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?”
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.”