Oh, The Places You'll Go

All the Years at Quarter Speed



Notes: Episode tag to 905 (so spoilery). The fourth story in the Starting for Scratch 'verse. You should probably read the others first. This title pilfered from The New Pornographers.




"Team Bibbs, seriously?" Tim spears a broccoli stem and brings it to his mouth, considering how best to attack it. He puts it down again and cuts it into neat, even sized pieces.

"I thought it sounded snappy," Tony says through a mouthful of steak.

"You would."

Tony shrugs. "It's your fault."

"How is it my fault?"

"Because you started it with your…" Tony waves his hand in the air. It looks like he's winding his brain up, which would make a whole bunch of sense, Tim realizes. "Your 'TCad'. You know."

And Tim does know. Just hearing the word makes him flinch and he hates himself for that. Not as much as he hates Tony's instant eyebrows of understanding, but pretty close. It's been a long time, he tells himself. Tony's getting everything all figured out. Time for Tim to get past the past. Only the lump in his stomach says he's not succeeding. Not really. He puts down his fork, frowning at his plate.

"You okay, Tim?"

Tim nods, slow and measured, because he is if he logics it out. They've wrapped up the case (not neat and tidy but it'll do), Tony has only displayed his ass literally and not metaphorically (which, it turns out, is better, but not that great), and he's out for dinner with his hot, maybe-probably-hopefully-boyfriend. Given that they all nearly blew up and then there was the potential death by Gibbs glare if the G-date scenario had headed south, it's more than maybe he could have expected a couple hours ago. So Tony's distant flirting with McCadden--that should generate at most a wry smile and a shake of the head, right?

Wrong.

Tony purses his lips, considering. "You don't look okay. Spill."

Tim puts a forkful of broccoli into his mouth and chews, trying to work out the best way to put this. These days he's sure of Tony's friendship and pretty sure of his respect—most days—but the attraction part? That's new and strange for DiNozzo and, while he has absolutely zero doubts that Tony's enjoyed the make outs so far, Tim can't be sure that the leaves won't wither on the vine if he puts a toe out of Tony's comfort zone. The question is—how far does it extend? Tim is not a fan of the unquantifiable.

"So," he says, swallowing and pulling at his shirt collar. "Is it hot in here or-"

"Tim," says Tony with gentle warning. "I'm off duty. Don't make me go interrogation ninja on you. Talk to me."

Tim twists his lips. Here goes nothing. "The whole thing. With McCadden. I was kinda jealous."

"Well, duh," says Tony, leaning back in his chair. His foot brushes against Tim's leg. "That was the point."

Tim shakes his head. "You don't- I didn't- Look, I was jealous, jealous, okay? It was…it was like you dumped me and I hated it. I had all your attention and then it was gone and-" And it was like the sun being snuffed out, he doesn't say because that's way beyond his own comfort zone, never mind Tony's. He stabs another piece of broccoli, swallowing it down before he's barely had a chance to taste it.

Across the table, Tony is looking thoughtful. It's one up on terrified, Tim thinks.

"You liked me!" Tony says and it's edged with wonder and sounds way less like a crow than Tim had been expecting. "You liked me, liked me. Back then?"

Tim winces and nods. Tony's foot rubs against his ankle and then stills, the weight a solid pressure against him. Tim allows himself to feel a little soothed. If nothing else, it'll act as an early warning system if Tony wants to run.

Tony shifts forward, his foot staying exactly where it is. "I have a question," he says. "You might not like it."

"Ask."

"How long? Exactly. Have you…you know? The feelings. With the…"

Tim rolls his eyes automatically. "You know, you should totally run for President. You're such a great orator."

"No avoiding, McAvoiderson."

The waiter starts towards their table, but Tony shoos him away with a hand. There's no escape.

"You know how long," says Tim. "I told you."

And Tony says, "I you what?"

In for a penny, Tim thinks, because there's no way Tony's letting go now, and Tim's tired and there's a dog back at home who needs a walk. He takes a gulp of water and sets the glass down with deliberate care, wiping away a stray drop that's making a break for it down the side. "It's been a while. I mean, after the whole McCadden…the whole…what's the word?"

Tony tips his head to one side. " Intermission? Debacle? Fiasco?"

"All of the above. After that, I thought…well, I figured I should do the whole building a bridge thing, you know? Getting over it. But then there was the reporter woman and then all the video dating and I just…it was too big. I thought if I said something it would all go away."

Tony's got his best puzzled face on now and Tim wants to grab his hand and circle it in the air, winding him up to get there faster. "I don't…" Tony starts and then his face clears and he sits bolt upright, shoe knocking Tim's anklebone. Tim winces.

"You asked me why. Why I'd make you fall in love with me…with Claire, I mean."

"Yeah. I did. And you said you'd get back to me."

"I did?" And the puzzled face's stepbrother has come to visit.

"Yeah."

"Did I?" Tony's voice is low and concerned.

You know you didn't, Tim thinks. "No," he says and feels his shoulders hunch in on themselves despite his best attempts to feign nonchalance.

Impulsively, Tony reaches across the table and covers Tim's hand with his own. "I'm sorry," he says. "I don't know what I was thinking. Either of those times and a whole bunch of others. My, ah, my therapist says that a lifetime of not knowing yourself can't be fixed in a couple of weeks, and no you can't come by every day, Very Special Agent Tony, but…" Tony shakes his head and squeezes Tim's hand. "I will do better. I will be better."

Tim fights the urge to turn his hand upside down and curl it around Tony's. Some things don't need to be quantified for Tim to know that now is not the right time. "Just be you," he says. "Sure, you drive me crazy and more often than not in the bad way, but-" he stops, a grin flashing across his face. "I guess, be all you can be."

"That's the Army, Tim, we don't like them."

"I'm not sure you can be a global force for good, Tony. There's self improvement and then there's tilting at windmills."

Tony folds his arms and the loss of his warmth is strange, as though the bareness of Tim's hand were the anomaly and not Tony's touch. Tim suppresses a shiver.

"I could be a global force for awesome," Tony says.

"Of course you could," Tim says with the yes-dear tone his mom had taken with Sarah since she'd learned how to talk (and thirty seconds later to demand with menaces). "Or you could be a global force for pantslessness, either way. You choose."

"Abby's the global force for pantslessness," Tony points out. "Also for destroying perfectly good items of clothing. They were Armani, Timmy. Armani."

He pulls a sad face and Tim joins him, mourning the memory of the best jacket he'd barely owned.

"Maybe we should steal all her scissors," he suggests.

"Or cut off one of her pigtails, see how she likes it."

"Do you have a death wish, Tony? Because I think that's the kind of thing you should be telling me."

The conversation falls into their familiar pattern of bickering banter, the thickened atmosphere dissolving like sugar in coffee into near normality, the surface tension elevated, sweetened by the touch of two legs under the table.

Tim's car is parked a couple of blocks away and Tony insists on walking Tim to it. Tim makes a half-hearted effort to pretend to think Tony's being an idiot, but he's not fooling anyone, so instead they walk together in companionable silence, shoulders bumping every few steps. Each time it happens it sends a frisson of nearly-there anticipation through Tim's bones, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. It's slowly but surely killing him in the best possible way and Tim loves it. He's been pressing down on his feelings for Tony for so long that he'd almost forgotten how to feel them. Now it's a butterfly crawling out of its cocoon, shaking its wings free. One butterfly. Ten. A thousand. He loves it.

They draw to a halt by the car and Tony leans against it, squinting up at Tim in the sodium glow of the streetlight.

"Last year," he says. "Did you build that bridge?"

Tim blinks, startled. He'd thought they'd put that conversation to bed for the night. "Tried to," he says, and it's hard because so much of last year had been. "I started. Lots of times. But I couldn't ever get the foundations right." He'd waited so long in vain for Tony to get back to him and then, well, then a whole slew of water had passed under the bridges he'd failed to build. Some of it with very blonde hair. "It should have been easy. Sometimes I thought it was going to be because you... But…" he shrugs. If Tony at his assiest and most blatant office romancing hadn't been able to damn the river then nothing was going to work. Tim had accepted the exact high degree of screwed that he was and given up engineering as a bad job.

Tony looks down at his feet. "Yeah. The rebranding is timely?" He looks back up. "I wish-" He presses his lips together and shakes his head. "I don't wish. Regrets aren't worth the paper they're not printed on. On the other hand." He pushes off the car and grabs Tim's lapels, pulling him in for a kiss. Tim has just time to note that Tony's comfort zone might be slightly bigger than he'd presumed, maybe even global, and then he's too busy pushing his fingers into Tony's hair and clenching his hand in Tony's jacket and buzzing with the realization of pent up probabilities.

They pull apart, Tony grinning at him like he's just won the lottery. Tim can't help but grin back.

"You should get in the car before we get arrested for public indecency," Tony says, poking Tim in the chest with a sharp finger.

"I should get in the car before we get arrested for public indecency," Tim parrots, running his own finger down the front of Tony's shirt and stopping just above his belt. Comfort zones be damned.

"You know," says Tony, as Tim opens the door, "there's something to be said for the old-timey military slogans."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Because Tim, you're not just a job, you're an adventure."

Tim laughs. "Smooth, DiNozzo. Smooth. This how you get all the girls?"

Tony smirks and doesn't reply, turning and walking away with a hand raised. Tim watches him go. After a few seconds his shoulders shake and he starts to laugh. In his dark suit, Tony practically melts into the night. All except for one small white patch over his right buttock.

"He's still wearing the pants," he marvels to himself, the grin threatening to take over his face. "Of course he is, why wouldn't he?" Tony DiNozzo: like no one else in the world. Thank god.




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