Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 301

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

Chapter 301: Inevitable

When he gets home, he opens up his computer, not really sure what he wants to do.

Not true.

Not really comfortable with what he wants to do.

What he wants to do is call Rachel up and just talk to her. Well, what he'd really like to do is actually see her, share a cup of coffee, and talk to her. But he knows that's a bad plan. They are, as she made very clear, not dating. Technically, she's not actually a friend. He can't just call her up at 8:53 on a Thursday night just to talk because he had a bad day.

But, God, he wants to. She'd sip her coffee, listen attentively, ask good questions, help him sort out his head in a way that woodworking just doesn't.

In a way that isn't lonely.

But he can't ask her to come over. Can't suggest going to her. This little fantasy of talking to her, her on his sofa, listening to him, is already dangerously close to over the line, and actually seeking her out would be way over the line.

So he won't.

But he can email, and ask to shift this week's assignment. In that it's October and his thirty-sixth wedding anniversary is creeping up on him, he's supposed to be coming up with a plan for what he's going to do to mark the day.

He can ask to put that off, right? That's within bounds, right?

So, he opens his email account, and begins to hit the compose button when he looks to his contact list on the left and sees the little green dot next to Rachel Cranston.

He's aware of those dots. Noticed them before. But he doesn't know what they mean.

He pulls out his phone and flashes a text to Tim. What's the little green dot next to someone's name on gmail mean?

Three minutes later he gets back I'm fine, too. Thanks for asking. How are you?

He rolls his eyes. Frustrated. I don't know what the green dot means.

It means the person's online.

So if I send an email they'll get it immediately?

Yeah. Or you can chat with them.

How's that work?

Double click on the name, little box pops up, type. Who you talking to? Tony?

No. Already talked to Tony.

How's he doing?

Better than he was two hours ago.


Tomorrow or the next day.

Probably Saturday, not sure when I'm getting back.

Back? Where are you?

Tracked down a lead in PA. Snagged Draga, heading north. Traffic on the beltway means we're just hitting the middle of Maryland right now.

Gibbs is glad to hear he's got a lead, more happy yet that he's following it, but then something else hits him. Did you tell Tony you found a lead?

There's a minute where nothing comes up on his phone, and then one word flashes up. Shit. Two minutes later: Done. Have gotten permission to go to PA and hunt down lead. I wouldn't mind if he thought I worked this late in the lab and just left.

Gibbs shakes his head. Ziva's right, Tim needs to go. He's beyond ready. There's taking initiative, and then there's you're in charge on your own. He knows he wouldn't be thrilled if Tim just ran off, snagging another agent, on his watch without at least a heads up as to what's going on.

Good plan. He types. Tony doesn't need to know, this soon after the two of them blowing up, that Tim's on his own.

So, who you want to chat with?

Tomorrow. Dinner. Your place. Hate texting.

No problem. See you then.

He double clicks on Rachel's name and a little box did appear in the lower right corner of his screen. Sort of like texting then, but at least for this he's got a real keyboard.

So… how do you start this?


He's feeling stupidly off balance waiting for the response. Half-afraid that he's intruding on her, half-nervous that she just won't respond, but mostly feeling foolish that he's so out of sorts he can't wait until Monday and just talk to her then.

Hello Jethro.

He feels like he can hear her voice as those words pop up on his screen.

Now what?

Can I change my assignment for this week?

Having trouble?

No… Not like that. Lot happened this week. Wanna talk about it.

That's not a problem. How about you send me an email, get me up to date, and we can hit the ground running on Monday?

That sounds good.

The screen stays blank and he's not sure how to sign off for this.

He types goodnight but deletes it before hitting enter.

I'll have it in your inbox by tomorrow. That he does hit enter for.

And a few seconds later he gets back. Looking forward to it. See you Monday.

It took him close to three hours to get it all out and it's probably the most… real… thing he's ever tried to put into words.

It's rambling, and doesn't make a ton of sense, but the swings are there, that resignation he had before Tim gave him the out, the elation of getting another year, the desperate grab for more time, feeling like shit for pulling it on Tony, guilt for that, ripping it up, burning the bridge, and now this just sort of numb, terrified hopelessness.

Not knowing what to do, what comes, next.

Being scared by that, too.

How he's afraid he needs more than just the kids and grandkids. How he's afraid that until he finds it, he'll be clinging to them so hard they'll get sick of him. That he's afraid there isn't more, not for him.

That he doesn't know who he is if he's not a cop.

That getting booted out is so fucking unfair. It'd be one thing if he couldn't do the job anymore, but he's getting shelved because he's… inconvenient and expensive. And he's angry at it. Angry at Tony right now, even though he probably shouldn't be. Tony's more than within his rights to want his job, he's earned it, he's put the time in, and Gibbs' clock has almost zeroed out so suddenly adding more time wasn't fair, either.

But running out when you can still do it… He's good at his job. He's probably one of the best at his job, but being the best, or near best, doesn't matter, because it's not a meritocracy. That makes him want to rage.

But mostly, through all of it, is scared. For almost twenty-three years he's always known what he was going to do the next day. He was going to get up, grab a shower, throw on some clean clothing, and then do the job. And maybe nothing else would be stable, or make sense, or make him feel good, but that's always been there.

And come January 16th, it won't be.

But sitting in front of his computer won't solve it. Nothing'll solve it. The clock won't go backwards, and it keeps running forward, closer to tomorrow. So he heads to bed. Might as well try to get some sleep.

It's not like he usually springs out of bed with a song in his heart and joy in his soul. It's more like he sort of grumbles his way out. His team… he sighs… Tony's team, knows he's about as much fun as a splinter under your fingernail until he's got some coffee in him, and stomping out of his nice comfortable bed, and usually fairly pleasant dreams, does nothing to make that any better.

But he's fairly reliable about wake up, get up, get showered, get dressed, eat, and out the house. He doesn't laze around in bed. He doesn't linger in the shower. He's a Marine, and Marines are up, in, out, and done. (Shannon used to have a rather off-color joke about that, one he had appreciated greatly. Though back in those days, he didn't go sprinting out of bed right after waking up if he didn't have work. In fact, before Kelly, on several occasions, they didn't make it out of bed for anything but food and the bathroom. He misses those days.)

He doesn't have an alarm.

Doesn't need one.

His body knows when to get up, and it doesn't matter when he went to bed, he's up when he needs to be.

But this morning, he's just… laying there, not really feeling like it's worth getting up.

And the little mental pep talk (bad guys to get, people to arrest, lives to save) isn't exactly revving his engine. He finally wills himself out of bed by the sheer fact that if he's late to work and doesn't give them a reason for it, they'll send out the Mounties to go find him.

And lying in bed in a bad mood is nothing he wants to expound on, let alone why he's in the bad mood.

He gets in after Tony and Ziva, and both of them are at their desks reading up on something. No Tim or Draga, so they must still be in PA working that lead.

"We got Mason and his lawyer in?" Gibbs asks.

Tony nods toward Ziva who is reading up on Tim and Draga's notes. "They'll be in a ten. McGeek and TechSupport Mark II are both grilling Eva Flanders, the bookkeeper at Herden's Titanium Works. Should get a report back in an hour or so about them moving up the food chain. Ziva's playing catch up for talking with Mason and his lawyer. You're going to go in there with her, look menacing, and if any of her questions get to him, make a note of it. We'll send McGee and Draga in on the second run."

"I can do that."

And he did. Because he loves the job. Because doing it feels right. And even if he's not the Boss, the rhythms of a case, of paperwork, of puzzles to solve and people to save are his life.

He's sitting next to Ziva, keeping a close eye on Mason, and as he does it he feels his silence coming back. Not that he'd ever gotten particularly talky at work, but the shield of no words will help keep fear and sorrow, not tamed down, but hidden.

It'll help get the job done, and if he can only do it for two and half more months, he'll do it as much, as fully, and as well as he can.

But he can't talk about it, because if he does, it'll show through his voice.

The end is near, and he can't pretend that it isn't.


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