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.”
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.”