Tim McGee's return to work at NCIS was handled quietly; with as little fanfare as possible; at his own request. After all, he still had the Psych Eval to complete; weeks of Physical Thereapy to finish getting through; and the recertifications to pass; all before he was back 100%. However; while he crossed these hurdles one at a time; he was once again a fixture on the landscape of the squad room; and eveyone was happy to see him there.

During the first month of his return; while keeping watch over him for his progress toward full recovery; Gibbs also steadfastly honored Tim's request to be allowed as much distance between himself and Abby as possible. He'd cryptically told Ziva and Tony that Tim was restricted to the squad room to keep him from wearing himself out while he was still trying to bounce back. Although; he could see they hadn't bought his softee excuse; they didn't argue and apparently even realized it wasn't open for discussion.

Even when there was case evidence to be discussed; Tim was never asked to go down to Abby's lab. He didn't collect any of the evidence from the field; anyway. While Gibbs instructed him to spend part of his days working out in the gym; Tim had been reluctant to do so; in fear of running into Abby along the way. As long as he stayed glued to his desk; he wasn't worried about it. But, that was one battle Gibbs would not help him fight. If he ran into her; he would have to handle it; but he wasn't allowed to skip the gym. Most days Tony was sent with him; to keep him motivated and challenged.

At the end of his first week back at work; Tim felt it was time he moved back home; since the Doctor had cleared him from all restrictions in his daily activites. Gibbs finally relented and let him go; helping him get settled back in his own place that 1st weekend. Once Gibbs had left; Tim felt a wave of sadness and loneliness wash over him; followed by a wave of pain; like he'd just severed a nerve that he'd come to rely on. The loneliness; the loss of someone to talk to; all gone. It hurt.

Beginning in the second week of his first month back; Tim sensed things begining to change around him at work. While lots of little things that used to annoy him; now, now longer even bothered him; it was the team; that seemed to suddenly become distant; less friendly; less concerned. Once again; Tim began to feel like the odd man out; like he had when he'd first joined the team. So; he began to play the part in earnest; distancing himself even further than he already felt pushed away.

Two weeks into this increasingly uncomfortable ordeal; the last week of Tim's first month back; Bossman had had enough. He'd watched Tim closely ever since the night he and Abby had talked things out. His agent had been extremely upset even after Abby had left. Even after he'd taken himself quietly off to bed; he'd laid awake; crying everything out into the silence of his pillow. Gibbs had found him still in the throes of this outlet; as he'd silently and unobtrusively checked on him 30 minutes later.

They didn't discuss it again. But after seeing Tim's expression the next morning; one Gibbs knew without a doubt would send the young man back into his withdrawn and depressed state; the boss had pushed him into hitting the punching bag; working out both his injured arm and his good one; as well as his bottled up emotions. It had been just the thing Tim had needed. Tim had gotten his head back in the game and things had gone well from there.

The exception was his now ever increasing backpedaling when it came to his relationship with the team. Needing to put a stop to it; but wanting to get to the bottom of it even more; Gibbs had finally stepped in. Now sitting at the conference room table with him; not across the wide table from him; but in the chair at the end of the table with Tim to his right; Gibbs dug in:

"What are you doing?"

"Boss? Tim had no clue what Gibbs was talking about.

"What is it you think you're doing beisdes pulling so far away from your team; I'm convinced you're already making plans to leave?

"What? No! Why would you think that?"

"McGee; we've watched you become less and less involved; less friendly with your teammates in the last two weeks. I understood and agreed with your request for distance from Abby; but this? What else would you have us think is the problem?"

"Boss, I..."

"Why don't you just explain the problem to me."

"Since I've been back; it seems like I'm the odd man out; again. So, I just resigned myself to the role."

"Ah! Yeah. Ok. I see it. That makes sense." Gibbs agreed.

"I knew you would understand." Tim said with profound relief.

SMACK

"Ow! Boss?"

"Knock it off!"

"Huh?"

"McGee; didn't this whole experience teach you anything? You're selling your team short. Talk to them! YOU fix this. Today."

"Yes. Boss."

"Have you made up your mind about staying or not?"

"I want to stay."

"Why is there a but in there?"

"I don't want to change things between Abby and me. The way things are right now; works for me."

"Tim. You're a forgiving person. But, all of a sudden; you can't give her another chance?"

"Boss, I couldn't handle it if I had to go through this again."

"You have more inner strength than you give yourself credit for. Abby has learned from this and you need to let her be a friend to you as much as she needs you to be one for her."

"Boss..."

"Please. Take it one day at a time; but just try it."

"Okay."

"Good. Now, go fix this mess with your team.."

"Yes. Boss."

"Tim?"

"Boss?"

"Glad you're staying."

"Me, too."

"Don't forget, my door is never locked; for any reason."

"Thanks, Boss."