Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 299

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

Chapter 299: A Discussion

Tim's not at his desk when Gibbs gets back up. Ziva is. Draga's not.

She's looking pretty calm, so either she doesn't know what's going on, or it's not bothering her. Probably doesn't know.

"He give you any trouble?" Gibbs asks about the suspect.

Ziva flashes Gibbs her, no not at all, don't be silly look.

Gibbs nods at that. Good to know collecting the suspect went well. And since they tracked him through tech stuff that Tim and Draga handled, they were probably interrogating him.

"Draga and Tim in interrogation?"

"Yes. Where is Tony?"

"Don't know."

Now she's sending him her curious look. Always be reachable, make sure someone knows where you are, those are bedrock for their team, and Gibbs above and beyond everyone else usually knows where everyone is.

Gibbs holds his phone so she can see he's texting on it. He sent a quick message to Tim about what just happened.

"Gibbs?" Now she's starting to look a bit worried and nervous.

So he starts at the beginning. They're in the bullpen in the middle of the office, so he tells the 'official' version, but she knows well enough to know that's bullshit and why he's lying, and the bit where he mentions how McGee was 'helping him find the right documents' to prove how old he really is lets her know exactly what happened.

He looks fairly sheepish as he gets done with the telling, and he can see she's torn. Half-pissed at him for not treating Tony with more respect, half-understanding that desperate need to be useful and to save lives and do the job.

Of all of them, she's the one who gets that need the most. She's the one, like him, with the dark red blood on her ledger, trying to erase it one solved crime at a time. It never washes out, and what Ari did wasn't her fault, any more than what happened to Shannon and Kelly was his, but in the end, that doesn't matter, the red is still there, and only one thing eases the ache of it.

"Why didn't you go to him? He would have been fine with it if you had just told him."

Gibbs isn't entirely sure of that, but he does know that Tony would have been a whole hell of a lot better with it if they had asked him.

"Honestly didn't think to."

"Because you're the Boss and the Boss doesn't ask."


She mutters something, low and quiet, and possibly not English, while shaking her head. Then says in her normal tone, "You cannot stay if he's not the Boss. A few months isn't a problem. A year is."

"Thirty-eight," he says quietly.

"No Gibbs. Your lead, your case, no." She shakes her head. "No your rules. It's his and it gets done his way and he runs it how he likes, and if you are going to stay, you need to show the proper respect for that."

"And you'd know something about that?" he asks, realizing at some point Ziva must have had this conversation with herself, must have made the decision that Tony could be her husband and her boss.

"Yes. I would. So, can you do that, or do you have to go? We know McGee has to go. He's ready for his own team, and they are both stepping on each other's feet. Especially this last month... But that will happen, sooner than later."

Gibbs nods, he wants to say that he can do it, that he can jump in and surrender the team and whatever it is he needs to do to stay, but… But he realizes he needs to really think about it. Three leaders on one team is two too many, but two isn't much better, and certainly isn't fair to Tony.

"I'll know soon."

"Good enough. Maybe… you might talk to Rachel about it?"

They tend to skirt around the fact that he sees her, just like they don't much talk about the marriage counseling that Tony and Ziva are doing, but he nods nonetheless. Talking to Rachel about it probably is a good idea.

Tim felt his phone buzz. Just once. Probably Gibbs or Tony letting him know he was up. He doesn't check his phone. In interrogation, get buzzed twice and that means pull it out and look, once means get 'round to it when you can.

Draga's taking lead on this interrogation, not his first time, but he likely hasn't hit ten yet, either. Tim's chilling in the corner, staring down at Ralph Mason, intentionally looking bored, making sure Ralph feels like they've got him dead to rights and this is just about getting the paperwork filled out. (Which, as far as Ralph is concerned, is true. Who he was working for is another story, one they want a conclusion to.)

Draga's asking about the technical specs of what Ralph was doing. (He cloned the VA's website interface for doctors, stole their info, then used it to order extra medical devices from several companies. VA never got the devices, but the companies that made them got paid. Not their usual sort of case, but the last murder they handled involved an artificial knee that they traced by the manufacturer number, and found that said knee joint had been sold four times… Solved the murder two days ago, but decided this stunk to high heaven and needed to be checked out.) Tim's enjoying getting to be the guy who hangs out in the corner. In the past, he's always had to write up notes that were too deep for Tony, Gibbs, or Ziva to do the questioning, so they didn't. They hung out and looked menacing and he asked the questions.

So, Draga's working Mason over, laying the verbal trap to get the names of who actually set this up. His voice is calm, the questions are lulling, he's even adding a sort of Robin Hood angle into it, making Ralph look like some sort of hero, after all, times are hard, and those 'extra' orders kept a bunch of people employed, and no one got hurt, really… so…

About three words too late, Ralph figured out what was happening and froze, demanding a lawyer.

And a quick change of track, the 'come on, you don't really need one, only guilty people need lawyers' didn't get Ralph's tongue to loosen again. And as Draga's aiming for another run at that, Tim ends things, gently pulling him out without making it obvious he's doing it.

So, they head back out of interrogation. Tim pulls out his cell, sees the note from Jethro, and feels a… he's not sure, and right now isn't a great moment for introspection. He says to Draga, "Okay, give him a few minutes in there, then take him down to processing, they'll handle the details."

"Got it."

He tucks his cell back into his pocket. "Also, next time, once they ask for a lawyer, you've gotta stop. If you get the wrong judge or the right lawyer, anything he says after he's asked for one'll get tossed, and anything we find based on anything he says after he's asked for one'll get tossed, too."

"Okay. What'll you be doing?"

"Having a chat with Tony." He's not entirely sure about that, but he's guessing they better get it done.

"You two okay?" Draga doesn't look like he's sure he's allowed to ask that, but he does, anyway.

"Nothing you need to worry about."

"You know, if you want to talk or something…"

Tim smiles at Draga, appreciating the offer. "Even if I did, it wouldn't be appropriate. He's your Boss."
Draga thinks about that. "But he's not yours, is he?"


"Is that the problem?"

"Yeah." Tim glances around, they're the only ones in the hallway outside of interrogation, but he pitches his voice low, anyway. "Look, we're not talking about it yet, but, yes, your interview question about why are we replacing Gibbs with you was right. We're not replacing Gibbs with you, we're replacing me. When Jenner leaves, I'm taking Cybercrime. Cybercrime does not know this, yet. Jenner does not know this. Jenner's second-in-command really does not know this, and I do not want him to find out from anyone but me, got it?"

Draga nods. "No scuttlebutt."


"But Gibbs is a few months away from fifty-seven."

Tim doesn't comment on that.

"So, he should be leaving, right?"

"That's the question."

"So, is Gibbs not leaving?"

"That's what I'm going to be talking to Tony about."

"Why would you be talking to him about it?"

"Because if Gibbs isn't leaving, it'll be my fault."

Draga looks perplexed by that answer.

Tim shakes his head. "There are a few ways around mandatory retirement. Let's leave it at I found one of them for Gibbs."

"Okay." He thinks about it. "That a long enough wait for…" he tilts his head toward the interrogation room.

"Actually, yeah, that was. Take him to processing, then head back to the Bullpen. Ziva or Gibbs'll have something for you."

He'd only gotten Wh of where are you texted into his phone when the door to observation opened and Tony curled his finger, indicating Tim was to come in.


Tony looked mad enough bite his head off, and his voice was sharp, but he didn't ask about Gibbs, so Tim answered the question he did ask crisply, "Mason lawyered up. Draga handled the interrogation, got enough out that we've got him dead. Realized he was in danger of incriminating whoever's hiring him, and shut up."

Tony's not really paying attention to his answer, probably because if he was in observation, he saw the interrogation and doesn't really need a report. Finally he notices that Tim's finished and says, "See who's paying for the lawyer. If he is, he should roll pretty easy for the reduced sentence. If one of the companies is, we'll see if we can put pressure on him for conflict of interest."

"That's the play."


Tim turns, getting ready to head to processing to find out who Mason's lawyer is, and who's paying for him when Tony says, "So, you gonna tell me why you woke up a few days ago thinking, 'I know, today I'll fuck Tony's team?'"

He turns and squints at Tony, feeling like he's being overly dramatic about this. "Please. I maybe goosed you, no one got fucked."

Probably wasn't the right answer, ready to bite his head off morphed into the level beyond it, a sort of dangerous calm where Tony's brain speeds up and he starts really seeing everything around him, ready to go in for the kill.

Tony takes a deep breath, exhales long and slow, and then says, "Really? You goosed me? That's how you see going over my head, to my Boss, about my team, without talking to me first? You think that's a minor deal? You think making sure that Vance knows that I'm not in charge of my own team is like a pat on the ass?"

Okay, that was a decent point, and one Tim hadn't thought of. "I'm sorry. I just…"

"You think rearranging my team is just a minor little thing? Gibbs around for a whole nother year, that's a moot point? You think that, really?"

Well, actually, yes on that. Sure, he hadn't been thinking about it when he was getting everything ready to get Gibbs another year, but he is now, and now he's not seeing it as a big deal. Tony's been working with Gibbs for sixteen years, not like one more should be an issue. So Tim says, "Okay, I get how going to Leon over you looks bad, but how is keeping Gibbs an extra year fucking you or your team? You're running it. Everything is going nice and smooth. You've an experienced hand to help take care of things and keep Draga in shape. You'll have him good and trained before you bring in someone new, instead of trying to ride herd on two probies. Why is this a bad thing?"

"Because that means he'll be here for an extra year! That means instead of breaking in someone new in the next few months, I'll be breaking someone new in next January, you know, about the time Ziva and I were hoping to be having a baby. But it's my team, so I've got to be here to break in a new person. And Ziva obviously can't be anchoring the team while I'm on paternity leave because she'll be on maternity leave, and no matter how good Draga is, he can't be running a brand new probie of his own less than two years in, so yeah, I'm fucked by this. Ziva is fucked by this."

"Oh." Tim winces, yeah, he's fucked Tony over royally and he's feeling like shit for it.

"Yeah. Why would you do this? I get why he's doing this. He's staring into the goddamned abyss and seeing nothing staring back up at him. But you're supposed to be the smart one. You're the one who sees three moves ahead, so why the fuck would you do this to me?"

"It's not about you…" Tony doesn't look happy at that, at all, but Tim keeps explaining, "Because the gold watch wasn't enough. You and I were talking about that, remember, what we'd do for him when he retires, and I was thinking about it, and there isn't anything that's enough. And we're sitting in the car, and I'm watching him do the job, and he's not done. He's not ready to retire. And I could do it for him. I could fix that. I never managed to get my Dad anything that made him proud, but I could fucking well do it for Gibbs. God, he looked so happy when we showed him the new documents. It was like the way he looked at us when we told him Abby was pregnant.

"I'm sorry, but I didn't think about you at all when it came to this. I know that's bad, but you didn't cross my mind."

"Because I'm not your boss."

"Because it wasn't about you! I should have thought about you, but I didn't. I should have been thinking three moves ahead, but the three moves I was thinking through was how to hack into the Social Security database to change his birthdate."

Tony's staring at their reflections in the window to interrogation.

Tim's leaning back against the door staring at the ceiling, not sure what to say next. He gave it to Gibbs. He saw the way he lit up at the idea of it. He heard the hope in his voice when they showed him his new documents. He wants this, wants it bad, probably wants it more than he's wanted anything in decades, and when push comes to shove, when it's Tony and Ziva's happiness or Gibbs' he's more attached to Gibbs.

But it's Tony's team, and Tony and Ziva's family, and… and he fucked it up.

He doesn't want to take it away from Gibbs.

He doesn't want to be the guy who screwed Tony and Ziva.

"Leon's still checking into it. I can fix this. Make it go away."

Tony closes his eyes and grits his teeth. "No. It'd be like cutting his head off. I can't do it."

Tim nods at that. They stand there quietly. "The team doesn't always have to come first, Tony. Honestly, it probably shouldn't. Just because that's how he ran it doesn't mean that's how you do."

Tony stares at Tim's reflection, blinks slowly, once, and Tim doesn't know what that means.

"Just… You married Ziva, not Draga, not NCIS. You're allowed to let it go to the back burner long enough to have babies. World won't end if Draga and whoever the other Probie is do paperwork for a month or get loaned to someone else. Lab didn't fall apart because Abby left. Her new guys were on for three days before she left. Crimes still got solved, murderers got put away, NCIS kept going. You're allowed to leave. Or… if she got pregnant now, you'd have Gibbs in place to cover for you…"

Tony's not glaring, but this doesn't seem to be anything he wants to hear. He waves that away. "As long as he's here, I'm not in charge. He's staring over my shoulder, making sure I'm doing it 'right.' Draga's the only one who actually thinks I'm his Boss. I know I'm never really going to be Ziva's Boss, don't want to be, not really. It's good to have a partner. But until he's gone, it'll still be his team. We'll still do it his way. Keep his rules. Follow the same patterns."

"What do you want to change?"

Tony shakes his head. You're not getting it clear on his face. "You remember the difference between how it felt to drive with… who taught you to drive?"

"My grandfather."

"Remember the difference between driving with him next to you and the first time you got behind the wheel on your own?"

"Not really. Messing with the windshield wiper, looking up, seeing the bus two seconds away from plowing into me then feeling it hit is pretty much the only concrete memory I've got of the first time I drove on my own."

Tony looks pretty frustrated by that. "How'd it feel when you were running the Ender case?"

"Good. I liked it. Didn't feel much different than usual, though. More handling people, less tech."

Tony sighs. "No. I guess it didn't." So much of what Tim does is all on his own. None of the rest of them actually know what it is he does on the computers, so they don't ask, and he doesn't tell, and until he's ready for them to move, he's just on his own. Tony shakes his head again. "It's not the same with him here. It's not like it was back when he left and I was really in charge."

"Okay. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, great." It's very clear that sorry hasn't fixed this, can't fix it.

"What do you want me to do?"

Tony waves at the door. "Go through those companies' financials again. Bring in the bookkeepers if necessary, someone okayed the payments to Mason. Go find them."

"On it."


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