Albatross Ch 1
Navy Yard Medical Offices :Friday 8pm
"Good Evening, Special Agent McGee."
"Doctor Avery." The sad-eyed man in the waiting room almost came to attention at her greeting. He shook her hand and the flicker of a smile washed over his face, though neither of them was under the illusion that it was anything more than a polite fabrication
It was a formal interaction, a strategy they had adopted to get over the patient's obvious reluctance to step over the threshold into her territory and bare his psyche for her scrutiny. And yet he came here of his own volition; he was not under orders, indeed none of his colleagues nor his superiors knew of his fortnightly visits, nor of the efforts he was prepared to make to keep them private.
As on every other visit he avoided the couch and the comfy chair, choosing instead the window seat with its view out over the Potomac. It was unusual for him to be here after dark and for several minutes he scrutinised the night time panorama of the DC skyline. From this seat he didn't have to look at her and from her position she could only see his face in profile but she deduced much from the defeated slump of his shoulders and the anxious, restless wringing of his hands.
"Tim." Her voice jogged his attention back to the present and a quick glance at his watch told him that ten minutes had passed in silence. "Tim, how has your week been?"
He was on borrowed time, the both knew that, and he was very afraid that, despite his best efforts, his world was crumbling around him. Normally he came early on a Saturday morning but this was a Friday evening and he looked as exhausted and dejected as she had ever seen him
He wasn't by nature a rude man and he couldn't bring himself to ignore her gentle enquiry but he was reluctant to answer, to give voice to the untruth that he was fine when they would both recognise it for the lie it was.
"Do you want the truth or the pretence," he shrugged finally.
"Anything but the truth is wasted here, Tim,"
"I don't think I can keep on pretending for much longer. Every day it gets harder and harder. I see them looking at me sometimes and I think they can see inside my head, that they can hear the thoughts that I have to keep hidden."
"Why do you have to keep them hidden, Tim? Don't you think they will understand?"
"No." He laughed bitterly. "No, they won't, they can't understand. They don't know what it is like for me - they don't see things the way I do. . .they never have. They get better at their jobs and I have to keep trying harder and harder just to keep up. . .and I can't. I'm just so tired. I just want it all to stop."
"Tim, last time you were here we discussed you taking some sick leave. . .have you reconsidered it?"
"I can't, not right now."
"Tim, no one is indispensible."
"You don't understand! We're just about ready to wrap up a really big case. It's been going on for weeks. . .months. And it's not just our agency. I can't just walk off the job now. I can't." He pulled a folded and slightly crumpled paper from his jacket and slapped it down onto the cushion beside him.
She recognised the paper as the request for sick leave she had signed at his last appointment. She was worried that he had still not handed it in. She knew it was risky to push him but the situation was fast becoming critical."Yes, you can, Tim. You've been carrying that sick note around for two weeks and instead of handing it in and taking the time you need to rest and heal you have been pushing yourself further into the ground."
"I need to be there!" He picked up the paper and ripped it into smaller and smaller pieces until it fluttered like confetti to the carpet at his feet.
She was concerned by his sudden and uncharacteristic expression of agitation but she schooled her features to neutrality just in case he happened to see it, though she knew from past experience that he very rarely looked at her during their sessions.
"Tim, you said you're tired. Have you been sleeping any better?"
"I've been busy,"
"That doesn't answer my question," she chided him gently. He shrugged his shoulders and gazed off at the view from the window.
"Tim! How many hours sleep a night are you getting?"
"How many hours?" she demanded more forcefully.
"Three or four," he finally admitted.
"Tim, that's not enough, not with the type of job you do!"
"I've been working. . .writing. . .doing research. . .it takes time!"
"That's time you can't afford. . .not if you want to keep functioning." Again his only response was a shrug of the shoulders.
"Tim, I want you to describe to me your normal routine. . .your normal day. I need to understand what you are trying to deal with."
"My life is very, very boring, believe me. I get into work at about six. I spend an hour in the gym and am at my desk by 7.30."
"You exercise every day?"
"You told me I needed to keep active, that the endorphins would help me to feel better," he challenged.
"That's true, Tim, but without proper rest and food you are just stressing your body further and don't tell me you are eating well because I can see from the cut of your suit that you have lost more weight!"
"I do eat!" he grumbled petulantly
"When do you get breakfast?"
"I have a coffee and a danish at my desk while I'm waiting for the others to arrive." He cringed when he heard her pained sigh at his admission.
"OK, and then?"
"Then I work. . .we usually eat on the run if we're out on a case or we grab a bite at lunchtime from the food court depending on what's happening."
"And then we work till the job's done. I go home, eat dinner and wait for the whole process to start over again!"
"There are a lot of 'home' hours unaccounted for if you are only sleeping for three or four! How long do you spend writing and researching?"
"All the ones in-between" he answered facetiously but then he was swamped with guilt at his unaccustomed rudeness and he whispered a quiet "Sorry"
"It's alright, Tim, you can be as rude to me as you like, I won't shatter. I think that there is something that you are hiding, something that frightens you. Can you tell me about it?"
"Not a good idea!"
"Tim, you need to be honest and open with me. I can't help you if you don't talk to me, if you don't make me understand!"
"I. . .I don't. . .I can't. . .please don't ask me anymore." He was suddenly very distressed and she was half afraid that he would bolt for the door. She had never once seen him lose control . He kept his emotions locked down so tightly that she knew he was hurting himself with his efforts at self-mastery.
He wanted to bolt, to get out before he would have to explain but as he was contemplating forcing his legs to support his escape she was facing him on the window seat his hands clasped gently but firmly within her grasp. "Easy, Tim. Just take a deep breath. You are safe here. Take a breath and relax." Her voice and her presence were a comfort but it took a while for his racing pulse to settle and for the overwhelming feeling of panic to pass. Once he had regained a little composure she poured him a glass of water and sat quietly beside him whilst he took a shaky swallow.
"Tim, do you trust me?"
"Yes." His voice was barely more than a whisper.
"I'm here to help you but I can't do that unless I really understand what is happening. Can you tell me what just happened?"
"I. . .I. . .think I might just be going crazy" The fear in his voice was palpable and heartrending.
"Why, Tim? Why do you think that?"
"I keep losing time! I keep finding myself in places and I don't know how I got there or how long I've been there!"
"How much time do you lose? Could you just be falling asleep?"
"No. One night last week I was doing some online research for my book and I 'came to' several hours later with no recollection of how those hours had passed."
"And you're sure you weren't just asleep at the keyboard ?"
"No. I looked back on my browsing history and I had visited dozens of sites, I'd even bookmarked pages. . .and I have no recollection of doing it or of what I had read."
"And has it happened at work?"
"No. No ,not yet. . .as far as I am aware. But yesterday after work I got into my car to drive home and I found myself in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Fairfax. . .I'd driven miles out of my way, through the rush-hour. . .and the whole journey is a blank!"
"Tim. I can't say that I'm not concerned about this but these are all recognised symptoms of depression and I think we both have to acknowledge that the time has come to accept that counselling is not enough to treat your symptoms."
"If you are suggesting anti-depressants then the answer is no! I don't want to go down that road, not again."
"Tim, depression is an illness. If you had an infection you would take antibiotics, if you were diabetic you would take insulin. . .depression is an illness and drugs are very effective at helping to control the symptoms."
"But at what cost!"
"Tim, you are getting to the stage where you can no longer function safely, especially not in your job. You should have been on sick leave two weeks ago."
"It hasn't affected my work. . .it hasn't! And I won't be able to do my job, to function properly if I take the pills. . .they make me slow. . .disorientated. . .They fill my head with cotton-wool!"
"But what if it does affect your work! What if you blank out in the middle of a field assignment. . .you would be putting yourself and your colleagues and members of the public at risk.
"Look, I just need a few more days; just until the operation is over. I have Friday booked as a day's leave, I'll have a three-day weekend to relax and recharge my batteries," he offered desperately
"Tim, I have a responsibility to you and to the Service. . .and I just don't think you are fit for duty. . .not as things stand."
"What can I do?. . .please, there must be something."
"Why is it so important that you are in at the end of this operation? Is it really worth your health. . .your peace of mind?"
"I'm the one who made the connection. I was the one who realised that the case we were investigating was a whole lot bigger and more complicated that we first realised. We thought it was just a case of murder but it turned out to be theft, embezzlement ,extortion with links right up into the pentagon. . .the FBI and the DHS are all involved but it's MY case. . .I want to see it through!"
"Tim, you're exhausted, you're having blackouts. . ."
"I'll go home and rest. . .I've got the whole weekend. . ."
"Tim, you haven't been sleeping! You haven't slept properly for days. . .for weeks! What makes you think you will sleep this weekend"
"Please, Dr Avery. Give me another week. . .I'll even take the blasted pills."
"Tim, I don't need to tell you that it can take weeks for antidepressants to make a noticeable difference to symptoms. There is no quick fix for this. This has been building for months, probably for years. You can't go on pretending that you are able to deal with your life as it is now."
"I know. I Know! I've let it all get to me and I want it to change. . .I don't want to be like this anymore. . .but please, let me finish this, let me have just one moment of. . .of worth!"
"Of worth! Tim, you were picked for the most prestigious team of a top Federal agency, you are a highly successful author and you are a good man! Why do you still feel the need to prove that you are worthy of all you have achieved!"
"Because I can't do it like they do. I can't be like them. . .I'm not like them and I never will be. . .IQ and degrees just don't count if you can't hack the job. I love what I do, I love the job. . .it's all I ever wanted. . .but the longer I stay there the more I realise that I'm a square peg trying to force myself to conform to a round hole. . . I just don't fit!"
"Tim you rarely mention your team-mates. . .not since you first came to see me. Are they part of the problem?"
"NO! I'm the problem."
"Do they still give you a hard time?"
"No, if anything they are nicer to me now than they've ever been. . .I mean, I still get teased, especially by Tony. . ."
"Tony is the senior Field Agent?"
"But he's stopped with most of the pranks, and more often than not he even uses my name rather than one of the very many nicknames he's invented over the years but mostly, now, well, he leaves me alone."
"And who else?"
"Ziva. . .she's OK, very self contained and more than a little scary on occasion but we get along."
"And your boss? How are things with him now? I remember he was the catalyst that brought you to me in the first place."
She noticed the sudden tension in his posture and as her patient gathered his thoughts she looked back over his case notes and recalled the distraught and stricken state of the man before her when he had first been referred to her by Dr Mallard six months previously. Then it had taken nearly two hours for him to finally voice what had brought him to such a low point. . .a public, humiliating punishment that he considered was undeserved and unjust He was hurt then by an overwhelming sense of betrayal by his boss and by his friend Abby. But she and Dr Mallard had helped him get past that, had helped him to confront his boss and his friend in his typically non-confrontational manner. He'd forgiven them but the damage the incident had caused had never really healed, although he had managed to conceal the fact from those who took his outwardly calm demeanour at face value.
"Gibbs is Gibbs," he shrugged finally. "He's the boss. He works us as hard as he works himself. . .he sets high standards and . . ."
"Do you trust him, after everything that's happened between you?"
"I do trust him. I have to trust him. . . "
"No. No buts. Out in the field we have to trust each other. . .all of us; Gibbs, Tony, Ziva, we're a team. . .we look out for each other."
"And what about when you're not in the field?" He didn't answer her question and from the closed off expression in his eyes she knew that whatever he was hiding was still buried too deep for her to get at.
"Tim, have you confided in anyone about how you've been feeling recently?"
"No," he laughed bitterly, "who could I tell!. . .I sometimes think Ducky might suspect but he is too polite to ask. . .or perhaps not. . . but I think if he were really concerned he'd have invited me down to his lair to ply me with tea or maybe even a dram of his finest Scotch until I confessed all my deepest darkest secrets."
"I can imagine that he is rather tenacious when he has a mystery to solve."
"Yes, Ducky likes puzzles . . .he's our ME but talks to his patients, you know. . .it was quite disconcerting when I first worked there. . .but Ducky. .. well, he's a law unto himself, he can give a severe tongue lashing without ever raising his voice. . .even Gibbs isn't immune to his tirades when Ducky thinks he's deserved it."
She studied him intently for a few moments and he forced himself to bear the scrutiny. She could see his desperation and she wanted nothing more than to give him the leeway he wanted but she just couldn't ignore his obvious exhaustion nor discount her worry about the true depth to which he had slipped.
"Tim," she said finally " I have a suggestion to offer but I need to check something first. Sit tight for a moment while I make a call."
"You're not going to call my boss, are you?" The insecurity in his softly spoken plea tugged at her heartstrings and she feared she was losing her ability to judge this case dispassionately.
"Tim, what happened to trust!" she chided with a sad smile as she stepped outside to the outer office to make a call.
Tim let his mind wander. Of all the things he regretted about the last few months what hurt him most was his estrangement from Abby. They had been friends even before he was assigned to Gibbs' team, had been lovers for a while and their friendship had survived when the intimate relationship had not but she had been his friend. . .right up until the moment when she had betrayed his trust and his friendship. . .when she had allowed Mikel into his home and had allowed him to face Gibbs' wrath for the incident. Somehow it didn't matter that he had confronted them both about the way they had treated him; he had accepted her apologies but the trust was gone and neither of them had found a way to repair the breach. Tim had buried himself in his writing and Abby had thrown herself into a new relationship. Tim mourned for what had been lost, knowing that he had failed yet again.
When she returned ten minutes later he was still in the window seat, his forehead pressed to the glass with his eyes closed though from the way his hands were still twisting she knew that he wasn't sleeping.
"Tim?" she spoke quietly and he jolted back to full awareness.
"Tim, I'm going to admit you to sick-bay. . ."
"No, you can't. . .I told you I need to finish the case."
"This is just for the weekend," she assured him. " As long as you co-operate with me over this and accept what I propose then I hope you will be fit enough to work next week."
"And if I don't?"
"Then I will have no other option but to report my assessment that you are unfit for duty."
"What happened to patient confidentiality?"
"Tim, when you first consulted me, I explained to you that I was engaged by the Service and that I had a duty of responsibility to them and to you. . .you accepted that then and chose to continue seeing me rather than seeing a doctor not connected to your work. . .I'm afraid that that bird has now come to roost."
"What do I have to do?" he asked, defeated by his own impotence.
"Do you have any plans for the weekend? Do you need to inform anyone where you will be?"
"No. I have no plans," he laughed bitterly, " and our team is not on call. I was going to spend the weekend continuing my research for my writing," he explained. "Will I have a chance to go home? I have nothing with me for a weekend stay."
"No," she smiled but she wasn't about to allow him to get away and have the chance to change his mind. "If I know you, Tim, you have an overnight bag and a change of clothes in your car or your locker. . ."
"I do," he admitted.
"Then let's go and fetch them and head over to sick-bay. The sooner we get you settled, the sooner we can start to help you feel better."