Previously on "When Trouble Finds Us"
"Jethro, I've orders to take disciplinary action against your agent."
"Let me guess, he didn't notify NCIS when he found out Sara's two friends were missing?"
"That's exactly right."
"Jen, he gets a call at 10 on Thursday that his sister and her friends never picked up their rental car. It takes him the rest of the day to find out the names and whereabouts of everyone his sister knew. He gets the names of his sister's new best friends, both of them incidentally Navy Recruits, late in the day, at 5:30 pm, on Thursday, Sara's officially missing. Heather and Allison weren't.
"Yes, but they should have been.!"
"Jen, that was up to their families, not Tim. He tried to reach their families, He couldn't get an answer. He didn't' do anything wrong."
"The SecNav disagrees, Jethro."
"What's the SecNav doing in this?"
"The families of the girls are suing NCIS for its' delayed actions on the case. The parents feel that the girls would have been found alive if we had acted sooner."
"Jen, Ducky said those girls were killed the on Thursday!"
"Jethro, there's nothing I can do. My hands are tied."
"What does the SecNav want you to do about it?"
"You've got to be kidding me! Doesn't Ducky's time of death mean anything, here? He said those girls died before the 24 hours was even reached that they'd been missing! How in the hell does that wind up on McGee?"
"Jethro, he kept the entire case to himself until the following Monday."
"Jen, he didn't know those girls had been murdered! You know that!"
"Jethro, my hands are tied. This is over my head. There is nothing I can do. I'm sorry."
"Tell that to McGee! It's not bad enough his parents get murdered and he spends a week of hell thinking his sister's next? Now he gets fired from the job he fought like hell to earn, and one that he loves because someone wants a scapegoat? This is bullshit, Jen and you damn well know it!"
"Even if I agree with you, Jethro, there's nothing I can do about it. Let's get this over with."
Three months ago, he'd been stripped of his career. Three months ago today, he had buried his sister. That was a cruel blow after his parents' funeral, which had been just days before that. The heart wrenching loss of his family at the hands of Sarah's maniac boyfriend had nearly destroyed his life. The events leading up to that loss had been the most unexpected, yet catastrophic events he could ever have imagined happening to him, no matter how long he lived.
Breathing out a pained sigh, he looked over at the calendar and stared at the dates with moist eyes that told the story of his grief. It was almost as if he were drawn to the visual confirmation of the date…dates… that sent him drifting away into the abyss of his grief. He'd been told that it got easier as time went on, but did he really want it to? Without the pain, he'd forget them, or so he thought. He wanted it to get easier to remember them as they were, not the days where he stood by a fresh grave watching as their bodies were committed to the ground because their souls were already singing with the angels.
Sitting up in bed, he rested his back against the headboard and closed his eyes. This quiet time brought with it the expected wave of grief, anger and bitterness that rolled through him whenever he had time with his thoughts. The memories that filled his head were vivid and unrelenting, almost as if he were reliving everything once again. With a stifled sob and a pained cry, he put his head in his hands and let the dam break in the solitude of his own space with no one there to hear his cries amidst the fresh onslaught of memories that crashed over him now:
The call from the car rental agency claiming Sarah and her friends had never picked up their rental car.
The four-day search for his sister that resulted in her safe return.
The case of her friends' murders and the discovery of her friends' bodies which ultimately led to his being asked to resign from NCIS for his failure to report them missing as soon as he knew Sarah was missing.
The subsequent discovery of his parents' bodies, where they had been murdered in their D.C. hotel room by Sarah's boyfriend, Martin Anderson.
The safe recovery of Sarah, by the team:
"Oh, Sarah! Oh, Thank God!"
"You better thank your team, Tim. They found me."
"Boss, I don't know how to..."
"Tim. I get it. I know. Trust me, we're all thankful Sarah's safe. It was the least we could do for your parents. But I want you to know something. You did good and kept your head on straight. You didn't even argue with me over anything I told you do to or not do. With everything you had on your shoulders, you still kept it together and I'm damn proud of you."
"Timothy, don't let any of this overwhelm you. If you need help with anything, you call on us."
"Tim, would you like me to handle the funeral arrangements for your parents?"
"That's not necessary, Director, I'll..."
"Listen to me. We all know this is hard for you; made harder by the fact that you don't know how to deal with your sister's involvement. I can tell you that the more help you accept; the better off you're gonna be. It's the only way you're gonna get through this. And you need to remember, you have nothing to feel guilty about."
"Thanks, Boss. Really. I will accept the help. But you're wrong about one thing."
"What am I wrong about?"
"Me not having anything to feel guilty about."
"What do you have to feel guilty about?"
"Heather Shale and Allison Reed."
"Okay. What about them?"
"Boss, they were Navy Recruits!"
"Okay, McGee. Calm down. I get it. You think you could have changed the outcome if you'd reported their status as possibly missing to us sooner."
"Not me, Boss. The Director."
"You let me worry about that. You just keep your head on, accept what help is offered to get you and your sister through these tough times and try to go a little easy on Sarah, trust me, she already feels worse than you could ever imagine about all of this. All right?"
"Boss? Do you think everyone on the team would be willing to help me get through their funerals?"
"That's kinda of a dumb question, McGee. Of course your team wants to be there for you. You just have to learn to ask without feeling like you don't deserve their support."
"Yeah. I guess you're right. Thanks, Boss."
"You're welcome. Now, go take care of your sister. Leave the rest up to us."
Closing his eyes, he tried hopelessly to stave off the waves of pain that his memories caused but it was to no avail and his mind took him even further back, to the moment when he received the call from the car rental agency. They claimed Sarah and her friends had never picked up their rental car; it was the start of the four-day search for her and for her friends which had eventually led to the discovery of her friends' bodies and the subsequent discovery of his parents' bodies.
His parents, the people that had given him life and gave both him and Sarah so much love and support when growing up, were murdered in cold blood. They were gone and it was by the hands of a coldhearted man that did not care about the consequences of his actions. Sarah had been returned to him, which given the loss he'd already suffered, was some kind of act of God. In his eyes, it was nothing short of a miracle and at that moment in time, he knew that he wasn't alone in the world.
Tremors rose from deep within him because he was trying hard to rein his in tormenting emotions. As much as he tried not to cry…he didn't want to anymore… his traitorous mind continued to torture him with the vivid recollection of the events following the moment he'd lost his job in the midst of this nightmare
As Tim packed up his personal belongings, and asked Tony to go clean out his gym locker for him, Tim held on to his emotions, held the lid on with super human strength. At Gibbs' encouragement, blazing in his eyes, Tim smiled back at him, knowing it probably didn't reach his eyes, but it was the best he could do.
Tim made it to his car before he allowed himself to break. As he set his box down on the roof of his car, he leaned his head on his arms, and cried. His shoulders shaking with sobs of anger, outrage, sorrow and regret. Feeling himself pulled from the car and wrapped in a hug, Tim stiffened for only a second, before he recognized the person letting him let go, grounding him with human contact and whispered words of apology:
"I'm so sorry, Tim"
As the tears slipped down his face now, the exact wording of the note he left his sister as he abandoned her so he could try and escape the pain of it all by running away, flooded his mind.
I need to get away. Don't worry; I'll be at Grandma McGee's cottage on the beach.
If you have any problems, please call Ziva. She's promised to always be there for you.
Jethro is at the kennel.
If you want to stay at my place while I'm gone this weekend, you can. I can't cope with your need to talk about what happened so, don't think we'll be able to talk about it any better when I get back.
That's not why I'm taking this break.
Take care of yourself while I'm gone and be careful.
Tim's vivid recollections just kept rolling on through now, relentlessly as they drew him back to that moment when just as he was driving out of town, he'd been stopped by the State Police as they caught up with him on the road.
All the officer had said was 'Agent McGee, we've been asked to locate you and to tell you that you are urgently needed back at NCIS.'
He recalled everything about that moment in time and even feeling that even though he didn't know what was wrong, he had the urge to talk to someone he trusted; someone that he knew would tell him straight while being the rock that he needed – Gibbs. With shaking hands, he had hit the speed dial for his Boss and waited for the voice; the voice that would speak of one final tragedy that could quite possibly act as the final nail in the coffin and break him.
"McGee. Where are you?"
"Getting a police escort back home. I'm two hours out. Boss, what's going on?""McGee. Listen to me. You've got to concentrate on driving. Call me when you get on the Yard, okay?"
"Yeah. Okay. Boss, just tell me, please. Is it Sarah?"
"McGee. Just get here, all right?"
The ax had fallen when he'd returned to the agency and had walked into the room where his obviously devastated team was waiting for him. One look at their faces and he'd known the devastating news they'd been waiting to tell him; news that he couldn't deal with even now. so lord knows how he dealt with it back then.
"Sarah's dead. That why I needed to get back here with a police escort?"
"I'm so sorry, Tim."
"Anderson escaped. He went to Waverly. Sarah called me because she thought she was being followed; said she was in the Campus Security office. I told her to stay there until Tony got there. As fast as he got there, Tim, Anderson already had taken her. Try as hard as we could, we weren't able to catch up with him until it was too late."
"Boss. Please, don't do this. I can't handle you taking the blame for this. I'm the one who treated her like crap; refused to talk to her about all of this. That's why she stayed on campus most of the time. We weren't talking much. All I was doing was pushing her to not miss any of her appointments with her shrink so I wouldn't have to hear anything she needed to talk about. You wanna blame someone for this, the buck stops here."
"She's downstairs, Tim, if you need to say goodbye."
Silently, he stopped fighting the tears, letting them come, the grief still too fresh to contain.
As he sat at his kitchen table, nursing his second cup of morning coffee, his eyes happened upon the time on the coffee maker. Realizing it was nearly six, he paused briefly to stare at the innocuous digital numbers. His thoughts turned slightly to the fact that while it was still early for some people, in this household it wasn't early by any means. If anything it was late and by now, breakfast was usually well underway, it wasn't like his housemate to stay in bed this long. In fact, the young man hadn't done this since… damn it! Looking over at the calendar on the wall, he frowned while mentally head slapping himself. Of course today would hit him hard. It was still fresh for him. Hell, this date would probably always be difficult for him now.
He stood up and moved to refresh his coffee. With a sigh, he took a long hard drink before getting a second cup out of the cupboard and making the coffee as the young man upstairs liked it. How these kids can drink it with milk and sugar he'd never know, but who was he to argue. Once done, he walked upstairs and stopped outside the guest bedroom dreading what he was walking into.
Regardless, the kid needed him. Knocking gently on the door to give warning that he was coming in, he opened the door and stepped inside the room, pausing to take in what lay before him. Seeing Tim sitting up in bed with rivulet of tears running down his face damn near broke Gibbs' heart. That in itself was bad enough, but the sight of Tim trying desperately to fight the tears and pain, was the thing that really go to him. He'd never get used to seeing this level of emotional turmoil despite living through it himself all those years ago.
The sense that he was no longer alone in the room seemed to disturb the torrent of memories that Tim was drowning in. With a harsh breath in, he finally blew it out in a cleansing whoosh and rubbed his hands across his hot, moist face. His hands dropped back down to his lap before glancing at the door to look at Gibbs with a small, thin forced smile of greeting.
Gibbs held out Tim's coffee to him and remained silent as the young man took it and gratefully drank some of it.
"Thanks." Tim offered after swallowing it down and letting the hot liquid soothe his scratchy throat. He knew better than to apologize for missing breakfast. They'd been through this so many times in the last three months; six, to be exact, that he knew it would be a futile act.
When Tim had woken up on the first month anniversary of his parents' deaths, he hadn't even made it out of bed until after lunch and that had only happened after Gibbs had made a phone call to Tim's shrink, Dr. Paul Dennison. Gibbsinsisted that he come talk to Tim in person and do what he could to help him through the minefield in which he was stuck. Tim had eventually come down from his room and wandered out back to the deck where he stayed for the rest of the day. The point was he'd made it out to the fresh air and remained sitting with Jethro, his faithful canine companion.
Gibbs had noticed a change in the mutt too because with Tim holed up in bed, the German shepherd had simply lain on the deck whining as he pined for his master. With Tim outside and by his side, two furry ears had picked up and he sat with his head in Tim's lap enjoying the connection and attention enough to keep a wary eye on his master and the back yard.
The anniversary of Sarah's death hit Tim even harder since he'd never been able to let go of that blanket of guilt he'd readily wrapped himself in the night she was murdered in his apartment. Although no one ever forced him to talk about it, they all knew that he blamed himself for never wanting to talk to her about her responsibility in the death of their parents at the hands of her 'boyfriend'.
The Team Leader had steadfastly handled it all silently, cautiously and without complaint. The Team Leader had been careful to keep his own emotions and memories of both Tim's situation and his own personal tragedy at bay so that his young agent would not bear the brunt of his emotions as well. Gibbs knew full well that Tim already felt guilty about the memories of the Team Leader losing his own family being brought forth as the similarities became apparent. In Tim's eyes, it was that guilt that made him feel as though he had to apologize and explain even though it hadn't been necessary at all.
"Don't leave me, please...I'm sorry."
"This had to be tough for you, staying with me because of what happened to my family, After..."
"Didn't mean to make it worse for you, Boss."
Even at a time when Tim had been mired in everything going on, he'd felt the need to write a short note of apology. Gibbs had kept that note and placed it in the small box he kept specifically for Shannon and Kelly. In a way, Gibbs felt it belonged there because he knew Shannon would have taken Tim under her wing and soothed him through this pain. He just hoped that in spirit, she would watch over his youngest agent.
You've done everything for me
Helped me through everything even while holding your own pain in. I tried to apologize for it but I know that it was too little too late
As a result, Gibbs was not about to let Tim go through that again. He'd kept just enough distance from his youngest agent during these most difficult of days. That distance ensured that the rest of his teammates and Tim's shrink had the space they needed to step up, be there for Tim, and help him through. It had been done sympathetically and with a tact that didn't leave Tim feeling as though Gibbs had abandoned him.
Even now, Gibbs remained watchful and silent, allowing Tim to have control of what happened next. Watching the young man remain obviously stuck in the melancholy mood didn't do much to help the situation though; soon Gibbs found himself unwilling to remain silent any longer. "It'll get easier, eventually."
"Thanks. I know you're right, I just…."
"Can't see it yet. I know. The thing you need to get into your head, McGee is that no one expects you to. Only person you need to worry about taking care of is you. But, you gotta start getting back into living, Tim."
Feeling like that very expectation was a betrayal of those he'd just recently lost, Tim closed his eyes to ward off the expected stake through his heart.
"That's the problem for you, isn't it?" Gibbs asked as he took a seat at the end of the bed and looked at the younger man.
"Doesn't feel right." Tim admitted so quietly it was as if he were trying not to admit it to anyone.
"McGee, look at me." The boss ordered without raising his voice.
Tim instantly did as he was told and looked Gibbs straight on.
"You know I've been there. Took me a long time and some serious head slaps from an ornery NIS Agent to get past it. But, I didn't have anyone else around me that knew me enough to care like you've got. You're not alone and you already want to keep going, I know you do."
Tim nodded as he looked down, trying to hold back the tears. The rare occasions that Gibbs opened up like this always touched Tim, especially given the circumstances of their now closely related situations.
"I get that it feels like you shouldn't still be living when they're gone, but you know that's not what your parents would say. If you need something to guide your way back to living the life you've made for yourself, then go with that. Try asking yourself what your parents would want for you. Do it every day, McGee."
Tim wiped his hand across his face once more and glanced at his mentor with a small smile of appreciation. "Thanks, Boss." Remembering his coffee, he drank it down and let out a deep sigh.
Tim smiled a little bigger as he looked at the man who'd stuck by him and taken him under his wing when the rest of the world had folded in on the younger man. "Yeah."
"Good, then get your ass down here and get some food in ya." Gibbs ordered with a smirk as he stood up, took the now empty cup from Tim and headed downstairs.
Tim got out of bed and headed for the shower, finally mentally prepared to find his way through the day.
These last three months had been among the most inactive days of Tim's entire adult life. No one pushed him to talk about anything personal, but they did push him to keep living. Tony took it upon himself to institute a team movie night every Saturday night when the team wasn't on call. Not one of them had been missed by the team.
Ziva had even started to show up every other morning clad in her running gear. It had taken her a good half hour to drag Tim out of bed that first morning but eventually their morning runs were routine. Gibbs knew that even though Ziva said she wanted to keep him in shape, her underlying purpose had been that Tim get the added benefit of pounding out his frustration, anger and grief on the pavement and every opportunity to clear his head.
After the third morning of seeing Ziva rush into the office harried because she had to run home, shower and get ready for work quickly so she wouldn't be late, Gibbs took pity on her and told her she should shower at his house. Now on the mornings she and Tim ran together, she'd show up with her work gear. Of course, Gibbs had used the excuse that he wanted her on top of her game at work and coming in rushed and tired wasn't a good start to the day.
Now with Tim's psychologist, Dr. Dennison, sitting with Tim for another home session some 45 minutes after breakfast had been devoured, Gibbs sent him a text to let Tim know he was leaving. He was later than normal, but truthfully the determination and drive to set things right offset the tardiness. His mind was made up, he was going to succeed here even if they didn't even know he was coming and hadn't even bothered to invite him. They needed to set things right. They all did.
Twenty minutes later found him barging into the meeting already beginning up in Jenny's office. He'd bypassed his team, and briefly noticed how unhappy looking they were working on the assigned cold cases. That wasn't important though, he had a job to do. Striding up the stairs, he walked quickly through the small reception area and ignored Cynthia's protests as he stormed into Jenny's office. He quickly made his way to the empty seat in the middle of the table, with his back to the wall.
"Agent Gibbs, why are you here?" Jenny asked formally. "You were not invited to this meeting."
"No I wasn't. But I should have been." Gibbs threw back at her in all seriousness. "Mr. Secretary." Gibbs turned to greet Jenny's boss, the SecNav, with the formality he reserved for such occasions as this, despite being incredibly angry at the man for ruining Tim's career.
"Agent Gibbs." Phillip Davenport replied dryly. "I would like to hear the answer to the Director's question, myself. If you weren't invited to this meeting why are you here?"
"With all due respect, Sir. I'm here on behalf of my agent. He was unjustly fired from a job he not only wanted his entire life, but also busted his tail to get and continued to bust his tail to keep. Tim McGee is an asset to this agency and it was not only a shot in the foot to the agency to let him go; it was wrong and unfair."
Now that he'd made his point, Gibbs took a breath in and let it out slowly. It wasn't until that moment that he took the time to look at the four people sitting across the table from him. Mentally, he winced at the fact that he'd forgotten to address their grief first, as he'd wanted to.
"Was there anything else you wanted to say, Agent Gibbs?" Jenny asked coldly, knowing that this situation wasn't over by a long shot. She knew Leroy Jethro Gibbs far too well and could almost read his mind at the best of times.
Without looking at her, as she expected him to do, he looked instead across the table at the parents of the slain Navy Recruits. These were the very people who'd threatened to sue NCIS over the deaths of their daughters if the Agency didn't take some action against Tim for his supposed negligence. The negligence they claimed was his when he'd failed to reach them while their daughters were missing; acting as if it had been Tim's fault that they hadn't answered their phones.
"I'd like to ask you a question." Gibbs stated as he looked at each parent in turn. "You were quick to throw the threat of a lawsuit at NCIS, even though our agent tried countless times to reach you to let you know that your daughters were missing. His call log on his cell phone backs that up. The car rental agency, on the other hand, made no such effort, once they'd reached my agent. Why not sue them instead? The truth is you wanted to throw the threat of legal action to the organization that held the biggest chance of closure or payback for you, the quickest Band-Aid to cover your pain. That doesn't excuse you ruining the life of a young man who's going through the same pain and loss that you are; times three because not only has he lost both his parents to this nightmare, but also his sister who was dating the monster responsible for this tragedy. Tim McGee had no knowledge of this murderer. No one in his family clued him in to what was going on with his sister and that man. He was not responsible in any way for this tragedy but you've backed this agency into a corner and left no choice but to take the very action that means his life; on top of being devastated by the deaths of his entire family, has been completely ruined by your pain and grief, too."
Gibbs paused and sighed as he continued to look at each of them in turn as he finally offered them his sympathy. "I'm sorry for your loss. I've been where you are and I know how you feel. But Tim McGee's a damn good agent. And I'm here to ask you to give him back his life; what little he had left of it that gave him purpose."
Having made his point, Gibbs stood up and left the room, letting the door close quietly behind him.
When the door closed behind Gibbs, the parents of both girls looked directly at Jenny.
"What did he mean; he's been where we are?"
Jenny cleared her throat and glanced down the table at Davenport for a brief moment. She was fairly sure he knew this by now and if he didn't maybe it was high time he did. "Special Agent Gibbs' wife and daughter were targeted by a drug cartel because his wife witnessed a brutal crime committed by one of their runners. Shannon Gibbs was scheduled to testify.
"Oh, no!" The group of collective voices gasped at the same time.
"Special Agent Gibbs was serving in the Marines and was deployed half way around the world in Afghanistan at the time."
"Oh, God, no! " Mrs. Shale whispered sadly, "They didn't!"
Jenny nodded sadly. "Yes, they did. They followed the van as it drove Agent Gibbs' wife and eight-year-old daughter toward a safe house. They targeted it and…" Jenny's voice broke slightly. "Sorry. All three people in the van were killed. Shannon Gibbs, Kelly Gibbs and the NCIS agent transporting them."
"Oh, dear God!"
"Agent Gibbs does have a valid point." Phillip Davenport said. The atmosphere was thick with a newly found grief at the shocking news they had just been told. "Agent McGee was a huge asset to this Agency and he did attempt countless times to contact each of you. This has been substantiated not only in his written report of the case on each of your daughter's tragic deaths, but also by, as Agent Gibbs stated, the actual call log on Agent McGee's cell phone."
"Then why did you fire him, Mr. Secretary?" Mrs. Shale asked almost shyly.
"Because, Ma'am. A complaint like this is taken very seriously. You claimed that Agent McGee's neglect in the case aided in your daughter's death. Now, our legal department had the legal issues in hand but in cases like this, there is no disciplinary action, just dismissal. At the time, I was doing what I thought was best at the time in not allowing any further legal action to be taken against the agency at a time when there was already enough pain and suffering."
"What have we done?" Mrs. Shale whispered.
"You let him take the heat because we were blinded by grief and loss, were not thinking clearly and demanding retaliation, rather than look into the facts that lead up to our daughters' deaths." Mrs. Shale demanded now.
"We wanted answers but this…this isn't want I wanted…what my daughter would want. You have to give him back his job!" Mrs. Reed stated with genuine remorse. "Just because we weren't thinking clearly or being fair, doesn't mean….Why didn't you investigate the claims before firing him?"
"You dismissed Agent McGee and hoped that the legal claim would be swept under the carpet!" Mr. Reed accused Davenport and even turned his accusing eyes in Jenny's direction for a brief moment before returning his glare toward the Secretary of the Navy, who, after all, was still just a man, at the simplest level.
"Wait a minute!" Mr. Shale exclaimed over the outcries and accusations of the other parents. "I think Agent Gibbs was just over dramatizing things a bit. I'm sure Agent McGee's life hasn't been ruined. After all, if he was such a huge asset to the agency, he wouldn't have had any trouble getting a job with another agency, right?" Mr. Shale argued weakly. "And I still think he should be held responsible for not getting in touch with us the very day he found out our daughters were missing."
Jenny glared at the man angrily. "Mr. Shale. I believe you only heard half of what Agent Gibbs had to say. "Yes, Agent McGee was an asset to this Agency. But his entire family was killed in this tragedy and he was used as the scapegoat to blame for it. He made every attempt possible to contact both of your families and there was nothing else he could have done. And, as Agent Gibbs has reminded us, the Car Rental Agency made no such attempt. Now, I'm not sure how you would handle the deaths of not only your parents but also your sister, and then the loss of your job, all in one full sweep, but I'm fairly certain, you would not be just going on, as if none of it affected you in the slightest."
"Well, no. That's not wha…" Mr. Shale looked down in embarrassment. Jenny sat back in her chair and shared a glance with the SecNav who simply nodded and stood up.
Phillip Davenport stood up, bringing all conversation to a halt. Looking at each of the grieving parents in turn, he spoke quietly to them as a group. "If you'll excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Shale; Mr. and Mrs. Reed; I truly must be going. I'm due at another meeting in thirty minutes. However, I promise you that I will give this matter some serious review and let Director Shepherd advise you as to what it is I decide." Turning his attention to Jenny, he spoke to her. "Director, I will get back to you later on today." Again, Mr. and Mrs. Shale; Mr. and Mrs. Reed; I am very sorry for your loss and would like to extend our sincerest condolences."
Gibbs returned to the squad room. After the meeting he had felt the anger rise and right now, he knew that he wouldn't get any work done until it abated slightly, allowing him to concentrate. Pulling out his phone, he kept walking, heading out for his favorite coffee and some fresh air. "How'd it go?...Yeah?...He okay?...Okay…Yeah…Dr. Mallard should be there in a few. Okay. Thanks."
Stuffing his phone back in his pocket, Gibbs' instincts kicked in harder due to the anger, and he turned defensively to the man who had materialized at his side and was now walking beside him. With a shake of his head, he turned and carried on. 'What the hell are you doin' DiNozzo?"
"How is he, Boss?"
"It's the 15th, Tony." Gibbs replied, knowing his Senior Field Agent would know the significance of the date.
"Somethin' like that."
"It's not getting any easier for him, is it?" Tony asked but he knew full well that if he were in Tim's shoes, he'd be struggling just as much.
Gibbs didn't reply. He knew that they all knew time would eventually heal Tim to some extent, r but the problem lay with the fact that no sooner had Tim started to grieve for his parents, then he had been completely floored by the second loss. That was the real problem with time; for some, grief hit and they got over it quickly, whereas for others, it festers in their souls for a long time before acceptance kicked in. Grief accompanied by a boatload of guilt like this, was in no way helpful to the grieving process.
The Team Leader himself knew the latter all too well and while he now accepted the loss of his family, he had never really gotten over it. When he'd heard about Shannon and Kelly, his grief had quickly turned to anger. He had let that emotion take over his thought process, leading to the execution of the man that had taken away his life and shattered his heart. Once again, he was brought out of his musings by the voice of his senior agent.
"You were awfully pissed comin' down from the Director's Office, Boss. Something more going on?"
Gibbs glared at him for the question, knowing that Tony was fishing for information. Before he could reply, his phone rang, he answered it with a huff.
"Yeah Gibbs…Okay…on it."
"C'mon" Gibbs ordered. "Grab your gear. Get Ziva and Ducky. There's a dead sailor at the harbor in Norfolk."
"Great." Tony muttered as he turned and headed back inside almost at a dead run.
Gibbs, Tony and Ziva returned to the squad room two hours later. They had gathered the evidence and after a quick detour to fill Abby in on the case and hand over what they had for processing, they were finally slipping into their chairs. Just as Gibbs settled down and was putting away his weapon, his phone rang.
"Agent Gibbs, Director Shepherd would like to see you in her office now."
Gibbs slammed down his office phone and scowled as he bounded up the stairs. His anger was palpable with every step he took making Tony wince.
"Ziva…" Tony whispered. When he didn't get an answer, he flicked a rolled up piece of paper at her.
"Stop it, Tony."
"Listen to me, Ziva!"
Ziva glanced over at him with narrowed eyes before standing and making her way over. "What do you want, DiNozzo?"
Tony ignored her irritated tone. "There's something goin' on and my gut tells me it has to do with McGee."
"You do not know that." Ziva replied and glanced up to the balcony. "It is strange though. Gibbs came in here like a…bat out of hell…?" she asked and continued at Tony's nod, "This morning and I saw SecNav leaving not even a half an hour later. It is strange but you know as well as I do that Gibbs will not let us know unless we need to."
"Yeah well, I don't like it." Tony pouted.
Ziva simply rolled her eyes and returned to her desk. "Regardless of whether you like it or not, that is how it is. Now stop pouting and help me dig through the financials." She pulled up the software that Tim had installed on all of their machines and felt the familiar pang of loss that her friend wasn't' there with them anymore.
Gibbs was oblivious to the exchange between his agents as he stormed into Jenny's office. Cynthia startled when the door snapped open but was so used to the Team Leader's temper, that she managed to smile softly even in the heat of the wilting glare Gibbs shot her way before grinning openly at him.
"Go on in, Agent Gibbs. She's expecting you."
"Better be." Gibbs muttered as he snapped open the inner door and pushed it closed behind him so it would slam. "You wanted to see me, Director?"
"Oh please, Jethro. Cut the crap because your "pissed" routine doesn't work with me." Jenny replied smoothly.
"You know me better than that." He reminded her. His wasn't an act. He didn't waste time on games like that.
"Yes, I do. And you know me better than to think I had a choice in not telling you about that meeting. Now, do you want to hear what I have to say or shall we just keep trading angry words with each other?"
"I'm listening." Gibbs' tone cooled but was still clipped betraying the effort it was taking for him to calm down completely.
"Thank you. I've been instructed to offer Tim back his job."
"Does it matter?" Jenny frowned. She didn't know what she had been expecting but that wasn't it.
"Hell, yes, it matters!" Gibbs growled in return.
"The bottom line, Jethro, is that Tim has a reason to get back…"
'Get back what, Jen? His life? His murdered family? His reputation? His stellar career? You tell me; what's his record look like right now?"
Jenny reached into her drawer and pulled out Tim's personnel file. "I had it pulled by HR when I got the order from SecNav. It's been cleared and he's been exonerated of all allegations."
"What? How? Who? Why?"
"I think you forgot 'when'" Jenny threw in dryly. "Apparently, the Shale's and the Reeds were extremely upset after hearing what you had to say this morning. They wasted no time in making phone calls on Tim's behalf, demanding that he be given back his job. They also said that under no circumstances should Agent McGee have suffered the indignity of being fired instead of the Agency standing up for him and fighting their impending legal battle in court."
"Unbelievable!" Gibbs muttered. "Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has bolted."
"I agree. Surprisingly enough, even SecNav agrees. Of course, the fact that with the parent's phones calls to the Secretary of Defense' Office today, he's been officially reprimanded for his decision regarding Tim in this matter now, might have something to do with his change of heart. Then again, maybe hearing what you had to say changed his viewpoint just as it did for those parents. I seriously think you have a knack for public speaking, Jethro."
Gibbs glared at her and changed the subject. "When?"
Jenny got serious since she knew what he was asking. "As soon as he re-qualifies in all areas of the hiring requirements. When all his re-certifications are in my hand, he's free to come back."
"If he wants to." Gibbs reminded her solemnly.
"You seriously think he won't?"
"I think it's not a guarantee either way. You can't drag someone through hell and back while they bury their entire family and just expect them to shrug it off like nothing happened." Gibbs turned and headed out, pulling out his cell phone yet again.
"We need to talk…Your office?...Be there in ten."
"No." Tim shook his head in abject denial of the suggestion that had just made to him.
Gibbs set the fresh cup of coffee that he'd just poured down in front of his agent and sat down across the kitchen table from him. Yesterday had been a long day; one of those that seemed never ending. The conversations, first with Jenny, then with Tim's shrink and Ducky had gone on well into the evening before Gibbs had gone home to talk to the one person to whom he desperately wanted to break the news. The problem was, exhaustion had won out and when he walked through the door, everything was quiet. After a quick look around, he'd found Tim flat out in bed with Jethro sprawled out next to him.
For that reason, Gibbs had just finally told him the news over breakfast, even making Tim his favorite pancakes, hoping to inspire him to eat well. What he hadn't expected was this off -hand refusal with seemingly no thought behind it. Despite this, the Team Leader sat back with his coffee and sighed as he held onto his patience, knowing this was one time it was truly needed, if he were to get his agent back where he belonged; working again.
"No." The answer this time was quieter and there was a small hesitation before the word was spoken. Gibbs already knew Tim had his reasons, but if those reasons were stopping him from getting his life back, then he was sure as hell going to question it.
Tim looked Gibbs directly in the eyes. "Boss, I don't want my job back out of pity!"
"Who said anything about that being the reason, McGee?"
Tim's eyes widened slightly. "Well, no one, but…"
"Three months and you've forgotten my rules already."
"No, Sir." Tim replied quietly, not realizing that he'd reverted back to 'Sir'. "I haven't forgotten them, it's just…."
"McGee, do you want your job back or not?" Gibbs asked impatiently as his exhaustion began to weigh down on him.
"Of course I do, Boss. I'm just not sure…"
"Not sure of what? You've been out running with Ziva every other day for almost two months now. You've been eating just fine, Tony says you've been holdin' your own at the gym when the two of you hit it every weekend and I'm pretty sure you can still shoot. Hell, McGee, you should be able to pass the re-qualifications no problem."
Tim nodded silently, his expression the picture of uncertainty mixed with yearning.
"Dr. Dennison told me he sees no reason why you shouldn't come back. Says you need to, actually." Gibbs' raised his eyebrows with the silent question that was understood clearly by Tim.
"I'd love to have my job back, Boss." Tim answered quietly.
"So, what's the problem?"
"What kind of record does this leave me with?" Tim asked with obvious worry.
"You've been on Family Medical Leave." The Team Leader told him seriously. "Everything else is clean."
Tim was speechless. Had he seriously been reinstated just like that?
"SecNav has writtena letter of apology for using you as a scapegoat for the Agency's Legal issues with the Recruits' families. It's in your file, officially taking the blame off your record."
Tim's eyes widened in shock and he felt his mouth drop open. Gibbs shook his head and chuckled because at that moment, he got a glimpse into what Tim must have looked like as a kid discovering new things for the first time.
"Leaving for the range in ten." Gibbs quipped as he stood up and walked over to the sink to wash out his cup and turn the coffee maker off.
Still frozen in shock, Tim didn't move. The shock of finding out that he was welcome to return back to the job he had shed precious tears over losing, seemed to have momentarily stalled out his mind. In the back of his mind was the nagging fact that he still had days where the overwhelming pain and sorrow of his recent loss knocked him on his ass and he had no idea how to deal with that; not at work.
"It gets better, Tim. If you'd rather be on desk duty until it does, that's your call." Gibbs unexpectedly told him with a note of compassion in his voice as he once again seemed to read Tim's mind completely.
Glancing up at his boss, Tim frowned as he realized how much of a wimp all of this made him look like. It was short-lived as he quickly remembered that Gibbs knew exactly where Tim was at the moment. He understood and that meant more in his emotional recovery because understanding was something he craved right now. Not sympathy, not empathy, but understanding. Someone who had been in his shoes and fought hard to get his life back. Tim realized Gibbs wasn't railroading him into anything. The Boss was pushing him to help himself and take back what control he could because that's what he'd had to do way back when he lost his family.
Tim knew Mike had played a huge part in helping Gibbs, and in turn, Gibbs was playing a huge part in helping him. Recently he had seen the other side to the Boss. Not the gruff, hard to reach, silent mute, but the softer side that guided and told Tim that he cared. There was one question he wanted to know; one thing that had always nagged at him and that was how Gibbs did it. How did he…does he…get through the days? Tim jumped when a firm hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Do it for them, Tim. Just like I did. You do it for them." Gibbs remarked as he turned and headed out, clearly expecting the younger man to follow him.
Tim stayed sitting on the chair before a barked voice made him jump up.
"McGee! You comin'?"
With his thoughts automatically thinking back to the night he'd made a seriously bad judgment call, Tim was now riddled with doubts. So much had happened. He had hidden in the back of Gibbs' car so he could listen in on whatever Director Shepherd had wanted to discuss with Gibbs. He had found the file on his murdered family and flipped out, eventually even going so far as to physically pummel Gibbs when the man attempted to help him come back from the shock of it all. The next day he'd suffered that stress induced heart attack. Suddenly, through all the memories and guilt that he'd been working through, Tim managed to hold on to the one thing Gibbs had demanded he not forget.
"…, Tim, you are not responsible for the people we've lost to this job or for your family! You wanna hang on to somethin' you hang on to that and don't let it go."
Taking a deep breath, Tim slowly let it out and got up with the first genuine smile he'd been able to let out in months, as he made his way upstairs feeling lighter than he had done in a while. He paused briefly to look at Gibbs.
"Yes, Boss. I'm coming."
"Well hurry up then. We've got a lot of work to do if you're gonna be back at your desk this week."
"Damn straight! I'm sick of sending case work down to cyber crimes and the important stuff being missed!"
Tim grinned, but as he walked into the bedroom, the seriousness returned while he made his way over to the picture of his family he always kept close. Kissing his fingers, he gently pressed them to the frame.
"I'll make you proud, guys. I love you all."
A/N: Many, Many thanks to Shelbylou and Gottahavemyncis - for your invaluable help with this.