First and foremost, I want to apologize for such a lengthy interval between this and my last post. Answers: No, I have not forgotten this story. Yes, I plan on finishing it. Yes, I plan on responding to your reviews and giving answers. And as always, thank you for the love and reviews. I hope you all are still with me on this story!

Don't own...


Chapter 15

Those in the hospital room moved about McGee in a blur. It was like their images smeared across a living canvas, going in and out, mingling and separating with one another. It was like everything was on fast forward. They stood in front of him, grabbed his hands, touched his IV tubes, and poked him. It was a shade above mildly irritating, but Tim withstood it, understanding that they were there to check up on him.

Because they were his friends. Because they cared about him. Right? Probably because I'm too clumsy and incompetent to heal on my own.

"Yes I'm fine." I'll never be fine.

"Thank you Tony." How can I even forgive you?

"Sorry for the gun thing." I'd do it again if it meant I could see her again.

"Yes Duck. No Ducky. I know Ducky." *Prolonged sigh*

There were sideways glances thrown between Gibbs and Tony, which one would have to be blind to miss. Something was off. Tony sensed it through McGee's awkward silence, and Gibbs knew the the thousand yard stare from his days in combat, years ago. But, the thousand yard was reserved for those who had faced unrelenting combat for days on end, not a singular moment trapped underwater. Gibbs looked down at McGee, who's gaze could have seen through walls, and wondered whether McGee was that weak, that a simple traumatic event would trigger this, or something else was off. Gibbs bet on the second option, as McGee's eyes drifted lazily about, unfocused and uncaring. He sighed, took a sip of coffee, and watched as time drifted past McGee's disconnected expression.

As unspoken words and hours passed, Ducky gestured to Gibbs to accompany him outside McGee's room. Tony had gone to fetch coffee, leaving McGee alone with Ziva, who sat in one of the chairs, watching her injured coworker.

As soon as the door closed, Gibbs turned to Ducky.

"What's up, Duck?"

"What is up? Jethro, all is not well. Things are not alright."

"I can see that."

Ducky scratched his chin, taking a deep breath.

"When you left Timothy, was he… underwater?"

Gibbs' eyebrows slightly raised.

"Yeah, pretty much. Why?"

Ducky tilted his head to the ceiling as his lips began to silently count.

"That would mean, Timothy was underwater for approximately 30-40 minutes."

Gibbs stared at the M.E.

"Well, don't you find that… odd, Jethro?"

Gibbs shrugged.

"The world record, as of now, for holding one's breath underwater, is just over 19 minutes. Timothy held his for over double that."

Gibbs' gut began churning as Ducky continued.

"It is not natural, Jethro. Unless the water in the hull drained, or Timothy had access to oxygen somehow. That truth is, he should not be alive. And, Anthony already verified that our dear friend was indeed without oxygen."

"What are you thinking, Duck?"

Ducky mulled the question over, taking a few steps down the hall, then returning.

"It is not natural, Jethro. Our Timothy… should be dead."


As time passed, McGee became more and more distant. His friends would come to see if he was alright, and he would repeat the same regurgitated questions from behind his slide lock. Even Ziva, whom he had felt some connection with in lieu of what had happened, was shut out. He half smiled. He nodded. But all he understood at that moment, was that they were not of the sea. And so, they were apart from him.

McGee thought back to his moments trapped within the ship, as he felt the comforting presence of the seals around him. Nothing could compare to that comfort, or the solace he found in the sea. Even on the verge of death, he desired to be nowhere else.


Three Weeks Later

The bullpen was quiet. Gibbs was off talking to the director, and Ziva looked around suspiciously. Tony was sitting at his desk, doing work. He wasn't talking. He wasn't cracking jokes. He wasn't saying… anything. Ziva watched as Tony looked to his right, to Tim's empty desk, took a deep breath, then returned to his paperwork. After a few minutes though, without looking up, Tony spoke.

"You think he's coming back?" His voice was so soft that it almost startled Ziva.

"McGee?"

"Yeah. Probie. You think he's coming back?" Tony repeated the question.

"Well, of course, as soon as he's done healing."

"That's not what I meant, Ziva."

Ziva's eyebrow quirked at Tony as he stood, but she understood the question, not knowing the answer. Over the past few weeks, the team, including Abby had emailed, called, and even visited McGee's apartment. None of which offered a solution to what their teammate had become. Tony sighed and stood.

"Tell Gibbs I have to go."

Ziva glanced up at him, question playing on her face.

"Family emergency."

Because Tim is family, Tony thought to himself as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the elevator.


One Hour Later

"McGoo! You home?"

Tony pounded on the door, juggling a 6 pack of beer and a pizza. The only signs of life from the other side of the door was Jethro's bark and the faintest sound of movement.

"I know you're in there! Come on, Probie! Have a drink and a slice with your favorite special agent!"

Nothing. Tony then thought of something to entice the man.

"Ziva's out here naked!"

Nothing.

"And Abby too!"

Tony, immediately thought of what he had said, glanced around himself and down the hallway, realizing that that may have been something odd for another tenant to hear. Then, he heard the deadbolt being slid back, and the door opened a crack. Two sunken, nearly unrecognizable eyes peered out from over the slide lock chain.

"What, Tony."

At that response, DiNozzo could barely compose his thoughts.

"Uhhh well, I lied. Ziva and Abby aren't here. But they may be naked somewhere else. In the shower maybe…"

Tony's mind wandered, then he got back on track.

"I figured we could-"

"No, Tony."

The door began to close. In a flash, Tony's foot was in the way, leaving an inch of space between the door and the threshold. A single shadowed eye, surrounded by a dark circle, peered annoyingly back at him.

"What gives, Probie? I just wanted to see if you are alright! Maybe spend-"

"I'm not alright."

Tony stuttered.

"Well, it was more of a… ummm… one of those questions you ask to… you know… show concern… even though you know the person isn't exactly… alright."

"I'm not."

"I got that."

Silence.

"So… can I come in?" Tony flashed his grin.

"No."

"No?!"

"No."

"But I brought beer and pizza!"

"I said no."

Tony stood, silent for a moment, staring at his foot, debating whether to move it, or leave it there. He settled with the latter.

"What's wrong with you, McGee? I mean, come on! You're healing! We saved you! And we aren't even holding grudges about the gun thing! I swam down into-"

"You didn't save me, Tony. No person can save me." McGee whispered ominously.

Tony just stared as he struggled to keep his jaw from dropping, his mind racing as to what that could mean.

"No… person can save you?"

"Yes."

"What does that… what does that even mean?!"

McGee sighed, the one eye that was visible shot downward, glaring at Tony's foot, then back up to his face.

"Don't… don't pretend to care now, Tony."

"Excuse me?!"

"I said, don't pretend to care. I know that my death would have just been... inconvenient. You and Gibbs both made that clear."

"Probie, that was jus- You know that's not the truth."

"And stop calling me that." The sheer bitterness in his tone shook DiNozzo to his core. McGee's eye lowered.

"It's just… getting old, you know?" McGee spoke sadly as he continued.

"Probie this, Probie that. I have a name, you know. It's even monosyllabic, making it easier to say than Probie. Just stop, ok? I'm gonna go."

"No, you're not."

"Excuse me?!" McGee snorted incredulously.

"I said, no you're not. And I'm not going anywhere. Open the slide lock."

DiNozzo, with foot still in the threshold, dropped the beer and pizza to the floor, placing his palm on the door, and pushed it. He heard the slide lock strain and a quiet grunt from McGee as he tried to close the door.

"Dammit McGee, open the door!"

"No!"

"Seriously, I'm going to break your lock. I'll pay for it, of course, but I'm warning you." Tony growled.

"Tony, leave."

DiNozzo sighed, then nodded to himself.

"...ok McGee. I warned you. Stand back."

"What?"

"I said stand back. Now!"

With a singular athletic motion, Tony lifted his foot from the threshold, and kicked the door just beneath the slide lock. He heard the chain snap as the door flung open, the sound of McGee tumbling to the floor closely followed.

Tony rushed into McGee's apartment and stooped to help his partner up.

"Don't touch me! I can do it!"

McGee's snarl started Tony, but he refused to yield. He lifted McGee to his feet, then grasped either side of his partner's bare shoulders. Roughly. McGee's anger filled eyes challenged back. Without a word, Tony kicked backwards, flinging the door shut, then tightened his grip on Tim's shoulder's.

"Now, I know you've had a rough time, but you're going to tell me what the hell is-"

Tony stopped his rant short as his eyes caught the sight that was Tim's living room. The senior agent had been in his friend's apartment before; but, now, he barely recognized it.

"McGee… what the-"

"I told you to leave…" McGee mumbled.

Was that… shame? Embarrassment? McGee? What the hell is going on?

Tony released Tim, who took several timid steps to the side and sat in his typewriting chair. The senior agent rubbed a hand across his mouth as he turned his head, taking in the odd state McGee's apartment was in.

It's like Conspiracy Theory. Mel Gibson. 1997….

Plastered over nearly every inch of the apartment walls were nautical charts of different regions of ocean. Red, blue, and green pins labeled certain locations, while bits of colored yarn connected other pins. Red and black marker zig-zagged across the charts, where circles, X's, and untidy hand written notes adorned. By McGee's kitchen was a large piece of poster paper on the wall, with a list of longitude and latitude's; some crossed out, and some circled.

On McGee's coffee table was another map; one of Scotland. Holy Loch was circled, as well as several tiny islands on the North side of the nation. Also on the coffee table, were several hand written letters with Tim's handwriting, as well as a very, very, old looking book. A nautical journal chronicling a sea captain's travels in the waters to the North East of Scotland.

On McGee's mantle were several ceramic pottery pieces; different interpretations of what looked like seals. While some were very realistic in shape and detail, others were abstract renderings of the sleek and hydrodynamic form of the sea creatures.

The apartment was dark, thick curtains pulled over the windows. Behind a silent McGee, was his typewriting desk, but the antique writer was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was an ancient looking deep sea diving helmet, some sea glass and shells in a neat pile, and a sea captain's looking glass next to a sextant.

"McGee?"

Tony's tone had gone from angry and frustrated, to concerned and confused. His eyes focused on his seated friend, and only then did he realize Tim's form.

The young agent was wearing a pair of rough looking grey sweat pants, no shirt, and a black shadow across his upper chest. Tony narrowed his eyes and looked closer.

McGee got a tattoo?!

The young agent sat in silence, elbows on knees, staring at his bare feet, looking very much like a child that had been caught stealing a pack of gum from the store.

"What… What…" Tony cleared his throat and rubbed his chin before trying again.

"What is going on?"

Silence

"Tim, talk to me."

McGee shook his head.

"Seriously, what is all this? Probie? Come on man!" Tony pleaded.

"...not normal."

Tony decided to not even argue with that statement.

"Well, yeah, I got that a little McConspiracy Theorist. Let me see that tattoo."

Tony walked over, and to his surprise, McGee straightened up his posture, almost proudly showing off the cursive black lettering across his chest. The thin cursive stretched from the begging of one shoulder, curved about beautifully across his chest, ending at the other shoulder; the height of it reaching his collar bones; the tails of the capital letters reaching almost to his nipple line.

Geur-Rannsachadh Mara

"Gore, ransack… cad… mara?" Tony's twisted tongue mumbled.

McGee nodded.

"...and what might that mean, Tim?"

"Literal translation? Diligently searching of the sea."

Tony pursued his lips and nodded slightly.

"Ok… so, what's with all this?!" Tony finally blurted, his inquisitive mind yearning.

"I mean, all the maps and charts and the… seal sculptures! What is it with you? Seriously, McCreepy, what's going on… oh wait hold on, I'm grabbing the beer. Left it outside."

McGee nodded silently, relenting to the fact that he would not be able to get Tony out, and he had already seen everything. No point to kicking him out now.

When Tony returned, Tim was clearing a section of the coffee table of the debris, carefully cradling the journal and maps and placing them gently on his desk chair.

"And tell me," Tony spoke as he sat, "who is she? I didn't know you were an artist."

McGee followed Tony's pointing finger to the easel in the corner of the room. Upon it sat thick parchment, with a pile of art charcoal on a plate. The charcoal had been used to create her image. Her image. Not, it's image.

In varying shades of grey and black, was a bust drawing of the woman; though created in dark hues, even Tony could see the mysterious look in her eyes, the beckoning slight smile. Deep charcoal marks swept her hair down to cover a bare chest. One hand was held forward, in perfect three dimensional perspective. Her fingers were outstretched, as if reaching to take hold of another's hand.

McGee looked at her image and smiled.

After the beer was cracked open, with pizza in hand, Tim took a deep breath. He leveled sunken eyes at Tony, mouthful of food, beckoned eagerly for his younger agent to reveal just what the hell was going on. McGee swallowed his food, and spoke.


Again, I apologize for not continuing this as often as I'd like, but life is... life. So bear with me, and if you're still reading, I'm going to try to get another chapter up fairly soon.

-Papillon