Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 75

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

Chapter 75: The Ring

Since the move, Gibbs’ place has been on the way home. It’s only about six minutes, round trip, out of his way.

So, yeah, he’ll be a little late getting home.  And sure, Abby probably knows something is up, ‘cause it’s not like he couldn’t have given Gibbs the coffees at work. But as cover lies go, coffee delivery is plausible.

He knocks (Tim always knocks. Yes, Gibbs has an open door policy, but he always knocks anyway. He doesn’t wait to be let in, but he also doesn’t feel comfortable just walking in unannounced.) and opens Gibbs’ door feeling... nervous? Probably not. There’s no fear here, just a somewhat pleasant buzz of energy. So, excited? Eager? Yeah, probably eager. He wants to show off what’s in the tiny black box in his pocket.

He heads down the steps and waits at the bottom one. Gibbs is doing something with what he thinks is a chisel, concentrating hard, and he’s not going to interrupt.

Finally Gibbs looks up. “McGee?”

Tim steps off the bottom stair. “I have something I wanted to show you.”

He slips the box out of his pocket and puts it on the piece of wood in front of Gibbs. “It’s for Abby, and since you’re practically her dad, and definitely the guy who’ll be giving her away, I wanted to talk to you about this first.”

He doesn’t look up at Gibbs while he says that. He keeps his eyes on the box while he opens it.

The jeweler had looked at Tim’s stones and started playing with them. Eventually, he laid one of the diamonds next to the garnet, fat sides close to it, and the other, on the opposite side and down a bit, creating something that looked like a rose with two black leaves. From there he started to sketch a setting: a delicate vine-like filigree of black titanium. And, once it’s on her, it should look like a red rose with black leaves wrapped around her finger.

Gibbs looks at it for a long time, taking it out of the box so he can see all of it from every angle. Tim’s on the verge of feeling nervous, until he notices a smile creeping onto Gibbs’ face.

Gibbs closes the box and hands it back to Tim. “You did good, Tim.”

“Thanks, Boss.”

They sit there quietly, while Gibbs goes to get the bourbon, pours them both a shot, and hands him a cup.

“I’m glad it’s going to be you.”

McGee is prouder of having earned those words than just about anything else in his life.

“Got any advice for me?”

Gibbs laughs a little at that. “Like I told Palmer, I’m the last person you want to go to for marriage advice.”

Tim shrugs, that’s probably fair enough. He sips his bourbon. “Got any honeymoon advice then? From what I’ve heard, you’ve been on more of them than anyone else I know.”

Gibbs laughs full out at that and takes a drink of his bourbon. Then he smiles, looking quite amused, and maybe a little surprised at Tim’s last comment. Tim realizes Gibbs might be about to make a joke.

“Leave the cuffs at home, cut your ropes twelve to fifteen feet long, thread them under the mattress or box spring if there’s enough room. That’ll give you plenty of room to play, and you won’t have to explain how you broke the bed the next morning.”

Okay, not a joke, but that was definitely good-natured teasing, and after a second’s thought, where Tim contemplated how few of the beds they ran into while traveling had any useful bits to tie things to, he realizes, that was also awfully good advice.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Tim simultaneously shakes his head and laughs. Then he remembers something. “I’ll be back in a sec.”

He sprints up to the car and grabs the brown paper bag. Abby said he should wrap it, but he’s a guy, and wrapping presents for other guys just isn’t something he does. In fact, as a guy, he didn’t even own wrapping paper until he ended up with a half share in Abby’s. Then he runs back down to the basement and hands the bag to Gibbs.

“Here. I don’t know if you’ll like any of them, but when we were traveling I kept thinking you might.”

Because why not?
Gibbs opens it and looks inside, then pours the contents out. Four small vacu-sealed bags of coffee fall out. One is basic coffee with chicory from New Orleans. The next was from a roaster in Austin, he figured something called Black Death was probably a dark enough roast for Gibbs. The other two were from Portland and Seattle. In each city he told the guy at the roaster’s that he wanted the strongest, darkest, most stand up and eat the spoon while you try to stir it coffee, which resulted in these two bags.

“They might be terrible. I don’t know. I don’t like my coffee as strong as you do.”

Gibbs smiles at him. “Thanks, Tim.”

“Okay, I should get home. If Abby asks, I was giving you your coffee.”

Gibbs nods, holding the bag of Black Death in his hand, looking fairly interested in it.

“So...” Tony said.

Tony, Ziva, and Palmer were all waiting at his desk as he walked in the next morning.

“None of you can say anything about this. I’m asking tonight, so no wrecking it!”

“Our lips are sealed,” Ziva answered.

“I’ve been keeping this quiet for eight months, you think one more day is going to break me?” Jimmy said.

“Come on McLovin, show it to us!”

“McLovin?” Tim’s sure it’s a reference to something movie related, but he doesn’t know what.

“Movie trivia later. Get that bad boy out of your pocket and show us!” Palmer said, and then blushed scarlet when Tony began laughing hysterically.

Tim slipped it out of his pocket. He’d ditched the box in favor of the small velvet bag it came with. On the off chance, and by chance he means utter certainty, he ends up hugging Abby, he doesn’t want her wondering what that small, hard, square thing in his pocket is.

He opened the bag and then slipped it onto his own index finger, twisting his hand so they could see it from all angles. “Ta da!”

Ziva did that thing where she inhaled sharply and went quite. Which was the reaction he was hoping for. Tony went oddly quiet, too, just staring at it.

Palmer nodded and took it off his finger, studying it carefully. “This is beautiful, Tim. She’s gonna love it.”

“I really hope so.”

Ziva took it from Palmer, and slipped it onto her right ring finger, seeing how it would look on a hand. “It’s stunning, McGee.”

Ziva was staring at it when Gibbs walked up and gently slapped him upside the back of the head. “Wrong girl, McGee. That one’s waiting for DiNozzo to get his ass in gear.”

Tim laughed so hard he felt like he was going to hurt something while Tony stared at Gibbs like he’d just been stabbed in the back. When he calmed down, he took it back from Ziva, tucked it into the bag, and slipped it back into his pocket.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 74

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

Chapter 74: Home Again

The downside of vacation is that you get back and find out work didn’t stop while you were away. So, walking into the Bullpen, staring at his desk, he saw what looked like a literal ton of mail and reports.

It took four hours to get through it.

And for some reason, Tony and Ziva kept looking up at him and smirking.


“Keep looking. You’ll find it eventually,” Tony said.

“Six or so more inches down,” Ziva added.

He felt a thrill when he finally saw it. There was only one thing that he was waiting for in a Fed Ex envelope, at least, only one thing he wasn’t sending to their home.

Tony and Ziva were watching him, and both of them were grinning at him when he found that envelope.

“Come on, open it!” Tony said.

Ziva came over to his desk.  If she could have opened that envelope by looking at it, the ring inside would have been in full view.

He stared at the overnighted package in his hands, and looked at them. “You can see it tomorrow. I’ve got to talk to Gibbs before you two see it.”

“Talk to me about what?” Gibbs asked, coffee in hand, heading toward his desk.

Tim put the package down and shook his head. “Not for now. Tonight, after work?”

“Fine. You two, back to work. Those reports aren’t gonna fill out themselves.”

He heads down to autopsy at close to the end of business that day. A good six inches of paperwork needed to be at least initialed by Jimmy.

“Where are you going?” Tony asks as he got up with the piles of paper.


Tony gets up, too. “I’ve got some, too.”

Tim raises an eyebrow at him. Asking him to take his papers down made sense. Going with him, not so much so.

Once they were in the elevator Tony flicks it off and says, “Okay, come on, show me.”


“You took Ziva with you when you got the stones. You showed Jimmy the sketch when you used him as cover to see the jeweler. You can at least let me see the finished ring first.”

Tim thinks about that for a moment. It’s not that Tony’s wrong so much as that he’s just not right, either. There’s a way these things get done, and Tony’s just not the guy who gets to see this first. So, Tim sounds a little regretful as he says, “No. I really can’t. Gibbs sees this first.” Then he smiles at Tony brightly, “But I can ask you to be my best man and stand up with me when I marry her.”

Tony grins. “I’ll take that. First thing tomorrow though?”

“First thing.”

Tony flicks on the elevator and they continued down.

A minute later, while Palmer was initialing away, he asks, “So, the kilt, is it comfortable?”


“Not too drafty?”

“Didn’t bother me.”

Jimmy just nods and keeps initialing papers.

Tony’s staring at him. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of one.”

Jimmy shrugs. “Looked good on Tim. Breena thought it was cool. Everyone tells me they’re comfy.”

WWI Solider
“Who is everyone? McScott over there is the only person I know with one.”

“Are you sure about that, Anthony?” Ducky adds, coming up behind them. The ten minute long soliloquy on the history of skirts as menswear and the warrior tradition of kilts, from the Roman Legions to the Scottish troops in World War I wearing their kilts in the trenches was on point, informative, and set Tim to smirking widely at Tony.

“And of course,” Ducky begins to wrap up, “with the current, and tragically narrow, American understanding of masculine identity, absolutely nothing says I-have-testicles-the-size-of-cantaloupes like wearing one.”

Tony drops his papers. Jimmy and Tim laugh. And Ducky settles into a pleased smirk.

Back in the elevator Tony says, “So they’re comfy?”


“Come on, I’ve seen you naked. No matter what Ducky says, they aren’t the size of cantaloupes, and you don’t need that much room to swing around.”

Tim gives him a mildly exasperated look that says, You’re missing the point.

“But that’s not the whole reason for wearing one, is it? I mean, you’re wearing it in like a third of the pictures Abby posted.”

Tim flips off the elevator. “Just one of them. First off, kind of short on space. Traveling with Abby and practically a portable MTAC meant that everything I took with me had to be worn over and over. Secondly,” He debates how to, or if, he should say something like this to Tony, and decides going too into it isn’t a great idea. But in general... “I imagine it’s like how you’d feel in five thousand dollar hand-tailored suit. You wear something like that, you feel good.” Tony nods, he gets that. Maybe not how a kilt might make you feel that way, but he certainly gets it for a suit. “Third, you own anything Ziva really likes you in?”

Tony seems to think about that for a moment. Which makes Tim think the answer is no. Because the level of ‘likes you in’ he’s thinking of should not require thought.

But finally Tony says, “Yeah.”

“You wear it more often because she likes it?”

Tony smiles. “And Abby likes you in a kilt?”

A good thing on so many levels.
“Yeah. She does. She really likes me in a kilt. You like Ziva in a skirt?”

“Yeah, who doesn’t?”


“Why?” Tony seems deeply puzzled that anyone would ever ask him that. Ziva in a skirt is so obviously a good thing on so many different levels he’s having a hard time figuring out how to break that down for Tim.

“Yeah, what about her in a skirt makes you happy?” Tim adds.

“I like the way she looks in one.”

“Good. Anything more than that?”

Tony smirks. Tim considers that answer enough and gives him a meaningful look. “Well, Tony, that works both ways.”

Tony seems to think about that. “So, you’re saying there’s a certain ease of access.”

“Yeah. Ever get a blow job when you’re driving?”

Tony nods, looking surprised. And Tim’s not sure if he’s surprised that Tim would ask or that he’s had at least one, too.

“What? I do vanilla sex.”

Tony shakes his head slowly. “Blow job while driving is your idea of vanilla sex?”

“Not if I’m going over sixty.” And Tim is very pleased that he managed to say that with a straight face,  because the way Tony responded to it was just perfect.

Tony closes his eyes and sighs, then opens them slowly. “Okay, I’m sure you had a point before that deluge of TMI.”

“Just, think about it.”

“This really isn’t the place to be thinking about blow jobs.”

“Not that kind of thinking. The mechanics of it. I mean, it’s great, as long as she’s really careful, otherwise the zipper gets you. And you can’t really spread your legs, so she can’t get to everything. Kilts don’t have zippers, and they don’t limit your mobility.”

“Hmmm.” Tony appears to be appreciating that idea.

“Exactly.” Tim looks at Tony for a few seconds, thinking about what Tony’s been wearing over the last six months. “What does she like you in? You aren’t wearing anything more often than usual.”

Tony smiles. “Something you don’t get to see.”



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 73

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

73. Portland, North Dakota, Kansas

The dream of the nineties might still be alive in Portland, but neither of them saw any proof of that.

What Abby did learn, and granted this was something she had a somewhat firm handle on, but had never really seen in action, is the fact that Tim might be a certifiable genius.

It’s not a shock or anything. The guy’s a federal agent, bestselling author, and a computer wizard. Tim is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an intellectual lightweight.

But there’s the two of them talking geek to each other, which usually leaves the rest of team NCIS in the dust, and then there’s Tim with Steve and Dan.

They lived together for a year while at MIT. Tim getting his MS in forensic computing, Steve was getting his PhD in pure mathematics, and Dan was working on a MS in computer learning.

About ten minutes into a mind-blowing dinner (and not just for the conversation. The sushi and sake is beyond excellent. Abby’s not the only one who looks like she wants to lick the plate.) the conversation’s ranging from Beal’s Conjecture to machine learning, to Tim’s own sandbox, forensic computing, and back again into esoteric math, with a smattering of string theory, and some astrophysics to round things out before they got into the intricacies of MMORGing.

Abby’s no slouch in the science department, and she’s got brains coming out the ears (and the MENSA certification to prove it.) But even she got a little lost when the three of them got talking about Dan’s current project. She understood they all thought it was sexy as hell and beyond awesome, and she got the basic idea, feed the program a problem with a ton of variables. Then the program crunches the numbers in a bunch of different ways. Pretty straightforward. Then it somehow figures out which of the answers were the best. So it combines the programs that got the best answers, mates them with each other to come up with even better answers. And keeps doing that. On its own. Supposedly, eventually coming up with the ultimate version of whatever formula would answer the question it had originally been asked.  But when Tim and Dan got talking shop on the actual programming she and Steve just sat there and stared.

Finally Steve said, “They used to do this for hours. I’d finish my homework, they’d be talking and messing with their computers. I’d go to bed. I’d get up the next morning, they’d still be at it.”

“Nah, we just did that to mess with you,” Dan said. “We’d break off for Warcraft when you went to sleep. That’s why we always had better gear.”

Tim just smiled, and the conversation slipped to life in academia, which Tim and Abby didn’t know much about first hand, but didn’t have any trouble keeping up with.

Finally Dan asked, “So how’s being a Fed? Did it work the way they promised?”

Tim nods. “Pretty much. Better really. Met her my first year.”

Steve just stared at her for a moment and then said, “You’re a cop?”

“No. I’m a forensic specialist.”

“She runs our lab.”

Steve grins. “Good, the world makes sense again. No one as smart and sexy as you should be a cop.”

Abby smiles at Tim, “He’s a cop.”

“And he’s nowhere near as sexy as you are,” Dan finishes.

Tim whips out his cell phone. “Lots of sexy at NCIS.” And shows them pictures of Ziva and several other co-workers.

“Damn, if I had known all the beautiful women were Feds, I would have taken them up on their offer,” Dan said.

“We both got offers from Federal Agencies,” Tim adds to explain Dan’s comment.

“Machine learning was pretty hot for the FAA and all four branches of the military. But CMU gave me a better deal, so I went with them. I’m still surprised Tim didn’t end up with the CIA or IRS, they gave him way better offers than NCIS.”

He shrugs a little, Abby staring at him. “The CIA was willing to pay for my doctorate as long as I got it overseas and paid close attention to the people around me while I did it. IRS offered a ton of money and a car.”

“Why did you take NCIS?” Abby asks. She knows about the thing with his Dad, and wonders how it actually went down.

“You ever meet Nick Armstrong?” Tim asks.               

She nods, he was an agent out of the Mike Franks mold. After he lost an eye and was taken out of field work, he became a recruiter for NCIS.

“He asked me if I was John McGee’s kid. I said yes. And he said, ‘Screw this behind a desk bullshit. Come with me, you’ll put real bad guys in jail, carry a gun, and get the girl, while using your computer skills.’”

Abby looked amused. “Yeah, he would have said something like that.”

“It took ten years, but he was right.”

“So they do let you carry a gun?” Steve asks.

“Yeah. I’m actually really good with one now.”

“Huh.” Dan looks really surprised. “We took him shooting once, and he flinched every time the gun fired. He did manage to hit a target, but not his own.”

He looks at Abby, “Remember when I told you that Jim Nelson got me through FLETC? That was the help I needed. I couldn’t shoot to save my life.”

“Not a problem anymore,” she says with a little smile.

“If he’s showing off, he’ll shoot a smiley face in the target at 200 meters.”

Dan and Steve just stare at him, and he can see the image of him they have in his mind, twenty-three years old, all three of them at the range, flinching each time anyone fired, and not having anything that anyone would ever consider a good time.

Tim shrugs. “You get to a point where just head shots aren’t very challenging.”

Dan’s shaking his head. “Wow.”

Tim grins. “So tell us about Tokyo, you did a fellowship there, right?”

“Where are you?” Tony asks the next day over the video connection. It always surprises Tim how different MTAC looks from this side of the connection.


“What the hell is in Montana?”

“No speed limits.” Tony looks irked by that, but Ziva smiles. “So what’s up?”

Tony begins to fill him in on the case and how they’d hit a snag trying to get through the suspect’s firewall.

“Okay, let me patch into my work computer. I’ll have something for you in a few hours.”

“Thanks, McGee.”

To the earth we return.
“Damn, it’s cold,” Tim says as they step out of the car, facing Amerly, ND.

DC in January has nothing on North Dakota in October. There were a few ghost towns Abby wanted to see, so, since they had the time, and it was in the right general direction, North Dakota went on the itinerary. Real ghost towns, the stuff of so many legends, how could that not be awesome?

But he’s not exactly having a grand time. It’s too cold, too dead, too ruined, and with the wind howling away, not nearly quiet enough.

As they stood on a windswept plain, flurries dancing around them, a barn, a church, a feed lot, two houses, and a forgotten crossroads all slowly being eaten by the prairie, Abby said, “How about we head south from here?”

“That sounds like a really good idea to me.”

They were sitting on a bed in a hotel room in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Tim writing an email, Abby updating their Picasa album, when she said, “I got a good one of you.”

He came to a stop a minute or so later and looked up. “Let me see.”

She flips her computer around to him, and he looks. “Not bad.” It’s not so much of him, as a picture he happens to be in. It’s from the second ghost town they had seen, Reslin. Once upon a time, round about 1900 close to three hundred people had lived there. Now it was just wind, a few buildings, and grass that spread out forever.

He’s standing in front of the church, because all of these little towns had churches, and though the homes and barns and farms and schools all slowly fell apart, people kept going to the churches. Every one of those towns they saw, the church was the building in the best upkeep, because it was the last thing abandoned.

But no one had lived in this town since 1952, and even the church was listing about thirty degrees shy of vertical.

He’s standing in front of it, the only thing in the shot upright. The church, the ground, rolling in long soft swells, and the three houses still standing in the background were all at different sloping angles. The wind was whipping around, fast and hard, pulling on his coat. Standing there, staring into what looked like endless of miles of nothing that had ever been touched by the hand of another man, he could understand how wind could drive a person mad.

So, it’s not any sort of happy picture. It’s mostly shades of weather beaten gray and brown, dead grass yellow. His coat is khaki, so he sort of blends into the color scheme. And he’s not looking at her as she took it, his face is in profile, eyes far away as he scans the horizon. But yeah, it’s a good picture.

“I like it.”

She smiles at him. “Thanks.”

“Any other good ones?”

She flicks through a few of the other shots, mostly the prairie going on forever and ever with tiny little hints that humans had been there, and vanished, sticking out like wind beaten tombstones.

He goes back to his email, updating Sarah as to how the trip was going, and then finished up. He stands up, stretches, and looks out the window. Downtown Aberdeen isn’t precisely a metropolis.

“So, what are you thinking, check out and hit the road, or have some dinner and sleep here?”

Once they got east of the mountains they went back to driving at night. With the moon only a few days past full, the views of the sky were amazing, even if the actual prairie was a bit dull.

“How about we head on? Maybe make St. Louis by morning?”

“Sounds good.” He closes up his computer and begins to pack up his gear. When he finished, he sat next to her, and saw she still had that picture up on her computer.

She looks at him looking at it and kisses his cheek.

“What time is it?” Abby asks.

He gets her asking, they’re tearing along an empty road, millions of acres of dried corn stalks all around, top down, sky wide and bright above them, full moon waning amid millions of stars, now is not a good time for her to look away from the road to check the clock.


“Good.” She hits the break and pulls them over.

“Okay,” he says, wondering what was going on. There isn’t anything special he could think of for this time of night.

Once the car stops, she unbuckles and crawls into his lap, straddling his legs and wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Hi,” Tim says, looking fairly puzzled.

“It’s 11:24, October 23rd.”

“Yep.” He’s nodding, hoping she’ll let him in on what’s up soon.

“You have no clue why this is important, do you?”

He’s shaking his head. “Not a one.”

She laughs. “Think hard.”

An idea hits, and he squints a little. “I thought that was next week.”

“It’s today. This time a year ago, you were telling me you loved me over a milk shake.”

He smiles. “Best decision I ever made.”

“I’ll second that. I have something for you.”

“Really?” His eyebrows shoot up.

“Yeah.” She tugs her purse out from behind his seat.

“I don’t have anything for you. Thought I still had a week.”

“You think our anniversary is Halloween?”

He shrugs. “Well, for the sex part of it. I guess the date part happened on the 30th.”

She looks like she wonders how he could have lost a week, so he says, “We got dressed up in costumes; we went out. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the date. Paying much more attention to the beautiful woman I was with.”

“You are forgiven. For the record, it’s the 23rd into the 24th.”

“Am making a mental note.”

She found her MP3 player. Then took a moment to disconnect his and hook hers up to the car stereo. A second after that she noticed that it wasn’t going to play with the key in the off position, so she reached over to turn it to on.

“It’s nothing big. Just… I suck at poems, and this said it better than I did the nine times I tried. So…”

“You wrote me a poem?”

“I tried. Then I set them on fire.”

“No.” He sounds pained at that. The idea that Abby wrote him a poem really appeals to him. “Don’t do that. I would have liked to have seen them.”

“They were bad, really, really bad.”

“They were yours.” He pets her face and kisses her.

“They were still really bad.”

“So was the first one I gave you.”

“No, Tim, it wasn’t. It was just young and enthusiastic. And the stuff I was coming up with, it was bad, really bad, objectively bad. Breena and Ziva both told me they were bad, too. And not, oh-that’s-so-cute-bad, but oh-god-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-that-you’d-even-try-that-bad.”

“I doubt that.”

“I bounced the last one off Jimmy, and he winced.”

“Ewww.” Okay, that probably meant it really was bad. “I still would have liked to have seen them.”

“If I ever try again, I’ll keep that in mind. Anyway, this isn’t bad.” She shifts so she’s sitting across his lap, feet in the driver’s seat, her head on his shoulder, his arms around her, and hit the play button.

Music that was very un-Abby eases out of the speakers. Though, as he listens he thinks it’s not so much un-Abby as just not something she’d usually listen to. There’s a sweetness to it that does remind him of her. Soft piano, gentle and almost tentative sounding. A woman’s voice, breathy with a bit of country sound began to sing.

Inside my skin
There is this space
It twists and turns
It bleeds and aches

Inside my heart
there’s an empty room
It’s waiting for lightning
It’s waiting for you

And I am wanting
I am needing you here
Inside the absence of fear

Muscle and sinew
Velvet and stone
This vessel is haunted
It creeks and moans
My bones call to you
In a separate skin
Make myself translucent
To let you in, boy

I am wanting
I am needing you here
Inside the absence of fear
There is this hunger
This restlessness inside of me
And it knows that you’re no stranger
You’re my gravity.

My hands will adore you through all darkness and
They will lay you out in moonlight
And reinvent your name
For I am wanting
I am needing you here
I need you near
Inside the absence of fear.

And then the song drifted off, leaving them on a quiet road in the middle of Kansas, a bit of wind and dried corn stalks rustling against each other in the background.

“I still have all of them, you know? Every poem you’ve ever written me. They all live in that little mahogany box with the jade rim. And I wanted to do that for you, or something like it. I wanted to give you that feeling, that someone loved you enough to find the right words and lay them at your feet. But my own words weren’t working and the harder I tried the worse they got and--”

“Shhhh.” He kisses her lips, stilling her flood of nervous words. Then he took the MP3 player from her and hit the repeat button. “It’s beautiful. What is it?”

“Jewel, Absence of Fear.” She kisses him. “You make me fearless, Tim.”

He kisses her. “Thank you.” He smiles, glowing at her with the joy of this. “And those are the perfect words.”

For Abby: Fearless Under the Stars

We drive at night
Because we belong there.
In cool dark
and gleaming starlight
touched by time eternal
Glistening silver and blue

The stars are fire
Collected and shared with us by the moon
And the car is earth shaped by man
We are water given form and set walking
And the wind dances around us, flows over your skin

We are not eternal
Will not be
Cannot be
Though the light is
Traveling millions of years
Millions of miles
To touch your face

I would be the light for you
Born of a star
Traveling to the end of the galaxy and beyond
To touch your skin

And you the moon for me
Sharing that caress
Letting the rest of the universe see love made light

Together we’ll light the dark
And find a few seconds of immortality.

The last day of the trip saw them going over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sunset into night, a crescent moon hanging over hundreds of miles of flame colored leaves.

It was a very good way to end the trip. 

Autumn sunset


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 72

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

72. Home

Like with Abby in the graveyard, getting oriented takes Tim a little while. The neighborhood is fairly similar, but landmarks he used to know, like the white house with swing set in the front yard is now blue and the swing set has been replaced by weeping willows, are gone or changed.

But he still knows this neighborhood, knows it in his bones, even if the landscape has shifted a bit.

He could just punch the address into the GPS, but he wants to find this on his own.

Wants to make sure it’s still there, inside him, somewhere.

And it is.

“Haven’t been back since ’96,” he says to Abby as they turn onto yet another residential street in maze of residential streets.

“What happened in ‘96?”

“Lots of things. My mom and dad finally divorced, and she moved back here for a few months. It was the last summer I came ‘home’ from college, so I also ended up here for a few months. I hadn’t planned on coming back. But Pop was sick, and Mom was trying to get resettled with Sarah, so an extra set of hands was useful.”

He pulls up in front of a clearly empty, but cared for, house. It’s old. Built around the turn of the last century, maybe a little before. It’s light blue with darker blue trim, a large wrap around porch, and Victorian lines.

“My mom grew up in this house. Pop and Gran got it right after World War II.”

As they get out of the car Abby says, “What do you think? Maybe some place like this for us?”

He nods. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and this sort of structure has good memories of family attached to it in his mind. “We can’t go in. I didn’t think to ask for a key before we left Texas.”

“Don’t want to break in?”

“Nah. Didn’t bring my picks, either. And there’s nothing inside. They’ve been holding onto it since my grandmother died. Between the market being lousy and this being a fairly nice neighborhood, they keep talking about maybe using it as a summer home after they retire. I think mostly my mom just doesn’t want to really let it go. If she sells it, her childhood, and a lot of ours, is really gone.”

Learning to drive.
He sits on the porch steps, and she sits next to him. He points to the far end of the porch. “There used to be a swing there. I’d sit next to Pop, and we’d rock, watch the sun set, talk. A lot of my better childhood memories are of this porch.” He points to the spot just behind where they parked and smiles a little. “Got my first driving lesson there.” He pats the step right next to her and smiles. “First kiss here.”

“How old were you?”

“Thirteen. It was summer. Jessie Malone lived,” he points three houses down the street, “there. My dad was away. I’m sure my mom found being in a house with just us lonely. So we stayed up here that summer. Jessie and I were both too smart, too bored, too shy, and liked astronomy. Pop let us play with his telescope. Spent a lot of nights watching the stars, so nervous I felt like I was going to explode, and floating on a cloud every time her hand brushed mine. Last night of summer, she leaned over and kissed me before running home.”

She smiles at that story. “What happened after that?”

“We wrote each other for a while. Then the Admiral got home for two years on land, so I spent a lot of time fighting with him, so my letters to her got further and further apart. I didn’t like writing about that. And I don’t know what was going on in her life, but her letters to me cooled down, as well. Next summer, I came back here, and by then her family had moved.”

“Was she pretty?”

He smiles. “Her hair was long and brown, and she’d wear it in two ponytails.”

She grins back at that.

He stands up and offers her his hand. “Here. Wanna see something cute?”


October '87
Still holding her hand he leads her to the backyard. And while it’s true that he hasn’t thought of this in years, probably decades at this point, his body knows where it’s going. In the far backyard was an old oak tree with a long branch perfect for sitting on about four feet up.

“It seemed higher when I was a kid.” He boosts himself up, and she follows. “I don’t think the next level up will hold us, but see that branch there?” He points to one about four more feet above them and she nods. “Okay, look on the trunk about three feet above that.”

She does, seeing the heart with TM+JM carved into it, and smiles brightly at him. “You’re right, that’s so cute.”

He smiles. “I really liked her.”

“You spend a lot of time in this tree?”

“Yeah. I’d sit up there, lean against the trunk, and read.”

They sit there for a few more minutes. He’s swinging his feet, something else that brings back memories of being a kid. Finally he says, “We should probably get back on the road if we want to make Portland by sundown.”

“Okay. Thanks for showing this to me.”

“Not a problem.”

“I like having images to go with the idea of you as a kid.”

They’re about ten feet away when she turns around and takes a shot of the tree, and then as they head toward the car she gets one of the porch.

Once they get in the car she says, “You’d prefer I didn’t put this on Facebook, right?”

He nods.

“No problem. I just want them for me, and one day, our kids.”

He smiles gently at that, liking the idea of telling their kids about his grandfather.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 71

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

Chapter 71: People Really Read His Books

Date night
Two days later, Tony looked over Ziva’s shoulder at her Facebook feed. “You see, that makes sense to me.”

Abby in a cocktail dress, leaning over Tim’s hand, blowing gently on dice. Tim’s wearing what Tony considers a surprisingly nice suit, dice in one hand, the other on Abby’s hip.  

The next shot, the two of them with Penn and Teller got a smile of approval from Tony, as well. He’s not a huge magic fan, but those two are hilarious. Good to see Tim and Abby got to see a cool show. He wonders a little at how much backstage passes must have cost.

The shot after that, Abby dancing with Teller, has Tony reaching for his cell phone.

“McGee, why is Abby dancing with Teller?”


Tim sounds sleepy, and Tony realizes that it’s 7:00 AM Mountain, 6:00 AM Pacific, and he has no idea which one of those time zones they happen to be in.

“We’re looking at Abby’s Facebook feed. She’s dancing with Teller. How did that happen?”

He can hear Tim sitting up, and waking up a little. “That was our dinner date. He’s a fan, Tony. Five years ago he sent me a letter, saying if I ever got to Vegas to look him up. We got there. We looked him up. Saw the show, which was awesome, and had dinner with him, Penn, and both of their wives. It was a blast.”


“Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Yeah, sure. Sorry.”

He looks at Ziva, completely stunned by that, and then tells her what McGee had told him, wrapping up with, “You know, people really read his books.”

“Yes, Tony. I know that. I read his books.”

“But the second one was so... undefined.”

“It was an unfinished rough draft. Did you ever read the version he published?”


She gets up, walks to her bookshelf, grabs a copy and tosses it to him. “Give it a try.”

Four hours and three quarters of the book later, Tony looks up. “You just like this because you’re all super-bad-ass-assassin, killing people right and left and looking mega-hot while you do it.”

She smiles a little at that. “I do not mind that. It is a good story, too. And once I got over ‘Lisa’ and ‘Lisa and Tommy’ it was interesting to see how McGee understood who I was and am. He doesn’t see everything or understand everything he sees, but he does sees different things about us, probably that we don’t see, or don’t want to see, about ourselves. I do not know if he’s right about the things he writes about Gibbs, but I felt like I understood him better after reading these.”

Tony nods; he can see that. “So, there’s another one after this?”

“Yes. And he finished the fourth one about a month ago. Abby tells me there’ll be a fifth one, and that he’s got a contract for three more after that.”

“You guys talk about his books?”

“We talk about all sorts of things. But yes, his books as well. Breena’s read them, too.”

Tony smiles, remembering Pimmy Jalmer. “How’d she take that?”

“She thought it was funny, and enjoyed the symbolism of being intractably attracted to and repulsed by the finality of death, and the futility of trying to overcome it with the actions of life.”

“Uh...” He’d read that scene and just about wet his pants he was laughing so hard at the idea of Jimmy wanting to have sex with dead people. He’d completely missed there was anything besides his Probie messing with the Autopsy Gremlin.

“She’s a very deep reader. But once she said that, I re-read it, and yes, that’s in there.”


“And according to McGee, that’s what he was going for in that scene, so he was pretty happy that at least one other person read past the sex with dead people into what it meant.” 

“Kinky bastard.”

“That, too. But he’s also a good writer.”

Tony stares at Ziva, eyes slightly narrowed. Okay, he knows about some of Tim’s interests, but how does she know that? It’s certainly not anything he’s ever mentioned.

“How do you know that?”

Ziva laughs at the way he’s looking at her. “I thought you knew? When Vance showed up, and reassigned all of us, McGee and I spent the weekend together, consoling each other. We got to know each other very well.”

Tony drops the book. Ziva laughs harder. “I’m sorry Tony, no, nothing like that. When I have lunch with Abby and Breena, the conversation can get a little...” she stops and thinks, “personal. I know a lot about Jimmy, too.”

Tony goes white. “Oh God. So they know...”

Ziva smiles. “Nothing you would not want them to know. And just like I’ve never mentioned what it is that I know about Jimmy or McGee to you, Abby and Breena do not blab to them.”

“So, you talk with them about sex?”

“Yes, and I know you talk with McGee about it, too.”

“We’re guys, talking about sex is something we do.”

“We are girls, talking about sex is something we do.”

“Yeah, but you don’t do the whole, guess how many times I got laid last week, sort of thing.”

A small mischievous smile crosses Ziva’s face. “Are you certain about that?”

“I was… Do you do that?”

“Rarely, and neither do you and McGee, not anymore.”

“Not ever really. It’s not fair when one of you is so far above the other. If I come up with three in  a week and he’s got three in a year, it’s just sort of sad.”

“Is that why you were so off when he and Abby started dating? You were in a dry spell and he was racking up seven or eight  a week.”

Tony shakes his head looking incredulous. “Seven or eight? What does he, run on batteries?” Ziva just smiles. He sighs. “No. That wasn’t it. He had the balls to say, screw twelve, I’m getting Abby. He was ready to move forward with her. And she was ready for him.” He touches her face, gently, “And I was dreaming of you, and neither of us were ready, yet. And it was frustrating. And I was jealous as hell. And none of you told me, which was worse. And he did talk to someone, but it was Palmer. And I didn’t notice what was going on, but you did, which made me feel like an idiot. Add in walking in on him and Abby, and it was just a bad week.”

She nods. “I’m sorry you found out like that.”

He shrugs a little. Not like Ziva didn’t tell him to mind his own business. “So, what did I miss? How did you figure it out?”

“Nothing you could have picked up on, at first. Your sense of smell isn’t as good as mine. He’d come up from the lab smelling like her, and it only happened when he was down there on his own. Then at Jimmy’s wedding, as we were going in, he saw a ‘friend’ at the front desk and told me to go in while he said hi. If he had seen a friend, he would have introduced me. If he was getting a room, he would not have. He was staring at her during the vows. I don’t read lips well enough to know what he mouthed at her, and I’m honestly not sure he knew he was doing it, but he was. They both vanished for about twenty minutes during the wedding, and when we saw him again, he smelled like her and was looking very relaxed. By that point I was certain enough to tell him he didn’t need to give me a ride home. He gave me his keys, I drove the Porsche up to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was fun, and then we talked about it on Monday when he picked up his car.”

He thinks about that and then says, “So, besides talking about sex, what do you and Abby and Breena do?”

“You mean, do we gossip, try on makeup, and do each other’s hair?”

Tony seems to appreciate that image, he’s certainly grinning happily at it. “Something like that.”

“We eat, we talk, we usually split some insanely calorie rich chocolate-based dessert. Sometimes we go shooting.”

“Of course.”

She smiles. “How else are we going to wipe the floor with you guys every time we play laser tag if we do not practice? You, Palmer, and McGee keep getting better, so we have to as well."


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 70

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

Chapter 70. Arizona

In retrospect, driving through Arizona, at night, in a Porsche, with no lights on was probably a bad idea.

But the moon is edging toward full, the stars are a million miles closer out here than they are back in DC and with the headlights on you just can’t see the desert all that well. It’s more than light enough to drive, and he’s got the running lights on so other drivers (not that there are any) can see him well enough.

The only good luck on this was that when he saw the flashers in his rearview mirror that he had only been going ten over the limit.

The cop who pulled them over looks to be, maybe, and Tim thinks this is a generous assessment, seventeen-years-old.

This is probably what he looked like to Tony when they first started working together.

He rolls down the window and sees the cop, Jeffery, according to his name tag, but for some perverse reason Tim’s thinking of him as Opie, do a double take. Whatever he was expecting to see in that car, it wasn’t Tim and Abby.

He stammers a little. “License and registration.”

Tim hands them over, and Opie checks them out. “Excuse me, sir, do you know how fast you were going?”


Opie blinks, not expecting that. “And did you know you were driving with no lights?”

“Yes. You can see better without them.”

Apparently that also wasn’t the answer he was expecting. He stares at the car, sees Abby grinning at him, and says, “Can I check your trunk?”

Tim sighs. “No.”

Opie’s not happy about that.

There’s nothing illegal in the trunk. But he doesn’t want this wet behind the ears noob going through his computers or sex toys. Let alone having to deal with getting everything repacked.

He didn’t bring his badge or gun with him. It’s a crime to use his badge for anything other than ID, like to try and get free stuff, and he’s sensitive to how people react to seeing it, so unless he’s on duty he doesn’t keep it on him.

“Do you have a computer in your car?”

That also threw Opie—Jeffrey—for a loop.


“Go onto the Federal Agent Database. I’m Special Agent Tim McGee, NCIS, badge number,” and he rattled off the digits.

“If you’re a Federal Agent, where’s your badge?”

“Not here, for the same reason you don’t get to look in my trunk.” Okay, sure that reason would be, I’m on vacation, but he doesn’t much mind if Opie thinks it’s some sort of special op.”

“Who’s she?”

“Abby Sciuto. I don’t have a badge, but I’m in the Federal Employee Database as well, S-C-I-U-T-O, NCIS, Lead Forensic Specialist.”

Opie heads over to his computer and twenty minutes later, he comes back. “Okay, you two check out. Please, turn your lights on.”

“Fine.” Tim flicks them on.

“You can go.”

And he drove off.

“Someone better be dead,” Tim said as one lone eyeball opened just enough to confirm that yes, Tony was calling him at 5:22 in the morning, or, more relevant, nine minutes after he and Abby went to bed.

“That someone’ll be you if I don’t have an answer for Vance immediately as to why a LEO out of Dolan Springs, AZ was looking you up last night.”

“I didn’t bring my badge along, and I didn’t want Opie looking through the trunk.”

“Opie?” He lost Tony on that one.

“Could we maybe do this when I’ve had more than three minutes of sleep?”

“Where are you?”


“Okay. Just give me the really fast version. What happened?”

“Traffic stop. LEO wanted to search my car. I didn’t want him doing it. Told him I was an officer. He checked. He backed off. And we went on our way.”

“Fine. I’ll let Vance know, and he can calm back down.”

“Good.” Tim hung up and went back to sleep.

“Are you awake now?” Tony asks.

Tim’s watching him on Skype. “Yeah.” It was five in the afternoon where they were, eight where Tony was. They’d decided to spend the day sleeping, and then get ready for the evening.

 Ziva pops into the picture. “Hello, McGee.”

“Hey, Ziva.”

“So, what’s the story? Why was Opie checking you out?” Tony asks.

Tim tells him and wraps up with, “And that’s why you don’t drive a Porsche though Arizona at night with no lights on.”

“What do you have in your car you don’t want a cop going through?” Tony asks.

Tim smiles. “The sorts of things I’m not telling you about, either.”

“Why are you driving at night?” Ziva wants to know.

“Better view, no traffic. Oh, by the way, if you thought it was good at one twenty, one forty is amazing.”

“You were driving the Porsche at one hundred and forty miles an hour?” Ziva looks stunned, and Tony’s jaw has dropped.

Abby, just getting out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, crouches next to the screen. “Hey. No, that was me. He didn’t get over one thirty.”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “I might have gotten over a hundred and thirty, but you distracted me.”

“Okay, that’s enough of that!” Tony cuts in, “Did Opie get you going that fast?”

“Nah. We did that in Texas. McGee made sure we knew where the speed traps were going to be so we didn’t get caught. But that was the night before, last night we were going kind of slow.”

“Yeah, not driving one hundred and thirty miles an hour or more with no lights. I wasn’t trying to get out of a ticket. I just didn’t want Opie messing with our stuff. We were going eighty-five.”

“Pretty zippy, McSpeedracer.”

“Speed limit’s seventy-five out there. Not too fast.”

Abby turns the computer to the side a bit so her getting dressed isn’t in view, and Tim moves with it. “Anyway, is Vance pissed?”

“No. There was no complaint or anything. He just wanted to know why you and Abby got looked up last night.”

“That’s why.”

“And you’re in Vegas now?”

“Yeah. Figure we’ll spend a few days messing around here, then head north and west. Hit Portland and Seattle, then back east again.”

“Going to come home married?” Tony asked.

Abby’s not dressed enough to get back into frame, but they hear her say, “Oh no, we’re making all of you come to our wedding.”

“And Gibbs would pout if you got married without him,” Ziva added to Abby.

Abby laughs at that idea. “There’s something I’d love to see. Gibbs pout.” She looks at Tim, smiling. “Think it’s worth it?”

“No, because if he’s going to start pouting, he’s also going to headslap me with a brick. Gibbs likes to spread unhappy all over the place. Plus Jimmy and Breena really would pout.”

“Good point.” Abby nods.

“And so would Harper,” Tim added.

“Another good point.”

“Who’s Harper?” Tony asked.

“Abby’s niece. Got to meet her in New Orleans.”

“You have a niece?”

“Luca and Melody’s daughter. She’s fourteen. Tim’s got three step-brothers and like seven nieces and nephews.”

“Really?” Ziva asks.


“And you have never mentioned them?” Ziva asks.

Tim shrugs. “I’ve only ever seen one of them. They aren’t family so much as a bunch of kids who call my mom, Granma.”

“Okay.” Tony gets that. He has no idea how many nephews or nieces he might have if he was to count the kids of all his step-brothers and sisters. He shifts the topic, “So, Vegas, then what?”

“Portland, Seattle, thinking North Dakota—“ Abby says, popping back into view, wearing a cute black lace cocktail dress.

“Abby, what on earth is in North Dakota?” Tony asks.

“Cool ghost towns.” Ziva and Tony look at each other, both of them silently saying, ‘Of course’ with their expression. “And then back east again.”

“Sounds good. Keep posting pictures, we’re enjoying them,” Ziva says.

“You should have seen Gibbs looking at the ones from the Goth club. You’ll appreciate this, McGeek, he was quoting Firefly.”

Tim grins for a moment, then thinks about that. “Tony, why can you recognize Firefly quotes?”

“Palmer held a gun to my head and made me watch it.”

Tim narrows his eyes, disbelief in his gaze. “Nope, not buying that.”

“Fine, I like movies, and if you like movies you’re at least vaguely aware of Joss Whedon, and if you’ve run into Joss Whedon, then you’re more or less required by law to watch Firefly.”

“Uh huh… We’ll talk more about this later. When we don’t have a dinner date,” Tim says.

“You have a date?” Ziva asks.

“Yeah, and I still need to get ready.”

“Who do you even know in Vegas?” Tony asks.

“Big surprise, talk about it later,” Abby finishes, grinning, and switched off Skype.