A/N: This has to be the first fanfiction in the history of fanfiction to be largely inspired by pre-calculus homework. On an unrelated note: eighteen straight hours of math problems and five shots of espresso within a 24-hour-period can do strange things to a person's brain.
Anyways. There were three months between seasons 6 and 7 when these two characters were separate, oblivious of one another, and I get the feeling that if I had discovered that someone I cared about had been suffering while I was away, I would get to wondering "What was I doing when they were being hurt?" It's a torturous kind of thing, but it's a very human questions to ask, and these two, for all their respective faults and perfections, are nothing if not human.
Oh, and I know that the bar-scene is way overplayed, and I'm really not very good with handling Tony's character, so I was "winging it" for most of this. I'd appreciate constructive feedback on it.
This was written for Quinndolynn.
EDITED 4.19.2010: You guys are totally right, I got the dates a little mixed up. I've changed it so that the climax is set in mid-September. I'm still not 100 percent sure that it's perfectly aligned with the opening of season 7, but it's at least a little more accurate now than it was before. Thanks!
Conjugate: adj., con·ju·gate:
1. Joined together, especially in a pair or pairs; coupled.
2. Inversely or oppositely related…a pair of complex numbers differing only in the sign of the imaginary term.
"Tell me your name."
On July 4th, he watched fireworks from the roof of an apartment building, swaying and sweating in the darkness. The heat of the night collected in a lump above his Adam's apple; he licked his lips, swallowed thickly, and pitched bottlecaps out into the depths of the street. He watched them falling from his place above the city; discs of thin, silvery light bouncing as they plummeted, until they fell beyond the light and clattered quietly down the pavement.
The lights of the fireworks played on his drunken mind like poorly defined smudges of ribbons, gleaming reds and greens and a blue that bathed the entire rooftop in its watery light. Flash, and darkness. They wove in and out of the sky; flared; exploded; roared. Powerful and booming and utterly harmless. Friends and loose associates buzzed around him telling dirty jokes and laughing and guzzling alcohol, but he said very little.
He passed cold beers between his palms, slick with condensation; downed a dozen of them and laughed at the darkness and watched the display and did very little thinking at all.
On July 4th, they put out eighty-three matches on her back.
"You will answer my questions, or you will die here."
On July 19th, he rolled over in bed and found himself tangled in the bedcovers; the sheets pulling a trail of sweat along the crooks of his knees and down his calves. He was weary and the morning was hot and he wondered, not briefly, if there was a woman lying on the far side of the bed. It was a full twenty minutes before he gathered the courage to look. That time, he was alone.
He showered with the door open. Despite the rapidly growing heat and the light oozing in through the cracks in the blinds, it was early, and he knew that there wasn't any rush to get to work. Still he did not linger beneath the shower. The water made his skin crawl, made it unusually tight, though he didn't fully understand that it was a feeling gleaned from his nightmares, which passed upon waking, of the weight of the entire ocean on his shoulders and the darkness which glutted the depths; legs and arms tangled in the trenches of the sea. A feeling came to his throat like he'd had too much water and he slipped out, dressed while his skin was still wet, and the clothes adhered themselves to his back.
Somehow, he was late for work anyway.
On July 19th, they began the water-boarding at three-hour intervals.
"Tell me who sent you."
On August 13th, he found himself drinking in a dusty, rancid bar. He had tried to avoid it – for her sake if not for his – but could not quell the strange unease doubling over in his belly. The sense that he had forgotten something; had left something undone. He knew it wasn't as simple as it would have been in one of his movies – he hadn't forgotten something like saying I Love You or I Can't Live Without You, because they weren't like the people in the movies, and he didn't think that either one of them would have ever been willing or able to reveal those sorts of things. And it wasn't simple. They weren't simple.
He drank whiskey and wondered if he should have told her he was sorry, for everything, even though he wasn't. He considered whether or not it would have cleared things up enough to let him move on, but thought the lie would have only made it worse. He wondered if resolve was something that people like them could never really have; if it was a luxury, meant for the people who dealt with death only in passing and lived clean, ignorant lives.
A shadow passed by him and he wondered if he was drunk or dreaming or seeing ghosts; but then it was McGee, and he was talking, and the world was real and sharp. He was drinking in a bar.
McGee looked over him and sighed. Tony could tell that he was uneasy. He wondered how long he'd been lurking in the corners of the bar before he'd found the courage to come forward.
"We need to talk," he said, at length.
"You gonna break up with me, Probie?" He tried to grin. There was too much liquor on his tongue.
"You wanna see other people."
"I don't wanna talk," he said, the words tumbling together into one jumbled slur, though the force of his voice made them oddly cohesive. The lights from behind the bar shone against the side of his face, down into his glass, made everything dusted in a dull yellow haze. The crystal of his glass was gleaming. It ought to have been a pretty effect, like light through a prism, ethereal and aesthetic; but it only reminded him of the bar, and the smell of stale beer and sweat.
He gripped the glass and held it hard against the bar top.
"You've got other things to do, right? I mean you've got better things to do," he refused to lift his gaze from the whiskey in the glass, "better things than talking."
"No," McGee said. He sounded closer. Tony wasn't sure. "It's important that you talk about this. I thought…I was thinking you'd get better after a while, that maybe you'd move on like when Kate died or when Director–"
"Go play one of your games, Tim," Tony interrupted, "Get out of my head."
From his periphery – which was admittedly obscured by dust and pulsing shadows – Tony could see he was hesitating, tentatively hovering at his side, completely at odds with himself over whether he should drag him out of the bar and drive him away from that place, or take a seat beside him and wallow in their collective unease. There came a sharp crack from the far side of the bar. A roll of laughs. Someone was making a killing at the pooltable.
"You know," McGee began, shoving his hands in his pockets, "She'd hate to see you drinking like this."
"Yeah? Well, good thing she's not here." He felt a twinge at the hollow of his throat and felt guilty just for saying it.
"Hey…" McGee said, looking hurt.
"Don't talk about it like that. Like it doesn't bother me, too, that she's dead. It bothers all of us."
"Is this the part where I hug you and tell you how much I miss her?" he asked, and looked away.
"If you want to," McGee said.
"I don't." He took a sip of his drink, let the whiskey roll on the back of his tongue for a while before he swallowed it. "I just want to have a drink right now. That's how I want to deal with this, okay?"
"It's not a good coping method."
"It won't kill me. I'm fine."
"You remember what I said just a minute ago? Get out of my head." He set his glass back down on the counter and took his hands from it, braced them instead against the lip of the bar and licked his lips. "Come to think of it, get out of my bar, too."
"I'm just trying to help."
"Tim," he said. His voice had changed. It was only slight, but the change was detectable, his equal-parts-humor-and-frustration stripped away and replaced with a strongly earnest tone. He looked at McGee, and his eyes were glassy with alcohol; not with grief. Just alcohol.
"I'm really okay," he said, "I just need to get this out of the way, first, and I need to let this sink in, and I need to be by myself to do it…understand?"
There was a pause, and then McGee nodded, the soft curves of his face lined in yellow light, his jacket dark against the haze. "Okay."
On August 13th, they stopped using the truth serum and started using clubs.
"Tell me why you're here."
On August 20th, he had the fist nightmare of waking and finding her in the corner of his bedroom, dripping with mud and sea water; her dark hair plastered on either side of her pale, gaunt face, fingertips blue and raw from crawling along the ocean floor. He spoke to her in the darkness and she said nothing.
When he awoke, he found himself covered in sweat. He showered, but it only felt like drowning. After that, she came to him often, in varied states; sometimes bloodied, sometimes clean and prettily dressed. In green or blue or the olive of an Israeli uniform, and sometimes in the muddy-brown of seaweed; and sometimes, occasionally, in nothing at all. He debated with himself over whether or not he wanted to have her in his dreams, for the nightmares were sometimes replaced with better images and memories, and he wildly preferred the better ones. The ones where she wasn't hurt or bloody. But in truth, none of them were good dreams; she was dead, always, upon waking, and for this reason they were all distressing dreams.
Eventually, he stopped dreaming altogether and the choice was taken from his hands. He wondered if his ebbed use of alcohol was to blame, but thought that maybe, blessedly, he was just getting better. Getting past it. Forgetting.
Still, to save himself the trouble, he poured all his liquor down the sink.
On August 20th, they beat her, and there was a boot at the base of her skull, jarring the contents of her head and dumping eight days of memories of torture onto the thin, bloody floor.
"I will give you a moment to decide who lives."
On September 13th, he tasted dirt and sweat at the tip of his tongue. His lungs were heavy and sore. The air of the room lifted itself in a dusty red haze and he stared pointedly through it and past it and looked back, surprised and dazed a little out of sorts with himself – but altogether sane, or as sane as he ever had been before. There was pain in his wrists; pain along his torso and his jaw. Dirt caught in his throat. Death at his shoulders, pulling feather-light pulses along his skin when he considered the man standing by them, with his knife and his gun – but he was there. Alive. And it was as if the last two months had been some devious lie, some prank; as if he'd been living a fallacy and now this was the revelation of truth. The rise of the curtain. The rabbit out of the hat. Alive! And here he'd been fooled into thinking – half-thinking – that they'd been dead all along.
His mouth was dry. Too dry for words, at first. His mind might have been glutted with the confusion and the shock of the moment, but the serum had made it slick, loose, and he knew the words would come the moment they were alone. He settled for simply staring into the haze of the room.
On September 13th, someone was pulling a canvas bag across her head.
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