Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shards To A Whole: The House

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

Chapter 369: The House

Thursday morning. The rest of the crew would be joining them on Saturday, but, like Gibbs said, he and Ducky now had something to do, every day, for at least the next three months.

Gibbs, of course, is used to this. And sure, this is a much bigger project than he's ever worked on before, but he's at least familiar with the ins and outs of something like this.

He has the sinking suspicion, as he picks Ducky up, and notices that for Ducky, grubby clothes equals scrubs (Gibbs supposes that makes a certain amount of sense: cheap, easily washed, easy to move in, cool, all of that is good, but it looks really odd.) that Ducky has likely never done anything even remotely like this.

It's also occurring to Gibbs, as they head toward the house, that he's never really done anything that involved managing Ducky before. He's never had to try to teach Ducky anything. Or, God, correct him on something.

Yeah, this'll be interesting.

Of course, today's version of interesting is somewhat less strenuous than tomorrow is likely to be.

First things first, they've got to get those fallen trees out of the way.

Once that's done, there's ordering a few dumpsters, making lists of the tools they're going to need, obtaining said tools, and then tomorrow they can begin the tear down.

Today's work is actually going to be fun, because ripping up trees with chainsaws is something that Gibbs really likes doing.

Plus, as they get out of the truck and head toward the first tree, chainsaw (Gibbs only has one) over his shoulder, Ducky with two hand saws, it hits Gibbs that this appears to be oak, which means as long as they roll the logs out of the way, he can use them later for something interesting.

"Branches come off first. Clean cuts, gonna want to save this."

Ducky nods at that, eyeballing the tree in front of them. It's dead. Very dead. There are littered brown leaves on the ground under the tree, and the twigs look dry and brittle. "And are we using the hand saws for the branches?"

"You are. I've got this."

"And why do you have that?" Ducky appears to be under the impression that the older guy should get the power tools.

"Have you ever used one before?"

"I've used bone saws before."

Gibbs flips off the safety and turns on the engine. "Not the same thing." He pulls his ear protection on, and hands ear plugs to Ducky before taking two large steps away from Duck, and starting up the chain saw. It buzzes to life with a hard kick, which is why Ducky didn't get to use it. If you've never done it before, that kick can be a surprise, and that surprise can kill you. Tim or Jimmy or Tony want to use this, that's one thing, but the girls and Ducky… he's got no idea how strong their arms are, and he's sure as hell not explaining to Penny how he handed Ducky a chainsaw and that was that.

He keeps an eye on Ducky as he works. (Okay, he keeps an eye on Ducky between choosing branches to remove, while he's actually sawing, he keeps his eyes on the tree.)

Eventually Ducky notices or senses it somehow. He pulls off his ear protection and gestures for Jethro to do likewise, so he shuts off the saw and does so.


"I am fine, Jethro."

"Didn't say you weren't."

"You are staring at me as if you are afraid that at any second I will drop over with a heart attack."

Gibbs opens and closes his mouth. Because, yeah, okay, that is more or less exactly what he's doing, but he didn't think he was being that obvious about it.

"As of my last check up all of my arteries and veins were clear. And I am more than capable of" he mimics the motion he's using for sawing, "for hours without any ill effect."

"Okay. Just… Don't want to be bringing Penny any bad news."

"And I would prefer you didn't have to, either. But if it happens here, it happens here, and this," he gestures to indicate the work they're doing, "will not be the cause of it. I do not need you coddling me."


Ducky's voice grows serious. "Mother lived fifteen years too long. Slowly fading further and further away from the rest of the world a day at a time. I don't want that. Jethro, I am of sound mind, doing something I enjoy with someone I love, for the joy of other people I love, wrapped in spring sunshine. Can you think of a better way to go?"

"Duck…" He swallows hard at that; he doesn't want to think much about Ducky going any which way or another, and then sighs, blinking. Yes, it's a good way to go, but this a hell of a lot grimmer than Gibbs wants to be. He rubs his hand over his face, blinks again, and then forces a smile and says, "My girlfriend's almost twenty years younger than I am. I can think of a better way to go." Gibbs holds his face serious for almost a second before breaking into a huge smile and laughing.

Ducky's eyes go wide for that second, and then he starts to laugh, loud, belly laughing, along with Gibbs. After a moment, he takes off his glasses and, still chucking, wipes his eyes. He inhales long and deep, exhales, and says, "Le petit mort becomes le grande mort. I'll give you, that's a better way to go." He laughs again, and Gibbs laughs with him. "Bad for your lady friend."

Gibbs nods, agreeing with that.

"But good for you. We should all aspire to such ends."

"Amen, Duck."

Gibbs is about to put his ear protection back on when Ducky asks, "And is Ms. Borin your girlfriend?"

Gibbs looks up at him, startled.

"It's just, your previous women, Susan, Dr. Ryan, Ms. Hart, Hollis they were all friends. In fact, if memory serves, both Timothy and Anthony received headslaps for referring to Susan as your girlfriend."

Gibbs inclines his head at that, they did get headslaps, mostly for the gossip, but the girlfriend bit triggered it, too.

"Have you… spoken to her about what else it is we hope to do here?"

Gibbs shakes his head. No. He tried, but the fear of her leaving killed those words dead long before they had a shot of getting out of his mouth.

"In the old tales, the knight goes forth, and risks everything to do what is right. Thus he goes off to slay the dragon, knowing exactly what it is he risks, because the threat of the dragon is too great to be ignored. You are a knight, Jethro, you always have been.

"But there are myriad dragons out there. More dragons than there are knights. We can go and find one that doesn't risk you losing your lady in the process."

"You getting cold feet?"

"No." Ducky smiles. "I've married my lady. She'll be there to the end of my days, or hers, whichever of us goes first. My castle is secure. My loves are safe. I'm ready, willing, and able to go forth and slay dragons with you. My last grand adventure.

"But it doesn't have to be this adventure."

Gibbs sits down on the oak, patting the bark, Ducky sitting next to him.

"What else would I do? Really? Rachel suggested being an EMT."

"You'd be good at it. Cool head, able to deal with anyone who comes your way. The medical training is intensive, but I doubt you'd find it difficult. Private Detective, take up cases the police have given up on. You could teach self-defense. Work with battered women, teach them to fight and to shoot."

"So we can arrest them when they finally shoot the sons-of-bitches hurting them? I get into that, I'll end up doing a lot more than just practicing with my sniper rifle."

The look on Ducky's face indicates he doesn't necessarily see that as a problem.

Gibbs shakes his head. "Only one bullet left for that rifle, and it's got a target picked."

Ducky nods, well aware of who that bullet's for, should the need arise.

"I want to do it, Duck. It's… if you were to sit down for hours to come up with something that perfectly matched my skills and what I've got to offer, that's it."

Ducky nods, agreeing. Sailing skills, ability to read people at a glance, facility with language, nerves of steel, undercover skills, deep sympathy and protective nature, yes, this is Jethro's perfect job.

"But I want her, too."

Ducky smiles, sadly. "I'm afraid that may be a combination you cannot have."

"I know. I am, too." Gibbs swallows hard again, and pats the tree. "Come on." He puts his ear protectors back on, waits for Ducky to get up, and then fires up the chainsaw again.

Saturday morning. Bright and early. Tim's noticed it's a lot easier to get up bright and early on Saturday mornings these days. Probably because it's not like there's any shot of sleeping in. Kelly's up by seven every morning, so they pretty much are, too. Right now, Kelly's all dressed and ready to go. She's chilling out on Mom and Dad's bed, laying on her back, working on stuffing both sets of toes into her mouth.

Mom and Dad are somewhat less ready to go.

"Jethro's bringing all the tools, right?" he asks Abby as he's pulling on his oldest, rattiest jeans. (Not very old or ratty. Downside of all the weight he lost is that almost everything he owns and still wears is new.)

"Think so, why?" She's hunting through her closet for her overalls. It's been a while since she volunteered to build houses for Habitat For Humanity, but she's still got her gear somewhere.

"Just checking."

"Do you have tools to bring?"

Been a while since she's worn that. 
"Yes, but not for this part of it." Most of his tools are for electronics. He's got lots of good stuff for soldering, and a wide array of extremely high-tech micro tools for dealing with the delicate innards of a computer. On a much bigger scale, he's ready and able to fish cable through a house, splice wires, sink LED light sockets, and add in extra electric plugs. However, the hammer, saw, crowbar, wrenches, and various and sundry other around-the-house tools they have are all Abby's. "When we get to rewiring, I've got stuff."

"Found it!" Abby pulls her overalls and tool belt out of deep storage. "Now let's see if I can still fit my ass into these."

He pats her rear gently while kissing her neck, and then delves into the closet to find his work boots.

Out in the sun, breaking things, spending the day with most of his favorite people. Jimmy was really looking forward to this.

All was going well. They got their things, packed the girls into the backseat, and headed over to Ed and Jeannie's. Molly's going to get some quality time with Gramma and Papa. (Anna's staying with them, because she spends most of her time nursing and sleeping.) He and Breena were going to head off, and then breaking things!

Was and were are the operative words in those statements.

Apparently, last night, Amy and Collin dropped by to have a chat with Ed and Jeannie. Jeannie, of course, knew why they were there and what they had to talk about. Ed did not.

To say he did not take that conversation well would be an understatement along the lines of 'You know, absolute zero is a bit nippy.'

A very quick conference between Jeannie and Breena resulted in Ed coming along, because both of them thought that a chance to break things would be good for him.

So, as they're driving to the house, Jimmy now has, instead of an hour to just chat with his wife, alone, without small people interrupting, which he had been looking forward to, an hour with Ed fuming in his backseat, occasionally muttering things under his breath.

They've been in the car for ten, tense, minutes before something that's actually intelligible comes out of him. "Why would she lie to me?"

Jimmy bites his lip. He could answer. He wants to answer. He's got answers coming out his ears right now, but he feels Breena's hand on his wrist, so he doesn't. He stays quiet.

"She's not blind, Dad. She saw how you treated Jimmy, she saw the crap you've put me through, the crap you've put both of us through, and for some reason she wasn't eager to deal with that. You put me in an impossible situation, and you wonder why she didn't want to be there herself?"

Ed glares and looks out the window. "When it's Molly and Anna, you'll understand."

"No! I won't. You couldn't have designed a better husband for me if you tried, and you're still not fond of him. So, no, I'm not going to understand this. Molly or Anna fall in love with a good man, a man who's good for them, I'm not going to be a jerk about it."

"He'll understand," Ed says looking at Jimmy.

Jimmy glances at Breena, wondering if it's okay for him to talk, now, and she nods slightly. "It's my job to protect Molly and Anna's hearts, my job to raise them so they can find happiness and recognize it when they have it. It is not my job to constantly second guess them. It's not my job to try and wedge myself between them and the men or women or whoever it is they love. And it's sure as hell not my job to make them break down crying on their eventual mates because I'm being a flaming asshole about the fact that they want to get married. That's not my job, and it's not yours, and if you don't want Christine," Breena's youngest sister, "pulling the exact same crap on you, shape up, get over yourself, and welcome their men into your home."

"Collin's a good guy, Dad."

"If he was a good guy, he'd have married her. None of this shacking-up shit."


"It's bullshit. You love her. You're going to stay. You get married. This… he's playing house and then he's going to knock her up and run."

"We've already told him that if he tries to bail on his kids we'll kill him," Jimmy says. "He took it seriously."

"Who's we?"

"Me, Tim, Gibbs. After bootcamp. After letting him see that we could literally beat the shit out of him if we wanted to."

"Why were you doing that?"

"Because he is serious, and he's not insane, so he decided having a chat with the one other person who knows what it's like to be Ed Slater's son-in-law was a good plan." Breena already knows this, but Ed doesn't. "We would have been engaged six months earlier, but I was spending a lot of time figuring out if she was worth having to deal with you. And she is, but that was a lot of long nights thinking hard about it. And then it was another year of you making her miserable and me want to shoot you in the ass because of it. So no, no sane guy jumps into that without a lot of thought, because having someone you love ripped in two because her Dad is being an ass isn't fun. Every day of it kills you, and it kills her, and…"

Now Jimmy shuts up, because if he gets going on this too much, he's going to make Breena upset, and he's going to be in a bad mood, too.

He relaxes his fingers on the steering wheel, noticing they were clenching hard. "Getting married was supposed to be happy and fun. It was supposed to be joyful. And honestly, between you and Deering, I'm not sure who fucked over our wedding worse. You've got a chance of not doing that to Amy and Christine, so for God's sake, take it."

From then on, it's a very quiet drive to the house.

"Hammers, crowbars, duct tape… What else do you think we'll need?" Tony asks Ziva as she returns to the cart they're pushing through a Lowes on their way to the house.

"Tony, why do we have a shovel?" Ziva asks as she puts the tool belts she had grabbed into the cart.

"We need a shovel."

Ziva eyes the shovel; it was not in the cart when she went to grab tool belts. Granted, she doesn't know all that much about driveway snow removal, but she's fairly certain that the kind of shovel one uses for a driveway in winter does not look like the long handled, small-bladed object that Tony just put into their cart.

"What do we need that shovel for?"

"You'll see. So, this everything?"

"For today, at least. I'm sure we'll want other tools eventually." In that both of them are apartment dwellers, they don't have much in the way of tools. A few screwdrivers, okay, one screwdriver, phillips head, because a knife just won't do that job well, and one strap wrench. For anything else, if something goes wrong they call the maintenance guy, and he fixes it.

As they head toward the register, Tony turns the cart away, heading toward the plant section.


"Come on." He takes them in deeper, surrounded by growing things. "I know you were seeing something in your head when we were there. Knew it was outside by where you were looking. Thinking it's some sort of tree, because that's home. So…" They're in a long row of young trees. Apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, further back are decorative ones.

Ninja Apples
"Tony…" She's smiling at him.

"Not a whole lot of them. They've still got to fit into the car." They're young trees, yes, but young trees are still seven feet long. "But, we can start, at least. Get one or two in today."

Ziva starts hunting around. She knows basically nothing about growing fruit trees, but this part's probably pretty easy. She takes her phone out to see which ones do best in this area and comes up with a decision.
Two small trees, each with a tag that says Arkansas Black, and a picture of very dark red apples go into the cart, too.

Tony smiles at them, and at her. "Trust the ninja to go for black apples."

She smiles at him, eyes sparkling. "Ninja apples."

"Okay, so, this is also our home. We're gonna walk around the property, and you've got to stay inside of it. If you can do that, you can go run around. You go wandering somewhere else, I'm going to have to tie you up."


Mona's excited. Twice now Jethro's left and come home smelling interesting, and she too wants to know what those smells are and where they're from.

He opens the door to his truck and she goes bounding out of the cab. Space. Lots of space. And it's green. And… oh a butterfly. And like that she's off like a black rocket, tearing after the butterfly.

Gibbs looks around at the work site. Yesterday and the Thursday, he and Ducky got the trees cut up and moved out of the way. They also cleared out the section of the house the tree took out.

He's not sure if he wants to tear all of the siding off first, and then go back in and reframe and Tyvek, or if it's a better idea to get this patch cleaned out to healthy wood (that's how he thinks of the parts of the house that aren't growing mold and mildew), reframe that section, put the plywood up, and then pull all of the siding off the whole house and go at it at once.

What he does know is that having a big hole in the house isn't a good plan.

Either way, he's got a load of lumber and a bunch of tarps in the back of his truck… so he's ready to move.

Ducky and Penny thought of something the rest of them didn't. Water. It was a very good thought.

Theoretically the water got turned on yesterday. But, whether or not it's good to drink is a whole different story. So, when they pulled up with a trunk full of bottles of water, Gibbs sighed with relief.

He'd brought burgers and burger fixings, figuring that with three acres of woods, and all the branches that are too small for good woodworking he'd have no problem getting the grill fired up and ready to cook, but somehow the idea that they'd want something to drink (beyond his own thermos filled with the coffee that goes everywhere with him) hadn't hit him.

Two by fours are not light.

And he's got a metaphorical ton of them in the back of his truck. (In reality, it's probably close to 600 pounds.) They need to get from his truck to a space he and Ducky cleared out for them (tarp already laid out so they're not sitting on wet ground.)

At first it's just Gibbs, Ducky, and Penny. Which makes for slow headway. Eventually Tony and Ziva show up, which speeds things up. Then Jimmy and Breena and Anna, and Ed with a black cloud hovering over his head. (Bad mood or not, he's still lugging wood like a champ.) And finally Abby and Tim with Kelly and the play pen the girls will be hanging out in.

At ten-months old Kelly's still pretty good on the stick her in one place and she stays there part of life. She's also still at three naps a day, so she gets to come along, too. At five months old, Anna sleeps and eats even more often. With any luck, they'll hang out in the play pen, amuse each other, and enjoy the shade. At least this one time. If it's a disaster, then they'll work something else out. But at least for right now (fourteen minutes into this experiment), they seem pretty content to hang out in the playpen, in the shade, watching the adults.

Once the whole crew is there, they make fast work of the lumber.

Ed eyes the siding, standing next to Gibbs, and says. "You got anyone who knows anything about plumbing?"

"Not really."

"Anyone can rip siding off. I've got a flashlight in the car. Show me where the steps to the basement are and I'll give your plumbing a once over."


A minute later, Jethro's got him in the house, in the back of the kitchen, next to the pantry, at the basement steps. "Electric's not on, yet." He takes a few steps to the sink, and turns the water on. "Water works." It's kind of grayish brown. He shakes his head at it.

Ed nods, heading back into the basement; Gibbs following. They stop at the bottom two steps and Ed turns on his flash light. "Hopefully that's just it's been years since the water's been used." Ed looks around, they're the only two in the house. "She's living with him."

Gibbs nods.

"You knew."

He nods at that, too.

"Didn't say anything."

That's obvious is on Gibbs' face.


"Your daughter's so scared of wrecking things that she's not willing to talk to you, I'm not going to get into that."

Ed snorts. "He didn't come talk to me."

"Thought that happened last night."

"Didn't talk to me before."

"He doesn't want to marry you. He's not going to piss Amy off if she's saying keep quiet."

"He should have talked to me."

Gibbs nods. "Jimmy told him that."

Ed's eyes go wide. "Jimmy told him that?"

"Yeah. 'Cause it's the right thing to do. He talked to you, first. The way he was supposed to. And you laughed at him, even though your daughter loves him and he treats her like she's a goddess, you still laughed. You think he didn't tell her that? Or that she didn't tell Amy?

"Think she didn't see that, and understand it as you don't respect a gesture like that?

"You think Amy didn't watch and see everything you did to Jimmy. Think she didn't know how miserable you made Breena when they were getting married? Think she somehow missed all the snide comments and little putdowns you piled on him over the years?

"Collin's a good kid. He's serious about her. We could see it; she didn't want him talking to you, so he talked to us, about how to deal with you. Because no man in his right mind wants his woman crying on him about her dad.

"And that's what she's doing today, right? Crying? Because let me guess, they came over, and they sat you and Jeannie down, and they told you they're living together and they love each other, and you threw a fit, probably said some really mean things to her and him?"

Ed nods. "Just to him."

"They invited to Sunday dinner?"

"How can they be invited to Sunday dinner? We all get together, to go to church, which they aren't welcome at anymore—"

"Quit it. Three quarters of you family'll get booted out if that's the case. Jimmy and Breena are the only people I know or have ever heard of who are under the age of forty who waited until they got married. Your Minister had no problem letting Tim and Abby stand up with Jimmy and Breena for Molly, and they were living together then. And you're not going to suggest I stop coming because I've got a girlfriend I sleep with."
Ed's got the grace to look uncomfortable.

"Your girls are people. People like sex. You do. Your wife does. The stork brought none of your grand babies. Be happy for them that they found good men who love 'em, are good at it, and make 'em happy with it."

Ed looks really startled by that.

Gibbs shakes his head. "I only had my daughter for nine years. So, I didn't get to this part of it. But I had dreams for it. And I don't know Collin well enough to say for sure, but I've got a good feeling about him, but I do know Jimmy, and I would have given my right arm for Jimmy as a son-in-law. To have had a man love my girl the way he loves Breena…

"I've put away men who raped women, put away men who killed their wives, beat 'em up, tortured them. I've killed 'em, too. One… sick bastard stuck 'em in wedding dresses and kept them chained in abandoned rooms made to look like the '50s. I've seen every flavor of bad out there. And for just plain, old not getting along, I've lived it.

"Right now, I'm just getting started again, and you know who I'm looking at when I'm trying to figure out how to do this? Jimmy and Tim. Because they get it. Because they're good at it.

"I've got a lot of rules, and one of them is 'don't apologize, it's a sign of weakness,' but when I fuck up, fuck up bad, I apologize. And if I were you, I'd get Jimmy alone and I'd apologize for all the crap you've put him through. Then I'd do the exact same thing for Breena. Then I'd give Collin a call, offer to buy him a beer, and start trying to patch up the mess you've made with him, and if not for his sake or yours, you do it for Amy. You do that, you work at it, and you won't have this problem with Christine."

Ed nods, and Gibbs isn't sure if that's his way of saying I'll do that or I'm done talking about this but either way he knows they're done.

He heads back into the kitchen and sees Jimmy just standing there, staring at him.

"Uh… just checking in. Wanted to see what you were up to."

Gibbs inclines his head. "You heard?"


Gibbs takes a step closer and puts his arm around Jimmy. "She'd have been the same age as Ziva, and I'd've been damn proud if she had picked you."

Jimmy nods, solemnly. "Thanks."

Gibbs shakes his head. "Nothing to say thanks for. You earned it. Lot of times over. Anyone who's not deliberately blind can see it."

"Still nice to hear."

Gibbs nods at that. "They get started."

"Yeah, feel like ripping off some aluminum siding installed just about the same time as Ed's sexual politics?"

Gibbs laughs at that. "Sure."

It's fun. Loud. Aluminum siding does not come off a house peaceful and quiet. And Abby's got some sort of music blasting out of their car. So, they can't really talk. But it's fun.

It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining bright overhead, they're working together at something happy, instead of the way they usually work together, at something tragic.

It's a good day.

Ed pops back up an hour later, vastly longer than it'd take to inspect the pipes, not nearly long enough for some serious soul searching.

"Good news. Your pipes are copper and in good shape. Bad news is your hot water heaters are older than Breena and so calcified you could use them as fossils."

Gibbs nods. Relieved about the pipes, and he'd already put new water heaters on the list, so that's not a blow.

Ed picks up a crowbar and finds a chunk of wall no one's working on, and gets to prying away.

It's during the lunch break that it occurs to Tim that, though it is April, and as a result cool out, it is still bright and sunny.

And as the biological result of many, many, many generations of pale-skinned, melanin-deficient Irish people breeding with each other, he's got a natural SPF of, maybe, on a good day, negative two.

He is realizing this because, while moving around, and working, and sweating he wasn't paying attention to anything but the work, but right now, relaxing into their lunch break, enjoying the scent of wood fire and burgers, it's hitting him that the bits of him that have been open to the sun, his face and arms, are burning.

He doesn't think his skin looks too pink, but he peels off his work gloves and winces. (This would also be when it hits him that he's wearing sunglasses. Brown-green sunglasses, which tone the red down on everything. And for that matter, so is everyone else around him.)

He takes them off and winces again, able to see what color his skin is. "Oh…"

Abby looks up from Kelly. She's nursing right now, and had been talking to their daughter. She looks at him and her eyes go wide.

"It's really bad, isn't it?"

Abby nods. "I've got sunscreen in my purse. In the car."

"Probably too late for that."

She nods at him. "It'll keep it from getting worse." She takes her glasses off, too, and winces again. "Oh, God, Tim. Wow, okay. At least it's just your face, neck, and arms. You have a long sleeve shirt in the car, right?"

He does. He'd worn a button-down over the t-shirt because it is cool, but working meant he warmed up pretty quick.

"Go get a lot of sunscreen and that shirt back on. Gibbs!"

He turns from the grill, and Tim sees his eyes go wide.

"Do you have an extra ball cap in the truck?"

He shakes his head. "Don't you have yours in your go bag?" he asks Tim.

"No. I don't need field gear in my go bag anymore."

"I have mine." Ziva replies. "Come, McGee, let's get you fixed up."

Back at his car, rubbing copious amounts of sun block on very tender skin, he figured out why everyone looked at him like he was some sort of bizarre creature. He's got a reverse raccoon look going. Two wide round bits around his eyes where the glasses were, the rest of his face, bright, flushed pink.

Ziva's cap (adjusted to fit him) helps to get more shade on his face, his long sleeve shirt means his arms are protected now, and as they're walking back to the patio she says, "You remember what poison ivy looks like, right?"

He shakes his head at her. "It's a summer plant. Don't have to worry about it in the spring."

"Are you sure? This will be miserable. This plus poison ivy…"

"I'm good, Ziva."


Tony's putting buns on plates as they get back, and he takes one look at Tim and says, "Time to take you out of the pot, McLobster, you're done."

"Yeah, thanks, Tony. You couldn't have noticed that before I was cooked?"

Tony spreads his hands wide. "I was doing my job."

"Yeah, well, me too."

"When you get home, Timothy, brew up a good strong tea, allow it to cool, soak paper towels in it, and then apply them to your burns. That will help with the swelling and pain."

"Thanks, Duck."

"My first tour of duty was in Korea, which is not, in fact, Scotland, or anything like Scotland. The height of sun screen back then was titanium dioxide paste. In addition to absolutely destroying any camouflage you may have had, it was utterly useless as sun screen. No one there had ever heard of an aloe plant, let alone had one, so tea compresses were all the first aid one could do for burned skin."

"Ugh." Tim says, wincing in sympathy.

Ducky nods. "Took two months before I stopped burning every single day."

"Oh." Tim shudders at that.

"Africa was worse. The only time I've ever had sun poisoning was in Africa."

"Ducky, no offense, but, I don't want to hear about sun poisoning."

"Why are we talking about sun… Good Lord, Tim, you forgot sunscreen didn't you?" Jimmy asks as he sits down.

"Very astute, Palmer," Tim says back. "Ducky's making sure I know how blessed I am to live in a world of sunblock." He turns to Ducky. "Trust me, I get it. Just forgot I needed it, because that's usually a summer thing."

"You don't wear it every day?"

"No. You do?"

Jimmy rolls his eyes. "What do you think that stuff I'm rubbing on myself when I get out of the shower is?"

"I try not to think about things like that."

Jimmy shakes his head. "Next time we're in the locker room, remind me to do a mole check on you."

"Me? You think either of those two do, either?" He points to Tony and Gibbs, both of whom are looking a little sheepish about this.

"Really?" Jimmy asks.

Tony and Gibbs shake their heads.

"Next bootcamp that's at the Navy yard, you're all getting checked out. 'Cause none of you are missing a melanoma on my watch."

Three heads nod.

"And you two, he points to Gibbs and Tony, start wearing sunblock."

"Why us and not him?" Tony asks.

"He should, too, but it's not as big of a deal. You and Gibbs go outside. He spends most of his time in front of a computer."

And quietly, lingering toward the back, Ed watches.

Breena's getting Anna in the car seat. Jimmy's tossing tool belts into the trunk. Ed stands next to Jimmy instead of getting in the car.

"Gibbs said you're the one who told Collin to talk to me."

Jimmy nods.


Jimmy nods again, about to close the trunk of their car.

"That was a good thing to do. Even Jeannie was lying to me about it. So, thanks."

He turns to Ed. "Wasn't for you, Ed. He's asking about how to make you like him, and I've got nothing for that, because nothing I've ever done's managed to do it. But I do know that if he wants any shot of a decent life with Amy, she's got to be on his side, not yours. You make them chose, and her living with him was just putting it off. So, I told him that that's his acid test, if she's not willing to tell you, if she wants to keep hiding, then he's got to leave, because you'll rip them apart in the long run."

"You told him he should talk to me, too, though."

"Yeah. I did. It comes back to us, Ed. At least, I believe that, and in twenty years, I want the guys my girls love to come and talk to me, so yeah, I told him to talk to you. So did Tim, and Gibbs, because that's just basic courtesy. But it's not about you. It's about him being a stand up guy."


"You ready to go?" Jimmy's hands flatten on the door to the trunk, about to shut it.

"Almost," Ed says. Jimmy turns so he's leaning against the back of the car, arms crossed over his chest. Ed looks at him, really looking, seeing Jimmy. "I know you're a good husband."


"And you're a good friend."

"Everyone knows that."

"You're a good father."

Jimmy nods, taking that as his due. "There was a time when that would have lit me up like a Christmas tree for a week. If you had said that to me back when Breena and I had been married for a year, I would have glowed." He shakes his head and then shrugs. "Maybe I hadn't earned it at a year. Anyone can do a year. You screw up the first year, you're trying to mess things up. Hell, Tony's dad, who's got a new wife every leap year, can manage a good first year.

"And, you know, if at any time, when our hearts were breaking during those days of losing Jon, if you had taken me aside and told me I was doing a good job, it would have mattered, and it would have helped.

"But now. Too little, too fucking late, Ed. I don't care what you think about me anymore. Caring about what other people think about me burned off when we lost Jon. There are men, who I respect, who's opinion of me matters, you are not one of them.

"I should respect you. You raised three wonderful girls, one of whom is the light of my life. You're a good grandfather. And if you ever figure out how to be as good of a father to a woman as you were to little girls, I will respect you. Breena's thirty-two, Amy's twenty-nine, Christine's twenty-six. They are adults, with lives and loves and jobs and hopes, and they need a Dad who can handle them as adults. You ever figure out how to do that, and I'll start caring again what you think of me."

Ed nods. Jimmy slams shut the trunk, and heads to the driver's seat.

It was a good day. They'd worked hard and enjoyed it. The north corner was re-framed, got new plywood up, and a quarter of the old siding is off of the house. Gibbs's tired, and sore, and, like Tim, a little (but only a little) sunburned.

A very good day.

He's looking forward to getting home, kicking back, few cold beers, call Abby, see if she wants some company, and if not, pizza and a game sounds good. Turn in early. His body might not have considered what it was doing right after he retired work, but it's certainly aware that today was work, and as a result, he's tired.

Tomorrow, after dinner, they'll get a few more hours in. (Tony and Ziva had decided to camp over tonight, so they'll get a full day in.) Rate they're going, they'll have all the old siding off by the end of next weekend.

It occurs to Gibbs that maybe he and Ducky and Penny should have a chat about what they're going to replace the old siding with. He sends a quick text off when he gets to a stop light.

A few more miles, and he pulls onto his street, and sees that his day just got better. There's a dark red Taurus sitting in his driveway.

He smiles and pats Mona. "We've got company for dinner."

Mona's not impressed by that, though she is in favor of dinner. She hops out of the truck a step behind him, and goes running for the doggie door, not wanting to wait for him to get the mail and head inside.

Almost nothing interesting in the mail, bills, bills, bills, and… It's huge, and thick, and he thinks he's slept on sheets that have a lower cotton count than the paper in this envelope. Lots of silver curly-cues, and a personalized Love stamp.

It's Senior's wedding invitation.

Well, at least his date's enthusiastic about him in a tux.

Speaking of said date, he steps into the house, and finds her sitting on his sofa, reading.


"Hi," she stands up, getting ready to hug him, and he takes a step toward her. He sees her stop, sees her wince a little, and stop breathing, and it hits him that he's been working in the sun all day, hard, and probably smells bad enough that he could knock a goat over.

He holds his hands up. "Fifteen minutes."

Borin nods.

Gibbs heads straight for his washer, tosses everything he's wearing (besides his boots) in there, and then goes to the shower.

He's still in there, enjoying hot water on sore shoulders, as Abby steps in, pressing up close against him, kissing his shoulder. He turns to face her, kissing her back.

"Take it you had a good day?" she asks.

"Yeah." He smiles at her. "And it's getting' even better."


A/N: Sooo... The powers that be decided to have Abby Sciuto and Abby Borin on one show. Great. Now, I'm at the point in the story where Gibbs is thinking of Borin as Abby.

But, Abby and Abby is confusing, so from here on out Abby is Abigail McGee and Abbi is Abigail Borin.

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