Friday, May 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: The Bitter Pill

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

Chapter 326: The Bitter Pill

He's fired the text off before it occurs to Gibbs that just maybe doing it was a little odd.

Well, maybe not odd.


God-awful stupid? He sighs, pocketing his phone.

Like the rest of the crew, he got the text at one in the morning with the picture of Anna. He was still up, working on his bed, (no shot of him sleeping until he knew they were out of the woods, so to speak) so he sent a quick one back to Jimmy asking if they wanted visitors now, or later, and got one back saying that morning was soon enough.

So he went to sleep, looking forward to seeing his newest girl. (And of course there is never a second's doubt that this is one of his girls. He's kind of like Molly in that.)

As he was falling asleep, he found himself feeling especially happy, and really, sincerely looking forward to telling Rachel about this. And sure, he's looking forward to telling Fornell and LJ and Vance about it, but he's just lighting up at the idea of telling Rachel, imagining showing her the pictures, and the look on her face as he does it.

He got there in the morning after the McGees, but before Tony and Ziva, and once he got a chance to hold Anna, he asked Abby to take a picture of them, and she did, and once he handed her back to Breena, he sent the shot to Rachel, feeling very pleased about the world in general, and showing her his newest baby in specific.

Which is when it occurs to him that the person, the woman, he most wants to share this with is not his friend or girlfriend, but his therapist.

He doesn't want to show Anna off in a Look, I'm making progress sort of way, because adopting baby girls was never an area where he felt like he needed any help. No, the feeling that's going with this is one that he remembers, most recently from Susan, and before her, Hollis, that desire to share the good parts of your life with someone who you enjoy. Someone who will enjoy them with you.

A friend.

(If he's being honest, a more than friend.)

Everyone else is cooing over Anna, so he makes some sort of excuse, and heads off, none of them really paying attention to him, because he's not the star of the show, not today.

He's pacing the hallway feeling fairly black about the whole thing when he gets back: Congratulations! She's beautiful, Jethro. Everyone okay?

Yeah. Tired, sore, but you know how that goes. He's aware of the fact that her youngest child, a son, is a sophomore in high school right now.

Yes, I do. Bring more pictures Monday?

The question mark means it's a request, not an assignment. So he texts back. Sure.

Good! See you then.

Warm, polite, focused. Enthusiastic about the good things in his life, but even with that, she's drawing the lines. She'll see him on Monday, during their appointment, because she's his therapist, not his friend (or more than friend.)

He's leaning against the wall, slipping his phone into his pocket, head back, and eyes closed when he hears, "Are you all right, Jethro?"

"Fine, Penny."

She's not buying that, at all. And, if he's the clan's patriarch, she's the matriarch, and anyone with an ounce of sense in his head knows pulling bullshit on grandma isn't going to fly. "You were fine five minutes ago, and then you weren't. Really, are you okay? Get some bad news?"

He shakes his head and says, "Yeah, I'm fine."

She snorts at that, leans next to him against the wall, and squeezes his hand. "Want some company while you stew in your 'fine'?" He is suddenly well-aware of where Tim got his font of sarcasm.

"Nah. Go, enjoy Anna. Nothing going on with me that's that interesting."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. She won't be brand new forever, and I'll still be old and kind of stupid tomorrow."

"How about you come with me? You're right, she won't be brand new forever, and snuggling tiny, little babies tends to help with feeling stupid and old."

"I'll be there in a minute."

"Okay," she says as she walks off. One of the things he appreciates about Penny is that she's well aware of the fact that he's full of shit right now, and she's offering to help him with it, but she also recognizes and respects the fact that he's a grown-up, one of her equals, and she doesn't push when he makes it clear he'd like to be alone in his stupid.

He sighs again, wondering how the hell to get himself out of this, without actually doing what he needs to do to get himself out of it, because right now, the idea of cutting Rachel out of his life, stopping seeing her, is just too depressing to bear for more than a second.

Of course, at the same time, he knows what's going to happen if he keeps seeing her, and that's depressing, too.

He's fifty-six, fifty-seven and mandatory retirement coming up in a month. Three ex-wives. More ex-girlfriends than he wants to count. He thought he'd made every emotional mistake a man could make. Thought he was done getting himself into stupid emotional tangles that weren't good for anyone.

But, of course, he's not.

Noooo... He's the dumb fuck falling in love with his therapist. The same woman who just about flat out told him not to fall in love with her.

His married therapist.

It hits him; he doesn't actually know that for a fact. Rachel will, occasionally, talk about her children (there are three of them, one out of the house, one in college, one in high school) but she never mentions Cranston. He's never specifically asked about him, but they'll often talk a bit about what both of them were doing over the weekend, and while she'll mention things with the kids, she doesn't mention him.

She also doesn't have any pictures of him up in her office. There's a few graduation shots, two high school, one college, of her and the three kids, but not any with him in them.

Which would make sense, if he's the one taking the pictures.


There is a... Tim would call it a meta voice, but Gibbs is not Tim, so he doesn't have much of a name for it, but whatever this thing is, it's well aware of the fact that he's desperately grasping at straws, because he knows what the right thing to do is (stop seeing Rachel), but he doesn't want to do the right thing.

For that matter, since he said it to Fornell, mentioned that he couldn't ask the one he was interested in out, he's known what the right thing to do is.

But he doesn't want to do it.

He wants to go see her on Mondays (and the other days of the week, too, but he can't, so he'll settle for Mondays) and talk with her, watch the way the early morning sun lights her face and hair, enjoy the sound of her voice, the way she watches him as he speaks, the way her fingers stroke over the cup of coffee, and the expression on her face when he brings her a flavor combination she especially likes, revel in time spent with an attractive woman he can say absolutely anything to without fear.

He hasn't let his interior fantasies go past just talking to her. Probably because she is married. (You don't know that. Stop kidding yourself, Gunny. That is one married woman!) Definitely because if he breaks that line, even in his mind, he stops being able to say that she's just a friend, and this is how friends feel about each other, and all the rest of the lies he's been telling himself since Fornell looked at him and said, "God, you are so lonely, aren't you?"

He sighs and straightens up. He can hear voices coming from Jimmy and Breena's room, and his internal clock is good enough that he knows his team is getting ready to head to work.

He slaps a happy smile on his face, marches himself into their room, kisses Breena goodbye, pets Anna one last time, gives Molly a big, whirling hug, and promises to come over to Tim and Abby's tonight to read her a very special goodnight story picked out especially for her, Jimmy gets a slap on the shoulder and a one-armed hug, and then he heads off with Tim, Abby, Tony and Ziva. Time to go to work and, hopefully, stop some bad guys.

Or spend a rather contemplative day doing paperwork.

Probably a bad day for it. A good case would have gotten his mind off it. (You know you're distracted when Draga, who still has to read the forms, and look up information to fill them out, is going through them faster than you are.)

But there wasn't a good case, or a bad one, or any sort of case at all.

Tim spent two hours on the paperwork, and then vanished down to the basement to mingle with the Minions some more.

And Tony, who is usually good for a distraction, is also musing something. He's going through his paperwork even slower than Gibbs is. Gibbs can feel something is up with him, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put together Tony's fear of babies, visiting Anna, and the way he keeps looking at Ziva whenever she's got her head down filling out the forms, and come up with Tony's got babies on his mind.

So, instead of a juicy murder, and bad guys to hunt down, there was paperwork, and showing Draga and Leon baby pictures. And, in that he can fill a lot of this paperwork out on automatic, not needing to think much about it, there was time to come up with something of a plan.

It's a bad plan. It's a goddamn awful stupid plan. That little voice knows it. Is telling him it's a bad plan. But it's not as bad as it could be. And it is as much as a middle ground as he can stand right now.

So, after a day of paperwork, he heads home, and it hits him while driving there, that now, Tim and Abby's house is home, too. There's a shift. He knew he was going there, so he could lend a hand on baby wrangling, and he drove it on automatic, not needing to think the way there. But today was the first time he realized that he was heading home. His house is still home, too. Anywhere his tools live is home. But, this house with the kids is home, too.

He beats them there, because he's not picking up Molly.

He spends a few minutes playing with Kelly and talking to Heather, seeing how today went. (About average. Looks like that first tooth might be thinking of popping out soon. Kelly's been extra-drooly and kind of irritable today, but the little white mark on the gums that means tooth soon isn't there. Either way, Heather's on top of it; she's got teething rings in the freezer and baby Orajel in the medicine cabinet, ready to go. In that Kelly's gnawing on his knuckle, Gibbs is thinking Heather may be onto something with the whole teething soon thing.)

Heather's looking at him expectantly, not really sure about something, when it hits him that what she's not really sure about is if him showing up means she can head home for the day.

He smiles at her, trying to put her at ease, and says, "How about you head off, get out of here before traffic gets too nasty? I'll give them the teething report."

"You sure it's okay?"

"Yeah." He nods, smiles reassuringly. "They're only a few minutes behind me, picking up Molly, but they won't mind if you leave Kelly with me. Baby girl and I get along fine."

She stares at him, sees the obvious ease with which he's holding Kelly, and the peaceful way she's chewing on his fingers, and decides, that yes, he'll do on his own, for a few minutes at least. "Okay."

Tim and Abby do show up a few minutes later, and the five of them have a calm dinner. Having learned their lesson last night, dinner was offered as an accomplished fact. "Molly, dinner time. We're having chicken and broccoli!"

And he does whip out a "special story" for Molly.

Okay, technically he's been reading it to Kelly every now and again, when she's not quite restful and he wants something a bit longer than Goodnight Moon, but he's also pretty sure she won't rat him out.

It's a story one of Shannon's friends had written, self-published, sold probably twenty-five copies, but they got one of them. It's a little girl and her daddy sailing. (He's fairly sure that's why Shannon bought it.) It's basically an introduction to a boat, and all the parts, and, honestly, kind of boring if you don't like to sail. (Okay, honestly, even if you do like to sail, it's kind of boring.)

But it's quiet, and long (ish), and he can read it in a dulled-down voice that puts babies to sleep nice and easy. And both of them are seconds away from asleep when he finishes, gets them laid down, and creeps out to the sound of two little girls breathing deep and easy.

He heads down the stairs, hears typing from Tim's office, and the TV from the living room. He feels marginally bad about cutting into Tim's writing time, but he figures by this point, Tim knows that he can just toss him if it's terribly inconvenient.

(And he also knows that he asks for help so rarely, especially on something personal, that there's no way Tim'll toss him unless he's literally in the middle of the thrilling climax of whatever he's writing.)

But, this'll hold for a moment or two. Hold for him to get a little more loosened up, more comfortable actually saying the words in his head. So, he heads to the kitchen, finds the bottle of bourbon they keep in the pantry for him, realizes that since this isn't his basement he should probably find a glass for it, so he does, pours himself some, and then finds himself walking into the living room and sitting next to Abby instead of seeing what Tim's up to.

She's watching TV. Pretty intently from the looks of it. He kind of recognizes the characters, he's seen her watching them before. The two pretty boys who keep pretending to be FBI agents but aren't.

"Is it good?" he asks her.

"It's awesome, Gibbs."

"Didn't know you liked cop shows." Then something weird happened, some sort of monster popped out of nowhere and one of the pretty boys, the one with the really long and not even remotely FBI approved hair killed the absolute living hell out of it. "This isn't a cop show, is it?"

"Nope. Those two, the one with all the blood on him is Sam, and the other one is Dean, pretend to be Feds sometimes, but they aren't really."

Gibbs nods, wondering what that thing Sam just killed was. "I'm getting that. Why are they pretending to be cops?"

"It's a long story. Mostly so they can get information, find the monsters, and kill them."

"Ah." He stands back up. He doesn't actually like horror movies or shows. He's experienced more fear than any one man ever needs, and feels no need for adding any more to his life.

"We can watch something else if you want. I've seen this once already. Newest one starts in an hour, and I'm just refreshing my memory on what happened last week."

"No. I'm good. Might drop in on Tim for a sec, then maybe turn in early."


The door to Tim's office is shut. From what he's seen doors are almost never shut in this house, so that means knock. So he does.

"Come in."

"Hey. Am I interrupting?" He hadn't heard any typing before he knocked, but he still wants to check.
Tim had been lounging back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, but he sits up and says, "Thinking, but I can take a break. What's up?"

"Can you do something for me?" Gibbs asks as he heads into Tim's office.

"Probably." Tim's looking a bit alarmed, and it hits Gibbs that he's sounding nervous. He takes a breath, and summons his No Shame vibe. "What do you need?"

"It's kind of personal."

He might now be sounding nervous anymore, but he did for a second there, and between that and personal, he's got all of Tim's attention riveted to him. "Okay, what's up?"

He tells Tim, and sees Tim wince as he's going through it. He wraps up with his great brainstorm: "She never, ever mentions Cranston, I… If she's really married, Monday's our last session and I'll cut it off, I'm not gonna… I mean, either way, Monday's the last day, but… if she's not married… Maybe, in a while…"

Tim's never seen Gibbs look this indecisive. "You want me to check and see if she's really married?"

"Yeah." He feels dumb as hell saying it, but if she is, he'll cut it off and not see her again. If she isn't, he'll cut if off, let her go for a good six months, at least, try to date some in the meantime, and if no one else catches his fancy, he'll call her up and ask her out. "She's got no pictures of him in her office. I ask her, sometimes, about how her life is going, and she never mentions him. I don't even know his first name. So…"

Tim drags his chair to his computer, and pulls the other one in front of it for Jethro to sit. And he does.

Tim turns everything on, and then sits back, looking at him, and Gibbs can read that look, half-sad, half-warning, all concern. And once the computer's finished booting up, Tim says to him, "Jethro… If she's a widow, or divorced, or if there never was a Cranston… if he's just a shield she put in place to help keep patients in line… It's a bad idea. She knows everything about you. You know nothing about her. I know she's kind and a good listener and probably the closest, most intimate relationship you've had with a woman in decades, but it's her JOB. You are paying her to be kind and listen." He shuts the door and says very quietly, once he's sitting again, "It's like falling in love with a hooker."

"I know." And he does. He really does, and feels stupid as hell for it, but, it's real. And the fact that it's stupid doesn't make it any less real, and… well, not like he's never met a guy who fell for his favorite hooker before, or… whatever this is. "Will you check for me?"

"Sure." Tim nods, gets online, and hits his first best guess of how to find this out.

It doesn't take long. Few seconds to get into Facebook, and from there to find her personal page. (Rachel Todd) Gibbs is sitting right next to him, watching him search, which means he can't lie about what he finds, but… God he's tempted. If there's no actual Cranston, he was ready to lie his ass off and say there was.

But, a few minutes into it, he does find her Facebook page, and he does find the little married heart, and a few more seconds located a bunch of pictures of the two of them.

Gibbs is smiling at the page, and Tim has the sense he's doing it because he can smile or curse, and he's not willing to start cursing up a blue streak in the middle of his office, with Abby right nearby.

Tim squeezes his hand. He doesn't say anything, just gets up, and a minute later is back with a drink of his own (tea) and the bottle of bourbon.

Gibbs adds another inch to his glass, nods, smile still on his face, eyes so sad. "They look happy, don't they?"

Gibbs has focused in on a shot of Rachel, a man with blue eyes and gray hair, both of them sitting on what looks like someone's back porch, his arms around her, her head leaning on his shoulder, both of them smiling.

"Yeah. They do," Tim answers.

Gibbs takes a big gulp of the drink. "She basically told me not to fall in love with her."

Tim smiles, gently, and nods.

"She flat out told me we weren't dating."

"Looks like she knew you pretty well."

"Yeah." He rubs his forehead, running his hand through his hair, and takes another drink. "She had me pegged before I got in the room."

"She's good at her job, good at people."

"And beautiful, and smart, and funny, and…" He's not sure how to finish that.

"Comfortable? Intimate?"


"That's her job."

Gibbs sighs, drinking a bit more. "I know. Doesn't make it hurt less."

"Yeah. What do you want to do? We can sit here and drink if you like. We can head into the living room and play some Plants Versus Zombies. Won't fix a broken heart, but it might distract you some."

He shakes his head. "Don't want to explain this to Abby."

"Okay. I won't tell her, either. But she'll understand if you do tell her."

"I know she will... Just feel so god-awful stupid about this. It's almost as bad as falling for her in the first place. I can't have her. I knew I couldn't have her. She told me not to fall for her, and I did anyway. I feel like I shot myself in the ass, intentionally."

"The single man who doesn't fall in love with a smart, funny, beautiful woman who listens to him, encourages him to be the man he wants to be, never judges him, and accepts everything he has to offer is gay. And he'd fall the for handsome man who did the same thing for him. That's just who we are."

Gibbs shrugs.

"Seriously. It's not stupid to want someone who gives you almost everything you crave."

Gibbs shakes his head at that. It feels stupid. Just because it's normal doesn't make it any easier. "Told Abby I'd drop in on you and then turn in early," Jethro says, standing and picking up his glass.

"Okay." Tim nods, squeezes his hand again.

If you name a problem, if you admit it's there, you have to deal with it. At least, if you're Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you do.

So, he knows, as he drags himself into Rachel's office Monday morning, his usual going-to-see-her spring in his step completely absent, that this is it. It's not fair to him to keep going, keep pretending that there's more here than there actually is. It's not fair to her, because if he keeps wrapping himself in this fantasy, he'll eventually do something (even more) monumentally stupid with it.

So, today's it. The end. And that hurts so much more than he thought it would, and vastly more than he's willing to admit to anyone.

"So, Jethro, same time next week?"

He smiles sadly at her, been doing it all morning, not really talking, just looking at her and the way the light hits her face and hair. "Nah. Think this was it."

"Oh." He sees it in her face, that she knew this was happening and that it was a problem, and that she appreciates him backing off without having to do it herself, and she very much appreciates that he's not going to push it, not going to make her deal with some sort of awkward and embarrassing I-love-you… type thing.

He sees that she trusted him to let her help him as much as she could, and then to back off when he got in too deep. He respects that, but it doesn't make it hurt less.


She doesn't make him say why he's done, which he thinks is a kindness. Of course, she is kind, that's part of the problem. He stands up to leave, and she takes both of his hands in hers, looks him in the eye, and says, "You're going to be okay."

He nods, still sad, swallows hard, and says, "Sure. Eventually." And as much as right now hurts, he knows that's true. He will, eventually, be okay. Then he turns away and heads out of her office.


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