timothy left before Parker or Stolly could get to him.”

“’Ya think he’s still in DC, Duck?”

“Again, Jethro, I am unwilling to speculate. The fact that his car has not been spotted makes me wonder if he isn’t holed up somewhere local. . .he has the financial resources to find a safe and comfortable refuge.”

“Will he come back on his own, Ducky?” Tony asked.

“Impossible to predict. . .if it were just a concussion or just a nervous breakdown, I would be more hopeful but given that both factors may be involved. . . .”

There really was nothing else to add. Tony and Ziva returned to the bullpen and Gibbs and Ducky remained behind to comfort Abby. She was way past the point of tears and had taken to spending any unoccupied time in autopsy rather than her own lab, needing company to get away from the memories of happier times when she and McGee had been friends and had so often worked together.

“He really has gone, hasn’t he? I thought to begin with that he was just messing with us. . .maybe trying to get some attention and that he would come back. . .but that’s not going to happen, I know it’s not. He must really hate us. . .and we deserve it. I thought, all these months, that he was sulking but he wasn’t, was he?. . .he was really sad and we never noticed and we never even asked him.”

“Timothy doesn’t hate you or anyone, Abby. . .it is just not in his nature.”

“Ducky’s right, Abbs.”

“Then why would he run off and not say anything? He must know how much we’d worry. . .and his family, too. . .can you imagine how his poor family must be feeling. It’s cruel!”

“Tim isn’t thinking, Abbygail. He’s ill and likely very frightened and confused. . .he wouldn’t have done this if he were thinking straight.”

Any further discussion was cut short when Ziva called down to report that McGee’s family had arrived.

 

“Commander McGee, Mrs McGee, Sarah,” Gibbs greeted the McGee clan in the conference room and invited them to sit.

“Agent Gibbs. . .any news?”

“No, Sir. I’m afraid not. We and the FBI are extending all our resources into finding Agent McGee. . .unfortunately, so far we have had no success. We have alerts out for him and
his car but at the moment we have no clues as to his whereabouts or where to concentrate our search.”

“What can you tell us, Agent Gibbs? Why did Tim run away?”

“It’s Jethro, Ma’am and I wish I could answer that. As I explained on the phone we now know that Tim was being treated for depression. We also believe that while on duty on Thursday he received a head injury. . .” Gibbs explained.

“And this wasn’t assessed at the time!”

“McGee didn’t report it, Ma’am. . .we only learned of it after his disappearance.”

“I think you’d better tell us everything, Agent Gibbs!” There was no evading the censure in the Commander’s thinly veiled order. Gibbs explained all they had learned.

“Have you heard anything from your son since last week?” Gibbs asked at the end of his explanation, “ a phone call, an email. . .anything?”

“This arrived yesterday just before we left for the airport.” Commander McGee pulled a padded envelope from his briefcase and placed it on the desk.

“May I?,” Gibbs asked for permission before pulling on gloves and shaking the contents out of the opened packet onto the desk. “Is there a personal letter here. . .anything to tell us where he was going or what he was thinking?”

“No. There is a key to a safety deposit box, a legal form giving me Power of Attorney over his affairs, his will. . .and a brief hand written note saying he had been called away. . .nothing about where or why or how to contact him.”

“Does he have another cell phone that you know about. . .he left his cell in his apartment along with his laptop and his wallet and ID.

“Tim never goes anywhere without his cell or his laptop. . .they are like part of him.” Sarah explained.

“What about friends or family? Does he have anyone you can think of he would turn to in a crisis?”

“Up until now I would have said that was us; Tim has always been very close to us and very open about his concerns. . .and his friends here are the closest he has ever had.”

“So there is no one you can think of he would go to if he needed a bolt-hole.

“No.”

“Sarah, can you think of anything?”

“Well, I don’t know if it is important but the weekend before last Tim disappeared. . .I tried to contact him several times. . .he’d said he had a birthday gift for Mom he wanted me to take out to San Diego with me. . .I couldn’t get hold of him.”

“Ah, well that weekend we can account for,” Gibbs explained. “Dr Avery admitted McGee to sick bay after her session with him on the Friday evening.”

“What for?”

“Apparently he was exhausted. . .too many nights with too little sleep finally caught up with him. He was heavily sedated for the whole weekend. He slept for 48 hours straight.”

“And did it help?”

“It allowed him to function. . .he seemed better when he came into work on the Monday. . .unfortunately the stresses of the week caught up with him after that.”

“And you knew nothing of his condition or treatment?”

“No, Ma’am. Tim hid it very effectively. I had no idea that he was ill or that he was struggling so hard until it all blew up on Thursday.”

“You mean it was totally out of the blue!” Mrs McGee was trying hard to keep a lid on her emotions.

“Not exactly. . .with hindsight, we, his colleagues, recognise that Tim’s behaviour was out of character. . .he was quiet, moody, even subdued at times. Don’t get me wrong! He
was still doing his job and doing it well. . .without him we would never have got this important operation off the ground.”

“But?”

“I didn’t look too closely,” Gibbs admitted. “I didn’t ask the right questions. . .if I had I might have prevented the situation from escalating.”

“Well, I hold you responsible for getting him back here where he belongs, doing the job he loves.”

“Ma’am, that may not be possible even if we find him unharmed and he wants to come back. . . Dr Avery. . .”

“NO! I will never believe that my son would harm himself, Agent Gibbs. Never!”

“Dr Avery believes it is possible.”

“No! She may be an excellent psychiatrist but I am his mother. . .just find him.”

“We will do everything within our power. You have my word.”

 

Week 2. Friday

“Gibbs?”

“Fornell, anything new?” Gibbs was alone in the bullpen. Ziva and DiNozzo were processing the recently apprehended suspect of their current murder case.

“Sorry, Jethro, no sign of McGee,” the FBI agent confirmed sadly.

“But?”

“I just got word from our field office in Houston. Parker was picked up two hours ago after a shoot-out in a motel.”

“How long before you get him back to DC?”

“Could be a while. He shot and killed a police officer. The local LEO’s are baying for his blood.”

“Just get him here Fornell or I’ll be one the first available flight down there. . .I want to know what he knows about McGee.”

“I’m on it Jethro.”

“It’s been two weeks, Tobias.”

“I know, Jethro but we’re not giving up. . .”

“Dammit, I want him back. . .!”

 

Monday; Week 6

 

They had had the Monday morning briefing and were hard at work pretending to be busy. The pall of gloom over McGee’s disappearance lingered but they still had work to do, even though they had no current case and, besides, McGee’s desk was no longer empty. . .the Director had forced a TAD agent on the team despite Gibbs’ protest.

The other agents and headquarters staff had stopped enquiring after McGee, at least to Gibbs. The case had officially gone cold and any reference to it only added to the distress of McGee’s former team-mates.

But in their own time they never stopped looking and chasing down leads.

“Special Agent Gibbs, Sir.” The ‘sir’ was enough to snap Gibbs’ heads up but any tirade the senior agent had planned died on his lips.

“Sid, what can I do for you?” Sid Bricker had never, to Gibbs’ recollection, ever ventured up to the bull pen from his workplace in the evidence garage before. The former seaman was now well into his sixties, his paunch straining the buttons of his red coverall.

“Sir, I think you need to come down and see, Sir.” There was something in the man’s manner that set Gibbs’ trouble-radar pinging.

“What’s this about, Sid?”

“It’s about Agent McGee, Sir.” Without waiting for an invitation DiNozzo and Ziva were out of their seats and following Gibbs and Sid to the elevator.

“Boss! Sid! What is going on?” Ziva asked. Sid looked to Gibbs for permission to explain.

“Go ahead, Sid.”

“We were told to clear out the vehicular evidence garage from cases that have cleared the courts, to free up space,” Sid explained. They stepped off the elevator into the relative gloom of the underground garage just as a tow truck pulled away towing a dirty and battered white van. As the exhaust fumes dispersed, Sid pointed to a small tarp-covered vehicle standing alone in the now emptied space. They approached the car slowly, almost afraid of what the unveiling would reveal. . .almost afraid that it wasn’t what they now expected.

Slowly. . .gently, they peeled back the tarp, DiNozzo with his eyes screwed shut, Ziva her expression blank.

“Well? Tony’s voice croaked out the question still not daring to look.

“It is McGee’s Porsche, Tony,” Ziva confirmed.

“Well, I’ll be damned!”

“He’s not. .he’s not in it, is he Boss?”

“The Keys are in the ignition, Gibbs.”

“Don’t touch anything. Get Abby down here. . . .Stan how long has it been here?”

“Well, that’s the funny thing, Agent Gibbs. . .the car is logged into evidence, it has a case number, reference and everything. . .that is why we didn’t find it before now and it was well hidden; such a small car was dwarfed by the van and the truck that were parked on either side of it.”

“McGee is more devious than I gave him credit for.”

“Why is that, Officer David?”

“He chose to hide it in plain sight. . .that is the expression, yes? He wanted to keep it safe and what better place could he have chosen. . .we have been guarding his prized possession without even realising it.”

“And it explains why we had no hits on the BOLO.”

“Ya think, DiNozzo. . .but we still have no clue as to how he left town!”

“If he did not leave town then he is dead.”

“I’ll not believe that till you bring me proof, Officer David!”

“What, Tony?” Ziva challenged as Gibbs stalked away.

“He is still trying to convince himself that McGee is alive, Ziva.”

“As am I Tony but it is foolish not to face facts.”

 

Wednesday; Week 23

 

If McGee had looked young and green when he first joined the MCRT then Agent Zack Pentin looked positively juvenile; a baby-faced teen sitting at an adults desk pretending to be a grown-up. He was a cyber-tech not a field agent and as far as Gibbs was concerned he was a temporary member of the team until the situation with McGee was settled one way or another.

To DiNozzo he was always Zack, never Probie or any other nickname. Ziva was. . . protective, at least until she was sure that Gibbs slightly paternal attitude to the young tech was
not just a flash in the pan. And to Abby he was a partner in crime; they shared the same taste in music, conversed in cyber-speak and spent hours surfing the net for clues as to where McGee was hiding; lurking in chat-rooms and on-line games long after everyone else had gone home.

McGee’s disappearance had changed the team; their collective guilt was like a wound that wouldn’t heal, a sore spot to be prodded regularly to remind them of their failure. It wasn’t even that they could grieve and yet the pain of loss was still there. There was no memorial, no funerary rites, and no final goodbye. Commander McGee’s weekly phone calls had slipped to fortnightly and each time they spoke Gibbs could hear the defeat more loudly in the Commander’s voice.

And Gibbs, he shouldered the burden, keeping the remainder of the team together by sure force of will. Even more taciturn and irascible than ever but somehow more careful in how he dealt with the team. . .and in turn they all tried more diligently to please him and get the job done.

Zack was alone in the bullpen when Commander McGee stepped off the elevator and strode over towards the team’s area.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Commander McGee. I need to speak to Agent Gibbs.”

“Er. . .I-I’m sorry, Sir but Agent Gibbs. . .”

“. . .Is right behind me, Zack. Commander McGee, it is good to see you, Sir.” Tony motioned Zack back into his seat and shook hands with McGee’s father. The Commander didn’t reply but the slight nod of his head was enough to get Tony’s and Ziva’s attention.

“Sir. . .you have news?” Gibbs rounded the corner, sizing up the situation in an instant.

“Sort of, Agent Gibbs.”

“Zack, stay by the phones. Commander, let’s adjourn to the lab. . Abby will want to hear your news first hand. Ziva, get Ducky and meet us in Abby’s.”

There was a buzz of subdued excitement as they waited for Ducky to arrive.

“Well, Commander, what can you tell us?”

The Commander pulled a clear document folder from his briefcase and laid it on the desk. “This arrived yesterday,” he explained as they all strained to read the hand written note.

“Do you have the envelope, Sir?” Abby asked.

“No, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to retrieve the envelope. The letter was addressed to me at work. It wasn’t marked as personal so my PA opened it. I’m afraid the envelope was shredded.

“Could she remember any of the details from the envelope?”

“It was franked rather than stamped, the address was fully correct and it had the logo of the Salvation Army,” he explained.

“The Salvation Army?”

“Ah,” Ducky explained with a smile. “ I take it this is a message from Timothy?”

“Yes, Dr Mallard, I believe Tim chose to send us a message via their missing persons’ service, knowing that they would honour his desire for anonymity.”

“Abby can we trace the letter?”

“No Gibbs, not without the envelope and the Salvation Army will not give us any help, not without Tim’s permission.” Abby explained. “Commander, are you sure this is Tim’s writing?”

“Yes, Abby, it is from Tim.”

“Can. . . we read it?”

“Of course. . . .I took the liberty of taking a photocopy for Tim’s Mom so that you can work your magic on the original. . .I know that if there are any clues to be found that you will find them.”

The letter was addressed to the McGee’s and was full of apologies and self-recrimination. At some points Abby had difficulty deciphering the tiny scrawl and relied on Ducky to unscramble the words.

“Are you sure this is from McGee. . .even his alter-ego, Gemcity, wrote better than this!” Tony commented.

“The writing is Tim’s. I brought one of his high-school exercise books for comparison. . .handwriting was never Tim’s strong points, he preferred a keyboard to a pencil even as a teen.”

“Well, Duck?”

“My initial thoughts, after the relief of knowing he is still alive, is that he is still greatly distressed. . .I sense enormous guilt. . he is apologising to his family for the distress his disappearance is causing them, to the team he feels he has abandoned, to the boss he attacked, the duty he walked away from. . .he asks for forgiveness and yet he clearly feels that he that he doesn’t deserve it.”

“Do you see any indication that he even wants to come home, Duck?”

“No, Jethro, I’m afraid it is quite the opposite. . .I fear this is his way of saying goodbye. . .of seeking closure for his family and himself. He assures them he is safe and well and tells them they are better off without him. . .that we are better off without him.”

“Do we keep looking for him, Boss?”

“Damn right we do!”

 

&&&&&&&

 

Officer Don Brady pulled his patrol car up to the front of the small store, two blocks back from Main Street. It was a daily routine whenever he was on early shift in the City and one he enjoyed.

He liked his City best at this time of year, in the hiatus between the end of the tourist season and the true grip of winter. With the cruise season over, the City was no longer subject to the daily arrival of numerous floating palaces and their influx of noisy, camera-toting invaders. Oh, he knew the city economy needed the money the tourists brought in but he, like many locals, vaguely resented the necessity.

‘Books ‘n Beans’, known fondly to the locals as BB’s, had undergone many changes over the years. It had started as the offices of a local newspaper and then a bookstore and the most recent tenants had taken out the front few bookshelves and set aside the area as a coffee shop and internet cafe, if two computers qualified as such. The premises weren’t fancy, not like the polished, uniform, corporate bookstores of the big cities; the shelves were dusty and disorganised and the latest best-sellers often took weeks to appear on the shelves but the coffee was good. The regular clientele were undemanding and forgiving of the deficiencies, appreciating the warm welcome and the homely atmosphere that partners Brian and JonJo had created.

Even in the cruise season BB’s wasn’t on the tourist trail. It was too far from Main Street to be easily found and its storefront not conducive to attracting passing trade. To the locals it was a little gem to be guarded jealously. The clientele varied depending on the time of day. Mornings were when the local seniors and the school moms called in to chat over coffee. Lunchtimes saw the local office workers slipping in for a snack and from mid afternoon it was the teens that dropped in on their way home from school to hang out and bicker over the use of the computers.

Brady came in mid-morning and his habits were so regular that his large mug of best Columbian was waiting for him on the counter. On this particular cold November morning Brady arrived to find the small table in the corner empty of its usual quiet occupant.

Motioning to the empty chair, Brady leaned against the counter and waited for Jonjo to finish up with his current customer.

“No Al today, Jonjo?”

“Haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon.”

“He OK then?”

“Seemed to be. Brian went up and knocked on his door earlier but he got no reply,” he explained.

Brady filed the information away and added it to the other information he had learned about the enigmatic stranger who had appeared in their midst. For the last six months the newcomer had been a daily fixture in the store and on only two occasions had he known the man to break his routine.

Al had arrived on a supply ship in early spring, just before the tourist season got into full swing. After a few days in the sailors hostel by the harbour he had answered an ad in the local free paper and taken attic rooms on the third floor over the bookshop. To begin with he had kept to himself, saying nothing and avoiding almost all interaction with the proprietors and customers at BB’s. He was quiet and respectful, he paid his rent in cash every Saturday and apart from a weekly visit to the local credit union and occasional trips to the local convenience store and the walk-in clinic his only other outings were his daily early morning walk to the harbour and a jog every afternoon.

Like Brady’s, Al’s routines were so firmly entrenched that any deviation from the norm was a cause for notice. And not without good reason; on the two occasions when Al had failed to appear for his morning coffee Brian had found him collapsed in his room. The first time they called an ambulance, scared that they couldn’t rouse the man. By the time the paramedics arrived, Al was awake enough to refuse to be taken to the small local hospital and explained away his collapse as a severe migraine for which he already had medication. On the second occasion, Brian had been able to rouse him enough to get him to swallow his pills and the two shop owners took care of him until he was well enough to resume his normal routine.

Brady was almost at the end of his coffee-break when Al slipped into the store and took up his usual seat.

“Everything alright, Al? The boys were getting worried about you.” Brady placed a large cup of coffee down and slid it across the table.

Al gave an apologetic shrug and a ghost of a smile to the two men behind the counter.

“Sorry. Needed a new prescription. The queue at the clinic was longer than I expected. Everyone was getting flu shots.”

“You Ok, Al? You’re a bit pale even for you.”

“Lot on my mind,” AL offered.

“Anything I can do?”

Al shook his head and winced.

“You eaten today?”

“No, mom! He teased with a rare brief flash of humour.

“You need a keeper!” Brady snagged a muffin from the display and passed it to him.

“No. I’m really better alone.”

 

A few days later Brady was on the early shift when he was called to a possible break-in at the chandlers on the harbour. He checked the premises but nothing seemed amiss. He radioed in his findings and set off to find a coffee to ward off the early morning chill. It was one of those icy, still, autumn days when the sea mist lay like a dense but shallow shroud obscuring the water but leaving the thick tall pine stands on the shore glistening in the first tentative rays of the sun. He shivered and pulled on a thick fleece jacket and tucked his hands inside his sleeves.

As he walked to the coffee stand he saw a lone figure out on the dock and did a double-take; the figure seemed to be seated on a cloud of roiling fog. Shaking his head at the mental image of Al sitting cross-legged on a magic carpet of mist, Brody got two large mugs of coffee and headed over to his friend. As he got closer the mist swirled and he could see that Al was sitting on one of the large wooden sleepers used to keep people and vehicles getting too close to the edge of the dock.

“Here Al,” Brady held out one of the cups but Al didn’t move or acknowledge his presence, his gaze fixed over the water, somewhere in the middle distance.

“Here, Lad, you look chilled. Get this inside you.” Finally after a long pause the silent man took the cup and nodded a thank you.

“Everything OK, AL?” this time the only response was a slight shake of the head but he did at least sip the coffee.

“It’s beautiful here isn’t it, especially at this time of year when the place isn’t chocked full of cruise ships every day. See that eagle over there on the telegraph pole? He’s waiting for the mist to clear so he can catch him some breakfast. I suspect his mate is around here somewhere.” Brady kept up the one-sided conversation waiting for the other man to finally open up. When he did it was not what the officer expected.

“Do you believe in redemption?” Al asked quietly, not taking his gaze from the majestic view.

“Redemption? What do you mean, Lad?”

“Do you believe it is possible to undo the wrongs you have committed in the past?”

“That’s a deep question for this early in the morning. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that. Perhaps you should ask Father Thomas. . .it’s more his territory than mine.”

“You arrest people and put them through the system. . .is that for punishment or do you believe they can be reformed? Is there hope?”

Brady put his hand on the other man’s arm and gently but firmly turned him until their gazes locked. “Is there something you want to tell me, Al?”

“I’m not a criminal, if that’s what you are asking!”

“No. No, I don’t believe you are. I’ve been in this job a long time and my gut is a pretty good judge of character and, whilst you are a man of mystery, I do not believe you are a criminal.”

“Thank you.”

“But I do think you are hiding!”

“Why?”

“This is not a place many people come to, except for a brief vacation. It is too quiet, too isolated.” Brady explained.

“That was what I was looking for.”

“Because you needed to get away?”

“Sort of. I’m a writer; there were too many distractions back there, too many complications.”

“So you decided to escape to the wilderness?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t as simple as that. . .I-I was in trouble. . .ill. . .I couldn’t cope with it any more. . .”

“Did it work?”

“Did what work?”

“Did you escape from the problems left behind. . .or did they follow you here?”

“How do you know. . .”

“Al, allow me let you in on a little secret! Everyone has things in their past that they are afraid or ashamed of; everyone has their demons, but running away isn’t the answer. The problems stay with you because they are part of you. . .and you can’t run away from yourself.”

“So what do you do?”

“You have to turn round and face them! You have got to stop giving the fear the power to paralyse you.”

“And if you can’t! If the things you did were so big, so awful. . .what then?”

“You said you are not a criminal. . .so what can be so terrible that you can’t go back and make it right!”

“No. . .I can’t go back.”

“Can’t. . .or won’t?”

“Can’t. I can’t. . .there is nothing left for me there. . .I threw it all away.”

“What about friends? Family? There must be someone who misses you?”

“They are better off without me.”

“No. I don’t believe that, Al.”

“They are, believe me. They can move on. . .”

“Do they even know where you are? Do they even know if you’re alive?” Brady asked more sharply.

“No,”

“And you don’t think they’re worrying themselves sick over you?”

“. . .” Al squirmed and couldn’t bring himself to answer.

“Are they good people?” Brady demanded. “Did they love you and raise you right?”

“Yes. . .of course”

“So, do they deserve this?”

“No.”

“Al, I’ve been in law enforcement for a long time and in the military before that, and I’m telling you now that there is nothing more devastating for a family than the uncertainty of knowing whether a loved one is alive or dead!”

“It’s too late. . .”

“It is never too late. If you are determined to hide here, then at least let them know that you are alive. . .give them that hope.”

“You don’t understand. . .If I contact them they’ll come after me. . .they’ll find me. . .I don’t want that!”

“A phone call. . .an email. . “

“. . .can be traced, believe me, I know.”

“By mail then.”

“It’s too risky. . .even a postmark would be enough.”

“Then do it through an impartial third party. Look it up on the internet. There must be a charity or organisation that would pass on a message anonymously for you.”

“Why is this so important to you?”

Brady didn’t answer immediately, instead he pulled out his wallet and flipped it open ant a warn and faded photograph.“ This is my older brother Kyle. . .he was shot down in the first Gulf War and they never retrieved his body and part of me still wonders if he is still alive somewhere. . .it broke my mother’s heart. . .”

“I’m sorry, Don,”

“Don’t be sorry, just make it right. . .let them know you are still alive. . .don’t let your parents suffer any longer.”

Brady gave him a ride back to BB’s and sat beside him at the computer as he clicked open the search engine. Two minutes! Two minutes was all it took to find the information he
needed. Brady didn’t give him time to think about it; he stood at the counter with a coffee while Al wrote a note and put it into a stamped addressed envelope and put that envelope and a covering letter inside a larger packet addresses to the Salvation Army office in LA.

Al was shaking by the time he mailed it. Without another word he retreated to his room, took his migraine medication and slept through to the next morning.

 

&&&&&&&&

 

Bullpen. Monday Week 29

 

The bells and the front and rear elevators dinged almost simultaneously and the occupants converged on Gibbs’ desk, both bursting with news, though Fornell’s manner was more restrained than Abby’s. Gibbs had just answered the phone and he held up his hand for silence, turning his back on his team to concentrate on the caller. His conversation was long and terse and at one point he tucked the handset against his shoulder so he could jot down a note. After several more minutes he thanked the caller, placed the handset in its cradle and sank into his chair. . .and just for a second or two he buried his face in his hands.

“Gibbs. . .Gibbs, you’ll never guess. . ?” Abby was almost bouncing, the computer print-out waving in her hand like a flag.

“Gibbs, is everything OK?” Ziva was the only one not so distracted that she couldn’t see the disbelief on the boss’s face.

He shook his head to clear his thinking and took a large swig of cold coffee. “Fornell, you come to tell me you’ve found McGee!”

Fornell grinned. “We know is whereabouts, yeah.”

Abby stomped as her excitement evaporated. “I was going to tell you that, Gibbs!” she pouted.

“Is anyone going to fill us in?” Tony asked, indicating himself and Ziva, “Or is this need to know. . .cause if the Probster has been found, I really think we need to know.”

“Who was on the phone, Gibbs?”

“An Officer Don Brady.”

“Agent Fornell, how did you and Abby know McGee has been found?” Ziva asked, seeing that, for the moment Gibbs was too distracted to give more information.

“Someone ran a trace on McGee’s prints.”

“That’s what I was going to tell you,” Abby explained waving the print-out, “I’ve had one of my computers monitoring AFIS so I’d know if anyone put in a search for McGee’s
prints. . .there was a ding waiting for me when I arrived this morning.

“Who did? And Why? And just where the hell is McGee hiding?” Tony demanded.

Gibbs ignored them all and picked up the phone. “Ducky, we’re on our way down,” he snappped.

They all trooped down to autopsy.

“Oh my, Jethro, I take it you have news?”

“Uh, huh.”

“About Timothy?”

“Uh,huh?”

“Jethro, is he dead!” Ducky enquired gently.

“No, Duck. . .” he whispered and just for a few seconds he dropped his head as he allowed the overwhelming feeling of relief to wash over him.

“Where is Timothy, Jethro?”

“He’s in hospital. . .he had an accident. The doctors asked the local PD to try and trace his next of kin.” Gibbs explained.

“How bad is it, do you know?”

“He’s been unconscious for a few days. . .they think he fell while running in the woods. He wasn’t found for several hours. He has an open fracture of his femur and was suffering
from severe hypothermia. They can’t explain why he hasn’t regained consciousness.”

“And where exactly is this hospital, Boss?”

“Alaska, Tony. Juneau, Alaska.”

“Boy, he certainly didn’t take any chances of anyone he knew bumping into him, did he?”

“It is a long way from here, Yes?”

“It is a long way from anywhere Ziva.”

“Then he did not wish to be found, did he?”

“No, my dear, I’m afraid he didn’t.”

“What are we going to do, Bossman?”

“Fornell, what is the Bureau’s position on this?” Gibbs asked his counterpart.

“We no longer need McGee’s testimony. We have enough evidence on Parker and Stolly and the rest of their co-conspirators to put them all away. We no longer consider McGee to be at risk. . .he is all yours, Jethro!”

“Thanks, Tobias.”

“Let me know if there is anything the Bureau can do.” Fornell waved a salute and left the shell-shocked team to work out their next move.

“Gibbs you’re going to go and bring him home?” Abby asked as if it were a foregone conclusion.

“Don’t know, Abby.”

“First things first, Jethro,” Ducky interjected, “Do you have the contact details of Timothy’s doctor. We need to know more about his condition before we make any plans. Perhaps you should contact McGee’s parents and let them know the news. . .it may not be up to us to make any decisions!”

“Should I let the Director know, Gibbs?” Tony asked.

“Not sure it’s the Directors problem anymore, DiNozzo. . .McGee’s Special Agent status with the Agency has been revoked!”

“What!”

“They cut him loose!”

“He’s been gone a long time. He walked out on the job. . .there are protocols. . .”

“That’s cold, Boss. Really cold.”

 

It was taking too long to get official authorisation to travel so Gibbs had Abby book him the flights; he put in a request for leave and headed off without it, leaving DiNozzo in charge of the team. He had a lot of time for reflection on the journey. There were no direct flights from DC to Juneau, so with stopovers in Detroit and Seattle he had more than fifteen hours to try to work out a strategy. It wasn’t enough.

Gibbs knew the McGees would arrive before him and he had enough compassion for their situation not to begrudge them the earliest possible reunion with their son. . .he only hoped Tim had regained consciousness and would know that they were there for him. He wasn’t so sure of his own welcome or if McGee would even agree to see him. But he wasn’t about to give up the opportunity. He wasn’t about to leave McGee behind again, not until he was damned sure it was what the boy really wanted.

ooooOOOOooo

Even after all these months he still thought of himself as Tim, though to all intents and purposes, that person, the person he was before, had ceased to exist on a bright, Spring, Friday morning. He tried hard not to dwell on the time before; it still hurt, however much he schooled himself to keep it firmly in the past.

The guilt was the hardest part to lock away. He had so much to answer for. He wouldn’t allow himself the luxury of thinking of his family, it was too painful and he hated himself for what his disappearance must have put them through. And, Gibbs! He’d assaulted Gibbs; knocked him off his feet. . . he’d assaulted a Federal Officer, his Boss. . .there could be no going back from that fact alone.

He could remember little of his first few days on the run. . .just snatches of memory; riding in the truck of a cab, a rundown motel or two, a room near an airport, a long flight. Those first few days were a haze of pain, of jumbled images and the occasional kindness of strangers. He knew he had been sick for a while and once woke up in the emergency room of a charity hospital. . .he had walked out before they asked him questions he couldn’t answer.

Then there was a boat ride! Long slow days at sea in a cramped, foul smelling cabin; the atmosphere soured further by his own unending sea-sickness. He was supposed to be working his passage but even the hard-as-nails skipper agreed he was no use to them, even in the galley. They charged him for his passage and put him ashore at their first port. It had taken three days in the Sailors’ Hostel for him to recover sufficiently to venture out and discover exactly where he had landed. . .and he had fallen completely under the spell of the Alaskan wilderness; the steep wooded hillsides, the soaring, majestic rugged peaks and the silence.

He found himself lodging and in the welcoming little bookshop he found a sanctuary. Over the months his days settled into a soothing rhythm and he found a measure of contentment. He found peace in his anonymity and in the absence of pressure. Early every morning he walked down to the harbour and had breakfast in one of the dockside cafes before returning to the bookshop where, from his table in the corner, he could observe the locals, read quietly or write. He had neither a typewriter nor a computer, so he wrote in longhand. He had not replaced his cell-phone or his lap-top and the only time he used the computers in the bookshop was when one of the locals or the school kids asked for help. He had no wish to risk betraying his whereabouts by accessing his old online life.

The locals soon accepted his presence; he was quiet and respectful and when they finally managed to engage him in conversation they realised that he was an educated and intelligent man.

As his physical condition improved, with adequate rest and a healthier diet than he was used to, he began to work on his fitness. He began to run every afternoon, slowly and for short distances at first, gradually pushing himself until he could run hard for an hour or more.

His only real threat to his sanctuary occurred when he was helping Jonjo to unpack a new shipment of merchandise for the bookstore and pulled out a book with a very familiar jacket. His first instinct was to hide the book. Instead he replaced the book in the carton and with his heart racing and his breath tight in his chest he forced his feet to carry him outside to gulp in lungfulls of fresh air. It took a long time and a slow walk around the block before he felt calm enough to return. By the time he ventured back inside the new books had all been shelved without comment and his anxiety levels finally dropped. Taking a few minutes to himself in the rest-room, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and realised, with a shock, that there was little chance of anyone recognising him from the photograph on the dust jacket of the book; he no longer shared any resemblance to the polished and confident looking writer dressed to the nines in a designer dinner jacket. The man staring back at him from the grimy mirror looked much older and more careworn; his hair was long and unkempt, dark rings shadowed his eyes and a months’ worth of scruffy stubble disguised the once hated baby-faced cheeks. From the fit of his belt he knew he had lost a fair amount of weight but it was weight he could afford to lose, he was fitter now than at any time since he had finished FLETC.

And now, months later, the anxiety was back. From the moment he posted the letter that feeling of breathless anxiety had deepened as each day passed. In his head he knew there was nothing in the letter to reveal his identity or his whereabouts but a sure gut instinct was telling him that his hiatus would soon be terminated. . .he was so sure that he had begun to pack up his belongings, not because he intended to run again but because he was running out of time.

He tried to keep his anxiety hidden but he kept catching the worried glances and the whispered conversations of his friends. The scrutiny made him jumpy and to escape from the discomfort he started pushing himself, going for longer and harder runs, not returning to his rooms until he had run himself to the point of exhaustion. . . .until one day he pushed himself too far and stumbled on uneven ground, falling hard and blacking out at the excruciating pain in his leg.

 

&&&&&&&&&

 

“Commander McGee. How’s Tim?” Gibbs had booked into a hotel for the night to sleep off the exhaustion of the flight and was now at the hospital looking for information.

“Agent Gibbs.”

“Is he awake, Sir?”

“He woke briefly yesterday. . .enough to know we are here and to make it clear he is not happy about the fact.”

“I’m sorry, Sir. How is Mrs McGee taking it?”

“She’s a very strong lady, Agent Gibbs. . .she will soon work her maternal magic on Tim,” the Commander explained with a grin that Gibbs returned.

“I don’t doubt it, Sir. . .and what do the doctors say.”

“They are taking him back to the OR today. They were unable to operate on the femur before because of an infection in the wound. Now they have that under control they can pin the fracture and close up the wound. . .it’s going to be a slow healing process, Gibbs.”

“And his head?”

“No sign of any new trauma but the radiologist did find evidence of an old skull fracture.”

“Let me guess, six or seven months old!”

“Could be.”

“So the coma?. . .”

“Wasn’t really a true coma. I spent a long time with the psychiatrist and Officer Brady yesterday trying to piece together Tim’s last few months.”

“And?”

“Dr Mathews thinks that essentially Tim just shut down. . .a sort of system overload. . .he just couldn’t cope with another trauma.”

“So what now?”

“Well, we wait for him to recover from the surgery and then we will help him through this.”

“Could I speak to this Officer Brady?”

“Of course.” The Commander fished out a card from his pocket and handed it over. “I should tread carefully, Jethro. I get the impression that Officer Brady has developed quite a soft spot for Tim. . .seems he took him under his wing. . .thinks we must have treated him badly for him to have run off like he did.”

“We did!”

Gibbs called a cab to take him to the bookshop and while he waited for the Officer to arrive he ordered a cup of best Columbian. Brady was late but Gibbs didn’t begrudge him the time, it allowed him to take stock of his surroundings and observe the locals; he picked up a book off the shelf and found a quiet table.

“Special Agent Gibbs?” The Officer’s greeting was curt.

“Yes, you must be Dan Brady. I’m pleased to meet you.” Gibbs proffered a hand in greeting and the two men sized each other up over a slightly too long, too firm handshake.

“Why are you here, Gibbs?”

“Wanted to see for myself where Tim’s been hiding.”

No! Not here in the bookshop. . .I mean here in Alaska? I can understand his parents dropping everything but you. . .”

“Tim’s one of my team. . .and I don’t leave my men behind. I let him down and that doesn’t sit well with me.”

“So this is about your own guilty conscience!”

“Hell, no. This is about Tim.”

“But he made pretty damn sure to get away from you. Wasn’t his choice clear enough!”

“Look we all make mistakes. How much do you know?”

“Only what I learned from Commander McGee and from talking to your Dr Mallard.”

“Tim never explained it to you?”

“Not about his past, no. I knew he came here to escape and I was pretty sure he wasn’t on the run. . “

“Only from NCIS, the FBI and Metro PD!”

“I didn’t even realise he was using an alias until I tried to trace his prints for the doctors. He never gave any hint that he was a Fed or that he was in law enforcement. He said he was I writer and I believed him.”

“He is!” Gibbs turned over the book on the table and pointed to the photo on the dust cover. “Look familiar?” he grinned.

“Oh, my God.”

“Tim is a highly successful author. . .this is his second bestseller. Albert Ross wasn’t his first alias. . .he also goes by the name of Thom E Gemcity,” Gibbs explained.

“What the hell happened, Gibbs? Why did he leave all this behind?”

“He was ill. . .that’s the long and short of it. He was ill and none of us realised it until it was too late. He cracked under the strain and he didn’t come to us for help. He tried to deal with it on his own and it all spiralled out of control. He vanished and we have spent the last seven months trying to find him. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that we had any indication that he was still alive.”

“I think I can claim the credit for that. I sort of bullied him into contacting his family.”

“Thank you for that. It was a huge relief for all of us. . .even if it didn’t help us find him.”

“What happens now, Agent Gibbs?”

“Depends what Tim wants and what the doctors say. We don’t know for sure if he’ll wake up as Tim or Albert!”

“Al. He calls himself Al.” Grady asserted. “He’s made a life for himself here Gibbs. What will you do if he decides to stay here?”

“Nothing. I’m not going to bully him into coming back. . .besides it’s not up to me. He’s going to have to jump through a whole heap of hoops if he wants to come back. His disappearance caused a whole mess of trouble, not just for the team but for the Agency and the FBI.”

“Would you have him back? After all the trouble he caused.”

“In a heartbeat. . .if its what he wants. He’s a damned fine agent.”

“But one who broke under the strain.”

“Well, we were all part of the problem and we didn’t look out for him like we should. . .the whole team want to make it up to him,” Gibbs explained.

“You know he could have a good life here. A man of his experience and education would be an asset to the city and the state. Hell, the principle of the high school has already offered him an open invitation to teach the seniors Math, science and IT.”

“What?”

“Al was helping the kids with homework and projects; the Principle came along to see why the class average suddenly took a hike. . .he was also worried about this stranger taking a sudden interest in the teens and asked me check him out. It was clear to me that Al only ever interacted with the kids here in public and that nothing inappropriate was going on.”

“Damn Right!”

“Don’t growl at me, Gibbs, I was just doing my job. Anyway Al was adamant that he wouldn’t apply for a job in the school or even volunteer. . .said he was too busy writing. Now I know about the alias I realise . . .”

“. . .he couldn’t risk the background checks!”

“The fingerprint checks would have given him away and blown his cover.”

“I need to talk to Tim.”

“How long can you stay?”

“As long as it takes. . .I have years worth of leave to take. I’ll stay until we know what Tim wants to do.”

“When will he be out of surgery?”

Gibbs looked at his watch. “He should be done by now.”

“Finish up then and I will give you a ride. . .save you a taxi fare.”

 

It was another three days before Gibbs got a chance to speak to Tim. In the interim he made use of the time to find out as much as he could about the life his young agent had been living. He visited some of the local sites of interest, spending hours at the harbour talking to the fishermen and seeking glimpses of the local wildlife, even splashing out on a small digital camera to preserve images to take back home. The locals, particularly those in the bookshop were wary of him at first until he managed to reassure them that he wasn’t there to cause trouble for their young friend.

On the morning of the third day Commander McGee greeted him as usual at the nurses’ station.

“Morning, Jethro.”

“Sir. How is Tim today?”

“Doing better. He’s still on heavy painkillers and antibiotics and they need to keep the drain in his wound for a few more days but the surgeons are pleased with his progress.”

“And the Shrinks?”

“Dr Mathews has been consulting with Dr Avery and they are actually quite encouraged. Now that Tim has accepted that his cover is blown they are hopeful that he will continue to improve. Thankfully, Tim continued to take his medication so his depression is at least under control. They have done CT scans and EEG’s and the severe headaches he has been suffering from do not appear to have a physical cause. The Doctors believe they are most likely stress related.”

“And has he given you any indication of what he plans to do next?”

“No, but he has asked to talk to you,” the Commander explained kindly.

“Oh, now?”

“The physical therapist is with him at the moment. . .he will need to rest for an hour or so when he’s done. . .he still tires very easily.”

“I’ll go grab a coffee while I’m waiting.” Gibbs turned to go and then stopped and turned back.

“Commander. I’m sorry for all you and your family have been through the last few months. I know what it’s like to lose a child. . .I’m more pleased then I can say that you got
your son back. . .and whatever happens from now. . .”

“I know, Agent Gibbs. . .I hope you get him back, too!”

 

“Tim!”

“Agent Gibbs,” the formality of the response was a jolt but Gibbs covered it well.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been knocked over and stomped on by a Grizzly!”

“Were you?” Gibbs grinned.

“No. . .just clumsy. . .some things never change!”

There was an uncomfortable silence and Tim fiddled with the tubing from the drain in his thigh to mask his discomfort.

“Tim, I’m sor. . .”

“NO! No don’t, Gibbs. Not that. . .please!”

“Tim. I need to own up to my own mistakes.”

“You don’t believe in apologies. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.”

“Hell, Tim. I’ve been sorry every minute of every day you’ve been missing!”

“Oh, come on Gibbs. . .you don’t have to lie to make me feel better.” McGee said tiredly

“Damnit, McGee. . .we never stopped looking for you. It takes a damn good operator to vanish so completely. . .you impressed Ziva!”

“I learned something from the team then, “Tim replied bitterly.

“Tim did I ever give you the impression you weren’t up to the job?”

“You didn’t need to. . .it was glaringly obvious!”

“Not to me,” Gibbs assured him

“I kept getting things wrong, screwing things up. . .all the time I was waiting for you to kick me off the team or down to cybercrimes. . .I tried so hard to make justify your taking me on the team and the harder I tried the worse it got. . .”

“Why didn’t you come to me, Tim?”

“I didn’t know I could!”

“WHAT!”

“I didn’t know I could,” Tim repeated. “All those rules and not one says ‘show your weakness’”

“Couldn’t you have talked to Tony or Abby or Ducky?”

“Tony! Yeah right. . .as if my life wasn’t crap enough!”

“For god’s sake, Tim. . .our job is hard. . .damn hard and nobody can do it alone.”

“Except you! You’re the boss. . .I was following your example!”

“Not a good role model, McGee.”

“No, I see that now. . .I guess at the time I was too close and too low to realise that you have your boat and your basement. I had my writing but after a while that became part of the problem.”

“McGee, did you plan to run away?”

“No. . .at least not consciously. Now I’ve had time to think about it I can see I got me and McGreggor all mixed up in my head. I was plotting his getaway and my research for that paved the way for my own disappearance. . .made it easy!”

“What do you remember of that day?”

“Just flashes,” Tim shrugged.

“Do you remember the takedown? Do you remember getting hit?”

“No.” The response was immediate but his hand went to the back of his head. “They hit me?”

“They thought they had taken you out! When they realised they hadn’t they came after you intending to finish you off,” Gibbs explained.

“So I got out just in time?”

“We would have protected you, Tim. . you didn’t give us the chance.”

“I’m sorry,” Tim yawned. “And I’m sorry I hit you. . .I do remember that. . .it plays over and over in my memory. . .I remember being so-so angry. . .feel my fist hitting your jaw. . .and-and seeing you laid out on the floor.. .I never meant to do that, Gibbs. . .am I in trouble for that?”

“Apology accepted. . .and , no, you are not in trouble. . .perhaps you should have done it sooner. . .after the Mikel fiasco, maybe. . .I guess I did deserve it then and I’m sorry for that whole damn mess. I handled it badly,” Gibbs admitted.

“You did, Gibbs,” Tim acknowledged.

So am I forgiven for that. . .and for not being perfect?”

“I guess if you can forgive me for knocking you on your ass it’s the. . .it’s the least I can do,” Tim mumbled, his eyes flickering closed.

“Attaboy.”

Whatever else Gibbs planned to say next was cut short. Between one blink and another McGee was asleep.

A flare-up of the infection in his wound kept Tim bedbound for another few days. Gibbs sat with him for an hour every afternoon. They talked about Alaska and Gibbs boat and
about Tim’s latest story; the one thing they didn’t touch on was NCIS or Tim’s future.

Every evening Gibbs called the office to fill them in on his progress and every time he had to field their demands about when they were both returning and it pained him to have to admit that he had no answer to give them.

Then came the afternoon when he arrived at the ward to find Tim’s room empty. He beat a hasty path to the nurses’ station.

“Where’s Tim?”

“He’ll be back soon. Agent Gibbs,” the senior nurse assured him.

“He having more tests?”

“No, Sir. He had an important meeting,” she explained.

“With who? Doctor’s rounds are in the morning, aren’t they?”

“Yes, Sir. He will be back shortly.” Gibbs recognised that he wasn’t going to learn anymore and huffed as he headed towards the doctors’ lounge to snag some coffee. Before he got to the door he was halted by a group emerging from the room. Commander McGee was backing out of the door, manoeuvring an unwieldy wheelchair followed one step behind by his wife who was pushing an IV stand. In the chair Tim was holding himself rigid, his face pale and sweaty. Gibbs stood back and allowed them to wheel Tim back to his room and get him settled into bed.

A short while later Gibbs slipped into Tim’s room and sat at the window until the sleeping patient stirred. “Everything OK, McGee?”

“Yes, Gibbs.”

“Anything you want to share?”

“No, Sir,” Tim croaked, tiredly.

Recognising that he would get nothing further from the patient, Gibbs turned to the Commander. “Sir?”

“It’s for Tim To tell you when he’s ready, Agent Gibbs. . .I have to respect his privacy on this.”

“Is it his health? His leg?”

“Not directly. No, please don’t ask any more for now. Tim will tell you everything you need to know when he’s ready.”

 

The next day Gibbs was turned away when he came to visit.

“Why, Dr Mathews? Why won’t he see me?” Gibbs asked the psychiatrist.

“It’s not just you, Agent Gibbs. Tim has refused all visitors today. . .including his parents. He wants some time to think. . .he’s a very private man and he is used to his own
company. He has some important decisions to make and he needs the time and the privacy to do that,” the doctor explained gently.

“Is he getting better?”

“Yes. I’m very pleased with his progress from a psych point of view.”

“And physically?”

“His surgeon is cautiously optimistic that he can regain full use and function of his leg, though she cautions that his recovery will be slow.”

“And when will he be fit enough to travel?”

“Why is he going somewhere, Agent Gibbs?”

“Well I presume he will want to go back home. . .his life is back in DC.”

“As I said, he has some big decisions to make!”

 

“How’s it going Tim?” Gibbs examined him with his usual ruthless gaze, missing nothing.

“The physio got me standing earlier, just for a few seconds. . .made me dizzy. Now I’m just tired,” Tim explained.

“Can we talk?”

“I thought we were.”

“No. We’ve been dancing around every topic under the sun except the one we really need to talk about!”

“Go ahead then. . .say what you need to. . .you have a captive audience!”

“Look, I can’t hang around here much longer. I need to know what you intend to do?”

“I see. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you back on my team. . .where you belong!”

“I’m not on your team any longer. The Director made it quite clear that I am no longer a field agent.”

“What! When did you speak to the Director?”

“Video conference the other afternoon,” Tim explained

“Damnit, why didn’t you tell me, I would have stuck up for you.”

“I don’t need anyone sticking up for me, Agent Gibbs. . .and I requested the interview. I needed to know what my options are before making a decision.”

“And what did the Director say?”

“I was given options to consider,” Tim explained.

“They better be options that all involve you being back at your desk under my nose.”

“That would be your preferred option?”

“Damn right it would. . .that is the only acceptable option.”

“And if I told you that’s not what I want right now?”

“You saying you’d rather piss your time away up here in the wilderness!”

“It has worked for me so far, Agent Gibbs!”

“For God’s sake, you can’t waste your potential up here. . .you’re too good at what you do. Hell, if it’s me and the team you can’t work with I can ask the Director to transfer you
to Agent Miles team.”

“Gibbs, you already have a full team. After all the trouble I caused I can’t just slip back in as if nothing has happened.”

“I’m still short of a field agent.”

“You’re telling me my desk is still empty?”

“Not exactly. We have a young cybertec on the team. . .but he’s not and never will be a field agent. When you come back we will be a five man team.”

“Gibbs, when you go back, I won’t be going with you.”

“And is this just another of those crazy-assed, half-cocked decisions like the one that had you running away to play hermit in the wilderness!” Gibbs spat out in frustration.

“No. No. Look at me, Gibbs. Look at me. It is going to be months before I am fully fit. . .I’m going to need crutches or a wheelchair for weeks, maybe even months. If or when I go
back to DC it will be as a fully certified field agent or not at all.”

“You could do desk work.”

“You already have someone to do that. . .and I’m not going to be able to manage living on my own until I get my mobility back.”

“We’d help you. . .the team would be so pleased to have you back they would be falling over themselves to pander to your every whim.

“I don’t want pity even under the guise of friendship.

“Then what the hell do you want, McGee?”

“I want to clear up this mess. . .I made it on my own and I need to deal with it. As much as I appreciate what you all did for me. . .searching for me. . .not giving up on me. I have other more important matters to reconcile before I can deal with the team.”

“Your parents?”

“Yes, what I put them through was unforgivable.. . “

“And yet they have already forgiven you. . .it’s what parents do.”

“I know but now I have a more difficult task. . .I have to learn how to forgive myself!”

“So what other options have you considered?”

“I’m going to stay with my parents on base in San Diego. I can get my medical care and rehab at the base hospital. When I’m fit enough to go back to work I will be assigned to
the field office there. They are implementing an overhaul of the IT systems in the San Diego and LA offices. . .I will help with that.”

“I thought you didn’t want a desk job?”

“I don’t. . .not in the long run but I’m not going to running any time soon. . .and as my surgeon and the physio keep telling me, this is about small steps and not instant
marathons.”

“And what about Dr Mathews?”

“You mean, does he still think I’m a nut job,” Tim joked.

“I hope he puts it more professionally than that!”

“He does. Look, Gibbs, I know that when I ran things were really bad. . .but even on my worst days I still managed to take my meds. . .I may still be screwed up but I am no longer living under a perpetual dark cloud. I still have the problems and the character flaws I have always had but now at least I recognise them for what they are... .and I know I can work on them. These last few months have, in some ways, been the happiest of my life. It’s the first time in my life that I have slowed down enough to listen to what ‘I’ want and what I need. All my life I’ve moved from one high-pressure situation to another and I’m not blaming anyone for that. . .but in working my way up to being Special Agent McGee, Timothy got trampled on in the process. I needed this time here, away from the pressure and the noise and the unrealistic expectations, to reconnect with myself.

“I’m sorry for what I put you all through, Gibbs and you will all get my apologies when I can do it in person. . .but I’m not ready to go back yet.”

“OK, Tim, if that’s your decision.”

“Thank you.”

“But tell me one thing McGee. . .why didn’t you let anyone know you were OK. Didn’t you know how much hurt that would cause.”

“I blocked it out. . .I had to. I had to keep myself in the present. . .looking back was too painful.”

“And if Officer Brady hadn’t pushed you?”

“I would probably have got there eventually. If it hadn’t been for the accident forcing the issue, I think Dan is stubborn enough that he would have kept pegging away until I gave in and made the call. . .he reminds me of you in that sense, Gibbs.”

“He’s been a good friend to you.”

“He has. I’ve been lucky.”

“You do realise that if I go back without you, the team is going to lynch me!”

“I don’t doubt you can keep them in line with a head slap and a growl, Gibbs.”

“Abby will burn the airwaves until she has talked you round.”

“Don’t have a laptop or a phone. . I think I’m safe.”

“From Abby! You sure you’re not still one sandwich short of a picnic, McGee? I’m surprised she hasn’t jumped on a plane already.”

“I asked the Director to keep her and the team too busy!”

“Sneaky!”

“It’s not that I don’t want to see them, Gibbs. . .but it has to be on my terms. . .If they want to come visit me in San Diego then they’ll be welcome but. . .”

“I understand, Tim.”

“I’ll be staying with my parents. . .I won’t be out of contact and I will keep in touch.

“And will it be Albert Ross who keeps in touch or will it be Tim McGee.”

“Oh, I think Albert Ross has been firmly laid to rest. . .his life was short but meaningful, at least to me. . .and now I think he can rest in peace.”

“Just one more thing then McGee,” Gibbs said, standing up and extending his arm for a hand shake. When Tim reciprocated he was pulled slightly forward and Gibbs rapped him sharply on the back of the head.

“Thanks , Boss,” Tim grinned.

“You work hard and you come home soon. We’ll be waiting.