The numbers are red, large, and counting down.
Tim holds absolutely still for another several long seconds before slowly, cautiously unfurling from a crouch.
The sight before him doesn't change, no matter which way he looks at it.
Tony's still standing. He's got his arm outstretched, reaching forward. There's sweat sliding down the back of his neck and curling under his collar. All these things are fairly normal.
Inches from Tony's fingertips, the inferno stands frozen. It's like some sort of demented sculpture; explosion in situ, Tim thinks, with what he considers an entirely reasonable tinge of hysteria. This is not normal.
"Tony?" Tim's voice squeaks embarrassingly on the upturn. He's not even sure what's he's asking.
"Might want to back off, Probie," Tony grits out, turning his head ever so slightly. Light flickers, and Tony quickly turns his attention back to the conflagration he is, apparently, holding at bay with the power of his mind.
"Right, right." Tim shakes his head violently, breaking his paralysis. "I'm going." Time enough for freaking out later, when they're safe. There's a concrete wall ten feet away; it should be enough to protect him from the flames, or any shrapnel.
"You going to be okay?" Tim asks.
Tony flashes him a grin without taking his attention off the explosion. "I'm a fast runner, remember?"
Tim gets behind the concrete wall. There's the sound of running footsteps; something slams into him; and the roar of the explosion drowns out all thought.
The thing that hit him turns out to be Tony, having made a spectacular dive behind the wall to escape the explosion. He ends up sprawled half across Tim's lap, blinking dazedly up at the ceiling.
Tim lets his hand come down to rest on Tony's hair. "You okay?" he asks, or thinks he does. He can't actually hear himself speak over the ringing in his ears.
Tony reaches up and bats away Tim's hand. He'll take that as a 'yes'.
Tim- and his hearing- finally recover enough to answer Gibbs and Ziva's frantic calls. They're on the other side of the compound, and it'll be a few minutes before they can get there.
"We're fine, Boss," Tim says. "There was a bomb in one of the rooms- well, obviously- but we managed to, ah, get behind a wall in time."
Tony watches him talk, eyes unreadable.
"No, really, we're fine. Looks like the bomb took out most of the evidence, though," Tim says, sticking his head back around the corner; fires still smolder in the twisted wreckage of the file cabinets. "No, Tony has not gone mute, I think he's still just a bit in sh-" The phone is snatched out of his hands.
"We're fine, boss," Tony repeats. "See you in a minute." He flips the cell phone shut, turns to face Tim. "This is usually the part where people start freaking out, you know."
Tim scratches the back of his head, shrugging a little. "What can I say, Tony? You controlling fire with your mind is honestly not the weirdest thing I've ever seen on this job."
Tony lets that stand for a minute while he examines Tim's face, looking for something- what, Tim doesn't know. But whatever he finds there is enough to let him finally crack a smile. "You've got a point there, McGee." He twists his neck back and forth quickly, producing an audible popping sound. Opens his mouth.
It's at that point that Gibbs and Ziva show up, breathing heavily from the run. Tony turns whatever he'd been about to say into a loud proclamation of his need for beer, Ziva fusses over them both, and Gibbs checks them both over and then, finding them both relatively unhurt, calls off the ambulance. And from there, things go back to normal.
Except they don't, not really.
Oh, there's still the case to solve, and it's simple to fall back into the easy rhythms of work, letting Gibbs, Ziva and Abby act as a buffer between them when awkwardness threatens. Without the evidence that was destroyed in the explosion, they're forced to track down the bad guys the hard way. It takes up most of their attention.
Sometimes, though, Tim will catch Tony flicking him little sidelong glances when he thinks no one else is looking; and every once in a while, Tim will jerk himself back from the memory of frozen fire to find he's been staring at Tony. And whenever they're together in the same room, Tony retreats behind movie quotes and sarcasm, and Tim retreats behind computer jargon, and neither of them really says anything to each other at all.
And Tim can feel them settling down into a sort of equilibrium, as the case wears on towards its conclusion. It'd be easy to let them go on like this, both ignoring the elephant in the room until it gets embarrassed and goes away: too easy. Tim knows it would never affect their work; they're both too professional to let that happen. Even the ultraomnipotent Gibbs has yet to notice the tiny hesitations, the infinitesimal awkwardness. They could continue on like this indefinitely.
Except... Tony is always just a little bit tense, these days. Not as quick to accept Ziva's invitation to a team dinner, or pulling out of Abby's hugs a fraction of a second sooner. Disappearing just a few minutes earlier at the end of the work day. And sometimes Tim will catch one of those sidelong glances and start to wonder why, exactly, Tony left Baltimore. Or Philadelphia. Or Peoria.
Tim likes his job. Likes the work and the people, even Tony, though he'd never, ever admit it out loud. And he's so very tired of losing people.
So he spends his free moments watching Tony watching him, and waits for an opportunity.
The final break in the case comes on Thursday morning with the discovery of a cache of diamonds in one of the suspect's homes, and by Friday evening they've got their man and his smuggling ring in custody and all the loose ends wrapped up. All that's left is the paperwork.
The room is quiet and dim; it's running on towards midnight, but both Tony and Tim are still at their desks, the only ones in the room. Gibbs went home a couple hours ago, nursing a black eye and a headache; Ziva has disappeared into the depths of the building and is probably taking out her excess energy on one of the gym's punching bags before going to sleep.
Tony's leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling, twirling a pen in one hand. Tim has his head propped on one hand and is staring listlessly at his computer screen. It's the first time they've been alone together in the same room since that day a week ago when Tony stopped that explosion. Tim stifles the urge to cackle maniacally, and prepares his cache of ammunition.
The first missile- a wadded up paper ball- bounces off Tony's shoulder.
Tony steadfastly ignores it.
The second catches him in the chest, and the third knocks the spinning pen out of his hand. Tony retrieves the pen, but then goes right back to ignoring Tim. Fine, then. Time to break out the heavy duty ammunition.
The spitball catches Tony right smack dab between his eyes; the wet splat is audible across the room. It's quite beautiful, if Tim does say so himself.
"-The hell was that!" Tony practically falls out of his chair trying to get the spitball off of him. "That's disgusting, Probie!"
It's the first time Tony's called him that all week. Tim hides a grin behind his hand.
Tony stalks over, spitball held out at arms length between two fingers. He deposits it on the edge of Tim's desk and then wipes his slightly damp hand down the back of Tim's shirt.
"I mean, I always knew you were a six year-old boy at heart, Probie, but don't you think that's kind of pushing it? If you wanted to get my attention, all you had to do is ask. Eeuuugh." He makes a face, but there's a wary look hiding in the back of his eyes, despite his theatrics. Tim suppresses a faint grin.
"I've been meaning to show you something," Tim says, in lieu of any other response. He tilts his computer monitor a bit so Tony can see, then props his chin on his hands.
Tony shoots him a suspicious glance, then leans in, careful to stay out of reach. "Wow," he says, after a moment. "That's a very nice blank... Word... document..." He trails to a halt, eyes crinkling at the corners.
After half a second, he raises one finger. "Is that... supposed to be doing that?"
"Doing what, Tony?" Tim blinks innocent eyes. On his screen, the words You mean this? appear by themselves in the open Word document.
"Yes, I mean that!" Tony gropes behind him for a chair, collapses into it. His gaze keeps flickering between Tim's hands, still held out carefully in plain sight, and the computer screen, where the transcript of their conversation so far sits there, blinking at him. As Tony continues to gape, Word closes out without saving, and Firefox opens up a new browser window. Google News starts to load.
"You- you-" Tony seems to be struggling for words.
"I, I?" Tim repeats helpfully. He can't help the knot of nervous tension that has taken up residence in his sternum, even though this was a carefully calculated risk.
"You're not typing with your... toes, by any chance, are you?" Tony asks, running a hand through his hair. It stands up in slightly bedraggled spikes.
Tim leans back in his chair and props his feet up on the desk, folding his arms across his chest. "Nope," he says. A new programming window opens on the screen, green on black; he's been meaning to do some debugging, and now is as good a time as any. It takes barely a fraction of his attention.
"One of those long-distance computer controlling things?"
"Abby's not crouching down there under your desk with a keyboard and laughing at me, is she?"
"Do you honestly think she'd agree to do something like that?"
There's a long pause. Tim takes his feet down off the desk, leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees. There's a trickle of sweat meandering down his spine, even though the room's air conditioning is kept at approximately freezing; Tim shifts his shoulders to get rid of the tickling sensation. Tony's still staring contemplatively at the computer screen; Tim can practically see his brain working, thoughts flashing across his face so quickly that Tim can't read any of them. Tim lets him think in peace.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Tony asks, finally.
"Why didn't you?" Tim counters; swallows against the dryness.
"It's kind of hard to drop into casual conversation," Tony says, then switches into a falsetto. "Hey, guys, guess what? I can control fire with my brain!" He waves his hands around, eyes comically wide.
And with that out in the open, things suddenly snap back to normal.
Tim snorts indelicately, feeling the sudden ease of tension all along the back of his neck and shoulders. Lets the fear of coming into work one day to find Tony's desk empty, drawers bare of personal possessions, fade into the back of his mind. He leans back in his chair.
"Sometimes I wonder why nobody's ever noticed me," he says, grinning a little. "You do realize that half the things I do around here aren't even possible yet based on our current technology, right?"
Tony raises his eyebrows. "Not really big into the whole technology thing here, McGee," he says. "Abby's never noticed?"
Tim shrugs. "Maybe. I don't know. Sometimes I wonder, but she's never said anything, and I've never asked." He hesitates. "You know it doesn't matter to us, right? I mean- me, obviously not, but Gibbs, Ziva, Abby, none of them would care about the whole... controlling fire with your brain thing. You know that, right?"
Tony's eyes go dark and distant. "Yeah, I know," he says, slowly. "But other people would. And I like this job."
"They wouldn't say anything. Not unless you asked them to."
"Once people find out, it gets hard to keep it a secret," Tony says, shrugging. "Better not to risk it. Besides, look who's talking- you haven't exactly been going around announcing it, either."
"I'm not going to run away from this job just because someone finds out, though," Tim says.
Tony winces. "I wasn't actually-"
"You were sure thinking about it," Tim interrupts. Hesitates. "Not anymore, I hope."
Tony lets the pause lengthen, examining Tim's face- for what, Tim doesn't know. And then he smiles- small, but completely honest. "Nope. Not anymore."
He stand abruptly. "Hey, Probie?"
"You still owe me a beer, you know. For the whole saving your life thing."
"Tony, it's one in the morning."
"Hey, tomorrow's Saturday! Bars don't close till 2:30. We have plenty of time." Tony claps Tim on the shoulder. "Besides, we wouldn't want you to keep feeling like you're in my debt, now would we?"
"Gee, Tony, somehow I think I'll survive." But Tim's already shrugging into his coat.
And as the doors close behind them, muffling the sound of Tony's laughter, Tim's computer shuts off all by itself.