Chapter 275: Past Into Present
He’s in his car, key in the ignition, and texts back: Needed it so we could get her to come over and talk with Tony. Home in twenty minutes. Talk then.
There are times when Tim just doesn’t get Gibbs. This is one… Why would the idea of calling in Cranston be hard to understand?
Wait, he’s assuming. Yes, Gibbs usually knows what’s going on, but he didn’t know they were over at Tony’s or talking to him.
He just got an out of the blue text asking for Cranston’s number.
So he adds another line to his own text: Talked to Ziva. Got the newer(est?) part of the story. Went to visit Tony, got his version. Realized we were in way over our heads. Asked for number. Home soon.
He’s about half a mile from home when a horrifying thought hits, what if this isn’t fixable?
If Tony can’t work with her anymore… If they can’t find a middle ground…
He makes himself not think about that.
They’re going to be fine, because they have to be fine, because his world doesn’t work if they aren’t fine.
“So, you left Tony with Rachel?” Abby asks.
“Yeah. He didn’t want us to stay, and we knew we were out of our depths. There’s ‘you’re a bit spooked,’ and we’re good with spooked,” Abby knows that first hand, the whole family hopped in to help with their own spooked when they got the previa news, “but existential terror is something else altogether.”
“Is Ziva going home tonight?”
“I don’t know. When we were talking, she was saying she couldn’t be in the same room with him and not hit him, so none of us thought they needed to be in the same room.
“I do know how long her knife is, and how much of it was sticking out of the computer, so it had to be at least two inches into the table. And we didn’t do our usual non-combat exercises, but Ziva did eighteen rounds, seventeen against me and Jimmy. I know we were both dead at the end of round eighteen, and we could and were each catching quick breathers and letting the other attack for the last six rounds. She was going full out on both of us the whole time.”
“I’ll give her a call in the morning. Maybe head over, see how she’s doing.”
“Probably a good plan. I hope she talks to Rachel, too.” Tim looks over to Gibbs who’s been listening, but saying nothing, just holding Kelly on his lap, letting her chew on his fingers. “Did she really say, ‘You go. I go?’”
Gibbs nods. He’s not sure if that’s exactly what she said, but it was the heart of it.
Abby shakes her head. “That’s not good.”
Gibbs finally says something, “No, it wasn’t.”
There’s something Tim’s been wondering about since he got in his car, something… Not intangible, but it’s really only starting to get a shape now that he’s sitting here telling them about the latest bit of the case fall out and seeing Gibbs deal with it.
He knows Gibbs doesn’t think about this whole women, daughters, relationships, talk to girls, fear, and love thing the same way he and Jimmy do. And he’s also fairly sure that Gibbs won’t talk about it if Abby’s around. (Also part of not thinking about it the same way he and Jimmy do.)
But he’s starting to wonder if Gibbs suggested or flat out told Tony to pull Ziva off the team.
Even the eat his gun line (granted that’s also the term Tim tends to use when he thinks about suicide) sounded like Gibbs.
But he can’t ask about that now, not if he wants Gibbs to do more than brush it off. The guy who was in favor of pretending he fell down a flight of steps or something rather than distress his girl with the idea they were in danger is also the guy who’s not going to be comfortable talking about how scared he was with Ziva in danger.
And the fact that, when it comes down it, Cranston probably needs to chat with someone else, too, is something Gibbs really isn’t going to like.
But right now, it’s his team, and if Gibbs is the one giving Tony that god-awful bad advice, then he needs more help, too.
Tim’s brushing his teeth, trying to think about sexy type things, because Abby had been hinting in that direction when it came to what was on her Yay! Baby Slept Through The Night shopping excursion, but his brain keeps pulling back to Tony and Ziva, and Gibbs.
“Tim?” her hand on his shoulder, voice soft.
“Mmm.” Put down toothbrush, rinse, spit. “Yeah?”
“Finish up and go down and talk to him. I’m not getting your full attention back until this is done, so go get it done.”
“Tomorrow morning. I’ll feed Kelly. You’ll snooze. When she goes back down for her nap, I’ll wake you up, and trust me, you’ll like it.” And she smiles warm and sexy at him. “Besides, he won’t talk to me about it, and I can see just as well as you can that Tony’s not the only problem right now. We both know that Tony didn’t come up with that insane plan all on his own, and neither of us are going to sleep well sitting up here worrying about how deep this goes.”
He kisses Abby, soft and deep, holding her close to him. “I love you so much. And I am so, so, so glad that we are okay.”
She kisses him back. “I know. Love you, too. Go take care of our dad.”
He saluted her and headed down.
For once, Gibbs isn’t on the sofa. (Though he’s noticing there’s a Gibbs shaped mark in the microseude.) Tim heads in the direction of the bathroom, figuring he’d check there first, but light’s off in there, too.
So… He supposes it’s possible Gibbs could be sleeping, or getting ready to sleep. The man has to sleep at least on occasion, and in that it’s night time, and he appears to be in the room he’s been sleeping in lately... The idea that he may be sleeping isn’t insane.
“You coming in or just standing there?” Or he could be sitting there, hearing Tim moving around, wondering what’s going on.
Tim opened the door to his office. Gibbs is sitting on the futon, in his boxers and t-shirt, from the looks of it doing something involving… massage oil and his… thigh… hopefully.
He sees Tim eyeing him and glares a bit. “According to Abby just sitting around is bad for my leg, and if I don’t want to get stiff and lose muscle strength I need to do something. She showed me this.”
“She taught you how to Rolf yourself?”
“Something like that.”
“Is it helping?”
Gibbs sends him the how the hell should I know look. “It hurts, but in a kind of good way.”
Tim sits down in front of Gibbs, cross-legged, and snags the oil. No way he’s touching either of Gibbs’ thighs, and his calf is still bruised yellow-green so that’s out, too, but he’s got good hands, and at Jethro’s age atrophy is a possible issue for a guy who spends a solid week laying on his back.
Gibbs shakes his head, eyeballing the oil in Tim’s hands.
“Foot goes here.” Tim taps his right knee. Gibbs is starting to look a little alarmed now. “Come on, you aren’t the only one Abby’s taught some tricks to, and I’m good at this.”
Gibbs is looking awfully wary, so Tim very carefully lifts Jethro’s foot onto his knee. “Even Tony’ll let me work on him if he’s hurting bad enough. Congratulations, you qualify as hurt enough.”
Tim laughs, wryly, cradling Jethro’s foot between his hands, warming it up, stroking the oil over it. “Always been my fondest dream, ya know? Sitting here, in bed, with you, soft glow of my computer monitor providing mood lighting. You in your undies, me rubbing oil on your nasty, sweaty, old feet. Ever since that first case in Norfolk, as we stood in front of each other, wind whipping through your hair, smell of dead body lingering gently in the background, you chewing me out, I’ve been dreaming of this moment.” Tim gently whacks the sole of Gibbs’ foot. “Now shush. Your dick’s not going to fall off because I’m touching you. And get yourself some toenail clippers, you could take someone’s eye out with those things.”
Given that set up, why he’s down here should be fairly easy to get into, but all of the start-ups Tim says in his head don’t quite sound right, and Gibbs isn’t volunteering anything, even though he’s got to know why Tim’s down here.
So, finally he flat out asks, “Did you tell Tony to take her off the team?”
Shifty sounding ‘no.’ So, it’s going to be this sort of conversation... “Did you suggest it?”
“Did you know he’d requested she get her own team?”
“I knew he was going to. I didn’t know he’d done it.”
Tim exhales long and slow. Great. “Uh huh… What was different this time? She’s never obeyed the order to run, and you’ve given it before. I didn’t get the chance to ask him. It was clear he couldn’t answer it, so I’ll ask you, what changed? We almost died the summer before last, too, and neither of you went bonkers on it.”
Gibbs also does not seem to be appreciating being called bonkers in regards to this. His eyes narrow very slightly, and then relax. Tim wasn’t there, he didn’t see, so he doesn’t know.
As Gibbs talks, Tim works on his ankle, stretching it a little, rubbing along where the tendons connect his foot to his leg. But he doesn’t need his eyes for that, so he’s watching Gibb’s eyes as he says, “’You go. I go.’ She ran in and said that to him. And he was screaming at her to leave, which means neither of them was working with the bomb. Draga’s useless on this, frozen, don’t know if it’s because he was scared shitless or because he’s the one who triggered it. I’ve got my knife out, getting ready to cut because I can see which wire goes to the timer. Finally he stops screaming at her, whips around, knocks my hand out of the way, yanks the detonator free and flings it into the pile of gasoline canisters.
“I knew what I was doing. He didn’t. It was complete, blind panic, grabbing at anything. And we both tackled her, got her down. Draga finally came to, and got the trick wall shut again, which probably saved our lives because the fire rushed over us a second later and hit the wall instead of the C-4.
“Something else in there went up, because the first rush of fire was followed by something loud and that’s what blew the crates all around and tossed us, too.
“And it was over, and we got out, as fast as we could.”
Tim just watches Gibbs. Everything about that report was factually true, at least, that’s how he’d bet. But it’s not the problem. That’s not why he and Tony were conspiring. Not if Gibbs is Gibbs. “So, you’re telling me that it’s your profession, tactical assessment of our team that even though they’ve successfully worked together for thirteen years that they’re not up for it anymore?”
Tim stares at Gibbs as one of his earlier questions rang through his mind. What the hell could you have possibly been thinking where fire Ziva, lie to her about it, pretend you didn’t do it, and then what, hope she doesn’t notice, made any sort of sense? Rule 18. Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.
Tim’s still looking at him, eyes level, hands cupped around Gibbs’ ankle not moving, and shakes his head. “I’m calling bullshit on that.”
Now Gibbs is looking angry. “You weren’t there.”
“No, I wasn’t. But I didn’t just meet you, either. You think I can’t tell the difference between scared and pissed? Because there’s only two Gibbs reactions to what you just described, and let me tell you what pissed sounds like:
“Pissed Gibbs boots both of them off the team and makes them work it out between themselves, and the fact that it’s Tony’s Team or My Team or Hell, Vance’s Team doesn’t matter because you’ve never cared at all about rank when it comes to your people not working up to your standards, and from now until the day you die and likely a long time after that, we’re your people, so there is never going to be a time when you won’t feel the need to drag us into line if we need it. Your ghost will come back and haunt us into submission if we get out of line after you die, so don’t try to tell me you’re supporting Tony in his position as Leader.
“Pissed Gibbs knows that if both of them have gone into blind panic mode that neither of them can be allowed on a field team.
“Pissed Gibbs tells me if a third of my team is so far off the reservation she’s trying to toss her life away. Because pissed Gibbs doesn’t want my ass handed to me, either, because I can’t depend on my team.
“Pissed Gibbs doesn’t come up with plans to sneak around behind Ziva’s back, because Pissed Gibbs has no problem letting everyone in the universe know he’s pissed.
“Pissed Gibbs tells me he’s pissed, and he tells me why, and he doesn’t leave it open ended when I asked about it this morning, because Pissed Gibbs understands that this isn’t just Tony and Ziva’s marriage, but our team as well, and as such they don’t get a curtain of privacy the way Jimmy and Breena do or Abby and I do.
“And Pissed Gibbs would have told me to bring both of them home as soon as Tony was fit to travel and you would have chewed them both new assholes right in my living room, definitely in front of each other, probably in front of me, maybe in front of Draga, because he’d want it to stick.
“And lastly, Pissed Gibbs would have used the threat of tossing both of them out of NCIS to get them both to toe the damn line because he knows they both love this job and that the only thing that scares either of them worse than disappointing each other is disappointing you.
“So, don’t tell me that this is you being rational and cool and calm and assessing the situation and coming up with the best answer, because it’s not.” And he stopped there, hoping Gibbs would pick it up, maybe say something, but he didn’t.
He didn’t look away though.
And he didn’t seem angry.
And he didn’t deny it.
But he didn’t talk. Things like this work so much better when both members of the conversation actually say words. Now what…
Well, if he won’t talk about being afraid, then Tim will. Let him know he’s not alone. That’s a starting point, right?
“We were planning on going in and slapping Tony upside the back of the head. Angry, bluster, call him stupid, and then give him an out, let him pretend he was upside down from the concussion, because stupid or hurt is easier, less shameful than scared.” Tim shrugs a bit, hoping that he’s getting the fact that he thinks being ashamed of admitting you’re afraid is silly across by his expression.
“We know he’s scared. We’re not stupid. Ziva’s already told us that, and even if she hadn’t, we’re able to empathize. We’re married, we love our wives, and we’ve both had enough close calls to know what real fear feels like.
“And then he told us what he was seeing in his head, and that’s just, nothing we know how to deal with. I mean, Jimmy and I have had our share of shit, and then some, but not that. And that sort of fear, we don’t live with it, not every day. So we don’t know what to do. So I asked for Cranston’s number, because she probably does.
“He’s so scared, Jethro. And he’s got good reason for it. And you do, too. Something happens to Ziva or Abby, and it’ll break you for good, right? And it’s one thing if it’s an accident, if it’s the bullet that comes from nowhere, the babies would get you through that, but to see her run into it… Watch her throw herself into the fire to be with him…” Tim’s shaking his head. He’ not playing this, and he doesn’t have to make his voice sound unsteady for this, it’s genuine.
“You’re allowed to be scared about it.”
Gibbs is staring at him, silent, intense eye contact, not even blinking, and right now Tim can’t read what his face is saying, just that whatever it is, it’s very strong, and very now, and very real.
“It’s okay to be scared, or terrified, or whatever comes after that.
“I heard the blast, saw the destruction. I thought I’d lost you all, and I lost it. Everything in my body went galloping out as fast as it could. Tony found me sobbing in my own mess. And yeah, that’s nothing I'm proud of, but it’s just part of being human and having a body. It’s just love, and the thought of losing it hurts so bad. I get it.
“And if we’re being really honest, I don’t know how you and Tony can deal with Ziva working with us. She’s not my daughter, and she’s not my wife, so I can take it. But I know how I feel about Kelly, how I want her wrapped in a protective bubble all the damn time. And I know how I feel about Abby… Jimmy and I were talking about it, how we couldn’t take having a field agent for a spouse.
“You and I talked about this, how I refuse to make Abby deal with that fear all that much longer. I don’t know how she does it, especially since Kelly, especially since the cops did come to her door to take her to the hospital after her parents were in the accident. If I’d lived that, I couldn’t do it again, not knowing if today’s the day you’ll get the knock on the door. So I’m not doing it to her, at least, not for much longer.
“And I don’t know how you latched onto Ziva so fast, not after you lost your Kelly. Not with what she does. Abby I get. Abby's safe, tucked in her lab. I don’t know how you can take day after day of this, but you do.
“But I do know this, it’s easier if you share it. You sat on my sofa and watched Abby and I cry together for the fear of the close call, and it was okay. Nothing bad happened after. We’re still married. We’re still good. I’m not letting her down by being scared. We’re allowed to be scared. We’re allowed to share being scared.
“You’ve got to be scared when the people you love are at risk.” He knows he’s very open right now, only two other people get to see him like this, Abby and Jimmy, and he hopes he can break into Gibbs with it, get him to open up in response. And if he can’t get that, he hopes what he says next will come across as concern and not an attack.
“But you and Tony can’t be insane about it. You can’t lie about it. You can’t try to send Ziva away without talking to her first. You cannot cripple our team because you’re scared.
“Taking Ziva off the team is the worst advice I’ve ever heard. That’s pure fear talking. And, not only is it fear talking, but it’s fear that’s increasing the chances that you or I or one of the rest of us gets killed because you’re taking our best member away. It’s fear that puts her in more danger, too. Her own team with just Draga? That’s insane. So, that’s not going to happen. Tony goes before Ziva does. He gets his own new team, and we keep Ziva. We sure as hell don’t send her off on her own with a brand new Probie and hope that’ll work out.
“It’s my team until next Monday. Actually, and Vance is cool with this, it’s my team as long as it needs to be to get working right again. And if I have to hold it longer than Monday to make this happen, I’ll do it. You’re off active duty for at least a month, great, you need the time to heal.
“You’re also off desk duty until you’ve talked to someone, Cranston, Wolf, someone, at least twice, about this. And I will check up on it.
Gibbs blinks slowly, and Tim finally looks away from his eyes, coming back to the fact that they’re sitting in his office. He’s in his jammy pants, Gibbs is in his pajamas, too, and he’s holding Gibbs’ foot.
“You’re going to tell me what to do?” There’s some edge there, but not the fire that would have been there, hell, last year, even, let alone the get his head ripped clean off he would have gotten five years ago.
“Long time ago you said I was yours. Not all that long ago, you said it again and offered to kill a man for me. Guess what, that’s not a one way street, not anymore. I’m yours. You’re mine. And if anyone on Earth has ever earned the right to tell you what to do, it’s me. So, yes, while you are in my home, on my team, and most importantly my dad, my daughter’s grandfather, and the second most important man in my wife’s life, you will do what you need to to be healthy.
“You know what Jimmy said to Tony? ‘We love Gibbs, but we don’t want you to be him. You don’t need to repeat his pattern of being so scared of losing what he wants that he screws it up because it’s easier to end it on his own terms than it is to fear losing it.”
“Jimmy said that?”
“Yeah. And he’s right about it, and I didn’t put it together, but that’s what you do. And nope, not anymore. You deserve to be happy. And you’ve been floundering around in the wilderness too damn long. It’s time to come home. You’re almost there, so let’s finish this. Let’s get you home. And if I have to pull rank on you to get it done, then I’ll pull rank on you, but one way or another, it’s going to happen.”
More quiet, more not talking, but this time Tim’s not going to fill the silence with his own words. Now it’s time for Jethro to respond, and if he has to sit here all damn night, and all tomorrow, too, it’ll happen.
Eventually Gibbs asks, “Can I talk to you?”
Tim relaxes, because he was genuinely starting to wonder if he was going to have to be here all night.
“Yes, always, about anything, but in addition you have to talk to someone who actually knows what they are doing. I don’t. I don’t even know where to start on this. I just know where to end it. This is where it ends, for you and Tony and Ziva, none of you are working another case until your heads are on right. And if there’s any imprint I’m leaving on this team, it’s that you’ll really be right, or at least have a plan to get there, instead of holding together by duct tape, insomnia, and bourbon.”
“What would I talk about?”
“That’s part of what ‘I don’t know what to do’ means. I don’t. But try this for me: what was different this time?”
Gibbs snags his knee brace. He’s not working on his leg, Tim isn’t either, so he might as well make sure it gets the support it needs. But he doesn’t pull his foot back away from Tim. Touch is… he doesn’t know… but he’s not moving away from it. “You ever read Cranston’s report, back when she first checked us out?”
“Above my pay grade.”
“I knew that. Did you read it anyway?”
Tim shrugs a little, of course he hacked it. “Just her section on me. Wanted to know what she took away from it.”
And? Gibbs’ look asks.
“Intellectual overachiever driven by a deep need for external validation from male authority figures. It’s safe to say she nailed it.”
“Did you read her letter to Vance?”
“Wasn’t in the electronic file. Just each of us by name.”
“He gave me the cover letter, wouldn’t let me see the individual reports.”
“They were supposed to be in confidence, so that makes sense.”
“Her basic read on us was we were a group of highly motivated but broken people who put our whole lives into the job because we could handle the job, we were good at the job, but we let everything else fall to the wayside because everything else wasn’t going so hot.”
Tim nods along, that was them. Not anymore, he hopes, but that certainly was them.
“The job, the team, that was all we had. I’m diffusing a bomb, and you’re standing next to me. Why? There’s no reason, at all, for you to be there. We don’t both have to die if I fuck up. And you’re not Ziva, you don’t know how to dismantle a bomb, you being there isn’t helping in any real way.”
“You go. I go.”
“Yeah. And we know that about each other, always have, but we’ve never said it. And if you don’t say it… But she said it.”
“She broke the rule. We’re supposed to pretend we want a life beyond this?”
“Yes... No... You’re supposed to really want the life beyond this. You ran away, Tim. Draga probably would have, too, if he’d had the chance. And… she’s supposed to be attached to her life. And her life is supposed to be more than Tony.”
“Ziva was supposed to run away?”
“Yeah. We’re supposed to run away from shit like that. We’re not the people we were when Cranston talked to us the first time. You’ve got lives and homes and…”
“Her home is Tony.”
“You wouldn’t have held it against him if he had ran into a bomb blast for her.”
Tim stares at him.
“It’s different,” Gibbs says.
“Ziva was remarkably unimpressed by that argument. I tried it on her. Didn’t fly.”
“I’d guess not,” Gibbs says dryly. But it is different, to him, because he lived it. “You do everything you can to protect her… and if you can’t… If you can’t, you’re not supposed to walk away from it.” He stops, stares at the ceiling, above and behind Tim, and Tim knows that’s him forcing himself to maintain control. “That’s what women and children first means. It’s the vow you don’t say, but you pledge your life to when you marry one of them. That’s the core of being a man and loving your woman. That you will die to protect her. She will outlive you. That’s not negotiable. And… And I know Ziva thinks it’s crap. I know I won’t be winning any prizes from Abby or Breena on this, either. But, unless there’s a kid on the line, if you can’t protect her, you go with her.”
Tim closes his eyes and sighs. He squeezes Jethro’s ankle. And in the end, at its core, there’s always this. The original (though probably not original, his mom dying is probably the original, so ultimate, not original) trauma that’s shaped the rest of his life. Shannon died, and he didn’t go with her, and he’s been dragging that around for more than twenty-five years.
“After Shannon and Kelly, after you put the bullet through Hernandez, why didn’t you kill yourself? You talk like you wish you had.”
Gibbs sniffs, looks away from the ceiling and back to Tim. “Damned if I know. Not like I don’t know what a gun barrel tastes like.”
Tim puts Gibbs’ foot back on the futon, swaps around so he’s sitting next to Jethro, and wraps his arms around him. Gibbs isn’t nearly as stiff as he usually is when he’s getting hugged, but he’s not relaxing into Tim, either.
Tim doesn’t know what to do with this. He has no idea how to help. He wants some sort of magic words to make this better, ease this guilt, but he’s got nothing.
He can’t tell Gibbs that Ziva’ll always be fine. He can’t tell him that it’s irrational fear. He can’t make the guilt of Shannon go away. And he can’t tell him that he’s being silly about giving Tony any advice he can possibly come up with so Tony won’t have to walk his path.
He squeezes Gibbs tighter, rubs his back, and says, “I’m glad you didn’t.”
Gibbs nods, and Tim feels him start to relax, feels more of his weight ease into his body, and a minute after that he feels the shaking start, the full body, wracking spasms that go with just falling apart. Jethro’s trying to muffle himself, biting his fist, but it’s not helping with the volume and he might be hurting himself. Tim pulls his hand down and holds it.
“In five weeks, no loud noise has ever woken Kelly. When she’s down, she’s down. Don’t worry about it. Do what you need to. I’ve got you.”
And this time, Tim held Gibbs while he cried.
And it wasn’t quick, and it probably didn’t make anything much better, and Gibbs certainly didn’t seem happier after, just, tired mostly, and pretty embarrassed.
So Tim pokes him gently and says, “If you think that’s gonna get you out of having to talk to Cranston, uh uh.”
Gibbs smirks, snorts a little, and flips him the bird.
“Better. We’re going to sleep in as well as Kelly’ll let us. See you in the morning.”
Gibbs nods, and Tim heads up to his room.