McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 346: Of Phobias and Dogs
"So, why is Shabbos at Gibbs' place," Tim asks as he pulls into Gibbs' driveway.
"He just said he had someone he wanted us to meet."
"A someone who couldn't come to Tony and Ziva's?"
"I think that's part of this, too. I know I'm fried from this week, and they're worse. So I think a lot of it is letting them have the night off, get fed, taken care of, and have to do nothing more complicated than just sit around and eat."
Tim knows exactly how much work Abby's been doing for this case, so he assumes that Tony, Ziva, and Co. have to be even busier.
If you asked him, Gibbs would tell you that he remembers what Beth said about Mona being protective of her pack and that she has to be introduced to new people. He knows he heard that.
But as he's bustling around the house, getting the last bits of dinner ready to go, pulling the chickens out of the oven, (Mona's staring at them, longingly, and he's firmly telling her "No!") sticking candles all over the place, it's completely slipped his mind. No, what he's thinking about is that if he's going to host Shabbos, he's going to do Ziva proud.
But it's crashing back into the forefront of it as he hears his front door open, sees Mona go shooting out of the kitchen, barking and growling, off to stop the intruder who has just broken into her home.
"Mona!" He's yelling, but she's charging toward Tim, who has just pulled Abby behind him and has his gun out, in hand, trained on the black thing charging toward his family, growling.
"Don't shoot her!"
Fortunately Tim's better at taking orders that Mona is. She's stopped two feet away, growling at him, teeth bare, quivering, ready to leap, and Gibbs is absolutely certain that if Mona makes a move, that's one dead dog.
"So, any breaks in the case?" he asks Abby as she opens the door.
She's saying something, but he doesn't know what it is. His entire world narrows down the big, black, growling, barking, bared teeth, attacking thing that is coming straight for them.
He was carrying a bottle of wine, but it hit the welcome mat with a dull thud.
He yanks Abby back, hard, knocking her off balance, right now he doesn't care if she ends up on her ass as long as he ends up between her and Kelly and whatever that thing is. His left hand darts to his gun, and he's thanking God they asked Heather to drop Kelly off and that they are coming directly from work, so he is carrying.
He figures he's got one, maybe two more heartbeats before it closes on them, but he doesn't want to miss, he knows he's shooting into a house where Gibbs is, somewhere, so he pauses, makes sure is aim is good, makes sure he can anticipate where the thing, (dog, it's a dog) is going to be when it leaps for his throat, and is tightening his finger when he hears, "Tim, don't shoot her!"
Abby is, of course, aware of the fact that, when push comes to shove, Tim will and has, literally, killed people to protect himself and others.
She is aware of the fact that he shot Jethro when Jethro was trying to kill him.
She's seen him shoot before. (Though not at anyone.)
She's seen the nervous, scared side of him wanting to be protective.
She's seen him talk his way out of danger for him and her.
But she has never seen this.
It's only the fact that she's got on wide heels that she didn't fall when he pulled her back. There was a lot of force in that grab. And by the time she's got her balance right she can see he is blocking the whole doorway with his body, has his gun out, a completely focused, and honestly, terrifying look on his face, and he's about a heartbeat away from murdering Gibbs' (apparently new) pet.
Of course it's Tim at the door. It's not a secret that Tim doesn't like dogs, but generally, he's got more of a run than shoot sort of mentality when it comes to them. Gibbs knows from Tony that the last time some sort of four legged critter came tearing out at them, barking and on attack mode, he ran for the car and slammed the door shut. (Tony could fend for himself.) However, Abby and Kelly are not Tony, and he's got them behind him, and Gibbs is awfully sure that right now Tim is on Def-Con One Defend Family Mode.
"It's okay Tim." He's intentionally using his 'calm' voice. "Don't shoot. Mona! Get over here."
Mona stares at Tim, who has not lowered his gun, growls one more time, snaps at him, and trots back to Gibbs, looking awfully satisfied that she has correctly defended her home against the invader.
Gibbs stares down at Mona. "Bad girl!" He head slaps her. "That's Tim and Abby and Kelly, and this is as much their home as your home. They are always allowed to be here, so you be nice to them!"
Woof. She's looking very contrite. The master is not happy with her, whatever that thing he did to her head was, he's never done that before, and she doesn't want him to do it again. Vast amounts of doggy shame are visible in her posture right now.
Gibbs gets a good hold on her collar and walks her over to Tim. "You okay?"
He falls out of kill mode slowly, and then lowers the gun. Once it's back in the holster, his hands start to shake. He exhales long and slow before saying, "Ask me in ten minutes when my heart stops racing."
"Didn't think she'd charge like that, she's usually pretty friendly."
"Usually? You've already developed a usually?"
"She didn't try to kill the mailman or the paperboy."
"Your mailbox isn't in the house." Tim closes his eyes, takes another deep breath, tries to calm down, long experience from Jethro (his Jethro, not Gibbs) taught him that this doesn't work well if he's nervous, he takes yet another deep breath, and then holds his (still shaking, it'll take at least a half hour to get over the adrenaline spike) hand out. "I'm Tim." She sniffs him. "I don't much like your kind, but if you don't slobber on me too much, and don't ever go running at my family like that again, we'll get along okay." She nosed his palm and he patted the top of her head. He takes another deep breath, and says, "Okay, I think you can come in now."
Abby's not looking overwhelmingly pleased with him right now. But she can see he's still shaking, so she squeezes his shoulder, nods, and hands him Kelly.
He can also feel that Abby's sure he just overreacted and by a factor of twenty or so. And he can feel that she wants to talk to him about this, because she had to have seen how he just almost killed Gibbs' pet. But it'll hold for after dinner. He nods to her, appreciating that. He's way too damn jittery to have any real conversation about this (or much of anything else right now).
So she heads in, while he holds Kelly, tight, he doesn't want his baby girl getting anywhere near that beast, and Abby kneels on the floor, while petting Mona and saying something to Gibbs along the lines of 'You got a dog!" sounding really excited.
Mona, of course, responds to this with a big helping of happy licking, and excited woofing, doing her best to look like the most harmless little ball of fluff on the East Coast.
Tim glares at her. Harmless ball of fluff is not going to make tonight any easier.
Tony walks in a few minutes later, heads straight to Tim, and hugs him saying, "I am deeply sorry for any crap I ever pulled on you. You were a prince among Probies and I will never, ever forget it."
"Uh… Thanks?" Tim's sure there's going to be a story to go with that later tonight.
Tony hugs him again, looks over his shoulder, sees Ziva petting Mona and says to Gibbs, "You did get a dog!"
The application of food, wine, and his family all around does, eventually, calm Tim down. By the time they're doing the (semi) weekly blessing of the children his heart is no longer pounding and he can look directly at Mona without wanting to run away.
Doesn't help she's some sort of Doberman thing. Granted, Jethro trying to kill him was the worst attack he's ever had from a dog, but he's not had a good time with Dobermans in the past, either. Basically, that… lizard brain? He thinks that's the term, is firmly convinced that four legs, pointy teeth, and black fur = bad news.
"So, how is it going?" Breena asks Tony and Ziva once the food is passed around.
Tony sighs, loud and extravagant, then face palms.
"It is going well," Ziva says. "He is being dramatic."
"They spent an hour bickering about music. Bishop likes every form of music ever made, except whatever it is Draga's listening to. They've both got earbuds, so it's not like they have to listen to each other's music, but because we're in waiting mode, they decided snarking at each other about how bad their taste is was a good way to kill time while messing around with their respective searches."
Gibbs laughs at that. "Two adults doing a real job, sniping at each other non-stop. So, you're saying that's annoying?"
"Go ahead, rub it in."
"Is Bishop useful?" Penny asks.
Tony nods. "Yeah. I think so. I hope so. She's found some good stuff I certainly wouldn't have. With a stack of cases and a computer, she's great. I'm less sure about in the field."
"That happens when you hire an analyst for a field job," Tim says, something of a smirk on his face.
"I'm getting that. I just don't know if, longer term, she's a good fit. I don't know if she's going to stick. She's pretty happy right now, because we're connecting dots and drawing lines and she's building maps and databases and… whatever it is she does over there. Making predictions. She didn't seem nearly as happy when we were processing the house."
"Like you did any better the first time you saw a murdered child, Tony," Jimmy adds. "Let alone on your first day."
"What happened?" Tim asks.
"She got sick," Ziva says delicately.
"That's not what I mean, Jimmy. She threw up, so what? First time we met McGee he had on a facemask and looked like he was going to pass out if he had to look at that body one more time. He stuck. She said to me she wasn't sure if she was right for this. More of a numbers girl. That's what I'm thinking of. We've all lost it at a crime scene one time or another."
Tim sees a glance pass between Gibbs and Ziva, and is getting the idea that no, not everyone's "lost it" at a crime scene, but they're both too polite to say it.
"I remember saying to you that I wasn't sure I was cut out for this, once upon a time," Tim says to Tony.
Tony nods. "I remember. Different aspect of the job, though."
"What'd she do, after she threw up?" Breena asks.
"Washed out her mouth, straightened up, and went back out and photographed everything."
Ducky nods along at that. "I think that is the core constitution of Eleanor. She came down to visit us on Wednesday, pay her respects to the Tennus, talk about who may of done this, and why. She was not comfortable, but very, very determined."
"Smart, too." Jimmy adds. "Says when she got the job she read the Manual of Post-Mortem Pathology, all six hundred plus pages of it, so she'd be able to learn more about the crimes by looking at the bodies."
"She isn't a traditional profiler, but there are similarities. A profiler looks at the individual in front of them, studies the clues, and determines who that person is based on those cues. She has a… wider view of it."
Penny gets this. "The difference between social history, where you study huge swathes of people and their trends, and literary history, where you study the story lines of individuals."
"Exactly," Ducky replies. "She didn't have much insight into our killers as individuals, but some very interesting ideas based on the sort of crime this was and what sort of person engages in said activities."
"How'd Draga do with a murdered child?" Abby asks.
Tony exhales and shakes his head.
Ziva says, "I think part of the amount of bickering going on between them is him distracting himself from this. He's very frustrated. We got one break yesterday, the Tennus were not the intended target, which I know is making him feel better, because he was digging through their lives and he was sure he had missed something because nothing was coming up that should have gotten them killed."
"We're all frustrated," Tony adds. He's about to go deeper into it, but he looks over to Gibbs, who has been listening to all of this, not saying anything, radiating his own sort of frustrated, and decides now's a good time to get off of this topic. "But it's the Sabbath, day of rest, day of putting the working world behind us, so, talking about good things? Gibbs, how'd you end up with your new friend?" Who was sitting in the corner, watching all of this.
So, Gibbs told them about how he ended up with Mona.
"She looks like a real sweetie," Breena says. Mona, apparently having figured out they were talking about her, came over and rested her head on Breena's leg, looking at her with big brown eyes, silently asking for some ear rubs.
Tim's eyes narrow slightly, but Jimmy catches it. "What?"
Tim shakes his head.
"He almost shot her when we got here," Abby sounds exasperated by that.
"And that was the right thing to do," Gibbs says, hoping to shut this down. "A dog this big runs at your family, barking and growling, you stop it before it gets there. That one was on me. I should have had a better hold on her when you guys got here."
"Thank you." Tim says to Gibbs. "Apparently she turns into a fluffy little love muffin for the girls, but she charged the door when Abby opened it."
"You were going to shoot her?" Tony asks.
"He had his gun out and was physically blocking the door," Abby says.
Molly, who had been eating and not paying too much attention to the conversation, decided that was an opportune time to tune in and managed to put together gun and her. "Shoot Mona?" she asks, horrified. (Speaking of fluffy little love muffin, yes, Mona likes kids. Mona loves kids. Molly now has a new best friend.)
Breena's eyes go wide. "No, no honey. Mona's fine. See?" Molly had been sitting in Jimmy's lap, but he hands her over to Breena, who holds out Molly's hand and strokes Mona's ears with it. "See, she's fine." Mona licks Molly's hand.
"Yes, she has very soft ears."
Molly looks up at Tim, who's on the other side of the table. "Shoot?"
"I didn't shoot her. She's fine. She's licking your hand; that's a happy dog."
"You were really going to shoot her," Abby says once they're home and Kelly's in bed.
Tim nods, that scary look back in his eye.
"She's a dog. A dog protecting her home, that's what she's supposed to do."
"I'm a dad protecting my family! It's what I'm supposed to do! Dog, bear, squirrel, rabbit, turtle, if it's growling and charging at you, it's going down. Nothing that looks like a threat gets through me to you. That's just the way it is. If I hadn't had a gun, Mona would have gotten kicked into the kitchen, and you saw, Gibbs wouldn't have given me an ounce of grief over it. He would have approved."
Abby shrugs, she saw the way Gibbs dealt with what did happen, and could feel that, if anything, Gibbs was proud at Tim for getting ready to blow away his pet in defense of his family. But that the same time… She's a dog. A pet. A cute, cuddly, furry little ball of love just trying to make sure her owner was safe.
"Tim, she wasn't—"
"No!" He says it firm and hard. He's never cut her off like that, and probably won't ever again, but this… Nope. "You can go commiserate with Hagrid about how misunderstood and safe all these animals really are. Not me." They're getting ready for bed, so he's already got his shirt off. He steps to her, takes her hand in his and touches the four tiny scars on his throat, and then his left arm, and the similar, darker, deeper scars there. The ones on his throat are tiny. He knew Jethro was going to kill him if he got his jaw closed so that wasn't going to happen. His bullet cut that short. His arm wasn't so lucky. The scars on his arm are very clearly the marks of something with a pretty nasty set of teeth on it. "You and Kelly never get marks like this on you. Not if I'm anywhere nearby."
Her fingers ghost back to the ones on his throat. He feels her touch each one. He sees her get it, really get it.
All those years ago, they got back to the Navy Yard, and he was up and moving, and Jethro wasn't. He had bandages, sure, but he was talking, and walking, and not giving her big, drugged, wounded puppy eyes.
Jethro was helpless, when she saw them, and he wasn't.
She didn't see his left arm, because he doesn't wear short sleeves at work, until they were dating again, and by then it was more than healed. The scars are white now, blend into his naturally pale skin tone pretty well, but they're there. If you look you can see something bit the hell out of that arm. So, she's seen them, knows them, but it's not something she (or he for that matter) really thinks about.
She touches the throat scars again, really seeing them, seeing where they are, and what's under them. They straddle both his trachea and right jugular. If Jethro had gotten his jaw closed, he would have ripped out Tim's throat.
He's standing there, watching her face, seeing her actually, truly, get it.
She shivers, her eyes close, and she says, "I'm sorry."
He nods. "Okay."
"It was easier to think you flipped out than…" She smiles sadly at him. "Because if you didn't flip out, than that sweet, hurting baby in the car was a man-eater and needed to be put down. And those big, soft, doggy eyes were gonna shut forever."
He shrugs at that. Jethro lived with him for five years and was a sweet dog. He was good company. He made going out to jog bearable. A big chunk of the whole get in shape thing he did, the first time, was spurred on by noticing he was having a harder time keeping up with Jethro than he would have liked. (And getting back out of shape had a lot to do with not having anyone pushing him to go out and run twice a day. Just, didn't seem worth it anymore on his own.)
But Jethro was not a big, sweet baby. He was one hundred and ten pounds of trained drug-sniffing canine who spent his whole life getting in shape to find stuff and stop anyone his master told to stop. The fact that he was drugged, that he was a victim, too, didn't mean he was harmless.
"I didn't flip out. He was a dog. Just like anything else, just like me, and you, under the right circumstances, he was deadly. Mona is, too. Everything is. And I'm not taking that chance with you and Kelly. Just me, I'll run. I have run. I'm not too proud to run away from something that wants to kill me. I'm not going to be that guy who shoots the neighbor's pet for no good reason.
"But if you and Kelly are behind me, and if something is charging at us, you will be behind me, and I will kill it before it can get to you."
And that was the last word on that.
"Hm?" They're in bed, in that quiet space between turning off the lights and maybe having sex (he's not feeling wildly sexy right now) or falling asleep.
"I don't want Kelly to be afraid of dogs."
"Okay." He doesn't want her to be afraid of dogs, either. Cautious. He wants her to be cautious around strange dogs, but not afraid.
"She's going to be afraid of dogs if you're scared of them in front of her."
"Not much I can do about that. That's a gut response now."
"You can go over to Gibbs' tomorrow and get to know Mona well enough that you don't flinch if you catch her out of the corner of your eye."
"I wasn't flinching, was I?"
He feels her nod.
"Damn. I was trying not to."
Abby nods at that, too.
"I was going to go into the office for an hour or so. I'll head over, after."
"Sounds good. How do you feel about adding one more errand to that list?"
"What's the errand?"
"Get me some pregnancy tests? It's been three weeks, and still no period. Maybe we've got something to celebrate?"
He grins at that.