Tim is writing. Or rather, he wishes he were writing. He's been sitting staring at the same blank page in the typewriter for so long time is beginning to lose all meaning. There are words in his head, some of them even the right ones, but they're so tangled up in the thoughts he's beating back with mental fire blankets that they can't get through. He flexes his hands with vigor and hovers them over the typewriter again, index fingers resting lightly on the f and j keys.
Nothing except the loud rasp of the doorbell shattering both the silence and his attempted concentration. It doesn't stop. There's only one person Tim knows that rings like that. He can't help but smile, though by the time he answers the door, he's settled his face into an irritated frown. Appearances are important, his mom always used to tell him.
Tony is leaning against the doorjamb, arm bent over his head, his body loose and angled in a way that Tim finds far too inviting.
"How did you get in the building? Should I be looking for dead bodies or some dazed soul wandering the hallways with hearts in their eyes not knowing what hit them?"
Tony's grin is slow and a little scary. "It's the red pumps," he says. "I can't get past the red pumps."
Tim sighs and opens the door wider, inviting Tony past him.
Tony shucks his jacket and hangs it up. "I guess you just wanted to go home," he says. "When exactly did you figure out you were a friend of Dorothy? I mean, you wore Penny's red pumps at five and covered yourself in glitter at seven. Wasn't it obvious?"
Tim stares after him as he disappears into the kitchen. There are the clunks and hisses of doors and drawers opening and a bottle being opened and then Tony reappears, beer in hand and settles on the couch.
"Make yourself at home," says Tim dryly, and Tony tips his head back to grin at him. It's scary in a different way this time. Tim licks his lip. "Glitter is a developmental process, DiNozzo. I would've thought you'd have been a big fan. It's shiny and gets everywhere it shouldn't."
Tony snorts, choking on the beer, wiping the spattered drops off his face with his sleeve. Tim tugs a handkerchief out of his pocket and goes to sit next to Tony, handing the cloth over. "Where's Emily?"
Tony mops himself down, offering the damp handkerchief back to Tim who pulls a face and shakes his head. Tony balls up the cloth and shoves it in his pocket. There's another one Tim won't ever see again. Tony must have an entire drawer of TM monogrammed linen by now.
"She's back in her dorm. I gave her some advice about boys and now she's probably doing things no godfather wants to think about." Tony squints and shudders.
"Tony, if you told her to sleep her way around campus her dad's going to be pissed and he's twice your size."
"Give me some credit, Tim." Tony smiles and takes a sip of beer. "I told her to use protection."
"You did wh-?" Tim's all set to get up in arms about inappropriate guidance when he catches the gleam in Tony's eyes. "Oh, very funny."
Tony doesn't look at Tim when he says, "I haven't been in her life much with her living so far away. I like that she's here now, it gives me…" He shrugs. "Let's face it, she's probably the closest I'm getting to a kid of my own. She'll be screwed up over my dead body."
Tim closes his eyes, chest tightening.
There's a movement next to him and Tony says, "Enough about me, I'm checking up on you. You okay? It was a hell of a day."
Tim opens his eyes to see Tony has shifted around, one leg tucked under him on the couch and one arm thrown along the back of the cushions. He's about an inch closer than Tim's comfortable with, so nothing new there.
"It's always a hell of a day," he replies.
Tony flashes his eyebrows. "Well, duh, but not all of them involve the near death of your grandma. Seriously, are you okay?"
Tim nods, twisting his lips, not trusting himself to speak against the sudden swell in his throat. He needs to concentrate on the fact that Penny is alive, that he gets to have her in his life for however long they have left (and if he has his way she's going on forever).
Tony puts out a hand and brushes Tim's forearm. "It'll stop," he says. "One day. Where you see her under the car or bleeding out under the trees. It'll stop."
Tim closes his eyes again, immediately opening them as the images flash behind them, ambushing him for the thousandth time that hour and sending a surge of adrenalin around his body. His mouth dries and he couldn't get a word out if he tried. Tony hands him his beer and Tim takes a long swig, giving it back with a grateful smile.
"Been there," says Tony. "Didn't like it much." He puts the bottle down and then settles back, tapping his chin with a finger and the mood shifts subtly, Tim's shoulders relaxing despite themselves.
"So, Penny," Tony says with the edge to his voice that says this could go anywhere at all. Tim feels he has a right to be legitimately frightened. "She's heard all about me, huh?" How Tony manages to infuse a world of filth into six words, Tim can't even begin to fathom.
"Don't get all big-headed," he says, with a roll of his eyes suppressing the grin that's threatening to emerge. "I mostly told her about how annoying you are."
It's worth it just to see the affronted look on Tony's face. "Really?"
But he can't keep it up—it really has been a long day. Tim shakes his head. "No, not really."
Tony looks expectant, but Tim's got nothing else to say. The words lie between them, unexplored empty space between two stars. Now is not the time to go there. They've built the rocket ship but the search is still on for the perfect fuel to make the journey.
Tony's expression, hovering close to concern since he arrived, no matter how many leers he tries to plaster over it, drops back to default. "The other thing," he says. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Tim narrows his eyes, confused. "How-? What other thing?"
Tony says, "I thought I left my wallet."
Tim's gut clenches. It's an old, familiar feeling. One that he's gotten used to long since. It says, 'what did you do this time?' It says, 'and now you're gonna get it'. It says, 'why don't you ever learn?' Somewhere inside Tim knows that he can't spend his life hiding, that if he wants things with Tony to work out then he'll have to open up, but the rest of him wants it all on his own terms and he isn't ready for this. Not even a little bit.
"How much did you hear?"
"Enough." Tony flicks at invisible lint on a pillow. "And then Ducky came and I realized I had my wallet in my other pocket all along."
Tim tightens his jaw. He hears the echo of pain in the simple, "Does he?" and he wants to lash out at Tony, bury it all under layers of irrelevance, but he can't. It's years of sidestepping and misdirecting that have got him to this point in the first place. If the past few days have reminded him of anything it's how hard he fought to be comfortable in his skin in the first place. How much he'd relied on Penny to help him recognize who he was and he can't go back, no matter if it hurts to go forward.
"Seven years is a long time, Tim. What the hell happened?"
Tim grimaces. His heart thumps a violent beat as if it's trying to throw the memory out of his body. "You'll laugh," he says, and Tony says, "I won't," at the same time as he continues, "It was dumb. Just a small thing."
He huffs a defeated laugh. "Seven years of no talking, you'd think the thing would have the good grace to at least involve pistols at dawn. But no, it was nothing major. I know it makes no sense."
"Oh, it does." Tony shakes his head. "Sometimes enough is enough, I should know."
Tim strains his ears to listen for even the faintest hint of mockery. There's nothing there and Tony is still and serious and waiting him out, just like Tim had done for him the week before. Tim can't help but see it as a sign that maybe they are going to get somewhere someday and it makes it easier to confess. He sighs and leans back against the couch, staring across the room at the dull black screen of the silent TV. He can make out Tony's reflection, as quiet as the real thing.
"So you should probably know that my family have known I'm bi since way back. Like third grade when I made valentines for Jenna Bancroft and Leo Kugel. You will not be shocked when I tell you that Penny was the one who encouraged me to go for it."
Tony's reflection winces. "Ouch. Did Leo beat you up?"
"Not so much, no. Now, if you'd asked about Jenna…"
Tony laughs. "You are kidding me."
"I wish." Tim looks up at the ceiling and smiles, prodding the inside of his mouth with his tongue as he remembers how long it had taken for the bruising to go down. "She was never good at sharing," he says.
"Beaten up by a girl." Tony's voice holds a kernel of gloat inside it and Tim sighs again, knowing that he'll hear the end of this only when one of them is six feet under.
"Fast forward to seven years ago," Tim says, because often the only way ahead with Tony is straight through. "I'd just joined Major Crimes and I was showing Mom and Dad pictures of you guys so they could put faces to names for the inevitable work stories, you know? Dad was joking around, talking about how pretty Kate was and how I'd have to take good care to be professional around her and then Mom joked about how I'd have the same problem with you-"
"Do all the females in your family see us together?" Tony blurts out. "First Penny, then your mom. What about Sarah?"
Tim turns his head to look at him. "Don't even ask because you do not want to know the things she says," he says scrunching his face up in mock disgust. "Pretty sure some of them are illegal in the red states."
"Shut up," says Tony and shoves Tim's shoulder.
Tim rocks against the touch, the lines smoothing from his face as the pretend horror fades into blankness. He takes a deep breath. "I said Mom might have had a point—quit preening, DiNozzo—and Dad didn't take it well," he continues. "Let's just say he wasn't entirely at peace with the whole liking girls and boys thing. He didn't make a scene or anything, but it was pretty obvious that he was real uncomfortable. Mom changed the subject and that was that. Or that's what I thought."
Tony's hand still rests against Tim's shoulder, his thumb rubbing across it with slow, steady sweeps. The touch grounds Tim in the present and he is grateful for it—consolidate and move forward has always been his watchword. Revisiting the past is not his thing at all.
"The next time I called I could hear him in the background telling Mom to say he wasn't home." He takes another deep breath. "I don't know if you'd noticed, Tony, but I can be a pretty stubborn bastard when I want to be."
"Go on," says Tony with exaggerated amazement.
Tim can't help but laugh. "I know," he says. "Shocker. Anyway, after that I dug my heels in and wouldn't talk to him either. I didn't expect it to go on as long as it did. I always figured Mom would fix it, but she couldn't or wouldn't, I don't know which."
"What about the whole mess with Sarah? You didn't even talk then?" Tony's thumb stills.
Tim shakes his head. "Not even with that. Everything went through Mom, or Sarah herself. He never once picked up to me the whole time."
"Perils of caller ID, huh?" Tony's thumb starts moving again.
"Yeah. So basically seven years of nothing. I didn't even go home for the holidays unless he wasn't there. It was easier to make excuses once Jethro came along. What responsible dog owner leaves his pet on his own? And my father was always all about responsibility."
"I guess not." Tony's thumb stills again and he pats Tim's shoulder twice before sliding his hand down Tim's arm, stopping at the elbow. "So what about today?"
Tim nods, his father's voice still warm in his ear. "We covered the weather, baseball and the benefits of e-ink over backlit screens for the e-reader he wants to get Mom for her birthday. It was five minutes."
"Was it okay?"
Tim pulls a face. "Excruciating," he says. "But yeah, kinda okay." He nods a second time.
"Baby steps," says Tony, echoing the nod.
"I said I'd e-mail him some links to e-book sites. He thanked me. That was…" Tim can't find the right word to put on the end of the sentence. Small wonder the page in his typewriter is still as pristine as when he'd first fed it around the carriage.
"So you're gonna blow past the whole thing that started this even though he was kinda right in the end?"
Tim shrugs and flashes Tony a grin. "Especially because he was kinda right." He half expects some kind of protest—Tony's never been one who likes being invisible—but it doesn't come.
"Is it better?"
"I don't know." Tim rolls his head back to stare at the ceiling. "I'd learned to live with it, you know? Thinking we were done. I loved him because he was my dad, but I never knew if he…I still don't. It's complicated."
Tony pulls his hand away and, as if the loss of contact were a catalyst, suddenly Tim is sitting forward, body twisted towards Tony's. "A hug?" he says before he can stop himself, knowing that for once he's hiding nothing at all.
Tony's face relaxes and he smiles, opening out his arms. "Sure, McTim. Bring it on in."
Tim half leans, half falls into the waiting arms. Tony tightens them around Tim's back and it soothes the jangled and raw edges of Tim's exposed nerves, patching him back together, piece by muddled-up piece. He holds on tight and when he closes his eyes sees only black.
He presses his face against Tony's neck and he must make some sort of sound because Tony is saying, "Hey, it's okay," and, "Shhhhh," as he strokes Tim's back with broad sweeps of his palms.
It's forever and no time at all when Tony draws back from the hug, gripping Tim by his upper arms, eyes searching his face. Tim feels like he should spare a moment to hate himself for how much he's let his guard down, how his face must present a How To Hurt Tim McGee manual, shop ready and free at point of sale, but he can't because Tony's kissing him or he's kissing Tony and nothing else matters.
Nothing matters except Tony's mouth, warm and slick against his, the sizzle of electricity that runs through him when Tony sucks in Tim's bottom lip and bites on it enough to send his blood rushing to the surface, flushing his skin and asking for more. Nothing matters except the way the strokes of Tony's hand across Tim's back match the strokes of his tongue, unhurried and lazy, sending spikes of pleasure through Tim's whole body. Nothing matters except the slow pooling of buzzing desire at the base of Tim's spine, blood redirecting from all areas for one purpose and one purpose only.
"Complicated!" exclaims Tim against Tony's mouth, but he can't quite pull away and they exchange short, sweet kisses. It's like they're tiptoeing around the brink of a quarry they've just climbed, only too aware of how easy it would be to tumble right back down the slope.
"We should…" he tries again, pressing a kiss against Tony's upper lip.
"Mmhmm, we totally should," Tony agrees, and kisses the corner of Tim's mouth. He sighs and straightens up, folding his arms as if he can't trust his hands not to wander. "You want me to go?"
Tim shakes his head. "Not really. But we can't…Well, we can't. Not yet. If it weren't bad enough that you're more at sea than the entire Naval fleet, now I've found my own ball of wax to play with. It's not pretty."
"It's not." Tony shudders. "But we can hang without all the-" he waves his hand in the air, "accoutrements."
"Accoutrements." Tony mugs at him. "What? It works. Anyway, we used to hang before all the-"
"Accoutrements," offers Tim with a grin.
"Those. Thank you, McEcho. So we should be able to do it again, right? The hanging. Not the kissing. Not that the kissing wasn't awesome because it was, but there's the whole-"
"Right," interrupts Tim before Tony can tie himself in any more knots. Straight through, like he always says.
"I can watch you write," says Tony, unbending his leg with a wince and something that Tim can only describe as a rustle. He fears for the state of Tony's knees.
"Ooh, maybe I could be your muse!"
Tim's just about to retort with a scathing comment about Tony's ability to inspire homicide before any hint of creative writing, but then he changes his mind. When he thinks about it, the idea of Tony just being there in the apartment Tonying about while Tim tries to pull his thoughts out of his head and get them onto paper is kind of soothing. Who knows, the white page may yet stop taunting him and it'll all come out of him in a rush. He's taking things slow with the two most important men in his life; it's all got to balance out somewhere, right?
He nods. "Okay, but no talking."
Tony mimes zipping his lip and, as Tim stands up, lies back on the couch, hands pillowing his head against one arm and long legs stretched out with his feet propped up on the other arm. Jethro, curled up in his bed, whimpers in his sleep, his front paws twitching as he chases dream rabbits. Tim crosses to his desk and sits down. He turns his paperweight just so, the colored glass catching the light from his desk lamp throwing prisms across the wood. Tim looks across at Tony who appears utterly peaceful despite being a good couple of inches too tall for the couch. Smiling, Tim turns back to the typewriter. He clears his throat, rubs his eyebrow, cracks his knuckles and then, hesitantly at first, but soon gathering speed, he begins to type.