Thirty minutes later saw the guys settling into Tony's apartment for the night. Tim set up his computer, hooking it up to Tony's printer, once the search for the printer software had come to a fruitful conclusion. Once it was ready, Tim printed off what he'd written when Gibbs had told him to get it all out of his head and onto paper. Tony had remained quiet, letting Tim have the peace and quiet he seemed to need. Watching him work, Tony wondered how he was gonna be able to handle finding out that Tony knew about his drinking. Maybe Tony should just break it to him. Maybe not.

"Tony."

"Probie?"

"You've been… You've been a rock for me and…"

"Don't mention it, Probie. It's like I said. I really wish I'd have woken up to this sooner. Kinda feel responsible for it getting you down as bad as it did.

"'The thing is, Tony. I need you to stop doin' that."

"Stop doin' what?"

"Stop taking the blame. It doesn't belong to you; at least not most of it doesn't. And if we're gonna be able to build on us, as friends, you the big brother I've never had but always needed and wanted; well, then, I'm gonna need you to know the rest of it. If you want to, that is. If you're willing to…"

"Tim. Relax. Whatever it is that you need me to hear, I'm here for you. That's what big brothers are for, right?"

"Tony, you don't have to do this.""Yeah, I do. And you know what? I want to, so lay it on me."

Tim did just that, laying the stack of pages he'd just spent the last fifteen minutes printing and checking over, into Tony's outstretched looked at the neat stack of papers in his outstretched hands.

"I realized earlier tonight that I need you to read it." Tim told him quietly.

"Is any of this stuff Gibbs doesn't know about?" Tony asked worriedly.

"No, Tony. Gibbs knows everything that's in here. Well, not the last couple of pages. But it's not a secret from him. And he's the reason it's on paper in the first place, so I could work through it easier; keep it all straight."

"Why, Probie? Why would you need me to invade your privacy?" Tony asked.

"Because this." Tim pointed to the stack. "Is who I am me, Tony. This is the me that I need you to try to understand, so we can…" Tim couldn't finish the sentence.

"McGoo, we already watch each other's backs like brothers; we've already made it over the bad working relationship hurdle; why put yourself through this?"

"Because, Tony. I need to know that it's me, with all my quirks, phobias and shortcomings, is who you're really willing to be there for. I know that sounds selfish. But I can't put myself out there on any level, like that again, without knowing someone knows me enough to help when I can't see that I need it myself; though I pray I never find myself there again.

""Didn't Gibbs just do that for you?"

"Without a doubt. That's why I'm asking you to help me. So he won't have to do it ever again. Not that you will either, Tony, but, just in case."

"You make it sound like a terrible thing, him being the one that got you through this."

"What? No! That's not what I meant! Tony. Look, before Gibbs followed me home Wednesday night, I had never felt so alone and worthless in my entire life, except for high school. And I don't think my job would be too safe if Gibbs ever had to rescue me again."

"But, that's not even my point. We're friends, you and I and we should be there for each other. And I would, Tony, if you'd let me. I know with all this crap I've been buried under, you might think it's a joke, but I'm serious"

"Wow, Probie. Okay, relax, will ya? I was just tryin' to understand what's goin' on in that computer brain of yours. I get it. Really. And yeah, we should be there for each other. And you have taught me that none of us have to keep everything buried, right? I mean what kind of man would I be if I hounded you not to keep anything locked up while not following my own advice, right?" Tony admitted.

"That's good. Tony. So, you'll work on letting someone in? I'm a good listener, when you're ready." Tim offered seriously.

"I know, Probie. But, let's tackle one thing at a time, okay? First, let's get you back on your feet. Why don't you go hit the shower while I speed read through this?" Tony half joked.

"Thanks, Tony." Tim said with all the gratitude he possessed.

"You're welcome. Now, go." Tony answered before flopping down on the couch and turning his attention to the pages in his hands.

An hour and a half later, Tony finished reading what Tim had handed him. He would have been done sooner if he hadn't had to stop several times to dry his eyes. Having an internal view of the real Tim McGee was a reality check for Tony; one he hadn't been fully prepared for.

It left him shaken and worried about his ability to let Tim come back from this without being overly concerned about him now. He didn't want to screw things up, make them worse. But, damn it! The kid had been through so much, how could Tony not want to put bumper pads around him now?

Getting up, Tony was startled to see how much time had gone by while he'd read. Concerned at the total quiet in his apartment, he went in search for Tim. With relief, he found him sound asleep in the bedroom, wrapped in the heavy blanket from the bed; stretched out on the floor, apparently, unwilling to either disturb Tony while he read or take the man's bed. With a smile of appreciation for the man's ingrained manners, Tony stepped back out into the hall and closed the bedroom door. Retracing his steps to the living room, Tony pulled out his phone and hit a speed dial button. He realized it was late, but he had to talk to someone about this.

"Yeah. Gibbs."

"Hey, Boss. "

"Tony? What's wrong?"

"I know it's late, I'm sorry. I just…"

"Tony? You okay? What is it? Is it Tim? Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine. Sleeping like a baby, actually. Kid took the floor in my bedroom."

"You made him sleep on the floor?"

"No. His choice. I was too busy reading to notice he'd even gotten out of the shower."

"Must've been a damn good book."

"It was the writing you told him to do."

"What?"

"You told him to write everything down."

"And?"

"And he printed it out and asked me, practically begged me to read it."

"Did he say why?

""Said he wanted me to know the real Tim McGee. Said he needs me to accept who he really is."

"Understandable, considering everything that brought him to the low point. It had to be tough to read."

"Yeah. It was."

"You okay? Knowing all that now?"

"I think so."

"Talk to me."

"Boss, was he really gonna take himself out like that?

"It seriously crossed his mind more than once."

"All that drinking…"

"Was his alternative, Tony. Even while he was thinking of giving up, he was tryin' hard to stay in the game."

"Yeah, But, Probie? Drinking? Boss, that's just…"

"Tony. He's back with us. Let's make sure it stays that way"

"Yeah. Not sure I can do this."

"Do what, Tony?"

"Keep things normal between us now. I mean, he's been through so much, Boss. How do I keep from tryin to keep him from anymore?"

"Wasn't why he asked you in. He doesn't want a babysitter or a body guard, Tony"

"But, we're already giving him both right now, anyway."

"Right now, he needs them. Doesn't mean he wants them."

"I know, Boss. I just…"

"He just wants you to really know him; like a real brother already would, Tony. Don't baby him, just be there for him."

"Yeah. Okay." Tony said with uncertainty.

"Think back to what went through your mind when he first came to us, Tony; how you dealt with him then."

"That was different, Boss. I had to toughen him up, teach him things."

"Still do, Tony; the only thing that's different is that Tim's not green anymore. That and he's learned that the team really does care about him."

"Okay. I get it. I can do this."

"I know you can, Tony."

"Yeah?"

"You think I woul have sent him home with you if I didn't believe you could do it?"

"Right. Thanks, Boss."

"Get some sleep, Tony."

"Okay. 'nite, Boss."

"'Nite, Tony."


The next morning was a quiet one. Tim wasn't sure what Tony's reaction was gonna be and Tony wasn't' sure how to take things from where they'd left them the night before. Finally, Tim broke the ice.

"Tony. Are we okay? Did I overstep, push too hard?"

"We're good, Probie. It's just gonna take some time for my brain to process everything. You ready to go?" Tony decided Gibbs was right. Normal was the way to go. He felt relieved that he'd called the man and talked it out instead of struggling with it alone. Yeah, this talking things out seemed like a pretty good deal.

They finished getting ready in companionable peace and quiet, both lost in their own thoughts.

The day wore on as Tim went to his first appointment with his shrink and then went to work. No mention was made of any of what had transpired over the last two weeks and the team seemed to be back on track and back in the daily grind of casework. There was no visible sign that anything was wrong or even off with Tim anymore. Had he really gone through his first therapy session without a problem?

Day's end found Tim uncertain how the situation with him not going home alone would pan out. Soon, that mystery was solved as Gibbs told Tony and Ziva to call it a night. As he silently followed Gibbs out, Tim wondered what was going on. Once in the car, Gibbs finally addressed the elephant that had been hanging over Tim's head all day.

"How'd it go this morning?"

"Okay." Tim answered quietly

"Any problems?"

"No. You made it pretty painless for me. Thank you, by the way."

"Whatta mean?"

"Writing it all out."

"Okay. Glad it helped. Anything you need to talk about?"

"No, Boss. I'm okay. Better than I've been in a very long time"

"Good. Tony'll be over later. You guys can hang out. During the week, you'll crash here. On the weekend, you can go to DiNozzo's. When the doc clears you, you can go home."

"Okay. Thanks. Boss. For everything."

"I meant what I said, McGee. Don't ever do this to yourself again. You're not alone and what you do affects all of us."

"I won't, Boss. I promise."

"Good. I'm holdin' you to that. We all are."


One peaceful and almost normal week later, Gibbs was hopeful that he'd be getting that phone call soon. Everything seemed like it was back to normal. Tim and Abby were patiently friendly with each other and working on their relationship. Tony and Tim were undoubtedly closer with the teasing and razzing still there, but with no more deliberate stings to it.

The difference was remarkable, as now Tim gave back in the same spirit of fun, never taking any of it personally. Ziva was happily surprised to notice the difference and even happier to join in the spirit of things. Sure, enough, it wasn't long into that morning that his phone rang.

"Yeah. Gibbs."

"Agent Gibbs. This Doctor Smythe. Do you have some time? I would like to talk with you."

"Sure."

"I know this is unorthodox, but I'd rather do it face to face. Can we meet for lunch?"

"Where?"

"Where ever you're comfortable meeting."

"Name the place, I'll be there.

"Coffee shop on Market? Say 12?

"I'll be there."

"Thank you, Agent Gibbs."

"No. Thank you."

As he avoided looking at any of his agents, Gibbs hung up the phone and immediately got back into his work. Apparently, according to the drastically reduced noise level, so did his team. Soon enough, it was time to head out for lunch with Tim's doctor. Gibbs was actually looking forward to it.

"Agent Gibbs?"

"Doctor."

"I've heard so much about you, I almost feel like I know you."

"You have me at quite a disadvantage then, Doc."

"Does that bother you?"

"Not yet."

"Ah. I see. I am surprised that Tim wouldn't discuss me with you. He tells me that you've insisted he not be alone until I think he's ready."

"Thought that was best. Wasn't gonna take any chances."

"I applaud you, Agent Gibbs. Not very many bosses would go so far out on a limb for their subordinates."

"They're not just my subordinates, Doc."

"Yes, I can see that. Thankfully, Tim can too. He tells me you saved him."

"He saved himself; I just helped him redirect his thinking."

"Which; as we both know, saved him from taking the drastic measures he was contemplating.

"And your diagnosis?"

"Tim told me that you had him write everything down."

"Thought it was the best thing for him at the time."

"It was a stroke of genius!"

Gibbs just starred at the man.

"You took the opportunity to let him get the emotions that came with all of it and let him get them out as well. Apparently, it was extremely cathartic for him. As I'm sure you're aware, it also gave him room to add whatever else he needed to purge.

"I encouraged him to add whatever he needed to while he was at it."

"Brilliant."

"Okay. So, what's your prognosis?"

"He's more than ready to go back to standing on his own two feet, Agent Gibbs. But, he wouldn't be if you hadn't handled things the way that you did. I am not only impressed, I am thankful. Tim is a remarkable young man and I shudder to think what would have happened to him if you hadn't been there."

"I try not to think about that, Doc. How long does he need to see you?"

"He's not on any restrictions, Agent Gibbs. You have your agent back. But, I think you already know that. Any time Tim feels the need to see me, he's more than welcome to do so, but as of right now, he's decided to play it safe and continue coming to me once a week.

"Thanks, Doc."


Returning to the squad room, Gibbs got back to work and waited until the end of the day; letting them all go at the surprisingly early hour of 6 that night; before talking to Tim about it. Driving them back to his house, Gibbs smiled at the young man and broke the news to him.

"Your doc has given you the green light to go home alone."

"Doesn't sound like you agree with him, Boss." Tim said hesitantly as he rejoiced on the inside that he was considered recovered enough to do this.

"McGee. I thought you were ready days ago." Gibbs said with a smirk.

"Oh. Oh! Thanks, Boss." Tim's smile lit up his entire face. Gibbs smiled at him and returned his attention to driving. Tim packed his things from Gibbs' house and somberly headed home after Gibbs bid him a good night and ordered him to call if he had any problems. This was the first time he'd been here since he'd been in that really bad place. He could do this. Couldn't he?

"Hey, Probie! Took you long enough." Tony's voice invaded his thoughts before he'd taken three steps from his car.

"Tony?" Tim looked around in surprise.

"Well, yeah!" Tony answered smart-assed, like.

"McGee, what took you so long?" Ziva's voice shocked Tim.

"Ziva?" Tim looked her way with the evidence of his surprise clearly written on his face.

"Were you expecting someone else, perhaps?" Ziva asked with a smile

"Hey, Tim." Abby's quiet greeting came as a total surprise.

"Abby?" Tim stopped walking and turned in the lab rat's direction

"Probie, we know you know our names already, let's go in. We're starving and we brought dinner!" Tony declared with his Cheshire cat grin.

"Thanks, you guys!" Tim responded with his heart in his eyes.

"No sweat, Tim." Tony said quietly as he patted him on the arm. "That's what family's for. Oh, Papa Gibbs said to tell you not to let us drink any alcohol tonight."

"Yes, and Ducky threatened to string us up if we misbehaved," Ziva added.

"Relax, Tim. None of us brought any. It's a work night." Abby said

"Good. So, did someone bring us a movie or are you trusting my collection to offer something you'll watch?" Tim asked as he quickly changed the subject before anyone got uncomfortable.

"Are you kidding? Trust your collection? You must be joking!" Tony choked out.

"Somehow, I thought that's what you'd say." Tim grinned. "Okay, Tony, what'd you bring us?

"You'll find out soon enough, Probie." Tony teased as he loaded the mystery movie into the DVD player. "First, we eat."

Several hours later, after a fun filled night of pizza, soda, laughter, chips jokes and the hilarious slap-stick comedy of "Airplane", the team said their goodbyes and headed out to go home and get much needed sleep. As they'd left, Tim had hugged and thanked each of them from the bottom of his heart. Left alone for the first time in over a week, Tim could only think of the good things he'd figured out recently:

Being back in the fold; great.

Seeing that they were all willing to look out for each other; irreplaceable .

Feeling like a part of this family: priceless!


FINIS!