Title: Time Starts Now

Author: Beth Pryor

Rating: K+

Summary: Set three years after "Aliyah," this little AU offering finds Tony thinking he's moved on until a piece of his past turns up unexpectedly causing him to think about what his future could and should hold.

Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS or its characters nor do I own the characters from JAG or Bullitt, although they do play important parts in this one. The chase scene is of course at 1:05:15 and the second scene mentioned is at 1:19:10.

A/N: It's my first NCIS, and I have to admit I really didn't care for the show until Season 6 (Thank goodness for Netflix!). I'm looking forward to your input on this first try.

Time Starts Now

"Tony, what in the world is this," Lainey DiNozzo asked her husband as she waved a folded piece of paper in front of his face. Before he could grab the royal blue slip from her hand, she opened and read it, her face scrunching up in confusion as she scanned the page.

"It's a funeral announcement for Ziva David." She looked up at him. "Dated three years ago." Lainey cocked her red head to the side and bobbed it in his direction. "And I'm fairly certain that we paid $120 for her to have the filet and the lobster our wedding eighteen months ago. Eighteen months after this," she wagged the little card again, "was written."

Tony realized his hand was still extended to take the card. Now he dropped it to his side. "Um, yeah, there actually is an explanation for that," he stammered as he approached the table where his wife had just taken a seat, still brandishing the note like a rapier. He slid into the chair across from her.

"Like an explanation you can tell me or like an explanation you can tell me but then you'd have to kill me?" she asked skeptically. She was pretty much used to the drill by now, having spent the last three years of her life in the company of a federal agent. Actually, as she thought about it now, it was more like 2 years and 10 months, a full three months after Ziva's supposed funeral.

"It's kind of stupid, really," Tony smiled, trying to act nonchalant. "It was after Vance split up our team that time, just after Jenny, you know." Lainey did. "And Ziva had been back in Israel and working with this guy Michael Rivkin. They got pretty close, and eventually when we all came back together, we ended up chasing him and this terrorist cell and it was a big mess." He massaged the bridge of his nose, two fingers shoved under the glasses he wouldn't be caught dead in outside of the house. "I found out that she knew that he knew stuff he shouldn't have known, and I went to see her. But he was there and we fought. And he died." Tony left it at that, knowing that Lainey could put two and two together.

"Oh," she gasped. "Tony."

He shrugged. "It was self defense and was ruled so, and we ended up in Israel with Papa David asking the questions before it was all said and done. But she was so mad at me. Laid me out on the sidewalk, broken arm and all." He chuckled ruefully. "I don't really blame her. Didn't then either, but she decided she couldn't come back because she couldn't trust me. And frankly, I couldn't trust her either. She let her personal life bleed over into her professional."

Lainey, who had heard all about Jeanne Benoit from pretty much every member of the team, including Gibbs, worked hard to keep her eyebrows down.

"I know, it's the pot calling the kettle black, but that's where we were."

"I still don't understand how she ended up, I don't know, undead," revealed Lainey, although she thought she was following the story pretty well.

Tony nodded and continued. "That was her people, not ours. I'm still not exactly clear on what exactly happened, but she was reportedly killed in Tunisia on a mission of some sort. I really don't know exactly and if I did, I couldn't tell you, but they told us she was dead. And they had compelling proof. Even Gibbs believed them. At least he acted like he did." He shrugged, recalling how Gibbs had used his position to deceive the team before, but Tony had believed his boss' reaction to be real.

Lainey let her hand rest on the table. He squeezed it and slowly pulled the card out from under. "So Ducky and Abby organized a memorial service. We didn't actually qualify to sit shiva for her, not being any of the first-degree relatives and all, but I'm assuming her father would have gone through all the motions. They're nothing if not thorough, the Mossad."

"Anyway." He shook his head like he was trying to clearing an Etch A Sketch. "I met you a few months later, and about a year after that I found out that it had all been a lie. They'd needed to break her ties with the U.S. to go undercover in Iran. She'd never even been in Tunisia." He held the slip of paper up to the light, its Star of David shimmering reflectively as he turned it over in his hands. "And we were left with this." He looked up at Lainey. "Where did you find it? I didn't remember that I still had it."

"Your old black suit. I was going through that bag of old clothes in the garage to take to the Salvation Army. It was in the inside breast pocket."

"Oh, right. I haven't worn that for years."

She stood up and walked around behind him. He grinned lopsidedly as she looked up at him, trying desperately to pull it back together. "That's why I'm getting rid of it," she affirmed as leaned down across his shoulders and kissed his cheek. "The suit I mean. You should keep this." She pointed to the card.

Tony shook his head again. "Nah. I mean, she's not actually dead."

"Okay. Whatever you think." Lainey shrugged as she stood up and walked into the kitchen. "Dinner's in half an hour," she called back to him.

"I'm going out to the shed for a while. I'll try to keep an eye on the time," he promised as he headed for the door.

She stuck her head around the corner. "Wear coveralls, please. I'm out of that good stain remover stuff."

Tony nodded and walked over to kiss her. "I love ya."

"I know you do." She winked at him before retreating back into the kitchen.

He crossed the back yard to the outbuilding where he was rebuilding a motor for his "new" '68 Mustang GT fastback, the Bullitt model. He reached up to the DVD player and started the chase scene. Somehow it always calmed him. He wasn't sure if it was the 60's crime fighting music right before the seatbelts were snapped and the cars accelerated, or if it was counting the hubcaps rolling in the street or if it was simply watching Steve McQueen in his element, but it always worked for Tony. It was working now, and he felt that tightness in his chest begin to release.

His ability to hold it together in front of his wife back there had amazed him. After Ziva was gone, he'd pretty much lost it. Not pretty much. He had totally lost it. It was worse than anything with Jeanne or Jenny or Kate. There had been doctors and medication and everything. He couldn't help thinking that if he hadn't mistrusted her, he wouldn't have gone to her apartment. He wouldn't have fought with Michael. He wouldn't have killed him. They wouldn't have gone to Israel. She wouldn't have stayed. She wouldn't have died. She'd be jogging her usual route around the Tidal Basin. It was his own little game of six degrees of separation, and he always lost.

He'd met Lainey three months later when McGee had dragged him to Georgetown to one of his stupid writer things. Tony had tried to decline but caught Gibbs glaring at him as he stammered over the excuse he was trying to make up. He finally gave in and let McGee take him on a date. Little did he know, it wasn't like he'd been Captain Observant for the previous 10 weeks, that McGee had conspired with Harm Rabb and Sarah McKenzie to hook him up with Lainey, a friend of Sarah's and a co-worker of Harm's. McGee even had a little blonde on his own arm that night.. Tony started to protest until he actually talked to her. She was cute and smart, funny and well-read. Plus, one of the first things they'd talked about was attending, albeit separately, the most recent Screen on the Green, a showing of The Great Escape. She applied absolutely no pressure but remained completely inviting and represented exactly what he needed.

They parted that night without exchanging numbers; he just didn't know if he could go through with it yet. But two days later, he found he couldn't stop thinking about her. Or her red hair. Fearing he might actually be turning into Gibbs, he called Harm to get her number. It took him time to reclaim his inner DiNozzo, and maybe he never really did, but they eventually found something that worked for them.

She gave him his space and tried her best to understand why he still went in to work every morning, even though she watched the new lines appear on his face almost daily. Disappointments refused to roll off his back like they had before, and while she may not have realized that so much, she knew he couldn't continue on the current path indefinitely.

It had been four months since she'd brought home the book for the Foreign Service Officer Test. She'd quietly worked on seeding the idea of Tony taking a position on the staff of the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica. Lainey knew the Ambassador and his wife quite well and had completed her Masters in Latin American Studies while in law school at Georgetown. To her, a nice safe government job in a nice safe tropical country had to be just what Dr. Pitt would recommend for Tony if given the chance. She hadn't pushed; that was her specialty. But she watched carefully and hoped.

Tony knew she wanted to leave D.C. He thought about the patience she always exhibited with him. He considered how much she did care about him as the Mustang crashed the Charger on the screen in front of him. He wiped his face with the clean rag on the counter and pulled the note card from the breast pocket of his shirt. His fingers searched over the paneling for the loose board and pried it forward. He grabbed the aluminum band-aid canister inside, removed the rubber band and pried open the top. He shook the contents into his hand, although he didn't need to look to know what was there. A 1978 Topps Pete Rose baseball card (signed during the 44-game hitting streak, no less), his statistics final from junior year at Ohio State (The shit finally hit the fan with his dad that Christmas. Tony never had the chance to show him the 94% written on the top of the page. He'd changed his major to Phys-Ed at Drop/Add as soon as he'd gotten back on campus), the photo of Kate in the Catholic school girl uniform with its own memorial note card wrapped around the edges, the last note Jeanne had left him on the fridge written in her slanted Doctor scrawl, a debriefing slip from his next to last mission for Jenny with matching folded card, and finally the two photos of Ziva in a bikini he'd taken with him when he'd been the Agent Afloat. He carefully tucked them into the crease of the little blue slip of paper. Lainey had pointed out earlier that Ziva wasn't actually dead, but she still belonged here in his little box of lost causes. And he recognized that if he wasn't careful, Lainey could be the next addition.

Tony reached to stop the DVD as Cathy exited the car and crossed the highway to stand in the brambles down by the water with Bullitt following at a safe distance. He'd watched the scene at least a thousand times, but he didn't think her words had ever hit him as squarely as they did right now. He'd long realized how vastly the life he led differed from what Lainey must have imagined she'd ever get herself into. Tony understood that he would have to make the necessary concessions – not that everything had to change immediately, but he did need to try harder. He moved slowly to the door and reached for the light. And then, almost as an afterthought, he grabbed the Foreign Services book from the top shelf, tucking it under his arm as he headed toward the patio door, whistling "The Fishing Hole" as he approached. She was waiting at the door for him, beer bottle in hand. He pulled her into a tight embrace as he entered the house.

"What got into you out there?" she asked with a little laugh.


"Oh, Lord," she rolled her eyes as her fingers trailed down his arm and tangled themselves in his. "And what great words of wisdom did Frank leave you with today?"

Tony grinned broadly and kissed his wife again. "Time starts now."