Word Count: 23,700 words in total.
Notes: Tim/Tony, allusions to Tim/Abby, Tony/Ziva. Title from the song ‘The Great Pretender.’
Summary: Tim is forced to fake his own death and go into hiding. Meanwhile, he and Tony have been engaged in a relationship... of sorts.
After Fornell left, Tim spent two hours reading through his newly given personal history. He rolled his eyes at one line listing the databases he’d supposedly hacked into before he realised --- that part was true. There was nothing in the profile that contradicted his personality or knowledge so violently he’d be floundering under pressure. He was used to having a hidden life, a different name. He was going to ignore the misgivings that were niggling at the back of his mind.
“It’s oddly detailed, don’t you think, Boss? It tells me what shaving cream I regularly use.”
Gibbs shook his head. “Not oddly. You remember rule seven?”
“Of course. Always be specific when you lie.”
“That’s the one.” Gibbs took a bite of his beef burger and ate it slowly, staring at Tim. “If you have any questions, I’d ask while there’s still time.”
Tim hated it when people asked him if he had any questions before he had any idea what his questions might conceivably be. He was the kind of guy who worked through a task systematically, encountering points of interest along the way. People always assumed he was a forward planner, and in some ways he was (there was a line about proper preparation his Dad used to make him repeat), but most of the time, he dove in and took a chance, saw where the journey would take him. He figured it came from years of experience with computers; each one was different, and you may learn particular rules to follow, but you couldn’t perform the exact same action every time. Often, the options changed.
“Well, are there any tips you can give me?”
“Don’t trust anyone, but pretend that you do. Don’t lose sight of the endgame. Be confident but not arrogant.” Gibbs leaned forward. “You don’t need my validation. It doesn’t matter if I trust you or not. You need to believe in yourself.”
Tim considered that, asked himself if he thought he was ready. He came to the conclusion that he’d gotten to the point where he had to take the chance, or he’d always beat himself up over never having had the courage.
“I do, Boss.”
“Confidence suits you, McGee. Keep it up.”
Tim smiled and asked if he could get a breath of fresh air. Gibbs gave him a look like he knew what he was about to do, and was permitting it only because he’d do the same thing in the circumstances. Tim went out and stood under a tree as he dialled Sarah’s number. She wasn’t picking up, so he left her a message and told her he wouldn’t be emailing her for a while, but that he was safe. If he was lucky, Sarah was too wrapped up in her studies to worry about him. She hadn’t called him in a month and every time he’d sent her an email, she either gave a four word reply or didn’t respond at all (the fact his emails were usually links to the latest viral videos meant nothing.)
Tim stared at his phone for several minutes, trying to decide if he should do what he wanted to. Eventually, he dialled again and got Tony’s voicemail.
“Hey, Tony, you’re not gonna see me at work tomorrow, or the day after that. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m going undercover. There are no guarantees here, and this may be my only chance, so I wanted to tell you ---”
The line went dead and Tim scowled at his phone as he hit redial. He waited for Tony to tell him to leave his message and number and restarted.
“I love you. Take care. Of yourself and the team. Oh, and Jethro. Feed him twice a day and that is all, no treats. Hopefully I’ll see you soon, after all this is over.”
Tim stared at his phone again when he was finished and rubbed the plastic casing with his thumb. It was a poor substitute.
“I met a girl, Timmy,” Tony said, folding his napkin and casting a glance around the restaurant. He returned his focus to Tim, somewhat more intensely than Tim would like.
“That’s not news. It happens pretty much every day,” he replied, softening his sarcasm with a fond smile.
“This one’s different.”
Tony suddenly looked his full age, gazing at Tim with a wisdom he usually kept hidden. Tim felt uneasy and glanced down at the breadstick he was holding. His chest had begun clenching painfully, his palms turning clammy.
“Why do I get a horrible feeling this is an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. We don’t need this conversation, Tony.”
“From the beginning, have you or have you not been trying to get us to define our relationship?”
“I don’t know if it’s gone way over your head, but I kinda stopped when it became obvious that we’re---“
“That we’re what?” Tony interjected.
Tim lowered his tone to a whisper. “Fuck-buddies.”
“Well, I’m trying really hard to explain why we can’t be that any more, can you let me be a sensitive new age guy for once?”
Tim took a sip of wine, waited. Tony cocked his head to the side and gave a fake smile.
“I met a girl and I really like her and it’s complicated and it involves commitment,” he said in a rush. “I was thinking about it and I came to the revelation that the only person I’ve been committed to for any length of time in recent years is... you.”
“So long as commitment doesn’t mean any kind of fidelity,” Tim said, excising all bitterness from his voice. “You want advice, is that it?”
“No, Tim. I don’t want advice. I wanna know we’ll still be friends.”
“I have no problem with that. You may have noticed, my track record on that front is impressive.”
Tony sighed, stretched back in his chair. “I’m sensing that you’re not as okay with this as I want you to be.”
Tim gave a hollow laugh. “You brought me to a restaurant to dump me when our ‘relationship’ has never consisted of more than one of us randomly turning up at the other’s apartment for sex, often weeks apart. I’m sensing that you’re an idiot.”
“Okay, if you’re gonna act like a child...” Tony said, raising his hand for the cheque.
Tim grabbed his arm, pulled it back down to the table.
“I’m happy for you, Tony. I don’t know why you’ve turned this into a big deal when it doesn’t have to be.”
“You’re not even slightly upset?”
“You want me to be?”
Tony’s chest rose and fell and he shrugged. “No, I guess not.”
Tim broke his breadstick, chewed on it as he thought about Tony’s words and his reaction. He’d known this day was going to come eventually, hadn’t predicted it could end any other way, but he never thought it would be acknowledged, just that they’d stop, no words spoken. To talk about it seemed to attach their actions with unnecessary significance, make it more than casual stress-relief. And that’s all it ever had been, wasn’t it? It wasn’t like they did any of the things other couples did, except occasionally eat dinner and go to the movie theatre together. Well, there was that one Thursday they went skating. The late night gaming sessions Tim had lured Tony into. And that weekend they’d spent their precious days off at the Rocketbelt convention in Niagara Falls. But they talked about their dates (or, Tony talked about his dates. Tim listened.) And checked out women together, sometimes men. They’d never said they were anything more than fuck-buddies.
Yet no matter how hard he tried to tell himself he didn’t care one way or the other that it was over, his physical response betrayed him. His head pounded and his throat constricted. He felt sick to his stomach. He could only foresee more of that in his future if Tony spent longer than a few minutes looking like he’d rather be anywhere but in his presence. If they were going to end it, he wanted it to be on good terms, not anger and resentment. Like Tony, he wanted to know they’d still be friends.
“This mandarin duck tastes good,” he said after seven minutes of sustained silence.
“I’m happy for you, McGastronomy,” Tony replied acidly, loading his fork.
“You know what’s better than mandarin duck?” Tim asked with a calculated, falsely innocent widening of his eyes. “Bittersweet break-up sex.”
Tony rolled his head around in what looked uncannily like exasperation. “You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said, have you?”
“You know, I have, but it’s like they were in C++ and I only know BASIC.”
“I have no idea what you just said.”
“Think Italian and English. Or Italian and Irish American. What do you say, Tony? One more for the road?”
Tony’s eyes flickered and Tim thought for a moment that he was about to say no, which would be disappointing, but judging by Tony’s spreading smile, he’d already achieved what he wanted to in regards to squaring things between them.
“How quickly can you finish your food?”
“I’m already full.”
They split the cheque and Tony drove them to Tim’s apartment. They’d barely shut the door when Tim took Tony’s arm and dragged him into the bedroom as Tony kicked his shoes and socks off. He pushed him onto the bed and climbed on top, legs tight around Tony’s sides as he undid his shirt buttons. Tim was careful to loosen Tony’s tie but keep it around his neck as he extracted his shirt, throwing it to the far side of the room. He used the tie to drag Tony up to meet his kiss, then slid further down his body so he could rid him of his pants.
Tony was naked save for the tie in around a minute and Tim took advantage of that, kissing a trail over his body and smiling mischievously after using soft bites in strategic places and eliciting throaty groans.
“Stay,” he said, close to Tony’s ear, then stripped off his own clothes, placing them carefully on his dresser.
Tony looked up at him through lowered lashes and Tim didn’t have the self control not to climb back on top of him and kiss him hard, winding the tie around his knuckles as he nipped at Tony’s jaw. Tony shifted underneath him, and Tim thought for a second he was going to try and turn the tables, so he gripped tighter and made a warning sound. Tony stopped, looked at him, started to smirk. Tim continued kissing him before moving so that he was gliding the tip of his tongue down his neck and over his torso. He sucked Tony’s nipples and looked up with satisfaction as Tony gave a low moan.
Tim grabbed the lube and condoms in his nightstand, taking a deep breath as he snapped the cap off the lube and drizzled it between his fingers and thumb. He shuffled close up to Tony and widened the spread of his legs, propping one over his shoulder.
“Wouldn’t this be easier the other way? I mean, I’m not getting any younger here. I’m not as limber as I once was. I totally hate that I’m confessing this, but, it’s true.”
“I wanna watch your face as I fuck you for the last time,” Tim replied, matter-of-factly. “You got a problem with that?” he asked as an afterthought.
“No. I thought I did, but it turns out I really don’t,” Tony said, voice breathy as Tim slowly began to slide his thumb into him.
He bit his lower lip as he concentrated on working Tony open. Each time he looked at his face, Tony’s eyes were fixated on his mouth. His cheeks were flushed and sweat had started to form along his brow, tiny droplets that glistened in lamplight. He looked hot, in more ways than one, and Tim had a strong sense of regret for a moment that swept him up and flung him back down onto the bed with a violent shake. Tony was never his anyway, so what was the point in lamenting that he wouldn’t be his in the future?
Tim knew Tony was ready when he started raising his hips, making pleading, broken noises of anticipation. He nudged his cock against Tony’s hole and watched his expression as he entered, taking it slow and easy, a little too slow just to make this last. Tony’s breathing changed from slow and laboured to quick and shallow and Tim matched him as he pushed deep.
Tony’s eyes were wide, his pupils large and black as Tim pulled back and surged forward again. He let out another moan, lips parted, and Tim wished he could hold this moment forever, being in the tight and the heat and the need of Tony’s gaze. He sped up his movements, clutched at Tony’s legs as he thrust harder, wanted to kiss Tony, but didn’t think he had the strength.
He pulled on the end of Tony’s tie and edged him closer, touching their lips together chastely while shoving forward hard. His heart thumped loud in his ears, his whole body felt hot, and he knew that if he kept doing this --- if he just kept thrusting --- if he was just, maybe, a little harder...
Tony came between them, screwing his eyes shut and breathing erratically. He tightened around Tim until he was too tight, almost painful, Tim swore he’d never felt anything like it, and he followed him into orgasm, shuddering as he came, muscles weakening until he could do nothing but collapse into a sticky heap atop Tony.
He rested his eyes for a few minutes before disentangling himself and cleaning himself and Tony up. He gently undid the knot on the tie and pulled it away from Tony’s neck. He flopped back onto the bed when he was done, next to an already deeply breathing, probably asleep Tony. But no, he wasn’t asleep. He moved down the bed and curled himself around Tim, using his stomach as a pillow.
“Tony? What are you doing?”
“You’re comfortable, Probie.” Tony licked him, then huffed out a sigh, the warm breath ghosting over Tim’s newly licked skin making him tingle. “And tasty.”
Tim rubbed his fingers through Tony’s damp hair, ruffling it up at the back. “Remember that next time you taunt me for being spongy.”
“I like your sponginess.”
“I mean it.” Tony adjusted until he was looking up at Tim. “You know you’re adorable.”
Tim gazed up at the ceiling and willed himself not to sigh. Not adorable enough.
The car pulled to a stop and Tim stepped out, adjusting his glasses and locking the door. Dale City was already starting to creep him out. The place was split into neighbourhoods that all ended in the word ‘dale’, and each of the streets began with the first letter of the neighbourhood they were in. It was a manufactured town as opposed to one that naturally formed due to bountiful resources or lines of communication, or any of the not-entirely-natural methods that other towns grew by. It reminded him of SimCity, which was a joke he’d made to Tony on a previous mission once, only to have Tony frown at him and ask him what he was doing watching Jessica Alba without him.
He’d thought about stealing a car, but settled on renting one instead, using his new identity for the first time for something more than buying groceries online. It wasn’t flashy, just a regular sedan that could get him from A to B. He’d wanted to disable the LoJack system, but decided he had no time. He’d left D.C as soon as possible, knowing he could never drive as fast as Ziva, for his own sense of safety and the fact he didn’t want to get arrested in the middle of a rescue mission. He no longer had a badge to flash.
Which made his task of locating Ziva even more difficult. He opted for pretending they were meant to be driving in convoy. He pulled out his wallet as he got to the service desk and showed the picture of them he’d photoshopped to match with his current appearance.
“Hello,” he said, affecting the only accent he’d ever managed to successfully fake, a hybrid of Tom Baker and John Cleese. “I was wondering if you’ve seen my friend. We’re supposed to be travelling together, but I’m afraid I got frightfully lost.”
The guy behind the screen looked at him as if he were crazy, but Tim couldn’t tell if that was a reaction to his words or the way he’d said them. He slid the picture across the counter.
“Yeah, she was here about an hour and a half ago. Didn’t seem to wanna wait around, though. Where’re you headed? You need a map?”
“What a splendid idea,” Tim said, giving a broad, cheerful grin and grabbing one of the maps on display. “She went toward Washington, yes?”
“Yeah, maybe. Could’ve been going anywhere, everyone leaves via Bayfield. But she was dressed like she was going to Shenandoah, wearing hiking boots and a backpack, y’know?”
“Oh, yes, of course. She said that we should use it as a meeting point, should I ever get lost. Honestly, apart from her complaints about my snoring, I don’t know why we didn’t go in the same car. Um, you couldn’t show me how to get there, could you?”
Three unnecessary minutes later, Tim was driving toward Shenandoah with hope in his heart and a twist in his stomach.
Standing in the elevator, Tim started to count to a hundred and hoped that his face would clear by the time he got to eighty-five. He had to stop letting Gibbs’ brush-offs affect him. Had to learn to toughen up. Before the doors could close, Tony slipped through the gap.
For a moment, Tim didn’t acknowledge Tony’s presence. Then he glanced at him, just to gauge his expression.
“You look like you need a hug,” Tony said in a mocking, irreverent way he often had, emphasis on certain words to give them undue importance. Tim had heard it enough times to know when it shielded genuine concern.
“It’s fine. I’m overreacting. I know I’m overreacting,” Tim sighed, up to thirty-nine.
“You know he knows you’re a genius, don’t you? We’re all fully aware of how brilliant you are.”
Tim narrowed his eyes, flipped the switch. The elevator ground to a halt. He pushed Tony into the metal panelling and kissed him, let his hands roam over cotton, slide under his waistband. They hadn’t had any sexual contact for seven months --- so it was like playing a game for the first time in five years without the expansion packs --- felt different in all the wrong ways, but comfortingly familiar in others. Not nearly enough and too much at the same time.
He pulled away, stared at the floor. Tony leaned closer and held him.
Tony touched him way too much, all the time. It had taken him forever to learn not to pull away and flinch. It had taken even longer to learn not to touch Tony back. The contact always made Tim feel wanted and appreciated, when he spent hours wondering why he’d worked so hard to become a field agent, to get onto Gibbs’ team. He hated feeling like a screw-up and a failure, but he hated it even more when he was superfluous, invisible. At least when Tony was teasing him, he was there.
“You are, Tim,” he said quietly, stroking the back of his head.
Stern was dark-haired, tall and looked like he could kill him in two seconds, if he really wanted to. Tim said a silent prayer that Stern was supposedly on his side. Emma King, on the other hand, was short and blonde with porcelain features and a wispy figure. Tim wouldn’t be at all surprised if it would only take her a single second.
Tim thought Shenandoah was a weird place to want to meet a computer hacker, so he wasn’t at all surprised when he was blindfolded, bundled into a car, and driven somewhere else. It was a long journey, felt full of twists and turns. He listened carefully for any tell-tale signs of train tracks or airplanes; ambient noises he could use to recall where they might have taken him. Gibbs had told him to trust no one, so he wasn’t going to trust Stern, who spent the entire trip chattering inanely about the amphibious life found at Shenandoah. Tim was already starting to kind of hate the place.
Finally, they pulled up and Tim was hauled onto his feet and up several flights of stairs. He lost count at eleven and could have kicked himself, but he was being propelled along at high speed and he wasn’t that much of a masochist. When he was allowed to see, Tim saw a brick-walled apartment that wasn’t all that dissimilar to his own. A towering shelving unit, a mixture of cheap and expensive furniture. It was filled with the kinds of details Tim had taken to cataloguing to help with his description of the crime scenes L.J Tibbs would investigate. His apartment didn’t come with Ian Stern and Emma King, however, both of them looking at him expectantly.
“Your CV is very interesting, Mr McAuliffe,” King said in a high, nasal voice. “Do you have any proof to back up your claims?”
“I have some files,” Tim said carelessly, shrugging his left shoulder. “And I can show you.”
“If you gimme a laptop, then yeah. Now’s good.”
The first task set for him was to hack into the CIA, which was easy because he’d practiced during the night --- having managed to sleep a total of sixty-seven minutes, give or take an hour. He yawned while he was doing it, which he figured probably made him look like a gigantic jackass, but also contributed to that whole confident, relaxed persona he was adopting.
They then asked him to hack into the FBI, which was also yawn-inducing. Really, Tim was only stretched when they asked him to create his own trojan, because he could write his own viruses, he totally could, he just didn’t like it much. He always preferred killing other people’s nasty little gremlins than creating his own.
“You’re good,” Jane King said with a tone of wonderment in her voice and Tim smirked because he wanted to, but also because it was in line with his character. “How come you don’t work for the government?”
“They don’t exactly appreciate how I use my skills,” Tim said, raising his eyebrow. “I’ve stolen a few hundred thousand dollars here and there. Launched DDoS attacks at their sites. They’re not huge fans.”
“I’m surprised they haven’t tried to recruit you.”
“They did. I refused. I’m not gonna answer to the man when I can enjoy myself more fucking him over.”
Tim was fairly sure he was giving this an eleven when he only needed an eight, but, well, now he was here in the role, playing the part was kind of fun.
“You don’t approve of the government, I take it?” Stern asked, giving him a brief, but intent look that Tim took to mean he should dial it down a notch. He decided to go the other way.
“No, they’re a bunch of pussies. Can’t even get a little thing like nuking our enemies right. C’mon.”
King smiled at Tim. “I’ve got some people I’d love to introduce you to,” she said, patting him delicately on the shoulder.
“Do they pay?” he asked, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully.
“A lot, if the product’s right.”
“They sound like my kind of people.”
Another blindfold, another journey, this time trying to answer a barrage of questions as well as listen intently for useful sounds. He had little to no success when it came to plotting where they might be when they slowed to a stop and he was walked down some stairs this time. Except underground. The metallic echo and the cold told him that.
Tim’s kind of people were absolutely nothing like the one King introduced him to. All of his internal alarms buzzed, rang and clattered when George Campbell shook his hand and nearly crushed it into a fine powder. He was older than Tim expected, steel blue eyes brought into sharp relief by the grey at his temples. He was all muscle and not afraid to show it off.
“You’re the new whizkid?”
Tim raised his eyebrows. “New whizkid?”
“As opposed to the dead one.”
Tim allowed himself to swallow dramatically, because he reckoned that’s what Terry McAuliffe would do. “How’d he die?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is if you can do what we want, no questions asked. So far, you’re already failing.”
Emma King stepped forward. “He’s exactly what you need. Moral compass headed south and his abilities are breathtaking.”
Tim gave a sly smile that he maintained through a particularly Gibbs-like glare from Campbell.
“I don’t know much about what constitutes breathtaking in the computer world. So long as you can get weapons shipped where we want, I guess you can stay.”
Campbell told Stern and King to go back home, so they did, neither of them giving a backwards glance as they left him standing there like a moron. Tim was surprised that it was all happening so quickly and he had a few minutes of dread as he pictured being sliced and diced by Campbell’s bayonet. He hadn’t seen a bayonet, but he wouldn’t be surprised if there was one stashed just out of sight.
“Emma trusts you, so I’m gonna trust you, but don’t think for a second I won’t kill you where you stand if it turns out you ain’t the real deal,” Campbell said conversationally. “I expect you want the tour.”
Tim’s first reaction to the compound was to think it looked like something out of a movie. Though he couldn’t decide if it was more Day of the Dead or The Presidio His second reaction was to think he’d clearly spent way too much time with Tony. It was obviously more Wolfenstein 3D.
There were several storage areas, each looking much the same as the other. A large room with maps on three trestle tables, two couches and a shelf of books. A kitchen that was so tidy it looked like it was never used and a gigantic pantry full of supplies. In the event of nuclear war, Tim thought they’d probably be set.
He was led to a narrow hallway with doors lining either side, the electric hum of technology calming his fraught nerves.
“If you’re anything like the last one, you want a little play. I’ll see you here again at fourteen hundred. You know what time that is, don’t you?”
“Yes, Sir,” Tim said automatically, with only a hint of sarcasm.
Campbell gestured to a door on the left and Tim opened it, walked through, only to be greeted by an impressive looking supercomputer; what appeared, with first glance, to be a Power 575, p6 4.7 GHz, Infiniband. It was no Jaguar, but it was powerful. There was a door leading to the next room and in there was a hub of networked computers, two or three widescreen monitors each.
Tim’s eyes widened. This group wanted to do a hell of a lot more than reroute weapons.
Tim had been refusing to answer all of Tony’s questions, but he’d still managed to find out about Tammy; enough to know which questions to ask. He fired them across the table of the coffee shop the same way he conducted interrogations, casual one second, intense the next.
“Now you’ve told me about Tambourine Tamara. Tell me, what’s Abby like?”
“You know. You’ve worked with her longer than I have. She’s... Abby.”
Tony took a sip of coffee, glanced at a nearby waitress, presumably to see if she was bringing their pie, or to check her out. “I meant in bed.”
“You mean coffin. And I’m not telling you. I never will tell you. And I sincerely wish you’d stop asking.”
“She’s kinky, right? A little bit rough? I noticed how much you liked that.”
Tim smiled. Couldn’t stop himself. He enjoyed Tony too much to deny it any more. He sometimes had the urge still to lean forward and kiss him, shock him into silence with more than innuendo. But it wouldn’t be worth the ‘we can’t’ expression on Tony’s face, that hint of regret and tension that hung between them. Better to be friends. And that wasn’t settling so much as acceptance.
Which wasn’t to say he was going to tell Tony about his past love-life. He’d learned early on that kissing and telling only led to tears. Sometimes his. He still winced when he remembered one particular kick. Also, he still felt weird about never having told Abby about Tony (because, out of anyone at work, Abby would probably have been standing alongside them with pom-poms and cheering their non-heteronormativity, loudly, with maybe some bells and whistles. It was her thing.) Whenever he thought about their relationship, it haunted him. He hated the thought that he’d been cheating on her, that he’d always had the capacity to hurt her by omission.
“You would have to do amazing things to get me to divulge any of that information.”
“It might worry you to know I like the sound of that.”
Tim had some of his own cream-heavy coffee, the main vice he hadn’t yet managed to purge from his diet.
He looked Tony in the eye. “Nothing in your field of expertise.”
He came into the park via the Swift entrance. He figured that was where Ziva would have entered. The quickest route was the easiest. A vehicle that looked suspiciously like a company car was parked haphazardly in the parking lot. He had a quick look at the interior, but didn’t see anything that would give him further clues as to whether Ziva had been driving, or where she might have gone if she had.
He played the bewildered British tourist act at the information centre, but no one recognised her. He didn’t start crying, although he was tempted. There were over five hundred miles of trails to cover, and knowing Ziva, she wasn’t on any one of them.
Okay, he could do this. He’d been training most of his life for this very task. Maybe not this very task, but something similar. He just had to think. And remember. He started on a trek toward Doyle’s River Overlook as he worked on doing both of those things.
What he remembered did not exactly inspire him with confidence that he had any right being out of the safe house, because he was clearly too stupid to function properly in the real world. He had never checked whether Ziva was still using her phone. He hadn’t even checked her GPS signal. He’d checked Tony’s. Then Gibbs’. He’d gone through their financial records, intending to check Ziva’s phone later, but he’d been distracted by discovering the other two had stopped using their cards. Panic had prevented him from thinking straight.
Tim dialled Ziva’s number, breath caught in his throat as he prayed she’d answer. He almost fell over in shock when her voice came clear through the speaker.
“Who is this?”
“Ziva, it’s McGee.”
“McGee’s dead. Tony, is this you? Your impersonation has improved, but perhaps it is foolish to joke around under the circumstances?”
“Ziva, it’s really me. We faked my death. What are the circumstances?”
Ziva’s voice rose in pitch. “Tim? Is that really you?”
“Yes, Ziva. I’ll repeat this one more time --- what’s going on?”
“Tony went to find George Campbell to exact revenge. We think he may be being held against his wishes.”
Tim’s heart stopped, but his confusion reigned over his emotions. “Why Shenandoah?”
“It’s where Campbell’s complex is.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Ziva was insistent and indignant in equal measure. “It is!”
“I think the public would know if there were a military compound somewhere in Shenandoah National Park, don’t you?”
“It is not in, it is under, McGee,” Ziva said sharply, then her tone softened. “I’m happy you’re not dead.”
“I’m happy I’m gonna see you soon, Ziva. Can you send me your co-ordinates?”
“I think it would be better if I sent you the co-ordinates to the compound. I am still over fifty miles away. I estimate Gibbs is forty miles away. He left before Abby could tell him she finally managed to accurately pin-point your hacking activity and he has been searching for a while. ”
“He didn’t have his phone,” Tim said, hoping at the last second it sounded like a question.
“No. Neither of these missions was approved by Director Vance. Gibbs left without authorisation and did not want the Director contacting him. He called in with a burn phone.”
“That sounds about right.”
“If you know I am in Shenandoah, does that mean you are here too?”
Tim nodded, then remembered she couldn’t see him. “Yeah, I’m here. Nice parking, by the way.”
“I do not think parking is important when the life of an NCIS agent is at stake.”
“Or when there’s coffee to be bought? Movies to go see?”
“McGee, I really am happy you are still alive, Tony has been unbearable without you. But do not think I will not kick you, hard, when we finally see each other again, simply because of some sense of sentimentality.”
Tim grinned and meant it for the first time in a long time. “Life has been unbearable without you guys, Ziva.”
Ziva sounded confused, surprised. “Really? You did not find it liberating?”
“If I had, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
“What are you doing here right now, McGee?”
“Can we make a promise we’ll tell each other everything once this is over?”
“Yes, of course. See you soon, I hope.”
There was a click and Tim stared at his phone as if he could transmit well-wishes and love. Adrenaline surged through him as he looked at the co-ordinates and headed off in the right direction. He was only twenty miles from the destination, whether it was a military compound or not. His heart pounded double-time in his chest, blood rushed through his ears. The team was going to be reunited.
He had to trust that Tony was all right, that everything was going to be okay, but he reflexively checked his weaponry. If he knew anything about George Campbell, it was that he wasn’t going down without a fight.
He hadn’t been in his position for a while, wriggling underneath Tony, back against the floor. It was startlingly familiar, his senses flaring memories that had him breathing erratically. The only difference now was that Tony was punching him, and squeezing his sides, and trying to smash his head into the floorboards, as opposed to kissing down his body, using his fingers to excite and entice. He kicked and snarled, started to gnaw on Tony’s arm to shake him off. He wondered how they’d gotten to this point, right here.
It started with them being stuck on stakeout together in a tiny room. Tony was concentrating on all of his worst habits, because he did that when he was going through something he didn’t want to talk about. He reverted back to a base template of obnoxiousness. And Tim was sick of wearing kid gloves around him, having to defer to his bad temper. But that wasn’t it. That wasn’t the whole truth. The obnoxiousness was the symptom, not the cause.
Tim gave one final kick, hard, knee connecting with something soft and squidgy, and Tony made a sound like a beached whale, rolled off to the side.
“Ow. Ow, ow, ow. I’m gonna tell papa bear,” Tony whined.
Tim’s chest heaved and he coughed a couple of times. “Yeah? You think he’ll punish me? After Abby, I’m his favourite.”
“That is patently untrue, McBrown-nose.”
“What, you think he likes you more, DiNozzo?”
“I’d like to think he hates us all equally.”
Tim sucked in another breath and propped himself up on his elbow. He looked down at Tony, mentally traced his lines and battle scars.
“Look, you’ve been acting like a total jerk.”
“Are you aware your tone completely contradicts your words?”
“Do you wanna talk about it?
“No. I do not want to talk about it. If I wanted to talk about it, I would. You couldn’t get me to stop talking about it.”
“So what, you’ll push everyone away until they don’t care that you’re in pain?”
Tony scoffed. He snickered. “Who said anything about pain?”
“You’re forgetting how well I know you.”
“Probie, you don’t know me at all. Now help me up, before I give you another smack.”
Tim had to get back onto his own feet before he could help Tony back onto his, and by the time that was done, he was feeling sore and tired.
He didn’t expect the attack. He was barrelled into the wall and held there.
“You know what I want? Less talk, more action.”
Tim thought for a happy minute that meant he’d be writhing on the floor for entirely good reasons, but then Tony punched him hard on one of his pressure points, trying to give him a dead arm, and he knew it was wishful thinking. Tony didn’t want to work through his issues. He wanted to fight. Tim could help with that.
This was the part no one had told Tim about. When Fornell had said he’d sort everything out, he’d thought he’d been talking about accommodation and clothes, expenses. That Stern would slip him a note or a text message on his phone. Not that he would be trapped in an underground lair with six men who fancied themselves soldiers and clearly lived in their own fantasy version of the real world.
A week had gone by and Tim was adjusting to the new turn in his life, but not particularly enjoying it. Fornell had been wrong about these guys. Most of them were passionate about the cause. It was all they ever talked about. An idealised United States of America where existence could be simple again. Home-made lemonade and freshly baked apple pie. Family values and living the suburban dream. Tim didn’t have the heart to tell them it was a fallacy. That it didn’t matter the decade, there was always a war. That as long as there were systems in place to keep people oppressed, there would always be those willing to die for their cause.
He’d had a little too much time to think. The main contents of his thoughts had been surrounding the idea that the base really was going to be overrun by zombies. And he would start the revolution.
Which wasn’t to say he wasn’t busy, because he was. If Campbell wasn’t asking him to do something next to impossible, then Peter Tulloch, the youngest of the group, was asking him to do something mundane. Tulloch was a little bit obsessed with his technical skills, and Tim sincerely hoped it wouldn’t progress beyond that. He wasn’t allowing himself to become friends with these men. He didn’t think it would be in character and it would make the ultimate conviction of them feel like betrayal, when he was only going to uphold his duty.
John Corden was okay, most of the time. He wasn’t as cut-throat as the others. Whenever Bryce Tucker and Sam Anderson talked about the bombings they wanted to conduct, Corden was the first to suggest ways in which they could minimise or escape civilian casualties. (One evening, Anderson had frothed at the mouth and said the casualties were the point --- that to create fear, they needed to strike at the hearts and minds of men, force them to see the dangers lurking in the shadows. Corden had laughed and diffused the situation by quoting The Simpsons. “No TV and no beer make Anderson something, something.”) Walter Reyne reminded Tim of Tony sometimes, because he talked about his many and varied conquests in bed. In graphic detail. Occasionally with diagrams. Or re-enactments.
Of them all, Tulloch was the most likeable, even as he could be the most frustrating. He wanted to know Tim, to understand everything he did, and he had an infectious enthusiasm that Tim thought could have been valuable had it not been misplaced. He’d had a rough childhood, spoke about his mother’s death like it hit him hard, and Tim had to counsel himself not to take the kid under his wing and try and save him from his situation.
Two weeks passed before he could say with any certainty what he was doing there. He had a horrible feeling Campbell was going to tell him to hack into the military defence system and bomb Russia, necessitating a discussion where Tim would have to explain that the computers that had anything to do with launching nuclear missiles weren’t accessible via the internet, otherwise, there would already be no Russia left. But it turned out Campbell was much more interested in causing civil unrest and blaming it on the Harakat ul-Mujahidin.
He was asked to hack into traffic control systems in various state capitals, launch DDoS attacks on the internet banking sites of several major banks, and hack SCADA computer systems, setting off civil defence sirens and redistributing electrical power. He made sure it was easy to back trace his connection, but only so far. He’d bounced his IP address around the world, but made it seem like it started and ended in Pakistan.
In the meantime, Campbell’s army looked like they were gearing for war. They pumped iron every day, sometimes went on ‘missions’. Tim had wandered into one room by accident and seen one of Tucker’s home-made bombs. He was really hoping the intel he had was going to bring Campbell down. He’d been keeping evidence. Computer logs. Covert pictures. He didn’t know how long this was supposed to take. Until he had something concrete? He thought he had that, ten times over.
Tim contacted Stern and waited for a signal. He had to hope he wouldn’t be trapped here forever. No one could survive for long in this kind of environment and keep their wits about them.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3