Friday, July 11, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Mallard Manor

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

Chapter 354: Mallard Manor

On Friday night, Ducky and Penny stay late post-Shabbos.

They didn't plan it, didn't need to. Conspiracy, apparently, comes naturally to these three.

Once he had the second round of dishes all in the dishwasher (can't get an entire dinner's worth, at least, not dinner for nine adults and one toddler, in addition to pots and pans in one go) Gibbs fetches a file filled with real estate listings.

He doesn't much like computers.

However he likes real estate agents even less. And his other best idea for how to do this was to call DiNozzo Sr. up and see if he could find something, but… Even if this is 'officially' a vacation house for their family, he's got a sense of the kind of place he's comfortable with, and then there's the kind of place Senior would come up with and those two places are not only not even remotely similar to each other, they're also in vastly different neighborhoods.

So, given the assignment of 'find a place on the water,' Gibbs decided to do some googling.

And for as much as he doesn't love computers, he'd have to say that was a hell of a lot less painful than trying to find the house he's currently sitting in.

Penny and Ducky are on the sofa, and he pulls an armchair over, and lays out a collection of pictures of places on the water.

Penny and Ducky look at them, nodding, sorting through, nodding again, and he's having a hard time reading those looks. He feels like he's got a pretty good collection there, but they don't seem pleased by this. They aren't really reading the listings, they're mostly just flipping through.

As Penny tidily stacks them on top of each other, Ducky says, "Jethro, I think you may be missing the scale of what we were thinking of for this."

Penny nods, as she tucks all the listings back into the manila folder. "At least five bedrooms, seven is better, nine would be optimal, but we're unlikely to find it."

The cabins he'd found were all in the two to four bedroom range, and he'd been nervous about the four bedroom one, it was so expensive it made him want to blush.

So, it takes him a moment to stop staring, dumbstruck, at both of them and inquire, "Duck, Penny, did you look at the prices on those?"

Penny nods. Ducky says, "Indeed."

"We have money, Jethro."

"At least five bedrooms, similar number of bathrooms, seven bedrooms is even better because that'll give the youngest members some room to themselves and lets us set up a girls and boys room. Nine would be perfect because if Jimmy and Breena have their way, there are going to be a lot of children running around this place. It needs enough land to be private. As you know, it has to be on the water. It needs a pier and boat house of some sort, because we have to keep Shannon in good shape."

Gibbs still can't find words. He blinks and exhales and finally says, "That's gonna cost a ton."

"We know," Penny says, definitively.

Jethro shakes his head, he can't even think of how much that'll cost. The beat to hell up four bedroom he'd found had topped out at $650,000. "You've got to give me a price range then."

"Three point six million," Ducky says, calmly.

"Duck!" That takes Gibbs' breath away.

"We can put in that much. Though it would be a good idea not to put all of that into the real estate, a place like that will need furnishings, and we'll need to build some sort of trust to pay the property taxes on it. Call it two point seven, less if it needs extensive repair. The market was still hot when I sold the home I shared with Mother. That money has been sitting around collecting interest and dust for a long time. It'd be nice to do something interesting with it."

Penny adds in, "Likewise, the home I shared with Nelson sold well. I traveled but it would have taken years to burn off that sort of money. I'm a tenured professor. They pay me very well, and I live quite below my means."

"As Penny said, Jethro, we have money."

"We've been talking about it more. You're retired. Ducky won't be staying around for more than a few months. Jimmy, Tim, and Abby will all be running their own departments, Tony running his own team. Ziva at home. You won't be seeing each other every day anymore."

"The Navy Yard is no longer our home. And we need one. This needs to be a space for our whole family. Where we can all be together, at once. It will need to be big, at least one bedroom per couple. No matter what else we do with it, it has to be a comfortable space for all of us. Do you remember the home I shared with Mother?"

Gibbs nods.

Meant to be a family estate.
"That was meant to be a family estate, Jethro. It was meant to have multiple generations of people who called it home. A testament in stone and wood to people who valued and loved each other. Children and grandchildren were meant to grow there. That didn't work out, and it was vastly too large for two people and eight corgis. But, we can do this. We have the money, and it may be late for us, but we can build a home for our family."

"Mallard Manor?" Gibbs says with a slight laugh.

"Something like that," Penny says wryly. "One of the things Nelson and I had wanted, one thing we had envied Terri's parents for, was that they had a family home. We were going to build one. A place where, no matter what, our children and grandkids could come in out of the storm. It didn't happen. But that doesn't mean that it cannot happen."

"So, would this space be open to Sarah and…" Gibbs doesn't know exactly how many grandkids and great-grandkids Penny has, but he does know John was one of four children, and that his surviving brothers had married and had kids, too.

Penny shakes her head. "Sarah, maybe, in that she lives here and seems to be getting closer to the rest of this group. But not the rest of the grandchildren. Can't have nine other people and their spouses and kids wandering in and out of the place, not with what we're talking about doing with it."

"Will that cause problems?"

Penny shrugs. "It's possible. But Tim's the only one I see on a weekly basis. I see Sarah monthly. The rest send me emails for my birthday, and drop by if they're in the greater DC area. If they're mercenary enough to feel like they deserve a chunk of the cash, then they can come and visit me on occasion, too. At this point I'm much closer to Tony, Ziva, Jimmy, and Breena than I am to any of my grandchildren besides Tim."

"Okay." Calling DiNozzo Sr. just went on his to-do list. Apparently Penny and Ducky's idea of this place is right down the street from Senior's idea of the place. "How's your end of it going?"

Penny shrugs. "Less concrete moving forward. I joined the Amnesty International group on campus, as well as well as a pro-immigration one. So far I'm just getting a good idea of who is who. Most of the 'do-gooder feminist' groups" she laces his term with some heavy sarcasm, "focus on women here, but there's a Mosque in Georgetown that one of the groups works with to help Muslim women here in the US, and I'm getting to know the woman who runs that outreach. Since most of the women that program works with are here legally, but weren't born here, she may have a clue as to who to talk to."

Gibbs nods at that.

"I've found us a lawyer," Ducky says. "Jason Ramsey is the brother of Alton Ramsey, the ME for the District of Colombia. He's something of a political gadfly. Active in pro-legal immigration circles. Penny and I had lunch with him, on the books, as clients," Gibbs appreciates that, as best he knows, if you actually hire the lawyer, everything you say to him is in confidence, "explained what we were thinking about. He's very pleased and has agreed to take us on retainer."

"Better yet," Penny's smiling at this, "the retainer is just to cover costs, he'll do the work pro-bono."

Gibbs blinks. He doesn't like lawyers, and the idea of one doing this… "So, he just gave us a blank check for all the legal wrangling we may need?"

"We'd have to cover expenses, court filings and the like, bailing you out if need be, and along with a trust to cover the expenses on the house, we're setting up a trust for that, but yes, he's willing to donate his time to any defense we may need. Granted, he would prefer we didn't get caught."

"Since it'll me my ass in jail, I'd 'prefer we didn't get caught,' too." Gibbs says, dryly. "I'm not going to try to get caught. The whole plan is to not get caught. Looks like Mike did this for more than five years, no one ever got close to him, and I'm a hell of a lot more careful than he was."

You sure about that, Probie?

My network doesn't involve literally hundreds of people, Mike. And I'm not blackmailing them so none of them might decide they're just done with me and report me just to get rid of me.

"There was one other protection that Mr. Ramsey recommended to us, and it's something we'd like your help with," Ducky says, bringing Gibbs back to the conversation with the living people around his coffee table.

"Okay, what?"

With a smile, gently squeezing Penny's hand, Ducky asks, "Would you be the witness for our marriage? That way we cannot be compelled to testify against each other."

A night of surprises all around, apparently. "First of all, yes. Second of all, you two cannot just sneak off the Justice of the Peace and do it in secret. All six of them will whine and bitch at me if I let you two get married and don't do something to celebrate it."

Ducky checks the clock. "Then you have a bit under fourteen hours to do something because our appointment with the Justice of the Peace is at noon tomorrow."

"You're killing me, Duck. Both of you."

"We didn't see any reason to make a big deal out of it," Penny says.

"Or necessarily mention it, for that matter. Not getting married was about how it was easier in regards to our estates, so why that would suddenly change will cause questions that we do not have a good answer for."

"Easiest way to lie is to not have to tell one in the first place. And you of all people should know that."

Gibbs shrugs, that makes sense, and he's sure they've had a lawyer or accountant or someone go over everything… But he also knows that when one of them dies and it comes out that they got married and that it's his signature on the marriage license, he's going to be in deep, hot water for not telling anyone about it.

He squints at both of them, licking his lips, shaking his head, able to imagine in glorious Technicolor detail the level of crap Abby and Breena are going to dump on him if he keeps this secret. "Couldn't it just be… I don't know… Valentine's Day romance or something?"

There's something of a glint in Ducky's eye. Something… Gibbs doesn't know what it is, but he trusts it. There's a level here he's not seeing, yet. "Trust me, Jethro, it will be easier this way."

"Okay, Duck."

And so, on February 13th, 2016, at 12:14, Leroy Jethro Gibbs signs, with no fanfare, the marriage certificate of Donald Mallard and Penelope Langston.

He takes them out for a celebratory lunch, after, and when Penny excuses herself for a moment, he says to Ducky, "You damn well better have something so romantic planned that I do not end up with Abby and Breena crying on me because they didn't get invited to your wedding."

Ducky grins at him, eyes sparkling. There's definitely something in the works. "Trust me Jethro, I will not leave you open to the weeping of distressed women."

Gibbs narrows his eyes, shooting his best I mean it look at Ducky. "Good."


Shards To A Whole: Gossip

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

Chapter 353: Gossip

A/N: REMF stands for Rear Echelon Mother Fucker. Namely, the guys at the back of the lines that keep the army moving.

A month into being "Boss" and there are some things Tim really loves about it.

The power is great. He sees a problem. He fixes the problem. He's not feeling like he needs to ask permission or risk stepping on someone's toes by not asking permission. Sure, this has resulted in an irked electrician from physical plant standing in his office, glaring at him, getting ready to give him a hard time about the new set up before putting new light bulbs in.

And then Tim stood up, took two steps, drawing Mr. Electrician's gaze to not only the smiley face gun target right over his shoulder (he's also got the skull picture next to it) but to the fact that he knew Mr. Electrician was coming today, and had, as a result, dressed carefully for this meeting.

First and foremost, his jacket (black, leather) is draped over his desk chair. Which means Mr. Electrician is getting a full view of the newest Department Head of NCIS, all six foot one inch and one hundred and seventy-five pounds of him, standing up very straight, very tall, in a black kilt, black leather work boots (adding an extra inch), dragon ink visible on his leg, crimson button down, top two buttons undone, sleeves rolled up to show off his wrist cuff, and black matte nail polish.

The man who walks into a Federal Office building dressed like that is a man who does not give a flying fuck as to what anyone else may or may not want to say to him about anything. The man who gets to Department Head and dresses like that is also the man who is so amazingly good at his job that everyone else doesn't give a flying fuck as to how he looks. Which means, that man is the last man in the building you want to mess with.

Tim has also noticed that one of the "every day" colognes Janice picked out for him, Lightning, smells like a storm coming in. This may be some people's cup of tea, Abby, for example, likes it. (Ziva really likes it, to the point of having gotten a bottle of it for herself.) It makes most people mildly nervous, but they can't figure out why. Their inner lizard brains smell that scent and know something they don't want to be near is coming, which results in a sort of barely conscious nervousness.

So, as Mr. Electrician is doing a double take and looking like he wants to get the hell out of Tim's office about two minutes ago, Tim says to him, mildly, voice quiet, arms to the side, posture open, "Yes?"

He tries, he really does. Tim sees his eyes narrow and the way he steels himself to get ready to lay down the law in regards to who's supposed to be plugging in the computer, and he gets about half a sentence into rules and regulations before Tim says to him, calmly, cutting him off, "You appear to have a fundamental misunderstanding as to what your job is in relation to mine.

"My job is catching killers, finding kidnapped children, and putting rapists behind bars. Your job is plugging in appliances. Now, I can, and will, and have done your job when I need to, but you can't do mine, so if you want to keep yours, the next time I call down to Physical Plant and request any level assistance, you are going to drop every other thing you may possibly be doing, including wiring the Director's office, and run your ass into my office to take care of it." Tim smiles, and it's a cold, sharp look. "Do you understand me?"

Mr. Electrician, nods, slowly.

"Splendid. Go put the LEDs in."

And Mr. Electrician does.

And he'll have to admit, that was a whole lot of fun.

The schedule is great. That's something else he loves about being the Boss. Yes, he's working a lot, but he's also able to go home when he needs to. He can imagine there will be cases when he'll need all hands on deck (including his) but so far that hasn't happened.

There are no dead bodies, no ships, no dogs, no one shooting at him, no explosions, nothing dirty, messy, or gross about this job. And if there was, he could make someone else do it!

He doesn't have to spend hours trying to outwit liars who aren't nearly as good at it as they think they are. He sees no panicked eyes trying desperately to figure out how much he knows, and what the most believable spin could possibly be on what he knows.

The work is interesting. Mostly. The paperwork sucks, and there's a ton of it. But unlike being on the MCRT, he's got the power to actually do something about it. So, while it sucks and eats a lot of time, it won't be doing that forever.

But, compared to hours of paperwork he couldn't do anything about, hours spent driving from point a to point b, hours waiting to testify, hours in depositions rehearsing what he was going to say when he got done waiting to get called to the stand, hours staring at things, waiting for someone to do something, a whole hell of a lot more of his time is now spent doing something useful.

And, for a lot of the work, he's doing things that are interesting in addition to useful. A month into the job, a lot of what he's doing right now is still getting everyone on the same page and up to speed. So far, the greater world is accommodating him with that, and they haven't been hit with anything bigger than computer work for the field teams.

At the rate they're going, even with half of his team working on the paperwork project, his triaging system and moving to a twenty-four/seven schedule means that by the end of the week they will be caught up on their case backlog.

Once they're through the backlog, once they've got the paperwork software up and running, then he'll be able to get them really working, and with a hundred and fifty guys under him, he's got some big plans coming up.

Among other things, he knows he's going to be splitting everyone into two main teams, attack and defense, and for the next year half of them will spend at least an hour a week trying to break into NCIS, the Navy, or the Marines, and half of them will work on defense. Then the next year they're going to switch, and they're going to keep at it, because it's not okay to assume that he built a firewall that'll keep everything safe always.

The military war games. They run scenarios, see how their men operate, put all hands on deck and watch responses. They find holes and plug them.

And his guys are going to do that, too.

And then they're going to start hunting. A lot of cybercrime works because no one ever notices it. Sneak in, move things around, skim some off the top, snag IDs, even in cases where hundreds of thousands of records are breached, it can take weeks, months sometimes, for people to notice. And smaller scale work? Please, no one's checking.

His guys will be checking.

He loves the fact that he's starting to mold his team. High standards and petting for good works seems to be having a positive effect. The whole you-will-work-as-a-team thing is speeding cases up, and for the most part getting better results out of the Minions.

He's starting to get "his" people into place. Howard started yesterday, and she's already slipping in, inching things closer to where he wants them.

She's a code wizard, so he stuck her on the clean-up team for the paperwork project, and she's not only got mad skills, but fresh eyes, so she can see the stuff they've all been looking at too long. He's thinking she'll be a good leader for the Navy Yard's Attack team, and can't wait to see where that goes.

Hepple filed his retirement paperwork; effective June (when he hits twenty-eight years in) he'll have another open slot soon, and Tim's already got his search parameters up for that. He knows what sort of person he wants for that slot, but not who that person is, yet.

He's also found, that since he's in the building every day, he actually does get to see Abby and Jimmy more often… Or for a longer chunk of time. Sort of.

He can have lunch with them on most days. So, instead of a few quick visits, he's got one longer visit. (Granted, he doesn't end up working in the lab anymore, but that was time near Abby instead of with her, mostly. He misses that.)

And on days when Tony and Ziva aren't in the field, they often join in.

But, on Tuesday, they were in the field, and Ducky and Penny were having lunch with each other, so it was just the three of them.

And both Tim and Jimmy have some interesting gossip.

"Breena called," Jimmy says as he takes a bite of his salad. "Apparently Gibbs showed up to take Molly out, all dressed up."

Abby grins at that. She already knows Tim's half of the gossip. "Like he was going out for a date, maybe?"

Jimmy nods. "She tells me he wouldn't say who. Though he did say it 'wasn't a date.'"

"He asked me to find Borin's contact number after Bootcamp," Tim adds between bites of his grilled chicken.

Jimmy's grinning at that, too. "So, tell me about her. I've seen her, twice, maybe. She's tall, has red hair, and a good voice, but that's about all I know."

"She's Girl Gibbs!" Abby says.

Tim takes over. Sunday night, after he got home, he and Abby did some 'research' on Abigail Borin. They've both met and worked with her, but they don't know much about her. "Drinks the same black as sin coffee, and bourbon, too, head slaps her guys, was a Marine, served in Iraq, under Bush II instead of Bush I, did ordinance disposal—"

"Which is insanely dangerous," Abby adds.

Tim nods at that. Really, really dangerous. "Her whole team got killed when a bomb went off wrong, so she left the Marines, floated around for a bit, and ended up at CGIS."

"Been there since, worked her way up, and now she's in charge of the Chesapeake division."

"So, not entirely Girl Gibbs," Jimmy says. "Can't see anyone putting Gibbs in charge of an entire NCIS region."

"Not entirely." Tim agrees. "No one out-Gibbs Gibbs when it comes to stepping on toes."

"Jenny left him in charge of the Navy Yard a few times." Abby sips her water. (Usually, when they're out, she gets soda. Jimmy doesn't know if she's trying to take better care of herself or just didn't feel like it today. Her tuna and edamame wrap is about par for the course. He'll keep his eyes open and ask Tim about it later if it's a pattern.)

"I think that was punishment, not career advancement. He certainly acted like it was punishment," Tim says.

"Probably." Abby nods.

"So, I mean, is she going to be good for him?" Jimmy asks.

Tim shrugs.

Abby nods, while poking Tim. "Of course she is! She's awesome, and we already love her." Tim shrugs at that, too. She is cool. He does like her. Unlike Abby, he's not quite ready to start picking out Gibbs' wedding tux.

"I think, out of all the previous girlfriends, he got on best with Hollis, and Borin's got a lot of the same sort of feel to her. He doesn't do well with clingy, needy people and Borin's in charge of herself. So, that should be good."

"Good? That'll be great! There won't be all the nagging he hates. She's not going to get annoyed when he won't talk about the job—"

"You mean the job he doesn't have any more?" Jimmy cuts in with.

"You know what I mean. She wouldn't know what to do with a man who spills vast oceans of emotions on her, and he'll run screaming from a woman who does the same thing. So, there's one mismatch they're not going to have."

"The true love of the emotionally closed off," Jimmy adds with a healthy touch of sarcasm.

"Something like that," Tim replies.

Abby glares at both of them, then blows them a raspberry. "You two." Another glare more frustrated than angry. This is good news, everyone should be excited and happy and they're both… wary. "They'll go slow. Get to know each other. Open up a little at a time. It'll be good! Sure, he won't admit they're even dating until, mmm… probably about a week after he proposes, but it'll be good!"

Tim and Jimmy look at each other, both of them thinking about the same thing, but in that Tim's the husband, he's the one who gets to say it. "Yeah, good, or a recipe for disaster."

Abby sighs again and rolls her eyes. "Breena and Ziva need to be here."

"If they'd be so good together, then why didn't Borin offer her own name up when we were looking for a girlfriend for Gibbs?" Tim asks.

"Whoa, when did that happen?" Jimmy looks quickly from Tim to Abby. He completely missed that.

Tim waves him off. "Years ago. He was moping, annoying the hell out of us, we tried to set him up, Borin helped, one of her buddies was the perfect woman. Turns out she really was. He'd already dated her, and yes, she was perfect, and perfect was boring."

Jimmy blinks at that, perplexed look on his face. "So, wait, he broke up with the perfect woman?"

Tim nods.

"She wasn't perfect for him. But Borin might be! He needs some challenge and she's got challenge written all over her," Abby says.

Tim nods at that. "Last time we talked about this, you were telling me that Gibbs had already found his perfect woman and no one else was going to work."

"Last time we talked about this, Gibbs was still married, in his heart, at least, to his perfect woman, and I don't think that's true anymore."

"Good point." Tim nods while chewing. He agrees that there's the possibility for a perfect woman, or as close as one can get, now, but… he's not sure if Borin's her.

"And as for why not add herself in… Uh, let's start with the bet between you and Tony that she completely knew about and end with, with both of them working, what would be the point of even trying to date? They'd never see each other. You can't successfully date when both of you work seventy hours a week. And now, he doesn't."

Both of the guys seem to think that's a good point.

"Can't you just see both of them," Abby sounds very excited about this, "and Mona, on Shannon, sailing away… Long weekends at sea—"

Jimmy shakes his head. "He cannot call that boat Shannon. Not if he's hoping to put another woman in it. 'Let's go sail off on my testament to my undying love of my first wife.'"

Tim nods in agreement with that and then adds, "Maybe it won't be too much of a problem, they'll have only been on it for ten minutes when she catches a case."

Abby seems to think that's a relevant point. "Yeah, but she'll never find someone who understands that better than Gibbs will. He's not going to be moping about her having to work."

"No." Tim steals a bite of the cantaloupe Abby's wrap came with. "He'll be moping about not getting to go along and help. Duty calls, I'm off to go catch killers, you stay home and play with the kiddies. He hates when we do it to him, can you imagine when he's got to deal with a girlfriend doing that." That really does worry Tim, and it's why, unlike Abby, he's not immediately seeing this being all sunshine and roses for the two of them.

Jimmy winces at that, getting it immediately. "The two of them get together and he'll be the girlfriend. She'll be Gibbs, and he'll be Gibbs' girlfriend."

"Jimmy!" Abby's appalled by that.

"Oh come on, you think that's not how he's got it in his head? The man goes off and solves the crimes. The woman stays home and waits for him to get back from solving the crimes."

"You keep saying that, you're gonna get headslapped!"

"I'm not saying that's how I think of it, but I'm sure that's how he thinks of it. And it's fine if woman's out there solving the crimes. Obviously if he got on fine with Hollis, that's not a problem, but if you ask him who's not solving the crimes, who's home waiting for the crime solver to get back, it's the girl, and being the girl might really flip him out."

Abby glares at him again, but he and Tim are sharing a look that indicates both of them think this might be an issue for Gibbs. Still, Jimmy decides to shift topic some. "Is he getting anything going? A real job or something, so that he's not just home waiting for everyone else to get done? Look, I love the fact that he's taking Molly out, and it sounds like they're having a great time, but Breena's actually getting a bit worried for him. The girls are going back to daycare in less than a month and if there was ever a guy who needed something to keep him going, it's Gibbs."

Tim shrugs. "He's got something. But he's not talking about it, and I have no idea how much time it'll eat."

"Why isn't he talking about it?" Jimmy asks.

Tim takes a bite of his own chicken. "Knowing Gibbs, it's illegal, insanely dangerous, or both, and he doesn't want us to worry."

"And Tim's not going to press," Abby says pointedly. It's not so much that she thinks Tim can get it out of Gibbs but is choosing not to, it's that she's frustrated that he likely can't.

"No! I'm not. And like I said last time, if you want to grill him, have at it."

"He'll just shut down."

"Which is why I'm not grilling him. He'll tell us if or when he can."

"And we're stuck hoping he won't be stupid about it and get himself hurt," Jimmy says.

"Exactly." Tim says. "His knee as good as he says it is?" Speaking of Gibbs possibly being stupid and getting himself hurt…

"Best I can tell, yes. But take that with the grain of salt, I don't have an MRI or X-ray, so all I can go off of is what he tells me, how it looks, how he's moving, and what I feel when I get my hands on it. But, yes, it looks like he's healed up." Jimmy inhales, about to tell Abby about Sunday's Bootcamp, where Gibbs went up against Tony, and neither of them held back, at all, which was both worth watching, and looked like a very good work out for both of them (because they're pretty evenly matched) but his phone chirps.

He gets it out and texts back quickly, reaching for his wallet, but Tim shakes his head. It's their day to pay for lunch. (When they eat together, Jimmy gets one out of three of them, which represents as far down as they could talk him. He wanted to do one out of two.)

"Case?" Abby says when he looks up from the phone.

"Yeah, gotta get going."

He leans over and kisses Abby's cheek. "See you tomorrow, or whenever we get back with samples." (He's still on delivering the samples to the lab.)


Jimmy waves at them and heads off.

Abby looks at Tim. "You going to talk to him?"

"Which him?"

"Gibbs, about Abby."

Tim shrugs. "What would I say that he hasn't already thought about?"

Abby shrugs back. "It sounds like they're going to be bringing in more evidence, and it's my night for the late shift. Go home, grab Kelly, grab dinner, and head over."

"You know, if his date went really well, he may not want me heading over."

She smirks at that. "He put a lock on the door, I'm sure he knows how to use it if he doesn't want anyone dropping in."

Tim laughs at that.

Abby takes a bite of his chicken, and then says, a bit more seriously, "You could tell him that it's not the end of the world to be the girl. Half of us do just fine, day in and day out as girls. You could tell him it's just as important to be the person who keeps the person catching the killers going as it is to be the person who catches the killers. REMFs, right?"

Tim nods, he knows that term, (Occasionally Marines who didn't exactly get what his role in the team was would call him one. He certainly is one now, and so's Abby, and Jimmy, for that matter.) but not sure where Abby's going with it.

"The world needs REMFs. Can't go off and be Big Damn Heroes without the REMFs in the back keeping you going."

He supposes that's true, but he also supposes that after forty years as a Big Damn Hero, REMF status may be a hard sale.

"You might remind him that the people who made being the guy who caught the killers worthwhile were all girls, too."

"Maybe you should have this chat with him?"

"If you don't, I will. But from you, from another guy, it probably means more. Sort of like how if I tell Jimmy eyeliner is cool he just raises his eyebrow, but when you do it, it means there's another guy who does stuff like that, so that makes it safer. You know… being support for the Big Damn Heroes didn't make your dick fall off; you didn't have to hand in your man card."

He figures Abby may have a point with that, though translating that to Gibbs might be a trickier proposition.

When he gets back to the office, there are three Minions (2/3rd of the paperwork program testing team and Howard) all waiting, eagerly, for him.

He sees the grins and says, "Progress?"

Three heads nodding.

"Set up a case," Roger says.

"Any type?" Tim asks, all five of them heading to his office.

"Any type," Connon replies.

So he does. As soon as Dispatch gets a report of a case, they stick a case number on it. Everything involving that case goes with that number. So Tim grabs a case number and starts a false report for it. He begins working on it, running a false phone records search as well as a financial report.

"Okay, now watch." Connon waves, indicating for Tim to move over, so he does, sliding his chair out of the way. Connon takes over, hitting the icon for the paperwork software, and then hits a few more buttons and… for a few seconds all four of them hover, nervous, hopeful, and then there's the whirling sound of Tim's printer kicking to life and he smiles wide.

"Don't get too happy. It only does the 5440's right. But, we've got one of the fifteen documents we fill out for every case running properly."

"And if you screw up the case tracking number the whole thing is fucked," Roger says.

Tim nods at that. But that's always been true for any computer work at NCIS. (That was part of having to try to figure out how to dumb down the job triaging software. Most cops can't type.) "But you've got at least one bit of it working?"

"We've got one bit!" Howard looks really pleased to be doing something this concrete and useful her second day on.

"Good job! Now, go get the next fourteen of them working."

"On it, Boss!"

Kelly in one hand, take-out pho in the other, Tim heads into Gibbs' driveway.

He can see Mona, perched on the bow of Shannon, (or maybe not Shannon, there's no name painted on her, yet. Though the outside is looking awfully smooth and glossy.) looking at him, very alert. She greets him with a woof and scrambles down the step ladder Gibbs has leaning against the hull. Tim puts the food on the hood of Gibbs' truck and pats (firmly, he wants to do it gingerly, ready to yank his hand and more importantly, Kelly's body, back in a second if he needs to, but he knows if he does anything other than look like the top dog, Mona will try to run all over him) Mona's head.

"Hey, Mona. He's in there, right?"

One more woof.

"I've got food and Kelly with me, and I'm not climbing a step ladder with her."

Gibbs pokes his head out. He's wearing a face mask and has on gloves. If he's wearing protective gear, whatever the hell he's working with in there has to be pretty nasty. "Out in a minute. Go in, get set."

Tim nods at Mona. "You feed her?"

"Not yet."

"Come on, Mona, I'll get some food for you, too."

Mona perks up at that, she's always in favor of food.

However dressed up Gibbs may have been when he was over at Breena's he's in ratty jeans, work boots, and an old t-shirt now, and he smells very strongly of shellac. But he had shaved, and that doesn't go unnoticed by Tim.

Apparently Tim's outfit didn't go unnoticed by Gibbs, either.

He looks Tim over and says, "Fancy."

Tim shrugs a little. "Electrician showed up today. Wanted to make sure he knew who he was dealing with."

"How'd that go?"

Tim nods, look satisfied. "I have the feeling Physical Plant's going to be a bit more responsive to calls from Cybercrime."

Gibbs smirks, very pleased, by that.

"Breena told us you were looking pretty fancy today, too. So… you put that number to good use?"

Gibbs sprinkles a little cilantro on his pho, and then adds a lot of hot sauce. He's not exactly glaring at Tim; he doesn't want to immediately shut him out on this, but he doesn't necessarily want to go spilling about this, either.

Tim lets him think. He portions out noodles onto Kelly's place, as well as giving the little jar of mushed green beans a good shake. He opens the beans and gets a spoonful into Kelly before seasoning his own pho. He takes a bite, adds a bit more lime, then one more bite.

"You know, it was almost getting blown up by Deering that made me decide what I wanted. That 'holy shit, I'm not dead, time to get my life in order' moment. Then everything went gray, and I blacked out. She took me home from the hospital that day, and this" he points to the pho, "was the first thing we did. She brought me home, got me on my bed, and I slept for… no idea. Until the pain pills wore off. When I came to, she had a bowl of pho waiting for us. She got the noodles and meat, I got the broth. She stayed with me that night. Nothing sexy or anything. Just slept next to me, held my hand, 'cause we were both scared and upset. That's where it started, for me, at least. I don't know if she knows that. Should probably tell her at some point." Tim takes a sip of his broth, and Gibbs waits, eating, wondering where he's going to take this.

"She makes our home, you know? Last three years, every bad day, every shit thing, every time the bullet barely missed, she's been there for me. She's been my home, my heart, my safety. All of this," he pets Kelly's cheek and squeezes Gibbs' hand, "doesn't happen without her. I can't be this version of me, without her."

Gibbs nods, still not sure where this is going, but he's agreeing with what Tim's saying.

"We want you to be happy. And we're thrilled with whatever it is that you're not saying about Borin. And just… you know… maybe she needs a home, too."

Gibbs just stares at him, honestly not sure what the hell to say to that. So, finally he nods and says, "How's the paperwork software going?"

Tim decides he's done his duty by Abby to try to get the message across and replies with, "Good. Got two of the forms working right."

"Good." Gibbs takes another bite of his pho. "What's with the other thirteen?"

Tim rolls his eyes, and feeds Kelly another bite of her green beans while grabbing some noodles out of her hair. "Stupid blanks all have different names and a computer's so dumb that if one form says Date and another form says Day and a third form has mm/dd/yyyy on it, it needs specific instructions to know that those are all the same thing. You and I and pretty much every human on earth can figure out that if one form has case number on it, and the next has case no. and one just says Number up at the top, they're all talking about the same thing. The computer can't. So we've got to tell it to pull one piece of data out of the information you're working with and stick it in all the paperwork blanks that it goes with."

Gibbs nods at that, he's following.

"Tricky bit is when the 5540s use Number to mean the case tracking number and the DF-56-A," phone tracking request forms, "use Number to mean phone number, and of course, they're both ten digit numbers, and then the 34Q-Self Report uses Number to mean your employee ID. That's giving all of us headaches, but Howard—"

"Interviewed with us Howard?"

"Started yesterday." Tim smiles at that. "She had some good ideas to help the computers figure out what means what. So, right now my database wonks are working on building up the database so it can pull the data out and put it in the right places, and she's working on an AI learning algorithm to help it figure out what the hell all of these blanks mean." Tim crosses his fingers. "Any luck, by the end of the month we'll have a functional beta version to roll out."

Gibbs smiles. "Good."

They both eat, quietly, enjoying the company, Tim switching between feeding himself and making sure that food gets into Kelly.

Eventually Gibbs says, "It was good."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"Called her up, met for coffee."

Tim smiles.

"We've got a date Saturday."

Tim smirks at that, and Gibbs can feel there's something there, something Tim's finding deeply amusing, but he's not sharing.


Tim shakes his head. "Just happy for you."

Gibbs knows that's not all of it, but he's clueless as to what else it may be.

"What are you going to do?"

"Dinner. Here." Gibbs smiles at that, and Tim's grin spreads even further across his face.

"Cowboy steaks?"

"That's the plan."


Shards To A Whole: Coffee Date

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

Chapter 352: Coffee Date

But on Monday, the weekend was over, and while he's got time with Molly scheduled, he's still, for most of the day, alone.

And lonely.

Gibbs didn't expect that. Didn't realize how much he needs actual voices around him. Maybe not people to talk to, but people to be near. It's not just cases he misses, it's actual, living, breathing, snarking people around him all the time. (Right now, he's missing Tony and Ziva and Tim just fussing at each other.)

And sure, Mona helps, and Molly helps, but they aren't exactly the kind of company he's yearning for.


The retirement party was a little over three weeks ago. Borin had breezed in, said hello, given him a quick hug, ordered her drink, turned to talk to him, smile on her face, eye amused and interested, picked up her drink, and then her phone rang and she rolled her eyes, answering it.

Thirty seconds of 'Uh huh, yes. Got it. Okay.' wrapped up with 'Be there in forty-five.'


She nodded. "I thought when I moved up the food chain and got out of the field, that I'd get some sort of regular schedule." Leon laughed, loudly, at that. "Maybe even the occasional night off."

"It is a regular schedule," Leon said, still chuckling, "you regularly work all the time."

"Thanks, Director."

She hugged Gibbs again. "Don't be a stranger, Gibbs. Give me a call one of these days." And she kissed his cheek, and breezed right back out.

Too much alike?
He knows that he told Rachel that he and Borin were really too similar to even try anything, but… Thinking about it, really thinking about it, he's not sure if that's actually true. They are a lot alike. So, to some degree that's a good thing, right? He won't spend so much time staring at her, puzzled, wondering what the hell she's thinking, because he'll know, or at least have a good idea.

And he gets her job. Gets it in his bones and guts and soul, so there won't be that 'pay more attention to me,' 'which means more to you, me or that job' sort of thing. As he thinks about it, it hits him that if he and Borin start anything up, he's going to be the girlfriend who's outside of it all, and he's not sure about that. On the upside of that, he'll get it, way easier than any of his outside of it girlfriends ever did. On the downside, he doesn't know how well he'll handled being kept out of things. Not sure how he'd do with someone who is clearly hurting but won't tell you why or let you try to help to solve the problem. (After all, he's never done well with that in the past. It's his job to ride in and save the day.)

But when it comes down to it, he knows the job is her number one. He's fine with it being the job. It's an important job. (Saving lives and catching killers should outweigh 'I'm lonely.')

And he does like strong women who can look after themselves, stand up for themselves and better yet, stand up to him. He knows she can do all of that.

So… maybe… he pulls his phone out. He's asking for coffee not to get married. Hell, technically, this isn't even a date.

And for that matter he has no idea if 'don't be a stranger' means she's just looking to chat and catch up, they haven't seen each other since that debacle with the phony DEA agents, or, if she's interested in more.

He's also not sure what 'more' might be for her. She's married to her job. So… more probably means… what? Pleasant company? Friend with benefits? Casual dating? Gibbs isn't even sure what the terms are these days, but… probably… she's looking for someone who gets her, gets the job, and is willing to take a back seat to it, but keep her company when she has free time.

And if he's right about that… That's okay. That feels… he's not sure… but really… safe… maybe?

He's not going to disappoint her or break her heart, and he can take the time to explore this whole enjoying a woman for who she is instead of trying to shove her into a Shannon-shaped hole or giving up when it doesn't turn into the same kind of love he had for Shannon.

And that's a start, right?

And now he's holding his phone. Borin's contact number is up. And he's staring at it.

Been more than two years since he's done this. Hell, longer really. He didn't actually ask Susan out, they met through a case, she was an expert witness, he "needed more information," and one night they were talking about submarines and what pressure does to human bodies (found a dead sailor in one of the torpedo tubes, annoying case) and then they were talking about other things, and then they weren't talking at all, and all in all that made for a very pleasant five months.

But, at no point did he actually just sit his ass down and cold call her. He sighs… He hasn't done this, like this, since… honestly… ever. The last time he was staring at a phone with a girl's number in his hand he chickened out and didn't call. (He was also seventeen, so cut him some slack.)

Usually he'll see a woman a few times, keep "running into her," and just kind of toss himself into her path, show up at her office, develop some "questions" for her, or something. He'll just keep showing up and being charming, and sooner or later, he gets asked out or does the asking out. (Or, and this is his preferred method, said woman shows up at his house and they skip the whole date thing all-together.) If you don't really talk, and nine tenths of your charm is your quiet manner and looks (both physical appearance and the ability to communicate with your eyes), phones are not your ally. So, they're just not really part of his dating game.

But, unless he wants to drive over to… Where the hell does Borin work? He knows they were all in this one office building back in '11, but then they reorganized and moved to… He doesn't know. And, even if he did, it's not like he's got an excuse to be in her building. Say he googled her, because he could do that, there's still no reason for him to be there, not like he's got a burning case that needs him to head over to CGIS headquarters. So, his just 'ran into you' strategy won't work. On top of that, he knows she's busy enough that if he wants to actually see her, he needs to make an appointment.

After all, if you already know the job is the number one commitment, just showing up and hoping she'll drop it to entertain you is a good way to spend an afternoon alone.

Which is what he's trying to avoid.

So, the phone. In his hand. And talking. Making words, with his mouth, at a woman, requesting her company.


Okay, just staring at the phone's not going to do it. And she did say to give her a call. So, call. He's going to call. He takes a quick breath, and taps the phone icon.

"Borin." She sounds harried and distracted. Like he's the tenth call in ten minutes and she really doesn't want to deal with this crap.

"Hi…" God, shit, what do I call her? It's not a work call. Abby? Abigail? Borin? Fuck! God damn it, plan these things before you jump into them!

"Gibbs?" She loses some of the edge in her voice.

"Yeah. Hi, Abby."

"Hey." Just quiet on her side.

He's getting the idea "Abby" might not have been a good plan. He's wincing but says, "You mean it when you told me not to be a stranger?"

"Yeah, Gibbs." That sounds welcoming, which makes him relax a hair.

"Wanna get some coffee with me?"

He thinks she's smiling when she says, "Sure. When and where?"

He knows he's smiling as he says, "How about you pick? These days, I've got a real flexible schedule."

She laughs at that. "I've got budgetary meetings all day tomorrow. But we always break for lunch at noon, and have another break at four. Which one works better for you?"

"Four." Molly'll miss him if he skips Adventures.

"Sounds good. We've got a shop that knows how to brew a real cup of coffee a few blocks from my office. Java Jane's."

"I can find it. See you at four."

"See you then." And then she hung up.

Of course there are four Java Jane's in the greater DC area.

Fortunately he's hit the point where he knows what Google is, and how to use it, so he's able to not only locate where the CGIS offices are, but he also figures out which Java Jane's he needs to be at.

When he heads over to pick up Molly, Breena looks him over, he's shaved, wearing his 'work' clothing (which has been sitting, untouched, in his closet since he retired) and looking pretty spruce.

"You going back in? Got a deposition?" It's a good guess. Any case he investigated he can be called back in on, and the fact that he's retired doesn't mean he doesn't have a dozen cases still working their way through the courts.


She looks him over again, eyes narrowing, trying to read the outfit. "You got a date?"

He laughs.

"Oh, you do!" She's grinning.

"It's not a date."

"Uh huh. Just keep telling yourself that."

"Getting coffee with a friend."

"Uh huh." She's not buying that, at all. "I know your friends. You don't get dressed up for Fornell." Then her eyes go wide as she thinks of a "friend" he might get dressed up for. "Are you going to talk to Diane about Draga?"

"No!" That idea had never crossed his mind. Draga and Diane are both grownups, can handle themselves, and he has no desire, at all, to have any clear ideas of what they may be up to.

"Does your friend have a name?"


"You going to tell me what it is?"

He shakes his head, grinning. "Come on Molly, let's let your Mama get a nap."

"Tease!" Breena says to him.

He smiles and winks at her as he and Molly head out of the house in search of Adventure!

On the upside, he notices the handprint on his slacks before he gets to Java Jane's. The other upside is that he still has his go bag in his truck, so swapping out slacks with a milky toddler handprint is something he can do nice and quick at Breena's after he gets Molly down.

The downside is that the slacks in the go bag have been sitting in there since before August. Once he blew out his knee, he was grounded, so he hasn't been on any overnight runs. And between the slow getting in better shape he had been doing, and the working out like a maniac to kill time that he has been doing, they're two sizes too big.

Which is also forcing him, as he's tightening his belt, to notice that the slacks he had on before were a size too big, too, and for that matter, so are most of his pants, and that unless he's planning on giving up the exercise, he probably needs to add buying some new ones to his list of things to do.

In proper Marine and NCIS fashion, he's early. Not by a ton. It's 3:53 when he gets in, which is enough time to buy some coffee for both of them, and some cookies, which he has no idea if she likes or not, but people usually get food to go with the coffee… so… he'll get some food, too.

He's feeling a faint tinge of nervous, as well as pleasantly excited, which he knows means, protests to Breena about this not being a date aside, his body thinks this is a date. Or maybe a proto date. The step that sets up the date if all goes well here.


"Work clothing"
He looks up at her, and stands, pulling out her chair. "Hi." She's in her 'work' clothing, too. Though, having been booted from Team Leader to management, her 'work' clothing is now a tailored pantsuit. Navy, cream blouse, no jewelry he can see, but her hair's down, and he appreciates that.

"Jethro is fine." It's okay for Abby… McGee's Abby, not the Abby in front of him… He's got to get different names for them… to call him Gibbs, but… for a woman, a possible lover… No. Gibbs is Shannon's and Shannon's alone.

"Okay, Jethro." She looks a bit perplexed at him getting the chair for her, but accepts it gracefully.

"Did calling you Abby bug you?"

"No. Just seemed a bit odd. Wasn't sure you even knew I had a first name."

He smiles at that and sips his coffee. "How you liking the view from the other side of the desk?" Last time they worked a case together, she'd been on the warpath, so they didn't exactly sit around chewing the fat about how her new position was working out.

She rolls her eyes a bit, takes a deep drink of her coffee, and smiles at him for getting it right, and then says, "If I'd known then what I knew now, I'd have pissed more people off and gotten myself kicked out of the management track."

Gibbs laughs at that, watching her, eyes warm, inviting her to talk more about it.

"It's not all bad. It's not even mostly bad. Me doing my job means that my guys can do theirs. I do it well, and they don't have to piss around with stupid piddly crap that gets in the way."

"But you end up doing the stupid piddly crap?"

"Exactly. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow's the annual budget meeting, and I'm the one dealing with how we can possibly squeeze more money out of anything that isn't staffing or equipment. If I can figure out how to pull more money out of the air, I can hire another agent, who we sorely need. And if I can get that agent, my guys can actually get some of that vacation time they've been accruing since '14."

"You're that tight?"

She nods. "I'm not supposed to be in the field at all these days. But I am, just so my guys can get some down time."


She nods. "But I think I'm onto something. Dworkins, my HR guy, is acting awfully squirrelly. He's hiding something. When I get back, we're going to have a 'chat' and with any luck that 'chat' will result in me finding enough money to hire someone else instead of finding out that he's embezzled away even more of the budget."

Gibbs grins at that. He's seen Borin work, and her running an interrogation is a thing of grace and beauty. "Bad day for him."

She nods. "With any luck it won't be a bad day for me, too."

Gibbs nods. "Here's to luck."

"How's retirement?" she asks him after taking another sip of her coffee.

He sighs, exaggerating the exasperation in his face. "You want a trained investigator, willing to take any case, for free, just to get back to doing something useful?"

She laughs at that. "You'd take orders from a woman?"

He flashes her a wry smile. He's about to say something along the lines of how he'd take orders from Mickey Mouse if it got him back on a team working murders, but the part of his brain that knows there's no shot of him getting on one of her teams gets together with the bit of his brain that remembers how flirting works and says, with a smile, "I'd take orders from you."

That tickles her, and her eyes light up at it. "Really?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Ohhhh that was worth it. She's looking him up and down, enjoying this. He lifts his coffee cup to his lips and takes a sip, eyeing her over the rim.

She laughs again. "You'd let me be your Boss?" Half-joke, half-testing, mostly not buying it.

"I don't always have to be on top." She grins at that, and he decides to tone it down a bit, sliding into a more serious mode. "Last six months I was on, it was Tony's team, and I was working for him."

That does startle her. "How'd you end up taking orders from DiNozzo? You finally piss Vance off so bad he demoted you?"

Gibbs shakes his head, smiling at her. "Nothing like that. We had some staffing issues…" He tells her about how they ended up with Draga, and how it wasn't working with Tony just lingering, not really in charge, not really second-in-command. He wraps up with how Team Gibbs has gone it's separate ways.

"As they say, all good things come to an end."

He nods. "Would have liked more time with this one, but it was time. Tony was ready. Tim was ready. Ziva's got some new adventures on the books. It's time. But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

She nods at that, sipping her coffee, nibbling the cookie. He likes the look of it between her lips, the little flash of white tooth snipping through shortbread pastry. "Felt that way when I left my team. But, it was time. Hogkins was ready to lead. But especially on days like today, I miss it."

He nods at that, too, taking another sip of his coffee.

He feels her eyes on his left hand as she says, "So, speaking of things ending… Last time we worked a case, you were wearing a wedding ring."

Shit. Yeah, he had been, and just like they didn't talk about her new position, they didn't talk about the gold band on his ring finger. Gibbs sighs. "Kind of complicated, but, no I'm not recently divorced again."

She stares at him for a moment, eyes flicking to the now naked ring finger.

He holds his hands up for a second. "I'm not married, either. I… It's a long story."

"I've got time, especially if you're going to tell me how you ended up wearing a wedding ring without a marriage to go with it."

"There… there was one, but…"

Now, she's looking appalled.

"Here, let me get more coffee."

"This sounds like it's going to be a hell of a long story if we need more coffee for it."

He nods and grabs both of their cups, beating a tactical retreat.

Okay, so she wants to know about the ring, which is good from a this-is-more-than-just-two-colleagues-getting-together-for-coffee-standpoint, right? Would she be asking about that if she wasn't interested in him as a man? So that's good, right?

Except… he tries to remember where his hands were and if she could see the left one during the two minutes they were together at the party… it's entirely possible that when she asked she thought he was married again, which would be bad, right?


"More coffee." He puts both cups down on the table.

She drinks some of hers. "More coffee and the tale of the not quite wedding ring."

He sighs and licks his lips. He hasn't told this story, or any versions of it, cold, since Susan. He told Rachel, but she'd read his files, she already knew the basics. Well, the kids gossip, so maybe Borin knows the basics, too. And she was part of that thing where they were trying to find him a girlfriend, so, maybe they gave her enough background he doesn't have to do this cold. "How much scuttlebutt did the kids tell you about my marriages?"

"The kids?"

"They're not exactly my team anymore, are they?"

She nods, but she can also see there's more than just the change in employment status going into this. He thinks she approves. "Four times, all redheads, you've got a divorce lawyer on speed dial, but the last one ended in… 2000 or 2001, Ziva wasn't sure."

…Or they left out the important stuff and he does have to start at square one. "2001. I haven't been married since 2001."

"But you were wearing a ring last year."

"I took it off in October. My first wife and daughter were murdered in 1991."

Borin winces. "I'm sorry. I kn…" she stops, and he notices what she almost said, I know how that feels. Which makes him curious as to if she does actually know but he's the one telling the stories right now so she's not going to derail him, or if she stopped herself from saying something stupid.

He nods. "Didn't do a good job of dealing with it. Got married a lot. Bad marriages. One after another. Took nine years to figure out that was a bad plan. Slowed down, stopped marrying any redhead who gave me the time of day. Dated. Never let it really go anywhere.

"Back in '14 I'd ended another relationship, and was being an asshole about it, dumping pissed off on everyone around me."

She gives him her best I'm shocked look.

He nods at that, acknowledging how in character that is. "Tim shows up in my basement with a bottle of bourbon and says, 'I've never done this before, do we just drink until you're ready to stop being an asshole?'"

"McGee talked to you like that?" she asks, stunned. Yeah, she noticed at the party that Team Gibbs has been changing, and Gibbs referring to them as 'the kids' and 'Tim' didn't pass unnoticed, but she didn't expect that much change.

"I may be putting words in his mouth. Especially then. But I was acting out, and he called me on it."

"McGee?" She looks curious. "Really?"

Gibbs nods again. "He got me talking about Shannon and Kelly, my first wife and daughter, which was something I hadn't done. After a while, he asked if I still had my wedding ring, I said yes, he told me to put it back on, because I wasn't done being married. He was right. So I did. I wore it until October. I didn't date. I didn't go chasing other women. Said goodbye to the life and the future I had wanted. And started to really… get into this life. For my thirty-sixth wedding anniversary, I buried that ring with my girls and said goodbye for the last time."


He tilts his head, trying to brush off that rush of what feels like empathy from her. "Yeah, so that's the story behind the ring."

They're quiet for a moment before she asks, "So, what does getting more into this life mean?"

That gets a sigh, too. How to explain that… "Takin' better care of myself."

She looks him up and down with a smile. "Noticed that."

That pleases him, and makes him think new pants might be a decent investment beyond matters of not worrying about them falling off his hips if he's not wearing a belt. "Wasn't quite how I meant it, but that, too. Here…" he switches around so he's sitting next to her, and gets his phone out.


"Turns out you can make them blow up."

"And that sold you on one?"

He nods, pulling up the most recent picture of him with the girls.

"Who are your friends?" She asks with a wide smile, looking at a shot of him with Molly and Kelly and Anna.

"These are my girls." He points out who's who. "A lot of getting more into this life is about being here for them, and their parents, and being a Dad and a Grandad. It's not the guy I thought I was going to be, but it's fully being the man I am."

She smiles at that. "That sounds healthy."

"Hope so."

"You stopped being Boss and became Dad."

"Pop. Became Pop, or Uncle Jethro. That's what Molly calls me, and she's the only one who's talking. As for the kids, they don't need a Boss anymore. They are the Bosses. Tim's got Cybercrime, the whole department, all hundred and fifty of them answer to him." Borin looks impressed by that. "Tony's got the team. Jimmy'll have Autopsy before the year is done. Abby's always had the lab, but she's got people under her there, now. But they still need a Dad."

"And you need kids."

"Yeah, I do. Need a job, too. Going crazy with too much time on my hands, but… The kids help."

"I'd help out with the job if I could, but unless you've already worked for CGIS, I can't put you on, even as a volunteer, if you're over 57."

"Same thing with NCIS. They'll let me back on for ten days a year."

"We've got that deal, too. But, if you wanted some company to help eat up more time…" She lets that trail off, but he's hopeful.

"You'd be interested?"


That sounds very promising. "Would you like to have dinner with me?"

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

He smiles at her and cocks an eyebrow. "Would you like me to be?" They're both being a bit cagey, wary of actually committing to what this might be.

Then she laughs, warm and throaty. "If I say no, then we're what, buddies catching up? Old cops swapping tales, or does the offer vanish."

"Sure, buddy, if that's what you want." He grins at that, too, eyes warm and, he hopes, flirty. He'd prefer more, but if she wants to be friends, right now, he'd like a friend.

She bites her lip, not nervous, sensuous, lip sliding between her teeth. "And if I say yes?"

He lightly traces the tip of his finger over the back of her hand, keeping his eyes on hers. "Have dinner with me?"

She's still smiling, but doesn't touch him back. "Yes."

That doesn't sound friendly. Sounds quite a bit more than friendly. But it also doesn't clarify if this is a date, or if they're just being friends. He spends another moment looking at her, letting his eyes trace over her lips, slipping down the line of her neck, taking in the fact she's got the top two buttons of her blouse undone, and then back to her eyes, hoping that is explicit about his intentions but not over the line. "At my house?"

Her eyes are warm and sparkling. "I'll bring the bourbon and the dessert."

He nods, very satisfied by that response.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Another Family Weekend

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

Chapter 350: Another Family Weekend

"Okay, Molly, what do you think?" He's at the hardware store, Molly in the cart, Mona standing next to them, staring at the paint chips.

"Pink!" She's very definite about that.

He nods. There are twenty-six million shades of pink in front of them.

"Which one?"

"Alllll the pink!"

"Uh huh," he says dryly, grabbing a light one and a darker one pretty much at random. Gibbs is a guy, pink is pink is pink to him. Do not attempt to confuse him with concepts such as rose, mauve, salmon, fuchsia or, god forbid, peach. (A color he suspects that only women can see. Shannon once teased him about how he's probably colorblind. Diane would have agreed, having said the same thing to him once upon a time. All he knows is that he passed the color vision test when he enlisted.)

He holds them up. "Pretty?"

Molly nods, satisfied. "Pretty."

"Good. Let's go get them."

He's been thinking of it for a while, and at least as of 10:47 on Friday, all of his guys have the weekend off, so this weekend, they're going to re-do Kelly's room. He wants his girls to have a space in his home for napping and playing or whatever it is.

Plus he's a little tired of everyone at his house, girls going down to nap in his bed, and then coming back up later that night to find wet spots (That are drool, and that's all they are, and that's that, thank you very much.) on his blankets.

So, Saturday, they're redoing the nursery.

Though, the more he thinks about it… He grabs a few more gallons of paint. If he's got captive labor, he might as well put them to work.

When he was working, Gibbs didn't live for the weekend. He didn't exactly dread it, but he didn't love it. But now, Friday to Sunday is rapidly becoming his favorite time.

He found the first week that he likes making Shabbos dinner. At least, he liked having something very concrete to do that would make the people around him happy.

He's not Ziva, so he's not an inspired cook or anything, but he can learn, and, in that he's not working, it seems like it'd make sense for him to host their weekly dinner. At least, it makes more sense than Tony and Ziva racing home, cooking, and getting everything ready in the few hours between end of work and sundown. Maybe, come summertime, they'll take over on cooking again. (He knows Ziva likes hosting Shabbos, too.) But right now, him handling it is good.

This way they get to relax on their Sabbath, too.

Plus, he and Molly have a pretty good groove going now. She likes grocery shopping. So, on Fridays their adventures involve hitting the grocery store (and the hardware store today) followed by lunch at home, and she 'helps' him cook.

Today, he's got Ziva's challah recipe, and they're going to make it.

He supposes his kitchen could be a bigger mess, but it'd take actual effort. So, while it's true that Gibbs is a veteran dad, it's also true that it's been a while since he's done hands-on dadding, and as a result has forgotten certain aspects of toddler maintenance.

Specifically, he'd forgotten exactly how uncoordinated they can be. And he's never known how adding an excited Doberman to the mix makes things even stickier.

On the upside, Molly had an absolute blast.

And, the finished challah both looks and smells awesome.

And Mona was happy to help out by licking up the coconut oil, flour, eggs, and dough that got dropped on the floor. According to her, today is Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and her birthday all wrapped up in one and celebrated by yummy, sticky manna falling from heaven.

But he's thinking, as Molly naps upstairs, and Mona's still licking the floor (the floor he thought he'd gotten everything washed off of) that next week (and as long as he's doing this with a toddler helper), they'll buy the challah.

Gibbs knew Tim was going to change when he shifted from tech-specialist to Boss. He hadn't expected how fast or easy he'd slide into it, but he knew Tim would find his fit.

And he has. He's sitting at the table, telling them about how he's got the job scheduling software up and running, and how he's gotten the cyber searches for field agents out of the Navy Yard so streamlined that Leon headed down yesterday to congratulate him, and offered him three techs out of IT to help get it that much faster for the rest of NCIS.

"Are you going to use them?" Penny asks.

"Right now I've got a ton of coding, and the more coding someone else is doing, the more solving crimes my guys are doing, but I have no idea if any of the people he's offering can code their way out of a paper bag, and if they can't, we'll spend more time fixing problems then we'll save by them working for me."

"He's working on a test to find out," Abby says.

"Yeah, in my copious spare time," Tim says with an eye roll. Seems like every job he finds, every fix, every plan spawns more work. On the upside, last week he got rid of Bergener, and on Monday Howard starts. (Turns out it took her more than two weeks to get to NCIS, she wanted to finish a case she was working. Tim didn't mind, she's worth waiting for.)

"Any news on the paperwork software?" Jimmy asks. (Tim hadn't had much trouble enlisting Jimmy and Ducky as testers for the potential paperwork software. They too put everything into a computer, and then print out forms and fill in the forms with the stuff they just put in the computer. As soon as he's got a beta version, he'll roll it out to them and to his guys.)

"I told Vance I was working on it and should have a beta version for testing in the not distant future. He's intrigued. If it works, he's ecstatic. If it works and it's legal the champagne's on him."

Tony laughs at that. "I don't care if it's legal, if you can make it work on my computer, the scotch is on me, and I'll fund Abby's Caf-Pow for the next five years."

Tim laughs at that. "Alpha version's been up for two days. So far it's glitch-y, buggy, filling out the forms wrong, has crashed three times, and won't print."

"So, it's an alpha version," Abby says.

"Exactly!" Tim says, gritting his teeth. He'd been hoping to get a somewhat better product out of his team first time out, but… There's realistic, there's beyond realistic, and then there's the mountain coming to Mohammed, and he's fairly sure that any better than he's got right now fits in the third category. "Everything is slower than I think it should be. So, enough of my computing woes. How's the new team?"

Gibbs wasn't expecting how much Team Leader would change Tony. Probably because he watched Tony be "Team Leader" for months.

But, when the Old Boss is looking right over your shoulder, it's hard to really come into your own. Hard to be your own Leader.

But he's gone and the team is really Tony's now, and he is growing into the job.

Gibbs is sitting at the table, listening to Tony talk, hearing the details of the case, and seeing the change. For years Tony spent his time showing off, making sure he was the center of attention, and now he's not.

Gibbs doesn't know if he's hit the point where he doesn't need the constant external validation that he's doing the job right, where he knows, deep down in his gut, that he's got it, or if having the team met that need and is filling it, but either way, it's there. Tony's solid in a way he's never been before.

Solid Tony doesn't feel the need to be constantly showing off. He's not goofing around, making jokes all the time. He's comfortable enough to let the other people around him shine, too.

And that's a welcome change.

"And that's when Bishop said to Draga, 'You know if we set the search pattern in a..." Tony squints, trying to remember, but it's not coming to mind, "Actually, I don't know what she said, could have been in Japanese for all it meant to me, but Draga looked up at her, his eyes lit up, and then both of them grabbed their laptops and did something for the next hour, and an hour after that Ziva and I were driving to Quantico, where we grabbed two guys and broke the case wide open by leaning on them."

"They set up a financial search pattern that found a connection between both of our suspects and two other dummy accounts. The dummy accounts were linked to a third account, which was how they were being paid."

"What she said," Tony says, smiling at Ziva.

"Tink getting any better in the field?" Gibbs asks.

"She is getting more comfortable," Ziva answers. "Like Jimmy has said before, she's very smart. No… 'gut' as you would say, but if you show her something once, she will have it down by the next time she has to do it."

"Are she and Draga still bickering like crazy?" Breena asks.

Tony sighs. "Not this week. I think Draga's got a new girlfriend. He's way more laid back this week and just about sprinting out the door as soon as we call time. She's tried to tease him a few times, but it's just rolled off of him."

"And right now, he is not picking fights with her," Ziva says, with something of a smile. "I think all of his energy is currently directed elsewhere."

Breena notices it. "What's that smile?"

"I know who the girlfriend is."

"You do?" Tony's shocked by that. "How did you find out? He won't even admit there was a girlfriend to me."

"He told me this afternoon. Said that since I'd met her a few times, and knew some of her exes, could I give him any hints…"

Gibbs' eyes go wide, he thinks he might know where this is going. "It's not…"

She's grinning wide, very amused. "Oh, yes, it is. His new sweetheart is Diane."

Half of the table groans, the other half laughs. Mona and Molly look confused.

On Saturday, he's has Tim and Jimmy and Tony at his place, three gallons of off-white paint, a pint of light pink, a pint of darker pink, and a stack of cream and pink (Diane would have called it rose) colored carpet squares.

"You know, they might not all be girls. Maybe we don't need to coat everything in pink." Tony says to Gibbs as he helps Tim yank the ancient beige carpet off the floor of what used to be Kelly's room.

"Right now, we've got girls." Gibbs looks over his shoulder, pausing in taping the molding. He was about to say, 'When you three get off your asses and make me some grandsons, I'll paint a room blue,' but fortunately the little voice in the back of his head shut that up before it got out and changed it to, "I'll make you a deal, Tony. You make me some grandsons, and I've got another bedroom that we'll paint blue."

Tim rolls his eyes. "Tony DiNozzo III. Lord have mercy."

Tony shakes his head, rolling up the carpet as Tim cuts it into wide, easier to move, strips. "Nah. We're done with that. Two were more than enough. But… maybe… David DiNozzo. I can kind of see a Dave running around, chasing after his girl cousins, trying to freak them out with frogs and snakes."

Jimmy laughs at that. "You think there's any shot of any DiNozzo, boy or girl, successfully freaking out Abby's child with a frog or a snake? He'll have better luck wielding a Barbie doll."

Tim just nods along with that. Sure he's not a huge fan of frogs or snakes, but they don't hit his yuck button, either. "And I'm pretty sure Breena's girls aren't going to be scared by the Barbie," Tim adds.

"Yep, if you're going to produce the evil little cousin of doom, he's going to have to reach deep into his bag of tricks to pull one over on our girls," Jimmy says, opening the first gallon of off white. "This is way too much paint for just this room."

"It's not just for this room. We're getting the hallway and stairs and living room/dining room, too," Gibbs adds.

"Oh." Jimmy stares at Gibbs, fairly sure that when he got signed up for this, he was just working on a nursery.

Gibbs grins at him, then points to the paint and makes a little stirring motion.

So Jimmy gets to it.

They've been at it for a few hours when Tim says to Tony. "You're a lot less freaked out about the idea of David then you've ever been. Got some news for us?" He's wondering if, with it being barely two weeks since their own bad news, if Tony and Ziva may have good news they just aren't sharing, yet.

Tony shakes his head. "Nah. Just… Feeling settled, you know? Like I'm where I'm supposed to be."

Tim nods at that. Pieces fall into place and the scary things become less scary.

"So, you guys going to have any news for us in the near future?" Jimmy asks.

Tony shrugs. "Do I look psychic to you?"

Jimmy smirks at him. "Shouldn't take psychic vibes to know that, Tony. 'Cause, you know, supposedly, you're there for the thing," Jimmy adds a very descriptive hand gesture to that, "that might produce the good news."

Tim and Gibbs laugh at that.

Tony whacks him (gently) with his (fortunately not very wet) paint roller, then rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "You're an asshole, Palmer."

Jimmy grins. "I try. Sooooo…." All three of them are now looking at him, waiting for an answer.

"Maybe. Like I said, I'm not psychic, but… yeah, maybe, soon… Don't know, yet, obviously. But… Sooner than later… probably." Tony shrugs. Because he doesn't know. Can't, but yeah, maybe soon. Maybe not. Seems like some women get pregnant just by thinking hard about sex, and some take lots and lots and lots of time and sex, and they just don't know where they are on that scale.

But he does know he's not completely freaking out, or rooting for Ziva's period to show up, and he's got his Dad searching for a beat the hell up house somewhere in the greater DC area that he can afford, so…

"Who knows, everything goes smoothly, maybe 'round April, we'll be doing this at my house."

That was met with grins, and whooping, and congratulations.

On Sunday, Tony joined them for Bootcamp. Gibbs smiles at that, sensing that this too is a mark of Tony coming into his own. He's not so worried about his status, not concerned with tarnishing his image of Boss, so he's coming to join the fight/training.

Or maybe, he, too is missing time with his family, and is trying to get as much of it in as he can.

Either way, Gibbs is happy to see him here.

Tony however, as the new man in, is having somewhat less of a good time. "God, McGee, when the hell did you learn to fight?" Tony says, staring up at him from the floor. (The floor he did not expect to be lying on anywhere near this fast. He's rapidly coming to the conclusion that he really needs to get back in shape if McCybercrime can hand him his ass in less than a minute. He went into the fight defenses down, figuring he'd take it easy on McGee, and got clobbered, fast.)

Tim gives him a hand up. "You sound surprised. Ziva's not bragging on us when she gets home?"

Tony looks at his wife, who is smiling very smugly. "She told me you're getting better, not she's turned you into a ninja."

"He still hasn't gotten the invisible part down, yet." Jimmy adds. "You going a round with me, or are you begging off?"

"Begging off for now. Don't want my heart to explode. I'll take your next one."


So Tim and Jimmy sparred together, against Ziva, and Tony and Gibbs watched.

"Glad you're coming."

Tony nods. "Like you said, this is just me spending time with my family now."


After Bootcamp, Gibbs lingers behind for a bit, watching Tony and Jimmy joke with each other as they headed out of the locker room.

"Tim," he says while Tim ties his boots.


"Can you do something for me?"

"Sure, what?"

"I had Borin's number in my computer. Don't have access to that anymore. Could—"

Tim's grinning and pulling him, (they're both completely dressed by now) out of the locker room toward his office. "Yes!" He's shaking his head and nodding. "Oh, yes. I will get you her number!"

It takes a minute to get into Cybercrime, and like always there's the sound of people working, and Tim pauses in heading toward his office to look in on one of the Minions, reading over his shoulder.

"You in the weeds, Soth?"

Soth shakes his head. "Just thinking." He rubs his eyes, not looking away from the screen. "I can solve it big and messy, lots and lots of lines of code. Looking for a cleaner way."

"Got the dirty version done?"


"I'll be here for a few more minutes. Shoot it to my computer, and I'll take a look."

"Thanks, Boss."

"No problem."

A few more steps gets them to the conferencing area in the center. One Minion is standing in front of two huge plasma touch screens, moving images around with her hands.

"You really upgraded, didn't you?"

"Once Leon got the report showing that Navy Yard Cyber request times had dropped from an average of four days to five hours, he decided that some more money could flow my way." Gibbs sees Tim eyeing the work on the plasma. "How's it going, Dume?"

Absent nodding responds to that request, but Tim seems to think that covers his question.

Gibbs looks around Tim's office as they get in there. It was awfully bare the last time he was down here, but it's filling up. There are books on the bookshelves. (All mysteries, most of them from different writers, but one guy's got a quarter shelf all to himself. Apparently Tim McGee is a fan of some guy named Thom Gemcity. Gibbs doesn't know if any of the Minions have figured out why Tim's got the whole collection up on his bookshelf.) Pictures of the family on the walls and on his desk. There are a few things Gibbs has never seen before, Tim's diplomas from MIT and John Hopkins, for example, and there's a shooting target with a smiley face shot into it on one of the walls, and across the target's chest is a sticker with the words: Achievement Unlocked in Abby's handwriting.

"What's that?"

Tim looks up from his contact list.

"Oh. We're Federal Agents, supposedly all of us passed FLETC. I added an extra reg to working down here. Everyone has to maintain their gun proficiencies and physical fitness certifications. Not like my guys get out into the field very often, but when they do, I want them able to handle themselves. This one's mine. Any of the rest of them do that, they'll get a treat."

"What sort of treat?"

"One of Abby's Achievement Unlocked stickers to go on the target. Already have a few of them in my desk, waiting for someone to bring me a target. Gonna put them up on the wall, sort of a hall of fame type thing. Haven't decided on the rest of it yet. Probably depend on who does it. I'm thinking I can wiggle some extra vacation time for them, but if I can't, I might end up using petty cash to buy some gift certificates for fun things." Tim looks away from his computer. "Okay, I've got Borin's number. Give me your phone."

And Gibbs does, and a minute later Tim hands it back, grinning. "All programed in. All you've got to do is tap the screen. So… When you going to call her?"

Gibbs rolls his eyes, waves at Tim, and heads off.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Interlude

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

Chapter 349: Interlude

There are times Tim thinks he understands love. Times where he just feels so full of it that he can't contain it.

There are moments, like this one, here, now, when he's hyperaware of himself and Abby, of breath and bone, pulse and heat.

There are moments where he believes there is more to this whole human thing than skin bags holding together various solids and fluids. Moments where he's aware of the energy of his life and hers and how their love for each other brings that to the front, allows him access to it.

Right now, they're kissing, soft and deep and he's aware of lips, and tongue, and wet, and hot. Aware of the scrape of tooth and the slide of lips. Right now, there's the light rasp of his stubble on her mouth, and the flavor of her toothpaste on her tongue. Right now, lips are moving, but bodies are still, waiting for the fullness of this moment, for that second where they both can't not move.

He's aware of the feel of the pillows behind his back, and the blankets under his legs. He's tuned into her toes against his thighs, just above his knees, and the smooth expanse of her calves against his thighs and hips.

Her thighs, quivering, soon, but not yet, sinking down on him, are rapture.

Her butt, cradled in his hands, soft and full against his fingers, delight.

Her pussy, just barely touching the head of his dick, wet and slick, and just the meerest hint of friction every time his heart beats, there lies life, and heat, and love.

And there... one moment shifting into the next, the fullness of waiting sliding into a new moment needing to be filled.

She slips down him in a golden rush, and he groans into her kiss, aware of all of it, from her fingernails in his hair to the palm of her other hand on his chest, the smell of her skin, and the heat of her body.

And love isn't sex, and sex isn't love, and he knows that and it doesn't matter because right now... here... there is an aching, filled, contentment of having and wanting and need fulfilled with cherishing. This is all of it mixed together, bodies exultant, moving past bodies without losing the actual concrete experience of his body and hers together.

Tomorrow this will fade. Ten minutes from now it will be vague. But this, right here, right now, is love made real, made tangible, made light and ecstasy.

And right now, it's what both of them need, so very, very much.


Shards To A Whole: Bad Day

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

Chapter 348: Bad Day

Abby knows that sensation. She figures all women do. That sort of dull, aching, low gut, wrong but familiar sensation.

But she's not supposed to be feeling it.

Not… for another year, at least.

But she is.

Mildly crampy, wet, bit of a headache.

Yeah, she knows it. And it's not the way she wants to wake up at, she glances at the clock, 4:38 in the morning on Monday. She reaches out from under the blanket, grabs a handful of tissues and stuffs them between her legs before getting up and heading to the bathroom.

For a second, she begs God that they come away white, but, as she pulls them away, they're the intense red of first day of her period blood.

Usually her period's not much of a big deal. Light flow, lasts about four days, not too much emotional craziness (she's got more than enough of that just on her own, her cycle doesn't seem to effect it), mild cramps the first day. As periods go, they're not bad.

So, it's probably not any sort of hormonal issue that's making her sit on the bathroom floor and sob.

It's just pure, unadulterated, heart feels ripped out sadness.

Tim woke to… he wasn't sure, he took a second to place it, and then he knew. Abby crying. He's half tempted to go back to sleep, because she does cry a lot when she's pregnant, and as of this point he's still zero for nine million on thinking up some way to fix whatever has caused the crying.

But, something, his "gut" probably, really doesn't like the way that crying sounds. This doesn't sound like a bad dream, sad thought, snuggled Kelly and just burst into tears crying. This sounds… off.

So he drags himself out of bed, knocks gently on the bathroom door. "You okay?"


That 'no' scares the shit out of him, but he's not going to just barge in on her. "Can I come in?"

She opens the door, eyes bright red, chest heaving, and immediately collapses into his arms.

"Abby…" his question dies on his lips. He sees the tissues, wadded up in the trash can, sees the open box of tampons, and puts two and two together and rapidly comes up with four. "Oh."

She's nodding against his chest and he kisses her temple, stroking her back.

He doesn't have any words. He's not even sure what he's feeling. This hurts, but it's not sobbing pain. Maybe it will be, eventually. It certainly is for Abby. This is more an aching, breath knocked out of you by the sucker punch that gets you right in the solar plexus, sort of pain.

It's an hour later, after her crying has calmed down, when he tentatively says, "Do you think you should see Dr. Draz?"

She shrugs at that.

And he really doesn't know the answer to that. He's not trying to gently nudge her toward it. He's honestly not sure if she should or not.

"Would you like me to give her a call? Get an opinion?"

She nods.

"Okay. I'll go do that."

He's on the phone, on hold, when he hears Kelly wake up, so he heads toward her, but Abby's got her. She nods at him, letting him know she's got this, and he heads downstairs where he can talk without a fussing baby in the background.

He finally gets Dr. Draz and explains what happened.

"Okay, first thing first, do you have another pregnancy test lying around?"

"Yes." He bought a two pack, because if it was negative but her period kept not showing up, they'd want to test again.

"Have Abby take it. Just because you're bleeding doesn't mean you aren't pregnant anymore. Give me a call back in a few minutes when you know what the result is, okay? This might be a lot of upset for nothing alarming."

He heads into Kelly's room where Abby's nursing her. "Doc says it's a good idea to retake the pregnancy test. See if this really is your period or just some sort of bleeding. Which can be normal."

She looks up at him, not seeming very enthusiastic about that. And he can see from the way she's looking at him that she's certain this is not just some sort of little bleeding thing.

"Do you want to take it?"

She shrugs. "When Kelly's done."

"Okay. I'll… um…" He feels so useless right now. Normally, he'd be getting his morning shower, she'd be feeding Kelly, Heather will get here soon, and the day begins. "What do you want for breakfast?"

"Uh…" He can see she doesn't really want to eat, and he's not exactly hungry right now, either, but they may as well eat. "Make me some scrambled eggs?"


She comes down ten minutes later, and shakes her head. "Negative."

"Fuck." It comes out pretty flat. Mostly just expressing how disappointed he is. He didn't have much hope that it was going to come up positive. He puts the plate with the eggs on it in front of her, she looks at them, pokes them a few times, and then they hear Heather coming in. She gets up quickly, tosses the eggs in the trash, and Tim understands she doesn't want to explain why she's not eating.

"Hey guys! How's this morning going?"

Abby plasters a really fake smile on her face. "Fine. Kind of slow. But I know someone wants to play." She hands Kelly over.

"Hey, Kelly girl! Did you have a good weekend?"

Kelly grins up at Heather.

Heather seems to notice that both of the grown-ups are still in their pajamas. "You weren't kidding about a slow start. I always have a hard time getting up and running on cold, gray days like today, too."

"Yeah, it was a good day to stay in bed," Tim says, taking his cues from Abby. "Shower time for us."

"Okay." Heather's looking like that's probably more information than she needed. "Have fun?"

"Sure," Abby says, voice flat, and they head upstairs. She does head into the shower, and he calls Dr. Draz again.

"The test was negative."

"I'm so sorry." Her voice is soothing, or would be if he was in a willing to be soothed mood.

"Uh… Thanks. Do we need to come in?"

"Probably not. You said it's been, at most, four weeks since she would have conceived?"


"If the flow gets very heavy, or she's passing large clots, or very bad cramping, then sure, come in. But, if it acts like a normal period, then she doesn't need to."


"I know this probably isn't very comforting, but this happens all the time. Something like four out of five embryos don't implant in the first place, and a decent number of them don't stay long after implanting. It usually means something's gone wrong in the cell division."


"And it's also possible that she wasn't pregnant at all. False positives aren't unheard of, and the hormones involved in nursing can throw off a test sometimes."


"She's going to be fine, and this will in no way effect your chances of having other babies."

"Okay," falls, numbly, off his lips again.

"I'm sorry."

"Thanks. I should go."


And he hung up.

Tim joins Abby in the shower. They're quiet in there for a long minute, just holding each other. She's not crying anymore, and he hasn't.

Her voice is very quiet, practically a whisper as she says, "I can't stop thinking about what I could have done differently. Gotten more sleep, worked less, those two cases where I worked all night can't have been good for this, and I had eggnog at the Christmas party, and… I'm standing in a hot shower. I know you're not supposed to get hot showers. Get your body temperature too high and you can cook…"

Tim's not sure how much ranting she needs to do to feel better, and when he needs to jump in and stop it, but as she jumps from hot showers to took two Advil four days ago, and the sushi she had for dinner last night, he's thinking now is probably the time.

"It's not your fault."

"I've had three Caf-Pows this week. I know that can't be good!"

"Abby. It's not your fault. We don't even know for certain that you were pregnant. Dr. Draz says that the nursing hormones can cause a false positive, and even if you were, it usually a cell division thing, not a you made an inhospitable womb for your child."

"But I should have…"

"NO." Because he can't have her going there, because nothing good lives there. "Would you have told Breena she should have done something different, quit working, stayed away from the embalming chemicals?"

That horrifies Abby, and she swallows hard, blinking.

"It's not any different for us. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. It just is. Or isn't. Because we don't really know, not for sure."

She's looking at him, so sad, and that's crushing him. "If it's not my fault, then there's nothing I can do to change it for next time."

He kisses her.

"And we did know, Tim. Doesn't matter if it was real or not, we knew and we felt it and that's all the real anyone ever gets."

He kisses her once more. "I know," and he does, because she's right, they did know. They watched it turn positive, they felt the joy of it, and they knew. And now it's gone. And that starts his tears.

"You want to go to work?"

She nods. "Might go home early. But if I spend today snuggling with Kelly, I'll just dwell on it."

"If you want to stay home, you can snuggle with me, too."

She shakes her head. "Not that I don't want the snuggles, but we can go out and make life better for someone else today, maybe break Tony's case open or something, or stay here and cry."

"Then let's go."

Jimmy might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to picking up non-verbal cues, but when his two best friends, who should be in a jubilant mood, join him for lunch, both of them looking like they've taken a hard beating, he's not having a difficult time figuring out what's going on.

So, he doesn't ask, "Are you okay?" It's clear they aren't. But, though he's awfully sure what flavor of not okay this is, he doesn't want to assume either. Just because he immediately jumps to they lost the baby doesn't mean it's true. That's his own past feeding into this, and it could be something else.

But it's not.

So, it's a very quiet lunch, with a lot of hugs. He makes sure both of them eat, because you've got to eat, and hearing how this morning went, he really doubts they had breakfast.

When they head back to work, he stops the elevator, pulling his phone out, ready to call Breena.

It doesn't hit him as hard as he expected it to. This time last year, this would have dropped him to his knees. There's distance here, now. This loss aches, but when he was sitting in the booth at the restaurant, waiting for one of them to say the word miscarriage, he was expecting it to feel like knives.

And it didn't.

And he doesn't know if that's himself healing, or if it's a sign that the calluses and scars have numbed his ability to empathize.

He does know he's worried about how Breena will take it. He's half-afraid this will be like going back, like being in the Doc's office getting the bad news all over again. He's hoping, that like for him, this will ache, the sadness of disappointed friends, but that it won't be an instant flashback.

He thinks about waiting to get home to tell her, but… He'd like to stop by Tim and Abby's tonight, bring food, make sure they aren't alone.

He hits Breena's contact number.

"Hey, Jimmy, what's up?" she says when she picks up. He's not calling the way he was after they lost Jon, not every half-hour, or hour even, but he still does check in once or so a day, usually just to say hi, see how things are. So, she expects to hear from him at some point during the day on slow days. And, since he never knows how long he'll be out on non-slow days, she expects a call on those days, too. "Catch another case?"

"No. Not today." He sighs, and she catches the flavor of that sigh.

"What's wrong?"

"Abby miscarried."

"Oh." He can hear and feel her wince. "Are they…"

"From the looks of it, they're as okay as can be." He's quiet for a moment. "How about you?"



"Sad, disappointed. That's what should happen, right?"

"Think so."

"How about you?" she asks, getting why he's asking, and from the sound of it, hoping that he's okay, too.

"The same. I saw them sitting in the restaurant, looking deflated, and… I kind of expected it to hurt worse, but…" He can't see it, but he knows she's nodding, understanding.

"This may hit harder, later, but right now, just… sad," she says.


"Have they told Gibbs, yet?"

"Don't think so."

"He's out with Molly and Mona right now. When they get back, I'll tell him."


Beth wasn't kidding. Mona likes kids. She's smart as a whip, and when she hears the words, "Come on, let's go see Molly," she bounds up to the truck, leaps into the cab as soon as he opens the door, and sits in the front seat, looking very alert, beaming, Well come on, get moving, let's get there already! at him.

And Molly loves Mona. As soon as she hears the quiet clicking of Mona's claws on the tile floor in the mudroom, she comes tearing in shouting "MONA!" (Followed by, "Shhh… No shouting in the house," in Breena's voice as she follows, more slowly, pets Mona's head, and gives Gibbs a kiss. While it's true that the rest of the crew met Mona for the first time on Friday night, Breena and Jimmy were sworn to secrecy on Tuesday, because Gibbs wanted to take Molly and Mona out.)

And thus, last Tuesday, Adventures with Uncle Jethro, began.

Anna, at six weeks old, has gotten to the point where she's reliably sleeping for at least an hour and a half out of every three. So, a bit before lunch, he and Molly and Mona go out for 'adventures,' (The park, the mall, "the zoo" (Petsmart, both Molly and Mona like to watch the fish,) anywhere he can go with a toddler and a dog.) where they go run around and play, followed by lunch at his house (or Jeannie's if she's home, and he's thinking he'll check in with Penny and see if she's got any days where she's got some lunchtimes free), then more playing, and bringing Molly home for naptime, thus buying Breena two full nap cycles where she can sleep.

It's, as he told Tim, the highlight of his day. And Breena certainly appreciates it, too.

Today's adventure is a Petsmart run, where they get more food for Mona, and then spend twenty minutes watching the fish. Gibbs idly wonders if the fish get nervous with two sets of eyes tracking them as they go swimming back and forth, but decides that fish are awfully stupid, so they probably don't notice.

Then over to the diner. ("Shhh… our secret. Mama thinks we're having peanut butter and jelly at home." Of course Breena knows what's really up, but the idea that she and Uncle Jethro have secret outings tickles Molly to no end.) Elaine hooks them up with one burger with everything, rare, for him, peanut butter and jelly, for Molly, and one burger, hold the bun, lettuce, ketchup, cheese, tomato, mayo, and pickle, raw, (packed up to go. Eliane would have liked to let Mona in, but the health department is awfully strict.) for Mona.

Followed by romping at the park, and then back to Jimmy and Breena's with a sleepy toddler he goes.

When he gets in, Breena's nursing Anna. He's already carrying Molly, so he just nods toward her bedroom, and Breena nods back.

He kisses the top of Molly's head. "Stories and snuggles and naptime?"

She nods. "Nigh' Moon?"

"We'll do Goodnight Moon. You gonna find the mouse for me?"


Goodnight Moon's a hit with Molly, though, unlike Kelly, she likes to see the pictures, so, once he's got her changed and his hands washed, he finds a copy of the book, and they settle into the rocking chair in her room, and he quietly reads the story to her. She cuddles in his lap, looking at each page, finding the mouse in each picture, and sucking her thumb.

He gets to the end of the story, and tucks her into her bed, kissing her again, as she goes off to sleep.

It's not a shock to Gibbs, he knows her parents after all, but Molly Palmer is the sweetest child he's ever met. Sure, she gets crabby and frustrated, and if you get her overtired she's an all-out holy terror, but for day in day out life, when the grown-ups are doing a good job of managing her, she's just a little ray of sunshine and cuddles.

He's wondering a bit (for example he knows Ed will talk your ears off about how sweet his girls were as babies, but part of that's time and distance rose colored glasses) what Breena and Jimmy were like as little kids.

He's also wondering if Anna's gonna be a spitfire just to mark her own territory out.

He heads into the kitchen, getting himself a cup of coffee, and calls out quietly, "You want anything while I'm in here?"

"I'm fine."

And a minute later he heads toward Breena, sitting across from her in their living room.

"Go well?" she asks him.

"Went fine. Those two'll sit there watching the goldfish for an hour if I let them." He smiles, but notices she's not looking that happy. "You okay? She nap?"

Breena nods. "Anna napped just fine." She smiles at him, but it's sad. "Jimmy called me after lunch…" He can feel bad news coming and braces for it. He knows it can't be the worst, she wouldn't be here alone if someone had died, but whatever she's about to say won't be good. "Abby miscarried."

"Fuck!" He says it low and quiet, wincing at the news.

Breena nods. "Yeah."

"Are they… okay?" He finishes, lamely. Of course they aren't okay.

"They both went to work today. Probably heading home early."

He nods at that, already making plans in his mind.

"I'm going to head over."

Breena nods. "We'll join you when Jimmy gets home, bring some food."

Gibbs waves that away. "You rest. I'm on food."

If he was paying more attention, he would have noticed that Breena didn't nod along with that. But he wasn't. He's mostly just feeling very disappointed, and trying to think of what to do to be comforting for Tim and Abby.

He heads off shortly after that, planning on going to the grocery store, grabbing something for them, and then going to their place, letting Heather go home early. (He's guessing they wouldn't have told her what was up.)

He's standing in the grocery store, debating chard or kale (neither of which he has ever given a flying fuck about before, or for that matter, could have identified as something other than "Spinach?" but he's shopping for Tim and Abby and they like curly green veggies) when he can feel Rachel in the back of his head saying, "You're avoiding it by being busy. They don't care if you get them the perfect dinner or not. Just being there is enough. Let yourself feel it, Jethro, don't push it away."

He put the greens down and left.

He's been sleeping like shit since he retired. Too much time, not enough work to keep his brain active, and that means no sleep.

But last night, and Saturday night, he'd slept pretty well. He'd been dreaming of Tim and Abby's son.

And yes, he does know that anything you want to do with a boy, you can do with a girl. He really knows that, and maybe it's because for as many sons as he's collected over the years, he's never started out with one from the beginning, but he was really looking forward to a little boy.

It's not even so much that he's got "boy" things he wants to do. His fantasies of camping and rough housing and teaching them to shoot and drive involve the girls, too.

But, God, he wanted a little boy. He wanted Tim and Abby's little boy.

He especially wanted Tim, and Tim's son to have men around him that adored him no matter what.

He wanted to be able to give that to Tim as much as to the image of the child in his head.

And he knows it's not like this is it, that there will never be any other babies. He tells himself the same things that he figures everyone else in this situation says to themselves, there'll be other chances, this isn't it, but saying goodbye, or maybe, he hopes, putting that dream on hold, hurts.

Gibbs is waiting for them when they got home. He sees they're surprised to see him, but he smiles a little, puts Kelly on her play mat (Mona immediately trots over to her and lays down right next to her, keeping her company), and pulls both of them into a hug. "Breena told me when I took Molly home. She and Jimmy'll be over if you want them. Or just me if you want more quiet."

"They're already on their way," Abby says, quietly. Jimmy had texted her about that when they were driving home. "They wanted to make sure we ate."

Gibbs smiles at that, kissing both of them. "You think I didn't bring food?" (And he did. He told Elaine he had some sad people at home, but not why, he hinted it was a bad day at work, and she did her magic. Much better than him glaring at greens in the grocery store.)

There's a quick knock, followed by Tony and Ziva heading in, also with food. It's a mitzvah to feed those who mourn, and it looks like if there is any obligation owed to those who hurt, this is the one their family is all over.

Jimmy and Breena are there less than half an hour later, with yet more food.

It's a very quiet meal, even Molly seems to sense something is up, so she's staying close to Jimmy and Breena. There's lots and lots and lots of food. Tim and Abby aren't going to need to do anything other than put food in the microwave to heat it up anytime this week. Which is probably the plan.

Whether or not they were telling Ducky and Penny came up, and Jimmy got deputized to pass that along tomorrow. With everyone else knowing, there was no way it wouldn't slip out.

And eventually everyone but Gibbs went home. It's not so much that he thinks he's got anything that'll help, but having him near is comforting, and if he's being honest, being near is comforting for him, too.

It's not late. In fact, it's honestly not all that long past Kelly going to bed, but they're tired. Physically tired, it's been a long day, and emotionally drained.

So Gibbs doesn't say anything when they go to bed two hours early.

Tim appreciates that. He appreciates all the things people haven't said to him today. And yes, his family learned, the hard way, what not to say to someone where they are, which he supposes is the tiniest damn silver lining in the history of silver linings, but…

No one minimized it. No one said they shouldn't be sad. No one tried to jolly them out of it, or make them look on the bright side, or any of that hollow, meaningless cheering-up shit.

Today they were allowed to be sad, allowed to grieve an idea or a hope or whatever it was.

And tomorrow will be better, he knows that, Abby does, too. Tomorrow, they'll get their minds wrapped around next month, and trying again, probably start charting so they know what's going on. They'll rally round each other and move on. But they needed today, too, and he's very pleased they got it.

Abby's cuddled up in his arms, spooned against him. His face is pressed against the nape of her neck. He feels her take his hand, lift it to her lips, and kiss it.

"Next month will be different," she says.

"Yeah, it will." He kisses the back of her neck. "Valentine's baby."

She nods. "Valentine's baby."