Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 197

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

Chapter 197: Jackson

"You're home!" Tim said to Tony and Ziva as he walked into the Bullpen on Monday morning.

"We are home," Ziva said with a smile.

"Good time?"

Tony smirked. "Oh yeah. You want to see the pictures?"

Tim raised an eyebrow and grinned, "Do I want to see the pictures?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter, McPerv!" Tony says, shoving Tim gently, as Ziva grabbed her phone and started to show off their honeymoon shots.

"Where's Gibbs?" Tony asked. It was nine thirty, an hour and a half after Gibbs usually got in to work. They'd gotten into looking at the pics, (really cool animal shots, amazing views, Tony with a beard, because apparently he can grow one in like, six days, them snuggling, beach shots, they took a lot of pictures) telling stories of South Africa, safari, getting through customs with the diplomatic pouch (No problems, but Tony had been pretty nervous about it.) and the general good time that had been had by all.

Then Tim caught them up with what he had been doing, and how the interviews had gone, and they all confabbed for a time to have a second interview with Draga and Aubrey.

Between those two things an hour and a half had slipped by without them noticing.

"No idea." Tim checked his phone, no messages. "He didn't call you guys?"

"No." Ziva answered, checking her phone. Tony shook his head, nothing on his, either.

It's not that Gibbs never misses work. He's missed, well, at least five days in the last five years at this point, but that he always calls his team to let them know where he is and when he'll be back.

Tim's firing off a text. Where are you? Everything okay?

Ziva picked up her phone. She asked for Vance, and then waited, and then asked if the Director knew where Gibbs might be. Her eyes went wide after a minute and she said, "Thank you, Director."

"He's asked for four days personal time."

That sent Tim and Tony into action. Tim pinged his phone, finding out where he is, while Tony called him.

Gibbs didn't answer his phone, but in a minute Tim's got his location.

"He's in Stillwater."

The three of them stare at each other. Jackson is 88. And Gibbs didn't call. And he's not answering his phone. And he's in Stillwater, with four days of personal time.

Tim had Stillwater General hacked in about ten minutes, looking through the medical records. Ziva and Tony were standing behind him, watching what he's coming up with. He's actually pretty glad they're standing behind him, because they can read the screen as well as he can, so he doesn't have to say the words, not yet.

Though in a minute, when he goes down to Abby, he will.

His voice is shaky when he says to Ziva, "Call Vance. We're gonna need some time off."

She nods, tears in her eyes. Tony's already heading toward the elevator. "I'll tell Ducky and Jimmy."

Tim feels like the Angel of Death. Less than four months ago he came down here and told everyone about Jon.

Now it's just him and Abby. Which he prefers.

She's bopping around the lab, music on so loud the computer screens are vibrating. Must be a song she really likes.

He knows where the remote lives, and flicks off the music, seeing her little combo dance/data hunt come crashing to a halt.

"Tim?" Over the course of one word he hears her voice go from irate to afraid as she sees and reads the look on his face.

"Jethro didn't come into work this morning…" He's explaining what happened, what they did, like somehow extra words between now and how this paragraph has to finish will make it easier, or make the pain at hearing this paragraph's end lessen. Or maybe he's giving himself a little more time to work up to actually saying it. But he can see her eyes tearing up, saw her stiffen when he said Stillwater, and he knows the only real question is how bad is it and how fast are they going to get there. And the answer is, it's bad, and they'll get there as fast as they can. Finally he's run out of filler words, stretched this moment as long as he can, so he says the words he doesn't want to say, "Jackson died last night.

"I hacked his medical records. He was in the shop and had a stroke. Dead before the ambulance got to him. Probably before he hit the floor. It looks like it was fast and painless." And he's got no idea if that's true or not. But she's crying, and he's trying to be comforting as he holds her, and even if it is a lie, it's a lie he wants to believe.

He kisses her, soft and gentle, and she cuddles into his shoulder, holding him. They stand there, like that, for a long minute, until they hear Jimmy say, "We'll take my car.

Ziva, Tony, and Ducky took one car. Leaving the Palmers and McGees in the other. With Ziva driving the trip between DC and Stillwater is six hours. With a seventeen-month-old and a pregnant woman, both of whom do vastly better with a break every hour and a half for either the bathroom or to run around, it's a lot slower.

They take turns driving. Not talking much as Palmer's Odyssey eats the miles between DC and Stillwater.

Maybe the others are thinking of their grandparents or parents. Tim knows he's thinking about his.

Nelson McGee died of a heart attack on his ship. He was sixty-four, had been feeling a bit off, but brushed it off as having slept on his shoulder wrong, and in the middle of an inspection tour slumped over and died.

Penny gave permission for him to be buried at sea. He remembers his grandfather talking about how all life came from the sea, and how, for those who were lucky enough, they'd get to return. Penny let his final resting place be the element he loved.

His father was well enough connected at that point to get helio-ed in for the burial, but the rest of them gathered at Penny's home for a memorial service.

Tim doesn't remember it much. He was ten at the time. Mostly he remembers the way Penny looked shell-shocked. Thinking about it now, he realizes that Nelson was probably about a year, maybe three, tops, away from retiring. He realizes that they'd been married for forty years. That they probably had plans for life after the Navy. He realizes that Penny and Nelson must have been very different people, but they built a marriage that survived her becoming a pacifist while he became an Admiral.

And driving north, his turn at the wheel, it occurs to him that Penny never got to say goodbye. One day her husband left for a float, and he never came home.

Pop died slow. Though, from everything he's read about it, actually, all in all, it was pretty fast. Christmas of '94, the Annapolis Christmas, the one where everything went wrong, was when they also first noticed he was fading.

At first it looked like stress. That was a bad holiday for everyone, so if Pop asked the same question a few times, well, who cared? It'd get better when things calmed back down again.

But it wasn't stress. And he didn't get better, and by the time Tim was leaving for college six months later Pop kept calling him Michael, his Mom's brother's name. Summer of '96, he lived with his grandparents, the last summer he wasn't on his own, and Pop was gone.

He spent that summer with them, helping out, trying to be useful, but mostly he was babysitting a 76-year-old who looked like a man he loved, but wasn't. The fire in his eyes, the memories, the life that had enriched all of them was gone, and all that was left was a body too stubborn to die.

When he caught pneumonia that October, Gran didn't seek treatment for it.

And he felt like a coward for it, but Tim claimed he had midterms (which he did) and didn't go home until after Pop had died.

He didn't say goodbye, mostly because he couldn't handle it, but if you had asked him, (and one of his friends did) he would have said there was no one left to say goodbye to.

His mom doesn't talk about that last week, other than to say it was very hard.

Driving to Stillwater, he's thinking that Nelson and Jackson got off easy.

He hopes he does, too.

They found Gibbs sitting on the sofa in his dad's house. Ziva, Tony, and Ducky were already there. Ziva was cuddling with him. Tony and Ducky were just there, being quiet and supportive.

He stood up and hugged all of them when they came in. Molly was asleep in Jimmy's arms, so she got half of Jimmy's hug.

He went back to the sofa. Abby cuddled into his other side. Gibbs kissed her forehead.

Breena sat in front of Jethro and rested her hands on his knees. "Tell me what you want done, and I'll take care of it. I'll make sure he gets sent off properly."

Gibbs nodded, tears in his eyes, not saying anything.

Two days later, Gibbs, Tony, Tim, Ducky, Jimmy, and LJ carried Jackson to rest next to his wife.

And if Jon's funeral was the dull, crushing pain of horrific fate, this was more the sharp, mercifully brief cut of quick and done. It hurts. There are tears here and the ache of not enough time, because when it comes down to it, there's never really enough time, but the shell-shocked, stunned horror the loss of Jon caused isn't here.

And like with the funerals for both of his grandfathers, after this service, there was a house filled with somewhat inebriated people telling stories, laughing while they cried.

Gibbs listened to stories, smiled a little, cried a little, got a little drunk, didn't talk much. Tim's fairly sure the eulogy was the only time he said more than five words in a row that day. Abby and Ziva more or less kept hovering protectively around him, herding people away from him when it looked like he'd had enough of them.

Breena ran the whole thing, planned it from beginning to end. She'd asked Gibbs the morning after they got there what he wanted, again, and he shrugged, so she kissed his cheek, hugged him, and took over. It was beautiful, tasteful, a little generic, because all in all she didn't know Jackson all that well, though she was able to get his favorite hymns out of Gibbs for the service, and maybe the actual funeral director wasn't thrilled with dealing with her, but the end result was as comforting as a funeral can be.

When the last of the guests left, and the food had been put away, the downstairs cleaned back up, and Molly fed and put to bed, there was just this sort of hollow emptiness. A sort of blank, now what? feeling.

Gibbs got up and headed upstairs, looking determined.

He came back a few minutes later with a Monopoly box, that he laid on the coffee table in front of the sofa. "Used to play with him and my mom and grandparents. Want a game?" His voice broke on the last word, but he was half-smiling, and very carefully counting out the money.

The game lasted 'til three. Ducky won. And no one said anything about the fact that even though they had to scrounge a few pieces (Tim was playing a battery from the TV remote, and Tony had a quarter) Gibbs kept the top hat in his hand the whole time.

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