The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 12: No Easy Fix

He woke slowly, almost lethargically, feeling strangely warm and safe. Someone slept by his side, and he found himself smiling softly, because he recognized the smell of her shampoo.

His eyes opened to mere squints, not really recognizing his surroundings in the blue light of night, but recognizing the feel of her sleeping with her head on his shoulder and the sight of her face relaxed in sleep. She was holding on to him, one arm around his waist and one foot wedged between his, making it almost impossible for him to move.

Abby sighed and held on tighter to him, and he let her.

He didn’t really wake long enough to question why she was there, or even where he was, or why she was holding on to him so tightly. He just drifted back to sleep, content with her presence.


The sun woke him up this time, and a dull throb that emanated from a location behind his left eyebrow. Lesser pain, more an ache, radiated from his chest and abdomen, and the skin on his upper arms felt uncomfortably tight.

He released a huff, and frowned. He didn’t really want to wake up. But he knew he had to. Wasn’t there something…something he was supposed to be doing? Someplace he…

His eyes snapped open with realization, panic and fear filling him as he remembered the barn, the computers, the others….Tara!

“Hey,” a familiar voice called from his left. “It’s okay, McGee. You’re okay.”

Tim searched the room for something he knew, examining the white walls, the pale peach blanket, the metal bars and the IV in his arm. He tried to form a word, but his mouth felt like it was filled with chalk. Hospital. He was in a hospital.

“You want some water?”

He tilted his head to the left, to where Tony was sitting in a plastic chair by his bed, his friend’s eyes shadowed as if he hadn’t slept. Tony’s smile grew, lighting up his face. He stood up and grabbed a cup and a pitcher from a bedside table, pouring water into the cup.

“Tony?” he whispered.

The other agent smirked crookedly, handing McGee the cup. “Yup. That’s me.”

Tim tried to sit up to take the water, and gasped as his stomach protested. “Ow,” he croaked, hand resting against his ribs.

“Yeah.” Tony grimaced. “Got some broken ribs, Probie. Told you that before, but you keep forgetting.” Tony still held out the cup.

Tim breathed through the pain, and frowned in puzzlement; and then more fully in annoyance. Actually, now that he thought about it, he did recall being told about his ribs before…and about some other things, like stitches in his arms and being on antibiotics. There was more, but it was muddled. It didn’t seem that important right now.

“You found us,” he said, looking over at Tony again.

“We did. You don’t remember?”

He didn’t. Or maybe he did. He remembered gunfire. And firing a gun. Flashing lights. A gun barrel aimed at Tony. The sun coming up.

He blinked slowly, then more quickly. Reams had tried to kill Tony.

“Is…are you okay?” He could see that Tony was, but you couldn’t trust him. Tony was an expert at hiding things.

He got a flash of a smile in response. “I’m fine. Thanks to you.”

Tim just gave a headshake at that. “The others? Are they okay? Nick and Angela? Gibbs? Ziva?”

“Everyone’s okay. Banged up a bit, but okay. Gibbs and Ziva are totally fine—not even a scratch.” Tony’s smile was honest, and Tim relaxed. Tony looked down at the cup he was still holding, which was now by his side, and held it out again. “You sound like a growling Muppet. Drink this.”

Tim reached for it and hissed in pain again, squishing his eyes shut.

“Yeah, ribs, remember? I feel like a broken record here, Probie. Look, the bed’s your standard hospital bed—make it do the work for you. Here.” Tony put the cup down on the bedside and grabbed a set of bed controls sitting by Tim’s hand. Tim made to take the remote once he saw it, but Tony was already making the bed tilt upwards.

“I’ve always wanted one of these beds,” Tony mused as he adjusted Tim to a sitting position. “Except when I’m in a hospital. Then I want my own bed.” He frowned. “But then I get home, forget about the hospital, and I want an adjustable bed again. It’s a conundrum.” He shrugged, finally putting the controls down. “Now--” Tony grabbed the cup again, but lifted it up out of Tim’s fingers when he reached for it. “Try to remember the ribs, would you? I don’t want to have to tell you again.”

Okay. The teasing was beginning to grate.

Frowning, Tim took the cup of water when Tony finally gave it to him, but when he drew it to his lips, his gaze caught the scars on his wrists.

And suddenly he forgot where he was. Memories of being tied up, of being so cold his head spun, of concrete walls and wet and damp and blood and Tara’s eyes.…

His hand shook.

Tony reached for the cup—obviously afraid Tim would drop it. The movement was enough to break Tim out of it.

He gritted his teeth and forced his hand to still. When he glared at Tony, Tony dropped his hand, the other man’s expression uncertain.

“I’m fine,” Tim snarled, his voice still low and rough. “I don’t need help.” He wasn’t a child.

“Okay then,” Tony said airily. “Whatever you say.” He plunked back down in the chair, propping his feet up on the bed, and he smiled again. “So, you’re really awake this time, aren’t you? You’re usually already asleep again by now, or blinking like an owl.” He mimicked blinking really slowly, his eyes rolling like an idiot, and Tim gave him a dark look.

Tony’s smile broadened even further at Tim’s expression, and he laughed. “No, really! I have been so bored with all the sleeping. Do you know how dull it is to watch you sleep?”

Tim frowned again. “You’ve been watching me sleep?” His eyes widened slightly and he shrank back a little. “Why?” he asked nervously. “For how long?”

Tony shook his head. “Man, you really are odd about some things, aren’t you?”

Tim pursed his lips, frowning. “I’m not odd,” he said defensively.

Tony just shook his head slightly. “Look, I’m here because we didn’t want you to wake up without someone around, okay? Me, Ziva, Abby and Ducky have been trading off since Monday. Your sister came yesterday, though, and she’s been helping.”

Tim stiffened slightly. “My sister? She’s here? But she’s supposed to be in California. She’d been looking forward to going there all year! Why is she here?” He tried to sit up again, wincing again at the pain. He frowned and fell back against the bed again, breathing through the soreness.

“Ribs, Probie.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Tim hissed through gritted teeth. “I know.”

Tony huffed. “I was only—“

“Why did you call my sister back, Tony? You should have told her to stay in California.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t call her back—she came on her own. She’s here because she’s worried about you. You’re in the hospital. Have been for over three days. You picked up a nasty cold, and they were worried about pneumonia.”

McGee shook his head angrily. “I’m fine.” He looked at Tony again. “Tell her she can go.”

Tony huffed in surprise. “I’m not going to—“

“I’ll pay for her plane ticket back. Tell her. She doesn’t have to stay."

“I can’t just—“

“I’m not asking, Tony! I’m telling. Make her leave. I don’t want her here!”

Tony’s jaw set. “Well, you can tell her yourself,” he said roughly. “She’ll be here this afternoon.”

Tim frowned, turning away from Tony. “I will.”

“Good,” Tony snapped.

“Fine,” Tim snarled.

“Fine,” Tony repeated.

Tim stared at the hospital wall for a little while, trying to quell the growing anger. It felt like it was consuming him.

He heard Tony sigh. “McGee, we only—“

“You can leave you know. You did your job.”

“My job?” Tony stood up so he could see Tim’s face better. He sounded slightly hurt. “McGee, come on, I only—“

“Would you just leave?” Tim demanded.

That was greeted with a long silence. Finally, Tony cleared his throat.

“McGee, look, I—“

“Leave!”

That garnered an even longer silence.

Finally, Tony sighed. “Okay. If that’s what you want. Um…look if you need me, you—“

“Can call, I know. Just go.”

Tony’s brow furrowed with confusion. “And will you call?”

Tim didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

“All right. Fine. If that’s what you want. But I’ll be by later. Oh, and they think you’ll be released tomorrow, and since I’m the only truly sane driver, I’ll be taking you home. So…” He put on a forced smile. “I’ll be here first thing in the morning to get you.”

Tim frowned. “I don't need you to drive me anywhere.”

“It’s not really negotiable, Probie.” There was steel underlying that.

Tim looked down, then tilted his head back to look at the other man. Tony’s face was an emotionless mask, his eyebrows raised as if daring Tim to challenge him. Shame suddenly filled Tim, and he nodded.

“Yeah, okay. I’m sorry, I….Thank you. That’s really nice of you.”

Tony’s blinked, then, a little too abruptly, he was smiling again. “Okay,” he said with a strained sort of cheerfulness. “Good. Um…so I’ll see you tonight. Gotta go to work now. Make sure it’s still in one piece and all that.”

Tim nodded, and looked at the window. The slats couldn’t hide the bright, sunny day outside. “What time is it?”

“About 7:00 am.”

Tim nodded.

Tony smiled again and made to leave, tapping Tim’s leg as he did so. “You’re going to be fine. Back to your old self in no time.” He grinned, but, this time, the smile didn’t wholly reach his eyes.

Probably because, like Tim, Tony knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.


Ziva woke him with a combination of prodding and poking, smiling brightly when she saw his eyes open.

“I knew you could not still be asleep,” she said proudly, as if she hadn’t just pulled him from a deep slumber. “Tony told us that you had fully awakened this morning, and he was right. Good to see!”

Tim blinked rapidly. “Huh?” Ziva was a lot to take in before a jolt of caffeine or, hell, several hours of being awake already. “Ziva?”

“No, it’s the tooth elf. Of course it’s me. I am here because I brought you lunch. They said I could since you had real food for breakfast, and so I brought you a wrap from Martouf’s. It’s not a burrito—they said that was too much for your stomach to handle, but this is almost as good.” She pulled the silver wrapped sandwich out of the bag, waving it in front of him. He could smell it, but his stomach was not really interested. But he took it, letting Ziva lift up his bed at the same time, so that he was sitting up. She pulled another one out of the bag and placed it on the bedside table.

“Water is all we have to drink, I’m afraid,” she said, producing a second cup to sit alongside his from the same bag. “But I did manage to sneak in this.” She pulled out a nutter butter and smiled. “For dessert.”

He smiled at her; how could he not? “Thanks, Ziva.”

“My pleasure.” She was pouring the water now. Suddenly, she straightened. “Oh.” She turned, putting the pitcher down hard enough that water sloshed over the edge. “I also brought you some things from your home.” She smiled again and headed over to the small folding table sitting under the TV set.

“My home?” he repeated. “You have a key to my apartment?”

She shook her head. “Of course not.” She pulled the top of the box off. “I picked the lock. Which was absurdly easy. You need new locks—your door has been picked at least three times recently, and you can see it has worn the mechanism. I spoke with your landlord, and he has agreed to purchase new locks for you and install them before you go home tomorrow. He’ll meet you when you arrive and provide you with the new keys.” She pulled a sheaf of paper out of the box as she spoke, setting it to one side. Then she pulled out some of his mechanical pencils.

McGee just blinked. “Three times?”

She nodded, looking over her shoulder at him. “Reams, of course. Then Tony, on Saturday morning. Now me.” She shrugged again, reaching into the box again, pulling out some highlighters this time, resting them on top of the blank paper.

Tim looked down at his legs, then up again. “Tony picked my lock? Why? Gibbs has a key.”

She stopped moving, then turned around. “Oh,” she said. “You don’t know what happened, do you?”

Tim’s brow furrowed, not understanding. “Uh, yes?” His eyes narrowed. “I was there.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I mean what we did. How we found you and the other white hat sneakers.”

He smiled at that. “White hat sneakers?”

“Isn’t that right? That was the clue you sent, yes?”

He gave a laugh. “Yes, but…I’ve never heard those two terms put together before.”

“Oh. Well…” She shrugged. “I like it. Head and feet.” She said pointed at her head and then at her shoes, as if that explained everything. Tim just shook his head, smiling wryly, letting it go just as he’d let the “tooth elf” go.

“Well,” he said then, “based on that, I assume you looked for me once Abby got my message.”

“Oh, yes, your message!” Ziva said. “That was very clever of you, McGee. That definitely helped us find you. But we were already looking for you long before she got the message.”

Tim blinked. “Really? Why?”

“Tony wanted you to go to the movies,” she said, waving a hand dismissively, before placing a hand on her chest. “I wanted to go hiking. Which, I think you’ll agree, is a much healthier activity. We were going go to the Cumberland Gap. I still want to go, by the way—when you’re feeling better and we have the weekend off again. We might even camp out there. I haven’t been camping in a long—“

“Ziva.”

“Right,” she said, shaking her head slightly as if to shake the digression out. “Well, when you did not reply to our calls, Tony got worried and went to your apartment. He heard your iPhone ringing inside, grew more worried, and picked the lock. That’s when we found out you were missing. By the time Abby got your message a few hours later, we had already discovered that the other three others had been taken as well and were looking for leads.” She smiled at him again. “It was a busy morning.”

“You…” He blinked. “You already knew? That means my message….” He felt sick again. “I didn’t need to—”

“Of course we needed it,” Ziva said seriously. “If you hadn’t sent your message, we would never have found you or knew why you had been taken. We were completely lost on location—even once we knew who had taken you, we still didn’t know where. And if you hadn’t sent Abby that virus, the damage it would have caused would have been enormous. The risk you took in sending that…” She shook her head again. “That was very brave, McGee.”

Tim’s eyes lowered then, and he felt the blood leave his face. “Brave,” he repeated softly.

“Yes.”

She waited a long moment, letting him take that in. She had to know what his “brave” act had cost by now—Tara’s death.

“McGee,” she said quietly, “you did what you had to do.”

He didn’t lift his eyes again—he just stared at the blanket on his bed, his gaze focusing on the fabric without really seeing it.

“Anyway,” Ziva said then, her perkiness a little more forced now, “I brought you this. I know that, when I need to think, to understand, I will go for a run. You do not do that, I know. However, I surmised that, perhaps, this is what you use to, as Tony says, expel your demons.”

Tim looked up then, blinking slowly, his mind still not totally back in the present. But when Ziva lifted his typewriter out of the box she had brought and placed it next to the blank paper, he clicked back into focus.

“You brought my typewriter?” He didn’t hide his surprise.

“I asked the nurses. They said it was fine. You can type all night, and they won’t bother you.” She turned around, smiling again. At his shocked face, she frowned. “What’s the matter?”

“I—“

“I did not break it,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I was very careful.”

He gave a small laugh, shaking his head again. “That’s not it, I just—“

“What? Was I wrong? Do you not use it for relaxing?”

Tim just opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally, he just nodded.

“Thank you, Ziva.”

Truth was, he hadn’t really written much since the whole mess with his second book. He didn’t know if he could anymore.

“Well,” Ziva shrugged, “it is here. I will make sure Tony remembers to take good care of it when you are released tomorrow.” She smiled again, walking back over to the bed and sitting down on the chair. She grabbed the wrap she had brought for herself and started to unpeel the silver paper. When she saw he hadn’t started to do the same, she looked hurt.

“You are not hungry?”

His fingers traced the edge of the silver paper.

“McGee?”

He was thinking again about what she’d said earlier. About how brave he had been. How stupid he’d been.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked quietly.

“I wasn’t brave,” he said finally, still not looking up.

She waited a while before speaking. When she did, her voice was soft.

“McGee, I doubt that anything I say would convince you that what happened to Tara Stokes was not your fault. I have watched you for three years, and I know how pointless that would be. However, I do want to be clear about something.”

He looked up at her. Her brown eyes were clear and steady, focused on his.

“If you had not sent that information to Abby,” she said slowly, “you would be dead now. You, Agent Zelnitz and Agent Cheevers, all of you would be dead. From what I understand, Tony might be dead, and Gibbs with him. Moreover, a group of terrorists would have the materials to cause an enormous amount of devastation. So, from my point of you, I thank you.”

He blinked a few times, then turned his gaze away.

Ziva sighed.

“You may not see what you did as brave,” she said. “But I know that what you did, it took great courage. You knew what would happen if you were caught, yet you did it anyway.”

“You’re right.”

She nodded. “Then, you understand—“

“No, you’re right that I knew that he would kill her if I was caught. He told us that right from the beginning. I knew, and I did it anyway. It was her life I risked, not mine. I knew he’d kill her…” He felt the tear run down his face, but he didn’t wipe it away—he deserved to appear weak. He was weak. “I wasn’t brave, Ziva. It’s not brave to risk someone else’s life.”

“That is not true, McGee, you—“

“If I hadn’t done anything, if I hadn’t involved her, she might still be alive.”

Ziva lowered her head.

Tim swallowed. “I just…I just hoped that, if he did catch me, that he’d kill me instead. Right up until he shot her, I hoped, I wanted…I wanted him to shoot me. But he didn’t. He did exactly what he said he would—he killed her for my actions. And I’m still alive.”

“So what are you saying?” Ziva demanded softly, an edge to her voice. “Are you saying you wish you weren’t?”

Tim didn’t answer.

Ziva released a heavy breath. He could see her out of the corner of his eye, struggling to come to terms with that.

“Well,” she said after a moment, her tone still carrying that edge, “fine. But I am not sorry you’re still alive.” She stared at him now, her gaze narrowed. “It is selfish, I know, but I am happy you are still here. And so are a lot of other people.”

He didn’t look at her directly. He couldn’t. He just closed his eyes.

“I’m a little tired, Ziva,” he said.

When he opened them again and glanced at her askance, she inclined her head.

“All right.” She stood up. “I’ll just take this to go.” She put her wrap back in the bag she’d brought. “But you should still eat yours. Keep your strength up.”

He didn’t answer.

“Please,” she said then.

He winced a little at the hint of desperation in her voice. To answer it, he nodded.

“Okay,” she said again. “Thank you.” She stepped around the chair and moved to the end of his bed. “I’ll be by to see you tomorrow after you get home.”

He nodded again. His still hadn’t lifted his gaze.

“And promise me,” she said, “that you’ll use the typewriter. Just…” She sighed softly. “Try.”

When he still didn’t look up, she hesitated a moment, and then turned to leave, her shoulders slumped.

When the door shut behind her, he looked across at the typewriter on the small table. After a moment, he closed his eyes and turned his head away.


He was dozing when Sarah came in a couple of hours later, and he opened his eyes slightly to watch her. His sister put her backpack down on the small table opposite his bed before pulling off her jacket, her gaze on the blank paper and pencils. She draped the jacket over a chair, then ran her finger across the top of the typewriter. He hadn’t touched it yet, which she could obviously tell, based on her soft sigh. When she turned around, she stopped with surprise, probably at seeing his eyes open.

Next thing he knew, she had her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

He actually laughed a little, and she pulled away, grinning broadly. Then she punched him lightly in the shoulder, attempting to school her face into a scowl.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again!” she snapped. “Scared me to death!”

Tim just smiled up at her. “Hi to you, too.”

And she was hugging him again. “You are such an idiot,” she muttered in his ear. “I hate you so much!”

He just smiled more. “I know. Me too.”

When she pulled back this time, she had to wipe the tears from her face. “I’m not crying,” she insisted. “You know how much I hate the smell of antiseptic, and you reek of it. Makes my eyes water.”

“You always know what to say to make me feel better, Sarah.”

She stared at him for a long moment, smiling wryly. “I try.” Then, quick as a gunshot, her eyes clouded over and she frowned deeply. “Now what’s all this crap about you wanting me to leave? Tony said you wanted me to leave.”

Tim’s smile fell. “I—“

“You can’t make me leave, Tim. Buy me a hundred plane tickets, I’m not going to go anywhere until I know you’re okay.”

He tried to smile again. “But I am okay, I—“

“Yeah, sure you are.” She leaned away from him so she could rest her hands on her hips. “You think I’m an idiot? You think I didn’t find out exactly what happened to you? Oh, sure.” She waved a hand about. “They tried to hide it from me, but I gleaned enough from what they weren’t saying, and you are not getting rid of me that easily.” She walked back to her bag and pulled out a thick tome—this one with the words “The Victorian Novel” written on it, slamming it down on the table next to the typewriter. “I’m staying in D.C. until I think you’re okay, got it?”

He grimaced. “Sarah—“

“No arguments, Tim. I’m going to stay here until dinner, then I’ll head back to my place, but!” She raised a finger at him. “I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll be staying in your apartment with you until I’m confident you’re back on your feet. And if you’re not okay with that, tough.” She crossed her arms and waited.

Tim just blinked at her. “But…” He frowned slightly. “I only have one bed.”

“Aero bed,” she said. “Brought one with me, with extra sheets and all.” Her arms were still crossed.

He watched her for a moment, feeling both overwhelmed and, a little unwillingly, happy. Finally, he offered her a small smile.

“Sarah…” He looked down at the bed. “I know how much you were looking forward to this thing in California. You can’t put your life on hold for me. I—“

“Shut up.”

He looked up again. “But—“

“Shut.” She was crying again, moving closer to the bed. “Up.”

“I’m just, I want you to be happy, and I really don’t need—“

He gasped because she was suddenly hugging him again, gripping so tightly this time it hurt his ribs.

“Sarah,” he croaked. “You’re hurting my—“

“Shut up!” she said, her own voice thick with tears. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”

He closed his eyes, riding it out. When she finally loosened her grip, she rested her head on his shoulder.

“I’m staying,” she said. And Tim finally figured out that it wasn’t for him.

He sighed softly. “Okay.”

He felt her whole body relax then.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

He gave a short laugh. “For letting you stay?” he asked.

“No,” she said, her head still buried in his shoulder so her voice was muffled. “For still being here. For holding on long enough for them to rescue you. For not dying. For not leaving me. Don’t you ever, ever, ever do that. Promise me you’ll never leave me.”

He closed his eyes. “Sarah, I—“

“Shut up, Tim. Just shut up.”

So he did. But he didn’t make her the promise.

And she knew it.


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