Title: Life Preserver

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRM (R)

Pairing: Tim/Tony

Summary: Immediately following the events of "Probie" Tim is floundering and he won't let Abby help. When his alternate method of finding solace leaves him in an even deeper hole, however, someone offers rescue, but his white knight turns out to be the last person he expected...

Disclaimer. I don't own anybody you recognize. If anyone pops up that you don't know, they're probably mine. I make no money off this work of fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.

Begun: June 30, 2009 / Complete and betaed:

-
12:30 A.M.:

"Hnnnh... Abs... what? What is it?"

"You're asleep? How can you be asleep? He's in trouble, Tony! You have to find him, you have to talk to him..."

Gradually pushing up to a sitting position, Tony sighed and shifted the phone to the other ear.

"Take a breath, Abby, okay? Who do I have to find?"

"Timmy! Aren't you listening?"

"Abby, calm down. He's a big boy. I know he's been through something tough, but now that he's been cleared..."

"That's just it, I couldn't... not completely. The bullets were too messed up and I couldn't really tell for sure and he made me say it and now he's gone out and gotten drunk somewhere and you have to find him!"

"Drunk?" Tony repeated incredulously. "Not possible. McGee doesn't know the meaning of the word..."

"Well, he must've found a dictionary, 'cause just now, on the phone, he was slurring his words and-and crying and swearing..."

Tony's eyes now flew open wide.

"No way."

"He used the f-word, Tony." Abby insisted. "My Timmy actually used the f-word."

"Damn... he *must* be hammered. Tell me he was on his cell instead of a pay-phone."

"He was, but not long enough. He turned it off before I could get a perfect GPS fix."

"You've got a general area though?" Tony asked, already out of bed and fumbling for the pants he'd discarded before climbing into bed that night.

"Pretty close. Down to about a half-mile."

"Hopefully there aren't too many bars. I'm on my way, alright? I'll be out the door in five."

"Thanks, Tony. I love you..."

"Yeah, yeah. See if you feel that way when I come in tomorrow morning smelling like puke and Pepto Bismol..."

-
1:15

Striding into his third bar in forty minutes, Tony paused just inside the door and let his gaze sweep the darkened room. When he found what seemed to be a familiar shape huddled in a distant booth, he moved in that direction, but held off hope, reminding himself he'd been wrong in the last place he'd tried. Finding he had the right man this time, Tony released a quiet sigh of relief and dropped down beside his friend.

"Hey, Tim."

Barely lifting his head off the table, McGee turned a bleary gaze in the direction his name had come from.

"Tony... wha' shu doin' here..."

"Abby sent out a mayday when you hung up on her."

"Sh's sweet... bu' sh' cn't make it better... nob'dy can... I fucked up, Tony... fucked up so bad..."

"Words like that won't fix it, either... any more than drinking will."

"D'snt matter... d'snt matter one l'ttl bit... say what I want... God, I'm so way... wayst... I'm shitfaced..."

Tony frowned and grasped Tim's chin, lifting his head up a bit higher and forcing him to sharpen his limited attention.

"Look, you're gonna be washing your mouth out often enough when the hangover hits. You don't want soap added to the mix. Curb the language. Understood?"

"I copy..."

"Good. Now let's get out of here."

Tim chuckled, but what should've been a happy sound was undercut by bitterness and sorrow.

"C'n hardly walk... nev'r be able to dr've..."

"I'll handle that."

"M' car..."

"I'll make sure the bartender's okay with it staying here until I can come get it tomorrow. You all paid up?"

" 'Cept f'r this last one... oughta finish it..." Tim reasoned, reaching out a shaky hand for the glass in front of him, only to have it disappear as Tony intervened, pulling the liquor out of reach.

"No more. Be right back. Try not to pass out on me just yet, huh?"

"Anyth'ng's possible, I sp'ose...

TIM'S APARTMENT

"C'mon, kid... stay with me just a little bit longer..." Tony grunted as he hauled Tim bodily up to the door and leaned him against the wall, holding him up with one hand on his chest while using the other to dig in his own coat pocket for the keys he'd retrieved from the bartender. After a minor struggle, he managed to get the door open and dragged a mumbling, unsteady Tim McGee inside. Laying him carefully on the sofa, Tony then returned to secure the door and turn on a light or two. When he moved back and sat down on the edge of the cushion facing his younger colleague, he noted Tim had thrown one arm over his eyes and his entire upper body was shaking. Knowing comfort was needed, but not having a clue how to offer it, Tony hesitantly stretched out a hand, but it was quickly withdrawn. Scowling, he tried to replace touch with words, but that failed him too.

"Tim... damn it, McGee..."

"Never know... I'll never know..."

"Every cop faces this at least once in their career, buddy. I know it kills right now, but you'll get past it in time."

"I don't want to!" McGee cried out, rotating so that his back was to Tony and his face was squashed into the padding.

"I know... try and get some sleep, kid, okay? You'll need all your strength when you wake up, trust me."

Tony sat with the younger man until he was sure the alcohol had knocked him out for a while then cautiously rose and moved away, hitting the most-used speed-dial number on his cell phone.

"Gibbs."

"Still awake. Why am I not surprised?" Tony joked wearily.

"Needed to unwind, just like everybody else. Something you wanted to tell me?"

"Abby called a while ago, sent me on an SAR mission. I guess the ballistics weren't conclusive about the kill shot, McGee took it pretty hard..."

"And?"

"He went out and got bombed. I brought him home, but..."

"I get it. He okay?"

"He's great as long as he stays unconscious."

"Yeah."

"He's so smart and he's so amazing on the computer... it's easy to forget how young and green he still is. This thing... it threw him straight into the deep end, boss. He wasn't ready. I know I've got no right to ask..."

"The hell you don't. How long?"

"Two days. Maybe three. That should be enough to get him on his feet and put his head back on straight. Can you make that happen?"

A derisive snort was the only response Tony received. "Right. Don't question the master."

"You just worry about McGee."

"I am, boss. That's why I'm gonna be sitting with him on his bathroom floor in a few hours, holding his head while he expresses non-verbal regret over how far he went tonight."

"Good man, Tony. Keep him safe... and make sure he comes back knowing the truth."

"Do my best, boss."

"Never known you to give anything less. Night."

"Night."

Slowly closing his cell, Tony turned and gazed back at where Tim sprawled across the couch, favoring the sleeping young man with an expression that was half-smile, half-grimace and offering him a nearly silent vow. "These next couple days are gonna be rough, Timmy, but I'll get you through it. No matter how much you might want me to... I'm not walking away 'till we figure things out."

4:00 A.M.

"Easy, buddy... try to relax in between, okay? No, no... don't waste energy trying to hold yourself up, that's what you've got me for. You just concentrate on... yeah, that." Tony soothed, grimacing slightly. "Hang on, Timmy... I'm right beside you... I'm right here..."

When a few minutes had passed without Tim having another spasm, Tony risked reaching up for the cold damp washcloth he'd laid on the corner of the bathroom sink at the start of the episode. Gently bathing the younger man's brow, face and neck, DiNozzo tugged Tim's limp body against his side and continued the soft, comforting line of patter he'd been running for nearly half an hour. "You're okay, now. Looks like it's pretty much over. Relax... that's it... good... just try and relax... let it all settle down for a while..."

"God, Tony..."

"Shhh. I know... believe me, I know. Never do this again, Timmy."

"I won't, I promise..." he half-whispered, half-croaked.

"That wasn't a request, it was an order." Tony retorted, though without any real heat behind the words or condemnation in them. "I mean, I've always wished for somebody who'd follow in my footsteps, wanna be like me... but this *definitely* wasn't what I had in mind."

"Sorry... I'm so sorry..."

"Cut that out."

"Right... weakness..."

"Nope. I'm invoking DiNozzo rule six. Apologies are fine, except when you've got no good reason to be offering one. After what you went through, anybody would've been looking for an escape hatch, Tim. The one you picked just wasn't..."

"... smart?"

"Worthy of who you are... who you're trying to become."

"God... I screwed up everything, didn't I? Gibbs is gonna send me back to Norfolk..."

"He will not. I talked to the boss while you were asleep..."

"...unconscious."

"Whatever. I called him and he's gonna arrange a few days off for both of us."

"To do what?" Tim asked drowsily, the exhaustion from his physical ordeal dragging him towards sleep.

"We're taking a little road trip... someplace quiet and private. We'll rest, maybe get some sun... and do a lot of serious talking."

"Mmmm... okay. When?"

"As soon as your massive headache goes away and you can eat again."

"What headache? I don't have a headache..."

"Crap. In advance, and no I'm not breaking my own rule... I'm really sorry."

10: 00 A.M. :

Tim woke next with the warmth of sunlight on his face, but he couldn't enjoy it and barely acknowledged it at all. Between one moment and the next, he was suddenly, brutally confident that if he moved his head a quarter inch in any direction it would blow like Old Faithful. The pain was nearly a living thing inside his skull, a creature with exquisitely sharp claws and teeth, but even so, it wasn't his biggest problem at that moment. His stomach was obviously not in communication with the higher regions of his body, because it was currently warning him that if he *didn't* move soon, whatever object was closest would be covered in digestive acid and the remainder of the booze he'd consumed the night before, if there was any left.

He could vaguely hear Tony talking to someone. He tried to figure out who and if the person was actually there or on the phone, but his current ability to focus was already strained to capacity, so he surrendered and went back to simply wallowing in misery. Unfortunately, his stomach wouldn't relent so, despite knowing the agony in his head would no doubt triple, Tim spoke up as loudly as he could bear, desperate now for Tony's attention.

"T... uhhnnhh... Tony, help..."

"Gotta go, Abs. The patient's just emerged from his coma and... exactly. I will... yeah, I promise. Okay... the minute we get back he comes to see you. I won't let him talk his way out of it. See you in a few days. Bye."

Swapping his cell phone for the sunglasses sitting on the kitchen counter, Tony moved quietly to Tim's side and placed the item on his chest.

"Don't open your eyes until you have those on."

"What?"

"Shades. They make the world seem a little kinder on mornings like this."

Gradually, Tim lifted one trembling hand and, for the most part, got the glasses into position. Tony grinned and completed the task. "How's the gut?"

"Bad... bad, bad, bad..."

"Worse than the never-ending air-brake chorus in your head? Tony asked lightly, but Tim could sense the concern behind the deliberately casual question and answered truthfully.

"A little."

"Then we better get you on your feet."

"I can't..."

"Hey, I know moving is damned if you do, damned if you don't when you're in this kinda shape. Doesn't change what has to be. Sit up really slow... yeah, good... almost there... okay, take a second and breathe then we'll go the rest of the way."

"Ohhhh... son of a pre-owned camel salesman..." Tim moaned, drawing joyous, if restrained laughter from the man supporting him.

"One of the best I've heard in a long time. You ready?"

"Ready for Congress to bring back Prohibition."

"I bet. C'mon..."

It took only fifteen minutes this time for the cramps and heaving to cease, but McGee looked worse afterwards than he had earlier that morning. Tony led him back to the couch, laid him back down with care and covered him with a blanket that was stretched over the back of the sofa. "Try to get some rest. I'm gonna make you something that'll have you feeling better in no time. You need anything..."

"Pain reliever."

"Coming right up."

A short while later, Tony returned from the kitchen with two tiny pills and a tumbler full of frothy, pale pink liquid.. Helping Tim sit up once more, he dropped the medicine into his hand and offered the drink.

"What is it?"

"Later. Take the pills."

"You're saying I don't wanna know..."

"I'm saying not yet. Just try it, will ya?"

Though his expression displayed extreme doubt, Tim popped the tablets and took a tiny, uncertain sip from the straw propped against the edge of the cup. A moment later, his face registered pleasant surprise.

"Wow... that's not bad."

"Go as slow as you need to, but you should try to drink it all."

"Okay..."

Within an hour, Tim was shuffling into the kitchen under his own power to place the glass in the sink. Turning back, he sank into a chair at the table, gazing curiously across at Tony, who looked up from a newspaper crossword and favored him with a grin.

"Your color's back. Lookin' good, Timmy."

"Better. Will you tell me what was in that thing now?"

"You sure? No more nausea?"

"It's almost gone."

"Okay. It's nothing special, really. Just a recipe I've put together over the years. You blend up a banana with wheat germ, protein powder and strawberry Tofuti."

"Why not ice cream?"

"No dairy. On a hangover stomach, dairy can send you right back to the porcelain palace. If you're not puking, you're..."

"I get it, I get it." Tim objected mildly, holding up one hand. "And why didn't I hear the blender?"

"You were pretty out of it, plus my machine's one of the quietest models on the market."

"Of course it is. That recipe's pretty smart, you know?"

"Puts back most of the good stuff drinking and throwing up take out of you."

"It feels like it. So... what's next?"

"You go chill and watch some TV while I make a few calls. Then while I'm picking up your car and getting it back here, you pack a bag."

"Right... you said something about... a trip?"

"Good to know you didn't kill too many brain cells last night." Tony teased lightly

"Any more of that concoction?"

"As much as you need. Go on, I'll bring it in to you."