a/n - You guys rock :) Last chapter, along with a moment of weakness, but I think he's earned it. We've gathered enough pieces to restore my files for Puppet Master, so that's what I'm going to be working on this weekend. With any luck, I'll have the final chapter of that one posted the first of the week, so now would be a good time to re-read Puppet Master. If you're reading that one for the first time, notice what I didn't warn about and just keep reading. The first chapter of But not Forgotten, the sequel to Left Behind, will be posted Wednesday.

"Leroy, it's the middle of the night, what are you doing awake?" Jackson had been dozing, easily awakened by the rustling as Gibbs sat up in his hospital bed.

"He's alone, doesn't even have an advocate to watch out for him. How can I sleep?" Gibbs stood at the window, staring out at the darkness. "I need to be in there with him. I need to talk to him."

Jackson came up behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know you do, Son, but what about what he needs right now? He's canceled your proxy and is refusing visitors, maybe you should let him have his peace for a few days."

"That's not the way his mind works, Dad. He's convinced himself he doesn't matter to us and every screw-up while we were trying to get him off that mountain just reinforced it. He doesn't expect any of us to visit, but by refusing visitors..."

"He can blame the restrictions when no one comes. That's some convoluted logic there, Leroy."

"That's the difference between my two boys. Tony tends to jump before he thinks, but Tim over thinks things."

It was starting to make sense to Jackson. "When Tony gets himself into trouble, you're able to step in, but Tim's problems are a little harder to spot. You don't react as quickly, he thinks it's because he doesn't matter as much."

Gibbs had to smile at how simple his father made it sound. "Usually they balance each other out. Tony won't know when to quit, eventually Tim will get mad and stand up for himself and then Tony makes it up to him."

"Quite a cycle."

"Yeah, and each time Tim gets a little better at not letting Tony get to him and Tony gets a little better about thinking first. If King hadn't sabotaged things..."

"Talk me through it, what would have happened if this man, King, hadn't gotten involved?" Having only raised one boy, Jackson wasn't too experienced with brothers, but he was catching on.

"The truck would have arrived about two hours after the chopper left. He'd have been mad and cold, but that's it. His ankle didn't seem all that bad when we left, so after he'd had the coffee and donuts Tony brought him the next morning, I'd have sent him down to Ducky to get it checked and I'd have read DiNozzo the riot act while he was gone. Ziva would have made Tony do all of McGee's running around and I would have made him do the lunch run even though it wasn't his turn. By the end of the day Tony would have suggested the two of them have a pizza and movie night. If he was still feeling guilty, he'd let Tim pick out the movie. If he was feeling really guilty still, he wouldn't even whine about what McGee picked."

"Good thing they're not predictable."

This time Gibbs didn't smile. "All that doubt and self-questioning, he's been alone way too long. I need to get in there, I need to get through to him."

"So you're just going to march up there with your butt hanging out of that hospital gown?"

Frustrated, Gibbs turned around, almost losing his balance. Jackson grabbed his arm before opening his overnight bag and tossing him a pair of sweatpants. "If we're going to sneak in there, wait until after they do your hourly check. That'll give us more time."

Gibbs caught the pants. "Us?"

"Well, the way I see it, you're going to need a distraction to get past his nurses."

"Thanks, Dad."


Nerves were setting in and Ziva gladly paid for two highly overpriced mixed drinks when the stewardess came by. Sarah gratefully showed her ID and took one of the glasses, downing a third of it before setting it down on the tray.

Ziva was also well into her drink before she set it down next to Sarah's and turning to the younger woman. "Bubbles?"


"Why would you spit bubbles at your brother?"

The alcohol hitting her bloodstream made her giggle even more. "I guess they don't wash your mouth out with soap in Mossad."

"No, they do not. Is that an effective punishment?"

"Let's just say it makes the point. Bad language is one thing Mama won't tolerate."

Ziva nodded and took another drink before sitting straight up. "You have a middle name."

"Of course I do."

"But your brother does not."

"Neither does our father or his father and tradition is very important to Daddy. Now, before we get there, I need you to tell me everything that happened to my brother."

Ziva was convinced there was more to the story, but Sarah was right. She needed to know exactly what her brother had gone through if she were to help him heal.


As the nurse was checking Jethro's vital signs and reflexes, Jackson took a short break to stretch his legs. Since it hadn't been all that long since his son had been in the intensive care unit, none of the nurses reacted to seeing him in the hallway. He kept a steady pace, checking the room numbers listed on the white board at the nurses stations and noting the location of Tim's room in relationship to the stairs and the elevator. While he waited for the elevator to take him back upstairs, the old fighter pilot began to formulate a plan.


George McGee dropped his reading glasses onto the coffee table as he rubbed his eyes. "Ah hell, Cub, your mom's right, I was too damn busy trying to turn you into a man to notice when you did." Feeling every bit of his age, George stood and gathered the papers to move into the dining room. There, he spread out the reports before retrieving his world atlas and the laptop Tim had bought him for his birthday. It was time he learned everything about modern pirates, terrorists and everything that had happened to his son in Somalia.


Jackson smothered a smile when his son complained to the nurse about them always waking him up and she assured him that it would be four hours before his next check and she'd make sure he wasn't bothered in the meantime. As soon as she left, Gibbs threw the blankets back and swung his legs over the edge of the bed while Jackson watched to see if the coast was clear. When he looked back, Gibbs was expertly removing the tubing from the IV and capping the needle that was taped down to his arm. "Should I be worried that you know how to do that?"

Gibbs didn't answer as he carefully pulled a t-shirt on, making sure it didn't catch on the loop of plastic on his arm that was not secured. A pair of slippers was next, and then Jackson nodded and they quietly and quickly slipped out the door while the nurses were distracted. Not wanting to risk getting caught waiting at the elevators, they used the stairs, Jackson holding on to him tightly as they went down one flight. Finally away from the nursing staff that would recognize them, they took the elevator down three more levels before going back to the stairs.

Gibbs watched through the narrow window in the door as Jackson moved down the hallway, leaning more and more on his cane as he went, finally going down onto his knees as he rounded the corner, leaving the way clear for Gibbs. As soon as the coast was clear, Gibbs moved towards McGee's room. Not too fast, he didn't want to catch anyone's attention, but quickly enough that he was through the door before any of the nurses with Jackson could call for help.

Rooms in intensive care were never totally dark and Gibbs' eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. The figure on the bed was buried in blankets but still trembling, his head turned away from the door.

"Could I have another blanket please?"

Knowing that Tim thought a nurse had come in, Gibbs picked up one of the blankets from the stack and shook it out before spreading it over the other man. Tim's eyes were closed, but when he felt hands carefully smooth the blankets and tuck them against him, they opened and he turned his head.

"Hey." Gibbs' voice was just above a whisper as Tim stared at him. Never breaking eye contact, Gibbs reached out and found the release for the bed rails and lowered the rail on that side before sitting on the edge of the mattress. Since McGee was propped up in the bed it put them eye to eye.

Tim bit his lip to keep it from trembling. "I told them no visitors."

"I know," Gibbs reached out and brushed his hair back off his forehead. "But you've been alone too much."

"No big deal, I'm used to it." No matter how much Tim might protest, those green eyes never could lie to him.

"Yeah, it was a big deal, and it shouldn't have happened. None of it should have happened and I'm sorry." He moved closer and pulled Tim the last few inches to rest his head on Gibbs' shoulder. Tim wasn't accepting the comfort, but Gibbs was determined to ride it out.


Jackson played the part of the frail old man until he saw a nurse notice what was happening in McGee's room. He caught up with her and grabbed her arm just as she was pushing the door open. "Now just hold your horses and give them a minute to work this through."

She wasn't at all convinced. "The patient gave strict orders that he didn't want visitors."

"Watch." Jackson didn't let go as they observed the struggle.

"You promised." Tim's voice was ragged as his hands weakly beat against Gibbs' back.

"I'm sorry."

"You promised."

They watched as his hands stilled before grasping the thin fabric of the t-shirt and the anger in his voice gave way to sobs. Deep, heart-wrenching sobs that seemed to come from his very soul.

"You promised... and then I saw the helicopter leave... and they didn't even look for me... and you were gone... and I was alone again, but you promised... you promised."

"I'm sorry." Gibbs knew that later would be the time to explain how he hadn't even been aware of his own rescue, how he'd woken in a hospital room asking about McGee, how horrified he'd been to discover that his rescuers had not noticed the signs of McGee in the cave. Right now all that mattered was to convince Tim to let him in, that he wasn't alone anymore. "I'm sorry."

Convinced the tide had turned, Jackson pulled the door shut. The large window into the room didn't exactly give them privacy, but at least the whispered comfort would not be overheard by strangers. By now several nurses from upstairs had come to collect their wayward patient and he shook his head at them. "If you don't want him to check himself out AMA, then I suggest you figure out how to fit a second bed in there, because I guarantee you, my son isn't leaving his boy, not for a second."

Gibbs' nurse watched for a moment longer as her patient spoke softly to the young man that was leaning against him before leaving to make the necessary call. She'd let the doctors sort this one out. McGee's nurse seemed to agree as she made a call. Jackson made his own call, grateful for the phone Vance had slipped into his hand. "Yeah, Ducky? Leroy's in with Tim right now. I know, but it's a start."

Next up: But not Forgotten

The corner may have been turned, but healing will be a long time coming. As McGee struggles to recover and learn to trust again, the team finds that the case that started it might not be over after all. The arrival of Bear McGee, with his own agenda, complicates matters even further.