Hopefully the length of this one will somewhat make up for the delay.
Title: Discovering Pack
Word Count: 4219
Spoilers: Dead and Unburied
Warnings: It's slash, but you won't see that here
Disclaimer: They're not mine, pretty as I find them. Go to the producers if you want to talk money.
Summary: AU but following canon events: In Dead and Unburied, Tim and Tony get stuck together, waiting, for an entire night. What did they talk about?
“I don't understand why you test him like that,” Tim said once Gibbs and Ziva were out of earshot, if not quite sight. He was pulling out his cell phone when Tony turned to look at him.
“It's who I am,” Tony said flippantly. But he couldn't hide the look of frustration that crossed his face when he looked at the hole in the ground. This was not how he'd been planning to spend his night. But really, he should have expected something like this. After a challenge like last night, Gibbs was practically obliged to put him back in his place. He stayed silent while Tim called to beg for a ground penetrating radar crew.
“We're going to be here all night,” Tim groaned as he hung up the phone several minutes later.
Have overheard both sides of the conversation, Tony was already resigned to the wait. “Sorry to get you stuck out here,” he said dryly.
“More like I got you stuck out here,” Tim countered. “I could have stayed alone.”
“This is an active crime scene,” Tony pointed out. “No one should be here alone. It's against policy and common sense. Unfortunately, though I know this is something that should be checked, I have a bad feeling Gibbs set up the situation to punish me, and you got caught in the crossfire. Thus the apology.” A really bad feeling. Though it was nice to see his alpha without that damned furry worm on his lip. Gibbs was back.
“You know how Gibbs feels about apologies,” Tim said teasingly.
Tony let out a huff of breath. Yeah, he did, and he also knew that under the right circumstances even Gibbs would use the word 'sorry,' but he wasn't going to tell Probie that. “Well, Tony's rule modifies Gibbs' rule. Apologies are acceptable between team mates.”
Tim considered that for a moment before nodding. “I can accept that, though I don't you should mention it before Gibbs.”
Tony snorted and nodded. No, that was not an argument he wanted to have now. If Gibbs wanted to hold onto that particular nugget of Franks' wisdom, Tony would not push.
“But still, why on earth would you think Gibbs would manufacture this situation to punish you?” Tim eyed Tony curiously. “I thought things were settling down between you two.”
Tony chuckled, but it was a dry, mirthless noise. “I might have told him off about the whole Franks’ thing with the last case.”
Tim goggled at him in disbelief.
“What?” Tony asked. “I'm the one who told him he should read Moby Dick during the whole Ari thing two years ago.”
“True,” Time said with a nervous laugh.
“I've never been able to believe you actually said that,” Tim said, finally breaking the silence in the clearing. “I'd never have the courage to say something like that to Gibbs. And you keep doing it. Why this time?”
Tony shook his head sadly. “And that is why you don't rate senior agent yet,” he said, his tone a bit mocking.
“I did a good job for you,” Tim said defensively.
“Oh, I didn't say you don't have potential. You do. In fact, you already stutter less and have a much bigger backbone than the little pipsqueak we found out in Norfolk one day.” Tony couldn't deny the difference in the younger man over the last few years, and he was pleased with the results of his efforts. It was a good change, though Tim still had a way to go.
“Hey!” Tim protested.
Tony smirked. “I was paying you a compliment. If you'd rather I just insult you ...”
“No,” Tim said, visibly backing down though he didn't really move.
“See, that's what you need to work on,” Tony said, pointing at Tim. Might as well make good use of their time now. “You need to be able to stand up to the alpha personalities.” Tony noticed an odd twitch in Tim's shoulders, but he wasn't quite sure of the cause. “Sure, follow orders when they need to be followed, but you also have to learn to stand up for what you believe in and to tell them that they're wrong when you see it.”
“You ran down the stairs like a little girl after telling Gibbs to read Moby Dick,” Tim pointed out.
“It was a strategic retreat. He was already seething. You expected me to stand there after saying something like that?” Tony said. Oh yeah, sometimes it was best to run like hell. Of course, Gibbs was nothing if not patient and prone to planning. He always got his way in the end.
“You know, you're a lot more confident than you used to be,” Tim pointed out.
Tony snorted. “Oh really? What gives you that idea?” he asked sarcastically.
“Well, when I first joined the team, you were really defensive,” Tim said with a minimum of stuttering.
“Was not,” Tony grumbled, but he didn't sound very convincing even to himself.
“Tony,” Tim said, rolling his eyes.
“So Gibbs isn't that good at reassuring people sometimes,” Tony said, trying for a nonchalant tone, but it came out a bit bitter.
“Most of the time,” Tim countered.
“He's good with you and Abby,” Tony pointed out, reining in his bitterness this time. Sometimes it hurt to see how easily his alpha would encourage some of his team mates. Abby always got a 'good job' and often a kiss on the cheek. Tim's final words from the departing Gibbs assured him of how good an agent he was. Tony just got 'you'll do.'
“But he depends on you more,” Tim said, surprising Tony with his insight.
Tony didn't know how to reply to that one, so he just shrugged.
“You remind me of someone,” Tim commented distractedly around a slice of pizza, his eyes unfocused as he stared into the dark sky.
“Oh?” Tony asked, paying a minimum of attention. His recently arrived dinner was much more interesting than Tim's musing.
“He always challenged but never really wanted to take over,” Tim answered. “Dad used to say he'd be an excellent beta someday.”
That caught Tony's attention. The slice of pizza in his hand was forgotten as it dropped to the ground. “What?”
Tim paused and seemed to be reviewing his last words. “Can we just forget I said anything?” he asked plaintively.
“No,” Tony said flatly, his full attention now focused on his fellow agent. “That sounded like a very interesting turn of phrase and now I'm curious where you came up with it. Your father?”
“Tony, drop it,” Tim said desperately.
Tony responded with a demanding growl. If that didn't get him an answer, he was prepared to drop the matter. However, Tim reacted with a combination of jaw dropping surprise and comprehension.
“Damn, I knew there was something familiar about the team dynamic,” Tim muttered, shaking his head in disbelief. Tony raised an eyebrow to demand further information. “When did Gibbs finally confirm you as his beta?”
Tony shook off the feeling of surprise he got at Tim's words. After all, he'd been pushing for something like that. “After Kate's funeral.”
“Why not before?” Tim asked softly, his forehead wrinkled as he thought.
“That's when he found out I was ...” Tony waved his hand at waist level and wiggled his fingers like he was petting something. “Let's just say that’s when he found out that Ziva was rather more accurate in her description earlier than she knows. Or at least I think she doesn't know.”
“But you'd been working for him for ... three years by then?” Tim asked, surprised.
“I don't exactly go bragging about that particular ability, no matter what Ziva implied,” Tony said dryly. “And it was almost four years.”
“I just figured there was a way to tell, smell or some such,” Tim said with a shrug, still clearly trying to process something.
“So you're not ...?” Tony asked.
“Able to turn into a hungry wolf?” Tim said teasingly, calming enough to try and banter. “No. Dad married outside the pack and Sarah and I spent every summer with them to learn ... but I never showed the potential.”
“Sarah?” Tony asked.
“My sister,” Tim admitted, looking frustrated.
“You never mentioned you had a sister,” Tony said, leering a bit.
“And that would be why,” Tim said pointedly.
“Sorry you lost the genetic lotto,” Tony said, meaning those words though his tone was light. “But no, can't tell when they're young, can't tell when they're adult. You either find out by accident or spend all your time missing it like ships passing in the night.”
“Really, I should have figured it out years ago,” Tim said, shaking his head. “I mean, Gibbs is such an obvious alpha, and you are so much like Mark. I should have pegged you both for shifters long ago.”
Tony laughed. Another misinterpretation. “Gibbs isn't a shifter,” he said.
“No?” Tim asked, his brow furrowing. “I could have sworn ...”
“You're not the first person to make that mistake, from what I've been told,” Tony interrupted. “But while he's known a number, including yours truly, and played alpha many a time, he himself has never had the pleasure of running on four paws.” That comment brought back the memory of the look of longing Gibbs had worn last Saturday.
“How do you know so much?” Tim asked, shocking Tony out of his reminiscence.
“He left,” Tony snapped, unable to hide his bitterness. Tim looked at him with a disturbing amount of pity, so Tony focused on the garden so he didn't have to see. “The boss may not talk much normally, but he had some explaining to do. He knows enough about shifters to realize that.”
“So ... you learned a lot recently?” Tim asked hesitantly. Tony glanced at the younger man out of the corner of his eye and couldn't miss the burning curiosity in Tim's eyes.
“We had a long talk recently, bit of pecking order to sort out,” Tony said, his voice gravelly, on the edge of a growl. He wasn't sure he wanted to be talking about this with Tim, pack or not.
“That ... that makes a lot of sense,” Tim said apologetically. “I won't pry. That's between you two,” he added formally.
When Tony turned back he saw Tim had tilted his head slightly, exposing his neck more in the starlight. Tony let out a huff of approval but refrained from touching the probie. He wasn't Abby and probably wouldn't appreciate it. “So, you were raised around a pack?” Tony asked lightly. “Probably know all the rules and such?”
Tim shrugged. “Every holiday, from birth to age thirteen, so I guess I know enough.”
“Why stop then?” Tony asked curiously. He was prying, but he couldn't resist. He'd known a few others from packs, back in college, but had never asked them much. Back then he was too busy trying to convince himself he was an excellent lone wolf, while joining every sports team and fraternity he could get his hands on. Really pathetic when you think about it.
Tim flushed, his skin turning dark in the faint light of the stars. Tony felt like he could smell the extra blood rushing to the surface of the other man's skin. “I ... uh,” Tim stuttered.
“You don't have to talk about it,” Tony offered, looking away again. If he didn't catch the younger man's eyes, he couldn't challenge him. He was curious, but he didn't want to push. This wasn't something he could find by looking through Tim's desk and computer.
“You ever live with a pack?” Tim asked.
“Nope,” Tony replied lightly. “Mom and I were more the lone wolf type.”
“Until recently,” Tim needled.
“Yeah, well,” Tony said, then shrugged. He refused to be embarrassed that he'd found a pack. It was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“Well, then you don't know what it's like growing up around other young shifters,” Tim said, his voice tinged with dread. “It's worse than high school. They're all jocks, to some degree, and once puberty hits they flirt with anyone and everyone.” Tony caught Tim shivering in a manner that seemed to have nothing to do with the temperature of the night air. “Sarah shifted the first time at age seven. By then, I'd pretty much figured out it was never going to happen to me. Between the disdain for being the loser at the genetic lottery—good turn of phrase, by the way—and being tired of being alternately hit on and beat up by everyone, I begged my parents to let me stop visiting. I figured, if I was so useless at their way of life, I'd find my own, so I buried myself in my computer and tried to forget ... most everything I could. To be honest, after that the jocks in high school were a breeze.”
Tony let out a sad whine. He'd seen the torment that jocks put geeks through, and, yes, occasionally participated. It was brutal. These days he preferred to use those tactics to try and get his probie to grow a pair, and so far it was working. But back in those days it was all about tearing the other guy down. Very ugly. “How did you know you weren't going to shift?” he asked, trying to hide his own feeling of pity.
“I was thirteen, Tony,” Tim said, rolling his eyes.
Tony raised his hands defensively. “Hey, how do I know the normal age for shifters to show themselves?”
“How old were you?” Tim asked politely.
“Umm ... Mom said about six months,” Tony said, thinking hard. His mother had bitched regularly about the difficulty of keeping a staff that would keep their mouths shut around strangers and the man of the house about the family son who was the family pet half the time. He had been five before anyone had been able to drum into his head that he was supposed to be human most of the time.
Tim gapped at him in shock. “I've never heard of someone shifting that young,” he said in disbelief. “Four to eight is more normal. Some change later, but usually by then either you've figured out that you're meant to or you know you can't.”
“So why did you wait until you were thirteen to beg off?” Tony asked, trying to process one more reason he was unusual. Maybe that was why his senses had always been so good. Shifter senses were always sharper in wolf form, and some of the improvement usually stuck around for a bit after shifting back to human form before tapering back to whatever was standard. If he'd trained his senses well at an unusually young age, maybe they'd just stayed a bit sharper than most.
Tim flushed again and looked away, flustered. “They hoped I was a late bloomer,” he admitted shyly. “But after puberty it became pretty clear to me ... well, I like girls ...” His voice trailed off as his skin became a shade darker in the stars' faint light.
“Exclusively?” Tony asked gently. Tim nodded. “It's not unheard of for a shifter to be monosexual,” he said encouragingly.
Tim snorted softly and seemed to recover himself a bit. “But it's rare, and I've never quite had the ... overclocked sex drive ...” He paused a moment and studied Tony thoughtfully. “Huh, that brings a few more levels of understanding to your actions.”
Tony just grinned cheekily.
“Hey, this means next time Abby has a question about pack politics, I can send her to you,” Tony exclaimed delightedly into the late night silence.
“Abby knows?” Tim asked, hunching back slightly with a nervous expression.
“I ... um ... let a few things slip once, and she started making connections,” Tony muttered. “Still need to have a talk with the guy she got her intel from.”
“Abby knows and has been talking to random people about it?” Tim asked, still nervous but now mostly worried.
“Just one, as far as I know,” Tony said with a shrug. “Gibbs and I are going to have a 'chat' with him about discussing pack matters with humans without confirming that they're pack.”
“You consider Abby pack?”
Tony was going to have to be careful. If he kept throwing these surprises at Tim he was going to get that look of confusion and surprise permanently plastered to his face, again. It had taken years to begin to disassemble it before.
“Tim,” Tony said seriously, looking firm but not derisive. “The boss is my alpha. I consider the whole team my pack ... and I know he agrees. He's convinced Abby of it too.” Hell, looking back, Tony could see when Gibbs started seeing Tim as pack, or at least close pack. No one messed with the team's space unless they belonged there.
Tim looked thoughtful for a moment before he nodded. “Don't be too harsh,” he suggested, his emphasis making it clear he expected a bit of violence. Tim understood pack and shifters, possibly better than Tony did on some points. But they were NCIS agents too. Violence was passe. Threats about Gitmo were much better.
“Nah, just a few threats.” Tony chuckled. “I'll probably end up complimenting him at some point. He's a good teacher. Really threw me when Abby offered her neck like that.”
Tim sighed. “This is going to take some getting used to.”
“Don't think too hard about it, Probie,” Tony said tauntingly. “You'll over-stress the gerbils.”
“Tony,” Tim snapped back, breaking out of his funk just as Tony had hoped.
“Nothing has changed,” Tony assured him. “You just know a bit more. Don't treat anyone differently, unless you decide to keep working on that back bone in which case feel free to keep up with the banter.”
Silence filled the yard again for several minutes.
“Thanks, Tony,” Tim finally said.
Tony grinned back, his reply in his look rather than words. But he couldn't resist one last zinger. “Doesn't mean I'm not going to sic Abby on you at some point. That girl has questions.”
“Tony,” Tim whined in a pained tone that just made Tony laugh.
“So,” Tim said into the early morning silence, dawn was on it's way, but not here yet. “If you're a shifter, then why did Kate teasing you about kissing that transsexual bother you so much?”
“You're really digging for conversation topics now, aren't you?” Tony said dryly, trying to hide the shiver that always went down his spine at the memory of that horrific incident.
“Sorry. I'm just ... you seemed so disgusted in the office ... but I assume kissing a guy would be the least of your worries.” Tim looked appropriately embarrassed for asking.
“I didn't care that Voss was a guy,” Tony admitted, dragging the words from the depth of his being. He'd been so embarrassed about this situation and had never discussed it with anyone. He'd thought he might talk about it with Gibbs someday, but the older man had never brought it up. “I don't even know what drew me so badly. I've never acted like that before.” Tim let out a snort of laughter. “Hey, I know I'm a horndog, and proud of it ... but disobeying direct orders? Missing a call from Gibbs? I felt like I was off my head. And to make matters worse, the thing I was tonguing had killed my pack mate, gutted him after letting him bleed to death, like he was nothing.” The last words came out as an anguished snarl as Tony's features melded into an angry scowl.
“Damn,” Tim breathed softly, attracting Tony's attention again. The shifter had almost forgotten he had company. “That makes sense. I didn't realize you saw Pacci that way.”
“NCIS is pack, or something close,” Tony said, letting the anger drain away. “And Pacci was my friend.”
“Are you going to tell Gibbs?” Tim asked hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Tony replied, the duh audible in his tone. “He's the boss.”
“I'm not sure I want him to know ...” Tim began hesitantly, but Tony cut him off.
“I'm not going to give him you life's details, unlike every time you talk to Ziva,” Tony said tauntingly. “But that you know? I think your alpha needs to know that.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Tim admitted after a moment's reflection. “I have an alpha.”
“Funky, isn't it?” Tony said, his eyes lit up with his own delight at that fact.
“Yeah ... and yet, good,” Tim admitted, his own eyes almost glowing in the dim predawn light.
The ground penetrating radar techs arrived just after the sun to do their thing. Tony was less than ecstatic with the results.
“All that for a single, stupid shovel?” he growled in disbelief as he bagged their new evidence.
“While a few more bodies might have been satisfying, it's also good to know no one else has been hurt,” Tim pointed out, returning from seeing the techs off to their next assignment.
“All right, I'll concede that,” Tony said.
“Besides, I thought you said Gibbs was punishing you,” Tim added teasingly.
Tony snorted in a lupine manner. “Putting me in my place is more like it,” he said. “Sorry, Probie.”
“As long as you're willing to put up with it,” Tim said offhandedly, leading the way to the car while Tony carried their only result from this all nighter.
“That's me, always coming back for more,” Tony muttered in a self deprecating tone.
“I don't get it,” Tim said as they climbed into the car, Tony driving. “You did a good job while Gibbs was away ...”
“Not what you said before,” Tony interrupted. God, that had hurt, having Tim tear into him like that. It hurt more than he'd ever say, even after the whole team had mocked him for not being Gibbs in the previous months. Hearing Tim say he did well now was a small balm to that tear in his soul from before.
“I was being an ass, and so were you,” Tim countered matter-of-factly. “You did a good job as team leader. Why didn't you get a promotion?”
Tony considered his options. He could laugh this off, ignore it, or answer honestly. Honest answers seem to have gotten him fairly far this night, but did he want Tim to know the truth? Then again, he was pack and should know how dedicated Tony was to his pack. “If you tell Ziva this time, I will kill you,” he said threateningly, making up his mind. “And I am perfectly capable of making it look like a wild animal attack that no one will ever trace.” The low growl in the depths of his throat wasn't heard so much as felt in the close confines of the car.
“Noted,” Tim said uneasily, his head tilting slightly to expose more neck to Tony's peripheral vision.
“I turned it down,” Tony said, grinning slightly at Tim's reflexive submission. It was good to be the senior agent.
“Why?” Tim asked in complete disbelief. “You love lording over us all.”
“Remember that guy your dad said would be a good beta? Mark or something?” Tony asked. He caught a nod from Tim out of the corner of his eye before he continued. “I get that, get him. I can be in charge, be the alpha, because I learned, just like you're learning. But it's not my thing. I like being the boss, but I like being Gibbs' senior field agent best. I challenge, but it's just to stir things up, to make a point, not to take over.”
Tim looked directly at him for a bit, studying Tony's profile as he drove towards NCIS headquarters. “I think I understand you a lot better now, Tony. Thank you.”
Tony smiled. He wanted to make a smart alec comment but resisted. The sentiment was a good one and today he didn't want to mess that up. Not just yet. He understood Tim a bit better himself.
Another thought that seemed determined to warm him from his heart out was now his pack knew they were pack, which meant if he took Gibbs back they could tell someone. Tim and Abby would understand about being mates, well, Abby would with a bit of explanation. Suddenly that meant the world to Tony.
Except, he didn't know if he was going to take Gibbs back. There was Jeanne, and this blasted op for Jen, and the fact that he didn't know if he could trust Gibbs with his heart. The older man had ripped it from Tony when he walked out of their life together. And theirs wasn't the first relationship Gibbs had blown. He wasn't ready to make that decision. It was hard enough sometimes trusting Gibbs to have his six. When that became easier, he could consider other things. But not yet.
“This doesn't mean I'm going to stop challenging in the office,” Tim commented teasingly, disrupting Tony's dark train of thought.
“Good,” Tony replied with only partly forced levity. “You need the practice if you're ever going to lead on your own.”
The two men shared grins the rest of the way back to the office.