“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.”