Monday, April 21, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 311

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

Chapter 311: Pittsburgh Rare

He supposes it's something of a record. Almost five full days. He took the ring off on Tuesday. They'd all seen it by Wednesday. They saw his look and didn't press.

And kept not pressing.

But, with the little glance he sees Ziva shoot to Tim and Jimmy as the three of them head to the men's locker room after bootcamp, he's got a pretty good sense that not pressing is about to end.

Double teamed by Tim and Jimmy is both frustrating and impressive. Impressive because they're handling it well. Frustrating because it's annoying as hell to have two guys nattering away with each other, very much not asking you about what happened so that you took your wedding ring off while talking about wedding anniversaries (Tim's is next week, and the party that acted as Jimmy and Breena's wedding was the second week of November.) and being married and all of that jazz.

But they aren't actually asking. They're just talking to each other. Slowly. With lots of looks at him and breaks in the conversation where, should he so desire, he could, add some information of his own.

"Doing anything special on Sunday?" Jimmy asks Tim, looking at Jethro, and both of them pause, leaving an opening for Gibbs, but he doesn't say anything, so Tim responds. And they just keep doing it.

Finally, having done it all through getting stripped off and their showers, without any useful results, Tim opened his locker, pulled out his boxers, and turns to Gibbs and says, "So, you want us to keep doing this 'Cause we can keep it up until you get home, and then we'll wander down into your basement with you, drink your booze, and just keep doing it."

"All three of the girls have deputized us to do this. We've been told not to come home until we've gotten confirmation that you are at least okay," Jimmy adds, opening his locker.

"I'm fine," Jethro says, pulling his briefs out of his locker.

Tim and Jimmy look at each other, roll their eyes, and then they look back at Gibbs.

"What exactly do you think is going to happen to me if I go home and tell Abby, 'He says he's fine?'"

"Breena's not buying that either," Jimmy says, shaking his head.

"And really, just because she won't jump down your throat about it, does not mean Ziva will be cool. Our ninja will be displeased and take it out on us next week."

"You won't be here next week. And I won't either," Gibbs reminds them. Sunday is Tim's anniversary, and Gibbs will be babysitting. Though, last he checked, Tim thought everything was starting up well after bootcamp ended.

"I am not going one on one against her if I have failed to have gotten the information she wants. So, shall we keep chattering away, waiting for you to volunteer the information, or do we go out, get some drinks, and just talk?" Jimmy wraps with.

"Girls don't expect us home until later. Dinner's on me. Whatever you want." Tim says as he buttons his jeans.

"You should be getting home. Abby doesn't need to be spending all day alone with a sick baby."

Tim shakes his head, reaching for his shirt. "Nope. Not getting out of it that easy. We already had that conversation. Ziva and Tony are heading over to my place after she gets dressed. Abby's getting some down time. They're getting some babysitting practice. We're interrogating you for details." Tim smiles.

Gibbs grits his teeth and sighs, pulling his t-shirt over his head. The downside of a family full of cops is that none of them are good with just letting mysteries be, and they've got the planning skills to dig deep and find out what's going on.

"Fine. But you two are going to be useful."

"We're trying to be," Jimmy adds, zipping his fly.

"Useful to me."

"That's what he meant."

For the most part, woodworking is soothing for Gibbs. He likes the whole thing: the tactile experience, the feel, smell, and sound of metal shaping wood. The repetitive, yet focusing, motions. Put that all together and it's a very good place for him.

Stripping the finish off of wood on the other hand… Not his idea of fun at all. Dousing wood in nasty smelling chemicals that you have to keep yourself covered head to toe to prevent it from touching your skin does not make his day.

So, if the wonder twins want to pick his brain, they can also strip his wood.

"Is that you bed?" Tim asks, very surprised at what they saw when they got into the basement.

Gibbs nods.

Jimmy steps closer to the pile of beams laid out between two sawhorses. "You took off your ring and disassembled your bed?" Taking of the ring makes a certain amount of sense to Jimmy, the bed is leaving him boggled.

Gibbs nods again, and Tim adds, "It's the bed he built her."


Gibbs tilts his head toward his workbench. There's a sketch of a new bed on it. Like the rest of Gibbs stuff, it's fairly restrained. Like the original, it's mostly straight edges and square corners, but there's more detail work here, showing how he's grown as a woodworker in 36 years, beveled edges on the headboard, intricate legs, and when he finds the right piece of wood, he'll make his own veneer for the main part of the headboard.

He explains this to the guys, who are following along as well as two guys who know basically nothing about woodworking can. He wraps up with, "It's time to rebuild."

Both of them nod. They may not have gotten what precisely a hidden dovetail was, let alone how Gibbs was going to make them, but rebuilding is a concept they both understand.

"What do you want us to do?" Jimmy asks.

He picks up the bottle of solvent and tosses gloves at them. "Gotta get the finish off of these."

They're nodding along, gloving up, getting ready for this when Gibbs opened the bottle and Tim's lungs decided that they weren't going to play along.

"I'm on dinner," Tim says with a wheeze.

The other two stare at him.

"Can't do this," he says, heading up the stairs. "Abby doesn't need a sick kid and husband at home. Stay down here much longer and I'll have a full on asthma attack."

Jimmy and Gibbs nod at him, and he heads up.

Jimmy surprises Gibbs by not saying much of anything. He's just steadily working away on the wood, dabbing on the solvent the way he showed him.

"Thought you guys were supposed to be cross-examining me."

"Tim told me it was your anniversary. You took your ring off. You're rebuilding the bed you built her. I tell the girls that, they'll know you're okay. That you're doing something healthy with your grief. Don't need to press more than that. Though, if you want to talk…" Jimmy gestures to indicate his ears work just fine.

Gibbs doesn't say much. They keep working. A few more minutes pass and Jimmy says, "I've been thinking about this… How to work with someone who isn't Ducky. I know it's not as soon as you heading off, but one day he won't be down there anymore. It'll be me and whoever I hire."

"Got your own stories."

"Not sure I want to spend all day telling them. Not sure I want just quiet, either. I think part of why he talks all the time is to help fill the room. Too easy to just blend in with the dead if it's just silent. A voice, even your own, helps keep your mind on life."

Gibbs tilts his head, adding more solvent to his rag; he can understand that. "His mom told stories. Knew everything about everything, and she told them all the time. Used to say they were a clan of Bards and historians. They told the tales that made men immortal."

"You knew her before she started to slip away?"

Victoria Mallard, circa 1949ish.
He shakes his head. "Met her four-five times. And the last few times she didn't remember who I was from time to time. Remember Ducky talking about her."

"Keeping the stories alive. I guess that'll pass down to Tim."

"You've got stories, too."

"He's better at telling them."

"Doesn't mean you can't."

Jimmy smiles at him, and Gibbs starts to wonder if he just talked himself into a trap. "Nope. It doesn't. Of course, just because your best friend tells the stories, doesn't mean we don't want to hear yours, too."
Gibbs shakes his head. "Smartass."

Jimmy smiles again, even brighter. "I try. So, are you okay? This really moving forward or a new layer of hiding?"

"Hope not." Gibbs pats the beam under his hand. "Was the cross piece, one of them," he points to the other one that matches it. "Gonna cut it in half, here." He gestures to the midpoint of the beam. "Then split it in quarters." He points to the legs of his current bed, which are propped against the wall. "Will cut two inch-thick sections and an eight-inch section out of those, take the corners off, and fit the quarters into them. Glue it into a solid block. The eight-inch piece'll get drilled for pegs, and that'll connect into the mattress supports. Those supports and the pegs'll be made from new wood."

"The memories and history are still there, but changed into something beautiful, something that supports a new life?" Jimmy looks at the pieces in front of him and starts backtracking. "Not that the old one wasn't beautiful before, but…"

"I got ya, Jimmy. And, yeah. It's easier to build it with my hands than say it."

"Where's the ring?"

"With her."

Jimmy touches Jon's diamond on his medic-alert bracelet. "Are you going to keep anything to mark it, her?"

"Sleep on this bed, live in this house, sailing the boat with her name. Probably enough, maybe too much."

"Naming the boat after her… That's you and her heading off into the sunset together?"

Gibbs nods. That was the idea.

"Maybe naming it after her, especially if you're thinking that you might want to sail off with someone else at some point, maybe that's not such a good plan."

That wasn't a thought that had hit Gibbs, but hearing it, there is a certain logic to it. "Been thinking of her as Shannon since before I started building her."

"Yep. But it's been… four years? Lot's changed since then, though, right?"


"Come January, you're not going to just vanish off the face of the planet, right?"

"Didn't intend to." Which is the closest he's come to admitting to any of them that that did used to be the plan.

"So, maybe she needs a new name." Jimmy can see Gibbs thinking about that, so he doesn't press. A few minutes later, as they flip the beam they're working on over, to get the underside wiped down with solvent, he does ask, "You find out what Franks was doing? Tony and Ziva aren't talking."

Gibbs nods.

"You're not talking, either."

"Can't tell you for the same reason he couldn't tell me."

"Oh, god. How illegal is it?"

Very says Gibbs' expression.


"No." Quit asking.

And Jimmy may not, as he said, be psychic, but he can read that loud and clear. "Fine. Are you going to start doing it?"

Gibbs doesn't answer. He does glare slightly.

"I'll leave it alone."

A few seconds later, they hear Tim yell down, "Jimmy, where are your keys?"

"In my pocket." He puts his rag down, and strips off his gloves. "Why do you need them?"

"Got the fire started, thought it might be a good plan to buy some food to cook on it."

"Good point." He heads to the base of the stairs and tosses his keys up to Tim, who caught them tidily.

"Back in a bit. Fire's lit, got the grate closed." Jimmy nods, and a few minutes after that, they hear his car pull out of Gibbs' driveway.

Jimmy heads back, snaps the gloves back on, and says, "Okay, last thing about whatever it is Franks was up to, keep good notes if you want Tim, Tony, and I to pick it up in twenty year."

"Maybe it won't be necessary then."

Jimmy's eyebrows shoot up, and Gibbs shakes his head again, not willing to say more.

Gibbs is better at cowboy cookery than Tim. In that he's been doing it for decades, this is not much of a surprise.

So, yes the steaks are simultaneously somewhat less rare than Tim or Jimmy like (black around the edges) and a bit more rare than they like (quietly mooing in the middle), but they are steaks, and the fire's still burning, so getting the middle bit cooked more isn't that much of an issue, and he absolutely nailed the greens.

(Of course, the fact that Gibbs thinks this is the best spinach in the history of spinach may have something to do with the fact that it's kale and chard. Or possibly that Tim cooked them in lots of butter, garlic, and salt, and then added a little cider vinegar to them. Either way, this was the most enthusiastic they'd ever seen Gibbs about a vegetable.)

They're sitting near the fireplace. Tim and Jimmy close to the flames, trying to get their steaks a bit less rare. Gibbs is further back, sitting on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, happily eating away.

Jimmy's got a piece of steak on his fork, charred top and bottom, luke-warm, almost purple center. He's toasting it over the fire, trying to get it to rare without burning it any more. "So, is next week's bootcamp learning how to cook over a fire?"

Gibbs sniggers at that, chewing, looking like he's enjoying this quite a bit. "Don't like your steak black and blue?"

Neither of the guys know what that means.

"Pittsburgh rare?" Gibbs adds, seeing that means nothing to them, either. He stares at Jimmy, confused. "He grew up in California, so I know he doesn't get it. But you're from western PA, right?"

"I went to college there. Wasn't eating much steak then. Grew up in Wilmington, Delaware."

Gibbs nods at that, tucking it into his mental map of Jimmy. "Burn the hell out of it on a really high flame and keep the middle rare."

"People do this to steaks intentionally where you're from?"

Gibbs nods. "Douse 'em in melted butter first, stick 'em over a high flame, fwoosh. Black and blue."

"Really?" Tim had been feeling pretty embarrassed about the steaks. They'd been sizzling along, looking fine, smelling great. He went into the kitchen to start on the greens, and as they were cooking down nicely, he started to smell char and by the time he got them flipped they were black on the side closest to the flame.

"Mom made 'em like this. She said that the steelworkers would take cuts of beef to work, pop 'em on the cooling steel for a sec, flip 'em, and that was lunch."

Jimmy's staring at him, not buying it. "You sure that wasn't an accident? Sounds like the kind of story my mom would tell when she accidentally messed something up in the kitchen. Spaghetti's still crunchy in the middle, 'Oh, that's the way they eat it in Italy.' Spaghetti's cooked to soup, 'That's how they do it in France.'"

"Saying my mom couldn't cook?"

Tim's got Danger! Back away! all over his face.

"I'm sure she was a great cook. Just, you ever see Pittsburgh rare or black and blue anywhere else?"

Gibbs laughs. "She was a weird cook. She'd put chocolate sauce on apple pie or ketchup on scrambled eggs. Pittsburgh rare is a real thing, not like 'French' spaghetti soup."

"Ketchup on eggs?" Tim asks, that's not just weird to him, it's revolting.

"Uncle Ron came home from World War II and ate ketchup on everything. He'd put it on oatmeal if you let him. Sort of like how MREs all come with Tabasco. Everything came with ketchup then. She was seven when he came home, and idolized him, did everything he did, so for a while she put ketchup on everything, too. Ketchup on eggs, she liked."

Tim's shaking his head, eating a less raw piece of his steak.

"'French spaghetti soup' only happened once or twice. Most of the time dinner was okay. But she did like those god-awful pour canned mushroom soup on top of canned tuna, frozen peas, and noodles and bake for ten hours casseroles."

Both Tim and Gibbs wince at that.

"Jello salads," Gibbs says. "No dinner was complete without some sort of jello with all sorts of weird stuff floating in it. Orange jello with chunks of carrots, apples, and raisins. That was always part of Thanksgiving."

Jimmy and Tim look at each other. Tim says, "Doesn't sound too bad."

"The carrots and apples were hard and crunchy, size of a dime."

"Oh," Jimmy says.

"Red white and blue Jello for Fourth of July. Cherry and lime Jello for Christmas, eggnog jello on top. Pink and yellow and blue Jello eggs for Easter. Name a holiday, and we had Jello for it."

"Labor Day." Jimmy says.

"Whatever the pink stuff was with watermelon and strawberry chunks, Cool Whip on top."

"Your mom loved Jello."

"Yeah, she did."

"Baskin Robbins," Jimmy says. "We had one five blocks from our apartment. Friday nights in the summer, Mom'd make hot dogs on the little grill we had on the back patio." He looks at the steak on his plate. "Actually, they were usually cooked pretty close to this. Then we'd walk down to the Baskin Robbins and get ice cream. Summer break's ten weeks long, so one year, fourth grade, fifth, something like that, we decided we'd try all 31 flavors." Jimmy smiles at that. "Each get two scoops, and try all of each other's as well. Clark let us down, he kept getting the same four flavors, but we still made it."

"Tim?" Jethro asks. They've been talking about family food memories, but besides listening, he's not adding anything.

Tim shakes his head. "Wasn't a big deal for us. When I was little, it was mostly just me and Mom. So, sandwiches, take out, McDonald's playland some nights. By the time I was ten, Sarah was a baby, and we'd split cooking. Nothing special, just enough calories and vitamins to keep us going. Only time dinner was ever a big deal was when The Admiral was home, and I didn't cook those nights. Didn't eat much, either. Gran was a 'good, plain' cook, which was code for well-done everything cooked with salt and pepper and boiled veggies with butter or bacon. She could bake though. Good pound cakes and biscuits. Penny didn't learn to cook until she was in her sixties. She got back from traveling one time, and had all these ideas she wanted to show us. I remember that."

"Any of them good?" Jimmy asks.

"Probably. I was fourteen and lived on a diet of white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soda, microwave pizza, my own cooking, and fast food. Salt and pepper was the extent of my skills with seasoning. I remember being mildly horrified by anything she tried to spring on us. However, I had mastered spaghetti by then, and never served it as soup."

Jimmy snorts at that.

"How about Shannon, what was her special thing?" Tim asks.

Gibbs smiles, looking at the fireplace, and waits a beat or two, until they've got the kind of steaks he makes on there in mind. "Who'd you think taught me how to do that?"

"Wasn't the Marines?" Jimmy asks.

"Or Boy Scouts?" Tim adds. Even he got the cooking badge, so he's sure Gibbs had to have gotten it, too.

"No one gives a pile of Marines or Boy Scouts decent steaks. They'd kill 'em. Cook 'em like Jimmy's mom's hotdogs."

Jimmy's eyeballing Tim, the steaks sitting between them, Tim again. Tim pokes him in the knee with his foot.

On the beach.
"Shannon's family liked to camp. She and her mom believed that being miles away from a stove was no excuse for making a bad meal. She was even better with fish. When we lived in California, we'd spend long weekends at the beach, cook 'em less than a hundred feet from where we caught them. Doesn't matter what it is, catch it, gut it, cook it over a driftwood fire, finish it up with s'mores. That's gonna be a good night."

Jimmy nods along with that.

"Did that once, with my grandparents," Tim says. "Hadn't thought of it in years." He watches the fire, sorting through the memories, trying to place them. "Would have been little. Sarah wasn't with us, yet." He rubs his eyes, thinking more. "Dad and Pop caught the fish. Dad built the fire, really big and high, probably not great for cooking on but it looked awesome. Spent the day fishing and playing in the surf. Might have been clams… Are clams an east coast thing? I remember a big pot, so something must have gone in that pot. But we were with Gran and Pop, so that meant California, not the east coast." Neither of the other two answer, letting Tim talk. Both of them getting an idea of how young 'little' had to be if Tim was referring to his father as 'Dad.' "Built this huge sandcastle. Walls, ramparts, moats, more walls, towers… Surf got it eventually, but it had to work hard to get it. I don't remember eating the fish. Probably did, get yelled at for wasting food if you didn't eat it, and I don't remember yelling. I do remember the marshmallows." He smiles at that image. "Pop was holding me around the waist, making sure I didn't get too close to the fire, showing me how to keep rotating the marshmallow or it'd catch fire. Then my mom just stuck hers right into the flames, and up it went, she let it burn for a few seconds, blew it out, and popped it in her mouth, grinning at him, teasing him about how much better they were charred."

"And thus we learn how Tim learned to cook over an open flame."

Tim rolls his eyes at Jimmy. "That was a good night. And marshmallows do taste better gently browned with salty driftwood smoke."

Gibbs is nodding in agreement. "Three, four years, when they're all potty-trained and down to one nap a day we'll find a place on the coast and do that."

Jimmy smiles at him. "Already got a place. It's on the water. Four bedrooms. Don't even need to wait for them to get potty-trained, never have to be more than two hundred feet from a convenient changing table. Ed and Jeannie's place in the Outer Banks is ready and waiting for little girls to come and play. Ziva and Tony manage to not be really pregnant this summer, and we can head down."

"Remember what Leon said…" Tim adds.

Jimmy shrugs. "By this summer you'll run one department, I'll have another, Abby'll have a third, Tony and Ziva'll have the MCRT and we'll all have seconds in command. Won't be like the lab shuts down when Abby leaves, or MCRT can't investigate. Cybercrime'll go without you for a day or two. And yeah, I'd need to get up there pretty quick, if someone dies, but that's not as big a deal as having the investigative branch, the lab, and the morgue all shut down."

Tim nods, that's a pretty good point. Jimmy looks at Gibbs and asks, "You got more than one fishing pole?"

"I will by this summer."


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