Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Free Fall

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

Chapter 329:  Free Fall

Stay at home mom. Tony's nodding. He's looking supportive. Inside he's screaming in terror.

Yeah, she wasn't kidding, that's a scary fucking change.

Sure, the rational bit of his mind that is not completely flipping out at the idea, agrees that this is a fine idea. That it would solve the time issue. It would definitely allow him to run the team (but what good is the team if none of his people are on it? God, he doesn't even want to think about how much that hurts.) and still have a family life when he's not running it.

And he really appreciates her hitting him with this now, before she's pregnant, so that they're talking about it as opposed to just this is the way it's going to be. (Though the screaming part of his brain is also fairly sure that this is how it's going to be, and if this were just a discussion, like if she had said this to him before they got engaged, he'd be a whole hell of a lot less flipped out.)

She's looking at him expectantly, so he smiles, or at least lifts the corners of his lips and bares his teeth, (She flinches at that, so obviously it wasn't the comforting gesture he was aiming for.) and says, "I… just… um… thinking… Yeah. Thinking. Got to do some thinking," grabs his keys, and heads out.

Fourteen minutes. Gibbs didn't think even Ziva could make it from their place to his that fast. But that's how long passed between Ziva's call and Tony's footsteps on his stairs.

"There's nothing I can afford on my salary in a decent school district anywhere near here."

Gibbs looks up at him, puts his saw down, and points to the stools next to his work bench, two bourbons are already poured and waiting. He sits down, and so does Tony.

"Tony…" Yeah, you won't get rich on a Team Leader salary, but you can afford a decent place to live.

"They're going to force me to retire in eight years! Nine or ten if I can get McGee to pull his age erasing trick for me. I can stay on for desk duty, was planning to, because we're going to need the money. But with her on team leader salary and me on desk duty we'd be comfortable, still scrambling to figure out how to pay for college, and not looking to retire rich or anything, but I wouldn't be worried about how to pay the rent."

That makes a whole lot more sense. Gibbs doesn't know what kind of money, if any, Tony and Ziva have in the bank. His general sense was that Tony liked to live pretty close to the edge of his paycheck, if not a bit over. He's also sure Ziva's a saver. And he had kind of assumed that Eli David had some money, and that Ziva as his only heir probably got it, but… But he doesn't know that, and he knows assuming is a one way trip to wrong.

So if Tony's looking at a maximum of ten years to get as much as he can… Because post-retirement desk duty money is the kind of cash that's supposed to pay for that nice vacation, or the deck on the house, or round out the college funds. It's the money that lets you do fun stuff on your off time while your pension does the heavy lifting. It's not the kind of money you're supposed to live one.

Gibbs stands up, grabs a legal pad and a pencil, and starts writing things down. Right now, he figures that a good, solid, set plan is what Tony needs. "One problem at a time. Place to live in a good school district. Tim, Jimmy, and I can help with that."

"Gibbs, I can't take money from you guys."

"Not what I was thinking, Tony." And it wasn't, he knew there was no way Tony'd take that kind of help. "There has to be a house or condo in bad shape around here somewhere. Something foreclosed on and damaged. And I'm sure Tim can make his computer find it. And then we fix it up. This place was a wreck when we got it, and Shannon and I got it into shape. We can do the same thing for you."

"I know nothing about fixing a house. And it's not like I've got tons of downtime to work on one."

"Neither did Shannon. I doubt Palmer's any handier. And unless it's a wiring job, Tim probably doesn't know how to do it, either. But Tim knows electrical. I'm good with just about everything else. And what we don't know, we can learn. And it's not like I won't be swimming in free time come January. How low does your housing payment need to be to keep you putting enough away?"

Tony thinks for a moment. "God. Eight hundred."

Gibbs just stares at Tony, that seems really reasonable to him. Okay, sure, that's not a mansion, but any fairly decent house should be in that neighborhood.

And Tony stares at Gibbs, suddenly very aware of the fact that Gibbs hasn't been in the real estate market in more than thirty years.

"Gibbs, McGee's house went for over four hundred thousand and is worth more than six now. The only reason Jimmy and Breena could afford theirs was they got enough money as wedding presents to swing the down-payment. Your place is probably worth over five hundred thousand now. When the market went hot at the end of '14 prices jolted way back up again. If it's beat up enough for us to afford it, it'll be in pretty rough shape."

Gibbs shrugs a little. "Labor's usually the expensive part. You and Tim find something in the right place, I'll make sure it's got a solid skeleton, and instead of fighting for bootcamp, we'll make sure you can get moved in before the baby shows up."

"God." Tony slugs back some of the bourbon. "'Before the baby shows up.' She's not pregnant, yet. We're not even trying, yet."

"I know. But she's gonna be, or you two are going to adopt. I think at this point it's pretty fair to say it's going to happen."

"I hate this."

Gibbs gives him the keep talking look, and Tony is deeply relieved to see no condemnation in his eyes.

"We do this, it's all on me. I fuck it up, she's screwed. Something happens to me, she's screwed."

"She'll be dependent on you."

Tony nods, looking terrified. "Yeah. Fuck! She's got no out if we do this."

Gibbs nudges Tony's jam jar of bourbon, and Tony takes another drink, then he coolly says, "You think if you fuck up badly enough that she wants out, we aren't going to make sure she's got a soft place to land? You think if you get hurt or killed, we're not going to take care of her?"

"No… but… She'll be completely dependent on me! She's… volunteering to be dependent on me."

"She trusts you."

"God knows why."

"You're trustworthy. You have saved her life multiple times. You're not the guy you were five years ago, let alone ten years ago."

Tony looks about to take another drink, but he just stares at the liquor in front of him. "My mom was dependent on my dad like that."

"And he screwed it up, didn't he?"


"You're not him. Look, I know you, and I know your dad, and you are a vastly better man than he ever was or will be."


"And it is normal to be scared by this. It is sane to be scared of this. Kids are scary. Having your whole life change is scary. A new team is scary. Having the future you were expecting ripped away from you is scary."

"I'd just gotten to… I don't know. Still scared but, ready, I guess. You know that feeling where you're looking over the edge and about to shit yourself, but you're still going to jump anyway because you know it's the right thing to do?"

"Yeah, I know that feeling."

"Now I feel like I just looked over my shoulder and my parachute's not packed right."

Gibbs nods. "Part of being a parent. You feel that way a lot."

"I hate feeling this way."

"Yeah. I do, too. Feel it a lot. Feel it when we're in the field and suddenly everything's fubar. Felt it when I was a Marine, especially every time I got transferred to a new unit. Felt it all the time with my Kelly. Felt it when my mom was sick. It's always there, Tony. The only time it goes away is when you stay so stuck in your routine that nothing changes. That… holding pattern we were in for eight years between Ziva joining us and Jimmy getting married where we all stayed nice and snug in our little cocoons of safe, unchanging habit."

"I take it seeing Rachel's been helping," Tony says dryly, but he catches the slight tightening of Gibbs' jaw. "Is it not helping?"

"Helped just fine. Just, over now."

"Really?" And then why Gibbs has been a bear makes perfect sense. "Oh. So, no romancing Doctor Kate's Sister?"

Gibbs glares at him.

Tony holds up his hands. "I know. She's married. And your therapist. It's apparently really common, though. Called transference."

Now Gibbs is flashing his you know this how look.

"Our first two sessions with our counselor were one on one. I went first. I told her that besides the occasional psych eval, I'd never done this before. So she gave me a counseling primer and that was part of it." Tony shrugs at that. "You going to find someone else?"

"Not right now. Maybe if I get stuck again. I'm good at stuck." He brings it back around to what they had been talking about. "Spent a long time stuck. So did you. It's not scary, but nothing really good happens."

"My dad said that when we got married. Something like it. That she was going to want things that would scare the shit out of me, but if I trusted her, and went with it, I'd find joy, instead of just happy."

Gibbs smiles at that. "Even your dad's learned a thing or two over the years."

Tony takes another drink, and Gibbs follows, enjoying the sweet burn of the bourbon.

"You remember that case… We worked it with Borin… Would have been just about when Tim and Abby got together. Ziva was pissed because we were playing that game without her..."

Gibbs nods, he remembers that.

"Borin asked me why I was still with your team."


"And I said I couldn't find better people. My people are leaving. If she goes, too… it'll just be a job."

"You remember being down here, Christmas-time six-seven years ago, and me telling you to learn from my example, not follow it?"


"It's okay to have a job, Tony. NCIS doesn't have to be every single moment of our lives. In fact, it shouldn't be. I don't want any of you to get to my age and be afraid of retirement. I want you to have lives and loves and hobbies and passions, and stuff beyond this. Go, build your family and life with Ziva. And you run the team, and you do the work, but when it's done, you go home. You spend time with the people who make you happy. You don't keep hanging around that office, picking at dead cases, running every detail through your head over and over, looking for the splinter of evidence you missed, like I did.

"Maybe it won't be the 'best' team anymore. Maybe you won't solve them as fast. But it doesn't have to be. You don't have to ruin your life and your family trying to quiet my ghosts. It'll be your team, Tony. You'll run it however you see fit. No one looking over your shoulder. No one comparing you to anyone else. It's an almost complete fresh start. No more rules, no more slaps, no more… anything you don't want. And just because I couldn't stand the quiet moments alone in my own head, just because I had to work until I dropped, and I dragged all of you along for the ride, doesn't mean you have to do that."

Tony sits there quietly, absorbing that. Thinking. And though he heard it when Gibbs had said to learn from his example before, it didn't much soak in. So much of his own life was upside down and unsatisfactory, and Gibbs looked like he had it together. So he heard, but, it didn't mean anything. Just like when McGee spouts computer-talk, sure he hears it, but it's gibberish.

Not being like Gibbs was gibberish.

But now, it's soaking in.

Now, it means something.

He thought the shift was going from being second-in-command to team-leader. And that was part of it, that was the start. But he's getting it now. Getting that along with McGee's 'you're replacing Gibbs.'

It's his team. But it's not just his team. That's the real shift. It's not second-in-command to team-leader, it's NCIS-is-life to Tony DiNozzo-is-life. He is not the job. And if he wants any decent shot of joy, he cannot be the job.

All of this together, happening at once, it's for a reason.

This is his life. And it's time to start living it for him, and for Ziva, and-he feels the edge he's looking over, takes a deep breath, and jumps-for the child, children they're going to have.


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