Title: The Darker Side of Solace

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Donald Bellisario, and I hope he won't mind that I've borrowed them once again.

Warning: This story contains the spanking of adults. If that's not your thing, it would be best if you didn't read it, or at least that you refrain from telling me about your displeasure.

Author's Notes: This story is a tag to the Season 3 episode "Probie", during which Tim shoots a cop. The cop is killed, though it is never known whether Tim's bullet was the kill shot. The episode ends with Tim still in anguish over the incident. My story is an angsty envisioning of how Tim deals with the pain afterwards.

While this story is not set in an alternate universe, the reader should be willing to take it for granted that Gibbs regularly uses corporal punishment to discipline his agents.

The woman watched Tim from across the room. Her eyes were kind, and Tim thought that her interest in him seemed genuine. Knowing that made him feel even more self-conscious, and he looked down to escape her expectant gaze. She was clearly waiting for him to initiate the conversation, but he didn't know what to say. Everyone had given him advice this afternoon – Tony, Ziva, even Ducky – but Tim wasn't sure he could do this.

Finally the prolonged silence got to him, and Tim made the first move.

"I'm not sure how this works," he started awkwardly.

The woman smiled at him. "It can work any way you want."

"I guess I just don't know what you want me to talk about."

"I'd like to get to know you, Tim. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?"

"You mean, like, where I grew up and where I went to school?"

"If you like. Or we could start with something more recent. Like what it was like for you coming here today."

Tim shifted in his seat. The leather couch was soft and he felt like he was sinking into it. Ziva had stressed the need to look assertive, but it was hard to project an image of confidence when he felt like he was being swallowed up by a sofa.

"It was OK."

"Did it make you nervous?"

"No." He blurted out without thinking. Before continuing, Tim made a conscious effort to sound calmer. "I mean, maybe a little. But just because I wasn't sure what to expect."

"And how do you feel now that you're here?"

Tim was about to lie, but he could tell that she'd see right through him.

"I guess I'm still kind of nervous."

She nodded at his answer. When she didn't offer any other response, Tim spoke again.

"I'm sorry," he said shyly.

"What for?"

"For not being better at this."

"What should you be better at? You just got here."

"I know. You're right. I'm sorry – I shouldn't have apologized. It's just something I do. Well, usually. My boss doesn't like people to apologize. But I'm still sorry."

"Should we talk about that?"

"About what?" Tim asked with confusion.

"About what it's like to feel like you have something to apologize for, and then not to be allowed to express that feeling out loud."

Tim was struck by the perceptiveness of her remark, but at the same time he felt defensive. Gibbs was family, and this woman was in no position to judge him.

"It's not like that."

"Like what?"

"It's not like how you made it sound. Gibbs – he does what's right for the team. It's about being strong and confident and decisive. If you're out in the field there's no time for a bunch of apologies and hand-holding."

"Of course. I'm sorry if it sounded like I was being critical. I guess I was just curious about what it was like for you to be in a situation where you feel like you've made a mistake, and you want to make amends, but there isn't room for that."

Tim felt his chest tighten.

"You can't hesitate in the field. There's no time for second-guessing yourself."

Dr. Avery gazed at him steadily, and Tim knew she could tell that he'd deliberately avoided her question. He thought about everyone's advice before the session. Ziva had told him to reveal nothing, to show no weakness that would give the psychologist a reason to take him off active duty. Tony had encouraged him to be funny and charming, "if he could pull that off, at least for 50 minutes". Only Ducky had encouraged honesty.

"Timothy," Ducky had advised, "the director has approved your return to the field on the condition that you meet with this psychologist. She's not trying to find anything wrong with you, she's just trying to help you be in the best mental shape that you can on the job. Take advantage of this opportunity, my dear boy. Many people would benefit from the counsel of a trained professional, but can't afford it or simply don't know to seek out such help. You've been given a gift, Timothy. Don't squander it. What you went through, thinking that you killed a man, was very traumatic. Give yourself the time and support that you need to heal properly from that experience."

Tim looked at the woman sitting across from him. Part of him trusted her implicitly and desperately wanted to tell her everything – that he couldn't stop reliving the night that he shot John Benedict in the alley. That he knew without a shadow of a doubt that one of his bullets had been the kill shot, and nothing he could do would ever make up for that. Tim wanted to tell her that sometimes when he woke up in the morning he was shaking and bathed in sweat, and that most days after he put his gun in his desk drawer he had to go to the head and vomit before being able to get back to work.

But that was impossible. Tim knew that if Dr. Avery was aware of any of this she'd probably restrict him from field work, and maybe even insist that he take a leave of absence. He'd never recover from the shame of that even if he did get his job back at some point. Letting this woman inside his head just wasn't an option. No one could know how he felt or what he was going through, and if Tim couldn't make the pain go away, then he at least needed to hide it. He was a highly trained agent. Convincing a psychologist and his team members that he was in perfect mental health was hardly a challenge compared to some of the serious undercover work on his resume.

Tim channeled his best impression of Tony and flashed a charming smile at the therapist. "Everyone makes mistakes, Dr. Avery. But you fix it by not making the same mistake twice. It's about learning from your mistakes, not making amends. I'm not saying you shouldn't make amends if you can, but on the job, there just isn't time for that to be a priority. People could die tomorrow if you're not paying attention because you're thinking about making amends for something you did yesterday. That's something we all understand, and it keeps us functioning effectively as a team." Tim barely even recognized his own smooth-talking voice.

Dr. Avery nodded pensively.

"I'd like us to talk more about this, Tim. Are you willing to keep meeting with me so that we can continue the conversation?"

Tim's stomach flipped. "Do I have to?" He cringed at the childish question that popped out of his mouth.

"No, Tim. You don't. Attending further counseling sessions is not a mandatory condition of your return to duty. But I'd like you to consider volunteering for it. I think you might find it beneficial."

Tim stood up. "OK, I'll give it some thought. It was nice meeting you." He shook her hand politely and then quickly exited her office. He knew he wouldn't be coming back.