Oh, The Places You'll Go

Logical Absurdities

Notes: Beta by my darlingest soupytwist, for whom no squishes are too many. Set between 701 and 702. (This is not the post-ep fic I planned to write but it's the one that got written.)

Tony has a headache. Nothing showy like a migraine--no flashing lights or spectacular vomiting for him--just the regular unpleasant kind, a thousand tiny kung-fu black belts synchronized-punching the area behind his eyes over and over again. The kind where if you take your hands away from your head long enough your brain will split in two and sloppily slide out of your ears, squelching underfoot.

He's not hung-over. He wishes he were hung-over. Post-alcohol dehydration is, if not a long-time buddy, at least a familiar acquaintance, he knows its ways and how to render them harmless (Unofficial Academy class #1). No, this is a headache of an entirely different breed and Tony thinks that some people's brains are just not built to cope with change.

Tony thinks that somewhere there's another him, going about his daily business without a care in the world and with substantially less Tylenol floating about his system. This Tony is cracking wise and flirting with every woman that passes (except the hairy ones), he's stealing Probie's snacks and getting the job done to a chorus of, "Good job, DiNozzo." He is not, in any way, in crisis. He thinks that he'd like to shake this Tony's hand and figure out where exactly it was that their paths diverged. What choice did the other guy make or not make, what did he see or not see, do or not do? How does he get to be oblivious--and headache free?

Of course, this means that there's still another Tony out there who--and Tony winces as a sharp stab of pain suggests the kung-fu artists are aiming to kick out his eyeball and won't take no for an answer--he does not want to think about the other Tony. He can't let himself, that way lies probable hemorrhaging and a lifetime hooked up to tubes and Tony's never been fond of mushed-up food, not even as a baby.

It was the gun, you see. The stupid, fucking gun.

He groans.

"Are you done 'resting your eyes'?" asks Agent Fillmore, and Tony doesn't have to be looking at her to hear the quotation marks. Her ability to pronounce punctuation lurks on the fragile border between terrifying and fascinating. Tony spends most of his time hunkered down in terrifying.

"Because you are supposed to be mentoring me. It's blocked out on the schedule, see?"

"Does the schedule also have 'get tied up in North Africa and forcibly injected with a truth serum' on it? 'Cuz I'm thinking not, and this serves to demonstrate--Agent Fillmore--that all things are subject to change." Tony opens his eyes and it takes more than a split second for him to figure out why it's still dark--he must be slipping. He takes off his sunglasses and sits up.

Agent Fillmore shouldn't be able to loom; Tony's personal guidelines suggest looming should only be done by extremely tall or extremely wide people and she is neither, and yet here she is, looming, blue plastic binder clasped in her arms. Usually, Tony would take time out to be disconcerted by this, but his attention is distracted by the fact that McGee crosses his line of sight at the same time as the kung-fu kids decide to broaden their repertoire and break out a two-step. (A two-step and a thousand little bastards, that's a lot of steps.) It's not a coincidence.

Tim heals fast, the scabs on his forehead and cheek have formed into neat little lines, and Tony's willing to bet that they'll fall off to order after the precisely-calculated time for optimum healing has passed to reveal perfect new skin underneath. McGee always has everything under control these days.

Well, almost everything, and there's another kick behind the eyes and Tony flaps his hands at Fillmore in a way that is meant to indicate that yes, he will accede to her demands, but only because he realizes the importance that she learns from the best, and probably looks like he's unsuccessfully trying to shake some unidentified (and most definitely gross) sticky substance off himself. Whatever, it gets the point across and she plants the binder down in front of him with an unnecessarily loud thump.

Tony glares up at her. "Chair," he says. "No looming. Looming is for senior agents only."

Here is a secret nobody knows: Tony loves NCIS, really loves it, policies, procedures and all, right down to the stupid rule about accidental mug-usage in the breakroom. He may be a wildcard, but if you're going to throw out the rulebook, you've got to know what's in it first. So when he's teaching Fillmore, even if it's not his own worldly wisdom that he's imparting, he's caught up enough in the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts that he gets to forget, for a while, that he's almost forgotten what 'normal' feels like, that he's barely slept since they got back, that when he does, he always jerks awake in the same way, hair damp and spine tingling with fear, shouting 'Stop! Stop!' to his blank bedroom walls.

When they're done (and Agent Fillmore stops him precisely at 4:58 pm, even though he's mid-flow about the proper versus improper uses of MTAC--and the less said about video games the better--giving herself two minutes to get her things together and go), Tony pulls open his top drawer and grabs the Tylenol, popping the cap and shaking out two pills. He stares at them for a couple of seconds and then tosses them in his mouth, taking a swig from his cup. At least, he would have taken a swig were the cup not empty. Tony flails McGee-ward, his hatred of the chalkiness of the tablets overriding any other concerns.

Tim scoops up his water bottle and throws it over. Tony catches and drinks, grateful.

"Hey," says McGee, once Tony's re-capped the bottle. "Keep it," he adds as Tony offers it back to him. "Do you want to go get dinner?"

It's an innocent enough query, they do it all the time these days--it used to be an occasional thing, but after Ziva didn't come home it was kind of a weird time and they stuck together, the two of them, and dinner became a regular event, something Tony even looked forward to--but today Tony can barely hold back a flinch. Point of fact, given Tim's stricken look, quickly buried, he probably didn't do well on the holding-back thing after all.

"Forget it," says Tim, stuffing things in his backpack and not meeting Tony's eyes. "You probably have plans, what with starring in the rescue fantasy of every single female in a ten-block radius. Go. Make the most of your fifteen minutes."

Tony's divided between folding his arms and saying in his best digging-in-heels voice, "I don't want to," and asking for the names, numbers and vital statistics of the women most likely and it's like something's ripped, right down the middle of him, torn edges failing to match up. He claps his hands over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut until the black boils into blood red, and it's not until McGee shoves him into a chair and tugs his hands away that Tony realizes he'd expected them to be covered in brain matter.

"Tony, man, what is wrong with you? Is it the drugs? I thought you got a clean bill of health?"

Tim's squatting in front of him, hands warm around Tony's wrists and he's looking up at Tony with eyes that yell concern and it's not helping at all.

"I'm okay, McRatchet," says Tony, forcing a smile and twisting his wrists loose. "My head hurts, I need to sleep. I'll be good as new in the morning."

"Not all new things are good," says Tim, using the arms of Tony's chair to push himself to his feet. His torso brushes Tony's knees and Tony wonders if repeatedly punching himself in the face with his desk will help to drive the headache away. "I mean, baconaisse? Whoever thought of that should be made to stand trial at the UN. Crimes against humanity."

"Come now, Probie, you never know when you'll find yourself in a situation that requires the application of both bacon and mayonnaise. This way you get to solve your problem with only one item. It's good for the environment."

"I'm pretty sure it isn't." McGee is back at his desk now, scooping up his backpack. "You want a ride home? You really don't look so good."

Tony knows the answer is no, is even pressing the tip of his tongue to the roof of his mouth to make the 'n' sound and still--somehow--he manages to say, "Yeah, thanks. Rush hour driving and me are probably not the best mix right now." He could kick himself for not getting the hell out of Dodge, but what's the point? It's not like he'd notice the extra ouch-factor.

They drive in silence. Tim usually has the radio tuned to some all-talk-no-action station (even on his best days the jabber jabber jabber drives Tony demented) but his hand doesn't even stray close to the controls. He doesn't speak either, leaving Tony alone except for the thousand kung-fu experts who don't seem to want to part company, no matter how much Tylenol he swallows. He's a considerate guy, the Probie, even when he's hiding it under layers of bitching and moaning.

Tony leans his head against the cool glass of the window and sneaks a peek at Tim. He's not quite frowning with concentration, and Tony can't understand why he'd want to drive stick in a place like DC where the traffic barely even gets to a crawl six hours out of every twenty-four. From this distance, and in the sharp-lit glare from the cars in front of them, the cut by Tim's eye stands out, a livid reminder of what they went through. Tony's throat is dry and his mouth is full of sand.

Here is a secret nobody knows: Tony hates personal revelations, really hates them. He figures that if you know yourself badly enough to be blindsided by something that now seems achingly obvious, then you probably deserve the sleepless nights and metric tonne of sappy introspection that usually follow random epiphanies. Just don't be holding anything hot when you have one. Tony knows himself pretty well, actually--enough to be who he wants to be when he wants to be it--and it isn't all knowledge that's been easy to come by. So he shouldn't have to go through this shit as well, he should have figured it out before, dealt with it before it became something. Only now it's too late.

That stupid, fucking gun.

That gun pointed at Tim's head, Tim frozen on the filthy floor, bound hands raised to beg for his life and Tony couldn't even see his face. He'd yelled at Saleem to stop but when he had, when he'd gotten to his feet and Tony had finally, finally seen Tim's face, terrified and bloody, the gun still trained on him, he'd known he hadn't expected him to. Had expected the ear-blasting report of the pistol to reverberate off the bare walls and Tim's brains one more layer of dirt on the floor, so he'd kept on talking, aware of exactly where the gun was pointing, anything to keep Tim alive for one more second and one more second after that. Because--and how this was the most horrifying thing of the whole ordeal Tony couldn't even begin to process--a world without Tim McGee in it was apparently no world at all.

At first, Tony'd blamed the drugs, after all, they'd made him say he couldn't live without Ziva which was an exaggeration at best, only they've long worn off and he still can't get past the image of the gun trained on Tim, and his throat is raw from all the desperate yelling he isn't doing. It's as if his brain can't process the fact that Tim didn't die, because people he loves slip away and leave him, he doesn't get to save them. He doesn't get to feel the warmth of their body close to his on the long plane ride home, he doesn't get to crack jokes about spending the mission asleep, he doesn't get to say, "Hey, you did good in there, you nearly got that knife," he doesn't get to see the sweet smile and the serious nod that accompanies the quiet, "Thank you. You know, for stopping him."

Maybe this is why his brain feels like it's splitting in two; Tim is both dead and not dead. He's entirely new and yet exactly the same. Tony both wants to press their bodies so close together they become halves of the same whole and to run away as far and as fast as he can because he's back in the borderlands again, stalking the line between desire and fear. It makes utterly no sense and is the most perfect thing in the world. No wonder his head hurts. Tony hates revelations.

"Do you want me to come up and make you some soup or something?" asks Tim, gliding the car to a halt so gently that it takes Tony a couple of seconds to realize they've stopped moving. "You look like you have a fever." He reaches out towards Tony's forehead, but Tony bats his hand away.

"Stop being my mom, McGee, I'm just fine. Nothing a solid eight hours won't fix." He pulls the door release and swings his legs out, the sudden coolness of fresh air on his face suggesting McGee might be right about the feverish thing. "Thanks," he says as he ducks out of the car. "We'll call that even for the life-saving." The second the words have left his mouth Tony starts shaking. He hopes Tim can't see his hand trembling as he shuts the door and, with a massive effort, he manages to pull out his key without fumbling it and get himself inside.

He doesn't even manage to close his door behind him before he's crashing, shoulder-first, into the wall, sliding down it until he's sprawled on the floor. His head is pounding so hard he smashes it against the plasterboard to see if it will make any difference. It doesn't. This is ridiculous, he tells himself. Stupid, ridiculous, foolish, idiotic, dumb, other and better SAT-vocabulary synonyms for being so very, very not smart. Nothing happened. Tim's alive, he's alive, it's all good. It should be enough.

It isn't.

He knows he's pressing Tim's number on his speed-dial, he can see himself doing it. He knows he's holding the phone up to his ear and listening to it ring out. Everything about the call is a conscious decision and he still surprises himself when Tim picks up the phone with a questioning, "Tony?" and he says, "Don't die, okay. Promise me you won't ever do that."

"Tony?" says Tim again, and, "I'm coming up."

"Okay," says Tony, and punches the red button on his phone, staring at it until he the door snicks closed and he hears the rough glide of fabric on paint as McGee slides down the wall to join him.

"Wanna tell me what's going on?"

"Not really."

"Okay." And he's really going to sit there, just waiting with Tony until he's ready or better or, or something, a solid presence of comfort and strength or whatever Tony needs him to be, and that's when Tony finally figures it out.

"You're not going anywhere, are you?" he says, and it's a question that doesn't really need an answer.

"Now? Nah, got nothing planned. I was expecting to get dinner with you. Nice meal out, evening spent on your floor, what's the difference?"

Tony leans into him, a little bit at first, then more. Tim doesn't shift and Tony isn't shaking any more. "Not just now," he says, and, okay, so yes, maybe he has the big picture down all perfect, but the details are a little sketchy so maybe he can be forgiven for the way his heart is speeding. He can almost hear Tim's concentration; he's doing it so hard.

"Not deliberately," says Tim, and right, fair enough, he can't actually specify one hundred percent that something won't happen like, say, the team being split up again, or a promotion, or yeah, sure, okay, fine, the whole death thing, but Tony's pretty sure McGee's got that all worked out in facts and figures so 'not deliberately' sounds as good as 'no' to him.

"So it doesn't matter what I tell you, you'll be here, right?"

Tim nudges Tony with a shoulder. "Tony, there's many things I'd do for you, but hiding dead bodies isn't one of them."

"Very funny, McLetterman," says Tony and rubs at his head.

"Still bad?"

"Yeah," says Tony and then stops, considering. Maybe it's eased off a little. Maybe the black belts are finally running out of stamina. It doesn't seem right that such little guys have more power than the Duracell bunny so it's only fair.

"You know, I really like hardwood floors," says Tim, "but my ass doesn't feel the same way."

Tony flashes him a grin. "Hint taken," he says. "You know, when I needed words, when they were all I had to stop Saleem...to stop him, they were there. I don't know where they came from but they were there and now...Fuck."

"Is this about that?" Tim grips Tony's leg and shakes it. "Tony, it's okay, you stopped him. We got the girl and killed the baddy and all came back alive. What more do you want?"

"This," says Tony, because it's the only thing he can say, and reaches up to tug Tim's head around so that their lips meet. "This," he says again as he kisses him. For a brief second the kung-fu kids are back in full force, pummeling Tony's skull as if it is a whole new enemy needing to be subdued, but then Tim relaxes into the kiss and shifts his body to get better access and the pain fades away, the blunt edges of its absence the only reminder it was ever there.

Tim's fingertips rest against Tony's cheek, a brief, fluttering touch, as he pulls back from the kiss.

"I'm not going anywhere," he says. "Promise. But what?" His fingers flutter against Tony's cheek again before settling against his arm. "What is this? Because if we're looking at PTSD then probably you need a therapist, for both our sanities."

Tony laughs, and it grinds up from deep inside him, creaking as if it's been a long time. "Not PTSD," he says. "Unless you mean Post Tim Saving Drama. I had a moment of clarity, like the alcoholics say. Can we leave it at that, 'cause it feels like I'm in a 12-step program and I'm not willing to admit you're a power greater than myself."

"Oh, but I am," says Tim, and smiles. His fingers flex against Tony's arm. "So you're- I mean you want to- With me?"

"Yeah," says Tony. "A lot. And I mean the whole sticking around thing, if that's okay with you? I mean, it was my moment of clarity, you could be pity-kissing me for all I know."

"I'm not a cheesy coming-of-age comedy," Tim says, running his hand up Tony's arm until it curves against his neck. "It's okay with me. I'd- Well, let's just say I'd ruled it out, but ruling it back in works for me. Or can you do that? Rule something in? Shouldn't I just erase the original rule out? Or would that-"

"Shut up, Probie," says Tony, and kisses him again.

Long after Tony's body has also declared its incompatibility with hardwood floors (not a peril of getting older Tony'd ever suspected, but seeing as how it led to springy mattresses and soft pillows he isn't exactly going to complain), Tony thinks that maybe he'd like to blurt out all the circumstances that led him here, that led them here, but it feels too soon to fill up the spaces between them with words. They're tricky things, words, and they get into the cracks and the creases and the dips and the hollows and they stay, invisible tattoos across the skin, so you have to say them right. He's not sure he has them in the proper order yet. It can wait.

Instead he presses his body along the length of Tim's, pushing their arms out to the side and says, "If we fused together would we be a whole new species? Do you think we'd get to name ourselves?"

And Tim says, "Not a new species, an old one. The first one. Only I'm not sure I want to be doing cartwheels all over the place."


"Aristophanes," says Tim. "And if you ask me if he works at the Greek deli around the corner, I will kill you. I have a weapon."

"And don't I know it?" grins Tony, kissing the outrage off Tim's face.

It's late now, Tim's sleeping, breathing lightly at Tony's side, a hitching snort every fourth or fifth breath that Tony isn't sure is endearing or irritating (he figures he has plenty of time to find out), their guns are safely locked away and Tony hasn't said "Stop," all night. It's a start.

No, he thinks, curling closer to Tim and tucking the comforter around himself, start is too small a word--it's a beginning.

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