Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 307

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

Chapter 307: Diane

Interagency squabbling over who gets the lead is the fun part. But once that's done, and the perp's behind bars, there's the much less fun part of alphabet soup cooperation. Namely, you and all your compatriots sit down with the casework, go through all of it, and then break it down into who's got jurisdiction over what, how, why, and all the rest of it.

It's long, boring, and usually as soon as you get something worked out the prosecutors toss the whole damn thing out anyway.

But you've still got to do it.

Gibbs entirely understands why Tim is sitting there, across from Fornell and Diane in the conference room, all of them with their laptops out, working on who gets what (The answer that seems to be winning: Diane gets all of it. Don't mess with the IRS. The IRS always wins.) while Tim explains how he got them to Bing in the first place.

And given the way Fornell was glaring at Draga, and the way Diane was watching him like she wanted to pounce on him while they waited in the bullpen for Tim to grab his stuff, Gibbs gets why Draga isn't in there with them.

But, beyond amusing Tony, he's not seeing any reason why he's in there. Not like his presence is enriching the discussion on any level.

So, while it's true that he's not doing anything particularly useful on a helping Tim keep a hold of any of the case. (Tim's doing as well as can be expected, namely he's losing. Diane is rapidly taking over the entire case. At this point, pretty much the only thing they'll be able to keep Herden on is assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Apparently there is a specific level of IRS Hell reserved for violators of the ACA, and Diane is gleefully getting ready to introduce Herden to all of its torturous glories.) It's also true that there's not much he can do, so he settles in to try and do what Rachel had suggested. See and enjoy the woman who's actually there, not just his image of her.

They saw each other, very briefly, last fall. Tim and Abby were honeymooning. He was happy from the wedding. She was happy with a new boyfriend. Fornell was getting ready to propose to Wendy. All three of them were in a good place, good mood. The case went fast and smooth.

So, the last time he really talked to her, when she dropped in on him back after she got a hit called on her and Fornell, was when he told her to not hold it against Victor that he was Victor.

And now he's trying to not hold it against her that she's not Shannon. Trying to see the woman who's really there.

She's dominating the conversation. Half of that's just her. Half of it is both Tim and Fornell are well-versed in the art of dealing with her. Path of least resistance gets everyone out alive and in one piece.

The heat, that's real. That's her and something he always liked. She's spouting regulations, quoting how many violations they've got Herden on, laying out why the case is theirs, and she's all fire. Her eyes are sparking, her words fast and hot.

It's overkill. Neither of the guys are putting up much (any) fight, but that was her, too. She'd keep going until she collapsed (after going much, much, much longer than anyone thought she could) regardless of if she needed to keep going.

That's something he feels a kinship to. He'd keep going past all reason, too. But two people together like that, probably not the best idea ever. Someone's got to know when it's time to throw in the towel, and neither of them ever did.

"Oh, come on, I am not giving you their bookkeeper! You are not investgating Grandma." Tim taking a stand draws him back from musing on Diane.

"What do you mean, giving her to me? His company was ripping off the VA. She had to—"

"No. Leave her be. She's eighty-four and senile."

"You hand over those notes, Chucky!"


"She's in violation—"

"I don't care. You can't have her!"

"Diane, you know those laws are so complicated every company in the US is currently in violation of something in regards to them," Fornell hops in, trying to calm things down.

"That was the point, Tobias! We'd have leverage over everyone. I can't believe you guys haven't figured that out. Company gets stubborn, owner won't talk, call us in and we will find at least half a dozen ACA violations. They tell you whatever it is rather than pay the fines. It's literally impossible to be in perfect compliance. That was the point."

"Yeah, well Herden's singing," Tim says. "He already gave us Bing, and we've got everything we need on him for his own for the VA fraud, leave Granny out of it."


Tim's got that very determined look on his face, made significantly more sinister by the bruising. "You just said the whole point of it was to screw people. You're not screwing her. She was doing her job as well as she could, and from what we saw her job was literally writing checks. Leave her be."

Diane glares at Tim, but shuts up, so, hell, maybe people do change. Maybe she's finally learned to occasionally drop things. Gibbs certainly knows he has.

At that point, Gibbs notices they're getting low on coffee. (In the sense that his personal cup is about half full. Okay, they aren't even remotely low on coffee, but he wants to get out of there.) "Coffee run, who wants what?"

Tobias leaps up. "I'll help. You two keep squabbling. We'll be back in about a month." He pulls Gibbs out and they walk, slowly, (without actually having gotten any orders) toward the coffee trolley.

Gibbs is easing toward the elevator when Fornell shakes his head. "Steps. Slower."

"Can't. Bad knee."

"Oh, right." He looks at Jethro's leg, as if he could see through his pants to the knee under. "Doing better?"

"Don't need a crutch anymore. That's better, right?"

Fornell nods.

Seth starts laying out cups when he sees Gibbs and Fornell head toward him. "Regular for McGee and I, double caff Sumatra, one cream, three sugars, two squirts of hazelnut, whipped cream on top, and caramel sauce, and… cappuccino for you, right?" Gibbs asks Tobias.

He nods. "Can't believe you remember her order."

"Only had to watch her take a sip, grimace, put it back down and glare at me three times before I had it down."

A small smile crosses Tobias' face. "And then you only got it wrong on occasion to piss her off."

"Something like that. Put French vanilla in it once to see what she'd do."

"What'd she do?"

"Gave me a thermos of what smelled and tasted like my coffee the next morning. It was decaf."

"Oh." Fornell winces. He's seen Gibbs sans caffeine. It's isn't pretty.

"Didn't notice until my head started to hurt and my hands were shaking."

Fornell shakes his head while watching Seth make up their orders.

"So… She seeing anyone these days?"

Fornell whips his head back towards Gibbs. "Why on earth would you want to know that!"



"Looking out for Draga."

"More plausible, still bull."

He glares at Fornell, who still hasn't answered the question.

"Best I know, she's single. But these days all single means is not married. She's probably got three or four Dragas lurking in the background somewhere."

"I'll let him know."

"Like hell you will. You aren't contemplating doing something stupid, are you?"

"No. Just asking."

"You never just ask anything."

"I'm just asking about this."

Fornell's not buying that. "Like hell you are."

See who's really there. Enjoy it. Heat, passion, intellect. Once they got through the territorial squabbling, Tim's taking her through what he did to find Herden, and though he and Fornell are somewhere between asleep from boredom and lost by the details, Diane is following along just fine.

She might not be a hacker, but she can see the money trail Tim honed in on, and understands some of the techniques he used to follow it.

He's showing her the database of Bing's fraudsters, and why he called in Fornell, and she's nodding along, pointing out that some of these people are legitimate businessmen running companies that get actual government grants and the like.

Tim's nodding back, talking about how the first link in this chain, the guy they found Herden through, had produced similar issues. He actually did genuine web work in addition to bilking the VA.

Gibbs thinks that in some ways Diane and Tim are very similar. Diane was the oldest of three girls. Daddy, career Navy, wanted boys, sailors to follow in his footsteps. Mom wanted princesses. She could never be enough of a boy to make her father happy, and wasn't the docile little girl her mom had envisioned, either.

Unlike Tim, instead of hiding in plain sight, she responded by being sharp and aggressive. She couldn't ever be a boy, so she'd scare the crap out of them, be harder and better and smarter than they were, and she'd make sure they knew it. Make sure Daddy knew it. But in the end, Daddy didn't much care. By the time they were getting married Daddy was on his third family, this time with two little boys, and didn't want to be reminded of his girls.

She was never going to be a placid as her sisters, but she was prettier. So she played that up, too. Her mom wanted pretty, so pretty she was. Granted, her mom wanted Cinderella, and what she ended up with was Scarlet O'Hara. Last he heard Mom was in Florida living with Gillian (her older sister) and her insane husband. (He only met Gillian once, liked her, too. Never met the husband, though he used to be FBI. They both did. Fornell's got some really bizarre stories about them.)

He sees, watching Diane and Tim working together, two very different responses to similar childhoods.

Tim quietly begged for attention by doing the job better, faster, spending more time at it than anyone around him. He'd light up when he was petted, and put his head down and work harder when he wasn't.

Diane demanded attention, screamed for it, hit him in the head with a golf club when he kept ignoring her. That's what she had said to him, that it was all she had ever wanted, someone to love her and fill up that hole. Someone who would pay attention.

And right now, he's paying attention.

Tim stands up and stretches. "Lunch break?"

The other three nod. Everyone is tired of sitting around, talking numbers, and a break sounds like a splendid idea.

"I'm going to head down and see if Abby's free. Back to it in an hour?"

More nodding.

Diane looks at Jethro, head tilted to the side, "Get some coffee with me?"


"Just got to freshen up. Meet you downstairs?"

He nods, pleased, and smiles at her.

"Are you flirting with our ex-wife?" Tobias asks the second the door closes behind her.

Gibbs shakes his head. He's not flirting. He's intentionally not flirting because part of this whole see the person who's there, involves actually seeing Diane, and if he's going to do that, really see who's there, not moving into flirty, romance, get laid mode is the plan. So, no, he's not flirting.

He is being nice, and considerate, and, maybe, looking at her longer than is strictly necessary, while listening very intently. And, maybe, smiling more than usual. Because he's putting her at ease, getting her to talk more, and actually listening to the answers.

Shit. That's flirting, isn't it?

"Don't give me that. What could you possibly be thinking, flirting with the Spawn of Satan?"

"I'm not flirting, I'm… being nice?"

"You aren't nice! You especially aren't nice to her. What are you doing?"

"Just, tryin' something."

"Well, don't!"

"It's just coffee."

"It's never just coffee with her. She's probably got five boyfriends she's happily off having coffee with. Hell, she probably had coffee with McGee. And she's been eyeballing Draga like he's an extra foamy mocha latte with chocolate and caramel sauce. You don't need to go down that road again."

"That's not… You remember that thing I told you I was doing, with Cranston."

"God, you make that sound like getting coffee, too. Most people would just say, my therapist said…"

"Fine. She suggested-"

"Picking things up with Diane? That woman is insane!"

"No. Just… I like her. I always did like her."

"That's the problem! She's likeable. You think you're getting this cute, little, sassy kitten, next thing you know your heart is broken, your bank account is empty, and she's having a kid with another guy."

"I know, Tobias. Not talking about marrying her again. Just, trying to see how liking someone feels. Without all of the baggage."

"You have an entire airport terminal's worth of baggage with that woman!"

So do you, so stop dropping your baggage on me, okay? Comes through loud and clear in Gibbs' expression. "Just coffee. Just talking."

"You don't talk!"

"I'm talking to you!"

"No, you're listening to me talk about you shooting yourself in your own ass and then rubbing salt in the wound and then finishing it off with a nice dip in a bath tub full of lemon juice." They spend a good minute staring at each other, Gibbs feeling frustrated, Fornell searching his face, trying to figure out what on Earth Gibbs could possibly be trying to do, before Fornell takes a quick breath and says, "Right, we're going out tonight and getting you laid. Look, I know, trust me, I know what you're seeing when you look at her, and I know it's been a long time and you're getting edgy—"

Gibbs holds up his hands and winces. "Stop. Right there. It's not about…" Fornell's still talking about how Tony's got to know somewhere they can find a girl for him. "Stop!" That finally ends Fornell's dissertation on the subject of getting Gibbs laid. "Don't wanna get laid. Just want to sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk to a woman I like."

Fornell doesn't look like he thinks that's legit, but he's willing to go with it. "There has got to be some other woman you like who will have a cup of coffee with you." Fornell is watching Gibbs carefully so he catches that little flicker in the back of his eye. "Okay, what the hell was that? There is someone, isn't there?"

"Yes, but I can't ask her."

Fornell's mid don't give me that lame excuse look when something hits him. "She married or something?"

"Yes. She's married," Gibbs says, relieved to get off of this.

"Well, that doesn't mean you go after Diane."

"I'm not going after her. It's not about that."

Fornell doesn't seem to buy that, but he backs off, curious about the new one. "So why haven't you mentioned her?"

Gibbs opens and closes his mouth in his I don't know, don't make me think or talk about this gesture.

"How married is she?" Fornell asks.

"Married! Doesn't matter if she's barely married or joined at the hip with the guy. She's married."

"Do I know her?"

"No." Drop it is written all over Gibbs' face.

"Only new woman you've mentioned in months is…" Fornell's eyes go wide and his shoulders slump. "Oh, holy shit, Jethro, that's a bad plan! That's the mother of all bad plans. That's the only plan I can think of where going out with Diane sounds like a sane alternative. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Jethro is giving Fornell his I am so done with you look. "Nothing. There is no plan. The only plan is have a cup of coffee with Diane and remember what liking someone felt like. That's it."

"Sounds like you remember liking someone just fine."

"Yeah, I like Rachel. Nothing I can do about it, so that's that. Nothing I can do about it is probably part of liking her."

"Like, seriously liking her?" The warning bells are all going off in Fornell's expression, and Gibbs knows he's asking, falling in love with her?

"No. Just. I like talking to her."

"You like talking to a woman?"

"I'm not completely mute!" He looks at Fornell, earnestly. "It's… nice, you know?"

Fornell squeezes his shoulder. "God, you are so lonely, aren't you?" he says gently.

Gibbs rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Fornell keeps looking at him, waiting for a response. Finally he says, "I'd like to not screw it up this time. I know I'm not in a good place for it, yet, but… yeah, I miss it." He looks away from Fornell. "I'd like to sit down and just talk to a woman. Ya know?"

Fornell nods, that he understands. "But, Diane?"

"When we weren't fighting, it was always fun. I liked playing with her. You, me, and her, remember the dinners we'd have?"

"Yeah." Fornell nods at that, too.

"It was fun."

"It was."

"I'm not going back, but… be nice to feel something like that again. I know how to push her buttons. She knows mine. And, maybe… this was what Cranston was thinking… maybe trying that, seeing her for her, not her for some sort of Shannon substitute… would be a good thing. She told me once I was using her as a human anti-depressant. Too much truth there. Might be nice to just see her for her, at least once."

"Tall order for one cup of coffee."

Gibbs shrugs, smiles, says dryly, "Might be pie, too."

Fornell snorts a laugh at that, then gets serious. "Jethro, don't fall in love with her again."

"I didn't the first time."

Give me a break is unspoken but clear. "How long you been telling yourself that lie? She wasn't Shannon; that doesn't mean you didn't love her."


"I was there, remember? Steaks on the fire, sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, her cuddled up on your lap, feeding you little bites, teasing both of us. Us telling her about our different cases, sounding like big damn heroes. All three of us sucking down beer and laughing. Just because it wasn't fairy-tale, forever love didn't mean it wasn't real."

Gibbs remembers those nights. Hasn't thought about them for a long time, especially not in a way that recognized that those had been good nights.

"And I heard your voice when you got that letter. You don't sound like that if it's someone you were just fond of. It went wrong, Jethro. I fucked you over. You fucked her over. She fucked both of us. It went wrong in almost every direction it could go wrong. You loved her. I loved her. She… God only knows… I think she loved us, or you, at least. That's why it hurt. That's why it still hurts. And you don't have it in you to give her the attention she wants. I didn't either. I don't know if any man does. But you'll like her again, because she's warm and fun and beautiful and sexy and sharp… and you'll get sucked in, and she'll hurt you when she wants more than you can give. And, honestly, you'll hurt her because you can't be the man she needs."

"Just coffee."

Fornell shakes his head. "Fine, have your coffee. Tomorrow night, come to dinner with Wendy and me."

Gibbs is on the verge of nodding when he notices something in how Fornell said that. His eyes narrow. "Dinner?"

"Yeah, we've had dinner before. Food, at night. You remember how that works, right?"

"What else?"


"Yeah, you've got something else in mind."

"Wendy's sister is in town," Fornell says with a guilty smile.

"No. We've already got the same ex-wife. I am not getting hooked up with your sister-in-law."

"You'd like her."

"I don't need to get set up."

"Says the guy so lonely he's contemplating coffee with Satan Incarnate."


"Fine. Don't do anything stupid."

"I won't."

"Tobias try to talk you out of this?" Diane asks half a minute later when he meets her outside the conference room.


"What are you doing, Jethro? Trying to give him heart failure? Last time you spent that much time looking at me, we were still married."

He raises an eyebrow in question, looking her over intently. "You mind?"

"No. Nice to know you still like to look. Starting to wonder about that these last few years."

"The view was never the problem. Always liked the view." He smiles warmly. "Still like the view."

"Thank you. You're looking awfully fit these days, too. You and Chucky make some sort of get in shape pledge?"

"Something like that. Want some food to go with your coffee for lunch?"

"Sure. Know anywhere that makes a decent salad around here?"

"I know someone who'll whip one up for you."

Monday and Tuesdays are Elaine's weekend, so while they do go to the diner, the service is a bit less personal. Which actually suits Gibbs just fine. Elaine has heard of Diane, and… that's a complication he doesn't need to get into.

Mindy, the girl who takes over on Elaine's days off is friendly and efficient, but not prescient. They actually have to order.

By the time the food is sitting in front of them, he had gotten through why he and Tim are in better shape. (The quick version. He doesn't like to whip out Jimmy and Breena's heartache to just anyone. He may have indicated it was more of a passing on of Dad-like martial virtues to his two younger boys, and then a few weeks later Ziva got into it.)

"Show me some pictures," she says as he wraps up the story of them putting Ed in his place.


"That's what old people do when they reminisce, right? Chucky showed me some shots of his girl, and you with her. So, show me the rest of your family."

"You're not that old."

She laughs at that. "I'll be fifty next year. I'm old enough."

"Happens to all of us. They're making me retire in January." He switches around to sit next to her and pulls out his phone.

She looks taken aback. "I was expecting you to whip out a shot from your wallet."

"Tim got me this."

"And got you to use it?"

"It's… handy. Plus he wired it so that if you mess with it, it'll take your hand off."

She rolls her eyes. "You and your guns."

"This one has pictures of my kids on it." He grins. "My Sig doesn't do that."

She rolls her eyes again and laughs a little. "So, show me some shots. Got one of all of you together?"

"Got one of all the grown-ups." He flips around and finds the shot of all of them from Tony and Ziva's wedding.

"Oh, wow. You give away the bride?"

"Both times."

"I know everyone but the lady with Ducky. Who's that?"

"Penny Langston. Tim's grandma."

"Date for the evening?"

"That one and every one after it. They're living together now."

"I saw some shots from Tim and Abby's wedding. Emily kept telling me about it. She had a blast, she's still Facebook friends with… Harper, right?" Gibbs nods. "But the ones she took were of the other kids or Tobias. Didn't see a shot of you."

"Here, this one will make you laugh." He found some shots with him in them from Tim and Abby's wedding.

"Are you wearing a morning suit?"


"I had to pull your toenails out with pliers to get you into a tux. What did Abby do?"

"Pouted a little. Threatened to have a RenFaire wedding."

She laughs at that. "I would have paid money to see you dressed like that."

He smiles wryly. "You and everyone else."

She's holding his phone, flipping through the shots, and stops of the one of Tim and Abby dancing together at Tony and Ziva's wedding reception.

"They really that happy?"


"Good. The night I slept over, when we were talking… I mentioned how things were going wrong with Victor, and he talked a little about how sometimes you need time to get yourself right before you can make it work. That sometimes the second time was a charm."


"Looks like it was for them." He catches the wistfulness in her voice, and sees the deep loneliness. He thinks that was always there, too, part of what drew him to her, his sorrow to hers. He catches another layer there, the question she's too hurt to ask, too burned by him and years of rubbing each other raw, the part of her that opened up in his basement, named how she felt, and watched him say nothing.

But that spark is still there. Hope he doesn't feel like he ever earned. It's still lurking back there, still striving for his attention and affection.

He very lightly, just the back of his forefinger, strokes her cheek. Her eyes close and she leans into the touch. "I'm sorry, Diane. Sorry I never saw you for who you are. Sorry I couldn't enjoy you for you. Sorry I couldn't let it go."

She smiles, warm and pleased, overwhelmed by that, for a second, and for one more second, and then on the third second she pulls her armor back into place. He sees her snap it back around herself. And he nods at her, recognizing it, as she says, "Oh, God, Jethro, did you join a twelve step program or something?"

He smirks at that, shaking his head, taking a bite of his meatloaf. "Or something."

"Good, Lord. I knew… I didn't know it was…"

"No. Not that sort of or something. Just… Remember me telling you that I'm not such a great guy to be?"

She nods.

He took the phone back from her and found a shot of him with Molly and Kelly. "Got a bunch of little girls gonna be looking up to me. Another one's due in December. Really hope Tony and Ziva have one, too, someday. Got a bunch of kids who need a Dad. It's time to get to being a man worth looking up to. Time to get to being the guy I was supposed to be."

"And this is part of that?"

"Maybe. Don't know. Doing a lot of thinking, lot of figuring stuff out."

"You're not dying are you?" She says pointedly, spearing a cherry tomato on her fork, lifting it to her lips, amused smile on her face at how intensely he's watching her.

"Hope not."


"But they're making me retire. Tony's in charge of the team now. Tim'll be heading to Cybercrime any day. Duck's gonna fly soon. Everything changes."

"Yes, it does."

"Emily's a sophomore now, right?"

"Uh huh." She sighs. "We're starting to look at colleges next month. PSATs are next week. Her grades are good, and if her scores are high enough, she's talking about skipping her senior year and going straight onto college."

"Has she mentioned that to Tobias yet?"

"No, not yet. He's still debating going to college with her and sleeping at the foot of her bed with a loaded gun."

"He's not that bad."

"He's not that good, either. He's scared for her. Afraid he didn't do enough hands on dadding and that she'll run off and throw herself at the first boy who shows her any real affection."

Gibbs shrugs. He knows it's real. Fornell's talked about it. But he missed that phase with Kelly, and now it's a good thirteen years off for his girls. "Want me to help talk him down?"

"Sure. If it happens. Got to see how she does on the PSATs, might not be an option. But if it is… She's so excited to get out there. I want it for her."

Gibbs nods, he knows all about wanting good things for your kids. He takes another bite of his meatloaf. "Now that you've been back at it a while, how you liking have your own badge?"

She takes a sip of her coffee and smiles. "Feeling overshadowed?"

"Nope. Just curious. You spent so much time listening to us blather on about it, wondering how it feels to have one of your own."

"I like it. I really like it. Without it, I'm just a pretty numbers wonk. With it, I'm terrifying."

He snorts, amused. "You are more than terrifying without it."

"Then I'm the step beyond terrifying. 'Diane Anderson, IRS.' One guy wet his pants."

Gibbs laughs at that. They spend a pleasant half hour talking. Him listening mostly, enjoying it, because listening to Diane talk about something she loves is fun. She lights up, happy, passionate, and it's not like he can't sympathize with the high that comes from solving the puzzle and tracking the bad guys down.

"Should head back soon," she says after eating the last bite of the caramel apple pie they shared.

He doesn't need to check his watch to know they are already bordering on late. He's reaching for the check when she snatches it. His eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Not a date, Jethro. IRS will expense me for it, since I'm in the field today."

He nods and they head back toward NCIS.

Apparently, they weren't the only ones taking longer than was strictly necessary for lunch. As they got out of his car, they see Tim, Abby, and Jimmy getting out of Breena's car. Jimmy leans over, kisses Breena through the window, and she drives off.

The three of them start toward the lobby. Tim has his arm around Abby. Abby has one arm around his waist, and has her other arm linked through Jimmy's.

Diane sees it and stops, staring, then looks over to Jethro. There's a warning in her face. "Are they?"

He almost shakes his head, but doesn't. He's fairly sure Tim or Jimmy will talk to him before they jump in, and he's absolutely certain that even if they don't, he'll know, feel it if their relationship changes that drastically. He hasn't heard anything from Jimmy, and nothing new from Tim since April, so whatever it is that might be brewing between the four of them is probably currently on hold. So instead of a flat out denial of whatever it is they may have he just says, "Good friends."

"Good friends can be a lot of trouble. Hope they're smarter about it than we were."

"They're gonna be okay." And no matter what else may be going on, that's something Gibbs is sure of.

"I thought we were, too."

There's a gentleness in his face that only shows up when he's working with women or children. "We were never okay."

She shrugs, looking tired, little sad, and smiles, but it doesn't get to her eyes. "No. I guess not."

He thinks about it, in an idle, almost intellectual sort of way, as they head back into the building. What would have happened if he and Tobias could have shared her? Would have solved the pay attention to me problem.
Diane wanted more love, affection, and attention than any one man (any one Gibbs or Fornell) could provide. Together? The two of them? That would have been a whole hell of a lot of attention. And a happy, well-loved Diane was a treat.

But together wouldn't have solved the Shannon and Kelly problem. Wouldn't have taken care of the gaping Dad-shaped hole in Diane's heart. Might have helped with Tobias feeling like a third wheel.

And together didn't get near to touching the complications of him and Tobias together, let alone trying to share anything. One of them always has to be in charge. Even on cases, they can't really share; they just swap back and forth for who's in charge. Trying that with a relationship? With Diane, who also wanted to be in charge?

Could have been three times worse than it was just as twosomes.

Didn't matter. That ship not only sailed, it headed off to Valhalla, flames kissing the sky as the still living passengers burned.

She and Tim are finishing up the official who gets what draft when he thinks of his proposal:

"I'm not much for words.

"Most things are better left unsaid

"It'd be a lot easier if I could just pick you up, and we'd start running, and we'd never stop.

"Maybe I'll still do that. But before I do…" and he knelt down and whipped out the ring, and her face was soft, her eyes lit with pleasure and love and she grinned wide, and said, 'Yes."

Running. Take her and run, run away from the pain and who he was and who she was and just live in those minutes of sex and fighting and teasing.

Say goodbye to the past and their ties and… And it never works because you can't run away from yourself. You always come along for the race.

He never told her he loved her. Never said the words. Hid it behind the not talking thing. Wrote it a few times. Gave her some cards with it. But never said it, and right now, watching the late afternoon sun light her hair and eyes, he doesn't know if Fornell is right, doesn't know if he never said it because it was never true, or if he never said it because he couldn't bear to admit it was.

They're still talking through the final settlement of who'd be charged with what and by whom, and what they'd be taking to their individual prosecutors. He's got nothing to add to that, so he takes out his phone and sends a text to Rachel.

What if I did love her?

A minute later he gets back: Would you rather be a rock who used women you didn't feel for to make yourself more comfortable, or would you rather be the guy who couldn't make it work because if it worked that might threaten what you had before?

He's not sure if she expects a real answer right away, and even if she does he can't give one. They're wrapping up for today. So he sends back a quick: Thanks. Thinking.

As Diane and Fornell head off, bickering gently with each other, Tim says to him, "Have a good day?"

He shrugs.

"Fornell talked to me some before you and Diane got back from lunch. Whatever it is you're contemplating… Rachel or Diane… It's a bad idea."

"I don't need an intervention."

"And we're not having one. This is just me and you having a chat."

Gibbs glares, not hot, more of a back off look.

Tim raises his hands, peace gesture. "Just, you know, I've been so lonely that anyone who's even remotely interested in you starts to look good. No matter if they're good for you or not."

Gibbs nods at that.

"Gotta give this to Tony." He taps the folder with the agreement in it. "You want to come over for dinner?"

Gibbs shakes his head. "Got some thinking to do."

"Okay. See you tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah." Gibbs is in the process of stepping past Tim when he put his hand on Gibbs' shoulder and pulls him into a hug. Gibbs stands there, and lets himself be hugged, feeling kind of stupid, wondering exactly how much of what he was thinking was on his face today. When Tim lets go, he squints at him What was that for?

"Looked like you needed one. Besides, how long has it been since someone touched you? Saturday night? Friday? Whenever it was Abby hugged you last?"

Gibbs nods.

"You need to be touched. We all do. Took a damn long time for me to figure that out. Helps you make fewer stupid decisions."

"Think I'm about to make a stupid decision?"

"I hope you're not."

That gets another eye roll and a gentle ruffling of Tim's hair as Gibbs steps out of the conference room. "See ya tomorrow."


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