A/N: For the NFA Death of ___ Challenge. So...warning: there's character death in this fic (nature of the challenge...) (Unbetaed. I appreciate constructive crits that help me improve and/or if you catch spelling errors, etc. The spelling of the title, however, was done on purpose ;) )
Timothy McGee wasn't surprised to hear someone knock on his door at just past 6:00 in the morning. Nor was he particularly surprised when he eventually peeked through the keyhole and saw Senior Field Agent Anthony DiNozzo standing out in the hallway. Just great. He wasn't in the mood to deal with DiNozzo. Not today. Not ever, really, but especially not today. Maybe if he ignored DiNozzo, his obnoxious coworker would just leave.
"I know you're in there, Probie," DiNozzo called, his voice unusually subdued. Tim flinched slightly, but made no move to open the door. Instead he subconsciously tugged on the belt holding his robe closed, tightening it as if it would strengthen the barricade keeping the other man out. "Come on, McGee. Open up," DiNozzo persisted as he knocked again.
"Go away, DiNozzo," Tim muttered under his breath.
"I'm not going away until you open up," DiNozzo replied, startling Tim. There was no way the other agent had heard him, was there? No. More likely DiNozzo was just guessing that he was there, listening.
"Go away," Tim insisted wearily, resting his head momentarily against the wooden door separating them. "I can't…do this today."
"Sorry, Probie," he heard DiNozzo's soft reply and was surprised at how genuine the apology sounded. "But I'm not leaving until you open up." Perhaps not so genuine, then. Still, Tim made no move to open the door. DiNozzo could be stubborn, he knew, but so could he. "Don't make me break the door down and haul you out over my shoulder," the older man pleaded, his voice still gentle, but firm.
Tim closed his eyes and sighed, knowing that inevitably he was going to have to give in. So much for being stubborn. He hesitated for just a few moments longer before he resignedly reached out and turned the lock. Though he made no move to open the door, he was not at all surprised as he watched the knob turning and the door slowly opening. Well, admittedly, he was surprised, but only because DiNozzo hadn't just slammed the door open and burst right in. Instead, the man stood in the doorway, looking awkward and uncomfortable.
It hadn't been his idea to come, Tim assessed. "Abby made you come," he guessed flatly.
"Abby called me," DiNozzo corrected. "She's worried about you."
Tim shrugged noncommittally as he shuffled away from the door and sank back onto his sofa.
For a few moments DiNozzo stood in the doorway as if waiting for an invitation (one that wouldn't be coming from Tim any time soon), before he finally closed the door and joined Tim on the couch. He stared silently, appraisingly, at the junior agent for a couple minutes before he finally spoke again. "I'm worried about you."
Tim raised an eyebrow. That must have taken a lot for DiNozzo to admit. Tim expected Abby to worry. That's what Abby did. But DiNozzo? DiNozzo wasn't the worrying sort. Not about Tim, anyway; DiNozzo just worried about DiNozzo. Most of the time, anyway, Tim relented, feeling a little guilty even though he hadn't even voiced the accusation.
"Come on. Get up, get dressed," DiNozzo commanded.
"Why?" Tim protested. "It's Sunday. I'm off duty. I'm not going anywhere."
"Yes. You are," DiNozzo insisted, his voice offering no room for argument.
"You're not my boss," Tim challenged half-heartedly. He swallowed a small lump at the almost pitying look that DiNozzo gave him. "Not today," he amended, lowering his eyes.
"You owe him, Probie," DiNozzo reminded him in a voice that was infuriatingly gentle. It was hard to get mad at him when he was being so…unDiNozzolike. Tim didn't have to ask who he owed or why. Or where it was that DiNozzo planned to take him. The black suit DiNozzo was wearing should have been a tip off. Tim wondered absently if it was Zegna. Or perhaps Armani. Either way, DiNozzo was way too overdressed for this hour of the morning.
"Come on, Tim."
It was Tony's use of his first name that broke Tim's resolve. He was only dimly aware of what was happening as Tony pulled him to his feet and prodded him until he shuffled into his room. He was still numb when a short time later Tony pressed a pile of clothes into his hands.
"Come on, Tim. Don't make me dress you," Tony implored. Despite the words, there was barely a trace of humor to be heard in the senior agent's tone.
Tim nodded slowly and began to move on his own volition after Tony turned his back to allot him a small bit of privacy.
Once he was dressed, Tim allowed Tony to usher him out to the waiting car. He was aware that Tony was talking to him, and occasionally he uttered what he hoped were appropriate responses, though the funny looks that Tony kept giving him suggested that they might not be. Eventually he stopped even making the attempt and instead focused his attention on the filthy gym clothes Tony had carelessly dumped on the floor of the passenger seat at some point and not bothered to take inside to launder. Tim marveled absently at how completely dirt-covered they were, and at how Tony could possibly stand keeping them in his car considering their pungent odor. Especially since his car was supposedly one of DiNozzo's pride and joys. Tim kicked absently at the offending garments.
The others were already there when they arrived at their destination. Abby's eyes were rimmed with red as though she had been crying for hours. She probably had been, Tim figured. She was far too soft-hearted for her own good sometimes. He watched numbly as Ducky did his best to comfort her. He barely even acknowledged the way the M.E. gave him a compassionate pat on the shoulder as he passed them.
Ziva hadn't cried, Tim assessed as he approached her. But she did look quite sad. She also looked as though she wanted to say something, but in what he guessed to be her concern that she would say the wrong thing, she remained stoically silent. Instead of speaking, she lurched forward and gave Tim a slightly awkward but heart-felt hug. He stiffly hugged her back, appreciating the gesture but unable to really give of himself at the moment. He was touched, though, as the normally non-demonstrative Mossad Officer reached down to grasp his hand as they walked up the slope toward a freshly dug grave.
She didn't leave his side as he forced himself to stop before the hole and look down for a final look. Inanely the only thing he could think about as he peered at the coffin was to wonder where it came from. The wood probably came from Gibbs' basement, he figured. Judging from the finishing, it had been purloined from the most recent boat, most likely. Though it had obviously been built in a hurry, the craftsmanship was excellent. Someone had taken great care.
More than he had, Tim berated himself torpidly. What had he done? He'd sat in his apartment all day. Doing absolutely nothing. Just sitting. Jethro deserved better than that. He'd given his life to save Tim, for God's sake. And what had Tim done in return? He'd gone home and sat.
He shouldn't have come, today. It was obvious that everyone else cared, but he…he just couldn't make himself feel anything. Well, except a little bit of guilt at how he was otherwise so…void of emotion. He should be crying, he figured. That would be the normal thing to do, right? And part of him wished that he would. Wished that he could. But instead, he stood mutely staring at a box and thinking about things that just didn't matter!
"Someone…should say something," Abby choked out the words.
Without looking, he knew everyone was looking at him. Expecting him to say something. But he couldn't. He glanced up at his boss, hoping that the other man would take the lead. But everyone stayed silent, waiting for him.
"Timothy?" Ducky urged him gently.
Tim looked up, opening his mouth to speak, but at first no words would come. When at last a few did, he wished that he could take them back. "This is stupid."
"Probie!" Tony snapped, startled by the unexpected outburst.
Abby simply gasped and buried her face into Ducky's neck.
Tim closed his eyes. He knew he should apologize, but he couldn't because he meant what he said. He was sorry for hurting Abby, he supposed. At least he knew he should be. And given time, he was certain he probably would be.
He shouldn't have come today.
He felt Ziva rubbing a small circle on his back. "It is okay," she murmured. "We understand."
Tim was almost relieved as he felt the first real emotion he'd felt since Friday night. Almost, except that what he was feeling wasn't sorrow but an intense anger. Anger at…Jethro for…no. At Ziva for claiming to understand something that was so incredibly un-understandable. At Abby for having the gall to be more upset than he was. At Ducky for being so compassionate when he didn't deserve that compassion. At Tony for making him come to this stupid…funeral. He glared at Tony in a silent rage. For a moment he could see the same reflected in DiNozzo's eyes, but then infuriatingly Tony's expression softened.
"If you're not going to say something, I will," Tony informed him.
Tim clenched his jaw, staring angrily at the senior field agent, daring him to continue.
And Tony did. He stepped to the other side of the grave and faced the others. For a few moments he said nothing but simply pulled a small box from his pocket, turning it over in his hands as he stared at it. Tim recognized it as one of Gibbs' medals that Tony had kept stored in his desk. "We're here today to honor a hero," the senior field agent began to speak at last.
Tim let out a small mocking huff. His jaw clenched as he heard Abby's choked protest.
"It's okay, my dear," he heard Ducky. He looked up as the medical examiner gave him a sympathetic smile. "It's natural for some to feel angry at a time like this, Timothy," the man assured him.
That wasn't what Tim wanted to hear. He didn't want to hear what he was feeling was natural. He didn't want to…he didn't want to be here.
"We're here to honor a hero," Tony started again.
"A hero?" Tim blurted out. "You call him a hero? He…he was stupid! He got himself killed! What do you care anyway? Why are you even here?"
"He saved the life of one of my best friends!" Tony shot back with barely restrained anger of his own. "That makes him a hero."
"He…he's just a stupid dog!" Tim blurted out, though the moment the words were out, he felt all of the anger rushing out of him. He almost gasped at the intensity of the pain that followed. "He…he's a…stu…" He couldn't say the words again. He didn't mean it. Oh, God he didn't mean it! "He…"
"Tim," he heard Gibbs call his name. Felt the man's hand give his shoulder a firm squeeze.
"I…" He couldn't speak around the lump that had formed in his throat.
"I didn't even want a dog," he whispered, his eyes filling with tears for the first time since…since…
He'd been jogging. He practically never went jogging! Why had he chosen Friday night of all nights to start getting himself back into shape again?
And he hadn't taken his gun. How many times had Tony told him he should be in the habit of always carrying? Given, that was just until he was used to carrying, but he wasn't sure he'd ever really be used to that. So he should have had it.
He felt safe without it, though. Because he took Jethro along for some exercise and to maybe encourage himself to run a little bit faster.
And it's not like he was in a bad neighborhood.
Excuses. Nothing but excuses!
He should have been more aware of his surroundings. Should have sensed his assailant before he struck. But he'd been completely blindsided. Instead, his attacker had him pinned to the ground before he'd even realized what was going on. Even with his training, he'd been unable to fight with the sharp blade positioned precariously at his throat. He'd been powerless. Completely at someone else's mercy.
But then Jethro was there. Growling and snapping. Fighting for Tim with a fierce loyalty, heedless of his own safety. And it had worked. It drew the assailant's attention away from Tim long enough for him to wrest himself free and quickly gain the upper hand.
Tim just hadn't been quick enough. He wasn't even aware of Jethro's mortal wound until after he'd managed to take the attacker down and had flagged down a motorist to call for the police while he kept the creep subdued. He'd been proud of himself, for God's sake! Congratulating himself and feeling completely high as the adrenaline rush flowed through him.
And then he'd heard the soft whimper.
It brought him crashing down fast.
"Jethro?" he called out, realizing that his faithful companion was no longer at his side. He looked around wildly until he saw…
He blinked rapidly, trying not to let the tears fall. If he started now, he'd never be able to stop them. And he could already hear the taunts Tony would be teasing him for the next several years. Crying over a dog. A…a…beautiful, loyal, trusting dog that he'd failed to protect as well as Jethro had protected him.
It shouldn't have happened. Or maybe if he'd gotten to the vet faster? He could have flagged down another motorist instead of calling Abby. But it shouldn't have happened at all. He'd been careless and…he should have--
He felt strong arms wrap around him, and at first thought it was Gibbs. When he realized that the person was a little bit too tall and extrapolated, he tensed.
"It's okay, Pro…Tim," the voice was familiar and yet somehow not. It was wrong. Too…husky. Thick with emotion. Tim was momentarily startled as he realized that Tony was crying. And it didn't matter to him one bit.
Except that it did. It meant everything. If Tony could cry…it gave him permission to.
So he did.
And Tony just stood there, unabashedly holding him in front of their boss, their friends…for he didn't even know how long, but it felt like hours. When at last he did look up, he expected to feel embarrassed as he saw the others watching him. But he didn't. How could he when he saw nothing but love in their faces? There may have even a little bit of pride in Gibbs' expression as he watched over the pair of them.
"We're here to--," Tony finally started his speech again, but Tim shook his head and stepped forward and took over the eulogy.
"We're here to honor a hero. He saved my life, but more than that, he loved me unconditionally. He was always there to greet me, always there when I needed someone to talk to." Tim smiled wistfully. "I never wanted a dog." He let out a small laugh. "But he changed me. Taught me to love him every bit as much as he loved me. They say that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. That may be true, but it's seconded by the love those that sacrifice has left behind feel for you." He faltered for a moment and wasn't sure he'd be able to continue until he felt Gibbs' hand firmly cupping the back of his neck as the man moved to stand beside him at the grave side, offering him strength. "You're the best dog…best friend anyone could ask for. I miss you, Jet."
For a few minutes there was only silence as the group gathered close to him, wordlessly offering their condolences.
"You were a fine pup," he heard Ducky paying his final respects. The medical examiner nodded to Tim before he made his way back to where they'd parked.
Ziva went next. Tim could not hear what she said, and was surprised as she looked up at him, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. "He was truly a great friend," she assured McGee in a voice that would sound completely controlled to anyone who did not know her.
"Thank you, Ziva," he whispered back.
Abby sniffled as she stooped to place a rose on top of the box. Before she moved to follow Ducky, she looked to Tim, holding up a small tape recorder as she gave him a questioning look.
He smiled and let out a small chuckle as he nodded his approval. A few moments later the gravesite was filled with the sound of a jazz celebration. And in a weird way it did make Tim feel better…lighter. Like he was celebrating Jethro's life rather than mourning his loss.
Still, there was one more thing to do.
Tim looked at the box that Tony still held in his hand. Without hesitation, Tony reached out and pressed it into his own hands and nodded.
It wasn't Tony's to give, though, so Tim turned to Gibbs. "Are you sure…?"
"Couldn't think of anyone more deserving," Gibbs approved, giving Tim's neck a little squeeze before turning and following the others.
"You want me to…?" Tony asked, looking past Tim to where the others were still retreating.
Tony smiled. "'Course."
Tim opened the box and gazed at the Medal of Honor inside.
"For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," Tim heard Tony announcing as he knelt down and placed the medal on Jethro's coffin.
"Love you, boy," Tim added as he rose back to his feet. He took a deep breath and made himself turn around to leave. He wasn't leaving Jethro behind, he assured himself. Cliché as it sounded even in just his thoughts, he knew Jethro would always be there in his heart. He'd never forget the sacrifice, nor the lessons his companion had taught him.
"Ready, Probie?" Tony asked, as he reached up and loosened his tie.
"Yeah. Thanks, Tony…for…"
"Don't mention it."
When Tim's mouth opened again, Tony gave him a warning look. Right. His mouth snapped shut again. Back to normal, than. He headed down the embankment to join the others as they chatted in the drive.
"I will take you home," Ziva informed him a couple minutes later. "Fix you a casserole. That is what friends do, is it not?"
"Thanks, Ziva," he accepted the offer. He turned to let Tony know he wouldn't need a ride home. His brow furrowed as he saw Tony heading back up the slope, having changed back into his filthy T-Shirt and hauling a shovel he must have had in the back of his car. Tim blinked. He hadn't even wondered who had dug the hole; he'd just…well he hadn't thought about it, but would have guessed Gibbs. "Thanks, but I think I'm going to help here."
"Okay, but dinner my place. All of you," she looked around to the others for confirmation. "6 o'clock. Do not be late."
Tim waited for a few moments as the others dispersed before he headed up the hill to join Tony back at the graveside.
"So…thank you for keeping him safe," he heard Tony paying his final respects and hesitated for a few moments until he saw Tony rising back to his feet and hefting the shovel, preparing to begin filling in the grave.
"You don't have to do that," Tim called, startling Tony, who hadn't even heard his approach.
"Yeah, I do."
"He wasn't your dog."
Tony smiled and shrugged as if it meant nothing. "Yeah, but he saved your life. We…I owe him one."
Tim wasn't quite sure how to take that, but he didn't argue as he watched Tony set to work. Tony may have wanted him to think it meant nothing, but he knew differently. Hell, Tony usually avoided manual labor like the plag--...well, like everyone else managed to avoid the plague, anyway.
"Your best friend?" he suddenly remembered Tony's words earlier. "Really?"
Tony shrugged noncommittally. "What can I say? I need to get out more…"
Tim only grinned back, not fooled for a moment.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Constructive Crit is always appreciated! -- Zak