Chapter 29: Stage Eighteen

"Tonight's the last night," Tim said without preamble in the morning.

"You ready for it?" Tony asked.

He nodded. "I don't want a party or anything, okay?"

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to celebrate. I just want it to be over."

"If that's what you want."

"It is."

"Okay, McGee," Tony said reluctantly. "No party."

"I'm leaving early to meet my parents for dinner, but I'm not going to celebrate."

"You should, McGee," Ziva said.

Tim just shook his head and sat down. "No. ...so you can cancel the clown and the balloons."

Tony seemed almost startled at the concluding statement. He met Tim's glance and saw the small smile.

"Bozo was really excited. You have no idea," he said finally.

"Sorry to disappoint him."

Silence.

"When will your parents arrive?"

"This afternoon. We decided we need to talk about some things."

"So...after today, you're finished?" Tony asked.

"Finished with taking drugs, you mean?" Tim returned. "Yeah. No more taking drugs. You'll just have to deal with me as I am."

Ziva walked over to his desk. "I am glad of that, McGee," she said. "It is a good thing."

"Yeah."

"Hey, McGee, it's okay to be happy about it, you know."

Tim nodded and looked at his computer screen. "I know. I'm just not ready to be happy about it, okay?"

"Okay. Let us know when you are," Tony said.

"I will."

Gibbs came in moments later and directed them to get to work. He gave Tim a brief questioning glance and received a shrug in response. That was all.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

As the end of the day got closer and closer, Tim was filled with dread at talking with his parents. Whenever there was a spare moment, he noticed that his hand strayed to his arm, tracing the scars left over from his withdrawal. More than anything else, those were a symbol that would never go away...a label of who he had been...of who he still was. Tim knew that he would be a former addict for the rest of his life. That was a part of him and even though there was a part of him that wanted to excise that hard fact, he knew it was impossible. He had to accept it, but he couldn't do it without some loathing, even now.

That was why he didn't want to celebrate. He shouldn't be lauding himself over finally embracing a normal, i.e. legal, lifestyle. It was a relief, not a triumph.

He looked at his screen once more and then logged off. As he stood to go, he knew that Tony and Ziva were staring at him, that even Gibbs was glancing at him. He just smiled weakly at them all, not being able to bring anything more genuine out.

"See you tomorrow."

"Congratulations, McGee," Tony said.

Tim looked sharply at him, expecting a joke or a barb, but Tony was serious and he nodded at the unasked question.

"Thanks."

"Have fun with your parents," Ziva added.

"Thanks, Ziva."

Then, Tim got on the elevator. As it descended, he wondered if he would ever feel normal again...or if he had ever felt normal in his life. Was every time he remembered being happy a time when he had been on drugs?

One more deep breath and he went off to meet his parents.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

Tim stood outside the hotel for a few moments before walking inside. He knew they were supportive but it didn't make it any easier to see them for the first time.

They're here. They're happy for me. Go inside, Tim.

He nodded to himself and walked through the lobby toward the elevator. When the doors opened, he jumped back at the sight of his parents just getting ready to get off.

"Mom...Dad...hi."

Naomi said nothing. She just walked to him and hugged him tightly. Sam rolled forward and pulled him from Naomi, downward so that he could hug Tim as well.

"I thought of a quote, Tim," he said softly.

"About being an addict? You read too much, Dad," Tim whispered.

"It took some time, I will admit. I suppose it's not specifically about addiction, but if it's not, I don't know what else could be."

Tim straightened. "So what is it?"

"Pearl S. Buck. 'None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.'"

"Nice one."

"Do you agree?"

Tim walked with them toward the front doors. "It's worse when you suddenly realize that you're a slave and you never knew it before."

"How does freedom feel?"

"Not quite free yet. One more night. Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"Let's go for a walk first, Tim. Is there a park near here?"

"Yeah. This way."

Tim led them down the sidewalk to a small parkette. He sat down on one of the benches. Naomi sat beside him and Sam put on his wheel brakes so that he was facing Tim directly.

"Talk, Tim."

"Tonight's the last night. I'll officially be clean."

"Do you feel clean?" Naomi asked.

"In what sense?" Tim asked.

"Any."

"In terms of feeling addicted? Yes. Taking the pills has been more of an irritation lately. I'm ready to be done."

"In other terms?"

"I still feel dirty," Tim admitted. He sat up and pulled off his jacket, revealing his scarred arm. "This is what I did when I was withdrawing."

Naomi leaned forward and picked up his arm, holding it gently. She looked at it carefully, running expert fingers over the scars.

"This is what you meant when you told us that you almost died. Were you trying to commit suicide, Tim?" she asked, her voice low.

"No. Not exactly."

"What was it exactly, then?" Sam asked.

Tim dropped his head.

"Tell us, Tim," Sam said.

"I don't really want to."

"Do it anyway," Naomi said. "Help us understand, Tim. Who knows? Maybe it will help you, too."

"Okay." Tim took a deep breath and smiled when he felt Sam grasp his shoulder. It gave him the strength to look up.

"It was...really hard for me to admit that...what I was, what I almost did to myself. I had decided to stop...after Jethro accidentally took one of my pills. I was going to stop so that he wouldn't get hurt again, but it almost killed me because I didn't realize just how bad I was. The hospital didn't either. I can't explain exactly what I was thinking...but...I remember that I thought I had the solution. The perfect solution to the confession that I was an addict, that I had basically ruined my own life." Tim stopped and stared at his arm again.

"What was the solution?"

Tim managed a sad laugh. "Did I ever tell you that I bought a Ginsu knife? You know...I watched one of those stupid infomercials and I decided to buy it. They're pretty sharp." He nodded a few times. "Really sharp."

Naomi put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "Go on, Tim."

"I decided that I was going to stop being an addict...and I knew that the drugs were in my bloodstream. That meant that I had to get the drug-laden blood out of me. So I came home, took the knife and starting cutting up my arm. I wasn't thinking that I was going to die. I was thinking that this would solve everything. Right away. I could stop being an addict, could stop being that person and everything would go back to normal. It was...a mistake, but like everything else with this..." Tim closed his eyes, not wanting to cry again. "...I'll be...paying for that mistake for the rest of my life. These scars aren't going away. They'll never go away. ...and maybe some time in the future, I'll slip and fall again."

For a few minutes, Tim just sat silently, feeling his parents near, basking in that safety. Then, finally, he really understood what his problem was, why this coming end brought him no joy.

"I'm so afraid," he said, as he started to cry. "I'm so afraid that I'll...that I'll do it again, that...that one day, something will happen and I'll...I'll just...j-just lose control. I'm so scared...Mom. I'm scared that I'll be like that again." The tears overwhelmed him briefly. "I don't want to be that again. I don't want to. People are saying that I should celebrate, that I should be happy...but I'm just scared. I've spent so much of my life using drugs and...and there's all this time stretching out ahead of me. What if it happens again?"

"Oh, Tim," Sam said. "You have a choice. You always have a choice. Yes, in your case, the choice is tempered by your past experience...but that doesn't mean you don't have a choice about what to do. You've fought back from an addiction that has apparently lasted half your life. You can choose to say no."

"When I was doing this to myself...I couldn't stop, not even when they found me and were trying to save me. When I tried to stop taking them the first time, my whole body was...it was out of my control. It was...I had no say. I felt powerless to do anything. I'm afraid of feeling that again."

"Tim, unless someone holds you down and forces you to take the drug again, you won't feel that."

Tim laughed through his tears. "I know. I know, Dad. I know that in my head, but...it's one of those things that still scares me, gives me nightmares."

"There's nothing wrong with being afraid, but you can't let it ruin your enjoyment of life," Naomi said. "Otherwise, what was the point in trying at all?"

"Sometimes I wonder."

"Try being happy. Take the chance that you can be happy, that you don't have to worry about that anymore."

"I want to," Tim said, taking deep gulping breaths as he tried to calm down again. "I really want to. It's just that I wake up and I'm afraid."

"I'm not saying you have to be happy instantly, but you shouldn't feel you can't be at all."

"Yeah...I know you're right...but it's hard when it's me that has to do it."

"I'm sure it is. Tim...I know you said you didn't want to celebrate, but..."

Tim wiped the tears off his cheeks. "What?"

"Why don't you invite your friends to dinner with us? Not a party, just dinner with these people who helped you so much...who cared enough to help you as much as they did."

Tim wanted to say no, wanted to resist the suggestion, but he knew it was as much because of his fear as anything...and somehow, having expressed that fear, acknowledged that it existed...it lessened the fear somewhat.

"Okay. Okay. I told them already that I wasn't doing anything. They've probably made other plans."

"Just try."

"Okay."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

To Tim's surprise, everyone he called said they'd come. They gathered at a restaurant out in Silver Spring and it was equally surprising that he was able to find a place that could accomodate such a large party (nine people in all, including one wheelchair). They were fairly lively, but Tim could tell that they were restraining themselves a little for his sake (especially Abby and Tony). ...but he had fun, and for a little while, he was able to forget his fear. The conversations were light, not focused on any particular topic, not forced. It could almost have been a meal on any sort of occasion. Almost. Not quite, and Tim could tell that they were all aware of the coming event. As much aware of it as he was. They all wanted it to be over.

"Would you like any company tonight, McGee?" Ziva asked, as they were heading out of the restaurant.

Tim considered...and then shook his head. "No. If you don't mind, I'd like to do this alone."

Ziva smiled. "I understand. I do not mind." She hugged him quickly. "Thank you."

Before Tim could ask what she meant, Abby was giving him a bonecrushing hug.

"Thanks for letting us be here, Tim," she said.

"You're welcome. Thanks for coming."

"Of course we came, Probie. I did have to cancel the clown, you know."

Tim laughed and extricated himself from Abby's grasp.

"I never did like clowns much."

"You sure you want to be alone tonight, Tim?" Sam asked.

"Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow morning, bright and early, Dad."

"All right."

One by one, Tim bid them all farewell and then went home. When he got there, he was confronted by Jethro who demanded attention and a brief trip outdoors. Tim did so as quickly as he could. When he got back inside, he fed Jethro and sat beside him on the floor.

"I guess I'm not really alone, am I, Jethro. You're here." He smiled and scratched his ears, then got up and walked into the kitchen. As he had every night for the last eight months, he took the pill bottle out of the cupboard, shook out the pill, filled the glass with water. He took the last pill and stared at the empty bottle. He didn't need it anymore. With some satisfaction and a little bit of anxiety, he put the lid back on it and threw it into the garbage after removing and destroying the prescription information. Then, he looked at his "drug glass". He was going to throw it away as well, not wanting to see it anymore, but he stopped midmotion and looked at it again.

"It's not broken. It's not dirty. It would be a waste to toss it, wouldn't it, Jethro."

Jethro was occupied with something a lot more interesting than a glass (his food) and did not respond.

"It would," Tim said to himself.

Instead of throwing it away, he washed it out in the sink, dried it and put it back with his other glasses. It looked just like they did. Cheap glass. That's all. After a week or two, he wouldn't even know which one it was.

Somehow, it was a comforting thought, knowing that even with his guilt, worry, fear...he wouldn't know which glass he had used to take his drugs. It was all over now.

He went back and sat beside Jethro. He pet his dog until he finished eating. Then, they went into the bedroom together. Jethro got onto his dog bed while Tim changed his clothes and brushed his teeth, essentially getting ready for bed. It was early but he felt like relaxing.

After he had settled on his own bed, he turned on the TV and found a movie playing on TCM. He watched it for a while and then looked over at Jethro. He smiled.

"Come on up, Jethro. Just this once."

Jethro didn't need asking twice. He jumped up onto the bed and curled up beside his master. He was asleep pretty quickly. Then, Tim looked down at him.

"Good night, Jethro. That was the last time. No once mores. It's over. I'm clean."

That statement was not without some fear, but Tim knew he could say it honestly.

After a while, he fell asleep.

FINIS!