Chapter 30: Lift up Thy Voice for Understanding
"Thanks for the varnish, Boss. I'll give the can back to you tomorrow." Tim turned to go.
"Why did you stay up to work on that box?"
Tim shrugged. "I just wanted to get it done."
"Because, Boss, I like the box."
Gibbs chuckled. "And you had to finish it right then?"
"Go to bed, McGee...and don't get high on the varnish fumes."
Tim smiled. "Right."
Three hours later, Tim sat back and looked at his box. He had decided to follow the recommendation of Jerald and turned the lid around. Now, with the varnish on, Tim thought that it looked really nice. Jerald had been right. The various wood colors looked intentional. You'd never guess that it had been haphazardly constructed. He had no idea what he'd do with the box now that it was done, but...that didn't really matter. All that mattered was that he had built that box all by himself. He didn't think he'd become any sort of carpenter like Gibbs, but that didn't particularly matter either. It was simply an amazing feat that he'd been able to construct something out of wood, with only hand tools...and it looked good!
He stared at his creation for ten minutes or so and then laughed at himself for his pride. There was something else he felt like doing. He wasn't sure what it was at first. He glanced around his apartment, trying to decide what it was. Then, he smiled. The smile was small at first, but it grew wider as he stood up and walked around his bookshelves.
A few minutes later, there was a tapping sound...like keys on an old typewriter.
Three days later...
"Agent McGee, would you please join me in my office?"
Tim looked up. He was alone in the bullpen...relatively-speaking. Tony, Ziva and Gibbs were out hunting down the hacker. The Tim and Abby duo had picked up his trail and found his identity that morning.
"Yes, Director. Of course." He stood and followed her up the stairs to her office.
"Please, have a seat." She was uncommonly grave, and Tim became worried as he sat down.
"What is it?"
"Well, I'll get the good news out of the way, first. Normally, I'd like to save it for last, but this time..."
"What's the good news?"
"You've been approved for return to field work. Both your shrink and your physical therapist have given you glowing reviews. They want the return to full active duty to be slow, but they agree that you can start next week."
"Thank you, ma'am." That news would have elated Tim had not the situation seemed so serious. "So...what's the bad news?"
"Agent McGee. What I am about to tell you cannot leave this office...not for any reason. I know that keeping secrets from your friends is the last thing you want or need, but I must insist upon it."
Tim nodded. "At least you're telling me in advance."
Jenny smiled sadly. "You've been through more in the last year than most people go through in their whole lives, Tim. I wish I could say that nothing of the sort would ever happen again, but I can't make that guarantee."
"I know, ma'am. I can't guarantee that I won't step out of your office, trip over my shoelaces and fall down the stairs. I don't expect you to guarantee my safety in a job that is, by its very nature, unsafe."
"Tim, I am happy to see that you've managed to recover."
"Not fully, Director, but I'm getting there."
"Yes. It's always a process, and what I'm going to tell you is not going to aid it, but I hope it won't hinder it too much."
"What is it, ma'am?"
"There are three people who have unlimited access to my office via my phone. They have the number to bypass Cynthia completely and get access directly to me. I don't know who they are, but when they call, the news is rarely good. From what I've been able to gather, they work within the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. They report to me about things that directly affect NCIS."
"You don't seem surprised."
"I'm not. The CIA has the same thing here. Carew told me, although he didn't say who...I also have access to his office in a similar fashion."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. Perhaps I should have told you before."
"No, Agent McGee, that's not a problem. Have you used that number?"
"You still know it?"
"I don't think I can forget it."
"Good. Don't. You never know when you might need such access...no matter how abhorrent it may seem."
"To get back on topic, the day you first returned to NCIS..."
"...in the body bag?"
"Yes. I received a call. It was hinting at some danger to you, but it was hinting at more than that. Last week, there was a request that you and Abby work to discover the hacker...which you did. Then, just this morning, I received another call."
"Regarding me, ma'am?"
"Yes. Regarding you. It is no longer a hint. For once my informant was explicit. This isn't going to go away in the short term, Agent McGee. I don't think I can prevent it, but if you really feel that it is too difficult for you, I will do everything in my power to fight on your behalf."
"What is it, Director Shephard?" Tim asked for a third time.
The door to Jenny's office opened slowly and Tim walked out, stunned. Cynthia took in his expression and was instantly concerned.
"Agent McGee, are you all right?"
Tim took a couple more steps and stopped. "Yeah. I'm fine, Cynthia. Thanks."
Tim turned around and stared at Jenny.
"I wish I'd had better news. Like I said, it may be that nothing happens for months, even years, but you have to be ready for it."
"Yes, Director. Thanks." Tim took a deep breath.
"Take some time to absorb it, and remember that you did receive some good news today."
"Yes, ma'am." Tim struggled for a smile and found one deep inside. "I'm going back into the field."
Jenny walked to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Exactly. I'm proud to have you, Agent McGee. You are an asset to NCIS, and I am very glad that Gibbs didn't let me fire you."
Tim smiled. "If I remember correctly, I quit first."
"True, but he didn't let me accept it. If he had, it would have been the worst mistake I ever made. You are a great field agent and a good man, McGee."
"Thank you, Director." Tim left the outer office.
"He looked a little shell-shocked, Director," Cynthia said.
"Yes. He is. I need to discuss something with you as well, Cynthia. Please, come into my office."
Tim wandered down to Autopsy. He wasn't sure why, but he knew that Ducky and Jimmy were both on lunch and the room would be empty...except for the corpses. Bodies didn't bother him much anymore. Bodies had never hurt him, only living human beings had. Tim sat down on one of the autopsy tables and focused on his breathing. Jenny had said that it was possible that nothing would happen...but he knew, as she probably did, that the possibility of Tim being kept out of it was unlikely, not with all he'd done.
Focus on the positive. I'm a field agent again. I'm walking, talking and I built a box all by myself. I'm okay. Not perfect, not complete, but okay.
It took a few minutes, but Tim was able to push the secret he now had to keep to the back of his mind. For a moment, he felt like crying, but he resisted and decided to wait until he got home. He thought of his box, not the one he'd finished earlier that week, but his first one. A box, but skewed, as Ziva had said. That was becoming who he was, recognizable as Timothy McGee, but skewed. He hoped that someday he could be like the other box he'd made. One more deep breath. Then, he walked out of Autopsy to rejoin the world.
"Hey, McGee, where ya been?" Tony asked. "You missed our grand entrance with your buddy!"
"My buddy?" Tim asked.
"The hacker! We got him! You missed it."
"Oh, I didn't find him by myself, you know. Abby was doing a lot of it, too."
"So modest, McGee," Ziva said, grinning.
"That's me, Mr. Modesty," Tim replied.
"Whatever happened to Mr. MIT?"
Tim coolly met Tony's gaze. "Oh, I'm still Mr. MIT, Tony. Do you think that because I'm not bragging about it that I still couldn't wallop you in an intelligence test?" He smiled.
"Oh...burn," Tony said, grinning. "As long as there's no athletic component."
"How many jocks do you know who do well on intelligence tests, Tony? There's a reason why there's a stereotype of the dumb jock."
"Wow. Ouch!" Tony put his hand to his heart. "I don't think you've been on fire like this since you called me a monkey!"
"Just catching up."
Gibbs came in and Tim nodded to him. "Hey, Boss. Director Shephard just told me that I'll be returning to active duty on Monday. She said that you'd be getting some sort of 'schedule' to follow."
"Yeah...to make sure I don't go in guns blazing...or something like that."
Tony snorted. "Right. Guns blazing."
Tim was stung for a moment but he shrugged it off, although he was pretty sure Ziva caught it. They spent the rest of the day working on reports and if they noticed Tim was withdrawn, no one mentioned it...if only because they assumed that it was due to Tim's continuing recovery. When Tim got up to go home, it was with congratulations and teasings in his ears. He smiled and gave back as good as he got. As he headed toward the elevator, he happened to look up at the balcony. Jenny was there, looking down at him. She was sympathetic. He made a helpless smile. When he looked down to continue on his way, Gibbs was looking at him.
"Good night, Boss. Have a nice weekend."
"'Night, McGee," Gibbs said, but he had seen the exchange of looks, and Tim knew it. There was nothing to be done about it, though. Tim decided not to refer to it, hoping that Gibbs would do the same. The elevator closed without a sudden appearance of any of his team. Tim left NCIS without much fanfare.
The door seemed really, really heavy. Tim pushed it open with difficulty. This day had lasted years. Another secret to keep, another weight...and he couldn't even share the load...maybe with Jenny a little bit, but she was still the Director. That put an automatic distance between them. ...and there was no one else. This was secret, beyond secret. It wasn't even classified. It didn't exist.
Slowly, Tim closed the door, dropped his bag on the floor and dragged himself to his room. He had planned on writing tonight, but that would have to wait. This night was now reserved for reconciling himself to his new position...one that no one would know about...unless something went wrong.
He felt alone...really alone. This wall was not of his making, but he could feel it rising up, brick by brick. He couldn't let it remain that way. There had to be...something he could do to stave off these feelings of loneliness...and fear.
He picked up his phone. "Hey, Tony. You doing anything tonight? How about a movie?" He laughed. "Yeah, I'm suggesting a movie. You know if Ziva and Abby are busy? We could make a night of it, celebrate my return to active duty. Great! Sounds good to me. Sure, see you in a few. Bye."
Tim hung up, looked at his phone and felt the tears. He had a few minutes to cry...to be alone by himself before he was alone with his friends. He let the tears fall, then wiped them away.
Finally, Tim stood up and left in an effort to maintain some semblance of the life he'd been reclaiming.
...and someone followed him when he left his apartment.