Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 312

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

Chapter 312: Terri

For as lovely as November 1st, 2014 was, November 1st 2015 was determined to be ugly. Lead gray clouds, a mixture of cold rain, light sleet, and mist (Abby calls it freezing ick.) was drifting sulkily from sky to ground.

The theoretical plan for the evening was dinner out. Short dinner out. Abby still nurses three times a day, and two of them are seven and ten, so they can't go out for too long, but a decent meal and some good conversation is certainly a possibility.

If all goes according to plan, and the weather stays the current 35ish degrees, Gibbs'll be there around seven, Kelly will eat, they'll go out on their first baby-free date since June.

"What are you doing?" Jimmy's voice on the other end of the phone.

"Nothing much. Just fed Kelly," Tim says.

"Good. I'm already on my way to your place. We're taking the girls to the mall."

Tim just stares at his phone for a second, wondering what the hell was going on with Jimmy. In that, among other things, he last saw Jimmy a hour ago when they were all leaving Ed and Jeannie's, he wasn't expecting to lay eyes on him again until tomorrow. "All right. And we have a burning need to go to the mall with the girls, why?"

"Because it's 36 degrees out and raining, Molly's climbing the walls, Breena wants a nap, and Abby wants you out of the house so she can get ready for tonight. Hence, we're going to the mall."

That seems like a fine reason to Tim. "Okay. I'll get Kelly suited up."

In general, Tim is not a fan of malls. At this point in his life, he'd say he's spent, maybe, but this could be an overestimate, four hours at a mall in the last ten years, not counting when he's had to be in one for a case or when he's eaten in a restaurant attached to one.

He's just not a mall guy. He wants something, and unless he needs it right now, he buys it online.

In general, Jimmy's not much of a mall guy, either. Though, between a significantly more extroverted personality, and the fact that just about every tenth store in a mall sells shoes, Jimmy does tend to have a better time in them than Tim does.

But, Jimmy is, in addition to not being much of a mall guy, a bit further along on the Dad curve than Tim is, and he has realized (namely because Breena told him) that at the Mall they have several areas covered in soft foam rubber designed for small people to run around on.

And he's in possession of a seriously rammy small person. A small person who, when not tearing around their house like a wild woman, is whining and fussing. A small person in desperate need of space to play hard and fast without driving her very pregnant, very uncomfortable, and very tired mama insane.

In that it is, as Jimmy previously noted, cold and raining, the park and his backyard is out.

So he's driving, Tim's in the passenger seat, the girls are in their car seats, and they are en route to the mall.

They're the only married men there. Okay, not the only married men, there have to be some other guys with wives somewhere in the mall, but the little area where the toddlers are running around shrieking, all the other guys are at least ten (and three of them look more than fifteen) years younger and none of them are wearing wedding bands.

It occurs to Tim that his demographic does not appear to hang out at malls.

But Molly's having a blast. Kelly's sitting on his lap, watching the other kids play. He and Jimmy were chatting about something, he doesn't remember what, when one of the grandmas (lots of them around) commented on how pretty their girls were, asked how old they were, standard questions.

And they know how this works, so they ask which one of the kids are hers, and about three minutes of polite conversation ensues.

Jimmy checks his watch. "This time last year, I was getting suited up for the wedding."

Tim nods. "Was already at the church."

"Hard to believe it's been a year."

"Yeah. Fast year." Tim smiles, looks at Kelly, kisses the top of her head. "Good year." Jimmy nods at that, his smile not nearly as bright, because for him it's been a much rougher year, and Tim nudges him with his shoulder. "Next year'll be even better."

That got a real smile out of Jimmy. "Yeah, it will."

"Excuse me," The Grandma asks, "I know this is… I was wondering, how did you find a surrogate? My son and his partner would like to be fathers and are thinking about it and…" She can see from the stunned look on Tim and Jimmy's face that they may have been talking about a wedding, it clearly wasn't a wedding to each other, and she starts backtracking fast. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. I heard you mention the wedding and… you've got one stroller and… and your girls look just like you, so you couldn't have adopted and… I'm so sorry."

Jimmy recovers first. "No problem. It's his anniversary. Mine's in May. My wife is eight months pregnant, so we already have the two baby stroller, so with it wet and cold out it was just easier to use the one stroller."

"Oh. I'm so sorry." She's cringing and looking horribly embarrassed.

"Really, not a problem," Tim says, wondering exactly what the protocol for something like this is, because, yeah, he'd prefer that people didn't think he was married to Jimmy. But at the same time, having a fit about it is just really uncomfortably homophobic, and the woman already indicated she had a gay son so… "Just, don't know anything about surrogacy. We both… um… did it the old fashioned way."

She nods, still looking embarrassed. "No. I guess not. Happy anniversary."

He nods back, a really everything's all right smile on his face. "Thanks."

She looks away, watching her grandsons toddle about.

They are heading back to the car an hour later, after Molly had tired herself out and was ready for nap time, when Jimmy says, "That was a first."

"No one ever thought you were gay before?"

"I don't think so. Never got hit on by a guy before, if that's what you mean. Just… When did we get to the point where two married guys out with kids at the mall are assumed to be with each other?"

Tim shrugs.

"It's not like our rings are even close to matching." In that his is white gold and Tim's is mostly black titanium, not matching is something of an understatement.

"Did you notice we were the only married guys with kids there?" Tim asks.

"Yeah. That's weird, too. I mean… It's not like I'm one of those you've-got-to-be-married-to-have-kids-guys. Don't have any problems with Draga. But… I mean… none of those guys were married to their kids' mom."

"Maybe the young ones don't wear rings?" Tim says with a shrug, fairly sure he's wrong. All the baby Sailors and Marines they run into with wives wear the ring.

"Maybe." Jimmy looks back at their girls. "I'd kind of like to know my grandkids' dad is going to stick around."

Tim looks at his ring and shrugs. "Ring's not magic. Can't make anyone stick around."

Jimmy catches that and realizes Tim's thinking of his dad. "Yeah. I know. But…"

"No. I get what you're saying. I never would have even noticed it before Kelly, and it's my anniversary so it's on my mind, but, yeah, I did check the other guys, and it did feel weird to see that none of them had a ring."

"That little voice, in the back of your head, sounds a lot like Gibbs, and you didn't even notice it was in there until you saw the guy with the two kids and the pregnant girlfriend, and it's yelling, 'Man up, you pussy, go marry that woman!'"

Tim laughs a little at that. "Wasn't quite those words, but yeah, something like that."

They were a few miles down the road when Jimmy says, "So, Jeannie was trying to gently pump me for information about your parents."

Tim nods at that. "She's been pretty gung ho about this whole have to have a christening party for Kelly thing, and week before last she asked for my parents' address so she could invite them and…" And Tim had been pretty startled by that, didn't have an immediate answer ready.

"And… She said you said your dad was out of the picture, and you clammed up pretty fast on your mom, and she didn't want to press because she could tell it was sensitive and you didn't want to talk."

"Yeah. She asked, my face must have gone white or something. I did say my dad was out of it, and she back-tracked pretty fast. Told me would press and she'd do me proud on welcoming Kelly into the family."

Jimmy's nodding on that. "Oh, she will. If you think Sunday dinner is impressive, any sort of party Jeannie's in charge of'll blow your mind."


"Seriously, if you think Breena gets into the birthday parties and stuff, she's about twenty levels down from Jeanie."

Tim shrugs, with the exception of the weddings, his crew just doesn't really do parties. "I guess that makes sense, I mean… she basically plans parties for a living."

Jimmy thinks about that. "I guess. Sad parties."

"Food, music, flowers, booze. Sad parties."

"Well, she's good at it. Anyway, just, remember to write thank you notes. They will all bring presents and if they don't get little notes about them later the nagging begins."

Tim shakes his head at that. The idea of christenings being this sort of big deal is very foreign to him. Jimmy nudges him off of pondering what sort of present one buys for a four-month-old, by asking, "So, how are things going with your mom?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. I've talked to her twice in the last month and it was… Okay. Really tentative and nervous, but maybe better than nothing. After Jeannie asked, I've been talking with Abby about maybe inviting her and Ben to the christening."

Jimmy looks pretty surprised by that. But he knows Tim hasn't been talking about his mom, so he hadn't been poking, other than checking in with Abby and Gibbs to see if everything was okay. "What's Abby think?"

"That if we do it, they shouldn't stay with us."

Jimmy nods emphatically at that. "I'll second that."

"She's also kind of nervous about how the rest of the family, and Gibbs in specific, would deal with her."

"Ohhh…" Jimmy winces like he's staring at a train wreck. The idea of Gibbs and Tim's mom in one room hadn't occurred to him, but now that it has, he's not seeing how that could be anything but trouble.

"Yeah. That makes things… complicated."

"I mean, if you tell him it matters to you, and you're trying to patch things up, I'm sure he'll support you…" Though Jimmy doesn't sound very certain about that. And as he's thinking of that, it's occurring to him that he's not sure he can be polite to Tim's mom, either.

"I know. In a he won't actually shoot her in the head or do anything out and out that he thinks would bug me, but it won't be warm or easy or…"

"Yeah." Jimmy nods. Gibbs isn't the poster child for warm or friendly when he's at his best. At his worst… defending one of his cubs… No… Jimmy doesn't think that'll be pleasant on any level.

They drive another mile.

"So… you going to do it?"

"I don't know." Tim sighs. "Part of me wants to see her. And she's never seen Kelly. And if she's going to be part of our lives, then the whole forgiveness thing would be part of that, right?"


"Everyone says forgiving people is part of the whole not being mad all the time thing. Forgiving them or fully cutting ties. That this… in between, ignoring it until I can't anymore, blowing up at it, and then ignoring it again thing isn't good."

Jimmy stares at him, remembering the cuts all over him from his last blow up in the lab with the glassware, and how, to him at least, that doesn't look like a natural or easy progression to forgiveness and a functional relationship, and then says the thing you're not supposed to say. "Might be easier to cut ties…"

Tim shakes his head, staring at the traffic whizzing past. "I know." He smiles, very sad. "But she's my mom."

Jimmy squeezes his hand. "Whatever you're gonna do, I'm here." And seeing that, he means it, too. Even if it does mean swallowing his own anger and treating Terri kindly.


They drive a few more minutes, ending up in Tim's driveway. He looks back and sees both girls asleep. "You want to put her down with Kelly? Stick around, give Breena more quiet time?"


It takes a few minutes, but they get both girls settled in the nursery. Tim pokes his head into his bedroom and sees Abby getting a nap as well. He smiles at that, thinking it bodes well for staying up late tonight.

He heads down to the kitchen and grabs himself a cider. "You want something?"

Jimmy pokes around his fridge a bit, and grabs another one for himself. "This is good." They both settle on Tim's sofa, and Jimmy asks, "So, say she does come for the christening? What are you hoping to get out of it?"

Tim snorts. "Not crying?"

"That hurdle's so low it's in danger of melting from the heat of the Earth's core."

"And yet it's not even remotely close to guaranteed."

Oh, God, Tim, and the sorrow that goes with it is clear on Jimmy's face. "What do you want? Really?"

Tim shakes his head, exhaling lightly, dismissing his words with his body language before he says them. "Something I can't have. The one thing I want most, being able to consider my Dad a monster who acted alone, I can't do anymore."

"Nope. Tim…" Jimmy's not sure how to ask this. "Does she know how hurt you are?"

"I don't know. I haven't really been able to get into it, and I don't know what Penny's done."

"Maybe telling her about it, how you understood it, is a good step? Maybe you need to really yell at her?"
Tim shrugs at that, too. "I don't know if I can. I tried, wrote it down, but I couldn't send it to her." He looks away from Jimmy as he says that.

"Why not?"

"Still being a good boy? Taking it quietly? Dealing with it by myself and not making a fuss? Decades of this is how our relationship works and I can't make myself break it? Take your pick."

"Tim, make a fuss. It'll probably be good for you."

He shrugs again. "At some point, I need to sit down with Sarah and Penny and talk to them, too. Because it's not just me."

"No, it's not. How are you guys handling your dad?" He means as a family, and Tim gets that.

"You know my part: completely out of my life. He visits Sarah when he's in town."

"She still has contact with him?"

"I'm not going to ask her to rip her dad, who didn't pull any shit on her, out of her life, because he was an ass to me."

"He was more than an ass to you. Not like he was just impolite."

"I know. But…" Tim rubs his forehead. "He's still her dad. Maybe he started overcompensating or something after they divorced, but she's got happy memories of learning how to ride a bike, and sailing, and fishing, and getting to go onto his ship and meet the sailors and…"

"Okay. I get it. Maybe after he lost you he decided it wasn't going to happen again?"

"Yeah, well, he could have tried not treating me like shit." Tim says with a self-depreciating smile. "That might have worked wonders. 'God, sorry I was a flaming asshole, Tim.' That would have gone a long way."

"Really?" Jimmy doesn't look like he's asking so much for himself, as to get Tim to think about that more.

Tim shrugs, probably not. That would have been a band aid on an amputation. "Would have been better than what actually happened."

"I guess."

"I called him, a year ago…" Jimmy's really surprised by that. "Didn't like my vows… That's not true, I didn't love them. They were so bound up in… in not being him. In having seen, lived this train wreck that was their marriage and knowing who and what I didn't want to be, I called, asked what he thought he was doing. I mean, how did it go that wrong? I needed a piece of the puzzle I didn't have. Only talked for like, five minutes, something like that. But, 'Hey Dad, I'm getting married tomorrow, gonna have a baby in the summer,' got nothing. Just disapproval that Abby was already pregnant. I mean, even if you didn't like the guy, you'd offer some congratulations on that, right?"

"I would."

"Yeah. Me, too. But from him, nope. And in that it didn't involve him cussing me out or insulting me, that was our best conversation in… God… Ever."

"I'm sorry, Tim."

"Yeah. Me, too. So, anyway, he and Sarah are fine. I haven't been brave enough to ask about it, what she might be doing with him about me, beyond telling her that I didn't expect her to cut him out of her life. Penny yelled at him a few times and when he wouldn't come to the realization that he'd done anything inappropriate, she stopped talking to him."

"She cut ties with her son?"

"Yeah. I… I don't know what to do with that, either. I know how bad the idea of losing Kelly hurts, and I don't want to be responsible for that for her."

Jimmy shakes his head at Tim. "I know one thing to do with that, stop thinking it's your fault. He behaved in a way your grandmother felt was indefensible. She cut ties with him because you don't keep relationships with people who do things like that. None of that is your fault."

"I guess."

"Stop guessing. You know. Him being a psychopath is not your fault."

Tim smiles at him sadly. "But I don't know. Wish I did. Be easier if I did. He adores Sarah. She was able to be everything he ever wanted for her, and they get on fine. She could make him smile, so why not me?"

Jimmy slowly closes his eyes and opens them again, then put his cider on the coffee table and scoots closer, wrapping an arm around Tim. "It was never you."

Tim snorts, bitterly. "Be a lot easier to believe if he'd been a psychopath to both of us."

"It wasn't you."

"Yeah. That's what everyone but he and my mom say."

That last bit kills Jimmy, feeling Tim's hurt from his mom having agreed with whatever it was his dad thought, even if she didn't want to use the same tactics. "What did your mom say?"

Another depreciating smile from Tim. "That they were afraid I was too soft. That I needed to be tougher or the world would beat the shit out of me. She's not saying that anymore. Now it's all, 'So, so sorry,' and walking on a tightrope, afraid to say something that'll scare me off. I have a feeling Penny ripped her a new asshole or six. But before she started double and triple thinking everything she said, that came out. I was too soft, too afraid, and needed to be tougher. And Sarah was fearless, she always was. I was twelve, she was three. I'm babysitting. She had one of those Big Wheel tricycles, and she'd take it to the top of the driveway and go down, full speed, straight toward the garage…"

"And you were babysitting when she crashed?" Jimmy knows where this story is going, but that doesn't make listening to it any easier.

Tim nods. "Yep. One of the few times he got home before Mom did. She's screaming. There's blood all over the place. She'd split her lip…" And they both know, first and second hand, how a split lip bleeds like crazy. "I'm trying to get her cleaned up, and he comes in, takes one look around, orders me to my room. So up I go, but I can hear him talking about his brave little girl, and I can see him, half an hour later, zooming down the driveway with her, she's shrieking with laughter. Later, after she was asleep, he came to my room and chewed me out for an hour over how I was an irresponsible cunt incapable of keeping a three-year-old under control, and if I couldn't keep her safe, how was I ever going to be of any use to anyone else? How were other men going to depend on me? How was I going to run a ship if I couldn't get a three-year-old to follow my orders? And on and on and on and fucking on.

"I'd been taking care of her on and off, with help and without, since the day she came home from the hospital. I spent more hours alone with her that week than he had in her entire life at that point, but yeah, I was the irresponsible fuckwit who couldn't be entrusted with another life."

Jimmy's rubbing his shoulder, trying to be comforting. "You know, before Breena, I wasn't a church guy. But my family went, and I had some buddies in Sunday School. No one I was really close to, we didn't go to the same school, but there were guys I'd hang out with between the services."

Tim nods, he's familiar with how that worked. He had a few guys like that at his church, too.

"One of them was gay. He came out senior year. The second he turned eighteen, his parents booted him out of the house. And everyone at the church, the grown-ups at least, were all, 'You made the right decision. Can't have a kid like that hanging around. You've got to think of your younger kids,' all this bullshit that boiled down to if only Tom had acted different, if only he'd pulled it together and been the guy his parents wanted him to be, it'd have been all right.

"They were all sanctimonious assholes, Tim, one big circle-jerk of rabid homophobia. Tom couldn't have 'pulled it together.' He couldn't have made himself straight. And it was not his fault his parents and the people around him were scum. And it's not your fault you weren't Captain America or whatever the hell sort of super sailor your parents wanted. It is entirely their fault they couldn't look at the child you were and loved you like you were. And if Sarah was more what they were hoping for, well, Tom's little brother and sister were straight, and none of that changes that his parents and yours are assholes. It's on them, not you, not Tom. Them."

Jimmy smiles at him a little. "That's why it's a job, right? We make these people, and they're gonna be whoever it they are, and it's our job to love and shelter them and help them become the people they want to be, not the people we want them to be."

Tim closes his eyes and leans his head on Jimmy's shoulder for a moment, seeking and taking comfort from his touch. Then takes a deep breath and sits up, away from Jimmy. "What do you think, should I see her again?"

"I think seeing her is going to hurt. But it may be pain you need to go through, like having a bad tooth pulled. I think not seeing and not making a firm decision as to if she's going to be in your life is putting that pain off. Tooth is still bad, it's still festering in there, and you've got to get it out. You're right, ignoring it until you blow up is a bad plan. I think the only thing that's going to fix this on any long term sort of way is making that decision, cut her out or forgive her. And that… I don't know what the answer is to that."

They heard Kelly start to cry, and Tim got up, fast, going to grab her before there was any shot of waking Molly up, but as he headed up, he said to Jimmy, "Neither do I."


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