Friday, July 11, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Coffee Date

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

Chapter 352: Coffee Date

But on Monday, the weekend was over, and while he's got time with Molly scheduled, he's still, for most of the day, alone.

And lonely.

Gibbs didn't expect that. Didn't realize how much he needs actual voices around him. Maybe not people to talk to, but people to be near. It's not just cases he misses, it's actual, living, breathing, snarking people around him all the time. (Right now, he's missing Tony and Ziva and Tim just fussing at each other.)

And sure, Mona helps, and Molly helps, but they aren't exactly the kind of company he's yearning for.


The retirement party was a little over three weeks ago. Borin had breezed in, said hello, given him a quick hug, ordered her drink, turned to talk to him, smile on her face, eye amused and interested, picked up her drink, and then her phone rang and she rolled her eyes, answering it.

Thirty seconds of 'Uh huh, yes. Got it. Okay.' wrapped up with 'Be there in forty-five.'


She nodded. "I thought when I moved up the food chain and got out of the field, that I'd get some sort of regular schedule." Leon laughed, loudly, at that. "Maybe even the occasional night off."

"It is a regular schedule," Leon said, still chuckling, "you regularly work all the time."

"Thanks, Director."

She hugged Gibbs again. "Don't be a stranger, Gibbs. Give me a call one of these days." And she kissed his cheek, and breezed right back out.

Too much alike?
He knows that he told Rachel that he and Borin were really too similar to even try anything, but… Thinking about it, really thinking about it, he's not sure if that's actually true. They are a lot alike. So, to some degree that's a good thing, right? He won't spend so much time staring at her, puzzled, wondering what the hell she's thinking, because he'll know, or at least have a good idea.

And he gets her job. Gets it in his bones and guts and soul, so there won't be that 'pay more attention to me,' 'which means more to you, me or that job' sort of thing. As he thinks about it, it hits him that if he and Borin start anything up, he's going to be the girlfriend who's outside of it all, and he's not sure about that. On the upside of that, he'll get it, way easier than any of his outside of it girlfriends ever did. On the downside, he doesn't know how well he'll handled being kept out of things. Not sure how he'd do with someone who is clearly hurting but won't tell you why or let you try to help to solve the problem. (After all, he's never done well with that in the past. It's his job to ride in and save the day.)

But when it comes down to it, he knows the job is her number one. He's fine with it being the job. It's an important job. (Saving lives and catching killers should outweigh 'I'm lonely.')

And he does like strong women who can look after themselves, stand up for themselves and better yet, stand up to him. He knows she can do all of that.

So… maybe… he pulls his phone out. He's asking for coffee not to get married. Hell, technically, this isn't even a date.

And for that matter he has no idea if 'don't be a stranger' means she's just looking to chat and catch up, they haven't seen each other since that debacle with the phony DEA agents, or, if she's interested in more.

He's also not sure what 'more' might be for her. She's married to her job. So… more probably means… what? Pleasant company? Friend with benefits? Casual dating? Gibbs isn't even sure what the terms are these days, but… probably… she's looking for someone who gets her, gets the job, and is willing to take a back seat to it, but keep her company when she has free time.

And if he's right about that… That's okay. That feels… he's not sure… but really… safe… maybe?

He's not going to disappoint her or break her heart, and he can take the time to explore this whole enjoying a woman for who she is instead of trying to shove her into a Shannon-shaped hole or giving up when it doesn't turn into the same kind of love he had for Shannon.

And that's a start, right?

And now he's holding his phone. Borin's contact number is up. And he's staring at it.

Been more than two years since he's done this. Hell, longer really. He didn't actually ask Susan out, they met through a case, she was an expert witness, he "needed more information," and one night they were talking about submarines and what pressure does to human bodies (found a dead sailor in one of the torpedo tubes, annoying case) and then they were talking about other things, and then they weren't talking at all, and all in all that made for a very pleasant five months.

But, at no point did he actually just sit his ass down and cold call her. He sighs… He hasn't done this, like this, since… honestly… ever. The last time he was staring at a phone with a girl's number in his hand he chickened out and didn't call. (He was also seventeen, so cut him some slack.)

Usually he'll see a woman a few times, keep "running into her," and just kind of toss himself into her path, show up at her office, develop some "questions" for her, or something. He'll just keep showing up and being charming, and sooner or later, he gets asked out or does the asking out. (Or, and this is his preferred method, said woman shows up at his house and they skip the whole date thing all-together.) If you don't really talk, and nine tenths of your charm is your quiet manner and looks (both physical appearance and the ability to communicate with your eyes), phones are not your ally. So, they're just not really part of his dating game.

But, unless he wants to drive over to… Where the hell does Borin work? He knows they were all in this one office building back in '11, but then they reorganized and moved to… He doesn't know. And, even if he did, it's not like he's got an excuse to be in her building. Say he googled her, because he could do that, there's still no reason for him to be there, not like he's got a burning case that needs him to head over to CGIS headquarters. So, his just 'ran into you' strategy won't work. On top of that, he knows she's busy enough that if he wants to actually see her, he needs to make an appointment.

After all, if you already know the job is the number one commitment, just showing up and hoping she'll drop it to entertain you is a good way to spend an afternoon alone.

Which is what he's trying to avoid.

So, the phone. In his hand. And talking. Making words, with his mouth, at a woman, requesting her company.


Okay, just staring at the phone's not going to do it. And she did say to give her a call. So, call. He's going to call. He takes a quick breath, and taps the phone icon.

"Borin." She sounds harried and distracted. Like he's the tenth call in ten minutes and she really doesn't want to deal with this crap.

"Hi…" God, shit, what do I call her? It's not a work call. Abby? Abigail? Borin? Fuck! God damn it, plan these things before you jump into them!

"Gibbs?" She loses some of the edge in her voice.

"Yeah. Hi, Abby."

"Hey." Just quiet on her side.

He's getting the idea "Abby" might not have been a good plan. He's wincing but says, "You mean it when you told me not to be a stranger?"

"Yeah, Gibbs." That sounds welcoming, which makes him relax a hair.

"Wanna get some coffee with me?"

He thinks she's smiling when she says, "Sure. When and where?"

He knows he's smiling as he says, "How about you pick? These days, I've got a real flexible schedule."

She laughs at that. "I've got budgetary meetings all day tomorrow. But we always break for lunch at noon, and have another break at four. Which one works better for you?"

"Four." Molly'll miss him if he skips Adventures.

"Sounds good. We've got a shop that knows how to brew a real cup of coffee a few blocks from my office. Java Jane's."

"I can find it. See you at four."

"See you then." And then she hung up.

Of course there are four Java Jane's in the greater DC area.

Fortunately he's hit the point where he knows what Google is, and how to use it, so he's able to not only locate where the CGIS offices are, but he also figures out which Java Jane's he needs to be at.

When he heads over to pick up Molly, Breena looks him over, he's shaved, wearing his 'work' clothing (which has been sitting, untouched, in his closet since he retired) and looking pretty spruce.

"You going back in? Got a deposition?" It's a good guess. Any case he investigated he can be called back in on, and the fact that he's retired doesn't mean he doesn't have a dozen cases still working their way through the courts.


She looks him over again, eyes narrowing, trying to read the outfit. "You got a date?"

He laughs.

"Oh, you do!" She's grinning.

"It's not a date."

"Uh huh. Just keep telling yourself that."

"Getting coffee with a friend."

"Uh huh." She's not buying that, at all. "I know your friends. You don't get dressed up for Fornell." Then her eyes go wide as she thinks of a "friend" he might get dressed up for. "Are you going to talk to Diane about Draga?"

"No!" That idea had never crossed his mind. Draga and Diane are both grownups, can handle themselves, and he has no desire, at all, to have any clear ideas of what they may be up to.

"Does your friend have a name?"


"You going to tell me what it is?"

He shakes his head, grinning. "Come on Molly, let's let your Mama get a nap."

"Tease!" Breena says to him.

He smiles and winks at her as he and Molly head out of the house in search of Adventure!

On the upside, he notices the handprint on his slacks before he gets to Java Jane's. The other upside is that he still has his go bag in his truck, so swapping out slacks with a milky toddler handprint is something he can do nice and quick at Breena's after he gets Molly down.

The downside is that the slacks in the go bag have been sitting in there since before August. Once he blew out his knee, he was grounded, so he hasn't been on any overnight runs. And between the slow getting in better shape he had been doing, and the working out like a maniac to kill time that he has been doing, they're two sizes too big.

Which is also forcing him, as he's tightening his belt, to notice that the slacks he had on before were a size too big, too, and for that matter, so are most of his pants, and that unless he's planning on giving up the exercise, he probably needs to add buying some new ones to his list of things to do.

In proper Marine and NCIS fashion, he's early. Not by a ton. It's 3:53 when he gets in, which is enough time to buy some coffee for both of them, and some cookies, which he has no idea if she likes or not, but people usually get food to go with the coffee… so… he'll get some food, too.

He's feeling a faint tinge of nervous, as well as pleasantly excited, which he knows means, protests to Breena about this not being a date aside, his body thinks this is a date. Or maybe a proto date. The step that sets up the date if all goes well here.


"Work clothing"
He looks up at her, and stands, pulling out her chair. "Hi." She's in her 'work' clothing, too. Though, having been booted from Team Leader to management, her 'work' clothing is now a tailored pantsuit. Navy, cream blouse, no jewelry he can see, but her hair's down, and he appreciates that.

"Jethro is fine." It's okay for Abby… McGee's Abby, not the Abby in front of him… He's got to get different names for them… to call him Gibbs, but… for a woman, a possible lover… No. Gibbs is Shannon's and Shannon's alone.

"Okay, Jethro." She looks a bit perplexed at him getting the chair for her, but accepts it gracefully.

"Did calling you Abby bug you?"

"No. Just seemed a bit odd. Wasn't sure you even knew I had a first name."

He smiles at that and sips his coffee. "How you liking the view from the other side of the desk?" Last time they worked a case together, she'd been on the warpath, so they didn't exactly sit around chewing the fat about how her new position was working out.

She rolls her eyes a bit, takes a deep drink of her coffee, and smiles at him for getting it right, and then says, "If I'd known then what I knew now, I'd have pissed more people off and gotten myself kicked out of the management track."

Gibbs laughs at that, watching her, eyes warm, inviting her to talk more about it.

"It's not all bad. It's not even mostly bad. Me doing my job means that my guys can do theirs. I do it well, and they don't have to piss around with stupid piddly crap that gets in the way."

"But you end up doing the stupid piddly crap?"

"Exactly. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow's the annual budget meeting, and I'm the one dealing with how we can possibly squeeze more money out of anything that isn't staffing or equipment. If I can figure out how to pull more money out of the air, I can hire another agent, who we sorely need. And if I can get that agent, my guys can actually get some of that vacation time they've been accruing since '14."

"You're that tight?"

She nods. "I'm not supposed to be in the field at all these days. But I am, just so my guys can get some down time."


She nods. "But I think I'm onto something. Dworkins, my HR guy, is acting awfully squirrelly. He's hiding something. When I get back, we're going to have a 'chat' and with any luck that 'chat' will result in me finding enough money to hire someone else instead of finding out that he's embezzled away even more of the budget."

Gibbs grins at that. He's seen Borin work, and her running an interrogation is a thing of grace and beauty. "Bad day for him."

She nods. "With any luck it won't be a bad day for me, too."

Gibbs nods. "Here's to luck."

"How's retirement?" she asks him after taking another sip of her coffee.

He sighs, exaggerating the exasperation in his face. "You want a trained investigator, willing to take any case, for free, just to get back to doing something useful?"

She laughs at that. "You'd take orders from a woman?"

He flashes her a wry smile. He's about to say something along the lines of how he'd take orders from Mickey Mouse if it got him back on a team working murders, but the part of his brain that knows there's no shot of him getting on one of her teams gets together with the bit of his brain that remembers how flirting works and says, with a smile, "I'd take orders from you."

That tickles her, and her eyes light up at it. "Really?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Ohhhh that was worth it. She's looking him up and down, enjoying this. He lifts his coffee cup to his lips and takes a sip, eyeing her over the rim.

She laughs again. "You'd let me be your Boss?" Half-joke, half-testing, mostly not buying it.

"I don't always have to be on top." She grins at that, and he decides to tone it down a bit, sliding into a more serious mode. "Last six months I was on, it was Tony's team, and I was working for him."

That does startle her. "How'd you end up taking orders from DiNozzo? You finally piss Vance off so bad he demoted you?"

Gibbs shakes his head, smiling at her. "Nothing like that. We had some staffing issues…" He tells her about how they ended up with Draga, and how it wasn't working with Tony just lingering, not really in charge, not really second-in-command. He wraps up with how Team Gibbs has gone it's separate ways.

"As they say, all good things come to an end."

He nods. "Would have liked more time with this one, but it was time. Tony was ready. Tim was ready. Ziva's got some new adventures on the books. It's time. But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

She nods at that, sipping her coffee, nibbling the cookie. He likes the look of it between her lips, the little flash of white tooth snipping through shortbread pastry. "Felt that way when I left my team. But, it was time. Hogkins was ready to lead. But especially on days like today, I miss it."

He nods at that, too, taking another sip of his coffee.

He feels her eyes on his left hand as she says, "So, speaking of things ending… Last time we worked a case, you were wearing a wedding ring."

Shit. Yeah, he had been, and just like they didn't talk about her new position, they didn't talk about the gold band on his ring finger. Gibbs sighs. "Kind of complicated, but, no I'm not recently divorced again."

She stares at him for a moment, eyes flicking to the now naked ring finger.

He holds his hands up for a second. "I'm not married, either. I… It's a long story."

"I've got time, especially if you're going to tell me how you ended up wearing a wedding ring without a marriage to go with it."

"There… there was one, but…"

Now, she's looking appalled.

"Here, let me get more coffee."

"This sounds like it's going to be a hell of a long story if we need more coffee for it."

He nods and grabs both of their cups, beating a tactical retreat.

Okay, so she wants to know about the ring, which is good from a this-is-more-than-just-two-colleagues-getting-together-for-coffee-standpoint, right? Would she be asking about that if she wasn't interested in him as a man? So that's good, right?

Except… he tries to remember where his hands were and if she could see the left one during the two minutes they were together at the party… it's entirely possible that when she asked she thought he was married again, which would be bad, right?


"More coffee." He puts both cups down on the table.

She drinks some of hers. "More coffee and the tale of the not quite wedding ring."

He sighs and licks his lips. He hasn't told this story, or any versions of it, cold, since Susan. He told Rachel, but she'd read his files, she already knew the basics. Well, the kids gossip, so maybe Borin knows the basics, too. And she was part of that thing where they were trying to find him a girlfriend, so, maybe they gave her enough background he doesn't have to do this cold. "How much scuttlebutt did the kids tell you about my marriages?"

"The kids?"

"They're not exactly my team anymore, are they?"

She nods, but she can also see there's more than just the change in employment status going into this. He thinks she approves. "Four times, all redheads, you've got a divorce lawyer on speed dial, but the last one ended in… 2000 or 2001, Ziva wasn't sure."

…Or they left out the important stuff and he does have to start at square one. "2001. I haven't been married since 2001."

"But you were wearing a ring last year."

"I took it off in October. My first wife and daughter were murdered in 1991."

Borin winces. "I'm sorry. I kn…" she stops, and he notices what she almost said, I know how that feels. Which makes him curious as to if she does actually know but he's the one telling the stories right now so she's not going to derail him, or if she stopped herself from saying something stupid.

He nods. "Didn't do a good job of dealing with it. Got married a lot. Bad marriages. One after another. Took nine years to figure out that was a bad plan. Slowed down, stopped marrying any redhead who gave me the time of day. Dated. Never let it really go anywhere.

"Back in '14 I'd ended another relationship, and was being an asshole about it, dumping pissed off on everyone around me."

She gives him her best I'm shocked look.

He nods at that, acknowledging how in character that is. "Tim shows up in my basement with a bottle of bourbon and says, 'I've never done this before, do we just drink until you're ready to stop being an asshole?'"

"McGee talked to you like that?" she asks, stunned. Yeah, she noticed at the party that Team Gibbs has been changing, and Gibbs referring to them as 'the kids' and 'Tim' didn't pass unnoticed, but she didn't expect that much change.

"I may be putting words in his mouth. Especially then. But I was acting out, and he called me on it."

"McGee?" She looks curious. "Really?"

Gibbs nods again. "He got me talking about Shannon and Kelly, my first wife and daughter, which was something I hadn't done. After a while, he asked if I still had my wedding ring, I said yes, he told me to put it back on, because I wasn't done being married. He was right. So I did. I wore it until October. I didn't date. I didn't go chasing other women. Said goodbye to the life and the future I had wanted. And started to really… get into this life. For my thirty-sixth wedding anniversary, I buried that ring with my girls and said goodbye for the last time."


He tilts his head, trying to brush off that rush of what feels like empathy from her. "Yeah, so that's the story behind the ring."

They're quiet for a moment before she asks, "So, what does getting more into this life mean?"

That gets a sigh, too. How to explain that… "Takin' better care of myself."

She looks him up and down with a smile. "Noticed that."

That pleases him, and makes him think new pants might be a decent investment beyond matters of not worrying about them falling off his hips if he's not wearing a belt. "Wasn't quite how I meant it, but that, too. Here…" he switches around so he's sitting next to her, and gets his phone out.


"Turns out you can make them blow up."

"And that sold you on one?"

He nods, pulling up the most recent picture of him with the girls.

"Who are your friends?" She asks with a wide smile, looking at a shot of him with Molly and Kelly and Anna.

"These are my girls." He points out who's who. "A lot of getting more into this life is about being here for them, and their parents, and being a Dad and a Grandad. It's not the guy I thought I was going to be, but it's fully being the man I am."

She smiles at that. "That sounds healthy."

"Hope so."

"You stopped being Boss and became Dad."

"Pop. Became Pop, or Uncle Jethro. That's what Molly calls me, and she's the only one who's talking. As for the kids, they don't need a Boss anymore. They are the Bosses. Tim's got Cybercrime, the whole department, all hundred and fifty of them answer to him." Borin looks impressed by that. "Tony's got the team. Jimmy'll have Autopsy before the year is done. Abby's always had the lab, but she's got people under her there, now. But they still need a Dad."

"And you need kids."

"Yeah, I do. Need a job, too. Going crazy with too much time on my hands, but… The kids help."

"I'd help out with the job if I could, but unless you've already worked for CGIS, I can't put you on, even as a volunteer, if you're over 57."

"Same thing with NCIS. They'll let me back on for ten days a year."

"We've got that deal, too. But, if you wanted some company to help eat up more time…" She lets that trail off, but he's hopeful.

"You'd be interested?"


That sounds very promising. "Would you like to have dinner with me?"

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

He smiles at her and cocks an eyebrow. "Would you like me to be?" They're both being a bit cagey, wary of actually committing to what this might be.

Then she laughs, warm and throaty. "If I say no, then we're what, buddies catching up? Old cops swapping tales, or does the offer vanish."

"Sure, buddy, if that's what you want." He grins at that, too, eyes warm and, he hopes, flirty. He'd prefer more, but if she wants to be friends, right now, he'd like a friend.

She bites her lip, not nervous, sensuous, lip sliding between her teeth. "And if I say yes?"

He lightly traces the tip of his finger over the back of her hand, keeping his eyes on hers. "Have dinner with me?"

She's still smiling, but doesn't touch him back. "Yes."

That doesn't sound friendly. Sounds quite a bit more than friendly. But it also doesn't clarify if this is a date, or if they're just being friends. He spends another moment looking at her, letting his eyes trace over her lips, slipping down the line of her neck, taking in the fact she's got the top two buttons of her blouse undone, and then back to her eyes, hoping that is explicit about his intentions but not over the line. "At my house?"

Her eyes are warm and sparkling. "I'll bring the bourbon and the dessert."

He nods, very satisfied by that response.


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