Chapter 376: Karma
"Sure, I'll see her." Tony says, putting down his phone. Usually calls on his desk phone mean dispatch wants them to go deal with a dead body. Not today.
Today there's a call from the front desk, with a visitor.
One he really doesn't want to see.
"What is it, Tony?" Ziva asks. "You look like ghost just walked over your grave."
"Something like that."
"DiNozzo?" Draga asks.
Tony shakes his head. "Later. No way this isn't going to be a long story."
Ziva looks worried, but he shakes his head. He is worried. Why on earth would she want to see him?
She's older now, of course she is, not like she found some sort of magical time stopping device. He could have walked by her a thousand times in a thousand grocery stores and never noticed. After all, they only met the one time, not like he burned her face into his mind. But she's here, sitting in the break room, staring, glaring, at his wedding ring.
"What can I do for you, Helen?"
Dr. Helen Berkley, Jeanne Benoit's mother, looks up from the ring. Seems to be debating if she should even be here. But finally, glaring at him, she says, "Are you a bone marrow donor?"
"Excuse me?" Of all the things she could have asked, could have needed to see him about that, was… nothing he could have even possibly thought of.
Her voice is crisp and precise and slaps him with each word. "Not a single word of what I said was unclear. Are you on the bone marrow registry?"
Tony shakes his head. "No."
"Get on it! Fast. Before the end of work today. I am a doctor. I can and will take care of the blood work."
He feels the ice down his spine, knows there's only one reason why anyone would ask that of him, but he's got to hear the words, has to know it's really true.
Her eyes narrow, but she seems to think he probably is stupid enough not to figure this out for himself, so she says, "Because in December of 2007 my grandson was born. He has brown hair and hazel eyes. After what you did to her, his mother never spoke your name, but I can do simple arithmetic."
Oh shit! He nods. "Okay. And I take it he's sick?"
"She said she went to Africa."
"She did. Nothing about Africa prevents people from having babies there."
"I didn't know."
"No, you didn't. And the second she learned you had a real name, you lost all right to know."
"Yeah. Okay," Fuck! If this isn't every worst nightmare he's ever had of the hookup who's got news for him, all combined and multiplied by twenty, he doesn't know what could be. "What do you need?"
"You to get on the bone marrow registry. I didn't think I was unclear about that."
"Won't that take a long time? Couldn't we just… do the test straight up?"
"Mr. DiNozzo, you are not my grandson's father. You are, at best, a stranger who may be able to provide him with the bone marrow he needs to survive. He will never meet you. He will never speak to you. You don't even get to know his name."
Tony holds up his hands. "Set whatever rules you like. I'll abide them. But, just, let's get it done as fast as we can. There's no need to jump through the hoops or whatever. Jeanne's not here to see me herself, even to save her son's life, then she must still hate me pretty fiercely."
Helen bit her lip.
"Helen?" That's a warning sign. Something about this really isn't right. Everything about this isn't right. He has a son. With Jeanne. Who's sick and… Shit! He can't think about that right now. There's something else there, something about Jeanne, he's hit a nerve for Helen. Think about that.
"You lost the right to know about that when she learned you had a real name, too." But her voice catches on that.
"Is Jeanne all right?"
"You don't get to know! I have privileges at Washington General. We can get the blood work there."
"That's… Okay. We've got a fully functional medical suite less than a hundred feet from here. If you'd like to do it even faster."
Helen shakes her head. "Washington General is close enough."
"I'll get my coat and be there in half an hour."
He skirts the bullpen, going out the back. He sends a quick text to Ziva. It's a mess. Got to go for a bit. Back this afternoon. We'll talk.
How bad is it?
Bad. Not in danger, not that kind of bad, but it's bad.
Okay. This afternoon. Do I need to…
No. Nothing for you to do. Few hours, I'll be back.
He doesn't know what he's feeling as he drives. Numb. Numb is probably right.
"Was any of it real?" Jeanne'd asked him, scared, angry, hurting, hurting so bad, and it was all on him.
"No." God, he thought he'd done the right thing. Thought it'd be better to let her hate him. He wonders what would have happened if he had said 'Yes,' because, after all, it was real. He tries to imagine the life if he'd dropped the job and gone with her to… What? That apartment they were moving into, eventually a home in the 'burbs with a little boy who looks like him and a ring that matched one on Jeanne's finger?
Still be a cop? Moved onto something else? He sure as hell wasn't a Professor of Film Studies.
He tries to will that image to form in his mind, but it won't. He is who he is, and Jeanne's husband was never in the cards for him.
December of 2007, he'd be eight now. Brown hair, hazel eyes, and eight-years-old.
Eight-years-old, and no dad.
Of course Tony doesn't know that, not really. Jeanne may not have come because she married. There could be a guy who is this child's dad, but…
He can't believe that she could hate him so much she'd let her son die rather than talk to him again.
But she could hate him enough to send her mom to do it. She could be sitting in a hospital room, holding his hand, worrying for him, husband, the man this child calls Dad by her side, hoping that somehow he's the Hail Mary that'll get her boy through this.
He pulls into Washington General, looking for a space.
He probably deserves Helen jabbing him three times before getting a good draw. Deserves a lot more than that. There are a lot of questions he'd like to ask, lots of things he wants to know, not the least of which is whether the child is actually his or not, but…
But he's already hurt this family enough, and even if the child is his, it's not like he's got any claim to him.
It's not enough to be the guy who broke your mom's heart. Even if she broke yours, too. Though, really, Jeanne didn't break his heart. He broke his own heart by not being enough of a man to choose her over the job.
Helen tosses him a band aid. "If you match, I'll let you know."
"Okay. Is there… I… I know you don't want me to have any contact. That's… Not fine… But I'll respect it… But, anything you need for him, anything I can do, anything I can ever do, call."
"How noble of you," Helen says, her voice indicating he would't know noble if he tripped over it.
"I can't change what I did—"
"No shit!" Her voice is scalding hot with anger.
"I didn't know about him. Didn't even suspect. And I won't go tromping into your family. But, just, anything..."
She's staring at him, furious, and he feels his body go on high alert, because this is a woman who will physically attack him if he so much as breathes wrong. "Here's what you can do: if you match up, you can provide my grandson with bone marrow, and after that you can remember that somewhere there's a child with your eyes who you will never know. You can spend the rest of your life knowing how you hurt his mother, and how, because of your lies, he never knew his father. You can go to sleep at night with your wife and maybe your kids and know that you failed your son and fucked his mother while lying to her about every single thing in your life, including the fact that you loved her. You can spend the rest of your life hurting for what you did to my child. And you can spend the rest of your life knowing your son is sick, but never knowing if he got better, never knowing if he's alive or not. You can steep in the torture of that, and have it eat your insides out. That's what you can do!"
Tony swallows, wanting to step back, away from this rage, but not doing it, pressing the band aid to his elbow instead. "How long before you'll know if I match up?"
"Day after tomorrow."
He's been thinking of ways to say this to Ziva as he's driving back to the Navy Yard, but nothing feels right.
She knew about Jeanne. They've talked about it a little. Some at the time. Some since. She had a few Jeannes of her own in her past. She gets that that's the job, sometimes you hurt people, but you say it's for the greater good and you get up the next morning and you keep going.
But he can't for the life of him figure out how to start this conversation.
He heads through the metal detector at the front desk, strides toward the elevator, and finds himself hitting the B button instead of the 3 one that leads to the bullpen.
"I fucked up," Tony says, slumping into the chair next to Tim's desk.
"Mmm…" Tim's not listening, he's working on making sure that the test makes three separate ships look like they all began the programs on their own, while firing at each other. His fingers are flying over the keys and he's, at best, tangentially aware of the fact that Tony's in his office.
Tony stares at Tim, looking really hurt. "Way to show some sympathy, man. How 'bout you kick me in the balls a few times while you're at it?"
"Huh?" That gets Tim looking up. What Tony actually said hits him, and more than that, the look of utter desolation on his face, breaks Tim out of programming mode. "What's wrong?"
Tony told him. And wrapped up with, "Can't go to Gibbs with this; he'll snap my dick off for getting her pregnant and not sticking around long enough to find out. Don't even know where to begin how to say this to Ziva. I mean, she knows about the Jeanne thing, but…" Tony lets that trail off.
"Gibbs isn't going to be that hard on you. Franks didn't find out about his son until he was in his twenties, and Gibbs didn't have a fit about that. You do right by this kid, and you're not going to have any problems with Gibbs."
"Besides opening a vein and offering whatever he needs, what is doing right by him?"
Tim blows out a long breath. "I don't know. If Jeanne had been a one-night-stand or something, I'd say try to get involved in his life. Be a dad, or as much of one as she'll let you."
"But she wasn't. And she still hates me enough she sent her mom to come talk to me."
"And she made it very clear that I am never to have anything, at all, to do with this child."
"What would you do?"
The idea of being in this situation is so ridiculously foreign to Tim that he's got no idea, at all. "I really don't know."
"He's eight now, so he's got to wonder who his dad is. Of course, he might have a dad. She might be married, there might be a man who he calls Dad and if that's the case…"
"You want me to check her out, see what I can find?"
"Please." Tony sits there, glances at the door, seeming to think about moving, but doesn't. "What the hell am I going to tell Ziva?"
"Same thing Helen told you? That there was a very good reason why she took a year off before trying to get revenge?" It sounds lame as Tim says it, and he knows that, but he doesn't have anything better for Tony.
"Don't think that's going to cut it."
Tim shakes his head. "No. It's not."
The idea that there would be a downside to Tim's paperwork software never really hit anyone at NCIS until the software was up and running.
But, there is. Namely, they suddenly have way more agents then they need. When you go from, on average twenty hours a week of paperwork to an hour of database entry and five minutes of printing, you suddenly have a whole lot more time.
On the upside, the case backlog is dwindling rapidly. The cold cases are seeing more attention than ever before.
But, well, lots of time means lots of pranks. And Tinkerbell and Flyboy are right now in the middle of what, until this morning, was a vastly enjoyable prank war of epic levels, but is now, as Tony heads to Ziva's desk to talk to her and somehow triggers some sort of shrieking menace that one of his Junior Agents planted to prank the other one, rapidly becoming VERY annoying.
Tink's looking sheepish and shutting whatever that thing is up. Flyboy's grinning, very satisfied. Tony's eyes narrow. "If you have this much free time, you can go back to filling out the forms by hand."
Both of them look properly chastised and move so quickly to find something useful to do that they practically dematerialize.
Ziva's watching him, coolly, knowing something she's not going to like is about to hit her. "Here or at home?"
"Home" actually translates to their car.
"Do you remember what I told you about Jeanne Benoit?"
She nods, pulling out of the parking lot.
"Her mother called me, today." Ziva's carefully holding her face, keeping her expression neutral, and beyond knowing that that's a coping mechanism for her, a way to shut things down so she can process, he doesn't know what precisely she's feeling. Probably dread, she knows the next sentence can't be good. "Her eight-year-old grandson is sick, and she asked me to give blood and see if I'm a match for a bone marrow donation."
She stops the car. They're at the entrance to the parking lot, not a good place to stop. People will want to get in and out. So she drive eight more feet and parks them in a new spot.
"You and Jeanne have a son?"
"I think so. She told me he's eight, and has brown hair and hazel eyes."
She doesn't say anything.
"I didn't know, Ziva. Didn't guess."
"I know." And she does know. Even if this wasn't something they talked about before they got married, granted not for Jeanne in specific, she can do the math, knows, as best as he can guess, how many partners he's had, and how careful wasn't how you would have described him for the first twenty years he was at it. So, for the whole time they've been together, she's known a day like this was possible. "Is he really yours?" Obviously he can be Tony's. They had sex. A lot. She knows that; it's not what she's asking. "Were you careful with Jeanne?"
He shakes his head. Usually they were. But there were a few times. He thinks back. Twice. There was twice, and they were just in it, and everything was going right and it felt right and… "Not always." He thinks more. "The last time was a few days before everything fell apart."
She nods. "And he is sick?"
"Did she tell you anything?"
"Just that there's a child, he's a boy, he's sick, and she wanted to know if I was on the bone marrow donor list." He takes off his jacket and shows her the bandaged crook of his arm. "I gave her some blood. If I'm a match, she'll get back to me."
"And if not, you will never hear from her again."
"Yeah. She was very clear about this not being my child, and that I do not get any say in the matter."
"No, you do not."
She's still holding her face very carefully, and he doesn't know what she's thinking.
"Are you angry?"
"I don't…" She shakes her head. "Some. Yes. You should have been careful. Missions like that are hard enough on the people you leave behind even if you are careful. She should have told you. But it is long, long past. Long before there was an us. And I know, have known, just like you, that today was always a possibility. So, not too angry, but there is some. Sad, maybe? You have a child, and he's not mine."
"He's not mine, either, not really."
"But now that you know about him, you'd like him to be?"
"Yeah. No. I don't… His mom hates me, and she's got every right to. I told her it was all a lie, that there was never anything between us, that I'd faked the whole thing because I thought it'd be easier for her. Because then she could just be angry, and I could be the bastard, and there'd be a nice, clean break. And that's probably why she never told me.
"But he's sick, and he might want a dad. He might need one. He might already have one. I know nothing about him, nothing about them. And I don't know what the right thing to do is. I've got Tim hunting Jeanne down, looking into her. If she's married… If her son already has a dad, I'll leave them be."
"And if he doesn't?"
"I don't know. She still hates the idea of me so much her mom came to see me. She didn't want to be in the same room with me long enough to ask for blood. I can't imagine how 'Hey, how about you let me spend time with our kid' would go. For all I know, Helen might not have told Jeanne she was coming to see me about it. Or Jeanne may have told her not to, knowing that if she asked, I wouldn't be able to leave it alone."
Ziva shakes her head. "Her son is sick. She'll go to whomever can make him better. And if that's you, it's you. I'm sure she knows Helen called you."
They sit there, in the car, people walking past, looking at them curiously.
"I don't want to rip up his family. He's sick, and that's as bad as it gets for parents. I don't want to add me to the mix and make it worse, more stressful. I don't want him thinking that he was just abandoned. Don't want him thinking I found out about him and couldn't be bothered to look him up. I don't want him wondering about me, and why I wasn't around. If Jeanne's been telling him I'm an asshole his whole life… I don't know what to do."
She squeezes his hands, and then turns the car on again. "I don't know, either."
"Where are we going?"
"Home, eventually. I'm taking you to Gibbs' house."
"You think he knows what to do?"
"No. I don't think anyone knows what to do with this. But I think some quiet time with him will make you feel a bit better."
He nods. "What are you going to do?"
"Learn about bone marrow transplants and donations."
He kisses her. "Thanks."
Ziva drops Tony off and heads away, quickly.
He doesn't really notice that because he's feeling awfully scattered.
He heads in, and it's once he's in the house that it hits him, he's alone. It's a brilliant, sunny day out, mid-70s, birds are chirping. It's everything a spring day is supposed to be. Gibbs and Ducky, and maybe Penny, are at the house, putting up masonry or something.
So he's at Gibbs house, alone, with no car.
He's about to call Ziva back, but… Actually, alone time might be a good thing. He heads to the basement, currently empty, but the bourbon's down there, and pours himself a glass. Then he heads back up.
Tony takes a sip. For a second he's fully in right now, taste of bourbon on his tongue, awareness of the room around him, the feel of his clothing on his skin, and then the next second it's washed away by this: I have a son!
He feels dizzy at it, having to sit down. He has a son, and he's missed his whole life, and he's sick and hurting and in need and probably dying and his mother and grandmother will likely never let him see that child, won't let him try for a paternity test, won't…
He rubs his face. DiNozzo men don't cry, so he's not crying, he's wallowing in the epic fuck of all fucks this is.
His son was born, and lived, and got sick, and if he's not a match, may die, and he will have never seen him, never spoken a word to him, and yesterday none of that mattered but today it does. Today it burns.
Numb falls away, replaced by scalding pain, heart wrenching failure.
His son is dying, and he can't so much as walk in and hold his hand.