EPILOGUE – Two and a Half Weeks Later
Abby smiled when she heard the doors to her lab open with a swish followed by the familiar sound of Tim's footsteps, but didn't look up from the microscope where she was studying a fiber sample for another team's case.
"Hi Timmy. What's up?"
"How'd you know it was me?" She could hear the surprise in his voice, and looked up, shooting him a knowing grin while her green eyes twinkled.
"Oh McGee. You should know by now that I always know it's you."
He shook his head with a soft chuckle as she walked over to him. "So what's up?"
Abby felt her curiosity pique when she saw Tim's expression shift from happy to the shy pensive look he got when he wanted to ask her something but wasn't sure how she would react. She caught him fiddling with a folder in his hands, and cocked her head to the side. "Timmy? Something wrong?"
He looked down for a moment, and she could see he was trying to gather his thoughts. Abby shrugged, and turned to go back to her microscope. She had known him well enough and for long enough that she knew he'd speak when he was ready.
Still, a little prodding never hurt anyone. "Spit it out, McGee. It's not like I'm going to bite."
"I…uh…" She hid a giggle as she heard him swallow; Abby had always found him so cute when he was nervous.
She looked at him again, eyebrow raised. "Would I what?"
Tim took a shaky breath before asking again, "Would…you come to Philadelphia with me this weekend?"
"Why Philadelphia?" she asked, now extremely curious, and a little worried when she noticed how tightly he was clutching the folder in his hands.
"There's someone that…that I'm going to see. Someone…really important to me. I-I was…kind of hoping you'd be willing to come with me." He paused. "I'll understand if…if you don't want to. And really, you don't have to…"
Tim fell silent, and Abby studied her best friend for a moment. Tim's head was bowed, but she already knew he was beating himself up for even asking.
She thought about the way he'd asked his question, and Abby realized she hadn't heard him stammer like that in a long while. To her, that was a clear sign that this wasn't just a normal social call; Tim was looking for support.
She was both honored and pleased that he'd come to her for the support he was looking for. Abby Scuito would do almost anything for a best friend in need. "Sure Timmy. I'll go."
When his head snapped up in her direction, Abby noted that his expression was only mostly relieved, and wondered why he was still nervous. She pushed it to the back of her mind as they figured out the details for their trip to Philly, sure she'd find out eventually.
When they got into Philadelphia that Saturday, Tim first pulled the car to a stop in front of a small florist. He and Abby had both gone in, and while she browsed the aisles of flowers Tim went to the woman at the front of the store, where he quickly asked if she had any sunflowers. The woman smiled, and made him a simple bouquet of three sunflowers and some baby's breath.
When Abby saw the flowers Tim had picked up, he noticed the sparkle of curiosity in her eyes. "They're her favorite flowers," he told her simply, and saw Abby's eyes light up.
"So…this special person is really a special woman," she said lightly, and Tim felt a small smile tug at his lips at the teasing tone in her voice as he nodded his confirmation. He knew he'd made the right choice in bringing Abby with him.
However, when they pulled up to the cemetery after having lunch, he could feel Abby's surprised stare on him, and he felt the nerves he'd been fighting the past few days flare up once more. Swallowing, Tim took a deep, calming breath, pushing his nerves as far away as possible.
He was here on a mission, and he was going to complete it.
Parking the car, Tim gently grabbed the bouquet of sunflowers before getting out and walking onto the nearest path, Abby following quietly behind him as he searched the rows of tombstones and markers. Suddenly, he stopped, deciding to do things a little differently from what he'd originally planned.
"Hey Abby? Why…why don't we come back here in a little while? There's a story that I think you should hear first," he said as he turned around to face her.
He could see that Abby was fighting to keep from asking all the questions that swirled in her eyes, and was thankful that she didn't say anything.
They walked in the opposite direction until they found a bench under a large, shady tree, where they sat while Tim slowly told her the same story he'd told Gibbs just barely three weeks ago. He told her about his Momma and his father, about what that man did to him, about Mom and Dad bringing him home, and the years and the pains that followed. He told her about high school, about Mrs. Maynard and that first creative writing assignment, his first computer, his college years.
As he spoke, Abby either gripped his arm tightly, or more often clung to him, wrapping her arms around him in the securest of loving hugs as she sobbed and whispered "I'm sorry, so sorry" over and over in his ears. When he needed to stop, he too would turn and hug her tightly, burying tear-stained cheeks in her shoulder as he quietly drew strength from her so that he could get through it all.
Tim would never say that telling Abby was somehow easier than telling Gibbs, because it was in some ways more difficult, simply because it was Abby. Abby, whom he loved dearly, whom he didn't want to expose to the horrors of the world, who was his best friend and knew him better than most. But in telling her the truth, Tim knew he'd done the right thing; he knew she deserved to know what happened to him, deserved the reassurance that it really was never her fault that he had avoided sleeping with her as much as possible and that when he'd told her he loved her those few years ago it wasn't an empty phrase. He only regretted not telling her sooner.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly without looking at her, breaking the silence that had come over them as she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
"For what, Tim?" she glanced at him, surprised curiosity in her green eyes.
Tim looked away, cheeks red with shame. "For…for not saying something sooner. For asking you to give something more when I wasn't being completely honest with you. Don't get me wrong, Abs—I really did want to say something. But I…I'd already had relationships where the girls ran away because I had trouble being intimate with them and couldn't say why, which made me think that if I'd told them, they wouldn't have even stuck around long enough for another date. I…I didn't want to face that kind of hate again, Abs. I didn't want you to think I was…some kind of freak. But…by not saying anything, I hurt you more, and eventually drove you away. And I'm especially sorry for that."
He felt Abby take his hand, and looked up to see her giving him a shaky smile. "You forget, Timmy, that you've always been my geek. That hasn't changed with what you've just told me."
His vision blurred with tears again, but he blinked them away, and held her hand a little tighter.
"Tim, I still care a lot about you, and maybe even love you still. I don't know," she said softly, shaking her head to emphasize her indecision. "But I know that right now, I'm not ready to settle down, and make a commitment to one person." She squeezed his hand tightly, and looked him in the eye before speaking again. "If and when I ever get to that point, though? And if you're still available? Maybe…maybe then we can try again."
Tim smiled at her, and give her a chaste peck on the cheek while squeezing her hand again. Though it might hurt a little along the way, he knew he'd wait for her as long as he could, because he was sure from the first time they'd met that he'd found, if not the one, then someone pretty close to it.
Tim looked back out at the rows of gravestones, and looked down at the sunflowers sitting next to him on the bench. He took a deep breath, and picked up the bouquet as he stood, Abby in tow, an encouraging smile on her face as she gently squeezed his arm.
It was time.
Walking in solemn yet comfortable silence, they retraced their steps down the path back to where they'd turned around, and continued down the walkway as Tim kept his eyes out for the marker he was looking for.
Tim finally found the marker two rows back from the footpath, and made his way toward it. The granite stone that marked the grave was shaded by a nearby tree with widespread branches.
Tim looked down again at the bouquet of sunflowers for a moment, before he knelt in front of the granite stone, Abby right next to him, and gently placed the bouquet in the small hole in front of it.
They stayed there for quite a while, Tim speaking quietly to Anna Harris' grave, running his fingers gently over the engraved words in the granite stone. Finally, reluctantly, he felt it was time to leave. It was a long drive back to D.C.
Tim stood slowly, Abby giving him a warm hug. "We have to go now, Momma. But I'll try to come back soon. Maybe Abby can come back with me then, too." He glanced at Abby, who smiled at him, before looking back at the stone. "And if she can't, maybe I can bring another friend with me. Maybe Gibbs. Or Ziva. …Maybe even Tony."
Tim was quiet a moment, a soft, sad smile on his face. "I love you, Momma. Miss you a lot still." He blinked, and smiled again, this time a little more brightly. "But I'll come back soon, Momma. I promise."
And as Tim and Abby turned to leave, he could have sworn that the breeze that had picked up earlier sounded like his Momma's voice whispering I love you, too.