Chapter 279: Tony
Feel like company? Tim texts to Tony as Abby takes Kelly from him. His original first opening line, Are you alone, went by the wayside when he heard Ziva’s voice coming from his office.
“She’s talking to Gibbs?”
They hear her voice get very loud.
Abby cringes a bit. “Yelling might be a better description.”
“Is he saying anything back to her?”
Abby shakes her head. “Not that I can hear.”
“Over an hour now.”
“Phew,” Tim says as shakes his head lightly.
His phone buzzed. Not really.
Too damn bad. Not leaving you alone all day.
Cranston still over?
No. Talking to Ziva.
Tim sat next to Abby, showing her the screen. Abby shook her head. Tim holds up his hands. “What do I do with that?”
“Call him on his BS and make him man the hell up and deal with this.”
Tim shrugs at that. “He might just really need the alone time.” Tim knows that sometimes he just needs to be on his own, he figures that Tony probably does, too.
“Then don’t spend too long with him. But go, talk to him, or sit next to him if that’s what he needs. But this isn’t good.”
She’s in my office yelling at Gibbs. You at home?
I’ll be over in twenty minutes.
“You gonna gloat?” Tony asks as he closes the door behind Tim.
“Why the hell would I do that?” Tim replies, sitting on their sofa.
“’Cause you and Jimmy are just so good at this love crap, and in three months, I’ve taken her from love of my life to she’s looking up divorce lawyers.”
“Come on, sit down. No one’s gloating. How’d talking with Cranston go?”
Tony just glares at him. “Since part of the problem was Kate getting killed, she referred me to someone else.”
Tim winced, he should have seen that was likely to be a problem. But… hell, he didn’t have a plan B for that one. Not like he’s got Wolf’s number, let alone the kind of relationship where Wolf might make a house call. “Did you two talk at all?”
“Some. Until I got to Kate.”
“Did you start talking about Kate to shut her out?”
Tony’s listlessly picking at the splinters that came up from his dining table when he wrenched Ziva’s knife out of it. “The second guy asked that, too.”
Tony glares at him again. And sure, maybe that’s a game he might play, but he doesn’t think he would, especially not to Cranston, because that’s just… cruel. But he’s not playing around with this, and the question annoys him. “I’m talking about her because I watched her head explode, and right now, for some reason, maybe because I just watched Ziva almost die, that’s really on my mind.”
They sit quietly.
“So, she’s at your place?” Tony asks.
“Yeah, moving into hour two of yelling at Gibbs when I left. Have you talked to her at all?”
“Are you going to?” Tim means soon, not ever. Obviously they’ll talk again, eventually.
Tony’s leaning elbows on his knees, hands laced together, staring at them. “Don’t even know where to start.”
“I’m sorry? That’s usually good.”
“I’m not.” Tim looks alarmed at that, and Tony looks up, catches it. “I shouldn’t have lied about it, but… I’m not sorry about moving her.”
Tim’s not sure how to even begin responding to that. His brain flails around for a few seconds looking for any angle on this, finally he came up with: “You want her safe?”
“She’s safer with us. Draga’s green. He’s brand new. Anyone else, even if they had been in for a while, wouldn’t know her moves, wouldn’t know how she works as well as we do. She’d be in more danger with a new team.”
The look on Tony’s face says he’s not buying what Tim’s selling, and that Tim’s missing the point. “She can take care of herself.”
“Okay, good, you haven’t gone totally insane. She can take care of herself, but even Ziva can’t see in 360 degrees and keep watch on everyone’s back and protect her own. She needs a team that can back her up. She needs us.”
Now that look’s all you’re missing the point. “No she doesn’t. She was trained for solo missions. She can see in 360, or close enough. I’m not worried about someone getting the drop on her. I’m not worried about her team failing her. No one on Earth is better equipped to handle that than she is. I’m worried about her going on the suicide mission. I’m worried about her running into the bomb or the firefight when it’s hopeless so she can go with us. And a new team, she won’t love anyone on that team enough to suicide for them.”
“Oh.” That’s… Tim shakes his head, and sits back against the back of the sofa. Stop assuming. He keeps underestimating Tony on things like this, expecting shallow, veneer style issues, but they all go deep, and this one does, too.
“Yeah.” Tony’s giving him a knowing look.
They sit there. Tim’s collecting his thoughts. Tony’s picking at the table again.
“Would you have run into a blast for her?”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t look up from the splinters to Tim. “And I know where you’re going with this, and it doesn’t matter.”
“Do you?” Tim raises his eyebrows, and Tony looks over at him, more you’re underestimating me in his look.
“You’re going to tell me she’s a grown up and she can make her own decisions and it’s her life, and if I’m dead anyway, I don’t get a say in the matter, and that if I really respected her and really loved her I’d be just as cool with her making that decision as I am about making it myself.”
Tim nods a bit. “That’s where I would have gone with it if I hadn’t talked to Ziva on Friday, or if I hadn’t gotten a report back from Jimmy about how she’s doing, today. But that’s not it. She’s just as scared for you as you are for her, so how about you both promise to live, no matter what. Add it to your Ketubah, engrave it on the rings, tattoo it on your body, whatever it takes, but make the promise and make it stand. When I was talking to her on Sunday it sounded like she meant it, that you’d work on this, together. But apparently you didn’t mean it.”
There a very sad, very small smile on Tony’s face. “I meant it for her.”
“It doesn’t work that way. At least, I don’t think it does. And if you think I’m good at this, here’s what I’ve got: you can’t expect her to do anything for you that you won’t do for her.”
Tony just kind of looks at him, and Tim’s not sure if that’s him being emotionally worn to a nub or just not believing Tim or not caring.
“Hey, you’re the one saying Jimmy and I are good at this being married thing. So, that’s it. That’s my great advice on this. You want her to not run into the blast, you can’t do it either. You want her to come home every damn night, you’ve got to do it, too. You want her to treat herself like the most important thing in the universe, you want to make sure she safeguards that which makes you happier than anything else, you’ve got to do it for her, too.”
Tony doesn’t say anything to that, but he looks like he’s thinking about it. Tim lets him sit there and just think for a few minutes before saying, “If it makes you feel any better, we all do stupid stuff when we get scared. Even guys who are ‘good’ at this.”
“Uh huh. I lied to her and fucked with her job without talking to her about it.”
“I’m not saying you didn’t manage to stick the landing and win the perfect 10.0 Olympic Gold in stupid stuff, but we all do it. Before we knew about the previa, we’re talking about how Abby wanted to labor and deliver and she said at home. And I handled that in a mature and sensitive way, like any good husband would, by literally yelling at her and practically shitting myself with fear. Shockingly enough, she was not impressed by that response.”
Tony snorted at that.
“How much of the toothpaste thing did you get?”
“Some sort of Pod Person Tim showed up and said some really mean things to Abby after she flipped out about the wrong toothpaste. Were you really cursing at her?”
“Yes, I was. There’s on so long I can get yelled at before I snap, and she took me over that line. Anyway, she was having a really bad dream. That I was messing around and was leaving for someone else. She was scared and angry and picked a fight with the real-life version of me. And it was stupid as all get out, but she was scared and angry and people do stupid stuff when they’re scared and angry. And in her own stupid and angry she managed to get me to the point where I was so angry all I had left was stupid and I said some God-awful hurtful things. Because people do stupid things when they’re scared and angry. We all do.
“But we’re still married. And so are you. Ziva was yelling at Gibbs, not asking him for advice on good divorce lawyers.”
“Might be better off if she was.”
Tim really doesn’t know what to do with that. He thinks for a minute and decides Tony might respond well to some hardness here, so he’ll try that out. “If you weren’t still recovering from a concussion I’d slap you upside the back of the head. No, you wouldn’t be, she wouldn’t be, none of the rest of will be better off if you two split up.”
Tony exhales, not quite a sigh. “It was easier to be her friend. I got to see her every day. Got to enjoy her, but I knew that if something happened to her, I’d still go on.”
“Because the whole Somalia thing was you and Gibbs being really healthy about moving on.”
“That was anger and revenge. And that was her leaving us, going off on a suicide mission to make someone else she loved happy. It’s a pattern for her, and… I know that about her and… This is so scared I feel like I’m going to just vanish under it.” He runs his fingers through his hair, looking away from Tim, like he can’t stand to have anyone see him, but he still wants to get the words out. “Like the world would stop turning if she’s not on it. It was easier to not let her in. It was easier to have a long string of fuck buddies and just be her friend.”
“It might have been, but that ship’s sailed. You can’t go back to where you were. And where you were might have been easier, but it wasn’t as good. Jimmy said this to Ziva, and I’m going to say it to you, marriage counseling is probably a good idea.”
Tony looks at him, tired, defeated, maybe annoyed, too. “You’re already making me go to counseling.”
“I know. And just like Gibbs, you don’t get to come back until you’ve talked to someone twice.”
“You’re not letting Gibbs back on, either?”
“He tells me he ‘suggested’ you take her off the team. No one’s going back to work until your heads are right again, and if that means Draga and I sit on our asses and work on cold cases, that’ll be what happens. And since Leon would rather cut off his own hand then get in the middle of your marriage, he’ll let me run this however I like as long as I need to to get our team back in order.”
“Lovely. Eventually he’ll want us working again.”
“Yep. But you’ve got time off owed you, a lot of it probably, and if you and Ziva need to take it all, take it. You can’t work like this. I can’t work like this. Just because Ziva trained for solo missions and is great at this stuff doesn’t mean I am. I need a team that works. If Kelly’s gonna grow up with memories of me, you’ve got to have it together enough to do a damn good job watching my back. My life, Abby’s happiness, my daughter’s future rests in your hands. I give that to you every day we go to work. I trust you with it. Usually. But I’m not giving it back until you and Ziva can work together again, and talking to someone together would probably help with that.”
Tony snorts at that, rolls his eyes.
“I’m not dying because of your existential crisis.”
“And it’s all about you?” Tony says dryly, pulling some of his emotional armor back into place.
“Damn skippy. You two want to fall apart after I’m in Cybercrime…” Tim shakes his head, he can’t keep this up. Hard’s not working for him, not for this. “It’d break my heart, Tony. You’re meant to be, and it’s hard and scary and… And I’m sorry this isn’t easy for you. I’m sorry you don’t have that little voice in your head that knows how to do this without pissing her off. But… She’s your life, so figure it out.”
“What would you do?”
“About which part?”
“If it was Abby on the line?”
Tim looks up a bit and shakes his head. “I honestly don’t know. Jimmy and I were talking about it. I was talking to Gibbs about it, too. I don’t know how you can take the fear. I… I know what I’ve done about it for her. Cybercrime isn’t about career advancement. Sure, it’s only for until you come back, but I’m a good Team Leader. I can do this on my own, but I don’t want to. I don’t want her worrying about the knock on the door or the late night call.”
Another snort from Tony, this time disdainful. “Easy for you. You’ve got fall back skills.”
“True.” Tim nods, acknowledging that. Abby gets scared; he does something else. Problem solved. Maybe not easy peasy, but easy enough. But Tony doesn’t have an easy out like that. “So does Ziva. But I don’t think you’ll have any luck convincing her to lay down her badge if you aren’t willing to do it, too.”
“And what the hell would I do if I did that? I can’t write novels, or hack computers, or translate nine languages, or build boats, or… I’ve done this all my life. I’m good at it. This is all I’ve wanted to be since I was twenty.”
“I don’t think you need to hang it up. I don’t think she does, either. But I’m pretty sure you can’t ask her to leave if you aren’t willing to do it yourself.”
“Every year we get the close call. And I’m fine with it for me, but I don’t want to be Gibbs.”
“No one, especially not Gibbs, wants you to be Gibbs.”
Tony nods; he knows that. Gibbs told him that, then suggested that maybe Ziva’d be better off with her own team. “You ever wonder what you’d do if you lost them?”
The answer to that is yes, but Tim doesn’t want to get too into it, because he knows he doesn’t want to be Gibbs either, and his own potential coping with it strategy isn’t healthy. In fact, it’s the antithesis of healthy.
So he lies, and feels no qualms about it. “When we first got the news about the previa, and were googling the hell out of it, reading utter horror stories about women bleeding out while their babies died… I didn’t let myself go there. Just wouldn’t let myself think it.” Absolutely none of that was true. He did think about it, especially that night, after everyone went home, and he lay there in their bed clinging to Abby, but what he came up with: that he wouldn’t outlive them by more than the amount of time it would take him to get to his gun, is A: Not useful for getting Tony to a healthy place, B: Nothing he thinks anyone else needs to know, because that might make them decide he doesn’t need to be in the vicinity of firearms if something were to happen to Abby and Kelly, and C: Maybe, (probably) like Gibbs, he wouldn’t actually do it, but he wants the option, and if you tell people stuff like that, you lose the option of doing it. But given all the above, he has no reservations about lying to Tony and doing it well.
“So, instead of thinking about it, I went bonkers on ways to avoid the problem. If we needed to spend the next six weeks in the hospital to make sure it didn’t happen, that was fine. I was ready to camp out there. But that wasn’t enough, I could feel myself starting to think about it, and I needed to shut it down. Couldn’t deal with it, so I started picking fights with my dad in my head rather than think about it.” Also a lie, but as per Rule Seven: Always be specific when you lie, he’s not above adding good details to sell the story.
“And when that stopped working, I moved into ultra-hyper-overprotective mode, which is what you’re doing, by the way, and as part of ultra-hyper-overprotective mode, I carried her from the car into the house, put her on the sofa, and wouldn’t let her move.
“Speaking of stupid, scared behavior, that one didn’t win me any points, either. And it pretty much did take an intervention from the whole family to snap me out of it. Penny actually headslapped me and Jethro over it.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Abby and I were being scared together. I’m panicking, she’s panicking and getting annoyed at me because I’m being stupid about it, I’m getting more scared because she’s getting more scared, we were feeding each other’s fears, because that’s just how we work. Fortunately Jimmy got worried when we didn’t call and let him know how the scans went, so he came in and saved the day. Told me I could freak the fuck out as much as I needed to, but not in front of her, and that if I ever needed to go hide at his place and melt down, his door was always open.
“Tony, my door is always open. His door is always open. Ducky’s is. Gibbs’ is, too, but, just, not for this. He’s the guy you go to when you’re freaked out about… anything else, but not this. This is what Jimmy told me: It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay for her to see you being afraid and sad. She needs to know this sort of thing effects you, too. It is not okay for you to panic. You’re the man, so it’s your job to not totally lose it, especially when you want to. The other thing he said was this, ‘Only one of us has to be sane at any given time.’ And we’ll provide cover for you until you get sane again. We’ll help you fake it until it’s real.
“Bootcamp is part of dealing with scared. If we need to do it twice a week, once for you and once for Ziva, we will. But it helps. Your body wants to run or fight when it’s scared, so if you need it, come fight with us. Or run or yoga or, whatever. Tell us what you need, and we’re there for it.”
Tony looks at Tim’s arms. He’d kept a light jacket on when he was at lunch, because people who expect Special Agent Tim McGee look at him a bit oddly when they notice the tattoos and the wrist cuff, and they start to get concerned when they see bruises. But at Tony’s he’s just in jeans and a t-shirt.
“She do that to you?” He points to the bruises on Tim’s arms.
“Some of them. Some are from Jimmy.”
“What are you fighting off?”
“Mmm?” Tim’s eyes open a bit wider.
“You’re not just volunteering to be a punching bag. What’s got you so scared? What had you all beat the hell up back before Kelly was born?”
“Not scared, not right now. Week after we got the previa news, that was scared.”
“Uh huh. Come on. No bullshit, none from me, none from you. She’s fighting hard enough to make those marks on you, that means you were fighting hard, too.”
“We were. She took on Jimmy and I together and we lost fifteen out of nineteen rounds.”
“You won four?”
Tony looks a bit surprised by that. “That’s not answering my question.”
Tim rubs his forehead. “When we started it was about anger. It was about giving Jimmy a place to fight it out. But it’s good for fear, too, and for him fear stuck around a lot longer than anger did. For me it’s mostly been anger. There’s been some fear, but mostly it’s… It’s a place to beat out all the pissed off.”
“What’s got you so pissed?”
Tony stood up and went to the kitchen. A moment later he was back with two beers and sitting on the sofa next to Tim.
“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”
“You could be going to my house, collecting your wife, and talking to her about your problems instead of listening to mine.”
“You brushed me off about this last time, too.”
Tim remembers after he’d had the post-talking-to-his-mom meltdown. Tony had asked about it then, and he had brushed him off. And Tony agreed to respect that, and he has. “I did.”
“I’m brushing you off this time because you’re using my problems to avoid your own.”
“Yeah, well,” he pops the cap on his beer and hands Tim the church key. “I’m not ready to face my own right now. And Ziva’ll still be there in an hour or two when we’re done. So, what’s got you so pissed you’ve got to beat it out?”
Tim sighs, not sure if he should play this game or not. But, Tony’s asking. He’s here. And if he wants this sort of access to Tony’s life, he needs to grant it in return. That’s part of the whole don’t do it if you aren’t willing to have it come back to you thing.
“Lots of things, but most recently… This is mine, and I’m going to be the one who tells Ziva about it. You’re not. Can you do that?”
“Not kidding about this, because it’ll be tempting to tell her, get her focused on something else, too.”
“I won’t say anything.”
“Okay. Ender was still working for the CIA. He was deep cover, and I gave the order that killed him.”
“Yeah. And I’m doing better now, but I needed to beat the anger out. That fucker made me kill him. And eventually I have to tell Ziva about it, too, because she pulled the trigger on my order. It was a clean kill, and I’d give the order again, even if I knew he was working for the CIA, I’d still give the order, but I’m pissed.”
“Yeah,” Tony says quietly and sighs. “That’d do it.”
“So, we were both fighting hot and angry. And eventually you hit and get hit often enough and, at least for me, since I know I made the right decision, that… It just helps. Jimmy says it helps with the fear. It’s better for anger, but it helps with fear, too. They’ve got the twenty-week ultrasound coming up…”
Tony nods, he gets that. Gets how doing it again has to be terrifying for Jimmy and Breena.
“So that’s today.” Tony gets up again, and comes back with a few ice packs.
Tim puts them on his arms. “Thanks.”
“What was before?”
Tim looks down at his beer bottle, finger circling the rim, and sighs. “Tony, would you just trust me that now’s not a good time for it?”
“Now’s not good for you, or now’s not good for me?”
“Both of us. And I don’t know when it’s going to be good for me. But I meant it, you’re still welcome to ask Gibbs or Jimmy or Abby. But… I’ve got to think about it to talk about it, and I still don’t want to do that.”
Tim fished his cell out of his pocket and holds it out to Tony. “Come on, give her a call, and ask her to come home.”
He doesn’t take it. “She’s gonna yell at me.”
“Yep. And here’s something else Jimmy said to me, and I’m going to say to you, because it was excellent advice, ‘You are going beg her to talk to you and when she does, you’re going to lay down at her feet and explain to her that she is your sun and the only thing that keeps you alive is getting to revolve around her.’”
Tony takes the phone, but he doesn’t dial. “Palmer said that to you?”
“After the toothpaste thing. And he’s right, and that basic idea, that: ‘You are my world, the most precious thing in my universe, and just the idea of anything happening to you kills me, so you can imagine how bad something actually happenings is,’ has gotten me a lot of slack on insane stupid fear stuff, too.”
“Hmp.” Tony hit Ziva’s contact on the phone, and Tim decided now was a very good time to wander off into the kitchen, shut the door behind him, and realize somewhat belatedly that he can’t read any of the books on his phone or call in to see what Abby’s up to if Tony’s talking on it.