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Broken Obsession

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Tim didn't know how long he had been lying on the ground. He didn't know how long it had been since he had last been conscious. But he did know that someone else was in the alley, and he prayed it wasn't the man who had been hurting him. "-Gee, oh my...McGee!"

Oh, he recognized that voice. That was Tony's, wasn't it? Why did he sound so concerned, though?

"McGee, come on buddy you...wake up, please!"

He was awake, wasn't he? He tried to open his eyes, despite the fact that his eyelids felt like lead, though he only got them halfway open. Tony was kneeling in front of him, worry written in every inch of his rather expressive face.

"Hey, that's it, there we go," Tony said, voice going soft. "Don't worry, Tim, the ambulance is on its way."

Ambulance? Was someone hurt? He really hoped not, that never ended well on a case, and he felt too tired to do anything to help...

"Hey, no, Tim. You have to keep your eyes open for me," Tony instructed.

He was trying, he was really trying, but when he managed to open his eyes again he was seeing double of everything, and he couldn't even make out Tony's face. Tears came to Tim's eyes, and he knew it was embarrassing, but he just really wanted to see Tony. It felt like months since he had last had a conversation with his best friend. Of course, he knew he couldn't talk now, it wasn't safe to talk when he couldn't see everyone, and you never knew when some mean adult would come around the corner. He wasn't going to get hurt for trying to speak, never again!

"Hey, it's okay, buddy. You're safe now, you have to believe me. The ambulance is on the way to make sure you're right as rain again. You don't have to cry," Tony tried to soothe.

Safe? Tim didn't understand that word. Whenever anyone used it with him early in life when he was supposed to learn what it meant, it always came right before, "See? Here comes your daddy now!" and that was decidedly not safe. But, Tony...Tony was different, wasn't he? Tony always meant what he said, and he believed Tim (most of the time, anyway), so maybe Tony could keep him actually safe.

"Tim...up, please! Stay up!"

Tony's voice was frantic again, but Tim didn't understand why. It wasn't because of him, was it? Honest, he just wanted to take a quick nap...

Flashing lights and a siren came to his consciousness, but he didn't understand why they were there. Tony said something about an ambulance earlier, but Tim was fine, wasn't he?

There was darkness for a few seconds, as if he blinked, and he was on a...bed of some sort, a gurney? Tony was next to him, holding his hand and repeating reassurances. For who, Tim couldn't puzzle out.

Another blink, and he was being rushed through a hospital corridor, the florescent lights burning his eyes until someone leaned over him. They had a surgical mask on and they were saying something, but it sounded like gibberish to him, the syllables too rapid and too muffled to make out.

He closed his eyes again, and all he could see was the feral smile of that man, hissing, "Now maybe you'll stay out of other people's business, cop. I hope you enjoyed our little performance."

A pure strain of fear went through him before he lost all consciousness.


The next time he was aware of anything, he could hear someone's voice floating around his head. "Major trauma, fractured ulna on his right hand, sprained at least one ankle, We also found a minor closed fracture to the skull, which wasn't serious, however he will have a concussion to go along with it. We'd prefer he stay here for observation, at least for a week to ensure there is no severe brain damage. There are rope burns on both legs around the ankles, we suspect he was tied down when..."

"When what, doc?" a familiar voice growled. Was that Gibbs?

"When he was raped," the doctor said stiffly. "We found evidence of penetration to the anus, as well as some tearing in the area."

"What?!" Gibbs shouted. "You mean to tell me that during the last twenty-four hours of our case, he was--?!"

"Yes, and it's possible that it happened more than once," the doctor said. "That's another reason we want to keep him for observation. We need to see how severe his emotional trauma is."

With some effort, Tim forced his eyes open. Gibbs was standing in the doorway of his room, along with a man he didn't recognize. But it wasn't the man who had hurt him, so he would let him be there...for now. Gibbs looked over and did a double-take when he saw Tim's eyes were open. He walked over and sat in a chair next to Tim's bed. "Hey, you feeling okay, Tim?"

He had no idea how to answer that. His head felt foggy for reasons he couldn't explain, his right arm felt off; heavier than the rest of his body, and his ankles ached slightly. On top of that, he was still so tired...and he didn't think it was safe to speak yet, either.

Gibbs looked concerned and Tim felt slightly bad that he wasn't making sure Gibbs knew he was kinda aware of his surroundings, but he was still confused and scared and honestly he didn't think Gibbs would say anything if he were in Tim's position, either.

The other man approached and Tim tried to bring his hands up, signal for the man to stop, but everything was too heavy. Why couldn't he move? Was he drugged? Had they done something to him?! "Agent McGee, I need you to calm down. My name is Doctor Chambers, and you're currently in Bethesda Hospital. Do you understand?"

Tim tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. He nodded once, or tried to. His head hurt too much to move it more than half an inch, and he decided he was not going to try that again.

"You don't have to move if it's causing you pain, Agent McGee. We did some brain scans when you came in, and you don't have any serious brain damage, but I understand that it may be hard to speak right now, not least because you've been asleep for nearly twenty-four hours. We were briefly worried that you might be comatose, but it appears you just needed...a very long nap," the doctor laughed.

Tim blinked once, trying to figure out what was funny about the statement. No explanation was forthcoming. The doctor cleared his throat after not getting a response from Tim, and said, "Well. I assume you heard some of my conversation with Agent Gibbs, yes?"

Tim sighed, and gave the doctor a look that roughly equivalated to, you expect me to talk or move after I've gone through all this?

The doctor nodded as if he didn't see Tim. "I don't need a verbal response, most patients don't open their eyes the second they are conscious again. It takes great effort from what I've been told. Long story short, you have burns on your ankles, sprained your left ankle, broke your right wrist, have several lacerations on your back, and you fractured your skull." But the doctor's expression turned somber as he asked, "Agent McGee, do you remember what happened the last time you were fully conscious?"

A flash of teeth in a deadly grin. Unbearable pain from around his lower regions. A smooth voice, too soft for Tim to think it was safe. "If you fight back, dear, you'll only make the pain worse."

Tim's breath quickened and he tried to sit up, to get away from the pain, away from the people trying to hurt him, but he only succeeded in feeling more pain than before. There were hands on his chest, trying to push him down against the bed, but Tim thrashed wildly in response, lifting his right wrist and using it as a bludgeon to the head of the person touching him. There was a cry of pain, and Tim wasn't sure if it was from him or the person he hit. But he didn't stay conscious long enough to find out, because he had completely exhausted the little energy he had left, and collapsed asleep on the bed.


The next time Tim woke up, the sun was setting outside his window and he had a little less brain fog to deal with. "Ooh, he awakens! Hey, McGoo."

Tim lolled his head to the side and found Tony sitting in the visitor's chair, grinning. "I heard you slugged your doctor pretty good earlier. Didn't believe it until he walked in with a bandage over his nose and a faint blood stain going down to his lip. You always gonna use your cast as a weapon?"

Looking down, Tim found out the reason his wrist felt heavier earlier: he had a deep blue cast covering just below his fingers to halfway down his forearm. He huffed and smiled, Tony probably told them he liked blue.

"Told them you might like the colored casts, and pointed out that shade of blue. Figured you shouldn't be stuck with plain white just because you were out cold when they set it," Tony continued. "But, why slug your doctor?"

Tim didn't remember that. All he remembered was...hands pushing him down. And he was trying to break free, so he swung wide with his right arm...oh. Oops.

When he pulled a face and put his left hand up to cover his eyes, Tony laughed. "Yeah, he doesn't hold it against you. Apparently he triggered some fight-or-flight response, something like that. Wouldn't say why, 'cause I'm not your medical proxy."

Tim removed his hand and looked over at Tony. He was glad that Tony was here, he always liked talking with him, even if he got teased sometimes. Plus, he had promised to have Tim's back multiple times, and there was hardly a place that Tim felt safer than by Tony's side. He was thirsty, though. He looked around, frowning. They didn't leave him any water?

"You need something?" Tony asked, sitting upright on the edge of the chair, revealing a movable table with a water bottle on it.

Tim lit up and pointed to the water bottle. Tony turned, made an aha noise and picked up the offending object, breaking the cap's seal and holding the bottle to Tim's lips. He took small but rapid sips from the bottle until his stomach started to feel like it was in slush, when he pulled back and Tony replaced the bottle on the table. "Hey, Tim, can I ask you a question?"

Nodding with only a little pain, Tim felt somewhat satisfied at being able to communicate.

"Why haven't you said anything since we found you?"

Tim furrowed his eyebrows, thinking over the question. Obviously, it wasn't safe. But he didn't know how to communicate that every time he spoke, it ended in more pain. So he just shrugged.

Tony just looked worried at Tim's response. "What does that mean? Do you not know? Do you just not want to? Are you doing this out of...some sort of spite?!"

Tim shuffled further from Tony as much as he could. Someone being agitated always had made him nervous, but this was too much. It was too loud, too scary.

Tony noticed and immediately stopped. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry Tim. Yelling is not good, I sometimes forget about that."

Tim took a breath and nodded. He forgave Tony, of course, but he still didn't like the yelling and could feel himself starting to shake.

"Hey, buddy, why don't you lie down a minute? It's okay, I'll keep watch on the door."

Tim looked Tony over, decided he was sincere, nodded, and let himself lie back against the pillow and sleep again.

Chapter Text

Tim woke up gasping and shaking, though he didn't know why. There was a nightmare, he knew, but he couldn't identify what it was about or why he was so upset about it. Something warm touched his legs when he shifted in bed, and something in his brain short-circuited so that all he could do was start to cry, because he instantly knew he had wet the bed.

Someone came to his door and his words got caught in his throat. He didn't mean to do this, honest!

The person came closer and he saw it was a nurse, who looked nice enough. "Hey, what happened?" she asked. "Nightmare?"

Tim nodded, turning red when he realized she could probably smell his little accident.

"It's okay, lots of our patients get them," she reassured. "But we should change your sheets and clothes, honey, that nightmare must have been terrifying for you, if you're in this much of a state."

He nodded, still red in the face. She helped him off the bed after making a quick trip for a fresh hospital gown. But when he took off his underwear, she handed him some wipes and...a diaper?

"Policy, honey. We don't want to clean the bed every night, you understand?" she asked gently.

Reluctantly, he nodded and put it on after cleaning up his privates, feeling embarrassed the whole time, even when he had his new gown on and the nurse took the dirty sheets out of the room. Another nurse cleaned the plastic mattress and smiled at him sympathetically from where he was sitting in the visitor's chair.

When fresh sheets were put on the bed he was helped into it again and he fell asleep quickly, wondering briefly why he had been so upset just a few minutes before.


The next morning, Tim's head felt fuzzy. Not in the pain medication sort of way, but in the slightly off, there's-too-much-to-process sort of way. He didn't really understand what brought that on, but he wasn't in more pain, and he didn't have the same amount of worry and fear that he had last night, so he wasn't objecting.

Looking around, he sighed. This hospital room was so boring. All cream and white and literally nothing to watch or do. He didn't even have a TV as a last resort! Since nothing was forthcoming there in entertainment, he looked outside his room, through the glass walls. He could see the doctor and Gibbs arguing over...something. Gibbs was pointing to his room repeatedly, so he supposed it was an argument about him.

When the two men walked closer to his room, Tim simultaneously felt elation and dread. Something interesting was going to happen, but at what cost to his emotional health?

He was apparently soon to find out, because Gibbs walked into his room, pointed at Tim, and declared, "You are not keeping a federal agent in this."

The doctor sighed, and Tim felt his stomach sink as he realized that he was still wearing a diaper from last night. "Agent Gibbs, it's standard procedure when a patient shows signs of incontinence--"

"This isn't incontinence, this is a one-off issue! He's never had it before, and I doubt he will again! He doesn't need it, he needs a pair of briefs!" Gibbs exclaimed.

"Well, when he is released from the hospital, then he can wear briefs as he pleases. Until then, we need to ensure--"

Gibbs just picked up yelling again. "Ensure what?! Like I said, this was just one time! You have no proof of anything right now, aside from the fact that he's been extremely hurt and you haven't done a single--"

Tim grabbed Gibbs' arm in a plea to get him to stop yelling. Gibbs looked down at him, and his face melted from anger to concern. Tim belatedly felt the tears on his cheeks and the heaving in his chest from hearing the yelling, but it was too late to take the action back now.

"Agent Gibbs," the doctor said. "Agent McGee has been surprisingly cooperative surrounding this matter, and I advise you take notice from his actions. If nothing else happens within the next forty-eight hours, he is free to not only wear briefs, but sign the forms on his release as well. If you cooperate as well as he has, we may even release him into your care like you wished. Much as Agent DiNozzo wants to help, I believe that it would help to have the medical proxy make sure he's recovering, since Agent McGee has yet to speak still."

Gibbs turned to the doctor and Tim flinched. "He still hasn't spoken?" Gibbs asked. "Not a word?"

"Nothing," the doctor said. "We are bringing in a therapist to evaluate his psychological state within the hour. Depending on the results, we may be able to release him earlier than forty-eight hours, seeing as how his concussion does not seem to be having excessively negative effects that would require hospitalization."

Gibbs sniffed a laugh. "Yeah, well. It is the busy season."

The doctor winced at being caught but shrugged. "Busy for you, too. You must understand to some extent."

"Doesn't mean I like it," Gibbs sighed. He put a hand on Tim's shoulder and Tim looked up to find Gibbs staring intently at him. "You gonna be okay?"

Tim nodded. I'll be fine, he thought to himself. I don't think anything's wrong, the therapist will clear me right away.


Okay, Tim was wrong about the "right away" bit. He hadn't said anything since the therapist had come in. She was sitting in the visitor's chair, but moved it so Tim didn't have to crane his neck to see her. He was staring at her and she was staring back. Finding her gaze to be too intense, Tim dropped his gaze to his hands, before looking at a point just behind the therapist's head and shrugged.

The therapist took a breath and leaned forward. "All right, Tim, it's obvious you're not gonna start the conversation here, but someone's got to clear you so I'll start talking. How are you feeling?"

Tim grimaced and shrugged. The fuzziness in his head wasn't gone, and it was a bit frustrating, but it was also comforting. Like nothing was going to hurt him as long as he stayed quiet and his brain stayed nice.

"Can you use your words to explain how you're feeling, Tim?" the woman asked. She pulled a out her brown hair from a ponytail only to put it back up in a bun. "It is safe to use your words, isn't it?"

Tim stared at her in shock. No one had asked him that before, but he could answer that without talking! He shook his head, making very clear what he thought about that idea.

The therapist wrote something down and nodded. "That's all right, Tim, part of the reason why I'm here is to make sure you can feel safe to talk. I know it won't happen just because I say it's safe, though. Is there any particular reason it's unsafe? Or is it a lot of reasons?"

Tim made a sweeping gesture.

"Lot of reasons, got it. How does your head feel? I heard it took quite a hit," she said.

Tim waved his hand around in front of his head, grimacing. He didn't know how to describe that it was fuzzy, but the therapist seemed to be paying attention to the movement.

"Is that...like brain fog?" the therapist asked. At a shrug, she tried a different word. "Fuzzy? Does it feel fuzzy?"

Tim snapped and pointed at her repeatedly. She was good at this!

She grinned at his enthusiasm and hummed in thought. "Tim...do you think it's safe where you are? Or because of what you are?"

Tim blinked, tilted his head to one side, stared at her. He didn't understand her meaning.

"Are you safe because you're in the hospital, or safe because you're behaving like a good little boy?"

Well, it was the second one, obviously. Hospitals were rarely safe, they usually wound up in more pain after they fixed whatever was wrong with him this time.

"Your face says it all," the therapist said. "No need to really take that line of questioning any further. But I do need to figure out how you're feeling through the brain fuzz, so we're gonna find some ways to look through it together, all right? I have toys in my bag, do you want to see them?"

Tim's eyes lit up and he nodded. The therapist smiled, pulling out a bag and putting it on the bed where Tim could reach it. Inside, there were dozens of different toys, ranging from blocks to cars to a sketch pad. He pulled out the pad and inspected it. He did sometimes like to draw when words became too much. He wasn't a fantastic artist, but he did well enough.

"Do you like to draw, Tim?" the therapist asked.

Tim nodded.

"Could you draw something if I asked you about it?"

Well, that wasn't something he normally did, but he figured he could if he really tried. He nodded.

"Can you draw how you felt before you came to the hospital?" she asked.

Tim thought about it. That wasn't impossible, so he could try it. Nodding, he reached into the bag and pulled out a box of crayons. First, of course, he had to put down red. Red was violent, and angry, and while he didn't feel angry when he came to the hospital, he felt like he was bleeding or something, he remembered, because it was hard to stay awake and it wasn't because he hit his head against the bed board trying to escape. Something about glass and a couple deep cuts on his body. He filled up at least the top half of the page with red. He looked through the box and found blue, his favorite color and his favorite shade, and he drew a tiny ball underneath the red. That was him, he decided. He was trying to be small and silent and good so the red wouldn't hurt him again. He pulled out a black and made shapes in the red, claws and teeth and menacing people standing over the blue. He didn't know what to put on the floor other than the shadows, so he drew more of them. It felt like he was surrounded, after all. Surrounded by strangers with no place to go that was safe. He swallowed. Yeah, that described his situation pretty well.

He looked it over and decided he was done, handing it to the therapist with a shrug. That was pretty much the summary of how he felt before he came here.

The therapist looked it over, nodding and writing something down. "This is a very detailed drawing, Tim. Is it okay if I show it to the doctor and Agent Gibbs when I tell them how you're feeling?"

Tim nodded. It shouldn't be hidden that he felt like that. He felt like that lots and it was just how things were. If there was a problem an adult would know and they could help him. Adults always helped in the end, the books and the movies all said so.

The therapist let him play some with the other toys too. They had races around the bed with the cars, and Tim liked one of the dolls she had in the bag, though not so much as to play with it for more than a few seconds. Dolls you needed a few of to get good stories going.

After a while, the therapist said she had to talk to the doctor and Gibbs, but told him he could play with the toys while she spoke with them, and she could help him clean them up when she came back. He agreed and she walked out. He just barely caught her shaking her head and staring at his drawing, and Tim felt his stomach flip. He had forgotten about the drawing, truth be told, and he hadn't realized what it had looked like when he was making it.

It looked like a gang of monsters attacking a little kid.

Chapter Text

From the second the therapist walked out of McGee's room, Gibbs knew something was wrong. She had some sort of drawing pad in her hand and was shaking her head, looking at it repeatedly. Gibbs' gut was churning, all the different possibilities on what was wrong with Tim running rampant in his head. As she walked over, the therapist seemed to be chewing on her words, occasionally looking up to see Gibbs standing next to McGee's doctor, and she'd look back down at the picture and sigh.

By the time she was standing where Gibbs and the doctor were, Gibbs was about ready to burst, questioning what was wrong with his agent to make the therapist so nervous. "I don't know how to say this so I'm just going to say it: this isn't even a remotely 'normal' case for what I've seen trauma victims do over the years," she said.

Gibbs felt his stomach sink. Was that it? Is that all she had for them? "How so?" he forced himself to ask.

"Well, he has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Full stop, no question about it. Talking at him for half an hour told me that. But it's the way he's handling it that has me...not worried, but interested in his actions and choice of coping mechanisms."

"Yeah? How's he coping?" Gibbs asked, suspecting the answer was going to have to do with something about McGee not speaking.

"Well, he seems to have gone traumatically mute, in a sense," the therapist said. "However it's more along the lines of he doesn't feel it is safe to talk than he simply won't talk at all. And then there's the fact that he appears to have severe regression--"

"Hang on," Gibbs interrupted. "Is this about the thing the doctor forced him to wear? Because if that's all you have on the subject--"

"It's not all I have, Agent Gibbs, please be patient," the therapist placated. "I had a few different tests of a sort to gauge Tim's reaction once I suspected he might be suffering a severe form of regression to cope. First, I had asked him why he felt safe in the hospital. He responded, though not in words, that it wasn't because he was in the hospital, where there are security and nurses and visitors lists to make sure patients are safe, it's because he was acting good. I specifically used the phrasing 'good little boy'. Didn't bat an eye. That's a subconscious sign that what he sees himself as at the moment is hardly anything more than a child. To confirm my suspicions, I offered him the opportunity to play with the toys I usually use on pediatric clients, and he looked more interested in that moment than for the rest of our conversation. But the final nail in the coffin has to be what he drew when I asked him to describe how he felt before he came to the hospital." The therapist showed the two the drawing and Gibbs physically flinched at what he saw. "That's my reasoning, Agent Gibbs. Wouldn't you be inclined to agree?"

As much as Gibbs hated it, the therapist had an excellent point. The page was bright red for the top two-thirds, with black scrawling that looked like monsters and distorted shadows drawn over the red and extended to a white floor. In the center of that floor, surrounded by the shadows and the red coloring (which Gibbs sincerely hoped wasn't an interpretation of blood), was a tiny blue ball, clearly curled in a protective position, though it couldn't be anything more than a child by its size.

There was something seriously wrong with McGee, and Gibbs didn't know how to fix it. He did know one thing, though. "If that's the case, then he really shouldn't be signing his own medical papers, and he shouldn't be left alone."

"I agree," the therapist said. "In my report I'll be recommending you for full guardianship until Tim is back on his feet again, whenever that is. This sort of coping mechanism doesn't go away overnight, if it goes away at all."

"You don't mean he could be stuck like this forever?" Gibbs asked. He really hoped that wasn't the case; even if McGee didn't recover enough to be an agent again, he at least wanted the man to be of sound mind...!

"No, Agent Gibbs, I simply mean that in extreme situations, he could resort to this method of coping again if healthier mechanisms aren't put in place as he phases out of this episode. However, we don't know when this episode will stop, so be prepared for a potentially long time where you're seen as his guardian. If he goes too deep during the episode, I worry about him readjusting after he gathers his wits about him again," the therapist explained. "It could cause another slip if we're not careful."

"Great. Great..." Gibbs sighed, looking at where McGee was still sitting on the bed, playing with one of the cars that was in the therapist's toy bag. There was so much going on, the least he could do was talk to him.

Walking to the door frame didn't produce a response from McGee, and Gibbs frowned. Usually if McGee was stuck in one place for too long he got so bored he'd instantly notice a change in scenery. Why didn't he seem to notice Gibbs? He knocked lightly on the door to alert McGee to his presence. McGee looked up from where he was playing with one of the toy cars as if to say Yeah, you're here. I get it. So?

Gibbs blinked. He wasn't expecting that sort of reaction from McGee either. What did this mean? Did McGee simply just...not want to acknowledge him when he walked over? Or was he scared to? "Hey, you feeling all right?" Gibbs asked.

McGee nodded, going back to playing with the car.

"Is that fun?" he asked, nodding to the car.

McGee nodded slightly, and his grip on the toy tightened, like saying he enjoyed it meant it was going to be taken away from him.

Gibbs walked over and sat in the visitor's chair, pondering his next move. "They're gonna try and get you out of here today, does that sound good to you?" Gibbs asked.

McGee looked up from the car to Gibbs, actually looking at him instead of the glances he had been getting most of the morning. Gibbs looked back, and he was going to be honest; he didn't like what he saw. McGee's face was too open, too trusting, too vulnerable to be the man he had been working with for years now. There was a certain amount of clarity in his gaze, but there was also a slight haze, an unfocused grasp to it, like he could see everything that was going on in pieces but the big picture wasn't coming together in his mind like it usually did. And that terrified Gibbs. He was used to seeing the younger agent overanalyze, and yes, it was more than a little annoying at times. But the connections and reactions he made as a result when he was dealing with something that went as fast as his thought process did was a certain level of awareness Gibbs often didn't see even in other agents around NCIS. Now, any trace of that was gone.

"They're gonna have me take you to my place," Gibbs said. "They want a period of observation, and they also want to make sure you wear a boot for that sprained ankle." He didn't mention the nurse saying he had regressed and they weren't trusting him on his own yet. No, that could cause problems Gibbs wasn't ready to deal with.

McGee didn't protest, just nodded as if that made perfect sense, and he needed no more explanation. And Gibbs supposed that in his current mindset, he really didn't. "You know, McGee, I think the therapist is going to want her toys back when she's done talking with the doctor..." Gibbs started.

Again, McGee's grip on the car he was holding tightened. His face screamed betrayal, like it was Gibbs' fault he wouldn't get to have the car with him longer.

"Hey, put yourself in her place," Gibbs tried. "She has all these cool things she wants to share with others too, not just you, you know? And you can't play with just one racecar to make a really cool race around the bed. I know you might get bored, but you're leaving soon anyway. There are people who are gonna be here longer, and have the same problem being bored as you do. Don't you want to help them?"

McGee looked down at the bed and nodded, chest rising and falling in a silent sigh. Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to stay quiet. How was he going to deal with a sulking child in a body that was bigger than he was? Inspiration stuck him over the head and he prayed that it wouldn't backfire on him. "You know, Tim, if you really like those cars we could probably get you a couple once you're out of here. Especially if you'll use them at my place, 'cause you're not allowed to read or watch TV right away with a concussion."

Gibbs watched the dots connect in that statement behind McGee's eyes. After a few seconds, his eyebrows knit together and he looked over at Gibbs, as if to say You said we were leaving today?

"Yeah, we're leaving today, it's during the week, the toy store'll be open," Gibbs said. "It wouldn't be hard to find a toy car or two that you like."

Instantly, McGee's eyes lit up at the prospect, like he had never heard of that being an option before. Gibbs wondered if that was actually the case and he felt his stomach twist as the question's answer looked more like yes than no.

"They're making me the one in charge of signing your papers right now, is that okay?" Gibbs asked. Despite him not wanting to start an argument, he really wanted to make sure McGee was okay with him making the decisions.

McGee nodded, then did something Gibbs never thought he could do; he signed. I TRUST YOU.

Gibbs, for what it was worth, didn't make a big deal out of it. He just laughed, gave McGee's shoulder a squeeze, and said, "You sure that's a good idea?" before moving conversation to lighter topics. "You know ASL?"

McGee nodded. I REMEMBER MOST. HIGH SCHOOL I LEARN.

Gibbs made a hmph noise. "You never said anything. Why not?"

McGee shrugged. NOT PERFECT.

"Maybe not, but practice helps," Gibbs pointed out gently. McGee's eyes looked a little clearer during the conversation, but not by much. He still looked like those connections were running through molasses.

McGee just shrugged again, and returned his focus to the car still in his hand, his eyes showing that he had started to space out once more. Gibbs sighed and leaned back in the visitor's chair as the doctor and therapist walked in the room. Going by their faces, the news was a mix of good and bad. "What's the verdict?" Gibbs asked.

"We recommend weekly therapy appointments with whoever you choose," the therapist said. "I, of course, will be available if you decide to allow me to continue, but any therapist of your choice will work."

"Outside of that, he's free to go," the doctor said. "No prescription painkillers are needed. If he complains of something hurting, give him some Advil or Tylenol and he should be as good as new in about half an hour. Make sure he wears that boot when he's walking or moving around, and be careful with his cast; it's waterproof, not indestructible."

Gibbs nodded. The doctor said something about release papers and left, and the therapist took a step forward once he's gone. "It's clear to me that Agent McGee is in a very fragile state right now, Agent Gibbs," she said. "You need to be careful when dealing with him. It's likely he will suffer from nightmares, and flashbacks, and unless he starts communicating clearly we may not know what triggers his fight-or-flight response to go haywire. Just...be careful," she said with a sigh.

Gibbs nodded. "Wouldn't plan on being anything else," he said simply. "Not after what he's been through."

Chapter Text

The discharge process felt like a blur to Tim. All these people running around and signing papers and all he could do was sit in his hospital bed and wait for them to bring him his actual clothes so that he could leave with Gibbs. He wasn't sure if Gibbs was serious about going to the toy store earlier, but in case he was Tim decided he was going to be on his absolute best-behavior until then. He most definitely did not want Gibbs to regret that statement.

When a nurse came in with his clothes, Tim took off his hospital gown the second the curtains were drawn, and the nurse clucked her tongue. Tim frowned, looking down, and noticed that the diaper he was wearing was used. He didn't remember doing that, he didn't even recall needing to go to the bathroom! "I'll get you a fresh one real quick, honey, you probably shouldn't be wearing your boxers just yet," the nurse said, leaving the room quickly.

Tim sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the diaper like it could be clean if he willed it long enough. He hoped this didn't change Gibbs' mind if he found out about it, he was trying hard to be good, and one little accident didn't mean he wasn't, right?

But Gibbs' visceral reaction to finding Tim wearing a diaper earlier came to Tim's mind against his will, and he felt his stomach twist. Gibbs probably thought he was terrible now. Well, not now, right? He didn't know! And he didn't have to! Tim wouldn't tell him, he found it hard to even sign without prompting. So Gibbs never had to know. That was that.

The nurse came back in with a fresh diaper, but when Tim reached for it, she pulled back. "Standard procedure means I help you with this, sweetheart, sorry."

Tim frowned but let himself be pushed back onto the mattress and changed. The nurse let him put on his day clothes by himself at least, though he struggled with the shirt and the button on his pants. When he was done, the nurse walked out briefly to do...something, Tim wasn't entirely sure what. In a couple minutes, she walked back in, Gibbs in tow. "...We have to wheel him out, standard procedure for trauma cases. Oh, and he had a little accident earlier so if I were you and were taking care of him I'd stock up on protective measures, just in case."

The shock and betrayal Tim felt must have been clear on his face, for all he felt it. He was supposed to be good, why couldn't the nurse keep that between him and her? Why did she have to blab to the one man he was trying to keep this from? "Thanks for the warning," Gibbs said, no emotion in his voice.

Tim shifted from foot to foot while the nurse left to grab a wheelchair. He didn't think if he were going to get punished that it would happen here; there were too many glass walls and therefore witnesses. But the second he was alone with Gibbs, no risk of being seen? All bets were off.

"Hey, let's get your shoes on," Gibbs said, looking around for the objects and picking them up from the visitor's chair.

Tim nodded, taking them and sitting on the edge of the bed. He could get his foot that didn't need a boot inside the shoe easy enough, but he was having some problems getting the laces to work right. If he weren't so worried about being silent he would have growled under his breath. Every time he went to make the loops, his fingers would slip and he would lose them. He was about to give up and call it a day when Gibbs knelt in front of the bed. "Give me your foot," he instructed.

Tim swallowed and followed the instruction, wondering what exactly was going to happen because he couldn't tie his shoes. To his mild surprise, the only thing that happened was...Gibbs tying the laces for him. And they were tight enough that the shoes wouldn't fall off, but they were nowhere near too tight. Tim put offered the boot to Gibbs, and Gibbs did the straps on it as well, before standing up with a groan. "I'm too old to be doing much of that," he muttered.

Saying nothing, Tim stood up just as the nurse walked in with a wheelchair. He sat in it without a word and she wheeled him out, Gibbs behind them, until they reached the front entrance to the hospital. "Have a speedy recovery!" the nurse chirped, leaving Tim to follow Gibbs into the parking lot.

He did so without complaint, but he still wondered what exactly was going to happen when they were alone. Gibbs didn't let on to anything being wrong, just led him into the parking garage until he spied Gibbs' truck. He almost ran towards it just so that they could leave the hospital faster-he really didn't want to be here longer than necessary-but he remembered the times he had done that before, and how he had always gotten scolded, and decided against it. After all, he had to make up for his accident earlier, right?

Gibbs unlocked the truck when they were close enough and Tim climbed into the passenger seat, thankfully getting the seat belt on the first try. Gibbs got in the driver's side and asked Tim, "You still want to go to the toy store and pick out a car or two?"

Tim looked over to Gibbs in shock, but nodded. He wasn't going to pass up a chance to have a new toy, even if he didn't think he necessarily deserved it.

Gibbs nodded too and pulled out of the parking space, driving away from the hospital fast, but not his usual break-neck speed. Tim felt Gibbs' eyes constantly looking over to him, and Tim didn't know how to respond to the sudden influx of attention. He looked back and offered a twitch of a smile, a look, I'm okay now, see? But it had never fooled his dad, and it looked like it wasn't going to fool Gibbs either.

This was going to be hard.

Gibbs pulled into the parking lot of a local toy store and got out, and Tim followed. He didn't miss the fact that there was a convenience store twenty feet away, and Gibbs was probably gonna drag him in there for over-the-counter pain meds when he had picked out a car he liked, but he didn't mind if he still got the toy.

When they walked in the store, Tim felt overwhelmed almost immediately. There were bright colors and small children everywhere, and Tim didn't quite feel like he belonged. He wandered a ways in, though, looking specifically for matchbox cars. They were small and quiet but fun. When he looked behind him to see where Gibbs was, he was still standing by the entrance, looking slightly amused. He made a shoo motion further into the store and Tim turned around, took a breath for courage, and walked towards the back.

Tim found that the further back he went, the less kids he had to avoid stepping on, and in one little crevice there was a table with a small city set up and matchbox cars on the table, but no one playing with it. Tim immediately knelt down and started to mess with the cars, seeing which ones he liked best. Race cars were cool and all, but there were only so many races you could go on before it started to feel boring.

He noticed a little blue truck that looked an awful lot like Gibbs', and picked it up with a grin. He definitely wanted this one! He could go on pretend cases or figure out where Gibbs really went in the mornings before work, or--

His train of thought was interrupted by someone talking and getting closer and closer to him. Tim frowned. The voice sounded like Gibbs, but the tone sure didn't. He sounded softer, kinder, a lot like he did when he was talking to kids. Well, they were in a toy store, and for all he knew Gibbs was talking to a kid. He decided to ignore that in favor of his selection of truck.

Eventually he couldn't ignore the voices, and just listened in. "...It was all that was keeping him entertained in the hospital so I figured, 'Well, it works and he seems happy enough, five dollars on a couple toy cars won't kill my bank account,' you know?"

"Yeah, I completely understand! It's a bit unorthodox, but if it keeps him happy, that's all that really matters," a male voice he didn't recognize said.

Tim looked up to find Gibbs and a worker at the store coming down the closest aisle to look at him. Tim felt something inside him tell him to stand up, but he didn't see an immediate reason to; Gibbs would stop the salesperson if he was a bad guy, that was what Gibbs did!

"You find something you like, Tim?" Gibbs asked.

Tim ducked his head and held out the truck, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed about his choice.

"Heh, looks a bit like mine," Gibbs said, picking it up and examining it. "Do you like any of the others? It's hard to have a race with just one car."

Tim's head snapped up to look at Gibbs, then looking at the play table in front of him. There were a bunch of cool choices...he picked out an ambulance and held it up. He didn't know exactly why, but it seemed to work. He could make it so Gibbs was following the ambulance and making sure whoever was inside was okay. Plus, ambulances were just very, very cool in general.

"Interesting choice," Gibbs mused, before turning to the salesperson. "He hasn't been much of a talker since he got out. Don't know why; he just stays quiet. I don't mind it much. Just wish he would say what he wants once in a while so I don't have to guess."

"You sound like most of the parents of toddlers we get in the store," the clerk laughed. "I'll ring these up, if you'll follow me?"

Gibbs helped Tim up and lead him to the counter, and Tim didn't mind that Gibbs didn't let his hand go once they were there. The toys were put in a small bag once Gibbs paid for them, and then they were out of the store. They put the bag in the truck, and Tim noticed a second bag that wasn't there before, but didn't think much of it. Gibbs was trying to drag him to the convenience store and Tim was sure he was going to hate every second of it. But he got two new cars, so he couldn't really rightfully complain.

The convenience store felt like they were stuck in time for five years. There was nothing cool to look at, and even though Gibbs tried to make it quick, they had to get painkillers, vitamins, bandages, an ice pack, a heating pad for some reason (because an ice pack wasn't enough?), and then they had to go into the incontinence aisle, which made Gibbs grumble and Tim flush in embarrassment.

At least once they bought everything they got to go back into the truck and straight to Gibbs' house. Tim didn't know how much longer he could have sat just doing nothing in the hospital, or stayed in the convenience store another five minutes, or even just watch the scenery fly by in the car.

Tim got into Gibbs' house without much issue, and he sat down in the center of the living room floor with his new toys, content to just get used to this new environment he found himself in. He didn't even take into account what Gibbs was doing. He had more important things to worry about.

Chapter Text

Gibbs kept an eye on McGee as he walked into the house. He was relieved that McGee hadn't questioned the second bag from the toy store, as he wanted a bit of a surprise tonight if there were any sleeping issues, but it also concerned him that a trained investigator had just suddenly stopped...investigating. On one level, he understood: something horrible had happened to Tim and given his coping mechanisms that he apparently had been keeping quiet, it made sense that he would be a lot more trusting or just not willing to speak up about his curiosity. But on another, much more tangible level, he really wished Tim would get it together already and be slightly traumatized but functional on a basic level of human interaction.

Either way, Gibbs took the bag with the surprise up to the guest room and put it in the dresser, and walked back downstairs, intent on making lunch at least for Tim if not both of them. "Hungry, Tim?"

The answer he got surprised him. NO.

Gibbs blinked. "Are you sure? You haven't eaten since breakfast, that was almost six hours ago now. I can make you a sandwich in half a minute--"

NO THANK YOU. was the immediate reply.

Frowning, Gibbs said, "You have to eat, Tim. I won't be arguing with you on this."

For some strange reason, that made Tim look like the world was ending. He turned pale and his eyes got wide, and there was a slight tremor in his hands. Gibbs thought back to what they knew about what had happened when Tim had gone dark, which wasn't much. It was possible he could have been punished for eating, but Gibbs suspected this reaction was more innate than fear from the past couple days.

"Tim," Gibbs said softly. "I want you to understand something. No one in this house is going to punish you for needing to eat, or drink, or sleep, or fulfill any other basic human need. Do you understand that?"

After a couple agonizing seconds, McGee nodded. Gibbs offered him a rewarding smile and then jerked his head to the kitchen. "I'm going to make myself lunch, is there anything in particular you'd like? I'm making you something either way, but if you have a preference now's the time to let me know."

Tim shook his head and Gibbs shrugged, going into the kitchen and checking the refrigerator. He didn't have much, but he had enough for sandwiches, which was a go-to whenever he needed something to eat besides steak. He took out the bread, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes, before deciding the tomatoes were too old and throwing them away. Now he had the choice between turkey and ham. After some deliberation, he picked turkey and made two sandwiches from that. It was a little bit sad-looking, but it would do for now.

Walking out of the kitchen with two plates, both having a sandwich on them, Gibbs took one last chance to observe McGee before he was the center of his agent's attention again. He was concentrating on the two small toys in front of him with all he was worth, and Gibbs would have smiled were McGee anything other than the agent he had known for approaching twelve years now. That focus that was usually used on much more serious issues seemed...off on something so trivial. He would move one of the cars forward for a few seconds, then bring the other up to it, and frown in consternation, like something was bugging him.

Gibbs decided during one of these pauses was a safe time to interrupt, and bent down to place McGee's sandwich next to him. "Hey. Lunch," he said.

McGee looked up at him, offered a small smile and focused on the cars again, grabbing the sandwich in one hand and absentmindedly eating it. Gibbs got situated on the couch and started to eat his lunch, observing the way McGee was playing with the toys. It was methodical, but not ritualistic; the direction and length of each car's movement was not consistent to the point of being anal retentive. The movement reminded Gibbs more of a puzzle than anything else. And then Gibbs was hit with the sudden memory of a puzzle game he learned about at one point called Rush Hour. It featured a bunch of plastic cars and trucks, and you had to get one of the cars out of the "traffic jam" of a plastic boxed-in grid. He didn't know if McGee would enjoy it in this state, but it didn't hurt to try. He'd look for it, maybe see if Tony could help him buy it online, and see what McGee thought of it as a little surprise.

Gibbs realized he was finished with his lunch and McGee was only about a quarter of the way through his. "You feeling okay, Tim? Usually you'd finish lunch before me," he noted.

McGee looked down at the carpet, before looking at a point right behind Gibbs to the left, and nodded. He took another bite of his sandwich and Gibbs shrugged, figuring that it took some adjusting to go from hospital food three times a day to real meals, not the processed stuff they usually dealt with in any institution. If McGee still wasn't eating much by dinner, he'd be concerned.

The afternoon rushed by, Gibbs calling everyone on the team to let them know that yes, McGee was out of the hospital, but no, they couldn't visit him just yet because he was still adjusting. Gibbs really didn't want everyone to see McGee in this state.

He managed to convince Tony to get clothes and a couple personal items from McGee's place and bring them over, since Tony was the only other one to see McGee like this before. He had startled a little when Gibbs helped him move the stuff to a guest room and he saw McGee playing with the cars, this time on the table, but Gibbs quietly explained what the therapist had told him and Tony didn't bring it up to McGee, or even really acknowledged that McGee was there in the first place, too focused on the move to do much of anything.

After McGee's clothes and personal effects were all set up, Gibbs quietly asked Tony for his help using a laptop to shop online. Tony, confused but resigned, helped Gibbs order the game off of Amazon and explained the basics of it in case Gibbs needed to order anything else. At that point, Tony needed to head back to his place, because it was getting late and in his words, "I don't want Kate and Ziva to be alone tonight for very long. Just one of those."

Gibbs understood the sentiment. It wasn't an easy day for any of them, but especially for him, Tony, and McGee, the three people who knew what was going on and were personally involved. So Gibbs saw Tony off, before heading to the living room and noticing that McGee was lying on his side, almost but not quite asleep. Gibbs chuckled. "Hey, if you're that tired, you can just go upstairs to the guest room and get some sleep," he teased.

McGee looked up at him with a slow blink, but didn't respond. Gibbs sighed, already used to the silence meeting his remarks. He didn't like it, but he supposed in some ways it was better than DiNozzo's snark, at least. "C'mon, up," Gibbs said, walking over and trying to coax McGee into a sitting position. "Better to get you ready for bed now and sleep later than sleep now and try and get you into bed later."

McGee sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes, looking uncannily like a toddler as he did the action. Gibbs felt his stomach sink as he realized he didn't know how deep or how young this regression thing went, and he could very well be dealing with a toddler. It would explain the lack of bathroom skills. Speaking of..."You didn't happen to sneak off to the bathroom while Tony and I were moving stuff, did you?" Gibbs asked.

Shaking his head, McGee winced as he moved forward in his sitting position to stand up. Gibbs had a sneaking suspicion he knew what it was from. "Bathroom time, then. We gotta clean you up with a bath at the very least."

With a pout but no complaint, McGee stood and walked up the stairs, Gibbs following behind. Once in the bathroom, Gibbs had McGee pull down his pants and then he helped take off the diaper, and growled under his breath when he was met with angry red skin around McGee's privates and thighs. McGee flinched, and Gibbs briefly went over what would cause that reaction. In an instant, his mind brought up his initial reaction to seeing McGee in a diaper, and having to go to the incontinence aisle, grumbling about it all the way through, and he mentally headslapped himself as he threw away the diaper and looked for the rash cream the nurse had recommended he buy. "Tim, I'm not mad you had to do your business, okay? I'm mad that you stayed quiet about it long enough to give yourself a rash," Gibbs said, grabbing the tube of cream and opening the cap. "You and I both know it hurts, and you and I both know that you don't want that. If you need help changing when this sort of thing happens, so be it. But I won't let you stand there and hurt yourself because you're too quiet to mention when you need a change. Do you want to apply the cream yourself or do I have to do it?"

McGee said nothing but shuffled uncomfortably, and Gibbs sighed, taking that as his cue, putting some of the cream on his fingers and starting to apply it, talking to take his mind off what he was doing. "So, I'm going to give you two options. Either we find some way for you to signal to me that you need a change, or you go pants-less around my house so I can see whether or not you need changing, to make sure this rash doesn't get worse. Which will it be?"

McGee looked shocked, and more than a little indignant at the statement, and he made two simple signs that almost had Gibbs laughing at the irony. I ADULT.

"Your behavior leads me to believe otherwise," Gibbs said, washing his hands. "So are you going to sign to me when you need help? Or will you just go without pants for a while?"

McGee crossed his arms, staring at the floor, and Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Sulk all you want, that just means no pants until I know you can tell me when something's up."

After that statement McGee was a lot harder to wrangle. He struggled into the bathtub, he squirmed away when Gibbs was trying to clean him up since McGee wasn't doing it himself, and he was, in general, silently defiant. Gibbs was more than relieved to drain the bathtub water and grab McGee some fresh clothes. He brought an old MIT t-shirt and a diaper into the bathroom, and McGee just seemed all the more agitated that there weren't any pants. "I told you, Tim. You have to either let me know when something's up or you can't wear pants. It's for your sake; do you really want to be in pain all day?"

McGee sulked in the tub, and Gibbs could tell there was more to it than just the no pants thing, and he silently wondered if when McGee was dark he was humiliated at all and if that played a role in all of this, or if he was really just dealing with someone who was very cranky and had a bit too much pride for his own good.

At the very least, once McGee was changed, albeit without pants, he went to bed without much complaint. Gibbs didn't like the slight fear he saw in McGee's eyes, but McGee didn't say anything, and Gibbs didn't ask, so he left his agent alone in the guest room, hoping that he'd get an actual good night's sleep.

Chapter Text

Pain. All Tim could feel was pain, and he groaned, wondering if it was ever going to stop hurting down... there. A door slammed open, and Tim tugged against his restraints, hoping that maybe this time, this time he could get away. Someone grabbed him by his hair and forced his head up to look in their eyes, though all he could see was ice cold malice and teeth as sharp as fangs as a voice hissed, "Ready for another round, darlin'?"

Tim sat bolt upright in bed, shaking so hard his teeth were chattering in his skull and his breath heaving his entire chest in his blind panic. He had to get away, had to get away, he had to be safe, there's nowhere safe nowhere safe nowhere safe!

In his panic, he silently started to cry, because he knew that if he even so much as gasped for breath they would know he was up, and they would come into this room and they would hurt him again and again and again and--

"McGee? What're ya doing up so late?"

Tim turned at the sound of the voice and found Gibbs standing in the doorway. Suddenly the room he didn't recognize registered as being Gibbs' guest room and the fear he had been feeling melted away into something resembling guilt and hopelessness that started up a fresh round of tears in his eyes. And just when he thought he was done with the whole crying thing, too!

"Hey, hey, hey. What's wrong?" Gibbs asked, sitting on the side of the bed and looking at Tim in concern.

Tim wanted to explain, honest, but even signs felt like too big of an obstacle to overcome to communicate right now and he didn't know another way to say what was wrong and he still couldn't make any noise because the bad men would find him then and punish him and...he just couldn't take it anymore, and he let his shoulders shake and his tears fall and his breath come out in heaving gasps. It was too much, it was just too much to handle and too much to put on his shoulders when all he wanted was a chance to sleep.

In a second Gibbs' arms were around him, gently squeezing but not trying to hurt, just to let him know that someone was there. Tim buried his head in Gibbs' shoulder and let his tears fall, chest still heaving and body still trembling all over. When the tears stopped and his breathing was somewhat normal again, he pulled out of the hug and Gibbs let him, though he was still violently shaking and honestly? He didn't really want the hug to stop, but he didn't want to inconvenience Gibbs any more than he already had.

"I think I might have something that could help you," Gibbs said softly. "It was meant to be a surprise if you had trouble falling asleep, but I think having trouble staying asleep counts for this too."

Tim looked at Gibbs with interest. He wasn't going to be in trouble for crying?

Gibbs stood up and walked over to the dresser, opening the top drawer and pulling something out of a shopping bag, the other shopping bag Tim had seen in the car yesterday. When Gibbs brought the thing over, Tim's eyes widened and he gently reached out to see if he could hold it.

It was a stuffed bear, done in patchwork style with over exaggerated black stitches over the real seams. There was a multitude of colors, from blue to pink to purple to red, and there was a bit of green somewhere on there too. There were two black buttons sewed on for eyes, and a black stitched mouth, in a perpetual smile. It looked brave, like it could scare all the monsters away and keep them from coming too close. Gibbs did that too, but Gibbs couldn't always be around Tim; this bear could.

Gibbs let him hold the bear for a minute before saying, "I thought you might like something extra from the toy store today. The therapist at the hospital told me how you were coping and while I don't understand it and won't pretend to...if it helps you I won't be the one to complain. So don't be afraid to act like a kid, okay? If it helps you recover, you can act as young as you need."

Tim looked up at Gibbs, looked down at the bear, and looked up at Gibbs again, offering a watery but thankful smile. He looked over the bear and thought to himself that it needed a name. She, he thought after a second. Not it, she.

He stared at the bear long and hard, even after Gibbs had pat his shoulder and said that if Tim needed anything, he could come get Gibbs no matter what time it was. With a satisfied nod to himself and a little smile, he dubbed the bear Emma. She could be his confidante, his friend, and she could kick butt if she needed to. Yeah. He was gonna like Emma a lot.


The next morning, Tim woke up and his head felt a little fuzzier than what it had been yesterday, he could tell he needed a change of diaper, and he was clinging onto Emma for dear life. But he couldn't remember any other nightmares in the night, so he was happy enough to swing his legs over the side of the bed, put on the boot for his ankle, and stand up, though he felt a little dizzy. His stomach growled at him and he frowned. He was hungry. Was he gonna be allowed breakfast today?

He walked out of his room to hear someone already in the kitchen, and decided it wouldn't hurt to check, even if they said no. He could try to sneak back in later if worst came to worst.

But walking in, all he saw was Gibbs, making...eggs. Scrambled, if Tim were to hazard a guess. Gibbs turned, saw him, and went back to work. "Mornin', Tim. Sleep well after the first time you woke up?"

Tim at first didn't think Gibbs was actually looking for a response, until he realized the man was watching him out of the corner of his eye. He nodded. "Well, that's good. I would've hated to realize that you were up all night shaking and miserable and didn't ask for help that I would have been more than happy to give."

Not knowing how to respond to that, Tim didn't; he just hugged Emma closer.

"I'm making your eggs scrambled, I hope you don't mind. That's just how I remember you always eating them before."

Tim did like his eggs scrambled, so that was nice. He wondered if there was anything specific that was going on today, but then realized if there was he probably wouldn't be a part of it, so he didn't bother asking.

"Do you want to play with your cars for a bit while I finish making breakfast?" Gibbs prompted. "It'll only be for about two minutes, but I figure it beats standing here watching me move stuff around a pan."

Tim nodded and moved to the living room, spying the cars on the table. He sat down in front of it, and considered what adventures he could make today. Yesterday, he had the ambulance and the truck-which he had dubbed the Gibbsmobile-go around an invisible city that only he could see, making their way down all kinds of crazy streets. But today, he wanted to do something different.

Hesitantly, he moved the ambulance to one side of the table, and the Gibbsmobile to the other. There was a bomb in the ambulance, he decided, and Gibbs was gonna rush to the rescue and save everyone, just like always!

He only made it halfway through zigzags across the table when Gibbs cleared his throat from behind where Tim was playing. Looking up, Tim thought Gibbs might have been amused at what he was doing, though exasperated also seemed to be a word that would fit. "Breakfast is ready. Let's get you changed and then we can eat, sound good? We've got ourselves a busy day coming up."

Ugh, why did he have to get changed now? He was hungry, sure, but he was also having fun! He didn't want this to just...stop!

But he stood up and followed Gibbs to the bathroom anyway, because that's what it took to be good, and he didn't want to hurt anyone by kicking up a fuss. He didn't like it much when Gibbs put on the rash cream, though it wasn't like there was much of an option in the matter. Tim wouldn't be able to do it right, there'd be smears of cream everywhere and nothing would be rubbed in enough to take effect, but it almost reminded him of when the bad men wanted to hurt him. The only thing keeping him steady during the process was Gibbs' voice, reassuring him of where he was and what was going on. And soon Gibbs was taping up a fresh diaper and washing his hands, and the process was over. Tim let out a sigh, before realizing with a start he had left Emma out in the living room! He speed-walked out of the bathroom and to the living room, picking her up from next to the table and giving her a hug. He didn't feel half as brave alone as he did when he had Emma; she was quickly becoming a great source of comfort.

Gibbs observed him from the stairway. "You gonna eat breakfast or what?" he prompted.

Tim silently moved to the dining room between the living room and kitchen, and sat there as Gibbs moved to the kitchen and brought out two plates of eggs, with toast on the side. Gibbs sat down and started to eat his plate, but Tim just stared at his. He was supposed to use a...fork for this, wasn't he? He had a fork in front of him. But he wasn't sure he actually knew how to use it. He stared at the utensil, willing for his arms and hands to work, so Gibbs wouldn't be mad at him and leave him to fend for himself, to try and keep the bad men away without anyone there to help him, but he couldn't. The act of using a fork and the idea of using one had severed connections in his mind and he couldn't puzzle out what, exactly, he needed to do.

He reached for the toast instead, eating it slowly but surely. By the time he had finished one slice of toast, Gibbs had wolfed down half of his eggs. Gibbs looked at Tim, then to Tim's plate, then back to Tim. "Didn't make the eggs wrong, did I?"

Tim shook his head. No, he didn't doubt Gibbs had made the eggs perfectly. Gibbs was funny like that, he could cook like no one's business if he really wanted to. But he couldn't explain that using a fork was too complicated, Gibbs would laugh in his face.

Gibbs sighed, took Tim's fork, speared a few of the pieces of egg, and held the fork, prong-side in, to Tim. Tim looked down at the fork, looked at Gibbs, and looked down at the fork again. Gibbs moved the fork closer to Tim's mouth and said, "I'm gettin' ya to eat one way or another, kid, even if it means doin' this."

Tim opened his mouth and Gibbs put the fork in, letting Tim get the eggs off himself with his teeth.

Thus they continued until all of Tim's breakfast was gone, and Gibbs had finished his using his left hand to eat his own meal. "One thing before you go play, kid," Gibbs warned. "You'll be talking to another therapist today. She's coming over here and I expect you to play nice, okay?"

Tim nodded. Of course he could play nice, playing nice was easy! Why Gibbs would think otherwise was beyond Tim.

...Of course, he knew who was coming over and Tim didn't...

Chapter Text

Tim had just finished another game between the ambulance and the Gibbsmobile, and it had to be about mid-morning when there was a knock at the door. Tim looked over at it with no small amount of alarm; Gibbs still hadn't given him pants and while he couldn't pinpoint why that made him nervous around Not-Gibbs people, it did. He faced the door and put the Gibbsmobile and the ambulance behind his back and grabbed Emma, crossing his legs and putting her in just such a position that his diaper looked at least somewhat covered. Gibbs stood from the couch and answered the door. "Hey, I was wondering when you'd show up," he said, though his voice didn't carry the harsh tone those words were usually spoken with.

"Traffic jam off of I-Ninety-Five, couldn't get through for at least twenty minutes," a familiar but unplaceable voice said.

Gibbs shrugged and stepped back, saying, "He still hasn't said anything, maybe you'll have better luck."

A woman walked into the house, looking around. But not just any woman, it was none other than Rachel Cranston, Kate's sister. Tim felt a blush creep up his cheeks as he realized Kate's sister was about to see him without pants on.

However, when she walked into the living room, she appeared unfazed and merely sat down in front of him, looking him over. "Glad to see that the worst you have is a broken bone and a sprained ankle, Tim," she said with a smile. "Are you feeling better? No aches or pains?"

Tim shook his head, nibbling on his lip. Was she going to say anything about how he was dressed?

"You're pretty quiet on a good day, Tim. Why the silence now?"

Tim shrugged, feeling like he was just making her point, whatever that was, by saying nothing in response, but he couldn't talk. He couldn't trust everyone here, not anymore. And trusting everyone was the only way he'd talk.

"I looked through your initial evaluation at the hospital, Tim," Rachel said. "It said you have some pretty severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It also said you were experiencing a period of acute regression. Now, we'll see how long the diagnosis of acute stays, because that would mean that you recover from it quickly enough, and from what I can see...that hasn't let up."

Tim felt his blush deepen and he pulled Emma up to his face, like he could hide from this situation behind her.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Tim. Your coping mechanism may be unconventional, but it's relatively healthy, all things considered. And if it helps you process your trauma in some way, all the better." Changing the subject completely, Rachel reached out and ran a hand over one of Emma's paws. "That's a nice bear."

Tim lowered Emma slightly, peeking out over her head. He nodded, looking Rachel over for any signs of deceit.

"Boy or girl?" she asked.

Ah, Tim saw what she was doing. She was trying to get him to talk. He held up two fingers instead.

"Second? Girl, then?" Rachel asked.

Tim nodded.

"What's her name?"

Tim scowled. He didn't want to talk, he shouldn't have to talk! It was bad to talk, and he was making sure he was safe! He moved to stand up, but Rachel held up a hand. "Hey, hey, Tim, wait. We have to keep talking for a little while longer, if you want to ever get back to work!"

That made Tim pause. He wanted to continue to work with Gibbs and Tony and Abby and everyone, and he knew Rachel could make sure that didn't happen.

Rachel stared him down until Tim slowly sat down again. She gave him an approving smile. "So. Your bear. She have a name?"

E-M-M-A, Tim fingerspelled. HER NAME E-M-M-A.

Rachel sighed. "I don't know sign language, Tim."

Tim shrugged. Hardly his problem, and it was communication, just technically...not talking.

"He said her name's Emma," Gibbs said from the dining room entrance, where Tim was convinced Gibbs was too busy cleaning or something to be paying attention. "If you need a translation."

"Thanks, Gibbs," Rachel said, staring at Tim.

Tim didn't look at Gibbs, just put his hands in his lap. He didn't want to talk if people were gonna know what he was saying. That only led to trouble. Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble, his mind helpfully sang. Except Tim wasn't on the look-out for any crown or kingdom, he just wanted his life to make sense again.

Emma was sitting in his lap and he ran his fingers over her stitching. He imagined her in his place. She'd be speaking, she'd be working on getting the guys who did this to her, and making sure that they'd pay. And all he could do was sit here and hide, trying not to have a panic attack. Tears came to his eyes and he bowed his head. He was really sick of crying at this point. He just wanted to stop, press pause until he found his equilibrium.

"Hey, Tim? What's wrong?" Rachel asked.

Tim shook his head. Like he was going to tell her, she thought he was crazy and was never going to let him work with his friends again! She reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, and he swatted her away, hissing. Rachel backed up, alarmed. "Woah, hey. It's okay, Tim."

No it wasn't! Why couldn't anyone see that it wasn't?! He shook his head, banging his cast-clad fist into the floor, over and over and over hoping that someone, anyone, would see that there was a problem and try to help him fix it.

Footsteps came up from behind him and a hand forced him to stop hitting the floor. Gibbs forced Tim's face up until they were looking each other in the eye. "If you're going to act like that, McGee, Rachel can leave and you'll have to wait until later in the week to see her again and get closer to being back on the team," he said.

Tim removed his wrist from Gibbs' grip and put it in his lap, though he was shaking now and still wanted to hit something, and to scream, and to let someone know that this was not okay, that he was not okay.

Gibbs stared him down a couple seconds longer before letting his chin go, and Tim was able to look back to Rachel, who seemed to have regained her calm. He wasn't going to apologize, though. Not unless someone ordered him to.

Rachel sighed and leaned forward, though she didn't sit within arm's reach of Tim again, which he thought was a smart move on her part. "Are you done, Tim?"

He scowled at her and crossed his arms. He didn't like being patronized, and he wasn't going to stand for it now.

"I'm not going to move on until you confirm you're done with your little rage," Rachel said. "I need to know that all your anger on the matter is out so you don't explode on me again."

Tim kept his arms crossed and stared at her. He wasn't calm, he was very much angry, and very much upset, and very much devastated. But he wanted to be back on the team, so he stopped acting up because Gibbs told him to. But now he couldn't be upset without her leaving and he couldn't respond yes without being a liar and getting more upset later.

Rachel sighed and looked up at Gibbs. "Gibbs, I'm going to request that you leave the room for a little while, and don't return until I say that it's okay for you to. I think Tim and I need some privacy."

Gibbs thought this over, nodded stiffly, and walked over to the front door, walking outside and slamming it on his way out.

Rachel then turned to Tim. "He's gone, he can't make me leave. Be as upset as you want."

Tim blinked in shock at her. She...wasn't going to leave if he got upset?

"Tim," she said, leaning forward. "You're keeping everything bottled up. Releasing that is healthy. I'm not going to have you not make progress just because Gibbs doesn't like you getting upset, for whatever reason. And I'm not going to leave unless Gibbs makes me. Now, he's not even in the house, he can't see or hear what's going on. He can't kick me out because he deems you 'too upset.' As long as what you're doing to get your emotions out isn't self destructive, I won't stop you. Understand?"

Nothing could be heard in the house except for the ticking of a clock somewhere nearby for one second, two seconds, three seconds, four seconds. Then Tim made a whine in the back of his throat, curled in on himself and started to sob. He fell onto his side, barely making any noise at all but still enough, enough that he couldn't do it when someone who might punish him was nearby.

He sobbed until his stomach hurt and he thought he might be sick from the force of his hiccups and coughs, and all his tears had been used up. When he was done, Rachel was still sitting there, staring at him, and he sat up, hiccuping once. He would apologize for the scene he caused, except he knew somehow that he didn't really cause one. Not this time.

"Feel better?" Rachel asked softly.

Tim nodded, rubbing at his eyes and still softly hiccuping. He felt very, very small, and very, very alone.

"Do you still feel like you can do something for me?" Rachel asked.

Again, Tim nodded. He wanted some sort of positive reaction, he craved someone telling him that he had done okay, that he was going to be all right, that he was good.

"Can you draw how you felt when you were...whatever you were feeling just then?" Rachel asked. She passed him paper and crayons from her purse. "Take your time."

Tim opened the box of crayons and started coloring, just wild scrawls that were going up and down and all around like his emotions. He used blacks and reds and blues, all harsh or dark colors. He threw in some purple, just because, and some green, to make the blacks look darker. A little dash of brown, and he was done. He looked up to let Rachel know as much to find her and Gibbs conversing quietly by the couch. He blinked. He hadn't even realized Gibbs was back.

The conversation looked heated and Tim didn't want to interrupt, so he brought Emma to his chest and sat there, waiting for one or both of them to notice him. There were some gestures in his direction, but nothing he really could determine a topic on conversation from. He shifted, and noticed that again, his diaper was wet, and he sighed. He wasn't supposed to need those, he knew, but he thought about going to the bathroom and, like using a fork, the thought just did not compute properly.

After some time, Tim felt a hand shaking his shoulder and he looked up to find Gibbs crouching in front of him, holding his drawing. Rachel was nowhere to be found. "Can I talk to you, kid?"

Tim nodded, frowning. What was that about?

"Rachel said you drew how you felt when you were upset, is this that drawing?" Gibbs asked, sitting down with a soft groan and holding up the drawing.

Tim shrugged and nodded again. He didn't see the connection here.

"Well, if you're feeling that bad, why didn't you say anything? Keeping that sort of emotion bottled up isn't healthy."

Tim looked down and away. He didn't want to admit it was because he was scared Gibbs was going to hurt him if he acted out.

"No, Tim, look at me. Why didn't you say anything?" Gibbs pressed.

Tim shut his eyes and shook his head.

Gibbs put a hand on Tim's shoulder and Tim flinched, causing Gibbs' hand to fly off quicker than Tim could say oops. "It's...because of me?" Gibbs asked, voice so quiet Tim could have sworn he almost didn't hear it.

So when he nodded so subtly he hoped Gibbs didn't see, he took Emma in his arms and gave her a hug for courage; things were about to go from bad to worse.

Chapter Text

Gibbs could barely believe his eyes when McGee said that it was because of him every emotion his agent was feeling was being bottled up. What in the world would make McGee think that he wasn't allowed to feel upset, or angry? Why would he be too scared to bring up what he was really feeling?

What had really happened in the twenty-four hours McGee had gone dark?

All good questions, and Gibbs doubted he could get answers to any of them. Gibbs looked down at the drawing McGee had done, all dark colors running wild but still always contained on the page, within a thin border of white. It was almost terrifying to know that this was going on in McGee's mind. What made it actually terrifying was that he wasn't speaking, wasn't releasing these emotions when he got the chance and just allowed them to spill out when he hit his breaking point.

"Kid..." Gibbs said, searching for his words. "What makes you think I wouldn't let you be upset?"

Without a single word, McGee reached out with lightning reflexes, grabbing Gibbs' wrist in a vice grip.

Gibbs felt his blood grow cold at the realization of what he must have done. McGee was already reeling from what had happened to him--there were only males in the building that they were trying to get into. He must have already felt threatened on some level just because of the very fact that Gibbs was a man as well. But then he had gone the extra mile in the Idiocy Olympics, restraining McGee just because he was doing something Gibbs didn't like. Forcing him to comply or face consequences that could destroy McGee's hopes of returning to a normal life.

"I...I didn't think, Tim, I shouldn't have done that. It was my fault, and I'm sorry," Gibbs said. The words felt foreign on his tongue; he had never much cared for discussing his feelings, and this was way beyond his comfort zone.

McGee released his grip on Gibbs' wrist and curled in on himself, and Gibbs sighed. He really wished Rachel Cranston could have stayed a while longer, even though he knew she had other patients to see. Now he was stuck with a shell of his agent who didn't want to work with him because he made a grievous mistake, and a sense of overwhelming guilt that he doubted he'd be able to kick. "Well...we should get you changed, kid. Make sure you don't have a rash."

McGee looked at Gibbs for the briefest of seconds before standing and starting to walk to the bathroom. Gibbs followed with a pop in his knees and a sigh. He had to make this up some way to McGee, but how? How could he let his agent know that he had screwed up and wanted to fix it? He doubted McGee would believe him even if he was sincere, he'd make some excuse about Gibbs being Gibbs and brush it off as some sort of joke.

The change in the bathroom was awkward for both of them. McGee flinched at every touch and Gibbs was painfully aware of the fact that McGee wanted to be anywhere else right now. As soon as Gibbs was done, McGee left the room and went back downstairs. Gibbs stood in the bathroom just long enough that he thought McGee would be convinced he was doing his own business, then crept down the hall to the stairs.

Gibbs didn't know what he was hoping to hear or see from McGee alone in the living room, but sniffling and the sound of barely-contained sobs wasn't it. Taking a step further down the steps, Gibbs caught a glimpse of McGee's back, shuddering like a weather vane in a tornado.

He was torn. He wanted to help, to reassure McGee that everything was going to be okay, but at the same time, he knew that if he went any further he was likely to make the situation worse. After what seemed to be an age of deliberation, McGee retched from the force of his crying and Gibbs decided that no matter what happened, he was going to try and help McGee any way he could. "Tim? You okay?" Gibbs asked, walking down the stairs.

Almost immediately, what sniffling and sobbing was audible stopped. Gibbs continued forward until he was at the edge of the living room. "Do you need help?" Gibbs asked.

McGee shuddered and Gibbs caught the almost invisible nod given in reply.

"Is there anything you need help with specifically?" Gibbs asked, walking in slowly and tip-toeing around his words.

There was a shake of McGee's head and Gibbs frowned. Did he not know what he might need? "Do you need a glass of water?" he asked.

That, at least, got an easily visible response of a shrug.

"I'll be right back, then," Gibbs said, heading to the kitchen.

Pouring a glass of water was quick, but Gibbs noticed a tremor in his hands when he turned to get it to McGee. He didn't want to see the man like this. He wanted to see the strong, capable agent McGee had become; heck at this point he would settle for the nervous probie he had first met. Anything would be better than the sniveling, shaking, miserable mess McGee was now.

Why did it have to happen like this? Why did the comms decide to cut out at the critical moment, causing feedback that Gibbs knew McGee always winced at, no matter how good of an investigator he had become? It would have blown his cover instantly. And then. And then. They had stormed the place to make sure McGee was all right, only for everything to be cleared away, no evidence, people, or agent to be found. They were only successful in finding McGee from sheer dumb luck during a grid search. If DiNozzo hadn't been goofing around while talking to a woman they were trying to interview, he never would have gotten McGee's location out of her. McGee was so close to dying that day, and none of them had even realized it.

Until now.

Gibbs' hands continued to tremble but he reigned it in until he hoped that no one outside him would notice, and walked back out to the living room, sitting in front of McGee's shuddering form. "Hey, buddy, I've got water for you, can you sit up?"

McGee did so, and Gibbs tried not to cringe in sympathy at the state of McGee's face, covered in tear tracks and red blotches all over. He reached out for the cup and Gibbs frowned as he saw McGee's hands were trembling even more than Gibbs' were, and in all likelihood he would drop the glass in seconds.

"You're shaking a lot, Tim. Are you sure you can take a drink without spilling?"

McGee turned almost frantic and he nodded desperately, looking like a fresh round of tears might start at any moment. Gibbs felt a pure strain of anger run through him at the people who had done this. If they had denied McGee any water..."Still, I'd feel better if I knew you weren't gonna drop the glass and possibly get hurt if it breaks. Is it okay if I hold it while you drink?"

At McGee's nod, Gibbs felt a surge of relief and he held the glass to the younger man's lips. McGee was drinking like he might not get the chance to ever again, and Gibbs came to the conclusion that he needed to get some water bottles so that McGee could drink whenever he needed to without worrying about spills. He would also need some fresh changing supplies sooner or later...and possibly some more things to keep McGee occupied...they'd have to go shopping at this rate, which Gibbs was sure McGee would not be thrilled about. But they needed this stuff, and Gibbs couldn't leave McGee alone, so he guessed they'd both have to suck it up for an hour or so.

"Tim, I think we're going to have to go out again today," Gibbs said, gauging McGee's reaction.

Considering McGee started choking on the water he was drinking, Gibbs thought it went pretty well when all was said and done. McGee shook his head rapidly.

"We have to do this, Tim," Gibbs sighed, kneading his forehead. "I need a few more things than I originally expected, we can't possibly keep you occupied with only two cars and a bear at your disposal, and there's virtually no food in the house. We have to go."

YOU GO I STAY, McGee signed resolutely.

"You know I can't trust you alone," Gibbs said. "Not with the way you've been behaving."

McGee's breathing picked up and Gibbs closed his eyes, running a hand over his face. He really didn't have the energy for an argument on this. But when he opened his eyes again and found that McGee was about to cry, Gibbs wanted to leave for an entirely different reason. Apparently, he had said something that triggered McGee's fight-or-flight response. Again. If he weren't feeling so tired from the past two days, he would have been irritated. At who, he didn't know. "Tim...can you breathe with me? In and out, in...and out..."

McGee didn't appear to be listening, just curling in on himself, a protective measure Gibbs' heart hurt seeing. Gibbs tentatively reached out, only to have his hand be smacked away by hard plaster. When he instinctively yelped, McGee looked up, seemed realize where he was, pale significantly, and bolt from the room.

Gibbs felt something in him get worried when McGee ran, and even though he knew it wasn't smart, he followed at a slower pace. It wasn't hard to hear where McGee was; he was panting and sniveling enough that Gibbs could easily find him in the corner of the guest room, hugging that bear to his chest and his eyes closed tight. Gibbs wracked his brain for something to do in response. He couldn't let McGee run again; that was just adding up more time in the boot overall. When it struck Gibbs, he almost headslapped himself for not thinking of it sooner. If McGee was thinking like an upset, traumatized kid, then that's what Gibbs should treat him like, at least until he was calm again. He walked over and crouched next to McGee, whispering, "Hey, are you hiding?"

McGee looked up, but instead of bolting again like Gibbs was worried would happen, he hesitantly nodded at the question.

"Is it okay if I hide with you, then? Because if you're hiding from someone and you're as tough as you are, I should probably be hiding too."

It was going to be a toss-up on how McGee would respond, or so Gibbs thought. McGee moved so his back was to one wall, and he let Gibbs take the other. Gibbs moved down so he was sitting and looked McGee over. His eyes were still glossed over, and they didn't look present like they had when he had looked up earlier. Maybe he could figure out something to help, but it might not work. Then again, it might..."Who are we hiding from?" he whispered.

McGee looked over at him, but Gibbs could see it wasn't where he was now that McGee was registering in his mind. "The bad guys, obviously," he whispered back.

Gibbs started when McGee spoke. His voice was raspy from disuse, and shaking almost as much as his body was. "Do we know who the bad guys are?"

McGee frowned, thinking it over. Eventually, he shook his head. "I have a couple first names written down somewhere, but they took my notebook, 'cause it was in my suit coat. I managed to get away before they could take anything else off and tie me to that bed, though."

Gibbs frowned. McGee obviously had switched around where he was during the twenty-four hours he was dark, because if Gibbs had triggered something by talking about behaving, that sounded more like what a scumbag would say once McGee was already tied down. When McGee swatted his arms away and ran, though..."So, what's the plan? What do we do to make sure they can't hurt us?"

"They're too tough to take on directly hand-to-hand," McGee said, gripping at the bear tighter than before. "We gotta wait and hope that the bad guys screwed up somehow when moving and that Gibbs figures out where we are."

Gibbs was pretty sure his heart broke when he heard that. "Does he do that often?"

McGee nodded, eyes distant. "He always does on the job. I just gotta hope that he hunts just as hard for me, 'specially considering how little evidence was probably left behind."

Gibbs was going to say something else, but McGee's eyes drifted shut and he practically fell into Gibbs' lap, exhausted into a dead sleep.

Chapter Text

When Tim woke up, he had fleeting memories of a strange dream he had. He was back in the bad guys' hideout, but there was someone else stuck there with him. He looked like Gibbs, but he couldn't be Gibbs because Gibbs was out there looking for him. They had talked, though Tim couldn't remember what of. He was just glad he was quiet enough that no one tried to punish him for talking, or figured out where he was. Even if it was only a dream, it reassured him. He wasn't sure where he was laying, though. It wasn't hard like the floor, or lumpy like the bad guys' bed in the hideout, or soft like Gibbs' guest bed. And it was warm, not just where he was lying but also around him. He sat up, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. The reaction was apparently funny to someone in the room, because there was a soft chuckle. "Morning, sleepyhead."

Tim rubbed at his eyes until Gibbs came into focus and he jumped. He had been sleeping on Gibbs' lap?! He was so dead!

Oddly enough, though, Gibbs didn't look angry. "Have a good nap? You were out of it for twenty minutes."

Tim nodded, making no attempts to speak. Not because he thought it unsafe, necessarily, but because he just didn't feel inclined to.

"I liked hearing your voice earlier," Gibbs said, standing up. "Though I wish it were under better circumstances."

Tim frowned, going back over when he might have spoken, and couldn't remember any time other than when he was dreaming...but he was sure it had been a dream!

Gibbs looked down at him expectantly. "You're coming with me, you know," Gibbs said. "So if you want pants sooner rather than later..."

Tim leapt to his feet and Gibbs laughed, going to the dresser in the room and passing him a pair of pajama pants. "These should cover anything you don't want showing," Gibbs said. "No need to get dressed up to go shopping."

At this point Tim didn't even care that he was basically wearing pajamas. He shoved his legs into their respective pant holes and practically bounced at being able to wear something on his legs again. Gibbs chuckled and helped Tim put on his shoe on his boot-free leg, and then they were walking out of the house, to Gibbs' truck, and Tim's breath caught in the crisp, fresh air. It felt good to be outside.

Gibbs kept him moving to the truck but Tim made the most of being outside for as long as he could. Inside a vehicle just wasn't quite the same. Of course, he did have to get in and buckle up, but Gibbs kept the windows cracked. That was enough to satisfy Tim until they were at the shopping center, where as soon as he was out of the truck he was shuffling nervously. He didn't want people to see him if he got caught in a flashback, and he definitely didn't want people walking up to him and asking him questions that he didn't know how to answer. But Gibbs was moving toward the stores, and Tim had to jog to catch up as it was. Gibbs kept looking him over but Tim did his best to ignore it. He had left Emma in the truck so he wouldn't lose her and he wanted nothing more than to hold her for protection right now.

When they walked in, Gibbs grabbed Tim's hand and Tim startled, but didn't take his hand back. He didn't want to be lost in a crowd without Emma or Gibbs. That was how the bad guys could get at him again.

The walk around the stores was slow. It felt like Gibbs had to go in all of the ones except the ones that were interesting. They went into a sports goods store and bought a few water bottles, then they went to a convenience store-styled place to get more changing supplies, and they went into some store Tim couldn't even begin to describe aside from...different where Gibbs bought...some sort of necklace-thing.

After what seemed like forever, Gibbs looked around and hummed in thought, leading Tim down a side of the mall that looked more oriented to kids, and looked around. "Anywhere here you'd like to go for being patient on the trip, kid? I know two cars will only keep you entertained so long, and thought maybe you'd like something else to help keep you occupied."

Tim looked around and took a step towards a store filled with comics and action figures and lots of cool stuff, then paused and moved towards a store with soft things and cute stuffed animals, then turned in a circle, just looking everything over. This was important. He caught something out of the corner of his eye and walked toward a craft store, where a brightly colored sketchbook was sitting in a display in the window.

Gibbs revealed himself to be a step behind Tim when he said, "You certainly seem to like drawing, huh?"

Tim nodded idly. His attention was captured by the bright colors on the front of the sketchbook. He could draw all sorts of things if he tried! His mind was already bursting with ideas on what he could create: dragons, adventures, pirates, treasure, home, friends, family. The possibilities only stopped when he did.

Gibbs tapped him on the shoulder and he looked over. Gibbs was barely containing laughter and Tim felt offended, which seemed to only further Gibbs' amusement. "You want to go inside or what?"

Oh. Right, going inside the store to actually get the thing. That might help. Tim walked in, keeping an eye on Gibbs. His mind went back to when Gibbs had talked about hearing Tim's voice earlier. He had been convinced he was dreaming. Was he sleep talking? Was it just the fact that he had a history of that and he was reliving his time when he was dark through a nightmare? Or was what he thought a dream more of a...a flashback? Just a really vivid play through that Gibbs had been trying to work with?

If that was the case, Gibbs was putting up with Tim a lot more than Tim initially thought he would. It blew him away a bit, in fact. Someone who would be patient even through something so frustrating and...and upsetting as a flashback and the end effects on Tim's mental state. Had he ever had someone like that in his life before? He couldn't even recall his own father showing that sort of patience and willingness to help. Maybe...maybe it was safe to talk to Gibbs. He wasn't sure about verbally, yet, because he had a tendency to be loud and disruptive when he spoke, but he could always sign.

Gibbs was flipping through the pages of a sketchbook when Tim walked up to him. Gibbs glanced up at him expectantly. "Something up, Tim?"

Tim froze. He didn't actually know what to say, to hold a conversation. But he had to try. NEXT HELP ME SIGN?

Gibbs' brows furrowed at the question and Tim worried he might have remembered something wrong until Gibbs asked slowly, "You want...to practice your ASL with me?"

Tim sighed in relief and nodded. PLEASE.

"Yeah, sure, we can do that when we get home," Gibbs said. "Why now, though?"

Tim's hands raised, but paused before he signed anything. He wasn't sure he knew how to convey what he was feeling. After what felt like an age of Gibbs just looking at him expectantly, Tim shrugged and settled for I TRUST YOU. Not exactly describing all that entailed, or how he came to the conclusion, but it would have to do. He had never had emotionally complex conversations in ASL before.

Gibbs did that squint-thing with his eyes Tim had learned to mean he wanted more information. Tim shrugged and waved his hands around as if to say What more do you want from me?

"Tim, you have a lot of explaining to do once you learn how to do it, I think," Gibbs said.

Wracking his brain for how to say this, Tim tried his best to explain. YOU PATIENT WITH ME. I DON'T SPEAK. I CRY. YOU HELP ME. I TRUST YOU.

Gibbs watched Tim struggle through what he needed to say and when he was done, nodded. "I think I understand what you're saying. And of course I'm willing to help you, you're important to not just the team, but to me personally. I can't believe anyone wouldn't help you, with the difference you make in people's lives."

Tim huffed in amusement and shook his head, but didn't explain at Gibbs' confused look. Something colorful caught Tim's attention in his peripheral vision and he headed further into the store to see some sort of display of colored pencils in the form of a tree. His eyes jumped from place to place on it, observing every detail he could. This was beyond fascinating. He looked closer and found that some of the pencils even looked to be wrapped around others, which confused Tim more than a little bit. Pencils were supposed to be stiff and rigid, not bendy. He didn't think the graphite would allow it to be twisty.

Gibbs came up behind him and laughed. "Out of all the things that would catch your attention, my money was not on this, kid."

Tim pointed rather emphatically to the twisted pencils.

"Oh, a seemingly impossible object due to logic, never mind, I can see why you'd like this," Gibbs teased.

Tim stuck his tongue out at Gibbs and went back to looking at the pencil tree. He didn't want to touch it, in case it was against the rules, but it was really, really cool.

"Hey, Tim, can't draw in a sketchbook without something to draw with. Want to look at markers, colored pencils, that sort of stuff?" Gibbs prompted.

Tim started and looked toward Gibbs, nodding. Something to draw with was important. As they went down the closest aisle, Tim looked at everything. Crayons, markers, colored pencils, gel pens, all of them were good ways to draw. All of them had different perks, too. He stopped in front of a rather impressive case of gel pens. Twenty different colors, some of them metallic!

"You like those?" Gibbs asked.

Tim observed them closer, making sure the package was in good condition too before he nodded. He didn't want bad gel pens.

"Let's get them, then. Sketchbook, pens, you should be set for a while, right?" Gibbs asked.

Tim nodded again.

Gibbs looked around, humming in thought and causing Tim to look over at him. Gibbs started walking further down the aisle, and Tim followed, concern rising in his chest. Was something wrong with Gibbs? Did he see some sort of danger?!

Apparently not, because he stopped in front of a selection of children's watercolors, picking up a palate with a clear lid, revealing all the colors of the rainbow, plus black and white. "I've got printer paper at home, and probably some watercolor paper if I look, though it'd be old by now," Gibbs mused aloud. "I'd like to teach you how to paint with these properly. Always wanted to teach Kelly, but I never got the time. I'm not assuming I'm going to have all the time in the world with you." He grabbed a second palate and turned to Tim. "Let's go check out."

Tim followed Gibbs' lead through the store, and out into the mall when they were done buying everything. He looked around, taking everything in. He didn't see any danger, and he didn't feel that he was in danger, per se; there were witnesses everywhere. But the potential for danger was all around him, and he wanted to get back to Gibbs' place. There, at least, it was safer. He wasn't sure if he could quite say "safe"...yet. He liked to think he was getting there, though.

Chapter Text

Gibbs was impressed with McGee's behavior in the mall; he honestly didn't think that he would be able to wait that long doing so much walking and standing in place. He didn't even flinch when they had to go through the busiest part of the whole center to get back to the parking lot. All he did was look around silently, and when they were at Gibbs' truck, he looked around silently while holding his bear.

But when they got back to the house, Gibbs almost growled under his breath, because DiNozzo's car was parked out front. Tim clearly saw it too, and was shifting uncomfortably in his seat from it. Gibbs tapped McGee gently on the arm and once he had his attention, asked, "What's wrong?"

DON'T WANT T-O-N-Y SEE ME, McGee signed in a rush.

"Why not? I thought you liked seeing Tony?"

Tim grimaced and shifted more. Gibbs internally sighed. Why was it that when Tim got stressed, he explained less, not more? "Hey," Gibbs said softly. "Tony won't make fun of you for anything, you know that? He's just glad you're alive and wants to make sure you're all right."

McGee nodded, though he didn't relax.

Gibbs, knowing in this case he'd have to lead by example, took the bags from the mall and got out of the truck, walking straight to the door. The sound of the truck's passenger door slamming closed and the hurried footsteps behind him told him that McGee was following him inside. When Gibbs walked in, DiNozzo was sitting on the couch, his feet propped up on the table. "What have I told you about making yourself at home, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, placing the bags down where DiNozzo had now removed his feet.

"Do it as much as I like, so long as feet aren't on furniture they're not supposed to be on," DiNozzo said. "How's the McGeek?"

"Ask him yourself," Gibbs said, gesturing to the doorway. "I need to find a box or something for some of the stuff we got."

"How've you been, Probie?" DiNozzo asked McGee.

McGee signed back, GOOD and left it at that.

DiNozzo faltered and Gibbs chuckled. "He said he's good, DiNozzo. I thought you wanted to learn sign?"

"Got lost in the grammar," DiNozzo said. "Now I just know how to swear."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and went into the basement, walking down the steps quickly. He knew that he had an old crate down here that he had made years ago and never used...there! He grabbed it and walked back up the stairs to find McGee signing animatedly about...someone, he didn't know who, and DiNozzo just watching the movements, not even close to understanding. "Go easy on him, kid, he said himself he only knows the swear words," Gibbs said, removing the art supplies from their bag and putting them in the crate.

McGee noticed that and ignored Gibbs' admonishment in favor of signing, THAT WHAT? about the crate.

"This," Gibbs said, placing the crate under the table, "Is your box. You can keep whatever you want of your personal items in here, and this is where anything of yours will go if I need to clean it up for whatever reason. It's more or less a toy box, basically."

McGee looked shocked, and immediately pulled the crate from under the table, sitting in front of it like he had never seen something so important. DiNozzo was holding back a laugh judging by his grin, and Gibbs threw him a look before tilting his head toward the kitchen. DiNozzo pat McGee's shoulder before standing up and heading into the kitchen. "What's up with him?" Tony asked the second they were alone. "Is that whole...thing you said the other day still going on?"

"The period of regression, yeah. Basically, he's trying to cope with what his brain couldn't handle at the time."

"What exactly happened to cause that, Boss?" DiNozzo asked, looking out to the living room. "The doctors refused to tell me anything at the hospital, and usually Probie does well under pressure. Not as good as some of us, maybe, but he'd been getting much better at it. And now you're treating him with kid gloves...almost literally. Something is going on."

Gibbs sighed and ran a hand through his hair. DiNozzo was going to find out one way or another, and he'd really prefer that method not be via interrogating McGee. It might be a breach of privacy, but Tony could keep a secret..."He went through too much when he went dark, DiNozzo. Doctors don't know what happened, exactly, and I doubt McGee remembers much of it in this state, but...they found evidence of rape."

DiNozzo covered his mouth with a hand, speechless. He looked back out at the living room and this time Gibbs joined him. McGee was struggling with the package holding his gel pens hostage and had his sketchbook open. It was almost cute to watch, if Gibbs could get past the fact that he knew this wasn't like McGee normally. "When we find those...those...I don't have words for that kind of scum, Boss, but when we find them I will kill them."

Gibbs nodded. "You and me both. But let's not tell the judge that when we go out and get warrants. Any luck on finding a new base of operations?"

DiNozzo huffed. "None. I wish I could say otherwise, but these guys were good, Boss. Probie might know their new location, but, well..."

"I know," Gibbs sighed. "The elephant in the room."

"Boss, the others are all worried about him," DiNozzo admitted. "They know he isn't coming back to work right away, of course, and they know you're helping him adjust but...he'll need constant supervision for who knows how long? And the longer the team doesn't see him, the more everyone will start to worry. I had to convince Bishop I was going to get pizza in the exact opposite direction of your house to keep her from hitching a ride with me and swinging by here. She really didn't like the thought of getting her own lunch without stopping by. Ducky is concerned beyond belief because he managed to pull some strings and get the censored version of Tim's records--that's why I didn't see this coming. I thought at first when I saw him in the hospital the drugs were giving him that glazed-eye look. I didn't expect it to be some sort of...dissociation or something. And neither of us knew what was going on when he went dark. He's been considering calling you for the past two days. Who knows when Abby will get sick of the silence and storm over here herself. But...at the same time, I know Tim wouldn't want everyone to see him like this."

"He didn't want to see you, either," Gibbs said. "And he didn't want to see Rachel Cranston, who's sort of the only way we're ever getting Tim back in the field. He knows enough about what's going on that he doesn't want anyone but me and him to see him like this, but he doesn't understand enough to come back to us fully."

"That kind of sweet spot, huh?" DiNozzo asked in thought.

"That kind of sweet spot," Gibbs agreed. "It's killing me to see him like this."

"I could take him over to my place and keep watch of him there, or even watch him at his place, if you really don't think you can handle it," Tony offered.

"No...as much as it hurts to see this I know that he needs some sense of stability, and he's just getting comfortable around me and around the house again. He wasn't signing before we left for the store, and right now it's his only way of communication. I need to be the one to help him," Gibbs sighed. "And it's not like he's a bother or anything, because he's not, but seeing him like this...it's like seeing you with the plague. There's absolutely nothing I can do to help except be there when the chips fall. It's...I really don't know."

"It's hard knowing that we might have lost him," DiNozzo supplied. "I feel it too."

Gibbs felt a certain sense of comfort knowing that DiNozzo was as worried as he was. "I've been stupid about this," Gibbs said. "Said some things I shouldn't have early on, done some things more recently that made everything seem worse. So I know some things that we have to allow, and some things we have to avoid, but that only gives us a rough idea of what might have happened."

"Yeah?" DiNozzo asked.

"We can't restrain him unless he's hurting himself," Gibbs said. "Even a hug might send him over the edge if he's squeezed too tight. We can't remark on his behavior in reference to how he can't be trusted by himself."

DiNozzo held up a finger. "Boss, he's acting like a kid, of course we can't trust him alone."

"Yeah, but saying that triggered such a vivid flashback that Tim was convinced he was hiding from the people who hurt him and he hadn't been found," Gibbs said. "So you can't tell him that. We also need to make sure he can express himself, even if that means just near-constant crying, because he's been bottling it up. I've seen him cry so hard that he nearly threw up, and he barely made any sound at all."

"Boss, you know that usually means--"

"He learned it as a kid? Why yes, DiNozzo, I do, and I'd kill whoever did it to him were they within reach," Gibbs growled. "Also, don't mention what happened in general if you can help it, for obvious reasons."

"Well, yeah, Boss, I'm not an idiot," DiNozzo said.

"I know. But I also know you're bent on revenge," Gibbs said. "And we can't interrogate him about this."

DiNozzo sighed, shaking his head. "Why did this have to happen to him, though? Out of all the people at NCIS, why did it have to be him?"

"I don't know," Gibbs admitted. "But I doubt knowing why would make me feel any better about this whole situation. Did you already have lunch?"

"Hm? Oh, uh, no, I just waited here for maybe...ten? Minutes so I didn't have much of a chance to help myself to whatever you have lying around."

"I don't have much, I need to go grocery shopping," Gibbs said.

"If you don't want to drag the Probie with you I could watch him until you come back?" DiNozzo offered.

"I really don't think that's a good idea," Gibbs sighed. "If I leave him here, even if it's with you, he might freak out again."

"Like he'll freak out if he has to follow you around the grocery store for half an hour?" DiNozzo rebutted. "Come on, it'll take you forty-five minutes, tops, and it's not like Bishop and I have been working any cases, we still need a temporary agent before I could even be called SSA."

Gibbs mulled it over. He really didn't want to leave McGee alone with anyone but himself, he felt the same protective streak run through him when Rachel Cranston asked him to leave while she was talking to McGee. But DiNozzo did have a point about dragging McGee through a grocery store. It would not be easy, or fun. He was surprised McGee behaved as well as he did in the mall. Bringing him home just to drag him out again so quickly might result in some sort of meltdown, which Gibbs decidedly did not want to go through. And they needed food for dinner. "All right," he sighed. "All right, I'll go out and get the food, but if I come back to find McGee worked up because of any reason besides the rampant PTSD that causes him to break down, like you triggered a flashback, I can guarantee, DiNozzo, that you will never see the light of day again."

"Wow, okay, Papa Bear mode is in full gear, then," DiNozzo said, raising his hands in surrender. "We'll be fine. I bet that if I start talking to him he won't even notice you're gone."

Gibbs hoped that was true.

Chapter Text

Tim could hear Gibbs and Tony talking in the other room, but he didn't really want to listen in. Sure, he could if he wanted to, because they were acting like he couldn't even walk without someone holding his hand, but he doubted the conversation was going to be about anything he didn't already know. As the two seemed to wrap up their talk, Tim finally got the stupid package of gel pens open, resulting in them flying every which way and whacking anything in their path, from the table to the floor to Tim's face.

Tony laughed as he walked over and Tim looked at him with betrayal even as he held one hand at the cheekbone right under his eye socket. That had come dangerously close to impaling him, didn't Tony know?!

"Didn't hit you in the eye, did it?" Tony asked, sitting down on the floor and grabbing all the gel pens that went out of Tim's reach.

Tim shook his head.

"Then you're fine," Tony brushed off. "It might have been startling, but you'll live."

That did not ease Tim's anxiety about nearly being hit in the eye. He crossed his arms and glared at Tony, before arranging his gel pens in the color of a rainbow above where his sketchbook was sitting open on the floor.

"What are you gonna draw?" Tony asked.

Tim shrugged. He didn't really have one specific plan for how he was going to draw, or what he was gonna draw. He was just gonna try his hand at it and see what came out of the ashes.

Tony sat next to him and continued to watch him, and Tim felt a little unsettled from the scrutiny. He wanted to ask Tony what was wrong, to ask why everyone was staring at him lately, but he didn't have the words in a way Tony would understand them. He could try a little exaggerated sign in order to get Tony to understand, but he wasn't sure if that would be appreciated. Tony might think Tim was implying he was stupid, which was not what Tim wanted. And now he was overthinking again, wasn't he? That always got him in to trouble because he'd take too long to respond to someone.

"Hey...Tim? What are you thinking about?" Tony asked.

Tim internally sighed and resorted to signing. YOU STARE WHY?

Tony faltered and Tim knew this was a bad idea then and there. "I got the first sign, assuming that's 'you' but, uh, I don't really understand the rest. Can you spell it out?"

Tim paused. He could, couldn't he? He could envision the words in his head, but connecting them to individual letters was taking a lot of thinking. After some time, he managed S-T-A-R-E, hoping he spelled it right.

"Stare? I...stare...you're wondering why I'm staring!"

Relieved, Tim nodded his head with a quick sign of YES.

Tony's excitement at figuring out what Tim was asking faded, leaving nothing but thoughtfulness in its wake. "You're...well, you're acting different. You're quieter than normal, which is saying something, and you're more scared than you were when you were but a wee probie, which is also saying something. I haven't seen you like this before. It worries me."

Tim frowned. Being loud and standing up for himself was what got him into that mess that landed him in the hospital. He was being quiet so that didn't have to happen again, obviously! And wouldn't Tony be scared if that happened to him?! This was the perfectly logical reaction to terrible things happening! Couldn't Tony and anyone else staring see that?

...But, Tony had also said he was worried. Maybe everyone was staring because he hadn't done this around them before? So instead of it being seen as logical, they just saw it as something new and unknown. That could cause anyone to worry. He bit his lip before deciding he could try to initiate physical contact and he hugged Tony.

"This your way of telling me you're fine? Or is it you telling me not to worry?" Tony asked with a laugh.

Tim just nodded. It was both.

Tony laughed again and gave Tim a light hug back. When Tim pulled out of the gesture, he had a vague idea about what he was going to draw. Or rather, who he was going to draw. He thought Gibbs would be good practice, and he barely held back a smile when he thought about Gibbs possibly seeing it and liking it. He picked out a vaguely skin-tone looking pen and started making short lines next to each other in the shape of the shadow of a jawline. He didn't have a pencil to sketch everything out first, but he was going to make do with what he had.

After the jaw line was made, Tim did smaller hatch marks to outline Gibbs' face, remembering to leave a border for the hair, which he'd use the metallic gray pen for (he was really excited to see how it looked).

Tony looked over the paper. "What're you drawing?"

Tim shrugged. He knew what he was drawing, but Tony could probably guess for himself soon enough.

"That looks kinda like the Boss-man," Tony said lightly.

Tim nodded, putting down the skin pen and picking up the silver one, starting on the hair.

Tony laughed. "That's cute, kid," he said.

Tim just shrugged. Whatever Tony felt about the drawing, he was gonna make it the best he possibly could for Gibbs. Speaking of, he looked around to find a suspicious absence of the man. He turned to look to the door and found Gibbs' coat missing from the coat rack. He had left without Tim? That hurt a little bit, even if he was relieved he didn't have to be around more people. And didn't Gibbs say he couldn't be alone?

Tony tapped him on the shoulder and Tim almost rolled his eyes. Of course. Gibbs was having Tony play babysitter while he went out. He didn't need a babysitter, did he? He was responsible! "Hey, kid, wanna see something cool?"

Tim turned back around and nodded, thoughts about Gibbs slipping out of his mind.

Tony grinned and held out a coin for Tim to examine. Then he flipped the coin around with his fingers, before flipping it around his index finger and having it disappear! Tim's eyes widened, and okay, yeah, his jaw dropped when he saw the absence of the coin.

"Neat, huh?" Tony asked. "You know where it went?"

Tim shook his head.

Tony put his hand behind Tim's ear, and lo and behold, the coin was in his fingers. Tim felt behind his ear. There was no way...

The laughter Tony was unsuccessfully fighting off had him red in the face. While Tim was mildly offended, he didn't mind too much. He had bigger things to worry about, like the drawing of Gibbs.

...Funny. When Tim thought about Gibbs, the first word that came to his mind was "Papa". But...Gibbs wasn't his Papa. Tim knew there were things that had to happen before someone became his Papa, like serious adult talks and stuff about boundaries and discipline and all that, but nonetheless the word would not go away.

Well. Maybe he could talk about it with Gibbs when he was feeling brave enough to speak again. Until then, he was going to work on his drawing, and his sign, and maybe Tony would get to play with him more, and show him how he made the coin disappear.

Tim finished the outline of the face and made the hair next, and then worked on the nose, eyes, and mouth. He was just finishing the ears when he heard the door to the house open and shut. Tim turned around and he felt his heart fill with warmth when he saw Gibbs standing there. He waved happily and Gibbs laughed. "Hey, kid. I'm gonna make us and Tony lunch, sound good?"

Yeah, that sounded really good. Tim nodded.

He sat up and Tony watched Gibbs go into the kitchen before turning to Tim. "Hey, buddy. You gonna show Gibbs your picture?"

Tim nodded. He was proud of it, and was confident Gibbs would like it.

"It's good. I think he'll like it, don't you?"

Again, Tim nodded. He brought a hand up to his mouth and chewed on one of his fingernails. He wondered how long lunch would take to be made.

Tony waved a hand in front of his face slowly and Tim refocused on him. "Whatcha thinking about, kid?"

Tim shrugged. FOOD, he responded.

Tony frowned and Tim sighed silently, slowly finger-spelling the word.

"Oh! Yeah, it's lunch time, figures you'd be hungry," Tony said.

Gibbs walked in the room with a plate filled with finger food: sandwiches and crackers and grapes, and even a cookie for both him and Tony. "Wait to eat the cookie until you've eaten everything else," Gibbs instructed.

Tim immediately went for a sandwich, while Tony had some of the grapes. Conversation started slowly but surely, and while most of it was without Tim's input, that didn't mean he didn't listen and didn't understand.

"How's work been, other than everyone worrying?" Gibbs asked.

"Ah, just going over cold cases and looking for a substitute agent," Tony shrugged. "Nothing really important of life-threatening. No leads on our last case, either."

Gibbs sighed. "We're getting those SOB's," he vowed. "I don't care what it takes."

Tony nodded his agreement. "Oh, by the way, Bishop says hi and Abby wanted me to give you a hug from her next time I saw you, but that's not happening if I want to live, so..."

Gibbs laughed and Tim felt himself smile. Yeah, very few people could hug Gibbs and live to tell the tale.

"Tim was okay while I was out?" Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. "Yeah, I showed him a coin trick when he started looking for you and that kept him distracted for a bit. Mostly he just drew. Speaking of..." Tony trailed off, and Tim looked over from where he was reaching for a cracker. "Do you want to show Gibbs what you drew, kid?"

Tim startled a little as he remembered. Right! He had made the picture for Gibbs, he wanted to show it to him! He held the sketchbook out to Gibbs, who was on the couch. Gibbs carefully took it, a genuine smile on his face. "That's me?" he asked.

Tim nodded eagerly.

"It's really good, Tim. Especially with only gel pens to work with. I'm impressed," Gibbs praised.

Tim was practically glowing at the positive attention.

"Is it okay if we take this out later and I put it on the refrigerator?" Gibbs asked.

Tim nodded again. That was beyond okay, that was amazing! No one had ever wanted to put his work on the refrigerator before! He signed a couple quick "thank you"s to try and show his appreciation.

"Hey, I should be the one thanking you for this, Tim," Gibbs said. "I never knew you could draw like this."

Tim beamed and signed one more thank-you, and without much thought tacked on another sign at the end.

Gibbs' eyes widened slightly and his breath caught. Tony must have noticed this as well because he asked, "Boss, what was that other sign?"

Gibbs was said nothing. Nothing unusual, but it did cause Tim to frown slightly. When he didn't get a response after a few seconds, he went back to eating and decided that he wasn't going to worry about it now. He had other things to focus on.

"Boss," Tony repeated. "What was that last sign he did?"

Gibbs cleared his throat, and said in an uncertain voice, "Uh...it means Dad. Papa depending on the region since he wiggled his fingers."

Tony made a confused noise in the back of his throat. "Why would he call you that?"

Tim felt Gibbs' eyes move to him and he pretended to not notice as Gibbs said, "I don't know."

Chapter Text

Gibbs' mind was whirring. Papa. Daddy. Dad. He called me Dad, why would he call me Dad?!

Tim, of course, wasn't speaking, and likely wouldn't be able to give him a solid reason like this even if he were. Tony looked just as confused as he did, and after a moment said, "...Uh, I might take the afternoon off, Boss. See if I can help you find answers, if that's all right."

"At this point, DiNozzo, I'm not even offended that you think I need help," Gibbs said. "Got a computer in the basement we can use, I think. Short that, there's always Tim's."

"Do you still have like...the Wi-Fi I stole before?" Tony asked. "Because I could just bring in my laptop. Or, if you don't have that, I could use my phone."

"Phone's probably good," Gibbs said faintly. "I don't even get what Wi-Fi is, let alone how I'm supposed to set it up."

Tony sighed and pulled out his phone. "All right, then. What do I even search?" he asked.

Gibbs ran a hand over his face. "How am I supposed to know, DiNozzo?!" he snapped.

Tim's head snapped to him and Gibbs winced. "Sorry, Tim. Didn't mean to raise my voice."

At Tim's nod, Gibbs refocused on Tony. "Search whatever you think will give you an explanation."

"Because that clears up so much," Tony muttered, typing on his phone all the same.

Gibbs' mind was left whirring as Tony scrolled through search results. That one word kept glaring in his head and he didn't know what to do. He didn't know what this meant. Why did Tim call him that?! This was all complicated enough before, why did this have to happen?!

"Boss?" Tony prompted, and Gibbs glanced over at him. "I think I found something."

Gibbs gestured him over to the couch and Tony walked around Tim, who was finishing off the plate of lunch. He sat down next to Gibbs and offered his phone out. Gibbs just squinted at it before Tony flushed and took it back. "Right, smartphones are not your thing. Um...long story short, when I looked up age regression, I found...a lot of blogs about it. And one of them actually had pretty solid information, and a glossary of terms and stuff, really, I should link it to you, it would probably help..."

"Just hurry up, DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a sigh. "I'd rather know now what's going on."

"Okay, so um...apparently if someone regresses like this, they'll usually have some sort of caregiver look after them, and they'll frequently call that caregiver a parental title," Tony said, looking between Tim and Gibbs. "So best guess is that he imprinted on you, basically. You took care of him like a dad would when he's like this, so to him it makes logical sense to call you 'dad.'"

Gibbs felt some knot loosen in his gut at hearing that. That sort of reasoning was completely something McGee would do. But then a few new ones tightened as he realized the implications of that statement.

Tony cleared his throat. "If you need some time to think, Boss, I can keep the kid occupied."

"No," Gibbs said faintly. "You've done more than enough."

Tony shrugged. "I'm still taking the afternoon off. Least I can do is help you with him if you're staying. I can tell you're not going to be talking much and Tim most likely needs chatter."

Gibbs sighed and shook his head. "Why couldn't this have been easy? The case was straightforward enough. Why did it have to be him? Why this team?"

Tony leaned back on the couch. "I know you're not wishing this on anyone else, Boss, but wondering about the what if's aren't going to give you any answers. Right now is where we are. And what happened, happened. Now we just have to find a way to muddle through."

Gibbs stood up and muttered, "I'll be in the basement if you need anything."

Closing the door when he walked in felt like an obligation. He didn't want the others interrupting him right now. Tony would get his message loud and clear, and could keep Tim occupied. At least, he hoped so.

Dad, dad, dad...The word played over and over in Gibbs' head like a broken record, and only now could he growl and snarl at it to shut up. The implications of that seemed too much for Gibbs to handle. It meant Tim saw him as a role model, someone to look up to, someone he trusted to take care of him, and fix the things that went wrong. Except this whole scenario was wrong, and Gibbs couldn't fix it. He glanced at his work table, where a bottle of bourbon was waiting for him. He almost reached for it, but something told him not to. After all, he had someone upstairs who relied on him to be coherent, and clear-headed.

Why was this so terrifying? That prospect never seemed as scary with Kelly. Why was it so worrisome now?

Because of who you're looking after, his mind answered in a taunt. You couldn't keep him safe before, now it's time to clean up your own mess.

Gibbs growled and reached for the closest thing he could find, a small chunk of wood. He was ready to fling it across the basement, but again, something stopped him. The walls were too thin, Tim and Tony would hear it. He couldn't have that, could he? That would probably work Tim up more, and that was not what he wanted. Instead, he looked down at the block, turning it in his hand. He could make something from this, couldn't he?

He grabbed a few other scraps lying around and started to mess with them. He wasn't quite sure what he was making, but he was pretty sure it was bookends. He kept turning them in different directions, making connections one way, deciding against it, and then repeating the process. Eventually, when he found a position he liked, two larger scraps flush against two smaller ones at an angle, he got out nails and put the pieces together. He could figure out how to paint them tonight. As it was, he felt significantly calmer and decided he was ready to head back upstairs.

When he opened the door and walked back into the living room, Tony immediately pointed and said, "See, kid? He's still here, he didn't leave you. He just needed some time to himself."

Tim turned toward Gibbs, and it was clear he had been crying at least some. He didn't move closer, though. Whether it was because he didn't want to or because he was scared to, Gibbs didn't know. But he did know he needed to reassure Tim that everything was gonna be okay. He took a couple steps forward, and tried to sound inviting as he said, "You do know it's okay to hug me, right?"

That was apparently all the invitation Tim needed, as he quickly got to his feet and nearly launched himself at Gibbs in a hug. The sudden weight caused Gibbs to grunt, but he dutifully returned the hug. "You okay?" he asked.

Tim just hugged him tighter. Tony was reaching for his smartphone but Gibbs shot him a quick look that made it clear that if Tony wanted to live, he would not be taking any photos.

When Tim broke out of the hug, he immediately started signing. PAST I BAD? he asked.

"No, of course not, Tim," Gibbs said, wiping a stray tear off Tim's cheek. "You caught me off guard, and I needed some time to think through what you said, but you weren't bad. Understand?"

Tim bit his lip and shook his head.

Gibbs hummed in thought and tried to figure out how he could explain this to a child. It was becoming clearer and clearer to him that was what Tim was, at least at the moment. "You know how sometimes, someone says or does something, and it's not necessarily even a bad thing, but it makes you stop and think? About what they said, and what it means?"

Tim nodded, slowly.

"You saying what you said just made me need to think. And I do my best thinking by myself," Gibbs said. "So I went downstairs to think over what you said. I'm not mad, and I'm not abandoning you, and I'm definitely not trying to hurt you. Okay?"

Another nod. Gibbs smiled. "Feel any better?"

Tim yawned and nodded. Gibbs laughed. "Are you tired?"

NO, Tim signed.

"I think you are. You can take a nap if you need to," Gibbs said.

Tim looked uncertain.

"I won't let anything happen to you," Gibbs reassured. "It's okay. You can go upstairs and take a nap in your room. Tony and I will be right down here if you need anything."

Tim still looked pensive but nodded all the same, and went upstairs.

When he and Tony were alone in the room, Tony stood and scratched the back of his neck. "Do you have any beer? I could use some."

"I could too, but I think I'm out," Gibbs sighed. "It wasn't on the top of my list for things to buy at the store today."

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "I don't understand how you've been doing it, Gibbs. I only had to try and keep him occupied and happy for forty five minutes and it didn't work."

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah, that's pretty much parenting for ya."

"So...what are you going to do about this?" Tony asked. "Are you really willing to help Tim for however long it takes for him to recover?"

Gibbs thought it over and was a little surprised to find the answer was yes. Even if Tim didn't get better for years, Gibbs was ready to wait, and ready to help. "Yeah," he said. "I don't know how much I'd need to do to be able to look after him, but I'm ready to help."

Tony clucked his tongue. "It probably was a good thing he came home with you, then. I wouldn't be able to deal with this for a day, let alone a week or more. Granted, it probably helps that you know sign."

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah, I think that helps some."

"Vance is going to want answers sooner or later," Tony said. "What do I tell him?"

"Tell him he can come here to talk to me if he has that much of an issue with me taking care of one of my own. Maybe then he'll see why I don't trust just anyone to do this job," Gibbs said. "And short that, tell him that McGee got severely traumatized and that speaking as one person with PTSD to another, I know how to help him."

Tony mulled that over before shrugging. "It might work. Mind giving me the run-down on what's been going on the past few days? You know, in case you need a babysitter again. Because while it's not easy, I'm willing to help."

"Well, he draws some during therapy to get his emotions out, and you know he doesn't talk. I had to force food on him twice to get him to eat it, one time going so far as to literally feed him straight off a fork like a toddler. And those diapers are not just for decoration," Gibbs said. "Really, we're just dealing with..."

"A fully grown child," Tony said with no small amount of confusion. "McGeek really could have warned us about this earlier."

"I sincerely doubt he thought it would come up," Gibbs said. "But I know what you mean, and I agree. A little warning wouldn't have hurt."

Tony sat back down and moved to put one of his feet up on the table, before thinking better of it. "So, what do you think you're gonna do when he wakes up? Gotta keep him occupied somehow after all."

Gibbs hummed. "That's a good question, and I don't know if I have the answer to it. You have any ideas?"

Tony considered. "Well..."

Chapter Text

Tim honestly thought he wouldn't be able to nap, but he got under the sheets in his bed, snuggling Emma, and the next thing he knew, he could hear a soft voice and feel a gentle nudge on his shoulder. "Tim, come on, buddy, you've gotta get up if you want to sleep tonight. Besides, I have a surprise for you downstairs!"

Slowly, Tim opened his eyes. A surprise? It took him a few seconds to recognize who the voice belonged to, but he soon realized it was...Gibbs. Papa. Honestly the two were interchangeable. He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. He was still tired, but not so much so that he needed to sleep more right away. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and Papa put his boot on for him. Tim grabbed Emma and followed Papa out of the room, down the stairs, and through the living room to the dining room, where two cups and two sets of watercolors were set out, as well as lots and lots of paper.

"It's just printer paper for practice," Papa explained. "But I figured that it could be fun to teach you how to paint. Tony went out while you were asleep, but he said he'd come back with stuff for dinner, maybe you could make him something?"

Tim turned and found Papa looking him over, a faint smile on his lips. Almost gone, but there. Tim walked over to one of the places set up with paint and grabbed a sheet of paper. Papa moved to the other spot and picked up a brush, passing it to Tim, before grabbing one for himself. "Okay, so the first thing to do, is to get the brush wet," Papa said. "That's why we have the water."

Nodding, Tim wet the brush. He pulled it out and found it started to drip. Looking at Papa, he saw that the man was using the edge of the cup to get rid of extra water. Tim did the same. "Hey, Tim, do you remember your colors from the ASL class you took?"

Tim thought about it, and was embarrassed to realize he didn't. He shook his head, his cheeks heating up.

"That's fine, I can teach you again," Papa said. "Which color do you want to use?"

Tim thought about it and pointed at the green. Papa did the sign for green and Tim repeated it, before sticking the brush on the green and swirling it around, surprised to find the paint basically melting onto the brush! He made two circles on the center of the page, which could be Tony's eyes. He frowned at the paper in thought, then at the watercolors. He supposed orange for the skin color would have to do, even though it was very bright.

"Do you want to use a different color, Tim?" Papa asked.

Tim looked over at Papa's paper and noticed that he had already filled half the page he was using with a blue-green. He was a little jealous, but he reasoned that Papa had a lot more practice than he did. He nodded at the question.

"Dip your brush into the water and swirl it around until it's clean. Then choose a new color," Papa explained. "Do that every time and there should be no problems."

Tim nodded and followed the instructions. He made sure he was careful with the brush, though he did sometimes have problems with control of it. But the end result of his watercolor experience did resemble Tony, so really, Tim wasn't complaining.

He pushed the paper aside gently to dry, and picked up a fresh piece. He didn't want to paint anything specifically, but this was a good distraction from his own thoughts. He cleaned his brush and looked at the colors he could use. He decided to start off with red, making little circles all over the page. It resembled the sort of thing that went on in his head. He realized this was probably just going to make the thoughts continue; acknowledging this kind of stuff never seemed to end well. But he was at a loss for what else to paint. Doing things like people and places only lasted for so long before he ran out of ideas.

He cleaned up the brush and chose black next, putting shapes around the circles. They kind of looked like monsters. Tim frowned as his mind started to supply him with names that he couldn't seem to place. Jerry, Harold, Robert, Mitchell. He pressed a hand against his forehead. Where did he hear those names? Why were they important? He cleaned the brush from the black and left it in the cup, putting both hands against his forehead as he could hear men yelling the names. Not just any men, though. The men. The ones who had done the unspeakable.

"Hey, Tim? Are you okay?" Papa asked.

Tim shook his head, surprised at himself. His dad would have killed him for showing this kind of weakness. Papa was different, granted, but how different? Tim stood, without much thought, going into the kitchen. There was a junk drawer in here somewhere, right? He looked around, spying a pad of paper and a pencil by the phone, and before he could forget the names, wrote them down to the best of his memory. Mitchell P. Harold S. Jerry. Robert T. He put the pencil down and pressed against his head again, trying to forget what exactly was happening. What had happened, what was happening now, his entire life crumbling around him and his reality turned upside down, he was the one who investigated crimes, not the one who was a victim of them. Right? What was going on?

"Hey, hey. Tim? Can you hear me?"

He was trying to listen, but everything was suddenly too sharp in his mind, too loud, too much. Tears sprang to his eyes as the realization crashed around him. He had been violated in the worst way he could think of. He had been raped. No wonder he had been regressed for a solid three days! He couldn't face this, he didn't know how to handle this! He sank to his knees and closed his eyes tight. His words caught in his throat and he couldn't force them out no matter how hard he tried.

There were hands on his and he knew that they weren't going to hurt him, on some level. They were calloused, familiar. Wait, is that Gibbs? He opened his eyes and found Gibbs kneeling in front of him. His mouth was moving, but he couldn't hear the words. He tried to say something, anything, even just a "Boss," to let Gibbs know he was aware of what was going on, but he was completely nonverbal. He wasn't even sure if he could sign at this point.

Slowly, the words Gibbs was saying started to filter into his brain. "Tim, it's okay, you're safe, just try and breathe for me, all right? You're having a panic attack, I need you to try and breathe normally."

He was trying, he was, but he was so terrified and shocked that he couldn't do much of anything but panic. In desperation, he closed his eyes again and willed himself to forget about this. When that didn't work, he retreated in on himself, letting himself regress again, if only so that he didn't have to try and stay composed.

In that moment, Tim's tears ran faster and hotter and harder than they had in a very long time. Even when regressed, the full magnitude of what had happened knocked him off his feet. The only thing that changed was that he was now openly sobbing instead of trying to contain it, and he needed something, someone to hug.

In his desperation he reached out blindly for Papa and buried his face in the man's shoulder. To his relief, Papa hugged him back, quietly shushing his sobs, repeating over and over, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay."

Tim didn't know how long exactly they stayed like that, him bawling his eyes out on the floor, but when his cries died down, and he pulled away, he felt more stable than he had in days. Granted, he also felt hollow, and violated, and scared. But that was a constant, instead of constantly fluctuating.

Hesitatingly, he signed, PAPA, NOTE IMPORTANT.

Papa looked at him, nodded, and stood, picking up the notepad. "What are these names?" he asked.

I DON'T KNOW. PAST I REMEMBER, he signed back. That wasn't quite true, but he didn't know how to explain where he got them from.

Papa offered him a hand and helped him up, and Tim wiped a few stray tears from his eyes. "Are these the names of some of the people you saw when you were undercover?" Papa asked.

I THINK. YES, Tim signed, relieved that Papa could fill in the holes in what he couldn't say.

Papa looked at the note and looked up again. He smiled at Tim. "That's good to know, Tim. I'll pass this along to Tony whenever he gets back."

"He's back," Tony called from the living room. "I heard crying and decided to not intrude."

Papa rolled his eyes and Tim snorted. He was feeling significantly better after crying. He went back into the dining room and looked over Tony's portrait, and considered it dry enough to give to him. He handed it to Tony as Tony put down a bag on the table, clear of the paint and paintings. "Hey, that's me!" Tony said, complete delight in his voice. "You're really good at this, McGoo!"

Tim laughed, twice, before realizing that was too loud a noise and clapping a hand over his mouth, looking nervously between Papa and Tony. Tony was surprised, but Papa just observed him. "Don't stop on our account, I like your laugh."

Slowly, Tim lowered his hand from his mouth and looked around for Emma. He picked her up from the floor and gave her a hug. He still wasn't sure he wouldn't be in trouble for laughing later. He signed a quick THANK YOU to Tony and sat down at the table. The drawing of the monsters seemed to be done, so he didn't move to fill it with more color. Right now, he was kind of hungry, and way tired. The kind of tired that went down into your bones. He suppressed a yawn at the thought of going to bed and forced himself to stay in the present just a little longer. Dinner. Food. That was good. Papa hadn't said there were any conditions that he had to meet in order to have a snack or a meal. He observed the bag as Tony pulled out flour, and cans of soup, and salt, but soon started to lose interest, just letting the adults' voices wash over him. "--Thought it might be a little bit of fun to make your own P-I-Z-Z-A at some point, you know?"

"Yeah, I got it, DiNozzo. And I'll be sure to invite you over the night that happens--if it does," Papa said.

"For tonight, though, I got some soup, some pasta, just stuff that you can use now or in a couple weeks. Figured that canned food and stuff like that would last longer on your shelf in case you decided to only eat steak for a month again--"

"DiNozzo," Papa warned.

"Shutting up now, Boss," Tony said.

Tim grinned, but didn't laugh this time. He wasn't going to slip twice in a row, not if he could help it.

"So. Dinner?" Tony asked.

"I'll make pasta," Papa said, taking a box of pasta noodles. "For three, if you feel inclined to stay?"

"Sure, Boss," Tony agreed. "Anything to stick around Probie a little longer."

Tim's heart warmed at that statement. He tapped Tony's arm as Papa left the room and did a quick sign. I LOVE YOU TOO.

Tony just laughed and ruffled his hair. "You're cute, kid." Tony shook his head fondly. "You're cute."

Chapter Text

After Tim was dragged to the bathroom by Papa to be changed, Papa went to the kitchen to cook and Tim and Tony were left to their own devices. Tim was playing with the Gibbsmobile and the ambulance, and Tony was scrolling through stuff on his phone on the couch. "Hey, Tim," he said after a while. "Do you want to play twenty questions? I know the signs for yes and no, so I could guess when you think of something?"

Tim looked up at Tony and squinted. He was lying, Tim was pretty sure. He would want to ask a bunch of questions that were completely unrelated to the game, and Tim would feel obliged to answer them, because he wanted to please Tony. He signed NO THANK YOU and went back to playing.

"Can I ask you some questions anyway?" Tony prodded.

Tim sighed and looked up at Tony again. He knew Tony wasn't malicious, at least not intentionally. But Tim didn't want to subject himself to traumatic memories, which is what he was pretty sure Tony would ask. Still, it was Tony. And Tim would do almost anything for him. So he signed YES, however reluctantly.

"Is your favorite color orange?" Tony asked.

Tim blinked. That was...not what he was expecting. NO.

"Green?" Tony tried.

NO, Tim signed again.

"...Blue?" Tony guessed.

Tim grinned. YES.

"All right!" Tony said, rubbing his hands together. "I bet I can guess your favorite animal!"

NO WAY! Tim signed back, a determined fire in his eyes.

"Okay..." Tony said. "Is your favorite animal a bug?"

NO, Tim signed.

"A fish?"

NO.

"A bird?"

NO, Tim signed, relaxing into the game.

"So a mammal then?" Tony pondered out loud. "Does it have four paws?"

NO, Tim signed with a grin.

"Does it have four hands?" Tony tried.

NO.

Tony frowned, thinking it over, while Tim felt more and more amused. There was no way Tony would guess what his favorite animal was.

"Oh!" Tony said, clapping his hands together. "Is it a kangaroo? Does it have two legs?"

Tim laughed, shaking his head.

Tony went back to thinking, before something clicked behind his eyes and he headslapped himself. "Oh my--it swims, doesn't it?"

Tim nodded.

"Is it a dolphin?"

Tim nodded again. He lost, but it was a fun game, and it was funny to watch Tony try and think his way through Tim's answers.

Tony grinned proudly and leaned back. "That was fun, kid."

Tim nodded his agreement, before putting the Gibbsmobile and the ambulance back in his crate and moving to the couch, looking over to Tony's phone. There were a lot of words, and it hurt his head a bit to focus on them, but he tried to anyway. He managed to make out the header, Glossary of Regression Terms, before Tony pulled his focus away by asking, "What are you doing, kid?"

PHONE SAY WHAT? Tim shot back.

"Kid, I don't understand that much ASL, you know that," Tony said.

Tim huffed. Here he was, trying to figure out what Tony was doing, and maybe help him, and Tony was shutting him down!

"Okay, look..." Tony said. "We can't keep just trying to speak to each other in different languages like this. Can't you...write down what you want to say?"

Tim shook his head. SPELLING HARD, he signed back.

"What does that even mean?!" Tony asked, exasperated.

Tim was very, very tempted to tell Tony off, but he knew that Tony knew ASL swears, and he'd probably tell Papa. And Tim didn't want to be in trouble again. He had been laughing around Tony, which meant he was being too loud, and now he was being difficult by not working well with spelling, and just wanting to sign instead. This was a lose-lose situation, and he hated those!

"He said that spelling is hard, DiNozzo," Papa said from the entrance to the dining room. "And considering what he's been through and how he's handling it, are you honestly that surprised?"

Tony opened his mouth, before closing it again and crossing his arms. "We can't just communicate in yes and no questions, though."

"I agree," Papa said. "Which is why I suggest you pick up sign again."

Tim's head whipped around in surprise. His form of communication was being favored?! Tony seemed just as surprised. "Boss?! But! It's really hard for me to pick up!"

"I'll help you. Tim's got a highschooler's vocabulary, not a native speaker's, so I'm helping him too. It's not as hard if that's all you're speaking in for a couple days." Tony paled, and Papa rolled his eyes. "Relax. That's how most places teach it, and that's how kids with Deaf parents learn, but I'm not going to force you to do that, at least not until your communication skills improve."

"That does not comfort me," Tony said.

Papa smirked and signed, TOUGH L-U-C-K.

Tim giggled and Tony looked over at him. "What? What did that mean?"

"Tough luck," Papa translated. "Now come on, dinner's ready, you two."

Tim moved from the couch to the living room, for once not moving fast. His ankle had been hurting him, probably from moving too fast too often. So he was going to try and take it easy.

The table had been cleared of painting supplies and three plates of spaghetti were in their place. Tim sat down where he had sat to paint and swung his legs, waiting until Tony and Papa sat down before trying to mess with his fork. He didn't want Papa to have to feed him all the time, that was slow for both of them, and Tony was here. But the best he could achieve with the fork was scooping up the noodles and hoping they didn't fall through the prongs. It probably didn't help that he was trying to hold the fork using his fist over individual fingers. But it was hard enough to use a fork with a fist, let alone using, what, two, three fingers? That was impossible!

Tony was staring at him as he ate his first bite of spaghetti. Tim chewed, swallowed, and stuck his tongue out at Tony. Gibbs cleared his throat and signed BEHAVE.

SORRY, Tim signed before going back to his food.

Despite this, Tony would continue to stare at Tim, when he didn't think Tim was looking. Tim finished his spaghetti quickly, slightly surprised to discover his hands covered in the tomato sauce. Sure, he had dropped his fork a few times but that didn't warrant this much of a mess, did it?

Papa looked him over, having already finished his meal, and said, "All right, kid. You, me, and the kitchen sink have a little business before you can go back to playing."

Tim sighed but stood up, letting Papa guide him to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. He ran his hands under the water to get most of the sauce off, and then got the soap to clean the more sticky parts and smaller bits that wouldn't leave with water alone. When he turned the water off, he showed his hands to Papa, and Papa nodded, saying, "Yeah, you did good, kid. Go ahead and play. Tony and I might talk some while you do."

Nodding, Tim went out to the living room, grabbed Emma, and looked in his crate for what he might want to do. He had a sketchbook, gel pens, a toy truck and a toy ambulance. He twisted his mouth to the side in thought, considering what he wanted to do with those things. Eventually he decided to just pretend to have a conversation with Emma, signing basic things to her to get used to the signs he knew again. He listened in to what Papa and Tony were saying in the kitchen as they cleaned up. They must have thought that he couldn't hear them, or else wouldn't pay attention, because they were talking about him. Or at least, that's what it sounded like. "--He wrote down those names, so if you could search them and see if you come up with anything that would help."

"Got it, Boss," Tony said. "How's he doing, do you think? He seemed a little mellower this evening."

"Whatever happened to him hit him hard today," Papa said. "He wrote down the names, before completely breaking down. His eyes seemed to clear for a couple minutes in the panic before he broke down and it was gone."

"You think that he's accepting it?" Tony asked.

"I think that he accepted it happened, I don't think that he's anywhere close to accepting that he can move on from this," Papa said.

Tim felt a little sick. There was a very good reason he didn't think about what happened when he went dark. He may have remembered a majority of it, but he doubted he would for long, and that was fine by him. But...wouldn't Papa want to know the play-by-play of what happened? He seemed to care about the details a lot whenever taking someone to court. He pulled out his sketchbook and gel pens and pulled out a regular blue, starting to write. He needed to get everything out while he could remember, before it became too repressed and before he was stuck in another flashback. He channeled his inner adult the best he could, bringing his work-self out to help with wording, and to properly hold the pen so that his writing was legible.

What I can remember comes in bits and pieces, most of the time. But at the same time, I can almost always remember every last detail of what happened.

There was a man with a southern accent, who they called Jerry. One sounded like a New Yorker, who I think was Mitchell. A Harold and Robert were around too, but they didn't have as distinct accents as the others. Jerry was the one who figured out that I was undercover. The feedback hurt and I winced, and I'm pretty sure he heard it too, because he was standing right next to me.

Tim was pulled back to the moment as he continued to write. Jerry looked at him askance. "Why'd ya wince?" he asked.

"My ear just popped for some reason," Tim lied. "I dunno why."

Jerry growled and swung him around into a wooden crate. "Don't lie to me," he warned. "Who do ya work for? The Alessi's? McNamara?"

"I don't work for anyone," Tim lied again.

"Yer lying,"Jerry said. "I think yer a cop."

Tim's heart was pounding in his chest. "You're insane," he breathed.

"Am I?" Jerry asked, reaching into Tim's ear and pulling out his earwig. "Robert said you had some sorta hearing aid. Didn' take it for an earwig."

He dropped it to the ground and crushed it with his heel. "Jerry--" Tim started, before he was slapped across the face.

"Shut up," Jerry growled. "Just for that I'm gonna have some fun with ya before I leave ya for dead."

Somehow the other three heard the commotion and made their way through the warehouse over to where Tim and Jerry were. "I heard the word cop?" Harold asked.

"Robert, you said the guy had a hearing aid. It was an earwig, idiot," Jerry snarled. "Get this guy in one of the crates, we gotta move to the secondary location."

The commotion grew from there. Mitchell took Tim and beat him around the head some until he was dazed enough to be shoved in a large dog cage. Robert made some calls and strangers flooded the warehouse in minutes, clearing away any contraband they had and leaving only innocent building supplies in their wake. Unfortunately, one of the contraband items was Tim himself, and he was put in the back of a moving van with all the other crates, where he couldn't get out and call for help. By the time he had come back to himself, he was stuck in the pitch dark, and the van was already moving. Tim was worried about this secondary location, and what exactly Jerry had meant by "fun." He had the feeling that it didn't bode well for him.

Chapter Text

Gibbs talked with Tony the entire time they washed the dishes. They agreed that Tony should go home and then to work the next morning, and not tell the others where he was all afternoon. Neither of them wanted Tim to go through any more than he already had, and a lot of attention could make things worse. When Gibbs got out to the living room, he found Tim writing in his sketchbook, a deep frown etched in his face. Gibbs didn't want to interrupt him so he walked to the door with DiNozzo, saying, "Give me a call tomorrow and I'll let you know how Tim's doing, sound good?"

"You got it, Boss," Tony said. "I'll call you whenever I get out of whatever meeting Vance will shoe-horn me into. Probably finding a temporary agent for the team while you two are down for the count."

Gibbs chuckled; that sounded exactly like what Vance would do to him were it Tony and Tim down for the count. "Talk tomorrow, then."

"Talk tomorrow," Tony agreed, walking out of the house.

Gibbs closed the door and turned to Tim, who had apparently finished writing, and signed his name at the bottom of the page, judging by the scrawl there, and was now waving a hand over the surface. Gibbs walked over and skimmed the top of the page, before realizing that this was Tim's version of his official statement. "Hey," he said softly. "You okay?"

Tim looked up at him, the haze still present in his eyes but looking to have faded some.

"I bet that will dry pretty soon, why don't we get you cleaned up and ready for bed and then check on the note?" Gibbs offered.

That seemed to do the trick as Tim put the sketchbook on the table and grabbed his bear, before walking upstairs. Gibbs followed, grabbed a T-shirt for Tim to wear as pajamas when he got out of the bathroom, and then filled the water for Tim to take a bath.

He was a little taken aback with how docile Tim seemed to be tonight versus the first one. He just sat in the bathtub as Gibbs washed him, occasionally glancing at the bathroom counter where his bear was sitting, and he let his eyes droop more and more as the bath went on.

By the time Tim was clean, he was dead on his feet. Gibbs helped him out, changed him, and helped him brush his teeth before Tim sleepily signed, TIRED.

"I never would have guessed," Gibbs laughed, ruffling Tim's hair. "Do you want to go to bed?"

Tim nodded. Gibbs helped him to bed, tucking him in. Tim was out like a light in seconds. Gibbs crept out of the room and went downstairs, looking at Tim's sketchbook. He grabbed it and started to read over it. The writing was detailed, and emotionally charged. Gibbs could feel Tim's anxiety as he was taken into the truck and then to the secondary location. But after that, everything took a dark turn, a turn that made Gibbs' blood boil.

They moved to a building that had a loft in it, which is where they took the dog crate and finally opened the door. I was dragged out of it, and searched. They took my gun, my badge, my notes, and my cuffs. They tossed the gun and badge aside, but Jerry held onto the cuffs. He ordered me to strip and I refused, already knowing where this was going to go and trying to prolong it. He ordered the others to strip me but before they could I dashed out of the loft and hid among the crates strewn around. I was able to hide for about twenty minutes, but the second I made my move to escape, I was caught and dragged back to the loft. They stripped me completely, at which point Jerry took the cuffs, pinned me on my stomach on a bed in the room, and cuffed me to the headboard. He tied my legs up with rope so I couldn't kick at him, and then forced me to watch as he stripped off his pants and briefs.

It was at this point that Jerry's "fun" proved to be non-consensual anal sex. The pain was excruciating, as he didn't use any sort of lubrication, and the more I screamed for him to stop, the more I would be punched or kicked, or worse, Jerry would go rougher and pull my hair until I blacked out from the pain. Whenever I passed out, from what I was told by the others as they gloated, Jerry would leave, but he would come right back whenever I came to and continued his "fun." I know that at several points, he climaxed and enjoyed spreading his semen over me, and I am ashamed to say that at one point he got me to climax as well. When he was through with his fun, he took a broken piece of glass and raked it down my back several times, before ordering the others to dump me somewhere not far from the first location. By the time I got to where I was dumped, I was dizzy and disoriented from loss of blood, and was in-and-out of consciousness until Tony found me and called an ambulance.

Gibbs could hardly contain his fury as he read the final words of Tim's statement. He carefully tore the paper out of the book so Tim wouldn't have to look at it in the morning, and called Tony. He picked up on the first ring. "Boss? Something wrong?"

"McGee wrote a statement unprompted," Gibbs said, forcing himself to not grind his teeth.

"That's...good?" Tony asked.

"It's good for a court case," Gibbs agreed. "But now I know exactly what those criminals did to him, and let me just say, everything makes a horrifying kind of sense after you read it."

"Should I pick it up on my way to work tomorrow?" Tony offered.

"Probably," Gibbs sighed. "But you have to promise that you won't go out for blood immediately after reading what he says."

Tony sucked in a breath. "It's that bad?"

"DiNozzo, he details a rape. His own rape. It's exactly as bad as you think it is, if not ten times worse," Gibbs snapped.

"Right, right," Tony said. "I'll pick it up tomorrow, bring it to Vance so he can give it to whoever's officially handling the case now."

"Make sure you get a shot in if you're there when we catch these guys," Gibbs growled. "Especially one named Jerry. Apparently, he's the one who liked to restrain McGee on a bed and would smear you-know-what on him."

Tony cursed. "I'll do more than get a shot in, Boss, I'll kill him myself," he said.

"Just don't tell Vance that," Gibbs said. "He'll take both of us off the case permanently."

"Yeah," Tony said.

A silence followed. Gibbs sighed. "I should probably get to bed, to be honest. Tim's been running me ragged."

"Probie's asleep?" Tony asked.

"For the moment," Gibbs confirmed.

"Yeah, get your sleep while you can," Tony agreed. "He'll probably be up in the middle of the night with a nightmare judging just by what you've told me."

"Yeah," Gibbs sighed. "See you tomorrow."

"Definitely," Tony agreed.

Gibbs hung up and put the paper back down on the coffee table, before heading upstairs. He checked Tim's room and confirmed that the boy was still asleep before going to his own bed, stripping down to his boxers, and climbing in. He was sure he could hear Tim if the boy woke up in the middle of the night. It couldn't be that hard. And he'd reassure Tim until he fell back asleep, even if it took all night.


It couldn't have been more than a couple hours later that Gibbs heard shuffling in his room. He opened his eyes a crack to find Tim standing on the threshold of his room and shifting from side to side. "Hey, kiddo," he mumbled. "Nightmare?"

Tim nodded.

"I read your statement, I'm not surprised," Gibbs said, propping himself up on one arm. "Can I help?"

Tim moved further into the room and Gibbs could see a little more than just his silhouette now. MAY I SLEEP HERE? Tim signed.

"Yeah, go ahead," Gibbs murmured. "Take the other side of the bed, that's bound to be more comfy than the floor."

Hesitantly, Tim inched forward and pulled back the blanket on the bed, lying underneath it and pulling it over himself. He was hugging his bear and staring at the ceiling, and looked like sleeping was the last thing on his mind.

Gibbs gently put a hand on Tim's arm and gave it a squeeze. "It's okay to not be okay, you know that, right?"

Tim nodded, but Gibbs knew he was lying.

"I mean it, Tim. You really shouldn't be okay so soon after what happened. You might be in time, although I don't think you'll be the same person on the other side. You'll certainly be a stronger person," Gibbs said. "But not the same."

Tim looked at him skeptically.

"You don't have to be your old self to be okay," Gibbs said. "It sounds ridiculous, but it's true."

Tim turned so he was facing Gibbs, still hugging his bear to his chest. His eyes said it all: he was terrified.

"I'll keep you safe," Gibbs whispered. "Okay? If anyone wants to hurt you they'll have to get through me. I'm here, and I'm not letting you go."

Tim wavered for a moment before nodding.

"Is it okay to hug you?" Gibbs asked.

Tim nodded and Gibbs wrapped him tight in a hug. He willed Tim to know that he was safe and loved, and that he wouldn't have to worry about those guys anymore. It seemed to work at least temporarily, because Tim soon fell asleep again.

The rest of the night was interrupted with random nightmares from Tim or a noise outside waking one or the both of them up. By the morning, both of them probably had six hours of sleep under their belt on the outside, four on the inside. It was a good thing that they weren't planning anything big today.

Gibbs was the first to wake up, and thus he was the one to answer the door when Tony came around. Gibbs looked him up and down briefly and asked, "You sleep at all last night?"

"Did you?" Tony shot back.

"Enough to function today," Gibbs replied.

"Fair enough," Tony said. "Yes, I slept."

Gibbs let him in and picked up the note from the coffee table. "Any chance Vance won't read this?" Gibbs asked.

"Probably not," Tony said. "Nothing he hasn't seen before."

"But he might decide Tim's unfit for duty," Gibbs said.

"Well...he is, Boss," Tony said.

"Right now. He can and will get better, and what happens then?" Gibbs asked.

"Well then he can be reevaluated, I guess," Tony said with a shrug. "It's not like he'll get replaced, Boss. You'd never let that happen."

Gibbs sighed. "I'm more concerned about what'll happen if Vance realizes I might not be back for a while, and lets that get to his head."

Tony laughed. "Don't worry, Boss, I can imitate you well enough he'll stay on his toes."

Gibbs sniffed a laugh. "You don't have to do that, DiNozzo. I know that Vance wouldn't want his poster boy to be anywhere but the MCRT when he's better, so you don't have to advocate for him...or me."

Tony chuckled. "How was he, by the way?"

"Had a couple nightmares, woke up a couple times from strange noises, wound up sleeping in my bed for most of the night, it wasn't great but it wasn't bad, or unexpected."

"Fair enough," Tony conceded. "Could I come by after work?"

"Don't want everyone to get too suspicious of where you're going, but if you can get rid of a tail, then sure," Gibbs said.

"It's a date, then," Tony said with a cheeky grin. "Later, Boss. Tell the McGeek I say hi."

"Will do," Gibbs said dryly as Tony let himself out.

Chapter Text

The morning passed relatively uneventfully. Papa said that Rachel Cranston was going to stop by the next day, but Tim spent most of the morning either drawing or napping. He couldn't find his statement, but Papa had said last night he had read it, so he was probably keeping it safe, which Tim couldn't fault him for.

However, around lunch things got a little...tricky. There was a familiar car that pulled up to the curb, and Bishop walked out of it, straight up to the door. There was a knock shortly after. Tim paled. Tony hadn't been too bad, but Tony had seen Tim in worse positions than this before. Bishop had no idea what had happened, and she was nosy. She wasn't going to just let this slide.

Papa held up a hand to signal Tim to stay where he was on the floor as he went over and opened the door. "Hi. There was this box on your porch," Bishop said, shoving a cardboard box into Papa's chest. "Where's Tim?"

"Hello, Bishop," Papa said, blocking Bishop from entering the house. "Tim's a little busy right now, he didn't rest well last night and I've been trying to get him to take a nap. Can this wait?"

"Tony came in this morning red in the face and holding a paper with Tim's handwriting on it in a vice grip. I know he saw both of you yesterday. I want to make sure Tim is okay."

"Tim's fine," Papa dismissed. "But really, he needs his rest. So if you don't mind..."

Bishop stared at him for a few seconds before shoving the door in on him and marching straight into the living room, where she froze at the sight of Tim. He realized he was sucking on a chew necklace Papa had gotten him that doubled as a pacifier in addition to not wearing any pants to cover his diaper, and he turned beet red. This was decidedly not how he wanted to see Bishop next.

Papa closed the door with a sigh and walked over to Tim. "You okay, bud?" he asked quietly.

Tim shrugged.

"Feel like a panic attack is coming on?" Papa asked.

Tim's chest felt a little tight but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to have a panic attack. He shook his head.

Bishop still stood there, frozen in time, until she finally shook her head and turned to Papa. "What are you doing to him?!" she accused.

"I'm...making sure he doesn't make a mess of the floor or get a rash, and I'm trying to keep him from completely breaking down again?" Papa said slowly.

"You're keeping him cooped up in your house and making him look like a child!" Bishop exclaimed.

"Bishop, the doctors said that he's coping using something called age regression. Right now, for all intents and purposes he is a child," Papa explained.

Bishop stared at Papa, before turning her gaze to Tim and back to Papa. "What?" she asked.

"I wasn't receptive to it either, at first, but Tim really can't function on his own right now," Papa said patiently. "To make him feel more at home, I'm treating him like the child he's acting and thinking like, rather than the adult that he's not right now. Understand?"

"Not...really," Bishop said, voice strained. "What happened to Tim?"

"He's still up there," Papa said. "He's just acting and thinking in a way that we haven't seen him do before."

Bishop glanced to Tim again and Tim offered a shy wave. He bit down on the necklace and played with Emma, trying to distract himself from the elephant in the room. Bishop ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "At least Abby was too occupied during lunch to show up. She probably wouldn't have waited for an explanation, and just straight-up kidnapped Tim."

Papa laughed. "At least this way whenever Abby shows up I'll have backup, you mean?"

"Pretty much," Bishop said.

Tim shifted where he sat and yawned. Even after napping this morning he was tired. Papa turned to him and ruffled his hair. "Still tired?" he teased lightly.

Nodding his head, Tim bit back another yawn.

"Can you wait an hour or so?" Papa asked. "I'd hate for you to not be able to sleep tonight because you slept all morning."

Tim sighed and forced himself to keep his eyes open. Papa turned to Bishop. "If you want to talk to him you can. He just had lunch, so I'll be cleaning up in the kitchen."

Bishop nodded and Papa left. Tim signed a quick HELLO before putting his hands in his lap.

"You're being quiet," Bishop said, sitting down in front of him.

Tim shrugged. He reached toward the table, where a sports bottle was lying on its side, filled with water. He spit out the chew necklace and took a long sip.

"I'm sorry we couldn't find you sooner," Bishop said. "I can't even imagine what happened to you when you went dark, and I wish we could have been there sooner."

Tim shrugged. Somewhere in his mind the phrase C'est la vie surfaced. That's life. Didn't mean he had to like it, though.

"So, what have you been doing here?" Bishop asked. "From what Tony told me you were pretty beaten up before you got to the hospital. If you have a concussion, you wouldn't be looking at screens or reading, so...?"

Tim shrugged again, pulling out his crate and grabbing the Gibbsmobile and the ambulance, rolling them toward Bishop.

"Mostly playing?" Bishop asked.

Tim nodded. Bishop was better at picking up his silent communication than Tony was, though Tony noticed Tim's subconscious cues better than Bishop or even Papa did. He grabbed the Gibbsmobile and pushed it back and forth with one finger from each of his hands. He needed something to do; keep himself from focusing on Bishop's intense, analyzing gaze. He glanced up to find her looking him over. "Tim...do you remember what happened when you went dark?"

A LITTLE, Tim signed.

"What does that mean? Some?" Bishop asked.

Close enough. Tim shrugged and nodded.

"I'm guessing it's nothing good," Bishop said.

Tim grimaced. Bishop took one of his hands in one of hers. "I'm really sorry, Tim," she said softly.

With a sigh, Tim shrugged. It's okay, he thought but didn't say.

Bishop pursed her lips. "It's okay to talk, Tim, you know that, right?"

Tim shrugged again noncommittally. Sure, Papa was different than his dad or the bad men, but how different? And how lenient would he be with noise? That seemed to be all Tim did. Make noise and annoy people.

"We can work on that," Bishop said. "You can talk when you feel it's safe, I won't force you to do that beforehand."

Tim appreciated that. Not being forced to speak was nice. When he was a kid the first time around, that never happened. His dad wanted him to always speak when spoken to, but not speak too loud, and according to him, Tim could do one or the other but never both. Now, while Tim worried about being too loud, he didn't have to worry about speaking to communicate.

"So..." Bishop said. "Do you want to play a game or something? I'm on my lunch break, so it couldn't be very long, but I'd be willing to try something short."

Tim shrugged. He didn't feel too much like playing. In all honesty, all he wanted was a nightmare-free nap.

Bishop hummed in thought. "You know what? I might come back later with a pack of cards. You can do tons of things with a single pack of cards, and if I come back after work there's no rush for me to get to the office. Does that sound good to you?"

That was a question for consideration. Bishop had been accepting enough, she just needed some explanation, which was fine, most people did. Even Papa needed an explanation. But the more people came over, the more likely he felt the foot traffic would gather attention. And he did not want all attention to be on him. He grimaced. He didn't want to tell Bishop no, though! He liked being able to "talk" and be understood.

"It's that complicated a question, huh?" Bishop asked. "Worried about who might come over if I do?"

Tim guiltily nodded.

"Hey, it's fine, Tim, I understand completely," Bishop said. "I'm not offended."

But he still wanted to see her, and that made this that much more upsetting! He whined and hit the floor with his hand that wasn't in a cast. Why was that so hard to say?!

He could hear movement in the kitchen and he whimpered. He didn't want to be quiet about this, he wanted to let someone know something was wrong. That he was upset, that he needed help. Bishop was tapping the floor in between them, and he looked over. "Tim, what's wrong?" she asked.

How did he even sign an explanation that Papa could translate?! He was flying blind, and he didn't like it! He whined again and shook his head. This was so frustrating! He felt like he was being silenced by his own mind! This wasn't fair! He slammed his hand into the floor again and tried to get himself to sign, to speak, to do something, but he was so exhausted and so upset and so...so at the end of his rope, that the only thing he could do was cry.

Bishop was worried, he could see it in her face, but he wouldn't be quiet about it, not this time, not right now. Even if he couldn't get himself to speak, he could sob and yell and cry until someone figured out what was going on. He hated being so reliant on others, but right now he couldn't manage any other way.

Papa walked in the room, calmly coming over to Tim. Tim was about ready to work himself into a fit when Papa asked, "Are you tired?"

Tim whined and nodded in agreement.

"Want a nap?" Papa continued.

Tim vehemently shook his head.

"What do you want?" Papa asked.

Tim let out a yell in his frustration. Screw being too loud, not being able to communicate got him in this mess!

"Tim, use your words. Yelling doesn't tell me anything," Papa said.

Tim tried to figure out what to sign, but everything was getting jumbled in his head, and words weren't making much sense at all. He pointed to Bishop.

"What do you want with Bishop?" Papa asked.

With great difficulty, Tim managed to sign HER HERE.

"Bishop's already here, kid," Papa said, frowning.

Tim shook his head.

"Oh, I was offering to come back later with a pack of cards," Bishop explained at Papa's confused look. "I asked him if he was okay with that and that's when he got upset."

Papa looked between Tim and Bishop. "Tim? Do you know how to explain how you feel about that?" he asked.

Tim shook his head, tears still falling. But at least now both of them understood what the problem was.

"Ah, okay." Papa opened his arms and Tim clung to him in a hug. "It's okay, it's okay."

"Mm-mm," Tim grunted.

Papa sighed, carding his fingers through Tim's hair. "Sometimes you won't know how to communicate. And that's okay. I'm not mad at you, Bishop's not mad at you, Tony's not mad at you. If talking takes time for you, so be it."

Tim leaned out of the hug and wrapped his arms around his own middle, before hesitantly signing I CAN'T SPEAK. BAD MEN HURT ME.

"I know they did, but they're not here, Tim," Papa said. "No one here is going to hurt you for speaking."

Tim blinked once, twice, willing that information to register. He looked around. They were at Papa's house. The bad guys didn't know where Papa lived. The bad guys thought they were safe in their new hideout, they probably thought he was dead. Even if they knew he was alive they wouldn't know where he was. Logically, that was sound. His emotions had been telling him that he would get hurt, that Dad or the bad men would find him, find out about what he was doing, and land him in more trouble. And while he couldn't process what had happened, he thought he might be getting to the point where he could say it was in the past. It had hurt him, more than he could say, but the bad men weren't here. Maybe, if he were quiet, no one would hurt him for talking. "I know," he whispered, voice sore and raspy, but feeling infinitely better for being used.

Chapter Text

The moment Tim spoke, Papa startled and Bishop's eyebrows rose to her hairline. Tim was suddenly the center of attention, but it was people he knew and trusted who were paying him that attention, so it was a little okay to be in the spotlight. "It makes sense," he continued, voice still barely above a whisper. "But I'm still scared."

"That's okay, bud, it's okay to be scared," Papa said. "And if speaking is a lot for you, don't feel like you have to do it."

"'S easier than signing, sometimes," Tim said. "Though I still wanna learn more sign. It's fun, and helps."

Papa smiled, a genuinely happy smile that Tim hadn't seen since before he went dark. "Yeah, well, I can certainly still help teach you."

Tim offered a small grin and a signed THANK YOU. Bishop turned to him. "Is that the first thing you've said since you left the hospital? Your voice sounds terrible."

Laughter bubbled up in Tim's chest. "I don't think so," he said. "But mostly I've been signing."

"Yeah, he spoke once before, but it was during a very vivid flashback, so this is his first time really consciously making the choice to speak. And I'm very happy you did," Papa said, ruffling his hair. "Makes me feel a little better about how you might be feeling."

Tim tried to respond but fell into a coughing fit. He cleared his throat a couple times and sipped at the water he had. "Throat hurts," he managed.

"Yeah, I'm not surprised, with you trying to use it after not speaking for four days," Papa said. "Better than if you had stayed silent a whole week, though. I was starting to really worry."

"But..." Tim frowned, trying to wrap his head around that. "Papa never worries about anything. Ever!"

"Not true," Papa said. "I worry about you and everyone on the team all the time. I worry about what's for dinner, and when I can get coffee next. Most of the time those aren't big worries, but they're worries nonetheless."

Tim was absorbing that even as Bishop turned to Gibbs and asked, "He calls you 'Papa'? Since when?"

"Since he's been regressed," Papa answered. "He started signing it to me...yesterday, early afternoon. But something tells me this is a thought process that's been going on in his head for a while, maybe even before he went dark."

Tim rocked back on his tailbone and forward again, sipping at his water to try and soothe his aching throat. "Why do you say that?" Bishop asked.

"Because this clearly isn't something that he just randomly developed," Papa said. "With how comfortable he is at accepting it, and not fighting me every step of the way insisting that he's an adult, it tells me that he's at least somewhat familiar with this happening before. He tried to assert himself the first day here, but after that he just...relaxed. Let this take over. And I don't think he would have done that if he didn't know what this was."

"Still...why Papa?" Bishop asked.

"Because Daddy is my first Dad," Tim said, still rocking. He reached back, fell onto his back but kept his head from hitting the floor, and he sat up again, saying, "I didn' wanna call him Daddy 'cause Daddy isn't a good name. And I didn' wanna just call him Dad either, 'cause that's kinda...not close enough. Same with Father. So Papa."

Papa laughed. "You are the only one I see coming up with that sort of logic with this, but that explains a lot." Tim made a noise of inquiry and Papa shrugged. "It's the kind of logic I see from you at work, too."

Tim flopped on his side and closed his eyes as he thought about that. Work. Work was nice, mostly. Bishop and Tony and Abby and Ducky and Jimmy and Papa, all working together. Himself, too. Usually that thought of a make-shift family was enough to get him through. And when it wasn't, he did this.

"Hey," Papa said, poking his cheek. "You still tired?"

"Mm-hm," Tim hummed, opening his eyes. Was doing this gonna be enough to get him through now?

"Can you stay up a while longer?" Papa asked.

"Mm-hm," Tim hummed again.

Papa nudged him into a sitting position. "Well, it might help if you weren't lying on your side."

Tim sighed. He really wanted to sleep more, but since Papa was asking him to stay awake, he was trying. He frowned, looking around. Was Tony here? He kinda wanted to talk to Tony, too.

"Who are you looking for, bud?" Papa asked.

"Tony," Tim said. "Thought he was here."

"He stopped by this morning before you were awake, but he didn't come by for lunch," Papa said.

"He's trying to get a handle on the temporary SFA we have until you guys get back, so I'm not all that surprised," Bishop said. "He did mutter something about needing a break tonight, so I don't know if he'll come over in the evening. I know I feel calmer when I can be over here without talking shop."

Tim sighed. "I wanna talk to him, though..."

Papa pulled out his cellphone. "Well, all you have to do is ask, kid." He pressed number one on speed dial and held the phone to his ear. "Hey, DiNozzo," he said. "I have someone here who'd like to talk to you." A pause. "Yeah, I'll put you on speaker, that work?"

The second Papa held the phone out and Tony said, "Hello?" Tim's face lit up. "Tony!" he exclaimed. "Can you come over tonight? I wanna talk to you!"

There was a long pause where Tim waited for a response with baited breath. "...Uh, yeah, sure, kid, I can do that," Tony said. "Boss, since when has he been talking?"

"Since about ten minutes ago," Papa said. "He's a chatterbox like this, it would seem."

"Huh. Wouldn't have guessed that yesterday," Tony said. "What got him talking?"

"Not sure yet. If I find out I'll let you know," Papa said.

"Yeah. Hey, Bishop didn't happen to drop by, did she? Because she slipped past me at the beginning of our lunch break and I didn't get a chance to warn her about all this," Tony said.

Tim giggled and Bishop turned a slight pink. "I'm still here, actually," she spoke up.

"Oh. Well, now you know. Any chance you could help keep Abby and Ducky away until the kid feels like he's up to seeing them?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, sure thing," Bishop said.

"And you promise to come over tonight?" Tim asked.

"Barring a case, kid, yeah, I promise," Tony said with a laugh.

"And I'll bring over the cards if that's okay with Gibbs?" Bishop said, glancing at Papa.

Papa waved a hand. "Ah, go ahead. I doubt he'll try and eat them."

Tim grinned. Tonight sounded like it was going to be so fun! He brought his hands up to his mouth and bounced where he sat. He could hardly wait!

"If that's all, guys, I really need to finish up with Johnson, here," Tony said.

"Yeah, sure," Papa said, as Bishop added, "Yeah, I'll be back soon," and Tim exclaimed, "Bye, Tony!"

Papa hung up and looked Tim over. "You're certainly excited."

Tim just grinned. He was looking forward to talking to Tony and having Tony understand him enough to talk back, and let them have a whole conversation! This was going to be fun!

"Still feel like having a nap?" Papa asked.

Tim shook his head. He looked around excitedly. What could he do until tonight? It was going to be hard to pass the time when he was so excited!

"I have a new game for you, if you want to see it?" Papa offered.

A game?! Tim nodded his head eagerly. "I wanna see!"

Papa smiled and held up a hand, going to the kitchen. There was the sound of cardboard being opened, and then the clink of plastic on plastic. He came back carrying a yellow bag, a pack of cards, and a bunch of cars and trucks on a little plastic container. "It's called Rush Hour," Papa said. "You take the cards and put the cars and trucks on like the card says to, and then try and figure out how to get the red car off the grid. Sound fun?"

Tim nodded, and Papa put everything down in front of him. "Give it a try," Papa said.

As Tim set everything up, Bishop checked the time on her phone. "I really should get back to work," she lamented. "But I'm glad I stopped by."

"Yeah," Papa said, helping her up. "It's nice to know I have another person on my side in all of this."

Bishop nodded and smiled. "Yeah, I'm happy to help. Drop me a line if you ever need anything, okay?"

"I will," Papa said.

He led her out as Tim started to move the cars around and was soon engrossed in the challenge. He moved them forward and backward, up and down, but the car never seemed to get to where he wanted it to go. That didn't deter him, though. He kept at it until through sheer dumb luck he got the car through.

"Is that fun?" Papa asked.

"Yeah," Tim said. "I think I've played it before? I dunno where. But it's fun. Reminds me of some toys I have at my place."

"Your place?" Papa asked. "You have some toys that you play with at your place?"

Tim looked up and nodded.

"If you told me earlier we could have gone and gotten them for you," Papa said. "As is I was worried about keeping you occupied!"

"It's not much," Tim shrugged. "But it's my stuff. If we go there sometime I could show you them? I keep 'em in a toy chest."

"We could go now, if you want," Papa said with a shrug.

"Really?!" Tim asked, excited.

"Well, sure, nothing's stopping us," Papa said. "And your place is what, twenty, thirty minutes away? It's not a bad drive."

Tim grinned.

Papa helped him to his feet. "Come on, pants for you, and then we can go to your place."

Tim moved forward, but felt a squish. Oh. "...Papa?" he asked.

Papa turned to him from where he was walking to the stairs. "Yeah?"

"I..." he turned red. "I needta change."

"I know, I was gonna do that before we got you in pants," Papa said. "Think you can tell me in the future when you need that?"

Tim nodded. "If you promise not to get mad at me."

"Why would I get mad at you for that?" Papa asked.

Tim shrugged. "I dunno. I just know Daddy did."

"Well, I won't tell him if you don't," Papa said. "If you can tell me whenever you need a change for a whole day you can get your pants back."

Tim grinned. "Cool!"

He followed Papa up to the guest room without any complaint, and Papa changed him as Tim looked around. This room could be really cool. He didn't quite think of it as his, but he could make it feel more like his if he had his toys here, maybe a book or two...yeah, that would be cool! Maybe Papa would let him bring his toy chest back here for now. That way he could have his stuff here and not worry about it, or be left looking for anything.

They went out to Papa's truck, Papa turned the keys in the ignition, and they were off to Tim's place. Tim smiled. Maybe things weren't so bad when he spoke up.

"You thinking about something, Tim?" Papa asked.

"Not much," Tim said. "Just...you don't get mad when I'm loud."

"Well, you're not very loud to begin with, but I don't mind you getting excited. I like seeing you happy."

Yeah. Speaking up was definitely a good idea.

Chapter Text

Gibbs was relieved to find that once Tim started talking, he wasn't feeling any serious inclinations to stop. He didn't always voice his thoughts, but if he saw something he liked he'd make interested noises and if he saw something he didn't, he wasn't afraid to say so, or sometimes he'd pull a face in the side mirror and chuckle to himself. A huge weight had lifted from Gibbs' chest when Tim spoke. This was still serious, and there were still dangerous people out there. But Gibbs didn't have to worry about whether or not Tim would ever find it in him to speak again anymore, and that was one of his biggest worries, next to will he ever stop regressing? which seemed to overtake every single other worry he had.

They made good time to Tim's apartment and they walked up to the door without seeing a single one of Tim's neighbors, which was good. Gibbs wasn't in the mood to explain things to onlookers. He pulled out the key he had to Tim's place and let them both in.

Gibbs never quite got over the fact that his agent's apartment looked a lot like how he saw McGee's mind. Busy, crowded, but brutally effective when it came to function. Tim moved throughout the place without hesitation, and headed straight to the bedroom. Gibbs followed, and he immediately zeroed-in on the chest sitting at the foot of Tim's bed. He had been curious about it before, but never pried into what it might contain. Now he had a couple ideas.

Tim pulled a key from his nightstand and opened the chest, lifting the lid and immediately relaxing when he looked it over. Gibbs walked over and looked inside and his eyebrows rose. The chest had been cut into sections of space using old pieces of cardboard, and there was quite the assortment of toys Tim could play with. He had a section for bath toys, boats and rubber ducks and bubble bath sitting there, as well as some tablets of different colors that looked like they would dissolve in water. In another section there was art supplies--markers, crayons, colored pencils, the works. No paper, but Gibbs didn't doubt there was paper around the apartment that Tim could use. A third section had assorted books, all on heavier paper, if not cardboard. Made for small children, more likely to be read to than read alone. A fourth had daytime toys--a few stuffed animals, blocks, toy cars and trains, and Play-Doh. "Wow," Gibbs said. "You certainly have a lot of stuff."

Tim grinned and ducked his head. "Collected it over the years," he said. "Mostly used thrift stores. You can find lotsa stuff there for cheap."

Gibbs nodded. "Do you want to take this back to my house?"

Tim nodded. "Please?" he asked.

"Of course," Gibbs said. "Close it back up and we can put it in the room where you're staying. Any stuff you use can also be put in your crate, of course."

Tim grinned, and together they picked up the chest and carried it to Gibbs' truck. Once it was in the back Tim looked around, frowning. "Something bothering you?" Gibbs asked.

Tim shrugged. "Just...kinda miss my place," he said. "I like the smell and the view and stuff."

"Well, once you're back on your feet and can live on your own again, you can come back here. Until then, I'm happy to let you stay at my place. And don't worry about rent, I'll help you take care of that for now too," Gibbs said.

"I forgot rent was a thing," Tim said, more to himself than to Gibbs.

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah, it is, but it's not a big deal. I'll handle it."

"You sure?" Tim asked.

Gibbs looked him over. His posture had hunched inward, and his eyes had a haunted sort of look to them. It was unsettling. "Yeah, I'm sure," Gibbs said.

"I'm..." Tim started, but cut himself off.

"You're what?" Gibbs asked.

Tim grimaced and mumbled, "Not worth the trouble."

Gibbs frowned. "Where did you get that idea?"

Tim shrugged. "I dunno. My dad, I guess."

"Your dad?" Gibbs repeated dumbly. "Your dad said that helping you wasn't worth the trouble?"

Tim grimaced and shifted where he stood. "Just when I deserved it, and he didn't mean it," he said softly.

"No one deserves that, Tim," Gibbs said. "I'm starting to understand why you and your father were estranged."

"Could we...not? Talk about this?" Tim asked.

Gibbs set his jaw, fully determined to pursue this topic, except the worried look in Tim's eyes made Gibbs pause. "We'll put it on hold, how about that?" Gibbs offered. "I can't guarantee not talking about it at all, but does that work?"

Tim nodded and got in the truck, but Gibbs didn't fail to notice that Tim was quieter after that. Gibbs reached over and squeezed Tim's hand, and Tim offered a weak smile in return. Tim's mind was clearly elsewhere and Gibbs let himself wander in his own thoughts as well. At the very least, he was starting to understand why Tim might have latched onto this coping mechanism. If he was never treated like a child the first time he was one, then maybe the second time would be better. That sounded like something Tim would do, logically speaking.

As they drove, Gibbs' mind continued to whir. Sure, that made some sort of sense, but why latch on to him of all people? He didn't doubt this ran farther back than the undercover op, but still, after all he had done to screw up, all the times he had hurt Tim or let him down, he still was considered "Papa." A title he didn't deserve.

"Papa?" Tim asked.

And there it was again. It made Gibbs' heart hurt. "Yeah, kid?" Gibbs asked.

"You're crying," Tim said softly. "Why?"

Gibbs brought a hand up to his cheeks and found he was, indeed, crying. "I'm not sure," he replied honestly. He had a sneaking suspicion, but he didn't want to share with Tim what he was thinking. Tim needed stability, a rock. Gibbs had to be that rock right now, for better or for worse. He couldn't say he was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Tim had almost died, came back to him apparently broken, from cracks that ran deeper than he could have ever suspected.

"Papa..." Tim said, worrying his lips. "Words are hard," he muttered. Then, "No worries, okay? I'm here. Not with the bad men. Right?"

"That's right, kid," Gibbs said.

"So I can talk. And you can breathe," Tim said with a hesitant smile.

Gibbs laughed. How did Tim know just what to say, even like this?

They pulled up to Gibbs' house, and Tim brightened. "Oh! We're here!" he exclaimed. "Can you help me with the trunk?"

"Never planned on doing anything else," Gibbs said, getting out of the truck.

Together they brought the chest up to the guest room. There were some difficulties with Tim's cast and boot, but they managed it. Tim clapped and Gibbs grinned. The louder and more confident Tim was, even like this, just showed Gibbs that his agent was still somewhere in that head.

Tim opened the chest and hummed in thought, before pulling out a book with the words Winnie the Pooh on the front. "Papa, can you read to me?" Tim asked hopefully.

Gibbs took the book and looked it over. It seemed to be a complete collection of the early stories, and they probably couldn't read all of them, but Gibbs was more than happy to read one or two. He looked up, and noticed Tim was bracing himself. Probably for being shot down. What had happened to his agent that he did that? And he didn't mean when he went dark, either. That threat was gone, and Tim was understanding that. This was something much deeper. Much more troubling. "Of course, kid," Gibbs said. "It's probably a good time for a nap, too, so I can read until you're asleep, sound good?"

Tim's smile made it all worth it.


The knock came on the door while Tim was still asleep on the couch. It had to be about four in the afternoon, and Gibbs hadn't been expecting Tony or Bishop for another hour and a half at least. Still, when he opened the door, they both were there. "Hi Boss!" Tony chirped. "Seeing as how I'm in charge at work, I gave everyone an hour off early tonight, as an excuse to stay with the kid longer. He's still alive right?"

Gibbs was about to respond when there was a flash of gray shirt and jeans in front of him, and suddenly Tony was being tackle-hugged by a very enthusiastic Tim. "Tony Tony Tony!" the boy exclaimed. "You're here! Papa and I went to my apartment and got some of my stuff, so we can have more to play with if you want to play with me! And! And and and! The bad guys are gone, which means I can talk! Did you realize that?!"

Tony just stood there, effectively speechless. Gibbs laughed. "I think that's the first time I've seen you speechless, DiNozzo. Come in, both of you."

When everyone was inside, Tim looked altogether like an easily-excited puppy trying to chew a bone for the first time. "Do you have the cards?" he asked Bishop.

"Yep," Bishop said, waving them in one hand. "You want to do something with them?"

"Dunno yet," Tim said.

Gibbs cleared his throat. "This is all well and good, but I'd appreciate requests for dinner, assuming everyone's eating here."

"Whatever you've got's fine, Boss," Tony said.

"Yeah, don't go all out on our accounts," Bishop said.

Gibbs shrugged. "I'm not. I'm just wondering what you might have if you weren't here."

"Take out," Tony said with a laugh. "Seriously, Boss. Whatever you have is fine."

Bishop absentmindedly shared her agreement before following Tim into the living room. Gibbs and Tony watched them go, and Gibbs decided that now would be as good a time as any to ask about the office. "How is your temporary SFA handling things?" he asked.

"He's a little slow, which honestly isn't unexpected. The MCRT is just faster than what he's used to. He'll learn," Tony said. "It can't be all that hard to teach him."

"Yeah, I have no doubt you can handle it," Gibbs said, keeping an eye on Tim.

"Boss, he's speaking, isn't that a good sign?" Tony asked.

"It's what he says that worries me," Gibbs said. "Earlier today he said that his father would tell him that he wasn't worth the trouble if he wanted help with something."

"What?" Tony asked, incredulous. "Why did Tim put up with that?"

"According to him, because it was only when he deserved it, and his dad didn't mean it," Gibbs growled.

"Sounds like damage control from his mother mixed in with his father's sentiments," Tony said, shaking his head. "And Tim tried to reconcile with the guy?"

Gibbs shrugged. "That's Tim for you, let's be honest. Always looking for the good in people."

Tony shook his head in anger. "How does he reconcile what happened with his belief that there's good in everyone?"

"He doesn't," Gibbs said. "Which would be why he's like this now."

They both looked over, to where Bishop was explaining something with the cards to Tim, who was listening intently. "It would be cute if we didn't know that this was unusual," Tony murmured.

"I know," Gibbs sighed. "It makes me sick when I remember how radically different he's acting."

Tony glanced at him. "Do you try not to remember it?"

"I try to not focus on it," Gibbs confirmed. "He'll come back to us when he's ready, not before. The last time he seemed to be aware of what happened he had the worst panic attack I've ever seen."

"So we just...wait?" Tony asked.

"We wait," Gibbs confirmed. "We wait, and we hope and pray that he'll come back to us soon, and in one piece."

Chapter Text

Bishop was dealing out cards between Tim and herself to play a game she called "War" when Papa and Tony finally came into the living room. Papa's face was brooding, and Tony's wasn't much better. Maybe they were talking about work, but Tim felt somewhere in his mind that wasn't true, and they were talking about him. After all, whenever they did that both of them seemed to get angry. He wondered what he had done wrong, exactly, to cause that.

Papa smiled at him when he caught Tim's gaze and Tim looked away. He didn't understand how Papa could pretend to be happy around him but then be angry with him behind his back. Still, Daddy did that sort of thing, so he supposed it made sense. And Papa, at least, wasn't hurting him when he did something wrong, so he still earned the title of Papa. He turned to his pile of cards, which Bishop was just about finished building. "Okay, so remember how this game works: we both take the top card from our stack, put it out, and the highest number wins," Bishop said. "Ready?"

Tim nodded.

"One...two...three...draw!" Bishop exclaimed.

They both put their cards down. Bishop had a three. Tim had an eight. He grinned and took both cards, putting them on the bottom of his pile. They did it again, and Bishop won. Again, and Tim won. It wasn't exactly tedious, but it was certainly easier to focus on his surroundings while playing this. Tony and Papa were still talking, though it seemed like they were arguing over dinner now. And he used the term arguing very loosely. "All I'm saying is, finger food only lasts for so long, and your pasta last night was amazing! Add a little meat on there, and it's a perfect Italian meal!"

"I appreciate your kind words, but I really don't want to deal with more messes covered in sauce," Papa said. "I can order pizza, and there's virtually no clean up, plus, that's another food that Tim could eat without issue."

"Well it's your house, and I can't stop you, but I still disagree," Tony said.

Papa sighed and Tim glanced over. Usually when he got that sigh when he was smaller, it meant that someone was about to be hurt, usually him. But Papa just ran a hand down his face and said, "Well we all know how pointless it is to try and get you to change your mind, DiNozzo."

Tony laughed and Tim turned back to his cards. This whole thing was more than a little confusing. The fact that Papa could look angry one minute and then calmly be by his side the next. The fact that he didn't get in trouble for making noise, or having nightmares. Everything he had known seemed to have been flipped on its head. Tim frowned. Why was he so hung up on this? This was what he wanted most of the time, after all. A place where he wouldn't get hurt, where he could be loud, with someone there to support him if necessary. It was everything he ever wanted like this. And yet he was scared of receiving it.

There was a loud noise outside the house and Tim yipped, bracing for impact. When none came, he looked around curiously. Bishop was watching him closely, Tony was looking out the window, and Papa was slowly making his way over. "It's fine, Tim. Neighbor's dog got loose and knocked over a trashcan. Tony's watching to make sure they get the dog back now."

Tim took a shaky breath and nodded. His heart was hammering. Loud noises usually meant trouble or pain, or both. It was gonna take him a while to get used to the fact that what he thought was normal was no longer the case. He tried to force away thoughts of the cage he had been thrown in, but it was hard to ignore. He took a deep breath and looked down at his cards again. He had a significantly higher number than Bishop did, and it looked like he might win. He picked up his next card, prompting Bishop to do the same. They flipped them over. Tim's chest felt too tight. Bishop took her rightfully earned cards. Tim put a hand against his head to try and press out the thoughts. They reached to draw again. Papa gently put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey kid, where's Emma?" he asked.

Emma? Oh, that was a good point. Emma was good at fighting back, she could probably help him with not thinking about the thoughts. He looked around, and spotted her by the couch. He reached under the coffee table and grabbed her, pulling her to his chest. He gave her a hug for strength.

"What's going through your head, kid?" Papa asked.

"Dog cages," Tim whispered.

Papa made a small ah sound and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You're free to move around here as much as you need, kid. I'm not sure if going outside is best when there's a loose dog, but the house has to be bigger than a cage, right?" he asked.

Bishop's brows furrowed. "Why would Tim be afraid of dog cages?"

Tony made a noise from the couch. "Best not to ask questions you'd rather not know the answers to," he said, tapping a finger against his lips.

Bishop looked between Tony and Tim a few times, before something clicked behind her eyes. "Oh," she said softly. "Tim, I'm sorry."

Tim shrugged. "What it is," he dismissed.

"Well it shouldn't be," Bishop said adamantly.

Tim sighed and hugged Emma. "But it is," he said softly. "An' we gotta live with it."

Bishop ran a hand through her hair. "How are you so calm about this?!" she asked. "Don't you want to take action? Fight back? These people hurt you, Tim!"

"An' I don't wanna get hurt again," Tim replied.

"You won't if you can nail them!" Bishop said.

"But what if I can't?!" Tim asked her, breath heaving in his chest. "What then?!"

"Then we help you nail them! They can't get away with this!" Bishop said.

"Bishop..." Papa warned. "Now's not the time."

"Then when is the time?!" she asked. "He needs to know that what happened is not okay!"

"I do know that," Tim said softly. "I also know I don't want to hurt again. So I'm not gonna risk it."

"You were never like that before!" Bishop accused. "Before you went dark you would do anything to bring the bad guys to justice! It was hard to tear you away from a case when it hit you hard! What's changed?!"

Tim felt tears heat up in his eyes and he was holding Emma so hard his arms were trembling. "I have." This conversation was making his head hurt. It was entirely too serious and entirely too adult for him to deal with much longer.

Bishop scoffed. "Yeah? No kidding."

Even though she had a point, Bishop's words stung. Tim blinked back his tears and stood up, stalking to the guest room.

Papa followed him and stood in the doorway as Tim paced the floor. He turned and glared at Papa. "What?" he asked, that one word containing all his pent-up fury. He was trying to be good, really, he was, but this was almost too much.

"Bishop was out of line," Papa said. "I'm with you on this. If you don't want to fight, I won't make you."

"But...?" Tim asked warily.

"No but's. I'd like you to fight back, but I'll never force you or guilt you into it. You've been through more than enough," Papa said.

Tim was crying full-force now. He swiped at his eyes. "I don' wanna talk anymore," he said.

"That's okay, you don't have to. Do you want to be alone?" Papa asked.

Tim shook his head.

"Do you want a hug?"

Tim nodded and walked into Papa's outstretched arms. That was too much for him. He knew Bishop didn't mean to hurt him, but she had. He wanted to be strong, but he just didn't know how in this situation. And it killed him. She didn't know that he beat himself up over it, the nightmares which never stuck around long enough for anything useful, that he tried to push through each flashback to get some sort of useful information, because that's what he was supposed to do. He was supposed to fight back, even if he couldn't remember how.

Fighting back physically was not an option. He wasn't strong enough, he'd just get hurt, and then he'd be back to square one, trying to figure out exactly who had hurt him for the adults to go after. But fighting back mentally, that he could do. Most days. Recently he felt like he had been living in brain sludge. It was hard to fight when your legs were stuck in molasses. Even more so when your brain was stuck.

Papa rubbed his back and Tim shuddered. A chill went up his spine, like he was being watched. He turned toward the opposite wall of the guest room and saw a shadowy figure outside his window. He pulled out of the hug and went closer to the window to get a better look. Papa was right behind him, and rested a hand on the small of his back as Tim looked out the window. The figure brought up a small rectangle-maybe a camera?-and aimed it at the window. Papa moved from behind him and Tim turned to see where he went, but he was already out the door. A sharp but small bang came from the window and Tim jumped, Emma fumbling from his hands. He sat under the window sill, curled in a ball and shaking.

"Federal agents! Freeze!" he heard Tony shout, muffled through the glass.

Tim peeked his head over the window sill to find Tony and Bishop chasing after the shadowy figure, but the figure was getting away!

Quickly, Tim ghosted down the steps, listening for Papa. It sounded like he was talking on the phone with someone, Tim didn't know who.

There was frantic knocking on the door. Tim's blood ran cold. He remembered the rules of Papa's house. There was no need to knock if you called ahead or parked your car where Papa could see. And the door was unlocked. Neither of those things had happened, meaning that this was a stranger who didn't know the rules.

The knocking increased in intensity until it was banging. How did Papa not hear it? "Tim's still upstairs," Papa said into the phone. "But there are unidentified people on the street while a wounded agent is in my house. You think this is a coincidence, Leon?!"

Tim hesitated. Should he lock the door? In that case, whoever was on the other side would know someone was there, and could pick the lock. But if he did nothing and the stranger tried the door, they would find it open. His decision was made when the doorknob started to turn. Before the door could open more than an inch, Tim bodily slammed the door, locking it.

"Hey! I need help out here!" an unrecognizable, yet eerily familiar voice called.

All the blood drained from Tim's face with the realization that he had heard that voice when he was dark. "Papa!" he yelled frantically. "Papa! Come here!"

Fortunately, the man wasted no time coming to the door. "Tim, what are you doing down here?!" he hissed. "Didn't you hear me tell you to stay put?"

"There-there's a bad guy on the other side of the door!" Tim hissed back.

The banging continued as the stranger rattled the lock.

"How do you know?" Papa asked.

"The-the-the voice," Tim stammered. "I recognize it from wh-when I went dark."

Papa's gaze hardened and he pulled Tim away from the door. "I'll take care of it," he said. "You stay back, and don't you dare think about moving without me saying it's okay, understand?"

Tim swallowed and nodded. Papa was in full-on Boss-mode. He was really scary when he wanted to be, and he definitely wanted to be right now. Papa held a finger to his lips, and Tim nodded, putting a hand over his mouth as he backed up to a point on the stairs.

Papa then, in one swift movement, unlocked and opened the door.

Chapter Text

Papa opened the door and the stranger smiled. "Oh, thank goodness, someone opened the door! Look, my car battery died at the end of the street, do you think you could help me out?" The stranger's eyes looked past Papa, into the house, and landed right on Tim. His smile dropped "Well I'll be," he breathed. "The brat lived. Jerry was right."

Tim's knees went weak and he was trying to keep himself from hyperventilating. Though Tim couldn't see Papa's face, he saw fury in every taught muscle in Papa's body. He grabbed the man by the shirt, dragged him inside, and slammed the door. "Tim, get my cuffs. They should be in the kitchen."

He didn't dare move, didn't dare speak. Papa snapped, "McGee! Get my cuffs!"

Tim jumped a foot in the air and scurried through the house to the kitchen, tears blurring his vision. Papa was yelling, he had to be mad. Tim hadn't listened to his orders, and now he was gonna be in trouble as soon as the bad guy was subdued. He grabbed the cuffs and passed them to Papa back in the foyer, breath shaky. "What's the matter, darling?" the guy laughed. "Didn't like Jerry's last round with you? Forced yourself to live a little while longer so he could give you more?"

Papa punched the man solidly in the jaw and Tim squeaked, backing up as far as he could while being out of the sight of any windows, which wasn't very far. The man just laughed. "Oh, you're just ensuring you'll get taken off the case, Agent Gibbs," the man snarked. "We heard the brat was sniveling for you the whole time Jerry was taking him for a spin. He likes bragging about his conquests." Tim wanted to move away further, but a corner of his mind was adamantly ordering him to stay out of the windows' sight. 

"He's not some conquest," Papa growled. "He's my agent, and a human being! One who never deserved to be violated like that!"

Spots were now dancing on the edges of Tim's vision, and he was fairly certain he was going to pass out soon. He didn't want to call Papa "Papa" in front of the bad man, but he needed to let Papa know he wasn't feeling well. He tugged the man's shirt sleeve and Papa growled, "What, McGee?"

Was Tim supposed to be an adult in this situation? He didn't know, which only served to fuel the spots. "Don' feel so good," he mumbled.

Papa glanced at him. "Just keep breathing. You'll be fine."

Tim faintly nodded and tried to keep breathing, keep going, but it was getting harder and harder. His ears were ringing, and he slid to the floor, putting his head between his knees and trying to even out his breaths. That horrible man just laughed. "Such a crybaby. Why Jerry saw appeal in him, I have no idea."

Papa growled. "The only reason he's like that is because of you! You're the ones who broke him!"

The tears in Tim's eyes by now were falling freely. Was that really all Papa saw him as? Just broken, like an old toy? He shuddered again and as the spots started to completely cover his vision, he resolved that when he woke up he wouldn't keep bothering Papa any longer.


"--Hey, Tim, come on, buddy, there's dinner with your name on it if you just wake up," a voice coaxed.

Tim's eyelids fluttered. Was that Tony?

"I saw that, buddy. No more sleeping for right now, okay? You scared everyone when we got rid of the bad guys and you were passed out on the floor."

Passed out? What happened? Tim opened his eyes and squinted in the light from the living room. He put a hand to his head as he breathed through a crushing headache.

"Hey, there," Tony said, brushing hair out of Tim's face. "What is it with you and being unconscious kid? This can't be good for your concussion."

Tim tried to sit up and Tony eased him back against the wall. "Wh--" Tim tried to speak, before stopping himself as memories crashed around him. Were the bad guys really gone? They knew where he lived now! What if they came back?!

Tony looked concerned. "Hey, where's this chatterbox I heard about on the phone? You've been quiet."

"B-b-bad gu-guys...gone?" Tim asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

"Yeah, they're gone, kid. The only people who knew where you are were the ones we picked up. They were doing a...well, they called it an investigation, it was more like stalking, and they hadn't reported back to their boss yet," Tony assured.

Tim nodded. That made him feel marginally better. "Papa?"

"The agents who came over to pick up the bad guys made him go with them for a statement," Tony said. "He should be back within the hour. He gave me executive power to order a pizza though, and we've got pepperoni and extra cheese, which I know you have a soft spot for."

Tim felt a little deflated, until he remembered that Papa had called him broken, and had yelled and hit, though he hadn't hit Tim yet. Maybe it was safer that he was away, at least for today. Tim went to stand up, but Tony pushed him back onto the ground. "Easy, kid, don't want you passing out again. I can carry you to the table."

"Wha--eeeep!" Tim squealed as Tony lifted him up bridal style and carried him to the table. Tim giggled as Tony set him down in a chair and passed him two slices of pizza.

"He came to, huh?" Bishop asked, already eating.

"Looks like it," Tony responded. "Your concern was touching, by the way."

"Hey! Both of us watching him lie unconscious would have gotten nothing done. Plus, I was getting low blood sugar," Bishop defended.

Tim dug into his pizza and let the other two's banter go mostly over his head. The good thing about being around Bishop and Tony was that they understood if he didn't want to talk. They talked back and forth over the choice of pizza and whether or not both of them should have been watching Tim when the front door to the house opened with a creak.

Craning his neck, Tim managed to spot Papa walking in and he felt a little sick to his stomach. Was he gonna get hit now? Papa came closer and sighed in relief when he saw Tim at the table. "Hey, you're up," he said, walking over.

Another person came through the front door, but Tim couldn't see them, only hear their footsteps, until Vance was standing in the entrance of the dining room. Tim felt more than a little sick now. He turned back to his pizza and continued to eat. Despite the sicky feeling, he was starving.

"He wasn't this quiet earlier," Papa said towards Vance. "My best guess is that seeing the people who held him hostage made him feel unsafe when it comes to talking."

No kidding, Tim thought to himself.

"Uh, Boss?" Tony asked. "No offense to anyone intended, but why is the Director here?"

"I'm here to help with a threat assessment, Agent DiNozzo," Vance said. "To figure out what security measures should be taken to protect Agent McGee for the time being."

Tim felt like he was gonna puke. He had finished his pizza, so he pushed the plate away and rested his head in his arms on the table. A hand touched him lightly on the shoulder and he flinched, the hand immediately retreating. "Sorry, Tim," Papa said. "Are you okay?"

Ah, this test again. Tim could pretend that everything was all right, and maybe get hurt less, or he could admit he'd screwed up and either get hurt less or more, depending on how Papa felt. Clearly, the preferable option was the lie. He nodded.

"You sure?" Papa asked. "You're...subdued."

Tim shrugged and lifted his head from the table. He had just faced the guys from his nightmares, how was he supposed to act?

Vance leaned against the wall and said, "Gibbs, I read Agent McGee's file, and the report made by the therapist at the hospital and Dr. Cranston."

"Your point, Leon?" Gibbs asked.

"I might be able to assist him, at least in getting him to talk again, if I were to spend some time alone with him?"

Tim's stomach twisted. His boss' boss wanted a word with him? He was so dead!

Papa sent a skeptical look to Vance but said, "If you want to speak to one of your agents, I guess I can't really argue."

"Fight take that much out of you?" Vance asked, amused.

Papa just sighed and crooked a finger for Tony and Bishop to follow him, and they all went to the living room, Papa turning on the TV.

Tim's stomach did flips as Vance sat down. "Tim, you're not in trouble," Vance started. "I just hoped to talk to you a little bit before everyone starts to swamp you and possibly overwhelm you, understand?"

Reluctantly, Tim nodded.

"I don't necessarily have experience with...this, in particular, but I have two children of my own, so I know a little about what I'm doing," Vance said. "And I know that you and Gibbs have been...close while you're going through this. Agent DiNozzo told me as much. But now you're barely looking him in the eye. What's wrong?"

Tim twitched. He played with his hands and said nothing.

"Tim." Vance's voice held sternness, and a slight warning. "I need you to talk to me. No one here's a mind reader."

"When the bad guys were here, they--" Tim cut himself off, biting his lip.

Vance arched his eyebrows expectantly.

"They said...said that Jerry...he's the...the leader, that he was gonna get me and...and hurt me again," Tim said. "And I was scared, you know? And it was hard to breathe, like my...my chest was too tight."

"You were having a panic attack?" Vance supplied.

"Probably..." Tim agreed softly. "And...and when the bad guy mocked me for it, Papa, he...he called me broken, and he was angry and hit the man, and...and what if he does that to me?"

"Because he said you're broken?" Vance clarified.

Tim nodded, tears coming to his eyes. "Daddy did that all the time. Called me broken and hurt me. I don't...I don't wanna get hurt. And I don't wanna bother Papa if all he sees me as is broken."

Vance looked incredibly unamused and irritated. "I should have a word with him, then. Because I know that he wants to help you, but he definitely needs to choose his words more carefully. Did he yell at you at all?"

"Just...just to get his cuffs," Tim said. "Nothing big."

"But he did yell at you," Vance said.

Tim felt the sick feeling grow stronger. "Are you trying to get Papa in trouble?"

"I'm trying to understand what he did that would make you compare him to your father," Vance said. "And if he did something wrong, I'll tell him as much."

Tim squirmed. "I don't want him in trouble, though."

"I wouldn't separate you two if I could, Tim," Vance said. "I understand that he's the only one who knows how to help you right now the way you need it. But if he's doing something wrong, he needs to know so he doesn't do it again."

Tim nodded silently. He understood, and while it didn't make him feel any better that Papa was going to get talked to, he was somewhat relieved that Papa wasn't in trouble.

"We all want you to feel better as soon as you can, Tim. We miss you at the office, but take all the time you need to recover, all right?" Vance said, putting a hand on Tim's shoulder.

Tim nodded and Vance gave it a squeeze. "That's all I wanted to say. You can have fun with Agents DiNozzo and Bishop now."

"Thanks," Tim said softly, moving to the living room, where Bishop was reshuffling the pack of cards.

Chapter Text

One look at Vance when Tim was done talking to him told Gibbs all he needed to know about the conversation: it was nothing good, and Vance was not amused. When Tim was suitably occupied with Tony and Bishop on the floor, playing cards, Vance stood, looking at Gibbs and gesturing toward the door. Gibbs rolled his eyes and followed Vance to the foyer. The man was glaring at Gibbs like he was the reason Tim was down for the count. "You made quite the mess, Gibbs," Vance hissed.

"What did I do?" Gibbs asked defensively. Why was he suddenly to blame for this?

"Agent McGee has started noticing parallels between his father and yourself," Vance said. "The way you were manhandling the criminal in your house and your yelling made some connections I'm sure that Tim did not like to make. Add that to your yelling specifically at him and calling him broken, it's a wonder he's still imprinted on you."

"Maybe I did...overreact, somewhat, to the man being at my house, but wouldn't you? And I never yelled at Tim or called him broken," Gibbs snarled.

"Well Tim begs to differ. And considering how shaken up he is over it, I'm inclined to believe him over you," Vance coolly replied.

Gibbs began to protest again, but Vance held up a hand. "Did you interact with Agent McGee while you were dealing with our perp?"

"Yeah, I told him to get me my handcuffs," Gibbs icily snapped.

"And wouldn't you say you were agitated when you told him that? Enough for a young child to take it for yelling?" Vance asked.

Gibbs fumed, but only said, "When, exactly, did I call him broken to his face?"

"I never said it was to his face," Vance said. "I said that you called him broken. Perhaps, in the heat of the moment, to your perpetrator while he was mocking Agent McGee?"

Gibbs' mind actually did have that memory saved, and Gibbs felt like he had just been hit over the head with a baseball bat as his heart skipped a beat or three. He said nothing.

"Good to see some of your memory is still intact," Vance said. "Now I don't know about you, but I would apologize to Agent McGee sooner rather than later. After all, he's living with you and if you want him to come to you for help, he needs to know you won't hit him."

"I would never hit him!" Gibbs hissed.

Vance arched an eyebrow. "But does he know that?"

Gibbs turned to look at all three of his agents playing cards on the floor. Tim was always skittish when he did something he perceived as wrong, almost as if he expected the other shoe to drop. Oh. "He say anything else about his biological father?" Gibbs asked.

"He said his father would call him broken and proceed to hit him, which told me enough about his situation that I knew you screwed up," Vance replied.

"He said he called his father 'Daddy,' but that Daddy wasn't a good name this afternoon," Gibbs said. "Guess now we know why."

Vance nodded grimly. "Pick up your mess sooner rather than later, Gibbs," he advised again. "I need to look around the perimeter to see what safety measures might need to be put in place, but I'll let you know my preliminary decision before I leave tonight."

Gibbs nodded his thanks and Vance walked out of the house, leaving Gibbs to head back into the living room. When he did, Tim kept a wary eye on him. Gibbs sat down on the floor with a sigh across from Tim. "What are you guys playing?" he asked.

Tim regarded him coldly for a minute before saying, "Go Fish," as he looked away.

"Good game," Gibbs said awkwardly, hoping to gauge Tim's reaction, but not expecting Tim to be...angry at him.

Tim nodded, asking Tony, "Fours?"

"Go Fish, kid," Tony said.

Tim grumbled but did so. Gibbs calculated his next move. Tim had never shown any signs of being anything except...laid back, and receptive to what Gibbs had to say. Had he really screwed up that badly? Or was this just a combination of all the things that had been happening recently? He hoped sincerely that it was the latter. "Look, Tim, I wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn't mean what I said, I just got too worked up. Do you think you can forgive me?" Gibbs asked.

Tim bowed his head and swallowed. Tony and Bishop were taking glances between Gibbs and Tim. Neither of them had been there for what had happened, so he wasn't surprised at their confusion. But he hoped that Tim would forgive him. This needed to be fixed. Tim made a strangled cry in the back of his throat, and Gibbs reached out to make sure he was okay, when Tim snapped his head up and screamed, "Stop staring at me!"

Everybody looked at him in surprise for a second, suspended in time. Then Bishop stared at her hand in the game and Tony put his cards face-down on the floor, holding his hands out where Tim could see, like he was a wounded animal. "Tim, buddy, it's okay."

"No, it's not! It's not okay!" Tim screamed back. "And I'm tired of pretending it is!"

Tony continued to hold his hands out. "Okay. Okay," he said. "We can talk about it, huh? Would that help?"

Gibbs felt like he was frozen in place. Tony moved to take the cards in Tim's hands out of his vice grip, but Tim threw them down on the floor and screamed, curling into a ball and covering his ears with his arms. Tony backed up instinctively, and Bishop covered her ears to protect them from the screams. Gibbs finally found his voice. "Timothy McGee, that's enough!" he snapped.

Tim stopped, glaring at Gibbs from behind his knees, shoulders heaving.

"If you can't keep calm, then Tony and Bishop can leave, but you will not act like this around company!" Gibbs ordered.

"You're not my dad," Tim seethed.

That, more than anything, felt like a slap to the face. But Gibbs had to keep calm. Couldn't let Tim know that this was getting to him. If he gave the boy even an inch, he was sure Tim would take it a mile. "No. I'm not. I'm your boss, your caregiver, your family, and I expect better from you!"

Tim snarled. "Family? Family?! Where was this...this family at work, huh? Where was it when you made me go undercover? Where was it when I was found out?! Standard operating procedure states that I should have back-up nearby! You all were at MTAC! Where was this so-called family, this care, this leadership when you sent me in on my own to be tortured and beaten and raped, huh?! And then...and then! After all that, you take me in, you pretend to care, but have the audacity to call me broken?! Newsflash, I'm 'broken' because of your bad orders! This is your fault, not mine!"

Gibbs was left reeling at that statement, as Tim stood and stormed out of the room. It was only afterwards that he registered the front door slamming. Gibbs felt ice creep up his spine, and he leapt to his feet, rushing to the door, Tony and Bishop hot on his heels. The sight he saw when he was outside surprised him. Tim was loosely pinned to the ground, while Vance was on top of him. "What part of 'fix your mess' did you not understand, Gibbs?" Vance growled.

"I was trying to, he went ballistic on me!" Gibbs defended.

Tim made a muffled noise of protest from the pavement, but Vance shushed him. When Vance looked at Gibbs, he could tell that he was dangerously close to having Tim taken from his custody. "Choose your next words carefully, Gibbs," Vance warned.

Gibbs took a breath. "I apologized. But when I asked him to forgive me, all he did was start screaming, telling everyone to stop staring at him, that he was tired of pretending that everything was okay."

"An' that you were a bad boss," Tim said, glaring at him. "An' I don't regret it!"

Bishop spoke up from behind Gibbs. "What he said...about being...being...that wasn't true, was it?" she asked.

Tim flinched.

"Unfortunately, Agent Bishop, it appears so," Vance said.

"Well no wonder he's been having a hard time," Bishop said, crossing her arms. "And your snapping at him wouldn't help anything, Gibbs, can you imagine how many times he was probably yelled at when he went dark?"

Gibbs could spy the fight draining from Tim by the second. "Okay, I'm not infallible, all right?" Gibbs said. "But look at Tim, he's exhausted. We can fix this in the morning, but I think right now everyone needs some time to cool off."

Tim started up struggling again, whimpering. "No!" he protested. Whatever clarity he might have had fighting back was gone. "Don't wanna!"

"You don't want to what, Tim?" Vance asked.

"Don't wanna stay with him," Tim said, tears falling. "Don't wanna stay with another daddy."

And Vance's pointed look at Gibbs told him all he needed to know. In trying to fix the situation, he had made everything worse. But what was he supposed to do? Tim was temperamental like this! One minute he was fine, the next he was crying or angry. He could be playing one moment and be ready to go three rounds the next! And Gibbs didn't know what triggered it, if anything did at all!

"Well we can't get you out of his house tonight, Tim, right now, that's the safest place for you," Vance said.

Tim cried and Tony took a step around Gibbs and towards Tim. "Hey, buddy. If it's okay with you, and it's okay with Vance, maybe I could stay over to make sure you're okay through the night? I know it doesn't replace getting out of here, but it might help?"

Whimpering, Tim nodded, and while Gibbs felt indignation, he also felt horrible that Tim felt he wasn't safe with him. Gibbs had screwed up, badly.

Vance got off Tim and he didn't try to run again, but he didn't get up either. "You got really worked up, huh?" Tony asked.

Tony picked Tim's limp form up and carried him back across the yard, past the porch, and into the house. Gibbs followed him with his eyes, but made no move to go inside, yet. Bishop made her excuses and left for the night. Vance stood there, staring at Gibbs, and Gibbs met his gaze, no matter how uncomfortable he was getting by it. "You need to fix this, Gibbs," Vance said. "Now."

"You think, Leon?" Gibbs snapped.

Vance held up a single finger. "If I come back and I see that Tim still isn't speaking to you, I'll have no choice but to remove him and put him in a safe room somewhere."

"Surrounded by strangers? You know that will just make things worse!" Gibbs protested.

"Which is why I don't want to do it. But if you make things worse as well, I'd rather at least have him be on semi-civil terms with his boss when he recovers," Vance said. "This is one of the safest places I know to put him, Gibbs. You don't even need a second agent here so long as no one else knows his location. But he has to trust you in order for this to work. Fix your mess, or lose your agent."

And with that ultimatum made, Vance left. Gibbs ran a hand through his hair and walked back into the house, closing the door. He had to make this up to Tim somehow. But how he was going to do that and get Tim speaking again before Vance decided to pay another visit was anyone's guess. He just hoped he could do it before Tim got taken away from him, possibly for good, if he never recovered from this.

What was he to do?

Chapter Text

Tim got assistance to get ready for bed in the form of Tony that night. The one thing Tony didn't do was change his diaper, and he hated every second that Gibbs, his...he couldn't even call him a Papa, Papa's didn't act like that. He hated Gibbs was changing him. The second he was done Gibbs left the room, leaving Tim and Tony alone. Tony helped tuck Tim in, and sat on the edge of the bed. "Anything else you need, kid?" Tony asked.

Flushing red, Tim lied and shook his head. He really wanted a story read to him, but Tony would think that was stupid, and besides, he doubted Tony would do different voices for the different characters.

"Okay, I'm gonna take your word on that," Tony said. "I'll be downstairs on the couch if you need me, all right?"

Tim nodded. Tony grabbed Emma from by the windowsill, ruffled Tim's hair as he gave her to him, and left the room. Well great, now Tim was left alone with his thoughts. He stared at the ceiling and recalled the night's events. Everything had been his fault, really. If he had stayed put like Pa--Gibbs had wanted, then Gibbs might still be Papa. He could take care of the bad guys by himself, after all. Tim was the one who had to screw it up, go investigate, and make the whole situation in the first place. He was the idiot to blame here.

He should have left when he had the chance. Squirmed past Vance and left everyone's lives for good. He was doing no one a service by staying here. He was only good when he worked, and he couldn't do that anymore. He curled up on his side and hugged Emma, squeezing his eyes tight. A few tears leaked out, but he wasn't about to tell anyone that. He just willed himself to go to sleep until he finally passed out from exhaustion.

When Tim woke up next it was with a loud gasp. He clapped a hand over his mouth, listening outside the room to see if there were any footsteps. If he had been too loud then the bad men were definitely going to come back.

Sure enough, he could hear murmuring voices in a heated argument just feet from the door. He rolled out of the bed, relieved that for some reason, he was no longer bound by his own handcuffs. He dropped to the floor and rolled under the mattress, willing even his breathing to be quiet. He watched in fear as two sets of feet entered his field of vision. "Crap, you don't think he's on the other side of the bed, do you?" one voice said.

A gruffer one responded, "The odds of that are slim to none. He didn't sneak past you downstairs?"

"I've hardly slept. Besides, what would have made that noise if he weren't here?" the first one said.

Tim bit back a whimper. He was so, so, so impossibly screwed right now. All it would take was for them to look under the bed, and then he would be cuffed to the bed frame again, never to be let go, his last acts in this life to be tied up to a bed for someone else's pleasure.

One pair of feet walked around the bed, and Tim shifted so he could see that set of footsteps he heard, only to be met with two eyes, staring back at him. He hit his head on the box of the bed when he jumped, and his eyes started to water.

The feet and eyes had hands attached to them, which reached under the bed and pulled Tim out as he whimpered, "No no no no no no no," over and over again.

But it was no use, he was dragged out from under the bed, sniveling and crying, two men he didn't recognize looking him over. One of them, the one who had pulled him out from under the bed, picked him up under the armpits and knees and put him back on the bed. Tim tried to scramble off it but the other man moved to the side of the bed that he was trying to get off of. "No, stay on the bed, Tim," he ordered.

Tim whimpered and backed up on the bed, but looked around for anything he could use to escape.

"You're intimidating him," the man who put him on the bed said.

"I'm keeping him from further spraining his ankle!" the second man snapped.

Tim curled up in a ball as they continued to fight, and the only thought that was running through his head was that he wanted his Papa and Tony. Even if Papa hadn't been good lately, being with him was preferable to being with the bad guys. He wanted to beg the men to not hurt him, to not tell Jerry he was up, but to do so would mean speaking, and that was an offense more punishable than trying to run.

The first man reached out to touch him, but Tim smacked his hands away. Screw the consequences, he didn't want to be touched! When hands reached from behind him, he ducked under them, crawling to the headboard and sitting with his back to it so he could see all potential movements. He was shaking, hard, but if that was going to stop him from fighting, then he wasn't Timothy Farragut McGee!

His teeth were chattering and the second man moved closer, turning on a lamp on a nightstand. Tim blinked in the sudden light. The men he couldn't see were slowly coming in to more focus, the bed he was on he now recognized as not the bed he had been held captive on, and he could spy a teddy bear on the floor near the foot of the bed that he hadn't owned before he was rescued. Oh.

"Recognize us now, bud?" Tony asked.

Tim just mutely nodded, pointing to Emma.

Tony followed his finger, rolled his eyes, and passed Emma back to him. Tim hugged her tightly and looked between Tony and Gibbs. Gibbs sighed and sat on the edge of the bed and Tim didn't flinch, didn't see much of a need to. What happened last night was bad but that was last night. Everybody screwed up, and it was mostly his fault to begin with. "I'm really sorry for what happened last night, Tim. I should have handled everything better," Gibbs said.

Tim blinked. "But...it was my fault," he whispered.

"No it wasn't, kid. I'm the one who made you upset, you were just being honest in how you felt. I'm the one who started things, and I should have treated the situation, and you, with more respect."

"No...I shouldn't've left the room," Tim said.

"If you hadn't left the room I wouldn't have realized someone was trying to get in the house and they could have hurt you more. I said everything I shouldn't have and then some. I'm really sorry. I don't want to be like your father was. I care about you, a lot."

Tim felt tears come to his eyes. He didn't remember the last time someone had cared about him like Gibbs did. Maybe he deserved a second chance for the title of Papa.

"Tim? We good?" Gibbs asked.

Taking a shaky breath, Tim said, "I dunno if I can call you Papa again...yet. But I want us to be good."

"Then let's try to be good," Gibbs said, giving Tim's shoulder a squeeze.

Tim gave him a grateful smile. "Could you read me a story?" he asked.

"Sure, but it'll have to be a short one. I don't want you to stay up the whole night, especially since Dr. Cranston is still coming over tomorrow," Gibbs said.

Tim nodded and crawled under the covers, bringing them up to his chin. He was a little cold, and a lot scared that he'd wake up from another trauma-induced nightmare. Gibbs went over to the chest and looked through the books, huffing in amusement when he found one he liked. "Goodnight Moon. I didn't know you had a thing for the classics," he teased.

Shifting into a smaller position under the covers, Tim shrugged. "Jus' like it," he mumbled.

"Well, it is a good book," Gibbs said. "I can read it to you, and if you're okay, DiNozzo can go back downstairs; he looks dead on his feet."

"Sorry," Tony said, yawning. "I didn't realize that I might be up at this hour. Does this happen every night?"

"So far," Gibbs confirmed.

"Yeah, I wouldn't survive doing this every night before work," Tony mumbled. "'M going back to bed. Night, Tim. Night, Gibbs."

"Sleep well, DiNozzo," Gibbs said as the man shut the door most of the way, leaving a sliver of hallway light coming into the room.

Tim was already drifting by the time Gibbs started to read, and he used a soft, slow voice that sounded like honey to Tim. He felt like he was floating in bed as Gibbs read to him. Even when the reading stopped, Gibbs didn't leave the side of the bed, just rubbing Tim's back as he was almost falling asleep. "Sleep well, Tim," Gibbs murmured, grabbing Emma and putting her right next to Tim on his pillow.

He grabbed her, mostly asleep, as Gibbs left the room. And as he inhaled her scent, which was quickly becoming one not unlike the house, he felt like he just might be able to call it home.


Sunlight was streaming through the windows the next time Tim woke up, which felt strange and unusual to him. He hadn't slept through the night, true, but one nightmare was better than two or three. He sat up, putting on his boot (he was getting much better at that now), and walked downstairs, holding Emma in one hand and rubbing his eyes with another. Tony glanced at him from the couch and smiled. "That's adorable, you like like you're two."

"I'm not two!" Tim said, scandalized.

Gibbs poked his head in and asked, "How old are you then?"

Tim thought in his head. It was hard to pin down a precise age for his regression, because it moved around a lot, but he knew that this was important for Gibbs to know. He held out his thumb, pointer, and middle finger, the sign for the number three.

Gibbs nodded and left the room. "Three today, got it."

Tim nodded resolutely, but the image was somewhat ruined by Tony coming over to him and ruffling his hair. "Sorry, Mister Big Kid. Didn't mean to offend you."

"You don't hafta do that, you know," Tim said, walking to the dining room and sitting down at the table.

"Do what?" Tony asked.

"Call me big. I know I'm not," Tim said. "I'm this way because I can't be big. I don't know how to be."

"You seemed plenty big at the office for years," Tony said, also sitting down.

"Yeah, but...that was before. That wasn't when the bad guys took me and touched me where I shouldn't be touched," Tim said softly. "I dunno how to be big after that."

"I mean, wouldn't it mostly be the same?" Tony asked. "Obviously that's a huge deal and it's not okay, but plenty of people recover from it fine given time. I'm sure you can be big again if you try."

Tim made a skeptical noise. "The other day my brain wouldn't tell my hand how to hold a fork. I don' think just trying would do anything."

Tony hummed. "Well, you never do anything by halves, kid. So I guess if you do this thing, there's no easy way out for you."

Tim just shrugged. "Do you wanna play a game?" he asked.

"Sure. What sort of game?" Tony said.

"Uh...I dunno yet," Tim said. "I just wanna play."

"Fair enough," Tony said, as Gibbs walked in. "Ooh, but it looks like breakfast is done, so maybe we could play later. I'm gonna have to go to work soon."

Tim whined but made no further complaint. "Fine," he said. "But I will collect."

Chapter Text

Tim was playing with the Gibbsmobile again by the time Rachel Cranston came over. He looked up at her from where he was positioned on the floor and waved. "Hi, Doctor-Kate's-Sister."

Rachel smiled. "Oh, I see we're talking today!"

Tim nodded. "Uh-huh. I wasn't talking 'cause I was worried that the bad guys would hurt me, but when the bad guys aren't around 's okay. And the bad guys were here last night, but they're not here now."

"Last night?" Rachel asked, turning to Gibbs.

"Minor issue with a security breach," Gibbs said. "Sadly not just a nightmare, but we got the guys and they aren't about to tell anyone about what they saw or where they were."

"Oh, well, that's good," Rachel said, turning back to Tim. "So, since you can talk today, do you want to?"

"I get a choice?" Tim asked, furrowing his brows.

"Well, we could talk, or you could draw like you did last time, or if you don't want to just talk we could also play some while talking," Rachel offered, sitting down.

"I like the last one," Tim said.

Rachel laughed. "Yeah?"

Tim nodded, reaching into his box and pulling out a deck of cards. "Ellie taught me how to play War last night but we didn't get to play for long. It's a good game to talk during, though, 'cause it doesn't take a lot of thinking."

"Okay, let's play it, then," Rachel said. "I can shuffle the cards, if you want."

Tim passed them over to her. "Shuffling's hard," he said.

"It can be," Rachel allowed. "But you get better with practice."

Tim shrugged and watched her shuffle the cards. "I can do it when big," he said. "Then it's easy. But now it's like...like my hands won't listen to my brain."

Rachel glanced at him as she shuffled. "What does that mean, 'when you're big'?"

Tim wiggled his fingers and frowned. "It's just...when I'm big, like. Like you or Gibbs or Tony."

"An adult, you mean?" Rachel asked.

"Mhm," Tim hummed, nodding. "I know my body's big, but my mind doesn't match."

Rachel finished shuffling the cards and started to deal them. "Has this happened before? You talk about it like it has."

"I've done it before," Tim said, looking away. "Like, I'll do it sometimes if I'm really sad, or...what's the word...it's not like sad or mad, it's kinda tired but scared too?"

"Stressed?" Rachel supplied.

"Yeah, stressed!" Tim said. "Usually I'd just play or draw for a few hours, and I'd feel better."

"So what happened this time? It's been almost a week and you're still...what do you call this? When you're not big?"

"Usually I just call it being little, or maybe small," Tim said with a shrug. "'Cause that's just what being not big is."

"Okay, so you're still little," Rachel said. "Why?"

"I don't...I don't know how to be big," Tim said. "It's kinda like shuffling cards. When I'm big I know how to do it and it's easy. But when I'm little, my brain doesn't follow directions like that. It does what it wants. Usually if I need to be big again, I can do it automatically, 'cause I'm not that stressed or sad. Or if I am, I'm big just long enough to do what I need to and then I can be little again. But...I think about being big, and there's this...disconnect. That's a big word, but I think it's the right one." Tim wrinkled his nose. "This is a big conversation."

"That's okay, Tim, I think I understand," Rachel said.

"Then you know more than I do," Tim said, looking at the pile of cards Rachel dealt him.

They started to play the game and Rachel said, "Your brain is telling you that you need this time to be little, Tim. It's hard to be big for you right now because you're not ready to face the world again when big yet."

Tim shuddered. "I don't think I'll ever be ready."

"Most people feel that way after going through what you've gone through. But all those people find that eventually, in their own ways, they're ready. Give it time."

Tim nodded, sucking on the tips of his fingers on his free hand while they played. "Can I ask you a question?" Tim asked eventually.

"Sure, Tim. Part of the reason I'm here is to help you figure things out," Rachel said.

"Do you think that Gibbs is a Papa? Or is he just Gibbs?" Tim asked.

"Well, what's a Papa to you?" Rachel asked.

"A Papa...A Papa is different than a Daddy. Because Daddies hit and yell and are mean. And Papas don't do that stuff, at least not to kids. And Gibbs was acting a little bit like a Daddy last night, but...but that's 'cause he was in Boss-mode, I think. And he apologized and stuff. And I wanna give him a second chance. But whenever I do that, I only seem to get hurt," Tim realized he had been curling inward as he spoke, but he didn't attempt to stretch out. "Papas wouldn't hurt me if I gave them a second chance, but I dunno if Gibbs is a Papa or not."

"Based on what you've described, in my opinion? Gibbs would be a Papa," Rachel said.

Tim squirmed, frowning. "I know that there's supposed to be some sorta big discussion before Papas are Papas, but I dunno how to have that when I'm small. I just want Papa back."

"Then I'd tell him that," Rachel said. "Gibbs is not the kind of man who would take a second chance lightly. He'd do anything to prove to you that he's willing to help, there's no doubt in my mind about that."

"Really?" Tim asked.

Rachel nodded. "And I'll tell you another thing. I think he doesn't mind how small you are, so you don't have to worry about trying to act big for him. He said you said you were three, but you're displaying some much younger behaviors. Which isn't a bad thing, but if you're holding back for his sake, know you don't have to."

Tim looked down at his cards as a blush crept up on his face. He sucked on his fingers again, eyes stinging. "No one likes a baby," he mumbled.

Rachel narrowed her eyes. "Gibbs?" she called. "Can you come in here a minute?"

Tim's eyes widened as Gibbs walked into the room from the basement. "Yeah?" he asked.

"Would you agree that you don't mind Tim being a younger age if it means it helps him feel better?" Rachel asked.

Gibbs looked Tim over and Tim was not-so-subtly shaking. He didn't want to bother Gibbs if he didn't want to be bothered; he was imposing already, wasn't he? "Of course I wouldn't mind," Gibbs said. "But I would like a certain someone to know that it's okay if those feelings change in the middle of the day, and he doesn't have to put up a front around me for my sake."

Tim's eyes stung harder and when he blinked tears started to fall. He whined, making a grabbing motion with one arm. Gibbs smiled and walked over, saying, "Come here, you."

He picked Tim up and settled the boy on his lap, and Tim curled up in a ball, content to just sit there for a minute.

"See? I told you he didn't hate you," Rachel said, somewhat smug.

Gibbs sighed and Tim nuzzled into him closer. "It's kind of hard to believe that when just last night he was crying at the thought of staying with me."

"He's a kid, Gibbs. Kids get overwhelmed sometimes. They also forgive unbelievably fast when they love someone," Rachel said. "And Tim definitely loves you."

Tim silently agreed. There was no one else he would rather have as a Papa. Not even Tony would be able to fill that role.

"Do you still want to play, Tim?" Rachel asked.

Tim shook his head. He didn't want to talk much right now either.

"Okay. Would you like to draw, though?" Rachel asked.

Tim's eyes lit up. He loved getting to draw, it made him feel better and sometimes his work made it to the refrigerator!

"I'll take that as a yes," Rachel laughed. "Do you have drawing stuff here?"

Tim pointed to the box and Rachel pulled it out from under the table, pulling out a sketchbook, and a pack of crayons. "Would you prefer the gel pens?" she asked.

"Mm-mm," Tim hummed. Crayons were perfect.

"Is there anything in particular you'd like to draw? Maybe how you're feeling?" Rachel prompted.

Tim hummed again in thought. He could make that work. He scrawled across half the page with the same colors he had used before, tapering them into a trapezoid shape in the center of the page. In the center, he picked out the lightest blue he had, drawing a pseudo-shield out of it, that looked almost like a person. He made a smaller kid-like shape from a darker blue, with a multiple-colored bear hanging from one of the ball's arms outward.

Looking up, he noticed both adults looking at him, and he blushed, sticking his tongue back in his mouth from where it had been poking out in concentration. Rachel looked over the paper, smiling. "I have a feeling I know what all these things represent, but could you tell me anyway?"

Tim pointed to the scrawls across half the page. "That's the bad thoughts." He pointed to the boy holding the bear. "That's me and Emma." Then at the shield. "And that's Papa. Papa helps keep the bad thoughts away. Even if he makes mistakes sometimes."

Tim buried his face in his papa's chest as Rachel grinned and Papa cooed at him. "I love it, Tim. You're really good at drawing," Papa said.

"Nuh-uh," Tim said.

"Uh, yeah, you are," Papa said. "And I'm happy I can help with the bad thoughts."

Tim peeked his head out to find Papa looking at him with a love and fierce protection that Tim had never seen from him before. At least, not directed toward him, maybe not even Abby. Papa kissed him on the forehead and murmured, "I'll do my best to keep the bad thoughts from overwhelming you ever again."

Rachel hummed her agreement. "At the same time, Tim, you may want to address some of the bad thoughts eventually. In your own time, of course. But it may help you feel big again to look at them and understand that they happened, in this case without rhyme or reason, but they're over now. And you can get past them."

Tim shrugged. "Maybe. But not now."

"No," Rachel agreed. "I think you've been dealing with enough change right now. Just try to relax and spend your time how you feel you need to. And, when you feel emotionally ready, maybe try to unpack some of those issues."

Tim sucked on his fingers and Papa gently pried them from his mouth, prompting Tim to whine. "There's a reason I got you the chew necklace, Tim." He grabbed the necklace from the crate and put it over Tim's head, before sticking part of it close to his mouth. When Tim grabbed it and started to suck on it, Papa ruffled his hair. "Because even when you're an adult, you have an oral fixation."

"I should be going," Rachel said. "I'll see you next week on Monday?"

"Yeah, that works great," Papa said.

Rachel left and Tim just sucked on the necklace for a minute before letting it drop onto his shirt and hugging Papa. There was something he had wanted to say, had been meaning to say before the bad guys showed up, but he hadn't done yet. And now seemed like as good a time as any to say it. "I love you, Papa," he said, closing his eyes tight in case Papa's reaction wasn't a good one.

But all Papa did was make a soft gasp, before he kissed Tim's forehead again and murmured, "Love you too, baby boy."

Chapter Text

Gibbs was left a little overwhelmed by what Tim had said. The affectionate nickname seemed to slip from his mouth, but he certainly had a lot to think about. Fortunately, Tim seemed to be about tired enough for a nap, so Gibbs laid him on the couch, pulling a blanket over him, and allowed himself to think as he rubbed Tim's back, waiting for him to fall asleep.

He had gotten more adjusted to treating Tim like a kid. He slipped up sometimes, but by and large he was making sure that Tim was comfortable by treating him how he was thinking. But he still hadn't anticipated one of the most basic things a child possessed--an unconditional love for and desire of approval from a parental figure. Gibbs ran a hand over his face as he thought. Of course, he cared about Tim a great deal. But was he sure what he felt warranted the use of "love"? He was scared. Scared that one day, Tim would see these uncertainties that Gibbs had and retreat in on himself, or worse, force himself to try and act grown-up for Gibbs' sake, damaging himself more in the process. Scared that Tim would think Gibbs was lying and lash out or break, convincing himself that he was alone in the world. Scared of admitting that Tim meant more to him than Gibbs first thought.

If this was love, it certainly wasn't a romantic love, not by a long shot. Gibbs wanted Tim to be safe and comfortable more than anything. He'd move mountains if it meant that Tim felt more comfortable. And he hadn't felt that way since...He swallowed. He hadn't felt that way since Kelly.

Tim was now soundly asleep, and Gibbs stood up, wondering what, exactly, to do until lunch, as Tim would most likely be asleep until then. Gibbs was struck with a thought, the thought that he had Tim's laptop on hand because that's what he had used for ordering the Rush Hour game, and he still probably had access to the Internet on it, because Tony had done some...thing with it that meant he didn't have to plug it into the router. Honestly he wasn't going to guess how it worked, he just knew that it did. And that he was willing to bet he could find something interesting for Tim on the laptop.

Booting it up, Gibbs typed in the password that he had found on a little sticky note the day the thing was brought to his house, and opened up the Internet program. It still had that online store up from the other day, and Gibbs frowned when he saw something in the corner that just said "Prime". He clicked on it, or tried to. He didn't know quite what he was doing, but he found his way onto some part of the site that looked like you could order movies from. Except he didn't understand what "streaming" had to do with any of that, and none of these things had prices on them. Gibbs supposed that Tim must have bought them at some point before and this was a record of it. He vaguely remembered Tim saying something about Doctor Who years ago, and that's what most of this was. He frowned, clicking on "Series One," opening a list of different episodes. He decided to just click on the first episode, and was relieved that when it started playing, which he hadn't expected, that at least the volume was low enough it was unlikely to wake up Tim.

He watched the full first episode and was watching the credits when he heard a soft voice ask, "Is that Doctor Who?" from behind him.

Gibbs startled and whirled around to see Tim looking at him, eyes hazy from sleep but still clearer than they were this morning when he had been particularly regressed. "Yeah," Gibbs said. "I was looking for something to keep you occupied, and stumbled on it. The first episode was interesting enough."

Tim grinned. "I wouldn't take you for the sci-fi type."

Gibbs shrugged. "I'm not, usually. But this show seems to have good action sequences, so that kept me interested."

Tim laughed. "I watched it when I was a kid first time 'round. Snuck downstairs past my bedtime sometimes, just to see the ending. I love it."

Gibbs took a closer look at Tim. He was swaying a little, looking like he might collapse at any moment. "Hey, buddy? Do you wanna go back to the couch and sleep some more?"

Tim shook his head. "Gotta...try and stay focused. I think I'm close to being big."

"Much as I would love that, kid, you look like you're about to pass out. I don't want to force you to do something that you can't handle. And even Rachel agrees you're not ready for that yet," Gibbs said.

"I just..." Tim frowned. "I don't wanna be a bother. I need a lot of taking care of, and it's not fair to put it all on you."

"You can't bother me by being yourself, Tim, trust me," Gibbs said, standing up. "Now come on, back to the couch. Before you keel over."

"We should watch Doctor Who together sometime," Tim muttered.

Gibbs was halfway worried that Tim might be delirious, and resolved to feel for a fever once Tim sat down. "That would be fun," Gibbs agreed.

Tim sat down on the couch and Gibbs felt Tim's forehead with his wrist. "No fever, so I think you're just straining yourself, kid. Don't force yourself to do anything you're not ready to do, all right?"

Going by Tim's pout, Gibbs suspected that he was feeling a little bigger than before, but still not big enough to be an adult. "I wanna be back. I don't wanna be like this. I wanna be able to work again."

"And you will, with time. But don't force yourself to be an adult. That won't end well for anyone involved. Do you want that?"

"No..." Tim muttered.

"Then relax. We can still watch Doctor Who when you're like this. We can just stop if you get overwhelmed by something," Gibbs placated.

"Okay," Tim sighed, eyes drooping shut. 

Gibbs laughed. "Nap a little more if you want, I can get started on lunch and wake you when it's done."

Tim hummed his understanding before blearily opening his eyes to lie down sideways on the couch, get in a comfortable position, and fall back asleep. Gibbs shook his head fondly and moved to the kitchen, grabbing two cans of soup in the hopes that Tim would be able to use a spoon on his own for lunch. And if not, well, Gibbs could feed him if needed. That wasn't the weirdest thing he had to do when Tim was like this.

The soup was just finished and Gibbs was ladling it into bowls when a frantic knocking started up on the door. Tim grumbled on the couch, his forehead creasing in discontent. Gibbs walked over to him and rubbed circles gently on his shoulder. "Hey buddy, lunch time," he murmured.

Tim's eyes opened halfway and he grumbled, "Door," before allowing Gibbs to help him up and lead him to the table.

"I know someone's at the door, but I'm hoping they'll leave us be if I don't answer it. After all, it's Friday at lunch time. Who would be home aside from stay-at-home parents and their kids?" Gibbs asked.

"What if it's a bad guy?" Tim asked, thankfully taking his spoon and using it without spills.

"Then if they try to come in, I'll keep 'em out and away from you," Gibbs said. "But I doubt it's a bad guy."

The knocking started up again at the same frantic pace, like a giant woodpecker was banging on the door. Gibbs could tell it was bothering Tim, even if he wasn't saying anything, purely by the fact that he wasn't saying anything. Gibbs glanced out the window when he heard a car start, and didn't miss Abby's hearse outside. He felt somewhat bad about not letting her in, but Tim had been through so much in the last twenty-four hours, he didn't want Abby accidentally sending Tim into overload.

When lunch was done, Tim was content to play in the living room, occasionally drawing something in his sketchbook, but mostly playing with Emma, and a stuffed dog he had named Rex. Gibbs was relieved that even though Tim was regressed, he had no burning desire to watch TV, or read, or play video games, or do anything that might worsen his concussion. In fact, the regression might have actually helped in that respect. Gibbs figured that by Monday, a week after he first came to in the hospital, he could probably let Tim watch a show on his laptop, and see if that made things worse for him. If not, then maybe he could watch something once a day, give Gibbs some time where he didn't have to worry about keeping Tim entertained at all times.

As it was, while Tim played, Gibbs took some time to clean up the house. He kept the door to the basement closed even when he went down there. He figured that on the off chance Tim wanted to explore what was down in the basement, he wouldn't think to wear shoes and could wind up with a splinter or worse, an open wound on his good foot that could land him in crutches or a wheelchair for a couple days minimum, and Gibbs didn't want that.

In the middle of the afternoon, Gibbs got a call from Tony. Not entirely unexpected, but still not what he wanted when he was trying to child-proof and clean up. "Yeah, DiNozzo?" he asked.

"How's the kid doing?" Tony asked, cutting right to the chase.

"Better than he was last night, for sure," Gibbs said. "He's calling me 'Papa' again, which I think is a good sign."

"Yeah, definitely," Tony agreed. "You wouldn't happen to have seen Abby during lunch? None of the team could find her on the base and I figured she might have tried to check up on you."

Gibbs made sure Tim wasn't listening before he said, "Yeah, she came over. Knocking on the door frantically right as he and I were about to have lunch. Didn't answer it; Tim needed to eat and I didn't want him to feel overloaded. Abby's fine the way she is, but when she gets worked up it can be a little overwhelming."

"I definitely know that feeling. And with Tim the way he is with loud noises right now, I have no doubt sudden movements will also make him freak. And Abby, well-meaning as she is, has both those things working against her. I'll see if I can talk to her, get her to wait a little longer before she comes over. Let Tim's metaphorical callouses form," Tony said.

"Thanks, Tony," Gibbs said. "Were you thinking of coming over tonight?"

"That's the other reason I called, actually," Tony said. "We caught wind of a big case and can't make it over there tonight. Bishop might be able to, but depending on when the kid goes to bed it might be too late to visit. The next time we'd be available is tomorrow, and that's probably when everyone is going to try and show up, it being Saturday and all."

Gibbs sighed. He knew that, he logically knew that, but it didn't make that pill any easier to swallow. He was going to have to talk to Tim about it and see how he felt with others seeing him like this. He had a sneaking suspicion it wasn't going to go over well. "Thanks, Tony. Talk to you soon."

"You got it, Boss," Tony said, hanging up.

Gibbs looked to the living room to find Tim looking at him expectantly. He internally braced himself. Oh, yeah. This was definitely not going to end well.

Chapter Text

Tim was anxious from the second he woke up early that Saturday morning. Papa had talked to him yesterday about how everyone was going to want to see him today. Tim said that he didn't mind Tony and Bishop, but he definitely was a little more nervous about the others, who hadn't seen him yet.

He slipped on his boot and walked out of his room. The sun was up, but just barely. He walked downstairs to hear quiet talking in the kitchen. Papa's voice, and another one he couldn't make out. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, and he had a very bad feeling. Still, if Papa was just calmly talking, it couldn't be anybody bad with him, right?

That's what he hoped as he walked forward, to the threshold of the kitchen, where he stood before whenever Papa was making breakfast. Except Papa wasn't making breakfast, he was leaning against the kitchen counter, sipping a mug of coffee, looking across the kitchen to the opposite counter, where Ducky was standing, no doubt with a mug of tea. "Hey, Tim," Papa said. "I was just about to come upstairs to get you. Ducky came by early to make sure you were doing okay."

Tim blushed as he realized he wasn't wearing any pants or shorts on his legs. It was nothing Ducky hadn't seen before, surely, but it was still embarrassing, because he knew he shouldn't need to wear diapers at night, and definitely not during the day.

"I'm glad to see you up and about, Timothy," Ducky said, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. "I came to see you when you were first in the hospital, and seeing you so still was...rather unnerving."

Tim shuffled on his feet. "Yeah..." he said softly. "It's nice to move around."

"How is your wrist feeling? No pain, I hope?" Ducky asked.

"Not really," Tim said, shaking his head. "Head feels okay too. No headaches."

Ducky nodded approvingly. "Yes, well, Gibbs has told me you haven't been reading or watching anything on that laptop of yours Anthony brought over, which is allowing your concussion to heal faster."

Tim nodded, not really knowing what to say beyond that. He turned to Papa. "Can I have pants today?" he asked, blush darkening.

"You have been good about telling me when you need a change, so I don't see why not," Papa said. "Let's go upstairs, get you ready for the day. Duck, will you be okay down here for a couple minutes?"

Ducky waved him off. "I'll be fine, Jethro. You take care of Timothy."

Papa led Tim out of the kitchen and back up to his room. "All right, sweetheart," Papa said, causing Tim's heart to warm. "What do you want to wear today?"

Tim wrung his fingers as he thought. Eventually he went over to his chest and pulled out what he was looking for at the bottom, underneath all the cardboard, a pseudo "false bottom" in order to hide his most prized possession, a onesie with Space Invaders-esque monsters on it.

Papa nodded with a chuckle. "Sure, you can wear that. I didn't even know you owned something like that, but go ahead."

Tim grinned and then went to the dresser, pulling out a pair of mesh gym shorts. Sure, they weren't the coolest-looking but they were comfy, and breathable.

Papa took the clothes off his hands and helped Tim change, first into a fresh diaper, then into the onesie and shorts. When they were done, Tim looked down at his outfit and laughed a little; it made him feel small and safe, which was just what he needed today. He grabbed Emma from the bed and happily walked back downstairs, where Ducky was waiting for them, reading through Tim's Winnie the Pooh book. "I remember reading these when I was a child," he said. "I'm glad the stories continue to be passed down."

"You liked Winnie the Pooh?" Tim asked. "Who was your favorite?"

"I was always fond of Owl," Ducky said with a small smile. "His wisdom always impressed me, and I wanted to be like him someday."

"I like Piglet," Tim said, sitting down next to Ducky. "He's small and he can be scared but he'll stand up for his friends when he needs to!"

"A lot like you, dear boy," Ducky observed.

Tim got quiet. "He's who I want to be," he said. "Not who I am."

"I disagree," Ducky said. "You may not be small in stature, but I have seen you grow from an awkward new agent to a brave man anyone would be lucky to have on their team."

"And yet I'm stuck here," Tim said. "'Cause I can't even handle one little slip-up."

"Timothy," Ducky said, voice stern. "This was not 'one little slip-up.' This was violation in its worst form, something no man would wish on anyone. You survived against all odds, both when you were captured and when those awful men returned to try and finish the job. You are stronger than you think. And you must believe that this is not something that will be taken lightly, by anyone. It's not your fault, it's not little, and it's not your undoing."

That didn't quite sound believable, but Tim nodded anyway, because he didn't want Ducky to be mad with him. Ducky sighed and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "One day, dear boy, you will come to realize how true that really is."

"For now, though, you're welcome to stay here until you get your bearings," Papa said from the foyer. "And after that, my door is always open."

Tim nodded. He knew that, and he was really glad that was the case. Because after this? Being small and safe and with Papa? He wasn't sure he wanted to be small any other way.

Ducky asked him a question about his box and Tim was suitably distracted from his thoughts for the next half hour, talking happily about how Papa had given him the box and how it held a lot of important toys he played with, and his art supplies. Ducky nodded and smiled as he listened, and Tim was about to ask him to play a game when there was frantic knocking on the door once again. "Gibbs! Open up! I know you're in there!" Abby yelled through the door.

Even though Tim knew it was just Abby, he shrank away from the loud noise at the door. He didn't want to deal with seeing even more people today, and the knocking was giving him a headache. Papa sighed, moving from his arm chair to Tim. "Think you're up for seeing Abby, kid, or should I send her away?"

"I..." Tim scrunched up his face as he tried to figure out what he wanted to say. "I wanna see her, but...she's loud and fast. And I don't like loud and fast."

"So tell her to wait?" Papa asked.

Tim guiltily nodded.

"Hey, no problems with that, okay? I can't tell you how glad I am that you're being honest about what you want," Papa said. "I'll try and get her to leave. But you know how she's worse than Bishop when it comes to being stubborn, so don't be surprised if she doesn't go right away."

Tim nodded. Papa walked to the door and as he opened it, Tim covered his ears, prepared for frantic shouting from Abby. And it was a good thing he did, because he could hear her even covering his ears. "Gibbs! Where have you been?! It's been a week since Tony picked up Timmy from the alley, and neither of you have been back to work! Do you have any idea how worried everyone's been?! And then Tony comes up to me yesterday and says that Timmy's been hurt and that I can't come over for at least another week?! What happened?!"

"Abby, slow down, please," Papa said. "I don't want you to startle Tim, okay? Let's talk on the porch."

"No!" Abby exclaimed. "I want to know why I can't see my best friend!"

"I'll explain, if you want, but let's do it somewhere that Tim can't hear the shouting. He can't handle loud noises right now," Papa said.

"So he's here? Tim's here?! And you haven't invited anyone over?!" Abby exclaimed.

Tim flinched and Ducky wrapped an arm around his shoulders, soothing him when he whimpered.

"I asked Tony over to help with a few things and to keep an eye on Tim, once. He's...he's in a fragile state, Abs. You need to be gentle, and you're clearly too worked up to be the kind of calm he needs right now," Papa said.

"I can be calm!" Abby exclaimed indignantly.

"Maybe," Papa allowed. "But you certainly aren't now. You're waving your arms around, and shouting, and you look like you're one hand-wave away from creating a tornado."

"Gibbs!" Abby exclaimed, and Tim flinched. Papa was getting in trouble with Abby because of him. "How could you?! I'm just as worried about Timmy as you are! But I haven't gotten to see him since before he went dark! And the recordings I heard that had been transmitted from his wire before it was turned off, it sounded like they were going to really hurt him, Gibbs!"

"Abs..." Papa sighed. "They did really hurt him. He's got some PTSD going on right now, and he's been barely coping in a calm, quiet place away from danger. I don't want to disrupt his routine yet. It's nothing against you, but...you have a tendency to be loud, and move quickly. Tim can't handle that at the moment."

"I see Ducky's car on the other side of the street. Can I at least talk to him?" she asked.

"When he leaves, sure, I can't stop you," Papa said.

"Gibbs!" Abby exclaimed again.

Tim was shaking like a leaf and Ducky was barely keeping him calm with a sideways hug. Who he really wanted right now was Papa. "Jethro, you're needed in here," Ducky calmly spoke just loud enough to definitely be heard by both Papa and Abby.

"Look, Abs, I can't...I just can't let you see him right now. I need to make sure he's okay, all right? Please don't make this harder than it has to be," Papa said.

Tim waited with bated breath to see what Abby would do. "I hate to do this, Gibbs," she warned, before, judging by Papa's reaction, she slammed her platform boot onto his bare foot.

Papa yelped and jumped backward, just enough for Abby to muscle her way into the house. "Definitely worse than Bishop," Tim muttered to Ducky.

Ducky chuckled and ruffled his hair, as Abby stood, looking dumbfounded at the pair. It took her just long enough to recover that Tim was convinced she was going to be quiet, but that was not the case. "Tim!" she exclaimed, rushing over and hugging him.

Tim yelped in alarm and pain as she man-handled his back, where his still-healing wounds were suddenly on fire. Suddenly all he could think about was Jerry forcing himself on top of Tim, nearly crushing him with his weight, and Jerry running the glass down his back to cause the pain he felt now. It was running through his mind, quicker than he could keep up, flashes of images and sensations that he knew on some level weren't happening but that were very, very real.

The pressure let up at some point, Tim didn't really notice, he was pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes, trying to stop his crying, his sniffling and sobbing, that would let the bad guys know he was awake, please don't hurt me again I promise I'm trying to be quiet just don't do that again! Don't stick that thing back in me!

It was at the horrified gasp that Tim realized he must have been vocalizing those thoughts and he wanted to die, just a little bit. Because now everyone in the room knew how pathetic he was, just begging for his life like a useless little kid.

Chapter Text

The moment Gibbs saw Abby go to hug Tim, he was moving to stop her, but he was too late. She clearly hurt his back, and she pulled back just a bit in surprise, which Gibbs used to pull her off him. "Abby, out!" he exclaimed.

"But Gibbs, I was just trying to hug him! I didn't know he was hurt there!" Abby protested.

Tim was mumbling something or another, Gibbs couldn't make it out. But right now Abby was his main focus. "That's the point! You didn't even stop to ask if he might be hurt before you charged in and possibly made his injuries worse!"

At this point, the mumbling was turning into actual words, and all three adults in the room froze as they left Tim's mouth in the correct order: "Please don't hurt me again I promise I'm trying to be quiet just don't do that again! Don't stick that thing back in me!"

Abby gasped, and Tim flinched, Gibbs could tell that he was sobbing behind his hands, and Ducky's soothing was getting them nowhere, because it looked like Tim wasn't even hearing him. Gibbs now had to decide whether he was going to kick Abby out or focus on his kid, and much as he hated to let Abby have her way after she had hurt both him and Tim, Tim needed his focus right now. "Hey, baby boy, can you look at me?" Gibbs murmured, lightly tapping Tim's fingers.

Tim shook his head.

"Why not?" Gibbs asked.

"Just stupid, useless, pathetic. Everyone's gonna hate me," Tim mumbled, his words sounding like they were choking him and he was just trying to get them out before they succeeded.

"Baby boy, no one hates you, and you're none of those things. You're a fighter, understand?" Gibbs asked.

"No I'm not!" Tim exclaimed, slamming his hands into the couch cushions. "A fighter wouldn't have let that happen to them! A fighter wouldn't have been beaten and raped!"

The last word was spat from Tim's mouth like a curse, like some forbidden word he wasn't supposed to say. And Gibbs supposed, in his mind, he wasn't. "That's not what a fighter is," Gibbs said. "A fighter is someone who endures torture. And make no mistake, baby boy, that's what you did."

Tim looked at Gibbs, or more accurately through him. Not focusing on anything Gibbs or the others could see. "He's gonna come back. He's gonna come back and finish the job, he's gonna hurt me again, and then he's gonna kill me. And you know what?! Maybe he should!" Tim sobbed. "That couldn't hurt more than what he did!"

"Hey, no," Gibbs said sternly. "Timothy Farragut McGee, you will not talk like that in this house. You will not say you are better off dead. You're not."

Tim's shoulders shuddered and it took Gibbs a moment to realize Tim was choking on his own laughter. Or maybe it was sobbing. Honestly Gibbs couldn't tell, it just sounded like Tim couldn't breathe. "Sweetheart, can you sit up for me?"

Gibbs reached a hand out, slowly, only to have it be smacked away. "No touching!" Tim exclaimed, curling in on himself.

"Okay. No one's touching you if you don't want it sweetheart," Gibbs said. "But you won't be able to breathe if you're hunched over like that. Sit up, please?"

Tim shook his head. "That's how the bad guys get you," he said, and made no further effort to move.

The horrible choking sounds he had been making stopped, but Tim was clearly in no state to be around people any longer than necessary. Gibbs turned to Abby. "Abby. Out," he said.

"But, Gibbs--"

"No. No but's. You hurt Tim more than you could hope to understand. He was making real progress, and I'm surprised now that he's even still speaking. You can talk to him when either Ducky or I, depending on who's around, decide that you're calm enough to not hurt him. Until then, I don't want to see you hanging around outside the house, I don't want you to call, I don't want you to bother Tony and Bishop and interrogate them about how Tim's doing. And if I catch you doing any of those things, you'll regret it. I may even have to move Tim to ensure his safety, because your hearse is not exactly discreet. Anyone could follow it here," Gibbs said. "I know that you're just worried about him and want to make sure he's okay, all right? I know that. I know you're not trying to hurt him. But you are. So until you can be calm and gentle around Tim, you can't show up here again. Duck can keep me informed on how you're doing, as can Tony and Bishop. When I think you're ready, I'll call you. All right?"

Abby looked crushed, but Gibbs wasn't going to give in. Not this time. "Abby, go. Last warning."

With a stiff nod, Abby turned on her heel and left. As soon as he saw her hearse pulling away, he turned his attention back to Tim, who was still curled up in a ball, and still crying, though by now the tears were silent. "Hey buddy," Gibbs said softly. "Abby's gone. She's not going to surprise you like that again, okay? You're safe."

Tim looked at him uncertainly, like he didn't know the meaning of the word.

"It's okay, sweetheart. I promise. You don't have to see her again until you're at work or if she has my permission to drop by, and she doesn't have my permission right now. She won't be bothering you," Gibbs said, internally pleading for Tim to believe him.

Tim just sniffled and made a grabby-hand motion Gibbs recognized from the day before as well as from when Kelly was around where he imagined Tim's mental age was resting. Gibbs wasted no time in picking Tim up and resting him on his lap on the couch. Tim was clinging to him like a koala, and still crying. Gibbs turned to Ducky. "Well, that could have gone better," he said.

"It also could have gone worse," Ducky said.

"I really don't want to think about that," Gibbs said, shaking his head.

"Nor do I, frankly," Ducky said. "But it appears you may have a growing problem on your hands, Jethro. If Timothy is thinking he's better off dead--"

"Aw, Duck, I think that was just a heat-of-the-moment exclamation."

"And what if it wasn't?" Ducky asked. "Jethro, I know you don't want to hear this, but Timothy may have deeper problems than we originally thought."

Tim didn't say anything at that, which Gibbs was slightly surprised about, until he looked down and found Tim asleep, sucking on his fingertips again. "I know he has some problems, Duck, this whole coping mechanism is proof of that."

"Yes, but very pressing, prominent issues," Ducky stressed. "When is the next time you see Dr. Cranston?"

"Monday," Gibbs said. "I think I can keep an eye on him until then."

"Do so," Ducky advised. "I hate to think what he might try to do should another flashback take him by surprise while he's left unattended."

Gibbs felt a little sick at the thought of that. So far, all Tim had done when he got caught in a flashback was hide and try to make himself small. But if he decided to try and stop the flashback by force, or fight back and then become ridden with guilt...it didn't paint a pretty picture in Gibbs' mind. His arms tightened a little around Tim and Tim whimpered in his sleep. "Are you gonna stay longer, Duck? I think Tony and Bishop will be over here eventually."

"Mr. Palmer too, I imagine," Ducky said. "I suppose I can stay a while, perhaps check Timothy over to make sure that he is recovering from his wounds once he's awake again."

"That might be a little while, he's usually not up this early because he's awake at all hours of the night," Gibbs said.

Ducky shrugged. "Well, I am willing to wait."


Tim got another hour of sleep before he started to stir, during which time Gibbs and Ducky mostly talked about how Tim had been doing. Gibbs explained the long and short of Tim's regression, and Ducky noted that it wasn't that unusual for children with bad childhoods to cope in this manner. It made Gibbs' blood boil to have his suspicions further confirmed, but he said nothing. When Tim started to wake up, both men moved to a different topic of discussion, namely how work had been treating Ducky and how everything had been going with Gibbs and Tim not there.

Fortunately, Tim seemed none the wiser about their talking about him, and was able to calmly get off Gibbs' lap and play with Emma and Rex. In fact, he seemed to have no memory about what had happened during his flashback, either. At the very least, if he did remember he wasn't talking about it.

It wasn't long before there was a knock at the door, and Tony and Bishop walked in. "Hey, kid!" Tony said, immediately heading to Tim. "How you feeling?"

Tim shrugged. "Kinda bleh," he said.

"Bleh?" Tony asked.

"Bleh," Tim confirmed.

"What does bleh entail?" Tony asked.

As Tim launched into an explanation Bishop walked over to Gibbs and Ducky. "I hope this is okay, Tony and I went to a toy store and got some stuff we hoped he might like to play with? Nothing major, just like...stuff for really young kids. We didn't know how low he regressed, and well...depending on how he might be feeling..." she trailed off with a shrug, passing a small paper bag to Gibbs. "Feel free to use these however you want."

Gibbs looked in the bag and was a little surprised by its contents, though he knew he shouldn't be. There was a soft gray elephant on a ring that looked like it might be a rattle, as well as stackable cups and a few more matchbox cars, as well as some bigger cars that were less likely to be choking hazards. "That's really thoughtful," Gibbs said, smiling. "I think he's gonna love these."

"Yeah?" Bishop asked.

"Yeah," Gibbs said, pulling Tim's crate out from under the table, and putting the new toys in. "It can be a little surprise for him whenever he decides to reach for something new."

Bishop was grinning. "I've never seen you this happy," she said. "You're having fun, aren't you?"

"I mean, this is unconventional, but it is nice to just focus on Tim and not worry about work and whether or not we catch these guys. I have no doubt you two plus your temporary SFA will find them, but I don't have to stay up late at night wondering what I could have done differently. All I need to do is make sure Tim is safe. It's...relaxing, in a way," Gibbs said.

Bishop nodded. "Tony said he's calling you Papa again?"

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah. He's said a lot of things that have gotten me thinking."

"Like what?" Bishop asked.

"Like that he loves me," Gibbs said with a chuckle. "Obviously it's not in a romantic way, but it did get me thinking about how I play a role in this whole thing; how important I am to him, and he is to me."

"Suppose he gets better," Bishop said, "Because we don't know how long that will take, or how independent he'll be after this, but suppose he gets one-hundred percent better, can't be any more on top of this thing unless it never happened, and he goes back to his place, but still does this sometimes. You know, when stress gets too much. If he asked you to help him, would you say yes?"

Gibbs hardly gave it a second thought, though he was surprised by his answer. "Of course I would," he said. "I'm already caring for him full-time, part-time would be easier, without a doubt, but still work the same way. And...I do like what we have. It's...working. For both of us."

Chapter Text

Tim was relieved to have Tony and Bishop over. Playing by himself was fun, but he could only do that for so long before he started to get bored. Playing with other people made games more interesting, and this way he didn't have to bother Papa as much all the time. He was just about done explaining that bleh meant more or less that he was okay, but just barely, when Tony looked away from him. "Hey," Tim said, reaching out to tap Tony's cheek. "Are you listening?"

"Yeah, kid, I'm listening," Tony said, but he was grinning wider than before. "I was just wondering about what other things you have in your crate. You didn't have that dog last time I saw you. Did he magically appear one day?"

Tim laughed. "No, silly! Rex was in my toy chest. He's my dog since, like, forever ago!"

"Forever, huh? He must be a really old dog," Tony said.

Tim nodded. "I gotta be gentle with him, but he's been there for me for years, and I don't wanna lose him."

Tony wiggled his fingers as he said, "A dog that old has to have some magic in him doesn't he, though?"

"Mm...I don't think so," Tim said skeptically.

Tony shrugged. "Agree to disagree, kid," he said. "Seriously, though, what other things to you have in your crate?"

Tim pulled his crate out from under the table and looked in it, which made his jaw drop. There were things in here now that hadn't been there before! He looked up at Tony in shock, and Tony looked like he was about to laugh. "How?!" Tim asked, taking out the elephant, giving it a shake. His eyes widened when he was rewarded with a loud rattling sound. "How'd new stuff get there?!"

Tony was shaking in silent laughter and Tim turned to him. "Did you put the new stuff there?"

"No," Tony said. "But I did help pick the stuff out."

Tim turned to Bishop, who was also grinning at him. "Did you put the new stuff in my box?"

Bishop shook her head, discreetly pointing to Papa. Tim turned to Papa, who was sitting back with a mysterious smile on his face. "Don't look at me," Papa said. "It was DiNozzo and Bishop who got you those things. I just put them in your box for you."

Tim looked between them, before flinging himself at Tony for a hug and doing the same for Bishop. "Thank you!" he exclaimed.

"It's not a problem, kid," Tony said. "If anything, it helps us get to know you a little better."

Tim grinned and sat down in front of the crate, taking a closer look at everything. There were rainbow cups all stacked together, as well as two racecars and a black sedan in the same style as the ambulance and the Gibbsmobile. There were also some bigger trucks that were still hard plastic, but were all rounded. Perfect for when he was feeling smaller. "Hey, Tim," Papa said.

Turning to him, Tim hummed his acknowledgement.

"Fingers out of your mouth, please," Papa requested.

Tim frowned when he realized he was sucking on his fingers again and removed them, wiping them on his pants. "Papa?" he asked.

"Yeah, kid?" Papa asked.

"I think I need a...uh...a change," Tim mumbled, red in the face.

"Oh," Papa said, standing up. "Yeah, you've been playing all morning, good catch. Come on, upstairs, it'll take us all of five minutes."

Tim nodded, getting up and following him out of the room. Papa said something to the others but Tim wasn't really paying attention. Papa kept a hand on the small of Tim's back and he kept catching his fingers just inches from his mouth. He really just wanted to be small enough to not think, to not have to worry about anything. He knew Papa would take care of him, but he didn't want the others to think he was weird.

Papa changed him and gently pulled Tim's fingers from his mouth when he was done. "Sweetheart, you're going to ruin your teeth. You really shouldn't be sucking on your fingers."

Tim whined. That was the one thing he could indulge in to let him feel smaller, and Papa wasn't letting him use it.

Papa sighed. "Tim, I know you prefer your fingers, but the necklace I got for you is designed for your teeth, so they don't get hurt."

Tim didn't know how to explain his side, so he just whined again.

"Tim, use your words," Papa said patiently.

"I don't know how to say it," Tim said, continuing to whine.

Papa crossed his arms. "Yeah, but whining won't help any, now will it?"

Tim's eyes clouded with tears and he hugged his stomach. Why was being big so hard? Usually he'd be able to explain this fine. "Wanna be smaller," he said.

"Okay," Papa said. "You know I don't mind that. What's stopping you?"

"Others," Tim said, pointing in the vague direction of where he thought the living room was. "Don't wanna look weird."

Papa rolled his eyes, but Tim didn't feel like he was being mocked. "Kid, no one realized you did this for years. No one knows what's 'normal' for you when you're like this. Tony doesn't, Bishop doesn't, Ducky doesn't. I don't even know what's normal for you. I just know that most of the time you're like a toddler. I guarantee you that if you need to be smaller, you won't look any weirder than normal. And you don't look weird normally."

Tim blinked, and a few tears fell. He wanted to believe Papa, he really did, but he wasn't sure he could.

"Hey," Papa said softly, brushing away his tears. "You'll be fine, kid. Do you wanna go back downstairs?"

Tim nodded but made no effort to move.

"Still nervous?" Papa asked.

Tim nodded again.

"Well, I'll let you in on a secret that all the adults know," Papa said. "Tony and Bishop wouldn't have gotten you those toys for younger kids if they weren't okay with you being that small."

Tim looked at Papa in shock. "You should've said that in the first place!" he exclaimed.

Papa laughed. "I thought you knew, baby boy."

Tim shook his head, starting to suck on his fingers again.

Papa pulled them out of his mouth, and looked around the room, grabbing the chew necklace off the nightstand and putting it around Tim's neck. Tim immediately put it in his mouth and started sucking on it, mind growing fuzzier as he let himself slip farther. Papa slowly led him out of the room and back downstairs. "Someone needed his necklace," Papa said. "Wouldn't stop sucking on his fingers."

Tony and Bishop chuckled, and Ducky just smiled, but again, Tim didn't feel mocked, oddly enough. He sat down on the floor again and grabbed Rex, hugging him. Bishop joined him and Tony on the floor and gently asked, "Do you want to play a game, Tim?"

Tim shrugged.

"Ooh, his brain fog looks like it's taking over," Tony said. "Probably won't get much out of him right now, Bishop."

Bishop shrugged. "That's fine. Uh...during the brain fog stuff, he still knows who we are, right?"

"Yeah, I think," Tony said. "This seems stronger than I've seen it but he usually remembers us, so I would think so."

Tim spat out his necklace and pointed at Tony, saying his name. His mouth felt a little uncoordinated, making the 'o' sound dragged out, making it sound more like "Toooony," rather than just "Tony". He then pointed to Bishop and didn't even bother trying to say her last name, settling for "Ell-ee." He pointed at Ducky, struggling a little bit but managing to sound like "Duh-key." Then he pointed to Papa and said, "Papa," without a hitch.

"Well, I think we know who his favorite is," Tony joked, ruffling Tim's hair. "Nice job, kid."

Tim giggled a little, feeling his hair where Tony had ruffled it. His skull felt tingly.

Bishop reached in Tim's crate and pulled out the cups. "Think you could say the colors of the cups, Tim? I like hearing your voice."

Tim nodded, pulling the cups out and staring at them intently. He picked up the biggest one and declared, "Red." He grabbed the next biggest one and knew it was orange, but that was a complicated word, so he said, "Uh-enje," and hoped that got his point across. The smallest one was purple, the next smallest blue, the next smallest after that green, which left one cup, with the one color he dreaded. He could never say it right. He picked it up, frowning in concentration, but the 'y' was so hard to figure out, and he didn't want to have to worry about it. "Lellow," he said, going red when he realized he missed the y sound again.

Bishop 'aww'ed, Tony laughed, and Tim turned redder, hiding behind Rex. "Aw come on, Tim, that's cute!" Bishop said. "And yellow's a hard word."

"Hate lellow," Tim muttered darkly.

Tony's laughter died down and he said, "Kid, that has to be the best substitute for the word 'yellow' I've ever heard. And I've been around a lot of kids who struggle with l's and y's."

Tim sighed and played with the cups, spinning them on their sides. "Anything else you want to say?" Bishop asked.

"Uh-uh," Tim said.

Bishop thought about that for a minute before Tony nudged her. "I think Probie's had enough talking, Probette. If he's struggling with his syllables, he's clearly smaller than we've seen him before."

"Fair point," Bishop said. "What should we do, though?"

Tony got a wicked grin on his face and Tim only had a second to react before Tony's hands attacked his sock-covered free foot. Tim broke out in laughter, squealing and trying to get away. "No!" he exclaimed, kicking, and thankfully Tony stopped.

"You okay, kid?" Tony asked.

Tim sat forward, humming in thought. Eventually he nodded, and said, "No touch, 'lease?"

"Okay, sorry," Tony said. "Most kids I know have some fun with that, but then again you're not most kids."

Tim sucked on Rex's right ear, as Papa started up a conversation that washed right over him. He heard the words "Abby" and "need to be slow" as well as "keep an eye out" but the majority of what was being said was lost on him.

Ducky stood from the couch and walked over to Tim, tapping him on the shoulder. "Would you like anything to eat, Timothy? I believe I have a sweet or two in my coat pocket," he murmured.

Tim shook his head. "No, 'ank you."

"All right," Ducky said, squeezing Tim's shoulder. "Let me know if you change your mind."

Tim nodded and continued to half-listen to the conversation, which sounded like work at this point, as he brought out one of his new bigger trucks and rolled it around. He mumbled a bit of narration at first, before growing a little more confident in the fact that no one was listening, mostly babbling without much meaning to the syllables, just trying to keep his r's different from w's, and y's different from l's, which wasn't easy.

The conversation above his head came a bit more into focus. "So this is new to you, too?" Bishop asked.

"Yeah, he's never been this young that I've noticed," Papa said. "But then again, he hasn't been talking for long."

Tony sighed. "Does this worry anyone else?"

He got murmured agreement. "He'll be fine, though," Papa said. "He's tougher than he thinks."

"You really think he'll come back from this?" Bishop asked skeptically.

"I do," Papa said. "I don't know when, but I have full confidence in him. We just have to let him get back to himself in his own time. But you can't tell me it won't happen."

"Well we could, but you'd probably headslap us," Tony joked.

Bishop laughed. Tim just continued to play. He figured he'd be big eventually, but that was the last thing he wanted right now. He'd do it when he was ready, not a minute before.

Chapter Text

While Gibbs would be hard pressed to say that Tim's babbling wasn't cute, he wasn't going to lie and say it didn't worry him a little. He wasn't sure if this was Tim getting worse by retreating further into himself, or getting better by listening to his needs and following accordingly. It had been a week since they had found him, five days since he had first gotten to Gibbs' place. It felt so slow the first few days when Tim wasn't talking, then when he had started to talk it went simultaneously much faster and slower. Figuring out what Gibbs needed to do to take care of him was a work in progress, but he liked to think he was starting to understand what was going on for the most part now. Tim needed no loud noises, no sudden movements, freedom to move around and do what he wanted (to an extent), and constant reassurance that he was safe, that the worst of it was over.

But was the worst of it really over? Sure, they had found him and Tim appeared to be safe, but he had been psychologically damaged enough that he was in a state of constant regression. How could the worst possibly be over if Tim was stuck like this?

Ducky was giving him sideways looks ever since he had returned to the couch and Gibbs glanced over, arching an eyebrow. "We all know you're worried about him, Jethro, you don't have to pretend you're not," Ducky said by way of explanation.

"Well, if you all know then I'm going to keep pretending everything is fine, because the last thing Tim needs is someone panicking over him," Gibbs responded.

Tim's playing slowed to a stop and he looked up and over to Gibbs in question.

"Just talking about what we might do later, sweetheart," Gibbs half-lied. "You don't have to worry."

Tim sat up, rubbed at his eyes and said, "What're we doin'?"

"That's what we were trying to figure out, dear boy," Ducky said, jumping in for Gibbs' rescue. "When we have a few options we can ask you your opinion, does that work?"

Tim nodded and thankfully returned to playing. Gibbs sighed and leaned back into the couch. "Thanks, Duck," he said.

"It's no problem, Jethro. I understand how important it is to ensure he's calm, but I do believe you shouldn't lie to him, or anyone else, about how you're feeling," Ducky said. "And, since there are things you can't voice around him that you might be worried about, know that we are always here for the both of you."

Tony murmured his agreement, and Bishop smiled softly at Gibbs. Gibbs sighed. What he did to deserve these wonderful people, he didn't know.

Tim gasped suddenly and sat up, and Gibbs was immediately on alert. "Tim? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said. "I just remembered something!"

"Yeah?" Gibbs asked, heart still hammering in his chest. "What did you remember?"

Tim shook his head, standing up and saying, "It's a surprise! I gotta go get it!"

Gibbs watched him leave the room and go upstairs, and shook his head. "I don't get him half the time. Probably more than half, actually."

Tony laughed. "We know, Boss."

"Sometimes I'm just as lost, if it's any consolation," Bishop said. "This being one of those times."

Tim came back down the stairs, hands behind his back. He was grinning from ear to ear. Gibbs looked at him expectantly. "What's behind your back?"

"I made this years ago for you," Tim said, instead of answering Gibbs' question. "I made one for everyone, but never got to give them to you guys until now."

"What is it?" Gibbs asked.

Tim removed his hands from behind his back, revealing a boat made from polymer clay. "Woah," was all Gibbs could manage as Tim handed it over. For being two inches tall and made from clay, it was incredibly detailed. There were sails, and little grooves where individual wooden planks would be. "That's amazing, Tim. You made this?"

"Mhm!" Tim nodded proudly. "I spent an entire long weekend making these! An' I made one for everyone on the team! I just couldn't give them to you guys right away 'cause you might've asked why I did it, and I woulda had to explain that I do this kinda stuff when small."

Gibbs grinned. "Well, I love it," he said.

"You made one for everyone?" Tony asked.

Tim turned to him and nodded. "D'you wanna see yours?"

"Yeah, if you're willing to show it!" Tony said.

Tim grinned and left the room again. Ducky glanced knowingly at Gibbs. "He scared you, didn't he?"

"For a minute," Gibbs said. "I was worried he might have gotten a random flashback."

"Let's be glad that wasn't the case," Ducky said, as Tim came back down, hands cradling more small clay objects.

He put them on the table and Gibbs could see that one of them was a clapperboard, another a bishop from chess, and a third being a duck reading a book. "I think I can guess who each of these is for," Gibbs said lightly.

Tim grinned and handed the clapperboard to Tony. "This one's yours!"

Tony just smiled broadly. "I love it!"

Bishop picked up the chess piece. "Is this mine?"

Tim nodded. "I know you like board games, an' with your last name and all..."

Bishop laughed. "Yeah, it's fitting. I love it, Tim."

Tim pushed the last one over to Ducky. "An' this one's yours..." he said shyly.

Ducky picked it up, examining it closely. "My dear boy, I couldn't love it more."

Tim put his hands to his mouth, but couldn't cover his smile. "Really?" he asked, looking around. "You all love them?"

A chorus of "of course" filled the room and Tim laughed. "No one's ever said that to me before!"

"Well you better get used to it, kid, because you have some real talent," Gibbs said.

Tim looked a little overwhelmed, but also incredibly happy, so Gibbs didn't stop Tony or Bishop from continuing that train of thought with him. Ducky turned to Gibbs and said softly, "I do believe that it is about time for lunch. I don't wish to intrude, so I may just quietly take my leave."

"You don't have to if you don't want to, Duck, but I won't stop you," Gibbs said.

Ducky nodded. "I do believe Mr. Palmer intends on coming over. If he becomes too much for Timothy give me a call and I can talk to him if you wish."

"Aw, I doubt he'll do anything, Duck, but I'll let you know if anything comes up," Gibbs said.

Ducky nodded and quietly stood, heading to the door. Tim was fully absorbed in his own little world with Bishop and Tony, leaving Gibbs time to just watch them. Tony was doing most of the talking, with Bishop interjecting every once in a while, letting Tim just sit and listen, which he did with rapt attention. "--And you know, kid, the more you love something, the more magic it has. Have you never read The Velveteen Rabbit? Stuffed bunny becomes real because the boy loved him so much?" Tony asked.

"I loved that book as a kid," Bishop said.

Tim just shook his head. "Never read it."

"Your childhood must have been really sad, McGoo, because everyone I know read that book except for you," Tony said.

Tim laughed, but Gibbs could hear the strain in it. "I guess," he said. "But second time's the charm, right?"

That got genuine laughs from both Tony and Bishop. Gibbs stood and decided to make lunch. "Anyone hungry?" he asked.

Bishop looked up and nodded. "Yeah. There's probably some leftover pizza in the fridge, provided no one had it for breakfast."

Gibbs hummed his acknowledgment and went to the kitchen. Sure enough, there was enough pizza left over for everyone to have a slice. If they wanted anything else, well, Gibbs was sure there was something else around that could function as a snack. He stuck the pizza in the oven and turned the oven on, listening to the chatter in the living room all the while.

"You're pretty patient, Tim. I would never be able to wait to watch movies after having a concussion," Tony said.

Tim just replied, "'S not hard when you have games to play."

"I guess Tony's at a disadvantage, here," Bishop said. "Because most of the ways he passes time involve a screen."

Tim laughed. "Maybe," he allowed.

"Maybe?" Tony asked.

"Yeah. 'Cause maybe you just haven't found the right way to have fun otherwise yet," Tim said.

Tony was quiet for a little while after that. Bishop took over the conversation, debating what the best board game was with Tim, and the pizza was just about done reheating, so Gibbs got out plates and set everything up in the dining room before heading out to the living room and saying, "Lunch is ready."

Lunch went much the same way most of the morning went, lots of chatter and laughter between Tony, Bishop, and Tim. Gibbs mainly stayed out of the conversation, letting the other two keep Tim occupied. It wasn't that he didn't like taking care of Tim, but he valued this time to take a step back and think. Tim was finishing the crust of his pizza slice, meaning Gibbs would be needing to make sure Tim didn't get pizza sauce everywhere. He finished his own pizza quickly, before saying, "Tim, wash your hands when you're done, you're a mess."

Tim sighed but nodded. Tony glanced over at Gibbs. "He didn't make that much of a mess, Boss."

"Rule of thumb, DiNozzo: would you let him touch your phone with those hands, right now?"

Tony looked over Tim's hands and said, "...You may have a point."

Tim stuck his tongue out at Tony and Gibbs rolled his eyes as Tony stuck his own tongue out in retaliation. "Behave, boys," he warned.

Tony rolled his eyes at the reminder, and followed Tim to the kitchen as both of them finished their pizza. Bishop was already done, but didn't move to get up, looking over at Gibbs. "You know, a month ago I never would have guessed this is where I am now," she said.

"I know the feeling," Gibbs said, quirking an eyebrow up.

"Yeah, I know, the whole being a dad thing is a big shock, but...I don't know. Tim was like, one of my best friends, and it sort of feels like he's...gone, even though he's right here," she explained.

Gibbs sighed. "Yeah. I hope that eventually he does come back to himself, but until then, it does feel strange. Almost like The Twilight Zone."

Bishop nodded. "Exactly like that. When do you think he'll get better?"

"I don't know," Gibbs said. "This has been going on for almost a week now. Doesn't look like it's leaving any time soon. You're the former analyst, you have any guesses?"

Bishop pursed her lips. "Not really," she said. "There's not enough data to make a conclusive estimate. And I'm more of a numbers person than a psychology person in any case."

Despite himself, Gibbs felt his stomach sink. Somewhere in him, he had hoped Tim would recover from this quickly. He would do anything for his boy, of course, and that was a strange thought-his boy-but the fact remained; he wanted Tim to be healthy and happy, and this didn't feel healthy, even if he was mostly happy.

Tim came through the room quickly to go to the living room, and Bishop stood. "Guess that's our cue," she laughed.

"Guess so," Gibbs said, standing and picking up the plates. "Palmer is apparently coming over sometime today, keep an eye out."

Bishop nodded. "Will do, Gibbs. Do you need some help with the dishes?"

Gibbs smiled. "Sure, thanks," he said. He was glad the others were starting to anticipate Tim's needs, and were willing to help himself as well. It made his life that much easier.

Chapter Text

When the doorbell rang after lunch, Tim's stomach did a flip. He really hoped Abby wasn't back, but he also hoped that whoever was there was someone he knew and was on good terms with rather than a stranger. Which basically left Ducky as the only person he was hoping for, and Ducky had been there earlier that morning. All in all, then, he was pretty surprised to have Palmer walk through the door after ringing the bell, and calling, "Anybody home?"

"In the living room, Autopsy Gremlin," Tony replied.

Tim looked Palmer up and down. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and all around looked for the most part like a suburban dad on his day off. Which, he supposed, considering Victoria, wasn't all that far-off a description. "Hey, Tim," Palmer said quietly, walking over. "You feeling okay?"

"Yeah," Tim said, feeling a bit uncertain about how to continue what he was doing with Palmer there, but certain of the fact that he was, at least, okay.

"That's great," Palmer said, again in that soft voice, and Tim recognized it as the voice Palmer often used with kids and people he was worried about hurting. "What are you and Tony doing?"

Tim looked back at where they were sitting, Tim with the Gibbsmobile and Tony with the black sedan, and tried to piece together the story they were making. "Playing with cars," he eventually informed Palmer. "Papa's going after some bad guys in the black spy car."

"Sounds fun!" Palmer said, voice growing a little stronger, a little surer as Tim felt more relaxed. "Is it okay if I join, or is it a game just for you two?"

"I wanted Ellie to play, but she's helping Papa with the dishes," Tim said, wrinkling his nose. "If you wanna join you could be the ambulance, or the racecar!"

Palmer nodded and picked up the ambulance from the floor and sat down. Tony looked over at him. "You're surprisingly calm with the way Tim's acting, Palmer."

"Oh, Doctor Mallard explained what was going on to me over the phone during lunch," Palmer said. "This isn't the first case of regression I've dealt with, either. Though Tim beats the record for youngest, I think."

Tim blushed and ducked his head. Palmer put a hand on his shoulder, lightly. "Hey, that's not a bad, thing, Tim. Just means you're really comfortable like this, and that's kinda cool."

"Really?" Tim asked uncertainly. "Everyone else thought it was weird at first."

"It's not how I cope but I'm not one to judge," Palmer said with a smile. "So don't worry, all right? Nothing wrong with it."

Tim offered him a shy smile and pointed to the ambulance. "So you wanna join the chase or should we start a new game?"

"Whichever you want to do is fine by me," Palmer said.

"Um..." Tim said, thinking it over. While having Palmer join in the chase might be confusing, it would definitely be fun. But did he really want to have to explain the whole backstory he made up again? "I dunno."

"Well, if you don't know, we could always do something entirely different," Palmer said, voice going soft again.

Tim realized he was sucking on his fingers, which probably prompted Palmer to talk softly, but he didn't remove the digits from his mouth.

"What are you suggesting?" Tony asked.

"Well, Tim looks pretty tired," Palmer said. "So probably something low-key. But we could always make up a story and act it out, that never fails to amuse Victoria."

"What would the story be about?" Tim asked, intrigued.

"Anything you want it to be about," Palmer said. "It's kinda like drawing, you know?"

"All those choices are overwhelming," Tim mumbled.

"Maybe, but they don't have to be," Palmer said, picking up Emma. "Okay, let's take your bear, for example. What's her name?"

"Emma," Tim said, eyeing the way Palmer was holding her to make sure she wouldn't be taken away from him.

"That's a nice name," Palmer said. "Maybe Emma could be the hero of the story. She could battle pirates, or become the first bear astronaut!

Tim's eyes lit up. "Or she could fight space pirates!" he said excitedly. "I made a story about that once! It had dragons and pirates and spaceships and everything! The dragons were aliens, that lived in a different solar system! They flew around moons when they were adults, and the kids grew up all over the planets, and humans came to the solar system and the two had to get to know each other! I loved that story."

"Tell me more about it, it sounds amazing!" Palmer encouraged.

"Really?" Tim asked. "No one ever wants to hear about my stories!"

"I do," Palmer said. "It sounds really cool!"

"You sure?" Tim asked, faltering. "No one liked my stories when big...I'm just not good at names, and everyone hated them, and I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but I hurt everyone anyway..."

"Hey, hey, hey," Palmer soothed. "That's different. That's stuff that anyone could see and draw false conclusions from. This is private, just in between these walls. No one's gonna mind you using variations of our names in private stories. It's when it's published that it can hurt."

Tim's brows furrowed. He knew on some level that made sense, but it was a far higher level of processing than he could deal with right now. "I dunno..." he said. "What if...what if you guys come up with names so no one has to get mad, and I can help with the actual story?"

"Compromise! I like compromise!" Palmer praised. "Okay. So, I can help with the names. Tony, what do you want to do?"

"I want to be the bad guy," Tony said, wicked grin growing across his face.

"What are you guys doing?" Bishop asked, walking over.

Tim brightened. "Ellie!" he exclaimed. "Tony and Jimmy and I are making a story!"

"Ooh, sounds fun!" Bishop said. "Can I join?"

"Yeah!" Tim exclaimed. "What do you wanna do? Jimmy is helping with the names, and Tony's the bad guy, and I'm the narrator!"

"Ooh, could I be the hero?" Bishop asked, sitting down. "If Emma is the hero, I could play her part."

"Yes!" Tim exclaimed. "That's perfect!"

"I like the enthusiasm," Palmer said, passing Emma over to Bishop and picking up Rex. "Who's this?"

"That's Rex," Tim said. "He could be the bad guy, but only if he becomes good in the end, because he's a good dog through-and-through."

Palmer nodded. "Well, you're the narrator so you can do that, definitely," he said.

Tim grinned. He couldn't believe that he was going to make a story that was gonna be acted out like a play or a movie! That hadn't happened before, not even with his bestsellers!

They started the story, Tim and Palmer doing most of the storytelling while Bishop and Tony had Emma and Rex act out what was going on. It was just before the big dramatic fight scene that would decide who got to keep the pirate gold from the dragons' spaceship, that Papa came over and asked, "This looks interesting. Mind filling me in?"

"Emma and Rex are space pirates, and they found a bunch of dragon gold, but they're fighting over who gets to keep what! Rex wants it all for himself, while Emma wants to split it in half," Tim explained. "I came up with the story!"

Papa looked amused and turned to Palmer. "Good job keeping him entertained."

"Oh, it's...it's not a problem, Agent Gibbs," Palmer managed. "I do this all the time with Victoria."

"Still, he's not an easy kid to please. You're doing good," Papa said.

"Can we finish the story now?" Tim asked, his entire body taught with pent-up energy.

Palmer laughed. "What do you think, Agent Gibbs? Can any other adult conversation wait about fifteen minutes?"

Papa nodded. Tim finished narrating the story, making the most of the big important fight scene, ending with Rex realizing he was wrong and he and Emma hugging it out. When the story was over, Tony made Rex bow and Tim laughed, starting to suck on his fingers again. Papa cleared his throat and Tim took his fingers out of his mouth, putting in the chew necklace instead. "That looks cool," Palmer said.

Tim nodded, sucking on the end not attached to the string of the necklace.

"It's a good substitute for fingers or a pacifier. Did you find it online?"

Tim just pointed to Papa. Papa cleared his throat. "I heard of a store in the local mall once that sold...fidget things. Figured they might have something for oral fixations," he explained.

"I might recommend it to one of my friends who also regresses," Palmer said. "He could certainly use something to chew other than pen caps."

Tim laughed and Papa sent him a look. "Maybe I should have you take that necklace back to work with you when you're better. You chew a lot of pen caps too."

Shrugging, Tim reached over for Rex from where Tony had put him on the ground, and gave him a hug. He didn't really feel one way or the other about that right now. After all, everyone at work now knew about this. It was just a matter of whether his own dignity could take that or not. He leaned back and yawned, covering his mouth with the hand in a cast.

Palmer's eyes lit up. "Oh, that's a cool cast! Can I sign it?"

Tim blinked slowly at Palmer. "People...really do that? I thought that was just for movies."

"Of course people actually sign casts! Do you have any Sharpies?"

"I'll see if I can find one," Papa said, moving to the kitchen.

Tim put his hands in his lap and he kept them there for the duration of Papa's search. Jimmy didn't push him to do anything or say anything, a fact for which he was thankful. He was tired from this much interaction, and he was looking forward to some alone time with Papa. It was mid-afternoon, probably. It seemed surreal that it hadn't even been a week since he had come back to Papa's place. But to be fair, it hadn't seemed like only a day when he went dark, so maybe he was just really bad at keeping time like this.

Papa returned with a Sharpie, passing it to Palmer, who took the cap off and took Tim's offered hand. "Any place you'd like me to sign in particular?" he asked.

"Mm-mm," Tim grunted, keeping his free hand pressed against his mouth. Logically, he knew Palmer wouldn't hurt him. But knowing and feeling, as they often were nowadays, stayed separate entities.

Palmer carefully signed Jimmy just above Tim's wrist, almost where the plaster ended and reached his fingers. Tim wiggled his fingers and smiled a little. He had his first signature on his cast, that was cool!

"Hey, can I sign it too?" Tony asked, taking the pen from Palmer.

"And me?" Bishop asked.

Tim shyly nodded and offered his wrist out. The two eagerly debated where they should sign, because the significance of where they did it seemed important to them. Tim just grinned as they debated. Oddly enough, he felt...at ease. All these people around him weren't judging him, and only wanted to protect him or take care of him. It was strange, but it certainly wasn't unwelcome. And while some part of him was wondering why he never got this feeling when he was first a child, he wasn't listening to it. Because he had it now, and that was what mattered to him. That's why he was doing this; to feel safe, and secure, and cared for while he made sense of things he needed to make sense of.

He worried that he might never find it in him to "age up" as it were...but it had only been a week, after all, since those horrible things had happened. Barely a week! This would take more than a week to process. How much time exactly, he wasn't sure. And he doubted he could get a solid answer. But he knew that his family would be waiting for him when he was ready.

Chapter Text

That Saturday was nice, all in all. But of course, the visiting had to come to an end. None of them could make promises to come over the next day, but that was all right. Tim could use the time off, in all honesty. He was content that night to let Papa read him a story before bed, and he fell asleep easily, all things considered.

He woke up in the middle of the night, again, with another nightmare. This time Jerry came to NCIS with a semi-automatic and started shooting up the place, causing all of his friends and Papa to die. That one caused him to shake quite a bit. He debated whether or not he should go to Papa. On one hand, it would certainly help him to know that one of the supposed victims was alive, meaning that the others would be too. On the other hand, he had been bothering Papa every night. Did he really want to make a habit of that?

A dog howled somewhere in the neighborhood and Tim's mind was made up. Yes, he would make that a habit if he had to, he wasn't going to just sit in his bed scared senseless all night.

He put on his boot and headed to Papa's room, to find him suspiciously absent. Fear clutched at his heart. Was Papa actually dead? Was his dream more than a dream? Turning away from Papa's room, Tim made his way down the stairs. Depending on how late it was, Papa might just be watching TV downstairs. But Papa wasn't in the living room either.

Tim's heart was starting to hammer when he heard the scraping of wood coming from below him. Papa must be in the basement.

He hesitated before moving to the basement door, though. Didn't Papa always say something about keeping shoes on if someone intended on going down there? He went to the front door, slipped a shoe on his boot-free foot, tucking the laces in the sides, before making his way onto the basement steps.

Papa looked at him when he opened the door, but didn't say anything. Tim just showed Papa the shoe covering his free foot, and Papa nodded. Sighing, Tim walked down the stairs until he was sitting about halfway down, and he could watch Papa work if he leaned back so his arms were resting on the stair above him. Neither of them said anything for a little while. A lot of the time, Tim remembered, that was just the way it was when Papa was working in the basement. Eventually, though, Tim felt the need to say something. Words were bubbling up in his chest, and he wasn't sure how he could make sense of them. "I had a nightmare again," he said softly.

"Figured," Papa grunted, never looking up from the boat hull he was working on.

"One of the guys...J-J-Jerry," he hated how he stumbled to even say the name that struck such fear in his heart, "Came to work. With a gun. And he shot everyone 'cept me. I had to watch you all die."

Papa paused in his work, turned to look at Tim. "Must have been a scary dream."

Tim laughed. "Understatement," he managed to choke out. He felt like he was straddling the line between small and...not big, but something resembling it. Something that made him inclined to call Papa "Boss" but still ask for the care he needed if he slipped, rather than just handling it on his own. Maybe that was his "new" big. He didn't know. All he did know was that he was getting a headache pondering it.

"Hey, Tim," Papa said, coming closer to him. "You feeling okay? Other than the nightmare."

Tim shook his head. "Head hurts," he admitted. "And everything is just...big, and confusing, and I...I dunno what to do..."

Papa cupped Tim's face in his hands and knelt on the steps. "That's okay. It just means you're not ready to be your adult self yet. And that's not anything anyone here will fault you for."

"You sure?" Tim asked.

Papa sighed. "It makes me sad to know you constantly have to ask that. But yes, I'm sure. No one will be mad at you for needing to do this. Had I known before..." Papa shook his head. "I may have tried to help in whatever way I could."

That was something Tim felt like he couldn't properly comprehend. Papa wouldn't have minded this even had the whole Incident not happened? That just seemed...like such a foreign concept. Before all this, Papa was coarse, abrasive. He wanted results, and rarely thought about the lengths they might go to in order to get them. The fact that he wouldn't mind Tim needing to step away from life every once in a while...was that even possible? His eyes started to fill with tears.

"Hey, it's okay," Papa said softly. "It's all going to be okay."

Was it, though? Papa never acted like this around him before the Incident. If it got this drastic a response from both of them, how fine could it ever possibly be? He shook his head to the best of his ability while his face was still being held.

"Of course it's going to be okay," Papa said, voice a little sterner, and Tim felt just a bit of hope at that glimmer of Papa before everything started to go wrong. "The fact that you're holding up at all after this is amazing. You're speaking, you're laughing, you're letting yourself live in the moment, that's something to be proud of."

"Only live in the moment 'cause if I don't my mind takes me backwards," Tim said rubbing at his eyes.

"But you still recognize that," Papa pointed out. "And you're trying to avoid it. You're stronger than you think, sweetheart."

Tim pouted and Papa chuckled. "You know, for just being told you're strong, you certainly look a lot more like someone denied you a scoop of ice cream after dinner."

That may have been a little funny, but Tim wasn't giving Papa the satisfaction of him laughing. He wasn't strong. He wasn't a victim, for sure, but he didn't feel like a survivor. Being strong meant surviving, didn't it? Putting the broken pieces back together. He was still broken, possibly beyond repair.

Papa tickled him under the chin and he giggled before pushing Papa's hand away with a scowl. "No," he said.

"Okay, that's fair," Papa said. "But since you're up, and since I'm up, we may as well do something besides sit here and stare at each other."

Tim sighed through his nose. "Tired, Papa."

"But you can't sleep yet, is that it?" Papa asked.

Tim nodded.

"Ah, I see the problem," Papa said. "Come on, up. Maybe helping me can wear you out a little more."

"Don' wanna mess you up," Tim said hesitantly, following Papa over to the boat all the same.

"You can't mess me up if you follow directions," Papa said. He picked up a block covered in sandpaper and passed it to Tim. "The trick here, is to go with the grain to smooth it out. Got it?"

Tim nodded, and moved the sandpaper experimentally across the wood, surprised when he got very little resistance. He looked over to Papa and Papa just gestured for him to continue. Tim did, and Papa came up next to him with his own block of sandpaper, working on the part of the boat directly to his right. "Your eyes are clearer," Papa said.

"Hm?" Tim asked, glancing over.

"Your eyes glaze over more the smaller you feel. Your eyes are pretty clear right now. Not perfectly clear, but clearer, at least."

"Oh," Tim said. He wasn't really sure how he was supposed to respond to that. It was kinda cool, but at the same time, Papa taking notice of it and keeping track of how small he was feeling made Tim feel like Papa was just waiting for him to age up again. Like he wouldn't mind Tim doing this again, but he wanted the adult Tim back sooner rather than later. "Sorry they can't be all clear," he mumbled.

"Hey," Papa said, reaching over and squeezing Tim's shoulder. "I don't need them to be clear all the time, or even at all, to care about you, okay?"

"You want me to be big," Tim said.

"Yes," Papa admitted. "Seeing you like this scared me, Tim. Sometimes it still does. But it's what you need to feel better about all this. So I won't stop you from doing it. I wouldn't stop you even if it could make you big in an instant again. Because this is something important to you, and it helps you cope, and believe it or not, it helps me, too. It lets me sit back and not worry about work, though admittedly not in the same way it works for you. And..."

"And?" Tim prompted.

"And I can be a dad again," Papa said quietly. "I never thought I would get that chance. But here we are. And it's selfish of me to think that, but...it's true. And it makes me feel happy to know that I have a second chance."

Tim looked down and away. "This is selfish of me too," he mumbled. "I make you care for me, without even asking first, and I just focus on me and what I want, and no one else. It's the most selfish thing I could do."

Papa chuckled. "Well, then how about we be selfish together, hm? Because that's better than being selfish alone."

Tim yawned and he rubbed his eyes. "Papa, wanna sleep."

"Yeah? It's past one, I'm not surprised."

"Why didn' you send me back to bed soon as I was down here, then?" Tim asked.

"You were rattled, I could use the company, and it was only past midnight, it wasn't one-thirty," Papa answered simply. "But now it is one-thirty, so how about we go to bed together?"

Tim nodded.

Papa lead him back up the stairs, where Tim took off his shoe at the front door, and then up more steps back to his bedroom. Tim sat down on the edge of his bed but made no move to lay down. Papa helped him with his boot before sitting next to Tim. "Are you going to be okay?" he asked softly.

"I...I don't know," Tim said softly, looking over to Papa. "I just...I don't know."

Papa hummed. "I think you'll be okay eventually, but I know that eventually isn't tonight."

Tim nodded, hugging his midsection. His mind was starting to go over memories he didn't even want to think about, and he was feeling nauseous. His eyes got hot and he looked away, hoping Papa wouldn't see. He didn't want empty comfort, he wanted to be better. He wanted this to never have happened.

Papa noticed anyway, Tim could tell by the way Papa was holding him close so that he could cuddle if he needed to. "Tomorrow..." Tim's voice broke, and he cleared it. "Tomorrow I wanna talk about what happened."

"We can do that," Papa said softly. "We can do that."

Tim rested his head on Papa's shoulder. "I don't know if I can go back to sleep, Papa. There's too many nightmares."

"You can sleep," Papa said with certainty. "You're strong, sweetheart, as keen as you are to forget that. Just remember when things get overwhelming, that I'm here for you. Okay?"

Tim nodded reluctantly. He really didn't want to sleep, even if he knew he had to. He just hoped he wouldn't wake up with another nightmare. He hated the nightmares, almost more than the actual event. At least the Incident had ended. The nightmares continued long after bad times left.

Papa helped Tim back into bed and he sat on the edge, kissing Tim's temple. "Rest well, sweetheart. I'm right down the hall if you need me."

Chapter Text

Gibbs woke up that morning with a pit of dread in his stomach. He remembered Tim's late-night declaration, and while he wanted to know what had happened to his agent and how he felt about it, he wasn't sure if Tim was ready to go over it. He didn't want to push Tim into anything he wasn't ready for, out of fear of regressing him more, or for longer.

But there was shuffling in Tim's room, meaning the kid was awake and Gibbs couldn't stall, so he stood and went to face the music.

When he walked over to Tim's room, he was surprised to find the boy already playing with Emma quietly in his room. "Hey sweetheart," Gibbs said, falling back on the most neutral nickname he could think of. "How long have you been up?"

Tim looked up from where he was on the floor, looking uncannily like when he had been focused on something at work when Gibbs had interrupted him. "Dunno," he admitted. "Just've been playing with Emma."

"You could've woken me up, kid," Gibbs said. "Should've. I'd have made breakfast for you."

"Oh," Tim said, looking down at his bear before looking back at Gibbs. "I just thought Papa needed his sleep. We were both up late."

Gibbs smiled softly. That was cute, even if Gibbs would have preferred Tim waking him up in case of an emergency. "Well, I'm up now. Anything you want for breakfast?"

Tim thought about it a moment before shaking his head. "Mm-mm."

Gibbs considered what they had by way of food downstairs and said, "Bagels it is, then."

The two made their way downstairs together, and Gibbs cut the bagels with a knife as soon as they were in the kitchen. Tim just watched him silently. As Gibbs stuck the bagels in the toaster, Tim mumbled, "It kinda hurt to lay down in the hospital."

"Why's that?" Gibbs asked. "They'd given you painkillers and your wrist was in a cast."

"It didn't hurt in those places," Tim said, looking away from Gibbs. "It hurt...below. Where...where the man..."

Gibbs winced in sympathy. "Where he hurt you?" he filled in.

Tim nodded. "My back hurt a little too, but for the most part I didn't focus on it. Didn't want to. Still don't, even if I sometimes hurt. I have to, though."

"Not if you're not ready, you don't," Gibbs assured. "I'll never make you if you're not ready."

"If not now, I might never do it," Tim said, taking a deep breath and physically tensing up. Bracing himself. "I need to say it."

Gibbs nodded. He took out the bagels and put some butter on both of them. "We can talk about it over breakfast?"

Tim looked like eating was the last thing he wanted to do, but he nodded and took a plate for his bagel anyway. They both got settled in the dining room and Gibbs started to eat as Tim picked at his own food. "Hiding was scary," he said. "When I got away for that little bit, and hid downstairs, it felt like my heart was going to burst. I couldn't say anything without them finding me, and I didn't know how to leave."

"Sounds like it was really scary," Gibbs said.

"I still remember how it smelled," Tim said, wrinkling his nose. "It smelled like rotting wood, 'cause a lot of the crates they had were really old. And one of the guys liked to smoke. I was worried that if I coughed, they'd find me. But when I tried to leave, they found me anyway."

Gibbs could feel his appetite leaving, but Tim was starting to eat, so Gibbs continued chewing, trying to set a good example.

"And then when they handcuffed me..." Tim frowned. "Things start to get a little blurry, and if I focus on them for too long, they start to feel realer than now does."

"You get caught in a flashback, yeah," Gibbs said softly. "I know how that feels."

Tim looked up, frowning. "You do?"

Gibbs nodded. "I've had them before, too. They're not fun, are they?"

Tim shook his head, eating a couple bites before continuing. "The bits and pieces I do remember are more...facts than any actual memories. If I do remember it's either before, or after the Incident. Otherwise it's a flashback."

"What do you actually remember?" Gibbs asked.

Tim went quiet in thought before saying, "I remember his smile afterward, and how it felt to have glass dig into my back. I remember I passed out four times, and the Incident was more like five incidents all piled together into one bigger, more scary Incident."

Gibbs slowly put down his bagel, unable to even pretend he had an appetite anymore. "And obviously you remembered the stuff you put in your statement."

Tim nodded. "Yeah, that too."

They sat in silence for a minute or two after that, Tim eating everything on his plate and Gibbs forcing himself to follow suit, though the bagel felt like he was now chewing at old socks and trying to swallow stones. As Gibbs stood to pick up the plates, Tim very softly asked, "Papa?"

Gibbs looked over at him, arching an eyebrow in question, and ignoring the way his stomach twisted at the use of such a title for him, a title he didn't deserve in the slightest.

"I...didn't deserve what happened to me...right?" Tim's eyes were wide, desperate for understanding, for reassurance Gibbs wasn't sure he was going to be able to adequately deliver.

Gibbs swallowed past the growing lump in his throat and shook his head. "You didn't deserve any of that. We never should have let you go in alone. None of this falls on you, kid."

Tim worried his lip before nodding. "Okay."

Gibbs was a little surprised. "Okay?" he asked.

Tim nodded again. "Yeah. I trust you, and if you say I didn't deserve this, then I'll take your word for it."

Gibbs felt his chest get tight at that. What did he do to get this boy who looked at him like he controlled the whole world? He certainly didn't deserve this, not after all he had done over the years. He smiled and picked up both their plates, carrying them to the kitchen. Deciding he could wash the plates later, he returned to the dining room to find Tim still sitting there. "Everything okay?" Gibbs asked.

Tim's eyes squinted as he stared at the table, and Gibbs felt a little anxiety grow at Tim's lack of response. He hoped the boy wasn't falling into a flashback because of breakfast's discussion. "Tim? Everything okay?"

Still, no response. Gibbs sat down in a chair next to him and gently placed a hand on Tim's arm. At that, Tim looked up. His eyes were glassy, and he looked like he needed a gentle hug more than anything else right now. His breath was shaky. "I don't like remembering," he said, voice trembling. "I don't, I don't."

"It's okay," Gibbs reassured. "You don't have to go over it now."

"Yes I do," Tim insisted. "If I can, maybe I can be big again, I could be better, I could...could..."

Gibbs hushed him. "You really don't have to go over it if you're not ready, Tim. I promise."

Tim sniffled. "Sometimes...I just wish they had actually killed me. 'Cause that would be better than this."

Gibbs sighed. "Don't think like that," he pleaded. "I promise you, the world is better with you living in it."

"For who?" Tim asked, looking at Gibbs.

"For everyone," Gibbs said. "For all the people who know you, and for the ones you're going to meet, the ones whose lives you've made a difference in, and the ones who you haven't met yet but who will make a huge difference in your life, and you in theirs. You have to believe me, baby boy. You being dead...that would break everyone on the team, and more than a few people not on it."

Tim shook his head, moving Gibbs' hand off his arm. "You'd move on. Eventually. You'd be sad for a while, but someone new would take my place on the team, and I wouldn't be stuck here with this stupid problem."

"Sweetheart," Gibbs begged. "Don't think like that. You have to believe--"

"I can't!" Tim snapped, tears starting to fall. "I can't believe that! I'd be better off dead than this dead weight I'm forcing you to carry around! You'd be better off looking for someone to replace me on the team than sitting around here and trying to get me better when it's never happening!"

"No, I wouldn't be," Gibbs said firmly, calmly. "I would be beyond furious at myself for letting you get killed. I wouldn't recover, I wouldn't 'move on'. I still think about Kate, and Ziva! I didn't 'move on' from them leaving! I think about everyone that we've lost, and how if I had thought one or two steps ahead, they might still be here! Do you really want to be added to that list, Tim? The list of people whose deaths I carry with me wherever I go? Because it's not a nice place to be, believe that!"

Tim was shaking, whether from anger or fear after being told off, Gibbs couldn't tell. "It would be better than this!" Tim reasserted. "It would be better than this Hell!"

Gibbs took a breath, forcing himself to keep calm, to just breathe through the anger he was feeling. Snapping at Tim would get nothing done. If it did anything at all, it would alienate Tim, just as he was beginning to trust again. "Tim," Gibbs said. "You may want to be dead, but you're not. And you're not going to be anytime soon. So I wouldn't focus on it."

The pout he got in response was slightly better than the yelling, but not by much. Gibbs rested an elbow on the table and propped his head up. "What can I do to convince you that being alive is better than being dead?"

"Nothing," Tim bit.

"You sure?" Gibbs asked. "Even going out somewhere fun wouldn't change your mind?"

Tim shook his head, but Gibbs could tell he had at least captured the boy's interest.

"Well, that's a shame. Here I was thinking we might be able to go somewhere fun, and you're convinced it won't be, so I guess we can't go," Gibbs said, shrugging and standing up.

Tim followed him with his eyes. Gibbs left the room and held his breath. If he heard a noise suggesting Tim was going to hurt himself, he'd have to run in and intervene, which he decidedly did not want to try. But he couldn't get this trick to work if Tim didn't play into it.

Just as Gibbs was convinced Tim wasn't going to come out and he went to the couch to get settled in for a day of relative quiet and sulking, the boy popped his head into the living room. "Where would we go?"

Gibbs turned to face him fully and shrugged. "Doesn't really matter, does it? Because you wouldn't find it fun."

Tim's face scrunched up in indignation and it took everything Gibbs had in him not to crack a smile at the expression. "You don't know that. Just 'cause I wanna die doesn't mean things can't be fun."

"They can't be fun enough to want to live, so what's the point?" Gibbs asked.

Tim narrowed his eyes, and Gibbs held his breath. If the boy caught on to his plan, then he'd be in for a day of extra sulking and moping around the house, which he definitely didn't want. "Okay, maybe some things could make me want to not die...just yet," Tim allowed. "Where would we go?"

Jackpot. "The National Zoo's open until seven every day during summer season. And it might be getting colder, but it's not even October yet, so we have the whole day to go if you want..." Gibbs offered.

Tim looked shocked for only a moment before he frowned in thought. "And...there'd be no bad guys there?"

"No bad guys," Gibbs confirmed. "And we could see any animals you wanted."

"Okay," Tim agreed. "I'll go get pants."

Chapter Text

Tim was honestly a little surprised Papa was taking him somewhere after he admitted to both of them that he wanted to die. Usually when something like that happened, he was shipped off to the hospital, pumped full of meds, and sent on his merry way after he promised to set up an appointment with a therapist. He'd go to one session, declare it done, and move on until he felt suicidal again, rinse, repeat.

So sitting in Papa's truck, sucking on the chew necklace and holding a sports bottle filled with ice water, with a diaper bag between him and Papa as they looked for a parking space, felt more than a little surreal. He glanced at Papa, who was keeping his eyes firmly fixed out the window. He shifted in his seat. Bit on his chew necklace a little harder, stopping the sucking motion. Papa sighed. "What's on your mind, kid?"

"You aren't sending me to the hospital," Tim said softly, letting his chew necklace fall onto his shirt.

"Do you want to be in the hospital?" Papa asked.

Tim shook his head.

"Are you about to kill yourself?" Papa pressed.

"No," Tim said softly.

"Then I think whatever you're dealing with can wait until Rachel visits us tomorrow," Papa said. "So long as you stay alive until then, baby boy, you'll be fine."

Tim looked at Papa like he had just lost his mind. "That's...that's not how it's worked before?"

Papa swerved into a parking spot and Tim yipped, reaching for the grab bar on instinct. "Let me guess how it worked before," Papa said. "You admitted to someone you were suicidal. They'd freak out, send you to the hospital. The hospital would give you meds, and a prescription when you left that you'd have no plans of filling, assign you a therapist you'd only see once, and keep you locked in a ward with nine or so other people where the food sucks."

Tim blinked, nodding once.

"See, Tim," Papa said, turning to face him now that they were parked, "I don't want you to do that anymore. If you need medication, I want you to take it. If you need a therapist, I want you to go to them. And I don't want to send you to the hospital for anywhere from three days to a week and only get to see you an hour a day. Especially when they won't understand what you're dealing with. The only way to get out of this pattern is to break it. So I'm breaking it. If Rachel says you need to go to the hospital, I'll take you. And make no mistake, this trip isn't a reward. But I'm trying to give you a reason to hold on, just long enough to get the help you need. Get it?"

"Not...really..." Tim admitted.

"I know, it's a lot of big words and concepts," Papa teased, ruffling Tim's hair. "Just know that I care about you, and I'm trying to keep you alive until tomorrow."

Papa got out of the truck, and Tim followed, frowning. He understood Papa cared about him, he understood that since before the Incident. But that didn't warrant keeping him alive, did it? After all, Daddy would care about him (or so his mom said), and he never tried to keep Tim alive beyond sending him to the hospital. What did that say about Papa? What did that say about Daddy?

This was all big and confusing, and Tim shook his head to clear it. The whole point of this trip was to get him to feel better, not worse. He needed to stop thinking so much. Papa rounded the truck and took Tim's hand. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's go inside, I bet you can find some really interesting animals."

That could be a suitable distraction. "What sortsa animals?" Tim asked, walking next to Papa, who he noticed was continuing to hold his hand as they walked through the parking lot.

"Well, we can get a map and find out," Papa said. "But I've been here a couple times before, and I know they have pandas, and lions, and elephants. They have a whole section for a kid's farm, which if memory serves, is a petting zoo."

"Petting zoo?" Tim asked.

"Yeah." Papa glanced at him. "You know, you can go up to the animals, pet them, sometimes play with them? Have you never been to a petting zoo before?"

Tim frowned. "It...sounds kinda familiar? But I don't know if I've ever actually been. Didn't do lots as a kid except study."

"Your father has a lot to answer for," Papa said. "Did he ever let you be a kid?"

"Yeah," Tim said. "Just...not when I got older."

"Uh-huh," Papa said, nodding. "And how old is 'older'?"

Tim turned pink and didn't answer.

"Tim," Papa pressed. "How old is 'older'?"

"Like...five," Tim said. "When I started school."

"No wonder you're so young!" Papa exclaimed. "He didn't let you be a kid when you were five?! That's still a kid! Sure, you're in school, but still a kid!"

Tim looked away. He hated talking about this. Because he wanted to believe Daddy was a good person. He wanted to believe that desperately. But whenever someone pointed out that maybe he was too young to deal with the things Daddy made him do, or that he was still a kid when he did something Daddy considered too babyish, it made Tim realize that his dad wasn't as good as he wanted him to be. And that made his heart hurt. Because he was always nice to Sarah, and he was mostly nice to Mommy, so why couldn't he be nice to Tim? What was it about Tim that was so despicable it made Daddy hate him?

His eyes stung as he followed Papa to the entrance of the zoo. He hated talking about this. He thought this trip was supposed to help him feel better.

"Sweetheart?" Papa asked. "You okay?"

Tim sniffled and looked up, shaking his head. "You suck at making me feel better," he giggled.

Papa looked offended, which only served to fuel Tim's laughter. "Well, I'm sorry, Mister Sulky, would you rather we go home?" Papa asked.

"No!" Tim laughed. "No, no, no! Just don't...just don't talk about Daddy anymore."

Papa sighed. "You know there's gonna come a day when I'm going to say no to you, kid."

"So...that's a yes?" Tim asked, a mischievous glint in his eye.

Papa sent him a warning glance and Tim put on an innocent face. "You act too much like DiNozzo sometimes."

Tim cracked up. Papa rolled his eyes and continued into the zoo, at which point Tim had an important decision to make: where would they go first?

Looking around, he saw that virtually right in front of them were cheetahs and animals that presumably lived with them in the wild, and beyond that...there were so many options! He took a step forward, toward the cheetahs. He could decide when he was done looking at them, right?

Papa didn't let go of his hand, which made a part of Tim really irritated. He could handle himself! He didn't need to be babied! But a more rational part of his brain reasoned that Papa just wanted to make sure he knew where Tim was, and yet another part of his brain was silently relieved; he did not want to be lost in the crowd without Papa.

Together they went up to the fence blocking people from falling into the pit where the animals were, and Tim could see that there were more than just cheetahs in this particular section of the zoo. There were zebras and gazelles and animals Tim had never seen before. "Papa, there's so many animals, look!"

"Yeah, I can see, kiddo," Papa said, glancing around them instead of looking at the main focus of Tim's concerns.

"You're not even looking!" Tim accused.

"Tim, sweetheart, do you want to come back here later?" Papa offered. "There's lots of cool things to see around here, and we can always come back, after all this is right in front of where we parked."

At that, Tim took a glance around where they were standing. Most people were ignoring them in favor of the animals. A few were sending disinterested or confused glances their way. And one woman, who looked downright furious, was glaring at them with her son's hand in a vice grip. He turned his head back to the animals quickly and turned red. "Why's she staring at us?" he asked.

"I don't know, kiddo, and at this point I don't really want to know," Papa said. "We can go somewhere else and she can hopefully leave us alone."

"Why wouldn't she leave us alone when we're standing here?" Tim asked.

Papa sighed. "Because not everyone's nice," he said, voice dropping to a whisper as he continued, "And she doesn't look like a nice lady."

"She's not a bad guy, though?" Tim asked nervously. He really didn't want to be in trouble for talking or moving or anything!

"Not in the way you're thinking, kiddo, no. But she might yell if she gets angry," Papa warned. "And for whatever reason, she's angry at us."

Tim nodded and took a sip of water, trying to focus on the animals instead. The zebras were moving around in a herd, and Tim sort of wished he had that sort of protection. Tony and Bishop might be able to help, as could Ducky and Palmer, but none of them were here. It was just him and Papa. And Papa was strong, but there was only so much he could do by himself.

It was really hard to focus on anything but the lady's glare, now that he was aware of it. He could hear someone hissing to other people near where they were standing, "I wouldn't get too close if I were you," and "Looks a little sick if you ask me," and even "Don't go over there! Not near them!" And Tim couldn't tell if they were talking about the animals, or about him and Papa. But maybe to this person they were one and the same. He didn't like feeling observed like this.

"Papa, I feel a little sick," he mumbled.

"Do you want to move away?" Papa asked.

Tim shrugged. "What're the odds the lady'll follow us around?"

Papa sighed. "Unfortunately, kid, pretty high. She'll likely follow us until she gets whatever she wants or she'll get kicked out."

"What does she want?" Tim asked.

"Most likely?" Papa asked. At Tim's nod, he answered. "Us to leave."

Tim frowned. "But...we just got here!"

"I know, kiddo," Papa said. "She probably does too. She doesn't care."

Tim stared at Papa in shock at this new information. "What?! Why not?!" he exclaimed.

He loud exclamation only seemed to increase the dirty looks from the woman, and it made Tim want to throw a fit. There were tons of little kids around here, being loud or making a mess or running rampant. He was being good, staying with Papa and being mostly quiet and keeping his water bottle close so it didn't spill. Why was he the recipient of her ire today?!

"Some people are just mean, kiddo," Papa said. "I wish it weren't true, but it is. Some people don't want others to enjoy the same things they do, for whatever reason. And this lady is probably just one of those mean people."

Tim wanted to say something else but he could feel someone rather rudely and harshly tapping his shoulder. He turned around to find the woman glaring directly at him, and while he was six-foot-one and she couldn't even be five-ten, he shrank back from the sheer hatred in her glare. "C-c-can I help you?" he stammered out.

The woman sniffed and snidely said, "Oh, good. You can speak in full sentences." The way she spoke Tim was sure she thought there was nothing good about it. She turned to Papa. "Your...'friend' here is clearly smart enough to speak, he should be smart enough to know that the zoo is a place for children, not adults."

Papa's face turned murderous and Tim swallowed. This was not ending well.

Chapter Text

Gibbs was going to put up with the glares from the woman with that poor, unfortunate kid. After all, there wasn't much he could do with her just glaring at them. He could even put up with her muttered warnings to other patrons, as most of them weren't paying her much mind, and those who were he didn't want around them anyway. But when she came over and started talking to Tim, evaluating him like a piece of meat, or maybe a dumb animal, he saw red. Because whether she liked it or not, they had a right to be here. Just like she did, just like anyone here did.

"Your...'friend' here is clearly smart enough to speak, he should be smart enough to know that the zoo is a place for children, not adults," the woman said, a somewhat pleased smirk crossing her face as she finished the sentence.

Oh, Gibbs was going to tear her a new one and then some. He would have already if it weren't for the writhing child in her grip. "Mom, c'mon, I wanna go see the pandas," the child weakly protested, and Gibbs felt bad for the kid. With a mother like that, this must happen all too often, and he was just trying to defuse the situation.

"Not now, Jeremy," the mother hissed, before returning her glare to Gibbs. "I know your friend here might be a bit dim but that's no excuse for dragging him to a place full of children."

Tim winced and Gibbs growled. "First of all, that's my son you're talking about. And let's get one thing clear: if you use the term 'friend' like it's some sort of disease when referring to anyone and I'm around to hear it, you will not like the consequences of your ignorance. Second of all, Tim is one of the smartest people I know, and that includes people in my workplace, where we have a genius lab tech who can do almost anything to evidence my team and myself can find. Tim has frequently worked with her for years, and never once has she called him stupid."

The woman looked Gibbs up and down. "So you're some sort of police, then?"

"Federal agent," Tim corrected, with no small amount of venom in his voice, beating Gibbs to the punch. "Papa's a federal agent, and he deserves respect."

"Honey, don't bother hurting your brain trying to add to the conversation, the intelligent adults are talking," the woman snarled.

Oh, she did not. Gibbs was pretty sure all the blood rushed to his face in half a second, and he took a step forward, forcing his voice to be calm, if for no one else's sake, then for Tim's. "The zoo is for people of all ages to enjoy," he said. "It doesn't matter if those people are five or fifty. So long as adults visiting are allowed in the zoo, I can bring Tim here if I want. And if you're so prejudiced as to think that just because I need to hold Tim's hand to make sure I don't lose him, and that because he's excited about being to a zoo for the first time in years that he's mentally disabled, then I worry about your intelligence level, because it's clearly not very high if you refuse to educate yourself."

The woman's jaw dropped and Tim stifled a laugh next to Gibbs. "Are you calling me stupid?!" she screeched.

"I'm calling you ignorant and close-minded," Gibbs said. "But with your charming personality you must get that all the time."

Tim guffawed and had to turn back to the animals in order to not laugh in the woman's face. Smart move, because she looked like she was about to slap either one or both of them, and now Gibbs was the only one with an easily reachable face. "I need you to leave," she demanded.

It took all Gibbs had in him to not laugh as soon as she uttered the words. "You don't own the zoo, you can't make us leave a public place just because you don't like my son."

The woman growled and brought her free hand up, and Gibbs braced himself for impact. What she did instead made him furious. She grabbed the back of Tim's still shaking form and dragged him around to face her. "Who do you think you are?!" she screamed in his face. "How do we know you're not just some pervert looking to hurt kids?! Huh?! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking that anything you do is acceptable!"

At this point, everyone nearby was staring, watching with a morbid fascination to see what would happen next. Gibbs felt his feet frozen in place.

Tim had stopped laughing by this point, and calmly removed her hand, turning to Gibbs. He signed, PAPA HELP ME? MAY WE LEAVE?

"We're not leaving, kid, that's just what she wants," Gibbs said calmly. "Why don't you look at the cheetahs over there while I explain to this woman why, exactly, she should be ashamed of her actions?"

Tim hesitated, and Gibbs could read clear as day what Tim was afraid to say, or sign: I need you.

"I'll be right here, baby boy, don't worry," Gibbs assured. "And if I have to go anywhere to make a statement I'll make sure you come with me. Okay?"

Tim didn't take even a step, and Gibbs sighed, finally finding it in him to move, cupping a hand on Tim's cheek and rubbing his thumb across it, trying to show all his support and comfort in the one gesture. "Papa might get mad, and yell a bit, sweetheart. I just want you to be away from the loud noise if it happens."

"I can take it," Tim said softly. "Papa's not Daddy. Bad lady's the one Papa's mad at. Not me."

Gibbs nodded, murmuring, "Cover your ears."

As soon as Tim did so, Gibbs rounded on the woman and growled. "If you think that your behavior is acceptable, I fear for the safety of your child and any child around you," Gibbs ground out. "Tim's an abuse survivor! He almost didn't come out of the other end of that torture alive! The fact that he's been speaking to me and telling me what he likes and what he needs is only a recent development! You're destroying his progress just because you think that because he's above the age of your arbitrary standards of how old someone must be to enjoy the zoo, he's a predator! He's the kindest, sweetest son a father could ever ask for! And if you can't see that, then you should save everyone the trouble and just leave!"

Gibbs was positively roaring at the end of his little speech, and a few people around him were murmuring agreements, one or two people even going so far as to yell, "Go off!" as encouragement.

Security came running at Gibbs' yelling, not that he could blame them. "What's going on here?" one of them asked.

Gibbs glared at the woman. "This woman has been harassing me and my son, calling my son mentally challenged and yelling at him when he's only wanting to enjoy the zoo like the rest of the patrons here," he ground out. "I was informing her that he's an abuse survivor and does not handle being pulled around like a rag doll well."

"Ma'am, please step away from these two gentlemen," the other security guard said.

The woman sputtered. "You're allowing a predator into the park?!" she exclaimed.

"Ma'am, we will hear your side of the story as well, but you need to step away from them first," the guard patiently said.

The woman pointed an accusing finger at Tim. "Kick him out of the park first!"

Tim shrank away from the finger and the guards shared a look. A this lady is obviously the one at fault look. "Ma'am, step away, or we will have to escort you and your son out of the park."

The woman stared at the guards incredulously, before stomping off in a huff, dragging her son behind her. Tim was shaking heavily, and Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay, sweetheart?"

"I think..." Tim mumbled.

Gibbs hummed and ran a hand through his hair. "You were very brave, sweetheart. I'm proud of you."

Tim gave him a grateful smile and Gibbs turned to security. "Anything we have to do now or can we just enjoy the zoo?"

The security guards mumbled something about the woman before one of them spoke up, "You're free to enjoy the rest of the day, sir, and we'll keep an eye out for that woman. If she pulls a stunt like that one again, she will be kicked from the park."

Gibbs nodded and they left. He turned to Tim, who was still shaking. "Hey, she's gone now. Do you want to look at the animals more?"

The doubt in Tim's eyes was clear.

"Sweetheart, no one's going to get mad at you for enjoying watching the animals, okay? That's what everyone's here to do," Gibbs assured.

Tim bit his lip and Gibbs sighed through his nose before looking out at the animals and noticing one of the zebras playing with some sort of ball. "What do you think that zebra is doing, hm?" he asked.

"Which one?" Tim asked softly.

Gibbs pointed. "The one by the ball. What do you think it's doing?"

Now having a problem to solve, Tim was immediately sucked into watching the animal. "Maybe there's treats inside it? And it has to get them out?" he mused.

"Maybe," Gibbs agreed, smiling in relief that Tim was starting to calm down. "But then why aren't the other zebras trying to get it too?"

Tim frowned and hummed in thought, and Gibbs just stood there a moment, observing Tim. He was realizing that while the glazed eyes that seemed to pervade every aspect of Tim's waking life now was a sign of him being regressed, he wasn't a different person. He still stood up for the people he cared about, he still thought outside the box, and he still enjoyed having problems to solve. The problems just happened to be in a different area of expertise, the thinking more sporadic, the determination showing in different ways. Underneath it all, Tim was still Tim. A little different, sure, but nowhere near unrecognizable.

Gibbs turned back to the animals, just watching them for a minute while Tim tried to figure out why only one of them was going after the ball. It soon became apparent to the other zebras something was going on with the ball, and more of them joined in on rolling it around. After a bit one of the zebras walked away victorious, with something in its mouth. "Ha!" Tim exclaimed. "There were treats in the ball!"

"Congrats, you were right," Gibbs said to Tim.

Tim grinned, glancing at Gibbs before looking around. "I can see the cheetahs, but they're not doing much," Tim said.

"Yeah, they seem to be sleeping, don't they?" Gibbs asked. "We can look at other animals for a while and come back here later if you want?"

"Sure!" Tim chirped. "What kinds of animals do they have nearby?"

"Well, it's been a little while since I've been here," Gibbs admitted. "So I guess we'll find out together, won't we?"

Tim's eyes lit up at that prospect and he nodded. "It'll be a surprise for both of us!" he exclaimed. "That's really really cool! I hope that we can go to the petting zoo, too, that sounds like loads of fun!"

Gibbs smiled softly as Tim led him through the thickening crowd of people and down the trail towards wherever the next nearest attraction was. Seeing the boy like this was reassuring. The excitement in his eyes, the eagerness to observe everything around them, it almost felt like they were back at work, without as much worrying about dead bodies turning up. It just further told him that Tim was still Tim underneath all that emotional baggage. And that was the most reassuring thing in the world.

Chapter Text

 

Tim was looking all around himself and Papa, observing the crowd and the animals which the crowd was gathering around. It was really cool to be at a zoo again, the last time he had been was...probably in elementary school, so it was quite a while since he had just gotten to have fun and be a kid.

As if that weren't good news enough, Tim was starting to float on cloud nine for a bit, going over Papa's words to the mean lady by the cheetahs. That's my son. My son. My son. Tim couldn't believe it. Yes, Papa was...well, Papa, but that didn't mean that Papa had to call him his son in public, or at all, really. But he had. His Papa considered him family. That was all he ever really wanted, a family. And now he had one that openly announced he was a part of it. He could jump for joy at how excited he was!

As it was, though, he was going to settle for heading to the next attraction he saw with a huge grin on his face. The Asia Trail was right by the cheetahs, and he was looking forward to seeing the animals there. The most prominent question in his mind about it being whether or not he'd be able to see the pandas he knew were living there.

Papa squeezed his hand and Tim looked over. Papa opened his mouth, closed it. "You're...okay, right? You're not just pretending for my sake?"

Tim nodded. "'M feeling a little better, yeah."

Papa sighed and his shoulders relaxed. "Good...that's good. I didn't know, you seemed to be grinning a lot. Almost too much compared to what happened this morning."

Tim ducked his head. "It's just...you called me your son. That means a lot...to me."

Papa ruffled his hair and Tim felt heat travel into his cheeks for no apparent reason other than the fact that people could see the affection if they wanted to. "Tim, you call me 'Papa.' Is there any reason at all why I therefore wouldn't call you my son?"

"Emotional constipation?" Tim offered before he could stop himself.

Papa stood there in shock for a second before he laughed. "Okay, kid, you've got me there."

Tim offered a slightly nervous, but mostly relieved smile before looking around. They were really close to the entrance of the Asia Trail, and Tim almost ran forward before the feeling of the boot on his foot stopped him. Maybe he should take it slow. After all, he didn't want to be stuck in this stupid thing longer than he had to.

He moved at a slower pace than he would like, but his ankle didn't hurt, so he supposed he could tolerate the slow speed. And he was soon preoccupied anyway, as the animals on the trail captured all his attention.

Papa held his hand the entire time they were there, keeping an eye on him, but Tim was too busy to mind. The red pandas were adorable, and the otters were fun to watch, swimming around in their exhibit. But of course, the main thing that caught his attention were the pandas in their own separate house. "I've never seen a panda in real life before," he informed Papa as he watched one of them scratch at their stomach.

"Well the only place they live around here is in the zoo, so I'm not surprised," Papa said with a shrug. "They are pretty cool though, huh?"

Tim grinned. "Yeah," he said, taking a sip of his water.

Papa let go of his hand, saying something about sitting on a bench nearby to rest his feet. Tim just nodded and let him go. He continued to watch the panda for a minute before walking across the room to look at the other side of the enclosure. The pandas certainly had a lot of things to keep themselves occupied, and even if they weren't using them then and there, it was interesting to figure out how they might be used. He looked around to inform Papa that the hammock he found looked comfy, but he doubted it could hold the panda's weight, only to see that Papa wasn't nearby. Tim blinked and looked around. Papa said he would be by the benches, right? Resting his feet?

Tim walked to the closest benches he saw, but couldn't see Papa. He moved a little further into the house. No sign of him. Tim's heart started to hammer. He hadn't left when Tim couldn't see, did he? Tim swallowed. If he did, it wasn't on purpose, surely. He wouldn't leave Tim here on his own willingly...at least he hoped not.

But that left him with another problem. If Papa was forced to leave, that meant there had to be bad guys around. Either the ones who hurt him, or ones like the mean lady who said he was too old to see the animals. He inwardly scoffed. The day he was too old to see the animals was the day he was dead.

No, focus. If Papa had been taken away by security, then he would have made sure Tim was with him. If he were taken by bad guys, he might not have had that chance. That made the bad guys more likely. In which case, he should let someone know that Gibbs was in trouble. He could go to security, maybe, but what if the security guard knew the bad guys somehow? What if they were in on...whatever was going on? No, he had to call someone. Someone he trusted.

Bishop or Tony, then. They'd know what to do. He reached into his pants pocket only to remember he didn't have his phone, and hadn't had it since...since before he'd gone dark. So he was alone, without a way to call someone, and Papa was nowhere to be found.

Tim went to the benches, and noticed the diaper bag that Papa had packed for the trip. If Tim was lucky, Papa would have kept his phone in the bag, rather than his pants pocket. He opened the top, and found that the main part of the bag had been, unsurprisingly, filled with diapers and changing supplies. He closed that one and opened one of the smaller pockets. Nothing. He tried the smallest of the openings, and was rewarded with Papa's flip phone. All right. Now, did he call Tony or Bishop?

Squinting at the screen, Tim decided it probably didn't matter, as everyone would probably be in the office either way. Or wait...it was Sunday. They wouldn't be. But Tony or Bishop could call the other person if they needed the other's help. It wasn't like he was going to get his hopes up for dialing the right person, anyway. The screen didn't light up, so he was having a hard time reading anything with the low brightness. He did manage to find Tony on the speed dial list, though.

He waited with bated breath for Tony to pick up. He sat down on the floor next to the diaper bag, and nearly sobbed in relief as he heard the click of someone picking up the phone. "Gibbs, can this wait?"

"Tony, I need your help," Tim said, not caring that he sounded close to tears.

"Tim? Is Gibbs okay?" Tony asked, suddenly sounding far more concerned than stressed.

"I don't know. Papa let go of my hand for a minute while we were looking at the pandas, and then when I turned to talk to him, he was gone."

"There were a lot of words in that sentence, kid, give me a minute. You guys were in a crowd, I'm guessing? And...uh...pandas? Did you two go to the zoo?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, we came here 'cause Papa wanted to give me a good reason to like being alive, I think, but now he's gone, and if he had left with security he would have made sure I went with him, so I think bad guys took him, and--"

"Slow down, kid," Tony soothed. "We can work this out, okay? You're right that if he had to go somewhere, he would have taken you with him. But I think it's far more likely he lost track of you in the crowd and made sure you didn't wander outside. Does that sound like something he'd do?"

"Yeah..." Tim said, feeling his heart slow down a bit. He didn't even consider that Papa might have been looking for him.

"Is there any time where he may have lost track of you?" Tony asked.

"I mean, I walked 'cross the room once to look at some of the stuff the pandas had, and then when I noticed Papa was gone I looked around for him, but I never left the panda house!" Tim said.

"Yeah, but we don't know if he knew that," Tony reasoned. "How did you get Gibbs' phone, anyway?"

"It was in the diaper bag Papa packed. He left it where he'd been sitting," Tim explained. There was a pregnant pause on the line after, and Tim felt himself grow nervous again. "...Tony?" he asked.

"...Kid, I don't want you to freak out or panic at what I say next, okay? Because I'm not talking in absolutes, and there's a chance Gibbs just forgot the bag in a panic," Tony said.

Tim's stomach sank as he realized the next part of what Tony was going to say. "But Papa doesn't forget his go-bags."

"That we've seen," Tony was quick to assure. "And this is something we haven't seen before. It's entirely possible he forgot in a panic."

"Tony, what if bad guys did take him? I...I dunno what to do," Tim said, feeling his eyes get hot.

"Breathe, Tim, it's gonna be okay. Can you go to a security guard and see if they can page Gibbs over the intercom system?" Tony soothed.

"Nuh-uh," Tim said, biting on his thumbnail. "The security could be bad guys, or they could think that I'm doing something bad when I'm not, like the mean lady this morning."

"Okay," Tony said. Tim could tell Tony was stressed even though he was trying to keep his voice calm. "But I need you to stay calm, Tim, 'cause if you regress too much I won't be able to talk to you."

"That doesn't help!" Tim accused, blinking as a few tears started to fall.

"Hey, breathe, Tim. Stay on the line with me, and stay where you are, all right? Gibbs will find you because sooner or later, he has to come back," Tony soothed.

"Provided he wasn't taken, you mean," Tim said.

"...Yeah," Tony reluctantly admitted. "Do you need me to come over there? Dupont Circle isn't that far away."

"I...I don't know," Tim said, voice getting thick. "I just...I just...I need Papa."

"Okay. I'm gonna come over, okay? And if Gibbs isn't back by the time I'm there, we'll find him together. You said that you were at the panda house?"

"Mm-hm," Tim said, nodding.

"Don't move, I'll be there in fifteen minutes, tops," Tony said. "Probably ten, because I can run through the park if I need to."

While the thought of Tony running through the zoo was funny, Tim was way past the point of no return with his anxiety, and he could feel the beginnings of a panic attack starting. "Tony...my chest feels tight in a bad way," Tim said.

"Just keep breathing, Tim, I'll be right over," Tony assured. "Bad how?"

"Like...like I'm about to cry so hard I'm gonna puke kinda bad," Tim managed to say, feeling his breathing picking up.

"I'm getting in my car now," Tony said, and Tim could hear a car engine start in the background. "Just stay on the line, Tim. Whatever you do, stay put, and stay on the line."

Tim nodded and made a small "Mm-hm," noise again. He dutifully kept his ear close to the phone speaker, but he was quickly proving to be too much of a wreck to speak. He just hoped Tony would get here soon.

Chapter Text

Gibbs was beyond stressed.

He had sat down on the bench to rest his feet, and in the time it took for him to grab his water bottle out from the diaper bag he had packed and look up again, Tim had left his sight. He glanced around the space Tim had been standing, forcing himself to not worry until he scanned the immediate area. After all, a few steps to the left or the right weren't something to worry over. But Tim wasn't there.

Okay, that was not good.

Gibbs stood up and walked to the other end of the panda house, reasoning that Tim could have just moved further down to get a better look at the pandas. But he wasn't there. Holding out one last bit of hope, he walked outside, looking at the crowd forming outside the panda house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pandas coming outside. No sign of Tim.

Gibbs' heart leapt to his throat. Tim hadn't been taken, had he? He was sure the boy would have kicked up a huge fuss at being interrupted from his watching, and Gibbs would have heard him. Maybe he had just wandered off, getting distracted from something?

Hoping that was the case, Gibbs started moving away from the panda house, looking around the crowd closely for any sign of his surrogate son. Unfortunately, despite being six-foot-one, Tim was not an easy man to find. He was quiet on the best days, and Gibbs had told himself more than once that he wanted to put a bell on the kid, once he had lost his stutter and had gotten comfortable enough to move around without having a conversation with anyone who acknowledged him. Now he really regretted not following through on that threat.

Gibbs didn't know which way to go after he left the panda house. Tim could be anywhere in the zoo, and it was a big enough place for that to instill pure panic in Gibbs' heart. Reasoning that Tim hadn't been to the zoo in a while, and he may have just wanted to look more at the animals he had seen some of already, he headed back up the Asia Trail.

It was slow going, as Gibbs looked around at everyone on the trail, and anyone who bore a resemblance to Tim immediately made him freeze. But even if he hadn't been looking closely, no one could ignore the fact that the crowd was moving away from the center of the path as a familiar voice called, "Make a hole!"


Gibbs reached out and managed to snag Tony's arm before he ran past. "DiNozzo?" he prompted.

"Tim called me. Where have you been?!" Tony snapped.

"Out on the trail, looking for him!" Gibbs exclaimed. "He's not here?!"

"He never left the panda house, Gibbs!" Tony exclaimed, impatience in his tone. "And he's on the brink of a panic attack, waiting for me to call him back or come find him!"

The two didn't say another word to each other, just turned and ran back the way Gibbs came, and into the panda house. Gibbs' heart stopped as he saw Tim, curled up on the floor and crying next to the diaper bag he had forgotten to take with him. Gibbs inwardly cursed. The kid must have been scared out of his wits, because Gibbs always toted the importance of keeping a go-bag, and then had forgotten his.

Even as he did this, though, he rushed over, skidding to a stop in front of Tim. "You okay?!" he asked, almost frantic as he looked Tim over and felt for any possible injury.

Tim just threw his arms around Gibbs and sobbed into his shoulder, and Gibbs held him tight. When Tim had finally calmed down enough to be coherent, Gibbs held him at arms length. "Where did you go?!" he asked.

Pointing across the room, Tim said, "I just walked over there to look at the hammocks. And then you weren't with me, so I walked back over here and you were gone."

Gibbs hung his head. "I thought you had wandered off and went to look for you," he said, shaking his head some and letting out a sigh. "I'm so glad you're okay. I wouldn't have found you if you hadn't called DiNozzo and he hadn't been sprinting through the park."

Tim looked over at Tony, and smiled a little. "You really ran through the park," he giggled.

"Yep," Tony said, panting where he stood. "And believe me when I say I wouldn't do that for just anyone."

Tim giggled a little more and Gibbs helped him up onto the bench. "Hope we didn't cause too much trouble for you, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, standing.

"Hm? Oh, no! I was doing a Bond marathon. Nothing new there," Tony joked. "You two had better like...superglue your hands together or something, though. Because if I have to come back here again, believe me when I say you won't be happy."

Tim grabbed Gibbs' hand in a vice and Gibbs winced. "I don't think that'll be a problem, DiNozzo," he said with a grimace.

"Good," Tony said. "Now, I don't want to intrude on your bonding time any further..."

"Oh, this isn't bonding time," Gibbs said. "This is 'give the kid a reason to live' time."

"Ah," Tony said. "Because movies aren't a good enough reason?"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs warned. "I'm serious."

Tony sobered. "Oh. Well. Uh...that's..."

"A problem? Yeah, I know," Gibbs said. "But I think the little trip was working...at least until I screwed up like an idiot."

Tim gasped and gave Gibbs a scandalized look. "Papa's not an idiot!" he said. "And can't say he is!"

"Oh, if only I could get a recording of that," Tony lamented.

"If you had one, you'd be dead by now," Gibbs assured.

"Don't kill Tony!" Tim yelped, just as scandalized as before, if not more so.

It took all Gibbs had in him not to laugh at the serious look on Tim's face. "It was a figure of speech, baby boy, don't worry."

Tim pouted. "You use too many of those," he declared.

Gibbs laughed. "Yeah? Sorry, sweetheart." His tone said he wasn't really sorry at all.

Huffing, Tim glared at Gibbs. "You're not sorry," he said, easily seeing through the ruse.

Gibbs just shrugged at Tim. "You going to just sit there and pout over it or are you gonna decide where we go next?"

The gears started to whir behind Tim's eyes and Gibbs rolled his, looking over at Tony. "Give him a moment, this part takes a while," he whispered.

Tony chuckled. "I haven't seen him think that hard over something since his probie days."

Tim tugged on Gibbs hand, and Gibbs turned to him, to see his mouth set in a line. "That's not nice," he said. His eyes were the clearest they had been since Tim was down in the basement last night.

Despite himself, Gibbs did feel a little chastised. "Sorry, Tim."

"Thinking things through helps me feel better about what I choose," Tim said.

"I know, I was just trying to tease, but it came out wrong," Gibbs said. "I'm sorry."

Tim sighed through his nose and looked away. "Whatever you wanna do is fine with me."

"You sure?" Gibbs asked. "You were so excited about seeing everything before."

Tim nodded, still looking away. His body language was back to being inward drawn, and Gibbs inwardly berated himself. He really should have figured that with Tim's dad the way he was, Tim wouldn't like being teased about the little things that made him tick. This was Gibbs' fault, and he had to fix it. He glanced at Tony, who looked confused but decidedly concerned. "You okay, kid?" Tony asked.

Again, Tim nodded. Gibbs steeled himself and said, "You're lying, Tim. We both know it."

Tim looked up at him, anger in his eyes. The kind of anger that had been there on Thursday. The anger he got in his eyes when Gibbs had screwed something up. "So what?" Tim spat. "You left me here, and when you got back you just teased me for being me."

"So, you think not being you is going to be any better? Everyone asking if you're okay every five minutes because you're miserable?" Gibbs asked. "Is that what you want?"

Tim shook his head.

"Well," Gibbs said. "Then I say this is what we should do: you be yourself, and if I push you too far, you let me know. Because I don't know if I'm pushing you too far unless you tell me. And the more you let me know, the better I'll get at knowing your boundaries, and hopefully, you'll have to tell me less and less when I push too far, because I'll be doing it less and less."

Tim turned red and mumbled something.

"What was that?" Gibbs asked, crouching down so Tim didn't have to voice his thoughts to the entire room if he didn't want to.

"What if I just be the person everyone wants me to be instead?" Tim repeated. "Then no one could make fun of me."

Gibbs sighed and grabbed the diaper bag, before standing and pulling Tim to his feet. "I'll tell you a secret: everyone will find something to make fun of others about if they really want to. Because not everyone's nice. So I, and everyone else on the team I'm sure, would rather you just be yourself."

"Even though you tease me," Tim said flatly.

Tony stepped in. "Kid, sometimes it's hard to remember that we need to treat you with...well, kid gloves. You give as good as you get when you're an adult, and you'll laugh along with us, so we think it's okay. But sometimes it's hard for us to remember that you're different like this. That you need us to tease less, or just not tease at all. Because you feel different, but you don't look really different at the end of the day. It takes a trained investigator to see the difference, and we're all off the clock here."

"Sometimes adults slip up, too. We can't always tell that what we did was something wrong unless we're told. We try to not be bad on purpose, but on purpose or not we make mistakes. And someone needs to tell us we made a mistake, or we might repeat it and make things worse," Gibbs added.

Tim frowned, taking in that information. "You can't tease me like that," Tim said. "Not when I feel little."

Tony nodded, held his hands up in surrender. "And now we know. And we won't do it again. If we mess up and do, we'll apologize. Right, Gibbs?"

Gibbs glared at Tony for basically forcing him to apologize, like he was five and not the caregiver of one of his former employees. But Tony did have a point, so he said, "Right. Any decent adult will apologize if they screwed up."

Tim was quick to point out the flaw in Gibbs' statement. "Papa says that apologizing is a sign of weakness."

"Not if you genuinely screwed up," Gibbs said. "Apologizing and backing down when you need to stand up for yourself or hold your ground is what I mean when I say it's a sign of weakness."

Tim chewed his lip and Gibbs hoped that his on-the-fly explanation would hold up to Tim's scrutiny. And, thankfully, Tim eventually nodded. "Makes sense," he said. "Sounds like you, too."

Gibbs laughed at that. "Well, I'm glad I could stay in character," he teased. "Now, do you want to keep moving?"

"Sure," Tim said.

"Hey, uh...I know this is supposed to be family time, more or less, but could I tag along?" Tony asked. "This beats a Bond movie, and if either of you wander off, it saves me a trip."

"And you have a video camera on your phone," Gibbs said knowingly, "While the zoo has a kids' section that Tim was looking forward to."

Tony turned slightly pink and coughed. "I'd only record it for posterity, of course. And it's not like I'd share the videos online or anything. Just with Bishop, maybe, to see what she missed."

Gibbs turned to Tim. "Tim? What do you say?"

"No blackmail," Tim said seriously.

"Cross my heart," Tony said.

Chapter Text

After finishing the Asia trail, and stopping by the elephants, Tim was practically bouncing in excitement, because he, Papa, and Tony were going to the kid's zoo. And he could actually reach out and touch the animals! He could hardly wait, and wanted to run to get there! But because he was not planning on letting go of Papa's hand anytime soon, and Papa wasn't going to run to the exhibit, he settled for a fast walk.

Tony had his phone out and was recording himself and Tim discussing all the animals they had seen thus far. They had seen a few other things on their way to the kids' zoo, and they were discussing the animals they had seen in passing as well. Gibbs was behind them in the shot, pretending to be grumpy about being recorded, but Tim was not-so-subtly pointing out to the camera every time Papa looked away and smiled.

When they got to the kid's zoo, Tim looked around in no small amount of awe. There were children everywhere, petting the animals, feeding them, and playing with them. "Where do you want to go first, buddy?" Tony asked, still holding up the camera.

Tim looked around. There were a few ponds with fish, and there were chickens, and even a donkey. But the animals that most caught his attention were the alpacas. He walked over to where they were on the miniature farm and glanced at Tony, who was grinning. "Go on, kid. Gibbs and I will be right here. Why don't you go up to one of them and say hi?"

"You're sure Papa won't go looking for me again?" Tim asked, even as he let go of Papa's hand.

"Kid, I'm filming you. If he doesn't know where you are, he can just follow me and I can point you out," Tony explained.

Tim nodded and walked up to one of the alpacas, one with a white coat. He reached out a hand to pet its head and was surprised by how soft it was. He turned to Tony, shocked. "It's really, really soft!" he exclaimed.

Tony was laughing. "Is it?" he asked. "That's cool!"

Tim turned back to the alpaca and continued to pet it. He could see Papa and Tony out of the corner of his eye and didn't miss one of the zookeepers walking over to Papa. "Is yours the adult?" they asked bluntly.

"Yup," Papa said.

"He special needs?" they asked.

Papa laughed. "Something like that, yeah."

Tim continued to pet the alpaca for a few minutes before going over to the other one and doing the same thing. "Careful, kid," Tony said, "If they get annoyed at you they might spit at you!"

"Aplacas don't spit!" Tim exclaimed. "Do they?"

"They do," Papa confirmed, smiling himself. "But don't worry. You're nice enough to them that I doubt they'll mind you."

Tim turned back to the alpaca he was petting with a new sort of respect. "You're cool," he decided. "Just don't spit at Tony or Papa or me and we'll be okay."

At that moment a kid screamed behind Tim and as he whirled around to look for the source of the noise, the alpaca reached up its head and spit, directly hitting Tim's ear. His shocked expression had both Tony and Papa doubled over laughing. "It's not funny!" he yelled at them, walking over. "He spit in my ear! I can feel it!"

Tony was beaming, phone still in hand. "And that, my dear viewer," he said, turning the phone's camera to face him, "Is why Tim never trusted an alpaca again."

"Tony!" Tim whined, reaching for the phone, but Tony held it out of his reach. "Tony that's not funny, come on!"

"I already promised I wouldn't use it as blackmail," Tony said, putting the phone in his pocket. "Relax, Tim. If you don't want me to show it to Bishop I don't have to."

Tim huffed. "Good."

"Note that he didn't promise he wouldn't, yet," Papa muttered.

Tim blinked in shock, before glaring at Tony accusingly. "You can't show that to Bishop! Promise me you won't!"

"I promise I will not show her the video," Tony said, pressing a few buttons on his phone and then showing the screen to Tim. "See? Video's gone, I couldn't show it to her even if I wanted to."

"You didn't e-mail it to her or anything?" Tim asked, suspicious.

"Timothy McGee, you wound me," Tony said, placing a hand over his heart. "I would never do such a thing after I promised not to."

Something about that turn of phrase made Tim suspicious, because Tony never promised he wouldn't e-mail the video to Bishop, but he figured Tony must count that under showing it to her, and put it out of his mind. "What do I do about the spit, though?" he asked.

"Ah," Papa said, holding up a finger, before pulling some baby wipes out of the diaper bag he was carrying, and he quickly ran one over Tim's ear. "There. All gone."

Tim rubbed his ear, a little stunned from the sudden cold touch, but pleased that the spit was gone nonetheless. "Thanks, Papa."

"Not a problem, kid," Papa said, before looking around. "Anything else you want to see that might spit less? There's the chickens, or the koi pond."

Tim walked over to where the chickens were and just leaned on the fence, instead of getting into the pen. Papa followed him and leaned against the fence next to him. "You feeling better?" he asked.

Tim nodded, yawning. "Tired, though," he mumbled.

Papa laughed. "Don't fall asleep just yet, there are still animals to say hi to!"

"I know," Tim said.

Papa ruffled his hair and Tim leaned into the touch, whining. He just wanted to be cuddled more than anything else right now. Tony came over and grinned. "I know how to wake you up, kid," Tony said. "Get on my back."

"DiNozzo," Papa warned. "This is not the place for that."

"I won't hurt anyone, boss, least of all Tim here," Tony said, hunching over. "On my back, kid."

Curious, Tim followed the directions, and found his legs captured by Tony's arms as Tony began to rather violently spin in small circles. Tim whooped in surprise and laughed as the sudden movement jolted him out of his tired state. "Faster!" he exclaimed, giggling.

Tony complied, before abruptly stopping and letting Tim's legs free. Tim was giggling hard enough to cry a few tears, and Tony was grinning triumphantly. "Bet that woke you up," Tony said.

Tim nodded, walking in a small circle, trying to decide where to go next. He didn't really want to play with the hens, as he was worried about getting pecked. He wandered over to the koi pond and watched the koi swim around for a solid five minutes. That was reasonably hypnotizing. He saw the hogs and the cows and even the miniature donkey, but he was too scared to get up close to them with all the younger, actual kids swarming around them. He had the feeling Papa could sense this, because they left the kid's zoo for the nearest restrooms for a quick break and a change soon after he had seen everything. "Do you want to go back in?" Papa asked when they were alone in the restroom, Tony waiting outside.

"Nuh-uh," Tim said, letting Papa change him without complaint. "Too many little kids."

"You seem like a little kid to me," Papa said.

"Not everyone sees that," Tim said as Papa helped him with the button on his pants.

Papa sighed. "That's true," he allowed. "And it sucks."

Tim nodded his agreement as they walked out. "But we know the truth, and that's what matters," Papa said, passing Tim his water bottle.

Tony was reading a map when they got outside. "Hey, we've seen the upper zoo and everything in the valley, I checked to make sure," he said when Tim and Gibbs walked over. "Do you want to check out the lower zoo and work our way back up to where we're all parked?"

"Sounds like a plan," Papa said. "Tim?"

Tim hummed his agreement. "Good plan."

They started down the trail, and Tim gawked at all the animals. He didn't go on any excited rambles, purely because he didn't have the energy, but he was thoroughly entranced by the great cats, the small mammals, and everything in between. By the time they reached the upper zoo, Tim was yawning and rubbing at his eyes, more exhausted than he was in the kids' farm. Tony didn't even offer to spin Tim around again, not that Tim would have taken him up on the offer. "Someone's exhausted," Tony said when they reached the elephants they had seen earlier.

"Nuh-uh," Tim groused, believability lost when he yawned again.

"Well, it is past noon," Papa said, checking his watch. "And we haven't had anything to eat since breakfast. It's a small wonder the both of us are still standing. Although I think only one of us might need to be carried to the car."

"No," Tim whined, all but collapsing on Papa when he went to grab his shoulder.

Papa grunted and helped Tim stand upright again. "Easy, baby boy. We're almost to the car and then you can nap on the way home."

"I don't wanna nap!" Tim protested, feeling his eyes get hot.

Gibbs sighed and continued to lead him towards where they had parked, even though Tim's feet were sore, and he could barely keep his eyes open, and he was hungry. He was tired, and frustrated, and he was pretty sure if one thing went wrong he would burst into tears. Tony nudged him once, twice. "Hey. Hey, Tim," he said.

Tim looked over, bleary-eyed and whining instead of actually asking what Tony wanted.

"Did you like the alpacas earlier?" Tony asked.

"Mhm," Tim said. "'Til he spit."

Tony grinned. "What if I told you I could get you an alpaca that doesn't spit?"

"Hm?" Tim asked. He didn't understand the question, and was too tired to figure it out on his own.

"Y'see, I found this thing the other day--well. I don't want to ruin the surprise. Long story short Abby said something, I looked it up, and decided, 'Why not spoil the kid?'"

"What is it?" Tim asked, rubbing his eyes and forcing himself to stay awake just a little longer.

"It's a surprise! But I'll show you when we get to my car!" Tony said.

Tim, wanting to shorten the length of time it took to get to the surprise, straightened up and walked in time with Papa and Tony instead of dragging behind. Papa held his hand the whole way back to their car, and Tim noticed Tony had parked right next to them. Tony reached into the backseat of his car and pulled out a stuffed alpaca that was pale yellow, with a pastel pink ribbon tied around its neck and two little yellow tufts of fluff hanging from the bow that could be bells. "FYI, I didn't plan this, it just happened to come in yesterday evening," Tony said with a laugh.

He passed it to Tim and Tim took it in his hands, giving it an experimental hug. It was just the right amount of fluffy, and he grinned. "Thank you!" he exclaimed.

"You're gonna spoil Tim if you keep this up, and know that I'll blame you if that happens," Papa warned Tony.

"Boss, it was like, ten bucks. I needed to order stuff online anyway so I got free shipping. Trust me. It's not a big deal."

"It is to him," Papa said. "And that's the thing that counts most."

"Well," Tony said. "I make no promises to cut back."

Tim yawned and nuzzled into the alpaca's fur and Tony laughed. "Get in the car kid, before you fall asleep. Maybe you can tell me what you're naming them tomorrow."

Nodding, Tim got in the car and strapped in. After a short conversation, Papa climbed in and started driving. Tim was lulled to sleep with the sun shining through the windows and the alpaca held firmly in his arms.

Chapter Text

Gibbs almost felt bad for having to wake Tim up when they got back home. Tim clearly needed the sleep, as he had been solidly out of it the whole drive. But he needed to be up if he wanted to sleep tonight, and Gibbs had to make lunch for the both of them besides. Once Tim was fed and playing then maybe he could call Rachel and give her a heads up about how Tim was doing. More specifically, the fact that he kept on saying he'd rather be dead.

Tim certainly didn't look like the traumatized, borderline suicidal individual he was this morning. When he rubbed at his eyes and mumbled as he wrestled with his seat belt, he just looked like...an overgrown toddler. The pout at Gibbs laughing and helping him undo the seat belt certainly didn't help get rid of the image any.

When they walked inside, Gibbs let Tim go to his toys while he himself went to the kitchen to make lunch. He decided to go with sandwiches again, for the selfish reason that he didn't want to have to feed Tim lunch spoonful by spoonful.

When he made one of the sandwiches he held back to watch Tim just long enough to catch him talking to his new toy. "You need to have a cool name, like someone important! 'Cause you are important! I know alpacas can die of loneliness, and you don't have any alpaca friends, but there's Emma and Rex and me and that should be enough for you, I think. But you still need a name."

Gibbs smiled as Tim muttered out names, before making an aha noise and going, "Maybe I can call you Jethro? If Papa's okay with it. Because that's one of the best names!"

Gibbs' heart swelled at that declaration. Once again he was blown away by the unconditional love Tim was giving him. He walked in the room and Tim looked up at him. "Papa, can I call my new friend Jethro, after you?"

Tim looked so afraid of being shot down, but at the same time so hopeful that Gibbs would say yes, and Gibbs just laughed. "Of course you can, kid. I'd be honored."

He got a wide grin in response to his answer and Gibbs put the plate of food down on the coffee table. "Lunch," he said. "I'd like you to eat all of it, but at least finish the sandwich, okay?"

Tim hesitated and looked up at Gibbs. "But...isn't that a waste of food?" he asked.

Gibbs frowned. "No. Feeding you isn't a waste of food. Even if you don't eat all of it it's not a waste. Who told you that?"

Tim dropped his head. "No one..." he mumbled.

"In other words, your father?" Gibbs asked.

Tim worried his lip. "It was just when I couldn't finish the food, Papa. And he did sometimes just give me too much."

Gibbs sighed. "Kid, he still shouldn't have said that, all right?"

"But--"

"No buts about it," Gibbs said firmly, sitting down with a grunt next to Tim. "What he did to you was abuse, kid. You need to understand that. I don't want you justifying what he did, what anyone did, to you when it hurt you. If it hurt you, and they didn't apologize after you told them as much, that's not right. And you shouldn't have to justify it."

Tim looked away. "Everyone else did," he said.

"Everyone else may not have known the extent of it. If they did know, then they were neglecting you at best, abusing you as well at worst," Gibbs said. "This is not something you can change my mind about, kid. You deserved better. I think a part of you knows that, and that's why you do this."

Tim shrugged noncommittally. "Does it matter?"

"It does to me," Gibbs replied without hesitation. "Because you matter to me."

Tim seemed to wilt at that, and Gibbs didn't know why. "Everyone who says that is a liar," Tim said softly. "They all leave eventually."

"I won't," Gibbs said.

"They all say that too," Tim said with a scowl.

"How long do I have to stay to change your mind?" Gibbs asked.

"So you can leave right after that?" Tim scoffed. "Nuh-uh."

Gibbs sighed. Tim's reaction left his own heart aching, and he could deny all he wanted that his eyes were stinging, it wouldn't make it any less true. "Baby boy, can I hug you?" Gibbs asked.

"Why?" Tim asked.

"Because your responses are breaking my heart and I want to comfort you," Gibbs said. "C'mere?"

Tim shrugged and crawled into Gibbs' arms. Gibbs sighed into his hair and murmured, "You need more help emotionally than I know how to give."

"Then just...move me somewhere to get that help?" Tim asked. "Aren't there like...homes for people who need that sort of help?"

"I don't want to move you to a home, kid," Gibbs said sternly. "That's not something you should have to go through. Social services and the like are too overworked to really make sure you're okay wherever you end up. That's not what I want for you. I want you to feel better."

Tim leaned into Gibbs and Gibbs forced himself to count that as a small success. "Papa..." Tim frowned, his fingers wiggling like nonverbal ellipses. "I want to believe people are good," he said. "I really, really do. But how can I do that if I can't trust anyone?"

Gibbs shook his head. "I don't know, baby boy."

"Life is hard," Tim sighed.

Gibbs couldn't help but laugh at that. "Yeah, it is."

It was only when he heard Tim's sniffles that he realized he might have made a poor choice in response. "Hey," Gibbs murmured, wiping away the tears falling down Tim's cheeks. "It's gonna be okay, kid. You've gotta believe me when I say it gets better."

Tim shook his head and buried his face in Gibbs' chest. "Sweetheart, you're a handful and a half," Gibbs sighed. The indignant noise he got in response made Gibbs chuckle. "Oh, don't even bother trying to deny it," Gibbs teased. "You're taller than me, it's gonna take more than a little maneuvering if you want me to carry you anywhere. And that's just one scenario. I can think of dozens of situations where this could get overwhelming for the both of us."

"Papa," Tim whined. "Stop."

"Okay, okay," Gibbs said, rubbing Tim's back in small circles. "I'm sorry, baby boy."

Tim huffed and moved out of Gibbs' hug, grumbling. "I wanna be alone," he said.

"If you eat your sandwich I'll leave you be for an hour," Gibbs bargained.

"'M not hungry," Tim said, rubbing at his red-rimmed eyes.

Gibbs sighed and propped his head up with one hand. "Could have fooled me," he said.

Tim sent Gibbs a dirty look.

Gibbs didn't know if Tim was just testing his boundaries or if he was genuinely this upset, but either way he knew this wasn't ending well. Tim wasn't in a position to make decisions about his well-being at the moment, leaving Gibbs to do that task. And that meant either way, Gibbs would have to put his foot down. Which meant he was more likely than not in for a fight. "Tim, you have to eat. Whether or not you get left alone after that is up to you."

Tim scowled, glanced at the plate, then at Gibbs, and Gibbs instantly knew where his mind was going. "And if you know what's good for you, sweetheart, you will not be throwing anything."

The mutinous look he got in response made Gibbs all but want to give up. He was dealing with a very cranky fully-grown toddler with severe trust issues, and it almost seemed like too much work. "You know what? Fine. Fine, don't eat the sandwich. It's my lunch now," Gibbs said, taking it off the table and standing. "Let me know when you're hungry, all right? I'll fix you something."

Gibbs walked back into the kitchen and started eating the sandwich, knowing that he was going to need the energy to deal with Tim this afternoon. His eyes drifted to the refrigerator. When he had gone out grocery shopping the day after Tim got back from the hospital, he had seen something in the store that he had gotten on impulse, on the off-chance that Tim regressed enough he didn't want to eat anything. He knew it wouldn't damage a sports-bottle-turned-sippy-cup, and right now it seemed like the best option he had for getting some food into Tim's system.

Finishing off the sandwich, he went to the cabinet, grabbed one of the bottles, and then opened the refrigerator and grabbed a nutritional shake. He shook it up, opened it, and poured the whole thing into the bottle. Just as he was twisting the cap on, he heard the tell-tale frustrated noises of a kid about to throw a fit in the living room. He walked out, seeing that Tim had been crying and was glaring at one of the toy cars like it had insulted his mother. "Something up, Tim?"

Tim just glared in response. Gibbs sighed. It was times like these he wished he knew what to do with misbehaving children. Because while kids he looked after rarely misbehaved, he never knew what went too far when they did. Which meant infractions often went unaddressed. "I got you something to drink," Gibbs said, holding out the bottle as a peace offering. "Vanilla shake. It has some other stuff in it too, so it's not just ice cream, but you might like it."

Gibbs was mildly surprised when Tim did absolutely nothing with that new information. He didn't reach for the bottle, he didn't turn away, he didn't say anything. He didn't even change his expression! Gibbs internally rolled his eyes and put the bottle down on the table. "Right. Up you go, kid," Gibbs grunted, picking Tim up off the floor.

Tim squawked and clung to Gibbs for dear life as Gibbs walked over to the couch and sat down, Tim on his lap. He reached over to the table, grabbing the bottle and a book. "All right. Take the bottle, you and I both know you have to be at least a little thirsty, so this will save us some time," Gibbs said, handing the bottle to Tim. "And then I'm going to read to you until you're done with the bottle, or you fall asleep, whichever comes first. Because while you might not sleep well tonight, you're definitely too crabby to be up all afternoon."

Gibbs knew Tim thought he was nuts purely by the look he was receiving. "Kid, just...try it, will you?" he asked.

Tim sucked on the mouth of the bottle and made a shocked face. He pulled out the bottle and sputtered. "That's...sweet," he said with such disgust Gibbs couldn't help but laugh.

"Yeah, I know," Gibbs said. "It has a lot of good stuff in it, though. If you get through that one you never have to have it again."

Tim gave him a skeptical look but took another sip. "It's not as bad when you expect it," he said noncommittally.

"If that's what I'm getting, I'll take it," Gibbs said, opening up the book of Winnie the Pooh stories.

He started to read, making sure he did different voices for the characters like he always used to when Kelly was really little, because he knew it was likely to entertain Tim more that way. Tim just silently sat there, staring at nothing, or more likely picturing the scenes in his head as Gibbs read them aloud. He continued to suck at the bottle, which Gibbs was silently relieved at; at least Tim was going to have a full meal this way, even if it was a bit unconventional. If only he could make sure that his boy was always going to be okay.