A/N: This is a response to a Flash Fiction challenge with the following requirements: It has to be a complete story (not just a scene), it has to be under 1500 words, and it has to include someone who is very angry.
I can tell that he wants to help, but really, what could he possibly do or say? I clench my jaw and aim at the target again, unleashing a series of shots in rapid succession. I can tell without even checking that my formations are way off, but honestly I don't care. That isn't the purpose of today's visit to the range. Today we're here to blow off steam. How this is supposed to make me feel better, I have no idea. Quite honestly, it just makes me want to turn the gun on them and repeat this exercise. I can't believe I let them get to me over something so…stupid. I reload and fire off another series.
Seeing that I'm not cooling down, he waves at me to stop, then motions for me to come over. I holster my SIG Sauer and remove my noise-reducing earphones and safety glasses.
"Sit down," he suggests. When I don't immediately do so, he puts a hand on my shoulder, his eyes meeting mine imploringly. "Sit," he tries again, and this time I do so, sighing as I sit on the bench. The least he could have done is waited to have this heart-to-heart until we were some place a little more comfortable than the firing range.
I tense as he sits beside me. I don't know why. It's not him I'm mad at.
For a few moments we sit next to each other in silence, my anger intensifying with every second that ticks by. It's clear he has something he wants to get off his chest, but instead he just sits there wasting my time.
"You know, they used to call me 'Geek'," he finally voices awkwardly.
I waited that long and that's what he wants to tell me? "Well, of course they did!" I reply mockingly, rolling my eyes as I laugh at the absurdity of the moment. My laughter stops abruptly when I see the serious expression on his face, the almost hurt look in his eyes.
All right fine, I'll bite. I look at him expectantly, waiting for the punch line, but one doesn't seem to be forthcoming.
I suck in my breath and let it out slowly, trying to cool my anger. It works only marginally well. "Okay," I grant permission for him to continue, my tone too calm as I overcompensate for the fury I'm still feeling.
For a few moments he remains silent, his eyes searching mine as though he's searching to see if he can trust me with what he's about to say. "They called you geek," I prompt him to give what I'm guessing is a pep-talk. As if I need one from him.
"I was the youngest in my class," he starts out again. "And small for my age," he adds, his cheeks pinking slightly at the admission. "Everything came really easy for me," his eyes meet mine again, seeking understanding. I'm reluctant to give it, but nod slowly anyway. "The other kids would get really mad because I was always the first one with the answer, the first one done with the test, the one who always set the high score." Instead of being proud about that, he sounds rather bitter.
"So you were smart," I summarize dismissively, wondering if I'm missing something.
He doesn't acknowledge my assessment. "I was always bored in class," he moves on. "So eventually they decided to skip me up a grade." I raise my eyebrows. How did I not know that about him? "And then when I was still bored and way ahead of the curve, they bumped me up a couple more."
He sees the change in my expression and smiles wanly. "Yeah. Pretty much. So, no matter what I did, no matter how I tried, I could never fit in. To everyone I was just the little geek kid. The worst part is, I didn't even like doing the math, the science, all that stuff. I just did it all because the faster I got it done, the sooner I'd get to do my own thing."
I shift uncomfortably, wondering just where it is he's going with this story. For a while he stays silent, and I begin to wonder if he really does have a point.
"It always got to me," he finally continues. "Being called a geek." I look at him curiously, my own anger building up again as I consider what he's saying. If it bothered him so much why does he…before I can ask, he continues. "It wasn't until college that I figured it out."
I frown as I try to discern what it is he realized. "What? How to make them stop calling you names?"
His eyes light with amusement and suddenly he looks as though he's recalling a fond memory instead of the painful one he's been relaying. "Oh, hell no. At college I got called far worse stuff," he crows as he casually puts his arm around my shoulder.
Okay, now I really don't understand. "And that somehow made you happy?" I ask, my hackles rising again.
"Yeah," he replies, grinning as he glances sidelong at me.
"Why would that make you happy?!" I cry out, completely exasperated.
"It was completely different. I actually earned those names," he replies with a smirk and a wag of his eyebrows, "Besides, I figured out that it bothered me before because the people calling me geek actually hated me."
"But in college they didn't?"
"Nah. I hit my growth spurt early," he reveals. "Bulked up a bit. Got pretty good at playing ball." I raise an eyebrow, and he gives me a small shrug in return. "I found my family; my house full of 'brothers'. And, God, yes, they called me names," he grinned. "But it wasn't because they hated me. It was just what brothers do." He looks at me pointedly, his eyes suddenly pleading with me. "You understand the difference, right?"
And now I get it. What he needed to get off his chest. I can see him calculating all the times he's called me names. I can practically feel the guilt radiating off him in waves. This isn't a pep-talk after all. He needs absolution. Needs to know that I don't think he's like them.
And I don't, I realize as the last of my anger dissipates and is replaced by a new inner calm. Sure, there've been times that he's managed to get completely under my skin. And though I haven't always been conscious of it, deep down I did know the difference. I've always wondered what it would be like to have a brother. I comprehend now that I've had one for the past several years and just never recognized it. "Yeah, I do." I answer, giving him a little smile to let him know I get it.
"Those guys today were asses," he says, as though I didn't already know that.
"Yeah, thanks for having my back…"
"Of course! I'm the only one who gets to call you that stuff," he adds, his voice light, but his eyes piercing me. Testing me to make sure I'm truly okay with it. I smile and give him a little nod. He grins and his body relaxes as if a great weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
"Hey, Tony. If you hated being called a geek so much how come you always call me one?"
He snorts a little bit. "Come on, Probie. You're smart. It always made me feel like a fraud when they called me that." When I look pointedly at him, he rolls his eyes. "Can you seriously tell me that when you think of me the word 'smart' even turns up in the top 10 adjectives you'd use to describe me?"
"Well, no," I admit reluctantly, "but…you're…" I frown as I try to reconcile everything he's told me with what I know about him. "I mean, you skipped three grades? Really?"
He shrugs noncommittally.
My brow furrows as I try to decide whether he made it all up or not.
Author's note (aka where this fic came from): I was trying to figure out characters' ages for a different fic I'm working on. I have the feeling that one of the dates I came across was a bit 'off' in regards to Tony. The website claimed the following episode-established "fact" about Tony: "Ohio State - BA in Physical Education, Class of 1989". I'm guessing that really the Class of 1989 was supposed to be his fraternity pledge class rather than actual graduating class, but they had it listed that way. His age was established as 32, turning 33 during the summer of 2004. Assuming it wasn't just a website error or a show continuity error (either of those is entirely possible) he had to have graduated college at 17 (18 if graduated after the fall semester). That got my inner hamster wheels turning wondering what if he actually is supposed to have graduated college at such a young age? Hey, you know he's got to be pretty smart in order to retain all those movie references...(I admit, I also think he's far smarter than he wants anyone else to realize…)
Thanks to SpecialAgentAMB again for beta-ing and for helping me figure out what was bugging me about this fic. I couldn't quite take all of the advice and still fit it into the challenge requirements, but it did help me get the biggest kink (in my mind anyway) worked out. There is one question she asked, though, that really has me tempted to write a sequel/prequel to explore some facets of this version of Tony--and how knowing about it might affect the relationship between Tim and Tony) that there wasn't space to include in the 1500 words…if the interest is out there to read such fic(s), please let me know.
Thanks for reading, comments and constructive criticisms are always welcome and appreciated!