This chapter touches on a subject that may be sensitive for some readers. I do not make any value judgements nor is it my intention to cause offense. It is a plot devise that has been hinted at throughout the story and I hope it will be accepted as such.
Thank you to everyone who has responded with reviews, your support is very much appreciated
"Tony." Tim acknowledged the enthusiastic greeting as he stepped off the elevator into the bullpen and ushered Sheila into his workspace.
"Mrs Probie, a pleasure, as always."
"It's very quiet in here, Very Special Agent DiNozzo," Sheila teased back. "What have you done with Ziva? Has she already abandoned you for pastures new?"
"Nah. The Director has me on cold cases and has banished Ziva to a Probette course to 'update her skills'," Tony responded.
"You OK, Tim?" Tony asked dropping his voice to a whisper. "you look like cr. .death warmed over."
"Thanks for that Tony, I've had better weeks," Tim admitted.
"Look, Tim. . .we all got a copy of that report. . ."
"Everyone here on the team and in the office. . .the Director is spitting tacks. . .he has Fornell hunting down the leak over at the FBI.. . I would not want to be in the perps shoes when they found out who leaked it."
Tim already had a pretty good idea who had a hand in it but he wasn't about to go bandying about random accusations.
"Great. Now everyone will hate me. . .Gibbs is a legend around here and I will be forever known as the idiot who shot him and ended his career."
"Vance sent out an email confirming the report but reminding everyone that you were the one who warned Gibbs and saved his life. . .no one here blames you, Tim. Every Field Agent knows just how easily it could have been any one of us."
"Listen, Tony, would you take Mom down to see Ducky. . .he promised to keep her company while I see Vance and sort out these computer issues. . .and keep her away from Abby."
"Sure thing. Does the Director know you're here?"
"Not yet," Tim said struggling to power up his computer and log in one handed.
"Hang on, I'll let him know. . .I'm sure he will come to you rather than have you traipsing all over the building." Tony placed the call and then escorted Sheila towards the back elevator.
By the time Tim had seen the Director and had spent a half-hour with Tech Johnson from the IT dept going through the files on his computer he was in need of his next dose of pain meds. While waiting for the medication to kick in, Tim opened his email account and plugged in a data stick to download the messages. He opened up one of several of the new messages from Abby without thinking. The content of the message shocked him. He opened another and then another and they were all similar. . .anger fueled rants on Tim's behavior, his personality and his culpability for Gibbs injury. The anger and the venom shocked him and finally. . .finally the anger and the injustice of her accusations washed over him. With icy calm he downloaded the messages and tucked the data stick into his sling and stalked off towards the elevator, ignoring Tony's concerned call.
He'd done it a million times: walked into her lab to the blaring cacophony of some god-awful music that seared the eardrums and likely killed brain cells. He didn't do anything to announce his presence, she usually sensed when anyone entered her lair. . .this time her senses failed her.
He moved around the long evidence table and stood there waiting and when he finally lost patience he clicked the remote control for her music player and the room was stunned with silence.
He could see the complaint ready to spill from her lips but when she saw who it was the complaint died and her expression shuttered to feigned indifference.
"What do you want?"
He didn't bother to reply. He moved slowly towards her and she backed up, step by step, retreating into her office. She would have closed the door on him but he was too quick and too close. She snatched her cellphone off the desk; he silently plucked it from her hand and dropped it into the trashcan. He kept up his own momentum slowly herding her backwards into the ballistics lab.
"McGee, you're scaring me."
And he was. For the first time ever she was scared of him. . .he was a stranger and any trace of the tender-hearted, soft, geek she had always thought him to be was erased by the cold, hard anger radiating from him.
"Sit. Down." The order was the first words he had spoken to her and he clearly wasn't expecting her to reply. "Now!"
She had nowhere else to go, she dropped into the chair and watched him warily as he used the remote to lock the door, effectively sealing them into the soundproof room.
"We are going to talk", he informed her. He slipped the remote into his sling and she knew she was trapped until he decided to release them.
"I have nothing to say to you and I have work to do."
"Too bad. We are not leaving until I say so."
"You can't keep me here against my will," she spat, getting up from her seat, only have him loom over her and get right in her face.
"I said, SIT DOWN!" He never touched her but the yell was as effective as a punch.
She crumpled. He had never raised his voice to her like that and she realized too late that this was a man she could no longer manipulate. . .he knew all her tricks and subterfuges and he no longer fell for them.
He pulled a stool up against the door and sank down on it, adrenalin hiding the wash of pain and exhaustion that came from over- exertion.
She spied a light flashing on the phone on her desk in the office; no sound reached them. "I need to take that call, McGee, JAG are waiting for confirmation of results from the Murphy case."
"They will have to wait."
"What's wrong with you, McGee?"
"I have no idea. . .why don't you tell me. . .you clearly think you are the expert on my many failings and deficiencies. . .I bow to your greater wisdom," his quiet venom was all the more potent for being so uncharacteristic.
"I have nothing to say to you," she flashed.
"Then we are going to be here for a very long time."
The silence lasted for a long time, or at least it felt like a long time to Abby. He had called her bluff and for the first time that she could remember he had the upper hand.
"OK. What do you want?" she finally demanded when the silence got to her.
"I want to know what I did? I deserve to know what I did that was so awful that you felt the need to cut me off without so much as an explanation. I deserve to know why you would throw away seven years of friendship. . "
"No. . .just like that. . .you really are a piece of work, Abby. . .your arrogance astounds me. . .it shouldn't after all these years of being a witness and a victim to your self-centered , egotistical self-absorption but it still does. More fool me for thinking you have a spark of decency."
"You don't know anything, McGee."
"True, I don't but that is because the one class I never took in school was mind reading!"
"Let me go, McGee," she pleaded finally giving in to tears.
"You can turn off the waterworks, Abby. . .it's not going to work on me this time. . .I'm not Gibbs and there is no one coming to save you from the big, bad, mean McGee. .. we are going to deal with this, here and now," he informed her harshly.
"I'm not going to play your game, McGee. I don't have to tell you anything."
"You see, Abby," McGee spoke as if he hadn't heard her, "I've had a lot of time to think over the last few weeks. If you don't want to talk, then you'll just have to hear the theory I have come up with."
"A very mature response. . .not that I expected any better."
"Just get on with it so we can both get out of here."
"I think it is like I explained to Gibbs and Ducky a few weeks ago. . .when you saw how hard and how quickly I fell for Amanda your jealousy kicked in and you realized that there was maybe someone out there who would take an interest in me and you would no longer have your tame patsy waiting in the wings when your next loser boyfriend saw through your shallow act," he threw at her.
"She was an assassin, a fake," she spat back.
"And she was also young and interesting and pretty!" he shot back. "But you were the one who was so desperate for us to get back together, even when I wasn't so keen. . .or maybe because I wasn't so keen. Was that it Abby, you just wanted to prove once again that I was a push over?"
"No, it wasn't like that," she protested.
"You wheedled and plotted and you pulled me in, because let's face it, after dangling me like a puppet for eight years you knew just which buttons to press, didn't you? And then when you had achieved your goal and you had me believing that you really cared for me. . .that you loved me, you threw me aside like a worthless handful of trash!"
"Now you're just being nasty," Abby whispered.
"I learned from the best, Abby. . .I learned from you," he told her.
"Just let it go, McGee. It's over between us. Just let it go."
"So I was talking to Dr Avery and we were discussing anger," Tim continued, "and she commented that anger was often a cloak people use to mask other emotions they don't want to face. . .like fear. . . and I got to thinking that maybe that's where your anger came from. . .but I don't think I have ever given you a cause to fear me. . ."
"You're scaring me now. . .and you're damn right I'm angry. . .You shot Gibbs!"
". . .That's just a smoke screen, Abby. . .you were mad at me long before Gibb's was injured."
"He was shot!. . .He was shot, McGee. . .he was shot by you. . .crippled by you!"
"He was shot in the line of duty. . .yes, the bullet came from my weapon but I would rather have shot off my own leg than hurt him and everyone but you knows that. . .even Gibbs. If he doesn't blame me then what gives you the right to throw that in my face. . .besides, as I said, that is irrelevant. You were mad at me before!"
"So having worked out that it wasn't fear you were hiding, I got to wondering what else it could be and do you know what I came up with, Abby?"
"No. Enlighten me."
" Guilt! Oh, please. You don't know anything."
"You see all these week I have been trying to work out what I did that was so awful. What 'I' did that was so unforgivable that you could no longer bear to be in the same room as me and I kept coming up blank. . .but it wasn't me, was it? It was your own guilty conscience."
"Let me out, McGee. I will not discuss this."
Tim ignored her and kept his back to the door. "So what was it, Abby? What did you do? Were you unfaithful? Did you know that infidelity was a deal breaker for me."
"No, I wasn't unfaithful," she yelled.
"But there was something. . .wasn't there," he yelled back."You did something you knew was so unforgivable that you have been tearing yourself up about it. You have been so screwed up with guilt that you had to take it out on me. . .didn't you?"
He knew her too well. She had always thought she could read him like a book but somewhere along the line he had learned to read her too. He saw too much and she had nowhere to hide. Her anger spiked and her response was to lash out.
"You got me pregnant, McGee. . .there, are you happy now!"
Whatever he had been expecting to hear, it wasn't that. He was so shocked he could barely form a coherent thought. He thought back to her mood swings and her unusual pallor and it suddenly all slotted into place.
"You told me you had contraception sorted out. . .you showed me the implant pellet in your arm. . .you assured me that we didn't need to worry about condoms."
"Well it failed. . .contraception is not a perfect science." She flounced, defending her actions.
"And you couldn't have explained earlier? What did you think I would say? I know a family wasn't in our immediate plans but it's not a disaster. . .you know that I will support you. . . I have always wanted a family."
"I'm not ready to be a parent, McGee. . .I don't want the picket fence, 'happily ever after' crap."
" This is my baby, too. And I look on this as a blessing not a disaster .I will be there for you through the pregnancy and when the baby is born and then I'll raise the baby on my own. . . If you don't want to be involved then I'll do it on my own. . .I have family and friends who will be only too happy to help out. . .we can get through this, Abby."
"No, we can't."
"Because we can't."
"You would keep me from my own child. . .even you can't stoop that low."
"I said you got me pregnant. . .not that I still am!"
"I dealt with it. . .there is no baby."
"You dealt with it!"
"Do I really need to spell it out, McGee. . .you know, that 'Woman's right to choose' that you always said you supported," She threw at him.
"And what about 'A Father's rights' that you always claimed was equally as important."
And then it hit him. . .the realization of what she was telling him."Oh, God! Please tell me you didn't?"
"My body, my choice!"
"So our baby was discarded like another piece of useless trash because it was 'inconvenient'"
"I told you, I wasn't ready to be a parent."
"No wonder you have been drowning in guilt!" Tim pinched the bridge of his nose, using the pain to keep his anger sharp and under control.
"And when will you be ready, Abby. . .you will be forty five next birthday. . .that could well have been your one and only chance to have a child. It may suit your distorted self image to pretend to be a perpetual teenager but you are fast approaching middle age and it is time you grew up and started acting your age. Nobody will be buying your little girl lost persona when you reach your fifties. . .Gibbs and Vance and the rest of the team have all caught a glimpse of the real Abby with the way you have been behaving recently, now you will have to deal with the consequences."
"You are going to tell them?" She demanded. She could see that an audience had gathered in the office, and while she was confident the soundproofing would have shielded their conversation from those watching she was suddenly fearful that Tim would have no hesitation in revealing the guilty secret she had been nursing so deeply.
"You disgust me, Abby." The whole conversation had left Tim feeling shattered and emotionally bereft. "I can't tell you how much I hate you for what you've done. No, I won't tell them. . .it is nobody else's business," he said his voice shaky with loss. "I will never forgive you for what you have done. . .from this moment on you are as dead to me as the future we could have shared together. I will not have anything more to do with you."
He removed the door remote and the data stick from inside his sling and opened the door.
He turned back to her, ignoring Vance and Tony and Ducky and Sheila. "I don't want to hear from you again, Abby. One more abusive email or text or voicemail and I will take out an injunction," he informed her coldly. "Here," he said pulling Dr Avery's business card from his pocket and slapping it down on the desk in front of her, "I think you need this more than I do, Abby. Get some help before you screw up some other poor bastard's life."
"McGee, is everything alright?" Tony asked. This was a new side to Tim. It was a shock to see him so implacably distant.
"Tim?" Sheila was by his side, concerned by his pallor and by the violence of the shaking of his hand. She had never seen such a look of utter devastation on his face. She beckoned Ducky over and he moved to support the injured man. Tim resisted when they tried to usher him away. His anger was cold and hard and bright. . .he wanted to hurt her and for once he wasn't prepared to be a gentleman.
"Director, you can stop the mole-hunt. . .If you have the techs check Ms Sciuto's machine I think you will find the emailed report was distributed from here. You will also find the evidence for the harassment complaint I am going to file on this data stick." Tim informed him, handing over the small devise with a shudder of revulsion.
"Tony, I hope you still want me to be your second in command but I will not consider any post that involves any interaction with Ms Sciuto," Tim informed him.
"Oh, god, Tim, what has she done?"
"The 'why' doesn't matter: I will not work with her. I'm sorry if that means you have to choose between us and I don't expect you to take my side but I won't change my mind on this."
The Director stepped in and placed a hand on Tim's shoulder. "Go home and rest, Tim. It will all be dealt with. Keep in touch and let me know how your rehab is going."
"Thank you, Sir. . .I'm sorry."
"No apology necessary, Agent McGee. . .I'll be in touch."
In the silence of the lab after Ducky and Sheila had assisted Tim away Director Vance and Tony contemplated the revelations of the last few minutes.
"I don't need a final decision now but do you want McGee on your team?" Vance asked the prospective team leader.
"What about Abby?"
"Leave Ms Sciuto out of the equation, Agent DiNozzo."
"Yes. If Tim gets his Field Status back then I want him on my team."
"It could be months with TAD Agents. . .it won't be easy."
"He's earned the spot, Director."
"Very well. Now, don't you have some files to work on?"
Abby was still in the ballistics lab, black streaks of mascara smudged on her cheeks.
"Ms Sciuto, I will see you in my office in an hour. You may bring an advocate or union rep with you. Do not be late."
Abby had tidied herself up but had not taken up the suggestion of having a representative with her. Director Vance was at the conference table with the Director of Human Resources beside him when Abby was shown into his office. He motioned her to sit as he shuffled through a file and drew out a pile of computer print-outs.
"Ms Sciuto, less than four weeks ago I had cause to issue you with a formal reprimand for unprofessional conduct."
"At that time I warned you that any further infractions would be treated with the utmost seriousness. . . And yet we find ourselves here again."
"Do you admit to distributing a confidential report? A report that you obtained without official authority from another Agency?"
She nodded. "Yes, Sir," she whispered.
"And do you have any excuse for your actions?"
"I was angry. I wanted everyone to know what McGee had done," she admitted. "He shot Gibbs, Director. . .he ruined his life!"
"He saved his life. . .And you have ruined your career, Ms Sciuto. Was it worth it for a moment's petty revenge?"
"You may also like to consider that your friend in the FBI lab who furnished you with the copy of the report is now facing disciplinary action for their actions."
He handed her a copy of the emails. "Do you admit to using the Agency network to send abusive and defamatory messages to a fellow employee?"
She couldn't deny it with the evidence printed out in front of her. "Yes, Sir."
"Do you consider it acceptable behavior, Ms Sciuto? Do you think it an acceptable use of Federal resources?"
"Do you have anything to say in mitigation, because frankly, Ms Sciuto, I am appalled at the level of unprofessional behavior you have demonstrated over the last few weeks, behavior that has not only continued but has worsened despite your being under caution?"
"Does this mean I won't be considered for the supervisory post at Quantico?"
Vance almost laughed.
"Miss Sciuto, You would 'never' have been considered for that post. While I do not doubt your technical expertise or the good work you have done for the Agency, you have never demonstrated any management capability; you have consistently refused to work with other technicians and your recent actions have highlighted a level of professional incompetence that almost beggars belief."
"I'm good at what I do. . .every Agency, University and Science Corporation on the East Coast has tried to hire me away from NCIS. . .they value my skills and they pay better"
"Then I suggest you take one of them up on their offer before the scuttlebutt of your recent behavior does the rounds and queers your pitch and makes you unemployable."
"You're firing me!"
"I am giving you the opportunity to resign with immediate effect. If you choose not to do so then you will be suspended at the conclusion of this meeting whilst I will begin formal dismissal proceedings, Ms Sciuto.
"Just like that!"
" Yes, and you had better hope that someone will employ you based on your previous record and experience because, should I be asked to provide you with a testimonial, you can be sure I will be scrupulously honest," the Director informed her.
" Ms Gregson will take you down to her office to fill out the necessary paperwork and you will have until the end of the day to hand over any existing casework to Mark Brady who is already on his way up from Norfolk and to allow a member of the IT staff to supervise your removal from all network access . A member of the Security staff will accompany you for the remainder of the day. You will hand in your security badge before you leave the building; if you require more time to clear out your personal belongings I will arrange with Security for you to be admitted on Saturday morning to do so," The Director informed her formally.
"Was there anything else, Ms Sciuto?"
"No. . .this is a total over-reaction, Director."
"This is a Federal Agency and we expect the highest standards from our employees. You have failed to uphold those standards and, as you so succinctly put it a few weeks ago, Ms Sciuto. . .no one is indispensible."
In a quiet Italian restaurant a few blocks from the Navy Yard four colleagues sat together in rather gloomy silence at what should have been a celebration to mark the end of an era.
"I can't believe there are only the four of us left to mark the occasion." As the youngest one present Jimmy seemed to be taking it the hardest.
"Change is not always bad Mr Palmer. . .you are at the start of a whole new chapter of your career. From tomorrow you are a fully fledged Medical Examiner."
"But you won't be there, Dr Mallard. . .it won't be the same."
"Don't you think now is the time to dispense with the formalities, Jimmy. . .You are in every way now my equal and I hope you will always consider me your friend. Just because we are no longer working together it does not mean that I expect you to disappear from my life. I would be honored if you would call me Ducky as all my other dear friends do."
"Of course, Dr. . .Ducky! though it might take a little getting used to."
"Has anyone heard from Abby?" Ziva asked.
"I had a change of address card. . .she is still not answering her cell or replying to emails," Tony said sadly.
"Give her time, Lad. It is still early days and I suspect she is still feeling pretty bruised," Ducky offered. She had left without saying goodbye, leaving town within hours of walking out of the Navy Yard, though her apartment was still there, locked up and waiting for her to return or to empty out.
"Where is she, Tony?" Ziva asked.
"Atlanta. She has been offered a job in the research labs at the CDC.
"I hope she will be happy there. . .I miss the old Abby. I cannot believe that everything has changed so quickly. Three months ago we were a full team and now Abby is gone, Gibbs and you, Ducky, have retired and Tim is still on sick leave." Ziva said taking another sip of wine.
"And let's not forget that Tony and Jimmy have both been promoted and you, Ziva still have a chance to hone new skills. It is not all negative, My Dear," Ducky assured her. "To new beginnings," Ducky raised his glass and they all joined in the toast.
"How is Tim doing?" Jimmy asked Tony.
"He reckons another month in plaster. If he can get the pot replaced by a splint he can be back on restricted desk duty whilst he has more rehab. The Director is looking to send him on some management courses while he is still on restricted duty but the Docs are quite hopeful that he will be back to full fitness by the end of the year."
"And what about Gibbs?"
"He was discharged from the rehab unit last week. He has a new high spec prosthesis and he has already walked the golf course with me. His balance is getting better all the time," Ducky explained with a grin.
"You're planning to get him playing golf, Ducky?"
"I am indeed. . .he seems quite keen on the prospect. You are welcome to join us any time you like. . .the more the merrier!"
"What is he planning to do, do you know?" Tony asked. "I called round to his house the other day and it was locked up."
"He has gone up to Stillwater to help Jack close up the shop. They have a cabin in the hills: I believe Jethro has big plans for renovating it. . .Jack always intended to retire there when he gave up the store and I think Jethro plans to spend some time with Jack now he has the chance."
"But he's not leaving DC, is he?" There was something rather sad in the uncertainty of Tony's question.
"No. His friends are here in the city. . .he's not planning on deserting us, Tony. . .Jethro is very loyal to those he considers family." Ducky assured him.
"How did he take the news about Abby's departure, Ducky?" Ziva asked.
"Very sadly, but he could see that the Director didn't have any other choice, given her actions. I believe she went to see him before she left town."
"Does he blame, Tim. . .about Abby, I mean?"
"No. Abby was the author of her own fate. . .Tim was just another casualty along the way."
Later in the evening as the group were just beginning to consider calling it a night, Tony pulled Ducky aside.
"Ducky, did you ever find out what was behind it all?"
"No, Tony, and we must respect Tim's privacy in the matter. I have my suspicions but I would never cross that line. . .he was badly hurt, Tony. . .more than we will probably ever know, but unless he chooses to confide that information then it is best to let it be."
"Will he be alright, Ducky?"
"Timothy has a very good support network, Anthony: he has his own family, his NCIS family and I still include myself and Jethro in that circle and a little bird tells me he also has the lovely Dr Avery on his speed dial . . ."
"Way to go, Probie. . .But she's his Doctor. . .is that even ethical."
"I understand he now has a new Doctor," Ducky said with beaming smile.
"So he'll be alright?"
"With time and the support of his friends, yes, I believe he will. I really believe he will."