Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Skeptical

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

Chapter 367: Skeptical

Gibbs is skeptical. That's probably the best way to put it. But in the two months since he called Jenny, this is the first place she's found that she thinks might be what he's looking for in a family home.

It's big. Definitely big. And beaten up, really beaten up. He asked for big and beaten up, and it's really big and really beaten up.

Ten bedrooms, seven baths, lots of extra space (there will be no problem sticking a table big enough for twenty for Shabbos in the… empty space that could be a dining room, or living room, or something, let alone one for their current group), a good deal of land, and water access.

It's ugly as sin. Whoever designed this thing… Hell, no one designed this. No one in their right mind would design this. It probably started a someone's little (or not so little) vacation place, and then that someone (or a different someone) just kept tacking on rooms as needed.

This is the part that's in good shape.
It's beaten up. Four days after Lana Turner died, Tropical Storm Tina roared in and left the place battered. Window damage, roof damage, siding torn off. One of the trees had uprooted and was blocking the driveway, another one took out a back corner of the house. But, since no one was living there at that point, no one noticed, and a full winter went by before her sons remembered they had this chunk of property in Virginia. And, remembering it, they wanted to get rid of it so they could settle her estate that much faster.

Gibbs stares at it. There are things they can do to lessen ugly, new siding, new roof (beyond what they had to fix to deal with the storm damage), new windows. But it's still shaped like a house made out of Legos by a kid.

Gibbs does not like the look of this.
And the inside… water damage, weather damage… Most of it looks okay, but where the roof ripped off and the window broke is a mess. And if that's mildew and not water staining those walls, that'll be a lot of work to deal with.

Plus, it looks like no one's done much with the place since the '70s. No one's decorated, that's for sure. (Polyester shag carpeting left open to the elements for seven months is a sight Jethro never wants to see again.) Whatever this house was, it was not a valued bastion of happy family memories. At least, not any recent ones.

But as he's roaming the back he notices something, stone patio. Big one. Fire pit, two foot tall wall that works for additional seating, and something big covered with a tarp. It looks a lot newer than the rest of the house.

"What's that?"

"Not sure," Jenny says, checking her notes. "Oh. Outdoor kitchen. According to the notes, back in '08 they began to refurbish for a sale, but the sale fell through." She starts to pull the tarp off, and he quickly takes over and then feels the smile easing across his face.

It is an outdoor kitchen. It's stone, gray something or other. There's a built in (small, given the shape the rest of the house is in, likely broken) fridge, and a sink, but the main part is a huge grill, and, he smiles even wider, an oven. There's even, though it's cracked and splintered, a pizza peel on a hook on the far side.

Gibbs may not be a deeply superstitious man, but he also doesn't believe in coincidences, so, with this staring him in the face, he gets his phone out and starts taking pictures.

"Let's go through again."

Jenny shakes her head, if he wants to see the place again, she'll show him. After all, if she can get someone to take this Albatross off the Turner's hands, all the better for her and them.

This time, he gets shots of everything.

He's printing out the photos when he hears Mona hop up and head to the door, followed by the sound of it opening.

No insane barking, so it's got to be someone she approves of.

"Hi Mona." Borin's voice. He smiles at that.


She's in his living room a few seconds later, hugging him from behind, looking over his shoulder. "What's that?"

He turns to kiss her. "Surprise for the kids, maybe."

She squints at the shot that's printing out, perplexed on how this might be a welcome surprise for the kids. "That looks like a wall with a pretty nasty case of black mold. They pissing you off?"

He laughs. "I'm hoping it's not, but it might be." He shuffles through the shots finding one of the whole house from the outside. "Duck and Penny want to find a place where we can stay without tripping all over each other."

She looks at the shot, eyes wide. "Won't be a problem there."

"Nope. Room for all of us, the kids, any more kids they may have, and twenty-five years from now, any new kids they may bring home."

"So, a family home for you?"

"Yeah. For all of us. Home used to be NCIS, but we're not all there all the time, and even if we were, the babies wouldn't be. So, home. At least on weekends and holidays and summers and as often as we can all get there. We're already overflowing Tony and Ziva's for Shabbos, and we're tight for any sort of sit down meal here. We never all fit at Penny and Ducky's. And Tim and Abby or Breena and Jimmy can just get everyone squeezed in, now, but in ten years we'll have who knows how many kids all running around. So, home, for all of us, together."

She smiles at that. "Ducky and Penny are bankrolling it, and you're…"

"Finding the place, seeing if we can make it livable, and then in charge of getting it that way. Kids'll add muscle and sweat. Realtor seems to think this is about as good as we're going to find given what we're looking for. Less than an hour from DC, big, on the Potomac, with a pier and boathouse. Beat up shape, but that's something I want."

She looks at the shot of the whole place, thinks about the almost completely done boat in the driveway, and says, "Give you a job to do?"

"Among other things. We don't want the kids putting cash into this, but if it's beat all the hell up they can put work into it. It'll be theirs, even if they aren't bankrolling it."

She nods at that, looking through the pictures. "It's really… unique."


She nods. "Yeah."

He smiles dryly. "With any luck, by the time we're done, it'll 'have character.'"

She snorts at that.

He looks at his house. "This one was ugly as sin when we got it. Turns out there was pretty under all that '70s crud."

She stares at the picture. "You think there's pretty hiding under there?"

Yeah, this is the nicest room in the place.
He inclines her head in a way that says very doubtful. She's right, unless they bulldoze a bunch of it, that place'll never be pretty. "It'll be big. We'll be in one place, but everyone'll have their own room, and with my kids…" He shakes his head. "I've slept over at Tim and Abby's often enough to know you don't want to share a room with them, or be in the room next to them."

Her eyebrows rise at that.

He gives her a Yes, exactly what you're thinking is correct, they are horny and loud look. "And I've got no reason to think Jimmy and Breena or Tony and Ziva are any different."

She smiles at that, kisses him gently, nips his bottom lip, and pulls back saying, "Apples didn't fall far from the tree, or are you taking after them?"

He laughs, silently, eyes warm. He glances around, sees she's got her purse and her go bag, but didn't bring any food. "You wanna go out tonight?"


"Yeah, like a restaurant or something. Delivery is fine, but… maybe I like having everyone see you on my arm for a night?"

"Got a place you're thinking of showing me off?"

"You like meatloaf?"

"I've been known to eat it every now and again."

"I've got a place."

Elaine approves.

Vast, visible rays of Oh My God, Gibbs, she's PERFECT are radiating off of her as she pours more coffee and gets their orders.

"Now, I know what he wants. He's here on a Thursday night, he's looking for meatloaf. But what can I get for you? And for his friends… You got a hankering for something not on the menu, we can do it."

Borin looks over the menu. She does eat meatloaf on occasion, but she's got to be in the right mood for it, and right now, she's not.

"Bacon cheeseburger, fries."

"Sure. Rare?"

That surprises Borin. "You serve rare hamburgers?"

Elaine smiles, very satisfied. "Grind our own beef, to order. Takes longer, but you can order rare anything here and won't get sick."

"Yes, I'd like a rare hamburger. Haven't had a rare burger in forever."

Elaine smiles. "Back in a bit."

Borin looks at Gibbs. "This who you're showing me off to?"

He nods, sipping his coffee. "Best comfort food in DC, too. Once Elaine knows you, you don't have to order. She sees you pull in, and by the time you're sitting down she's already got Joe, her husband, cooking it. And she always knows what you want. You might not, but she does."

"And on Thursdays you want meatloaf?"

"Today's special. Try some of mine, you'll know why."

"That why your retirement party was here?"

"One reason. Kids knew this was one of the places I'd put up with. Wouldn't have been true for a lot of other places. Elaine and Joe would have been invited to the party, which meant closing up shop, so might as well have it here and let them make some money, maybe get some new customers."

That makes sense to Borin. She takes another sip of her coffee, thinking about the house.

"They really are 'the kids' now, aren't they?"

He nods his head. "Got asked if Tim was mine on Sunday, said yes without thinking about it."

She smiles at that. "What's he think about that?"

"When I was hurt, out of it, the docs asked who he was, he said he was my son. Right now he and Abby are my next-of-kin. They and Ziva are more mine than the others. Abby's parents are dead, so are Ziva's. Tim'd be better off is his were. So, it's more whatever it is, with them. But they're all my kids. Some of them have some other parents, too. Breena's not less mine because both of her parents are alive and well and actually good at being parents."

"Sharing them?"


"So, who was asking if Tim was your kid?"

And while they wait for dinner he tells her about adventures in dealing with Ed.

The second time Gibbs shows Ducky and Penny a stack of pictures it's just the one place.

This time Ducky and Penny are a lot happier with the results.

"It's in awfully rough shape," Gibbs says by way of warning.

"And yet you've already gone to see it?" Ducky asks.


"Can we see it?" Penny asks.

"As of this morning, no one's placed a bid on it. It's an hour ten from here, if traffic cooperates, closer to forty-five minutes if I drive it."

"We'd prefer to get there alive," Ducky adds, dryly.

Gibbs acknowledges that with a head tilt. "If you're free, we can see it tomorrow."

"What else would I be doing?" Ducky may be doing better at adjusting to retired life than Gibbs is, but that's not exactly saying much. In June a new semester begins at American, and as the spouse of a Professor he can take whatever classes he wants. He's looking forward to that. Been a long time since he's done anything with Classical Greek, and there's two high-level musical theory seminars that have piqued his interest. They're also talking about possibly letting him teach a class or two on criminal pathology, he's obviously qualified for the job, and that intrigues him, as well.

But June is still two months off.

Gibbs gives him a look. "You weren't the one I was asking, Duck. Got class, Professor Langston?"

"I have an early seminar on Fridays, but after ten I'm free until Shabbos."

"Then we'll pick you up at American and go from there."

"How's the other half of the hunt going?" Gibbs asks several minutes later after they've got the details of who is driving out of the way.

"Slowly," Penny replies. "I'm getting to know some interesting people, but so far…" She trails off and looks at Ducky. Gibbs can feel there's something the two of them have talked about and wanted to hold off on mentioning until they were alone with him.

"Jethro, are you sure you're set on this plan?" Ducky asks.

"Yes." Of course he's sure. Why would he not be sure?

They both look at each other.

"Ah." Ducky says, delicately.

"Ah? 'Ah' what?"

"Do you think it's wise to simultaneously be starting up a relationship with the Coast Guard's Head of the Chesapeake Division while trying to work on smuggling, by sea, illegal aliens into the country?"

"Ah." Yes, that's a point. And that's something he's been working really hard on not thinking about. "I know."

"Jethro, we want you to be happy. We're behind you on what you want to do with these girls," Penny says. "But we don't see how sleeping with the head of the local CGIS is going to work well for that."

Jethro could, if he wasn't feeling so defensive, actually sit down and think about this, but he is feeling defensive, so he shoots back with, "How did sleeping with a four star Admiral work for your peace activism?"

Penny inclines her head. That's a point. And she can see what Jethro's doing, that this is two things he wants clashing and he's trying to not really deal with it. "I'll give you that was tense. But neither of us were looking a prison time for what we were doing." Jethro just stares at her, remembering something she said about the occasional leaked detail, and she knows he's remembering it. "Okay, point taken."

"I'm not saying anything to her until I can't not, and then… I can't imagine this would be a problem for her."

Penny's just looking at him, letting those words just sit there. One of the things she knows from very long association with people who are convinced they're in the right is that they have a very hard time understanding how anyone else might disagree with them.

He doesn't budge on it, so Penny says, "She's the Coast Guard, Jethro, having a problem with stuff like this is her job."

"He was an Admiral, having a problem with leaking stuff was his."

Ducky's listening to this quietly.

Penny sighs. She can see Jethro's got his wall up on this, so she pulls back and tries a different tact. "I had more than twenty-five years of marriage with him before we got there. I knew that man in and out and through all things, and he knew me the same way. In that we were married, we couldn't be forced to testify against each other. In that he was an Admiral, he was above suspicion. We knew we could get away with it clean. You and Borin are none of those things."

That hits. Hits him hard. Hits him so he can't shy away from it or try to shift what she's saying away from the point. "Fuck." He barely puts any voice into it, just mouths it really. The heart wants what it wants. It wants Borin, and it wants to be able to find girls in trouble and give them a better life. It wants to not just save lives but offer lives worth living.

And it wants a home, that it's starting to imagine with a woman who gets the job and the need to do it and who likes bourbon and steaks by the fire. "Fuck." Little louder this time. Because Penny and Ducky are right, and these two sides are at odds with each other. He doesn't know why she ended up at the Coast Guard, not specifically, not yet… And just because this is a no brainer to him, doesn't mean it's one for her.

If it's just the job, just going after killers, she probably won't have an issue with what he wants to do. If it's about service to the country, if it's about protecting the borders she may. FUCK.

"We don't even know if we'll find someone, yet."

He sees the look Penny and Ducky share.

"That does not mean you stop looking for someone. If…" He licks his lips. If it's the right thing to do, and he's sure it is, then he can't be with her if she doesn't agree. "If Borin can't be okay with this, then she's not the one for me. That's just how it is. But if there's nothing to be okay with, then…"

"Hedging your bets, Jethro?" Ducky asks.

"Why not? I'm allowed to, right? I've borrowed more than enough trouble over the years, maybe I can put this one off until I've actually got some trouble to borrow?"

"Okay." Ducky and Penny can both see that he won't, can't just let it rest. He wants to. Wants to pretend it's not there, but in that they've actually spoken to him about it, he can't, not anymore.

"See the place tomorrow?" Jethro asks, again, getting them off of Borin. They both nod.

"Rough." Ducky says, as they walk around the outside.

Lana's sons hadn't wanted to put the money or effort into fixing the place up. They just wanted to get rid of it and get her estate settled as quickly as possible. (Something about how getting rid of the property would mean that all of her holdings would be in Maryland, and that would streamline something with the taxes… Gibbs was paying significantly more attention to the house than what Jenny was saying about the Turner family.)

It was a big, sprawling, something. Might have been a Cape Cod style house originally. But over time a lot of different wings and rooms got added onto it. Now it was two, or three, and in one spot where there was both attic and basement, four floors of rooms spreading off a huge, two story kitchen-living area wrapped around a massive, open to both sides, stone fireplace.

It was ten bedrooms, with a master suite on the first floor, and an in-law suite in the basement.

It was dull, blue weather-beaten wood siding on the outside, grimy gray trim, tarps covering some of the roof and several windows, three acres of lawn that hadn't seen a mower in months, another three acres of woods, and a path down to a small beach, boathouse, and pier leading on the Potomac.

Inside it was… depending on which part you were in, wood and stone floors, cool white (where there wasn't water staining and possibly mildew) walls, and warm, golden oak trim. It was two spacious suites (shag carpeting and fake oak wood paneling), and eight more bedrooms ranging from huge echoing squares of space (one with mirrors on the ceiling) to one small octagonal one, with floor to ceiling windows on five sides. Bathrooms ranged from copious space with Jacuzzi tubs and good light to tiny, dank closets tiled in avocado and bubblegum pink. It was close to 5,000 feet, plenty of room for nine (and Gibbs hopes, ten) adults and an indeterminate number of children with them.

Inside it was also water damaged from the storm and the winter that came after, hardwood floors rotting, drywall Jethro knew was going to have to come down because it's falling apart, and fake oak paneling that was going to have to come down because it's so ugly it's making his skin crawl.

But the bones, and the parts that had weathered the storm… He turns to Ducky and Penny and asks, "So, is it home?"

Penny rests her hand on the fireplace in the center of the main living space. It's slate and granite, gray, cool under her touch, just about at her eye-level is a mantle piece, also in warm oak, that wraps all the way around. There's room for a lot of memories on that mantle, a lot of pictures.

That buffalo head's the first thing that's going to go. 
And above it, the chimney goes straight up the ceiling fifteen feet above their heads.

"I think the big version of our crest goes there."

Ducky nods, pointing in front of it. "Dining table here?"

Penny smiles. "I think so. How much effort is it going to take to get this place livable?"

That's a real sticking point. Jethro shrugs. "This is more than I can just do on my own. This is ask the rest of them if they're willing to put some real time into it before making a bid. This is you," he's looking at Ducky, "and I have something to do every day for the next three months, at least, and that might just be tear down." Gibbs looks a little uncomfortable with it, but… "Ed and Senior offered to help with the building on Tony's place. Supposedly they know what they're doing. I've seen Breena handle drywall, so Ed does know what he's doing, 'cause he taught her how to do it right. Not sure about Senior. If we can wrangle them into it, we should take the help. And if…" he pointed to a discolored smear along the far wall, "that's mold and not just water staining, this'll be an even bigger and more expensive project."

"Then tonight at Shabbos, we shall talk," Ducky says.


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