Sometimes it's hard to find a way to keep on
Quiet weekends, holidays, you come undone
Open your window and look upon
All the kinds of alive you can be
He dozed fitfully for a while, not really sleeping but too exhausted to really feel conscious, before a noise outside disturbed him. He tried to ignore it a little longer, but it only got louder, and he eventually rose from the couch with an annoyed groan and made his way over to the window.
His window looked out onto the courtyard where many of his fellow apartment dwellers liked to socialize. He’d been lucky to find a complex with no children running wild and screaming at all hours, but sometimes the adults were just as bad. They liked to throw barbecues and parties or just hang out and talk in the green space. Tony had never joined them in his two years of living here, but he’d heard them often enough.
Today they seemed to be throwing a welcoming party, judging by the banner he could see hanging on the opposite side of the courtyard. Tony hadn’t realized anyone new was moving in, but he’d been busy the past few weeks. He didn’t have time to keep up with all the comings and goings of his neighbors.
Still, he couldn’t quite pull himself away from the window yet. They looked happy down there, talking and laughing and eating. He recognized several of them, but wasn’t sure he’d actually ever talked to one of them past a hello as they passed in the hallway. It was kind of sad when he thought about it, so he tried not to do that, but the noise was kind of distracting.
There was one person down there that he was sure he hadn’t seen before, which probably meant that was the new tenant. He looked to be around Tony’s age, just a little chubbier and a little geekier. It was hard to tell from so high up, but he didn’t look very comfortable with all the attention. Tony felt a little sorry for him, but mostly he just felt exhausted by the idea of being surrounded by so many people. Just going to work lately had meant being around way too people he didn’t know and worse, didn’t like.
He didn’t realize how long he’d been staring down into the courtyard until the outside lights came on, making him flinch back a little at the sudden onslaught of light. The party downstairs was wrapping up, people grabbing their now empty dishes and returning to their apartments. He’d stood at the window, watching them without a word until his legs ached from standing so long, and if that wasn’t pathetic he didn’t know what was.
“Fuck,” he muttered, not even really surprised at how hoarse his voice was, and ran a hand through his hair. It was greasy and getting a bit long, and, to be honest, he wasn’t exactly sure when he’d last showered.
The apartment was almost pitch black by now, but somehow he managed to stumble his way to his room, only stubbing his toes twice in the journey. He didn’t bother changing or even stripping before flopping face down on the bed, wrinkling his nose a little at the musty smell. Another thing he couldn’t remember the last time it was washed, but at least it was a bed. He’d slept in worse places.
But today was back to work, and no matter how much he wanted to bury himself back beneath the covers and ignore the world a while longer, he had responsibilities.
Even with that conviction, it took a while to drag himself out of bed, to shower and eat breakfast, to drive across town to the precinct. He made it in just in time, plastering a carefree smile on his face as soon as he was in view of his coworkers. They didn’t need to see how exhausted he was or how much he didn’t want to be there, nor would they probably care. He didn’t exactly have friends there.
“Hey, DiNozzo,” someone yelled as he headed for his desk.
He turned to see Detective Harbold, one of his least favorite fellow detectives, standing next to another man who looked vaguely familiar. He was fairly certain the other man wasn’t a lab tech or something like that, he recognized all of them even if he didn’t know all of their names. Something about the man itched in the back of his mind, but he pushed it away for now.
“Detective Harbold,” Tony said faux cheerfully, “great morning, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” Harbold grunted, making a face. Tony was pretty sure the dislike was mutual, so he wasn’t really surprised. “Sarge wanted you to meet the new guy ASAP. DiNozzo, this is Tim McGee, head of our new Technology and Cyber Crimes division. McGee, this is Detective Tony DiNozzo, resident smart ass.”
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” McGee said, putting out a hand as he gave a somewhat hesitant smile.
“Yeah, yeah, you, too,” Tony said with a smirk, shaking the guy’s hand. The grip was stronger than he’d expected and he narrowed his eyes a little. McGee just smiled benignly back.
The rest of the day crawled by so slowly that Tony thought for a little while that time had somehow stopped. He was stuck catching up on paperwork after his long weekend, so there wasn’t even anything exciting or even interesting to entertain him through his shift. Even the new tech geek had disappeared somewhere in the basement, so no testing how far he could tease him. Shame.
At six on the dot, because he really didn’t need another censure for leaving his shift early, Tony pushed away from his desk, grabbed his jacket, and booked it to his car. No one said anything to him as he left the building, but that wasn’t unusual. He didn’t even realize that someone was behind him until he was halfway across the parking lot.
McGee huffed, rolling his eyes, but he didn’t seem too upset by Tony’s baiting. Tony wasn’t sure whether that was a point in his favor or not, but it was nice, somehow, to have someone not instantly hate him as soon as he opened his mouth. He hadn’t had that in quite a while, though for a long time his social circle had been confined to the precinct. Probably too long if he thought about it, but he really tried not to.
“McGee. Tim,” he replied. “And you’re… DiNozzo, the one who thinks he’s funny.”
“Hey, I’m very funny!” Tony exclaimed. McGee just hummed in response, and they kept walking.
“Uh, this is me so… I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess,” McGee said, stopping next to a silver car that looked far too shiny and expensive for someone on a new police tech salary in a severely underfunded precinct. Tony would know, part of the reason he lived in such a crappy apartment was so he could afford a nice car.
McGee heard Tony’s quiet whistle of surprise and shrugged, flushing a little. “It was a gift,” he said, rubbing the back of his head self-consciously with one hand. “My grandmother can be a little extreme.”
“Right…” Tony said, one eyebrow raised. What did he care if that was the story the guy wanted to go with? “See you around, McGeek.”
Tony continued on to his own car, ignoring the muttered “It’s McGee” behind him. He felt more relaxed than he had in quite some time, even while he was using up his vacation days. It was nice to talk to someone, really talk to them, not just exchange fake pleasantries with the other detectives or yell at a suspect for whatever crime of the day.
“You stalking me?” he asked, caught between teasing and suspicion. “That’s illegal, you know.”
McGee over, eyebrows raised. “You really think I don’t have better things to do with my time?” he asked. “Like, anything?”
“Hey, I’m very stalkable! And why else would you be here?” Tony asked. A thought was itching at the back of his mind, the same that had told him when they first met that McGee looked familiar, but he still couldn’t quite place it.
“Maybe because I live here?” McGee said with a shrug, pocketing his keys and starting toward the complex. Tony followed, eyebrows furrowed as memories of looking out the window onto the courtyard party started to return to him. “Just moved in last week. I don’t think I saw you at the party...”
“Yeah, never been my thing,” he said, though that wasn’t really true. He’d always been the party boy, never missing a chance to hang out and eat and drink and have fun, at least until the last couple of years. He’d been so tired by his job that things like parties just didn’t have as much appeal anymore.
“Really,” McGee said, like he didn’t quite believe it, but he didn’t press the point, and Tony couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of gratitude for that. “Well, maybe the next one? I hear there’s going to be a barbecue in a few weeks.”
They were both silent for a few moments, awkwardly trying to find another thread of conversation even as they stood in the hallway just in front of what Tony assumed was the door to McGee’s apartment. It had been a long time since he’d tried to have a non-work related conversation and, rather embarrassingly, he was pretty sure it showed.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow at work?” McGee finally asked, and Tony nodded, glad for an out.
“Sure. Catch you later, McGeek,” he said with a grin. The walk across the courtyard was quick, without the usual dread of returning to his empty apartment, and he went to bed that night thinking that maybe he’d just made a friend.
They usually didn’t see each other leaving in the mornings because McGee liked to pick up coffee before work, but they always saw each other for at least a little while during the day. The third day after they met, they started taking lunches together whenever they managed to both be free at the same time, which admittedly wasn’t all that often. And of course they walked to their cars together every evening.
It was the most stable relationship Tony had had in far too long.
They even hung out over the weekend, the time Tony had been hoarding as his precious alone time ever since he started at the precinct. McGee suggested playing video games, which Tony made sure to give him lots of shit over, but it turned out to be far more fun than he’d imagined. He almost felt like he was in college again, hanging out and drinking beer and having fun.
His little cocoon of content had to come apart at some point, he knew. It had to be some sort of curse that kept him from being really happy, or even from enjoying any nice things for too long. Whether it was his own self-sabotage or just general bad luck, he wasn’t really sure.
Thursday, a week and a half after his long weekend and meeting McGee for the first time, things came to a head. Harbold was being an asshole as usual, but after a bad night’s sleep and a series of small but obnoxious annoyances, it all just seemed too much. Tony managed to hold it together long enough to get to the cold case files room, a place that was almost always deserted, before he really lost it.
He hadn’t cried in years, longer ago than he could remember, but now he couldn’t seem to stop the tears. They seemed to tear from his chest, great painful bouts of sobbing that left his eyes and throat burning and his head pounding. It felt as if a weight was constricting his chest, making his breaths come fast and shallow. The pain and awfulness was so consuming that he didn’t realize at first that there was someone else in the room.
There was a touch on his shoulder, and he flinched back instinctively, trying to wipe his face, for all the good it would do since whoever it was had already seen. He was pressed uncomfortably against a filing cabinet, expecting at any moment to hear laughter and mocking.
“Hey, hey, it’s ok, just breathe.”
Tony turned, eyes wide and still burning, to see McGee squatting beside him. The other man’s face was scrunched up in worry, hands out like he wanted to touch again but wasn’t sure he should. Something soft and warm settled in the pit of Tony’s stomach at the realization that someone actually cared about him.
“What… what are you doing here?” he asked between gulps of air trying to force himself to calm down. He’d embarrassed himself enough.
“Came to check on you,” McGee admitted, flushing a little. “I saw Harbold yelling and you weren’t looking so good. Thought you could use a friend and… I guess I was right.”
Tony snorted bitterly. “I could use a new job,” he said, voice still hoarse from his earlier bout of crying. “And a new life.”
“I don’t think I can help with either of those things, but maybe a break instead?” McGee asked, finally reaching out to help Tony to his feet. He steadied him when he swayed, then led him over to a chair in the corner. “I’ll be right back. Just… try to relax?”
“Sure, sure,” Tony said, waving a hand vaguely at him. He didn’t have the energy to wonder where McGee was going.
It only took a few minutes for McGee to return, a bottle of water and Tony’s jacket in hand. He waved off Tony’s questions, just guiding him out to the parking lot. Thankfully they went out the back way, a longer but quieter route, and somehow managed to not run into anyone else.
They took McGee’s car because Tony was still too shaky to be trusted driving. The drive was quiet, which Tony appreciated. He needed the time to breathe and think and concentrate on not freaking out. He’d done way more of that today than he’d ever wanted to do, especially in front of someone else. Maybe even especially in front of McGee.
Tony hadn’t thought when they first met that he’d be friends with McGee. And to be honest he wasn’t sure how they’d become friends, but they had. McGee was a geek, the kind of person Tony had always looked down on and mocked, but he never just took Tony’s shit. McGee gave as good as he got once he got comfortable, and Tony found he really liked that. Plus, McGee was pretty cute, in a dorky sort of way that Tony hadn’t even known he liked.
When they arrived at the apartment complex, McGee helped Tony across the courtyard to his apartment, unlocking the door for him when Tony couldn’t quite manage it himself. Even then, McGee didn’t make Tony feel like a burden, though Tony knew he had to be causing the other man trouble. They’d both left work early and now Tony couldn’t even manage something as simple as a door by himself.
He tried not to think about how pathetic that made him.
Late in the afternoon, Tony managed to pull himself out of bed and scour the kitchen for something edible. There weren’t many choices since he wasn’t actually there very often except for weekends, just a stale bag of chips, some granola bars, and a half gallon of milk on the verge of expiring. Not exactly gourmet, or even good.
A knock on his door startled him from his examination of the cabinets. No one knocked on his door, not ever. And why would they? He wasn’t exactly a popular guy. The only person he could think of that would bother was McGee.
He opened the door to find exactly that. McGee was standing in the hallway, a tentative smile on his face and a flier in his hand
“Hey, you’re looking a little better,” McGee said, smile broadening.
“Don’t have anything if I don’t have my looks,” Tony replied, smiling back with more sincerity than he’d felt just a few minutes more. He stepped aside, letting the other man into his apartment.
McGee snorted. “Must be feeling better, too, if you’re joking,” he said, sounding pleased.
“Who’s joking?” Tony felt happy at the laugh that it elicited. “So what’re you doing here? Just checking up on me?”
“That and wanted to see if you were coming tonight,” he said. At Tony’s blank look, he shook his head. “The barbecue I told you about? They’re setting up right now.”
“Oh,” Tony said, feeling suddenly frantic. He’d never been to any of the social events before and hadn’t planned on ever going, but then again, no one had ever personally asked him. And this was McGee, looking so hopeful. “Sure, I guess.”
McGee looked genuinely excited that Tony was going to come down and socialize. They might not have known each other for long, but even McGee knew that that was a big deal. Even more, he might not know that it was all his doing.
“Thanks,” Tony said softly, and on impulse leaned forward and planted a kiss on McGee’s slack lips.
McGee- should probably be Tim, now, Tony thought- blinked at him as he pulled back. “What… what was that?”
Tony shrugged, wondering why he wasn’t freaking out more. He’d kissed his coworker and friend, possibly his only friend. But somehow it had seemed like the right thing to do right now. They’d clicked when they first met and this, this was just the natural progression. “Seemed like the thing to do,” he finally answered.
“So… are you serious?” Tim asked, eyes narrowed. “Or is this some kind of bad joke or post-panic attack confusion.”
“You know, I think it might be serious.” Tony hoped that wasn’t Tim figuring out if he needed to reject him. “Or at least as serious as I can be.”
Tim nodded, and for a moment Tony thought the rejection might be coming, but then Tim smiled. It was the happiest, most intimate smile Tony’d seen on the other man’s face, and something inside him turned warm at the thought that he was the reason behind it. He wasn’t sure he’d made anyone look like that before.
“I’ll take that. Just no funny business at work.”
“No promises,” Tony said with a grin. It earned him a playful punch to the shoulder, but it was worth it. “So… barbecue?”
“Barbecue,” Tim repeated, turning toward the door. “And then after, I think some making out like college kids.”
Tony could definitely live with that.