Oh, The Places You'll Go

Saving Grace

Notes: No spoilers. Set around beginning of S8 timewise. Readthrough by the delightful soupytwist, for which thanks always.

"Yeah, I'm coming, I’m coming," yells Tony, rubbing a towel over his hair as he heads for the door. He's not surprised to see Tim on the other side--apparently he's been expecting him. Go figure.

"You look like crap," he says because it is true.

"Gee, thanks, Tony," says Tim dryly, but he can't even muster his usual why-does-Tony-exist? expression. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "I didn't know where else to go."

Tony reaches out and grabs him by the shoulder. "Get in here, Timothy."

Tim stumbles over his feet as if Tony is uprooting him. Just how long has he been standing out there anyway? Tony propels Tim to the couch and leaves him to figure out that he's supposed to sit on it while he heads to the kitchen to retrieve a couple of beers. Looks like the Probie needs it. He drops the towel on the floor as he goes. He'll pick it up later--probably.

The suicide had gotten to them all, but it had taken Tim the worst. Not only had he found the body hanging in the detention cell, but also he'd had a rapport with the guy--some techno-genius hacking geek. Tony'd been impressed with the way Tim had handled himself, new dictionary definition of stoic, even, but now the cracks are starting to show. Tony doesn't know if he has the right kind of spackle. Maybe in back of the cupboard under the sink.

Tim's leaning back on the couch, head tipped up to the ceiling when Tony returns to the living room. His eyes are closed and he looks pale and unhappy, his mouth twisted downwards. He's gotten thin lately, and today he seems almost insubstantial. It's not the Probie Tony knows and- it's not the Probie Tony knows. Tony pushes down the genetic urge to feed him and fake coughs. Tim startles and sits up, blinking. He looks wrecked, and wherever he was just now, Tony really doesn't want him to go back there.

"Here," he says, thrusting a bottle at Tim. "Drink your medicine." Tim takes it, staring bewildered for a second at the beer, but then raises it to his lips and takes a long swallow.

Tony nods with approval. He flops down beside Tim and swings his feet up onto the coffee table, grabbing the remote from the arm of the couch. "America's Next Top Model should do the trick," he says, flicking through the channels. "Vapid, yet pleasing to the eye." He glances sideways at Tim who barely raises a smile. This is going to be a tough one, he thinks, and settles back against the couch.

They sit in silence for a few minutes while pretty young things strike poses on the screen. It's not a comfortable silence, though, the tension vibrating from Tim so intense that it's a third unformed presence in the room, and Tony just wishes that whatever it is he'd spit it out already.

"So," he says because he might as well get the ball rolling, "Abby and Ziva weren't home, huh?"

"I didn't- I w- I came here first," says Tim sounding confused that Tony would even consider anything else.

"Really?" Tony wants to say. Really? You chose me? And it shouldn't be a surprise because they've had each other's six for years now, and it sure as shit shouldn't make him feel like there's some kind of angelic anointing aura thing going on, and yet... "I'm here for you, man," he says instead, and hopes he doesn't sound too Oprah.

"He...McNab...He..." Tim leans forward, puts the bottle down and then buries his head in his hands. Tony thinks he hears him say, "That could have been me," but he must have misheard, right?


Tim sits up and turns big, shiny eyes onto Tony. "That could have been me," he says and oh, okay, what? Is he crazy?

"Are you crazy? Tim McGee equals good side of the law, Ron McNab not so much. That would never be you, Tim."

Tim flashes the smile that means thanks, but no thanks, and Tony might have known it wasn't going to be that simple.

"Did you even read his file?" asks Tim. "Naval dad, moved around a lot, skipped grades, went to MIT, got a masters. Does any of this sound familiar? He's even got...had...a McName." He throws himself back against the couch. "Couple of bad decisions and that could've been me. You know I'm right."

Tony doesn't know what to say to that, so he slings an arm around the back of Tim's head and pats him on the arm. He isn't expecting Tim to tilt his head and rest it on his shoulder, but okay, it's cool, he can deal. The guy's in need of comfort and if Tony's shoulder is where he's going to find it then whatever.

"I just can't imagine being so hopeless that I'd want to take my own life, you know? I keep thinking, what could I have said to him, what could someone have said to me if I'd been him?"

"Hey, hey, no," Tony says, tightening his grip on Tim's arm. "C'mon, Tim, he said he wouldn't go to jail and obviously he meant it. There's nothing you could have done. Nothing any of us could have done. You would never wind up in that position."

"Tony, it's not like I don't break the law. I do it all the time on Gibbs's orders. How is that different?"

Tony frowns. "It just is, okay? You're hacking for good, not evil."

"Yeah? And what if McNab thought that's what he was doing?"

Tony's stymied. It's a good point. How come it's never come up before?

"You're a good person, Tim," he says because at this point he's as at sea as he had been on the Reagan.

Tim laughs, but it's as hollow as a pumpkin getting ready to do its thing on Halloween. "Nice avoidance, DiNozzo. C'mon, face facts. The only difference between me and McNab is the badge."

Tony frowns. "That's enough, though, right? Doesn't it all come down to personal choice?"

"Not gonna wash," says Tim and he sounds so desolate that Tony, aware he does not have the right supply of words to fix this, twists his torso towards Tim and pulls him in for a hug. As hugs go, it's not the least awkward, all squinched around with legs that probably aren't meant to stretch that way, but Tim's hanging on as if it's all that's keeping him anchored and his hands are hot on Tony's back and Tony holds on because this? He can do.

"Tell me what you need," he says because there's more beer in the fridge and takeout menus for every cuisine invented (and some Tony swears can't really exist) and a wall full of movies and TV and something here has to take Tim's mind off of the day they've had.

Only Tim pulls away from Tony, dropping his hands down to Tony's hips and he looks at him with huge, hopeful eyes and oh fuck. Oh. Fuck. Tony hears the 'you', even though Tim's lips don't move. Tony is suddenly--horribly--aware that he's half-naked, sweats riding low on his hips. And, yeah, so maybe he is totally irresistible, even with that dumbass stubborn ab that is pretending to be fat, but what the hell?

"What's happening here?" he asks, already half-afraid for the answer. They're buddies, aren't they? Why's Tim got to go upsetting the applecart?

"Can you kiss me, Tony, please? Just. I won't ask you again, I promise, but I need- Can you, please?" Tim's not exactly pleading, but he's not exactly not either, and in his voice, Tony hears the McGee of years-gone-by, the green agent he met and baited out at Norfolk. It's like all the layers Tim's so carefully added over the years have been stripped right from him and what's left is this--an unsure kid, begging for affection. It's way too close to home for comfort, and Tony wants his Tim back. Now.

"Whoa, there, Proberace, You know I don't swing that way," he says. Which, okay, maybe he doesn't swing that way because the chains are rusted from disuse, but he's not about to haul out the WD40 of his sexual history just so he can make another mistake with a close friend. Been there, done that, got the iron oxide stains to prove it.

Tim's nodding. "I know. I mean, I hoped. I mean, I know. But can you anyway? I'm finding it...I'm finding it hard to remember how I'm different and this is pretty...this is...he didn't have this. He didn't have anyone or care about anyone and I figure..." He presses his lips tight together and shakes his head, as if willing himself to get the last part out. Tony wills him to keep it in. Tony's luck is out.

"I figure that I can live with this whole unrequited thing I've got going because you're you and god knows you'd be a pain in the ass to live with, but you're still...you notice me and it makes me feel...Crap."

"It makes you feel crap?" Tony's so lost he's thinking of shooting off a flare gun. Any second now.

"Yeah, no, I...This is what he didn't have. At the end, or enough before to make a difference. But I do. I have you, Tony, even if I don't have you, and it's...it's good. I guess. Good in that way where it doesn't matter that it hurts sometimes, you know?"

No, Tony doesn't know. Apparently there are a lot of things he doesn't know. Like for instance, how it is that he's never seen this before. Or why his heart has unexpectedly taken up carpentry--and it'd better be at least a refit with all that hammering--or...

"Hey! I would not be a pain in the ass to live with," he says. "I'm a peach. Spent half my life living with guys. Sometimes in the same bed when camp was overbooked. I honed my skills, you don't even know."

Tim grins, then, and Tony grins back, pleased with himself that he's managed to make his friend smile. Of course, he's less pleased when Tim points out, "Making a good case for your heterosexuality there, Tony." But then Tim says, "So stop me," and leans in, nudging Tony's face around with his nose.

He touches Tony's lips with his own so softly that Tony is barely aware they're there, and it must be some sort of Pavlovian response that makes him want to press back, to know that there's something solid under a kiss that's as light as air (and maybe that's why it's got something to do with meringue--Tony was never very clear on that one). So he does it. He kisses Tim and, while part of his brain is stuck on 'fuck, I'm kissing Tim', the other part apparently wants to concoct outlandish romantic scenarios that stop just short of skipping through the daisies. He's feeling a little freaked out, if he's totally honest, but Tim's hands are tight on his hips and his mouth is so warm and pliant and it's been longer than Tony cares to think and it's Tim. It's Tim. And it turns out that's enough.

Tim pulls back from the kiss. "You didn't stop me," he says, running a thumb under his lower lip. Tony tries to track its movement, but he's a little light-headed and he loses concentration.

"Thank you," Tim adds.

Tony's confused. Again. Thank you for what?

"I think I...it's good now. Well, not...but...You didn't...? Because you...We're okay, right?"

"McGee, I'm kinda disoriented here. Speak slowly and in full sentences with small words. Diagrams may also be provided for extra credit."

Tim loosens his hold on Tony and wraps his arms around his chest. He looks as lost as Tony feels. "I thought it'd fix things," he said. "And it sorta did, but now there are whole new things that need fixing and I can't. It's out of my hands." He tries a smile, but it looks painful and Tony has the urge to reach out and smooth it off Tim's face.

He curls his hand into a fist to stop himself and then thinks, what the hell. What the hell. Why not? And he reaches out and brushes his fingertips across Tim's lips, tugging the corners down. Then he slides his hand over Tim's cheek, gripping his neck.

"Whose hands is it in?" he says. "Mine? Because, oh, look." And he wiggles his fingers against the soft, short hairs on Tim's nape.

Tony feels Tim's jaw flex under his hand as he swallows. "What are you saying, Tony?" he says and, with his eyes wide and his jaw set, but trembling, he looks so easily breakable.

For one savage moment, Tony wants to tighten his grip, say the wrong thing, watch him crumble for letting McNab get to him, for screwing with the status quo, for making Tony face feelings he'd been more than happy to sublimate until the end of time. But he won't--he can't--because to break McGee, he'd have to break a part of himself and it's taken way too long to put that jigsaw puzzle together. Also, to break McGee, he'd have to break McGee, and just the thought of that makes him sick to the stomach.

"I'm saying that you don't have to do this on your own. Not the McNab thing, not the unrequited thing either. I don't have the answers to how we do this or if it'll even work out, but you're not alone, okay? Not in any way."

Tim's hand comes up to cover Tony's, the rigid set of his face softening with uncertain hope. "Really?"

Maybe it had never been words Tim needed from him. Tony leans forward and kisses him again. He squeezes his eyes shut, concentrating his entire focus on the point of connection between them. It's strange, yet comfortably familiar, like a long-forgotten memory slowly being shaken awake.

"Let's take it slow," murmurs Tony against Tim's lips. "Don't startle the natives."

Tim nods his agreement and they kiss languidly until Tony has lost all track of time and Tim's hands rubbing slow trails over Tony's back begin to feel like they've always been there. Tony's dick is barely making a half-hearted effort to get in on the action--it's obviously still pissed at Tony making decisions with his head and his heart for once in his life. Tim is in no hurry either it seems, and, okay, maybe he's good at the whole taking it slow thing, but he's not new to this like Tony is, so Tony'd expect at least some straining in the pant area.

"Tim," says Tony, resting his chin on Tim's shoulder and briefly catching his earlobe between his teeth. "The McNab deal. Are you over it?"

Goosebumps chase over Tim's skin, prickling at the stubble on Tony's face as he replies, "No." So that solves that one. "But I will be."

"Good," says Tony, pulling back and taking Tim by the shoulders. "That's good, McGee. You don't want to lose that ability to connect--it's what makes a good cop great." He strokes his thumbs over Tim's collarbones. "Of course, the downside is days like this."

Tim smiles, and this time it's pain free. "Not all downside."

"No," agrees Tony. "The upside's pretty up." There's a pause and a little piece of Tony can't believe that he's sitting here grinning foolishly at his best friend like he's the second coming or the notification of a remake of Airwolf, but it is what it is and he's going to learn to deal with it.

"Do you want to stay the night?"

Tim frowns. "Uh, are you sure?"

"I told you," says Tony, unable to stop the smiling, "You don't need to be alone. It's not like we need to step up the base play, I'm a really good cuddler. I have independent verification."

Tim does what Tony can only describe as the world's best impression of a guppy and he says, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Anthony DiNozzo?"

"What? It's not like I broadcast that kind of stuff. That's not cool."

"You're not cool," says Tim. "You just think you are."

"Hey! I could retract my offer, you know. Any time."

Tim isn't the least bit apologetic. He shrugs. "You're a dork like me, Tony. Face it."

Tony sighs. His cover is totally blown; he might as well relax into it. "It's got to work in our favor, right?" he says. "That we find our own."

"Guess we'll find out," says Tim, solemn-faced, but eyes twinkling.

Tony's pretty proud that he put the shine back into Tim's eyes for the right reasons. "C'm'ere," he says, leaning back against the couch and rearranging them as they had been before, Tim's head on Tony's shoulder. Only this time, Tony's thumb strokes up and down Tim's arm and Tim's hand rests quietly on Tony's belly.

On the TV, Tyra yells at some skinny girl whose eyes are wider than her limbs and Tony turns and presses a kiss into Tim's hair. Unexpected outcome though this is, if this is how the bad days are going to end, then Tony's got high hopes for the good ones.

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