AU written for the “It's Not Natural” challenge on NFA. Tony knew that the dreams he’d been having lately were a bit unique. But when the subject of his dreams starts insisting that he’s more than just a figment of Tony’s imagination, Tony starts to realize how unique they truly are. Not slash.
General > Drama, General > Sci-Fi/Supernatural/Fantasy Characters:
Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo, Timothy McGee
Alternate Universe, Drama, Friendship, SciFi/Supernatural/FantasyWarnings:
NoneChallenges: It's Not Natural Challenge
Challenges: It's Not Natural Challenge Series:
A/N: This takes place during and around Sub Rosa, though you’ll notice significant changes due to the AU nature of the story. I tried to keep the timeline similar to that of the episode, but if I made any mistakes, I do apologize.
Disclaimer: NCIS, nor its characters, do not belong to me. Some of the dialogue contained in this story is credited to “Sub Rosa.” Title comes from “Be Still” by The Fray.
1. Chapter 1 by Rogue Tomato
2. Chapter 2 by Rogue Tomato
3. Chapter 3 by Rogue Tomato
Chapter 1 by Rogue Tomato
“If this is it… can I be happy?”
Tim is philosophical tonight. It seems oddly fitting to the mood set by the koi pond they’re sitting next to. Tony thinks they might be in the National Arboretum, but he isn’t sure. He has only visited the place once, as a child, and he had probably paid more attention to his Game Boy than the flora.
“If this is all I’ll ever be, is it enough?”
Tony isn’t sure he likes philosophical Tim. What does it say for his state of mind when his dreams are this depressing?
At first, Tony didn’t think it was all that odd.
He’d always had a vivid imagination that often translated over into his dreams. When he rationalized it later, speaking to a younger man at varied locations throughout the Washington D.C. area were not the strangest dreams he’d ever had. That honor was still held by June 12, 1993. Opening weekend of Jurassic Park. Thanks to that blockbuster, he had experienced dreams of hosting a tea-party with a t-rex, complete with a velociraptor asking if he’d like ‘one lump or two,’ and the absurdity of it all still brought a slight blush to his cheeks ten years later.
However, Tony had quickly come to realize that the nightly visions he had been subjected to for the past two weeks had been a tad bit more bizarre than any he’d lived through before.
His dreams were so very vivid. And Tim, the young man Tony spoke to each night, was more real than any figment of imagination he’d ever experienced. He almost felt like an old friend… someone forgotten from his childhood, yet very familiar and comfortable and…
“Yeah boss!” Tony’s head snapped up. Gibbs was standing behind his own desk, his eyes narrowed in judgment against Tony’s momentary lapse in concentration.
“Gear up,” he ordered as he strolled purposefully past Tony’s desk. “We’re heading to Norfolk.”
Tony stood and went through the motions of getting his weapon holstered and his computer shut down before snatching up his NCIS-issued jacket and cap. He stared at the hat in his hand, rubbing his thumb absently across the embroidered letters, unable to shake the uneasy feeling weighing heavily in his stomach.
“Daydreaming about your most recent conquest?” Tony looked up at Kate as she pulled on her own coat, a knowing smile lighting up her face.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Tony leered back at her with raised eyebrows because it was easier that way – pretending that his love life was vibrant instead of comatose and because it was expected. He had a reputation to uphold, after all, especially when it came to Kate.
He shuddered to think what would happen were anyone to find out what his daydreams were really about. No, not daydreams, he corrected himself. Because that sounded too… sensual. Physical. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the young man with haunting green eyes, who smiled but didn’t, and who always seemed to just know…
Shaking his head, he mentally gave himself a slap to get over it already. They were dreams for pity’s sake, and they would go away with time.
Tony deliberately refused to acknowledge the small part of him that hurt a little bit at that thought.
“You look like hell,” Tony pointed out to Kate, casually diverting the topic of conversation. “If you’re coming down with something, don’t sit next to me in the truck.”
“There’s an upside to getting a cold?”
“Wanna tell the doctor about it?” Tony asked with a smile as he scrambled alongside his partner to catch up to Gibbs before the elevator doors closed.
Tony is lying next to Tim on two blankets conveniently sprawled on the soft grass of West Potomac Park, far from the runners and tourists flocking to D.C. this time of year. He has just finished telling Tim about his trip to Norfolk, and Tim’s reaction is a bit underwhelming.
Tony shifts so he is leaning on his elbows and he gives Tim the stink-eye.
“I just told you that the guy was decomposing in a vat of acid, and all you can say is ‘huh?’
Tim shrugs as if bored. Tony is undeterred by his lack of enthusiasm.
“The agent stationed there puked all over his shiny new shoes. It was hilarious.”
“I miss Norfolk.”
“Can’t miss a place you’ve never been, Tim.” Because Tony’s never been to Norfolk before. So Tim, being a figment of his imagination and all, could never have been to Norfolk.
Tim just looks at Tony like that is the dumbest thing he’s ever said. Maybe it is.
“Our victim was a submariner,” Gibbs grimly announced.
“Well it would be a good guess,” Ducky’s tinny voice responded through the laptop speakers. “You know, the history of tattooing is fascinating. Egyptians-”
“Any subs in port?” Gibbs asked and Tony smiled as Ducky continued to ramble on, oblivious to his lost audience.
“Yes, I believe so. Let me get that file for you.” Agent Roskam nodded to Gibbs before he turned and opened a filing cabinet near the back wall. “You know, the filing system I inherited from the previous agent was atrocious. Why, you wouldn’t believe-”
Tony shared a long-suffering look with Kate behind Gibbs’ back. The background chatter intermingled together in one blended cacophony of noise, with Ducky going on about tattooing and Roskam babbling about his superior filing habits. It was almost soothing if it weren’t for Roskam’s other, more distracting, behavior. Tony catalogued the way the other agent’s hands shook when he opened the cabinet drawer, how his fingers paused too long in between one manila folder and the next, the dark circles under his eyes. Tony almost felt bad about leaving the other agent behind to watch the crime scene last night.
But then Roskam spoke up with his haughty voice, and Tony quickly got over it.
“Here you are, sir. Three Los Angeles-class attack subs in port at the moment. And another in dry dock. There were five, but the Philadelphia left at 0600.”
Gibbs nodded. “Give me copies of the ships’ alpha rosters.”
“Yes, sir.” Roskam nearly stumbled in his haste to exit his office and retrieve the requested files. Rookies, Tony mused. He refused to believe he had ever been so green. Or brown-nosey.
“Now this non-representational, geometric style of tattooing-”
Tony stepped back as Gibbs slammed down the laptop and stood. “You two wait for those rosters. I’m going to get coffee.”
Tony slid into the chair after Gibbs vacated it, slouching down and sighing loudly. Kate snorted behind him, but refrained from speaking as she took in the rest of the unreasonably small office. The radiator in the hallway hissed and clanked. Somewhere outside a man whistled loudly. Other than that, the building was quiet. Isolated. Tony slouched further, barely resisting the urge to fold his arms across the desk and lay his head down.
“Roskam really does have a nice filing system,” Kate commented and then it was Tony’s turn to snort.
“He’s a tool.”
“What?” Tony spun around in the chair. “He is! He tries too hard.”
“Give him a break, Tony. He probably didn’t get much sleep last night after you made him watch over the crime scene. Unnecessarily, I might add.”
Tony yawned as he waved off her concerns. He hadn’t slept well last night; waking after an odd conversation with Tim and unable to calm his mind enough to fall back asleep. That, combined with an odd sense of wrongness ever since they’d arrived in Norfolk, was keeping Tony on edge.
“Looks like he wasn’t the only one,” Kate commented with raised eyebrows. “Late night?”
Tony shrugged. “Eh. Not really.”
Kate walked over and propped a hip against the desk. She stared down at Tony. “Spill it, DiNozzo. You’ve been acting really weird lately. What’s going on?”
Tony knew he should keep quiet, but a part of him wanted to actually tell someone about Tim and the odd experiences he had each night. But he was also afraid to share that piece of his life. Sure, Tim was just a product of his head, but that didn’t make him any less real to Tony. He felt an odd sense of protectiveness about the younger man, like telling others about him would somehow make him disappear from his dreams completely.
Kate sighed when Tony’s silence stretched out a bit too long. “Look, if you don’t want to talk about it…”
“Do you remember your dreams when you wake up in the morning?” Tony interrupted and Kate looked startled at the peculiar question.
“Not usually, no. Why?” Tony must have hesitated a beat too long before his reply of ‘no reason,’ because Kate was giving him that look she gave when he had said something particularly stupid. It reminded him of Tim’s disbelieving glare the night before when he’d mentioned Norfolk.
“My sister says dreams are the result of random brain stimuli and have no real meaning,” Kate said when it was clear Tony wasn’t going to elaborate.
“Your sister sounds like a lot of fun,” Tony said sarcastically. And just like that, the subject was dropped as Kate began to defend her sister’s honor, and Tony was able to focus on getting rid of his growing sense of unease.
As soon as Tony sees Tim, he’s demanding answers.
Tim blinks in confusion. “I beg your pardon?”
“Captain Veitch, at Norfolk. You knew about him. Last night, you mentioned him to me, I know you did. And then I met him!”
“Yes?” Tim’s eyes furrow with worry. “Tony, is everything okay?”
“How could you have known about him before I knew about him?” Tony starts to amble in a small circle, speaking quietly to himself. He knows he’s acting a bit hysterical, but he can’t seem to get a grip on what this might mean. “I didn’t know, so he shouldn’t know. Dreams can’t tell me the future. This is stupid. So stupid. I should-”
“You think you’re dreaming?” Tim interrupts and Tony stops pacing to stare at him.
“Well, yeah,” he replies with a small laugh, “of course I am.”
Tim is shaking his head and taking small steps away from Tony, but Tony doesn’t understand what’s happening or why Tim is so upset.
“Tim?” Tony reaches out for him, but Tim flinches away
“No, I… I need to go.”
Tony startled awake, his arm still outstretched for Tim. Rubbing shaking hands over his face, Tony flopped back down on his bed, flinging an arm over his eyes.
It was a long time before he fell back asleep.
Tim didn’t make a return visit that night.
It had been six nights without a visit from Tim, and Tony really needed to stop referring to them as visits. It wasn’t like Tim was a neighbor, stopping by with a beer to watch the game. These were dreams… dreams for Pete’s sake… that Tim was a participant of. Nothing more. Tony’s mind had simply, finally, decided that enough was enough and it was time to move on to more traditional sleep patterns.
The case in Norfolk had wrapped up, and there were still a lot of reports that needed to be written and evidence to be catalogued and stored. Though everything had turned out right in the end, it could have gone a lot worse. He and Roskam had been almost too late in the discovery of the sarin plot. It had simply taken too long for the techies to arrive and obtain the information on Joshua Fox’s computer. Luckily they’d been able to contact Gibbs and Kate in time, but Tony couldn’t help but feel that it should have gone more smoothly.
Tony rubbed the back of his neck, sighing as he glanced at the time. Tonight was turning out exactly like the three that had preceded it, working well into the night and operating on very little sleep the following day. It was past 2200 already, and Tony’s back and neck were not subtle about making him aware of the late hour.
Kate had gone home hours ago, and Gibbs had left shortly after, but not before getting a promise out of Tony that he wouldn’t stay too late. Tony had every intention of keeping that promise, but something was bothering him about the case. His bad feeling would not abate, no matter how many times he reviewed his case notes and the photographs and witness statements.
With a heavy sigh, Tony stood and stretched before grabbing the stack of files and locking them back away. Tony shut off his computer and shrugged on his jacket. He would just need to let it go. Everything about the case seemed to be in order, and he couldn’t let himself be dragged down some sort of path of obsession because of his 'bad feeling.'
With that final gritty resolve, he slipped into the elevator and went home.
Tim takes a deep breath. “I know you think you’re dreaming, Tony. But… you’re not. Well, you are, but it’s more than that. I’m real, or at least, I was… before…”
“Wait, what?” Tony plops down onto the couch next to Tim and he bounces a little, Tim swaying with the motion. “What are you talking about? I am dreaming, Tim. I am asleep, right now, in that room right over there,” Tony says, gesturing toward his bedroom. “What do you mean you’re real? Or were real?”
“I am Timothy McGee,” Tim says with conviction. “Well, I was Timothy McGee. I think I still am. I died three weeks ago. And then I met you.”
Tony shakes his head, an argument already forming on his lips, because this is ridiculous. What Tim is saying right now? It’s absurd. Okay yes, Tim has been appearing in Tony’s dreams for the past three weeks so the timing fits. And yes, Tony’s never had such lucid, intellectual, and vivid dreams as the ones he has with Tim. And yes, even Tony has come to consider Tim as more than just a figment of his imagination, even if he has never admitted it to anyone.
Because Tim is different.
“Tim…” Tony begins, still ready to play devil’s advocate, still not ready to accept what the younger man is saying, but Tim interrupts him before he can gain any ground.
“I’m dead, Tony,” Tim insists, and there is sadness in his eyes that Tony has never seen before. “And this… this is my afterlife.”
Chapter 2 by Rogue Tomato
Tony felt that he held out as long as he could before he was searching archived obituaries for McGee, Timothy. He was actually proud of himself for the two whole days that passed by before he cracked under the pressure of his own inquisitiveness. He tried to tell himself that this was all some sort of weird trick his subconscious was playing, but Tim would simply not let it go.
Apparently Tony had been burdened with the most persistent and stubborn vision imaginable. Once Tim had declared that he was basically a ghost who was haunting his dreams, he was insistent that Tony believe him.
But he didn’t.
At least, not entirely.
Which was why, after 48 hours of trying to occupy himself with anything else, Tony found himself searching local obituaries from the past month for his delusional dream. He held his breath as he hit ‘Search’ and the program ran. He wasn’t sure if finding a matching result would be better than not finding one, but he figured either outcome would settle his upset psyche.
The program beeped.
No Matches Found.
Of course there weren’t any matches. Tony nervously laughed at himself and shut down the computer, and for the time being, his curiosity was sated.
Tony walks closely next to Tim, their shoulders touching occasionally as they amble down the gravel path in-between cherry trees raining pink blossoms. It’s a comfortable silence that Tony doesn’t wish to break, but he does, because the quiet makes him think too much.
“Where do you go when you’re not with me?”
Tim shrugs but doesn’t slow his pace. “Nowhere, really.”
“There were several nights that you were gone from my dreams,” Tony persists beside him. “You couldn’t have been nowhere.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Tim says with a vague hand motion in front of him. “I’m just always… here. Where you are. And when you’re not here, I’m not either.”
“I don’t get it.”
Tim sighs and stops, turning to look at Tony. “Okay, let me ask you something. When you dream, you just sort of end up someplace, right? Like where we are now. You don’t remember how you got here, you are just here. Right?”
“Yeah,” Tony agrees.
“And does it seem weird to you that you just sort of show up at random places in your dreams, with no explanation whatsoever?”
Tony thinks about it. “Not really.”
“Okay,” Tim says with a smile. “That’s how it works for me. I’m just here.”
“And you’re okay with that?” Tony asks before he can stop himself. He has been trying really hard to avoid discussing Tim’s belief that this is his afterlife, especially after telling him that a search for his obituary came up empty. Tim had been angry, accusing Tony of not trying hard enough, then the subject had abruptly been dropped.
Tim’s defeated look has yet to clear, and now Tony’s gone and made it worse by bringing it up again.
“I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“Tim,” Tony starts, but then stalls because he really doesn’t know what to say.
“You know, part of me wants to you tell you to just stop.”
Tony startles. “Stop what?”
“Stop dreaming about me,” Tim clarifies in a small voice. “But I’m too scared that I’ll disappear if you do. And I don’t want to disappear.”
“I don’t really have a choice either, Tim,” Tony says, but he makes sure he smiles. He doesn’t want Tim to think that he doesn’t enjoy these dreams. Weird as they are, and as intense as Tim can get at times, Tony doesn’t want Tim to disappear either. “You’re always just here,” Tony says instead.
“Why?” Tim asks.
Tony wishes he had an answer.
Tony has possibly had the worst day ever.
So of course he’d get pulled over.
Because apparently a day of working alongside Agent “Call me Jerry” Roskam had not been punishment enough. In all honesty, Tony probably wasn’t being very fair to his fellow agent. It was just that every time Tony had been forced to work in Norfolk, he felt odd and off balance. Working with Roskam felt wrong somehow.
On top of having to deal with his strange feelings, Abby had called twice to remind him to pick up specific pieces of evidence that were crucial to the case, as if Tony had forgotten how to be a competent agent somewhere between D.C. and Norfolk. Roskam had taken it upon himself to spill his tea over his notes before Tony had arrived, so deciphering them had been a real exercise in patience. The real icing on the cake had been the discovery that Captain Veitch was out of town doing some sort of surprise inspection, meaning Tony would have to drive back to Norfolk yet again next week to finalize his statement.
So really, getting pulled over brought the day to a fitting end.
Tony dutifully rolled down his window and handed over his license and registration. The officer said very little as she brought his information back to her cruiser. Tony thunked his head a few times on his headrest in frustration. He honestly just wanted to get home and crawl into bed, and he was too tired to feel ashamed for wanting to do it as quickly as possible.
“You’re an NCIS agent, huh?”
The sudden question pulled him out of his funk and he looked up at the cop in confusion. “How did you know?”
“Car is registered to NCIS,” she pointed out as she handed the documents through the window.
“Oh. Right,” Tony said sheepishly.
“You know Tim McGee?”
Tony startled so badly, his license and registration scattered to the floorboards somewhere between his seat and the car door.
“I’m sorry, who?”
“Agent McGee,” the officer repeated. “I’m pretty sure he said he was with NCIS. Great young man. Helped my son out of a jam once. It was a misunderstanding, mind you, but he really went above and beyond. Shame what happened, don’t you think?”
Tony could only nod dumbly because… what?
“Well,” the cop continued, unaware of Tony’s internal freak-out, “I suppose I can let you off with a warning this time. But watch your speed.”
Tony nodded, mumbled a quick thank-you, and had to temper the urge to put his foot to the floor and high-tail it out of there. He waited until his breathing was back under control before he slowly pulled back onto the highway, not bothering to search for his dropped documentation.
“What?” Tony shook his head, too many thoughts running around to make heads or tails of. He laughed, because if he’d had any reason to get home faster before, this blew that out of the water.
Tim was real. Real! Though, Tony actively avoided thinking about what that actually meant.
“What does this mean?” Tim asks. Tony can see he’s trying to contain his enthusiasm, but his joy at finding out that Tony believes him is leaking through everything he does.
“I don’t know,” Tony says with a shrug. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I don’t know either,” Tim says, frowning. “Maybe you’re supposed to help me, you know… move on?”
“Move on? I’m not sure if I believe in all that stuff, Tim.”
“Stuff? You mean heaven?” When Tony doesn’t answer, Tim grabs his arm and turns him so they are face to face. “Then what? Why else would I be here?”
“I don’t know!” Tony yells. Sighing, Tony rubs his hands across his face in frustration. “Okay,” he says behind his hands. “Okay.”
Tony drops his hands and looks at Tim. Though he looks tired (is that possible for a dead person?), there is still a glimmer of excitement in his eyes that Tony can understand. It feels like they’re on the edge of something big. They merely need to figure out what it is.
“Maybe you left something unfinished,” Tony offers. “A message I need to deliver for you?”
Tim shakes his head. “Nothing I can think of. I mean, I wish I had had more time before…” Tim trails off, a pensive look on his face. “I would have called my dad. But, I don’t think there is a message I’d necessarily want you to give him. Maybe you could tell him that I’m sorry he felt I was such a disappointment. It doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t believe you even if you tried.”
Tony frowns. Well, that was a loaded answer. But he can address Tim’s daddy issues at a later time. Who knows, maybe they can compare notes.
“What about a case you left unfinished? Where were you stationed?”
“Okay, well I can look into some…” Tony stops and something clicks. “Wait, Norfolk?”
“Yeah.” Tim smiles. “That’s how I knew that Veitch was such a jerk. Remember?”
Tony nods because, yes, he remembers how Tim’s casual mention of Veitch in the middle of the submariner case had really thrown him for a loop.
“Did you know Agent Roskam?”
Tim nods. “Yeah, I knew Jerry. Not well, but we worked together a few times.”
“He took over for you at Norfolk,” Tony calmly mentions, but he’s getting that sick feeling in his stomach again. “Wait, I just realized something. If you were an NCIS agent, and you died, then why wasn’t there a memorial?”
“What do you mean?”
“Every time an agent dies, there is an announcement sent out to all NCIS personnel, not to mention a service that we all would have been invited to. Why didn’t that happen?”
“I don’t know,” Tim shrugs. Tony can see some hurt in his eyes, though, at the thought that no one had mentioned his passing. “I just assumed there was a funeral.”
“How did you die?” Tony blurts out. He doesn’t think to be sorry about his abruptness because he’s too busy musing over how none of this makes sense.
What possible reasons would the higher-ups at NCIS have to cover up Tim’s death? One possibility is that Tim was deep undercover at the time, and revealing his identity would compromise an ongoing mission. Another option – one that Tony is trying to avoid thinking about – is that Tim turned traitor before he died. But as Tony looks at Tim and how the younger man is blinking sheepishly and the tip of his ears are turning pink, he refuses to accept that as an explanation.
“It’s something embarrassing, isn’t it?” Tony pushes at Tim’s shoulder playfully, earning a small smile in response.
“No,” Tim denies. “Actually, I… I don’t remember dying.”
Tony frowns. “You don’t know how you died?”
Tim shakes his head.
“Oh my gosh, that’s it!” Tony whoops and spins in a small circle before grabbing both of Tim’s shoulders. “That’s it, don’t you see? I’m supposed to figure out how you died! What if there’s a nefarious plot around your death? Oh, it’s like Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost’!”
“I’m glad my death amuses you, Tony,” Tim snarks and Tony’s grin grows.
“You just wait, Tim.” He promises. “I’ll figure this out and then, well…” Tony just shrugs because yeah… what then?
Tony stared at the paperwork in front of him, blinked, and then stared some more. This development was… unexpected. But it certainly explained why no one had been notified about Tim’s death. However, it also opened up a whole new load of questions that Tony was not prepared to deal with.
Sighing, Tony glanced around the bullpen. Gibbs was upstairs talking with Director Morrow. Kate was at her desk, concentrating on some sort of report of her own. Tony had been debating all morning on whether or not he should bring either of them in on his experiences. He’d imagined their responses, ranging from simple disbelief to admitting him to a psych ward, and decided against telling them. At least for now.
However, things had changed, if the information he just printed was to be believed. He would need a little guidance after all. But not from Kate or Gibbs.
“Where are you going?” Kate asked as Tony stood and walked briskly toward the stairs.
“To see Abby,” he announced without turning around, ignoring Kate’s further questioning of why he was heading downstairs. Taking the steps two at a time, Tony burst through the lab door and dangled the paperwork in front of Abby’s face. “What does this mean?”
“’Hi Abby, how are you? Having a nice day?’” Abby stated, doing a very poor impression of Tony’s voice as she resolutely ignored the printout two inches in front of her nose.
“Hi Abby. How are you? Having a nice day?” Tony mirrored, moving the paper down just enough to show Abby his most charming grin before pulling it right back up again. “What does this mean?”
Abby rolled her eyes at his antics, but snatched the paper from his hands and skimmed it quickly. “Foreign substance in the bloodstream. Oooh, it says here that it might be some sort of hemlock derivative. That’s inventive.”
“Inventive?” Tony asked, confused. “What’s inventive about an allergic reaction?”
Abby bounced on her feet a little as she continued to scan the information. “An allergic reaction? Well, I suppose that could be true. If someone was allergic to quail, for instance. Quails are immune to hemlock seeds, and if someone ate quail, I suppose both could happen.”
“Both what could happen?”
“Both an allergic reaction and a reaction to the poison.”
“Poison?” Tony shouted, grabbing the paper back from her. “It says nothing about Tim being poisoned on here.”
Abby laughed. “Tony, hemlock is poisonous. And it somehow got in that man’s bloodstream.”
“Because he ate quail?” Tony asked.
“That’s one way,” Abby began, but she was cut off by her phone ringing. Tony blocked out her conversation as he stared absently down at the paper still in his hands. When he had joked with Tim the night before about a nefarious plot, he had truly been kidding. But now it wasn’t so funny.
Tim had been poisoned.
“It’s for you,” Abby called to him. Tony walked over and took the receiver from her hand.
“It’s me,” Kate said on the other end of the line. “I took a message for you. Agent Simmons called and said NNUH, room 426.”
“Thanks. Tell Gibbs I’m heading out.” Tony hung up before Kate could ask any more questions.
“Who’s Tim?” Abby asked, but Tony ignored her as he left the lab and punched the button to call the elevator.
He knew he’d catch hell later for leaving without an explanation, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He figured once he got to Norfolk, saw the proof with his own eyes, then he’d call Gibbs and try to explain everything.
He just hoped that by then he’d be ready.
“I don’t know if this is going to work,” Tony admits as he pulls Tim along beside him. The hall is deserted, which is creepy all on its own, but it is Tim’s reluctance to move forward that is making Tony nervous.
“Why are we here?” Tim asks for the third time.
“You need to see something,” Tony repeats and they stop outside of room 426. “Are you ready?”
“I don’t know what I need to be ready for, Tony,” Tim says. “You could just tell me.”
“C’mon,” Tony says and he opens the door.
Taking a deep breath, and hoping he doesn’t cause a rift in the space time continuum or something by doing this, he pushes Tim ahead of him. Tim’s grumbles about Tony manhandling him abruptly stop when he looks at the man lying on the hospital bed before him. Tony watches Tim as he pales, his eyes taking in every detail, his head slowly beginning to shake back and forth in disbelief.
Tony can’t help the soft smile, because Tim’s reaction is pretty much identical to what his had been that day when he’d walked into this very room at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The young man may be in a medically-induced coma, and looking a bit more haggard than the man that Tony is used to seeing in his dreams every night, but there is no doubt who the man lying before them is.
“It’s you,” Tony says, a bit unnecessarily, but Tim looks like he needs an anchor right now. “You’re not dead, Tim.”
Chapter 3 by Rogue Tomato
Tony kept losing track of time and he blamed it on his exhausted state.
Though the hotel he’d found near the hospital was quiet, he’d found sleep difficult to obtain since discovering Tim’s actual fate. Tim had once again been absent from his dreams the night before, but Tony wasn’t too worried. Tim had disappeared once before after being confronted with something emotional and distressing. Tony knew he’d turn up again at some point.
He found himself at Tim’s bedside in the pre-dawn hours once again, the hours ticking by with an irregular stream of physicians and nurses checking up on their patient. Apparently Tim’s condition didn’t require constant supervision, as he was hovering in some sort of medical stasis. Not exactly healing, but not deteriorating either. At first, Tony had to explain his sudden presence, but the story he’d concocted (and the flashing of his badge) had been enough to placate the staff to let him remain at Tim’s side during non-visiting hours.
Tony still hadn’t come up with a plausible explanation for Tim’s appearance in his dreams, nor what it meant that the young man was alive. He wished he had someone to talk to about this strange phenomenon, but he hadn’t yet gathered the courage to bring it up. Yet he knew the time was quickly approaching in which he’d no longer have a choice.
Tony had managed to stall Gibbs for 24 hours, but his boss was no longer buying his feeble excuses. Gibbs was coming.
The phone call he’d received had been short and to the point. Tony refused to acknowledge that there had been a note of pleading in his voice when he’d asked his boss for a little more time, but something must have leaked through because Gibbs and Kate were both on their way to Norfolk. Part of Tony was warmed to the thought of his co-workers, his friends, coming to his aid when they had no clue what was really going on.
The less rational part of Tony was terrified.
Gibbs and Kate were walking through the door before Tony had figured out how he was going to explain Tim and his relationship to the agent. He stood, nodding his thanks to Kate who closed the door behind them.
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs stated and there was so much hidden in those three syllables that Tony found himself spilling everything. He had no filter as he started at the beginning with the dreams, followed quickly by the suspicious things Tim would say but that Tony had initially ignored. He told them about Norfolk and Veitch and Tim’s declaration of how his afterlife was being spent in Tony’s unconsciousness. He finished with the story of getting pulled over, of his discovery of Tim’s fate, and how he’d had to drive back to Norfolk to see for himself.
He avoided his teammates’ eyes for as long as possible, but as the seconds ticked by after he’d concluded his side of events, he couldn’t stand it any longer and he looked up into their faces. He thought he could read a little disbelief, and perhaps a bit of concern in their faces, but their reactions weren’t as bad as he’d imagined they would be.
But then Kate had to start asking questions that Tony really didn’t have the answers to.
“So you’ve been talking to a comatose person in your dreams.”
“And… how is that possible exactly?”
“Are you sure you haven’t met Agent McGee before and just forgot? Maybe this is all just some weird connection your subconscious is doing to try to have you remember him or something.”
“That just sounds ridiculous.”
“No more ridiculous than what you just told us!”
“Oh, you mean the truth?”
“What does Agent McGee have to say about all of this?”
“I don’t know, he kind of freaked out after I brought him here.”
“You brought him here? How?”
“I don’t know. A couple of nights ago, we met up in my dream like usual. I just thought about his hospital room and it sort of just… happened.”
“Why would you show him his own body?”
“The kid thought he was dead, Kate, why wouldn’t I show him that he was alive?!”
“Enough.” Gibbs’ voice wasn’t loud, but it cut through Tony’s and Kate’s rising voices easily enough. “You said Agent McGee was poisoned?”
“Yes,” Tony confirmed. “Well, probably.” At Gibbs’ glare, Tony hurried on, pulling the same lab report he’d shown Abby out of his back pocket, unfolding it and handing it over to Gibbs. “They actually think he had an allergic reaction to something. But I had Abby look at his blood work and I guess the lab came back with some foreign substance in his bloodstream. She says that it’s some sort of imitation of hemlock, and hemlock is poisonous.”
Gibbs was silent as he stepped into Tony’s personal space, glaring at him in that familiar way he does when interrogating suspects. It was very effective and Tony had to fight not to step away. “And how exactly did you get Agent McGee’s bloodwork?”
“Well, I may have implied that I was leading an investigation into what had happened.”
“And what did happen, DiNozzo?”
Tony refused to back down, because this was something he could answer with certainty. “Tim was poisoned. I’m sure of it.”
Gibbs was silent for a moment, his eyes narrowing just a fraction, and Tony held his breath.
“Kate.” Gibbs didn’t look away from Tony as he summoned Kate forward, thrusting the lab printout in her general direction when she was close enough. “Find the lab. Talk to them about these results.”
Tony flicked his gaze over to Kate and offered her a small smile in gratitude as she took the results with no hesitation and left the room. He turned his eyes back to Gibbs and let his smile grow in hope.
“You believe me?”
“About you talking to this man in your dreams, or that an agent of NCIS may have been a target for murder?”
“Uh…” Tony ineloquently responded. “Both?”
Gibbs finally stepped back and took a good look at Tim. Tony watched as Gibbs’ stance softened, and Tony knew in that moment that Gibbs was going to back him up. Gibbs put on a show of being exasperated when he turned back to look at Tony, but he had his boss pegged. Gibbs believed him.
“Does Agent McGee remember being poisoned?”
Tony shook his head. “Nope. Last thing Tim remembers is getting ready for work that morning, hours before he was found in his office. He doesn’t even remember leaving his apartment.”
“Talk to his family,” Gibbs ordered on his way out the door. “See if there was anyone who would have wanted him dead.”
“On it boss!” Tony knew he was grinning like a loon, but he didn’t care. He stopped for a moment next to Tim’s bed and gently gave his shoulder a pat.
“Hang in there, Tim. We’ll find out what happened. You’ll see.”
“Do you ever wonder why we can talk to each other in your dreams?”
“I try not to,” Tony admits and Tim sighs. Tonight they had spent a few moments standing over Tim’s still sleeping body before taking a long walk around the hospital’s perimeter. The weather, as always in Tony’s dreams, is beautiful, and they have no need to rush as they enjoy the warm breeze.
“I’m being serious, Tony. How is this possible?”
“You’re just now asking? After how many weeks? I have no idea how, ok? Let’s get back to the task at hand.”
Tony is frustrated with the lack of progress with the case, and he’s been spending the past few nights with Tim trying to coax anything from his memory that would point to his would-be-murderer. Though the lab did confirm Abby’s findings, and Tim’s poisoning is now an actual case, Tony’s interviews with Tim’s family have been fruitless. Kate has spent most of her time at the Norfolk base interviewing staff there, but it is slow going with most everyone commenting on how likeable Tim is, and how he goes out of his way to help others. And while Tony’s past experience tells him that people usually say those things out of a sense of kindness for the victim, he knows this time is different.
Because Tim is likeable and an all-around nice guy. Who would want to hurt him?
"Look," Tony says after awhile. "I don't know how. Or why. Maybe a comet zipped by too close to Earth and I suddenly got super powers. Maybe I have a brain tumor. Or maybe this is the universe trying to correct itself. I just don't know. But tell me, Tim... does it actually matter how or why?"
"I..." Tim stops and thinks for a few seconds and then smiles. "I guess not."
“You never told me how your case ended," Tim says, changing the subject. "With the submariner?”
Tony shrugs, not too eager to revisit that case. “Killer stole his identity, stowed away on the sub. Tried to release sarin gas. Gibbs and Kate thwarted the plan. All in a day’s work,” he finishes with a smirk.
“Kate was on the sub?” Tony nods and Tim laughs. “Bet Veitch loved that.”
“He wasn’t thrilled with the idea to begin with, no. Not sure how he feels about the outcome, with the ends justifying the means and all that,” Tony says with another shrug. “Guy’s hard to get a hold of. He’s been out of town for ages, making it hard for me to finish up his interview and finish the casework.”
“Veitch gives me the creeps,” Tim says as he shivers involuntarily. “I never know where I stand with the guy. One day he’s yelling at me, the next he’s bringing me food.”
Tony spins around so fast he gets dizzy. “What kind of food? Quail?”
“What? No. Mostly snacks, the occasional salad for lunch.”
Tony grabs Tim’s face with both of his hands and gives it a firm shake. “Tim, you’re a genius!” He smacks an exaggerated kiss on Tim’s forehead, drops his hands and walks away. “I gotta go, uh, wake up now. I’ll see you soon though, kay?”
“Tony, what…?” Tim stammers, but Tony interrupts with a wave of his hand.
“Just trust me. See you soon!”
“Agent DiNozzo!” Agent Roskam quickly stood from his chair as Tony entered the small office. “I wasn’t aware you were coming to Norfolk today.”
“Yeah, well, I heard that Captain Veitch was finally back in town. Figured a stealth approach would be best since he’s been avoiding me these past few weeks.”
“Oh, right. Of course. Did you need me to go get him for you?”
“No,” Tony said with a shake of his head. “Agent Gibbs is talking to him now. The Petty Officer Drew case is actually not the main reason we’re here. Do you know Tim McGee?”
Agent Roskam looked away a moment, looking at his prized filing system, before locking eyes again with Tony. “Yeah, of course. He was the agent who worked here before me. I’d met him a few times before…”
When Roskam trailed off, Tony filled in the gaps. “You were the one who found him here, weren’t you.”
“Yeah. It was awful.” Roskam shook his head sadly. “What does that have to do with why you’re here? I heard Lieutenant Connors at the Personnel Office say that Agent McGee had some sort of allergic reaction.”
“That’s not what happened.” Tony moved forward and perched on the edge of Roskam’s desk. He leaned forward conspiratorially. “He was poisoned.”
“What?” Roskam asked, clearly shocked. “How?”
“That’s why Gibbs is talking to Veitch.”
Roskam shook his head. “You don’t think that Veitch poisoned him, do you?” Tony only shrugged noncommittally in response. “I knew they didn’t get along very well. I was witness to a few confrontations myself. Veitch plays hardball, Agent DiNozzo, and sets very high expectations. McGee just couldn’t handle it. It led to a hostile work environment.”
“So I’ve heard,” Tony shared with a careful nod.
The two agents lapsed into a short silence before Tony slapped his knee and stood, saying, “Enough of this. Gibbs will be done soon, but I brought a sort of peace offering.”
“A peace offering?” Roskam asked as Tony walked out the door and retrieved a large brown paper bag that he’d left in the hall.
“Lunch!” Tony exclaimed as he pulled out two plastic containers and handed one over to the other agent. Then, rubbing one hand on the back of his neck, Tony looked up, bashful. “Look, Jerry, I wanted to apologize to you about, well, everything. Making you stay up all night at the scene... Not really taking you seriously... I would say that it was all in good fun, but the truth is working alongside you always felt weird to me. I just got this itch that something wasn’t right.”
Tony tossed Roskam a wrapped packet of plastic silverware and opened his own container, taking his time mixing up the contents before continuing.
“At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but now I think I’ve got it all figured out. It’s because you aren’t supposed to be here, Jerry. You’re not the agent I’m supposed to be working with.” Tony paused to point at Roskam with his fork. “But you are here, and I shouldn’t have taken my odd feelings out on you. Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?”
“A… salad?” the other agent said as he peeked under the lid of his own container. “I’m more of a hamburger and fries guy, myself.”
“Really? Because that’s not what your credit card history says.” Tony let Roskam process that a moment as he shoved a forkful of lettuce in his mouth. “See, you seem like a smart guy, Jerry. You certainly thought you were smarter than Tim McGee, didn’t you?”
“I… what? Agent DiNozzo, I don’t…”
“You’d hear all about those confrontations between Veitch and McGee,” Tony interrupted. “You were even here for some of them. You’d watch as Veitch would belittle McGee, push him to work harder… faster. Veitch would deny McGee access to some of his personnel and important files, and you’d see McGee struggle to solve cases without them. So what did you think, Jerry? Did you think you’d do his job better? Or maybe that Veitch would like you more?”
Agent Roskam stood, his face turning red with rage. “That’s enough, Agent DiNozzo. I have no idea what you’re talking about. You said that Captain Veitch was the one who poisoned McGee. I don’t know why you think I had anything to do with it.”
“I never said that Captin Veitch was our suspect,” Tony corrected. “I said Gibbs was talking to him about it. See, it looks as though McGee thought it was Veitch that was leaving him lunch. After all, these gifts always seemed to anonymously show up the day after one of their arguments. But it was actually you.”
Roskam shook his head, tossing his uneaten salad onto his desk. “I don’t need to listen to this,” he said as he stormed past Tony. He didn’t make it out the door, however, as Gibbs and Kate blocked his path, both with their weapons drawn.
“Going somewhere?” Gibbs smirked as Kate walked behind Roskam and began slipping on some handcuffs.
“It was probably really easy to slip some of the hemlock on McGee’s salad after you’d doctored it up a bit. Made it look like an allergic reaction,” Tony stated, moving around so he could address Roskam one final time. “And if that failed, well, McGee would think it had been Veitch and no one else would think to question it because of the, what did you call it? Hostile work environment.”
“Let’s go,” Kate said, giving Roskam a nudge. They gave one another one last look of contempt but then he was gone.
“You’re showing signs of waking up.”
Tony thinks he maybe should have led with something else based on the range of emotions flickering across Tim’s face, but the truth is he’s so damn excited to talk to the real Tim that he can hardly contain it.
“That’s great, isn’t it?” Tony pushes just a little and Tim offers up a tentative smile.
“Yeah. I mean, yes, of course it is. It’s just…” Tim trails off, looking away, and Tony follows his gaze. The sun is nearly lost to the horizon, and the sky beyond the Washington Memorial is a deep orange. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect… symbolic, even, if this was to be the last conversation he has with Tim in dreamland.
“What if I don’t recognize you? What if… when I wake up… I don’t remember any of this?” Tony startles at Tim’s unexpected questions, but Tim continues on. “I mean, if this is it, will you be happy? If this is all we’ll ever be, will it be enough?”
Tony turns to fully look at Tim, his eyes inconspicuously glistening in the last rays of warm sunlight. He puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
“Tim, even if you don’t remember, I will,” he says seriously. “I’m not going to suddenly stop being your friend.”
Tony rolls his eyes at him in lieu of an actual response. “Besides, how many people will be able to say that they are friends with the NCIS agent who solved his own attempted murder case while lying in a coma?”
Tim’s laugh chases away any lingering doubts he may be harboring, and Tony gives his shoulder another friendly shake before closing his eyes with a sigh.
“It’ll be okay, Tim. You’ll see.”
Tony would never admit to the choked sob that he was unable to hold back when Tim woke. Tony had time to pull himself together as he watched Tim blink furiously and take in his surroundings, his gaze finally landing on Tony’s face. The hand currently being held by Tony trembled for a moment, but then turned palm up to return the firm grip.
“Tony.” Tim’s voice was soft and raspy, but Tony beamed.
“Welcome back, Tim.”
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