Hey everyone. As usual, when I'm stuck on HTF I try working on something else to not go crazy. I hope it makes waiting easier for you guys, though the stories are really different.
NB (and almost unimportant) : Somalia is where Saleem held Ziva captive before Tony and the team rescued her (even though they thought she was dead and were basically seeking revenge).
Tim didn't remember much about the night he'd been brought in. He remembered he had been in a restaurant with his sister and some of their cousins in town for the week-end. He remembered laughing, and their faces when he told a few stories from work. He remembered sending them off in a taxi. Then there was a fight somewhere, a woman crying out, and McGee running toward the sound before he could realize he was a little bit too tipsy to take out his gun. The rest was a blur. He knew there had been shots because, well, he'd had two bullets in him and that would be hard to forget. He had, however, no idea how he got to the hospital, how his car had gotten back to his place (Abby's info) or how on earth he was still alive.
He had awoken, and Abby was there. Sweet, beautiful, Abby. Her eyes were puffy and red and it made him warm inside because he knew it was for him. Then his sister arrived, insanely relieved (he'd been in very bad shape, apparently) and angry because he just had to go and get himself in trouble the second she left! He had smiled and nodded drowsily and accepted her kisses. He hadn't been able to really say anything the first two days after he opened his eyes. He was so drugged up and sore he didn't have the strength to even try. Palmer had been the best playmate. He had come with a lot of movies (which was kind of surprising coming from him), a dvd player and cards. Ducky let him leave earlier everyday so he could keep Tim company at the hospital. They had hung around more than they ever did before, and it reminded McGee why he'd always liked the young doctor.
Gibbs had swung by the minute Abby had called him to announce McGee was awake. He'd had Ziva in tow and it was strange to see the Israeli agent so upset. He could swear she had been crying (even if it was in no way as obvious as for Abby) and suddenly his little near-death experience became a lot more real and scary. Gibbs yelled at him for being reckless, but then added he had probably saved a woman from rape that night and his shouting sounded a lot prouder than it should have. McGee, still too out of it at the time, had smiled stupidly, unaware that he should probably try to look repentant.
It was so strange having Gibbs walk in his room every night and just sit on that uncomfortable-looking chair by his bed. A few nurses had tried to tell him visiting hours stopped at 6, but he didn't seem to care and his glare still had it. That first week, McGee realized he had never really been alone with his boss for a long time before. He quite liked the idea of Gibbs worrying for him, but he was still awkward with how to deal with it.
As for Ducky, he had arrived that same first day with his medical file in hand, reading and nodding or shaking his head with a frown.
"You are quite lucky, my lad," he'd said. And it was still too soon for McGee to realize how it would hurt like a b- when the drugs wore off, and that he wouldn't call that lucky. So he had accepted the words as a reality and smiled again. Ducky had asked him what he remembered, and when Tim had shrugged, the M.E had nodded again. "This is normal, Timothy, do not worry yourself about the holes in your memory. It will all come back in time."
McGee had been in no state close enough to care.
It was weird how those first three days, as he dozed off a dozen times a day and was too weak to even try to think straight, he still managed to be bothered by some inexplicable feeling. On the third day, that feeling started worrying him, and his agent's training kicked in, making him think that maybe there was some important information about a case he had forgotten to give his boss or something. But there wasn't. When the fog in his head started to clear out and he was actually able to answer questions in sentences that made sense, he realized he was getting annoyed with something that he couldn't really recall. His dreams were a mess of blood and cries and he woke up grumpier after every nap. Abby told him that maybe he was beginning to remember what had happened. McGee realized that for some unknown reason, he actively did not want to know what had happened. Abby had frowned in confusion as he told her, but had nodded anyway. Lovely Abigail. He didn't even realize when he dozed off again, almost mid-sentence, the last thing on his mind the realization that no one had said the only words he wanted to hear.
Tim woke up with a start. His heart was pounding desperately in his chest and for a moment he thought he would wake up in the alley he'd found himself in when he followed the cries, that night. It was dark and small and well, everything that made it the perfect spot to attack young, defenseless women. He had arrived with no subtlety whatsoever, yelling a "Hey! What are you doing, stop it!". The next moment was a blur, but he was almost certain he had been shot at right away, before he pulled his gun and returned fire, jumping behind trash cans for cover. He had only been grazed at that point. A burning slash that only helped him sober up faster. From his position, the two men who had been assaulting a woman would've had to run past him to get out of the dead-end. But there were two of them, with guns and a potential hostage. He took his phone out and pushed speed dial #1.
As he came back to himself, Tim growled. So Abby and Ducky were right, he was starting to remember.
He tried. He really did try not to wonder, not to notice, but at some point, his absence took up all the room. Where was Tony?
He hadn't really noticed the SFA's absence at first (only because he was stoned on pain-killers). But, after three days, as he became more aware of his surroundings, he couldn't help but to worry. It was not like Tony not to be there. Tony would find a way to annoy him into complete remission. He would find a way to bother him so much Tim would do everything to get well sooner just to leave the room. It was just the way Tony was... wasn't it? Tony would start with something like "I'm here, Probie," and even though Tim would act like it, he would be relieved.
Except Tony wasn't there.
So McGee worried. Had his partner gotten hurt when he was out? Was Tony lying unconscious somewhere in that very hospital? Maybe it was even worse and his friends didn't want to tell him... McGee had been fidgeting with the idea for a full hour when Palmer finally arrived. He was about to blurt out the question, not sure that he was ready to hear the answer, when he realized Jimmy was on the phone. He had a small smile that was not exactly amused and he shook his head as he walked in Tim's room.
"Don't be stupid, Tony," he said warningly, "anyway I'm at the hospital, I'm not supposed to talk on the phone. See you later?"
McGee sat there dumbstruck for a few minutes before he felt his ears and neck tingle red and shook himself.
"Is everything okay?" Palmer had asked.
Tim had nodded, biting his tongue. So Tony was fine. Seeing Palmer later. Not even asking him to pass a message to McGee or anything. Not asking to talk to him on the phone either. He was fine, and not here. Somehow, it was like a slap to the face. What did Gibbs say about those? A slap to the face is an insult, right?
When Gibbs arrived that night, McGee felt like his boss expected the question. Where. Is. Tony? But something kept Tim from asking it. Maybe it was his ego. He still felt the trace of an imaginary hand burning the side of his face. And so he didn't say anything. Gibbs left an hour later, as usual. McGee watched a movie he had never seen but had heard of, and shut it off ten minutes before the end when he remembered it was one of Tony's favorites. He felt petty and immature but he didn't care. He pushed the dvd player away and prepared to sleep.
Like every night, he felt a shot of dread at the idea of closing his eyes and sleeping in an unprotected hospital. It brought flashes of memories to his mind and he felt vulnerable. Like every night, he quelled it with the certitude that his boss would have his back.
The morrow confirmed it, when the first thing he saw as he opened his eyes was the coffee cup on the table by the door. McGee didn't know how Gibbs found a way to slip past the nurses and into his room every night, but he was too thankful to care. Plus, Tim knew it was an easier way for his boss to care for his team. Gibbs was not good at small talk, but he was good at watching his team's six. Gibbs wouldn't say "Everything will be okay, Probie," but maybe McGee could still think it would.
Tim was in between consciousness and sleep when he realized someone was calling his name. "Wake up. Wake up Timmy, please. Open your eyes." He found it strange and tried to comply but felt his lids heavily closed instead. Panic shot through him as he tried to move, do something, but found he couldn't. He tried to calm down, to listen to the voice, but it was hard to focus, his attention was all over the place, and somehow he was certain he was going to die. Then he heard it, the voice was begging now. And yelling. And praying God. He wondered if it was his mother for a moment but he knew she was not in DC., and this voice was a man's. What was happening?
"McGee? Tim? Wake up!"
His eyes shot open and he inhaled hungrily. Ziva and Abby were there, looking at him with worry, and before he could do or say anything, a nurse had arrived and was taking his vitals. He tried to make sense of what had just happened, and grabbed the only word he got from Ziva: a nightmare. But he hadn't been sleeping. At least he didn't think he had. Damn, what was happening? Was that a fragment of memory?
Maybe he should try to remember.
Tim was not worried anymore. And the sting of hurt had passed too. Now he was angry at Tony. He was angry and as he lay alone in between visits from friends, he imagined how his partner was going to explain himself. How he was going to make it okay. Or maybe he wouldn't try. Was Tony just going to wait for Tim to come back to work, wave at him as usual and go back to their routine? McGee knew he could just ask his team what was the SFA's deal and be done with it, but he refused to. Part of him was too proud, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know anyway. So as he was actively trying not to remember the night he'd been shot, his mind had plenty of time to wonder and analyze and dwell on details about Tony's absence. It was almost annoying how even when he was not there he took all the space in the room.
"Are you okay?" Ziva asked Abby. Tim was just waking up from a fuzzy dream where yells echoed in his head and he couldn't make sense of anything happening. His eyes were still closed and he was feeling too tired and sleepy to open them. He knew his two friends were there because he could smell the roses Abby always brought with her and his Israeli partner's voice had just asked the question.
"I'm worried about him," Abby answered in a whisper, and Tim was about to turn her way and reassure her again (he'd had to do that a few times since he had regained consciousness, Abby was a worrier), when Ziva added:
"He's a bit different from usual, but it is not that bad, is it?"
"You didn't hear him, Ziva. You don't know how he was when he called. It's like he'd gone mad."
"He was worried," Ziva tried to rationalize but Tim could easily guess how Abby shook her head by the sound the tiny bells she wore at her ears lately made. "He is more … focused than usual, I'll give you that," Ziva added thoughtfully.
There was nothing for a moment, and then something crashed on McGee's chest:
Abby's voice was so quiet and frail Tim shivered. She sounded as afraid as the word was haunted.
"That's where he ended up the last time I saw him like that. In Somalia."
Tim was shutting his eyes so tight it hurt. He didn't want to understand. He didn't even know why he was trying so hard not to learn what was happening outside the hospital. It was like an instinct was telling him he'd rather not know. And the harder he pushed things like that away, the harder the memories hit him when they came back. And suddenly he remembered pushing speed dial #1 and saying just one word before feeling a bullet tear through his skin.
Ducky came in with his doctor the next morning, and McGee knew they would try to tell him about his arm again. He didn't want to listen. They talked, he stared, Ducky gave the name of the best physiotherapists he knew and Tim nodded silently. The doctor asked if it hurt, taking his silence for pain, and Tim nodded again, because he had been biting his tongue about it since morning but he couldn't take more. His head lolled to the side, and his eyes fell on the door window. But no one was behind it. He tried not to call what he felt crushing disappointment. He imagined the words he wanted to hear. He needed to hear. "You'll be okay." And Ducky probably said something similar. He probably told him that with the right reeducation, he would be able to use his hand again. But those were just words. He couldn't believe them. They were not Tony's.
The doctor played with something by the bed and suddenly McGee felt better. He sighed with relief and nodded off almost immediately.
Kate was dead, wasn't she?
So why was she the one by the head of his stretcher in a parked ambulance, yelling at nurses to hurry up in the foulest language he'd ever heard her use. She took out her phone and called someone, Tim's vision was swimming but he could hear she was calling a doctor friend of hers and telling them to hurry. He blacked in and out of consciousness and each time she was either yelling at him to open his eyes or at the hospital staff to do something as they pushed the stretcher past multiple doors. The lights were too bright on the ceiling, his chest hurt like hell and he couldn't feel one arm, but she was taking all his attention as she followed the team of doctors, running at his face's level. His eyes closed and he was almost certain someone said something about him being in real bad condition, to be prepared for the worst. She insulted that person's ancestors and told him to shut up. He didn't know Tim, so just shut up.
McGee had no idea how long after that Kate's voice woke him up. He could not open his eyes and it felt like half his body was asleep so he couldn't do anything. He wanted to see her. He really wanted to see her but he couldn't. He heard her beg. And he heard her pray to God. Somehow it felt weird hearing Kate say prayers but now that he thought about it, she had gone to Catholic school, had she not?
Still, something felt wrong as he heard her despair and couldn't help blacking out again. He woke up again a few times and each time she was there, talking to him. Begging.
Tim's eyes shot open as he woke up, his breathing ragged and his arm hurting like someone had just tried to pull it off. He shivered and was surprised to realize he was bathed in sweat as he passed a hand on his cold face. Kate. So he had been hallucinating. He hadn't dreamt of Kate in years, and here she was again. Maybe he had needed it. Needed her. Someone that cared and made sure he was taken care of. Someone that had his back and did not leave his side. He couldn't think more on the subject right then though, his arm was killing him, his nerves were on fire and as he tried to clench his fist a cry slipped from his mouth. He turned toward the window, the sun was almost down, Gibbs should be there soon. He would know what to do.
"Gibbs said the fever broke in the morning. He slept through most of it but kept calling Kate's name. Was he in a lot of pain, Ducky? Is he better now?"
"I believe he is, Abigail. He was in very bad shape when he was brought in, we almost lost him. We should be glad the fever was so short-lived and harmless."
"I'll feel glad when he's out of here."
"I understand the sentiment, my dear. Have you talked to Anthony?"
"No, I haven't seen or talked to him since Friday. Palmer says he's not sure Tony'll even come back on Monday."
"Come now, you know Jethro won't let him take off just like that, do not worry."
"I'm not sure he'd listen to Gibbs at this point, Ducky."
Tim never told them he was listening. They left after a short while, and he only opened his eyes when he heard the door close. There were three large cups of coffee on the table this time. Tim tried to focus on the image of Gibbs sitting there, sipping at the cups while he was being delirious. He wondered if it had been hard for the old marine to hear the name of his late agent. He tried to think about pretty much anything but the conversation he had eavesdropped on.
Nurses arrived and managed to take his mind off of things when they helped him get up and go to the bathroom for the first time since he'd been in that room. His legs were weak, his head was spinning and his chest hurt, but he preferred that to thinking. He walked by the coffee cups and saw that one of them was still half full of brown liquid. McGee frowned but chose not to dwell on it.
"Hey, Carol, did a woman bring me in?"
"Oh, I don't know, I wasn't here last week-end. Do you want me to ask for you?"
"Yes, that would be nice. Ask if they remember a goth with high heels, maybe?"
He couldn't help but ask. And yet he still didn't want to know. Maybe that was why he gave Abby's description, almost certain that she hadn't been the one praying for him. What was wrong with him, for God's sake?
Gibbs was late. In the week he'd been conscious, the boss had always walked in with his strong-smelling coffee at the exact same time. And now he wasn't. Palmer had been acting weird too, a bit distracted, needing to be told it was his turn several times when they played cards. Abby had stopped by at lunch and kissed his cheek as usual, but she kept fidgeting and looking at her phone.
And now Gibbs was not here. It was Monday.
So Tony had not gone back to work then, huh?
When he finally arrived, Gibbs didn't give any reason for his lateness. He looked grim and was even less talkative than usual, but Tim didn't try to fill the silences. He barely even noticed, lost in his own thoughts.
He hadn't known if it was particularly well-aimed or if it was just a lucky shot, but it hit the arm holding the phone just as he called his partner's name. It took a few seconds for Tim to get a hold of himself after the initial shock of pain, and he realized that the person yelling from far away was actually just Tony's voice coming from the phone he had dropped on the ground. His face was next to it when he came back to his senses.
"I'll kill you. If you touch him, I'll kill you! Tim talk to me. SAY SOMETHING! I'm coming. Abby's tracing the call, I'm coming Timmy just hold on."
It was so angry and desperate McGee didn't understand why his phone was losing it. Then he remembered, and his working hand tightened its hold on the gun he hadn't let go of.
Tim could hear slamming and honking noises coming from the phone but now he knew there was something more important to focus on. Like the two men on the other end of the street. Fortunately, he hadn't blacked out totally after he'd been hit and the two men probably didn't realize they could have ran away easily during the few moments he had lost grip. He moved a cardboard box with his feet, just to make some noise and to let them know he wasn't dead. The girl was still crying, quietly now, as if afraid to draw attention to herself. His eye caught movement and he shot as a reflex. One of the man swore and he knew he'd missed him by a hair. They returned fire and McGee tried to count how many bullets they were using as he hid behind his wall of garbage. Tony had gone silent on the phone now, as if he knew something important was happening and didn't want to disturb his partner. Not that McGee really noticed. He spotted movement and shot again, this time he knew one of the men had been hit.
"Hey, what's going on here?"
A large man with a baseball bat arrived from behind, and McGee swore. The fat guy must have thought he could scare off whoever was fighting in the street. Didn't he hear gunshots? Did he at least call the police? The man whimpered at the first bullet that missed him and McGee jumped toward him to make him fall on the ground and take cover. He had made one step toward the man when he felt something heavy push him forward and stumble. His back burnt and his chest exploded. He fell a few steps away from the fat man who cried out and tried to flee from where he'd come. It was the weirdest feeling, realizing you would die in a back alley like so many other anonymous poor souls. He felt numb enough not to feel anything as his body fell limp and his head almost smashed into the ground.
"No. No. MCGEE SAY SOMETHING. What the fuck is happening? McGee I'm coming. Say something! This is an order! I will kick your ass, say something."
And then, almost scaldingly calm: "I'm coming for you. I'm coming."
He heard steps. He saw shoes. Someone said "what the fuck is this noise?", unhurriedly, almost lazily.
Tony stopped talking for half a second and his voice had gone cold and un-Tony-like by the time he resumed.
"Whoever you are, I will find you and I will kill you. Do you hear me?"
He saw a bloodied hand reach for the dirtied wet phone and he thought he heard a raspy voice say something, but he wasn't sure. There was the word hero in it. Shouldn't have played hero. He didn't know. He wasn't sure. He was dead and his killer was having a phone conversation with his partner. What a messy death.
At the hospital, McGee inhaled deeply. He should try to sleep, he knew he should, but something was telling him no one would have his back tonight, and it was hard to close his eyes and make his brain shut up. Everything was jumbled up together. Something, deep inside him, knew the truth. Simple and clear, but another part of him refused to acknowledge it. Grow up, he chanted in his head. He hadn't been afraid of the dark since he was 8, he could handle this. Except he hadn't had a near-death experience when he was 8. Tim tried to reason with himself, but his logic failed him. What was so special about what had happened to him? Okay, he had almost died, and this was kind of a big deal, but it wasn't the first time. He was a special agent, he should be used to this. Tony wouldn't have a second thought about the whole thing. Ziva would probably never have been hurt in the first place. He sighed and shook his head. What made it so hard to trust the darkness and close his eyes?
He woke up surprised to have slept, and it was day again. What didn't surprise him, however, was the lack of cups on the table. It was harder and harder to ignore the truth.
As expected, nobody came to visit after Ziva and Abby at noon. They looked tense and Abby's lackluster chatter was unconvincing, but he let them go without asking any questions, just like he had since he'd opened his eyes more than a week earlier. He found he missed Jimmy's company and Gibbs's silent but solid presence. He found he missed a lot of things. His chest was starting to hurt more than usual, and the doctor told him they were reducing the dosage of drugs they were giving him on purpose. It wasn't good news but at least the pain took his mind off of things.
Or at least it did at first.
By the end of the afternoon, McGee was developing schizophrenia. Half of him knew Tony was the one that brought him here. That he had waited with him, yelled at the nurses when they took too long and paced until he was out of sight. He believed he recalled Tony spending the first night talking to him after he'd been out of surgery. He thought he could remember a nurse threatening to call security and throw him out.
But the other half of him was also positive that the voice he'd heard wasn't Tony's. Tony didn't believe in miracles, he didn't pray. Let alone beg. No, it couldn't have been Tony. He thought maybe he'd dreamt of Kate. Maybe she had been the one praying for him in his imagination and his brain had twisted things. Cause Tony didn't beg.
Tony didn't know despair.
He woke up in the middle of the night when a door closed. Strangely enough, he did not try to find his gun to defend himself against the dangers of darkness. He felt like a weight was finally lifted off his chest and he could breathe easier. His mind didn't block the truth.
"m'hey Tony," he said sleepily, not actually discerning the face of the shadow staying still in the dark. The small amount of medicine he was allowed to take before he slept was enough to make him drowsy and a bit slow. His eyes were already drooping.
"Hey probie," came the answer, and the voice was all wrong. Too low and rusty. Too broken. Tony sounded like he had been yelling all day long or had suddenly smoked enough in one day to make up for years of a healthy life. Tim forced his eyes open to try and take a better look at the form on the chair. It wasn't too far. He could see two glints in the night, and he thought he could see light stubble.
"A' you gonna leave in the mo'nin again?"
"No Timmy, I'm staying this time."
"And you'll start the physical therapy soon. No more ignoring the doctors."
McGee was out in seconds.
"For God's sake DiNozzo, look at yourself."
"I thought you said I did that too much, boss."
"Don't be a smartass. Did you at least get checked up?"
"So you haven't looked at yourself."
"If I looked so bad, you could have brought me my things so I could freshen up before he wakes up. You saw me yesterday night and you didn't seem to find me so terrible."
"I was more worried about you getting your ass fired. And half your face is blue now, cleaning up won't hide that, even with that fancy gel you put on your hair."
"You should see the other guys."
There was a pause then, and a sigh.
"I have. Everybody has. Why do you think you got suspended?"
"I don't know, the director never liked me."
"Stop with the smart act. The perps could still press charges and you could lose-"
"They won't. Believe me."
"What the hell have you done?" Gibbs's tone seemed more resigned than curious, and Tim knew it was rhetorical. "You didn't find them yesterday, did you? How long have you kept them to yourself before bringing them in?"
Tim counted to 9 before the SFA answered.
"I warned them." Silence, then: "didn't I, probie?"
Tim knew there was no use pretending anymore.
"You sure did."
"You snore when you sleep, McSleeping-Beauty, you might want to take that into consideration next time you fake it. And what have you done to my dvd player? I warned Palmer about the no food rule around my baby!"
The wounded man rolled his eyes and tried to straighten up to have a better look at his partner. He had a few things to say about the movies Tony had passed through Palmer to entertain him, but he would keep that conversation (and, no doubt, debate) for later.
"Ow, you do look bad, Tony. What happened to you?"
"You're one to talk. I'm sorry to say, your new look will not help with the ladies."
"You're the one that always says chicks dig scars."
"On me, probie. But that's only because chicks dig everything on me."
McGee snorted and shook his head, but he felt a wave of relieved contentement wash through him. This was normal. This was good.
Tim had been brought back from the dead by a slap.
He felt hands on the side of his face and his vision was too blurry to focus on Tony's face for a long moment. He could imagine green eyes looking at him anyways. The SFA's hands went to press on the chest wound and McGee had to remind himself that this was not a good moment to throw up. He didn't have much strength left, and his face lolled sideways, his eyes locking on a classic car he knew, parked in the middle of the way, one door thrown open. He wondered how Tony could be that careless. Wasn't he afraid someone would steal it? There was an annoying sound in the background, and for some reason it seemed to relieve Tony. Tim tried to look back up at his friend but could only hold his head a second. It was enough to see the man's previously clean shirt and face now covered in his blood. This was so strange.
As his cheek touched the wet ground again and his eyes were back on the car, McGee found himself detached. He knew he was as good as dead, and instead of feeling scared or panicked, he was thinking about how unfair it was. He was an NCIS agent. If he had to die from a bullet, it should be on the job. What was this dying on his only night-off in the month? How unfair was that! And how was that even possible? He had been shot by two random guys attacking a woman in a street not one minute away from a popular restaurant. This was not normal. This was not how it should be. He should be afraid of serial marine killers and SEALs gone rogue or whatever, not of walking down the street. This was not okay. This meant nothing was safe. This meant his little sister should be afraid all the time and Abby needed more than a taser. He hated it. He was dying and he hated the way it was happening.
But then Tony was there. Talking to him, and that was right. He wasn't alone. His partner was here. Tony was here, and somehow it made the whole thing okay. He tried to focus on his friend's face, to really see him one last time, if only to make sure that this was really him. Because Tony always found a way to make things okay. He would look out for his sister. He would teach Abby how to defend herself. Tony would take care of everything. He would make the streets safer. He was in charge after all, wasn't he? He was the SFA. He was his best friend. Yes, Tony would have his back.
As the black dots in his vision finally ate everything else and he passed out in that dark, wet, alley, Tim forgot that Tony would not, however, allow him to die.
"I'm here Timmy. Everything will be okay. You'll be okay."
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