Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 300

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

Chapter 300: The Right Thing

Ziva, Draga, and Gibbs all watched Tony head through the bullpen to his desk.

He sat down, drug his chair into the center, and said, "Report."

All three of them sat there, still staring at him.

"Is there a problem?"

"No, Boss," Draga said, scooting into the center, Ziva and Gibbs following a second later.

"Are you okay?" Ziva asked. Doesn't take a trained investigator to see sad and angry on him.

"I'm fine."

She and Gibbs nodded, looking at each other, tucking that away for things to be talked about later. But they also know that right now is not the time to ask about it.

So, Tony, having declared himself "fine" and requesting a report, Draga launched into pretty much the same report Tim had. Then Ziva added what she had found going through the VA joint registry, and how there were close to 5000 artificial joints that had been purchased multiple times, and God alone knew what else. Joints, pins, heart valves, things that go and stay inside bodies have serial numbers, but literally thousands of other devices get used on a daily basis by the VA, and without physically going to the warehouses and hospitals and counting up inventories to go with purchase orders, there's just no way to tell if the amount of stuff purchased is even remotely like the amount of stuff in the stores.

Gibbs explained that he had overseen Mason's processing and that his lawyer was due in tomorrow morning, and as of this point said lawyer appeared to be paid for by Mason, (he found him in the phone book) but that he'd get on checking that out. (Okay, he's actually already checked that out, but he's waiting to be told to do it to produce said information. Another hour or so and he'll volunteer that Meyers, Briggs, and Meyers is, as best as he can tell, in no way related to any of the companies they're investigating.)

"McGee's rechecking the financials, looking for an actual person who paid Mason," Tony said, not looking toward McGee's desk, not expecting him to come near unless he has a breakthrough.

The other three nod at that. The problem with these companies is that they're huge. Somehow, somewhere an invoice shows up for services rendered by Mason, and someone in Accounts Payable handles it, but when you're talking about a company with five hundred employees it's awfully hard to find exactly who is making sure things like this happens.

"Until we've got more to go on, finish up the paperwork on the Finely case."

They nod at that, too, and go back to work.

The LabRats kept shooting Tim curious looks as he worked next to Abby. Not every day their boss's husband showed up and then decided to commandeer a lab computer. But neither of them said anything about it to them. (Though he did, briefly, by sign, get her up to date on what was going on.) So they didn't ask.

He was sorting through Mason's financials, hunting down every company that was paying him, looking for one that might be small enough to actually locate a specific person who had to take responsibility for agreeing to pay his invoice.

So far, no dice. The fact that he appeared to be providing legitimate web work and IT services didn't make this job any easier.

About an hour into it, while he was cross checking company web sites with IRS filings, looking for the right target, Gibbs headed in, Caf-Pow in hand for Abby, and a cup of coffee for him.

Abby accepted the Caf-Pow and the kiss on her cheek while pipetting something into the vials they use for Major Mass Spec. "Don't have any updates, yet."

"I know." He turned to look at Tim, placing the coffee cup next to him.

Tim took it, sipped it, and stood up, stretching a bit. He eyed the door and Gibbs got that look. Neither of them need to have this conversation with the LabRats lurking.

When they were outside, Tim leaning against the south wall of NCIS, sipping his coffee, Gibbs facing him, both of them sucking up a bit of October sunshine, Tim said, "I'd say we managed to screw that particular pooch in every direction a pooch can be screwed in."


"Yep." He took another sip of his coffee. Then he closed his eyes, let his head drop against the brick wall, felt the sun warm on his skin. "It's not done, yet. Leon's looking into it. I can still make it go away."

"You probably should."

He opened his eyes and looked into Gibbs' seeing the doubt, fear, and uncertainty there. "Do you want me to?"


But wanting isn't having and sometimes we shouldn't get the things we want. "Should I? Really?"

Gibbs closed his eyes, and Tim can see the pain there. "Yes."

"I'll let Leon know. Gotta win back a ton of brownie points on this, so I won't have time to fix the data for a bit, but when this case is put to bed, I'll do it."


"Sorry, Jethro."

"Why are you sorry?"

"I got your hopes up. Back when this was inevitable, you were better with it."

"Nah. Just doing a better job of hiding it. You don't bitch about the things you can't change."

Tim nods.

"I'm grateful, Tim, even if it didn't work."

Four hours later, he was home, doing what he always did when he had a bad day. Woodworking and bourbon was always good for clarity and peace in the past. But, as he's carefully stroking the first layer of the maple stain onto Anna Palmer's crib, Gibbs isn't feeling particularly calm or clear.

Been a long time since he's been so torn between what he wants and 'the right thing to do.' Last time he felt this torn between want and right, he was looking at his new redheaded probie thinking about at least half a dozen x-rated things he wanted to do with and to her.

At least then he knew it wasn't right.

This time he's not nearly so sure.

He knows he can do the job.

He knows he can do it way better than anyone else Tony can get to replace him. That's just a given. No fresh-out-of-FLETC, wet-behind-the-ears, newbie (that's what Tim calls them, right?) can match his twenty plus years.

He just can't.

And honestly, anyone who'd be willing to transfer into their team, even with experience, won't be as good. Not bad, certainly. Different, of course. But he clears more cases, more quickly, with a higher conviction rate than anyone else in NCIS.

That's his team, working his rules, doing it his way…

Except it's not. Not anymore.

Because it's Tony's team, and letting him run it is the right thing to do. He's ready for his own team. He can run it. He's good at his job and knows the way to make it work. He's ready.

And he doesn't need Gibbs staring over his shoulder.

Because while it's true that sticking around for another year may be the right thing for Gibbs, it's not the right thing for Tony.

And it's not selfish to want his own team. It's not bad or wrong or anything else. And Gibbs knows he's got to go for it to really be Tony's.

Because that's just the way it is.

But if he goes, people will die. Cases won't get solved as quick. Tony's good, he's solid, his instincts are sound, but he doesn't have Gibbs' gut. He just doesn't. And soon, Tony and Ziva will have two probies, and that's a lot of untested, un-experienced, un… everything, to have on your team and watching your back.

Which means some of those people who may die may be Tony or Ziva, because he won't be there, watching their backs, and anyone who replaces him won't be as good.

He hears his front door open, followed by heavy, quick steps, searching the upstairs from the sound of it. Not Tony, he's too pissed to chat tonight. Too heavy to be Jimmy or Tim, who might want to have a chat with him, touch base and see what's up. Not Draga, Draga doesn't come here, not yet. Ducky would have headed straight to the basement, so not him. Likewise, Fornell would have headed straight down, too.

He catches a faint scent of coffee and whatever that cologne Leon wears is.

"In the basement, Leon."

A second later he hears the first step on his stairs.

"Do you even use the rest of the house?"

"On occasion."

Leon looks over the crib and smiles. "Newest baby Palmer?"

"Anna. She's supposed to be on the outside middle of December. Want to get this done by Halloween."

"Good plan." He faces Gibbs, leaning against the workbench. "So… What's this bull McGee's telling me about you being born in 1960?"

Gibbs stares at the ceiling and sighs. "A bad idea."

"Uh huh," Vance says in that exceptionally understated way of his. "I understand DiNozzo and McGee had a conference this afternoon as to the suitability of this plan, and worked on reinforcing proper respect regarding the chain of command?"

"Something like that."

"And is the chain of command in place?"

"I think so. Tim'll be up to tell you not to go forward on the new birthdate thing soon, but right now he's putting in his 110% to try and make it up to Tony."

"Good." Leon took a form out of his jacket pocket and unfolded it on Gibbs workbench, then poured himself a drink. "1087 B. It's filled out and signed."

Gibbs looked at it, the form that allows for exceptions to the mandatory retirement age.

"Thought you couldn't get one of these if you had more than twenty years in."

"You usually can't, but in that I'm the guy who okays them…"

Gibbs nods, and Leon nudged he document. "No need for McGee to go and perjure himself to get you another year."

"Thanks, Leon."

Leon shook his head. "There's a whole ball of strings attached to that, Jethro."

"I know."

"Do you?"

"I do now."

Leon took another sip of his drink. "Is DiNozzo ready? You two just pulled the rug out from under him, and he didn't have a clue until after."

"He's ready."

Vance nods. He taps the form. "If he's ready…" You don't need to stick around is loud and clear.

"I know. He can do it. He'll do it well. But…"

Vance nods at that, too. He's fifty, and'll hit twenty years in in '16. He knows that as Director his job doesn't have a get-out-of-town date attached to it, but he also knows that in the next five years he's going to start getting hints along those lines. "Date on the form is October 15th. Don't need it back until then. Take it. Think. Talk to him."

Gibbs nods.

"Jethro, there's more to NCIS than just hot cases. We need recruiters. We need instructors. We have a whole team going through cold cases in DC alone. We need translators. You speak what, four languages?"


"You wanna run classes on sniper skills or tactical assessment or interrogation technique; I'll set you up for it. Things are still unstable in Crimea, you want to finish up the Shannon, head to the Black Sea, find a nice port city, hang out, read newspapers, and keep your ear to the ground, I'll send you."

"Spying mission on my own?"

"Passive intel gathering. Just feet on the ground seeing what's going on, but yeah, I'll send you. You do speak Russian, right?"


"Wouldn't be like your cloak and dagger days. More like retired tourist keeping an eye on things, but, you want it, we can do it."

Gibbs looks at the crib and shakes his head. "I need to be closer to home. A week or two, fine, but I can't miss my girls for too long."

Leon smiles at that. "Know that feeling." He takes one more sip. "Even if January is the end of your days as Team Leader, it doesn't have to be the end of your days being useful."

Gibbs shrugs at that. "Pushing paper doesn't do it, ya know?"

"Yeah. I know." It had taken a full half year for Leon to get used to not jumping up to handle field assignments. "But it's not useless, either. And we do need talent scouts, and we do need people who have been there and done that to teach the younger ones."

Gibbs just looks at Leon, getting across exactly how much that's not what he wants to be doing.

Leon nods at that, he gets it. "So, let me see these newly discovered documents. I poked around on the computer records he built you, and they're clean."

Gibbs led Leon upstairs, and showed him his "new" birth certificate, first driver's license, first report card, and a few other odds and ends.

Leon studied them carefully. "Good work. Where'd he get the paper?"

"They're the originals. Abby lifted the old ink and made new ink to match it. Tim's better at copying handwriting, and owns the typewriter for the rest."

"Yes, I know how good he is at copying other people's handwriting. Especially DiNozzo's and yours."

"Thinking of an assignment for him?"

"Not right now. We've got people who do this when I want it official. But it's good to know that if I ever don't want it official, I've got someone who can do this."

"According to Abby, unless the exact right bit of the paper gets carbon dated, there's no way to tell it's forged."

Leon nods, then stands up. "You get some quiet time tomorrow, head over to HR and take a look at what all we've got going on that you don't need to be under fifty-seven for."


Before he and Ziva got together, Tony was never much of a bath guy. There were probably several reasons for this, but most of them could be distilled into this, none of the things he liked doing outside a bath could be done in it.

Can't watch movies in the tub, can't watch the game, can't pick up women, can't dance, you probably could play the guitar, but it'd be really bad for your guitar.

So, though the apartment he lived in at the time had a killer bathroom with a very nice tub, he never bothered to use it.

Ziva's place didn't have a particularly good bathtub. Kind of small, and it took forever to fill because the faucet was too tiny. But Ziva did like baths. She liked filling up the tub with hot water, fragrant oils or salts, and settling in to read for an hour or so.

And when they got together, taking advantage of his tub was something she enjoyed.

And from there, Tony found that he enjoyed sharing a bath with her.

And the worse the day was, the more stressed he was, the more he appreciated being able to fill up the tub, add the bath salts, (sandalwood and jasmine, pleasantly fragrant, doesn't make him feel like he smells like a flower shop after) and settle in to talk with her.

Add in the fact that their current place had a Jacuzzi tub, and yeah, happy muscles relaxing and trying to let go of the day.

He was already in the water, laying back, trying to get himself calm. She sat on the edge of their tub, twisting her hair up into a knot. "Are you going to tell me about it?"

"What's there to tell? Papa Smurf is scared. Brainy Smurf is desperate for Daddy to pat him on the head. Put the two of them together and I get screwed."

"Tony." She smiles sadly at him.

"I think I've got McGee handled. When we left he was still hunting down leads. For a few more days at least, I think he'll be putting in the extra to try and make me smile." Ziva drops her robe on the floor, and slips into the water, settling so that she's sitting between his legs, back against his chest, head resting on his shoulder. He kisses her temple. "Lord… the thing with Gibbs is such a mess."

She smiles gently at that, too. "This is fixable."

He shakes his head. "Not by me. I can't spend another year working for him, and I can't cut his head off. 'It's like dying,' he actually said that to me. How am I supposed to make him leave after that?"

Ziva shrugs, she doesn't know how he can do it. She does know that he needs to do it, because he's right, he can't work for Gibbs for another year. "We talked a little. I told him he can't stay unless you really are the Boss, and he thought about it. Didn't jump in and give me an immediate I-can-do-it answer."

He thinks about that and says, "I need to talk to Vance in the morning."


"Tell him I'm keeping Gibbs."

She winced slightly at that.

"Too little, too late?"

She nods. "Perhaps something along the lines of you've got your mutineers in hand and are in control again and that anything that doesn't go through you is to be immediately reported to you and that you'll handle it?"

He shakes his head again. "That's the thing about a mutiny. Even if you do get it under control again, anything you do about it reminds the higher ups that you lost control."

"Ignore it? Pretend it didn't happen?"

"I don't think that looks like in charge either."

She turned in his arms, and reached up to kiss him.

Gibbs stared at the form on the workbench.

"It's like dying."

He probably shouldn't have said that to Tony. That was beyond a low blow. But…

But it's also the most honest thing he's said about retiring. It's not like dying. It is dying. 'Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS.' 'Gibbs, NCIS'

He doesn't spend time doing cop things. He is a cop. That's… not his whole life, but it's so damn close. At least ten hours a day, five days a week, and most weeks it's probably closer to nine hours six days. He thinks of cases when he's not working them, he works them until he drops or solves them, he hasn't taken a vacation since his last honeymoon. Hasn't taken a break since he left with Franks, and even with that, he was driving Franks buggy, fixing everything that wasn't nailed down.

He's a cop. He's been a cop for twenty-two years, twenty-three years four days before he retires. If he retires. He touches the form again. Another year. Three hundred and sixty five more days until he has to… become something else.

If he can.

He knows retired military. He knows retired doctors and lawyers and farmers and accountants and… and just about everything.

But he doesn't know a lot of retired cops. Because the ones he made friends with, the ones he liked, they lived the job. It was their end all and be all and when they weren't on the job, there wasn't anything else.

And when they retired, they died, and not in the metaphorical sense of the men they used to be shriveled up and vanished, but in the literal within a year their wives/kids stuck them in a box and buried them sense.

The guys he knows that are still around are like Mike; they burned out on it. They left by choice. They didn't get booted out. The ones who were forced out, they didn't do so well.

Because when your whole life is the job, you just don't keep going when it's gone.

So, his whole life can't be the job.

His fingers trace over the form. The right thing to do. What he wants to do. The right thing for him, or the right thing in general. He can remember the version of him Mike showed him, the one who did the 'right thing' and let Hernandez go. That broken shell of a man, living on bourbon and hate.

But that was the 'right thing.' Just not the right thing for him.

But this time it's not just about the right thing for him. It's the right thing for Tony, and by extension, Ziva, too. It's the right thing for his kids.

But it feels like throwing himself on his own funeral pyre.

Gibbs knocked on the door to Tony and Ziva's place. It's not too late, but not exactly early, either.

Ziva opened it a few seconds later, in her bathrobe, and looked mildly surprised to see him.

"Can I see him?"

"I'll check."

She headed off to their bedroom, and he heard quiet voices. Two minutes later she was back, and nodded again. But he can see she's wary, so he smiles a little at her, letting her know that Tony won't regret this.

Tony's sitting on their bed in a pair of shorts. Yankees are playing on the TV, but he's got it on mute. Gibbs knows they do that. Tony watches the games on silent while Ziva reads.

Tony looks him up and down, also wary. "Gibbs."

He held up the form. "1087 B, filled out by Vance. He's given me until the 15th to hand it back in." Gibbs turned his back to Tony, so he can't see his face, can't see the pain of this. Then he ripped the form into little pieces, flicked on the switch that turned on the gas fireplace in their room, and dropped the bits. He swallowed once, and then twice, opened his mouth, and then closed it, not sure if his voice would hold. Two more seconds, the sound of the rushing flames and the smell of burnt paper filling the room. Then he was sure he could get a few more words out. "January 15th. That'll be my last day."

Tony nods at that, and Gibbs heads out, he doesn't want to talk, and he doesn't think Tony does either.

Ziva follows him to the door and hugs him as he gets ready to head off, holds him close for a long minute, then reaches up on her tip toes to kiss his forehead.

He burrows his face against her shoulder, and stands close to her, not sure what happens next, but eventually he pulls back and head out of their home back toward his own, feeling hollow, aching from the sense of nothing left to do.

The fact that it's the right thing doesn't make it any easier.


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