Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 210

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

Chapter 210: Abby and Penny

Abby hates this. Tim and Jimmy are looking at her like she's being a petulant child because she doesn't want to automatically jump to letting the doc hack her open to get Kelly out.

She can see Jimmy backpedaling, trying to figure out how to manage this, because, of course, he's all 'c-section-no-big-deal.'

Major surgery, bleeding all over the place, maybe never have babies again, maybe instant menopause, no big deal. Ten days and then you're all better. Yeah, he might heal up from being castrated in ten days, too, but that wouldn't mean he was better!

Fucking men!

And yeah, Jimmy's pretending he gets it, but she can see he's with Tim on the whole get this kid out as fast as possible, screw the consequences, we'll pump you full of antibiotics and drugs and who cares what you wanted as long as it's taken care of nice and tidy?

There are times when having men for your two best friends is an issue.

Granted, she's not sure Breena or Ziva would be much better right now, either. Breena flat out told her that the whole 'bonding' thing is total crap, and that when you've got a little lamprey eel attached to your boob every three hours, for two solid months, you're bonded. Literally.

And she just has a hard time seeing Ziva getting excited about any particular path for getting a baby out.


Okay, maybe this is a little whiny, but it's not what she wanted!

She's not sick. Pregnancy isn't a disease, it's not a 'condition' to be 'managed.' And she should be allowed to be sad about not getting the fantasy. And it's not insane to think that wait and see might actually mean wait and see so maybe we don't need to schedule the c-section right this minute (Jimmy) or go on bed rest (Tim!).

But mostly, she's scared. She doesn't want a c-section, at all. Twenty to forty percent infection rate. Triple the rate of maternal death. Increased rates of blood clots, heart attacks, uterine embolism. None of that sounds like something she wants to sign up for if she can at all possibly avoid it, and it sounds like this is something she can avoid.

Then Gibbs and Ducky and Penny were there, and Gibbs is holding onto her like she's a life preserver, and she's fairly sure she's never seen him this scared.

Tim's on her right. Gibbs is on her left. And being clung to by 300 plus pounds of terrified male is not helping her composure at all, and if they don't back off and just let her breathe she's going to snap and do something really rash.

This was not going well.

Penny was sure that Jethro could take on a machine gun nest, armed with only a pen knife and Hoorah attitude, without blinking. He'd go, do it, and that'd be that. And if he didn't make it back, then he didn't make it back, and that would also be that.

But he can't kill this. He can't fight it. And it's not danger to him.

She knew from Ducky that he's got bad personal history with this sort of thing, too.

So, it was understandable. It made perfect sense. The problem is, Tim's holding onto not panicking by his fingernails, and scared Jethro next to him is not helping that control at all.

And last but not least, you didn't have to be a forensic psychologist to see that Abby was about to melt down. Pregnant women are rarely known for emotional fortitude, and with two of her best guys one the edge of panic, and the third treating her with kid gloves and lots of concern and she's about to start yelling and crying.

Penny smiled gently at Ducky, and he nodded at her, aware that she's about to do what Grandmas have been doing pretty much since the invention of Grandmas, and that's slapping some sense into people who are being silly.

"Jimmy, could you scoot over a bit?" Penny asked, and then settled in front of them, sitting on the coffee table. She then leaned forward and gently whacked Tim and Gibbs upside the back of the head.

"No one's dying. Not today, not tomorrow, not two months from now. So calm down, both of you." Then she handed her phone to Tim and Abby. "This is from Gladys. She's the head of Obstetrics at John's Hopkins. Which means that she's one of the top five obstetricians in the world. And if I knew any of the other four, I'd have cced them on the email, as well. She's thinking watch and wait is good advice. Basically, exactly what your OB said to you. It's a borderline case, and likely won't cause any issues. That little girl is going to double in size between now and when she's ready to come out, if not more than that, so there's a lot more growing that's going to happen, and your placenta will likely be out of the way by the time you're ready to deliver. But no doctor, let alone one in a high risk specialty like OB wants to get sued. Everyone is being cautious because one or two lost cases and jerk your malpractice insurance so high it puts you out of business."

And right that second, Abby loved Tim's grandma more than anything. The look on Gibbs face was worth having to go through this whole thing. No one besides Franks had ever head-slapped him, and he didn't know how to deal with it.

But she was going on like she hadn't noticed the look (Shock, outrage, anger, and mostly more shock, but, and this was Penny's plan, fear was gone, or at least shifted to the side.) he had aimed at her.

"There's only one thing a woman is designed to do, and that's squeeze out babies. And Abby's going to be fine, so is Kelly. I've done it." She looked at Gibbs. "Your wife did it," she turned to Jimmy, "and yours, too. It's not fun. It isn't easy, but it's what we're built for, and these two," she petted Kelly, "are going to come through just fine."

Then she turned toward Abby. "And you are going to stop pouting about a possible c-section and get down on your knees and thank both God and science that they're available because if you need one, it will save your life and your daughter's life. And that's all that matters on this.

"I've done this four times, and I can tell you, there's no magic in doing it any given way. You don't get a medal for no meds or no interventions. Anything that gets you and Kelly out of this in one piece is a godsend and should be treated as such."

"That's not the problem," Abby starts, though it actually is part of the problem, sort of, well, at least, giving up on an ideal is the problem, "it's so much riskier."

"No one's talking about you having one for kicks and giggles. And so much riskier is, according to Gladys, for healthy women without other complications, three out of 100,000. So if your OB says get one, you get it."

"I've seen thirteen out of 100,000."

Penny is done with this.
Penny shoots her an I'm done with this look. "And did you look into the maternal mortality rates for women who need c-sections and can't get one? Did you research how many babies die when they get into distress and can't get out fast?

"You're a scientist, Abby, start acting like one and get into the data. That thirteen number includes all c-sections for all reasons, including the ones where they did the c-section because the mother was dying or already dead. You want Gladys' email, and I'll happily give it to you. You can talk it through with her, but you know that anyone can mess with the data any way they want to make it prove whatever they want. And I want you to get out of panic mode and into data mode and realize thirteen out of 100,000 is about your chances of getting hit by a car driving home from work, which you do every single day without a whimper, so calm down about it!"

The next bit was aimed at Tim and Jethro. "And if the OB says it's okay to try for a vaginal birth, and that's what Abby wants, you two support her in it. A c-section is more dangerous, it's not easy, it can take a long time to heal up from, so avoiding it if at all possible is a good plan.

"So, we all on the same page? Abby and Kelly will be fine. Baby's coming out however the highly trained medical providers you have hired to provide you with their expertise think will result in the best outcome. And we're all done panicking. Right?"

Jimmy smiled, saluted, and said, "Yes, Ma'am."

She's still staring at Tim, Abby, and Jethro.

Jethro nodded first, then Abby, and Tim finally yes, "Yes."

"Good. You get any new ultrasound pics?" Tim rubbed his eyes, got up, grabbed Abby's purse, and found the shots, handing them to Penny.

Unlike the previous ultrasounds these were 4-d and provided enough detail to see what Kelly actually looked like. And unlike the previous ultrasounds, they'd been vastly too scared to really look at them.

Penny gazed at them for a moment, then handed the clearest of the face shots to Gibbs and said, "What do you think, Jethro, Tim's lips and Abby's chin?"

He stared at the shot, his arm around Abby, hand resting on her tummy, feeling Kelly squirming around. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead against her temple. "Yeah, Penny."

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 209

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

Chapter 209: Ducky

At the age of eighteen, Don Mallard, not yet nicknamed Ducky, was a medic in Korea. (Coming into contact with large numbers of American soldiers, who universally called him Duck or Ducky, eventually caused the name to stick.)

As a medic, he became a talented medical jack of all trades. In a pinch he could, and did, take off limbs, tie off bleeders, fish shrapnel out of wounds, debride burns. In many cases he did those things under fire, or during the transport part of moving wounded soldiers from the front to the back.

He also, and this is something most people would assume to be true if they thought about it, but generally don't think about, dealt with delivering (or helping to deliver) a lot of babies.

A general rule of thumb is that if you are located in a place with a very large number of young men, IE an army, and if that very large group of men has limited access to birth control/is unwilling to use said birth control (condoms) you will, in nine months' time, end up with a large number of babies. The fighting part of the Korean War lasted three years, and there were numerous fairly long truces. This resulted in lots of babies, and while it's true that usually, in less medically advanced cultures, the local midwife is in charge of these things, Koreans are (or at least were) pretty well convinced they were the superior race on Earth, and half-Korean/half-Anglo babies and their mothers were scorned and treated horribly, so being a medic, and often the only guy many of the soldier knew with any medical training, he got called in to help with deliveries when the woman's family and village shunned her.

Dr. Mallard circa 1985
He returned to Scotland after the war. Studied medicine at Edinburgh. Joined the RAMC, and spent the next thirty years in every hot zone the Queen was involved in. Over the course of that time, he's delivered a whole lot of babies.

He's not an obstetrical expert, and he knows that. But he also knows that for many years and in many places he was the only one around who had any medical training beyond that of the local midwife, and when things got hairy, he'd get called in. At the very least he could perform a tidy c-section and make sure the woman didn't come down with childbed fever after.

So it is with this background that he's looking at Abby's scans, Penny standing next to him, forwarding the information to one of her friends, Dr. Gladys Monroe, the current head of Obstetrics at John's Hopkins, (add opinion five to the list) and thinking about how much he enjoys living in a world where you can find this out ahead of time.

The entirety of his baby-delivering career was spent in a world where, should the placenta be badly located the only way to find that out was for the woman to begin hemorrhaging, or depending on the level of badly located, come down with a nasty infection when all of it was not properly delivered.

So, it is true that he's thinking this is not happy or joyous news, he's also greatly relieved to know this ahead of time.

Granted, he's been out of the game long enough that he has no idea what current standards of treatment are. Back in his day the standard was c-section followed by hysterectomy, desperately trying to stop the bleeding in time, hoping and praying the whole way through that the mother came through alive with the (almost always premature) baby written off as tragic collateral damage.

That's why Penny's emailing her friend. If anyone does know what the cutting-edge standard of care is, she will.

So, in this, Ducky is expecting his value as comforter and cooler, wiser head will be what comes into play.

And as such he has two goals, first and foremost to manage Jethro, who will probably be just as scared as Tim, if not more so in that he's already lost his wife, daughter, lover, and pseudo-daughter in Kate, and will feel like he has fewer options in dealing with that fear, because he'll want to be a rock for Tim and Abby. Secondly, no matter what actual medical advice Jimmy comes up with, he'll back that. Jimmy's OB residency was after the invention of ultrasound as a obstetrical tool and Georgetown's Medical School is a more than adequate program. So he's going to agree or defer to anything Jimmy has to say about this.

They head to Gibbs' place before going to Tim and Abby's. Ducky wants to tell Jethro himself, and give him a little time to get himself under control.

Penny stays in the car. While she may think that Patriarchal emotional norms for males are silly, she's also fully aware that that's the operating manual Jethro functions under. He can't allow himself to express any emotions in front of her other than anger or happy. Fear and sorrow, the likely response to this news, is private for him and can only be expressed alone or with very, very dear friends, like Ducky, and certainly not in front of a woman he barely knows.

She also knows, because Ducky told her, that she's on Jethro's "shit list" right now. He has not yet called to yell at her about Tim, but that's probably still in the offing. So she does not want her presence to give him something other than Tim and Abby to focus on, not right now at least. Depending on how scared he gets, having something to get angry at may be useful. (After all, forty years as a Navy wife means she's got a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to managing scared men who feel like they're not even allowed to feel fear, let alone know how to deal with it.)

They got you checking up...
So she texts with her friend, sees that Dr. Draz is on the ball and knows what she's talking about, and that right now, wait and see is the wisest course of action.


"They got you checking up on me now, too?" Gibbs asks, sanding the slats of the crib. This is the last, final sanding, then there'll be some buffing with a soft cloth, but by this weekend (barring a hot case) it'll be done.

Unfortunate news...
"If you mean, have I been recruited into Anthony and Timothy's conspiracy to keep you from spiraling into self-destructive behavior, no. They are 'looking out for you' on their own."

"So, what brings you down here at nine on a Monday?"

"Unfortunate news, I fear." And he explained, calmly and gently, what he'd seen in the scans, what Dr. Draz had put in her notes, and how all of that seemed reasonable to him.

He watches Jethro take it in, the slow realization that not only is this scary, but that there is nothing he can do about it, and unlike running into the radius of a bomb blast, there's no way he can go with her if this goes bad.

His darling girl.
It's Abby, his darling girl--because for as much as he loves Ziva, and he does truly love her, and for as rapidly as Breena is becoming his, as well, Abby's his little girl--in danger, and he can't protect her from it.

It is, literally, his worst nightmare.

Jethro's leaning against the crib, clutching the edge of it hard, not looking at Ducky, and Ducky can see he's immediately jumped to the worst case scenario. So he steps closer, puts his hand on Jethro's and says, "Jethro, they are going to be fine. The doctors know about it. They're keeping watch and giving Abigail and Timothy very good advice on how to proceed."

"If it's going to be fine, why are you down here?"

"Because they are scared, Jethro, and should be. Just because it will be fine in the end does not mean getting to the end will be easy or pleasant. And because you are scared and need a friend right now."

"I can't lose another one, Duck."

"I know, and you aren't, not like this."

"You ever deal with something like this?"

"No." A long and varied medical career taught Ducky that if the truth can do no good, if it can only bring pain and worry, then you lie and you lie convincingly and you feel no guilt about it. "First, do no harm," doesn't only mean avoid treatments that will make the case worse. It also means not scaring the patient or the patient's family with out of date information that has no bearing on the situation at hand.

"If they terminated, would she be okay?"

"Jethro! Stop it, right now. Abigail is going to be fine. She's never more than twenty minutes away from medical care. If something happens at work, Jimmy and I are less than two minutes away. At home, they are three miles from a hospital. And I have a feeling Timothy will be unwilling to let her get much further from a hospital than that. She will be fine. This is upsetting and scary, and may involve a rather unpleasant and bloody birth experience, but she will be fine. Kelly will be fine."

Gibbs is staring at the ceiling of the basement. Ducky isn't sure if he's bottling everything up or praying. Probably both.

"Doc says she'll be okay?"

"Her doctor's notes indicate that right now they're just waiting to see what happens next. She's not even on bed rest, Jethro. Jimmy sent me her notes and the scans, and her advice seems reasonable to me. I think he concurs. Penny has emailed everything to one of her friends, who is the head of Obstetrics at John's Hopkins, and should be hearing back soon."

He inhales deeply and says, "Okay," exhales slowly through gritted teeth. "And you're here because we're going over there, right?"


Ten minutes later, (Gibbs drove. Ducky and Penny both have mild whiplash from the speed he was going.) they walked into Tim and Abby's house and caught Jimmy explaining about possible worst case scenerios.

As Ducky said, "Dr. Palmer, I concur," Gibbs headed for Abby, kneeling on the floor next to her, glancing once at the sketch in front of them, and then wrapping around her, kissing her forehead.

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 208

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

Chapter 208: Jimmy

When they put Molly to bed, and Jimmy still hadn't heard anything from Tim, he had gone from nervous to really worried.

So he did something he'd never done before.

Technically Jimmy is a doctor. He's kept up with his continuing education units and made sure to maintain his medical license in Virginia. Mostly it's just a point of pride. He had to finish medical school to be a Medical Examiner, he didn't actually have to do his residency and get his MD. But he did it.

And as a registered doctor in the state of Virginia, he has access to the Federal Medical Database. And sure, the bugs aren't all worked out, and the backlog on old data is about ten years long, but back in January, all new casework, test results, consultations, and notes are supposed to be uploaded so any doctor can get full medical records at a moment's notice.

So, he got online, registered with the database, and checked.

He spent a good half an hour studying the ultrasounds, read Dr. Draz's notes, and her suggestions, thought they were fairly reasonable, and came to the conclusion that he had not heard anything from Tim and Abby because they were probably at home getting hysterical about this.

Breena sat next to him, reading over his shoulder, looking concerned.

He stood up, kissed her, and said, "I think I'm going to go make a house call. You feel like sending that to Ducky, so I can get them a third opinion, fast?"

"Sure. You want me to have our OB look at it?"

"Might as well. I'm guessing Tim's gonna need to be talked off a ledge, and Abby's probably feeling pretty disappointed."

"Yeah, she was hoping for an unmedicated, home birth."

At home?
"At home?" Jimmy's never gotten that. He knows some people do it, voluntarily. But he wouldn't get a cavity filled without pain medication and properly trained medical professionals right next to him, let alone anything longer or more painful than that. And having both delivered babies (he, like everyone else who was a medical intern, had a six week long OB rotation) and been there for the delivery of both of his own children, he's pretty comfortable with the idea that it really hurts, lasts a hell of a lot longer than a filling, and is way more dangerous.

His personal theory, that the whole natural childbirth thing is women being just as macho as men, if not more so, (because he doesn't know any guy, anywhere, ever, who would sign up to spend twenty hours having his testicles stretched to ten times their original size without a ton of drugs) and this is their way of proving who has the biggest dick, is one he hasn't felt any need to share with Breena or Abby, though given that this was something Abby's in favor of, he may decide to share it with Tim.

"I kept telling her that the hospital isn't that bad, and that the drugs are really very nice, but apparently there are a lot of girl in HR and Accounting and a few other departments who came by the lab, dropped off cute little presents, and proceeded to tell her absolute horror stories about how bad their births were. She's pretty scared."

"Okay." He picked up his phone, hit Tim's contact, and before Tim could say anything said, "I'll be there in twenty minutes. Put your computer down, pry Abby away from hers, and go watch a sit-com while you wait for me, okay?"

"Jimmy?" He can hear the fear under the surprise in Tim's voice.

"You didn't call. That meant something was wrong. I stole Abby's medical records, wanted to know what was up before I called, and from there it wasn't too hard to figure you'd be scared. Sit tight. I'll be there soon. We'll go over everything together, and hopefully get you off that ledge your about to jump off of."

"I'm not that bad."

"Sure you're not. Look at your right hand."


"It's shaking isn't it?"


"Go. Get on the sofa, put something stupid and funny on, I'll be there soon. If you want, I'll grab Ducky on the way, and be there in about an hour."

"Rather have you here alone, faster."

"Sit tight, I'll be there soon." He hung up and looked at Breena. "He's terrified." Then he hit Ducky's contact button on his phone. "Hey, Ducky, Tim and Abby didn't get good news from the doc today. Breena's sending you the scans and everything. Feel like looking them over and heading to his place?"

Ducky's voice is grave as he says, "How bad?"

"I don't want to prejudice your opinion. Take a look and head over to their place. Tim's terrified. I'm sure Abby's sad and scared. They could use some handholding from people who know how this works."

"Certainly. I'm opening my email." He can hear Ducky messing with his computer. "I'll be there in an hour or so."


Breena looked up from forwarding everything to their OB, and gestured for Jimmy to come closer. He did, and she kissed him. "Give them my love and a kiss."

"Tim, too?" Jimmy's not looking thrilled at that.

"Especially, Tim. He needs one, and it might shock him enough to help break the panic."

That was a good point. "If he hits me, it's your fault."

Breena smiled. "He's not going to hit you. At least, not until Bootcamp on Saturday. Get over there, talk them off the ledge, and give both of them a smooch from me."


Bedside manner was never one of Jimmy's strengths. Mostly because of his skill at saying whatever the least appropriate thing for the given moment. But, he's been getting a lot better at that over the years.

And right now, he's got one main guiding principal going: Do Not Scare Them Anymore Than They Already Are.

He's thinking that shouldn't be too hard. He's also thinking that what likely happened was their Doc explained what was going on in a rather soothing sort of way. They both sat there, pretty scared, not really taking it in, and not knowing what sorts of questions to ask. Then they got home, researched the hell out of it, and got really scared, and had no one to ask anything besides the internet which is more or less the worst possible place to study anything that you find personally scary.

Family, especially family that's expected, doesn't have to knock at the McGee house, so he just walks in when he gets there, and sees the two of them following his directions. They are on the sofa, looking in the direction of the TV, and he can hear a laugh track.

He's absolutely certain they aren't actually watching it, though.


You stay on the sofa, and you don't
encourage her!
Tim hops up to greet him, and Jimmy gives him a hug. Abby starts to get up, and Tim glares at her, so she stays sitting.

It's true that Jimmy will never, ever call Tim out on overreacting about possible dangers to Abby or Kelly. He will never say Tim is being unreasonable, or that he's got no right to be scared. It's also true that he can feel Tim shaking and this level of scared isn't good for either of them. So, arm wrapped around Tim, he says, "Come here, Abby, join the hug."

And she does, looking fairly pleased that he's not treating her like she's made of glass. And now Tim's glaring at him.

"You carried her to the sofa, didn't you?" He got that out, and then Abby was there, nodding yes, rolling her eyes, so he pulled her close, too and took a moment to hold both of them, trying to be calming just by being there.

He kissed Abby's forehead, looked her in the eye, and said, "You're going to be fine." He petted her tummy. "Kelly is going to be fine." Then he turned his head two inches to the right, kissed Tim on the cheek, which he looked horrified at, but it does seem to have shocked him out of his fear, at least, he's not shaking anymore. "The kisses are from Breena. She thought you'd need them." He stared Tim in the eye. "Tim, your girls are going to be fine. Come on, let's sit down and go over this. Abby, can you get us a stack of paper and some markers."

"I can get it," Tim answered.

"I know you can. But you need to know she can walk around and not break, so Abby's gonna get us the supplies, and you and I are going to sit down and wait for her to do it." When Abby headed upstairs, Jimmy quietly said, "Look, I know you two; your emotions feed hers and vice versa, so you have to keep it together. That's your job: be the man, and that means playing cool, especially if you aren't. You wanna have a full-on freak out with me and Gibbs, that's fine. We will support you through it, and if it takes more than a day, we'll come up with a lie for why you aren't home. But from now until that baby comes out, you absolutely cannot panic in front of her. Scared is fine. Sad is fine. It's good for her to see this affects you, too. So terrified you're treating her like a light breeze'll hurt her, that isn't! You're just making her more upset, and that makes you more upset, and you end up with a positive feedback cycle from hell."

"What if it was Breena?"

"Then I'd be exactly where you are if not two steps further down the panic line, and you'd be telling me to calm the fuck down and not lose it in front of her because not losing it is my job! Only one of the two of us needs to be sane at any given time, but both of us have to be able to fake it. So, until you can handle this on your own, I'm here to help you stay cool. But you've got to be able to grin and bear it."

Abby headed down, put a few markers on the coffee table and headed into Tim's office for paper.

Once she was out of earshot again, he asked, "We good on that?"

Tim gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. Jimmy took that as consent.

Abby was back half a minute later with a stack of typing paper. Jimmy knelt in front of their coffee table, and waved them to come close. "As I told Tim, I stole your medical records, checked the scans, and sent copies to Ducky and our OB, so third and fourth opinions'll be heading your way soon. In fact, Ducky'll probably be here soon, maybe with Penny, and possibly having consulted with a few of his buddies as well."

Really awful, really.
Jimmy took the black marker and drew a circle on the paper, then stuck two small, vertical lines right next to each other at the bottom of the circle.

"Okay, this is a really awful drawing of a uterus. Those lines are the cervix. Normally, as the third trimester wears on, those lines get shorter and further apart." He added arrows pointing right and left.

"Now, usually, the placenta is up here." He added a red blob at the top of the circle. "And when you go into labor the contractions pull the cervix sort of up and apart." He gestured with his fingers with a drawing up motion.

"Both of you with me?"

They both nodded.

Evil bloody jellyfish.
He snagged another piece of paper, drew another circle, two lines, and a red blob right at the bottom over both of the lines. "That's a placenta previa. As you can see it's lying right over the cervix. Placentas are pretty tough. If you've ever seen one in person, they look like an evil bloody jellyfish from your worst nightmares. They're rich in blood, lots and lots of vascularity, so like your lips, if you cut one it bleeds like crazy. They also don't stretch. So, if one half of the placenta is over here, and the other half is over there," he's circling each side of the placenta pointing out even more clearly that it's straddling the cervix, "you've got a ticking time bomb, because the parts of the uterus it's attached to are moving further and further away from each other. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's also between the baby and the exit. This is a bad thing."

He grabbed another sheet of paper. Drew yet another circle and two lines, and this time drew the placenta blob three centimeters up and to the left of the cervix. "If I'm reading the scans right, and it looks like Dr. Draz thinks this is what's going on, too, this is what your uterus looks like. First and foremost, you don't have the placenta waiting for the floor under it to rip apart and it's not blocking Kelly's way out. So that's the very good news part of this."

Jimmy gestured with the marker while he said, "Okay, so possible trouble comes when everything thins out and starts moving. The cervix and walls of the uterus move up and back, great. Well, there's this big blob of blood sitting there, and it's attached to that wall, so it sort of smushes as the contractions continue, and that can cause bleeding issues."

He grabbed the drawing of the normal uterus. "Also, usually, after the baby's out, you keep having contractions to expel the placenta, and stop the bleeding. Most of the contractions come from up here." He's circling the top of the uterus where the placenta is. "Which makes sense because it's pulling everything up and out. Likewise the hardest, strongest contractions aren't at the cervix end of things, because that's got to be soft and flexible enough to get the baby out." He looks up at Tim and Abby, who are staring at this ridiculously inaccurate drawing like it's the revealed Truth of God. "With me so far?" They nod, not looking away. "So, the mechanism that gets the placenta out and shuts off the bleeding doesn't work all that well because the placenta isn't in place to take advantage of it. So, once again, potential bleeding problems.

"According to Dr. Draz your body hasn't really gotten the message that the baby's gonna come out anytime soon. The uterus is a big, strong, thick muscle, especially at the cervix end, because it's got to keep that baby in there." He drew a quick and dirty, but significantly more accurate, sketch of a female pelvis. "So right now, you've got this pile of muscle, skin, and bones all working together to keep everything inside you in there. So, yeah, you don't want to take up bungee jumping, but for right now, there's not much risk of anything happening. You've got a nice, contained unit, and it doesn't much matter one way or another where your placenta is."

The fact that Abby hadn't just flashed Tim an I-told-you-so look told Jimmy exactly how scared both of them must be.

"But starting soon, your hipbones are going to spread out. Your uterus and cervix will thin out and spread. After all, the final goal is get the baby out, and that won't happen if everything stays shut tight. And as things spread out, the possibility of tearing gets higher."

"What's higher?" Tim asked.

"I don't know. Not an OB. Dr. Draz had in her notes something like 7 out of 10 women she's seen with your kind of previa do just fine, and I've got no reason to think she's wrong."

"What's fine?" Tim wanted to know.

"Not a mind reader in addition to not being an OB, but I'll guess she's thinking that in seven out of ten cases the uterus keeps growing and the placenta moves far enough out of the way to not be an issue."

"Did you ever deal with something like this?" Abby asked.

"No. I delivered twenty-two babies solo, and helped with seventy-three more during my OB rotation. Nothing like this, though. Of course, they don't let Interns work on the high-risk patients."

"But it is a high risk," Tim added, staring at Abby, terrified, stroking the back of her neck.

Trying to be soothing.
Jimmy squeezed his shoulder. "Yeah, but there's a huge difference between high-risk and get-your-affairs-in-order. If it was 1950, hell, 1980, this would be a huge freaking deal. But it's not. Your OB knows this is an issue. You know it's an issue. You go in, you get the c-section, they take everything out in one fell swoop, pump some Pitocin in to make sure the bleeding shuts down, and if it doesn't, they've already got you typed and matched for more blood, possibly your own if you want to do that, pints of it on ice waiting for you, clotting factor at the ready if need be, and if worst comes to absolute worst they can have a hysterectomy done in a matter of minutes. But you don't die. Kelly doesn't die. Four or five days, ten tops, you're home from the hospital with her and get to see how well you function on no sleep."

I don't want...
And while Tim found that reassuring, it wasn't the right tact for keeping Abby less scared. "I don't want a c-section, let alone a hysterectomy!"

Jimmy nodded, realizing his tactical error on this. Tim's worried about losing the loves of his life, and Jimmy, who is also a husband, and Abby's best friend, is feeling the same sort of thing. Abby's worried about being cut to shreds, mutilated, and losing Kelly. She's not looking at this as a life or death situation for her.

Jimmy tried a different tact. "Look, this isn't likely to happen. Kelly's about two pounds now. She's going to triple in size, maybe quadruple, possibly more between now and when she's ready to come out. Your uterus is going to grow like crazy. By the time you hit regular contractions everything will have likely moved out of the way.

"But if it doesn't, if it was Breena, I'd say get the c-section as soon as they'll do one. But you're not Breena. I've done four c-sections, and yeah, they aren't minor surgery. It's not getting a few stitches. Your abdominal wall does not appreciate being cut open. But, assuming Dr. Draz actually knows what she's doing, and my guess is, since you're still going to her, she does, the risk levels for a planned c-section should be minimal.

"But again, I'm not an OB, I'm not your OB, and it's not my body getting cut open, so I've got a somewhat different take on what's going on here. What I do know is that the last thing you want is the emergency, bleeding all over the place, get-that-kid-out-STAT c-section…"

They all heard the door open, footsteps, and a gentle voice saying, "Dr. Palmer, I concur," at the same time.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 207

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

Chapter 207: Tim and Abby

Being a pregnant father is very different than being a pregnant mother.

And not just on the obvious levels of your body doesn't change and you aren't swamped with hormones that make you insane.

For example: if you are a pregnant dad, other dads, upon finding this out, will occasionally tell you horror stories. These horror stories usually involve things like your wife going absolutely insane in a Jekyll/Hyde sort of way, being forced to rearrange every piece of furniture in the house at 2:00 in the morning as a result of this insane, and how you never, ever get to have sex again.

They very rarely involve stories of how the baby goes from being inside your wife to getting out. (Or that there may, just possibly, be a causal relationship between how this happens and the whole no sex thing.)

This might have something to do with the fact that most guys, especially with casual acquaintances, would rather cut their own tongues out with a pair of chop sticks than admit to being really scared about something.

However, veteran moms seem to have absolutely no issues at all with telling perfect strangers exceptionally gory stories of how they went into labor, dealt with twenty hours of excruciating contractions, had the baby go into distress at nine centimeters dilated, and then had a terrifying emergency c-section that took months to heal up from. But they don't tell those stories when there are men around. So, Tim hasn't heard them. Sure, labor forever, lots of pushing, hurts, yep, he's heard that. Vaginal prolapse, fourth degree tearing, pushing so hard the blood vessels in your eyeballs burst, emergency c-sections where you almost bleed to death, not all of the placenta being delivered and massive infections, nope, those stories don't get mentioned when he's around.

Likewise, there is no 'Labor Olympics' for dads. Dads don't compete with each other over who had the 'best' labor. They don't tell stories of how they didn't need any pain meds and had an all-natural, organic homebirth awash in love and joy and nesting complete with soft focus, glow-y, happy stuff all over the place. (Or if there are guys that do that, none of them are in Tim's social circle.)

Perfect, natural, soft-focus,
love-fest home birth.
Women do. And since she's been visibly pregnant women have been telling Abby one of two stories: the perfect love-fest natural birth, or the went to the hospital and every possible thing that could go wrong did.

Now, it is true, that the birth she knows most about, Molly's, was an uncomplicated hospital birth, where nothing went wrong, no one was treated like an animal about to be slaughtered, followed by a fairly standard healing up time, and Breena has been telling Abby for months now to ignore those cows who get off on scaring pregnant moms, but, it's hard to shut those stories out. Especially when more and more of the keep piling on.

It's also true, that while Tim's been reading The Expectant Dad Guide, What To Expect When You're Expecting, and things like that, Abby's been reading/watching The Business of Being Born, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, and lots of other things that flat out say that if you go to a hospital they'll cut you open at the first hiccough whether you need it or not because the profits are better.

And lastly, while they are both aware of the fact they aren't reading the same things, they are also not aware of how radically different the content of the things they're reading is.

All of this is relevant because, having gotten home from being told by their OB that Abby has what's called a near previa, and googling the ever living snot out of it, they are both coming to some very different conclusions.

For example, Tim's thinking that more or less bubble wrapping Abby from head to toe and keeping her in bed from now until a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks is a brilliant idea. In that he does not have to personally do it, five weeks of bed rest doesn't strike him as a problem.

And sure, Dr. Draz, who he is currently thinking is being insanely reckless with the health of the two most important people in the entire history of the Earth, says they don't need to do that, but the stuff he's reading seems to be indicating placentas are made of tissue paper and can rip at a second's notice if you even look at them wrong, and there's no such thing as a safe previa, and really the only way to deal with this is to keep Abby as still as possible from now until the minute Kelly's lungs are developed enough for her to be on the outside. And just to be on the safe side, they should start doses of steroids at 34 weeks to get her lungs developed that much faster.

Abby, meanwhile, is dealing with having been DQed from the Labor Olympics. (She has not internalized any sort of idea that this might kill her, in this respect she's doing better than Tim at rationally assessing the risks, in other respects, not so much.) She had had an idea of the kind of labor she wanted, and sure, at home was a long-shot, but she'd been taking such good care of herself, and being really careful, trying to get to a low-intervention, no drugs, hands off, doing this naturally, the way her body was designed to, at her own pace sort of birth, and that just got shot to hell and gone.

She likes Dr. Draz, but having her hover around the whole time isn't what she wanted.

And a c-section… from what she's been reading, they're almost never really necessary and have so many bad side effects, everything from massive infections and death, to punctured bladders and permanent incontinence, to babies with weaker lungs and missing out on the all the useful bacteria of the vaginal canal, and it's just a huge mess. (This would be where Tim is doing a more rational job of assessing risk, and Abby's freaking out unnecessarily.)

Of course, a lot of the stories she's been hearing, and things she's been reading, indicate you sure as hell don't want to try a vaginal delivery in a hospital, either. They'll pump you full of Pitocin which means ultra-painful contractions, more or less forcing you to take pain meds, leaving you way too woozy to properly bond with your new baby, and possibly drugging the child, harming her ability to bond with you, followed by an episiotomy (whether you want it or not, because it makes things easier for the docs) and of course that makes the tearing worse and the healing up more painful.

And don't get her started on MRSA and all the superbugs that live in hospitals.

So, Tim is terrified. Abby is sad and feeling hopeless, like all the good options just got yanked away from her. And both of them are thinking the other one is completely bonkers because they're both dealing with this with a radically different set of assumptions about what is going to happen.

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 206

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

Chapter 206: Previa

May 8th marked yet another doctor's appointment. They had been once a month, but this was the first of the every two weeks appointments, and it, like a few of the others, began with an ultrasound.

Jimmy had asked Tim about that. Best he remembers seven month ultrasound isn't standard operating procedure.

So Tim told him what Dr. Draz had told them back at the 20 week ultrasound, Abby's placenta was a bit low, and they just wanted to check on it.

Jimmy's staring at him, confused and amazed, and finally asks, "Why haven't you been freaking out for the last ten weeks?"

That draws Tim up short. "Should I have been? Doc said something like one in three women have that issue at twenty weeks, but they check again later, and it's like one in two hundred by the 30th week. Uterus grows, shifts its shape and it pulls up and everything is fine."

Jimmy's nodding at that, because, yeah, that's technically true. "Okay."

"She didn't act like it was any sort of a big deal at all. Pretty much said it was normal, or at least really common. She was way more concerned about the Nuchal Fold test and making sure Abby's blood pressure and sugar levels stayed normal. Hell, I haven't thought about it since then."

"It's probably not a big deal." But Jimmy's not exactly sounding confident on that.

"Okay, you're starting to freak me out."

Jimmy rolls his eyes. "Yeah, well, I'm a little sensitive on things like this."

"So, is this you being overprotective or was she feeding us happy bullshit because there's nothing we could do about it?"

"Overprotective. She's right, placenta previa is really common mid-pregnancy and almost non-existent by the time you get to full term. They'll check today and see where everything is?"



So, sitting in the ultrasounds lab, Tim's feeling a bit more nervous than he'd like to be. He really didn't like the look on Jimmy's face when he mentioned the placenta was low. Yeah, Jimmy's sensitive to things like this, but…"

The tech came in and began the ultrasound. And 4d images of Kelly more or less shut down his ability to worry. Overwhelming awe: that face, those tiny fingers curled into her mouth, they could even see her lips sucking gently on the forefinger.

They were both floating on that image when the tech said, "I'd like to get some more images of the placenta. I can get better quality from a transvaginal scan."

And cute and love and drifting along on clouds of happy baby joy came crashing to a halt.

"Why do you need a better image?" Abby asked.

"It's still low, and we need to know exactly where it is."

They won't let you use your smartphone in the doc's office. This is deeply annoying to both Tim and Abby right this second. They're sitting in an exam room, with nothing but fear to keep them company.

The Ultrasound Tech, Julie, wouldn't tell them anything beyond, 'low.' What does low mean? 'Talk to the doc.' Is this a big problem? 'Dr. Draz'll read the scans and let you know what's going on.' Can you at least tell me my wife and baby aren't in danger of dying in the next five minutes? 'No one's dying today.'

Abby's dressed again, and sitting on the examination table. She's so nervous she isn't moving. He's pacing.

"Fuck it!"

There's a computer on the desk in the office. It's for the doc to use. Not him. Right now, he doesn't care about that, at all.

In less than a minute he's into it, and searching the internet for whatever the hell a low placenta is and what it means. He's trying to remember, Jimmy called it something, but he's so scared it's slipping his mind.

So he googles low placenta and finds reams of information on placenta previa. He's reading to Abby about how it means the placenta is over the cervix and as the cervix gets softer and opens it can tear the placenta and hemorrhaging can occur.

To say they are both less than thirty seconds away from hysterical fear when Dr. Draz walked in would be a very accurate description.

She saw both of them, hovering next to the computer, skin white, faces tight, Abby clutching onto Tim's hand as they were reading, took a deep breath, reached over, turned off the computer and said, "It's not that bad. Sit down, take a few deep breaths, and start to calm down. Abby's not going to be bleeding to death in the grocery store."

She gave them a minute to sit down, both of them on the exam table, Tim has his arm around her shoulders, and she's snuggled into him, gripping his knee.

"Okay, let's start at the beginning. Obviously you both know about worst case placenta previa now. That's not you. Right now, your placenta is at 2.5 centimeters away from the cervix. Anything lower than two centimeters and we get nervous. Basically as the cervix thins and softens the placenta can rip and result in bleeding.

"First and foremost, right now we're at watch and wait. Hopefully, as your uterus continues to grow, the placenta will end up further away from the cervix and this won't be a problem.

"But even if it stays where it is, this isn't something to panic about. We know it's an issue. We're going to keep monitoring it. The biggest thing we're going to be dealing with is how fast your body changes in relation to how fast Kelly grows. If your body stays at full thickness and no dilation, up to 37 weeks, then this will be very easy. We'll schedule the c-section, and one morning come the middle of June you'll come to the hospital and a few hours later, you'll be holding Kelly.

"If your cervix starts to ripen and dilate before that, we'll start something called pelvic rest, no internal exams, no sex, you take it easy. It's not exactly bed rest, but if you don't have to get up to do it, you don't go do it. Pretty much, no jostling the uterus. Thirty-six weeks is officially full term, but we like to see babies get to thirty-seven weeks, the outcomes are a bit better, and their lungs are usually in better shape.

"If you start bleeding before that, we'll use medication to try and make the bleeding stop. If that works, then you go on bed rest." She checked their information. "You live close enough to the hospital that you'd probably be able to go home for that. Bed rest means exactly that, you lay in bed and catch up on your TV and reading. The only thing you get up for is to go pee. You'll stay on bed rest until Kelly hits thirty-seven weeks."

"What if the bleeding doesn't stop?" Tim asked.

"Emergency c-section. The placenta has a lot of blood flow, but it's not an artery. You're not going to bleed out in five minutes if it ruptures, no matter what those morons on the internet say. Sure, now is a bad time to decide to go on a cross country trip. Right now you don't want to be more than twenty minutes from a hospital. But everyone in this practice can get a baby out in less than seven minutes if need be, so no one is going to bleed to death.

"The biggest thing to keep in mind right now is that if you start bleeding, get to the hospital right away."

Tim and Abby are a little calmer with that, but a little calmer and calm aren't precisely the same thing.

Abby pulled it together enough to ask, "What do we do to avoid bleeding? I mean, do I need to start pelvic rest now, or…"

Dr. Draz shook her head. "No. You don't need pelvic rest now. I'm not saying you want to start running marathons or anything. Take it easy. If it weighs more than fifteen pounds, have someone else pick it up. But that's fairly standard seven months pregnant advice, anyway. Right now, while your cervix is full thickness and shut, everything is perfectly fine. Given where your placenta is, the most likely story is that it'll continue to scoot out of the way as your body changes, and by the time Kelly's ready to come out it'll be far enough out of the way to not be a problem. In most cases like this, if we were back in the pre-ultrasound days, we'd have never known there was an issue."

"What does 'most' mean?" Tim asked.

"In my experience, about seven out of ten. I'm thinking we'll keep an eye on it, see how and if it moves, and by the beginning of June we'll make a decision as to whether you want to try and deliver vaginally or if you'd rather schedule a c-section. It's entirely likely that by the time you're at term that it'll be a good three inches away from your cervix and this won't be an issue at all."

"Is there anything I can do to try and… encourage it to scoot up? Stretching or anything? Hang from my knees, inversion table, anything?" Abby asked.


"Is sex okay?" Tim asked.

"Right now, yes."

"I mean, we have a whole lot of it."

"Good for you. Yes, it's okay. Obviously, don't do anything that hurts, but I'd assume you already know that."

Tim's nodding. "It's really okay?"

Dr. Draz sighed, she's seen this before, knows it's a normal, scared male response, knows that this is basically the only part of this issue that he can control, but well, her sympathy for it is somewhat limited.

"Is your penis a foot long?"

"No." He's looking at her like she's completely insane and says, "Orgasmic contractions are kind of like labor contractions, right?"

Her respect for Tim jumped up about ten notches. Poking the placenta and breaking it is the usual guy fear. He's the first guy she's seen who's put together the idea that orgasmic contractions might move the uterus in a bad way. She smiled gently.

"It's really okay. For right now, and likely the next month, everything is going to keep being exactly the same as it was before. We're just watching more carefully. As the cervix starts to ripen, and we've got a better idea of what is going on, we'll be able to plan from there.

"I'm thinking we'll keep with the every two weeks appointments, but once you start having any contractions at all, we'll move to once a week. You will, eventually, start to have little contractions. They call them Braxton-Hicks, but really, they're all the same thing. It's just your body getting ready to get the baby out. You don't need to sprint to the hospital as soon as you feel them, but once you do, it's time to give me a call and schedule an appointment for the next day. So, we all okay with this plan?"

Tim and Abby nodded absently. That was a ton of information, and no, they weren't really ready, or okay. They just weren't in a blind panic anymore, and while that's better than being terrified of breathing wrong for fear of bleeding to death on the way home, neither of them were particularly happy or calm on the ride home.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 205

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

Chapter 205: Carpe Diem

A/N: Okay Lovies, today we've got multi-media fan fiction.
Okay, click on that puppy, and get reading!

Come to the lab.

The thing about being an expecting father is that, when your wife sends you a somewhat cryptic text, you end up responding to it almost before you got it.

So, it was roughly forty seconds after Tim got that text that he was in the lab, nerves jangling with the adrenaline rush. But once down there, nothing looked out of place. Abby's at the computer working away, apparently fine.

"What?" That sounds kind of annoyed, mostly a I ran down here for nothing? sort of vibe.

She turned and smiled at him. "Dance with me."

"What?" This time it was clear disbelief in his voice.

"Found a great song. Want to dance to it. Need a partner."

"We're at work."

"We have sex in here, and you think dancing is going too far?"

"We don't do that during business hours. And it's…" he checked his watch, "1:43. Very much business hours."

"Come on. Anyone asks, you're humoring my insane pregnant hormones."

"You can say that again." He held out his hand and she took it, stepping into him and clicking on the stereo.

"This is dance music?" he asked, his hand settling on the small of her back. It's a steady, quiet little guitar riff. Not bad, but nothing making him think, gotta move.

"It will be."

And in a few seconds, when the drums came in, he caught what she was thinking, and began a slow steady two step. It's a classic slow dance beat.

"Is this a song about self-mutilation?" he asked as a few of the lyrics caught his attention.

"Shhh… Pretty music," she said, swaying against him.

She's right, the music is pretty, nice steady beat, the singer's voice is pleasant, and British accent is strong enough he's not having an easy time following exactly what the lyrics are, and that's probably a good thing.

They were maybe two minutes into the song when he heard, "Agent and Mrs. McGee, what are you doing?"

Agent Tim McGee had a pretty standard response to this, namely leaping back from Abby, blushing, looking embarrassed, and focusing his full attention on Director Vance.

Tim McGee, soon to be head of NCIS Cybercrime, DC Division had a somewhat different one. One that was, hopefully, respectful enough of Leon and his position, but demonstrated he was no longer willing to be cowed by the man: "Humoring my pregnant wife, Sir," he answered Vance without stopping dancing.

Abby slapped him on the shoulder, and he dipped her back, gently, can't go too far back seven months pregnant. The two step beat had shifted, so a holding move seemed to be worth putting into play.

"Seizing the day, Leon." Abby said when he pulled her back up. "Never know when I'll get my next chance to dance with my husband. We'll be done in about two minutes."

"Fine." Leon looked exasperated, but headed out of the lab.

They're still dancing, but Tim's looking worried. "You said that to him?"

"If anyone would understand, it's Leon."

"Well, yeah, but isn't that rubbing salt in the wound?"

"I hope not. Rumor has it he's dating again. I hope it's a reminder to go for it."

"I hope he takes it that way."

"He will. Now shush. Dancing with your girls, not worrying about Leon."

"Yes, dear."

Abby kissed him gently, smiled, and he smiled back, shook his head a little, and kissed her forehead, then she rested her head on his shoulder, two stepping away with him as the song wrapped up.

All photos are from the lovely Leticia, who runs a fabulous McAbby blog over on tumblr. Love McAbby? Go check her out!

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 204

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

Chapter 204: M40A1

It lives in his gun safe. In the back.

It has its own case. It's black, steel, thin to keep it light, but strong and durable. The case is old. He got it in 1988, when the M40A1 became the standard issue sniper rifle for the US Military.

He picked it up and took it downstairs, putting it on the coffee table in front of his sofa, and called Tim.

"Hey, Gibbs. What's up?" Abby's voice on the other end. She sounded pretty perky so hopefully the porcupine mood had vanished.

"Hoping to talk to your husband."

"Okay, I'll put him on."

He hears Abby moving around, the sound of water in the background and then, "It's Gibbs" along with the water shutting off.


"You doing anything right now?"

"Dishes. Why?"

"Wanna come over?"

"Okay…" he sounds a little uncertain. "Ummm… why?" It's true that Gibbs has actually never asked Tim to come over before, let alone less than three hours after he left in the first place.

"Want to talk to you."

"All right." There's definite confusion in Tim's voice. "You want me to bring Abby?"

"Rather just talk to you."

"Okay. You're making me kind of nervous."

"You're not in trouble."

"Okay. I'll be there in half an hour or so. That work?"


"You want me to bring anything?"

"Just you."

"Okay… See you soon."

Gibbs hangs up, smirking a little at that, a very clear image of the look on Tim's face as he said that. Then he opened the case, leaving his sniper rifle visible.

The talk with Ducky was helpful. The bit about Tim and Ziva's fathers, once Ducky spelled it out for him and he took the time to think about it, very useful.

His fingers trail over the rifle. He and it have a lot of history together.

He hasn't taken it out because he intends to kill John McGee. He's fairly sure that would hurt Tim. But he wants Tim to know, absolutely, in his bones and soul and gut, that there is a man who loves him enough that he would commit murder for him.

Driving to Gibbs' place, Tim's fairly certain that he knows what Gibbs wants to talk about.

Not like you can say to a man like Gibbs, 'Oh, by the way, my dad used to abuse me, but let's pretend it's not a big deal.' Once he made the decision to say it to Gibbs, he knew there'd be more to it than five minutes of conversation in the basement.

Still, he wasn't expecting to walk in, see Gibbs sitting on his sofa, his rifle out in front of him.

Tim sat next to him, eyes wide, looking at the gun. "Haven't seen that since Somalia."

Gibbs shook his head, fingers caressing the stock. "Haven't seen most of it. The stock, sight, and trigger went to Somalia. The barrel's new."

"Okay." Tim flicks his eyes away from the gun to Gibbs.

"Melted the old barrel down a few years ago. Leon… lost… some bullets and a report, but if they're ever found again, they won't match anything test-fired by this rifle."


"I heard you and Abby talking about a book a while back, something about the axe of my father's father, is it still the same axe if the blade or the handle's been replaced?"

Tim nods, he remembers that, though it was years ago.

"And if I remember right, the answer was yes. It was the spirit of the thing, not necessarily the parts that made it."

Tim nods at that, too.

Gibbs strokes the barrel. "This is the rifle I used to kill the man that hurt my girls. I looked through this sight, watched him drive up, and put a bullet through him. Say the word, and I will do the same thing to the man who hurt you."

A rush of… something, Tim's not sure if it's rage, fear, or joy flashes through him. He finds himself thinking about the fact that it's hot and tingly; that the physical sensation of whatever this is is so strong he cannot name the emotion. But he can see that Gibbs is waiting for him to say something, but nothing is coming to mind, there's just a whirling blank of whatever this feeling is.

Finally he says, "Jethro?"

The look on Gibbs face is somehow loving and terrifying. The love is aimed at Tim, and terror at the imagined version of his father. "A long time ago, I told you you were mine, and I did a piss poor job of living up to that. But not anymore. You're mine, Tim, and I take care of what's mine, and if you want, I will end him."

Gibbs waits for him, lets the thoughts and feelings skitter around, lets him collect his words which vanished with that flash of feeling.

Mostly there's just the blank of it. A void of… something… whatever it is he can't, maybe won't, process it. But it takes shape eventually, forms coming clearer in the void. Since Tim's been an adult, he's had no desire to do violence to his father. That's the beginning and end of it. He's a man capable of using violence as a tool, but it holds no joy for him. If he ever does something to or about his father, he has to own it, his tool of choice: his mind, his words, something like that.

So eventually he says, "No. I mean, it's tempting. It's really tempting. And I'd be lying if it didn't want to see him look scared or in pain or…" and all of that is true, too.

"But he's my sister's dad, too. And she loves him. They've always gotten along. He's my grandmother's son, and she loves him, too. Though she's very much not happy with him right now. And I've seen enough people bury their parents and children… Hell, just helped you with your dad, and he was old and went in peace and… And I don't want to watch two of the women I love best go through that." And that is true, too. Anything he does or has done about his father will reverberate through other people he holds dear.

"And like with Hernandez and your girls, nothing will change. Nothing will get better."

"You'll have justice."
I'm still alive.

"I'm still alive, Jethro. And with the exception of when he was teaching me how to fight, he never, ever hit me, and even then it wasn't out of line."

"Vengeance then."

"I don't need it. Not like that. And I don't want to risk you going to jail. You came close enough with Hernandez. I don't want them carting you off to prison when you're seventy and some new NCIS team gets called in to check out our cold cases.

"But mostly… If something ever happens to him… I want to be the one who does it. And, I'm not saying I ever will. I think it's probably better for all of us if I don't ever do anything like that, but… If it's going to happen, it's going to be me."

Gibbs closes up the rifle case. The anger in his eyes is, not gone, but held under better control, and Tim knows it's not aimed at him for turning Gibbs down on this. Next to, or through the anger is respect. "If you ever change your mind, or if you ever want any help with anything you might want to do for yourself…"

Tim nods.

Gibbs looks him straight in the eye. "I am sorry I didn't pay enough attention to see what was going on with you and John."

He raises an eyebrow at Gibbs, and sees Gibbs understand that it's in relation to being apologized to.

"Most of the time, you apologize to cover your own ass or try to minimize the impact of something you've done. You fuck up; you need to own up to it, none of this sorry crap. Usually, I'm sorry is about pretending you didn't understand you were about to fuck up, or trying to deny the person who you fucked up his right to be angry about it. This is none of that. I am genuinely sorry that I did not actually see who you were. I am sorry I didn't look hard enough to see it. That was my job, and I didn't do it."

Tim shrugs. "You weren't exactly in California in 1987 to '95, and since then I haven't been in the same room with him for more than two hours. There was nothing for you to see."

"There was you. You get along with everyone. You get along with people who make a habit of tormenting you. Ziva and Tony super-glued your face to your desk, I let them do it, and you forgave all three of us. But you don't talk to your dad. Whatever was between you was past your ability to forgive. And you tell me he never hit you, fine. But whatever he said to you hurt you worse than years of being hazed by your partners.

"You never go home. You never talk about your parents. You almost never talk about your childhood. Ziva talks about her childhood more than you do. I talk about my childhood more than you do. The only reason I knew you weren't an orphan was because everyone knows who John McGee is. The only reason I knew you had a sister was because she was in that case, and that's the only reason we knew you got those books published. You keep your cards so close to the vest that people don't even notice you're in the game.

"That should have been a red flag to anyone paying attention. No one is that private. And I really should have known because I spent a decade not talking about anything other than my present and my work. I know the signs. I know what hiding something looks like because I did it. I let myself believe you were shy—"

"I am shy."

Gibbs flashes him a cut the bull look. "You're not that shy. And you certainly aren't that shy after years of knowing someone."

"That's true."

"And that's not why you never told anyone but Abby anything about you."

Tim shrugs. "Didn't actually tell her about it, either. Not all of it. She knew about the fighting, but I never got into specifics. She knew details because apparently I started having nightmares after that case and talking in my sleep. And then I was sick, and out of my head, and when they sponged me down to get me cooled off I let fly with a bunch of the Admiral's greatest hits, and… Well, it was let Ducky think I talk to Abby that way, or explain why I've got words and phrases like those in my head. And I didn't want him thinking I'd talk to her like that. I don't mind if everyone knows we're kinky, I mean, that's pretty obvious, but… not that. I don't degrade her. Never."

"So, why don't you talk about it? Not, to the wide world, but to us."

Tim shrugs and shakes his head. "I've got to think about it, remember it, to talk about it. I'm happier not doing that. Before this, years could go by without it crossing my mind. I like my life now. I love it. And I'd rather be living it, now, than stuck in the past. Maybe I took enough psych/read enough to know the right thing to say, but Wolf keeps thinking I'm okay, and I'd rather just be okay."

"How okay are you if you're having nightmares about it?"

"More than okay enough. I don't remember them. The ones about the freezer I do remember, and if I'm going to go up against my past, that'll be the chunk I tackle first, because that's the part that still wakes me up in a cold sweat."

"Still dream about that sometimes, too."

"I know Tony does. I'm fairly sure Ziva does, also."

Gibbs nods. You can't do this job and not end up broken on some level. Every cop he's ever known who was any good at it had at least a few cases that haunted him.

Tim sits up, touches the rifle case, fingers idly tracing over it. "I meant what I said earlier. I have the family I want. When I was younger, Penny used to encourage me to develop attachments with other men. She knew my dad and I didn't work, and after my grandfather died, she thought it wasn't good for me to only have intimate relationships with women. Not that having close female friends/family was bad, but that I needed some men in my life, too. And she was right. Though I'd say neither of us knew why I spent so long avoiding a truly intimate relationship with a guy. But I'm not doing that anymore, so I have them, now. And I'm glad I've got you and Tony and Jimmy and Ducky. It was something I needed. I've been feeling a lot more… I don't know… whole… or real maybe, these last two years, last year especially, and I think it's just going to keep getting better from here."

Gibbs nods, smiles, eyes warm and fond, and rests his hand on Tim's shoulder. The last time he said this to a guy, it was his Dad, and it was years ago, and now he wishes he had done it more often, but that ship's sailed, but this one hasn't.

"I love you, Tim."

"I know."

"Wanted to make sure you actually got to hear me say it every now and again."

"Thanks. That's… ummm…" And that's when Tim lost it and started crying. It's not the sentiment. He knows Gibbs loves him. Seen it every day for years now, and even if he hadn't, the rifle and the promise attached to it would be a pretty good hint.

No, it was the fact that Gibbs said it. He opened his mouth and gave it voice. He put it in the form Tim responds best to, and offered the gift of it to him.

That's what did it.

Gibbs scooted up closer to him, wrapped his arm around his shoulders, and just held him while he cried.