Summary: Somehow, this broken creature is still her brother. Oneshot.

Warnings: Non-canon major character death, set sometime in the future.

Diclaimer: I don't own NCIS.

OOOO

Ghosts

Sarah brings him by, two months later, right before they're about to leave. There's no one there to meet them, because the visit was spur of the moment and when Sarah called, she'd quietly asked Vance to allow them their privacy. Of course, complete privacy is impossible, but Vance told the new team what was going on and gave a quiet memo out to everyone else. It's the best he could manage.

Vance is there, up on the balcony, watching as the girl puhes the wheelchair off the elevator and into the squad room. She's such a small girl, and Vance would have thought that she would have trouble pushing such a large machine, especially when she has no help from the occupant, but she's doing her best.

A large German Shepard trots next to the wheelchair, leash wrapped around an unresponsive wrist, silent and vigilant. One of the new agents sneezes and looks up in annoyance, but when she sees where the dog is, who the dog is with, she just quietly gathers up her papers and goes to the lounge down the hall.

The memo said in no uncertain terms that this was important, so they're leaving it alone.

The girl pauses in the middle of the room, looking around, and Vance takes that as his cue to go down. He sees Sarah's face light up with relief at a familiar face, though the feeling is overshadowed by the pain she feels. The director can't help but feel bad for her, for everything she's going through. She's so young, and she has to deal with so much all at once.

"How's he doing?" the man asks, chewing on his toothpick like there's no tomorrow. He casts a look over the wheelchair-bound man.

McGee doesn't look up at him. He doesn't look at anything, really. Just sits huddled over in the chair, rocking softly back and forth.

Sarah's face twists even more, and she looks like she's about to cry. "He's doing good. The doctors say he's making progress, though I really can't…" She doesn't finish her sentence, and there's a bitter cast to her lips, as though she doesn't want to say what she really thinks of her brother's 'progress'.

Even though he wasn't close with them, even though he didn't have the bond that the previous director did, he does feel pain for the young agent in the chair, broken and crippled before his time. "I'm sorry," he says, knowing that the words don't mean anything. They can't change what happend.

They say this sort of thing is expected on the job. That they'll lose agents, good people, long before they should be gone. Losing agents is easy compared to this. When an agent dies, it hurts, but the pain fades with time and it's possible to start moving on. Here, with McGee alive but dead inside, it's so much harder. Knowing he's here but never coming back is worse than losing a dozen agents. They don't prepare anyone for this kind of thing. Vance wasn't close with the team, but they were still his people. It still hurts.

Sarah blinks at him, fighting back tears. Her eyes are red, as though she's been crying a lot lately. Vance doesn't blame her. After a moment, she gains her compusure, and her eyes are clear. "I've come for my brother's stuff," she announces, though they both know that's why she's here. They also know that's not the only reason.

Vance nods, shifting the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. "Miss Scuito has them. Protecting them, I think." He cracks a small smile, one that Sarah returns emptily. It wasn't a very good joke, and this isn't really the time. The director sighs, plucks the toothpick from his mouth, and says, "I'll go tell her. I'm sure she'll bring them up."

Sarah nods, and Vance leaves, keeping his eyes forward. He almost wants to look back, but he refuses to. It's a hard sight to look at, and they don't need gawkers.

As Vance disappears to the elevators, Sarah kneels down in front of her brother, resting her hands on his own. "Tim," she calls softly, trying to coax his attention, trying to draw him back to her. "Tim, look at where we are. It's your old office."

She doesn't know what she's trying to do. The explosion caused so much brain damage he's had to relearn everything all over again, from the most basic functions up. And he's never going to be the same person again. Never going to write, never going to run a computer code or play a video game…hell, they said he's probably never going to be able to walk on his own again, or maybe even talk.

He hasn't looked anyone in the eye since he woke up.

Sometimes Sarah wonders if it would have been better for Tim to die in the blast. Would it be better for him to be gone, rather than living his life as this empty, mindless shell?

She wants to cry. That's all she's wanted to do, lately. She lost her big brother in one moment. But she's needed to be strong, taking care of her brother while her parents make arrangements to bring him back home.

He can't live on his own, and Sarah can't take care of him anymore. Not by herself.

"Come on, Tim, look up. You love this place. You can't have forgotten everything." She squeezes his hands, willing with her mind for her brother's head to shift, to look up from his lap at the squad room.

This was his home, probably more than his apartment was. He couldn't have forgotten everything.

Jethro whines softly, nudging Tim's hand with his cold nose, and her brother shifts slightly, looking straight through her. Sarah forces a brave smile, ignoring how her lip is trembling becaue she knows that Tim won't see it.

She thinks that his eyes are the worst part. The green orbs are blank and lifeless, hollow and empty, set in a face of slack stone. This isn't her brother. Her brother was always so expressive, and couldn't tell a lie to save his life. Every emotion he felt shone through in his face. This…this emotionless automotron can't be her brother.

But it is, somehow. Her brother is locked inside his head, broken beyond repair, and even though she wants to deny it, she can't because it's true. This is Tim.

Somehow, this broken creature is still her brother.

There's no recognition in his eyes as he look around. No sense that he knows where he is. Maybe it's because the place isn't familiar anymore. The toys and items on the desks have changed, new people have taken over. Even though the new agents aren't here right now, their presence is obvious.

But Tim should still know this place. He should still know his second home, even if the items had changed and other people moved in.

But his face doesn't change, and another lump in her throat threatens to erupt. With a sigh, she stands, wrapping her arms around herself to keep from trembling. Tim's eyes don't follow her, don't even seem to see her.

Sometimes, she wonders what he sees in his head. If he's reliving his memories, memories of happier, better times, or if he's just trapped in some dark place, unable to get out.

Would it change anything if she knew?

Footsteps sound, soft against the carpet, and she looks up. She knows it's not a long walk from Abby's lab to the squad room, and she wonders if they were waiting for the moment to be less private before walking in. She doesn't ask. Ducky walks up to her side and pulls her into a warm embrace, and were she anywhere but here, Sarah would allow herself to burst into tears.

"Thank you," she says softly, and she's not just talking about the hug. Ducky's been so good to her, he and Palmer both. He even offered for Tim to stay with him, though Sarah gently refused the offer. She wouldn't have felt right, letting her brother stay with someone else when he was like this. This was Tim ---it was her duty to take care of him. Like he'd always taken care of her.

Over the ME's shoulder, she can see Abby and Palmer, hanging back. Rather, it looks like Abby's hanging back, the box of Tim's stuff clutched in white fingers, and Palmer's trying to encourage her forward. When Ducky releases her, Sarah steps back, watching. Waiting.

Abby hasn't been able to stay in the same room with Tim for more than a couple minutes now. She was there when he woke up in the hospital, and Sarah can remember how the forensic scientist ran out of the room, tears dripping down her face, near-hysterical about something Sarah couldn't understand.

She'd understood the moment she walked into the room and saw Tim's lifeless eyes staring up, and it was only stubborn McGee strength that kept her from breaking down until she got home.

Palmer quietly pushes Abby forward, step by step, and Sarah is silent, watching. Waiting. Finally, the woman stops in front of the wheelchair, trembling. She opens her mouth to say something, looking anywhere but at Tim.

Nothing comes out, and in a rush she deposits the box on Tim's lap and bolts away, already crying again. Sarah's heart twists.

Ducky gives her a sympathetic look and said softly, "I'd better go check on her." Sarah nods, unable to speak, for fear that she will start crying. She's cried too much lately.

Palmer still stands there even after Ducky's followed Abby. He manages to look manly and awkward at the same time, something which, on any other day, would have amused Sarah. She busies herself with straightening the box on Tim's lap, wrapping his unresponsive hands around the cardboard. Her hands rest on his for a moment, and she pretends not to notice the ME assistant lurking behind her.

"Let me escort you to your car," he finally offers.

"You don't have to---"

"Please, Miss McGee. Let me escort you." The look on his face is eager to help, in any way possible, and she just silently nods, the lump in her throat thickening as she relinquishes control of the wheelchair handles. Palmer takes them without a word and pushes McGee towards the elevators, Jethro following alongside, and Sarah standing next to her brother.

There will be rumors and gossip and questions, as soon as the elevator doors close, but when Vance comes back, he'll no doubt put a stop to that. Ducky and Palmer have both told her, so many times, about everything Vance has done for them, interoffice. He's proclaimed them heroes, martyrs in the fight against some villain or another, and though there aren't any awards or anything, Sarah is grateful.

McGee always did want to be a hero. Sarah always knew that he was, but now there's validation. Even if he can't hear it anymore.

It's silent until they get to the car. Palmer helps Sarah get Tim into the Porche ---they can't afford a wheelchair-accesible van, and for now it's just easier to keep him in his own car and fold up the chair. Then, with a silent nod of goodbye, Palmer walks away.

Tucking the box into Tim's lap once he's been buckled in, she holds the back door open for Jethro. He climbs in, settling down in 'his' spot, and with a sigh, she goes around to the back to put the wheelchair into the trunk.

Coming back around, she climbs into the driver's seat. When she'd found out Tim had a Porche ---a Porche!--- she'd been ecstatic, and annoyed that he wouldn't let her drive it. Now all she wants is her brother back, snarking at her and refusing to let her drive his precious car.

Biting her lip, blinking back tears, she looks over at Tim. "Alright, Tim, let's go home."

He doesn't say anything.

She really wasn't expecting him to.

XXXX

That night she dreams…

She's standing on a pier, looking out at a mist-wreathed dock. The dock is rickety, old and wooden, and leads to a small wooden boat. Three figures are standing on the dock. One of them is still, waiting patiently; another is checking his watch and pacing; and the third is shifting from foot to foot. Even with the mist, she recognizes the three on the dock. She watches them without a word.

A soft sigh sounds beside her, and she half-turns, blinking through the mist to stare at her brother. He's staring out at the dock, a look of such pained longing on his face that her heart breaks for him. It's at that moment that she realizes their hands are conencted, hers locked into his so tightly that even when she tries to release the grip, she can't.

"Tim," she calls, and she has to repeat his name two times before he tears his gaze away and looks at her. The pain and sorrow, the black despair in those lovely green eyes of his freezes her for a moment, and she has to drop her gaze. She can't look him in the eye when he's carrying such emotion.

Instead, she looks at their linked hands, running her thumb against the back of his hand. "It's okay, Tim. You can let go."

She can feel him stiffen, and his hand tightens around hers again, but when she looks up, he's staring back out at the figures on the dock, that longing expression on his face once more. "I can't," he whispers, the words loud in the silence. "I can't go yet."

A sob lumps in her throat, and she squeezes his hand. "I'm a big girl, Tim. I can take care of myself. You don't…" Here, she has to pause to take a breath, and she follows his gaze to the waiting figures. She watches them only for a moment before looking back at her brother. "You don't have to take care of me anymore. I learned everything I know from you, and you taught me well. I won't get in trouble. I'll be okay." She squeezes his hand again, her voice on the verge of pleading. She can't bear to watch him suffer like this anymore. "Honestly, Tim, I'll be alright. You can let go now."

He's still staring out at the docks, but she knows he's heard every word she said. A tear rolls down his cheek, a small gem of diamond that falls and vanishes into oblivion. He turns to look at her once more, and this time she forces herself to meet that pained, despairing gaze.

"I don't want to go."

"I know. I don't want you to go." Her voice breaks as the floodgates open and the tears fall down her cheeks, but she keeps her gaze steady. "But there's nothing for you here anymore. Everything's over there." She looks over at the dock, and he follows her gaze. Then he looks back, meeting her eyes once more, and there's a calmness there, swimming in the despair, and she knows that just like that, he's made his decision.

"You'll stay out of trouble?"

She gives him a wry smile. "Of course. As much as I'm able to."

At that, the smallest of smiles cracks his lips. "You'll be alright."

She gives his hand one last squeeze. "Course I will. I had a great teacher."

Softly, gently, he leans forward, pressing a soft kiss against her forehead. Then he turns, taking a step forward, and his hand slips free of hers. Trembling, she brings her hand to her chest, pretending that he's still holding it. Pretending that her big brother is still there.

Her brother's tall form meets up with the three waiting on the dock, and the mist swoops in, obcuring the view. But she can still hear the words, floating on a non-existant wind to her ears.

"Geez, Probie, what took you so long? We've been waiting here forever!"

"I am sure he had a good reason, Tony. McGee would not make us wait like this if he did not have a good reason."

"I had some stuff to finish, Tony. Shut up."

"Don't take that tone with me, McGoo. I'm Senior Field Agent, and you're just a Probie. You can't tell me to shut u---"

WHAP.

"Right, boss. Shutting up, boss."

Then even the voices fade away, and the mist rolls in, and Sarah's left standing on the end of the dock, staring at a white wall of unyeilding mist as the sounds of a boat cutting through water, the oars slapping in the gentle waves. She curls her hand around a fist that's long gone and silently cries.

She knows it's better this way. She knows she had to give him away, had to let him go for him to be happy. There was nothing left for him here.

But it still hurts.

XXXX

She wakes up slowly, opening her eyes to an unforgiving sun. Sighing, she pushed herself to a sitting psition, crawling off the couch. Stretching her arms over her head, she pads into the bedroom to check on her brother. She finds Jethro, up on the bed like he knows he's not supposed to be, nuzzling her brother's shoulder and whining.

"Jethro? What is it? What's wrong?" Worried, Sarah rushes forward, gently pushing the dog out of the way and checking on her brother.

His face is pale and cold, with a greyish cast to it, and when she presses her fingers to his neck, there's no pulse. The realization dawns in a burst of light.

Her brother is dead.

Stunned, Sarah sinks to the floor, looking up to the bed and the sleeping face of her brother. If it weren't for the scar slicing across his head, from this angle he looks almost like he's sleeping. But he's not. She knows he's not. Jethro whines again.

Sarah knows that her dream wasn't coincidence. It couldn't be. She doesn't believe in the supernatural, preferring the real world much more than fantasy. But her brother taught her that there are no such things as coincidences. That she had that particular dream the very night her brother died wasn't coincidence in the slightest.

He's happier there, wherever he is. She knows that. But it still hurts.

Pushing herself to her feet, Sarah moves through the room on autopilot, returning to the living room to grab her phone. Like a zombie, she dials her parents' number, and when her mother answers, her voice is blank and stunned and emotionless.

"Mom…it's Tim…

XXXX

You're walking in pairs. Two up front, two in the back. Tony and Ziva are arguing, again. You don't even pay attention anymore.

Your shoelace snaps, and you call out to the others.

Tony looks back, grinning. "Well, come on Probie, don't take all day!"

"Yeah, yeah, shut it, DiNozzo," you call back, bending to tie the lace.

That's the only thing that saves your life.

There's no warning, just a noise and the feeling of the air cleaving in two. You sprawl back, blown down by the shockwave. You can feel blood on your face.

You can also feel the fire. You sit up, eyes widening, and try to make legs like Jell-o obey your commands.

Ziva's next to the driver's side of the blown-up car, unconscious (or dead) and her hair and clothes are on fire. You almost hope she's dead, just so she won't have to feel that.

Tony's just a little farther beyond her, blood staining his hair and a piece of twisted metal jutting out of his chest. You don't have to look at the spreading pool of blood to know he's dead.

Gibbs is just in front of you, eyes open and blinking, blood covering...everything, there's so much blood on his face and chest, and despite your instincts, you crawl towards him, dragging yourself forward. He looks at you, glares, mouths something. You think it's your name. You can't hear it over the ringing in your ears.

Falling to a stop beside him, you wrap shaky fingers around his crimson shoulder, feebly trying to pull him to safety, hands slipping on the wet fabric of his blood-soaked jacket. You can't help Ziva and Tony ---it breaks your heart to admit it--- but Boss is right here. You can help him.

You're close enough to see his lips move, mouthing your name again.

"McGee, get away. Get out of here."

You aren't sure if the wetness running down your cheeks is blood or tears. "Boss…Boss…" You want to tell him about Tony and Ziva, want to apologize for not being able to save them all. But all you can repeat is that one word, over and over again. "Boss…"

"McGee! Go!"

The desperation on his face scares you, but orders are orders, and years of following such orders makes you stumble back. You have to go. Have to get away. Boss said.

Semper fi. Never leave a man behind.

Torn between two paths, you hesitate, looking back. His eyes widen, and his mouth opens to command you again.

The second explosion rocks your world, and a wave of fire washes over you.

And then there's nothing at all.

OOOO

Wow. That is definitely one of my more depressing fanfictions. I was trying out something different, but I definitely liked how this turned out.

Let me know what you think, please! Reviews of any kind are welcome!

~Until next time!