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Keys—check. Wallet—check. Condoms—triple check. Tony smiles, hey you never know. Tony spares a moment to peek at his hair in the mirror, raising his upper lip to make sure the quick bite of Fruity Pebbles he'd eaten after he'd brushed his teeth hadn't decided to stick around for a while. Satisfied with his appearance, Tony steps back to get a longer view. He smiles at his reflection one more time, bouncing in anticipation as he scurries for the door. He throws it wide open, only to pause in surprise at what he sees lingering beside the railing of his third storey apartment.

"Hey," the word is startled out of him at seeing his partner outside his door at 11:45 on a Saturday night.

"Hey," his Probie replies back, straightening his posture and bringing Tony's attention directly to Tim's attire—light blue shirt that Abby once rightly said brought out his eyes and black pants that leave almost nothing to the imagination. "You have a minute?" Tim finally asks as if he's been waiting for Tony to finish appraising him, though Tim never lifts his gaze.

Tony lifts his eyebrows at the ridiculousness of the question—he's about to get laid, after all, Georgia's almost always a sure thing—but his comeback dies in his throat as he watches Tim chew on his lower lip and not quite meet his eye.

"Yeah," Tony answers, stepping aside to let Tim know with his body as well as his words that he's welcome inside Tony's home.

Tim nods in awkward thanks as he steps across the threshold. Tony listens to him shuffle behind him as he slowly shuts the door, locking it by habit as soon as it clicks against the doorframe. He turns back to face his friend, his back against the solid door behind him, the horny part of him suddenly impatient for Tim to spit it out so Tony can get on with his night.

Another ten seconds of silence pass between them, but to Tony, it feels like long minutes. "You here for a reason or just to ruin my Saturday night?" he attacks, and it is an attack rather than the friendly banter that they usually toss between them. But instead of the hurt eyes and pouty lip he's half dreading, half anticipating, he watches as Tim blankly blinks up at him. "Or maybe you'd like to come with me?" Tony challenges, knowing Tim will say 'no,' just like he has every single time—okay both times—Tony's asked him before.

Tim's head tilts just a touch to the right, and his eyes finally focus on Tony's. "Okay," Tim breathes as if gathering his courage.

Tony raises his eyebrows, speechless for half a second while he processes the reply. His eyes skirt down to Tim's attire once again, noting that Tim's clothes are actually club appropriate and very unlike Tim's usual choices—even Tim's normal "dating" apparel. Tony furrows his brow. "Okay," he responds, mind spinning as he reconsiders his plans for the evening. Next time, Georgia, Tony thinks with surprisingly little regret as he watches Tim straighten his shoulders once more.

"You ready?" Tim asks, tilting his head toward the door.

"Yeah," Tony unlocks the latch and swings the door open, "Are you ready?" he stalls Tim with a hand flat on his chest as the other man reaches the door.

"Yep," Tim responds, sealing his lips together at that stubborn angle that sets across his features from time to time.

Tony wraps his arm across his Probie's back and grins at him. Tim's eyes give in first, the mischievous glint that's flickered to life too rarely lately—especially after his recent break-up with Maxine—lighting up his eyes before his mouth turns up in a smile to answer Tony's.

Tony lets Tim go in order to catch and lock the door behind them. Grins still broad on both their faces, the two friends walk shoulder to shoulder down the hall.

 


 

Tim ditches his white wine fifteen minutes into the evening and orders a shot of tequila and a rum and coke. He chugs both drinks down in minutes and waits a few more for them to start taking effect. For once, he just wants his mind to stop moving, to stop processing.

He doesn't bother looking for Tony, who'd disappeared into the crowd minutes after they arrived but who Tim knows is keeping tabs on him nonetheless. Instead, Tim watches the ladies as they come and go at the bar, dismissing all of them who have black hair out of hand.

Tim smiles at a light-haired brunette as she approaches the bar beside him for the second time in ten minutes. She catches Tim's eye and smiles back, dropping her head and then quickly looking up to him again. When she angles her body Tim's way, he can't but wonder what Tony would do right now if it were him she was eyeing. Before she can catch the bartender's eye, and more importantly, before he can second guess himself, Tim sweeps his fingers across her wrist, flirting with her pulse. He tilts his head toward the dance floor beside them, not saying a word. She licks her lips, twists her fingers around to meet his, and lets him lead her out to the floor.

He shoulders a couple people aside to form a little space beneath the flickering strobe lights. Borrowing a bit of Tony's confidence along the way, he pulls the pretty stranger's body into his own. He lets his hips move against her, feeling her move with him as he does. She grins and lets him lead. She moves her body with his, sometimes in counterpoint, sometimes in tandem. He grins back at the tease and lowers his lips to her jaw, not knowing if he'll be welcome or not. Not caring whether she'll slap him across the face or invite his touch. She doesn't smack him. Instead, she tilts her neck up to greet him. Her breath catches the second his teeth hit the tendon below her ear. Her hands glide from his shoulders to his neck and into his hair, sending prickles of sensation down his spine as her fingernails part his hair at ten different points.

His lips lead the way to her collarbone, stopping for a nibble just beneath it before tonguing his way toward her cleavage. She arches her back, pushing her stomach against his dick, and yanks his head up to hers so she can kiss the hell out of him.

He moans into her lips, losing himself in the sensation of her tongue moving inside his mouth and against his. It feels so good… And so empty. He doesn't even know her name. He doesn't even know the sound of her voice. He pulls his lips away from hers, gasping as he does. She follows his mouth for a moment, grinning at what she must think is his teasing. She opens her eyes, smile still on her face. He doesn't know what she sees when she looks at him, but she frowns right away.

"I have to go," he says, not knowing if she can hear him over the thrum of the melody and the drive of the beat.

Her eyes narrow, but her disappointment is short-lived. She starts moving with the couple behind her the moment Tim pushes his way from her through the crowd.

He makes it to the door, dodging couples and crowds and one obvious threesome on the stairs. He bypasses the lower dance floor and pushes out through the main exit. He takes a deep breath, appreciating the room to move more than he realized he would. He walks near the blinking lights that advertise the Fur nightclub Tony's taken him to. He moves away from the flickering of that dim blue, down the rows of cars to find Tony's Mustang. He sits on the trunk, knowing Tony'll bitch at him if he sees him doing it, but not really caring.

He's not sure how long he sits out there, just breathing, before he feels a light hand on his shoulder. He doesn't start, knowing instinctively that it's Tony behind him. Tony squeezes his shoulder, crosses in front of him, and hops onto the trunk beside him.

They sit there silently for maybe a minute, listening to the music spilling from the club and stretching toward them.

"You left a pretty hot chick wanting back there, Probie," Tony finally gives in and talks first, and Tim knows that Tony speaks as much because he can't stand the silence as because he wants to know the answer to the question he doesn't quite ask.

Tim shrugs, not knowing what to say.

"You had some slick moves there," Tony continues the conversation. "Must have been watching me more closely than I thought," he finishes and bumps Tim's shoulder.

It's enough to get a breath of a laugh out of him. "Must have," he lifts a single eyebrow and smirks. Tony smiles back, but the worry lines between his eyes are thicker than usual.

Tim sighs and looks away, knowing he owes Tony an explanation for crashing his night out, but not sure how to fully communicate the situation to him. "I broke up with Maxine."

Tony nods at the old news. It had been over a week and a half after all, and Tony had weaseled the information out of him after only a few days.

"A couple days before Maxine and I broke up," he sighs again, hating the words about to come out of his mouth. "Abby and I—she said…I mean I thought she was really ready to—" he shakes his head at his own stupidity. "The things Abby told me," Tim continues haltingly. "I thought it was finally our time, so I said goodbye to Maxine." Tim bites his lip, reconsidering his actions for the thousandth time, telling himself once again that he and Maxine couldn't have possibly gone anywhere in the long run, not really. Not with how readily he was willing to cast her off at the mere chance that Abby might want him. Still, it cuts him so deeply in this moment that he threw away something real and good for that vague possibility Abby teased him with one late night in her lab. But it's even more than this.

"I used to love being in love with Abby," Tim confides. "Even when I was pretty sure nothing would come of it, she could still make me feel like the most important person in the world sometimes, and it seemed like it was enough." He bites his tongue but opens his mouth anyway. "I want it to stop. I don't want to come to hate her," he whispers to Tony, "and I'm afraid I will. I'm just so tired of waiting for her to love me back, and I…I know now that she's not ever going to." Tim purses his lips. "Not the way I love her anyway."

Tony sighs next to him and slings an arm around his shoulders, and a part of Tim that was hoping, even still, that Abby might change her mind, dies a little when Tony doesn't even bother to try to contradict him. Tim closes his eyes and leans into Tony, just for a minute.

"I'm sorry, man," Tony finally says and squeezes his shoulder. Tim takes that as his cue to sit back up, pressing against Tony's warmth for only one more moment before he does.

Tony drops his arm, and Tim sees him lean back on it from the corner of his eye. "I bet that brunette's just waiting for you to come back."

He looks over to find Tony grinning in his direction. "Yeah," Tim chuffs and rolls his eyes away.

Tony chuckles and shakes his head. "Okay, so maybe not the brunette," and just like that Tim feels Tony's eyes burning into him. "But there are a lot of women here tonight. I bet you could have your pick."

Tim glances up, surprised, but when his eyes meet Tony's again, he can see the sincerity in the other man's gaze. It is perhaps the most flattering compliment Tony's ever paid him, not because he's implying Tim is attractive or good with women, but because Tony is so obviously placing Tim on par with himself.

Tim can't help the blush that starts on his neck and spreads across his face. "Thanks, Tony," he says even as he hears his partner's soft laughter, "but I'm not so sure I'm meant for this sort of thing."

"So why come out tonight?" Tony asks, the look on his face genuinely curious. "Why not keep going to poetry readings at coffeehouses or those geekfest conventions that are always coming to town?"

Tim can't help but to smile even as he worries over his lip. "I've wanted to fall in love and get married since I was pretty young," he confides, and even though he's pretty sure Tony's always known this about him either by inference or instinct, Tim feels odd admitting it now. "Well, I've been in love for a long time, and I'm not going to marry her, so I'm ready for something else," he finishes and looks back at Tony.

"So why are we out here when we could be making time with some hot chicks?" Tony asks, his eyes holding Tim's, but there's not much of a question in his gaze or his voice, so Tim knows Tony understands without being told. Tim says the words anyway:

"I guess I've always wanted it to mean something when I went to bed with somebody," he blushes and can't help but to look away as he says.

"Hey," Tony bumps his shoulder. "There's nothing wrong with that." He tilts his head, "And besides, you don't have to go to bed with somebody just to have a good time."

Tim raises both eyebrows at Tony, who shrugs somewhat sheepishly. "Can't argue with an altar boy like you, can I?" Tim grins at Tony.

"Yeah, yeah," Tony waves an arm and slides off the car, but he's grinning right back. He offers a hand to Tim. "So what are you waiting for?" he asks.

Tim takes the hand, and Tony jerks him hard, practically catapulting him off the car. Even still, Tony helps him keep his balance, ensuring that Tim'll land on his feet.

"Jackass." Tim smacks the back of Tony's head.

"You know you love it," Tony declares.

"Whatever," Tim comes back and immediately bumps Tony's shoulder as they walk towards the club again.

They both end up going home alone that night, but when Tony drops him off, he smiles at Tim like he doesn't mind at all.

Chapter Text

Tim's very subdued at work the next week, and even Tony's teasing can't quite lure him out. Tony doesn't worry, okay not really, because he knows Tim's not upset so much as he's thinking, and Tony knows that Tim tends to think in an almost violently quiet sort of way.

But it's not just Tony who's aware of Tim's mood. Ziva and Gibbs both watch Tim with a certain intensity that even Tim himself, in his violently thinking mode, seems to notice. Both Gibbs and Ziva try to catch Tony's eye as if they know he knows what's going on, which…alright he does, but he thinks the glares he starts getting by Tuesday are completely uncalled for. It's Wednesday afternoon when Gibbs finally corners Tony in the elevator.

"What's going on?" Gibbs demands as soon as he flicks the emergency stop.

"What do you mean?" Tony gives Gibbs his most innocent look.

Gibbs glares at him a moment before taking the one and a half steps necessary to slap Tony in the back of the head.

Tony winces, more for effect than anything else. "Thank you, Boss."

"What," Gibbs enunciates carefully this time, "is wrong with McGee?"

"Oh," Tony squints, "that," he emphasizes, then shuffles two feet away to the other side of the elevator when he sees the irritation on Gibbs' face.

"You know something," Gibbs leads, circling his hand toward Tony in a gesture of scary encouragement.

Tony pauses, unsure if Tim told him what he did in confidence or not. Gibbs seems to get Tony's new hesitation right away.

"Is he okay for the field?" Gibbs asks more gently this time.

"Yes," Tony answers without delay because he would never lie about such a thing when it came to his Probie.

Gibbs relaxes his shoulders. A bit. "Does he need help?" Gibbs asks, and Tony can see what it costs Boss to ask, knows that it really bothers Gibbs that Tim doesn't come to him.

"He's already got it," Tony promises them both. "It's not—" Tony winces this time without affectation. "The reason he's down…it's related to Maxine, and he just needs cheering up."

Tony's certain that Gibbs can read right through the half truth, but he doesn't call him on it. Instead, Gibbs' shoulders relax all the way, seeming to understand the facts Tony presents are the gist of the problems even if the details are fuzzy.

"We went out on Saturday," Tony offers, more sure of the appropriateness of his words. "We'll probably go out again this weekend," he continues, even though he and Tim had never talked about any such thing. But Tony knows Tim needs this time together, and maybe, Tony acknowledges to himself, maybe he needs it too.

"Out?" Gibbs questions. "You went out? To a bar?"

Tony nods. "Well, a club, yeah."

Gibbs nods and can't quite hide the grin from his face as he moves back and releases the emergency switch. He tilts his head to the side and back to center. "Whatever works," he offers his approval and walks off the elevator and back onto their floor.

Ziva lifts her head out of her cubicle like a prairie dog scanning for danger as soon as both men step back into the office, her features a mix of curiosity and concern. Tony offers her a smile to reassure her, just realizing how worried she's been about McGee. She smiles back, a little reluctantly, but then she looks to Gibbs, who nods just slightly at the question in her eyes. Ziva relaxes back into her chair as the two men round the corner back to their cubicle.

Tony glances towards Probie, who seems to have been oblivious throughout the whole exchange.

"Abby should have the results on those fibers by now," Gibbs declares once he rounds his desk, though he stays standing. "McGee," Gibbs bellows, and Tony can feel the sudden anxiety radiating from Tim five feet away in anticipation of Boss' next order. It's not until Gibbs looks back over to Tony, though, that Tony realizes he, himself, has been shaking his head almost violently in warning. Gibbs pauses and blinks before looking down to his desk in a rare moment of indecision, and okay, maybe Tony can see where Boss was going with that thought considering Abby's usually the first person Tim goes to when he's upset, but oooh—Tony clenches his fingers and winces—bad idea. "What's the progress on the plate search?" Gibbs finally asks, and Tony feels a tiny bit of the tension leave his shoulders.

"Uh," Tim stutters, and Tony looks over at him. "Almost done, Boss," Tim reports and slumps in his chair, not so much that most people would notice, but certainly obvious enough for Gibbs' practiced eye to see that McGee wants to avoid Abby.

"Stay on it," Gibbs reaches down for his coffee, "and get some more information on the ex-wife when you're done," Gibbs assigns Tim a job that would usually be Tony's. "DiNozzo!" Gibbs hollers, and Tony turns to find a very pissed off Gibbs glaring right at him. "Go down and see what Abby has," he orders, eyes boring through Tony like only Gibbs' eyes can.

"Right away, Boss," Tony winces and even through Gibbs's glare and Ziva's renewed curiosity, Tony can feel Tim's relief in the small sigh Tony can barely hear coming from Probie's side of the room. Tony glances McGee's way before making his way to the stairs—not wanting to get caught in the elevator with Gibbs again—and there's a tiny smile that stretches across Tim's face the moment Tony catches his eye. Maybe it's not so bad that Gibbs is mad at him, Tony thinks. At least he thinks so until he looks back up at Gibbs, at which point Tony very manfully hustles out of the room.

"Hey, Tony," Abby greets him with that mixture of affection and enthusiasm that Tony loves about her the second he steps into her lab.

"Hey, Abs," he smiles at her, feeling that affection directed right back her way.

"I don't have anything, yet," she shakes her head and purses her lips as if to contain the smile that spreads across them. "Gibbs would know that," she teases.

"Gibbs," Tony retorts right back, "is the one who sent me down."

"No!" Abby gasps, eyes wide in alarm. "Is he losing his Gibbs-ometer?"

Tony squints, his returning smile teasing a new one back to Abby's face. "I think you can rest assured, Abs. Gibbs' spidey-sense is still intact. He just wanted me out of his hair for awhile. There may have been something mentioned about juvenile pranks," Tony just barely skirts a direct lie because, hey—there may not have been something mentioned about juvenile pranks, too—and shakes his head as if to show the ridiculousness of the idea.

Abby nods and scrunches her features, "And we all know you're not capable of that!" she teases.

"Of course not!" he declares. "Everyone knows how mature I am." He slips his eyes down her body in both a sincere appreciation and a practiced distraction.

Abby's already grinning back at him when his eyes reach her lips. But Tony's smile falters when he catches her eye again. He quickly glances to the nearest screen, not sure if she caught his uncertainty.

"So what have we got here?" he redirects Abby's energies, hopefully before she can begin to wonder about what might have upset him. He pretends to listen, knowing from much practice when to smile and nod, when to tease, but his mind's totally distracted by what he just did.

Tony hadn't given it a thought when he teased Abby with his eyes, and he doubts she did either, but what if it was something that bothered Tim whenever he saw Tony do it? What if he'd made Tim doubt himself because of the little flirtatious things he did with Abby? What if Tim thought that just because Tony's flirtation with Abby didn't mean anything that other men's flirtations with her didn't mean anything either, and it kept him pining for her that much longer?

Tony smiles at Abby and teases her a little less than he usually does as she goes through her latest science-y spiel. He doesn't want her to think she's done something wrong, but he hates the idea that he's hurt Tim by the way he normally interacts with Abby. What if Tim genuinely thinks Tony had planned to or had even tried to sleep with Abby? What if Tim thinks Tony has been with her? The idea bothers him so much he has to make his excuses and leave. Jogging up the stairs, he feels the need to confess everything to Tim, to let him know nothing has happened or would ever happen between Abby and him. But how can Tony bring that up without reopening the wound that had never had a chance to heal?

Surely Tim would have told him if something had bothered him that much, Tony tries to reason with himself even as he knows how blatantly untrue the very idea is. Tim hates sharing his problems with anyone, hates letting people know what bothers him, hates showing any sign of weakness at all. In that way Tim's the most like Gibbs of all of them. Tony pauses on the last flight of stairs and sits smack in the middle of the stairwell.

"Fuck," he finally says to himself. "Just fuck," Tony sighs and runs his fingers through his hair.

Chapter Text

Thursday morning brings a new case. Body in Rock Creek Park. Part of Tim sighs and thinks, again, seriously? But he doesn't speak a word when Gibbs orders them to grab their gear. Even when Gibbs directs McGee into the car with him while Tony and Ziva take the van, McGee just raises his eyebrows and ducks his head. Gibbs never wants Tim in the car with him, which means he knows something's up, and with the way Gibbs has avoided sending McGee to Abby's lab all week, he must have at least an inkling that it has to do with Abby.

McGee dreads the idea of talking to Boss about his relationship with Gibbs' favorite teammate. Still, part of Tim can't help but be flattered, okay maybe even excited, that Gibbs has taken an interest in what's going on in Tim's personal life. Or, Tim reconsiders, maybe Gibbs is just irritated that Tim is so upset with Abby that Gibbs feels like he has to make special arrangements for Tim to keep the team working. Tim winces at the new idea. It seems more realistic than the first one.

Gibbs doesn't exactly do small talk, usually just listening to the conversations in the car on the way to wherever they're going unless and until it starts to irritate him. Though the quiet between them seems oppressive, McGee bites his tongue against the urge to fill it with idle chatter, not knowing what might come out of his mouth under Gibbs' knowing stare and not wanting to give Gibbs another reason to get upset with him. Gibbs has always reacted very strongly to Abby, has always taken her side in any argument between her and Tim, and Tim is just not willing to get pulled down further by whatever Gibbs might have to say about the situation.

The only words spoken in the car are details of the case that Gibbs relays from the phone call or McGee finds in their databases. The quiet almost seems to get to Gibbs himself. McGee notices from the corner of his eye how the older man shifts a couple times in his seat after the silence goes for long minutes between them.

Tim breathes a sigh of relief once the dead body comes into view just off the main road that runs through the park. He feels guilty immediately upon having the thought but can't help the feeling of release that comes over him the second he steps out of the car.

Gibbs sets the team to work right away, and McGee makes his way to the back of the van to carry out his share of the equipment. He passes Ziva, her brow wrinkled as they walk past one another without a word. Tony's still lingering at the back door of the vehicle when Tim arrives. It's obvious Tony's delayed walking over to the crime scene in order to wait for him.

"Okay?" Tony asks, still securing the sketching kit in the floor of the van.

"Yep," Tim responds, grabbing the last two bags without any concern except a narrowed focus for his assigned task.

"Gibbs say anything?" Tony asks with forced casualness.

McGee tilts his head in curiosity, something about Tony's posture suddenly making him wonder if the whole team's been talking about him all week. "Should he have?"

"Nope," DiNozzo looks him straight in the eye to say.

Tim looks right back at him. "Huh," he acknowledges the lie but looks away and lets it go.

Tony grabs his arm just above the wrist. "Hey."

Tim turns his head to look at the other man. "Yeah?"

And Tony opens his mouth, but he doesn't say another word, and yet that doesn't even matter because suddenly Tim can see Tony's concern and affection for him written all over his face.

Tim ducks his head, suddenly warmed under Tony's stare. Tim clears his throat and lifts his chin. "You're not worried about me or anything, are you?" McGee smirks at Tony, eyebrow raising all on its own.

Tony squints and stares at him another minute before lifting his hand from where it rests on Tim's forearm to smack him in the back of the head.

"You wish, McEgo," Tony smirks right back at him, but there's no sting to Tony's words at all.

Tim smiles for real then, arguing with Tony about whose turn it is to buy lunch as they walk over to where Ducky's already examining the body. Tony steals the fingerprint kit from one of Tim's bags and runs off before Tim can reach him. McGee gets stuck with sketching, which Tony is really much better suited for but knows Tim hates to do. Still, it's not even five minutes later that Tony yields the kit and takes over sketching, telling 'McButterfingers' he's doing it all wrong. Tim grins at Tony's lame excuse for switching but the new nickname starts them on a discussion of the best candy bar ever. Tim's all for Snickers, but Tony scoffs at him and claims the title for Toblerones, which starts a new argument as to whether imported chocolate is really better than domestic.

Tim gets so lost in the conversation he almost doesn't notice the way Gibbs and Ziva keep looking at him and Tony and then glancing at each other, near smiles on both staid faces. McGee watches them in puzzlement for another moment but then Tony maligns the Hershey brand, and it is so on.

Chapter Text

While Tony technically had an entire week to ask McGee if he wanted to come out with him again this Saturday night, Tony figures that, in practice, the less time Tim has to mull it over, the less nervous, read: neurotic, he's likely to be at the prospect.

By the time Saturday night rolls around again, Tony's thought it over and formulated a decisive strategy for their night out. First off, he plans to drive over to McGee's and taunt him from his kitchen and eat all his Dino cereal until Tim gets ready to go out for the night. Second, he intends to take Tim to a much less crowded club, almost a casual bar really, and get them both laid no matter what.

Tony's sure his insistence on the getting-Tim-laid thing has absolutely nothing to do with his own new understanding of his own flirtation with Abby, but just in case Tim has noticed Tony trying to avoid Abby as much as Tim himself has tried to avoid her this week, it's better to instill the fact that wanting to get Tim laid has absolutely nothing to do with any such thing, so best to stay away from dark haired, tattooed women, or really, anybody Goth.

However, Tony is waylaid from his first step when he gets a knock at the door, this time at 11 o'clock. Tony opens the door with a quirk of his head to find a bashful McGee just outside it.

He has to fight to keep the smile from his face. "Well, come in already," Tony yanks him inside then very obviously examines Tim's choice of clothing—tight blue jeans this time with a green button down and black leather jacket—both hot and cool. Tony approves, but still sighs, "You'll do, I guess."

The way Tim grins as Tony turns back to continue his own routine makes Tony think he hasn't quite kept Tim from knowing how impressed he is by the look.

"The saleswoman said green was a good color for me," Tim confides.

Tony turns back to Tim and shrugs, but finally sees he has to concede, "Well, I wouldn't completely disagree," he offers grudgingly, but the admission is totally worth it when it makes Tim smile once again.

Tony walks back towards his bathroom. Red isn't quite what he was going for after all, he decides, and takes off his shirt as he walks. He sees a flash of movement in the bathroom mirror in front of him as he pulls the shirt above his head, but when he turns around, he just sees Tim nervously fiddling with the remote where Tony'd left it on the back of the couch.

It takes Tony another half hour to finish getting ready. Every time Tim whines at him for being a girl about his hair, Tony not so subtly declares how obvious it is that Tim hasn't spent much time on his own hair. It must get to the younger man because Tim starts fiddling around above his collar in the hallway mirror just as Tony finishes donning a black silk shirt that always gets him good looks and hot eyes from the ladies.

"Come here!" Tony demands finally, not able to bear watching the travesty atop McGee's head any longer. Tim shuffles over to him, snarking at Tony and pretending not to be grateful, but Tony can see the obvious thanks in Tim's eyes as Tony shares his product and styling skills with his Probie.

It's a couple minutes after midnight when they finally get on their way. They decide to take a cab. Tim doesn't bother contradicting Tony when he directs the driver to the club he has in mind, trusting Tony completely with their destination. It's a good feeling, the confidence Tim seems to have in him, but Tony tries not to read too much into it.

Tim isn't quite tense as they approach the club, but he noticeably relaxes as he sees the patrons coming and going and seems to note there's a lot less of them here than at last week's club. He smiles at Tony as they leave the taxi and walk to the small line at the entrance.

Tony leads them both to the bar as soon as they walk in. He buys a quick fuck and an orgasm for each of them. The bartender glares at them for ordering four layered drinks, but it's worth it when it gets him the smirk from Tim that he's shooting for as they down the alcohol. Tony smiles and gives the bartender a little bit of an extra tip.

Tim keeps to the bar for the first hour or so, just like last week, just until the booze kick in. He flirts with a couple girls, dances with them. At least one looks interested enough to want to go home with him, but Tim walks away from all of them, always going back to the bar every once in a while until he finds Tony and catches his eye. Then Tim moves off again to flirt and dance and tease, which he does much more admirably than Tony has ever given him credit for before. Still, the plan was getting them both laid and although events are going very well for him at the moment, it doesn't look quite so good for the Probie.

"I've seen your eyes on him all night," Tony's dance partner—Dana—whispers in his ear. "Do you know him?" she asks, voice still as sultry as the moment she said hello.

Tony turns his attention back to Dana, apology in his eyes. "Sorry, I normally wouldn't be able to keep my eyes off a girl like you," he leans in to tickle her earlobe as he speaks. "He's a good friend of mine." Tony pulls away just slightly for effect. "I've just been," he licks his lips, "a little worried about him."

Dana licks her lips right back to him, her breath hitching. "How," she clears her throat as delicately as can possibly be done. "How good a friend is he?" She's breathing harder now, her voice a bit higher than before.

Tony immediately hones in on the possibilities opening up. Is it a good idea? But then how else is the Probie going to get laid? Tim won't spend more than twenty minutes with a single woman, no matter how much they're panting for him. And it's not as if Tony's never shared a woman with a buddy before. It's just that it's so intimate, and, in some ways, he already knows Tim a lot better than he'd ever known his frat buddies, and Tim surely knows him a lot better than anyone from college. And they'd be watching each other have sex…listening, maybe even talking about it later. There's no reason for it, but Tony finds his own breath hitching at the thought. "He's a very good friend," Tony emphasizes finally.

Dana swallows hard and rubs against him just a little harder. "How about, I go freshen up," she suggests, even more breathy than before, "and you bring your friend over so we can dance and maybe go somewhere and," she pauses, meaningfully, "talk."

He grins at her and grips her a little bit tighter before he lets her go. "I knew you looked like someone who had great ideas," he declares and kisses her neck.

She flushes and grins. "Come right back," he just barely hears, and isn't sure if it's a promise or an order.

"Rrowr," he pulls her in for one more kiss before they part.

Tony spots his Probie at the bar immediately. His eyes are already on Tony and there's a look of resignation on his face. Tony's brow furrows a little, but his pace is swift as he makes his way over to the younger man.

Tim turns away from Tony and back to his drink, even though it's obvious Tony is coming over to him. "You are not going to believe this!" Tony says jubilantly, horniness refusing to be deterred even by Tim's lack of excitement, but then, Tony rethinks, how can Tim be excited when he doesn't even know what's going on yet? Doubts settled, Tony pounds Tim on the back excitedly with both fists the second he's in range.

"You found someone to go home with," Tim says, resigned.

"Nope," Tony smiles, big and wide and pokes Tim in the chest. "I found someone for us to go home with!" He finishes with a flourish and leans back against the bar.

Tim looks up at him with wide eyes and stutters, "W-What?"

For the first time, Tony really doubts the idea. Maybe he shouldn't have been so quick to agree. Maybe he should have considered Tim's reaction a little more, or, you know, at all. "Have you," Tony damn near stutters back, "I mean you must have shared a girl with a friend, at least in college or something!" Tony declares, but of course Tim hasn't. What the hell was he thinking?

Tim swallows hard. "You mean, you have?"

"Yeah," Tony shrugs self-consciously, not quite understanding why it seems like such a big deal to Tim, but then Tim's never wanted to be with a woman he didn't love or, at least, could fall in love with. Tony should have thought of that before.

"I—" Tim blinks at him like a deer in headlights. "Okay, let's do it," he answers just when Tony's ready to shuffle the whole conversation backward.

"Yeah?" Tony breathes, relieved. "Are you sure you're okay with it?" Tony feels his brows furrow back into concern even as he feels his heart start beating faster.

"Well," Tim licks his lips. "You know what you're doing, right?" he asks, and it's not only Tim's words, but his fingers too, light on Tony's arm, that make Tony smile wide and chuckle, low and deep.

"Oh, Probie, I definitely know what I'm doing," he agrees readily.

Tim grins back with a gonna-get-laid look that every guy's got even as he bashfully ducks his head.

"Come over and meet her," Tony pulls at Tim's jacket with two light fingers, a mirror of the touch Tim just gave him. "Her name is Dana."

"Ahh," Tim nods as if that makes everything make sense, his grin still plastered across his features.

Never in his life has Tony felt so good about the idea of sharing something so intimate with another man. He smiles at Tim and elbows him just a little. Tim elbows him back a little harder but it's a good pain and worth the jab either way to see Tim's face come level with his own and stay that way.

They wait by the pillar Tony and Dana had been dancing near. Tim slowly starts moving to the music, and he's not bad, but Tony could definitely show him a few moves. Before he can taunt Tim, he spots Dana stepping towards them from his left, biting her lip and breathing hard. Fuck this is going to be good, Tony thinks.

"Tim, Dana. Dana, Tim," he offers the brief introduction.

"Hey," Tim steps towards her, and if he offers her his hand, Tony can totally not be held accountable for his actions. But the Probie does Tony proud, lifting his hand to just above Dana's ear and tracing it down her body until he places both his agile hands at her waist.

And man Tony loves the way she shivers under Tim's hands. Tony steps up behind her and pushes her pretty brown hair aside with one hand and pulls the loose shoulder of her shirt a bit closer to her elbow and kisses his way from her ear to her arm. Tim takes her lips, nipping and sucking in that dirty way Tony's seen him do. And then Tim breaks the kiss and meets Tony's eyes. He looks back to Dana and jerks his chin toward Tony. She turns her head, and it's Tony's turn to kiss her mouth. Tony just barely spies as Tim takes the opportunity to kiss down her chest to her cleavage, and now Tony has verification that Probie is definitely a breast man. Tony smiles against Dana's lips, and she smiles back. He leans a leg out, even knowing it's not going to be the right angle for her, but Probie picks up the slack and pulls his own leg up against her, lifting one of her thighs high around his and pressing her more tightly between the two of them.

"Oh!" she releases Tony's lips and her hot, high-pitched moan is pointed toward the ceiling. Tony takes the opportunity to nibble her neck again—loving the almost candied flavor that all women seem to have there—and Tim keeps moving his leg steadily against her short, flirty black skirt, right over her pussy, keeps lifting her thigh higher and higher each time until she has to be on her toes. And then she pulls both thighs up to wrap them around Tim's waist. Tony doesn't think Tim could have expected the weight so suddenly, and he moves his own hands to her ass to boost her up a little higher so she's supported by both Tim's legs and his.

Tim glances up when Tony shifts. Tony grins first and then they're smiling at each other. Once he knows Dana's weight is balanced between them, Tony slips one hand beneath her skirt to finger her there.

"Fuck, Tim, she took off her panties," Tony moans. "I love it when they do that!" he mumbles almost to himself.

Tim doesn't answer directly, but his hips jerk against Dana's which jerk back against Tony's.

"Fuck," Tony moans again, his fingers flying over Dana's clit with something like desperation.

"Oh! Oh!" she wails a little louder, a little higher, her hips jerking all over the place. Tony stills his fingers just as Tim stops the rocking motion against her.

"Oh!" she moans, just a little deeper now, and shudders as she slides down Tim's leg. She kisses Tim first, hard and quick, then reaches for Tony and does the same. She turns around, takes their arms, and leads them both to the door.

Tim briefly looks around as they leave, just seeming to realize they've been the main attraction on the floor for the last five minutes. Tony smiles when a saucy grin takes hold of Tim's face rather than the blush Tony'd been half-expecting.

The three of them crowd into the back of a small taxi, and Dana leans her head towards Tony and kicks off her shoes to tease her legs across Tim's lap. Tony obligingly tickles her neck with his mouth, kissing the same hot spots he found in the club, while he teases her breasts with both hands. Tony watches as Tim starts with her feet, slowly making her ache until Tony can feel it, until Tim teases her up to her thighs but won't reach between her legs no matter how shamelessly she spreads her knees apart.

They finally make it back to Tony's place, making out in the elevator in an awkward and oh-so-good game of cat and mouse or catch or maybe uno for all Tony can remember at this point. Dana locks lips with him, moves to Tim and back to Tony until they make it to the right floor.

Tony struggles with the key in his pocket, feeling Dana grab his thigh even as she's twisted this way and that by Probie's kisses. He finally gets the door open, leading Dana, who's still attached to Tim at the mouth, inside.

Tim relinquishes custody of Dana's mouth long enough to shut and lock the door, even securing the deadbolt before he turns back to the two of them. Dana's already gotten Tony's shirt off at this point and is tugging open his belt buckle with both hands, so Tony reaches for Tim and pulls him back to them. Tim grabs Tony's hand back for just a second before going to work on Dana's shirt and the strapless bra beneath it. He yanks her skirt all the way down to her feet and kisses her thighs and her ass with such intensity that Tony's going to have to revise the breast man thing—but later.

God, and Probie's still got his jacket on, Tony realizes once Tim stands back up. Tony reaches past Dana and curls his fingers beneath Probie's jacket, slowly sliding it from his shoulders. Tim lets the coat slip down, and then his eyes meet Tony's and there's so much heat and intensity it makes Tony shiver in surprise.

"Take your shirt off, Probie," Tony's almost breathless by the time he demands.

Tim obeys immediately, and man even that's fucking hot. But Tony's got no time to consider it further because Dana pulls his dick out of his pants—and this, people—is why he never wears underwear.

"Oh, yeah," he arches into her hand, her strokes smooth and sure and practiced. Guess I'm up first, Tony muses.

The three of them make it to the bedroom, and Tony loses her sweet hands when she turns to strip Probie from his pants and shorts. Tony kicks off his own pants while they're distracted.

The three of them tumble on the bed together. Tony waits for Tim to get up and watch or not watch, though he thinks Tim will watch—Tony knows he's going to watch either way, and maybe that's not the best thing to do with a co-worker, but on the other hand, Tony lives by the policy that live porn should never, ever, ever be turned down. But Probie doesn't budge from the bed, and when Tony turns to him and says his name, Tim grabs his neck, and pulls Tony down into a kiss. For a moment, Tony's too stunned to even move, but then he feels Tim's enthusiasm waning in the movements of his lips on Tony's mouth, imagines Tim's embarrassment at the misunderstanding, imagines forced conversations and stilted lunches, and Tony hates it all. He can't even stand the thought, and so before Tim can move away, Tony grabs Tim's head in both hands and opens his mouth to kiss him back.

Tony closes his eyes, refusing to acknowledge the sudden knot in his stomach. Instead, he is determined to just let whatever's going to happen, happen. And it feels good being the object of all that concentration that he's seen for so many years but never experienced himself, at least not like this. It feels good to have Tim's tongue in his mouth, their lips and teeth clashing against each other, so good that it barely feels weird at all.

Tim breaks the kiss first. He looks down at Tony's lips with an almost puzzled look, and Tony wants so hard to declare, You started it! Without another word, they both turn their attention to Dana. Dana with her mouth open and glossy-looking from their kisses. Dana with her hands beneath her breasts as if offering them to Tim and Tony. Tony glances back at Tim and grins, watches Tim's answering smile slide across his face before they each lean forward and suck a nipple into their mouths.

They only play with her another couple minutes before Tony reaches for the pile of condoms on his bedside table, tears open a packet and rolls the condom onto his dick. He angles Dana's hips up and slides his thighs beneath her. Tim keeps playing with her tits as Tony slips inside her.

The two of them moan together and then Probie moans, too. Tony glances down to see Dana's slid her hand down Tim's thigh to handle his cock with those sweet, experienced hands. Fuck, and it looks like Probie's having a good time, too. His dick's leaking precum all over her hand. Tony fucks her harder, gets another moan out of her, and a frustrated groan from Tim, and when Tony looks down, he sees what he expects to—Dana's hand is limp against Tim's very hard dick. Tony doesn't want Dana to stop jerking Tim off, but he really needs her to come because he really, really needs to come. He keeps fucking her at that angle and that speed until he feels and sees her moan and groan and thrash and—wow—she's a really good comer—and Tony lets himself come, too. He moves out of her, sure to keep the condom secure as he pulls away.

Immediately after he throws away the used condom, he tears open another wrapper and hands it Tim. Tim's hands are practically shaking he's so horny, but he asks Dana if she needs another minute in a way that both makes Tony want to kiss him, well maybe, as well as smack him upside the head.

Dana just smirks and wiggles her ass a little against the bed, which is as much invitation as any man really needs, and apparently Tim really is just like any man because he takes her tease and runs with it. He moves directly above her and pushes inside her. Their bodies touch from chest to waist, so there's really nowhere for Tony to move in and keep playing with Dana. Instead he reaches for Tim's back. His partner breathes sharply the moment Tony touches him. Tony kisses Dana's cheek, then Tim's. Tim's the one who turns first, so that's why Tony takes his mouth first. Tony runs his hand through Tim's hair and holds Tim to him, keeping his mouth with Tim's mouth even as Tim keeps fucking Dana.

"Oh!" They hear Dana's high pitched little gasp and they turn as one to see her eyes glazed over, her gaze torn between their mouths. Tony turns back to Tim just in time to see the smirk spread across Tim's lips. Then Tim turns back to Tony.

"Come 'ere," Tim says, which is apparently an invitation for the dirtiest fucking kissing Tony's had all night. Tim's tongue is everywhere, his lips seem to pout even as they kiss Tony's mouth and his teeth show up everywhere, at first just a tease until Tim knows whether Tony likes it, which—hello, yes! Tony bites Tim back, just a little, just enough to hurt, and then it's an all out biting war with Molly Pitchers of lips and sweet tongues meeting each other between battles.

And Dana comes again when Tony's not really paying attention, though Tim is—seriously a lot. And then Tim gasps against his mouth, but Tony doesn't let him go, makes Tim stay with him as he rides out his orgasm inside Dana.

When the condom's disposed of and Dana's quickly passing out against the newly dirtied sheets, Tim looks at Tony and grins. "Fuck, Tony," Tim declares, and Tony smiles and feels that little surge of pride he always does when he manages to make Tim cuss, but it's more this time. It was the making part of making Tim cuss that Tony liked so much.

They break eye contact and both let a hand fall to Dana's soft stomach. Just before he falls asleep, Tony feels Tim rest his fingers against his own, and he smiles.

The three of them have sex again in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Tony's lips against Tim's are warm and sure, and they keep Tim steady in the dim, artificial light peering around the curtains of the new day. They take a quick nap together, and then Tim and Dana share a taxi home. He kisses her and teases her in the back of the sedan, letting himself be kissed and teased, and though she smiles and licks her lips when the cabbie stops over at his place, he doesn't have any desire to invite her up to start again without Tony.

He jogs up to his second storey apartment, feeling both loose and powerful with energy to spare despite the short night. He unlatches his front door and swings it open. The silence within is not quite as oppressive as it was when he left last night, but it still weighs heavily on Tim as he locks back up and walks to the shower, stripping down as he goes.

The hot water is fantastic against his new bruises and sticky skin. Still, he wishes they could have done this together at Tony's, the three of them, though, of course, they never would have been comfortable squeezing into his partner's small shower.

Once he turns off the water, the quiet and slowing drip is the only sound in his home. Tim closes his eyes, hands still on the knobs. Then he shifts and yanks open the curtain in one movement. He grabs for his towel and dries himself by rote. He walks into his bedroom and throws his towel on the floor. He lies down on the bed, still wet, though no longer dripping at least.

He lays there for long minutes, who knows how many, just thinking and wondering. Tony has always teased Tim about his apartment—how crunched his space is, how woman-unfriendly it is, how geek-appropriate. It's never really bothered Tim before because although he knows Tony means what he says on this account, Tim also knows that Tony never spoke maliciously and that Tim's place had still felt right to Tim at the time, regardless.

Tim sits up, feet flat on the floor. It doesn't feel right anymore. Even with Jethro gone to live with Tim's parents' friends in rural Virginia, it's just too small for what Tim needs, for who Tim is. Spurred into action, Tim grabs a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and powers up his computer in the cramped light of dawn. Tim has lived in this little box for years. He's ready for more.

Chapter Text

Tim bounces into MCRT right on time Monday morning. Gibbs glares at him for arriving later than everyone else, but Tim just smiles under the onslaught and hands Gibbs the black coffee he'd stopped to get for him along the way. Gibbs sniffs his beverage, then lifts his eyebrow in grudging approval.

Ziva offers him a sweet and surprised, 'Thank you,' when he gives her the cinnamon chai he got for her, it had actually been her turn for the coffee run after all, though she usually goes mid morning.

And then when Tim sets Tony's cappuccino on his desk, the senior agent wraps a hand around the cup before Tim can let go. His fingers brush against Tim's as he grabs for the drink, causing McGee to bring his eyes from the cup to Tony's face. Brows lifted high, the senior agent keeps his eyes on Tim as he says, "Thanks, Probie," his voice low but not quite a whisper. As Tim walks to his desk, Tony says a little louder, "Should we be worried about your show of generosity, McMoneybags?"

"Just had a good weekend, Tony," he shoots back, not having to turn around to know there's a smile on Tony's face. He glances up anyway and sees Gibbs shooting Tony an approving look. Internally, Tim breathes a sigh of relief, he doesn't know what Tony did to piss off Gibbs last week, but Gibbs had been a bear ever since last Wednesday or so, not that most people could tell the difference.

The morning passes by through a sweetly scented haze of routine as shared by people who know each other very well. Ziva offers to go on the lunch run, and the four of them eat together in their shared cubicle, moving around to each others' desks to share the flavors of their various entrees, and even Gibbs barely works through the meal as they tease and talk with each other.

As Tony steals the last little bit of chicken fried rice, Tim very heartily wants to relate his latest plans with the team. "So, I've decided to move," he lets them know.

"What? Where?" Tony demands with an odd sort of near-frantic tone while a little bit of fried rice that hasn't quite made it to Tony's mouth falls back into the takeout container where he's loosened his grip on his chopsticks.

"I'm," Tim squints at Tony and shakes his head. "I'm not really sure yet." He divides his attention between Tony and his other two teammates. "I found this place in Somerset I really liked, but I don't want to have to travel that far for work every day anymore. On the other hand, Marion Park's a sweet commute, but most of the rowhouses have strict requirements on upkeep, which I don't really have time to do."

Gibbs shrugs at that comment, and Tim knows better than to keep with that line of conversation considering Gibbs' own pristine lawn. "Anyway," Tim redirects, "I'm thinking I'll get a condo or a townhouse. Something with three bedrooms so I can have a guest room and an office and not have to shift everything around every time my sister comes over."

"Tired of playing 'hide the porn'?" Tony grins, the chopsticks in his hand seemingly all but forgotten.

McGee rolls his eyes. "As if, Tony," Tim shakes his head and raises his eyebrow, feeling the smirk stretch across his face. "Everything digital I have is password protected."

Tony stills a second while he seems to process McGee's round-about admission. "Ha-hoo!" Tony exhales heavily on his laugh and claps his appreciation at Tim's new boldness. "Nicely done!" Tony tosses his takeout onto his desk and walks over to Tim's chair. "Probie," he sets his hand on Tim's shoulder. "Now," he nods proudly. "You are a guy. I'll call the embassy tonight and see about setting up your welcoming package." He swipes at a faux tear. "I never thought I'd see the day."

Tim shrugs off Tony's hand, laughing the whole time, and then Ziva's low chuckle across the aisle demands Tim's notice. He ducks his head and licks his lips, but then he looks right at her, smirk intact.

"You do not always have to be a gentleman, McGee," she grins right back at him. "In fact," she eyes him up and down, giving particular attention from his buckle to his toes, "I must confess, sometimes it is more interesting when you are not."

Tim catches Ziva's eye when she pulls her gaze back up to his. He can feel the heat in his face, and it's a different sort of heat than the blushes he's long dreaded and become accustomed to. He lets his eyes drift down her body in a way he's never really dared to before, certainly not intentionally and never when she's had her own sights right on him. She seems amused and maybe—dare he say it?—even a little flushed herself when their eyes meet again.

"Hey, hey, McRomeo." Tony waves a hand between them but neither Tim nor Ziva break their gaze. "Come on that's enough living on the edge for one day. There's such a thing as baby steps, you know."

"What's good for the goose, Tony," Tim tells his partner but directs a wink towards Ziva. She winks back, and they break eye contact with a shared grin.

"Alright, alright. Back to work," Gibbs waves them off and throws the remains of his lunch in the nearby trash, but even Tim can see amusement warring with professionalism on Boss' features.

"Gives new meaning to the term hard drive, doesn't it?" Tony points out gleefully, and Tim can't help the laugh that bubbles out from deep inside his chest at the innuendo.

"Knock it off, DiNozzo," Gibbs orders, but there's no bite to it.

"Knocking it off, Boss." Tony ducks his head and pushes his chair back behind his desk. He smiles hugely at Tim while his back is still to Gibbs and Ziva.

Tim settles into his chair, grin still spread wide across his face, and then suddenly he's hit with the overwhelming sensation of being truly comfortable in his skin. He laces his fingers behind his head and leans back, feet stretched out in front of him, as he lets the feeling wash over him.

Tony's hyper the rest of the day, the euphoria even outlasting rush hour traffic on the way home. But who could blame him for feeling mad with power at having coaxed Tim out of his shell, even just a bit? Not that anybody else really knows Tony's responsible, or okay, maybe only partly responsible, Tony concedes to himself, but he's been trying for years—years—to draw Probie out.

Tony bounces up the last couple of stairs and jogs to his front door, flipping the key up and unlocking the latch in two swift motions. He walks into his place, Tim still at the forefront of his mind.

Tony grins anew at the thought of Tim's unrestrained laughter. Today was such a great day, and it's not because Tim's full bellied laughter was something Tim had never shared with the team before. It's more like Tim's always got this little bit of himself that he holds back. And it's more than just Tim's ingrained sense of politeness and propriety. It's like he doesn't want to impose on anyone with his business, and so he just keeps it all to himself. For crying out loud, sometimes Tim's so reserved in his personal life that Tony—Tony—doesn't find out about what happened for months afterwards. It's always driven Tony crazy, but Tim's always kept a piece of himself secreted away from everyone else.

Except today he didn't.

Again the image comes to him, Tim relaxed and loose sitting back in his chair, and all it took to make it happen was having a threesome together, Tony considers as he hangs up his jacket in his bedroom closet and stows his gun.

If Tony had realized at the time how hugely Tim had misunderstood him at the club, then Tony would have corrected him immediately and they may or may not have shared a bed with Dana—beautiful, sexy, talented, Dana—as Tony'd originally intended. He'd surprised himself that night with how much he'd been willing to touch Tim and kiss Tim—not that he and Probie had really had real sex together—but Tony doesn't think it could have worked out with any other guy. It hadn't even felt that awkward. And even if it had ended up being really weird, it still would have been so worth it to see Tim so laid back today.

But was it just getting so thoroughly laid—and seriously, he and Tim have got to go back to that bar sometime to see if they can meet up with Dana again—that led to Tim being so much more himself than he usually is or was it the fact that Tony was there doing it with him that made the difference? Tony shrugs and settles down onto his sofa. It's not like it was a bad experience. It wouldn't be so bad helping Probie out again, he decides.

That thought in mind, Tony resolves to get Tim to come out with him again this weekend.

As the week goes on, Tony fears the days will go by slowly because of how much he's anticipating Saturday night, but he and Tim manage to have dinner together twice, first on Tuesday night when Tony demands Tim come with him to another club that Saturday to which Tim gratifyingly smiles and doesn't even pretend he doesn't want to go. And then they go out again on Wednesday, inviting Ziva along this time and lingering in the city to check out a new jazz club Tim's been dying to see. And to top it all off, Gibbs smiled approvingly at Tony Thursday morning—that's twice in a week for anyone who's counting—after learning the three of them spent the better part of the evening before hanging out and relaxing together. In fact, the only moments that go by slowly during the week are the ones Tony spends with Abby.

And it's not that Tony doesn't adore Abby because he totally does. It's just that every time he talks to her now, he thinks of that dejected look on Tim's face that first Saturday night in the parking lot of Fur, and it completely sucks to remember.

The worst part is, Abby's definitely noticed by now that both he and Tim aren't spending much time with her in the basement anymore. Tony's pretty sure he's been able to prevent her from figuring out, even remotely, that there's a real problem between her and them, but he doesn't think he can keep it up for much longer. Tony decides to head off the problem before it can really set in, and on Thursday afternoon, he invites Abby to come to a movie with him that night.

Abby perks up immediately at the invite, which only serves to make Tony feel that much more guilty. "Ooh!" she claps her hands together and hugs him. "What are we going to go see?"

Tony tilts his head and knows immediately that he can't just roll over and let her pick because then she'll definitely know that not all is right in Tonyland, or well, maybe more accurately in the space between Tonyland and Abbyland.

"No romantic comedies," he commands with a shudder, and Abby shudders right back then straightens her back indignantly.

"Of course not!" she lifts her chin. "Who do you think I am? McGee?" she teases, but it's exactly the wrong thing to say.

Tony feels the smile fade from his face but forces it back on as quickly as possible. Still, this time, Abby notices.

"What is it, Tony? What's going on?" she asks plaintively. "And don't tell me it's nothing because Timmy's been avoiding me all week, and you've been acting weird, too, and now I know you know something about it, and I'm not budging from here until you tell me," she declares, stamping a single foot in demonstration of her immovability.

Tony winces and looks for an out. But in reality, he's had a plan for this for days. He just really doesn't want to implement it. "Okay," he sighs, doing his best to appear he's conceding. "If, theoretically, I knew something about why McGee was pouting," he's careful to use the word to downplay the seriousness of the situation. "Then, theoretically," he adds again for effect, "I probably wouldn't be able to tell you because he probably would have told me not to say anything."

"Ooh! Ooh!" Abby latches on immediately to his emphasis on the word 'tell,' just like he knew she would. "But if I were to guess, and you were to nod or shake your head then you wouldn't be telling me anything!" she finishes with a smile.

Tony automatically smiles back as if they're already sharing a secret. "Exactly," he says.

"Okay," Abby purses her lips and wrinkles her brow. "So Timmy's been acting weird ever since he broke up with his latest girlfriend," Abby immediately gets to the heart of the matter, and, not for the first time, Tony's amazed at how well she knows Tim. It makes him wonder, now, as he looks at her, why she's never chosen to be with him.

Tony belatedly nods at Abby's observation, just remembering that he's supposed to.

Abby nods back in satisfaction. "Okay, so that narrows the problem down to just a few possibilities," she purses her lips and turns to face Tony. "Timmy's upset that his latest girlfriend didn't work out, and he's avoiding me because he doesn't want me to know how upset he is and make him feel worse about the situation by offering him too much sympathy."

Tony squints and slowly shakes his head.

"Alright," Abby nods and paces a little. Towards Tony, away from Tony. Towards Tony, away from Tony. "Ooh!" Abby halts on a dime. "Timmy stopped seeing his girlfriend but is still having sex with her and is too embarrassed to tell me."

Involuntarily, Tony's neck juts forward in disbelief at her suggestion. He shakes his head emphatically this time.

"Uh," she wrings her hands. "Right," she shakes her own head as if unsure why she would have considered the idea.

"Did he—"Abby pauses, and Tony tilts his head a little, wondering if she'll get it this time. "He doesn't—" she winces, and Tony's sure now she's on the right track now, or rather, the track he's leading her down. "He didn't break up with her because he wanted to try a relationship with me again, did he?" she speaks more quietly this time, wince still plastered all over her face.

Tony sighs, and glances down quickly and then back up to her eyes. He puts on his best sympathetic eyes, the ones that, women especially, tend not to question. "He's never gotten over you, Abs," and this time it's the heartbreaking truth. "He wants to do something about it." Again, the truth. He's careful not to out and out lie to Abby. There are some things that even the best karma can't fix.

She exhales heavily and starts wringing her hands again. "You don't think he's really going to try again, do you?" she begs the question and then turns before Tony could possibly answer her. "I mean, I love Timmy, I just don't think I can—the things he wants—Uhh!" she cuts herself off again and steps right up to him. "I can't say 'yes' to him, Tony," she pleads with him. "But I hate to disappoint him. He has those sweet puppy dog eyes," she demonstrates with her own sad eyes before she starts pacing again. "And he gets upset and barely talks to me for months afterward. Months, Tony!" she emphasizes again.

"Wait!" she stops herself and faces Tony again. "Is that why he's not coming down here as much? Maybe he knows I'll say 'no,' and he's trying to keep himself from asking. Is that it, Tony?"

He just levels his stare at her.

She sighs in relief this time. "Okay, we can deal with this." She continues walking back and forth, and though she's not really doing anything new, the pacing looks more productive this time. "Tony," she grabs the collar of his shirt when she walks by him again. He has to move with her for three feet before she realizes he wasn't moving the second before and immediately stops them where they stand. "I need your help," she cajoles, eyes wide and sincere. "I need you to keep Timmy away and talk him out of doing anything. I mean, don't tell him I told you," she glances down and shuffles her head back and forth, "or that you let me guess what he told you, but please help talk him out of this. I just," she pats his collar. "I don't want this to ruin us."

Tony places his hand on hers where it rests on his chest. "Hey," he lifts her chin with his fingers. "Don't worry." He tells her honestly, "I understand, and I'll do what I can to keep him preoccupied."

She smiles at him, and the sincerity in her eyes forces him to remind himself that it's not even really a lie that he told Abby, but that, instead, it's something that'll help both Tim and Abby in the long run. After all, Tim doesn't want to love Abby, and Abby doesn't want Tim to love her, and this will help them stay away from each other for a little bit while still preserving their friendship. Besides, neither one of them will probably even find out how he intervened, he reasons. But as Abby looks up at him with those trusting eyes, Tony doesn't think he's ever felt so much like a troll in all his life.

Chapter Text

Tony leads him to a different club again this week. About as crowded as last week's destination, it's nonetheless louder. Moreover, something in the way the lights flicker so wildly above them makes pushing through the crowd feel like walking underwater, even before they buy a single drink.

They each order a couple shots once they reach the bar, but this time, Tony stays with him even after they throw them back. Tony glances repeatedly between Tim's rum and coke—Tim's new drink of choice—and the beautiful women circling around. Tim watches as Tony locks gazes with several of them, and, considering there's really no way to talk under the current onslaught of music, Tim knows Tony has to be aching to get out on the dance floor with them to have a more direct sort of conversation.

Tim leans over to Tony's ear. "Don't wait for me," he has to yell, even this closely.

Tony angles away when Tim's done talking. Despite his own insistence, Tim's still disappointed to see Tony look him over and then nod his agreement. But then Tony grabs the cup out of Tim's hand and guzzles about half of it before tossing the rest into the nearest trash bin.

Then Tony smiles and leans back into Tim's space. "Okay, I won't wait," he hollers back at Tim, then yanks him toward the dance floor by the arm.

"Tony!" Tim exclaims, though he knows the other man can't hear him, can't even see him what with the way he's dragging Tim forward, but Tim's reticence doesn't last—he's already smiling long before Tony leads them to a group of women dancing together near the DJ booth. The music's even louder here and a part of Tim wishes he'd brought earplugs with him. Another part of him stutters at the newly uncovered sight of two very beautiful, very built women locked onto each other at the hips and the mouth and everywhere in between.

Tony pulls Tim into him with an arm around his shoulder so he can talk right into his ear. "Now that, Probie," he points to the obvious spectacle. "Is a thing of true beauty."

Tim tilts his head to the side and lifts his brow. Who is he to disagree? He watches the two ladies as their touches become more aggressive, watches as many different men try dancing up behind them, watches as every man is summarily dismissed, sometimes just by being ignored, sometimes by a look or gesture. Many persevere regardless.

Tim winces and pulls Tony back that couple inches he'd pulled away from Tim. "You don't want to try to get in between that, do you?"

Tony shakes his head quickly, moves his mouth towards Tim's ear, and Tim leans into him as soon as it's apparent Tony's trying to speak to him again.

"Nah, too much work," his partner says. "Besides, we're only looking for one woman." Tony shifts to pull away as he finishes speaking but stiffens instead. "Not that we have to find only one w—"

Tim barely hears the words before he shakes his head emphatically, some of the built up tension leaving his body. "No, no, that's good," Tim hurriedly directs back toward Tony before the older man can finish.

Tony shifts again so they're face to face. A look of nervousness Tim hadn't even seen appear is smoothing out across Tony's features, and Tim smiles at him, somehow glad to know that Tony'd prefer to share this with him again tonight rather than to go it alone.

Tony shakes Tim's shoulders and says something that looks like, 'loosen up,' but his mouth is too far away now to know for certain. Tim rolls his shoulders, embarrassed to realize that he and Tony, along with a bunch of other guys, have just been standing in the middle of the dance floor gaping at these two women who seem more interested in each other than in any man that comes their way.

This time it's Tim that grabs Tony's arm to pull him to a different part of the dance floor. They come upon another group of women, dancing closer to a smaller bar toward the back of the club. The blond in the red dress is the one that smiles at him first. Of course Tim smiles back. She turns her back to him but then glances at him over her shoulder, and Tim takes her up on the invitation.

Tony follows up close behind Tim, and they both reach their new dance partner at the same time. The blond in the red dress moves against Tim until she tilts her head and sees Tony moving in behind her. Tim just barely sees the grin come across her face as she turns completely and focuses on Tony. Tim just shrugs when Tony looks up at him, but then Tim keeps dancing. He looks around a bit, but before he can find another partner, Tony's somehow extracted himself from the blond and moved them both towards a brunette a few feet away. Her black, sleeveless blouse makes her hair seem fluffier where it's shining, brown then blond then red beneath the constant lighting behind the bar.

Her face lights up as he and Tony surround her, her hair bouncing around both him and Tony as they find a groove together.

They move against each other for four more songs before she smiles and kisses both their cheeks, moving away with her friends.

Tim watches her go with regret. He'd liked the way her hair flowed around her head like a storm. He would've liked to have seen her locks splayed across Tony's pillow in the morning. He sighs as her head disappears into the crowd.

Before his eyes can make their way back to Tony, his gaze falls on the blond with the red dress, now steadily in pursuit of them. Tim tilts his head as he watches her approach. She sidles up right next to them and reaches an arm up Tim's neck, settling her fingers at the base of his skull. Satisfied she has his attention, she brings up her other hand to Tony's chest, pushing open a space between them. Facing Tony, she drives her fingers backward and up into Tim's hair, and how do women always know how much he loves that? He breathes harder with the touch, barely able to keep himself from slipping his eyes closed at the sensation.

She settles her other hand inside the open collar of Tony's shirt. Tony watches her intently for a moment. She grinds back against Tim, and he grabs her hips by reflex, pulling her against him. Tony's eyes skitter downward, seeming to catch the motion, and then he smiles at the blond. Tony lays his hands on her sides, close enough to Tim's grip that their fingers touch.

The blond turns her face to the side and pulls Tim's head down next to hers, opening her mouth for a kiss. He walks his fingers up her side, feeling Tony along the route toward her stomach. He lifts his thumb as they kiss, just barely grazing the side of her breast with each stroke. She gasps against his mouth and grips the back of his head even harder, tugging almost painfully at his hair. This time he's the one that gasps. He adjusts his hands so one moves up to hold her head in place while the one that had been at her hip slips up to cup her opposite breast. Tony's hand slides with his and they touch her there together.

Twenty minutes later, they're in a taxi headed towards a nearby hotel. Her name is Julie they learn between kisses and gropes. Tony takes charge of registering for the room, placing a hand over Tim's when the younger man tries to move for his credit card.

"You can catch it next time," Tony speaks close to his ear like they're still at the club.

And then the words really register—next time—and they echo in his head. He ducks his chin before he can help it, the flush coming over his features too quickly to stop. The fire from the thought flows through him as they move away from the main desk together. Touching between the three of them, which had become more subdued in the very public area of the hotel lobby, abruptly increases in both frequency and intimacy the moment they step into the empty elevator.

Julie backs Tim into one of the corners before the doors even close. She's kissing his throat by the time Tony comes up behind her to trace his hands up the backs of her thighs. The heated ride to the sixth floor doesn't last very long, though, and the three of them almost trip over each other twice as they try to maneuver the hall together towards their door.

Tony barely seems to be able to concentrate long enough to swipe the key, though Tim can hardly blame him when Julie's got a hand down each of their pants. They practically tumble inside where Julie excuses herself to go into the bathroom, leaving Tim and Tony alone and breathing hard together beside the king-sized bed.

They watch the closed door for a moment together, but it's apparent she'll be a minute doing whatever it is a woman has to do right after she's gotten you hard enough to burst but right before she's ready to have sex.

They both exhale heavily, still watching the bathroom door, then turn to each other and grin at the reciprocity of the sound.

Eyes still on each other, Tony brings his hand up to Tim's leather jacket and lifts the collar in a tease. "You gonna keep this on all night again?" Tony asks and doesn't take his hand off it.

"You're the one who helped me out of it last time," the words come unbidden as the memory slips to the front of his mind. And then Tim bites his tongue, remembering the intimacy of the moment, that soft connection he'd felt to Tony, and it seems wrong of Tim to talk about it.

"So I did," Tony responds quietly and raises both hands up to curl beneath his jacket and slip it off Tim's shoulders just like he had the week before. This time though, without Dana in between them, Tony's hands follow the motion of the jacket down Tim's arms.

Tim licks his lips without meaning to, eyes still on Tony's. "Thanks," he whispers.

A nod is all the response Tony offers.

The bathroom door clicks open, and Julie steps out, naked except for her panties. Tim blinks and wets his lips, throat suddenly feeling dry.

"God, I love it when they do that, too!" Tony exclaims and holds out a hand for Julie.

The three of them get naked together fast and then tumble down onto the bed. This time, when they're rolling around on the sheets together touching, Tony is the one that kisses Tim first. The two of them graze each others' arms and backs and necks with their fingers as they take turns kissing and teasing Julie. Once, when Tim's inside Julie, Tony traces the line of Tim's back all the way to the swell of his ass before skittering back up to rest on his neck. It's that single contact that calms something deep inside Tim, makes the moment seem exactly right. He keeps that calm with him through the night and into the morning.

They wake up when Julie leaves, each kiss her one more time as she goes, and then they go back to bed, lie down together. Tim scoots Tony's way, trying to get out of the wet spot he's been lying on all night. His hand just barely brushes Tony's arm as they fall asleep again.

Tony's relieved when Tim doesn't leave with Julie in the morning. He kind of wants to squeeze Tim's hand when he realizes Tim's hunkering down to stay for the rest of the night—er, well, morning, Tony supposes—but he can't figure out a way of touching him now that Julie's no longer between that wouldn't end up being incredibly awkward and just, eh, no.

They barely make it out of the hotel by the eleven o'clock checkout time. They manage—only just—to shower within the time constraints, though they do have to put on their clothes from the night before. As they walk out of the hotel lobby, Tony decides Tim's going to take him out to brunch. He lets Tim know as succinctly as possible: "Feed me," he orders.

Tim chuckles. "Okay," he nods his agreement. "How about the courtyard restaurant near the convention center?" he posits. "They have a great Sunday brunch with a live band."

Tony eyes him suspiciously, "You'll go anywhere that has a jazz musician, won't you?"

Tim grins hugely, "Sometimes it's reggae, actually."

"Hmm," Tony squints at the obvious lie but then lifts his chin in acquiescence. "That is acceptable," he generously declares.

Probie forces them to—gasp!—take a bus from the nearest street corner to the convention center, saying it's a waste to take a cab when they're only really going a few blocks. Tony lets Tim lead him along the way but only because Tim lets him bitch the whole time.

There's only a few minutes' wait once they reach Porquoi Pas. "Heh," Tony laughs to himself at the thought of Probie frequenting a restaurant called Porquoi Pas.

Tim glances over to him where he stands, but just smiles sweetly at his chuckling, so Tony magnanimously decides not to mention the ridiculousness of the name until later.

When they ascend the stairs to the mezzanine, Tony hears, much to his surprise, decidedly reggae-ish melodies descending from above.

"Huh," he says—a statement unto itself—when the steel drums come into view.

"Told you," Tim lifts his brows in that smug way he gets. "What 'til you try the beignets," he leans across the aisle to whisper close to Tony's ear.

Tony bends, just a little, into Tim's words. Beignets really do sound delicious, he decides.

When the café au lait and the French doughnuts, in all their powdery sugar goodness, are on the table and the rest of their meal is being prepared, Tim starts talking about the townhouses he's been looking at all week.

As Tony listens to the places Tim's interested in, commenting here and there on what Tim really needs in a house (like there's no such thing as too much closet space and hot tubs are never overrated), he realizes that Tim's looking to buy rather than to rent a home.

The added permanence Tim's seeking in wanting to own a home makes a part of Tony that's been a little uptight all week, ever since Tim announced so dramatically (and so soon after that first Saturday night) that he was moving, relax a little bit in relief. Still, the abruptness and—ooh the timing—of Tim's decision makes Tony a bit nervous.

"Not to say that this change isn't incredibly overdue or anything, but why move now? You've lived in that apartment almost as long as I've known you, and sure, it's dank and dark and entirely too small for a grown man, but that's never bothered you before," Tony adds, more than a little bit condescending in his tone, but, in truth, achingly curious to know the answer.

Tim smiles at Tony's pretence, and Tony almost drops his gaze, eyes seeming too heavy with the sudden feeling that Tim might see right through him. Then Tim just shrugs. "It always seemed like a waste before, moving in order to add more square footage for just one person. I think I was waiting for someone to move with," Tim confides, and then Tim's the one that lowers his eyes. "I think part me thought if I waited long enough, I could get Abby to change her mind about me, and we could pick out a place together." And then Tim shrugs again, embarrassment set into his shoulders.

Tony appreciates the confession, but Tim's awkward pose is completely unwarranted, so he kicks Tim under the table to try to peel that look from his posture. His partner's embarrassment evaporates immediately, and then, to Tony's satisfaction, Tim boots him back, thereby starting an all out kicking war that lasts until the waiter brings out their entrées. They call a truce while they eat, except for the one time they trade kicks when Tony tries to steal the extra piece of sausage from Tim's plate. Probie still ends up giving it to him anyway after they each recall their feet to their respective corners, just like Tony knew he would. Tim likes the taste of sausage, but he only ever has one piece because it tends to give him indigestion.

"I like this place," Tony declares, pushing his plate away and leaning back in his chair.

Tim nods. "I'm glad. It's my favorite restaurant to go to on Sundays," he confides, not that it's much of a confession.

"We should come back here next week," Tony continues, and then Tim abruptly shifts his eyes toward Tony, not even moving his head a millimeter. Tony checks the motion, surprised at its terseness until he realizes the implications of what he just said. He opens his mouth to refute the idea that he expects anything to happen next week, but he finds himself speechless.

"That's a good idea," Tim finally says, his eyes hooded and focused like Tony's only ever seen them on Saturday nights.

Tony nods, holding that gaze for just a moment before he shifts his head and looks away. He spots the waiter then and tries to get his attention, hoping Probie will think that was his intention all along. The server hustles over, and Tony dares to glance back up at McGee as their check is set upon their table, but when he looks at his partner, the intensity in Tim's eyes is replaced by confusion. Tony exhales heavily, empathizing with the feeling.

They're virtually silent while Tim pays for the meal, but then the younger man suggests they check out a new arcade with some pretty old school games. Tony automatically mocks the very idea, tossing his napkin onto the table while he teases Tim about getting flabby if he spends all his time indoors. Tim immediately retaliates, saying he's not the one who's gained nearly ten pounds in the last year. Tony squints at the accusation, certain it's nowhere near ten pounds, but then Tim smirks, and it's like the moment resets, swiftly shifting back to normal as they walk out of the restaurant together and on to the arcade.

Chapter Text

For the second Monday in a row, Tim practically springs into MCRT, high on feeling from the weekend. He doesn't stop at Daily Joe this morning since he knows Tony'll be driving by way of Dunkin Donuts and Gibbs—well everyone really—likes their coffee better.

McGee offers Gibbs a cheery good morning, not really bothered by the morning glare he gets in return seeing as how it's just that time of day when Boss' first cup of coffee starts to fade. He stows his gun and starts up his computer, setting his lunch in his lower right drawer. He's still checking his email when Ziva scurries in off the elevator, mind obviously elsewhere as she secures her own weapon and starts her daily routine.

"Good morning, Ziva," McGee offers her an eager smile as he comes around to the other side of his desk to start up the plasma.

She glares up at McGee. "I do not understand why American drivers are so sensitive."

Tim tightens his grip on the remote and bites his lip in an attempt to get rid of the grin. "Another ticket?" he tries to ask the question with a sympathetic tone.

"My third in two months!" she confirms.

Tim clears his throat, a little surprised at the low number. Then again, he rethinks, maybe they just haven't been able to catch up to her.

"The policeman said if I had even one more citation, I would be referred to driving school! Me!" She shakes her head. "Unbelievable," she finishes.

Tim squints and tilts his head away from her, perhaps in a subconscious motion to keep it more removed from the line of fire. "Well, maybe you should consider attending driving school anyway."

"What?" she squints and shakes her head at him again, and out of the corner of his eye, Tim can see Gibbs lift his head in amusement, giving the argument more of his attention. "I do not need to be taught how to drive," Ziva continues, maneuvering around her desk to walk right up to Tim. "I have been operating a vehicle since I was thirteen years old, and I do not need some overgrown, stuffed pants instructor to tell me what I already know," she lifts her chin and steps right up to Tim's toes, fire in her eyes, hands clenching at her sides.

Tim clears his throat again and takes a step back, about to tell Ziva how it might add points back to her license if she takes the courses preemptively, but then, in her irritation, Ziva follows his movement immediately, pressing him right up against his desk. His skin starts itching instantaneously at being boxed in, but instead of giving in to his long-held aversion to conflict by trying to sidestep her or beg his release with kind words, he feels his back straighten up, and he widens his stance a little, then he moves forward, right into Ziva's space.

"First of all," he lifts a single finger in explanation. "It's stuffed shirt, not stuffed pants." He waves his hand, still sporting the plasma's remote, in the tiny space between them. "Totally different meaning. Second," he sighs, still not wanting to be rude, but come on!

"Second, Ziva, you're scary when you drive, and not cool scary like you are when you do those freaky Mossad moves that make us laugh at Tony when he tries to imitate them, but oh my gosh I'm going to die scary." She lifts her chin even higher as he goes on. "I get that you learned to drive in a warzone and everything, but DC is not a warzone," he tilts his head, "though, granted, I will give you cherry blossom season when the crazy 'nature'," he uses air quotes, "tourists come out. You've never bothered to learn how to drive in an American city because there's a part of you that's never left Israel, and unfortunately, the driver in you is probably the biggest part," he finishes, still holding his ground.

Ziva blinks at him a moment, and then blinks away. "I see," she says stiffly and turns so abruptly her ponytail almost takes out his eye.

"Ziva." He lifts an arm a little in reflex toward her back, upset at having offended her. He almost even steps toward her as she smoothly slides back behind her desk. But then he drops his hand to his side. What he said was not untrue, nor was it particularly unkind.

Sometimes you don't like the things you learn about yourself from other people, but that doesn't mean you didn't need to know them, Abby had said that to him right after she'd called it off between them. Now, standing here in the bullpen seven years later, watching Ziva very studiously ignore him, it's the first time Tim has ever recalled the memory when it didn't sting.

Tim licks his lips, finishes setting up the plasma, and walks back to his own desk. He gets back to his email. Abby's comment and what she meant that day competing in his mind for supremacy with Ziva's driving skills and her offense when Tim had taken exception to them. He shakes his head in an attempt to clear his mind, then brings his chin up to check that the plasma screen has completed its connection with the wifi. His gaze stops when he reaches Gibbs. Boss' eyes are centered right on him, squinting and almost curious.

Tim meets his gaze and returns the stare, trying to imagine why Gibbs would be so focused on him this morning.

"You need something, Boss?" he finally asks, squinting right back.

"Nope," Gibbs shakes his head once, and though he doesn't smile, Tim gets the strong sense that he kind of almost is anyway.

Tim shakes his head at the oddity, but then focuses back on his work. He feels Gibbs' eyes drop off him after another few moments and then the three of them work separately and in silence for another fifteen minutes before Tony steps off the elevator.

"Hey, hey, hey! Hot stuff coming through." Tony grins at them, setting a bag of pastries onto his desk and letting his pack slip down to the floor beside his chair before passing out the steaming coffees from the Dunkin Donuts paper tray. "Oh, and be careful because the coffee's pretty warm, too," he winks at Tim as he sets his latte down on his desk.

"Thanks." Tim grins right back up at him. Even though it's a joke Tony's told a dozen times before, it seems newly funny.

Having finished distributing his load, Tony looks around the cubicle at his abnormally closed-mouth coworkers, and checks his watch. "I'm not late, am I?" The minute hands confirm, "No, I'm not late. Ooh," he winces, "Beth from accounting didn't call, did she? Because that suit really was ruined while chasing a suspect. I just got the coffee stain on it the same day."

Tim chuffs, trying not to laugh. "Good morning, Tony."

"Good morning, McWhyNot," Tony grins hugely at him.

"McWhyNot?" Tim lifts his brow.

"Come on," Tony leads. "Porquoi Pas? Don't tell me you didn't take French in high school."

"I didn't take French in high school," he deadpans.

Tony squints, "Are you lying?"

Tim narrows his eyes right back at him for only a second until he breaks, "Yes, okay, I'm lying, but it's not like I remember any of it," he shrugs.

"Timmy, Timmy, Timmy," Tony shakes his head. "It's a good thing you have me to take you under my wing."

McGee feels the comeback bubble up in his throat, but the truth is, he's kind of had the same thought, however unformed, rolling around his head for the last couple weeks. "Of course it is, Tony," he says eventually, trying to infuse some irony into the statement so his voice doesn't come across as pathetically grateful as he feels.

Tony steps up to him, placing his own coffee on Tim's desk to grab Tim's shoulders. "Porquoi Pas means—"

"Why not," Tim cuts him off. "Yeah, I caught that."

Tony tilts his head and smiles, pinching McGee's cheek. "Why not, indeed?" Tony squeezes Tim's shoulders one last time before picking up his coffee and shuffling towards his own desk.

Why not? Tim repeats silently to himself, and then he smiles.

Tony's blood pressure still hasn't normalized five minutes after the team arrives at the crime scene. He doesn't know what he did this time to piss Gibbs off, but whatever it was, tossing Ziva the keys to the van with that gleeful—well, for Gibbs—smile was a completely disproportionate punishment.

The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that Tim must have equally irritated him as he was specifically included when Gibbs told them to secure their seatbelts—tightly.

The rhythm of the team's routine slowly calms his heartbeat—Tim excitedly using his fingerprint toy, Ziva snapping pictures and flashing in everyone's way just to tease-slash-irritate them, Ducky droning on about pine cones and holly berries and the derivation of the Christmas song spotlighting them regardless of the fact that it's actually a beautiful mid-spring day, Palmer asking questions at just the right intervals to spur him to continue, and Gibbs contentedly glaring at, well, just about everyone.

By nature of the investigation, the commander sitting at his desk with a hole in his head is assumed to have died from homicide, though the gun in his hand, gripped tightly around the effects of rigor, would seem to beg otherwise. There's no note immediately apparent, which doesn't necessarily mean anything, but the empty dresser drawers upstairs—including half the drawers in the master bedroom and all the ones in the children's bedrooms—also speak loudly.

"It's a shame," the marine who first cordoned off the scene says as he's about to leave. "He was up for promotion."

Gibbs' head snaps up, the gears already turning. "Promotion?" he prods.

The corporal nods. "About to get his own ship. Ticonderoga class if you listen to the rumors," he clarifies.

Tony raises his brows and looks at Gibbs, "He's pretty young for it."

"Forty-one," Tim agrees.

"Hey, it looks like this crime scene just got a little more interesting," Palmer slowly grins. He shakes his head and frowns. "Not that somebody dying is ever interesting, well not that I'm not interested in the medical examiner's profession—"

"Mr. Palmer," Ducky interrupts, exasperated, "While I am certain you meant no disrespect to Commander Mitchell, perhaps we should get him back home before we decide how 'interesting' this case is."

"Right," Jimmy nods. "Of course, Dr. Mallard," he says and scrambles out toward the van with their equipment inside.

Ducky flashes his eyes toward the ceiling, then looks over to Gibbs. "I'm afraid Mr. Palmer may be right, Jethro. Although it is apparent the commander's hand was in close proximity to the gun as it was fired, this pattern on his skin as revealed by Anthony's field kit is somewhat suspicious, although we should be able to figure that out fairly quickly once Abigail runs a computer simulation of the incident."

Gibbs gives one quick shake of his head. "Alright, let's finish up then," he says and rises from his kneeling position. "DiNozzo," Gibbs bellows.

"Yes, Boss?" Tony jerks his head up immediately upon hearing his name.

"You ride with me," Gibbs orders.

Tony perks up. "Yes, Boss." One glance over toward McGee's face—quickly turning an unbecoming shade of green—tells him Ziva still has the van's keys.

Tony pats Tim's shoulder in commiseration then quickly scurries off after Gibbs and far, far, far away from Ziva and the keys she's holding hostage.

They ride to the nearest Starbucks in relative silence—well, Tony rationalizes, talking about the weather is practically speechless for Tony. They walk into the coffee shop—Gibbs is obviously still maintaining that weird thing he has about drive-thrus, a fact that has always privately reminded Tony of Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2: They fuck you in the drive-thru.

"Heh," Tony chortles but cuts off the sound abruptly at Boss' glare

They order coffee for the team. Just to be on the safe side, Tony forgoes a brew for Tim and buys him a peppermint tea instead, adding a solid amount of sweetner. That should help with the nausea once Tim gets back to the Yard.

They're already back in the car before Gibbs offers more than a 'hmm' or a growl to the conversation. "McGee looked good this morning," he points out as he makes a nearly legal left turn.

Tony smiles to himself at Gibbs' observation. "He did, didn't he?" Tony turns to Gibbs whose attention seems to be wholly fixated on the mid-afternoon traffic. Tony knows better, though. He knows that Gibbs expects more details, and Tony is happy to provide them. He frowns, well some of the details anyway.

"We had a good time Saturday," Tony offers.

"You went out again?" Gibbs asks, but they both know he already knows the answer.

"Yeah," Tony nods. "Different club. Slightly younger crowd than last week but more adventurous," he waggles his eyebrows.

Gibbs levels his eyes at DiNozzo. Tony doesn't exactly flinch under the gaze, but he can't quite say he doesn't flinch either.

"Didn't think that was McGee's style," Gibbs points his gaze back outside, and something about the way Gibbs doesn't look at Tony gives the younger man a bad feeling.

"He's less vanilla than you'd think," Tony defends.

"Never thought it was a matter of vanilla," Gibbs winces like it's something he really doesn't want to think about. "McGee's always been the type trying to find something steady."

Tony swallows hard, thinking of Tim's words that first night in the parking lot, how Tim talked about wanting to fall in love and get married, how he said he wanted it to mean something when he went to bed with somebody. Was Tony somehow tarnishing that ideal, tarnishing Tim?

Tony juts out his chin. "He's having fun."

Gibbs shrugs, lifts the middle of his lower lip as if agreeing with the information.

"Really, he is," Tony insists. "You said so yourself how good he looked," he points out.

Gibbs just nods.

"I'm not pushing him into doing anything he doesn't want to do," he asserts, certain he's telling the truth. "I'm just there to support him." And to have sex with the women he's having sex with while we're all in bed together, Tony very pointedly does not add.

Gibbs glares at the traffic light they're stopped at as if it's wronged them personally. "What's this whole thing got to do with Abby?" the older man finally questions.

"Boss—" Tony shakes his head.

"I haven't sent him downstairs in over a week. He hasn't gone down voluntarily, Abby hasn't come up, and neither one of them has said a word about it. As far as I know they haven't so much as talked to each other on the phone," Gibbs turns his glare towards Tony. "If they can't work together, then I need to know."

"They are working together," Tony insists.

Gibbs shakes his head, focusing back on the road as the light turns to green. "They're avoiding each other," he corrects. "Why?"

Tony feels Gibbs glance his way but doesn't give in to the urge to look back at him. "It's Tim's business," he quietly lets on as Gibbs gets to him.

Gibbs hones in on the little bit of information he's given, "Not Abby's?"

Tony bites his lip, eyes peering out the window. He shakes his head, and hears Gibbs sigh behind him. Tony locks his jaw, irritated with himself at how much of Tim's secret he's given away. Gibbs must know now that it has something to do with Tim's feelings for Abby. What else could it be, after all?

Gibbs makes the last turn to enter into the Yard. "He seems happier, more relaxed than he's been in a long time. Whatever business he's taking care of, it seems like he's doing all right," he decrees. "He's going to keep needing your help," Gibbs offers, a little more stilted this time.

Tony nods. "He doesn't have to ask."

"Good," Gibbs declares. "Because he won't."

Chapter Text

Death would have been kinder than Ziva’s driving on the way back from the crime scene. With Tony vacating the van on the return trip to the Yard, she really lets loose all over the road. Tim’s surprised afterwards when he staggers to the rear and opens the back doors that the evidence doesn’t fall out and litter the floor of the garage.

 

He collects the samples and shuffles towards Abby’s lab by habit, not giving a thought to their recent lack of communication until he’s stepped off the elevator onto her floor. McGee bites his lip, not knowing how he’s going to explain himself to her for his avoidance and not wanting to backslide from all the progress he’s made in trying to move on. He winces but keeps on walking right on into her lab.

 

“Hey, Abby,” he nearly swallows his tongue to say.

 

“Oh hey, McGee,” Abby looks up from what looks like a DNA sample on her screen. She smiles, but it’s subdued, without her usual bounce. “Is that from the murder of the navy commander?” she asks pointing to his evidence.

 

“Yes?” He clears his throat, and sets the boxes on the nearest unused table. “I mean, we don’t know yet if it’s a murder. Ducky wants you to look at the pattern of the gunshot residue on the victim’s hand and run a sim to see if it was self-inflicted.”

 

“No problem,” she says without much inflection.

 

Tim furrows his eyebrows at her, not sure if she’s angry at him or not for avoiding her. “Is everything,” he cringes, “okay?”

 

“Yes!” she jerks her head back up. “Fine, everything’s fine. It’s okay with you, too, isn’t it?” and there’s a special sort of pleading in her tone that McGee’s always been a sucker for. Trouble is, he doesn’t know what she’s asking for, and he’s trying really hard not to care either way.

 

“Yeah,” he nods. “I mean, if you’re fine, I’m fine.”

 

She shakes her head. “I’m fine!” she declares, wide-eyed.

 

Tim nods again. “Good. Okay,” he turns toward the door and then back to the evidence. “I need you to sign,” he could kick himself for almost forgetting.

 

She holds up a finger and gives that slight smile again. “Right,” she scurries over and scribbles her signature.

 

“Okay,” Tim backs away toward the exit once more. “I’m gonna go upstairs.”

 

“Okay,” she winces.

 

He winces back. “I’ll see you later?”

 

“Yes!” she exclaims, suddenly excited at the prospect of either Tim leaving or of him coming back.

 

McGee smiles at her one last time and walks back towards the elevator. He opts for the stairs at the last second, needing to burn off his confusion. He’s not sure if he’s relieved or disappointed by her reaction to not seeing him for a couple weeks, but he’s pretty sure it’s both. As he tops the last flight, he notes with surprise that he’s actually more relieved than anything.

 

He exhales heavily as he makes it to the landing of his floor. “Wow,” he says to himself as he reaches for the handle. He can’t help the smile that comes across his face as he pulls the door open.

 

Rounding the corner towards his cubicle, the first thing he sees is Tony standing at the edge of his desk, his face angled toward the elevator. DiNozzo’s got a file open in one hand and the plasma’s remote in the other, but his fingers twitching along the seam of the file folder tell McGee that Tony’s not paying attention to either one. Tony lifts his head briefly upon spotting Tim, but then his eyes drift back down to the papers in his hand and remain there, unmoving, until Tim walks right in front of him.

 

“So how was our lovely mistress of the dark?” Tony lifts his gaze without raising his face.

 

Tim pauses and looks around the cubicle, but Gibbs’s desk is empty—he’s probably down with Ducky—and Ziva is pointedly ignoring him.

 

“Apparently, she was fine,” Tim tilts his head and nods once.

 

Tony squints at him. “Fine?”

 

“Fine,” Tim lifts his brows.

 

“Hmm,” Tony hums.

 

Tim lifts his chin, crinkles his forehead. “Did you think she wouldn’t be fine?”

 

“No,” Tony tries to chuckle the word while he shakes his head towards the left and tucks it into his neck—any one of them alone is generally a sure sign he’s lying, but all of them together…

 

“No?” Tim bites his bottom lip, suddenly feeling unsure.

 

“Well,” DiNozzo shrugs. “Possibly. But I was wondering more about whether you were fine with her being fine.”

 

“Yeah,” Tim smiles. “I was.”

 

Tony looks back and forth between Tim’s eyes, and Tim keeps his gaze, lets him in to see whatever it is that he needs to. Tony tips his head towards Tim’s desk.

 

“Stopped by Starbucks, Probie,” he says.

 

A quick glance over at the cup and Tim cringes. “Not that I don’t appreciate the thought or anything, but I’m just going to let my stomach settle for a little while,” he finishes on a whisper, knowing Ziva can hear him across the way even still.

 

“Ah-ah!” Tony negates the idea and walks to Tim’s desk. “Peppermint tea, no milk, and extra sugar,” Tony concludes, picking up the cup and extending his hand towards McGee.

 

Tim raises his brows and accepts the cup. He sips it at Tony’s prodding. When that goes down alright, he takes another. “Huh,” Tim tilts his head.

 

“Small sips, Tim. It’ll help,” Tony pats Tim’s stomach on the way back to his desk.

 

Tim ducks his head down and pulls the cup into himself, hiding his smile as he walks back to his desk.

 


  

Although it’s apparent before the workday concludes that Ziva’s driving and Tony’s subjection to it is somehow McGee’s fault, Tony doesn’t have the heart to give Tim more than a few dirty looks. He’s even less inclined to scowl at him once Tim offers to buy him dinner that night. Their plans are waylaid on the road towards Panarino’s Pizza Palace when Gibbs calls them back to check out a new lead from a random fingerprint in the Mitchells’ foyer that gets a hit from AFIS.

 

Because Abby’s sim on the gunshot residue indicates another person’s hand may have been partially covering the commander’s when the gun discharged, and since Ducky hesitates to declare the commander’s death a homicide without a little further investigation of his own, MCRT ends up chasing the trail of a convicted burglar from Idaho (and, seriously, they have burglaries in Idaho?) for half the night.

 

While Tony calls the man’s former PO, neighbors, and basically anybody awake and alive in the mountain time zone, Tim gets to work on DMV records and the man’s financials. Ziva and Gibbs meet up with the man’s local employer and try to get a solid address for him rather than just the post office box where he gathers his mail every few days.

 

It takes almost five hours to find Jason Morgan and only fifteen minutes to confirm his alibi—in Vermont—where he was visiting his kids over the weekend.

 

Hot lead wasted, Tony goes home tired and hungry and entirely without any good pizza places open.

 

He takes a quick moment to wash the day off of him. He’s out of the shower just in time to hear his cell ring. Sighing, he runs for it anyway, just in case it’s Gibbs. It’s not.

 

“Hey,” Tim’s voice is soft over the line. “Sorry we didn’t get to Panarino’s.”

 

Smile on his face, Tony bounces onto the couch in only his towel. “You’re sorry?” he teases. “I coulda had The Brooklyn Tornado—extra cheese and all the meats. Ahh,” he sighs, then tucks his chin into his chest in faux disgust even though Tim can’t see it. “Instead, I had a chocolate-orange power bar. Seriously,” he shakes his head, “chocolate-orange?”

 

“Hey, you’re welcome,” Tim returns, and Tony can hear the smile returned in his partner’s voice. “You want a raincheck for later this week?”

 

“Yes!” Tony lifts his feet onto the coffee table and leans back against the sofa. “In fact, I must insist. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Panarino’s garlic knots.”

 

Tim chuckles and the sound teases Tony’s lips back into curling. “Gonna teach me all about the high life, Tony?”

 

He tilts his head toward the phone and lowers his voice, “Well, somebody’s gotta.”

 

“Hmm,” Probie hums, “I guess if somebody’s gotta teach me, it may as well be you.”

 

“Damn straight, kid. I’ve got the moves,” he slicks his hair back with his free hand and follows through on the motion to cradle the back of his head.

 

The quiet that follows that statement seems both heavy and comfortable. Tony doesn’t really have anything else to say, doesn’t know if there’s another reason why Tim called, but he’s not ready to get off the phone just yet.

 

“Any more possibilities in those houses you’re looking at?” Tony breaks the silence.

 

“Quite a few, actually,” Tim exhales heavily over the line, but there’s nothing tired about it. “It’ll be hard to narrow down.”

 

“You should get something with a yard,” Tony prods.

 

“Eh,” Tim says, and Tony can practically see his shrug through the phone. “Don’t really want to have to mess with mowing the lawn, raking leaves, those sorts of things.”

 

“Yeah, but you could have barbeques!” Tony encourages. “Picture it—we can have team parties and just soak up the sun on the weekends. It’ll be great.”

 

Tim chuffs.

 

“What?” Tony asks, smile growing across his face in anticipation of knowing whatever Tim finds humorous.

 

“No, it’s just,” Tim takes a little breath, and Tony pulls the phone closer. “Can you imagine Gibbs coming to a barbeque at my house?”

 

Tony crinkles his brow. “Well, yeah,” of course, he doesn’t add because it seems obvious.

 

“Um, I don’t think so,” and there’s something defeated in Tim’s tone that makes Tony want to rewind the conversation and start all over.

 

“He would, you know,” Tony insists because he can’t quite let that go. “If you asked Gibbs, he would, but he doesn’t like to come where he’s not invited.”

 

“Tony!” Tim huffs like he can’t believe Tony said that. “Gibbs barges in where people don’t want him all the time!”

 

“Yeah, at work,” Tony points out.

 

The quiet between them this time is more charged, less content.

 

Tony bites his lip. “He’s never known how to relate to you.”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it, Tony,” Tim nearly interrupts him to say.

 

“But it bothers you,” and it’s almost a question from Tony’s lips, even though he already knows.

 

Tim sighs, and this time, it is a tired sound. “Yeah, it bothers me, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It hasn’t changed in seven years, and it’s not about to now.”

 

“Just because he has a hard time understanding where you’re coming from doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to learn,” Tony prods a little more.

 

“Tony, I don’t want to talk about it,” Tim declares evenly, and it’s that final tone he only gets when he really means it.

 

Tony sighs but then concedes, "Okay," without another word, knowing his best bet is to let it go for the moment. He's much better at convincing Tim in person after all. And just like that, the tension between them eases.

 

All of a sudden, Tony can think of a dozen things he wants to talk to Tim about—what the hell had Tim done to piss Ziva off? Did he think the commander’s death was really a suicide? Had he seen the preview for that new alien movie coming out next week? What did he think of the rumors that Mark in Accounting and Susan in Intelligence had finally hooked up? Did he like Saturdays as much as Tony did? Instead, he lets the quiet stretch between them.

 

“I guess we’d better buckle down for the night so we’re worth something tomorrow,” Tim finally says.

 

“Yeah,” Tony smirks, “and some of us need our beauty sleep more than others.”

 

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but you have been looking a little peaked lately,” Tim teases.

 

“Oh yeah, and you’re McFresh-and-Fit,” Tony adds as much sarcasm as he can, but it’s late and he’s a little too amused to pull it off.

 

“I guess you’d know if you were looking.” And Tony can tell it’s out of Tim’s mouth before the younger man really thinks about it.

 

The weighted quiet comes back, but this time it’s much more loaded. “Kinda hard not to look on Saturdays,” Tony says after a minute.

 

“I—” Tim starts and stops and the moment’s so charged it’s like electricity’s rippling from where Tony sits in his apartment all the way to Silver Springs where Tim sits in his, “you don’t look so tired yourself on Saturdays.”

 

“Well, don’t go out on a limb or anything,” Tony teases, and just like that, the moment evens out like they hadn’t just blatantly noticed something about each other that guys aren’t supposed to notice about each other.

 

“Well, it’s not so much a true limb as it is a thin branch.”

 

“Hey!”

 

“A sturdy branch!”

 

“Goodnight, Probie,” Tony pointedly says.

 

“Okay, okay, so maybe a bonzai tree.”

 

“Goodnight, Tim,” Tony chuckles as he bids again.

 

“Night, Tony,” he says back in that soft voice again.

 

Tony waits a moment before he hangs up, and when he does, that quiet tone stays in his ear as he brushes his teeth, turns out the light, and slips between the sheets. It echoes in his mind as he drifts off into sleep.

Chapter Text

The case moves slowly over the next two days. Ducky has to rule the death a homicide due to the conflicting evidence and the fact that once an incident has been labeled suicide, NCIS no longer has the authority to investigate it. Gibbs doesn’t want to give up on the commander, and the lack of progress so obviously irritates him that even Abby has taken to limiting her contact with him.

 

The only bright spots for Tony during the time period are when Tim invites him to check out his favorite houses on the slowly narrowing list of places he’s interested in. They manage to find a very understanding realtor who works with the unreasonably late hours they have to stay in the Yard. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she recognizes Tim from the back of her copy of the first Deep Six novel (which Tim obligingly signs when she brings it with her on the second day). Tony gives Tim a long suffering sigh at the completely unnecessary adoration, but by Wednesday evening, Tim’s blushing starts getting pretty funny anyways, so Tony chalks it up to a win.

 

The homes’ locations and their square footage in the master bedrooms and the studies are of the most concern to Tim, while Tony’s still bucking for a yard and has to set Probie to rights on what he should and should not accept for his new kitchen. He’s pretty sure he gets Tim to see the allure of the hot tub in the place on R Street, though he can tell Tim still prefers the townhouse with the enormous shower—which Tony can’t help but to notice is definitely big enough for three people—near Folger Park. He knows he doesn’t quite manage to sell Tim on the yard idea, but Tony’s pretty sure he’s wearing him down. In fact, by the second day, he’s fairly certain Tim’ll get the yard just to shut him up about it.

 

The break in the case doesn’t come until Thursday. They put the house hunting on hold when Boss gets a hit from the woman living next door to the commander. When Gibbs and Tony re-interview her, she suddenly remembers Mitchell’s little brother had been in town for the week but left in a hurry the day before the body was found. Gibbs leaves her house more pissed than when he came in, despite the fresh lead. Boss shakes his head over the wasted time, and his driving back to the Yard is almost as erratic as Ziva’s usually is.

 

Tim finds the brother in short order. The younger Mitchell checked into a local Motel Six with his own credit card and has been there since the night Commander Mitchell died.

 

Once the brother’s been located, the team gears up, but Boss stalls Tim when he goes for his gun, ordering Tim to stay and finish piecing together the phone records and financials for the Commander’s wife—just in case the lead on the kid brother falls through. And the thing is, even though it’s a little heavy handed of Gibbs to demand the information now, they do need the data to confirm the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Mitchell isn’t hiding anything, but as Tim’s face falls nearly flat of emotion watching the rest of the team scurry for the door, Tony knows that Tim only sees how marginal his task is, not how very much Gibbs wants an airtight case for the prosecutors.

 

Tony bites his lip, but there's no time to offer Tim a word about it. As it is, Tony practically has to run to keep up with Gibbs and Ziva. He takes a quick second to peek back at Tim just before they reach the elevator. He feels his shoulders pinch up as he watches the stiffness in Tim's posture, suddenly feeling Tim's exclusion as if it were his own.

 

Still, Tony shoves Tim to the back of his mind as the rest of the team drives to the motel, gets permission from the manager, and storms into Jared Mitchell’s room. The kid, who’s barely 22 according to his Virginia driver’s license, freezes when they breach the entrance but doesn’t try to run or resist in the slightest.

 

The younger Mitchell doesn’t say a word of protest when Ziva secures his cuffs a little more tightly than necessary. Tony can understand her impulse after the week they’ve had with Gibbs riding their asses, but he can’t help but see the sadness and defeat on the kid’s face. It’s not the expression of a killer. The death must have been an accident, Tony concludes, still watching the boy. If he’s guilty at all, that is, Tony corrects himself with a frown.

 

He and Ziva take to the observation room as Gibbs leads Jared Mitchell to interrogation to cool his heels, not that the kid’s heels need much in the way of cooling. Tony thinks it must be the pronounced sadness that seeps from the younger Mitchell and throughout the whole room that makes Gibbs change his mind, stop before reaching the door, and start the interview.

 

“Must have been hard,” Gibbs throws out the first ball, waiting to see if he’ll get a hit. When the kid doesn’t bite, he continues, “Being the kid brother of a successful Navy officer like Commander Mitchell.”

 

Jared just shrugs.

 

“Bet your parents were pretty proud of him.”

 

The boy clears his throat, “Our dad was,” he says. “We have different mothers.”

 

Gibbs nods in understanding and takes a seat across from him. Despite the kid’s defeated demeanor, Tony can’t help but get a bit of a thrill as he watches Gibbs start the process of reeling him in.

 

“Didn’t think you had much contact with your dad,” Gibbs prods using Tim’s earlier research—and there it is, the kid flinches—direct hit.

 

“I guess I didn’t,” he shrugs, hurt coming off of him in waves.

 

“Your brother did, though,” Boss leads, “Was raised by him, even, but you didn’t even meet your father until you were 18, did you?”

 

Jared freezes. He sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, hesitates, then shakes his head.

 

“Must have made you mad,” Gibbs tilts his head, and Tony can imagine that stare he’s giving the kid. He’s seen it, felt it, a thousand times or more.

 

Jared twists his neck to the side, “For a long time it did.”

 

“I’d be really angry at my father if he ignored me the way your dad ignored you. I’d be pretty pissed at my brother, too.”

 

The kid jerks his gaze back to look at Gibbs. “Mike was good to me after he found out who I was,” Jared insists.

 

Gibbs shrugs, “Doesn’t mean you weren’t angry at him. For a while, at least.”

 

Brow furrowed, the kid squints in confusion, “I don’t know, I guess. Maybe until I met him or something.”

 

Gibbs nods his understanding, and opens the file folder in front of Jared, tosses the photos of Mitchell’s corpse into Jared’s viewing. “That why you killed him?” Gibbs fires the first hardball. “Because you were angry?”

 

When the boy’s not shocked by the pictures, it’s obvious that he’s seen the image of his dead brother before. Tony gets that flare of satisfaction that always bubbles up when they find the right guy. The feeling’s contradicted by the quivering of the kid’s lip, though, and the way his eyes fill with tears that he won’t quite let fall down his cheeks. Jared traces the line of his brother’s head in the photo, thumb grazing the likeness of his brother’s forehead as if the commander were right there with him.

 

The kid doesn’t so much as shake his head, but he quietly refuses Gibbs’ interpretation of events when he claims, “Meeting Mike was the best thing that ever happened to me. He helped me straighten out my life. Made me get my GED. I was even looking at college classes.” He sniffs, “None of that would have come about without him.”

 

“He was up for promotion,” Gibbs comes back with an apparent non sequitur. “Did he tell you?”

 

Jared swipes at his face and nods, “Yeah,” a tear manages to escape from the corner of his eye.

 

“Was that it?” Gibbs stands and walks around the table, places his hand beside Jared’s arm, which is now huddled around the photo as if protecting the very image. “Was that what changed?” Gibbs lowers his head, gets right next to the boy’s ear. “What pissed you off? That no matter how much he helped you get your life in order, he’d always have it better?”

 

Tony barely catches the kid shake his head in denial because, next thing he knows, Probie slams into the observation room in a blur. “Has he said anything?” Tim demands.

 

Tony squints at Tim, “Boss is just about to break him,” he points to the glass and the now sobbing kid on the other side of the two-way mirror.

 

Tim winces and digs for his phone on the inside pocket of his jacket. Tony doesn’t have to see to know he’s dialing Gibbs. On the other side of the glass, Boss lifts his hand to his waist to silence the vibration of his phone. His face pinches in irritation at the interruption, though the kid seems to remain unaware of it, but Gibbs doesn’t acknowledge the call otherwise.

 

Tim takes a deep breath beside Tony and marches out of the room in a hurry.

 

“Wait, you’re not going to interrupt him?” Tony takes a step for him and raises a hand towards Tim’s back in disbelief.

 

Tony swings his head back around quickly, just catching Ziva’s cringe at the grief Probie’s setting himself up for by walking into interrogation right now.

 

Tim knocks on the door and opens it right away. Gibbs’ wrath seems not that dissimilar from what Lot’s wife must have see when she looked back on Sodom. Tony winces—hard. “Ooh, this is not good.”

 

“Boss, I need a minute,” Tim lifts his chin to the dressing down he has to know is coming.

 

Gibbs narrows his eyes at McGee, breath coming hard from his nose as anger actually makes his face redden. “Not a good time, McGee,” Boss gives a heavy emphasis to the second syllable of Probie’s name, which is never, never, never (seriously never) a good sign.

 

“It’s urgent,” Tim insists, then walks back into the hallway, leaving the door wide open and forcing Gibbs to get up and shut it or come out and talk to him, but making him walk over and away from the interview in either case .

 

Tony runs to the Observation Room’s door the second Gibbs straightens up. He peeks out at the threshold, not willing to put himself into this line of fire despite his affection for Tim. Ziva’s right behind Tony, fighting for real estate at the entry way.

 

Gibbs all but slams the door, shoving right into Tim’s space, forcing McGee back until he’s flat against the wall. “You never interrupt an interrogation,” he sticks a finger into Tim’s face. “I should never have had to tell you that twice,” he points back toward the room. “That kid was inches away from confessing, and now he has time to regroup, to think of something plausible that might get him out of the hot water he’s in,” and Tony knows Gibbs is actually angrier than even he normally would be at these circumstances considering how long it’s taken them to come to what should have been an easy conclusion to the case.

 

“Can I say something?” McGee asks, lips pursed, face inches away from Gibbs’ but not giving into the urge Tim absolutely has to have to look away from Gibbs at his most pissed.

 

“No,” Gibbs tightens his lip again, his body already backing away from the conversation even as his face remains all but against McGee’s, “and if you ever interrupt an interrogation again, I will have your ass.”

 

"Jared Mitchell is innocent," Tim speaks as soon as Boss' body is turned enough to lay a hand on the doorknob. "After Mrs. Mitchell's phone records and financials came up clean, I dug a little deeper into the commander's computer activity. It was hidden, but the path to the data was there: I found the commander's suicide note," he continues. "It's a video that shows Jared Mitchell walking into his brother's study while the commander's telling his webcam why he wants to die." Tim tilts his head and gets a bitter slant to his lips that Tony's barely ever seen. "Jared Mitchell interrupted the attempt and tried to wrestle the gun away from him. He couldn't save him, but he tried damn hard to do it," it was a rare curse from Tim, and rarer still for it to be directed to Gibbs. "Thought you might like to know before you coaxed a confession out of an innocent man."

 

Gibbs shuts his eyes, hand still on the doorknob. He doesn’t move a millimeter when Tim turns away from him and walks in silence past Tony and Ziva towards the bullpen. Gibbs only looks up when Tim’s rounded the corner. Then he follows Tim’s path, Tony and Ziva trailing right after him.

 

They get back to their cubicle just as Tim cues up the video on the plasma.

 

A deep wrinkle appears between Gibbs’ eyes, and when he speaks, his voice is soft in what passes for an apology from him. “What d’ya got?”

 

Tim tilts his head in their direction but doesn't look at any of them. “Commander Mitchell’s browsing history was clean, and the activity associated with his IP address didn’t show anything, but his brother has to be a hacker because somebody masked the data stream shortly after a large file had been sent out at the commander’s approximate time of death,” Tim purses his lips, and Tony can tell his partner’s fighting to keep his face as blank as possible. “The commander was streaming when he died,” Tim concludes, hitting ‘play’ as he does, and there it is, Commander Michael Mitchell offering his last words in what is easily recognizable as the computer chair where he died. The gun is clearly visible and is as noteworthy as the shocked voice of his brother, arriving just as Commander Mitchell is talking about how he’s unfit to be a husband and father, unfit for command. The subsequent struggle for the gun moves on and off the screen, but when it’s over, Mitchell’s dead, and his brother is crying.

 

“I knew you wouldn’t want to wait for a warrant,” Tim continues, almost completely without inflection, “so I hacked into the server that hosts the feed at Frontend Industries. I had to use cross-site scripting because I couldn’t fuzz it,” Tim goes into his technobabble, and Tony knows he’s doing it on purpose, prodding Boss into irritation because Tim’s angry enough himself to actually want to piss Gibbs off.

 

Gibbs runs his tongue over his teeth, keeps his eyes on the plasma, his head level when he says, “This is good work, Tim.”

 

“Thank you,” Tim narrows his eyes as he acknowledges the praise, his words entirely flat now. There’s no gratitude or pride in his voice at the rare compliment, and if Tony didn’t know better, he would think Tim didn’t care at all. But Tony does know better, and he can see right through to the hurt fueling Tim’s studied indifference. Tim moves around Ziva and Tony where they stand in the middle of the aisle. He calmly and deliberately places the plasma remote on Gibbs’ desk next to his lamp, then walks back to his own workstation where he slowly sits down at his computer and continues to work in that same achingly methodical way.

 

“I just got started on the warrant for the video,” Tim continues without looking up. “It should be ready within the hour so Ducky can reclassify Commander Mitchell’s death.”

 

Gibbs rubs at his mouth and turns back to interrogation, probably to collect the crime scene photos of Commander Mitchell’s dead body and to give a few kind words to the kid before they’re able to get the warrant that will officially let them dismiss Jared Mitchell as a suspect in the death of his brother. Hopefully, the Navy will cut him a break on the whole tampering with evidence thing, and the kid can leave with a clean record.

 

Meanwhile, Tony exchanges a look with Ziva. They make a game plan without words. She quietly follows Gibbs into interrogation, knowing as well as Tony does that her recent irritation with McGee will make Tim completely unreachable to her. Even when Tony and McGee are left alone together in the team’s cubicle, though, Tim remains stiff, his posture making him untouchable even to Tony.

 

Tony doesn’t say a word, just walks over to his workstation and grabs the Nutter Butter he’d been saving for a bad day from his middle drawer. He gently places it on the corner of Tim’s desk, not waiting to see if Tim so much as acknowledges it, instead, turning right back around to get started on the case’s closing paperwork at his own computer. Tony very carefully keeps his eyes on his own screen. He doesn’t even look over when he hears the loud crunch Tim makes as he bites into his candy bar, but Tony smiles at the sound, grateful for the slight connection between them, and for the hope that this will all blow over.

Chapter Text

The anger fuels Tim for the rest of the day, through the monotony of confirming the warrant, the intermittent stares he feels from all sides of the cubicle, and the growing certainty in his gut that he must be in the wrong place in his life if everything gets this pear-shaped during his everyday routine.

 

He closes down his workstation the moment Gibbs clears them to go—half an hour early due to the overtime they’ve been putting in on this case. Tony’s on his tail before Tim makes it to the end of the hallway.

 

“We still meeting Annie Wilkes tonight at the townhouse in Crystal City?” Tony runs to catch him.

 

“Her name’s Jena Santos,” Tim corrects for the thousandth time, simply not able to appreciate Tony’s Misery reference at the moment. “And no, I cancelled on her a few hours ago.”

 

“How about dinner, then?” Tony persists.

 

Tim bypasses the elevator and takes the stairs, not wanting to get locked up with Tony, who’s not at all above using the emergency stop to trap them together. “I don’t feel like it tonight, Tony,” he shakes his head. “I just want to go home and be done with today.”

 

“Okay, I’ll grab some Chinese and meet you there,” Tony pushes.

 

Tim gives Tony a sideways glance, “How many times have you pointed out that my apartment is not exactly conducive to having company over?”

 

Tony grabs his arm, yanking him to a stop. “So come over to my place,” he insists. “You can leave anytime you want, and I’ll even let you win at Guitar Hero.”

 

“Please,” Tim jerks his head backward. “I’m so much better at it than you are, it’s ridiculous!”

 

“So prove it,” Tony squeezes his arm, and Tim feels warm for the first time all day.

 

He glances up to Tony’s eyes before dropping his gaze down to the place where Tony grips his arm. He shrugs one shoulder and gives one solid shake of his head.

 

“Come on,” Tony cajoles, grabs Tim’s other arm as well, and then shifts Tim’s body back and forth like a marionette. “Greasy food, video games,” he peers down until he finds Tim’s eye, “Porn?”

 

Tim chuffs but can’t help but grin. He feels himself caving and knows Tony senses it too.

 

“Come on,” Tony urges one more time, tugging Tim’s shirt sleeve in the direction of their cars.

 

Tim shrugs and turns, letting Tony lead him over to where he’s parked. He sees Tony hesitate once Tim unlocks the doors to his Porsche. Tony bites his lip and doesn’t quite loosen his grasp enough for Tim to open the door.

 

“I’ll meet you there,” Tim promises, raising his eyebrows at Tony’s continued grip.

 

Tony smiles and lets him go. Tim considers, for maybe half a second, going home anyway, blowing Tony off, but Tony would just come after him regardless. He wouldn’t let Tim go and then he’d bitch for half the night about it besides. The thought makes Tim smile right back.

 

“Thanks, Tony,” Tim says as he ducks into the vehicle.

 

“I’ll see you there,” Tony points to Tim as he closes the door for him.

 

Tony hustles around to his own car, and Tim lets him lead the way to his place, not that he needs to give the idea of trailing behind any conscious thought whatever because Tim’s the most cautious driver on the team, always keeping at or under the speed limit, always mindful of obeying the road signs along the way. Tony always says it’s a damn shame Tim doesn’t open up the throttle and take on the highway full force what with a car like his. And it’s not that Tim doesn’t want to, sometimes at least, it’s just that it’s hard to forget what it feels like to crash when you let things get away from you.

 

They arrive at Tony’s fairly quickly. Tony flicks on his PS3 just as Tim enters the apartment behind him. Tim locks and bolts the door right away, knowing Tony prefers to secure the latches as soon as he walks in. Tim walks into the kitchen, checking out the various takeout menus where they sit beside the microwave.

 

“What do you think about subs?” he hollers towards the living room.

 

“Get me a meatball sub,” Tony yells back. “Oh, and get some sodas. I ran out last night.”

 

Tim makes the order, tempted by the idea of a meatball sub himself, but he gets a turkey sandwich instead, trying to keep the calories down. He adds a coke for Tony and a diet for himself, then starts weighing the benefits of a salad against his craving for potato chips. He gets one of each. Tony’ll want chips anyway, so Tim’ll just make him share a couple with him.

 

They trash talk while they compete on Guitar Hero but don’t say much otherwise. They take a break from the game play when the food arrives, and Tony suggests a movie while they eat. To Tim’s surprise, he breaks out Star Wars—Episode V at that. Tony always makes fun of Tim because it’s his favorite in the series, though Tony’s one to talk since he loves watching the Ewoks—the Ewoks! Still, it’s not as though it’s The Phantom Menace or anything, so Tim usually lets it slide.

 

They spur on the Rebels through the evacuation of Hoth and make fun of Han and Leia when they exit the ‘Falcon in the asteroid ‘cave’ wearing only oxygen masks. They’re already finished with their sandwiches before Tony says a word about their bad day.

 

“That was a good save you made today, Probie,” Tony throws out there.

 

“Mmm,” Tim hums noncommittally, then looks down to the remnants of his salad and wrinkles his nose at the wilting lettuce. He leans over to the middle of the couch and steals a chip from Tony’s snack bag. He stuffs it in his mouth, hoping to emphasize how very much he doesn’t want to have this conversation by keeping his mouth full.

 

Tony chuckles, “I couldn’t believe it when you stared Gibbs down like that in the hallway,” Tony grabs Tim’s attention by skipping the bullshit he normally would have spouted about how Gibbs really does respect Tim, and it was just an off day, and blah, blah, blah.

 

Tim swallows the chip and takes a quick sip of his soda. He bites his lip, considering, and Tony stays quiet beside him for once, seeming to realize Tim’s working up to something.

 

Tim puts his salad on the end table beside him and turns to look Tony right in the eye when he tells him, “I’ve been thinking about transferring to another team.”

 

Tony swallows hard. He blinks and purses his lips, but there’s nothing in his body language that says that he’s surprised at the announcement. “Don’t,” Tony says, his voice as small as a child’s, and Tim’s reminded of just how much Tony hates change. “It’ll get better,” Tony claims but ducks his head when he says it.

 

“No, Tony,” Tim shakes his head and keeps his gaze right on his partner. “I’ve said that to myself for a long time, but it hasn’t gotten better, and it won’t.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Tony insists.

 

Tim shakes his head in disbelief, “What is there not to know? Gibbs has no idea how unique my skill set is. He has absolutely no appreciation for how hard I work because he doesn’t understand what I do. He’s never even tried to understand.” Tim thumps his thigh with the side of his palm in frustration. “For crying out loud, Tony, he has so little respect for me as an agent, that he almost never sends me out in the field if he can avoid it!”

 

Tony throws the remnants of his sandwich at the coffee table, stands and starts pacing between the couch and his big screen TV. He’s breathing hard, his face indecisive when he turns back towards McGee for the third time. A split second afterward, a look of resolve comes across his features and then he turns on Tim, “It’s not like you’ve ever fucking tried to make it work either!”

 

Tim narrows his eyes and jumps up to face DiNozzo. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Tony’s breathing heavily from his mouth with teeth clenched and lips curling and uncurling almost spastically, like he doesn’t want to continue, and Tim suddenly knows with certainty that whatever Tony’s got to say is gonna hurt like a bitch. “You come into work,” Tony’s teeth clench harder as he spits out the words, “and you take whatever Gibbs dishes out, which granted, we all do to a certain extent, but you never put yourself out there. You always let him choose for you, and you never push for more. You don’t take any risks!”

 

Tim steps forward, blinking in amazement. “Do you have any idea what sort of penalties I could face for breaking into all the computer systems I’ve hacked for Gibbs? Today wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg! If someone had caught me breaking into the CIA, I’d be seriously fucked! I mean GiTMO fucked! I’ve taken more chances than you ever have for this job,” he shoves a finger into Tony’s chest.

 

Tony looks down to the digit pressing into his shirt, flicks his eyes right back up to Tim’s. “And yet you won’t stand up to Gibbs.”

 

“Oh, like you do,” he jerks his chin towards Tony.

 

“Yeah,” Tony nods, “I do, but I don’t bother arguing about bullshit. I tell him what matters when it’s really on the line, and this,” he swallows hard. “You are really on the line, but you are the one who needs to talk to him. You’re the one who has to stand up and demand what you want because he’s not going to respect you if I’m the one fighting your battles.”

 

Tim drops the finger and lifts his chin, “I’ve never asked you to fight my battles.”

 

“No,” Tony shakes his head, lips curling upward in the middle, a look of displeasure (or maybe even disgust?) sweeping over his features. “You don’t ask anybody for help, do you? Not even when you really need it.”

 

The air seems to rush from Tim’s lungs, leaving a vacuum in its place. “I came to you, didn’t I?” Tim finds himself blinking rapidly, wondering if this thing between them—this closeness that had only just begun—was ending. “I asked you to help me with this thing with Abby.”

 

“Yeah,” Tony wraps a firm hand around Tim’s upper arm and rubs his thumb along Tim’s bicep. “And I’m glad you did.”

 

Tim purses his lips and looks down between them, not sure how this conversation started with him being defensive and led to him feeling lost.

 

“I want you to keep coming to me,” Tony continues softly, dipping his head a little to get back into Tim’s line of sight, “But you have to know you can go to Gibbs, too.”

 

Tim shakes his head, but doesn’t move away from Tony’s grip. “I don’t—” he winces, feeling like he owes Tony this honesty but not sure if he can force it out of himself, “He’s not there for me like he is for you. It’s easy for you to go to him, but God, Tony, he can’t even stand to stay in the same room with me when it’s just the two of us! We run out of things to say to each other within a couple minutes and then he shuts himself into whatever he’s working on or just leaves the room.” Tim blinks and bites his lip. “How am I supposed to—” he sniffs, “I can’t—it’s like working with my father every day!”

 

Tony visibly startles at that, and Tim twists out of his partner’s startled grasp. He shows him his back, takes a few steps away, and swipes at his eyes before Tony can see firsthand how wet they are.

 

“I thought your father…” Tony stops and starts. “I mean, I guess we all thought…”

 

“I know what you thought,” Tim shuts his eyes and runs his hand through his hair. “I just…how do you contradict an assumption like that without being disrespectful?”

 

Tim hears Tony close the distance between them, “Disrespectful to you father,” Tony clarifies softly, though Tim doesn’t know how it’s not completely obvious who he means.

 

Tim shrugs, wipes his nose with the end of his sleeve even though it’s a completely disgusting thing to do. “At least Gibbs doesn’t—” he blinks just realizing what he’s about to reveal. “At least I had a chance of getting it right with Gibbs,” he settles on saying.

 

Tony reaches up with both hands to clasp Tim’s shoulders. He squeezes, and Tim tries not to but finds himself relaxing into the touch anyway. “You should talk to him, to Gibbs,” Tony clears up before Tim can relate the suggestion to his father. “He’s not going to push you away because you tell him you want something different from him.”

 

Tim takes a harsh breath and lets it go as slowly as possible, trying to keep his breathing under control. “I don’t even know how I could possibly start that conversation.”

 

Tony moves a little closer to his back, until he’s near enough to talk softly just beside Tim’s ear, until it seems like he’s close enough to press his body up against Tim’s back if he wanted to. “Forget social niceties with Gibbs,” Tony’s softly spoken advice tickles his ear. “Just go in there and say exactly what you want and exactly what pisses you off. He’ll be glad to hear it, I promise.”

 

Tim nods, sniffs one more time, but the sound seems so conspicuous in the slight space between them, "I should go," he tells Tony, actually tries to move to grab his things, but Tony's fingers tug at his shoulders—just a little—and Tim stops moving altogether, grateful for the insistence of Tony's grip. He doesn't really want to leave. It's just that he feels so naked right now.

 

“At least watch the end of the movie,” Tony prods, calling Tim’s attention to Han and Leia, about to realize they walked into a trap on Cloud City. “I want to see what happens,” Tony teases, and it’s just the right thing to make Tim laugh.

 

Tim brings a hand up to Tony’s where it grasps his shoulder, and he squeezes. “I gotta,” he gestures in the direction of the bathroom, not turning yet, embarrassed enough without Tony seeing his face.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Tony lets him go. He keeps the movie on and doesn’t look behind him when Tim enters the bathroom. Tim splashes water on his face and blows his nose twice. He washes his hands and just looks at himself in the mirror, wondering if he’s lost some of Tony’s respect for breaking down like he did.

 

He shakes his head. Tony’s not the type to hold something like this against me, he reminds himself, but he hesitates almost another full minute before he walks back into the living room.

 

“Hey, just in time,” Tony glances up when Tim returns, but then quickly, but not too quickly, looks back to the movie, “Luke’s about to stand on his head and fantasize about his sister.”

 

“It was a vision, Tony, not a fantasy,” Tim digs in by reflex as he retakes his seat. The start of the argument’s like an immediate balm, helping to restore his equilibrium right away.

 

“Please, Tim!” Tony jerks his head backward. “They kissed at the beginning of the movie. He was totally diggin’ her before he found out they were related.”

 

“Eh, I would concede he was into her maybe a little,” Tim crinkles his nose, “but if you look at that scene, you can tell Luke gains more enjoyment out of one upping Han than he does out of kissing Leia,” Tim points to the screen.

 

“Ha!” Tony huffs, and when Tim looks over, the older man’s looking right back at him. “Every guy likes a hot girl to grab him by the ears and kiss him.”

 

Tim shrugs his head to one side, “Maybe Luke would have rather Han grab him by the ears and kiss him,” he posits with what he knows to be a lazy smile across his face, feeling unexpectedly intrigued by the idea himself.

 

“You think Luke was gay?” Tony raises an eyebrow, and the look makes Tim nervous for a second because, for a moment, there’s a heaviness that almost feels like Tim’s brought up a taboo between them. But there’s no derision in Tony’s face or tone, only curiosity and a little amusement, maybe a hint of out and out interest in his voice.

 

Tim tilts his head again, smile still solid on his face. “Are you telling me you didn’t notice the huge and embarrassing man-crush Luke has on Han?”

 

“A man-crush is hardly the same think as a crush-crush,” Tony looks at him and opens both palms to the ceiling as he reverts to junior high terminology.

 

Tim shakes his head and readjusts his position on the couch, turning his whole body towards Tony. “But how different is it really?” he asks. “A crush is all about interests and chemistry, whether it’s a man-crush or a crush-crush,” he grins anew to use Tony’s term.

 

“Well, it’s not like a guy wants to have sex with a man-crush,” Tony shakes his head, but the motion and even his words lack the vigor of his usual arguments, like he’s waiting to see how Tim might prove him wrong.

 

“You’re sure about that?” Tim tilts his head, intrigued by the fascination on Tony’s face. “Maybe that bit of chemistry behind a man-crush just needs an extra push, a bit of permission to play around away from social norms.”

 

“So all guys with man-crushes want to go to bed with them?”

 

“Maybe,” Tim weighs the idea, head swaying back and forth as he considers, “maybe not. But maybe all that chemistry really is a repressed sexual attraction.”

 

Tony licks his lips, and Tim can’t help but remember now, too late, Tony’s reaction to that metro detective last year. Ziva had been quite vocal in calling the fast burning friendship a man-crush.

 

“You could be right, McFreud,” Tony says, one side of his lips curling upward, “but I wouldn’t start yelling the theory from the rooftops just yet,” Tony turns back to the movie as he concludes the thought.

 

Tim watches Tony’s profile another moment before forcing his own eyes back to the screen. He feels his breath coming a bit faster. He tries to get lost in the movie, hoping to slow down the rapid rise and fall of his chest, hoping Tony doesn’t notice, wondering what Tony would do if he did notice.

 

The movie ends almost without Tim realizing. Tony suggests another, but when Tim checks his watch, the hour’s a little too late to finish another film tonight and still make it home at a decent hour. He’s just about to shake his head when Tony adds:

 

“You could just sleep over,” the words come out nonchalantly, but Tim can’t help but feel an added weight to them. “You have an extra set of clothes in your car, don’t you?”

 

“I—” Tim’s brow crinkles, “Yeah…” his voice trails off. He feels like he shouldn’t accept, but he honestly wants to find a reason to stay.

 

Tony shrugs, “So grab your bag, and we’ll make a night of it.”

 

Tim glances at the couch, considering.

 

“It’s not like you have to take the sofa,” Tony dismisses the idea, though Tim hadn’t even thought that far ahead. “I’ve got a queen,” he points down the hall towards his bedroom.

 

Tim’s eyes flick up to Tony’s in a hurry. Looking up from beneath his lashes, Tim can see the nervousness in his friend’s gaze, and suddenly Tim relaxes because he knows now that he’s not the only one who’s worried about screwing this up and overstepping the new boundaries they’re forming between them.

 

“Okay,” Tim acquiesces, eyes still locked with Tony’s.

 

Tony nods. He jumps up from the couch and over to his gigantic movie collection, “Ooh! What do you think of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?”

 

“Never seen it,” Tim shakes his head and smiles, just waiting for Tony’s reaction.

 

“You’ve never—Probie, we’re going to have to work on your cinematic education!” he proclaims, scandalized.

 

“Yeah, alright,” Tim waves his hand in concession, smile still stretching wide across his lips. “I’ll go get my bag if you want to set it up.”

 

“Got it covered,” Tony reaches into his cabinet and unerringly picks up the exact DVD he wants.

 

Tim’s smile lasts the whole way as he makes a run for the car, yanks his lock box and his bag of spare clothes and toiletries from the trunk, and scurries back up to Tony’s apartment. The look of pleased anticipation on Tony’s face makes him glad he took Tony up on the offer.

 

Tony excitedly starts buzzing about the movie the second Tim retakes his seat. Tim lets the sound wash over him as he kicks off his shoes and leans back against the cushions, settling in for the duration.

 

Chapter Text

Tony wakes to find Tim’s face a foot away from his. He turns and checks the readout on the clock, only to discover they just have a few minutes left before the alarm blares.

 

Tony settles into the pillow, wanting those few more minutes to relax and gather his thoughts before the day speeds into fifth gear. He tries not to watch Tim, knowing how creepy it is to wake up to someone’s eyes on you, but it’s nice and so rare to wake up and see a friendly face in his bed, at least one that he doesn’t want to shove out the front door in order to get a little privacy before he has to make his way into work.

 

Tony shuts his eyes for maybe a minute, just enjoying the warmth of his bed, the subtle breath of his company beside him. When he pries open his lids again, he reaches over to Tim without sitting up. Tony shakes his shoulder.

 

“Hmm,” the soft sound escapes Tim, making Tony smile.

 

“Hey, Probie,” Tony speaks quietly so not to break the soft spell of morning. “Time to go to work.”

 

Tim lifts his eyebrows, his eyes still closed, and Tony knows he’s on his way to consciousness. “Get up, Tim,” Tony shakes his shoulder one more time. “I’m going to make coffee.”

 

Tim makes that quiet hum again as Tony steps out of bed and turns off the alarm before it can blare into their quiet morning. Tony goes for the coffee maker right away, then slips towards the bathroom to take a quick shower. When he makes his way to the kitchen, towel around his waist, Probie’s already there, mug in hand, another cup of coffee just beside him on the counter.

 

Tony grabs the mug and takes a minute to add milk and sugar to his brew. Turning back to Tim after shoving the carton of two percent back inside the fridge, Tony notices his partner’s focus trained on the floor in front of him with studied concentration.

 

Tony swallows hard and licks his lips at that unyielding and unnatural intensity. Usually when Tim gets that focused he seems unaware of loaning out his full concentration, but this seems to be a conscious choice, like he’s avoiding looking elsewhere. Tony feels his breath speed up. He carefully leans back against the counter, stretching his legs out in front of him in a measured movement as he wonders if Tim had been looking at him before giving the floor his death glare, wonders if Tim ever looks at him between Saturdays. His own eyes stuck on the kitchen table, Tony takes a quick sip from his mug. The brew’s a little more bitter than usual. He must have loaded his scoops a little too heavily.

 

Tim clears his throat, “I’m just gonna,” he sets his coffee down and points toward the bathroom.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Tony answers hurriedly.

 

They speed up their routine after Tim gets out of the shower. They don’t have time to stop for doughnuts, so they each grab a pop tart as they head out the door. Tony leads their tiny convoy to work, making a few lights Tim doesn’t, and he gets to the Yard a solid five minutes before Tim.

 

Tony heads up to the bullpen right away, trying to get a feel for the room before Tim comes up. Both Ziva and Gibbs are already there. Ziva’s returning emails, while Gibbs is busting through the closing paperwork on Colonel Mitchell’s suicide.

 

The elevator dings as Tony boots up his computer. He looks up just in time to catch Tim exit onto their floor. Gibbs glances McGee’s way as he enters their cubicle, but only his eyes move, and Tony doubts Tim could have caught that slight motion from his angle, that is, if he were bothering to look at Gibbs at all.

 

Tim settles at his desk with a perfunctory “Good morning,” that he aims more towards Tony than anyone else. Probie moves through his morning routine in near silence, and Tony is honestly unsure if he should attribute the quiet to residual anger or if Tim just switched over into thinking mode.

 

Tony catches a couple concerned glares from Ziva, but all he can do is shake his head with his own confusion. Ziva sighs after a while, finally giving up the silent interrogation.

 

By the time nine o’clock comes around, the pencil Probie’s torturing between his teeth finally lets Tony take a breath—just Tim’s violent thinking thing again. A few minutes later, Probie asks Ziva to check on a Spanish translation from Petty Officer Rodriguez’s mother. The young seaman had gone UA four days ago, and JAG had turned the case over to NCIS after a few oddities had appeared during their investigation.

 

“Of course, McGee,” she comes back quickly and opens the document on her own computer.

 

Some of the tension immediately eases out of the room with the exchange, though Tony has to wonder how much of the stressed mood Tim actually caught on to. While Probie can occasionally be oblivious in the best of times, when he turns inward, it’s sometimes like he can’t see anything else at all. It used to frustrate the hell out of Tony until he figured out that he could almost always annoy Tim into pulling out of his shell, at least for a little while.

 

Tim volunteers to go on the lunch run a couple hours later. Gibbs follows him downstairs with the excuse that he’s going to see Ducky. Tony seriously doubts Boss needs to talk to Ducky between dead bodies, but neither does he think Gibbs is actually looking to talk to Tim at the moment. Rather, Gibbs more than likely wants to get a feel for Probie’s mood while they ride down on the elevator alone. If Tony were to guess, he’d say Gibbs wants to know if anything’s really broken between the two of them. Tony would kind of like to know that himself.

 

A sigh across the way tells him Ziva wants to talk but doesn’t want to have to bring up whatever subject she’s looking to address. Tony obligingly glances up at her, offering a curious look.

 

“What was that?” he lifts his brows.

 

“What?” she lowers her eyelids like she has no idea what he’s talking about, and she’s trying to ignore his interruption.

 

“That sigh,” he points out, pushing just a little away from his computer.

 

Ziva shakes her head, “I do not know what you are talking about, Tony.”

 

Tony tilts his head, licks his lips, studies her forced casual posture. The easiest explanation is that it has something to do with Tim since she waited until he was gone to say anything. “So what happened between you and McGee on Monday?” he throws out there.

 

Ziva jerks her chin up. “Nothing.” And Bam! He has contact.

 

“Nothing,” the exaggerated nod of his head just telegraphing his disbelief. “Right.”

 

She shrugs. “We may have had a disagreement.”

 

“Oh, really?” he raises his eyebrows in mock surprise.

 

She bites her lip. “Tony, do you think,” Ziva rises and closes the distance between them to stand in front of his desk. “Do you think I have left parts of myself in Israel? Do you think I am holding myself back from entering a new life here?”

 

Tony widens his eyes and sits back in his chair, surprise so strong he knows it’s written all across his features. “Is that what McGee told you?” Tony tries to imagine Tim having the balls to say that to Ziva outside a life and death scenario, but then, on the other hand, Tim’s surprised him a lot lately.

 

She looks down to his desk and picks up Tony’s Mighty Mouse stapler, shuffling it from hand to hand and making Tony wince with concern. When she gets angry she tends to have a death grip.

 

She tilts her head to the side in a quick jerk, then releases her stapler hostage. Tony sighs with relief. “Yes. He did,” she answers simply after several long seconds.

 

Tony waits for her to meet his eyes, looks to see if she wants a real response. “You lease a car,” he starts, seeing the earnest expression on her face. “You keep all your money except your current salary back in Israel, despite the fact that it has to be a serious pain in the ass whenever you want to make a major purchase. You won’t talk to you father, but you won’t move his picture from your piano in the center of your living room,” the brow deepens between her eyes, but he won’t let himself stop because he knows Ziva won’t hear it later if she doesn’t listen to it now. “You’ve been seeing this Raymondo guy for eight months, but you barely talk about him to anyone, like you’re waiting for it to end at any minute. The friends you have outside NCIS are always changing. You never keep in contact with any of them beyond a couple years,” he tries to catch her stare, but Ziva’s eyes are pointed downward, and not really looking towards anything at all. “No, you’re not in Israel anymore, Ziva, but you’re not completely here either.”

 

She pulls a hand up to her mouth, resting her thumb on her lip. “My entire life, there was nothing I had that I could rely on to remain constant. It is,” she takes a deep breath, “difficult to become accustomed to the idea that this could ever change,” she confesses, “that I can actually relax and let myself want something in my life that exists in more than a temporary sense.”

 

“Hey,” Tony gains her attention with that small word. “We’ve always been in this for the long haul,” he gestures around the cubicle.

 

Her mouth smiles at the support, but her eyes remain pinched, just like anyone’s would be when they’re given a hard truth.

 

Ziva nods her appreciation and silently turns back to her desk. The thoughtful look stays with her through the rest of the day.

 

Tim slowly and subtly returns to the conversation after lunch. By mid-afternoon, Tony’s teasing earns him a smirk. Of course, he has to escalate his game after that, not giving up until he and Tim get into a small paper projectile war. Gibbs lets it go on a little longer than he normally would, but when Boss finally gives in and hollers at them, Tim doesn’t so much as flinch. Tony’s hope for the situation soars.

 

As they’re leaving work that evening, Tony tries to cash in on his raincheck for Panarino’s, but Tim turns him down, saying there’s something important he has to do. He glances towards Gibbs right after he says it. Tony’s almost certain Tim would have told him if he’d actually decided to move on the whole transferring bit that had nearly caused a panic in Tony last night, but with Tim’s eyes on Gibbs, Tony has to wonder if he’s wrong.

Chapter Text

Tim takes the long way home, mind made up, but heart still flinching at the thought of following through on his plan. He takes a shower when he gets in, relaxing into the soft heat of the spray. He takes his time getting dressed, toweling off carefully and even using the blowdryer Sarah’d left in his bathroom ages ago.

 

When he starts looking online to check for a new heatsink to replace the one Sarah’s slowly killing, he decides it’s time, and he makes his way out the door.

 

He’s only been to Gibbs’ house a dozen times or so, but his hands follow the route like he does it every day. Tim parks on the street, not wanting to have to worry about getting in and out of the driveway if he needs to leave quickly.

 

He has a hard time not knocking on the front door, the habit too deeply ingrained. Then, his hands nearly stutter in surprise as he turns the knob to find it unlocked, even though he honestly can’t count the number of times Gibbs has said that he never turns the latch.

 

He tries to keep his steps consistent and sure, tries to really feel that confidence he’s pushing hard to project. It kind of works. Tim goes right for the basement door and takes the steps at a clip. Gibbs is already looking at the stairs when he descends, either surprised because he knew the fall of Tim’s footsteps above him or confused because he couldn’t place his steps.

 

A few halting seconds after the two men make eye contact, Gibbs swallows and picks up a bit of sandpaper. Tim surprises himself when he immediately recognizes his Boss’ disquiet in the way the older man tries to keep his hands busy. The thought gives McGee pause, makes him wonder all of a sudden—if Tim, who is almost never the most socially observant person in the room (aside from those MTG tournaments during the Johns Hopkins years), can read Gibbs’ misgivings through his body language, is it because Boss’ uneasiness is that obvious or has Tim just never looked closely enough before?

 

“Pick up a piece if you want,” Gibbs gestures over to the pile of sandpaper, carefully paying heed to the new boat he’s building while somehow making Tim realize he’s still got the dragon’s share of Gibbs’ attention.

 

Tim looks to the square sheets, his hands almost itching to pick up that distraction, but he doesn’t want to think about this too long before he speaks, doesn’t want to consider what Gibbs’ response will be to the words he’s been struggling all day to give form to. Most of all, he really doesn’t want to imagine that maybe everything he knows and loves best about life could really be closing in on its natural end. After all, no one likes getting forced into a corner with an ultimatum, but Gibbs probably hates it more than anyone else Tim knows, and Tim’s not so blind that he doesn’t realize that’s exactly where this discussion will go the second he opens his mouth again.

 

Forget social niceties, Tim abruptly recalls Tony’s advice. Just go in there and say exactly what you want and exactly what pisses you off. He’ll be glad to hear it, I promise.

 

Tim sucks in a breath and moves closer to Gibbs, holding on to Tony’s words as hard as he can as he leans against the boat right beside Boss and gets a massive amount of sawdust in his eyes. The proximity makes Gibbs lean away from the wooden skeleton to focus that last remaining bit of his attention on to Tim.

 

For a second, Tim feels a fury of invincibility sweep over him—it’s that powerful an effect to have Gibbs’ full concentration centered right on him. That rush bursts like a balloon at high altitude when Tim spies something defeated in Gibbs’ gaze that he’s never seen before in his Boss’ eyes, never wanted to see, and suddenly, Tim can’t recall a single one of the angry phrases he’s been practicing in the back of his mind all day. Instead, it’s as though a thousand small regrets and miniature defeats—all piggybacked one on top of the other and all centered around the team and especially this man—pass through Tim’s mind so fast that he barely has time to remember the wound that brought him here. The truth is, that new scar forming between him and Gibbs isn’t even why he came tonight, but he doesn’t know what to ask for in order to get what he wants, what he’s always wanted from the man in front of him.

 

Tim parts his lips but honestly doesn’t know what’s going to come out of his mouth until he says, “I don’t like being left at the Yard while the three of you go out to follow a lead or make a collar. I am not your tech support. I’m a field agent, and I’ve earned the right to be out there just like everybody else.”

 

Gibbs exhales a short and heavy puff of air. He drops his eyes from McGee’s to look at the boat in front of him for a second, and Tim doesn’t breathe at all while Gibbs seems to judge his words. “You’re right,” Gibbs tells Tim when the older man meets his gaze again. “You have earned it.”

 

McGee squints at Gibbs, not sure yet if Gibbs really gets what he means from his own brief phrasing, or, moreover, if Boss is just agreeing with an observation or truly acquiescing to Tim’s unspoken request.

 

“I’ll get you into the field more,” Gibbs promises, ending Tim’s internal debate.

 

Tim stares at him another minute, not quite able to believe in the promise, but seemingly unable to push for anything further at the moment. Finally, McGee nods, feeling both his own breathless relief and Gibbs’ unuttered equivalent at the brief motion. “Thanks,” he tells his Boss, then turns around on suddenly jellied knees and starts for the stairs, feeling almost out of breath with gratitude as he walks away before a whisper of his worst case scenarios can rear their ugly taunts.

 

“You want to stay for dinner?” Gibbs asks before Tim can reach the second step.

 

Tim feels his brow furrow, his mind nearly stuttering at the invitation. He turns around, about to make his excuses, not really up to the stilted conversation such a dinner would provoke and not sure either way why Gibbs would want to prolong this interaction regardless. But when he looks at Gibbs again, he sees Boss’ gently raised eyebrows and his open palms reaching up towards the ceiling. He watches Gibbs take a step towards him, notes the cautious tilt to his head, and somehow, McGee sees a bit of hope reflected back to him.

 

Tim angles his head as he processes the new data. “I—” Tim licks his lips. “Alright.”

 

They don’t talk much as they wait for the pizza to arrive. Apparently, Gibbs doesn’t actually need to ask Tim what toppings he likes, but he does make sure McGee really wants the order he regularly gets when he’s at work.

 

What conversation they make between them is stilted and terribly awkward, but for once Gibbs seems to be trying to make as many inroads towards discussion as Tim does. It’s not until Gibbs asks after Sarah that Tim really starts to relax where he sits on Gibbs’ couch. Somehow, his little sister serves as a buffer between him and Gibbs, too.

 

Tim goes into the latest problems her rather cutting blog has gotten her into recently, especially with her current TA status as she works towards her master’s. Apparently her new advisor found her site, and even though there’s not a negative word about him in it, he ‘strongly suggested’ she lay off so she didn’t lose her position in the program. McGee automatically starts to move into the heat sink issue since he highly suspects the lack of ventilation the computer gets when she’s writing on her down bed is what’s causing it to fail.

 

He delves into the debate he’s been having with himself as to how or even whether he should go ahead and replace the part since he thinks she needs to take a little more responsibility for her actions, and this is as good a place to start as any. It’s not until he’s finished talking about it, though, that Tim realizes Gibbs’ eyes haven’t glazed over once.

 

Tim drops his own gaze, suddenly feeling almost bashful to have gotten so much of Gibbs’ concentration angled towards him. And then the doorbell rings.

 

Gibbs waves Tim down when he tries to stand. The older man pays for the pies at the door and brings the boxes to lay on the coffee table. Tim glances towards the table in the next room, but when Gibbs simply opens the first box, he realizes eating at the couch must be the norm for him. He digs into his own pizza, kind of wishing for a paper towel. He’s just about to lick the grease off his finger, which just—ew—when Gibbs tosses him a napkin from beneath his pizza box.

 

“Thanks, Boss,” McGee says quietly, surprised again at the level of attention.

 

“You know,” Gibbs begins quietly, “when you talk about Sarah, you almost sound like you’re her father.”

 

Tim jerks his neck over to look at Gibbs. His jaw stills. Boss’ face may be casual, but his eyes aren’t. Still, he looks more curious than knowing. Tim looks away. He shrugs and resumes chewing. “She’s almost ten years younger than I am,” Tim points out.

 

“And yet you never held her as a baby,” Gibbs’ voice is just as soft as it was a moment ago. It completely makes Tim’s world stop. But then his Boss just tosses a pizza crust into the box and digs in for another slice.

 

Tim doesn’t know what to say. And then he realizes he doesn’t have to say a thing because Gibbs isn’t actually asking anything.

 

That’s probably what spurs him to blurt, “Sarah was a second chance for my father,” Tim’s lips purse, and he feels the color fade from them when he whispers, “until she disappointed him, too.” He blinks slowly—the better to keep his face as blank as possible. “She comes to me when she’s in trouble or she needs to talk or she needs to rant. I’ve never turned her away. I never would.”

 

Gibbs sets a heavy hand in between his shoulder blades, gives him an approving pat. “You did good Tim,” he tells McGee. “You’re doing right by her.” And then Gibbs reaches up to squeeze the back of Tim’s neck and give a little shake. “You’re not at all a disappointment to me,” he adds, and something about the way he says it makes Tim ache to believe it.

 

It’s another long moment before Gibbs drops his hand from McGee’s neck, and Tim stays still the whole time, just letting himself feel the contact.

 

They talk about Gibbs’ lawn after that, and Tim learns more about mulch than he ever wanted to know. It’s kind of nice.

Chapter Text

Tony’s up by nine o’clock Saturday morning, unable to sleep or stay in bed any longer, too wrought by anxiety from not knowing exactly what Tim did last night.

 

He considers calling Tim, but it’s not like Tim can’t ignore the phone, and besides, Tony doesn’t want to tip him off in case Tim tries to run.

 

It only takes Tony ten minutes to shave and dress. He picks up his cell and his keys, his fingers reaching for the door knob when the phone rings in his hand. He pulls it up to check the caller ID: Probie, it reads.

 

“Hunh,” Tony drops his keys on the end table by the door. “Hello?”

 

“Hey,” Tim begins, not a bit of stress in his tone. “I’m meeting Annie Wilkes in an hour at the condo near Dupont Circle,” Probie uses Tony’s nickname for his realtor. “You wanna come check it out with me?”

 

Tony’s got more than a little confusion coming at him, “What about the Crystal City townhouse?” is all that comes out of his mouth. Tony’s dying to know what happened between Tim and Gibbs last night, if Tim even met up with Boss like Tony suspects, that is. But then, if Tim did have it out with Gibbs, why is he in such a good mood? Tony keeps his mouth shut on the issue for the moment though, wanting to be able to check out Tim’s face when he asks about it. Tim can lie a lot better on the phone than in person—when you’re looking right at him Tim’s eyes always give him away.

 

“Termites,” Tim comes back succinctly. “Besides, the bridge is a bitch in the morning anyway, one fender bender and every lane gets backed up practically to the Pentagon anyway.”

 

Tony raises his brows at the casual cursing. “Good point,” Tony shuffles his phone from one ear to the other, feeling off balance. “Okay,” Tony squints as if it’ll help him judge Tim’s responses better through the signal. “Yeah, I’ll tag along. Do you want me to go ahead and meet you there?”

 

“Nah,” Tim says, and Tony can practically see him waving his hand through the phone. “I’ll pick you up. I Googled the directions earlier.”

 

“Good, you can play navigator while I drive,” Tony immediately latches onto the excuse to get into the driver’s seat.

 

“I think I can follow my own directions, Tony,” and this time, he really can hear Tim’s smirk across the line.

 

“Oh, please,” Tony argues. “When you’re behind the wheel, it’s like Driving Miss Daisy, but in a Porsche. It’s embarrassing!” Tony picks up his keys once more.

 

“Hmm,” Tim hums, goes quiet for a moment, the only sound coming down the wire is the jingling of Tim’s keys, then Tim just hardlines it, “Ride with me or don’t, but I’m driving. I’ll be there in fifteen,” he tells Tony, not waiting for a response.

 

Tony pulls the silent phone from his ear, checking the display to make sure it really has disconnected. “Hunh,” Tony says once more, puzzled at Tim’s aggressive tone.

 

True to his word, Tim shows up almost exactly fifteen minutes later—even has a minute to spare. He must have already been on his way when he called, Tony notes.

 

“You ready?” Tim asks, just waiting at the threshold of Tony’s apartment.

 

Tony’s gaze drops down and catches the black leather jacket Tim’s worn the last two Saturdays. “Yeah, I’m good to go,” he latches the door behind him and follows Tim down the stairs.

 

Tony just catches the pleased sheen to Tim’s features when Tony steps into the Porsche with him.

 

“I thought maybe we’d catch some coffee and a sandwich on the way,” Tim puts his arm on the seat behind Tony as he backs out of the parking space.

 

Tony nods, throat dry at the slight brush of Tim’s leather jacket at the back of his neck. “Sounds good.”

 

They stop at Dunkin Donuts because it’s nearby and because, seriously, it’s Dunkin Donuts. They go ahead and eat inside because they have the time to spare.

 

They’re seated at a two-man booth with their breakfast before Tony brings up the pressing question, “So what was more important than Panarino’s last night?”

 

Tim smirks, “Wondered how long it would take before you broke.”

 

“Hey!” Tony jerks his chin out indignantly. It’s just for show, but Tim waves him off anyway, telling him with that bare motion that he means no offense.

 

Tim takes a sip of his coffee, either genuinely thinking about how to paraphrase his evening or intentionally torturing Tony with the suspense of not knowing. Frankly, Tim can be evil at the most random times, so Tony certainly wouldn’t put the latter explanation past him.

 

“I had a talk with Gibbs,” Tim finally admits, quirking his head as he does.

 

Tony examines the pose carefully, but he can’t spot a bit of remorse or unease. He can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He shakes his head, prodding Tim on, “And?”

 

Tim licks his lips, thinking again and driving Tony absolutely batshit insane in the bargain. “I let him know I’m a field agent, and I want to be out in the field.”

 

Tony’s breath exits slowly—he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding it. “What did he say?”

 

“He said, ‘okay,’ and then he invited me to dinner. We had pizza,” Tim finishes with a pleased smile.

 

Tony smiles right back and smacks Tim’s hand beside his. “I told you!” he says because he has to get it out of his system at some point anyway.

 

“Yeah, you did,” Tim ducks his head. “Thanks, Tony,” Probie taps Tony’s hand back and lifts his eyes.

 

“That’s what Senior Agents are for,” Tony keeps the back of his hand in contact with Tim’s.

 

“Nice to know you’re good for something,” Tim smirks.

 

Tony nods sarcastically and rolls his eyes, saving that headsmack for later when Probie least expects it.

 

They get back to the Porsche when they’ve thrown away the remnants of their meal. Tim’s never actually said he doesn’t like food or drinks in his car, but Tony knows he only brings them inside it when he’s doing a coffee run or a meal run for the team. And so Tony very deliberately and with great self-sacrifice, takes one last long sip of his coffee and tosses the rest. Tim bites his lip to try to hide his smile at the ostentatiousness of the action, but he doesn’t quite pull off a sober look.

 

It’s only a quick drive to the condo from there. Annie Wilkes meets them out front. In the back of his mind, Tony supposes he should stop calling her that, else he’s going to slip up and say it to her face.

 

Annie—er, crap, what the hell is her real name?—takes them upstairs to the condo right away. “Blah, blah, lovely foyer. Blah, blah, new tile in the bathroom. Blah, blah, fireplace. And of course, the gourmet kitchen’s been completely refinished with granite countertops, an island, and all new appliances within the last year.” ‘Annie’ tells them.

 

“Hmm,” Tony considers, then separates from Tim, who’s looking back and forth between the study and the smallest bedroom, to go check out the kitchen. The appliances are pretty sweet—all stainless steel. The stove, which is on the island, has six burners. There’s both a bar sink (also on the island) as well as a large, double tub sink on the outside wall. There’s enough space between the island and the outside counters to be able to move around while you cook, but not so much that the distance would get irritating. Tony nods. This could do just fine.

 

Tony scans the rest of the condo. The living room’s got a lot of natural light, but the windows would be easy enough to cover up when you wanted enough darkness to watch a movie. There’s no yard, of course, but there is a sizable balcony that could easily handle a small group of people—like the team—as well as have enough room left over for the grill and some patio furniture. The bedrooms are all of sufficient size. The smallest is right beside the balcony, so Tim could catch some air when he wanted to take a break from his writing. The study would actually make a much nicer home gym, Tony judges, what with the way its windows face east.

 

When Tony moves on into the master bedroom, he finds Tim in the connected bathroom ignoring the tub in favor of drooling over the huge shower stall. Tony squints in brief consideration at his partner’s pose before proudly declaring,

 

“I want this one.”

 

Tim raises his eyebrow at the demanding tone, but instead of challenging Tony’s lack of actual choice in which home Tim buys, Probie says, “Thought you wanted a yard.”

 

“Have you seen this balcony?” Tony points behind him rather emphatically. “We could easily have a team party out there, and we wouldn’t even have to mow the lawn! Besides,” he lifts his chin. “I like the kitchen.”

 

“Since when do you cook?” Tim raises his brows incredulously.

 

“Since always,” Tony shakes his head back at him. “It’s just never any fun to prepare a meal for one person, and most of the women I've been out with were much too picky eaters.”

 

“Perhaps I should leave the two of you alone for a minute to discuss the matter,” ‘Annie’ smiles pleasantly and heads for the living room. Tim blinks after her in surprise, and it’s only when a subtle blush hits Tim’s ears that Tony realizes that their realtor thinks they’re a couple. He licks his lips. It doesn’t bother him as much as he would have thought.

 

Tim clears his throat and looks back longingly at the shower again—and seriously, Probie must have some intense shower sex scenarios running through his mind. Tim tilts his head to the side, still looking away from Tony when he says, “Jena says the owner got a job overseas and is looking to close the deal as soon as possible. It doesn’t hurt that I’m willing to put half the money down, either, though.”

 

Tony twists his chin to the right in confusion, “Jena?”

 

Tim turns, a grin trying to steal its way onto his lips, “Annie Wilkes?” he reminds Tony.

 

“Oh,” Tony straightens his head. “I knew that.”

 

Tim just smirks.

 

“Well, what do you think?” Tony probes. “Besides the obvious shower fantasies, that is.”

 

Tim ducks his chin, flush spreading up from his neck this time, “Well,” he loses his battle with the growing grin. “The location works even better than I thought it would.” Tim tilts his head consideringly, “I probably don’t even have to drive anywhere if I don’t want to. Plus, it’s a big bonus that it’s in a certified green building since that will make maintenance and utilities easier. I like how big the living room is,” he continues, index fingers drawing a circle in the air to emphasize his point, “and how the bedrooms are down the hall from the common areas of the house. I also like that the guest bathroom is in between the master bedroom and the guest bedrooms.”

 

Tony grins hugely. “You do like to get noisy, don’t you?” he blurts out, then shuts his mouth and blinks, not even believing he just said that.

 

Tim walks towards him, leather jacket bouncing with his strut. Probie doesn’t stop until he’s right in front of him. “You’re one to talk,” Tim points out with a single raised eyebrow.

 

Heat suffuses Tony’s face at the observation, and the redness on his cheeks just gives rise to a giant grin across Tim’s lips. Damnit! Tony thinks. DiNozzos never blush! Except apparently when they do.

 

Still, to his credit, Tim doesn’t say a word about it. Tony graciously decides not to use the headslap he’s owed in return for the favor.

 

“You really like it that much?” Tim inquires, indulgent look on his face.

 

Tony shrugs, wanting to scream, Yes! But instead he forces himself to say, “I’m not the one who’s going to live here.”

 

“Yeah, but you’ll be over here a lot, right?” Tim spits out and then immediately backpedals. “I don’t mean that I expect you to, to…I mean there’s an extra bedroom, of course, and I like the smallest bedroom best for my writing room, but I could always put a daybed in the study for Sarah.”

 

And right after Tony’s mind stretches with satisfaction at knowing McAuthor’s writing preferences, he registers the rest of Tim’s words, finds himself holding his breath in surprise that Tim’s mind went immediately to overnight visits.

 

Tony licks his lips, “Yeah,” he confesses, easing his breath out slowly, “I like it that much.”

 

Tim nods, a quick smile flashing across his face, “Me, too.” He points both thumbs towards the living room. “I’m going to go get some more information about the dues and stuff, but if the information I already found holds up, then I think I might go ahead and put an offer on it.”

 

Tony nods as Tim goes, leaving him in the master bedroom—which has a lot more closet space than Tony originally realized—alone to look around and think.

Chapter Text

 

Tony’s body feels like it’s been thrumming all day, waiting for the night to come. Tim’d dropped him off at home in the mid-afternoon, just after they had shared a late lunch. Tony couldn’t focus on any one task between then and ten-thirty pm when he finally let himself start getting ready for the club he was taking Tim to tonight.

 

Tony’s already raring to go out the door by the time Tim buzzes the bell shortly before midnight. Tim drops his car keys onto the coffee table—they have to take Tony’s Mustang since the Porsche is only a two-seater. The two of them hustle downstairs, unloading their clips and securing their weapons in the lock box of Tony’s trunk, so they can be ready to go in a hurry just in case they get a call from work while at the club.

 

No alcohol tonight. Tony bites at his lip as he thinks that over. Tim had really seemed to need a push to let himself relax on their previous Saturdays, and Tony doesn’t know if Tim’ll be able to let loose without that incentive or excuse or whatever Tim needs the booze to be for him.

 

To Tony’s surprise, Tim goes right for the bar anyway the moment they get into the club. He watches Tim order them a couple cokes—diet for Tim, of course. He hands Tony his and then leans back on the wooden bar to slowly sip and watch the crowd. Meanwhile, Tony’s eyes are just on Tim. It isn’t until Tim blinks self-consciously that Tony fixes his gaze elsewhere. He leans back right next to Tim, pretending to look out into the crowd, but not quite seeing it yet.

 

He leans into Tim, “See anything you like?” he asks.

 

Tim shrugs and scrunches his face, squinting one eye with the motion, uncertainty rampant throughout his pose. Tony takes one more quick sip, discards his drink, then grabs onto Probie’s hand—hell it worked last week—and pulls him out onto the crowded floor. Tim glances around when they get out there, maybe trying to guess who Tony’d picked, but then Tony puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder, before skimming it down to his hip. Tim quirks his head at the dance pose, but to Tony’s relief, he doesn’t shy away.

 

“To let them know we’re a package deal,” Tony leans in far enough that he doesn’t have to look at Tim’s face while he explains, but the thing is, the movement brings him close enough to Tim that he can hear Tim’s breath catching, can feel the shiver (of what—surprise?) running up his body. And Tony realizes, as much as they’ve alluded to the way they share their Saturday nights now, neither one of them has ever quite put it so starkly, like it’s a fait accompli.

 

Tony keeps careful watch on the room as he keeps a hold on Tim. He has to be on his toes if some asshole decides to take exception to how close he and Tim are dancing together. They get a few dirty looks, but no one actually moves over towards them.

 

A few women approach them, all of them flirty and curious. Tony watches Tim’s reactions, but nobody really seems to catch Tim’s eye right off the bat. Then a woman dancing by herself approaches them. She smiles at their proximity, and Tim smiles at the pixie cut of her black hair.

 

Tony watches carefully, noting the woman’s probably between him and Tim in age. She dresses, not conservatively, but with more care to her assets than most women ten years her junior. As they let her dance between the two of them, the shortness of her skirt and the length of her heels in particular seem to set Tim on fire—and how the hell had Tony ever thought Tim was a breast man?

 

The inclusion of a woman into their group seems to ease the looks from the homophobic contingent, and while Tony doesn’t exactly let himself relax at that observation, he does feel his body thrum a little more wildly to the beat.

 

“I’m Jeannie,” she tells them after they introduce themselves, and Tim smiles widely when Jeannie’s lips brush lightly against his ear.

 

They press in more closely against her. Tony likes the way she starts to pant when they grind against her from both sides. It makes him wonder how far she might want to take the sensation of being surrounded.

 

He kisses her throat, and Tim starts sucking his way down from her ear. Tony moves his grip towards her ass and crosses Tim’s hands as they travel down to rub against the inside of her thighs. The backs of Tim’s fingers brush against the front of Tony’s thighs as Tim teases Jeannie, nearly making Tony gasp at the proximity to his cock. Tony finally wraps his palms around Jeannie’s ass, feeling Tim grind into her from behind. And all of a sudden, Tony’s achingly hard.

 

“Tell me what you like,” Tony whispers urgently to Jeannie, as the possibilities of this moment stretch out in front of them.

 

“I like being in the middle,” Jeannie responds, without frills, without teasing.

 

“A backdoor kind of girl?” he asks, his mouth dry, his hands clenching.

 

She gives him a sultry smile at the intensity of his reaction against her body, “Yeah,” she tells him and bites down gently on his earlobe.

 

Tony doesn’t waste any time at that invitation. He grabs Tim’s whole head in his palm, pulls Tim’s ear right next to his mouth. “I want this girl,” he tells Tim desperately, already thinking about bending her over and spreading her wide open.

 

Tim nods back, the movement shaking Tony’s palm where it’s wrapped around him.

 

He watches Tim lean into her to tickle her ear with his words, “Come play with us,” Tim tells her, just barely loud enough for Tony to hear.

 

And God, how Tony’s hips respond to those words. Jeannie grins wildly, and they lead her out to their vehicle. She won’t get into the car with them until she texts a friend with their names and Tony’s license plate number as well as the hotel they’re planning on going to.

 

While she’s typing, Tony pulls Tim aside. “She wants us at the same time,” he gets right to the point.

 

“At the same,” Tim clears his throat. “L-like a front and back deal?” and Probie stutters, and when Tony nods, Tim starts panting hard immediately. He yanks on the lapels of Tony’s shirt, pulling him close, the sleeves of Tim’s leather jacket brushing roughly against Tony’s shirt. “Tony, I want—I mean I really want—Well, that is if she doesn’t have a preference, I really want to fuck her ass.”

 

And Tony’s completely speechless at the baldness of the phrase coming from Tim’s mouth. His hips surge towards Tim’s, and he flushes when their dicks rub against each other, but he only feels the heat between them. He’s too far gone to feel even the most remote sense of embarrassment.

 

“Yeah,” Tony whispers back, even though he’d been desperate for the same position only a moment before.

 

And then Tim brushes his lips against Tony’s in appreciation. Tony’s eyes flutter shut, and he feels his brows raise as he kisses Tim back, as he mindlessly leans right into his partner. Jeannie walks over to them just as they break away from each other.

 

While Tony’s licking his lips, almost still feeling the press of Probie’s mouth against his, Tim squeezes into the backseat so Jeannie can have the front because of course he does. Probie flirts with her neck and whispers between kisses along her jawline of what the three of them will do together when they get into the room. Tony’s hands clench and unclench around the steering wheel almost spastically as he listens to snatches of Tim’s promises of our hands all over your body…fucking you onto his dick… mouths marking your skin…both of us inside you.

 

The sounds of their teasing makes his hands feel so empty even around their concentrated grip. The feeling persists even after Jeannie sidles up next to him and tempts him with her fingers along his thigh, even after he tickles his own fingers up her leg, under her knee, under her skirt to just barely skitter beneath the edge of the fabric.

 

The entire trip is that same kind of torture for Tony as they make their way to the same hotel as last week and make good use of the valet parking. Tony flips out his credit card at the front desk since, despite their audience in the lobby, Tim can’t get his hands away from Jeannie’s ass long enough to find his wallet with both hands.

 

Jeannie eats it up, rubbing up against Tim and driving Tony crazy with how much he wants to fucking finish this checking in bullshit and join in.

 

Tony all but snatches the keycard from the receptionist and corrals Tim and Jeannie towards the elevator. His hands move all over both of them, and he finally sheds that emptiness as he pushes them inside and grabs hold of them both—one in each hand. He presses the button for their floor, and he grinds against them, takes turns kissing them both as they take turns kissing each other.

 

Tony shoves Tim’s jacket off his shoulders as soon as the hotel room door is secure. He starts helping Tim get undressed, feeling Jeannie’s hands on him as she takes off Tony’s own clothes, feeling Tim go back and forth between them to help them shed their clothing.

 

They tumble on the bed, still trying to get the rest of their clothes off. Tim grabs the condoms and takes the lube Jeannie had in her purse, then he crawls up behind her and starts stretching her ass right away. Tony climbs on her other side, throws one of her legs over both of his to give Probie a better angle, and then Tony sucks on her tits, his eyes open and watching Tim’s face as the younger man works his fingers inside Jeannie.

 

Tim’s hand’s a little too slick by the time he remembers the condom, so Tony tears open the package and unpeels the rubber onto Tim’s dick, the hard length surging in his hand as he does. It feels almost the same as when Tony touches his own dick, but the grip makes him shudder immediately and in a completely different way.

 

Tim enters Jeannie first, and Tony gives her a moment to adjust to Tim’s girth as he puts his own condom on. He waits until she nods before he slips inside her himself. And fuck how she moans once they’re both inside. And Tim moans and groans and jerks and every time he fucks into Jeannie, Tony can feel it.

 

And it’s so fucking good, and Jeannie’s lips and hands move all over him, and God, Probie’s hands move all over him, too. And Tony loves the way Tim’s chest feels beneath his fingers, loves the way Probie’s ass is a sweet handful, loves how he and Tim just manage to reach over Jeannie enough to be able to kiss each other.

 

And Tony doesn’t even try to hold back, and he seriously doesn’t need to. Jeannie’s so hot for it she comes twice while they’re both inside her, and Tim surges into her right after the second time. And the way it all pushes against Tony is fucking awesome and then he’s coming, too.

 

And then all Tony can hear is his heartbeat. All he can see of the room is surrounded by a fading, graying white, and Tony honestly doesn’t know if he blacks out or not, but Tim is completely out of it behind Jeannie.

 

Tony takes another moment to calm his breathing. He pulls out of Jeannie, careful, as always with the condom. He looks around to her other side, and when Tim still doesn’t move, Tony does the same thing for him, too, feeling the intimacy and trust in the act all the way through to his bones.

 

Then Tony leans back against the pillow and promptly falls asleep.

Chapter Text

The sound of an alarm towards the end of the bed wakes Tim up. He looks around the dark room in confusion, not recognizing the sound beyond the fact that it’s calling for him to wake up. A body rouses beside him, and he sees that it’s Jeannie trying to extricate herself from between him and Tony.

 

“Hey,” Tim lays a heavy hand on her stomach, that touch alone spiking sensation throughout his whole body, which is both decidedly satisfied and achingly horny.

 

Jeannie turns over and kisses Tim hard just as Tony rolls over to face them, a sleepily curious look washing over his face as he, too, tries to place the blaring of the foreign alarm.

 

“I wish I could stay longer,” Jeannie tells them as she moves down the bed. “But my babysitter’s got to be at work at seven o’clock.”

 

“Seven o’clock?” Tony asks, and it’s obvious by the rasp of his voice that he’s not quite awake yet.

 

“That’s my six o’clock warning,” Jeannie points down to her purse where it’s still somehow clinging to the edge of the bed.

 

“Hmm,” Tony grumbles, waking up a little more. Tim considers his partner’s unusual grogginess and a quiet understanding of it clicks into place—Tony’s only ever that out of it in the morning if he figured he’d be able to sleep later when he went to bed the night before. It’s odd, like Tony can mitigate his sleeping habits based on his expectations of how long he’ll be allowed to sleep. It implies a much greater awareness of environment than Tim’s ever fairly given him credit for. There’s also something sad about it, though, that makes Tim wonder how often Tony truly lets himself relax, even in the comfort of his own bed.

 

Tim stands up, still distracted by his thoughts of Tony, as he helps Jeannie separate her clothes from theirs. It takes them almost five minutes to find her left shoe before they discover it had somehow been thrown into the bathroom. Tony joins them in their search after a few minutes, his heavy cock bouncing in the frenzied air between them the moment he tosses the covers from his body.

 

Once she’s dressed, Jeannie hugs them at the door, glancing down with a rueful grin to their mutual interest jutting hot and hard from between their legs. The three of them seem to move even more closely together as he and Tony each kiss her goodbye. Jeannie’s soft touches and the hot length of Tony’s naked body teasing along Tim’s skin effectively refocus Tim’s attention to this moment in front of him. Their lips linger as Jeannie whispers her thanks, and then he and Tony whisper the thought, their hands against her body, and the contact seems to thrum like an electric current through the three of them.

 

Jeannie finally makes it out of the room, and Tim stares at the door he closed behind her, unbelievably hard. He hears Tony’s heavy breath beside him. The sound makes Tim realize he’s almost panting himself.

 

Tim rubs at his face and when he looks down towards his toes, he can’t help but to notice anew Tony’s hard dick reaching out between them. Tim bites his lip and clears his throat—twice—finally pulls his gaze back up to somewhere near Tony’s face, but he’s breathing even harder than he was a second before.

 

“I’m gonna,” Tim points his thumb towards the shower, needing to jerk off so badly he can feel the tension in his toes.

 

He starts to walk by Tony, but Tony stops him abruptly with a hand, wide open and demanding, pushing against Tim’s chest. Tim looks up at him in puzzlement, and that’s when Tony runs his fingers up Tim’s neck, right into his hair, and yanks him in for a hot, hard kiss.

 

Tim opens his mouth right away, too hot for it to even consider refusing. He grabs Tony’s hips and pulls his partner right against him. Tim moves against Tony, grinds against him, their tongues playing tag while Tim pushes Tony back towards the bed.

 

They bounce against the sheets together. They scoot to the middle of the bed, lips together, cocks rubbing against each other as much as possible. Tony skims up Tim’s body with his fingertips, and Tony must have been paying attention these past few weeks because then he pushes down hard as he runs those short, rough nails down Tim’s back, making him gasp, and Tim’s been paying attention, too, because he works his teeth down towards the tendons of Tony’s neck and bites because it’s always made Tony growl every time one of those women did it to him, and it makes Tony growl now, the desperate noise making Tim rub harder against his partner.

 

Tony comes with a moan, his body surging up to meet Tim’s, and Tim moves rougher against Tony, liking the slick feel of Tony’s come between them. Tony pulls Tim against him with both hands on Tim’s ass, and Tim shoots his wad right there. He jerks against Tony another moment, then relaxes right onto Tony’s body, enjoying the feel of his partner’s tight, hard muscles and the tickling crinkle of Tony’s body hair on his skin, most of all liking the mixture of scents wafting up between them—hot sex and Tony and their come mixed together and the softness of something between them that has always made Tim feel welcome.

 

Tim offers gentle kisses to the teeth marks at Tony’s neck while Tony softly, almost sweetly, runs his hands up and down Tim’s back.

 

“Probie,” Tony whispers beneath him.

 

And the word is so startling in this context, with the feel of Tony’s body lax and lush beneath him. Tim’s eyes shoot open, his body stiffening. He rolls away, sitting up as he does, and Tony lets him go. Tim just blinks a moment, unseeing, his breath coming hard. He clears his throat. “I should get a shower,” Tim finishes his thought from earlier.

 

He swallows hard, not sure if he can face Tony, but not wanting to not be able to face him. He settles for patting the other man’s hand where it rests beside his. Tony grabs and squeezes Tim’s fingers for just a moment, and though Tim can hear Tony holding his breath, his partner doesn’t say a word. Tim moves his legs to his side of the bed and walks to the shower without looking back.

 

Under the hot spray of water, Tim considers throwing on his clothes and going home as soon as he steps out of the bathroom, but the idea of leaving Tony here alone, maybe even thinking that something was wrong between them, shakes Tim so badly he dismisses the thought right away.

 

It feels decidedly odd, moving back into the bedroom. Tim picks up his boxer-briefs from the floor, slides them up his legs, and hesitates, his eyes on the bed. Tony’s eyes are closed, but the tension in his body tells Tim at a glance that he’s not asleep. Tim runs a hand through his still drying hair, and crawls up the sheets maybe a couple feet away from Tony on the king-sized bed.

 

Tim wants to touch him somehow, a part of him needing that grounding, another part feeling that maybe even a quick graze of his skin to Tony’s could help make this right.

 

Tim bites his lip, steels his back, and gives in to the urge. “Shower’s free,” Tim whispers, his fingers barely skittering against Tony’s shoulder before he pulls his arm back in. Then, Tim sets his head on the pillow, closing his eyes before Tony can open his.

 

A few moments later, the bed dips as Tony shuffles out from under the covers. The shower starts a minute afterward. Tony spends a while in there, giving Tim way too much time to think. Perversely, when the water stops again, Tim can’t say as he’s actually completed a full thought in that entire time. Tim doesn’t even realize his eyes are open until Tony pops out from behind the bathroom door—his body clad only in one of the hotel’s fluffy cream-colored towels.

 

Tony looks over at him right away, his gaze twittering away on finding Tim’s eyes open.

 

Tony greets him anew after a prolonged silence, “Hey,” he says, and bends down to carefully pick up their clothes. “Do you,” Tony ducks his head while he straightens out a pair of pants—Tim can’t even tell whose they are from this angle, and he doubts Tony’s paying attention to that either. “Do you maybe want to go out to breakfast?” Tony asks, his eyes flickering Tim’s way but not quite meeting his. “My treat.”

 

Tim sits up and shakes his head. Tony’s face falls right away, apparently having caught the motion in his periphery vision. “I-I think it’s my turn to pay,” Tim stutters, just realizing Tony thinks he’s rejecting the invitation. “I didn’t mean for you to shell out for the hotel again last night,” he says, unthinkingly, and Tim can feel the blush creep up his chest once the words catch up to him.

 

Tony shrugs with studied nonchalance, a tiny bit of tension rolling out of his shoulders with the motion. “I didn’t mind.” Tony tosses the slacks across the back of the desk chair beside him. His hand follows, setting a hard grip on the wooden backrest. “Besides, you can always catch next week, right?” he jerks his chin towards Tim’s direction, but his eyes stay locked somewhere near the foot of the bed.

 

“Yeah,” Tim breathes a little easier. “I’ll get the tab next Saturday,” he promises.

 

Tony nods, his eyes finally flying up to find Tim’s. Tim smiles at his partner, and after a long moment, Tony smiles back.

 

“So,” Tony rubs his hands together like he tends to when food is on his mind. The motion’s a little contrived, but Tim can see how hard he’s making an effort to try to normalize the conversation, “Porquois Pas, Probie?” Tony suggests.

 

“Why not?” And when Tim out and out grins at his dual meaning, Tony grins right back.

 

They make it to the restaurant, the air between them charged but not exactly uncomfortable. Tony blathers on randomly here and there, and Tim argues with his observations just because. There’s a light jazz rhythm playing in the background as they find their table. The band won’t get there until after nine-thirty, but the subtle tones of New Orleans ease out through the speakers in the meantime.

 

It’s not until the café au lait and beignets are on the table that Tony blurts out of nowhere, “You know, I’ve been thinking of trying out Lux again next week,” his fingers twitch along the edge of the tablecloth.

 

Tim furrows his brow. “Which club was that?” he asks.

 

Tony rolls his head forward and raises his eyes up to Tim’s, his head still angled downward. “Where we met Dana,” he reminds him. “Who knows,” Tony shrugs not-quite casually, “maybe we’ll run into her again.”

 

Tim licks his lips, belatedly nods, remembering how hot Dana got when she watched him and Tony kissing. He considers his and Tony’s heated exchange this morning and briefly wonders if that’s what’s spurred Tony’s renewed interest in the woman, but then he recalls how steamy the encounter with Dana was even before he’d kissed Tony.

 

“Yeah,” and Tim’s eyes flicker down to Tony’s lips involuntarily. “That sounds good.”

 

Tony smiles softly and nods in response. “Good,” Tony echoes, and takes a sip of his orange juice.

 

The mood abruptly changes at that. The calm that comes over Tony at Tim’s acceptance quickly seeps Tim’s way as if through osmosis. The charge in the air between them doesn’t exactly fade, but it drifts to the background as they tell each other well-worn jokes and answer with familiar tones of laughter as the brisk, new morning slowly yields way to a comfortably sunny afternoon.

Chapter Text

On Monday morning, Tony’s still fighting with the phantom sensation of Tim’s body lying on top of his. He figures it’s just the novelty of the sensation—hairy thighs instead of smooth skin, hard muscle instead of the give of a woman’s soft body as it invites you in. Still, Probie’s body seemed pretty inviting until Tim glanced up at him afterward with that look of utter disbelief and sprang for the bathroom. And Tony couldn’t even blame him for the reaction—hell, he could hardly believe the whole thing himself!

 

And the worst part is, the whole situation could have turned into a cluster fast, because, the truth is, no matter how horny they were at the time, Tony fucked up so hard when he kissed Tim after Jeannie left. He seriously lucked out in a major way with how Tim was able to keep the whole thing in its proper perspective at breakfast. Not that Tony really understood what that perspective was himself, he’s just really glad Tim got it.

 

So from the moment Tony rolls out of bed Monday, he’s striving to hit normal at every checkpoint. It’s Tim’s turn to get coffee, so Tony texts Probie with his regular demand of what sort of pastry he wants today, adding the usual snarky comment about Tim’s sudden preference of power bars over doughnuts.

 

Tony admits he does pump up the volume on the stereo as he drives in to work, but it’s not because he’s trying to distract himself. It’s just that the DJs are playing some of his favorite songs, well, except for that Pat Benatar tune he hates and the Boys of Summer remake that always makes him cringe.

 

Tony glides straight into a strut the second he shuts his car door, humming the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as he walks. He practically dances into MCRT as the BeeGees in his head hit those long high notes.

 

Gibbs barely glances up at him, but Ziva immediately raises her brows as a hint of amusement codes in the crinkles of her eyes.

 

“I recognize that tune,” her lips quiver with the need to smile, and Tony can’t help feeling his own mouth respond accordingly at seeing the humor seeping across her features.

 

“Closet disco fan, Ziva?” he invites her into conversation. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he shakes his head gravely in playful contrast to his words. “I bet you lit up retro night at all the techno clubs in Tel Aviv.” He squints into the distance as if spying back in time. “In fact, I can see it now—your hair bouncing with the beat as you did the hustle under the glimmering shine of the disco ball. Tell the truth, Ziva, did you do a little dance, make a little love,” Tony ducks his chin and raises his brows suggestively, “get down tonight?”

 

“Ah, yes, Tony. You do know me.” She lifts her chin towards him in an open sort of gesturing. “I love Dancing Queen, and you illustrate it so perfectly.” She wiggles her shoulders as even they seem to flutter with amusement.

 

Tony feels his grin leave his eyes at the slight gay allusion even as he knows Ziva’s about as likely to know what a queen is as Gibbs is liable to buy himself a pair of Ermenegildo Zegnas tomorrow. Irrationally, it makes him wonder if his actions from the weekend are painted all over his face for the world to see—and man if Ziva can see on his skin how desperate he was to touch McGee yesterday, then what the hell does Gibbs see? And if they can see now how eager Tony was to touch Tim the day before, then what did Tim see as Tony was actually reaching for him?

 

Tim had seemed okay with everything after they’d parted that afternoon, but what if he’d reconsidered the whole thing after he’d thought on it a while? Tim is nothing if not a thinker. What if Tony’s actions yesterday made Tim rethink this whole thing between them? What if he wanted to stop?

 

Tony moves behind his desk to stow his gear, distracted by the reel in his head as he tries to remember exactly what Tim said in the hotel room. Was it a mistake that Tony relaxed into their morning after their post-showers conversation? Should he have been more insistent about the not-gay, no-seriously-NOT-gay thing? Tony completely stills in his tracks on the way to moving for his gun drawer as he realizes he can’t even remember telling McGee he wasn’t gay at all—not even once.

 

He licks his lips and slowly eases his weapon into its drawer.

 

“Problem, Tony?” Ziva asks across the way, and her tone has just enough of a tease in it to send a prickle of irritation up Tony’s spine and get him moving again.

 

He glances up to see a playful smirk painted across her features. Tony straightens out his shoulders and hones his total focus to her. “Just enjoying the morning, Zee-vah,” he stretches out her name, which is, by far, the easiest way to provoke her.

 

She narrows her eyes at him, but then tilts her chin to the right and glances at him sideways, smile still flirting with her lips. “I have no wish to hit someone who is on the ground, so I will make no comment on your apparently,” she pauses, giving all the more emphasis to her next word, “frustrating weekend.”

 

He furrows his eyebrows and quickly turns in towards his chair, trying not to trip at how closely that burns. “Ziva, Ziva, Ziva,” he manages a grin when he glances back at her. “It’s ‘kick someone when they’re down,” he corrects. “Not that you need to worry about that with me today,” he winks at her extravagantly.

 

She rolls her eyes and stands, walks over to him with steps measured by her growing annoyance—she hates it when he winks. “Tony, I do not understand why you persist in perpetuating this charade. It is not as though anyone believes you when you walk in here every single Monday morning and chatter on and on about your weekend exploits.”

 

“Why, Ziva,” he moves a step closer to her, “is that jealousy I hear in your tone?”

 

“No, Tony,” she meets him step for step, and a few years ago, her casual invasion of his space probably would have gotten him feeling prickly for an entirely different reason than it does now. “It is called irritation. Perhaps you should do us all a boon and look it up.”

 

He tilts his head and glances down her body, pretending an attraction he doesn’t feel anymore. “Now where would the fun in that be?”

 

She squints at him, not at all falling for it, and he realizes suddenly and with what feels like relief that she no longer feels a spark between them either. “What is wrong with you today?” Ziva raises her hands in a motion not dissimilar to how one might strangle another. Tony quickly runs behind the relative safety of his desk.

 

“Just feeling the good life, Zee-vah,” he sits and leans back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head as he strives to hang onto his casual vibe with both hands.

 

Ziva’s eyes immediately drop to the bit of skin where his neck meets his chest to the little piece of himself that he’s just inadvertently revealed with his stretch. And he wants to drop his arms, hide what she’s looking at from the sarcasm in her gaze. She moves closer right away, checking out the mark Tim left on his skin.

 

“Ahh,” she nods, a mean bit of glee written across her cheeks—not that Tony can blame her for feeling it at this point, finally recognizing the level of asshole he’s already achieved this morning. “I see you did not have such a frustrating weekend after all,” she taps two fingers against his neck, right on the hickey Tony just discovered that morning. “And yet you are still in a bad mood,” she notes. “What happened, Tony?” Ziva prods with faux sympathy. “Did she ask for a second date?” She smirks. “Or perhaps it is the fact that she did not?” she tilts her head, lifts her brows.

 

Tony growls at her, and Ziva removes her fingers in short order. She saunters back to her desk, evil grin still intact. Tony watches her go, but when he would have redirected his attention back to his workstation to log into his computer, he feels Gibbs’ eyes right on him, feels Boss’ concern and attention from across the room. Tony blinks, but he doesn’t dare return Boss’ look. Gibbs has always been able to look right through him—right to him—to what really mattered, and Tony can’t afford for Boss to do that today.

 

Tim walks in a few minutes later. “Good morning,” he greets everyone cheerily.

 

The tension in Tony’s chest immediately eases at Tim’s good mood and the casualness to his stride. The fear Tony’s been trying to ignore for the last twenty-four hours dials back a little bit. Tony swipes at his mouth in an attempt to hide a bit of his relief.

 

“Hey, Tim,” Tony greets him back, fairly sure the shaky relief swelling up inside him doesn’t make it into his tone.

 

Tim passes out their morning coffee, then sets a pastry bag on Tony’s desk with a flourish, “Apple Turnover,” he announces.

 

“Hey!” Tony feels the space between his eyes crinkle in indignation. “I told you glazed doughnut with chocolate icing!”

 

“Oops!” Tim tilts his head to the side in fake apology.

 

Tony breaks open the bag right away, and there’s his requested doughnut. No offensive fruity bits in sight. He rolls his eyes at his Probie, who’s already passed Ziva her muffin and is handing Gibbs a pastry. Gibbs never requests so much as a sweet roll. In fact, when he oh-so-rarely indulges his sweet tooth, he only ever really opts for blueberry strudel (unless, that is, he’s really hungry). Tony has no idea offhand if Tim would have noted Boss’ quirk, but Gibbs offers Tim a rough thank you and even a quick smile before even looking inside the bag, and Tony knows at once that Gibbs is going to eat whatever it is that Tim’s picked up for him, blueberries or no.

 

Tony ducks his head and feels the beginnings of a grin across his lips. When he glances back up, he notes Tim’s got one more bag left in his hand.

 

“No power bar?” Tony prods, feeling a tease bubble up in his throat.

 

“Nah,” Tim shakes his head. “I felt like being bad today,” he concludes, lifting a single brow high onto his forehead.

 

Tony knows his jaw’s dropped, and he can feel a pleasant but completely and utterly inappropriate twitch in his groin. Ziva laughs across the way, and at first Tony imagines she’s laughing at what he knows must be his all-too-obvious reaction to Tim’s flirty words, but when he spies a look at her, Tony quickly realizes she’s not even glancing his way at all. Instead, her pleased grin and sparkling eyes are all for Tim.

 

Tony has another brief moment of panic, jerking his head towards Gibbs when he wonders if Boss spotted his reaction, but Tim’s still standing directly in Gibbs’ line of sight, blocking any and all views to Tony’s knee-jerk response. Cock-jerk response? Tony ridiculously ponders a second later. Oh, for fuck’s sake, he berates himself almost immediately.

 

When Tony anxiously turns his neck to peer back in Ziva’s direction, he quickly realizes that her eyes have finally landed on him and, ooh, that little wrinkle of confusion between her brows never means anything good for him. For crying out loud, Ziva can almost be as nosy and determined to get into people’s business as Tony himself is. And while he might have otherwise thought he and Tim had been lucky Ziva hadn’t “accidentally” tripped into their Saturdays over the past month, the truth is, Tony knows it actually has more to do with the fact that their little Israeli bulldog offers a lot more breathing room to Tim due to his whole privacy thing than she ever would to Tony.

 

Unfortunately, that offhand comment from Tim seems to set the tone for Tony’s day, so much so that two hours later, Tony wants to bang his head against the side of his desk in an effort to at least focus his misery. Where the hell are all the criminals, lately? he wonders, practically ready to beg God for a callout just to get away from Ziva’s confused glances, Gibbs’ seemingly all-knowing eyes—and how Tony hopes that’s not an entirely true statement right now—and most of all, Tony really needs to catch a break from Tim’s newly found and slightly dirty sense of humor.

 

By the time eleven o’clock rolls around, Tony’s so desperate to go on the lunch run he offers to pay for everyone. With irritation, he notes the team exchange concerned glances at his declaration.

 

“Sure, Tony,” Tim begins slowly. “Thanks.”

 

Tony gets everyone’s orders and practically runs for the elevator. Tim jumps into the lift right after him. Tony purses his lips together at the invasion, irritated at himself for enjoying Probie’s obvious concern.

 

Tim stares at him a moment while the elevator takes them down. When Tony drops his eyes, Tim reaches out and flips the emergency switch—something Tony’s never remembered him doing before. Tim has always been too aware, too mindful of the rules to do such a thing before. Tony doesn’t know if it speaks to the changes he’s noticed in Tim of late or to his own state of mind that Tim should break with socially appropriate behavior now.

 

Tony puts his hands on his hips. Head low, he looks up at Tim from beneath his eyelashes, unable to stand his partner’s gaze full on.

 

Tim bites his bottom lip—the one Tony had been sucking into his mouth with abandon just yesterday—and watches Tony for a moment.

 

“I thought we were okay,” Tim begins softly.

 

“We are,” Tony contradicts, not moving a muscle.

 

“Right,” Tim nods and waves a hand toward the stiffness of Tony’s form. “Obviously.”

 

Tony blinks away. He ducks his head and confesses in a voice much too small to be his own. “Tim, I—” Tony winces and shifts his feet. “I fucked up. I’m sorry.”

 

“No,” Tim denies the confession before Tony even finishes speaking. “If you’re talking about yesterday, then no. You didn’t.”

 

Tony shakes his head and looks away. “I never should have—” he can’t bring himself to give words to his actions. It was one thing when there was a woman in between them, but even that was so incredibly borderline with the way they…Tony squints, his mind stuck on the sweet bite of Tim’s mouth against his, the surprising strength of Tim’s hands, the way his body arched up into Tony’s touch. The way Tim always seems to invite Tony to touch him. And fuck all if Tony doesn’t want it just as much now as he did yesterday morning.

 

“It’s okay,” Tim speaks softly, his obvious belief in his words giving them strength that has nothing to do with volume. “It happened,” Tim shrugs, leaning a little farther into Tony’s space as he does. “Why do we have to make it into a big deal when it’s just between us? If we both say something’s okay with us, then it is,” he insists.

 

“So it’s just that easy?” Tony tucks his chin into his neck and jerks his head, his body language belying just how hard he wants to believe Tim’s words, his mind racing as he wonders if it might be okay with Tim again sometime.

 

“Why not?” Tim raises both palms in frustration. “You’re my best friend, Tony,” Tim takes a step closer. “Tell me why it can’t be that easy?”

 

“You were really upset at the time,” Tony treads softly, even as he feels a bit of hope trickle into him at the thought that this problem might have a simple answer.

 

“I was surprised, Tony,” Tim counters. “It was kind of new to me.”

 

"Well, Tim, it's pretty fucking new to me, too," Tony throws right back to him, the words just whipping out of his mouth in his nervousness even though he'd never planned on even hinting to Tim that this whole thing between them started with a misunderstanding.

 

“I thought you…” Tim trails off, chin tilting far to the right.

 

“No,” Tony corrects him, turning his head to the side on a quick twitch.

 

Tim’s whole face crinkles in confusion. “But you said—”

 

"No," Tony cuts him off, keeping it brisk so he doesn't risk saying anything more damning. "I didn't."

 

“So you,” Tim stops and restarts at a pained whisper. “So this whole time you didn’t even want—”

 

"No!" Tony comes back quickly, trying to get rid of the defeat in his partner's tone. "I did. I just—" didn't know it, Tony purses his lips, not certain if it's better or worse to keep that thought behind his teeth. "I have no idea what I'm doing!" he finally shakes his hands in frustration.

 

Tim shrugs a little self-consciously, half smile tilting his lips. “Me neither.” He shakes his head. “What’s so wrong with that?”

 

“You’re my best friend, too, Tim,” that small voice comes out of Tony’s mouth one more time. “I can’t afford to fuck this up.”

 

“You won’t. We won’t,” Tim denies the possibility as he steps closer, only halting when he’s inches away from Tony. “I swear it,” Tim concludes fervently.

 

Tony looks right at Tim, at his determination set in the way his body leans towards Tony and sealed in every one of Tim’s features, and that unsettled part of him calms considerably to see that stubborn set to Tim’s features. The only person more obstinate than Tim when he gets an idea into his head is Gibbs, and even then, if it came between the two of them, Tony’s not sure who he’d put his money on for shear pigheadedness. Tony nods and taps two fingers to Tim’s upper arm, wanting to extend the contact between them, but settling for the light touch.

 

“Okay,” Tony finally agrees.

 

Tim checks Tony’s gaze for doubts for another moment. When he seems satisfied with what he finds, he twists back around towards the elevator controls and flips the emergency switch off. Tim comes with him on the lunch run afterwards, helping him carry their sandwiches back from the nearby deli.

 

Upon their return, Gibbs gives Tim a hard glare, and Tony realizes at once that Tim left without a word to where he was going, let alone to say he was leaving the Yard—big no-no in Gibbsland. Tony cringes, but Tim just takes the glare and helps Tony pass out the food. Surprisingly, Boss doesn’t push the issue any further than that, and Tony abruptly realizes that Boss is still treading lightly around McGee. Tony’s not sure yet if that should please or concern him considering their history. Tony shelves the issue, shoves it to the back of his mind to focus on this moment with his team because everybody’s happy and healthy and loose in a good way, and he’s never sure how long the good times might last.

 

When Tony rolls to the edge of his desk with his sandwich, rolls closer to Tim, they share a soft smile. And Tony notes with relief right afterward, as he glances about the cubicle, that neither Boss nor Ziva pay any particular mind to the mutual gesture.

 

Tony smirks when Tim offers him a bite of his salad. “You should have just gotten the potato chips like you wanted instead of trying to mooch mine,” he tells Tim in lofty tones.


Tim lifts his chin and glances between his meal and Tony’s. “I was trying to be nice. Your cholesterol has to be through the roof.”

 

Tony squints back playfully, “You leave him out of this.”

 

Tim presses his lips together hard, trying not to allow his grin to let loose. He ducks his head, losing the battle. When he glances Tony’s way, Tony returns that smile, feeling grateful Tim aimed it at him.

Chapter Text

“McGee!” Gibbs bellows as he hangs up the phone.

 

Tim looks up just in time to see Boss throwing a set of keys at his face. He somehow manages to catch the object midair, recognizing the keyfob to the Charger only as Boss instructs,

 

“Got a lead on the Treski case from last week. Metro’s got a potential witness in their custody from the BOLO on the Mercedes. Fifth District,” Gibbs yields the location as McGee reflexively grabs his gun and his bag.

 

Tim looks Tony’s way, wondering if he can get Boss to let their Senior Agent loose after Tony’s odd behavior throughout the morning. Tony’d calmed down considerably after lunch, had even started joking with them again, though his humor kept switching between incredibly tame and wildly outrageous with no obvious triggers setting him off either which way.

 

“Take Ziva,” Boss adds, and when McGee twists his head to look back at Gibbs, the tilt of the older man’s chin tells him that Tony’s not going anywhere for the rest of the day if Boss can help it.

 

McGee meets Boss’ eye and nods his understanding, realizing that it probably is a good idea to keep Tony out of the field when he’s still regaining his balance.

 

Tim nearly sighs in his disappointment. He still doesn’t know what to think about Tony’s admission that he’d never done this sort of thing with another guy before. They’d apparently been talking at cross purposes since that first night in bed together with Dana. Or had they? Maybe Tim’s reading too much into the situation. He does manage a sigh then because, yeah, he probably is dissecting Tony’s actions unnecessarily. Tim’s overanalyzing nature tends to kill off his relationships faster than anything else. Tim bites his lip and forcibly pushes the problem to the back of his mind because that’s not going to happen this time. Not with this thing he has with Tony.

 

A quick glance in Ziva’s direction shows she already has her weapon secured at her hip and her pack across one shoulder. As she rounds her desk, she holds out her hand to him for the car keys, seemingly by reflex, but Tim thinks maybe the line of her body is a little stiffer than it usually is. Though McGee doesn’t begrudge her the slightly assuming gesture—he almost always allows her to drive when it’s the two of them alone, after all—Ziva’s posture gives him pause. While it’s not as though Tim forgot about his disagreement with Ziva last week nor the resulting heart-stopping drive to and from the crime scene, seeing her stiff form now simply makes it clear to him how much he wants to put their argument behind them.

 

But bridging such a distance between them is new ground for the two of them because he and Ziva rarely argue, and they almost never keep a disagreement going for longer than a day. For some inexplicable reason, though, instead of furrowing his brow at the problem, Tim grins and dangles the keys just out of Ziva’s reach. “Ha!” Tim shakes his head at her and zooms right past her into the bullpen hallway. “No way, Jose!” he declares, a chuckle escaping his lips at the old tease he and Sarah used to throw back and forth as children.

 

“Who is Jose?” Ziva sputters where she’s standing still, but then she runs to catch up with McGee so they can walk side by side the last five feet to the elevator. When he slants his eyes in her direction, he sees the beginnings of a grin teasing the corners of her mouth.

 

Tim glances back at Tony after he presses the call button. McGee keeps the smile across his mouth to try to somehow mitigate the uneasy purse he spies across his partner’s lips. Tony’s eyes pop up to meet Tim’s just as the lift beeps its appearance. He doesn’t quite manage a smile as Tim steps inside, but there’s a certain amount of calm that comes across Tony’s face before he’s out of view.

 

Tim presses the button for the garage and looks over to their other partner. Ziva licks her lips nervously about three times in a half a minute time frame.

 

Tim finds himself squinting at her uneasiness. If Tony were here, he’d have a joke to either irk her or make her laugh—something so they could forget their disagreement and go back to being comfortable with one another.

 

“Sarah and I used to have poke wars,” Tim blurts after another moment of silence stretches long and wide between them.

 

Ziva twists her body towards him immediately. “Poke wars?” she asks, offering far more of her attention to the offhand comment than she usually might. “Poke as in the button on Facebook?” her head tilts and her eyes squint by a hair.

 

“No, no!” Tim shifts his feet to turn his body towards hers. “Way before social networking software. No electronics at all,” he corrects with a wave of his hand. “Just, you know,” he extends his index finger and lightly pushes it into the firm muscles of her belly, “poking,” he concludes.

 

“Poking?” she questions, pushing her own index finger into his belly.

 

“Yeah,” he nods, poking her back by reflex.

 

"How is poking," she emphasizes the word with another repetition of the act itself, "at all reminiscent of war?"

 

The elevator dings and the two of them walk into the parking structure. “A single poke does not a war, make,” Tim tells her with a sage nod as they walk together towards the Charger, “but,” he lifts his poking finger in emphasis, “repeatedly trading pokes on the other hand…” he leads off, getting in another nudge as he does.

 

“Ahh,” Ziva nods, grin rapidly replacing the confusion splashed across her cheeks. “So you poke,” again a jab of emphasis to Tim’s belly, “each other back and forth and the frequency of it,” she guesses with a lilt in her tone, “makes it a war-like activity?”

 

“Eh,” he measures her wording, bouncing his head back and forth, “not just the frequency,” he advises. “It’s more like the overall competition of it.”

 

He glances her way and spies the beginnings of her furrowed brow so he clarifies, “It was also about surprise, cleverness, force, and whether or not we got caught.”

 

“Caught?” Ziva squints.

 

“By our parents,” Tim clarifies.

 

“So your parents did not approve of poke wars?” Ziva questions, aligning her steps so she walks a little closer to him.

 

He shakes his head. After a second, he confesses, "There are eight years between me and Sarah. Mom and Dad didn't think it was very fair for me to poke her because I was so much bigger than she was."

 

Ziva briefly squeezes his hand as she says, “They were not very familiar with Sarah’s personality, I think.”

 

"No, they weren't," Tim licks his lips, mind going all the way back to the days when Dad was always shipboard, and Tim used to take Sarah out of the house—anywhere and everywhere—so Mom could stay home and rest. Tim didn't know for a long time that resting meant something different in the McGee household than it did in his friends' homes. "Not so much back then, at least," Tim chuffs, the earlier memory replaced by how thoroughly Sarah came to assert herself in later years.

 

“You do not seem the type to have disobeyed your parents as a child,” Ziva asks without asking, somehow immediately reminding Tim of his conversation with Gibbs that past Friday.

 

Tim bites his lip, feels his head drop. “I wasn’t. I’m not,” he clarifies as he acknowledges the fact that he’d still probably do just about anything his parents asked of him. Almost anything. He bites his lip harder.

 

“And yet you had poke wars anyway,” Ziva points out softly, her tone almost musical as it practically sings her acceptance of him.

 

“It was too important for Sarah and me to stop doing it.” Tim shrugs and turns his head to look his partner in the eye to explain, “It was how we let each other know we were sorry without having to say the words,” he pokes Ziva once more, so very lightly, just to the right of her belly button.

 

Ziva looks downward to the finger that poked her. She takes a deep breath and sniffs before tilting her head back up, a smile slowly spanning her face and taking over. “Me, too,” Ziva pokes him back just as softly on his left flank.

 

Tim grins back and pulls her into a one-armed hug, and Ziva responds with her own arm around him. They walk together that way for a moment before Tim uses his other hand to poke a quick finger into her side.

 

“Ah!” Ziva laughs, twisting her body away while still keeping an arm around Tim’s waist. She immediately jabs him back, just a little more roughly.

 

They keep up the joined posture and the poking all the way to the car.

Chapter Text

Tim and Ziva don’t get back to the Yard for another three long, desperate hours, and Gibbs’ eye seems to be focused on Tony the entire time. Normally, Tony’s pretty sure he’d be basking under Boss’ watchful gaze, but just now, he can’t keep his mind away from Tim and the way Tony’d touched him yesterday and the fear that, despite his partner’s assurances, Tony really had gone too far.

 

It’s not that Tony imagines his partner might lie to him—Tim’s just not capable of insincerity. It’s just that Tony absolutely cannot figure a scenario where reaching for Tim like he did wasn’t completely inappropriate to their relationship.

 

When Tony’s partners finally step off the elevator and back onto their floor again, he spies them trading grins and pokes. Ziva catches Tim with a couple of jabs to his flank, which Tim readily returns, but then Ziva gets him once, hard, right in the belly, and Tim winces even as he grins all the wider. Tony shakes his head fiercely and squints his eyes at the oddity of the invasion into Tim’s space. Weirder still, though, is the fact that Tim not only allows the trespass, but seems to encourage it as well. And, well, okay, Tim often gets physical with Tony in mock fights or real ones, and of course the back of Probie’s head is fair game for anyone on the team, but otherwise, Tim usually has a little invisible bubble-wrap-like deflector coating about him that most people realize they can’t broach and so they rarely even bother to try.

 

Ziva gleefully dares to wiggle her poking finger a little more against Tim’s side—right above his belt—and that’s seriously not fair because Tim is wickedly ticklish around the waist, which Ziva obviously knows! Tony’s eyes narrow as he wonders how long ago she figured it out and whether she’s employed this tactic before. Immediately, Tony decides Ziva couldn't have learned about Tim's soft spot from him because Tony practically never tickles Tim in public, partly…er, okay—mostly—because it always seems more than a little gay to tickle another man to the point of giggling, but also because it’s a part of the guy code that you never tell other people your best buddy’s weak spots. Not when you can effectively exploit them yourself, anyway.

 

Of course, Ziva’s the one exploiting Tim’s not-so-soft underbelly at the moment. Tony’s jaw clenches along with his fingers to see Tim grinning because of those probing fingers. Tony narrows his eyes when Tim playfully smacks away Ziva’s hands like he usually does to Tony’s.

 

“So how did the interview go, McRed-Light?” the words spill out of Tony’s mouth before he really registers them in his mind.

 

Immediately, Tim’s chin tilts Tony’s way. The grin on Probie’s face remains staunchly in place when he questions, “Huh?” with brow furrowed.

 

Tony’s shoulders relax ever so slightly. Tim can be completely oblivious at times. Then Tony zooms his gaze in on Ziva, feeling one brow lift in inquiry as he does. “Well?” he demands of Ziva.

 

Ziva rolls her eyes at him, sets her backpack behind her desk, and turns her attention to Gibbs, answering the query as if Boss had been the one asking. “Metro charged our potential witness, a Leo Martin, with breaking and entering. We tried multiple times, but he would not speak to us without his lawyer, who, in turn, would not allow Mr. Martin to speak at all, despite the fact that we mentioned—on several occasions—that we were not investigating him for a crime.”

 

“It got us thinking, Boss,” Tim’s response dovetails exactly with the cadence of Ziva’s voice, and once again, Tony feels his back straighten in concern. “We backburnered the Treski case from Norfolk last week because even though the pattern seemed to fit with several such thefts at bases across the country,” Tim lets his pack fall from his shoulder to his desk as he talks, “it seemed like only low profile items were taken from the NEX, which didn’t really make sense considering how fluid the criminal operations were executed, but—”

 

Tim trails off and Ziva takes over, “What if the thefts we know about from the Naval Exchange were simply a smoke-mask—”

 

“Smokescreen,” Tim seamlessly corrects.

 

“Yes, yes!” Ziva snaps her fingers on both hands—including the evil belly-poking finger—and then points towards McGee. “A smokescreen,” Ziva rounds her desk and walks towards Tim, who is walking right back to her. Tony comes out from behind his desk and meets the two of them in the middle, squinting at them both without prejudice. “And the perpetrators were after a larger target,” Ziva finishes.

 

“So I started looking up other possible objectives,” Tim jumps in again, pulling his phone from his back pocket. “And according to the sketches from the crime scene,” Tim taps his cell where Tony knows Tim always sends the details of their most immediate cases, “the bulk of the thefts in each NEX clustered around its money transferring location within the store.”

 

“We will have to check each location,” Ziva chimes in, “But McGee believes the perpetrators,” she squints and looks over to Tim, satisfied smile on her face, “are diverting wire transfers to fraudulently accrue interest.”

 

Boss leans back in his chair, and Tony leans into the space Tim and Ms. Pokey Fingers seem to be sharing. “So bank fraud?” Boss simplifies it.

 

Tim squints measuringly, and his eyes go skyward for half a second before landing back on Gibbs. “Wire transfer fraud, yes,” Tim refines Boss’ suggestion, “though it might more accurately be called a kiting scheme.”

 

Gibbs halfway angles his head away but keeps his gaze square on Tim. “Kiting?” Boss demands an explanation.

 

Tim scratches his chin, then opens the hand wide at face level, for emphasis. “Basically using money that isn’t really there to earn interest on your account.”

 

Gibbs shakes his head and keeps his eyes on Tim. “Wire transfer is supposed to be quick,” Gibbs points out, his words seeming oddly cautious. “People are going to notice if their money doesn’t get where it’s going.”

 

Tony looks Tim’s way just in time to catch Tim’s brows raised in satisfaction as his ready answer follows, “Not if the money’s only diverted for a few seconds.”

 

Tony taps Tim’s bicep, letting his fingers fall as casually as he can down Tim’s arm. He gains his partner’s attention right away. “How can you earn interest on money that’s barely in your account?” Tony asks.

 

Tim brings not one, but both hands up to chest level to explain, “Money is constantly shifting in and out of an account like this, but you can’t think of it as the same money shifting in and out,” Tim shuffles his hands back and forth like basketball players on opposing teams. “You have to think about it holistically, and if you’ve got,” Tim shrugs but the motion contradicts the thrum of excitement building in Probie’s tone, “say a conservative hundred million dollars moving through your account every day, then interest adds up pretty quickly.”

 

“A hundred million dollars is conservative?” Tony’s almost startled at the amount, and he leans into Tim in his surprise.

 

“How would they be doing this?” Boss questions in that weirdly hesitant tone before Tim can answer, drawing Tim’s eyes back to him and away from Tony.

 

“If we’re right and the kiting is occurring,” Tim allows, “Then, considering the role of the NEX thefts, I’d say they’re probably using hardware onsite to redirect the cash during the transfer before the money gets to its intended location,” Tim concludes with a quick but solid glance back towards Tony. “There’s more risk involved in discovery that way, and schemes with a hardware base don’t usually garner as much revenue as a result, but the fraud is easier to accomplish for someone who’s not as proficient at hacking.” Tim turns up his nose ever so slightly at his own words. He can be such a snob about the strangest things.

 

Tony clears his throat, fighting a smile as he does, “Okay, there’s just one thing I don’t understand,” he leads and feels his teams’ eyes dart back towards him. “Did you figure all that out with your phone?”

 

Behind Tim, Gibbs rises and rounds his desk, rolling his eyes at Tony as he goes, but Tim gives Tony the smirk he was going for and offers a raised eyebrow besides. A spark of connection flutters between them, and Tony tries hard to keep his eyes away from the one-sided curl of Tim’s mouth. He bites his lip to help maintain his focus, and notes when Tim’s eyes drop to catch the motion. Tim’s gaze shoots back up almost immediately to find Tony’s returning stare. Tony’s not sure what Tim finds in his eye, but it makes Tim smile that fond grin that he tends to point Tony’s way more often than he’s pointed it towards anybody else lately. Tony feels a familiar warmth bloom from his chest to somewhere below his belt, and he finds that he has to grin right back.

 

“First thing in the morning,” Boss orders Tim, “I want you checking out the NEX in Norfolk to confirm your theory. If you find what you think we will, we’ll pull agents from the field offices to check the other locations.” Boss concludes his edict by literally patting Tim on the back, and Tony would be horrifically jealous except for the fact that it seems obvious that this was an incredible connection Tim made, and if it pans out, it could mean saving, well…somebody—Tony’s not exactly sure who—millions of dollars.

 

Ziva nods in agreement, basking in the glow of Gibbs’ praise, even if it’s not totally directed towards her.

 

But Tim’s brow squinches, even as Gibbs lets his approving grip linger on Tim’s shoulder. “Wait, no, Boss!” Tim protests. “We have to take care of this now!” Tim vehemently shakes his head. If he shook any harder, he’d flip Gibbs’ favoring hand right off his shoulder. “The easiest and most unobtrusive way to set up a scheme like this is to push the funds through the bank that it originated in, which, in this case, would be the Navy Federal Credit Union.” Tim leans towards Gibbs as he explains. “If this is going on, then they’re stealing a massive amount of money from Navy Federal!”

 

Oh, from Navy Federal, Tony nods. That makes sense, but wait, “So why’s it so urgent that we pull it in tonight when the affected locations are already closed or closing?” Tony tilts his head towards the TV belting ZNN, the time in the corner of the screen clearly showing that it’s nearly half-past six, so it’d be after nine by the time they could even get to Norfolk. “No more wire transfers until tomorrow, and if we’re talking about electronically ripping off a bank, then nobody’s life is at immediate risk, right?” Tony tilts his head as he questions. “So why are we going tonight?" Tony wants to know why Tim’s got that burning need underlying his tone.

 

Tim shakes his head and twists to face Tony more fully. “It’s a credit union, not a bank. A bank’s losses affect its customers second-hand, meaning any problems in its management will be reflected in loan rates and bank fees after the fact or in anticipation of a future problem,” Tim explains, “but a credit union is owned by every single person who invests in it, which means everyone with so much as a checking or savings account in the credit union will be directly and immediately affected by a major theft like this has the potential to be.”

 

Tony squints, like he figures Ziva, and maybe even Boss, beside him are, too.

 

“Meaning what?” Boss demands.

 

Tim licks his lips and starts again, “Navy Federal provides for sailors’ mortgages and retirements, not to mention their ability to buy a car or send their kids to college!” Tim shakes his head. “We’re talking about millions of people losing their dreams for the future—plans that they’ve invested in!” Probie has both palms open as he explains. “The more time we give them, the less likely we’ll find direct evidence of their activities, and the less likely we’ll be able to track down the money!”

 

Tim’s shoulders collapse like he’s losing his steam. “That is,” Tim nearly stutters, “I mean it’s possible that none of this is even happening. There may not be a kiting scheme in place at all,” Tim allows, stretching an awkward hand behind his neck as he does. “It just seems highly suspect that all of the Navy Exchange thefts were centrally located around the money transfer areas even though no actual cash was stolen.”

 

Boss nods, eyes still on McGee, with both his hands now dormant at his sides. “It is highly suspect,” Boss agrees, making Tim immediately straighten back up, as if Boss agreeing with his instincts makes them feel more valid, which…okay is always true for Tony, too, and probably anyone who has ever spent so much as half a second on Gibbs’ team. “Check it out,” Boss orders.

 

Tim seems to reinflate, a pleased grin spans his features at the approval, and Probie immediately turns to share it with Tony. Tony grins right back at him, inordinately pleased with the offering and, okay, also the fact that Tim seems more in sync with Boss than he has in a while.

 

Tony’s fighting the urge to smack Tim with a high five when he spies Boss’ discerning eye working him over like he’s got Tony in interrogation with no water and only bright lights for company. Tony barely manages not to wince at the scrutiny.

 

“Take Tony,” Boss demands a second later even though Ziva’s been working this angle with Tim all day, and Tim’ll have to spend the entire drive down to Norfolk just getting Tony up to speed.

 

Ziva straightens her shoulders and abruptly shuts her jaw at being shut out. Within seconds, Ziva opens her mouth back up, Boss’ name no doubt on her tongue, but Gibbs interrupts her before she can even start.

 

“Did I stutter?” Gibbs exclaims, ridiculously, because the world would probably end before Gibbs might be insecure enough to do so. “Go!” he doesn’t have to yell because he’s Gibbs.

 

Tim immediately sets into motion, grabbing his pack and checking the car keys before jetting down the hallway, and Tony certainly doesn’t need to be told twice. He practically dives for his gun and throws his go-bag in the air, catching it right away as he scurries after Tim. He looks back at Ziva behind him, even though Lot’s wife should have learned that lesson well enough for them all—never look back on the face of destruction. He finds Ziva glaring at him, mouth open with hurt since this lead rightfully belongs to her with Tim.

 

Tony winces because it’s not right or fair for Ziva to be cut out like this, but Tony’s still enormously grateful to Gibbs for forcing Tim to switch partners because Tony’s been kind of dying to see him again since he watched Tim's worried eyes disappear into the elevator hours ago. Even now as they're scurrying for the door side by side, Tony's still trying to figure out where he stands with Tim. The thing is though, even with so much still up in the air between them, this is the most Tony’s felt like himself all day.

Chapter Text

It’s almost eerie how quiet Tony is as he drives them to Norfolk. Instead, Tim’s the one talking the whole way down, and even his guilt at Ziva getting shut out of this leg of the investigation can’t tamp down on his excitement as he fills Tony in on the details they know and think they know about the case. It’s rare for an investigation to fall so neatly into Tim’s realm of expertise, and it feels good to be able to teach Tony something for a change when he’s so accustomed to learning from his partner.

 

Tony hums at the case details and murmurs encouragement at Tim’s mention of the debate he’d had with himself in the coffee shop that morning when he’d discovered they were out of blueberry strudel and did Tony think Boss had liked the scone he’d gotten him because it was blueberry, too, and Tim didn’t think it’d be too sweet for Boss’ staid tastebuds. Occasionally, Tony cracks ridiculous jokes that have no business being funny yet manage to make Tim smile every time a new one passes Tony’s lips. And with every mile they travel and every detail revealed, it seems as though Tony’s shoulders relax—pinch by pinch. By the time Tony parks the Charger in front of Norfolk’s NEX, he almost looks like himself.

 

As they leave the car, they each grab their packs from the backseat in case they do find evidence of the suspected wire transfer fraud. Despite the fact that he’d felt so certain of the crime while he and Ziva had been throwing the idea back and forth hours ago, now Tim’s mind keeps reneging on the possibility, wondering about how plausible it really is, and hoping he’s not about to look like a moron when they have to call Gibbs to check in tonight.

 

They meet the security guard at the entrance to the building, and he guides them towards the wire transfer department, introducing them to the bank manager at the doorway of the NEX’s Navy Federal branch. Usually, a visual like the manager’s loose blond hair hanging down her back or her long legs alone would be enough to garner a long look and a grin from Tony, but DiNozzo barely offers her a word of greeting despite the encouraging smile the 30-something woman offers him. Instead, Tony’s biting his lip and looking at Tim again like he had for much of the drive down. Tim offers his partner a small smile and squeezes his arm, before taking out his maglight and going right for the computers. Even accounting for the removal of the outside case, it takes Tim less than two minutes to find it.

 

“Keylogger,” Tim declares seconds after he spies the custom circuit board inside the otherwise boring, factory-made Toshiba.

 

From his position underneath the wire transfer specialist’s desk, Tim can’t see anything but Tony’s legs, but then Tony squats down beside him and suddenly every bit of his partner from the chest down is visible to him. Tony reaches an arm to rest his hand just below Tim’s knee.

 

“That’s the kind of program you pranked me with three years ago when you put my Google searches up on the plasma,” Tony recalls softly, though not as accusingly as he has a right to.

 

"I said I was sorry!" Tim returns plaintively, a familiar twist of guilt in his gut, "and I cut the connection before anybody saw the," Tim drops his voice to a whisper, "the Rogaine website."

 

“I told you that was research for a case!” Tony hisses back, but there’s no real bite to his words, and the slight squeeze Tony gives Tim’s leg—just a little higher up on the knee than his hand was before—is entirely playful.

 

“I believe you!” Tim comes back immediately, though he’d probably say the same thing even if Tony had the mother of all bald spots on the top of his head because there are just some things that people are too sensitive to and apparently all the men on Tony’s mother’s side had gone completely bald by the time they were 45—a fact that Tony had once confided with the most serious complete and utter terror—and afterward Tim couldn’t ever bring himself to use it against Tony.

 

Tony’s thumb traces the line above Tim’s kneecap, then he twists his hand to cup Tim’s calf. Half a second later, Tony’s hand stiffens and drops in a fist to the floor on the outside of Tim’s leg. Tim barely has time to wonder why before the bank manager’s bright red high heels come into view on Tony’s other side.

 

“Ms. Lerner,” Tony addresses her with a far more sober tone than Tim’s accustomed to hearing Tony direct towards a pretty woman.

 

“Carmen, please,” the woman corrects, and every muscle of Tim’s back tenses up as he waits for Tony to offer his own given name in return.

 

“Carmen,” Tony begins but pauses a moment afterward to pat Tim’s leg again, this time just above the knee and onto Tim's thigh. “My partner and I appreciate you staying to let us into the bank this evening,” Tony offers kindly but without any flirtation at all.

 

Carmen clears her throat, and if Tim’s not mistaken there’s a bit of chagrin to the hum that comes right afterward. “It’s no problem at all agents,” she addresses both of them this time even though Tim’s still more than halfway under the desk. “I want to know if those robberies have anything to do with this credit union.”

 

Tony turns his body towards her and slowly stands, and there’s a sudden looseness in his muscles that Tim recognizes immediately as Tony’s innate flirtaciousness coming to life. “You know,” Tim can practically see the way Tony’s eyes must be roaming Carmen’s body as he purrs at her, “My buddy here can probably handle this search alone if you wanted to go get a cup of coffee with me,” Tony finishes, but there’s a huskiness to his voice that Tim recognizes as oddly artificial. Tim bites his lip and waits for Carmen’s response.

 

“Wouldn’t be my first drink of choice,” Carmen teases, stepping into Tony as she does, “but I can be flexible with the right kind of company,”

 

“Mmm,” Tony hums and lowers his voice, “I can be the right kind of company.”

 

“Let’s find out if you’re up to the challenge then, Agent DiNozzo,” Carmen shifts on her feet until she’s leaning right into—

 

“Tony, please,” DiNozzo echoes her earlier insistence.

 

“Tony, then,” Carmen draws out his name, as if it’s sexy to make two syllables stretch into three. “Are you sure your partner wouldn’t mind if we stepped out for a minute…or two?” her voice lilts in a tease.

 

“McGee,” Tony’s voice is suddenly sharper when he sends a manly kick against Tim’s shin, “You can handle this, right?”

 

“No problem, buddy,” Tim emphasizes with a harder kick to Tony’s calf.

 

“Oof,” Tony lets out a tiny grunt of pain but then tries to cover it with a laugh. “My buddy here will deal with this, and he can always call our tech people if he can’t find whatever they asked us to find anyway.”

 

Tim feels a flutter of irritation run the course over his body at Tony’s diss of his kung fu despite the now obvious pretense of the conversation. Tim doesn’t know what Tony heard that he didn’t but somewhere in their brief conversation, Carmen slipped from probable bystander to possible suspect in Tony’s mind.

 

“I’ll just get my purse,” Carmen leans in even closer to Tony. “You don’t go anywhere,” she commands, and Tim just knows she has her hands on Tony’s chest.

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Tony wiggles a little her way, which is really the last straw that finally makes Tim roll his eyes, moving his whole head as he does since neither one of them can see the motion anyway.

 

From beneath the desk, Tim watches Tony’s flirty feet watch Carmen walk away. The second after the snick of a door latch indicates Carmen’s office door is shut, Tony ducks down under the desk with Tim and straight into his space. Tim immediately bangs his head on the bottom of the keyboard tray in surprise.

 

“Ow! Tony, geez!” Tim rubs the knot forming on his head.

 

“Get whoever’s awake at the Norfolk office to come down here with you, and for crying out loud stay out from under the desks until you’ve got backup,” Tony commands. “I’m going to take her to dinner, okay?” Tony doesn’t even bother to voice her name, as if it’s unimportant between them.

 

Then something about the intensity of the way Tony says that final word makes Tim drop his hand from his forehead and look his partner in the eye. Tony’s biting his lip, brows pinched with worry and face tight with a familiar but rare concern, as if Tony is worried Tim might be mad at him. Tim shakes his head, not sure at first why Tony might think Tim could be upset at him for doing his job, and then the conversation in the elevator earlier crosses back over his mind. It’s okay if we say it’s okay, they’d told each other.Tim feels his face scrunch up as he wonders if Tony really thinks he needs permission from him to go on this fake date. He’s ready to roll his eyes again when he calls to mind how jumpy and out of sorts Tony’s been all day, which instantly kills Tim’s impulse to make light of this situation. Tim knows Tony can’t quite figure out how they’re supposed to fit together right now, even though it still makes perfect sense to Tim that these new things between he and Tony are not at all incongruous with the fact that Tony is still his best friend and his Senior Agent and will ever, always remain so.

 

“Okay,” Tim responds softly.

 

“Okay?” Tony questions again.

 

“Yeah,” Tim nods with a soft smile and pats Tony’s chest right above the last hooked button where a tiny bit of chest hair peaks around his Oxford—where Carmen must have teased her fingers a few minutes before. “Go!” he commands, giving Tony a push, when he hears the office door open back up.

 

Tony’s on his feet again before Tim hears the click-click patter of Carmen’s heels on the faux wooden floor.

 

Tim hears Carmen’s sultry voice a moment later, “Ready to go, Tony?”

 

“You better believe it,” Tony all but growls back.

 

Tim sits up in time to spy Tony guiding her out of the bank’s double doors with a hand to her back, his whole body leaning into her space just enough to make her want to lean back. There’s not a hint of doubt in Tony’s posture, not a bit of the worry or concern that’s been written across his partner’s body all day. It should be a shock, realizing just how much of his ladies’ man persona Tony can peel on or off at will, but watching Tony walk away, grinning flirtatiously at their suspect, Tim feels the image he has of Tony in his mind click a little more fully into place without the least bit of fanfare. Tim knows who his partner is, has for a while now. He just gets it a little better now.

Chapter Text

In the quiet of their hotel room that night—after he brought Carmen Lerner back to Tim in handcuffs, after Tim brought in the Norfolk team to help him process the technical evidence, after Tim created some sort of work around so that the hack wouldn’t work anymore but that it looked like it did for the benefit of the other people responsible for the kiting scheme, and even after Tim gave him those soft eyes and that sweet smile as Tony explained to him how Carmen’s knowledge of the multiple NEX robberies when she would have only been informed of the one due to protocol was what got Tony’s radar blaring warning signals at him—Tony has the television on low and watches the flickering lights play over Probie’s body like a candle’s light in the otherwise mostly dark room. Like him, Tim is shirtless with only boxers slung about his waist to cover any part of his body.

 

A couple years ago, Tim would have been wearing a t-shirt over his shorts in a nod to both modesty and embarrassment. Tony regrets the fact, but he knows that if Tim had gone shirtless then, he would have teased Tim about the extra weight he’d been carrying then. He wouldn’t have been mean about it exactly, and it’s not as if Tim had looked bad or anything. Probie had always leaned more towards early Elvis than late Elvis on the traditional Elvis scale of chubby-and-hot to chunky-and-not.

 

It’s good to see how comfortable Probie feels now in his skin. Tony wants to reach out and touch that confidence, skim it with his fingertips, mark it with his mouth, bring his whole body up against it and just squeeze.

 

But Tony feels his own confidence stutter and falter watching Tim strut about the room, er, well, walk between the TV and the sink as he alternates between checking out the Miami Vice rerun Tony found on some local station—because good television is apparently too old for Nick at Nite!—and brushing his teeth.

 

He catches Tim looking him over more than once, spies the tension around Tim’s eyes and his toothpaste rimmed mouth open and shut more than once, sans toothbrush, like Probie’s got something on his mind that has nothing to do with the case they just blew wide open in the last three hours.

 

Tony listens while Tim rustles his toothbrush away and then gargles. The familiar Tim-noises are soothing, letting Tony relax more deeply into his pillow as he waits for Tim to finish his nightly routine and take his place in the second bed beside the one where Tony’s reclining.

 

With a soft flick of a lightswitch, Probie shuts off the bathroom overhead, making the soft flux of the television’s light more pronounced. In two quick steps, Tim sits hard beside Tony on his bed, making them both bounce on the worn springs.

 

Tony glares at his partner at the jostling, but Tim just grins cheekily, making it obvious that he knows Tony doesn’t really mind.

 

“The only reason you’re feeling so patently peppy,” Tony teases, “this late on a Monday night is because El Heffe is coming tomorrow to pat your head and call you a good doobie,” Tony intentionally reminds Tim of his earlier phone call to Gibbs, wanting to see a recurrence of that shyly prideful smile that always spans Tim’s lips whenever Boss gives him a well deserved compliment.

 

He isn’t disappointed. Tim even ducks his head before lifting his gaze back up to Tony, smiling at him from beneath his eyelashes.

 

“Not just me, Tony,” Tim lightly taps Tony’s arm before his fingers scurry away, “I never would have realized Carmen Lerner was working for the kiting scheme if you hadn’t been there. You’ve got a way of really looking right into people.” There’s pride in Tim’s face at the pronouncement, and this time, his pride is invested in Tony.

 

Tony holds Tim’s stare, knowing that last week or last month or before he thought this thing they were doing could last more than five minutes, he’d have made a joke of Tim’s earnest words—something that would’ve made Tim laugh or at least roll his eyes—anything to deflect that intense sincerity away from Tony. Now though, Tony just wishes Tim’s words were true. He wishes he could see into Tim right now and know exactly what he’s thinking about everything.

 

“We work well together, McFoil,” Tony finally says, splitting the difference between wanting to diffuse the intensity of the situation with a joke and needing to recognize Tim’s compliment.

 

Tim nods in an exaggerated motion, pulling his feet from where they dangle to the floor and crisscrossing them up onto the bed as he twists his body around to face Tony. “We play well together, too,” Tim runs his thumb along the line of Tony’s shoulder, close to his upper chest. Tim lets his hand lie dormant on Tony’s bicep afterward and watches him.

 

Tony’s whole body stills. He feels his breathing shallow as his heart hammers in his chest. He pulls his opposite arm up to hold Tim’s hand there against his skin while he sits up beside his partner.

 

“Yeah, we do,” Tony whispers back the confirmation. He doesn’t know where Tim’s going with this, but he is so all over it.

 

But then Tim blinks down at the slight space between them like he doesn’t know where he’s going with this either. He doesn’t move away though. He just sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and keeps an eye on the centimeter between Tony’s boxers and his own bare thigh. Tony runs his thumb over the back of Probie’s hand where it still lies on Tony’s bare skin. He immediately garners Tim’s attention as Tim’s earnest eyes look up to him, seemingly ready to leap whichever way Tony does.

 

Which is why he never even sees Tony coming.

 

“Ahh!” a girly scream shoots from Tim’s lips as Tony’s free hand goes for Tim’s flank, reclaiming it from Ziva’s earlier proprietary pokes. “Tony!” Tim screeches and tries to squirm away, but Tony uses his heavier body mass to push him to the bed and wriggle his other hand against Tim’s belly.

 

“Wait! Tony, stop! Please, I can’t—” Tony’s pretty sure Tim would’ve flipped him on his back by now if his legs weren’t jello from the breathless giggling—Tim’s surprisingly fierce in non-violent hand-to-hand.

 

“What was that?” the grin nearly splits Tony’s face wide open as his body revels in the way Tim moves against him, leaning into Tony as much as he’s reflexively trying to get away. Tony has a secret theory that Tim wasn’t tickled enough as a child. There’s no way he’d like it this much now if he’d had aunties and cousins exhaust his tickle reflex as a kid. “I can’t hear you over the girlish laughter,” Tony gleefully taunts his partner.

 

“Tony—” Tim complains breathlessly this time, “I’m going to throw up!”

 

Tony eases up immediately just in case it’s not a ploy. Wary of retaliation, he keeps his hands at Tim’s wrists.

 

Tim catches his breath, his grin as wide as Tony’s when he glances above him to look at his partner. “Do it again,” Tim commands, but then his brow furrows and he bites his lip as if wondering if what they’re doing and what he’s asking is permissible between them. “Okay?” Tim adds softly and a little unevenly a beat later.

 

Tony just holds his pose above Tim for another moment before nodding. “Okay,” he agrees just as softly. He loosens his grip at Tim’s wrist, letting his fingertips skim the bare skin up to Tim’s neck. Tim arches right into the light touch. Tim’s so tempting like this—laid out and bare before him. Tony’s hands itch to roam across Tim’s chest freely. His thumb smoothes against Tim’s adam’s apple, and Tim swallows hard. Tony can feel the rough motion sliding down his throat.

 

Reflexively, Tony’s fingers recoil, forming and retracting a nervous fist in the space between Tim’s body and his own. Practically throwing himself off of Tim, Tony stretches for the remote and kills the TV, leaving only a soft and fading glow where a sockless Don Johnson had been driving through the well lit streets of Miami a moment before.

 

The darkness only magnifies the new silence in the hotel room, making the sound of Tony’s breathing seem way too heavy and obvious against the background of that stillness.

 

It feels like an odd sort of stalemate for a minute, like the dozen or so hostage negotiations Tony’s been involved in through NCIS and Baltimore PD, and that one time in Peoria, though Tony’s not sure if he or Tim is the hostage in this situation. Maybe they both are.

 

“Gimme a pillow,” Tim demands both gently and beautifully brazenly where Tony can’t think of how to move forward at all.

 

Immediately acceding to the request, Tony yanks one of the cushions from where he’d been lying before Tim finished brushing his teeth and pushes it in Tim’s direction. Accepting the offering, Tim leans onto his side—closer into Tony. He pulls the pillow beneath his head and curls into it, curling into Tony as he does and not moving an inch towards the second bed.

 

Tony follows his lead, tugging the other pillow towards the middle of the full mattress and letting himself relax into Tim all along where their skin touches as he lies down. Tony furrows his brow. McSkinny gets so chilly anymore now that he’s lost so much of his body fat. With a quick lean forward that briefly brings their bodies into more contact, Tony grabs for the covers and pulls them up over the both of them. He fusses with the blanket for a moment, letting his arm rest down Tim’s back even as he tightens the comforter over Tim’s shoulder.

 

“Let’s go to sleep, alright?” Tony implores.

 

“I, um—” Tim starts and stutters, making that slight burrow between his brows visible to Tony even in the heavy darkness. “Okay,” Tim allows a beat later, though his tone seems to be seeking something from Tony.

 

Giving Tim’s shoulder one last squeeze, Tony whispers, “Okay,” with as much reassurance as he can.

 

Tim takes a deep breath, satisfied this time. “Sweet dreams,” the words are muted by the pillow as Tim digs into it.

 

“Yeah,” Tony acknowledges with a smile. “You, too.”

Chapter Text

When they get back into the Yard the next morning, Tim and Tony barely have time to log the evidence from Norfolk with Abby and secure their suspect with Agent Hyer in holding before Boss gets a call from Metro.

 

“Leo Martin is dead,” Boss informs them as he drops the phone receiver back into its cradle.

 

Tim and Tony immediately grab their go-bags, and Ziva—running into the bullpen just as Boss hangs up the phone—turns around midstride, beating them all to the elevator.

 

“Morning,” Tim bumps shoulders with her and tries to catch her eye as they wait for the lift.

 

She stiffens at the contact, responds rigidly and without turning, “Good morning, McGee.”

 

Tim glances over his shoulder to find Tony’s sympathetic cringe ready and waiting for him. They hadn’t talked about it at all on their trip, but they’d each known there was going to be fallout from Boss’ decision to cut Ziva loose from their lead last night—especially after the lead proved so useful and even led to an arrest.

 

Tony cups his elbow for a long second, rubbing his thumb towards Tim’s bicep, and Tim can’t help but to smile at his partner despite the resentment radiating off Ziva in waves on his other side. Tony smiles back, and it’s that gentle, cajoling grin of his that always makes Tim feel like Tony’s coaxing him into doing something that he knows he shouldn’t do, but that he’ll also never regret.

 

Tony bites his bottom lip the way he never does—DiNozzo’s never tried to hide a flirty grin for as long as Tim’s known him. That slow-like-honey smile reminds Tim of how soft and welcoming those lips are against his own, and of how Tony’s lips always taste both familiar and exciting. He wonders if those lips would taste differently now than they had when he’d last tasted them in the muted Sunday morning light. Well, there’d be the added flavor of coffee on Tony’s tongue and maybe an extra bit of sweetness from the cinnamon roll Tony’d had in the car, but surely Tony couldn’t taste that differently at work than he had while they were, well, playing two mornings before?

 

Dropping his eyes, Tim can’t fight his own grin, so he angles his face a little to the left where he wagers Boss won’t be able to catch it, where Tim will be able to keep this silent joy secret between him and Tony.

 

The elevator dings. MCRT pauses long enough to let Michaelson off before they all clamor aboard. Ziva may be rigid with anger in front of him, and Boss may be fierce with determination to his left, but flush against Tim’s right forearm where it rests above the elevator rail, is Tony’s arm. The slight touch—insistent as Tony always is—fills up some intangible something in Tim’s chest to nearly unbearably full, making him feel both tight and loose all over.

 

The elevator dings again and Boss and Ziva rush outside, their minds either already on the case or at least outside of the lift, while Tim moves more slowly, grabbing Tony’s hand to pull him as they move behind the rest of their team.

 

Tony yanks back on Tim’s hand even though Tim hasn’t even made it half an arm’s length away from him.

 

There’s that bitten off grin again, but then, after a single squeeze of Tim’s hand, Tony lets him go, “Lead on, McPlaymate.”

 

They have to jog to make it to the van at the same time as Ziva, but at least Tony’s got the keys this time, and Boss only hollers at them once as he’s getting into the Charger, and the yell is only half as insistent as usual, even though Boss is at least midway through his second cup of coffee, so they all know he’s not really angry.

 

Ziva twitches for the entire trip in her seat between Tim and Tony, frequently bumping into Tony’s right arm, purposely jostling it though Tony’s habit is to drive with his right hand only as his left lies on the armrest of the driver’s side door. Tim looks over at Tony, but Tony just keeps his eyes focused on the road, still wet from an early morning rain, and Tim’s pretty sure he’s trying to block out all things Ziva by giving the highway his complete attention.

 

She barely speaks on the trip over to Rock Creek Park, and Tim thinks about trying the poking thing again, but he’s afraid if he did he might end up with a hole in his stomach. Not only that, but yesterday it almost seemed like Tim sharing pokes with Ziva bothered Tony for some reason. Tim was probably seeing things, but Tony’s hands kept practically hovering above Tim’s belly for hours afterward—even when they were in the car and even though Tony was driving.

 

By unspoken agreement, he and Tony move cautiously from the vehicle when they get to the crime scene, as if to keep from startling a wounded cat—a very large, decidedly undomesticated cat.

 

The two men try to gather the bulk of the equipment from the back of the van, but Ziva huffs at the attempt at chivalry. She pushes in front of them to pull out two of the heavier cases.

 

Tony just shrugs at Tim and shakes his head. Tim shrugs back, certainly not willing to comment on the situation himself.

 

Ziva scurries out a few feet ahead of them on the light trail through the forest. Tim follows her, eyeing the sparse greenery suspiciously as he goes.

 

Tony notes the look and says, smile in his eyes, “Remember—leaves of three, Probie.”

 

Tim shakes his head, chuckling at the memory now.

 

Ziva pauses on the trail in front of them after this exchange. Her posture doesn’t alter at all, and she doesn’t move to draw her weapon, so Tim doubts she sees a threat on the path in front of her. Still, he looks around carefully because one of the major lessons he’s learned in MCRT is that danger can come on very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere.

 

Ziva turns abruptly on them, and there it is—case in point. She drops the equipment and crosses her arms just below her breasts. Tim cringes to see the boxes on the ground, looking for his three-leafed archenemy near the hard plastic cases and hoping he doesn’t need anything out of them at the crime scene.

 

Ziva doesn’t keep them in suspense long: “What is going on between the two of you?” she blurts like she cannot tolerate not knowing for a second more, and knowing Ziva that’s probably the truth.

 

Tim blinks, his mind suddenly recalling the feel of Tony up against him, smooth and firm; the heat of Tony’s mouth; the sweetness of his tongue. He feels a flush start climbing his chest but shakes his head, as if to remind himself that Ziva can’t possibly have so much as an inkling about it. His mind blanks then, unsure what else she might be talking about. Tim looks to Tony just behind him, and Tim knows panic is filling his features because he knows he can’t ever keep a single thing from his face when he’s confronted directly about it.

 

Tony steps around Tim, shielding him from Ziva’s eyes, and as he passes, Tim can see the brick wall rise up across Tony’s face, firmly sealing himself—and Tim—in safety behind it. Tim’s gaze stays on Tony, not venturing towards Ziva at all.

 

“I don’t follow,” Tony tilts his head.

 

“Of course,” Ziva nods and shuffles a step to the side to point her arm at Tim. “Nothing is going on, and that is why you are hiding McGee behind you! We all know he cannot lie to seal his skin.”

 

Despite the onslaught, Tim has to fight a grin at Ziva’s confused colloquialism.

 

She glares at him in frustration, seeming to understand the general source of his amusement, but not what was off about her phrasing. Immediately, Tim tries to wipe the smile from his face. It’s never any fun to be the one left out of the loop after all, and while Tim feels bad that she knows he and Tony are sharing a secret and keeping it from her, there’s just no way Tim’s planning on letting her know what’s going on between him and Tony. He doubts he could accurately describe it in any case.

 

“Well, maybe, Probationary Agent David, I’m simply trying to stand in the sunshine of your smile,” Tony schmoozes, and Tim knows immediately that his partner must have that cheesy smile on his face that most people never figure out is fake. Tim ducks his head and winces because Ziva is not one of those people.

 

Ziva levels her glare at Tony, aiming all her anger in DiNozzo’s direction, which effectively permits McGee to bring his chin back up and stop trying to hide his features from her view.

 

“You have both been acting oddly for weeks,” she declares, though at this point, her glare is for Tony alone, “and you cannot think that your hoppiness of yesterday went unnoticed!” Ziva juts out her chin and leans just a little bit towards Tony.

 

“I was not hoppy!” Tony enunciates carefully and with no small amount of indignation if the current angle of his chin is any indication. “Bunnies are hoppy,” Tony corrects, tilting his head farther to the left, and Tim doesn’t have to look to know that Tony’s eyes are shifting up and down Ziva’s form as he judges how she’s judging his words. “Very Special Agents merely show elevated concern to threats in their environment.”

 

Ziva squints at Tony. She straightens her form as she looks their partner over. “And how was your environment threatened yesterday, Very Special Agent DiNozzo?” she demands with concern even as she mocks.

 

Tony’s back tenses up at the inquiry, and Tim can see at once that even though he and Tony hashed this out between them, even though Tim woke up this morning with his face pressed against Tony’s shoulder and leaning into Tony’s fingers in his hair, Tony’s still feeling unbalanced about the whole thing.

 

“It wasn’t,” Tim answers for him when he feels the confusion in Tony’s continued silence. Tim steps forward and claps a heavy hand down onto Tony’s shoulder, just near the joint with his neck. “I had his back, Ziva. He’s okay,” Tim tries to reassure her legitimate concerns and yet not give their secrets away, even as he knows she’ll never be satisfied with his brief answer.

 

Tim barely has time to feel Tony leaning into him ever so slightly before Ziva refocuses her displeasure back onto him, her ire seeming to flower more fully the second her gaze lands back on him.

 

“You!” Ziva points at Tim in vexation. “You are twice as uneven as Tony!” she exclaims, but then her eyes drop to Tim’s shoulder and her anger becomes almost halted, almost hesitant as she accuses, “First you are sad, then you are happy, then are sullen, and now you are what?—Jovial? Will it even be the same an hour from now?” Ziva swallows hard and blinks up at Tim before shaking her head at them both. “What is going on?” she demands again. “Neither of you is behaving…” she twists her face and tilts her chin far to the right, eyeing them with consideration, “like yourself.” Her gaze jumps between the two of them, though it seems to linger for longer every time it lands on Tony than it does on Tim.

 

And the thing is, Tim’s always been okay with this thing between his partners. He’s never defined it, and he knows they never have either, but their thing has always been an odd combination to him, comprised of jealousy and possessiveness with a significant amount of nosiness mixed in. He’d guessed a couple years ago that their connection would probably never become romantic even though he’s certain that the two of them might have had the potential to have such a relationship at some point.

 

Tim purses his lips, because it’s not as though he doesn’t appreciate Ziva’s concern. He’s not blind after all, and he does realize how oddly he and Tony have both behaved recently. In this moment, though, with Ziva’s eyes on Tony like he owes her something, what Tim feels most is the itch of irritation to have her inquires forced on them at a moment when they have other things to focus on. Well, not that they could actually tell Ziva what’s been going on between them in any case but for her to press the issue at a crime scene with possible poison ivy all around them? It just makes Tim hone in on the fact that this is so incredibly not her business.

 

Moreover, Tim’s pretty sure that he’s the only one who’s been acting any differently in recent weeks, and he finds it suspicious that the very day after Tony behaved strangely—the only day that Tony acted oddly at all—is when Ziva chooses to foist her theory off onto them. Tim knows it shouldn’t bother him, the fact that Ziva is more concerned with Tony’s welfare than his own, because despite the fact that Tim feels like he was initially closer to Ziva than anyone else on the team was, he knows he doesn’t hold that same ranking with her now. Tim’s tried not to mourn that closeness he thought they could have had because it’s not as if they aren’t close at all. It’s just that, unless Tony’s right there with them, the closeness he has with Ziva stops the moment Tim leaves the Yard.

 

“Well, you’ve caught us!” Tim exclaims, feeling the words inflate themselves in his irritation. He senses Tony tense up under his fingers before he lifts his hand from Tony’s shoulder to push his way ahead of his partner on the pathway and just shy of Ziva’s personal space. “I didn’t want to tell you like this, but I figured we’d have more time before asking for medical leave.”

 

Ziva tenses up in front of him, and her whole face pinches with anxiety, and Tim knows with sudden clarity that he’s going to feel so guilty for this moment later, but he can’t quite bring himself to care right now. “I’m pregnant, and Tony’s the father!” he throws his arms in the air.

 

Ziva blinks, her mouth still tight with concern. Abruptly, she squints and then her mouth goes lax, as if her skin can only either pinch in one direction, beside her mouth or her eyes, at a given time.

 

Tim spies Tony’s startled posture calming a moment later from the corner of his eye. “Now, now, don’t upset yourself!” Tony jumps in and grabs onto the weak joke with both hands, but the humor in his partner’s voice doesn’t quite cover his relief in being able to hide behind Tim’s not-so-subtle subterfuge. “You know what the doctor said.” Tony pats Tim’s belly in emphasis, his hands seeming to move like they’re iron and Tim’s gut is magnetic north.

 

“Sorry,” Tim covers the hand on his belly with one of his own, holding the gentle touch steadfast against the cotton of his shirt. “Just think, this time next year we’ll have a little McGee.”

 

“A little DiNozzo!” Tony corrects.

 

“McGee!” Tim tightens his grip on Tony’s hand in mock irritation.

 

“DiNozzo!” Tony steps a little closer, getting into the faux argument.

 

Ziva shakes her head and shuts her eyes, irritation spreading across her face like wildfire. “Fine,” she opens her eyes back up to glare at them. “If that is the game you wish to play, then play it!” Ziva continues to glower at them both. “Go ahead and lie to me. I could have been your ally, but you,” she jerkily points to them both, “chose differently, but if you think you can teabag Gibbs the way you are trying to with me, then you—”

 

The image completely and utterly and eww, very inadvertently flashes in Tim’s mind of some guy teabagging his balls into Gibbs’ open mou—Tim shudders even as the snicker bubbles up from deep inside his chest. Tony turns to him less than a second later, moving his grip from Tim’s belly to his far forearm in something almost similar to an embrace and laughing so hard he can’t catch his breath.

 

They can’t speak a word between guffaws. Tony lets Tim’s forearm go, waves his free arm between them as if to try to cut them off, but he can’t even keep the hand steady, finally grabbing onto Tim’s arm again as he nearly collapses into giggles.

 

“I do not understand. What—” Ziva tries to cut in, in her confusion but gives up when her words spark a renewed surge of laughter.

 

“Humph,” she turns from them in a huff, grabbing the cases and blazing her way across the trail and away from them.

 

It takes a couple minutes before the two men can even stand up straight, let alone follow behind her. They earn a death glare from Gibbs at their tardiness, but when the Boss notes their good humor, the daggers in his eyes go dull by a tiny, tiny touch.

 

The two men get to work on the crime scene, still giggling at turns. Their good mood spreads around the team, making Ducky and Palmer grin even without being privy to the conversation that sparked the episode. The park ranger on site smirks widely, despite the proximity to a close-to-glowering-though-not-quite-all-the-way Gibbs. Even Gibbs himself doesn’t make a move to holler at them though they’re definitely messing with the usual crime scene vibe. Only Ziva remains immovable, frowning profusely at the smiles and the guffaws that continue randomly here and there.

 

McGee doesn’t stop laughing completely until his phone catches a signal as he stands beside Leo Martin, still sitting in a camp chair, casual but for the bullet hole in his forehead.

 

“What is it, Tim?” Tony picks up on the change immediately.

 

Tim shakes his head. “Not sure yet, but definitely something.”

 

Gibbs glances up with interest and moves a little closer to Tim, and it kind of seems like Boss is almost, well, eager, to hear what Tim’s got to say. “What do you got?”

 

“A bluetooth signal. I’m trying to pinpoint it now, but it looks like Leo Martin’s tablet,” Tim points to the now trashed machine with the missing hard drive, “was linked to another device nearby.” Tim bites his tongue to make sure he doesn’t descend nervously into technobabble. Boss can’t stand it when he does that.

 

“What sort of device?” Ziva reenters the conversation after having given the whole group of men the silent treatment from the moment she stepped onto the crime scene.

 

 

“Could be anything,” Tim shakes his head and watches the strength of the signal remain constant as he walks the length of the camp. “Normal range for your average bluetooth is about thirty feet, but I’m guessing from the consistency of this signal that this is a class one, which has ten times the range. I can narrow down the direction pretty easily by trying to find the perimeter, but after a certain point, it's just a manual search because I won't be able to distinguish the signal any further."

 

“Find it,” Gibbs orders. “Tony,” Boss orders him to go with McGee with a jerk of his chin. “Ziva,” he calls, and she immediately straightens her posture. “Finish processing the scene.”

 

All three of them nod and move hurriedly to their assigned tasks.

 

The app on Tim's phone lets him determine the bluetooth signal originates from the south side of the camp, but neither he nor Tony find any tracks in that area because of the early morning downpour so they turn the section into a search grid.

 

Boss sends Ziva after them an hour later to tell them they’ve finished the immediate crime scene—not that there was much to process other than the body, another consequence of the rain. Ziva’s chin is still high, her tone haughty as she relays Gibbs’ order for them to keep looking while the two of them go back to the cool, dry office that doesn’t have any plants with contact poisons in them.

 

Not long after that, he and Tony find Leo Martin’s carefully camouflaged equipment, after almost literally turning over every leaf of the late spring groundcover as they go. Tim is as careful as he can be, but he’s sure he must have found a batch of poison ivy at some point—he can feel the itch crawling up his whole body. That doesn’t stop Tony from teasing him by sidling up against him and turning his nose up as he declares that they must be near a hummingbird’s nest.

 

“A hummingbird, Tony?” Tim reflects his partner’s grin right back to him.

 

“Yes, McDanielBoone, I’m surprised you’ve never realized that hummingbirds have a very distinct odor, not unlike that of cinnamon.”

 

“Hmm,” Tim nods seriously, letting Tony school him. “Cinnamon, you say?”

 

“Exactly,” Tony nods back, eyes crinkling at the corners.

 

“Well,” Tim steps closer, and if Tony doesn’t mind potentially getting poison ivy from him (who still can’t recognize it as readily as Tony can), then Tim figures he doesn’t mind getting close to Tony either. “I smell the cinnamon, but how do I know that it’s the hummingbird and not your breakfast I’m catching?” Tim teases Tony back, picking up Tony’s tie as if said breakfast is staining it.

 

Tony stills at the touch, his chest moving more rapidly beneath Tim’s fingers, “Good question, Probie,” Tony licks his lips, and then Tim spies Tony glancing down to his mouth. “You just gotta get close enough.”

 

Tim’s eyes flip up, checking every which way, and wondering if anyone can see. He doesn’t find anybody, hasn’t even heard anyone since about ten minutes after Ziva walked back towards where the park ranger found the body this morning. There may as well not be another soul around for miles. He looks back at Tony right before he leans in.

 

Tony sucks in a quick, harsh breath when Tim moves, his arm going up to grab at Tim’s back as if to steady himself, like Tim might knock him down otherwise. Tim brings his face in close to Tony’s, keeping his nose around Tony’s jawline as he moves from his partner’s chin back to his ear. The slight smell of coffee is pleasantly trounced by that expensive citrusy aftershave that Tony switches to every March. The scent never ceases to remind Tim that summer is coming. Beneath both aromas there’s the faint trace of Tony’s shampoo from last night—it was all over the pillow he gave to Tim before they went to sleep. The scent isn’t unfamiliar to Tim, but he usually never catches it unless he comes into contact with Tony pretty soon after his shower. The fragrance fades pretty quickly.

 

“No cinnamon here,” Tim fights to keep from running his finger along the smoothness of Tony’s shave. “Must be the hummingbirds.”

 

Tony’s grip on his shoulder tightens briefly. “Yeah,” he agrees softly.

 

That’s when Tim realizes he’s still grasping Tony’s tie. He lets it go, straightening it against Tony’s chest. It takes Tim a second like this to realize his mouth is right by Tony’s jawline and the hand on Tony’s chest isn’t anywhere near his tie anymore but is instead drawing a swath across Tony’s right pec.

 

He pulls away. A second later, he drops his hand and takes a step back. Tony’s hand falls back to his side as he does.

 

“We should get back to the van,” Tony points in the general direction of Beach Dr., but when his hand reaches out like it normally would to push Tim or prod him where Tony wants him to go, he makes a nervous fist instead, just like he did last night.

 

Tim bites his lip, “Okay?” he asks a question instead of answering his agreement.

 

Tony blinks, tilting his head in question at Tim for a moment, then he rolls his eyes and whacks the back of Tim’s head, “Oh my gosh, yes, okay!” he tells Tim, as if Tim is a moron for even asking, then he moves ahead of Tim and into the trees and away from Rock Creek.

 

Tim bounds after him, spurred by surprise. The slight tingle from the smack seems to linger as they walk back to the van together, both of them carrying bits of evidence, but neither of them overburdened.

Chapter Text

Back at the Yard, Tim and Tony rehash their findings for Gibbs and Ziva in the bullpen as soon as the new evidence is logged. “It was a laptop,” Tim explains to Boss the second he and Tony step into their cubicle. “But it was pretty thoroughly destroyed—the rain and probably a raccoon or a very large squirrel,” he belatedly adds before Boss can imagine foul play.

 

“Can you fix it?” Gibbs comes back right away.

 

“No,” Tim clears his throat, “but I might be able to pull the data. Either way, I think we may have found the kiting scheme’s tech guy.”

 

“Oh?” Boss asks, leaning back in his seat as he does.

 

“Yeah,” Tim confirms, “Looks like Leo Martin was a good hardware guy. Probably the type with burns all over his fingers,” Tim shrugs, remembering a dozen guys from undergrad who were exactly the same way.

 

“Burns?” Tony asks.

 

Tim glances his partner’s way, “From soldering.”

 

“Ah,” Tony lifts his head.

 

“I’ll know more if I can access his computer, but my guess is that he was probably a decent programmer, but not the type who could’ve headed an ICPC team or anything.”

 

“Yeah, um, and if you were pretending that none of us,” Tony gesturing around to himself and then to Ziva and Gibbs, “knew what that meant, then the next thing you would say would be,” Tony leads.

 

Tim grins, “ICPC is a collegiate programming competition, Tony.” He says and then looks back to Gibbs. “Something of a proving ground,” he elaborates for Boss.

 

The directed explanation gets half a smile from Gibbs, who then squints at Tim. “So he’s not as good at this as you are?” Boss concludes.

 

Tim blinks, feeling a slow blush begin in his cheeks and wishing Tony would offer up a joke to make light of Boss’ words rather than standing still beside him, seeming as equally expectant as Gibbs. “I, well,” Tim falters, still too accustomed to bowing to the virtue of modesty to easily accept the stark compliment from Boss of all people. On the other hand, Boss is the one whom Tim really needs to understand his contribution to the team.

 

Tim licks his lips and ignores the heat rising in his face as best he can and levels his gaze at Gibbs. “No, not many people are,” he comes back just as bluntly.

 

Boss nods readily as if Tim’s telling him something he already knows. All of a sudden there’s an extra crinkle at the edge of Boss’ eye, the one he gets when he’s smiling even though his lips haven’t moved. Tim feels his back straighten at the inherent approval.

 

Gibbs tilts his head and walks around the desk to stand in front of Tim. Then Boss squints, stalling just as he’s obviously about to order McGee downstairs for what will likely be the duration of the case. “Tim—” Gibbs steps towards him, but McGee interrupts.

 

“I like the field, Boss, and I want to keep developing my skills there,” Tim lowers his voice in deference to the slighter-than-usual distance between them and the rare private tone that Boss has given to the conversation with the use of Tim’s first name, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t know when I have skills that are needed elsewhere.”

 

Boss nods at him and smiles—well for Gibbs it’s a smile—giving Tim a heavy and quick pat on the shoulder, and maybe Tim flatters himself to think so, but he’s pretty sure he spots pride in Gibbs’ eyes just before he hustles down the hallway.

 

Tony’s furrowed brow is the last thing McGee sees before he practically bounces down to Abby’s lab. Tim winks at him to try to stall his friend’s concern over Tim’s upcoming close quarters with Abby. With the warmth of Gibbs’ hand on his shoulder and the shared humor and closeness with Tony—even with his and Tony’s conflict with Ziva back at the crime scene—Tim feels practically untouchable right now. He’s actually not worried about backsliding in his progress in getting over Abby at all in this moment. It’s funny, but in some ways he’s less in control of his life than he’s ever been, but he’s never felt so confident and ready to take whatever’s coming next. The grin stretches all the way across Tim’s face even before he hits the stairs to make his way down to the basement.

 


 

Tim vaguely recognizes the music Abby’s got rocking her speakers as Death Splotch or maybe Death’s Botched—a group he’d gone to see with her three years ago when he’d still been trying to impress upon her how he could be as open to new experiences as the next person. He grins at the memory now, realizing how very out of place he’d been at the time in his sneakers and jeans where everyone around him wore heeled boots and leather.

 

“Hey, Abs,” he greets her happily, just realizing how much he’s missed her these past few weeks.

 

“Oh, hey, McGee,” she says, that tentative look from last week asserting itself on her face again before she turns back around to her monitors.

 

He tilts his head at her, trying to find the source of her upset. He licks his lips when he falls upon the most obvious conclusion. “Hey, I’m sorry about not making it down here lately,” he furrows his brow at her back.

 

“No big deal,” she shrugs, twisting backward as she does, but not quite trying to look at him.

 

He takes a few soft steps towards her, places the box of new evidence on the corner of her workstation. “Got a new puzzle for us,” he tries to lure her into conversation with the promise of a new riddle.

 

“Us?” Her cringe is barely within his view.

 

“Yeah,” he narrows his eyes at her, suddenly confused at her what seems to be her pronounced reaction to his absence. “Unless, of course, you’d rather I took this over to Peterson’s lab in the next building,” he teases maybe a little heavy-handedly, just trying to get a reaction.

 

Abby’s head shoots up, startled at the very mention of her rival lab within the Yard. “You want to work with that two bit imposter?” she asks, incredulous.

 

“I’ll finish collecting the data faster if I work with somebody on this laptop,” he lifts the evidence box filled with the computer and electronic equipment he and Tony found, “but I don’t need help with this, Abby,” he points out with only a touch of ego but a lot of bewilderment.

 

She lifts her chin. “Don’t be ridiculous. MIT only teaches so much,” the put down’s not completely formed when Tim interrupts.

 

“Yeah,” he squints at her, studying her face to try to see beyond the mask she’s projecting to find what’s really pissing her off. “The rest you catch by doing,” he tilts his head deliberately, alluding to how often he’s accomplished this very same task—both with and without her. “So are you with me or not?” he puts it to her, realizing he’s just the receptacle for her anger and wondering if he should try to make a run for Peterson’s lab, wondering if he really could convince himself to walk away from her misdirected bad mood in any case.

 

Her lips purse just a touch, and her own pride gets the best of her. She nods. “Fine,” she tells him, flicking a hand towards the free space on the next table in reluctant acceptance.

 

He unloads the broken bits of the laptop, exhales heavily. Apparently it’s going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

Tim’s absence from the bullpen makes Tony feel, well, not lonely but not not lonely, either, for the rest of the day, especially with Ziva’s eyes casting daggers at him every few minutes. Though, to be fair about it, it probably doesn’t help the situation that he laughs out loud every now and again whenever he remembers Ziva’s hilarious misuse of the word ‘teabag.’

 

Gibbs calls it a day for the team around six o’clock. Tony and Ziva exhausted the only leads they had—which didn’t amount to much since Carmen Lerner’s interview revealed how very low she was on that criminal totem pole, and the new crime scene really didn’t yield that much in the way of new evidence. The only real lead that remains falls mainly to Tim at this point. And Abby, of course.

 

Gibbs goes down to check on Abby and Tim's progress before he leaves. Tony knows Boss hadn't understood whatever Tim told him when Tim called up from the lab with a progress report, but Gibbs kept hearing Tim out during each update, even during Probie's more detailed use of his mumbo jumbo—Tony can always tell when Tim's talking tech to Gibbs, even when he can't hear Tim, because Boss gets this squinty-constipated look about him. That careful way Gibbs has been considering Tim's input and contributions during this case makes Tony sigh with relief because it's obvious how much they're both trying to make this work.

 

As Tony makes his way out the door himself that evening, he's hyperaware of the way Ziva's still following and analyzing his actions. The anger, and even the hurt he feels coming off her in waves don't bother him as much as not knowing what she sees and thinks when she looks at him and Tim. Tony may love Ziva more than practically any other woman he's ever known, but Tony also really likes having Tim to himself. He likes that open and inviting look Tim gets about his whole body anymore when the two of them are alone together—with or without a woman there between them—and he doesn't want to share that sweet closeness between him and Tim with anyone. Not even Ziva.

 

A million other thoughts compete for dominance in Tony's head even as the worry over Tim's relationship with Boss eases, and as Tony tries to figure out whether Ziva's problem is going to turn into a problem for him and Tim.

 

Tim was planning on making an offer on the condo today, Tony considers as he makes his way down to the garage. Tony wonders if Tim had a chance to call his realtor what with working such long hours in Abby’s lab today. Unlikely, he imagines and can’t help but to be disappointed at the lack of progress.

 

Tony’s thoughts don’t drift away from Tim at all on the ride home. The moment he sits behind the wheel, Tony sighs at the thought of Tim and Abby working so closely together today. A month ago, Tim barely spoke of Abby, but it was an obvious effort for him to remain mute about her. Lately, it seems like Tim’s silence on that subject has changed in quality, like maybe Tim just has less to say about her, and while Tony understands, really he does, that a few weeks of hanging out with a buddy, being close to one another, and having some (oh my gosh, smokin’ hot) sex can get a guy’s mind off what’s bothering him, he also knows it’s not a permanent solution to the overall problem.

 

So what is the permanent solution? Tony shakes his head. If he knew, he’d certainly be leading Tim in that direction.

 

The worst thing is, the more time he spends with Tim outside work—and seriously, before these last several weeks, Tony hadn’t thought about how much time he was spending alone—the more he realizes how right Abby was about how well and truly wrong she is for Tim. It’s a lot more pressure knowing just how important it is to get this right, to help Tim move on from what really was a bad situation for him because while it’s perfectly apparent now that Tim enjoys a hot night out, it’s also obvious that he prefers to stick closer to home, or at least to keep to something more casual, during the rest of the week. By contrast, Tony’s pretty sure Abby could go to a concert—possibly two—every single night.

 

Additionally, there’s that intensity Tim gets about him—especially in the bedroom—and sure, Abby likes attention, but she likes it from everyone. She’s never seemed to want anything steady in all the time Tony’s known her, and he has a hard time imagining her giving over to Tim’s single-mindedness, letting it flow over her, seep right into her, and answering him in kind. She’d shy away from it every time. Tony’s sure of it.

 

They really are completely incompatible, and Tony has absolutely no idea why Tim’s been stuck on her for so long. Maybe it goes back to what Tim said to him that first Saturday night, before anything had even happened between them, maybe Tim just wanted to be in love so badly that he took the nearest thing he ever felt to it and ran with it.

 

Tony clears his throat and wrinkles his nose. That doesn’t really sound like Tim on the other hand. He’s more of a stand-up guy than any three people Tony’s ever met, Gibbs excluded, though, of course (‘cause Boss is a category all his own). Tony doesn’t really believe that Tim would latch onto something, to someone, if he didn’t feel sincerely attached.

 

A twinge of guilt zips through Tony’s gut as he recalls the conversation he’d had with Abby a few weeks back. At the time, it seemed kind of, maybe a little okay to manipulate her into giving Tim some breathing room because Tim had needed it so desperately and because he was so miserable, and it’s not like Abby ever really wanted Tim anyway. Not really. Not for keeps, and when had Tim ever not played for keeps? Never, hello! Tony’s sure, even now, that his teeny tiny little white lie was good for Tim.

 

He’s mostly sure.

 

But what if Tim finds out now after everything? Tim hates to be manipulated, and the only times Tim has ever been truly angry at Tony has been when Tony’s manipulated a situation—like that whole thing where he told Tim not to volunteer to go to Iraq a few years ago. Tony accidentally downloaded a virus right after he got back and for three months afterward, Tim refused to help Tony get rid of it, and even though the whole honeybadger video was somewhat hilarious at first, Tony was enormously sick of Randall and his video after less than a month of his computer locking up and playing it every time he opened or saved or changed a webpage or document of any kind.

 

Tony leans back in his seat, stalls getting out of the car. What would Tim do if he found out how Tony intervened with Abby? Would Tim stop this whole thing between them? Would he throw all of this away? Tim doesn’t normally hold a grudge, but when he does, he does it better than anyone Tony knows.

 


 

It’s after eleven o’clock before Tim gives up for the night. Abby’s stubbornness leads her to stay with him the whole time despite the fact that she can’t help much while he’s still on the primary reconstruction. Her strengths in recovery tend to show up when they get down to the code itself.

 

Despite the fact that he’s always had a better understanding of the earlier parts of restoration than Abby, she keeps dogging him the entire day about how she would have approached this or that differently than he was. She even goes so far as to question the quality of his work, which is so completely unprofessional and just totally unlike her.

 

Halfway through the evening, he suggests a dinner break. McGee had thought perhaps it wasn’t just him that was bothering Abby but maybe she was going through a bad break up, or hell maybe her favorite band was dissolving for all Tim knew. He tries to broach the subject with her, but every time he does, he gets cut off at the knees. It’s like they were never even friends at all. He finally stops bothering to try to talk to her around seven o’clock, and by the end of the night, Tim is so irritated with her that he can barely stand to look at her.

 

He considers picking up drive-thru for a quick snack on the way home but decides he’s not going to let Abby push him towards chicken mcnuggets. He gives himself a mental pat on the back as he passes the McDonalds without even slowing down.

 

He showers as soon as he gets home but can’t relax enough to even lie down, let alone go to sleep. He reconsiders food. One power bar shouldn’t be too bad for him, especially if he’s not going to be able to sleep for a while. Eh, he shrugs at the thought because although his stomach’s aching just a little, Tim honestly doesn’t want to eat. He glances at his computer and considers his other major vice. He dismisses the thought immediately, knowing a first person shooter will just rev him up, not calm him down.

 

He even considers a jog, but without Jethro to watch his back, the risk of a midnight run is a little unreasonable for anyone who isn’t Gibbs. He shakes his head, wishing for the umpteenth time that he had enough room for a treadmill in his apartment. At least when he gets his new place it’ll have plenty of space for everything he needs.

 

McGee grabs his phone from his nightstand. He bites his lip, and decides on sending a text, just to see if Tony’s awake.

 

Still up? he types.

 

His cell rings less than a minute later.

 

“Hey,” Tony’s voice comes across the line as soon as Tim greets him. “I wondered if you were ever going to get home.”

 

Tim sighs, his shoulders loosening just a touch at Tony’s sleepy tones. “You and me, both,” he mutters.

 

“Bad day at the office, honey?” And Tim can almost see the smirk on Tony’s face.

 

“You have no idea,” he swipes his hands over his eyes. “I thought I was going to strangle Abby by the end of the night.”

 

“What? Why?” Tony’s voice abruptly sounds more awake, almost alarmed even.

 

“Aaah,” Tim waves a hand in front of himself, as if to sweep away Tony’s unease. “It’s like she was on a campaign to try to make me dislike her.” Tim shakes his head in disbelief. “I have no idea what set her off, but she’s never acted like that before, let alone for hours at a time. I tried to get her to talk to me about it, but she got even worse then.”

 

“Hunh,” Tony’s muffled sound just barely makes it to Tim’s ear.

 

“Yeah, it was weird.”

 

“Did you, uh,” Tony hesitates, “notice anything different otherwise?”

 

“Mmm,” Tim considers and walks into his bedroom, sitting heavily on his bed. “Oh, wait,” he straightens up, “are we talking about feelings?”

 

“Hey, you’re the metrosexual, McManicure, not me.”

 

“Humph,” Tim tries to huff, but he’s pretty sure his smile comes through regardless. Then he considers the question honestly. “I’d missed her these last few weeks,” Tim admits, “but—”

 

“But?” Tony interrupts like he can’t stand to wait for the answer.

 

“But even before she starting laying into me, I felt,” he pauses as he considers, “I don’t know, maybe freer?”

 

“Yeah?” And when Tony’s soft voice echoes lightly in Tim’s ear, he’s certain the older man is lying down.

 

Tim leans back on his own bed. “Yeah,” he answers, and even as he speaks, Tony’s soft tones stick with him, reminding Tim of what he’s been trying not to think too much about since their confrontation in the elevator yesterday—that this thing between them is as new for Tony as it is to him. Tim can’t help but wonder if it’s as special to Tony as it is to him, too.

 

“So you think, um, you think it’s because of Saturday nights?” Tony comes back tentatively.

 

“Well, it’s more than just Saturday nights,” Tim contradicts because this thing going on between them is so much more. “It’s a lot of things. I mean we have Sunday’s at Porquois Pas, and this whole thing between me and Gibbs is finally getting better, and then there’s finding a new place—”

 

“Oh!” Tony interrupts. “Did you call the realtor today?”

 

“Yes, Tony,” Tim intones. “She thinks the owner will take the money and run, but it also has to go through the banks, so there’s no telling how long it could be.”

 

“Hmm,” Tony hums, slightly disappointed.

 

“I should still be able to move within a few months though,” Tim tries to turn around Tony’s mood.

 

“Yeah,” Tony’s tone lifts just a touch. “It’ll give us enough time to look for furniture, at least. You are in desperate need of a good sofa, Probie,” he adds.

 

Tim lifts a hand to his abs, resting it on that spot right above his navel that Tony’s hand keeps finding. “I kinda like your couch, actually.”

 

“Want me to sell it to you?” Tony teases.

 

“No,” Tim feels the blush rise up his chest, and he’s glad Tony can’t see him right now. “I just meant it’d look nice in my living room,” and somehow, as innocuous as he knows that statement to be, it just makes Tim’s blush even worse.

 

“Well, we could always move in. Me and my sofa,” Tony clarifies, but the chuckle Tim would expect in Tony’s voice at those words is noticeably absent.

 

“There’s room,” Tim blurts out before he can lose his nerve.

 

Tony stays silent on the other end of the line, and Tim cringes, wondering how he might backpedal this conversation to safer ground. God—of course Tony wouldn’t want to live with him! He’d never have a break from Tim if he did!

 

“Well, I do like that kitchen,” Tony finally says before Tim can find a single word to say.

 

Tim bites his lip, breath slowly releasing even before he realizes he’s been holding it. “It’s not like I cook, anyway,” Tim shoots for a casual tone, but he’s too excited to be able to tell how well it’s come across.

 

“I’ll have to make you my chicken cacciatore after we get settled in. The secret’s in the herbs,” he reveals.

 

“Mmm,” Tim rubs a lazy thumb against his stomach, smile spanning across his cheeks with more than simple relief. “Sounds good to me.”

 

Tony chuckles, low and thick in Tim’s ear. “You’ll never be able to eat another Lean Cuisine again,” he threatens.

 

“If you’re cooking, then why would I need to?” Tim asks, still feeling that chuckle resonating between them.

 

“Got that right, Probie,” and the nickname has never sounded so good as it does right now with Tony’s soft whisper in Tim’s ear.

 

And all of a sudden, Tim can feel his breathing change again. He pulls his mouth away from the phone a second, clears his throat. “You, uh, you getting coffee tomorrow?” Tim asks even though he already knows.

 

“Yeah,” Tony answers, inflection rising so it’s almost a question.

 

“Could you get me a breakfast sandwich? The one with the—”

 

“I know what you like,” Tony interrupts him.

 

“Oh,” and for a second Tim can’t think of anything else to say. He finally comes up with, “Thanks.”

 

“No problem,” and Tim can hear the faint slick sound of Tony licking his lips. “I’ll see you in the morning,” Tony tells him, and hangs up the phone a few seconds after he normally would have.

 

“Good night,” Tim thinks to say once Tony can’t hear him anymore.

 

Tim licks his own lips again, mouth suddenly dry. He can’t say the conversation lets him relax enough to go to sleep, but the jerking off he does right afterward puts him out like a light.

Chapter Text

By chance, he meets up with Tony in the parking lot just before seven o’clock when they pull into adjacent spots on the fourth floor of the garage. And, okay, Tony is Tim’s friend, so it’s not really surprising that Tim’s glad to see him, but Tim really kind of wants to hug Tony when he hands over Tim’s large coffee and a chicken, tomato, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin. Tim almost never gets sandwiches with cheese anymore because of the added fat content, but his mouth waters at even the thought of the slice of processed American.

 

He thanks Tony between bites as they travel down the garage’s elevator, over to NCIS’s main entrance, through the checkpoint, until they make it to the stairwell where they need to part. Tony’s laughing at him more than a little as Tim exuberantly stuffs his mouth the whole way, but it’s a happy sound, one Tim feels a part of.

 

“Told you I knew what you liked,” Tony lightly smacks Tim’s belly with the back of his hand.

 

Tim’s chewing the last bite, so he simply offers a closed-mouth smile conceding the point.

 

“See you later, Tim,” Tony readjusts his grip on a doughnut bag and the beverage carrier that holds the rest of the team’s coffees. He works his way to the elevator while Tim juggles his hands to wave goodbye and toss the empty wrapper before he takes the stairs down.

 

When Tim reenters Abby’s lab in the morning, he’s actually in a good mood despite yesterday’s catastrophic attempt at working together.

 

“Morning, Abby,” he says, not really caring so much if she greets him back.

 

She twists her back around to look at him, and when she spots his singular coffee and the emptiness of his other hand, she lifts her chin and jerks right back to her computer.

 

“McGee,” she just barely acknowledges him.

 

And maybe Tim’s become as perverse as Tony is, but he’s glad to get that attitude from her this morning, actually hyped to feel her outrage—her sincerely felt outrage—that he didn’t pick her up anything before he came into her lab. He hangs onto her irritation in his mind, a part of him loving the distance it creates between them because, the thing is, he doesn’t mind feeling apart from her right now. Maybe he won’t ever again mind feeling this space she’s always kept between them. Maybe he’ll even want to pursue the gap himself.

 

Even though Tim honestly wants to try to keep his friendship with Abby, and even though he’d shoved all his unformed concerns and insecurities Tony’s way a month ago in order to keep that part of his and Abby’s relationship going, Tim knows for certain that he’s not prepared anymore to sacrifice parts of himself to try to keep her happy and to try to keep himself in her graces anymore.

 

It probably stems a little from vindictiveness if Tim’s honest with himself, but Tim eats up this moment and the simple knowledge that he doesn’t want Abby at all right now.

 

He takes one last long sip of his coffee and places it on the side table away from the evidence. He stands over the bits of electronics, grabs his tester and his soldering iron, though not at the same time, and he gets to work.

 

He listens to Abby stomp around as he checks out one of the smaller fragments. When he doesn’t turn to acknowledge her irritation, she grabs her remote and pumps the stereo to max. He winces immediately, nearly lands the hot solder on his cheek as he instinctively attempts to cup his ears.

 

“Abby!” he twists and hollers, and even though it’s doubtful anyone could hear above the current decibel level, Tim knows that she’s deliberately ignoring him.

 

His lips pinch together so hard he feels them aching past whiteness. He sets the hot iron down as carefully as he can, then walks calmly to the stereo and yanks the plug out of the wall.

 

“McGee!” Abby hollers, anger written in every crevice of her face as he cuts the juice.

 

Tim tilts his chin, examining her face a moment. “Abby,” his eyelids flick down as he thinks of what he wants to say. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he shakes his head, gaze back on her. “And the thing is, I really don’t care,” he chuffs his exasperation as her brow crinkles even more. “But this ends here.”

 

She narrows her eyes, “Does it really, McGee?”

 

“Um,” he shrugs in confusion. “Yes?” and it’s a question because he’s suddenly realizing that they’re probably not talking about the same things.

 

“You’ve said that before, and you’ve never been able to follow through! But it’s too much, now! I want to be your friend, but you have to understand! I just don’t want the same things you do!” and it’s back to those pleading eyes of Abby’s, but, all of a sudden, they have absolutely no effect on McGee.

 

Then her words really register, “Wait, what?” he squints in his confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?”

 

She tucks her chin in, as if surprised at his curse. “Tony told me everything,” she confesses knowingly.

 

All the air rushes from Tim’s lungs, making him feel completely empty. “He, he told you? Everything?” His eyes go to ground, trying to find it there beneath him. “I can’t believe—” and Tim’s never felt so horribly exposed in his life, like every nerve in his body hits the air at once, and he can feel every molecule of it burning against him.

 

“McGee, I just—” Abby winces anew. “You have to know this isn’t going to end well,” she says softly, but the truth is, Tim’s been trying hard not to imagine this thing with Tony ending at all.

 

He hears her shuffle her feet in the silence between them. “I’m sorry, McGee,” and Abby honestly sounds apologetic, a far cry from the attitude she’s spit out at him for the last couple days, but Tim can barely even hear her voice over his heart thrumming in his ears.

 

She takes a few tentative steps towards him, rubs her hand against the bare skin of his forearm, and her sympathy hurts, but he almost welcomes the distraction as he tries to keep his mind away from the intimate things Tony must have told Abby. “You’re a great guy, McGee, but you need to understand that not everybody wants the whole picket fence and the poetry slams and the 2.5 kids,” and he doesn’t even need to look up to know she’s cringing at the thought of all those things. “I’m sorry,” she tells him again. “But the truth is, I’ll never want them.”

 

He squints as he plays back Abby’s words, and then, inexplicably, even without verification of Tim’s growing suspicion, his stomach untwists by a hair. Tim steps right up to her toes, needing desperately to know: “I—what exactly did Tony tell you?”

 

She purses her lips, playing up those wounded eyes, obviously desperate to move on but ready to hash this out between them if she has to. “He told me you wanted to try a relationship between us again.”

 

Tim turns away from her, runs his hand through his hair, feeling Abby’s words like a balm over his whole body. Of course Tony would never betray him. “When did he tell you that?” Tim finally asks as he faces her again, feeling giddy with sensation as his heart calms and the fevered synapses in his brain slow down.

 

Abby shakes her head, confusion sliding all over her features. “I don’t know. Maybe a month ago?” she squints, not quite certain.

 

And in that second, it all snaps into place for Tim—the way Abby accepted his prolonged absence from her lab without question, the way she hadn’t pushed him into personal conversation, even the way she’s been trying to irritate him for the last couple days. It had all given Tim the time and space that he needed to start moving forward. Tony had given Tim the time and space he needed to move on with his life. Tim sucks in a breath, and suddenly, his skin doesn’t feel as tight as it had a second before.

 

Abby’s brow crinkles. “Wait, was that not—did Tony lie to me?”

 

Tim grabs hold of both her arms and leans in to kiss that little sign of irritation between her eyes. “Abby, I love you,” he leans back as he tells her honestly, and he can’t help the smile stretching across his lips. “But Tony helped me realize that it’s not in the same way it used to be.”

 

Abby’s whole back straightens up at the revelation, and Tim realizes belatedly that he hasn’t spoken of his feelings aloud to her in years. “Oh!” she blinks, her concentrated surprise written all over her body. “I—” she shakes her head and her mouth snaps shut, her lips pursing together the second they make contact.

 

Tim winces. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put any of this on you.” His eyes slip sideways as he stretches a hand to scratch at the back of his neck. “I mean, you know that I—of course we haven’t really spoken of it in years so maybe you thought I didn’t—”

 

“McGee!” Abby interrupts sharply, bringing his eyes back to her face. “Chill!” she orders, the word sounding harsh and slightly off balance. McGee winces, realizes immediately how unfair it is of him to shove the weight of his feelings and insecurities at her, even after the fact.

 

“Look, I’m sorry, Abby.” He ducks his head and tries to catch her eye, but the moment between them is so loaded and awkward that Abby just keeps on avoiding his gaze. “I never meant to make you feel bad about any of this. I know my feelings were just my feelings, and I didn’t want to hold the fact that you didn’t have the same sorts of feelings for me against you.”

 

Her whole body stiffens up, and her words seem just as unwilling to give, “So you thought lying to me was the best way to avoid that?”

 

“Of course not, Abby,” he shakes his head. “I didn’t—” Tim cuts himself off, just realizing that insisting on his lack of involvement in the lie would sell Tony upstream. “It wasn’t intentional,” he settles on instead, feeling how lame the explanation is even as it crosses his lips.

 

“How is lying not intentional?” she demands.

 

Tim squints at her at that. Abby’s got every right to be angry at them for the subterfuge, but the magnitude of her outrage seems unfair to him. He bites the side of his lip, and reconsiders the woman in front of him, feeling suddenly and almost deliciously free of the tempest of her displeasure. Immediately, though, he feels guilty for acknowledging how good it feels to be untangled from the storm of her emotions.

 

“I had feelings for you for a really long time, and I needed to move on with my life,” he tells her quietly and with only a bit of regret for her hurt feelings because, “you’ve wanted me to move on for years,” he reminds her. “I’m sorry that a lie to you helped to make it happen, but I’m not sorry with the results.”

 

Her lip quivers, but she turns away from him in haste before he can judge how upset she is at his words.

 

“Abs?” he queries after the silence goes on longer than he expects it to. “Hey,” he says gently and lightly brushes his fingers against her arm.

 

Immediately she moves away from him. “We have a lot of work to do,” she licks her lips and doesn’t quite lift her gaze up to his. “I—” she blinks and tucks a nonexistent strand of hair behind her ear while she walks across the room for the lab coat she sometimes wears during reconstructions or other messy ventures. “I’m really upset with you and Tony,” she says, still not looking up at him, “but we have to find a way to make this work,” she declares with a hesitant sort of nod.

 

McGee nods back cautiously, though she isn’t looking his way. Still, for maybe the first time in all the time he’s known her, Tim doesn’t feel as though the responsibility for working a problem out between them is unfairly distributed to rest more heavily onto his own shoulders.

Chapter Text

Even going by the little bit of data the Wonder Twins have pulled from the trashed laptop so far, it’s apparent that Leo Martin really had been the tech support behind the kiting scheme, and even the sparse information they’ve got makes for a long night for everybody because it also looks like some of the bank personnel in the various NEX locations who’d been involved with the crimes had been blackmailed into being a party to them.

 

The team still only has a couple names to go on at this point, and Tony’s been working the facial recognition software on a dozen or more people from pictures on the laptop. He manages one hit the first time out—even without Tim’s assistance with the program (which Tony will reluctantly admit he sometimes has the tendency to crash). A picture speaks a thousand words for Lieutenant Terrence Campbell whose lips are locked and whose body’s entwined in at least a hundred pictures with another fit man whose posture and physique scream military but whom Tony can’t yet identify. Tony winces at the problem it poses for the lieutenant because even with the recent change in the UCMJ and the overturning of DADT, there’s no denying that gay military personnel have a whole ‘nother load of baggage that their straight counterparts don’t have to deal with.

 

Tony supposes, as he shuffles through Campbell’s financials, the Technicolor proof of the lieutenant’s love affair still spread across his desk, that it’s not that huge a leap to make Tony think of Tim and all the places the two of them could have been caught together already if anyone had bothered to follow them. The hotel they’ve recently come to frequent especially comes to mind, and although the thought of being, well, outed he supposes is the best word even though that would imply a different sort of relationship between them, doesn’t really bother Tony as much as he thought it would, the real issue is what happens if Gibbs finds out?

 

Maybe if Boss knew a few details of the situation, he would understand that it doesn’t have to be a big deal, though it’s hard to imagine how Gibbs might react to the whole thing. As far as Tony can tell, Gibbs’ point in enforcing Rule #12 has always been to make sure that sex doesn’t interfere with the team’s ability to work together, and since Tim and Tony’s solid friendship has always been the basis of their (also) solid working relationship, then Gibbs would have to see that this thing Tony’s got with Tim is okay. It’s not like he and Tim are dating exactly in any case, and sure, Tony doesn’t know what to call it, but whatever else is going on between he and Tim right now, Tony knows that the friendship they have at the base of this thing can never die. Sure, Tim might make Tony grovel over this or that or whatever every now and again (and Tony’s eyes have completely been peeled for the last two days trying to see if Abby’s told Tim about Tony’s teeny tiny, little white lie), Tim would never just throw him away. In fact, Tim’s literally the only person in Tony’s life who has never walked away from him, and Tony’s going to do whatever he has to so that Tim can keep up with his streak.

 

Tim finishes for the night at about the same time as Tony, and it’s early enough to catch a late dinner, though Tony doesn’t quite feel up to schooling Tim at Panarino’s. He invites Tim to his place for Chinese instead.

 

Tim smiles and accepts the invite right away. He follows Tony to the older man’s apartment, and they call their order in to Wong’s.

 

They pop Goodfellas into the Blueray because you really can’t go wrong with DeNiro after a long, hard day at the office. The delivery kid knocks on the door just as DeNiro’s character shoots a made man in the trunk of Ray Liotta’s car.

 

“I never understood this movie,” Tim confesses as he stuffs his face with tangy shrimp and vegetables.

 

“What’s not to understand?” Tony talks around a mouthfull of sweet and sour chicken. “Gangsters, brotherhood, betrayal,” he lists. “This film’s got it all.”

 

Tim swallows a particularly big bite of sugar snap peas and rice, “Half the movie—three quarters of the movie,” he corrects himself, “is comprised of gratuitous violence. The last quarter is Ray Liotta’s voice over.” Tim shrugs, “Eh.”

 

“Eh?” Tony shakes his head. “Did you seriously just ‘eh’ one of the greatest mob movies of all time?”

 

Again Tim shrugs, but this time there’s a tinge of a smile flirting with his lips. He looks right at Tony. “Eh,” he repeats, a twinkle in his eye.

 

Tony feels his own lips trying to curl in response. He twists his hips and sets a bent leg along the couch, facing Tim’s challenge. “This movie is first and foremost about seduction,” and okay, maybe it’s a little more about entrapment and guilt and betrayal, but temptation is the first thing that comes to Tony’s mind right now. “Ray Liotta may be a sickly kid at the start of the film, but in the mafia, he’s powerful and respected, and yeah, Joe Pesci may have been a shoe shine boy—not that I ever would have called him that,” Tim smirks across the way, “but he demands respect with every punch and every pull of his trigger,” Tony continues as Tim sets his elbow on the back of the sofa. “And then there’s Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway—he systematically takes out first, his competition, and then his friends, for profit. They were each tempted by something just out of their reach, and they didn’t care how they got it.”

 

“Tony,” Tim ducks his head a little more, lowering his voice and pinching an eye halfway shut, “it doesn’t even have a real plot to follow.”

 

“It’s not about the plot, Probie,” Tony pops out those ‘p’s. “It’s about the feeling you get when you watch it. You succumb to Henry’s attraction to the mafia. You understand the high he has from the privileges he gets with the job, and then you feel the walls close in on you as his friends die, and he’s got nowhere to go but to the enemy.”

 

“The FBI,” Tim purses his lips like he’s holding back his laughter.

 

“Exactly!” Tony claps and points right at Tim.

 

Probie gives in to his chuckle at Tony’s conclusion. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

 

Tony beams at Tim’s apparent conversion.

 

“But Tony,” Tim leans in and whispers, “I kind of just like it for the gratuitous violence.” Tim tilts his head and looks up at Tony through flirty lashes.

 

Tony can’t stop the grin from running rampant across his cheeks. “I knew you were a regular guy all along, Probie,” he swears.

 

Head bouncing in mock agreement, Tim crinkles his nose and glances back toward the screen. Tony hears the gunshot and subsequent thump of a body falling, but he can’t remember who should be dying about now as he watches the play of light from the TV flickering across Tim’s profile.

 

They finish their food, continuing to argue about the film’s cinematic value the whole time. Tony lets himself consider, only just once or twice, that this is his future—he and Tim arguing on this couch after a long day at the Yard in the apartment they’ll share together. He wonders how Tim’s thinking about it. If he’s thinking about it. He hopes it’s on Tim’s mind. He hopes Tim can’t get the thought out of his mind.

 

As the familiar shade of blue pops back up on the TV screen at the movie’s conclusion, Tim stretches where he sits beside Tony on the sofa. Tony gets up and places the disc back in its protective case, trying to think of some stalling tactic so that the night doesn’t have to end just yet despite the fact that it’s already almost midnight.

 

When he hears Tim rise behind him, Tony turns back around to face him, forcing a well worn smile to his lips despite his growing melancholy. Tim leans down and picks up the suit jacket he wore to work, slowly pulls both arms through the sleeves.

 

“Guess I’d better get going,” Tim points a thumb past his back towards the front door, but then he hesitates as he rounds the couch to pick up his phone and gun where they rest on the thin table just behind the sofa.

 

Tony furrows his brow, curious but nonetheless grateful for the delay. He walks over to stand in front of Tim, who tilts his head a little shyly at Tony’s scrutiny. And now Tony is desperately interested to know what’s on Tim’s mind. Tony squints his eyes—just a little—in question.

 

Tim glances up and spots the look, rolls his head on his neck before he lifts his gaze back up and determinedly sets his eyes to Tony. “I had a talk with Abby today,” Tim admits.

 

Involuntarily, Tony’s tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip. Tim seems to focus in on the motion and the nervousness it conveys immediately. “Yeah?” Tony finally asks, not sure that he wants this conversation to continue after all.

 

“Yeah,” Tim nods. “We figured a few things out between us,” he chuffs. “You may want to stay on the lookout for a couple weeks, by the way. She was pretty pissed about the lying.”

 

“Tim,” Tony purses his lips, not sure if Tim’s mad at him, too, for messing around in the space between Tim and Abby’s friendship, but Probie steps into him, his proximity silencing Tony at once.

 

“I wanted, um, to tell you thanks. For looking out for me,” Tim clarifies. “I don’t know how I would have been able to move on without having that breathing room away from her.”

 

“So you,” Tony tilts his head and latches on to the most important aspect of the conversation right away, and he finds he’s almost breathless at the revelation, “You’re able to move on?”

 

“Yeah, I was. I did,” Tim lifts his brows as though surprised at his own words. “I think I must have been ready to move on for a while,” Probie whispers in the small space between them. “I just didn’t know how to do it,” Tim licks his lips, and, with embarrassment, Tony realizes he knows that’s true because he’s been staring at them. The older man’s eyes flitter downward.

 

But then Tim raises a hand to Tony’s cheek and angles his chin to level with his own.

 

“I wanted to thank you,” Tim repeats, his soft gaze dropping from Tony’s eyes to his lips. “Okay?” Tim leans in just a touch, tugs along Tony’s jaw just a pinch.

 

“Okay,” Tony whispers back, and then Tim leans in and kisses him, and it feels like Tony’s stomach flips right then and there.

 

He grabs onto Tim’s waist by reflex, holding on tight for the ride as Tim gently sucks on his bottom lip and just barely teases inside his mouth. And then Tony darts his tongue into his partner’s mouth, feels that suction luring him deeper inside. He gasps for breath, and Tim takes his wide open mouth as an invitation.

 

Tim steps closer still, pulling their bodies flush against each other. Tony’s hands scurry up Tim’s body, forcing Tim’s arms down when he yanks Tim’s jacket right off his shoulders. Tim breaks their kiss, and Tony blinks, his chest suddenly heaving in panic as he realizes where he’s trying to lead Tim, where he’s desperate to go with this, while Tim’s just standing there staring at him.

 

But then Tim flicks his jacket from his wrists and jerks his hand up and around to the back of Tony’s head, forcing his partner’s lips right back on his, and Tony breathes his relief against Tim’s mouth.

 

“Ahh!” Tony moans as Tim goes to work on the buttons of his dress shirt, and when he quickly wiggles his hands underneath the fabric, running his fingers down to Tony’s abs.

 

Tony jerks Tim’s turtleneck up to his armpits to palm Tim’s flanks. He grins when the action causes Tim to groan against his mouth. Tim lifts his arms, and Tony takes his cue to strip the shirt from him. When Tim’s hands come back down, he finishes removing Tony’s shirt by cupping his palms against Tony’s shoulders and following all the way to his wrists when the already loosened cuffs give way and gravity takes over. Then, Tim interlaces their fingers.

 

“Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly,” Tony teases with a tug on both Tim’s hands, and Tim steps forward as Tony steps back towards the bedroom.

 

Tim mouths his way to Tony’s ear, “Why Tony?” Probie asks, breath hot against the lobe. “You gonna eat me?” he prods, tone dirtier and deeper than Tony’s ever heard from him.

 

The image comes to Tony so hard and so fast—Tim gasping in the middle of his bed while Tony bends between his thighs and swallows Tim’s dick as far down his throat as he can.

 

“Unh,” the grunt escapes Tony at the same time his hips jerk right into Tim’s.

 

“Whoa,” Tim catches Tony’s hips, breath puffing away from him as he does. He pulls away from Tony enough to study his face over, keeping their hips locked together and still lightly sliding against Tony and driving him crazy even as Tony’s cheeks heat up in embarrassment.

 

Tony blinks, and his jaw moves soundlessly, while his brain stutters over what he’s just revealed to them both. Tony’s never sucked cock before. He’s never wanted to, and he can’t even imagine why he pictured what he did, let alone why it makes him feel…well, something anyway.

 

But then Tim just closes the distance between them again, taking Tony’s lips without allowing a word of derision or even confusion between them. And Tony’s so grateful he gets busy on the buttons of Tim’s slacks right away. Gaining a bit of space between their hips, he massages his way along Tim’s shorts, then goes back up to the waistband just as they reach the bedroom door. He gets a shuddery moan from Tim when he reaches inside.

 

Tony teases his fingers against Tim’s thighs, reaches down to cup his balls, but then can’t resist temptation any longer so he adjusts his arm to wrap his hand around Tim’s shaft. He remembers touching Tim’s dick before, helping him put on the condom just this past Saturday so they could both fuck Jeannie quicker, but it seems so different now because it’s not just a wrap it up and go kind of thing. He can feel Tim jumping up to meet him, twitching and pleading in his hand, and it takes Tony’s breath away.

 

Tim frantically starts pushing against his pants and shorts, getting them halfway down his thighs before Tony’s body, so close to his, so entwined with his, prevents him from getting any further with it. Tony lets him go, and his hand’s shaking without that solid grip. After kicking off his shoes and stepping out of his pants and drawers, Tim goes for Tony’s buckle. Tony slips off his own shoes, and Tim slides Tony’s pants down his legs. Tim rests his hands on Tony’s hips a moment. Tony watches him swallow hard when he reaches his left hand down and wraps it around Tony’s dick.

 

Tony can’t breathe while Tim experiments with a few short tugs, and it’s both because it’s so good to have Tim’s fingers around his shaft and because he needs so much for Tim to be okay with this. Tony wants so hard for Tim to like the feel of his dick as much as Tony likes playing with his.

 

And then Probie opens his mouth with a pant, and he licks his lips, his hands still experimenting with his grip, and Tony grabs right back at him in relief, and he grabs for Tim everywhere. He wants to touch every part of him all at once, and Tony tries to, and his hands feel crazed to him the way they fly about Tim’s skin—in his hair, along his chest, squeezing Tim’s ass, gripping his cock. The only thing serving to keep him from going insane is the sensation of Tim’s fingers as they run up his flank to just below his armpit.

 

“Shh. Easy,” Tim whispers into Tony’s ear, and Tony nods, and he breathes, and he tries to calm down, and he doesn’t know what the fuck is wrong with himself.

 

“Tim, I—” if he’d had half his brain working, Tony would have been mortified at both the way he’d been frantically feeling Tim up and the way his mind had completely shut down.

 

“Shh,” the shape of that sound forms right against Tony’s cheek, and the sensation is incredible, and it soothes him and heats him up at the same time. “Come ‘ere,” Tim steps forward, walking Tony backward and into the bed.

 

He gently pushes Tony into sitting on the edge, and Tony backs towards the middle as he pulls Tim down with him. Tim follows without reservation, follows Tony up the bed on his hands and knees. Settling his left knee between Tony’s thighs, Tim drags his dominant hand down Tony’s body to grip Tony’s cock once more. Tony tries to reach for Tim as well, but their hands clash right away. Feeling his brow furrow automatically, Tony can’t even begin to problem solve before Tim takes over.

 

“Touch me,” Tim orders, lowering his body closer to Tony’s. “Touch me while I touch you,” and it’s obvious Tim’s talking about two completely different kinds of contact when Tim guides Tony’s right hand to his back, then lets his own fingers blaze a trail back to Tony’s dick.

 

Tony grips Tim’s shoulder hard when Probie’s palm starts taking it long and tight around Tony’s cock. He lifts his right leg, moves it against Tim’s left one as Probie tries to keep his balance above Tony. Leaning down to kiss Tony, Tim lowers himself a little more, initiating all sorts of new points of contact. Tony’s whole body shudders at the mixing sensations—Tim’s mouth moving with his, Tim’s body grinding down into his, Tim’s tight grip moving faster up and down Tony’s shaft, pausing every once in a while to tease the head a little more.

 

Both of Tony’s hands roam right into Tim’s hair while Tony’s mouth insists on staying locked with Tim’s. Tony runs his nails all along the back of Tim’s skull, knowing how much Tim loves that. Immediately, Tim’s hips jerk into Tony, making Tony gasp and push right up into Tim’s grip while Tim’s cock pushes back down, hot and hard against him.

 

Tim takes that as his cue and jerks harder. Tony’s hips lift high off the bed, bringing the two of them into fuller contact as he comes all over them both.

 

Painting kisses across his cheeks and eyelids, Tim wraps his palm around Tony’s hip as the older man’s breathing calms down. Tony opens his eyes just as Tim nuzzles along his jaw.

 

“Flip over,” Tony demands, and he really fucking likes that shudder that runs through Tim’s body at his words.

 

Tim lifts his head and immediately complies. They switch positions with ease, their bodies poised in a mirror image to what they were a moment ago. Tony lifts his hand to Tim’s chest, feeling the rapid heartbeat beneath his fingertips. He leans down and kisses his lips once, then goes for his jaw, down to his neck.

 

“Tony—” Tim strains his voice in a plea.

 

Tony’s hand’s already started moving anyway, and it makes his breath catch anew to wrap his digits around Tim’s dick.

 

“Fuck!” Tim’s hips come up to meet Tony’s mobile hand as he cusses, and Tony loves the sound of that curse from Probie’s sweet lips. He sets his own mouth to Tim’s neck—going for the jugular—the better to keep Probie’s tongue free and loose. Tony yanks beautiful sounds from Tim’s throat while he yanks on Tim’s cock.

 

Tim’s hips surge like Tony’s had a moment ago, his come covering Tony’s hand, and Tony rubs his fingers against one another as if he’s never felt semen between his digits before, and he kind of wonders whether Tim’s come would taste different from his own.

 

Tony tries to roll, but Tim tightens his grip about his partner’s shoulder. Tony relaxes back into Tim, rests his sticky hand against Probie’s hip. When Tim lifts his eyes up to meet Tony’s there’s something almost surprised in them, and Tony’s abruptly taken back to that first night when the two of them took Dana to this same bed. Tim’d had that same look in his eyes after the first time he’d kissed Tony.

 

“Just reaching for the tissues,” he assures Probie.

 

Tim licks his lips. He blinks a second later when Tony’s words seem to register and then loosens his grip around Tony to let him stretch to the nightstand and collect the box of tissues. They clean up quickly, and when they’re done, Tony simply tosses the used tissues towards the side of the bed, making Tim’s nose wrinkle a touch.

 

Tony tugs on the edge of the comforter just above Tim’s head, and Tim takes his cue and sits up as Tony pulls the bedspread down. They both slip between the sheets a moment later. Tony watches Tim a little curiously when the younger man sidles up close beside him in the bed. Tim keeps his eyes studiously away from Tony’s when he lifts his hand and sets it lightly in the middle of Tony’s chest.

 

“Okay?” Tim asks for the second time tonight, his voice wavering more now than it did the first time.

 

“Yeah,” Tony whispers back quietly and brings his own hand to lie atop it.

Chapter Text

 A distant part of Tim recognizes the sound when the phone rings, but the intonation of the buzzing is slightly off, and as Tim comes to and hears the low thrum of Tony’s voice above him, Tim realizes he’s in the other man’s bed. Tim shifts a bit in between the sheets, luxuriating in the feel of the high thread count cotton against his skin. Against every inch of his skin. Tim furrows his brow as he recognizes his nakedness.

 

Tim feels the balance in the bed shift twice—once away from him, then towards him.

 

“Hey, Probie,” Tim feels a steady hand against his stomach.

 

“Mmm?” he lifts his brows as he turns into the touch, enjoying the connection as he pulls his way closer to full consciousness.

 

Tony chuckles, the sound getting closer as it continues. “Time to get up,” Tony rubs that hand along Tim’s belly. “Secret service caught a suspected money launderer with ties to the marine squad of one of Leo Martin’s blackmail-ees. Gibbs thinks their suspect may be one of the civilians we’ve been trying to ID from the pictures.”

 

Tim feels his face squinch. He stretches his whole body where he lies, raising his arms, pointing his toes, and arching his back. When he opens his eyes, Tony’s blinking at the movement of his body.

 

Tony points a finger toward the hallway with studied casualness. “I’m going to grab a quick shower, if you don’t mind starting the coffee.”

 

Tim nods in acquiescence. He smiles at Tony.

 

“Alright,” Tony nods in return, patting Tim’s belly once more, and though he’s smiling back down at Tim, there’s a furrow to Tony’s brow that tells Tim he’s not feeling entirely settled. Tim watches, a growing, gnawing lump in his gut, as Tony’s jaw locks and the tips of his ears turn red while his eyes drop, unseeing, to the pillow beneath Tim’s head. Tony’s mouth opens, but Tim doesn’t wait for whatever’s coming out of it. Instead, he reaches a hand up to Tony’s chest, just meaning to extend the connection between them and somehow let Tony know they’re standing on even ground before the day gets away from them, but Tim’s fingers fan out—entirely without his consent—to skim over the firmness of Tony’s right pec. Tim blinks and would’ve yanked his hand back, but then the hand on his own belly settles itself a little more heavily, and Tony’s thumb rubs from Tim’s navel to halfway towards his sternum, as if to say, “okay.”

 

The muscles in Tim’s belly squirm under Tony’s light touch. Tim likes the feel of Tony’s fingers there. He likes it a lot.

 

“Good morning,” Tony’s words are softer now than just a moment before and the tiny upturn to his lips is just as gentle as his tone.

 

“Mmm, morning,” Tim’s mouth returns the smile.

 

It’s between one sleepy blink and the next that Tony pulls in closer. Tim lifts up to meet him by instinct, and the kiss they share is soft, gentle; sweet. It ties Tim to the day more thoroughly than a cup of coffee could.

 

Tim clears his throat when Tony moves away. A moment later he opens his eyes, just realizing that he’d closed them.

 

Tony’s smile this time is a little off balance and more than a little unsure, but still genuinely pleased. Tim imagines his own expression must be a mirror to his partner’s.

 

“Just gonna—” Tony tilts his head towards the bathroom.

 

“Right, and I’ll—” Tim likewise points a finger towards the kitchen.

 

Tony follows through with his intentions a few seconds later. Tim exhales heavily once Tony closes the bathroom door behind him. In a minute, Tony’s naked body will be under the steady stream from the shower head. The little white suds of the soap will trickle across his skin, and the soft fruity scent of Tony’s shampoo will be stronger than Tim’s ever smelled it before. Maybe he’d even drop the bottle and while he was down on his knees picking it up, Tim would come in and—

 

Abruptly Tim sits up, trying desperately to clear his mind, but his thoughts tumble over that blush that bloomed on Tony’s cheeks last night and what it might mean, if it could have meant what it seemed to at that time. Did Tony really think about—

 

Being on his knees in front of Tim, one hand working Tim’s balls while the other stays on Tim’s hips, urging Tim to fuck his mouth, wanting as much of Tim’s cock down his throat as he could possibly take…

 

“Geez!” Tim runs a hand through his hair, shakes his head, and literally jumps out of the bed, only taking the couple extra seconds required to throw on his boxers before running out of the room and to somewhere else where he won’t be able to hear the sound of the water droplets cascading across Tony’s body.

 

Tim distracts himself with little tasks after that, making the coffee, finding his clothes in the closet where Tony washed and hung them from the last time he’d stayed over, digging for the poptarts among the haphazardly thrown together staples in Tony’s kitchen cabinets. Honestly, who puts pickles and marshmallow cream side by side?

 

Tony cuts the water off after eight minutes, and Tim can hear him puttering about in the bathroom and then the bedroom for another five. Tim tracks Tony’s bare feet treading quietly up behind him as he’s carefully sipping at his still too hot cup of brew and grabbing for Tony’s favorite caramel flavoring to set beside the milk and sugar already on the counter, just in case Tony feels like the added flavor this morning. He sometimes does.

 

Tim starts speaking as he turns towards Tony where he hears him by the toaster, “Hey, did you want—”

 

But Tony’s shirtless. No, Tim’s eyes venture farther down, not just shirtless. All he’s got on is a medium-sized towel, knotted loosely and low on his hips. Even worse, Tony hadn’t bothered to dry off all the way when he finished bathing. His hair’s still a bit wet and there are a few scattered droplets of water lazily snaking down his body.

 

Tim tries to blink away, but his eyes keep jerking back to Tony’s chest and up and down his arms and then down past that little towel. Right when he almost regains control of his stare, Tim spies a single bead of water sliding down Tony’s neck, racing over the same pec Tim had his palm on not twenty minutes before, and teasing past Tony’s abs to disappear as it’s absorbed into the cloth of his towel.

 

It’s so quiet in the few feet between them that Tim can hear Tony swallow. That muted click is what snaps Tim out of it. He finds a place on the floor to put his eyes, and he doesn’t budge them. He chugs his coffee even though it had barely been cool enough to drink to begin with, and his entire head already feels way too warm with all the blood rushing for his face.

 

From his peripheral vision he notes Tony stepping closer to him. Tim shifts against the counter, feeling the hard press of the formica lip pushing back uncomfortably against his ass.

 

Tony doesn’t stop until he stands beside Tim and those towel clad hips of his have to be parallel to the counter, not that Tim’s going to risk it to check and see this time. There’s a moment of quiet while Tony pours his coffee, adding a splash of the caramel flavoring to his cup. Tim sucks in a breath, grateful that Tony’s going to let it go, except when Tim tries to take a step forward, Tony stops him with a hand fast and tight on his arm.

 

Automatically, Tim’s eyes seek the pressure, and once he spies the digits griping his forearm, he can’t help but to follow the source, up Tony’s bicep, past his strong shoulder, traveling up his neck, stuttering beyond Tony’s lips to his eyes.

 

Tim winces and drops his gaze again, “Sorry,” he whispers, almost without sound.

 

“Hey, no!” Tony tightens his grip. “I don’t,” he tries again, “that’s not…”

 

Tim purses his lips as tightly as he can. He should’ve tried harder not to imagine Tony in the shower this morning, and he should absolutely have never imagined that Tony’s blush last night had meant anything.

 

I’m such an asshole, Tim winces.

 

“Tim,” Tony squeezes his arm once more when he hoarsely murmurs back, “It’s okay for,” Tony shrugs self-consciously, “you know.”

 

Feeling his ears burn brighter, Tim feels panic start to spread throughout his gut, “What?” he squeaks out, ready to deny anything.

 

A second later, Tony’s steadying hand stretches across Tim’s bare belly, and he shifts so he’s standing less to Tim’s side and more to his front. There’s a sudden softness—a vulnerability—to the way Tony’s fingertips move across his skin, so much so that Tim’s dominant hand comes up without a bit of input from him to spur it, to cup Tony’s hesitant fingers.

 

“It’s the same thing, right?” Tony licks his lips. “Last night,” he shrugs towards the hallway where that brilliantly beautiful blush had first lit up his cheeks on the way to Tony’s bed. “This morning,” Tony rubs his thumb gently along Tim’s belly, his gaze dropping to the barely tied towel at his hips before checking back to his own hand. “It’s even, right?” the words soften into a whisper, as if unsure.

 

“Yes,” Tim answers right away, but he isn’t certain himself until Tony’s eyes come up to meet his in relief, because that’s what it takes for Tim to realize that Tony was lingering in embarrassed, too. And if Tony was embarrassed, then Geez! did that mean Tim had been right after all? Did Tony actually want to, well, try new things together?

 

Tim’s arm lifts three quarters of the way up towards Tony’s mouth before he blinks back down into reality. “Crap, we’re going to be so late,” he barely has breath to say, and then the words run from his mouth more easily when he realizes, “Gibbs is going to kill us.”

 

Tony furrows his brow and shakes his head. “Yeah,” he lifts his hand from Tim’s belly to run his fingers through his darkly wet hair. “You shower,” he steps away from Tim and reaches blindly for his coffee on the counter beside him. “I’ll get our stuff together, okay?”

 

Tim nods, “Okay.” He scurries towards the hall, but has to turn back when he makes it to the kitchen doorway. “Tony, I,” he doesn’t want to embarrass the other man any more than what he’d apparently felt last night, but a part of him has to say, “I really liked it, you know, when you,” Tim hurriedly glances down the hallway without quite meaning to, “last night.”

 

A light blush hits Tony’s cheeks, but he keeps Tim’s gaze when he declares right back, “I really liked this morning.”

 

A complementary flush starts its way up Tim’s neck. He feels it flower right past his grinning lips and onto his cheeks. Before he turns towards the bathroom to take the fastest morning shower of his life, his last view of the kitchen is centered on Tony’s happily, reddened smile.

Chapter Text

Tony feels deliciously naked for the rest of the day, like there’s some unseen high-def speakers blaring AC/DC’s greatest hits on a loop to soundtrack his every move while Tim’s eyes stay on his skin, unable to look away. This feels true despite the fact that Tim has to stay down in Abby’s lab for most of the day while Tony, Boss, and Ziva knock down some doors and bust in some heads like 70’s street cops or Serpico.

 

The secret service lead dead ends inside two hours, but Abby and Ducky manage to piece together a faded blacklight-reactive stamp from the back of Leo Martin's hand. It leads them downtown to Micah's—not a club Tony would take Tim to. They'd probably be okay with Tony and Tim dancing as closely together as they pleased, but the crowd's a little too chic, the patrons a touch too snooty, and Tony's fairly certain the vibe would set Tim on edge.

 

Micah’s middle-aged owner is a dick with a poorly-cut Saville Row knockoff and an almost 1950s-worthy chauvinistic disdain in the way he talks down to Ziva. It irritates Tony, but Boss just smirks at the guy and volunteers Tony to interview him with a flick of his head while he sends Ziva next door to the all-night diner, pointing dismissively towards the door. Ziva would’ve narrowed her eyes at Tony had he pulled that act, but she tilts her chin at Boss and carefully follows his line of sight towards the open door of the kitchen. The two of them must see something Tony doesn’t, because she smirks back at Boss and demures, an extra wiggle bouncing in her steps as she walks away.

 

Boss makes his way for the athletic redhead setting up the bar for the afternoon shift while Tony pulls out his notepad, trying to look supremely interested in everything the man with the terrible tailor says. Tony takes the interview seriously for all of a minute and fifteen seconds—the amount of time in which it becomes apparent that the owner is as hands-off as possible, only venturing in once or twice a month to harass the pretty bartenders.

 

Tony painstakingly tries to keep the man distracted while Gibbs speaks with the beautiful but increasingly irritated woman behind the main bar. Tony can see the problem between them from ten yards away. The pretty redhead’s in her late 30s, maybe early 40s judging by the confidence she projects and the careful lines time has drawn with kindness across her face. Pretty redheads are like kryptonite for Gibbs, though, and his rarely roving eye, roves, just a little. Tony’s pretty sure the NSA could see how fast she shuts down from space. She pushes past Gibbs with a tray full of fruit in her right hand, making her way towards a secondary bar on the roof.

 

With a wince, Boss shakes his head and shakes it off. His eyes meet Tony’s for half a second before Boss jerks his head eastward, towards the diner next door. Tony shakes his head, making Boss squint at him. He lifts his brows at Boss and glances up the stairwell where the bartender disappeared to a moment before. Tony’s pretty sure he could get more out of her than Ziva could. Ziva tends to work best with reluctant witnesses and conversely with people who want to help. She doesn’t usually have the best approach with individuals who may not realize when they know something important. Boss maintains the squint for a half a second, but finally accedes to the request, walking toward Tony and taking over questioning of the owner, distracting him so that the man won’t bother Tony in the middle of his own attempt to interview the bartender.

 

Tony extricates himself with a smile once Gibbs has fully commandeered Bad Suit's attention. He makes his way towards the patio and the outer stairwell he spied on the way into the club. He takes the steps two at a time, like he's running away from something. He takes a quick breather at the top of the stairs, letting himself look a little off balance. He knows it makes him seem open, vulnerable. He straightens, then, running his palm from his sternum to his gut when he spies the redheaded bartender's suspicious eyes.

 

“Ma’am,” he nods at her.

 

She lifts her chin back in acknowledgement, immediately busying herself with mundane chores like she’s a barkeep in a Law and Order episode and she gets interviewed by the feds every day.

 

Tony glances down her body, taking in the mechanical actions of her limbs and the irritation in her stilted motions. He keeps his gaze ultra focused on segments of the bartender’s body at a time, trying his best to only see her objectively, trying to keep from seeing her as a sexual being at all because that’s what tripped up Gibbs. He squints at her left arm, noting the stiffness in the limb, and suddenly he knows: he has an in.

 

Her biting words attack before he can open his mouth, “Most men in this club wait until they’re off the clock before they stare at my breasts.”

 

His eyes follow her arm up to her shoulder before finding her glare. He chuckles at the disdain he finds there, and then he practically moseys across the empty dance floor to take up position opposite her at the bar. “And most women, with or without broken collarbones, realize fairly quickly that I have absolutely no interest in their breasts.” His gut feels a little squiggly as soon as he bites out the words—not because of the blatancy of the lie, but because her arm should really be in a sling. The collarbone is either freshly broken or healing incorrectly by the way she favors her left arm.

 

The redhead maintains the armor of her contempt, but judging by the way she squints a little harder at him, Tony’s working on creating a chink in it. She leans across the bar, both palms flat on the wooden surface between her and Tony.

 

“What do you want?” she pushes. “I already talked to the other agent,” she points out.

 

Tony chuffs humorlessly and leans right back into her, mirroring her pose, “Yeah, I watched you freeze up and walk away from my Boss the second he smiled at you too long.”

 

Her eyes are like lasers on his, looking for any inconsistency in his demeanor, for some reason to dismiss him like she did Gibbs downstairs. “What do you want?” she repeats.

 

“To catch a killer,” he answers the deeper truth, sensing that the bartender would smell insincerity through a hazmat suit like it was a screen door. “To keep you and other civilians at this club safe tonight.”

 

Her gaze flickers down at that. Her breath is measured as she thinks over his words. “I didn’t see anything when I was working three nights ago, and I didn’t recognize the picture of the man that the other agent showed me,” the redhead chooses to repeat for Tony what she must have already said to Boss downstairs, relenting by a gossamer strand.

 

Tony nods, ducks his head in just a tiny bit closer without moving his body towards her even a little, “Often witnesses don’t know when they see something important,” his tone is even, but he very carefully keeps from being too smooth, “not until it’s put into context later.”

 

The redhead blinks and straightens up, unconsciously favoring that left side by pulling the arm in close, cradling the hand with her good one. “Put it in context how?” she asks softly, still a little reluctant, but a tiny bit open now where she’d be so strictly shut down a few minutes before.

 

“Talk to me about that night,” Tony pushes forward in what he judges has got to be the exact right encouragement—he can feel it in his bones like he always can when he’s this deep inside the zone. “Tell me about what you did, if anything altered your routine, if anyone was bothering your regulars,” he leads, gauging her body language.

 

She notes the motion of his eyes again but doesn’t assign a threat to him for it this time.

 

“First tell me your name, though,” Tony insists before she begins.

 

“Gina,” she offers readily. “Mendez,” she adds before he can ask for her last name.

 

“Agent Tony DiNozzo,” he says right back, extending his right hand over the counter.

 

She takes it, giving him a firm shake. “Good to meet you, Agent DiNozzo.”

 

“You, too, Ms. Mendez,” he takes the cue of formality from her, thinking maybe it makes it easier on her to more clearly designate who they are to each other, without affectation.

 

As soon as she lets go of his hand, she tilts her chin in thought. “I don’t know if this is important,” she begins, and Tony’s ears perk up. “But there’s a woman who’s come in every Monday for months, but she wasn’t here this week.”

 

Tony shifts on his feet, getting the tiniest bit closer to the bar and Ms. Mendez’s words, “What’s so special about Mondays?”

 

The redhead shakes her head, bottom lip downturning by a hair. “Nothing really. Margarita two-for-one night,” she allows. “But the woman never ordered a Margarita—wine drinker. Chablis,” she adds again, before pursing her lips, like the details that stand out most to her are insignificant.

 

“Does she usually come in alone?” Tony probes, not sure whether it’s important yet.

 

“Always,” Ms. Mendez nods once, absolutely. “But she also always meets somebody here. There’s usually somebody different in the group each time, but there are a couple of other people who are frequently with her.”

 

“Did she ever pay with a credit card?” Tony bites his bottom lip, hoping.

 

“Never,” the bartender shakes her head. “But her name was Carmen.”

 

Snick—like the first tumbler of a combination lock clicking into place. “Carmen?” Tony asks, already thinking of Carmen Lerner, in NCIS’s holding cells since Monday night.

 

“Like Carmen San Diego,” Ms. Mendez adds and the right side of her lips tilt upward in half a grin. “My kid brother was a fan of the video game.”

 

Tony leans his body into the wooden bar, “Can you describe her?” he imagines the svelte brunette in those tall red heels that he and Tim arrested in Norfolk on Monday night, but he doesn’t want to show Ms. Mendez the mug shot, not yet.

 

Ms. Mendez answers directly, “Tall and thin, dark brown hair. Saw a glimpse of a tattoo on her lower back once,” she shakes her head. “Something with a horse or maybe a unicorn.”

 

It was a Pegasus. The female CO who’d strip searched Carmen Lerner in intake at the Norfolk federal facility documented it in the report.

 

“What about the people she met more than once?” he pushes.

 

Ms. Mendez blinks a couple of times fast, purses her lips. “Is this really related to that man’s murder?”

 

“Yes,” his gut tells him with clarity.

 

The bartender nods thoughtfully. “There were two men, Bruce and Dennis.” Her eyes twinkle, “Bruce Michaels—I always ask him what’s your Poison?”

 

Tony grins as he pulls out his notepad, hearing her emphasis immediately. “You’re a fan of 80’s hair bands?”

 

Ms. Mendez shrugs her good shoulder, a smile crawling up her face by inches, “Bret Michaels,” she acknowledges the connection Tony’d made to Poison’s lead singer along with her clever use of name association, “Bruce Michaels. Names are gold for a bartender.” She lifts a brow, "If a customer feels like he belongs, he'll tip well, and he'll keep coming back.”

 

He jerks his chin at her, intrigued, “What do you use to remember Dennis’ last name?” he pushes.

 

She looks low and to her right, “Dennis Fairley,” she acknowledges. “Dennis the Menace is blond—fair haired.”

 

He pretends a lick to his finger before pointing it in her direction, “Tsst!” he sizzles. “Very nice!”

 

Ms. Mendez ducks her chin a little, grinning more widely at the compliment as she does.

 

Tony tilts his head rightward, “Anybody else?”

 

The redhead squints as if probing inwardly at her brain, “I can’t recall any other names offhand,” she acknowledges, “but there was this one other woman—no one ever used a name for her. They called her Hot Lips instead.”

 

“Somebody’s a fan of classic television,” Tony quips, a part of him aching to hum the MASH theme song aloud, but he pushes down the impulse, not wanting Ms. Mendez to imagine he’s not taking her seriously. “Can you describe Hot Lips?”

 

Ms. Mendez glances down and rightward, “A little shorter than me,” she places her hand flat at about mid-forehead.

 

Maybe 5’4” then, Tony judges.

 

“Thinnish, bleached blond, full lips—always paints them hot pink,” the bartender continues. “Always really precise makeup job, tastefully done though, never too much,” she waves her good hand out in front of her. “Her clothes seemed similarly chosen—well tailored and precise but still hot, you know?” she adds.

 

“Oh, I do,” he lifts his brow and writes his usual abbreviations to describe Carmen Lerner’s associates. When, belatedly, Gina Mendez’s description of Hot Lips as, well, hot, recrosses Tony’s mind, he briefly ponders whether the bartender might be a lesbian. He scrunches his nose half a second later as he dismisses the consideration. Women often seem comfortable acknowledging another woman’s sexiness, and although it can be hot to imagine otherwise, one woman calling another hot is sadly almost never evidence of lesbian-ness. Lesbianism? Tony wonders and then furrows his brow. Maybe Tim would know.

 

Tony shakes his head and gets himself back on track, “So were Bruce, Dennis, and Hot Lips all here on Monday?”

 

“Bruce was,” the bartender confirms with a squint, but then she shakes her head. “I remember Dennis and Hot Lips, too, but they came later than they usually do.”

 

“What’s later than usual?”

 

Gina Mendez purses her lips, “Around midnight.”

 

Tony jots down the note, impressed. “You have incredible recall.” Honestly, Tony wishes all of his witnesses were like her. It’s like getting an Easter basket on a random Wednesday, well Thursday, actually.

 

Ms. Mendez shrugs the one shoulder. Her lips revert back to that half smile. “Glad I could help.”

 

"Would you mind helping a little more?" Tony taps the bar in front of him, anxious to know everything the bartender knows. Tim might have put a temporary stopgap in place preventing the thieves from accumulating more funds, but MCRT haven't been able to find the other main players in the kiting scheme yet. The hardware evidence only leads back to Leo Martin, which is likely why he's dead now. Further, the bartender's recall of the Monday Night Evil Bank Robbing Gang—er well, Evil Credit Union Robbing Gang—indicates that Carmen Lerner's a way better liar than Tony gave her credit for.

 

Ms. Mendez hesitates, "Help you in what way?”

 

"Do you think you could come with us down to headquarters and talk to a sketch artist?" It's a great method to get the memory juices flowing.

 

Seemingly unconsciously, the bartender tightens her broken wing against her body, crinkling her brow when she says, “I’m on the clock.”

 

Tony’s eyes drop to that arm that should be in a sling. He wonders if she went to the doctor. Wonders if she can afford to go or if maybe there’s some other reason besides money that has her setting up bar this morning. Tony squints and pushes because it's his job, “After work?”

 

Ms. Mendez glances around like someone might jump out of the still-closed umbrellas on the patio and call her a narc even though there hasn’t even been the slightest creak on the stairs indicating someone’s joined them up here. Assured they’re still alone, she nods. “Get me the address, and I’ll come by after my shift,” she promises.

 

“Great!” he grins and pulls a business card from the breast pocket of his suit jacket, stealing a pen from the bar to jot down how to get to the West Gate of the Yard on the back. “I’ll be there most of the day, and my partner will be there even when I’m gone,” there’s a shot of aching softness and sweetness that jolts through him at the thought of Tim. Tony hopes that getting locked up in the lab with Abby all day doesn’t diminish that inviting grin McWhyNot had on his face this morning. Tony’s always enjoyed making McGee blush, but something about seeing that tender pinkening across his features as he smiled this morning made Tony really want to see it again. The skin would have probably been warmer than usual if Tony had dared to touch it. Tony wondered if it might be more sensitive, too.

 

“Your partner?” Ms. Mendez questions, her direct and curious tone reminding Tony of what he’d alluded to earlier in the conversation by telling her he didn’t care about a woman’s curves.

 

Tony only realizes that he’s softly smiling as the expression is leaving his face. This time, he’s the one who looks towards the stairwells, shaken by the fear that anybody could be listening right now—Boss could be listening. Boss might know. Except, nada—there’s no one else up here with him and the bartender, no real, plausible way anybody might hear them at all. Still, he blinks, a little shaken at how the bartender seemed to be able to read more into Tony’s partner than he meant for her to. Tony glances back towards Ms. Mendez, trying to figure out how to respond even though he’s in law enforcement for crying out loud and the word partner has a very distinct meaning in his line of work that has nothing to do with what both he and the bartender have each insinuated. Turns out, he doesn’t need to say a thing.

 

“It’ll probably be after five before I can make it over that way,” Ms. Mendez segues away from her own question without another word or any emphasis on Tony’s prolonged silence. Only then does she pick up his business card. She studies it for a moment, reading the address, before placing his calling card in her front pocket.

 

“No problem,” he returns after a second, grateful for the swiftness of her reprieve. The oddest thing is, working undercover, he’s pretended to be a lot of things before, and he’s never had an ounce of trouble following through on what he’s declared himself to be. He’s had a hard time selling it before, but he’s never had difficulty in pretending. With a flare of insight he doesn’t want, he realizes there’s too much truth in his lie, too much of himself. He swallows hard, pushing the thought as far to the back of his mind as he can, needing a clear head.

 

He has to clear his throat again before he can say, “Give me a call if you have trouble finding it or if you need us to come pick you up.” Tony extends his hand once more.

 

Her grip this time is just as sure as before when she shakes his hand, but with an added bit of amicability that wasn’t there earlier. She nods at him one more time before going back to cradling her stiff left hand.

 

Tony almost walks away, but he viscerally remembers that feeling. “You see a doc about that collarbone?” he knows he shouldn’t ask, risks her shutting back down as he pushes, but he can’t help himself.

 

“Yes,” her lips pinch together, but she answers readily enough, her irritation aimed at someone other than Tony this time. “Got the ER bill practically the next day and nothing to show for it but a prescription for a sling.”

 

Tony winces, “It’s not my business—”

 

She anticipates his next word and interrupts stiffly, “But?”

 

“It seems useless, but the sling really does help,” he admits freely with Gibbs out of hearing range.

 

“Figured that out on my own,” she smirks at him and pulls a navy blue sling out from under the bar. Tony lifts his brows at her. “The Big Boss,” she points to the floor and presumably the dick who owns the place, in explanation. “Doesn’t like it if we can’t lift 50 pounds on every shift we work, but he never stays once customers start making their way in. Only good thing about him,” she reveals, leaning in towards Tony for the first time, “is that he knows he’s bad for business.”

 

Shaking his head with a chuckle, Tony grins at her before jogging for the stairs. “See you tonight!” he twists his upper body backward and points her way, which is why he nearly mows down Boss who’s making his way up.

 

Gibbs lifts his brow in amusement and maybe—possibly, even—a teeny tiny twinge of jealousy.

 

“She saw something after all,” Tony explains before Boss can squint in question.

 

Boss smiles and taps Tony’s bicep in approval, then tilts his head back down the steps. “The owner’s emailing Abby the video surveillance from Monday,” Boss fills him in right before they meet a gleeful Ziva at the car.

 

Tony raises his own brow at her in question. She waves him off until they get back inside their vehicle with Boss behind the wheel.

 

“The manager of the diner was very pleased to be informed of the trash receptacle violation in the bar. Apparently, the manager has been trying to speak with the owner of the building for weeks but that awful little man has been breezing him away for weeks—”

 

Breezing him away, Tony thinks as she’s still talking, have to tell Tim that one.

 

“—vermin the diner owner believes to be originating from the bar dumpsters,” she concludes, Tony having blessedly missed the middle of her diatribe.

 

Eww, vermin? he squinches his nose, not particularly wanting to know any more about it.

 

“Trash receptacle violation?” Tony questions aloud with a shake of the head, “How did you even—”

 

“Few weeks ago, Ziva and I interviewed that Fairfax County health official about Corporal Stewart’s murder,” Boss fills him in. “The only way he could fit us into his schedule is if we met him in an inspection.”

 

“Ah,” Tony grins, “How I love Six Degrees of Sticking it to Assholes!” Tim loved it, too, and he’s always been pretty big on irony. In fact, this one time three years ago, a marine corporal had stolen an engagement ring to propose to his girlfriend, but then it turns out, he’d actually stolen it from her jeweler uncle who’d set the piece himself. Not only did the girlfriend say no, she called the police on the corporal. Tim still chuckled about that one whenever Tony brought it up.

 

Tony hadn’t mentioned it in a while. Tim always laughed harder if there was a good set up with the current caseload to better spotlight the humor, which was sorely lacking right now. Tony crinkles his nose in consideration. Since it’s a story that’s always certain to get a smile out of Tim, maybe Tony should save it a little longer in case a bad day bopped up like a rotting apple.

 

Tony feels one side of his lips curling. Actually that kind of reminds him of this other time in Shenandoah when they ran across a missing Humvee and its driver. They’d been tasked to look for the AWOL sergeant because it’s always risky when a person of a certain security clearance goes missing. They’d found him, drunker than an alcoholic skunk on spring break, under a crab apple tree at the edge of an orchard. It was only funny, of course, because none of them was allergic to bees, which—

 

“DiNozzo!” Gibbs’ rough holler startles Tony into attention. Er, well, as close to attention as he can get his six-foot frame in the back of a smallish sedan with the death grip of the child-size seatbelt holding him roughly against the faux leather.

 

Internally Tony cringes, knowing instinctively that Boss had probably yelled more than once already. He goes for innocent since Gibbs can’t smack him from here. Well, not easily, “Yes, Boss?”

 

Gibbs glowers at him in the rear view mirror instead of physically turning his whole body to scowl at him. Tony relaxes. Boss is barely even irritated with him.

 

Gibbs narrows his glare a little more, still via the mirror. “You said the bartender saw something,” he leads.

 

Tony doesn’t waste a second more, knowing Boss truly will get irritated with him if he has to wait any longer. “Looks like Carmen Lerner was a regular on Monday nights along with a revolving door of co-conspirators. Bartender’s coming to the Yard after her shift,” Tony offers. “I’ll have Ms. Mendez photo ID her, and then get to work on getting the details she knows about the people Carmen Lerner met with.”

 

Ziva does turn in her seat to look at Tony where he sits behind Gibbs. “Ms. Mendez?” she raises her eyebrows at Tony’s formality. “Couldn’t get a first name, Tony?” she smirks.

 

Irk! The brakes squeal, even though Tony barely rocks against his seat belt and the rotors should really be as accustomed to Boss’s abruptness as Tony is by now. The driver behind Gibbs honks, long and loud before going around their vehicle.

 

“And you couldn’t mention this before we left?” Boss does turn around in his seat this time to scowl.

 

“She already gave me names and leads to run down, and she can’t afford to miss the work right now,” Tony snaps before Boss can flip a U-ey in the middle of M Street. Tony narrows his eyes right back at Gibbs, “You know I got this Boss.”

 

Gibbs watches him for a ridiculously prolonged moment, breathing heavily out of his nose as he evaluates Tony. In the end, though, Boss turns back around and drives, but Tony knows the conversation isn’t over.

Chapter Text

When the elevator dings at the fourth floor of NCIS headquarters, Boss practically shoves Ziva out the lift. Gibbs blocks Tony’s exit, not that Tony actually dared to attempt an exit. Then Boss waits for the doors to close before pulling the emergency stop.

 

It takes a minute before Gibbs turns his Payless oxfords back Tony’s way. Even then, Gibbs just watches Tony. There’s an extended moment of silence between them as Tony waits. He holds Boss’ stare the whole time. It’s only after twenty seconds, maybe thirty, of Boss studying him in silence that Tony realizes Boss is waiting for him to crack under the weight of the concentrated quiet.

 

Tony blinks down, knowing what Boss needs from him, even having an idea as to why, but for once in his life, feeling unable to find something to say.

 

“What’s going on with you?” Boss’s voice is weirdly kind rather than annoyed like it had been in the car.

 

Tony’s head shoots up in concern. “Boss?” he asks, not because he doesn’t understand where Boss is coming from here. Tony knows he’s been off balance for the last several days. He just hadn’t expected Gibbs to speak with him so gently about it, especially not after Boss’s irritation with him in the car. Maybe I’m more off than I thought I was, Tony considers abruptly, his face going slack in surprise.

 

Boss keeps his eyes narrowed on Tony, watching and waiting. Finally he says, “Don’t make me repeat myself, DiNozzo.”

 

Tony blinks, but manages to keep his head up. He takes a deep breath, not sure he can articulate himself and feeling, once again, off balance because he’d thought he was coming back together. He thought he’d put those weird insecurities that had plagued him even while he was at work this week—at work!—behind him. Tony had thought that between the way Tim had come to his bed so readily last night and the way that Tim’s eyes couldn’t leave his body this morning that he was settled enough that he could handle anything. He’d certainly felt like he could handle anything when he’d walked into the Yard this morning. Now though, with Gibbs addressing him so gently—so obviously doubting him—Tony’s abruptly not sure anymore.

 

“I,” Tony shakes his head, trying to think of how to explain this whole thing in a way that would be acceptable to Gibbs. “I had a rough start to my week, but I’m getting back on my game, Boss,” and honestly, he is. He totally found a way in with Gina Mendez when Boss had hit a brick wall with the bartender. Tony had been all over that, and moreover, it had even been easy. Sure, okay, Tony’s methods today hadn’t been his usual MO, but it’s not as though flirting would have worked with Ms. Mendez anyway.

 

Again, Boss watches him in silence. The muteness prods Tony to speak more surely than a big stick ever could.

 

“I’m okay, Boss,” Tony shrugs both shoulders in frustration.

 

Gibbs squints at him, “Yeah, you’re okay,” Boss acknowledges, and abruptly, Tony feels the pulled wire of his shoulder blades ease up. “But I couldn’t get a read on you today. Haven’t been in sync with you this week at all. Even before this week…” Boss settles a hand on his hip, not so much trailing off as leading Tony to recall when he might have gotten off his game.

 

Fiercely, Tony shakes his head. He and Boss have always been in sync with each other, even from that very first case together in Baltimore where they’d started out at odds. It’s something he counted on, a connection that made him work harder and even on the worst days, helped him remember why he loved the job. He knows it’s also something that helps Gibbs trust Tony’s instincts, even when Tony goes off on a seriously long shot. Tony’s never seen Boss give anybody the kind of wiggle room he affords Tony, and the thought that he and Boss might be misfiring whirls in Tony’s brain like a demented carnie ride. The idea keeps twisting him until Tony lets himself consider a wider view, thinks over the week and how he’d been sure he’d been back on track. He’d been certain that he’d been on fire from the moment he and Tim had walked out the door this morning—maybe even before that.

 

Maybe it’s not you this time, the voice of reason in his head feels weirdly calm and sure. Tony twists his lower jaw, feeling it misalign with his upper teeth. He thinks of walking to the car with Boss and meeting Ziva, knowing that they both realized she had info to give. Tony considers the way he asked and Boss ceded to letting him interview Ms. Mendez without either of them saying a word. Tony’s tendons snap back into place. Whatever this is, it isn’t on him, and what’s more, he and Boss are still magic together in the field.

 

Tony licks his lips. He’s never been the one that needed to offer reassurances about his and Boss’ connection before. “Some days I’ve felt like you could read my mind,” he finds and holds Boss’ eye. “There were some days when I needed you to.”

 

Boss shakes his noggin, pressing back, “I have no idea what’s going on in your head anymore, Tony.”

 

Tony leans against the back of the elevator, feeling the safety rail pressing uncomfortably into his back. It doesn’t stop him from saying, “You do when we’re in the field.”

 

“You and me, DiNozzo,” Boss winces and lifts his right shoulder. For a second, Tony almost thinks Gibbs is about to be sentimental. He straightens up and vainly tries to fortify his gut against the impulse to turn into jello at the very thought. Tony’s at once fascinated and horrified as well as wishing Ziva were here to see who Boss really likes best, which, okay, everybody knows it’s Abby, but Tony is totally Boss’ favorite on MCRT. He thinks. (And honestly, Tony always knew, anyway, though it’d be nice if Gibbs said something every now and again for crying out loud.) But then Boss just directs his index finger back and forth—towards Tony, then himself, “This,” Boss pauses and holds Tony’s eye. “It isn’t always out in the field.”

 

There’s a long second, and then Boss shifts his weight, settling his other hand on his hip as well. Nobody does silence like Gibbs, and Gibbs knows it. He watches Tony, then, letting the quiet seep up between them in a way that usually drives Tony nuts. He knows Boss needs some kind of explanation, some definable reason as to why Tony seems noticeably different to Boss’ keen eye. Tony isn’t even sure what’s so different about him that’s bothering Gibbs so badly. Well, sure, usually when Tony had any sort of upheaval in his personal life, he would have ended up dropping by Boss’ place to beg half of one of Boss’ cowboy steaks by now. Hell, he might have stopped by frequently enough in the last several weeks—ever since that first misunderstanding with Tim that led them both to this incredible but utterly unexpected path they’re on now—to have gone through Boss’ entire dinner repertoire of chili, spaghetti sauce, and takeout Chinese. Tony hasn’t gone to Boss, though. Mainly because he has no earthly clue how he could justify his actions to the older man, but also because Tony already has Tim right there with him. Even though Tony can’t talk to Tim about some of it, Tony’s still sure that a lot of Tim’s feelings about this whole thing parallel his own. He’s pretty sure.

 

Tony lets the quiet between him and Gibbs ease into him for a while. That silence frustrates him before it can unsettle him.

 

Tony throws up his hands and practically throws himself from the steel wall to the middle of the elevator, landing a foot away from Boss and pushing closer. “Haven’t you ever just gotten to a place in your life when you realized you didn’t want the things you always thought you wanted?”

 

Boss checks him up and down in a way that reminds Tony of how Tim sometimes looks people over when they step too closely inside his space. “No,” Gibbs blinks his eyes back up to Tony’s. “But I’ve been at a moment when I started wanting things I didn’t know I could have,” Boss’ words are gentle once more, and this time, they’re softer than Tony’s ever heard them. It’s not the tone, though, but the words that make Tony’s head twist down and away. It makes him step back towards the elevator wall once more, grabbing for the handrail this time as he leans, head first, against the coolness of the steel.

 

Tony doesn’t know what Boss is thinking back to in his own life that spurs that tender sort of quality to his words, but Tony can only think of Tim. Wanting things I didn’t know I could have. He hadn’t thought Tim would ask him to move into the condo with him. He hadn’t thought Tim would reach back for him last night. He hadn’t thought Tim might watch him with such want this morning. He hadn’t thought Tim would kiss him back, let alone kiss him first. Tony wanted so much with Tim that, each time, he couldn’t even let himself see what he wanted until after he’d gotten it. It was like a runaway train, completely out of his control and—Tony had believed somewhere deep down where he’d tried desperately not to think about it too much at all—completely reckless. What if it’s not reckless? What if he can have what he wants? What if he can have everything he wants? Images pop up from deep in the back of his mind somewhere—he and Tim lounging in bed all day on the weekends, exchanging quick and dirty blowjobs on Tony’s sofa while a forgotten movie plays on the TV, Tim distracting him as Tony cooks pancakes for them both, arguing as they drive into work together, being teased by Ziva about how they spent their mornings because Tony knows they’d end up messing around or messing around every morning if they were—

 

He sucks in too deep a breath then, automatically bringing up his hand to try to soften the harshness of the gasp that comes out of him and the choking that follows. He shuts his eyes, and his mind blanks, protecting him. He doesn’t need to know himself that well. Not yet.

 

He feels Boss’ solid grip on his shoulder, holding him together when Tony hadn’t know he might fall apart. “You’re a good man, Tony,” the words are still quiet, but that awkward gentleness is gone. “You deserve good things,” Boss promises. “It’s okay to want them.”

 

The chuckle is bitter crossing Tony’s lips, even muted as it is by his fist. Jeez, if Boss had any idea what it was Tony wanted—

 

“Hey,” Gibbs tugs hard on his shoulder, forcing Tony to twist back around. “Knock it off!” Boss lets him go long enough to smack the back of his head, loosening Tony’s hand away from his mouth as he does. His tight grip goes right back to Tony’s shoulder.

 

Tony keeps his head down, blinking and not knowing how to reconcile this—the promise of Boss’s words and the ache in his own gut versus the terror of suddenly being someone he’s never considered himself to be, of breaking all the social rules he’s always been able to navigate with such ease. What would his frat brothers say if he showed up to a reunion with a boyfriend the way they brought their wives? How would the other agents take it if they saw him with Tim? How would Gibbs?

 

Maybe I’m gay? Tony lets the frightening thought have form in his mind for the first time. I must at least be bi, he acknowledges, and though the idea feels almost calm by comparison, he feels terrified anew at the thought that maybe Tim isn’t bi, too. Maybe this is just some bizarre form of friendship to Tim and he can just compartmentalize away the feel of another man’s dick in his hand while Tony can’t stop thinking about it. It’s the same way he can’t keep his mind from Tim’s words last night, Why Tony? You gonna eat me? because Tim had seemed to take it alright when it suddenly seemed like maybe the answer to that question was yes.

 

Tony squeezes his eyes shut as hard as he can, squinching his whole face as he does. He can’t think about this in front of Gibbs.

 

“You with me?” Boss demands with a minimum of decibels.

 

Tony nods fast, eyes still shut.

 

“I said, are you with me, DiNozzo?” Boss’ voice is loud enough this time to pry open Tony’s eyelids.

 

Tony licks his lips and blinks until he’s focused back on Boss.

 

Gibbs nods at him once. When Tony nods back, he feels Boss’ fingers, still tight and now on the join to his shoulder.

 

“I’m with you, Boss,” and he is, and he will be, even when he sometimes thinks of Tim first.

Chapter Text

Don’t look. It’s a rule older than Gibbs, and more important to Tim’s day to day interaction than any single one of Boss’ Rules. There had been a time in undergrad when Tim thought maybe it was a rule he couldn’t keep.

 

Sophomore year at Johns Hopkins he was paired with John McKay for his entire year of human phys. John had been a runner—like Tony—and it really showed in the hint of his thighs that peaked beneath the fabric whenever he wore shorts. John also lifted weights every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He was always on Tim to come to the student rec with him. Tim only made it a couple times, because John wore these tank tops that really accentuated the muscles in his arms and shoulders, and Tim didn’t even know what it meant that he found it so distracting.

 

For a while that year and part of the next, Tim thought maybe he was bisexual. He was absolutely certain that he wasn’t gay thanks to Janet Ferguson, but science taught him that sexuality existed on a spectrum, and at that point in his life, Tim was starting to realize that in some ways, he trusted science more than the super-machismo posturing that seemed so prevalent between Dad and Pop and their Navy buddies. It wasn’t until he ventured into a crisis LGBT center in downtown Baltimore once junior year recommenced that he got the advice that ended his dilemma.

 

Tim vividly recalls being in that tiny room with the barely working AC in the lingering heat of September. Sometimes, he can still feel the flush in his cheeks and the dryness in his throat, the way the counselor—Dave—got him a Coke and how Tim held onto that chilled can, his grip denting the aluminum inward as its condensation soaked into his jeans and he stuttered out his worries. He remembers the relief he felt from Dave’s frank summation and simplistic solution: Human curiosity is what makes us look at other people’s bodies, Tim. Sometimes that curiosity has a sexual component, too. Have you tried fantasizing about touching other men while you jerk off?

 

The experience had been acutely embarrassing but tremendously beneficial. Tim thought of John’s body that night—of his tight thighs and firm arms, and while that part of it actually was, well, interesting, once Tim tried to imagine touching his friend, he couldn’t picture it. Those pecs he’d spied once while John was changing shirts morphed into Janet’s beautiful B-cups while his friend’s grin became Janet’s saucy smirk.

 

Tim considered it a failed but fruitful experiment and hadn’t really thought much about it since then except to remind himself that he knew who he was and what he liked and that it was okay to find all the bodies writhing about in a porno equally as interesting. He considered himself a Kinsey 1 even though his incidental homosexuality was incident-less. At least, it had been incident-less before these last few weeks with Tony.

 

Tim had been trying as concentratedly as he could not to think too hard about what he and Tony had been doing with one another since that first night they got tangled up together in the older man’s bed. While McGee knows that his penchant for detail and analysis serves him well as an NCIS agent and he appreciates that part of his identity within his own professional sphere, Tim also recognizes that his tendency to overthink generally has the exact opposite effect on most of his social relationships. Tim always seems to assign meaning when none had been intended. Further, he also tends to try to create deeper emotional connections from casual encounters. The greatest evidence of his foibles is obviously in his currently stilted relationship with Abby.

 

Tim blinks at the screen in front of him, newly noticing the silence of the lab he and Abby have shared all morning and this bare start of the afternoon. With so much running through his mind, McGee’s grateful for his seclusion in the lab today, even with Abby’s deliberate (and probably angry) quiet. Despite its complexity, data reconstruction always seems to allow Tim’s mind to wander. Tim figures that’s because it only seems to clog up one side of his brain at a time, allowing other neural pathways to yank and push at him as they please. Working as an agent, by contrast, makes use of all sorts of scattered bits of Tim’s brain at once, forcing the entirety of his focus on the job at hand. That’s one of the reasons Tim loves it so much—being an agent wants every part of him and doesn’t allow any of him to spare.

 

Tim’s not all that certain why he’s been successful for so long at keeping himself from thinking over the changes in his friendship with Tony. Maybe it’s due to the shear importance of his relationship with his Senior Agent. Tim’s not really sure when Tony transitioned from being an interesting coworker to a friend to his best friend. He’s never actually had a friendship like the one he shares with Tony, and that’s been true for a very long time.

 

Tony’s always made him feel like one of the guys. Tim’s never just been one of the guys. Instead, he’s been the smart one or the dependable one or the one who won’t hit on your drunk girlfriend, the one who’ll share his notes or the one that will buy you a beer on a bad day. Tim had always felt so singular—isolated—before he met Tony. Tony is the only person that has always made him feel like he fit in, even from the beginning when the Senior Agent was constantly hazing him.

 

Somehow, touching Tony felt like that, too—like Tim was doing everything right the very first time he tried it. While Tim could sometimes get that effect by putting his brain to use, he’d never been able to get anything perfect the first time out when his body was in charge. With Tony, though, it feels as though every time their bare skin collides, it’s as though there’s a network of gears clicking perfectly in sync with each other, like one of those crazy, elaborate dominos tricks you can find on YouTube when you’re bored.

 

Must be Swiss gears, he muses to himself the way he would have spoken aloud if Tony were here to grin at the joke.

 

Surely it shouldn’t be this easy with Tony?—Tim worries at the idea like a loose tooth. Nothing that’s ever had anything to do with other people has ever been this easy for Tim, so how can this unnamed and indescribable thing with Tony actually be this simple for him? How is it possible that Tony never turns him away, even when Tim is ridiculously needy in that way that has always turned people from him? How can Tony stand to catch him every time Tim’s stumbled clumsily through their new interaction?

 

He poses the questions to himself as harshly as he can, but the answer comes quietly, like a soft voice on a hard wind a moment after—because Tony wants this, too.

 

Tim physically shakes his head, sitting back on his chair in the middle of Abby’s lab while the tiny thought reverberates like thunder through his mind. Tony wants this with me, he tells himself again, even though it’s farfetched and unbelievable and ridiculous. He tries so hard to dismiss the idiotic thought from his mind because, honestly, he knows better, but the idea keeps bubbling back up from deep in his gut as though it really is the truth.

 

Tim squints as he deliberates; maybe if he tears this thought apart from the beginning, it will make more sense as to why it’s reverberating so cleanly within him. Tim feels his fingers stall on the keyboard as he lets himself consider—Tony likes to touch me. Tim licks his bottom lip, but can find no fault with the truth in that statement. He nods to himself and pushes forward. Tony likes it when I touch him. That’s another easy truth to acknowledge. Tony likes it when we’re touching skin to skin. His mind stutters back to the way Tony had gasped into his mouth when Tim had stretched his naked body out above his partner’s last night, and Tim acknowledges that he couldn’t have made that up. Tony wants to sleep with me more than he wants to sleep with the women in our bed. Tim stops breathing completely, not entirely sure where this last thought comes from, knowing he doesn’t have any evidence to support it—he couldn’t possibly. Except…Tim blinks, remembering—

 

Tony warily looking Julie over in her bright red dress despite the fact that she was exactly Tony’s type; Tony closing his eyes and leaning heavily into him when Tim kissed him in the parking lot as they waited for Jeannie to finish texting her friend; Tony’s palm moving up Tim’s neck as they shared a bed in the hotel room Monday night; Tony grabbing Tim’s shoulders in the stillness of Rock Creek Park the other day when Tim moved in closer; Tony’s frantic hands and mouth moving all over him last night as if Tim’s touch had flicked a switch inside him and given him permission to touch; Tony’s relief this morning as Tim fought to keep his eyes away from Tony’s body—

 

No, Tim shakes his head, knowing he’s wrong on this one. He has to be. There’s no way Tony wants him like that, not really. Not in any way that could last. Yeah, Tony likes having Tim in his bed. He likes sharing casual confidences with him more than with other people. If Tim tries to tell himself that Tony wants something more from him, though, then isn’t Tim making the same sort of mistake he’s always made in the past? Isn’t Tim just imagining that a connection between himself and another person runs more deeply than it actually does?

 

It’s not as though Tony would ever have a boyfriend after all. Tim shakes his head at the ridiculousness of the very idea. Tony’s the most heterosexual guy’s guy that Tim knows. As soon as that last thought whips through Tim’s head, though, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t true. At the very least, it’s not true anymore. If Tony were strictly heterosexual, then he wouldn’t have touched Tim’s bare body at all, let alone invite the intimacies that he has in the last week.

 

The thought brings Tim full circle on his first ruminations—that presumably failed experiment he’d had in college when he’d tried, yet couldn’t quite imagine, the feel of his friend John’s body against his own. In retrospect, Tim realizes that his mind had moved from something abstract—what it might be like to be intimate with another man—to something concrete—the sexual experiences he’d had with his ex-girlfriend.

 

Don’t look, Tim has always had to be extra-vigilant in order to follow that rule, but maybe, with Tony, it could be a rule that is okay to break.

Chapter Text

Hours later, McGee’s still second guessing himself, wondering how he could ever conclude that it might be okay to let his eyes roam over his partner’s body. The silence in Abby’s lab feels worse then, like another recrimination telling him he’s always been wrong about other people and he’s certainly wrong about what Tony would imagine is okay for him to do.

 

His eyes start drifting out the lab windows more frequently as the day drags on. It’s not until he registers more and more pairs of legs have moved away from the building that he realizes it must be after 1800, so even Gibbs would probably be okay with him taking a few minutes’ break.

 

McGee stands and stretches, points over his shoulder towards the door when he says, “Hey, Abs, I’m gonna—”

 

He cuts himself off when he sees her shoulders stiffen in disdain, as if she thinks less of him for needing respite. Tim squinches his eyes shut and shakes his head. He’s probably just projecting his own insecurities onto her, imagining she’s thinking nasty things of him when she’s likely only startled by his voice in this music-less weirdness of her lab.

 

When he opens his eyes back up, though, Abby’s glaring at him. McGee tucks in his chin at the oddity, perplexed. Maybe I’m not projecting my own feelings as much as I thought I was, he unwillingly reconsiders. He stands there—stilled—looking at her, watching her as she watches him. For a hanging moment, he imagines he can see two different dimensions of her at the same time, and it feels like she is both his old friend and a brand new stranger.

 

“I’m taking fifteen,” he hears himself tell the stranger, but when he blinks again, that dual perception is gone and only his friend remains, looking smaller and less than he ever sees her. The unexpected vulnerability startles him, causes Tim to take a step towards Abby when he’d been prepared to walk out the door.

 

“Okay,” she nods in acknowledgement, neither moving in his direction nor away.

 

It feels like a bizarre and weighted stand-off to Tim, as if there’s some emotional meaning in him walking out of her lab to take a break from the day’s work. Abby keeps watching him like she’s waiting on him, as if it had been her and not him who had always been left waiting and wanting.

 

He feels his feet moving him a second later, before he realizes he’s made a decision to go. In seconds, his toes have him pointed towards the secondary elevator, which can take him back to the fourth floor where his desk and belongings and hopefully Tony, are all waiting for him.

 

He spies Ziva in their shared cubicle the second he walks off the lift. He quickly walks to the right, going farther into the room, and trying to get a glimpse of Tony’s area. Both Tony and Gibbs are absent from the bullpen, though. Tim retraces his footsteps, walking back towards interrogation and the smaller breakroom where Tony likes to steal candy from the faulty machine. Normally, McGee would take a minute to speak with Ziva, to check in with her and see how her day’s going, but despite the stiffness of his contact with Abby right now, he’s anxious to get back to the basement and return to work—to find a resolution to this case. He just wants to see Tony for a couple of minutes before he has to get back to that unfriendly quiet in the basement.

 

He rounds the corner towards interrogation and finds Greg Yang at the entrance to the interviewing rooms. McGee offers a quick smile and a nod, barely noticing the friendly return of the gesture before scurrying down the left walkway to venture deeper into the ring of small rooms. When Tim reaches the end of the second empty hallway, he just has time to see his partner standing alone with his cell to his ear at the junction of the next causeway when he hears and feels his phone chiming. Tony’d programmed Tim’s cell with Right Said Fred as his own personal ringtone last year, and it still cracks Tim up so hard to hear “I’m Too Sexy” that he never considered changing it. Tim’s eyes and hand reach for it at the same time. In that split second before Tim’s able to look back up again, Tony’s already managed to turn towards him, a surprised smile on his face.

 

“Hey,” Tony speaks the word as quietly as he did this morning when the two of them were still lying side by side.

 

“Hey,” Tim grins back, just noting when Tony’s ringtone stalls at his hip as Tony presses the red “end” button on his phone.

 

Tim bounces down the hallway towards his partner. Tony meets him in the middle.

 

“Sorry you got stuck in the lab all day,” Tony tags Tim’s forearm with a light touch.

 

“Eh,” Tim shrugs and taps Tony’s arm back before the older man pulls very far away. “It’s just the type of case. It’s not like, you know,” Tim tilts his head, knowing he doesn’t need to explain any further for Tony to catch his allusion to their last case and the tension it had caused between McGee and Gibbs.

 

Tony tugs his arm, moving it low and between them before twisting the angle. He glances up at Tim then, looking almost shy. Tim slides his hand down Tony’s forearm, feeling unaccountably charmed by the odd play of devilish and demure sweeping across his partner’s features. He’s rewarded with the gossamer kiss of Tony’s fingertips against his own and then the glaring disappointment of the bare air around them.

 

A silence stretches between them and aches, like a soap bubble begging to be popped. Tony chuffs, breaking it. Tim's eyes shoot up to face him, not realizing he’d been staring at his own naked hand.

 

Tony tilts his head towards the nearest conference room—one of the private ones where they frequently interview grieving family members. Tim exhales slowly, offering half a smile as he walks over and twists the knob. There’s a quick glare of light that flashes behind Tony when he moves towards Tim. It distracts Tim for a piece of a second, the way he’s always easily distracted when he’s nervous. Tim shakes his head, refocusing on the moment. He waits for Tony to precede him into the interview room before following behind him. Tim releases the solid wooden door, and Tony steps closer to him to push it the rest of the way closed. The soft snick of the latch catching makes Tim’s breath halt along with it.

 

Tony stands a foot away from him, just looking at him as Tim watches back. Tim blinks downward, worrying his right hand with his left. He wonders what Tony would have thought of John if he could have met Tim’s old lab partner. He thinks maybe they would have been friends. They probably would have gone running together. Tim licks his lips.

 

Tony’s fingers are a shock of warmth against the back of his hand. “Bad day?” Tony asks shortly but his thumb rubs along Tim’s skin in long, pressing strokes that are just as persistent as Tony always is with him. Tim breathes. A moment later, he blinks back up to his partner’s face. Tony’s lips are pressed tightly together, his shoulders tense like when he gets out of a meeting with Beth in accounting. Even though his day could have been so much worse, Tim nods hurriedly at the question, grabbing Tony’s hand back with both of his.

 

Tony tugs at Tim with his captured hand, as if pulling Tim towards him, but then he clears his throat and laughs, almost bitterly, like he hadn't meant to invite Tim closer to him at all.

 

Tony’s eyes move past him towards the door. “Yeah, I guess that’s going around.” His fingers twitching where they’re surrounded by Tim’s, Tony yanks a little against Tim’s grip on him. Normally Tim would obey the signal to let him go, but a new, almost angry twist playing at the corner of Tony’s mouth has Tim pulling back on his partner instead.

 

Tony’s gaze shoots up to Tim’s, puzzled. Tim tugs again, “I just need—” he doesn’t mean to say. His mouth and eyes both pinch shut, so he doesn’t see it when Tony moves closer, but he can hear and feel his partner cautiously inching towards him, as if Tony’s not sure what he’s doing right now either.

 

Tim’s breath catches when they’re chest to chest. A moment later, he lets go of Tony’s hand only to feel that solid grip climb up his shoulder. Tim grabs him right back, knowing Tony’s keeping watch on the unlocked door at his back. This is the wrong place for him to reach for Tony. Tim knows that, but Tim holds on anyway and Tony doesn’t pull away.

 

They stand there together in silence for a long moment. Tim leans his whole body into Tony, squeezing his lids more tightly closed, as though cutting off his visual senses might allow this moment to last longer.

 

“This okay?” Tony whispers through the quiet, his mouth right beside Tim’s ear.

 

He nearly sees white behind his eyelids, they’re pinched that tightly together. “God, yes.” Tim leans into Tony further, even realizing this is just another moment when he needs too much from someone else, but he can’t stop himself.

 

He wishes he could tell Tony about John in a way that would let Tim’s current confusion somehow make sense. He wants Tony to know the way John instantly boosted Tim’s cool credentials and the way John always ruined a joke by over-explaining it whenever he got to the punchline. Tim thinks Tony would have laughed with John anyway.

 

“I had this friend in college,” Tim tries to start, feeling acutely inarticulate. “I felt like he could have been my best friend if I’d spent more time with him, but he—” Tim swallows, not sure why he’s spitting out this old regret.

 

Tony’s hand moves up, past Tim’s shoulder and carding through his hair. The sensation bizarrely reminds Tim of Agent Shackleford’s retirement party during Tim’s first official year with MCRT. Tim had only tangentially known Michaelson’s former Lead Agent, but he’d gone to the party in an attempt to be sociable. Tony had been the only one he’d really known there, but the second his Senior Agent spied him, Tony grinned hugely at him, as if Tim had been the exact person he’d been waiting to see. Tim’s nerves had dissolved like dust in a rainstorm.

 

“I didn’t even realize—” Tim purses his lips, not sure what he means to say. “Sometimes I think I get confused by things other people understand by instinct,” Tim confesses.

 

There’s a click practically in Tim’s ear as Tony swallows hard beside him. He feels Tony shrug the shoulder he’s leaning too heavily against. “Sometimes it takes a while to get to know what we really want, I guess.” His tone is tense, forcibly casual.

 

Tim opens his eyes, not quite able to focus on the strands of Tony’s hair for how close he is. “Yeah,” Tim whispers back, trying to maintain the conversation while he figures out where to go with it, and while he tries to comprehend the reason why Tony’s voice is so primed.

 

“Sometimes,” Tony says while Tim’s still listening too hard at the silence, “sometimes maybe we don’t realize we can have the things we want.”

 

Tony’s chest cycles up and down more rapidly where it moves against Tim’s. His brow heavy with the weight of searching for the right thing to say, Tim stalls for time, running his palms from the base of Tony’s spine up to the middle of his back.

 

“Sometimes the things I want seem impossibly out of reach, but then sometimes,” Tim’s hands twitch behind Tony’s back hard enough that the older man has to feel his indecision.

 

“Yeah?” Tony prods even as he swallows once more, the clicking of his throat just as loud as before.

 

Tim tries to slow his breathing in an effort to keep still, “Sometimes everything seems to fall in place for me almost before I even realize it.”

 

Tony licks his lips. “That’s good though, right? When it’s easy like that?”

 

Tim digs deep in his gut and pushes, “It’s never been this easy for me before.” And maybe that’s the problem, what’s contradictorily made him both afraid to think this through before, yet ache to be able to define his relationship with Tony. Maybe the whole issue is that Tim fundamentally just doesn’t get how these things are supposed to work when they’re easy. Maybe he’s been trying for so long to twist himself up into some difficult configuration or other that he has trouble recognizing how to be himself.

 

“Yeah.” Tony’s breath comes out measured, careful. “Yeah, I know that feeling.” Tony tenses abruptly a millisecond later, startling Tim. Straightening his posture, Tim starts to lean away from Tony, trying to figure out if he said something wrong, but Tony stops him with that hand still in his hair. He pulls Tim to him more securely. His grip feels so daring around Tim. “I think…” Tony stalls like the words are caught in his throat, but Tony’s thumb slowly comes to move—softly and just beneath Tim’s cheekbone.

 

Tim squeezes him back, trying to be as bold for Tony as his partner is for him. I’m right here, Tim wants to tell him, not even sure that it would mean anything to Tony anyway. Instead, he tries to encourage Tony in the best way he knows how, “I’ve never had a friend like you, Tony.”

 

Tony stiffens against him, thumb stilled against Tim’s cheek. The awkward stance makes Tim stiffen, too, knowing suddenly that this conversation has taken a wrong turn but unsure as to how it’s happened. A few long seconds later, Tony abruptly lets go of Tim. He looks past Tim a moment and then bolts to the far side of the conference room on the other side of the long table. “This is,” Tony motions towards Tim in one long, sweeping gesture. He doesn’t look at Tim, just shakes his head before chuffing with humorless laughter. “I don’t know what this is.” Tony starts pacing along that long end of the conference table.

 

Tim blinks, shivering at the new coolness of the ambient air temperature against his body like he might an arctic draft. “Tony?” Tim feels his whole face pinching back together as he questions, watching Tony for some sort of clue, “What—” What did I do wrong? he wants to ask, but God he’s had this conversation so many times with Abby and he already knows the answer even if he doesn’t know the reason. He’d known he should have backed off. He’d known he shouldn’t have latched onto Tony like he did. Geez, what if somebody had come in and seen them? How much worse could this situation have been? What could Tim have possibly said to clarify their position if a random co-worker had come in and seen Tim embracing Tony? Tony would have been unredeemably furious, maybe he even is already.

 

Tim’s elbows pinch in on his sides, an old instinct to either try to hold himself upright or help him to take a punch—the posture’s too grandfathered for him to remember how it developed. He feels his left hand fist as his right comes to cover his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he has to offer the muffled words, has to try to find a starting place where he might fix this. “Look, I didn’t mean to,” need something you didn’t want to give me. He can’t quite speak the deeper truth aloud. Why? Why? WHY? had he ever imagined Tony might ever be okay with Tim even looking at him, let alone touching him and at work of all things? God, what is wrong with him? Tony must have realized what Tim wanted—how very much he wanted from Tony. God, Tony must be horrified.

 

“Nobody saw anything,” he points out, hoping that will let Tony put this behind them, “And if we both say it’s okay, then we could just—” just what? Tim questions himself, not exactly sure where Tony wants them to stand with each other. Tony had been okay with their intimacies, even with some of the touching they’d done in public, though Tony’s always been so careful with those circumstances before, and of course, he’s always been extremely circumspect at work—work!—of course, Tim breathes, a little shakily, but deeply because he can make this right. He really thinks he can.

 

“Okay,” Tim straightens up, keeping his voice low and directing it towards Tony and away from the door, “I swear I will never do that at work again. I am so sorry I got carried away,” and he’s pretty sure Tony will forgive him, because Tony’s always been so good about letting McGee learn from his mistakes.

 

Tony jerks to a halt mid-pace on the other side of the table from Tim, the motion as terse as his initial movement away from McGee. He stares at Tim, his arms still akimbo. Tim blinks, chin angling downward without meaning to. He maintains eye contact, nonetheless, needing Tony to see how serious—how absolutely dedicated he is to his newly found course of action.

 

“I swear,” Tim repeats, feeling like Tony is almost there with him, and that he even really wants to come around and believe in Tim’s sincerity. “I will never,” McGee breathes as much finality into the word that he can.

 

Tony shuts his eyes and locks his jaw, closing himself off from Tim while he seems to think. Tim pinches his lips together as tightly as he can, desperate to give Tony the time and space he needs so they have a chance to put this behind them.

 

When Tony opens his eyes again the wrinkle in his brow is gone. McGee breathes in his relief sharply but exhales his gratitude as quietly as he can. Tony’s lashes cycle wildly as Tim watches. He doesn’t quite meet McGee’s gaze.

 

Tony tilts his chin far to the right, still blinking rapidly, “Tim—”

 

“I completely understand,” McGee jumps in hurriedly. “I know I was out of line, but I promise you never have to w—”

 

“Tim, shut up,” Tony cuts in, his tongue as sharp as his movements just moments ago.

 

Tim’s teeth click together while he obeys as quickly as he can. Thank you, the words are on the tip of his tongue, but he holds onto them. Maybe Tony will be okay with hearing them later. Maybe Tony would rather not be reminded at all, on the other hand. Tim nods and adjusts his feet beneath him, glancing down at his shoes as he does.

 

The soft, sure glancing of rubber against carpet causes McGee to check back up again. He spies Tony coming towards him and immediately shuffles left, towards the far side of the table along the shorter wall in order to get out from in front of the door, so Tony can leave as soon as he reaches the entryway.

 

But Tony doesn’t stop at the doorway. He marches forward, right into McGee’s space, and McGee’s shoulders tense and his hips lock even though Tony’s only ever thrown a punch at Tim when he’s known Tim was ready to block it. McGee’s mind is ready to take a hit, prepared to keep himself from heaving a fist back. When Tony’s hand comes up, though, it glides right into Tim’s hair, holding Tim steady while Tony moves in closer. His mouth is millimeters from Tim’s before he stops to say, “This isn’t friendship Tim. This isn’t what friends do. You can’t just say—” But Tony doesn’t finish, instead sealing their mouths together almost brutally, angrily.

 

Tim’s lips open to Tony’s right away, before Tony’s momentum pushes them both up against the wall behind the door’s hinge. Grabbing at Tony’s back with grateful hands, Tim’s fingers scramble under Tony’s cream-colored button up, bunching up the fabric in his haste to reach bare skin.

 

A moment later, Tony’s other hand glides up his chest, across his neck, and settles back on Tim’s cheek. Tony’s hands on his face and skull feel exquisitely intimate. The beauty of it makes Tim gasp, has his hands grasping at Tony a little more surely.

 

Their mouths part, but Tim leans his forehead towards Tony’s, not ready for his partner to move away yet.

 

“This isn’t friendship, Tim,” the repetition crosses Tony’s lips in a quietly stilted sort of way, like all of a sudden Tony is the one feeling broken here.

 

Tim firms his grip across Tony’s back, holding his partner more tightly to him. He feels his heart speed up, feels it lodge in his throat, keeping any words from passing through. His mouth tries to move anyway, but nothing comes out of it.

 

Tony’s thumb glances across his cheek again, just once, shaking the whole time. “Please, Tim, is it just me?” Tony’s ragged whisper puffs warmly across Tim’s lips. “Tell me it’s not just me!”

 

Jerkily, Tim shakes his head. “No.” He spreads out his fingers along Tony’s bare back, loving the feel of the smooth skin and the firm muscle beneath. “Tony—” he yanks the other man even closer, not quite able to get as close as he wants to. Tim didn’t expect this—doesn’t know how to even start to say this, to name this thing between them, but he has to make sure Tony knows— “No,” Tim declares again, as quietly and inarticulately as the first time. He presses his lips to Tony’s and the contact offers courage. “It’s me, too,” he promises.

 

Tony’s back expands as he gulps in air. His hands shake where they hold Tim against him. The motion loosens Tony’s grip of him, making his fingers slide down to Tim’s shoulders. Seconds later, Tony’s forehead drops to Tim’s shoulder, too.

 

It’s me, too, Tim’s too breathless to say it aloud a second time. Instead, he brings his arm up along the outside of Tony’s shirt so he can cup the nape of his partner’s neck. They stand that way together in silence, helping to carry one another’s weight as the soft sounds of the busy building hum all around them.

Chapter Text

Tony still feels like he’s shaking. He pulls his hand up in front of him right after Tim leaves. It’s a ridiculous way to test his nerves—holding out his arm at eye level as steadily as he can. It doesn’t work anyway; he can’t see a single shivery movement to correspond with the shaky feeling in his gut.

 

He leans that hand heavily against the door Tim closed behind him. Tim had asked him if they should stagger their exits from the conference room. Tony readily agreed, even though he doesn’t really need to give it five minutes before he follows Tim back out towards the bullpen. He doesn’t truly think that anyone would imagine the tiny trace of redness on Tim’s cheek was caused by his own five o’clock shadow. He didn’t even bother to tell Tim about that tender bit of pink, knowing his partner would just draw more attention to it by rubbing at it, causing his fair coloring to keep that blush for even longer than usual.

 

Tim’s question makes him wonder even more about his partner’s relationship with Abby, though. Did their fling last longer than Tony’d originally thought it did? Had they slept together at any other time besides that first year before Tim officially became a part of MCRT? Did she make Tim hide their relationship? Was she ashamed of having someone like Tim?—of Tim who would have died for her and probably would have killed for her and who definitely did a lot of stupid and embarrassing crap for her simply because she’d asked. Tony straightens up from his position against the door. Does Tim think Tony’s ashamed of him? Tony squints in suspicion at the thought but then realizes, wouldn’t Tim be right if he thought that? Isn’t Tony ashamed for desiring this closeness he wants with another man?

 

Tony winces and shakes his head. The thing is, Tim’s an amazing person, and Tony’s always really cared about him, despite the fact that they really shouldn’t have anything in common at all considering their different ages and backgrounds and interests. With Tim though, Tony’s never stiffed in conversation, never been left hanging, never been taken for granted, never been used to gain something. Tim always makes him feel important and like he’s worth it—whatever it stands for that day—an extra coffee run; surprise dinner from Wong’s; a late night movie even when they’re both exhausted and they know Tim can never seem to regain his equilibrium with caffeine like every other adult person in the entire universe can; a bit of encouragement when Tony’s feeling down; a smile.

 

Tony really hates the idea of being ashamed of his ongoing private time with Tim, but he can’t deny the truth of it. He’d never really worried before (well, not excessively, anyway) about being with a man or being seen with a man because he never imagined he’d want any sort of intimacies ever with a man. Now though, wanting Tim like he does in the all the ways he does—Tony shudders and leans his right side against the door, placing his hand on the knob in front of him before he pushes through the thought that he couldn’t even allow himself to consider just hours before—maybe he and Tim could have more. Maybe Tim wants this, too.

 

Tony wonders about Tim’s friend from college that Tim couldn’t finish his thoughts on earlier. Tony knows he didn’t sleep with him, but did Tim want to? If Tim had wanted to be with a man before Tony, did that mean that maybe—

 

Tony sucks in a breath, feeling his shirt move up along his back where Tim had untucked it from his pants earlier. He doesn’t know what it means. He doesn’t know what any of it means.

 

He licks his lips. But he does know what he wants. And maybe, like Gibbs said, it’s okay for him to want Tim. Maybe this thing between them is even something they could really have together. Maybe when Tim said, It’s me, too, he even meant it the way Tony did.

 

Tony runs his hand through his hair, yanking on a tuft as he thinks. Tim and he are on more even ground than Tony’s fears had assumed, but they hadn’t actually talked about feelings or anything. Tony nearly shudders at the thought of how such a conversation might go and the truth is he can’t imagine it. Frankly, they might still be on completely different pages from one another. He and Tim have always had a more touchy-feely relationship than Tony’s ever had with any other man, but it’s not as though he and Tim had ever or would ever sit down and talk about their emotions. Probably. Tim would likely be the sort of guy who would like big declarations, though. Maybe with candy and flowers. Tony squints, no, on second thought, McSkinny would probably rather a candlelit dinner. Some complicated dish at home that Tony’d make just for him. Soft music in the background, maybe Ella Fitzgerald—something classy, that’s for sure. Tim had enjoyed dancing with him at the club—even when it was just the two of them. Tony would bet he’d enjoy slow dancing even more. Tony closes his eyes. He can almost picture the way Tim would lean against his cheek. Tony would be clean shaven because he’d have time to prepare the surprise, but Tim would have that little touch of barely visible stubble that he gets at the end of the day. Tony can almost feel the way the slight whiskers would tingle against his lips.

 

The knock at the door reverberates down his arm as he whole body seems to take the concussion from the wood. Tony blinks, startled, and abruptly twists the knob beneath his hand, yanking the door open.

 

Ziva’s hand is still raised, poised even to knock again, her head tilted left as if she’d been trying to listen for a response through the door before daring to open it. As if she’d ever been that circumspect.

 

Tony narrows his eyes at her suspiciously. “Yes?”

 

Immediately, Ziva straightens at his challenging tone. Her eyes flash the way they always do before she gets into a good argument with him. Seconds later though, they soften,

 

“Are you alright?” she doesn’t quite drop her hand all the way back to her side when she asks.

 

Tony blinks incredulously, “Am I alright?” he repeats, flinging the door more widely open and simply enjoying the strength surging through him at knowing he’s triggering Ziva’s irritation. “What kind of a question is that?” he shakes his head at her. “I’m in interrogation, and we are about to witness Boss take down a thieving and possibly murderous liar!” Tony straightens his back, remembering how excited he’d gotten in the car on the way back from Micah’s to think of throwing Carmen Lerner into their tiniest interview room—the one with the AC that only putters on crazy spring days like this one when the weather’s still changing—with nothing but Leroy Jethro Gibbs and a pen to write her confession with. “I’m not alright,” he catches himself bringing up both hands to make air quotes the way Tim sometimes does. He doesn’t bother to stop the motion. It’s not like Ziva understands how uncool it is anyway. “I’m rarin’ to go!”

 

And then he shoots out of the conference room and back towards Yang, ready to see if Greg knows when they’re bringing Carmen up from holding.

 

Ziva sputters, exasperated, but right on his heels. “What does that even mean?”

 

“It means, Ziva,” Tony turns to walk backward for a second so he can look at her as he talks and still keep moving towards the entrance to the Interviewing Maze, “that nothing—and I mean not The Godfather, not Magnum, not Airplane!, not even Die Hard—can approach the kind of show you get when you take a seat in observation while Boss is grilling up a suspect for lunch!”

 

“Going to have you fire up the barbeque today, DiNozzo,” Boss’ voice comes up from behind him while Tony’s still facing Ziva. Tony turns to grin at Gibbs’ perfect timing but then the words play back in his head.

 

“Boss?” he squints, getting that squiggly feeling back in his gut.

 

“Carmen Lerner knows you. I want you to be the one to take her down,” Boss spells it out, tapping a thin-nish file folder against his thigh.

 

Tony shakes his head, “Carmen Lerner lied to me. I didn’t catch it. She needs somebody else to work her over. And I’m—” Tony purses his lips, not sure how to indicate to Boss that the irrefutable Gibbs Gut was right and Tony’s not firing on all twelve cylinders today (if Tony were a car, he’d obviously be one of high quality and tremendous power).

 

But Bossman just holds his stare, “You have a rapport with her. You got the info from the bartender that let us know Carmen Lerner was lying. You’ll be able to catch her out this time,” Boss pushes back, never looking away.

 

Tony squints back, not sure why Boss is pressing this, knowing that he really isn’t at the top of his game and what’s more, after their conference in Boss’ office earlier, Gibbs not only knows it, too, but he should know better than Tony.

 

“You were right before,” Boss takes three steps to stand right in front of Tony. “You got this,” he concludes by smacking the brown file folder against Tony’s chest.

 

Grabbing the folder in self-defense, Tony manages to maintain eye contact with Gibbs.

 

Gibbs jerks his head left, “Yang already brought her up to 3B,” and okay that wasn’t their tiniest interrogation room with the even slighter ventilation, but Tony’s more sensitive to heat than Boss is, so he’s kind of grateful anyway.

 

Tony glances in the folder briefly. He’d actually assembled most of the information himself, so he doesn’t particularly need to look it over again. In fact, his second interview with Gina Mendez, which ended only half an hour before Tim came looking for him, would be of greater importance to another interrogation of Carmen Lerner in any case. The bartender had practically been a gold mine of information. They hadn’t even needed to get a sketch artist to sit in with Ms. Mendez—other than Carmen, every one of the regulars of the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang had a prior record. Even Hot Lips, aka Marian Greene, had been easy to track down since she’d been arrested with Dennis Fairley for a moderately sized Ponzi scheme just two years ago. It had been a first offense for both of them. Even so, it was odd that the judge in the case let them plead down to community service considering the amount of money involved—and honestly, Tony could not wait to hear Tim bitch about what assholes they were and how they hadn’t gotten what they’d really deserved. MCRT almost had enough circumstantial evidence to get the whole slew of them indicted for the kiting scheme, which was fortuitous since the workaround Tim figured out between Navy Federal and that scary jujitsu woman he knows at DOJ can only legally pretend the kiting scheme is still accruing funds for another day. (Something about blah, blah, blah, Regulation J, Section K-dot-LMNOP or whatever, honestly Tony only listens to the good parts.)

 

The real monkey wrench is Leo Martin’s death. The connection between the kiting scheme and his murder is still tenuous at best. Moreover, it doesn’t quite make sense. With Leo Martin as their tech guy and so many people in the scheme, either by will or by force, it seems odd that the man with the ability to recover the ill-gotten funds would be killed before all of said funds were secured.

 

Tony nods. Of course that’s what Boss is pushing at. Tony’s the one with the greatest number of puzzle pieces at his fingertips, and if Boss thinks he has the capability to push through the swarming locusts in his gut, then who is he to argue? Except Tony doesn’t have an angle yet. That night in Norfolk, when he’d pushed Carmen Lerner into saying just a few words too many, he’d already known there was something off about her. It’s a whole lot easier to catch somebody out when you know they’re dirty and they don’t know you know they’re dirty.

 

Tony blinks and glances over Carmen’s background information a little more, thinking back as he does to their conversation in the espresso bar just a few miles from the NEX. At the time she’d seemed malleable, ready to blow any number of secrets at the slightest provocation, ready to be tricked into offering up everything she had.

 

Maybe she knew I suspected she was dirty, Tony reconsiders. Maybe she wanted to get caught, Tony licks his lips, considering the possibility. Carmen Lerner was the only regular in the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang who definitely didn’t pull the trigger to kill Leo Martin—being in federal lock up in Norfolk is a hell of an alibi, after all. They had almost nothing on Carmen for the kiting operation or the robberies. In fact, until finding Gina Mendez at Micah’s, Tony had seriously been considering whether Carmen had been one of the people who’d been blackmailed into helping out with the scheme, especially with how little she seemed to know about it all.

 

Tony thumbs through the pictures Sgt. Williams took of Carmen in Intake. “Hmm,” he runs his tongue over his front teeth. “I need to check on something,” he manages to take one step towards his destination when he feels a hand slide down the back of his pants, not quite touching the bare skin of his backside.

 

Ahhh!” A completely non-girly non-squeal escapes his lips, “What the—” he jerks his tail away from Ziva’s probing hands, realizing even as he does that she’s tucking his dress shirt back into his slacks.

 

“Go get her, Tigger,” his partner winks at him facetiously.

 

“It’s tiger, not Tigger!” Tony spits back before he realizes that even with his rephrasing, the sentence is still insulting.

 

Gibbs smirks at him, but there’s a question in his eyes, too. Judging by the look on Boss’ face though, it isn’t a question he’s inclined to ask, seeming to chalk it up to Ziva and Tony’s usual flirtish hostilities. If anything, Boss seems to relax with the normality of Tony and Ziva’s interaction.

 

Tony nearly sighs in irritation at the way she’d caught him off-guard, but then he realizes that Ziva’s action and his own reaction to it—even though it brought attention to the fact that Tony’s shirt was untucked—likely made Tony’s unusually untidy appearance seem more innocent than it actually was.

 

Tony furrows his brow at Ziva, wondering just how long she’d been wandering the Maze looking for him, wondering if she’d seen Tony’s interaction in the hallway with Tim. Tony doesn’t think he could have missed seeing her, not usually anyway, but he’d been in his happy place (Interrogation) and Tim had come to find him right at the moment that Tony really couldn’t stand not hearing from him any longer, and they’d barely even touched in the hallway even though Tony’d practically been aching to get his hands on Tim and Tim had almost seemed to bow right towards his touch (and hadn’t that been a heady feeling?) when Tony’s hand had just gotten near him, and—Dear Magnum—what the hell had she seen?

 

Tony squints suspiciously at Ziva, which, for some reason, serves to make Boss chuckle out loud. “Go, DiNozzo!” Gibbs booms through the remnants of a half a grin—a near-record for Boss to display in the middle of a case. He shoos Tony away with his hands. “You’ve got an interview to finish!”

 

Blinking, Tony’s eyes make it back to Ziva’s, trying to get a read on the face he knows so well, but there are no hints of either new knowledge or old frustration.

 

Shit, he breathes as calmly as he can. What if she does know? Tony bites his lower lip. More importantly, how would Tim react if she does?

 

Ziva angles her forehead towards the bullpen, her Mona Lisa smile firmly painted across her lips. Tony straightens his shoulders, but that mouth he once coveted doesn’t falter in the slightest. Turning on his heel, Tony exhales almost shakily in his relief as he walks away—her smile would have changed if she’d really known something, he assures himself with that certain knowledge. Ziva loves having one up on me and she’d never be able to hide that smug grin she gets if she really knew something.

 

Tony pinches his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger before swiping at his whole mouth with his fist. He feels his heart calm as his mind goes back to work, reconsidering the color photos featuring Carmen Lerner’s lower back, feeling inexplicably certain that he’s found the missing clue he’s needed to figure out what makes his primary suspect tick. He just needs to know how it all fits together before he can use it against her.

 

Chapter Text

I have a boyfriendI think. Possibly, he frowns. Maybe. Okay, he’s not really sure, but with every step taking Tim back to Abby’s lab, the possibility becomes more distinctly real in Tim’s mind. There’s a really large part of him that kind of wishes he and Tony had just hashed this out so he could define this. It’s driving him mad that he doesn’t have a word that he can really use to describe his relationship with Tony. Calling Tony his boyfriend, even in his head, seems risky, like he’s inviting damage or ridicule for even imagining that the designation fits. At the same time—Wow!—to think of Tony as having this set definition in his life, something intimate and loving and affectionate that other people would understand the nature of their relationship by that one single word. It’s almost thrilling to think of his partner that way.

 

This isn’t friendship, Tim, Tony’d said. No, Tim reminds himself, feeling almost giddy as he does, Tony absolutely insisted that what was between us wasn’t friendship.

 

Tim pauses in the middle of the stairwell. He’s been trying not to think too hard, trying to get back to Abby’s lab and back to work. The laptop from the murder scene is more important than ever since the evidence that the rest of MCRT had brought back from Leo Martin’s apartment that morning yielded absolutely nothing. Abby’d even ceded to allowing McGee to look over the computer equipment from the morning’s evidence because it was so ridiculously pristine. The immaculate hard drives rubbed Tim the wrong way, even after Abby’s pointedly true comment that it’s not as though any stranger would be able to access Tim’s files from his home computer if he died tomorrow. Sarah was the only one who could prevent a total wipe of his data if his biometrics and password weren’t used upon start up, and she was the only one who knew where to find his backups. She wasn’t as adept a programmer as he was, but it wasn’t as though Tim would’ve given access to his personal systems to Abby and nobody else he knew that well had any inkling of what to do without a graphic interface to guide them. More than that, Sarah would never even consider looking at anything Tim considered truly private, no matter the reason.

 

Tim’s starting to worry at this late hour that the crime scene laptop he’d found in Rock Creek Park will prove to be a dead end as well. A part of him wants to just call it quits because the sooner he can call it a day, the sooner he can invite Tony to come home with him. Tim leans against the rail, resting both hands on the guide while one foot rests on a lower stair than the other. He shuts his eyes and does his best to calm his breath.

 

He tries to get his mind back in the game, but those same words echo back into his mind over and over, and they feel so good—This isn’t friendship, Tim. Licking his lips, Tim gives himself just one more minute to call back the moment. Tim’s loved this thing between him and Tony from the second it started. He’s reveled in every touch from his partner, absolutely leaned into every single offering Tony ever made in his direction, and all the while he waited for Tony to draw a line between them, so that Tim would know where he was supposed to stop, but Tony never did. Tony always offered more. He always leaned back. Moreover, Tony always caught him every time Tim leaned his way, and it absolutely makes Tim shiver to think of it now, to think that maybe Tony would always want to catch him. Maybe Tony would let himself be caught even.

 

Tim knows their relationship has always been special to Tony. It took him a few years to figure that out. In fact, it wasn’t until Ziva’s short stint back with Mossad and her disappearance and assumed death not so very long ago, that Tim understood that Tony’s other friends weren’t people that Tony actually wanted to go to when the chips were down. It took Tim about 7 years to figure it out, but Tim realized that Tony relied on him, trusted Tim to have his back in a way that he never did with anyone else—not even Gibbs.

 

Gibbs, Tim grimaces and brings a hand up to rub his forehead at the uncomfortable mixture of thoughts. Tim purses his lips, still under the shadow of his hand. What would Boss say if he knew I was sleeping with Tony? the words barely form in his head before they startle him. Holy crap, I’m sleeping with Tony! Immediately, Tim drops his palm from his forehead to his mouth, trying to cover the inexplicable smile stretched widely across his face.

 

I really think Tony’s my boyfriend, he lets himself imagine the phrase once more, this time letting the words flower more fully in his mind, letting them become real.

 

This isn’t friendship, Tim, Tim breathes through the memory, trying so desperately to reign in the joy galloping through his chest as Tony’s words replay over and over again.

 

Tim shakes his head. Just because Tony’s acknowledging that the things we do together aren’t what friends normally do together doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend, Tim tries to renew the argument with himself, tries to force himself to barter down some of the joy in his heart so that he doesn’t have to hurt so much when he trips and falls. Furthermore, even if Tony wants to keep doing this thing with Tim, that doesn’t mean he’d be okay with relabeling their relationship. Tony likes his reputation as a ladies’ man. It’s part of his identity, how he relates to other people even. Just the other day in Norfolk, when Tony turned his focus on Carmen Lerner, he dialed up the charm to ten and oozed that persona that he fits so well. Tim can’t imagine his partner giving that up.

 

On the other hand, Tim reasons, even if Tony were my boyfriend, he could still be considered a ladies’ man. Tim tilts his head as he thinks back to the last several weeks. At first, he’d thought they’d been so consistently lucky with women because of Tony’s pure charisma, but every one of the women they’d been to bed with had definitely chosen to leave with them so they could have both Tim and Tony’s attention at once. Tony could even tell people that streak of luck is why we do this. Tony wouldn’t have to be anything he didn’t want to be. I could probably even get away with calling him my boyfriend to other people if we couch it in those terms.

 

Tim grins once more at the insistence of the designation, before finally chuckling at himself. The sound isn’t rueful in the slightest. He’s simply happy, and he can’t make himself stop believing that he’s right this time. He thinks that he shouldn’t be right. He thinks he should acknowledge how crazy this whole thing is—the very idea that he might be Tony DiNozzo’s boyfriend is absurd. At least it should be.

 

“You’ll catch me,” Tim traces his mouth with his forefinger as the words slip past. Won’t you catch me, Tony? he doesn’t need to speak the phrase aloud to know it’s true.

 

He rubs his thumbs against each of their opposing fingers. “I need a pen,” he mumbles out loud. He blinks, glancing up to find a large number 2 beside the door below him. Tim chuffs, he’s only made it a staircase and a half away from Tony. He runs back up the steps two at a time, keeping the words fresh in his mind by repeating them on a loop—You catch me; A word in the wrong place; I see nothing but my offense; You catch me—he almost even starts speaking the phrases. He has to make himself slow down once he hits the fire door to the fourth floor, but he still feels the urge to hustle, all the way around White Collar and bypassing the hallway he’d taken from Interrogation to get back to his desk. He grabs the pen first, the notepad a second later.

 

He’s pretty sure it only takes a few minutes to get it down. He licks his lips and looks at the phrases in ink, reading and rereading them and loving them more each time. He tears off the top page from the booklet, folding it up, then securing it in his back pants pocket. He licks his lips, wanting to pull it out and reread it again, but he has to get back downstairs. He pushes away from his desk, but on a whim, reaches back for the pad and pen, just in case more words come later. He walks away from his computer then, chuckling lightly at himself. For a man who’s so computer-focused, he knows it’s odd that he would rather do his creative writing via any other medium.

 

“Not always a software kind of guy,” he jokes of himself, feeling too jovial not to find humor in the circumstance. Tim pauses, licks his lips, “I’m a software guy,” he repeats. He’s a ridiculously good hacker. He’s great with code. He’s more than solid with hardware, but he’s never found it anywhere as interesting as his chosen pathway because, “I’m a software guy,” but holy crap, why would the hard drives from the apartment be so absolutely blank when, “Leo Martin’s a hardware guy!”

 

Tim scurries back behind his desk. I am an idiot! he shakes his head at himself and wiggles his mouse in order to get the screen saver to disappear. He punches in his password, perhaps a little more vehemently than necessary. Tim checks out the details on the morning’s investigation, notes his team’s report on the shared desktop about the search at Leo Martin’s apartment late this morning. Some of the equipment had been slightly exotic, but nothing as elaborate as even the single keylogger Tim had found in Norfolk. Further, all of it had been discovered in obvious locations in the victim’s apartment. Hacker or engineer—Tim’s never met a computer geek who didn’t try to hide his best work in order to keep it from being co-opted by his competition. There’s no way Leo Martin would keep his top equipment in plain sight. Moreover, would a guy who wasn’t versed in software really be able to nuke his hard drives so that not a trace of data remained? I mean, sure, even Tony could probably figure out how to write over the data on his own home computer, but the more intricate the hardware, the more difficult it was to rewrite every hidden bit. Nothing about either the laptop in Rock Creek Park or the equipment they’d pulled from the NEX had indicated that Leo Martin had that level of sophistication with software. He would have known that the most efficient way to get rid of any data that could incriminate him would be to physically destroy the drives. It was almost as if the equipment from Leo Martin’s apartment had never held any data at all.

 

“Hey,” Tony’s surprised tones hit his ears right before the familiar shuffle of his partner’s footsteps. “I thought you were going back down to the lab,” Tony drops a small file folder on his desk before he moves to the edge of Tim’s workstation. He faces Tim for once rather than trying to peak over his shoulder at his screen.

 

Tim shakes his head, glancing between the screen and his partner—boyfriend? his mind confusedly interrupts, suddenly not as sure of this fact when faced with the man himself. “I had a thought—” Tim begins, then licks his lips, mind drawn to the poem burning a hole in his pocket. He wonders what Tony would think of it if Tim gave it to him, whether Tony would roll his eyes like Abby did that one time—the only time—Tim had given her one.

 

Tony does come around to the other side of Tim’s desk when Tim doesn’t elaborate. Tim obligingly brings up his own, hours old report from the shared desktop, highlighting the main point. “So there wasn’t anything useful in the computer equipment we found?” Tony tilts his head and scrunches his nose in disappointment after he reads the summary.

 

“No,” Tim shakes his head, still amazed that he hadn’t seen it before. “The system was clean and the hardware was pretty standard fare—practically factory made kind of equipment for a guy like Leo Martin.”

 

Tony squints at him, the slight curve of a smile starting in one corner of his mouth. “Sounds boring,” he leans against Tim’s desk, right next to his keyboard. Involuntarily, Tim’s eyes go to Tony’s thigh, so close to his hand. He remembers more vividly than he probably should right now, exactly what that muscled thigh looked like without any clothes last night.

 

The sharp intake of breath above him makes his fingers twitch right before he feels the color fill his face. Geez! What would Tony say if another agent caught Tim looking him over like that? He attempts to glance around with his peripheral vision, but less than a second later, Tony squats down beside his chair and lightly taps on Tim’s arm, effectively refocusing him.

 

“Sorry,” Tony whispers before Tim can. The line of his mouth is straight, but there’s a gentleness in his eyes that seems to welcome Tim anyway. “So why’s the boring computer equipment actually interesting?”

 

Tim leans forward in his seat to pose a parallel to Tony, “Imagine if you found my phone with nothing but apps I downloaded from the iStore. What’s your first thought?”

 

Tony tilts his head and squints, lips curling up again, “Where’d you hide your real phone?”

 

“Exactly!” Tim raises his eyebrows at Tony.

 

“Ah!” Tony grins at Tim, “So then where did Leo Martin hide his not boring,” Tony actually forms airquotes at this even though he always razzes Tim about how uncool that is, “computer equipment?”

 

“That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question!” Tim feels himself returning Tony’s smile. A moment later, Tim tilts his head, “On second thought,” he squints, “I think the sixty-four thousand dollar question might be, why did they kill Leo Martin?”

 

Tony frowns and stands back up leaning against Tim’s desk when he returns. “Greed,” he returns simply, immediately playing the part of sounding board for Tim, even though Tim knows the oddity of the murder bothers Tony, too. “The rest of the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang wanted to keep the money for themselves.”

 

Tim grins at Tony’s new nickname for the perpetrators, not yet certain how the designation fits but knowing it does—Tony’s always so quick like that. “But how is the rest of the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang—” Tim takes the words from Tony’s mouth, “—going to access the funds without Leo Martin’s hardware key?”

 

Tony tucks his left hand under his right elbow and swings out his right forearm, “Okay, let’s go back and pretend that I don’t understand how the kiting scheme works.”

 

Tim stands with a smile, planting his feet near Tony’s while continuing to face his partner. “So the way Leo Martin set up the wire transfer fraud is by creating several dummy accounts where the wired funds would essentially layover on the way to the real destinations. The hardware that the tech teams in Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fort Worth, and Newport recovered from their NEX stations all indicate that these dummy accounts are randomized and fluctuating and the only way that the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang could access the funds is by using the hardware keys that Leo Martin would have made to fit the hardware we already discovered.”

 

Tony nods but then frowns and tucks his other hand beneath his opposite elbow. “But we haven’t found a hardware key either,” Tony squints at the term even as it pops out of his mouth.

 

Tim lifts his brows and swipes his hands across his face, thinking back to the last fruitless two days of searching through the hardware they’d found. “No,” he admits, feeling the weight of the admission.

 

“So how did you and She-Who-Took-Down-Mark-Fielding-With-Two-Toes stop those accounts from accruing any more money if you couldn’t access the hardware key, and how do you know that the rest of the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang doesn’t have this key?”

 

Tim shakes his head, grinning at Tony’s continued paranoia of Lily Wikowski over at Justice. “Well, both questions have the same answer—we have system access through the cooperation of Navy Federal and the warrant Master Wikowski provided, so we can peek into the dummy accounts.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes at Tim’s insistence of calling Lily by her proper jiu-jitsu title like Tim does in class rather than by her first name, which he does all the rest of the time. Tim knows that Tony knows Tim only does it to niggle at Tony, but Tony’s extreme reaction to Lily’s skillset is still way too funny to ever stop. “So you basically hacked their hack?” Tony summarizes.

 

“Yes,” Tim admits with a nod, “but we did it legally, and ours was a software hack while theirs was a hardware hack.” Tim stretches his neck and brings his hand up to rub at it, feeling the tension of the last several days in every inch above his shoulder blades.

 

“Hmm,” Tony hums, then sighs beside Tim. “So why couldn’t the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang do a software hack, too?”

 

“Eh,” Tim pulls his digits from his neck to wave them at Tony, “They were using hardware. They don’t have a hacker, and even if they did have someone who could hack a complicated system like Navy Federal, they’d need point access at this juncture to even attempt to get to those funds, which are locked up until end of business tomorrow.”

 

Tony nods, his body so close to Tim’s that Tim can feel the motion. He can also feel his partner’s consternation in the movement. Tim turns his head to look at Tony. As he does, Tony’s brow furrows more deeply. Tim twists his full body Tony’s way this time, “Hmm?” he questions.

 

Tony shakes his head, “I just—” he cuts himself off in order to pause and look Tim’s way. “How do we know they don’t have a hacker?”

 

Opening his mouth, Tim lifts his brows, “Oh, well that’s e—” but he has to cut himself off because it’s an assumption. He’d assumed the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang didn’t have a hacker because of the tremendous dependence on hardware, which itself relied heavily on the use of many blackmailed individuals in order to emplace, which would have been a tremendous security risk to any criminal operation, but what if the hardware itself was a red herring for how the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang actually planned to access the funds? In fact, what if everything—the hardware, the blackmailed seamen and marines, the blank hard drives from Leo Martin’s apartment—were all window dressing to mask the perpetrators’ exit strategy?

 

Tim shakes his head, his mouth still open—stalled—when Tony turns to look his way. “Hunh,” Tim drops his chin, closing his mouth as he does. “Hunh,” he says again, tilting his head right.

 

“Hunh?” Tony grunts back in question.

 

Tim nods back, “Hunh,” he confirms. “And if the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang does have a hacker,” Tim slowly licks his lips, “then come tomorrow at 5pm, their hacker could theoretically access all those hidden funds and wire them to some offshore account to a country that doesn’t have any extradition treaty with us.”

 

“Hunh,” Tony agrees. “So then, Leo Martin was kind of the Lee Harvey Oswald of this scenario, then.”

 

“For the last time, Tony, Oliver Stone is not a historian!” Tim pushes just a little farther into Tony’s space in irritation, knowing that Tony knows how irksome he finds revisionist history, which is why Tony always brings it up. Tim shakes his head, at once frustrated and fond. “But yes,” he pauses as he concedes. “The only question now is—”

 

“Who is Jack Ruby?” Tony finishes for him.

 

Tim grins, his affection for Tony winning over his exasperation. “I gotta tell Boss.”

 

Tony stands upright and moves towards his own desk, “He’s stripping Woods of all sense of pride and ability in 3A.” Tony lifts his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slips it across his shoulders. He always likes to be fully dressed when he interrogates a suspect.

 

Tim furrows his brow as he hurriedly emails himself a copy of the report on Leo Martin’s apartment, “Boss is in Observation?”

 

“Yep,” Tony sits heavily in his swivel chair, booting up his own computer. “He wants me to go for round two with Carmen Lerner.” Tony straightens up in his seat before plugging in his password. “She lied to me.”

 

Tim drops his chin, feeling his brow furrow. “Really?”

 

“Oh, yes,” Tony nods, glancing down at his fingers on the keyboard. Tim can’t see him punch it in, but he knows Tony’s typing MagnumMustacheYouAQuestion. Tim keeps pushing him to at least add some numbers to his password, but Tony never does. “Pretty sure at this point that Carmen’s got more dirt under her fingernails and possibly more blood on her hands than anybody else.”

 

The right side of Tim’s face scrunches up, “Seriously?”

 

“Indubitably,” Tony nods again. “Met this awesome witness today. She had the recall of 10 witnesses, plus two.”

 

“Yeah?” Tim grins, standing and locking his computer.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Tony grins back. “We’re definitely getting closer. Tell you all about it tonight,” Tony waves him on.

 

Tim pauses, then walks over to Tony’s desk, glancing around without moving his head. This time, he’s the one squatting by his partner’s chair. “You wanna come over tonight?” he keeps his tone low while shooting as far away from intimate as he can, just in case someone he can’t spy is close enough to hear.

 

Tony’s fingers stall on his keyboard. He blinks, presses his lips together, and then looks at Tim dead on. There’s a vulnerability in Tony’s gaze that Tim doesn’t expect, it stills Tim where he’s hunkered down by Tony. A moment later, Tony looks back to his screen and nods. “Sure, Probie-wan,” his voice sounds entirely even, not a bit of the indecision in his tone that Tim had seen in his eyes. “But I’m bringing dinner. None of those Lean Cuisines for me!” he shakes his head.

 

Tim stands, giving Tony space to get back on track. “Naw, getting pretty tired of Lean Cuisines myself.”

 

Tony’s eyes check back with Tim’s, and as they share a smile, Tim knows they’re both thinking of the promise Tony made to cook for Tim once they move into the condo, well, if the seller accepts Tim’s offer and they can move into the condo.

 

“Just you wait,” Tony’s eyes stay soft even as his grin gets cheekier.

 

Tim’s fingers twitch restlessly against his palm, wanting to reach out and touch Tony again even though he’d just been wrapped around his partner not ten minutes before. “Wish I didn’t have to,” he confesses.

 

The moment stretches between them, and Tony’s eyes never leave his. Tim swallows and blinks—Would we sleep together after those dinners you made for me? Tim wonders. Maybe they’d sleep together every night once they lived together? Maybe they’d even share a room? Tim sucks in a breath, tries to clear his throat, but a second later, his voice is as hoarse as if he hadn’t spoken in days, “I should go.”

 

Tony nods, not saying a word.

 

He really does mean to leave right then, but Tim’s feet push him towards Tony rather than away. He settles his palm on Tony’s shoulder, his pinky finger just brushing against the bare skin of Tony’s neck. Tony’s digits twitch against his keyboard, both his hands just barely rising before Tony fists his hands right above the keys.

 

Tim jolts, feeling Tony’s disquiet as if it were his own. His hand jumps back to his side. “Sorry,” he whispers, only realizing a second later that he’s echoing Tony from just a few minutes ago.

 

Tony shakes his head, loosening his fingers against his palms. “We can figure it out,” Tony returns just as softly.

 

Hurriedly, Tim nods back. You catch me, he thinks while he finds himself reaching into his back pocket, touching the paper there. You’ll let me catch you, too.

 

Impulsively, Tim yanks out the poem. He tucks it into the breast pocket of Tony’s suit jacket. Immediately, Tony reaches for it, but Tim stalls his fingers as they dip into the grey fabric. “Wait until you’re on your way home,” Tim blurts, pulling his hands back to himself before taking a step backward and running the too empty fingers of his left hand through his hair.

 

Once more Tim swallows. He’s not sure whether he should have given those words to Tony, though he’s certain he shouldn’t have done it at work. They’re both already so distracted and maybe Tony wouldn’t even want to see them. Maybe he wouldn’t agree with Tim’s words at all. Maybe he even—

 

Tony flattens his hand over the fabric of his pocket, his palm over his heart. “I promise,” Tony rubs his thumb over that pocket, as if caressing Tim’s words inside it.

 

Tim finally manages to walk away, feeling Tony’s eyes on him the whole time.

Chapter Text

Tony’s so very close to reaching for the folded up bit of paper in his breast pocket the second after Tim disappears around the corner. His fingers practically itch with the need to read whatever chicken scratch Tim jotted down for him—truly Tim’s penmanship is abysmal and if Mrs. Peterson had ever seen his attempts at cursive, then Tim would have been up for detention every single day of his existence.

 

Tony breathes through the worst of that concentrated demand that he know right now! whatever it was Tim gave to him. Except he promised Tim he wouldn’t read it yet, and whatever Tim had to say to him in longhand was probably special anyway. It probably wasn’t a message that was meant for this moment and this head space.

 

Tony exhales heavily one last time and very carefully moves his fingers away from his chest. He rolls his chair into his desk and gets back to his purpose in coming out here. Tony only needs a few minutes on his computer. After he hits up Wikipedia—which is a totally respectable resource no matter what Tim says—he looks back into Carmen Lerner’s history—her family, her high school, her hometown. He finds the essentials almost immediately, but he keeps looking for another minute to be sure that’s all he needs. In only a few extra seconds, he’s glad that he does.

 

“Hmm,” he squints at his find, wondering how the new player might fit into the game. With a couple of keyboard shortcuts that Tim finally managed to drill into his head after a few years, he emails the name and the picture he found to both Tim and Ziva, not sure if either of them might find anything about her that’s pertinent to the investigation, but knowing, deep in his gut, that Boss has always proven right when he says there’s no such thing as coincidence.

 

Before he locks his computer, he prints out a section of the webpage, centered on a dark haired woman with Carmen Lerner’s delicate bone structure.

 

He glances at Tim’s desk while he tucks that print out in a separate file folder. Tim tends to keep a picture or two on his desk all the time. The photos tend to switch out every now and again and Tony’s noted that some pictures seem to rotate back in with frequency. Tony’s fairly certain that, at this point, he could recognize just about any photo of Sarah McGee from the age of six months on. He grins at the latest one of Sarah outside the Louvre. Tim had gone on about that one for days, bragging about how Sarah’s semester abroad last year had led to her current internship with some fancy publishing house in London.

 

Tony never had a sibling, so he always has to tap into the experiences Tim’s told him about when he tries to imagine what that’s like. The first thing that always comes to Tony’s mind when he thinks of Sarah is that pride and protectiveness that Tim exudes whenever he so much as says her name. Tony takes a moment to call up that feeling and grabs onto it with both hands as if it’s his own. He’s never told Tim of how often he thinks of Sarah as being his own little sister, too. He always figured before that Tim might imagine it odd, perhaps even creepy, that Tony did that. Maybe now it’d be something that was okay to tell him, though.

 

Tony taps the edge of Tim’s desk with that almost empty file folder and struts right back to interrogation. He offers Yang a nod as he passes the entrance to his Happy Place, and makes for 3A. The door’s already open by the time he rounds the last corner towards his destination.

 

Boss nods as he passes Tony, “We’re going back over to Leo Martin’s apartment.”

 

Brow crinkling, Tony turns as he watches Boss leave, Tim right on his tail. Tim briefly grasps Tony’s forearm, just below the elbow, as he walks by. “Got the email,” he acknowledges, because of course Tim’s read it already. “We’ll keep an eye out for the new suspect. I can finish the BOLO in the car with this new app I just finished.”

 

Tony grabs him back because, seriously, “An app that makes BOLOs?”

 

“Vance only just approved it for beta testing,” Tim releases him, patting his forearm in apology.

 

Tony nods and shrugs a shoulder, trying not to let his regret show. Tim usually never bothers to tell him about one of his new apps until they make it through the mysterious black hole that is ‘beta testing,’ not since the disappointing Dash-Cam Hacker program Tim had written had been co-opted by the NSA with a strictly worded letter from SecNav about how only Homeland could violate people’s civil rights like that, even though it was so not against the law. Technically. Yet.

 

Still, Tony smiles just a little to see Tim and Boss walking in sync with one another as they make for the exit. Boss is as methodical as they come, but he’d usually send Ziva on a second toss like this one. Boss never likes to go over old ground. He’s kind of like a shark that way—always seeming to need to move forward. Volunteering himself for a duty even though he hates it is Boss’s way of making sure he’s paying heed to Tim’s input, and of making sure Tim knows he’s listening. Tony’s at once relieved to see Boss’s continuing attention on Tim, as well as nervous to realize that Gibbs won’t be there to have his back if he screws up again with Carmen Lerner.

 

Turning forward once again, Tony’s eyes find his other partner. She tilts her head at him in acknowledgement, her hand on the doorframe as she leans out of Observation. “Did you get what you needed?” Ziva’s eyes are sharp on him, but not cutting.

 

Tony breathes out slowly, his gaze locked to hers, almost in the same way they used to watch each other when they first met, when they were still looking for the other’s weaknesses.

 

“Yeah,” he nods slowly, bringing up the two file folders in his right hand, even as his mind drifts to the fullness of his jacket’s breast pocket. He wonders what Ziva would do if she actually knew about him and Tim. She wouldn’t attempt to tease either of us, Tony can suddenly feel the truth of it wash over him, not until we knew she knew, and even then it would be tempered by that Mama-bear protective tendency she has.

 

He can’t tell if Ziva saw anything, and maybe that should be a tell for Tony. Maybe Ziva’s being too normal right now to really not have seen or heard or just intuited something. The bigger truth, though, is that Tony’s suddenly fairly certain that it doesn’t even matter if she knows. If Ziva knew and disapproved, she would have ripped Tony a new one the second she had him alone, so if Ziva really does know about him and Tim, she must be on their side.

 

“Alright,” Ziva drops her chin before tilting her head back into Observation. “I’ll be watching,” she promises to have his back.

 

A smile stretches across his face, “I know you will.” Tony nods once more, feeling Ziva’s eyes on him like a balm as he reaches out his hand and turns the knob to 3B. He feels that soothing presence of her eyes, even after he walks inside, keeping him cool as his armor solidifies around him once he steps across the threshold.

 

“Ms. Lerner,” Tony reverts back to the man he was in the NEX, kneeling down beside Tim before the woman currently sitting in the orange jumpsuit in front of him had clicked her red heels in his direction.

 

Carmen turns as he walks in, the bewildered uplift of her eyebrows not enough to make Tony doubt himself this time. “Tony?” she exhales heavily, glances downward, and shakes her head. “I’m sorry. Agent DiNozzo, I guess I should call you?” She looks back up to him, not quite doe-eyed, her expression not so deliberately innocent that it appears insincere.

 

“Thank you,” he offers her a small, extended nod, knowing he’s conveying appreciation in the way he means to. “I think it’s best to maintain a professional discourse considering the circumstances,” he tilts his head at her, as if in regret.

 

She watches him walk around the table and sit across from her, looking down to her lap only after he sits down. She swallows, noticeably but not roughly. Then she licks her lips, displaying her nervousness. “Yes, of course,” she nods, bravely.

 

Deliberately, he opens the top file folder—Carmen’s—and lays it open on the table, almost as if he’s careless. She won’t believe he’s careless, of course. She’ll know the motion is contrived, but she’ll think his motive is to manipulate her like he thought he had Monday night. She’ll think he’s still underestimating her.

 

Obligingly, she eyes the meaningless paperwork. Angling her head to emphasize she can’t read it upside down, then blinking away as though she’s not sure if she’s permitted to look at her file.

 

He eyes the paperwork, letting her catch him watching her through his peripheral vision. He’s always been a showman so he flips through the printed forms, pausing here and there on a few photographs—especially the mug shots of Hot Lips and Dennis Fairley. Carmen had to know that with their record, they’d be considered the most likely masterminds of the kiting scheme. She couldn’t have known, of course, that NCIS would find her cohorts, but she would have chosen them so that if they were found, their identification would only improve her chances of exoneration.

 

It only takes a few seconds for her brow to furrow, her gaze to drop, her shoulders to hunch. He glances up expectantly—as if he’s going to miss his cue! He gentles his voice, knowing Carmen can hear his syrupy sweetness, letting her trust in it, “They must be big fans of margaritas.” He leaves the file open on the mug shots and twists the folder around to face her. For a moment, she lets her breathing intensify, clearly demonstrating her fear of the dirty rotten, blackmailing criminals for Tony. Then Tony pushes a little more, “Just like you.”

 

He almost doesn’t see it, the brief narrowing of her eyes as Carmen’s re-evaluating Tony, trying to determine if he knows more than she wants him to. He doesn’t leave her waiting for long, “All three of you were regulars at Micah’s on Mondays—Two for One Margarita Night, according to the bartender.”

 

That sharpness quickly fades from Carmen’s eyes while they scrunch, as if in fear, but Tony’s certain he’ll be able to identify the expression when she wears it again—now that she’s shown him what it looks like.

 

Lifting a single shoulder, Carmen’s tone becomes strained, goes a touch higher, “I-I like mixed drinks.” Her lashes drop downward.

 

Tony nods, understandingly, “And your friends like them, too?” he pushes in the way he would a reluctant witness, knowing that the tone of his voice won’t give him away. He lets his tapping hands do that for him.

 

“They’re not my friends,” she comes back fast, sharply, the way anyone would when they’d been backed into a corner. Maybe the way anyone would if they’d been blackmailed into doing something illegal against their will.

 

“Mmm,” Tony lets his eyes run over her form, notes Carmen’s total control of her body language. She’s not even giving herself away in how she holds her elbows—just slightly inward, as if protecting herself from an invisible assailant. “You spend a lot of time with them for not being your friends,” he keeps his tone smooth, letting her trust the fact that he can always control the way his words leave his lips, but Tony lets his fingers clench, like he’s getting closer to grabbing what he needs.

 

For a second, Carmen shakes her head, as if in reflex, as if the motion were involuntarily. Then, once again, she lifts a single shoulder, lifting her opposite hand to her mouth to emphasize her smallness, her vulnerability in the face of these no good, very bad people.

 

“So you aren’t friends with…” Tony flips the brown folder back to face him, continuing to allow his hands to be his tell for her. He risks a glance upward, because he can, because she’d be expecting it anyway. Her eyes are glued to his hands when he exaggeratedly reads, “Marian Greene or Dennis Fairley.” He looks back up to her. She doesn’t really have a specific tell, unfortunately, but he can read where she wants him to go like she’s directing him with bright orange construction signs. He skips the page to the next picture—the least Tony can do is follow her lead. “Or Bruce Michaels,” he says more softly, watching her react immediately.

 

Carmen goes all out on this one—the blinking, the heavy breath, the tilted chin to show her vulnerable neck, the shaking of her hands, even the twitching of her feet beneath the table.

 

Tony leans back like he’s judging her response. Michaels was the only one of the Evil Monday Night Credit Union Robbing Gang with a violent crimes pedigree—assault and robbery when he was 19, again at 27, with a smattering of B&E and possession in between. He’d only gotten caught at B&E when he was high, but he was suspected for a bunch of other incidents that he couldn’t be physically tied to—including an overnight robbery at a bar called Chimera in Richmond, Virginia just over a year ago. An anonymous female witness called in regarding a man with his description from a payphone near the scene of the robbery. He was actually booked for the crime before the owner dropped all charges. The oddest thing about the entire incident, of course, was that the witness had found a payphone near the scene of the crime. The second most striking fact about it was that the owner of the bar was a woman named Constance Lerner.

 

“Ahh,” Tony softly allows his appreciation for her theatrics and starts tapping out his direction with his fingernails against the metal table. “So tell me about Bruce Michaels, then,” he pushes like he’d have to anyway.

 

Instantly, Carmen shakes her head. Tony’s more than a little fascinated with her ability to remain in character for so long when using such physical responses. He wonders why she’s so invested in this ruse. He wants to know her endgame. He takes a moment to let himself think of Sarah. He considers how long and how strong he’d be able to fight even his own body in order to guarantee her safety. He calls to mind the memory—Tim’s memory (his own memory)—of quitting NCIS and giving up the job he’s loved and wanted his whole life, the job that lets him be himself more than anything else he’s ever experienced, all for his baby sister’s safety. In that moment, Tony realizes, he would fight for Sarah for however long it took to ensure she was protected. Moreover, he would do whatever he had to in order to be certain that Sarah could always walk away cleanly.

 

“I don’t,” Carmen lets her voice get small, thready, as if she’s already been defeated. “There’s nothing, I—”

 

“Nothing?” he interrupts sharply, calling her on the lie, but his fingers span out along the cool metal, as if soothing the space between him and Carmen, trying to convince her that he’s a safe place to lay down her burdens.

 

There’s that flash of acuity in her eyes as she watches his hand—it doesn’t even take her a full second to evaluate his motion—then it’s gone. Internally, Tony winces. Sure, technically the movement was contrived, but he’s not sure how it caught Carmen’s suspicion. Too smooth? he asks himself. Tony keeps his breath steady, wondering how he can play through his apparent faux pas and knowing he must be moving too fast if she’s questioning his motives. Crap, he’s already at a glacial pace, and he needs her to keep trusting that his hands are his giveaway if he’s going to have a hope at maintaining his distraction of her long enough for her to dig herself a hole that’s too deep for her to climb out of.

 

Involuntarily, his right hand reaches up and his thumb stretches out along his breast pocket. He only realizes what he’s done a second later when he realizes Carmen’s head is tilted in honest curiosity. Great, and now the note from Tim has become a part of the game. When it occurs to him that he can use this, Tony nearly feels guilty for a second—right up until he realizes that Tim and his big irony loving self will get a kick out of it later.

 

He fists his hand about his heart, then licks his lips—offering a new, rarer giveaway. That sharpness is back in her eyes, but it’s different this time. He can tell she’s working to figure out how to use whatever’s in his pocket against him. Tony places both hands on the edge of the table, giving her time to figure something out. The sooner she swings, the sooner he can hit her back. “It doesn’t seem like nothing,” he gets them back on track.

 

Carmen shakes her head, dark brown hair shaking with it. “Sometimes people just aren’t what they seem to be at first,” she swallows, slow and deliberate and watching his hands like a hawk eyeing a rabbit, “Sometimes when you’re falling in love you do things—take chances, and maybe even make mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise make.”

 

He grips the edge of the table as hard as he can with both hands. Man, she’s good. He’d wondered before he’d offered to take her out for coffee Monday night, if Carmen had noticed the nature of his attachment to Tim. He knew that she’d caught Tony squeezing Tim’s calf, had even let her see him patting Tim’s leg before he’d realized she was a suspect. Most people tend to see what they want or expect to rather than what’s actually there, though.

 

“You’re right,” he allows, the metal edges of the table nibbling against the skin of his fingers. He lets just a touch of bite—of warning—in his tone to declare, “Sometimes people aren’t what they seem at first.”

 

Carmen can’t seem to help herself at finding the soft spot Tony’s seemingly inadvertently revealed: She leans back in her chair in satisfaction at prodding him into aggression. She thinks it means she’s gaining control of the interview. In microseconds, she turns the motion back into a way to display her vulnerability—she drops her hands into her lap, straightens her arms, and locks her elbows, keeping her chin at an angle that displays her bare throat. “I made a mistake,” she admits, her voice soft, almost bewildered. “I didn’t think it would keep coming after me.”

 

He waits a breath before asking her what she’s leading him towards, making sure to let go of the table’s edge and angle his hands onto the table, keeping his right hand close to the pocket over his heart, “What was your mistake?”

 

Unlocking her elbows, she brings her joined hands towards her gut—moving into confession mode. “There were so many,” she blinks and licks her lips. “In retrospect, that is.”

 

Tony leans forward, close enough that he can rub his thumb along his breast pocket. “So start with one,” he pushes recklessly, like he’s still off balance.

 

She blinks and shakes her head in small motions, as if she’s overwhelmed. “I fell in love.”

 

Tony squints, wishing he could roll his eyes. That’s a terrible answer. She can totally do better than that. He shifts his right arm, moving it farther onto the table, where it doesn’t as securely protect the contents of his pocket.

 

She shuts her eyes for half a second, almost wincing herself as she drops her chin and shakes her head once more. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound trite, like that,” she breathes deeply and brings her eyes back to his right hand. “I didn’t come from good people, Agent DiNozzo. My father was—he—he wasn’t,” she shakes her head, perhaps sensing how little these details mattered to Tony, “My mother was almost as bad. It wasn’t until later in life that we were even able to have a relationship.”

 

Tony narrows his eyes on her, keeping his hand still. She’s not getting anything for that paltry performance. There’s no way he’s going to give her the parallel she’s trying to feel him out for, either. Tony never brings Senior into work with him if he doesn’t have to. His dad never fails to throw Tony off balance, and he can’t afford to be anything but the top of his game with Carmen Lerner.

 

“I’d thought I’d been in love before, a couple of times even, before I’d met Bruce.” Carmen licks her lips, letting her gaze wobble, but otherwise keeping her eyes steady on his right hand. “Bruce was different, though. He made me different,” she runs her fingers up along her bare neck, working to remind him of both her vulnerability and her sexuality. “He made me feel beautiful and powerful and—” she takes the time to lick her lips, the next words come out almost brokenly, “—and wholeheartedly loved and wanted.” She clasps her hands together and settles them on the table.

 

Tony lets his fingers twitch this time but doesn’t move his hand any closer towards his heart. Too obvious, he acknowledges. “Everybody makes their own choices, Ms. Lerner.”

 

Her chin tilts up a fraction before she corrects herself, hiding the victory she feels almost instantly. “You’re right,” she swallows harshly—a little over the top, in Tony’s humble opinion, but okay, if she’s going for more emotional, then she’s getting closer to her coup de grâce. “Bruce had this thing about going for thrills, and I—I was still so angry at my mother a year and a half ago. It had seemed justifiable somehow at that moment.”

 

It had seemed justifiable?” Tony repeats, then rubs his thumbs against his first fingers as he fast forwards the conversation along, “You mean the robbery you planned with Bruce Michaels at your mother’s bar, Chimera?”

 

Carmen doesn’t quite blink at that, but her eyes flip back and forth between his hands, looking more carefully, surprised by how many pieces he already has. “Yes,” she whispers, as if ashamed. Her whole body stills slightly as she calculates—and apparently that’s her actual tell—the real Carmen is much more static than the fake one. “But I—I regretted it right away.”

 

“Hmm,” Tony nods again, then leans forward with both hands flat on the table—showing his complete confidence in the facts. “Of course, you felt so guilty that you called 911 from a nearby payphone about the robbery, conveniently forgetting to mention your culpability in the crime.”

 

Her face is still fluid motion, but this time, Carmen’s head stills. “Yes,” she confirms softly. She licks her lips, watching his hands. She barely opens her mouth again when Tony interjects once more,

 

“Then Bruce Michaels found out it was you that sold him out,” Tony leans back in his seat, left elbow on the back of his chair, completely casual as he wiggles his right hand in time with his words, “He threatened you until you convinced your mother to drop all charges, then he blackmailed you into being a part of the wire transfer fraud that’s currently stolen millions of dollars from sailors and their dependents at Navy Federal.”

 

She’s wringing her hands where they’re still clutched together, but Carmen’s eyes have stopped moving this time. The gaze is still locked on Tony’s hands.

 

“You’re—” she swallows and furrows her brow. He can tell she’s disconcerted by how he’s cutting across her argument before she even offers it. After all, now she’s going to need something more than just the basic facts of her story and the tears she sheds as she claims it if she’s going to keep pretending to be the victim here. “You’re mocking me?” she pivots to paint herself as Tony’s victim as well as her ex-boyfriend’s.

 

“Not at all,” Tony counters, reaching his right hand between them on the table. “We’ve just already found evidence of all of those things,” he stretches the truth only slightly, knowing it’s simply a matter of time before they find all the breadcrumbs Carmen’s left for them.

 

Opening her mouth, Carmen doesn’t speak for a moment, just keeps steadily watching Tony’s hand instead, scrambling to figure out his next move, so she can find her own way to push back against it. “So you already know what happened?” Carmen feels him out, and though her brow is furrowed, her cheeks are nearly expressionless.

 

He taps his index fingernail against the metal table. “I know exactly what happened.”

 

Her face freezes, still deliberately colored with confusion by the wrinkling in her forehead. Carmen’s eyes snap up to Tony’s like a rubberband slipping back into place after shooting a spit wad. She finally figured out his hands were a distraction. “Do you?” Despite their softness and the vulnerability, the words are a challenge.

 

Tony lets the satisfied smile crawl across his face, enjoying the feel of it. He leans in towards Carmen, resting both elbows on the table before raising a single finger between the two of them. “Mostly,” he allows, because it’s after 6pm and detainees don’t get to communicate with the outside world between 1800 and 0900, and because it always works in your favor if a potential sociopath underestimates you. “I don’t know who killed Leo Martin,” he admits. “Not yet. Well,” he stands and grabs his file folders, “Not that I can prove,” he pushes the chair in as if he’s done with her.

 

Carmen quirks her head left, “Leo Martin is dead?” she shuts her mouth quickly and looks right. In milliseconds, she’s blinking rapidly. “I only met him a couple times, but I know he made computer parts,” Carmen offers only vaguely, protecting her interests. “He seemed like a nice guy.”

 

“He was a little punk,” Tony corrects, recalling Tim’s description of the man, “but he didn’t deserve to die.”

 

Carmen leans back into her chair, her brow furrowing in honest calculation that she lets him see. “You want me to help you catch his killer?” It’s couched like a question, but it’s not really. She’s trying to lead him back to her agenda.

 

“Yes,” Tony tucks his head in, as if he’s allowing her a bit of her own back, “I’m also going to need your confession.”

 

“My confession?” Carmen squints at him, back to playing the innocent, maybe she even thinks it can still work on him.

 

“For your role in the wire transfer fraud,” Tony clarifies. “We’ll need a comprehensive confession for everything illegal you’ve done as well as any information you have regarding the murder of Leo Martin.”

 

She startles, and Tony can tell the real Carmen underneath is irritated. “Shouldn’t there be paperwork about an immunity if I’m going to just give you this information?” She finally states outright what she’s wanted the whole time, why she let herself get arrested. She wanted both the money she stole and the ability to walk away with few to no consequences.

 

Tony tosses the file folders back on the edge of the table. “No. You’re not getting a deal. There’s no immunity, no plea bargain for you,” he makes sure to say it a little meanly. “However, if you work with us, I will put in a good word with the judge for you,” Tony means it, too; he really would, despite the fact that it would piss Tim off in the extreme. “Cooperation with law enforcement counts a lot more than you think.” Of course, she won’t take him up on it. Not yet, at least, and maybe not at all. She still thinks she has her ace in the hole. She yet imagines that her hands will look clean in comparison with her co-conspirators’, especially in light of Leo Martin’s murder. “My partner can bring you a paper and pen,” he straightens back up, as if there’s any conceivable possibility she’ll consent to his demands.

 

Carmen’s eyes stay on his for dragged out seconds, hard and strong. After that long moment, she looks Tony over, paying particular and obvious attention to the breast pocket of his jacket before dropping down to the rest of his body. “Your partner?” she questions finally, her eyes skimming back up to his face. “The one who writes you love letters?” Carmen’s eyes flick to his pocket before hardening on Tony’s gaze.

 

Tony stills, watching her right back. It’s a guess that she’s made, and they both know it. The flatness of his pocket where nothing but a letter or maybe a picture might fit, Tony’s protectiveness of the contents of said pocket, not to mention Tony’s interaction with Tim in front of Carmen in Norfolk and the contrived flirtation he’d started up with Carmen at the NEX—all of these things create enough evidence for Carmen to be able to jump to this conclusion. Tony has no idea what Tim wrote, but Tony’s implied to Carmen with his body language that there’s a romantic token in his pocket. The fact that Carmen’s made the conclusions he’s directed her towards shouldn’t startle him, yet Tony’s still surprised to hear the verdict aloud.

 

Would Tim have written me a love letter? he wonders, aching to pat his pocket, to make sure he hasn’t lost whatever words Tim’s given to him. Maybe it isn’t even words on the page. It was on notebook paper, so it’s not a print out, but it could be a cartoon or a chart or maybe even some obscure equation, knowing Tim. Whatever it is in Tony’s pocket, it was special to Tim. He was worried, anxious, when he gave it to Tony, which probably means that Tony is an asshole for using it like this. He chuffs, knowing he’s screwed up, but he’s dedicated now and he may as well not drop the ball twice.

 

Deliberately, Tony licks his lips, giving Carmen the ability to use his tenderness for Tim against him. If she maintains a fruitless attack, then it’ll weaken her ability to defend herself. Well, as long as Tony can pretend her attack is working while at the same time not actually permitting her attack to work. Tony keeps his head straight but glances down, a motion that the camera in observation won’t be able to catch but that Carmen will. Then his eyes glance back towards the one way mirror, not quite able to see himself in it before Tony lifts his chin and smirks, hardened gaze right back on Carmen.

 

“No, this partner’s a woman,” and Tony knows that there’s just enough irony in his tone that anybody watching or listening to this recording later will understand instantly that he’s only using her words to create a punchline. He knows that anyone watching or listening will remember the punchline over Carmen’s insinuations.

 

Carmen’s gaze stays steady on him, distracted by trying to figure out how to use Tony’s (possible) love letter and the relationship it implies against him. “I believe I will decline your offer.” She pulls her hands into her lap and angles her chin at him. Tony can only just see the way she’s mocking him back with her body language. The cameras recording her every move most likely can’t even see it on the other side of the glass.

 

“That’s your prerogative,” he allows. “But you should know that once you go back to holding, not only will my offer to you be null and void, but I will make it my mission in life to throw the book at every single one of the people who were involved in the wire transfer fraud.”

 

Blinking in honest surprise, Carmen shakes her head, releasing a few dark strands from behind her ears and making herself look more vulnerable, innocent. “Do you truly believe that I would want anything less for the people who blackmailed me to do things against my will?” she finishes vaguely, covering herself as always.

 

Tony nods, letting one side of his mouth angle upward in satisfaction, letting Carmen see that he has one more card that he hasn’t played yet.

 

In the chair across the table in her bright orange outfit, Carmen stills.

 

He tosses the folders back onto the table casually, opening the top one right in front of her and pulling out the picture of her lower back. The full span of the Pegasus’ wings stretches across the entire width of Carmen’s body, the animal’s muscles are prominently detailed, emphasizing the creature’s strength, its dominance. The deep blues and greens of the ink are smattered with shocking bits of red lining the wings and hooves of the Pegasus, lending a suggestion of blood—of battle.

 

Tony re-angles the picture so she can see it. “Pegasus,” it’s only after Tony names the figure that she bothers to glance down at the color photo. Her gaze shifts back to Tony’s in milliseconds. “It’s a beautiful tattoo,” he offers. “All this detail along your spine must have been pretty painful to sit through, right?” he smiles with his whole mouth this time and doesn’t wait for her response. He picks up the picture and holds it up to angle it towards the mirror, letting the cameras and Ziva get a good look from behind the glass.

 

“This right here,” he pretends to tell the mirror, taking a few steps towards the glass while keeping an eye on Carmen via his peripheral vision, “this tattoo is proof of Ms. Lerner’s dedication, but dedication to what?”

 

Tony turns back to Carmen, once again on the opposite side of the table from her. He lightly sets the photo on the table, halfway between him and Carmen. She doesn’t bother to look at it this time, even though it’s facing her. She doesn’t look away from Tony at all, doesn’t move a single part of her body other than her eyes, which remain watchful—tracking him like an animal in the middle of the food chain who can’t quite determine anymore if she’s predator or prey.

 

“Do you know the legend of Pegasus, Ms. Lerner?” his tone is quiet, measured. “What am I saying?” he half-turns extravagantly, letting his voice follow his exaggerated motions, “Of course, you know, but my partner doesn’t,” Tony twists his body and points both index fingers to the mirror still behind him. “According to Greek mythology, Pegasus was the wing-ed horse,” he emphasizes the anatomy as he leans both palms onto the table and just barely pushes inside Carmen’s space, “that was ridden into the battle that defeated the Chimera, which was a weird, fire-breathing animal made up of parts of other animals, and ugh,” Tony shudders dramatically. “Very ugly beast. It’s not really so surprising that something as beautiful as the Pegasus would want it dead, is it?”

 

Tony hums and pretends to admire the photo of the tattoo, only he doesn’t really stop looking at Carmen. She’s got the capacity for violence, he can feel the potential through his bones, and he’s not going to take his eyes off her again.

 

“Wait a second,” Tony twists his neck and grins as if only remembering, “Wasn’t the Chimera also the name of your mother’s bar in Richmond?” He taps a thumb against the table, but this time Carmen doesn’t go after the bait. He doesn’t need her to, anyway. “What a coincidence!”

 

Carmen looks back down to the photo of her lower back and seems to gather herself, seems to remember she’s playing a victim and allows a small furrow back into her brow. “I already told you,” she speaks quietly, as if tired and maybe even ashamed. “I had my differences with my mother, and I don’t deny that.”

 

“Hmm,” Tony nods in acknowledgement. “Yes, you did.”

 

“I don’t see how my relationship with my mother is relevant in the slightest,” she comes back at that concession, sounding small and defensive—wronged. A part of Tony almost wants to clap a little bit.

 

“Right,” Tony tilts his head a little more to the left, “Well,” he pauses, “except for how you planned and executed a robbery with a convicted burglar and drug dealer and then told me,” he briefly rests his hands on his upper chest, “that your guilt was the motivation for turning said convicted burglar and drug dealer over to the police for this offense, which you did not admit your culpability in, and then having that same convicted burglar and drug dealer allegedly blackmail you into robbing a bank due to that crime.” The irony’s so thick coming from his mouth he has to clear his throat. “Yeah, except for that, your relationship with your mother isn’t relevant at all.”

 

Carmen manages to scrunch her shoulders into herself during Tony’s diatribe, making her look all of 15 years old. “I don’t understand what you want from me,” she claims, her voice rising high, even as her eyes are still as glass.

 

Tony snicks his cheek against his teeth and points at Carmen, “Yes, you do,” he backs up, right in front of the mirror and crosses his right foot over his left at the ankle. He keeps the weight off his right foot so he can move it abruptly if necessary. “You know that I want you to confess to being the organizer and instigator of the kiting operation under investigation, of blackmailing literally tens of marines and seamen, and stealing millions of dollars from Navy Federal.”

 

Opening her mouth she shakes her head at him, and if Tony didn’t know better, he would think her genuinely amazed at the mere possibility that anyone might imagine her capable of the crimes he listed to her.

 

“You have got to be kidding me!” her mouth stays open to emphasize her shock.

 

Tony crosses his arms and leans against the mirror as casually as possible. He doesn’t say a word.

 

Again Carmen shakes her head, crunching her neck for emphasis this time, “I don’t understand how you can possibly be serious.”

 

“Right,” Tony nods and straightens away from the wall, casually bringing his foot back to solid ground. “I guess there is one—tiny, little detail that I left out,” he pushes the chair he’d sat in earlier beneath the table, resting both his hands on its back. “You see, in that old Greek legend, Pegasus wasn’t the only one responsible for killing the Chimera. In fact, the main party involved in the murder,” he carefully chooses the word, subtly reminding Carmen of Leo Martin’s death and the severity of the crime in question, “was Bellerophon, and,” Tony adds pulling the bottom file folder up to the forefront, “since you are the Pegasus in this scenario, that means your Bellerophon must be Jaime Lerner," he keeps the folder itself closed, only yanking out the picture he'd printed out from the school's website and placing it directly beside the photo of Carmen's tattoo, "master’s student in computer science at Central Virginia University, and your little sister.” Leaning onto the table with both palms, Tony keeps his weight on his feet. His voice is softer when he declares, “The CVU website said she inexplicably goes by the name of Belle,” Tony pauses to let Carmen absorb the implications of what he knows.

 

He maintains every bit of his physical attention on Carmen, but he lets a seed of anger start to grow in his gut, imagining his own fury if someone threatened Sarah in this way he’s threatening Belle, while she was vulnerable and alone with no one else to trust but him while he was locked up in federal custody. How might he defend her?

 

“With Leo Martin dead,” Tony pushes further, “your baby sister is the only person with the skill set to access the funds from Navy Federal. I wonder if your co-conspirators know about her already or if it’s going to be news to them when I bring them across the hall for their interviews next.”

 

Carmen’s breath is so slight it barely moves her chest. Her eyes remain narrowed on Tony’s, as though, if she glared with enough of her intent, she could reach into his body by anger alone and rip his spinal column from his throat. “My mother,” Carmen finally declares after a moment, her chin angling rightward as she speaks. “It was my mother’s idea to commit wire transfer fraud by temporarily diverting all of the daily transactions to her own accounts before letting funds move onto their true destination,” Carmen offers real details of the crime for the first time. Even now, though, she carefully doesn’t directly implicate herself.

 

Distraction, Tony decides a moment later, if someone were threatening Sarah while I was locked up, I would do my best to distract them from her.

 

“You don’t even like your mother,” he shakes his head, “You’d be glad to see her go to jail, especially for something that you did.”

 

Carmen’s dark locks shift as she shrugs one shoulder, finally permitting her I’m a complete victim persona to fall away, if only partially, “It’s true nonetheless. It was her idea.”

 

He feels one side of his mouth go up even as he squints at her, because her words have the distinct tinge of fact. Not the complete story, certainly, but… “It was your mother’s idea,” he allows, “maybe something she was actually serious about and maybe just something she mentioned off the cuff,” he cuts through her half-truth, “but you were the one who planned the entire operation, weren’t you?” he asks unnecessarily because he already knows. “You’re the one who made everything happen.”

 

He leans a little farther into her space, even though he shouldn’t, even though he realizes she really could be a danger to him—desperate suspects are always the riskiest—and even though Boss would have his hide if he watched Tony do it, “You know what that means?” he whispers, lips curled in a snarl. “You’re the one who put Belle at risk,” and somehow, when he says Belle, it feels like Sarah.

 

Abruptly, Tony straightens, quickly stepping backward, away from Carmen and even his own accusations. Tension resonates through every inch of his body. His hands fists at his sides, and he has to redirect this fury.

 

“Leo Martin,” Tony speaks the name aloud to remind himself and Carmen both, making himself recall the man’s hands draped casually on the arms of his camping chair, his feet crossed at the ankle like he was simply there to enjoy the evening, the angry bullet hole just left of center in his forehead. “Why kill him?” Tony pushes, and somehow it’s not even the bullet hole that skips through Tony’s brain again and again—it’s the feet.

 

This time it’s Tony who stills as he considers, “If Leo Martin was always going to be your fall guy, then why not just let him get caught?” he wonders, getting a squiggly feeling in his gut as he does. “It was Leo Martin’s specialized equipment that had already been found throughout all the NEX locations that had experienced the robberies.” Tony licks his lips, “Why not just let him take the fall?”

 

And seriously, why not? It would have made the crime much tidier to shove all the responsibility for it onto Leo Martin. The fact that he’s dead ups the ante considerably. Unless, “The murder,” Tony blinks, not liking how the pieces are falling together. “It wasn’t a part of the plan was it?”

 

Carmen swallows loudly, and oddly enough, the nervousness in her tone doesn’t seem contrived at all. “I-I don’t know what Bruce might be capable of,” she rocks back and forth in her chair. “He forgets things when he’s high. Maybe—” she blinks but falls just short of outright accusation, maybe because she doesn’t actually know enough about the murder to figure out how to frame her ex-boyfriend for it, “I don’t know why…” she shakes her head trailing off. “Bruce could be scary when he was high,” her voice shakes, and she genuinely does sound afraid.

 

Tony’s eyes are pointed Carmen’s way, but he can still see Leo Martin. He knows from Abby’s analysis of the trajectory of the bullet and the residue of the gunpowder near the entry wound that Leo Martin’s killer was close to him when he was shot. His killer was practically next to him but hadn’t snuck up on him because Leo Martin was shot in the forehead and they found the bullet embedded in a tree behind the camping chair. Tony bites his lips picturing the scene all too clearly in his head. Leo Martin’s killer was basically right beside him, but the dead man’s feet were crossed in front of him, “He wasn’t afraid,” Tony murmurs, taking a deep breath and moving a little farther right to make sure that both cameras in Observation can record Carmen Lerner’s reaction properly. Tony speaks more loudly this time for her benefit, “Leo Martin wasn’t afraid of his killer. He didn't consider her a threat.”

 

Carmen shakes her head in denial of what they both must realize by now, “You know,” the brunette’s back shakes beneath the orange jumpsuit. Tony imagines the Pegasus on her skin must be quivering. “Hot Lips,” she blinks, “that is, Marian, has an unbelievable ruthless streak.” Carmen stretches a hand in front of her and it’s honestly shaking. “I know she doesn’t look like much, but she can be incredibly underhanded.”

 

Tony purses his lips together, reminding himself that Belle is not Sarah. He doesn’t know Belle at all. Hot Lips only just pushes 5’2”. The downward angle of the bullet places the height of Leo Martin’s killer between 5’5” and 5’9”. Carmen has a solid five inches on Hot Lips. If her baby sister were the same height, she’d be smack in the middle of that range.

 

Watching Carmen silently, Tony lets himself remember when Sarah sat in a similar, yet wholly different, position. He recalls the way Sarah cried and confessed to a crime she wasn’t sure if she committed (and hadn’t actually committed) in order to protect her big brother. Tony’s certain there’s a lot of things Sarah would do to protect her big brother, even as he’s equally as sure that Tim wouldn’t want her to do any of them.

 

He wonders if Belle feels the same way about her big sister, Carmen. He wonders if killing Leo Martin was some misguided attempt of protecting her.

 

“I’m only going to say this once,” his voice comes out low, “and I can’t guarantee it, but I can ask for concurrent sentences if Belle rolls over on you for the wire transfer fraud.”

 

“Concurrent sentences? You’re saying there’s a first sentence—jail time for my sister who hasn’t been linked to anything illegal—” Carmen spells it out as carefully as possible, “for wire transfer fraud, and what would that second sentence even be for?” Carmen poses the question, pretending she doesn’t know just as well as Tony what her little sister’s done.

 

For the murder of Leo Martin, he knows he needs to say the words aloud for the benefit of the cameras, but he finds he can’t quite cut Carmen in this way, despite the fact that he and Tim and their whole team have been running around like crazy people for the last week because of her, not to mention the fact that a man is dead because of her machinations, indirectly because of her, but still dead. He doesn’t even understand why he has any feeling in him for Carmen Lerner at all. It’s not as if she’s a good person. It’s not as though her love for her little sister makes her anything like Tim.

 

Tony wonders how Tim would take this situation if someone told him that the lesser of two evils would likely see Sarah in jail for 20 years with good behavior. He wonders how he, himself, would take it, even.

 

“My partner,” he clears his throat, “the woman, not the one who writes me love letters,” he lets that same irony that Tim always gets a kick out of infuse his tone, “Can bring in the paperwork if you want to confess.” He walks around the table, moving behind her and towards the door. His hand’s turning the knob when he says, “I’ll give you thirty minutes in here. The Bedford County Sheriff’s Department will have your sister in custody by then.”

 

“Tony—” Carmen begins, the sound broken as it comes from her mouth. It’s the most honest thing he’s heard from her.

 

Tony purses his lips for half a second, but he’s already inside the doorway when he concludes, “I meant it when I said all offers are off the table once you go back to holding, and not just any offers for you.”

 

The moment that the door is sealed and locked between them, Tony reaches into his pocket, feeling the bit of paper that still covers his heart. He pulls his fingers back out of his suit jacket long seconds later, but lets his right hand remain above that pocket, like when he’d pledge allegiance as a kid.

 

“Tony?” the soft alto of his partner—the woman, not the one who might really be writing him love letters—gently probes from the doorway to Observation.

 

The fingers of his right hand twitch brutally above his heart because he tried so hard to wait, but he has to know now. He blinks and looks down, his eyes just make it up to Ziva’s furrowed brow before shifting away, not able, anymore, to handle anyone else’s emotions besides his own. Tony licks his lips as he reconsiders, Okay, maybe I can handle Tim’s emotions, too. He hopes he can handle whatever Tim’s emotions are, at least.

 

She doesn’t step any closer, but Tony can almost feel Ziva’s warmth and approval in her tone, “I think she will take your deal.”

 

“Yeah,” Tony nods, blinking again. “Yeah, I think so, too,” he admits. He swallows hard, “Ziva—”

 

“I will watch over Ms. Lerner,” she interrupts before Tony can ask.

 

Exhaling heavily, he turns away from Ziva, “Thanks,” the word is soft, but he knows Ziva’s ears have been primed to hear what he needs her to for some time. “I’ll be back to walk her through the written confession or to walk her back to holding,” he promises, just a little more loudly this time.

 

“Take your time, Tony.” And then her voice is just as soft as his was a moment ago, “I have got your six.”

Chapter Text

He can barely breathe on the walk from Interrogation to the parking garage. At first, his fingers keep dipping into his breast pocket as he moves, just to make sure that little scrap of paper that Tim gave him is still there. Tony worries that he’ll accidentally pull it out of his suit jacket, though, so he ends up holding his hand over the top of the opening from the moment he steps outside and hits the windy Spring air—just to be absolutely certain. He doesn’t want to lose Tim’s words before he ever even sees them.

 

He’s not sure whether Tim will be angry that he couldn’t wait for at least the drive to Silver Springs, but Tony honestly can’t keep himself from peeking any longer.

 

Tony makes it to his mustang, yanking on the door with an urgency that belies the usual care he gives his baby. By the time he slides into the driver’s seat and shuts the door behind him, he’s shaking again. He locks the doors with a quick press along the key fob, the satisfying beep that results has him shutting his eyes.

 

Tony reaches into his pocket, pulling out that thin, folded up paper that he’d only caught a glimpse of as Tim slid it into the opening of the fabric of Tony’s suit jacket an hour before.

 

When he opens his eyelids again, he can see the ragged loops of Tim’s abominable cursive bleeding through the page in black ink, but he can’t make out the words.

 

What are the chances Tim actually wrote me a love letter? he asks himself. This is probably one of those ridiculous word games he likes so well or maybe a riddle. Tim loves riddles. Tony nods. It’s probably a riddle, he warns himself, but then he thinks of the way Tim yanked at his hair the way he does when he’s nervous in that concentrated way that only people can really trip Tim up.

 

It’s not a riddle, Tony blinks but can’t maneuver his fingers to unfold the paper. This could really be a love letter, he promises himself, as his thumb stretches along the cheap parchment. He likes the way that possibility feels, but he’s not certain he wants to trade his fantasy for reality.

 

Tony exhales heavily, exasperated with himself, “You’re never going to find out if you don’t look at it, DiNozzo.”

 

His fingers, still clumsy, yank at the creases, nearly tearing the paper in his haste. His eyes shift across the words once, twice, three times, he’s not even sure, because he still can’t see it, can’t quite register, until all at once, his mind lets him know,

 

“Oh, God, it’s a poem!” and all of a sudden he’s laughing at himself because—Jeez! Tim wrote me a poem!

 

It takes another few moments for his eyes to really focus, to be able to take in the words,

 

 

          You catch me

          It’s always a nothing misunderstanding:

          A word in the wrong place, or my pace at the wrong speed—a something that doesn’t matter,

          But I worry I have offended.

          The thought builds until it terrorizes me,

          Until I see nothing but my offense,

          Until I wonder if I will ever see anything else.

          Except then—

                    the warmth of your palm stretches against my back,

                    your soft voice whispers, intimate and open in my ear,

                    your body teases mine where it barely touches me,

                    you promise me more in the way we lean into each other—

 

                              You catch me,

 

          Like you always do.

          The softness in your eyes when

          I turn to you

          tells me:

          You’ll let me catch you, too.

 

 

He reads it again and again, not able to get enough of it. The tingling in his gut continues to thrill him even after several minutes of getting used to the fact that Tim wrote him a poem. Tim must have written this right after he left the conference room, Tony realizes.

 

We can really do this, Tony barely breathes. And, geez, they’re about to move in together, and Tony’s not sure if that’s a whiplash sort of pace or a three-toed tree sloth kind of speed considering how long they’ve known each other.

 

Tony’s eyes flicker shut involuntarily, and he lets himself picture all those ideas that flittered through his head earlier at the thought of living with Tim, and then he imagines more. He recalls the way Tim leaned into his touch this morning, still half asleep. He bets Tim would be like that every day—open and sleep-warm and trusting and arcing into Tony’s hands on his body from the very first slide of skin against skin.

 

Tony pictures more days like today where it felt like they could barely keep their hands off one another. He thinks sometimes they’d have to take a break from fighting with that urge in order to steal a moment together like they did this afternoon in Interrogation. His whole body aches when he considers their nights—rolling around on the sheets, their mouths rarely separating as they twisted together. The images in Tony’s mind move too quickly for him to see. He’s not sure how to let his body move with another man’s, but this is Tim, and if anything, his body’s seemed to understand how to move with his partner’s better than his mind could comprehend.

 

Tony figures on the weekends, they’d take their time. Maybe some Sundays, instead of moseying over to Porquois Pas, Tim would tease Tony while Tony made them something a little more elaborate for breakfast than what he would on weekdays. Maybe Tim would let his hands roam over Tony’s body, his mouth press along Tony’s neck, while Tony cooked for them.

 

Tony blinks, wondering aloud, “Does Tim eat pancakes anymore?” Probie changed his diet so drastically in the last year and sometimes he surprises Tony with the things he doesn’t consume anymore and sometimes even more with the weird things he does eat now. Tony quirks his head left, Tim talks about fiber a lot. “I bet I could get a ground flax seed pancake recipe.” Tony nods to himself. He’s sure Tim would try it out, at least. Tim would probably tease him about turning to the Dark Side of the health food aisle the whole time Tony worked the griddle. Tony can practically feel the way Tim would laugh at him—it would be that lighthearted chuckle he gets that always reminds Tony of a rippling stream.

 

Tony purses his lips, feeling his chest ache with the need to hear that chuckle right now. He bets he could tease Tim well enough to be able to hear it tonight. Tim’s always so eager to laugh with him, even when he’s pretending that he doesn’t find Tony’s jokes funny. Sometimes it’s especially then, when Tim’s fighting a grin, that Tony knows his partner’s right there with him.

 

Tony’s gaze goes back down to the poem—the poem Tim wrote to me! Tony’s fingers trace the words Tim gave him as he reads.

 

In a minute or two, he’ll have to step out of the car and go back to Interrogation. He’ll have to play hard-ass or confidant to Carmen—maybe both. He’ll have to keep his voice clear and his face straight, his mind on the ball. He wonders what Ziva will see in his posture that the cameras and Woods and Carmen won’t catch.

 

His mind rests on the soft features and dark eyes of his partner—the woman, not the one who writes me love letters—he recalls the words he and Carmen had tossed back and forth once more. Tim really did write me a love letter, he holds the proof in his hands, yet he almost can’t believe it.

 

Tony thinks of Woods, who watched his interview of Carmen, recorded every word and motion of it, including Carmen’s incredible—yet somehow completely and utterly correct—observation about him and Tim. Woods had been an agent on Michaelson’s team until a fall from a three-story apartment building in the line of duty left him with a shattered hip and a choice of outright disability or 10 months of rehabilitation and then retirement from the field. Woods sat on the other side of the bullpen from Tim and Tony and the rest of MCRT for years, yet Tony never imagined, not even for half a heartbeat, that Woods would give any credence to Carmen’s insinuation about him and Tim. Ironically, Woods knows both he and Tim too well to believe any such thing.

 

What if it hadn’t been Woods with Ziva in Observation, though? What if it had been that new guy, Cooper, who’d just transferred in from a rotation in Iraq? Cooper didn’t know anything about Tony’s reputation as a smooth operator or Tim’s unfortunate—and as far as anyone else knew, still enduring—one-sided affection for a certain tattooed forensic scientist. If Cooper had been the one watching the Interrogation, would he have believed Carmen’s allegation? Would he have thought Tony was gay?

 

Tony swipes at both his eyes at once with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, lays the poem in his lap, and wraps both palms around the steering wheel. His mind shies away from the hypothetical situation it created, shooting back to Ziva.

 

He recalls the way she’d turned on him and Tim in Rock Creek Park on Tuesday. She’d been furious about being left out of the secret she’d sensed between them. There are few things in life that Ziva finds truly unacceptable in her relationships with other people. She can stand for dirty secrets and bad habits as long as she’s privy to them. She allows for the fact that everyone has their weak points, and she forgives the truth that everyone can and will break given the right impetus. Disloyalty will trigger her intense anger, but even that she can excuse. The one thing Ziva cannot tolerate—ever—is being kept in the dark.

 

There is nothing more offensive in the universe to Ziva than being on the wrong side of classified. From the moment he’d stepped in front of Tim on the pathway towards the crime scene, he’d known he would wound their partner with his lies as surely as he’d realized that she’d know he was lying. And sure, he loves to tease Ziva, but he hates to hurt her, and Tony had known that was exactly what he was doing in that moment. When Tim had turned to him with those wide, panicked eyes, though, there was no way Tony wouldn’t rally a defense for him, even if that defense was against Ziva.

 

Ziva had been angry with both of them ever since. It had gotten slightly better yesterday after Tony came back from the lunch run to find Ziva reading through a link Tim had sent via their personal emails. (Apparently Wikipedia is good enough for Tim to help explain teabagging to Ziva, but it’s not acceptable for researching World of Warcraft secondary character skills and suddenly Tony has to get a complete lecture in the middle of a stakeout about guilds and quest chains and, well, he’s reasonably certain his ears were bleeding by the end of it.)

 

Throughout their entire morning in the field, Ziva was pretty well normal with Tony today, even if her teasing had a tad bit more bite than usual. Tony twists his chin to the right and pushes out his lower jaw. She had still been a little more brisk with him at that point, hadn’t she? They’d separated for much of the afternoon since he and Boss alternated working on interviews of Leo Martin’s neighbors and associates while Ziva mostly stayed in the bullpen as she followed the evidence and looked into the victim’s past.

 

After Tim had left Tony in Interrogation, though, Ziva soared past normal and straight into playing interference with Gibbs for him. Tony purses his lips. At least that’s what it felt like at the time, but was it really? Ziva certainly would have seen from Boss’ anger and worry at him after leaving Micah’s that Tony could have used a go-between, but why did Ziva volunteer herself for the position? Could she have actually forgiven Tony for keeping a confidence from her or did she already know what that secret was?

 

Tony tightens his hands on the steering wheel. Ziva’s a dogged investigator with a quick mind, but she’s also hesitant to invade Tim’s privacy. On the other hand, maybe after Tim’s olive branch and having the afternoon apart from one another Ziva was simply ready to forgive Tony his secrets without having to know them.

 

Yeah right, Tony shakes his head and scoffs loudly for good measure. Ziva David does not easily forgive slights. He could see her absolving Tim after sending her that email with the Wikipedia link, but she always required more from Tony than a simple explanation. At the very least she demanded a detailed play-by-play of what went down and a sincere apology. She’d take a sarcastically worded I’m sorry as long as it was honest.

 

Okay, he cuts to the quick, what’s the worst case scenario? Tony imagines the devastation on Ziva’s face if she found out that he and Tim kept such an enormous and life changing secret from her. He wonders if they’d be able to recover from something that was such a betrayal to their relationship with her. On the other hand, there’s no way on earth that Ziva would tattle about him and Tim to Gibbs if she were to find out. Tony’s certain she’d even lie to Boss before she permitted herself to give away such a secret.

 

It really is much better if she does know, he realizes, but would Tim be okay with it if other people knew about us? Tony drops his head to scratch at a sudden itch along his hairline. Tony stills his fingers and scrunches his face. Tim might ultimately end up agreeing with him that it was better Ziva know about them sooner rather than later, but he wouldn’t like it if Tony went behind his back.

 

Okay, so it’d be better if Ziva figured it out on her own. Tony can’t tell her, but if she found out otherwise, it’s not as though Tim would hold that against him, right? Tony shakes his head, confirming his own suspicion. Tim’s almost rabid about remaining fair. He’d never hold it against Tony if a situation beyond his control affected them. So Tony can’t tell Ziva, and he also can’t be loose with the truth like he had been with Abby, but maybe he could be not quite as careful around Ziva as he was everybody else? Of course, in order to avoid Ziva’s wrath, what he’d really have to do was make sure she’d notice that he was being more open with her about him and Tim. Tony nods, reiterating to himself that his choice is a fine line he can toe without either betraying Tim or alienating Ziva.

 

Tony’s eyes and hands stray back to the creased paper Tim gave him. You catch me, he reads through it once more before folding the words back up and placing them gently back in his pocket. He replaces his hands on the steering wheel, straightening his arms as he leans his head back against the seat. The words are a statement, but they feel like a plea. He hopes he can catch Tim, but he’s not sure how to do it when he can’t quite feel the ground beneath him.

Chapter Text

The disappointment in his chest feels like a forgotten but important task—as if he’d accidentally called a friend on her birthday and spent the whole conversation talking about inconsequential things. The last two hours with Gibbs feels like that same sort of missed opportunity to Tim.

 

Tim sighs heavily and leaves his work bag on the floor below the passenger seat—he doesn’t need to bring his job inside the apartment tonight. Not only do the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department have Jaime Lerner in custody, they also sent Tim a few attachments in his secure email of pictures of equipment they found in her possession. Tim will have to get his hands on it to be certain, and of course, they’ll need to pull in a specialist for the trial, but he’s already fairly certain the deputies discovered most, if not all, of Leo Martin’s missing hardware.  The outsides were wiped clean, but there’s a decent chance they’ll be lucky and get some fingerprints from the components. It’s hard to do a delicate hard drive construction with gloves on after all.

 

Tim runs his tongue over his teeth as he shuts and locks the Porsche. He hadn’t realized how late it already was when he and Boss left the Yard. It wasn’t until the stilted conversational volleys began between him and Gibbs in the car that Tim realized how long the day had been. Even the awkwardness of being in the lab with Abby all day hadn’t felt as painful as the loaded quiet, first in the Charger, then at Leo Martin’s apartment, and finally on the long ride back to the Yard. Tim’s pretty sure the reason it felt so much worse was because they had so much trouble connecting despite the fact that Boss was trying to make it work at least as hard as Tim, himself, was.

 

Tim slowly makes his way to the sidewalk, feeling the weight of the day through to his bones. Maybe he and Boss will never have the kind of easy relationship that Boss and Tony have always shared. Maybe it could be enough that Boss is listening and he’s definitely trying and even though the quiet that kept rearing its ugly head between the sporadic discussions of the case tonight was uncomfortably loaded, at least Tim knew that Boss wanted to meet him halfway. At least Boss is working with me, Tim purses his lips, wanting that fact to be enough. After all, that’s certainly more than the Admiral ever did.

 

And it’s not as though they didn’t have anything to talk about at all. He and Boss were able to dissect the case during the drive, for instance. Boss had even actively listened as Tim had described how critical it was that the Sheriff’s department had uncovered the hardware key that Leo Martin had created to affect the kiting scheme. Tim isn’t sure that Boss really understood how it worked—even after the comparison Tim had made with breaking the bottle to get a model ship out of its container—but Tim knows that Boss at least got its significance to their case.  Not only that, but Boss really seemed to appreciate Tim’s contribution and how it fit into the fact that they’ll get to start the closing paperwork on the NEX thefts and the wire transfer fraud—not to mention the murder of Leo Martin—in the morning.

 

Scurrying up the stairs to the second floor, Tim feels the weight of his phone on his right hip. The last time he’d talked to Tony, it had been to tell him that he and Boss were grabbing a quick bite. He hadn’t thought Tony would be upset because they hadn’t actually made specific dinner plans together. Also, Tim’s pretty certain Boss had been hoping that sharing a meal together would loosen up their tongues and ease the awkwardness between them like it had somehow managed to do last week. Tony’s good about seeing those kinds of things before Tim does, so it seems unlikely that Tony would be angry with him. The silence of his cell after Tony’s brief text of ‘K’ would argue otherwise if Tony were anybody else. Tony’s never gotten quiet when he’s angry with Tim, though. Frankly, his partner was probably just busy with Carmen Lerner’s confession. Still it bothers Tim. It makes him wonder if Tony just doesn’t know what to say to him.

 

He lingers at the top of the stairwell a moment, pondering what he’ll say to Tony if the other man’s in his apartment right now, wondering how to take it if Tony doesn’t come to his apartment at all tonight. He leans his open palm high against the wall near the EXIT sign. He thinks of his words—the poem he wrote and how much he loved it. He’s spent the last couple of hours hoping Tony loved it, too, but the truth is, even though Tim’s a romantic in the grand scheme of things, he’s always been more of a realist when it comes to his own romantic dealings. Tim furrows his brow, involuntarily closing his eyes, feels his fingers clench against the solid brick of the wall, suddenly aware that that isn’t true. He hasn’t always been so pessimistic about his romantic life. Really it’s only been since—he blocks out her name in this context, not wanting to believe that his long-time affection for Abby, the woman he’d so fiercely and steadfastly been in love with could be responsible for such an undesirable philosophical change.

 

Tim opens his eyes, staring at his fingers curled against the dark red of the wall. “Is she responsible?” his gut seems to twist in that way it does whenever he’s tried to tell a lie. No one can make you feel less than you are without your permission—Penny’s probably said those words to him a hundred times or more, so much so that the phrase always carries her cadence when he recalls it.

 

Tim shakes his head, his mind jumping to Tony. He’d gone to Tony in desperation all those weeks ago because he’d been so utterly miserable. He’d hated his life and himself. He’d felt so intrinsically tired all the time—like he’d already done everything he possibly could and it would never be enough. He thinks of the immediate companionship Tony offered, the way the older man had been just as eager as he was to forge a closer friendship between them from the start of it all. Then there was the night they’d met Dana and the misunderstanding that Tim knows existed even though he still can’t identify it. Tim understands now that Tony hadn’t intended for the three of them to end up in bed together, but he also knows that Tony was happy, excited even, when they kept it going.

 

Tony has this way of making Tim feel good no matter what happens, and he’s pretty sure it’s based in the way that Tony always makes him feel at home. It’s so different from the way Abby had made him feel. He’d always been trying so hard with Abby, trying to be better, cooler, more clever than he was. He tried so hard to be more because he felt like what he was had never been good enough, and that feeling definitely hadn’t started with Abby. Tim chuffs, pulling his hand back to his side.

 

He’s not sure how it all fits together yet, but he suddenly realizes that Abby was a lot wiser than he had been. Her hesitance with him abruptly makes sense. From the day he’d first spoken with Abby—just over the telephone even—he’d been striving to be more than he thought himself to be because he hadn’t thought that what he was already could possibly be adequate. McGee had been trying to change himself to fit who he thought she was, who he saw her as. That’s a lot of pressure for somebody to deal with, he considers. No wonder she backed away.

 

Tim settles his hand just above his belly button, right on that place that Tony likes to touch him. Lips parting, Tim breathes out slowly, measuredly. Tony’s in my apartment, he tells himself and knows it’s true. Tony had already finished the initial interview and gotten the signed confession from Carmen Lerner by the time the Bedford County dispatcher had confirmed Jaime Lerner’s arrest. He’d have been finished and out of the Yard long before Tim was done. He’d probably even stopped and gotten some sandwiches from Jorgensen’s Deli two miles away from Tim’s apartment because Tony uses absolutely any excuse to eat there.

 

Tim steps into the hallway and turns towards his place. Tony has to have read the poem by now and whether he liked it or didn’t, whether he agreed or would scrunch his nose at Tim’s words, Tony would never denigrate them. Tony has always had this uncanny ability of teasing Tim in such a way that it makes Tim feel special rather than targeted. Ultimately, Tony’s attention has always made Tim feel good.

 

Tim’s only a couple of steps from his front door when it swings open abruptly. The motion makes his feet stutter and stall in the hallway. His eyes find Tony’s in milliseconds.

 

A moment later Tony smirks, shrugging his shoulder high as he tilts his chin towards it, “Honey, you’re home!” he wiggles his head as he teases.

 

Tim smiles back, feeling the warmth of Tony’s welcome spanning all through him. He takes the extra few steps forward and pulls the door from Tony’s hand, firmly shutting and locking it behind him by feel, since his eyes don’t want to stop looking at Tony. Tony’s shucked his jacket at some point and rolled up the sleeves of his off-white shirt. Tim likes the way the color complements his partner’s sun-kissed skin. “It’s good to be home,” he confesses.

 

Tony swallows, still rooted to that same spot. A second later, the smirk reasserts itself across Tony’s lips. “So there wasn’t any more geek paraphernalia to be found in Leo Martin’s apartment after all, huh?”

 

Tim’s eyes linger on Tony’s forearms, pictures running his fingertips along Tony’s tan there and then up and under the tight confines of the yellowish sleeves. By habit, a moment later his gaze skitters left towards the kitchen, not knowing—Am I allowed to look?

 

“Uh, no,” his right hand reaches up to scratch the back of his head. “By the looks of the stash the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department found in her apartment, Jamie Lerner probably cleaned him out of everything he kept at home after she killed him.”

 

A weighted silence stretches between them, feeling kind of like when a distant relative suddenly hands you his newborn—nerve-wracking yet inexplicably heart-melting. “Indicates she knew him well if she found all his hiding places,” Tony taps his fingers along the edge of the kitchen counter just beside him.

 

Tim drops his arm back to his side, nods, shifts his weight, keeps his sights left, “Yeah, that was my impression, too.” There’s a brown paper bag on the counter near the sink. Tony’s probably already eaten his own sandwich, although he might have gotten himself an extra one for tomorrow. He would have placed it and the meal he would have gotten for Tim inside the fridge. There’d be nothing left in the bag but the ridiculous number of extra napkins that Tony always insists upon and maybe a few packets of pepper.

 

“I went to Jorgensen’s,” Tony acknowledges, making Tim grin at his partner’s predictability when it comes to a good pastrami sandwich.

 

“There’s a shocker,” he teases, eyes shooting back to Tony’s.

 

Tony smiles back a little hesitantly but genuinely. He only keeps Tim’s gaze for a moment before looking down to the counter just beside them. Tony’s fingers skim the surface of the formica and then come to rest on a piece of paper a few inches from the edge.

 

Tim’s breath catches in his throat even before he consciously recognizes his own handwriting reaching across the page in verse. A twisting feeling shooting through his gut has Tim swallowing to keep the uneasy dinner he’d had with Gibbs on the right side of his esophagus. Tony won’t hold my words against me, he reminds himself, but standing in front of his partner, he can’t quite make himself feel the confidence of that assurance that he had in the hallway just moments ago.

 

Tony’s fingers softly glance the paper, moving back and forth just below the title of the poem. “It’s beautiful,” Tony whispers, his voice as soft as his touch is along Tim’s words.

 

Tim locks his gaze on Tony’s hand, watching his partner’s thumb linger over the handwriting that Tony always digs him about. “Yeah?” the question barely manages to cross his lips.

 

“Yeah,” Tony affirms, just as quietly. “No one’s ever written me poetry before,” Tony grins hugely, like he’s found a joke to share with Tim, but the expression is fleeting, chased away by his next words, “Not that I’m saying you wrote the poem for me—”

 

“I did,” Tim interrupts, needing to correct Tony’s train of thought before it goes any farther off the rails. Tim’s lips stay parted for a moment, wanting to say more, but then he purses his lips, lightly setting his dominant hand on the edge of the counter, near Tony’s.

 

Tony swallows hard. It’s so quiet in the space between them that Tim can practically hear Tony blinking rapidly beside him despite the fact that his eyes catch and stay fixed on Tony’s thumb, still softly swishing back and forth along Tim’s words. Tim’s gaze is so locked, he almost can’t register the motion of Tony’s fingers, lifting from the page, until they come to settle against the back of Tim’s hand. Tony rubs his thumb along Tim’s skin like he had Tim’s words a moment before.

 

“I love it,” Tony’s words come out soft and shaky, as if he had to stand behind them and push.

 

“Yeah?” Tim exhales heavily, adjusting his weight on his feet and managing to get a little closer to his partner.

 

Tony’s hand skims along Tim’s skin, making its way underneath Tim’s fingers until they’re palm to palm. “Yeah,” Tony reaffirms with a squeeze.

 

Squeezing Tony’s hand right back, Tim reaches for his partner with his other hand, moving it along Tony’s opposite forearm and towards the edge of his upturned sleeves. “I hoped you would like it,” Tim finally turns his face in Tony’s direction but still keeps his eyes downward.

 

Tony leans towards him, his free hand coming up from its idle position to grasp back at Tim’s forearm. He yanks a little on Tim’s arm, and Tim obligingly moves closer until his temple is resting against Tony’s. Tim shuts his eyes and exhales heavily, relaxing into Tony’s touch.

 

“I couldn’t wait the whole rest of the day,” Tony confesses, his words moving more hurriedly now that there’s no chance their eyes might meet. “I went to my car right after the initial interrogation to read it.”

 

Tim grins as he pictures Tony's eagerness and leans a little farther into his partner. He wraps both arms around Tony's body, rubbing his hands along the fabric stretching from Tony's waist to the middle of his back. Tony's newly freed hand parallels his grip on Tim's other arm. Tim tries biting his lip, but his smile keeps growing, "Glad it didn't disappoint, then.”

 

For half a second, Tony arcs his neck, leaning towards Tim’s exhalations. Tim feels a wisp of air at his own neck, hears a quick inhalation, and Tim knows whatever Tony was about to say is lost even before Tony’s hands grip him harder just below the elbows, before Tony’s posture stiffens along every part where they touch.

 

Tim licks his lips, “Tony?” he pushes softly and holds on, remembering the way Tony stiffened up on him in the conference room earlier today. Tony only moved away from me because he was afraid we weren’t on the same page. Tim swallows hard, widens his stance, and presses his palms flat and still and insistently right in the middle of his partner’s back. Come on, he wants to beg Tony. Don’t forget—it’s me, too.

 

Tony shakes his head. For a long moment, the only sounds in Tim’s kitchen are the hard, short puffs of Tony’s breath near his ear. It’s in that silence that Tim’s hit with the heavy and sudden knowing that as much as the changes in their relationship have knocked Tim off his (boring, unsatisfying, cloistered, safe) axis, Tony’s been rocked so much further from his own understanding of himself that it’s not even on the same scale. Tim squinches his eyes as tightly shut as he can, not sure how to assimilate this new knowledge.

 

Tim’s not certain if Tony feels some sort of difference in the way Tim’s touching him or if the silence is just too much for Tony to handle, but Tony arcs his body inward, as if he’s about to shrug off Tim’s grip. Tim shifts and pivots, pushing Tony’s back against the edge of his kitchen counter, twisting his palms around to cup Tony’s face in both hands. He presses their mouths together.

 

Tony’s lips are soft, yielding to Tim’s instantly, as if grateful for an excuse to open up to him. Within seconds, Tony’s posture opens back up to Tim as well, his body as welcoming to Tim as Tony always seems to be for him. Tim pushes farther into Tony’s space—sliding his tongue between Tony’s parted lips; rubbing Tony’s bristly cheeks with his thumbs and encouraging Tony to open his jaw wider; demanding Tony widen his stance by insinuating his thigh between Tony’s legs. With every push against him, Tony surrenders further, inviting Tim closer still.

 

Tim doesn’t bother to pull away, forcing the words right into Tony’s mouth when he tries to match Tony’s concession, “I like to look at you.” Tim’s breath catches almost immediately after the admission crosses his lips—he’s never actually acknowledged his attraction to a man he’s wanted before. Instead of stopping his confession, the realization makes the words spill over, like the strength of a flood widening the crack of a dam. “I love it when you roll up your sleeves towards the end of the day and I can see your forearms,” Tony gasps, leaning his head back and Tim’s mouth goes after his throat instead while Tony sucks in some air. “And those silk shirts you wear sometimes in the late summer that I can just see right through and your nipples are right there,” he can’t stop his mouth from moving as he rubs his cheek along the new growth of Tony’s beard while Tony’s hands move up to cup the back of his head, “and I go crazy when we’re working a case outside in the heat because your pants start clinging to you, and I try so, so hard not to look, but then I think of how you always say you don’t wear underwear.” Tim’s hands can’t help it, they romp downward along Tony’s body and don’t stop until they reach his six, grabbing it with both hands and feeling with every fingertip the lack of a layer beneath the slick, navy fabric of Tony’s dress pants. “Oh, and I really love how that’s true,” Tim grinds their groins together.

 

Tony’s hips move in counterpoint to his, “Geez, Tim, look at me all day!” Tony yanks Tim’s head back up by his hair, guiding their mouths together again.

 

For long minutes, Tim’s not sure if his normally loud street below has a single soul passing by because all he can hear is the wet, luscious confluence of Tony’s mouth against his own.

 

“Come here,” grabbing Tony by his belt loops, Tim pulls, drawing his partner back towards his bedroom with him. Tony follows him easily, eagerly, humming into Tim’s mouth almost desperately as Tim walks backward, practically ripping the Italian hand-stitching from Tony’s waistband in his determination to keep his partner as close as possible.

 

“Oh, God, you feel so good!” Tony trails his hands down Tim’s chest, sparking a pathway of sensation all the way down to his dick. He puts a little distance between their groins as he insinuates his fingers between them enough to unbutton, unzip, and untuck Tim right out of his slacks.

 

“Ahh!” Tim’s eyes slam shut and—THWACK!—his arm smacks outward just as they step into the threshold of his bedroom doorway because now Tony’s got both his hands on Tim’s cock, sucking greedily on Tim’s tongue in his mouth. Tim’s mouth loosens against Tony’s, and he pulls away, nuzzling at partner’s jaw instead while his hips keep working against Tony’s hands.

 

Tony forces his head downward, like he needs to see what his hands are doing. “I want—I want,” Tony sucks in a ragged breath, mouth open and hands already almost as wild on Tim’s dick as they were last night. “Oh, please, Tim!”

 

Tim lets Tony go in order to strip off his own shirt. He goes for Tony’s right after, but Tony won’t let go of Tim’s dick long enough to let the sleeves fall from his arms.

 

“Oh!” Tim’s hips stutter like his breath does, “Oh Geez, Tony! I gotta be naked with you!” Tim’s hands emphasize his insistence by unzipping Tony’s slacks and pushing downward on them.

 

Tony blinks, watching Tim strip his pants from him as much as he can in this position. “Right!” he swallows, but then lets go of Tim’s dick long enough to shuck his garments to the floor and help Tim get rid of the rest of his own clothes. Once they’re both stripped and standing by Tim’s bed, Tony licks his lips, bending his neck as one hand reaches once more for Tim’s cock and the other grabs hold of Tim’s hip.

 

Tim’s own breath catches, thinking of last night, of the way Tony grabbed at him in his hallway, and grunted with satisfaction at the very suggestion that he might put his mouth on Tim. He grasps Tony’s hips right back and tries to kiss him, but Tony’s mouth is angled too far down and he has to go for his partner’s cheek rather than his mouth.

 

Please, he thinks as he bites and sucks along Tony’s jaw, pulling at Tony’s hips and thrusting up into his hand. He makes his way back towards Tony’s mouth, trying to figure out a way to ask Tony to put his mouth where he’s pretty sure they’ve both been thinking about, trying to figure out if it’s as impolite to push down at a man’s shoulder as it would be to a woman’s in this situation. He’s almost back to his partner’s mouth when Tony’s voice whispers, as unevenly as his breath, just shy of his ear,

 

“Catch me, Tim,” Tony shakes his head immediately against Tim’s forehead, like he’s berating himself for speaking too baldly, and then he’s sucking in a breath, working hard to get the air to flow evenly, but Tim doesn’t wait for whatever self-defensive, self-hating invective might spill over once Tony gets his breath back. He presses his mouth to Tony’s—hard and unrelenting, offering the punishment Tony’s trying to give to himself. Tim brings both palms to Tony’s jaw. Tim kisses him and kisses him, not allowing enough space for words between them until he feels both of Tony’s arm clutch him about his waist, feels Tony’s desperation to keep them close. Tim gentles his mouth against Tony’s, soothing the offense of his attack.

 

“I’ve got you,” Tim promises, his breath pushing the words right into his partner’s mouth. Tony keeps kissing him. “I’ve got you,” Tim swears again, allowing a slight distance between them, so he can look Tony in the eye. “It’s okay,” he hopes Tony can hear the larger promise to his words.

 

Tony blinks and leans into Tim, and when Tim pushes him back onto the bed, Tony lets himself fall. Tim crawls up onto him, encouraging Tony to move backward to the center of the bed. Tony’s hands shake but he reaches for Tim again anyway, trying to pull Tim’s body the rest of the way up his own.

 

Tim smiles, shakes his head, and stays poised, straddling Tony’s calves. “I’ve got you.”

 

Tony’s brow furrows, and Tim gives himself a minute to look over Tony’s whole body—lets himself appreciate the way his own body stirs as he takes in the deep tan of Tony’ forearms and legs that pale in the upper parts of his thighs and biceps; the smattering of hair across Tony’s chest, under his arms, and at his groin; the definition of Tony’s muscles beneath his smooth skin. Finally, Tim’s gaze falls between Tony’s thighs. He reaches out with both hands, stroking Tony’s knees, sliding his thumbs along the inner edges of his kneecaps and then caressing upward. He opens his mouth and breathes hard as his fingertips skim the tight definition of those thighs he’s tried so hard not to admire.

 

Tony shifts his legs, spreads them just a little more widely apart, and that’s when Tim leans in and presses a wet kiss on the tight skin just above the inside of Tony’s left knee. Tony’s breath catches so hard his whole body tightens.

 

“Tim?” his name crosses Tony’s mouth like it’s strung up by its ankles.

 

“Shh,” Tim insists, his mouth puckering up along Tony’s thigh as he does. The tautness of those tight thigh muscles feel even better against his mouth than they do along his palms.

 

Tim never thought to want this before, but as he sucks along his partner’s inner thigh and nuzzles against the nearly hairless skin there, he can’t imagine why not. He tries to recall the things that women have done to him when they’ve gone down on him in the past, but his mind stutters when he tries to consider how he could possibly have a technique at this. Abruptly, he blocks the thought out of his mind and lets himself concentrate on the moment he’s in. He lets Tony take up his entire concentration and every inch of his view.

 

He nibbles and nuzzles along both of Tony’s thighs, enjoying the feel of the muscles and the way they quiver beneath his touch. His ears hone in on the breathy moans that Tony exhales, on the way that the pitch sounds more and more like a plea with every millimeter Tim gets closer towards Tony’s dick.

 

Tony whines just a little and finally begs, “I just—I need—”

 

And, of course, Tim knows exactly what he needs. “Yeah,” he allows, angling his mouth to take Tony inside. Instead of taking it right in, he grabs the base of Tony’s cock and runs his lips up along the side.

 

“Oh, please,” Tony pushes ineffectually at Tim’s shoulder. “You have to—with a condom.” Tony’s feet push restlessly against the sheets. “There was a scare. Years ago—college—” he explains. “But you have to—condom—please! I don’t ever anymore.”

 

Tim blinks, suddenly reminded of the care Tony had taken with the prophylactics during their previous encounters. With Tony’s aversion to children, he’d thought—“Okay—” well, he was wrong.

 

He’s got condoms, but he wishes he’d had the foresight to buy some flavored ones. “Yeah, I just—” Tim crinkles his nose as he reaches for the bedside table. He yanks out a strip, and geez, these are even the ribbed kind that Maxine had rea—

 

“Okay, I can…” Tony scrambles up from beneath him and scurries back towards the kitchen. Tim blinks after him for a second, but before he can even stand, Tony’s back in his bedroom doorway holding his suit jacket in one hand and reaching into its pocket with the other. He pulls out a small box of condoms, tearing open the new paper package as he goes. Tim breathes hard and a fleeting thought considers whether Tony bought them at the 7-Eleven that’s in the same plaza as Jorgensen’s. Tony bites his lip as Tim watches and then walks the rest of the distance back to the bed. “I hope you like cherry,” Tony blurts.

 

Tim prefers strawberry, which Tony knows, but cherry is Tony’s favorite candy flavor. Tony bought those condoms to blow me with, the thought comes, heavy and hard and twitching through Tim’s dick even before it fully crosses his mind. Tim swallows and then nods hurriedly, eagerly reaching for Tony and guiding him back to the position he’d had on the bed thirty seconds or so before.

 

Tony tears off one of the condoms from the strip of three, and Tim takes it from Tony’s hand. Tony doesn’t quite get back into the position he was before. Instead he keeps his feet on the floor, turning his head to Tim and opening his mouth, though nothing comes out of it. Tim raises his brows and grabs at Tony’s knee with his free hand, urging it to expand to Tim’s other side. “Come on,” Tim teases. “Help me pop this cherry.”

 

Tony’s guffaw is immediate and probably less expected by Tony himself than by Tim, who knows how well Tony likes a dirty play on words, especially—or so it often seems to Tim anyway—when it’s coming out of Tim’s mouth.

 

Tony shifts up onto the bed, pulling his knee about and around Tim so that Tim’s between his thighs again. He sets the other condoms on the bed beside them and then stretches his newly freed hand up to cup Tim’s jaw. They move towards one another at the same time. When their mouths meet, the sensation and the simple knowledge that this is Tony seems to settle the last of Tim’s nervousness. They kiss for a long moment, keeping their foreheads together when they part.

 

“I’m going to suck your dick,” Tim declares, mouth still wet with Tony’s saliva.

 

“God, Tim!” Tony’s immediate gasp stretches and reaches a higher pitch when Tim roughly pushes his shoulder back and forces him to lie back on the bed.

 

Tim doesn’t waste any more time, tearing open the condom wrapper as Tony angles his neck down to watch him. He rolls the condom down onto Tony’s cock, moves his left hand to the base once it’s covered, and immediately lowers his mouth to take him inside.

 

He starts with a light suction, his left hand keeping grip at the base while his right hand goes back to Tony’s runner thighs. In a way, he’s kind of not really sure what to do next, but in another way, it’s kind of simple—mouth sucks dick, hand plays with thighs and balls. He wonders if Tony likes the feel of a finger inside him when he’s getting sucked. The thought makes his own dick twitch and ache and wonder, but his fingers don’t slip past the base of Tony’s nuts, not wanting to get that wrong.

 

“Tim!” Tony’s hand goes back to his shoulder for a bare second, but Tim barely feels the warmth before it’s gone. When he dares a glance upward, Tony’s reached up behind him and grabbed the slots of the headboard.

 

He can feel the tension in Tony’s hips as he fights to keep them still, and Tim kind of loves it. He sucks a little harder and works the base of Tony’s dick with his hand. The cherry flavor doesn’t last all that long, and the latex beneath that fruitiness starts to dominate Tim’s tastebuds. He would mind it more if Tony weren’t tensing his legs and groaning in what sounds like both pleasure and surprise. He especially wishes the latex weren’t between them when Tony can’t quite control his hips all the way anymore and they start rolling between Tim’s mouth and the sheets beneath him. He knows semen supposedly tastes disgusting, but he’d liked the bare flavor of skin—of Tony—before his partner had pulled out the bumper chute. He keeps his hand moving as Tony comes but can’t quite stay coordinated enough to keep his mouth on Tony with that sweet shimmy of his hips. Instead he manages to stroke his hand up and down Tony’s dick all the way.

 

Tim pulls the condom off his partner, making a ridiculous mess. He tries to toss the remains in the trash bag at the side of his bed. He just misses, but instead of cleaning it up right away, he goes for the tissues by his bed and sees to cleaning up Tony instead. He tries to lick his lips, but ends up smacking them instead, his mouth is so dry. He kind of wants to get up and get a quick drink of water, but then before he can even think of ordering his legs to do just that, Tony reaches out his hand and grabs for Tim’s own dick. It had softened slightly while Tim tried to figure out the mechanics of giving a blow job, but his cock readily hardens again in Tony’s hands.

 

“Talk to me,” Tony begs, jerking him off and leaning his head down to watch Tim’s dick in his hand. His neck strains like he’s trying to lean closer, but his eyes shoot back up to Tim’s, needing some sort of reassurance that Tim can’t quite define.

 

“Yeah,” Tim nods hurriedly. Leaning back, he pulls Tony on top of him as he goes. The bed’s not quite long enough, and Tim’s head wobbles over the side of the mattress. “I l-like it,” he stutters as he pushes up into Tony’s hand. “Feels good with you on top of me,” and—geez—it really does. Tony’s weight feels so substantial, like he could keep Tim tethered there to the bed indefinitely. “Oh, yeah!”

 

Tony’s hand moves faster for half a second and it’s just right and so good but then his hand slows, and when Tim lifts his neck to see, he finds Tony glancing around nervously, trying to find the—oh—“Don’t stop!” Tim begs, too close to pull back from the edge and sensing that Tony’s even more nervous about the thought of sucking cock than he was.

 

“I can figure it out!” Tony insists even as his hand flies faster on Tim’s dick.

 

“You already—Oh, please, don’t stop!” Tim grunts when his hips push him up into Tony’s grip even harder, even better, and oh yeah Tony’s good at this—“Oh! You already got this figured!” he insists and tries to hold Tony there. His hand’s probably a little too tight on Tony’s bicep. Oh gosh he’s going to bruise his partner. Tim’ll see Tony dressing in the morning or maybe watch Tony take off his shirt tomorrow night and see the perfect fingerstains of purple wrapped around his partner—fuck—his boyfriend’s arm, and think of this exact moment. “Oh!” he fucks up into Tony’s grip and “Ah!” leans his head back and over the side of the bed. “Mmm,” his hips still move even though he’s almost so sensitive that it hurts, but, “Yeah,” it’s a good color of hurt. Like a bruise, “Tony,” he barely breathes.

 

Tony’s hand shifts slickly, wetly to Tim’s hip, his head lowers to Tim’s chest, just beneath his right arm. Tim soothes the grip of his dominant hand on Tony’s arm, but keeps his fingers wrapped around the bruise he knows will form. He pulls his right hand up and into Tony’s hair. They lay there a long moment while Tim catches his breath. Eventually, his airflow is even, but they remain lying there together, Tim’s head hanging off the bed, for another moment. With effort, Tim stretches his neck and presses a kiss into Tony’s hair.

 

“Let’s get up this way,” Tim urges Tony towards the head of the bed with a tug on the bruise that won’t have surfaced across Tony’s bicep yet.

 

“Mm,” Tony responds without actually responding, just letting Tim move him like a marionette.

                                                            

Tim reaches for the tissues once more, cleaning up at both himself and Tony. He manages to properly toss them into the garbage basket this time and stands to throw the other tissues and the condom away, too. While he’s up, he scurries into the kitchen and gets a bottled water from the top of the fridge. He twists the cap off on his way back to Tony and chugs it. He stops when he judges he’s had about half. Tony doesn’t open his eyes when Tim walks back into the room, but his chin tilts in Tim’s direction. Tim sits on the bed beside him without a word, lays his empty palm on Tony’s chest and then lightly sets the base of the water bottle atop Tony’s free hand. Tony’s hand scrambles for a moment, and Tim keeps his grip until Tony’s fingers figure out how to wrap around the base.

 

Tony’s eyes open, “Thanks,” the word is soft and as quick and as bare as the look Tony gives him before he blinks to the water bottle and takes a measured sip with his eyes closed. Taking a large gulp on the heels of that sip, Tony hands Tim back the bottle and shakes his head when Tim furrows his brow in question.

 

Tim nods and downs the rest of the water. He tosses the bottle into the trash, then kicks up his legs and lies beside Tony. Tony scoots and makes room for him. Unlike last night, Tim doesn’t ask before he wraps his arm around Tony, gripping one more time at the bruise he’s can’t wait to see come morning. Tony grabs him right back, hand resting on the back on Tim’s shoulder in a light but proprietary grip.

 

And they sleep.

 

Chapter Text

He aches—everywhere—from the second he wakes up, and while some of the aches, like the hickey on his thigh and the bruise on his arm are pretty satisfying, the hideous pain in his lower back—not so much.

 

“Oh, good grief, how the hell do you sleep on this medieval torture device?” Tony moans in tandem with both the alarm and the pulsating pain in his back. He’d known he was going to have a bad morning from the moment he and Probie hit the sheets over this lumpy mattress last night, but he hadn’t anticipated it would be quite this bad.

 

Tim lifts his head from Tony’s chest, brow furrowed in confusion. “Hmm?” he questions, his eyes not yet fully open even as he reaches over Tony and turns off the alarm by feel.

 

Tony winces as he tries to shift without jostling Tim overly much. “Your bed sucks, Probie,” the words slip out before he thinks about it.

 

Tim’s eyebrow lifts, and Tony can read the idea—clear as day—in his eyes, Yeah, well, so do I, Tim doesn’t have to say, what with the way the dirty thought is written all over his smirk.

 

Tony grins and chuckles despite the twinges spasming up his back. “Well, there’s good sucking and then there’s bad sucking.”

 

Tim bites at the corner of his mouth, seemingly unsure where Tony’s going with this, so Tony immediately lays off the teasing to reassure his partner, “That was some very awesome sucking last night,” he promises.

 

Bashfully and oh-so-predictably, Probie drops his chin, blushing for good measure, but half a second later, his eyes come back defiantly, smirk intact and almost breath-takingly beautiful to Tony’s eyes. Wordlessly, Tim teases him back, his head leaning in for a kiss and making Tony lean up to him. Whatever Tim was going to say next is lost to the moment, though when Tony yelps from the stretching.

 

Abruptly, Tim sits up, yanking the covers with him. “Tony?” he demands, looking down at Tony’s body at a glance and seeming to focus on where Tony’s far hand has gone for his back. Tim winces, “Oh, I see. You weren’t kidding about this bed sucking, I take it?”

 

Tony’s lips pinch together. He shakes his head, wishing he didn’t look so much like an old man in this moment, especially not with Tim so young and spry and Yowza!—tasty looking—beside him.

 

“Can you turn over?” Tim lifts his brows and asks him so sweetly.

 

Clearing his throat, Tony tries not to wince because he’s really not sure if he’s up for that much motion without a heating pad and about four aspirin, “As much as I appreciate a dirty mind—”

 

“Tony!” Tim hollers, bright red and almost as scandalized as it would seem he’s turned on.

 

Without thinking, Tony licks his lips. He blinks up at Tim, remembering how hot Tim was at even the thought of Jeannie’s backdoor, recalling how wrong he’d been on his assumption that Tim was a breast man. Tony breathes hard, not sure what to do with the sudden and certain knowledge that Tim would probably gladly fuck Tony if Tony’s ass were on offer. For the first time in his life, Tony wonders if that would feel good. Tim would do everything he could to make sure it felt good, of that Tony is certain. Tony squeezes his eyes shut and winces once more before confessing, “It’ll be a lot easier to turn over if I have some help,” he lifts an arm up and over his own body to give Tim something to yank on, so he can tug him onto his belly.

 

Tim purses his lips together. “On second thought,” Tim rubs Tony’s belly in a mirror image of where Tony would rather be touching Tim, “let me get some ibuprofen and a heating pad first.”

 

Dropping his arm, Tony nods and shuts his eyes, feeling completely ridiculous.

 

Tim goes for the kitchen a moment later, fetching another bottled water. He runs for the bathroom next, yielding the promised prescription. Tony grabs for the pain reliever unabashedly. Tim hands it to him, letting him deal with the child-proof container while he yanks at the cap of the water bottle. He hands Tony the drink right after Tony pops two pills into his mouth. Tony sips just enough to wash down the pills, is about to hand the water back to Probie, but his partner shoves the bottle back towards him like an experienced street pusher.

 

“You need to drink at least half of that to make sure the meds go down properly,” Tim drops his chin and gives him a stern look. Tony rolls his eyes, but blinks away a second later to try to hide his pleasure at the fussing. As he completes the ordered task, Probie plugs in the heating pad, setting it on high and then laying it beside Tony. Once he sees Tony’s finished half of the water bottle (and not a drop more—ha!) he lets Tony give it back to him. “You ready to flip over?” Tim prods gently.

 

Tony nods, hoping he doesn’t make much more than a manly groan when he moves to his belly. Usually, Tony wouldn’t have bothered to stay in a bed that had so viciously assaulted his back from the moment he’d lain down. But this was Tim’s bed, and he hadn’t wanted out of it a second sooner than he had to go. With Tim’s help, it doesn’t take long to shift Tony to his front. Tony takes a time out to allow himself a silent whimper, but then he realizes that Tim’s been too quiet for too long behind him.

 

“Probie?” Tony tries to keep the pain out of his voice, but doesn’t know how well he succeeds.

 

“Sorry!” Tim hurriedly returns. “I just—I’m sorry!” he repeats.

 

“Sorry?” Tony blinks his confusion.

 

Tim hands go for Tony’s lower back, rubbing right where Tony needs it. “I just got distracted for a second,” Tim mumbles.

 

Tony relaxes into Tim’s magic hands for a moment before teasing, “Enjoying the view?” he asks playfully, trying not to sound hopeful about it.

 

Tim’s silent for a breath too long, his hands still working at the knots in Tony’s muscles when he confesses, “Yeah,” softly, shyly.

 

Tony sets his forehead against the coolness of the too-low thread count that Tim apparently accepts for his cotton sheets. He smiles despite the way his back is still twisting up. “Good,” he declares back, feeling about as bashful as Tim sounded.

 

He wishes he could see Tim’s eyes on him, wants to know for sure that Tim is really looking and really liking what he sees. Maybe Tony’s not so old after all.

 

“You should have told me the bed was bothering you,” the softness of Tim’s voice cuddles right into Tony, settling somewhere about his heart.

 

Making a half-hearted attempt at a shrug, Tony drowsily admits, “What would we have done—drive to my place in the middle of the night just to avoid a couple of stiff muscles?”

 

Tim stalls his massage, shifting behind Tony until their heads are practically next to each other. The harshness of Tim’s tone in his ear is undercut by the tenderness of those magic hands resting against his skin, “Yes, Tony! I would much rather have lost a half hour’s sleep than see you in pain this morning!”

 

Hiding his face in the lousy, thin cotton, Tony tries so hard not to smile. He turns his face away from Tim’s, not sure if his partner can see the upturn of his lips from this angle. “K,” he allows softly.

 

Tim gets quiet again above him, and seems to still a little more completely until, all at once, his hands start moving again, slowly and thoroughly attacking the stubborn twists in Tony’s back. Tony closes his eyes as Tim’s diligence allows his muscles to unfurl. He breathes deeply, smelling the light, breezy fabric softener that Tim has always favored, along with the soft scent of Tim’s body embedded in the sheets and surrounding him. He exhales evenly as he leans into every pass of Tim’s touch. At once, Tim’s fingers stall, Tony thinks he may hum in discontentment at this undesirable lack of motion, but then he feels a wet kiss at his shoulder blade and a chuckle—like a rippling mountain stream—burrowing under his skin.

 

“You’re practically purring!” Tim crows, adding another kiss, this time closer to Tony’s neck, before his hands go back to work on Tony’s aching muscles.

 

“Mm,” Tony returns shortly, displeased at the interruption of his massage, even as he enjoys the light, sweet breeze of Tim’s laugh on his back.

 

Tim’s voice is still close to Tony’s ear when he joyfully vaunts, “Look at you! You’re like a cat!”

 

Tony frowns at the loudness, “Hm,” he complains, jerking his head once in Tim’s direction, the way he might have moved if a fly had landed on him.

 

It just makes Tim chuckle again. Tony keeps his dissatisfied frown, but his shoulders relax as he soaks up Tim’s laughter. “Mmm,” he allows and burrows into the threadbare sheets.

 

“Here, kitty kitty,” Tim teases, voice low this time as he moves towards Tony’s exposed cheek, dropping a kiss there before nibbling along the jaw.

 

Brows raising, Tony drops his shoulder and voices his interest, “Mmm?”

 

“Mm-hmm!” Tim nuzzles along the far edge of Tony’s cheek, along his sideburns and teasing into the hollow of his ear.

 

Tony’s neck arches into the touch, and he doesn’t have to strain his lower back one little bit. It’s only when he tries to twist a little more to get a proper kiss that he jerks with the pain of the motion, which immediately and unfortunately gets McMotherHen all stiffly worried again and a lot less cuddly. “Hmmm,” the whine may be slightly pathetic—Tony’s totally man enough to admit that.

 

Tim gives him one last kiss to the check before pulling away and taking his warmth and magic hands from Tony.

 

“Unnhh,” okay so that whimper is somewhat more pitiful.

 

“The heating pad’s warmed up,” Tim’s voice turns more worried than playful. Tony’s about to complain about the change in mood when McLovin’ settles that sweet, hot, electronic relief right where he needs it.

 

Tony turns his face back into the ridiculously thin sheets, “Hmm,” he reluctantly offers his approval.

 

Tim gives him a short chuff—nothing as playful as his mountain stream laugh—but still better than most people’s full-bodied guffaws. “Relax a while, and I’ll make us some breakfast, okay?” Tim squeezes his upper arm, just pinching at the bruise his grip made last night.

 

“Mm-Kay,” Tony voices his satisfaction. He drifts for a few minutes afterward, and time seems to gather a fuzzy element to it, since it feels like only seconds later that the welcoming scent of coffee trips over towards the bedroom where he lays, feeling comfortable and taken care of. He listens to the Tim-noises coming from the other room—a hiss when Probie burns himself on the bagel as he removes it from the toaster oven; a hum as the King of Geeks takes a quick sip of his coffee before the soft plink of glass indicates he’s set it back on the counter so he can finish pulling together their lunches (both of them doubtlessly showcasing the deliciously overstuffed sandwiches Tony got them from Jorgenson’s last night); a soft shuffling of paper that makes Tony wonder if Tim’s looking over the poem he’d gifted Tony with yesterday. Tony can’t help the grin that climbs back up his face at the thought of Tim rereading the sweet love letter with that same look of pleased satisfaction that he gets painted across his face whenever he finishes writing a new chapter of his latest mystery series.

 

Tony’s eyes flip open, Tim wrote me a love letter, he lets the thought circle his mind under the brisk light of the new day. A man wrote me a love letter, he acknowledges the fact slowly, trying to get used to it. A man sucked my dick, he breathes through the thought. I would’ve sucked his dick, too, his breath stays even where it flows into the Probie-scented sheets beneath him. I wanted to suck his dick, he imagines the weight of this thought should stab him somewhere, perhaps in the pancreas? Then maybe after that assault with a feckless weapon, it could reach into his wallet and rob him of his dude-card? Tony squints, wondering what sort of picture might be on his man-dentification if he really had one. Maybe a sweaty photo after a Saturday morning at the Y, or an old polaroid from his football days? Something that showcased Tony’s innate athleticism, for sure. (Tony was never going to be the strong, silent type, but he’d always been a classic jock.)

 

Tony licks his lips, his mind apparently not allowing him to remain side-tracked for long. I wanted to suck Tim’s dick, he repeats to himself, knowing that the heat that fills his cheeks at the thought is partially shame.

 

He shuts his eyes, recalls the way Tim talked to him last night, the way he so baldly spoke of wanting Tony—of watching him—and of how he was going to get him off. Tony swallows hard, licks his lips, feels his breath abruptly coming in quicker. A man wrote me a love letter, he reminds himself once more, as starkly as he can, but while he tries to tell himself it was simply a man, his mind morphs the cop-out back into Tim.

 

Tim wrote me a love letter, Tony’s heart beats faster, and all at once, he just wants to read it again, wants to have to squint at Probalicious’s atrocious handwriting as he reads, even though he practically has the whole thing memorized after re-reading it so many times yesterday. You catch me, Tim had told him, and Tony knows he meant it. You’ll let me catch you, too, and somehow Probie knew that even before Tony did.

 

Yeah, an unexpected calm trickles over Tony like water across the pebbles of a mountain stream. You’ve got my six, don’t you Probie? It only takes a second for the unintended innuendo to catch up to Tony’s naturally dirty mind, to imagine that maybe Tim would want him bending over for him someday. The thought blasts through his brain like fresh spraypaint on a newly minted overpass. Tim obviously enjoys some backdoor lovin’. Maybe he’d want that from Tony, too. Maybe he’d even need it if this thing between them were to keep going. Tony swallows hard and, in the safety of Tim’s lumpy bed, lying on his partner’s barely-there sheets, Tony wonders if maybe he might like it, and when the thought makes his heart beat faster, Tony closes his eyes, and he lets it.

Chapter Text

“You good?” Tim asks after he turns off the Porsche, but before he’ll take his hand off the keys, still in the ignition, as if, should Tony say no, Tim would immediately turn the car around and drive him to the nearest chiropractor.

 

Tony rolls his eyes and ignores the pleased tingles in his gut at hearing the question for the umpteenth time this morning. “Yes, McMom,” he flips the handle, just cracking open the door. He preps his mind to feel the remnants of the twinge in his back when he twists his legs to exit the vehicle, but before he can get that far, Tim’s hand covers his own on the middle console. Tony blinks at the unexpected touch and turns back to his partner.

 

The tenderness in Tim’s eyes should be a surprise, but somehow it isn’t. Abruptly, Tim blinks downward, hiding that softness from Tony’s view.

 

“Hey,” Tony finds himself whispering, his hand turning around in Tim’s grip in order to grab him right back. “Thanks for having my six this morning,” Tony bites his lip and any other words that might come out of his mouth. Tim can’t know the vivid imaginings Tony’s mind recently assigned the phrase, but that doesn’t stop Tony from feeling bashful at his word choice.

 

Tim glances at him sideways, a light blush fills his cheeks, but his partner still admits, “It’s a nice six to watch.”

 

Biting his lip, Tony ducks his head, but can’t fight his own grin. It’s possible he might also be—very slightly—blushing himself. He wants to give the compliment back to Tim somehow, to let him know how much Tony likes putting his hands on Tim’s body or maybe just to offer a whisper of the way his stomach tingles when Tim teases him over the phone, but, oddly enough, Tony can’t find the words to give Tim back anything of what Tim gave to him this morning. Tony’s mouth opens, trying to find something to say despite the block in his brain.

 

Tim’s voice saves them both from whatever unplanned inanities might have otherwise popped out, “But for the next nine or ten hours,” Tim teases, “I am going to do my best to keep my eyes,” Tim lowers his voice with a smoothness that Tony’s slowly becoming accustomed to, “and my hands, as far away from your six as I can.”

 

Tony squeezes Tim’s hand, still gripping his, and tilts his head to look at his partner full on. “Don’t feel like you have to make sacrifices on my account, Probie,” DiNozzo lifts a brow and smirks. It’s only when Tim blinks slowly that Tony truly realizes the consequences of publically inviting Tim’s touch or even his gaze.

 

Tim rubs his thumb along the backs of Tony’s fingers, and one side of his mouth angles upward a little ruefully, “Don’t look,” he speaks softly, like it’s a confession. “That’s what I always used to tell myself.”

 

“About me?” Tony licks his lips and only smiles a very tiny little bit.

 

Glancing away, Tim’s head and shoulders angle inward. His tone barely makes it above a whisper. “About any man I was—” the words stop so abruptly it’s as though they fell off a cliff.

 

And then there’s silence in the car. Deliberately, Tony yanks on his door—first open and then shut to make certain it gets a good seal. He swallows hard, knowing he still doesn’t have the right words to give to Tim but needing to try anyway—Tim always seems to need to have certain things (feelings) spelled out explicitly. “I never thought about it before,” he pauses and then adds, “about guys,” or at least he doesn’t think he ever thought about it before. It’s not always easy for him to be able to tell about those kinds of things, though. “But I think about it all the time now,” he blinks and licks his lips, “about you,” he clarifies because sometimes McOblivious can be bizarrely blind to his own charms. He doesn’t look at Tim at all right now. He can’t, so he’s not sure if Tim’s eyes are on him or not. “It’s nothing like I thought it would be,” the expression pops out and Tony belatedly wonders if his words are just common phrasing or if maybe he’s lying to himself and he has thought of this sort of thing before.

 

Tony waits. The silence in the car stretches out between them, and Tim squeezes his fingers a little more tightly but doesn’t call him on his word choice either way. Tony looks out the passenger window beside him, squints unseeingly towards the new sun. “This all still okay with you?” Tony’s jaw locks—irritated with himself—when he ends up asking for reassurance instead of giving it.

 

Tim’s other hand crawls up and flirts with the inside of Tony’s wrist while he’s still not looking. “Yeah,” Probie declares, sounding as bold as he did last night. “You?” Tim’s fingers slide a little farther up Tony’s arm, beneath the strict confines of his dress sleeves.

 

Tony nods hurriedly. He feels Tim’s eyes on him, feels his partner tighten his grip around Tony’s digits with one hand while Tim’s still tickling his wrist with the other. “Yeah,” Tony pushes the word out anyway, wanting to do better about meeting Tim halfway.

 

“Truth be told, I’m pretty fantastically okay with this, really,” Tim’s voice is so low, it breaks when he speaks, but when Tony turns to look—to make certain Tim’s really his equal in want—Tim’s chest is heaving with the effort to control his breath, but his eyes are both welcoming and focused, his mouth upturned with a friendly smirk.

 

Tony swallows hard and smiles back, grabbing Tim’s flirting left hand with his right, so that they each have both hands above the center console. “I wish we were home right now!” Tony blurts, not really meaning Tim’s apartment or his own apartment or even the condo that they might share. Rather he just means somewhere with Tim and a bed and a bit of privacy.

 

Tim lifts his brow, leans just a little more towards center, “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” he reminds Tony. “And we’re not on call, and we can do whatever we want for however long we want.”

 

Tony finds himself leaning into Tim in response, “Tonight’s Friday, McCalender,” he counters, “and we can start the weekend the second we’re off the clock.”

 

Tim tucks his chin just slightly towards his chest, and for a second, Tony’s worried he’s pushing too hard, for too much and too fast, but then Tim’s lower jaw shoots outward, giving his partner a serious underbite. Tony’s only ever seen that look from a closer angle than his current viewpoint, and usually Tim's wearing a lot fewer clothes by then.

 

Tony knows it makes him a dick, but he seriously wants Tim to keep thinking about him with his little head for the rest of the day. He leans in as close as he dares when anyone they know could come up on them at any second, “I put those two other cherry condoms in my go-bag.”

 

Tim’s gaze shoots back up to his in milliseconds, searches Tony’s face and then Tim’s rough voice declares, “Man! You’re such an asshole sometimes!” but he’s laughing and rueful and hopeful all at once.

 

Tony takes in Tim’s cursing with a triumphant grin. He feels his own timbre drop low when he flirts back, “Here, I thought you liked my six.”

 

“Tony—!” Tim’s breath comes quickly and then his lower jaw juts out farther. Abruptly, his neck angles backward, and he rests his noggin on the Porsche’s headrest. “You realize,” Tim twists his face back towards Tony’s direction, “You’re playing a game that goes both ways, right?” Probie lifts an eyebrow in his direction. Half a second later, his brow furrows, like he’s worried that maybe that’s not even true.

 

“Yeah,” Tony squeezes the hand in his more tightly. “I figured out a couple weeks ago that the two of us swing both ways,” Tony waggles his eyebrows, but then has to duck his chin as he wonders whether Tim sees through the lie, if his partner knows that his seemingly daring words are still partly a question to Tim.

 

When Tony catches Tim’s eye again, he realizes that they’re each waiting for the other to react, each of them wanting to reassure themselves that they’re on the same page. He feels himself smiling at the unexpected insight, and he hopes Tim sees the same thing he does. Tony bites his lip, unsure. Usually, between the two of them, Tim’s the one who’s more introspective and emotionally observant, but Tony also knows that Tim has a hard time seeing the things about himself that Tony likes so well. He’s not sure how to reassure Tim without stepping pretty far out on a limb himself.

 

You catch me, Tony thinks, not able to keep Tim’s words from his head for even an hour, or so it seems. “You—” he licks his lips, wanting to be that man Tim thinks of him as being, “You really get me going. You know that, right?”

 

Immediately, Tim opens his own mouth to respond, but his lips upturn too quickly for whatever words that might have tried forming, and his cheeks pinken with pleasure. He drops his chin close to his chest and angles his head back and forth as he shyly tries to respond. “Yeah,” he finally nods.

 

“Mmm,” Tony hums, nodding back. “You know,” he leans in just a little closer, suddenly unable to care if someone can see how near he wants to be to Tim, “You’re pretty cute when you lie,” he practically whispers the words into his partner’s ear.

 

Tim chuckles nervously, but also angles his neck towards Tony’s mouth the way he does when he wants Tony’s teeth on his earlobe. Tony bites his bottom lip, raking his teeth over his own flesh like he wishes he could do to Tim’s in this moment.

 

“We are going to have a really,” he draws out the word like the promise it is, “really good night, tonight,” Tony’s mouth is still near Tim’s ear. He squeezes his lids tightly shut because he can practically already see the way he wants to move his hands across Tim’s body—starting at his partner’s naked belly and travelling south from there.

 

“Gotta get through the day, though, first,” Tim allows, more than a little regret in his tone.

 

Eyes still pinched shut, Tony thinks of Carmen in lock up, of the confession they need to push from little sister Belle, of the loads of evidence that the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department would have signed in last night when they placed the younger Lerner in holding. Geez, when he thinks about it that way, he hopes he and Tim can get out of here in a mere nine or ten hours. “I love this job,” Tony reminds himself, because, seriously he’s never enjoyed going to work so much in his entire life as he has since he’s been on Gibbs’ team, even more so since Tim and then Ziva became a part of it, too.

 

“Yeah,” Tim shifts away from him as he speaks, pulling both hands from Tony’s grip—and that’s not what Tony meant at all! He opens his eyes to tell his partner just that, but Tim’s still all pinkened smiles once Tony’s looking at him again, even if McHe’sGoingTheDistance is now on the other side of the tiny sports car from him.

 

And all of a sudden, looking at the blush splashed across his partner’s face, Tony’s breathless. He exhales heavily, tries to make enough room to draw some oxygen down into his lungs.

 

“Let’s get this party started, then,” McBashful decrees even as his eyelashes kiss the apples of his reddened cheeks. He pops the trunk and quickly jumps from his side of the Boxster.

 

“Yeah,” Tony agrees a heavy second later in the silence of the empty vehicle. Then he flips the latch and follows his partner into the bustling parking garage.