Chapter 24: The Four Pillars of Romance
Tim's never been to Tony's place. But it doesn't take long for him to find out where it is. After all, the guy who can hack the CIA doesn't have any problems getting into the NCIS human resources database.
He debates knocking, but decides not to. Tony broke into his house last night; last thing he needs to do is be polite.
It's a matter of a minute to pick Tony's lock. The fact that Tony has a chain on his door stops Tim, though. Two thoughts occur to him, one he should get one of those for his place. Two, now he has to be nice and knock.
"I told you, you didn't want to know."
Tony's too rattled to bluster. "I was worried about you."
"I get that. But I can take care of myself."
"Yeah. So... um... you and Abby?"
"Yep. If you had minded your own business, we were going to tell you tonight."
Tony thinks about that. "Aren't the Palmers going out with us tonight, too?"
"Yeah. They already know."
"Wait, you told Palmer? Before me?"
"Yeah, Tony. I told Palmer. I'm not just fooling around here. So, before this even got started, I asked him for advice."
"What sort of advice could Autopsy Gremlin have?" Tony looks somewhat insulted and disappointed right now.
"I don't know? What could our married friend possibly know that might be useful to me? Hmmm... Maybe he'd know something about how to actually create a relationship that works?"
"Cut the sarcasm."
"You picked my lock and walked in on me having sex with Abby! I think I deserve a little sarcasm."
"I'm sorry I did that."
They stand there, quiet for a moment. Finally DiNozzo says, "So, you really are serious about this?"
"Why didn't you talk to me?"
"Seven hundred hook-ups in the last three years does not make you the guy I go to for relationship advice. I don't need advice on how to hook-up. I don't want a hook-up. They bore me."
"Yeah McKinky, I got that. But that's not what I meant. We're partners, supposedly friends, we talk about important things."
"McKinky? Tony, on a one to ten scale of kink, that was a two five maybe three. And as for why not say anything, you can't keep a secret to save your life. This matters to me, and if it didn't go right, I didn't want to be mocked. I certainly didn't want you telling Abby or worse, Gibbs, about it before anything got going."
Tony closes his eyes. "A three? God, McGee, I didn't need to know that about you."
"Yeah, well, I told you, you didn't want to know. Why did you assume I was wrong about that?"
"I wanted to know on a general level. Like, 'Hey, Tony, I don't want you in my apartment all the time because I'm doing horrifically freaky things to Abby.'"
"Seriously, you have no idea of what horrifically freaky is. How on earth is it you've slept with every woman in the greater DC area and you're so sheltered?"
"Just, stop. Okay." Tony looks genuinely hurt. "This isn't about my sex life."
Part of Tim feels like he should pull back, let it lie. Part of him wants to know what's really going on here. And part of him knows that if they don't have this out properly it'll just sit there and fester, and he doesn't want that, so he says, "Really? Okay. We're partners. We talk about important things. Why are you at my place all the time these days? Why, after hearing, because you had to be able to hear what we were doing, after all, I don't see any reason to be quiet when I'm having sex in my locked apartment, did you walk into my room? What's going on with you?"
Tony looks deeply uncomfortable. He sighs and gestures to the sofa. Tim sits down. "You want a drink or anything?"
"I'm good." Tony vanishes into the kitchen and comes back a moment later with a beer. "Beer? It's ten in the morning."
"It's a beer conversation." He sits down heavily on the piano bench. "And I'm still trying to kill the brain cells that remember what I saw last night. How am I ever going to look Abby in the eyes again?"
Tim shrugs. "You're looking at me."
"You weren't the one tied up like a—"
"The ropes, that's what has you freaked?"
"No... It's just... Okay... I don't look at Abby like that. She's my asexual little sister."
"She's really not."
"Yeah. I know that, now. But I didn't want to know that. I could have, very happily, gone my whole life without ever knowing that. Think about it, do you want to know what your sister gets up to with her boyfriends?"
"Ergh..." Tim winces. There are some things he'd really rather not know about his sister. "No, which is part of why I never walk in on her unannounced. And once again, I told you, you didn't want to know."
"Yeah, and if you ever tell me I don't want to know something again, I'll listen."
"Good. So really, what's going on? Why are you at my place? Why did you walk in?"
"I don't know." Tony's staring at the beer, like it might somehow have the answers to all of his issues. "It's just... lately...I don't know, the chase isn't doing it for me. It's hollow and empty and... I guess I want something more."
Tim smiles, looking amused, he knows now probably isn't a great time to tease Tony, but he can't resist. "And you're looking for it at my place? I'm flattered, but I think after last night it's pretty clear I don't swing that way."
"Yeah. I get that." Then it hit's Tony what Tim's really said. "I'm not gay! I enjoy being with you, okay. We're friends, and spending time with you isn't cheap or hollow."
"So, you're looking for a deeper human connection—"
"You sound like Oprah when you say it that way."
"You got a better way to put it?"
"And you're hanging out at my place..."
"Not just yours. I'm spending a decent amount of time with Gibbs."
"No. Not Ziva."
"Uh huh. So, you're lonely. And to remedy lonely, you're hanging out with your guy friends."
"Instead of chasing women."
"It's not working anymore."
Tim leans back on the sofa. "Sounds like you need a girlfriend."
"I've had girlfriends."
"No, not a hook-up. Not a series of hook-ups with one woman. Do you remember what being engaged felt like?"
"Yeah. That's part of what prompted this."
"You know, when I told Gibbs about Abby and I—"
"You told Gibbs, too? Did anyone besides Ziva and I not know?"
"First of all, of course I told Gibbs. Between his relationship with Abby, and his relationship with me, I wasn't about to spend too long going behind his back. You walk in on the two of us and it's uncomfortable. He walks in, and I get killed."
Tony nods at that and takes another swig of his beer. "Yeah, could you imagine dating his daughter?"
"I sort of am. Which is another reason for not telling everyone and seeking advice on how to run a successful, long-term relationship. Pissed off Gibbs avenging Abby is really low on my list of people I want to spend time with."
"Okay, yeah. Got that."
"Anyway, when I told him, I asked about rule number twelve, because, well, you know, Gibbs... And he said something interesting. 'McGee, DiNozzo is your partner. You start dating him, and I'll have something to say to you.'"
"Of course I'm your partner."
"Right." Tim sits there, expectantly, waiting for the light to dawn on Tony. Tony sits there stubbornly not getting it.
"Tony, if I'm your partner, who is Ziva's?" The light dawns and Tony's eyes grow wide. "Exactly. Look, you don't have to be lonely, but you do have to figure out how to deal with a woman as a sexual person and not freak out about it. You can't just have two columns, hook-ups and sisters. If you don't want to be lonely, you have to figure out how to value sex as part of a person, and enjoy it as something you do fully with someone else."
Tim thinks for a moment, and then gets up and grabs a beer. Some things really are just too damn hard to say without some alcohol to dull the part of your brain that keeps you quiet.
He drinks down half of it fast, hoping it'll catch up to him soon, and sits back down on the sofa, elbows on his knees, leaning toward Tony. "You know why I don't like hook-ups?"
"You're bad at them?
Tim flips him the bird and takes another deep drink of the beer. "Because they're basically masturbation, and I can do that for myself just fine. And Tony, you're not seventeen, hell, you aren't thirty-seven anymore. You've jerked-off enough. Time to find a partner and figure out what's involved in real sex." Tim takes one last drink, finishing off the beer. "Now, here's rule number one for my place: Unless you think I am in mortal peril, do not ever just walk in. If I do not answer the door or my phone, turn the hell around and leave. If you thought what you walked in on was disturbing, what happens when Abby and I really get going would make you wet your pants."
They sat quietly for a few minutes. Tim was on the verge of saying something like, 'You know this really is a nice apartment', but curiosity got the better of him. If you asked him, he'd say the beer went to his head, and that's why he asked. And, if you asked Tony, he'd tell you that's why he answered, in fact, Tony would blame this entire conversations, including the parts that happened before he was drinking, on the beer, but really, neither of them is such a lightweight that one beer will get them talking if they don't want to talk.
"So, why did you go in? I mean, I know we weren't being quiet, and even if it's been a while for you, you still remember what sex sounds like. What were you expecting to see?"
Tony shakes his head. "I don't know. Something sort of awkward and romantic? Candles, flowers, missionary position. Not ropes and tattoos and sharp pointy shoes."
"What we were doing didn't look romantic to you?"
"No, it looked like porn. Strangely artistic porn."
"Tony, what do you think romance is?" Tony seriously thinks about it for a moment, but doesn't say anything. "Why do women like candles and flowers and chocolates?" Tim hopes the extra question will clarify what he's getting at.
"They just do?"
"There's part of your problem. Romance has three parts: effort, showing that you've paid attention, and trust.
"So, effort: they don't just sell satin ropes at the corner hardware store. I had to go to three craft stores before I found a place that had the right stuff in the exact same color as the laces on Abby's stockings. But it wasn't strong enough to support her weight, so I had to braid it into something that could do that. Twice, because I needed two ropes. I had to measure to make sure it was the right length. I had to find the joist in my ceiling and then sink the hook into it. Then I had to move the dresser and the mirror that goes over it, and also find the exact angle where the mirror on my closet door would let Abby see what was going on.
"Oh, and by the way, there were candles and flowers, and I got dinner, too, but apparently you didn't notice that.
"Paying attention: I know Abby likes knots. I know how she likes to be tied up. I know she likes to watch. And I know she likes roses in red, white, and black, so that's the colors I got. I know she prefers spicy scents to flowery ones, so the candles are a cinnamon-vanilla mix.
"Trust: Do you have any idea how much trust it takes to let someone tie you up like that? Let alone take pictures."
"Oh God, you took pictures?"
"Did you not see how hot that looked? Of course I took pictures! But that's beside the point. Tony, that might not have looked like your idealized hearts-and-flowers-Hallmark-card-Valentine's-day, but trust me on this, you've never seen anything more romantic than that in your life."
"Huh. I've never thought about it like that."
"I get that. And I've got nothing against missionary style, straight-up sex. It's good for talking to each other."
"You talk during sex?"
"Like, kinky talk?"
"Sometimes. Get her mind involved in the sex, and you'll both have a better time for it. But no, not always. Sometimes we just talk."
"Really? You think talking to someone who is letting you into her body is weird?"
"I think being able to come up coherent sentences when you're in someone else's body is weird. I can barely remember my name when I fuck." Tim kind of shrugs to indicate, that, yeah, he sort of gets that.
"So, let me see if I get this, you two, you're having dinner, maybe a bottle of wine, talking about whatever it is you two talk about, and then at some point, you just chirp up with, 'Hey, Abby, how about I tie you up and fuck you blind?"
"We'd planned on it a few days ahead of time, but yeah, that's the basic idea."
"You plan sex?"
"How long do you think it takes to braid two thirteen foot long ropes? Of course we planned it ahead of time! That's not the sort of thing you excuse yourself for and whip up in five minutes. Here's lets add a fourth plank to romance: anticipation. If you plan ahead of time, you get to anticipate what comes next."
Tony sighs and shakes his head. "Nerd sex."
"So you say."
"I was right about Call of Duty and Laser Tag."
Tim looks at Tony meaningfully for a long moment, and then says, "So, this is a really nice apartment."