Oh, The Places You'll Go

Cold Hands, Warm Heart



Notes: Written for soupytwist's birthday. Also for schtroumph_c, whose brilliant brain came up with the basic premise of the fic. Many, many thanks to villainny for hand-holding, brainstorming and beta.

Set sometime in the early spring, 2011. No spoilers.



"Hey, Tony, I think I got something!"

Tony doesn't even look up from the patch of ground he's searching. He'll have plenty of time to kick himself for that later. Like how he should have at least yelled at McGee to keep away from the edge because that gravel was not looking so stable. Like how he should have pulled a Flash and put on supersonic speed to grab Tim by the jacket before a slipped foot became a desperate fight for balance. Like how he should have known. He should have known before McGee's yell of terror cut through him sharp as a blade.

Tony runs for the edge of the gully, throwing himself full-length on the ground, scrabbling for a hold and pulling himself over. It's a sheer drop, about thirty feet, and below the river is rushing, swollen with the recent snowmelt.

"Tim!" Tony yells, panic rising with every second he doesn't see his partner. "McGee! Tim!"

And, suddenly, he's there, breaking the surface, already far downstream from Tony. His arms thrash the surface and he's gasping for air, but he's alive. He's alive.

For now.

"I'm coming, Tim! Try to get to the bank!" Tony scrambles backwards, getting to his feet. "Don't die," he mutters to himself as he runs, grabbing his backpack as he passes. "Just don't die."

He races through the trees, shoving branches out of his way, all the time keeping one eye on the small figure that is getting farther away from him, no matter how fast he runs.

"C'mon, Tim, fight," he pants, feet pounding the ground as the terrain eventually starts to go downhill.

As if he's heard, Tony can see Tim strike out, trying to get to an overhanging tree on Tony's side of the river. The first wild swipe misses and Tony's heart thumps harder. The second one connects, Tim swinging up his other hand to hold on. From this distance, Tim's long fingers transform into skeleton bones. Tony grits his teeth and runs faster.

He loses sight of Tim as he nears the tree, the angle is all wrong. The gully is shallower now and the sides less steep. Tony dumps his backpack and slides down the muddy bank on his ass. For a split second he is horrified because as the tree appears there's no sign of Tim, but then he slides further and there he is, slumped over the almost horizontal trunk, legs floating in the water like broken branches. Tony all but falls over himself to get to him, locking his arms around Tim's waist and hauling him up and away from the water.

Tony would stop, smell the roses, give thanks or whatever, but he can only think of getting Tim as far away from the water as possible.

"Can you move?" he says.

Tim nods, a droplet of water sliding down his forehead and dripping off his nose. "I fell in."

"No kidding," says Tony. "Oopsie-daisy." He helps Tim to his hands and knees and half-shoves, half-leads him up the bank.

Once there, he leaves Tim to rest and regain his breath, and roots through his backpack for the GPS. He hits a few buttons and stares at the screen, frowning. He hits more buttons, shakes it and frowns some more.

"The car's a couple of miles away," he says. "You okay to walk?"

"I'm good," says Tim. "Not even shivering, look."

"Awesome," says Tony, and there's something he should be thinking about, but Tim's alive and he needs to get him out of here and he doesn't have time to go searching through his memory banks for something that might not be relevant anyway. "Ready?"

"Ready."

They don't talk much on the way back to the car. Tony's a few steps ahead, making sure they're going the right way, debating whether they should stop by Ranger Rick's to warm Tim up or just head on home. Tim's probably conserving his energy, Tony figures. Or thinking about his near death experience. There's nothing like a soupçon of mortal peril to bring on a meditation on the life and times, that's for sure.

"Tony," says Tim, and his voice sounds faint. He must have dropped further behind than Tony realized.

"Tony," says Tim again, and Tony turns around. Tim's not moving, and for the first time since he pulled him away from the water Tony really looks at him. He's lost his NCIS jacket and he's soaked through, his grey suit black and his hair dark and stuck to his forehead in uneasy bangs. His skin is shockingly pale--too pale to be only a contrast to the darkened hair--and his lips are ringed with blue.

Tony smacks himself upside the head hard, his ears ringing with it. "Dammit! I'm an idiot. Why didn't I think?" He drops to his haunches, searching through his bag. "Aha!" He holds up an emergency blanket pack. "Okay, McGee, strip," he says.

Tim looks at him blankly.

"Can you...? I mean, do you need help?"

"I just need a rest, I don't need to be naked."

"Does it help if we both need to be naked? I'll go first if you like."

Tim frowns. "No."

"No to me being naked first? No to the general concept of nakedness? What?"

"Yes."

"You're not making sense," says Tony, willing himself not to worry. "And as your senior field agent, I'm making all your decisions for you. We're getting butt naked, McFrosty, whether you like it or not. If you want, you can cite me for sexual harassment when we both make it through this." He rips open the blanket pack and shakes out the silver material. "Okay, let's do this thing."

Tony shucks out of his clothes as fast as he can manage, shivering as the cool air hits his skin. It's gone noon and it's only going to get colder--he needs to move fast. He advances on Tim and starts to push the sodden suit jacket off his shoulders. Tim tries to bat his hands away. His skin is clammy and there's no strength in the blows. Tony hates himself for letting it get this far, for not paying attention to the signs. Gently, he pushes Tim's hands out of the way and keeps working on him, coaxing him out of his clothes one step at a time.

The shoes are a problem, laces swollen tight, and Tony pulls them off as smoothly as he can. After that it's a breeze and he finds himself crouched on the ground, looking up at Tim, who's staring off into the distance. Tony tries to crack wise, but the words stick in his throat--it’s like Tim is already far away and Tony doesn't know if he can get him to come home.

"I got this, okay?" he says, grabbing his own shirt and patting the water off Tim's skin. No sudden movements, he reminds himself. No rubbing or jerking of chains or any other kind. He moves as quickly as he can, swapping out the shirt for his tee when it gets too damp. He's trying to be clinical about this, precise, but it's all just right there in front of him and he can't help but be drawn to the guy's ass, the three black letters standing out so sharply against Tim's too-white skin that it looks like the tat was only done yesterday. Tony shivers. Well, one of them has to.

"Done," he says, squeezing the water out of Tim's hair. "Here, this'll look fetching." He picks up his cap and puts it on Tim's head. "It'll be the new look in Paris this spring, just you wait." Tim looks straight past him and Tony shivers again.

"Don't move," he says firmly, scooping up the blanket settling it around Tim's shoulders and trying to encourage Tim to grip it. "I'll be a couple of seconds, don't move." Tony scopes out a likely tree a few steps away with a broad trunk and thick roots creating a natural groove they can rest in away from the wind. Light as it is he doesn't want anything making Tim colder. He shoves his backpack up against the trunk and then spreads his suit on the ground to protect them as much as possible from the cold soil, wincing at the sight of drying mud on the ass of his woolen pants. He wouldn't have sacrificed them for anything less. With more hope than practicality, he picks up their wet clothes and flings them over low-hanging branches. Maybe they'll drip dry. In another few weeks.

"Okay, hotshot," he says with a faked breeziness that has nothing to do with Little DiNozzo left hanging out in the open. "We're ready for your close up."

Tim doesn't move and Tony would sigh, only it could be that McGee's stuck on his last order and you've got to applaud such dedication to duty. Instead he goes around the back of Tim, takes hold of his hips and gently propels him towards the tree.

"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Tony prizes Tim's fingers off the space blanket and slides it off his shoulders. "Lie down here."

"I'm fine, let's go." Tim makes as if to turn around, but Tony uses the blanket to hold him in place.

"Yes, and I am an eighth level ice mage dragonkin whifflepoof whatever. Lie down, McGee, that's an order." He makes his voice sharp to cut through the confusion and it seems to work. Tim's eyes clear and he nods and lies down.

Tony's glad to see he's already on his side; he doesn't want to have to overplay the order card. He kneels by Tim, tucking the blanket in under his back, legs and feet, silently praising the manufacturers who obviously make these things for giants. Grabbing his cell from his bag, Tony slides under the blanket face to face with McGee, fidgeting until he's as well-covered as it's possible to be.

"Well, this isn't awkward at all," he says, clenching his teeth as his warm skin meets Tim's ice-cold body.

Tim lets out a soft snort which Tony's had long years of practice in recognizing as laughter and it relaxes something inside him. One stomach knot down, three thousand and seventy four to go.

"Can't be too much wrong with you if you're still laughing at my jokes," he says. "Gotta make a call and then we can snuggle like the Love Is couple, only with more chest hair and, you know, junk." He speed dials Abby and is relieved when she picks up on the second ring.

"Tony! Did you find me something good? I'm thinking a serrated blade, a little rusty, but not too-"

"Abby," says Tony over the top of her. "I need you to listen."

"Oh, okay. What do you need, Tony?"

The concerned curiosity in her voice is palpable, and Tony knows this will go a whole lot smoother if she's not panicking. "Okay, listen up. No one is dead or maimed, got that? Good. Start a trace on my cell now. You doing that?"

"I'm doing that."

"So we had a little accident up here and McGee wound up in the river. It's cold; he's cold. He's very cold. Too cold. I need you to call the Rangers and get a rescue out here. I don't have a number and you're faster than 911 and the GPS."

"Can I talk to him?"

"Are you getting that number?"

"Yes. Can I?"

"Now's not a good time, Abs."

"But I- Oh, wait!"

Tony listens to Abby talking to someone on the other phone. She's serious, clear and to the point. That's his girl--always strong in a crisis. Something goes beep in the background and Abby's voice is again in his ear.

"Got your location, Tony. You can hang up now."

"This is why you're my favorite. Call Gibbs. Tell him it's under control. Can't let that murderer go uncaught now, can we?"

"Yes, sir, Tony, sir. Hug Timmy for me."

"That's kind of the plan," says Tony and hangs up. He drops the cell and slides his arm around Tim's torso, spreading his hand over Tim's back. "Help's on the way," he says. "Stay with me, okay?"

"Sleepy," says Tim.

"Nothing doing," says Tony. "Now allow me to assume the position." He tucks his other arm under Tim's neck, cradling it with his hand and presses as tight to him as he can manage, trying not to shudder as the warmth leaches from him. "Just think of the hair as an extra blanket," he says. "A scratchy, uncomfortable blanket. Huh. Maybe the blankets at camp were made from chest hair. Sure wasn't wool." He wrinkles his nose at the memories.

Tony tilts their heads until they're practically touching. "Okay, new order. I breathe out, you breathe in. If I'd known you were going to take a nosedive into a glorified creek I'd've swallowed a breath mint. As it is, suck it up. Literally."

In the end, it's easier for him to match his exhales to Tim's inhales. They're so close Tony can feel his own warm breath being reflected back at him, but Tim's seems barely there. Tony really, really hopes he's doing it right. If Wee Willy Webelos McGee weren't halfway off into the land of the elf lords, he'd know for sure. They fall into a steady pattern and it's a while before Tony thinks to check in.

"You awake?"

"Mmmm."

"Do you know who you are?"

"'Course. Tim'thy McGee."

"Correct. And now the bonus question to move on to the next round--do you know who I am?"

And there's that snort again. It's the tiniest huff against Tony's mouth and it tugs an involuntary grin from him. "Very Special Agent Anth'ny D'Nozzo. Extra special."

"And don't you forget it."

"Can't," says Tim and shifts his head, burrowing under Tony's cheek to push his head into the crook of Tony's neck. His nose is freezing and Tony has to work hard to check the rising impulse to try to rub the life back into him. Instead he tightens his grip and presses his cheek against Tim's temple.

"Hold on, baby," he whispers in Tim's ear. "Help's coming. Hold on."

They lie in silence again, Tony mentally willing the Rangers to get here faster. Tim's still so cold and he doesn't know if he's making things better or just stopping them getting worse. He realizes that his thumb is stroking the edge of Tim's hairline and stops. He's taking no risks.

"No, 's okay. Feels nice," says Tim into Tony's neck.

Tony lets his thumb off the hook and resumes the small motion. "You know, this kind of reminds me of Brokeback," he says, "Only my mouth isn't stuffed with cotton wool." He thinks for a second. "Or Gyllenhaal's dick."

There's a wet sensation on his neck as Tim laughs for a third time. It's kind of gross and Tony really doesn't want to think about consistency or where exactly it came from, but he can't bring himself to care too much. Tim's hanging on in there and he can hear the distant yells of their rescuers coming through the trees. This is going to go so much better than a tire iron in the face.

Tony scrambles into his clothes as they strap Tim to the stretcher. He's still swaddled in the blanket and one of them cracks warming pads and puts them in his armpits, groin and under his neck.

"How long was he in the water, Agent DiNozzo?" asks Ranger Clea (very much not Rick).

"I don't know. Maybe ten, fifteen minutes? More? Less? I kind of lost tr- Dammit!" Tony curses as his shoelace snaps in his hand.

Ranger Clea puts out a hand to steady him. It's warm and that feels strange to him. He stares at it until she takes it away. "And walking?"

"Another twenty, twenty five. It was slow going." He yanks his jacket on violently, still angry with himself for not reacting sooner. "And then I got him in the blanket, called Abby and she called you. The end."

"Good to know," says Clea, turning back to Tim.

"Wait," Tony says. Clea twists around, looking expectantly at him. "Did I- Was it- Did I do the right thing? With the blanket? And the- And me?"

Clea tilts her head back, giving him a long, measuring look. "You did the best you could given the circumstances," she says.

"Oh, okay. Good," says Tony and wonders why that doesn't make him feel better.

They're lifting Tim now, ready to transport him to the nearest ER. Tony clenches his jaw repeatedly. There's something wrong about them taking Tim away from him. What if something happens to him when Tony's not there? How can he tell Abby he abandoned his watch? Or Gibbs? He shakes off the shiver that's creeping down his spine.

"Tony." It could be Tony's imagination, but Tim's voice, though faint, sounds the smallest bit stronger.

He goes to Tim's side. All the usual bits Tony pokes and prods and pats are covered up--only his face is visible. Tony can't not touch him, though--now is not the time to break a habit years in the making--and briefly rests a hand against Tim's cheek.

"Whadda you need, McSilverSurfer?"

"Come with me?"

Tony's heart squeezes a little at the questioning tone--like how can Tim doubt after so many years working together that Tony's going to be anywhere other than on his six?

"Gotta bring the car, but you bet I'll be right behind you, buddy. The speed they're moving you? I'll probably be waiting at the door when you get there."

The corner of Tim's mouth tugs upwards and Tony taps his cheek one last time. "Okay, guys, take him away," he says, stepping back from the stretcher.

"Nice and easy," says Ranger Dude One.

Ranger Dude Two nods, "On three."

Tony doesn't watch them walk away, he's too busy grabbing Tim's clothes and cursing at the GPS until it finally gives him what he needs. Arms full, he sets off jogging towards the car.

He doesn't make it to the ER before Tim does. Partly because the Rangers know the best routes and partly because he's been driving for a couple of miles when it hits him like a two by four in the sternum that back there he'd called Tim, 'baby'. He yanks at the steering wheel, slamming on the brakes and sits by the side of the road fist pressed into his ribs over his heart, trying to get his breath back. 'Baby' is pretty standard issue DiNozzo if you've lasted until breakfast or into week two, but this is not standard. Not standard at all.

"God damn it, DiNozzo," he admonishes himself. "This is no time for any kind of an epiphany. Get your ass to the hospital or I will headslap you so hard you'll be hearing Carol of the Bells in July."

He grits his teeth and turns the key in the ignition. Don't think about it, he tells himself. Somewhere in his brain a cartoon DiNozzo is stuffing a cartoon McGee into a chest, locking it and sitting on top with a jaunty tip of his hat. The real DiNozzo hopes cartoon McGee has enough oxygen. He hates his brain sometimes.

It's a small local hospital, and the only people in the waiting room are a kid with something plastic sticking out of her nose and her obviously embarrassed dad and the inevitable old dude hacking up pieces of lung.

"Timothy McGee," he says to the official-looking guy behind the desk. "He was just brought in with hypothermia."

"Are you family?"

"He's my partner."

"Oh," says the guy, face brightening. "That's cool. We don't discriminate here. The doctors are working on him now. He's in good hands, I promise."

"Can I see him?"

"It's not a good time. Is there anyone you need to call? I can take you through when they're done with him."

Call! "Gah!" exclaims Tony through clenched, bared teeth, screwing up his eyes and shaking his fist.

The guy raises his eyebrows and Tony realizes what he must look like.

"Abby," he says as if it's enough explanation in itself. And it should be.

"One of those, huh?" The guy nods. "Go make your call, I'll check up on your partner."

Tony heads outside and leans against the wall. He dials Abby and barely has the time to put the cell to his ear before she's yelling at him.

"Where have you been? What's happening? Is Timmy okay? Where are you? Did you call Gibbs yet? Do you know how crazy I'm going here? Why didn't you call already? Can I come now?"

Tony holds the cell away from him. "Abby," he says loudly. And, "Abby," again as she continues her litany of questions. Eventually he barks, "Sciuto!" and she subsides. He tucks the phone between his cheek and shoulder and starts ticking off the questions on his fingers. "I've been butt naked in the forest waiting for the Rangers to show up. Tim's with the doctors now, I don't know what's happening, no one's told me anything. There hasn't been any dramatic running around with crash carts and flapping white coats like in ER so that's got to be a good sign. We're at Shenandoah Memorial, look it up. No, I have not spoken to Gibbs. I was more worried about you because yes I know how crazy you're going-" He ignores the affectionate "Tonyyyy," from Abby and carries on. "I didn't call already because this was the first chance I got, please see the butt naked in the forest section for details and can you hold off on the coming here? I don't know if they're keeping him here or moving him. You don't want to waste a trip. No more questions, I'm running out of fingers."

"Why do you need f- Oh, sorry, that was a question."

Tony sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Fill the rest of the team in for me, okay, Abs? And you should probably call Sarah, too. She can let Mom and Pop McGee in on it all. And, look, I'll call you again when I know more. Gimme an hour."

"I can do that." There's a brief pause and then Abby says, "Um, Tony, I'm going to ask you a question so I hope you don't hate me. Are you doing okay?"

Tony doesn't know what to say. He literally has no answer to that question that isn't going to wind up in him being some kind of basket case. Just a little one, like the ones filled with fruit in hospital gift shops.

"Tony?"

"Huh? Yeah. Everything's under control, Abby, don't worry."

There's another pause and Tony can almost hear Abby's fierce concentration as she tries to puzzle him out. "I always worry, Tony," she says finally. "It's my thing. Call me in an hour."

"U-huh," says Tony and hangs up.

The guy's got his back to Tony when he comes back in and Tony makes for the door to the ER in full-on stealth mode. It's no good. The guy may be six inches shorter than Tony but he sure can hustle. He stands in front of him and blocks the way.

"Listen...Glenn," says Tony, checking out the name badge on the guy's scrubs, "I just want to check up on my partner, that's all. I'm not looking to steal your Demerol or start a catheter war."

Glenn does one of those understanding smiles that's usually guaranteed to make Tony want to punch the maker in the face. This time, though, it's strangely soothing. "I get it, man," says Glenn, dark eyes solemn. "I really do. But you can't go in there. Look-" He raises his eyebrows expectantly.

"Tony."

"Look, Tony, let's sit down."

Tony allows Glenn to steer him to a seat down from the little girl who's moved on to kicking the seat and across from the old timer who seems to be coughing the theme tune to All Our Children. He feels sick.

Glenn puts a hand on Tony's arm. Tony stares at it, but Glenn leaves it there so Tony looks up. "Tony, I'm not going to lie to you. It doesn't look so good in there and I don't want you to freak out. I promise it's all standard procedure, Tim's doing okay, but these things are messy, you know? Just let the staff do our thing."

"He's doing okay?"

"Last I heard. Probably can even spare a doc to talk to you. I'll send one out." He takes his hand away and stands up. "You good? You need a glass of water? You're looking a little peaky yourself."

It occurs to Tony that he hasn't eaten or drunk for hours. He couldn't force any food down if he tried. "Water would be good, thanks."

Glenn nods and disappears through the door. Tony lets his head fall and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. He's doing okay, he tells his pounding heart. You hear that? Quit worrying. He tries to even out his breathing, but every time he hears a noise he jerks his head up, staring at the door and then he has to start all over again. Tony doesn't have to wait long until the door opens again and Glenn appears, handing Tony a bottle of water.

"Here," he says. "I snaffled this from the breakroom. You look like you could use it."

"Thanks." Tony snaps the seal and twists off the cap. He's thirstier than he realized, downing half the bottle in one go.

"Stuff of life," grins Glenn and then the smile turns into a grimace. "I'm sorry, that was insensitive after today."

"Don't sweat it," says Tony because the last thing he needs is to develop a water phobia.

Glenn smiles again. "The doctor will be here momentarily, okay?" Tony nods and Glenn turns and holds out his hand to the little girl.

"Come on Carla, you're up."

"I'm bored," whines the kid as she and her father get to their feet.

"Then you should probably quit storing things in your nose, honey. You'd spend a lot less time here if you did."

"Ain't that the truth?" says the dad.

Carla scowls, but takes Glenn's hand anyway, skipping through the door with him, the dad casting one last 'dear god, why me?' look in Tony's direction before following.

There's a blonde woman behind the desk now, furiously attacking a keyboard. Tony assumes they must switch off. He wonders if she'd been in with Tim and is about to ask when the door opens again and a solidly built woman with thick, wavy black hair beaten into submission in a tight bun comes out and makes a beeline for him. Tony stands up.

"You're Mr. McGee's partner?"

"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo."

"Doctor Haynes. I'll lead off with the good news--he's going to be just fine."

Tony resists air punching and settles for a heartfelt, "Thank you."

"We did have some problems. The initial rewarming was a little much for him and we had some trouble with his heart. But that's all under control and he's warming up nicely now."

Tony's stuck on 'trouble with his heart'. "What kind of trouble?"

"He went into rewarming shock. In layman's terms his blood pressure hit the floor and his heart slowed right down."

"He did what?!" Tony clutches his hair.

"Unfortunately it's a known risk of rewarming, but we got him stabilized quickly and he shouldn't suffer any ill effects. You know, Agent DiNozzo, you probably saved Mr. McGee's life. He was dangerously close to severe hypothermia when he was brought in."

Tony drops his hand. "I don't get it. He wasn't even in the water that long."

"Your partner doesn't have a lot of, ah, natural insulation. It's going to be easier for him to lose heat. There's a condition called After-Drop," the doctor says crossing her arms across her chest. Usually Tony would spare some time to appreciate the fine décolletage this creates, but today he's all business. "It's when the core temperature continues to drop after rescue from the cold environment. It's what happens when the cold blood in the limbs returns to the core, which is why we usually suggest victims don't walk."

Tony's stomach swoops. "Oh god, so I nearly killed him and then I saved his life? That's just great."

Doctor Haynes creases her eyebrows in sympathy. "He's alive, don't beat yourself up over what's gone. We're nearly done fixing him up. Hang on in there, Agent DiNozzo. Someone will come fetch you when you can see him."

She executes a perfect coat-swishing turn and is gone before Tony can collect his wits. He sits back down and waits. The old guy, whose coughing now resembles someone trying to jump-start a beat up pickup truck, gets up, shuffles over to Tony and sits down beside him.

"'lo."

"Hey," says Tony, nodding at him and doing his best not to recoil from the waves of alcohol pouring off of the guy.

"Those Redskins, huh?" says the old guy. Or at least that's what Tony thinks he says. It's hard to tell with all the coughing.

"U-huh." He's aiming for non-committal, but it totally fails and the guy rambles on between coughing fits about the state of American football in general and the Redskins in particular. Tony tunes it out and hopes the cough isn't catching.

There's so many things going on inside of him--relief that Tim's okay, horror at the close call, all sorts of weird shit that the whole 'baby' incident has brought up--and it's all mixed up. It feels like in the movies where the sucker takes the potion or gets zapped by radiation or gets a wand in the face and then you see the shots of their outsides twisting and changing, rearranging them into someone--something--they don't recognize. Tony hangs on to the only clear thing--Tim is safe and alive--anything else is gravy.

He's still clinging to his mantra when Glenn opens the door and beckons him through it. He'd feel bad about leaving Coughing Colin all alone, only at some point a new couple has arrived, the guy hobbling, supporting himself on the girl's arm. Looks like the old-timer has a new captive audience.

"There's gonna be tubes and pipes and he'll probably look a little weird," Glenn explains, taking him through the hallway. "It's nothing to worry about, we're still warming him up."

Tony doesn't boast about the number of hospital rooms he's seen the inside of and if a barrel of dead sailor doesn't freak him out then an IV drip won't either, and when he sees Tim he's glad he didn't because he is freaked out. Tim's lying dead straight on his back, mask over his mouth and nose, feet slightly raised. He's covered from neck to mid-thigh in a blanket, but his arms and legs are open to the air. There are two thin, blue pipes coming out from under the blanket that connect to some sort of control unit which is making weird burbling noises.

"What the hell is that?"

"Warm water circulator. Gets the temperature up nice and steady, but fast."

"You have something against his arms and legs being warm, too?"

"No." Glenn grins. "We need to concentrate on his core temp. The limbs can look after themselves. I could get into the science, but wouldn't you rather visit?"

"Yeah, I would," says Tony, looking at the still figure on the bed. There's the faintest touch of color in his cheeks and somehow that makes everything significantly less scary.

"Then sit down and make yourself at home. I'll be back in five to monitor his vitals and draw some blood."

"Is he-? Is he unconscious?"

Glenn takes Tony's arm and shakes it gently. "Don't you worry. He's sleeping the sleep of the justly exhausted. Let him rest. He'll know you're here."

And with that Tony's left alone. There's a chair by the wall and he drags it over to the right side of the bed. The drip is going into Tim's left hand and Tony wonders how pissed Tim'll be when he realizes they've put his best hand out of action. He sits down and leans folded arms on the bed, resting his head on top of them.

"Hey there, McLazarus," he says softly. "Good job on the not dying. Don't go telling anyone, but I kinda like having you around."

Tim's closed eyes don't even flicker and Tony spends the next five minutes watching the rise and fall of Tim's chest and fighting the tight sensation in his own. He doesn't notice Glenn return until he's leaning over Tim, checking some monitor attached to the wall above his head.

He starts to straighten up, but Glenn says, "Don't get up on my account," and he stays where he is.

"He means a lot to you, huh?"

"Yeah."

"How long have you been together?"

Tony thinks. "Six, seven years? Or is it eight now? I kinda lose track."

Glenn does something with a syringe and a vial that Tony prefers not to see. "Don't let him hear you say that. No one likes to think they're not memorable. When did you guys meet?"

Tony sits up, rubbing his face. "My team was working a case at Norfolk. McGee was the NCIS case agent up there. Should've seen him, he was so intimidated by us folks from the Navy Yard--well, mostly by Gibbs, which, if you'd ever met Gibbs you would know is fair enough. He was-" Tony swallows because here comes another realization, and, wow, his timing sucks. "He was irresistible." All that fresh-painted space just waiting for Tony to scrawl on it. How could he have been expected to keep away from that?

"Aww," says Glenn, wrinkling his nose. "It's cute how you met at work, especially with how you guys are almost military."

"I...what?"

"With the Don't Ask Don't Tell? Does it apply to you?"

"No," says Tony, confused as to how Glenn has somehow found a portal into his brain. Is he John Malkovich now? "We're civilian run."

"Lucky. I dated a Marine once. It was not pretty."

Tony's eyes widen as he gets it. "Oh! You think we're partners."

Now it's Glenn's turn to go wide-eyed. "Wait, you're not? Because we can only have family in here. Family and SOs."

Tony shakes his head. He's not moving. He can totally take Glenn. The guy's about four foot eleven and built like a Popsicle stick. "It's complicated, okay? Like Hoover and Tolson in the early days only without the Mob connections. Or the abuses of power."

"I get it." Glenn presses a couple of buttons on the burble machine. "I think. It is what it is."

"Exactly." Tony sits back in the chair with a flourish.

Glenn gathers up all his paraphernalia. "I'm done for now. I won't tell anyone about the partner thing if you don't."

Tony mimes zipping his lips. Glenn gives him a nod and then backs out of the door. Tony stares at it for a moment, unfocused, while he tries to deal with how a simple change in emphasis can mean so much. It tugs at his guts, opening a chasm of need and want and not enough. He's not sure he can deal with it. He turns around to find Tim watching him, steady green eyes taking everything in. Tony doesn't have time to school his face, knows he's been caught in something. He can only hope Tim's too out of it to figure it out.

"So you finally woke up, huh?" he says, and recognizes the fake breeziness from back in the forest.

Tim blinks an agreement and lifts a hand to flap at his mask. Tony leaps to his feet and tugs it down for him. Tim transfers the hand to Tony's forearm, keeping him in place. "Did that guy think we were dating?"

"Um, yeah? Crossed wires earlier, that's all." Tony feels flushed, but he's practically hanging upside down--surely that has to account for it, right?

"Hmm." Tim taps his index finger on Tony's arm. "Wasn't there something about Brokeback before? Makes me- Wait. Baby?"

"I'm really regretting taking this mask off you now, McGee," says Tony through gritted teeth. He readjusts it over Tim's face and starts to pull away, only Tim's fingers tighten around his arm and he says, "Tony." And it might be muffled and distorted, but there's something in the tone that knocks the wind out of Tony's self-righteous sails and he collapses back in the chair, pulling Tim's arm with him.

"So," says Tony, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head. He takes a deep breath and opens his eyes, looking straight at Tim. He can do this. He's faced worse. Gibbs without coffee, for example. "I think maybe there are things going on for me. About you. But you're sick right now, so can we table it?"

Tim nods, but doesn't let go or take his eyes off Tony until Tony yelps, "Abby!" because the hour is long past and he's forgotten to call. "Be right back," he says, and speeds out the door.

He takes his time coming back because once he's in that room again he's not leaving until they call security. He finds a vending machine and gets himself a candy bar because he's suddenly ravenous, picks up a stray newspaper from the waiting room and takes a bathroom break. He stares at himself in the mirror and, wow, he should not have done that. There's dried mud in patches on his suit, his jacket has definitely seen better days. His hair is disheveled and there's a streak of dirt across one cheek. He doesn't look in much better shape than the old guy with the cough.

He makes a half-hearted attempt to dust the mud off and to neaten himself up, but for the first time in a long time he can't bring himself to care too much what he looks like. There are more important things going on here. Tony looks down at his ruined suit. More important than Armani? Oh yeah, he's got a problem.

Doctor Haynes is just leaving Tim's room as Tony arrives, newspaper tucked under his arm.

"What's up, Doc?"

"Original," says Doctor Haynes dryly, but her eyes are smiling. "Everything's looking good, Agent DiNozzo. We can move to more passive rewarming soon, his electrolytes are in the right ballpark and his ECG is normal. We'll want to keep him a few days--strictly for the company-" she flashes a grin, "-but we'll look for an early release if there are no changes."

Tony wants to break into a little victory two-step shuffle, but he doesn't think she'd appreciate the artistry. "Awesome news. You guys are the best."

"We try. Don't go keeping him up, now. Rest is what Mr. McGee needs."

"On it," says Tony, saluting.

Inside, Tim's eyes crinkle as Tony walks through the door. Tony smiles back.

"She's kinda hot for an old chick," Tony says, throwing himself into the chair and dropping the paper on the bed. "You should ask her to give you a bed bath."

Tim rolls his eyes. Nothing wrong with those muscles, then.

"Okay, McSpeechless, I'm going to bring you up to date with the goings on in this fair country of ours. Or this county. I have no idea what this rag is." Tony picks up the paper and makes a big deal of shaking it out. "Well, lookee here. Waynesboro prepares for redistricting. Hold on to your hats, it's gonna be a barnstormer."

Tony's filling Tim in on the apparent overabundance of John Deere machinery in the classifieds when he sees Tim's eyes flickering with the difficulty of keeping them open. He puts the paper down.

"Hey, champ, if you want to sleep, you sleep. I don't see how you could be anything but riveted by the political shenanigating of the Shenandoah County School Board, but apparently the intrigue is too much for you."

Tim's eyes crinkle again. They've been doing that a lot and if Tony's right in assuming it's all smiles and not some kind of seizures, then the warm feeling he gets each time he sees it is probably here to stay. Tim reaches up and tugs his mask down, his increasing strength definitely a sight for sore eyes.

"Tony, I nearly died."

Tony's not braced for impact and he winces against the pain in his chest. "I know."

"I'm so tired and I want to sleep, but I don't want to be on my own. Don't leave me."

"Can't," says Tony, shrugging helplessly.

Tim puts the mask back on, keeping his gaze on Tony. As his eyes drift closed, he turns his right hand palm upwards. Tony touches his fingertips to it and Tim's curl around his. It's not anything--it doesn't have to be anything--more than a friend comforting another friend, but there's an echo in Tony's head. An echo and a memory of Tim's own "can't" and a head burrowed against his neck, and Tony can't help but feel a little hopeful.

"Hey, sleepyhead," says a voice.

Tony drifts back to consciousness, letting the last threads of his dreaming slip away. There's something poking in his face. He waggles his head. Oh, yeah, it's his own fingers. He's fallen asleep over both his hands wrapped around Tim's.

"You can stay there if you want," says the voice. "It's probably not good for your back but it looks cute."

Tony bolts upright, wiping his mouth free of any potential drool. "Good to see you, Abs," he says, reluctantly letting go of Tim's hand. He stands up and stretches his back out. "Ow! What is with you and being right all the time?"

"Natural talent. Is he sleeping?" Abby pushes past Tony to peer at Tim.

"He was until you came in here and terrorized me awake. Now, I don't know. Poke him."

"You poke him."

"You."

"Probably no one should poke him," says Glenn from the doorway. "Hi," he says to Abby. "I'm the guy you just barreled past at light speed. We haven't been introduced."

"Abby Sciuto. Pleased to meet you, Glenn." She puts out a hand and executes a little curtsey. Glenn shakes, looking at Tony in amused incomprehension.

"She family, too?"

"Well..."

"Don't tell me. It's complicated."

Tony shrugs and grins.

Just then the burbling machine beeps. Three heads turn towards it and Glenn says, "That's my cue." He switches off the alarm and checks the monitor.

"Right, you guys, I'm tossing you out. We're going to move Tim into the passive rewarming stage. And yes, Tony, we'll let him warm up his arms and legs." He presses a square, red button on the wall and leans down to shake Tim gently awake. "Tell your friends to go eat." He whispers conspiratorially, "There are things no one needs to see, right?"

"I'm coming back," says Tony. "I promise."

"Me too. I love you, Timmy!"

Tim flaps a tired hand in their general direction and they leave, just as the blonde nurse from earlier bustles through the door with an armful of blankets.

As Tony reaches back to pull the door closed he hears blonde nurse mutter curiously, "What kind of setup is that?" and he lingers long enough to hear Glenn reply, "Oh honey, it's probably safest not to ask."

It drives Abby crazy that he won't explain why he's laughing all the way to the car.

They go to a diner Abby had seen on her way to the hospital. Tony's through his third cup of coffee (all the cream, all the sugar) and halfway through his hamburger before Abby winds down her tale of everything that's been going on in his absence. He's happy to let her talk, just listening to her restores a sense of normality that's been completely missing since Tim took his spectacular dive.

"What are you grinning at, Tony? Didn't you hear me say the guy had Ziva in a chokehold?"

Well, no, actually, Tony hadn't. "You," he says. "I'm smiling at you. I'm glad you're here, Abs."

"Me, too." Abby reaches over the table and squeezes his arm.

Tony stares at her hand. There's been a lot of that today.

"How are you doing, Tony? Really?" She surveys him with a critical eye. "You look crappy."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you, Abby. I never took the 'Rescue Your Best Friend From Drowning and Hypothermia and Look Snappy While Doing It' course, so this is what you get."

"Don't front with me, DiNozzo," she says sharply. "I know you."

"Can't do a worse job of knowing me than I did."

Abby tilts her head. "What do you mean?"

"Doesn't matter," says Tony waving a hand, only he forgets he's still holding his burger and there's a yell from a patron as he gets a half-bitten pickle to the head.

"Tony."

"Abby."

They glare at each other in silence.

And then, "He's really your best friend?"

"Yeah."

"Does he know that?"

"I don't- We don't- Men don't-" Tony stops and sighs. "No. I don't know. I huddled naked with him, that's got to count for something."

"Not really. I huddled naked with a vampire and a werewolf once when we got caught in a storm in the cemetery? Only the werewolf wasn't very wolfy when he was naked--he had, like, zero body hair, so weird--and the vampire had to take her teeth out because she bit her lip every time there was thunder and then she wanted to drink her own blood, which was kind of ew. The werewolf was a total grabby asshole. Not my best friend at all."

"Okay, then, Abs. Have it your way," Tony snaps. His voice softens as he continues, "There are a lot of things McGee--Tim--doesn't know. There are some things maybe I'd rather he didn't, I haven't figured it all out yet."

"I'm confused."

"Me, too, Abby. Me, too." And Tony takes a huge bite of his burger.

They're walking back to the car when Tony says, "Abby, do you have rules?"

"What, you mean like Gibbs's rules?"

"Yeah, but your own. Like, they're a personal moral code, right? And I made up my own set that time he went living it up in a cabana in Mexico. Wrote them down in a little book and everything."

"I guess. For me it's all mixed up with faith, though. Maybe that's different."

"Maybe." Tony shoves his hands in his pockets and leans against the car. "What do you do when you want to break one? Not for nefarious purposes, but because it turns out the rule is no good?"

Abby rests her arms on the roof of the car, eyebrows drawn in thought. "If it's good enough for God, it's good enough for you," she says.

"Huh?"

"The Old Testament rules got junked for the New." She waves a hand in the air. "That's way too simplistic, but what's at the bottom of that delicious cake of religious thought is that you've gotta update. You've gotta move with the times. If the rule is bad and it's hurting you or someone else, find a new rule."

"Okay, then," says Tony. "Thanks, Abs."

"You're not going to tell me what this is all about, are you?" She unlocks the door.

"One day, I promise. Just not today."

"Good enough," says Abby, hauling on her seat belt. "Let's go see Timmy."

Tony slides down into his seat, unable to stop the smile spreading across his face.

They keep Tim for four days. Four long days in which Tony is expected to work as usual. The visiting hours are ridiculous and, besides, Tim's parents have flown out to be with him, there's no space for Tony. And then it's the weekend with all that time stretching ahead of Tony just to think about possibilities and permutations and even practicalities. So when the elevator pings open and Tim walks out looking the picture of health, it's all Tony can do not to leap up right then and there. He can't decide whether he'd rather hug him in a death grip or hump his leg. Probably both at the same time.

"I am so happy to see you, McGee," says Ziva, standing up and coming around her desk to hug him. Dammit! Why's it got to be so easy for women?

"Good to be back, Ziva," says Tim, holding her out from him at arm's length and grinning.

"You sure you're up to this, Tim?" Gibbs doesn't get up--barely cracks a smile--but everything's right there in the ''Tim" and Tony knows Tim knows it. Dammit again! He's going to have to do something.

"Sure I'm sure, boss." Even from side on, Tony can see the smile is wrapped halfway to Tim's ears.

Tim turns on his heel to face Tony and, damn, he catches him unprepared again. Tony swallows, thinks screw it, and lets the genuine emotion he's feeling show just for a second.

"I- I- I-" stutters Tim and Tony knows he's got it. "I never got to...got to thank you for saving my life. This is just...it's nothing. To say it. To say thanks." He takes an envelope out of his pocket and hands it to Tony. Their fingertips brush for a split second and it feels like the whole world is filled with static.

Tony rips open the envelope and pulls out two tickets to the Kurosawa retrospective he'd been mourning not getting into on the drive up to Shenandoah before...Before everything. "Jeez, McGee, these aren't nothing." He grins up at Tim. "How did you do that? They were totally sold out."

Tim taps his finger to his nose, beaming back at Tony. "I have friends in high places."

"Weird places."

"We're not talking about you, Tony. We're talking about me."

And, just like that, they're off. With the one-two and the seesawing upper hand and the bickering that feels like home. When Tony gets to detailing why Tim needs to eat more donuts because with more insulation he'd have done better in the water and that was scientific fact, he had it from the doctor's mouth, and Tim retorts that Tony just wants him fat so he can look better in comparison, Gibbs growls and threatens headslaps and it's almost as if nothing ever happened.

Only it did happen, and Tony can't help worrying about Tim when they're out and about later that day. There's a cold wind blowing in and the crime scene is out in the open with nowhere to shelter. Tony finds himself zipping up Tim's jacket.

"He can dress himself, DiNozzo," says Gibbs with an amused drawl.

"He can drown himself, too, boss," says Tony before he's had a chance to work that whole internal censor thing.

"Still alive, Tony," says Tim. His voice is mocking, but his eyes don't match and his hands are gentle when they pull Tony's away. "And before you ask, yes, I have gloves. Thermal ones. My mom insisted."

"I love your mom," says Tony, turning and walking away, snapping a shot of Ducky and Jimmy hovering over the body like crows.

"I'll be sure and let her know," Tim yells after him.

That night, Tony's pretending to be asleep for no one's benefit but his own when his buzzer goes. He scrambles out of bed and grabs the intercom.

"Who the hell is-"

"Let me up, Tony. It's freezing out here," says Tim.

Tony's pretend sleepy eyes fly wide open and he hits the button, immediately yanking open the door and hovering until he sees Tim appear in the hallway. "Get in here," he stage whispers. "Are you trying to wind up back in hospital?"

"I'm wearing a watch cap, Tony. And a coat. I think I'm gonna be okay." Tony steps aside to let Tim into the apartment. "And will you quit being my mom? One is enough, let me tell you."

It's late, and Tony's tired. "Then what do you want me to be?" he asks.

Tim takes off his watch cap and gloves and stuffs them in his pockets. Then he takes off his coat and hangs it up. Tony curls his toes with impatience. Tim looks down and then up. He pushes up a sleeve. "I have goosebumps," he says.

"Tim."

"I'm still cold, Tony, and I don't know how to warm up." Tim is very still and Tony can't help but fill the silence.

"Well if you're going to walk the streets in- Huh." Tim remains motionless, just looking at Tony with scared eyes. "If you're-" Tony grinds to a halt. "I can warm you up," he says after a long moment. "If you want."

Tim nods. "I don't want to- I know that you said, but- I don't want to hold you to anything with the trauma and-"

"Spit it out," says Tony, insides fizzing like he's downed too much popping candy. "I'm practically naked. You're not the only one who's cold."

Tim grins, then, coming alive like Tony's broken through the last layer of stone to find him. "Can I get in bed with you?"

"Hells to the yeah." Tony brushes past Tim, grabbing his hand on the way, and heads for the bedroom.

"That really doesn't work."

"No?" Tony looks over his shoulder, grinning. "I've been polishing the delivery."

"Maybe if you dropped twenty years."

"You're just not hip to the lingo, my man."

"No, really. Stop it."

They're stopped by Tony's bed, now, and there's no light but the glow from the alarm clock and the streetlight gleam through the chink in the curtains fading across the floor. It's just enough to see by, and Tony tugs at Tim's neckline.

"Want some help with that?"

"Not this time."

Tony watches appreciatively as Tim strips quickly. Next time he's going to have the lights on and they're going to take their time. Because there will be a next time--of this Tony is sure. He shucks off his own boxers and, with a ridiculous shyness that no confident man of his age should feel, he scrambles under the covers, joined swiftly by Tim.

"Well, this isn't awkward at all," he says, sliding an arm around Tim's torso and Tim laughs and laughs and laughs.

"Were you wanting to assume the position?" asks Tim, when he's regained his composure. "And note, if you say, 'hells to the yeah', I'm putting my clothes back on."

Tony hmphs in mock annoyance and does exactly what he'd done a week ago, slipping his arm around Tim's neck and pressing their bodies tight together. This time is so, so different. Tim is mostly warm to the touch, his neck a little cool, but nothing like the almost-dead clammy cold of before. And this time, Tony allows himself to feel the shock of his groin against Tim's--there had been no space for it before, but here and now, safe and warm in bed, well, let's say Little DiNozzo is limbering up. From what he can tell, Little McGee's also stretching and yawning. Tony can't help himself, Tim's face is right there. He leans in and kisses him.

Tim's lips are cool and a little scratchy from where his misadventure had chapped them, but they're soft and yielding and right now Tony can't think of one reason they hadn't done this years ago. When they break the kiss, Tony says, "Do you know who I am?"

"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo," says Tim, sliding a hand along Tony's ribs. His voice thickens a little. "Extra special."

Tony's stomach flips. "Am I the most obtuse person you know?"

Tim sticks out his lower lip, considering. "Probably."

"Sorry."

"No biggie." Tim drops his head, burrowing it under Tony's cheek to press against his neck.

Tony leans his face against Tim's temple and speaks softly in his ear, "You don't date guys when you're a jock. You have secret hookups, you pine attractively yet mysteriously, you develop really detailed fantasies to jerk off to, you do not date."

"Shhh, 's okay," says Tim into Tony's neck.

Tony strokes a finger down Tim's spine and Tim shivers. Tim shivers and Tony's chest gets tight. "I got a new rule."

"Mmm?"

"Rule two: If what you want scares the hell out of you, do it anyway."

"Wasn't rule two-?"

"Yeah, it wasn't working for me any more."

Tim pulls back and squints at Tony in the darkness. "This is what you want? Us?"

Tony nods.

"And it scares the hell out of you?"

"Like you wouldn't believe."

"But you're going to do it anyway?"

"If you'll have me."

"Hells to the yeah," says Tim, and Tony beats him with a pillow.



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