A/N This is it, the last chapter. I want to again thank all of you for taking the time to read and review. I hope that you have enjoyed the story and I want to thank everyone for all the encouragement and helpful comments. I hope this doesn't disappoint. Thanks again to you all!
Tony looked around the hospital room one last time making sure he had everything. Finally, they were releasing him and it wasn't a moment too soon! He'd been going stir crazy in this place but the doctors were worried about his plague-scarred lungs especially after his near drowning and a few possible signs of pneumonia had insured he wasn't getting out quickly. But, they'd finally cleared him and although it would still be several weeks before they'd allow him to return to work, it would be a great relief to go home.
He looked at his watch. It would be another hour or so before Gibbs was scheduled to arrive and give him a ride home so he decided there was time to visit McGee. Gibbs had stopped in a couple of days ago to let him know that McGee had regained consciousness but Probie had been sleeping when Tony went to go see him. Maybe he'd be awake this time. Regardless, he wanted to make sure his partner was OK before he left.
When he reached the ICU, he met Abby just coming out. "Tony!" she gushed, her face bright and smiling. "Look at you! All dressed up and ready to go!"
Tony grinned back. His suit hung loosely on thin frame and he knew he looked like crap overall, two weeks in a hospital will do that to you, but he was feeling better than he had in a long time. "How's McGoo?"
Abby's smile widened. "He's awake, Tony! I know the doctors said he would be OK but I couldn't really believe it until he woke up and talked to me, y'know?"
Tony felt a surge of relief. He knew exactly what she meant. Even when McGee had started showing signs of recovery, as long as he remained unconscious Tony had had a hard time believing that McGee would be OK. "Is he still awake? The Boss said he'd pick me up in about an hour now that the doctor said I could go home but I was hopin' to see Tim first."
Abby nodded happily. "Well, he was just a few minutes ago. I was just gonna go get something to drink but I know he'd love to see you, Tony!" She paused and screwed her face up uncertainly, "Listen, there is something. I think he's really feeling guilty about all this so maybe you can let him know it's OK, you know?"
Tony looked beyond her towards the ICU. Oh yeah, if he knew anything about Probie it was that he was practically paralyzed by guilt for having overdue library books so Tony could just imagine how overwhelmed Tim would be by this little event! "Don't worry, Abs," he smiled. "I'll knock some sense into him."
After Abby left, Tony headed to Tim's room where he found his partner alert and watchful as Tony entered the room. "Probie!" exclaimed Tony with a big grin, "It's great to see you! You look like crap!"
Tim opened his mouth to respond, closed it, opened it, then finally laughed weakly although his eyes remained worried. "It's good to see you too, Tony." He hesitated. "You OK?"
Tony sauntered over still grinning. "Of course I am, McGoo! They only kept me here this long because the nurses wouldn't give me up! I mean, there was this one really cute night nurse…." He paused and shook his head then waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe we better not go there!"
Tim closed his eyes with a soft chuckle. Opening them again, he face was now full of regret and anguish. "Tony…I…I am so sorry you were hurt. It was all my fault. If I hadn't been so stupid you and Ziva wouldn't have been shot and…"
"McGee!" snapped Tony glaring down at him impatiently. "I told you out there in the wilderness, it is NOT your fault. Jeeze, McGuilty, how many times do we have to tell you this! You… Were... Drugged! I mean come on, do you honestly think you'd be dancin' around with handful of rattlesnakes in your right mind! Next to that, falling for a pretty girl, even if she did turn out to be a black widow, makes perfect sense!"
"But I shoulda known better!" persisted McGee miserably. "I've read about cults and all that! I should have been smart enough to see the danger. But no, I had to follow that pretty girl straight into hell. What an idiot."
Tony shook his head. This was pure McGee obstinacy. The guy was determined to suffer the blame for everything that happened regardless of what anyone said. Tony reached out and gently but firmly smacked McGee on the back of the head.
"Hey!" snapped McGee in surprise. "What was that for?"
"For being an idiot," replied Tony evenly. "McGee, you are gonna have a long road ahead of you before they'll even think about letting you outta here. Are you gonna spend all that time moaning and groaning about how stupid you were? OK, maybe you did make some mistakes. So what? So did we! Believe me, McGee, there is more than enough blame to go around but we learn from our mistakes. That's what makes us good cops. And you are a good cop, McGee."
"I'm not sure Gibbs thinks so," McGee mumbled. He had spent hours trying to decipher what Gibbs had said to him when he first woke up. "I think he wants me to go back into Cybercrimes where Vance wants me. Gibbs only wants the best on his team and I don't think I qualify."
Tony was completely taken aback by this statement. Where on earth had Probie gotten the idea Gibbs thought he should return to Cybercrimes! That was nuts. Gibbs had even told Tony what he'd said to McGee about coming back to the team. Obviously the message had not gotten through!
"McGee, the Boss absolutely wants you back! He told me so. He doesn't think you belong down in the basement. You belong back upstairs with us!"
Tim frowned. "Do you really think so, Tony?" he asked hesitantly.
Tony sighed heavily. "Yes! Honestly, do think the Boss woulda kept you around all this time if he didn't think you belonged with us? Not many can work with Gibbs but you're still here, right? He respects your abilities, Probie. I mean the guy can barely figure out how turn on his computer and you were probably building them in your basement when you were like ten!"
"Eight, actually," mumbled McGee.
Tony rolled his eyes but secretly he was pleased. He was finally getting a response from McGee that didn't involve a lot of angst and self-recrimination. "There! That's exactly what I mean! Tim, you've spent an awful lot of time lately feeling guilty about what you did. Fine. But that time is over. It's time to get back on the horse and do what you've wanted to do all your life, be an NCIS agent."
Tim was silent for a long moment. "I guess I could try…" he began.
"No!" interrupted Tony lifting a finger gravely. "Listen to me carefully, Probie-wan, do or do not, there is no try!"
Tim's eyes widened and he gave a little laugh.
"Besides McGee, you saved my life!" continued Tony earnestly. "You pulled me outta that river in the nick of time! Surely you're gonna give me a chance to make it up to you or at the very least, it'll give you something to hold over my head for the rest of my natural life or until I kill you. Whichever comes first."
McGee shook his head. How could he ever argue with Tony? He honestly didn't want to feel so guilty. He didn't want to give up his job at NCIS. He wanted to go back to work with Ziva and Abby and DiNozzo. He missed Ducky and even Jimmy. He wanted to be solving crimes again and hacking into top secret databases and putting criminals behind bars. He knew he could be overly sensitive about things and thinking back, that was undoubtedly a large part of what led to his feelings of inadequacy but he also knew he tended to be too retiring and not nearly assertive enough. It was easy to be overlooked if you hid yourself in the shadows.
He glanced at Tony who was watching him expectantly. "What do you want me to do?" Tim said softly. "Could you even trust my judgment ever again?"
"Tim," replied Tony gravely. "I would trust you with my life."
Tim's recovery was slow. His parents finally arrived and were appalled at the sight of their injured son but soon rallied and they took on paying his bills, cleaning his apartment and all the other mundane activities he was unable to do. He remained in ICU another week before the doctors felt his condition was stable enough to move into a regular room. This gave Tim more than enough time to contemplate his situation.
Every day someone from NCIS came by to see him. Each of them urged him to make his decision to return to the agency. Tim was slightly amused by Vance trying to persuade him to move back to cybercrimes saying it would be less stressful, but McGee wasn't convinced. If the doctors wouldn't clear him for field work, then that might be an option but right now, he wasn't interested in spending his entire career doing little more than digging through computers and databases. He loved going out into the field. That is where his heart was and truth be told, he wasn't sure he wanted to stay in NCIS if he was restricted to desk work. In that case, he might as well take a job in Silicon Valley and make some real money. But, the doctors were optimistic that his leg would heal well enough. He'd had several tissue grafts and they were doing well. So he remained hopeful.
McGee had asked them about the drug he'd been fed and the doctors assured him that his exposure, although acute, had been short lived and some of the meds they had been given him had neutralized the drugs in his system and although it was possible he might experience a mild craving, they didn't think addiction was going to be a problem. That was a great relief to him. He couldn't get that image of himself breaking down the storeroom door trying to get more elixir. That was extremely disturbing to him. He'd probably think twice before taking even an aspirin from now on.
Yet, he still remained hesitant about making a final decision. He wasn't sure why. He believed now that his teammates did care for him and that his skills and abilities were important so why did he waver? He pondered this question each night as he drifted off to sleep.
Because you still don't trust yourself.
Tim found himself standing in the little cabin he had spent his one married night with Emmy. She stood before him looking as beautiful as she had that night.
I do trust myself, he protested but there was little conviction behind his words.
No, Tim, you don't. You keep thinking that if you could be so easily conned once, you could be conned again and that could put your friends in danger once more.
Tim opened his mouth to deny this but then it snapped shut. She was right. He did doubt himself even if the others didn't.
Oh, Tim, you are so foolish! Said Emmy with a shake of her head. Everyone else trusts you. You aren't stupid you know. Daddy knew you would catch on quickly if we didn't keep you drugged and even then, he could tell that deep down, you were suspicious. We realized that we had to get rid of you quickly before you finally let yourself see what was happening. You just didn't listen to your gut and that was your only real mistake.
Tim thought about this and nodded slowly. It was true. He knew he'd had misgivings right from the start but ignored them because he wanted the illusion to be true. If he had listened to his gut, he would have seen McAbee as the con man he was and then none of this would have happened. But what about Emmy? Would he have seen through her as well?
Yes, Tim, you would have seen through me as well. But that is all past now. What about your future? You worked all your life to get where you are in NCIS. Agent Gibbs specifically asked for you. Agent DiNozzo has told you over and over that you are good at what you do. The others all respect you and your abilities. Are you going to throw that all away for one stupid mistake? She suddenly looked exasperated and scowled at McGee. Now, just get over yourself and do what you know you want to do! And with that, she was gone.
Tim woke with a start. He looked around his room and realized that for once, he was alone. He lay back against the pillows. What a dream, he thought bemused. But, he felt the truth of it. Obviously, his subconscious was telling him what to do. Or was it really his subconscious? Emmy's lovely face formed in his mind and his smiled. She smiled back then gave him a meaningful look. Tim shook himself . That was weird but nevertheless, he knew what she was telling him.
Awkwardly, McGee pushed himself up on his elbow and reached towards the small bedside table. There was a drawer in the table which he slowly opened as if fearing something might jump out at him. Inside was an envelope. Tim stared at it a moment before pulling it out and grasping it tightly in his hand. He leaned back against the bed and continued to study it. Vance had brought it to him a couple of days ago. It was the letter of resignation he had sent to the director after storming out of the bullpen that day. This is your choice, McGee, Vance had said. I will accept this only if you honestly feel you cannot continue at NCIS but I sincerely hope you will reconsider and stay with us.
Tim felt his heart flutter then carefully and methodically he tore the letter into tiny little pieces. As he stared at fragments of paper littering his bed, he felt lighter than he had in a long time and then, he smiled. He had made his decision and this time, he had listened to his gut.