bAs We Are/b

"So Probilicious – what's it to be tonight? Movie trivia, or would you prefer your next lesson in romancing the fairer sex?"

Tim groaned – this stakeout had already been running 5 days, and nights - and they were running out of things to talk about. They were on the night shift, and given the choice Tim would have been happy with a book to read, but Tony was determined that they were going to have some 'quality time'. So every night they'd played poker, or movie trivia, even discussed Tim's writing….and finally Tony had decided that he was going to share his years of experience with women to help Tim find his 'dream date'.

Tony put down the coffee cups on the table and checked the cameras, as he looked out onto the street he gave a deep sigh.

"Tell me McGee…why is it that stakeouts are always in places like this? I mean look at it – hookers, homeless people, drug dealers, trash everywhere…."

"I don't know Tony – remember that time in Georgetown? The stakeout when you got real close with Amanda Reid…that was a really nice neighbourhood…"

Tony's eyes clouded at the memory.

"You know I don't like to talk about that – it was a very difficult time for me."

Tim nodded wisely.

"I remember."

"Well I wish you wouldn't – now, back to what you were telling me about your love life!"

"Enough Tony – I think we've established that my so called love life is a disaster zone – can't we give it a rest?"

Tony gave him the benefit of his full wattage smile.

"Oh no – you snooze, you lose – we have to plan a strategy to find you the woman of your dreams. Seriously Tim, what are you looking for in a woman?"

Tim picked up the binoculars and moved to the window – he really didn't want to talk about this.

"Come on McGee – you know all about the triumphs - and disasters in my love life – spill!"

Tim couldn't make eye contact, but he had something he needed to know.

"Tony…with Jeanne – if things had been different…"

"You mean if her father wasn't one of the biggest illegal arms dealers in the world, if I hadn't lied to her – ruined her life…"

"I mean if it had been just you and Jeanne, do you think maybe…you'd still be together?"

Tony shrugged, but for once did give serious consideration to the question.

"Honestly Tim – I'm not sure I have it in me to be with one woman for ever, you know? I can't seem to make that final commitment, and hey – I don't do too badly – so many beautiful women out there – so little time, and only one Anthony DiNozzo to go round!"

Tony could see Tim's shoulders slump, as a long sigh escaped his lips.

"But it's what I want Tony – not the many beautiful women – I want the commitment, a wife, children – it's what I dream about – but somehow, something about me repels the type of woman I could spend my life with – I attract the whack-jobs, killers, crooks…"

He seemed so dejected Tony bit back the joke that was on his lips, pulled his chair closer to Tim's and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain Goth of our acquaintance would it?"

Tim laughed.

"That obvious?"

"Only to people who have super sharp investigative skills Probie…you should tell her…"

"No way! She's made her position perfectly clear – I'm someone to be loved like a little lost puppy, she'll never see me as a potential life partner – not sure she sees anyone that way…"

He turned to Tony, and the full sorrow of his loss was there on his face.

"I lost the one woman I really love – and I have to see her, work with her every day of my life – try walking a mile in those shoes Tony."

Surprised that he'd revealed his deepest feelings to Tony of all people, Tim had a sudden urge to get busy.

"You hungry Tony? I'll go for supper – that corner diner does great pastrami sandwiches."

"Okay – and no feeding that homeless guy outside!"

But Tony knew full well that Tim would be buying an extra sandwich for Warren, a Vet who'd fallen on hard times - Tony shook his head – sometimes he thought McGee was too soft for this job…no, not too soft – you had to have a particular kind of strength to face Abby every day and pretend she was nothing more than a friend. Perhaps a little DiNozzo match-making magic was called for – he checked the video camera again – get this stakeout over with and he'd have to think about this….

iTwo Days Later/i

The stakeout had finally paid off, and the smuggling ring had been successfully broken – the final stages of the operation had not been without incident, but five Navy officers and men and three civilians were currently in custody, and likely to be going to jail for a very long time.

"What was Tony thinking of? I told him not to follow that woman."

"Not sure Tony ever really thinks when a woman is involved Ziva, I think instinct kicks in – he can't help himself."

"But she was an undercover Metro Detective – Tony almost ruined their operation."

Tim smiled as he packed the monitor in its box.

"I'm pretty sure that's exactly what Director Vance and Gibbs will be pointing out to him right about now."

"True McGee, perhaps we should not be too quick to pack everything away? Tony should help yes?"

"Absolutely – the Boss said we were to leave the heavy lifting to Tony – we can get these smaller boxes to the van – then when Tony gets back from his visit with the Director…"

"Oh, he will enjoy that – Tony always likes to have a good work up."

"Work out Ziva."

"Indeed, and now it is time for our work out – these boxes are to go?"

He nodded.

"Yeah – everything by the door - the rest Tony can move. If you take that carton and get the truck unlocked, I'll bring the rest."

Tim checked the apartment one last time to make sure that everything was ready to be carried down to the truck. It was parked in the alley behind the building, Ziva said she had a bad feeling about leaving it on the street, and neither of them wanted to try explaining to Gibbs if the truck went missing….He lifted the cartons and kicked the door closed behind him. Walking carefully down the stairs – he didn't need to drop any of this – Vance wasn't too pleased with Team Gibbs right now – breaking NCIS equipment was not the way to get back into his good books. The door into the alley was open and Tim stepped out into the cold winter air. The back doors of the truck were open, but he couldn't see…


A slight movement to his left and they were on him. Two men grabbed his arms and the cartons dropped to the ground as he tried to struggle against their grip. He couldn't get to his gun – they pinned his arms behind his back and used his own cuffs to secure them.


She must be hurt.

"What have you done to her? Where is she?"

He fell to his knees as a third man punched him in the stomach, as he was gasping for breath he saw her. She was lying on the ground, blood staining her forehead. He tried to pull away from his captors but there were too many….he took another blow to his abdomen and tried to focus – six men…shaven heads, AB tattooed on their forearms – Aryan Brotherhood – a fresh pang of fear for his friend, a fear that seemed justified when, as his vision cleared he could see that one of them was holding Ziva's Star of David necklace.

"Ziva….can you hear me?"

Another blow – this time a kick to his back.

"What's she to you? You banging the Kike?"

"Don't…call her…that."

Another kick.

"What is she to you? Jew lover!!"

"She is…my friend…get away…from her…."

"Or what? You think you can stop us doing what we like?"

Tim struggled to his knees in a vain attempt to get more air into his lungs – breathing suddenly seemed a hard thing to do.

"We're…Federal Agents…."

A strong fist grabbed his hair and pulled back his head.

"Hey Brent – does he think we're stupid? This truck is kind of a give away – NCIS – we had to read the small print – never heard of it before. So Federal Agents….they let Jews everywhere…that's what's wrong with this country – no room for the pure American any more."

Tim tried to laugh, but he didn't seem to have enough breath.

"Pure…American…this woman has…done more…for America…than you pieces of…."

This time he didn't see who hit him – the blow came from behind and he fell unconscious to the ground.

"That's enough Gary – you said we were just going to teach them a lesson…"

"You think this is enough Joe? Well, I don't think it's near enough – we agreed – they shouldn't let her kind work in law enforcement…and him – see the way he stood up for her – that's how they operate – they get suckers like him and make them think they're working for America – and then – one day she'll turn, like the rest of them….she's a Jew first and last."

Ziva groaned as she started to return to an awareness of her surroundings. She winced a little as she tried to stand and found her arms and legs bound – where was he? A pair of tattooed hands grabbed her face and turned her towards the figure lying motionless in the dirt…

"That who you're looking for?"

"Is he?"

"Oh he's not dead….he still has something to see – right Joe? Wake him up."

Two of them grabbed McGee and forced him to sit up – his eyes opened slowly, and he struggled to catch his breath as the pain threatened to overwhelm him again.

"Your girlfriend's awake."

Tim ignored the jibe.


"Fine, McGee – what have they done to you?"

Before Tim could answer Brent spat out.

"We've started his education in the true Aryan way – and now we're going to show you what a true son of America does to a Jew….they need to be dealt with like the vermin they are….."

He started to move toward Ziva, unzipping his pants as he crossed the alley. The two men holding Tim released their grip and followed Brent and Gary. Knowing that they were intent on only one thing Tim gathered up every ounce of strength he still possessed, dragged himself to his feet and charged at Brent. With his hands cuffed behind him all Tim could do was head butt the would-be rapist – he knew it wasn't much – but he had to try and stop them getting to Ziva.

He had barely made contact with Brent when his legs were kicked from beneath him, and he crumpled head-first to the ground.

"Turn him over!"

Gary was incandescent with rage – this Fed needed a real lesson! He knelt beside Tim as the others held him down. Ziva was screaming.

"Leave him! It is me you want – leave him!"

But Gary was oblivious to her cries – he leaned over Tim and shouted out his hate.

"She can't help being the way she is – she's a Jew! But you – you're an Aryan – you shouldn't have anything to do with the likes of her, and she should know her place, stick with her own kind – so we're going to teach you a lesson, and let her watch – show her what happens when she mixes with people who should be out of her reach."

Before Tim could attempt a reply Gary drew a knife from his belt and held it menacingly against Tim's throat.

He turned his hate filled eyes on Ziva.

"This is what happens to men who hang around with the likes of you!"

Brent and one of the others were holding Tim down – they leaned across, and pulled open his jacket and shirt exposing his bare chest. Gary brought down the knife and dragged the blade across Tim's chest – blood welled over the knife tip as he screamed his anguish, he tried to move away from the blade, from the pain – but they held him still and let Gary do his evil work…. He lay in a miasma of agony until one final kick sent him into merciful oblivion.

Ziva could feel the hot tears running down her cheeks – she couldn't help him, and it was because of her that they were doing this….he had stopped moving, and suddenly the alley was quiet. Now that their blood lust was sated the gang seemed to have no idea what to do next – they turned their attention to Ziva, and she waited for the blade, or worse…

"Leave her – she's not worth it."

Gary walked over and forced her to look at Tim – she could feel his spittle on her face, his hot breath as he pointed his blood stained finger at Tim. She had never wanted to kill a man as much as she wanted to kill him – and she was powerless, unable to move, unable to even offer comfort to her friend…or was he beyond comfort? Gary's harsh voice was in her ear.

"School's out for the day – hope you were paying attention – remember, stick with your own kind!"

He pushed her to the ground and followed the others as they ran from the alley – her head hit the ground and she blacked out again….

"I warned you DiNozzo – you have all the heavy lifting to do."

"But Boss - like I told the Director."

Gibbs silenced him with a glance.

"No more Tony – I've heard every excuse…what the!"

Gibbs slammed on the brakes as Warren – the guy they'd come to know as Tim's Warren ran into the road waving his arms and shouting. No one was paying any attention to him – everyone thought he was crazy. Gibbs got out of the car and before he opened his mouth Warren grabbed his arm.

"They've killed him, I know it, he…"

Gibbs was already drawing his gun.

"Who's hurt Warren?"


They didn't hear any more – Tony and Gibbs raced to the alley, they rounded the building – and time stood still….two bodies lying motionless on the ground…no wait, one was moving – Ziva!

Years of training kicked in, Tony had his phone out and was dialling 911 even as he ran towards Ziva; he cut though her bonds and cradled her head as he watched her struggle towards consciousness.

"Help McGee…"

She struggled to sit up – she had to help him.

"Whoa there Ziva, Gibbs is with him – you stay where you are."

She gathered reserves of strength that even she didn't know she possessed and staggered to McGee's side. Tony followed close behind and fell to his knees beside her….there was blood everywhere – Gibbs was trying to hold a dressing to Tim's red, raw chest, but the wounds were too deep and too many. The life blood was literally draining from him…his skin, where it was visible through the blood was paler than parchment. Tony grabbed more gauze and joined Gibbs in applying pressure to the wounds.

Ziva was holding tight to Tim's hand as fresh tears fell from her dark, troubled eyes.

"He was protecting me…they did this to him…"

She tried not to look at his chest, to see what they had done; she leaned towards him and whispered into his ear.

"McGee…Tim…please – open your eyes please…"

It could have been her whispered plea or the extra pressure on his wounds, but something dragged Tim from the brink….he moved his head slightly. It was enough – Gibbs pressed again and Tim gave a muted cry.


"I know Tim – I know, help is on the way – hold on."

He tried to open his eyes, but it felt like someone was holding lead weights on his lids.


She gripped his hand tight.

"I am here."


His eyes closed again and no amount of pressure or anguished shouts from Tony could bring him back.

The vigil in the hospital waiting room had been going on for over an hour, but to Abby it seemed like an eternity….Director Vance had called her to his office – Ducky was already there, and they'd both sat in shocked silence as he told them that Tim was on his way to the Trauma Center at Washington Hospital – she couldn't remember all the words, but she heard attacked, severely injured, blood loss…and for a moment she shut down, put her hands over her ears and tried to block it out –like a child refusing to listen. Then she heard that Ziva was hurt too, and Ducky was holding her close whispering words that she would never remember, words that were meant to reassure – but two of her Musketeers were hurt….she needed to see them.

Vance had his driver get them to the hospital and they arrived in time to see the elevator doors close as Tim was taken up to the OR…and then they waited – and they were still waiting…

The door opened, but it wasn't a member of the medical staff – it was Ziva. Tony was out of his seat and by her side in an instant.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?"

She gave a very slight shake of her aching head.

"The doctor said I may wait here…."

She moved hesitantly towards Abby and stood, trembling slightly in front of her friend.

"Abby….I am so sorry – this…is all my fault…"

"Don't say that Ziva – Gibbs told me…what…they did…it's on them – not you,"

"But he was protecting me – if he had not tried to stop them…"

"But he did – because…he's Tim – he wouldn't let them hurt you…"

Abby finally let the tears she had been holding back fall – Ziva, her own eyes full of tears stood in front of Abby looking more lost and vulnerable than any of them could remember.


Her voice faltered as she struggled to ask for comfort.

"Abby…could I please have a hug?"

The last word ended as a sob and Abby was out of her seat in a heartbeat. She enveloped Ziva in her arms and the two women clung wordlessly together – holding on tight – giving each other strength, the strength to deal with what was to come.

Gibbs couldn't take his eyes off the two women – the women who meant most to him in the world. He didn't know what to do – how to help them – he whispered to his friend.

"Duck, is there any chance you could find out what's happening? This waiting – it's…"

"I know Jethro – see if you can get them to sit down and rest, I'll go and find the ER doctor – see if he can give me any details on Timothy's condition."

He was gone for twenty minutes, and when he returned to the waiting room, he looked as if he had aged twenty years.

He looked so desolate that the others were fearful that he was bringing the worst possible news.

He took Abby in his arms and his own eyes filled with tears as he struggled to find the words to tell her…

"Abigail – Timothy has been savagely beaten….his internal injuries are severe, he has a concussion – he has lost a great deal of blood…but…"

"Ducky – please, what aren't you telling me? Please – what did they do to him?"

The others couldn't look Ducky in the eye – they lacked the courage right now to tell Abby the worst of it…they had seen Tim's wounds with their own eyes, and none of them could find the words to tell Abby..

"Let's sit down for a moment shall we? That's a good girl."

He sat beside her as he tried to gain full control of his voice, which had started to waver.

"They…they beat and kicked him so many times Abby…then…then one of them took a knife and…and he carved a swastika on Timothy's chest…"

Abby's sobs echoed around the silent waiting room…Ducky had told her the least he could to prepare her…but he couldn't bring himself to explain the nature of those knife wounds – that bastard had used a serrated knife, and the wounds were so ragged – so deep….

"I…I wish it had been me – he should not have to suffer…all this, because of what I am. Perhaps they are right – perhaps I should return to Israel…to my own people."

Abby tore her gaze away from the door and held Ziva tight.

"If you did that they'd win – get what they wanted. You're staying right here, with us – all of us…"

She stared again at the door, as if by force of will she could make it open and have someone come in and tell her Tim was fine – everything was going to be alright – it had to be, he had to be….

"But it is my fault – they wanted to, to attack me, but every time he stopped them, he goaded them so that they would forget about me – you see, it is my fault that they did this to him."

Gibbs wasn't having this.

"We can all play the blame game Ziva; I shouldn't have left you without back-up."

"Which you wouldn't have done Boss, if I hadn't been so stupid and ended up in front of the Director."

Abby jumped from her chair and stood in the middle of the room.

"Stop it! None of you are to blame – you didn't kick him, cut him….they did that – it's all on them"

The hours ticked by…endless hours with nothing to do but wait, pray, hope, ….The hours were punctuated by news from what they already considered the outside world….outside their own circle of anxiety.

Tim's parents were on a sailing holiday around the Hawaiian Islands, and Director Vance had NCIS Pearl Harbor searching for them.

The search for Tim's attackers had been a dual operation between NCIS and Metro PD, but the pooling of resources was not needed for long. One of the men in the alley had been sickened to his stomach by what he had seen, he hadn't yet joined the Aryan Brotherhood, and after the events of today, he never would be joining them.

"Joseph Lynn – he gave himself up to Metro PD – gave them the names of all the others who were there…we're bringing them in now Jethro – I've asked Metro to hold them – I'm not sure I trust myself to have them at NCIS headquarters."

"Trust yourself Leon – or trust the rest of us? You know what I want to do to them…."

Vance sat down beside Gibbs in a rare gesture of companionship.

"If it's anything like what I want to do – there's a lot of pain involved – and none of it mine…"

He waited with them until the doctor came to tell them that Tim had survived the surgery – that he was in critical condition, and would be spending at least the next 48 hours in the ICU.

They had been allowed to see him briefly before being ordered home, Ziva to spend the night at Ducky's so that she would not be alone. None of them slept much that night, images of their team mate swathed in bandages, pale beyond belief, bruised, relying on machines for the basics of life….The doctors had brought him back from the brink – cardiac arrest on the operating table, his body losing its tenuous hold on life – but they'd brought him back, and now they could only wait….and hope.

Abby had cried all the way from the hospital, and Gibbs insisted she stay at his place, they stayed up most of the night, dozing occasionally, and determined that starting tomorrow, one of the team would be with Tim until he woke.

"I hate to think of him all alone Gibbs – what if he wakes up and we're not there?"

A fresh note of panic filtered through her voice.

"You heard the doctor Abs, he's been heavily sedated – he won't wake up tonight – maybe not tomorrow."

"Maybe is not good enough – what if he does wake up tomorrow and no one is with him? No – I'll stay all day if I have to – but he's not going to be alone…."

She started to cry again, and Gibbs held her close, cradled her head as she finally closed her eyes and slept. There was no such release for him – every time he closed his eyes all he could see was red, the dark, glistening red of Tim's wounds as he lay bleeding in that filthy alley. Those bastards had left him to die….and if Warren hadn't told them about Tim – if they'd gone up to the apartment first – maybe he would have died…it was that thin – the line between life and death – and Tim almost crossed the line – almost….

They took turns sitting with Tim – he was never alone, they were quiet, the doctor said he needed to rest right now – the time for conversation would come later…Tony opened the door softly – if Abby was sleeping he didn't want to wake her. But she wasn't sleeping, she was sitting right beside his bed, holding his hand, If only Tim could see her now, see how frightened, how distressed she was – he would see how much she cared for him – but he knew she loved him, just not the way he wanted to be loved….get through this Probie, please – then God help me, if I have to I'm going to head slap both of you until you realise what you have….

The bruises had become more livid as the afternoon had turned into night, and then into afternoon again, there was no sign of Tim waking up, perhaps it was just as well – as Ducky checked the monitors yet again, he wondered how Tim would react when he woke. He'd never had to deal with anything like this before, his physical injuries were bad enough, but mentally – could he come back from such a brutal attack? He brushed his hand lightly over Abby's hair – she didn't stir – totally exhausted of course, but even Gibbs couldn't get her to go home. He let her sleep and settled down again to watch the slow rise and fall of Tim's heavily bandaged chest; he shuddered, not for the first time as he considered the wild brutality that could make a man do this to a fellow human being. Ducky closed his eyes, and the images of many more brutal acts perpetrated by one man, or woman on another emerged from the vaults of his memory. The saddest thing of all was that what had happened to Timothy wasn't even the worst thing he had seen in his life – man's inhumanity to man – truly it knew no bounds…

A slight moan from the bed and he was on his feet again. Abby was awake in an instant, and gave Tim's hand a gentle squeeze.

"Tim – Tim it's Abby, can you hear me?"

"Gently Abby – let him come out of it in his own time…"

"Of course Ducky, but look he is waking up…"

Tim's eyelids fluttered open, then blinked closed again. He could hear Abby, but she seemed miles away…he tried again, and this time there were blurred shapes within the bright light…


She couldn't help herself – she held his hand tighter and leaned over to plant a gentle kiss on his bruised cheek.

"Yes Tim – it's me…oh. I'm so glad to hear your voice."

He gave her a weak smile, and turned his head towards her, a pained gasp escaped him as even that small movement sent his pain receptors into overdrive. He tried to remember how he had ended up in a hospital bed….and with another stab of pain the fog of forgetfulness lifted and he remembered what they had done to him in that alley – every thing that they had done. He pulled his hand away.

"Abs…please go…I don't want you here…."

"But Tim, we've been waiting for two days…."

"Get out!"

She stepped back from the bed, totally bewildered by Tim's reaction – she reached out her hand to try and comfort him, but Ducky held her back. Tim had collapsed back onto his pillows, but his eyes were on them.

"I said…go...I don't want anyone to see…I....I'm hideous…Go!!"

"Abigail – he's still confused, with the concussion and the anaesthesia…let's get the doctor to look him over, then we'll see how he's getting on – how's that?"

She nodded mutely and allowed Ducky to lead her from the room. A phone call to NCIS had Gibbs, Ziva and Tony rushing to the hospital. Ziva especially need to see McGee, to thank him…but how to find the words…

But they were all to be disappointed – Tim was adamant, he didn't want to have visitors, he wanted to be left alone – and his doctor had no option but to accede to his patient's wishes – Tim became so agitated when they tried to persuade him to see one of his friends that they decided it was in the best interests of his recovery to let him alone….just until he was stronger, then he'd be sure to want visitors again, when he was a little stronger…

The days passed, his parents arrived and they thought that would be the catalyst – that he'd want to see his Mom and Dad. They were wrong. He refused to see anyone, not even his family – they were all convinced that when he had time to think it through – he would change his mind. But he meant what he said. His family came, he refused to see them, friends called by, he refused to see them, someone from the team stopped by every day, and he refused to see them. Abby phoned twice a day, she sent cards, she sent flowers, she even sent Bert. But Tim wouldn't accept anything – he had cut himself off from everyone who had known him before the attack. The only people he tolerated near him were the medical personnel who tended his physical wounds, and Dr Beaumont, the psychiatrist who attempted to heal the mental traumas that were threatening his recovery.

Dr Beaumont had spoken to Ducky.

"I can only talk in general terms about Tim's case."

"I appreciate that Doctor – we are all worried about him, Timothy has never been through this kind of thing before…."

"Thankfully, not many people have to go through something like this – to be the focus of such…such hatred. It's easy to see why he's shut himself away like this…"

"But can he come out of it?"

"That I can't tell you – his physical wounds are starting to heal, but mentally, he refuses to discuss the attack, the only time I've heard him mention it is when he asked after - Ziva, was it?"

Ducky nodded.

"Yes, Ziva was with him when….wait – it was because he was defending her that they…they did that to him. Do you think, would he be willing to see her, I know she desperately wants to thank him."

"In all honesty, I think it will be hardest for him to see Ziva….not because he blames her – but because she witnessed everything…."

"I feared as much….then I have no news for his friends, or his family…."

They started to walk down the hallway, Dr Beaumont had another appointment, and if he couldn't see Tim Ducky didn't need to stay at the hospital.

"Dr Mallard – I'm going to do everything in my power to help Tim, and if I think I can't do any more I'll get someone else to try – we're not going to give up on him, any more than you will."

Ducky shook Dr Beaumont's hand.

"Thank you Doctor, and if you don't mind – would you tell Timothy something?"

"Of course."

"Would you tell him that Abigail has his picture on every screen in her lab, and she's started counting the days…he'll know what that means…."

Another week passed, and Tim was transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation centre, but at his insistence the location was not given to the team. At last, he had let his family visit, but that was as far as he was prepared to go. Abby and the team tried to see that as something positive, that he was starting the road to a full mental recovery, but when he wouldn't let them know where he had gone….that was almost too much to bear.

Gibbs stepped out of the elevator and was struck yet again by the silence…he couldn't stand some of Abby's music, but this was much worse – this brooding silence. She was at her desk typing up the forensic report on their latest case – all efficiency, no personality….she seemed to have lost her spark these last two weeks – her work wasn't suffering, but she was. He stepped into the office.

"Abby – you done with that report?"

She jumped at the sound of his voice – she had been lost in the work, she found it was the only way she could function – shut out every outside thought – concentrate on the work.

"Just about finished Gibbs….17 days Gibbs – we haven't seen Tim in 17 days…"

The tears that always seemed to be waiting to betray her fell over her lashes once more and Gibbs once more found himself holding her to him, knowing that he was a poor substitute for the one man she was desperate to hug right now. He pulled her up from the chair and walked her into the lab.

"This isn't you Abs – looking at his pictures every day – is that what you want?"

She was immediately indignant.

"No! I want Tim – I want him back on the team, I want him back here…I want…"

"Then it's time to decide Abs – is he worth fighting for? Or do you walk away, worse yet; do you let him walk away?"

Gibbs left her then, alone with her thoughts….alone. She had not felt so alone in years – she had great friends who were always on call when she needed comfort, when she needed attention, when she needed someone to go to a Brain Matter concert….she smiled sadly at the memory of Tim doing his best to pretend that he was enjoying their music. She felt the hot tears coursing down her cheeks – she had spent so many years pushing him away, gently of course, but still pushing – and now he was ready to leave her, to leave them all because some lowlife pond scum had beaten his body within an inch of oblivion, and worst of all they had broken his spirit – his gentle soul had been savaged by that vile brand that they had carved into his flesh.

Tim's picture was on her screen – his goofy grin lighting up the lab, he always knew how to make her laugh, and now all she could do was cry.

She reached out and touched the picture, her fingers brushing his two dimensional image, she missed him so much….

"No Timmy, this ends now – you and I are going to have a conversation, like it or not."

Unable to sit still any longer Abby started walking and found herself standing outside Autopsy. She was pretty sure she knew what she was going to do, but she had some questions, and these were questions that only Ducky could answer.

Back in the squad room Gibbs found Agent Wilson hovering by his desk, waiting to see if Gibbs had passed his report or whether he'd got more revisions to do. Gibbs handed him the folder.

"That's fine Dwayne – you can have it sent to the Director."

Dwayne lingered, an eager, hopeful expression on his young face. Gibbs didn't want to get the youngster's hopes up.

"You're going to be a good agent Dwayne."

"But not on your team?"

"No – not if Tim wants to come back – that's his chair as long as he wants it."

The daily massaging of his scars became an ordeal to be tolerated, Tim hated the thought that the nurses had to look at….at that foul thing on his chest – the only way he could get through it was to close his eyes and pretend that he was somewhere else, try some of the visualisation exercises that Dr Beaumont had taught him, but they didn't always work, and sometimes he wished that he was someone else – someone who did not have to carry this the rest of his life…today, he tried to imagine he was sitting by a lake, listening to the birds, and for a while it worked – but then, as the nurse was moving her hands slowly and gently across his chest he heard a deep sigh, almost a sob – that was strange – the nurses were used to how he looked now – maybe she was new – that was it, someone new who had to look at the freak he'd become…. Tentatively, he opened his eyes….it couldn't be!

"Abby? What are you doing – stop! I don't want…get out! I told you – I told you I was hideous, but you couldn't take my word…now look at you…"

He could feel his own tears as he saw the horror and, was it fear in her eyes. Her beautiful eyes full of pain, her face wet with tears - and he'd done that – the way he looked…He buried his head in the pillow and she heard his muffled plea.

"Please Abby – I can't…please go…"

But she wasn't going anywhere; with the tenderest of touches she turned his head towards her so that he could see her face.

"Tim – open your eyes – I want you to look at me, really look."

For a few seemingly endless moments he didn't move, but slowly he opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on her, and she took his hand in hers.

"Tim, these tears – they're not because of what this looks like, they're because…oh Tim – I cry because of the pain they put you through, because you nearly died, because you won't let me help…"

He glanced down at his chest and then into Abby's eyes once more.

"This….this doesn't make you sick to your stomach?"

She gazed at his chest and gently ran her fingers along the raised, ragged contours of his scars. Their redness was so vivid against Tim's pale skin – it looked as if he had been branded – but she couldn't have him believing that he was hideous….

"No Tim – it makes me think how brave you are, you could have let them rape Ziva….but you stopped them – and they did this…."

She couldn't hold back her tears any longer – Tim hesitantly held out his hand and she grasped it tight and held it close to her face. She gave a watery smile.

"I'm getting your hand all wet."

His own tears were running unchecked down his face, and he answered her smile with one of his own.

"Fine pair we make – I've been trying not to cry for weeks, and one look at you…."

She cupped his chin in her hands and scrutinised his face. He was so thin, and pale….

"Oh Tim – why wouldn't you want to cry – to go through what you have these last weeks….I think I'd have cried every single day."

"That's why I couldn't cry Abs – I was scared that if I started I wouldn't be able to stop…."

She took a tissue from his bedside table and wiped his cheeks, then her own.

"See – you've stopped already….I should head slap you, you know!"

His eyes opened wide, and he looked genuinely astonished – Abby couldn't help laughing – this was more like her Tim.

"Head slap? Why?"

"Why!! You won't let me near you, won't even take my calls – we've been worried sick Timmy. I…I needed to see you, you know I miss you when you're away."

He turned away from her then, the euphoria of her visit wearing off as the reality of the way he looked, and what that would mean for his future hit home.

"You'll have to get used to it Abs – I can't come back to NCIS, not like this."

"Like what Tim? Look at me!"

He turned to her once more, and she pointed to his scars.

"Is this what's keeping you away?"

"Of course – what else? I can't go back – Gibbs, Ziva, Tony – they all saw…it's so ugly Abby – it throbs and stings….but worst of all, it…it's there, every time I look down – it…"

She shushed him with a finger pressed gently to his lips.

"What do you see here Tim?"

"You have to ask? You can see it – a swastika – a Nazi symbol of hate, and I have to carry that round with me….and don't mention plastic surgery – they've already told me that the best they can do is make the marks 'a little less prominent' whatever that means."

She hitched herself up and sat beside him on the bed.

"You want to know what I see? I see a swastika, of course I do – but – I see it as an ancient symbol of good fortune, of well being…did you know it dates back to Neolithic times, and its been found in the sand paintings of Navaho Indians…"

"Have you been listening to Ducky again?"

He was smiling at her – and his face was transformed – how she had missed that smile….

"And what if I have Very Special Agent McGee? He knows some good stuff…"

Her mood changed again and she entwined her fingers through his and gripped his hand tight. He had to believe what she was telling him, he would never be able to come back to them if he didn't, and he had to come back.

"There's a group on the net trying to reclaim the swastika – to show its true meaning, not the warped sick meaning that the Nazis gave to it….they say that swastika means a 'good existence' – and one Sanskrit scholar has said that its deeper meaning is permanent victory – the victory of dharma – the fundamental spiritual nature of humanity….and that's what I see when I look at this Tim – I see your humanity, your goodness – your kindness…everything that makes you…you."

He looked again at the marks on his chest – did she really mean all that – or was it just 'Abbytherapy' – a way of making him feel better about himself.

"You almost have me believing you Abs – must be the sorceress in you – casting your spell."

"Believe it Tim – I've waited too long to see you to lie to you….I admit I didn't know all of this stuff until I started looking – but it's all true - every last word."

They stayed together, quiet but content in each other's company until Tim shivered. Abby was all concern.

"You're cold – I should have…you should have said…let's get your shirt back on…"

She helped him on with his shirt and he smiled his thanks – and a rather belated question hit him.

"Abs…how did you find me? Did Mom say something? She promised…"

She pulled the wheelchair closer to the bed ready to take him back to his room.

"I know you've been away for a while – but you do remember we are an investigative service? Emphasis on investigation…and I had a very good teacher in the fine arts of hacking…"

He couldn't resist any longer – he held out his arms and she ran into them – neither of them would ever be able to say how long they stood there simply relishing the closeness, the physical contact. Tim had been so terrified of his family and friends seeing what the scars looked like – they had become a barrier that he wouldn't let anyone cross, but in her own inimitable style Abby had crashed through the barrier and accelerated the healing process.

"I've missed you so much Abby…."

"24 days…that's how long it is since I last saw you…and all that time – I wanted to hold you, to tell you…I missed you, of course I did, but it's more than that…I…I'm incomplete without you…is that stupid?"

"Then I'm stupid too…I can't function properly when you're not around…I'm always looking over my shoulder – hoping you'll be there…."

"I'm here now Tim, and if you'll let me I'd like to stay around – visit every day…"

He held her at arms length and shook his head sadly.

""I don't want your pity Abs…I get that from the nurses and the orderlies every day…"

She knew the time for words was over – Abby put her arms round his neck and offered her lips in the gentlest of kisses – she felt him relax as he accepted her embrace and he returned her kiss, not with passion, with something deeper and more meaningful than that….his heart and soul…

She rested her head against his shoulder and whispered.

"No pity Tim….only love…."

She wheeled him back to his room and they spent the rest of the afternoon together.

"I know how you found me – but the massage, how did you learn to do that?"

"It was Ducky – I asked him how I could help you – and I wanted so much to help you Tim, to show you how much I love you. You know Ducky, he's got friends everywhere, and he found a physical therapist to teach me."

"You did a great job Abs."

Abby saw her opportunity…she held his hand a little tighter.

"Tim…Ducky, Gibbs…everyone, they've been worried too – they need to see you."

He pulled away from her for a moment – the fear back in his expressive eyes, his hands trembling.

"I don't think I can do it Abs…face everyone – they saw me…handcuffed – useless…"

"No Tim – I'm not having that…you had been beaten, kicked – you were badly hurt…Ziva told us what you did – you wouldn't let them hurt her."

"I couldn't – she's my friend."

Abby rested her hand gently on his chest.

"And she needs to see you Tim – Ziva most of all…she blames herself you know."

"What for? She didn't do any of this."

"We've tried to tell her – but I think she needs to hear it from you."

He started to shiver again and she was quick to reassure him.

"Not right now Tim – you need time to get used to the idea, I see that – I shouldn't rush you….it's just…oh it's just that I want everyone to see how much better you look. In the hospital that first day…I fainted when I saw you…I couldn't breathe, the machines – your face was so bruised, I thought for a second it was someone else lying there, but it was you, and I couldn't bear to see you so still…"

He could see the glistening in her eyes as the tears threatened once more, it was his turn to offer comfort now.

"No more crying Abs – we've had enough tears…no more crying…"

He cradled her in his arms and tenderly stroked her hair as they lay side by side on the bed.

The door opened a little later and Dr Beaumont smiled as he saw them sound asleep in each others arms. He closed the door quietly behind him and went back to his office – Tim wouldn't need a therapy session this evening….

For two more days the team had to rely on Abby for news about Tim. She gave them details of his recovery, they were desperate to see him, but it had to be in his time.

On the third day she had the news they had been waiting for.

"Tim is due to be released on Friday, he's going home with his Mom and Dad for a while…but before he leaves he wants to see you all."

So it was that Tim was sitting in his room that bright Wednesday morning waiting…he was hoping to go back to work – when he was strong enough. But he knew he wouldn't be able to go back until they had seen….they had to know what he looked like now – to decide whether they wanted to work with him. He heard the murmur of conversation as they came closer – the door opened and they were there – his team mates – his friends.

They all stepped into the room and Abby went directly to Tim and stood behind his chair – his guardian angel…

The others moved more slowly as they got their first look at Tim since he had cut himself off from them. Compared to their last glimpse of him, bruised and bloodied, surrounded by tubes and monitors, the way he looked now was a vast improvement, but compared to McGee before the attack….He was thinner, and so pale – the dark shadows under his eyes emphasising his pallor. And those eyes, downcast and guarded, ready for rejection, until he glanced up at Abby, then they got a little glimpse of the old McGee.

She whispered.

"Are you ready Tim?"

He shook his head.

"Don't think I'll ever be ready – but I have to…"

He started to unbutton his shirt – his hands are trembling with the effort – Tony moved forward a fraction, but Abby halted him with a glance – Tim had to do this for himself. The last button unfastened, he had still not met their eyes, his head was bowed…he pulled open his shirt and let them see, and he lifted his head and looked at them for the first time.

Not a word was spoken as they saw for the first time the damage inflicted on their friend. Abby could feel the slight tremors shaking his body as she held his shoulders, she saw the anger and…pride on the faces of 'Team Gibbs', and she wanted to hug every one of them – there was not an ounce of pity on their faces, the tremors stilled a little, and she leaned forward to kiss the top of his head….they could only imagine what it had cost him to get this far – to be able to let them see him like this – and each one of them was humbled by his courage. Tony didn't quite trust his voice, but he had to say something.

"See…DiNozzo was right again. I said you had the heart of a lion."

Tim smiled, and a little of the light was back in his eyes.

"I thought you were joking."

"No joke Tim – truth serum, remember?"

"Tony is correct Timothy – he would have to tell the truth, and of course, he is absolutely correct – bravery such as you have displayed, and continue to display is rare indeed."

Ziva slowly made her way toward Tim, inclined her head and kissed his cheek.

"I do not have the words to thank you – in any language – words are not enough. It should have been me…"

"Not while I have breath in my body Ziva."

And everyone in the room knew that he meant it – whatever he had been through, and his recovery was not yet complete – he knew deep down that it had been worth it – because Ziva was safe. He had survived, by the skin of his teeth it was true, but he had survived, and he had Abby – he found it hard to believe that something so wonderful could have come out of something so awful, but he was going to do everything in his power to hang on to her this time. He was also going to do everything in his power to take his place on the team once more, if Gibbs would have him.

"Boss – when I get the all-clear, can I come back to the team?"

Gibbs had been standing silently, observing the way Tim was dealing with his reintroduction to the team. He had suffered almost unendurable pain, both physical and mental, but at the end of it he'd been strong enough to show them the dreadful scars that he would carry with him the rest of his days….and still he had to ask.

"If Abby wasn't standing guard I'd come over there and head slap you – can you come back? Tim, we're proud of you, do you realise that? I wish you could have let us help you earlier, I understand why you needed the time – but in future, remember – those scars are a badge of courage, you don't need to hide them from us – I'm more proud than I can say that one of my team acted the way you did – and if you'd let us see you sooner I'd have told you that. And I'll tell you this – if you ever shut us out like that again, we will hunt you down and drag you back – understood."

Tim laughed then, and they relished the sound.

"Understood Boss – won't happen again!"

"This is such a cool car Tim, why haven't you let me drive it before?"

"Do I have to answer that Abs – I mean, it's a bit different to your usual drive…"

"Very true – which way now?"

"We take a right here; Gibbs said it was down here on the left."

They were driving to Tim's family home, Abby was going to spend the weekend, make sure he was settled before she went back to work. But Tim had one more thing he needed to do before he left DC for a while.

The halfway house was designed to help Veterans who needed a roof over their head, and Gibbs had called in a few favours so that Warren could have somewhere warm and dry to stay. A permanent home had been found and he was due to move in to his new place next week.

Warren looked so much better than he had the last time Tim had seen him, he'd put on weight, and his clothes were clean, his beard neatly trimmed.

"You're looking good Warren. Abby, this is the man who got help for us - he put himself at risk to flag down a car…"

Abby enveloped Warren in a grateful hug, and he blushed to the roots of his hair.

"I didn't do anything….you – Tim, you restored my faith in human nature…I thought people were just out for themselves – but you showed me that there are people who care about other people, who try to help them. You helped me…"

It was Tim's turn to blush.

"Seriously Warren, I didn't do anything."

"You think giving food to a starving man is nothing? It was everything to me – I'll never be able to thank you enough."

"You don't need to thank me – you saved my life – I think we're even."

They had a cup of coffee together and Warren smiled as he watched the two of them – they could hardly take their eyes off each other – this was a couple if ever he'd seen one. As they stood together at the door, ready to begin their journey Warren lifted Abby's hand and kissed it.

"You've got one of the good guys here Abby – don't let him go."

"You bet Warren – took me a while to figure out what I had, but I know now, and I am definitely hanging on to him!"


i"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."/i Anais Nin