Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Shards to a Whole: Chapter 8

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

8. Dinner With Jimmy

Of course, talking to Palmer, alone, without attracting the attention of Tony and Ziva is a bit of an issue.  But with the office completely upside down during the reconstruction, Tim found an excuse to wander down to Autopsy.

The door slides open, and for a moment Tim doesn't see anyone, besides the bodies, and then Palmer hurries out, way too many folders clutched in his arms.

Tim jogs to him. "Here, let me help."

Jimmy sags with relief as Tim grabs the folders that are about to spill out of his arms. It occurs to Tim that if you call someone fried when they are stressed out, that Palmer is one of those little orphan french fries that get stuck in the fryolator and end up cooking for a full day. He's not fried; he's not burnt; he's charcoal.

"I never realized how much Dr. Mallard does around here," Jimmy says to him.

"We felt that way when Gibbs left. Tony did fine, but we could all see the cracks forming. And you're doing fine, too. It's just not as smooth."

Palmer laughs, bitterly. "Going for understatement of the decade, Tim?" Tim shrugs. "So, who wants what?"

"I want dinner." Tim nodded at the clock, showing it was already eight. "I know you've been here until midnight every night for the last week, so how about we get some real food?"

"I can't leave. Too much to do here. Every minute I'm away is another minute later that I get home."

"Well, if I brought you food, could you take a break for a bit?"

"Probably. What's going on?"

"Would you believe that I want to talk to you?"

Palmer looks startled. He and Tim get along well. Common interests, similar personalities, but they don't just hang out all that often.

"What about?"

Tim thinks about how to phrase this. "It's personal. And, I'd really rather not see this get spread all over NCIS."

"I'm interested."
Jimmy puts down the folders. "I'm interested." He looks at the clock. "Who am I kidding? I'm not getting this done tonight. Every paper I fill out spawns ten more. Let's go."

There's a burger joint a ten minute walk from the Navy Yard, so they head there. In a matter of minutes they're seated, with drinks, and Palmer is looking much more relaxed. He fires off a text to Breena, who is fortunately working late tonight, so doesn't mind him being away.

They settle into a booth and Tim asks, "How do you like being married?"

"How would I know what it's like? I've been married for seven days, and haven't been home before midnight on any of them." Tim blanches a little, not realizing that was going to be a sensitive question for Palmer. "I'm sorry, Tim. I miss Breena. I miss being home. I miss the honeymoon we were supposed to be on right now. I should be in a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the ocean with my wife. I should be eating room service and forgetting what it feels like to wear pants."

Tim gives him that, I-don't-quite-understand-what-you-mean-or-maybe-I-do-and-don't-want-to look, and Palmer gets flustered. "You know, no pants because..." And then he stops and shakes his head. "Tim, if you didn't get it, I don't need to explain."

"I get it. That's actually sort of related to why I wanted to talk to you."

"You want to talk to me about sex? Haven't you ever... I mean you and Abby... right?"

Tim rolls his eyes. "I've had sex. And no, I don't need to talk about sex."

Jimmy grins. "You sure? I'm good at sex."

"I didn't need to know that, Palmer."

"Your loss. So, what, instead of sex, but related to pantslessness, is on your mind?"

Tim looks around. Ten minutes from work means this place often has other NCIS personnel in it. But he doesn't see anyone he knows or any badges that look familiar. "Okay, look, I do not want this getting out. You cannot say anything to anyone about this."

"All right." Palmer leans in close, his expression showing that he's enjoying the idea of a grand conspiracy.

"I love Abby." Tim says it softly, practically mouthing the words. He expected some sort of shock from Palmer, or at least a bit of startle. But the look on Palmer's face is best described as the kind of expression one wears when told it's sunny outside at twelve noon in the middle of summer. He's never looked less shocked in his life.

"Tim, that's the worst kept secret in the history of secrets. Lee and I was more of a secret than you loving Abby, and everyone found out about that. Everyone knows you love Abby."

"I want to do something about it."

"Oh. That's..." Palmer spends a moment looking at Tim in confusion. The waiter shows up with their food, and he chews a bite of his salad, still looking intently at Tim, confusion not abating. 

"Stop looking at me like that."

"Okay, it's just that, well, scuttlebutt has it that you and Abby have been doing something about it, for, like six years."

"We've both dated other people in that time."

"Scuttlebutt has it you've got an open relationship."

Tim sits there for a few minutes, unable to even think of what to say to that. Finally he comes up with this, "Let me get this straight, there's gossip that, not only do I have Abby, but every now and again, I go on horrendously uncomfortable dates, often resulting in physical harm to my person, just, what, for kicks?"

Palmer blushes. "Ummm.... no. Scuttlebutt has it that you let her go out with other guys to keep her happy, and every now and again you fake a date so that it doesn't look too lopsided."

Tim's mouth, literally, falls open.

"So, I take it that's not true?"

"No, it's not true!"

"Not any of it?"


"You two didn't date at all?"

"That part's true. Nine years ago."

"Okay. So, now, nine years later, you want to get back together with her?"


"So, why are you talking to me?"

"You actually figured out how to build a relationship that survives our work. You know and love Abby, too, so you won't give me idiot advice, and I trust you to keep this quiet, because you know she'll be bummed if it doesn't go off right."

Palmer thinks about that while Tim takes a bite of his burger.

"You're right. Okay, how can I help?"

"How are you doing it? You missed your own wedding for this, and she's, what, understanding?"

"Yes, she understands. And that'll help with Abby, too, she pulls even later nights than you do."

"Okay. So, advice number one, pick the right girl."

"I think that might be advice one to ten thousand and on from there. It won't work with the wrong girl, and no amount of trying will make it work with the wrong girl. I saw the way all of you looked at me when I said I had broken up with Lee. She was way out of my league, and none of you believed it."

"Palmer, all of your girls are way out of your league."

"And Abby isn't out of yours?"

"I know she is, hence nine years of not dating."

"Okay, the point I was making was that Lee wasn't the right girl, and I knew she wasn't the right girl. And the fact that she was beautiful, dangerous, and God, so amazingly sexy, I mean, that woman, the things she—"

"More stuff I didn't need to know, Jimmy."

"Breena is the right girl."

"How do you know?"

"I just do."

"Aren't you worried about long-term?"

"You mean, like divorce, or something?"

"Yeah. Or the spectacularly messy breakup."

"I pretty much got to enjoy the most spectacularly messy post-break-up ever, and honestly, it wasn't that bad. Not saying I'd want to do it again or anything, but... No, I'm not worried about breaking up with her. Everyone talks about pre-wedding jitters, but I was way more nervous about postponing the reception than the actual vows. Once I was holding her hands saying the words, I knew they were true. How do you feel about Abby?"

"I love her."

"Then what are you afraid of?"

"Not being able to keep it going."

"Let me get this straight, you've been in love with her for nine years, without dating, and you're afraid that once you actually start dating that you won't be able to keep loving her?"

"It sounds kind of silly when you say it that way."

"Yeah, it does. So what are you waiting for?"

"Damned if I know."     


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