Title: Try Out

Author: Mooncat

Summary: After losing his wife, Vance is lost. Help to guide him back where he's needed comes from an unexpected source.

Rating: T

Warnings: Mention of child neglect.

Disclaimer: I do not own any NCIS characters, I just borrow them for my own fun.

Copyright: Sarah Diaz 2013

Author's Note: This two-parter tags lightly to episodes 10-15: Hereafter and 10-18: Seek. I thought it nice that Vance sought help from Gibbs, Abby and even Ziva – but couldn't help but think that there was missing some kind of a proverbial kick in the ass for him and who better to deliver that than our favorite very Special Agent? Before we start with the story, a big thanks to the wonderful scousemuz1k, my beta. She make sure that my German doesn't mess up the English too much, so all thanks for a smooth read go to her.

Try Out

Warm Up

It was late, like really late. Which was nothing new for Tony, he loved the quiet hours where he was alone in the bullpen, sometimes even the whole floor. It was when he could give his imaginative mind a rest and put a dent into the never ending paperwork that came with his job. He hated the paperwork as much as any other field agent, but as a cop, he'd gotten good at working it efficiently and under Gibbs, with his especial dislike for anything that didn't involve a gun or a knife he'd gotten even better at it. Besides, he knew it was necessary for the welfare of his team so he did it perhaps not happily, but definitely meticulously.

Still, perhaps it was time to give some of it to the probies. He'd be well within his rights, and frankly, McGee and Ziva could use the practice, especially if they ever wanted to move up the ladder. And he could use a few more hours per week of downtime as he really wanted to try to build himself a bit more of a life outside work.

Yawning, he stretched and leaned back in his chair, swiveling around on it as he allowed himself a few minutes of rest.

His eyes were drawn upwards as he heard the door to MTAC swish open, and he saw Director Vance leaving and walking towards his office. With a frown Tony checked the time. It was well beyond midnight. Turning back towards his desk he stared at his computer screen, not that the supply requisition form held any interest for him at the moment.

Granted, as director of a federal agency, long hours were as much part of the job as paperwork was part of his job as SFA. It wasn't the first time Vance had had to stay late and it sure wouldn't be the last time. Problem was, since coming back to work after his wife's death, Vance seemed to stay late into the night in the office more and more and often even when it wasn't really necessary. Before Jackie Vance's death, the director had always hurried home as soon as work allowed it.

Sure, maybe there was some super secret op going down or Vance had to talk urgently to one of their agents stationed in Europe, Africa or Asia or some agent afloat and he was wrong that there was no reason for Vance to still be here at the office instead of at home. But Tony didn't think so. He had excellent contacts amongst the staff of the financial department as well as the MTAC operators and usually knew if some hush-hush business was going on.

Not that it was any of his business anyway. Vance was his director, nothing more. He didn't have to worry about how he was doing after his wife's death as long as it didn't affect his team.

Right. Straightening in his chair, he put his hands back over the keyboard to continue with filling out the request form. And after that, there were more forms to be filled out if their team was to get its due overtime pay, not to mention that the reports on the active and cold cases they'd worked on this week had to be reviewed, completed and filed. Once that was done, he had a half dozen reports of other teams to review. All in all, he had more pressing things to do than contemplate his director's working hours.

But his fingers didn't move and his mind was still up there with Vance rather than doing inventory.

Really, it was Jared's fault. Or rather the man's fault himself, because he'd been the one asking Tony and Ziva to babysit his children when he first came back to work. Never especially good with youngsters, Tony had had little enthusiasm about this particular job, expecting it to be as disastrous as always when he was supposed to entertain kids.

To his surprise though he had enjoyed the hours with them and especially with Vance's son, the younger one even, he'd gotten along really well. For part of the evening, they've played a bit of hoops, the boy telling him about his desire to try out for his school's basketball team. Now that was something Tony could relate to and he'd given him a few pointers, offering to coach him some more if Jared wanted him to, not really expecting to hear from the boy again. But a week later, Jared had called and asked if his offer still stood and since then, once a week he met the boy to coach him a little. Which was why he knew for a fact that tonight Jared had had the try out, which he'd passed with flying colors or so his euphoric text message had said, not that Tony had had any doubts about that. The boy was good enough for a school team. He wouldn't exactly encourage him to aim for going pro one day, not at this point, but he could still be an asset to any team.

Besides, from his own experience he knew Jared could only benefit from joining a team.

He hadn't asked if Jared had told his father about his private lessons with one of his agents. Most likely, Vance, the control freak that he was, knew about it. Or maybe not, his head wasn't working right yet and it was a bit strange that Vance had never mentioned it to Tony.

But he did know for a fact that Jared had told him about the try outs, the excitement of the boy about showing his daddy the progress he'd made still ringing in his ears. It was what had him frowning now, keeping him from the work he was supposed to do.

It wasn't his place to give Vance any parenting advice, not even by a long shot. After all, what did he know about having kids? Nothing!

Groaning, he threw himself back in his chair again, staring gloomily at the ugly overlights. No, he had no idea what it meant to be a father, let alone a recent widower with two motherless kids at home.

But he knew everything about being a boy who lost his mother way too early and waited in vain for his daddy to show up to the important and non-important moments of life.

Sitting in his chair, Vance stared at the report in front of him without seeing any of the written words. Instead, like so often since Jackie's death, his thoughts drifted off; remembering so many of his moments with her. From back when they met, the time they dated, their wedding, their first trip together, their first apartment, the pregnancies, the births of their children. Interspersed with images of her body in front of him, her blood spilling out from beneath his fingers, her life slipping through them.

And there was still that doubt he couldn't quite shake. Most likely, Gibbs was right and Jackie had contacted a lawyer to start the process of the separation of their property in preparation for if something should happen to him. But why not tell him anything about it? That question tormented him because even if it was just a step on her part to stand on her own two feet if the worst were to happen - in the dark hours he couldn't shake the disturbing doubts that maybe, his first thought when he'd found out about this might be right after all and that Jackie had thought about a divorce.

He'd always thought they had a happy marriage, but there were tense moments and he knew, sometimes, Jackie had been close to the breaking point, that last final straw and he couldn't help but ask himself if maybe, his job had almost cost him his marriage, way before it had taken away the life of his wife?

Good, her last day on this Earth had made it very clear that even if that had been the case, she had given them a second chance. Oh God, how he wished he hadn't blown her off and never invited Eli! If he'd just put her first for once ...

But he hadn't and now he had to forever live with his failing that day.

These thoughts and memories haunted him whenever he had a free minute when he wasn't focusing on an ongoing operation or urgent business. But at home it was the worst. Not just because there, her life had literally slipped through his hands after he'd invited death into their home, but more because her ghost haunted him in every room, was in every last damn object they owned. At home, her death and the gaping hole in his life, all their lives, that it had left was where it was the most obvious. While he was at work, where she had seldom visited him, it didn't hurt as much to not have her there anymore.

A knock at the door jerked him out of his jaded memories and he straightened, busying himself with the report in front of him. What was it about again? Then though he remembered the time. Who the hell would disturb him at this late hour?

The door opened to reveal DiNozzo. Of course, who else. "This better be important, DiNozzo."

As usual, his sharp growl had no effects on Gibbs' second. If anything, his always present smirk widened as he waved with a case file. "Here are the reports for the Ryker Case. You said you wanted it as soon as possible."

Taking the file, he frowned at DiNozzo. "This surely could have waited until morning."

DiNozzo shrugged. "Well, as you were still here and didn't give any specifications other than ASAP I thought it best to bring it up once it was finished. Perhaps next time you can be more specific while issuing deadlines."

Incredulous, Vance raised an eyebrow. DiNozzo regularly was out of line, but telling him how to do his work was taking it a bit far, even for DiNozzo. "I'll try to remember that next time," he replied, sarcastically. Any other person would recognize this as the dismissal it was. Not so DiNozzo. He remained standing in front of his desk. "Is there anything else you need from me?"

"Oh no. Well, you probably know I helped your boy a bit with his basketball and I'm dying to know if he made the team?" the Italian asked, back to grinning, looking expectantly at him.

Yeah, he actually was well aware that Jared had taken an unexpected liking to DiNozzo ever since he'd assigned him and David to babysit the kids. He wasn't too happy about it, but it seemed to be one of the only things to still bring a smile to his son's face, so he hadn't put a stop to it. But he had no idea what DiNozzo was talking about. "Team?"

DiNozzo nodded eagerly. "His school team. Today was the try outs, right? Not that I'm worried, the little man throws a good ball and he's not bad in defense either. The coach would be a fool not to take him. Still, I'd love to know if he made the team or not. Surely, he told you, didn't he? After all, it's not everyday you make your first team and Jared's really been hoping and working hard to join it."

Vaguely, Vance remembered Jared talking about wanting to make the team and going on and on about DiNozzo and try outs and scores – but he couldn't remember if the try out indeed had been today. Had Jared even told him at all? He didn't know, but neither option sat well with him. Either he'd forgotten about it or Jared hadn't thought he wanted to hear it or maybe only wanted to tell him if he succeeded in making the team and honestly, Vance didn't know which was worse. For now though, he still had DiNozzo eagerly waiting for an answer he didn't have. "I'm sure he made it. Thank you for helping him." Maybe, him acknowledging the help would distract DiNozzo from the fact that he simply had no idea what he was talking about.

The agent shrugged. "No problem. I always liked to coach. And Jared's a good kid."

Yeah he was. One who deserved a father who actually remembered what his son was telling him. Damn it. Jackie had always reminded him when he'd been likely to forget something important in their kid's lives. She had also told him about the general happenings in their lives, giving him pointers to what he needed to talk or ask about when he spoke with them. How was he supposed to know and track all of this alone now? Conscious that DiNozzo was still there, he pushed those thoughts away for the moment. "Well, thank you. You should call it a night and go home, get some rest," he suggested because after showing interest in his son's life he could hardly throw him out just like that.

DiNozzo nodded and walked away. At the door though he stopped. When he just stood there, looking at his feet, not saying anything, Vance really was starting to lose his patience. He had made it clear he wanted to be left alone, hadn't he? And despite his contrary behavior, DiNozzo was far from being stupid. Something was clearly on the agent's mind but he was in no mood whatsoever to listen to it. "Good Night, DiNozzo," he told him firmly, making it clear once and for all that the agent needed to leave.

Looking back at him, his face was expressionless for a moment before DiNozzo let go of the door handle and came back to stand in front of him. "What about you? Planning to go home anytime soon?"

Enough was enough. Vance stood up, leaning over his desk. "That is hardly any …"

" … of my business, I know. And believe me, I couldn't agree more," DiNozzo interrupted him, sighing deeply. "Unfortunately, you leave me no choice. I'm saying this with all the respect I can, but Sir, you need to go home." Taking a deep breath, he continued before Vance could find words to express the rage he was feeling at being told what to do by one of his agents. For the second time in less than ten minutes no less. "In fact, you should have gone home long before this. Especially today. I get that you want to avoid the empty house. I imagine the ghost of your wife haunts you wherever you look, but …"

By this time, Vance had rounded his desk, grabbing DiNozzo by his shirt to draw him up close to his face. "How dare you? You have no right …"

"To tell you how it is? That your kids need you at home, not hiding out here in your office and burying yourself with work that can wait or be done by others? Especially now? Did you even know that Jared tried out today? Has he told you about losing contact with his friends because they don't know how to act around him since his mother died, which is why he so desperately wants to make the team in the first place? Have you any idea what's going on in your kids' lives anymore? Like Kayla skipping school lessons and failing in her science classes?" DiNozzo asked back but not defending himself. "Newsflash, what you're doing isn't working and sure won't help you or your kids! You better stop now before you lose them as well and I'll still be knowing more about their lives than you do. Which is just wrong on so many levels but then again, if you forget that you're first and foremost a father whose kids need him at home desperately, well, then I guess that's how it's going to be."

It was too much and Vance reacted in the only way he could. He decked DiNozzo. Hard. Made him tumble back, half falling onto his conference table. Gingerly touching the split lip, DiNozzo straightened, looking back at him. Surprisingly, there was no malice or even anger in his eyes, only resignation. "Bet you've wanted to do that for years. Feel better now?"

Vance pointed a finger at him, not trusting himself to make one step in his direction. "Careful, DiNozzo."

"Too late for that I believe," he simply answered with a shrug. "I'm well aware that my job's on the line here, a job I love and live for. With co-workers I think of as family. You know why I've risked that here?"

Vance flexed his hand, longing to deck the impossible man again. He wasn't interested in whatever DiNozzo had to say. "Leave now and maybe I'll overlook this episode tonight."

Shaking his head, DiNozzo smiled ruefully at him. "It's because when my mom died, it started exactly like this. Dad was never home much, always putting business first. But after my mother's death, he couldn't bear to be at home anymore and found every excuse to stay away. You're right, this isn't any of my business and I don't know squat about what it means to lose a woman I've been with for years. But I was that boy, Director, waiting at home for Daddy to come home, usually in vain. All alone in a big house with the ghost of my mother. You think it's hard for you? Oh believe me, it's ten time worse for Jared and Kayla."

Vance stared at him. DiNozzo's honest and obviously not easy confession robbing him of any words.

"Look, I know you're different from my father. You are a good dad, you love your children, usually put them first. But today was an important day for Jared. He wanted you there. And you weren't. Not because you couldn't but because you didn't care. He doesn't need to know that but I'm warning you, this is how it starts. You'll miss more and more, lose the touch with him, he starts to count you out, gets used to not needing you and before you know it, ten years pass without speaking to him." He breathed deeply and blinked. "Okay, maybe I'm taking it a bit too far here, I'm just trying to explain what you staying away does to your son. It's no fun."

Still standing stock still, Vance felt as if he had been doused with a bucket of icy water. He had been feeling guilty already about avoiding going home, fighting hard to be there for the kids - even if sometimes, once they were asleep, he went back into work. The nights were the worst, facing that bed that was no longer shared. So yeah, he'd slipped, finding more and more excuses to not go home. Apparently, not good enough ones.

"Just - think about it. About what you and your kids need. Maybe it's best to move, get a new place that isn't haunted by memories. I sure would have preferred it to an absentee father. And figure something out to ensure they are not alone so much. We don't mind helping out but you can't keep using NCIS personnel to babysit. It doesn't look good for the agency and your kids need something else as well. Nannies aren't the spawn of the devil, just so you know." Again a rueful smile. "At least not all of them. First they'll hate it, especially given their age. But if she's any good, that soon will pass and they'll come to love her. It's not about replacing their mother. It's more about having someone at home that cares about you. In the end, it beats any independence they may think they're missing out on. And she can keep you updated, remind you of the important stuff."

DiNozzo watched him for any reaction but Vance didn't offer him one. To be honest, he still didn't know how to respond.

His agent looked down at his feet, pushing the hands into his pockets. "Well, I guess I've said all I needed to say. I'll leave you now, let you think about it. Ah, and if you don't want me coming back on Monday, which I seriously hope is not the case, I'd appreciate knowing it as soon as possible." He hesitated for a moment, seeing if maybe Vance had something to say to that. He didn't. Nodding slowly, DiNozzo wished him a surprisingly quiet goodnight and left, closing the door behind him softly.

Leaving Vance alone with a lot to think about.


Author's Note: Big surprise, my one shot actually turned out to be a two parter. I know, with this week's episodes most of you probably don't think back to this time/episodes. But I hope you enjoy my little take on what could have been happening behind the scenes anyway. Second part soon – and Gibbs will have a lot to say in that one!