McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 395: Happy(Ish) Birthday
Abby blinks at Sarah and says, "Holy shit!"
"Indeed," Ducky adds.
Sarah shrugs a little. "Can't just let him get away with it, right?"
Everyone shakes their heads. "You think I should tell Tim when he wakes up, or hold onto it for a few days when he's a bit less groggy?"
"When he wakes up is good," Abby says. "I think he'll like hearing about it."
Penny sits down on the porch steps. "So, he's just... done?"
"According to SecNav, everything'll get wrapped up when he gets to Pearl."
Abby's looking at Gibbs, both of them wondering, what, if anything this is going to do to or for Tim's 'deal.' And it's completely clear that neither of them have any idea.
Penny's got a more immediate concern, she can see Sarah's agitated, pacing around, temper all but crackling off her skin. "Are you all right?"
Sarah's shoulders slump, and she goes to sit next to Penny. "No. No, I'm not. All of this is really hitting. He tried to kill Tim… He was more upset about me saying he had a boyfriend than what he did to Tim… Nothing about him was real." She wipes her eyes. "I couldn't see the monster under the mask. But he's still Daddy. And this is just…" Penny holds her near as Sarah starts to sob.
Given the massive shit storm of emotional trauma that just opened up on the family he's about to marry into, Glenn Holland sprang into action pretty well. He'd been… wary's probably a good word for it… when he got a text from Ducky asking him to show up at Tim and Abby's early.
The birthday party is today, but it didn't start until 6:00, so why he was heading there at 3:00 had him curious with a side of dread.
He felt ice down his spine when he saw most of the McGees on the front porch, minus Tim, with Sarah sobbing in Penny's arms.
Then he got the story. Ducky and Abby did the telling, and he's honestly not sure if what actually happened is better or worse than what he was thinking had happened when he saw most of the family outside without Tim.
What he does know is that, 'Dad and Tim don't get on,' needs a whole lot of filling out, and he's also got a lot of pointed questions about Sarah's mom that need to be answered, but not right this second.
Right this second, he's petting his wife-to-be and telling her she did the right thing.
When Glenn comes over, Abby heads back into the house. Tim's sleeping. He wasn't sleeping this much the last day at the hospital, but he also wasn't moving around, so maybe this is just a reaction to actually doing something besides laying around.
Or maybe this is enough emotional crap that he can only take so much, so he's checking out.
Probably a good plan. If he needs to take himself away for a while so he doesn't get swamped, then she'll do what she can to give him a space to do that.
But right now she also wants to be near him. Feel his skin on hers. Not much room on the sofa for both of them, not with him lying on his back, so she sits on the floor, and tips her head back onto the seat. The crown of her head is resting against his hip. It's not enough, but for the time being, it'll do.
She sighs gently, wondering if what Sarah did was a good move or not.
Good for her, for the sense of doing something for her brother, for trying to avenge him if she couldn't protect him, good for all of that. Abby gets that.
But she's not sure if this is good for Tim. 'Sarah was bold…' 'Sarah was brave…' 'Sarah was fearless…' That's how Tim thinks of her. Sarah's active, bright, fire-y, wild. She does whatever needs to be done, when it needs to be done, damn the consequences. He's passive, thoughtful, cautious, laying out ideas and not moving until every option's been considered.
And especially with their Dad… Where he was always smacked for being the cautious one, and she was praised for bold…
She took charge, took the active role, forced John's hand. Tim took the quiet role. Things were put in play, quiet, thought out, plans within plans that would have taken at least six months to come to a head. But they were invisible, and handed off to someone else to execute.
Sarah handled it herself, immediately.
The only thing stopping Tim from that exact same play was a boat-load of drugs and a lack of devious nature. After all the idea of just threatening to press charges, (in Virginia, there is no statute of limitations on any felony, and child abuse is a felony) to blackmail John into retirement hadn't occurred to her, and she's sure it never crossed Tim's mind. And she's sure it never would have crossed either of their minds, either.
She sits there with him and hopes this will be good news. She hopes it will be satisfying. She hopes it won't spiral him into a deep well of doubt. He's got more than enough of that coming, this on top of it?
It's a bizarre sensation. He's not really asleep. He's aware of Abby nearby, but he can't talk or do anything about it.
Sleep paralysis? Maybe. But he's not hurting or panicked, so all in all, he's not in a hurry to try and shake it.
He can hear voices from outside. Bits of conversation, but he can't make out words, just sounds and rhythms. Some crying. He thinks that's Sarah.
He's idly thinking that at this point they're zero for two on happy first birthdays, and maybe it'd be nice if by the time December rolls around and Anna turns one that they could get a first birthday where no one is crying.
His brain keeps flitting about to little niggly things. Like, where's his computer? When should he go back to work? What might be for dinner? And he didn't get much of a look at the new wrist cuff, so he'd kind of like to really look at it. (His arm and eyes do not cooperate at that, so he doesn't get a view of it.) He'd gotten to pondering what happened in the episode of Twin Peaks that they missed when he slides full on into sleep.
Tim wakes up again to the sound of the stove beeping. Time for more medicine, apparently. He sits up slowly, thinking about how long it would take to get from the sofa to get his meds from the kitchen…
Oh, they're on one of those little folding tables they got as a wedding present from Fornell. Next to a glass of water. Nice.
He swallows one of the pills, and looks around. He's on his own in here, though he can hear footsteps coming in from the porch, so apparently he doesn't have to get the alarm on the stove himself.
"Hey." Sarah's voice, though she appears to be heading right into the kitchen, because he can still hear footsteps but doesn't see her. Abby heads in too, sitting on the sofa, snuggling in next to him. He starts to rest his face against her shoulder, but that aches, so he settles for just having his arm around her.
Sarah's back a few seconds after the beeping lets off. "So, I talked to The Admiral."
He slumps. He doesn't want to hear about how he didn't really mean it, or it wasn't really his fault, or anything. The Admiral always managed to make Sarah look the other way, and he just doesn't want to hear anything else about that, at all.
Sarah sees the defeated look on Tim's face and shakes her head. "Nothing like that. Remember Pop teaching us to play poker?"
Tim nods, not sure where this is going.
"You can only bluff as well as the other guy knows what you've got in your hand."
"Okay." He remembers Pop saying that. The five of them, both kids, Mom, Gran and Pop at the kitchen table, Sarah having a hard time holding all her cards because her hands were little, and Pop talking about how, with the kind of poker they were playing (seven card draw, aces or better to ante, two cards up, no wild) that the key to a good bluff was knowing what was in your hand, what you were showing, what everyone else was showing, and who anted.
"I told him that if he didn't resign immediately I'd have Abby fabricate evidence of child abuse then make a formal complaint against him to Gibbs and that by tomorrow every one of my hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers would know he was a child abuser and that by the time he hit Pearl every news organization on Earth would be waiting for him."
Tim's mouth opens, and then it closes, as he blinks. He sits there for a good minute not sure how to react or feel or anything. He's just stalled out in shock. Eventually he gets out, "What happened?"
"He called SecNav and resigned. He decided I had a hand he couldn't beat."
"If you were willing to use it."
"Yep. Apparently I can do a pretty convincing I-am-going-to-lay-waste-to-everyone-around-me rampage when I want to."
Tim nods, not sure what he's feeling about that. Good… ish? Relieved… maybe? He looks at Sarah more carefully, seeing the puffiness around her eyes.
"You've been crying?"
She nods. "Just because he deserved it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt."
He's munching on the apple, sort of aware of the fact that he hasn't exactly been doing too hot on the whole regular meals stuff, but, without an IV you can't eat and sleep at the same time, and right now sleeping is better than eating, so, sleeping rather than eating.
People are filing into the house. Penny and Gibbs and Ducky and… Okay, Glenn's here, too. He's not sure when that happened, but… Why not? (Because he's something of a stranger and right now Tim's got no desire to try and even pretend to hold it together, but also no desire to really let go in front of this guy who will marry his sister soon.)
He looks around the room some, and notices that next to his meds are the electronics for his cast. "Anyone explain how this works?" he asks. Sarah and Penny and Ducky should find this interesting.
Ducky nods. "Jimmy called to ask what I knew about them when it was clear you were a candidate for one. I've never seen one before. Would you like a hand setting it up?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Ducky takes the vibration head, and slips it into the first of the slots, then flips the device on. It makes a quiet hum.
"How's it feel?"
"Right now, fine. Little buzz. By the time I've done it for twenty minutes on ten breaks, and that's just my arm, I may have a different opinion."
"They gave you one vibrational head?" Ducky sounds appalled at that.
"For…" Ducky's counting the slots that are designed to have the head in them. "For fourteen breaks? They expect you to have this going two hundred and eighty minutes a day?"
Ducky stands up, pulling his phone out. "I have calls to make."
Tim's asleep again when Ducky's off the phone, an hour and a half later. Abby's sitting next to him, gently moving the vibrational head from slot to slot as time elapses, talking quietly with the rest of the family.
"News?" she asks, voice low.
"Some days I am sure the FDA is more trouble than it's worth. They have taken 'do no harm' to mean strangle innovation and glorify paralysis. There are only fifty of these devices allowed in the United States for testing purposes. And, for all my contacts and colleagues, I could not pry one free. Approval in the US is dependent on positive testing data. Timothy can only be one data point for the testing, no matter how many of the units he's using, so no one is willing to reduce the amount of testing data they can get by letting me have one."
Penny can see the anger in his eyes. "They're approved in Europe and Israel, right?"
"Precisely. Japan as well, and Canada, and Australia. Hence more trouble than it's worth. Even though there are extensive studies abroad, those studies aren't good enough for our FDA, so we have re-do the same tests, over and over until someone at FDA gets the correct pay off and allows these devices to be produced and used in the US."
"But, you've got some good news, too, right, Duck?" Gibbs asks.
Ducky smiles dryly. "A friend of a friend is sending us one from Bern. So, as of Monday, we can cut Timothy's time attached to this device down from almost five hours to two and a half. Another friend in Kyoto is hunting around to see if she can lay hands on one more, but that may be a forlorn hope."
Tim doesn't open his eyes, but he does say, "Thanks, Ducky. Any idea if they're supposed to hurt?"
"Minor pain is listed as a possible side effect. The tiny vibrations are supposed to encourage quicker bone growth by making your body think it needs to build a stronger bond. Not enough motion to move anything out of place, but enough to make your body think that it's under assault and respond accordingly."
"Does it hurt, Timothy?"
"First two weren't bad, but everything aches now."
He hears Abby's phone buzz, followed by no sound, so it must be a text.
"Tony and Ziva want to visit."
"Sure." He opens his eyes, looking over at her. "I'm not real exciting right now, but bring 'em on. Hell, we're supposed to be having a birthday party, right? Tell 'em to pick up more cupcakes, let Jimmy and Breena know we're on, and lets have a bit of happy tonight."
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Penny says, a not entirely forced smile on her face.
Tony hates visiting sick people. He feels completely useless and helpless and just, wrong, so goddamned wrong. All the jokes in the world don't make any fucking difference at all, (Shut it, Patch Adams, if jokes could save lives, Mom would still be here. Okay, yeah, that's a touchy subject for him.) and in a sick room all he's got are jokes.
Jokes that are mostly to just keep him going.
So, he'll admit that he'd much rather go off and kill John (He's checked, John's due in Pearl in six days. Wouldn't be too hard to get over there and take a shot. Not like he doesn't have his own sniper handy. Sure, Gibbs gets all the glory for being a sniper, but Ziva's got better eyes and can hit anything within 500 meters.) but in the end, they've been told to leave it alone, and if John ends up dead ten hours after they hop a flight to Hawaii…
He sighs. They aren't above the law. They can get around it, but they still have to be subtle and clever.
However, he does have the sense that since his MCRT has been handling more terror cases, and since they travel for terror cases, that, should one of them provide him with an opportunity to get in range of John, he'll take it.
Another sigh. Fantasizing different ways to kill John isn't dealing with what's about to happen.
Work is over, and he and Ziva are in the car, with food, heading toward Tim's house, to go see him, and… And he doesn't know what. Not like showing up is going to make him feel better.
A kill shot on John might have made him feel better, but this…
Ziva squeezes his hand. She knows exactly how useless he feels because she feels it herself. She'd rather be doing almost anything than trying to comfort a hurting person.
"Think I can slap him upside the head?"
Ziva looks at him curiously.
"I told him if that test went FUBAR and he got hurt, I'd slap him for being stupid. And right now, I don't care if Gibbs fines me for it."
"I don't think that's a good plan, Tony."
"Gotta do something, or…"
"It's enough to just be there."
"No it's not! Being there doesn't help."
She gently squeezes his hand. "It is. That's all he and Abby really want or need right now."
He rolls his eyes.
"That's all your mother or mine ever wanted or needed, too."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I know it. It's all I would want."
He shrugs at that. "Does it help?"
"No." Because it doesn't. Because just being there, when being there doesn't solve the problem doesn't feel like much.
It's worse than Tony thought it'd be. He didn't think that was possible, but it is. He can't even pull off a half-hearted joke. He looks at Tim and just… "Oh, God, Tim."
Tim looks back at him, face battered, and says, "Don't look at me like that, Tony, I'm not dying."
Tony can see that if he doesn't muster up some sort of cynicism on this, both he and Tim are going to start crying, so he steps closer to Tim, helps him get sitting up just a bit more, and very, very, very lightly (wincing while he does it) taps Tim on the back of the head.
"Ow." It's a token protest. Even as badly hurt as he is, barely having his hair brushed by Tony's hand doesn't result in actual pain. (At least, not right now, with lots of pain medication flowing through his system, this morning would have been a different story, but this morning air molecules bouncing against his skin hurt.)
"Don't you ever do something that stupid again."
"When everyone you know tells you not to do something, don't do it. And when you heal up, you're getting the full ass-kicking for making everyone worry like this."
Tim nods at that, too. He's having a much easier time dealing with angry Tony than concerned, sad Tony.
Then Tony very carefully hugs him, for a long time. He pulls back, biting his lip. "Okay, gonna help Ducky get dinner ready," he says, pretty much sprinting out of the living room.
Ziva switches over from sitting on Tim's right side to his left, and also hugs him, gently. He gets a light kiss on the forehead, too.
"I thought dinner was take out," Tim finally says.
"It is," she says gently.
He nods again. "Can I ask you a favor?"
"When I'm healed up, and have my strength back, and can fight again… I had a knife, pocket knife, small thing, but it still had a blade, but I didn't know how to use it. Ended up throwing it, and that…" He pauses, fighting back the swamping sensations of anger and fear. He reaches up to wipe his eyes, and stops because his face still hurts to bad for that. "It worked…" He takes as deep and calming a breath as he can. "When I can fight, again, I want you to teach me how to fight with a knife. Probably be in better shape if I had known what to do with it."
Ziva nods. "Certainly."
"That's a grim topic for a party," Breena says, heading into the living room, kissing Ziva and Tim. "Feeling any better from yesterday?"
"Little bit," he looks over at Ziva, "Plane travel with…" he can't figure out how many there are, "that many broken bones is not fun."
"No, it is not."
"I was pretty out of it last night."
"I would imagine."
Molly comes tearing in, or at least trying to tear in, her daddy's got a pretty good hold on her hand right now, but she's trying to pull free. "Aunt Ziva! Uncle Tim!"
Ziva scoops her up into a warm hug and keeps a close hold on her while she leans in to get a kiss from Tim.
Jimmy heads over and kisses Ziva's cheek, taking Molly back while saying to her, "And what did we say about Uncle Tim?"
"Very gentle," she answers seriously, "Like Anna."
Tim nods, also serious. "Just like with your baby sister."
Molly looks at him carefully, eyeing him all over, lips pursed, signs of intense concentration on her face. "Why purple?"
"I got hurt."
"Stay that way?"
Jimmy lifts up her foot, and kisses the two bruises on her knees. "Uncle Tim's got bruises, just like you do."
Tim nods. "Something like that."
Molly nods back, and squirms forward a little, and then, very gently, barely touching his skin, kisses each of the bruises on Tim's face. "All better."
He smiles at her, feeling his eyes water. "All better."
"Okay, come on, let's go see Uncle Jethro," Jimmy says brightly, picking Molly up so her back's to Tim, knowing he doesn't want to explain why he's crying and why the kisses didn't make it all better.
It's a very low key party. Partly because pretty much no one knew it was actually going to be on, so the presents are… haphazard at best. Pop was on the job, so Kelly's got some new onesies in bigger sizes, and her very own little, stuffed black lab (Little Mona). And Breena likely picked out Kelly's birthday present back in October (plushie skull), so she had her bases covered.
But the rest of the crew either didn't have (Penny) or didn't bring with them (Sarah) presents for the birthday girl, who, in true one-year-old fashion, could not have possibly cared less.
But Mom and Dad care, and everyone together to sing Happy Birthday matters. So they do sing. And Kelly impresses everyone with her candle-blowing-out-technique. And, in the video (which they don't watch for a while) it's easy to see Gibbs coaching her, and how proud he is that she got it right.
Mom and Dad also didn't have baby presents ready. But, there was one thing Tim did have, and he's feeling really pleased that he's remembered this, and bummed that he can't just hop up and grab it himself, but he does grab Jimmy, whisper some directions to him, and in a minute Jimmy's back with the box in his hands.
Abby's sitting on the floor, moving Little Mona around, making her hop and jump between Kelly, Anna, and Molly, (Big Mona wants to play, too, so she's bounding around the girls, adding her own excitement to the mix) so Tim quickly flips open the lid, check to make sure it's looking right (it is.)
"Mmm…" she's bopping each girl gently on the nose with the stuffed doggie, and just did Mona who looks really confused by that.
She looks up at Tim, and he sort of tilts his head to his side in a come here gesture. She hands Little Mona to Kelly, who's vigorously hugging her, and goes to sit next to Tim.
"It was a really big day for you, too." He kisses her gently. "And I wanted you to know how much I love you, and Kelly, and that…" he's crying again, and just leans over to kiss her, long and soft and deep. He feels her fingers very gently wiping away his tears, and he presses the box into her hands. "Thank you for my babies."
She kisses him back, just his lips, lightly brushing her words to him. "I love you." She pulls back a bit, and opens the box, for a second just staring and then, "Oh, Tim…" She's about to say, put it on me, but he can't, not with one hand, so she slips puts it on herself, looking down at it.
He kisses her again, lips just below her ear, "I was planning on giving it to you when we were alone, but, I'll be asleep by then, and I didn't want to miss today."
It's a heavy moment, not bad, but intense, and Tony, who's been cracking jokes all night, doing a very good job of keeping things light, making sure they don't get bogged down in too much emotional stuff, says to Glenn, "And this is why none of us ever wins Husband of the Year. We've got to compete against this dork, who might as well be a girl for as good as he is on this whole romance thing."
Tim doesn't pull away from kissing Abby, but he does stop cupping her cheek in his hand to flip off Tony, who snorts at his response.
And Jimmy's saying, "Speak for yourself, Tony. He's taking his lessons from me," as he winks at Breena, who gently shoves him while smiling.
Tim, still smooching Abby, shifts that bird toward Jimmy.
Party wraps up early. The main guest of honor goes to bed at 7:30, and with being excited from the party and even more cake and everyone over, she was a bit frazzled by the time bedtime rolled around, so a quiet, easy, tubby followed by stories with Pop worked a treat for getting her down.
The other 'guest of honor' didn't make it to 7:45. Tim was pretty much asleep on the sofa by then, so Abby and Jimmy helped him to bed, where he crashed hard.
Since it was a 'party' no one talked about the assault or what was happening with the Admiral but there's a definite sense of curiosity about what's going on.
And another sense of tentative boundary laying. Who gets to know what, when, and how. So, toward the end its fairly clear that everyone is 'lingering' so they can get a shot to talk to each other about what's going on.
Finally it gets to 8:30, everyone is hovering, and Abby's tired. "Breena, Jimmy, Gibbs, give me a hand. All the rest of you, I love you, but I'm fried, and I want to be in bed by 9:00, so off you go."
It's not a great lie, and they can all see that the group who went to California is getting pulled in for the first level of consultations as to what happens next, but they aren't willing to fight it, either.
Hugs, kisses, plans for more visiting (but not tomorrow, Abby's got plans for tomorrow) pass between them, and then she's at home with Gibbs and the Palmers.
Gibbs explains what Sarah did. Breena looks impressed, and Jimmy whistles long and low at it.
"How's he taking it?" Jimmy asks Abby.
Abby shrugs. "Not sure if it's sunk in. That's part of no visitors tomorrow. Heather's coming over and taking Kelly, and we're spending the day in bed, just resting and talking and touching and healing."
Breena nods at that. "Probably a good plan."
"The other question is, what, if anything, does this do to Tim's deal with Jarvis?" Abby says.
That also gets all of them just looking at each other, because none of them know. However, both of the girls can see that quick non-verbal something that flickers between Gibbs and Jimmy.
"Good God, how many conspiracies can we have on this?" Breena says. "Out with it, both of you. I'm not getting blindsided by whatever you're planning."
Jimmy takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Sniper training starts Saturday morning. He's got a year, and if John's still walking around after a year, then… Then he's not going to be doing it anymore."
Gibbs looks at the girls and shrugs a little. "Trust but verify, right? Jarvis does his part, great. If not, we'll be ready to handle it."
"Tim know that?" Abby asks.
"He will," Jimmy replies. "Probably a good plan to have him have a chat with Tony and Ziva about sitting on their hands for this."
"Better if it happens at Shabbos, and we're all there," Breena adds. "Penny and Ducky'll hear it, too. That matters, right? That's why we're not all chatting together about it?"
Abby and Gibbs nod.
"Penny and Sarah hate this," Abby says. "Just because someone's evil doesn't mean you didn't love them, and it doesn't mean that love just vanishes. This hurts both of them, bad. I'm thinking we don't ask for clarification on the deal. If something happens to John in the next year, we'll just never know, for sure. And not knowing'll make lying easier. And if he is still walking around a year from now, we'll handle it."
The other three nod. That's a functional plan they can all handle.