A/N: This is a long oneshot written as a Hangman prize. This is the second time I put Tim in an undercover situation. Make of it what you will.
Disclaimer: Not mine! Not mine! That's probably a good thing...although I certainly wouldn't mind getting a paycheck for writing fanfiction. Alas...
I'm Not Like You
by Enthusiastic Fish
"Tony, let me go."
"You sure you can stand up without me holding you up, McGee?"
"If you don't let me go, I'm going to throw up all over you."
Tony let Tim go and watched as he ran...er, stumbled for the bathroom. Shortly, the sound of vomiting wafted into the living room. The sounds continued for a while and then there was silence. Tim didn't come out.
"Probie, you okay in there?"
No response...except for a renewal of the vomiting. At least, he was still making noise. Tony decided that was okay. He sat down and looked around Tim's fake apartment. Tim...undercover. It was strange to think about. Tim had been strangely reticent to talk about it...until tonight when he'd called Tony, desperate for help, afraid of being found...afraid he'd already been found. Tony had come, of course, and discovered Tim beaten to a pulp, begging to be taken back to his apartment. Tony had wanted to take him to the hospital, but for now, that was too dangerous. They'd surely be staking out the local hospitals. So, Tony had brought him back here, following Tim's vague directions to a place that Tim obviously spent a lot of time at...his undercover apartment.
No sound. Worried, Tony walked into the bathroom and found Tim slumped against the wall beside the toilet, swallowing convulsively, holding his stomach with one hand and the edge of the toilet with the other. His eyes were closed as he tried to control his body.
"You feeling any better, McGee?"
Tim shook his head slightly and kept his eyes closed. Then, he sat up with a groan and leaned over the toilet again. Tony wrinkled his nose in distaste. There was something extremely foul about the sound of vomiting. He wasn't sure what it was...maybe the loss of control of one's bodily functions.
Tim slumped back once more, tears flowing down his cheeks, mixing with the blood and sweat already soaking his face.
"Do you have a first aid kit in here, McGee?" Tony asked, softly.
"Where is it?"
"Sink..." Swallow. "...shelf..." Swallow.
"Ah, got it." Tony grabbed the kit and approached Tim warily. "How are you feeling? Anymore stable?"
Tim's only response was another obeisance to the porcelain god.
"I'll take that as a no," Tony said drily and, deciding that his fraternity experiences could well stand up to a single person on the end of a bout of puking, knelt beside Tim and helped him remain in position until the spasm ceased. "That looks like about the last of it, Probie. You couldn't have had that much in your stomach."
"You measuring my puke, Tony?" Tim asked, sounding as pale as he looked.
"Voice of experience, McGee. You're looking at a frat boy."
"Ah, yes. Of course."
"You ready to be doctored up?"
Tim closed his eyes for a few seconds. Then, he nodded. "Yeah. I think I'm done."
"Okay. Let's get you up and into the bedroom, then." Tony pulled Tim upright, disliking how limp he felt and helped him to the bed. "There we go. Now, let me play doctor."
Tim didn't resist as Tony cleaned off the blood, put on a few bandages on the visible wounds.
"McGee, how bad is the rest of it?"
Tim didn't reply. He was slightly zoned out. Tony tapped him on the head...gently.
Tim blinked and focused on Tony. "What?"
"How bad is what I can't see?"
"Worse than what you can see."
"Let me see."
Tim seemed too tired to even pretend to resist. He painfully unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Tony whistled.
"Yikes, McGee. I shouldn't have let you talk me into bringing you here. You need to go to a hospital."
Tim just shook his head wearily. "No."
"Come on, McGee."
Tim looked down at his bare chest and arms. They were purple. There was not an inch of skin that had not been beaten. He shook his head again.
"Don't be so dang stubborn! Even I would go to a hospital in this state."
Tim looked up at Tony. "I'm not like you," he said and then fell back onto his bed and seemed to fall asleep almost instantly.
Tony stared at Tim, deciding whether he should simply drag him off and get him checked out right away, or wait...like Tim had told him was so necessary. At the time, twenty-four hours hadn't seemed like a huge problem. Sure, he'd been bloodied, but Tim had seemed to rally pretty well once Tony got there. Now, though, he was amazed that Tim had made it this far.
"This had better be worth it, McGee," Tony said quietly. "Otherwise, I'm going to kill you for making me so worried." He got up from the bed and covered Tim with a blanket. "Gibbs is going to kill me. I just know it."
Looking around the room, he saw a shelf of books, nothing to rival Tim's collection at his real apartment, but it was enough...especially since there was no television. Since it wasn't especially likely that Tim would have anything Tony would like, he just grabbed a book at random and began to leaf through it. He stopped at a page and read
... but I'm not like him. He can do it all. I always wanted to do this, but I'm afraid now that I can't. What if I screw up? What if...what if I die? What if I screw up and die? There are so many things that I wish I could say to people, so many things that need to be said to people. How did he deal with it?
Tony scrunched up his face. What is this, he wondered. It reads like someone's journal. He flipped back to the first page to see the title...but there was no title. He opened the first page and saw a date from nearly five years ago.
It's really weird, I know...I didn't acquit myself very well, but I really feel like that's where I want to be. There's something about that team. It's not likely that I'll see much of them. Norfolk is pretty far from DC...but a guy can dream, can't he? Agent DiNozzo treats me pretty much like I'm lower than the dust...basically like any of the stupid frat boys when I was in college. If he's just an overgrown jock, I think I can handle that. ...maybe... What is it that separates people like me from people like him? Why is it that jocks have this deep abiding need to look down on people who choose to use their brains rather than their brawn? Why do we let them do it?
Tony looked up from the book to the unconscious man lying on the bed. "You keep a journal, McGee?" He hadn't written in it very religiously, however...not if he had an entry from his first meeting with the team. He looked back down and continued to read. He knew he probably shouldn't be doing this, but he was curious to see what Tim had thought of them all at the beginning.
On the other hand, don't I do the same thing on occasion? Don't I try to use my MIT connection to impress people? I did it yesterday when we found that house. I was so desperate to prove that I wasn't a complete idiot that I just started spouting off technical terms. Agent DiNozzo didn't understand them...and I was happy about that. It meant that I could explain myself, show that there really was a reason I had a job with NCIS. I think he might have actually been impressed, but if he was, it didn't last very long. Then, of course, there's Agent Gibbs. I'd heard things about him before. He's much more intimidating in real life. I think he could tell. It probably didn't help that I was wearing a mask and trying not to throw up the first time he saw me. Oh well. I can't take it back.
Then...of course, there's Abby.
Tony stopped reading. He wasn't ready to read whatever gushy words Tim had written about the beginning of their relationship. He looked at Tim again. It's Probie's fault for making me be here in the first place. He shouldn't leave his journal sitting out where anyone could read it. He flipped forward a few pages...and a couple of years.
Kate is dead. I can't believe I'm writing that. I can't believe her funeral is already over...and somehow we're all supposed to be over it. Every day when I go into work, I see her desk and I find myself waiting for her to show up. I still dream that she's alive. Tony was right there when she died. What if it had been me up there instead? What if Ari had actually killed me? Would he have still killed Kate? Was I just a bonus...or did Kate die specifically for the reason Gibbs said she did? Gibbs isn't always right. That feels almost blasphemous, but it's true. He can be wrong. Maybe Ari killed Kate because I wasn't in range. Kate had said that Ari had a thing for her...maybe he wanted to leave her alive and kill me instead, but he couldn't get to me. What does it feel like to actually watch someone you love die? Tony and Gibbs were both right there. She would have died instantly. I know that, but still...she's...Kate's gone and Tony saw it happen. I'm not like Tony. I couldn't shrug it off. He's a lot stronger than I am.
There were a few other entries and Tony caught a few different events, but he didn't read those. An opening sentence caught his attention: Guess what I did today. That was an entry that begged to be read. What in the world could Tim have done to warrant that kind of beginning? It must have been something momentous.
Guess what I did today. I finally told Tony that I hated being called Probie...well, sort of. And guess what. I feel terrible now. I couldn't just say that I didn't like it, not that such an approach would have done any good, but no, I had to insult him. What I just don't get is why it bugged Tony so much. He says the same kinds of things to me all the time...and worse...and it doesn't seem to matter, but...as soon as I said what I said...that he didn't deserve his own team...as soon as I said that, something changed in his face. I couldn't explain it in words if you paid me, but I realized that I'd somehow crossed an invisible line, a line I didn't even know was there. I didn't even get a chance to apologize for it. Gibbs managed to make me feel even worse by pointing out the obvious: that it isn't a commentary on my abilities; it's just a nickname. I wish I could take back what I said. Tony was a great team leader. It took some getting used to...his way versus Gibbs'...because despite what we all say, there is a definite DiNozzo method that he uses, and it works. So, why didn't I say that? Why didn't I keep on the topic that I wanted to be on? Why did I insult a friend? The answer is that I just don't know. I'm not like Tony. I can't joke and insult people I respect...and yet I just did. So, does Tony feel bad every time he puts me down? I doubt it. But I'm not like him. It's too serious. Life is too serious to take things so lightly. I don't know what I'm even saying, but one thing I do know is that I never want to see Tony's face change like it did in that moment. I never want to be the one to cause that.
Tony looked up. He'd actually forgotten that conversation, but he remembered it now. He remembered that it really had hurt to have Tim imply that he hadn't done a good job as team leader. He didn't realize how bad Tim had felt about it. They hadn't ever really talked about it again, although Tony had noticed a lack of dirty looks when he called Tim Probie. What really caught him was Tim's descriptions of Tony as a great team leader and a friend. They never talked about those kinds of things, but it was somehow...gratifying to know that Tim thought of him that way, that his brief tenure as team leader hadn't been an unmitigated failure.
I'm going undercover. I'm excited about it, but...and I would never admit this to anyone, but I'm terrified as well. I mean, well and truly terrified. I'm going to be living a double life. What if I forget which life I'm in? What if the double life becomes my real life? I want desperately to ask Tony how he manages it, but I don't dare. I can still see that his stint bothers him. He didn't want me to do this. He fought Gibbs. I guess he thought he should be the one, but in this case, it really does need to be me. Tony can't fake being a hacker. He doesn't seem to get nervous about going undercover. Maybe I shouldn't be. I've been an agent for a long time now. Maybe I shouldn't be so frightened...but I am. I'm not like Tony. I don't know how to be. I've tried before, but I'm just not like Tony. I don't have his confidence, his abilities.
Tim was scared. He had definitely been scared when he had called Tony a few hours ago, but he had hidden his fear behind his nervous excitement over the last few months. Tony went back to the page he had first started reading and skimmed past the words he'd already seen.
...This life I'm living is making my skin crawl. I have to keep writing in here as Timothy McGee because, if I don't, I'll forget that this is who I am. The days when I have to just continue living as this other person, I start to immerse myself in the criminal I'm supposed to be. Did Tony ever get like this? Did he ever really feel like he was Professor DiNardo and not Agent DiNozzo? Did he ever have a moment when he saw his badge and wonder what it was doing in his apartment? That happened to me the other day. I'd been working from here for a week straight and I was ready to leave. I started to gather my stuff and I saw my badge. For a second...I wondered what cop had broken into my apartment. Then, I remembered who I was, but it scares me; it scares me that I might really and truly forget who I am...and I don't want to be the scum I'm pretending to be. He is a man without morals, without loyalties, selling his skills to the highest bidder. I loathe this life, but I'm afraid that I'll forget that I do and begin to embrace it instead.
Tony was surprised at the words Tim had written. He remembered them all laughing about the part Tim was going to play: a hacker for hire, problems with authority, college dropout...a whole bunch of things that Tim was not. Even Tim had found his persona amusing...but obviously not anymore. Tony knew that playing a part could be draining. It was easy to get lost in the world that you created, but Tim had seemed okay, mainly because he came back to NCIS so often. Then, Tony remembered something that had happened only two weeks before. Tim had come in on edge. He wouldn't say why, but he had made a report to Gibbs and then left right away. He wondered if Tim had written on that day. He felt slightly guilty about intruding on what was obviously something Tim hadn't wanted to share with anyone, but it seemed more important than ever to understand how Tim felt...because Tony hadn't known any of this was going on. He flipped to the day...there was an entry. Tony hesitated, but only for a moment.
I think they might suspect something. ...now, did I write that as Jeremy or as Timothy? I don't know. I don't know who I'm talking about. It could be either group. The team could suspect that I'm falling apart here or the gang could suspect that I'm not who I say I am...but am I really? I don't know. I don't know anymore. Some people started following me when I was heading to NCIS to report in. I saw them a few blocks from here. I beat them up...I bashed one over the head with piece of wood and the other I grabbed in a headlock. Timothy wouldn't have done that...but Jeremy would have in a heartbeat. Jeremy probably would have killed them. I didn't even think about it. I just did it. I told the one that I didn't appreciate being followed and for him to remember that because next time I'd kill him...and I would...or Jeremy would...or...maybe I should pull out. Maybe I should tell Gibbs what's going on because I'm afraid that I'm really becoming Jeremy.
There hadn't been anything in Tim that was unexpected tonight. Tony wondered what had happened. There was no journal entry for this evening...of course, there wasn't. But...there was still... Tony flipped to the last entry. Tim had been writing a lot during his undercover work. Each entry was full of worries about becoming the man he was pretending to be, each one had moments of Tim asking who was actually writing. Tony found himself looking at Tim over and over again, wondering who he would be when he woke up the next morning. Actually, for his first deep undercover assignment, Tim had been doing really well. Tony had actually been a little envious of how easy it seemed to be for Tim to slip into and out of his false identity. The last entry was from just the day before. Tony began to read.
I have to get out of this. I don't care what they think of me. If I stay out here, if I have to do this any longer, I'm going to forget who I am. I called Gibbs and told him that I was worried, but he seemed to think there was no problem. I tried to explain how I spent an entire day not even thinking about my real life. Even when I was in my apartment (I almost wrote 'at home'), I was still thinking like Jeremy thinks. He basically told me to suck it up. There's too much riding on it to get cold feet. ...but it's not cold feet. I'm not afraid of doing my job. I'm afraid of doing it too well. Tony's the undercover expert. Maybe I should ask him how to get over this feeling. ...no, I'm not like Tony. I can't turn myself on and off at will.
Tony carefully put the journal back on the shelf where it blended in with the rest of the books. It was quite clever, really. Most people wouldn't think to look for a journal on a bookshelf...and the fact that it was handwritten made it easier to hide. He looked at Tim still sleeping, one mottled arm laying protectively over his blanket-covered chest. He sat there the rest of the night, watching over Tim as he slept. The next day, he forced Tim to go to the hospital to get checked out.
Two days later...
Tim walked into Jeremy's apartment. He was weary, from top to bottom, inside and out. There was a glimmer of light, but no more than that. He walked over to his bookshelf and pulled out his journal. It had been his dad's idea, back when Sarah was always getting into his stuff. She never went through his books. A bound sheaf of pages looked like a real book and his journal could be kept private. It stood him in good stead. No one had ever found it, not in all the years he'd been keeping a journal. He opened it up to the first blank page and began to write.
Tony was here a couple of days ago. They didn't like what I had to offer so they beat me up. I wasn't sure at first. I thought that maybe my cover was blown...I hoped that was it, but it wasn't. They contacted me again yesterday and set up a meeting. I called Tony that night and he came. He was so calm, just like always. He didn't seem worried by the fact that I'd been beaten. He did try to get me to go to the hospital, but like I told him, it was too dangerous. He just seems so unruffled. He agreed to wait the 24 hours like I told him, and then he took me to get checked out. While we were waiting for my turn, I tried to tell him what it was like for me, but he didn't seem to understand. He just said that I didn't have to be like him. I'm not. I'm not like Tony. I wish I could explain it to him, to somebody...because no one understands what this is like for me. I feel so alone.
"Jeremy, can you do it or not?"
Jeremy laughed. "Oh ye of little faith. Would I be here if I couldn't?"
"Yeah, I think you would."
Jeremy grinned. "Then, I guess you'll just have to trust me. You'd better have my money." He looked at the men standing behind the computer monitor. They were all stressed and worried. This was an important day for them...whereas for him it was just another transaction.
"We have your money."
"Well, not that I don't trust you, but after your little 'demonstration' the other night...I'm feeling a little cautious. Let me see it."
"Then, we have a problem because...well, I've got this setup on my personal email account that will send a message to the appropriate LEOs, (where did that acronym come from?), if something happens to me. It's set to go out in about, oh..." he made a show of looking at his watch, "...about ten minutes. So, show me my money and I'll do your dirty work. Kill me and your work is over anyway. Got it?"
One of them nodded and Jeremy grinned confidently. It was nice to be the one holding all the cards. A slip of paper was suddenly thrust at him and Jeremy looked at it carefully. Then, he glared.
"Do you really think I'm that stupid? You show me an account number...you had better show me the real one. I know how many digits are in the Swiss accounts. If we don't have an agreement, then you can find someone else." Jeremy stood up and began to leave. He froze when he heard the sound of a safety being flicked off.
"You're too hasty, Jeremy."
Tim took a deep breath and Jeremy turned around. "I have better things to do with my time than be hustled by a bunch of desperate men with some nebulous agenda. I don't care what you want me to do. You stick to our agreement and I'll do my job." He met their gaze without flinching. "So...do we have a deal or are you willing to risk screwing everything up because you're a bunch of tightwads?"
"Very well. It will take a few minutes. Cassandra can...distract you while we get things set up."
"You're on the clock...and don't even think about trying to hack into my accounts. If you could do that, you wouldn't be needing my services." Jeremy walked through the door and greeted the often-present Cassandra, sitting on a bed, looking at him alluringly. She shook her hair back and grinned.
"You want to play, Jeremy?"
Jeremy looked at her and rolled his eyes. "I don't think so. I'm on the clock."
"Oh, really? Consider it a...bonus." She got off the bed and slunk over to him. She began to run her hands up and down his chest.
Jeremy suddenly pulled her close. Their lips were a fraction of an inch apart. "I don't think so...babe. I don't play while I'm working." Then, he released her and shoved her back toward the bed. "You've got three minutes!" he shouted back toward the main room.
Cassandra glared at him and he returned the expression. "It's nothing personal...just like it's nothing personal for you."
"It could be."
Jeremy snorted. "Whatever. You're their personal property. I prefer to use things with less mileage."
"You..." Her reply was covered by the door reopening.
"We're ready for you."
"Good." Jeremy walked out the door. He settled back at the computer. "Account number, please."
They handed it to him. He plugged it in and saw that, as agreed, half the money was ready for transfer. He initiated the transfer. Then, he logged into his email and reset the automatic send for a few hours later. Tim sent another message out and then Jeremy logged out.
"All right you have a few hours' grace. Let's get started, shall we?"
"A few hours?"
"Do you think I trust you?"
"No more than you trust me," Jeremy said, icily. "By the way, next time, don't try to use your personal servant to tempt me. I could get better on a street corner."
Jeremy began his work. Tim was horrified by what they were getting him to do. He was supposed to hack into shipping manifests and arrange for weapons shipments to be "lost" and he was supposed to create blind spots in FBI files so that people could be smuggled into the country.
Jeremy looked up from the list. "Wow. You don't do anything small, do you? You want me to arrange for a meeting with the President while I'm at it? Perhaps give you the key to the White House?"
"Can you do that?"
"Of course, I can't." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Hacking into the FBI...that's pretty sketchy."
"Are you saying you won't do it?" Their expressions hardened.
"Did I say that? I'm just making an observation."
"You're not being paid to observe. You're being paid to work."
Jeremy started to work, relishing the opportunity to show off a little...not that these goons would really know what he was doing or how much skill it took to flit in and out of the FBI without being seen. He'd done it before, of course...he'd hacked, as Fornell had said, everything from the corner store to the CIA...no, wait. Jeremy hadn't done that. He'd hacked quite a few things but...Tim shook his head and tried to focus. He hated Jeremy. He really did...more than he hated his customers. He blinked a few times as he plunged into the code.
Then, Jeremy felt someone hovering. He looked up, annoyed. "Are you a computer expert?" he snarled.
"Then, back off. I don't like people breathing down my neck."
Tim wondered just how long these people had been in the country. They didn't have accents at all. That was troubling. He kept hoping that NCIS would burst into the room, but since they hadn't dared put a wire on him, he just had to hope that they were there, watching the exchange.
"How long is this going to take?"
"As long as it needs to. Why don't you go and play with your toys and let me work?" Jeremy said condescendingly.
"Are you sure that's McGee in there?" Tony asked. "It sure doesn't sound like him."
"I am worried, Gibbs," Ziva said. "He has seemed...off, lately."
"He's fine," Gibbs said, hoping that was true.
"Everyone's in position. We can take 'em down, now, Boss," Tony said. He still remembered all too clearly Tim's journal entries and he knew that Tim really wasn't himself at the moment. He was Jeremiah Mackay, hacker, misunderstood genius and all around scumbag.
"Okay, everyone get ready. On my mark."
"Hurry it up, Jeremy."
"Shut up," Jeremy hissed. "Let me do my job!" What is my job? Then, he was in. Jeremy almost crowed in triumph. "Ha! Told you! Now, give me my directions and prepare to send the rest of the money."
"Here's the list." Jeremy took it and looked him expectantly. The man sighed. "Prepare the final transfer."
Jeremy grinned. "Thank you. Now, watch a master at work." He cracked his knuckles dramatically and without a second thought, he began to smoothly run through the background of the FBI.
Then...all was chaos. The door burst open. People ran in shouting, "Freeze! FBI! NCIS! On the ground!"
Guns were out in the moment, and Jeremy dove to the floor. He was a hacker, not a fighter. Seconds later, two others were on the floor...not moving, bleeding. It was relatively quiet.
Jeremy jumped to his feet and looked around. He turned on the other men. "They followed you! Idiots! I should have known better than to..." he ranted and raved at them before suddenly...
Tim blinked and stopped mid-stream. He turned and stared as the words faded from his mind.
"Hey, you alright?" Tony asked.
Tim looked from Tony to the computer to the men lying on the floor, either cuffed or dead.
"I..." He looked around again. Then, he reached out and closed out his connection to the FBI. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said vaguely.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Tim whispered. Then, he shook himself and began to break down everything that had happened, what he had been asked to do. He told them of the back up file he'd made that recorded all his keystrokes. Cassandra and the other men had been taken out in cuffs. Tim nodded when Gibbs told him about coming into work the next day. He didn't complain about anything. He was just trying to process it all. He didn't even notice when Gibbs gestured for Tony to take Tim back to his...Jeremy's apartment.
"There are just a few things I need to pick up, Tony. You don't have to come up. It won't take long."
"I'll come along. Protection, you know."
"I don't need protection."
"No, I do," Tony said, grinning. "This is a tough neighborhood."
"They're not so bad once you get to know them," Tim said and waved at some people across the street. "Most of the people who live here are just trying to get by like everyone else." Tim slid suddenly back into his Jeremy persona. "It's cheaper rent, too. I could save the money to buy better gadgets...and to do some subtle advertising. Couldn't take out a want-ad or anything but..."
"McGee!" Tony said, smacking his head.
"Sorry," Tim said, quietly. "It's too easy to do that." He walked ahead and unlocked his apartment...Jeremy's apartment. "I don't want most of this stuff. Am I supposed to take it with me?" he asked.
"Not if you don't want to. The equipment will have to come, of course. But if you don't want the clothes, I'm sure you don't have to keep them."
"I don't want them."
"McGee, are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm fine," Tim said as he picked up a book which Tony recognized as his disguised journal. "This is the job, right? You create someone and then you leave him behind. That's what you do, right?"
"Sometimes, it's easier than other times."
"Well, I'm fine, Tony."
"You don't seem fine, McGee."
Tim didn't respond. He finished packing and he left. Tony drove to Tim's apartment and unassumingly followed him up the stairs. Tim didn't seem to notice. He just unlocked his door and walked inside. He dropped his bag on the floor and walked into his bedroom and then into the bathroom.
Tony heard the water go on and he just waited. He knew what Tim was feeling, actually. Even if he hadn't read his journal, he would have realized that the decompression from the continual stress of being undercover was beginning. Reading the journal just made him realize how long this worry had been going on. The water went off and a few minutes later, Tim came out in his pajamas. He seemed momentarily surprised that Tony was there, but he just sighed.
"You have that look."
"Like you want to say something. It's the look you gave me when I had poison ivy and you wanted to slap my head, but you couldn't because you didn't want to get covered in a rash yourself."
"That's not the look."
"Then, what is it?"
"You're not okay, McGee."
"I'm really not in the mood for this tonight, DiNozzo. I just need to get some sleep."
"Not yet, you don't."
Pure frustration flooded Tim's face. "Tony, just get out of here, okay? Please?"
"Because you need to talk about this...now. Not tomorrow with the shrink. I know what I'm talking about, McGee."
"There's nothing to talk about. I went through all the undercover training. I know what to look for. I'm stressed. That's normal."
"You're afraid that you're Jeremy," Tony said, baldly.
Tim paled. "No...no, I'm not."
"Oh, you're definitely not Jeremy, but you're afraid that you are."
"Shut up, Tony!"
"Now, was that Jeremy talking or McGee?" Tony asked, using Tim's own words.
"I said, shut up! I'm not like you, okay? I don't need this! I just need you to leave me alone and let me go to sleep!" Tim turned and began to go back to his bedroom.
Tony could see it in his eyes, but he risked it and took a hold of Tim's arm. Tim spun around and clocked him on the jaw. Tony fell to the floor, momentarily stunned, but he saw the horror on Tim's face as he realized what he had just done.
"Tony! Oh, my gosh. I can't believe that I...I...I think I still have some ice in the fridge...freezer. Just...I'm so sorry." Tim was nearly crying as he ran to the kitchen. Tony pulled himself to a sitting position and rubbed his jaw. Tim had a mean left hook.
I guess I should have ducked, Tony thought wryly. Still, if this got Tim to admit that he had a problem, it would be worth a bruised face.
Tim was back with ice in a towel. "Tony...I'm really, really sorry. I don't know what I was..."
Tony waved his hand. "You see what I mean, McGee? Was that you who hit me? I know you've been angry enough to do it before, but now...was that you?"
Crouched beside Tony, Tim dropped his head into his hands. "No," he admitted. "Tony, I'm not like you. I can't just blow things off and forget about them." He sat down and stared at the floor. "I can't just turn off being Jeremy like a light switch. I can't just act like it never happened. I had to...to be him, and he was such a..."
"I know. Tim, I know. I don't just blow them off. Undercover work, especially the long-term stuff that you were doing is really hard. Sometimes, you forget where you end and your cover begins."
"Sometimes...I forgot that I hated him," Tim whispered. "I just was him. Jeremy did things that..."
"It depends...on how long you were undercover, how much you identified with your adopted identity."
"It was like playing out an evil version of myself. He had all the same abilities, only he was...twisted."
"It wasn't you, McGee. All right? That's what you need to remember. Jeremy is not you. He was a tool, an identity that doesn't exist."
"How can you just pretend that it doesn't bother you?"
"It's my own personal coping mechanism, I guess."
"I'm really sorry I hit you," Tim said.
"Meh, it'll heal."
"It was like...creating a character for my book. Even the parts that don't get revealed have to be developed so that I know how he'll react in any given situation. I made up an entire history for Jeremy. At first, it was...kind of fun, like making up a character is fun. Then...when I started to realize just how much I had to be Jeremy, be this man that I really hated...it wasn't fun anymore. It was just work. I was okay with it, but it's been such a long time, and..."
Tony marveled at the effort Tim had expended in making this person real. No wonder Jeremy had been so hard to escape. "Jeremy was kind of real to you."
"Probie, if you have trouble with this, you can ask for help. I won't promise not to give you grief about it, but once you've been deep undercover, you know what it's like. Anyone who pretends it's easy is lying through their teeth. They just want to seem macho."
"Nice one, McGee. Yeah...like me. It's not easy. It's not supposed to be. It's long, sometimes boring, but always hard work. That's what it is, and you're in it for the long haul...every time."
"I don't know if I could do this again."
"You can...but generally, it's on a volunteer basis; so if you don't want to do it, don't volunteer." Carefully, Tony took another risk and put a hand on Tim's shoulder. "You did good, Probie."
"Thanks, Tony," Tim said softly.
Later that night, after Tony had gone home, Tim pulled out his journal again. He began to write.
It's over. I can't believe that it's over...just like that. It's not quite for me. I punched Tony tonight. I got mad and I punched him in the face. I'm afraid that I'm still Jeremy...but Tony said that I'm not. For some odd reason, that makes me feel better. I told him how I felt. I don't know how he knew, but he did...and he understood. For the first time in months, I don't feel like I'm alone in this. For the first time, I think that maybe, just maybe, I can put Jeremy to rest without fearing that he's somehow an actual part of me. I'm still me.