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Hope and Hallucinations

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Tim didn't know how long it had been that he had been locked in that basement, under the guise of being taken care of by his captors. All he knew was that he was still wearing the remains of the clothes he had worn when he had went missing, and they were little more than petrified shreds at this point. After what he had been through-the whippings, the beatings, the endless taunts and claims his team was dead-he was convinced that he was hallucinating when Bishop came into his vision and forced his chin up to look at her. "Tim, are you okay?" she asked, but she sounded...different than any dream or hallucination he had before. She almost sounded...real.

"Go away," he told her flatly. He didn't want to listen to her. She'd get him to stand up, to do something other than sit on the floor of his prison, to have that little spark of hope back, and then she'd disappear. He didn't want to have to deal with that again. "You're not real."

Bishop frowned, and then came the words he heard every time. "Tim, of course I'm real."

"No, you're not!" Tim accused. "You never are!"

Bishop looked at him in the way he hated, the one where she frowned and looked both confused and concerned for his well being. "Hey, no, Tim. I'm real, I promise you. Look," she took his hand and he nearly shot back into the wall like he'd been electrocuted. She muttered a "Sorry," as she put his hand on her chest. "Would someone who's not real feel like this?"

Tim just stared, slack-jawed, as he felt Bishop's chest vibrate as she spoke. He looked between her face and his hand, willing himself to understand. But he couldn't. The only way he could feel Bishop this vividly was if she was really here. And if she was really here--

"Probie!" a voice nearby exclaimed.

Tim turned to the door to find Tony standing there, looking devastated but at the same time more elated than he had ever seen. Slowly, Tim forced himself onto unsteady feet, and Bishop helped brace him, and no hallucination had never been able to do that, and he couldn't help it--he cried. He cried hard enough that he nearly threw up nothing. Bishop just helped him stand there, and Tony came over, hands gently prodding Tim's torso, looking for injury.

"Believe that we're real now?" Bishop asked.

"Real enough," Tim mumbled, shivering. "Can I go home, please?"

Tony and Bishop laughed. "Yeah, of course you can, kid," Tony said. "Can you walk on your own or do you need some help?"

"I...don't know. When was the last time I walked around?" He frowned, thinking that over. The days had run together long ago, and he didn't know the last time he even had to go to the bathroom. "I...think I"

"That's fine, kid, we've gotcha," Tony said, coming around to Tim's free side. "Let's get you out of here."

Carefully, Bishop and Tony led Tim out of the small room that had become his prison in the basement. He stumbled before they even got to the stairs, but Bishop and Tony kept him standing. He was essentially carried up the steps to the ground floor, where Gibbs was pointing a gun at the woman who had always brought him food. "We found him, Boss," Tony informed Gibbs. "Halfway delusional, but alive, at least."

Tim's eyes didn't leave the woman, and he saw her lip curl and he knew he was in for more shouting. "You think you're saved, do you, Timothy? You're nothing! My husband and I were going to make you great, but I suppose if you don't want to be a good person, then you aren't worthy of our training. We'll find someone more grateful!"

Slowly, Tim took one step forward, then another, shaking on wobbly legs because Bishop and Tony were seemingly frozen in place. "You're wrong," he said, though his voice was flat. It held no fight, no anger, it just stood there like an impenetrable wall. "You've always been wrong and you're still wrong now. That's not training, that's torture."

The woman lunged toward him and with the ringing of a gunshot, Tim's eyes shot open, to find himself still lying on that basement floor, and he felt tears sting at his eyes for a moment before he shoved them down. It hurt to know that was all just another dream, but it made sense. He was never getting out of here, not with his sanity intact, at any rate. He sat up, rubbing at his head and staring at the door. Any minute now...yup, there was the screech of metal at the floor and a plate was shoved through the bottom across the floor. He didn't bother diving for the food and eating it like he would have the first week or three he was here. After all, if he wasn't getting out of here, then dying faster would be...good, wouldn't it? Out of this hell and into another one faster.

Still, he had nothing else to do. So after maybe about an hour, he dragged himself forward and ate the stale bread and beans that were on the plate. He pushed the plate away and let himself drift. He was only lying on the floor, but at the same time, he was flying far above DC, landing softly on the third floor of the Navy Yard's division of NCIS. He could picture Tony and Bishop and Gibbs all working. When he glanced to his own desk, though, he couldn't see anyone, and he frowned. Surely they weren't hoping he would be found still? It had to have been months since he had been captured. Why hadn't they replaced him?

He didn't have long to dwell on this, though, because the door to his cell opened. He looked up, brows furrowing. That door hadn't opened in months. "Are you ready to behave, Agent McGee?" the woman standing there asked.

Tim pushed himself into a sitting position and frowned. "For what?" he asked.

"For you to work for me and my husband, silly, that's the whole reason we brought you here, after all!" she chirped.

Tim frowned and looked back in his memory for any reasoning they had given him for being locked up in a basement, and found none. That could very well be the reason he was here. But then..."Why have I been in the basement all this time, then?"

The woman pet his head like one might do to a small child and he flinched at a neutral touch he hadn't received in forever. "Because we had to break you in, sweetheart. You were very naughty when you first got here."

Tim couldn't even remember how he had gotten here. He frowned, but took the lady at her word...for now. The woman ushered him to stand up, and brought him out of the basement, into a first floor that was flooded with light. He blinked, squinted, and tried to be quiet about his general discomfort. He didn't want to go back in the basement, after all.

The woman told him what he was supposed to do to help her around the house, and thus started the next part of his life. He accepted that he wasn't going to leave, but this beat the basement, so he tried to focus on the privilege of walking around freely in the house. He was even starting to get used to being sent to the basement again to sleep without worrying that he wouldn't be let out again, when one night he was roughly dragged out of his cell and thrown into the middle of the floor. He wasn't sure what was going on, too sleep-addled to make out much of anything but voices for a few minutes. "--There, you see? He's alive, he's awake, he can make his own choice about who he stays with."

"This is not up for debate! You kidnapped a federal agent!"

That sounded like Gibbs' voice. Tim knew better than to speak up, to ask if it really was Gibbs, because that name always landed him in pain. But he felt something fill his heart that shook him to his core. It was a final spark of hope, one that he hadn't had since that dream weeks ago where Bishop and Tony had found him. And this must be another dream, his brain supplied.

He sat up shakily, looking around. The woman and her husband were standing against one wall, and Gibbs was standing at the bottom of the stairs, against the other wall, with Bishop and Tony behind him. It didn't feel like a dream, but the last dream that had filled his heart with hope hadn't felt like a dream either. "Tim, who would you rather stay with? Us or them?" the woman asked.

Licking his lips, Tim looked at his options. If this was just a dream, no one could hurt him for his decisions. But, if this was a dream and he chose Gibbs, he wasn't sure his heart could take it if he woke up. Then again, if he moved over to the woman and the man, he would be closing the door on his old life forever. Did he really want to do that? When he had just gotten his hope back?

I don't want this stupid hope! his brain shouted at him. It's dangerous! Don't let it in!

"Too late," Tim whispered to himself.

"What was that, Tim?" Gibbs asked.

Tim looked over at Gibbs and weighed his options. Even if it was going to break his heart to wake up, he wanted one last hug from Gibbs, as if the man were actually there. So Tim shakily stood. He looked between both groups, oscillating on the spot. The woman had a smirk pulling at her lips, like she knew he was going to walk to her. He did something he didn't realize he had left in him: he flipped her off, and walked over to Gibbs, wrapping his arms around the other man tight.

Gibbs hugged him back and the woman howled with rage, but before she could take more than a step, she was on the ground with a bullet in her leg. The man just held his hands up in silent surrender.

Tim was carried out of the basement by Gibbs, who was looking him over with concern. "There is no way I should be able to lift you this easily, kid."

Not bothering to respond, Tim buried his head in Gibbs' chest.

"How you held on for six months is beyond me," Gibbs murmured. "I'm so glad you're okay...relatively speaking."

When they walked outside and the air hit Tim, he almost yelped in surprise. It was freezing.

"I did say it was six months, right?" Gibbs asked. "It's November, Tim. It's supposed to be cold."

That wasn't what had Tim looking around in wonder, though. It was snowing and when he reached out to touch it, it actually felt cold. It felt real. "This...isn't a dream?" he asked uncertainly.

"Nope," Gibbs said. "You had dreams about us before?"

"Yeah," Tim said. "A lot. But...but this isn't one?"

"It's not," Gibbs repeated.

"I actually flipped her off," Tim said, hysteria building in his chest. "She's gonna kill me!"

"No she won't," Gibbs said. "I'll never allow it."

Tim looked around in wonder at seeing the outside world again, and experiencing it for the first time in what had apparently been six months. He was about ready to cry.

"Come on, kid. Let's get you to the doctor so he can look you over and send you home. I'm sure sleeping in a bed again will help you feel better," Gibbs said.

Yeah. Yeah, that sounded really nice.