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.
It had never occurred to Tim that he could miss someone so much his bones would ache with want for them. Like he hadn’t slept for weeks on end, because Tony was missing from his life. It didn’t seem right. He’d always taught himself to be fully self-sufficient. He’d learned to be happy in his own company when he’d had trouble conducting conversations (which hadn’t been shyness so much as an inability to think of anything to say; kids were cruel and he was scary smart, with emphasis on the scary. He’d never wanted to make them hate him because he was different, but apart from some of the other Webelos, he usually was.) He’d gotten to the point where he’d imitate Tony to himself in the shower, chat with his shadow against the tiles. The postcards were never enough; a few scrawled words on the back of an admittedly glamorous picture of a ship. It was the first time Tim would admit to himself he had feelings that went beyond friendship and veered into something harder to define.
Setting up the video link, he buzzed with tightly-wound energy. He was cashing in a favour he should have held onto. He would ordinarily keep the ‘get out of jail free’ cards until he desperately needed to use them, eat the tastiest parts of a meal last. He was used to hoarding and showing great patience in order to do so. But this time, when Director Vance had suggested he should be paid for his silence, it had been an almost immediate request. Almost, because he’d asked for himself, Tony and Ziva to return to Gibbs’ team first.
Tony’s face appeared on screen just as Tim attached his headset. He smiled and waved, only a short movement, not too fast.
“Hi, Tony. Can you hear me?”
“I hear a disembodied voice, as if from beyond the grave.”
Tim stared worriedly at the screen. “No visual? Wait a second.” He adjusted some settings. “Is this any better?”
“Probie-wan Kenobi, you’re there, you’re square, you’re the fairest of them all,” Tony said triumphantly, his grin manic. Tim felt his stomach flutter and out of view of the camera, tightened his fist until his knuckles began turning white.
He kept his voice steady as he looked up at Tony on the screen. “How are you?”
“I’m trapped in the middle of the big blue sea, Timmy, how do you think I am?”
“At least you don’t get seasick.”
“True. I am surviving far better than you ever could. Not that this is a surprise.” Tony smirked, then narrowed his eyes in mock suspicion. “Is this merely a courtesy call, or is there a deeper purpose I need to divine?”
“Courtesy. Kind of. I wanted to assure you we haven’t completely forgotten about you.”
“I know. I had a chat with Gibbs two days ago.”
“Yeah, he sends his regards. Says he would come and visit you, but he doesn’t want to get lost in the labyrinthine depths in which you now reside. Maybe he has something against skin-tight pants and goblins, I don’t know.”
Tim frowned. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“How is Cyber Unit, anyway?”
“Not nearly as cool as it sounds.”
Tony rocked back on his chair, moving further away from the screen, as if trying to dodge a punch. “That’s disturbing, because it sounds majorly nerdtastic. Positively poindexter.”
“You’re a smartass, DiNozzo.”
“You love it.”
Tim shook his head, scrunched his nose. “You wish. I’ll admit it’s boring without you, though. People are actually civil, do pleasant things for each other, it’s sorta sickening.”
“I don’t think you’re getting enough vitamin D in that dungeon of yours. You may want to do something about that. It’s making you nasty. And not in the dirty, sexy way.”
There was a loud shout from behind Tony and he turned around to see what it was. Tim listened intently, turning up the volume a fraction.
“Why’s there a guy shouting in Portuguese?”
“That’s just Amancio. He fell over, but Chad helped him up.” Tony affected a bad English accent. “Living in such close quarters one grows accustomed to such disturbances.” He switched back to his real voice. “How did you know that was Portuguese instead of Spanish?”
“I used to live next door to a Portuguese family. My friend Gil taught me all of those words. And then some.”
“You used to live next door to a Portuguese family? In which universe?” Tony asked, expressive in surprise.
“When my family was stationed in Alameda.”
Tony bounced around in his chair. “You were stationed in Alameda? Can you tell us where the nuclear wessels are? “
Tim raised an eyebrow. “And you say I’m the geek.”
“That’s because you are, Macgyver.”
“Wow. That was not one of your finest.”
“I know. I think it’s all this stale air, stifling my creativity. You would know what that’s like, cooped up every weekend, tip-tap-typing and playing your little games.”
Tim smiled --- a surprisingly genuine smile. He’d been aiming for sarcasm.
“I only have another three minutes here, are you sure there wasn’t anything you needed to say?” Tony queried, looking concerned.
“Yeah, I think I may be with child. And Tony? It’s yours,” Tim said rolling his eyes. “If I had anything important to tell you, I already would have. There’s no word yet on when or if you’re coming home. I’m still assigned to Cyber Unit. I spoke with Ziva the other day, she seems active. And Abby tells me Gibbs is as Gibbs-like as ever. But I guess you’d already know that.”
“So you really did call to say you love me,” Tony said, looking smug.
“Or something thereabouts.”
“I miss you, Tim,” Tony said, quieter now. “I’m never alone here, but I feel the loneliest I’ve ever felt.”
“I know what you mean. But as long as you have your DVD collection, you’ll stay sane, right?”
“I could only fit twenty discs. I sacrificed Live and Let Die. I love that film. Roger Moore in quasi-Blaxploitation? It’s amazing.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Tim said, he looked at his watch, urged himself not to sigh. “I guess our time is up.”
“Seems that way. I’ll send you another postcard. Something pretty this time. The ship, perhaps? Shown from an attractive vantage point?”
“Thanks, I’d like that,” Tim said with a farewell smile. “See you, Tony.”
The connection was cut and Tim left MTAC and travelled all the way back to Cyber Unit, keeping a lid on his emotions as he did so. He wasn’t going to break down in public, it wasn’t his style, and besides, there was no need for him to break down, because there was nothing wrong. He wasn’t feeling worse after having spoken to Tony and this was not pain he was experiencing. Everything was as it should be.
The lies weren’t enough. He didn’t have enough conviction to carry them through. Because Tony was right. Yet again, Tony had to be right. Tim had called Tony to say he loved him. Not in those words, not even close. But the sentiment, definitely.
Arriving at Cyber Unit just in time he groaned, flopped onto his chair, banged his head into his desk. He was sure Tony was not a man to be fallen in love with, not unless masochism was a trait that was to be valued and encouraged in his life.
“You okay, Boss?” Hal asked, squeaky-voiced and terrified.
“I’m fine,” Tim returned. He scowled with the right amount of warning menace. “Get back to work.”
It took longer than he expected to get to the co-ordinates Ziva had given him, but while he was there, he scanned the area carefully. There was a Ranger’s hut that looked disused, cracked windows and plants nearby growing over and around the trail leading to the door. He noticed a grouping of snapped twigs, which was more amateur than he would have expected of Campbell’s men.
He tentatively opened the door to the shack, half-expecting sirens to begin blaring and lights to flash, but if there was an alarm, it was silent. The inside of the hut was covered in dust and cobwebs, inbuilt and nailed down furniture looking worse for wear. It looked like the place had been abandoned for years, if not going on decades. There was a familiar scent in the ramshackle room that had Tim thinking Ziva wasn’t as crazy as she sounded. A unique fragrance of wood and weedkiller that he’d smelt when he’d been taken to the compound by Ian Stern and Emma King.
He began examining everything closely, moving what he could. The shack creaked and moaned in the process, like a bullied kid against its tormentor, and Tim didn’t need more than second to figure out why that simile had come to him. He noticed that a small end table wasn’t bolted into the floor and some tell-tale scrapes alongside it, small indentations in the wood visible just at the edge of a vile-looking rug. He pulled the table backward towards the window. Even now he had more muscle, it was difficult; a heavy piece of furniture he guessed usually took more than one man, or a lot more time than he wanted to expend. Once there was enough room, he lifted up part of the patchy dirt-clogged rug and found what he’d been searching for --- a handle to a trapdoor.
Lifting the trapdoor took effort, and Tim wasn’t certain he’d have accomplished it at one time, was gratified he could manage it now. When he’d raised it high enough, he squinted inside and saw a couple of steps descending into darkness. He took those few steps and travelled deeper underground, feeling the wall, and instead of stone like he expected, feeling metal that was cool to the point of feeling damp. The sounds of his footsteps echoed with a metallic edge that was distinctly familiar, although part of that might have been him remembering Gibbs’ conference room. Huh. So there was a secret military compound hidden in Shenandoah National Park. He’d seen and done some crazy things in his time on Gibbs’ team, so he really shouldn’t be as surprised as he was, but he couldn’t help it, he was a natural sceptic. Whenever events in his life took a turn toward fantasy, he consoled himself that he wasn’t the first person to notice that reality was stranger than fiction.
He finally hit what felt like ‘ground floor’, where light from a door at the end of the passageway gave him an indication of where he was. His eyes had slowly been adjusting and he could see much clearer now; the metal panelling that months before he had thought reminded him of being in a submarine, the claustrophobic tightness of the space. He held his gun steady as he edged along, as quick and quiet as possible.
The first room he entered was virtually empty, a storage area he’d been in once, or presumably more than that, although he didn’t remember his escape. The door was concealed by a clever placement of packing crates, but still accessible. He’d tried, more than once, to find this, but there were five more rooms that were the same, three of which having doors that lead to other sections of the compound.
At the side of this room was access to another hallway, with four doors leading off from that. Two of those doors led to further empty rooms; including a makeshift laundry, and the others to two further corridors that eventually came to the bunks, further storage rooms, what he’d ironically called the rec room, and his computer laboratory. This, he knew. Had paced those floors, had banged his head against those walls. He was in his element again.
There was the sound of voices from the direction of the rec room. He recognised Campbell’s low tones, but couldn’t hear what he was saying. He shuffled closer, cautious and watchful, finger ready by the trigger.
A higher-pitched voice was talking now, Reyne, he thought. He could just make out the words.
“... don’t have any idea how much his friends know. Why’d he come here all alone if they got all the information? I’m telling ya, dead men can’t talk.”
“You don’t think it would be better to push forward our relocation and say goodbye? This place is an empty shell, a dead end. They already know our identities, thanks to McAuliffe. All they need is where we are,” Corden reasoned.
“So why not kill?” Campbell asked.
“We could point them to the wrong place. Leave erroneous clues.”
Tim nodded to himself. He liked that idea. That gave him ample time and opportunity to find Tony and rescue him. It wouldn’t be easy, but he already had half-formed notions of how he’d do it.
“What’s the plan? We stage whisper that we’re going to Florida and then let him escape?”
“I was thinking subtler than that. If we left, he’d realise we’d gone eventually, go through the books, look on the computers, bring his team down to examine everything, and that’s where the trail to Florida, or Texas, or wherever the hell we want, would be. They’d be so busy chasing those leads, they’d have no idea we’d gone the opposite direction. That gives us more time to get our engine running smoothly.”
“He speaks sense,” Reyne grudgingly admitted.
There was a long pause and then Campbell spoke. “Yeah, you do, Corden, but I don’t think we should have to run. Reyne’s got a point; why’d he come here alone? This guy ain’t got no back up. He’s a mess. Tucker, go get DiNozzo. We end this now.”
Tim seriously contemplated screaming out in anguish, but he beat a hasty retreat instead, thinking it unlikely anyone would look in the server room. What he needed to do was grab a pair of the night-vision goggles he hoped were still stashed away in one of the storage room crates. Next, create a power surge that would cause the generators to crash. And then it was just a matter of knocking Campbell’s team out before they could get mobile with their own night-vision goggles, and snatching Tony away to safety. It would be a piece of cake. Nothing could go wrong.
He wasn’t supposed to be spending his weekends on the internet. He’d given himself a list of things he would not spend his entire weekend doing, and ‘declaring people wrong on the internet’ was close to the top (under ‘obsessively shredding paper’, ‘working’ , and ‘jerking off’.) But then he’d met Claire, who was a level five sorceress, and seemed to know the exact right things to say, and clearly knew him far too well to not be someone he actually knew. Of everyone he did know, there were only two people who would go to the lengths ‘Claire’ had gone to yank his chain, and Abby was off helping Habitat for Humanity. (Which Tim had offered to go do, but there’d been that incident with the mortar, and Abby never wanted his assistance nowadays --- which he’d be indignant about, but, hey, more weekend for him.) Tony was up to something nefarious, and Tim was going to play along until he figured out what it was.
He enjoyed pretending to be oblivious. He was a little worried he’d started off too strong by discussing his meeting Claire as soon as he arrived at work, but if Tony was aware that he was under no illusions, he didn’t say anything. Tim wasn’t surprised when Tony told Ziva that Claire was a fabrication, although he was increasingly curious as to his motivation. He played the innocent for everyone until Ziva told him about the practical joke, and then continued playing the innocent for Tony, and Tony didn’t suspect a thing until they were sat next to each other at long past midnight, a week after Tim had been surreptitiously extorting and emotionally blackmailing him into handing over free lunches and dinners.
Tony was looking longingly at the last of the kung pao chicken, a desperate gleam to his eye. He leaned forward in his chair, balancing on his toes, centre of balance off-kilter.
“I have a confession!” he said in a rush, words spilling over themselves in the speed they were ejected from his mouth.
“You’re Claire,” Tim replied without a beat, but with a smirk.
“Ziva,” Tony intoned, eyes narrowing.
“Yes, but I already knew. If you wanted to get back into my pants, why not just tell me? Why the elaborate ruse?”
Tony’s eyebrows shot high into his hairline. “I... that wasn’t... you’re being very forward, McGee. Shh!”
Tim prevented himself from snickering. “Then what was the point?”
“I get bored! No, that’s not it,” Tony hurriedly grabbed for the chicken and Tim didn’t bother to stop him. “You’ve looked lonely lately. I thought I could cheer you up with sparkling conversation of a fascinating calibre.”
“But you couldn’t do it as you.”
“No. The ship kind of sailed on that one. And then sunk, like the Titanic, but with less violin and frozen DiCaprio.”
Tim shook his head in confusion. “Let me get this straight. You thought I looked lonely so your immediate reaction was to cause me public humiliation? I don’t believe you. Even you would not think that’s a great idea.”
Tony chewed at him noisily. “Even me?” he said between bites. “I take offense.” He stared up at the ceiling, gaze fixed as he spoke. “Look, I wanted to recreate that moment when you first meet someone and you’re testing them out. The tentative shuffle forward, the innuendo-laden banter. I wanted to flirt and tease, experience the thrill of the unknown with you. Those early moments in a relationship where uncertainty is an exciting potential and not a warning beacon.”
“We never had that,” Tim said blankly.
“I’m still not seeing the practical joke angle.”
“I knew Ziva would tell you, eventually. I guess I expected you to confront me when you did. With more hysteria and less self-assurance.”
Tim leaned back in his chair, propped his legs on Tony’s desk. “You didn’t know?”
“That you knew? No, you great big faker. You’ve clearly been taking classes in duplicity. This upsets me greatly.”
“No, you didn’t know what you expected?”
“I never know what to expect with you. Whenever I think I finally have you all figured out, you go and change the rules.”
Tim thought he could have said the exact same thing back to Tony, and almost did, but Tony stood up, dragging his jacket on.
“It’s late and I need to have my beauty rest. No hard feelings?”
“I guess not.”
“Great. I shall see you tomorrow. Well, today. Later. Bye, McMendacious.”
Tim watched Tony’s retreating back and tried to decide if he was glad they’d had this conversation. As soon as one question was answered, three more sprang in its place, like the hydra of mixed signals and confusion. Tony wanted to flirt with him, but didn’t feel capable as himself because their ship was at the bottom of the sea? So should he flirt with Tony more now, or prove to him their boat was a submarine and could easily resurface? Or was he reading too much into all of this, should be wary of believing Tony because he had reprehensible motives, another joke lurking around the corner?
There was one thing Tim knew for certain. This little chat with Tony marked the end of scamming free food. He sighed and looked sadly at the empty container. It was probably of benefit to his diet, but it brought great sadness to his stomach.
“Can you hack into other people’s emails?” Tulloch asked, swinging about on the chair that Tim had contemplated wasting some PETN on.
“On all kinds of things. Whether the email’s through a free service like gmail or not, how strong their password is, if I can piggyback government channels. It can be a matter of seconds, or it can take hours, or it can be close to impossible. It depends.”
Tulloch did a full 360 degree turn. “Could you hack into my ex-girlfriend’s and send a virus to all her skanky friends?”
Tim flexed his hand and cracked his knuckles. “I probably could, but I’m busy right now, Tulloch. Don’t you have something better to do?”
Tulloch gave him a look that was on par with a shamed puppy, and Tim rolled his eyes to the heavens and prayed to hell he’d be given some peace and quiet soon.
The opposite occurred. There were several guttural shouts, none of which were clear enough for Tim to hear the specific words, and then heavy footfall running down the passage toward the computer room. It sounded like three or four men coming, and if Tim had to classify the sound they made as an emotion, he’d go with ‘angry’. In a swift move, Tulloch pushed an object under his jacket and slipped a pill into his hand.
“Stay quiet and follow my lead, McGee,” he whispered.
“What’d you call me?”
“Do as you’re told.” Tulloch hurriedly glanced at the door. “After I smack you down, you’re gonna want to take the pill, so put it in your mouth now. It’ll knock you out. I’ll handle the rest.”
Tim did as he was told out of instinct, and before he could ask any further questions, Reyne, Tucker and Anderson appeared at the door, holding very large guns and looking at him like they wanted to kill.
“Get away from him, Petey. He isn’t who you think he is, isn’t that right, Special Agent McGee?”
Tim gaped up at Reyne. “I have no---” he began, but Tulloch shoved him to the ground, smacked him around the jaw.
“Special Agent?” he asked.
“Yeah, he’s a mole. In every sense of the word. A dee-sgusting, sewer-ridden rat,” Tucker sneered.
“Is it true, are you a traitor?” Tulloch yelled, his face going a convincing shade of beet-red.
“No, of course not, Tulloch, I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Tim replied, feeling blood rush to his head as Tulloch shook him.
Reyne stepped forward, threw his ID on the ground beside him. “How’d you explain this?”
Tulloch smacked him again and Tim started to cough. “It must be a fake.”
“No. Not a fake. We got that from your buddy Stern. After a lot of convincing, of course. We suspected someone was talking to the Feds, but we didn’t know who, or how. It turns out, Petey, that we’ve been under investigation from two federal organisations --- the FBI and NCIS.”
Tulloch hit Tim again, painfully hard. He glared at him with widened eyes, which Tim took as his cue to swallow. He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he didn’t have many options. As far as killing him went, this would be a convoluted way to do it. Shooting or stabbing were the easier methods. He had to trust that Tulloch was on his side, even if he was beginning to see Tulloch wasn’t who he thought he was, in any way, shape or form. The pill was fast-acting and he began to feel faint straight away, the world spinning on its axis.
“You bastard, I trusted you,” Tulloch said with a guttural growl.
The last thing Tim remembered seeing was the barrel of a gun.
The game had been on for a torturous sixteen minutes when he asked himself why he’d allowed Tony to drag him to the court. He wasn’t anti-sports so much as profoundly uninterested in most of them. And basketball was included amongst those he did not get. He never quite knew all the rules and the ones he did know rarely seemed to make sense. He didn’t hate sitting in a room full of people barracking over trivialities, because he’d done enough of that at LAN parties, and wrestling matches, and Webelos meetings. He just couldn’t fake his own enthusiasm over the constant stop-start of basketball and Tony kept looking his way, to see if he was having fun, would nudge him to join in a chant or a clap, pouted at him between quarters and asked in a plaintive voice if everything was okay.
“I like it, I just don’t understand what’s going on,” Tim said when there was a lull in the action toward the end of the game, because Tony’s sad little glances were breaking his heart.
By the time they’d gotten back to Tony’s apartment, he had a solid working knowledge of the scoring system and substitutions and double dribbling. He soon discovered his apathy had little to do with ignorance, and an hour and a half later of listening to Tony’s recounts of his top ten games witnessed and top five games played in, Tim was close to clawing at the walls. He was beginning to understand the glazed eyes of the technologically crippled few he insisted on tutoring in basic computer literacy. He had to figure there was some kind of rule that stated if you had no interest or aptitude for a given topic, the probability of you wanting to punch a person discussing said topic ad nauseum approached one.
“It’s late, I should be heading home,” he said when Tony finally paused for breath.
“It’s way too late for you to be out on those roads, they’re treacherous at this hour. Sleep here.”
“I drive at night all the time, Tony. I think I can manage just fine,” Tim scoffed. Tony got that sad look in his eyes again and Tim worried at his bottom lip. “When you say sleep...”
“I mean sleep. I’ll take the couch.”
Tim thought about it. He was feeling kind of tired, had a knot between his shoulder blades from working at the computer all day, and Tony’s bed did look inviting. Not to mention Tony himself, hair all mussed and top two buttons undone; effortlessly casual as opposed to the usual meticulously crafted casual. He had to figure the chances of only sleep occurring were fairly slim.
Tim watched as Tony gathered pillows and blankets, dumping them on one side of the couch. He tried to help, but was shushed away.
“So I guess it’s bed time?” he asked, gazing perplexedly at Tony spreading out a sheet.
“Why, did you wanna do something? Watch a film? I have Revenge of the Nerds.”
“Okay, first of all, no, no movie. Second, why do you do that?”
Tony looked confused, but Tim didn’t buy it. “Do what?”
“If it’s not SF, it’s like, WarGames, or Porky’s. Movies you seem to think I would enjoy based on some form of shared experience, or inherent interest.” Tim put on the stupid jock voice he had cultivated years ago to use for mockery in High School. “McGee was a virgin ‘til he was twenty-five, this is right up his alley, huh huh huh. McGee’s a massive nerd, he’ll love this, could almost be one of the characters, ha ha ha.”
“Okay, first of all, only someone with a PhD in Geek would call sci-fi ‘SF’. Second, I like 80s films.”
Tim scowled. “I am more than a geek, Tony. I like genres other than sci-fi.”
“I know. We’ve watched hundreds of films together. Remember Hitchcock week? Vin Diesel’s most excellent repertoire, including The Pacifier? The Sound of Music? You’re the one who’s turned this into a thing.”
“I have not. I’m just saying...”
“You don’t wanna watch Revenge of the Nerds. I get it,” Tony said. He continued speaking under his breath, but his words were still clearly audible. “And you don’t like being called a geek. Even though you are one.”
Tim pushed him onto the couch and settled over his thighs, deliberately looming and hoping he looked at least marginally menacing. “How come I’m the geek when you’re the one who can give timestamps for major events in Bond films? Who knows the cinematographer on various John Ford films? Who quotes Star Trek alongside discussing Las Hurdes?”
Tony laughed --- a deep, joyous sound that only infuriated Tim more. “I never said I’m not a geek.”
“But you’re not. No one thinks you are. They take one look at you and go, ‘Oh, he’s so dreamy. What I wouldn’t give to feel those manly arms around me.’ Or ‘he’s strong-looking, but I think I could take him in a fight.’ One look at me, and suddenly they remember they couldn’t network their printer, and would I please go take a look at that, because clearly I would know.”
“You do know,” Tony said, still laughing.
“That’s beside the point.”
“I don’t even know what the point is, Timothy. I know you’re not just a geek, but you are a geek. You should be happy about that. You can do things I couldn’t even imagine. People look at you and recognise that you have a brain. How many people do you think realise that about me? And I didn’t choose Revenge of the Nerds because I think it would interest you. I picked it because it interests me. Okay?”
Tim took a deep, shuddering breath and climbed off Tony. “I’m going to bed.”
He stomped into Tony’s room and stripped to his boxers, slid under the covers and closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep and not think about how much he hated Tony’s ability to be distressingly convincing in arguments. He could hear Tony turning and tossing on the couch, the sound of a pillow being fluffed and cushions being adjusted. Twenty minutes later, Tony got up and padded around the living room. Ten minutes after that, he’d turned on the television. Tim glared into the dark and went to stand at the doorway, not surprised to see Tony sprawled on the couch with the remote in his hand.
“Come sleep in your bed. There’s room.”
Tony nodded once, switched off the television, and followed him into the bedroom. Tim didn’t for a second think that this hadn’t been a ploy. He climbed back into bed and waited for Tony’s move. A hand on his leg, or lips against his neck, maybe even contact more daring. But Tony just climbed in next to him and lay on his stomach. Tim continued waiting, turning onto his side. Once again, there was no touching. After several minutes, he registered a change in Tony’s breathing and realised he must be asleep.
Tim didn’t have words for how bizarre this was. It couldn’t be that their quarrel had put him off, because, in the past, Tony had thrived on how annoyed he’d get, would deliberately work him into a fury in order to capitalise on his passion. And, okay, so it had been a couple of years now, but Tony had started looking at him like he used to; smouldering and intense, had begun to play a game of ‘who can flirt the most without being told off’, had set up that whole ‘Claire’ thing, and had been inviting him out places, like the basketball game, so Tim had assumed --- he’d believed --- he had thought Tony wanted to recommence their previous arrangement of no-strings-attached sex.
Yet here he was, sleeping. And Tim had to come to terms with the horrible realisation that he had really hoped Tony would make a move, because he didn’t want to handle the awkwardness of rejection. He wanted what they’d had before, if not a relationship that was a little more solid and monogamous. But if Tony wasn’t already midway through sexing him up, he clearly didn’t want to. He was not that guy who waited patiently because he was afraid. If he wanted something, he grabbed it, even if it wasn’t his to take. Tim scrunched his eyes tight. Having Tony so close and yet so far tugged at his insides, until he felt he’d wake up hollowed out, a shell of a man. If he could even manage to get to sleep.
The first part of Tim’s plan went well. He found the night vision goggles he wanted and made it safely to the generators. He didn’t have any time to spare, so he wreaked senseless destruction as opposed to technical genius, disassembling with the aid of a chair.
The second part of the plan was the hard part. He didn’t know the direction Tucker had gone in and with the lights off, Campbell’s army were on high alert. Tim had been witness to enough drills to know, roughly, what they were going to do. Gear up, send two men to find out what went wrong, fortify a controlled section of the base, which was typically the kitchen due to the high number of ready-to-hand weapons at their disposal.
He launched into a jog, checking rooms as he travelled. He very nearly got caught by a couple of men, boots crashing noisily on the concrete floor (probably on their way to find out what went wrong), but dodged into another room just in time.
‘Okay,’ Tim thought as breathing became harder due to anxiety and fear, and he willed his legs to start moving again ‘I can totally do this. I am not alone.’ But he couldn’t be sure as to when Gibbs and Ziva would turn up, and he hadn’t heard Tulloch’s voice in the rec room. For the moment, he was Tony’s only salvation, and while, yes, the romantic thought of being a hero and knight in shining armour had come into his mind a few times over the years, he’d never quite imagined the hard work that went along with it. He was not John McClane. Nor Batman. And he sure as hell wasn’t Duke Nukem.
Every room he entered appeared to be empty and he could hear footfall again (probably of the men about to report what had gone wrong), seeing the world through night-vision goggles was making him vaguely nauseous, and he kept replaying a scene in his mind of getting to Tony two minutes too late. He picked up his pace and jogged into the next room.
The next room was not empty. There was a standing figure and a sitting figure, and Tim launched himself at the standing figure before he had time to recognise who it was and began punching it as hard as he could, to a few pathetic grunts and a muffled howl of pain. He tackled the figure --- who was definitely Tucker --- down to the ground and settled on top, continuously pummelling. There was some resistance as Tucker squirmed and writhed, but it didn’t last for long, and he was still punching, had to be positive, until there was no movement --- not a twitch, not a whimper. What felt like blood coated his bruised knuckles, and he stood, shakily, adrenaline coursing through his veins.
“What’s going on?” Tony asked, sounding authoritative and cocky, which Tim knew was his cover for being chicken-shit scared.
“I’ve come for you, Tony,” he said, moving closer and fumbling around his back for the knots in the rope.
“Tim? Timmy! Am I dead?”
“Are you a ghost?”
“Then I’m confused.”
Tim continued to struggle with the knot. “I don’t have time to explain in depth right now, but we faked my death, okay?”
“I’m experiencing a weird mixture of euphoria and blinding rage,” Tony said, wriggling around, and finally, finally the knot was unravelling and Tim could haul him to his feet.
“That sounds like me after almost all of my interactions with you,” Tim said as they moved toward the door, and it occurred to him that Tony hadn’t merely been tied up as they stumbled along; he was definitely dragging his right foot. To lend credence to Tim’s theory, Tony gave a harsh-sounding wheeze as they entered the hallway.
“How badly did they beat you up?” Tim whispered, even though he thought they should be as silent as possible, given that Campbell had to know there was an intruder on base by now.
“It hurts but I don’t think I’ll need to eat steak through a straw,” Tony returned.
They staggered along together in this way for minutes, taking one turn after the other, before there was another sound of footsteps straight ahead and no conveniently placed door to go through. Tim stood stock still, pulling Tony back.
There was a shout of, “they’re here!”, the crack of gunshot, and before Tim knew it he was being catapulted to the ground as another bang filled the air and reverberated in the space between his ears. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. He wasn’t meant to get this close to happiness and have it snatched away. What the hell was Tony thinking? If anyone should die, it should be the man who was already dead.
Tim’s heart flew up and blocked his wind-pipe and he choked back a sob as Tony collapsed next to him. He didn’t have time to think. He rolled onto his stomach, pushed himself up and ran headlong into the gunman, reckless in his violence, toes satisfyingly crashing into a shin, blade of his hand snapping into a carotid artery, fist giving an uppercut to the right side of a jaw. The guy --- he thought it was Anderson, but he didn’t care --- lowered to his knees and then crashed to the concrete, head making a sickening thumping sound. He also grabbed for Tim’s ankle and claimed it, sending him to the ground. He began to punch in quick succession, knocking the night-vision goggles off Tim’s head.
This is when Tim’s instincts went into overdrive. He used all of his strength to gain leverage and smashed his elbow into Anderson’s sternum. He successfully dodged a punch, gave one of his own, then another, and another, until sweat was trickling down his nose and Anderson’s attempts to defend himself were becoming feeble. Tim stood and started kicking Anderson, hard. Like Tucker before him, Anderson stopped moving, but Tim kicked four more times and took all the weapons he could before he made his way back to Tony’s lying form.
“Tony?” he said, kneeling down and flailing for contact. “Tony, tell me the bullet missed you?”
“I think it hit me dead centre,” Tony wheezed, coughing twice. “Which is just as well, because the Kevlar stopped it from doing any real damage other than winding me.” He banged his fist against his chest. “If it’d gone through my head, it’d be another story.”
Tim couldn’t contain his fear and elation and didn’t want to. He helped Tony into a sitting position and shook him. “Oh God, Tony, don’t ever do that to me again. I thought I’d lost you.”
“Yeah? Well, same back-atcha.”
Tim knocked his head against the hallway wall, wondering why there weren’t already four men rounding the bend and ganging up on them, but welcoming the silence. “This is very Romeo and Juliet.”
“Zeffirelli or Luhrman?”
“Not Castellani, because I gotta tell you, that has an ungodly amount of dubbing and it’s really obvious.”
“The play, Tony. The play. By Shakespeare?”
“I know, Tim. Just lightening the mood. They die in Romeo and Juliet, you know. Not just fake die, but die die, with hearts stopping and final breaths and you know what? I’m too young and pretty for that. I realise this now.”
Tim bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing. He punched Tony in the shoulder. It was half-hearted and still took a lot of effort, every muscle in his body screaming in protest. Tony edged close to him, body heat radiating as he nudged up to his side.
“You know, I never really believed it, even though I thought I’d seen it with my own eyes. I kept thinking that if I could bring Campbell down, you’d come back. And now. Now, I’m the happiest I think I’ve ever been, in my entire life, because I was right. You’re here. You’re real.”
“We’re not in the clear yet,” Tim said, but he tilted his head and was leaning in to kiss Tony when he heard Ziva’s voice ring out their names.
He missed Ziva. Not in the same way he’d missed Tony, all tense and raw, with a sense that he was incomplete. But he missed her. The way she’d side with him for the fun of it, her language quirks, how she could intimidate one second, be oddly sweet and cute the next. He knew that teams at NCIS or in any workplace were supposed to be flexible, that no one could hope to work with the same people forever --- agents got promoted, or shifted direction, or went back home. But part of him had always assumed, after Director Vance’s interference, that Gibbs would keep his team together for as long as humanly possible. Which, given that Gibbs seemed more superhuman than human most days, should be longer than this.
“What are you doing, McDreamy?”
“Thinking about Ziva. Was that a Grey’s Anatomy reference?”
“If so, it was completely unintentional, I assure you. And the fact you thought it was reflects more on you than me. What were you thinking about Ziva?”
“I was thinking about how much I missed her.”
Tony nodded his head, pretending to be sage and wise. “Ah, yes. It is common in times of great change, young one. Do not fret.”
“You don’t miss her?”
Tony was evasive. “Of course I do, but it’s... complicated.”
“Thanks.” Tony turned back to his computer and made a show of typing. “We never went beyond friendship,” he said, conversationally. The set of his jaw and shoulders told Tim he wasn’t as relaxed as his tone suggested.
“Just thought you should know.”
“I’m not sure why, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
When Tim woke up, his head was swimming and he felt like his eyes had been gouged out with an ice cream scoop. He pressed his hands up to his face to check. No, they appeared to still be there, and, oh great, they’d begun to throb.
“You awake, McGee?” a familiar voice asked, and Tim opened his eyes slowly to see the looming spectre of Gibbs.
“I seem to be,” Tim said, croakily. His throat was sandpaper dry.
Gibbs gave him a glass of water as he adjusted position on what felt like a couch. After a quick glance, Tim surmised it was a couch, and Gibbs moved to sit next to him on it.
“How’re you feeling?”
“With respect, Boss, I’m not sure you’d want the answer. It’s bound to violate NCIS codes of conduct and decency regulations.” Tim took a large, greedy gulp of water. “What’s going on?”
“Fornell didn’t have all the details when he asked for our assistance. Campbell was already under investigation by Interpol.”
“Lemme guess; Peter Tulloch was their inside man?”
“Good guess. If I’d have known, there’s no way in hell I’d have sent you in. But as I said, Fornell didn’t have all the facts. Campbell’s group didn’t work alone.”
“I have proof of that, actually. Or, I did.” Tim rubbed at his head again, winced as he came into contact with a bruise.
“Tulloch has all your evidence. The deal is this; we don’t interfere and Interpol gather all the information they need on as many of these vigilante terrorist cells as they can. We get to arrest Campbell’s group.”
“There’s one problem,” Gibbs said, and his tone was slow and deliberate, and absolutely not anything Tim wanted to hear. “Tulloch shot you. You’re dead.”
“I’m fairly sure I’m not.”
“Campbell thinks you are, and until Interpol are finished, you have to be.”
“You mean, what? I go into hiding? You tell everyone I’m dead?”
“Worse. We’ve gotta make it convincing. We need to bury you, McGee.”
Tim didn’t like it when Gibbs stretched his name out so it became two and half syllables. Things were never good when there was more ‘muh’ than ‘gee’. He scrunched his fingers tighter to his palms and hoped --- God, how he hoped --- his bottom lip was staying resolute instead of wavering.
“You mean, for real? A coffin, and a hole in the ground, and ashes to ashes, dust to dust?”
“The whole thing.”
“What about my family? What about Ziva, Abby, Ducky, Tony?”
“You forgot Palmer. And they’ll be happy when it turns out you’re alive. It seems to me there are two choices. You either pretend to be dead, or you die. Because if you think Campbell’s not gonna come after you once he’s tortured and killed Tulloch for helping you escape, you’re even more naive than DiNozzo insists.”
Tim had never truly understood the phrase ‘trapped between a rock and a hard place’ until this moment. He’d used it in his novels, he’d said it, but he’d had no real-life experience to relate it to. Now, he knew. And it sucked just as much as he’d always assumed.
Gibbs gave him a look. His compassionate, understanding look. One Tim had seen before, but of which he’d rarely been on the receiving end.
“I know this doesn’t mean much, but I’m sorry, Tim. It won’t be forever. We need to destroy this terrorist ring, that’s all.”
“Oh, that’s all?” Tim asked, before he could stop himself. He rubbed his forehead once more, frowned. “You just apologised, Boss.”
“Sometimes it’s okay for a man to admit his weaknesses.”
When Fornell appeared, Tim felt like punching him in the throat, but he didn’t. He leaned back further on the couch and listened as Fornell talked about the make-up specialist, and stopping his heart, and the carefully rigged grave site to ensure he wasn’t buried alive, and really, he zoned out after ten minutes, because it was too much to process. All he could think about were the reactions of the people he cared about, and the anger and resentment when it was revealed he’d been lying, even though, for all intents and purposes, it was for a good cause. He thought about how he’d felt when it looked like Tony had been blown up and wondered if Tony would feel that same debilitating fear and desperation to disbelieve what appeared to be the truth.
But most of all, he thought about how stupid he’d been wanting to go undercover. Hadn’t the collective experiences of the people he worked with taught him anything?
By the time Fornell finished, Tim still felt like punching him in the throat, but he didn’t. He took the suggestion of getting some rest and curled up into a foetal position on the spare sofa-bed in Gibbs’ largely disused study.
“I don’t like your hair this short,” Tony said one day, scratching his fingernails lightly against Tim’s scalp. He had an itch and it felt so good. He whimpered softly when Tony pulled away. “There’s nothing to grip onto.”
“You should not be pulling McGee’s hair, Tony,” Ziva said from her desk, not looking up. “It is against the rules. He could report you for physical harassment.”
“You wouldn’t do that, would you, Timothy?” Tony asked, glinting mischievously. He continued to sit on Tim’s desk, but refrained from touching him further. Tim was tempted to reach out and grab his wrist, silently beg him to scratch his head again. He suspected that would be too intimate for the workplace.
“No, I’d just pull your hair back,” he admitted, quirking an eyebrow in warning.
“You are such boys,” Ziva sighed, returning her attention to her work.
“Did you want to do that, later?” Tony asked, bending down and speaking right by his ear; slow and sensual.
It took all of Tim’s self-will not to blush. Many of the evenings they’d spent together had seen Tim experiencing high-strung anticipation, he had wanted this for a long time, but he did not expect this advance to come in the middle of the office in the middle of the day.
“I do, but I’ve got a meeting with Gibbs. It sounds important. Raincheck?” he whispered back.
Tony gave his head another scratch, then catapulted himself toward his own desk. He gave a roguish grin while air-typing and mouthed, “email me.”
Interpol were not happy with the unfolding of events at Shenandoah, but, for his part, Tulloch --- whose real name was Jeff Morton --- seemed to be on their side. He’d been telling his superiors for weeks that he had enough information for several high-profile convictions, but they wanted bigger and better results, and Tim? He trusted Gibbs and his team and only Gibbs and his team when it came to ‘the Feds’, which he thought put him only marginally above most criminals, but he was happy with that.
He and Tony didn’t get a minute alone together for five days straight of debriefings, celebrations and remonstrations, so when he was eventually able to escape, Tim made sure he had plenty of beer and two pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese pizzas in tow.
Tony’s expression upon opening his door was much like his expression every time they’d seen each other in fleeting glances the past few days; a combination of adoration and contained laughter. He stepped to the side and allowed Tim in, settling onto his couch within a few seconds. His next movement was for a slice of pizza. Tim didn’t think he was being too much of an asshole in feeling slightly disappointed.
Tony ate his pizza slice in silence, eyes roving, drinking Tim in, as if he couldn’t get enough of staring at him --- like he still thought Tim might vanish before his gaze.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta say this; you look ridiculous.”
“Gee, thanks, Tony. I’ve missed you too.”
“It’s true. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still hot like a pocket, but,” Tony flailed in the general direction of his head. “What is this? Why red? Why so bright? All you need now is a set of gigantic shoes and a squeezable nose. One of those hand-buzzer things. You’re good to go.”
“Blame Fornell. Believe me, I’m planning on changing it as soon as I can muster up the energy to buy some dye.” Tim had his own slice of pizza, even as he mentally tallied up the amount of time it would take to work it off. “Can I just say that I’m finding your pettiness incredibly disheartening? Please remember I risked life and limb for you.”
“That doesn’t exactly make you superior. I did the same thing, and for all intents and purposes, you were dead.”
“I could be dead to you again, if you’d really like?” Tim said, feigning half the bitterness and letting the other half come naturally.
“No. I think this is better, for the both of us.”
They ate their pizza in silence, Tim waiting and hating himself for it. He kept thinking he should make a move, he should do something --- he’d been so close before. But changing who he was is what had gotten him into this mess in the first place, and he was still afraid of what would happen if it turned out he was misjudging Tony’s words and actions. He supposed it came down, once more, to being unable to believe that Tony could care for him as deeply as he cared for Tony --- that he was letting his insecurity overtake him --- but he didn’t have a place for self-knowledge in his mind, it had been shunted to the back for acres of self-help. So he ignored the wise but accusatory voice and remained quiet, all the while feeling increasingly perplexed and frustrated.
After the first pizza was finished, Tony broke the silence. “Before you went undercover you left me a message saying you wanted to tell me something. You have no idea how often I wondered what that something was.”
“I left you a second message telling you.”
“I didn’t get it. That’s been happening a lot over the past six months. People telling me they’ve called and left a message, only for there to be nothing but an eerie silence. I kept wanting to ask you to fix it, but... you know.”
Tim put his beer down on the coffee table and steadied his hands on his knees. “Are you yanking my chain?”
“Yeah, but not about this.”
Tim closed his eyes, weighed up the pros and cons of honesty. Ultimately he decided he was sick of playing his cards close to his chest. He’d said it once and he could say it again, even if this time, he had to face the consequences straight away. And as much as a scared-in-the-headlights Tony wasn’t top of his list of things to see before he died, he wanted to tell the truth.
“I love you, Tony. I don’t expect anything of you, not a relationship, not for you to say it back, hell, not even any acknowledgement, But I --- I had to tell---“
Tony moved swiftly, clamped a hand over Tim’s mouth. “Stop talking. Just stop talking.”
Tim did as he was told, inwardly sighing out of disappointment, but Tony didn’t stand up and pace like he expected him to, nor run screaming from the room. He kissed Tim, hard and greedy, cradling his face gently in his hands. He rubbed his thumb over his jaw line and down over his neck, fingers coming to rest on Tim’s shoulder. He pulled him closer and kissed deeper, tilting his head further for maximum access. And as he did this, his other hand had beat a path down Tim’s torso and abdomen and was travelling up under his t-shirt, smoothing over his skin and tangling into his chest hair.
They lost their clothes at some point between the couch and the bedroom, but Tim didn’t notice when. He wanted to enjoy this as if it were the last time they were going to be together. He thought, perhaps, every time they were together now would feel like a last time, and a first time, and as if time had lost all meaning. All Tim knew was that he was naked and Tony was working him open, slow and precise, pressing down on his hip and taking the head of his cock into his mouth; all with way too much co-ordination for Tim to even contemplate. Tim’s toes curled up and his thigh muscles tensed, pleasure too long denied flooding through his veins and sparking through his nerves.
Tony took his leg and deftly nudged him onto his side and then onto his stomach. It was Tim’s uninstructed choice to raise his lower body into a kneeling position and widen his stance. He rested his head on his forearms and moaned contentedly. Tony now kissed him at the base of his spine, still finger-fucking him, adding more lube and moving incrementally faster.
“I’m ready,” Tim murmured. “More than.”
“You can wait another minute,” Tony said, no malice, but a lot of cruelty.
Tim groaned, pushed himself back, widening a fraction of an inch.
“All right,” Tony said, as the bed dipped and Tim felt his cock, warm and solid, nudge against his hole. “On your six, Tim.”
“Jeez, Tony. You realise now when you say this at work, I’m gonna be thinking of, well...?” Tim stopped, gave a little whine as Tony entered him at a languid, steady pace, “your cock up my ass.”
“Precisely why I did it,” Tony replied, and Tim could hear his smile. “God, you feel good.”
Tim felt it would be overstatement if he repeated the same phrase, and his throat seemed to want to grunt as opposed to create anything more than unintelligible vowel sounds anyway, so that’s what he did. He gave all of his concentration to Tony moving within him, hard and thick, and forcing himself not to simply push back as fast as he could and take him all in one stroke.
Tony had always been a surprisingly attentive partner in bed, but now he was taking it to new heights, easing out and then in again with a tenderness like reverence, but this wasn’t what Tim wanted. He wanted it harder and faster, wanted to be able to feel Tony the next day, to be able to think that his small measure of pain was due to extraordinary pleasure, so he did move, finally, raising his arms and catching Tony off guard.
He pushed back and was gratified by a returning thrust, Tony clearly having gotten the message. The new angle meant Tim’s prostate was stimulated every time Tony propelled forward and he screwed his eyes tight and gritted his teeth, instinctively attempting to counterbalance the intensity of these sensations. He had a horrible feeling this was going to end a lot sooner than either of them wanted.
Tony reached a hand around him and stroked his cock, and Tim’s hips again moved of their own accord.
“I’m getting close,” Tony said, voice muffled. “Really, really --- you’re tight, Tim. And hot. And God, this should never, ever stop.”
Tim nodded an assent and rocked his hips some more, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, making it impossible for him to speak, even if he wanted to. Tony’s left hand clenched tighter into his hip just as his right hand continued to stroke him and it only took another four strokes before Tim was coming, hot and sticky, all over his stomach and the sheets, his body shuddering uncontrollably.
Tony eased him through the aftershocks and pushed into him maybe two more times before he came too, stiffening and then becoming boneless on top of Tim, a dead weight that was startlingly welcome.
It was at least two minutes before either of them moved, Tim being the first to roll out from under Tony’s crushing mass. He lay on his back and gazed at the ceiling, not caring that he was covered in sweat and his own come. Tony had crashed down onto his front, but he eventually shifted too and grabbed a damp towel so that they could clean up. He insisted on cleaning Tim himself, gliding the blue cloth over him with soft, sweeping motions and relaxing circular motions.
He made a kind of tutting sound and rubbed his thumb over Tim’s abdomen. “You’re so different.”
“You don’t like it?” Tim asked, hoping he’d kept the whine out of his voice.
“I never said that,” Tony said, rubbing again and pouting. “I don’t know if it’s gone way over your head, but I’ve always loved you for who you are.”
Tim looked Tony in the eye and saw nothing but adoration and earnestness. His heart gave a flip, the corners of his lips rose without him thinking about it, and he reached forward and dragged his fingers through Tony’s perfectly mussed hair. He realised Tony was telling the truth. That almost everything he thought was confusing about Tony and what had gone on between them before could easily be explained. It was so much simpler than he’d ever given it credit for being. He wasn’t the only insecure one in the relationship.
“You know, it did go over my head,” Tim said, “but I don’t think I’ll be making that mistake again.”
He adjusted position until Tony’s head was resting on his stomach, smile turning into a fully fledged grin as Tony licked him, and he reminded himself to always remember to enjoy who he was --- and who he was with.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3