When Tim opened his eyes, he thanked god that today was Saturday. His head was pounding and his stomach felt heavy: acidic and just wrong.
He moaned softly to himself, rolling over and trying to go back to sleep. Lying on his stomach turned out to be a really bad plan and by the time he’d discovered that, he was awake. Awake and kind of twitchy, like the alcohol had woken up too and was doing a jig in his veins. It was weird.
Tim crawled out of bed and dragged himself to the bathroom, first checking that his mom wasn’t lurking in the hallway. He ignored Sarah who was kneeling in the bedroom doorway, making her GI Joe dolls scale the heights of the radiator. Tim knew from experience that she was going to make them fall any minute so they could break their legs and her Barbie dolls could swoop in to rescue them.
“It’s nearly lunch time,” Sarah told him like sleeping in that late was the worst thing in the world. Tim just ignored her all the harder.
The bathroom smelled of his mom’s lime shower gel, tart and refreshing and it helped to clear his head. He pushed open the window to let some fresh air in then ran the shower as hot as he could. He stood under the spray until he was too dizzy to stand any more, then he sat in the tub, knees drawn up to protect his roiling stomach and let the water pound against the back of his neck until he finally, finally felt like he might not be in imminent danger of death.
His mom was in the back yard when he got down to the kitchen, which was good; if she’d been out back all morning, she hopefully hadn’t noticed that his car wasn’t in the drive.
Cereal wasn’t exactly tempting but he forced down a couple of spoonfuls of Captain Crunch and was half way through his second mug of coffee when the doorbell chimed.
“I’ll get it!” Sarah yelled and Tim listened to her pounding down the stairs, wincing at the ache it woke in his head.
He heard her open the door, then silence, then he heard her yell “Mom!” loud and shrill.
She sounded frightened and Tim only stopped long enough to bang on the window to get his mom’s attention before he ran down the hall after her.
There were two men in Navy uniform standing in their doorway: a captain and a sergeant. Tim didn’t know either of them and, anyway, it was too early for a social call.
“Mom,” Tim called too, stopping right behind Sarah, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder and then his mom was there, her hand tightening around Tim’s, so they were all connected while they faced the sailors down.
“Come in,” she told them. The last time Tim had heard her sound that brittle and controlled was when her sister had called to tell her their mother had died.
Tim clenched his hand around his mom’s, probably too tight but she didn’t react. Okay, he thought, wrapped up in a calm that even he could tell was fake. Okay, so his dad was dead.
Tim’s dad wasn’t dead.
The men sitting on the sofa were here to tell them that his unit was missing. Not killed, not injured but missing after enemy action.
Captain Booth was sitting at a respectful distance from Tim’s mom, body twisted toward her, body language oozing sympathy while he said things like 'fine officer' and 'extraction team' and 'doing all we can'. Tim’s mom was nodding, keeping her chin up and her eyes dry.
Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs was kneeling on the floor to talk to Sarah, saying the same kind of things but with smaller words. He kept looking up at Tim, trying to engage him in the conversation but Tim was busy staring blankly over his head and gritting his teeth so he didn’t embarrass his mom by crying.
“Tim,” his mom said eventually and Tim jumped. “Could you make some coffee, please?
Right, Tim thought, coffee. He’d just been drinking coffee and then this. He’d been at a party last night, making a fool of himself while his dad had been in danger.
In the kitchen, Tim got down four mugs then flipped on the coffee maker. It hissed at him angrily and he cursed and switched it off. He’d forgotten to add the water.
“Want me to do that?” a gruff voice asked behind Tim and Tim turned to find Sergeant Gibbs looking between him and the coffee maker with a badly disguised expression of horror.
“I can do it,” Tim said, but he didn’t object when Gibbs took the coffee grounds from his hands and started to measure out spoonful after spoonful. “That’s too much,” Tim said, but Gibbs just looked at him.
“Trust me,” he said, “You can never have too much coffee.”
Tim nodded then folded his arms while they waited for the coffee to percolate. Tim didn’t know what to say but for once that didn’t bother him; he was too busy trying to ignore the screaming in his head. His imagination was too good, his mom had always said. He didn’t know how an imagination could be too good, but right now he wished he couldn’t see over and over again what had most likely happened to his dad.
“Your father is a good man,” Gibbs told him.
“Do you know him?” Tim’s dad had never mentioned Gibbs, and he always told Tim about the men and women he worked with.
Gibb’s hummed. “I’ve met him.” Apparently that was that or so Tim thought until he was adding cream to his mom’s coffee and Gibb’s put a hand on Tim’s forearm. “You need to be strong for your mom, son,” he said.
“I am,” Tim told him, kneejerk. Gibbs had called him ‘son but he was talking to him like a man and Tim felt himself respond to that, standing up a little bit straighter.
“I know.” Gibbs nodded. “You got anyone you can call? It helps to have someone being brave for you too.”
“Yeah.” Tim had Abby; he’d call her later.
Gibbs clapped him on the back. “I’ve got a daughter,” he told Tim. “She’s six, about your sister’s age. If anything happened to me, I’d want to know there was someone looking out for her and her mom.”
Tim swallowed and nodded. “I’m okay,” he said. He was. He was going to have to be.
After Gibbs and Booth left, Sarah gave up her stoic act and crawled onto the sofa and into their mom’s lap. Tim wished he was still young enough to do that.
Tim stood around uselessly for a while, biting his lip sp he wouldn’t say something stupid about how his dad had promised he wouldn’t go to war again and then he had. He couldn’t say that though, because his mom was being so strong; Tim couldn’t let himself hurt her.
Instead, he went outside to phone Abby. It rang to voicemail so he tried her home number instead. It clicked over to the Telephone Relay Service which meant one of her parents was going to answer instead.
“I’m sorry,” the relay operator told Tim. “Abby is bowling with her nuns.” She sounded like she really wanted to ask if she’d read that right, but she wasn’t allowed to do that.
“Thanks,” Tim told her and hung up.
Back inside he could hear that his mom and Sarah were still talking softly in the living room so Tim went up to his room and stared blankly at his ceiling. He wished he could have talked to Abby. She’d feed him good, comforting lines to say to Sarah.
After a while, he remembered what Gibbs had said and he told himself to grow up and clomped back down the stairs. “Mom,” he said, walking into the living room. “Should I start calling people?”
His mom looked nothing but relieved by his offer. It was good to have something to distract himself with, he decided.
By the next day, Tim had run out of things to distract himself with.
He’d called his grandparents, his aunts and uncles; he still hadn’t called Abby but he told himself that that was only because he didn’t want to ruin her weekend. Not because he’d had enough of saying the words “Dad’s missing.”
He’d gotten up this morning, stared for a while at his dad’s empty place at the table then gone back to his room.
Right now, he was lying on his bed, seeing if he could draw a logarithmic spiral between the cracks on the ceiling, when the doorbell rang again. Tim sat up but didn’t go downstairs. It was probably one of the other wives, coming to check on his mom and, if it wasn’t, Tim didn’t want to know.
“Tim?” his mom called after a minute and he got up reluctantly, walking to the top of the stairs. He’d promised to be strong, but he honestly wasn’t sure he could take it if it was more bad news.
It wasn’t more bad news, it was Tony DiNozzo from the other night, standing in Tim’s hallway in a short brown leather jacket and tight jeans and oh crap, Tim had forgotten all about his car.
“Crap,” Tim said and Tony grinned.
“Hey, Frosh,” he said, giving Tim’s mom a really unnecessarily charming smile before bounding up the stairs. “Feeling better?” he asked, when he was close enough for Tim’s mom not to overhear.
“What?” Tim asked, then realised that he hadn’t just forgotten his car; he’d forgotten his hangover. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He sounded too blunt but couldn’t stop himself.
He led Tony into his room then shut the door. “Sorry I didn’t come by for the car,” he said, trying and failing to meet Tony’s eye. He really didn’t feel like being sociable right now.
“Is everything okay?” Tony asked, tossing Tim’s car keys from hand to hand.
Tim shrugged. “Yeah,” he said, lied.
“Okay,” Tony said, dragging the word out and bouncing a little bit awkwardly on his feet. “I’ll be going then. Here are your keys.”
Tim watched him turn away and suddenly felt so lonely it made him ache. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “Sorry, you just caught us on a bad day.”
Tony turned around and nodded, still backing toward the door. “Sure thing,” he said like it didn’t matter and maybe it didn’t to him, Tim wasn’t anything to him. Tony scuffed his feet along the carpet. He lifted his head and smiled slightly. “I mean, I was going to ask you to give me a ride home, but that doesn’t matter.”
Tim shook his head quickly. “Yes,” he said, surprising himself. “Yes, I’ll-. I’ll drive you home.” He really wanted to get out of the house all of a sudden.
They drove in silence for a couple of miles and Tim felt himself slowly start to unwind as the engine vibrated under his feet.
He stopped at the light before the turn for the freeway that would take them back to Tony’s campus. “Do you maybe want to hang out?” he heard himself asking which, wow, was not something he’d ever asked anyone who wasn’t Abby or Jimmy before.
He completely expected Tony to say no because he was in college and Tim really… wasn’t, but Tony just nodded easily and said, “Sure, let’s get lunch,” and “You buying?”
They went for pancakes at the diner because Tim couldn’t afford much else and Tony said, “breakfast food for lunch!” like it was the best thing ever.
“Oh man, I love this place,” Tony said, bouncing into the diner and throwing himself down into a booth like he owned the place. The waitress who’d been moving over to seat them just shook her head and went to pick up some menus.
“What can I get you boys?” she asked and Tim suddenly realised that he was starving. He’d barely eaten at all yesterday and Friday night he’d thrown up everything he’d ever eaten before that.
“Well, Mandy,” Tony said, leaning way too far across the booth so he could read her nametag, “I’d like the breakfast with everything and my friend’ll have-. What are you having, Frosh?”
“Don’t call me Frosh,” Tim muttered, sinking deeper into the plush vinyl cushion behind him. He tried to smile at Mandy like Tony had but knew he’d failed when she got the aww, cute expression on her face that all women got when they looked at Tim. “I’ll have the same, please.”
“Sure thing, angel,” Mandy said and honest to god ruffled his hair.
Tim sunk down lower. Tony probably ruptured something laughing at him.
“So, my high school friend,” Tony said once the food had arrived. He leaned forward, nearly putting his elbow in the pancakes that he’d just finished drowning in maple syrup. “Good to see Friday night didn’t kill you. I’ve got to say I’m impressed you’re not grounded for the rest of forever.”
Tim shrugged. “I don’t think my mom knows I went out,” he admitted, except that sounded really bad and made her sound like a shitty parent which she really was not. “There’s been some stuff happening.”
“Stuff?” Tony asked, gaze sharpening like he was actually interested. If he’d stayed lazy and laconic, Tim might have found it easier to tell him.
He let himself shrug again even though his dad said it was bad for his posture. He shut down all thoughts about his dad. “Yeah, you know. Stuff.”
“Wow, I’m blown away by your eloquence, Wordy McWordsworth.”
Tim knew Tony was joking, he did, but he was out of his depth here, tired and messed up about his dad and guilty that he hadn’t stayed home to look out for his mom like he’d promised Sergeant Gibbs. “My dad’s MIA,” he snapped, then wished he hadn’t when Tony’s face fell.
“Oh, shit,” Tony said and he was serious again. He leaned heavily across the table, sliding his hands a little way across the vinyl like he would have reached out to touch Tim if only they’d known each other for more than five seconds. “Where?”
“Iraq.” Said like a peace offering even though it was the most unlikeliest of peace offerings ever.
Tony opened his mouth then closed it again, like he had no idea what he should say.
“It’s okay,” Tim told him, cutting his pancakes into smaller bites, then turning his plate a quarter-turn and starting to cut each piece in half again. He’d lost his appetite. “Really, Tony. He’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Tony said slowly then, more firmly, “Yeah. Of course.”
Tim drummed his fingers on the table. “Eat your pancakes,” he advised, because Tony starving himself wasn’t going to bring Tim’s dad back. Neither would Tim starving himself, obviously, but he still couldn’t make himself eat.
He watched Tony eat and pretended not to notice that Tony glanced across at his own unmoving hands every couple of bites. Tim let his eyes half close, trying to recapture the calm he’d felt earlier, when they’d been driving.
“Hey.” Tony kicked his ankle and Tim’s head jerked up.
“Ow,” he said.
“You okay there, cowboy?” Tony asked, ignoring Tim’s yelp of pain. His fork started to creep towards Tim’s plate. “Are you going to eat that bacon?”
It was hardwired into Tim to protect his food at all costs – unexpectedly acquiring a baby sister when you’re ten will do that to a person – so he said, “Yes!” and wolfed down his bacon even though ten seconds ago he would have said he couldn’t eat.
The bacon was dry and burnt at the edges but it reminded him that he was hungry and in the end the pancakes ended up going really, really quickly.
“Wow,” Tony said, watching him appreciatively. “I’ve never seen anyone eat that fast since the last time I looked in a mirror.”
“That makes no sense,” Tim told him around his last mouthful. “You watch yourself eat in the mirror?”
“Of course I have,” Tony admitted, not looking particularly embarrassed. “First rule of dating, Frosh, is to make sure that when you go on dates you only eat food that you look good eating.”
Interesting. Or, well, not interesting, but distracting. “So pancakes?” he prompted.
“Are fine. Spaghetti, salads, anything that still has its eyeballs? Not fine.”
Tim nodded sagely. “I will remember that,” he promised seriously and tried not to laugh because he knew Tony was trying to cheer him up. In his own weird way.
They finished eating, Tony mocked Tim some more, Tony tried to score Mandy’s number and got shot down leading to the perfect excuse for Tim to mock Tony right back and then it was back to reality.
Tony’s frat house looked less towering and momentous in daylight but Tim still wasn’t in a hurry to go back inside.
“So, be seeing you,” Tony said, half-glancing back at Tim as he opened the passenger side door. It was almost a question, but Tim couldn’t decide if it was hopeful or apprehensive. Why it would be helpful, he couldn’t think.
“Sure, if you like,” he agreed casually and apparently that was the right thing to say because Tony walked around the car and leaned against Tim’s window until Tim rolled it down.
“So, hey,” Tony said. He handed Tim a scrap of paper. “Here’s my number, in case you, you know, have any questions about how to be an awesome, superstud student or something.”
“Thanks, Tony,” Tim said, surprised but genuinely pleased.
“Call any time but you’re taking a risk if you pick Friday nights.” Tony waggled his eyebrows meaningful.
Reluctantly, Tim asked, “Why?”
“Because Friday nights are the nights even the bookish girls come out to play. You ever played with a bookish girl, Timmy?”
“No,” Tim said gruffly, annoyed when he felt himself blush.
Tony fanned himself and grinned. “Smart girls are h-o-t,” he said appreciatively, turning away from Tim with a dorky little salute that he somehow managed to make look cool. Tim watched as Tony sauntered up the drive with a sway in his step.
Tim felt better on the drive back home, calmer in his head than he had before and he managed to maintain that calm all the way home and through the front door.
“Tim?” his mom called before he was even all the way through the door.
Tim abandoned his plan to call Abby and instead made his way to the living room where, oh. Abby was sitting on the floor playing Lego with Sarah.
“I was just about to call you,” Tim said before she could yell at him.
Abby bounced to her feet and flung her arms around him. “I’m so mad at you for not letting me do this earlier,” she exclaimed in his ear, “Now I owe you a whole day of comfort hugs.”
Tim let himself laugh even though it felt all wrong to laugh around his mom at the moment; her face was so set and worried, even when she tried to smile. “I think I’ll cope,” he told Abby.
Abby smacked him. “You will not. Stand still and accept your hugs like a man, McGee.”
So Tim stayed where he was, letting Abby hug him. It felt kind of awkward until his mom left the room, murmuring something about coffee, then he relaxed into Abby, pressing his face into her shoulder, not for the first time glad that they were almost the same height.
Abby’s arms tightened around him. “It’s going to be fine,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” Tim agreed by rote. He’d gotten used to agreeing to that; all the aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins he’d called yesterday had said the same thing.
“Sorry,” Abby said, letting him go and eyeing him critically with her hands on her hips. “I bet you’ve heard that a lot.”
Tim shrugged. “A little bit. It’s okay.” In fact, the only person who hadn’t said it, had been Tony. Tony hadn’t really talked about Tim’s dad at all once Tim had made it clear he didn’t want to. It had been pretty nice. “Let’s go upstairs,” he suggested, wanting to keep himself distracted.
Abby waggled her eyebrows. “Tim, your mother already thinks we have a thing.”
“A thing?” Tim asked.
“Yeah.” Abby leaned in, black painted nails closing around Tim’s arm, hair brushing his shoulder. “A sex thing.”
Tim spluttered. “What? No. No, she doesn’t.”
Abby just grinned. “We’re going to go up to Tim’s room now, Mrs. McGee,” Abby called through to the kitchen. Her words were totally innocent but she’d made Tim paranoid enough that he still felt himself blush. Great.
Up in Tim’s room, Abby lay down on Tim’s bed and patted the comforter beside her. “C’mon, Tim.”
“Uh, Abby?” Tim hesitated. “You know we don’t actually have a sex thing, right?” There’d been a time when Tim would not have been averse to having a sex thing with Abby, but that time was way over. He couldn’t think of anything more awkward than having sex with someone who knew him as well as Abby did.
Abby rolled her eyes. “Shocking,” she said sarcastically, “That had completely slipped my mind. No, lie down here and tell me things.”
“I don’t want to talk about my dad,” Tim said immediately. Still, he toed off his shoes obediently and sat on the edge of the bed.
Abby tugged at him. “So tell me about where you were this afternoon, instead. There was a definite spring in your step when you came up the drive. You almost had bounce.”
Tim didn’t blush again; he just hadn’t stopped blushing from the last time. “I did not have bounce.” Tim didn’t bounce. He walked with purpose and poise. Or maybe he shuffled kind of awkwardly. Either way, he didn’t bounce.
“I had lunch with a friend,” he said casually, dropping back onto the bed to lie beside her because she’d only end up using force to make him if he didn’t.
“Girl friend?” Abby asked, rolling onto her side.
“No,” Tim said like the idea was insane. Considering the only girl he’d successfully dated was Abby (with values for successful equaling, she was still talking to him) the idea basically was insane.
Great, Tim might as well resign himself to staying beet red. “No.” He’d never confirmed to Abby that he liked boys as well as girls. She’d just kind of landed on the idea and run with it and he’d never bothered to confirm or deny.
“You’re blushing.” She poked his cheek.
“Am not.” He made a half-hearted attempt to bite off her finger. “He’s just this guy I met at the party on Friday. I left my car there so he brought it back for me.”
“And then took you to lunch?” she prompted.
“I took him,” Tim began then waved his hands, trying to ctrl+z that. “I wanted to get out of the house so we had lunch. He made me pay.”
“Hmm,” Abby said. Tim didn’t ask her what it meant, because he was pretty sure he didn’t want to know.
School on Monday went pretty much how Tim had been expecting. The kids who lived on base or had parents who worked at Alameda avoided him. The ones who didn’t looked at him sideways but didn’t talk to him.
Really, it was better than a normal Monday, since there was no one bumping him into walls or looming threateningly while he tried to use the bathroom. Apparently even bullies felt bad when someone’s father went MIA.
Toby Vigar, a junior, the son of Lieutenant Vigar from Tim’s dad’s unit, met Tim’s eye in the lunchroom. He nodded and Tim nodded back. That was apparently that.
“Are you okay, Tim?” Jimmy asked, sliding his tray onto the table next to Tim’s.
“Yeah,” Tim said but he shoved his tray away.
He had AP math after lunch so he got there early. Not because he was hiding or anything, because he absolutely wasn’t. It was just that he’d had an idea for a story for the school magazine and he wanted to get it down.
He kept his head down as the rest of the class filed in, frantically scribbling to get down the rest of the sentence before-. “Mr. McGee?”
Tim jumped, reluctantly sliding his notebook under his math workbook. “Sorry,” he mumbled to the teacher.
She shook her head at him then went back to the front of the classroom.
Tim was good at math and he usually enjoyed it but today he couldn’t keep his head in the classroom. When he wasn’t staring out the window, he was looking around the room. He felt restless and edgy; he wanted to be anywhere but here, he wanted to be back in his car, driving nowhere for hours and hours.
Tim jumped. “Sorry,” he said again. Great, his mom did not need him getting a detention. Actually, he didn’t need himself getting a detention either; he’d never had one before.
His teacher didn’t look mad though. She was waving a pink slip of paper. “Principal Vance wants to see you,” she told him and oh, god. Tim shoved to his feet clumsily. He heard his chair tip over and turned around to pick it up but a kid who had never bothered to speak to him before got there first, waving Tim off.
There were only a couple of corridors between Tim’s math classroom and the principal’s office, but Tim felt like he’d been walking a hundred miles and still hadn’t gotten anywhere, like his feet were made of lead.
Then the office door was looming up in front of him and he wished it had taken longer. Principal Vance was gong to tell him that his dad was dead and Tim didn’t think he was ready for that.
“Tim,” the principal said. Tim didn’t think he’d ever called him by his first name before. “Sit down.”
“I’d rather stand, sir,” he told him because if his dad had taught him nothing else, he’d taught him how to take bad news like a soldier.
Vance nodded then he stood up to face Tim and then he said, “Your father is being airlifted to Ramstein.”
Tim locked his knees so he didn’t sit down without a chair. “Is he hurt?” He cleared his throat. “Injured. Is he injured?”
“He was shot, but he’ll be fine.” He smiled slightly. “He was very lucky.”
The school sent Tim and Toby Vigar home to be with their families. They were the only kids on the bus at that time of day but Tim sat at the front and Toby sat at the back, so it was back to business as usual.
Tim’s mom was on the phone when Tim walked through the door and she waved him down. “It’s dad,” she said, eyes shining. “It’s Tim,” she told the phone. She waved Tim toward the study. “Pick up the other line.”
So Tim did, curling up in his dad’s big desk chair, with the receiver pressed to his ear while he listened to his dad tell them what had to be the most condensed war story ever. He managed to make getting captured and imprisoned for forty-eight hours sound like the most boring thing in the world and Tim knew that he was just trying to spare their feelings, but he still wanted to know what had really happened.
After a while, someone must have given Sarah a ride home because she came in and climbed up onto Tim’s lap, pressing her cheek against his so she could hear too.
“Dad,” Tim heard himself interrupting. “Sarah wants to talk to you.”
Sarah took the receiver with eager, grabby hands and Tim half listened while she told their dad how she’d prayed to Santa to bring him home. Tim smiled; he knew he was right to let her watch Dr Who.
Sarah started to cry the minute she finished talking to their dad, her face pressed into Tim’s sweatshirt so their dad wouldn’t hear. Tim hugged her hard while he and his dad shared their own more stilted version of a reunion conversation.
“Take care of yourself, Tim,” his dad said to finish and “Yeah,” Tim agreed and, “Sure,” before putting the phone back into its cradle. He wished he’d been able to find the words to tell his dad that it wasn’t only Sarah who’d been scared.
Sarah was asleep, draped across Tim’s lap and Tim sighed but didn’t try to move her. He could hear his mom walking around upstairs, probably pacing like she did when when she was trying not to cry. At least it’d be happy crying, Tim thought, and wanted to tell her to go right ahead; it’d make up for how he still couldn’t feel anything at all.
Wriggling around carefully, Tim got two fingers into his back pocked and pulled out the scrunched up piece of paper Tony had given him yesterday.
“DiNozzo,” Tony answered and that was such a stupid way for a college kid to answer the phone that Tim couldn’t help but smile.
“My dad’s okay,” he said rather than hi or this is Tim McGee, you probably don’t remember me.
“Tim?” Tony said and Tim was embarrassed by how relieved he was that Tony did remember him.
“Yeah, sorry, I should have said.”
Tony made a pshaw sound like it didn’t matter. “Your dad’s okay?”
“Yeah, he’s-.” Tim had to stop suddenly, take a minute to take a breath and pinch the bridge of his nose. Jeez, how embarrassing. “He’s coming home soon.”
“Hey, man, that’s great.”
Tim nodded, even though Tony couldn’t see him, focusing on breathing and not having some kind of delayed emotional breakdown right here and now.
“So you would not believe what I saw today,” Tony said filling the dragging silence.
Tim made a sound like he wanted to know.
“A human condom. Oh, yes, my friend,” Tony continued when Tim let out an unexpected laugh, “These are the things you have to look forward to at college.”
Tim checked that Sarah was still asleep before resting his chin in his hand and asking, “A human condom. Seriously?”
They talked for a while. For nearly an hour, actually, until Sarah woke up and stared up at Tim with big, red eyes.
“I’m tired,” she said.
Tim hadn’t heard a sound from his mom for a while so, “Okay,” he said, “I’ll put you to bed.”
On the other end of the phone line, Tony spluttered. “You’ll what now, McGee?”
Tim laughed, embarrassed and trying to brush it off. “Sorry, I was talking to my sister. I’ve got to go.” He wanted to say thanks for being there, but he didn’t want to sound lame.
He expected Tony to be relieved that he could get back to whatever he’d been doing, but Tony surprised him by objecting. “Hey, we weren’t finished. Call me back after?”
“Um, yeah,” Tim agreed, surprised. “I will.”
Tim yawned his way through school the next day and by the time they were in the diner after last period, Abby had started elbowing him the minute he opened his mouth.
“Jeez, Timmy, what’s the matter with you?” she asked, shoving her Caf Pow at him.
Tim stared from the Caf Pow to Abby and back. “You’re sharing your Caf Pow?” he asked. Jimmy’s eyes bugged out.
Abby held up a finger. “One sip,” she warned, “Just one. You look like you’re about to keel over.”
Tim took his one sip, very, very careful not to make it more than that then passed it back to her. She was starting to look twitchy. “I’m okay,” he said, “I’m great. I was talking on the phone a bit last night, that’s all.” He’d talked to Tony until way past midnight and he still had no idea how they’d managed that; they’d mostly talked about cars and movies.
Abby’s expression softened immediately. “To your dad?” she asked.
Tim almost went with it, except it felt like really bad luck to tell lies involving his dad until his dad was safely back home. “No, just a friend.”
“I thought we were your friends,” Jimmy asked.
“Your college friend again?” Abby interrupted, leaning forward.
“It’s not-. He just wants to drive my car again, that’s all.” Tim knew what she was thinking but it wasn’t like that.
“Mmhmm,” Abby hummed. “He wants to drive something, for sure.”
Tim wasn’t drinking anything, but he still managed to choke while Jimmy said, “What? Drive what? Oh.”
Tim had arranged to meet up with Tony after dinner but now he felt all kinds of awkward, Abby’s teasing still ringing in his ears.
He wasn’t sure if it made it more or less awkward that when Tim got to Tony’s frat house, there was a girl dressed in lycra standing on her head in the living room.
“Um, hi?” Tim said uncertainly. He knew he should have waited for Tony in the hallway.
The girl opened her eyes and looked at him upside down for a while with a steady, unblinking gaze. Then she rolled to her knees and slid gracefully to her feet. "Hello." She had a soft accent, something precise and careful about her consonants.
“Hi. I’m, uh, I’m Tim. I’m just waiting for Tony.”
“My name is Ziva David,” she told him, offering her hand for a shake, which turned out to be very, very firm and left Tim’s eyes watering. “I know Tony. I help him with his math and in return he is teaching me English idiom and allowing me use of his floor space for my yoga.”
“Helping me with math,” Tony scoffed, appearing behind Tim and making him jump. “Like I need any help. Come on, Tim.” His hand was firm on Tim’s shoulder as he propelled him out of the room. Tim glanced back over his shoulder at Ziva; she rolled her eyes.
“Teaching her English idiom, huh?” Tim asked when they were out of the house. He wondered if he was the sort of guy who could get away with a teasing elbow dig. He decided he probably wasn’t.
Tony laughed. “Sadly, that’s not even a euphemism, McDirtyMinded. Miss David is in a league of her own.”
“Do you like her?” Tim asked curiously. Not that it mattered to Tim. He just wondered.
Tony made an awkward shrugging motion with his upper body. “She’s okay,” he said and Tim watched him closely, looking for some clue. He’d heard Tim talk about dozens girls and openly stare at a few more but he had no idea what Tony looked for in girls he actually liked.
“So, Frosh, how you doing?” Tony said, swinging himself in Tim’s car. Still distracted, Tim fumbled for any suitable reply and Tony looked at him weirdly. “Dude, you okay?”
Come on, Tim, get a grip, Tim thought furiously. “Yeah, sure,” he lied. “Hey, you want to drive?” That was what they were here for after all, so Tony could get up close and personal with Tim’s car not with Tim.
Tony’s eyes lit up and he all but grabbed the keys out of Tim’s hand. “Oh hell, yes,” he said and swung himself over the handbrake into Tim’s half of the car. Tim blinked up at Tony who was kneeling over him and honestly couldn’t think of anything to say.
“C’mon, Tim, move your ass,” Tony said, with a grin, kneeing Tim ungently in the thigh.
Oh, Tim thought, Of course. He pushed Tony over to one side and got out the driver’s seat via the door like any sane person should. By the time Tim was in the passenger seat, Tony was cooing lovingly at Tim’s control panel.
“You’ve driven her before,” Tim reminded him.
“Yes,” Tony agreed, stroking the steering wheel in a really suggestive way, “But she’s missed me, haven’t you, baby.”
“You’re disturbing,” Tim told him, because he was. The fact that he was disturbing and hot wasn’t really the point. Lots of people were hot; it didn’t mean Tim wanted to jump them. Abby really should keep her crazy ideas to herself; it would be much better for Tim’s sanity that way.
Tony kept up a running commentary to the car about how good she was, how much he enjoyed driving her, all the way to the highway, but he fell silent once he had space to really put his foot down.
Tim didn’t know where they were going and he didn’t really care. He thought that should probably bother him more than it did.
“You’re not abducting me, are you?” he asked, because he thought he should probably check.
Tony glanced across at him for a second. “Sure,” he said, “Anywhere you want to go?”
“I don’t think the guy who’s getting kidnapped gets to choose,” Tim pointed out.
Tony laughed. “Yeah, point.” They were driving along the coast, the Pacific filling horizon.
“Don’t you ever have to study?” Tim asked suddenly. He only saw Tony raise an eyebrow because he was looking at him. “I mean, you’re always free to drive my car or have lunch or-.” He trailed off, realising really, really belatedly that Tony had probably been making time for him, because Tim had been kind of a mess lately. “Sorry.”
Tony just laughed, shaking his head but apparently not offended. “Dude, I’m majoring in Physical Education. Mostly I go to the movies or play basketball and football when I’m not hanging out with whiny little high school seniors.”
“Hey,” Tim started to protest then shut up, still feeling bad.
He watched the view passing out the window for a while more until Tony sighed and pulled up against the side of the road. “I guess I better get you back, yeah?”
Tim’s dad was due back tonight. He didn’t want to go; he felt stupidly nervous about seeing him. He didn’t realise he’d said that out loud until Tony frowned and turned to face him.
“You need to go home, dude. It’s your dad.”
Tim took a deep breath. Tony was right, of course he was right. “Yeah,” he agreed, “Yeah, I know.”
Tony beat a rhythm against the wheel with the heel of his hand. “If you’re free Saturday, a bunch of us are heading to this new bar in town.”
Tim hesitated. “Maybe,” he said. He didn’t say that there was no way anyone would serve him in a bar and that he didn’t have a fake ID.
Tony reached over and smacked him on the thigh. “Dude, seriously, think about it. Kate’s bringing some of her Kappa Alpha Theta friends. Pretty, pretty girls, McGee.”
“I don’t need to hook up, Tony,” Tim told him, refusing to get flustered.
“Hmm,” Tony said, sounding unconvinced. He put the car in gear and swung them into an easy U-turn. He started humming along to the radio and Tim listened to that rather than the clamouring of his heart.
When Tim arrived home, his dad’s car was in the drive, but he still didn’t let himself believe that his dad was really back until he saw him, sitting on the sofa next to Tim’s mom, with Sarah sitting at his feet, her chin propped on his knees and a giant smile on her face.
“Hi, dad,” Tim said, coming to a stuttering stop in the doorway. The part of him that was always seven years old and saw his dad as a hero wanted to run over and get a hug. He couldn’t even imagine what his dad’s face would like if he tried though.
“Tim.” His dad smiled. “Good to see you.”
Tim nodded. “You too, sir.”
“Where were you?” his mom asked, a little bit of reproach in her voice. Tim didn’t think that was fair; he hadn’t known what time his dad was due home.
“Out with friends,” Tim said evasively, because he didn’t think his parents would understand his friendship with Tony. And, anyway, it was private.
“It’s fine,” Tim’s dad said again. He maneuvered himself slowly to his feet, one hand pressed against his side. “Come here, son,” he said.
Surprised, Tim did, amazed when his dad hugged him, hugging him back. His dad smelled like stale toothpaste and too much time on airplanes, but Tim didn’t care, finally feeling like he could breathe for the first time in weeks.
“Here,” Tony said, shoving a Pepsi under Tim’s nose. “No alcohol for you, right McPukey?”
The girls sharing their booth with them laughed and Tim glowered at Tony. “You’re hilarious,” he snapped.
(There’d been talk earlier about getting Tim a fake ID; then Tony had seen Tim’s driver’s licence. The conversation had gone something like this: “You’re sixteen? You said you were a senior.”
“I am a senior,” Tim protested. He’d kind of forgotten that Tony probably assumed he was eighteen.
“You’re sixteen,” Tony repeated, the same intonation again and again. He’d been acting weird ever since.)
“Hey, so, that girl at the bar was asking about you,” Tony told him, leaning in and lowering his voice. Apparently now that he’d gotten total strangers to laugh at Tim, Tim was forgiven for lying to him.
“What girl?” Tim glanced up at the bar. There were three girls working the bar tonight. Two blondes and a brunette. None of them were looking Tim’s way.
“See the really, really hot blonde? The one with the, uh, assets?”
“Yeah?” Yeah, Tim did. He wasn’t dead.
Tony laughed. “Yeah, not that one. Her brunette friend, though.”
The brunette girl was pretty, sure, but Tim shook his head. He would have shaken his head even if it had been the super-hot blonde. “I’m not interested, Tony,” Tim told him, feeling tired. All he wanted to do was sit at their table and drink his soda and feel Tony’s thigh press up against his.
He didn’t think it was all that much to ask for.
“Suit yourself,” Tony said, slouching further down in his seat. His thigh pressed hard against Tim’s for one long, warm second then he sat up abruptly, reaching for his beer. He fumbled the glass slightly.
Tim frowned, wanting to ask what was wrong. Before he could though, one of Kate’s Kappa Alpha Theta friends slipped from her seat to the one next to Tony’s, leaning in to talk quietly in his ear.
Tony’s face went slowly pink and it would have been funny if Tim hadn’t been able to see where this was going and that he was going to end up sitting here alone in less than three minutes.
In fact, it took four minutes and Tony did actually check with Tim first, only letting the girl drag him to the dance floor after Tim had promised him that he’d be fine here by himself.
Tim wasn’t sure if he’d expected Tony to be a good dancer or not. In fact, watching him, Tim couldn’t decide if he was a good dancer or not.
When Tim couldn’t convince himself it was okay to perv on Tony dancing any longer, he turned back to his soda. And found Ziva sitting in Tony’s vacated seat.
Tim tried not to squawk.
Ziva tipped her head to one side and frowned at him. “Do you not wish to dance?” she asked.
Tim blinked. “Um, are you asking me-?” He shook his head. “You’re not asking me.”
Ziva smiled. “I am not asking you,” she agreed. She leaned over the table. “Tony is a somewhat better dancer than I would have expected,” she confided.
Tim smiled because yeah, once he’d gotten over his nerves, Tony was pretty good, a grace in his hips even when he was just grinding and oh, oh wow, he was grinding. Tim really shouldn’t have looked back at the dance floor because Tony and the girl were pressed full length together, barely moving now and Tim felt his cock twitch because... well, he was sixteen, there didn’t need to be a because.
As Tim watched, Tony’s hands slid down to the girl’s ass and wow, okay, now Tim was hard. “I’m gonna go,” he said to Ziva, standing up too quickly. “I’ll-. Will you tell Tony bye from me?”
“Tim?” Ziva called after him, but Tim couldn’t stop.
Lying in bed that night, Tim didn’t need to think before he was sliding his hands into his pajama pants.
There were no other images in his head except for Tony pressed up against that girl, their hips sliding and meeting and pressing and grinding, Tony’s hands squeezing handfuls of her ass, fingers digging in, solid and possessive and-.
Tim shoved his wrist into his mouth giving himself something to bite down on, something to muffle his groans as he came.