I wrote this in two and a half hours, god help me. I don't know where it came from. I wasn't reading NCIS fiction or watching NCIS on TV. It just... appeared.

This takes place in some nebulous timeframe around season six but disregarding the whole season plotline, since I can't be bothered to watch it on TV and figure out what's going on and I only have up to season six on DVD. It's meant to be fun with a touch of slash for spice, not some epic thing.

There's nothing in the world that hits all of Gibbs' buttons quite like young daughter in danger while father is deployed; Hour Thirty-Seven of the case from hell creeps up on them and finds them all exhausted and grimy, jittering in their seats with wasted adrenaline and more caffeine than blood flowing through their veins. Tony already asked Ducky if there was a way to set up a coffee IV drip, and Tim isn't entirely sure he was joking. Probably as well the answer was no- Gibbs has taken his previous habit of looming up behind them like a silent specter and supersized it. They'd had to peel Ziva off the ceiling tiles last time.

The frustrating thing is, they know beyond the shadow of a doubt who the kidnapper is. However, all fantasies of having the girl waiting, ready to run into her father's arms the second he steps off the plane dissipate fairly quickly.

Lisa Kauffman disapproves of the war, soldiers in general and Marines in specific, her sister's choice in husbands, and children. She dislikes the male gender as a whole with an unending, indefinable passion. She was only watching little Allison Walters because her deadbeat of a sister wrapped her car around a telephone pole and has yet to wake up. She believes Sam Walters deserves to lose his daughter. She tells Gibbs this, to his face, smug and confident and so unbearably sure of herself that even the normally-tranquil Ducky trembles with rage in the observation room. She says nothing to implicate herself, of course. Gibbs does the impossible and keeps his temper in check. Abby had had to be literally carried back to the elevator so she wouldn't bury her gel pen in the bitch-woman's throat. For someone who bowls with nuns, she has an alarmingly detailed vocabulary.

The hours tick by, and the odds of finding eight-year-old Allison, reliant on the cruel mercies of her heartless automaton of an aunt, are getting alarmingly thin. Tim can't imagine why Lisa Kauffman would keep the girl alive when she so clearly holds everything that isn't herself in the highest contempt. On the other hand, he can't imagine Lisa lifting a finger to do something so far beneath herself as killing someone. It's entirely possible she simply drove Allison out into a field somewhere and kicked her out of the car, trusting nature to do what she couldn't be bothered to.

Gibbs has stopped talking to them. Barking at them, no, which is why Ziva did her housecat impersonation, but talking. Maybe he's disgusted with their complete lack of progress. Maybe he's focused all of his attention and anger on beating the woman who's dragged him into this sick game. Maybe he cries in the bathroom so he can keep his game face on in front of his team- highly doubtful, but Tim long ago learned that nothing is strictly impossible. Then again, maybe he's just being Gibbs.

Ziva has lost her ninja-esque cool. She's twitchy and jumpy and working herself up to a gran mal heart attack. She's also stowed away most of her weapons- there's a hole in the wall courtesy of her best throwing knife, which missed being a hole in Tony by about two inches after he sneezed and startled her. She's frustrated and angry and has no one to take it out on except the punching bag in the gym, which she officially killed during Hour Twenty-Nine.

And Tim? Well, Tim is hiding. Abby's lab might not be the most inspired of hiding places, but at least she has the door closed, for the second time since he's been here. It's not locked this time, though, and even Abby's own black mood isn't enough to keep the others out. The only flaw in this plan is that Tim isn't the only yellow-bellied lily-livered 'fraidy cat coward among their number, and not long after Tim manages to convince Abby that no, Gibbs did not send him down here with the understanding that occasionally a forensic scientist just needs to maul something, Tony shows up and everything goes to hell tout de suite.

Tony barely knows what a flash drive is but can recite Paul Newman's movies from memory in order of length. He's never grasped the difference between mine and not mine in terms of food and personal information, but he was undercover for over a year and never breathed a word. He's wild-eyed and quietly hilarious when high on painkillers, which Tim sees far too often for his liking. He comes into work hungover and half-dressed. He tattles on Ziva and shortchanges Tim and scurries after Gibbs, all but stepping on the boss' heels. He's an arrogant, smug show-off who thinks an endless wealth of movie trivia is as important as a working understanding of string theory. He flirts endlessly and banters with strangers, spends more money on clothes than on food, drinks coffee that even the girl at Starbucks think is too sweet and fluffy. Everything that comes out of his mouth is either insult, innuendo, challenge, or self-praise.

He took a bullet for Tim once. Milked it for weeks, of course, but still. He's never made Abby cry, which is important in ways Tim can't rightly explain. He's got great teeth and tanned skin that Tim, with his pasty computer-screen skin, would kill for. He's long and lean, not almost-but-not-quite-chubby like Tim and not scrawny. He's a good-looking guy, and what's more, he knows he's a good-looking guy, and he knows how to use it. He smirks and leans and drawls and winks and Tim's mouth goes dry.

He kind of hates himself a little, when he catches himself staring at that face in profile. He definitely hates Tony.

They're sore and snarky, sniping hurtful little comments because it's been thirty-seven hours and Allison is probably dead and Lisa walked out of NCIS headquarters knowing she's beaten them all. Abby is very loudly considering throwing them out- or following through on her old threat of killing them and leaving no forensic evidence, and since she's the favorite Gibbs won't even fire her- and Tim and Tony are fast devolving into a shouting match when Tim finally steps in it. No, not steps- take a flying leap feet-first into it.

It starts off innocently enough, with Tony taking yet another potshot at Tim going to MIT, and Tim- sleep-deprived, caffeine-addicted, and apparently career-suicidal- comes back with the only reply he can not-think of.

"At least I went to a real college and did real work, instead of expecting everybody to give me everything because I'm hot!"

"Like you fancy MIT education is helping us at all right-" Tony's train of thought quite visibly derails and he goes statue-still. Abby makes a noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh and a softly whispered ohmygawd. All three remain frozen in this tableau for far too long and Tim realizes with sickening clarity that his window of opportunity to recant that statement- to claim it came out wrong or something- has already vanished. He feels his face heating up, starting with his ears and rapidly spreading to his cheeks.

Tony blinks, tucks his chin to his chest and tilts his head to the side, blinks again. Finally, in an odd sort of tone, he says, "McGee, you think I'm hot?"

Dead silence. Tim clears his throat and tugs at his collar. A flat-out no would be the worst thing he could say.

"No I, I never said-"

"Tony! McGee!" Ziva thunders into the lab and stops in her tracks. Tim is bright red and looking everywhere but at Tony, Tony is staring at Tim as if he's some interesting new puzzle to be figured out, and Abby is looking between the two and giving her biggest grin ever.

"Hush!" she orders, waving a hand at Ziva. "It's just getting good."

Ziva looks at them all like they're completely insane, which is close enough. "It will have to wait. We found the girl."

And then there's a mad scramble for the door as they leave Tony and Tim and Ziva behind and become NCIS agents, frustrated and angry and desperately hoping against hope for one little girl's welfare and personal issues are left behind like so much baggage.

Allison gets to run into her father's arms with a delighted squeal of "Daddy!". Lance Corporal Sam Walters hitches her up on a hip and approaches the NCIS team, leaving behind his bag and paperwork for something far more valuable, and thanks them all with almost embarrassing candor. For once Gibbs is the one with all the right words- which isn't much, Marines being Marines- and Tim watches Allison bury her face in her father's neck and remembers the sweet victory of seeing Lisa in cuffs. If anything, their grungy, exhausted appearance endears them even more to the corporal, who seems inordinately touched at the lengths they went to get his little girl back.

Tim, as requested by Abby, records the reunion on his phone and immediately sends it to her.

Her reply is five words: has Tony said anything yet?

Tim reports a negative and turns his phone off, good mood from their victory irredeemably ruined.

And the most frustrating thing is, Tony proceeds to not say anything about it for a week. He occasionally looks at Tim odd, back to that puzzle-solving expression, but for the most part it's as if not a single thing has changed. And, after a while, Tim actually begins to believe it- that Tony has shrugged it off as exhaustion talking or something. Had it been anyone else, he might think the other person realizes it's not something he wants to talk about, except with Tony and his third-grade maturity level that's only guaranteed to get him more interested.

Abby is no help. Tim admitted to her years ago that he thinks Tony's relatively attractive, when he's not behaving like a six-year-old. She had accepted it with a shrug, because he is, and said nothing about it, because it's Tony. But now the taboo subject has been brought back into the realm of acceptable conversation and she works it into everything. She's hoping for mad gay sex- "because you and Tony, that would be totally hot!"- and Tim is getting progressively more direct in dispelling those delusions. Obviously Tony is no homophobe, but he's also the straightest straight man to set foot on planet Earth.

"He's a negative on the Kinsey Scale, Abby," Tim says to her.

"He kissed that transvestite," she replies. "That's got to count for something."

And it does, in all the wrong ways, because after that Tim imagines Tony kissing another guy and that is most certainly not helping at all.

Tony has a cold one day, three weeks after they find Allison. None of them say anything but they're all hyper-aware of it- for Tony, even a meek little cold can go very wrong, very fast. Gibbs leaves him in Tim's care- not his words, of course- as he and Ziva head out to search an alley inch-by-inch in the drizzly cold rain. Tim doesn't quite know how to say thank you for catching the plague and saving both of us from having to go outside in that. Since Hallmark doesn't exactly have those cards, he instead shifts his attention to his computer- for all of six seconds. Then Tony speaks up, casual and easy, as if he's continuing a conversation and not starting one out of the blue.

"So, what is it, just like, wow he's kinda hot, or do you have a shrine hidden somewhere?"

Tim freezes, but it's an honest question, no hint of mockery or anything more than mild sarcasm, so he forces himself to relax and get back to work.

"It's nothing, Tony," he tells his monitor. "I was just tired, it didn't come out right."

"Well, we know you didn't come out right," Tony counters, then instantly retreats. Tim stares after him and wonders what the hell that was all about.

"Since when are you gay?"


"Just curious."

"I'm not gay."


"Is it just some stupid little crush or do you, you know-?" And here Tony makes a helpful gesture that draws Tim's eye instantly to the other man's groin. Tim feels his face heat up again- an increasingly frequent occurrence around this idiot.

"You mean, do I think of you when I-?" Hello, aneurism. My name is Tim and I've been waiting for you. "That is sick and none of your business and I am not gay!" He adds the last as an afterthought and his voice hits that depressing squeaky note. Half the bullpen- including Gibbs, who is either completely oblivious or doing a very good job of acting like it- stops to stare at him. Tim drops his forehead to his desk.

"Well," Tony's smooth voice says suddenly, far too close to Tim's ear, "if I'm a regular feature in Little Timmy Theater, it kinda is my business."

He's gone before Tim can lift his head, never mind figure the best way to kill him with a stapler. Tim takes this as a sign to have Ziva give him a few lessons in improvisational weaponry.

"How, exactly, do you kill someone without leaving evidence?" Tim asks. Abby pushes a few buttons on Major MassSpec's panel and turns to face him.

"And why should I tell you?" she asks, picking up her Caf-Pow and leaning back against the edge of the counter.

"Abby, if I'm asking your help in killing him, odds are hot gay sex is in no one's future," Tim says irritably. He's mostly given up on trying to talk her out of her delusions. Abby slurps obnoxiously at her Caf-Pow and studies him, narrow-eyed, looking for all the world like a lazy cat comparing the possible reward of catching the mouse against the effort of chasing it.

"There's nothing wrong with hope, Timothy," she says serenely, and sends him off to fetch something from Ducky.

"Is Tony still bothering you?" Ziva asks, after he all but takes her head off over a small computer error. She sounds supremely amused by the whole thing- the female prerogative, Tim can only assume, since everyone else has all tacitly agreed to never mention anything about it.

"He thinks I'm gay, so of course he has to give me a hard time about it," he grumbles as he works on her computer, somewhat sheepishly. It's not like Ziva's been trolling porn sites and picking up spyware and viruses left and right.

"By gay you mean homosexual?" she replies, matter-of-fact and very, very loud. Tim doesn't shush her- there's no point, since Tony has all but announced it over the PA. "You mean you aren't?"

Tim almost falls out of the chair, which takes considerable skill when already sitting. He turns to gape at her, his words logjamming in his throat, none able to get out.

"I've seen you," she says, shrugs. "Looking at Tony's ass. Is a nice ass, yes?" And she winks.

Tim wants to die. Right here, right now. Just die.

"Is he paying you?" he finally demands, after many false starts. Ziva just looks at him. "Blackmailing you?"

That gets him a snort and a toss of the head. Clearly not, so… "Somehow influencing you to- join in the conspiracy-"

"Your thing is beeping," Ziva says, gesturing to the monitor. Tim just stares at her. After a moment she takes his chin in her strong fingers and turns his face back to the screen. Then she gives him a pat on the head and moves over to Tony's desk to read through the files piled there, leaving Tim feeling like a particularly dense lap dog.

Gibbs, of course, is both wonderfully and despicably indifferent to the whole thing. He is a sturdy rock of sanity in the river of insanity that Tim's life has become. And when you find yourself waxing poetic about Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you know you're in trouble.

So it seems very unfair when Gibbs sends Tony on a fetch-the-suspect run that's guaranteed to be at least a three hour drive, then calls out just before Tony steps into the elevator-

"And take McGee."

Tim stares at him, mouth half-open, long enough that Gibbs looks up at him and frowns. "Something wrong, McGee?" he asks, and Tim's thoughts begin a hamster-wheel track, starting at he's a Marine and moving on to and what about rule 12 and then going to none of this is my fault anyways before looping back to he's a Marine.

Gibbs is frowning fiercely now, annoyance and impatience at war. Tim suddenly remembers that he asked a question.

"Uh, no, Boss."

"Then why are you still here?" Gibbs demands irritably, and Tim shoots out of his chair. He hurries out, passing Ziva who winks, and that action is now irreversibly linked to thoughts of Tony's ass and how is this his life?

Tony's waiting in the car, and says nothing for the first hour of their drive. Tim takes this as a good sign, since Tony will sometimes go days between comments or questions. It was not meant to last, however.

"Just so you know, I'm totally cool with it." Long, awkward silence. Unfortunately Tony doesn't take the hint. "Being your fantasy material, I mean."

Tim beats his forehead against the window until Tony rolls it down to get him to stop.

Two months after they save her life, Allison Walters turns nine. Her father brings her into NCIS headquarters a day later. Abby cries and hugs her. Ducky charms her with his gentleman's manners and Scottish accent. The adults meet Sarah Walters, who came out of her coma after a week and is mostly recovered from the crash. No one mentions Lisa.

Tony eyes him occasionally. That odd, puzzled look is gone. In its absence is decisiveness. Tim doesn't know which he prefers.

That night, Tony shows up with a pizza- his own personal favorite, of course- and a shopping bag full of DVDs. Tim considers not letting him in, but Tony would only pick the lock and Tim would have to yell at him, so he saves them both the trouble and leaves the door open. They eat pizza and drink apple juice- the only thing in Tim's fridge, which Tony properly gives him hell over- and watch one of the Bond movies, Tim can't remember which one. Tony's running commentary sort of ruins it but Tim doesn't bother telling him to be quiet.

When the credits roll, Tim gets up, fully prepared to kick Tony out- apology received and accepted- except Tony doesn't move. Instead he tilts his head up to look at Tim, face washed out by the light from the television screen.

"Over your little homophobic snit, probie?" he asks. Tim gapes at him.

"My snit? You were the one who…" And he stops, staring at something far away, remembering their bizarre conversations. The sniping comments, the sudden retreats, the whole 'I'm cool with it' thing. The conspiracy, which suddenly seemed a lot more real. Of course Tony, charming confident Tony, would have no problem recruiting the girls to his campaign, whatever it may have been.

"That was flirting? Really?" Tim half-laughs. Tony stretches luxuriously, like a cat, and rises to his feet in a slow easy roll. Tim wishes he'd stayed down- standing, he's taller and darker and more dangerous, more in control.

"That was flirting with you, who, if you will recall, included a standard 'I'm not gay!' disclaimer in every conversation." Tony grins toothily, like a shark with a very good, and very brave, orthodontist. "Never occurred to ask me if I was, huh, Elf Lord?"

There's a moment where Tim can still unceremoniously dump Tony out the door. There will be no more comments, no more conspiracy. If this is too much too fast, Tony was willing to leave, no questions asked.

He stays.

Tony tastes like pizza sauce and processed apples, with just a hint of mint underneath. He'd brushed his teeth before coming over, Tim realizes, which is arrogant and presumptuous and so completely Tony.

Abby figures it out with one look and spends three hours prying every last detail out of him. She's ecstatic, of course, and constantly interrupting her own interrogation to lecture him on the importance of hope. He ultimately escapes by distracting her with a Caf-Pow and making a cowardly dash for the door.

Tony is absolutely no different at work. Ziva is smug and remarkably pleased with herself. Gibbs, of course, in inscrutable, although he does seem satisfied with the sudden lack of tension amongst his team. Rule 12, apparently, has ceased to apply.

Tim sends Allison Walters a belated birthday card and tries not to think about how an endless wealth of movie trivia seems to have served Tony far better than understanding string theory has done for Tim. Then he shrugs it off and gets back to work.