Friday, January 31, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 283

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

Chapter 283: Normalish

Honestly, Gibbs would rather skip church this morning. But they’ve skipped the past few weeks, and Breena was sort of sending psychic puppy-dog eyes at them during Shabbos (Which was tense, but not painfully so. There’s still friction between Tony and Ziva, and Gibbs’s not her favorite person, either, right now, but they’re still family.) dinner yesterday when the question came up, and Elaine has informed him that he will produce Kelly for inspection in the not wildly distant future.

So, he’s standing in front of his closet, leaning against the crutch, trying to figure out which of his suit pants are loose enough he can wear the brace under them, or if he should just wrap up in ace bandages and hope that’ll do it.

Gray one’ll probably do.

It did. Add in a white shirt and a sharp blue tie, and he’s presentable. Be nice if it wasn’t 93 degrees out already with a high set for the low hundreds to go with his gray wool suit, but he’ll live.

Pre-church Sunday breakfast at Elaine’s struck him as a tradition he could get behind building.

He got there before the McGees, headed in, toward a booth. He was two steps in when Elaine looked him up and down and said, “You getting married again, Hon?”

He smiled at her. “We get dressed up for church.”

“Dressed up mighty fine.”

That got another smile.

“Getting your usual?”

“Yeah. Tim, Abby, and Kelly are coming, too…”

“Honey, you think I don’t know you’re expecting company when you head to a booth? I’ll hold it until I see ‘em.” Then she notice Kelly was on the list. “You’re finally bringing her in?”

“Yep. Might be a little late…” Because getting anywhere with a baby is always a challenge, but Elaine knows that.

“Doesn’t matter, can’t wait to see your darlin’ girl.”

Which was when he noticed the McGee’s Highlander pull in. “’Bout two minutes.” His first instinct is to head out and offer to help lug baby stuff, but, first of all, he can’t, and, second of all, they’ve just got the diaper bag and the car seat/baby carrier, so it’s only one thing for each of them.

He can, however, head to the door and hold it open, which he does. Abby gives him a little, are you taking care of yourself look, while kissing his cheek.

He sends her a I’m fine. Stop mothering me. look back.

She just looked him up and down and then said, “Uh huh. Which booth is yours?”

He nodded toward the one that now has one cup of coffee, black, one iced coffee, with milk, and some sort of pink smoothie (Turns out it was frozen watermelon lemonade, really nice on a day as hot as this.)

The source of those drinks wrapped Abby in a warm hug, and even warmer words about how good she was looking, which lasted for a few seconds until Tim and Kelly got in, and all of Elaine’s attention focused into a lazer like beam on the baby girl.

“Oh my God, Jethro, she’s so precious! May I?”

Both Tim and Abby are a bit amused to see she’s asking Gibbs’ permission to pick Kelly up, but they also get this is some sort of grandparent bonding thing, and that they don’t get to really be part of it for at least another twenty-years.

Gibbs does check with Abby though, and she nods, so he very carefully hands Kelly over for snuggles and soft words. Elaine gently rubs her cheek against the top of Kelly’s head, inhaling deeply. “Nothing on earth smells like a new baby. I could just eat you up, precious girl!”

Kelly’s looking a bit startled by this, not sure if she likes it, (it’s kind of loud and smells different, and she doesn’t know the person petting her) but it’s not unpleasant, so she doesn’t fuss. 

Elaine is gently patting Kelly’s back, cuddling her against her shoulder, whispering gently to her, “You be good to your Pop, now. He loves you more than anything else in the world. You should have seen him, showing off pictures of you when you were the size of a salad shrimp.”

Kelly stares intently at Elaine, and then flops her hand onto her nose, squeezing tight.

“I’ll take that as a yes, precious girl,” Elaine says with a smile. She kisses Kelly’s forehead, detaches her hand from her nose, and hands her back to Gibbs. “Well, let’s get you all fed and ready for church. Abby, I know what those two want, but what about you?”

Outside of work, they don’t really talk a whole lot about what exactly it is they do. They just don’t. Gibbs doesn’t know if that’s a cop thing in general, or just something that’s true for his team.

But he’s very obviously injured, and he does want to hammer home exactly how important Tim and Jimmy are and how what they do is vital to protecting people and keeping them alive.

So, when Mark? Jeff? (For whatever reason every Slater on earth showed up for church and Sunday dinner today. There’s got to be close to a hundred people in the house) one of Breena’s extended collection of relatives asked why he was on crutches, he said, “You hear about that warehouse explosion down in Norfolk?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

And Gibbs just gave him a long, long look. And from there, questions, answers, and choice details of the case started to leak out and circulate around the Slater family.

And he did notice, that by the time the ham and the turkey had been carved, and plates piled high with succulent meats, manicotti, penne with sausage and peppers, and lasagna, that the Slaters were looking at Tim and Jimmy with a lot more respect.

What he wasn’t expecting when he started making sure that the Slaters knew his boys had seen some serious action recently was that he was injured, almost died, and is sitting in a house full of morticians and funeral home directors.

So, about half an hour after the first bits of what had happened started to circulate, Ed’s brother Wes wandered over and asked him, “So, have you given any thought to your final arrangements?”

That took Gibbs by surprise. Yes, he’s given it more thought than a lot of guys, and not for reasons he ever wanted to, but… Back in the Marines, they’d joke about guys who ‘bought the plot’ the plot being the bit of ground they’d dig your grave out of. Get badly wounded, you’d buy ‘half a plot,’ stuff like that. Well, he does in fact own his plot. It’s next to Kelly and Shannon’s. (There's space for his name on the headstone, too.) But between that and the flag, he’s never given it any thought.

“You know, if you want to plan things ahead of time, it’s a lot easier on the people you leave behind.”

Gibbs nods silently, sure that that’s true, and also sure that he’s really not wanting to have this conversation.

“Plus, if you plan it yourself, they don’t have to deal with the whole, ‘Would Dad have wanted this?’ issue.”


“We also offer competitive pricing and the ability to pay over time. That way no one gets hit with a large bill right after what’s sure to be a traumatic time.”

“I’m sure you do.” Gibbs is looking for a way out. Abby catches his eye, sees that Help! Get me out of this look in it, and heads over, wrapping her arm in his.

“Telling Wes more stories?”

Gibbs smiles at him and shakes his head.

“Just asking him if he had his final plans made. With as dangerous as your line of work is…” Wes lets that trail off.

“Ahhh. At this point, the family plan is to let Breena handle it. We know she’ll treat us right. She took care of Jethro’s dad, and did a great job.”

Wes smiles at that, nods, and heads off.

Tim had told him about fighting with Jimmy, and how the two of them together took out Ziva. He mentioned that the music helped them keep track of each other, and coordinate their fight.

He’d been really excited about showing Gibbs, too. And he saw that from Jimmy, too. For a second it was hard to remember that these are two thirty-seven-year-old men, because they both had that puppyish I-did-something-really-good-c’mon-Dad-come-see-it! attitude when it came to explaining how this worked.

So, he’s at the gym, changed into his workout clothing, though God alone knows why, not like he’s going to do anything besides stand there, watching, leaning against his crutches, while Tim messes around with his sound equipment and then a wave of… something… Gibbs isn’t going to call it music, goes blaring through the gym.

(He’s actually quite pleased that they generally have the combat area to themselves on Sundays. This would be really annoying if you weren’t part of it.)

Yeah, this is music that’ll make you want to fight. Granted, it’s making Gibbs want to punch the asshole that inflicted it on the world. The fact that people voluntarily listen to this (Hell, that Tim listens to this. He knows Abby listens to weird stuff, but Tim’s Mr. Smooth Jazz.) boggles him.

But, he’s watching, can’t do much else, and he has to admit, that, yeah, it helps. Probably help their one on one fighting, too. He knows that when they’re on their own, warming up, working on their form, they usually have ear buds in.

They were two rounds in, warmed up, not too tired when Gibbs decided to see what would happen if he swapped it up again. He’s sure Ziva’ll cope well with this, but for Tim and Jimmy it should make things even more challenging.

He hits the off switch on the… thing… the music comes out of, and all three of them stop and look at him. “One on one on one.”

Both of the boys are giving him the are you kidding me look. Ziva’s grinning.

Then Tim is, too. Gibbs isn’t sure what that grin means, not in any sort of detail, just that Tim’s got a plan.

Jimmy’s shaking his head, probably less than thrilled about having to keep track of Ziva and Tim.

“Have at it.” He turns the music back on, and three notes died what, to him, sounds like horribly painful deaths, and then something peppy, fast, and sure, it’s not anything he’s going to listen to anytime soon, but it’s not awful either (must be Ziva’s music) comes up.

Jimmy’s shaking his head. One on one on one, and it’s Ziva’s music. They’re going to get killed again.

Tim tilts his head, in a way that Jimmy knows means, follow my lead.

Gibbs watches them do it and realizes they are not exactly embracing the spirit of one on one on one, but he’s interested in seeing what they do.

It wasn’t a brilliant plan or anything, but it was solid. Tim made sure Ziva was between him and Jimmy at all times. Which meant even though they took occasional shots at each other, they were still concentrating force against the most dangerous target, trying to take her out first.

That lasted for ninety-two seconds, until Ziva got her back to the ropes, which meant both guys could still flank her, but they had to be pretty close to each other to do it. That used their size against them, (getting in each other’s way) and in her favor. Then she did some sort of flip thing with the rope, Jimmy’s knee, and Tim’s shoulder, and ended up behind Tim. (This was when Gibbs decided he needed to record these, because all three of them need instant replay to figure out what the hell it was she did.)

But whatever it was, it worked, while they were gaping at the spot where she had been, Ziva tidily tripped Tim into Jimmy and took both of them down.

As she helped Jimmy up, he said to her, “How can you possibly be that fast?”

“Years of practice.”

They were in the parking lot, having finished for the day when Gibbs said to her, “Ziver, come home with me?”


“Wanna show you something.”

She’s got a curious look in her eyes, and wary, and still some anger, but she nods and slips into her car.

“Come on up. Still haven’t figured out how to do stairs while holding anything.” And while that’s true, even if he could carry something while crutching down the steps, he’d still invite her up for this. He wants the symbol of the intimacy of his bedroom for it.

She follows, looking around, scanning everything, the sort of training that never leaves a person. He knows he still does it every time he’s in a strange place. Should do it every time he’s anywhere, but he’s used to this being home, and doesn’t give it a proper look through when he gets in.

They head up to his room, and he pats the bed, signaling for her to sit down, before heading to his dresser, taking a moment to figure out the mechanics of how to do it, and then opened the bottom drawer, and got one of the photo albums out.

She’s still standing between the bed and the dresser, watching him intensely.

“Look, I’m not doing this standing up.” He put the album on the bed, rested the crutches against the bedside table, and then sat down, scooting over so his back was against the headboard and he was in the middle of the bed. Then he held out one arm to her, while putting the album on her lap.

“Come on, look at some pictures with me.”

“We are going to look at pictures?” she asks, sitting next to him, cross-legged, looking across him, shoulder toward the headboard, very much not snuggling into the offered arm, so he drops it.

“Yeah. When you left to deal with Tony, you said we weren’t done. I know we aren’t. Just…” He licks his lips and inhales deeply, then meets her eyes. “Context.”

It’s the last of the albums. The one where Kelly’s oldest. There are all the usual shots, holidays like Christmas and Halloween, vacation shots of the three of them, school shots, Kelly’s first ballet recital. Just lots of little, common, snaps of a series of intersecting lives. There’s nothing unique about a grandfather spinning his granddaughter around, but it’s Jackson and Kelly. Everyone who’s grown up in places with snow have shots of kiddies playing in the snow, but the ones of Kelly and Gibbs making the snowman together make Ziva smile. (And the one of Shannon standing on the porch, hot chocolate in both hands, watching them, waiting to welcome them in with delicious warmth Gibbs strokes reverently.)

He doesn’t say much while looking at them. Mostly just short answers to her questions, like where is this, or in a few cases, who is that. Mostly he’s letting her see them, letting the content of the pictures say what his voice won’t, can’t.

By half way through the album, she is sitting back against the headboard, his arm around her shoulders.

The last page is two thirds of the way through the album. The last picture is Gibbs kissing Kelly at midnight on New Year’s Eve; they’re both wearing goofy hats that say 1991 on them, and Shannon framed it to get the clock in the shot. That was the first New Year's she was old enough to stay up until midnight.

“Went back to Iraq on the second.” His fingers trace over the shot, and he closes the album.

“I’ve already buried one daughter. I can’t do it again. And like it or not, you aren’t just Special Agent David… or DiNozzo… anymore.” He squeezes her a little more tightly and kisses the side of her head. “Somewhere along the line, maybe when I was walking you down the aisle, maybe when I was holding onto you, trying to keep you from freezing, maybe when I stood in your home and watched you light the candles, but somewhere along the line you became mine.” He smiles at her. “Mine in a way you didn’t used to be. Shifted from being someone I treated like a daughter to my daughter. And I’ll try to do a better job about not pissing you off with it, but I’ve done this once, and I’m not doing it again.”

Ziva looked at the closed album on his lap, snuggled in a little closer to Gibbs, but being careful of his knee. “How about we make a deal? I will do what I can to keep you from burying another daughter. But you will do whatever you can to keep me from burying another father?”

Gibbs smiled at her, kissed her forehead again, and said, “Deal.”


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 282

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

Chapter 282: Dr. Cranston, I Presume

“So how does this work?” Gibbs asks Cranston on Thursday. He’s feeling a very strong desire to get another coffee, but the one in his hand is full. He takes a sip. It’s good. Hot, strong, very black. What’d Jimmy say about it? ‘What do you brew this out of, roofing tar?’ Something like that.

Of course, since he made it, himself, and put it in a travel mug, and brought it with him, it would be exactly the way he liked it, wouldn’t it? He was figuring that Cranston would probably have drinks available, but they'd be tame little things like herbal tea or light roast coffee with hazelnut flavoring or something. (He was sort of right, she's got one of those multi-flavor coffee makers with a whole bunch of little pods in different varieties. Strong, black, chew your tongue off coffee is not among them, however.)

He’s almost wishing for some sort of massive emergency, like another troop transport crash, that’d pull all hands on deck, no matter what.

Okay, so it might not get him pulled into action, because all he can do in the field is limp around and look stern, but it might get Cranston pulled in, and that’d work just as well.

Just because this seemed like a good idea two days ago, doesn’t mean he’s exactly relishing sitting in a very… comforting is probably the right word, everything about this place just oozes comfort and sympathy and empathy, office. Cranston, serene and also, comforting, is looking expectantly at him, right now.

She smiles at him, notices the way he’s fiddling with the coffee cup. He sees her notice and stops.

That gets another smile. “It usually goes something like this, we talk about why you’re here, what you’re looking to get out of this, we talk about where you are, and from there we try to get an idea of what to do to get you to what you’re looking for.”

“Getting back to work.”

“Good start. But, usually for psych evals I get calls from NCIS, not from the person in question.” He can see a sort of amused curiosity in the way she says that. Work may be the goal, but this isn’t how work usually happens.

“It’s not an official psych eval. McGee won’t let me back on until I talk to someone, twice.”


Gibbs isn’t sure if he’s relieved that Rachel isn’t asking about Tim being the one drawing the line here, or upset because he can’t use talking about that to eat up some of this time.

“He thinks my head’s not in the game.”

She tilts her head a little, looking at him intently, thinking. “Is he right?”

Gibbs has never wished more devoutly in his life for a catastrophe than right now. But wishing won’t make it so. He sighs. “I can do the job.”

She writes something quickly, then looks up and says, “Okay. So, he’s wrong, but you’re letting him make you do this, even though he’s wrong?”

Gibbs can feel the trap on this and shuts his eyes. He doesn’t want to own being here, but he can’t admit that Tim’s making him go, because he’s not, not really. He opens them and says, “It’s complicated.”

Not quite a full smile, more the look of someone who knows she’s got someone who wants to talk, but is having a hard time doing it. “We’ve got an hour. Two if you need them. Don’t have another appointment until four. Lay it out for me.”

Gibbs really doesn’t like open-ended questions. At least, not when he’s the one doing the answering. He tries to find a way to build a structure for this, see it like a ship of words. Main beam, support beams, ribs, siding. What idea is all of this riding on? What ideas branch off of it?

“I’m here because I let fear make me give bad advice, and he called me out on it.”

“Doesn’t sound complicated. Was it bad advice about a case?”

Shrug, eyebrows furrow, another sip of coffee. “Not exactly. It was bad advice about how to handle the fear of having someone you love in danger and a case brought that fear on.”

“Doesn’t sound like it’d effect how you do your job.”

“In the sense you’re thinking, it won’t. I can’t chase down a perp right now,” he gently pats his knee, “but I can follow up on leads and interrogate, and my gut still works just fine.”

“And yet you’re here.”

“And I’ll be here at least one more time.”

“Because McGee thinks it’s bad enough you can’t go back to even desk work.”

Gibbs licks his lips, sips the coffee again. “No. He doesn’t.” Gibbs taps the coffee cup. “He’s using that as a way to make sure I do this.”

“The carrot to go with the stick?”

Gibbs nods.

“And how did you end up in a situation where Agent McGee gets to tell you what to do?”

He’s not sure if she doesn’t actually know the answer, or if she wants to see how he understands it. He does know that it’s been two year since he’s seen her in person, and as such she hasn’t been around to see a lot of the changes of the last three years.

While he’s thinking about that, she says, “He married to Abby, now. And she’s basically your adopted daughter, right?”

“Yeah, they just had a baby girl six weeks ago.”


“Thanks.” Gibbs gets out his phone and shows Cranston a picture of Kelly.

“She’s lovely.” Rachel hands the phone back, and sits next to him on the very comfortable sofa. “Any family shots?”

“Lots of them.” Gibbs flips through a lot of them to find one of Tim and Abby and Kelly all together and shows that to Rachel, too. He shows her another of Tim and Jimmy messing around in his backyard. One of Tim holding Molly. He shows her shots of all the girls together: Penny, Ziva, Abby, Breena, Molly, and Kelly. He shows her Tony with Molly riding his shoulders at the pool. There’s one of Ducky gently stroking Kelly’s head while Penny holds her. He doesn’t show her any of the shots with him in them, because they’re his and they’re goofy and private and… And not for today.

“You’re not in them?” she says, looking at a shot of Ziva lighting the Shabbos candles while the rest of the crew stands around the table, waiting for the start of dinner.

“I took them.” Which has the advantage of being both true and misleading.

“So, if McGee were here, I could ask him for photos, and there would be shots of you in them.”

“Yeah.” And knowing Tim, he’d have absolutely no issues at all about showing off the goofy ones.

“So, is it safe to say that there’s a certain level of respect and affection between you and McGee?”


“You trust him with your girl?”


“And he’s one of the men on your team. You trust him with your life, right?”

“Yes, I trust him with my life, and no, it’s not my team anymore, it’s DiNozzo’s.”

“You’re still working, but you’re letting DiNozzo run the team?” She didn't seem to believe that.

“Yeah. I’m retiring soon. We’ve already got the first new member. It just works better with Tony in charge. Explosion took both of us out, which means, until we get back, it’s Tim’s team.”

She makes a note of that and asks, “So, Jethro, is Tim right,” he notices she shifts how she refers to Tim the same way he did, “do you need to be here?”

Gibbs sighs, so much for avoiding this, or getting into it, or… whatever. “Yeah.” He nods, staring at her, looking tired and a little lost.

“And is it really about having your head in the game?”

“Not really. It’s the lever he’s using to make sure I do it.”

“Okay. So, really, what do you hope to get out of this? What do you think he’s hoping you get out of this?”

“He wants me to be happy.”

She smiles warmly at him, and looks at the picture on the phone, this one of all the guys. “That doesn’t sound bad.”


“Are you happy?”

He shrugs, tucks his phone back into his pocket, and sips the coffee again. “I’m better than I’ve been in a very long time.”

“What do you want, Jethro?”

Another drink of his coffee, another moment where he licks his lips, another moment of I’m so horrendously uncomfortable I’d rather be doing anything than talk about this loud and clear in his body language. He looks up at the ceiling, takes yet another drink, and then says, “I wanted to be a good husband, and a good father, and a good Marine. And, for a while, I was.” A very sad smile crosses his face. “But you can’t do all of that at once. So, I was being a good Marine. My country needed me. It called, and off to Iraq I went. I had to be there, because I was good at my job, really good, and Shannon and Kelly were home and safe and… And when I went it was just another deployment, hotter than any I’d been on since Nicaragua, but just another job.

“And I got word that Shannon had witnessed a murder. I didn’t want her to testify. He was bad news and…” He licks his lips again, mentally skipping the fight he and Shannon had about her testifying. Last fight they ever had. Only fight he ever regretted being right about.  

“And I got word that there had been threats on her life. I knew she was in protective custody. Everyone said she’d be safe. I asked for permission to get leave to go home, but they denied it, there was a ground war and all, and I was a good Marine. I followed orders. I didn’t go home. And they died.

“I failed at being a father and husband because I was off being a good Marine. I let other men protect my girls, and they died because of it. And nothing I did in Iraq made a fuck of a difference. We didn’t take Hussein out. We just left him there. Ten years later, we were back again. Hundreds of thousands of people were eaten alive by his regime between the day I got there and the day they finally took him out.

“I can’t say we were making the world a better place. I wasn’t storming Normandy or taking out Nazis. Hell, I was barely taking out members of the Republican Guard. They were surrendering to anything with an American or British flag on it, including TV news crews. So I was there, doing fuck all, which meant I wasn’t home defending the most important people on earth.

He shakes his head. “That was the point of it, ya know? Honor, duty, sacrifice. All of it was in the service of saving lives, of protecting your home and the innocent. I’m a Marine. I’ll always be a Marine. But I couldn’t serve anymore, not after they died, not after that choice meant they… And then they pulled us out without finishing the job… It was death and pain for nothing…” He’s smiling a little, shaking his head, he’s not even angry about how Desert Storm ended anymore, the anger burned so hot for so long it scorched his ability to be angry about it away.

“I still believe in the Marines. I still serve them and our sailors and their families, but I don’t trust ‘orders’ anymore, and I don’t trust the powers that be to use those men and women honestly or wisely…” There’s a long, quiet minute after that. Then he takes another deep breath and says, “Everything that mattered to me died that day. And since then… I don’t know what I want.

“There are things I need. I need to put murderers away. I need to keep my girls safe. I need to protect people.”

She thinks about that, writes a few more words down, and then says, “I know there are things you want. You are not clinically depressed, so there are things you want. Even if it’s stupid or silly. What do you want?”

He looks away from her, spends a moment studying the abstract painting behind her desk. Sunset maybe? Sunrise? Lots of pinks and orange and yellow, little hints of blues and greens. Then he pulls his words together again and looks back at her. “I want them back.” Another head shake. “I want to wake up next to Shannon, and I want to see my Kelly hold Tim’s. I want the family I have to be part of the family I had, and I want all of us together. And I know I can’t have it. I know that if Shannon and Kelly were still here I would have stayed in the Corp and probably died…   

“I want what I can’t have.”

She rests her hand on his, giving it a gentle squeeze, non-verbally rewarding him getting it out, actually saying it, and then withdraws it, and asks another question. “What do you want that you can have?”

He snorts a quick, half-laugh. “Good coffee?”

Rachel smiles at that, laughs gently. “What’s Kelly going to call you when she can talk?”


That got another warm smile out of Rachel. “Are you planning on being an active grandparent?”


“You want that?”

“Yeah.” He nods. He does want that. Never thought about it in that light, but yeah, he wants it.

“That’s a start.” She looks pointedly at his wedding ring. “I’m guessing you didn’t actually get married again since I saw you last?”

“No. Shannon’s ring.”

She thinks about that for a moment, writes a quick note, and says, “Do you want to re-marry?”

That gets an alarmed look out of Gibbs.

“Let me re-phrase, I forgot how loaded a question that is for you. Would you like to have a relationship with a woman and not see her as a daughter?”

“Got one.”

“Really?” That did surprise Cranston.

“Penny Langston. Ducky’s… I’ll say wife because that’s close enough. Tim’s grandma. One third of our grandparenting team.”

Rachel laughs at that. “I’m not sure if that was you deflecting my question, or letting me know that you’re expanding your core of relationships in a healthy way.”


“Probably. Want to take a stab at the question I was actually asking?”

Gibbs looks up, looks away from Rachel, sips his coffee, starts to say something twice, but doesn’t. Finally he says, “Not really.”

“Okay.” But she doesn’t say anything, just letting that ‘okay’ linger.

Frustration is clear on his face as he says, “Not okay. Not really.” He shakes his head again. This is why he’s here. Don’t try to hide from it. Won’t work if you don’t get to the heart of it. “How much did Tony tell you about what happened?”

She starts to shake her head.

“Don’t want you to break confidence or anything, just want an idea of what you know about why we’re here?”

“How about you tell me how you understand what happened? How Tony understands it isn’t particularly useful when it comes to getting into your head.”

So he did. Explaining the case, and the explosion, and the how he was planning on getting off the pain meds, standing up, marching back to work, and telling everyone to go to hell, when he stood up, felt his knee slide out of joint and decided maybe the Doc wasn’t entirely insane about the whole lay around thing, so he sat back down and tried to figure out what the hell do to with himself if he was going to spend a week on his ass at Tim and Abby's house. Tony called in a panic once Ziva went back to work, and somehow, he hadn’t even noticed when it happened, but somehow Ziva slipped from Ziva to Tony’s wife, and went from co-solider manning the barricades to one of the women that get hidden when you’re hiding the women and children. (That got an interested look, and a note, but Cranston didn’t break in or interrupt him on that.) He gave Tony some god-awful bad advice that was part mourning widower, part terrified dad, but completely not Team Leader rationally assessing his team, let alone older, wiser head providing useful counsel, and then there was more about the case, and about living with Tim and Abby for a week, and about, finally, getting home and just missing that. 

“So, I take that to mean you are missing a romantic attachment? And that you want that, as well?”

“Yeah. Maybe not a marriage. I’ve screwed that up in every direction a marriage can be screwed up. And Ducky and Penny aren’t married, doesn’t look like they’re gonna get married, either, but they’re doing fine. So maybe the rings and words don’t matter.”

Rachel raises an eyebrow, looks at the wedding ring, and then wrote another note. “So, what do you want? You imagine this ideal home of yours, what’s there?”

He thinks for another minute, notices the coffee cup is empty when he lifts it to his lips. “Comfort. Another voice. Someone to listen to. Someone to listen to me…” He licks his lips. “It’s dumb…”

“I’m good with dumb. This is a very dumb friendly place.”

He just looks at her, really?  in his gaze, then he answers, “One of the clearest images is just having someone to sit on the sofa with and read. Shoulders to wrap my arm around and rest my chin on.”

“That’s not dumb. What else?”

He didn’t have much else, so he starts to flesh it out as he’s talking to her. What does he want? What did he miss most? “Someone to sort laundry with. Someone to show my sketches to. Someone who asks what I’m working on down there. Someone to call down so I can show off what I’ve done.”

“That sounds really good. What else?”

He thinks for another minute. What else… yeah, he’s lonely, but there’s more than that… What does the ideal look like? “Not fighting?”

“Did you do a lot of fighting with the ex-wives?”

He nods slowly. “Yeah. About everything.”

“Did you and Shannon fight a lot?”

“No. Some, everyone does some, but not a lot. Even you and Mr. Cranston fight every now and again, right?”

She smiles wryly. “Every now and again. Were you picking fights with your other wives?”

He was about to say no, because he never did, verbally. Never set a trap for them to make them want to argue. But, “forgotten” birthdays, late nights with no call home, hiding in the basement, refusing to do anything with their families, taking any assignment, no matter how long or far away from home, sleeping with other women… “Yeah, I did.” 


He half-lifts the coffee cup, remembers it’s empty and puts it down again. “They weren’t Shannon.”

“The shoulder your chin is resting on, is it Shannon’s?”

“You mean when I imagine it?”

“Yeah, when you see it in your head, is it Shannon?”


“Most of the time?”

He thinks more. “’Bout half.”

“How about this time last year?”

He thinks about it. “Wasn’t thinking as much about it then.”

“As much, or at all?”

“As much. When Tony and Ziva started hosting Shabbos… That was back at the end of ’13, there was a change. I was home, with a family, doing family things, that started it. We were a family before, sort of… No… we weren’t. We were really close co-workers. We were a team or a unit or whatever. But it was all work. Once, twice a year we’d get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but that wasn’t the same. That was a bunch of people who were in the trenches together spending some off time together rather than be alone. Tony'd come over for dinner or a drink every now and again. Abby’d come over sometimes, but not a whole lot, not like she does now. Ziva did a few times, too, but she always kept her private life private. Never even saw Tim in my basement until he started dating Abby. We were a team. We were… close… friendly… depended on each other… trusted each other… but, not intimate. But we’re not anymore, now we’re a family.”

“And spending time with people who have loves and lives outside of work is reminding you of how much you miss that?”


“So, closeness, comfort, peace, someone to talk and listen to, what else do you see in this ideal home?”

“Is there more?”


He gives her a of course, I’m old, not dead look.

“But you didn’t mention it. Didn’t think of it. Or did you just not want to say it to me?”

Good point. He didn’t think of it. Not right now. It was part of what he was thinking about as he sat on the step. Why not? “Sex isn’t too difficult to get. I want that and miss it, too, but it’s not…” He sighs again. “I can get laid. And I’m old enough that taking care of myself scratches that itch pretty well. So… it’s not sex…”

“It’s sex in the context of love and care and peace and family?”

“Yeah. The good morning kiss that runs hot.”

Rachel nods. “Are there children in this home?”

“Sometimes. The grandkids, Kelly and Molly, and the new one that’s due in December. Hopefully at least one more.”

Cranston flashes him a questioning look.

“I hope Ziva and Tony have one, one day. Love it if there’s more than the three of them. I’ll be good with just the three, though.”

“None of your own?”

He looks really startled by that idea, then finally says, “I’m too old. Helping out with Kelly has made it clear that I do not want to be a full time, 24/7 parent of a newborn again. And I’m way too damn old to start dating a woman young enough to have one. And even if I wasn’t, it’s not an option any longer.”

That questioning look again. “Too much risk?”

“Vasectomy back in ’82.”

“Ah.” That got a note, too. She glances over at her clock, fifty seven minutes down. “You want to keep going, or wrap up?”

“I’m good with wrap up.”

Rachel smiles dryly. “I’m deeply shocked. Homework for next time—“


“Yep. I’ll play to your strengths. Tactical planning and assessment, I want a step by step plan for how to get to your fantasy home.”

“Isn’t that why I’m here with you?”

“Yep. But we start with a plan, and then we work on it, see what’s there, see where you’ve gotten tripped up before, things like that.”

He inclines his head, a physical version of ‘Oh.’

“Yeah. If you want the gold star, you can give me the version of how you got your past three wives or any serious girlfriends, and what you’re going to do differently this time.”

“Sounds like work.”

She smiles one last time. “Monday?”

He nods. “Monday.”


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 281

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

Chapter 281: The Price

Make up sex is brilliant. There’s all the intensity of the emotions of the fight. Then there’s the even more intense ‘I’m so sorry; I hate you being angry at me; I hate being angry at you; I love you so much.’

It’s really, really nice.

The problem is, you can’t get to hot, happy, make up sex when the last time you had the exact same argument you pretended to make up, and then did exactly what you were going to do in the first place.

Because you can only get to the make-up sex when there’s trust that you have, indeed, made up.

So, while there had been yelling, and talking, and crying, and more talking, and more yelling between the DiNozzos, there hadn’t been any make-up sex.

There hadn’t been any cuddles.

Or hugs.

Because they aren’t made up.

Right now, Tony’s pretending to be asleep on the sofa (wasn’t allowed in their bedroom last night) while his ninja stealths around their home.

Someone once said, that if you’re getting along, even the smallest home has plenty of room, and when you aren’t, you can have acres of space and it’s not enough.

So, while it’s true they don’t have a huge apartment, until Ziva came home last night, furious, it had never seemed too small. It’s way too damn small, now. Technically, the entire eastern seaboard may be too small right now.

“I know you are not asleep.” She doesn’t look at him as she says it. She’s very intently making coffee, back toward him, facing the counter.

He sighs, opening his eyes, staring at the ceiling. “I know I’m not asleep, too.”

“Then why are you pretending?”

“I’m tired.” And he is, bone deep, every cell in his body begging for rest, tired. “Just want to rest.”

“Then rest!” Ziva says, slamming down the coffee mugs.

He sits up slowly, rubbing his head. He’s had a headache for two days, because of the fighting, not the concussion. “Not going to rest until this is done.” He hasn’t really slept since the bomb, and today isn’t likely to change that. (Also part of why his head hurts. He always gets headaches when he gets too low on sleep.)

This isn’t going to be done anytime soon, so you might as well sleep. Maybe if you got some sleep you’d be sane enough to realize you are being completely unreasonable.”

“It is not unreasonable to ask you to value your life!”

“No, it’s not. But you didn’t ask.” She whips around to face him as the sk on ask slides off her tongue.

He just shrugs. “It’s not unreasonable to expect you to value your life.”

“I do value my life!”

“Not enough. If you’re going to…” He shakes his head, not willing to finish that sentence.

“You are not asking me to value my life! You are trying to make me your pet!”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes you are. You wouldn’t have done that to McGee or Gibbs. You respect them enough to actually tell them the truth.”

“It’s not about respect.”

“Of course, it is! You say you love me, but you don’t respect me, not if you’re willing to do that. Making decisions for me, not telling me about it, lying to me about it. That is not respect.”

“I knew you wouldn’t like it.” And he did. He wouldn’t have lied about it if he thought she’d have been okay with what he was going to do.

“Exactly! You don’t pull this sort of crap on Gibbs or McGee. If you want to do something they don’t like, you own up to it and tell them about it. It’s completely about respect. You respect them enough not to lie to them.”

“It’s not respect! I don’t love either of them enough…” Tony shakes his head. “The world doesn’t stop turning if something bad happens to them. I knew you wouldn’t like it. I knew you’d be angry. And I didn’t care because you angry and alive is better than you dead and happy.”

Ziva’s furious again, and the coffee cup in her hand is in serious danger of being squeezed so hard it shatters. “That’s not how you treat people! That’s how you treat a child or a pet. You do not get to make that decision. You do not get to just… ignore how I feel about it. You are my husband, not my father, and no one, no one has any right to treat me like that, not anymore. Not you, not Gibbs. I am not a child, let alone your child, and I get to make my own decisions.”

He stands up, walks across the living room and kitchen to her. He stares her in the eyes, tired, angry, hurting, all of it in his face and voice. “You made the wrong one! You stop getting to make that decision when you make the wrong one.”

Something very intense, very hot, and very not English spills from her lips as Ziva glares at him. Then she turns, pushes past him, out of the kitchen, and says, “This is useless! I’m going out. You sleep. I’ll calm down. We’ll try again in a few hours.”


Easier said than done. But at least right now, he can lay in their bed (more comfy than the sofa), stretch out, cuddle into pillows that smell like her, and not sleep.

Because sleeping requires a quiet mind.

And right now his mind is anything but quiet.

Lying about it wasn’t a good plan. But he knew she wouldn’t go for it, knew if he said, I want you on a different team, I can't take this anymore, it’d piss her off, but, if she could find out about it as something accomplished, done and unchangeable, then she’d be pissed, but, eventually, she’d like having her own team, and then they’d go on.

Then McGee butts his big ass into this and fucks the whole thing sideways. 

It’s his team. Not McGee’s. Three days of running things doesn’t make it McGee’s team. He’s in charge of who’s on it, not McGee. It’s his job to make sure it’s running right, not McGee’s, and he gets to define what running right is. And if that’s just the three of them, slowly adding in new people, then that’s what it is.

Except that’s crap, and he knows it’s crap, the problem isn’t that McGee counteracted the shift. The problem was trying to move her in the first place.


Part of being a friend is smacking you upside the head when you’re being an idiot, and McGee’s being his friend.

Part of being an adult is seeing the problems that are there and taking responsibility for your part in them.

And all of being the leader is seeing the problems, facing them head on, and tackling them.

He sees it in his head again. Ziva standing next to them. Hears her say it, ‘You go. I go.’ Gibbs has his knife out, ready to cut, and he knocks it away, yanks out the detonator and tosses it. The most Hail Mary pass of the history of Hail Mary passes.

He stares at the ceiling. Feeling her body under his, hearing the almost slithering rush of the fire, how there was that second where he could hear it before the heat poured over them, then that month-long second between the fire and the blast.

Conversion aside, he’s not much of a praying man. He and God have a deal, and swapping out from not overly Catholic to not overly Jewish didn’t change that. But as the fire rushed over them, he was certainly begging God to get her through this, and even with as loud as the fire was, and his heart beating so hard as to drown out almost everything else, he could still hear her say the Shema, and…

And he panicked. He knows that. Or he took a calculated risk, but did the math wrong. Either way, letting Gibbs cut the wire was probably the better answer.

And he’s not sure which scares him worse, that her being at risk made him make the bad decision, or her running in to join them.

Her running in. He can (he hopes) control the panic. He can (still hoping) control himself.

He can’t control her.

And he knows that.

And trying was stupid.

But you do stupid things when the person you love above all others puts herself at risk. When fear reaches up, colors your world sickly green, chokes off your breath, makes your joints go week and your stomach clench, you do whatever you can to make it stop.

Ziva’s wildness, the fact that he couldn’t control her, that had always interested him. That, as much as her body, got his attention at first.

Like with Kate, the fact that she would be a challenge, that she wouldn’t just go along for the ride, that made him want to make her want to go along.

Be careful what you wish for.

He did it. He got her signed on for the long haul. He won her love and respect (at least, he’d had it up until he hit send on that email) and then came face to face (again) with why it’s easier to keep the walls in place.

After all, how many times can you volunteer to let your heart have the shit beaten out of it?

Of course, if he’s being honest with himself, he knows he’s doing it back to her. She scared him so bad, and that fear hurt so much, that he’s doing it to her, making her hurt the way he hurt.

And it’s not cool, or good, or responsible, or anything he wants to be, but… it’s true. Maybe, beyond acknowledging the fear, it’s the first true thing he’s thought about this.

Because you don’t just do crap like that, and all the justifications on Earth don’t make it all right.

And by hurting her, he’s hurting himself, and on some level, he feels like he deserves that, too.

The sound of her opening the door didn’t wake him up. Have to be asleep to wake up.

It did stop him staring at the ceiling. He gets up slowly, heads to the door of their bedroom, opens it, and leans against the door jam. She’s in the living area, just standing there, looking in his direction.

“I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“Not enough.” Calming down time does not appear to have done much to help with Ziva being pissed off.

“Right now, I’m sorry about this whole thing.”

“Yes, I know, you made that abundantly clear last night. That you are sorry about this whole thing starting with falling in love and ending with lying to me. You’d rather have just stayed a gigolo.”

Yeah, so apparently mentioning that particular bit of doubt, which he’d done as an ‘I’m so scared and in love with you and I don’t know what to do with myself because this was so much easier before’ thing hadn’t been the right tact.

He rubs his forehead. “I love you. I am so terrified that something will happen to you. I hate feeling like this. I hate that I don’t know what to do with this.”

“Just stop it!” Ziva bites out. “You are not alone. You are not the only one feeling fear. You aren’t the only one who’s lost someone. You’re the only one who decided to cut one of us out of the picture and act alone. You’re the one who spent hours talking with me about our future, about getting everything in order, about making sure we’d go on… You’re the one who lied to me! You’re the one who cut me out!”

“I’m sorry!” he shouts that, then gets under better control. “It was stupid, and I’m sorry.”

“I don’t care if you’re sorry! You hurt me, and all the sorry on Earth doesn’t take it away. You cannot just make it better by being sorry. It’s not like this was some sort of thing where you just did not know I’d be upset. It’s not like you stepped on my toe or forgot my birthday or this is some sort of misunderstanding. You lied to me!”

“I know. You scared the shit out of me, scared me so bad, made me so angry… I wanted you to feel it, too!”

Ziva looks like she had been getting ready to say something, but that stops her dead. She spends a minute thinking, then says, “So this is… what… revenge?”

“I don’t know. It was stupid it what it is. It was panic and pain and my balls doing the thinking and not my head. And I shouldn’t have lied, and I may not be sorry I hurt you, because, honestly I’m still too fucking pissed at you to be sorry about that, but I still know it was stupid.” He steps closer to her, stopping before he can touch her, wanting to see if she’d meet him halfway, and she does, stepping to him, staring up into his eyes, not touching, though. “And if you want to be angry about me lying to you, fine, I get that, I understand it, and yeah, it was stupid. But I don’t care if you’re angry about me trying to keep you alive. I don’t care if you don’t like my tactics.” His hands close over her shoulders, gentle, and she can feel the slight tremors in his fingers. “I DON’T CARE if I have to lie, cheat, or steal to do it, but you are going to outlive me, and not by minutes or seconds, but by years, decades if I have any say in it. You say you love me, then prove it, don’t ever run into a bomb for me again, don’t throw yourself in front of the bullet.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I don’t care. I know which one of us is the better person, and it’s not me.”


“No! That’s the line in the sand for our relationship. That’s the one boundary that cannot be crossed. Anything else we can talk out, work through, forgive, but you will not throw your life away for mine. That’s it. Love, honor, cherish, bullshit! I don’t care. LIVE! That’s your vow to me. That’s the only one I want, and the only one that matters.

“Not once have you said you were sorry for running into the bomb. It’s all about it’s your choice, and I don’t get a say in it, and I don’t get to be mad about it, and I don’t get to try and stop that, and it’s fucking bullshit! I save lives. That’s my  job. That’s all I’ve ever cared about doing for my entire adult life. That’s it. And I will be damned to fucking hell for the entire rest of eternity if I can’t save YOU!”

Ziva just stares at him, eyes wide, visually tracing the path of the tears running down his cheeks. “I… just…”

He shakes his head, breathing hard, and then says quietly, “That’s your promise to me. You want me, that’s the cost.”

She closes her eyes and sighs, then takes his hands in hers, and pulls him along to sit next to her on the sofa. “How can we be a team if I don’t have your back?”

He’s looking at her hands, her wedding band, then looks up to her eyes and says, “You go home at the end of the day, and that’s all the having my back I’ll ever need.”

She’s looking like she’s trying to find some wiggle room. “Our job is dangerous…”

“I’m not saying avoid danger. I know the job is dangerous. I’m not saying take a desk job. I’m not saying don’t ever go out again. But if you run into danger when you can’t help, when there’s nothing you can do but die… If I survive it… That’s it. You don’t think it’s fair? I don’t care. You cannot ask me to watch you die for nothing.”

“You aren’t nothing.”

“You weren’t going to die for me. Not then. You didn’t even reach for the bomb. You were going to die with me, and that’s… No! That’s my line that can’t be crossed.”

Ziva says sadly, “You have said nothing about living yourself. I don’t get to ask that of you, do I?”

Tony shakes his head again. “You don’t. And it’s not fair, and it’s not even, and I know it. But it’s who I am. I run into the fire to die with you, you don’t run in for me.”

“And you get to just dictate this?”

He shrugs. He knows he can make the promise, but he won’t keep it. “I could lie about it again.”

She glares at him.

“This is it. All honesty, I get to die for or with you, you don’t get to die with me, and if you think that’s me treating you like a child, if you think it’s disrespectful, I’m comfortable with that. This is who I am. I’m going out for a few hours. You think about it. And, I hope…”

He didn’t finish that sentence. He stands up pushes his feet into a pair of sneakers, and heads out of their home.

His wedding ring is a plain gold band. He’d inscribed hers with אתם לא לבד/you are not alone because he liked the promise of it, liked what he meant by it, how that was the day when he saw them having a future in a concrete sort of way.

His, though, is just blank gold.

There’s a jeweler only a few streets down from their apartment, so he heads in that direction. He’s not sure how long what he wants done will take, but he hopes it’ll be fast.

No one else is there. Not a lot of business at two on a Tuesday.

The jeweler hears him and jumps to attention. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so.” He took off his wedding ring and handed it over. “How long would it take to get it engraved?”

“Depends on what you want.”

“Got a piece of paper?”

“Sure.” The clerk lays his ring on the counter, then pokes around for a moment before coming up with a pad and a pen and handing them both over.

אני אחיה.  “That’s what I want.”

“Never tried Hebrew before, but…” He picks up Tony’s ring again, checking how wide it is, looking back at the Hebrew letters. “Yeah, I can do that. Probably about two hours. Give me some time to practice before I do it to your ring.”

Tony nods, turns, and was half way out the door when the jeweler asks, “What’s it mean?”

“I will live.”

He left, seeing the jeweler’s eyebrows still high.  

Three hours later, he’s in the elevator heading back up to their apartment.

He’s not wearing his ring. It’s in his pocket. The Hebrew looks good. All the characters are right. It’s nicely centered.

And hopefully this isn’t the stupidest thing he’s ever done.

She’s at the dining room table, cleaning both of their guns. He knows that she hears when he walks in, but she doesn’t say anything.

He stands behind her, staring at the back of her head, and then places the ring on the table next to her left hand.

“When you can make this promise, you can put it back on me. I want to wear it, but I can’t, not if this isn’t part of it.” Then he steps back, heading for the door again.

She’s staring at it, hasn’t turned to look at him. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know.” He’s still facing the door. “McGee says his door is always open, but I’m not sure I can take McWedded-Bliss right now. I’ve got my phone. Call, and I’ll come.” And then he steps out, into the hall, heading toward the elevator.

He’d pressed the button for the ground floor, but doors hadn’t even shut when his phone rang.

She was standing outside their door, looking down the hall at him, ring in her hand.

She crooks her finger at him, and he came to her, she’s not smiling, or looking particularly happy with him.

He stands in front of her, watching, waiting to see what happens next.

“You will never lie to me again.”

He nods.

She gathers her hand in his, and slips the ring back over his finger. “Come home with me.”

He steps in.

And they weren’t done. There was still a lot of talking, and some crying, but no more yelling. And in the end they had agreed to go see a marriage counselor, because she’s not thrilled with the you will live ultimatum, but she understands that’s his price, and she’s willing to pay it.

And the make-up sex, (which, granted, happened on Wednesday, because they were both exhausted and needed the sleep after that fight) was excellent.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 280

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

Chapter 280: The Next Step

“You sure? You’ve got a lot of stairs at your place…”

Gibbs just nods.  They’ve just finished his checkup with the orthopedic specialist, and yes, he’s healing up nicely, and has gotten the green light to start moving around again.

He’s glad that Tim’s making sure he knows he’s still welcome at their house, but the Doc says he can start gimping around more, that he doesn’t need to be on his ass all the time, so he wants to go home.

“Okay.” Tim nods, putting  his key in the ignition. “You’ve got no food at your place, so write up a grocery list. I’ll drop you off, get the food, and then drop it off…” Left unspoken is: Let you spend an hour on your own, see if you’re really up to it, and then offer to take you back to my home again.

“I’ll be fine, Tim.”

“Great. You hurt yourself on the stairs, and Abby’ll kill both of us. You for being stupid, and me for letting you.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Tim gives him a long look, and Gibbs can read the I didn’t just meet you last week. I know exactly what careful means, and if you don’t want to spend another two hours getting yelled at by another pissed off woman, you damn well better not go falling down the steps. “You better.”

Gibbs rolls his eyes a bit. “I will.” Really, I’ll take it easy. Two hours with Ziva yesterday was more than long enough.

Tim nods. Okay, I believe you, this time.

An hour and a half later, Gibbs is home, alone, with a ton of food. He knows what was on the grocery list he sent Tim, and he knows what Tim got him, and… well… apparently he’s giving Jethro a less than subtle hint that maybe eating something of a vegetable nature every now and again would be a good plan.

He’s not entirely sure what this leafy green stuff is (kale, maybe?) but he does know it looks a hell of a lot like the spinach his mom would try to get him and his dad to eat.


He’d been expecting to get home and just revel in the quiet and alone. That’s who he is. The guy who gets home from work, tosses his keys on the table by the door, and then hits the sofa or his basement for some quiet.

And he did that, for about five minutes. (Might have worked better if he’d headed to the basement, and yeah, he can do steps, but he’s not steady enough on his feet to be standing without the crutch, but the only thing he’s got on tap right now it making sure all the wood for Baby Palmer’s crib is in order, which means planing, and he can’t do that sitting down.)

For about five minutes, sitting on his own sofa, in his own house, his own, quiet, house felt really good.

He loves Tim and Abby, but the soundproofing in their house sucks. And he’s glad they’ve got a healthy relationship and that they’re enjoying each other that much, but he didn’t feel the need to be that well acquainted with what them having a good time sounds like. And once he got off the heavy duty painkillers, Kelly crying woke him up, too, and he’d usually get pretty well back to sleep, and then the sound of footsteps taking Kelly back to her crib post-nursing would wake him up again.

So, Tim and Abby’s place isn’t precisely quiet, or restful.

Add the hours of Ziva just yelling at him last night on top of that…

So, yeah, quiet: beautiful, blessed quiet.

And sure, it’s not like he didn’t spend years sleeping on his sofa. It’s not like the futon in Tim’s office is bad or anything, but he’s really looking forward to stretching out on his own bed. To sleep. All the way through the night.

That’ll be excellent.  

So, why doesn’t this feel right anymore?

“You free?” he asks Fornell.

“Still wrapping up the case your boy dropped on us. Seventeen down, thirty-six to go. Haven’t been home for more than an hour since Friday. Why?”

“Nothing. Just wondering if you wanted dinner.”

“I do, but it’s not happening today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after. Ender had all the goods on guys all over the world. We’re wrapping them up as fast as we can. The word’s out, they know they’ve been compromised, and they are running as fast as they can.”

“I’ll let you get back to it.”

“Thanks. Sunday maybe? Have dinner with Wendy and I?”


Piles of food. Lots of good stuff. Gibbs decides to go see Elaine and let her feed him.

Cooking for just himself feels almost beside the point. He intentionally doesn’t think about how he cooked for himself for years, decades, and sure, he ate out a lot, but that had as much to do with the job as not necessarily wanting to cook. He does not think about how much more he enjoys cooking, even if it is just whipping up a pan of eggs, if someone besides him is going to eat them.

Then, as he gets into his truck, puts the key into the ignition and pushes his-- Holy shit… okay that’s just not working. He can’t push down on the gas pedal like that without pain shooting through his knee.

Come on, there has to be a way to do this. He messes around a bit more, adjusts the seat, plants his heel on the floor of the car, making sure he’s not going to move it, and tries again, just moving his foot.


It’s not comfortable, but it’s not white hot pain through his knee, either.

“You make a break for it, Hon?” Elaine asks as he heads in, propping the crutch against the counter.

“Only so long I can go without seeing you.”

She shakes her head, smiling. “Sweet talker. I’ll have your coffee up in a minute, pot’s not quite done yet.”

“Take your time, I’m not in a hurry.”

“Usual?” She’s watching him, looking him over carefully, seeing more than just Jethro in jeans and a t-shirt, sensing the patterns that are shifting.

“Eh… No. Not today. Surprise me?”

Elaine smiled at him.

“So, what’s going on? I was expecting to see Tim again,” Elaine says as she pours him his coffee.

“Just got the all clear from the Doc, so I’m on my own again.”

She gives him a long look.

“I’ve already been read the riot act by Tim. I’m being careful.”


One of the customers waved for a refill, and Elaine headed over to him, a minute later she was back. “That’s not all that’s going on, is it?”

Gibbs sips his coffee, look on his face saying, More’s going on, but I don’t know exactly what, yet.

“You’ll figure it out.”

This time the look said, Glad to hear it.

Elaine knows that’s as far as Gibbs can go with this now, so she asks, “How many tattoos does Tim have Until I saw him this weekend, I didn’t have him pegged as the type.”

“Three now, four soon. Getting one on his leg to celebrate Kelly soon.”

She looks mildly surprised at that. Not the tattoo per se, but the location. Usually people put tattoos in places other people see them. “Didn’t think he was a shorts kind of guy, either.”

Gibbs shakes his head, smiles, and says, “He’s not. Kilts. He likes kilts.”

“There’s a man with a lot of sides to him.”

Gibbs smiles.

Home again. His nice, quiet home.

His nice, quiet, empty home.

He tossed the keys on the table, put his phone down gently, plugging it in to charge, and looked around.

Everything is exactly where he left it.

Everything is exactly as he likes it.

So why isn’t this home anymore?

He hobbled over to the second from the bottom step and sat down, he can see most of the downstairs from there.

Once upon a time this was home. This was the place he went when the day was done. This was solace and comfort and… and quiet.

Why did quiet matter? Why was it so important that this place would be still?

Because noise meant family, and after three failed attempts at family he figured out that he couldn’t get it back and second best wasn’t good enough.

If it wasn’t going to be his girls, his life, his loves, then he wanted quiet and still and alone.

A long time ago, Ziva asked him, ‘Are you lonely, Gibbs?’ and he said no, and sure, he was lying, but, he wasn’t, too.

He wasn’t lonely in the sense of longing for people. (Okay, that’s crap, too. He wasn’t lonely in the sense of longing for people and hoping he’d have them again. He’d given up on hope.)

He’d told her you’re never lonely when you have kids, and kissed her forehead, called her kid, and that was true. That Ziva was and is his is true. (Even if she is spitting mad at him right now. Two hours of yelling resulted in two hours of yelling and a hoarse voice. Then Tony called, and she stopped firing at Gibbs, and started in on Tony. But she did agree to go home and yell at him in person, so that might be a step in the right direction. The last thing she said to him before leaving was, “We are not done!”)

But you are lonely when you have kids. You’re especially lonely when you can see them make lives, homes, and loves, and feel how you had that, and how much you miss it.

He thinks that’s part of what changed, why he’s sitting here, thinking about how this isn’t home anymore.
Since Kelly was born he’s been spending more and more time in a home, a real home. Because it’s not really home if it’s just you. Home needs people.

And sure, he’s not feeling any need to listen to another night of Tim and Abby making love, but that’s part of what’s crystalizing what he’s missing. Not sex. (Okay, yeah, he misses sex. It has been a while, but that’s intentional.) Not just sex. Not just people. Not just family in the sense of parents and children.

It’s the whole damn package.

It’s love and care and people who pet you when you need petting, people who you pet when they need it. It’s touch and pleasure and noise and someone to ask you what the hell it was you did during the day while you were away and someone you want to tell about it. It’s smiles and care and someone else to eat the food you make and another voice when you fold your laundry and…

And this isn’t a home. This is a house. This is a grave. A mausoleum he crawled into when his girls died, and he never did right by the other girls he brought here.

What did Tim say? ‘You’ve been floundering around in the wilderness too damn long. It’s time to come home. You’re almost there, so let’s finish this. Let’s get you home.’

Time to come home.

Time to build his own home, again.

He rubbed his thumb over his wedding ring, lurched up onto his good foot, took two hops to the table his phone lives on, and shuffled through his contact numbers.

He stared at it for a long minute before hitting it.


“Hey, Rachel. Could we talk?”

He can feel that gentle smile of hers. “Certainly. When were you thinking?”

“Doesn’t have to be right now. You have, appointments, right?”

“Yes, I do. That’s usually how this works.”

“I’d like to make one.”