McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 327: Why Does It Have To Be Babies?
Why does it always have to be babies?
Five years ago, Tony never expected to have to deal with being hip deep in babies. Let alone babies of his co-workers. Because hip deep in babies meant that his co-workers would have had to have developed lives outside of work, and he just wasn't expecting that, at all.
But they have.
Resulting in three tiny Palmers and one tiny McGee in the last two years.
Resulting in his wife (speaking of things he didn't expect five years ago!) getting all yay! babies on him.
On the upside, he's used to them now. He can hold Molly or Kelly and not want to run away. (He's still nervous with Anna. Little floppy people who look like they'll break if you breathe on them wrong make him really nervous.) But he's not comfortable with it. Fortunately, everyone clamoring to hold the new baby, means he only had Anna for about ten seconds before handing her off to Penny. (Who, just like everyone else, took one look at her, snuggled in close, closed her eyes, hummed a little, and fell, instantly and irrevocably, in love.)
And, God, he feels like a total asshole for this, but he did not and has not fallen instantly, madly in love with any of the little gremlins. (They are not, as per Gibbs' prediction, the lights of his life.) He's got three nieces and sure, he doesn't want anything bad to happen to them, and yes, when they lost Jon, he cried just as long and hard as the rest of them, and he will throw his physical body in front of any of the girls to protect them, but all of that's about his love for their parents.
That instant, utter, chemical adoration that the rest of them seem to have as soon as they hear that one of the girls is pregnant, just doesn't happen to him.
Yes, he's warming up to Molly significantly. There are things he likes about her. (He's got the sense she's going to be a lot of fun when she grows up. Goofy like Jimmy, but not willing to take any crap, like Breena. He's looking forward to that.) But Kelly and Anna don't exactly have personalities, yet, so… He kind of sees them like exceptionally precious pets. He'll go to his grave to protect them, because that's what a good guy does, but he's not feeling any sort of instant connection to them.
And that scares the shit out of him.
Everyone says it's different when it's your kid.
Great, wonderful. Well, these are his nieces, as close to his kids as it's possible to be without knocking Ziva up, and… he's not feeling it.
He's cooking with Ziva that night. Part of being a good friend is taking care of your buddies when they need taking care of. When Jimmy and Breena get home, their fridge and freezer will be stocked with food that just needs to be heated up.
He hasn't been willing to say it out loud to her. Because it does scare him. And because he's afraid it will disappoint her.
But, he has talked to their counselor about it, and he does know that he really should talk to Ziva about it, honesty and all…
So, he's cutting up onions as Ziva's browning up sliced beef (Tacos. Breena'll eat hers in the tortillas they'll provide; Jimmy eats his as a salad topping.) he says, kind of quietly, "What if I never feel it?"
"You picked up Anna, snuggled her close, sniffed her head, and fell in love. You did it with Molly and Kelly, too. Complete and utter love. I could see it on your face. I picked up Anna and tried to figure out the fastest way to give her to someone else. They say it's different with your own kids, but… what if it's not? What if this is it? That the best I get is fond?"
She thinks about that for a long time. He's not sure what's going on in her head. Not sure if that's her looking for a rebuttal, disappointment, or what. But, eventually she says to him, "My father loved me." She looks away from the beef to him. "And your father loved you. But it didn't help much, did it?"
Tony shakes his head. "No. I guess not."
"If you can be kind, respectful, fond… If you can be there with me through this, wake up in the middle of the night for feedings, change diapers, bandage skinned knees, show up for dance recitals, remember birthdays… If you can protect this child, serve him, devote your life to making sure she grows up happy and well-rounded… If you can do the job, if you can be a father, then I don't think it matters if you never get past fond."
"Really?" That's an angle he's never even imagined on this. Their counselor was more interested in talking about why he might not love his child than how to deal with it.
"Really." She nods. "How does a child know love? By your actions. Be here for us. Be a good father. Be a good husband. And that's all that will matter on this."
He doesn't look convinced by that, at all. "It should be more than that."
"Maybe." She shrugs. "But none of us got that, and it's what we wanted more than anything else. If you talk to Abby about her father, or Breena about Ed, they'll both tell you pretty much the same thing: their fathers took the time to be with them. They listened, and accepted, and invested time in them. Can you do that?"
Yes. "I will do it."
"Then we'll be fine."
"I'm so scared of fucking this up."
She brushes his face with her fingers, and then kisses his lips. "I know. And you're not going to."
He smiles limply at that. He's fairly certain that, given the shot, he could fuck this up to levels of fuckage that Ziva has never imagined.
She smiles brightly at him, trying to fill his uncertainty with her certainty, and then they both smell the meat starting to scorch, so she refocuses on the beef, and he goes back to cutting up onions, moving onto peppers.
As he's cutting up the yellow bell pepper level one of not fucking this up hits him. "Ziva… How do I do this and run the team? Be there. That's your number one suggestion. If I'm running the team… McGee had to leave. Draga doesn't have Kevin most of the time. Jimmy's doesn't hang around to just help out anymore. At the end of the day, if the autopsy is done, he's out of the office. I just said I'd do it, and I will, but…"
There's a look in her eyes, and he doesn't know what that means, at all, but it simultaneously terrifying and breathtaking.
"We'll figure it out. I have an idea, but I need to think about it more."
"A good idea?"
"Yes, I think so. But… Like the rest of this, scary. Let me think some more."
Ziva's not saying whatever it is that's got her brain ticking, but he can see it's whirling away.
He's tempted to chat with Gibbs, but…
Honestly, Gibbs has just been pretty weird lately. He was fine on Monday, and then something happened on Tuesday (which should have been an over-the-moon good day for him) and he's been in a funk ever since.
If it wasn't for the fact that Tony knows that Gibbs isn't dating anyone, he'd think Gibbs had just been dumped. He's not exactly doing that passing out head-slaps to anyone who gets too near thing, but he's a whole lot more bear-with-a-thorn-in-his-paw than usual. (Even Draga noticed. He crept over to Tony yesterday and said, "What the hell is wrong with him?" And Tony had to say, "I don't know. But if you want to live a long and happy lives with all of your limbs attached to your body, don't poke the bear." Draga nodded, retreated, and did his best to be located in a different zip code from Gibbs at all times while still working the case.)
He asked McGee about it, and he just shook his head. "It'll pass."
Tony rolled his eyes. He didn't ask if it would pass. He knew it'll pass. He asked what was up. "That's not useful."
"I know." Leave it alone is really clear on McGee's face. "But it will pass."
"Great." He could feel the frustration of that answer. "I need to keep an extra eye on him?"
"No! He'll be fine. Just having…" He could see McGee censor himself. "It'll pass."
He's a bit annoyed that Gibbs and McGee have this thing now that he's not part of, but… Well, if it is something female oriented, because this really, really does feel like dumped Gibbs, he did send Tim in to handle it last time, and if that's the case, maybe it just stuck…
Whatever it is, right now Gibbs is off the people to talk to list. Hopefully 'it'll pass' means that Gibbs'll be Gibbs again soon enough for him to have a chat with him about this before he gets Ziva pregnant, but…
Whatever. It's not happening today. It won't happen tomorrow. And the day after is looking remarkably unlikely, too.
He'd kind of like to talk to Jimmy. But the last thing he's going to do is go barging in on them right now. Mr. and Mrs. Autopsy Gremlin are more than busy enough right now.
But, on Tuesday, when Anna is a week old, he heads down to Autopsy to talk to Ducky about the case he's wrapping up, and was very surprised to see Jimmy napping on one of the tables, no one else around.
"I'm up," he says, lurching into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes. He's in jeans and a Christmas sweater, sneakers on the floor next to him, so he's not here in a professional capacity.
"Yeah, you look it. Shouldn't you be home, for like, another week?"
Jimmy nods. He's not back until the Wednesday after tomorrow. "Molly wanted some Ducky time. I called in. No dead bodies today. So they're out… Hell, I don't know what they're doing. I'm grabbing a nap."
"I should let you get back to it."
Jimmy squints toward the clock, feels around, puts his glasses on, and looks again. "Nah. They'll probably be back in ten minutes. I'll feel even more tired if I go back to sleep."
"So, what do you need?"
"Nothing you're helping me with." Their current case began after Jimmy left for Anna. He hadn't been there for any of it. They spend a moment, quiet, comfortable, and then Tony thinks of something Jimmy could help him with.
"You weren't really 'Yay! kids' before you had them, right?"
Jimmy shrugs at that. "I knew I wanted some eventually, but it wasn't any sort of burning need. Tim's more the 'Yay! kids' guy."
"I know that. Just… Okay… Look. I don't love kids."
"Tony, everyone on earth knows that. People who have never met you know that."
"Yeah, thanks. I wasn't saying it was a secret. But… Everyone says it's different when it's your kid. But… I mean… Is it? Really?"
Jimmy thinks about that. He likes kids okay. He's not afraid of them the way Tony is. But he'd been to more than enough Slater family gatherings before Breena got pregnant, and sure, playing with the kiddos was fine, but it did not instill an instant, oh yes, let's go have seventeen of them, sort of vibe. (Getting kidnapped and almost dying, on the other hand, that kicked up his and Breena's let's have a whole mess of babies desire.)
He thinks about how seeing the pregnancy test turn positive felt.
"Okay. I'm kind of fried right now, so if this is a little loopy…"
Tony waves that away.
"If I call Abby in here and snog the living daylights out of her, what would you do?"
Jimmy glares at him. "I've had four hours of sleep today. It's the first word that came to mind."
"Okay. You're snogging Abby. I'm gonna pull you off her, slap you upside the back of your head, lecture you about adultery and your marriage vows, slap you upside the back of the head again, lecture you more about breaking Breena's heart, slap you a third time, and then we're gonna talk about ruining your life, your wife's life, your kids' lives, and your best friends' lives, then you're getting one more slap, and then, because you are my friend and I love you, I'll give you a good five minute head-start before telling McGee and Breena about it, so there's a shot you don't get killed."
Jimmy nods. "Thanks for the head-start. Okay. I call Ziva down here and kiss the living daylights out of her. Let me guess, you walk in on that, and I better hope there are no bullets in your gun, right?"
For a second Tony's tempted to brush it off. Not really deal with how that would feel, but as he's doing that he gets how that would feel. That insane rush of pain and jealous and betrayal and just every sick-making, heartbreaking, punched in the gut and kicked in the balls while gasping for breath feeling of it.
So, instead of brushing it off, he nods. "I always have bullets in the gun. You've just got to hope it's not in reach."
"Fair enough. Well, Abby's as close to your wife as you can get without being your wife. You love her. She's your friend. You think she's attractive. She's your best friend's wife. And sure, you'd get angry on his behalf, and worried about the pain that'd cause us all, but it doesn't hit you in the balls, does it?"
"But me kissing Ziva does."
"And that's the difference between someone else's kid and your kid. It's you and Ziva and everything you've ever felt for each other turned into a person. Trust me, you may not feel it the second the pregnancy test turns positive, but at some point it will hit you who this child is, and you will fall in love with it."
"So, good birthday?" Tony asks Tim.
He's still thinking. Talking to Jimmy helped. That was the most concrete description he's run into, and it's good perspective. But it didn't put his worries to rest, just calmed them some, so he's still thinking, and since he's got some free time, getting lunch with Tim on the way back from talking to a suspect, now seems like a good time to gather more intel on the ins and outs of life with a baby.
"Yeah, it was," Tim replies as he hands Tony his hot dog.
Tony smirks at him. "Get a little something special?"
Tim rolls his eyes a bit. Okay, honestly, no. Birthday celebrations have never been a really big deal for Tim in the first place, and in the second place they both worked late, Kelly was fussy, that first tooth is well on its way to poking out, along with tooth number two, so when it came to bedtime, they both just crashed. But he doesn't want to actually say that, so he intentionally misunderstands the question.
"Double chocolate mocha cupcake."
Tony looks appalled by that. "Dessert? It's your thirty-eighth birthday and you get dessert? That's depressing." And does not bode well for the whole life goes on post-baby thing. If you can't get laid on your birthday, something is very wrong.
"It was a really good cupcake," Tim says with a grin, and it was. He's kind of hoping that'll be enough of a brush off.
"You know what I was asking you."
Apparently not. "Why you asking?" He takes a bite of his grilled chicken wrap. "You haven't done that a long time."
"Well Mr.-I-Get-Laid-Every-Day, I was wondering how the whole having a kid thing was effecting that."
Ah... that makes more sense. He knows from Abby, who's been talking with Ziva about it, that she and Tony are creeping closer to parenthood, and with Anna less than two weeks old, it's probably on Tony's mind more, too.
So, as Tony's watching him, taking a sip of his Coke, Tim says, "Like Jimmy said, new baby, not great for sex. Things are getting better. She's sleeping through the night most nights, or she was until that tooth began to poke out, and we're starting to feel human again, but not back to every day, yet."
"So, what's better mean?"
"You want this much detail?" Stop being nosy is clear in his expression.
Tony rolls his eyes. No, he's not particularly interested in how often Tim has sex. What he actually wants is reassurance that everything he loves about being married isn't about to end. But he can't ask that; that's just way too damn vulnerable. He can ask about sex though, so he does. "I want a better idea of what comes after. It's really easy to just look and see tired, covered in baby puke, crabby, and in love. Those aren't hidden. When you get your sex life back is buried a lot deeper."
Okay, all of that is true, but... "Yeah, but, I don't think how much sex Abby and I are having is going to be really enlightening in regards as to how things'll be for you and Ziva. I mean… when do you like to do it… and no, do not actually answer that question for me. Just in general, if you tend to aim for a time your baby wants to be awake, that's going to cut into your numbers a lot deeper than if you like times when she sleeps. Kelly's bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and wants attention at one of the times that used to really work well for us, so that complicates thing. One of our favorite places is out now, too, so that's cutting the numbers down.
"What happens when the baby comes out'll effect things. How she thinks she looks, how she feels, all of that goes into it. If she thinks she's repulsive, nothing's happening.
"How well you function tired'll be a big thing. If you can't get it up on no sleep, you're never getting laid again."
"That's not encouraging."
Tim sort of shrugs at him. Might not be encouraging, but it's true. "Okay. It'll be fine. You have a baby, and you barely notice the difference. It's all sunshine and roses and lots of sleep and hours of lazy sex."
Tony squints at him. It's not quite a glare, not enough heat for that, but talking with Jimmy was a hell of a lot more useful. "That's really not encouraging. When did you get that sarcastic?"
Tim snorts and says dryly, "Probably when I had a baby and stopped getting laid every day. So, really, why are you checking up?"
"We're talking about it more, and..." Tony's never said this out loud to anyone who isn't Ziva, and even saying it, letting the rest of the world know to expect it is scary. "The idea is when we get Gibbs' replacement we'll start trying."
"That's great!" Tim says, genuinely happy for him.
Tony just sort of stares at him, irked. He supposes Tim could do a better job of not getting what he's not saying, but it'd be awfully difficult.
"Or not?" Tim's starting to get more of what Tony's not saying, tuning in more on the body language and less on the words. "Is that why you've turned down every resume that's passed your desk?"
"None of them have been good enough. I mean, I'm finding a replacement for Gibbs. This guy's got to walk on water."
"Tony, you're replacing Gibbs. All this new guy has to do is fill in your missing skill slots."
Tony rolls his eyes. "Am I telling you how to run your team?"
Tony looks at him.
"I'm laying off. So, is this not great?"
"Yes, it's great, but..." That sounds remarkably unconvincing, even to Tony.
"No." Tim's shaking his head. "That's not what great looks like. Great doesn't have a big, nervous 'but' hanging on it. What's going on?"
"It's fucking terrifying, okay? She knows that, but..."
"But..." Tim leads, trying to get more detail than fear of lack of sex out of Tony.
"Okay, you move in together, and that's scary as shit because she'll be there all the time, in all your stuff, learning everything there is to know about you. But at least with that, you know that if it doesn't work out, you head off, pack up your stuff, and find a new home. And you get married, and that's scary, too, but you still know you can get out of it. Things go south, and out you go. But if you have a kid, there's never an exit. You're tied to that woman for the rest of your life. And if you screw it up bad enough, she will always have a weapon to cut your heart out with."
Tim's not sure what to say to that. Probably because he doesn't think of his relationship with Abby as a collection of levels in which his different exits are being cut off. It's not even something that hits him on any level. Fifty years from now, they'll be the old couple down the street with the gray hair and the tattoos. They're forever, and that's just it.
"Tony… Why do you always think you're going to screw it up?" Tim gets that Tony can't rest easy in the idea that Ziva'll be there forever. Every other woman he's ever cared about has left. So, he gets that. But being left and screwing things up so that she leaves is something different. And he doesn't get why Tony's default position on relationships in general and kids in specific is he will screw it up.
There are things Tony's never said to Tim. Things he doesn't exactly want to get into. Stuff Ziva knows, of course, and has known for quite a while. But the rest of them…
No. That's not the sort of thing he wants to talk about.
Of course, he's kind of touched on it, or near it, with Tim, once. Back when they were talking about kids before any of them had one. And he mentioned the whole constantly looking at other women thing…
But he doesn't think Tim actually got what he meant by that. He thinks Tim just filed that under overactive sex-drive and never thought about it again.
Of course, saying it would be not just revealing, and probably more revealing than he wants to get, but it would blow the whole, just being a guy cover he's using to shreds.
On the other hand this is McGee. He might not understand, not on any sort of visceral level, but he won't mock him, won't make him feel bad for it, and if he tells him to back off, he will.
And he'll give him better advice for it.
So… "You know how you used to call me a misogynist or womanizer?"
"Yeah. I remember that." Though he's got no idea why Tony's bringing it up, let alone now. It's been years since he was that guy hooking up with anything in a skirt, so it's been years since Tim's called him out on it.
"That's not quite it…" He looks up at the roof of the car they're sitting in. Tim's not eating, listening intently to this, knowing it's important. "I'm a sex addict. I get really… just… There's more to it than I like to get laid."
Tim blinks, slowly. He's never even thought of that, but, thinking of it, that makes a whole lot of sense. That explains the really edgy, tense, crabby sort of mood Tony used to get in whenever he hit a dry spell. Tim certainly remembers so horny you're climbing the walls, but that's different than the sort of edge Tony used to get.
And then he really gets it, gets why when you get your sex life back would matter a whole lot more to Tony.
Tony sees him put it together and says, "I screw things up. I screw relationships up. Besides Wendy, this is the longest I've ever managed to make it with one woman."
"That's good. Ziva knows why you're afraid you'll screw this up, right?"
"Yeah, she does."
"Does she understand?" Because Tim figures there's a difference between knowing someone is an addict, and understanding what that actually means.
"As well as anyone who's not can, yes, she does."
"Okay. So… what are you afraid of?"
Tony doesn't look at him when he says, "That when push comes to shove, she'll be focused on the baby, because she should be focused on the baby, because it's a baby, and focusing on it is the job and… And… But she won't be focused on me, and I'll fall off the wagon because I'm not getting my regular fix. I mean, I know I can go a while. I can do two months on my own before I start to have problems, but…"
"Is it just sex, or…" Tim feels really uncomfortable trying to clarify this, but if they're talking about it… "I mean… Is it about affection and time and attention or… or is it literally just you need to get laid?"
"Both. I can go a lot longer without sex if I'm distracted or if someone is keeping me emotionally happy. But even with that, I…" Tony knows Tim doesn't get it. He's not an addict, and doesn't get that edgy, itchy, world's-gonna-start-falling-apart-if-I-don't-get-what-I-need sensation. "I've never made it past three months."
"Oh. So what you're really asking is when you do get your wife back?"
"Yeah. I guess."
Tim sighs. "I don't know. She's going to be focused on the baby and her at first, and that's going to be pretty much it, because like you said, that's the job. But eventually you get your wife back. She doesn't stop being your wife because she had a baby. Just like you don't stop being her husband because you're a dad.
"When Kelly was brand new, and Abby was sick and depressed, I was carrying her, and Kelly, and me. And thank God for Gibbs and Breena, because they were carrying us, too. But that's this whole family thing, people who will carry you when you can't walk.
"We'll carry you Tony. As much as you'll let us. And eventually, you will get Ziva back."
Tony doesn't look like that's terribly reassuring. And Tim kind of wishes he can just say, 'Don't worry, it'll all be fine,' but he doesn't know if that'll be true for Tony. Kids do change things. They change things a lot. And if you're well-suited for each other and children, the tons of work necessary to raise kids draws you closer to each other, and you end up more deeply in love with each other because of it.
But if you're not, and you know you're not… There are plenty of decisions you can take back, or fix, or change, but this isn't one of them. It's an all-in or nothing sort of thing.
Tony nods at that, eats another bite of his dog, and changes the subject to the case they're on.
When it comes down to it, it's a lot like skydiving. And sure, he can talk to Tim or Jimmy, and he can think about it, ponder why he's scared, make plans with the therapist for how to deal with it, but none of that is actually jumping out of the plane.
And he is scared.
He's probably more scared than he's ever been of anything in his life. (Including, literally, jumping, well… getting pushed, out of a plane.)
But on the ground there's a woman, a woman he loves more than anything else, more than he loves himself, and she says he'll make it. She says he'll be fine.
He's going to jump. He knows it. He trusts that she's right, but… The ground's a million miles below, and the wind's rushing past his ears, and… Not yet. He can't throw himself out of the plane, yet.