Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 89

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

Chapter 89: Susan

Tony rubbed the back of his head gently as Gibbs stormed off. “That’s the third time I’ve been headslapped today.”

“I know. And I hate to say it, but you’re not any more off than you ever are. What happened with you two?” Tim asked.

“Nothing. He’s just in a pissy mood.”

Tim wasn’t buying that at all. “Pissy mood? Come on. Something is going on. You and Ziva okay?”

Tony flashes him his really, you’re going there look. “We’re fine. Why would you ask that?”

“He’d headslap you if you’re pissing her off.”

That made sense, sort of. “If I’m pissing her off, I’ve done it without her letting me know.”

“That’s not like her.”
“No it’s not. So it’s him.”

They both winced when Gibbs double slapped them. “More work, less gossip.”

“If you weren’t slapping the hell out of Tony every two minutes, we’d be working. What’s going on?”

Gibbs just glared at Tim, so he flashed Tony his talk later look, and both of them got back to working the crime scene.

Two days later, Tim said to Tony, “I feel like I woke up in 2004.”

Tony looks up at him like a light just went on. “That’s it! We fell into a time warp and somehow we’re ten years back in time. How did that happen? Tell me that, Probie.”

It's not 2004 and I will kick your ass
if you start that Probie crap up again.
Tim glared at Tony. “Don’t you start. It’s not 2004, and I will kick your ass if you start that Probie crap up again.”

“Fine. Still, he hasn’t been this hard in years. As Senior Field Agent, I’m thinking it’s time to do a little investigating.”

Tim nods, this sound promising. “Good, let me know how that goes.”

“You let me know.” Tony smiled, looking satisfied.

Tim’s eyes went wide. “Nooo… I don’t want to poke into his life.”

Tony flashed him his I’m being totally reasonable here, even if you think this is insane look. “I’m not asking you to hack him, just head over tonight and talk.”

“Why do you want me to do that?” There are a lot of things Tim McGee is good at, walking up to people, even people he loves, and saying, “So, tell me why you’re acting like there’s a stick up your ass and you don’t want it there,” isn’t one of them. He’s much better at the whole respecting privacy and leaving them alone until they sort it out for themselves thing.

“’Cause this has gone on long enough. You’re free tonight, and I’ve got Schul.”

“Skip it.”

“Can’t. I missed the last two weeks because of cases. Rabbi’s getting annoyed at my attendance.”


“Besides, I think he’d rather talk to you about stuff like this.”

“Stuff like what?” Sure Gibbs was being a bear lately, but Tim hadn’t figured out the cause, yet.

“When was the last time you saw Susan?”

“Oh.” Tim realized it had been close to a month. “You think that’s why he’s so angry?”

“Could be. He wasn’t much fun after Hollis left, and I think that was the last one he really liked.”

“And he did like Susan, didn’t he?” Well, if they had broken up that could explain it. It’d been more than six months, so that could mean the thing with Susan was fairly serious, and she was the first woman in ten years he could remember being invited to some of the social things for their group. So, that was another mark in the serious column.

“Yeah. Look, if he’s still being a bastard after you talk to him, I’ll go see him tomorrow, and pump Ducky for information, too.”

Tim shook his head, sure how that was going to go. “That’s not going to end well.”

“I’m hoping that you’ll talk to him and it’ll help.”

“Why do you think he’d talk to me about this?”

“You’re good at this stuff.”

Tim’s sending Tony his are you insane look. “What on earth makes you think I’m good with relationships?”

Tony’s got the same look on his face, stupefied that Tim would even ask that. “You’re getting married in six months.”

“I’m good with Abby, which is not the same thing as being good at relationships.” An idea hit as he said that. “Abby! She can go talk to him!”

“He won’t talk to her, not about this sort of stuff. Broken heart stuff is man talk. Usually involving alcohol and maybe steaks.”

“It sounds like you know what you’re doing. How about we wait until tomorrow and you handle it?” 

“Just get on it.”

Tim glared at Tony a little and then flashed a text to Abby about his post-work errand.

Two minutes later he got back Thank God, it’s about time one of you did it! I’ll pick up some bourbon for you to bring over.

Wonderful. See you at lunch?


Gibbs glanced up from his workbench when he heard the steps, feeling mildly surprised to see McGee standing there holding a bottle of bourbon.

“You’re supposed to be DiNozzo.”

McGee nodded. “I agree. But he’s at Schul, so,” he put the bottle on the workbench next to Gibbs, “I’m here. Look, I’ve never done this before. Do we just drink until you’re ready to stop being a jerk?”

Gibbs looked at the bottle of Blanton’s Original. It’s not anything he’s ever drunk. The bottle is globe shaped, looking a lot more like some sort of cordial than anything he’d think of as bourbon. McGee doesn’t drink hard alcohol much and when he does, he goes for scotch, so if he picked it out that means he probably went online and looked it up. If Abby did, than that’s probably her year bartending showing. He hoped Abby picked it out.

McGee sat there, waiting for him to say something. There was one difference between doing this with McGee versus DiNozzo, Tim, once he got comfortable, did quiet pretty well. Tony either never really got comfortable or just couldn’t handle the quiet.

Gibbs touched the bottle, turning the label toward him. “Gonna take a bigger bottle.”

“You’ve got more if this isn’t enough. What happened with Susan?”

Gibbs stared at him, looking amused. DiNozzo would have spent half an hour talking about, well, Gibbs isn’t sure, he wouldn’t have paid much attention to it. Just would have been noise to let the alcohol sink in a bit before getting to the main topic. “You’ve really never done this, have you?”

“No. The only guy who would come to me with something like this is Palmer, and he’s doing just fine with his love life.”

McGee pulled up a stool and opened the bottle, pouring a glass for each of them. Then he pushed one of them toward Gibbs.

“Talk to me. It won’t hurt. Might help. And if we both still think this is stupid tomorrow, we’ll both slap Tony.”

"We'll both slap Tony."
Gibbs grinned a little at that, and took a sip. Not bad. Not sweet, but tastes like sugar and orange, or maybe it just makes him think of oranges rather than tastes like oranges. Mostly tastes like alcohol. Nothing he’d pick out for himself, but nothing he minds drinking.

“You aren’t drinking.”

“I’m pacing myself. I don’t want to be hung over tomorrow.”

Gibbs took another drink. “The idea is get drunk so you hurt as bad on the outside as you do on the inside.”

McGee shot his back. “Better?”

Gibbs nodded, and he realized McGee always takes a drink from him, but rarely finishes it or has more than a few sips. “You don’t like bourbon, do you?”

“No. Though this is a lot better than I thought it’d be. So, let me guess, the other part of both of us drunk is so I don’t really remember what you’ve said?”

“Something like that.”

“Won’t blab. Won’t tell Abby if you don’t want me to.”

“Abby’s fine. The ten million people who read your next book are the problem.”

“I won’t put it in there. What happened?”

Gibbs finished his, and poured himself another. “Nothing.”

McGee raised his eyebrow, very clearly signaling you’ve been a complete asshole for a week over nothing?

“She’s sweet, and funny, and beautiful, and sexy, and nothing happens. Nothing ever happens. I can enjoy having her around. I can feel protective about a woman. I enjoy the sex. But that’s it. It never gets any deeper.”

“You weren’t in love with her.”

The tilt of Gibbs’ head says yes. “At least by now I know to cut out before she gets too attached to me. It took three tries, but I figured out that sticking around longer and getting married and hoping isn’t going to make me fall in love.”

“Why not?”

He just stared at McGee.

McGee sent him his best I’m not an idiot look. “Say it out loud, see if it helps.”

And after a long quiet minute, he did. “Because she’s not Shannon.”

“You ever talk to anyone about Shannon?”

“Mike. A little.”

“He handled her case, right?”


“Talk to me. Tell me about her. How’d you two meet?”

Gibbs stared at McGee, not saying anything, not sure if he could make himself say anything. He was never a big talker, learned early with his Dad that silence was armor, a good way to protect himself, but he started talking again when Shannon came into his life, and when she died, his words went with her. Too many memories, too many feelings went with words, and keeping them bound and silent let him function.

McGee waited patiently, not in any hurry, a somewhat expectant look on his face.

Then Gibbs got up, heading upstairs. When he came down, he was holding a framed photo, and his glass was refilled.

He put the picture on the workbench in front of McGee. “Christmas 1990. Last shot of the three of us together.” It was a pretty standard family portrait. Everyone was smiling at the camera, Gibbs had his arm around Shannon, and one hand rested on Kelly’s shoulder.

“They were beautiful.” McGee’s voice was low as he said that, and Gibbs realized that part of never saying anything was never having anyone around who really understood how much he had lost. Most of his friends were bachelors, like Ducky or Mike, never settled on one woman. He watched Tim (and realized sometime between putting the picture in front of him and now, he switched from McGee to Tim) study the picture and could almost feel the raw shock of aching sympathy from Tim as he felt, and knew, what Gibbs lost.

“Yeah, they were.” Gibbs took another long drink.

“How old are you in this picture?” Tim looked up at him.

“Almost thirty-three.”


“Yeah. Didn’t go gray until after. Didn’t even notice for something like a year. Had to renew my driver’s license. I listed my hair as brown. The DMV lady just stared at me for a minute before grabbing a compact and showing me myself in the mirror.”

Tim smiled at that. He looked at the picture again. “She would have been about Ziva’s age, right?”

“Kelly was born in ’82. So, yeah, same age as Ziva.”

Tim looked back up at him. “You love Abby, right? And Ziva? Really love them, not just fond and protective of them?”

Gibbs nodded.

“What’s different? They aren’t Kelly, can’t be Kelly, won’t be Kelly.”

Gibbs shrugged, feeling the alcohol hit, hard. Might taste sweet but there was a real punch hiding in there. “Kelly wasn’t mine. You’ll realize that soon, I hope. Your kids don’t belong to you. They belong to themselves, and, eventually, whoever they give themselves to.”

“Shannon was yours.”

At the train station.
And while that’s true, that’s also not the problem. “I was hers.” Gibbs sighed and stared at his drink. “I was eighteen, home on leave, and she was at the train stop, and…” He took out his wallet and pulled out another picture. It’s easier to show the pictures than to say the words. “She’s twenty in that shot.” Shannon, smiling, in a long, simple, white dress, standing in front of a huge scarlet maple, sunset lighting the shot golden pink; her hair was long and loose braid, wind blowing tendrils of it behind her, a bouquet of pink and white flowers in her hands.

“That’s your wedding, isn’t it?” Tim asked, fingers lightly tracing the edge of the photo.

Wedding pics.
“Yeah. October 20, 1979.” Gibbs rubbed his eyes, feeling that moment. She was smiling at him. The photographer said he wanted a shot of her by herself, so he was standing a few feet away from the man as he clicked the camera. Ten seconds later he joined her, holding her hands as he snapped more pictures. The words started to come out before he could stop them, before he could feel the desire to shut them down. “She put that ring on me, and I was whole and home and all that other stupid love song crap that isn’t when you really love a woman… And I know for you and Abby the ceremony is just… fun. But it mattered to us. We didn’t get married an inch at a time. We jumped in all at once, and nothing has ever felt like that before or since.”

“She was your first?”

Gibbs closed his eyes and swallowed, remembering that as well, thinking of a moment of sublime, ecstatic joy forever tinged with the excruciating pain of having lost that moment. “She was my only, and yeah, my first, too. We waited until we got married, and you do that, and… you say the words, make the promise, put on the rings, and then share yourself like that, feel her body on yours, your one and only and her one and only, and you are married.”

He rubbed his eyes again. He was not crying, or trying not to cry, or maybe Tim was just doing a very good job of not seeing him cry. And with the tears (or lack of tears) words started to rush out. “She was mine and I was hers and none of it matters because she’s not here. She’s been dead almost twice as long as we were married at this point. And yeah, it gets better and it gets easier, but she’s still gone, and the hole she’s supposed to fill is still there, and this house is still empty when I come home, and there aren’t any pictures on the mantle of the three of us growing old together, and I don’t have grandkids, and I didn’t get to give the bride away, or dance with my wife at our daughter’s wedding.” He paused, inhaled fast and deep. “We aren’t getting ready to retire, and we didn’t go to the places we were supposed to, and she’ll never set foot on this boat, and the future we wanted to build didn’t happen. And it’s all so fucking wrong!” Gibbs shot his drink back, and Tim poured him more.

“And every time I try to rebuild, it comes back up again. I’m hers, and she’s not here, and I don’t know how to belong to someone else.”

Gibbs drank some more.

Tim touched his arm. “Find the right girl, Palmer told me that. It won’t work with the wrong girl and no amount of trying will make it work. I’m sure everyone and their cousin has told you Shannon wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn her forever, but if you haven’t found someone you can fall in love with yet, then you haven’t. Maybe sex and friendship is what you can do. Maybe it’s all you need.”

Gibbs snorted. “Been telling myself that lie for years. It’s not. I miss the way love felt. I want it. I just can’t get it. I should have loved Hollis. Really should have loved Jen. Should have loved the exes. Should have loved Susan. They deserved to be loved. Just, can’t do it.”

Tim thought about that while Gibbs stared at his drink, then he asked, “Where’s your wedding ring?”


“When did you take it off?”

Gibbs almost answered and then stopped.

“After Hernandez?” Tim asked.

He figured that it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Tim knows that. He half wondered if Abby told him, but decided Tim figured it out for himself. Abby may have confirmed it, but she wouldn’t have told. “Yeah.”

Still married.
“Go put it back on. You’re still married. Leave it on until it’s actually time to take it off.”

Of all the things Tim could have come up with, that was something he would have never expected. “It’s been twenty-three years.”

“I know.” Tim tapped his glass, he’s only had the one shot, hasn’t poured himself a second. “I haven’t had so much I can’t do subtraction. You aren’t done being her husband, so put your ring back on. Maybe if you go back a few steps, try it again, you can get to where you need to go.”

Much to Tim’s surprise Gibbs got up.

“You still have hers?” he asked as Gibbs set foot on the bottom step.

“No. She was buried wearing it.”



“If you had it, I would have suggested put it on, too.”

Gibbs nodded, that made sense to him. It didn’t take him long to find. It’d been living in his sock drawer, in the small black box his service medals live in. Plain gold band, wide, still fit, and looked very right on his hand.

“Feel better?” Tim asked when he returned.

“A little.” And it did, which was probably wrong, but… at this point he wasn’t going to argue with it. He hated having that finger naked, and sticking other rings on it never helped, so why not put the one that belonged there back on?

“Good. So, tell me about her. In my family, when someone we loves dies, we get drunk and tell stories, and we laugh until we cry and then cry until we can laugh again. I’m going to take a wild guess and bet that you never did that for Shannon or Kelly.” Gibbs nodded. Tim poured another shot into Gibbs’ glass, poured more for himself as well. “Tell me some stories.”

And Gibbs did.


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