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.”