Three days before Valentine's Day, and Tony DiNozzo didn't have a date.
Considering that he was someone who often bragged about the size of his little black book, most of Tony's acquaintances wouldn't be concerned. Last minute calls, the famously irresistible DiNozzo charm, and he'd have a beautiful blond or brunette on his arm for the 'most romantic night of the year'. It was a façade he had used for years, but a façade it was, because in reality Tony wanted something different.
Something he couldn't have.
He had spent years ignoring the not so subtle feelings he held for one person in particular, covering them up by flirting with the attractive females they encountered in their myriad of cases, and earning multiple head slaps from his boss for his distraction. They were a small price to pay to keep Gibbs from figuring out the true object of his desire. He was pretty sure the older man didn't have a clue.
Pretty sure. This was Gibbs, after all.
As for the rest of his team, he was almost sure they had been fooled as well. Kate had always given him grief about his 'skirt chasing', and Ziva often teased him about his 'conquests', and did quite a bit of flirting with him herself. Ducky and Jimmy would usually just shake their heads at his antics, while Abby would punch his shoulder and tell him he needed higher standards after he had regaled her with tales of his latest date: big on looks, slightly lower on brains.
He was pretty sure Abby wouldn't be happy with what his standards really were.
Then there was McGee, who would just roll his eyes or shake his head whenever Tony bragged about his latest fling. He was the one that Tony was most certain had been fooled by the mask Tony wore...much to Tony's relief, since Tim was the reason he wore it in the first place.
Tony would admit Tim hadn't made much of an impression on him to start. When he first laid eyes on him at Norfolk, a surgical mask over his face-which was a sickly shade of pale green at the time-Tony had felt more along the lines of amusement rather than romantic interest. The younger man was awkward and more than a little geeky, something Tony had mocked relentlessly during their initial interactions. As he had gotten to know Tim, however, his feelings had changed. Tim's intelligence, which had been rather intimidating at first for someone who bragged about being a jock, had become one of the most attractive things about him.
That, and those beautiful green eyes. That mouth with the pouty bottom lip was a close second. Well maybe after that tight...getting off the point, here.
Over time Tony had learned to appreciate Tim's rather dry and sarcastic sense of humor. It was a perfect foil for Tony's own rather irreverent and uncouth commentary, and Tony had found himself thinking that they would make a good pair, both at work and off the clock. Every comic needs his straight man, right? Of course, that was the problem. The straight part...
Tony had to admit he had made a few missteps in his dealings with Tim. Spreading the rumor that Tim was gay and telling Kate that it was to reduce the competition had started as a means of hiding what he wanted, and, admittedly, a test to see if Tim might actually be what Tony had claimed. That had backfired spectacularly, creating resentment from the younger man and diminished respect for Tony from the rest of his team. While he still teased Tim, he had tried to respect the man's boundaries but still managed to take it too far on occasion. He knew he had only himself to blame for screwing up any chance he might have had, and thus was to blame for his current predicament.
Gibbs order pulled Tony from his thoughts and he scrambled after the leader to join the rest of the team in the elevator.
"Where are we going, Boss?"
"Capitol Heights. Dead squid in an condemned apartment building."
Gibbs shot him a dirty look and he shut up until they were in the truck and heading for the site. Tony drove, trying to concentrate on the road and not the man seated in the passenger's seat. Finally he decided to not talking was more likely to give him away.
"Another case, another all-nighter...or two."
"What's wrong, Tony? Afraid you'll have to cancel your date?" Ziva asked, more than a hint of amusement in her tone.
"Valentine's Day. Surely you have one."
"I don't...and don't call me Shirley."
Tim snickered at Ziva's puzzled expression, glanced at Tony and fell silent. Tony sighed as he explained the reference to Ziva, who did not look impressed.
"I do not understand your fascination with movies, Tony."
"You never have, Ziva."
"And probably never will," Tim offered. "It's an escape. Something we all need on this job sometimes."
Tony sent Tim a grateful grin. Tim just rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the road.
"I prefer books."
"To each their own. Right, Tim?"
Tim was clearly expecting a dig from Tony about his own writing attempts, but Tony let it slide. He was trying, he really was.
"Why don't you have a date?"
"Why do you care, Ziva?"
"It seems strange. You are usually bragging about your conquests, especially this time of year."
"Maybe I didn't want to have to cancel, since we always seem to catch a case."
"Ah, yes. Good point."
Tim said nothing, and Tony wondered if the younger man did have a date...and who it was with.
Finally they arrived at the scene and Tony winced. The building really looked like it should have been torn down ages ago. Two cop cars were parked in the weed-choked parking lot out front, and two officers were leaning against their respective cruisers. They stood when Gibbs approached.
"What do we got?"
The officers explained that a body, complete with Navy dog tags, had been found while they were investigating a report of screaming and gunfire coming from the building. When they saw the tags they knew who to call, and hadn't disturbed the scene. Gibbs grunted in acknowledgement and motioned for the rest of the team to follow.
The inside of the building looked worse than the outside, if that was possible, and smelled horrible. Long strips of wallpaper hung from pock-marked and crumbling drywall, and Tony thought he caught a glimpse of dark mold growing underneath. He could hear a hitch in Tim's breathing as the younger man tried to fend off an allergy attack, and he cursed the dead sailor for having the poor sense to die in such a wretched space.
After navigating two dim hallways and a crumbling set of stairs, the team found the body. Two dark holes in its chest gave a pretty clear indication of cause of death, and after taking the required set of pictures the team stepped back to let Ducky do his work. Tim moved of to start documenting the rest of the apartment, his breathing noisier than normal, and Tony took pity on him.
"Why don't you work over by the window? Air's clearer over there."
Tim gave him a grateful smile, one of those boyish grins that never failed to melt Tony's heart. "Thanks, Tony." He moved towards the window and started to search for signs of the killer while Tony took pictures of the expended brass near the door.
It didn't take long to determine that there was no other evidence of interest: no fingerprints, footprints, or casings other than the two Tony had already found. He worked to document the blood spatter, which was consistent with their victim being shot while standing pretty much where he fell, and the shooter standing where the brass had been found.
"Any luck?" he called to McGee, who shook his head. Ziva and Gibbs emerged from the other rooms they had been searching.
"I did not find any sign of anyone living here. This must have been a meeting place."
"No signs of drug manufacturing or distributing," McGee replied. "Guess we'll have know more after autopsy."
Gibbs just nodded and headed out, presumably to get more information from the officers outside. Ducky and Palmer loaded the body into a bag and then onto a gurney before pushing it out the door into the hallway. Tony knew they'd need help getting it down the stairs so he followed after, leaving McGee and Ziva to finish up.
After he had helped load the body he headed back into the apartment to help carry the rest of the gear back out. McGee and Ziva had finished packing everything just as he arrived and he grabbed one of the cases.
"Come on, looks like we have some canvassing to do."
They reached the end of the hall, ready to start down the stairs, and suddenly Tony's inner alarms were buzzing. He stopped and turned just in time to see a man step out into the hall and raise his gun to point it at Tim.
"McGee, look out!"
Instinctively McGee started to reach for his weapon as he tried to move out of the line of fire, but before he even had his hand on the grip the man pulled the trigger, the sound of the shot booming like a cannon in the narrow hallway as Tim collapsed. Tony yanked his own gun from its holster and fired at the man just as he was aiming his gun at the senior agent. The man jerked from the impact of the bullet and squeezed the trigger, the bullet barely missing Tony as Ziva pulled her weapon and shot the man three times in the chest, dropping him like a stone.
Tony didn't spare the man a glance as he rushed to the prone body of his partner.
"Tim? Tim, talk to me!" McGee didn't respond. Tony dropped to his knees next to Tim, his heart in his throat when she saw the dark stain spreading over Tim's back. "Oh, God…"
Tony grabbed his phone and punched a number. "I need an ambulance, now! Federal agent down!" He barely noticed Ziva checking the shooter as he shouted the address. "Hurry!" With a shaking hand he checked for a pulse, relief flooding through him when he was able to detect a faint beat in Tim's neck. He pulled off his jacket and pressed it over the wound, praying help would arrive before Tim bled out.
"Hang in there, buddy. You're going to be OK. You hear me, Tim? You stay with me!"
"Let me help," Ziva insisted but Tony shook his head.
"I got him. Make sure they know where to find us."
Ziva nodded and rose to leave just as Gibbs pounded up the stairs.
"Those idiots didn't clear the building!" Tony nodded toward the gunman. "He was hiding in another apartment. I didn't see him until it was too late." Tony checked Tim's pulse again. It was noticeably weaker, "No, Tim, damn it, don't you dare!"
"You need to press harder, Tony," Gibbs ordered as he approached. Ziva gave them one last look and ran down the stairs as Tony put more of his weight behind the pressure he was applying. Tim let out a soft groan and Tony leaned in to speak in his ear.
"Sorry, Tim, I'm sorry, I know it hurts but you have to hang on. Please, Tim, you don't have permission to give up. Do you hear me?" Tony thought he saw Tim's head nod slightly. "That's good, Tim. You stay with me. You stay with me…"
Tony barely noticed the arrival of one of the officers and the subsequent chewing out he got from Gibbs. He was focused on keeping McGee alive and trying not to think of what would happen if he failed. Finally he heard the sirens and let out a soft sigh of relief.
"You hear that, Tim? Help is almost here. OK? Just hang on." Three more agonizing minutes passed before he heard footsteps on the stairs, and soon the EMTs were there, telling him that they were ready to take over. Tony moved out of the way but stayed close, wincing in sympathy as Tim softly groaned in pain. He grabbed one of Tim's hands and held it as the EMTs worked to get him ready for transport. He had to let go when they loaded TIm onto a stretcher, but he gave Tim's hand one final squeeze and received a week squeeze in return.
Tony watched as they carried the stretcher towards the stairs, wanting desperately to follow but he knew Gibbs would need him to stay. He turned to the older man and Gibbs held out his hand.
"I'll need your weapon, but then you can go with McGee."
Gibbs just nodded and Tony handed over his gun before hurrying after the EMTs.
*four hours later*
Tony sat in one of the hard plastic chairs in the emergency waiting room, a cup of cold coffee in his hand, waiting for news on McGee. During the time he had been there every horrible scenario and outcome had passed through his mind, and while he kept his fears to himself once the rest of the team arrived to check on McGee, the effort was wearing on him. Occasionally he would get up and pace but that never helped. He was terrified of losing his partner, and even more terrified that Tim would never be the same. He didn't know what he'd do if the younger man could no longer be a field agent, and Tony could no longer watch his back.
Not that he'd done a very good job of that.
Even though it was the responsibility of the officers to make sure the scene was safe, Tony felt like he should have done more. He should have known better. If he'd just done a quick check, McGee wouldn't be in surgery, fighting for his life.
"You OK, Tony?"
He turned to his companion, the only one of the team that didn't have to be working right now, and barely managed to bite back a sharp retort.
"No, Palmer, I'm not."
"This wasn't your fault. Agent Gibbs said it wasn't. I'd hate to be in those officers' shoes right now…"
"Not really helping, Jimmy."
Tony flopped back down in the chair. "What's taking so long?"
"He was hit in a bad place. They've got to be really careful not to make things worse...not that there's much chance of that. They're just being cautious, really."
"Worse as in dead or paralyzed?" Tony muttered and Jimmy winced.
"That's not going to happen. He'll be OK."
"God, I hope so," Tony whispered, realizing a second too late what he had said. "I mean, none of us want anything to happen to him."
Jimmy laughed softly. "Especially you."
"Well, yeah, he's my partner. I…"
"Care about him?"
Tony paused for a moment, wondering if Palmer was really saying what Tony thought he was saying.
"Well, yeah, you know, like partners are supposed to. I mean, McGee, he's a great guy...good agent...always has my back, and I'm…"
"So far back in the closet you're in Narnia?"
Tony froze. "What?"
Jimmy blushed slightly. "Sorry, that was just to get your attention. I know you care about McGee, Tony. I'm just wondering when you're going to admit...you care about him."
"I don't… I don't know what you're talking about."
Jimmy gave him a 'don't B.S. me' look he must have picked up from Ducky somewhere along the line. "Really."
"You...I…" Tony slumped forward in his chair. "Damn it. You know?"
"How did you figure it out?"
"I pay attention. One thing I've learned from working for Dr. Mallard all these years."
"How long have you known?"
"How long have you known?"
Tony sighed. "Pretty much from the beginning."
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, that's what we thought, too."
"'We'? Who else knows?"
"Everybody, basically. Abby definitely knows, and so does Ziva. Dr. Mallard, of course, and…"
"He's never said anything, but Dr. Mallard believes he's aware."
"But...how? I've always…"
"Tried to hide it, yeah, we know." Jimmy chuckled. "Ziva spent quite a lot of time trying to see just how far you'd carry the charade. She was impressed by your dedication to…"
"Not outing myself?" Jimmy nodded again. "Great. I'm a dead man."
"Why? No one has ever said anything. I think Gibbs has been more disappointed that you won't admit it. Dr. Mallard says it's not healthy to hold those feelings in for so long, and Abby...well, she never liked the woman you claimed to have dated…"
"Hey, I did date them. That was never a question."
"OK. But what did you get out of it?" Tony raised his eyebrows and Jimmy blushed. "I mean, really get out of it? Anything meaningful?"
"No. Not really."
"Well then? Why not admit that's not what you want? And why not go after what you want...or who you want?"
Tony groaned. "OK, number one: Rule 12. Just because Gibbs has ignored it for now doesn't mean he will if I actually break that rule, and number two: it's a one-way street. I'm interested, he's not. End of story."
"Are you sure about that?"
He shrugged. "As I said, I pay attention. I'm not convinced the feelings you have for McGee aren't reciprocated."
Tony stared at Jimmy for a full minute before he managed to respond. "W-what?"
"Are you sure that McGee isn't interested in you, too?"
"I...I mean...Yes! I'm pretty damn sure he's straight, and even if he wasn't...I seriously doubt I'm his type."
"Won't know until you ask."
"Yeah, that's not going to happen."
"And so you'll just continue to be miserable, filling your time with women that you can never care about, and wind up alone."
"Why am I even listening to you?"
"Maybe because deep down you know I'm right. Look, I know what it's like to have a meaningless relationship, alright? But I also know that when you do find the one you're meant to be with...nothing else matters. If I can handle Ed, you can handle talking to McGee."
Tony ran his hands through his hair. "Maybe you're right...but if this goes south, I'm blaming you."
Jimmy grinned. "I don't think I have anything to worry about."
"I hope not...and I really hope I get the chance to find out." He glanced up towards the doors that lead to the O.R. "What's taking so long?"
Jimmy put a hand on Tony's arm. "He's going to be OK, Tony."
Tony sighed. "I really hope you're right, Jimmy. About everything."
*two days later*
Tony sat next to Tim's bed, watching the rise and fall of his chest, proof that Tim was still alive and breathing under his own power, not helped along by a machine. The doctors had said that Tim was very lucky, that the bullet hadn't done any permanent damage, but his recovery would take time and that they needed to be patient.
Patience was definitely not one of Tony's virtues.
The rest of the team had been by to visit, as a group and individually, but Tony had never left. He didn't want to miss the moment when Tim woke up, because he really needed to see for himself that Tim was OK and not rely on others to share that news with him. So far Tim hadn't woken up, hadn't told Tony that he was fine, so Tony waited. There were worse things he could be doing.
He reached over and gently wrapped his fingers around Tim's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, and was rewarded with a slight return of pressure on his fingers. He watched, eager to see if Tim would open his eyes, only to be disappointed. Tim was taking his good sweet time, it seemed. It was frustrating as hell.
"You know, Tim," Tony began, doubting that Tim could even hear him but unable to hold it in any longer. "This really isn't fair. Sleeping on the job and all, leaving me to write all of the reports. You're going to owe me for this one, buddy."
Tim remained silent and Tony's fake smile faded. "I miss you, Tim. I need my Probie. Not just to have my six, but...I need you in my life, Tim McGee. Not just at work. Not just as a wingman. I need you." He cleared his throat. "I know I've said it before, and I know you didn't believe me. I know I've given you no reason to believe me, but right here, right now, I'm telling you the truth. I know you may not feel the same towards me, but….before I lose my nerve, before Gibbs shows up and head slaps me straight back to an Agent Afloat assignment, I'm going to tell you." He took a deep breath. "I love you, Tim."
Slowly Tim opened his eyes.
"Tim? McGee? Are you with me?"
Tim stared at him for a few moments before a smile formed on his face.
Tony felt a blush creep up his cheeks. "I, uh….well, I…"
Tony stared at Tim for several moments before he grinned. "Did you just...quote a movie?" Tim nodded, his smile widening. "Oh, man… We really have to update your references, Tim. I mean, really, Ghost? So early 90's, Probie…"
Tony laughed, relief bubbling through him. "That's the McGee I know and…"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Can't believe I actually told you, and you-"
Tony's grin lit up his whole face. "You have no idea how badly I wanted… Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"You...had to take...the first step. You always...do."
"You're right. You usually are."
"So now what?"
"We...have time...to figure that out. Right?"
"Yes, we do. You're going to be OK, Tim, just like I promised."
Tony reached up and ruffled Tim's hair before leaning down and kissing his forehead. "You should get some sleep. I'll be here when you wake up, I promise."
"You look like...you need sleep, too."
"I'll be fine."
"Go, Tony. It's...OK. Get some...real sleep. You can come back...tomorrow."
"I'll be here."
Tony smiled, happy that he finally knew that it was true. Tim would be with him...hopefully for a very long time. "Tomorrow it is. I'll be here."
"OK." A worried look crossed Tim's face. "What day is it?"
"Oh. OK. Hey, Tony, l guess...it worked out...after all."
"You...have a date. For Valentine's Day."
"I sure do, Tim. I sure do."