AN: I wrote this in response to Snoop Mary Mar's comment that she felt 'All the Other Acronyms' was incomplete. She sketched out what she felt was missing, and gave me the basis for a whole sequel. Thanks!
Probably a two-shot, and not for Ziva fans.
Still Up There On the Mountain
A warm, pleasant, late March day. Lucy lay on her blanket spread out on the grass, and played with her toes. She wore a look of triumph that she'd managed to get her sock off again; her godfather wore a look of resignation.
"Just don't lose it," he admonished severely. Miss Hastings didn't look chastened for a moment; she simply beamed and giggled. Her companion couldn't help returning the smile, no matter how little like it he really felt. He stretched out on his side, propped himself up on his elbow, and carried on the conversation he'd been having with her.
"See, I should be on desk duty right now. Today's Friday, then there's Saturday, and Sunday, and Uncle Ducky says I can go back in the field on Monday!"
"No, Sweetie, this isn't a field, it's just a nice bit of grass. With big guns. Between NCIS and the river. And it's not that sort of field anyway."
"Well, Great Uncle Bear – I mean Gibbs… well, when he heard your daddy had to go to see your grandpa – the nasty one, that is, the one in prison – "
"Yes, I know… it's not nice, li'l Squeak. Not nice at all for Daddy." He tried not to grimace. Patch's mother had filed for divorce; heaven only knew what mood Arthur would be in. "Mommy went along so he wouldn't be alone, and they asked me to look after you for a couple of hours. Nobody wants to take a little 'un like you to a place like that, so of course your Uncle Tony said sure, you can come to NCIS and say hello to all your fans there."
"Well, Uncle Poppa Bear said sure, cuz he always does what you tell him… but you know how it is."
"You see, you agree. There was no work getting done. Everyone stopping to admire Miss Lucy Hastings. So… we came out here. It's a beautiful day, and we can sit here, and just hope that your momma and poppa aren't having a bad time of it."
"Yeah… gooo. You know, li'l Tadpolly – Tadpatch? Tadpollypatch? Which d'you prefer? I can have more intelligent conversations with you than with most grown-ups. And we make each other laugh. I love you to bits, Lucy Aiden Antonia…Aw, come on now, Poppet, is this the time to fall asleep? When a guy's declaring his undying love?"
The soft, level sound of her godfather's voice was making the five-month-old's eyelids droop, so he talked nonsense until she snuffled and slept, and then sighed as he was able to sit up and relax the smile he'd been wearing for her. He pulled the corners of her blanket over her legs, drew his knees up and leaned his fore-arms against them. He would have put his face down on them, that was if he'd had any intention of taking his eyes off Lucy for even a moment.
Damn, damn, damn…
He'd been doing fine; his fears hadn't been realised. He hadn't hated the person he'd found when his memory returned. Some aspects had jolted him, for sure… he guessed that was the plus side of what he'd been through – he could see things he hadn't seen before, and maybe change them.
But today… today was heavy with memories. Thinking of what Patch must be going through visiting his father, the appalling Arthur; and remembering the events that led to the elder Hastings being sent to prison for eighteen years, had put him in a sombre mood that not even the company of his adored godchild could lift. And of course being him, he told himself derisively, once he was in that mood, he was going to stay there. Recycling every bad thing that had happened since. Or before. Right now he felt as if he were still –
"Tony." McGee's greeting was quiet, in deference not only to the sleeping infant, but to the body language of her guardian, that had been clear from fifty feet away.
The SFA put the smile back on his face before he turned; here, unwittingly, (or so he thought) came part of the reason for his heavy heart. "Hey, McGee…can't keep away from her?"
Tim replied lightly, as he dropped down onto the grass on the other side of Lucy's blanket, "Who could? Thought you might be in Lucy's favourite spot."
Then he stopped. Now he was here, he felt utterly awkward about using any of the opening lines he'd rehearsed. He'd formed his Good Idea when he'd watched Tony gather the baby and all her stuff up, saying he'd take her out front for a bit of fresh air; but it had been difficult to find a moment to explain to Gibbs without Abby or Ziva noticing. As soon as he had done, he stole out, and now here he sat, tongue-tied.
Tony felt the same. He was actually afraid to talk seriously with Tim, however much he needed to. He had been ever since his memory had returned. Even though he remembered the younger man's delighted reaction at the time, so many other memories surged back that were at odds with that, that he was twisting up inside. OK, so he hadn't actually hated himself, but he guiltily recalled some pretty rough hazing… his frat brothers would have given it straight back, but this innocent, genius greenhorn didn't even know where to begin…
And then, years later… when he was suddenly Vance's wunderkind… Tony wondered if he'd ever sounded as malicious as Tim did in those days. He had to conclude that the answer was yes, and that McGee didn't mean it any more than he did. He'd gone to Somalia with him without hesitation, hadn't he? Pulled him up from the Stairwell of Death?
I think we're friends… for all the bickering we've done, it feels like we're friends… I'd step in front of a bullet for him without thinking twice… he'd do it for me, too… so why was he nervous? In the hospital? Why did I make him nervous? Is it the bickering? I kind of thought he enjoyed it too… Was I that wrong? Dammit, get a grip… Why's he nervous now? Why am I nervous? Say something, DiNozzo… put him out of his misery, dammit. Ask him how he got away from work.
"So Gibbs let you take a break and come down here?"
"Gibbs sent Abby back down to the lab, and found something urgent for Ziva to do."
They each spoke at the same time, and then laughed, slightly embarrassed. As if they hadn't known and worked with each other for six years. Tony pulled a blade of grass and twisted it in his hands. "You think we need to talk. Gibbs agrees, so he keeps the girls from joining in."
Tim thought maybe that was why he'd blurted out what he did, rather than any of the things he'd planned. He knew Tony would hear instantly what he wasn't saying. "Tony… I just… you know… things are still bothering you… you've been quiet… and when the hell have I ever known you to be tentative about anything?Maybe I shouldn't – "
"Touche. O-kay…" Tim looked down at the baby, who giggled in her sleep, and smiled at her, then looked steadily back at Tony. Here goes. "You've been back at work a week, and today, having Lucy here, is the first time I've seen you relaxed and happy. Oh sure, you've smiled, and been cheerful, but you haven't once initiated a conversation, not even a work related one. Not with Gibbs, not with me, not with Ziva. You've looked wary when we've spoken to you. You've plugged away at the paperwork, and when you've wanted conversation, you've found some excuse to go and see Abby."
"Yeah," Tim said firmly. "Why are you wary of me, Tony? What the hell are you expecting? Where's the bickering? The movie quotes? D'you know how much I miss trading insults?"
"You do?" Tony's look of surprise was comical. "I…" he thought for a moment. "I always thought we enjoyed it, you know? That it was how we were. Much easier than getting heavy and swearing eternal brotherhood."
He pulled another stalk of grass, having massacred the first one. "You know… in Somalia… I actually tried to stop myself from saying that bit about you had the heart of a lion? Because it's not what we do… Then I thought hey, just don't fight it. Then – in the hospital – lying there with a mind that was a complete blank, in come all these people who seem to know me. There's this young guy who says his name's McGee, and I don't know him, although it's clear he knows me."
Tony looked at the ground, and hesitated. "He's nervous," he finally said painfully. "He's nervous of me. And I look at him, and honestly, he seems like a fresh faced kid by comparison with what I feel like I am. Being obsessed with myself because it's the most urgent thing on my mind, and without being able to reach any of it but still knowing I carry a lot of baggage, I'm afraid of what it is that makes this nice kid wary of me!"
Tim nodded, frowning as he recalled that time. "I couldn't hide it, you know? I felt guilty that I wasn't a better actor. It's why I don't go undercover, I guess! I was meeting a totally stressed out, injured stranger for the first time, who I didn't want to be a stranger… I wanted him to be you. I don't think I handled it too well." He risked a grin, and echoed something Tony had said in the hospital. "I'll only say this once, and only cuz Lucy isn't listening. I was frantic with worry. I didn't want to think what it'd be like never to have my friend back. And I couldn't think of anything else! That's why I almost hugged you, the next day when I knew it was you."
Tony's voice held a curious mixture of relief, disbelief, joy, and a residual twinge of anxiety. "That's it? You're sure? I mean, it wasn't the ragging? I think… I came back to my memories like a stranger seeing them for the first time. The hazing… I thought it was that, and I'd been wrong all along about the eternal brotherhood thing. I felt bad. Deprived. Cruel. Guilty. It was too much, y'know?"
Tim answered obliquely. "D'you remember what happened the first time I answered you back? Like, five years ago?"
"You told me I'd led a sheltered life, and I said that when I needed advice on the big wide world I'd sooner ask National Geographic than you. I winced and waited to be chewed up and spat out. You stood there, with the biggest shit-eating grin – er, sorry, Lucy – I've ever seen, and I've seen a few from you – and Gibbs-slapped yourself. You muttered 'nice one', and went back to your desk, still grinning."
"Now I remember…"
"I began to realise that biting back was what you wanted from me, and I started to get braver. Does that put things into perspective?" As Tony nodded wonderingly, he added grouchily, "You can still beat me hands down, though."
"Hah. Not always – "
"If you're going to mention the 'golden boy' phase, when I said –"
"No, I don't. Didn't mean that. Don't want you to go there, McGee!"
Tim grinned as this friend's rather bullish confidence showed signs of returning. "We're good, then? You're good?"
What the hell had he said? The smile wavered at the edges, and suddenly the one that Tim rather disliked, the mask, replaced it. "Yeah, we're good, McCounsellor."
Tim looked him in the eye again, his eyes flashing with something like anger. "You haven't answered the other question."
"Ol' buddy, why would –"
"Tony, don't put that g'damn mask back. Not with me, not now."
"OK." Heavy sigh. "Sorry. OK. I get it. It might be another five years before we get to this stage of opening up again. Stupid to stop now. But…"
Tim backed off a little, but not altogether. "Sure. You don't want to talk about it." He looked at his hands for a moment and took a deep breath. Here goes, take two. "You can't go to Abby, because they're friends, and you don't want to diss one friend to another. You can't go to Gibbs because he thinks of her as a daughter, and you'd never spoil that. You won't confront her about it, because your method's always been to suck it up and carry on."
He looked at Lucy again. I did it once… over Lucy. I found the words. I can do it again. I need to have his six on this. He needs to know it.
"You don't take action on your own behalf; you just fix yourself and smile. You won't talk about her behind her back to Ducky or Jimmy. But I've seen it for myself, and I don't like it, and you don't need to pretend to me."
Tony sighed. "Ziva."
"Don't know what to think. You know… it feels like I'm still up there on the mountain, trying to find a way down."
"In Somalia… you told her you couldn't live without her."
"Yeah… but she's sure not a girl you could live with."
Tim rolled his eyes in a way that made Tony think of Gibbs and grin in spite of himself. "Are you deliberately trying to make my job harder?"
His friend was instantly contrite. "No. Sorry."
"You're not still in love with her." It wasn't a question.
"After Somalia I gave her space; thought she was asking me to… the next thing I know is, she's dangling Damon Werth under my nose. When I asked her if she was going to see him again, she just smiled. She was delighted that she could keep me guessing like that."
"I remember. She could see you were anxious, but she wouldn't do anything about it."
"Yes, well, that's the moment I gave up. Next thing, she's on my case over Dana Hutton. If she didn't want me, why would she care? She laughed over Brenda, and called me the class clown. Then…" he furrowed his brow, remembering, "She's sitting on my hospital bed, coming on to me, and I don't know her from the Duke, and she's accusing me of pretending, and keeping you all outside waiting all day… Shit, Tim, that scared me, that I might be the sort who'd be malicious enough to do that!" He paused. "If I'm honest, it hurt."
"Don't suppose my nervousness helped," Tim said gloomily.
"Aah… we've done this. Gibbs sorted it out. But…" he looked down at the grass, then his head jerked up. "All right, I'll say it, then I'm done. She doesn't love me. She's got this Ray guy. Which is fine. I never want to love like that again. But she acts like she owns me, and gets snarky when I won't play. And she never opens her mouth to me but to put me down. Hard to laugh it off, Tim. I'm not incompetent, or a loser, and if she thinks I am, how can we work as a team? Right. Now I am done."
"You're none of those things," Tim said positively. "She'll give up in the end. It'll get better." That was said so firmly Tony blinked. Tim just grinned. "Trust me, I'm a geek."
Tony returned the grin, the miseries melting away more quickly than he'd believed possible. Now he'd let it all out he felt better. The mountain was more or less a molehill again, and behind him, as he thanked his friend. They talked for a while longer, just letting the intensity ebb away and returning to their usual level, realising how much they'd missed it.
Tim said finally, "Hey, I think Lucy's waking up." He stood up. "And Gibbs didn't give me open ended leave. Chill. See you back in the squad room when you're ready." He wandered away across the grass as Tony smiled slowly, and picked Lucy up. She was toasty from her short nap, and ready to be entertained, and her godfather dutifully began his routine of songs and silly faces. A voice called, "Lucy, give the poor guy a break," and the little girl squeaked with delight as her parents returned.
After handing her over, and accepting an invitation to dinner to hear all about the visit, Tony headed for the coffee bar before returning to the bull pen. Gibbs looked up as the warm fragrance drifted under his nose, nodded his thanks, and raised a questioning eyebrow. Tony grinned back at him. OK, not such a high wattage, but a grin nevertheless, as he set two cups down by the Boss's computer. He distributed the others, although Tim and Ziva were both away from their desks, then returned to his pile of paperwork, with more energy than he'd felt for a while. He began to hum to himself. Gibbs smiled.
Tim and Ziva returned from opposite directions; Tim sat down, but Ziva remained standing, looking round.
"You appear to have forgotten something, Tony."
He looked up, grinning, from the file he was studying. "No, Ziva – your coffee's there, behind your pen pot. I put it there where it wouldn't get knocked over before you spotted it." It had happened before.
"No," she said, with some impatience at having to explain her joke, "I meant your god-daughter."
Tony's face fell, although he tried to keep his tone light. "Lucy's hardly a thing, Ziva," he said softly, then buried his face in his file again.
The cheerful atmosphere evaporated as quickly as it had formed. Tim screwed his face up in exasperation. 'Oh, shit!'
AN: I always feel that I rush my endings, because I stay up far too late, to write. But please let me know what you think anyway.