"Okay, McGee, that's it. You're leaving," Tony announced that evening.
"No, I'm not, Tony," Tim answered, not looking up from his computer.
"Oh, yes, you are. You've always been hopeless socially, Probie, and I'm not going to let you make it worse by sleeping at your desk for three nights straight."
"I'm fine, Tony," Tim said, still not looking up.
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I am."
"No, you're not. Abby's threatening to hogtie you and drag you to her coffin. Now, while I'm not saying that's an unpleasant solution, I think you've probably progressed beyond the stage of being buried alive."
"Ha! I knew you weren't really paying attention!"
Tim looked up. "I was, but you rarely make a whole lot of sense, Tony."
"Mock me all you want, Probie. You're still not staying here tonight."
"Tony...please, don't do this."
Joking was over. "You can't stay here, McGee."
Tim gave up the pretense of working completely. "Why not?"
"The rent's too high."
Tim gave a half-smile. "I know have to leave eventually...but I'm not ready yet."
"If you wait until you're ready, you'll never be ready."
"Very Zen, Tony."
"Very true, McGee."
Tim tried to refocus on the screen. "I'm not...not ready to go yet."
Tony didn't answer and when Tim looked up again, he was gone. Tim sighed in relief, thinking he'd given up. However, five minutes later, Tony was back...with reinforcements.
"McGee! Come on! Time to go!" Tony ordered.
Tim sighed and didn't look up again. "No, Tony. I told you. I'm not going."
Tony walked around the desk and spun Tim away from his computer. "McGee...I'm trying to be nice here...but if you keep this up, I'm going to get Ziva here to drag you out of NCIS by your hair."
Tim laughed, but he was obviously afraid...and not of Ziva.
"Come, McGee. We shall...paint the town. Why does that phrase mean partying?"
"I have no idea," Tim answered, "but do we have to party? I really don't want to go clubbing or anything like that."
"How about dinner?" she suggested.
"We'll keep you safe, McGee," Tony said, only half-joking.
Tim looked from Tony to Ziva. She nodded. "You will be safe with us, McGee."
"Great! Let's go!" Tony pulled Tim out of his chair and to the elevator.
The dinner was only partially successful. Abby joined them, and they managed to hedge Tim into a booth so that no one could approach him unexpectedly from behind, but as the night progressed, he began to show less and less emotion, a situation they were all beginning to associate with the new Tim reaction to fear. Instead of relaxing, he was becoming more tense. He started looking out the window more and scrutinzing every customer who walked by their table. Finally, they had to give it up.
"Okay, Tim, let's go," Abby said.
"Okay." Tim nearly shoved her out of the booth as he slid around. Abby slid her arm around his waist. He reciprocated, but his grip was much tighter.
"It's okay, Tim," she whispered as Tony paid.
"I know," he answered softly.
"Your head might know, but I think it should share that information with the rest of you."
Tim chuckled...and did relax a fraction. They walked out into the parking lot and Tim looked back when he heard a whispered argument going on behind him. He couldn't decipher the words, but he was certain he saw some rock, paper, scissors going on.
One more round of rock, paper, scissors saw Ziva looking annoyed and Tony looking triumphant.
"Guys? What are you doing?"
"You're not going back to NCIS tonight, Probie," Tony announced.
Tim suddenly felt cold. "Yes, I am, Tony."
"Nope. You're coming to my place."
Abby tightened her arm around his waist. "Tim, nothing will happen."
"I know, but that's not the point."
"What is the point, then, McGee?" Ziva asked.
Tim opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Then, he hung his head. "I'm afraid. I know nothing will happen, but I'm afraid that it will."
Ziva walked over to him and lifted his head. "McGee, that is not shameful. I was afraid."
"Many times over the last few weeks. I was afraid when you had disappeared. I was afraid when I sat with you in the hospital. I was afraid when we could only listen to you without knowing where you were. Being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of."
"I wasn't afraid before," Tim said.
"When, Tim?" Abby asked.
"All through the last couple of months. I wasn't really afraid."
Ziva smiled and nodded. "That is because you had no hope. It is easy to feel no fear when you do not think anything can get better. Now, things can and you fear losing that, yes?"
"Yeah," Tim admitted reluctantly.
"Well, you'll lose it if you hide, Tim," Abby said.
"What is this? An intervention?" Tim asked.
"If that's what it takes, Probie," Tony said. "Now..." He gestured to his car.
"Good boy!" Tony led the way while Ziva and Abby went their separate ways.
"Why are we going to your place, Tony? Mine's closer," Tim asked on the way over.
"Because if we stay at your place, I'll have to share the bed with you...and I don't like you that much, McGee."
At Tony's apartment, Tim tried really hard not to feel nervous...not to feel frightened, but he couldn't help looking around, peering at the bushes. A woman came out of the building as he and Tony approached. Tim visibly flinched. She looked nothing like his handler, but it was the suddenness of her appearance that frightened him. Tony noticed, he knew, but he didn't mention it...at least not until they got into his apartment.
"Why are you doing this, Tony?"
"Because of what you did out there in the hallway."
Tim sat down on a well-used couch. It was nice, but it was also obvious that Tony spent a lot of time there.
"McGee, you can't hide it all, and you can't just assume it will go away. That's the kind of behavior that'll have you putting a hole in your head."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Don't take this wrong, McGee, but I wouldn't have thought that you could spend two months working for the CIA without letting us see it."
Tim looked away.
"Hey! See? That's what I'm talking about right there! You can't look away like that. For one thing, I've seen you talk back to the Director of the CIA and I heard you being incredibly sarcastic to people who threatened you. You don't need to flinch away from someone who's actually being nice to you."
"It was because of you, you know," Tim said softly.
"Me...being sarcastic. I tried to imagine what you would say if you were the same situation. Every time I wanted to flinch or stammer or just meekly agree to anything they wanted, I would ask myself what you would do in the same situation. It wasn't really me."
Tony sat down. "McGee, that's flattering and all...I think...but you had to have the words there yourself. And you had to have the guts to say them. I mean, you had a seriously crazy chick coming after you...and you still could find the words to be sarcastic? That's pretty good in my book...actually, it would be pretty good in your book."
Tim shook his head. "No. None of this is going in my book."
"Just a suggestion. The point is, McGee, that you did good on your own."
"I was going to die, Tony."
"But you didn't."
"They were going to get in. I couldn't have stopped them."
"That's why you had us."
"You can't always be there."
"We're a team, McGee. More than that, we're your friends. I will probably never be as nice to you as I am being right now...but that doesn't make it any less true." He grinned.
Tim smiled in response.
"If it takes you days, weeks or months to feel safe outside of NCIS, we'll still be there. Now, granted we'll start getting annoyed if you're calling us up in the middle of the night telling us that you had bad dreams...but you don't have to pretend that everything's all perfect when we know it's not. Do you got that? Or do I need to Gibbs-slap you in order for it to sink in?"
"No, I think I got it, Tony," Tim said.
"Good." Tony walked over to a large cabinet beside his television. "Now, what are we going to watch tonight? I'm guessing that you're probably not in the mood for anything involving the alphabet soup."
Tim stood up and joined him at the cabinet, completely full of movies. "Actually, I think I am."
"The Bourne Identity?" Tony suggested.
Tim looked at it. "Okay, maybe I'm not. Wait a minute."
"You have Solaris?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"I would have thought it was too esoteric for you."
"Just because I have it, doesn't mean I get it."
"Can we watch it?" Tim asked, grinning.
"I have over 200 movies in here, Probie, and you pick the one movie I bought on impulse?"
"All of these were planned?"
"Don't change the subject."
"We don't have to."
"Just this once, I'll make a sacrifice. And then you can explain to me what in the heck's going on in it."
"Have you read the book?"
"Do I need to answer that, Probie?"
"I guess not. It's really good. Stanislaw Lem liked to leave things to the reader's interpretation."
"I'll take your word for it," Tony said and slid the DVD into his player. Then, he settled on the couch next to Tim and tried to be interested. He had watched it after buying it, but it just wasn't his type of movie. He had stuck it on the shelf and not watched it since. Leave it to McGee to pick this one. Still, as he watched Tim smile his geek smile, he decided to make enough of an effort that he could ask him questions after it was over.
"...so she was dead, right?"
"Yeah, that's the thing about Solaris. It keeps you guessing about these things and then when you get it...it's like, did I really get it or is it another twist," Tim said, excitedly. He talked and talked, and Tony had to keep himself from telling Tim to shut up because he didn't care about the weird planet. It was nice to see Tim acting like himself. It wouldn't last. Tony knew that, but giving Tim the chance to feel normal, even if it was only because of a dumb movie, was worth a little bit of aggravation. However, after an hour's rehashing during which Tony still didn't think he liked the movie much, he was done.
"Okay, Probie, I can't take the esoterism anymore. I need to go to bed before my brain explodes."
"All right, Tony," Tim said, smiling. He headed to the bathroom, but he stopped just before closing the door. "Hey, Tony?"
"For what? Letting you watch a weird movie?"
"No. For helping me...feel like myself again."
Tony smiled. "Anytime, Probie. 'Night."
"Good night, Tony." Tim closed the door.
Wednesday morning, 7:30 a.m.
"So, how was spending the night with DiNozzo?" Ziva asked.
"Interesting," Tim said. "We watched Solaris." Even though he knew it couldn't last, Tim had slept through the night and he was feeling a bit giddy.
"Yes. Tony didn't even like it."
"Of course, I didn't, McGee," Tony said. "I like movies, not someone's psychedelic fantasies put on screen."
Tim leaned over and whispered. "He's just upset that he didn't get what the planet was."
Ziva chuckled. "Feeling better, McGee?"
Tim thought about it. "Right now? Yeah. I am."
"Good. Then, I will not be upset that I lost at rock, paper, scissors."
"You guys were fighting over me?" Tim asked, grinning.
"Don't read anything into that, McGee. I just wanted to get my fellow teammate back in the saddle."
Tim sobered a little. "And I appreciate it, Tony."
"Well, don't go all mushy on me, Probie."
"Good...but you're welcome."
Gibbs walked in from...wherever, and looked at Tim closely. "You all right, McGee?"
"I'm better, Boss," Tim said. It wasn't the end, not by a long shot, but at least now, he thought it was possible.
"Good. We had a sighting of our allegedly dead petty officer in Alexandria. Let's roll."
"On it, Boss," Tim said.
"Oh, and McGee?"
"Don't go wandering off."
Tim grinned and nodded. "Only if the occasion calls for it, Boss."