Oh, The Places You'll Go

At the Going Down of the Sun

Notes: I had this weird urge to write Tim and Tony meeting for the first time as little kids, and then I remembered it was Remembrance Sunday (I know you US guys do Veterans Day on the 11th) and somehow this was what came out. The title is from the poem, "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon.

I remember you, those who died, and those who survived. I remember you. And this may seem like a strange offering (and it is), but offering it is all the same.

Thank you to soupytwist who tells me I'm not crazy and wants to cuddle wee!Tim. Very pre-series so no spoilers

It's a well-ordered crazy, Tony thinks, blinking as the sharp autumn sun reflects off countless medals and uniforms starched and bleached to within an inch of their life. He's never seen so much white and blue in one place his whole eleven years and just looking at all those sailor suits makes him queasy. He sends up quick thanks for his latest growth spurt which means there was no way he was fitting in to the last humiliating atrocity for today. How do they keep them so clean, he wants to know, rubbing his ass in memory of consequences of dirt-gone-by.

He slips behind some old guy spouting some shit about death and honor and thinks probably Uncle Jack would choose to be alive and dishonorable and had the guy ever seen him after a few beers and the Thanksgiving football game? Tony's pretty pissed at Uncle Jack for dying. Okay, so maybe they didn't see so much of him these days after the Great Christmas Incident of 1981, but he'd always been on Tony's side and had saved him at least a dozen hidings. With him gone, there's one less barrier between Tony and his dad.

Tony gets closer to the casket--he's gonna tell Jack just how pissed he is while he's still got the chance to do it unnoticed--and then there's a movement which distracts him from the red, white and blue of the flag wrapped around the coffin. He looks down. Oh, that is so not good. Some little kid has crawled under the cart and is sitting there, cross-legged, arms folded, looking like he's about one step away from a full-on meltdown. What if the horses back up? And the cartwheels are huge, nearly as tall as Tony. Crap. Uncle Jack will have to wait.

"Hey," says Tony, bending down and shoving his head under the cart. "You should probably come out of there."

The kid regards him thoughtfully. "I'm running away," he says eventually.

"Okay," says Tony. "That's fair. I'm not making you unrun away or anything, but it might help you to know that you've got, like, a minute or something before this cart moves and you get trampled to death by the color guard and all the mourners. So's you know."

The little kid's face pales but he sits firm. Brave or stupid, Tony can't quite decide.

"I'll just hold on underneath. There's bars."

Both, obviously. "Sure, whatever, kid. We could always dump you in the grave on top of Uncle Jack. You know, when you die."

And there's the lower lip right on cue. Just like cousin Crispin. Tony takes advantage of the kid's wobbling to duck under the cart, grab his arm and tug him out. He's maybe half Tony's age and no match for him at all and stumbles towards Tony, catching him around his waist as they emerge. Tony staggers, but rights them both before they go down and peels the little boy off of him.

"Where am I going to run away, now?" demands the kid. "Will you help me?"

"No," says Tony, automatically, moving them both well out of the way of all potential horse and cart-related trauma and adds, "Why are you running away, anyway?"

"Daddy told a lady I was going to be in the Navy when I was older just like him and I don't like boats they make me throw up and I don't like doing that because it smells and it's messy and gross."

"Just like him, huh? I hear you, kid," says Tony, patting the kid on the shoulder. Navy, family business, pressure is pressure and Tony wonders if running away might be his solution, too.

"You're a kid."

"Um, yeah?"

"So why d'you keep calling me kid. You're a kid, too." The kid looks at him with big, solemn eyes. They're green, just like Tony's and that's two things they have in common. "Kid," the kid adds and Tony grins.

"I wouldn't have to call you kid if I knew your name," he says.

"I'm not supposed to tell my name to strangers."

"Yeah, but I'm not a stranger, am I? I just rescued you from certain death so that means you owe me." Tony stops, thinking. "Or maybe it means I'm responsible for you now, something like that. I can't remember. Either way, we're, like, bonded or whatever, so you have to tell me your name."

"Oh, okay," says the kid, clearly convinced by Tony's amazing logic. "I'm Timothy McGee but you can call me Tim but not Timmy."

"Hi, there, Tim-but-not-Timmy, I'm Tony." Tony sticks out his hand but the kid doesn't shake.


Tony rolls his eyes. "Tim," he agrees. "Look, everyone's lining up, I should get you back to your dad. Where is he?"

Tim doesn't reply, just shakes his head like it's going to fly off and Tony sighs. This being responsible thing is hard.

Just then, a little way up the road, some guy in full dress uniform breaks free from the crowd. He's wearing that combination of pissed and worried that Tony recognizes as "Why did I ever have a kid?" and before he opens his mouth, Tony knows what's coming out.

"Tim! Timothy McGee, come here, now!"

"Looks like he found us," says Tony, sympathetically and grabs Tim's hand, giving it a little squeeze. "C'mon, I'll bring you. Maybe he'll be less pissed if you're not on your own."

"I don't want to be a sailor," says Tim in a small voice.

"You don't have to be," says Tony. "You can be whatever you want, I promise."

Tim's face brightens. "Can I be a bounty hunter?"

Tony blinks. "Suuuure." He tugs lightly and Tim falls into step beside him. It takes about three seconds for Tim's dad to spot them and come hurrying towards them.

He barely glances at Tony before grabbing Tim and lifting him up into a crushing hug. Tony thinks the medals have got to be hurting the little boy, but it's not his call. Tim's making squeaking noises and he's maybe about five seconds away from total suffocation, but the guy's eyes are squeezed shut and his face is all scrunched up and Tony wonders if anyone will ever look like that on his behalf. Probably not.

Setting Tim back on the ground, the guy crouches down and gives the kid a gentle shake. "Don't ever run off again, d'you hear me, Timmy?"

Tim looks like he's about to cry and Tony says, "He doesn't like Timmy." He has no idea why.

The guy looks at him for the first time, then, a cool appraisal that makes Tony want to straighten up and stand to attention. He doesn't though. Instead he steps closer to Tim and puts a hand on his shoulder.

"Thank you for taking care of my son," the guy says, with a sudden smile that Tony can't help but answer. "I probably shouldn't have brought him, he's only five, but I wanted him to know, you see. What it's like. And I hope there won't be another chance." He rubs his neck as he stands. "That probably makes no sense to you, does it?"

The weird thing is, it kind of does. Tony's not been brought up in the military like this kid, but he's heard enough from Uncle Jack to begin to understand what sacrifice and honor and remembrance mean. "I could look after him, if you want," Tony hears himself say. "So you can say goodbye and not worry about Tim getting bored and running off again."

It's Tim's turn to smile up at Tony now, and it's kind of cool how little it takes to be a hero, which almost makes up for the fact that he's volunteered to baby-sit a kindergartener. Maybe this whole death thing has knocked him about more than he'd thought. Tim's dad looks behind him at where the funeral procession is just starting to move, the music of the band soaring into the cloudless sky.

"Okay," he agrees, and then narrows his eyes. "Won't your own folks be wondering where you are?"

Tony shrugs. He doesn't like to say the answer out loud. He doesn't even like to say it in his head. "It'll be cool. I'm eleven, I can look out for myself."

"Eleven, huh? Well, now, that is grown up." Tim's dad turns his attention to his son. "Tim, stay by-"

"Tony," Tony fills in.

"-Tony, and mind what he says. Who knows, there may be a donut in it for you."

Good, old-fashioned bribery, thinks Tony. It's a valid tactic, and judging by how the kid is kind of soft around the edges it's likely to hit the target.

"Yes, sir," says Tim and reaches his hand up for Tony's. Tony takes it and the three of them merge into the crowd as the procession passes.

Tony's gotten pretty good at getting lost over the years and it doesn't take much work to have the two of them slipping out the back and wandering along a few paces behind everyone else.

Tim rambles on about bounty hunting and space ships and laser guns and it takes Tony a while to figure out the kid wants to be Boba Fett. He could say something about, okay so we stuck some people on the moon but we're a ways off a galaxy far, far away, sorry, but why burst the little guy's bubble? So he makes the right kind of noises and tries to figure out how many white gravestones they're passing, neat rows stretching for as far as he can see. At least Uncle Jack will have plenty company, Tony thinks.

"Who's dead?" asks Tim, and Tony wonders how he expects him to answer that question. There are thousands of graves. And then, oh- That's not what he's asking.

"Uncle Jack," he says, as if that explains everything, and hey, the kid's five, so maybe it does.

"Why is he?"

Tony takes a deep breath and grips Tim's hand tighter. "He got blown up. In Beirut." He shrugs. "He probably didn't feel anything, Dad says." And that may be the first time since he figured out Santa Clause was fake that he's really, really wanted to believe what his dad told him.

"What's Beirut?"

"It's a city in a country a long way away. Like Cloud City, right?"

"Okay," says Tim. "'Cept how Cloud City didn't get blowed up."

"Right," agrees Tony, taking a deep breath.

The procession draws to a halt and there's a whole bunch of ceremony and fuss with the coffin that Tony can't quite stand to look at and they wait in silence, the two of them, until Tim says, "Why'd Uncle Jack blow up?"

Tony wants to shove the kid, then. Shove him and yell, "He's not your uncle!" and run away himself and not think about how Uncle Jack wasn't even meant to be there in the stupid barracks in the first place. He doesn't, though, he breathes slowly and evenly, the way Uncle Jack taught him to do that time he'd found him practically hysterical after the dumbass big kid next door had called him a little girl just because he couldn't tie his shoelaces yet and had laughed in Tony's face when he'd tried to pummel him.

"It's complicated," says Tony and then hates himself for saying it. That's what grown ups always say when they don't want to be bothered explaining. "I mean. Okay, lots of people want to hurt Americans because they don't like us. They think we're too bossy and we're always telling people what to do. It's like...um, you know, there's that kid in your class who breaks your model 'cuz you've told them not to play with it, right? Only worse."

Tim regards him with a puzzled face, and then something must click for him because his face clears, he nods, lips pressed together tight, and says, "Okay."

"C'mon, we need to go," says Tony, and shepherds Tim towards the graveside.

They stay well back, and Tony tells himself it's for Tim who jumps a mile at the first gun and clings to Tony with a surprisingly firm grip for the other two shots. Tony presses one hand over the ear that's not squashed into his side and absently pets Tim's hair with the other hand. They stay like that until the last note of Taps dies away and Tony has forgotten exactly who was supposed to be comforting whom. He's forgotten, too, that he's supposed to be pissed at Uncle Jack and now he just feels empty.

"Bye, Jack," he whispers and it must be the cold air or something that's making his throat ache.

Tim peels off Tony and looks up at him, squinting against the sun. "I'm sorry your uncle's dead. When my fish died we flushed him down the toilet."

Tony snorts out a laugh at that, turning it into an impressive hacking cough as a handful of disapproving adults turn and glare at him. "You're all right, kid," he says, mussing up Tim's hair.

"So're you," replies Tim, leaning against him and reaching for his hand again. "I think I need to go pee."

"Oh god," Tony says and presses his lips together to stop the giggles escaping.

Everyone's dispersing now and Tim is jigging about on the spot in the way that indicates that wet pants are going to happen any time now (and there's no way Tony's taking responsibility for letting him pee up against a tree in a cemetery, doesn't matter how many times he 'saved' the kid's life), so Tony's pretty happy to see Tim's dad bearing down on them.

"Here," he says, handing Tim off. "I'd take a shortcut back to the main building if I were you. One that goes past lots of trees, if you know what I'm saying."

Tim's dad's eyebrows shoot up. "Really? Maybe that last orange juice was a bad idea." To Tim he adds, "Think you can hold it in, buster?"

Tim scrunches up his face and shakes his head.

"Okay, then!" McGee senior grabs Tim's hand. "Say thank you."

"Thank you."

"To Tony, not to me."

Tony grins.

"Thank you, Tony."

"'S okay. Good to meet you, Tim-but-not-Timmy McGee."

Tim pokes out his tongue and Tony watches as they walk away. Just before they reach the road, Tim tugs loose from his dad and turns on his heels, pelting back up to Tony and throwing his arms around his waist.

"I'll be a good bounty hunter," he says into Tony's belly. "You'll see. A really good one." And with that, he disentangles himself and is gone again.

"Bye!" calls Tony after him and can't remember what he'd wanted to be when he was five. He doesn't even know what he wants to be now. Except not here.

A hand lands on his shoulder and only practice stops Tony leaping half a mile into the air.

"Where've you been, son?"

Tony twists around and looks up at his dad. His eyes are red-rimmed but his breath, curling white in the chill air, doesn't smell of whiskey. Not like the night they sat watching rubble burn on CNN.

"I was looking after a kid." Tony points down the road but Tim and his dad are out of sight. Probably behind a tree somewhere, thinks Tony, with a flush of warmth.

"Good for you," says his dad, putting his arm around Tony's shoulder and steering them away from the grave, and it throws Tony for a loop. He can't think of what to say.

"I loved him, you know. Jack. He was my best friend in the world and I don't think I ever told him, not once."

Tony shoves his hands in his pockets. He should have brought gloves.

"So, listen, Anthony. I'm not- We're men's men, you and I, so it's- I love you, son. I know I don't- We’re all flawed, don't you forget it. I just- You understand, don't you?"

Actually, Tony's not sure he does, not totally, but he clings onto the three words he gets and says, "I love you, too, Dad." They're very, very careful not to look at each other. What he'd like to do is lean into his dad's side now, the way Tim was leaning into his earlier, but it's not how they do things, it's never been how they do things, so he locks step with him instead and they walk back to the car trading stories about Uncle Jack.

"I won't ever forget this day, I'll always remember," is the last thing Tony's aware of saying before he falls sound asleep to the soft thrum of the engine and the blur of the world passing by.

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