A/N: Whew, it's been a while since I posted anything. I knew something was missing in my life. XD But seriously, I've been writing way more than I've been posting, and for those interested I thought I'd just like to give a blurb here about what I've got kind-of-sort-of done (some just need a little polish, while others need a whole shoe-store's worth…heh). All titles are tentative, too.
"Wrath" – 30k words (approx., complete) – This would be the sequel to "Instincts." I'm a little stuck for an end with this one (the climax ran off without me), but my editor says she's game to help me wrap it up.
"Survival of the Fittest" – 50k words – This story is the sequel to "Wrath," and it is DONE. Which is why I have to finish "Wrath," so that I can post it. (You begin to see my dilemma.)
"Neverland" – 80k words – This story also is in need of a climax/finale. I had so much fun writing it. It's a cross-over with SG-1, and a kid!fic.
"Untitled AU piece" – 65k words – I really, really want to post this AU, since I'm still quite enthusiastic about sequels for it. It's not a cross-over, in the proper sense, since I merged the NCIS verse with an original setting/AU-ish world and timeline. My sister informs me it kind of falls under the category of "steam punk." Think NCIS goes undercover as mafia (i.e. Crime Lord Gibbs, with a street-savvy right-hand man whose last name happens to be DiNozzo :D).
Misc. short pieces – 30k (-ish) words combined – One or two of these also depend on me finishing up and posting "Wrath" and "Survival of the Fittest." I'm working on it…
Well, that's what you can (optimistically) expect from me in the near-ish future. Realistically, at the least, I really want to post my sequels to "Instincts." (Someone stand over me with a whip, please. XD) But I just wanted to reassure you all that I'm far from losing interest in writing for NCIS, and I have been making lots of progress…all over the place (anyone have some l33t organization skillz they can lend me? :)).
On to the story:
Could you die from paperwork overload?
Tony figured he was testing the theory. He'd been dabbling in plenty of, he thought, deserved self-pity over the workload he'd been handed lately. Between being Gibbs' Senior Field Agent, and working undercover for the director, he felt like he was working three full-time jobs. Living up to Gibbs' standards meant punching extra hours to begin with, and in addition he was now seriously setting about wooing a woman, and doing surveillance on Bald Guy and Company.
So why, exactly, had he agreed to help the director? Oh, right. He didn't really have much of a life anyways, so why not spend your "spare" time endearing yourself to the boss of your boss? He got to call her Jenny, now—a liberty he needed to remember to curb in front of his coworkers.
Of course, he could argue that pretending something wasn't up was steadily becoming useless. Gibbs suspected (God knew how much), and Ziva was up in arms, convinced he was being treated for something terminal.
Yeah, he felt kinda bad about that. Mostly, though, he was too tired these days to feel guilty about leading her on, just so long as he was leading her on in a direction that wouldn't bring her to the truth. She'd probably kill him when she found out she'd been worried over nothing, and he'd let her worry, but execution Mossad-style was something to look forward to later.
Right now it was almost midnight, and he had at least an hour of paperwork left. If it hadn't been for the security cameras he knew were watching him (call him paranoid, but Gibbs had to have a way of knowing things apart from "dark magic," as Abby claimed), Tony might've taken a few moments to sniffle pathetically. The nap he'd taken while Gibbs was up in the director's office hadn't even taken the edge off his exhaustion.
"You couldn't have left just a little earlier, could you have, Zee-vah?" Tony muttered to himself, running a hand through his hair, and eyeing the reports yet to be filled. Standing on the sidewalk strumming a guitar and ad-libbing bad lyrics was all fine and dandy. It was the paper-strings attached, so easily forgotten about, that did you in.
He'd gone out to grab dinner, snarfing it down in the hopes of getting back here, getting his work done, and actually having a few hours left over to snatch some sleep from the grip of his all-consuming work hours. But, of course, Ziva would choose that night to be an overachiever. She'd been so intent on whatever she was doing on her computer she hadn't noticed Tony's arrival, and he was able to tip-toe around the corner to lurk impatiently until she was done. He'd all but fallen asleep on his feet by the time she left at a quarter past eleven.
"You trying to kill yourself, DiNozzo?"
To Tony's eternal mortification, not only did he jump—all the way to his feet—but he let out a subdued yelp. He was quick to wipe the started look of his face, recovering from Gibbs' unexpected presence as smoothly as he could.
"Geez, Boss, if I were I should've known I could count on you to ease my passing by doing me in with a nice, quick heart-attack."
"When'd you last eat?"
Tony should've been used to the way Gibbs pulled random questions out of thin air. He wasn't, and "Ah…"d unintelligently.
"Not an answer."
"Around ten," Tony grasped an answer, then qualified uncertainly, "give or take."
Gibbs was leaning against the partition between Tony's desk and the walkway, looking as refreshed as he ever did first thing in the morning. Tony was sure Gibbs' sharpness contrasted nicely with his own bedraggled appearance. On his last trip to the head, Tony'd seen in his reflection ample reason for Ziva to think he might have one foot in the grave. Maybe he was dying, and just didn't know it yet.
Gibbs was eyeing him as if he were pursuing thoughts somewhat along the same line. "Ten?"
He didn't have to make it sound as if ten o' clock at night were such an unreasonable hour to have dinner at. Even if it was. "Ten," Tony confirmed defensively.
"You got off work at a quarter to eight," Gibbs pointed out mildly.
"Yeah, well, I…" Gibbs probably already knew; Tony figured he'd only be embarrassing himself to hedge. "The Director wanted to see me for a minute or two," he said with dignity. He'd had a granola bar after that, which tided him over long enough for him to make a small dent in his paperwork. A very small dent. He'd left partly to satisfy his stomach with some real food, and partly because Ziva kept darting him "subtle" glances.
"Hmm," was Gibbs only response.
The noise made irrational irritation rise up in Tony. He might've felt less irritation if Gibbs had tried to pry for some more information about his meeting with the director. But no, Gibbs just "hmm"d at him, as if he knew all the details. Tony'd rarely felt more trapped by his boss's all-knowing self-assurance. If he wasn't all-knowing, he certainly knew how to look it. Right now, Gibbs' calm collectedness was grating to have thrust in his own very-harried face, and he felt just a hair's breadth away from resentful insubordination. So maybe Gibbs did know all and see all—so?
So…it made Tony feel unutterably, transparently, undisputedly stupid. It was as if no farce Tony could put on, no matter how carefully constructed, could make it past Gibbs' scrutiny. It was infuriating, and Gibbs knew it—and he didn't have to look Tony over in that bland way that was so maddeningly smug.
Tony realized he had yet to sit down again, and decided remaining standing was altogether too deferential. These were after-work hours he was slaving away during, and it wasn't like Gibbs was the king, or the president, or anything. If sitting wasn't the most defiant of gestures, it was what he had to work with, and he did it with his chin up, and what he hoped was a dangerous, don't-push-me gleam in his eyes.
"You have your initial report finished?"
"On your desk," Tony snarled back resentfully without thought. The thought that Gibbs had waited around just to check up on him was the last straw. He was tired. He was hungry again. He was being pulled and stretched in way too many directions. He wanted Gibbs to go away, and he let it show in his tone and body-language.
"The rest can wait."
"No, it can't."
Tony's hard stare froze as he realized he'd painted himself into a corner. Gibbs knew Tony wasn't about to come right out and admit he had other paperwork besides what he was doing for the cases he was working under Gibbs.
"Look, Boss…" it was a whiney objection; a temporary request for Gibbs just to back off for the time being; a plea. The words meant whatever Gibbs wanted them to, as long he turned around and gave him space. Tony was in no mood to play chess with someone who was worlds better than he was on a good day.
Tony was on the verge of demanding, like a petulant kid, that Gibbs just "Go away," when his stern expression caused him to hesitate. He tried again, "Look, Boss, I really, really need to wrap up a few more things, here." And thanks for the concern, but I don't need it any more than I need Ziva's.
"Whatever it is, DiNozzo," Gibbs nodded towards the pile of folders on Tony's desk, "it'll keep."
There was a promise attached Gibbs didn't need to verbalize: Gibbs would find a way to make it keep. Tony considered, and, even running on brain-dregs as he was, knew that Gibbs' promises were to be believed. But this was a bit awkward, any way he looked it. The managing of the monster pile-up on his desk wasn't all a matter of Gibbs' jurisdiction. Tony served two masters these days.
"Ah, Boss, as much as I appreciate…" Tony winced, stopping short of the word "concern," which wouldn't do at all to say aloud. "I just have a few…extra-curricular things to juggle right now, and…um…" I've been sneaking behind your back to run errands for the director?
Gibbs spared him. "I had a talk with the Director, myself, today."
"You…you did? Right—you did. You were up there stalling those guys. About the robot."
"Ah. A pleasant tête-à-tête, was it?"
"I don't care what extra-curricular activities you have going, as my Senior Field Agent I need to know you're running on more than two hours of sleep."
He did have a point. "What about three?"
"You're done here," Gibbs stated.
"But did the Director…?" Gibbs expression barred any argument. The director, apparently, had. "Okay. Your Senior Field Agent is definitely…done here."
Gibbs beckoned with one finger.
"Really, Boss. He's definitely finished. In just a minute, he'll be outta here."
Why was he stalling? He wanted to be out of here, several hours ago, in fact. If Gibbs had been given the green light to force his hand, who was Tony to argue?
"Now's good, Boss. Now's terrific."
"I have half a cold pizza in fridge," Gibbs commented as they stepped into the elevator.
Tony's eyebrows rose. "Let me guess, you want to know your Senior Field Agent's running on nothing but the best fuel, right? As appetizing as that sounds…"
"Boss, I do have an apartment."
"This apartment have any food in it?"
Tony's sheepish look answered the question for him. "A little." From the feebleness of the statement, "a little" probably referred to primarily condiments. "I'm working on it," Tony protested. "It's not even like I'm really that hungry…"
Gibbs raised an eyebrow meaningfully.
Tony cowed sullenly. "Not…very hungry. Boss," he still hadn't given up, "crashing your house this time of night, for a slice of pizza, doesn't make sense."
Gibbs mulled that one over for about two seconds. "Carpooling saves on gas."
The elevator doors opened, and Gibbs started towards the parking lot, DiNozzo lagging a little behind. "Stay the night." It had more force behind it than a suggestion.
DiNozzo ineffectually contested the idea all the way to Gibbs' car. When they got there, and Gibbs instructed his stalling agent to "Get in," Tony stood there looking bewildered, as if he'd been following Gibbs without thinking about where he might be being led.
"My car's, ah…around here somewhere." Tony chuckled, scanning the lot. "Right over…"
"In," Gibbs said.
In DiNozzo got.
"You sure, Boss?" Tony asked.
Gibbs engaged the car.
Tony rested his head against the headrest, and assured the dashboard: "Right. He's sure."
Gibbs took it easy on the corners, and by the time he pulled into the driveway Tony was slumped sideways in his seat, testing the limits of his seatbelt.
Tony jolted upright, rehearsed words coming out hastily, "Wasn't asleep, Boss."
Gibbs got out, smiling, but fairly sure that even if Tony'd had his eyes open all the way he still wouldn't have figured out what was so amusing. Tony followed him in much the same sleep-walking state in which he'd been led to the car.
All but pressing Tony down into the chair, Gibbs saw him seated at the kitchen table, then retrieved the pizza box and two beers from the fridge. The "thunk" of the bottles setting down on the table further roused DiNozzo, and sight of pizza turned him almost animated.
Grabbing up a piece from the box, Tony took a large bite, washed it down, and sighed, "I love you, Boss." He snorted at himself. "Suppose I should've waited for you to break out the lobster before confessing that, huh?" He took another bite, expression blissful. "Whatever. I don't care, 'cause this tastes really good…"
"Food generally does."
Tony ate two slices to Gibbs' one, politely disregarding the last piece, until Gibbs told him, "You eat it, or it's going in the trash."
"I think there's an insult somewhere in there, either to me, or the trash," Tony complained. He took the last slice, though, and finished it along with his beer.
It was only then that Tony seemed to realize he was under steady observation. Gibbs saw the lighthearted moment slip away in the space of time it took for Tony to come to a sudden, cynical conclusion.
Tony crossed his arms. "You're sneaky, Boss. But I'm not talking about it."
Tony scowled outright. "You know what." He blinked. "Well, actually, you don't know what—that's the point. You want to know what." He gave a brittle laugh. "I'll hand it to you, pizza's a perfect bribe, and the beer's a nice touch, too. But I'm not completely out of my mind yet."
"Didn't say you were." Gibbs tilted his head to one side. "And I wouldn't bribe you if I wanted to know something."
He could make it an order, and Tony knew it. And they both knew how a contest for Tony's loyalty, between the director and Gibbs, would turn out.
The expression on Tony's face shifted subtly from jaded into something far too careworn and desperate. "Please, Boss. I can't talk about this now."
It was only a verbalization of the plea Tony had been silently begging him with ever since Gibbs' had interrupted his paperwork. "Tony…"
"I realize there's no excuse—"
"You're a lead agent in your own right."
That brought Tony to a screeching, open-mouthed halt.
Gibbs continued, "You had to step up to the bat when I quit."
"Boss, you didn't quit," Tony adamantly denied. "Whatever Ducky says—"
"—Is usually the truth." Gibbs stuck to his point, "You had to take charge, learn how to shift gears. And then I came back, and you shifted back again."
Tony shrugged, trying to deflect with humor, something he was experienced at. "Hey, small price to pay, right?"
Gibbs mouth curved into a half-smile. DiNozzo masked a lot of things, but when it came to adulating his boss held nothing back. "You could've had your own team."
Apparently, he'd been dead wrong when he told Ziva the whole world would've known the day Tony was ready—the way Tony's eyes widened proved Gibbs' guess correct. The director had offered.
"So…what you're saying is that I can get away with murder now, 'cause I'm all grown up." Tony cringed. "Okay, maybe not murder. Bad…bad example, there."
Gibbs let the silence remain, then said quietly, "Ziva's been researching Y Pestis."
Tony looked at him with blank incomprehension.
"She thinks you're having a relapse."
Tony laughed. When Gibbs didn't laugh along, he asked incredulously, "You think I'm having a relapse?"
"C'mon, lookit me."
Gibbs did, not satisfied with what he found by a long shot. DiNozzo might be "grown up" in some respects, but certain things, such as looking after his own health, often eluded him. It remained, though: Tony was a good agent, and Gibbs respected his ability to make choices for himself. Whatever he was doing for the director, it had begun while Gibbs was on hiatus. Yeah, he might not like DiNozzo circumventing his authority, but Tony saw disapproval where Gibbs was only keeping a watchful eye. The director didn't know Tony. Jen had always been driven, and sometimes that drive blinded her.
"DiNozzo, if you hide anything as serious as a relapse from me, you'll wish you had the plague again."
Tony stared at him for a moment before breaking out into a slow grin. "That's a good one." His grin suffered under the weight of Gibbs' gaze, wavering. He laughed nervously. "I believe you, Boss." Gibbs didn't look away. Tony ran his tongue over his bottom lip. "Hey, nothing to confess. No relapse, I swear."
Gibbs sat back, regarding Tony with less pointed scrutiny, pleased at his results, and pleased to see Tony relax as well. He was still too worn, but not about to crash and burn.
"So," Tony said at last, tone drawling comfortably, "this means I've passed the Senior Field Agent medical exam?"
"Not until Ducky says so."
"Aww, Boss…" A look brought Tony abruptly around to Gibbs' way of thinking. "You know, it's funny, I was just thinking about paying Ducky a visit."
Gibbs finished his own beer.
Tony was fidgeting with the cap to his bottle. "You know, Boss, you really do way more than earn your paycheck…"
"This," Gibbs indicated the scattered remains of their meal, "is work related?"
Tony frowned. "Um…well, I mean, you checking up on me. Yeah, work."
Gibbs grunted his dissatisfaction at the answer.
Tony guessed again, "Um…no?" Almost embarrassed, he hazarded a conclusion, "Because you wouldn't've hauled my butt all the way back to your house if you didn't appreciate my sparkling personality."
Tony ducked his head awkwardly.
"Do you have any clue what time it is, DiNozzo?"
Tony squinted over Gibbs' shoulder at the clock over the stove. "Wow. One o' clock." He looked at Gibbs, and found the right answer again: "My bedtime, Boss."
The kid was catching on faster each day.