A/N: Yes, it is a bit ooc...but I always hated the way McGee was treated in Dog Tags...especially by the one person who used to be his lover and was supposed to be his friend...

Hold on to the Nights

(Set loosely between season four and just before six…definitely after Dog Tags...could be a prelude to my story…A Brother's Gift.)

Tim sighs, for being a writer there are days when his muse just deserts him completely. Always in the past, he's been able to just slip a jazz cd into the stereo, or even tune the radio to a station of softly playing blues music and an idea would come to him. That's how he'd originally started his stories about LJ Tibbs.

Now however…he sighs again. Now the team knows what he's done and while Gibbs seemed to be mostly amused by the whole thing, Tony and Ziva clearly weren't. Then the whole thing with Landon where Abby almost got killed…Tim shudders. That's when even Gibbs got mad at him.

But he still wants to tell her how he feels about her. That he's loved her for so long. He sighs as he crosses his arms behind his head and lies back on his bed. She's a strong woman though and he's not certain that soft prose will mean anything to her. A soft whine brings his attention to the newest occupant of his apartment. He's managed to convince the dog that he can't call him Jethro so they've compromised on Jett.

"Go get your leash."

He pulls his shoes back on and slips on a lightweight jacket. The autumn air is just crisp enough to warrant the extra protection. Tim knows too that he'll be getting a bit warm, just with the added exertion of walking Jett. Putting a few treats into his pocket as well as Jett's favorite ball he closes the door after grabbing his keys.

He sets off towards the park not noticing the car across the street. The dark-haired beauty smiles when she sees the bonding that is still in the process of occurring between man and beast. It has not been an easy process; she knows because she's seen the darkening shadows under his eyes and that is part of the reason she's come over.

Concern for the man who first showed her kindness and made her feel welcome in a strange land. That man for whom Gibbs defended upon the shooting of the undercover cop. The same man who chose to help his sister, to protect his family, at the risk of his career and Gibbs wrath.

She smiles as she thinks about the books that he's written. At first she was insulted but then amusement took over as she realized that the characters might be based around the MCRT and things that they've done as a team, but that he's exaggerated and twisted things just enough to have a humorous, yet well written mystery novel and not just one but two.

She frowns at the last thought. Landon's obsession had almost destroyed Tim's passion for writing. She and Ducky as well as Jimmy Palmer had spent many hours discussing how to convince Tim to finish the novel. In the end, after many cups of Earl Grey the elder M.E. had called him into autopsy and told Tim that if he didn't finish the novel then Landon would have won.

She had hidden in a closet as Ducky concluded with, "If Landon wins, we all lose and you lose most of all. For it will have proven to those who doubted you that they were correct in thinking that you were truly a one hit wonder and we can't have that now can we Timothy or should I say Mr. Thom E. Gemcity?" Rock Hollow had hit the stands two months later.

It is the man and his beast however that have her current concern. How Abby managed to convince him that he and the dog were fated to be together…Abby doesn't know what kind of torment she's putting this man through. It's obvious to the woman in the car that Tim isn't sleeping and if he is, it's not a restful sleep.

Her mind made up, she waits until the pair returns from their walk. Then she opens her door, pulling out two bags as she does so and crosses the street after locking the car. Bounding lightly up the stairs to his apartment, she approaches from the opposite end of the hallway meeting up with her quarry just outside his door.

"Hello, McGee."

"Zi-Ziva, what are you doing here?"

"I have brought us some supper; if you care to let me in that is?" she holds up her two bags of groceries and it brings that smile to his face; the one that first warmed her heart when she'd arrived so soon after Caitlin Todd's death. She watches as he struggles to remove his keys while holding the dog's leash.

He blushes slightly as he fumbles with his keys, nearly dropping them in his haste to get the door opened.

"I—I'm afraid the apartment's a bit of a mess. I hadn't cleaned up much the past few days."

"I don't think I would blame you considering all that you have been through these past few weeks."

He says nothing as he takes the dog off the leash. Jett heads straight for his water bowl while Tim slumps down in one of his chairs. Ziva watches as his head bobs, and wonders just when the last time he slept was. She lightly reaches out and touches his forehead.

"Hey, none of that while I am here. I came to visit my friend Tim and to share a meal with him. Come on Tim, it's time for supper. You can sleep when we're done okay?"

"Okay," they eat in a companionable silence, broken only by the occasional song that plays on the radio.

"We should do this more often McGee. I like sharing my food and ideas with you."

She watches as he brightens momentarily and then wonders why he seems to withdraw again. Then she remembers another discussion; this time with Jimmy Palmer.

"Think about it Ziva; he's been told by the woman that he used to love and that he considers a friend, that he's a bad McGee for defending himself against an animal that was mauling him. I was there when Ducky bandaged him; you don't recover from wounds like that overnight. When was the last time you saw him truly smile?"

Ziva had nodded remembering the blood that had covered her friend and team mate. Some of it had been the dog's…a lot of it had been Tim's. He'd sat quietly while Ducky patched him up…almost too quietly. She'd known trained Mossad officers who'd said more than Tim had when the stitches had been put in. at the time she'd been proud of her friend for being so stoic. Now she wonders how much of that had been stoicism and how much of it just McGee not wanting to draw more attention.

The video that Tony had put into McGee's computer had to have complicated things too. But aside from a bit of well deserved anger, Tim hadn't really commented about his injuries after that day. Tony would have milked it for all the Italian was worth but not Tim. The final straw had to have been when Abby had talked McGee into taking Jett on as a pet.

"McGee, when…" a soft snoring answers her question. He's asleep in the chair beside her.

She looks down into canine eyes. Those eyes are looking more than a little guilty at the human that he now belongs to.

"He does not sleep much does he?"

The dog can't hold her gaze. Ziva sighs and taps her foot for a minute wondering what to do. A soft whine brings her gaze back to the dog who's watching his master start to twitch. Ziva eases her friend out of the chair and onto the floor, putting his head in her lap as she does so.

"Oh, McGee, why did we not pay more attention to you, my friend?"

A soft bumping against her shoulder brings her gaze back to the canine who bumps her one more time with his head before lying down with his head on his paws. Obviously the dog was trying to convey his thanks for preventing Tim from falling out of the chair and maybe doing still more harm to himself.

Ziva strokes the hair out of her friend's eyes, and gently strokes his throat. At her light touch, Tim tenses briefly but senses who it is and starts to settle into a deeper sleep. Ziva looks around her; the floor is hard and not really conducive to a restful sleep. A quick smattering of paws against a kitchen floor followed by a strange swishing sound brings her gaze back to the dog who is alternately pulling and pushing his own bed towards her. Obviously this is something that has happened before as Tim sleepily starts to climb onto the dog's bed.

"McGee..." Ziva's starting to understand…what little sleep Tim's been getting has been due to Jethro putting his bed within Tim's reach so that he can get a few minutes of rest. Ziva has tears in her eyes as she gently pulls at Tim's arm. A soft whimper, not from the dog but the man has her narrowing her eyes as she whips out her knife and cuts off the shirt sleeve.

Bruises where first the bites, then the stitches had been still line his arm. Ziva growls when she sees smaller bruises, the size of finger prints just above the bite area. Jethro looks up at her when she growls and she stares at the canine in horror.

"Is this how she convinced him to take you in?"

Shame fills those dark canine brown eyes and Ziva places two quick phone calls. After what seems like hours but is in reality only minutes, Gibbs is letting not just himself but Ducky into the apartment.

"What happened Zee?"

"I wanted to see if I could get him to talk to me. Gibbs, he fell asleep before we finished eating and almost fell out of his chair he was so tired. When I tried to touch his arm to get him up so I could help him into his bedroom, he whimpered in pain and I found those!" She points to the bruises on his arm.

Ducky immediately starts to examine the bite area again and lightly touches the bruises that are just above the bite area. "Too small to be a man's hand Jethro."

Gibbs stares at Ziva who stares back at him. "I do not need to twist a man's arm Gibbs. I have no reason to try twisting McGee's and I would never try to intentionally hurt my first friend on your team."

Ducky whistles softly as he remembers a conversation he'd had with a certain lab rat

"What is it Duck?"

"Are you certain you want me to tell you?"

"Spit it out."

"I had asked Abigail just how she managed to get Timothy here to take in the same animal that had mauled him just days prior. She got a strange smile on her face Jethro and said that she twisted his arm. Oh I am sorry Timothy, my dear boy I did not realize she meant a literal twist."

"Why would my touch hurt him Ducky?"

"They are surface bruises my dear, and any contact would make him uncomfortable."

"What now, Duck?"

"Now we try to get him into his real bed Jethro." Ducky doesn't add that it might be something that is easier said than done.

"McGee! Bed now!"

"Yes, Boss!"

Three pairs of human eyes watch as Tim rolls awkwardly to his feet and shuffles into his bedroom. He doesn't close the door and they can see him barely lie down before the nightmares start to envelope him again.

"No…no…not bad…I didn't mean…it was him or I…why am I bad? I don't want…he hurt me first…you didn't have to…I would have taken him…why bad…why…"

Ziva can't take anymore and steps into the bedroom. She slips lightly onto the bed behind Tim and gathers him close.

"Shhh…you are safe McGee. I have your six."

"Ziva? You're safe...dog didn't bite you or Tony…or Gibbs?" His eyes haven't opened but he's running his hands over her face and neck needing verification that she was unharmed.

"Shhh…no, McGee we are all safe. You did your job well. You can sleep now. I have your back."

"Ziva?"

"Sleep Tim…I have your six"

"Zi-va…I...love…I love you…"

"Sleep…ahuv sheli…I am here."

Two men watch as a young couple take their first steps towards a new beginning. The older of the two with tears in his eyes. The younger won't admit to the mist covering his own silver blue gaze but he can't ignore the facts in front of him.

"Hey, Ziver…take the rest of the weekend off and tell Tim…in this case…rule 12 can be discussed at a later date. For now, let him rest."

A shining smile is his reward, as she slides her hand over Tim's hair. The young man responds by finally falling into a deeper sleep; a healing sleep Ducky declares as he takes a final pulse and nods at the woman holding her friend close.

"He should sleep the rest of the night. I would advise that you get some sleep too; when you can my dear."

"I will take bat naps when necessary, Ducky. For now, my friend needs me."

"Cat naps, Ziva…"

"No, bat nap…I do not think McGee could handle a cat."

"Not a feline one at any rate…" Ducky smiles at the smothered implication behind Gibbs' wording. The two men let themselves out and Gibbs waits until they are in the car before slamming his hand against the wheel.

"Why Duck? Why would Abby pull this and why wouldn't Tim come to me about it?"

"I should think that it's as obvious as the nose on your face Jethro; that you just answered your own question…Abigail knew that Timothy wouldn't come to you about it, as she is your favorite."

"That dog could have killed him… and I wouldn't have known until it was too late."

"Yes, but look at the relationships that are developing: not just the canine and the boy; but the boy and the new girl on the block as well."

Gibbs grunts at that reminder and gets a small smack on the sleeve as well as a reproachful look from old blue eyes. "They have so little time to make friends, Jethro. At least permit them to do that."

"Ziver said that he's been her friend since she joined our team."

"I believe that she told me once he was the first one with a smile for her Jethro. Quite remarkable so soon after Caitlyn's death; but perhaps not, he is Timothy after all."

"Meaning what Duck?"

"Only that Timothy's name means to honor God or his King…and your name means King…he would be honoring you Jethro…think about that for a while won't you…while they learn what it is to be friends…" and maybe something more, prays the old man. He's seen not just Tim's loneliness but Ziva's as well; and the small sparks that tend to fly when the young couple are left to their own devices. Unfortunately, life in the form of a case usually interrupts them before anything more than glances can be exchanged.

"Are you match-making Duck?"

"And if I am, Jethro?"

"I just hope you know what you're doing old man."

"I'm giving them both something to hold onto Jethro…a good friend if nothing else."

Gibbs nods as he starts up the car. He's still not sure how to approach Abby about her treatment of Tim. They arrive at Chez Mallard, and Ducky waits until he's almost out of the car before leaning back in and saying, "Now that Ziva knows, you should let her handle the Abby situation. You might be surprised by the end results."

Gibbs grunts, "As long as I don't lose any of my agents or my forensic scientist, I'm willing to let Ziva take the lead on this."

Ducky nods his approval and heads inside the house. Gibbs heads back to his own house where he heads immediately to the basement, his bourbon and his newest boat.

Back at Tim's apartment, Ziva drifts off to sleep, only to waken an hour or so later. Tim is smiling down at her, tracing the lines of her face and she returns the smile with a sleepy one of her own.

"I was hoping I hadn't dreamed this last night." Tim's hushed confession brings her hand up to his and Ziva gently nips his fingertips; he frowns at the sensation before continuing his perusal.

"No, ahuv sheli, this is no dream. We have a weekend off to see what may come and Gibbs has said that rule 12 can be discussed at a later time."

"I didn't dream him either…sigh…great, now he'll never see me as an agent…" the self doubt in his eyes makes her lightly tap the back of his head, bringing his green gaze back to her.

"No, now he sees you as an individual as well…and it is about time too."

"Can…can I hold you for the rest of the night, Ziva?"

For an answer she snuggles closer and sighs as she listens to his heart as his breathing deepens until he's once again asleep. She thinks back to the one conversation she'd had with her brother Ari, long ago when the two of them had still been children on the brink of adulthood.

"Ari, how will I know when I'm in love?"

"You'll know…he'll smile and you'll never be able to forget how handsome he looks. Every time you look into his eyes you'll know that that special someone is right there either in front of you or beside you. Then there will be how protective you feel about him you will want to shelter him from any and all harm."

"Will he let me protect him?"

"If he loves you, he'll try to protect you, and might understand that it is your nature to protect the one that you love too."

She flashes forward; a few short months before she'd been assigned to Gibbs team. Just before she'd been forced into killing her last remaining sibling. Ari had gone over the team roster with her and she'd been drawn to one particular photograph. Ari had plucked the photo from her hands and jokingly asked,

"Shall I protect him for you sister?"

"No, that honor is mine." She'd softly replied. Ari had gotten a funny look on his face and she wondered about it briefly before returning her attention to the others on the team; but her gaze had kept returning to the one of Tim McGee.

And now she's in Tim's arms, cradled protectively not just by a friend but hopefully one day a lover. Ziva thinks about Ari's words one more time as she starts to follow Tim into sleep, "Shall I protect him for you sister?"

Ziva's eyes snap open as she recalls another incident. This one with Jenny Shepherd, shortly after her arrival at NCIS. Jenny had taken her down to the evidence garage where the laptop that an agent had been using to jam a missile signal had evidently been shot at effectively destroying the machine. His car had taken damage too. Jenny had stated that the shots had occurred just before Agent Todd had been killed on the rooftop a short time later. Her arms tighten around Tim; he is the only active field agent with the knowledge of how to stop those missiles.

"Ari saved me just minutes before he shot Kate. That's why I was so confused, Ziva. Why did he shoot her when he'd saved my life only moments earlier."

"My brother was not always a monster, Tim; there was a time when he was a caring individual too. When he would wipe away my tears or help me to understand things that our father had no interest in. I asked him once how I would know if I was in love."

Tim shifts so that he's sitting up and she's in his lap, leaning against his chest. "How did he respond?"

She smiles as she looks into his emerald green eyes, "He said, 'You'll know… he'll smile and you'll never be able to forget how handsome he looks. Every time you look into his eyes you'll know that that special someone is right there either in front of you or beside you. Then there will be how protective you feel about him you will want to shelter him from any and all harm.'"

Tim smiles at the wording, then thinks about a song that Sarah had once downloaded, years ago off the internet. Ziva can tell that he's in thinker's mode as Tony calls it: Tim's eyes get a faraway look as if he's remembering something from the past that none of the others, maybe not even Gibbs can recall. Tim shakes his head. He can think about past songs later. For now he has the woman he's loved for years in his arms not to mention his bed. He also knows that even if he wanted to, he's too tired to do more than hold her.

Ziva watches as his eyes reflect that want, that need to be more than friends. She snuggles closer to his chest, and says, "Let us hold on to tonight Tim. Tomorrow we can discuss where we go from here."

Tim nods and they stretch out on the bed. Ziva stays curled into his side, content to watch as he falls asleep first. She hears a slight wuffling from the side of the bed and sees the dog wondering where he's going to sleep now. Ziva presses a quick kiss to McGee's cheek and scrambles off the bed heading back into the kitchen.

Straightening out the dog bed and putting it back in its corner, she points at it then looks at the canine and says, "That is your bed from now on. He will be occupying his own bed not just tonight but also in the future."

Soulful doggy eyes have no impact on her as she slips back onto the bed and into Tim's arms. As she finally follows Tim into sleep she sends up one final silent prayer to her older brother, "Thank you Ari, for protecting him for me."

Hold on to the Nights

lyrics by Richard Marx

Just when I believe
I couldn't ever want for more
This ever changing world
Pushes me through another door

I saw you smile
And my mind could not erase
The beauty of your face
Just for a while won't you let me shelter you.

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
If only I could give you more
If I could be yours

How do we explain
Something that took us by surprise
Promises in vain
Love that is real but in disguise

What happens now
Do we break another rule
Let our lovers play the fool
I don't know how
To stop feeling this way

Hold on to the night
Hold on to the memory
If only I could give you more

Well I think that I've been true
To everybody else but me
And the way I feel about you
Makes my heart long to be free

Every time I look into your eyes
I'm helplessly aware
That the someone
I've been searching for is right there

Hold on to the night
Hold on to the memory
I wish that I could give you more
Hold on to the night

A/N: For those who don't recognize the song or the artist...it's Hold on to the Nights by Richard Marx...and while I don't own anything aside from a few of his CD's...*sigh*...he's another one that Tigyr liked to dream about...^_^