~three weeks later~

"Probie!" Tony was standing in front of Tim's desk, trying to get his attention. Tim finally looked up upon hearing Tony shout.

"What?"

"I've been standing here for ten minutes. We have a dead body at Quantico. Let's go."

"I don't want to go," Tim said blandly.

"I don't care what you want, McGee," said Gibbs as he limped into the bullpen. He was still on desk duty, and not easy to deal with. "Get your ass up and go do your job!"

Tim got up and picked up his bag. He could blow off Tony, but when Gibbs spoke, he obeyed without question.

"Yes, Boss." he glumly followed Tony and Ziva into the elevator, purposefully avoiding eye contact with Gibbs.

Tim didn't talk to anyone on the way to the crime scene. When Tony asked him to bag and tag, he reluctantly obeyed. As he carefully bagged anything he could find, he tuned out the world around him. He sought to become invisible. It was ruined when Ducky and Jimmy showed up.

"Timothy, how are you feeling, my boy?" Ducky asked as he squatted by the body to start his examination.

"I'm fine, Ducky," Tim replied automatically. He returned to a standing position with his evidence and walked away, leaving Ducky very confused.

NCISNCISNCIS

Tim dropped all of his evidence off with Abby when they returned to the Yard. She tried to ask how he was doing but he ignored her questions. Miffed, she signed off on the evidence and he left her lab.

Gibbs was the only one in the bullpen when he got back upstairs. Tim simply went to his desk and sat down. He had some stuff to work on. Before he could start any paperwork, Gibbs shouted.

"McGee! Pull up what you have on our dead guy."

Tim irritably tapped a few keys and an image came up on the screen.

"Lieutenant Kim Li, age 26. Born in Shanghai and immigrated here with his family at age three. Grew up in Arlington, Virginia."

"Is that all, McGee?" Gibbs asked, annoyed. Tim nodded and went back to his paperwork. Tony stood up.

"Also, stationed on the U.S.S. Nimitz. He was in town on leave, Boss. Current residence is unknown."

"Thank you, DiNozzo." Gibbs glared at Tim as he turned and sat back down at his desk. "You and Ziva get to the Nimitz before she leaves port and find out if he got along with his shipmates."

"Yes, Boss."

"McGee, you find out as much as you can about him, and I know you have the ability. No excuses. You ever pull that crap again I'll have your badge. Understand?"

Tim got up from his desk and unclipped his badge from his belt. He calmly walked to Gibbs' desk and set it down.

"Take it." Tim turned and walked to his desk and started to gather his things. He didn't hear Gibbs get up and come over until he felt a hand grab him by the elbow and turn him roughly around to face him. He was holding Tim's badge. He grabbed Tim's hand and slapped the badge into his palm.

"You're not quitting. I won't let you."

"I don't want to be here anymore, Boss. I'm not cut out for this place."

"Why would you think-" Gibbs paused as realization washed over him. "Is this about what happened at the Reese home?"

Tim stood there silent, but he knew Gibbs could read his face.

"Sit down," Gibbs ordered. "Now." Tim dropped his bag and sat down at his desk. "Listen to me. What happened in that house was not your fault."

"It's not? Boss, we should have protected Lanette Reese. She's dead because we failed to protect her! I failed!"

"You didn't fail, McGee! There was no way either of us could have put up a fight without getting shot. There were six armed men in that room with us. It was a futile situation."

"You were willing to just sit there and die?"

"Yes, if it came to that! Tim, part of our job is to be prepared that we might die in the line of duty. We almost did that day."

"An innocent woman did die, and we couldn't save her! Someone had to rescue us!"

"Tim, we can't save everyone. We didn't expect to walk into that, and we didn't have the proper backup. We can't go back in time and do it over."

"He should have killed me instead of her. I-"

thwack!

"Shut up, McGee! Don't you ever talk like that. She died because her husband got involved with the wrong people. They were going to kill her whether we showed up or not. There was nothing we could have done McGee!"

Tim started to get up, but Gibbs pushed him back down into his chair.

"Just let me quit, Boss. I'm not cut out for this."

"You're not quitting, McGee. You're a great agent, and I'm not letting you throw it all away."

"I don't want anyone else to die because of me."

"Tim, you're not going to be able to save everyone, but you shouldn't let that stop you from trying. We may not have been able to save Lanette Reese, but don't let it stop you from remembering all the good you've done, Tim. You're a good agent, and a good man."

Tim finally looked up to face Gibbs. His blue eyes weren't cold. They were filled with understanding. Tim looked down at the badge Gibbs had shoved back into his hand. He slowly slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. Gibbs smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry for the way I've been acting, Boss. It was out of line."

"I'll let it go this once, McGee, but don't ever pull that crap again, are we clear?"

"Clear, Boss."

"Good. Now get back to work and find me as much as you can about Lieutenant Li."

"Yes, Boss," Tim said with a small smile, and turned back to his computer. This was where he was meant to be, and with Gibbs' help, he knew that now for sure.

FINIS