Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 298

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 298: Team Gibbs

Tony sees the nod. Sees the way Gibbs is looking at McGee, follows that glance, sees McGee nod, and sees Gibbs… not smile, but he's looking very, very satisfied.

Then he sees McGee notice he's watching the exchange and go white.

And suddenly Tony's thinking something just went very, very wrong.

Ziva and Draga are out, grabbing a suspect, which means, right now, they have the time to get into whatever the hell just happened.

"Okay, both of you, my office."

McGee and Gibbs both glance at each other. Tony doesn't have an office, and as of this point, he hasn't had any need to have a private conference, at work, with either of them that couldn't wait to get home. Which means he's talking about Gibbs' office. Except that it's Tony's, right? Not Gibbs', not anymore, because Gibbs isn't supposed to be having the sort of conferences that require an office. Because that's Tony's job.

Or, at least, it's supposed to be.

Tony feels his stomach drop even further when Gibbs suddenly looks guilty and then shakes his head. "Coffee run. Someone'll want to use the elevator sooner or later."

Tony's eyes go wide. "What the hell did you two do?" he asks while herding them toward the elevator. His office, Gibbs' office, whatever, it's the only nearby space they can talk in private.

McGee glances at Gibbs and says, "It's not in the bag, yet. Leon's looking into it."

Great. Whatever it is those two have got running, they've got Vance in on, too. "Looking into what, McBackstabber?" Tim sort of cringes at that but doesn't deny it, and that makes him feel worse. By that point they are in the elevator, and he flips it off and says, "McGee, what the fuck did you do?"

"Bought me another year."

Tony stares at both of them, feeling the steam getting ready to come out of his ears. Another year? Without even saying anything to me? Reset my whole team without my permission? Then he slams the off switch, hit the button for the bullpen, and stands there, silent, vibrating with anger, and when the doors open, he points at McGee and says one word. "Out."

McGee doesn't look like he wants to leave. Tony's not sure if he wants to stay and protect Gibbs, or stay and have Gibbs protect him, but either way, he doesn't budge until Gibbs gave him a quick nod. Doesn't move until his Boss gives him permission. Tony closes his eyes and winces as McGee heads back to his desk to do… Right now, Tony's so pissed he doesn't care what McGee does.

As soon as the doors slide shut he bites out, "You didn't think it was worth mentioning this to me before doing it?"


He's flat out glaring at Gibbs. "Fuck eighteen! Eighteen is crap. Eighteen is something you pull on strangers you don't care about because doing whatever the hell it is you want is way more important to you than how they feel about it. So fuck eighteen. I am not a stranger. I am your partner; rumor has it you've got a rule about that, too. Technically, I am your boss. And above and beyond all of that, I am someone who has earned the basic common courtesy, if not the respect, of you telling me what the fuck you are doing!

"And more than that, because if fifteen years of having your six, backing every play you've ever run, and saving your life more often than any other man on earth doesn't do it, you are not the team leader! It is my team, and you and McGee don't get to run off and pull crap like this on your own."

Gibbs doesn't say anything. He's not sorry about doing it. Tim's right, he wants this. He needs it. Another year is like being able to breathe again; it's like getting to step off the ledge, or hearing the crack of the bullet as it whizzes by your head, but the fact that he's not sorry doesn't mean that he doesn't get why Tony is pissed.

Or that, as he's thinking about it, that he's not sorry about how they did it. And that, not being sorry about trying to get another year doesn't erase the fact that he's feeling like he did, in fact, stab Tony in the back.

And he gets, standing there, watching Tony vibrate with anger, that there are levels of this. A lot more of them than he would have guessed if he'd thought about it, beyond the rush of hope at getting another year, but of course, he didn't think about it, not beyond that hope for more time.

The first level is that punched-in-the-gut, feeling betrayed that came from them not telling Tony.

It really hadn't even occurred to him to do it. Secrets work best the fewer the people who know about them. And he didn't know if Tim and Abby really could pull it off, and if they couldn't…

Obviously, if it worked, he'd have to say something about it, because the whole family knows that January is coming, but…

But it didn't hit him to say something to Tony because… Because he hasn't made the switch out of Team Leader. He's letting Tony play in charge, sitting back and following his lead, but in his own head it's his team and he doesn't have to answer questions about what he's doing to anyone. He certainly doesn't have to explain what he's doing. He does his thing; they follow and back his play, and that's how it works.

Except, of course, it's not his team.

And that's the second, deeper, real level. Tony is never going to be his Boss. He just… can't. And sure, he'll take Tony's orders, back his plays, run whatever game he wants run, but Tony isn't his Boss.

Same as that minute he always spent thinking about it whenever he called Mike Franks back in. Franks would help; Franks always helped, but he was never in charge of Franks.

This is a fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Probie.

Ya think, Mike?

He can feel the nod Mike would have given him at that. What he doesn't feel is a way to get out of this, at least, not a way that doesn't feel like setting himself on fire.

He feels Tony's anger on another level, a related one. Tony isn't Tim's Boss, either. Few more months and Tim'll outrank Tony, and they both know it. And really, since Tim was in charge back in July, he's been doing his own thing, running his own plays. He's working with the team, but it's clear he's not following anyone's orders, not any more.

Which means, as long as both of them are there, it's not really Tony's team. Can't be. And Tony knows that, but was willing to put up with it because it's temporary. And because they'd both been playing their roles, allowing for the illusion of it being his team.

Sort of. Tim's already broken it once when he sidelined Tony after the thing with Ziva.

And this breaks the illusion again, and not just in a quick, temporary sort of way. That's why Tony winced when Tim waited for his nod to leave. Just another mark of it not being his team.

And the only saving grace of this is that it happened when Draga wasn't in the office.

Gibbs leans against the wall of the elevator, the back of his head hitting with a dull thunk, as he looks up and licks his lips.

"You want me to go?"

"You are too old for this!"

"Not what I asked."

"Your vision is shot. Your knee is fucked. The only reason you're still here is because we've got a five man team and can take up the slack. You are too old!"

"I passed my last physical. My vision is within specs, even without glasses, but I can wear them full time if that's the issue. I've got to get through physical therapy and then pass another physical to get back to full duty. If I can't pass it, I won't stay. You know that.

"Until I blew my knee out, I was hitting the gym every day. I dropped sixteen pounds between February and July and took a minute twelve off my time on the mile. Until the warehouse, I was in the best shape I've been in for five years." He leaves unsaid that right now (knee aside) he's in about the same shape Tony is, maybe slightly better, and better shape (stronger, better wind, faster) than Tim was for most of the years he's been here.

"Besides, you know the retirement age is about money. You were there when they dropped it from sixty-two to fifty-seven." NCIS, like a lot of the Federal Government, paid by years of experience, and cutting that five years off saved literally tens of millions of dollars a year for NCIS in wages and pension outlays. And it was true that if you had less than twenty years of service it was very easy to get the fifty-seven mandatory retirement age waived, (it's so common there's actually a form for it) but back in '13 that stopped being an out for Gibbs. "FBI and the Marines would let me hang around until sixty-two."

"Marines would have booted you for too many years a decade ago." Which was true, also. As a Gunny, they would have booted him at twenty-four years. If he'd hit Master Gunnery Sergeant, they would have booted him at thirty years. Well, not booted, he would have been able to serve out his term, but they don't let you re-enlist after that many years of service. And like NCIS, but on a much larger scale, cutting those years saved lots of money. A Gunny with thirty years in made fifteen thousand dollars a year more than a Gunny with twenty years, and did the same job. Gibbs' twenty two years at NCIS meant he was getting paid eleven thousand dollars a year more than Tony, who was, at this point, literally doing the same job. "And you know just as well as I do that it's not just about money. It's also about making sure guys like me can move up before we get put out to pasture."

That's true, too. Upper-middle rungs never mind when the top level gets sent off, because they fill those positions. And as long as he's there, Tony can't really move up. "Do you want me to go?"

Tony glares at him, and he knows what that means. He's asking Tony to cut his head off, and Tony, no matter how pissed he may be about this, doesn't want to drop that blow. It's one thing for him to age out, it's a whole other thing for Tony to tell him to leave.

"It's kinda like dying. I guess." Gibbs says, quietly. "Not really, but… There's that day on the calendar, staring at me, and after it… What? Sit around, drink, build boats? Remember the Reynolds case?" Tony looks alarmed, so obviously he did remember the Commander who killed himself rather than face retirement and the emptiness that went with it. "It's not that bad, not even close, but… January 15th is like jumping off a cliff. He threw me a lifeline, so I took it, and I'm not sorry about that." And it's a low blow, because he knows that'll make it even harder for Tony to boot him out, but it is like dying, and he doesn't know what the hell he's going to do on January 16th, and right now, he'll take almost any out he can get.

"I'm sorry we didn't tell you. Should have done that. I'm sorry it screws with your team. And if you need or want me to go, I will. I've got my twenty plus in, my pension's vested. If you need me to be done, I can be done." And that's true, too. If Tony draws the line for him, he won't give him any trouble. He'll make drawing that line as hard as he can, but if Tony does it, he'll abide, and he'll leave, and he'll never mention it again, and, eventually, he won't hold it against him. Everything ends, and his run as NCIS can't be exempt from that, no matter how much he wishes it was.

"But you're not done," Tony says with a deep sigh.

"No. I'm not. I'm not ready to be done with this. I'm… I'm not ready for whatever comes next."

"You will pass the physical, and then you'll pass my physical and it will be a hell of a lot harder, and if it looks like you're lagging or anything…"

Gibbs holds up his hands in a gesture of peace. "Your team, you pick."

Tony shakes his head, muttering, "Like fuck it's mine. You know I can't shoot my own dog, and you're taking advantage of it."

Jethro nods. "Yes."

They're closer to the first floor than the bullpen, so Tony flicks the elevator back on, let it go down, and got out. He doesn't say anything, but Gibbs figures it's a good idea to let him have some time to himself.


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