Tim is sitting in his apartment, shoulders hunched and hand buried in Jethro's fur, and he remembers when he was a little boy, when sometimes the weight of his father's expectations was just too much, and he'd end up at Penny's house. He could do anything there, as long as he was kind and he was honest. He remembers picking flowers with her, and baking cookies and coloring pictures and reading books – but most of all, he remembers the way he felt, the way every bit of encouragement from her would flood warmth straight from his heart to the tips of his ears, how every kiss she dropped on his cheek made him fill with happiness.
He remembers how she adored him when he wore her red pumps, how she encouraged him to wear them if they made him feel good, and he remembers most of all how she held him close when he was hiccupping through the sobs after his father found out. She'd taken his face in both hands and told him, eyes inches from his own, that she was prouder of him than she'd ever been of anyone ever, and that she knew how hard it was to deal with his father, but that he had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
He remembers the time his father yelled at him for getting seasick, again, and told him what a disappointment he was, and how he'd had enough and he'd worked up the courage to stand up to his father and yell, "Well I don't want to be a stupid admiral anyway!"
He remembers the punishment after that, and the silence, and the oppressive stares, and most of all, again, he remembers Penny, and how she looked at him with love and appreciation that made his heart soar and almost take away the sting of his father's words.
He remembers when he was a teenager and he kissed a boy. He'd known he couldn't tell his father, but he'd told Penny. It was easier than he'd thought it would be; it was always easy to talk to Penny. And for the first time in his life, she'd agreed with him that maybe it was better to hide himself for a while, at least from his father, because he still had to live there until he was old enough to go to college.
So he'd sped through high school and gone to college early, and still hid from his father, at least until that fateful day when his father discovered his secret, a day he rarely lets himself remember. His trip down memory lane is just beginning to take him to that difficult part when there's a knock on his door.
He's not surprised to hear it; he'd been expecting it, after all. He trudges to the door and scrubs a tired hand over his face, steeling himself before opening the door. When he sees Tony's smiling face on the other side, it almost undoes him.
"You have a key," Tim says wearily, pulling the door all the way open and gesturing for Tony to enter.
Tony walks through the door and kicks it closed, glancing at Tim with a cavalier grin.
"I was just trying to be a gentleman," he says. "It doesn't seem very gentleman-ly to just waltz in without knocking. It'd be like- "
"That's the point of a key," Tim interrupts. He know he sounds crabby, but he doesn't care. He doesn't wait for Tony; he heads back into his apartment and purposefully doesn't look at the confused countenance he's sure Tony is sporting, nor does he watch when Tony gives Jethro a pat in greeting.
"Just trying to be polite," Tony says, voice lighter than it was a moment ago, as he stands up straight again, gesturing Jethro towards his dog-bed. Tim recognizes the tone, it's the placating one that means Tim should really watch it because Tony sees exactly the kind of attitude Tim's giving.
And just like that, Tim's shoulders deflate and he stops, one hand on the kitchen counter, the other pressed to his brow, covering his eyes. Tony stands behind him, close enough to touch, but he keeps his hands at his sides.
"You wanna talk about it?" Tony asks. It's that same tone, the light one with the serious undercurrent that always takes Tim by surprise because it's just so damn caring, and even though he knows that side of Tony, the sincerity can sometimes be unnerving because it's just as intense as all of his other more annoying sides, only much rarer.
"What is there to talk about?" Tim asks grouchily, opening a cabinet and pulling out a box of fruit loops. He takes out a handful and shoves it in his mouth, taking pleasure in the knowledge that Tony gets annoyed when he chews dry cereal as loud as he can. He doesn't know why it feels so good to annoy Tony right now when Tony is really being rather sweet, but it does, and he just can't help it.
But he knows Tony is serious when he doesn't even flinch at the sound, just takes the box of cereal out of Tim's hands and pushes it aside, and then Tim is chewing much slower and his mouth is dry and it's all he can do to swallow before the guilt consumes him.
"I'm sorry," he says, brow furrowed and eyes earnest. "I didn't – it's just, I don't mean to take it out on you-"
"It's okay," Tony interrupts. "You're not taking it out on me, Timmy. You're taking it out on your cereal and your dental plan. Although, I guess in a way that's taking it out on me, because is that gonna make everyone's dental rates go up? I don't really know how that-"
"I called my father," Tim interrupts, partly because he's been dying to tell Tony since the moment it happened and partly because he knows he needs to say something with a lot of impact to get Tony to shut up about dental plans.
"I know," Tony replies, and again, his voice is soft and kind, and it's not the first time that Tim is really unsure how to reconcile the Tony he sees at home with the Tony he sees at work.
"He didn't – I mean, I wasn't even sure if he recognized my voice," Tim says. "Penny says he loves me, but I talked to him for all of thirty seconds before he made up an excuse and hung up the phone."
Tim hears how his voice breaks at the end of his sentence and he hates it; it's one of those weaknesses his father loves to pick on, and he can hear his father's voice in his mind, calling him sissy and pansy and telling him he's not good enough. He can feel his face start to crumple, feel his chin start to tighten and his lower lip start to twitch, but he forces himself to get it under control.
He takes a deep, shuddering breath, hoping it will help. It doesn't, not really, but it at least gives him some air to keep talking and try to turn his brain off for once. "Seven years, you know? Seven years and he – he still-"
He pauses, and finally brings his eyes to meet Tony's. Tony's face is calm and still, his eyes focused only on Tim, and Tim looks away again because he's not sure he can handle how much of himself he knows Tony is seeing so very clearly.
"Penny's really proud of you," Tony says. It sounds a bit like an offering. "She's pretty saucy, isn't she? She told me she wants to have dinner with us. She also told me that no matter how good looking you said I am, you never did me complete justice and that I am a total hottie and if I weren't taken, she'd go for me."
Tim is not shocked that his grandmother said this, but a snort of surprised laughter somehow makes it out of his mouth nonetheless, and he glances at Tony, who's waggling his eyebrows.
"Don't let her give you a big head," Tim warns. His words sound more tired than usual, and he knows his verbal sparring is not up to its usual level, but it's all he can do not to cry, and he knows that Tony knows that.
"Me? A big head? Never," Tony says. "Although did you notice now that I've grown my hair out I look much leaner?" He's gesturing towards his hair dramatically, and his face looks genuinely curious. "When my hair was short it made my head look kind of big, I think. What do you think? I mean, you're skinny, Timmy, and you were making me look fat. I had to do something, right? Do you-"
Tim's learned lots of ways to shut Tony up, and this time, he does it by pulling him in for a kiss. He might've thought Tony was a dumb jock when he first joined NCIS, and maybe that thought lasted a bit longer than it should have, but he's quite sure now that Tony's one of the smartest people he's ever met – even if he'll never, ever tell Tony that unless it's under duress or threat of nonstop verbal diarrhea – and he doesn't think he'll ever be able to have Tony's way with people.
Tony kisses Tim back, but he keeps it chaste and short and pulls away to look at Tim intently, thumb rubbing Tim's jaw and eyes roaming over his face.
Tony doesn't ask how he's doing, and Tim appreciates that, because he knows that Tony doesn't need to ask. Tony can hear it in his voice and see it in the bags under his eyes and the tension in his posture, and while it's terrifying, it's also rather helpful sometimes.
"I thought – I don't know why, but I thought maybe he'd want to talk to me," Tim admits. "I thought maybe – I mean, I'm a federal agent now, on the best team NCIS has. I thought maybe it'd be enough, that maybe I'd be enough -"
"Hey," Tony says, tone of voice much firmer than it had been a moment ago. "You listen to me, McUnderestimater. It's more than enough. You are more than enough, and just because your dad won't see it doesn't mean it's not true."
"McUnderestimater?" McGee says, one brow raised, heart beating fast, trying to avoid hearing Tony's words for what they are. "You can do better than that."
Tony shakes his head. "Don't change the subject. That's my job. You can't beat me at my own game," he warns. "You are more than enough, Timmy."
Tim looks away, that quivering feeling back in his chin, and he doesn't know why it hurts so much to hear Tony say this. He reluctantly lets his eyes lock on Tony's again when Tony gently turns his face back towards his own, and Tony's staring at him with such a dedicated look that Tim feels his eyes start to burn.
"Don't you let anyone tell you otherwise," Tony says. His voice is softer now, hushed, but intense nonetheless, and Tim squeezes his eyes shut and doesn't resist when Tony wraps his arms around him and pulls him close.
Tim's thankful that he's not sobbing like a little girl, even if he wipes his eyes when he tries to pull away a moment later, only to have Tony tug him closer again. Tim's not sure when Tony got to be the emotionally stable one in this relationship, but he supposes it's only a matter of time before the tables flip-flop again and Tony's the one with the daddy issues, and he's sure by the end of Senior's birthday party, that will happen soon enough.
After a moment, though, he pushes away more forcefully so he can grab a tissue, because even though he most definitely wasn't crying his nose is mysteriously a bit more stuffy than usual, and he watches as Tony grabs the box of fruit loops, taking a handful and shoving them in the general direction of his mouth, half of them landing on the floor.
There's a scrambling sound of claws on tile and Jethro has obviously decided that obeying "sit" orders is much less important than spilled food, and he eagerly eats the spilled fruit loops, tail wagging. Tim gives Tony a look, and Tony grins sheepishly, brushing a stray fruit loop off his shoulder and laughing when Jethro scrambles to catch it before it hits the floor.
"You're gonna make him fat," Tim complains, ignoring the nasal quality of his voice.
"Better him than me," Tony says ominously.
"Oh stop," Tim says, tossing his tissue into the garbage can and heading over to Tony, leaning on the counter beside him. "You're not fat."
Tony pouts for a moment. "Why don't you tell me exactly how non-fat I am in detail," he suggests, and Tim mentally notes that maybe Tony's not as emotionally stable as he thought, which somehow makes him even more grateful for Tony's support.
"You're hot?" Tim says after a moment, feeling generous.
"Gee, thanks, McBuzzkill, don't sound too sure about it or anything," Tony says.
Tim laughs. "You are," he says, "and you know it. Even my grandmother knows it. Everyone knows it, Tony."
"Just like everyone knows you're a damn good agent and a brilliant man," Tony says, and for some reason, it's not so painful for Tim to hear it this time, and he smiles, the sting of his father's earlier brush-off beginning to fade, though he knows it will never go away entirely. But Tim is smart, and Tim is resilient, and he'd been adjusting to his father's attitude his entire life.
"You know something?" Tim asks, glancing at Tony seriously and hoping to God Tony doesn't make fun of him for this.
"Yeah, I know lots of things," Tony says. "Is this gonna be about that thing with the engine-"
"No," Tim interrupts, because he will not be sidetracked, not when it's important. "I just – it makes it a little easier with my dad when I know I have people who love me no matter what."
"People?" Tony asks, grinning one of those infuriating cocky grins he loves to sport. "And by people, you wouldn't happen to mean a certain good-looking Senior Field Agent who goes by the name of Tony DiNozzo, would you?"
Tim rolls his eyes but plays Tony's little game, mostly because Tony's been good to him tonight and he thinks he owes him that much. "I just might," he confirms. "But Penny, too. And Ziva, and Gibbs, and-"
Tony cuts him off by kissing him, and this time it's definitely not chaste.
"I love you, too," Tony says a moment later when he pulls away abruptly. "Now, I have a really good idea that I've been waiting to tell you all night."
"Oh God," Tim says. "I already told you that it's not a good idea to see what happens if we give Jethro a-"
"No, no," Tony says hastily. "Not that. You're right. Way too messy. I was just thinking it would be really hot if you got a pair of red pumps-"
With a grin, Tim pulls Tony in for a kiss, and he luxuriates in the feeling of Tony pressed against him for a moment before pulling away.
"Does that mean yes?" Tony asks, with all the excitement of a puppy.
Tim grins. "It does if you clean the fruit loops off the counter," he says, gesturing towards the stray pieces of cereal that hadn't made it all the way to the floor when they missed Tony's mouth. "And it doesn't count if you throw them on the floor for Jethro," he adds when Tony looks speculatively at the floor.
And while Tim watches Tony grumble and get some paper towels, he can't help but think that Tony's more than enough, too. Way more than enough.