Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 318

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

Chapter 318: Goodnight, Kelly

When they got home from the Slaters', Abby put Kelly in her crib, Tim vanished, and Gibbs realized he either needed to head home now, and grab stuff for tomorrow, or he was going to be getting up really early tomorrow to run home then.

He went up to the guest room, grabbed his bag, and headed down.

"Gonna run home, swap out my clothes."

Abby nods at that, she's on her computer, reading something. "You know, you could just leave stuff in that room. I know you don't live on the other side of the earth, but, for nights you don't feel like running home... It's fine with both of us if you want to treat that like your room. We've both been thinking of it as your room."

That actually would be really convenient. He nods, feeling a little surprised at how he's not feeling any sense of reticence towards grabbing some stuff and leaving it here. It doesn't feel like intruding.

"If you let me know what sort of pillows you like..."

"Everything you've got in there is fine."

"Okay. Just, feel free to make it comfortable. Anything you want, add to the grocery list. We'll keep it stocked for you."

When he got back a bit more than an hour later, Abby was pumping, watching something on TV, Kelly was still snoozing, and he could hear music coming from Tim's office.

He put his stuff upstairs, unpacked, didn't take too long to find a home for a few changes of clothing and one suit, and headed back down.

"Making sure we're all set for dinner?" he asks Abby as she wraps up with the breast pump.

"Yep. Heather tells me she gets irate when supper isn't breast milk."

"And we wouldn't want that."

"Not at all."

About three minutes after Tim and Abby headed out, Gibbs hears Kelly start to cry. He pauses the game, and heads up the stairs.

"Just you and me tonight," he says as he heads in, scooping her out of her crib.

She gurgles at him, looking like she approves.

He tickles her tummy as he gets her out of her extra-warm footy-pajamas for her diaper change. Unlike tights, these are easy. Just a zipper from neck to foot, and he can handle that one-handed. Pink with little kittens on it. He thinks he's seen this on Molly. Wouldn't surprise him. He does know that a pile of baby clothing migrated from the Palmer house to the McGee house when it was clear that Kelly was a girl, and he knows that clothing (along with some skull-bedecked onesies that he deeply doubts will ever end up on Anna) heads right back as Kelly outgrows it. Breena's got everything ready for Anna now, they're just waiting for her to show up. Though, he thinks, it'd be nice if she decided to cook for at least a few more weeks.

He gets Kelly cleaned up, and then gets him cleaned up, and in a matter of minutes they both head down for some dinner.

Abby did order him some pizza, which he's enjoying. And Kelly's propped against his chest, slurping happily on her bottle.

He turns the game back on, and both of them have dinner while the Redskins wipe the floor with the Steelers.

"Those guys in red are your Uncle Tony and Uncle Ed's team. The ones in black and yellow are our team. When the ones in red have the ball, we say 'Booooo!'" He stretches the sound out, exaggerating it. She gives him the perplexed look that seems to be her standard response to adults goofing with her. "We'll work on that whole sense of humor thing," he says as she drains the bottle dry. She fusses a bit, looking like she's still hungry.

"You want more?" She continues to fuss at him.

"Don't have more of this. I can get you formula."

More fussing.

"Formula it is." He makes up another bottle, one-handed, Kelly pressed against his chest. "I think you're getting ready for a growth spurt. Might be getting onto time to add some cereal to your diet, too."

He lifts the formula bottle to her lips, and she does that little, uggh, this stuff face as she takes her first suck. "Yeah, I know, you don't love this. It's supposed to be really good for you."

She keeps sucking.

"Your mom tells me this is chemically identical to breast milk. Same fats and proteins and whatever. Doesn't have the micro-nutrients, but it's as close as she could get you."

Kelly doesn't appear to be impressed.

"Yeah. It's not the same, is it?"

More unimpressed suckling. He takes them back into the living room, and turns the game back on. "On the upside, you're not going hungry. And I'm not having to decide for myself if you're getting some cereal for the first time tonight."

They settle in for another quarter of the game. He's sitting there, enjoying the pleasant, warm weight of her against his tummy, as well as the little mwuf, mwuf, mwuf, sucking sound of a contently eating infant. He notices the sucking is slowing down and she's a good two-thirds of the way through her second bottle, so she's probably feeling full enough.

"Burp time?" He shifts the rag that had been tucked under her chin, catching the drips of milk and formula that hadn't been making it into Kelly, and drapes it over his shoulder. He props her against his chest, stands up, and starts his patting and slightly bouncy stroll of a walk.

It takes a minute or two, but he does coax a burp out of her, and she settles in more comfortably against him.
He shifts his hold, so she's in his arms, looking up at him. "Feeling better?" He nods for her. "Good. Tubby time. Someone's smelly, and it's not me."

When he did this last week, Kelly didn't get a bath. She didn't need one. But she is definitely a bit whiffy today, and bath time, when she needs one, is part of her bedtime routine. Plus it's not like he's never given a baby a bath before. He doesn't think Tim or Abby will mind.

So, up to the tubby they go. He gets the water going, gets her stripped off, and is in the process of putting her in the little bath caddy thing they've got in there for her when his knee sends him a loud and clear message that it will not be going along with any adventure that involves spending more than another thirty seconds kneeling, and that if he does not stand up or sit down right now, it is going to complain in a very loud and unfortunate manner, possibly involving him having to go back to wearing the brace all the damn time.

Which means he's sitting on the edge of the tub, naked baby in his arms, who is a human time bomb of sorts, just waiting to pee on him, having to figure out how to do this without kneeling. Sitting on the edge of the tub he's too high up to easily wash her off, and way too high up to keep a good grip on her.

So that leaves getting into the tub with her, either standing for a shower, or sitting in the tub. (Or putting the afore mentioned pretty whiffy baby back into her jammies and punting the problem to the next day. But in that he's a take-charge, Marine kind of guy, the idea of just ignoring it never occurs to him. The mission is washed baby, and he will not fail!)

He wonders, briefly, if it'll bug Tim or Abby that he's getting in the tub with Kelly. He's awfully sure it won't be a problem for Abby. Not as sure about Tim. He does know that Tim gets in with her, if he didn't know that, or if it wasn't true, he'd be eyeballing the baby wipes and just giving her a sponge bath. But, just because Tim gets in with her, doesn't mean Tim's cool with other naked guys around his baby daughter.

He carries Kelly over to her changing table, laying her down, and quickly strips out of his own clothing. (He leaves his boxers on as a compromise between naked and dressed. He knows Jimmy's been at the pool with Kelly, so it's not like she hasn't had some naked chest time with someone who wasn't Dad.) And picking her back up, snuggling her close, she made a very surprised sound, and immediately got both of her tiny hands gripped vice tight in his chest hair.

As he was gently prying her fingers open, hoping he doesn't have two bald patches on his chest from how tight she's grabbing him, he says, "I know; I'm a lot fuzzier than Dad and Uncle Jimmy. I'm also attached to that fuzz, so quit trying to yank it out."

Maybe she's listening, maybe not. But once he gets the second hand open, she stops trying to rip his chest hair out. She does keep pressing her cheek against his chest, making a sort of surprised squawking sound, pulling back, and doing it again.

He looks down at her the third time she does it, as he's testing the water to see if it's nicely warm. "Are you laughing?"

She does it one more time and makes that sound again. He rubs his chest a little and says, "Yeah, I guess it is kind of tickle-y."

She's eyeballing his nipple, trying to grab it. She doesn't have enough fine motor control to get it, but her hand keeps landing in the right general area. "Just like with Dad, that doesn't do anything you're interested in," he says as he notices that he's only got one towel in there, and it's hers. He takes her hand in his as when she gets his chest hair again, heading into the hall to find another towel. "Okay. Got it. We're all set for shower time."

He steps in, back to the spray, and then turns slowly. "We good?"

She doesn't fuss, so he thinks this is probably success and proceeds to get her washed off. She's a plump little thing, so washing off involves getting soap worked into knee folds and elbow folds and the like, which she seems to consider tickly, too, so there's a lot of pleased squirming as he's getting her lathered up, and then some not so pleased squirming, she's determined to not let him wash under her chin, but after about five minutes she's all cleaned up and rinsed off, and it's time to get out.

He gets her wrapped up in her towel. It has a little hood, which he thinks is a nice addition to baby gear, and also wings, a tail, and horns, (Of course it's a dragon, a little pink and pastel blue dragon. Molly's got a puppy one. There's a kitten one waiting for Anna for when she gets home.) which he's not seeing as much use for, but she does seem to enjoy chewing on one of the horns as he dries her off. He quickly dries himself off, slipping off the soaked boxers, wrapping his towel around his waist, and takes her to her bedroom.

Dried off, diaper on, fresh jammies on, pacifier in mouth, sleepy baby cuddled in his arms, slowly sucking her pacifier, eyes drooping: that feels good. He settles with her in the rocking chair, gently swaying back and forth. He doesn't pick up the book. She doesn't look at the pictures. These days, reading to Kelly is more about the sound than anything else.

Besides, he knows the words.

So, he gently strokes her back and starts with, "In the great green room, there was a telephone, a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon..."

Before Kelly, he hadn't thought about those words in decades. Didn't know he still knew them. But he does. And right now, words slipping off his lips, quietly, eyes closed, as he rocks back and forth, it could be, save for the dull ache in his knee, 1982, and he could be doing this in a small nursery in base housing at Lejeune.
He finishes up, adding 'Goodnight Kelly' the final line he always used, gently putting her down, and then heads to his room to get dressed.

Tim and Abby get home and find Gibbs on the sofa, reading, in his PJs. He's looking very comfy. (Game wrapped ten minutes earlier; Redskins (booo) won.)

Abby leads Tim into the living room, plunks him on the sofa next to Gibbs, tosses the Playstation controllers at them and says, "Fun. This has been a god-awful grim weekend and we are finishing it off with some fun!"

Tim's looking at her defeatedly, like he'll go along with this but all he really wants to do is sleep. Gibbs doesn't think dinner went badly, neither Tim nor Abby have that sort of feel about them, and he's sure that if it had been a disaster Ducky or Penny would have given him a heads up, but it's been a long two days, and Tim's fried. He doesn't look like he's thinking gaming will be fun, and Gibbs certainly isn't.

Gibbs is glaring at the controller; reading was fun. The game, even with the Redskins winning, was fun. Bedtime was fun. Anything that involves one of these confounded glowing electronic things is not fun.

She comes back a moment later with three ciders. One for each of them, all open. Tim drinks his pretty thankfully, right now some alcohol would be a good thing for him, blur the edges a bit, and Gibbs takes a deep drink, it'll make whatever it is she's got in mind easier.

She sits in Tim's lap, turns on the tv and the playstation, flips around for a few seconds and queues up a game. "This one's really easy."

Gibbs is staring at the tv. Then he blinks slowly and looks at her. "Plants Versus Zombies III? They needed three of these?"

"Yes." She smiles brightly, but there's a brittleness to that smile, she's not as happy as she seems because she's trying to make things lighter than they are. "Because it's fun!"

Gibbs gets that message loud and clear. He is being shanghaied into fun, and he will have fun or answer to a mope-y Abby. So, if enjoying whatever comes next will make them feel better, he can fake it for an hour or so. "Do you own all three?"

"Of course!" She flips it onto two players, taking another drink. "You're going to watch Tim and I play, then you get to."

Gibbs is staring at the screen, weak smile on his face. He's not loving the idea of playing this. But Tim's starting to grin.

"This one's pretty easy, Jethro. Just use three buttons," he says, taking a drink, starting to look a bit more alive.

"Yeah, simple controls, but it's a defensive strategy game. Your job is to use the plants to defend the house. If the Zombies get in, they eat your brains and you lose." A cartoon lawn with a hedge on one end and a house on the other pops up on the TV. Abby plants a smiling flower and starts moving the cursor around collecting smiling cartoon suns. "You just swoop around, collecting suns, and planting your plants, and then they kill the Zombies."

Tim starts to relax a bit. "It's a silly game. Simple controls, but not a simple game. Lots of different Zombies, lots of plants, everything does something different, and the terrain changes every level." He kisses his wife. This is exactly what he needs right now. Something completely unrelated to the rest of his life that will hold his attention, but is easy enough it doesn't involve adrenaline spikes. Win, lose, doesn't matter, this is cute and fun. "Thanks."

She kisses back. "Anytime, baby."

"Okay. So, these little flowers here," he starts explaining to Gibbs, "are like your banking system. You've got to plant them to make sure you can buy the stuff you need to defend with. These pea plants are like rifles. They shoot one pea at a time. The walnuts are a barrier defense..."

Gibbs listens to Tim explaining what's going on as he and Abby start building their fortress. They get a minute to put things in place before the Zombies start to shuffle their way through.

"So, you see how the pea keeps shooting and the Zombie dies?"

"Yeah, I can see that, Tim." Not blind yet, even if I do need glasses all the time now.

"Good, so that's the game. More plants that do more damage. Bigger, faster, badder Zombies. You've got to make sure you've got enough sun for the plants and you've got to wait between plantings."

"I think I've got it. You need a rifle pit in the top line." There's nothing shooting up there, and a new Zombie's wandering toward the house.

"On it," Abby says, planting the pea shooter.

"What's that corn cob thing you've got?" Jethro asks Tim. (When they play Abby handles making sure they've got enough sunshine, and small arms fire, Tim handles barriers, big guns, and last ditch efforts.)

"Multi-directional mortar fire."

"Hmmm..." He can see the value of that. Especially as crowds of Zombies are starting to head toward the house. "The hot pepper?"

"Single line napalm fire."

"Hmp." Jethro keeps watching as horde after horde of Zombies die before getting into the house. But he's thinking he's getting the hang of this. The plants and Zombies are silly, but it looks like the strategy aspect is solid.

And he's good at strategy. After all, if you want someone to defend a house against a horde of anything, let alone Zombies, Leroy Jethro Gibbs is your man.

More importantly, this is the first time he's seen Tim laugh since work on Friday, so anything that'll help with that, he's willing to try.

Tim and Abby play three levels, while Gibbs watches intently. As the last Zombie on that level died, Gibbs says to Abby, "Okay, hand that over. Let me try."

That gets a smile out of Tim, and a happy laugh out of Abby, who shifts next to him, starting to point out what buttons do what.

And all in all, it's not that bad, kind of addictive, really. He might, possibly, be interested in playing this again.

They'd been at it for an hour, he and Abby swapping the controller, Tim playing straight through, when Kelly begins chirping for second dinner.

"And that's my call," Abby says, handing the controller over to Jethro.

"How'd it go?" he asks Tim as he plants landmines. (Some sort of potato thing. He has an easier time just thinking of them by what sort of weapon they are.)

"Better than yesterday."

"Not a high hurdle to clear."

"Nope." Tim shakes his head at that. "You and Kelly?"

"Fine. Realized half-way through my knee wasn't up for kneeling to give her a bath."

"Tubby tomorrow then?"

Gibbs looks appalled at the idea that mere knee issues may have waylaid him from his goal of a clean baby. "Got in with her. Figured I should make sure that was okay, though."

Tim shrugs. "Doesn't bug me. Can't imagine it'd bug Abby."

"Good. Just figured I should check."

Tim thinks about it for a second. "If it's something you would have done with your Kelly, it's okay to do it with mine." He goes very quiet after that, not saying anything, not paying attention to the game.

After a minute, Gibbs asks, "You okay?"

"As much as I've been any time since yesterday." He shakes his head. "We were talking a little about forgiveness and what it would look like. And I just said that to you. Just slipped right off my tongue without a second thought. And I don't need to give it a second thought. I know you'll be okay with her. Sun rises in the east. Gravity pulls stuff toward earth. Kelly is safe with Gibbs. Absolute truth." He smiles limply at Gibbs. "Assuming I ever did get to forgiving her, let alone allowing her back into our lives, that's something I'd never be sure of with my mom."

Gibbs puts the controller down and rubs Tim's shoulder. "You thinkin' about it?"

"My sister would really like it."

"I'm sure she would. Doesn't mean it's a good plan."

"I know."

"Doesn't mean it's a bad one, either."

"Thanks," Tim says dryly. And then, more seriously. "What would you do?"

"I'm not you."

"Which is why I'm asking. Sarah kept pointing out, it's been twenty years, she's not the person she used to be..."

Gibbs does think about it. He takes a few minutes to put the words together properly. "I think trust is what builds families. I think part of what makes our family different, stronger, is that our trust in each other was earned. It's not a matter of accident or blood. It's that every day, for years, we put ourselves on the line for each other. When push came to shove, we all stood up and shoved back for each other. Even when we're rubbing each other wrong, we all know, in our bones and souls, that we've got each other's backs to the end." He stops at that, takes a breath, sees Tim watching him, listening very intently, and continues on, "The best, most charitable version of what happened with you and your mom is that when push came to shove, she rolled on over and let your Dad steamroll you and her. The real version is worse. She broke your trust. And different person or not, twenty years or not, reformed or not, you'd be insane to trust her with you, your wife, or your child. And since that's true, she can't be family. Coming to terms with that, making peace with it, getting to the point where you can tolerate spending an afternoon with your sister's mom for your sister's sake, all of that is probably a good idea. But I don't think she's your family, and I know she's not mine."

Tim nods at that and stands up, shutting off the game. "Thanks." That time it was genuine. "Abby'll be wrapping up with Kelly soon, and I'm beat. 'Night."

"Good night, Tim."


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