Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Decision Time

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

Chapter 368: Decision Time

Ziva and Tony's
Apparently it has been a quiet week at NCIS. Tony and Ziva are able to cut out early, so Shabbos is at their house. Which Gibbs thinks is just fine. Their home makes a very clear argument for why a place where they can all fit is a good idea.

He's got the pictures. Ducky and Penny are going to bring it up when they think the time is right. Probably after the 'what have we all been doing this week' part of the conversation.

He didn't get bombarded with 'You bringing Borin?' questions this week. That was nice. Several looks, and the 'So, what exciting happened to you this week?' question seemed to indicate that Borin-centric information would be welcome, but he didn't add anything.

Besides seeing her once, and mulling over what the hell to do with the fact that she's Coast Guard, and he wants to start trafficking people, not much Borin-centric stuff happened this week, and none of it is anything he's willing to tell them about.

Excitement for the week for the rest of them ranged from Breena getting to deal with a family that was so fractious that they had to schedule two separate viewings, complete with funeral service, so that the dead man's sons didn't have to be in the same room at the same time, to Penny enjoying the fun that is having a student show up to complain about his failing grade, even though he had A: not done any homework, B: only shown up for a quarter of the classes, and C: left half of the midterm blank.

"…I asked him what grade he thought would be appropriate for a man who did not even deign to attend the class regularly and he just stared at me like I was speaking in French. Finally he said, 'I need a B to graduate with a 3.0.'"

"What'd you say to that?" Tim asks his grandmother.

"'In that this is a junior level micro-medical engineering seminar you should be well enough versed with basic mathematical averages to know that it is mathematically impossible for you to get a B in this class. However, if you pull a C, which will require you to get As on everything in the rest of the class, turn in all of your homework, and ace the final, you can then take it again in September, get an A in it, average that with the C you may be able to pull this time, and then get your B.'"

"Let me guess, he had a fit?" Jimmy says between bites of roast beef.

"He glared at me and left. I got the note from the registrar that he's dropping the class today."

"All's well that ends well?" Ziva asks.

"This time. One of the little boogers complained to the Dean last semester. He didn't get very far with that." For a second, everything is quiet. Penny catches Ducky's eyes, and he nods, now's the time. "We had something we wanted to talk to all of you about."

That gets six sets of eyes staring at Penny. Most of them looking curious with a slight tinge of nervousness, after all that's a vaguely ominous phrase coming from the eighty-three-year-old clan Matriarch.

"Nothing bad. Ducky and I had been talking about how this is a very big family, one that will hopefully be getting bigger, and how it'd be nice to have a place where all of us can be together without bumping into each other and tripping over each other."

In that they're all tightly squeezed around a table made for several fewer people in a living/dining room combination that is only four feet longer than the table they're squeezed around, this seems like relevant point.

"A home, for all of us. A place for weekends and vacations, and down time. To be used by all of us, together, or on our own."

"We roped Jethro into this, and he found a place." Gibbs gets up from the crowded table, and heads to Tony and Ziva's room, where all the coats are currently hanging out on their bed. He finds the folder of pictures he'd taken, and brings it back to the table. He can hear Penny explaining how she and Ducky were thinking of buying it, but since it's for all of them, and would require a sizable time commitment, it would be a group decision.

"It's big," Jethro says, "Lots and lots of room for all of us. But it's gonna need a lot of work. And right now, it's really ugly."

"Are you trying to get us to turn it down?" Abby asks.

He shakes his head. "Trying to make sure you guys know how big of an undertaking this is going to be." He hands the photos to Tony, who had been sitting next to him. "We do this, and all of our off time, all summer long and probably the fall, is going to be spent on this."

Tony's flipping through the pictures, and then passes them to Ziva. She looks more slowly, smile spreading over her face. From her, the shots go to Breena, and down the table.

"But when we are done…" Ziva starts.

"If we just fix it up, don't change anything structural, it'll be ten bedrooms, seven baths, plenty of room, backyard to run around in. It's on the Potomac, and there's a boathouse for Shannon, little bit of a beach for swimming or fishing. If we go for it… We're going to have to redo so much of it to deal with the damage and the fact that it was decorated last in the '70s, that ripping down more walls and rearranging it into five suites wouldn't be a problem," Gibbs says. He'd been thinking about how best to deal with their collection of families, and the idea of setting it up so that each family had its own area, main room for Mom and Dad, auxiliary space for the kids, and then turn two of the smaller bedrooms (they didn't have their own baths anyway) into a play area made a lot of sense to him.

Breena smiles, getting this idea immediately. The pictures she's looking at are rough, but if anyone had seen the home her parents turned into their vacation place (bought shortly after Hurricane Andrew) they'd have never dreamed of what it eventually became. She can look at this house and see a lot of potential. Yeah, it's never going to be on the cover of Home and Garden, but they can make it into a damn fine home.

Her smile spreads. This is how her family built wealth that they hoped would last for generations. Variations on this theme is how her great-grandparents set up their business and homes. She looks around at the collection of people around her and feels very pleased by this.

Wealth isn't yours. It's something you use, build up, and pass more of onto your kids so they can do the same for theirs. The family she was born into isn't "rich," no gold plated china for them, no yachts, and south of France vacations were a once a decade sort of thing, not a hop on over every season type thing. They are at the top most range of comfortable. But she knows her Dad certainly hopes his grandchildren would be able to shift into full on "rich."

Steps like this is how they'll get there.

A house like this, all fixed up, on good land builds equity. Equity can be parlayed into top-flight educations (she looks at Tony and Ziva, knowing they're worried about finding a home in a good school district) and business loans. Those seeds grow more wealth, and with wealth comes choices, and choices bring many more paths to stable, comfortable lives.

Tony looks really nervous about this. Unlike Breena's family, his family was "rich" and he remembered the dark side of sibling squabbles over who got to use what, when. He remembers his Dad using his money as a club, a way to try and beat Tony into becoming another generation of businessman, constantly on the hunt for the next big score.

He has useless playboy cousins, and, sure he liked a good party as much as they did, but he didn't live for the party. That's not true. He did live for it, once. Just like them, he spent years running from one 'fun' high to the next.

And if winning the game wasn't a better high than any party ever, he'd still be there, yet another useless, charming DiNozzo, running from one empty high to the next.

And if a fire hadn't shown him what life could be, what it could mean, he'd have probably gone back to it as soon as school was done.

Constant fighting, constant nitpicking, constant sucking up, the way the money gets used to ensure the image of affection. He hates that, now, can feel how much it poisons everything. How you hate your aunts and uncles and grandparents because they're just walking bank accounts, and they loathe you because you're a parasite.

To say Tony's wary about this is a massive understatement.

At the same time, any home with Gibbs in it seems very unlikely to encourage that sort of behavior. And a home with an actual family in it, that too seems like it wouldn't encourage that.

But it still makes him nervous.

Ziva was born on it kibbutz, the idea of a family-owned home is second nature to her. Granted, the one she was born on grew orange and olives, and people came and people went, but there was always family there, at least some of them, a long branch of extended cousins and cousins of cousins, relatives by marriage or, like their family, long and dear association.

She's wondering, as she looks over the pictures, if they could grow something there. Obviously not oranges or olives, it's way too cold for that up here, but home for her has trees that blossom and grow fruits. Apples, maybe? She loves fall, now that she lives in a place that has autumns, and a grove of apple trees, with kids playing in it, picking fruit, as summer ends…

She likes the image a whole lot.

Jimmy's torn. He likes the idea of having this place, but he's also got a ton of continuing education units he's got to get done this summer. The paperwork software's bought him a lot of time, but right now he's using it to get Dr. Allan up to speed. He doesn't want to say, 'I can do this' and then end up short shifting his hours because he's got to spend a lot of his Saturdays in seminars so he can keep up his MD.

He's looking at the pictures, and Penny isn't kidding, this is a massive time commitment.

"I've got one hundred hours of CEUs planned for this summer. Five of my Saturdays are already booked for seminars, and I'm going to have a lot of homework and studying. I like the idea of this, but…"

"You do what you can, Jimmy. None of us are going to fuss if you're not putting up shingles because you're keeping up your MD," Abby says.

For her this is easy. Of course they're going to do it. The biggest issue she can see, and she's sure Tim's on the same page, because as soon as Gibbs said ten bedrooms they both looked at each other, his eyes asking and hers saying yes, is how they're going to get Ducky and Penny to take money from them.

A place like this, even if it is… She gets the pictures from Jimmy, opening the folder, Tim looking over her shoulder, and yeah, it's rough.

The Burrow
"It's the Burrow on steroids," Tim whispers to her. And there is a certain resemblance to the Ron Weasley's version of a rickety-looking house with rooms added wherever, whenever a new one was needed.

She laughs a little at that. "Like the Weasleys'd ever let it get so beat up."

She keeps flipping through, and yeah, it's beat up, but it's also got to cost at least a million dollars, probably two, and that's a ton of money. Tim's on track to finish the last of the contracted Tibbs novels this summer. That's another three hundred thousand dollars coming in soon. Tuck more away for Kelly and retirement, but they'd still have a good chunk of cash to put into this.

"Is that black mold?" Tim asks.

"Don't know," Gibbs answers. "If you guys want to see it live, maybe snag some samples, we can go tomorrow."

Like for Abby, for Tim this is a no-brainer. Assuming this place is close enough so it's easy to get to for weekends, he's all for this. They already spend a lot of time just driving from one home to the others, something that cuts that out would be lovely.

He can imagine this, cut off little early on Friday, head to this house, Shabbos, weekend together, back to the real world Monday morning. Sure, not every weekend, and when the kids are older, they'll probably want to be home for time with their buddies, of course, this thing'll be big enough to bring some buddies along…

"All summer and fall, but it'll be ready by Christmas, right?" Tim says.

"Maybe." Gibbs isn't sure. Jimmy not being there for five of their working days will cut into this. "Hopefully. The outside will be done by then."

"Okay, definitely next year then." Tim puts the picture of the mantle in the center of the table. "Stockings hung by the chimney with care. All the kids together for Christmas morning. Hell, we'll have the room, if Ed and Jeannie, Senior and Delphine want to be here, too, we can do it up right. Everyone here, all at once, together."

Abby squeezes his hand gently. The Christmas he never had as a kid.

Gibbs nods along with that, and Penny says, "That's what we're thinking."

"So, let's go see this place, tomorrow," Breena says.

Ducky and Penny were expecting Tim and Abby to walk them to their car.

"We can put money into this," Tim tells his grandmother.

"Not a ton, not right now," Abby adds. Between the wedding and house all of the money from Most Precious was gone. Shadow Force was finished right before Kelly was born, and that had been earmarked for college and other kid expenses. Right now Tim is less than twenty thousand words from the end of the last of the Tibbs novels. Should have the full advance on that by November.

"But come fall we could kick in two hundred thousand."

Penny smiles at that, and shakes her head at them. "This is for fun. When you've got all of your basic expenses taken care of, you own your house free and clear, college for Kelly and any other children you'll have paid for, your own retirements set, then yes, we'll take your money for this. But not before then."

She and Ducky had come up with that as a good way to put Tim and Abby off without actually hinting as to why they didn't want them to have a financial stake in the property.

"We're close. House is paid for. Kelly's college fund is full," Tim says, he determined look on his face.

Penny shakes her head again. "I know you both want more than one child. You're going to have to do better than one college fund."

Tim rolls his eyes. He can write more books. They aren't thrilled about taking Tibbs books on spec, but on spec is better than no books at all. And all he has to do is say, 'Write me a contract,' and he'll have money set for at least three more of them. "We're not hurting for cash. At all. Between my salary, and Abby's, and the books… We can afford to put money into this, in a way none of the rest of them can." Though, as he thinks about it, Jimmy and Breena are likely getting close to having that sort of income. "Even that badly beat up, that house has to cost a ton, and even with us doing it, fixing it won't be cheap."

Penny stares at him. "When you two have five million in the bank, you can buy in."

"Penny!" Yeah, they aren't hurting for cash, but that's still at least a decade off, and likely more.

"Uh un. Not negotiable. We're old and well off. We can buy this outright and still not have to worry about outliving our money."

"You sure?" Tim asks his grandmother. "Don't want you hurting for this."

They both nod. "Your grandfather's pension alone is providing me with over ninety thousand a year, for the rest of my life. You want to guess how much I'm making in residuals from some of the patents I hold? Let alone my professorship?"

Tim holds up his hands. "Fine." Then they both look at Ducky.

"I appreciate your concern, but I am financially sound. And like your grandmother, I can afford to buy this without any risk out outliving my wealth. Even with this purchase, my charities of choice will still do well by me."


Ducky says, "When we buy, we'll be setting it up as a trust. Jethro will be one trustee since he's the one who knows what needs to be done to make this home livable. Breena, since from what we can see this is second nature to her, will be the other. The trust will cover not just the house, but money to be invested to maintain an income stream large enough to pay the taxes and upkeep on the house. I am sure, that by the time she is looking for a new trustee to replace Jethro, you will have no problem convincing her to accept an influx of operating capital from you."

"So, you're saying we're not putting any money in until we're the grandparents?" Tim says dryly.

"Oh, my, yes, that does seem to be a likely consequence of how we've set this up!" Ducky says, ironically. "Meanwhile, I suggest you research home wiring. Judging by the decor, my guess is that there will be quite a bit of work necessary to get this house able to provide the level of wifi you require."

"Point taken."

The pictures didn't do the place justice. It looks beaten up and ugly in the pictures. In real life it's tooth-achingly ugly.

They got there, a fine early April morning lighting the gnarled grass and weather-beaten home, and spread out to explore.

Tim and Abby are walking around, Kelly in her snuggli on Abby's chest, looking very intently at everything.

"I didn't know polyester came in colors this awful," he says as he kicks at the carpet in the room that was open to the elements, feeling his lungs starting to tighten up.

She shakes her head. "Get samples of it." She brought a collection of sterile test tubes. Part of making the decision on this is what level of hazmat this place is. If they can't disassemble it without getting sick, they're not going to bid on it.

"Don't need to, I can feel it's filled with mildew."

"Here." She swaps him Kelly for the sample tubes. "You need an inhaler?"

"God, no." Asthmatic lungs work by tightening up and shutting down to keep the stuff they don't like out. Inhalers work by opening them back up again. People who don't understand this think that taking a few hits on an inhaler is a good plan for an asthmatic sitting in the middle of whatever is setting of the asthma attack. Asthmatics know that you take the inhaler after you're away from what's setting you off, otherwise you're just going to make the problem worse. "That'd just get this crap even deeper into my lungs."

Abby isn't not asthmatic, but she's grasping the basic concept with ease. "Okay, get out of here."

"Good plan." He wheezes.

"Timothy?" Ducky asks as he heads back into the kitchen area, hands over Kelly, quickly, and starts coughing loudly. "Are you all right?"

"Lot of mildew in the…" he points toward the side of the house they'd been wandering around in, while coughing. "Lungs don't like it," he says when he can inhale again. "Just got to get away from it."

He spends a moment standing in front of the fireplace, not talking, because talking messes up how you breathe and will just make him cough more. After a few minutes, his lungs notice they're no longer under attack and begin to relax.

"Okay, better."

"Really?" Ducky sounds concerned as he pats Kelly's back. She's been staring at her father, wondering what that loud noise was.

"Yeah. I'll be fine."

"Do you have an inhaler?"

Tim shakes his head. "Not for years."

"Uh huh."

Tim catches that look in Ducky's eyes, and knows that by the time they come back to work on any sort of tear down for this project, he'll probably have a collection of inhalers to pick from.

"Mold, mildew, and dust triggered asthma. I'm allergic to cats, and it wouldn't shock me if there weren't a bunch of them living here over the years. I don't on well with Albuterol-based inhalers."

Ducky nods. "What does 'don't get on well' mean?"

"Mean's I'll make Abby mainlining Caff-Pow and speed look tame."


He smiles, self-depreciating, and nods definitively. "Yeah." He looks around the house again. "Granted, if you want me working on this twenty-four seven at about three times my normal speed, Albuterol might be a good plan."

"Have you tried Xopenex?"

Tim takes Kelly back, slipping her into the snuggli. "Don't think so. I haven't had an inhaler in probably eight years. Besides now and dropping Penny's things off at your house in that dust storm, I've wanted one, maybe, twice in all that time. Is it new?"

"Enough. I believe it's been out for a decade or so. When we get back to the…" But Ducky doesn't have his prescription pad at the Navy Yard anymore. "I shall send Jimmy a note and tell him to write you a script for it. Fill it on Monday. Whether we buy this home or not, you should have an inhaler on the off chance you need one."

"Sure." It can sit in his go bag and collect dust until it expires like the last one did.

"McGee!" he hears Tony yell out. Fortunately from the sound of it, he's in the other, hopefully mildew-free, wing of the house.

"Off to investigate," he says to Ducky, who nods at him.

It takes a few minutes, due to how rooms were haphazardly applied to this house, the hallways are of a long and winding nature, but he finds Tony and Jimmy standing in the middle of a bedroom, smirking.


"We found your room." Tony says, still smirking, and Jimmy's on the verge of laughing.

Tim looks around at it. Okay, it's a bedroom, decent size, no carpet, that's a selling point, harvest gold wallpaper, that's not, and, like the rest of the house, it's got one electrical socket per room. (Ducky wasn't kidding, he's going to be rewiring the whole damn house to get this thing ready. Barely any electric, no cable at all, and wifi, what the hell is that?) It's got its own bathroom, which is nice, but he's really not seeing why this particular one is his.

However Jimmy and Tony are just standing there, grinning at him, really enjoying this joke.

So he looks around again, and still doesn't see it.


Tony points up. There's a large patch of the ceiling covered in mirrors. "Figured that was about your speed," Tony says before both he and Jimmy succumb to giggles.

Tim looks at them, and then snorts. "Amateurs." He wiggles his index finger at them, as he steps below the mirrors. "Come here, let's learn how to use mirrors. Your wives will thank me." He points up. "Mirrors on the ceiling don't give you a very good view. And in most positions only one of you can see them. Lame view for only one of you, that's a job done by someone who doesn't know what they're doing." He heads to the middle of the room and looks around for a bit. Then two steps to the left. "If you do know what you're doing… The bed goes here. You want the mirrors…" He points to back of the closet door, and the front of the bathroom door. "Though you'll close the door a little bit more to get a really good angle. And you want a vanity, there." He points to one more wall. "That way you can both see, from any angle you like, you don't get the distortion from the mirrors being over your head. Upside down and backwards is more likely to make you seasick than turned on, and, better yet, you don't look like a freaking pervert if anyone just walks into your room." Tim stands there, smiling, enjoying the look of surprise on Jimmy and Tony's faces.

"I'm never going to be able to set foot in your room again, will I?" Tony says.

"You're the one who brought it up." Tim looks around some more, and heads into the bathroom. One of the nicer ones. He comes out nodding and quickly texts Abby. A few minutes later, she wanders in. "This one ours?" he asks.

She looks around, looks up, looks around again, and says, "Once you move those mirrors, sure. Closet and bathroom doors, and," she points to the same spot on the wall where he said the vanity should go, "there, right?"

He nods, smiling.

"Good. Yeah, I like this room. It gets good light." She heads out for a moment and then comes back in. "Ohhh, and the one next to it is that little octagonal one. We knock the wall down between them…"

Tim nods back to her, getting this idea. They're close to the end of the hallway here. The little octagonal room is off of this one, and then there's another room at the end of the hall, that opens into the octagonal one."

"There's another room next to that, and then the other side of the hall's got another bedroom/bathroom combo. You want to share the room without a bathroom for our girls?" Abby asks Jimmy. "Put them in there. That way we've got them between us. And you guys take the next master bedroom?"

"Let me go find Breena and take a look," Jimmy says.

Abby smiles at that, looks at Tony and Tim standing around and says, "Okay, glad we've got that set. Gotta get more samples." She kisses Kelly and Tim, and heads back out again to grab some more mildew.

An hour later they're all sitting on the back patio.

"Assuming that your tests show that the micro-organisms that are growing on this house are non-toxic, should we put a bid on this home?" Ducky asks.

"Didn't see any signs of termites," Gibbs says. "But the whole north corner of the house needs to be ripped down and redone."

"Windows and doors are ancient," Breena adds. "If they're younger than Abby is, I'd be amazed."

"There's nothing in the way of insulation, either," Gibbs adds. "But all the siding's coming down, so Tyveking everything won't be too hard."

Tim hadn't been able to check out the exposed wiring in the north corner of the house, but Abby had taken pictures for him. "We're tearing out the drywall in pretty much every wall on the inside, because the whole place needs to be re-wired. That'll make adding extra insulation, easier, too."

"Don't know anything about plumbing," Jimmy says, holding onto Anna, as Molly runs around in the grass beyond them. "But I know grout is not supposed to be black and I'm fairly sure the tile is supposed to be attached to the walls and floors in the bathrooms, not lose."

"So, we're looking at ripping off the roof and the siding, tearing out all of the windows and door, taking down most of the interior walls, chipping off all the tile, rewiring everything, likely re-plumbing it, all new appliances, and just for kicks, redoing a bunch of the walls. Are we keeping any of this place?" Tony asks. "Or would it just be easier to low-ball the bid, see if they'll bite for the price of just the land, bring in the bulldozers, and start from scratch." The others all stare at him as he says that. "What? I wasn't always asleep when my dad talked real estate."

They all look at Jethro. He shakes his head. "Nah. The bones look good. Structure is sound. The kind of messing with walls we're talking about is more about moving around where the drywall goes than tearing out studs."

"So, are we doing it?" Penny asks.

Jethro smiles. "I'm in. Tests come back clean, I can start working on tear down and designing what the inside'll look like."

"We're in," Abby says. "We'll hit the Navy Yard on the way home. I'll get the samples cooking. Hopefully, by start of work Monday I'll know if we should put a bid in."

"I think Molly approves," Breena says, as they can hear her laughing as she runs around. She looks at Jimmy and he nods. "We're in."

Tony's looking at the place. It's very much not a mansion for pampered brats. He really hopes it won't be when they're done. Ziva's looking out at the yard, and the trees beyond, seeing… something, gardens in her mind, probably. She looks happy here, really happy, and he can imagine her planting things, enjoying a space to make things grow.

"We're in," he says.

"All right. We'll get the report back from Abigail and if all is well, we'll place the bid on Monday," Ducky says.

On Monday, Ducky got the call.


"It's mildew, and mold, and a lot of other little nasties, but none of it's toxic. Keep Tim out of it or get him a face mask, and we're good to go on teardown."

Ducky felt the smile spread across his face. "Wonderful! We'll get on it."

He and Penny sat down, and talked, and went through their finances to see how fast they could shift money around. Then they placed a bid. Twenty-five percent below the asking price, but to sweeten the deal they offered immediate closing. Cashier's check in hand as soon as the paperwork could be drawn up.

Wednesday morning everyone got a text from Penny: Saturday morning, get your grubby clothes on; we've got work to do!


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