Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 36

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

Chapter 36: Happy Valentine's Day

Abby likes holidays. And Abby likes presents. So for the last nine years Tim has gotten her some sort of small, cute, often funny valentine. Like a little skeleton in a top hat with a tiny bouquet of flowers, or a Caff-Pow in the special Valentine's Edition pink cup. Stuff like that. Nothing big. Nothing expensive. Nothing romantic. Just something cute and small that she'd like.

And once again Valentine's is looming near, and he's thinking this is not the year for cute or small.

Vast, grand romantic gestures seem like the idea for this year.

He knows, ideally what he'd like to get.

He's just not finding it, or anything like it, at all.

"Palmer, what do you think of this one?"

He's standing next to Jimmy in autopsy, supposedly getting a report to bring back up to Gibbs. Jimmy looks at the image on his phone and says, yet again, "Tim, you know just as well as I do, there's not a diamond ring on earth that's right for Abby."

"Yeah." He shuts down the image of a princess cut diamond in platinum and tucks the phone back into his jacket.

"I've got six days and nothing."

"Then don't do it for Valentine's. Do something that is right for her, and keep looking for the ring in the meantime. Nothing says romance like proposing under the fireworks at Fourth of July."

"God, I hope it doesn't take that long to find the right ring."

"Tim, don't kid yourself, the right ring for her is something you're going to have to get made. There's not going to be anything on a shelf."

Tim sighs. "I think she'd like something vintage."

"You're going to be vintage by the time you find the right ring for her. Get one made."

Tim picks up the report and fires off a sardonic salute to Jimmy. Time to get back to work.

Something right. Something her. Something grand and expansive...


She's getting dressed, and he's lying in bed, staring at her back as he thinks this.

Oh... Um... Yeah... She might go for that.

He hops up and goes hunting for paper, a pen, and a ruler. Tim can't draw. He's terrible at it. But he can draft. He's handy with math, very good with spatial relationships, and he can imagine things in 3d space easily. And he likes knots. He likes knots a lot. And Abby likes knots, especially knots he's tying on her.

He returns to bed, sitting cross-legged, stack of printer paper in front of him.

"What are you doing?" She's staring at him as he starts plotting out two straight lines.

"Super-secret romance stuff." He looks up and grins. "Off to work with you."

Her eyes narrow and she stares at the paper. Just two long straight lines right now, but he's starting to add hashmarks at each quarter inch.

"Are you designing something?"

"Maybe." He grins again, putting down the pen. "Shoo..." He waves toward the door. "It doesn't get designed if you stand there hovering over me."


"Oh yeah." He winks, stands up, kisses her, and then pushes her out of his bedroom. "Bye!"

It takes him close to three hours to get it laid out, which means he was facing yet another day of driving like a maniac to get to work just fairly late instead of wildly late. But to work he got, three minutes before he had to vanish into the conference room to be deposed for a case.

The deposition went long, way long, he had to go over how he had known about Khan's MIT background several times, apparently, 'I was at the same school studying forensic computing while he was hacking the damn place" wasn't enough. Something about the defense lawyer might want to try and pin the hacking on him or something to attack his credibility.

Eye roll. Sigh. It'd be nice if someone in legal knew more about computers than how to send email.

So it was well after two when he got out, and Tony sidled on over to his desk.

"Another good morning?"

"Yes, but not the kind you're thinking of. I finally figured out a Valentine's day present for Abby."

"Ahhh... There's something I don't miss about having a girlfriend. The yearly hunt for a trinket to show affection."

"We're a bit past the trinket phase."

"That's even worse. Now you've got to get something that means something. And if you don't get it right, she pouts at you. I hate Valentine's day."

"Yeah. So..." He stares at Tony and debates. It's Monday. Valentine's is Thursday. Can Tony keep hold of the secret? Will the idea of it freak him out again? Will showing him what it is help to rebridge the trust between them?

"Just show him, McGee." He hears Gibbs say. Then Gibbs looks at Tony and says, "And if you wreck the surprise, I'll kill you myself."

Gibbs walks over, leans against his desk, and says, "Come on, she's likely to sense this and come up here any second, so show us."

"Oh, yeah."

He takes out the sketch and unfolds it. Gibbs squints at it, looking puzzled, it's not what he was expecting. Tony stares, too.

"You're getting her lines?" Tony says.

Tim folds it back up and tucks it into his pocket. Gibbs' 'she'll sense it and show up' comment has enough truth to it to make him nervous.

"No. It's a Celtic knot tattoo that I designed for her myself. And, when someone who can draw gets a hold of it, it'll be a lot more swoopy."

"Swoopy?" Tony asks.

"It'll look like ribbons woven in and on each other."


Tim points to just below his right deltoid. "It'll go here, on both of us."

Tony thinks about this, and he doesn't seem too freaked out. "So you're getting her matching tattoos for Valentine's day?"

"Yeah. That I designed for her myself."

Tony is nodding, looking like he doesn't really know what to think about that. Gibbs is still staring at him, and Tim thinks he knows what that look means.

"I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, so I did this instead. I'm still looking though, for the first thing."

Gibbs nods. "She'll love it."

"That's the idea."

Abby is, by general accord, the best informed member of Team NCIS. People tell her things. Lots of things. And she has a secret weapon. Gibbs tells her things, if she asks, and he sees everything.

So when Thursday morning had rolled around, and she still didn't know what her Valentine's present was from Tim, she was feeling, well, nervous. Since she has no idea what he's getting her, she's not sure if her own gift, a collection of bootlegged improvisational jazz recordings from his five favorite musicians, live shows that were never supposed to be recorded, so Tim's never heard them before, is appropriate. She knows he'll love them, but with the way the guys keep smirking at her, or smiling, or just sort of glowing in her direction, she's not sure if it's big enough.

She was able to get from Tony that Gibbs had ordered a personal fatwa of death on anyone who spilled the beans, which explained her inability to get a hold of any details, but did not get her any closer to what the mystery object might be.

Tim was drawing it... Maybe... Could be some sort of strange poem? She knows back in his college days he did experimental writing where the shape of the poem was as important as the words. So...

But would that be enough to cause Gibbs to order silence? And bigger question, is that the kind of thing Tim would show anyone?

She walked into her office, turned on her computer, and saw a card on the keyboard. Her name in Tim's handwriting was on the envelope. He had to get one of the others to help with this, because they came into work together this morning, and he hasn't had time to get this down here.

Gibbs probably helped. He'd trust Gibbs with whatever was in that envelope and to make sure it got where it had to go. She sniffs the envelope, and there's the faint smell of Old Spice that anything that spends time in Gibbs jacket pocket acquires.

Sooo, Gibbs and Tim working together.

She slits open the envelope and takes out a thick piece of paper, thinking it's another poem. A business card falls out as she removes it, which makes her think twice about the poem idea. She lets it lie, wanting to see what's on the paper first. Unfolding it, she finds a sketch of herself. It's a bust, her right arm across her chest, head turned away in quarter profile. Behind her is Tim, holding her, right arm cradled under hers, face mostly hidden behind hers. She's got on some sort of little tank top, but he's shirtless. Both right arms are prominent, the focus of the sketch, and it takes her a second to see what's different about the sketch.

Then her fingers fall to the cuff tattoos. It's a four strand knot, two black strands, two red. She can see at a glance this is something Tim would tie. He'd take an hour to weave something that all the way up her arm or leg and then take pictures.

Under the picture was one word in his handwriting: Yes?

She flipped over the card that fell out of the envelope. It was an appointment with a tattoo artist she knew for Saturday morning.

Tim is in the car with Gibbs, heading toward a dead sailor, when he gets a text. He looks at it, smiles, types quickly, and puts his phone back in his pocket.

Gibbs glances away from traffic toward him.

"She liked it. That was yes in all caps with about twenty exclamation points next to it."

Gibbs nods.

"You were expecting me to pull out a ring, right?"

Gibbs nods at that, too.

"Talking to Jimmy?"

This time the looks says, No. Why? Should I have been?

"I am looking for one, but I'm not buying until I can find one that needs to live on her finger. It can't just be some sort of generic diamond. It's got to be Abby's ring. If that takes a while, it takes a while."

Gibbs nods at that, too. Thinking about how much easier this was when he did it the first time. Go out, find the biggest rock you could afford, put it on the girl, and six months later, I Do. 'Course the pressure to move fast is probably somewhat less intense if you're already having sex and practically living together.

Tim doesn't have that glazed and frustrated look he suspects he had most of the time he was courting Shannon.

"You moving to her place, or is she moving to yours?"

"We're getting a new one all-together."

He nods at that, too. "Next time you go ring shopping, take Ziva. She'd like it, and she can keep a secret."

"Am I taking her because she'll be useful to me, or because it'll get her thinking about possible long term life changes?"

Gibbs smiles, downshifts, and parks. "We're here."

"So, what'd she get you?" Tony is asking as they walk back into the bullpen.

"I don't know, yet." He saw a pink conversation heart on the escape key on his keyboard. Next to it was a package of Nutterbutters, with a bow and some sort of small card attached.

He sat down at his desk. The conversation heart said, 'I luv you.' He smiled a little at that and opened the card.

8:30 in the lab.
(No snooping!)

"Nutterbutters?" Tony's looking at the cookies, astounded. "I mean, I know you like them, but... really? You design her a tattoo, and she gets you cookies?"

"Just part one." He held up the card.

"That looks promising."


Gibbs walks to his desk, scowling at them. "And it's also not going to happen if you two don't find me something useful."

"On it, Boss."

"What do you have for me, Abbs?"

"Besides this?" She walked up and hugged him. "Thanks for delivering Tim's card."

Gibbs nods. "The case?"

"The single least talented killer, ever? I've got ballistics. I've got the gun. I've got fingerprints. I've got blood. I've got DNA. I've got gunshot residue. Either this guy is dumber than cement, or you've got someone who's been framed into oblivion."

Gibbs sighs. "Dumber than cement. Found his wife fooling around, killed her and the guy with her, and then ran." He looks at her secondary computer, seeing a few little black hearts on the keyboard, which he didn't think were there before, but no Tim. "Isn't this usually when McGee tells me he's got a trace on the guy's phone?"

"Probably. I'm making him work upstairs."

"Do I want to know what's going to happen down here?"

"I doubt it, but if you want to know, I'll tell you."

Gibbs sighs and shakes his head, turning to go back upstairs.

"So how is it, I try to get married, and NCIS gets blown up, terrorists come crawling out of the woodwork, and everything falls to pieces, meanwhile, for your Valentines Day treat, you get a case that's wrapped up by 6:00?" Palmer asks Tim as he's heading out.

"I don't know. Cupid likes me? Besides, you're out of here early tonight, too. Breena'll like that."

"Yes, she will. Though with my luck, the car'll blow up on the way home or something."

"You'll be fine. Go home and have some fun."

"I intend to. 'Night, Tony, Ziva."

"How about you two, any plans tonight?" Tim asks.

Ziva looks at him and raises one eyebrow. "Do you think we'd have plans with each other for Valentine's Day?"

"I was more thinking in general, but now that you've brought it up..." Tim smiles at them.

Tony glares at him. Ziva smiles. "I am going home, having some dinner, and getting a long hot bath with a good book."

"Sounds good. Tony?"

He's looking at Ziva, and Tim guesses he's imagining what a long hot bath with a book looks like. Then he jerks a little, and says, "No idea. I'll figure it out when I get home."

"Well, if neither of you have plans, I've got two hours to kill, so want to go grab a drink or something with me?"



8:27 and he's standing outside the door to Abby's lab.

That's the first hint that something interesting is up. The door is shut. The door is never shut when Abby's in there. She only closes that door when she leaves at the end of the day.

He's not sure if he should knock or just go in, and decides that either way, he can wait three minutes for it to actually be 8:30.

Long damn three minutes.

He can't hear anything going on in there. No music. And he can't see any light coming from the underside of the door, though he's not sure if he would, the hallway is pretty bright and he doesn't remember if the lab has one of those little sweeper things on the bottom of the door to make sure nothing gets out.

At exactly 8:30 the door opens. He knows it's 8:30:00 because he's looking at his watch. He looks up at her and smiles, realizing she had to be standing on the other side of the door, watching the clock.

He hasn't seen her since this morning. Hasn't texted since she sent him that extremely excited message saying YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to the tattoo. And it's not like they never go a day without seeing each other, but it's rare.

She takes his hands and pulls him into the lab as he's saying, "Hi."

She steps behind him and locks the door, then looks up at him, very pleased with herself, very amused, and smiles.

He kisses her hello and looks around. The lab looks, well, exactly like it did when he was in there yesterday.

Almost. She's got paper taped up over the windows between the lab proper and her office.

"What's in there?"

"Your surprise."

"Am I gonna like it?"

"I certainly hope so." She tugged him gently toward her office, clicking the button that opened the door.

Candles, that's the first thing he noticed. Lots and lots of candles. Besides the floor and her computer every horizontal surface in her office had at least one of them.

Then the music hit him. He knew it, Instrumental No. 7, but it didn't quite sound the way he expected it to.

"Is this Henneger?"

"Yeah. Take off your shoes. Sit down." She pointed to the soft and fuzzy nest she had made on the floor. Four white sheepskin rugs were overlapping into a large circle, and a few plush satiny looking pillows in rich, violet-tinged red sat around the edges. There was a small table in the middle, maybe one and half feet by one and a half feet, and about a foot tall. On it he could see a selection of sushi and a bottle of sake. And next to the black lacquered chop sticks was an MP3 player.

He slipped off his shoes, and then his socks as well, soft fluffy rug would feel good on his feet. He pointed to the side with the MP3 player and she nodded. Then he sat.

She sat across from him. "Pick it up; look at what's on it."

It took him a minute to figure out what he was scrolling through. At first look it was a fairly standard catalogue of some of his favorite musicians doing their most famous songs, then as he got deeper into it, and noticed some very non-standard songs, and as the recording currently playing faded into applause, he realized he was looking at some extremely rare recordings of live shows.

His jaw dropped when the next song started. That was Eric Clapton's voice. He'd heard about it. Everyone who loved Henneger had heard about it. One night in Chicago back in '93, Clapton had been in the audience, but somehow he ended up on stage with Henneger, and the two of them had come up with a thirteen minute long version of Instrumental No. 13, with Clapton coming up with lyrics on the fly. Clapton played guitar. Henneger played sax. Both of them moving back and forth with the main theme, taking it places no one ever thought it could or would go. It wasn't supposed to have been recorded, but he was sitting in the lab, listening to it.

"How did you get this?"

"Friend of a friend is a really hardcore Jazz musician, and he was willing to let me make copies of some of the things he played backup on and some of the shows he had been to."

He wants to babble about how happy this is making him, and he wants to be silent and absorb it. Abby sees his look, and how he's torn. She grins, kisses him, and moves the table over.

"Lay down, listen to it with me. We'll eat later."

He kisses her back, hand cupping her cheek, grinning widely, eyes warm and happy, and then lays back, closes his eyes, and lets the music wash over him.

She lays down next to him, holding his hand.

He had forgotten how much getting a tattoo hurt. It's not the end of the world or anything, but it certainly isn't comfortable, either. And this one is a lot bigger than the last one.

His first one had taken about half an hour to do. This one'll take four.

Image by
He'd enjoyed walking in with Abby. She, of course, looks like she belongs in a tattoo studio. He looks a little out of place. The girl working the counter, who hadn't been there when he went in to see about getting his idea made into a tat, stared at them in open wonder.

She got Abby. She didn't get him with Abby.

And being the guy who got Abby, even if he is kind of mild-mannered looking, wearing a pair of nice jeans, a casual button down, blazer over it, and loafers, while she's out in a short skirt, one of his button downs rolled up at the sleeves and top two buttons undone (one thing you don't want is a tight t-shirt rubbing against a new tat) over a tank top, and a pair of knee high boots, tickles him to no end.

He opened the door for her, arm around her waist, very clearly signaling MINE to anyone who might want to look. And the girl looked, and did a double take.

And Tim smirked.

Turns out Abby knew Sam, the artist. They chatted while Sam got Tim ready. Business was slow so the girl came back to see what they were getting done.

She looked at the knot, looked at Abby and said, "That's yours? Sam told me we had a custom piece coming in. It's beautiful."

Abby smiled. "It's mine in that I get to wear it. He's the one who designed it."

The girl looked at Tim, and he gave her a wide and happy smile, seeing her actually see past his clothing for the first time. He's got his shirt off, and Sam is smoothing the transfer onto his arm. She moves to his left side and says, "That's Python, right?"

"Yeah, that's my master's dissertation."

"Kind of old school."

"It was 2001." Less than a year after Python 2.0 had come out, and barely seconds behind the absolute bleeding edge of programming tech when he did it.

"Oh. Cool."

"Thanks. I just figured out the over under and where the strands went for this one. Sam's the one who made them art." Turned them into whorled swirls of ribbons. Sam was the one who spaced them out further, took advantage of the negative space, and ended up with a design that made the black strands look almost carved out of the arm, while the red ones wrapped around and through.

Sam nods, and begins to load up the black ink. He actually puts Tim in mind of Gibbs. Not a lot to say. Warms up significantly with Abby around. His portfolio is his main selling tool, though he took the time to really get what Tim wanted and sketch it out, and then draw the second sketch for Abby.

And then Tim sort of zoned out for the next four hours. A lot, maybe not most, but a decent percentage of people with tats like pain, they get off on it, or get off on getting through it. Abby gets off on getting through it. But he's not one of them. He wonders about that sometimes, because he knows that a lot of the things he enjoys do often go along with getting off on pain.

The knots he likes... In Japan they are tied in hemp, often on bare skin, and they leave abrasions and sometimes welts. Dom/sub stuff doesn't usually just end with 'do what I tell you to.' And those stories he told Abby about, he ended up exiting out of a lot of them when they took a turn for knives or burns, whips and flails.

Maybe it's like bungee jumping (which no, he doesn't even like to think too hard about, let alone do) he wants the feel of falling but not the splat at the end.

He looks at Abby, who knows he's checked out and is talking with the counter girl and Sam, and pulls his mind away from what feels like an avenging mini-sewing machine having its way with his arm.

He goes into plotting mode and spends the next four hours working out the main ideas for Tibbs' next adventure.

Watching Abby get hers is significantly more interesting to him than getting his own.

For the first minute she's clutching his hand going, "Ow ow owowowowowowowowowowowow owwwww. Damn, McGee! I always forget this part."

"Yeah, me too." It really is kind of a shock how much your memory dulls things like that. And he's got a suspicion that his mind has also dulled down how much they itch when they heal as well.

"Look at me."

So he does, and she holds his eyes with hers. He sees her take a deep breath, let it out slow, and her eyes slide shut. Two more deep breaths, and he feels her hand relax in his. Her shoulders go soft, and her head settles back.

"Okay, found it."

"Found what?"

"The spot in my mind where it can just all flow around me."

"So, it doesn't hurt?"

"It does, but it doesn't matter. It's just there. I'm here with you. I'm safe. Nothing bad is happening to me. So the pain doesn't matter."

And he understands why she gets so freaked out sometimes, when she can't find safe, everything stops flowing, it stops working properly and leaves her stuck in a river of too much so she curls into a little ball, trying to get away from it.

He holds her hand, watching Sam mark her with a knot he designed, something she'll wear on her skin until the day she dies and feels the sore burn of that exact same mark on his own skin.

A matched pair, even if, on the outside, they don't look it.

He kisses her cheek. "Happy Valentine's Day."


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