The ride out to the school never happened as halfway there, Tim remembered that the case in question had already been closed – and smiled.
"What are you smiling about?" Tony asked.
"Turn around and go back to the office, Tony." Tim said, breathing a sigh of relief that his partner's name no longer affected him negatively like it had been doing earlier in the day.
"Tony, the Standford Case? Last month? Solved, water-tight, remember?"
"Right! Ooh, boss was playin' his devious card. That shark!" Tony grinned.
"Let's grab coffee for everyone and get back." Tim's thoughtful suggestion seemed like all was normal once again.
"Been pretty quiet since we got in the car, McGee." Tony attempted to draw his teammate out into another personal conversation.
"Got a lot to think about." Tim hedged cautiously, unwilling to go there again.
"Anything you wanna share?"
"Like, why you thought…never mind."
Tim breathed out slowly and took several quiet breaths before he replied. "Tony. They knocked me out several times. I had no idea what they did to me while I was out of it."
"Oh. But, wouldn't you have kn….? Never mind."
"Like I said, I wasn't level headed about this."
"No? Oh come on!" Tony snorted and shook his head. "McGee. You've got the most level head of anyone I know and it took that even keel you seem to stay on to keep you from letting it all out for the rest of the world to see what was going on. There's a big difference between keeping things locked up tight so you don't have to deal with it, and not thinking clearly."
"I meant what I said, McGoo. I'm here for you." Tony reminded him as they eased to a stop in the traffic line at the base gate.
"I know, Tony. I appreciate it. Really. But, I'd rather move on, if you don't mind. I don't want to keep letting this be a part of my life. It needs to be over and it won't be if I keep talking about it."
"So, back under that lock and key it all goes?" Tony quipped.
"It has to." Tim answered softly, looking away.
"Because you don't trust that I can be there for you or because ….?"
"Because I won't let it rob me of anything else. I worked too hard to get where I am and it's hard enough to keep it on a normal day; all of this crap just isn't helping. It's time to move on." Tim replied firmly.
"I can respect that. If you're sleeping right, eating right and not so keyed up you're ready to explode." Tony compromised.
"Okay, Ducky." Tim smiled softly.
"Hey, when the man's right; he's right." Tony threw back at him as he parked the car and turned it off, turning in his seat to look at his teammate.
"I know. And you're right. I promise, everything's okay." Tim told him as he looked at him with honesty and appreciation.
"Just make sure it stays that way."
"You expect me to have that much power over the crap that comes my way?" Tim scoffed as they began walking back to the building.
"Nope. I just expect you to respect your teammates enough to call them when you need help."
"Like you, ya mean?" Tim stopped and looked at Tony with something akin to anger. "Tony, don't be such a hypocrite. You never call the team, at least you never call me. So don't even go there with me. "
"No, forget it, I understand, it's not how you work. That's fine. Far be it for me to mess up what works for you. Just don't think you have the right to get pissed at me if I don't come to you."
"Wait, what the hell happened to you knowing I meant it when I said I was here for you?"
"I don't know, Tony. What did happen to it? I'm confused myself right about now. It sounds like you've gotten us stuck on some one-way street." Tim quipped with a smart-alec tone.
"Okay, McBrainiac. I get it. Yes, I expect you to call us for help when you need it and yes, I will try harder to do the same."
"There, that wasn't so hard now, was it, Tony?" Tim smirked as he resumed walking toward the building.
"You have no idea." Tony muttered.
Walking back into the squad room, Tim smiled softly at Ziva in greeting, went straight to his desk, and got back to work without a word or even a glimpse in the boss' direction. Gibbs looked the young man over from where he sat at his own desk, and noticed his youngest agent seemed uncomfortable walking back in and wondered what that was about. Knowing Tim would talk to him about it if and when he wanted to; the boss let the silence slip back into place as Tony silently slid in behind his desk and got back to work as well.
Soon, the afternoon had slipped away and early evening brought with it the chance to go home at a normal time. Since there had been no more disruptions within their team or in the squad room, Gibbs rewarded them by cutting them loose at the early hour of six.
"Go home!" he called out as he took himself out for fresh coffee.
Tony, Ziva and Tim all scrambled for their packs after quickly shutting down their workstations; although Tim was moving at a much slower pace than the other two.
"Hey, Probie, let's go get some chow."
"Only if we're treating Ziva to dinner." Tim threw out there with a smile in her direction.
"That would be lovely, McGee. Thank you." Ziva responded with a smile.
"Sure, why not?" Tony glibly added as the three of them trouped out together.
"Aren't we forgetting someone?" Tony asked.
"You mean Abby? No, she's had plans for tonight for several months now." Tim answered knowingly.
"Ah, yes, another one of her beloved concerts." Ziva offered in mock sadness.
"Don't remind me." Tim and Tony muttered in tandem as they got on the elevator.
Sitting out on his back deck, taking the time to enjoy the beauty of the thick blanket of stars overhead clearly seen in the full moon, Gibbs had set his mind on autopilot and wasn't weighed down under any one particular thought or problem for a change, thankful that Tim had found the stamina and strength to move on. The fact that Tony had found a way to help fix things with his 'little brother' was a bonus. The boss hadn't missed the fact that his three agents left the building together tonight and it had done his heart good to see they were all in good spirits when they left.
The sound of a car in his driveway, disturbed Gibbs' peace and quiet, but it was the unusual quality of the engine noise that caught his attention. He wasn't familiar with that make and model of car and wondered who it was. He didn't have long to wait before he heard the knock on his front door and realized it had to be Tim. He'd be the only one to knock besides Ducky and Gibbs knew what the M.E.'s car sounded like. Getting up, Gibbs strolled to the back gate and hollered over it.
"Out back, McGee."
Tim walked around the side of the house to the gate of Gibbs' backyard and found himself face to face with the man he'd come to talk to; although he had no idea what he'd come to say.
"C'mon in." Gibbs encouraged as he took in his agent's nervousness. "Want something to drink?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Wouldn't be here right now if that were true, would ya? What's on your mind?"
"Not really sure." Tim admitted as he found himself feeling pretty stupid for nearly falling apart over the phone earlier with Gibbs. Here he was trying to hold onto all things normal, he goes, and lets things get so far out of normal he almost hadn't recognized himself earlier.
"Can't read your mind, McGee." The boss reminded him as he sat down next to him on the back porch steps. "Spit it out."
"Guess I just wanted to thank you. For everything. Especially earlier today when I …"
"You didn't come here to thank me."
Tim looked down at his feet. As usual, the boss had him pegged but that didn't mean Tim knew how to say what was on his mind.
"Want you to go talk to someone, McGee."
Tim's head came up and his eyes snapped over to those of his boss. Gibbs wanted him to see a shrink? Gibbs hates shrinks and doesn't even credit them for anything good!
"Not a judgment, Tim. Anyone who went through what you did and all that crap after would be advised to do the same thing. Need you fit for field duty all the way around. Can't afford to risk what those dirt bags did to you, messin' with your head somewhere down the road because you never dealt with it." Gibbs read his mind and addressed the issue at hand.
"I've dea…" Tim objected.
"No you haven't. You've been so busy hiding it away so it doesn't see the light of day that you haven't let yourself deal with any of it. If you had, maybe Tony's name wouldn't have been such a punch in the gut to you all day today. "
The younger man's shoulders hunched in silent defeated agreement.
"You figure if you bottle it all back up, life will just go on and you can pretend it never happened. Not gonna happen, McGee. Trust me on this, all right? Next 30 days I want you on desk duty while you finish healing up and during that month, get your head wrapped around what happened and screwed on completely straight." The boss instructed calmly. "Get your return to the field signed off when the doc says you're ready and I'll be happy to send you back out."
Tim didn't know whether to feel shame or wanted. His mind couldn't figure this side of the boss out even if he was still issuing orders. Taking a deep breath and slowly letting it back out, he looked up at Gibbs for a half-second before he looked away; still unable to commit to what the boss was asking for.
Gibbs sighed and let the subject drop for now. "Going in for more coffee." He said as he turned and left Tim alone on the back porch steps.
When he came back out, Tim was gone. Feeling frustrated, Gibbs walked over to his gate and looked out at his driveway, only to see that Tim hadn't gone very far at all. The young man was standing there – in the exact spot he'd been dumped out of the car on that fateful night. Knowing his agent had to be trying to relieve that night for some reason, only served to pull on Gibbs' heartstrings.
Walking through the gate and on around the yard and coming to a standstill beside his agent, he couldn't help but feel the ache in his heart as he recalled the feelings of horror, anger and even fear that had swept him that night when he'd rolled this agent's badly beaten body over and discovered it was Tim. Looking at the young man now, he wasn't surprised to see his eyes clouded over, undoubtedly with a plethora of thoughts running through his brain.
"Hello, Jethro." The silence between them was broken by the sweet voice of his elderly neighbor. Mrs. Crawford. "Hello, young man, I don't believe we've ever met. I'm Julia Crawford. "
Brought from his troubled thoughts and memories that just wouldn't come no matter how much he tried to force them, Tim blinked and looked at the spritely woman standing next to his boss. "Hi." He returned her greeting bashfully.
"Mrs. Crawford, Tim McGee." Gibbs made the introductions calmly.
"This is the young man that got thrown from that car?" Mrs. Crawford asked warmly with surprise.
"Yes, Ma'am." Tim answered quietly.
"Well, young man, you certainly gave Jethro here the scare of his life, I can tell you that. Me too! I am so thankful to see that you are alive and well. You are well, aren't you?" She asked as she scrutinized him as if her eyes were microscopes seeing into his very heart and soul.
Tim glanced at Gibbs before looking the woman straight on. "I'm getting there." He answered her honestly.
"Good! I'd hate to know that those horrible people got the best of you! If you work for Jethro, you must be made of sterner stuff. I know what a bear he can be. And you just remember, young man, It doesn't make you less of a man to ask for help when you need it! I'm sure what you went through that night hasn't been easy to swallow." She offered with a look of utter conviction in what she was saying.
Tim didn't know what to say. Sterner stuff? He sure didn't feel like he fit that bill on most days and here on the spot, he felt even less like he fit it. But he did hear what she was saying. In essence, she was supporting Gibbs' instructions. The fact that Gibbs was standing there silently listening to his neighbor's advice on this subject was disconcerting and so he made an extra effort not to look the boss' way just yet.
He couldn't do this. It left him feeling too exposed. He finally looked at Gibbs before he spoke: "Okay. "
Gibbs looked at him for a long minute before he nodded in silent understanding and acceptance of what Tim was committing himself to.
Looking at the dear woman one last time, Tim spoke again. "Thank you Mrs. Crawford. It was very nice meeting you." Turning back to Gibbs, Tim had one last thing to say. "Thank you. For everything. I really should go." Tim murmured as he turned and walked up Gibbs' driveway to his car and got in, started it up and slowly backed out and began to drive away without looking back.
"Was it something I said, Jethro?" Mrs. Crawford asked worriedly.
"It's still pretty fresh for him. He'll be fine." Gibbs glanced at her and met her eyes for a moment before turning his eyes to watch as Tim drove away.
"You take good care of him, Jethro. He seems like quite a nice young man." The older woman gently admonished.
Gibbs's eyes remained locked on his agent's quickly disappearing vehicle as it drove down the street as he quietly promised:
"I will. We all will."