a/n - Thanks for reading, and thank you for the wonderful comments. It will be a few days before I start posting the next story, Cape Fear. Humans tend to fear what they do not understand. A member of Team Gibbs faces the fall-out of that fear when he discovers the truth about himself. Angst and humor in equal parts in this study of what it means to be human, and what it means when others question your humanity. Starting Wednesday.
Gibbs spent a restless night, unable to work on his boat, unable to sleep. He reached for his phone a dozen times during the night, but never dialed. Instead, he arrived at headquarters at 0500, knowing that Jenny would be there early for an international video feed in MTAC.
She smiled knowingly as he handed her a coffee before the feed was totally dead. "Why couldn't you sleep, Jethro? Still thinking about that case from yesterday?"
"No, well… maybe, not exactly."
That got Jenny Shepard's attention as she peered at him over the safety of the coffee cup. He shrugged as he admitted the problem. "I was worried about McGee. You know what yesterday would have been."
She did know. The night of the circus it had taken a lot of bourbon, but she had gotten the entire story out of him and now she watched the two circle each other. Neither one willing to go back to the way it was before, but neither one willing to admit the bond that tied them together. "Did you call him last night?"
"No, he said he wanted to be alone." He certainly didn't look convinced by his own words, but she didn't mention that.
"So? It's morning now; call him and have him meet you for breakfast." Before he could agree or come up with a reason why he shouldn't bother his young agent he cell phone interrupted them.
Whoever was on the other end was not delivering good news.
"I'll be right there." He closed his phone and stared at it.
"Tim's been rushed to Bethesda. He's unconscious and barely breathing." Gibbs was already heading for the door. "I've got to go, Jenny. Get DiNozzo and David out to the park across from his apartment, that's where he was attacked." Once he was out of her office, he ignored the elevator and took the stairs down two at a time.
Jenny watched him leave before making the calls. Ziva was first since she lived closer to the apparent crime scene, then Tony. The questions were all the same; she should have had them on a conference call so she would have only had to answer once. Yes, he's alive. No, I don't know what happened. No, Gibbs is not meeting you there. Yes, he's going straight to the hospital. Yes, I'm sure.
If the agents reporting in from Spain felt rushed, they didn't complain before she disconnected and left for the hospital. Gibbs may have the gut, but her woman's intuition told her things were going to get worse before they got better.
A flash of the badge always sped things up at a hospital, but this time even the doctor jumped when he saw the silver shape. "Gibbs? Are you Agent Gibbs?"
"Yes, I…" Gibbs didn't get any further before he was interrupted.
"Thank goodness. Come with me please." His arm was immediately grabbed and they rushed down the corridor. "We don't know what's wrong with him yet, but if we can't get him calmed down, he may hurt himself. He's convinced you were blown up."
"What?" By now he could hear what room McGee was being treated in and didn't bother asking any further questions. He elbowed his way past the staff and reached the bed, forcing Tim to look at him.
"Boss?" There was a frailty in his tone that almost hurt to hear. "You're all right?"
Gibbs tried to reassure him. "I'm fine, Tim. Nobody hurt me, but what happened to you? Can you tell me what happened?" He leaned close, maintaining eye contact as he cupped Tim's face in his hands. "Who did this?"
"Oh, God, the well… I tried, but it hurt so bad. I'm sorry, Kelly…" Tim fell back against the bed as he lost consciousness and Gibbs was forced back as the medical staff swarmed into the room.
"We're going to do a CT scan, there may be bleeding in his brain." No further explanation was given as they rushed him out of the room.
Gibbs found himself in the waiting room, being handed a coffee by Jenny. "How is he?" All Gibbs could do was shake his head and Jenny took his hand. After a few deep breaths, Gibbs pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
Tony and Ziva walked the area carefully that had been cordoned off. Except for a few drops of blood, nothing seemed out of place. While Tony took a phone call, the local officer explained to Ziva what they had found.
"Your agent was found over here, unconscious. He was hit on the back of his head, so we're thinking a mugging. When he fell, his badge was visible and they probably panicked and took off. There's not a lot of people in the park at night, so who knows how long he was laying here before he was found this morning." Happy with his theory the uniformed man finished his summation. "If there's nothing else, we'll turn the scene over to you."
"Just one question." Tony came up behind him as he was talking. "Do you know anything about a well here in the park?"
"Sort of." He pointed out an overgrown path that looked like it hadn't been used is years. "There used to be a decorative wishing well down there, but it was torn down years ago."
"Thanks, you guys can take off now." DiNozzo dismissed him with a grin as he turned to study the faint path. Once he and Ziva were alone, he pulled out his knife and started to cut though the vines blocking their way as he explained. "Gibbs wants us to check out the well; he thinks Probie may have had a reason to come down here."
Ziva started hacking at the vines too. "No one has been down here for years. Nothing is disturbed, there are no footprints, and these branches are intact. How is McGee, did he say anything?"
"McGee's not good, Ziva. The Boss sounded… scared." Tony stopped as he caught his blade in a larger vine.
Ziva frowned at his statement. "You must be mistaken, Tony. Gibbs would not be scared."
"This is useless. No way did anyone get down there." DiNozzo struggled to pull his blade out of the vine.
"Agreed. There is nothing here. Officer Andrews was right. McGee was injured in an attempted mugging. He needs to pay more attention to his surroundings; this could have been much worse."
"Let's swing by the hospital and check on McGee ourselves."
"Agent Gibbs?" The doctor sat down across from Gibbs and Director Shepard and smiled, relieving them instantly. "The CT scan showed only a minor bleed that is already resolving itself. He's awake and aware of his surroundings."
"Thank God. Does he remember what happened?" Gibbs couldn't express how relieved he was at the news.
"There's a gap in his memory, but that's very common with a head injury like this. I wouldn't worry about it. He's being moved into a room right now, so you'll be able to see him for yourself pretty soon."
Gibbs shook the man's hand and then let Jenny deal with the niceties while he moved to stand in front of the window. Something about the entire incident was off, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Boss, how's McGeek?" Gibbs turned around to see DiNozzo and Ziva coming towards him and smiled for the first time since he'd gotten the call.
"Looks like he's going to be all right."
"What did you find at the scene?" If DiNozzo was surprised to find the Director of NCIS at the hospital waiting on one of their least experienced agents, he didn't show it.
"It appears to have been an attempted mugging."
Gibbs wasn't convinced. "He was knocked unconscious, but they didn't take his wallet, his watch or his gun? What about a well, did you find one?"
"There was one, but it was removed many years ago." Ziva wasn't sure why the wishing well was so important to Gibbs, but she explained to the best of her abilities. "The path to where it was is too overgrown to navigate. It's impossible for anyone to have been down there."
Gibbs seemed lost in thought as he dismissed them. "All right, go back to the Yard and get busy on the paperwork for the Morrison case. I'm staying here until I can talk to McGee."
The last nurse was finishing up when Gibbs entered the room. McGee was lying on his side, facing away from the door, allowing him a moment to observe unnoticed. He stepped into the room to clear the doorway as the nurse left. Tim seemed to notice him then, but instead of relaxing, the younger man appeared to tense up even more. Gibbs circled the bed to sit where he could see McGee's face.
"Hey, how're you doing? You gave us quite a scare." As he rested his elbows on the edge of the bed Tim seemed to shrink into himself, wrapping his arms around the pillow he was clutching.
"I'm… I'm… all right, sir."
Gibbs felt his eyebrow climb. He hadn't heard the stutter that bad or the 'sir' since McGee's first year on the team. He looked up at Jenny who stood in the doorway, before returning his gaze to the bed's occupant. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
"No." Tim was curling in on himself, trying to shut out the outside world and Gibbs didn't have a clue as to why. "I don't remember anything after leaving work yesterday. I'm tired, Boss."
The closed eyes and feigned sleep were a red flag, but Gibbs was stumped. Worried, he brushed Tim's hair back off his face. "All right, McGee, you get some rest and I'll check back on you in a few hours." He didn't slow down until he was back in the waiting room, Jenny right on his heels.
"Jethro, what is going on? The nurse told me that he was almost hysterical when he was brought in, claiming you were injured, that you'd been hit by rocket fire, and now he doesn't remember and just wants to sleep?"
"I don't know, Jenny, I just don't know." Gibbs started pacing as he thought about the events of the day. "Something's got him spooked, but I don't know what. Why won't he talk to me?"
"He seemed frightened."
"Of me? After these last few weeks, I thought he could tell me anything." Gibbs sagged into a chair. "I though he knew that, too."
"Let me try." They returned to McGee's room, but this time Gibbs stayed in the hallway while Jenny eased inside. As she expected, Tim hadn't moved, but was awake, staring off into space.
"Talk to me, Tim." When he started to withdraw even further, she laid her hand on his arm. "Whatever it is, it's tearing you apart."
Tears were rolling down his face. "I can't tell him, I can't."
"You need to tell someone, though. Talk to me, Tim." She repeated herself as she leaned closer. "I won't tell Gibbs if you don't want me to."
"He'll hate me."
"No, he could never hate you. Not the man Kelly wanted to marry." She thought her gentle words would ease his mind, but it tore him up even more. Jenny glanced up at the pain-filled face at the doorway before returning her attention to McGee as she pulled the blankets up tighter around him. "Whatever it is, just tell me."
He was too exhausted, too drained to resist. The words came slowly at first, and then they tumbled out. Hearing about her own death was surreal, but seeing how the deaths of his teammates was tearing Tim apart was heartbreaking. It took almost three hours for McGee to relate his experiences, ending with the worry that he couldn't find any information about Abby, who seemed to disappear right after joining NCIS.
Jenny had long since given up trying to wipe away her tears as he talked. Eventually he quieted, watching her reaction.
"Tim, he wouldn't hate you for that. It was a terrible, terrible nightmare." When McGee closed his eyes, she risked a quick glance up at Gibbs' devastated face.
"No, you don't understand." Tim didn't open his eyes as he spoke. "I kissed my wife and little girl goodnight and then I wished them away. I don't know how to live with that. I don't know if I want to try."
Jenny sat with him until the next time a nurse came in. A few quiet words and the staff had him on a watch to protect him as he grieved. She left the room determined to make sure Gibbs understood.
Gibbs was sitting in the stairwell and she didn't say anything as she joined him, waiting for him to make the first move. He stood, startling her, and rushed down the stairs. She followed, determined to not let this nightmare destroy either of them. He didn't say a word as she climbed in the car beside him. They reached the park and Gibbs opened the trunk of his car, still silent. His field kit had the gear he needed and he handed Jenny a flashlight before taking the machete for himself.
The machete easily sliced through the thick vines and in less than an hour they were standing at the remains of what once was a wishing well. A metal grate prevented anyone from falling in; it appeared to be a fairly recent addition to a stone structure that looked to be ancient. Gibbs dropped the machete and took the flashlight from Jenny. She peered over his shoulder as he bent down to shine the light down into the hole.
It wasn't deep, maybe ten or twelve feet, and dry. The bones of a small rodent were scattered on the bottom and next to the tiny skull were two black coins, one slightly overlapping the other. Jenny fell back as Gibbs staggered to his feet.
"My God, it was true." She stared at him as he paced, trying to gauge his mood.
For the first time, something other than the death of his family was causing Jethro Gibbs to hyperventilate. "No… no… no…"
"No! You were right; it was a dream, a nightmare. A terrible, painful nightmare."
"The coins are there, Jethro…"
"No! I am not letting this destroy him, Jenny. He's all I've got left. Shannon, Kelly and now Kendra. They're all gone, we've lost them all. It was a dream. He was tired and stressed after the case and he came to the park to unwind." Gibbs started to pace faster as his words sped up. "He was distracted, and somebody hit him. That's what happened; that's all that happened. The old lady told him it would feel like a dream, right? So that's all it's going to be. Dreams fade in time and this one is going to fade for him." He stopped and looked at her. "It has to, Jenny, it has to." He spun and ran back up the path. Jenny blinked and then scooped up the machete and the flashlight before following him.
She managed to get in the seat before the car was in motion. "What is it, where are we going?"
"He has to believe it was just a dream." That was all he said before pulling into the parking lot of a home improvement store. Jenny followed him again and this time he purchased two bags of quick dry cement and a large bucket. She didn't say a word as he mixed up the cement. He carefully poured it through the grate and covered the bottom of the well with concrete, burying the coins forever.
They stood sentry as the cement hardened, and then Jenny picked up a handful of dirt and carefully sprinkled it on the fresh surface, destroying the new appearance.
It was almost midnight when Gibbs returned to the hospital. The nurse smiled at him as he sat next to the bed, his hand on Tim's shoulder. The presence of the older man seemed to settle her restless patient and he finally slipped into a deeper sleep. Understanding some of what haunted him; Gibbs was ready when the next nightmare started. He leaned over and whispered in Tim's ear.
"It's all right, son, I forgive you."