A/N: This story was written for the Secret Santa Story Exchange on NFA Community back in December of 2010.
It is complete and will be posted a chapter a day.
Takes place in Season 4
9 AM Wednesday – Dec. 13, 2006
"Agent Gibbs?" the female voice asked across the phone line as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs picked up his ringing desk phone. Scowling at the disruption, the Team Leader's grip tightened around the receiver before he spoke into it.
"Speaking." Gibbs' normal barked response to the ringing object had incited a moment of silence before the hesitant question was put to him.
"This is Megan McGee. I'm sorry to disturb you, but I'm really worried about Tim. I've been calling him for the past two weeks and he hasn't answered my calls or returned them. It's so cold outside now and I'm worried. Is he missing? Is he hurt? Is he…" Her voice broke at the obvious thought behind the question that she couldn't bring herself to finish.
Gibbs' eyes instantly flew across the room to lock onto his youngest field agent, Tim McGee's steadily working form. The young man had been increasingly quiet all week; for the last two weeks really. Actually, now that the Boss thought about it, he'd been withdrawn ever since he had that one day off from work a little more than two months ago. He'd barely said two words that weren't case related and no one had gotten him to talk about whatever was bothering him. Monday and Tuesday of this week had seemed to be even worse days for the young man and Tim seemed to be headed into some kind of downward spiral.
The Team Leader had noticed how Tim hadn't been eating and was and looking more and more every day like he wasn't sleeping well, either. It had Gibbs more than a little worried, but there wasn't anything that he could do without Tim being willing to open up to him. The young man's performance at work had not suffered or shown any signs of wavering under whatever stress he was under personally. But this? To let his family become worried about him like this just didn't' sound like the Tim McGee that his NCIS family knew."Everything's fine." Gibbs answered her cryptically. He wanted to ease her mind without bringing attention about who it was he was talking to and why. The last thing any of his agents needed was the whole team being privy to something that was obviously a private matter, unless it absolutely couldn't' be helped.
"His sister says he's never home and won't answer or return her calls either. She's hesitant to speak to you for me. I think she's still petrified of you from when you cleared her of that murder charge." Mrs. McGee continued on, as if she felt the need to fully explain why she'd bothered to come to him for answers about her son. "He's there at work, isn't he?" She suddenly asked with a note of understanding in her voice.
"Yes. And like I said, everything's fine. If you'd like I'll get to the bottom of it." Gibbs politely offered while his eyes wandered to his team members briefly.
Around the room, things were seemingly running smoothly with every agent on Gibbs' team quietly doing their job. To the naked eye, it appeared that every one of them were the epitome of concentration as they stayed on the task before them. If anyone had asked what the definition of complete focus on a case was, the person answering that question would say that this team, at that very moment, was that definition… but they would be wrong.
Tim was in his tunnel vision mode, with only his computer and the quest for knowledge for the current case to keep him company. He was apparently hearing nothing outside his own brainwaves crackling under pressure. Tim would fit that definition, as an individual, but only if you didn't look closely at his expressive eyes.
Tony heard what the Boss was saying and what he wasn't. The look he saw Gibbs send over to Probie didn't go un-noticed, and Tony's senses immediately switched into their 'hyper-aware' mode. He followed suit with Gibbs and glanced across to look Tim over. The fact that his partner's shoulders were slumped as he hunched over computer gave him reason to believe that he hadn't been reading into things too much; especially given Tim's behavior over the past two weeks. Now? Well now he knew that his Probie was bothered by something and the gut feeling he'd felt recently seemed to twist painfully.
Ziva remained seemingly unfailingly focused on her work, but if the observant person would look closely, they'd see that she too was now equally focused on what she was hearing and correlating it to what she knew as well as the concerns that Abby had voiced. If they looked closely into her eyes, they'd see the glimmer of concern and the gleam of intent to find out what was going on with her teammate and friend.
"Thank you, Agent Gibbs, but I know from what Tim's told us, that your team doesn't have time for personal issues. I can relax now that I know he's safe and obviously just choosing not to talk to me. I guess I can't say I'm surprised I haven't heard from him since the last time I spoke with him two Saturdays ago. His team was working on a case that weekend but I needed him to come home for something important.
I got him to come home, reluctantly, but he drove right back that same night. He was so upset about having to come home after working all day and with having to go to work that Sunday, on top of it. Add to that, what happened when he got home and I should count myself lucky if he ever talks to me again, I suppose. It is upsetting that he won't talk to his sister, though.
I was hoping with Christmas and New Year's coming up, that we'd finally get to see him for the holidays, but that's not likely to happen now. He's always been so forgiving, until now. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be bothering you with this. Thank you for easing a mother's heart about her son, Agent Gibbs. I know I can count on you to watch out for him and take care of him for me." Mrs. McGee ended the call, leaving Gibbs more than slightly upset with his agent for worrying his mother so, even as her incidental revelations rang through his head
But, she'd been right about one thing, this was a personal issue and Gibbs had no say in it. Still, it rankled him and worried him that his normally 'polite to a fault' team member would be so thoughtless and insensitive as to worry his own mother and sister like this. And what about the guy's father? Didn't he deserve to know his son was okay?
Looking over at him now, the boss could see that Tim was actually wearing the look of someone who had been trying like hell to get through each day on as normal a keel as possible. It was in his eyes. The sliver of hurt, the glint of anger, and even the worsening signs of sleep deprivation. But, working steadily and with his normal intensity, as Tim was, he couldn't be faulted and shouldn't be disturbed for this. There was little the boss could do but sit back and watch for any further signs of problems. He wasn't even sure he had the right to berate the young man for not letting his family know he was okay for the last two weeks. Maybe he'd get Ducky's opinion on that one.
With that thought in mind, Gibbs picked up his coffee cup and headed out, presumably to get coffee. Pulling out his phone, he took himself into the elevator and hit the button for Autopsy as he hit the button to make his call.
Ducky was already alone when Gibbs arrived, having sent Jimmy on an extended break since Gibbs had let it be known ahead of time with his phone call, that he needed to talk. One look at the Senior Agent's face and the M.E. knew his friend was indeed troubled about something.
"Something happen to one of your agents, Jethro?"
"Not sure, Duck." Gibbs answered as he took a seat in the chair beside Ducky's desk and relayed the conversation he'd just had with Mrs. McGee to the M.E.
"Ah, and you're here to ask me if you should pry, I take it?"
"Duck, this is McGee, we're talkin' about. You know as well as I do that this isn't like him."
"With all due respect, Jethro, none of us really know what his true relationship with his family really is. The boy has always been remarkably tightlipped about it."
"I know Duck, but he's got more manners in one muscle than the rest of us have in our whole body, you excluded. Kinda tells me that if he learned that growing up, that he…?"
"Would first apply it to his interactions with his own family? Yes, Jethro. I do see where that would be the normal assumption." Ducky agreed.
"Well, as you said. This is Timothy that we're talking about. But, unlike you, Jethro, I see where his consistent lack of talking about his private life has left copious amounts of room for unspoken problems and stresses to be residing beneath the surface. And as the bountiful supply of less than pleasant situations that he's managed to get himself into during his tenure here have shown, he keeps everything locked up inside quite well."
"While I can see that your mind is set on getting him to let you in on whatever is bothering him; I must warn you that it may very well be a task best left up to those who have previously taken the time to actually show him that they are his friends and not just an agent on the payroll."
"And who would that be?"
There's Abby for starters. I'd venture that even Ziva might fall into that category; although I can't be sure how Timothy feels about speaking to her about things like this. To be honest, Jethro, I would hesitate to ask her outright. I do believe even Anthony has taken that road with Timothy on occasion, specifically after the poor lad shot that undercover police officer."
"Ducky, that was over a year ago."
"Yes and therein lays the problem, Jethro."
"Ducky, just say it, will ya?"
"Jethro, if one hasn't taken the time to attempt to get to know that young man beneath the surface, then one cannot rightfully expect him to let them into his inner sanctum simply because they finally realize there's something wrong in his life." Ducky explained with a touch of frustration mixed with anger. He never could fathom how this team remained so tight-knit when they spent so little time getting to know each other as people.
"I just wanted your opinion on whether or not I should say anything to him about worrying his family like this, Duck."
"Absolutely not, Jethro. Although, I believe you already know that. If you came down here looking for me to condone you intruding into his private life in such a fashion, I'm afraid you've simply set yourself up to be disappointed."
"Didn't exactly ask to be put in the middle of this, Duck. His mother called me."
"Yes, Jethro, and you've set her mind at rest, and even she knows where to draw the line when it comes to attempting to force Timothy to talk about something or do something he isn't voluntarily doing himself."
"I hear ya. Thanks, Duck."
"You're welcome, Jethro. Although, I must say, I do not like that look in your eyes, as I'm certain it means you are far from letting this matter be dropped."
"He's one of my people, Ducky. Not gonna let him get buried under whatever this is. He's already been losin' sleep over it."
"Why didn't you say so to begin with?"
"Needed to tell you about what his mother had to say, first."
"Yes, well, do keep an eye on him, Jethro."
"Plannin' on it, Duck. Thanks." Gibbs replied as he headed out, this time, with genuine intent to get a fresh coffee.
While he walked to the coffee shop, his mind raced. Ducky was right, his team hardly ever took the time to try to get to know each other on a personal level. Well, no, that wasn't necessarily true. Ziva and Tony were constantly trying to figure each other out and were never quiet about it.
No, the mystery was McGee. While Tony and Ziva made efforts to find out things about him, Tony methods usually involved pushing the envelope on intrusive and mocking when he made the attempts and so Gibbs was never surprised when McGee didn't open that door and let the Senior Field Agent in. With Ziva, Tim seemed a little more receptive, almost as though he thought he'd be insulting her friendship if he didn't let her in to those little pieces of himself when she asked. Still, no one really knew who Tim was on the inside, with the exceptions of the qualities of himself that came through with his job performance.
Gibbs recalled being relieved when McGee and Abby broke up seemingly just as soon as he'd pulled the young man from Norfolk onto his team. Abby. If anyone knew Tim on a personal level and would be able to find out what was going on; it would be Abby, of that Gibbs was sure. If anything really bad was going on, she'd tell Gibbs. Wouldn't she? Would she? Pulling out his cell phone, he called his Lab Rat.
"Hey, Gibbs, I don't have anything for you right now. My babies are cold and lonely from lack of evidence. Your timing is off unless you're calling with something for me to test."
"Abbs, if you're not running anything right now, come over to the coffee shop. Need to talk to ya."
"Am I in some kind of trouble?"
"No, no trouble."
"Okay, I'll be there in fifteen."
"Make it ten."
"Yes, My Silver haired fox."
"Abby!" Gibbs warned.
"Okay, Sorry. I'll be right there."
"Gibbs?" Abby asked in concern as she walked up to him ten minutes later. Bundled up against the cold, she resembled a black bear on two legs
Gibbs had to smile at the thought as it crossed his mind."Here." The he said in return as he handed her one tray of coffees while he took a second one off the counter and led the way out the café.
"What's this about?" the Lab Rat persisted.
"How close are you with McGee?" Gibbs asked as they slowly walked back to the office building; the bitter wind whipping at his uncovered head without mercy. It was bad enough the temperature, once it had decided to act normal for this time of year, had done so unforgivingly and now hovered near 35 degrees.
"What? We're not breaking your rule #12, if that's what you're asking. Wait! Why are you asking?"
"Not what I meant, Abbs. Does he tell you everything that's going on with him?" Gibbs asked seriously.
"No, and I wish he did. I mean I wish he would. I can see something's going on with him, has been for the last two weeks. But, he won't talk to me. Every time I ask him what's bothering him, he just gives me that tiny smile of his that means he's not gonna talk about it, but he appreciates the concern."
"Whatta ya mean, you know something's going on with him?"
"Gibbs, he's been extra quiet lately, almost like he's trying not to be on anyone's radar. Haven't you seen it?"
"Well, yeah, Abby, I have. I just wanted to know what other things you've noticed that clued you in."
"Meaning, you wanna make sure you don't miss the signs next time?" Abby grinned.
"Not laughin' here, Abbs."
"Right. Okay. He won't come see me unless you send him, which means he's avoiding me because he knows I'll push him to talk about it and he doesn't want that. For the last two weeks, he's refused every offer to go out with the team after work and although, that in itself isn't anything unusual, the fact that he's not even bothered to come up with an excuse any time, is. Every time he's refused, he's had this really sad, beaten down look in his eye, like whatever's going on with him is getting too heavy for him to carry. But, when I ask him to talk to me, he just gives me that smile and a small shake of his head; won't even answer the question of why he won't let me in."
"Yeah. Tony and Ziva have been watching him like a hawk for the same reasons and they only do that when they're worried about him. Plus, I've tried to pop in on him after work and he's never, ever there. He's not returning phone calls or emails and even his sister has called me because he won't return her calls either. In fact, he's not returning anyone's calls or texts. I'm tellin' you, Gibbs, there's something going on with him!"
"Okay. Thanks, Abbs."
"What are you gonna do? Wait! You're not gonna try to push him to talk, are you? Gibbs, he won't talk to you about it. If he won't talk to me, his best friend, it's pretty much a given, that he's not gonna talk to you." Abby warned.
"Abby. I'm not gonna push him to talk. Not my style." He reminded her.
"Oh, Right." The Goth replied as they neared their building.
As they entered the building, Abby parted company from Gibbs to head down to Autopsy with the tray of drinks she'd carried back that held Ducky's and Palmer's drinks as well as her own. Gibbs entered the squad room and was instantly made aware of just how bad things were by the intense silence that still permeated the air.
In the time he'd been gone, nothing seemed to have changed. Everyone was still just as occupied and focused as they had been when he left. He'd noticed their little nuances that let him know they were focusing on more than just their work. But, given the effort they were putting into getting though the case, he wasn't gonna mess with what was working. Silently, he went about the room, setting each agent's drink down on their desk and then returning to his own desk and getting back to working the case at hand.
Each agent had their own little moment of reaction to the rare and completely unexpected gift of a drink placed on their desk by non-other than their usually not so openly giving boss. Tony's eyebrows shot up to his hairline and a grin lit up his face, even if he refused to look Gibbs' way. He knew that if he did that, it would ruin the moment and garner him a patented "Gibbs" glare. Refusing to look a gift horse in the mouth, particularly this gift horse, Tony settled for taking a long moment to savor his fresh coffee, fixed just the way he liked it. Ziva smiled a genuine smile of appreciation, glanced over at Gibbs while she still wore her refreshing smile and mentally willed him to look her way and see her appreciation. As if in synch with her thoughts, Gibbs did look over at her and silently nodded his acceptance of her show of appreciation. Both of them returned their attention to their work.
Across the room, as the cup was placed on his desk, Tim's brain stopped in mid stride as if someone had slammed the 'on' button into the 'off' position without warning. Even his breathing missed a step and as he struggled to regain control of that, he looked at the cup and the giver of it; who was by now, sitting down behind his own desk, and felt a wave of appreciation rise up. Not willing to make a public show of it, he seemed to get right back to work after that momentary stop. Truthfully, he hadn't gone back to work at all, but had merely opened his email program and sent a new email out, before sipping at his refreshing drink for a minute, setting it down, and taking advantage of the slow point he'd been brought to, and taking himself to the head.
Gibbs watched Tim as he reacted, silently and seemingly not at all, unless you'd been watching for it like he had been. When his email pinged to announce a new email, somehow, he knew it was from McGee before he even looked to see. Sure enough, when he opened it, he found he was right.
Although it was short and to the point, the fact that Tim had sent him an email, something the young man knew Gibbs hated and usually didn't check with any degree of regularity, seemed a little off to Gibbs. Oh, well, that was something to worry about later. Right now, they were working on the case without disruption and he'd take that whenever he could get it.
It was seven that night, before Gibbs considered that they'd put in enough work and needed the break and the chance to recharge their batteries and rest their brains. "Go home" he offered without warning.
As his words managed to penetrate the overworked brains of his agents, the reactions while different in detail, were similar in speed; that of delayed reaction; a true testament of how focused they'd been. Tony, as usual, was the first to process the words and begin to act on them, even as Ziva soon reached that same moment of understanding and also began shutting down her work for the night. Tim, on the other hand, barely registered that he'd heard, but his slowing speed on the keyboard along with the blinking of his eyes were the signals that he had in fact heard and processed the call. Satisfied that his team was gonna get the chance to get a good night's rest, Gibbs left them to the chore of packing it in for the night, and headed out for a refill of coffee and the chance to stretch his legs.
When he returned to the squad room, he was surprised to find McGee still here. He almost overlooked the young man when he'd sat back down at his desk and in fact; probably wouldn't have noticed that he was even still here if it hadn't been for Ducky's quiet arrival just then, who, when quietly asked what was wrong, had silently nodded his head in the direction of the window by the stairs. When Gibbs looked over there, he found Tim McGee, leaning against the wall, his head resting against the wall where it met the window pane.
"I got this, Duck. Go home. Get some sleep." Gibbs quietly bid his friend.
"Have a good night, Jethro and please, do not frighten the poor boy off. It's obvious he already has more than enough on his mind." His friend warned.
"I got it, Duck. Go on." The Senior Agent vowed.
"Very well. See you tomorrow, then." Ducky offered as he took himself to the elevator, for once, not saying anything to Tim, so he didn't disturb him. He seemed to need whatever headspace he'd escaped to.
Once Ducky had gone, Gibbs walked the long way back around the stairs, to come up on the other side of Tim without disturbing him, so he could get a better idea of what was going on. Knowing the young man's eyes usually told more than his voice did, the boss wanted to see what he could before disturbing him. What he saw, when he looked into those eyes, was misery. That was the sum of it all. Whatever this was, had set him down in misery, deep enough that he'd allowed himself to get lost in its' depths when he thought himself alone.
"McGee." Gibbs attempted to penetrate the fog that appeared to have swallowed Tim's mind. As his agent remained lost in where ever it was he'd gone to, Gibbs tried again, a little louder this time. "McGee!"
That time it worked and Tim twitched as he was startled out of his thoughts and back to the here and now of where he was. As he looked toward the voice that had disturbed him, embarrassment filled his eyes, even as he quickly away in hopes the boss wouldn't have noticed anything of what he was thinking or feeling.
"Sorry, Boss. I'll be going now." Tim offered quietly as he turned to go grab his backpack out of his chair and head out.
He'd taken all of two steps when a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder froze his feet mid-stride. "McGee. Stop." Gibbs requested without bite.
Tim did as he was asked and stopped moving, although he couldn't bring himself to look anywhere but down at his own feet, his sense of embarrassment so strong.
"Look at me, Tim." The boss requested, hoping the use of the young man's first name and in a less than life-threatening situation would help him relax.
Again, Tim did what was asked of him, even though it took him a good minute to find the nerve to drag his eyes up off the floor and force them on up to meet those of his boss.
"What's going on?" the gentle question was almost more than Tim could handle. That much was evident as the plethora of emotions filtered through the young man's eyes, all in the space of less than a minute.
The fight his agent had just waged, however brief it had been, to look him in the eye, had been just as telling, as the less than settled look in his eyes now. When the silence between them lengthened with Tim's inability to speak of what was on his mind, Gibbs knew he couldn't expect an answer but also knew he needed to do something to give this kid, not only some breathing room, but also an anchor to grab onto, should he choose to do so.
"McGee. I've always said my door's always open. That means for you, too. You know where to find me if you decide you wanna talk." Gibbs squeezed the young man's shoulder in a show of support and then left him alone, knowing it was the best thing he could do for him at the moment.
As he closed down his work station and headed to the elevator, he kept his peripheral vision locked on Tim, noticing he had remained frozen in place, almost like the poor kid was afraid he'd discover that the moment of compassion from his boss wouldn't really have happened if he woke up and moved. Clearly, the boss needed to bolster his show of support. Walking back over to him, the older man gently threw his still struggling agent another anchor.
"McGee, I'd like to help, if you'll let me. My phone works just as well as my front door does." With another gentle squeeze to the shoulder, Gibbs left him, this time heading out of the squad room completely.
When the ding of the elevator registered on Tim's brain; his feet somehow took that as their cue to move, taking him, seemingly on autopilot, to his desk, where his hands, also of their own accord, reached out and grabbed his backpack, and his feet, once again, marched to their own beat, taking him to the elevator and down toward the way home. As his feet moved, his brain seemed to once again, take up filtering the thoughts that had gotten lost behind the cloud of numbness he'd felt saturate him earlier.
Home…it used to be that that word meant comfort and security, love without judgment or conditions, support unending, and grounding physical shows of affection whenever they became an anchor to hold onto through life's storms. Now, Tim couldn't even think of that word without it bringing up enough bile in his throat that even the mere thought of it made him sick to his stomach.
How was it that people who raised their children with such moral codes as honesty and integrity, chivalry and knights rescuing damsels in distress, even in the modern world, could be so innately dishonest to those very children they'd instilled those beliefs and traits in? Who the hell had ever heard of such a contradiction? It was preposterous! It was crazy! It was painful! It was wrong! And it hurt like hell!
As he got in his car, and started it up, his hands froze in their motions before he even got the car in drive. Why had his boss taken such a compassionate road with him just now? What was going on? Even more importantly, why hadn't Tim taken him up on his offer to let him in? Well, it's not like he's ever offered before. Hell, we've never said two words to each other that weren't about someone else or work. But, damn it, I sure wish I could talk to him. No! He wouldn't understand! He'd just tell you to get over it! That's the Marine in him! You'll only feel worse after he gets done with tryin' to toughen you up over this! He's not the right one to let in!
But, Tim didn't feel comfortable talking to any of the others either. Their own family dynamics being what they were didn't leave room for them to understand where he was coming from either. Feeling more alone now than when he'd first found out, he turned his car off, laid his arms across his steering wheel, rested his head on his arms, and let the tears flow.