This is my entry for the White Elephant Exchange on NFA. A big thank you to dreamsweetmydear for her wonderful prompt that inspired this story.


Chapter 1

He sat with his head resting on the cool window, watching as the snowflakes flurried past him like soft white petals of his past. In his mind, the snowflakes that drifted past the windows as they drove along, seemed to take a little bit of him with them. Eventually, they would melt away to nothing leaving him with less, than what he set out with…and that wasn't much. It wasn't that he was philosophical…no, this was a new beginning; a chance to finally escape the turbulent short life that he'd led. At the tender age of seven, he was bright as a shiny new penny and smart. Not just a clever boy, but truly gifted, though this never shone through because he was trodden down by a life of alcohol and violence by someone he loved. This past and all its terrors meant that the once bubbly, little boy was now withdrawn and barely spoke. He didn't push himself to excel and suffered terribly with a melancholic depression that made it damn near impossible for anyone to get near him emotionally. Right now, he just let other people take the lead and take him wherever they wanted him to go because after all, his past might be the past, but the lingering physical and emotional scars that he bore stayed with him and weighed down on his small shoulders.

"How are you doing Timothy?" He turned to the soft voice of the Social Worker that was taking him to his new temporary home. Truth be told, she was a warm and wonderful person but his trust in the human race had pretty much been ripped away from him and he was having a hard time finding it again. Amy was nice to him though, and she was the only person that he now spoke to because she had somehow broken through his walls and he found himself actually liking the woman.

"Um…I'm o…okay." He said shyly, his stammer betraying the nervousness that he felt.

"You sure? They're good people, Tim. You know, they have a little girl round about your age. I think there's only a couple of months between the two of you, so you'll have someone your own age to talk to."

"I d…d…don't want t…t…to."

"You don't want to? Oh Tim. Come on honey, I know she can't replace your sister, but there's no harm in you having a friend. It's hard for you, I get that but at least try. For me?"

Tim nodded gently, his soft ashy blond hair, bouncing slightly. She smiled softly at the sight and hoped that the family he was going to be with for the time being, would get his hair cut because it was starting to get in his eyes. That was another thing that damn near broke her heart. This little boy's eyes were large and the most amazing green she had ever seen; it was just a shame that they had been deadened by the tragedy that he'd bore witness to and the hell he'd had to live through since that horrible day, at the hands of his father.

"M…may…be."

"Tim, you need to be able to trust people. It's hard, I know that but please, they are taking you into their home and they are willing to give you something that you never had before."

This piqued his interest…what was it that he'd never had before? "W…What?"

"A childhood. Let them break through your walls, Tim. Just for a little while. You can be wary, that's to be expected, but don't lock them out completely."
Amy's advice was sound and he sighed heavily as he rested his head back against the window. Once again, Tim's defenses had quickly risen and he'd shut down completely. She shook her head and pulled up outside a house with a beautifully crafted porch which led to a front door that had warm light streaming through the windows. Tim watched
the snow as it glinted in the light and settled on the front yard.

"What if….W…w…wh…"

"Tim. Look at me." Amy said softly and reached over to cup the child's chin. "They will like you. They are a warm, loving family that has offered to take you into their home. They know about some of your background and don't cast any kind of aspersions on that." She knew it was okay to use the larger words because Tim understood them. His brilliance had been trampled down to the point where he was afraid to excel and by using the terminology that she did, she hoped that he would once again push himself to excel.

"I…I Kn…know. I'm s…scared."

Those eyes. They were so full of an innocent hope that broke her heart every time she looked deeply into them. It was a rare occurrence to see this though and she was reminded of the other occasions where she had looked into them and saw nothing but raw, agonizing emotional pain that threatened to rip this little boy apart.

"Don't be honey. Trust me. You've got to give them a chance otherwise you will have to go back to the home and I know you didn't like it there."

"N…No." His eyes filled with tears at the thought of going back to that horrible, impersonal place and Amy felt his pain. She'd been in the system herself, but had been lucky enough to find a family that loved her and adopted her.

"Come on sweetheart. Let's go meet them at least." She smiled as he wiped away the tears with the back of his hand and picked up the small hat on his lap. He paused momentarily before putting in on and brushing the soft curls out of his eyes. Amy chuckled lightly and shook her head. "Oh, Tim. You need a haircut."
He nodded and moved to open the car door.

"You'll be okay, Timmy. I promise you that."

"Yeah." He answered softly and opened the door before stepping out. With a sigh, she cut the engine and got out before going to the trunk and pulling out Tim's bag. It wasn't a lot, just one large duffle full of the clothes that he owned and a couple of books. His family hadn't been poor, the boy just simply didn't seem to own that much. No toys, no art supplies…hell, even the books were older than she would imagined a seven year old owning. Despite that, she'd seen him reading The Hobbit on numerous occasions and smiled at the gift that she'd slipped in there.

"Okay, Tim. Let's go meet your new family." She walked up to him and held out her hand. It was a relief when he took it and shyly grasped on as they walked up the path. "Remember this sweetie, they are a good family, but if you want to talk to me or you want me to come visit, then you have my phone number, okay?"

"Okay." Tim agreed knowing that she was trying to put him at ease.

With a small supportive smile, she reached out and knocked on the door. Tim found himself getting closer and closer to her and it was a surprise when she felt his small body pressed up against leg as if he was trying to hide away from whatever was behind the door. Just as she started to open her mouth to sooth the little boy, a woman with flame red hair and a beautifully warm face opened the door.

"Amy, hello." She greeted happily before crouching down to Tim. "And you must be Timothy. I'm Shannon and I'm going to be your foster Mom for a while. Do you want to come in?"

Tim shook his head and tried to shy away from the stranger in front of him. Despite her kindness, he was wary and unsure as to how to respond to her.

"Tim, come on honey. Shannon is being nice, so be a good boy for her okay?"

"Shan…" A youngish gentlemen in his mid 30's came up to the front door wiping his hands on an old towel. Tim noticed the sawdust in his hair and cocked his head with interest. "Oh, hey Amy. Forgot you were comin'"

"You know, I've reminded him like three times today Tim. He still forgets!" Shannon said slightly more loudly and Tim couldn't help but smile as she winked at him.

"I was busy…So, you must be…Tommy?"

Tim frowned slightly and shook his head but when Shannon reached over and swatted the man on the leg with a shake of her head, he knew he'd been kidding. "N...no S…sir."

"Huh. Tony? Tobias?"

"Jethro! Play nice. You know what this sweet boy's name is." Shannon chuckled out before chucking Tim under the chin and standing up.

"I do. So you're Tim."

"Y…yes s…sir." Tim replied shakily and clasped at Amy's hand tighter as he tried to move behind her. He still wasn't fully comfortable with men, and this man standing in front of him looked kind of scary.

"Hey, I don't bite." The man knelt down like Shannon and held out his hand. "I'm Jethro. We have a little girl about your age but she's out at a friend's house at the moment. She'll be back in about an hour."

Tim peeked round from behind Amy's legs and cautiously held out his right hand to shake Jethro's hand. "Alright, how about we go inside and we get some lunch? You stayin' Ames?"

Amy nodded as they were ushered inside and grinned. "Sure am, Gibbs. I need to go through some stuff afterwards with you and Shannon told me you were grilling steak. Now good steak is not something I'm going to turn down."

Gibbs? Why did Amy call him Gibbs? Tim wondered and then remembered that it was this family's surname. He was torn out of his thoughts by Gibbs' gruff laugh and felt slightly soothed by the broad smile that accompanied it.

"She did huh? Guess my legendary steak grill is coming outta retirement." Shannon gently slapped his shoulder and shook her head before bending down to help Tim out of his coat.

"Outta retirement my foot. I swear, Tim...may I call you Tim?" She waited patiently for Tim to nod as she unbuttoned the last button on his coat. To Amy's surprise, Tim let her, though he didn't want to let go of her hand when Shannon pushed the coat down. "It's okay Sweetie, you can hold Amy's hand, but I need to get your coat off, okay?"
Tim reluctantly let go of Amy's hand and felt the jacket slip off. Once it was off though, he went straight back to holding it. "Y..you w…were t…alking about the G…grill."

"Ahh yes, I was, wasn't I? Well, I swear he gets that thing going every other night. He's a caveman and loves his meat…especially steak." She added with a whisper and smoothed the soft sandy curls as she removed his hat. "You want to know how he makes it?"

The little boy's brow furrowed with confusion and Amy could see the start of an answer forming on his lips. She smiled with encouragement and giggled when he blushed. "Go on, honey."

"G…grill?"

Shannon couldn't help but laugh and nodded. "Yeah, just not outside in this weather. He uses the fireplace, I tell you it's a pain to clean but the steak is good. Hey, you like hot chocolate?"

"Um…y...yes k…kinda."

"Kind of? Well, you'll like mine if you kind of like it, sweetie. It's made with real chocolate. What do you say, indulge with me?"

"Don't' make me any of that cr…stuff, Shan. I want…."

"Black coffee, super strength spoon stands up on own coffee. I know, Gibbs."

"Just as long as you do." Gibbs answered with a smile and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "I'm gonna go clean up."

"Don't be long…" Shannon called after him and led the way into the kitchen. "so, Amy you want some indulgent heaven in a cup?"

"I could kiss you right about now." Amy chuckled out as she helped Tim climb up on one of the breakfast stools.

"Eww…" Tim's little hand flew up to his mouth and they couldn't help but cringe at the shocked tears that started to fall. "S..sorry. I'm s...sorry…"

"What for? Tim look at me!" Shannon sat down in the chair next to Tim and pulled him into her lap. "What are you sorry for Sweetie? You've done nothing wrong."

"Who's apologizing? Sign of weakness." Gibbs said as he entered the kitchen in a fresh t-shirt and sweatpants. "Ok, who upset the kid?" His glare was one that could cut glass
as he looked at Amy and Shannon.

"N..no one. I'm n…not al…allowed t…t…t…" Tim fell into a fresh wave of tears and felt himself being pulled tightly against Shannon as she rocked him gently and whispered soft platitudes to calm him down. Gibbs frowned and signaled for Amy to follow him into the living room. Once there, he bent down in front of the fire and laid out the grill ready to be used.

"What's goin' on?"

Amy sighed heavily and shook her head. "Nothing. He's not a bad kid Gibbs but he needs help with his confidence. You remember, I told you his dad is an alcoholic who wants nothing to do with him? Well, that's especially true since the accident."

"Accident?" Gibbs asked gently and stood up so he could give her his full attention.

"I think it would be better if I spoke to you both on this. He's had problems and has been through a lot." Her attention was diverted by the sound of soft giggling coming from the kitchen. "He's taken to Shannon well."

"Who doesn't?" Gibbs replied affectionately. "I'll speak to her later when the kid's in bed. We've set him up next to Kelly's room."

Amy nodded her approval. "Sounds perfect. Okay, you know he lost his mom and sister?"

"Yeah. Poor kid. What happened? We weren't told any specifics." He asked sympathetically. They'd both been told that much, but Tim had been struggling in the state children's home and was bullied mercilessly. That had become the topic of conversation and the clincher for them both had been when Amy told then that he'd been beaten by the boy that he shared a room with.

"His father's ex Navy and got dishonorably discharged for misconduct and insubordination…repeat offender." She replied before the ex-marine standing in front of her could question. "It wasn't pretty. Anyway, he took a nosedive and hit the bottle. One night he decided he wanted to go out for a drive and dragged Tim's mother to the car before locking her in to get the kids. He grabbed the gun out of the safe and held them all hostage for hours before passing out behind the wheel and colliding head on with the oncoming traffic. He ploughed right into the next lane."

Gibbs hissed and stood there with narrowed eyes. "Son of a…what happened then?"

"Tim's mom had a broken neck and was pronounced at the scene. She went straight to the morgue. Sarah…bless her. She was younger than Tim by a couple of years, well she wasn't wearing her seatbelt and suffered internal injuries. They said she had a broken ribs which punctured her lung. Sarah died en route."

More giggling from the kitchen tore through their deeply tormented conversation and Gibbs couldn't help but smile. "He sounds happy in there. I'm willing to be they're making that hot chocolate."

"A bit of happiness won't do him any harm." Amy admitted ruefully. "For 5 years, he's had to put up with his father's alcoholism and abuse. He's smart, Gibbs. Very smart, but he's never really been allowed to reach his potential because he's been browbeaten. I don't know why, but there are a few things he frightened of. We've never been able to get the reasons out of him, but they scare the living daylights out of him."

"What happened to Tim?" Gibbs asked softly, but she could hear the underlying anger in his voice.

"He wore his seatbelt and said he was trying to get Sarah's on her when they crashed. He broke his wrist and dislocated his shoulder. The concussion was mild thankfully, but he was alone in the hospital because his father signed himself out AMA. He left that boy there to suffer by himself and after a couple of days Tim's doctor called us in. I was assigned the case and became his lifeline. It took me a while to gain his trust, but I was there through his treatment and tried to make it easier on him in the home."

"But…"

"But, it wasn't enough and the recovery wasn't easy. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that in his short life, he'd suffered more than he'd actually lived. And the bad time he's had at the home certainly hasn't helped. He's never had a childhood Gibbs and doesn't act like a normal little boy. He scared to do anything and needs to be given the chance to finally be what he is."

Gibbs frowned and cocked his head slightly. "Which is?"

"A little boy. A little boy who can be given the chance to trust the adults in his life again; to take care of him and be there for him through everything. He needs a childhood and needs to do things that children do. He needs to be able to reach his potential academically and be supported. You and Shannon can do that and the fact that you have Kelly will help no end." Amy knew this couple from the fact that they had fostered short term children before for her. Each child had been made to feel welcome and had come out of the situation so much better than they had gone into it and when then were finally adopted, they had gone on to lead happy, fulfilling lives.

"We'll try our hardest, Ames. I promise you that. This isn't a short term thing." Gibbs stated and Amy found herself answering his rhetorical question anyway.

"No. It's not. I asked you because…well, I just thought you might give him a good home and eventually…"

"Adopt him." He filled in and smiled when she blushed slightly. "It's okay you know. I can't make that promise, but we'll make sure he's safe while he's here."

Amy smiled at him and nodded. "That's something I can be sure of. Just look after my boy, okay? That's all I ask."

A knock at the door tore their attention away from the conversation at hand and Gibbs moved to go answer it. On his way, he stopped and laid his hand on the Social worker's shoulder. "He'll be alright with us, Ames. You come visit whenever you want because I can tell that he's gotten under your skin more than the others."

Amy felt the tears pool in her amber brown eyes and reached up to briefly place her hand over his. "Thank you." She whispered before he smiled and walked to the door. She sucked in a deep breath and wiped at her eyes before making her way into the kitchen. What she saw when she walked in made her heart leap with joy, because for the first time since meeting Tim, he looked happy.

"Ok, now we just need to whisk the milk into the melted chocolate. If I pour it in, do you want to whisk?" Shannon asked Tim as he knelt on the stool. Amy couldn't help but place her hand over her heart as it leapt slightly at what she was watching.

"Can I? I mean, is that okay?" Excitement? Tim sounded excited! That's not something Amy had ever heard from him. And what's more, he wasn't stuttering! She stepped further into the room and grinned broadly.

"You look like you're having fun."

"Yup. Hey look, Shannon let me help." Shannon smiled warmly at Tim and nodded, her pretty red curls bouncing slightly with the movement.

"Hey, mister. If you thought I was going to do this by myself then you were so wrong." He grinned back at her and she shook her head. "Now that's a smile the girls will go crazy for. With those eyes and that smile…."

"He's handsome alright. Amy smiled and saw the familiar blush creep up the boy's neck and into his face. "Aww, now that's just cute."

"Amy…" Tim whined and ducked his head down so he was looking at the floor.

She chuckled slightly and gently placed her finger under his chin to raise his head. "None of that young man. You need to learn to take a compliment."

Tim shrugged and leaned slightly to the let when a young girl round about his age ran into the kitchen. "Mommy!"

"Hey angel. You have fun with Ducky?" Shannon bent down and kissed the red haired girl on the forehead tenderly.

"Yuh huh. He took me and Granny Victoria to the park and we fed the ducks and we played and we had a picnic. He told me some of his stories and then we came home to meet Timmy." She turned towards Amy and Tim and grinned.

"Amy!" She hurtled forward and threw her arms around the social worker. "You're here!"

"Hey Kelly. Well don't you look pretty today. So, Ducky took you out."

"Yep. He's talking to Daddy in the living room…" Kelly turned towards Tim and he couldn't help but notice how pretty and friendly she was. "Tim?"

"Um..y…yeah." He answered shyly and ducked his head once more. Kelly giggled and folded her arms.

"Oh no. You're not allowed to be shy. Mommy, have you showed him his room?" She asked her mother.

"No honey, we were making hot chocolate. You want some?"

"Yes please. Then I can show Tim his room." Kelly turned back to Tim. "You're next to me and we'll have loads of fun. I went with Daddy yesterday to pick out some toys for you so you wouldn't feel left out and we made up your bed and we…."

"Woah there, Miss Kelly. Let the boy breathe." Gibbs chuckled as he walked in the kitchen. "Hey Tim. There enough of that for me?"

"You want…um yes."

"Don't you listen to him. He wants coffee and Ducky in there will have earl grey. So Tim, come here and help me whisk this in."

Amy watched as Tim grabbed the whisk and went about his task. It was wonderful to see and she knew, that without a doubt she'd made the right choice in family for her boy. She could only hope that he would capture their hearts as much as he had hers, and eventually they would adopt him