Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 312

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

Chapter 312: Terri

For as lovely as November 1st, 2014 was, November 1st 2015 was determined to be ugly. Lead gray clouds, a mixture of cold rain, light sleet, and mist (Abby calls it freezing ick.) was drifting sulkily from sky to ground.

The theoretical plan for the evening was dinner out. Short dinner out. Abby still nurses three times a day, and two of them are seven and ten, so they can't go out for too long, but a decent meal and some good conversation is certainly a possibility.

If all goes according to plan, and the weather stays the current 35ish degrees, Gibbs'll be there around seven, Kelly will eat, they'll go out on their first baby-free date since June.

"What are you doing?" Jimmy's voice on the other end of the phone.

"Nothing much. Just fed Kelly," Tim says.

"Good. I'm already on my way to your place. We're taking the girls to the mall."

Tim just stares at his phone for a second, wondering what the hell was going on with Jimmy. In that, among other things, he last saw Jimmy a hour ago when they were all leaving Ed and Jeannie's, he wasn't expecting to lay eyes on him again until tomorrow. "All right. And we have a burning need to go to the mall with the girls, why?"

"Because it's 36 degrees out and raining, Molly's climbing the walls, Breena wants a nap, and Abby wants you out of the house so she can get ready for tonight. Hence, we're going to the mall."

That seems like a fine reason to Tim. "Okay. I'll get Kelly suited up."

In general, Tim is not a fan of malls. At this point in his life, he'd say he's spent, maybe, but this could be an overestimate, four hours at a mall in the last ten years, not counting when he's had to be in one for a case or when he's eaten in a restaurant attached to one.

He's just not a mall guy. He wants something, and unless he needs it right now, he buys it online.

In general, Jimmy's not much of a mall guy, either. Though, between a significantly more extroverted personality, and the fact that just about every tenth store in a mall sells shoes, Jimmy does tend to have a better time in them than Tim does.

But, Jimmy is, in addition to not being much of a mall guy, a bit further along on the Dad curve than Tim is, and he has realized (namely because Breena told him) that at the Mall they have several areas covered in soft foam rubber designed for small people to run around on.

And he's in possession of a seriously rammy small person. A small person who, when not tearing around their house like a wild woman, is whining and fussing. A small person in desperate need of space to play hard and fast without driving her very pregnant, very uncomfortable, and very tired mama insane.

In that it is, as Jimmy previously noted, cold and raining, the park and his backyard is out.

So he's driving, Tim's in the passenger seat, the girls are in their car seats, and they are en route to the mall.

They're the only married men there. Okay, not the only married men, there have to be some other guys with wives somewhere in the mall, but the little area where the toddlers are running around shrieking, all the other guys are at least ten (and three of them look more than fifteen) years younger and none of them are wearing wedding bands.

It occurs to Tim that his demographic does not appear to hang out at malls.

But Molly's having a blast. Kelly's sitting on his lap, watching the other kids play. He and Jimmy were chatting about something, he doesn't remember what, when one of the grandmas (lots of them around) commented on how pretty their girls were, asked how old they were, standard questions.

And they know how this works, so they ask which one of the kids are hers, and about three minutes of polite conversation ensues.

Jimmy checks his watch. "This time last year, I was getting suited up for the wedding."

Tim nods. "Was already at the church."

"Hard to believe it's been a year."

"Yeah. Fast year." Tim smiles, looks at Kelly, kisses the top of her head. "Good year." Jimmy nods at that, his smile not nearly as bright, because for him it's been a much rougher year, and Tim nudges him with his shoulder. "Next year'll be even better."

That got a real smile out of Jimmy. "Yeah, it will."

"Excuse me," The Grandma asks, "I know this is… I was wondering, how did you find a surrogate? My son and his partner would like to be fathers and are thinking about it and…" She can see from the stunned look on Tim and Jimmy's face that they may have been talking about a wedding, it clearly wasn't a wedding to each other, and she starts backtracking fast. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. I heard you mention the wedding and… you've got one stroller and… and your girls look just like you, so you couldn't have adopted and… I'm so sorry."

Jimmy recovers first. "No problem. It's his anniversary. Mine's in May. My wife is eight months pregnant, so we already have the two baby stroller, so with it wet and cold out it was just easier to use the one stroller."

"Oh. I'm so sorry." She's cringing and looking horribly embarrassed.

"Really, not a problem," Tim says, wondering exactly what the protocol for something like this is, because, yeah, he'd prefer that people didn't think he was married to Jimmy. But at the same time, having a fit about it is just really uncomfortably homophobic, and the woman already indicated she had a gay son so… "Just, don't know anything about surrogacy. We both… um… did it the old fashioned way."

She nods, still looking embarrassed. "No. I guess not. Happy anniversary."

He nods back, a really everything's all right smile on his face. "Thanks."

She looks away, watching her grandsons toddle about.

They are heading back to the car an hour later, after Molly had tired herself out and was ready for nap time, when Jimmy says, "That was a first."

"No one ever thought you were gay before?"

"I don't think so. Never got hit on by a guy before, if that's what you mean. Just… When did we get to the point where two married guys out with kids at the mall are assumed to be with each other?"

Tim shrugs.

"It's not like our rings are even close to matching." In that his is white gold and Tim's is mostly black titanium, not matching is something of an understatement.

"Did you notice we were the only married guys with kids there?" Tim asks.

"Yeah. That's weird, too. I mean… It's not like I'm one of those you've-got-to-be-married-to-have-kids-guys. Don't have any problems with Draga. But… I mean… none of those guys were married to their kids' mom."

"Maybe the young ones don't wear rings?" Tim says with a shrug, fairly sure he's wrong. All the baby Sailors and Marines they run into with wives wear the ring.

"Maybe." Jimmy looks back at their girls. "I'd kind of like to know my grandkids' dad is going to stick around."

Tim looks at his ring and shrugs. "Ring's not magic. Can't make anyone stick around."

Jimmy catches that and realizes Tim's thinking of his dad. "Yeah. I know. But…"

"No. I get what you're saying. I never would have even noticed it before Kelly, and it's my anniversary so it's on my mind, but, yeah, I did check the other guys, and it did feel weird to see that none of them had a ring."

"That little voice, in the back of your head, sounds a lot like Gibbs, and you didn't even notice it was in there until you saw the guy with the two kids and the pregnant girlfriend, and it's yelling, 'Man up, you pussy, go marry that woman!'"

Tim laughs a little at that. "Wasn't quite those words, but yeah, something like that."

They were a few miles down the road when Jimmy says, "So, Jeannie was trying to gently pump me for information about your parents."

Tim nods at that. "She's been pretty gung ho about this whole have to have a christening party for Kelly thing, and week before last she asked for my parents' address so she could invite them and…" And Tim had been pretty startled by that, didn't have an immediate answer ready.

"And… She said you said your dad was out of the picture, and you clammed up pretty fast on your mom, and she didn't want to press because she could tell it was sensitive and you didn't want to talk."

"Yeah. She asked, my face must have gone white or something. I did say my dad was out of it, and she back-tracked pretty fast. Told me would press and she'd do me proud on welcoming Kelly into the family."

Jimmy's nodding on that. "Oh, she will. If you think Sunday dinner is impressive, any sort of party Jeannie's in charge of'll blow your mind."


"Seriously, if you think Breena gets into the birthday parties and stuff, she's about twenty levels down from Jeanie."

Tim shrugs, with the exception of the weddings, his crew just doesn't really do parties. "I guess that makes sense, I mean… she basically plans parties for a living."

Jimmy thinks about that. "I guess. Sad parties."

"Food, music, flowers, booze. Sad parties."

"Well, she's good at it. Anyway, just, remember to write thank you notes. They will all bring presents and if they don't get little notes about them later the nagging begins."

Tim shakes his head at that. The idea of christenings being this sort of big deal is very foreign to him. Jimmy nudges him off of pondering what sort of present one buys for a four-month-old, by asking, "So, how are things going with your mom?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. I've talked to her twice in the last month and it was… Okay. Really tentative and nervous, but maybe better than nothing. After Jeannie asked, I've been talking with Abby about maybe inviting her and Ben to the christening."

Jimmy looks pretty surprised by that. But he knows Tim hasn't been talking about his mom, so he hadn't been poking, other than checking in with Abby and Gibbs to see if everything was okay. "What's Abby think?"

"That if we do it, they shouldn't stay with us."

Jimmy nods emphatically at that. "I'll second that."

"She's also kind of nervous about how the rest of the family, and Gibbs in specific, would deal with her."

"Ohhh…" Jimmy winces like he's staring at a train wreck. The idea of Gibbs and Tim's mom in one room hadn't occurred to him, but now that it has, he's not seeing how that could be anything but trouble.

"Yeah. That makes things… complicated."

"I mean, if you tell him it matters to you, and you're trying to patch things up, I'm sure he'll support you…" Though Jimmy doesn't sound very certain about that. And as he's thinking of that, it's occurring to him that he's not sure he can be polite to Tim's mom, either.

"I know. In a he won't actually shoot her in the head or do anything out and out that he thinks would bug me, but it won't be warm or easy or…"

"Yeah." Jimmy nods. Gibbs isn't the poster child for warm or friendly when he's at his best. At his worst… defending one of his cubs… No… Jimmy doesn't think that'll be pleasant on any level.

They drive another mile.

"So… you going to do it?"

"I don't know." Tim sighs. "Part of me wants to see her. And she's never seen Kelly. And if she's going to be part of our lives, then the whole forgiveness thing would be part of that, right?"


"Everyone says forgiving people is part of the whole not being mad all the time thing. Forgiving them or fully cutting ties. That this… in between, ignoring it until I can't anymore, blowing up at it, and then ignoring it again thing isn't good."

Jimmy stares at him, remembering the cuts all over him from his last blow up in the lab with the glassware, and how, to him at least, that doesn't look like a natural or easy progression to forgiveness and a functional relationship, and then says the thing you're not supposed to say. "Might be easier to cut ties…"

Tim shakes his head, staring at the traffic whizzing past. "I know." He smiles, very sad. "But she's my mom."

Jimmy squeezes his hand. "Whatever you're gonna do, I'm here." And seeing that, he means it, too. Even if it does mean swallowing his own anger and treating Terri kindly.


They drive a few more minutes, ending up in Tim's driveway. He looks back and sees both girls asleep. "You want to put her down with Kelly? Stick around, give Breena more quiet time?"


It takes a few minutes, but they get both girls settled in the nursery. Tim pokes his head into his bedroom and sees Abby getting a nap as well. He smiles at that, thinking it bodes well for staying up late tonight.

He heads down to the kitchen and grabs himself a cider. "You want something?"

Jimmy pokes around his fridge a bit, and grabs another one for himself. "This is good." They both settle on Tim's sofa, and Jimmy asks, "So, say she does come for the christening? What are you hoping to get out of it?"

Tim snorts. "Not crying?"

"That hurdle's so low it's in danger of melting from the heat of the Earth's core."

"And yet it's not even remotely close to guaranteed."

Oh, God, Tim, and the sorrow that goes with it is clear on Jimmy's face. "What do you want? Really?"

Tim shakes his head, exhaling lightly, dismissing his words with his body language before he says them. "Something I can't have. The one thing I want most, being able to consider my Dad a monster who acted alone, I can't do anymore."

"Nope. Tim…" Jimmy's not sure how to ask this. "Does she know how hurt you are?"

"I don't know. I haven't really been able to get into it, and I don't know what Penny's done."

"Maybe telling her about it, how you understood it, is a good step? Maybe you need to really yell at her?"
Tim shrugs at that, too. "I don't know if I can. I tried, wrote it down, but I couldn't send it to her." He looks away from Jimmy as he says that.

"Why not?"

"Still being a good boy? Taking it quietly? Dealing with it by myself and not making a fuss? Decades of this is how our relationship works and I can't make myself break it? Take your pick."

"Tim, make a fuss. It'll probably be good for you."

He shrugs again. "At some point, I need to sit down with Sarah and Penny and talk to them, too. Because it's not just me."

"No, it's not. How are you guys handling your dad?" He means as a family, and Tim gets that.

"You know my part: completely out of my life. He visits Sarah when he's in town."

"She still has contact with him?"

"I'm not going to ask her to rip her dad, who didn't pull any shit on her, out of her life, because he was an ass to me."

"He was more than an ass to you. Not like he was just impolite."

"I know. But…" Tim rubs his forehead. "He's still her dad. Maybe he started overcompensating or something after they divorced, but she's got happy memories of learning how to ride a bike, and sailing, and fishing, and getting to go onto his ship and meet the sailors and…"

"Okay. I get it. Maybe after he lost you he decided it wasn't going to happen again?"

"Yeah, well, he could have tried not treating me like shit." Tim says with a self-depreciating smile. "That might have worked wonders. 'God, sorry I was a flaming asshole, Tim.' That would have gone a long way."

"Really?" Jimmy doesn't look like he's asking so much for himself, as to get Tim to think about that more.

Tim shrugs, probably not. That would have been a band aid on an amputation. "Would have been better than what actually happened."

"I guess."

"I called him, a year ago…" Jimmy's really surprised by that. "Didn't like my vows… That's not true, I didn't love them. They were so bound up in… in not being him. In having seen, lived this train wreck that was their marriage and knowing who and what I didn't want to be, I called, asked what he thought he was doing. I mean, how did it go that wrong? I needed a piece of the puzzle I didn't have. Only talked for like, five minutes, something like that. But, 'Hey Dad, I'm getting married tomorrow, gonna have a baby in the summer,' got nothing. Just disapproval that Abby was already pregnant. I mean, even if you didn't like the guy, you'd offer some congratulations on that, right?"

"I would."

"Yeah. Me, too. But from him, nope. And in that it didn't involve him cussing me out or insulting me, that was our best conversation in… God… Ever."

"I'm sorry, Tim."

"Yeah. Me, too. So, anyway, he and Sarah are fine. I haven't been brave enough to ask about it, what she might be doing with him about me, beyond telling her that I didn't expect her to cut him out of her life. Penny yelled at him a few times and when he wouldn't come to the realization that he'd done anything inappropriate, she stopped talking to him."

"She cut ties with her son?"

"Yeah. I… I don't know what to do with that, either. I know how bad the idea of losing Kelly hurts, and I don't want to be responsible for that for her."

Jimmy shakes his head at Tim. "I know one thing to do with that, stop thinking it's your fault. He behaved in a way your grandmother felt was indefensible. She cut ties with him because you don't keep relationships with people who do things like that. None of that is your fault."

"I guess."

"Stop guessing. You know. Him being a psychopath is not your fault."

Tim smiles at him sadly. "But I don't know. Wish I did. Be easier if I did. He adores Sarah. She was able to be everything he ever wanted for her, and they get on fine. She could make him smile, so why not me?"

Jimmy slowly closes his eyes and opens them again, then put his cider on the coffee table and scoots closer, wrapping an arm around Tim. "It was never you."

Tim snorts, bitterly. "Be a lot easier to believe if he'd been a psychopath to both of us."

"It wasn't you."

"Yeah. That's what everyone but he and my mom say."

That last bit kills Jimmy, feeling Tim's hurt from his mom having agreed with whatever it was his dad thought, even if she didn't want to use the same tactics. "What did your mom say?"

Another depreciating smile from Tim. "That they were afraid I was too soft. That I needed to be tougher or the world would beat the shit out of me. She's not saying that anymore. Now it's all, 'So, so sorry,' and walking on a tightrope, afraid to say something that'll scare me off. I have a feeling Penny ripped her a new asshole or six. But before she started double and triple thinking everything she said, that came out. I was too soft, too afraid, and needed to be tougher. And Sarah was fearless, she always was. I was twelve, she was three. I'm babysitting. She had one of those Big Wheel tricycles, and she'd take it to the top of the driveway and go down, full speed, straight toward the garage…"

"And you were babysitting when she crashed?" Jimmy knows where this story is going, but that doesn't make listening to it any easier.

Tim nods. "Yep. One of the few times he got home before Mom did. She's screaming. There's blood all over the place. She'd split her lip…" And they both know, first and second hand, how a split lip bleeds like crazy. "I'm trying to get her cleaned up, and he comes in, takes one look around, orders me to my room. So up I go, but I can hear him talking about his brave little girl, and I can see him, half an hour later, zooming down the driveway with her, she's shrieking with laughter. Later, after she was asleep, he came to my room and chewed me out for an hour over how I was an irresponsible cunt incapable of keeping a three-year-old under control, and if I couldn't keep her safe, how was I ever going to be of any use to anyone else? How were other men going to depend on me? How was I going to run a ship if I couldn't get a three-year-old to follow my orders? And on and on and on and fucking on.

"I'd been taking care of her on and off, with help and without, since the day she came home from the hospital. I spent more hours alone with her that week than he had in her entire life at that point, but yeah, I was the irresponsible fuckwit who couldn't be entrusted with another life."

Jimmy's rubbing his shoulder, trying to be comforting. "You know, before Breena, I wasn't a church guy. But my family went, and I had some buddies in Sunday School. No one I was really close to, we didn't go to the same school, but there were guys I'd hang out with between the services."

Tim nods, he's familiar with how that worked. He had a few guys like that at his church, too.

"One of them was gay. He came out senior year. The second he turned eighteen, his parents booted him out of the house. And everyone at the church, the grown-ups at least, were all, 'You made the right decision. Can't have a kid like that hanging around. You've got to think of your younger kids,' all this bullshit that boiled down to if only Tom had acted different, if only he'd pulled it together and been the guy his parents wanted him to be, it'd have been all right.

"They were all sanctimonious assholes, Tim, one big circle-jerk of rabid homophobia. Tom couldn't have 'pulled it together.' He couldn't have made himself straight. And it was not his fault his parents and the people around him were scum. And it's not your fault you weren't Captain America or whatever the hell sort of super sailor your parents wanted. It is entirely their fault they couldn't look at the child you were and loved you like you were. And if Sarah was more what they were hoping for, well, Tom's little brother and sister were straight, and none of that changes that his parents and yours are assholes. It's on them, not you, not Tom. Them."

Jimmy smiles at him a little. "That's why it's a job, right? We make these people, and they're gonna be whoever it they are, and it's our job to love and shelter them and help them become the people they want to be, not the people we want them to be."

Tim closes his eyes and leans his head on Jimmy's shoulder for a moment, seeking and taking comfort from his touch. Then takes a deep breath and sits up, away from Jimmy. "What do you think, should I see her again?"

"I think seeing her is going to hurt. But it may be pain you need to go through, like having a bad tooth pulled. I think not seeing and not making a firm decision as to if she's going to be in your life is putting that pain off. Tooth is still bad, it's still festering in there, and you've got to get it out. You're right, ignoring it until you blow up is a bad plan. I think the only thing that's going to fix this on any long term sort of way is making that decision, cut her out or forgive her. And that… I don't know what the answer is to that."

They heard Kelly start to cry, and Tim got up, fast, going to grab her before there was any shot of waking Molly up, but as he headed up, he said to Jimmy, "Neither do I."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 311

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

Chapter 311: Pittsburgh Rare

He supposes it's something of a record. Almost five full days. He took the ring off on Tuesday. They'd all seen it by Wednesday. They saw his look and didn't press.

And kept not pressing.

But, with the little glance he sees Ziva shoot to Tim and Jimmy as the three of them head to the men's locker room after bootcamp, he's got a pretty good sense that not pressing is about to end.

Double teamed by Tim and Jimmy is both frustrating and impressive. Impressive because they're handling it well. Frustrating because it's annoying as hell to have two guys nattering away with each other, very much not asking you about what happened so that you took your wedding ring off while talking about wedding anniversaries (Tim's is next week, and the party that acted as Jimmy and Breena's wedding was the second week of November.) and being married and all of that jazz.

But they aren't actually asking. They're just talking to each other. Slowly. With lots of looks at him and breaks in the conversation where, should he so desire, he could, add some information of his own.

"Doing anything special on Sunday?" Jimmy asks Tim, looking at Jethro, and both of them pause, leaving an opening for Gibbs, but he doesn't say anything, so Tim responds. And they just keep doing it.

Finally, having done it all through getting stripped off and their showers, without any useful results, Tim opened his locker, pulled out his boxers, and turns to Gibbs and says, "So, you want us to keep doing this 'Cause we can keep it up until you get home, and then we'll wander down into your basement with you, drink your booze, and just keep doing it."

"All three of the girls have deputized us to do this. We've been told not to come home until we've gotten confirmation that you are at least okay," Jimmy adds, opening his locker.

"I'm fine," Jethro says, pulling his briefs out of his locker.

Tim and Jimmy look at each other, roll their eyes, and then they look back at Gibbs.

"What exactly do you think is going to happen to me if I go home and tell Abby, 'He says he's fine?'"

"Breena's not buying that either," Jimmy says, shaking his head.

"And really, just because she won't jump down your throat about it, does not mean Ziva will be cool. Our ninja will be displeased and take it out on us next week."

"You won't be here next week. And I won't either," Gibbs reminds them. Sunday is Tim's anniversary, and Gibbs will be babysitting. Though, last he checked, Tim thought everything was starting up well after bootcamp ended.

"I am not going one on one against her if I have failed to have gotten the information she wants. So, shall we keep chattering away, waiting for you to volunteer the information, or do we go out, get some drinks, and just talk?" Jimmy wraps with.

"Girls don't expect us home until later. Dinner's on me. Whatever you want." Tim says as he buttons his jeans.

"You should be getting home. Abby doesn't need to be spending all day alone with a sick baby."

Tim shakes his head, reaching for his shirt. "Nope. Not getting out of it that easy. We already had that conversation. Ziva and Tony are heading over to my place after she gets dressed. Abby's getting some down time. They're getting some babysitting practice. We're interrogating you for details." Tim smiles.

Gibbs grits his teeth and sighs, pulling his t-shirt over his head. The downside of a family full of cops is that none of them are good with just letting mysteries be, and they've got the planning skills to dig deep and find out what's going on.

"Fine. But you two are going to be useful."

"We're trying to be," Jimmy adds, zipping his fly.

"Useful to me."

"That's what he meant."

For the most part, woodworking is soothing for Gibbs. He likes the whole thing: the tactile experience, the feel, smell, and sound of metal shaping wood. The repetitive, yet focusing, motions. Put that all together and it's a very good place for him.

Stripping the finish off of wood on the other hand… Not his idea of fun at all. Dousing wood in nasty smelling chemicals that you have to keep yourself covered head to toe to prevent it from touching your skin does not make his day.

So, if the wonder twins want to pick his brain, they can also strip his wood.

"Is that you bed?" Tim asks, very surprised at what they saw when they got into the basement.

Gibbs nods.

Jimmy steps closer to the pile of beams laid out between two sawhorses. "You took off your ring and disassembled your bed?" Taking of the ring makes a certain amount of sense to Jimmy, the bed is leaving him boggled.

Gibbs nods again, and Tim adds, "It's the bed he built her."


Gibbs tilts his head toward his workbench. There's a sketch of a new bed on it. Like the rest of Gibbs stuff, it's fairly restrained. Like the original, it's mostly straight edges and square corners, but there's more detail work here, showing how he's grown as a woodworker in 36 years, beveled edges on the headboard, intricate legs, and when he finds the right piece of wood, he'll make his own veneer for the main part of the headboard.

He explains this to the guys, who are following along as well as two guys who know basically nothing about woodworking can. He wraps up with, "It's time to rebuild."

Both of them nod. They may not have gotten what precisely a hidden dovetail was, let alone how Gibbs was going to make them, but rebuilding is a concept they both understand.

"What do you want us to do?" Jimmy asks.

He picks up the bottle of solvent and tosses gloves at them. "Gotta get the finish off of these."

They're nodding along, gloving up, getting ready for this when Gibbs opened the bottle and Tim's lungs decided that they weren't going to play along.

"I'm on dinner," Tim says with a wheeze.

The other two stare at him.

"Can't do this," he says, heading up the stairs. "Abby doesn't need a sick kid and husband at home. Stay down here much longer and I'll have a full on asthma attack."

Jimmy and Gibbs nod at him, and he heads up.

Jimmy surprises Gibbs by not saying much of anything. He's just steadily working away on the wood, dabbing on the solvent the way he showed him.

"Thought you guys were supposed to be cross-examining me."

"Tim told me it was your anniversary. You took your ring off. You're rebuilding the bed you built her. I tell the girls that, they'll know you're okay. That you're doing something healthy with your grief. Don't need to press more than that. Though, if you want to talk…" Jimmy gestures to indicate his ears work just fine.

Gibbs doesn't say much. They keep working. A few more minutes pass and Jimmy says, "I've been thinking about this… How to work with someone who isn't Ducky. I know it's not as soon as you heading off, but one day he won't be down there anymore. It'll be me and whoever I hire."

"Got your own stories."

"Not sure I want to spend all day telling them. Not sure I want just quiet, either. I think part of why he talks all the time is to help fill the room. Too easy to just blend in with the dead if it's just silent. A voice, even your own, helps keep your mind on life."

Gibbs tilts his head, adding more solvent to his rag; he can understand that. "His mom told stories. Knew everything about everything, and she told them all the time. Used to say they were a clan of Bards and historians. They told the tales that made men immortal."

"You knew her before she started to slip away?"

Victoria Mallard, circa 1949ish.
He shakes his head. "Met her four-five times. And the last few times she didn't remember who I was from time to time. Remember Ducky talking about her."

"Keeping the stories alive. I guess that'll pass down to Tim."

"You've got stories, too."

"He's better at telling them."

"Doesn't mean you can't."

Jimmy smiles at him, and Gibbs starts to wonder if he just talked himself into a trap. "Nope. It doesn't. Of course, just because your best friend tells the stories, doesn't mean we don't want to hear yours, too."
Gibbs shakes his head. "Smartass."

Jimmy smiles again, even brighter. "I try. So, are you okay? This really moving forward or a new layer of hiding?"

"Hope not." Gibbs pats the beam under his hand. "Was the cross piece, one of them," he points to the other one that matches it. "Gonna cut it in half, here." He gestures to the midpoint of the beam. "Then split it in quarters." He points to the legs of his current bed, which are propped against the wall. "Will cut two inch-thick sections and an eight-inch section out of those, take the corners off, and fit the quarters into them. Glue it into a solid block. The eight-inch piece'll get drilled for pegs, and that'll connect into the mattress supports. Those supports and the pegs'll be made from new wood."

"The memories and history are still there, but changed into something beautiful, something that supports a new life?" Jimmy looks at the pieces in front of him and starts backtracking. "Not that the old one wasn't beautiful before, but…"

"I got ya, Jimmy. And, yeah. It's easier to build it with my hands than say it."

"Where's the ring?"

"With her."

Jimmy touches Jon's diamond on his medic-alert bracelet. "Are you going to keep anything to mark it, her?"

"Sleep on this bed, live in this house, sailing the boat with her name. Probably enough, maybe too much."

"Naming the boat after her… That's you and her heading off into the sunset together?"

Gibbs nods. That was the idea.

"Maybe naming it after her, especially if you're thinking that you might want to sail off with someone else at some point, maybe that's not such a good plan."

That wasn't a thought that had hit Gibbs, but hearing it, there is a certain logic to it. "Been thinking of her as Shannon since before I started building her."

"Yep. But it's been… four years? Lot's changed since then, though, right?"


"Come January, you're not going to just vanish off the face of the planet, right?"

"Didn't intend to." Which is the closest he's come to admitting to any of them that that did used to be the plan.

"So, maybe she needs a new name." Jimmy can see Gibbs thinking about that, so he doesn't press. A few minutes later, as they flip the beam they're working on over, to get the underside wiped down with solvent, he does ask, "You find out what Franks was doing? Tony and Ziva aren't talking."

Gibbs nods.

"You're not talking, either."

"Can't tell you for the same reason he couldn't tell me."

"Oh, god. How illegal is it?"

Very says Gibbs' expression.


"No." Quit asking.

And Jimmy may not, as he said, be psychic, but he can read that loud and clear. "Fine. Are you going to start doing it?"

Gibbs doesn't answer. He does glare slightly.

"I'll leave it alone."

A few seconds later, they hear Tim yell down, "Jimmy, where are your keys?"

"In my pocket." He puts his rag down, and strips off his gloves. "Why do you need them?"

"Got the fire started, thought it might be a good plan to buy some food to cook on it."

"Good point." He heads to the base of the stairs and tosses his keys up to Tim, who caught them tidily.

"Back in a bit. Fire's lit, got the grate closed." Jimmy nods, and a few minutes after that, they hear his car pull out of Gibbs' driveway.

Jimmy heads back, snaps the gloves back on, and says, "Okay, last thing about whatever it is Franks was up to, keep good notes if you want Tim, Tony, and I to pick it up in twenty year."

"Maybe it won't be necessary then."

Jimmy's eyebrows shoot up, and Gibbs shakes his head again, not willing to say more.

Gibbs is better at cowboy cookery than Tim. In that he's been doing it for decades, this is not much of a surprise.

So, yes the steaks are simultaneously somewhat less rare than Tim or Jimmy like (black around the edges) and a bit more rare than they like (quietly mooing in the middle), but they are steaks, and the fire's still burning, so getting the middle bit cooked more isn't that much of an issue, and he absolutely nailed the greens.

(Of course, the fact that Gibbs thinks this is the best spinach in the history of spinach may have something to do with the fact that it's kale and chard. Or possibly that Tim cooked them in lots of butter, garlic, and salt, and then added a little cider vinegar to them. Either way, this was the most enthusiastic they'd ever seen Gibbs about a vegetable.)

They're sitting near the fireplace. Tim and Jimmy close to the flames, trying to get their steaks a bit less rare. Gibbs is further back, sitting on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, happily eating away.

Jimmy's got a piece of steak on his fork, charred top and bottom, luke-warm, almost purple center. He's toasting it over the fire, trying to get it to rare without burning it any more. "So, is next week's bootcamp learning how to cook over a fire?"

Gibbs sniggers at that, chewing, looking like he's enjoying this quite a bit. "Don't like your steak black and blue?"

Neither of the guys know what that means.

"Pittsburgh rare?" Gibbs adds, seeing that means nothing to them, either. He stares at Jimmy, confused. "He grew up in California, so I know he doesn't get it. But you're from western PA, right?"

"I went to college there. Wasn't eating much steak then. Grew up in Wilmington, Delaware."

Gibbs nods at that, tucking it into his mental map of Jimmy. "Burn the hell out of it on a really high flame and keep the middle rare."

"People do this to steaks intentionally where you're from?"

Gibbs nods. "Douse 'em in melted butter first, stick 'em over a high flame, fwoosh. Black and blue."

"Really?" Tim had been feeling pretty embarrassed about the steaks. They'd been sizzling along, looking fine, smelling great. He went into the kitchen to start on the greens, and as they were cooking down nicely, he started to smell char and by the time he got them flipped they were black on the side closest to the flame.

"Mom made 'em like this. She said that the steelworkers would take cuts of beef to work, pop 'em on the cooling steel for a sec, flip 'em, and that was lunch."

Jimmy's staring at him, not buying it. "You sure that wasn't an accident? Sounds like the kind of story my mom would tell when she accidentally messed something up in the kitchen. Spaghetti's still crunchy in the middle, 'Oh, that's the way they eat it in Italy.' Spaghetti's cooked to soup, 'That's how they do it in France.'"

"Saying my mom couldn't cook?"

Tim's got Danger! Back away! all over his face.

"I'm sure she was a great cook. Just, you ever see Pittsburgh rare or black and blue anywhere else?"

Gibbs laughs. "She was a weird cook. She'd put chocolate sauce on apple pie or ketchup on scrambled eggs. Pittsburgh rare is a real thing, not like 'French' spaghetti soup."

"Ketchup on eggs?" Tim asks, that's not just weird to him, it's revolting.

"Uncle Ron came home from World War II and ate ketchup on everything. He'd put it on oatmeal if you let him. Sort of like how MREs all come with Tabasco. Everything came with ketchup then. She was seven when he came home, and idolized him, did everything he did, so for a while she put ketchup on everything, too. Ketchup on eggs, she liked."

Tim's shaking his head, eating a less raw piece of his steak.

"'French spaghetti soup' only happened once or twice. Most of the time dinner was okay. But she did like those god-awful pour canned mushroom soup on top of canned tuna, frozen peas, and noodles and bake for ten hours casseroles."

Both Tim and Gibbs wince at that.

"Jello salads," Gibbs says. "No dinner was complete without some sort of jello with all sorts of weird stuff floating in it. Orange jello with chunks of carrots, apples, and raisins. That was always part of Thanksgiving."

Jimmy and Tim look at each other. Tim says, "Doesn't sound too bad."

"The carrots and apples were hard and crunchy, size of a dime."

"Oh," Jimmy says.

"Red white and blue Jello for Fourth of July. Cherry and lime Jello for Christmas, eggnog jello on top. Pink and yellow and blue Jello eggs for Easter. Name a holiday, and we had Jello for it."

"Labor Day." Jimmy says.

"Whatever the pink stuff was with watermelon and strawberry chunks, Cool Whip on top."

"Your mom loved Jello."

"Yeah, she did."

"Baskin Robbins," Jimmy says. "We had one five blocks from our apartment. Friday nights in the summer, Mom'd make hot dogs on the little grill we had on the back patio." He looks at the steak on his plate. "Actually, they were usually cooked pretty close to this. Then we'd walk down to the Baskin Robbins and get ice cream. Summer break's ten weeks long, so one year, fourth grade, fifth, something like that, we decided we'd try all 31 flavors." Jimmy smiles at that. "Each get two scoops, and try all of each other's as well. Clark let us down, he kept getting the same four flavors, but we still made it."

"Tim?" Jethro asks. They've been talking about family food memories, but besides listening, he's not adding anything.

Tim shakes his head. "Wasn't a big deal for us. When I was little, it was mostly just me and Mom. So, sandwiches, take out, McDonald's playland some nights. By the time I was ten, Sarah was a baby, and we'd split cooking. Nothing special, just enough calories and vitamins to keep us going. Only time dinner was ever a big deal was when The Admiral was home, and I didn't cook those nights. Didn't eat much, either. Gran was a 'good, plain' cook, which was code for well-done everything cooked with salt and pepper and boiled veggies with butter or bacon. She could bake though. Good pound cakes and biscuits. Penny didn't learn to cook until she was in her sixties. She got back from traveling one time, and had all these ideas she wanted to show us. I remember that."

"Any of them good?" Jimmy asks.

"Probably. I was fourteen and lived on a diet of white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soda, microwave pizza, my own cooking, and fast food. Salt and pepper was the extent of my skills with seasoning. I remember being mildly horrified by anything she tried to spring on us. However, I had mastered spaghetti by then, and never served it as soup."

Jimmy snorts at that.

"How about Shannon, what was her special thing?" Tim asks.

Gibbs smiles, looking at the fireplace, and waits a beat or two, until they've got the kind of steaks he makes on there in mind. "Who'd you think taught me how to do that?"

"Wasn't the Marines?" Jimmy asks.

"Or Boy Scouts?" Tim adds. Even he got the cooking badge, so he's sure Gibbs had to have gotten it, too.

"No one gives a pile of Marines or Boy Scouts decent steaks. They'd kill 'em. Cook 'em like Jimmy's mom's hotdogs."

Jimmy's eyeballing Tim, the steaks sitting between them, Tim again. Tim pokes him in the knee with his foot.

On the beach.
"Shannon's family liked to camp. She and her mom believed that being miles away from a stove was no excuse for making a bad meal. She was even better with fish. When we lived in California, we'd spend long weekends at the beach, cook 'em less than a hundred feet from where we caught them. Doesn't matter what it is, catch it, gut it, cook it over a driftwood fire, finish it up with s'mores. That's gonna be a good night."

Jimmy nods along with that.

"Did that once, with my grandparents," Tim says. "Hadn't thought of it in years." He watches the fire, sorting through the memories, trying to place them. "Would have been little. Sarah wasn't with us, yet." He rubs his eyes, thinking more. "Dad and Pop caught the fish. Dad built the fire, really big and high, probably not great for cooking on but it looked awesome. Spent the day fishing and playing in the surf. Might have been clams… Are clams an east coast thing? I remember a big pot, so something must have gone in that pot. But we were with Gran and Pop, so that meant California, not the east coast." Neither of the other two answer, letting Tim talk. Both of them getting an idea of how young 'little' had to be if Tim was referring to his father as 'Dad.' "Built this huge sandcastle. Walls, ramparts, moats, more walls, towers… Surf got it eventually, but it had to work hard to get it. I don't remember eating the fish. Probably did, get yelled at for wasting food if you didn't eat it, and I don't remember yelling. I do remember the marshmallows." He smiles at that image. "Pop was holding me around the waist, making sure I didn't get too close to the fire, showing me how to keep rotating the marshmallow or it'd catch fire. Then my mom just stuck hers right into the flames, and up it went, she let it burn for a few seconds, blew it out, and popped it in her mouth, grinning at him, teasing him about how much better they were charred."

"And thus we learn how Tim learned to cook over an open flame."

Tim rolls his eyes at Jimmy. "That was a good night. And marshmallows do taste better gently browned with salty driftwood smoke."

Gibbs is nodding in agreement. "Three, four years, when they're all potty-trained and down to one nap a day we'll find a place on the coast and do that."

Jimmy smiles at him. "Already got a place. It's on the water. Four bedrooms. Don't even need to wait for them to get potty-trained, never have to be more than two hundred feet from a convenient changing table. Ed and Jeannie's place in the Outer Banks is ready and waiting for little girls to come and play. Ziva and Tony manage to not be really pregnant this summer, and we can head down."

"Remember what Leon said…" Tim adds.

Jimmy shrugs. "By this summer you'll run one department, I'll have another, Abby'll have a third, Tony and Ziva'll have the MCRT and we'll all have seconds in command. Won't be like the lab shuts down when Abby leaves, or MCRT can't investigate. Cybercrime'll go without you for a day or two. And yeah, I'd need to get up there pretty quick, if someone dies, but that's not as big a deal as having the investigative branch, the lab, and the morgue all shut down."

Tim nods, that's a pretty good point. Jimmy looks at Gibbs and asks, "You got more than one fishing pole?"

"I will by this summer."


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 310

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

Chapter 310: October 23, 2015

At 11:23 on October 23, 2012 McGee and Abby were making love for the first time in a little less than a decade.

They were in her apartment, on the floor, right in front of the front door, having a very good time.

At 11:23 on October 23, 2013 Tim and Abby were sitting in his car, pulled over on the side of an empty road in Kansas, listening to the song Abby had picked for Tim to celebrate the anniversary he thought was the next week.

She snuggled in his lap as they listened to the music, cold fall air whirling around them, as stars undimmed by the lights of man gleamed overhead.

At 11:23 on October 23, 2014 the soon to be Mr. and Mrs. McGee were in bed, just having finished making love in their new home for the first time. He was spooned up behind her, hand on her belly, both of them wondering if they had just made a baby.

And, at 11: 23 on October 23, 2015 Mom was nursing an intensely fussy baby girl while Dad googled ear infections, hoping there was something they could do to make her more comfortable because, with the exception of when Kelly has Abby's breast in her mouth, she's screaming bloody murder and all the baby Tylenol in the world does not seem to be helping.

At all.

And while it is true that if you were to ask either of them if this was how they had hoped to celebrate their third anniversary, the answer would be no, that this is, at its heart, the essence of love.

They are both exhausted, dark rings under their eyes (Kelly was up all last night and all day), crabby, Abby is god awful sore, wanting to wince every time Kelly sucks because she's been nursing for close to an hour and a half now, and no one's nipples were designed to take that, but they are still working together, still supporting one another, and still trying to comfort the person their love made.

And yes, there is sarcasm and snarkiness here, and short tempers, but when Abby can't take another suck, she hands Kelly to Tim, and he takes her in his arms gently, letting her suck on his finger. (She's less than thrilled about that, but she still seems to prefer it to the pacifier.) He kicks back the recliner sofa, props Kelly on his stomach and chest, letting her suck away, and Abby snuggles into him, and both of them catch a few minutes of sleep while Kelly chews on her Daddy's finger.

Eight minutes later, when Jimmy texted them back with Baby Orajel, could be early teething or sore throat to go with the ear infection, they were overjoyed to try it, and see Kelly fall into an almost immediate sleep.

So, for their third anniversary, the now married, now parents, now Mr. and Mrs. McGee, got to sleep, both of them, for a solid three and a half hours.

And by that point, that was all the celebration either of them wanted.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 309

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

Chapter 309: Goodbye

"It's tomorrow, isn't it?" Rachel asks as they're wrapping up the session.

"Yeah." He doesn't need clarification that they're talking about his wedding anniversary. Only one big thing happening tomorrow, and the advent of yet another Tuesday isn't it.

"What are you going to do?"

"Don't know."

She doesn't believe that, but his evasion has her interested. "What do you usually do?"

He shrugs at that. It's been a while since he hasn't wanted to answer her questions but this one's… not so much personal, though it is, it's more that he'd prefer she didn't think he's gone fully bonkers.

But she's learning his different looks and silences, and knows that this is something he wants to say, but hasn't worked himself up to yet, so she pokes a little further. "Don't have a usual, or don't want to tell me?"

He half-smiles, sips his coffee. "I've got a usual. Sounds crazy."

"You're already talking to a shrink," Rachel says with a gentle smile.

"It's straight jacket crazy."

She raises one eyebrow. "I doubt that intensely. No one wraps you in a straight jacket unless you're a danger to yourself or others. Are you going to do anything dangerous tomorrow? More so than usual." After all, he's a cop, a day at the office might be awfully dangerous.

"No." He shakes his head. "We got married a bit before sunset, and… usually, around then, I see her. We talk."

Rachel's considerably less surprised by that than he was expecting her to be. "Does it happen when you aren't alone?"

He tries to remember. He doesn't take the day off, but he also does his best to be home by sunset. Hasn't always worked, but it's probably been a while since it didn't. "I usually am, but if not, then no, it doesn't happen. She waits until I'm on my own."

"What do you talk about?"

"Stupid stuff?" He's not sure how to characterize what they talk about. But it's not… important… on any real level. Last year he told her about Tim and Abby's wedding. She liked the idea of him dressed up in the morning suit, and really liked him giving away the bride.

"The weather?"

"Nah. Not that stupid. Just… stuff. Whatever's going on. The kind of things you store up over a day or so to tell your spouse. Dinnertime talk. Always wraps the same. I tell her I miss her. She tells me to move on. That we love each other." There's a sad smile on his face. "Just stupid, everyday stuff."

"Talk about Kelly?"

"No." They don't. And he doesn't know if that's because it'll break the illusion in his mind of Shannon, prove she's not really there, or if it'll just make him too sad.

"Do you see Kelly, too?"

"Rarely. Sometimes on the anniversary of their death. Sometimes when I've been close to dead." He watches Rachel for another moment. "Why don't you think that's insane?"

"Jethro, one of the exercises we often have clients do is talk to people who aren't there. Say the things they need to say. That you're doing it on your own isn't a problem."

"I'm telling you I see ghosts. That's not a problem?"

She flashes him a get over yourself look. "One of my clients is a wizard. Full on magic. Summons angels, likes to talk to them about the secrets of the universe. And you know what, I am completely indifferent to the truth value of his magical skills or the existence of his angels because that's one of the aspects of his life that's functioning and makes him happy. And as long as your ghosts are also trying to point you in a healthy direction, like Shannon encouraging you to move on, I have no trouble with you chatting with them. Ghosts in and of themselves aren't a problem. Ghosts encouraging you to do stupid things, that's a problem. Anything like that happening?"


"Then enjoy your visit with Shannon."

"That my homework?"

"Yes." And he can tell, by her smile, that like with enjoying some time with Diane, she expects this to take him deeper than just a pleasant evening.

"How are you going to get what you need if you can't let go?" "It's time, Gibbs." "You need to let go." "You can't get what you need if you're still clinging onto me."

She's said it a lot of different ways, lot of different times. At least every year for the last five years. Said it to him when he was with Hollis. He doesn't think she said it before then, but that's at least ten years now.

"It's time, Gibbs." He's not sure if that's her, or if he's saying it to himself. Either way, when they quit work, he shakes his head at Tim, who invited him over for dinner, gets into his truck, and begins to drive away from his home.

He hasn't been back here in years.

They aren't here. Not really. Names on a stone and bones don't matter, not in any real sense, but he doesn't have a better place to go in mind, so this will do.

He sits down, back against the tombstone Shannon and Kelly share. There's one empty space on it, for him, and sooner or later, and these days he's gotten to the point where he's consistently sure it'll be later, and more importantly, he's also hoping it will be later, Tim, Tony, and Jimmy will carry him here and lay him to rest with his girls.

He feels her before he sees her.

That's always been true. Was true the first time he saw her. There was just a sense that something, someone earth-shakingly important was nearby, and it drew his eyes, made him look.

He saw the red hair, fine build, and warm smile and fell in love before he even knew her name.

Her hand lands on his shoulder, and he grasps it, squeezing gently, not saying anything while she sits beside him.

"Been a long time since you've come here," Shannon says to him, letting his hand go and resting her head against his shoulder.


"Don't know if I like you coming here to remember us. Home is better, or the beach, or somewhere we were together."

He nods and sighs.

The sun is setting and it's starting to get cold. He points to the left, where a scarlet maple filters the sunset, the reason he picked here. "This time thirty-six years ago you were standing in front of a tree like that, getting your picture taken."

"Oh." She looks over at it. This one is bigger, one of many trees, not a lone ornamental in the churchyard. "Why here, why not the church in Stillwater?"

"They remodeled in 2006. The tree's gone. So's the church, really. It's glass and steel now."

"Blech." She sticks out her tongue, and then smiles at him.

That pulls a smile out of him. Emanuel Episcopal Church had been made of the local stone. Quarried less than five miles from the site. It was old, always a little damp and cold, no matter how hot it got outside, the gray granite slowly going black and greenish with time. It built it almost two hundred years. But it was old, and damp, and cold, and growing black mold, and didn't attract new young people, and stone was hard to renovate so that it met with the OSHA codes, so they ripped it down and built it up new and shiny.

She takes his left hand in hers and strokes his wedding ring. "Putting this on you was one of the happiest moments of my life."

"Mine, too."

"But it's time to take it off. You've spent twice as long mourning me as you did married to me."

"I know." And he does. He feels the weight of those years very intensely right now.

"And this last year, you've done a good job getting yourself right. You're finally letting the anger go and filling up that hole with love."

He's looking at her fingers stroking his. "I miss you."

"I know." She's staring him in the eyes, her expression soft, tinged with sorrow.

"I'm trying." He smiles sadly at her, and she strokes his face, leaning in to press a gentle kiss to his lips.

"I know that, too. And you're succeeding." Her face is earnest and encouraging. "You were meant to be a family man. Being a dad and granddad, it's good for you."

"Yeah, it is."

Shannon shifts around so she was kneeling on the ground in front of him, between his outstretched legs. She holds both of his hands in hers, and stares into his eyes.

"You were meant to be something else, too."

He nods, knowing that the heart of the family is husband and wife.

"All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, Gibbs."

"I know. It's all I ever wanted for you, too."

She squeezes his hands. "You made me so happy. And you can make me happier. You're ready; it's time to move on."

He cups her face in his hands. "How can I be ready for this?"

"Because you are. Because it's time." She shakes her head. "It's more than time. Because the hate and the anger and the guilt are almost gone, you just have to let them go. Because I want you to remember me and smile, not cry. Because I want to stop being your pain and go back to being your joy." There are tears streaming down her face as she kisses the ball of his thumb.

"You are."

"Not yet. But I will be."

Gibbs slips the knife he always carries off of his belt, and digs a shallow hole over Shannon's grave, then places the ring in it. She smiles, still crying, as he does it, helping him replace the dirt and grass over his wedding band.

"Will I see you again?" He doesn't wipe away the tears that are streaming down his face.

She shakes her head. "Not for a good long time. Got a lot of life left in you, Gibbs, you gotta go live it."

He's quiet, looking at the hole, feeling the lack of her very intensely.

"Gibbs…" He feels both of her hands on his shoulders. She's standing behind him, and he turns to look up at her. "I've never had any problem with sharing you. I shared you with the Marines. I shared your love with Kelly. One of these days, you'll bring another woman here and you'll tell her about me, and it will be okay. You'll love her, and she'll love you, and it will be okay."

He nods, unable to speak.

Shannon bends down, kisses his forehead, and vanishes.

He spends a long time staring at the darkening sky, crying for what was lost, fearing what is new, but when he stands, he feels purged of anger, of guilt, and ready to go on.

It's well after dark when he gets home, and like with burying the ring, he knows what he needs to do.

He goes upstairs, takes his mattress and box spring off the bed, and begins to take it apart. Carefully, slowly, he knows he'll save the wood. Won't use all of it, and he'll redesign, but at least some of the new bed will be made with this wood. The main support structures, probably. The big beams, the legs. That seems fitting to him.

His fingers linger on the oak, drift along it.

It'll never really be goodbye. Shannon and Kelly were so much of his life, so much of who he was and who he is, and that will never change. They're the bedrock foundation of Gibbs.

But it's time to build something new on that foundation.

It takes an hour for him to get it completely disassembled and then all of the pieces down to the basement.

And from there he spends the rest of the night sketching, working on a new bed, something that remembers who he was, honors it, but isn't trapped by it.

In the morning, there's no call out, another paperwork day. He can feel all four of his teammates staring at his hand, seeing the missing ring. He shakes his head. He'll tell them about it, explain, sooner or later, but not yet.

Right now, this needs to be just his.

And right now, they aren't pressing him on it, which he appreciates.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 308

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

Chapter 308: Perfume

Somehow, after Molly was born, the occasional Saturday morning at the Farmers' Market got added to the things they did with the Palmers on a semi-regular basis. Maybe once, maybe twice a month. It depends a lot on caseload and how rammy the babies are. (Might have something to do with the Farmers' Market being open early on Saturdays and babies not grasping the concept of sleeping in on the weekend.)

And, while it's true that Tim's been aware of the fact that DC has a really awesome Farmers' Market, it wasn't the sort of thing he ever bothered with. But once it got added to the routine, he's come to look forward to seeing what will be there.

Since October 10th dawned absolutely glorious, bright blue sky, highs in the mid-sixties, leaves in full autumn fire, he was supremely unsurprised to see: Farmers' Market? Half an hour? Pop up on his phone from Jimmy.

And in half an hour, they were getting Kelly's car seat into Palmer's van, and another half hour after that they were strolling around, looking at the harvest, artisan crafts, and all sort of yummy things, feeling pretty relaxed and happy.

(Well, Tim and Abby are pretty relaxed. Kelly's just chilling in her stroller. Jimmy and Breena are kind of nervous. Molly objected vehemently to riding in her stroller, so she's on foot and wants to touch everything.)

But for the most part, they're just sort of ambling along, snagging things like apples, jars of heirloom popcorn, fresh breads, greens, mushrooms, talking with each other.

"What do you think of this?" Abby asks Tim.

Tim's not really paying attention. He's looking at a stall selling wind chimes, half-thinking maybe they should get some; the front porch is kind of bare-looking, half-pondering the fact that he still doesn't have an anniversary present for her, and both of them are getting closer and closer.



She thrusts her wrist under his nose. "What do you think of this?"

He inhales and fucking hell, what is that?

It's deep and rich and… and… he thinks it's sandalwood and vanilla and maybe jasmine or something floral and some sort of musk, maybe some leather and smoke, there's a tickle of something spicy in the back, and it's just… it's everything perfume is supposed to be. The ads always act like perfume is bottled sex and yeah, it's okay, and there are a lot of scents he likes, but that gotta grab the woman wearing it and eat her alive, nope, he's never felt that.

Not from a perfume. Not until now.

Which isn't to say that there aren't scents that get to him like that. But the kind of scent that grabs him by the balls and yells SEX at him usually is a sex scent. Her pussy, wet, God yes!, that hits him so hard. His saliva along with that. That's a scent that gets him hard. The way his hands smell after he's gone down on her, when they're wet with her cum, and his saliva, and usually some of his musk, too, that definitely gets to him, gets him so hard he'll ache. The way her face smells after she's gone down on him. That mix of his semen on her breath, sure that's usually a too little too late sort of thing, but it gets to him. His semen on her pussy. Also, generally, too little, too late, but for a second round, that one really gets to him.

But whatever the hell it is they sell for three hundred dollars an ounce and stick in pretty blown glass bottles, not so much.

But this, whatever this is, on her arm, that's getting his attention in a very good way. In a wanna-push-you-up-against-the-nearest-stationary-object-and-get-it-on-right-here-and-now sort of way. In an he's awfully glad he's not wearing his kilt sort of way.

He's probably staring at her with that hit over the head hasn't quite managed to come to yet look, because she smiles, giggles, and says, "So you like it?"

He nods. "Oh yeah."

"How much?" she asks with a saucy grin, licking her lips.

He steps closer to her and says very quietly, finger tips lightly stroking her thigh just below where her gray and navy plaid skirt ends, "If we were in a club, I'd already be balls deep in you. As it is, I'm counting the minutes to naptime."

That got another smile and a teasing kiss, as she cupped her hand on his cheek, holding her wrist just below his nose, and he inhaled deeply, again, then titled his head to kiss her wrist, biting gently where her pulse throbbed.

"The booth behind us." She tilts her head toward it. "It's called Thousand and One Nights. My purse is in the car. Buy it for me?"


Finding the booth took about nine seconds. Finding the right scent took longer. There has to be at least one hundred different blends here, all of them with identical labels. But, fortunately they're alphabetical and it didn't take him long to find it among the Ts.

It's a tiny little amber bottle. "Five-fifty," says the girl behind the display. Like Abby, she's probably not as young as she looks, her eyes are just too adult for her blue-haired, teenager-ish aesthetic.

But the price is right. Really right. Hell, five-fifty, and he'll buy it out. He takes the other three bottles and hands the woman a fifty.

She just stares at him, shakes her head slowly, and hands him the fifty back. "Five hundred and fifty dollars."

He just looks (eyes on the verge of falling out of his head) at the bottle. It's the size of his thumb. According to the label there's only half an ounce of perfume in there. (He can hear Jimmy laughing behind him.)

"What's it made out of, gold?"

The lady at the booth looks amused at that. "Most of the ingredients actually cost more, per ounce, than gold does. And even if they didn't, the skill necessary to put them together to make something that smells like that is worth more than gold."

He hears the pride of ownership in her voice. "You make this?"

She nods. "I make all of them."

He smiles at her, hoping he didn't insult her with the gold crack. "You're right about that. That's beyond delicious." He puts the other three bottles back, very carefully, and gets his credit card out. "Don't suppose you ever have sales?"

"If you give me your email address, I'll put you on my mailing list. I do, on occasion, have sales."

He hands her one of his Thom Gemcity cards. (This didn't seem like anything he wanted going to his computer at NCIS.) She reads it and looks up at him, scrutinizing.

"How many twitter followers do you have?"

"I don't know. Let me check." He gets his phone out and looks, thinking that's a really bizarre question. "Forty-three thousand four hundred and twelve."

She thinks about that for a tenth of a second. "Mention it in a tweet and the second bottle's free."

And then her question made a whole lot of sense. Better advertising than any five hundred dollars could buy. "Done." He took a quick picture of the bottle, making sure the label, which had the name of the scent, the company, and their website on it, was clear, and then sent out: Anniversary present for my love.

She tucks the second bottle into a small, padded box, and put both of them in his bag. "Enjoy."

"I intend to."

She looks to Jimmy, who's just been standing slightly behind him, watching the exchange, smirking at Tim, until he realized Tim was actually going to buy it, and then looking stunned. "Anything I can help you with?"

"Got anything I don't need a second mortgage to afford?"

"You got forty thousand twitter followers?" she asks with a smile.

"If I had twitter, all six of my followers would follow him, too."

She smiles at Jimmy and points to the left side of the booth where there are even tinier vials. "Two point five milliliter vials. They all run less than fifty, and for most people that's about twenty or so applications. Or you can use it to scent a bottle of moisturizer, massage oil, shampoo or something like that."

"So you mean he's got enough for the rest of his wife's life?"

She nods. "Pretty much." Then looks at Tim, realizing how that may have sounded. "You can swap one for another scent if you want."

He shakes his head, holding one hand up. "I'm good with this."

"Okay. Store it in a cool, dark place. As long as it stays in that bottle it'll be fine, and that particular scent gets better with age. In about three years, it'll knock your socks off."

Given how he's reacting to it already, the idea of better is staggering. "Good to know."

Ten minutes later they're wandering back toward the girls. (Jimmy had gotten two little vials for Breena, both sweeter, more floral scents. Tim thinks of them as being 'pink' scents. They're pretty. He likes them. Doesn't have a visceral reaction on any level to them.)

"Can't believe you actually bought that," Jimmy says, smiling.

Tim shrugs. "Got an anniversary present now."

"And then some."

"Got two of them in one week, this should do."

"Two?" Jimmy's expression is curious. He knows one is coming up, but isn't sure what the other is.

"Second first date was the 23rd, wedding's the 1st."

"Good point."

"What'd you do for your first anniversary?"

Jimmy smirks a little at Tim, and shifts his eyes to Breena, about five stalls up sitting next to Abby on a bench, Molly in her lap. She's wearing a pretty maxi dress in pink and coral, and a white cardigan, very pregnant with his third child, sharing a muffin with his first child, and that smirk morphed into a genuine smile. "Made Molly. Maybe. Probably. Like to think we did, you know?"

Tim smiles at that, nodding, he knows. Then Jimmy looks at him, does a bit of quick math, remembers one of his pre-wedding conversations with Tim, and says, "Same thing you did, too."

"Probably. Technically that was our second anniversary. I missed the first, thought it was a week later than it was."

"Oops. Think you may have made up for it this year."

"Maybe. So besides baby-making sex, you guys do anything?"

"Dinner, movie, ate the top of the cake we missed because we spent our wedding day in the hospital waiting to hear if Ducky was going to live, checking our phones every ten second to see who they'd found at NCIS and if they were all right."

Tim sighs. "I forgot how exciting your wedding day was."

Jimmy rolls his eyes. "Try traumatic."


"Puts for better or worse in context."

Tim nods. By that point they were back to the girls. Abby's smiling up at him, looking excited. "You get it?"

He takes the little box out and shakes it (gently) at her. "I really hope you like this."

She looks mildly confused by that, and he shakes his head, smiling.

"I get any treats?" Breena asks.

Jimmy smiles at her, looking satisfied. "Maybe. Did you want a treat?"

"When don't I want treats?"

"Treats!" Molly says, excited.

"You've already got one," Breena tells her daughter, breaking off another piece of the muffin and giving it to her.

Jimmy sits next to her on the bench. "Close your eyes."

Breena did, smiling.

"Okay, this one." He opens one of the vials, wafting it under her nose. "Or this one?" Then he repeats it with the second one. (Abby leans over, sniffing both as well, nodding at Jimmy, giving him a thumbs up, approving of his choices. He nods at her, pleased.)

Breena's grinning. "They're both great. How about the second one?"

Jimmy covers the top with his forefinger, flicks it upside down, letting the fluid touch his skin, and then gently drags his forefinger down her throat, kissing the other side, and then kissing the top of Molly's head.

"Does Mommy smell good?" he asks his daughter while capping the vial, as Breena rubs her wrist against her throat, and then against her other wrist.

Molly snuggles in close, inhaling loudly, and nods.

And Tim is noticing, able to smell it on her, that before by "pink" he meant flowers, cotton candy, and teddy bears. Now he's thinking flushed skin, wet lips, and hard nipples, "pink." In the bottle it smelled innocent. Nice. Pleasant. Not even remotely sexy.

On Breena, like the scent Abby picked, it's sex in a bottle.

Whatever the hell it is that woman does, it's worth a grand an ounce.

The car ride home is interesting. Kelly's feeding schedule means they needed to rearrange the seating. Usually if both of their families go out, Jimmy and Breena'll take the front, the girls go in the middle row, and he and Abby hang out in the back. But Kelly wants to eat, and she can't feed herself, so Jimmy's driving, Breena's in the front next to him, and Abby's in the back row with Molly. He's in the middle row, feeding Kelly her bottle.

But, in the middle, twisted toward Kelly, he can easily see both of the girls, and he can definitely smell both of them, too.

Like the women, each scent is very different, but they both hit him hard, both appeal deeply to him. The longer they wear the scents the more they shift, blend into the woman, but amplify her own unique sensuality. Floral and sweet are still there on Breena, innocence is there, too, maybe. Debauched virgin, that's the words that come to mind, pink roses and eagerly pulling the bride's panties off. And Abby's scent is still warm and sensuous, spicy, exotic, dark, making him think of darkly painted eyes, silky veils, tied wrists, and hidden, forbidden sex in verdant, wet, blooming, walled gardens.

The last time he was this turned on by both of them together was the tail end of that dry spell before Kelly was born. When they were sitting on the sofa together, and there was just lots of beautiful woman in front of him looking all soft and pregnant and sexy.

And breathing in both scents, watching Breena in coral and pink and white, long flowing blonde hair, very round breasts and tummy, all sensuous, pregnant curves, and Abby in thigh high socks, a short plaid skirt, relaxed gray sweater with a wide collar slipping off her shoulder, and short , sassy blonde/pink hair, he can honestly say that he is deeply grateful that it's not going to me more than an hour until he gets laid.

The girls are chattering away, smiling, having what looks to be a great time. He's quiet, torn between keeping the tip of the bottle in Kelly's mouth and the x-rated fantasies flying through his mind. He's vaguely aware of the fact that Jimmy's not saying much either, and he half-wonders if the way the girls smell is hitting Jimmy as hard as it's hitting him.

Abby's putting the groceries away when he gets downstairs from putting Kelly down. They don't have all that long, half an hour tops, twenty minutes, realistically, before she wakes up and wants to eat again.

DC has an awesome Farmers' Market, and everyone and their cousin agrees with that. By the time they got free of traffic a good hour and twenty minutes had gone by.

So, now, home, baby down, it is indeed naptime, and Abby still smells like walking sex.

Delicious, sultry, hot, exotic sex bopping around the kitchen, (she's got music on, pretty loud) putting groceries away.

"She go down okay?" Abby asks without looking at him, pulling a bunch of broccoli out of one of their bags. They've had occasional issues with Kelly not transferring well between her car seat and the crib.

He nods, steps right up behind her, pulling her flush against him, his hands on her hips, and nuzzles her throat and ear. He nibbles gently before sucking her earlobe. "For future reference, wearing this scent means 'Fuck me right here and now, I don't care if the neighbors are watching or not!'"

She squirms against him, as he takes the broccoli out of her hand and tosses it toward the counter. (Didn't actually hit the counter, ended up on the floor.)

"You're saying I shouldn't wear it outside of our bedroom?" Her hands stroke up his sides, curl around his neck, and then run through his hair.

"Depends on how much you want our neighbors to know about us," he says, wet and hot against her ear has his hands slide under her sweater, gently cupping her breasts.

"Uh huh." She grinds into him, rubbing her ass against his erection, and he groans quietly. "And what if I wear it to work?"

That gets another groan as several images go spinning through his mind. His left hand settles on the back of her neck, stroking lightly with his nails, getting a sharp inhale and goosebumps out of her, then grasping firmly, as he pushes her to the counter, bending her over it.

"Unless you want Corwin to walk in on this." He flips her skirt up, kneeling to kiss her through her panties, hot breath meeting moist cotton, then hooks his finger in the crotch, and pulls them down in one swift move. He gets them off her left foot, and lifts her leg, so her knee and thigh are also on the counter, spreading her wide open, while kissing his way up her right leg. "I wouldn't suggest it."

She groans as his tongue finds her clit, arching back against him. "You'd just have to… oh fuck…" His teeth graze over her clit. "Go fast… wouldn't want… God…" She shudders as he sucks gently, one finger stroking over her gspot. "That to happen."

He stands up, popping the button on his fly, unzipping quickly, and pushing his jeans and boxers down. "Fast?" It slurs into a long groan as he thrusts into her, hard, fast, deep.


She's touching herself, and he's rocking into her as quickly as he can. This isn't about spinning their orgasms out or finesse. This is desire so sharp it has to be acted on at once. This is need burned into quivering strokes and half-moaned grunts.

It's not pretty at all, just hard, sloppy fucking, his hands gripping her ass, as he slaps against her in hard, solid thrusts, one of her hands steadying herself on the counter, the other rubbing fast on her clit, and both of them loving every second of it.

Doesn't take long before both of them are crying out, bodies jerking, quivering in blissful release.

Took even less time after that for both of them to tense and look over at the sound of the sliding glass door opening followed by Jimmy saying, "Hey, we got one—" Which is when Jimmy actually looked over and sees what they were up to. "Oh shit! Sorry… um…" He grabs one of the bags off the kitchen table. "Bye." And sprints out of there.

Tim's head drops to Abby's shoulder and they both giggle as they hear Jimmy's car pull out of their driveway.

While it's true there are a lot of things Breena likes about the latter months of being pregnant, constantly craving salty snacks is not one of them.

But with twoish months to go, she's well into the MUST HAVE SALT, SALT, ALL SALT ALL THE TIME, SALT! phase of her pregnancy.

And, the Farmers Market was kind enough to provide her with many wonderful options for dealing with this particular craving.

As they pull out of Tim and Abby's neighborhood, heading toward their own, she's really hankering for the home cured olives they'd picked up. For some reason they sound unimaginably good right now, and she really, really needs them.

But she can't find them. All three of their bags are in the space between the front seats, and she's looked through the first two, no olives, and the third… still no olives.

Of course, the reason there are no olives in the third bag is that it belongs to Tim and Abby.

"They've got one of our bags."

Jimmy sort of shrugs at that. He's having enough difficulty trying to focus on the road and not how Breena smells, or the fact that her dress is gloriously low cut and he can see the tops of both breasts, and how much he really wants to be touching them right now.

Given that, he is not feeling a burning need for olives right this second.

But, in that he is a veteran pregnant daddy, he feels the flavor of the silence that follows his shrug, and looks at his wife. Okay, looks at her face, he's been looking at her, as much as he can, without crashing the car. "You want us to turn around and go get it? Or is tomorrow at breakfast soon enough?"


He nods. "Now it is." And runs them through a u-turn at the first intersection he sees where it's legal. Minutes later, he pulls back into Tim and Abby's driveway, grabs the bag that isn't his, and heads toward their back porch.

He can see the grocery bags on the kitchen table through the sliding glass door, and yes, one of them is his. Since Tim and Abby have a no knock policy, he opens the door, heading toward the table, saying, "Hey, we got—" which is when his eyes slide to the right, and see what is happening in the part of the kitchen not visible from the sliding glass doors. "Oh shit! Sorry!" he grabs his bag, fast, drops theirs, "Bye," and runs back out, blushing furiously.

Breena looks at him curiously when he gets back into the car, blushing and giggling.

He gets out, "They were busy."

She stares at him for a second, then figures out what busy means, and starts to laugh, too.

Jimmy holds up the bag. "Busy or not. I got you your olives."

"Good husband!" She takes the bag from him, leans over to kiss him, smiles, and says, (while opening the jar) "Hoping for some busy time when Molly goes down?"

Jimmy nods, kisses her shoulder, looks her over, from head to toes, puts the car into reverse. "God, yes."

She smiles brilliantly at him, and gently licks the juice off the olive between her fingers, making sure he sees
her tongue slipping soft and wet over the round tip of the fruit.

He closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and puts the car in reverse, trying to focus on driving. "You're killing me, you know that? Literally, dead."

"Yeah, but you love it."

"I do."


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!"


"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."


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!"



"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?"


"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 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?"


"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."


"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.


"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.


"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?"


"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?"


"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."


"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 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."