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Life Preserver

by: BuffyAngel68 (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 004 Word Count: 9571
Rating: MATURE
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo, Abby Sciuto, Timothy McGee
Category(ies): Hurt/Comfort, Episode Related, Angst/Drama, Pre-Slash
Pairing(s): Tony/McGee
Episode(s): 1-00 Pilot
Summary: Immediately following the events of "Probie" Tim is floundering and he won't let Abby help. When his alternate method of finding solace leaves him in an even deeper hole, however, someone offers rescue, but his white knight turns out to be the last person he expected...

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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Tim awoke on the couch once more, and once more in his clothes, but the nausea, headache and general feeling that he wanted to die were blessedly absent and the blended aromas of coffee and frying ham from the kitchen had his mouth watering. Tossing back the afghan that had been draped over him, he padded barefoot in the direction his nose and grumbling stomach were leading him.

"Morning." Tony greeted simply, half-turning away from the stove to watch Tim sink into a chair at the kitchen table.

"And better than the last one, that's for sure."

"I can believe it. Eggs?"

"I don't think so... not yet. Some of that ham would be great, though. And toast?"

"Boring! We have bagels, croissants, frozen waffles, brioche..."

" I get it, I get it." Tim laughed. "There're enough carbs in the house to feed an infantry unit. A croissant, please."

"Coming up." Tony confirmed, heading to the table with a plate and another mug of tea. "I should make you the eggs anyway. You weren't able to eat much yesterday and you barely touched the popcorn last night."

"Only because I conked out."

"I know. Sorry about the sofa thing two nights in a row, but I didn't have the heart to wake you."

"It's okay. It's comfortable. Mmm... these hash browns are amazing!"

"Fresh sautéed onions and a little garlic make all the difference."

"Okay... no more teasing about the Food Network. I believe you now."

"If you hadn't, dinner would've convinced you. Whadda you say to a morning on the beach, a light lunch and an afternoon of horseback riding?"

"I say I'll be out cold before the opening credits on the movie finish tonight. Again. But it sounds good."

"That's the schedule, then. Try the tea."

"You did something to it."

Tony held up his hands palm out.

"Look Ma. No superglue and not a keyboard in sight."

Tim looked shocked and protested instantly.

"I didn't mean that. I was asking... I just wondered..."

Tony closed his eyes momentarily and ducked his head.

"Sorry. My bad for overreacting. Actually... for all the crap I've pulled I deserve caution and suspicion from you."

"Tony, no..."

"Yes, but we're not talking about me right now. Try the tea. Please?"

Tim abandoned his attempt at being the one to do the consoling and lifted the mug. A warm, comforting citrus aroma hit him before the liquid ever got near his mouth and drew a smile.

"This smells incredibly good. What is it?"

"Lemon herbal tea with orange blossom honey."

"Wow... I feel like I'm more awake and I haven't even tasted it yet."

"It does that for me too. I thought you might like it."

"I do. Thanks."

"No problem. Don't forget a jacket, just in case. Even along the shoreline, November days down here are usually decent temperature-wise, but we'll be out there a while, so it pays to plan for anything."

Tim sipped and ate silently for a while, struggling to straighten out the tangle of conflicting ideas in his mind. Eventually, the confusion began to overwhelm him and he lost interest in what was left on his plate

"You know," Tim announced suddenly. "I don't think I can do this, Tony. I'm about as good at being open as you are."

Tony winced and Tim opened his mouth to apologize, but the other man halted his attempt.

"Stop, okay? The truth is the truth. Just because it's hard to hear doesn't mean I don't need to. My life... my childhood wasn't the greatest, Tim, but there's a good reason I don't talk about it. At home, there was nobody to complain to. Once I managed to get away, I realized nobody wanted to be around a guy who did the 'woe is me' thing all the time. I wanted friends so bad back then... had to have people around all the time to keep me from remembering. Soon as I figured out how to fake a positive attitude, it was easy. I grinned, turned myself into a joker and a flirt and I had all the buddies and bed-mates I could handle. It was perfect... while I was still in college. It doesn't work so well in the real world."

"Couldn't prove it by me."

"Really. Seen me with a woman lately? Seen me with a *house plant* lately?"

"No... wait a second, the way you talk..."

"Rule 3."

"Never assume; always double check. Oh... oh God... seriously?"

"Unfortunately. I don't open up like this for just anybody, Tim... and it might not ever happen again. You need to take advantage of it while it's available."

"I need to talk, you mean. I get that, Tony... I absolutely understand."

"I also expect confidentiality after we get home."

"Of course. No problem."

"Good. You done eating?"

"Uh... yeah. I'm finished."

"Then let's get dishes done, okay? I wanna get out to the beach."

Tim nodded, rose and brought his plate to the trash to scrape it. Moving to the sink, he slid into position beside Tony. As he handed over his plate and utensils, and received a kitchen towel in return, he considered keeping the conversation going, but stopped himself, sensing that Tony wanted to wait until they were outside.

With both men working, it took only a few minutes for the dishes and pans to be cleaned and replaced in cupboards and on the racks where they belonged. Not long after, Tony was leading Tim out a set of sliding doors at the back of the house and down a gently sloping path that lead to a deep, wide stretch of sand, hemmed in by a towering group of boulders on the left and a well-worn, but sturdy looking boardwalk on the right. Tony flipped out the huge blanket he'd brought along, turned in place to adjust so that the light breeze would help instead of hinder, and watched the sheet gently land. With a mildly critical expression, he straightened a folded corner and a rumpled edge then settled down Indian style and looked up at Tim with a grin.


The younger man gazed out at the water, decided it was far enough away for comfort and dropped onto the blanket as well. "Ah. So it isn't boats exactly." Tony posited.

"Both. Boats more than the ocean... but definitely both."

"Something you feel like sharing?"

"Do I have to?"

"No. It's not what we're here to hash out. I just thought you might feel better being out here if you let go of why it is the water scares you."

"Not water. Lakes, ponds... I'm fine. The ocean... I don't know. It's just too big, I guess. You can see across a lake... you know the other side is right there. If you had to get to it, you probably could. It's not like that with the ocean. It just goes and goes. No other side. Enough, okay? I'm getting creeped out."

"Understood. Tell me about the other night. What prompted you to go drinking like that?"

"After Abby told me she'd never know if I fired the kill shot, I was totally lost for a while. It was like this... fog got into my head and I couldn't think or make sense of anything. All I could hear was this voice screaming 'you murdered him, you murdered him.' I wanted it to shut up, but I didn't know how to do that. You were right about the alcohol. On a normal day, or if it'd just been some minor problem, I never would've turned to booze, but... nothing else worked. I tried writing, but I had less than zero focus. I tried playing on the computer but when I put gaming up against the fact that I might've killed an innocent cop, suddenly it all seemed so... frivolous and stupid. I remembered that I had a can of beer in my fridge. By the time I'd finished it, the voice was going away, so I thought... okay, I've got my solution. That's about it."

As Tim talked, Tony surreptitiously studied him out of the corner of one eye, seeking the dark apparition he'd seen the night before and praying the bright sunlight would prove he had been wrong about what he believed he'd seen. Instead, he felt his pulse accelerating for a different reason. Unaware he was doing it until it was too late, Tony found that his hand had crept across the space between he and Tim and wrapped itself around the younger man's fingers. Knowing that more problems would be created if he suddenly pulled back, Tony let the gesture stand.

"You're not a killer, Tim."

"We don't know that."

"I do. Look at me. Tim, look at me, damn it." Tony demanded, refusing to continue until his order was followed. "Better. You need to listen to me. You were doing your job. The situation went down way too fast for anybody, even Gibbs, to have reacted differently. You have amazing instincts, you trusted them... and maybe it came out wrong. That doesn't mean what you *did* was wrong. You didn't screw up, Tim, but if you can't believe that, your confidence will never recover. It'd kill me to see that happen."

"Yeah. Gibbs said... going after Archer, he got the drop on the boss. Gibbs almost got killed because I hesitated. He said if I ever did that again because I was doubting myself, he'd take my badge."

"Damn right. I might not've said it like that, but I would've done it just the same. Sounds like you've got really good incentive to work through this."

" *Great* incentive." Tim agreed, gazing down at where their hands were linked. "Tony..."

"You want me to let go?"

"Not necessarily. Just... why?"

"Color me clueless. Felt right... like maybe you needed something more tangible than sympathy or encouragement."

"Oh. I... yeah. I don't mind. It's... nice... sort of."

"You warm enough?"

"I'm fine."

"Let's just... be quiet for a while, okay? Give us both time to think... process."

Tim nodded slowly, looked down at the blanket between them once more, then smiled at Tony and lowered himself onto his back, making sure the other man's grip on his hand didn't shift too much. Tony pulled his knees up close to his chest, wrapped his free arm around them and stared out at the waves.



"I loved the salad, Tony. I never would've thought about spinach instead of lettuce. And the grilled shrimp... wow."

"Thanks. So... have you been horseback riding?"

"A little. Mostly when I was young."

"I'm thinking trails, not the Kentucky Derby. That should be some relief."

"It is. You'll, um... you'll tell me your story once we're out there?"


"You said you've been where I am. I need to hear the details."

Tony pushed away his nearly empty plate, breathed deeply and lowered his eyes.

"You've done everything I asked and more. I guess it is my turn. Yeah... I'll tell you while we're riding. Go do a quick clean up and change clothes, okay? I'll do the dishes and pack up some supplies."

Tim rose, smiling lightly, and moved to comply. On his way out of the kitchen, however, he paused briefly, reached out and gave Tony's hand a quick squeeze. His eyebrows lifted when Tony jumped and looked surprised, but the older man shook it off. "It's okay, Tim. I'm not... it's been a while since anybody offered... Are you? Offering?"

"I don't know. I guess... we'll have to see?"

"We will."

"Okay. I'll just... go get dressed, now. I won't be long."

"Good. That you'll be back soon, I mean. The point of this is to... spend time together, right? Right. So go on. I'll be here when you get back."

"Hope so. I mean... forget it. I... I'm going now." Tim responded vaguely as he backed out of the kitchen with a confused grin. The minute he was gone, Tony turned toward the sink, leaned on the edge of the counter and groaned.

"I'll be here when you get back... Where are you gonna go, Cleveland? What the hell is up with me all of a sudden?! I did *not* just ask him if he... well, shit. Now what?"
Huffing in frustration, he pushed away and headed for his room to get his own necessary washing and clothes changing over with.

When Tim reappeared less than fifteen minutes later, Tony greeted him with a smile, but Tim noted that the supposed happiness that implied didn't reach his friend's eyes.


"We're good... I promise. My brain's just throwing a major tantrum and the rest of me doesn't know what to do about it. I told you... it's been a long time."

"Oh, c'mon." Tim teased gently. "You must get offers twenty times a day."

"For drinks, dinner and the inevitable... yeah, I do. I stopped accepting those propositions months ago. It's not what I want now."

The revelation left Tim slightly breathless and his voice was serious and hushed when he spoke again.

"What is?"

""Different, better... more."

Hesitantly, Tony stretched out a hand to touch Tim's cheek, but the caress lasted only a moment before he drew back, unsure he was ready for what might happen if he let the moment and the feeling persist. "The blue pack on the counter is yours." he instructed, shifting away and grabbing the green one that sat beside Tim's. "I packed some trail mix, water, granola bars, a couple pairs of shorts and a towel for each of us."

"How come?"

"I have a membership at a local gym. I figured you might appreciate a hot tub after the horses. Hell, it's been few years for me too. I'll probably need it just as much. You ready to go?"

"All set." Tim replied brightly, when all he really wanted to do was drag Tony back into the living room, make him sit on the couch and urge him to talk until they both clearly understood what was going on between them.

"Okay. Let's hit the road."

Fighting his convictions and biting his tongue, Tim hiked the pack up onto his shoulder and followed the other man out the door.


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