Three months later...August...

Tim woke up, flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He was hot and all the covers were on the floor.

Please let them fix the A/C today, he thought. Usually, his apartment was fine, but the heat wave over the last week had conspired to leave him utterly miserable.

He rolled over and looked at the clock. He was awake early. No big surprise there what with how hot it was. Then, his eyes strayed from his clock to a small framed quotation. He smiled as he looked at it and got out of (or rather off of) his bed.

The sound of paws clicking on the floor alerted him to Jethro's approach and he sighed.

"Out, huh?"

Jethro panted and went off to grab his leash. Tim knew he couldn't put that off, but the temperature hadn't even fallen to 70 degrees overnight and it wasn't his idea of a nice time to deal with this heat. Still...

"All right, all right. Let me get my clothes."

He grabbed some running shorts, a t-shirt and his shoes. As he headed for the front door, he noticed that Jethro's water dish was empty. He'd have to make sure there was plenty for him while he was gone today. They didn't go far but did still run even in the heat and humidity of August in DC.

He got back and gratefully headed in to take a cold shower. Then, as he got dressed, he paused and looked at his wrists, at the scars that still marked them. He scratched at one wrist for a moment and then shook his head and took a deep breath.


Forcing himself to focus on his routine, Tim finished getting ready for the day. He refilled Jethro's water dish...and then got out the waterer he'd purchased the day before. He filled it with water and set it on the floor.

"Now, this should do you until I get back. Don't drown yourself."

Jethro barked at him and began lapping up the water.

There was a traffic jam on the way to work. Tim sat anxiously, waiting for the cars to start moving again. As he waited, he found that his hands had strayed to his wrists again, not scratching but absent rubbing. He firmly moved them back to the steering wheel.

Finally, traffic crept forward again...and he was on his way.

...but not for long. He saw a man stopped along the side of the road, car hood up and staring in distress at whatever it was he saw. Tim wasn't really car savvy, but he normally tried to stop and help where he could. He hesitated as his car slowly approached and came level with the stalled car. Then, he was ahead...and pulling over to the shoulder. He came to a stop as the cars around him kept going and stared at his steering wheel.

What am I doing?

But he knew what he was doing and he took a deep breath before opening the car door. He walked back toward the man.

"Oh, thanks for stopping. You would not believe the morning I've been having," the man said, a relieved smile on his face. "I just got into DC last night and got this stupid rental and then my phone's gone dead...and I don't know the numbers to call for tows or anything anyway. I don't want to miss this interview. I need the job. Do you know anything about cars?"

Tim smiled and hoped it seemed sincere.

"Not a lot, but I do have a phone. So if I can't see what's wrong, then at least you can call for a tow."

"Thank you. Really. Thank you. My name's Chris." He held out his hand.

"...I'm Tim." He hesitated and then shook hands. He saw that Chris noticed the scars on his wrists when his jacket pulled back...but he didn't say anything about it.

"So...do you see what's wrong?"

Tim looked at the engine. He knew the basics about car maintenance; so he could at least check the obvious things. He checked the oil (full up). The connections...and then he saw it...and smiled.

"Here it is."

"What?" Chris leaned over and Tim tensed slightly at how close he was.

"Th-The battery. It's probably charged up fine, but your post connection...or whatever it's called...it's come loose. That happened to me when I had an older car. It's easy to fix. You just need to take it in to any shop and have them replace the connector."

"How am I going to get there, though?"

"You can fix it temporarily. You just have to get it as tight on there as you can and then hope you don't hit any big potholes." Tim smiled.

"You think it'll get me to where I'm going?"

"Well, where are you going?"

"The Smithsonian. I'm applying for a job as a curator. I got laid off last year and I've been trying to get something in my area of expertise ever since."

Tim reattached the connection to the battery as tightly as he could.

"Okay, now try it."

Chris got into his car and turned the key. The welcome sound of the engine roaring to life made Tim smile. Chris got out of the car, a wide smile on his face.

"Wow. Thank you. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. I would never have thought to look at the battery post."

"You know, if you're going to the Smithsonian, it would probably be easier to take the Metro rather than find a parking space down there. The Smithsonian doesn't have a parking garage, you know."

"No, I didn't know. The last time I was at the Smithsonian...let's just say I was a lot younger. I'm from back West...and the town didn't have much in the way of public transportation."

"Well, take my word for it. You'd be better off parking your car at a Metro station and taking that."

Chris looked around, as if he'd somehow see a Metro station magically appear. Tim laughed.

"The Takoma station has parking. If you get in your car and drive to the next intersection and then turn left and go three blocks, you'll see the Takoma station. When you get in there, there are machines where you buy your fare. Put probably about ten dollars on it and then, when you get on the train, and head toward Fort Totten stop. Stay on until you get to the Metro Center and then transfer to either the Orange or the Blue Line and ride toward the Federal Triangle. You'll get off on the stop after that, the Smithsonian stop."

Chris nodded. "Thank you again. Man, I'm lucky you stopped."

"You have no idea," Tim said and then smiled at the confusion on Chris' face. "I...sometimes have trouble talking to people I don't know."

Chris only nodded. "Well, thank you doubly, then. Is there anything I can do to repay you?"

Tim shook his head. "No. Not a thing. You already helped me more than you could ever know."


"I couldn't really explain it. But thank you. Good luck with your interview."

"Thanks." Chris walked back to his car but he stopped. "Good luck with...whatever it is that's hard for you right now."

"Thanks." Tim walked back to his car and got in. He looked back once and saw Chris still staring at him. He waved and Chris waved back before turning his attention back on the road. As he merged back into traffic, he sighed with relief. He could only now admit to himself how frightened he'd been about stopping. As he continued on his way, he began to smile, happy at his success.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, but he was late. He pulled into his parking space and hurried inside. When he got in, he sighed. The A/C was working here at least.

"Welcome back, Agent McGee!"

Tim smiled. "Hi, Henry. It's good to be back."

"You doing all right?"

"Better than I was."


That was it. Henry passed him in and Tim got on the elevator, riding it up to the bullpen.

"You're late, McGee," Gibbs said.

"Sorry, Boss. Traffic jam...and I stopped to help a guy whose car broke down."

Gibbs stopped and looked at him with surprise just for a second. A smile briefly quirked his lips and then he was back to business.

"Tony and Ziva are already up in MTAC interviewing for our latest case. You can get caught up. The files are over there." He jerked his head toward Tim's desk.

"Right, Boss." Tim started walking over.


"Yeah, Boss?"

There was a long enough pause that Tim turned around.

"What, Boss?"

"You all right? You ready to be back?"

Tim thought about everything that had happened today, about the nights he'd had since coming back to DC two weeks ago. He looked down at his wrists and then around the bullpen.

He met Gibbs' gaze and nodded firmly.

"Yes. I'm ready to be back."


Tim smiled. "Thanks, Boss."

He sat down at his desk and opened the files on the MCRT's latest case.

"And McGee?"


"You know they're going to make you celebrate."

"I know."

"You okay with that?"

"I think so...mostly." He rubbed his wrist for a moment and then stopped. Gibbs noticed.

"You don't want to, let me know and we'll stop."

"I will, Boss. Thanks."

Tim looked around one more time...and Tony and Ziva, just coming out of MTAC caught his eye. He smiled.

"I'm glad to be back, Boss."


Tim sat back for just a moment. Was everything perfect? No, but that was okay. It was enough...and it would get better.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

~Theodore Roosevelt