Oh, The Places You'll Go

It's a Standard Deviation

Notes: OK, so this was supposed to be a short fic inspired by a comment in 's lj about how walking around in Tony's shirt all day in Dead and Unburied must drive Tim crazy. Only it turned out not to be short and not entirely about that scene. Um.

So, anyway, my first proper Tim POV, assume spoilers for S4 through to S5x05 (Leap of Faith). Beta by the inestimable soupytwist who I continue to love beyond the telling of it.


TONY: You don’t think I rate my own team? MCGEE: You wouldn’t be here now if you did, would you, DiNozzo? TONY: Yeah. Maybe you’re right. If Gibbs asks, tell him I went out for coffee. (TONY WALKS OFFSCREEN.) MCGEE: Tony, I didn’t--

***

When Gibbs leaves Tim to think about what he's done, Tim knows it's only his own insecurities that make him feel like he's six-years-old, but still, Tim thinks if he were Tony it would probably be time to hit his head off the desk now. But he's not--for which so many thanks--so he contents himself with burying his head in his hands and muttering "Stupid, stupid, stupid." Because here's the thing: Tony really does rate his own team. He's not Gibbs, and mostly he's given up trying to pretend to be, and it may look to people from the outside that maybe they've left the lunatic in charge of the asylum but he's been a good leader, he has.

"Stupid," mutters Tim again, this time Gibbs-slapping himself and wondering why he still can't control his bad moods. He thinks about letting it go, but he's always been bad at doing that, ever since the whole thing with Dicky Newsome and the Galactic Hunt Obi Wan Kenobi. It's possible Dicky is still walking with a limp for all Tim knows.

He'll find Tony, apologize, and all will be well. Hopefully.

"Hey."

McGee jumps as Tony peels away from the shadow of the building.

"Tony! You sc-, um, startled me."

"Did I sc-um-startle you? I'm so sorry...Probie."

Tim swallows hard. "Look, Tony, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it."

"You were on your high horse.'

"Yup."

"Riding it into battle with your little cornet and your lance."

"Er, okay. My point is you should have your own team. You were a great team leader, I wasn't even sure I wanted Gibbs back." It's the truth--Tim owes Tony at least that much.

Tony puts his hand on Tim's shoulder and gives it a little shake. "Oh, shush your mouth. Don't talk such blasphemy. Gibbs is our Messiah, Doubting Probas, you know that."

"No, listen," says Tim, gripping Tony's elbow, "Because I'm already worried that if I tell you this your ego will need its own desk and we don't have the space. You were really good, Tony. You got things done, you taught me a lot and if you could have died for one of us in the line of duty it would've probably have made your year. Except for the being dead part. Any team would be lucky to have you."

"Really?" Tony releases his hold on Tim's shoulder and shoves his hands in his pockets. He looks weirdly young under the artificial light.

"Really." Tim nods. "Also, you bring the best donuts."

"Ah, well then," says Tony. "Thank you, McGee."

"No problem. So does the Director have no spots open or what? Because if she thinks you're not ready maybe Ziva and I could-"

"Walk with me, Probie," interrupts Tony, expression unreadable.

The disagreement is already on Tim's lips like some kind of Pavlovian response, but he bites it down because who argues during an apology? Besides DiNozzo. He falls into step beside Tony.

They walk in silence for a while, rounding the corner of the main building. Tim glances at Tony out of the corner of his eyes. His eyebrows are furrowed and his cheek muscles twitch. It's looks like there's a war going on inside him and it makes Tim anxious though he doesn't know why. When the silence has stretched as long as he can stand, Tim opens his mouth, but before he can say anything Tony whirls around, grabs both Tim's shoulders and squeezes tight.

"Director Sheppard offered me a team in Spain. I'm going to turn it down because of you." He lets go, screws up his face and folds his arms about three different ways.

Tim knows he's a smart guy. He's a really really smart guy. It's possible he couldn't build a computer from a paperclip and some chewing gum but he'd get closer than 99.8% of the population. His degrees don't even begin to cover the level of smarts he has. And yet he still has absolutely no idea what Tony means.

"You're going to turn down your own team because of me."

"Yup." Tony stares at his feet.

"Because of me."

"Mmm."

"You're turning down the chance to go to Spain to lead your own team because of me?"

Tony's head snaps up at this. "Oh for God's sake, McGee. I know you have a gramophone but that's no excuse. Here, let me unstick your needle."

His hand comes up and Tim squeezes his eyes shut, expecting the usual headslap. It doesn't arrive. Instead Tony grips the back of Tim's head tugs it forward and kisses him. It's hard and brutal and over almost before it's begun, but most very definitely a kiss, Tim has the comparison database to prove it.

Which means. Huh. "Because of me," Tim says again because it's the only thing he can think of to say.

Tony scrubs a hand through his hair. "Okay, obviously I just fried your brain chip or something. So fine, here's the DiNozzo for Dummies version: Spain good, no McGee bad. DC okay, McGee better. Get it now?"

Tim does get it, he is, after all, a smart guy, he may have already mentioned this. He gets it but it still does not compute. Tony wants him. But...

"I have no idea what to do with that information," he says, and then wants to kick himself because apparently he'd expected Tony's mask to come down then and for him to make a crack, pass the whole thing off as a joke, but Tony looks--for the briefest of seconds--sad.

They stare at each other.

Tim's cell rings and he whips it out of his pocket, grateful for the excuse to break eye contact.

"I need you, McGee," says Abby and Tim has a flash of sense memory of what it was like to kiss her, her body pressed along the length of his, and then his brain switches to hypotheticals, to what it would be like to let Tony press up against him like that, and he has to force himself not to put his hand to his lips and trace the imprint of the kiss.

"Be right there, Abs," says Tim and then, with an oblique look at Tony, "I gotta-" He jerks a thumb back at the building.

"Yeah," says Tony. "Yeah, sure. I'll just go get that coffee and pretend like this was a fever dream brought on by too much cheese."

"Tony."

"Forget it, McGee."

"I don't want to," Tim wants to say, but Tony is already walking away and Abby needs him, and Tim isn't exactly sure why he's feeling so obstinate anyway. He allows himself a moment or two to watch Tony go and then heads to Abby's lab.

They work through the night trying to decrypt Sullivan's computer. It's impossible, which is good because it means Tim has no spare brain capacity to deal with the mile long queue of thoughts Tony's confession has sparked off squatting in his head and begging for over-analysis. He sleeps at some point and has confused dreams about Tony sitting alone at the end of a vast wooden table in some Gaudiesque Spanish castle, the headless corpses of medieval princesses behind him, weeping into his plate of tapas and muttering, 'If only he'd listened.' He's kind of grateful for his rude awakening at the hand of Gibbs.

In the time it takes for him to establish that Abby's computer is not on fire, the dream fades and Tim manages not to jump ten feet when Bluebeard DiNozzo growls at him. Of course, real life in general being Tim's Nemesis, this would be the one case that turns out to be about finding the right guy to settle down with. Tony's behaving normally, though--well, as normal as Tony ever gets--so Tim takes his cue from him.

Once the bad guys are safely locked up and the good guys are safely chained to their desks finishing up reports, Tim watches as Tony heads up the stairs to the Director's Office. Maybe he's taking the position after all. Tim is flooded with sudden outrage. He can't do that. He can't tell Tim that he wants to stay in DC to be with him one second and then turn around and buy himself a pair of castanets the next, Tim doesn't even have all the variables yet.

"McGee," says Gibbs, with mild exasperation, and Tim realizes he's not only managed to snap a pencil in two but also sent one half flying across into Gibbs' space. Luckily for Tim it wasn't the pointy end.

"Won't happen again, boss."

Tim fidgets with his mouse. The thoughts are all crowding in on him, clamoring to be heard and he can't do it. He can't. Especially not if Tony's going to saunter down the stairs any second now and start packing up his desk while singing the Macarena. He jerks to his feet and flees to Abby.

She's blindfolded and fumbling her way around the lab, bottle of gel in her hand. She is also hopping and has one hand behind her back.

"Abby, whatcha doing?" sing-songs Tim, his problems forgotten at the sight.

"I'm proving to myself how well I know where everything goes," she says, putting the bottle down on a shelf, patting around it and declaring, "Aha!"

"Ohh-kay. And the pirate impression?"

"Oh, the hopping? If I get something wrong I lose a limb."

"Sure, why not?" Tim can never decide if he wants to live in Abby's world or run far, far away from it. "And what happens if you lose your other leg?"

"Duh, that's what twizzly chairs are for, McGee."

"Of course that's what twizzly chairs are for. Listen, Abby, could you stop for a minute? I want to ask you a hypothetical question."

Abby whips off her blindfold and turns to stare at Tim, still standing in the doorway, and narrows her eyes at him. "Hypothetical."

"Hypothetical," nods Tim and then freezes. He has no idea where to start.

Abby's eyes widen again, appraising, and she lunges forward and tugs him into the lab, shoving him down onto a chair before sitting down herself.

"Spill, Timmy."

Tim takes a deep breath; he can do this, it's not rocket science and he could probably do that too if he put his mind to it. "So, um, imagine you had this friend and this friend got a great job opportunity somewhere not here only they were thinking of not taking it because they kind of, um, had feelings for you. How would you feel about that?"

Abby pushes at the table, spinning her chair around and away from Tim. "McGee, I'm disappointed in you. I thought we were past all that. We moved on, we're in a good friendship space, why would you-?"

And whoa, wrong end of the stick. "No, no, no, no!" Tim holds up his hands, placating. "Honestly, Abs, it's not about us. You're right, we're where we're meant to be. In fact, you're probably my best friend, that's why I'm asking you."

Abby grabs hold of Tim's hands and drags herself closer again. She wraps her arms around Tim's neck and squeezes. He hugs back, it's impossible not to, hugging is Abby's superpower after all. She slides her hands down to grip his upper arms and pulls away, searching his face.

"It's not hypothetical, though."

Tim shakes his head. "The one that's...the recipient of the, um, feelings. That's me."

"Oh," says Abby, and then in a particularly leery tone Tim has no wish to hear again any time soon, "Ohh!" She grins at him. "Do you have feelings back?"

Well, and isn't that the question? There's no point denying Tony's attractive, the mess of life is more manageable when it can be reduced to numbers and Tim's been a 2.1 on the Kinsey Scale for as long as he can remember. It's just he's Tony and if that weren't barrier enough he's team and off-limits according to the Rules.

"Maybe," he hedges. "But don't you think it's a bit, I don't know, intense or something, turning down a promotion for something that might not even happen?"

Abby settles back in her chair. "Hmm. Two options, Timmy. Either your friend's feelings are so strong she's willing to take that risk or she's confident you return them thus making it worth her while to stay. Option three is she's scared to take the job and is using you as an excuse, but I don't like that one so I'm ignoring it."

"Cocky son of a bitch," says Tim because it has to be Option 2. Tony looks like he's acting on impulse, doing crazy things spontaneously, but Tim's seen him in action enough to know that Tony's brain is a high-powered calculator, it just works on people instead of numbers.

"Huh?" says Abby, and then, "Of course! It's not a she, it's a he, McGee. Oh, that rhymes." She stops, looking thoughtful, and Tim really hopes she's not setting it to music; this whole thing already has a touch of bad opera about it. Then all thoughts of libretti are banished from his mind as he reels in pain.

"Ow!" he says, clutching his arm where Abby had landed her punch. "What was that for?"

"Not telling me you like guys. I thought we were friends, Timothy."

"I did tell you."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"When?"

"I told you that the only thing that made me watch Phantom Menace more than once was Liam Neeson."

"I thought you meant he was a good actor."

"There are no acting skills in the world good enough to make me voluntarily sit through the pain of watching a beloved franchise die on screen, believe me." Tim shudders at the memory.

Abby tips her head to the side, considering. "No, not acceptable," she says. "There'll have to be punishment."

"Really?" Tim doesn't even try to keep the whine out of his voice.

"Really. But not now because there's a guy who has feelings and you don't kn-" Abby's mouth clamps shut and her hands flail in the air. It's either a seizure or she's figured it out and Tim doesn't care if it makes him a bad person or not that he briefly wishes it were the former.

"Why didn't I see? Because of all the-" Abby tugs one pigtail then the other, head wobbling side to side like some kind of demented bobble-head doll.

"What are you talking about?"

"Tony! Oh, Timmy, Timmy!" She's off her seat now, bouncing on the spot and clapping her hands. It's highly disconcerting.

"I didn't say-"

"But I'm right and I know I'm right because--wow!--everything makes so much more sense, now." She grabs Tim's arms, ignoring his disgruntled squeak of pain--she must have left a bruise--and spins his chair around and around.

"He liiiiikes you, he liiiiiikes you," she chants and squeezes tight, stopping the chair dead. Her eyes are wide and bright, her cheeks flushed and she's panting a little, red lips parted and Tim can only think of the desk upstairs that might be empty. If he was writing this he'd probably have his character call it an epiphany, but he's not, he's living it so he sets his mouth and stubbornly ignores the clench of his gut. So he's concerned a friend and co-worker may move away, that's totally logical, nothing to see here, move along, this is not the epiphany you're looking for.

"Wait!" Abby jerks away and Tim's chair flings itself back. He grabs the counter to stop himself falling over and curses the laws of physics.

"Wait what?"

"Tony's leaving? I mean he's maybe not leaving because of the, you know, you thing, but he's leaving? Where exactly is somewhere not here, McGee?"

Tim wishes he had earplugs. "Spain."

"SPAIN? How could he do this to me? Doesn't he know none of you are allowed to leave, die or be in any way maimed or rendered unfit for duty? And why Spain? Is he trying to one-up Gibbs? I mean Gibbs went to Mexico but it's only, like, imported Spanish there so Tony has to be all 'look, I've got the original'? Does he not understand they get tomorrow early there?"

"Abby." Tim tentatively reaches out a hand, concerned it might get accidentally sliced off in all the whirling.

"What?" she snaps, and then deflates, collapsing back onto her chair. "Sorry. It's just..."

"I know," says Tim in the soothing voice he's spent years perfecting.

"He'll stay, right? It's easy. You tell him you want to have hot monkey sex with him and BAM! No Spain."

"But what if I don't want to have hot monkey sex with him?"

"Do it anyway. For me." Abby beams at him and Tim thinks, not for the first time, that there is very little he wouldn't do for her if she asked it. This time, though, she's pushing it.

"C'mon, Abs, this isn't about you."

The beam disappears. "You're right, it's not, it's about what you want. And I get it, just because you like guys doesn't mean you like Tony. I like guys but I don't like Tony. Well, okay, so I love him but not like that so yeah." She trails off, dropping her chin into her hand and twisting her lips. "Couldn't you--I don't know--kiss him and see if he turns into a prince?"

"Last time I looked he was still Tony."

"You guys kissed?"

"Yeah," says Tim and finally lets himself remember it, Tony's lips crushed against his. Despite the fierceness of it, it had held a strange kind of innocence. Like a kiss from a 1940s movie Tim thinks, and maybe he doesn't really know DiNozzo at all.

"Was it good?"

"It was fast."

"Fast can be good."

"It was good," Tim concedes, and for some reason he feels lighter.

"Wow," says Abby. "Next time you should take pictures."

"Who said anything about a next time?"

Abby scrunches up her face but says nothing.

"It's just- It's a lot, you know?"

"What's a lot, Timothy?" Ducky's voice floats over Tim's shoulder.

"Upgrading his home network. Memory, video cards, routers. Is it really worth it to shoot things faster, McGee?"

"I guess not," says Tim, mugging his thanks at Abby.

"I prefer to think my systems are being run by pixies," says Ducky. "It makes equal sense." He touches Abby's arm. "My dear, it has been a long two days, let me take you home."

"Darling Ducky, it would be my pleasure."

"I should finish my report," says Tim and slides off his chair. "Goodnight, you guys." He's halfway to the door when Abby launches herself on him, hugging him tight.

"You'll figure it out," she whispers in her ear and sounds so confident that he almost believes her.

When Tim gets back upstairs Tony's desk is empty, his monitor dark.

"Tony?" he enquires in the general direction of Ziva and Gibbs.

"He has gone home," says Ziva, frowning at her screen. "Which I, apparently will also be allowed to do once I have rewritten this report for the seventeenth time."

"Spell-check is your friend, Ziva," says Gibbs, with a small grin at Tim. "You almost done, McGee? Or don't you want to sleep in your own bed tonight?"

"Yes, boss. Nearly there." As Tim settles into his chair he lets himself glance at Tony's desk. His stuff is still scattered all about it. Ziva doesn't look like someone's dropped a bombshell and Gibbs is humming a little tune, which is scary in itself but so definitely not something he'd be doing if he'd just heard he was losing his senior agent. Nothing seems to have changed, except for how everything has.

By the time he gets home he's so dead on his feet that he almost falls straight into bed without brushing his teeth. There's no time to think about Tony's confession; Tim's asleep the second his head hits the pillow.

***

Over the next few days the thing that worries Tim the most is what he's going to do if Tony brings it up again. Only he doesn't. Tim thinks he can feel Tony watching him sometimes but when he looks around he's always busy doing something else. He doesn't try to get Tim alone at work, he doesn't turn up on Tim's doorstep in the middle of the night, and Tim would start to think he'd dreamed up the whole thing if it weren't for the fact that there was no way that kiss had been a figment of his imagination. He's good, but he's not that good.

It itches at Tim like a flea bite just out of reach, so when they've done all the practical things that need to be done and find themselves hanging about in the forest waiting for the ground-radar techs to show, Tim figures it's now or never. Tony's straddled on a log, peeling off the dried bark and piling it up in a little pyramid in front of him. Tim drops down opposite him, the displaced air scattering the carefully collected flakes. Tony shrugs and brushes the rest away.

"About Spain," Tim starts.

"Forget it, Probie. I shouldn't have said anything. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." He makes to get up but Tim grabs onto his arm and holds him down.

"No," he says. "It's my turn to talk and your turn to listen."

"Okay, McGee," says Tony, turning his best fake smile on Tim. "What do you want to talk about? The weather? The chance of Little Red Riding Hood skipping past us with the wolf at her heels?"

Tim hates that smile, the one that comes nowhere near Tony's eyes. It turns Tony into a travesty of what he really is--a warm and genuine man hidden under layers of frat boy and only child syndrome. Tim's only been on the receiving end a couple of times but it makes him feel queasy and desperate to apologize even if he doesn't know what he's done wrong.

"It's not fair," he starts and the fake smile widens. Tim swallows and ploughs on. "Tony, it's not fair to make this down to me, to make me the keeper of your career. You can't just dump that information on me and expect me to be all hearts and flowers about it. You're asking too much."

The fake smile disappears and Tim breathes a sigh of relief. Tony reaches out and straightens McGee's tie, patting it down. He doesn't quite meet Tim's eyes. "I know. Okay, so I admit it, you were only part of my decision to stay. I thought maybe I'd go with blunt force trauma to see if I could finally get a reaction from you." He tugs the tie. "After all the dancing around didn't work. It was a lot of pressure to put you under, I shouldn't have been angry at you. It's not your fault you don't-"

Tim pushes out his lip. "Who says I don't?"

"What are you saying, McGee?"

"I'm saying I need to collect empirical data and I need to do it now before I talk myself out of it again."

"Huh?"

"Could you kiss me, Tony? Please?"

"Oh, okay." This time the smile is 100 percent genuine Tony and Tim grins back, not caring if he looks like a fool. "I can do that."

Tony tugs Tim's tie yet again, this time pulling him in close. This kiss is different, it starts off a little unsure, a little shaky and then Tony's hand slides up around the back of Tim's neck and his thumb strokes behind Tim's ear as he angles their heads for a better fit. Tim opens his mouth and lets himself be kissed, hands unsettled until they come to rest fisting in Tony's shirt.

They kiss for a long time and Tim is surprised when then pull apart and the day is exactly the same as it was before because he's so sure the sun has set and risen around them in a whirl of pinks and oranges and soft, soft blues.

"That enough data for you, Probie?" Tony runs a thumb under Tim's bottom lip. "Drool," he adds helpfully.

Tim puts on his best solemn face. "I don't know, you need at least three points to determine the behavior of a line. I only have two."

"Well that makes sense, McStatistics." Tony nods, equally solemn. "You want me to rectify that for you?"

"It would be the polite thing to do."

"For science." Tony leans towards Tim, sliding a hand up his thigh.

"For science." Tim agrees, meeting him halfway.

It's different again. Tony sucks in Tim's bottom lip and bites down, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough to set it throbbing with the pace of Tim's heart. Hitching forward, Tony slings his legs over Tim's one at a time until he's practically sitting on top of him and then slides a hand under Tim's waistband, grazing skin as he curls his fingers around Tim's shirttail. The pulsing in Tim's lips speeds up. It's uncomfortable yet weirdly compelling and he presses his mouth harder against Tony's only he's not sure if he's trying to make it go away or trying to intensify the feeling.

Tony, equally urgent, kisses back hard, his hands stroking up Tim's torso, catching and pinching his nipples between exploring fingers. It's another unexpected sensation and it distracts Tim from his mouth long enough to notice that his pants, already stretched when he straddled the log, are even more stretched and uncomfortable now. Like a plant with the roots growing up, Tim sorely needs to adjust, but he's unsure of the etiquette so he tries squirming. Tony's weight is heavy on him, though, and nothing happens. Tony scrapes his fingernails down Tim's side and--Jesus fuck--it sends shivers in a straight line to his dick and that's just- Tim slaps his hands over the top of Tony's and pulls away.

"Tony, I-" Tim starts and then fails because he may have already shared a lot with Tony over the years but "I'm seriously uncomfortable because you've got me so turned on my dick is trapped in an anatomically-unfriendly position," is not one of them.

"Bad data?" asks Tony and looks a little hurt.

"No, no! Not at all. Good data. Excellent data. Very thorough and accurate data. It's..um-" And if you're prepared to sleep with a guy you probably should be prepared to discuss genitalia at some length but until a couple of weeks ago Tony was just the guy who made jokes about wet t-shirts and Tim's not ready to go there yet. He looks down instead. Tony follows his gaze.

"Ohhh," says Tony. "I see your problem, McTightpants. Let me help you with that." He slides his hands out from under Tim's and starts working on Tim's belt buckle.

I should stop him, thinks Tim. We're in a public place, it's moving too fast, I should stop him. He doesn't.

Tony unfastens Tim's pants and that's already liberation right there. And then he reaches into Tim's shorts and wraps his hand around Tim's dick, straightening it out and between the relief and the shock of Tony's hand on him, Tim almost comes right there, a rush of blood that's obviously just been waiting for its chance sending him fully hard in nanoseconds. Then Tony strokes upwards and it's only the sudden terrifying thought of the GPR crew descending on them that prevents Tim from totally embarrassing himself. He pats ineffectually at Tony's hand.

"People are coming."

"Not yet they're not," says Tony with a leer and a twist of his wrist that causes Tim to grab Tony's belt loop to steady himself.

"Tony," whines Tim, "Men. With radars. Coming here."

"Oh, point. I'll just stop then," says Tony, taking his hand away.

It turns out that's worse. Tim does not whimper. There may have been a minuscule bleat, but most definitely not a whimper.

"Relax, Probie. You heard the guys--they won't be here for hours. Time we're not short of." Tony tackles his own belt, keeping his eyes fixed on Tim's. "No one's watching--well, maybe a couple of perverted raccoons--it's just us." He raises his hand to his face, licks the palm, and then replaces it around Tim's dick, all without looking away. Tim can barely catch his breath, but he mimics the action perfectly, like a mirror reflection on time delay. It's awkward as hell, the positioning isn't great and the right-handedness versus left-handedness means they keep getting in each other's way, but Tony keeps on looking at Tim, won't let him look away.

When Tim comes, panting and eyes squeezed shut he forces them open again, not prepared to lose a second of watching the flush rise on Tony's face, the pleasure chasing across it turning him blurry and soft. Tim doesn't get to see what Tony looks like when he orgasms because Tony tugs Tim's head in, pressing their foreheads together and everything is out of focus except for the sharp "Fuck" that Tony spits out as his dick pulses in Tim's grip. Tony kisses Tim then, hard and fast, and Tim adds the onslaught of information to his data points. This is definitely not a straight line.

He builds a campfire when the night gets cold and they sit by it, warming their hands and cursing all radar crews who think that 'the ground is particularly difficult to penetrate' is a good excuse for pushing back their arrival for the fifth time. They run out of things to complain about eventually and fall silent. It's not entirely comfortable and Tim spends a good few minutes preparing to instigate The Talk. It's not something he's had much experience of, to be fair, mostly he's been at the receiving end. They haven't said a word about what had happened between them once they were cleaned up and put back together, it's like it had happened to two look-a-likes in a fictionalized made-for-TV movie of their lives. But Tim has the stains to prove it and that means they're going to need to figure out what happens next.

He could open up with the "we need to talk," gambit, but if Tony's anything like himself it'll either make him run into the woods screaming where he could be attacked by homophobic raccoons or it could put him on the defensive in which case no good could come of it. He could try building up to it with some small talk and then pouncing--"Did you see those Redskins last week, huh? Oh, and do you see us picking out china in five years?"--only Tim doesn't really follow sports and, besides, Tony'd probably sue for compensation from the whiplash.

Direct is best, he decides. Scariest, but best.

"What happened before, I'd like for it to happen again. Not now. Some time. I'd like it to happen again sometime. That is, if you're-"

"No need for a brook when you're here to babble, is there?" Tony interrupts, but his smile is warm and Tim's stomach unknots. "I'd like that, too."

"Okay then."

"Okay then. Are we done?"

They could be, thinks Tim. That's the basics fixed--survey says more sex, please--but if they're going to break Gibbs' rule then they should probably have some of their own.

"Not quite. The whole thing with the- I mean you said- It's-"

"Spit it out, Probie."

Tim shifts a little on the ground and his boot bumps against Tony's. Somehow this gives him the courage to go on. "You said you turned down Spain for me and I know--you said--it wasn't only for me and that's great, I believe you, it's...Okay, this is all new and awkward and we work together and that's already pressure right there and then the Spain thing, I don't..." He lets himself get distracted by the way the firelight and shadows play across Tony's face.

Tony nudges Tim's boot with his own. "Talk."

"Can we take things slow? Can we just have some fun and save the figuring out stuff for later?"

"As long as we get to have hot monkey sex, then we can take things as slow as you want, McGee. Slow as molasses, even."

Tim grins with relief. "Why is everyone obsessed with hot monkey sex?" he asks. "How do you even know how hot a monkey's sexual encounters are and how are you grading hot? Because if it's the monkey's idea of hot then sure, but if it's you thinking monkey sex is hot then I may have to reconsider this whole thing."

"If you ever want to come at my hand again, McPedantic, you should probably shut up now."

Tim mimes zipping his lip and throwing away the key.

"Wow, the power!" Tony grins at him and settles back to wait out the rest of the night.

They're punch-drunk with lack of sleep by the time they get back to the Navy Yard. Tony makes a crack about Brokeback Mountain and, though Tim's ready enough with a quip, his insides clench and he wonders how the hell they're actually going to do this. And then they're so busy with the girl-fighting--uh, their attempts to find a murderer--that they slip back into their usual patterns and Tim manages not to give it another thought.

That is, until Gibbs makes Tim bag his blood-covered shirt for evidence and he thoughtlessly begs a replacement from Tony. See, the thing about Tony is he always has spare clothing. Always. And it's not just because he may not have made it home the night before--though that's what he'd prefer everyone to think--he's a vain but practical guy; dirt is not his friend.

So it doesn't occur to Tim that Tony will do anything but reach into a drawer and toss him a clean shirt. Only he doesn't do that. He doesn't do that at all. He gets into Tim's space, stares him down and starts unbuttoning, thrusting the shirt, still warm from his body, at Tim's chest. Tim has no choice but to put it on.

It. Is. Unbearable.

For the rest of the day Tony's scent is with him wherever he goes, wafting up from the cotton shirt. And if Tim had thought that Tony was maddening enough before they started doing...whatever it is they are doing...it's nothing on how maddening he is now, smirking at Tim from the safety of his crisp, clean shirt, while Tim wonders if being permanently half-hard is impairing his judgment. Never has a day seemed so long.

He escapes to the restroom where he can at least relieve one sort of pressure and is just zipping up when the door opens and Tony strides in, all confidence and charm. The door wafts shut behind him and Tim is struck with a double dose of his scent and it's so not fair he could cry. Tony hits the doors of the stalls one after the other with a flat palm, sending them crashing against cubicle walls. Tim winces.

He stops wincing when Tony grabs him by the shirt and pushes him backwards into the last stall in the row and locks the door. He drops to his knees, sticks his hand into Tim's unzippered pants and pulls out his dick, sliding it into his mouth and looking at Tim with a wicked glint in his eyes.

"Tony! We can't. Not here."

Tony takes his mouth off and jacks Tim slowly. "Oh yes, we can. You can barely walk in a straight line, McHorny. I'm redirecting your focus. Call it my responsibility as your senior partner." He sucks Tim in again without waiting for a reply. Not that Tim can string more than two words together now anyway.

Tony sucks him hard and fast and Tim squeezes his lips tight shut, the wordless sounds building up behind his clenched teeth like rocks in a landslide. It's all he can do to not smack his palms against the cubicle walls. He presses on them hard instead and lets his head roll back until he's staring at the ceiling.

They're interrupted once; the second the door swings open Tony freezes like a statue, Tim still in his mouth. Tim's sure whoever it is must know, must hear his heart beating out of his chest, must see the soles of Tony's shoes under the stall door, but there's nothing but soft whistling and the trickle of water, both waste and washing. Tim daren't move. He counts the holes in the ceiling tile above his head and tries to estimate how many holes there must be in the whole ceiling, only Tony's mouth is wet and warm and he has to swallow or choke and that means his tongue pressing up and stroking against the underside of Tim's dick. Tim has trouble remembering why this is such a bad thing to do.

It must be no more than a minute until they're alone again but it seems like forever and Tim can barely hold back a groan as Tony reapplies himself, his free hand curling around the back of Tim's thigh. The pressure builds fast and Tim tugs Tony's hair to warn him he's about to come but Tony keeps right on sucking as Tim spurts into his mouth, easing off slowly. Tim pulls out and grimaces as a last drop of semen drips down the back of his hand.

"Gross," he murmurs, and wipes it on the toilet paper.

Tony grins at him and gets to his feet, dabbing at the corners of his mouths with his index finger. "Now you can concentrate," he says, unlocking the door and slipping out backwards. He sticks his head back around the door. "You can thank me later," he says and disappears.

Tim tidies himself up and then collapses onto the toilet seat. Just what is Tony's definition of 'slow', anyway?

***

They don't date. They don't have dinner together or go to the movies or wander around the Smithsonian making up gruesome deaths for the skeletons on exhibit. For a few weeks they have sex. Lots of sex. Probably a large proportion of it could be classified as hot monkey sex but Tim's still dubious about that one. It's good, anyway. But then there's less of it, work is crazy, things keep 'coming up' for Tony and Tim wages on-line battles and tries not to reduce everything to numbers. Hours spent, orgasms had, length of time after sex before Tony crawls out of bed and heads home or makes noises Tim should do the same. He doesn't crunch the statistics because there's a trend and he doesn't want to see it.

After Ducky's inaugural undercover work, Tony drives Tim home. He doesn't make a move to come in as Tim unclips his seatbelt. There's a weight in the car and Tim fumbles for the door handle, needing to feel fresh air on his face. Tony puts out a hand to stop him.

"Tim, I'm- Fuck."

Tim turns around and looks at Tony. He's listened to Ziva's whispers and avoided his own observations long enough to know what's coming. Give the guy credit, he's still meeting Tim's eyes, he's not looking away. He could make this easy--should make it easy--they have to work together and it's no one's fault, not really.

"You met someone. It happens."

Tony looks pathetically grateful, and Tim has to try so so hard not to reach over and smooth his forehead, make the worry lines go away.

"It's not- God, it's not about not liking you, McGee. It's really not. Or- I can't explain. I just...I have to do this. She's- I have to see. And I can't, not and you, too, it's not fair. Not to either of you. I should've stopped before, but-"

"You don't have to explain."

"I want to."

"No, I mean, you're lousy at explanations, Tony. The holes you dig for yourself I'm surprised you don't wear a hard hat. I get it. I don't need any more."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. We're good. I hope things work out for you." Tim goes for the handle again. This time Tony doesn't stop him. "See you tomorrow,'" he says, very carefully not slamming the door.

Mechanically, Tim goes through his bedtime routine. It's not until he's lying in the dark that he lets himself think about what just happened. He's never, not for one minute, allowed himself to consider that he and Tony might have a future together, so it's kind of surprising that he feels like he's just been through an earthquake and the foundations have shifted under his feet. It shouldn’t matter this much, not if it was only ever about sex.

The human capacity for self-delusion is remarkable, thinks Tim. He wonders if spending so much time living in his imagination is what makes it so hard for him to see what's standing in front of him, real and vital. It wasn't only sex. Hasn't been since that first time. He's known it all along, but has kept it hidden out of sight because he's scared of it, scared that love is the poor relation to the flashy riches of sexual passion. He could have sworn Tony felt the same way, but now, whoever she is, she's changing his mind, not Tim, and there's nothing Tim can do.

There's nothing Tim can do but watch as Tony appears to fall deeper in love with the girlfriend he won't talk to them about. And it's not easy, but all the songs say if you love someone let them go--except the creepy stalker ones and they're not words to live by--and Tim tries his best to do just that. It works pretty well for the most part, and when it doesn't, there's always Abby and Bert.

"Do you want me to kill him for you, Timmy?" Abby asks. "I can do it so no one would know. I mean, I love him so I'd rather not. Maybe I could kill the girlfriend."

"No killing anyone. I break out when I have guilt."

Abby hugs him for at least the sixteenth time that day. "No killing. Check." She purses her lips, thinking. "I could put bugs in his desk. Lots of bugs."

And Tim wonders for at least the sixteenth time that day how much easier it would have been if he and Abby had never broken up.

The weirdest thing about it all is how secretive Tony is. No one ever sees the mystery girlfriend, no one even hears her name. He has a separate phone to take her calls and she never, not once, calls his desk or visits. It's so strange and unTony-like and McGee can't quite make it fit into his head. Tony doesn't exactly do shame, he's proud of every conquest, from the barely legal to the barely sane. There hadn't even been any shame over Lieutenant Vos. Anger and confusion, yes--and given recent history, now Tim thinks he understands why--but shame, no.

So if it's not shame then it doesn't matter how much Tim twists and turns it, examining it from every angle, trying not to fit the round peg into the round hole, it can only be because she's special. Special in a way Tim apparently never managed to be. He could pretend it's mostly his pride that's hurt, but it's not. Tony comes into work late, disappears on his way back from crime scenes, huddles in corners with the phone and he glows. He glows and if it's not a kick in the guts every time, it's a thousand tiny pinpricks of you-were-never-good-enough and you-really-thought-you-mattered? And, sure, the mature response to these situations is to be happy that the person you love is happy but Tim's always had a petty streak and it takes a lot of effort and many nights waging war against pixels to find himself a measure of peace.

He gets there, though. He can watch Tony head out early, knowing exactly where he's going, he can cover for him time and again with Gibbs, he can even smell her on him and know that this is just the way it has to be. That life was good when they were just colleagues and friends and life is good now, too.

And that's when Tony disappears.

***

Tim is still reeling from the shock that Tony's girlfriend--the finally-named Jeanne Benoit--was part of an elaborate undercover operation when he watches Tony's car explode on the screen in front of him. Ziva gasps out "Tony!" and Tim slaps his hand over his mouth and chokes down the bile that's rising in his throat.

The crime scene is bad. The fire is out but heat roils off the twisted chassis and shattered glass and shards of metal are strewn across the tarmac. Forcing himself to walk closer, Tim sees the blackened husk inside the car and knows--knows--that it's not Tony. It doesn't matter that Ziva produces his shield and identity; it's not him. She may not believe in miracles but Tim does. He refuses to give up hope, searching and searching for an alternative explanation. So when Ducky imparts the news that the body on his table does not belong to Anthony DiNozzo he's not surprised. Desperately relieved, but not surprised.

It's only later, when they're trying to track a missing baby, that he allows himself to wonder what the fact of Tony's undercover work actually means. Where the truth actually lies and whether Tony even knows what that is. He could drive himself crazy thinking about it so he asks.

"You were really in love with her, weren't you?"

And Tony doesn't answer the question--Tim hadn't really expected him to--but he knows the truth all the same. He can see it on Tony's face when he doesn't respond, can see it still when Tony drips into the house and looks at the reunited family and he wants to reach out to him, take the hurt away. Only he can't, so he presses a button and starts a fire for him and that will have to do.

***

Tony's voice cuts through the air like a blade, straight into Tim's guts. He rushes to the barrier and sees the body dangling into space and then it's full pelt, don't stop, don't think, grasp tight, pull, pull, pull until Tony's safe and they're breathing hard, collapsed against cold stone. Tim's whole body is pounding and this is what it must mean to have your heart in your mouth because if he opens his lips he'll vomit it out onto the floor. He swallows hard.

"I love you, McGee. I promise never to give you a hard time again."

"Yeah, right." And Tim has never, not once, in his life before realized that those three words could actually hurt. Tony's heartfelt thanks make Tim want to smack himself around the head for being an idiot. He should be over this, he should have moved on but he isn't, he can't. But he can't help but touch, to press his shoulder tight into Tony's, to get close to the warmth of him.

"D'you think they have multistory parking lots in Spain?"

Tony stares at him then, sweaty from fear and exertion, and Tim half-lifts a hand to wipe it away, but then Ziva tears up the ramp and everything is babble and noise.

There's been a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter for the last hour, Tim's sick of the plasticky taste of his unsmoked pipe and every record he plays grates against his nerves, jangling his attempts at focus. It's possible the doorknocker has been sounding for some time when the sharp bursts of arrhythmic noise start to punctuate the flow of not-exactly-thoughts that are streaming through his head. Tim blinks himself aware as the short attacks speed up melding seamlessly into one, long, irritating drumroll. He doesn't need three guesses to know who's outside.

Tony barrels through the door as soon as Tim opens it. "Come in," says Tim, to the empty space where Tony had been standing. 'Make yourself at home."

"McGee, you don't have enough chairs," says Tony from behind him. "I don't know how you manage when it's your turn to host the knitting circle."

Tim shuts the door and turns around, too happy to see Tony alive and being an asshole to even bother trying to work up his usual irritation. "A good yarn makes you forget everything," he says. "What do you want, Tony? It's late and I'm tired."

"Oh, okay, you want straight to the point. I can do straight to the point." Tony gestures Tim into the seat by his writing desk and wheels the computer chair over to join him. He picks up Tim's pipe and twists it between his fingers. Tim takes it away and puts it out of reach. And then moves his paperweight. And turns off the shredder.

"Point?" he prompts.

Tony tugs at the corner of the desk, as if that's going to give him some inspiration and then his head jerks up and he looks at Tim, really looks at him and Tim's stomach lurches. This is going to be either amazingly good or horrifyingly bad; there is no in-between.

"What I said before, I meant it." Tony takes a deep breath. "When I said I love you."

"Sure, Tony. We're friends, I saved your life, of course you meant it."

"No," Tony shakes his head. "I mean, yes. But no. I meant it, McGee. I mean it now."

Tim's head is buzzing, thrown into disarray, this is the one variable he'd finally factored out and here it is again. It doesn't fit with what he knows, it's an outlier and outliers get discarded.

"Jeanne," he says and watches the wince of pain pass across Tony's face. It's not like he needs more evidence but he presses on regardless--he's never thought of himself as a masochist before now, but there's a first time for everything. "There's been no time, Tony. You can't, you haven't-"

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose and rubs. "You're right. I do still...care about her, but I- Okay, so I had this Ozzie and Harriet thing when I was growing up. My parents--well, let's just say they weren't the best examples of family life and I always thought one day I'd be Ozzie and there'd be a Harriet and everything would be perfect." He reaches out and touches Tim's knee, a light, fleeting touch.

"It never occurred to me that it could be Ozzie and Ozzie. And I was okay with that, at least, I thought I was okay....No I was, I really was, believe me, Probie, it wasn't that I-" Tony stops and shakes his head a little, and Tim has a split second to regret not knowing which station that particular tangent was going to pull into if it hadn't run out of steam, before Tony's continuing.

"But then there was a Harriet, you see, and it wasn't like the DVDs because pointy bras went out with Madonna and not everything gets solved in 22 minutes with a hearty laugh and a pot roast. But it was real and I never meant to fall in love with her only I did and it was what I'd always wanted and it was also a lie because I was a lie, I lied to her about almost everything. And I convinced her I was DiNardo and I convinced myself that somehow we'd come out of it all with a picket fence and apple pie and you'd be the affable next door neighbor and maybe it wouldn't matter that I'd had to choose."

He stops talking and there's a part of Tim that wants to give in right now, wants to close the gap between them and kiss him and tell him hush now, it's all going to be fine, but he can't. Not yet.

"It's okay that you chose her," he says instead. "Maybe I'd've done the same thing. A man, a woman, two point four kids, a dog, it's what we're supposed to do, right? It's not like we made promises."

"No, no promises. But I don't think you understand, Tim." Tony reaches for him, then, hands encircling Tim's wrists. "I loved you first. I should have said. I should have said after that time in the forest only there was the slow thing and I didn't do it because I'm a guy and because it was messy. I loved you first and I still love you now. It's possible it got back-burnered for a while there, but you know what? This life thing, it's complicated and sometimes you don't get it right on the first go round."

And out of all the words, it's the 'Tim' that sells it. Three letters and Tim believes everything out of Tony's mouth. The relief leaves him dizzy and shaking, the coil of tension that's long since set up home in his gut releasing so fast he gets whiplash.

And he'd meant to say something, he really had, but it turns out his body has other ideas and he's gripping Tony's forearms, tugging him forward and kissing him deep and long, a parched man finding water in the desert. Clutching each other they teeter to their feet, Tim's hands fumbling at Tony's shirt buttons as the need to get to skin overwhelms him. Tony laughs against his lips and pushes Tim's t-shirt over his head.

Later, Tim's surprised they'd made it to the bedroom, but here they are, and there's no time for lazy exploration, no time for slow preparation, only the urgency of two bodies rubbing together and two hands joined in a familiar rhythm. Tony's head is buried in Tim's neck, lips pressed tight against skin as he comes and Tim grips his hair, holds him in close as his own orgasm hits, pleasure and love washing through every inch of him, so closely entwined they might as well be the same thing.

Tim gives them a few minutes before he flails one hand in the direction of the bedside table and grabs a box of tissues.

"Congealing is bad," he says, shoving a fistful of tissues at Tony.

Tony laughs. "Still the same Probie. Bodily fluids are 100 percent natural, McSqueamish, you know that." As amused as he is, he helps Tim wipe them down, paying particular attention to Tim's dick until Tim bats his hand away.

"It's not a toy, DiNozzo."

Tony nods. "U-huh. Sure." He wads up the tissues and tosses them in the trash. "Score!"

He settles down at an angle to Tim, head resting on his stomach. Without thought, Tim's fingers twist through his hair, setting it into small spikes and then smoothing it down again. The weight of Tony's head is a comforting pressure as Tim breathes slowly in and out and he wishes that his brain was really a computer, that his eyes were an inbuilt camera so he could record this moment and keep it because there are no guarantees, not even now.

"We can take it slow," says Tony. "If you like."

Tim grins. "I think we failed that option. I didn't even make you buy me dinner first."

Tony's hand searches out McGee's and he clasps them together, laying them over his chest. "McGee and DiNozzo, the Porsches of the dating world. But listen, if you need-"

"I don't," Tim interrupts. "Fast is good. Fast is better than good. Slow can bite me. I want you, I want this, I want us. I didn't say either but I do. That is, I love you, too." He stops, shocked at how easily it comes out. "Oh god," he says, "I must be insane. I love you and apparently I'm good with that. I'm thinking about ordering a brain scan."

"No point, they'll just find two pounds of confetti hearts with TM 4 AD stamped on 'em." Tony squeezes Tim's hand. "You know this won't be all daisies, right?"

"Someone once told me 'this life thing, it's complicated.'"

"Someone wise?"

"Someone cute."

"That'll do."

"It'd better." Tim knuckles Tony's skull. "The thing is, this person-"

"This cute person."

"This incredibly annoying person is right. There's no way we can plan for every variable. We can't even determine our preferred outcome, not with any certainty." Tim lifts his head and tugs Tony's around so that he can look into his eyes. "All we can do is our best," he says.

Tony nods, solemn and then flashes a grin. "Do our best. You are such a Scout."

"And you love it."

"Yes, yes I do." Tony raises three fingers in a salute, then twists them in front of his face. "Huh," he says. "I know a better place for a three finger salute."

Tim swallows a laugh, throws his head back against the pillow and groans dramatically. "We're not both getting out of this alive, are we?"

"Probably not," agrees Tony, cheerfully. "Especially when Gibbs finds out."

"Oh yeah, that. Well, I've always wanted to see the world. I wonder what the weather's like in Spain this time of year."


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