Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 307

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.


Chapter 307: Diane

Interagency squabbling over who gets the lead is the fun part. But once that's done, and the perp's behind bars, there's the much less fun part of alphabet soup cooperation. Namely, you and all your compatriots sit down with the casework, go through all of it, and then break it down into who's got jurisdiction over what, how, why, and all the rest of it.

It's long, boring, and usually as soon as you get something worked out the prosecutors toss the whole damn thing out anyway.

But you've still got to do it.

Gibbs entirely understands why Tim is sitting there, across from Fornell and Diane in the conference room, all of them with their laptops out, working on who gets what (The answer that seems to be winning: Diane gets all of it. Don't mess with the IRS. The IRS always wins.) while Tim explains how he got them to Bing in the first place.

And given the way Fornell was glaring at Draga, and the way Diane was watching him like she wanted to pounce on him while they waited in the bullpen for Tim to grab his stuff, Gibbs gets why Draga isn't in there with them.

But, beyond amusing Tony, he's not seeing any reason why he's in there. Not like his presence is enriching the discussion on any level.

So, while it's true that he's not doing anything particularly useful on a helping Tim keep a hold of any of the case. (Tim's doing as well as can be expected, namely he's losing. Diane is rapidly taking over the entire case. At this point, pretty much the only thing they'll be able to keep Herden on is assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Apparently there is a specific level of IRS Hell reserved for violators of the ACA, and Diane is gleefully getting ready to introduce Herden to all of its torturous glories.) It's also true that there's not much he can do, so he settles in to try and do what Rachel had suggested. See and enjoy the woman who's actually there, not just his image of her.

They saw each other, very briefly, last fall. Tim and Abby were honeymooning. He was happy from the wedding. She was happy with a new boyfriend. Fornell was getting ready to propose to Wendy. All three of them were in a good place, good mood. The case went fast and smooth.

So, the last time he really talked to her, when she dropped in on him back after she got a hit called on her and Fornell, was when he told her to not hold it against Victor that he was Victor.

And now he's trying to not hold it against her that she's not Shannon. Trying to see the woman who's really there.

She's dominating the conversation. Half of that's just her. Half of it is both Tim and Fornell are well-versed in the art of dealing with her. Path of least resistance gets everyone out alive and in one piece.

The heat, that's real. That's her and something he always liked. She's spouting regulations, quoting how many violations they've got Herden on, laying out why the case is theirs, and she's all fire. Her eyes are sparking, her words fast and hot.

It's overkill. Neither of the guys are putting up much (any) fight, but that was her, too. She'd keep going until she collapsed (after going much, much, much longer than anyone thought she could) regardless of if she needed to keep going.

That's something he feels a kinship to. He'd keep going past all reason, too. But two people together like that, probably not the best idea ever. Someone's got to know when it's time to throw in the towel, and neither of them ever did.

"Oh, come on, I am not giving you their bookkeeper! You are not investgating Grandma." Tim taking a stand draws him back from musing on Diane.

"What do you mean, giving her to me? His company was ripping off the VA. She had to—"

"No. Leave her be. She's eighty-four and senile."

"You hand over those notes, Chucky!"

"NO!"

"She's in violation—"

"I don't care. You can't have her!"

"Diane, you know those laws are so complicated every company in the US is currently in violation of something in regards to them," Fornell hops in, trying to calm things down.

"That was the point, Tobias! We'd have leverage over everyone. I can't believe you guys haven't figured that out. Company gets stubborn, owner won't talk, call us in and we will find at least half a dozen ACA violations. They tell you whatever it is rather than pay the fines. It's literally impossible to be in perfect compliance. That was the point."

"Yeah, well Herden's singing," Tim says. "He already gave us Bing, and we've got everything we need on him for his own for the VA fraud, leave Granny out of it."

"Chucky…"

Tim's got that very determined look on his face, made significantly more sinister by the bruising. "You just said the whole point of it was to screw people. You're not screwing her. She was doing her job as well as she could, and from what we saw her job was literally writing checks. Leave her be."

Diane glares at Tim, but shuts up, so, hell, maybe people do change. Maybe she's finally learned to occasionally drop things. Gibbs certainly knows he has.

At that point, Gibbs notices they're getting low on coffee. (In the sense that his personal cup is about half full. Okay, they aren't even remotely low on coffee, but he wants to get out of there.) "Coffee run, who wants what?"

Tobias leaps up. "I'll help. You two keep squabbling. We'll be back in about a month." He pulls Gibbs out and they walk, slowly, (without actually having gotten any orders) toward the coffee trolley.

Gibbs is easing toward the elevator when Fornell shakes his head. "Steps. Slower."

"Can't. Bad knee."

"Oh, right." He looks at Jethro's leg, as if he could see through his pants to the knee under. "Doing better?"

"Don't need a crutch anymore. That's better, right?"

Fornell nods.


Seth starts laying out cups when he sees Gibbs and Fornell head toward him. "Regular for McGee and I, double caff Sumatra, one cream, three sugars, two squirts of hazelnut, whipped cream on top, and caramel sauce, and… cappuccino for you, right?" Gibbs asks Tobias.

He nods. "Can't believe you remember her order."

"Only had to watch her take a sip, grimace, put it back down and glare at me three times before I had it down."

A small smile crosses Tobias' face. "And then you only got it wrong on occasion to piss her off."

"Something like that. Put French vanilla in it once to see what she'd do."

"What'd she do?"

"Gave me a thermos of what smelled and tasted like my coffee the next morning. It was decaf."

"Oh." Fornell winces. He's seen Gibbs sans caffeine. It's isn't pretty.

"Didn't notice until my head started to hurt and my hands were shaking."

Fornell shakes his head while watching Seth make up their orders.

"So… She seeing anyone these days?"

Fornell whips his head back towards Gibbs. "Why on earth would you want to know that!"

"Curious."

"Bull."

"Looking out for Draga."

"More plausible, still bull."

He glares at Fornell, who still hasn't answered the question.

"Best I know, she's single. But these days all single means is not married. She's probably got three or four Dragas lurking in the background somewhere."

"I'll let him know."

"Like hell you will. You aren't contemplating doing something stupid, are you?"

"No. Just asking."

"You never just ask anything."

"I'm just asking about this."

Fornell's not buying that. "Like hell you are."


See who's really there. Enjoy it. Heat, passion, intellect. Once they got through the territorial squabbling, Tim's taking her through what he did to find Herden, and though he and Fornell are somewhere between asleep from boredom and lost by the details, Diane is following along just fine.

She might not be a hacker, but she can see the money trail Tim honed in on, and understands some of the techniques he used to follow it.

He's showing her the database of Bing's fraudsters, and why he called in Fornell, and she's nodding along, pointing out that some of these people are legitimate businessmen running companies that get actual government grants and the like.

Tim's nodding back, talking about how the first link in this chain, the guy they found Herden through, had produced similar issues. He actually did genuine web work in addition to bilking the VA.

Gibbs thinks that in some ways Diane and Tim are very similar. Diane was the oldest of three girls. Daddy, career Navy, wanted boys, sailors to follow in his footsteps. Mom wanted princesses. She could never be enough of a boy to make her father happy, and wasn't the docile little girl her mom had envisioned, either.

Unlike Tim, instead of hiding in plain sight, she responded by being sharp and aggressive. She couldn't ever be a boy, so she'd scare the crap out of them, be harder and better and smarter than they were, and she'd make sure they knew it. Make sure Daddy knew it. But in the end, Daddy didn't much care. By the time they were getting married Daddy was on his third family, this time with two little boys, and didn't want to be reminded of his girls.

She was never going to be a placid as her sisters, but she was prettier. So she played that up, too. Her mom wanted pretty, so pretty she was. Granted, her mom wanted Cinderella, and what she ended up with was Scarlet O'Hara. Last he heard Mom was in Florida living with Gillian (her older sister) and her insane husband. (He only met Gillian once, liked her, too. Never met the husband, though he used to be FBI. They both did. Fornell's got some really bizarre stories about them.)

He sees, watching Diane and Tim working together, two very different responses to similar childhoods.

Tim quietly begged for attention by doing the job better, faster, spending more time at it than anyone around him. He'd light up when he was petted, and put his head down and work harder when he wasn't.

Diane demanded attention, screamed for it, hit him in the head with a golf club when he kept ignoring her. That's what she had said to him, that it was all she had ever wanted, someone to love her and fill up that hole. Someone who would pay attention.

And right now, he's paying attention.


Tim stands up and stretches. "Lunch break?"

The other three nod. Everyone is tired of sitting around, talking numbers, and a break sounds like a splendid idea.

"I'm going to head down and see if Abby's free. Back to it in an hour?"

More nodding.

Diane looks at Jethro, head tilted to the side, "Get some coffee with me?"

"Sure."

"Just got to freshen up. Meet you downstairs?"

He nods, pleased, and smiles at her.

"Are you flirting with our ex-wife?" Tobias asks the second the door closes behind her.

Gibbs shakes his head. He's not flirting. He's intentionally not flirting because part of this whole see the person who's there, involves actually seeing Diane, and if he's going to do that, really see who's there, not moving into flirty, romance, get laid mode is the plan. So, no, he's not flirting.

He is being nice, and considerate, and, maybe, looking at her longer than is strictly necessary, while listening very intently. And, maybe, smiling more than usual. Because he's putting her at ease, getting her to talk more, and actually listening to the answers.

Shit. That's flirting, isn't it?

"Don't give me that. What could you possibly be thinking, flirting with the Spawn of Satan?"

"I'm not flirting, I'm… being nice?"

"You aren't nice! You especially aren't nice to her. What are you doing?"

"Just, tryin' something."

"Well, don't!"

"It's just coffee."

"It's never just coffee with her. She's probably got five boyfriends she's happily off having coffee with. Hell, she probably had coffee with McGee. And she's been eyeballing Draga like he's an extra foamy mocha latte with chocolate and caramel sauce. You don't need to go down that road again."

"That's not… You remember that thing I told you I was doing, with Cranston."

"God, you make that sound like getting coffee, too. Most people would just say, my therapist said…"

"Fine. She suggested-"

"Picking things up with Diane? That woman is insane!"

"No. Just… I like her. I always did like her."

"That's the problem! She's likeable. You think you're getting this cute, little, sassy kitten, next thing you know your heart is broken, your bank account is empty, and she's having a kid with another guy."

"I know, Tobias. Not talking about marrying her again. Just, trying to see how liking someone feels. Without all of the baggage."

"You have an entire airport terminal's worth of baggage with that woman!"

So do you, so stop dropping your baggage on me, okay? Comes through loud and clear in Gibbs' expression. "Just coffee. Just talking."

"You don't talk!"

"I'm talking to you!"

"No, you're listening to me talk about you shooting yourself in your own ass and then rubbing salt in the wound and then finishing it off with a nice dip in a bath tub full of lemon juice." They spend a good minute staring at each other, Gibbs feeling frustrated, Fornell searching his face, trying to figure out what on Earth Gibbs could possibly be trying to do, before Fornell takes a quick breath and says, "Right, we're going out tonight and getting you laid. Look, I know, trust me, I know what you're seeing when you look at her, and I know it's been a long time and you're getting edgy—"

Gibbs holds up his hands and winces. "Stop. Right there. It's not about…" Fornell's still talking about how Tony's got to know somewhere they can find a girl for him. "Stop!" That finally ends Fornell's dissertation on the subject of getting Gibbs laid. "Don't wanna get laid. Just want to sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk to a woman I like."

Fornell doesn't look like he thinks that's legit, but he's willing to go with it. "There has got to be some other woman you like who will have a cup of coffee with you." Fornell is watching Gibbs carefully so he catches that little flicker in the back of his eye. "Okay, what the hell was that? There is someone, isn't there?"

"Yes, but I can't ask her."

Fornell's mid don't give me that lame excuse look when something hits him. "She married or something?"

"Yes. She's married," Gibbs says, relieved to get off of this.

"Well, that doesn't mean you go after Diane."

"I'm not going after her. It's not about that."

Fornell doesn't seem to buy that, but he backs off, curious about the new one. "So why haven't you mentioned her?"

Gibbs opens and closes his mouth in his I don't know, don't make me think or talk about this gesture.

"How married is she?" Fornell asks.

"Married! Doesn't matter if she's barely married or joined at the hip with the guy. She's married."

"Do I know her?"

"No." Drop it is written all over Gibbs' face.

"Only new woman you've mentioned in months is…" Fornell's eyes go wide and his shoulders slump. "Oh, holy shit, Jethro, that's a bad plan! That's the mother of all bad plans. That's the only plan I can think of where going out with Diane sounds like a sane alternative. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Jethro is giving Fornell his I am so done with you look. "Nothing. There is no plan. The only plan is have a cup of coffee with Diane and remember what liking someone felt like. That's it."

"Sounds like you remember liking someone just fine."

"Yeah, I like Rachel. Nothing I can do about it, so that's that. Nothing I can do about it is probably part of liking her."

"Like, seriously liking her?" The warning bells are all going off in Fornell's expression, and Gibbs knows he's asking, falling in love with her?

"No. Just. I like talking to her."

"You like talking to a woman?"

"I'm not completely mute!" He looks at Fornell, earnestly. "It's… nice, you know?"

Fornell squeezes his shoulder. "God, you are so lonely, aren't you?" he says gently.

Gibbs rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Fornell keeps looking at him, waiting for a response. Finally he says, "I'd like to not screw it up this time. I know I'm not in a good place for it, yet, but… yeah, I miss it." He looks away from Fornell. "I'd like to sit down and just talk to a woman. Ya know?"

Fornell nods, that he understands. "But, Diane?"

"When we weren't fighting, it was always fun. I liked playing with her. You, me, and her, remember the dinners we'd have?"

"Yeah." Fornell nods at that, too.

"It was fun."

"It was."

"I'm not going back, but… be nice to feel something like that again. I know how to push her buttons. She knows mine. And, maybe… this was what Cranston was thinking… maybe trying that, seeing her for her, not her for some sort of Shannon substitute… would be a good thing. She told me once I was using her as a human anti-depressant. Too much truth there. Might be nice to just see her for her, at least once."

"Tall order for one cup of coffee."

Gibbs shrugs, smiles, says dryly, "Might be pie, too."

Fornell snorts a laugh at that, then gets serious. "Jethro, don't fall in love with her again."

"I didn't the first time."

Give me a break is unspoken but clear. "How long you been telling yourself that lie? She wasn't Shannon; that doesn't mean you didn't love her."

"I…"

"I was there, remember? Steaks on the fire, sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, her cuddled up on your lap, feeding you little bites, teasing both of us. Us telling her about our different cases, sounding like big damn heroes. All three of us sucking down beer and laughing. Just because it wasn't fairy-tale, forever love didn't mean it wasn't real."

Gibbs remembers those nights. Hasn't thought about them for a long time, especially not in a way that recognized that those had been good nights.

"And I heard your voice when you got that letter. You don't sound like that if it's someone you were just fond of. It went wrong, Jethro. I fucked you over. You fucked her over. She fucked both of us. It went wrong in almost every direction it could go wrong. You loved her. I loved her. She… God only knows… I think she loved us, or you, at least. That's why it hurt. That's why it still hurts. And you don't have it in you to give her the attention she wants. I didn't either. I don't know if any man does. But you'll like her again, because she's warm and fun and beautiful and sexy and sharp… and you'll get sucked in, and she'll hurt you when she wants more than you can give. And, honestly, you'll hurt her because you can't be the man she needs."

"Just coffee."

Fornell shakes his head. "Fine, have your coffee. Tomorrow night, come to dinner with Wendy and me."

Gibbs is on the verge of nodding when he notices something in how Fornell said that. His eyes narrow. "Dinner?"

"Yeah, we've had dinner before. Food, at night. You remember how that works, right?"

"What else?"

"Else?"

"Yeah, you've got something else in mind."

"Wendy's sister is in town," Fornell says with a guilty smile.

"No. We've already got the same ex-wife. I am not getting hooked up with your sister-in-law."

"You'd like her."

"I don't need to get set up."

"Says the guy so lonely he's contemplating coffee with Satan Incarnate."

"Tobias…"

"Fine. Don't do anything stupid."

"I won't."


"Tobias try to talk you out of this?" Diane asks half a minute later when he meets her outside the conference room.

"Yep."

"What are you doing, Jethro? Trying to give him heart failure? Last time you spent that much time looking at me, we were still married."

He raises an eyebrow in question, looking her over intently. "You mind?"

"No. Nice to know you still like to look. Starting to wonder about that these last few years."

"The view was never the problem. Always liked the view." He smiles warmly. "Still like the view."

"Thank you. You're looking awfully fit these days, too. You and Chucky make some sort of get in shape pledge?"

"Something like that. Want some food to go with your coffee for lunch?"

"Sure. Know anywhere that makes a decent salad around here?"

"I know someone who'll whip one up for you."


Monday and Tuesdays are Elaine's weekend, so while they do go to the diner, the service is a bit less personal. Which actually suits Gibbs just fine. Elaine has heard of Diane, and… that's a complication he doesn't need to get into.

Mindy, the girl who takes over on Elaine's days off is friendly and efficient, but not prescient. They actually have to order.

By the time the food is sitting in front of them, he had gotten through why he and Tim are in better shape. (The quick version. He doesn't like to whip out Jimmy and Breena's heartache to just anyone. He may have indicated it was more of a passing on of Dad-like martial virtues to his two younger boys, and then a few weeks later Ziva got into it.)

"Show me some pictures," she says as he wraps up the story of them putting Ed in his place.

"Hmm?"

"That's what old people do when they reminisce, right? Chucky showed me some shots of his girl, and you with her. So, show me the rest of your family."

"You're not that old."

She laughs at that. "I'll be fifty next year. I'm old enough."

"Happens to all of us. They're making me retire in January." He switches around to sit next to her and pulls out his phone.

She looks taken aback. "I was expecting you to whip out a shot from your wallet."

"Tim got me this."

"And got you to use it?"

"It's… handy. Plus he wired it so that if you mess with it, it'll take your hand off."

She rolls her eyes. "You and your guns."

"This one has pictures of my kids on it." He grins. "My Sig doesn't do that."

She rolls her eyes again and laughs a little. "So, show me some shots. Got one of all of you together?"

"Got one of all the grown-ups." He flips around and finds the shot of all of them from Tony and Ziva's wedding.

"Oh, wow. You give away the bride?"

"Both times."

"I know everyone but the lady with Ducky. Who's that?"

"Penny Langston. Tim's grandma."

"Date for the evening?"

"That one and every one after it. They're living together now."

"I saw some shots from Tim and Abby's wedding. Emily kept telling me about it. She had a blast, she's still Facebook friends with… Harper, right?" Gibbs nods. "But the ones she took were of the other kids or Tobias. Didn't see a shot of you."

"Here, this one will make you laugh." He found some shots with him in them from Tim and Abby's wedding.

"Are you wearing a morning suit?"

"Yep."

"I had to pull your toenails out with pliers to get you into a tux. What did Abby do?"

"Pouted a little. Threatened to have a RenFaire wedding."

She laughs at that. "I would have paid money to see you dressed like that."

He smiles wryly. "You and everyone else."

She's holding his phone, flipping through the shots, and stops of the one of Tim and Abby dancing together at Tony and Ziva's wedding reception.

"They really that happy?"

"Yeah."

"Good. The night I slept over, when we were talking… I mentioned how things were going wrong with Victor, and he talked a little about how sometimes you need time to get yourself right before you can make it work. That sometimes the second time was a charm."

"Sometimes."

"Looks like it was for them." He catches the wistfulness in her voice, and sees the deep loneliness. He thinks that was always there, too, part of what drew him to her, his sorrow to hers. He catches another layer there, the question she's too hurt to ask, too burned by him and years of rubbing each other raw, the part of her that opened up in his basement, named how she felt, and watched him say nothing.

But that spark is still there. Hope he doesn't feel like he ever earned. It's still lurking back there, still striving for his attention and affection.

He very lightly, just the back of his forefinger, strokes her cheek. Her eyes close and she leans into the touch. "I'm sorry, Diane. Sorry I never saw you for who you are. Sorry I couldn't enjoy you for you. Sorry I couldn't let it go."

She smiles, warm and pleased, overwhelmed by that, for a second, and for one more second, and then on the third second she pulls her armor back into place. He sees her snap it back around herself. And he nods at her, recognizing it, as she says, "Oh, God, Jethro, did you join a twelve step program or something?"

He smirks at that, shaking his head, taking a bite of his meatloaf. "Or something."

"Good, Lord. I knew… I didn't know it was…"

"No. Not that sort of or something. Just… Remember me telling you that I'm not such a great guy to be?"

She nods.

He took the phone back from her and found a shot of him with Molly and Kelly. "Got a bunch of little girls gonna be looking up to me. Another one's due in December. Really hope Tony and Ziva have one, too, someday. Got a bunch of kids who need a Dad. It's time to get to being a man worth looking up to. Time to get to being the guy I was supposed to be."

"And this is part of that?"

"Maybe. Don't know. Doing a lot of thinking, lot of figuring stuff out."

"You're not dying are you?" She says pointedly, spearing a cherry tomato on her fork, lifting it to her lips, amused smile on her face at how intensely he's watching her.

"Hope not."

"But…"

"But they're making me retire. Tony's in charge of the team now. Tim'll be heading to Cybercrime any day. Duck's gonna fly soon. Everything changes."

"Yes, it does."

"Emily's a sophomore now, right?"

"Uh huh." She sighs. "We're starting to look at colleges next month. PSATs are next week. Her grades are good, and if her scores are high enough, she's talking about skipping her senior year and going straight onto college."

"Has she mentioned that to Tobias yet?"

"No, not yet. He's still debating going to college with her and sleeping at the foot of her bed with a loaded gun."

"He's not that bad."

"He's not that good, either. He's scared for her. Afraid he didn't do enough hands on dadding and that she'll run off and throw herself at the first boy who shows her any real affection."

Gibbs shrugs. He knows it's real. Fornell's talked about it. But he missed that phase with Kelly, and now it's a good thirteen years off for his girls. "Want me to help talk him down?"

"Sure. If it happens. Got to see how she does on the PSATs, might not be an option. But if it is… She's so excited to get out there. I want it for her."

Gibbs nods, he knows all about wanting good things for your kids. He takes another bite of his meatloaf. "Now that you've been back at it a while, how you liking have your own badge?"

She takes a sip of her coffee and smiles. "Feeling overshadowed?"

"Nope. Just curious. You spent so much time listening to us blather on about it, wondering how it feels to have one of your own."

"I like it. I really like it. Without it, I'm just a pretty numbers wonk. With it, I'm terrifying."

He snorts, amused. "You are more than terrifying without it."

"Then I'm the step beyond terrifying. 'Diane Anderson, IRS.' One guy wet his pants."

Gibbs laughs at that. They spend a pleasant half hour talking. Him listening mostly, enjoying it, because listening to Diane talk about something she loves is fun. She lights up, happy, passionate, and it's not like he can't sympathize with the high that comes from solving the puzzle and tracking the bad guys down.

"Should head back soon," she says after eating the last bite of the caramel apple pie they shared.

He doesn't need to check his watch to know they are already bordering on late. He's reaching for the check when she snatches it. His eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Not a date, Jethro. IRS will expense me for it, since I'm in the field today."

He nods and they head back toward NCIS.


Apparently, they weren't the only ones taking longer than was strictly necessary for lunch. As they got out of his car, they see Tim, Abby, and Jimmy getting out of Breena's car. Jimmy leans over, kisses Breena through the window, and she drives off.

The three of them start toward the lobby. Tim has his arm around Abby. Abby has one arm around his waist, and has her other arm linked through Jimmy's.

Diane sees it and stops, staring, then looks over to Jethro. There's a warning in her face. "Are they?"

He almost shakes his head, but doesn't. He's fairly sure Tim or Jimmy will talk to him before they jump in, and he's absolutely certain that even if they don't, he'll know, feel it if their relationship changes that drastically. He hasn't heard anything from Jimmy, and nothing new from Tim since April, so whatever it is that might be brewing between the four of them is probably currently on hold. So instead of a flat out denial of whatever it is they may have he just says, "Good friends."

"Good friends can be a lot of trouble. Hope they're smarter about it than we were."

"They're gonna be okay." And no matter what else may be going on, that's something Gibbs is sure of.

"I thought we were, too."

There's a gentleness in his face that only shows up when he's working with women or children. "We were never okay."

She shrugs, looking tired, little sad, and smiles, but it doesn't get to her eyes. "No. I guess not."

He thinks about it, in an idle, almost intellectual sort of way, as they head back into the building. What would have happened if he and Tobias could have shared her? Would have solved the pay attention to me problem.
Diane wanted more love, affection, and attention than any one man (any one Gibbs or Fornell) could provide. Together? The two of them? That would have been a whole hell of a lot of attention. And a happy, well-loved Diane was a treat.

But together wouldn't have solved the Shannon and Kelly problem. Wouldn't have taken care of the gaping Dad-shaped hole in Diane's heart. Might have helped with Tobias feeling like a third wheel.

And together didn't get near to touching the complications of him and Tobias together, let alone trying to share anything. One of them always has to be in charge. Even on cases, they can't really share; they just swap back and forth for who's in charge. Trying that with a relationship? With Diane, who also wanted to be in charge?

Could have been three times worse than it was just as twosomes.

Didn't matter. That ship not only sailed, it headed off to Valhalla, flames kissing the sky as the still living passengers burned.


She and Tim are finishing up the official who gets what draft when he thinks of his proposal:

"I'm not much for words.

"Most things are better left unsaid

"It'd be a lot easier if I could just pick you up, and we'd start running, and we'd never stop.

"Maybe I'll still do that. But before I do…" and he knelt down and whipped out the ring, and her face was soft, her eyes lit with pleasure and love and she grinned wide, and said, 'Yes."

Running. Take her and run, run away from the pain and who he was and who she was and just live in those minutes of sex and fighting and teasing.

Say goodbye to the past and their ties and… And it never works because you can't run away from yourself. You always come along for the race.

He never told her he loved her. Never said the words. Hid it behind the not talking thing. Wrote it a few times. Gave her some cards with it. But never said it, and right now, watching the late afternoon sun light her hair and eyes, he doesn't know if Fornell is right, doesn't know if he never said it because it was never true, or if he never said it because he couldn't bear to admit it was.

They're still talking through the final settlement of who'd be charged with what and by whom, and what they'd be taking to their individual prosecutors. He's got nothing to add to that, so he takes out his phone and sends a text to Rachel.

What if I did love her?

A minute later he gets back: Would you rather be a rock who used women you didn't feel for to make yourself more comfortable, or would you rather be the guy who couldn't make it work because if it worked that might threaten what you had before?

He's not sure if she expects a real answer right away, and even if she does he can't give one. They're wrapping up for today. So he sends back a quick: Thanks. Thinking.

As Diane and Fornell head off, bickering gently with each other, Tim says to him, "Have a good day?"

He shrugs.

"Fornell talked to me some before you and Diane got back from lunch. Whatever it is you're contemplating… Rachel or Diane… It's a bad idea."

"I don't need an intervention."

"And we're not having one. This is just me and you having a chat."

Gibbs glares, not hot, more of a back off look.

Tim raises his hands, peace gesture. "Just, you know, I've been so lonely that anyone who's even remotely interested in you starts to look good. No matter if they're good for you or not."

Gibbs nods at that.

"Gotta give this to Tony." He taps the folder with the agreement in it. "You want to come over for dinner?"

Gibbs shakes his head. "Got some thinking to do."

"Okay. See you tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah." Gibbs is in the process of stepping past Tim when he put his hand on Gibbs' shoulder and pulls him into a hug. Gibbs stands there, and lets himself be hugged, feeling kind of stupid, wondering exactly how much of what he was thinking was on his face today. When Tim lets go, he squints at him What was that for?

"Looked like you needed one. Besides, how long has it been since someone touched you? Saturday night? Friday? Whenever it was Abby hugged you last?"

Gibbs nods.

"You need to be touched. We all do. Took a damn long time for me to figure that out. Helps you make fewer stupid decisions."

"Think I'm about to make a stupid decision?"

"I hope you're not."

That gets another eye roll and a gentle ruffling of Tim's hair as Gibbs steps out of the conference room. "See ya tomorrow."

Next

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 306

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 306: Working Out The Details


"Good morning." He sets Rachel's coffee on her desk, and then sits on the sofa across from her.

She takes the coffee and arches an eyebrow at him. "You're in a surprisingly chipper mood. What's changed since Thursday? You and Tim come up with yet another plan to keep you on for another year?"

"No. I…" his voice trails off. In the rush of having a plan and in the mindset of you-can-tell-her-everything, the shut-the-hell-up instinct hit him a few seconds too late.

"You…" she leads looking very intrigued.

He bites his lip. "Stuff I tell you is confidential, right?"

"Mostly. Unlike, say a lawyer or a priest, the things you tell me can be subpoenaed. And should such a subpoena show up, I would have to turn my notes over. However, a thorough investigation of my notes will never reveal any illegal activities on the parts of any of my clients. I'm more interested in helping you than providing Internal Affairs with fodder for an investigation. If you're doing something that's against my own rules, I'll boot you as a client, but I won't write it down."

He finds that reassuring. "Okay."

She smiles at him, lifting her coffee, inhaling the bitter/sweet scent. He's added cream and pumpkin spice to it for her, a nice fall touch. "So, what has you in such a good mood this morning?"

"I think I found the next thing."

"Really?" She sounds intrigued by that. His email had seemed so helpless and adrift, the idea that less than a week later he had something planned out and ready to go seems incredible.

"Yeah."

"And are you going to tell me what the next thing is?"

He squints at her, fairly sure she'd be fine with it, but… Not like they've ever actually had a chat about US immigration policy. And some people really are law and order types. (But she's not. She just said she doesn't write stuff down.) Of course, some people actually agree with the idea that everyone who comes here has to go through the proper channels and that if they don't they have to leave.

And some people just don't give a shit.

And some people don't want to see anyone who's any darker than they are coming to this country.

But he's sure she's not one of them.

"How much have I told you about Mike Franks?"

Rachel looks at him, curious about what appears to be a digression. She's not following how Franks might work into any of this. She knows he's dead, so it's not like he could be doing much to help Gibbs. "He worked Shannon and Kelly's case. He got you into NCIS. He took care of you and gave you what you needed to know to go after the man who killed them."

As she says that, it hits him, she already knows he's murdered a man. Adding human trafficking to the list really isn't going to be terribly shocking compared to that. Probably. He's talking about pre-meditated, going at it cold, straight out breaking the law. This wouldn't be a crime of passion or revenge or a broken heart looking for an instant of peace.

"What do you think about that?" He sips his coffee, watching her carefully, seeing if her face matches her words.

"About which part?"

"Him giving me everything I needed to kill Hernandez."

"It's not about what I think."

The looks like standard boilerplate, but he's not sensing any condemnation. "I'm not asking for your approval. Just, trying to figure out how specific to be with the next bit."

"You want a sympathetic audience for your grand plan?"

"Doesn't everyone?"

She nods. And she knows that it's much easier to tell people what it is you intend to do if you think they'll approve. Granted, she doesn't think her approval will influence Gibbs' actions one way or another, but it will affect how free he is in the telling of what he's thinking. "You remember, the first time we met, you took me to your basement, showed me where to stand, and asked if I could feel that spot was where… that…" he senses that she doesn't have a word foul enough to describe Ari, "died?"

"Yes."

"Did I look like I had any moral qualms about that?"

"No. But it was a clean kill. He had a gun on me and was going to shoot. Ziva had every right to pull that trigger. Hernandez… I was almost a mile away. One second he was driving, the next second he wasn't. He wasn't a threat to anyone in that second. And… I had to kill him for me. If I was going to live with myself, I had to do it. But I didn't have to kill him to save or protect anyone else. And honestly, I could have shot the tires out, then shot his knees out, and brought him in. I could have made sure he stood trial. I didn't. I killed him." It feels very… freeing… to actually say it. Everyone he loves knows he did it, but this is the first time he's actually said it, said all of it, owned the fact that it was a choice, something he had to do for himself, not for honor or justice or anything like that.

"Were you right? Did he kill your girls?"

"Yes."

"Did anyone have any doubts about that?"

"No. Only reason he didn't stand trial was because he'd run across the border. Only reason he wasn't extradited was because he owned the local government there. Short of invading Mexico, we couldn't legally get him. Grabbing him to take back for trial to the US would have been illegal, too."

"Then no. I have no problem with that. What have you found? Your email sounded very lost, and you look more excited right now than I've ever seen you. Are you planning on killing someone?" It's a serious question on her part, and he can see how he walked right into that.

"No. Not killing anyone. Mike… Mike always played fast and loose with anyone else's rules. Hell, he played fast and loose with his own, too. He knew he was dying well before it happened, and started to give me his 'insurance policies…'"

"Everything you ever wanted to know about everyone at NCIS?"

"Pretty much. But there was some other stuff he gave me, too."

"What kind of other stuff?"

"Blackmail stuff. Very… specific blackmail stuff. Getting onto ten years ago now, Mike found out about his son, and his son's fiancee, Leyla, and his granddaughter, and… we smuggled her into the US when Liam, his son, died.

"Mike got it straightened out, eventually, she and Amira are legal, now…" Though it occurs to Gibbs that he doesn't actually know that for a fact. She works for Homeland, so whatever she has passed the background check. "Maybe… I'm sure her papers look really good.

"Anyway… I think… I think he kept doing it. All of the blackmail stuff, it was aimed at the kind of people you'd want to make look the other way if you were, say, smuggling people into the US. Or, some of it was the kind of stuff you'd use if you wanted someone to give you a visa."

"You think he was smuggling people into the US?"

"Girls. You don't have to do too many tours in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, before you don't even want to look at the men there. You see a guy with a fifteen-year-old wife, and he's already got a kid or two with her, and… and the nicest thing you can say is you don't want to look at him. He's probably not a 'bad' guy. He's some farmer from the middle of nowhere just trying to keep himself and his family fed. He's not violent. He's not a terrorist. He treats her as well as any guy treats a woman back there. It's his culture, but his culture's rotten. He's got no problem fucking a little girl. No problem giving his own little girls to some other asshole. And he's one of the good guys.

"One of the cases we did was a series of bombings to destroy a school for girls. Girls reading was too horrifying for those bastards, so the school had to go. They killed the teachers. They tortured some of the girls, too. Other cases, ones we didn't work, where they barred the doors and burned the girls alive. You… You see stuff like that and all that you can feel is rage. You stop seeing the men there as individual people. Some good, some bad, some indifferent. And you start seeing predators, start seeing evil." Gibbs shakes his head. "Not supposed to do that. Makes for sloppy work. But… Can't say I don't feel it. Can say I try not to work too close with the locals in situations like that."

"And you think that Mike was the kind of guy who'd have no problem helping girls like that get to the US?"

"I know it. We smuggled Leyla in. Liam died before they could get married. It wasn't legal, at all. Her family eventually reconciled with her, but… She can tell you stories that'd make you want to bomb Iraq back into the dark ages. Just make you want to kill everyone who had a hand in it or ever turned a blind eye to it. And if she got talking to Mike, and she would have, he'd have done something about it."

"And now you're thinking of doing something about it?"

"He gave me all of his leverage. There's only one reason to do that."

She smiles gently. "I'm fine with the assumption that Mike wants you to do it. That's not what I'm asking. Are you going to do something about it?"

"I'm tempted." Gibbs shakes his head. "More than tempted. I want to do it. Once we put it together, it was like a light going on. I'd be good at it. Probably couldn't do a lot. But an old guy with a boat and a 'friend.' Hell, I don't care if they think I'm a pervert buying sex as long as I can get 'em on the boat and out of there."

"Afghanistan is a landlocked country."

He flashes her his don't bother me with stupid details look. "Doesn't have to be Afghanistan. Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia they've all got ports."

"And they're lousy places to be a girl."

He nods. "Pakistan's not a picnic, either. India's got a lot of honor killings. Not like it'd be hard to find a place. Probably wouldn't be hard to find them on this side of the world, either."

"So, how do you find the girls? I'm assuming you're not planning on just sailing over and kidnapping some."

"I don't know. You're right, you don't just run up and grab a few. Gotta find the ones who want out. And Mike didn't leave me anything on how he found the girls. Or if he did, I haven't figured it out yet."

Rachel pulls him a bit closer to reality. "If he found girls. You don't actually know that's what he was doing."

"It fits."

"And it makes you happy, gives you a sense of purpose." She's giving him that knowing look, filling in the is this what he was doing or is this what you want him to have been doing with her expression.

"Yeah."

"Say you dig into this and find that Mike was doing something else. Then what?"

"I don't know. I like the idea of this. Even if I could only get one out a year…"

"If you can't do this… If you can't find someone to hook you up with girls in need of transport, then what?"

"The same problem I had before. I might find something else, but I won't be as good at it as I was at being a cop. Say I signed up to be an EMT, yes, it's useful, it'll save lives, but it's not what I'm best at. Any other EMT will do as good of a job as I could, if not better. And what I'm best at, looking at people figuring them out, solving puzzles, I won't be doing anymore."

"Cold cases?"

"Leon's offered. I'll probably take him up on them. I'll be ripping my hair out because they won't let me in the field for more than ten days a year. It'll be my job to go through the paperwork on dead cases, see if there's anything that still can be found, then tell someone else to go find it.

"If something else is people, they might let me do interrogations. Don't need fast reflexes for that, just a good brain. Or not, there're plenty of Probies who'll need practice, and it's not like there's any rush on a cold case."

"Private detective? Your friend Fornell, he'll be hitting the mandatory retirement age soon, too, right? You two could partner up."

"FBI lets team leaders stick around until 62. Tobias still has another year and if they bump him up one more level, another four because you get to hang on to 65 if you hit management. Emily'll be going to college soon. I know they've got plans for traveling and stuff like that once she's out of the nest."

"What was your original plan?"

"Have Shannon finished by now. Wake up, deal with the hangover from the retirement party, then out to sea. Float around until I got it out of my system. Come home four, six, eight months, however long, later. Maybe not come back at all."

"So, it's safe to say that plan's well out of date."

"Can't miss eight months of my girls. Eight months from now Kelly'll be unrecognizable, and Molly'll be two and a half… Anna's due in December, miss eight months with her she'll go from a bright pink peanut to… like Kelly, unrecognizable." He shakes his head. "Not heading off for more than a few weeks…" He thinks of how long it'd take to get to the middle east and back by Shannon. "Three months, tops, now."

"Which means you need to solve the problem, not run away from it."

"Yeah. And this… This solves the problem. I can pick up new languages fast. And if I could find someone to get the girls to the Black Sea… I already speak Russian, and Leon's offering me a shot to go spend some time in the Crimea, keep an eye on things."

"That sounds dangerous. Mixing those jobs."

He nods. "Be good cover though. Depends on the girl. If she's a child… Grandpa and his girl doing some touristy things. Give her some time to work on her English before hitting the States. If you start somewhere where no one else speaks English, no one will notice if hers is bad."

"What happens to her after she gets to the States? Are you planning on adopting a collection of girls?"

"No. Mike had to do something with them."

"If that's what he was doing."

"If… And if he wasn't… I could do it. I'd be good at it. I've got good connections. I don't know about either of the ends, but I can handle the middle part. I've got the boat, just have to finish it. I'm old and white and speak perfect English and I'm a retired cop and Marine, Coast Guard isn't going to look twice at me. Shannon's small enough… And… I was talking with the kids a bit about maybe finding a place on the Chesapeake, maybe the Potomac, if it had its own pier… Wouldn't have to deal with customs or docking fees or any of the rest of it. Just an old guy, maybe with a dog, on a boat. Look like I'm out for a day or two with my girl."

Rachel smiles at him. "It's a nice fantasy."

"Yes."

"What would you do about making it real?"

"Finish the damn boat. There's step one. Talk to Leyla, that'd be step two. Can't do anything if I can't find the girls."

"You think maybe she was involved?"

"I don't know. Knowing Mike, probably not. He would have wanted to keep her as out of it as he could. But she might still have a clue as to who to talk to."

"And by then, you'll have the boat finished?"

"Yeah. I don't want to be messing around with blackmailing ICE agents or the TSA guys at the airport, trying to get them to look away. I'd go old school. Boat, quiet bit of beach, blend in, just another sailor on vacation. The east coast is really big, there's got to be some bits of it no one's watching too closely."

"Or like you said, Grandad out with his girl, assuming the girl's young enough, doesn't matter if anyone is watching. You just stroll on out like it's the most normal thing ever."

"Go out enough with my own girls, get a reputation for being the old guy with the pile of kids on his boat all the time anyway. They might just assume I was out with the kids and some of their friends."

"I have a feeling that won't work for a few years at least."

"Probably not. But in a decade… Fifteen years…"

"Would you want to involve your whole family in this? Mike didn't tell you about this while he was alive for a reason, right?"

"Yeah. If he was doing it… Yeah. If he told me, it'd have put me in a bad situation."

"And if you tell your kids…"

"Same thing."

She looks at him knowingly. "It does seem like this has given you a lot to think about."

"Yeah."

"I also take it that you couldn't care less about the whole illegal thing?"

He nods.

"How about channeling your energy in a more… socially acceptable direction?"

"Like what?"

"Getting involved politically. Trying to get our immigration laws changed? Trying to make it easier for girls like the ones you're talking about to get asylum?"

He shakes his head. "Rather do good than talk about good." He thinks about that for another second. "Wouldn't be good at it. No patience for bullshit. Jen was good at it. Leon's good at it. Me, I'd sit there for five minutes, until my blood pressure shot so high I could feel my pulse in my eyes, and then I'd storm out and go shoot things to blow off steam. Not my thing."

"It could be your thing."

He shakes his head. "Even if it was, we're not talking about girls who can just head over to the consulate and sign up for a visa. Someone still needs to get them out safe."

"And clandestine missions, you and a boat and the open sea, swooping in and saving the day, doing the impossible job, that's your thing?"

He nods vehemently. "That's my thing!"

"And it's very important to you to be not just good, but excellent at what you do?"

The thinks about that for a moment. "Yeah, it is."

"How are you with learning new things?"

"Usually pick things up pretty quick."

That isn't what she's trying to get him to think about so she shifts the question a little. "How are you with someone teaching you something new? Someone you don't know or respect?"

That gets a shrug. He didn't bite Tim's head off when he was setting up the computer, and he did call about the gchat thing, but it's also true that now that it's up and running he'd rather take six hours looking for help online than ask a stranger for help.

"This girl rescue idea, this doesn't require you to learn something new from someone. Not as a student. You'd have to investigate, track down leads, then find the girls, then infiltrate, sail, land somewhere, smuggle them in. You might need to spend a lot of time with Rosetta Stone picking up Farsi or Arabic, but letting someone else see that you don't know what you're doing wouldn't be part of it, right?"

He nods in concession of that.

"But, say, signing up to be an EMT, that would require you to learn someone else's system, be the low man on the totem pole, deal with another person's rules, take orders from someone else. Realistically, as an EMT, you'd be saving lives every week. Good at it or not, you'd still be there getting people to the hospital when they needed to go."

He nods at that, too.

She looks at him, sipping her coffee, not saying anything.

He sips his too, also not saying anything. She's got a very good point, but not one he wants to comment on, not right now.

She sees that, nods, allowing him time to think about it, and says, "How are things going with Tony?"

He tells her about Jimmy's fake it 'til you feel it' plan, and how he'd put it into action the night before.

"I have a feeling I'd like Jimmy."

"You haven't met him?"

She shakes her head. "Saw him in passing for a few seconds. But we've never sat down and had a conversation. So, how did faking it feel?"

"Uncomfortable. Once we got into the work, it was better. Once I figured it out, and the light flicked on, and Tony wasn't so much the… Tim's got a word for it… harbinger?" Rachel nods, that word will do. "The image of things ending, it was a lot easier. I think we were in good shape as I packed everything up and we all agreed to pretend we had no idea what Franks was up to."

"But you haven't gotten back to work, yet."

"No I'm—" he's about to say heading straight there from here when his phone buzzes. He takes it out, glances at the screen, texts back to Tony, and sighs.

"What, something wrong?"

"Not… wrong. Did I tell you about the last case?"

"Just a little."

He fills her in on how Tim handed the case over to Fornell, and how Tony just got a call from Fornell, requesting Tim and the NCIS conference room, so that he, Diane, who is an IRS investigator, and Fornell could go through everything together, cutting the case into pieces, and how Tony had just, gleefully, sent him orders to accompany Tim. "Not that there's much I can add. I was here while Tim and Draga were up there handling the last bit, but I think Tony's looking at having me handle them as a sort of payback."

"Excellent," she says with a smile. "So… is Diane seeing anyone? Thinking about finding yourself a quiet bit of parking lot?"

He glares at her, but there's no anger in it. "I think I said something about being drunk, flirty, and at a wedding for that to happen."

Her expression says that she considered those aspects negotiable.

He shakes his head. "No. We'll snipe at each other, and…" He shakes his head again.

"I'm not saying you need to fall in love with her. But, enjoy it… Without feeling guilty about it. Take the time to see the woman who's really there, and enjoy her. Doesn't have to be romantic or sexual."

"Is this today's homework assignment?"

"Yep. You don't need my help on figuring out the mechanics of what happens next. And it sounds like you won't move in that direction for a while, yet." He nods, besides working on Shannon, getting her done, adding some less than common modifications to her interior design, he won't move on that until he's officially retired. "Meanwhile, you've got a chance to experiment with something here, namely letting yourself genuinely feel an emotional response to a woman you like. Just go with it. See where you end up. It's supposed to be fun, so let yourself have some fun."

Next

Monday, April 7, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 305

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 305  : The New Path


A/N: Quick reminder Anonymous Was A Woman happened after STAW went off the cannon. More at the end.


Gibbs thought about it the whole ride home, what had Franks been up to?

Whatever it was, he wasn't doing it when Gibbs stayed with him that one summer. Or, if he was doing it, whatever it was didn't involve doing anything for four months at a time.

But Gibbs didn't think he was doing, whatever it was, back then.

But the last few years… especially after the Doc said it was cancer… he was doing something. Wouldn't say what. And, thinking about it, Gibbs doesn't know why he thought Franks was up to something. There were no obvious tells. Mike wasn't asking him for favors or anything. But… there was something.

He knew it in his gut.

Or maybe he just knew Mike so well that he knew there had to be more to it than laying on the beach drunk all day long. Even Mike couldn't do that for a decade at a time.

So, what was he doing?


The box. (technically, boxes) Gibbs had had it for years. All of Franks' "insurance policies." Everything he ever knew about anyone that he could use for leverage.

Gibbs built the false wall behind his bookshelf, stuck the collection of stuff Franks had given him in it, and left it there. And though he added to it as Mike gave him more and more stuff, he never opened any of it.

Because, unlike Franks, he was never so much of a loose cannon that he needed to blackmail people into letting him keep doing the job. Never bent the rules so far that he'd have to keep a loaded gun to make sure that no one would smack him for it.

Well, that's not true.

Unlike Mike, he never felt like he deserved to wiggle out of getting smacked for the rules he'd bent or broken.

So, there was a sense of… trepidation as he opened the box. A sense of peeking behind curtains he never meant to touch.

On the upside, if it can be called an upside, by now most of the things he was looking at were moot. The cases were over, the people involved dead. The entire first box was filled with dead men on dead cases. Things that happened not just before his time, but in several cases, ended before his time as well.

The second box caught up to when he began at NIS. Not exactly current events, but at people he knew, cases he heard of, some he'd been on as a Probie. He refused to look into the file marked "Leon Vance," though he found the quote marks around Leon's name ominous.

And, it was true that he felt dirty by reading through them. These weren't just the skeletons in the closets; these files told the tales of the monsters that put those skeletons there. All 'greater good' arguments aside, there was some awfully shoddy work in these files and a boat load of men who deserved to sleep poorly because of it.

Worse than that, there were signs that the people he knew, respected, men who helped him to anchor himself when he was lost after Shannon and Kelly, were full of shit when it came to doing the job and doing it right.

That was probably part of not opening Leon's file. He doesn't want to know if Leon's full of shit, too. Doesn't want to know how many bodies Leon had to bury to get to where he is.

But for most of these files, and the men represented by them, they've passed to eternal sleep. And for almost all of the others, retirement has come and taken them off every case, forever.

Gibbs burnt the dead files without thinking twice. Nothing left to do with them. The ones where any of the agents were still alive, he kept, one day those cases may open again.

He looked at Leon's one last time, and tossed it on the fire, as well. Whatever was in there, he didn't need to know. Whoever Leon was, the man he is now will own up and act right if it ever comes back at him. Gibbs trusted that. Gibbs needed to trust that.

In the last box, the one Franks gave him right before he died, there are clues to something different. There are files on Coast Guard employees, on Federales and Mounties, on members of the TSA and the FAA, ICE, there are a bunch from the Border patrol, both on the Mexican and Canadian sides, there are files on high ranking officials at the Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia airports, and there are dossiers on people in different US Embassies.

These were all, as much as they can be, Frank's has been dead since '11, up to date. These were recent files on men still doing the job. These were also, unlike the others, which were mostly case files highlighting shoddy or flat out illegal work, straight up blackmail, lists of mistresses, gambling debts, embarrassing past activities, that sort of thing.

They're clues, but beyond the fact that everyone Franks had a file on was involved in some sort of travel or border thing… Gibbs wasn't seeing it.

"God, Mike, what the hell were you doing?"

He looked at the files in front of him again. FAA, Coast Guard, TSA, Border Patrol, ICE, airport officials…
"Smuggling?"

He looks around for a moment, willing Mike's ghost to pop up and tell him, but he doesn't. The Embassies are all in the middle east… Opium? If it meant making sure that Leyla and Amira never wanted for anything… If the payout was big, and he was dying already… Yeah, he'd do it in a heartbeat.

"Mike…"

Not drugs. Keep thinkin', Probie, you'll figure it out.

He doesn't see Mike, but the voice is clear.

"Thinking about what?"

Left you all the clues you need. Practically spelled it out. Just keep thinkin', you'll get there.


Thinking about it through church didn't help. The only answer he can think of, drugs, doesn't make any sense.

Actually, no, it makes perfect sense.

He can see what Mike's got set up is some sort of smuggling ring. With Mike's background in law enforcement and the military he'd have had good connections for drugs or guns.

But… he wouldn't leave that lying around for Gibbs. Mike knew there was no way he'd touch anything like that, and Mike wouldn't have given him all of this if he didn't expect him to eventually pick it up and use it.

So, it can't be drugs. Just. No. Never. Wouldn't matter how bad off their family was, how much they were hurting for cash. He'd hire out for wet work before running drugs.

Guns… Not like he couldn't think of people he wouldn't mind getting their hands on some good weapons. He was sure Franks felt the same way… (Though, given what he can see, this looked like Mike was moving something into the USA, and Gibbs really hoped he wasn't arming groups inside the US.) But… TSA? Airport officials? Immigration? Passport officials at different consulates? Guns are big, heavy, take up a lot of space. That's not who you call in for running guns.

It's who you call in to get a cover ID for someone who was running drugs…

Sort of… But… No, there isn't a document guy in the list of files Mike had. There's a list of people who you ask to turn a blind eye. Some you might ask for help. But you don't go to the US Consulate and bribe the Ambassador in an effort to get fake papers. You do that to get real ones, in a hurry.

He was distracted at Sunday dinner, still thinking through the problem, wondering. That got some minor ribbing from various Slaters, but in that he wasn't paying attention, it didn't much matter.

He's tempted to skip Bootcamp. Tim's not fighting, not risking getting a hit to the face today, and he can't, either, not really, and with just Ziva and Jimmy there, they might decide he needs to do some of that god-awful stretching stuff they're so fond of in an effort to get his knee back to functional.

The PT guy already has him doing a shit ton of it, and he hates it because it hurts like a son of a bitch and doesn't seem to be helping much. And with only Jimmy and Ziva able to fight, they'll probably do a few rounds and then make him stretch with them while Jimmy explains, at length, about how all of him needs to be loose and supple if he's going to really get back to fighting prime. (Sometimes having a doctor for one of your kids is highly overrated.) Then Ziva will explain how this sort of conditioning was part of her training and how it helps with fine muscle control or some other thing… (Mossad-trained former assassin isn't necessarily much better.) And… next thing he knows, they're trying to see if they can turn him into a pretzel while his hamstrings and low back scream in pain because there are some positions that guys in their fifties just shouldn't try to get into.

Ed Slater sidling over, looking at Tim, and saying, "The tech guy gets into fist fights?"

He stared at Ed, perplexed that they're still having a version of this conversation. "Tim's a field agent. Won't be after he takes over Cybercrime, but right now, he doesn't spend his days glued to a desk. His job is just as dangerous as mine."

Ed shook his head.

"What?"

"Just, hard to believe."

"Other men have thought that, too. They're dead."

That got a quick, shocked laugh out of Ed. "How about the guy who did that to him? He dead?"

"Nope. In jail. He'll be spending a long time there."

"Thought you and DiNozzo did that stuff."

"All five of us do."

Ed nodded and glanced at the clock. "You and Jimmy heading off?"

Gibbs responded with a nod as well. Time to go.


"You're being awfully quiet," Jimmy said to him as they headed toward the Navy Yard.

Gibbs shrugged, putting his key into the ignition.

"Even for you, you're being quiet, what's up?"

Gibbs turned off the radio and told Jimmy about Tim's suggestion, and what he'd found, what he was puzzling over. He didn't tell him about the other part that was also keeping him quiet. Namely, that Ed's 'Thought you and DiNozzo did that' bit got him thinking about Tony.

Who, of everyone he knew, could look through Franks' papers and help him figure it out.

But he didn't much want to talk to Tony right now.

He was sulking. He knew he was sulking. It was not Tony's fault that he was getting old. Not Tony's fault that he'll take over when Gibbs leaves. And it was not Tony's fault that he was not doing a good job of gracefully slipping into whatever comes next and handing the reins over.

None of that was Tony's fault.

But that didn't mean he wanted to spend an afternoon or two sitting in his living room, next to Tony, drinking a few beers, looking over a bunch of files.

That wasn't right. He wanted to get back to being the guy who enjoyed that. He needed his second-in-command's eyes on this. He wanted to bounce ideas off of Tony.

But right now, bouncing ideas off Tony meant looking the fact that he has to leave right in the face, and he didn't want to do that.

"Gibbs?"

He'd just sort of stopped talking, thinking about Tony and keeping his eyes on the road.

"Mouth open, words coming out," Jimmy said, while making a little talking gesture with his fingers. "I'm not psychic. I'm the one who spends nine hours a day with a guy who talks constantly. So, I need words, out loud, coming from you."

"Not much more to tell."

"Okay, let me remind you of this, in addition to not being psychic, I'm also not stupid."

Gibbs looked irked by that, turning his gaze from traffic to Jimmy. "You were a lot easier when I had you scared into submission."

Jimmy smiled grimly. "Would you like me to shut up and let you stew?"

"If I say yes, will you?"

He shook his head, no. "It's extremely unlikely."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and added in what he'd been thinking about Tony. Jimmy nodded at that, thinking quietly, a few miles down the road he said, "This time last week, you'd have worked out with us, gone home, given Tony and Ziva a call, tossed some steaks on the fireplace, and the three of you would have gone over it?"

"Yeah."

"So, this week, work out with us, get your shower, pick up some steaks on the way home, and then give Tony and Ziva a call."

Gibbs flashed Jimmy something that could only be called 'the stink eye.'

"Fake it until it's real again. You know you're sulking. You know it's stupid. Hiding in the basement isn't going to make it any better, and it won't solve your problem with Mike. On top of that, you know you owe Tony an olive branch and showing him that you still trust and value him does that."

That made an uncomfortable amount of sense. Fortunately he was parking the car when Jimmy said that, so he didn't have to respond immediately to it.

Unfortunately, unlike Tim and Tony who knew well enough to leave the hell alone, as soon as he was done parking, Jimmy was looking at him expectantly, waiting to hear something along the lines of… Jethro rolled his eyes and said, "Fine."

Jimmy smiled brightly at that. "Good. So, besides drugs and guns, what do people smuggle? Art? Antiques? I'm sure Ducky has a good fifteen hours on different stories of how people have been smuggling artifacts out of Iran and the like."

Gibbs nodded at that. Ever since everything went haywire in the Middle East, everyone who could, had been smuggling stuff out. He doubted Mike would have any objections to something like that, especially if it did provide a pile of cash for his girls to live on comfortably.

Jimmy added, "You might use people in the consulate to provide a diplomatic pouch for something like that. Don't want your ancient statue of whatever to get checked, go bribe someone into giving you diplomatic protections."

Gibbs nodded at that, too. It felt plausible, but not right. He was about to say something along those lines when Jimmy saw Ziva and called out to her, "You and Tony have dinner plans?"

"No."

"Good. Jethro's cooking. You two are going to his place and helping him solve a mystery."

Ziva looked very pleased by that. "What sort of mystery?"

"The sort we'll tell you about when we get changed. See you in five," Jimmy said, heading them toward the locker room.

"No chance of backing out, huh?" Gibbs said quietly.

"Nope. It'll be good for you."

"Uh huh." Gibbs didn't sound convinced as he dropped his gym bag on the floor and sat down to take his shoes off.

"Speaking of good for you, how's the knee?" Jimmy asked while opening his locker.

"Fine."

"Fine, like how you're doing with Tony, fine?" Jimmy knelt in front of him, looking at the knee in question, gently poking at it once Gibbs had the brace off. "Or," he extended Gibbs' leg and tested to see how much play was in the joint when he wiggled it, "fine, fine?"

Gibbs slapped his hands away and began to get changed. "Fine."

"Run a mile, fine?" Jimmy's expression was serious as he asked.

"Not yet."

"Walk a mile?"

"Yes."

"How's it feel?"

"Aches after that. Have to ice it down."

He nodded along with that. "Any weight on the leg curls?"

"No."

"How long can you go without the brace and not have it ache?"

"An hour."

"Stand on one leg, steady?"

"About half a minute."

Jimmy thought about that, and this time, hands hovering over Jethro's knee, waited for permission (and got it) before feeling how everything moved through a full extension of his knee. "You're healing."

"Not fast enough."

"Ducky felt that way after his heart attack."

"I know."

"How about after Ziva and I fight, we work on some targeted calf, hamstring, glutes, and quadriceps exercises?"

"Am I going to have to stretch?"

"Yep." Jimmy looked like he enjoyed this idea quite a bit more than was warranted.

"Great." Jethro did not look like he was enjoying that idea.

"More flexibility means lower chance of reinjuring yourself. More flexibility means better blood flow which means faster healing. The looser you are the more of each muscle works-"

"I know. I got it the first three times you started singing that song. We'll do it. Just don't love it."

Jimmy turned back to his locker, hanging up his jacket and quickly stripping out of his church clothing. "You don't have to love it. You've just got to do it."

Gibbs stared at Jimmy not sure he wanted to say it, but… "Why?"

"You want to be able to walk without a brace?" Jimmy wasn't sure what exactly he was asking there, and the puzzled expression on his face said that loud and clear.

"Yeah, but… big picture, what's the point? Say I set the record for fastest recovery ever, how soon will I be back on full duty?"

"Middle of December?" By which Jimmy meant first week of January, and Gibbs knew it.

"So, I'll have, at most, a month. And really, a week. What's the point?"

"Oh…" Jimmy sat down on the bench next to Gibbs, understanding that this is about more than just his knee. Unfortunately he doesn't have any good answers for Gibbs, not at first. "Getting the most out of that month that you can?"

"Yippiee." Dry, withering sarcasm, more the style of Tim than anything Jimmy expected out of Gibbs went with that.

"Being able to play on the floor with little girls easily?"

"Better." That got a ghost of a smile, but it's a genuine ghost.

"Finding out whatever the hell Indiana Jones stuff Franks was up to, getting your own whip and fedora, and heading off into the sunset for incredible adventures that Tim'll steal and stick in his book?"

Gibbs laughed dryly at that, but that was real, too.

Jimmy poked him gently and gave him a dirty smile. "Because six months from now, when, on said adventure, you meet Ms. Right, you want all of your different bits working so you can rock her world."

That got a genuine, unreserved laugh.

"Can't get through a proper tango, let alone pick her up and carry her off Rhett Butler style if your knee's gimping out on you."

Jethro nodded wryly, and grabbed for his shorts, tugging them on.


Fire crackling gently, savory scent of steak and potatoes cooking away, one beer in his system, Operation: Fake It Till You Feel It was about to begin.

Tony also looked a bit wary as he headed in, but in he went, took a beer from Gibbs, and waited. He and Ziva were staring at him, seeing the pile of files on his kitchen table, looking expectantly at him, waiting to get filled in. He offered pointed out what was on the table and explained what he wanted them looking at.

For the first hour, it was pretty quiet. Sounds of eating, papers rustling, Ziva and Tony looking through the files.

"You got a map of the world?" Tony asked.

"Yeah." He headed upstairs, went searching through the books on the shelves, and found their atlas.

Tony stared at it when he came down, shaking his head. "Need McGee and the plasma."

"Or MTAC," Ziva added.

"Yeah. Spread it all out so we can see it easy." Tony squinted at the little map in front of him, shaking his head. "This isn't going to do it. Look, East Germany. It's" he opened the book's cover, "thirty years out of date."

"What were you thinking of putting on a map?" Gibbs asked.

"The Embassies… All but three are in the Middle East. Then he's got one in Jamaica, one in Mexico City, and one in The Dominican Republic. They're all US Embassies…" Tony tapped his fingers on the files in front of him. "Why? That's got to go with the border thing, somehow. You don't bribe US Borders and Customs to get things out of the US, but to get them in. They don't care about stuff going out."

"Look at what is not on this list," Ziva said. "He has no one at DEA, FBI, or ATF. That means your first two guesses, drugs or guns cannot be right."

"So, Jimmy's antiquities?" Gibbs asked.

"Maybe. But why no high ranking officials in the middle east? Everyone he's got there works for one of our Embassies. Afghanistan's a mess, but if you want to take the local Mona Lisa out, you still need some of their people to look the other way, not just ours." Tony was staring at Gibbs' mantle, looking at the pictures. There was a shot of Leyla and Amira. "Why was he doing this?"

"Money? Make sure the girls are set. Leyla never married Liam, so she doesn't get spousal benefits."

"Isn't her family rich?" Tony asked.

That was true. "Yes."

"And she and her mom are on good terms again, right?"

"Think so."

"And she is working for Homeland as a translator, correct?" Ziva added.

"Yes. Married last year, too."

"Mike would not have known that. But she has been working here since before he died. And she and her mother reconciled long before Mike died," Ziva said.

"So, not financial security for his girls," Tony says. "And he told you you were better off not knowing?"

Gibbs nodded.

"Not guns, not drugs, probably not antiques…" Tony was shaking his head. "No one on his list seems to know squat about that… Not, it can't be antiques, there's no fence on this list. Someone's got to buy and sell the damn things after he got them here. What's that leave?"

It hit Gibbs like a hammer, and he could see Mike smiling at him from behind Tony. "People. It leaves people." He turned to look at the picture of Leyla and Amira, and he knew, he felt it in his gut. "It leaves girls in a bad situation looking to get somewhere better."

All three of them stared at the folders in front of them. Then Gibbs started to close them and pack them up, quick. Illegal, very, very, very illegal, but not immoral. Never immoral. Because Mike didn't care about legal, he never did. But he cared a whole lot about what was right, which was why he couldn't keep working for a government he felt had betrayed it's people.

He looked at Tony and Ziva and both of them shook their heads, a silent, 'We didn't see this, you didn't see it either, we're all blind, stupid, and deaf, and we weren't here to boot.'

He nodded at that, finishing tucking the files back into their box.

A minute later, as Tony and Ziva were getting ready to leave, Tony glanced at him, almost as if he was going to ask what Gibbs was going to do with this, but, just like Mike wouldn't tell him, because he was a cop, Gibbs won't tell Tony. But he nodded at Tony, and Tony nodded back.

They got each other.

And as they left, Gibbs knew something else, this box was going back into the hidden wall, and it was going to stay there, for about three and a half months, and then, when he was no longer a cop, he was going to pull it out and really look it over.

Next


A/N: So, I love the idea of Mike running the Afghani-girl underground railroad. That's such a wonderfully Mike sort of thing to do. I enjoyed Anonymous Was a Woman, too. Give me tons of McGee and Gibbs together and I'm happy.

But, I did not, for a second, buy the idea that Mike told Gibbs what he was up to and Gibbs didn't help.

The idea that Gibbs placed "legal" and his job over helping little girls/teens escape repeated rape and slavery did not compute. My suspension of disbelief snapped with an audible twang.

Okay, actually it snapped with an audible "No fucking way!" and while it's true that my husband doesn't curse, he agreed with my assessment of that situation.

One of the reasons we root for Gibbs is that Gibbs stands for what's right. He doesn't care about the niceties or legalities. He does the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Add in his history with girls, let alone his go to the wall for family, and there's just absolutely no way he didn't sign those papers for Mike and get those girls on that plane.

No way!

So, we've done a bit of a rewrite here. Mike never told him. He was sensitive to who Gibbs was, and his position, and that Gibbs could get into a shit ton of trouble for this, so he didn't tell. He just, set it up so that Gibbs could, should he go through Mike's stuff, start putting some pieces together and maybe, if he found himself with some free time, a boat, and a desire to be useful, take over for him.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 304

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 304: The Lady McGee

After Gibbs leaves, Tim heads upstairs. Abby’s still in the shower, water still on full blast, so he takes a moment to head to their toy box, snag the glass dildo she’d used last when they were playing these characters, along with the… blindfold.

It’s not exactly a blindfold in the way most people mean that word. Pretty much just taking a scarf or tie or piece of fabric and tying it over someone’s eyes is a really inefficient way to go about making it so they can’t see.

If the fabric is narrow enough to not hide most of their face, (Which is important when it comes to sex play. It’s much easier to tell if your partner likes what you’re doing if you can see her face.) then it’s also narrow enough to gape at the nose. He’s also noticed that most fabrics don’t tie well against hair. Either the hair gets caught in the knot, or the fabric slips over the hair when the person wearing the blindfold moves her head, (say if she’s lying on her back and squirming, next thing you know the blindfold’s round her nose or in her mouth.) and more annoying than that, a blindfold that’s large enough to really block sight is a blindfold large enough to block most of the expressions on the person wearing it’s face.

So, Tim doesn’t much like a traditional blindfold.

But every now and again he likes to set a scene they don’t happen to have on hand, and Abby being able to see where they actually are takes away from the idea of the scene he’s setting.

So, about a year ago, after showing her the house for the first time, and not being very satisfied with how the blindfold he used then worked, he came across an idea, tested it out with Abby’s enthusiastic cooperation, and both of them were pleased.

It’s a cheap, little masquerade mask. Probably cost about three bucks. He trimmed it down a bit so it covers less of Abby’s face than it would otherwise. (She never blindfolds him, he likes watching way too much for that to be fun for him.) Then he bought some soft, black felt, and lined the inside of the mask, over the eyeholes, with it.

Voila, perfect blindfold. It stays in place when she moves. Her hair doesn’t get caught in it. She doesn’t have an uncomfortable knot in to deal with. If the elastic ever snaps, he’s got three more he can set up in a jiffy.

It’s even black.

He snags it, as well as the dildo, and the lube, and heads into their extra room, making sure everything is ready to go.


He’s laying on their bed, googling what sort of things Irish people wore in the 1300s, thinking about costume ideas. (Obviously not for this round, but for the story and future play. For this round, he’s debating putting on a kilt or keeping on his jeans.)

Looks mostly like tunics and a cloak. No hose, so that was a plus. No kilts, a minus. Maybe it’ll be magical Scotland, not like there aren’t already seventy million versions of that out there…

Hell, maybe their part of the universe has denim. Yeah, they’ll be cotton-baron dragons of a mythical medieval Alabama… He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. It’s fiction, and more than that, fantasy, you can set it up however you like.

The water stops running, and that pulls his attention away from costumes. A few minutes later, Abby’s standing in front of the doorway, toweling off her hair.

“So, besides ‘all cleaned up,’ do I get any hints for tonight?”

He answers that with a question of his own. “Does Skye have a first name? Is it a title, where she’s from, just something that sounds good?”

She sits on the bed and starts to smooth on her moisturizer, recognizing his lack of answer means that nope, no more hints. “Not sure. There’s an Isle of Skye, right?”

“I think so. And even if there isn’t one on the real world, doesn’t mean there can’t be one in my world.”

“Good point.” She thinks while he googles, then says, “Katherine. That’s an old-school English name, right?”

“Think so.” He looks up from his phone. “Isle of Skye. It’s up in northern Scotland, just off the west coast. It’s beautiful, green and craggy, no trees, or bushes, but lots of grass, rocks and sky, and water.”

“So… I’m thinking Katie got bored of fish and sheep and decided to make her fortune further south.”

He nods along with that and leans over to show her the picture on his phone.

“Does anyone live there?” Abby asks, the only thing that looks like human habitation on the pictures he’s showing her saw its glory days in the 1500s.

“Says about nine thousand do. Apparently it’s a tourist attraction.” He holds out his hand. “Want me to get your back?”

“Sure.” She squirts a bit of the lotion onto his palm, and he shifts to sitting behind her, rubbing it onto her skin. “Mmmm…”

“Feels good?”

“Always. Wanna go there, someday?” She continues to go through pictures of the Isle of Skye.

He shrugs. In the pictures, it’s beautiful. Very green and severe, lochs and moors, sky stretching out forever, the feel of the sea even in the pictures where you can’t see it. It doesn’t look like anything in the United States. He would like to see it.

The tenish hour flight to get there isn’t rocking his world. Though commercial air travel is likely quite a bit more comfortable than the troop/equipment transports Gibbs delights in plopping them on for work.

“Find a quiet bit of grass and make love on the moors?” She turns his phone toward him, showing him a shot of very green grass broken by standing stones. Looks, honestly, kind of rough and prickly to him, but that’s what picnic blankets are for.

He smiles at that. “As soon as we can drive there, I’m all for it.”

She laughs. “So, you want a name. Anything else?”

He thinks as his thumbs press into her shoulders. She purrs quietly at the massage. “You’ve been keeping me as a pet for a few months; what kind of stuff would Gabe have learned about Skye in that time? Besides her name.”

“If you’d been a pet, and really a pet, mostly how to fuck.” She looks over her shoulder and grins at him.

He mock pouts. “My charms aren’t enough to get you talking while drowsing post-sex?”

“You might be good in bed, but I don’t think Lord Gabriel McGee of the Nightfuries is much of a spy. If you were paying attention, you might know a whole lot more about alchemy now. But, really, I think you’re her boy toy, how she blows off stress at the end of the day.”

He trails his fingers down the back of her neck, making the fine hairs on her skin rise. “I suppose there are a lot of ways to bring honor to the clan.”

That gets a laugh. She shifts around, so she’s kneeling between his legs, and gently kisses him. “How’s your face feeling?”

“It’s sore.” The bruises from getting head-butted are sore, and his right eye is still a bit swollen. He kisses her finger and his tongue darts out to lick her fingertip. “This still works just fine.”

“Excellent.” She grins at him, and he sucks on her fingertip, letting his tongue slide over the tip, heavily hinting what’s coming later.

Kelly’s going to wake up soon, so he doesn’t want to get too deep into playing, yet. Right now is just about being with each other, setting a mood, and enjoying these little, everyday intimacies. So one last suck, a quick flick of his tongue, and then he releases her hand. Tim takes the bottle of moisturizer, and adds another squirt to his hand, then taps the back of his knuckles lightly against her knee. She changes position again, her leg over his, and he strokes the lotion over her right leg as she did her left.

“This stuff new?” he asks, hands smoothing up her leg. “Smells different.”

“Yep. You like it?”

“Not sure. It’s not bad. Just not that ‘you’ scent.”

“Turns out my last brand started testing on animals so they could sell their stuff in China, so I ditched them.”

He nods at that, rubbing her thigh gently, making sure all the lotion absorbs evenly. She let him keep it up for a minute or two longer than necessary, then takes his hand away from her leg and kisses it. “Don’t want to get me too revved up before I’ve got to feed Kelly.”

“Good point.” He glances at the clock. Any minute now, Kelly would wake up, and once she’d eaten they could get to really playing.

Abby stands up, slipping on one of her nursing bras. “So, costume for this?”

“Hmmm…” He ponders happily. “Were you planning on putting anything else on?”

“Robe or button down. Little too cool for naked.”

“Go for the robe then.”

She nods, reaching for it, and as she did, they heard the first tiny wail of their daughter looking for second dinner. Abby checks the clock. “That’s the fourth night in a row that she’s hit 10:04. How can she possibly be that accurate?”

He shrugs. 

“Back in a bit.”

He grins. “See you then, Lady Skye.”


    
Second dinner usually clocks in at half an hour. He uses that half hour to make sure he’s got his scene set. Everything looks in place. He’s standing in the spare room, checking around, thinking about his own costume.

Jeans or kilt…

You’re a captive sex slave breaking free. Did she let you have clothing? You didn’t in the first game. The keep’s fallen, everything is in chaos, you’re breaking out and snagging her to go with you. Did you go hunting for clothing before grabbing her or are you just grabbing her and leaving? He tosses off his jeans. No way you’d take the time to go scrounge up some pants. You’re grabbing her before someone else does, and getting the hell out of there.

He’s naked; the room’s set. Time to get in place for her. He picks up the blindfold.

Kelly’s room will be dim. The night light gives just enough illumination to make sure all poop comes off during the pre-feed diaper change, and that’s it. He flicks on the hall light, opens the bathroom door, turns on that light as well. He wants it bright out here, so for a few seconds she won’t be able to see much.

He waits, standing, pressed against the wall, right next to Kelly’s door. If this goes the way he hopes it does, 
she’ll shut the door, he’ll leap over, snag her, get the blindfold on, hoist her over his shoulder, and into the not so empty, empty room they’ll go.

That’s the plan at least.



He can hear her humming, the slight click of the rocking chair settling back into place as she gets up. “Sleep well, baby girl.”

One step, two, three, her hand hits the doorknob.

She opens the door, blinking hard at the bright light, and he pulls her to him, fast, his hand over her mouth. “Quiet.”

Abby nods.

“Your keep’s fallen. Time to get you out of here, Lady Skye.”

“Before I’m taken as a prize?” she whispers.

“Before you’re taken as someone else’s prize.”

“And how do you suggest we get out? You’re clearly wounded, unarmed, and naked.”

“I fought my way to you like this, and I’ll get us out.” He flashes her a cocky smile. Tim slips the blindfold over her eyes, hoists her over his left shoulder, and murmuring something he hopes sounds vaguely magick-y, he carries her into the spare room.



He’d set the room carefully. A few of the LED candles are glowing, providing him with enough light to see. He’d turned the “music” on while Abby nursed; it’s the sound of waves and wind. Turning the ceiling fan on means they have a bit of a breeze. Dragging the humidifier up from the basement and running it while she was nursing means the room is slightly damp.

It feels and sounds, he hopes, a lot like they are on the ocean.

He puts her down, gently, on the fuzzy rugs. “I wouldn’t stray far, Lady Skye, the water’s rough, and twenty feet below us.”

“I’m a good swimmer,” she says, still sitting, reaching around her, feeling what’s near.

“Make sure you jump far then, the rocks below us are rougher, yet.”

“And will I get my vision back?”

“Eventually. You don’t need it right now.”

“Why? Keeping me from running off?”

“Something like that,” he says as she feels around, finding the edges of the rug. “The cliff we’re on only extends a few feet beyond the rugs.”

“How did we get here?”

“Magic.”

She stops feeling around and looks at him, exasperation on her face. “This whole time, you’ve been able to just leave whenever you wanted?”

“Yes.” He kneels, straddling her legs, and gently strokes her lips with his fingers. “But being your amusement of choice made for a very pleasant situation. Didn’t feel any need to leave until I could let my men know where I was.”

She nods, starting to put the pieces together. “And did my keep fall to your men?”

“Yes. Daegan has it now. If it’s any consolation, I’m sure you’ll get back to it.”

“You’re just going to let me go?”

“That wasn’t how I was envisioning this working.” He sits back on his heels, next to her, slipping one of the scarves out from under the rugs, looping it over her big toe, crossing it over and over her foot, and tying it gently at her ankle. He kisses the knot and once again said something low and nonsense, magic words to work the spell. “On the off chance you can’t actually swim, this will make sure you don’t fall.”

“And how did you envision this working?” she asks, foot still between his hands, her hands braced against the rugs, leaning back against them, robe slipping off her left shoulder.

“Did you know I have six brothers?”

“You hadn’t mentioned that.”

He shrugs, gently stroking her ankle, tips of his fingers skittering between the lines of the scarf. “Well, we didn’t do a lot of talking. They’re envious of my position as firstborn and covetous of my lands. I would find it… convenient… to have a well-fortified keep they didn’t grow up in, finding all the nooks and hidden passages. A keep staffed with men who aren’t loyal to my family might be nice, too. Likewise, that keep of yours is on prime land, and it’s much easier to defend lands when the people attacking them do not know every river and glen.”

“Uh huh.” She doesn’t look particularly impressed by that, understanding where he’s going with this. She changes the subject. “What is this place?”

“Mine. This is my one holding that I do not have to defend from them. They see no use to it. First of seven boys, only one with a lick of magic to him. For them, this is just a cold lump of rock in the middle of the ocean. But for me… All magic is sea, sky, earth, and fire, and here, we sit on earth that was once fire, that burned until it hit the sea, cooled, became this shelf of rock, here sea beats below us, and sky dances above. Here we are fire made earth, held between sea and sky. Here is perfect.”

Abby moves the edge of the rug and touches the carpet below, as if to touch the rock. “Poetic. This is your power source?”

“One of them. But, yes, this is an especially fine node. Easy to pull off of, easy to work with. I’m not, by a long margin, the first mage called to this rock, and I won’t be the last. But while my heart beats, it’s mine.”

“Why bring me here?”

He smiles, but she can’t see that. So he reaches for her hand, and places it on his chest, over his heart. Her other hand lay on the carpet below the rugs, touching what would have been bare rock. “Bringing my heart to my heart.”

She tilts her head, teasing, emotional armor in place, but her voice is soft as she asks, “Are you really that fond of me, Dragon Knight?”

“I think I could become so, and I’d like that chance. I am that fond of your lands, and it’s an awfully nice keep, very comfortable, hot and cold running sex available at all hours. I like it there.” He smiles brightly, keeping the lightness in his voice, so she can hear it.

She smirks at that, starting to tug her hand away, but he holds her wrist firm over his heart.

“Do you think I’m that fond of you?” she asks him.

He keeps hold of her hand, lifting her wrist to his lips, kissing gently, and then biting softly, scraping his teeth over the sensitive skin where her pulse thrums. He smiles at her again. “We’ll find out.”

“You’ll try.”

“Unlike you, Lady Skye, I’ve got more than thick walls to keep a person near.” Abby looks too amused to be properly Lady Skye, but, lack of proper indignation aside, he’s very pleased to see Abby’s having a good time with this. He kisses her wrist again, then licks gently up the inside of her forearm, speaking against her skin, letting the breath of his words tickle damp flesh.

“I bind you, Katie of Skye,” her eyes go wide as he says that. Apparently that isn’t what Abby or Skye expected him to do.

“I bind your flesh to mine.” He snags another of the scarves, one that already had a small loop tied into the end, slipping it over her first finger.

“I bind you Katie of Skye, here, where earth meets air.” He wraps the scarf over her hand and wrist, looping it further up her arm as his lips slip over each new word.

“I bind you, here, where sea kisses earth.” He kisses the crook of her elbow with that.

“I bind you, here, where fire met water.

“I bind you, here, in the shadow of where fire leaps to air.

“I bind you, here, my woman” a kiss to her wrist, “to my magic” a kiss to her palm, “to my name.” One last kiss to her lips.

He finishes tying the knot onto her arm, and then shifts his hold to her other arm, where the knot tattoo is. “I bind you, Katie of Skye, brand you with my mark, take you as my woman.

“I bind you, Katie McGee, from this day ‘til our spirits return to the heavens that gave us birth.

“I bind you.”

Abby’s grinning widely at that, and he has no problem feeling her break character as she says, “I like that.”

“Really?” That was quite a bit more one-sided than he’s ever taken his playing before. After all, Skye, in character, probably wouldn’t have been thrilled with the whole magically overpowered, taken captive, and married by force thing. And though he liked saying it, was in it, with the character in the moment, there is a part of him feeling a bit wary going that far. He thinks she knew he’d need a bit more reassurance to take this that far, and he appreciates getting it.

“Oh yeah!” She’s nodding at him. “I think most girls like the idea of being swooped up, taken, and claimed, by the right guy. You know, as a game… Different if it’s real. But, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of exactly how much bigger and stronger you are. Sometimes, it’s fun to be… swept off your feet, literally.”

He slips off her blindfold, (he doesn’t like having a real conversation when he can’t see Abby’s eyes) and she quickly looks around, appreciating what he’s done to set this.

“Nice.”

“Thanks.”

“Why are there two kitchen chairs up here?” There’s a chair on either side of the rugs.

He smiles happily at her, naughty gleam in his eyes. “That binding might get a whole lot more literal. Just don’t tug hard; they won’t hold for much.”

She’s still grinning at this, and looks him in the eye and says, “Sometimes, an edge of danger is fun. Sometimes, the safeword isn’t just about making sure you’ve got a way out, sometimes it’s about allowing the illusion of lack of consent…”

That’s way further than they’ve ever taken his Doming. He knows he’s not comfortable going that far. She’s never said no in a game, but he’s sure, even though that’s not her safeword, that it’ll stop him dead.

Edge of danger, bigger, and stronger, and just taking what you want… That’s also a different flavor than how they usually play. Even when he is in charge, he’ll tell her what he wants, have her do it for him, but she always has the control of not following orders. He’s never just taken what he wants. There’s a huge chasm between saying, ‘Pull it out and suck’ and actually grabbing a woman by the head and forcing her to do it.

He’s looking at her, not quite sure how to even put what’s bouncing around in his mind into words, but she’s nodding at him, reassuring.

“Play with me. Trust me, I’ll like it. And Skye’s not from around now, she’s used to a world where men decide what they want and then grab it.”

“But, does she like it?”

“She does if the right guy’s doing it.”

“Is Gabe the right guy?”

“I have a feeling that’s the main plot of book one.”

“You think there’s more than one book here?”

“Oh yes.” She grins up at him, kisses just below his chin, where his skin is unbruised, and then slips the blindfold back over her eyes.  

Tim takes a moment to shift the storyline in his head a bit, embracing a more ‘taking’ less ‘telling’ perspective. Then says, “It’s not nice to tease a man.”

He leans over her, snagging another scarf, whispering in her ear, “Not nice to show him something he wants, day after day, letting him see, but not touch.” He bites her earlobe, and then ties her right wrist (loosely) to the leg of the chair.

“And what, poor little Knight, did you want so badly that you couldn’t have?” She tugs the binding as a token complaint against being tied, but Abby’s being careful not to yank too hard.

His hands stroke over her hips, unknotting the tie on her robe, pushing it off her body and up and over her arm, so it pools in a soft silk puddle up by her right hand.

“Hands and knees, Lady McGee, on your hands and knees.”

Abby’s wriggling in a very pleased sort of way. Completely out of character for Skye, but well, he’s a guy, and an ass guy at that, and her wriggling a soft, plump ass at him in a very come and get it manner hits him all sorts of all right.

He quickly ties her left ankle to the other chair, spreading her legs apart, and lays a line of kisses down her spine, then settles, kneeling between her legs, looking.

“Best view in the world,” he says, hands cupping her rear, stroking gently over her skin, staying to the sides, nearer her hips than her pussy.

“Not my face?” she asks, back into Skye, looking (well, not looking, she’s got the blindfold on, but turning her face to him) over her shoulder.

He pats her cheek gently. “Get to see your pretty face all the time. This treasure’s usually hiding under your skirts. Shame to see it covered.” He gently licks the base of her cross tattoo. “Maybe I’ll do that… Take you to my home, keep you bent over all day and night, on display for my pleasure? You kept me ninety-seven days. Shall I keep you bent over for me ninety-seven days?”

“Open to your every whim?”

He growls gently at that. Many, many whims flashing through his mind. “You’re teasing again.”

“Maybe I like teasing. Besides, what sort of teasing is this? ‘Get to see but didn’t touch.’ You touched me all over.”

“No, Lady McGee, I didn’t. You let me touch here.” His hands slid down her hips and legs. “And here” he drags them up the backs of her legs, over her ass, and up her back. “Of course here.” He cups her breasts gently. “And here.” His fingers trail down her throat and over her arms.

He kisses her pussy lightly, just brushing his lips against hers. “Loved touching there.” He slips his tongue between her lips, lapping gently at her, taking the time to savor her taste and tease her clit, working her until she’s rocking against him, soft, breathy moans matching the cadence of the waves in the recording. When he felt her start to tighten, when her voice got higher and her legs began to just barely quiver, he slid further up, over her perineum, and an inch further, circling her anus then lightly flicking his tongue against it.

She jerks at that touch, gasping, sounding surprised, drawing in a little, and he’s sure that’s her being Skye, because he knows Abby likes that just fine and having been told to get all clean, was certainly expecting something like that to happen.

“But you didn’t let me touch here.” He licks his finger, making sure it’s wet and slick, and then slides it over her, circling the delicate skin. “You teased, and you let me imagine, you told me how good it’d be, let me see,” he grabs the glass dildo and trails it over her, “that, but you didn’t let me touch.” He bites the curve of her buttock, where it met her thigh, while continuing to circle her with his finger.

“No more teasing, Lady McGee, time to deliver on your promises.”

She inhales fast and hard, shifting away from him as much as she can without pulling too far on the ties and tipping over the chairs.

He strokes the dildo up the insides of her legs, teasing closer and closer toward her pussy, but not touching. “No sarcastic quip for me? No more teasing?”

She shakes her head. “Not about that.”

He licks gently over her, tongue trailing in a wet, silky promise. She tightens against him, squirms, partially pulling away, partially pushing back, getting more friction, and sighs. He licks again, and again, nothing demanding, no penetration, just kissing her properly, making sure everything was warm and wet, quivering in anticipation. When he pulls back he says, “Do you not like it?”

“I like what you’re doing. I’ve… never…” She blushes prettily, and Tim’s not sure if Abby’s so into Skye right now she can’t find the edges between them, or she’s just that good of an actress. Either way, he’s really liking it.

“Never?” That got another long, wet lick, and this time he points his tongue, very gently starting to press forward, wriggling against her. When she presses back against him, he stops. “Tease me like that, and you’ve never…”

“No.”

He bites her gently again, growling, feeling a surge of lust-filled possessiveness through him. “Nothing a man likes better than virgin territory.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she says very quietly.

“Afraid I’d like it?” he asks, gently, concerned.

“Afraid of being marked by you.”

That got a smirk, and another kiss, his fingers dancing over the lip print on her throat and the cuff tattoo on her arm. “Little late for that, Lady McGee. You’re mine. Body, lands, soul. Mine.” He leans up, so that his chest covers her back and his lips are near her ear. “See me.” He whispers against her ear, and slips the blindfold off.  She turns her face to him, and he kisses her lips. “I want you to see me do it. I want you to know it’s my body. No closing your eyes, no pretending. My body, in yours. My cock, making you come.”

“You’re awfully sure about that.”

“Ninety-seven days. That’s how long you held me. Eighty-nine of them you came to me. Came for my tongue, my cock, my fingers, my body. You slept in my arms and screamed my name. I know you had other men you kept as toys, but you came back, over and over, for me.”

“Maybe they were just lame fucks,” she says with a smile, seeming more in control.

“Maybe. But you know I’m not.” He unbinds her hand and ankle. “When I sink into you, I want you to see it. I want you watching. First man to take your ass’ll be me, and I want to make sure you know it.” He picks her up again and carries her into their bedroom, dropping her on the bed and quickly adjusting the mirrors in their room.

A second later, he’s back again, this time with the dildo and lube. He takes a few seconds to rearrange the pillows, wants something to help keep him easily propped up, then he reclines against them, shoulders and chest off the bed, rest of him lying down.

“Hands and knees again. Over me. Want you sucking me while I play with you.”

Abby nods, settling into place over him. He scoots them (and the pillows) over a few inches. “Can you see everything?”

“Yes.” It’s not an easy angle to get a good view of, but lots of mirrors means he can bounce the view off of one to another, so she can see him as he touches her.

“Good.” He licks her slow and steady. Then notices she’s not doing much licking of her own, and pushes his cock toward her lips. A second later, when she sucks him in in one long pull, he groans. “Perfect, just like that. Keep me happy, while I get you ready.”

One last lick, wet and slick and lavish, lingering on her skin, making her arch against him, he’d probably like to do more, but once penetration gets involved he stops being able to kiss the rest of her, and he’s got a damn good way of helping distract from the uncomfortable part of stretching out, one he needs a clean tongue for.

He reaches around, finding the lube by feel, and tossing it to her. “Slick up my fingers.”

She does, using lots of lube. This is one time when extra friction isn’t a good thing. He pulls her hips a bit higher up, begins to stroke her clit with his tongue, while his fingers begin to gently massage around her anus. He takes his time, slow, easy, lots of long strokes with the pads of his fingers to relax the muscles, help get everything loose and happy.

She’s rocking against him, humming blissfully against his dick, mouth wet and supple on him, making it difficult to concentrate on what he’s supposed to be doing, but it’s the best kind of distraction.

He starts to ease his first finger in, slow, steady pressure, while he sucks on her clit, flicking it with his tongue. She’s moaning against him, thrilling him with the sounds of her pleasure and the feel of it on his dick.

Once his finger’s sunk in he pulls back for a second to say, “God, that’s beautiful. So, hot and tight. Still watching?”

He feels her nod and starts on finger two. Slow, gentle pressure, easy stretching, making sure her body has time to adjust. Making sure to keep her just on the edge of getting off as he adds each new finger. He’s reading her responses carefully, feeling the building tension in her body, the almost-there clench of her ass around his two fingers as his tongue speeds up, getting her closer and closer. He wants to feel her twitching around him as he slips the third finger in, wants to hear her coming on him.

It’s there, that breathy, gasping, high-pitched moan that lets him know it’s time.  He speeds his tongue and slips the third finger in, fast, knowing by that point she’s so turned on the burn’ll feel good. And it does, or seems to, at least, her legs twitch and her body spasms around him as the third finger slides home.

He waits until she’s not twitching anymore, until her breathing calms back down. She’s resting against him, not sucking anymore, just lightly licking his thigh. “Still think my confidence is unfounded.”

“No.”

He wriggles his fingers. “Still feel good?”

“Yes.”

He starts to pump them in and out, slowly. She moans again. He rises his hips toward her again. “That wasn’t nearly muffled enough.”

She giggles and takes him back into her mouth. He moans, then goes back to licking her, rolling her clit with his tongue in fast circles as his finger set a slow steady glide. When her mouth work starts to get sloppy, when she lets him slip out and doesn’t seem to be paying much attention at all to his dick, that’s his cue to move from fingers to the dildo.

He was about to press the dildo in when an idea occurs to him. An idea they haven’t played with before. He’s not even entirely sure how the mechanics of it would work, but he reaches back, just able to get the drawer on the nightstand open, grabs one of the condoms, and quickly covers the dildo.

Abby had been watching and is looking at him curiously. They’re the only ones that use their toys, not like they need extra protection. He adds more lube to the condom and then pushes forward with one long, smooth thrust, watching her shudder and moan.

“Like it?”

“Yeah.”

“How’s it feel?”

“Full—“ he slides it out a little and she moans again. “Hard. Unh… Slick…” She rocks back onto it, groaning again, head dropping to his thigh.

He pulls her head up by her hair. (Gently, mostly just nudging her up.) “Keep watching. Want you to see every second of this.”

He bends low, licking her clit while sliding the dildo in and out, listening to each hitched breath and half moaned sigh. Again he licked until her body was tight, quivering on the edge of climax, and again he stopped.

“Fuck you, Gabe, do not leave me like this,” she spit at him as he pulls back, lips, chin, and neck shiny with her juices.

“Patience, Katie. I’ve always gotten you there before. Tonight’s not gonna be any different, love.”

“Damn well better.”

“Up, off of me.” He sits back on the bed, still making sure the mirrors are keeping everything in easy view. He takes her hands and gets her straddling him, so she was over his cock, facing the mirrors, then holds her hips so she couldn’t sink down. “Stay. Watch.” He coats his cock with lube, generously, pumping his shaft with his hands as her eyes follow every motion.

Then with slick fingers, he got a hold of the dildo, slid it out, stripping off the condom, and pulled her onto him, sinking balls deep into her pussy, hissing at the feel of it. “Fuck, Katie, you feel so good.” He rocks into her, feeling her rise and fall against him, and then on yet another upstroke he stopped her, pulled out, and shifted his dick back.

“Watch. Watch my cock slip into you. Watch me fuck that glorious tight little ass of yours.”

She slowly lowers herself, and they both watch her body spread around him, watch as his slick flesh was enveloped by hers.

Her eyes grow heavy, and he knows they usually close when she’s feeling intense pleasure. “Keep them open, Abby, want you to see me fuck you.”

“Yes” slurs into a deep groan as she settles onto him.

He’s kissing her shoulder and neck, reveling in the soft, tight, hot, so incredibly hot, feel of her body on his.

“Want you to touch yourself. No getting off until I say you can, but I want to see your fingers on your clit.”

“Yes.” She does, circling slowly, and he feels her muscles tighten against him.

His teeth worry her shoulder, nipping along the skin, as he rocks gently in and out. Can’t move too much, but right now he’s just adding a little friction, enjoying how this feels, her body so tight and slippery on his.

Finally he remembers he’s still got the dildo in hand, and why he put a condom on it in the first place.

“Suck it. Get it good and wet.” Not that it really needs it. She’s so wet there’s a puddle on the bed under them, but he likes to watch. And like always her perfect mouth wrapping around something dick shaped and slurping ramps him up a few more notches.

She stops licking, eyes glinting at him, knowing where this is going to go.

“Never tried this before.”

“Didn’t think you had. Okay?” They’re both fully out of character, but it doesn’t matter.

“Oh yeah. Go slow.”

“I will. Keep rubbing yourself. Want you so close you’re begging for it.” He licks her earlobe as he says, “But no coming. Not until I say you can.”

Her fingers speed up, faster pace, not flying over her skin, but moving quickly, firmly. He keeps rocking against her, building up his own speed, and then begins to rub the head of the dildo against her. Not slipping in, not yet. Just playing it over her lips, nudging between them, letting her use the head like a finger, rubbing it over her clit, then sliding back again to trail lightly over her pussy lips.

She starts rising and falling on him, fingers moving a bit faster, and she might not be begging for it, but he knows he’s not going to be able to hold on all the much longer, so Abby flushed red and whimpering is close enough. He shifts his hold on the dildo, moving it a fraction of an inch, gently parting her lips with it, and holding it in place, letting her sink down on it.

She does, slowly, hissing, body tight, low, deep groan echoing from her lips. “Oh God!”

He agrees with that. ‘Oh God!’ is right. It feels amazing. He didn’t think it’d feel that different to him, but it’s more pressure, more tight, more everything, and he really likes it.

He stops rocking, knowing he can keep his hands moving or his hips, but not both, not this far gone. Abby’s slipping up and down on him, fast, blowing his mind. He starts to ease the dildo up and down, different speed than her hips, and that… that’s her cursing with every breath, a long half-gasped litany of delicious profanity, and him… he’s got no idea, he knows he’s making noise because that, up-down, her body at one speed and the dildo at another, and he can feel it sliding up and down against him, but not exactly, because he’s feeling it through her. It’s like her, all around, but her more, where the ridge of glass pushes into her, and it’s pressure and tight and friction and everything moving at once and just, holy fucking mother of god gold-red-white pulsing, burning, tingling pleasure through his whole body, every nerve sizzling with it, shouting, probably as loud as he can, her body clenching and spasming and rippling and everything wet and limp and lightly twitching, collapsed on each other, so high neither of them is in any danger of coming down anytime soon.

Waaaa…

Or, coming down right now. Waaaa… Crying baby is the proverbial wet blanket tossed on a good post orgasmic glow.

Abby’s not moving at all. Tim really doesn’t want to move, either. Really. Every limb of his body feels like it’s made of gently twitching, very happy, cement. But not only is it his night, he also missed the last two, so really, he needs to get up and get Kelly back down again. He inches away from Abby, very much regretting not getting to nestle in close and let his body calm back down, basking in the tight gentle heat of hers as he went soft.

He’s quietly muttering to himself about Kelly picking an extraordinarily inconvenient time to stop sleeping through everything, as he wipes up a bit, when he notices the clock, 1:04. Or she’s just woken up at her usual time, and they played a bit too long.

He stumbles into her room. “I’m here.”

The appearance of a parent (late) but no food produces what could best be called an irate look. But in a few minutes, when she’s cleaned up, laying against his chest, slurping away on her bottle, she’s mollified. And, by the time she’s mollified, Abby’s gotten cleaned up, too, and come in, sitting on the floor, head on his knee, dozing against him.

Eventually Kelly finishes eating. Eventually they go back to bed. And eventually he curls up behind her, lips pressed to her shoulder, inhaling the post-sex scent of her skin, and falls into a deep, content sleep.