Friday, August 16, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 159

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

Chapter 159: Toothpaste

It was a blisteringly stupid argument.

The single stupidest argument of his life, and, having grown up with John McGee, that's saying a whole lot.

Tim decided, as he was driving, that the far edges of Mood Swing Abby, happy and sad, he can deal with pretty easily. Both of them just involve being available for lots of hugs, and possibly humor if it's appropriate. It's irritable, which leads to angry, where the landmines lay.

And currently he feels like he's had both legs blown off at the knee.

He was half way to Jimmy's when he realized that right now Jimmy probably isn't the guy to go complain to about his pregnant wife.

Sure, Jimmy's made it clear that he finds being treated like he's made out of glass annoying, and Tim gets that, he really does, but he's still not going to go over there and bitch to Jimmy about Abby being insane because she's pregnant.

Not until Jimmy's got at least one more healthy baby in his house is Tim going to say anything negative about a pregnant wife to him, and possibly not even after that.

So he swings through a highly illegal u-turn that would make Ziva proud, and heads toward Gibbs' house.

One of the great things about Gibbs is that he just raises his eyebrows when Tim walks straight over to the workbench, pours himself a scotch, (Shortly after the Shannon conversation, Tim noticed that a bottle of decent scotch ended up in the basement next to the bourbon.) at 8:45 in the morning, and shoots it back.

And for twenty minutes Tim just sat there on the second from the bottom step and calmed down.

And Gibbs let him, not saying anything, just quietly working on the boat, and occasionally looking at Tim to see if smoke was still pouring out of his ears.

Ready to vent
After it was clear that he had calmed back down, (Sort of. Okay, no not really, but he at least had gotten from furious to ready to vent.) Gibbs leaned against the back of the boat and said, "So…"

"Toothpaste. I used up her toothpaste last night. By accident. I don't like hers, she doesn't like mine, but they're in almost identical tubes because they're just different flavors of the same brand and sometimes she puts hers on the left of the sink, next to mine. I was half asleep while I brushed my teeth and finished hers.

"And we've got a whole tube of mine. Because last week I noticed I was getting low and got more, but she wanted to wait to get more of hers until she was closer to out. But today, at five in the morning, when she decided she had to brush her teeth right that second, she won't use mine, even though she has like nine hundred times before, but today mine is apparently beyond revolting. So at five fucking thirty in the morning I'm at goddamn Target getting more fucking toothpaste because she's got to brush her teeth right this fucking second and can't use mine."

Wrong damn toothpaste smile.
Gibbs knows where this is going. He's doing a very good job of not laughing, and the smile on his face is kind, if vastly amused.

"And of course I get the wrong damn toothpaste, because as I said, it's five goddamn thirty in the morning, and we worked past midnight last night, and I can barely see straight let alone tell the difference between peppermint and spearmint. She's lucky it actually was toothpaste and not hair gel.

"I get home, and now she's asleep. Which is what I want to be. Which is what I told her to do instead of brushing her teeth, which she told me she couldn't possibly do because her mouth tasted horrible. And I told her that if she went back to sleep for three more hours, I would go out and buy her, with a smile on my face and a spring in my step, all the goddamned toothpaste in entire the fucking store. But, no, she had to have toothpaste right that second. So, even though she was awake, and up, and in possession of not only a driver's license but two vehicles, I'm the one who has to get up and get the fucking toothpaste. So off I went, leaving our nice warm bed and go buy her more of it, slamming the door behind me.

"So, I'm home, with toothpaste, in peppermint, and she's taking up the whole damn bed and has already given me the wake-me-up-and-die warning, so I do not get into our nice, soft, comfortable, and warm bed. I go sleep on the couch, which is not nearly so comfy for sleeping if you haven't just had sex on it, and I'm pissed off, so it takes an hour to get settled, and I finally drop off, and two fucking minutes later she's awake and screeching about how I got the wrong damn toothpaste, and obviously I don't love her because I can't keep track of what sort of toothpaste she likes.

"So I take a deep breath, turn the other cheek, let her yell at me some more, but she was getting really screechy and mean, and look, no sleep, I'd had enough. I'm so angry I could feel my heartbeat in my eyes. So I go into my office and shut the door. And look, she has never, ever just walked into my office without knocking. She always asks permission to go in there, because that's where I go when I need to cool off. And me shutting the door on her should be a loud and clear I-need-my-space-because-I'm-about-to-lose-it signal.

"But she just barged right in, waving the toothpaste around, and I decided what she wanted to do was fight, just kicking me wasn't doing it for her, because who needs to spend more than half an hour yelling at someone else over toothpaste? So I had at her, said some really sarcastic things about how I got her a house, two rings, and had her lip print tattooed on my body, but yeah, toothpaste was the real sign of my everlasting devotion and obviously I was just in this for the sex, an as soon as she got old I was out of there, because otherwise I'd be happy and able to fetch precisely the right sort of toothpaste at five fucking thirty in the morning on no sleep, and she stared at me, dropped to her knees, I mean collapsed like a bag of wet oatmeal dropped from two stories up, and started bawling."

Gibbs winced. "Oh, God, Tim."

"Which was when I realized I had my foot so far down my throat I was kicking myself in the ass with it. And no, what she wanted to do was just yell me some more, not actually fight. I rushed over, apologizing like crazy, and she's sobbing, yelling at me to get out, so I got out."

Gibbs raised his hand to smack Tim upside the back of his head, looked at it, looked at him, shook his head, let it drop, and poured him another drink. "When you fuck up, you really fuck up."

"Yeah. Thanks. That was the part of this I didn't need a second opinion on."

"When you go back, make sure you've got the right damn toothpaste."

"That part I figured out on my own, too."

"What do you want a second opinion on?"

"How long do I hide out over here, and what the hell do I bring home besides Tom's Of Maine Spearmint Toothpaste?"

"Do you think I'd have three ex-wives if I knew the answer to that?"

Tim shrugged. "I was going to talk to Palmer, but…"

"Give him a call. Abby probably called him two minutes after you left, and he can give you a better idea of how much trouble you're in."

"But…" Tim's expression gets across why he's wary about doing that, but Gibbs flashes him a little dismissive gesture.

"Being useful is part of healing, part of what keeps you going. Let him be useful to you."

"Good point. Shannon ever completely flip out on you?"

"Yeah, but she had a good reason for it. She was five months pregnant when I got stationed in Nicaragua."


"Yeah, I wasn't happy about that, either."

"What did you do?"

"Not much I could. They'd throw me in jail if I didn't report. It was only sixty days, but we didn't know that at the time. I was never really great about writing her. So I made sure she got a letter every single day I was away. Sure, some days I wrote more than one, so I had some back up, 'miss you, very busy, home soon' letters that I could send if I was too busy to write, but the only thing that helped was getting home while Kelly was still on the inside."

Tim got his phone out and hit Jimmy's contact button.

"You're fucked." Gibbs snorts back a quick laugh when he hears Jimmy's greeting.

"Good morning to you, too. Abby called, then?"

"No. Oh no, not called. She's here, crying on Breena, and Ziva should be here with six gallons of ice cream in about five minutes."

"Oh God."

Jimmy's quiet on the other end for about half a minute, then he says, "Okay, I'm out of the girls' earshot. What the hell is wrong with you? There is exactly one thing you never, ever, ever, EVER! say to a pregnant woman and that's any variation on the theme of 'I'm leaving.' You tell her that yes, she looks fat in those pants because she is fat, you tell her her butt is the size of the iceberg that took down the Titanic before you say that!"

"I was being sarcastic."

More silence on Jimmy's side. Tim's fairly sure he's rolling his eyes so hard they're about to fall out of his head.

"I'm at Gibbs' place. Feel like coming over and joining the how to get me the hell out of this confab?"

"As long as I can bring Molly, it's no problem."

Tim raises an eyebrow at Gibbs, and Gibbs smiles. Little girls are always welcome at his house.

"See you here in half an hour."

Gibbs and Tim head upstairs. While the basement may be the official gathering spot for heart to hearts, it's a really bad place for a twelve month old who is just learning how to walk.

Gibbs spends a few minutes shuffling about, finding some blocks and a few other simple toys he's got on hand for family gatherings. (He's been building little toys when he's looking for a side project since Tim and Abby got engaged, fairly sure that having things for babies to play with at his house would be a good thing. And so far, Molly Palmer seems to have enjoyed them. At least as much as an infant can enjoy wooden toys. She's mostly chewed on them.) He shoves the coffee table to the side, spreads a blanket on the floor, and puts the toys out.

"She's not actually walking yet, is she?" She hadn't been at the birthday party, but he knows little ones can go from crawling to walking awfully fast, and it's been two weeks.

"Not more than three steps at a go. But she's a lightning fast crawler."

Gibbs nods, picks up the coffee table, and puts it on its side, walling off the kitchen. Then he took two of his kitchen chairs and blocked off the stairs. He surveys the room, and yeah, it's not exactly baby proof, but there are three of them and one little girl, it'll do.

"Coffee?" Gibbs asks Tim.

"You have decaf?"

Gibbs flashes him an are you insane or just really stupid look.

Tim sighs. "I think it's abundantly clear that today the answer is stupid."

Gibbs laughs at that and heads to the kitchen. "How does Palmer like his?"

"One third milk, two thirds coffee, no sugar." Tim follows him in, and sees Gibbs set up his coffeemaker with coffee from a new, full-sized bag of Black Death.

"I take it you liked it?"

Gibbs nods. "Stuff from Seattle was good, too."

"Make Jimmy's half and half then."

Thinking about Jimmy reminds Gibbs of something. "They gonna get the testing soon?"

"Yeah. Blood test on Tuesday." There are two kinds of Trisomy 13, and one of them is just random, and one you can carry a gene for. The blood test will tell them which kind Jonathon had. Trisomy 13 was something no one in their family ever wanted to know much about, but they're all well versed in it now.

"If they're carriers?"

"They're talking adopting. They want more kids. If adoption isn't an option, because they already have a child or Jimmy's diabetic or whatever, they can do in vitro and test the embryos to see if they've got the trisomy before implanting them. But I don't think they want to do that."

Gibbs nods again.

Twenty minutes later, Jimmy was heading into Gibbs' house, Molly in his arms.

He just looked at Tim, shook his head, and put Molly down, unbundling her from her winter gear. Once Molly had been properly hugged and kissed hello by Uncle Tim and Uncle Jethro, Jimmy kissed her head, put her on the blanket, stacked some blocks up, and said, "Look, Uncle Jethro has toys for you!"

Then he stood up and smacked Tim, hard, upside the back of the head.

"You know what? When you piss your wife off, she comes to my house and cries on mine. You know what happens then? Breena gets pissed at me on Abby's behalf because I've got a y chromosome, too. On Monday, Tony's going to slap you, too, because Ziva's over there now, and all three of them are having a men-suck-and-here's-all-nineteen-million-reasons-why party."

Gibbs smiled and handed Jimmy his coffee.

"Thanks." He took a deep drink and practically choked on it. "What do you brew this out of? Roofing tar?" Jimmy headed into the kitchen, poured half of the coffee out and replaced it with more milk. "That'll pry your eyes open in the morning."

"That's the idea," Gibbs said.

Jimmy sat on the floor next to Molly, restacking the blocks she was very enthusiastically knocking down. "So the version of the story we got, between whimpering and hysterical sobbing, is that Abby went sort of insane, picked a fight with you about toothpaste, and then you blew up at her, told her you were just in it for the sex, couldn't stand being with someone as flakey as her, and that you were leaving, for someone younger and hotter, and then you left."

"She ordered me out of the house."

"I think you were supposed to stay."

"Great." Tim gritted his teeth, getting yelled at even more was not on the list of things he wanted to do. "I never said she was flakey."

"Subtext?" Jimmy asked. "Something about her thinking toothpaste was way too important?"

Tim cringed.

"And were you really dumb enough to actually say, 'I'm leaving' let alone 'younger' or 'hotter'?'"

Tim sat down on the sofa. Gibbs took the armchair, watching them.

Tim sighed, rolled his eyes, and hunched a little, making sure his body language let them know that he was convinced he'd behaved badly and was embarrassed about it. "I think I actually said… and remember, no sleep, and she's been yelling at me for at least half an hour at this point about toothpaste and how I must not love her because I got the wrong kind…" and he sighed, closed his eyes, rested his head in his hand, rubbing his forehead, and said, "The house, the rings, the marriage, the tattoos, the two fucking tattoos, one of which is your lips branded onto my arm, forever, the love poems, the being here every goddamn day, rearranging my entire career so I can be here with you and our child, that's all meaningless shit, I'm really just here for the kinky sex and as soon as your ass gets droopy and your tits saggy I'm trading up for a younger model and getting the hell away from this insanity. And God knows, when I knock her up, and she's being crazy, I'll get her the right fucking toothpaste!"

Both of them just stared at him, eyes very wide.

Jimmy looked at Gibbs and said, "Well, at least you know a good divorce lawyer, right? God! Tim… just…" Then Jimmy just sat there staring at him, looking like he was coming up with different ideas of things to say, but not saying them. "Remind me not to piss you off when you haven't had any sleep. Damn."

"Thank you, Jimmy, that's wildly helpful."

"Look, I've said some dumb things to Breena over the years, but there's dumb and then there's disemboweling yourself with your own tongue and then lighting your own not-quite-dead-body on fire."

Gibbs was still staring at him. Then he stood up and hit him. This time he did smack Tim upside the back of the head, hard, really hard, like minor whiplash, hard.


"Two years ago, I would have beaten the hell out of you for that."

Tim nodded, wincing, rubbing his neck. "How do I fix this?"

Gibbs shrugged. Sure, he's had some awful fights with women, but he's utterly useless at something like this. Granted he's never said anything mean to any of his wives, because saying something mean would have require him to talk when he was angry, and that just didn't happen. So, even if he was good at working out a fight with a woman, which he isn't, this particular version of making up isn't in his wheelhouse.

Jimmy nodded at Gibbs, flashed him an I've got this look, and said, "Okay, the only good thing on this is that Abby knows she went insane and picked a fight with you. She's still with it enough that she sort of thinks this is her fault and you went bonkers on the overreacting side of it. But, look, you can't buy your way out of this, no flowers or jewelry on earth is going to help."

"Yeah, I know."

"Good. You want my advice, get a nap! Get a long damn nap because you aren't going to bed anytime soon and you need your brain functional for this. Then you call her and beg her to talk to her, and you explain to her how angry the idea that you might not love her made you, and you explain why the idea that you might not love her makes you angry, and you lay down on the floor at her feet and explain to her how she's your sun and the only thing that keeps you alive is being able to revolve around her, and remember when we were talking about your vows and you didn't want to get too sappy?"

Tim nods.

"Time to channel your inner maple tree, Tim. She likes cute and fluffy bunnies, so it's time for you to be the cutest, fluffiest damn bunny anyone has ever seen.

"And then you're going to deal with the fact that she is going to be mad at you, probably for a while, because, honestly that's the worst thing I've ever heard of a guy saying to his wife—"

"Jimmy, you pick up the bodies of wives who get killed by their husbands."

"Let me finish—who isn't a complete and total asshole. And after that you are going to sincerely apologize for ever saying it, let alone thinking it, and make it abundantly clear that you know no matter how sarcastic you were being there are some things you cannot ever say, and that is one of them."

"And then give her the right toothpaste," Gibbs added. "And make sure she stays stocked with it."

"Good point. And tomorrow, or the day after, better yet next week, once you are both fully calmed down, you are going to pull out all the stops and do something insanely nice for her. Preferably something you don't particularly like doing but she does. With Breena this would be the point where I'd call in sick for both of us, take Molly to daycare, whip out half a dozen chick flicks, that chocolate covered caramel popcorn stuff she loves that just looking at jerks my blood sugar up fifty points, and we watch lame movies in bed all day." Jimmy shifted his gaze to Gibbs, "And that doesn't leave this room. Ducky does not need to know I haven't actually been sick in three years."

Gibbs shrugged. If Palmer thought he was pulling one over on Ducky, it didn't hurt anything.

An hour later, as Tim was laying on Gibbs' sofa, ready for some sack time, Gibbs walked Jimmy and Molly to his car.

Once Jimmy had her strapped in, Gibbs said to him, "You're a good husband, Jimmy. Good father. If you ever want to talk, my basement's always open."

"Uh… thanks. You're doing a good job as a father-in-law, too."

Gibbs nodded. "Always hoped I would."

And that's when what Gibbs meant by his invitation hit Jimmy.


Gibbs nodded again, seeing Jimmy get it. "Breena's welcome, too. Sometimes it's good to have someone who's been through it around."

Tim woke up four hours later feeling mostly just tired. But it was getting onto three, and no matter how much hiding at Gibbs place appealed to him, it was time to bite the bullet, call Abby, and talk to her. So he rolled over, took his phone off the coffee table, and punched her contact button.

A second later he heard her voice. "Tim."

"Can I come home?"

"Why are you asking?" She mostly sounded tired, too, though there was the rasp in her voice that went with hard crying.

"You told me to leave. I want to come back, but I won't until I know it's okay."

"You left!" There's a hint of crying about to begin again in her voice.

"You told me to. You told me to get the hell out of our house. Told me you didn't want to see me. But I want to be home, with you. Can I come home?"


Abby was sitting on the floor, in front of the sofa, looking in the direction of the TV, but he didn't think she was watching it.

He sat down next to her, and she looked at the Target bag in his hand.

"What's that?"

"Tom's of Maine, spearmint, whole mouth care, about a year's worth. And a bag of organic frozen wild blueberries. I know you're low on them. You want me to put them in the freezer?"

She shook her head, took the bag, and opened it, popping one in her mouth. "Not low, out."

He watched her chew, seeing the purple-blue stains starting on her fingers.

"I'm sorry. Really sorry."

She shrugged. "Why should you be sorry? You aren't the one who went insane over toothpaste."

"I promised to spend the rest of my life putting you first, and I didn't. I was tired and angry and took it out on you."

She shrugged again and offered him a blueberry. He ate it from her fingers, considering the offer a very good sign. "I was completely bat-shit crazy and you took it longer than you should have had to. I promised to be kind and treat you with respect, and I didn't. You left the room and closed the door behind you to avoid snapping at me, and I kept yelling at you. The worst part was, I knew I was doing it. I knew that it was insane, I mean, it's toothpaste, but I couldn't make myself stop. And I know, everything you went through with your dad, and how you'd try to get away from him and he'd just follow, egging you on. I know that. And I just couldn't make myself stop. I was so angry, stupidly angry, and I wanted you that angry, too."

"Why? Why were you even up at 5:00?"


"Oh." He knows she's been having really intense dreams since she's been pregnant. He stood up. "Let me get you a spoon." Eating frozen blueberries with your fingers isn't very comfortable after a few bites. A minute later he was back with a big bowl and a spoon and sat next to her again.

She poured the blueberries into the bowl and ate a few more bites.

"Want to tell me about it?"

She's staring at the TV again. Very determinedly not looking at him as she says this. "You left. She was young and pretty and normal and you left."

Tim's head dropped back onto the sofa cushion as he said, "Shit."

"I was so angry when I woke up. You'd been hiding her, fooling around behind my back, and we were fighting, screaming fighting because you were leaving. And my mouth really tasted bad, and all I could think about was maybe if I could brush my teeth I could get anchored back in reality, but no toothpaste. And dream you and real you were too similar, and I just… I couldn't sort it out. I couldn't block out how angry I was.

"And this little voice in the back of my head was yelling at me, too, telling me it's not your fault that I was dreaming about you leaving, that real you isn't going anywhere, but I was still so angry, and then…"

"I said the worst possible thing at the worst possible time in the history of worst possible things."

"Yeah. And then you walked out."

"You told me to leave. Screamed it."

"I know. You still left."

He nodded. "Sometimes I have to leave. But I'm always going to come back, you know that, right? As long as I'm alive, I'm always going to come back. I'll be here to get old and saggy with you. Every single day for the rest of my life, I'm coming back to you. You're my one and only."

"I'm your Shannon."

"No." He looked her straight in the eyes. "Shannon is Gibbs' Abby."

She smiled at that and offered him a spoon full of blueberries. He chewed them for a moment, swallowed, and kissed her gently. She sighed, closed her eyes, and leaned into him.

They sat there, quietly, resting against each other for a moment before another thought hit him.

"Are Ziva and Breena going to beat the hell out of me the next time they see me?"

"Yeah." She nodded. That was a foregone conclusion.

"When I finally told them what I said, Gibbs hit me so hard upside the back of the head I think I've got whiplash."

"You actually told them?"

"I wanted help on how to fix it. Can't fix the problem if you don't know what it is."

"Can't believe you told them."

"Just the last bit. Jimmy wanted to know if the words 'I'm leaving, younger, or hotter' actually came out of my mouth."

"Oh." She ate another bite of blueberries. "I'm sorry I was yelling at you. Sorry I picked a fight. Sorry I didn't let you be alone."

"I'm sorry I didn't hold it together better."

"No." She shook her head at that. "You can be sorry for being mean, or sorry for not just getting in your car and driving off, but no, you shouldn't have to deal with someone yelling at you when you've done nothing wrong. It's not okay for me to take my anger out on you."

"I'm sorry I was mean. I'm sorry I was sarcastic. And I'm sorry I didn't ask why you were angry in the first place. Really sorry I didn't do that."

"That probably would have helped."

He nodded. "Are we okay?"


He put his arm around her shoulder, and she snuggled into him, offering him another bite of the blueberries. They sat there quietly, for a few minutes.

"You know, I've heard good things about make-up sex," Abby said.

Tim rose one eyebrow, mostly he just felt tired and emotionally battered. "You want to have sex?"

"No. Not really. Just want to sit here."

"Me, too." He thought about that for a moment and checked the clock. It was still only four in the afternoon. 




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