I want to thank all the readers for the wonderful reviews. I'm overwhelmed by your positive responses! You can't imagine how much your feedback means to me. It encourages me to keep writing. :-) Thank you, thank you, thank you! And stay tuned...I've already started on another H/C story.
Tony squinted as bright afternoon sunlight flashed in rapid patterns like Morse code through his car window. He shifted, running through practice conversations in his head, searching for the best way to broach the subject. Trees passed by in a blur.
"At least it's not raining."
He grinned and waited to see what McGee would say. Tim turned and looked at him, gave an answering grin, and turned back to the window.
So much for that.
The trip hadn't been unpleasant, just a little - uncomfortable. In the weeks following McGee's surgery, Tony had adjusted his schedule to spend as much time as he could with his friend; attending follow up visits with him, sitting and watching movies at his apartment, going out to eat. They'd discussed the weather, office politics, the new girl in accounting, Abby's latest outfit - anything but the common thing they shared and needed to talk about. Tony had tried; he'd brought it up several times, but Tim always changed the subject, or became very quiet and wouldn't respond. Not willing to push it, Tony pretended it hadn't been brought up and moved on to something else.
Tony wasn't normally the sharing type. He didn't know why he had this urge, this profound need to talk about what they'd been through and how it had affected him. He would have expected Tim to be the one to come to him with the need to sort through some things. This role-reversal unnerved him; made him feel he had a huge disadvantage in whatever game they were playing.
Many of Tony's dreams consisted of running through endless trees while buckets of rain poured from heaven, keeping him drenched to the bone. Shadowy figures followed close behind, gripping massive, pointed weapons. Sometimes McGee was with him, sometimes he wasn't. Sometimes he was holding McGee, pulling him, dragging him - and sometimes he found himself held in McGee's arms and he couldn't use his legs or feet.
He'd dreamed one night of the operation. He'd woken with a gasp, his clothes clinging to his sweaty body. He couldn't remember anything but fear and horror, and a frighteningly real sense of loss. He'd pulled on a pair of jeans and driven to the hospital that night. Sneaking into McGee's room had been easy in the quiet stillness of early morning. He'd stood by the bed, watching McGee breathe, measuring the steady rise and fall of his chest for nearly an hour. It took that long to banish the raw pain that the dream had opened up inside him.
Something in McGee's voice gave Tony the impression he'd said his name more than once. Taking in a deep breath, he brought his thoughts back to the present.
"What were you thinking of?"
Tony shrugged. "Food. You hungry?" The realization that he'd just received the opening he'd been struggling to find for the past couple of hours made him shake his head and sigh quietly. "No, that's not what I was thinking of. I was remembering what happened, McGee."
"Wait! Pull over!" McGee pressed against his own window, his hand grabbing for the door handle.
Thinking he'd just driven McGee to the brink of madness, and wondering how he was going to deal with this, Tony jerked the wheel and skidded to a stop on the side of the road. Before he could turn off the engine, McGee was out of the car. Alarmed, Tony cut the ignition and followed.
McGee had moved to the loose gravel spread across the road's shoulder. He stood looking down, his face unreadable. When Tony joined him, he spoke. "This is where we went off. This is where it all started."
Shocked, Tony looked down into the ravine. They stood like that for several minutes, shoulder to shoulder, each lost in their own thoughts.
"I don't even remember the crash." From the corner of his eye, Tony saw McGee turn and look at him. "The last thing I remember is the café where we ate. My next memory is waking up on the ground with you leaning over me. You looked so -" he turned to McGee, "-worried."
"You were hurt. There was blood on your head." Tim glanced up at Tony's forehead.
Tony reached to touch the healing scar, then let his hand fall back to his side. "Why didn't you tell me how badly you were hurt, Tim?"
Tim's eyes darted back to the ravine. "I didn't know how serious it was."
"But you acted like you weren't hurt at all. If you would have told me -"
"What?" Tim's eyes were back on him. Tony struggled not to squirm under that intense focus. "What would you have done, Tony? Knowing or not knowing - what difference would it have made? We still needed to find help, and we still would have had to run from Michaels and his men. Knowing I had a torn spleen would have just slowed us down; it would have made you focus on me, instead of running."
Tony held his gaze. "You should have told me."
"Why? So you could worry more while we ran?" A quirky smile lifted one corner of McGee's lips. He turned to go back to the car, but Tony stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Would you let me say this, please?"
McGee shifted to keep going, but stopped when Tony's grip tightened. His shoulders lifted in a heavy sigh. "Tony."
"I've tried to tell you while you were still in the hospital, but you always seemed to fall asleep. I figured it would come up later, when we were at your apartment, or driving back from one of your appointments. You never wanted to talk about it."
Tim shrugged and looked away. His eyes scanned the trees. "I didn't want to. Everything was still so fresh in my memory, and it seemed like when I thought about it, it would bring it all back to me." He dropped his gaze to the ground. "I dreamed about it a lot, but as bad as it was, the dreams are always worse."
Tony let him go and bent to sit on the ground. He braced his forearms against his knees and clasped his hands together. After a second, Tim joined him. Time seemed to stop for them, turning the sun to warm their backs, bending trees to shade them, prompting birds to sing prettily from the branches.
"I dream about it, too."
The surprise in Tim's voice brought a smile to Tony's lips. "Yeah, I do. I know you were in a lot of pain, but you were unconscious through most of it. It's weird - it's not conversations or actions I remember the most - it's sensations."
"What do you mean?"
"I - I remember how the sound of rain drowned everything out, but I could still feel the vibrations of your moans against my side."
A soft sound escaped McGee. Tony didn't look at him, afraid of losing his courage to continue.
"I remember a lot of things, McGee. Some of them are fading away, but some things I just can't forget, even though I want to. I can't forget straining to hold you down, while you fought to escape what must have been mind-blowing agony when Dr. Mansfield cut into you." He closed his eyes and bowed his head. "When I close my eyes I still feel your fingers fisting into the back of my shirt as you hung on to me." A hand rested against his back, warming his skin. He lifted his head and looked to find Tim watching him, moisture gathering in his eyes.
"You did what you had to do to save my life, Tony. That's what I remember, and that's what I won't forget, for as long as I live." He smiled and patted Tony's back. "And this is how it ends -" he spread his arms wide, including both of them and their surroundings "-we both made it, and we're both alive and healthy." He leaned closer. "That's what you need to remember."
Silence sat like a companion between them. Neither spoke, but the awkward tension that had been there before, was gone. Several minutes later, Tony slapped his knees. "Well, guess we better hit the road again." He stood and offered a hand to Tim.
McGee stood, but when Tony tried to let go, he pulled him close for a quick hug. Surprisingly, Tony returned it. They got back in the car and drove away.
Driving up to the house, Tony grinned when he noticed a pile of broken wood near the front porch. "Think he'll make us build him a new fence, too?"
When the car stopped, Tim got out, then opened the back door to gather up the patching and painting supplies. "I thought you said he'd been planning to take that old thing down, anyway."
Tony laughed. "You know how old guys are - they develop some kind of old man prerogative, or something."
The front door opened and Vernon stepped out to greet them. "There you are! Thought you said you'd be here by noon. You young whippersnappers are all the same these days; lollygagging like you got all day and no one's waiting on you. Well, come on! Kitchen's not going to repaint itself, you know!"
Tony and McGee exchanged a smile. Arms loaded with supplies, they walked into the house and shut the door behind them.