Well, I'm updating after like a year of not doing that. Yeah, sorry. I always update when I'm really sick, though. I have pneumonia, so that counts as really sick. Thanks for the loyal reads. I'll post some shout-outs when I, well, get around to it. Having pneumonia and projects and holidays to do gets in the way of things. Please read and review this really long chapter, my dearest readers!

Chapter Nine: Rising Tide

On a hunch of a suspicion, Tony lingered in the quiet lobby, standing on the balls of his feet, tense and uncertain, before sighing and moving towards the elevator. But something flashed in the edge of his vision, down the hall from the sliding metal doors, and Tony felt uneasy again at once. Hand on his weapon, the agent started after the fleeting figure and came upon the imposing door to the stairwell after he turned the corner.

Tony's ears burned for sounds in the quiet of the hospital halls. The person had come and gone so quickly, with only this passage as the possible escape route. Every survival instinct screamed to stay back, to not walk into a potential trap, but his years of training and experience gave him the skill to approach the situation.

There was no way to enter the stairwell without making noise anyway, so he announced himself. "Hello?" Tony called out, low and anything but welcoming, gun clasped in his cold fingers. The door opened inwards so Tony was at the disadvantage of the whole metal door blocking his vision.

Suddenly, the door slammed back shut, and Tony braced himself out of instinct against the force, so that when it released all at once he tumbled forward into the stairwell. As he fumbled to pick himself up and pursue his attacker, he only saw a glimpse in the dim space, a face unfamiliar but coldly smiling so that Tony was frozen for a heartbeat. A heartbeat too long.

The man disappeared down the stairs before Tony could even shout at him to stay put. Tony heaved himself off the ground and shot after him, listening to the pounding footsteps before him, but the sight of the stranger just out of reach in the twisting well. Then they were at ground level, and the man burst out of the exit straight into the clinging darkness beyond the hospital's floodlights. From there lay just the trees, maybe freeways or neighborhoods beyond them. Either way, he had a head start that Tony could not overcome.

"Stay there, or I'll shoot!" Tony shouted, panting, arm raised level with the top of his firearm, but the man had vanished with speed that Tony's tired body did not have in it at the moment. Tony's heart thudded in near panic at the strange encounter, the uncomfortable, close call. That was the kind of speed that could outrun perhaps even Ziva.

Tony ground his teeth at the near catch then snatched out his phone to make an urgent call. "Boss," he said, breath still coming a heavy gasps. "Someone-someone was here- at the hospital. Near McGee. I chased him- but- but he got away. Out a side door in a stairwell. Too much of head start," he added with the burn of self-chastisement.

There was a pause on the other end. "Did Tim see him?"

Tony hovered at the question, not exactly what he had expected to hear. "No. This guy can run, but I doubt he would've gotten past the guards, or even close to McGee at all."

"Well, good. Check on him, then come straight back here to give a description. I'll be damned if anyone gets that close again." Gibbs breathed anger in this response, but Tony knew it was not directed at him or Gibbs himself. Gibbs knew the man at large had been close, and the temptation to lash out and find him himself was alluring.

"Yes, boss," Tony said to the sound of a phone being hung up. At once, he made his way back to Timothy's room, peering only through the wired-laced glass to ascertain his condition, rather than challenging the guards again for so short a visit. Timothy slept, almost soundly as it looked. Tony turned away and left the hospital, deeply unsettled at how insecure the facility now seemed.

Within his room, Timothy was not asleep, not asleep at all. He kept his eyes closed and his breath deep and regular, but his thoughts spun away at a furious pace.

So his friends knew his darkest secret. And that darkest secret was back to get him. His fingers tightened slightly into a fist. He had to fight that instinctive flush of panic that made his blood redder and his body twitch with the urge to run and keep on running. That would not do. His brow knitted under his mask of sleep. Now he was choosing between that 16-year-old choice to let the fear bury itself in forgettable ice, or to face the problem in the full-force of its fire.

Timothy was not aware that Tony came by to see him in his false position of near-restful sleep, or of the chase that had preceded the visit. He did see in his mind's eye those warm, supportive faces of his friends, of Tony, of Ziva, of Gibbs. Of Abby and Ducky and everyone. And he was older now, stronger, having passed the rigors of field agent training and the trials of experience. He was wiser and, most importantly, not alone. That man could do what he liked, Timothy figured, but he was going to have a hard time getting it done.

In Abby's lab, Tony hunched over a computer screen while Abby sat stiffly before it, fingers tapping away at the keyboard and mouse clicking inexorably at the senior agent's prompts.

"No, no, paler skin, deeper- um, here area," Tony said with vague frustration, motioning at the hollows of his own cheeks to specify. "And dark hair, not black, but I can't say brown either. Green-brown eyes, though. I know that for sure." He had seen those icy panels of hazel flash up at him for a split second, their impassive color and infuriating confidence striking in his memory like a gong. Still fresh, still burning.

The product of the digital sketch was a middle-aged man with dark hair and eyes and a intensely blank expression. Tony could only just get himself to recall the emotion that had played on those features, the sickening dread that rose when he thought of it nearly mastering him again like it had when Tony had been frozen in the stairwell.

Abby sat back with a heavy sigh. "This is it? The guy?" The gesture in her voice implied a stronger solemnity than the words 'the guy' seemed able to convey. Tony raked the screen with his glare, unable to separate his loathing for Timothy's yet-unascertained attacker and this stranger. Perhaps they were one in the same, but no one could be anywhere sure of that yet.

The next few weeks passed with unsettled quiet as Timothy recovered and the agents stumbled along with their investigation. The block on the man had yet to break, despite Fornell's and Gibbs' combined barrages.

Fornell could only reply, when pressed, "The FBI must want him bad for something, to not let up for an assault on a government official, and a potential sex offender at that." The blunt statement of fact almost made Gibbs flinch but he waited, and nodded, and even thanked Fornell for his help. They would all wait, until Timothy could speak and reveal the precious few details they needed to further pursue this criminal.

Up to the point of leaving the hospital and walking on his own and even making small excursions into the other halls of the hospital with his entourage of guards, Timothy had been counseling himself into confidence, into strength. This was justice he was fighting for, his own justice. For all he knew, other people's justice as well, should his attacker have hurt anyone else. But that did not make the telling any easier.

So he went to his apartment, tentative, as if it would be less his own after all his time away. But, save for some dust and some tidying a friend had done in his absence, it was the same home, the same clothes, the same security. The rooms were a bit cold, as he shuffled through, both Abby and Sarah waiting with wary faces at his sides should he stumble or become weak. Already, his face was tight with the first stirrings of pain of exertion.

Gibbs had asked him if he wanted to be questioned at home, at NCIS, or at some neutral place away from either familiar location. Timothy in the end decided on a meeting room above NCIS, secure but almost cold in its unfriendliness. He could afford to associate the place with unpleasant memories- there was nothing to lose there in the first place.

A little less than a month after the assault did nothing but make dull the agents who were on constant alert for trouble that might entangle their friend. They were tired of being unsure of his and perhaps their own safety. The stranger had not been sighted since Tony had chased him down the stairs, and his likeness was not recognized when posted with other wanted profiles on all the governmental sites and offices. What did grow sharper was the agents' shared unease of the telling. They did not want Timothy to suffer more than he had to, and surely recalling the events would be worse than walking through broken glass.

"Want anything? To drink?" Gibbs asked, waving his coffee, then motioned towards an ornate bottle of amber liquid on a back shelf. Timothy, all the while, settled into a cushy rolling chair with nothing but a slight hiss of discomfort. Already, his boss's ingratiating tone made him wary.

"Just- water." He conquered the urge for anything stronger than tea, as caffeine or alcohol would just hinder the healing process, though speech still sat oddly on his warped tongue. It was not a lisp but more a pondering pace that made sure everything came out intelligible.

Gibbs came back with a water bottle in a heartbeat, than sat to his side at an angle from Timothy's orientation, not quite beside him or in front of him at the rectangular table. He did not hesitate beyond what he felt was obligatory, though he knew Timothy had not quite passed the uncomfortable aspect of the situation. His boss, however, only saw it as necessary to the means of the case, which would only be helpful in the end. Timothy's reluctance was almost aggravatingly counterproductive to his own case. But Gibbs knew patience and gentleness. He would not hurt the already pained agent for the sake of information.

"We couldn't get to your assault files from '95," Gibbs began, rearranging the papers he had laid on the table before him, more useful to have something in his hands than to read what the lines said. Timothy's eyes snapped up at this, no longer as defensive as they would have been, but just as guarded. "So we will have to start there." Gibbs looked up, imploring, but Timothy sighed and looked away.

"I don't remember much- I mean, I don't think I remember much. I've never really tried..." He petered out, voice fading, fingering the water bottle as the condensation on its surface wet his hands. "Well, it was May 1995. I went with Sarah to a party, I don't remember where. It was awkward. Everybody drinking, roughhousing. I was a bit- out of place. And I- I didn't want to linger around Sarah. She was busy." Timothy scratched his head at this, passed acknowledging embarrassment at a situation that someone cooler would have handled with ease. That was not at all important to him, those teenage insecurities far behind him now.

"So I had a few sips of beer." Timothy's mouth scrunched at the memory, the taste almost removed from what beer actually tasted like. The first taste had been and would always seem terrible. "But I wasn't drunk, hardly buzzed even." Silence descended around him. "Then he sat next to me."

Gibbs leaned in just a bit, concerned, but the emotion invading his agent's features was not panic, but cold rage. That bloodthirsty coloring on his normally-gentle features was enough to make Gibbs feel an internal twist of worry. He had to blow out a preparatory sigh before asking his next question.

"And this was-?"

"Yes," Timothy cut in, eyes sharp and voice curt. "This was the man who attacked me." Timothy took a calming breath before forging on. "He was older than me, maybe between 18 and 20, I can't say for sure. Called himself Joshua. He was… nice," Timothy added with a hateful glare into the past, eyes not on Gibbs or anything in the room at all. "He brought me a sweeter drink, something like soda and vodka or something. It went down easier than beer, and he talked me up for a long time it seemed."

"He said he knew me, he'd always wanted to talk to me. Said I was smart and stuck to my values, and that he admired that. He talked about things I knew, things I had an interest in. We laughed. I- I was actually enjoying myself." Then Timothy's rage burned down into something like smoldering regret. It had seemed so nice, so innocent. He had seemed like a friend. "And hours probably went by. It was later, when he said we could go to a back room, away from the noise and what was going on around us- people making out, or guys fighting. People crying about their dramas. So we went upstairs."

Here, Timothy felt his face start to burn with a bit of blush. He had to explain how he accepted to go into a back room with another man in the first place. In those high school years, he had dappled with his persuasions, one of them being sexually curious. Timothy attempted to stutter around this explanation, but Gibbs interrupted him with a nonchalant wave.

"I don't care what you do, Tim," Gibbs said, and Timothy wanted to hide in his jacket from that supportive stare. Well, that was all good, Timothy figured, but it was another thing entirely for yet another well-hidden secret to be known.

Timothy could not resist a small bout of being defensive. "I mean, I'm not gay, completely-"

"I know, don't worry about it. If you believe that I would think less of you for it either way, then you don't know me very well."

Properly chastised, Timothy just nodded and hid behind a sip of water, cheeks still hot. "Well, anyway, we went upstairs. To some bedroom. And…" Timothy found the words harder to come by now, more difficult to find as they had been flowing so far. His fingers clenched around the water bottle with a crunch of plastic, but his body seemed to release some tension as his face turned to some mix of resigned confusion and, perhaps, disappointment. "I wanted only so much... but he wanted more. I just... wish- I don't know, wish a first experience like that hadn't-hadn't colored the rest of my life." Timothy lowered his head and said nothing for a while, leaving the main tragedy simply at that.

"Then I was alone in the bed, and Sarah was crying, and Joshua was on the floor, head bleeding. I… I was pretty hurt all over, and I was dizzy from all the drinks he brought me, and he had hit me in the head pretty hard. But I wanted Sarah to leave most of all." His eyes flashed as he drew taller in his chair. "To be away from that- monster. So I put on the clothes she gave me and tried to walk out with her, pulling on her while she just cried. Joshua was on the floor, and I wanted to be out of there before he woke up. She wanted me to call the cops."

Here, Timothy would have said that he had grabbed Sarah's wrist, not painfully, she insisted, just sharply. But he was more ashamed of this than anything else and could not bring himself to say it. He told himself it was irrelevant anyway, and continued with his recitation.

"A few days passed. I remember this the least, I think. I-I was tired and cold the whole time, not listening to a word Sarah said, not getting out of bed or doing anything. I must've gone to the police eventually. But they knew no Joshua fitting that description in the area, couldn't pin him down, and said sorry. I was so upset with the whole thing, I retracted the statement as far as legally possible. That's why- it's all struck out." Timothy waved his hand over the documents before him. "The FBI never told me they were doing more on this guy. I had no idea it was connected to his later cases."

"And in the alley, a month ago?" Gibbs felt tired all at once, so tired of knowing that the people he cared about were always getting hurt, getting attacked. He hoped Timothy could not see the weight of the responsibility resettling on his older shoulders once again.

Real fear sprang up in Timothy's eyes. "That- that was different." He looked, wide-eyed, away from Gibbs. "He was so mad. So furious. I-I don't know." He buried his head in his hands, gut aching where his newly healed wounds lay. "I'll think about it. Just give me- one minute. I'll remember it. I will."

So there you go, my beautifuls. Please review, and, as always, thank you for stopping by.