Chapter Nine
I'll Never Leave You

Tim McGee has showered and changed into spare clothes from his locker, and followed his director's orders to see Dr. Gyves. After an initial conversation, he's set up an appointment for tomorrow. But then, instead of following orders to go home, there's only one thing he wants to do.

He climbs the stairs to the fourth floor, walks down the long corridor and knocks on a door marked with a discreet plate, white upon brown: 'Chaplain'.

No answer. He knocks again, then more firmly. "Shav, it's me."

Silence.

"Shav, I know you're in there. You didn't leave the Yard. Your phone is in there; I tracked your GPS."

Still nothing. With a sigh, he pulls out his own phone, but before he can open it:

"Timmy," her misery-laden voice filters through the door. "Please. Leave me alone."

She hadn't returned to Operations, where she technically should have exercised her duties. This, coupled with her fragile tone, tells him all he'd needed to know.

"No."

"Timmy, please ... go away."

x

Months ago she'd given him a duplicate key and for the first time he uses it, closes the door behind his back.

She looks back over her shoulder from where she kneels before her desk across the room. Attached to the wall above the desk is a crucifix.

She's changed her clothes, though she'd been somewhat protected from the spatter. She's wearing a blue dress now, no longer 'the Chaplain'.

"I'll never leave you."

He'd sworn this to her before, now his tone carries far more. She pushes herself up, turns to him and he sees the ravages of tears in her now-dry eyes.

"Is this our future?" she asks.

x

She'd asked him that same question once before, then with shattered heart, before his near-suicide mission aboard the USS Millennium. Now the question is laden with added pain.

"My ignoring you when you don't want my help? Yep."

"That's not it and you know it."

"That's my answer."

She doesn't want to fight. They don't fight and she'll be damned if this nightmare will spark their first one. She needs him, and he probably needs her just as much.

She crosses to the couch and sits down, but she's unable to look at him. "I've ... spent a half hour puking up my guts, then came up here and cried myself dry."

He sits down beside her, puts his arm about her. It's several moments before he can get her to lean closer.

"I'm sorry, a ghra," she says sadly, her head down, her profile curtained by red hair. She'd called him 'my love', but it doesn't disguise her pain. "I know I should've gone down to help. I tried. I swear I tried. I couldn't."

Her brogue is sharp, heavy in his ears with repressed emotion. "No one expected you to."

She looks up at him, brushing her hair behind her ear, hooking it behind the earpiece of her gold glasses, her half-useless glasses. She won't hide, not from him, not even though she can't any longer. "Liar. I'm the Chaplain. I went up when I wasn't supposed to, couldn't go down when I was."

"Why did you?"

x

The question hangs in the air between them. She can't keep his eyes, looks away to the far wall, the desk, the crucifix, anywhere but his eyes.

"I ... guess Agent Gibbs is pretty mad at me for interfering."

Tim would say it'd be a good idea to stay away until her next duty shift next Tuesday, but by then she'll be on Wedding Leave and it has nothing to do with the question.

x

She looks up to him, can see in his eyes that he knows her breaking in on the drama had little to do with the reasons she given everyone else in those tense moments. She'd offered Whitney her aid, her protection, the sanctuary of the Church.

She knows he'd seen through that.

But she can't hold his eyes, hangs her head, her red hair curtaining them, again blocking his view. It's a long moment before she can say it.

"I was willing to die," she finally admits to the floor.

He can't see her face, he doesn't have to. "I know."

"I went down … up …." She forces the words, hard though they are, past incipient tears. "I told her the truth. But I also went ... because I couldn't bear ..."

"Couldn't bear what?" He thinks he knows, has to hear it.

"If you died ..." her voice catches. She takes a deep breath, forces the words through. "I didn't want to live."

What can he say? 'Live?' 'I don't want you to die?' What can he possibly say?

x

"I've never seen ..."

Some horrors just can't be expressed.

He wishes he could say that nothing this bad will ever happen again. It could happen tomorrow. Or tonight.

When she'd accepted the job as Chaplain, he'd anticipated that she'd have a sane career. It was an extra duty in addition to her duties at Saint Mary's, a part-time service, once a week, Tuesdays 0800 - 1600. She'd do counseling with agents who need someone to reach out to without the official records that staff Therapists must maintain. She would be an intermediary voice. She'd perform the occasional Liturgical duties...

The reality became nothing like the plan. The first 'occasional Liturgical duty' was to officiate at the Memorial for nearly a dozen murdered agents. She'd been turned into an unwilling instrument of murder. She'd been assaulted, nearly raped, in an elevator. She'd been kidnapped, beaten half to death, raped, sodomized and crucified. Now she'd nearly lost her fiancé and she'd seen someone blown up.

Guilt stabs at Tim. He may not have forced her into this life, but he did maneuver her into it. If he could've foreseen, if he could've known that by asking her to accept this job he would subject her to these horrors, especially this last...

"I'm sorry."

x

She shifts away so she can face him directly. "No, Timmy, I'm sorry. I should never have interfered. Agent Gibbs might have solved it but I–"

"He couldn't have 'solved it'. There was no solution but her death."

This stops her. She'd clung to hope but there never was any. "I know," she finally admits, as much to herself. "But I'm still sorry." She sighs deeply, all the strength going out of her. "Hell of a life we live here."

He could free her from it. Perhaps he should. But there is really only one way to do that, if all that's happened has finally driven her away from their life together. Apprehension clutching his heart, he forces himself to ask the question.

"Do you still want to get–?"

x

Her turn as she looks up, astonished he could even think it, cuts him off. "Yes!" She grasps his hand tightly, never wants to let go. "This doesn't change that or how I feel. I know this life is hard, going to get harder but I'm not changing that! I'm never changing that. Yes, we're going to stay together despite all the legions of hell!"

He hugs her, just holds her. She puts her arms around him, holds on, doesn't want to think, to speak. She holds him tightly, eyes closed, clings to the future, to love and happiness she prays for with all her soul and tries to blank out the nightmare.

Epilogue

Five days have passed, days when all involved in atrocious horror have worked hard to find balance. They'd taken their enforced vacations with varying degrees of gratitude or frustration, dealt with Crisis Intervention specialists and spent time together, alternately talking about and pushing away the nightmare. There was no coordinated gathering, but by tacit agreement each was open to the other as the call arose.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs made extraordinary progress on constructing his boat. Tony DiNozzo spent every available moment that he wasn't with his partners with Jeanne. Ziva David worked out until her overtaxed muscles screamed their protests and various pieces of gym equipment came in need of repair.

Jimmy and Michelle Palmer sequestered themselves in their apartment, the phone disconnected except for 'take-out' orders. They never spoke to others of what transpired during those days, except vague admissions that it was very therapeutic. Timothy McGee wrote eleven chapters of his fourth novel, leaving his apartment only in the company of one other person when she could draw him out, which she did when he resisted keeping his therapist appointments, and sleeping only when his crusted eyes refused to focus.

Tomorrow they return to work. Not all of them are anxious to get there.

Now, Sunday morning, Tim leaves his apartment for the first time of his own will and goes to seek solace - and more - on New York Avenue. Here he can be, if not anonymous, at least somewhat at peace. This place, for all its still fairly new significance in his life, is not NCIS.

So much has happened this week. It'd started with minor, then major chaos, then almost a week of trying to escape the madness. Now he needs more than healing.

x

Father George Donaldson knows much of what's happened, knows how the story he's heard a dozen times has affected his friend and partner. He'd worked hard to help her find balance and hope. He's not sure how well - if at all - he's succeeded. In the end, all is prayer, and faith, and hope.

He's devoted a Mass to a very disturbed woman, in hopes that she has found in death the peace that had eluded her in life.

His partner had been powerless to help her, yet at this particular moment there is an aspect hope for a better future that he canprovide to his shaken partner.

x

He stands this morning before the Altar of St. Mary the Virgin Church following the exchange of Peace; this moment marks the formal transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Here it's traditionally a moment given over to announcements.

In the past two Sundays, in accord with Church rubrics, he has made this announcement. There have, fortunately and happily, been no replies to the previous ones. This is the one, however, that he's looked forward to making, the final one. This is the one he will enjoy.

In the first row on the church's right, or Epistle, side; as close as he can get without being in the Sanctuary, Tim McGee never takes his eyes from Siobhan who's seated in the sedilia, the triple seat backed by the right wall. She, quite properly, faces directly forward, her attention focused on the Altar, but Donaldson has seen her attention, her focus, is sometimes a hard thing to keep, and he's seen her eyes flicker to her beau when she thought no one would notice.

x

Donaldson turns left, looks back for a moment and favors her with a wink. This is support that he can give, a moment to wash out some of the nightmare of the past week. He knows it can't be as much as she needs, but it's something special nonetheless and cannot be diminished.

It's time, and he flatters himself that no one noticed a pause. The rubrics require this Notice be given thrice in three successive weeks. This is the final formal announcement, and his amplified voice fills the nave from sanctuary to narthex.

"I publish the Banns of Marriage between Mr. Timothy McGee and the Reverend Siobhan Marie O'Mallory. If there is anyone who can show just cause why they may not legally be married in accordance with God's law, you are bidden to declare it. This is the Third Time of Asking."

x

Blessed, satisfying silence.

He glances back at the white-albed woman, imagining that the floor length garment hides a fine tremble. He knows that for the third time - unreasonably though it is - she'd held her breath. He exchanges a quick smile with her and turns back to the congregation.

"You are all cordially invited to participate in the happy event, which will take place on the 17th at three o'clock." He shifts his voice into a passable echo of the woman's brogue, or a not-so-passable Barry Fitzgerald impression. "The church will be decorated in shamrocks and gold, so after you're finished watching the parade on television, join us for the real celebration."

Next Episode: Zabeth.
Gibbs and his team must stop an Assassin and prepare for a wedding. Can they do either?